In my defense, spring: five poems by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz


When my body had forgotten its purpose,
when it just hung off my brainstem like whipped mule.
When my hands only wrote. When my mouth only ate.
When my ass sat, my eyes read, when my reflexes
were answers to questions we all already knew.
Remember how it was then that you slid your hand
into me, a fork in the electric toaster of my body. Jesus,
where did all these sparks come from? Where was all
this heat? Remember what this mouth did last night?
And still, this morning I answer the phone like normal,
still I drink an hour’s worth of strong coffee. And now
I file. And now I send an email. And remember how
my lungs filled with all that everything? Remember
how my heart was an animal you released from its cage?
Remember how we unhinged? Remember all the names
our bodies called each other? Remember how afterwards,
the steam rose from us, like a pair of smiling ghosts?

After Reading Old Unrequited Love Poems

If I didn’t think it’d make me appear crazy still,
I’d apologize to you for having been so crazy then.

Reading the poems I had written about “us”
resurrected all that nervous heat, reminded me

of the insistent stutter of my longing,
how I could never just lay it out there for you.

The answer, clearly, would have been
no, thank you. But perhaps that tough line

would have been enough to salvage all
that was good and woolly about us: your laugh,

that golden ring I’d always stretch a story for;
the pair of mittens we’d split in the cold

so we’d each have a hand to gesture with;
how even now, the paths we took are filled

with starry wonder and all that bright limitless air.
I’m sorry I could never see myself

out of the twitching fever of my heartache,
that I traded everything we had for something

that never ended up being. But if I could take
any of it back, it wouldn’t be the glittering hope

I stuck in the amber of your eyes, nor would
it be the sweet eager of our conversations.

No, it would be that last stony path to nothing,
when we both gave up without telling the other.

How silence arrived like a returned valentine
that morning we finally taught our phones not to ring.

Things That Happen During Pet-Sitting I Remind Myself Are Not Metaphors For My Heart

The dog refuses to eat. I keep filling her bowl
anyway: new kibble on top of old, hoping
that it will suddenly becoming tempting.

When I write, the cat watches me from a chair.
When I look at him, he purrs loudly, leans forward
so that I might touch him. I don’t.

Now the dog refuses to come out of her cage,
no matter what I say, no matter how wide I open
the door. She knows that I am not her master.

On the couch, the cat crawls on top of me
and loves me so hard, his claws draw blood.
I was so lonely, I did nothing to stop it.

There are lights in this house I want to turn on,
but I can’t find their switches. Outside, an engine
turns and turns in the night, but never catches.

Not Doing Something Wrong Isn’t the Same as Doing Something Right

In my defense, my forgotten breasts. In my defense, the hair
no one brushed from my face. In my defense, my hips.

Months earlier, I remembered thinking that sex was a ship retreating
on the horizon. I could do nothing but shove my feet in sand.

I missed all the things loneliness taught me: eyes that follow you
crossing a room, hands that find their home on you. To be noticed. Even.

In my defense, his hands. In my defense, his arms. In my defense,
how when we just sat listening to each other breathe, he said, This is enough.

My body was a house I had closed for the winter. It shouldn’t have been
that difficult, empty as it was. Still, I stared hard as I snapped off the lights.

My body was specter which haunted me, appearing when I stripped
in the bathroom, when I crawled into empty beds, when it rained.

My body was abandoned construction, restoration scaffolding
which became permanent. My body’s unfinished became its finished.

So in my defense, when he touched me the lights of my body came on.
In my defense, the windows were thrown open. In my defense, spring.

Op-Ed for the Sad Sack Review, Regarding News of Another Rash of Writer Suicides

In a fit of gloom, I googled the word failure,
just to see if my name would come up. Instead,
Google told me I misspelled the word failure.

Recounting this makes me feel like I’m starting
a very weepy poem, or a very dull suicide note.
Never begin a wedding toast with the dictionary

definition of marriage, and never begin a suicide
note by saying you googled the word failure.
These days, the number one thing preventing me

from killing myself is likely the idea of people
learning of my suicide via Facebook status updates.
There’s no dignity in that eulogy, its collections

of sad face emoticons, studded with apostrophe tears.
This is a dumb reason to keep living, but it is a reason.
I’m sure all you other sad sacks have your reasons too.

So let’s all cling to them. Let’s all agree that living
for a dumb reason is better than killing yourself
for a dumb reason. Let’s feed tears to the dragons

of misery, but let’s never crawl into their mouths.
Let’s write terrible poetry, dress like late-era Rothkos,
wear out the relentless hate machines of our brains,

but let’s never break. Let’s just keeping living. We can
do this. Trust me. Yours Sincerely, Me, A Poet Who
Doesn’t Even Know How to Spell the Word Failure.

In my defense, spring: five poems by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Repairs are made to roofs which will never cover me: four poems by Cate Marvin

On Parting

Before I go let me thank the man who mugs you,
taking your last paycheck, thank the boss who steals
your tips, thank the women who may break you.

I thank the pens that run out on you midsentence,
the flame that singes your hair, the ticket you can’t
use because it’s torn. Let me thank the stars

that remind you the eyes that were stars are now
holes. Let me thank the lake that drowns you, the sun
that makes your face old. And thank the street your car

dies in. And thank the brother you find unconscious
with bloody arms, thank the needle that assists in
doing him in—so much a part of you. No thanks

to the skin forgetting the hands it welcomed, your
hands refusing to recall what they happened upon.
How blessed is the body you move in—how gone.

Landscape Without You

Roofers scrape the scaly lid
of an auto shop beside the house
where I live. Where I live

shirtless men tear at the black

scabs of a roof’s old flesh, toss
scraps into the back of a truck
parked in the lot next to a house

where I live. Where I live

a tarp rattles at night, plastic
rustles, and trash is kicked along
pavement by wind. Roofers

curse and shell the tire shop’s

peeling lid beside the house
where I live. Where I live
a tarp shakes all night; cans

land on pavement, tossed from

windows of cars that blur by
where I live. Where I live
windows are ladled red with

light your sun leaves me with.

Repairs are made to roofs which
will never cover me. As I read
the road between us, tire tracks

unscroll their tawdry calligraphy.

Any day now you shall arrive, roar
into my eye with your mountainside.
Where I live when I live where
landscape cannot survive you.

Scenes From the Battle of Us

You are like a war novel, entirely lacking
female characters, except for an occasional
letter that makes one of the men cry.

I am like a table
that eats its own legs off
because it’s fallen
in love with the floor.

My frantic hand can’t find where my leg
went. You can play the tourniquet. A tree
with white limbs will grow here someday.

Or maybe a pup tent
that’s collapsed in on itself,
it so loves the sleep
of men sleeping beneath it.

The reason why women dislike war movies
may have something to do with why men hate
romantic comedies: they are both about war.

Perhaps I should
live in a pig’s trough.
There, I’d be wanted.
There, I’d be tasted.

When the mail bag drops from the sky
and lands heavy on the jungle floor, its letters
are prepared to swim away with your tears.

One letter reads:
I can barely feel
furtive. The other:
I am diminishing.

Why I Am Afraid of Turning the Page

Spokes, spooks: your tinsel hair weaves the wheel
that streams through my dreams of battle. Another
apocalypse, and your weird blondeness cycling in
and out of the march: down in a bunker, we hunker,
can hear the boots from miles off clop. We tend to
our flowers in the meantime. And in the meantime,
a daughter is born. She begins as a mere inch, lost
in the folds of a sheet; it’s horror to lose her before
she’s yet born. Night nurses embody the darkness.
Only your brain remains, floating in a jar that sits
in a lab far off, some place away, and terribly far.
Your skull no longer exists, its ash has been lifted
to wind from a mountain’s top by brothers, friends.
I am no friend. According to them. Accordion, the
child pulls its witching wind between its opposite
handles: the lungs of the thing grieve, and that is
its noise. She writhes the floor in tantrum. When
you climbed the sides of the house spider-wise to
let yourself in, unlocked the front door, let me in
to climb up into your attic the last time I saw you
that infected cat rubbed its face against my hand.
Wanting to keep it. No, you said. We are friends.
I wear my green jacket with the furred hood. You
pushed me against chain-length. Today is the day
that the planet circles the night we began. A child
is born. Night nurses coagulate her glassed-in crib.
Your organs, distant, still float the darkness of jars.


Repairs are made to roofs which will never cover me: four poems by Cate Marvin

A secret I wish someone had told me sooner: five poems by Shira Erlichman


A man who forgets himself is poor at making bread.
That is a cookie fortune I never got.

Three virgins in the sack are like three happy vowels: aoe!
That is also a cookie fortune I never got.

The mountains have really big hands.
Once more folks, a cookie fortune I never got.

Don’t turn around – there are babies being made.
That is, again, a cookie fortune I never got.

The bubble bath was filled with lemons when I kissed her.
A secret, just nobody’s secret.

The extra pillow is to hump.
Somebody’s secret, someone close by, maybe right here.

I lick every scented marker in the set.
Gregory “Long-legs”s not-so-secret in fourth grade.

Every bad thing that ever happens to you
is either a thermometer or barometer.
A secret I wish someone had told me sooner.

I am not brave.
The heart’s secret.

I am too brave.
The heart’s secret.

A dishwasher that plays the dishes as notes.
Uninvented Invention #23

A holidiary where everyone shares entries
in a highly ritualized public format.
Uninvented Invention #68

“Burn the water” – a blues song revealing
the impossibility of abandoning those that abandon us.
Uninvented Invention #104

A miniature movie-theater suspended above the forehead
during sleep to, of course, project movies to a loved one.
Uninvented Invention #19

Walking campfire: built small and safe enough to store
in the breast pocket and familiar to all, so all may sing along.
Uninvented Invention #859

Onion-vision, so we may see sadness as it is, artichokes
as they are, sound, muscle, the truth as it is.
Uninvented Invention #44

Word-kites: you tie them to what you say
and they go wherever they want to go,
like, a tree-tangle or your mouth, some hot moon like that.
Uninvented Invention #960

The Unfinished Suicides of My High School Sweetheart

For Jake

We were platonic high school sweethearts that fucked in the front seat
without touching and with our eyes open the whole time.
Our questions locked at the genitals like children to bicycles.
Our distant tongues sparked like forks dreaming of sockets.
We were virgin high school sweethearts that fucked with the seatbelts on
and the headlights blazing, daring passing drivers to stop and peek,
challenging cops to pull over beside us and question how safe our conversation was.

We theorized about masturbation, weed, (and the combination), football players,
our parents, Bone Thugs’ rapping techniques,
and what percentage of wrong was it to think of someone else while getting head.

We could achieve orgiastic ecstasy on a pile of purple sweatpants.
Our bodies fit together without being in one another.
We were music.
We were honest.
And that is something World Leaders are too scared to touch.
And we got angry. We got scared.
And we weren’t enough for each other.
And we were lovers.

It’s true: you were a man and I was a woman and the birds didn’t care,
and the bees stung the both of us,
but the level of intimacy made slobbering couples at school seem like
they had the attention spans of goldfish.
We were Red Rock meets blue sky of Arizona boldness,
depth of mountains the color of dried blood.

You told me you wanted to die.
Parked outside my parents’ house, asked what kept me living.
I told you my brother’s name but you only had sisters.

You said it would be easy.
One acquaintance away from getting a gun.
Knew someone who knew someone.
You were inches from releasing your feet from under the rope around your neck
and I was there, and I wasn’t.
You were scattered to red needles across the sheet of your chest
and you were only a decision away from a vertical slice
that opened the drawers of blood inside you until you were empty.

How could I tell you: you never wear sunglasses and I like that about you.
You look like a muppet and that alone still makes me smile.
You are curious yet patient.
You never make me feel ugly, gendered or crazy and that is huge.
This is friendship I keep in a drawer I will never unhinge
and spill out.

I felt you tremor from across the cup-holder
as a closed door on the left side of your chest rattled,
which must have been frightening
because the days were all empty rooms you waited in,
and the women were laughter that lived outside your walls,
and the men were impossible to be.

Jake, you look at me like I belong only in my skin,
and you ask questions, which is the biggest compliment anyone can receive.

So in the car we’re constantly in, outside our parents’ houses,
I swallow your keys to prove my commitment to finding a new way,
another road, a life you can live with.

I’m Not Falling

When I said the scariest thing I could think of sharing.
When you asked me to. When I couldn’t solve your
blood. When I sat by your bed while the nurses fed you

neon water. When we made love when we got home.
When I started weeping in the midst of it because
I now understood you as the silence. When I listened

well and carefully. When you told me so. When we endured
the moment. When I bought a bagel with runny vegetable
cream cheese for less than three dollars while you talked

in your sleep. When we mended. When I wished for everything,
twice. When brilliant. When this is not a sad song I am alive in.
When it is a horribly bright place. When you deserved the best

but instead got a ruptured cyst, barely made rent and your
father disappointed you. When I had no idea what to say
and you knew so you covered my mouth. When the bed

was the whole day. When my mother fell in love with you.
When the fire didn’t bury us. When I brought you your lunch.
When you paid for the cab. When you nodded, took off

your shoes and stayed. When you made the bathwater
laugh. When you whispered into my ear, bit my collarbone
and won. When everything weighed love, too love to be

put down. When I sat by your bed while nurse after nurse missed
and missed and missed your veins. When the Doctor came in
to solve the struggle, said “the others are too nice” and jabbed

it in, bull’s eye. When remember how I wanted to kill
and thank her? When me neither love. When it never rained.
When life weighed everything, too everything to pick up.

When that man in the brown cap never looked at us disgusted,
shaking his head, while we arm-in-armed by. When I paid for
the cab and forgot what you owed me because I was counting

your curls. When, especially, you fell asleep
without finishing your sentence:
I’m not falling.

Feeding You Grapes On The Mountain’s Soft Side

I want to write you a good poem: the water is cold and you step in.
The water is loud against your shins.

I want to write you a comfort poem: oh the ship is a dip! The banana
is a smile, dial! the little girl being carriaged sings, passing you.

I want to write you an awe poem: breath is a leaf floating in a mostly cream
coffee and you have such soft patience to pluck it out in a forest always falling.

I want to write you a silent poem: if every moment is the same moment, what
are you missing? If you want an apple, bite my mouth across such time.

I want to write you a bowl poem: noodles.

I want to write you a kite poem: blue.

I want to write you an always poem: the water is cold and you step in.
The water is loud against your shins.

I want to write you a good morning poem: the crickets believe
you too tell the temperature just by how you let sing the spaces.

I want to write you a together poem: the water is cold and?
The water is loud against?

I want to write you a love poem: you are cold and you step in
to yourself, loud against God’s shins. God is dancing.
So cold! Ice cold! somebody says. But who?

I want to write you a whole poem: a bridge abandoned while it rains.

I want to write you a fart poem: somebody, but who?

I want to write you a cosmic poem: the ant on my kitchen table.

I want to write you a wake up poem: all you have been running toward
has been running toward you, all along.

I want to write you a disappointing poem: this is all.

I want to write you an exciting poem: this is all.

I want to write you a real poem: listening to the birds, I give up,
close the book on want, know this, I will come to you
when I am ready.

Ode to Lithium #188

I have to be honest with you: There were others.
& Some of them were good. Before you gilded my hippocampus
I lay in bed with fireworks: anti-psychotics, their distant cousins,
Risperadol, Abilify, all the dizziest bees.

When the SSRIs asked me to dance, I danced, heavier than I’ve ever been,
a weeping clockwork, but at least in motion.
Some even pinched a smile from me. I know you want to know:
Were they better Did I love them Would I ever go back Who is she.

But if you could see what they gave me: Years.
From the bottom of the lake they scraped my literacy for breathing.
Or: my mother & I, side by side on a king size bed, reading
while they ambled & flit through my thick helplessness.

I read books. I cooked meals. Forgive me.

A secret I wish someone had told me sooner: five poems by Shira Erlichman