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01.04.21
Three Poems
Solstice


In certain dark
the moon issues this request:

to be the shadow on the pillow,
the glass candle near the door of sleep.

A hungry Stellar’s jay breaks berries into pulp,
while bats decorate the rafters, and 

the wood pile moans under
its burden of fog.

As life encroaches on the dreaming
bedpost, you remember

a chip of ice you found in river
sludge, its sheen a mute witness

to increments of change
as lens and pure belief.


 



The Exercise


1.
unmoved
by will/choked by sun &
vessels holding water,
under gray adjectives

2.
lion of letters loop of lilies
the bird that swallowed
the cat
circadian sway
of science, its mirrors,
its cyphers,
a sand crab
tossed in a porcelain bowl

3.
remember what sins
you commit
then write shell, that which contains
a softer self

4.
stories hold the brackish
understory
the letters of refusal
(But fire will spread/despite your inclinations)

5.
In brine, a harvest of krill
his never spent notion : to be a water farmer
knee-deep in thistle

6.
He took his cure; mixed love with
blandishments:
checked his mortality at the door

7.
stayed to read the candled letter,
the windswept book of
resolves

8.
Who will outlast this life
Noun + seven
we perform the exercise
often we blush
at the strangeness of engines


 



Leaf 

Nascent in leaf, splurge
of water marks the season’s
start, the flecked eggs found
under an ivy-facing frame. 
Morning’s music is cellos 
and the warp and weft
of waves curving 
under the bridge where 
once you stood and tied your
losses like a rope of stones.
When scenes were ended,  
 their blueness still supreme 
reminder that we hold 
our longing, abjure
 the simpler premise of a swerve
 in luck or fate. Summer’s 
baggage shows up at our door,
 the lesser leaves give way
to green’s inherent richness,
 filling in the trumpet vine,
the Daphne stem, whose leaf
 is hidden under hearty growth.
In hiding we may find
our only voice or one true word. 

 

Maxine Chernoff is a professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and a 2013 NEA Fellow in poetry. She is the author of six books of fiction and sixteen books of poetry. Her latest book, Under the Music, is a collection of prose poems from MadHat Press. In fall of 2016 she was a Visiting Writer at the American Academy in Rome.

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In Print

Vol. 78
Fear Itself
Spring 2022
Edited by Bradford Morrow

Online

June 22, 2022
No, that’s not it, that’s not how it happens, it’s—

—because I’m here, have been for years and years, in the backseat of the Oldsmobile 88, top down, wind enraged, tearing along some country road at night, Jackson drunk at the wheel, Ruthie by his—

—the world all quick nervous giggles and skinfizz, the whirled world, the world like leaves spinning in a crazy autumn gust, only it’s not autumn, no, that’s, it’s what, it’s—
June 15, 2022
THE SPEECH OF THE THIN KING’S MINDER

The thin king bound in the fiery hollow shook
The chain by which his left arm was suspended
And from a hatch that rattled open just

Above his right eye dropped a demon like
A glass-winged gerbil, who immediately
Began to stab the thin king’s pupil with

A dripping claw, and said, Forgive me, king,
For my unwilling violence. I bite
My paws off, but they grow back while I chew


So that I wonder while I’m chewing, Is
This still my paw I’m chewing, and, forgive
Me, king, but that thought helps me swallow.
June 8, 2022
He decided he would die and then
drove through mortality,

a motorcyclist in heavy traffic. He
was afraid for his dog, which he had

loved and abused. The neighbor said no
to taking it, but he died anyway and

the dog—no one knows. Cigarette butts
and dogshit left in the litter of his lawn.
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