This, Here, by Kush Thompson

This, we tiptoe.
This, we flower in euphemism.
The street has swallowed itself into border. Into railroad track.
This, where the bus line ends.
This, where little boys bike across curfew and into eulogy.
This, where board-slapped windows domino into mansions.
Runaway men into joggers.
This, where Oak Park River Forest alumni rep westside,
Redlands East Valley minstrels “Gangsta Day” during spirit week.
This, where the grass and the quiet
lull mothers to sleep.
This, where your heart is not yet
a restless telephone wire shackled to the ankle
of every one you have ever loved after sunset.
This, where the news stations tell you everything you know about
what lives across your street, outside of your living room window,
at the end of your driveway.
This, deliberate. This, abrupt.
This, sloppy stitching.

Here, you are exception,
urban, and articulate.
The black friend that let them poke pencils through your kink that one time
while you curled a trembling smile, pretending not to be
token or voodoo doll,
half house, half field
a Susie Carmichael or Huxtable.
The black family in a White House
ran north and bought the plantation.

This all too familiar of being someplace but not.
You were raised on “twice as good.”
Mama left the westside when you were two.
You were raised into valley-girl accent.
Your voice lost all of its skyline until
you went to high school through metal detectors.
You were raised on ditches and division streets.
Here, where you were born before you were conceived.

Here, where your cousin lives in the basement.
Here is your first real boyfriend
the first tongue in your mouth, and first
call from the county.
Here is the splintered wall your back will know.
Here, where you are no bourgeois success story,
just lucky enough to slip through cracks and make it
to your front door each night.
Here is where your ashes will be scattered.
Here is your home 6 years from now.
Here is your home 50 years ago.
Here is your redemption skin.
Your corner store.
Your corner stone.
Here is your Gramma’s house and dusted porcelain
and stuffed bears on the living room walls.
Here, where everything grows without permission.
Here, where sunflowers rise from the potholes

each and every summer.

Sometimes Night is a Creek Too Wide to Leap, by Gail Martin

The sky wears black serge pants while
hemming up another pair for tomorrow
night. A bit shorter, but you won’t notice.
Some nights the blue pill brings a dream
where a young girl is trying not to cry
in the sheep pasture, stuck where her brothers
eyed the watery gap and mossy stones and sailed
to the other side. We didn’t know about E. coli
then, how our waders must have buzzed with it.
By the time I was ten, I’d pared my list of things
I was scared of down to four: the high board,
hoods and kidnappers, blue racers, and shaking
hands with Uncle John who’d lost four fingers
in the cornpicker. I pushed the scared parts of me
away, like the two finches my mother watched
nudge a dead fledgling off the edge of her deck.

Solitaire, by Sam Riviere

I think I always liked the game
because it sounded like my name
combined with the concept of alone.
(My name really does mean “alone”
in Slovenian!) We don’t actually care
if it’s true, but we want to know
the person telling us is telling us
the truth. Say his name is “Hank,”
as in, “of hair.” (It’s not.) My upbringing
was classically smooth/chaotic, apart
from traumatic events I’ve never detailed,
even to myself. Traumatic but methodical.
But why say what happened even.
In the tech block the blinds were down
and I cleared my way to the final marble
under the indistinct gaze of an indistinct
master. My success had allowed me
to become the bastard I always knew
I could be. What did it mean, to clean
the board like this, counting down to one?
By these gradual and orderly subtractions
my persona was configured. The goal
was to remain single. Sometimes telling you
the truth wouldn’t be telling you anything
much. For a while I’ve felt torpid and detuned,
as if I want to share a view with you,
so we can both be absent in one place.
Look, the sky is beautiful and sour.
I’m not here, too. I’m staring out of this cloud
like an anagram whose solution
is probably itself. I am only the method
that this stupid game was invented to explain.

Epilogue, by Amber Tamblyn

I took a break from writing about the dead
and drinking from writing about the dead
to walk around my childhood neighborhood.
Everything’s for rent. Or for sale, for ten
times the amount it’s worth.

Palm trees are planted in front of a mural
of palm trees under the Ocean Park Bridge.
In the painting, the metal horses of a carousel are breaking
free and running down the beach. Why didn’t I leave

my initials in cement
in front of my parent’s apartment in the eighties?
Nikki had the right idea in ’79.

I walk by a basketball court, where men play
under the florescent butts of night’s cigarette.
I could have been any of their wives,
at home, filling different rooms in different houses
with hopeful wombs. Agreeing on paint color

samples with their mothers in mind.
I’ll bet their wives let their cats go out
hunting at night like premonitions of future sons.
They will worry, stare out the front window,
pray that privilege doesn’t bring home bad news
like some wilted head of a black girl in nascent jaws.

To say nothing of the owl who’s been here for years. I hear him

when I’m trying to write about the deaths I’ve admired.
I hear him when the clothed me no longer recognizes
the naked. I hear him while writing and shitting and sleeping
where my mother’s seven guitars sleep.
I hear him in my parent’s house,
their walls covered in my many faces,
traces of decades of complacence.

My childhood neighborhood is a shrine to my success,
and I’m a car with a bomb inside, ready
to pull up in front of it and stop
pretending.

Road Tar, by Chase Twichell

A kid said you could chew road tar
if you got it before it cooled,
black globule with a just-forming skin.
He said it was better than cigarettes.
He said he had a taste for it.

On the same road, a squirrel
was doing the Watusi to free itself
from its crushed hindquarters.
A man on a bicycle stomped on its head,
then wiped his shoe on the grass.

It was autumn, the adult word for fall.
In school we saw a film called Reproduction.
The little snake-father poked his head
into the slippery future,
and a girl with a burned tongue was conceived.

The Land of Story-books, by Robert Louis Stevenson

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.

These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.

I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.

So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.

We Are Seven, by William Wordsworth

—A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree.”

“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”