Pushcart Prize XLI Nominees

Behind the Clouds, 14 x 10 in. Mixed media. Charcoal, watercolor on rice paper, Celeste Goyer

Dian Sousa

 

Gavage

 

Dear Sirs,

I worry a lot about my head.

It is very small,

too small for a woman my age.

At least that is what the doctored photos show.

And you started doctoring my photos years ago.

I hear that it is your way of telling me

that I am

‘old.’

 

I would like to reply,

if there were someone to reply to.

Or a department…

If there were a department,

I could make a phone call or an appointment.

 

I would like to make an appointment

to be evaluated by my own swirling mystical standards.

 

Or, if you are unable to understand

my swirling mystical standards,

perhaps you could tell me where I could send a letter,

like this one:

 

Dear Sirs,

You are indirectly telling me

that I am ‘old’

which is impossible

because I’ve barely reached adulthood.

 

Actually,

I think I almost reached it once,

but it was BORING.

 

It was all finance and aspirin,

bunko and fiber.

 

There was even an excruciating Early Bird Supper.

With no chocolate cake

and no alcohol.

 

Just flavored decaf coffee.

Hazel-nut decaf coffee,

being poured

by a psychotically friendly man

in a dead skin mask

whose inexplicable name tag

read  ‘SAVED. ASK ME HOW’

 

Did his mother name him that?

And anyway, saved for what?

The ability to pour flavored coffee at the Apocalypse?

And why the Apocalypse?

Why not The Calypso?!!

 

The only thing I need

to be saved from, Sirs—

besides the botulism you

keep trying to inject me with—is you

and your all-consuming youth and money fetish

and your weirdly pornographic compulsion

that needs me to consume it too.

 

This is seems like fascism,

irresponsibly, creepy, fascism.

How are you not all in jail?

 

The only one

keeping you out of jail, I guess,

is your re-invented super-mean,

chiseled-ab, fascist Jesus,

whose arms you’ve been puppeting

to shove this down my throat

like a gavage down a gooses’ neck.

You’ve been trying to mold me

into a smooth, perky image.

You’ve been slicing and dicing at me

for thousands of years,

eating billions and billions of me

on little toasts.

 

Your tongues are as thick

as ten centuries of stacked coffins.

When you open your mouths

clouds of influenza and cyanide

rise from the filth in your belly.

 

And then you pull me from your teeth

and tell me that I am

‘old.’

But you ask me to pretend

that I am not.

You ask me to be civilized,

to cordially pay and clap

as you grab my daughters,

insert the gavage

and try to stuff more hideous poison

down their briefly

unlined necks.

 

And what you’ve done to my sons…

 

And the mountains and the trees

who were so beautifully

‘old.’

 

Well,

among other sad

and painful things

it gives me a headache.

Which doesn’t actually hurt

that much because

my head is so small.

If you are looking at me right now—

and you are probably not—

you may be thinking,

she’s old

and she could use

a perky boob job,

but

her head is not that small.

If it were as tiny

as she thinks it is,

we wouldn’t even be able to hear her.

Which would be great!

 

But you are delusional ass-bags.

 

My head really is that small.

It just looks normal

because my hair is big.

It’s puffed-up and curled.

Untamed

by Old Mother Ocean.

Call it a head-buoy if you want.

I don’t care if you make fun of me,

because that means you can see me.

 

And if you can see me,

maybe, you can hear me.

 

Dear Sirs,

I am not

‘old.’

I am—

you slimy, robotic, serial killers—

I am

wise

enough to know

that you are

soul-skinning,

narcoleptic,

Mother-Fuckers.

And I mean that

in the most AWFUL

and literal way.

 

I’ve seen what you done.

And it’s no secret that you’re proud of it.

 

But look,

for old times sake,

I am giving you a warning.

 

There are some women coming up the street.

A multitude of women

on every street.

They may seem quiet,

but

they have been raising a pride of lionesses.

They have taught each other

to roar.

 

Their hair

is flowing and white as an avalanche

or silver

or dappled

so that you don’t notice them

until it’s too late.

Or it’s long and dreaded,

the strongest rope ever made.

 

Dear Sirs,

you should run!

 

But no, wait.

Those are your tumorous words.

If we use them against you,

we spread this disease all over again.

 

If we make you run,

we all run together, suicidal

into the Apocalypse.

 

So, Dear Sirs, (and I am taking this ridiculous title from you, right now.)

 

Oh you,

who have been irreverent

from the first stab of the Bronze Age,

it is time for you to stand still.

 

Empty your hands.

Bow your heads (realize they are not as big as you think

and no, we will not cut them off.)

Bow your heads and listen.

 

The wind jangles through rough old hair of the redwoods

and the good old men and the good old women

sing for rain by the rising sea.

Go.

Join them.

Their children will burn your money

and turn your old oil drums into music.

And after a hundred years

in which nothing has been poisoned

and no one has been tortured or murdered

or held captive on their own Earth,

maybe a great calypso will break out.

 

And we will lift each other

by the crackled skin of our old hands

and we will sway and shimmy

until we feel,

at last,

the great old dust of the galaxy

spinning us together again,

fusing us bone to bone,

to soul to brain to mouth,

to the arms broken out in jubilee and the feet exultant.

Until our holiest and most important

Declaration of Interdependence can be spoken in one sentence:

Dearest Sisters, Dearest Brothers, let us dance.

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Krcmarik

 

Europa

 

As you tiptoe like a Buddha

over the crooked footpath of my vertebrae,

sipping your coffee and setting

 

my serpentine back to rights,

I am sprawled out like Prometheus

on the piney floorboards

 

groveling with mammalian relief

as though Hercules just

broke my chains on Mount Caucasus

 

and tore both wings from the eagle

come once more to gorge on my liver.

So you would hardly guess

 

I’m doing my best Orpheus,

praising all you will do today to keep

a steady trickle of children

 

from disappearing down the free world’s

victim-to-prisoner pipeline.

But if you can somehow manage

 

to tune out the makeshift reconstruction

of my neural highway

and fix your ears to sparrows crooning

 

or the soughing hackberry trees,

then you will hear the pillars of heaven

crack with yearning

 

as I sing this song of social workers.

You will hear the wet cliffs

and every salt-scrubbed dune

 

gasp in windblown astonishment

as the god of gods himself,

having assumed the guise of a white bull

 

and kidnapped a young beauty

meaning to rape her repeatedly on Crete,

looks back over his shoulder

 

through the sea foam and curling waves

to where you are stepping from the beach

in hawkeyed pursuit,

 

making him snort in horror

at the increasing possibility

that he’s no kind of god at all.

 

 

 

 

Kevin Clark

 

from THE ECSTASIES OF MARIE CAVANAUGH

 

EROS, GOD, AND THE SANTA ANAS OF MARIE CAVANAUGH

 

A late lunch of water and yogurt, then

the scalding shower, the sheening lotions

in their pearl golds and cocoas, their purest

whites. Then the laying out of the blouses

 

upon our beds, the five favorite skirts,

and upon them the sheerest intimates─

O we’d persuade ourselves these were nothing

more than bare suggestions, hardly secrets,

 

evaporates of the mind. Even now,

divorced, widowed, we find ourselves

spreading outfits across the fresh duvet,

trying on what would be best to take off

 

if the occasion might arrive. And some

few surprising weekends it still does.

Back then, it was the warm current swooning

its pressure at our backs. We’d spread our arms

 

and give in to the jet stream, the slightest

angelic voice asking if this next step,

next touch, was the best right thing. The distant

future always humid with love, even

 

as we prayed for God’s forgiveness before

the evening had begun. Amen. And then

the door bell called like a curtain pulled back.

Drenched in white gardenia, we would float down

 

the stairs. Then hover to a stop and look

into the face of the boy. To search deep

in his gaze for the lift and swirl, a breath

of petals in the garden, children’s swings

 

rocking on tree limbs. His returned gaze might

be an opening into our own. If that

muscled twinge dazzled the lower spine like

a call from across the realm, we’d recite

 

a prayer in the instant before we’d smile.

We were Catholic girls. What did it mean

to be good? In the twirl of the evening’s

first dance, the nipples could bloom, the pathways

 

moisten. —Then, as we softened the edges

of our risen breath, the angelic voice

tucked its guardian head beneath a wing

to sleep. Outside, under the arched trellis

 

dripping with star jasmine, older boys might

curl a scented hand into their own, then

press their free hand at our backs as if

we’d been born for this. Once more the giving

 

over. And so the collective girlhood

gives over, leaving me

                                      alone tonight,

recalling the moments when the body

 

voyaged into… what? Did the flower vines

entwine their magic in my mind’s eye? Did

this heat escape from the breathless novels

I’d read in my locked bedroom, heroines

 

 

rescued, grateful? I might still believe in

God’s hand at my back. God’s kiss on the lips

of a tourist in the Baja. God’s face

the face of my ex-husband forever

 

mouthing the same figure-eights between

my legs. A trance of breeze and dusk captures

this darkening room like the fine tissue

of a memory holding some lost clue:

 

Were the Santa Anas always this way,

so sexual, so nostalgic? I feel

myself falling again from the quivering

trellis. Am I a girl once more? Lotions

 

line the vanity. Dresses float like clouds

from the closet. (Is it only women who sift

fact from myth? I know…) There’s no choice

but to descend—Oh Dear God—yet again.

 

 

 

 

 

Patty Seyburn

 

I am Delightful

 

Trying to divine the animals clouds want to be

is a worthwhile endeavor on days when the road

seems wide and swervy,

the myth of forever, driven by a posse

of the possible, wearing fetching

hats: cloche, fez, panama, pork pie, derby.

 

The nebulae did not cooperate, a vast clump

resembling Courbet’s  “Nude Reclining by the Sea,”

a figure lounging

near ruffled waters, provocatively (nudes can be)

juxtaposed against a sky utterly 

detached from her and scumbled by trouble.

 

The painting once landed in Goring’s possession,

filched from the Rosenberg collection in Bordeaux,

then found its way to

Philadelphia’s museum, where it seems content

to repose. Prone to fracture and fragment,

unable to say, I know what I know,

 

ordinarily confused as to which way is up,

I prefer Duchamp’s, “Nude Descending a Staircase” –

Such an eruption!

Called “an explosion in a shingle factory,”

inciting outrage at the Armory –

who knew cones and cylinders could cause such harm?

 

This geometric lass also chose to lodge in Philly.

Though descending, not reclining, no longer loathed.

You’ve got to hand it

to the nudes there – they have really lived! I was told

that a brief conversation with me was

delightful, though head to toe, I was clothed.

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle B. Evory

 

Amaryllis, Bending

 

The crushed berries in the street are footprints.

The shattered glass beneath barstools, eyes.

The never-worn wedding dress in Sunday’s paper,

the soul. Behind our house, the willow swings. See it?

 

The wind is not God’s breath like we once

taught you. Yet, how perfect the willow’s idea

of shape, the space between yellow and green,

see? The tree is a bell tolling home. 

 

Each of us is a thought, and for every thought

there is a sound, and word by word, letter by letter,

you will find yours. The silent sun, even, has found his,

burning the lily white. The lily sounds through

 

petals, fragrant, shimmering, a shimmer

like the pollen you held last summer

in your soft palm, the Amaryllis

bending from the bee’s weight, rocking back

 

and forth, pendulum, clock, the pollen caught

like wing-dust in your hand. Remember?

You were so afraid you had taken something

that wasn’t yours. Leaning over the sink, scrubbing

 

your hands clean, crying. And it wouldn’t rub off.

Oh how scared you were. Remember what I told you?

Night always comes, silent and certain.

And all things that fly sing. And you slept.

 

 

 

 

 

Marsha de la O

 

La Sans-Regret Smuggles Out a Message

 

Won’t you take me, Jackie R, leave your sloop

in the cove, cross Cojimar Hill down into sugar cane row.

Here in Chateau d’or, our countess is tight with the gin—

a full glass of water with a half jigger mixed in

for the gentlemen who find their way here

by a single line in the island gazette Creole damsels Discreet

but I tell you Jack, these hours till dark don’t treat me right,

quinine tonic at two, twilight’s for taffeta, and my late night

watermelon silk when all the girls are in dishabille—

how I love its sheen—yet my world grows stale and flat. 

 

Won’t you wander my way, Jack Rackham,

from windward to leeward, past our belltower

our whipping post, I’m craving the salt on your skin—

oh, bear me the sea—let it lift my petticoats,

wash over my ankles…

Won’t you walk down my street, I’m looking

for long loose limbs and a habit of humming

under the breath.  Don’t bother flicking your eyes

at the dramshop girls, barrelhouse drabs purring

real fine coozey, those slackpurses got nothing on me,

I’m connu, schooled in the art of fickend, but you know that

 

as well as you know the deep musk of coffee in bags on the docks,

and Zusa hollering, oyster, she-crab, raw shrimp, raw,

basket balanced on her long fine head, root man at dusk

hobbling downhill toting bundles of sassafras, gals

in the market singing nor look me bad eye, nor weigh me

lek dat, oh the music rises and drifts on the wind,

Jackie, I’m waiting—