Poetry

In this section:

wegman’s by Kiki Chen ’23
Aubade, September by Heather Corbally Bryant, Lecturer, Writing Program
Cages by Lidewij Florusbosch ’24
Pandemic: Pantoum by Rong Wu ’24
Late Summer by Lucy Liversidge ’24
I used to be terrified of ants by Cheryl Wang ’23
CHIMERA (or, TRANSITIONING) by Ella Rockart ’23
First breath after by Mira Bohannan Kumar ’24
SEOUL AT 10:47 PM by Yoon Lim ’23
the city takes a nap by Tarini Sinha ’22
Here Is a Story That Does Not Begin with Love by Kaitlyn Wang ’23
Returned to Sea by Riya Balachandran ’24
in winter by Laura Chin ’23
Winter by Aniela Cohig ’24
milk & cookies by Nicolette Decker ’24
TOWARDS EDEN by Ella Rockart ’23
WHAT HOLDS US TOGETHER by Kendra Tanacea ’88
quarantine by Lia James ’21

Online exclusives
Reverse Oxygen Machine by Lulu Al Saud ’21
I want to write about the painting by Hal ’23


wegman’s
Kiki Chen

after “Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled with Shrieks” by Christopher Citro

We are in the produce section. There are
pineapples, which makes me say
Did you know on pineapple farms they put
hats on the baby pineapples to protect them from the sun?

And I realize from your noncommittal hmm
that I have told you this before
probably every single time pineapples were relevant
between the two of us.
How long will it take until you know all
my fun facts? And how long
until your stories become mine as well?
In between shelves of organic Oreos
I make fun of your lack of self-restraint
when it comes to health brand Cheerios
and you say of all the addictions in the world
whole-wheat Honey Nut is far from the worst.
We’re so much older than we used to be.
I understand now that everybody in this supermarket has something
making them permanently sad.
And all we can do is smile as our carts pass between the aisles
and say sorry with our eyes.
This morning I watched robins swoop across our lawn
and thought about this moment,
me watching you push past the instant cake mixes
like they personally spat on your face.
How long ago was the old-fashioned way
just the only way to do things?
Before microwave dinners, I bet.
Before people ever tried to patent love
and pineapples still got sunburnt
and we were young without even knowing it.
Before I realized that I could go to grocery stores without you
but I didn’t want to if I could help it.


Aubade, September
Heather Corbally Bryant

September rains awaken me—drizzling sounds are comforting—
Pitter pattering on the peaked roof of my house—I am changing,
New cells growing, others dividing—if all of life is a process, I
Am no longer at the beginning—let us begin at the beginning,
We say—on your leaving, I wonder, not for the first time, am I
Dreaming—were you just here, sleeping beside me—or did
I make you up, entirely, out of whole cloth, as the cliché goes—
It all seems a dream now—the marriage, our union, that’s why
We got married, you say, because we want to spend our lives
Together—and we laugh til we cry—pavement slickens and I
Know how I am changing, growing, breathing beside you—


Cages
Lidewij Florusbosch


Pandemic: Pantoum
Rong Wu

In my flute class, I learned how to do a finger breath.
Inhale—feel the air struggle through my fingers—
my ribcage expands, fills with sound and life.
Exhale—the air becomes a slow, sprightly sigh.

Inhale—feel the air struggle through the mask—
and sometimes, I can’t breathe.
Exhale—a vacuum forms, a vacancy inside of me—
I’m gasping to thrust my head above water.

Sometimes, I simply can’t breathe.
The air is stale with current events, catastrophes
while I gasp for normalcy, whatever the word means
(perhaps a dream unconsumed by fear and grief).

The air is stale with current events, catastrophes but
We’ve managed thus far. No need for the heroic. A
dream consumed by fear and sorrow
eventually dissipates at Dawn’s footsteps.

We’ve managed thus far. No need for the heroic.
Let us do a finger breath again, together, and
the stale air dissipates at Dawn’s footsteps.
Let our rib cages expand, We are sound and life.


Late Summer
Lucy Liversidge

Follow the road from the Middle East 
To the Middle West 
66 miles Northwest of Detroit 
To find my Grandpa and his small dog 
Back from the morning walk 
Coming in through the adjoining garage 
To greet his family. 
His wife is waving around a baking sheet 
Of golden steaming Kadeh 
But she will offer him none 
“Hand over those pastries” he pleads 
Still she smiles and shakes her head 
“These are all for me, these are none for you” 
She laughs and the jest is betrayed 
Grandpa sits down and plays dead 
Only the thud of a baking sheet revives him 
This antidote smells like black tea and cardamom My grandpa
asks jokingly if there is any coffee to wash it all down Though
he sees a fresh cup set before him 
And grandma flings all the cabinets open 
Only to report “we’re fresh out” 
This is how I imagine the sunrise in Flint 

Calling my grandma in Papua New Guinea 
Her voice is making the sound 
of white froth in sea water 
Her voice is being tossed 
Against the shore 
And then the sound of a gong in precious metal 
Going ong-ong-ong-ong-onggg 
She’s holding that picture of her husband 

In boxing gloves, in a match
With an upright kangaroo 
She tells me Christmas is coming 
And I say I could smell it on her 
Ginger molasses cookies that she’ll ship overnight 
That way the cookies will gain a day 
She explains to me the way the Earth turns on its head 
The evening sunsets witness all this and pass on 

These women died this year 
And death becomes redundant 
In all its resonances, halos, vibrations 
But mostly echoes 
As grief can’t be exchanged for another place’s currency 

Meanwhile the sun made all this honey 
But it’s stuck in the clouds 
So we make tea and bake biscuits 
Holding the fine China out the window fishing for syrup 
Preparing to be stuck together 
There will be nectar in our ears, lining our sleeves, in our aqueducts,
cluttering up our inboxes, in the organ pipes 
This is how the sun sets in Babylon


I used to be terrified of ants
Cheryl Wang

cw: violence and suicide

until one day I happened to pinch one in
between my fingers—by fearful accident
—and realized I had not squished it; it was
still twitching when I flung it away, its legs

splayed wide and body grotesquely misshapen
but not destroyed. See, when flies are
flattened by books and broom handles
(but never fingers) whatever repulsive
beauty is gone immediately when the

form is lost and the body becomes nothing
but liquified mush, like Cameron after they
scraped whatever was left of him from the
tracks. There was a clearing on the hill
above the station where you could see

everything—the hazmat suits, the pressure
washer—and we all craned our necks
to see what was left of him out of teenage
bravado and morbid curiosity—until
the police chased us away and we slunk back

to the shadows we had emerged from.
They came too late. When they talked about
him afterwards I forgot his smile but not how
the red of his shirt lay fifteen feet away
from the lower half of the body; when

they shooed away a fly I remembered
the splotchy green stain that remained
on the tablecloth no matter how many times
I scrubbed it. But when my sister played
whack-a-mole with the ant infestation in

her room, the bodies piled up in the corner
seemed to be so at peace and undisturbed
that I envied them. In the coming years,
the exoskeletons shrunk and withered
(as all things do), but one could almost

imagine that they would pick themselves
up at any moment and march out in
stately rows; an immortal legion
of a time long lost.

Listen to the author read “I used to be terrified of ants”

CHIMERA (or, TRANSITIONING)
Ella Rockart

There was a willow on the town green when I was a child
the perfect space for small hands and mosquito bites,
a place to sit and say who are you? who are you? who lives inside my body?

They tore it down when they built the park but I go there sometimes still
when I’m lonely for all the places I’ve never been and longing for more than Carolina
and I ask the same questions, who eats my food and sleeps in my bed,
who loves all the people I have ever loved.

I think I knew her once, this woman who shared my skin.
She and I were like twins suspended in my body’s shell
singing the same songs, carrying the same school books and all the same longings.
When I absorbed her into that vital bouillabaisse of my blood and breathing
she went willing, soft. She showed no remorse for leaving me behind

chimera,

a hybrid thing unable to match my skin to the heart inside of me.
She’s really gone, now, I think, but all the things she knew still know me
her cups in my mother’s cabinet, her books still have a place on my shelf.
there’s no time to mourn, really, and I don’t have the energy to try

I have to pack her things, now, and bury her beneath the space left by our willow
find a way to tell my family that I am leaving her behind. I think of her sometimes,

on top of the mountain or by the lake but no longer in my body
I am sorry, I tell her later, I have outgrown you in this life.

Listen to the author read “CHIMERA (or, TRANSITIONING)”

First breath after
Mira Bohannan Kumar

She said who else do you know
who needs air to survive?
The end of the world drops
into aether, or fire.

Watch as sickness spreads,
as a falling stone sends ripples
through disturbed water
by stealing breath

from other lungs.
Collapse; music;
tasting a bitter vindication.
We needed air to survive

and it meant that outside
the window, leaves sprout
from wood; birds sing
and up comes the sun

which the first people
must have thought
dropped at night
into aether, or fire.


SEOUL AT 10:47 PM
Yoon Lim

the city that never sleeps
has taught itself the
impurity of darkness,

bears the scar of seared skin,
slashes of open wounds,

the city watches the regeneration,
fading white and skin,
touching them tenderly

does the city not see
gaunt cheekbones? sweaty palms
gripping bus handles tightly, body frames
shattering against another,
noiseless cries?
does the city not see
the skyscrapers of people
of desks and coffee mugs
reaching deep into sleepless nights

making ends work
scraping documents
peddling scripting
rushing,

consoled by each other’s abuse,
comforted by the office
across the street,
         the bridge,
                  the river,

the sick bulb
that flickers with hope.

Listen to the author read “SEOUL AT 10:47 PM”

the city takes a nap
Tarini Sinha

she is bursting at the seams.
she is clinging to
her blue plastic tarps, and
cracked coconuts with
matchstick straws,
paper ice cream cups
mango, custard apple, chikoo,
her bricks, her taxis, her auto rickshaws
yellow and black and blue
held tight against her chest.

she purges herself of us,
casts us away to our
bleached marble floors
lined with dust and
lemon soap,
our onion ginger garlic
turmeric tomato paste
pressure cooker lives,
compels us to leave her
while she sunbathes,
cleanses,
naps.


Here Is a Story That Does Not Begin with Love
Kaitlyn Wang

It begins, instead, with a boy holding his breath
at the bottom of a pool, counting 41, 42, 43.
Chlorine, used bandaid, toddler pee. Goggles
not yet fogged, arms wrapped around
bent knees. This is a dream suspended in a June
afternoon, when trying to remember means
watermelon seeds. The flesh all crunched
and chewed with the rinds gnawed clean.
Smushed ketchup smile and artificial meat.
Again, this is not a story that begins with love.
It begins with seagulls rummaging for garbage
feasts. Or leaves torn down their spines, pieces
scattered on concrete. It’s the still air, the still there,
that times this story just right (right?) for it to end
when the boy bursts out of water. All the other kids
are gone. Their goggles remain floating: plastic
black, blue, and pink. The sky has turned dark green.


Returned to Sea
Riya Balachandran

mother, if I crawl back into the sea,
will the waves crash over my back,
washing away my sin, softly forgiving me
if I reek of foreign soil and charred olive leaves is it
too late still to seek repentance at your feet

I no longer long to be good, only to rest to
lay my crown in the folds of your cascades
for my face to mar in the thorns of your nest
for the tide to pull me back, away from
all that there ever was or ever will be

mother, if I crawl back into the sea,
I will give up my air,
for why would I need to breathe
in the dark you can rock me back to sleep

Listen to the author read “Returned to Sea”

in winter
Laura Chin

you taught me the
difference between kumquats and loquats,
between sour pulp and small seeds
and sweet, sticky fingers and smooth,
round, chestnut brown.
and the loquat branches trembled high in the
marbled blue,
bare and gold in the light,
and kumquats dripped from the scrawny tree
in the terracotta pot
by the ping pong table and that rusted car
and the three padlocks and the grill
and the clock that could never tell time.

in spring
you brought two plastic grocery bags
full of golden dewdrops,
honey sweet and sticky to our house.
I spit the seeds in a cup under my bed,
and by the next morning, their smooth,
round, chestnut brown was wrinkled
with age,
and I threw them out,
and I never told you.

one summer
I baked a cake with three friends
and while it cooled we danced
on dry grass
and filled our pockets
with kumquats from the tree
by the pool
to make jam.
and when no one was looking, I
took a bite and I wondered why
you never told me
that the skin is
sweet.

autumn
brought me to a city of stars and
stale apples
dry oranges and bruised pears,
and I longed for the half-eaten jar of jam
in the top left corner of the fridge.
but I walked among the fading, flaming
maples, and I heard you on the phone, and
I told myself that we had time.

this winter was
the coldest and
darkest,
the first snow and clear midnight skies,
mugs of cider and
steam, early morning bus to the
airport.
first flight over sleepy cities and rolling
fields and branching
trees, and somewhere in California,
where kumquats and blood clots grow side by
side, and the doctors couldn’t tell
what was left of our time.

spring is a strange place to end a story —
forgive me, for I am no poet.
the loquats branches have just begun to stoop,
heavy with fruit, within reach of fingers
soon to be sticky. in June
we’ll drive to your new home
with two plastic grocery bags
full of kumquats,
and when no one is looking
I’ll take a bite
and let the sour pulp pinch my cheeks
and I’ll spit out the seeds by your grave
and tell you that
I love you.


Winter
Aniela Cohig

biologically, lasts four years

I’m smothered in the lavender-green of
an unexpected rainstorm.
Dad’s rental car idles by Lake Erie
and you’re just another product
of a starless midsummer.
I wonder if I am
or if I only want to be
and on the airplane home
I scurry through the shifting sky to
the tiny bathroom mirror,
glare at a gelatinous cylinder of flesh
pocked with unwelcome freckles.
I start a paperback but stop after ten pages
because if I think
I know I will think again.
In my dream last night you cut
all your hair off and
threw it into a bathtub
but I don’t remember why or how
and I woke up with my forehead
leaking water onto sticky hotel bed sheets
(because the thermostat was set too high).
I stopped believing in astrology because
it makes me sad
but I checked your horoscope and mine out of habit
then forgot what they said


milk & cookies
Nicolette Decker

if you break me,
i won’t snap neatly in
half with a
clean, smooth line–
crack–
two halves easily.
i’ll crumble and
leave your fingers all buttery.
i’ll lie at your feet and cry
that you
so easily tore me
apart.


TOWARDS EDEN
Ella Rockart

Made a ginger-bug today, brown sugar and the fresh grated root
tanging and sweet behind the cool eyes of twin jars. Next summer

I will fill your arms with chickasaw cherries and we’ll make wine in the storm cellar
where my great-granddaddy used to keep chickens in the winter
to lay their smooth brown eggs behind the boiler. For now, a ginger bug:

the rest will come if it’s right. I am learning to be frugal with my wishes;
not expecting the chickens or the cherries or even you

—tho I hope you’ll be there—

to see the ways I have learned not to waste the good things that pass
along my fingers; to scrape the pectin out of peach pits, to start the

woodstove with lint and the fingerling tips of candles, to stop and ask things of others,

to stop running away. I am patient, now. I have outgrown that fledgling desire

to gather, to leave nothing fallow.


If I were born, again, as Adam, I would eat unquestioning from your hand–

no God nor garden could offer me anything quite as sweet.

Listen to the author read “Towards Eden”

WHAT HOLDS US TOGETHER
Kendra Tanacea

the white space between stanzas
what’s between the lines

written in lemon juice
hold this page close to a light bulb

my invisible script will darken
explaining more eloquently

how it’s as clear as the glue
holding together this spine

Listen to the author read “WHAT HOLDS US TOGETHER”

quarantine
Lia James

“i like it better at night,”
you whispered in my ears
and the white noise of our shifting brown bodies
filled the small space.

your words fell soundlessly to the folds of our bedsheets
my lips offering no coherent response.

as the promise of tomorrow faded
with the late-afternoon sun
so, too, did the space between us.

a partnered life reduced to
       8 walls
       4 legs
       2 rooms
       1 bed
       and a kitchen hastily filled with food that promised not to spoil.

and nothing existed outside of those walls
and i wondered aloud why the night beckoned you so.

and you told me
that the world is bigger in the dark and
that the night affords you the luxury of living between the lines of
infinity
without the prerequisite of closed eyes.

and the threatening permanence of our blissful purgatory
refused to materialize in that moment.

suddenly, an apology on behalf of the universe spilled
unprompted
from my lips.

suddenly, i wanted nothing more
than to sweep you out of our eight-walled prison
and to regain the mundanity of our long-forgotten everyday lives.
in the valleys of our bedsheets
i built you a world of
dentist appointments and
morning commutes and
market days and
decorating the foyer.

“we’ll go for drives and
live humdrum lives and
you’ll go back to school and we’ll get takeout for dinner
and feel summer loves in the cold of midwinter.

“and i’ll pick you up from class
and take you home

“and we’ll go to bed and marvel at the world and how it is
somehow
once again
just as impossibly vast as we remember it being.”

       “yes please,” you said.

the sun now disappeared, you
allowed yourself to believe
that there was a life worth living beyond those eight walls.

“we can do all these things
and more, my love.
we will.”

       “even if the sun is still up?”

“even if.”


Reverse Oxygen Machine
Lulu Al Saud

The weather outside my window is nothing but i want it to be something
stormy, humid, anything:
negative seven million degrees
ice biting my bare ankles
hail etching its way into my skin
suffocating from heat.

if i scream out my window my voice would be a whisper
fading out into the soft wind
buried in the stars
i don’t want beauty, simplicity, a subtle mid-september breeze.

i want to open my window and dip my toes into an ocean in the sky
walk out into the filthy abyss
knee-deep in worry
algae wrapped between my toes –
pulling
tugging
sinking.

instead the window is locked
blocking out the nothingness
fears sticking to the inside of the glass
AC keeping them in
swirling
circling.

i breathe them in and breathe them out
a reverse oxygen machine.


I want to write about the painting
Hal

In my mother’s art studio.
It is a nude portrait of a woman
that I do not know.
Her ribs become tendrils that
Snake down her belly.
Her hair falls brittle
Like dried corn silk.

The portrait is almost all torso.
The body
(Silhouetted in black ink)
Should haunt me.
I know that.

Please understand:

The woman has existed forever
As a ghost of my childhood.
Her nipples are four-dimensional.
I know this intuitively.
I could paint them in my sleep

Her hands are clasped at her right hip,
Or rather,
They are falling together.
They are abstracted.
I know this because
Her right hand has three fingers
To illustrate this point.

Details are strange.

The woman is older because she is
Emaciated in a way that droops,
Like an ancient fig on an ancient branch.

Her skin has lost the suppleness to hide
Long, brittle bones.
They are sharp.
She has a cavity of a breastbone.
She is my standard of beauty.