Content

Issue 14

Poetry: Sarah J. Sloat

Riding Backwards on the Train

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It’s not unpleasant: perpetual surprise.
But instead of feeling I’ll arrive, the world

appears to pour towards whatever
I’m getting away from. Cows and foliage

blur by and I try to imagine easing
into couch cushions, or the plunge

back onto the bed, quilt whooshing
up from behind. Still, I can’t shake

the faint dyslexia reverse riding
brings, the suspicion I’m rushing

assbackwards into the future, kick-me
sign tacked to my spine, a breech

birth with no eye for what’s ahead
until it crashes into the past, the inkling

I’m a fool doing the backstroke smack
up against the wall of the pool.

(previously published in Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair from Dancing Girl Press)

Etiquette

I was doing my best at the friendly gesture –
eating stiff clam dip with pita,
drinking, quite frankly, stinking bad wine.

When the talk died of boredom, I began
building a little city in my throat, complete
with harbor. A firehouse full

of well-meaning white guys beamed
from my eyes like a line-up
of New England ancestors.

My hostess cramped the room, passing
out snacks, upsetting the wharf I was
at work on. I got to unrolling a pier

into the water when my cigarette snagged
on a plank and set the city on fire.
Stanching the flames with my sleeve,

I tried to play casual, waving
and smiling. But the hostess came
hovering closer, and clapped up a draft.

And since the flames were rising,
and the bile, too, was rising, and clams
from the hot sea came rising,

and though her taste in music was torture,
my hostess was clapping her hands
in a command to dance.

(previously published in Barn Owl Review)

Envelope Stuffer

It was our job to fold the crows,
to tuck the beaks and pleat the wings.

What end? It wasn’t ours to know.
It was our job to fold the crows.

When fate went sour, love came to blows,
we pinned the blame on distant things.

It was our job to fold the crows
to tuck the beaks and pleat the wings.

Doll Hospital

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Some nights my days
at the doll hospital come back
clear as ever: cocoa

simmering on the stove, the nurses,
all French-speaking brunettes –
nuns, I later learned –

who said, “Everyone is sick
with something.” Wartime,

we’d gone so long without quilts
and pillows, we didn’t mind
the whomp of amputations coming

from the wooden soldier ward
if it meant fuel to keep us warm.

When I woke to find my scorched hair
replaced with faux fur, I fainted.
Soon restored with smelling salts,

I beckoned sense enough
to start working on my cough.

Caw

The crow was busy building his caw.

All morning, hobbling over lawns
and courtyards, he sought out
straw and scraps of cloth.

The crow was not bent on perfection.
He did not attempt the prototype.

He was working from an illustration
scrawled in black, blurred with purples.

He cobbled outwards from the middle,
caw trembling at edges like
taut rubber bands.

Neither blueprint nor preface
nor judgment immutable, not a law

or a formula, but everything at once
and singular, a token tossed back

flawed as the world it came from,
now reimagined, now revised,
crow, for his part, satisfied.

Figure, Disfiguring

The candle began as a simple tool, just wick and molded wax, but soon morphed into the ultimate object of contemplation. Long after electric light and back-up generator, the candle was at work with new purpose. People saw themselves in the flame, the even burn that quickly turned to thrash and panic, the wax relinquishing its form, the good posture collapsing, sloughing off and going cold. Up sprouted candle shops, beeswax farmers, long match factories, votives, floaters, tea lights, candelabras and menorahs. There were candles for birthdays and candles for the dead. There were candle-making kits for kids, candlelight dinners and Candlelight Drive in Glastonbury, CT. Everyone knows the fascination of fire, but it was more than that. It was a body, the sole abode, taking itself apart, a controlled experiment in transformation, self-contained, solid to liquid, and back again.

Polka Dots

Acres of daisies and the poor Merz boy
whose face is a patchwork of acne. Dance
steps & blind dates & checkers & inmates:
an extrapolation of a small population.
The predictable pattern replicated in games
(battleship sunk – L4 to L8). Tic tac toe
planet. The town planner’s idea of what
is democratic. One swallow does not make
a summer – most days it’s one damn thing
after another. Hi, my name’s Peg and I’ll be
your server. Wow, it’s crowded tonight.
Are you ready to order?

Baguettes

What can match the flesh
of fresh baguettes when morning

bursts through the bakery door
and shadows roam the loaves?

At 6 am, every Paris roof’s rising.

In the hour when fragrance replaces
the most lethargic thought,

pores do for the dough what
bubbles did for champagne.

You say you’re done with hunger and gain;
you’re finished wielding the knife.

How will you spread the butter?