where the mess is

Strictly Speaking
David Rivard

There is the question
of bearing witness, of being yourself seen
by yourself, & seen clearly, cleanly,
without weapon or bible in hand;
as this was the wish,
the sturdy & not-so-secret wish
of those who named us—

our parents wanted us to be
known to ourselves without confusion:
without judgment,
sans suffering. Never force it,
they said, always find it.

OK, strictly speaking, that’s not entirely true.
My particular, sole, insistent, moody mother & father
probably never thought much about it at all.
Those two anxious citizens,
they were never exemplars of patience.
The weightlessness of detachment & acceptance
as I think of it now
would have frightened them—
for good reason.

If you could see these words
I’m speaking to you tonight printed on a page
as typeface & magnified x 500
you would feel just how ragged & coarse
they really are, heavy.

Well, playing the part of a butterfly
must be tiring, right?
I’m happier being the old ox, right?

On some plane of existence
these two scraps are all my news:
where the mess is
that’s where my heart is.

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what can become the heart’s food stored away for some future famine

May Perpetual Light Shine
Patricia Spears Jones

We have encountered storms
Perfect in their drench and wreck

Each of us bears an ornament of grief
A ring, a notebook, a ticket torn, scar
It is how humans know their kind—

What is known as love, what can become
the heart’s food stored away for some future
Famine

Love remains a jewel in the hand, guarded
Shared fragments of earth & air drift & despair.

We ponder what patterns matter other than moons and tides:
musical beats—rumba or waltz or cha cha cha
cosmic waves like batons furiously twirling
colors proclaiming sparkle of darkness
as those we love begin to delight
in the stars embracing

I have tried. I have tried, as the Jesuits taught

Portrait in Graphite and Ornamental Hagiography
C. Dale Young

You may not believe it, but I have tried,
set my sights on the morning star
in belief it would guide me. I have tried.

I have tried, as the Jesuits taught, to be
singular, to be whole, to be one. The labor
of this was exhausting. Time reveals things

one need not appreciate when young, and I fear
being singular, being one, is something
damned near impossible for someone

like me. Saint Jerome, cloistered in a tiny room,
found his singular calling in updating
the Latin Bible with his knowledge of Greek texts.

In Assisi, Saint Francis updated nature, called birds
out of the trees. I am, unfortunately, no saint.
Fractured, divided to the quick, I am incapable

of being singular. And the old nun who taught Art
at my high school, who called me a stupid mongrel,
understood this very fact long before I did.

Profession, family, belief: I can see now
my background challenges me, prevents me
from remaining true to only one thing. The fog,

settled over Ocean Beach, settles the matter
by embracing everything indiscriminately,
and I want to understand why I notice

such things. For most of my life, I have desired
a category, a designation, but maybe
that desire was misplaced? Maybe it was just

another failure, a failure of imagination?
Outside, two hummingbirds cross-stitch the air.
They have lived here for so long, lived

off the “nectar” I boil up for them each week,
that they show me no semblance of fear or distrust—
they hover and feed near me with violent precision.

for years I have seen dead animals on the highway

Mistake
Heather Christle

For years I have seen
dead animals on the highway

and grieved for them
only to realize they are

not dead animals
they are t shirts

or bits of blown tire
and I have found

myself with this
excess of grief

I have made with
no object to let

it spill over and
I have not known

where to put it or
keep it and then today

I thought I know
I can give it to you

our bodies a furnace if curled together

Staring into the Sun
Jennifer Grotz

What had been treacherous the first time
had become second nature, releasing
the emergency brake, then rolling backwards
in little bursts, braking the whole way down
the long steep drive. Back then
we lived on the top of a hill.

I was leaving—the thing we both knew
and didn’t speak of all summer. While you
were at work, I built a brown skyline of boxes,
sealed them with a roll of tape
that made an incessant ripping sound.
We were cheerful at dinner and unusually kind.
At night we slept under a single sheet,
our bodies a furnace if curled together.

It was July. I could feel my pupils contract
when I went outside. Back then I thought only about
how you wouldn’t come with me.
Now I consider what it took for you to help me go.
On that last day. When I stood
in a wrinkled dress with aching arms.
When there was only your mouth at my ear
whispering to get in the truck, then wait
until I was calm enough to turn the key.

Only then did we know. How it felt
to have loved to the end, and then past the very end.

What did you do, left up there in the empty house?
I don’t know why. I
don’t know how we keep living
in a world that never explains why.

sometimes we make mistakes and call them coincidences

Hunger
Kelli Russell Agodon

If we never have enough love, we have more than most.
We have lost dogs in our neighborhood and wild coyotes,
and sometimes we can’t tell them apart. Sometimes
we don’t want to. Once I brought home a coyote and told
my lover we had a new pet. Until it ate our chickens.
Until it ate our chickens, our ducks, and our cat. Sometimes
we make mistakes and call them coincidences. We hold open
the door then wonder how the stranger ended up in our home.
There is a woman on our block who thinks she is feeding bunnies,
but they are large rats without tails. Remember the farmer’s wife?
Remember the carving knife? We are all trying to change
what we fear into something beautiful. But even rats need to eat.
Even rats and coyotes and the bones on the trail could be the bones
on our plates. I ordered Cornish hen. I ordered duck. Sometimes
love hurts. Sometimes the lost dog doesn’t want to be found.

and think how this loving god would feel

The God Who Loves You
Carl Dennis

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week—
Three fine houses sold to deserving families—
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you’re living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you’re used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You’re spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.