21 August 2013

Featured Poet: Angela Narciso Torres


Your patent shoes sink
in loam flecked with feathers,
seedcases split and empty. Already,
the summer frock you wear is short
for your four years. Knees frown
beneath the shirred skirt.

The black purse you clutch
was your sister’s once. Your grasp
is tentative—you know some things
will never be wholly yours.

Your father lowers the lens,
asks you to move from the shade.
From the corner of your eye,
your grandmother, a grey-white
blur, shakes the bag of seed. You fix

your eyes beyond the camera.
The cage, a feathered
crescendo, ochre-green.
Your lit face
holds everything
as the shutter clicks.


Under the red lamp
I watch him douse
each small white square.

Side by side we search
the shallows, seafarers
peering through glass

for sliver of coast, rough ridge.
One by one he brings us
back—daughter, brother,

mother, son. Again and again
within light-tight walls
he births us.


My mother-of-pearl pendant—
half teardrop slung on a leather cord,
bought from a hawker of veils
and batik. A brown book of poems,

signed by the Indonesian poet
who sat next to me at dinner.
Four words remain in memory:
“To love, to wander…” I’m missing

a watercolor of vegetable vendors
given by my mother on the occasion
of my first apartment. The stillness
of those nights, the last box emptied,
searching the blank ceiling, imagining

the shades of green, the shapes
of the women—squatting, stooped, large
with child, bent over baskets piled with
a season’s bounty. I’d give anything

to find my tape of Glenn Gould playing
Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the one my father
copied for me on a gray cassette before the age
of compact discs. Hearing the first strains

at Mandrake Books on Story Street,
Mr. Rosen, my ninety-year old boss,
paused at the window, lost
in shining sound, smooth as water
over stone. Idly he smiled,

arthritic knuckles tapping time
on a dog-eared Books-In-Print,
eyes fixed on some lost heaven.


We may never see them again
     the giant-winged Lepidoptera
alighting on fire trees that shaded us
     at recess, our bench
a mass of knuckled roots.

About the size of a fruit bat,
     they spread their wings like burnt
maps across a span of leaves
     proving that beauty appears
to the small and lonely alike.

And it’s unlikely that anyone will discover—
     as I did, leaning into a hollow bush
on the playground near the septic tank,
     the foliated room where sun poured
through yellow trumpet blooms

we could spy from our classroom.
     Daily we wrote in cursive to the swish
of Sister Angelica’s skirts as she dusted
     a cracked row of encyclopedias,
June rain rinsing the window glass.


It’s raining when you pass the glistening
warehouses on the right, the overgrown field
down the slope. Above, a redwing veers
off its path, seeks cover under a branch.
And suddenly your eyes smart
with tears. Not because your son
just moved a thousand miles away—no,
not for your mother who cannot recall
her name. And not for any of those lost
loves the wind stirs up like burnt leaves.
But because, for a moment, everything
comes clear—a crimson flash igniting
a bird’s arc over the rainslick road.


Even without leaves
the Bradford pear keeps
its bell silhouette.

Above, a commonplace moon,
somewhere between half
and full, waxing edge

rubbed like the worn
ridges of a lucky quarter.
A sentence partly

erased—a brightness
we might have been.

Angela Narciso Torres’s first book of poetry, Blood Orange, won the Willow Books Literature Award for Poetry and will be published in the fall of 2013. A graduate of Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she has received fellowships from Illinois Arts Council, Ragdale Foundation, and Midwest Writing Center. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Manila, she lives in Chicago and edits the poetry journal RHINO. For more, visit http://www.angelanarcisotorres.com/.

© 2013 Angela Narcisco Torres

16 July 2013

Featured Poet: Rachel Burns

a singular warning

now with childish shivering
all that i know. becoming
a vessel to pass. my
handwriting's gone to
shit, like You prophesized.
& im fantastically tired
from current depletions. being
this happy in counterpart
brings an overcoming
sadness i cannot place of
produce into sustainable energy
what do you do?
with your morning?


on having a baby
         your house will seem
         like a cemetery after.
it already is one
with mindless response, depth
marvels at the spectrum, lay
in finite arms for eternity,
comfortable & deaf
slowly decomposing
the capacity of mythology.


last night i dreamt of shopping
carts & drowing surrounded by
scented candles, stripped candy
& decency.

i woke up at 11:49 a.m.
weighed 109 pounds
it was very cold outside
& october.



factual events
are bleak while being
un-ordinary, various
levels of spectacular
-i have started biting my
-nails. this is
-common, but a unique
-attempt at self-nurture

         the earth scratches
         it's ear & falls
         asleep before
         2 a.m.



when we fucked
last night,
my vision turned
into oceanic movements.



my previous fever sought
arithmetic in historic housing
it has a balcony, which it is
currently sitting on, drinking
coffee & smoking. the woman below is
on the phone, "the topic is
addiction, that's right up my

the weather is mist
rain & smooth light in
direct irony with
reds & yellows
if i wasn't so indecisive
i wouldn't be so passionate



i've got another fever
with similar
reds & oranges
tinted with i
want to travel in
silence. periodically
checking my reflexes & heart rate

the ash tray is full
& it's very silent
now, mostly
brown & damp

i ask for a diagnosis to
carry before
apologizing repeatedly.



my Fever has become a
contagion. spilling

over dishes & single
spoons. where have the insects
gone? where has the temperature &
conclusiveness & remedy, scholars
cleanliness, methylphenidate,
thirst text glass, pine trees, recklessness
morgue, anxiety, wonder, sex,
cheese, queen sheets, subtleness, curiosity,
thread & cardiovascular endurance & trinkets gone?


i fell obsessed with
the movement of a name
forgetting the nightly
apparitions demand for
study a grain in my side the
cyphers jump to me & me
alone, i am speaking as the
real Maria programmed to riot
in orange wings, orange chests, red
marbles, lineless rituals, M-dance the
dancers spiral down. i feel alone
at this hour. the post office is
closed & you lost your dog, it
was 7 a.m. once, then i was here
unable to break the glass as
Maria in fear of
developmental obsession.


hello this is my banana
phone yellow paint fetish.
my banana phone is the cypher
regrettably so, it can be
whatever it wants to be.
i broke my knee in boston
with multiple eyes for introversion
siphon my marble pillars left behind
all the court sleeps as sleeping lovers
drawn on bodies who catch me atop
a gravel pile dissipating hieroglyphs for attention.

latent middle child

my brother flicks my cigarette filter
retrieves it, flicks it again, asks to be
on the front page of the paper,
is the secondary funeral location
pager friendly? will my pager get a sig?
will there be refreshments.


alligators go into a state
of hypnosis when you flip them
over like sharks. i'm having
nightmares about a light above
my jaw, meadows with clear fire.


dolphins rape fourteen people a
year, there is a support group
in florida. my brother tries to
hit a goose with a chunk of concrete
hey flipper, let me get a piece of that
when we discuss immortality it
becomes unclear which
brother i am dreaming for.

The First Fall Evening as Citizens

i'm sorry i take your pulse
in the morning, conversation is short
& expensive.

keep finding new animals

this craft held a land
mine possessed
mathematically pleasing
features as the only
onlooker sucking on
checker pieces
  i'm talking in cyphers again
  who gave me this pen, this fetish?
  this is not a cypher for
     clay women's walls
     sleepy hellos to a tiny chemist dog,
       you are well,
       delight with bleached feathers.
why are you eating the game pieces to spite the patrons

                             oh rachel, your head is
                             falling into the ice again.
                             are you living as an ox?
                             & disposing of pregnancies?

this is not a cypher for all strange birds
throug saturn fog with no fear of
rock slides or heat. you held me
in your sleep last night & your breath
did not change. i hoped you were
asleep, i want to keep saturn for
myself. i held this secrecy
before departing in soft sweaters,
inquiries of knowledge, capturing
evidence with drug store cameras
social media updates. i am done
with urban cyphers, billboards. i am nothing
like the Cities in immortality


i was going to rob a
homeless woman for
liberal guilt taking instead
her scrolling through her
apple iphone five
she became a beggar
once more, my yellow paint
fetish did not survive the cold.
i washed my face in boston.
an immortal beggar with aesthetics but
it's not ohio or new jersey or florida, i'll

refrain from speaking a cypher
i love you without deflective body
language & these practices
ruined our status, made of necrophilia
impulses. our previous
cyphers share a twin bed in boston
with saturn on the sheets
& the sexual zeal aches, with
shoulders & the poetry like
a child maturing sexually in forced manner.

© 2013 Rachel Burns

08 April 2013

Featured Poet: Heather Momyer

How to Swim

When the girls were young, they told me about those moments they said they would never forget. They had so many: the trials of lost love and vows for better times, tender-hearted sentiments of understanding and forgiveness, days that changed their lives forever and ever, Amen. Their teary cheeks and reddening eyes faced the distance between sadness and joy, and I wondered if I should say, “No, you will forget it all with a swiftness that is shocking.”

Who were the lovers of not too many years ago? There were dimples, a pair of glasses, long, slender fingers, and I wonder what we talked about. Because surely we talked. Surely we had something to say to each other.

The memories that slip-slide into vision in the early hours of morning are the ones I expected to drift away—pudgy round legs and white shoes on hardwood floors, laces wrapped with shining, tinkling bells, the heavy footfall of a baby learning to walk, the rattle of those bells the primary point of attention, or, the feel of warm pink pajamas against arms, legs, and feet, sitting in a car, tucked between bodies of parents or a younger sister, I can’t say exactly only that there was warmth pressed against, nuzzling in the front seat, an ice cream cone in hand, vanilla, did it drip down chin and sleeves, or, the first trip to a beach and holding hands with sister and parent, the waves splashing up to hair and eyes, to sister’s hair and eyes, tasting salt water and giggling, and I was four years old. All seconds in time and the feel of something against skin, or the sounds of a wave and the bells that rang each time I tried to get away. What and who was it that I expected to stay?

“I will never forget that day,” the girls repeated over and over again. “They are the people I will always remember,” they told me.

Did I love my parents in the times I remember nothing at all?

I suspect I thought nothing at all until just a few months ago when I know I started thinking of oceans and whales.

Remind me of being touched and made of hands. When did I become a real person? Because I do not know if I ever have. Yet if we must, I’d like to pull my own strings now.

“What does this mean?” I may have asked. “Does this mean anything, anything at all, to you?”


I remember standing on the planks of a whaleship, and we harpooned them all.

The little deaths came from your hands you said. Always—again and again.

And suddenly I understood the flurry of the whale, and it was not as you said, not at all. They were dying with blood and vomit, and I could never touch you again. Together, we tore off our hands. We wrapped them in rope, made nooses around our wrists, launched our weapons into the bellies of the whales. Palm to palm, hands severed and missiled over hearts larger than our own, fingers tied to touch wet black bodies after we let them go and sent feeling into flight. The death that came from our hands was not the ecstatic fling into mystery.

We gave up our hands so now there is nothing to hold. There is nothing. There is no hold. There is nothing and no whole.


The sperm whale has always been a mythical beast. It is so enormous that no one takes one on as a pet, no circus or carnival show will hire for its presence. It lives far from land in waters far from me, and I will most likely live my entire life without ever coming near a single such animal. The sperm whale is fantasy. It is imagination, dream, and the collective memory. It is kraken, or unicorn, dragon, phoenix, griffin, the three-headed dog, Cerberus. If it chooses, it could eat me alive, ingest in a magical gesture of appetite, then purge my bones and send me back from whence I came. To Nineveh you go.

Finally, I remember something of lyric and verse. On my back, you drew invisible vines with your finger. They grew taller, and you traced leaves with nails and told me stories I had never heard before. I could almost say that from behind me, I heard you speak as if your voice had come from behind clouds and rain and walls of thunder, but perhaps I wasn’t listening carefully enough.  Instead, I simply thought that none of us could drown.

I never said what needed to be said. I should have listened to Jonah. But I didn’t because some bitch took my tongue. But I didn’t because I gave it up for some idea of love and feet that only knew how to walk on land. To drown would be inevitable.

I never knew what the Princess said.


The ocean is both father and mother—Poseidon and the Venus half-shell. In the bathtub, I would wind the toy whale and let it go to swim around me. It was blue, I think. The turning crank was white, I think. It is an image I can almost grasp. Of course, the mechanical toy may have simply sunk instead, clanked its head on porcelain, rocked in an epileptic fit until the crank stopped turning and its insides were quiet.

How much water must I wade through? When will I come clean? My wet skin wrinkles, and I am growing old. I listen for parents but cannot hear—only the winding clatter of plastic chitter-chatters over the last thirty-some years.


On the ship’s deck, our vein blood flooded into whale blood like tributaries flowing southward into the River Styx, and if the ocean god himself were to take a sip, he too would lose his voice—nine years speechless, nothing to say, no tongue for the ears; nine years no one listens, no ears for the tongue, muted with all six canine eyes watching in the dark. “Come in, come in,” the dog mouths softly, and the crew hacks and peels, pulls at what lies beneath the surface of the skin.

As I had no hands, I was little help in the filleting of the massive lung-fish, but I hardly forgot the spear that opened those lungs for the tides of waves. You went below deck only to emerge later with two iron hooks fastened to your wrists, and I could not decide if you had just become more or less dangerous. I wanted your fingers wrapped around mine, but I suppose even then I would have let you pierce metal into skin, hoping there were barbs, hoping one of us could hold on again.

What is it that marks our evolution from the mud? Speech? Art? Or is it simply the thumb? Mine, I folded it into fin and counted the notes in underwater vibrations. I thought I would jump overboard, just to dig toes into silt and sand. I thought I heard sisters calling and murmuring, humming along to some half-formed song playing in my head.


In Australia and New Zealand, the calling of the whales is the calling of the ancestors, but I’m not from that part of the world. My ancestors were not whales. My ancestors were also not Quakers, so they probably weren’t whalers either.  I’m told that they were from many different parts of Europe, but there is little to be said for them. I do not know their lives, but I hear there is such a thing as muscle memory and I wonder if my arms and legs remember something that I cannot put into words. My mother said I learned to walk when I was nine months old.  I almost remember learning how to swim.


When the ship caught fire and shone with oil blaze, the only thing to do was to wrap rope to stake and burn like another Joan of Arc. There is nothing to admit.

The Princess ran to throw girdle and calm the fishy dragons that circled the boat, but you were there with hooks and lances to slay them all. I saw you spear the dead whales, again and again. Among embers, the bits of finger and bone that still clung to ropes and bodies dropped to the water and the soot was in the air. I could already hear the bells begin to ring, and the three masts lit up with twisted and knotted sails burning like satin sheets, damp with the sweat of some holy lover and fiery ghost.

Martyrdom is another romance genre, but when the dove flew over our heads, I shot a flaming arrow through its breast to see if it could begin brand new. But there was no time because there is something monstrous in your system of divinity, as you always knew, and the eagle talons cut through the smaller bird and carried it away. And maybe that eagle came back for you—I can never be sure. You were gone, and I burnt with legs around the center mast, and ash floated on water and crested the waves. When the ship went down, I clung tightly to the wooden pole until the sea slowly put out the fire.


Of course, little of my life is remembered with any bit of accuracy. I can’t prove anything.

According to parents, I was born on May 24, 1975. I weighed six pounds, twelve ounces. I was twenty-one inches long. My mother said my birth was easier than one sister’s, almost as easy as the other’s. Labor lasted two to three hours. Perhaps my greatest achievement and most adventurous moment, and I remember none of it.

Yet, what I do know is that when I was born my whole body, including feet, legs, and arms, was red and wet and glistening, as if I had just swum down the longest river coming from the deepest ocean, as if I had always had lungs for the water, as if I could never drown because I had always known how to swim and I had just simply forgotten during this one dry moment on land.