Let me not prophesize. The book
guzzles me whole, presses me like flowers.
My understanding of the world, its inner
workings: the sky flakes & falls, & so will I,
for you, for others, unendingly. We graft
& palimpsest. We hope & wither. I hear there
comes a day the heart lets go of what was
once a most momentous happening. Leave the
scraps for the garden. Bellies swell, ripe
laughter. The sun rains & rains. Brown again,
then glossy amber. Somewhere underneath,
green. If I hope, I wither.
My mother doesn’t tell me not to cry
over my four-month-old broken heart.
She folds a coarse paper towel over my
choked exhale & slides it across the kitchen
table, sits & waits despite our history of
unforgotten battles. My father often jokes
that she & I have the same red voice that
burns & burns, a birthright that frightens me.
After all, I scorched my fingers taunting
candlelight in the second grade & have been
afraid ever since, yet some parts of me never
stop searing. My mother is one of the few that
knows I am always silently swallowing fire,
but today I am soft as water as she reminds,
you don’t need anyone, & pokes fun at my
pitiful face. She’s wrong, of course, but
today I am seven years old & cry in front
of my mother again. I smell no smoke.
terms & conditions
I tolerate the face only when unsmiling, the eyes
only in the afternoon. The shoulders: meaningless
if they crumple beneath a person & the hands:
without worth unless conceiving something so
exceptional that every heart beams. I hate the mouth
for never articulating & the knees for caving in.
It is impossible for all parts to succeed in tandem at
all times, or even once. For now, I stand in the mirror,
Noreen Ocampo is a Filipina American writer studying English and film at Emory University. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in perhappened, ang(st), and Versification, among others, and she is also a regular contributor for Marías at Sampaguitas. Say hello on Twitter @maybenoreen!
My grandparents and I, like two
different planets, seldom crossed
emotional orbits. At thirteen,
ordered to visit, I visited. Ordered
to kiss cheeks, I kissed cheeks.
My feelings were obligation, not love.
Late one summer night, on my way
to our only bathroom, I caught
my grandmother’s last words.
Out of the tobacco-scented
darkness of the guest bedroom,
Grandma’s voice whispered, “I’m cold.”
A traitorous artery in her head burst
in the night, and come morning,
my grandfather woke beside his cold wife.
When her body had been taken, he
wandered the front yard, clutching her purse,
saying only, “My best friend has died.”
My mother was heartbroken, and later, when
my father asked me why I hadn’t cried, how
could I explain an emptiness which
I couldn’t understand myself?
Keith Welch lives in Bloomington, Indiana where he works at the Indiana University Herman B Wells library. He has no MFA. He has poems published in The Tipton Poetry Journal, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Dime Show Review, and Literary Orphans, among others. He enjoys complicated board games, baking, talking to his cat, Alice C. Toklas, and meeting other poets. His website is keithwelchpoetry.com. On Twitter: @TheBloomington1.
On the Songs of Sunlit Sparrows
Tired, you drag your feet down the corridor and out into the atrium – the atrium with its high, creamy skylight ceiling. The sun shines through in a half-light that stops your feet. They lose their direction. You stand there, suddenly reawakened from your tired daze, only to fall helplessly into another sort of daydream; knocked to your metaphorical knees by nostalgia, the sort that leaves you grasping for all that you know you need, but cannot identify. Then your trance is broken once again as a sparrow comes twittering from the rafters to land beside you, its small feet click-clicking quietly as it hops on the tiled floor. All you can do is stare, letting the short echoes of its mellifluous chirps hollow you out, then flee from your body as the bird flies up to the creamy skylight, knowing the sun means freedom. But there is such a thing as false hope.
And there it sits on a cold, metal beam, mocked by the light to which it sings. And there you stand, in a bright sort of dimness as your feet remember their purpose, and your mind decides it’s best to simply walk away with a sigh, rather than try to decide what it is about that nostalgic light that draws you in, that makes you feel as though every moment of your life is just that moment between the golden hour of late afternoon and the impending, inevitable dusk. You sigh, and then leave the sunlit sparrow to sing its salient songs.
I can only shiver
when I come home
to the cold
in the same clothes I’ve worn
for the past week
fingers fumbling when I can’t
find a spark
to light my cigarette
when I realize
I’ve gone again
to the moon and back
yet the clouds
still haven’t changed.
All my ghosts say:
lie down, sing your song,
but don’t cry out
for the lips of another.
I’ll put my mouth where the money is,
will drink the dreams from any
will only lie down
if there’s a dirt bag there
to spread his filth
as he spreads my legs.
Because I need to feel weightless,
a bird with hollow bones.
But now, in the gloom, I realize
all my marrow
really is gone,
and I am more than weightless
more than hollow
I can more than fly.
I can’t help but float away.
Chris Biles lives in Washington D.C. and is currently employed by the Foreign Agricultural Service. She previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania (2015-2018), and enjoys music and anything outside. Chris has been published in Blueline Magazine, The Laurentian Magazine, Signatures Literary and Arts Magazine, and on SLiPNet. Find her on Instagram: @marks.in.the.sand.