Stillborn in a High School Restroom

by Jessica Blandford

Drip, Drip—water slips from the sink
spout, splashing the mirror
she cries from the end stall
A fringed shawl balled up in her mouth

Tap, Tap—a willow pressing inward
between fissures of smoky glass
through the glimmering light of dawn
A mother labors on

She cries out, the baby crowns, a toilet—
for a nursery, in her guts the pressure builds
too silent, she wipes her tears
and thinks, daddy can’t find out

she holds him against her breast
a purple cord around his neck,
swaddled in yesterday’s apple blossom dress
Johnny I’ll name him, and the night gives nothing back

 


 

Jessica Blandford graduated from Queen’s University of Charlotte with an MFA in Creative Writing. She worked on the editorial committee of the QU Magazine and is a testing proctor at Grand Rapids Community College. All of the time she doesn’t spend writing is spent with her daughter.

Canopy View

by Natalie Mouw

High in the maple tree
swaying with the leaves
above the ground.
In the crisp air of winter
there are no leaves blocking my view;
I can see for miles in countless directions.
I cherish the quiet evenings, mornings, moments,
gazing down on the hushed world
from my silent perch.
Spring comes in on tiptoe,
slowly, it approaches.
Arms overflowing with warmth to melt the ice.
Silent sprouts are sent up from the ground
to brave the cool, crisp, air.
The summer brings leaves
to enclose me in their vibrant green light.
They build me a fortress of solitude.
Autumn is a whirlpool of a thousand shades,
of purple, red, orange, and yellow.
The piles of leaves laying
at the roots of the tree,
pull me from my tree top perch
to play with them.

 


 

Natalie Mouw loves to write everything from poetry to novels, and she hopes to be a writer when she grows up. She is a tenth grader at Forest Hills Eastern and can be found playing outside with her siblings, curled up with a good book, or climbing trees in her back yard— one of the many places she finds inspiration for her poetry.

Hands

by Brenna Nickel

When I look at my hands, I see rigid edges,
Skin overlapped, ugly deformities.
I wish I could be normal, my eyes holding grudges,
Nails shortened, revealing my insecurities.

When I look at my hands, I recognize permanent fears,
Skin discoloration, veins bulge throughout.
I wish it wasn’t so painful, my eyes swell with tears,
Fingers damaged, filling my head with doubt.

When I look at my hands, I uncover disappointment,
Self-esteem shattered, childhood nightmare.
I wish I could stop this, sign up for another appointment,
Sharing stories, wanting more to be aware.

When I look at my hands, I hold many burdens,
Sharp pain, blood drips darker.
I wish I was in control, but the addiction worsens,
Seeking pleasure, salvation gets harder.

When I look at my hands, I feel very foolish,
Every day, anxiety sets in, tightening these chains,
I wish to conquer this, without standing fruitless,
Wanting freedom, hopeful for change.

 


 

Brenna Nickel lives in Caledonia, Michigan and attends Grand Rapids Community College. She writes poetry mainly to share her own experiences and to express the lessons she’s learned with others.

Absence

by Margaret Rose

From glossy pages the words bombard me-
SMOOTH SKIN IS ALWAS IN
EFF RTLESS FROM EVERY ANGLE
VISIBLE SCARS, MEET VISIBLE RESL TS
AND…THEY M KE YOU A LITTLE TALLER
FEELS LIKE NOTHING, DOES EVE YTHING
BOLD, BOOST D COLOR
P MP UP THE VOLUME
HAIR COLOR EMER ENCY
I AM NOT A GIR I AM POSION
ENHANCE YOUR LUMINOSIT
-and everything is said in an absence.

 


 

Margaret Rose is currently a senior attending Aquinas College. Earlier this year, she studied in County Galway, Ireland. She is studying English writing, music, and Irish studies. The poem “Absence” was written as part of an ekphrastic project she did with Anna Rose for the class Artists and Writers in Collaboration. Margaret completed the written pieces in the project, while Anna completed the visual art pieces. The project’s focus was on beauty representations and expectations as depicted in women’s style magazines.

A Good Read

by Alaina Hefferen

Out of all the books in the world
you are my favorite read.

Your edges are torn
some pages are missing
the language is illegible at times.

I like your inconsistent plot
for mine is equally unfinished.

 


 

Alaina Hefferen is enrolled at Grand Valley State University and is originally from the east side of Michigan in the city Shelby Township. Her poem is about the appreciation of the imperfections of people and embracing the unknown that is ahead.

Moving, important, & gently radical: Review of “Dispatch”

Dispatch by Cameron Awkward-Rich | 75 pages | Persea Books

by Kelsey May

I first fell in love with Cameron Awkward-Rich’s poems when I read Transit, a 2015 chapbook published by Button Poetry. Awkward-Rich’s newest collection, Dispatch, was published in December by Persea Books and grapples with distraught familial relationships, the persecution of those whose gender identities fall outside cultural expectations, and the national crisis of violence against Black and brown folks. The poeticism of these pieces is moving and often adds a tenderness to circumstances that are anything but.

One of the most moving pieces was “Everywhere We Look, There We Are,” which is part-erasure, part-rearrangement, part-commentary of a 1903 New Orleans newspaper article.

[In the next room, wailing.
Man woman can’t tell.
Any human specificity obliterated
by pain. Someone walks
into the room where I am
pinned. Looks at me, my paperwork.
Backs away shaking his head]

The poem is spacious, sprawling across eight pages, an occupancy honoring the life of Dora Trimble, undoing the cramped brashness of the newspaper article.

In “It’s Important to Know What a ‘Man’ ‘Is’”, Awkward-Rich writes:

There’s a version of the story
in which the sweet girl

never makes it home,
her lungs, unbraided

by salt. But because I did,
because I learned

the lesson, next time I slid
down the throat of a man,

I knew, kick
or not, what I was—

driftwood, kelp, glass
bottle. Moved through.”

These poems ache with the pain of being discarded, the bite of persecution paid for in breath and body. And they aren’t always certain of how to fix the problems they dredge up:

“[T]his is what I tell my friend whose eye
has been twitching since last Tuesday, what I

tell my student who can’t seem to focus
her arguments, who believes, still

that it’s possible to save the world
in 10-12 pages double-spaced, & without irony

I’m asking Have you tried going for a run?

In fact, one poem, “Meditations in an Emergency,” meets the reader in that place of global grief:

“I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds
& the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside…
walk among the buildings, men in
Monday suits. The flight of doves the city of tents
beneath the underpass, the huddled mass, old
women hawking roses, & children all of them,
break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I
love the world… There are no borders, only wind.”

One glory of Dispatch is that it doesn’t examine gender identity as a science experiment or a psychological disorder; it proudly cherishes the existence of gender as a spectrum and triumphs: “I draw a frame around the frame, /…the body not a question.” These poems ground in the everyday normalcy of life despite the challenges that accompany marginalization:

“Sometimes, before light breaks
I lace my shoes & race outside.
I try to touch everything—
my neighbor’s rusty wind
chime, the fallen trees. My soles
drum the concrete, hands strum
each metal fence…”

And they leave the reader with such hope:

“But she looked at me
like a child. She spun
her head. She laughed
& laughed at my awful music
& I thought Oh. Yes.
This is the world
with me in it. It is
beautiful. It is.”

Awkward-Rich, in his poetic and research-thorough genius, has created a compelling collection that transfixes and soothes. Dispatch (Persea Books) is available from your local independent bookseller for $15.95.

Thank you to the publisher for a review copy!

 

 

Label Me This: Review of “Interior Chinatown”

Label Me This: Interior Chinatown tackles stereotypes, racial typecasting, & what it means to be American

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Pantheon Books, January 2020 | $25.95 | 4 stars
Review by Kelsey May

Compelling, bold, and cleverly written, Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown reads as a novelized television show script. The plot? Willis Wu’s life as an actor being offered parts as “Generic Asian Man” in the same old Golden Palace restaurant. His dream of becoming Hollywood’s go-to “Kung Fu Guy.” His life in the Chinatown SRO. His complicated relationships with his parents and neighbors and the dreams his parents had before they found out what America really had in store for folks who looked like them:

“[His mother had] once dreamed of being more. When she first started out, as Young Asian Woman. She imagined a life for herself, full of romance, glamour. One of the few American stories that had made its way to the silver screen of Taipei in the ‘50s, an afternoon at the cinema with her father and nine sisters and brothers, sharing one Coke. Being the eighth of ten, she might get one good sip before it got taken back by siblings further up the chain, but that one sip was enough to savor, sitting up on her heels to get a better view, holding her father’s hand, and watching the perfect faces, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Natalie Wood, their luminous whiteness shimmering in the cool, darkened theater.”

Then he falls in love with Karen, another actress on set, and things start to change. They both have dreams of stardom, but hers are more attainable. Her ambiguous ethnicity makes her more castable, and she rises through the ranks quicker than Willis. When she gets pregnant, Willis must make some tough decisions: what kind of life does he want to give his child? Is a room in the Chinatown SRO gonna cut it? What’s more important: his dream career as Kung Fu Guy or his family?

Interior Chinatown is action-packed, dialogue-heavy, and above all, honest about how Asian Americans are treated as other and how, all too often, Asian Americans (in showbiz and elsewhere) internalize this otherness and toe the line between reinforcing the stereotype or rejecting the outdated, racially-problematic “one-size-fits-all” identities. Interior Chinatown stands out for its unique genre-bending style and stuck with me long after reading for its cultural relevance, set of characters, and satisfying, powerful ending. (Yu literally puts racism and the American Dream on trial. Brilliant!) Four stars and a wholehearted recommendation to voracious and curious readers and progressive thinkers everywhere.

Interior Chinatown (Pantheon Books) is available for $26 in hardcover from your local independent bookstore or from your local library for free.

Thank you to the publishers at Pantheon for the review copy!

P.S. My grandma made that coaster in the photo. ❤

 

“Look”, an examination of what war really costs

Look by Solmaz Sharif
Graywolf Press, 2016 | $16 | 4 stars
Review by Kelsey May


I read Solmaz Sharif’s Look in a grocery store while waiting for someone to finish shopping, and I was hard-pressed to put it down afterward, wanting instead to reread sections and spend more time absorbing Sharif’s powerful observations. This collection focuses on war, violence, and sacrifice, offering an emotional, personal critique of freedom, “self-defense”, and weaponry.

Sharif’s poems hone in on safety, home, and who has access to the privilege of being protected. The poems examine these topics from a variety of perspectives: soldiers, land, civilians, children, refugees. In one, she writes:

A body falls
and you learn to step over

a loosened head. You begin to appreciate
the heft of your boot soles,
how they propel you,

how they kick in
a face…

You tighten your laces

until they hold together
a capable man…

So the hands
that said they never would
begin finding

grenade pins around their fingers…

In another piece, the speaker confides:

According to most
definitions, I have never
been at war.

According to mine,
most of my life
spent there…

The war in Iraq, I read,
is over now…

In 2003, a man held a fistful
of blood and brains to a PBS camera
and yelled

is this the freedom
they want for us? 
It was from his friend’s
head…

We say the war is over, but still
the woman leans across
the passenger seat

my son, my son. 
I wasn’t there
so I can’t know, can I?

The desperation and anguish of loss is clear in these poems. War is not glorious. War is not a game. War is grief and crime and death and too great a price to pay. I highly recommend this collection to readers who care about justice and activism. The fight against violence continues.


Look is available from Graywolf Press for $16. Thank you to Graywolf for the review copy!

Carried away by Ada Limón’s newest collection

I finally finished Ada Limón’s INCREDIBLE poetry collection “The Carrying“! It took me far too long to read these gorgeous prose poems because as soon as I started, I wanted to delay finishing it so I could really take my time reading each piece. I spread out the progress over a year and a half and can honestly say I’ve already started re-reading the collection. Ada is a wildly compassionate, gentle poet, and these poems span an array of topics, including loss, birds, road trips, and relationships. And most importantly to me at least, her poems soothe that place that is always aching in our tumultuous, violent world.

Many of my favorite pieces incorporate nature as part of day-to-day life.

“So / much of America belongs to the trees…” she writes. In “Dead Stars”: “I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.” What is life if not a constant re-weaving? Stitching ourselves back together after every bloody headline, every oppressive piece of legislation.

“Reader, I want to
say: Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing?”

These poems also offer hope, even in the darkest depths of loss, infertility, and mourning. “Just this morning, I saw seven cardinals brash and bold / as sin in a leafless tree.”

I love that Ada feels like a friend at all times, someone who is telling you these poems because she knows you need to hear them. And then, after she’s reveled in vulnerability and covered everything from bombings to beetles, she reminds you what it’s all for:

“I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.”

“[Y]our bones are my bones, / and isn’t that enough?”

If you like poems of wisdom, poems of nature, and poems of life, snag a copy of “The Carrying” (Milkweed Editions, 2018).

Many, many thanks to Jordan at Milkweed Books for the review copy.