ISSUE 31
CONTENTS

OCTOBER 2017


Anna Kelley
Roy White
Cameron Morse
INTERVIEW: Claudia Cortese
Devon Balwit
Taylor Kensel
Lili Leader-Williams
Jesse Rice-Evans
ART: Elaine Lesgold
Maggie Blake Bailey
Kathleen Kirk
Jade Hurter


CONTRIBUTORS

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Anna Kelley

WOMEN TURNING INTO TREES

 

I.

When she drops her groceries, the glass
bottles of milk shatter into a white pool
and cans go rolling across the parking lot.
It’s too late by the time we rush over.
She’s ramrod with her arms to the air,
eyes closed, toes curling over her sandals
and burying into cracks in the asphalt—
do you know her? None of us do, this
middle-aged woman with quiet shoes
in a blouse the color of mushrooms.
Her mouth opens and opens and then

the bark coming from deep inside her,
breaking across her lips and spreading
down her freckled face. We can’t tell
whether she is shaking as it encases her
though when the police arrive, they say
that it is rarely painful. And the man
who must be her husband, gray-headed
and heavy, stands in her shade and gazes
up at the leaves as if they will spell out
some reason for how all this came to be.

II.

At least she had the baby before her hair
hardened to yellow branches. At least she
made it to the field behind the hospital
where it would not make a mess. At least
the obstetrician forgave her bill. At least
the transformation preserved her strong
limbs and good posture. At least the baby
is a boy who will never have to suffer
his mother’s fate. At least she left behind
her sweet-natured younger sister to look
after him. The father has yet to be found.

III.

She stands with Amanda on the edge
of a river, waiting. They have separately
begun to feel the stirrings in their chests.

Like moths’ purple fur. Like cattails
straining to catch the wind in their fists.
She knows it’s coming soon. Last night
they toasted their love with lime seltzer
and begged what gods were watching
to make them fruit-bearing, hive them
with passages for insects, web moss
across their trunks to keep them warm.

Across the water, a long black bird picks
at something in the silt. It’s late summer
and the air will soon be easy to breathe.
The newscasters have said that in a year
there will be no women left at all.
When the soles of her feet start to itch
and split, she says, Just talk to me.
Her fingers stretch out into twigs.
She listens till the words lose meaning
and she starts to taste Amanda’s breath
behind them like sharp blue mints.


Roy White

THE OTHER EYE GOES

 

I first noticed the sky was wrong one sunny
day in Rice Park--a gap
came flapping open when I glanced away
to see a blackbird or a pretty girl,
then vanished, like a door
you can hear slam far off, but always find
locked when you turn the knob.  I told myself
it was nothing, but knew
darkness so pure could never not be real.
Not the black of any mere thing, it tore
the blue and let the air out of the world.
A tiny hole, at first.

In the dark behind my eyelids, it was a whip
of thin fire cracking slowly, a bright breaker
on night’s shore, come to wrap
me in the bear-hug of its undertow.
When he gave me the bad news, the young doctor
couldn’t help chuckling.

And now?  Now that the storm troopers have blown
up the rainbow, now that the wolf has eaten
the sun,  even death seems little
more than a not-so-promising blind date,
something you’d hardly bother dressing up for.

I woke last night from dreams of stars and luggage
carousels to see bright balls of color,
neon lemons and plums: an artifact,
of course.  Never, I know,
never again will such radiance be real.
Just a ragged little hole, at first.


Cameron Morse

DIANA


Diana, this time, fetches me before sunrise
from the waiting room at Saint Luke’s Imaging.

Diana, hunter goddess of the moon,
leads me into her inner chamber and straps

a tourniquet to my bicep. I squeeze her
rubber ball. To get my blood up, I pump my fist.

The silver tip of her arrow glances off the wall
of my vein like a moonbeam. This, she calls,

“advancing the catheter.” She swabs
the inkblot of my blood with alcohol and fires again.

I know the drill like a centurion, scar tissue
inveterate, on methylprednisolone

and Benadryl. In the machine room Diana pulls off
my glasses and lays them on her stainless-steel

nightstand. The coil chiller chirps. Its apiary birdsong
lulling me, I ease my neck into her lunette,

her crescent moon. My bracelet says FALL
RISK as my feet lift off the ground.


Claudia Cortese talks about embodied poetry
and writing Wasp Queen

 

 

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 some way or another, I have written from, towards, and into the body since I started writing poems at 19. Jamie, the first girl I kissed and one of the coolest people I had ever met, was a green-haired, hilarious girl who would cram as many teenbodies as she could into her pickup truck and then take the over-stuffed truck to the dusty lot of a shutdown gas station, driving in circles till the truck tipped to one side and our terrified shrieks punctuated the dust cloud I thought we’d surely die in. Jamie was broken—both physically and emotionally; a metal rod had been put into her spine to help straighten her back that scoliosis and years of living on the street doing heroin had made crooked. Her story isn’t mine, so I don’t want to say more, but she committed suicide when I was 19 and she was 23, and much about her trauma, her brokenness, had mirrored my own.  When she died I felt like Sexton did about Plath’s suicide—Jamie had taken the death that was to be mine.

Paradoxically, I also could not wrap my mind around how she had actually gone through with it: entered a graveyard with a gun and ended it all. I was confused, envious, triggered all to fucking hell, and full of grief. I felt her death deep in my body and within days of her suicide, I started writing poetry—maudlin, teengirl poems that were certainly not very good, but I wrote them about and from my body: its trauma and grief. Kathleen Hill, one of my mentors from Sarah Lawrence and a brilliant writer and professor, said that nothing exists outside the personal, which means that nothing exists outside the body.

 

Lucy is an unforgettable persona. In her imagination what grows and blooms sits right beside what rots and curdles, and “[t]o love is to suffer / and to suffer is to give yourself to this world.” When did Lucy first reveal herself to you? How has she evolved since then?

She revealed herself to me during the summer of 2011. I wrote a poem in about ten minutes, or perhaps even less, and it came out pretty much finished (which I know I am not supposed to say—one is supposed to “suffer” for one’s art, to labor over it, which I often do, of course—some of my poems and essays go through over 20 revisions, but Lucy arrived whole and in need of few changes). I was sitting in my parents' living room during a visit home and a girl came to me who counted how long the streetlight stayed green—reaching thirty seconds meant her mom would die in a plane crash—then dreamt men bound her wrists in her sleep.I felt a holy-shit-what-the-fuck-was-that rush of wonder and adrenaline as soon as I finished the poem. I showed it to a few friends and they confirmed what I’d suspected—that I’d written a damn good poem that was like no other I’d written before. My bestie, Grey Vild (who’s a brilliant human and poet), pushed me to write a whole book of Lucy poems and stories and I did because Grey is rarely wrong when it comes to my work. I hope everyone has at least one friend who sees their work so clearly and with such loving honesty.

 

LUCY WANTS RED HAIR,

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Lucy’s story is populated by so many things! I picture Barbies, cans of Aqua-Net, Marlboro, Cheetos, and Krazy-Glue strewn across suburban Ohio like a Lucy breadcrumb trail. How does suburban sprawl and the fact of capitalism play a part in the various harms that have been visited on Lucy? How do they contribute to the harm she does others?

That’s an excellent question! Lucy’s life is overstuffed with the paraphernalia of late capitalism. In fact, the reader spends more time with Lucy’s Polly Pockets, Barbies, Cheetos, Marlboro cigarettes, etc., than they do with Lucy’s parents. Her dad is a ghost, like so many dads are ghosts—physically and/or spiritually absent—while her mom, though a bit more present than her dad, only speaks to Lucy in two poems. Lucy’s parents leave holes in her life—their absence like small puncture wounds throughout the poems—and those holes are filled with the stuff Lucy shoplifts from the mall or that her parents have bought for her.

Another hole in the poems is the unnamed trauma that Lucy has experienced. I allude to the fact that an event or series of events have traumatized Lucy but I never detail or name what happened. In place of the naming, and in place of her parents, are Lucy’s toys and favorite television shows and vodka and cigarettes and Reddi-wip and Oreos—the stuff she consumes to numb the pain and fill the emptiness. These objects serve as surrogate parents. No one pays attention to Lucy, keeps her safe, tries to heal her hurt, and so she visits onto others the hurt that has been done to her—Lucy hits her best friend in the head and tears out her dog’s fur with her teeth and eats caterpillars.

 
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Purchase Wasp Queen from
Black Lawrence Press.

 

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

Ohhhh!!! Yes—I can certainly do that! There’s so much brilliant work being written right now.

1) Meghan Privitello’s Notes on the End of the World and A New Language for Falling out of Love (poetry)

2) Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water (memoir)

3) Brit Bennett’s The Mothers (novel)

4) Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (essays)

5) Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird (novel)

6) Allison Benis White’s Please Bury Me in This (poetry)

7) Elizabeth Hall’s I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris (nonfiction/lyric essay)

8) Aaron Apps’ Dear Herculine (hybrid nonfiction/poetry—hard to classify the genre, which is one of the things I love about this book!)

9) Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (poetry)


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?

Be honest. Be gross and grotesque and vulgar. Write about the horrors, pains, pleasures that you have experienced in your body. Read poems and stories about and from the body written by writers who have different identities from yourself—LGBTQUIA writers, femme writers, male writers, writers of color, differently abled writers, writers who are not American and not writing in the 21st century—and see how they are writing from and about the body in ways that differ from your own writing. Ask yourself: what can I contribute to the conversation that hasn’t been said before or, at least, hasn’t been said in quite this way? Do I have experiences that other writers are not writing about or have simply not had? Also ask yourself: what style and form captures my visceral experiences? Do I want to omit punctuation or use it? Do I want to write persona poems or confessional poems? Do I want to write lyric-narratives or associative poems?

I don’t know if there’s any work that is wholly original. I certainly could never have written Lucy without having read John Berryman’s The Dream Songs, CA Conrad’s The Book of Frank, and Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick’s Francine in the Garden. The best poems and stories Frankenstein different parts of different texts together—stitching a leg from Berryman with a head from Hardwick with a torso from Conrad—adding one’s own hair and feet and legs, making a monster that is all your own and doing something new while also made of the work you have read and loved.

 
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Claudia Cortese is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her debut full-length book, Wasp Queen, was recently published by Black Lawrence Press. Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast Online, and The Offing, among others, and she writes reviews for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio and lives in New Jersey. She also lives at claudia-cortese.com.


Devon Balwit

THE BRIGHTEST THING

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Taylor Kensel

UNDER MY PROM DRESS ARE


taped cleavage,
moles like movie stars,
colostomy bag like blown soldiers,
under my prom dress are

landmarks, detours, evidence of
months of four walls, of recycled air, scrubbed skin,
holes from lacing
stitchings, staples, bandages
flapping like flags. Salutations, World—

you’ll find beneath these weavings
a map to this threadbare life:
trace backwards with incisions, (miles
in years), trek along
the jagged range, stumble, recover,
solider &

cheers
to my skill at these hidings, here’s to this night
of breathing brand new, to drugs
for thoughts and drinks
for dancing. Sail now, Sailor
Jerry, Red Lipstick, Percocet—my crew comes
to abate.

If only my colostomy bag was helium filled,
I’d have a perfect view, ballooned,
nestled in a sea of streamers
above this pseudo Hollywood scene—
blown up and removed, puppeted
by nothing, bobbing,
uncharted and released
to live above reach.


Lili Leader-Williams

ARTHRITIC


my hands fold in on themselves, close up
like beach front shops in the gale of winter.

truth be told, they were never good
at grasping what they wanted anyway.

but they'll clasp each other, fingers twined
like melted cadavers in a house fire.

there’s no escape from the burning.


Jesse Rice-Evans

YOUNG VOLCANO


I borrow oxy from a crip friend; getting disoriented is my new self-care. It snows and I smoke on the
back porch, hoping for my guts to river subterranean;

Salt water sea cave, find me slick with wanting you, with desperation or
wanting to move but trapped, lure diminished expedition,
leaving each evening, most vulnerable as I leave the house, dropped things mean
muscle relaxers.

Gills hook me to stuff; hope in short supply, an acid bleaching rocks inside my back.
You can monitor me if you wanna but the closer you look the tauter I become, beckoning, volcanic
with tender points, magma full of my blood

despite more life than imaginable; a dangling
artifact of slicker, snottite, gypsum a gallery of giant conical;

I split a xanax, walk home in stars and a cloak of aloneness, which is ok, a valley gestating

a chain of young volcanos walks me home, my hand salting molten, ice spires pristine and
untouchable, trauma unveiled like naked mountain cap


Elaine Lesgold

 

FIRE BREATH

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TREE WOMAN

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ROOTS REACHING

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Artist statement:

When my brain had trouble producing words after an injury, occupational therapy taught my hands to tell stories instead. My fingers craft stories about the embodiment of disability in me: twisting, painting, knotting, and burning fibers in dialogue with pain and the confusing input from my eyes until the story is told. I push against what I cannot do and accept something new while untangling the knotted cords of internalized ableism.


Maggie Blake Bailey

MOTHS


My son sleeps, so I sleep

and dream that right below my knee,
my skin puckers,
itching, into peaks.

When I press, the heads
of moths push through,
and in one motion, I pluck the bright
insects from my body.

Even though I draw them out
as fast as I can,
color sings at the edge
of my vision.

I can see the wings:
jeweled red and blue,
folded and slick against
the long moth bodies;
my legs alive and empty.


Kathleen Kirk

WE RUINED OUR TEETH

 

We ruined our teeth with sugar,
spitting them out and up into the night.

They hung there to guide us back
to childhood and home.

Teeth stars made of sugar, hard,
to bite us back to who we were, who we are,

sweet creatures of imagination,
shapes made of negative space,

gritty with the truth.


Jade Hurter

THE ANGELS TELL A STORY

 

You are one of us. You are orchid-tongue. You are amethyst in rainwater. You are every kind
of water. You are a perpetual breaking. You are unbound from those bones. You are a sticky
castle swollen with wasps. You are cloudcover. You are a snakebite and the shivering nerves,
the bloody bile. You contain other worlds. You are whale carcass punctured by shark tooth.
You are sheathes of pliable skin. You are many-colored blood. You are unbound.


Issue 31 Contributors

 

Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); FormsMost Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati ReviewThe Stillwater ReviewRed Earth ReviewThe Fourth River; Tap MagNoble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.

Maggie Blake Bailey has poems published or forthcoming in The San Pedro River ReviewTar River,Tinderbox, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Bury the Lede, is available from Finishing Line Press and at Amazon.com.  She has been nominated for The Pushcart and also for The Best of the Net. For more work, please visit www.maggieblakebailey.com.

Claudia Cortese is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her debut full-length book, Wasp Queen, was recently published by Black Lawrence Press. Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast Online, and The Offing, among others, and she writes reviews for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio and lives in New Jersey. She also lives at claudia-cortese.com.

Jade Hurter  is the author of the chapbook Slut Songs (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2017). She was a finalist in the 2016 Tennessee Williams Poetry Contest, judged by Yusef Komunyakaa, and her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Columbia Poetry ReviewTinderboxPassages NorthNew South, and elsewhere.

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 Review, Literary OrphansUp the Staircase QuarterlyCICADASplit Lip Magazine, and others. 

Taylor Kensel is an MFA Poetry student at Eastern Washington University. Otherwise, she has spent her whole life in a small Southeast Idaho town.

Kathleen Kirk is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life. Her work appears in a variety of print and online journals, including Arsenic LobsterMenacing HedgeNimrodRHINO, and Poetry East. She is the author of several chapbooks, including ABCs of Women’s Work (Red Bird, 2015), Interior Sculpture (dancing girl press, 2014), and The Towns, forthcoming from Unicorn Press in 2018.

Lili Leader-Williams lives in Washington State with her husband and two cats. She has been published previously in CahoodaloodalingSlim Volume: This Body I Live In (Pankhearst), The Rising Phoenix Review, and Alliterati Magazine. Her dearest ambition is to make sure you don’t feel alone.

Elaine Lesgold creates art that crosses genres and invites curiosity. Her previous works have included published poetry, as well as multimedia art installations which explore topics relating to structural inequality and disability. She holds a BA in psychology and gender and women’s studies from Carlow University, and a graduate certificate in Adult Education from Point Park University. Past and current projects can be found at www.elainelesgold.com.

Cameron Morse taught and studied in China. Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2014, he is currently a third-year MFA candidate at UMKC and lives with his wife, Lili, in Blue Springs, Missouri. His poems have been or will be published in over 50 different magazines, includingNew Letters, pamplemousse, Fourth & Sycamore and TYPO. His first collection, Fall Risk, is forthcoming from Glass Lyre Press.

Jesse Rice-Evans is a queer Southern poet and rhetoric scholar. She collects round stones, teaches writing at City College of New York and the Cooper Union, and loves skullcap. Read her work in tenderness yeathe WandererMonstering, and in the chapbooks Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press) and The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press). Find her online @riceevans

Roy White is a blind person who lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a lovely woman and a handsome dog. His poems and essays have appeared in BOAAT JournalTinderboxLascaux Review and elsewhere, and he blogs at lippenheimer.wordpress.com.