Pushcart Prize XLI Nominees
Behind the Clouds, 14 x 10 in. Mixed media. Charcoal, watercolor on rice paper, Celeste Goyer
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
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:
You are indirectly telling me
that I am ‘old’
which is impossible
because I’ve barely reached adulthood.
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,
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
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
And what you’ve done to my sons…
And the mountains and the trees
who were so beautifully
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,
and she could use
a perky boob job,
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.
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.
I am not
you slimy, robotic, serial killers—
enough to know
that you are
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.
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,
they have been raising a pride of lionesses.
They have taught each other
is flowing and white as an avalanche
so that you don’t notice them
until it’s too late.
Or it’s long and dreaded,
the strongest rope ever made.
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.)
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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—