The Spoils of Memory / "You Want It Gone?" -Stephen Wack


The Spoils of Memory / "You Want It Gone?" -Stephen Wack


Memory pushed to the far back of head

takes the shape of its container

looks foggy and lost and way past its date

Memory prompts an early morning nausea

in me, a lacking appetite but still the need

to eat something, anything at all

if only to fill the internal void

Memory is best undredged to the surface

left to settle and rot in its suspended state

to be seen for what it is, for what it’s worth:

the spoils of imagination, a long-gone expiration

a waste marked by some arbitrary stamp in time

Memory is murky as its metaphor (wait for it. . .)

that which is not even mine but still remains

as a background glimpse, as a sickening funk

to pollute the communal fridge with its influence

(—here) is the cloudy gallon of curdled milk left

to fester into gel, disowned but not disposed

Memory swirls in its glaze like a mystic’s ball

as I watch this film begin to churn, materialize

I hear the sharing of this memory from Zach

its firsthand holder, and my dear older friend

late one November night as he tells of witnessing

a snake enter his kitchen, how he’d froze with fear

as it slithered across the tile floor towards his father—

Memory of a father standing there at the ready,

a shovel in-hand, hovering behind the snake’s head

as he asks, “You want it gone?” and the scene responds

with a quiet nodding, “Yes,” followed by a pause—

hardly registered at all—just before the subsequent clunk

of shovel thrust down is heard, the rapid detachment

of head from continuous neck is observed through eyes

that want to be closed but are, for whatever reason, not.

And so here, now, and there, then, some night back in November outside of a bar, listening to Zach’s initial rehashing—what I am left with currently is, in actuality, a recasting of this story with my own detached father as the lead, resurrected from memory with those same dark eyes and thick mustache and big lips and light-blue jeans and all—he exists once again, in some suspended state of preservation, wrapped up and frozen in memory’s cellophane, crystalized in my mind at some vague indistinct age representative of the last few years of his subsistence in family photo albums—on the back porch in cut-off shorts grilling burgers, him sitting with me propped up on his lap at his desk smiling kindly and looking much healthier than the last picture I would ever see of him while he was still alive—a mugshot of him and his partner my sister had found online back in 2009, almost a decade since the divorce and six years since our last visit and three or so years since the last phone call and five years prior to the cancer eating him from the inside-out—and yet I see him again here, now, standing before me in my childhood kitchen he never once cooked breakfast in, in a suburban house he never once stepped foot in, 782 miles removed from him and his New Jersey home, our previous home, at an address he wasn’t permitted to know for the first few months out of fear he would break the court order and show up unannounced, would break in and bug the place with tape recorders and cameras just like he had at our townhouse in East Windsor—timeless in jeans, shovel in-hand, here my father exists again in the curdled dream theatre of my head, my fridge, in milk, in memory, seeking to protect me against harm in the exact opposite way he did everything else, in a concerned voice I don’t entirely remember as his own, he asks, “You want it gone?”. . .
But apparently I got it all wrong.
Later on that week, once I finally mention this all to Zach—about how each consecutive night I’ve been dreaming, reliving so vividly this snippet of his own childhood memory, of his own father in the kitchen with the shovel and the snake, that I’ve found myself starting to accept it as the truth, believing it to be my own—
(I also try and describe this rather loose metaphor I’ve been working on between this out-of-viable-date memory and my roommate’s gallon of spoiled milk I’d discovered earlier that week in the back of our fridge but still felt reluctant to throw away, and Zach says, “Feel less reluctant about trashing the metaphor, it sounds a bit contrived. . .”)
—and he tells me, “Sorry, bud. But you kinda got it all wrong.”
Zach proceeds to explain that this story he shared with me that November night outside of that bar wasn’t even from his childhood, but had only happened some odd years ago, “. . .despite my childlike dread of a little snake.”
He tells me also that it wasn’t his own father who killed the snake with the shovel, but actually his father-in-law, Ed.
And also: That whole scene didn’t even go down in his kitchen, but rather outside on his farm.
“I think the shovel,” he says, “is sort of a dead giveaway. You know?”
I just shrug, feeling like an idiot, and apologize to him.
Because apparently I’m a bad listener.
Because apparently I was too drunk to listen in the first place.
Because apparently I don’t know what’s real anymore, and don’t even really care.
Because apparently the most comforting memory I now hold of my father—of any father figure—isn’t even mine, and doesn’t actually exist at all.
And yet still, I don’t want it gone.

Stephen Wack's new chapbook, "Loneliness & Other Human Endurances (haha, etc.)" is out now, available at the Hendershots bookshelf. On twitter:


"To Phillis Wheatley" - Sam Lane


"To Phillis Wheatley" - Sam Lane

To Phillis Wheatley,
to whom I owe a debt of language:

To the mother whom the middle passage bore
to a poet's life and the slave's chore
of serving the master's way: stay safe
in an envelope of whiteness. Your face
was unthinkable in the English verse you absorbed.
What you read and wrote of whiteness was adored
by whiteness that praised the refined Negro,
who by some parlor trick read, spoke and wrote
like they do.

You used the master's tools
as if they were your own, and artfully fooled
them to put you on an even, written plane.
Your rebellion unnoticed even in fame.
All they saw was white space,
not black letters on the page.

Now I'm in the National Gallery, banging
rap, watching the Flatbush Zombies chop every
tree from the canvas and roll it, watching
Pusha T rip up lilies and plant the poppy,

while Killer Mike runs the jewels on every duke
and duchess. Oh, original sampler,
this is what you left us to rebuke
the master, with his own tools. The first smuggler

of language, you paved our lane out of whiteness
with whiteness flipped, broke down, and packaged
to a way of speaking without the politeness
that you were shackled to. You showed us how to manage.

We were once tar baby, my black mama
poetess, now we transcend genres.

Sam Lane will be participating in the Indy Author Marketplace and Fair at the Athens Clarke County Library on Saturday, Feb 18. The event begins at 11 a.m. The library is located at 2025 Baxter Street.

Although the date and place of her birth are not documented, scholars believe that Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 in West Africa, most likely in present-day Senegal or The Gambia. Wheatley was brought to British-ruled Boston, Massachusetts, on July 11, 1761.
At the age of eight, she was sold to the wealthy Boston merchant and tailor John Wheatley, who bought the young girl as a servant for his wife Susanna. John and Susanna Wheatley named the young girl Phillis, after the ship that had brought her to America. She was given their last name of Wheatley, as was a common custom.
At the age of 14, she wrote her first poem, "To the University of Cambridge, in New England." Recognizing her literary ability, the Wheatley family supported Phillis's education and relieved her of the household labor.
Wheatley was strongly influenced by her studies of the works of Alexander Pope, John Milton, the ancient Greek epics of Homer, and the Roman poets Horace and Virgil. In 1775, she sent a copy of a poem entitled “To His Excellency, George Washington” to him, and Washington invited Wheatley to visit his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which she did in March 1776. Thomas Paine republished the poem in the Pennsylvania Gazette in April 1776.

"Conversations with a Carolina Wren" - Eugene C. Bianchi


"Conversations with a Carolina Wren" - Eugene C. Bianchi

“Poems spring up like the edge of driftwood...
along the beach, wanting! They derive from a slow
and powerful root that we cannot see.
Stop the words now. Open the window
in the center of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.”

Let nature be my Ouija board,
my vast parlor for a séance,
as I press buttons to raise garage doors,
while Lady Wren speeds out of her nest
at the work bench to wait for me
on a nearby garden rail.

She’s shy and bold with her piercing
call: “Teakettle, Teakettle,”
looking at me the whole time.
“Was I late this morning, Dear Friend?”
She dances on the metal, answers
with softer double “Teakettle.”

“Will you vote for the Tea Party Darling?”
Her head bobs this way and that,
then a melancholy “Teakettle,”
as she shoots off for breakfast,
leaving a white stain on the railing.
After all, she has squatted here for years,
it’s the inevitability of influence.

Then up the driveway for the NYTimes,
that temple of Enlightenment,
with crows squawking and fussing overhead,
loud friends of the household who don’t dive bomb me.
Watch out if you cross them with their long memories.

Am I slipping in my eighties?
It’s one thing to seek deep purring
treatments from my muse and “curandero”
Siamese Max, like Rumi opening my chest,
but chatting with a freeloading wren?

It gets worse as I walk weakened hornets,
even roaches in tissue to the garden for a second chance.
Daddy Long Legs are easy to save, seeming
to bless me at the door and tip their hats.
Not so easy with three lost ladybugs
at my computer on their way to Canterbury.
Turn off the alarm, go into the cold in slippers.

Does this part time job come with aging,
keeper of insects and wandering birds?

[Photo by David Noah]

"What Magic Is" - Justin Patrick Moore

"What Magic Is" - Justin Patrick Moore    

Magic burns somewhere
between phosphorous and philosophy
it churns the midnight soil
after hopping the cemetery wall.

“Dig this,” it says
pointing to an unmarked grave.
Magic wasn’t made
to be an energy slave
whim of yours to hire
black lace and red light
for the convenience of your desire.

Sometimes it is a thirst
slaked by snagging you into the coals
a wild mare giving birth to foals
the snare is, its out of your control.

Who lights this match now smells the sulfur
it doesn’t demand you be pure
but is a catalytic converter of events.

Sometimes it is better not to know.
What is it I am doing? What is it all for?
The horizon is a door.

"The People of the Other Village" - Thomas Lux


"The People of the Other Village" - Thomas Lux

hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers’ throats.
We devein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.
"The People of the Other Village" by Thomas Lux originally appeared in his collection New and Selected Poems: 1975-1995. "I got more interested in subjects, identifiable subjects other than my own angst or ennui or things like that. I got better and better, I believe, at the craft. I paid more and more attention to the craft. Making poems rhythmical and musical and believable as human speech and as distilled and tight as possible is very important to me. I started looking outside of myself a lot more for subjects. I read a great deal of history, turned more outward as opposed to inward.”

"He is" - Keith Strickland

 This was created from an editorial in today's paper
by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.
Words are blocked out on the page 
in a style called découpé or cut up technique, 
originated by the Dadaists,
to reveal different and unexpected meanings.
He is
human dust devil
the blank expression
chillingly demagogic
the queen
of diamonds
a Molotov cocktail
reality must conform
to what he wants
Like a sleepy child
in a creaking house
he imagines
boogeymen everywhere
an engine of
never strayed
no matter how unreasonable
to babble lies
a glaring demon-
stration of vanity
He denied the undeniable

"For My Parents: On Journeys" - Emily Katherine


"For My Parents: On Journeys" - Emily Katherine

I put off writing this poem
I kept waiting for the perfect words to arrive
words I could gather in my cupped hands like minnows, hold them out to you,
splashing and sparkling and say “look!”
And then I would gently lower them back into the stream
and we would watch them swim off into the sunset
our ankles getting wet, water lapping the sides of the river bed.
We’d say nothing,
just watch the waves part, as they swam toward them.

Mom and Dad: you sent me off with a blessing, three springs ago
you watched my sister and I pack her Subaru until it literally sagged
the car literally almost touched the ground
you must have thought “wow
they sure have a lot of baggage”
We thought we needed every piece of it, every article of clothing, every pillow,
every notebook and chair, every memory, every fear.
We thought it was so good to get out of town, point the car toward the sun
and just start driving south
but we only got three miles down the road before I had to pee
And we couldn’t turn back
our goodbyes were too fresh in our throats
so my sister pulled the car over and I crouched between two doors and accidentally peed on my sandal
It was the first time on our journey that we both laughed until we cried
“I feel funny”, my sister said
“I feel floaty” I said
Then we turned the radio up, hit the gas and kept on driving.

We stopped half way, in Virginia, at a shitty motel
but there was a pool and hot sunshine and I sat outside at a warped picnic table as the sun set down around me
insects buzzed a patchwork in the dark, my body hummed with a kind of electricity
It was then I realized I didn’t need everything I had brought with me.
We went swimming that night in our clothes
the warm chlorine leached the dust from our eyelids, washed away the imprint of all the mistakes we had to make, in order to get to this point
and when we got back in the car the next day,
we were each two pounds lighter
My sister asked me “will we float away if we keep going like this?”
“No”, I said, “we can learn to curve our arms like anchors
and we’ll take turns flying and holding it down”.

We hit the border of Georgia that day, around 3pm
we were both wearing sundresses, in some kind of salute to the south
when we picked up the keys from our new landlord he asked us if we were both students
when we said no, he asked us if we were both single
when we said yes
he said “southern gentlemen are real and a lot of women mover here to find husbands”
we both thought he was hitting on us.
The key turned the lock to a pre-fabricated duplex, that looked just like the every other one on the block
but to us, it looked like a kept promise
and at first the air conditioning didn’t work and we thought surely we would die in the July heat and I put the ice cream in the bathtub in a sublime effort to save our sweets
and when the AC finally kicked on,
we realized how the rooms echoed
how bare the walls were
how accommodating the emptiness was
and we began splashing laughter across the floor and cooking up new traditions in the tiny kitchen.

My sister left after one year
she said returning home was the most necessary mistake she needed to make
and now she points her face south again
says she’s ready to pack up the car again.
Me, I’ve held down the spot we decided to make our mark on for three years
But now, I have a decision in my pocket and kite string in my wallet
I’m going to pull it out any minute now, attach all my dreams to it
and then run like hell
I haven’t figured out in which direction yet
but I know the wind will lead me

I put off writing this poem for weeks, kept waiting for the perfect one to arrive
one I could hold out to you as proof that you did everything right
as evidence that you raised us with the right convictions, that you put a compass in my heart and a map in my hands
I know we both remember the times you asked me to unlock the door to my cage from the inside
so that you could crawl in with me
I know we both have blasting caps in our pockets and shotgun shells in our shoes, yes, we kept souvenirs
or maybe they kept us
yes, we know how good oxygen feels in our chests
because we still remember learning how to hold our breath.
I put off writing this poem, waiting for it to come to me like an angel
but nothing can deliver me from the work I know I need to do.
And I have stood by the river for hours now, fingers stretched out wide in the water
shin deep in memory, squinting my eyes at the sunset, trying to catch glimpses of my future

Mom and dad, tonight you saw me get on stage for the first time
you are hearing me say the words to the people and I am not saying them all perfectly
but I am saying all of them
I am patting my pockets, checking for the notes you wrote me,
I am putting gas in the car and making lists of all the goodbyes I need to say
I am burning with the memory of the sun through the car windows,
as my sister and I set off on new adventures
I am hammering my heartbeat across the mountain peaks
I am echoing with reverberations of love
I am holding my palms out to you
holding these words like broken arrows, like feathers, like water that still sparkles, even as it slips through my fingers and I am ready now, river current in my blood stream,
I am headed toward the ocean, I am learning how to hold my breath under water
I am pointing in the direction of the current, I am saying “look!”

Emily Katherine was the featured reader in January. This poem originally appeared on her site Gut Punch Poetry.