Foreword: What You Live For

What You Live For

One would like to think the pandemic has inspired us to be more productively introverted, weighing what we are doing and why. But of course, the truth is that the pandemic has given us little choice but to be more introverted and self-evaluative. Regardless of the terrible way it has come about, it may be useful to look under the camouflaging dust of “normal” life and ask a few existential questions. What have we genuinely missed about normal life, what do we really care about, and how should we admit to changes?

Keeping

Keeping

Thomas Dodson

It was a humbling thing, asking for help like this, needing it so badly. But removing his hat, brushing flakes of snow from brim and crown, Guy knew there was no other way. His neighbors’ fields, already stripped of corn and soybeans, would soon be a single plain of snow, patches of winter rye the only green for acres. Cold winds would blow freely across all that flatness, gathering strength until they reached the stand of pines at the edge of his apiary. The trees would provide a break, and he could wrap the hives in tar paper to keep out the frost, but it wouldn’t be enough. His bees, what was left of them, they wouldn’t survive an Iowa winter. He needed to take them west.

Poems: Chelsea B. DesAutels

Maybe You Need to Write a Poem About Mercy

after Robert Hass

 

Start this one with the woman standing at the edge

of the woods. Or the desert, it doesn’t matter,

what matters is she’s standing under a darkening sky

and she knows, at this point, having spent months

in the hospital, that there’s nothing she can do—

no threshold between threat and tranquility,

no demarcation she can draw around herself

for her child for protection, everything is actually

everything else, the stone just kicked

and whatever comes next are the same.

Opera House

Opera House

By Robert Stothart

Everything seemed married to everything else.

—Gustave Baumann, printmaker, Santa Fe Overture

A mere 7,918 miles in diameter, Earth, our home together, travels a minuscule distance in relation to all that we see on clear nights, light years away out in the stars. The core of our globe is a mix of iron and nickel, solid like a cherry pit. That solid inner core is wrapped in a liquid outer core, and around that a mantle eighteen hundred miles thick, about the distance from New York to Denver. This mantle—solid in parts, liquid in places, plastic in others—roils in convection currents under a relatively thin fourteen-mile crust, a vulnerable skin of sorts that weathers all seasons while holding on in a tenuous relationship with the globe’s deeper workings. That crust beneath our feet is constantly buckling, cracking, spreading, wrinkling, and pouring forth to reveal, as a face reveals, what goes on inside. Earth is face-all-over, and its insides are hot, reaching in places eight thousand degrees Fahrenheit.

A Conversation with Camille T. Dungy

A Conversation with Camille T. Dungy

Jacob Griffin Hall

Camille T. Dungy is a poet, essayist, professor, and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Trophic Cascade, Smith Blue, Suck on the Marrow, and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. Dungy was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019, and her debut collection of personal essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has edited several anthologies, including Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Her work has appeared widely in anthologies and in literary magazines, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, VQR, and Guernica. Dungy is currently a University Distinguished Professor, teaching in the English department at Colorado State University.

This interview was conducted by e-mail between December 2020 and February 2021.

Jacob Griffin Hall: Could you tell us a bit about what initially drew you to writing poetry?

Camille T. Dungy: I grew up in a family that values literature, poetry included, so I was reading poetry and having poetry read to me from a very young age. I remember memorizing my first poem in kindergarten or first grade. I have always loved the taut power of a poem. The way some of us love watching world-class sprinters do their thing. Those quick bursts of power and import. That’s exciting.

Naming Ceremony

Naming Ceremony

Mona Susan Power

It’s the spring of 1968 here in Chicago, and Mama says Old Mayor Daley has his big fists wrapped around our necks. She says he doesn’t care about brown people like us. “If this city had a proper name, it would be ‘Prejudiced, Illinois,’” Mama tells me while she braids my hair.

I’m in the second grade at school, so I know what that word is all about. It’s a mean word that says we can’t eat in just any restaurant, even if my parents have enough money, and we can’t move into just any neighborhood. If I got to name our city, I’d call it “Happy,” because sometimes you have to be nice to people and places and dolls if you want them to be nice back.

Poems: Brandi Nicole Martin

No Market for Unfixable Suffering

 

So I watercolor my skin graft

and thereby beautify its hue,

reframe so I was never “crushed under”

or “burned by car muffler” but instead delicious,

a palatable image, a crumb on the lip

of the reader’s hungry God. The alternative,

more difficult: one day, doctors laced me to a table,

tilted it upward so my legs would avoid

forming clots. This was after the brain bleed,

but I was still a numb puddle, an inkblot,

nothing but regret and a hideous floating head.

The Burning

The Burning

Gail Upchurch

The burning comes right after and all at once.

The irony of calling out for a God you swore off back in high school—the day Shawn was shot in the head because his cherry-red Monte Carlo looked just like the car Keno drove—is not lost on you. It’s just that you can’t do anything else besides scream, “godgodgodgodgodgodgod” and clench the six-hundred-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets in your hands and splay your toes so wide the skin between the third and fourth ones tears and thrash your head from side to side on the down pillowcase whose lavender scent seemed innocuous at first but now crackles, livid and full of ire. You close your eyes against shiny red spears darting beneath your eyelids—your flesh and blood smoldering. You lie on the bed, cauterized, rigid as a board, waiting. And then, just like that, it leaves.

As Far as You Can See

As Far as You Can See

Jesse Lee Brooks

What was funny was that despite being a self-proclaimed visionary, a seer of fortune, an intuitivist at cards, Sam never could have anticipated when he returned home late from another shift at the tables that he’d find Lori locked inside the Honda and that this time he’d be unable to stop her from leaving, unable to open her bags and scatter her clothes or throw her keys into the woods or carry her over his shoulder back into the trailer.Not funny ha-ha, but funny in the sense that those used to be normal evenings. That that man used to be Jack’sfather. Where now Jack attended dinner parties with people who’d studied at liberal arts schools, who’d grown up staring at Giacometti statues, who assumed the same about him. Funny how he’d grown up in a place so absurd and inconceivable that he’d tried to hide it. Funny that where Jack came from had actually been destroyed the instant he left. Funny that he didn’t even realize until twenty years later.

Poems: Jane Satterfield

Costumery: Cento with Lines from Early Reviews of Wuthering Heights

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë posed as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell to publish their work and be taken seriously as authors; rumors swirled around the nature of their identity and their novels’ composition.

The whole firm of Bell & Co.

staring down human life—

 

a depravity strangely their own

one family, one pen—

 

provincialisms, blasphemy, the brutalizing

influence of unchecked passion

 

Scenes so hot, emphatic,

and so sternly masculine in feeling

 

Its sex cannot be mistaken

even in manliest attire

 

A sprawling story casts a gloom

one presiding evil genius

 

two generations of sufferers

the highest effects of the supernatural

 

an atmosphere of mist . . .

A more natural unnatural story

 

we do not remember having read:

But what may be the moral?