You Leave and I Can’t Sleep

John Coates Browne “View from parlor window, Presqu’ile” Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

 

You Leave and I Can’t Sleep

By Lynn Houston

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In August 2016, while at a writing residency, I met a man who was already supposed to have deployed with his National Guard unit. We were given the gift of three weeks before he left, time we used to get to know each other, as we helped out on a friend’s farm, had long conversations on a porch swing, and rode his motorcycle up into the mountains. The night before he left the country, as he was driving to the base, we talked on the phone for over three hours. For six months while he was gone, I sent him near-daily poems in the mail. When he returned, after an initial successful reunion, it became clear that he was plagued with anger issues and other problems associated with a difficult re-entry into his civilian life. He began seeing someone else, and we broke up. In my grief, I revised the poems I’d sent him and began submitting them to poetry contests. Unguarded won the inaugural chapbook contest of the Heartland Review Press and is due to be released in December 2017, with a series of readings and book signings in the Elizabethtown, KY, area scheduled for early 2018.

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You Leave and I Can’t Sleep

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If I’m writing this, it means I can’t sleep and that
the rain outside my window drops blindly in the dark.

The crops need it, the cashier told me earlier, ringing
me up for a pint of milk, making small talk, making change.

And now the tipped carton has marred the pages
on my too-small desk. I’m trying not to make too much of it—

this mess, the disasters my life and pages gather.
I’m trying to be kinder to myself, more forgiving.

Outside, a leopard moth lands on the screen, shudders
to dry its wings. One touch from my finger would strip

the powdered coating that allows it to fly in rain.
I wish it might have been so easy to keep you

from boarding the plane that took you to war.
In the predawn, my neighbors still asleep, I am the only one

to hear the garbage truck grind to a stop,
its brakes the sound of an animal braying.

The rain has stopped, too. I look over the smudged papers
on my desk. Nothing important has been lost.

When you come home safely to me in six months,
we will be able to say, nothing important has been lost.

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Editor’s Note: This poem is the second of a series. The first poem, “On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan,” was published two weeks ago.

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About the Author: Lynn Marie Houston holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her poetry appears in numerous literary journals–such as O-Dark-ThirtyGravelPainted Bride QuarterlyOcean State ReviewHeavy Feather Review–and in her three collections: The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press), Chatterbox (Word Poetry Books), and Unguarded (Heartland Review Press). For more information, visit lynnmhouston.com

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Two Prose Poems

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Two Prose Poems

By Mike James

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That One Singer

Seems to know your life…How you lift yourself, just a little, from your seat when she reaches up past the ceiling, the roof, the trees, up near that first cloud to hit a high note…Or how you almost brace for a train to thunder by when she growls down and down with low ones…It’s like she looked out the window, for no good reason, the night you got your first streetlight kiss…As if she knows how you got that knee scrape from belt buckle dodging at ten…

 

Beyond The Land Of Misfit Toys

Drop that bucket into the memory well and it’s never what you wish. You pull up clown porn. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Shot glasses serve as telescopes to galaxies you’d rather not see. Even one night stands, much heralded in the movies, offer minimum relief. Every woman you end up with wears heels or boots you desire more than her. You beg to be her carpet, her footstool, her bath mat. If the question is lust, the answer is confusion. You look at every closet and hope for big locks. More than the butterfly you love the butterfly tattoo.

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About the Author:  Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MALAK




From MALAK
By Jenny Sadre-Orafai:


LAST READING

There is a pregnant bird in the cup.
Malak looks at me like she has never looked

at that in a cup before. My father looks at me
like there are things I’m not telling him.

She crochets baby caps, square blankets,
booties in Neapolitan ice cream colors.

If I ever have these babies, if I’m the bird
in the cup, I’ll want to devour them.

After the last reading she leaves the cup turned up,
daring the bird to forget I was pregnant.



MOTHER SPELL

I felt for mountain
and ocean, my first globe.

Mouth or beak. Arm or wing.
Skin or feather. Feet or feet.

Who brought these to me
to dress in booties and caps.

I didn’t ask to know a belly
so tight.

I didn’t ask if it was girl
or boy or bird.



LANGUAGE OF SIGNS

I slept the whole day
without remembering, Malak.

I dreamt I had a son
growing so fast,

a tomato plant sprawled
everywhere, unstoppable.

I held him at my hipline.
And I fed his hunger.

Now he’s a pitcher
of water.



Today’s poems are from Malak (Playtpus Press, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Jenny Sadre-Orafai, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Malak is an invocation of past and future. With familial lament and childish wonder, the words lay tribute to the infinite—to the beauty in descent and the heartache that binds us to place. To our smallness in death and the importance of conjuring anew.

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper, Cotton, Leather and five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Cream City Review, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, Hotel Amerika, The Pinch, and other journals. Her prose has appeared in Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, South Loop Review, Fourteen Hills, The Collagist, and other journals. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

Editor’s Note: Birds, tea leaves, foxes. If there are talismans that illuminate the path Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Malak lays out for the reader, these may be those divining objects. There is magic within these pages — the kind that is conjured up in Gypsy tents and over old world kitchen tables, magic from a time and place when women were believed. But the future is always uncertain, and the tales that unfurl within Malak‘s pages curve and splinter like the lines on a palm.

What is inheritance, this collection asks. What is lived? What is lost? Do we inherit even that which cannot be passed down? Are predictions only as good as their fruition?

Malak is a book that pairs loss with beauty, future with past, the certainty of fate with the unknown and the unknowable. Throughout its pages, a sense of familiarity is established that both grounds and destabilizes. Its stories are told in the dark of night, but under the light of a full and generous moon. When Malak‘s truths reveal themselves, you bask in their luminosity and marvel at the careful magic of their making. You do not ask if they are boy or girl or bird.

Want more from Jenny Sadre-Orafai?
Buy Malak in paperback from Platypus Press
Buy Malak on Kindle from Amazon
Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Official Website

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On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan

Jack Delano: “Rural Scene, Near Andover, Maine” Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

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On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan

By Lynn Houston

 

In August 2016, while at a writing residency, I met a man who was already supposed to have deployed with his National Guard unit. We were given the gift of three weeks before he left, time we used to get to know each other, as we helped out on a friend’s farm, had long conversations on a porch swing, and rode his motorcycle up into the mountains. The night before he left the country, as he was driving to the base, we talked on the phone for over three hours. For six months while he was gone, I sent him near-daily poems in the mail. When he returned, after an initial successful reunion, it became clear that he was plagued with anger issues and other problems associated with a difficult re-entry into his civilian life. He began seeing someone else, and we broke up. In my grief, I revised the poems I’d sent him and began submitting them to poetry contests. Unguarded won the inaugural chapbook contest of the Heartland Review Press and is due to be released in December 2017, with a series of readings and book signings in the Elizabethtown, KY, area scheduled for early 2018.

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On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan

Henry was the first to know I was your woman.
Henry, the goat. The one who hates you.

Since then I’ve been surprised by how often
clouds take the shape of curled horns
and remind me of that Tennessee morning

we left a shared bed to feed the herd
and took the smell of love-making with us.

Like any hard-headed man, when Henry knew
I was yours, he wanted me for a goat wife,
butted my thigh and bit my boot top,

rubbed his face against its orange leather.
Aware of Henry’s macho display and the force

of his horns, you turned your back on me
and walked toward the house, knowing that
to keep me safe you had to leave.

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About the Author: Lynn Marie Houston holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her poetry appears in numerous literary journals–such as O-Dark-ThirtyGravelPainted Bride QuarterlyOcean State ReviewHeavy Feather Review–and in her three collections: The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press), Chatterbox (Word Poetry Books), and Unguarded (Heartland Review Press). For more information, visit lynnmhouston.com

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A Review of Daniel Crocker’s Shit House Rat

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A Review of Daniel Crocker’s Shit House Rat

By Stephen Furlong

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In a blurb for Daniel Crocker’s Everyday People and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), A.D. Winans writes “Daniel Crocker is one of a lively band of modern poets who write…from the heartland of the people, and I stress HEART, because Crocker’s poetry comes from deep inside him.” Daniel Crocker is a poet who lays it on the line, the poetic line, to provide his readers with impassioned honesty and the rawness of an exposed nerve. In Shit House Rat (Spartan Press, 2017), Crocker explores belonging, popular culture references, and sexuality.

In one of the first poems of the book, “Growing Up”, Crocker investigates youth and belonging. Channeling the 1990 documentary Silence=Death written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim, the speaker of the poem writes: “I saw Silence/equal death/and stayed silent/anyway.” The documentary focuses on the AIDS epidemic and includes appearances by Allen Ginsberg and David Wojanarowicz. This poem hints at a recurring theme in Crocker’s book which is, to borrow from Patricia Hampl: carry[ing] our wounds forward with us. Crocker’s poetry carries wounds forward in order to bring light to them and his poetry is remarkably admirable given today’s tumultuous climate of trying to hide, even deny, one’s misdeeds of the past. Crocker doesn’t hold back and doesn’t hide making his poetry powerful, even with its vulnerability.  Returning back to “Growing Up”, the popular culture references continue with the early 1980s Midwestern-driven sitcom “The Day After” and late 1970s “Roots”. The poem, itself, is honing in on these popular culture phenomena in an attempt to understand the Reagan administration and growing up during that timeframe.

In addition to these popular culture references, Crocker’s poems channel snuffleupagas, Wolverine, Reed Richards and writers who have influenced him throughout the years like Adrienne Rich and Lord Byron. In the last portion of the book, Crocker writes the poem “I Wish” for his wife, and longs to be Whitmanesque. The poem is gentle, heartfelt, and sincere which reveals growth and maturity throughout the course of the book. Throughout the course of the poet’s life. These references are entrances into Crocker’s livelihood, they are sometimes dark corners of the brain, but channeling back to A.D. Winans—they reveal Crocker’s heart. That makes all the difference in this collection.

There’s a devastating piece in this collection titled “Brutal,” which reminds me of Bruce Weigl’s “The Impossible”—a poem which talks about physical, namely sexual, abuse. The last line has stayed with me ever since I first read the poem: “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what.”  Of trauma, Weigl says in an interview “to understand that this (trauma) was not something that I was going to get over, but instead something that I needed to find a way to live with.”

In writing “Brutal” Crocker tries to live with this memory instead of trying to get over it because, frankly, overcoming abuse is just not done, or for certain, easily done. Crocker’s speaker in this poem is young and, under peer pressure, has what is called a gay night. The individuals of the poem, Crocker and cousin Terry, reveal themselves and fall prey to an older cousin named Larry. Crocker confesses around halfway through:

…if I ever have the guts to write about it, it’s going to be brutal. It’s going to be honest and detailed. The details, however, are like an impressionist painting. Parts of it, like the monster, are painfully vivid. Larry’s white, white teeth. His beautiful body. The rest is images, textures, feelings. Feelings of guilt and desire are all mixed up in one.

The form of this piece, set in prose, reveals the blurring of everything coming together, of the pieces of this pain being fused with feelings of guilt and desire. Crocker has written extensively about his bisexuality and alludes to it in this piece as well, which makes the piece even more dizzying, even more crushing when this memory sticks out in his history. The poem later reveals Larry, the perpetrator, has died in a motorcycle accident, a fact which used to bring Crocker happiness; “I’m not sure I am anymore,” he then confesses immediately afterward. This poem reflects the confusion and anger abuse leaves in its wake. It also discusses the wretchedness it can have years after as both Crocker and Terry, both drunk mind you, discuss it. And the pain comes back. The frankness of this poem’s language haunts me because the poem doesn’t try to hide in veiled language or metaphor; it just speaks to the horrors of abuse and it does it directly and does not hold back.

To me, the success of Daniel Crocker’s poetry is exactly that: He does it directly and does not hold back. It’s admirable, it’s damn hard work, but it’s healing. Daniel Crocker’s poetry and writing helps my writing because of their frankness and honesty. Those qualities push me to do the same; they push me to be honest and detailed. I am convinced Crocker can’t write any other way. And I don’t think he would choose that.

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About the Author: Stephen Furlong is a recent graduate of Southeast Missouri State University located on the Mississippi. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Yes Poetry, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Pine Hills Review, among others. He also had a poem in A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault published by Civil Coping Mechanisms and edited by Joanna C. Valente.

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Two Prose Poems

Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel (1930)

Two Prose Poems

By Mike James

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Oh Daddy, Give Me A Quarter For The Time Machine

I want to go to Berlin! Back before reunifications or walled up divisions, back before that
screaming little man with his silly mustache.Yes, I want to go to the Weimar Republic
and catch, just one, cabaret. See Marlene sulk sexy onto the stage in black top hat, tux
(with white gloves, of course.) I want to see the scribblers making napkin notes for later.
Hello, Walter Benjamin with your weak tea and indigestion. Good evening to you, Mr.
Brecht, with your new girlfriend and old, out of tune guitar. Kurt Weill at the piano
smoking his black, extra-long filter. Some unknown Sally at a barstool listening to other
people’s dreams.

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Rebel, Rebel

for David Bowie

Once he took off his dress, he didn’t know what to wear. He tried walking around, naked
as sunlight. Despite summer days, that became quite drafty. And nothing held in place.
Appendages sagged, this way and that. So he put on a blue suit, same color blue Candy
Darling used for lipstick. The color looked more natural romantic on her. He wore the
suit to walk the dog, shop for scarves, take out the trash, order delivery cheese pizza.
Despite adjustments from a sensible tailor, the suit was never a perfect fit. In stilettos he
no longer liked the click heels made for his ears.

 

About the Author: Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

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Mental Health Portraits

Portrait of Stephy Langui By Rene Magritte (1961)

Mental Health Portraits

By Margaret Crocker

               

MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 1

Offices are silent
and locked at night.

And bland doors upon doors
and myself,
white and nervous against the glass
broken with chickenwire.

The pads of my shoes are quiet.
The elevator’s shaky hum is quiet.
The shadows of the dining hall are quiet and long.
The dust on the carcass of a water beetle,
the saw that does not move,
the razor behind the lock,
the fingers,
stained with marker,
the fingers clenched in state blankets.

The voices
are silent
while a reflection of me
smokes in the yard.

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MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 2

Cee Cee
smiling in the hall.
She rubs her forehead back and forth,
her fingers back and forth,
the air twisting
her knuckles back and forth,
flies rubbing.

Cee Cee
taking a shower.
Her tshirt is hung
empty on the door.

Cee Cee in line
waiting for that Red Cross tshirt,
a souvenir of another life
of outside
and pursuits she sleeps away here,
of a time she had something to give.

Cee Cee in line
with a Dixie cup of orange juice
and that crazy, crazy blood
pumping a hole through the universe,
her head
bumping softly at the wall
again
again
as she stares past the door.
A sticker, a lollipop and a smiley-face on the board,
this is what she has now.

Cee Cee
carrying a cheap comb in a paper bag.
Cee Cee watches the bored nurse
and today’s discussion
“To Cope or Not To Cope.”

That is the question.

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About the Author: Margaret Crocker is an artist, writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister and thief. She collects stray animals and has this weird fantasy of being on The Great British Baking Show, despite the fact she uses a bread machine. She knows little but proclaims much. There is much we don’t know about her.

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