A Way Back Home

I teach myself
to dress as creeping figs
on a sway of fence,

how to mourn neon joy
leaping over onto my neighbors’ lawn—
like a loose gumball,

why leopard geckos run inside,
leave their tails and die.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Sunday Mornings at the River.

Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn’s disease. She grew up on a small farm in a Texas town alongside many furry friends, two sisters, and two brothers. She has known tragic loss too well, and her writing is a reflection of the shadows lurking in her psyche. Her debut book of poetry, Strange Beauty, is available on Amazon, as well as her most recent collection of poetry and prose, Summer Storms.

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Rio Vista

My first memory was rain,
movement, drifter feet plying
down the roofline in sheets;

nothing was separate:
the T-frame wires through
the spread of distance,

the dance of clothespins
and the grease trap
that once ate a girl.

The rain—its lapping
could fill our farm’s well in reverse
until it rose over, and the dead debris,
the black cicadas would not sleep,

not easily, not
with the screen door frantic,

the electric porch a pool
of arching spines, the wind spinning
outside counter-clockwise.

My second memory was grief,
stillness, my church shoes
sinking in mud from the cloudburst;

that last April at home:
the silo folded in, where
the boards should’ve been

there was an empty cavern.
The secret got loose
through the windmill
as it mourned its vacancy.

The grief—its apparition
stayed in wait after the burial
until the house sold what was left
of the girl,
the white pillars by the door
would not stand,

not easily, not with the foundation
of peat moss caving,

the stylus of memory scoring
my vinyl skins,
the wolf spiders slipping
under the damp overlay
and beneath my rug
of incomplete feelings.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Unlikely Stories.

Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn’s disease. She grew up on a small farm in a Texas town alongside many furry friends, two sisters, and two brothers. She has known tragic loss too well, and her writing is a reflection of the shadows lurking in her psyche. Her debut book of poetry, Strange Beauty, is available on Amazon, as well as her most recent collection of poetry and prose, Summer Storms.

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1996-2001

I want to go to the farmer’s market
            and find an orange watermelon,
watch you roll its pregnant belly around
            and knock on it to see if it’s sweetest.

We can take it home and divide it
            over a table of newspaper,
spit seeds across a headline
            announcing the next county fair,

read Calvin and Hobbes, even the obituaries
            would seem like good news.

Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn’s disease. She grew up on a small farm in a Texas town alongside many furry friends, two sisters, and two brothers. She has known tragic loss too well, and her writing is a reflection of the shadows lurking in her psyche. Her debut book of poetry, Strange Beauty, is available on Amazon, as well as her most recent collection of poetry and prose, Summer Storms.

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That Feeling That Everything Is Possible

Smiling calmly, you asked if I would choose to live forever if I could.
I said yes, thinking, as we lay together
on your old couch, that I could spend forever
splayed out in that naked cross we’d made on the cushions.
But I didn’t say that out loud.
When you turned 24, you said,
you began to worry that, after a life spent walking in circles,
the only proof you were ever here would be a ring
you’d made in the dirt. And now that you’ve noticed the circumference
of your wanderings getting smaller,
that the distance from one end of your life
to the other is shrinking, you’ve realized that
what you are actually making is a spiral staircase, descending
like a funnel. A black hole of dreams. You are reminded of the routine
apathy of a sunless morning in October
when you saw what looked like the sky crumpling
beneath its own weight and instead of rubbing your eyes
or checking the weather or even texting your friend
to ask what was going on you turned back to the computer
and put on a playlist entitled
songs to be productive to. I once stayed up until 3am
waiting for a text message that never came, until it did
the day after. What I think I mean is that there are still surprises
to be found somewhere, although I’m not sure how one
connects to the other.

Finally, with the weight of your chest
on top of mine, you looked at me and said that, regardless,
your answer to the question you had asked me
was no.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.</p

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Nostalgia for a Place You’ve Never Been (And a Person You’ve Never Met)

What I’m talking about is a bit like sitting on the toilet,
browsing Instagram photos of beaches and mountains
and forests that could almost be paintings
and guessing the name of each place that, perhaps, could be any other. But no.
You’ve been there.
You remember so clearly that smell of seawater
and sweat and the sunburn that crisscrossed your back
because you fell asleep with your face in the sand
having halfheartedly squirted sunscreen in random patches
on your skin. There was a hardware store
where you asked for an adaptor for your phone.
An older man passing by heard your accent and you ended up
walking with him for hours while he explained the history of the sky
in this place and then bought you what you later realized
was just a grilled cheese with ham. You don’t think he ever told you
his name. You remember an ice cream shop. Your head was lying on the table
and all you wanted was to fall asleep but the person seated across from you
started to rub their thumb along the back of your hand. But you remember
that that never happened. You never went into that ice cream shop.
You never ate a sandwich with an old man by the sea, and
the place you remember was never the neon shade of blue in this photo.
You get up to wash your hands, and feel for a thumbprint
that was never there.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.</p

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A Poem in Five Minutes.

The earth cracks beneath the sound of traffic
and I curl around an empty spot
on the bed
before rising to my feet.
The room hums in its space. I hear water
in the kettle like a lonely river and wonder
how all this could be different
if you were here.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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A Child of This Place

If you were born here,
perhaps,
you’d recognize me
in this brazen emptiness,
the pearl-dressed homes
in lines and the window
the small, concrete park makes
in the earth. A woman in a silvery dress
mocks the stars on her evening walk.
The passing of cars is a sort of silence.
Some nights, the moon twists on a hinge,
and with one hand
I grasp in the air
for those small sources of light
I cannot see and with the other,
for all the things
I couldn’t know I’d need.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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The End of Things

What stood out to me
was the heat a mid-February
morning and the snow turning to blueberry-puddles
on the ground the sun was on its funerary march
through the sky I could see rain coming
in a looming dark and made my hands a shell
in anticipation this was probably a dream
like the dreams I often have of rain
in my chest my heart becomes a cloud
a darkness that swells
up against my breath already straining
beneath a heat that makes the air heavy
emptiness is a weight greater than even a chest
full of water and the space between dreams
is just that, a space to be filled
by the sun in your eyes when I stop
for a moment to rub the sweat
away I notice my breath
still tastes like blueberries from breakfast
that morning.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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Saturday

In someone else’s apartment I wake
myself up with a mixture of sunlight
and coffee my face a blank sheet and a tightness
in my calves that is perhaps from walking too much
yesterday it was what you might call a lovely
evening the bricks made echoes
of the light there was music playing
a sort of laughter from the earth or perhaps it was just
in my ears later I walked the line from there to here
distracted by color the hospitable green of both eyes
and trees lining the sidewalk I read the sidewalk
and its cracks with the bottoms
of my feet like the lines of another’s palms
I said the words that had been sitting
like a weight on my tongue I found in the shifting light
of that warm summer evening a different sort
of warmth the breath of all that is waiting
to be done.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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Brief Poem on Warmth

And what did you expect would happen? You left
it all to grow on its own: plants and children,
roots in search of other roots, arms
and arms and arms. An endless competition for water
and light and a great distance to cross.
So we grew and grasped
at something out of reach; you remember
the tips of our fingers as the swaying
of weeds in empty space.

I watched the sun moving above a field
once split in two by a row of trees but now
a single rectangular plot stained
softly in the light. There were sounds
of children coming
from somewhere behind me. There were small
corpses of rodents in the grass. My memory of you
is in a place like this, you, ascending from gold
to gold, eyes dutifully closed, us on the ground,
searching frantically for the light of another sun.

As a child,
someone told me of a place where the mountains spoke.
I never wondered what they’d say. It seemed obvious
that something that found itself below
so many feet
would no long wish to talk.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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A Recurring Fear

I thought it was enough. I alphabetized the bookshelves
and the collection of CDs, polished their rainbow
backs and then the glass in the interior windows, the wind was still blowing
stones but I did not patch the holes
in the wall or the spaces left
in the order of things but through them I saw the fire
and did nothing, let my nails grow long
and scrubbed well behind my ears in the shower, I scrubbed
the scar of an insect from the floor then scrubbed my skin clean
off from what was beneath, there was always
the smell of something burning, smoke on the exterior windows
like a thickening glaze of thundercloud,
and in here I lock the doors and polish rainbow glass
and scrub soot from beneath my nails.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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I Listen to White Noise

and picture your skin like light
through water Outside the earth
creaks on its hinges The light crackles
and becomes morning and the leaves crackle
by my window I hold something
in my hands like water because it spills
between my fingers and am reminded of the way
you would hold my fingers in yours the same way
a child might reach for a firefly
in the air Looking now I see it all in gold
as if touched by a newborn sun The past
whirling as a wave Your skin
a source of light The white noise crackled
between radio stations while we sat
in this room with the blinds down
and the lamp off and the feeling of your hand in mine was
like catching a firefly from the air
a star against my palm
a light that would soon fade
I watched it
first drift downwards like a falling sun
then like a golden wave sweep away the morning
the earth Everything
I had once stood on.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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Lamentation for a Constellation

In the middle of an intersection a man
on the sidewalk made a hollow moon
with his hands and we walked around him
in reverse-orbit, above us the stars hung
in their web of light, a fistful of quarters
made in my palm
the embers of something I had surely felt
once, I felt that fire between my hands
as a brightness
like the moon above us, watching
like an angel of death,
yes, just as you said, the sky lacks something
here, the night strangely repeating
in all its emptiness, here
where I lost track of you amidst the cars and people, here
where I lost the glimmer of something far brighter
than a sky, here
where we lost something to look up at.

Grant Schutzman is a new poet and full-time student from New York, currently residing in the United Kingdom. He is particularly fascinated by multilingual writing and translation. His work has previously been published by The Oxonian Review.

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Mourning Doves

At the cusp of time,
mourning doves sail atop endless oceans
of barbed wire and coo homage
to the Damned.
Walls of silvery fog creep in
and smother the shallow light.
This is God’s country
and we are his forgotten children.
To the right, avalanches of summer horizons
crash down onto the silky plain.
To the left, the world is crushed
by the dark of the moon.
Hallelujah! I am ugly again! Hallelujah!
On top of the cliff stands a headless man
waving his tattered white flag.
Through steel and plastic comes the refracted light
between the glassy rain.
Lightning crashes and eats the snails and the corpses.
The foundation is built upon
blood and twigs and moss.
I can no longer taste my lover on my cold breath;
I am blooming in the graveyard.
A young sparrow collides with despair
and swallows the stars.
Dead time careens between the concrete.
The salmon sun lurks through pillars of evergreen,
the mourning doves remain.
(A season in paradise.)

Adam Jensen is a recording artist from Boston.

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Fourth Grade and Godlessness

when I was out there looking for God, I think it was because
I thought He wouldn’t come home drunk every
damn            night
.

I remember this because shafts of moonlight still grace the place I used to sit and look out of the window for Him.

the armchair I’d sat in then had creaked,
and I didn’t like that;
(it sounded like tiny claws
tearing at its wooden arms)
and the house had felt dark even with the lights on
(I was scared), and so, quietly, I’d left.

under the smoggy winter sky,
streetlamps bathed in a milky haze
drunkenly leaned against cement.
their halos flickered as snow blew in twisters,
in tandem with cigarette butts and
old frozen leaves.

this city was not a place that had
            any
                  place for divinity, but I was still there searching for Him, really looking,

in cold church pews and
dumpsters behind alleyways.
somehow, I thought He would be waiting
somewhere for me.

I walked through crowds,
                                    scab-kneed and ghostlike, until I was back on my doorstep,
and there,
as you’ve always been
and always will be
,
I found you, passed out, on the couch.

outside, particles flew through slits unobserved and
cars crashed on highways and flower petals fluttered and
people killed themselves and water for coffee boiled and
willow trees swayed and wept and dogs barked bloody murder,
and there were too many people, and they shouted at each other,
and then at themselves,
and then at the snow
fluttering down the streets.

your God was 40% pure and
mine couldn’t be contained.

Jay Fleming is a young Czech-American poet. She is thus far unpublished, but hopes to share more of her work with the world soon.

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Vitalii Volodymyrovych Skakun

there’s a photograph of a young man in a small wooden frame on the wall
above the scuffed dining-room table of a family apartment in Kiev.
he is wearing a beige army-issue jacket and he is beaming with pride.

these details are important particularly because
this apartment has been
blown to shreds by a bullet-black pill
and so it can exist now only in theory.

its skeleton of steel and concrete lies in wait, an element of the wasteland,

            as if expecting vultures to come pick its bones clean.

the magnets from the fridge are scattered across sickly, burnt grass

and great-grandmother’s teacups are crushed into sand and
fused in the explosion.

the photograph is nowhere to be seen, but the frame is nearby,
                  and the glass is
                                          cracked.

the young man’s dear mother is hiding in the cellar.
her gentle face and smile lines are glowing blue and wet,
            glittering in the light emanating from her phone screen.

she cries as she holds her little baby bird in her hand.
little pools of salt coalesce and slide on the smooth screen and
warp his smiling face, making it look as if he was deep underwater.

these details are important particularly because
this young hero has blown himself to shreds along with a bridge,
so bravely and selflessly, to save everything he loved most,
and so he can exist now only in memories.

there will be photographs on many walls,
in many homes,
            of men who can never come home.

in administrative buildings and war memorials
there will be photographs of these men
and everywhere, there will be mothers looking at them,
wishing that the blast had taken them both.

the quiet sounds of the young hero’s mother crying
are soon joined

by whistling,
      high above the cellar,

                  somewhere in the dark night sky.

Jay Fleming is a young Czech-American poet. She is thus far unpublished, but hopes to share more of her work with the world soon.

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God of the Ceiling

This night is darker than a shadowed sun.
I wished for it. Please hide me from God’s eye.
I’ve sinned. My baptism has come undone.
I’m unblessed. I never said I was kind.

I promise it’s worse to think nothing’s there,
that nothing ever claimed you to have stopped.
If God’s mercy follows me, point to where.
I’m pulling petals—loves me, loves me not.

Once I had faith but never certainty.
I need a god who’s known, not a good guess.
I’ve erred in my mind. There’s nothing to see.
Doubt is honest, but mine is disbelief.

I point towards the ceiling at absent God.
I pray to a hollow sky just because.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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Foreign Wars

Another country across an ocean
from this land that can carry the full weight
of my body and the tiny motions
it takes to keep me alive, keep me safe,

is bombed and is collapsed by a new war,
quickly abandoned by those left alive.
Meanwhile, I think of buying an armoire
in stained oak. I casually survive

with no thought of its being other than
it has always been for my life entire—
free to complain about this or that man
voted into power who likely lied

on his taxes. Meanwhile, a whole people
have only their own language left to keep.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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Everywhere Else

Everywhere I am I’m thinking about
everywhere else. I cannot navigate
my dislocated mind or train it how
to move my body to some kinder place.

Isn’t that the somewhere it goes in dreams?
Doesn’t it wish we were glad wanderers
walking against the changing scenery?
But only my mind moves in between words.

We could be where we would be if we could.
I sit here still as milk. I planned to run
to any other where, but I stayed for good.
It’s just simpler to name something as done.

The hound and I have settled in these rooms.
It is years now. We do not, cannot move.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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Dwelling With the Dead

I do not choose this. It’s been visited
against me. An errant ghost haunts my home.
No one will bless this house. I’ve insisted
that some priest, some shaman usher it on

to wherever the dead rest forever.
They have deemed it a harmless wanderer,
but it stands over my bed and never
closes its blackened eyes. Nor does it turn

its bloodless head away from watching me
as my life becomes confined to this house.
Do we pass these hours so differently?
We pace between the rooms. We don’t go out.

It’s as if I too have forgotten how to leave.
I remember the world. Give it back please.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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Carrying Down the Rain

Wake yourself again. Pick a god and pray.
We begin again at the beginning.
Clouds are weighted with rain. They gray the light
from our nearest star. We sit listening

to water striking the roofs, that clatter.
Its constant rhythm untangles my head—
its interwoven threads of stories that
overlap each other, those narratives

that tell us to ourselves. I’m all at once
so many kinds of weather. Each season
carries the rain down. It blocks a dimmed sun

even as it sinks below our sightline
to bright another sky the night entire.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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Anxiety

I feel this now again for the first time.
I cannot shake the dust from my edges.
I have receded behind my own eyes.
I am staring out of my face. I beg

at God, morning till morning, all the days:
Please take my afraid. The world is all noise.
This life is loud and won’t drown out. I pray
at God to raise the volume of my voice.

I will not sit in silence all my life.
I’ve been made mute by my body’s terrors.
Imagine ants crawling your skin inside.
What would it be to be brave once ever?

For now, I don’t answer the knocking door.
Again I wait to sleep. I walk the floors.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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An Uninterrupted View of the Moon

I stand at the parking lot’s edge. It’s night,
and the sun has fallen beneath the world.
In between tree branches shines the moonlight.
I sometimes believe my prayers are heard

by the god of the everywhere, his ear
lowered to hear the voice inside my head
that begs our satellite moon to appear
like a far away star before its death.

I stand here. I believe in believing.
How can I credit the sun for this bright
disruption of the shadowed sky, the thief
moon that borrows and harbors the day’s light

even in this, the time when wolves hunger,
when the moon turns ocean tides to thunder.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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After Bedeviling the Daylight

The day counts its hours down. The thieved sun
falls fast, a head beneath the airless sea.
Night is a closed eyelid, your sight undone.
I wish a wish to still see you then me.

Each star is a puncture in a dark dress.
The woman who wears it wants to go home.
I search for you. You search for me. Confess.
The sky has gone black as a dead-end road.

Did you resort to witchery at last
to cancel the fire that blinds both your eyes
all whore-hot summer? Is light our outcast,
scratching at the back door, begging to rise?

I will not let you dim my only life.
I will not give the underworld a wife.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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Accompanied by War

Elsewhere, someone other than us goes mad.
We meant to send a note. We were relieved
we kept our heads. We felt guilty and glad.
The world is impossible to relieve

of its human numbers. They’re less and less—
their deaths televised after the bombs cooled.
Dear Madwoman, I’m sorry it’s a mess.
I could not stay to lose my mind with you.

These disrupted days arrayed with violence
I monitor each plant by each window.
All that lives must stay alive. Pretend
with me that we do not know what we know.

It all could go away safe in our homes.
War has come. We are no longer alone.

Ashley Crout graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation, has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review and Dodging the Rain, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her hound, Stella.

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