Printing on Water

chapter one: condensation.

i felt you before i saw you. i didn’t know what i was expecting, but i sensed you gathering around me like some people feel the rain in their bones. i didn’t see you walk up to me, you were just there. it was the first time i thought of you as fog.

the first time we kissed, i pressed into you and worried that i might lose my balance, so i leaned a hip against a nearby mailbox for support. i was worried that you wouldn’t like the taste of my lipstick. you tasted like my own tongue.

we moved from bar to bar that night. you told me stories because you wanted me to know everything. i was shy and laughing too loud. do you remember? but, we were coming together like clouds already. when i set down my glass, my hand was outlined there in fog. then it was gone.

chapter two: precipitation.

when rain falls, nothing stays dry. Even the cozy indoor places behind locked doors get damp. water seeps into everything. it covers the cars. it makes puddles. it feeds rivers. rain gets its way, in whatever form it chooses to take. you can’t stop it. you can only pray for it when it’s not there.

i have a fear of falling. when i dream about it, i move like raindrops through the sky. it’s always cold and the clouds sting where they touch my skin. after a while, I get bored with screaming and flapping my arms against it to see that falling is almost pleasant. maybe it’s the landing i fear.

i like sidewalks after a rain. i love the smell of clean wet concrete and the way it bubbles and hisses as the sun comes out. i like to think about you when you were smaller, your knees and elbows wet, your ear to the sidewalk to figure out how the sound happens. i love your ears.

chapter three: evaporation

when i think about you, i am reminded of the way steam rises and escapes and the way it licks up the sides of coffee cups and leaves behind little droplets of itself. i sometimes think i am covered in these droplets of you.

i am unsettled by the temporary nature of things. i told you once that i love chaos, but that is not exactly true. i have a deep fondness for order and systems and cycles. and yet, i don’t see how they apply to me. one thing is certain; water is a constant. we are nothing without it.

being in love with you is like writing my name on a fogged mirror. i enjoy the impressions i have made there, and i try not to think about forever. i will write my name fresh on you every day. i promise.

chapter four: erosion

the lack of you licks away little pebbles of me; my arms feel skinnier, my heart feels thinner. everything that was once so firmly rooted to me floats away, all those words drawn on you swept off in the dirty and relentless trickle. it only takes a little bit and then the damage is done.

teaching myself to fall out of love with you is like unlearning my own name. the trick of the task is to properly judge how much of yourself you have to lose and how far you can be whittled down until you are nothing enough to start again. i was not enough already.

the spaces between my ribs already gape with the vacancy you left. they hinge neglectedly on the line of my backbone. i’m waiting for the stream to pull them away.

heathen machinery

Thanks to iatrogenicmyth.

In Those Years

In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to
But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I

Adrienne Rich

How I Come to You

Even a rock
has insides.
Smash one and see
how the shock

reveals the rough
dismantled gut
of a thing once dense.
Making the cut

into yourself,
maybe you hoped
for rock solid through.
That hope I hoped,

too. Dashed
on my rocks was my wish
of what I was. Angry,
dense and mulish,

I smashed myself and found my heart
a cave, ready to be
lived in. A start,

veined, unmined.
This is how I come to you:
not what I knew.

Molly Peacock

Thanks to iatrognicmyth.

Happy First Anniversary (In Anticipation of Your Thirty-Ninth)

I don’t have much time. I’m an important person
to chickadees and mourning doves, whose feeder
was smashed last night by a raccoon. Soon
I’ll be wielding duct tape, noticing the dew,
wanting to bathe in it, hoping the awkwardness
of yesterday (three instances of people talking
with bear traps for mouths) never repeats itself
and we all go forward as if to a party
for a five year old who refuses to smash candy
out of a burro. It’s too cute, the burro, too real
for him not to ask his mother, can I keep it,
and when the other children cry, they’re given
lake front property, it works out, this
is what I see for you, the working out. Think of the year
behind you as a root or think of going to Spain
and feeling sorry for bulls or don’t think,
this isn’t the SATs, don’t think but stay.
Stay happy, honest, stay as tall as you are
as long as you can using giraffes if you need to
to see each other above the crowd. I have these moments
when I realize I’m not breathing, my wife
is never why I’m not breathing and always why
I want to lick a human heart, remember that each of you
is half of why your bed will sag toward the middle
of being a boat and that you both will sag
if you’re lucky together, be lucky together
and acquire in sagging more square footage
to kiss and to hold. And always remember
that I hate you for being so much closer
than I am to where none of us ever get to go
again - first look, first touch, first
inadvertent brush of breath or hair, first time
you turned over and looked at who was surprising
you by how fully she was there.

Bob Hicok

The Two

When he gets off work at Packard, they meet
outside a diner on Grand Boulevard. He’s tired,
a bit depressed, and smelling the exhaustion
on his own breath, he kisses her carefully
on her left cheek. Early April, and the weather
has not decided if this is spring, winter, or what.
The two gaze upwards at the sky which gives
nothing away: the low clouds break here and there
and let in tiny slices of a pure blue heaven.
The day is like us, she thinks; it hasn’t decided
what to become. The traffic light at Linwood
goes from red to green and the trucks start up,
so that when he says, “Would you like to eat?”
she hears a jumble of words that mean nothing,
though spiced with things she cannot believe,
“wooden Jew” and “lucky meat.” He’s been up
late, she thinks, he’s tired of the job, perhaps tired
of their morning meetings, but when he bows
from the waist and holds the door open
for her to enter the diner, and the thick
odor of bacon frying and new potatoes
greets them both, and taking heart she enters
to peer through the thick cloud of tobacco smoke
to the see if “their booth” is available.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there were no
second acts in America, but he knew neither
this man nor this woman and no one else
like them unless he stayed late at the office
to test his famous one liner, “We keep you clean
Muscatine,” on the woman emptying
his waste basket. Fitzgerald never wrote
with someone present, except for this woman
in a gray uniform whose comings and goings
went unnoticed even on those December evenings
she worked late while the snow fell silently
on the window sills and the new fluorescent lights
blinked on and off. Get back to the two, you say.
Not who ordered poached eggs, who ordered
only toast and coffee, who shared the bacon
with the other, but what became of the two
when this poem ended, whose arms held whom,
who first said “I love you” and truly meant it,
and who misunderstood the words, so longed
for, and yet still so unexpected, and began
suddenly to scream and curse until the waitress
asked them both to leave. The Packard plant closed
years before I left Detroit, the diner was burned
to the ground in ‘67, two years before my oldest son
fled to Sweden to escape the American dream.
“And the lovers?” you ask. I wrote nothing about lovers.
Take a look. Clouds, trucks, traffic lights, a diner, work,
a wooden shoe, East Moline, poached eggs, the perfume
of frying bacon, the chaos of language, the spices
of spent breath after eight hours of night work.
Can you hear all I feared and never dared to write?
Why the two are more real than either you or me,
why I never returned to keep them in my life,
how little I now mean to myself or anyone else,
what any of this could mean, where you found
the patience to endure these truths and confessions?

Phillip Levine


To know love as having merely to look upon it
is as much a curse as blessing, for certain knowing
we will mourn its presence, its loss before the fact.
That we reminisce about the present and suffer gladly
the grief to come, inescapable as a foreshadowing,
is why those already grieving have so much power over us:
how they preside, how they utterly know our names.
Would it be much to offer a few words as comfort,
to give voice to our longings, and like the prayer
offered silently in the presence of suffering, betray
ourselves the fear and reverence we hold them in.
Would it be as much or not nearly enough to learn
grief through anticipation, pain in its absence, thirst
before the well, hunger amid plenty, just as we know
love when we are most alone, and loss when at last
we have but to look upon what we have yet to mourn.

J. Blue Chattigre

In the Beginning

We lived in bed, no matter where we went
or what we did; we were always there, pulling
the sheets up over our heads like souls
for whom bodies are gowns that weigh too much,
pressing ourselves so close to each other we felt
our skin cross over to bone. How many days
did we dream like this in our high stone room
to which we’d flown on the wings of little deaths?
We slept awake and woke asleep in a fire
we couldn’t put out; in a fire that burned
from the inside out. What did we know without
saying? That we would suffer the weight we lost
without even trying when we returned, then walk
like turtles on the beach? How fast do you think we said
“Yes! Yes!” to the poor first god
when he asked us twice in separate rooms,
“Are you sure about this?” So fast, I can tell you,
that the birds outside our broken window thought
we were singing a song only they remembered.

Chard deNiord


I try the needle on my neck,
my carotid hits more bpm than yesterday

My feet dangle from the bath tub’s edge,
water and oil diffusing in billows
until everything is transparent green lacquer
incising my airways from the inside

I reminisce the nakedness of your lips,
plum matte cotton beds
speaking of how
honey is the only food that doesn’t waste:
three thousand years of edibility

Sri Lankan people were screaming at me
whenever I looked through your eyes,
their little mouths babbling about telepathy
and the expansion of the human mind

Now, your Tamil terrorists still swim in my bath tub
and everything smells like eucalyptus

If you still kissed me,
I would show you
how beautiful the malachite water drips
off my slick and milky knee
while I eventually,
shoot some warm honey up my veins

I’d show you to feel it, too.
How it unfurls,
with a thousand colourless petals
popping in my chest

resolving to become silence, and
three and a half hours of ecstasy.

Aria Aber

thanks to iatrogenicmyth


Long ago my knuckles mended, and I forgot how to want
to clash again. I was once hipshot and erratic, but now I’m glass,

the slicked leavings of earth. Oils from hands mar me no more
than a smudge. I’ll not melt for a thousand years. I’ll not shatter

but for fire or force. I’ve realized there’s no glory in pliancy,
no succor in the softness of clay or breast, for to be supple

is to wait for bruises to rise. And I forgot how to want
to fight, but tyrants are walking around so heavily.

All I wanted was to be in your blood, and be quiet. But soldiers
dare me to hazard out in the world with my prison face,

the one that shifts with the shadows, contorts, lacks control.
My hands won’t lie softly in my lap any longer, for listeners

and liars are close. All I wanted was to be a splinter under your skin,
to be wrapped in your body and wait for you to heal over me.

CJ Evans

from A Penance

Thanks to iatrogenicmyth at They Said.

Snowshoe to Otter Creek

love lasts by not lasting
                       —Jack Gilbert

I’m mapping this new year’s vanishings:    
lover, yellow house, the knowledge of surfaces.
This is not a story of return.
There are times I wish I could erase
the mind’s lucidity, the difficulty of Sundays,
my fervor to be touched
by a woman two Februarys gone. What brings the body
back, grieved and cloven, tromping these woods
with nothing to confide in? New snow reassumes
the circleing trees, the bridge above the creek
where I stand like a stranger to my life.
There is no single moment of loss, there is
an amassing. The disbeliever sleeps at an angle
in the bed. The orchard is a graveyard.
Is this the real end? Someone shoveling her way out
with cold intention? Someone naming her missing? 

Stacie Cassarino

(letter to her, beginning with her)

Maybe you’re holding onto something
invisible & have learned to call it
by its secretest name, & maybe
there’s an arithmetic of emptiness
that defines the quiet space
in your cupped palm as waiting
instead of vacated.  I see a bird
pass overhead, bursting & frantic
in a peaceful glide, & I think travel,
I think rootless.  I see a tree, leaves
scattered in fragmented green up & down
the thin branches & I think sunlight,
I think there are so many goddamn pieces
to this imperfect structure.  I think
how can there be a thing without
a think to think it, or a thought without
a thing to anchor it.  I think what if
I stand under that tree & shout.
Will the bird flinch in its arc
& will my hands be open & ready
or are they weighed down with loss?

Nate Pritts

thanks to iatrogenicmyth.

The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late

I want to go back to the winter I was born and warn you
that I will flood through your life like acid
and you will burn yourselves on me.
On my sixteenth birthday, I will use the candles
to set the basement aflame and run out laughing,
wearing smoke like a new dress. With a pocket knife,
I will try to root out that life you so eagerly started.
I’ll dent the garage door with my head, siphon Crown Royal
from your liquor cabinet, jump from a gondola in Venice. I’ll smash
my ankle with a hammer, drive through stop signs
with my eyes closed, cost you thousands
in medical bills. Forget about sleeping.
I’ll dominate the prayers you keep sending up
like the last of flares from an island no one visits.
For every greeting card poem, I will write four
to hurt you. Some will be true.
Other people’s lives will look perfect
as you search the house for its sharper pieces.
And when they lock me up I’ll tell the walls
I’m sorry. But these warnings will come like candles
after a night of pyres. I already know
how you will take one look at that new life screaming
into the world, and open your arms,
thinking, if it looks this innocent,
it cannot be so bad.

Rhett Iseman Trull

Thanks to iatrogenicmyth

A Secret Life

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don’t say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you’ve just made love
and feel you’d rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you’re brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that’s unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you’d most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it’s like a small fire
in a clearing, it’s what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It’s why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who’ll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.

Stephen Dunn

Séverine in Summer School

Naked for twenty-four of our last thirty-six  
Hours together, and I mean museum-quality, sex-  
Shop, God-riddling naked, sapping gold  
Light from the windows of her hundred-year-old  
Baltimore dorm, we were hungry for selling  
Points, like a couple in a showroom. Compelling  
Arguments were made to close the deal  
And children were discussed. I kissed her from heel  
To head in a shower without water;  
Then with. Nude, she read me a letter as a waiter  
Would his specials, and I couldn’t keep  
My eyes off: smooth shoulders, belly, pelvis,  
Deep olive skin all a balm against sleep.  
It was from her sexy grandmother in Dieppe  
And Séverine translated, both of us  
Somehow drawn to this third party in a tidal  
Sort of way, her lunar candor, her antipodal  
Ease with words and the world. We were difficult,  
Séverine and I, a beautiful strain, a cult  
Of two. Even eating, we made lots of noise.  
Even resting in bed, watching the trees,  
Our lighter breathing, our limb-shifting, sheet-  
Rustling, even our dreaming had fight.  
Her heart was exceptionally loud—not with love,  
But with knowing. Knowing what to be afraid of.

Rex Wilder

Endless Summer

It was the summer I fucked up    the summer    fucked up   me
fucked up   a fuck-up in the summer   & I spent time laying under stars
too much   time I wasted  the stars  you lied to me under the stars
& the summer was endless   the summer endless   it was an endless summer


endless   & I said things like   “If I ever see you again”
but   I’ll never see you again   I never saw you again   I made sure of that
& I circled   the lake   I went in circles    the lake was endless   it was
summer   I fucked up   too much time & I never saw   you again   & I


circled & it was   endless & the stars    lied to me   the summer
light   moving so slowly   I saw the summer light move   endless
& when I see you   the trees will cluster   green rage green   trees raging
with love   endless love & I’ll never see you   again   I made sure of that


wasted under the stars   the slow summer   light   the endless fuck-up
& you never again   you lovely   you summer you   everything that is now
never again   whatever that may be   the rage I loved   me under the stars
then & now   endless   wasting away me   haze wandering around endless


haze  it was endless  too much time & you   lied to me & I    said things like
I can’t describe the air on my skin can you   can you please   I know it was
important & the light from stars   moved   so slowly   & you   moved off
forever   how can you save everything   everything   important   endless


summer light   the fuck-up   the lake a circle   circling   the lake
how can you save everything   how can I   answer you the light of summer
stars I’m sorry  for my light   the endlessness of my endless & my   fuck-up
the me that is   now   looking back & thinking   & this summer circling

Nate Pritts

from Numbness

I have not felt a thing for weeks.
But getting up and going to work on time
I did what needed to be done, then rushed home.
And even the main streets, those ancient charmers,
Failed to amuse me, and the fight between
The upstairs couple was nothing but loud noise.
None of it touched me, except as an irritation,
And though I knew I could stop
And enjoy if I wanted to
The karate excitement and the crowd
That often gathers in front of funeral homes,
I denied myself these dependable pleasures,
The tricks of anti-depression
That had taken me so long to learn,
By now worn smooth with use, like bowling alleys in my soul.
And certain records that one can’t hear without
Breaking into a smile, I refused to listen to
In order to find out what it would be like
To be cleansed of enthusiasm,
And to learn to honor my emptiness,
My indifference, myself at zero degrees.

Phillip Lopate

(full text here)

Out Here Even Crows Commit Suicide

In a world where all the heroes
are pilots with voices like God
he brought her a strand of some woman’s

hair to wear on her wing.
She looked sideways at the ground
silent behind the cloudy film covering

her eyes knowing she would be his
forever. They cruised the city nights
each one spiralling away from the other

but always coming home to gather stories.
Dark streets bright tavern lights drunks
filled with beer in the gutters.

The flicker of stars shaped like a hunter’s
arrow bent stars that twinkled like babies’
eyes. No babies for them. She was an outcast.

He a loner. A perfect pair.
Winters had made him wise
and he avoided the single nests of summer.

He told her about things she could see.
How the dismal cover of clouds roils and explodes
and the ground aches like an old woman’s knee.

How wood rots against the tide
good for hunting grub.
How to fade and fall back into the wind.

He translated her pulse
into near-language. Their poetry so personal
even Peterson’s Field Guide could not tap it.

Only a stray hunter saw it.
Shook his head once thinking it a trick
of wind and wing then turned his eyes north

to search for the simple flight
of Brant or Canadian. Those patterns
he could easily understand.

That last night they drank from the river.
Sucked its delicate cusps of mold
sang anti social songs as if they were humans.

When he flicked his handsome head
to catch the drift of wind
she even managed a single tear.

She waited through days and nights
of grief. Circled the city less
then settled on the wires.

The metallic conductor captured her eyes.
She remembered how he proudly sang her name
as he pranced from pole-top to KV line.

One last fluff of feathers. One sigh
for all the unnested summers.
One single scratch

one electrical surge of power of love.
Then she fell smiling.
A trick he had taught her.

Colleen  J.  McElroy

Hieroglyphics on a Branch

Once, a woman made love to me
through the slippery dark.
Her brother was dying, her sisters were shooting
heroin in the bathroom as she moved her tongue
like sadness on my skin, and I felt
how all the sweet explosions,
summer, orgasm, a ripe peach in the mouth,
connect unfailingly to the barren fields.

What we have learned about love in this life
can never be removed from us.
Not one minute pried
from any of the days –
and yet, there was a worm
which entered the live branch,

lived and ate and tunneled through
the wooden heart, and with its body wrote
new language
through the lost years.

So there must be another,
more convincing name for innocence,
the kind the body never lost,
the grace of stumbling
through an open door

Ruth L. Schwartz