Other notable works by Dot Dannenberg and Whitney Gray.
Out of lightning soup, up out of the slop
of God; out of how many eons of light
like skin on the pond; out of the southpaw
amino acids, out of how many tides;
out of bubbles that held, out of cell walls;
out of the old apes’ days and nights, parties
where they whooped it up; out of their sleep
interrupted; out of standing up,
and out of the upright, too–preach, brother;
out of fingertips, out of lifting up,
out of the soft grip, the delicate letting go;
out of God knows what, we have all risen
far enough to laugh, and to fall. But risen.
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
I realized I’d walked into the wrong lecture, so I left
and wandered the halls, finally asked someone
for the right room. And there it was, the wilderness,
already on the screen when I sat down. Hallelujah
for the ions, messiahs out of never. Let the species
say Amen. Let every human
give praise to the membrane, the delicate skin
of the spirit. And to the stars, yes, forever out there,
but we are here, still, in our only time,
humbled by our own cells, our little travels, our
Easters of each day. We are the very
electrons of the uncanny. We are the liquid, tricky
beats that we can’t keep up with. Salt of love,
O little thought,
how excellent you are, slowed down, here in the dark.
I will never forget Clive Wearing and his wife,
Deborah. Every term
for a decade, teaching Intro Psychology,
I showed the same video: a virus
had destroyed his hippocampus.
He came home one day with a headache
that would not quit. Three days later,
he was shipwrecked in the past–
that day he came home–
and the right now. Whenever
Deborah opened his door, having left him
only seconds before, Clive leapt to his feet.
He hadn’t seen her in years.
He’d swing her in his arms. He would sing.
In line after line of his diary, he wrote,
“Awake for the first time now” and “I adore
Who will give us tomorrow forever?
There’s a moon in the window, forever.
What’s the long night for, and who will tell us?
There is no way to ask, though, forever.
Will you think of me, lost in the old house?
How can I miss you so, and forever?
Will you wake in the night, without sadness?
There is nowhere to go now, forever.
And whoever I am, here’s my answer.
In our small boat, we’ll row out forever.
My wife’s down the hall, already in bed.
I have dozed off
here in my recliner, the TV bright but mute.
I struggle up to make my little tour.
I check the locks and turn off the lights,
but at the computer, I take a seat.
My son holds his daughter in the photo.
She’s eight months old.
Both meet my eyes evenly, as if to say,
“Only the straight truth now, old man,”
and I can’t move. In my son’s face,
I see love. Forgive me. I see time. I do.
But in hers–
world that was, world that is, world to come.
The screensaver times on, a field of stars,
and I am traveling, as though on a spacecraft
or a planet, but alone, out into the night.
Then, like I’m God,
I move my hand, and there they are again.
I’m changing clothes at the gym, headed home,
when I overhear two men talking
beyond the next row of lockers.
“We’re both doing all right, I guess.” The three of us
are alone in the locker room, late evening.
The other voice, halting and awkward:
“Not something you just get over, I know that,
if you ever do.” A metal door
whines and bangs shut. “No, it’s not.
Not when it’s your own child.” I’m tying my shoes.
“You ought to go before they do.”
I’m dressed now. “He had a little boy
himself, you know, three years old. He’s a pistol.”
I hear a chuckle. I hear the ache inside it.
I stand, and I feel for my keys.
“How’s his wife doing?”
A man runs in, curses at the clock, and rushes out.
I sit back down. What’s wrong
with a man like me who will do this,
sit back down so he can listen? “Better than I am,
I guess. Went out to his house
the other day”–the voice sticks in his throat–
“and there was his old truck. I stood there and cried.”
The quiet hardens. The other man,
the good friend, waits. And finally, he says,
“Just broke down, huh?” And the bereaved father:
“No, it cranked right up.”
I’m on my feet now, hustling out the door.
I’m fighting my way home through the heavy air.
Judson Mitcham’s most recent book is A Little Salvation: Poems Old and New, from the University of Georgia Press. He teaches at Mercer University.
(All poems are from A Little Salvation and are used by permission of the author.)
The Pain and Wonder Tattoo Studio, Established 1995
A girl with a pronounced limp
and a lime green, terrycloth headband
makes her way into the studio,
admiring its window graphics:
eagles, rabbits with skulls for faces,
all variety of snakes, an anchor, your mother’s heart,
a tear for the person you say you’ve killed,
a spiral tattooed over the name
of the one you truly love.
The faces of Jesus, Buddha, Michael Jackson.
A naked woman. An angel.
An anklet of roses to show
you’ve felt the thorns of needles
pulsing into your skin,
a sleeve to keep you warm in winter,
your grandmother’s initials
over the blue veins of your wrist.
The girl emerges from the back door,
dragging her bad foot, cheeks flushed,
her eyes slightly glowing. Her exposed skin
is pale and unassuming, but we know she carries
under her t-shirt, or beneath the elastic band
of Hanes Her Way, a small emblem, a prize for herself,
a tiny pool of ink and scarring,
to say, I am not who you think I am,
I am much more than that.
I am letting the dog back in the house.
She bounds toward the door
from the back corner of the yard,
gallops with splayed paws.
Her nails click the brick stoop.
The dog’s one good eye, dark marble,
sees the bowl in my hands.
Her other, clouded white from the scar,
rolls from tree to sky to ground,
patrolling for the ghosts of squirrels.
In the kitchen, the dog eats.
You won’t be home for hours,
and when you return,
you’ll watch the television.
You’ll read during dinner.
When the dog’s dish is empty,
the eye you shot out on a hunting trip
meets mine directly, sees me entirely.
Nobody Move, Nobody Speak
The blue and red lights play
upon your sister’s cheeks
as she grips the upholstery
with her tiny fingers, peers out
the tinted rear window of your father’s
In the back seat, you plug your ears,
pinch them closed
against the siren and your father’s
nobody move, nobody speak.
The front window rolls down,
creaks into its holster, into
the burgundy paint of the van door
dusted lightly with green pollen,
your father’s fingerprints.
When the officer asks your name,
you say nothing, sit limp
behind the nylon seatbelt
cutting into your neck. He lifts
you out, sets you down
on the dead grass
of the interstate shoulder.
Cars pass like bullets.
Your sister finds twigs to chew,
dirt to clasp by the handful. Your father,
on his knees, handcuffs glinting,
bites the skin from his lower lip.
The officer lifts Ziploc pouches
from your sister’s diaper bag, one,
then another. Dark leaves, pale rocks,
the powders stack
like a monument, or a mile marker,
a state line between what has gone before
and what will become of you.
Dot Dannenberg is an MFA student in poetry at Pacific University. She is a graduate of Mercer University.
Consider the woman shot dead
in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart.
Her body lies on glittering asphalt,
blood creeping out into the open daylight.
Wide eyes watch the police arrive
and roll her into the dark body bag.
A lone female officer waits, paint in hand
to continue tracing the outline
of the fallen body.
The white outline overlaps
the bright yellow parking lines.
Or the twin girls found
twisted and bruised, cold for days
piled by the large oak tree
on the neighbor’s farm.
Crows gather and watch
as the neighbor boy stumbles into leaves,
tripping over the broken arms
of the two naked girls.
He chokes, gags, but can’t
look away from their tiny breasts,
used, bitten and blue.
Or the father wading in the pond,
kicking ice out of his way,
still searching for his missing son.
A frozen mitten glows on the surface,
luring him farther in,
until his foot is caught
on a frozen root—a hand?—
dragging him under.
He doesn’t fight it, only hopes
to meet his boy at the bottom.
Consider the questions of why and how
as the casket glows under church lights.
Consider the last joy of reaching in,
touching a cold hand,
crying without a sound.
You caught me when I was still a child,
still a mermaid, so private and tender.
I brought the sea into our bed, with
its crashing waves and heavy storms.
My heart did not expect the turbulence,
but you were born ready for this, for me.
With moonlight and sorrow,
I climb into the bed and rest my body
so close to yours, but we are still
so far away. I press the pillow
against my ribs and catch my pulse
in the feathers, lest my silence be broken
by my own grief. I will never escape
the ocean. I am so careful not to wake you.
New Year’s Eve
With no one to kiss but
her third glass of champagne,
she tips up her flute
and gulps the sparkling foam.
The clock is ticking
and all she can think about is
the new year and its potential:
three hundred and sixty five days
of unblinking answering machines.
Couples gather. There is small talk,
and the only names she’s learned tonight
belong to the bartender
and the drinks he’s serving. Even now,
in her shining silks and ridiculous shoes,
no one notices her,
perhaps it is because she looks so tiny,
so golden and transparent,
ready to be tipped and emptied,
left behind at the party.
Whitney Gray is an MFA student in poetry at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is a graduate of Mercer University.