I Wait for the Sudden Sunset: Featured Poetry by Tyler Mills

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Tyler Mills from her new book, Hawk Parable, a fascinating verse consideration of the atomic age. From test to terror, Mills unfolds the dizzying destruction of a world, cindered and then forgotten. In this poem, laughter precedes the “sudden / sunset,” a pungent “tangerine” unleashed on the landscape. Connie Francis is the soundtrack to yet another test—which, like the others, remains surprising in its violence.

“Declassified Test Film”
They eat close to the surf,laughing as water un-combsplum threadsfrom a surface that flickersquickly in and out ofsunflowers.
I wait for the suddensunset, tangerine, sun-less as it blooms.One of the soldiers has a question.He rubs his nose with his thumb.Is it that silver
speck up there?He’s in the cotton whitet-shirt you like to wear.I fold your sleeves in a mess and press themto my face—your stinkin the boat
seam of fabric.|“Where the Boys Are” by Connie Francisdrones from a radio speaker, her breathmingling with the gold-painted mesh.They dig their feet in the sand
peaking here and there like buttercream.Suddenly, the songstupidly playingbreaks outof shape, and everyoneflinches
then staresright at the sky.

“Declassified Test Film,” from Hawk Parable by Tyler Mills. Copyright © 2019 by The University of Akron Press. Published and reprinted by permission of The University of Akron Press.

‘Ungovernable’: Featured Nonfiction from Therese Oneill

In today’s featured nonfiction, we present an excerpt from Therese Oneill’s Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent’s Guide to Raising Flawless Children, out today from Little, Brown.

Publishers Weekly praised Oneill for keeping “her tongue firmly in cheek for this dark-humored, enlightening look at Victorian-era prescriptions for upper-class childbirth and child rearing.”
How Do I Prepare My Sacred Vestibule to Best Receive My Husband’s Life-Germ?
The Ins and Outs of Fruitful Conception

Try to assume as close to a left-bend forty-five-degree angle as possible to shorten the male-gender ovum’s journey through the fallopian tubes.

Q: Do you have any advice if I’m still on the fence about having children?

A: Yes. Every moment you remain childless is another beat of your heart echoing down a meaningless eternity. Your time on earth will have been a blip, a glitch, and no trace of you will escape the blankness of death, and when you are gone only the poor estate agent who has to try to rid your home of your stench will mourn your passing.

Q: Oh. Well. That’s a pretty tight argument. Except I have child-free friends who are doing just fine.

A: Child-less is the proper Victorian term. Actually, “barren” is more accurate. “The Lord hath turned His mercy against you” is also appropriate. Your childless friends seem happy, with their disposable income and spare time. But how they weep at night. Weep in their clean houses after eating expensive adult food and wine and watching rated-R movies on the big screen in the living room. Bitterly weep.

But this is moot! You already know, in your heart, that children are your highest purpose as a woman! Otherwise you’d never have picked up this book. Let’s get started! Your work as a good mother begins long before the birth of your precious children. It begins even before conception! Preparation for motherhood as the Victorians did begins the moment you awkwardly allow your new husband to bunch your thirteen pounds of nightdress around your waist and accidentally elbow you in the chin while blindly but earnestly trying to navigate the cartography of your lady parts. If things get weird, just remember, you’re doing this for the baby!

Q: Wait—do I have to wear the nightdress? Weird how? What sorts of things am I supposed to do to prepare?

A: Slow down there, feisty filly. I don’t mean to mislead you. While it is the highest and most noble desire to start a family, it’s not a privilege to be allotted to all women. First, you must ask yourself, “Is it a good idea to put more of me in the world? Would my offspring bring good to society, or would I just be mushing up all my own deficiencies, from my foul temper to my freckles, into a squalling eight-pound plague to unleash on civilization?” Now is not a time to mince words, so I must say with great solemnity: We don’t more need more stupid and ugly in this world. If inferior goods are all that’s on offer up your baby aisle, best to just convert it into a dry goods department.

Dr. L. C. Winsor wrote an editorial in an 1887 edition of the Obstetric Gazette called “Should Conception Be Controlled?” about stupid people making new stupid people. Lack of sense and restraint was, in the doctor’s opinion, killing America.
It cannot be disputed that the majority of our race are conceived utterly regardless of the conditions, time, or of the fitness of the parents to procreate. Such being the case, is it strange that we hear now and then rumors that the American race is becoming weak? That hollow chested, round-shouldered, debilitated fathers, and worn, dyspeptic mothers, complain that the children are sick so much that they are turning home into a hospital?
And what is to blame for this degradation of the American breed? Says Winsor, “Men and women are too prone to marry on simply the one quality—that of love.”

There it is. Mushy, squishy imprudent “love.” Ruining humanity by not factoring sensible breeding into the equation. Winsor continues:
Often the fitness as regards health, temperament and inclination are totally disregarded. Few men are as strong as their ancestors were. They are not of the rugged puritan type, nor is the tendency in America to strength, but rather to weakness, and under these circumstances, with no especial preparation, conception takes place.
Q: Wait—“rugged puritan type”? Didn’t half the Mayflower Puritans die, precisely because they were too weak to survive freezing, sickness, and starvation, all within months of landing in America?

A: Ha! No! That’s just…I mean…like barely half! There were 102 Mayflower passengers and only 45 or so died by the first winter. Besides, the good doctor obviously isn’t referring to the ol’ “Oh, poor me, I can’t survive an unusually harsh New England winter in a badly built shelter with hardly any food and now I’m going to die because I haven’t the fortitude to walk off a little bit of scurvy” Puritans. He’s talking about the hardy survivors that built America! And look: An Object Lesson. Bring weak humans into the world, force the Lord to cull them out.

How cruel of you.

This is why you must be sure you’re worthy of procreation. Do not be one of the “thousands of careless, selfish and vicious couples” identified by Lyman Beecher Sperry in 1900’s Husband and Wife who are unfit to marry but do it anyway. You must self-govern. Because modern minds apparently consider it a “gross violation of human rights” to implement Sperry’s suggested solution: “Of course, it would be great gain if all those who ought not to reproduce their kind could be prevented from marrying; but at the present stage of human development such a method of preventing the multiplication of defectives is too radical to secure favorable consideration.”

“No, I’m really happy to be in the New World. It’s just I only brought this one cape and I don’t know how to make houses happen.”

Q: “Preventing the multiplication of defectives”…wasn’t that one of Hitler’s programs?

A: I’m very eager to answer all your questions, but we’d move faster if they weren’t all directed at poking holes in my historical narrative. Furthermore, if you attach Hitler’s name to anything it’s going to sound over the top. Granted, forced sterilization is already…rather fringe. And, yes, the Nazi Party enacted many laws to prevent the birth of “unsound progeny” by sterilizing people who were judged by an investigating panel as unfit…but… the Victorian eugenicists didn’t mean it evil. Victorians lived in a largely speculative world, full of ideas on how to improve their changing civilization. They weren’t great at factoring in the wild variable that is human behavior. Since they intended good, they wouldn’t easily conceptualize just how awful such a method would be when put into action. It doesn’t change the fact that you yourself have a moral duty to find out if you’re fit for reproduction.

Q: And how will I know if I am fit for reproduction?

A: Science will tell you! Victorian science, which is a little different from what you’re used to, since it’s not big on evidence or whatever. It was a system based more on…intuition! Of men! Who may or may not be scientists but who do love to write books with big, big words! So, listen.

Obviously you should not reproduce if you are cursed with any sort of illness that might be passed on to your offspring or impair your ability to care for them. Neither should you reproduce if your IQ is below average, but that’s rather moot. As Sperry tells us, dumb people are always the last to know of their condition. Nonetheless, let’s look at some of the ladies who are fouling the gene pool and need to be banned from the “recreation” center.

Tight-lacing the corset of a twelve-year-old gives the appearance of fuller hips and breasts, but that is usually only an illusion brought on by organ displacement.

Girls Under Twenty Years of Age—The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife, and Mother by George Henry Napheys was reprinted decades past its original 1869 publication, so popular was his advice regarding the weaker sex. Even though early marriage was far more acceptable in the past than today, Napheys recognized that a woman under twenty is rarely physically or mentally prepared for the demands of motherhood. Plus, she’s probably going to die: “It is very common for those who marry young to die young. From statistics which have been carefully compiled [he doesn’t have those statistics on him at this exact moment, but trust him, they were wayyyy carefully compiled], it is proven that the first labors of very young mothers are much more painful, tedious, and dangerous to life, than others.” If young mothers don’t die right away, Napheys warns, they will certainly suffer barren wombs. Or, unpredictable little tarts that they are, go completely the other way and live a long time and have way too many children. Seriously, anything could happen! Almost to the point that it seems totally random and not worth medical notation. Although you can be sure the children of a young mother are predestined to be societal burdens.
 Excerpted from the book Ungovernable by Therese Oneill. Copyright © 2019 by Therese Oneill. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.

Panel Mania: ‘Invisible Mafia’ by Brian Michael Bendis

Acclaimed comics writer Brian Michael Bendis takes the helm of Superman in Action Comics Vol. 1: Invisible Mafia, a lively new adventure about the Man of Steel.
In this nine-page excerpt, Superman has been falsely accused of causing a series of devastating fires and is forced to clear his name; Lois Lane, his wife and star Daily Planet reporter, has disappeared; and because the Daily Planet is losing readers, Perry White is pressuring his reporters for more and more scoops. If all of that weren’t enough, there’s a new and powerful supervillain in Metropolis who may be behind a growing and well organized criminal empire.
The hardcover collection of Invisible Empire Vol. 1 by Bendis and artists Ryan Sook, Patrick Gleason, and Yanick Paquette will be published by DC this month.
This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

I Do Not Wish to Sing: Featured Poetry by Jericho Brown

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Jericho Brown from his new book, The Tradition. In one piece, Brown synthesizes everything I love about his poetry: tightly-rendered scenes, graceful yet smooth control over syntax and lines, and a spiritual sense that focuses on the struggles of faith. “Suffocated myself handsome” is such an original, claustrophobic line—Brown sells us on his first lines, and his storytelling talent reverberates throughout The Tradition. “We pray,” he writes, “Unaware of prayer.” Such is life.

“Deliverance”

Though I have not shined shoes for it,Have not suffocated myself handsomeIn a tight, bright tie, Sunday comesTo me again as it did in childhood.

We few left who listen to the radio leaveOurselves available to surprise. We prayUnaware of prayer. We are an ugly people.

Forgive me, I do not wish to singLike Tramaine Hawkins, but Lord if I couldBecome the note she belts halfway intoThe fifth minute of “The Potter’s House”

When black vocabulary heralds home-Made belief: For any kind of havoc, there isDeliverance! She means that even after I am

Not listening. I am not a saintBecause I keep trying to be a sound, something You will rememberOnce you’ve lived enough not to believe in heaven.

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

‘A Wonderful Stroke of Luck’: Featured Fiction from Ann Beattie

In today’s featured fiction, we present an excerpt from chapter three of Ann Beattie’s new novel, A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, out today from Viking. Kirkus praised the book, calling it an “elegantly sculpted tale that is both wrenchingly sad and ultimately enigmatic.”
A Wonderful Stroke of Luck
A car pulled in and a woman hopped out, unscrewed the gas cap, and began pushing buttons before inserting her credit card. Someone else came out of the store, eating a candy bar. There were people around them. Lee wasn’t an eagle whose talons were going to lift them from the planet. A man had gotten out of the passenger seat and was hitching up his pants while walking toward the store.

Why did Ben feel like these people, this place, might be the last things he’d ever see? Lee had turned his back and walked off. He was lifting the hose. He didn’t seem dangerous. He seemed to be having some sort of discussion with himself—anybody who went to Bailey became hypersensitized to that conversational mode. All along, it had seemed like he’d been preoccupied with something else while talking to them.

“Joke’s on us,” Lee said, hanging up the hose. “All of us going to some sad café in Hicksville, me hoping to get laid, just like you wanted to fuck my buddy, LouLou. Wish me luck with that, huh? Ben— I think your girlfriend wishes I’d drive away and disappear.”

“You have a good night,” Ben said. “Sorry about the mix-up.”

“Benny! You’re too much! You pay for gas and now you’re going to insist on getting me a package of cigs, too, aren’t you?”

“Fuck you,” LouLou said. “Don’t do it, Ben.”

He stood there thinking. Then he walked into the store and bought Marlboros, hoping the woman behind the counter wouldn’t ask to see his ID. She didn’t. She was polite. She gave him matches. He looked at her pudgy fingers grasping the cigarette pack and the matchbook, her hovering index finger’s pink painted nail the cherry on top of the treat. She was missing a tooth.

Back at the car, he handed the package to Lee, though he’d pocketed the matches. He had no plan for them, but they seemed like a good thing to keep. Boy Scouts knew how to rub sticks together to make a fire, but he had no such skills. He also didn’t think that they’d be camping in the woods. With a pretty girl, it would be easier to get someone to pick them up.

“Much obliged,” Lee said, pushing the cigarette package into his shirt pocket. “Lots of loonies out there on the interstate. Best to take back roads.”

The man who’d gone into the store earlier now came out, hopped into the passenger seat, and the car drove away, its exhaust fumes so dark the rising cloud turned almost green as it hung in the air. Lee got in the car. The door slammed shut. Music played loudly as the ignition turned over: Prince. Lee put the wagon in gear and drove past, without a look in their direction.

Gone—back on the road. The taillights quickly disappeared. For a wavery second, Ben remembered his mother running, trying to track the disappearance of a shooting star. But maybe he really only remembered his mother on the ground, hurt.

“We have to hitch,” he said. It had begun to get dark. She was looking down. He thought about extending his hand, but didn’t. Something bad had happened between them. He didn’t know what. He supposed he’d now become a coward in her eyes.

“We’re not riding with some stranger,” she said. “I’m calling Binnie.”

“What?” Binnie popped into his mind as a character in a Dickens novel. She was in her apron, leaving the Sunday social, carrying a pile of half-eaten food on a tray. The thought of food made his stomach clench.

“I’ll pay her to pick us up.”

“What are you talking about?” he said, as Binnie settled back into reality.

LouLou turned away—she had Phillip Collins’s phone! She’d borrowed Collins’s phone with the skull decal! He could hear her talking quietly as she walked farther away. She was calling the caterer’s daughter? How would she even have number? He stared at her dark mane of hair, glossy and He walked up behind her and lightly wrapped his hands around a clump of it. She spun around, frightened. He was going to pull her hair out of her head, was that it? He was that angry? Because she’d told him not to be manipulated by Lee? He could hear a high-pitched voice on the other end of the phone that was recognizably Binnie’s. “LouLou, tell me where you’re at!”

LouLou raised and grasped his, still wrapped around her hair.

“Give me the phone,” he said, surprised to see tears rolling down her cheeks. “I can explain better than you.”

From A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Ann Beattie.

Panel Mania: ‘Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America’ by Box Brown

In Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, Box Brown surveys the broad history of marijuana, from its role in Hindu mythology to its importation into the Americas by Spain.

Brought into the U.S. by Mexican immigrants in the 19th century, marijuana eventually became associated with jazz musicians and inevitably became tainted by a racist social mythology—one that linked weed to violence and sex—which was used to justify legal restrictions of the drug.

In this illuminating work of graphic nonfiction, Brown provides a thoughtful look at the history, pharmacological affects, and legalization movement surrounding marijuana in North America. This is a 15-page excerpt.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

‘Sing to It’: Featured Fiction from Amy Hempel

In today’s featured fiction, we present a short story from Amy Hempel’s first story collection since 2006, Sing to It, out tomorrow from Scribner. The title received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which praised the book for highlighting “Hempel’s signature style with its condensed prose, quirky narrators, and touching, disturbing, transcendent moments.”
“Greed”
Mrs. Greed had been married for forty years, her husband the cuckold of all time. A homely man with a notable fortune, he escorted her on errands in the neighborhood. It was a point of honor with Mrs. Greed to say she would never leave him. No matter if her affection for him was exceeded by her devotion to others. Including, for example, my husband. If she was home at night in her husband’s bed, did he care what she did with her days?

I was the one who cared.

Protected by men, money, and a lack of shame, Mrs. Greed had long been able to avoid what she had coming. She had the kind of glee that meant men did not think she slept around, they thought she had joie de vivre; they thought her a libertine, not a whore.

She had the means to indulge impetuous behavior and sleep through the mornings after nights she kept secret from her friends. She traveled the world, and turned into the person she could be in other places with people she would never see again.

She was many years older than my husband, running on the fumes of her beauty. Hers had been a conventional beauty, and I was embarrassed by my husband’s homage to it. Running through their rendezvous: a stream of regret that they had not met sooner.

He asked if she had maternal feelings for him. She said she was not sure what he wanted to hear. She told him she felt an erotic mix of passion and tenderness. If he wanted to think the tenderness maternal, let him.

When they met, he said, he had not hidden the fact that she looked like his mother, a glamorous woman who had been cruel to him and died when he was a boy. He had not said this to underscore her age, nor did she think it a fixation. She would have heard it as she felt it was intended: as a compliment, an added opportunity to bind them together. She would have been happy to be the good mother, as well as the ultimate sensate. And see how her pleasure seeking brought pleasure to those around her!

A thing between them: green apples. Never red, always green. I knew when my husband had entertained Mrs. Greed because a trio of baskets in the kitchen would be filled with polished green apples. My husband claimed to like the look of them; I never saw him eat one. As soon as they started to soften and turn brown, I would throw them out. And there would be the baskets filled so soon again.

He told me he got them from the Italian market in town. But I checked, and the Italian market does not carry green apples. What the green apples mean to them, I don’t know, don’t want to know. But she brought them each time she entered our house, and I felt that if I had not thrown the rotting ones out, he would have held on to every one of them. The way he fetishized these apples—it made him less attractive to me.

Mrs. Greed convinced her young lover, my husband, that she was “not the type” to have “work” done, but she had had work done. She must have had a high threshold for pain. She could stay out of sight for the month or more of healing after each procedure. She had less success hiding the results of other surgeries. She claimed her athleticism had made it necessary, claimed a “sports injury” to lessen the horror of simple aging. But she could not hide the stiffness that followed, a lack of elasticity that marked her an old woman who crossed the street slowly in low-heeled shoes. I watched her cross the street like this, supported by my husband.

Maybe that was why she liked to hear complaints about his other women, that they were spoiled and petty, gossips who resented his involvement with her. Because he would not keep quiet about such a thing. At first, she felt the others had “won” because they could see him at any time. Then she saw that their availability guaranteed he would tire of them. They were impermanent, and she knew it before they did. So however much he pleaded with her to leave her husband, or at least see him more often, Mrs. Greed refused. It galled me that he wanted her more than she wanted him.

I listened to them often. I hooked up the camera to the computer when I was at home alone. For two hundred dollars I’d bought a hidden surveillance camera that was fitted into a book. I did not expect it to work. I left it next to the clock on the nightstand. I did not pay the additional seventy-five dollars that would have showed them to me in color. But the ninety-degree field of view was adequate for our bedroom, and sound came in from up to seven hundred feet. Had this not worked so well, I would have stood in line for the camera that came hidden in a ceiling-mounted smoke detector.

Usually the things they said were exchanges of unforeseen delight, and riffs of gratitude. But the last time I listened to them, my husband said something clever. Mrs. Greed sounded oddly winsome, said she sometimes wished the two of them had “waited.” My husband told her they could still wait—they could wait a day, a week, a month—“It just won’t be the first time,” he said.

How she laughed.

I said to myself, “I am a better person!” I am a speech therapist who works with children. Parents say I change their lives. But men don’t care about a better person. You can’t photograph virtue.

I found the collection of photographs he had tried to hide. I liked that the photos of herself she brought to him were photos from so long ago. Decades ago. She wears old-fashioned bathing suits aboard sailboats with islands in the faded background. Let her note that the photographs of me that my husband took himself were taken in this bed.

Together, they lacked fear, I thought, to the extent that she told him to bring me to dinner at her house. With her husband. Really, this was the most startling thing I had heard on playback. Just before the invitation, she told him she would not go to bed with the two of us. My husband was the one to suggest it. As though the two of us had talked it over, as if this were something I wanted. I heard her say, “I have to be the queen bee.” Saw her say it.

She would not go to bed with us, but she would play hostess at dinner in her home.

I looked inside my closet, as though I might actually go. What does one wear for such an occasion? The corset dress? Something off the shoulder? Something to make me look older? But no dress existed for me to wear to this dinner. The dress had to do too much. It had to say: I am the sexy wife, and I will outlast you. It had to say: You are no threat to my happiness, and I will outlive you.

*

Down the street from our house, a car waited for Mrs. Greed. I knew, because I had taken note before, that a driver brought her to see my husband when I visited clients out of town. Was there a bar in the back of this car? I couldn’t tell—the windows had a tint. Maybe she would not normally drink, but because there was a decanter of Scotch and she was being driven some distance at dusk, maybe she poured herself a glass and toasted her good luck?

This last thought reassured me. How was it this felt normal to me, to think of her being driven home after a tumble with my husband? I guess it depends on what you are used to. I knew a man who found Army boot camp “touching,” the attention he received from the drill sergeant, the way the Army fed him daily. It was a comfort to him to know what each day would bring.

I felt there could be no compensation for being apart from my husband. Not for me, and not for her.

I knew I was supposed to be angry with him, not with her. She was not the first. She was the first he would not give up. But I could not summon the feelings pointed in the right direction. I even thought that killing her might be the form my self-destruction took. Had to take that chance. I tried to go cold for a time—when I thought of him, when I thought of her. But there was a heat and richness to what I conceived that made me think of times I was late to visit a place that my friends had already seen. When you discover something long after others have known it, there is a heady contentment that comes.

What I heard on the tapes after that: their contentment, their conversation one that we had not been having. Watching them on camera I thought: What if I’m doing just what I’m supposed to be doing? And then I thought: I am.

*

The boys said they would give me a sign.

It was money well spent. With what I saved not needing to film in color, and knowing I would not need the standard two-year warranty, I had enough to pay the thuggish teens a client’s son hung out with. The kid with the stutter had hinted he needed m‑m-money. I will even give them a bonus—I will let them keep the surveillance camera hidden in the book after they send me the final tape.

Mrs. Greed does not live so far away that I will miss the ambulance siren.

And what to make of this? The apples my husband “bought,” the green ones from the Italian market that does not carry green apples—I ate one on the front steps of our house and threw the core into pachysandra. The next morning the core I had thrown was on the top step where I had been sitting when I ate it. I threw it again, this time farther out, so it lodged in pine needles alongside the road in front of our house. The morning after that, today, the core was back in place on the top step.

Boys.

I thought: Let’s see what happens next.

We have so many apples left.

Excerpted from Sing to It by Amy Hempel. Copyright © 2019 by Amy Hempel.  Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Panel Mania: ‘Tyler Cross: Angola’ by Fabien Nury and Brüno

In this excerpt from Tyler Cross: Angola, Fabien Nury and Brüno’s 1940s criminal antihero finds himself imprisoned in Louisiana’s notoriously brutal Angola State Prison after an easy insurance scam turns into a doublecross. Tough, taciturn, and relentless, Cross plots his escape, and his revenge, against a backdrop of back-breaking chain gang labor, vicious beatings, and a murderous Mafia takeover of the prison that turns inmates’ forced labor into profits for organized crime. Eventually, Cross makes them all pay for his suffering in this stylishly grim Euro-comics homage to American noir. Tyler Cross: Angola will be published this month by Hard Case Crime Comics.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

I Want to Remember This: Featured Poetry by Brenda Shaughnessy

Our new series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Brenda Shaughnessy’s fifth book, The Octopus Museum. Stacked with dexterous, inventive pieces that range from prose poetry to letters to dialogues, Shaughnessy also nestles heartfelt poems about the narrator’s children. One of these such poems, “Blueberries for Cal,” is gorgeous, controlled, and complex. When the narrator says “Sometimes I can’t bear // all the things Cal doesn’t get to do,” the stanza break does real work; this is both lamentation and confession. One of the finest poems you’ll read on the sacred strain of parenting, on the force of love.

“Blueberries for Cal”
Watching little Henry, six, scoop up blueberriesand shovel them into his mouth, possessed.
I’m so glad I brought blueberries—wish my kidscould/would eat them. Cal can’t; Simone won’t.
Henry’s sisters Lucy & Jane took turns feeding eachother goldfish crackers and sips of juice.
Arms around each other’s neck and back. Tiny things.I wish my daughter had a sister like that
and my son a nervous system that let him walkand munch berries. Sometimes I can’t bear
all the things Cal doesn’t get to do. I want to curseeverything I can’t give him.
Admire/compare/despair—that’s not the most realfeeling I’m feeling, is it? I feel joy in Henry’s joy.
Blueberries for the child who wants them.There’s all this energetic sweetness, enough to go around,
to give and taste and trust. More than enough.For Cal, too. I want to remember this.
My children seem to subsist on music and frosting.Where there’s frosting, there’s cake.
Where there’s music, someone chose to make a songover all other things on this earth. 


Excerpted from The Octopus Museum. Copyright © 2019 by Brenda Shaughnessy. All rights reserved. First appeared in The Paris Review, issue 223. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.

There’s No One to Witness: Featured Poetry by Edgar Kunz

Our new series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from the debut collection by Edgar Kunz, Tap Out. Kunz’s poems are laconic, but also remain fleshy and full—the result of detailed lines that arrive with a good deal of punch. There’s a real sense of love and loss in this layered poem; how it begins with the elegiac “There’s no one left to see his hands.” Kunz cleaves the line at the perfect moment; we can follow the sadness of that idea, or we can dig deeper and ride the rest of the poem as gets more literal. Kunz’s poetry is worth a few reads—so feel free to see the reward of both approaches.

“My Father at 49, Working the Night Shift at B&R Diesel”

There’s no one left to see his hands            lifting from the engine bay, dark and gnarled                          as roots dripping river mud,
no one to see how his palms – slabs of callus            from scouring the long throats of chimneys,                          hauling mortar and brick – move
in the fabricated light. Thumb-knuckle            thick and white as a grub where the box-                          cutter bit. Split nail grown back
scalloped and crooked. The stitch-              puckered skin. And when they fold into and out                          of themselves by the steaming faucet,
when they strip clean, the tap water              running black, then copper, then clear                            into the grease-clotted drain,
there’s no one to witness the slap              of a wet rag tossed in the break-                          room sink or the champ of gravel
in the empty lot. How the stars dim              as morning comes on. How a semi downshifts                            on the overpass and the shop windows rattle

as it goes.

“My Father at 49, Working the Night Shift at B&R Diesel” from Tap Out: Poems by Edgar Kunz. Copyright © 2019 by Edgar Kunz. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.