Honorable Mention, 2021 Joe Bolton Poetry Award
It juts from the water like two rotting teeth. From the sand, we stare out across the blue expanse of San Cristobal. This is the place you are dying. Frigate birds swoop above, their angled wings like pterodactyls. Your grave is a broken, seasick thing. When I woke this morning, I wasn’t yet an orphan. Soon I’ll run my hands across the rock’s bird shit surface. Darwin says each slight variation is preserved by natural selection. I am still here, then, a deviation. We circulate in one another’s blood.
The Hungriest Moth
In silk-spun tents spanning clusters of branches, Gypsy Moths eat through my sleep. The summer Father died, they died by the hundreds. Tree fungus. The frozen, milk-beige moths blackened trunks until songbirds plucked them. To keep my father alive, I arrange questions around his bed like graceful ghosts. I swallow stones and hope I’ll sink. He and I walk the cemeteries and find bald trees, roots dug up with jackhammers. We saw a young girl fall asleep in the forest. The Gypsy Moths webbed her mouth, her eyes. Their cocoons were tethered hot-air balloons waving from tree tops. After my father died, I roamed his house looking for him. I found letters, a handkerchief, a wallet, his teeth. I took it all. Some nights I return to where the girl hatched and I perform experiments. I see white teeth in each cocoon. If I cut little squares into my body, Father, could you look inside to see if I’m moving?
The Great Sphinx
In the last letter she wrote: I am getting older. It’s becoming too late to do anything of consequence. Just like that. Giving up so easy. In a scrapbook there’s a photo of me I love: My birthday at Grandma’s. I’m turning four. I’m wearing a blue shift dress with white lines marking my body into boxes. An eyelet collar squares each shoulder. White knee socks. Shiny black shoes. I am a catalogue girl with the whole world in front of me! Hand on my hip, big smile, pink and red party hat on my head. In her last letter she wrote about the Great Sphinx: It weighs more than an asteroid! It was built 5000 years ago! I’m wringing my hands because I’m afraid of death. Tell me how you started putting butter in your coffee, is what she writes next. Then Last night I dreamt of a pan full of sizzling piranhas, teeth shivering in their steaming mouths. I think we should all be standing on our forepaws, looking over the head of the Sphinx to see what’s out there. It’s hailing golf balls here today! I’ll bet it’s sunny where you are. My daughter calls to say she’s made it to her play rehearsal early. Everyone is eating birthday cake, she says.
The 34th Year
after Andrew Grace
Blacked out year of the undone: clothes-washing, cat box cleaning, bill- paying. Year of forgot to breathe. No breathing. Heaving muscles through a sieve. Dead ivy sliding along gutters to a piss-drenched ocean. Abandoned cats, one with its ear torn off, belly distended, another limping, its entrails uncoiled. The year mother held up her breast and they took it. I didn’t notice I’d disappeared. The year father’s pancreas went rotten. Year of black holes. Tantrum year. Stirring along the banks near the deep river. X’d out, marked out, blackout year. Virgin scars rising to the surfaces. Paper-thin memory. Benumbed year of pushing through.
K. E. OGDEN is winner of the 2021 Finishing Line Press New Women’s Voices Chapbook Prize. Her book What the Body Already Knows will be available in September 2022. A poet, essayist, book artist, and educator, K.E. Ogden grew up in Honolulu, Hawai’i and spent much of her life in California and southeast Louisiana. She is a former recipient of the China Poetry Fellowship from the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics at Cal State Los Angeles and a poet laureate of Gambier, Ohio where she teaches every summer in the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshops. A typewriter user and lover of oceans, she lives in Los Angeles with her high school sweetheart, artist Mathew Digges. Visit her on the web at kirstenogden.com.
Cover image by Lee Miller.
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