Other notable works by Shevaun Brannigan, Risa Denenberg and Mike Harrell.
Living inside a Diamond
She ran side-hill trails to reach dark places,
to stay away—she was born knowing how
to speak deer.
She didn’t talk, but would listen—
there, in tall grass a whitetail hid with wild asparagus
and a settler’s forgotten rhubarb, a nearby fawn
waiting for her mother’s quiver:
Now is not the time. Stay still.
Such will; such trust between the two
she could imagine, but she never dreamed of
even when camped next to the jump-twice river
where she waited
for Betelgeuse to appear, measuring the distance
between his night sky and her bedroll with cartwheels
spun from forest air. Sometimes thunder gave in
to earth. Sometimes she spoke
*Previously published in Sugar Mule and in my book, “Cracking Geodes Open”
The Round Trip to Bonners Ferry, Mile Marker 32
The white lime sky, our world—tied with a thousand strings
to sandbags disguised as evergreens and boulders.
Snow banks eight feet high, a wintered majesty
with two wide-eyed deer pausing on the roadway.
Here is where you don’t want to be right now,
you turn the music down, hold your breath and
will the deer to let you by without collision. The flash
of plow and sanding truck, a ribbon of river, unfrozen,
a dab of yellow bobbing in the rapids—one man
casting upstream, his raft anchored to a stand of drift
threaded through a grove, tied—no doubt—
to sandbags holding on, to a corner of blue sky.
Beatrice Says I May Call Her Jeep
She told me how she’d been born to live
not one November more. She scattered
her way through our town like a Great Dane
pup chasing crinkled leaves, unaffected
by the scent of baring trees. Wanting her ease,
some would mimic her, mirror the prisms
in her laugh. Once, by chance, she shared with me
her bench in Terry Park. While counting maple
shadows, she offered to reveal
how she keeps the possibility of Sixty-four
deep in her poker pocket, an ace hidden in her
green satchel. I thought to see the usual
when she undid its clasp: twigs and twine,
Aunt Jemima syrup bottles, tins of mustard seed.
She parted the forest of brown velvet
lining the cardboard bottom. I leaned forward to peer in—
it opened across blue water.
Rock, Patience, River
Crushed red rock on my evening
step says you were here.
I was gone. One smooth stone
in the post office box asks
star charts and tide tables
there you are: sleeves rolled up,
reaching through slow water,
where once you knew of only your self
now you know how the river falls
outside my bedroom window. Here;
the Cheyenne can run all night
sucking water from a pebble. It is enough
until the rains return.
*Previously published in my book, “Cracking Geodes Open”
Sherry O’Keefe, a descendant of Montana pioneers, grew up in a remote power camp on the Missouri River. She is a poetry editor for IthacaLit and an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal. Her work can be found in Camas: The Nature of the West, Art & Document, Escape into Life, PANK, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Avatar Review and many other journals. Her second collection of poetry, Cracking Geodes Open, was published by Aldrich Press in 2012. Visit her: http://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com.
Helium Shortage: A Retrospective
We trapped exotic sharks in tanks, we over fished the sea. Kept tigers
in our backyards, then marveled when they mauled, watched weddings
on TV and made fun of hats for weeks. We used gasoline for moon bounce motors,
and jumped around without our shoes. What were we to do without balloons?
We celebrated by letting things go. Picture a dozen upside down apples
released to the heavens, stems as ribbons someone slashed. They float,
the sky as a barrel full of water. Though they caught on power lines,
though birds ate them, thinking them fish, a boy got me one for my birthday once
and I adored him. It was that kind of time—we did things we knew we shouldn’t.
I stayed in a state for twenty seven years just because it birthed me, I snared
the man I loved so he wouldn’t leave, and so he did. But when I was a child
and my father tied a ribbon around my wrist, like a corsage, and
the attached balloon followed me around the yard, I didn’t know to be frightened
of what was to come. I didn’t know that what you let go might not return.
Kevin Carter, the South African photographer whose image of a starving Sudanese toddler stalked by a vulture won him a Pulitzer Prize this year, was found dead…apparently a suicide…He was 33—New York Times Obituary.
This vulture is a heavy breasted bird.
She carries her tension in her shoulders.
Her wings drag in the dust, she flicks them
clean. The ground below her is a graveyard
for grasses and their blanched blades.
The child she stalks is dying.
So thin, his ulna, humerus, wrapped up
in skin like beef bones in butcher paper,
the ground pulls him in close. His head,
a hard and heavy fruit, dents the dirt.
I am ten. I read the paper.
I have been hospitalized once
already for wanting to die. I have felt
something circling above me
since I was born,
I thought it a bird. It is not.
It is planets and their moons,
at most, a deliberate moth.
Evidence of the infestation:
rotten raspberry scent,
smears of feces along the mattress,
the bugs themselves
engorged from feeding,
my body puckered with bites.
At night, they crawled
on my skin and found
the good spots. My arms
red-raised, my legs
maps of their travels—
the ones to touch
my body, I thought
it has been so long.
I brought the bed
to pull its weight.
The bugs burrowed
deeper into the mattress,
away from August heat,
among coils, the quilting,
waiting for night
to emerge and look
for my body as
I do each night for yours.
Shevaun Brannigan is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, as well as The Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House at The University of Maryland. She has had poems appear in such journals as Best New Poets 2012, Lumina, Rhino, Court Green, and Free State Review. She has been an Arts & Letters Poetry Prize finalist, received an honorable mention in So to Speak’s 2012 Poetry Contest, as well as a Pushcart nomination by Rattle.
Reading Psalm 23
When the codicils of my life
were misery, I was selfish and miserable.
Who wouldn’t be?
And in my misery, I would read psalms
for succor, and so, felt less alone.
I still read these lines —
Thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
The staff, certainly, to uphold me as I meander
through the valley. But this rod comforts me not.
Is it a curtain rod, saying, curtains for you?
Is it the rod of chastisement somehow being just
what I will need at the moment of trepidation?
Or is it a cudgel to stave off enemies,
while I eat the meal the Lord has prepared
for me alone?
Now the tenets of my life, while not meant
for comfort, suit me well. My gait is unsteady,
but I would gladly share my plate with anyone.
And I travel in this shadow, alone and unafraid.
In my case, the yellow star
will be made of two perfect pink triangles
cut from cheap dry goods at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
where the women
sew stars on at the ready
hunched over their Singers
and, not wasting time on stairs,
work right up to closing time, then jump.
They didn’t want to die so young
and neither did the gay boys who died in droves
at the close of the last century. I would be one
who would beg you to shoot me
who would know that borders lie
that I could not endure the march through the woods
in the snow to the trains at the end.
We who say never forget
also know that it could happen again
and we do not know more now
than we did then
how to make it stop.
The stitching never ends. For practice,
I have sutured my arm to my sleeve
with triangles made from pages torn
from the Book of Job.
“Yellow Star” was originally published online at Lavender Review in June 2012.
There were rushes and a stream, a swathed Infant
in a basket floating, and no Miriam in sight.
I had always wanted to save Moses from the dry
swelter of the desert, the crash of tablets,
his vast disappointment in us idol worshipers,
but instead, because the earth didn’t turn and he was meant
to split the sea, I had to wet-nurse him and let him go.
All the water on this planet — the ponds and rivulets,
the swells and torrents, the sinkhole in Miami
where we took turns swinging from a rope
into the icy bottomless azure — these waters
run their course, but will not save us.
Risa Denenberg is an aging hippie currently living in the Pacific Northwest. She earns her keep as a nurse practitioner and has worked for many years in end-of-life care. She is a moderator at The Gazebo, an online poetry board; reviews poetry for the American Journal of Nursing; and is an editor at Headmistress Press, dedicated to publishing lesbian poetry. She has three chapbooks, what we owe each other (The Lives You Touch Publications, 2013); In My Exam Room (The Lives You Touch Publications, 2014); and Blinded by Clouds (Hyacinth Girls Press, 2014) and a full length book, Mean Distance from the Sun (Aldrich Press, 2013).
Even As a Child
(after Charles Simic)
you sought to be invisible,
lost in limbs of ordinary trees,
the world shrinking
to more manageable scale
as you pulled yourself further
and further above the ground;
with always a flush of fear, very near joy,
hidden from your mother
as she calls out in a high voice whose tone already resists
the possibility of your empty bed;
or on warm days when time
pools like a slow river,
you too far out and still
drifting, eyes almost
level with the water, and then a last breath
as your mother rises from her blanket
and searching, shields her eyes against the glare,
in a gesture that looks like a final salute
and you seeing her there, willowed
by water and worrying, hearing
again her high voice, and wondering
how long you can remain
before returning becomes impossible.
This morning, as first light strikes the sound,
still water draws down the sky, and someone
paddles away through an admonition of clouds. Below, birds
wing their way upside down across oil-black water, the steps at the dock
double back on themselves, Escher into Pamlico, and schools of menhaden
flash silver where they bullet to avoid becoming bluefish, or pelican.
We watch without words, aware of the drift toward our own undoing,
the way the body might refuse an order,
legs unwilling to bend, hands slow,
and unfamiliar as starfish.
If you could come back to me now, escape
the dominion of days, we too might ignore the admonitions, set off
through oil-black water, two small flashes where our wake converges,
struggling to slip the resolution of the tide.
*A sound in North Carolina.
The Big Punch
(When a boxer smiles after taking a big punch, you know it hurt him.–U.K. John)
And now I’m showing you my teeth,
lip-split, and loopy, a storm cloud of color
gathering under my cheek.
The red glove surprised me,
coming out of nowhere, and I still don’t remember
hearing the bell that ended the last round.
But the ten-count is somehow soothing,
and if it’s o.k. with you,
I’d really like to lie here just a minute,
grinning into the canvas–
remembering how beautiful we were.
(Previously published in slightly different form in 2008 in Barnwood Magazine.)
Mike Harrell lives in Brooklyn, NY and makes his living in the film industry as a props person. He is a graduate of the University Of Florida where he received a degree in English. He has been published in Avatar Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, IthicaLit, The Centrifugal Eye, Clapboard House, Soundzine, Barnwood Magazine, Deep South Magazine, and The Alligator.