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Four Poems
Dear Ornamental,

I take the compliment
to my second self

in the garden,
white vinegar breath

an axil from her lips.
Learning how

a strong stake aids
a slender, unassailable 

stalk is a matter of self-
denial and solace. I want

appurtenances of accepting
the compliment

more than I can mother
another hour.

Patience, patience,
O despotic little nodes!

My second self counts
nigella seeds, sugar ants, BBs,

defending her right
words: bulbils.

Demanding a future
like the compliment,

black, focused, a hope
light as a petiole,

cardamom, clove.
My second spans,

fingers surrender
in E-Major cashmere

gloves. French Suite.
And me, grave? Of course.

I serve all my guests tiger lilies.


Dear Fine-dayers,

I have forgotten the form of sympathy—pulling out
my hand from death’s mouth has become a sticky affair.

Too casual, thick-tongued, blurry, too. Death’s symphony is on
the speakers that sit between the handlebars of the motorized cart

of the man I greet at Rotary Park. He walks his black and white dog,
flop-eared, and I walk mine, slowly, for twice tonight she vomited

at my feet, kibble, a blueberry I fed her at lunch. Picking her up,
holding her in my arms, it wasn’t lightness I felt, not her brittle

-built, hollowed-out body, but the spasm of a goodbye behind
my eyes, in my throat. The sky is a sheet of fire. Closed, the slide

slopes with ash. Tissue. Mass. Yes, there are flaps and secrets,
trick bookcases in the animal body, casks murky with old cola.

After she was sick, I knelt under the table and covered her
with impossible prayers. My hands said, Dear, dear, dear, dear,

dear—nothing, no syllable is impossible, not even a prayer,
not even walking a dog without walking yourself. Impossible is not

impermanent. After so many years of hihello-ing, I still don’t know
who I have been good to and who I’ve hurt. My dog leads me

into a fluff of mown grass. She stretches and lies down and rests
her face on her front paws, the white heart of fur on head opening,

quivering like a ventricle, like a baseball diamond in an empty park
at dusk, like a fermata repeated measure after measure in Bach’s

French Suite on Memorial Day weekend, coexisting not competing
with the freight trains. What have I seen? Jeeped line of nine

in the Dairy Queen drive-thru, dairy-free Dilly bar, Brownie Batter
Blizzard digitizing on a sign I cannot help but read. This morning,

leashed to a bench, my dog watched me move bricks from the patio
to the garage. It was clear there were fewer bricks than I’d suspected.


Dear Unfeeling Martinis,

Bless you,
stomach pump.

Bless you,
puce hole.

Bless you,

and cool
air that finds me

on the floor

pushing in
the broken door.

I open it
and hate it

with equal

Just wetting
the cork,

bless it.

plum buds

from Thai basil
in Italian terracotta.

I do miss

with my poison
pen, loving

this cocktail,
lying about

devils, demons-

trating my vile
behaviors, all

and how

I used to



my voluptuous



He began by parching me,
reserving the cup

for oracles. If I could
ward off famine

with signs, let them be
ram in the sky,

hard-nosed. Humped.
I coughed up cartilage,

crept to the wood,
his Joey can do better––

I knew I could––
I will. Show him

my grip, reared
to wring the stars

from his silk.
See him Taurus

there, crouching, Krios

bedding me golden,
razing my fleece.

JoAnna Novak's memoir Contradiction Days is forthcoming from Catapult in July 2023. Her fourth book of poetry, DOMESTIREXIA, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in 2024. Novak’s short story collection Meaningful Work won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest and was published by FC2. She is the author of the novel I Must Have You and three books of poetry: New Life; Abeyance, North America; and Noirmania. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other publications.