In the Glow of Having Been Obscure

We were the good children of 1944.

In those classroom days we
were mostly smart, and sat
in desks secured in lines.

Then some of us went away
and settled like dust in
different classrooms, eager
to be liked, high and mighty.

Now that we’re separated,
our indentured memories revisit
old classmates’ faces, names—
the high-top shoes of the boy scribbling
at the chalkboard, trousers puckering
at his lean waist. Valleys of grass
from earlier sown seed
divide us from each other now:
disunited, working, some killed in war.

And while we were still pushing
and scrambling for equilibrium,
unseen by our peers of 1944,
printer’s ink appeared on obituary columns.

Phoebe Marrall, orphaned at the age of nine, was a survivor of The Depression and of a gruelling childhood. When she died in 2017 at the age of eighty-four, her daughters Jane Hendrickson and Camille Komine inherited hundreds of poems she had written. They remained unpublished during her lifetime, but it is the intention of her daughters that a collection be compiled for readers to appreciate. Relief, Have You a Name? is currently a work in progress, being edited by Gayle Jansen Beede.

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Surrender

There is labor in all of it.
Grainy minutes, pinpricks of sun,
wayward bugs and words
passing slowly. I hunch for breath.

Can I not do something? Escape?
Brush away aphids, walk faster
before the dusk of memories
overtakes me? Such mortal weariness

in waiting, such exhaustion.
And no place to stop.
There are shades and light,
and wind outdoors, but no relief.

If wind could clothe, my wraps
would always be clean. But this
is rude country, edged like frost
on leaves. Edged, dark and charred—

the devil licks its blade. Surrender
is a sea of rude, surly foam
where crude words crash
like hurled bricks. We were girls

without girlhood, where wonder
calcified into uncertainty, born
from a mother so surrendered
her very shadow disappeared.

Phoebe Marrall, orphaned at the age of nine, was a survivor of The Depression and of a gruelling childhood. When she died in 2017 at the age of eighty-four, her daughters Jane Hendrickson and Camille Komine inherited hundreds of poems she had written. They remained unpublished during her lifetime, but it is the intention of her daughters that a collection be compiled for readers to appreciate. Relief, Have You a Name? is currently a work in progress, being edited by Gayle Jansen Beede.

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Legacy

We came from scraps,
pulling slowly away from wrath
of spiderwebs and manure powder
and the reek of claret.

“Destitute” we brought with us,
in the remembered glossy wool fiber
of the hand-me-down sweater,
and old, brown coat of no warmth.

Someone had noted, “…five small
children left destitute.” This word
was new to us. Having nothing
now had a name. It erased images

of old geranium stems,
and an open can of extra milk,
well blackened with flies,
in the barn, by the stanchion.

It did not include the spread of pink
pepper berries, the tiny ring
found hanging on a weathered spear of
goat-yard fence, the darting barn swallow.

It declared a possession-lessness and
a mine without ore for milling
into middle class blend. It said there
was no money, or socks, or toys.

But in truth we brought much
with us, as we could not
shed the clothes we wore or the
fear, or the certainty of dire eyes.

We brought the scraps and spiderwebs
and the deep red ring of dried
wine at the bottom of a glass left
long by the radio, familiar, sour.

“Destitute,” as now we have blouses
hanging on metal hangers, and shoes
never approved of by our father?
“Destitute” in dry, warm houses?

Having nothing in our letter-day
provision, the use of money?
Is there not a partial wealth in hot,
running water, and a righteous sink?

We have our bodies’ warmth against
cold, and fear of administered pain,
and the wrack of fury in precision.
There is possession in free time.

Yes, there is destitution in our veins.
As much as we have quit the dark
and left El Cajon to desiccate in
the wind, it sticks like windblown burrs.

Phoebe Marrall, orphaned at the age of nine, was a survivor of The Depression and of a gruelling childhood. When she died in 2017 at the age of eighty-four, her daughters Jane Hendrickson and Camille Komine inherited hundreds of poems she had written. They remained unpublished during her lifetime, but it is the intention of her daughters that a collection be compiled for readers to appreciate. Relief, Have You a Name? is currently a work in progress, being edited by Gayle Jansen Beede.

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Reservations

We stayed in bed past three, fat crows
like roosters cawing for our attention.

My skin was brown and you kissed me
on that pale equator, head at my hips,
light across ceiling, the rumble of the
housekeeper’s cart—a tentative knock,
a train moving on.

We slept and slept, sheets twisted
and damp, while children ran zigzags
down the hall and the buzz
of a lawn mower beat against
the window like a hungry mosquito.

Did we know it would be over
as soon as we pulled aside
the thick lined curtains?
Did we clutch tighter, snake arms
and legs and breath?

Later, I watched you argue over the bill
and wondered what I ever saw in you.

Kathleen Latham’s work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Constellations, Eclectica Magazine, and the Tipton Poetry Journal. She grew up in Los Angeles but now lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband, four children who come home when they can, and a spoiled rotten cat. She can be found online at https://www.kathleenlatham.com.

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leaning towards the sun

            (for Charles Bukowski)

in the old empire they placed
milestones on the road
to mark the distance from Rome

from Senate and slaves
Cicero, bread and circuses: life or death in the decision
of a dictator’s thumb

in reverse they marked the distance
from the Rhine’s flowing border
the Carpathian hills

from blood and murder unmasked

and you would’ve felt
the impossibility of all that
distance

more than most,
with
your grizzled German blood

that barbarous face (and reputation)
your strange mixture of glorious defeat
and civilized grace
you would’ve sat by the roadside
bottle in hand,
leaning towards the sun

saying, “hey, there’s nothing
back there
nothing further on

there’s only you and me
here”

here:

tapping a finger to
your chest,
throwing out a salute

and laughing

This is a reprint of work originally published in A Synonym for Sobriety.

Ben Adams is a writer from Adelaide, South Australia, who has studied literature and history, clerked at video stores and petrol stations, been paid to wrangle cash at beer-soaked music festivals, and worked in academia. Many of his poems have found publication both online and in print over the last decade. His first complete collection of poetry, A Synonym for Sobriety, won the Single Poet series award from Friendly Street Poets and was published in 2019. Find him on Instagram (@bts.adams) or Twitter (@badbadams) and, finally, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bts.adams.

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black holes and rubber bands

slow moving nights
pull stories from the sky

from behind your eyes
like wondering if we’ll be pulled over

for that broken taillight
on the short drive home

we piece syllables together
one by one

but from a distance
the word elusive, the design

the absent phenome of a de-categorised world
catching your tongue

* * *

slow moving nights
pull stories from the sky

I tell you my greatest fear
is the existential pull

of an event horizon from which
even light cannot escape

you tell me yours is more the everyday
layers of experience pulled tight

around each other like a bundle
of rubber bands

or a man’s footstep too close behind you
on the street

* * *

slow moving nights
pull stories from the sky

and we piece syllables together
from a distance

like the stars we see
as though a canopy of interwoven light

echoes of suns
the meaning of things

stretched to breaking
ghosts of galaxies

a billion years between
each one

This is a reprint of work originally published in A Synonym for Sobriety.

Ben Adams is a writer from Adelaide, South Australia, who has studied literature and history, clerked at video stores and petrol stations, been paid to wrangle cash at beer-soaked music festivals, and worked in academia. Many of his poems have found publication both online and in print over the last decade. His first complete collection of poetry, A Synonym for Sobriety, won the Single Poet series award from Friendly Street Poets and was published in 2019. Find him on Instagram (@bts.adams) or Twitter (@badbadams) and, finally, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bts.adams.

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end of the western empire

—and we rubbed our hands
as Rome burned

except it wasn’t the spires
and colonnades

of an imperial capital
billowing smoke

into an already black sky
but the best

of the rest of that
not slavery and the colosseum spectacle

but the marketplace, the ale halls
the beating heart of a city

one million strong at the centre
of an empire that stretched

across half the known world
we rubbed our hands

and saw power in the wrong places
wept for Nero confronted

by grain doles and Boadicea’s revolt
instead of the plebeian farmer

for whom the best of this
broken system

was all she could rely on
wept for Nero instead

of the African commander
who held Hadrian’s wall

for the glory of Rome
but couldn’t find a seat

on the Senate floor
wept for Nero instead

of those we called barbarians
knocking at the gate

of what was once their land
and wanting to be let in

wept for Nero
instead

of the conscript soldier who hoped
for a patch of earth to call his own

and the blessing
of a better emperor

to live his life
the way he and his

and his
saw fit

the Pax Romana took a long time
to work, if it ever did

for those truly marginalised
and even then

when the poor and desperate
the outsiders

had finally found a little part of that peace
we pointed them out, again

and said, you are not Roman
you are not us

we are not Roman
we are not us

we rubbed our hands
and saw power in the wrong places

as Rome burned
down

to its already imperfect
foundations

Ben Adams is a writer from Adelaide, South Australia, who has studied literature and history, clerked at video stores and petrol stations, been paid to wrangle cash at beer-soaked music festivals, and worked in academia. Many of his poems have found publication both online and in print over the last decade. His first complete collection of poetry, A Synonym for Sobriety, won the Single Poet series award from Friendly Street Poets and was published in 2019. Find him on Instagram (@bts.adams) or Twitter (@badbadams) and, finally, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bts.adams.

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