Old Mom
Jessica Barksdale
I failed at attachment.
I failed at responsibility.
I failed at wisdom, nurture,
nature, separation, and calm.
I excelled at role model, if what
you wanted was wretched.
I passed tired with flying
colors, scored the best
marks in pain. The legacy
of all this is here with me
now, a rubber-band
ball of Can I have a do-over?
No one died, but. No one
is president or in jail. No one
sings from the hilltops
or injects fentanyl under
a bridge. We scrape along,
me headed down the highway
to visit the rental with
the cave-dark bedroom and
mismatched glasses, plates,
and spoons; me on the plane
ready to tour the odd little cabin
with an outhouse bucket
and a wild tomato garden. But they,
oh, they, their baby skins.
Their tumble hair. Oh, they
the most beautiful people,
the ones from and in and of
my body, my heart. My insides
turn into my outsides when I think
of them, and I think of them
all the time. They are the ones.
The only ones.
Portrait Of The Poet As A Child
Elizabeth Knapp
What my father didn’t know when he drove
          ten-year-old me in the bed of his pickup truck
to gun shows & shooting ranges, initiating me
          into the art of the hunt, was that he was actually

teaching me how to write poems, how to sit
          & wait patiently at dawn, scanning the frozen

landscape for the slightest rustle, a form
          emerging from the brush, & then how to

move without moving, resting the long barrel
          on the ledge of the blind’s dark window, sighting

through the scope that thing I wanted most —
          his approval — then taking a deep breath

& holding it while squeezing the trigger. Oh,
          the sound the animal makes when it falls.


Courtney LeBlanc
In my memories my godfather towers
over me, his deep baritone thundering
above us as we sing hymns during Sunday
service. Now I stand beside him
at my father’s memorial service,
and in my heels I am taller. My father, too,
seemed smaller in the hospital bed, every
part of him shrunken except his hands,
which were fat with edema, the fluid leaking
out like tears. After the memorial service
we head to our family farm, and I’m assaulted
by the same realization: I have grown,
aged, and the land is not as I remember.
The hill we sledded down as children,
steep and dotted with evergreens, seems
a shallow slant. The watering hole we
trekked to is only a quarter mile from
the house, not the all-morning walk
I conjured in my mind. And my father,
reduced to five pounds of gray ash in a box,
tornadoes away when we open our palms
to feed him to the earth.
Waiting In Cars
Jackleen Holton
My brother calls to say he’ll meet us
for lunch in a few hours, not to wait for him
if he’s late. He’s got to pick up Mom.

And though the crematorium
is near our hotel, he’ll take her ashes home
first. He doesn’t want to leave her in the car

while we eat. There’s a somber pause.
Of course, I almost say, respect for the dead
and all that. But memory

intrudes — the two of us left
like abandoned dogs in one car
or another for large, boring chunks

of our childhood —
and I ask: Why the hell not?
He laughs, and we fall quiet

for a moment, remembering
how we waited in cars
while she went out on dates,

as she shopped or interviewed
for jobs she never got. We waited
in cars as the sun came up,

and in cars we watched it go down,
neon-orange and -pink streaks
strobing the southern Arizona sky.

We waited in cars in the heat, the vinyl
seats adhering to our sweaty legs,
and in the cold, with or without

the benefit of the radio, the heater,
or the air conditioner, when they worked.
We waited in broken-down cars,

in dented, fenderless cars. We napped
and played as we waited in cars.
Sometimes we ducked down
so as not to be seen. We breathed
and our breath frosted or fogged
the windows. We waited

in cars outside of houses and bars,
and we waited while she sat
in better cars kissing one man or another.

We waited for what seemed
like days. It’s impossible to recall
any single instance of the waiting itself,

though I can picture so vividly the scene
of her returning, silhouetted by the sun
as she walked to the car, the relief

she brought us. Once again
she had come back, smiling,
forgiven, brimming with light.