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  • Robert L. Giron

Issue 105 — Sarah Browning, Joanna Howard, Katherine Smith

Sarah Browning

Ballad of the Seven Days

For seven days she did this —

killed a man—

and on the eighth day

she rested

Put her feet on the railing

and drank sweet tea

Each man was locked in a shed

or in a barn on her father’s farm

the banker in the outhouse

you know he had to go

the minister with the sheep

and goats

she had a sense of humor

no one could deny it

Henry who milked

was in the shed,

the milking shed

the puling cows growing

heavy uddered, sleepy

Tony the Italian

who came round sometimes

to sell, his cast iron tinkling

in the distance, hoping

to sit with her a spell as the sun

crept away, hoping one day

she didn’t even know if he did hope

each visit the same, never closer

Tony was in the ice house

she could bring him out for a visit

a swing or see him there

whenever the dust put the aching

back in her eyes

the dust she had meant to clean

that busy week

Elliot and Joe, the brothers

were together in the woodshed

where they belonged

where they had always been

together the hatchets now

where they’d forced her mouth

before, their hands wide

with surprise, forgetting

their things, the history

of their things in the woodshed

There’s that humor all her own

once more

and Dad, Dad she’d laid out

in her own bed, it was one

he’d always claimed, his gray hands

happy now, frozen where they were

expecting the return of their childhood game

Sleepwalking Nightie, how it took off

on its own

when Dad visited

it walked a mile in the night

Yesterday Dad lay down

with the tiny nightie

between his legs. She’d asked

him to, closed his eyes dreaming

of her woman form, its new, mother size

Even the shot gun

was a woman

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Browning.

We All Have Our Thing

for Katy Richey

For Katy, it’s Womb, the squishy Earth

Mother inside us, warm and enveloping,

all the passive aggressive demands Womb

makes on women, on our aching poems,

how each month Womb punishes, pounds

with her Mama love against us, demanding

to come down and meet the guests, greet

the world in her Womb-Mama best red dress.

For me it’s Being, as in: I knew in the Depths

of my Being that . . . My Being apparently

has Depths, though no one’s located

the basement steps for me, led me past

earwigs and packed dirt, stacked kindling

and broken high chair tossed in the corner

to greet my Being. Perhaps my Being is

the only one lacking Depths, perhaps she’s

upstairs stretched on the couch, ogling

George Clooney’s wicked grin on TMZ.

Or maybe my Being’s hanging with Katy’s

Womb, trading dating tips, maybe they could

give a shit about their persnickety people,

Katy and Sarah, who can’t stand them.

Perhaps they’re writing their own poem,

The Womb Beings or In the Depths of

My Being, There Lives a Womb, a poem to

answer all poems, the poem school children

will memorize forever, not because they must,

but for its sheer power and gorgeous song,

the key it crafts to every rusty unyielding lock,

the door swung creaking but, at last, open.

All that fucking welcome.

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Browning.

Body, Self, and All

What I loved of your

body: hard fingers

I took in my mouth,

would have kept

there forever if I

could: knuckles to

suck, nails to lick,

hair and its tickle,

fingers in the back

of the throat,

hand to mouth,

mouth to round belly,

long feet— the size

of you stretched

the length of me,

obliterating me. I

was in love with


how I slipped away

in our lovemaking,

my body left behind

in my stead, how

your hands drew

my map, inscribed

my key, how you

navigated my roads

and borders, forded

my many rivers,

wandered my thorny

woodlands. Until the

navigation of me

became routine,

all my byways

you thought you

knew, my paths

dusty, your hands

weary. I was a

lonely country then,

unpeopled and fenced.

My journey away had

not brought me back.

Body, self, and all—

I dropped off

the edge of that world,

the one I’d thought

was round.

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Browning.

Day 7

After a week of no dialysis

my mother begins the true

work of dying. She twitches

and startles, mumbles. The sun

shines hard on the new snow.

Every few minutes

my mother shocks

awake, more electric than

in all the months of illness.

When I tell her the nurses

say it’s normal, it’s OK, my sister

takes me to the corridor—

Stop reminding our mother

that she is dying.

We do not know

what’s in our mother’s mind

and neither do the helpful

hospice pamphlets. We don’t

know what Balkan path

she might be hiking, what

war and boat and ocean

she might be crossing.

I fumbled our living, I know,

and now, too, her dying.

Except for this:

Today, at least, I do not leave.

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Browning.

About the Author

Sarah Browning is the author of Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017) and Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007). She is co-founder and Executive Director of Split This Rock and an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. She is the recipient of fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Adirondack Center for Writing. She has been guest editor or co-edited special issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Delaware Poetry Review, and POETRY magazine. Browning co-hosts the Sunday Kind of Love poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC

Joanna Howard


“Trauma Keeps Us Standing in the Same Place”

—Marilyn Kallet, Sept. 11, 2016

Ghosts keep floating from the screen

though the television has been turned off body

after body like laundry in the wind

Protoplasm writhing in suits from Barneys bleeding

through chef jackets outfits bought on sale

at Goodwill—souls blasted out of their

bodies no time to catch a spiritual drop down

mask to lead the way to the other side these ghosts

shot from crumbled and burning legs

torsos ripped away from shoulders

brains smashed to mud

These souls cling to the warm

electrons of last night’s news

and the hand that should have written this poem

hangs over a sheared slice of airplane

somewhere in Arlington

Unitilted first appeard in A Splendid Wake Poetry Pop-Up in June 2017.

Copyright © 2017 by Joanna Howard.

Pointing Out the Obvious

“You have my bue jeans,” Mom said

While folding laundry downstairs

In the basement of my dreams.

Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Howard.

Playing My Card Right

“Double Down” Dad advise me—

And like my sainted father,

I’ married not once, but twice.

Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Howard.

Old Bard’s Headache

Take away the rush and clutter

frantic dancing in my head.

Take away my plotting parley—

proffer passage to my bed.

Take away what’s mattered most

in the evening when I’m gone:

Take away my sacred touchtones,

my whiskey, pipe, and song.

Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Howard.

About the Author

Joanna Howard is a local poet and college professor who coordinates A Splendid Wake, a volunteer-based group working with George Washington University to archive the history of poetry in the DC area. She has been published in a variety of magazines and was a 2016 finalist in Arlington’s Moving Words Program.

Katherine Smith Featured in ArLiJo Issue 105.

Before We Move On

No matter how bad it gets, I’ll remember

the bench overlooking the docked ferry,

two women eating oysters on shaved ice

from a paper plate on a bench, ripping hunks

of sourdough wheat bread with raisins and butter.

No matter how unjust the scales that balance the life

of a single eight-year girl twirling an umbrella in the rain

against statistics, no matter the injustice of numbers,

I’ll remember the simple facts of steamed buns

with soy sauce, of the little boy on his father’s shoulders

waiting for hot chicken at the market, the mother

holding bunches of parsnips in one hand,

her daughter’s hand in another on Powell.

When I see the power of destruction

I like to admire the Aronson building’s

olive fruit amid foliage that survived

a century of earthquake and fire,

to gaze at the glass plates, teal-blue,

of the Jewish museum, the hopeful scaffolding

of the Mexican Museum. When I’m empty,

I like to walk through the new plaza to Jessie Street,

to turn onto Stevenson Street and back to Market

past a coffee shop where a man with his belongings

and his mangy dog in a heap at his feet is eating

a sandwich, drinking hot coffee. We live for the moment

of happiness before we are told to move on.

At the world’s end I hope I’ll remember the bus driver

and his passenger, a woman in a camel pea-coat

talking about the best way to cook pinto beans,

where to find the best soul food in Oakland

before he let her out of the bus at 3rd street.

Copyright © 2018 by Katherine Smith.

Ode to Orange

A little orange goes a long way, like friendliness:

a bowl of tangerines on a blue cotton table cloth

a single egg yolk for breakfast, the ginger cat

on the road slipping under the beach house,

fruity shadows in the pleats of a peach silk gown

Too much is the color of golden retrievers,

football fans filling stadiums, certain poisons

staining the ground. The mind hungers for mangos,

not so much for used car salesmen or fake tans.

After nibbling winter’s white crop, orange gnaws

through spring’s acres of cloudy pink blossoms,

swallows the blinding light of midsummer.

The autumn animal burrows into turbinado and acorn squash,

streaks apples with flame, stains the not-quite passion of persimmon,

stops before the inside of pomegranate.

There’s no heartbreak in orange, only a ripening to rust.

The closer you get to winter the less seldom it’s seen,

traffic cones, ambulances, emergencies, iron,

the jack o’ lantern with its grin of friendliness

teenagers hurled onto the street, eyes split open, spilling seeds.

Copyright © 2018 by Katherine Smith.


We walked into the school board building in the rain,

my father and I, the July before the eleventh year

of my schooling began. My father in

the tan jacket with the zipper he wore

for all bad weather, winter or summer

stood behind me. I begged

the school superintendent, a black man

in suit and tie with a polite frown

to let me take the city bus across town

to escape the high school where I was the Jewish girl

whose family didn’t belong to any temple,

whose brother chanted Hare Rama in the library,

who never joined Young Life to pray around the flag pole

and scatter to spread the Good News after lunch,

who ate alone in shop class surrounded by the smell of burning metal.

I was bad news. Let me go somewhere else.

The superintendent smiled. My father’s shoulders slumped.

You’re zoned for that high school. You’d have to prove

the new school has something your old school doesn’t.

I thought hard. I’ll join ROTC. The two men laughed.

My father took off his jacket. The superintendent

signed the transfer. For the next two years I took the city bus

across the town to a school where no one knew me. The day

I never had to go back to the world I’d always believed was true

was the first good day.

Copyright © 2018 by Katherine Smith.


You decided the year you planted

petunias and marigold in terra cotta pots

behind the iron grillwork

that if the burden of earth wasn’t

too much for the balcony

it wasn’t too much for you

heavy with child. Many years later,

in the neighbors’ yard, little girls

in peach-colored dresses search for eggs

from what they mistake for a clump

of daffodils, sprouted through the body of a dead squirrel.

The children scream, run to their parents.

But you are in late middle age, with no one to run to.

Your life is made of glitter, mica, fools’ gold.

On Good Friday, the student from Togo wore a cardboard

sign around her neck that said, Trust Jesus

in sparkly letters. She asked What do you live for?

You smiled, answered I live to teach you

to write paragraphs with topic sentences and vivid detail.

I live to teach you to make sense. She chuckled,

forgetting for one blessed instant

to praise Jesus.

Copyright © 2018 by Katherine Smith.

About the Author

Katherine Smith’s poetry publications include appearances in Poetry, Cincinnati Review, Missouri Review, Ploughshares, Southern Review and many other journals. Her short fiction has appeared in Fiction International and Gargoyle. She has had two publications of poetry: Argument by Design (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2003) and Woman Alone on the Mountain (Iris Press, 2014).

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