Frontier OPEN Finalists: Part 2 of 3

The three poets below, each finalists, express the spectrum of what is possible in poetry. Chaun Ballard takes us onto our streets, Henderson into our dreams, and Whitehead-Bust into our bodies—enjoy. The final three finalists will arrive tomorrow.


apparel by Chaun Ballard

reminiscing: a one-way conversation with the homie dre

when dennis cross the street wit’ a fresh pair of them js,
cats was already admirin’ his apparel—

smooth leather, wing of a bird, how he took flight when that car bumper lifted him
clean like it was caught in the swoon of his apparel—

what damien, c-riss, and nate-relle was sellin’ outside of what they was sellin’
(papers said it was more than just apparel)—

at street value: two hundred and fifty grand to be exact. shipped up in boxes like captain crunch,
cookie crisp, and smacks by an unidentified black male, said they could tell
++++by his apparel:

tilted ball cap, baggy jeans, white-t—i’m sayin’, did they even need to see his shoes,
his gold-plated posture, herringbone neck heavy, hood-gatsby gas-litted dreams of apparel

to flash to them daisys, them dimes, them chickadee-dee-dee-dees, (or as my man billy
put it) them roosters cock fightin’ weak-kneed, gear-struck over his apparel?

gehazi had to be a brotha—i’m sayin’ he had to be black the way he chased down naaman for
seventy pounds of silver, two sets of robes, un-coco-buttered limbs fully exposed, white as a leper. for apparel?

i suppose. i’ve sold my soul for less, at best, a new pair of them ooo-wees, a couple of them
ut-ooohs, definitely for the price of he-killin’-nem-though and guuuurl—please. he lookin’ right in his apparel

back then: carolina blue, rocawear jeans, like: show me an empire state of black pharaohs
rockin’ force ones, bada-bling chains drippin’ cash rules everything around my

apparel, apparel shoutin’ outside department stores, swap meets, the homie’s crib who stole
everything (even the push pins, even the tools to remove anti-theft devices from his apparel)—

where they left him in pools of blood, pockets of rabbit ears. where we broke ourselves like
bottles of old e pitched short to a bin, after sippin’ that sin, fresh-ta-death, in our apparel.

Raised in Missouri and California, Chaun Ballard is an affiliate editor for Alaska Quarterly Review, a Callaloo fellow, and a graduate of the MFA Program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Chaun Ballard’s chapbook, Flight, is the winner of the 2018 Sunken Garden Poetry Prize and will be published by Tupelo Press. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in ANMLY (FKA Drunken Boat), Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Frontier Poetry, International Poetry Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Rattle, and other literary magazines. His work has received nominations for both Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize.


Watching a Ruined Dog Die in a Dream by Mason Henderson

He’s cradled by a blanket and lies there,
panting. On the bed, wet fur, matted spots

of blood. The dog is dying slowly—he’s
you say, is he going to be alright?

he looks sideways at nothing. No wrong
or failure on his part—fate, different in his

one good eye, sees the scampering paw,
the gouged tread of a wheel, the escape he

tried or should’ve tried, all made good in the
bare blessing of a bare brush with death.

The obvious truth—breath, short. Body,
crushed as if by machine, there’s no car, now,

but there’s been one—the ear thinned back,
the mouth tightened down—you know it

the way the future, in a dream, confesses:
the hand finds your throat just as you think

no, not that or the crow admits to an old girlfriend
all your new catastrophes: Last night he…Last night we…

Or how my mother’s sister’s feet, bare and red,
clearly knew the truck, when she tore toward it

in the snow, or how my father’s shoulder, still
a child’s, wore a shotgun stock as he stepped

to the animal mess in the street. This dream
has two halves for the dog: one where I wake

and, to no one, say he’s on your side again,
one where, legs no longer necessary, he wears

a helmet into space, and you, who once might’ve
thought or made a thing like this, think, moondog,

you’re not my child. If he could speak, the dog
would say the human heart’s not quick enough,

that the dull wallop he, or the car, or the shotgun
made was not the sound of death but of his body

changing, of bone and toothy petals sprouting like lilies
from his snout, so that now when he lies as they do

when hurt or denying hurt, wearing, not a grin,
but the necklace of his own chipped teeth, he is able

to say that I, unlike the merciful child that was my
father shooting his broken mutt, lack the courage to name,

either with buckshot or turned eye, that which I love.
His future, a lonely one, spread on your blanket.

What have we done to him? What have I?
Before gone completely, I watch the dog twist

the covers with his need and remember, then,
that my reprehensible heart has turned, like him,

from the first loss and gone, greedy as mouth or fang,
wanting another and another and another.

I hope you have learned something different.
It is afternoon and the school kids walk the alley

kicking or carrying bottles from the trash, breaking
or not breaking the glass in the sun’s new light.

Of the city I am leaving, one smokestack
in the rearview. The trees, skinny out of Baltimore,

reveal slivers of familiar human life—the house,
the yard—and the highway, risen in the mirror,

to the jawing sky of dawn, is the hound’s one truth:
Yes, the slow heart wakes, is late again.

Mason Henderson grew up in South Bend, Indiana and received his MFA from the University of Maryland, where he taught courses in creative writing, poetry, and composition. Currently living in Baltimore, Maryland, he has worked in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding regions, most recently developing youth arts programs and teaching workshops for young writers. His work has appeared in Arroyo Literary Review and Ruminate Magazine, where he was named a finalist for the 2017 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize.


Carrying Season by Mackenzie Whitehead-Bust

June—Vershire, Vermont
It was a late summer.
The cows had been pushing since may and still no calves by june.
In fact, nothing living came from all that pushing but another gasp of cold,
a fetus spilled onto the ground. A wet, unbeating heart.

At the county fair, the church woman taught us how to keep ourselves whole.
She took us by the arms and showed us how to hold a red balloon
with only our waists,
how to make our hips curl in like spoons,
how to make our bodies into hollowing utensils.

And when the first calf finally came,
all the women stood in the barn
with curled-in stomachs and buckled knees,
ready to do what our bodies had been taught to do: receive.

That first calf came like a bullet from a loaded gun.
The delivery stole the oxygen from our lungs and left us gaping,
this is what my body could do
if I knew how to use the machinery of my limbs.
This is the sharp relief to the desire I never knew I had
but that I was born shrieking and accustomed to.
This is how I could learn to love the thing that tears me in two.

July— South Florida
The night my grandmother died on her couch in july,
the temperature on her thermostat still read 67 degrees.

In florida, we sat on the tile floor
and sorted my grandmother’s jewelry between our legs.
We made piles. We breathed through our mouths because
it smelled like cigarette smoke.
I looked at my grandmother’s body.
I didn’t touch her forehead like my mother did
because I was afraid it would echo.
My sister said she didn’t love her anymore because love was a living thing.

We swam in the ocean and I got a tan line from my grandmother’s silver.
My mother cried so hard she thought she dislocated a rib.
I told her it’s ok, once, when I was in vermont,
I saw an animal ripped in two by love.
She said, bring me coffee.

August— New York
The cicadas didn’t start up until august.
At the moma, we studied photographs of women
cutting fruit, carrying children, holding their hands in fists inside their pockets.
We named our future daughters things we would name our sons:
Jude, and Addison and August.
The cicadas were relentless.
I read an article that said,
to understand how female cicadas make their mating sound,
imagine pulling your ribs to the point of buckling collapse.

I looked at a picture of a woman holding up a bloody beet.
I tried contracting the muscles in my chest and
carving my stomach into the outline of a red balloon.
It’s the august before I turn an adult
and I am just now learning the uses for my waist, for my ribs.

I wonder why they don’t tell us when we’re young
how women must learn to break themselves for love;
that the only unbroken rib we will ever know was Adam’s.
and there’s a reason Adam didn’t carry life.

Mackenzie Whitehead-Bust lives and writes in Denver, where she is a creative writing student at Denver School of the Arts.
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