• Robert L. Giron

Issue 146

In this issue, work by



Jona Colson


Interview


Interview with Jona Colson [JC] poetry editor of This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2021) with Robert L. Giron [RLG].



RLG:

I’m focusing on the poetry in the anthology, but to start, who came up with the idea for the anthology?


JC:

The fiction editor, Caroline Bock, had the idea for the anthology. It had been over 25 years since the Washington Writers’ Publishing House published an anthology, and Kathleen Wheaton, the president of the press, agreed. I offered to edit the poetry for the anthology, and, luckily, they agreed.


RLG:

It’s not often that one sees poetry and fiction in an anthology vs a journal, do you believe the two genres balance each other?


JC:

They balance each other in terms of craft. One genre distills images when another can expand. The use of dialogue and figurative language. The anthology harmonizes the best of each.


RLG:

I know you focused on the poetry entries. What criteria did you use to select material for the anthology?


JC:

Again, a balance—topic, theme, and form. There were so many wonderful poems that we didn’t have room to include. That is always a tough choice, and often it came down to representation, context, and inclusion.


RLG:

In your introduction, you mention the variety of styles, etc. Did you find that a particular style worked better than others? If so, why?


JC:

I didn’t find that a particular style worked better. And, actually, that was something I wanted to avoid. I tried to include all styles of poetry—some are more experimental in their form and require closer readings. Other poems are more “traditional” and have a clearer narrative. Many styles of poetry are included here from diverse writers.


RLG:

Are there poems that speak to the purpose of the anthology more than others?


JC:

All the poems speak to the purpose in some way. There are poems that have a more evident response to the topics—pandemic, social unrest, politics—but there are others that offer a more subtle response to America now—family, belonging, ideals. I think that they all work together to form different threads of the anthology.


RLG:

The subtitle states poetry and fiction from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, was living currently in the region a requirement to be included?


JC:

It was a preference, but we also accepted work from writers who had a strong tie to the region, or once lived here.


RLG:

I believe this is the first anthology you have worked on which is quite different from writing you own work. What did you learn from working on this project?


JC:

One of the advantages of working on this project was reading all of the wonderful poems. There is such talent in our area and being able to read the work was wonderful. It’s great to celebrate other poets rather than working on my own poems.


RLG:

As with any literature or artistic work completed, once the creator is done with it and it is “out there” on display, readers/viewers create their own interpretation of the work. As I focused on the poems, I gravitated to those with hope. I’m wondering if you had any expectations for the anthology.


JC:

My expectation was for readers to hold this book and hear the writers and their inclusive perspectives. I hope that the anthology reaches those who want it and need it, even if they didn’t know it yet. It’s not a book you need to read cover to cover, front to back. You can choose your own path here—a poem, a short story. It’s almost like discovering your own narrative by the pieces you choose and the order you read them. That’s the magic of this book. There is something for every reader.


RLG:

Thanks, Jona, I celebrate its publication, exactly as you say: there is something for everyone. In reviewing the poems, I was most drawn to poems which touched on reality, hope, despair, and dark humor. Here I’ve included poems that stood out in the sections that follow.



About Jona Colson

Jona Colson’s first poetry collection Said Through Glass won the 2018 Jean Feldman Poetry Prize from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. His translation and interviews can be found in Prairie Schooner, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Writer’s Chronicle. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He is an associate professor of ESL at Montgomery College in Maryland and lives in Washington, DC. He is the poetry editor of This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry and Fiction from DC, Maryland, and Virginia.



NaBeela Washington


The following poem is included in This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia - Jona Colson, poetry editor.


Sifting America’s Garden


After the pronouncement

and cries of rage

and several calls

and transportation of the body.


After the body is tagged

and bullets extracted

and organs discarded

and insides further ravaged.


After the gloves are tossed

sorry for your loss

and the coffin is picked

and body fitted.


After it’s tucked beneath soil

and protests expire

and whimpers grow faint

and aches are suppressed.


After the body has settled

and ephemerals spring forth

and visitors frisk the tomb

where stolen Black bodies are planted,


a community yearns to breathe again.



Copyright © 2021 by NaBeela Washington.



About the Poet

NaBeela Washington, an emerging Black poet, is working on her MA in Creative Writing and English at Southern New Hampshire University. She was invited to read her poetry by the Takoma Park Poetry Reading Series and has been published in Juke Joint Magazine



Myra Sklarew


The following poem is included in This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia - Jona Colson, poetry editor.


Coronavirus


Single strand of RNA

wrapped in your protein coast,


A halo of spikes ready

to bind to an unsuspecting cell.


Some say you are not alive!

Yet you with your secret partner,


Sars-CoV-2 who picks the locks

on the protein spikes,


and then invites you

to enter the cell


of your choice, all the while

turning off its immune system


so you may safely enter,

head for its nucleus, create


infinite copies of yourself,

and calmly disrupt the world!


Copyright © 2021 by Myra Sklarew.



About the Poet

Myra Sklarew, professor emerita of American University, served as head of Yaddo Artist’s Community and has published books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, most recently, A Survivor Named Trauma: Holocaust Memory in Lithuania. She studied bacterial viruses and genetics with Max Delbruck and Salvador Luria at Cold Spring Harbor.



Linda Pastan


The following poem is included in This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia - Jona Colson, poetry editor.


The News of the Day


The green earth

Is spinning

Out of control.


The politicians fly

Through closed windows,

Breaking the glass,


And doctors are wringing

Their hands, entangled

in stethoscopes.


Green raindrops are only

Dollar bills.

The children, wide eyed,


Lurk under their desks,

And writers complain

That their pens have run out of ink.


Policemen write their tickets

For a thousand abandoned cars.

Slow down.


Like a bellows, breathe

The air in and out. But wait!

The air too is dangerous.



Copyright © 2021 by Linda Pastan.



About the Poet

Linda Pastan’s 14th book of poems, Insomnia, was published in October of 2015 and won the Towson University Prize for Literature. She has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award, and in 2003 she won the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement. A Dog Runs Through It was published in May of 2018.



David Lott


The following poem is included in This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia - Jona Colson, poetry editor.


Death Tie


There’s a death tie

in my closet

it’s not meant to be depressing thing

it’s just that I’m really bad

at tying ties

so I leave one

already done up

dangling from the naked neck

of a wooden hanger


I never wear a tie to work

and rarely get invited to weddings anymore

so the tie tends to be for funerals


life

you could say

would mean its undoing



Copyright © 2021 by David Lott.



About the Poet

David G. Lott is poetry editor of The Sligo Journal, associate editor at Potomac Review, and author of the collection New to Guayama. His work has appeared in Aethlon, Light, 100 Word Story, and Opium, among other places.



Kateema Lee


The following poem is included in This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia - Jona Colson, poetry editor.


Lost Epistle


If I die suspiciously, please know

I didn’t kill myself. If you read

My statuses, emails and tweets,

Testimonies to tiresome days and anti-

Climactic nights, know I knew life

Was more tepid creek than volcano.

I wouldn’t jog my daily route then dive

Into dark water, and if by chance I fell in,

I would grow gills. I wouldn’t shape

Ropes out of bags or dare any savior

To take my life.


Melancholy

Is not preface to death. Black or brown

Is not prologue to demise. My birth

Is not precursor to my passing

Too soon. If I disappear, look for me


Sincerely,

[Unnamed]



Copyright © 2021 by Kateema Lee.



About the Poet

Kateema Lee, a Washington, DC native, is the author of two chapbooks: Almost Invisible and Musings of a Netflix Binge Viewer. Her forthcoming collection, Transcript of the Unnamed, explores joy, identity, violence, and the “brief, bright lives” of missing and forgotten black women in the District of Columbia.



Fran Abrams


The following poem is included in This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia - Jona Colson, poetry editor.


from The Circus Is Here


Why pay the price of admission to a circus?

If you want to see wild animals bleed,

watch the adventures of the uber rich.

If you want to see people die,

watch the news.



Copyright © 2021 by Fran Abrams.



Grace Cavalieri


The following poem is included in This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, Virginia - Jona Colson, poetry editor.


from In the Beauty of the City by Grace Cavalieri


While it’s true there’s no scale to measure

a treasure within a city, this one is

kept safe from the aridity of stricken places,


and destruction’s deadly face.

Instead, there is serenity here to pray against such visions.

“Hope’ is the map that extends throughout these Oaks


under its house of sun,

where intellectual and natural worlds thrive.

Just look around at the surface of this earth


where we’ve come together, in the radiance

and glory of all this flowering which exists

in praise of its keepers.



Copyright © 2021 by Grace Cavalieri.



About the Poet

Grace Cavalieri, Maryland’s tenth Poet Laureate, is the author of 26 book and chapbooks of poetry and 20 short-forum and full-length plays. What the Psychic Said is her new publication (Goss Publications, 2020). The previous book of poems Showboat is about 25 years as a Navy wife. Her latest play Quilting the Sun was produced at the Theatre for the New City, NYC in 2019. She founded and produces the Poet and the Poem series for public radio, now from the Library of Congress, and is celebrating 43 years on-air.



Gregory Luce


Coming into Texas


They came in from

the northeast, my ancestors,

and there were big rivers—

Tennessee, Mississippi,

Red—to cross, but they

did it in daylight, not after

dark or hidden in the back

of a truck, and they didn’t need

to swim. They rode in

through the tall grass, over

the red dirt flatland, up and

down the rolling hills, through

luxuriant wildflowers to Grimes

and Montgomery Counties.


I don’t know if they

brought their slaves or

acquired them after settling

but settle they did and soon

spread out, putting their slaves

to work on the rich land,

propagating the Dunhams

and Woods down to

my mother’s mother.


I came to Texas by

way of my mother

and Yankee father

(descended from Puritans).

Both gone now, they left me

with mixed blood and mixed

feelings about all my forebears.



Copyright © 2021 by Gregory Luce.



Solstice


The sky is low—

pressing down

toward me as I walk

the dog—and almost

black, no moon, no stars.

Her nose to the ground,

Bella doesn’t notice—

smells and sounds are

amplified. But radiance is

everywhere, a network

of lights, for finding

one’s way around

or simply for celebration

and beauty, casts a luminous

net around the longest night.



Copyright © 2021 by Gregory Luce.



About the Author

Gregory Luce, author of Signs of Small Grace, Drinking Weather, Memory and Desire, Tile, and Riffs & Improvisations (forthcoming from Kelsay Books), has published widely in print and online. He is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. In addition to poetry, he writes a monthly column on the arts for Scene4 magazine. He is retired from National Geographic, works as a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA.



Miles David Moore


Review of Man on Terrace with Wine


Man on Terrace with Wine

Kelsay Books, 2020.


In Man on Terrace with Wine: poems by Miles David Moore we find the poet contemplating the passage of time and all that it entails: from the personal as in The Good Fight to evaluating those in our midst as in Grotesque—“ . . . you who are / no better than us.” (p. 27) A pensive poet debates the reality of the legacy of the average man. In Chain Letter the simplicity of karmic physics is plain: “But, whatever you do, you will not break the chain, / you are incapable of breaking the chain.” (p. 28) Laid out even if one dies, karma remains for those who have gone for here the poet reads the dead’s cards as a warning to those who remain: avoid “that others should not die / cursing you.” (p. 30)


A Mother Waits proves that his formal style is his forte:


He always was a good boy: sensitive,

Stubborn perhaps, not diligent in class,

But with an artist’s soul. What I would give

To see him aid the priest once more at Mass, (p.59)


—reflects a mother’s wishes for her son.


A collection filled with subtlety and emotion that emits wisdom. Man on Terrace with Wine reflects on life, with focus on one’s actions in life and the ripple they create. In closing with Drink Up the reader gets advice: “Never let on you really wanted beer; / this is your chance. Drink up, while it’s still here.” (p. 86)


Man on Terrace with Wine, Recalling a Line from Herman Hesse


What happiness to dream when, drinking wine,

You notice beauty that you never see

When sober and at work. Late summer vines

Glisten with purple fruit. Serenity


. . .


To live completely and a thousandfold.

Where are the vineyards when the way is rough?

If, deep inside you, there’s a place to hold

A drop of stillness, will it be enough? (57)


Will we count the drops of wine? Because with life is there ever enough in our times of uncertainty?



Work from Man on Terrace with Wine. Copyright © 2020 by Miles David Moore. Reprinted with permission by the author.



About the Author

Miles David Moore is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, the latest of which, Man on Terrace with Wine (Kelsay Books, 2020). He is a retired journalist who contributes a monthly film column to the online arts magazine Scene4. From 1994 to 2017, he organized and hosted the IOTA poetry reading series in Arlington, Virginia. From 2002 to 2009, he was a member of the board of directors of The Word Works.



Sasha Reiter


Fugue


Last night, I dreamt that I was painting with Carl Jung.

The worst part of spending an afternoon with Carl is that

he’ll giggle

as he tosses a hand in your hair, breaking your focus,

misting Alizarin Crimson against your forehead

like pellets of sweat,

and when he laughs, from the backmost of his gullet,

you can hear his theory on the collective unconscious,

as it flicks itself from his tongue,

as it sticks to your self-portrait,

blotching the thin strokes with a deep tar

that begins at the center, running, soaking through the

canvas,

a cacophony of sounds from inside the hole,

stretching outward, somehow resembling the funeral

march

of the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica,

and, regardless of having never heard it,

you know the sound of Midnight Black eating through

the opening that punctures the even caress of Titanium

White,

the painting paralleling your pupil as vibrations

shake the eggshell around your brain,

slowing the scent of song that becomes heavy

as syrup that is too sweet,

seeping from the center,

reaching a room that ombres pink,

not quite human flesh, more like the skin of a fruit,

not quite an apple,

maybe a plum becoming a peach,

where invisible lines converge,

where Jung’s collective unconsciousness

tells you that something waits in the thick black paint,

and in the rest of the room,

an orchestra fills the Van Dyke Brown,

already fading into maroon, almost chairs;

the band is measured in rows of faceless musicians,

and Jung stands behind them with confidence,

you barely notice him as each performer lifts their

instrument,

monstrous combinations of string and brass,

wet reeds and ivory keys;

no one has enough mouths or fingers for their

equipment,

and you can hear, through the collective,

that no one is playing

anything sensible on their own,

and as you try to focus on one sound at a time,

you make out that each member of the orchestra is

playing

their own minute piece of Beethoven’s symphony,

each one playing that piece somewhat incorrectly,

and together they make music that is falling apart;

each piece amplified by the next,

the sounds pulse as your ears bleed,

but Jung will hand you a handkerchief for your ears

and admit that the collective exists

in the quieter parts of a brain,

and, only every now and again, tries to speak directly,

the way it does regularly for a person this sick,

and he’ll point at your portrait.

He’ll get serious and say,

this is what it sounds like to be defiled by the universe.



Copyright © 2021 by Sasha Reiter. Printed by Nueva York Poetry Press, LLC. Reprinted by permission of the author.



The Wolf


Son, I’m afraid you’re like me.

Knees kissing the ground,

I asked that you be spared,

but every man cut from our cankered cloth is

condemned.

The water that makes up more than half of your body is

boiling,

burning the bedlam that howls and kicks,

alive in your chest.

It will push at your skin, try to break free,

don—t let it out through your mouth.

Build a cell from the flesh of your heart, keep it docile.

Out in the night its headlight eyes

will render friends still as deer,

swerve and drive them away like I did your mother.

Learn to be quiet, ingest and keep it down

until only you can see it.

When people love you from afar, do what I do—

absorb your ambition,

consume the commotion in the corners of your mind,

devour all devotion, put down your passion,

wipe clean your teeth and

swallow the wolf.



Copyright © 2021 by Sasha Reiter. Printed by Nueva York Poetry Press, LLC. Reprinted by permission of the author.



Benched


At dinner, I almost knock over my father’s wine

and he says that the first thing I did was give him a scare.

That I strangled myself with my own umbilical cord.

That the doctors said I was born with my eyes open and I

didn’t cry.

That I was yellow with Jaundice and my head

came out misshapen, like a cone.

My girlfriend laughs and says I probably looked like a

minion,

and my mother loves this.

She’s in stitches, reaching an arm for my slouched

shoulder

across the table, not connecting.

Now it’s her turn and she says

I would sit on the bench with her, begging for stories,

asking questions in Spanish.

Friends in the sandbox ripped toys from hands

and chased each other down slides, on tire swings,

passing basketballs that rolled onto the street,

where cars whisked the scent of combustion into our sky.

Other moms would sit together,

sometimes walking over to comment on how I was

already two

and I should be playing with other children, speaking

already.

They thought I was babbling

and my mother thought their ignorance was priceless.


But Mamá, what if it was worse than babbling?

If I vomit with words because I am ill with thoughts?

If it’s congenital?

What if I turned three and was still on the bench?

If two decades have passed and I haven’t gotten up?


I go to therapy or take pills or both or I eat or smoke

or sew my mouth shut with sheer will.


What if there are people in my stomach, Mamá?

If they climb up my tongue, if I hear them in my head

All the time?

What if they need to speak, too?

If I don’t want them to?


My mother doesn’t answer because I am not with her.

She chuckles, her fingers finally landing on my deltoid,

the warmth of her palm marking the nape of my neck

as she squeezes with love.

My father listens intently while my girlfriend tells a more

recent story.


We’re all there, the voices and I, sitting on the bench,

where it is safe, away from rolling basketballs and fast

cars,

from toy nabbers and sizzling aluminum slides or

awkward

conversations and dinner tables. I wait here, and I open

my maw,

my mouth oozes with intention and I don’t know how

else to cork it.



Copyright © 2021 by Sasha Reiter. Printed by Nueva York Poetry Press, LLC. Reprinted by permission of the author.



Imposter Palate


Give or take 15,000 years in the past,

my family may or may not have carried rice

on their backs over ice, mud and stone

to arrive at bloodless fields

to push those little seeds deep

beneath the breath of soil

to eat their bounty for 15,000 years,

give or take.


My professor of color referred to me

as a student of color once

and I wasn’t sure what to do with the title.

The first generation in me wanted to tear up,

but I knew he was bestowing unto me an honor

I couldn’t possibly wear.

I knew better.


I knew that my great grandfather was smart

and lucky enough to leave his life, family behind.

To carry the weight of his dead lineage, parents,

an anvil on his back,

black ink burned into arms

no longer capable

of reaching out for one another.

But not the arms of the man whose name I haven’t

earned.

He sprinted with ghosts

from red Romania to reddish Peru

and met a daughter of rice walkers.

They mixed blood, fucked up mine,

confused my tongues.

The Romanians eat potatoes and bread.

His granddaughter ran away from home.

She carried a nylon blue backpack glutted

with clothes and dreams to Jerusalem.

There she met another sprinter, fair with locks of gold.

Argentineans are the Europeans of Latin America.

His people ran too.

Why the pair ran together to the land of broken hope,

of expectation shrapnel doused in hot Mohican,

Japanese blood, soon to be Latin—


I cannot be of color with pale skin,

colonized, refugeed blood whiter than it is brown,

Castellano que me cuesta.

I am not of color because 15,000 years of color

live in the rice I don’t eat,

give or take.



Copyright © 2021 by Sasha Reiter. Printed by Nueva York Poetry Press, LLC. Reprinted by permission of the author.



About the Author

Sasha Reiter, born in New York City, grew up in the Bronx, where as the son of an Argentinian father and a Peruvian mother, he experienced first hand the metaphorical otherness of being both Latino and Jewish. He received his B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Binghamton University (2018). He spent a semester in London studying English history and culture. He has published two collections of poems in bilingual editions: Choreographed in Uniform Distress/Coreografiados en uniforme zozobra (New York: Artepoética Press, 1st edition, 2018; Lima: Grupo Editorial Amotape, 2nd edition, 2018); and Sensory Overload/Sobrecarga sensorial (New York: Nueva York Poetry Press, 2020). His poetry has been published in English and in translation into Korean and Spanish in Multilingual Anthology: The Americas Poetry Festival of New York 2018; Korean Expatriate Literature (Santa Fe Springs, CA, 2019), and Hawansuyo (New York, 2018). He has translated into English two collections of poems: Dream of Insomnia/Sueño del insomnia, by Isaac Goldemberg (New York: Nueva York Poetry Press, 2021) and The Gaze/La Mirada, by Pedro Granados, published as part of Amerindians/Amerindios (New York: Artepoética Press, 2020). He is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College.


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