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We Were Born in a World with Predators: Featured Poetry by Rose McLarney

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Forage by Rose McLarney. Her poems always make me want to linger. If poetry, as an art, slows us down, then McLarney’s poems slow us and sink us and rejuvenate our sense of the surrounding world.

McLarney’s poems are so tactile; here we follow the narrator’s hands into the cold chicken, feel the “warmth of eggs / in the time when we / collected them fresh.” These moments of touch allow McLarney to widen her scope with the shift of a line—so that her abstractions feel as tangible as lemons and herbs.

After Hearing of His Passing
I kept sliding lemon under the skinand herbs into the openingsof a chicken, its cold countering
the recalled warmth of eggsin the time when wecollected them fresh
from beneath hens. Our hands,feather-brushed, found waysto come near one another.
We took the birds’ eggs. We tooktheir lives too, if raccoons didn’tfirst, eating the craw full of grain
only and leaving the bodyto waste, as the whole of himdoes now that he’s dead young.
Most waste I can avoid (I’d save hearts,sauté livers, when we slaughtered).But not the truth that I have handled
his body, intimately, and other beings’entrails. And I still make meals.We were born in a world with predators.
We have lived, from the beginning,knowing how we were created,sharp-toothed and hungry.
But not who would have the pleasureof feeding, when one would feel the painof prey. I will serve another chicken,
and I may say its cooked skin is golden,a kind of exaltation. And the sorrowwill be biting. And birds will keep surviving.
Scavenging insects and flesh from the sickof their flocks, seeds from sunflowersand blossoms from rose bushes in reach.
I kept sliding lemon under the skinand herbs into the openingsof a chicken, its cold countering
the recalled warmth of eggsin the time when wecollected them fresh
from beneath hens. Our hands,feather-brushed, found waysto come near one another.
We took the birds’ eggs. We tooktheir lives too, if raccoons didn’tfirst, eating the craw full of grain
only and leaving the bodyto waste, as the whole of himdoes now that he’s dead young.
Most waste I can avoid (I’d save hearts,sauté livers, when we slaughtered).But not the truth that I have handled
his body, intimately, and other beings’entrails. And I still make meals.We were born in a world with predators.
We have lived, from the beginning,knowing how we were created,sharp-toothed and hungry.
But not who would have the pleasureof feeding, when one would feel the painof prey. I will serve another chicken,
and I may say its cooked skin is golden,a kind of exaltation. And the sorrowwill be biting. And birds will keep surviving.
Scavenging insects and flesh from the sickof their flocks, seeds from sunflowersand blossoms from rose bushes in reach.

From Forage by Rose McLarney, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Rose McLarney. Previously published in the Birmingham Poetry Review.

The Space Between Silence & Enough: Featured Poetry by Nick Flynn

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from I Will Destroy You by Nick Flynn. His books are often God-haunted, with doubt and faith giving breath to each other.

Flynn has said that he writes “about Jesus quite a lot, he’s appeared in nearly every book I’ve written, it seems…distilled down to his essence, I think he’s a beautiful figure…he is a scrim for each generation to project upon—he seems the perfect ambiguous image, which forces us to figure out what he means, over and over again.”

The complex identity and legacy of St. Augustine fits that same description, and in this poem, the final in Flynn’s excellent new book, we feel the narrator’s conversation with the past. “Even as I write each word I am farther from God,” he says—a powerful song of longing.

“Saint Augustine”
Saint Augustine preached humility &the need to simply be on the ground.Do you wish to rise? he asked. Whatwould he say of these words then, which,after all, are meant to replace us? Whatwould he say of the way I go back, again& again, to the burning house, the housewe’ve already escaped? These words—so quick, the way they rise up, like sparks,or smoke, a person could get lost in the skywatching them, a person could lose trackof the important things. Spot quiz: What’sthe opposite of standing before a houseon fire, trying to understand the flames,& knowing you will never understand?I want to enter into that moment my motherstrikes her first match, but I’m still asleepupstairs. In the dream I’m walking throughthe marsh, because only there, surroundedby water, am I safe. Are your handsthe water? Are these words the flame?The reeds are taller than I am, the mudslows everything down. In some waysI cannot imagine seeing you again, but hereI am, kneeling as in prayer at your bedside,counting our breaths. What would stop mefrom taking your hand then & placing it on mychest? O Lord, help me be pure, but not yet.Even as I write each word I am farther fromGod—sometimes I just can’t find it. If only I couldhave the faith I hear coming from the radio,the way it always knows I’m listening. One daythese years will be known as the space betweensilence & enough. I still have trouble being alonein either, which is why the radio is always on.Do you wish to rise? Augustine asks. Beginby descending.

“Saint Augustine,” from I Will Destroy You. Copyright © 2019 by Nick Flynn. Reproduced with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Where to Submit Poetry in 2019

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Here’s a thought experiment: Let’s say you’re a lover of poetry. Maybe you like to read our poetry excerpt series; perhaps you eagerly await our monthly must-read poetry lists. Now, a step further: perhaps you write poetry? Might you be looking for a place to submit said poetry (and have been energized, instead of dejected, by Glen Cadigan’s recent essay on submissions)? Is it possible that you have not yet compiled the highly detailed spreadsheet of poetry journals, submission dates, and contests that every aspiring poet must make before sending out a single poem for consideration? To get you started, Meimei Xu of The Adroit Journal has put together a list of the best places to submit poetry in 2019. Complete with information on submissions periods, links to past issues, and blurbs about the history and mission of each journal, the list includes both big names, like Ploughshares and The Kenyon Review, and lesser-known gems, like Diagram and Waxwing.

Holy in the Hands of Old Oak: Featured Poetry by Alexandra Teague

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Or What We’ll Call Desire by Alexandra Teague. Her book is full of richly-textured pieces like “Driving After Rain,” a poem whose rhythm begins with its first line—a single sentence, dressed with complementing s and f sounds, appended with a final, single word that moves us forward. She’s as skilled moving among phrases and sounds as she is portraying bodies—our ineffable drift through this world: “we were always driving nowhere // and it didn’t matter then.”

“Driving After Rain”
The self like silverware laid out finally for a feast. Brightlanes of light along the gorge this morning, that watery rush
like the waterwheel I used to love to go see at the mill:the War Eagle gushing brown Southern babble
over sunspots of stone, dark flecks of childhoodlifted into swinging buckets, rain pockmarks of failure
or giver or grief churning not in transubstantiation but in waterrising up as water, holy in the hands of old oak;
Oh God, make them like a wheel, not a curse, but a wayto ride the whole way around our bodies
and back—like once in the front seat by an L.A. highway,I’d pull over with a man, a storm
so blinding rain blinding no one saw my skirt liftingagainst steering wheel; we were always driving nowhere
and it didn’t matter then, suspendedlike water I don’t quite understand, how it falls fast enough
to carry itself up and over and still be wholethe way I pretended I wasn’t—knowing he was lying
that he’d ever love me, throwing myself anywaylike this river was everything. As stubble before the wind.  
Inside that mill, flour dusts every skin. So whatif I’m dammed and damned and driven; some days
I’m also shining like spoons milled by water, breadmy mother kneaded as I set knife beside fork—hunger
taught to be orderly as wheels at fairs, that sky-swinging dangerwith its sturdy spokes like psalms splitting the word of God
from the water of every other word.

“Driving after the Rain” by Alexandra Teague from Or What We’ll Call Desire by Alexandra Teague. Copyright © 2019 by Alexandra Teague. Posted by permission of Persea Books, Inc. (New York). All rights reserved.

This Is Our Intimacy Now: Featured Poetry by Carmen Giménez Smith

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Be Recorder by Carmen Giménez Smith. Her poems often reflect a narrator’s childhood memory or perspective—and these glimpses into the past help sharpen the present.

In this poem, Smith shows the pain of seeing a parent struggle, someone who was once “remedy and anchor” but is now disoriented, unsure. It’s a moving poem of loss, love, and how both are “beautiful and sad and strange.”

“I Will Be My Mother’s Apprentice”

as if I were a hunger becauseit is our bleak and common futureto reverse the sphinx. I study the meanderof her logic for context. Sometimes it islike a poem that is not quite realizedfilled with hollows and bursts,a stranger’s grief and rage. She asksfor home when she’s home. She screamsfor the purse we haven’t hidden from her.Sometimes we circle the same spots,and I try to be as I know she was with meonce: remedy and anchor. I’m a fairto poor replica, yet still her proxy.

That you didn’t know her is yourmisfortune: a hot planet’s core,late summer’s best light. As metaphorI evoke a pink, vulnerable jelly,translucent and containing the past.I hold it in my hand and against a lamp.This is our intimacy now. My nails tracethe brown spots that mark her losses.Beautiful and sad and strange, I say,because I’ve made her into something else.

“I Will Be My Mother’s Apprentice,” from Be Recorder. Copyright © 2019 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

My Poem Will Not Save You: Featured Poetry by Dunya Mikhail

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from In Her Feminine Sign, the new book by Dunya Mikhail. Full of gently-delivered lines that rumble with resonance, Mikhail’s poems are worth pondering—and they will often leave readers with much to carry forward. “My Poem Will Not Save You” begins with an arresting viral image, gracefully delivered—an elegy for this child whose body and soul has taken on another, digital life. Mikhail’s poem reminds us of difficult truths: her poem “will not turn him onto his back / and lift him up / to his feet.” Her poem will not defuse a bomb or block a shell from falling. Poetry might not save us—at least in the way we desire. The poem’s refrain—”I am sorry”—feels so authentic, so necessary.

“My Poem Will Not Save You”
Remember the toddler lying face downon the sand, and the waves gently recedingfrom his body as if a forgotten dream?
My poem will not turn him onto his backand lift him upto his feetso he can runinto a familiar laplike before.I am sorrymy poem will notblock the shellswhen they fallonto a sleeping town,will not stop the buildingsfrom collapsingaround their residents,will not pick up the broken-leg flowerfrom under the shrapnel,will not raise the dead.My poem will not defusethe bombin the public square.It will soon explodewhere the girl insiststhat her father buy her gum.My poem will not rush themto leave the placeand ride the carthat will just miss the explosion.Many mistakes in lifewill not be corrected by my poem.Questions will not be answered.I am sorrymy poem will not save you.My poem cannot returnall of your losses,not even some of them,and those who went far awaymy poem won’t know how to bring them backto their lovers.I am sorry.I don’t know why the birdssingduring their crossingsover our ruins.Their songs will not save us,although, in the chilliest times,they keep us warm,and when we need to touch the soulto know it’s not deadtheir songsgive us that touch.

By Dunya Mikhail, from In Her Feminine Sign, copyright © 2019 by Dunya Mikhail. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Get on Your Knees Again: Featured Poetry by Mark Yakich

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Spiritual Exercises by Mark Yakich, a writer whose mixture of irreverence and the sublime results in a unique tone. Yakich always feels one line away from a joke or an epiphany, making “Revelations” an appropriate title for his style. So anaphoric that it feels like an incantation, Yakich’s poem compels us to read it forward and backward: a structure ready for descent and ascension.

“Revelations”
When they say, Time heals all wounds,They mean, Worlds.
When they say, Worlds,They mean, You won’t even recall how much you’ll forget.
When they say, Forget,They mean, Someday you won’t know the name of your daughter.
When they say, Daughter,They mean, God.
When they say, God,They mean, Eternity.
When they say, Eternity,They mean, Until you are gone, too.
When they say, Gone,They mean, Everyone.
When they say, Everyone,They mean, We have no idea what happens after this.
When they say, This,They mean, Words.
When they say, Words,They mean, Meaning.
When they say, Meaning,They mean, That which passes for understanding.
When they say, Understanding,They mean, Peace.
When they say, Peace,They mean, By which the end is justified.
When they say, Justified,They mean, Amen.
When they say, Amen,They mean, Say no more.
When they say, More,They mean, Get on your knees again.
When they say, Again,They mean, Love, Love, Love.

From Spiritual Exercises by Mark Yakich, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Mark Yakich.

Whatever Dirt or Blemish Upon Her Name: Featured Poetry by Eugene Gloria

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Eugene Gloria from his new book, Sightseer in This Killing City, a skilled and fevered examination of strife in the Philippines and the United States. Even Gloria’s domestic poems, like “The Maid,” carry the drama of a poet attuned to how national tension seeps through our walls and shakes our sleep. The poem is bereft of punctuation, save for the em dash near its conclusion, creating a compressed, intense feel. Even within his tense lines, Gloria manages the grace of individual images, like how the maid’s skirt is “a bloomful / Tent for tiny boys cooling with scent of sea air.” This is a poem about secrets and blemishes, told with details that make you want to close your eyes and savor the talented lines.

“The Maid”
Before she let her go not a speck of dirtSullied her bleached blouse except for the darkRope of hair she sometimes coiled intoA tidy bun with beaded sweat gracing theMandarin collar and a pressed hanky the sunLurking so the hanky became both veil andRag unlike her skirt a bloomfulTent for tiny boys cooling with scent of sea airAir rifling through the trees andBloomful sheets with camisoles on the lineAnd the flag flutter warning of forbidden zonesSun scorching the grass into oaken fieldsThe yard where we hunted dragonflies wellInto dinnertime or thereabouts untilDark I suppose or when rain fell—WhateverDirt or blemish upon her name only my mother knew

From Sightseer in This Killing City by Eugene Gloria, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Eugene Gloria.

Even the Sun Itself Has Faded: Featured Poetry by Norman Dubie

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Norman Dubie from his new book, Robert Schumann Is Mad Again, an eclectic and inventive collection. There’s often an irreverent touch to Dubie’s lines, but his language is painfully precise—with an unnerving feel, as if we are looking at the world around us with new eyes. “Zone” begins with a “flag utterly bleached with years of sun, / seemingly made thin with turpentine” — lines that imply color, texture, smell, age, decay, and more. His later description of the flag “rioting with the wind” is such an arresting image, its precision unsettling; a preface, perhaps, for the darkness that invades the rest of the poem.

“Zone”
A flag utterly bleached with years of sun,seemingly made thin with turpentine, isan achievement in the yard of yellow grass.Even the sun itself has fadedsetting in the bee tenement of bearded palms.The flag, nearly detached from its pole,is somehow rioting with the wind.
This is just the first of six months of heatand already a neighbor has been founddead on his patio with a revolverof glassy obsidian fallen to his sandals.He told the maintenance man in the afternoonhe believed those bees were wasps and they,they were going to attack him and his tea, flyinglike zeros right out of the sun that will have blinded him.
John said the lawn mowers prevented himfrom understanding what else he said, the facetruly reddening with the small success of evening.

Copyright 2019 Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved. Posted here with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

My Mother Once Gave Up Her Savior: Featured Poetry by Tina Chang

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Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Tina Chang from her new book, Hybrida. “Mankind Is So Fallible” is a lovely, ambitious poem about the mysteries of belief. Chang’s lines are simultaneously gentle but jarring: we are eased into the murky and mystical place of faith. In Chang’s poem, the narrator’s mother sets aside God—”She no longer believed in the unseen”—leading the narrator to wonder with what one might replace the divine. Perhaps belief “could be as simple as sleep, curling inward / toward an avalanche of hummingbirds.” This poem thrums like that small, beautiful bird’s wings.

“Mankind Is So Fallible”
We lie down to the day as if we could fleefrom the body’s burden. On the ground are notes,candles, a saint’s face painted alive with gold.
Where does God live if not in the shadowsof struggle, marching next to the living,with battlements and a slogan, knowing
faintly more than we do? Someone dispatchesa call for help. Someone notes the patcheson a man’s jacket. Somewhere there is a circle
of people praying and dying at once, the lossof which makes a narrative rain downin news feeds across frames of light.
~
My mother once gave up her savior,walked into our living room to professher love for the here and now.
She no longer believed in the unseen,could no longer bow to invisible idols.She sat on the chair in front of me
more mortal than she ever was, face lit with resolve, done with faith,done with the promise of rapture.
Somewhere, glass breaksand the one who shatters itwears a mask of God’s many faces.
~
How would the body be summonedif we started over? Imagine a blank bookin which the body is drawn.
Would the body lie horizontal like a violinwhose music plays off-key or would it standupright like a totem pole against its own weather?
I place a book under my pillowas the ancient Japanese courtesans didto dream the body into being.
Wind gathers from the past until I am walkingin snow. The arms and legs move in unisonwith the mind, an engine of sinew and meat.
How should I draw it, not the bodybut what it contains. Not its contoursbut its tensions. Not its stew of blood
and clattering bones but its promise.I prefer now to think of the body’s debtand what it owes to the ledger of the living.
~
I imagine the courtesans rising from sleep,hair rushing to the waist like ink. They rubtheir eyes of dream, tighten their robes
as they lift the book from beneath their pillowas if urging a stone from its bedrock.How would they think of the body then,
having wakened from that placeone could describe as near death.Instead, the body startles forward toward infinity.
~
The courtesan runs her hand along the page,feels the blank space, an urgent bell summons her.Dips her brush in ink and draws a line through emptiness.
When a young man enters a church,he seeks a furnace to burn away his hatredand a foundation on which to kneel.
He seeks his mother’s mercyand his father’s vengeance. He passes throughthe doors and we call this worship.
If it could be as simple as sleep, curling inwardtoward an avalanche of hummingbirds, the mindfreeing itself as the body lets go its earthly wreckage.
If it could be like enduring the wholeness of a dreamso real we dissolve into a veil of the past,wind dragged backward, so brutal in its disappearance.

Reprinted from Hybrida: Poems. Copyright © 2019 by Tina Chang. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.