Making Progress

I might timeline the sequence of events,
find comfort in the linear mapping—
the kind of progress I can walk across,
outrunning my youthful indiscretions,
chasing success by decades.

I might fill the gaps as I go:
Like a white canvas, the artist adds
trees and other green gifts.

I might offer yesterday’s errands,
next Monday’s morning coffee.

I might honor the landscape,
treasure the scenery that sets us.

Emily Reid Green’s poetry has appeared in Gravel, Khroma, The Ekphrastic Review, The Font, and Common Threads. This spring, she was a sponsored poet with Tiferet Journal. She lives with her family in Ohio.

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How to Eat Crab Legs

It begins with hunger.
Your hands plunge into the freezer
and pull out the bag
you bought at Kroger six months ago.
Each orange leg
frosted with ice.
You arrange them on a baking sheet.
After fifteen minutes in the oven
you drain the water.
This process repeats and repeats
and when the ritual is done
you put them in your favorite blue popcorn bowl.
You crack the legs open,
consume the meat within.
It’s juicy and plump and white.
It reminds you of when you were young
how all the best things in the world are full and satisfying:
10 years old, the red tomato juice runs down your naked chest
as you bite into its skin.
You watch the yard: green and expansive.
In the garden your grandfather planted herbs.
Blackbirds flit and flounce from feeder
to fountain to telephone wire.
            Across the way
the cottonwoods shimmer.
The underbellies of their leaves wave to you.
            You’re never sure if it’s a salutation of hello
or good-bye.

Rori Meyer is a writer and teacher who lives in Grand Rapids, MI. Her work has previously appeared in Superstition Review and Pine Hills Review, and is forthcoming in Jelly Bucket.

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Map

I try to memorize the details of your body.
I want to make a map of your skin
so I know where to get back to.
But I never have a pen when I need one.
My purse houses
a dry erase marker
and a stencil of black eyeliner.
Both are good for disguising the world,
but they don’t etch into it
the way I want.
They add layers.
The ones I want stripped away.

I am still in awe of the body’s ability to withstand what we put it through.
We ask and demand it to stretch
and stand in the way of danger and destruction
and expect that the beauty we summon will somehow be enough.

I think of the contortionist we watched at the fair,
October wind blowing her round as she twisted her legs up
over her head,
bent her torso in half
and flung though the air
on a white satin sheet.
Her sequined leotard sparkled
against the black starless night.
I supposed her body hurt less because of how well
she could wind it.

I thought if I could use my body this way
it would stop hurting
so much.
But that’s my body
not yours.
I trace your clavicle to your breastbone
and wonder what is underneath.

First year of college
I memorized our bones and muscles
in an anatomy lab in the basement.
I liked the serpentine names that wound
round my tongue:
            trapezius,
latissimus,
            gastrocnemius.

Then
I think about the tongue of my ex.
I remember its smoothness.
I have a nightmare where he
kisses me
and I don’t stop him.
In this dream, I feel
his weight pressing into me.

I wake up
sure he is next to me.
Not sure
if I miss him
or
the way the mole on his neck
tickled when I grazed it with
my fingernails.

And that’s the question:
how long does someone linger?
He lives in a part of my brain
I can’t control.

I sat on the windowsill of a hotel suite in Minneapolis.
It was April and snow fell amongst the buildings
I ate a croissant and café au lait.
He and I were in the same room
but I don’t think we saw or felt the same things.
I got high and fell asleep
while he kissed the lips of someone else.

I felt it in a dream.

I can memorize every last part of the body.
I can trace them over and over,
the bones,
the muscles, but
no matter how much I know
of my body,
of your body,
of the places our memories collide,
I can never really know
the insides—
the twists and turns—
of anyone else.

Rori Meyer is a writer and teacher who lives in Grand Rapids, MI. Her work has previously appeared in Superstition Review and Pine Hills Review, and is forthcoming in Jelly Bucket.

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Catalogue of Ways We Hurt Each Other

Our last summer
I wipe down the upstairs windowpanes.
I hear the faucet in the kitchen; the gurgle as the coffee maker clicks on.
You pour black liquid into a white cup all sturdy and sure.
Your lips cool and aggressive on the hard porcelain.
I have worked on these windows since spring
and I know the grime must be painted
to be made new.
I don’t tell you this.
You are tired of paint,
of my hands touching parts of this house:
The green drapes I hung in the living room,
the brass lock on the door;
I tripped on the top step—
the shaky one that gives away the age of this place.
I stand with you and start to say “I’m sorry,”
but there’s no need.
You agree to tuck me in at night.
The gray comforter reaches my chin.
Your hands search for me
and I think of the coat rack next to the stairwell—stiff and cold.
The next morning I see where my fingernails
left imprints on your back.
The mourning doves purr deep vocals
inside their chest
outside the window.
My mind wanders and
I wonder if your skin will darken this summer.
I wonder when I will stop cracking that floorboard out of place.
            I met you in the grocery store.
You bought ramen noodles and food for your fish.
How many colors there were then.
All orange and blue
and your eyes, green.
I thought how simple to watch the sunset.
You took me to the lake on New Year’s Eve.
You said: “The water is frozen here at the shoreline,
but a little ways off you can hear it lapping up against the ice.”
                        You were right:
                        There’s no silence. Only a pause before the next beat.

            I walk through town, the smell of the foundry and bakery:
sugar and soap,
all that is sweet and clean.
My feet, new in flats,
hard hit the pavement of this June morning.
The sun clips along ahead of me.
The steps keep coming if I take them,
but I am careful.
There are cracks to fall into.
One reckless verb
is all it takes.

Rori Meyer is a writer and teacher who lives in Grand Rapids, MI. Her work has previously appeared in Superstition Review and Pine Hills Review, and is forthcoming in Jelly Bucket.

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Inanimate Object

“Ammi doesn’t like it when you touch her books.” Rehan had a deep frown etched in the middle of his eyebrows as he stood in front of me, shaking his head disapprovingly in my direction. I stood there, next to the sandalwood bookshelf, dumbfounded while the tip of my finger slipped slowly from the edge of Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto. I knew he was going to tell on me. It’d be the 15th time in two days.

I was on a trial run, sort of like on loan from the orphanage, to the Malik family. It was fall of 2005 and every day rain was drowning any hope of a chance encounter with the sun. It was also the first time any family had shown interest in me. Not only interest but were actually considering taking me on for a whole month to see if I was a good fit for their family. They had put in a request with the Head Matron. The family wanted it done quickly and they had requested no paperwork for the trial run to speed things up. The orphanage didn’t usually allow for such unorthodox requests but in my case they made an exception. It was obvious desperation on their part. I had spent over seven years in the orphanage and so far had less than enthusiastic responses from any potential family in adopting me. So when the Malik family, a very affluent Pakistani-Canadian family, showed interest, the matrons almost immediately jumped on it. The possibility of their longest resident finally having a normal family was too valuable to pass on.

When I first heard from Matron Josephina that I was going to be living with a family for one month, I was pretty excited. The thought of a mother, father and brother was idyllic. I asked Matron Josephina why they had chosen me and she said, “They like your face.”

So here I was, five days into my one-month trial adoption, face to face with ‘older brother’ Rehan. His forehead was now sporting a thin, bulging vein that was silently pulsating as if anticipating my next move. I didn’t have any moves. Like all the times before in the last two days, I had zero moves. Rehan would tell Ammi and she would shake her head at me, just like her son did, while letting out cold sighs of sheer disappointment. Then she would tell me I should learn to be grateful and not touch things in their house that didn’t belong to me. It always confused me when she said that. If I were to not touch things that didn’t belong to me then how was I supposed to physically exist in that house? How was I supposed to walk on the floor and sleep on the bed? They didn’t belong to me. Nothing in that house, except a few of my clothes and a weathered old grey suitcase, belonged to me.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking about shiny lights that didn’t have a glass casing to live in. I thought about Jell-O and how it’s soft and laid-back. You could mold it into the shape of a smile and no one would notice any difference in taste or would even care. Tiny lights that escape from broken glass bubbles usually live on walls and ceilings, casting shadows on butterflies and sometimes making your nose seem smaller and your eyes seem bigger. They swim in wall paint and dance around doorknobs, trying to find shelter that carries a wide enough hole for all the light to get in. Just like Jell-O.

As I lay there in the dark, catching plastic fireflies that shone brightly on the ceiling fan, I felt a tremor on top of my chest. My breath slowed, hiding deep in my mouth. Shallow thumbs were leaving a trail of slime on my stomach. It was the usual time on this fifth night. Usual in this house where nothing was mine. I was slowly finding out that my body was also concealed in that nothing. I was getting used to this house. Used to the routine.

The night before I left the orphanage, I had heard the matrons talking amongst themselves. “It will all be new for her but I’m sure she’ll be able to adjust. She’s a good girl.” I wondered if this was the ‘adjustment’ the matrons were talking about and if I really was a good girl.

I felt my eyelids become rubber plates as sweat beads froze on every inch of my body. My arms were mimicking bricks, stretched under the mattress, heavy like drenched paper boats.

“These hands are not mine.”

“These hands are not mine.”

“These hands are not mine.” I chanted under my breath. I fell into myself and my ears became objects, detached from everything.

**

I stood outside Matron Josephina’s office. It was the 31st day since my trial adoption started and I was waiting for a decision on my fate. I looked up at the orphanage building and then at the garden. I never noticed how big everything was. So many rooms, so many chairs, so many beds, so many children. I felt sick. Something fell inside my stomach and I frantically started to look around for a potted plant worthy of my vomit. As I hovered over the unlucky cactus, waiting for my guts to come rushing out, nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing came out and I just stood there, my mouth open, head forward, staring into the dirt around the cactus. For a moment I wished I could remain like that, in this exact position forever. I wanted to be buried like this. I would be the girl who died holding a potted plant with her head bent downwards, towards the cactus head and mouth wide open. People would come from far and wide to attend the funeral of the freak. Some famous Italian sculptor would volunteer to make my headstone in the form of ‘a girl who died holding a potted plant with her head bent downwards, towards the cactus head and mouth wide open’. Years would pass and grass would grow on my grave. It would become a make-out spot for lit couples to engage in voluntary grasping of body parts. After they burnt out, they would lie together next to my headstone while one of them would ask the inevitable question, “Do you think her mouth is open because it’s a metaphor for a scream?” Cliché. Such cliché.

After some time, I heard the door open. Mr and Mrs Malik came out together with Rehan right behind them. They all gave me a quick look that spoke of strict blankness and then walked away to their car. Matron Josephina called me inside. She gave me the news, the news I was already pretty sure about. The Maliks had decided not to keep me. They had actually decided against adopting for a while because they had their hands full with Rehan.

“How do you feel?” I looked up at Matron Josephina, her eyes looked tired and full of concern. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t actually feel anything. Nothing. I was surprised. I was sure I was going to feel something. I wasn’t expecting just, nothing.

“I’m fine, Matron Josephina.” I smiled the biggest, fakest smile ever and went up to my room.

I looked in the mirror before unpacking. I pulled up my shirt and looked at my stomach. I wondered when I’d be able to touch it with my own hands and it wouldn’t feel like an inanimate object that was easily violated.

Nooks Krannie is a Palestinian/Persian girl and poet. Her 1st chapbook I have hard feelings & I wish I could quit chocolate was published by Moloko House in 2016, and her 2nd chapbook candied pussy is forthcoming from Thistlemilk Press. She tumbls at http://nkrannie.tumblr.com and instagrams at @nookskrannie.

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Walking to Schubert’s Great Symphony

The snow deepens fast but by little,
another mystery you do not understand,
like poetry, the poetry by the poet
to whose house you would go.

Snow crusts the headphones;
the music still insists.
You keep your footfall regular,
even, as if

you had an important meeting ahead,
not just weak tea and talk
you are never ready to return.

It’s as if someone had stretched a net
across the whitening fields, the ball
her voice, white itself, served up
to an impossible bounce to a man
without a racket.

So you imagined it would be.
The music went on, though,
pacing your inchoate self
to become an almost was.

Joseph Helminski teaches English at Oakland Community College near Detroit, and has published poems recently in Sweet Tree Review and The Tulane Review. Five of his poems will appear in the next issue of Assisi: An Online Journal of Arts & Letters.

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Babel

Every single tongue on the table
makes a part of talking,
as if licking a cosmic brain
to demarcate the contents
of its different languages.

Your accent is the Holy See,
each utterance ex cathedra,
buttressed by millennia
and crude fingers steeped in relief.

Admire the architecture,
not its fateful rhymes.
Stones aren’t notions,
but more like slaving traces.

Your finger is a hot knife
through historic butter.
You churn after the fact of it.

They said avoid inflation.
You keep it simple,
turn away the memo speak.

He’s hot for the all of it
and wraps us up in the shawl of it,
lingua longa, small words,
quivering heart.

Mi corazón
sounds noble,
alone, like a whistled song
whistled along the iron
casing cemeteries,
hands wrapped around fallen branches
sliding dry on what is wrought
as you pass nervously along
this purchased world.

Joseph Helminski teaches English at Oakland Community College near Detroit, and has published poems recently in Sweet Tree Review and The Tulane Review. Five of his poems will appear in the next issue of Assisi: An Online Journal of Arts & Letters.

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