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Four Poems by Kristin W. Davis

Dandelion on the Lawn

little roar against shorn green.

Blemishes—to pry out
by their stems, bouquets of bright defiance.

No, my father taught me, you wedge
the trowel down, banish the root

from hard-packed soil. How else to exhume
what longs to outlive itself?

Downy puff between crisp
blades, I pluck, your name a wish.

Seeds scatter, parachutes on breath.

Green Willow

Thirsty willow gnarled into our yard, guileless
roots that rippled toward water pipes.

Hot breeze gyrated the leaves, a cascade weeping
over the fence onto our side. Pillars of light sliced

into my secret shelter beneath, limbs tapered
to switches. Before the long ride to Willowbrook,

I snapped one off, stripped it bare, coiled and wrapped
the pliant whip, clenched it tight in my small fist.

I did not know that willow was holy to poets. Did not know
that Orpheus carried willow into the Underworld, talisman and shield.

I did not know that willow wood hollows into flute, that willow bark
heals, that under my pillow, a sprig of willow would sharpen dreams.

I did not know that the Jews in Babylon hung their lyres
on the willows, too desolate, too dry, for song.

I did not know that innocents once sang of willows
in the hours of doom before their death.

I remember passing through the gates, the green lawns, the weeping
willows—though neither the breeze nor the trembling of leaves.

I remember cinder block and steel and sticky linoleum,
a spartan room, the nostril-burn of ammonia.

I know that saplings unwatered will not root, will root shallow,
will ache for water even from the salt marsh,

its soak of tears. Dried up like old news clippings. I know
that knobbed boughs bend now toward hollow buildings,

slender leaves sing willow, willow, willow,
all a green willow, cling to fresh rain.

On Reading “The Ones We Sent Away”

by Jennifer Senior in The Atlantic Monthly September 2023

Flashlight against my temple, beam  

into the grass, I meet the eyes

of spiders, each one its own spun

world, silken labor from its own belly.

Give me the sideways light, truth

in refraction. A thousand shards spill

onto currents, so much shine I need

not look toward the setting sun.

In the beforelight    

how did I not see?

A web, the missing limbs,

An aunt, a brother.

Vision swells in concentrics, regret    

in ripples. A revelation the poet’s     

day-blind stars. Slivers strain through

my fingers like lost oceans, measureless.

I grasp   I gather   I must                  

 enough light to see by.

The Sun Knows Best
with a line from Jake Skeets

when it rises, the moon how bright
to shine. I step into the shorn field,
corn stubble catches the light, severed
stalks, testimony to husk and fruit.

I ask a famous writer what burns
on the page, what incinerates to ash.
She sets fire to all of it, she says,
arranges the embers barehanded.

Summer rain means well, wants
to douse the flames, wants me
to sleep in safety, wants its own
unburdening. But what do I wake

up to? In the thin light, scent
of soot, cold puddle of cinder.

Kristin W. Davis lives in Washington DC and holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine, Stonecoast. Her recent work includes a collection of documentary poems and essays that centers on Willowbrook State School, a defunct institution for people with intellectual and other disabilities. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, the Banyan Review, the Los Angeles Review, and the Maine Sunday Telegram, and on the Split this Rock blog and Maine Public radio. Her work has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, is a 2023 finalist for the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, and earned the International Human Rights Arts Festival’s Creators of Justice Award.

Image: Cleveland Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

War is the Best Con Ever Designed by James Huneycutt

War is the Best Con Ever Designed

War is the best con ever designed
drafted by the only shyster we can’t bribe,
a contract Death drafted that we cosigned.

At every recruiting station a warning sign
should be posted in letters that dare inscribe
WAR IS THE BEST CON EVER DESIGNED.

War flourishes with a conscience resigned
to artillery fire, instead of a poet’s clever gibe.
A contract Death drafted that we cosigned

binds our Holy Lands to pay in kind
with the dead of whoever’s ancient tribe.
War is the best con ever designed,

it works best when politicians are inclined
to rouse a public with vengeful diatribe.
A contract Death drafted that we cosigned

specifies each bomb dropped and footpath mined:
fine print Death’s attorney took pains to transcribe.
War is the best con ever designed,
a contract Death drafted that we cosigned.

James Huneycutt is an ex-offender who runs a successful plumbing company in Virginia. He scribbles on the backs of invoices, estimates and parts lists. These scraps accumulate on the dashboard of his plumbing van until he can no longer make out the highway’s center line. Educated in Virginia, Morocco, and Boulder, Colorado, and the Prince George’s County Lockup, his recent publications include a foreword to Edgar Tiffany’s “Audie Murphy in Saigon,” the poem “An Ode to Reb” in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and the essay “Writer’s Block Cure,” in Sterling Clack, Clack.

Image: Rafael Vargas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Four Poems by Brandon Douglas

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In this special edition of The Mid-Atlantic Review, we celebrate the publication of Brandon Douglas’ new book, Dipped in Cerulean. Brandon is the 2023 winner of Day Eight’s DC Poet Project. Get the book here:

Camille

My daughter
Be poetry
In motion
Towards the door
As I arrive home
—Where hatred is said to be —
But right now
Love occupies this space
My baby girl is a star
With the glow of a million
I love watching her lightshow of a smile
It makes my world a better place

Camryn

She too
Be poetry
In motion
Like her sister
Home is where we are
It has to be
Her father found foundation
Twice over
Strong enough to hold up the sky
So that these baby girls
Can shine
Without fearing the fall

313850

My brother is just another number

I watched
And even helped him a little bit
Craft a life worth remembering
Worth standing out
Worth something
Other than
The number
That is now his identifier
That makes his freedom a trophy

Is this a game
Is he another notch on the belt
Of a system that’s been whooping his ass
Since our father died

Sometimes
Grief on Black boys
Looks like volatile hoodlums
Who don’t deserve anything other than jail
Not rehabilitation
Not therapy
They lock Black boys up for living angrily
And never stop to figure out why
Never exploring the possibility of pain having a home in
his chest

But I digress
It is called the Department of Corrections
Guess he should’ve been right
Whatever that means….

Boots

As Dr. King once asked
I wonder
How a bootless man
Can lift himself by the bootstraps
We be barefoot
On freshly paved roads
Reflecting the same smoothness
Of baby bottom
As if a new era has been born
An era that doesn’t seem interested in the old
New businesses branching into our neighborhoods
That put chokehold on the roots already here
New homes for the people who don’t belong here
Yet
Buildings that were monuments of my past are only
memories now
Public housing projects are getting knocked
Down and replaced with luxury apartments
Churches are getting replaced by condos
Nothing’s sacred anymore
I could go on
But it’ll just make me more upset and sad than I need to be
right now
I am disappointed tho
There’s all this new pavement
But still no boots
How can we be expected to gain ground
In this rat race
When we have to constantly start over
While others continue to run past us
Heads above the dust we were pushed into
Across the finish lines made for them
We’re tired of brushing ourselves off
We’re tired of the deliberate decisions disguised as our failures
We didn’t choose mediocrity
We didn’t choose despair
This pair of being oppressed and vulnerable
Be hell on the daily
But despite we still find ways to feed our babies
So I ask
When does this get to be fair
When do we get our boots
With the straps
Do we have to take them?
Relax
We don’t want yours
We want our own
All we ever wanted
Was our own

Brandon Douglas is the 2023 winner of the DC Poet Project, an annual competition designed to surface and support exceptional poets. Brandon Douglas is a professional poet and arts educator who has worked in schools, detention centers, and community centers. As a youth in DC he was a participant in one of DC’s youth slam teams. Douglas began writing raps in middle school and later melded poetry and hip hop into spoken word compositions. Father of two young girls, he is committed to the District of Columbia, and the power of community.

Image: Kurt Kaiser, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Three Poems by Mary Lou Buschi

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Oldest Living Things

Spring again, dizzy with babies.
Grisly groundhogs crawl from the shed.
Frenzied Chipmunks traverse the drive.
Cardinals dip and swirl over the doe
hiding in the pachysandras. What my eyes
can’t make out, the new rock my husband
moved near the shed. I walk out to get a closer look.
Not a rock but a prehistoric thing,
giant dusty claw outstretched, a shocking
tail coming to a sudden point.
The eyes closed.
Both horrified and amazed, I get down
to get a closer look when one eye twitches.
Slick green lids slide open and there we were.
She takes a good hard look at me and I at her.
A turtle taking a rest from the crossing
where she will bury her eggs in dirt.
I feel the human arrogance to help her,
wonder if I should lift her, but bring her where?

Later we build a fire in the yard.
J asks if I know how old the oldest tortoise is.
I make a guess, 80?
No, 190 years old. It must be the oldest living animal?
The fire cracks and Max, our dog, disappears.
No, I say, that can’t be right, whales live a long time.
We listen for a while to the fine clean riff of a Stratocaster,
playing through the speakers.
You are right, J says. The bowhead whale,
thought to be the longest-living mammal,
is estimated to live beyond 200 years.
What’s more, the ocean quahog is a fist-size clam
can live to be 500 years or older while protecting its proteins.
Maggie Rogers sings, I leave the fire,
to make another Clove Old Fashioned.
The stars are many.
What about people? I yell from the bar.
Guess, J says. I say, A woman in
Mongolia. She’s 100 and only eats potatoes.
Close. There is a woman in Japan who is 119.
She retired from her job in 1966, the year you were born.
Do you think she made it? I ask.
Yes, she is still alive.
No the turtle, do you think she has made the crossing?
The fire is full and blistering,
illuminating the iron cutouts of moons and stars.
The music clear against the night.
You know the jellyfish is immortal, J says.
Instead of dying it gets younger.
I don’t know if I want that but maybe if I do everything slower?
How old are you, moon, sky, billions of burning suns? I say, to the night.
The next morning stepping out into new heat, a fever sun,
I see her like a ship too large for a port in the driveway,
heaving her giant carapace, steady with each laborious step.

Portents

If you dream of a coffin, your teeth made of wood will teem with termites. If your coffin howls you will be visited by a messenger who will show you three symbols: a Fender Amp, a flickering blue light, and a long line at passport control. One Iconic, one half lit, the other hopeless. If you, yourself, are building a coffin it will be filled with Hyacinth, one of the cruelest blooms to sprout form dead earth. If your coffin is dancing like a tattered umbrella in the wind, you will remember the journey from birth till death like walking a narrow plinth in a shaft of light.

Glowing in the heat / like a minted coin you slide /down a silver slot.

Woman in the Sun
After Edward Hopper

Ron’s wheel is stuck on the dresser.
He’s gone to the wrong room again.
Who are you? He asks. He has cloudy
eyes and a far-away look.
Are you one of the rich ones?
I laugh and before I can answer
Ron launches into a story
about his wife, pills, prescriptions,
and desperation,
Isn’t that something, he asks?
I’m at Irma’s bedside watching her sleep,
enjoying the possession of the late day sun.
We have forgotten ourselves in a shaft of light.

Trundled away by a nurse, Ron appears
later in the day room staring
into the sound of the TV, his baseball hat,
that reads, Choot Um, slips down.
A woman with hair like the seeded
head of a dandelion grabs the brim,
and curves the sides back over his head.
He pays no attention
to the backlit seraphim
rolling their silver boats through the halls
over the yellowed linoleum,
uttering imperatives like a spell:
come closer, see me, I’m here.

It’s time for me to go out
to the wasted field dividing a ruined garden.
Out to the car where I will drive
into a sun that will swallow me whole.

Mary Lou Buschi (She/Her) is the author of 3 chapbooks and 3 full length poetry collections. Her 3rd book, BLUE PHYSICS was just published in February 2024 (Lily Poetry Review books). Her poems have appeared in literary journals such as Ploughshares, Glacier, Willow Springs, On the Seawall, among many others. Mary Lou is a graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and holds an MS in Urban Education from Mercy University. Mary Lou has taught creative writing and literature in the SPS division of New York University. Currently, she is a special education teacher working with students on the spectrum.

Image: Jean Gervasi, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Four Poems by Joseph Ross

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When Langston Hughes Lived
at 1749 S Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 1

Living with your mother
and younger brother couldn’t
have been easy.

In two rooms,
with one oil heater
you carried from room
to room each night.

This is not the life.

Working at a laundry
was hard work, toil with
hot water and soap,
chemicals almost as dangerous
as poverty.

But in this neighborhood
of hardship,
you spilled forth poems
with melodies.

You sang “Weary Blues.”
Your foot tapped
a “drowsy syncopated tune.”
You rallied your own voice
to “make that old piano moan.”

Because this is what you do.
This is the way work seeps
out of your skin:

through words with a beat
like exhaustion,
lines with a melody
like getting up every day

and doing it again.

When Langston Hughes Lived
at 1749 S Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 2

Did the neighbors ever hear you
chanting the words to your poems
while you wrote?

Did they wonder about the tapping
they heard when your mother
and brother were gone at work
and you were alone in your precious
solitude?

Did you read your words aloud
as you typed and re-typed?

Those upstairs rooms must have
become like a sunlit jazz club, soaking up

the soaring tunes and hard shoe
beats, growing thick with the light
snare drum tap, the controlled brush
of cymbal, the sorrow song

of your words, crowding one another,
following one another, one line
more anguished than the last.

When Langston Hughes Lived
at 1749 S Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 3

When you were alone here
you learned the need.

These small rooms taught you
loneliness was not

always lonely. Being alone
could be the gift

you most desired, the
answer to the call.

You were not far from U Street,
the lights and suits

and dresses and coats.
The trumpet’s sorrow

the saxophone’s smile.
But here, in this quiet,

on this street of pines
and roses, wives and husbands,

children with grins big
as clouds, you built

the home you would one day
treasure. It would not be

in this city. But you learned
Harlem here.

You understood your need
for your own stoop, stairs,

rooms, desk, windows,
words.

When Langston Hughes Lived
at the 12th Street Y: 1816 12th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

Some rooms in this world
are small:
a narrow bed,
tall window,
wooden desk,
a Royal typewriter,
this black metal box of letters.

It learned the feel
of your fingertips,
young and pressing,
anxious to push
a poem into the world,
a river.

It learned the beat,
the beauty of your breath,
measured, exhausted, held.

The clattering of that typewriter
was both alarm and freedom.
The zip of the carriage
meant you were building
poems word by word.
The bell at the carriage’s
return signaled the joy
of a poem’s unfolding:

a river bigger than fear.

Joseph Ross is the author of five books of poetry: Crushed & Crowned (2023), Raising King (2020), Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013) and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poems appear in many publications including The New York Times Magazine, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, The Langston Hughes Review, and The Los Angeles Times. He teaches English and Creative Writing and writes regularly at www.JosephRoss.net

Image: Kurt Kaiser, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. Author photo by Ted Schroll.