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ISSUE 30
CONTENTS

SEPTEMBER 2017

Susan Milchman
Ava C. Cipri
Renee Carlson
INTERVIEW: Melissa Eleftherion
Geula Geurts
Tasha Fouts
Riley Woods
Darren Demaree
ART: Bill Wolak
Ellie White
Amanda Gaines
Anna Kelley

CONTRIBUTORS


Susan Milchman

BURNING SEASON

 

how your hands work  /  against the grain /  of my skin

            pulling out the stitches  /  roots attached & quivering

like so many fingers  /  crawling from a smoky river

 

somewhere  /  i am small  /  lying in perfected stillness

            on top of the picnic table  /  in my childhood backyard

i am pretending to be dead  /  i leach the day through patient eyelids

            & fever in the sun  /  i can smell the boy next door   

draped over the fence  /  yesterday’s rain now a layer of ash  /  in his shirt

            & moist earth  /  trapped  /  beneath his fingernails

i can feel his eyes  /  birthing a song  /  over my body

            a sea breaks  /  its lines unseen

a story swells  /  like a castle of shadows  /  & stretches over my bones

            my skin furrows  /  into valleys of violets  /  & folds into

a slow burn

 

how your hands winter  /  on the west side  /  of my body

            how sometimes  /  they are full of weeping

how sometimes  /  they sing to restitch me:

            Let me show you a new way to remember this.


Ava C. Cipri

POSTURING AS A MERMAID

 

I’ve been distracted for nine years
as if holding a conch shell to my right ear
hearing the sea roar

I can say I was once a selkie, a mermaid,
& this is why I carry the ocean with me
because it insists I return
because I want to suspend silence, closed
in the damp room of white noise,
but it is nothing that romantic

what I would do for only a moment, an hour,
no, a day, where I didn’t carry the weight
of the sea landlocked in these chambers

give me a day, where the dam breaks
& I can hear the nothing I crave


Renee Carlson

DOLLS

 

Through a smile of inevitable momentum
she tells me
maybe I’ll leave them to you.
I open the coffin of little girls
each in their Sunday best                                                                                       
too late to confess the sins
that atrophied their joints and lips.

A symphony of pleasant mouths
with pleasant eyes
who guided you through your
final breaths.
Your attentive children,
soft bodies mutilated from decades of perfect posture.
I swaddle each in fine linens and
send them down river
with the promise of a pretty end.


Melissa Eleftherion talks about embodied poetry
and writing field guide to autobiography

 

Please describe your journey toward writing poetry that reflects on the experience of living in the body. Have you always written this way, or did you come to it over time? In particular, field guide to autobiography uses a very specific type of language culled from other field guides to flora and fauna to speak about the human, and, I feel, gendered experience. Can you talk about why you chose this type of language to mediate how you write about the body?

When I was a teenager and started writing again, I wrote many tortured poems about love and heartbreak and later about my abortion. I wrote myself out of a great sadness. Years later while I was studying with Diane di Prima, I wrote poems about sex, desire, and hemorrhoids. I don’t know if I’ve always written this way, but it feels urgent to continue trying to parse out what the body remembers and eventually unholds if you spend enough time listening. Writing from my body allows me to take possession of it, to reclaim it from parents and past lovers, teachers, and men I’ve allowed to manipulate me.

In writing field guide, I became more aware of the insidious depths of patriarchal culture & how our many ecosystems are suffused with it. I also wanted to use the native languages of various organisms to embody the organisms themselves. At the same time, I attempted to examine similarities among the various organisms, and sought how these species inter-relate. Through embodying the organisms in this way, my goal was to create a call and response effect where the organisms participate in a kind of song.

 

This book is so exciting and unusual! I loved the challenge it presented, the enormous risks taken with language, and the lovely sounds that the poems made when I read some aloud. What compelled you to write field guide to autobiography?  

I’ve had this intuition that we’re all fragments of one magnificent, multi-cellular organism and that was the impetus for this book, which I started writing back in 2007 when I was pregnant with my son. While the book has changed dramatically since then, writing into this spatial continuum has compelled me to continue. I wanted to explore the inter-relatedness of various species and in so doing, tell a story about the larger body of which they are fragments. Autobiographies are rife with fractures and missing pieces - fragments as form, then. How to describe, comprise, define a life? How does a person begin to enumerate the many fragments & fractals & do they represent a wholeness?

It’s fulcrum is the teen girls' search for identity in other bodies such as the katydid, the chambered nautilus, & trees. As a teen, I sought refuge in the woods - trees became home to my unraveling & working through various traumas. I’m also writing from a space of being displaced from one’s body, from disassociation as after-effect of sexual abuse and assault. field guide is an attempt at reckoning through the lens of various animals & minerals including katydids, wrens, abalone shells, and apple trees.    

 
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Purchase field guide to autobiography
from Amazon.com

One of my favorite poems in this book is in the skinned phylum, because it provides—after so much tension and uncertainty has built up—a connective philosophy for the other ideas presented throughout the book. Please say more about that particular poem—the process of writing it, how it fits in the book, anything you like.

After the book was accepted for publication, a third section began to emerge which both thrilled and annoyed me. I was already engaged in writing my manuscript-in-progress, little ditch, and I didn’t want to get distracted. As it turned out, I wound up working on both manuscripts at the same time.

in the skinned phylum was originally written as a “ditch poem”, but I realized it belonged as the final piece in field guide once I had completed most of the third section. Throughout the book, there’s this ongoing striving toward a becoming that has to keep reinventing itself to keep going. I was hoping the final piece would achieve a sense of progress and cohesion, while also remaining aware of the effects of its pre-history in its body.

 

IN THE SKINNED PHYLUM


we’re all becoming animals here
our scaly skins showing through the stained glass
why now why slither
the rainbow gate beneath suit sleeves
beneath chiffon and tweed
the rainbow plexus in our throats

once a wren ever an abalone shell
we were whole once
wander detritus wonder
the furs in the soft air
gentle browns of wood and bark
as the furs gallop by

identify me
call me into
curiosity pinwheel
i make little sparks

in recent lavas
we were the hands holding
tectonic/footstep
we were the under
and beneath

to speak in soil tongues
to be called into ditches
to be summoned
venal wing
wet black eros pitch

leaf matter and dirt cake
the cavity I root
small declivities of teeth
along the rim

how the mouth knows

we were once rose quartz
we were agate
smashed and smashed
among the rock
your smooth body a reminder

 

Please share with our readers a list of 5-10 books you think we should read right now.

The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander
i be but i ain’t - Aziza Barnes
Daring Greatly - Brene Brown
Me and Marvin Gardens - A.S. King 
Landscape with Sex and Violence - Lynn Melnick
The Hate you Give - Angie Thomas


Some Rogue Agent fans are just beginning to explore what making art about the body would look like for them. What advice would you give to someone just starting down the path toward writing poetry that features the body?

Take a dance class. Move around in new ways and hear the reactions of your body. How do you take up space? Begin to map the subtle aches and sorenesses, the segments that ignite. Listen to all your body is wanting to tell you.

Read books about the human body. Read poems & always be asking ‘where is the body in this poem, is it mobile or stationary?” Read Lucille Clifton, read Whitman, Plath and William Carlos Williams, read Bhanu Kapil. Read poems about other bodies. Just start writing & see what happens.

 
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Melissa Eleftherion grew up in Brooklyn. A high school dropout, she went on to earn an MFA in Poetry from Mills College and an MLIS from San Jose State University. She is the author of five chapbooks: huminsect, prism maps, Pigtail Duty, the leaves the leaves, & green glass asterisms. Her first full-length collection, field guide to autobiography, has just been published by H_NGM_N Books. Founder of the Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange for San Francisco State University, Melissa now lives in Mendocino County where she works as a Teen Librarian, teaches creative writing & curates the LOBA Reading Series at Ukiah Library. More of her work can be found @ www.apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com.


Geula Geurts

TALES I TELL MYSELF (II)

 

A little spider dangled
from its web, in the corner

of my room. Outside
the window, my heart played

dead. At night, he told me
he was hungry, that the sticky

silk he spun was sour.
I watched him eat his knuckles, 

punch a hole into his stomach.
He started leaking air.

You cannot keep a man
who doesn’t
 know how to eat,

my mother told me in a dream.
When I woke, only a flimsy web

remained, an afterthought
of what I once believed

to have been love.


Tasha Fouts

THIS YOU          IT'S ALL OF ME
 

It is this hammered mouth, this
slit of drool and dank,
this mold of pressed grooves, of
grime, of penny holes and screws.
This is the trumpeter’s mouth piece,
metal tonguing skin, the curve

of rim against nostril, the curve
of rim against teeth, this
curve of mind yelling, pieces
pilchering through rushes of dank.
It is not a love spike, but screws
that mouth me here, all full of

brambles and stick.  This is the of
that holds me on threaded curves,
on the ride of screws.
But is it all of this?
A pressed hum and a river dank?
No, it is love in pieces,

everything in pieces,
the trench that I lap of
copper, breaths, my dank,
the pitted veins I curve.
I resign to all of this.
The blare of a burning screw,

the slivers of that burning screw
the pieces and the pieces of pieces
of that and of this
of course, of course, of course, of
courses stripping about curves,
and tempers glorying the dank.

Bright nostrils of dank,
screeching songs of screws,
rumbles waking the curves.
Is this to be my piece?
two lines scrambled off;
a trumpet crying of this.


Riley Woods

SHADOW ON THE ORANGE GROVE

 

CG is a bell of flesh sinking naked into porcelain, hands shaky but sure
as he releases peroxide over his head to seek the cracks & gullies
running deep down his weathered surface. I am

floating above, a spirit hidden in the dust
caught by window light watching my grandfather
purify his broken body, pressing my pen to his skin

until it gives, genetics oozing from the wounds
& mixing w/ my ink. It reads:

his father and his father and his father and his father
and my father and me and your father and you

as it snakes toward the drain—my shadow, my story, my blood.
We wash it down; we lock our doors & let the tub fill;
we break the neck & lose the stopper; we marry at arm’s length

& stay there; we fight DNA w/ bitter drink; we walk through our veins
& emerge alone; we ritualize our hours to scratch the itch we cannot reach;
we love w/out ourselves; we leave w/out leaving; we pass this on,

we pass this on, we pass this on, we pass this on, we pass this on,
but we never stay.


Darren Demaree

TRUMP AS A FIRE WITHOUT LIGHT #140 

 

I spent a night refusing my bed, refusing to calm down, refusing to be taken deeper into the dark of that night, and refusing to be softened into a gold that could be melded into his crown.  I woke up sleeping dogs so they could follow me as I stomped around the ravine.  I woke up children so they could eat pancakes with me at 4am.  I left my wife asleep, because she’d already stayed up talking to me until after midnight.  I called my father and let it ring until, dazed, he picked up the phone.  I told him I wasn’t a feather.  I told him he was a feather on the wing of a doomed bird.  He told me he loved me, and then he hung up.  I spent a morning crawling around on the roof of my house.  All of the people I loved were safe beneath me, but I needed the whole of winter at that point.  I needed to be blanketed in snow, and when I was I could finally sleep.  When my neighbors came to their cars to head to work, they shook their heads at me, and I, their collective “Ugh”, welcomed the judgment.  I am not right to do things such as this, but I can think of no other role for me.  I am too afraid the warmth is one of his tricks, and I am too afraid to spend even one whole minute silent on the issue.


Bill Wolak

 

THE SHUDDER OF BEWILDERMENT

3 The Shudder of Bewilderment .jpg

A THROBBING THAT BEGINS IN THE EYES

 

THE INSCRUTABLE CURIOSITY OF DESIRE

The Inscrutable Curiosity of Desire .jpg
 

Artist statement:

Collage undresses the darkness with a mirror’s secret undertow.  It’s a dance done on burning kites while dreaming at the speed of light.  Expectant as nakedness, collage is a door that surfaces in the shipwreck of your sleep.  It’s a caress with the irresistible softness of a slipknot in a velvet blindfold.  At its best, like poetry, collage is a moan just beyond delirium.


Ellie White

THIRTY SPEAKS TO SEVENTEEN

 

you’ll think it can’t happen again                                
                                                                                    it will happen again

your other self a distant memory                                
                                                                                    your other self wrapped around you

a house you forgot you lived in                                   
                                                                                    quiet as a 3am airport

you’ll think you’re okay                                              
                                                                                    you’ll know you’re not okay

there will be very little blood                                     
                                                                                    the wounds will reopen

a gentle ooze seeping through sheets                           
                                                                                    the hospital will stink like piss

the walls will be on fire                                              
                                                                                    you’ll hallucinate about drowning

your skin red hot and so, so hungry                            
                                                                                    the shower room a cool sea

there will be no books                                                
                                                                                    you’ll hallucinate about airports

long lines in front of the meds window
                                                                                    there will be graham crackers and pudding     

you’ll hallucinate about your mother                          
                                                                                    your mother will want to know everything

she’ll beg to come get you                                           
                                                                                    she’ll ask to see your wounds

you will say no this time                                             
                                                                                    you will say no 


Amanda Gaines

WRUNG THIN


He upped my dose again,
the friendly man in white.
I just want to feel normal:
words I almost believe. 
Take one each morning with a glass of water.
Do not drink while taking this medication.

December came early this year,
the wind angry.
I try to find things that are not grey.
My mother’s quilt.
The plastic Christmas tree.
A bottle of whiskey. 

Do not drink while taking this medication.
Oh, but only this once. Look at me,
so pretty with my 99 cent lipstick
smeared red beneath the lower lip I keep
biting.  I can’t hold myself responsible
for the drinks I don’t remember
ordering.  I just want
to feel beautiful. The rest will fall
into place. I’m wrung thin
and strung out from nights spent
without sleeping.  It’s getting harder
to tell when I’m lying
to myself. I shake the pill bottle
for reassurance that at least for tomorrow
I’m good. The tired face in the mirror seems friendly
enough. 

The sky looks like an open wound.
I watch the skin around my knuckles
pale and crack as I walk across
the South Park bridge, knowing that
there’s someone waiting for me
at home: a scared girl I resemble
and keep trying to replace. 


Anna Kelley

NIGHT SWIM

 

To this day, the only summer I long for

is the summer Mary Katherine housesat
for a rich family and I drove out with the boys

one night to visit her. Because while the boys
watched a television finale in the mini-cinema

we walked barefoot through the house in awe
of how every room unwound into another room,

the stairs ceaseless, hallways spilling dreamlike
into pebble-paved bathrooms with soft piles

of Turkish towels. I was beset by hunger for
an authentic sword in the little son’s bedroom

that I dared not touch. And almost as much for
the cavernous pantry, the two-door glacial thrust

of the fridge. They said to take anything, she said
so we made a small bounty on the kitchen table

to eat with our hands. What I remember most
is how Mary Katherine held each chip aloft

as if to check for flaws before she bit into it.
The salt on her lips. Her immaculate red dress.

After, we changed to swimsuits in the pool house
with no shame for our bodies. I dropped myself

into the warm bitter waters and sank to the bottom.
When I opened my eyes, I saw she’d thrown down

the diving rods, which littered the pool floor
like stained-glass bottles. The lights humming

as though the whole blue world had gone electric.


lssue 30 Contributors

 

Renee Carlson holds a BA in gender, women, and sexuality studies from the University of Washington and an MA in women and gender studies from San Francisco State University. Both her research and work focus on disability justice. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Entropy and The Fem.

Ava C. Cipri is a poetry editor for The Deaf Poets Society: An Online Journal of Disability Literature & Art. She holds an MFA from Syracuse University, where she served on the staff of Salt Hill. Ava’s poetry and nonfiction appears or is forthcoming in CimarronThe Fem, FRiGG, Literary Orphans, and Noble / Gas Qtrly, among others. Her first chapbook Queen of Swords is forthcoming this fall 2017 from dancing girl press. She resides at: www.avaccipri.com and tweets at @AvaCCipri.

Darren Demaree's poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines/journals, including the South DakotaReviewMeridianNew Letters, Diagram, and the Colorado Review. I am the author of six poetry collections, most recently Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly (2016, 8th House Publishing). I am the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. I am currently living and writing in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and children. 

Melissa Eleftherion  grew up in Brooklyn. A high school dropout, she went on to earn an MFA in Poetry from Mills College and an MLIS from San Jose State University. She is the author of five chapbooks: huminsect, prism maps, Pigtail Duty, the leaves the leaves, & green glass asterisms. Her first full-length collection, field guide to autobiography, has just been published by H_NGM_N Books. Founder of the Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange for San Francisco State University, Melissa now lives in Mendocino County where she works as a Teen Librarian, teaches creative writing & curates the LOBA Reading Series at Ukiah Library. More of her work can be found @ www.apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com.

Tasha Fouts has a nomadic sensibility.  She was raised in Alaska and Hawaii, went to undergrad at California State University at Long Beach, received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, and currently resides among the vast Illinois cornfields. When her autopsy is performed, they will find she is made of rivers of heavy cream and sugar.  You can find more of her work at www.forayblog.wordpress.org

Amanda Gaines is an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction in WVU's creative writing program. She was a poetry reader for Calliope, a poetry editor for Mind Murals, the Eastern Region's literary journal for Sigma Tau Delta, and was just made the nonfiction and co-poetry editor of Into the Void. Her poetry and fiction have been published in both. Her poetry, nonfiction, and fiction are published or awaiting publication in The Oyez ReviewStraylightGravelThe MeadowBrilliant Flash FictionDewpoint, and Into the Void.

Geula Geurts is a Dutch born poet living in Jerusalem. She completed her MFA in Poetry at Bar Ilan University. Her chapbook Where theSea is Quenched of Thirst is forthcoming with Red Paint Hill Press (2017). Her mini-chapbook Like Any Good Daughter was published by Platypus Press in 2016. Further work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Tinderbox EditionsHermeneutic ChaosCactus HeartTheFem, and Jellyfish Review. She works as a Foreign Rights Agent at The Deborah Harris Literary Agency. 

Anna Kelley is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. She is a reader for Salt Hill. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Citron ReviewLiterary OrphansUp the Staircase QuarterlyCICADASplit Lip Magazine, and elswhere. 

Susan Milchman's poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetrybramble & thorn (an anthology from Porkbelly Press, 2017), Rust + MothRufous City Review, and elsewhere. Her published work can be found at susanmilchman.com. She lives in Minneapolis by way of Washington, DC and holds a degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland. Wander with her on Instagram @susan.milchman.

Ellie White holds an MFA from Old Dominion University. She writes poetry and nonfiction, and is the creator of the online comic strip “Uterus & Ellie.” Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Harpur Palate, Tincture, Up the Staircase Quarterly and several other journals. Ellie’s chapbook, Requiem for a Doll, was released by ELJ Publications in June 2015. She is a nonfiction and poetry editor at Four Ties Literary Review, and the Social Media Editor for Muzzle Magazine. She currently lives near some big rocks and trees outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

Bill Wolak has just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled The Nakedness Defense with Ekstasis Press. His most recent translation with Mahmood Karimi-Hakak, Love Me More Than the Others: Selected Poetry of Iraj Mirza, was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in 2014. His collages have appeared recently in Naked in New Hope 2016 and The 2017 Seattle Erotic Art Festival. In 2016, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania; Europa in Versi, Lake Como, Italy; The Pesaro International Poetry Festival, Pesaro, Italy, The Xichang-Qionghai Silk Road International Poetry Week, Xichang, China; and Ethnofest, Pristina, Kosovo.  Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

Riley Woods is a recent graduate of Stetson University. His work covers a variety of topics, often in an attempt to peel back the layers of self and societal formations. He will be attending the University of Montana's MFA program for poetry in the fall. His work has appeared in Oberon Poetry MagazineBacklash PressObra/ArtifactThe Bees are Dead, and The Murmur House.