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Other notable work by Bryan Borland and Joanna S. Lee.
AFTER THE LONG SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT
Turkey vulture, buzzard, carrion-eater,
a dark tension soaring on dihedral wings
tipped with light primary feathers like
fingers reaching apart, stretching beyond
what’s possible, taut to nearly splitting.
Linked eyelashes blinking in the sun,
tracing spirals on blue-sky thermals
above the golden mapled ridgeline,
one, two, four, fifteen vultures now
circling not to a kill but to a change
of season, each blackness marked
by a featherless head, purple-red
like an open mouth, a ravening beak
to pick clean the carnal landscape.
The tension is not life and death,
it is that tautness that keeps us
circling miraculously on thin air
like a love poem, like the tenuous
and ethereal mystery of you and me.
No poem, my love, can fly carrying
the weight of cliché vultures massing on
an upswelling wind like death angels.
Look again, watch them glide
with the flick of a feather, see the way
love floats away, just out of reach.
Then came the storm, after a hot,
dry season, a torrent upon the dust.
You could tell me not to say parched land,
not to talk of tempestuousness after
the long summer of our discontent,
but listen to the argument of hot and cold
resolved in sudden winds and sky tears.
GENTRIFICATION: FIRST BLUSH
Squatting in the boarded-up brownstone
of your fin-de-siécle love, in moieties
of decay and splendor, sophistication,
world-weariness and fashionable despair,
I say “It’s not habitation but rather my art”
when they come to evict us, I call out
“Don’t come in, I am painting a nude model.”
My brush hairs stroke your intimate SoHo,
my fingertips chalk your pastel breasts.
Celluloid lovers caught in the rain
hold sections of the Sunday Times
over their heads and run for cover.
Inside the planetarium, they stroll across
the lunar surface beneath ringed spheres
and the mute gaze of pinpoint stars.
They come from a planet with air
and water and wedding announcements,
Arts and Travel and The Week in Review.
What do we really know about gravity
and attraction, the stark silence of space,
the ineffable mystery of love?
Heads bowed into winter rain,
we tramped across the Village
to a Korean bodega for chiles
and tortillas, tequila and limes.
Arm in arm we splashed
through the neighborhood,
my Loisaida girl and I.
It was our season of bilingual
wordplays, when you teased Poggi
at the hotel revolving door
by calling him oggi, Italian for
today, the only day that counted
for two lovers spinning ‘round
the axis of right now
in a wedge of whooshing kismet.
Fifth floor walk-up packed
with friends – I’m chopping salsa
while you pour frothy margaritas.
Was that the night Mark
did his funny mouth thing
in the gay bar by the little park?
Following you up the ladder
by the fridge to the sleeping loft,
oh long-legged temptress, your freckles
the stars by which I navigate
this uncharted territory, your easy
mocking laughter my siren song
above the lulling waves of Tracy Thorn
on a distant shore, head in her hands,
singing so keep your love and
I’ll keep mine. Morning, bright sunshine,
walking south into the new day,
to Canal Street to buy acrylics
at Pearl Paints. I will paint you
the Renoir of the beautiful woman
in the blue dress and crimson hat
and the girl with the chapeau fleuri,
and I will remember forever
your face, your auburn hair
damp and tousled, your cheeks
flushed pink, the very last time
we made love.
You are too young for this, so tall and thin
and beautiful, sleek and sophisto in straight-
legged jeans, a soft pink sweater and scarf
to cover your hairless head, your left breast
gone, a fresh scar stitched across your heart.
Lunch at Sofra Bakery, Cambridge,
passed much too fast for me, one hour
after twenty-some years, but time
is a one-way ticket on the express line,
and you can’t unwind the past’s
long and complicated spooling.
We talked of your four children
and my three, then it was goodbye again.
I took the inbound to Park Street, then
the E train to the Museum of Fine Art.
You know me, straight to the Impressionists,
Monet’s water lilies and haystacks, poplars
and poppies, bridges and cathedrals,
then Renoir’s “The Dance at Bougival,”
a young couple outdoors at night,
his face behind the broad-brimmed hat,
her eyes drawn to the fallen blue flower.
His left hand is on her waist, pulling
her close, her breasts pressed against him,
his breath beery upon her flushed cheek,
waltzing as the night sky twirls around them,
making me dizzy and nauseous. You betray
no malice for the way I left you that muggy
August afternoon on the train for JFK, but
I have never forgiven myself, never stopped
asking what if. This is not about you, Ray,
the dancer said. I know, I answered to myself,
but we each are responsible for our own healing.
The path of desire
does not follow right angles
or obey the warning signs.
It cuts diagonals across vacant lots,
crawls through holes in chain-link fences
and trips through broken glass.
Bloody footprints mark the way,
one set flat and wide, the other
with narrow heels like ripe red plums.
Ray Sharp is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet from the rural, rugged and remote western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His work has appeared in many print and on-line journals and anthologies, including Astropoetica, Bolts of Silk, Caper Journal, Eclectic Flash, Misfits’ Miscellany, Poetry Breakfast, Qarrtsiluni, Referential Magazine, and Voxpoetica.
Instructions on How to Approach the Bereaved
Do not dance around
the dead elephant in the room.
Do look over your words in the mirror
and remove the last sentence
before it leaves your mouth.
Simplicity is always best.
Do look them in the eyes and say
I’m sorry for your loss
Please let me know if you need anything
you secretly hope
Recalling a Last Conversation Between Father and Son
I am angry at myself for not
staking his words to my hollow chest
so that these spaces of excavation
and mental archaeological digs
would hold more artifact. We talked
for five minutes, joking about
mortality and the missing spines
of politicians. The rest,
I’m not sure, layers scraped away
by the trowel of sleepless nights,
dreamlike words hanging
like dust in my throat, as reliable
as the stories we give to bones
found buried in the sand.
Introducing a Grandson to His Grandfather
You will know him through your own
sense of humor, the practical jokes
of heredity that make your eyes water
to the detriment of friends.
You will know him through acts
of kindness, the anchor of heart
that compels you to share your treasure
with less fortunate pirates.
You will know him, little Noah,
when a cat stakes her purring claim
against your leg, when you walk
the first of many dogs on winter nights.
You will know him in your name,
in your knees, in your near
tone-deaf ears that hear melodies
beautiful in the absence of pitch.
Another one, yesterday. Another sympathetic doctor,
another nurse in tears despite her hardened arteries.
Thus it begins: the planning of a death at some unknown point,
weeks or months or years from now; the slow snuffing out
of life; the pragmatic brother with the carpool spreadsheet,
colored cells, who will take dad to chemotherapy; altered cells;
who will police the family meals and remove all talk of disease;
who will scrub his clothes to rid them of the stains
of hospital waiting rooms and fevered incontinence.
Another one: pancreas. Another one: liver. Who will
be the first to think of medical bills in the unmentionable
context of our dwindling inheritance; who will be strong
enough to see frailty. Another one: lung. Another one:
blood. Who will spend lunch hours hunched over keyboards
reading words like terminal and metastasized and radiation
and the size of a walnut. Who will rationalize the slow burn,
be thankful of goodbyes, be grateful of the order
of finality known long in advance.
The Day Cemeteries Change
Like a backyard quarterback
I kneel with my bare knee to the dirt
to settle the flowers we leave
against the winds of our absence.
The morbid nature of cemeteries
has died with you. It is family,
this place. It is my duty
to patrol these grounds,
to straighten the silk roses
on the graves of your neighbors,
to wipe the bird droppings
from my high school teacher’s stone.
Bryan Borland is a multi-time Pushcart nominee and the owner of Sibling Rivalry Press, a small publishing house based just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. His first book, My Life as Adam, was one of only five collections of poetry including on the American Library Association’s inaugural “Over the Rainbow” list of noteworthy LGBT publications of 2010. He is also the editor of Assaracus, the only print journal in the world dedicated to the poetry of gay men. For more about Bryan, visit www.bryanborland.com or www.siblingrivalrypress.com.
Joanna S. Lee-
the saddest love songs
sound thin at the elbows,
stony and shallow like
river waters at the beginning
of reckoning season.
can seem soft on first
sinking; the slate
of moonlit hearts full
with mystery & wrapped
in sweaters against the chill
of autumns that have been.
some nights, they itch.
some days, there is no cure.
secrets from our
in the box on
that dark shelf in
trace your name
in the dust on
its lid, whisper
off the tracks, by the water
the spray over the rocks is
chase each other in
dark shallows; herons
fish in pairs, build nests
in high branches. you,
you make me want
new lingerie. i love the way
it looks like linger, like
that trick you did with the
strawberries, that time
we got tequila-drunk
at two in the afternoon. this
is the poem i should have
written then, weaving line
breaks into the space
between our breaths as we
dreamed of sea air.
but we are far
from the ocean here, do
our best with river-sand
and stolen seconds,
making silent promises
in sunlight that the river carries
to her mouth
& in her bones: this will not
end as it should.
there is a poem
in the exquisite onslaught
of early May traintracks,
late night rainstorms; swooning.
plume of cavalry. a little
girl tips back a big bottle, up.
up. we compare commit-
ments, strawberries. i was
committed, once. it was
raining then, too. barefoot.
no white horses. no
pink rose. like the bath scents
i brought mother that
last time: rose, pink, bottle.
she never usedthem. this poem
is supposed to be
about other things, not
mothers and bottles: thunder,
the whistle of trains
in darkness. skipping
over rocks. barefoot,
rivers can be
white horses there,
either. it is
early May after all: who
will catch you? strawberry-
blonde, he called her.
she wrote him love poems
but even they were not
happy. fuck happy poems,
she tells me. poetry
is always barefoot. even
over broken glass.
poem about termites
In Verse.S.54.9 of the Samhita, it is stated that sweet ground water
would be found near a termite mound located east of a Jambu tree at a
specific distance of 15 ft to the south of the tree.
These things you should
know: love always leaves
written traces; one must
only drink absinthe when bro-
ken; and though i have no
talent for endings, there are
worse things than this:
there are worse forevers.
if you find yourself looking
for me between them, always
take the road South;
seek a mound east
of the Jambu tree; listen
for the telltale trickle.
The tick of time
chewing into your heart
will slow, and it will
smell like fresh sawdust
sprinkled on a painted
ocean. that will be
the last poem.
Joanna S. Lee lives in Richmond, Virginia where she spends her time searching the riverbanks for unborn poetry. Her first book, the somersaults I did as I fell, was released in 2009. Her work has been recently featured in such journals as Right Hand Pointing and qarrtsiluni.