2019 Frontier OPEN Finalists
First, a sincere thank you to all the finalists of the 2019 Frontier OPEN for partnering with us. All of these poems deserve high praise, featuring work by Jasmine Elizabeth Smith, Xiao Yumi, Leyla Colpan, Jennifer Garfield, Jed Myers, David Joez Villaverde, KT Herr, Daniella Toosie-Watson, Gail Entrekin, C. Samuel Rees (click their names to jump to their poems). The pieces are diverse, arresting, and substantial, each in their own voice and method.
“Beatrice Imagines Ida Cox Pays her a Visit at her Dressing Vanity” by Jasmine Elizabeth Smith
“I’ve got a disposition and a way of my own
When my man starts kicking, I let him find another home”
“Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” — Ida Cox
Girl. Wipe them tears or the good Lord will
really give you something to cry about.
Been my experience when you deny
how any body able, he taketh, just to remind
of all we got. You fine enough lookin’,
and decent person easy enough to find.
In times of trouble, call upon a half
mixture of talcum powder and hazel
water to lift the puffiness from your eyes,
fresh hyacinths, a bottle of gin,
song to invoke the patron saint
of runaways & railways. Harriet Tubman was the first blues
woman anyway. Could have cried a lifetime
when iron knocked the chorus roll of blood
into her brain. What she was given, she used instead:
a set of teeth to bite relief into bit, two hands
to wring weakness from girls whimpering salt
in dark acres. Dare those girls’ backs turn at border. Go
iron this messy dress, shine up these patent shoes.
You still got ears to hear heaven and a mouth
to sin—Why not use them both why still able?
Remember your mama wounded for anything
she might call her own: your vanity
table, ribbon for hair, a breast full of glass
buttons, a corner of sugar cake to soften a new kind
of song within her. Honey. I ain’t saying break
don’t hurt, but it a simple fact this world will beat you
down, black eyes like jet, stricken you blue.
Beatrice will you hang
your head and cry or find a way all your own?
Jasmine Elizabeth Smith is a graduate of the University of California in Riverside where she received her MFA in Poetry. Her work explores the migration of African Americans in various historical contexts and eras. She is a Cave Canem and Gluck Arts Fellow. Her work has been featured in POETRY, Black Renaissance Noir, OVAC’S ArtFocus, New Plains Review, and in Terrain’s Letter to America Anthology. She currently teach creative writing and language arts at Highland Academy Charter School.
“Partitions” by Xiao Yumi
Consider the cleft of a ginkgo leaf, some skein of green
cleanly illuminate on each side, the perfect porpoise tail.
Jiejie’s knife a Moses, nimbling through the thick carapace
of a warm-weather fruit: in that sea of fragrance and cicada
fracas, she loved a space open, pods sweetly tumbling out
just as children do atop a knoll, down. How intimacy
after a time of lack always makes me want to grieve,
as if prostrating out of an eclipse. The moon gumming
our bowl of light, leaving only a ring of rabbit vertebrae
loose in the cold sky as the sun perseveres behind a well
door of darkness, firm against those old hinges until its rays
bleed out panting and splendent, faces amassing, lifting up
for a taste. A person must believe in fear and in form
after such a thing, or when unearthing the violent repose
of carp. In great plurality their whisper anatomies still know
how to glide past each other, touching but not quite,
the top fin slowly cleaving surface water as a sail rig does
with air. During feeding time, from plumbed depths
they all rise absolute, tumefied as one thing in want, an arm
litigating mouths upon multitudes of silvery fingers, curlicuing
then sinking only to surge once more. What relief it would be
to fall into that other place, the self efficiently dispersing
amongst the bodies of many. To know one has fed the world
well by just being there, the way airline morsels warble gelatinous
and smug on fold-out trays, a stranger’s cane cutting sharp across
the looking oval, cloud remnant in liquid rivulets on the sky
side, only – the naturalisation of a miracle – the bowl
of mangosteen Jiejie offered. I consider it, ivory hearts sliding
apart bare, probably grieving their spilt purple skin in the sink,
kitchen dust ambulating steady around our limbs’ marginalia
while distantly, cicadas carry on xylophoning their trunks of song,
a wave unto which her voice swells ripe in its plainness. All this
dehiscence. But we never stop needing to eat. And I said
thank you, when I took it.
Xiao Yumi (小玉米) is a painter, writer, and daughter of diaspora currently based in Los Angeles, CA, whose honours include an Academy of American Poets Prize and NUCL Creative Writing Award. Find her at xiaoyumi.xyz.
“Daughter Conditionals, or If Winters Were of Two Kinds” by Leyla Çolpan
The kind which whitens the earth
and the kind which widens it—
If the winter were precious
for its whiteness If whiteness
were a pearl sown in the under-ash
of my maternal line strung out
along its daughters’ white thread—
the queer grey hazel rooting
in our new country a new
Kuşköy, an American Giresun
If winter were the opal
film across grandmother’s hazel
eyes—If winter were precious
for her blindness If I were
precious were the pearl were the
You who could subsist in the ice
of this country, mother, walk it whole
in whiteness, the You dilute
enough for West Virginia widened
If winter were a gift you
fashioned from my father’s bones
If your daughter were precious
with his whiteness If whiteness
let her speak your mother’s tongue
uncleaved If winter widened
in the timbers of our house come
frost—If it cast roof tiles through the white
I would instill the hazel
fissures of your face in mine
would still gather up your hair, laid
dark and precious in the earth.
Leyla Çolpan is a poet, translator, and Creative Arts Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, where hir poetry was awarded the 2019 Academy of American Poets Undergraduate Prize. Ze has appeared recently in The Adroit Journal, Homology Lit, and Recenter Press Poetry Journal, as well as on Poets.org.
“There is no synonym for gun” by Jennifer Garfield
When I lean my forehead against the forehead of the girl
who has stolen and returned tenfold all the love in my heart
is how his paper on The Catcher in the Rye begins. Nevermind
the assignment sheet clearly forbids the sophomoric “I;”
Nevermind Holden himself would prefer a mucklemouth
in that description. When I read this line at 5 am in my morning
kitchen while the day’s arms stretch long into the sun, it gets me.
I picture my student: forehead jeweled with acne, underbite,
smell of locker room and yearning. There is nothing beautiful
about him. Did the forehead leaning really happen?
The other essays say things like, If Holden Caulfield was a girl
she would be named Delia and would never wear a scrunchie.
Or This book has a lot of symbols and good themes that makes the reader
think of many things that are meaningful and some that are not. Orange light
builds a pyramid outside my window. In the news clip, the students –
the ones who are not mine – are walking single-file towards a bus,
hands on shoulders, eyes straight ahead. Nobody talks or scratches. Nobody
kicks a stone. There is a woman in a bright yellow EMT jacket touching
each one on the shoulder. I think, she needs a hair tie. The shot shifts
to the gymnasium, or church hall, or Walmart, where parents clutch phones
that say I love you. Some have children who are too young to text,
so they look at each other: We would know if . . . They would have told us,
right? Borges said the face is a patient labyrinth. If he were a waiting father,
what would he say? The air inside the gymnasiumchurchhallwalmart is sticky
and stale and made of glass. These descriptions don’t make sense,
a 4th grader’s attempt at using “all 5 senses” in a poem about a moment
she felt scared. There are many words to choose from on the board:
fear, dismay, dread. A whole universe of synonyms for a poem
she will never write. But the ones who will return? They select “alarm”
and “cower” so their poem is not boring and endless, a headline caught
in a machine. In Nadine Gordimer’s short story “Happily Ever After,”
the happy family is afraid of burglars. They erect a gate crowned in iron
jaws. What they forget is their 7 year old, who doesn’t know the words
for fear, and one day climbs over the wall to see the other side. Anyone
can write how that story ends. Here’s another: The police chief walks my class
through an active shooter drill. We will lock all hallway doors when notified
of an internal threat, he assures us. The quiet girl raises her hand:
What if we are in that hallway? The chief looks to me for answers,
but there are none. In another version, the girl stands at a lectern
WE HAVE HIRED A REDEEMER TO GUARD THE KINGDOM OF ANGELS
and the “school resource officer” floats down from the rafters
with night-black wings. She has a gun clipped to her belt,
a gun we can describe as cold or heavy, as there are no synonyms
to capture what it is better than that, since it is a gun, and its job
is to vanquish. When I lean my forehead against the forehead of the girl
who has stolen and returned tenfold all the love in my heart, he writes,
and the officer’s wings swoop to rest upon his boy shoulder, as if to say,
this is who we all are meant to be.
Jennifer Garfield’s work has recently been supported by The Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing Parent-Writer Fellowship. She is a high school English teacher in Massachusetts.
“Unveiling” by Jed Myers
My brother and I idle by the plot. I spot our mother
stirring the rolled oats again in the light of the old kitchen
window. She coughs, still clearing her chest of the smoke
she welcomed into her lungs last night. Smog’s gathered
around her heart. She’s dying, I know, to cry a loud
curse, but we are her new life on our twin stools
at the wooden counter, our hungry bowls before us
like alms cups, and if she can’t swallow her dark flares
and feed us, fear is she’ll become what she hates
of this long dry valley she’s traveled, coal hills to city
to city, her father long dead of a curse in his bowels,
her husband out there in the beams of the day’s adulations,
her mother a full day away by train and decreeing
the distance calls for No tears on the phone—I blink
into our new polished window of stone as she strikes
the rim of the pot again with the neck of that spoon,
the lean winter light on her yellow terrycloth robe
like the thin glow of a new season. I listen—the tin-drum
repeat through the white steel of the stove the unsettled
question of weeping’s welcome, then through the dark
grating of her carved name, I hear the spoon scraping.
Jed Myers is author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press), and four chapbooks, including Dark’s Channels (Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Award) and Love’s Test (winner, Grayson Books Chapbook Contest). He’s winner of The Briar Cliff Review’s 2019 Annual Poetry Contest. Other recent recognitions include the Prime Number Magazine Award, The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Prize, and The Tishman Review’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize. He’s had seven Pushcart Prize nominations. Recent poems appear in Rattle, Poetry Northwest, The American Journal of Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Southword, Ruminate, and elsewhere. He’s Poetry Editor for the journal Bracken.
“Granizo, or Apologia Pro Lustro” by David Joez Villaverde
David Joez Villaverde is an interdisciplinary artist who lives in Detroit. He was the winner of Black Warrior Review’s 2018 poetry contest and a finalist for the Antioch-Frontier Fellowship in 2019. He can be found at schadenfreudeanslip.com
“elegy with two degrees of separation” by KT Herr
KT Herr is a queer poet, singer-songwriter, and grilled cheese enthusiast from Lancaster, PA. In a past life, she was board secretary for the literary nonprofit Write616, poetry editor for The 3288 Review, host of WYCE’s “Electric Poetry,” and no one’s favorite bartender. KT is a Thomas Lux Scholar and Jane Cooper Fellow at Sarah Lawrence College (MFA 2020), where she has held positions with LUMINA, the Sunnyside College Prep program, and the Right-to-Write program, and where she serves as co-director of the 2020 Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival. KT is a Pabst Scholarship recipient from the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and currently works as a publishing intern with Black Lawrence Press. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Quarter After Eight, SWWIM, Pilgrimage Magazine, and elsewhere. She delights in whimsy, well-posed questions, and other people’s pets.
“Jesufrito” by Daniella Toosie-Watson
I wake up from a nap after tasting
myself for the first time—
yes, I was masturbating, and multitasking,
and just wanted something in my mouth,
didn’t think my thumb got wet.
Twenty minutes later
I cry the cry that sometimes comes
after, then fall dead asleep.
Hungry, I go to the kitchen.
Dump arroz con gandules,
pollo frito, y tostones
into the pan that I don’t oil
because the food has its own.
The heat will coax it out.
The oil pops onto my skin— ¡Ay,
I mutter, like my mother used to mutter.
For years I thought she was saying Jesufrito
until I asked her what she meant. Not
Fried Jesus, she laughed.
Jesucristo, as in, Jesus Christ.
Your grief is private, your grief is yours. But there was a window.
Anybody who looked in would have seen.
I’m sure beauty was happening somewhere, simultaneously.
Someone’s hands were deep in the dirt, knees browned and moist.
A bird was bringing a worm to their young.
I know this: his family was in the kitchen blessing the food.
I didn’t scream.
I was a window—
anybody who looked would have seen
My head travels back through space
and time to the church
where the pastor says
if your husband wants it then you give it to him.
See, you are doing the Lord’s work.
If the bird on the bed screamed
then someone would have seen.
I’m sure beauty was happening somewhere.
Your grief is a worm, your grief is young.
As I remove the pan from the stove, I remember
the moment with my mother and laugh. As I pierce the chicken’s leg
with my fork, raise it from the pan
and tear the crispy skin from the meat,
I apologize to Jesus and assure him
that I was not laughing at the prospect of my mistranslation.
I rip at the end
of the bone,
suck out the marrow and think of Jesus’s request
to eat his body and drink his blood.
Is it true one cannot take of another body without becoming it?
My friend, Juan, once told me
that I was Jesus’s bride. I can’t be:
if Jesus is God, and God is my father;
God can’t be my husband. He shrugs, well, it’s in the Bible
and I feel my chest tighten. Would I marry
the man part of Jesus, and not the God part?
I wouldn’t want to marry either.
If Jesus had faced this temptation, too,
would he have wanted to take my neck into his mouth and nibble.
If I’d said stop, would he have become angry, gnawed until my head fell off.
Consider this ending: my bone shards in his mouth
piercing his throat.
Look: my head on the floor a witness
to the retribution, and Jesus the man’s horror
when he realizes
he can’t distinguish between the taste of my blood
and his own, asking:
Is the blood still holy? Is the blood still mine?
Note: Danticat, Edwidge. Interview with Aisha Sabatini Sloan. Your grief is private your grief is yours. 11 April 2019.
Daniella Toosie-Watson is a poet, visual artist and educator from New York. She has received fellowships and awards from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the InsideOut Detroit Literary Arts Project, The Watering Hole, and the University of Michigan Hopwood Program. Her poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Virginia Quarterly Review, SLICE Magazine and the anthology The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT. Daniella received her MFA from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program.
“Bodega Bay Eclogue” by Gail Entrekin
The rain’s been falling for weeks, Bodega Head ethereal in mist,
the fishing boats almost mirages, odd arrangements of sticks
like tiny black letters in the grey and yellow light,
but we’ve come out, my dog and I, to walk the gravel road
to the beach along the rusty wetlands, green and red with ice plant
in full regalia for spring, the signal most years for the rains to cease,
the long dry months to begin here along the North Coast
where the land meets up with the sea in a friendlier way
than the bluffs of its neighbor, the Head, its precipitous trails
and brightly clad whale watchers with their weekend binoculars and hats.
Here sandy loam wetlands ease the land’s way out to the crashing Pacific,
still aloft in its winter waves.
Gail Rudd Entrekin is Poetry Editor of Hip Pocket Press and Editor of the online environmental literary magazine, Canary (www.canarylitmag.org). She is Editor of the poetry anthology Yuba Flows and the poetry & short fiction anthology Sierra Songs & Descants: Poetry & Prose of the Sierra. Her poems have been widely published and were finalists for the Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod International Journal and won the Western States Award from Persimmon Tree, won the Women’s National Book Association Award, and were first runner-up for the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize in 2020. Entrekin taught Poetry and English Literature at California colleges for 25 years and has taught workshops in numerous venues throughout Northern California. Her five books of poetry include The Art of Healing; Rearrangement of the Invisible; and Change (Will Do You Good), nominated for a Northern California Book Award. She lives in the San Francisco East Bay hills.
“un-animal” by C. Samuel Rees
the body beautiful like how a vase
breaks apart abstract & impractical
a spray of fantastic scatters exploding
marigolds, thistle, dangling bleeding heart,
latin nomenclature on concrete. people
i admire i admire because of their
brilliant palatial hunger & their goodness.
burnt trees sing in high winds, the clatter more
human in their shiver-aria. my
great-great-great grandfather left his family.
his son always regretted cutting him down
from the rafters of a house i cannot rebuild.
what blemishlessness was there in that mistake
of bone & meat & exuberant accident?
out of bone, meat, & exuberant accident
comes skin like the skin on a tongue that can’t stop
speaking though does not know what it has to say.
why do we tell stories of dead folks we knew
or didn’t or couldn’t because blood allied us?
i tried to forgive the piece of me in need
of shedding, the splinter in deep like a vein
of ore to be blasted, cut like Appalachians
dull as molars. we had park benches & our
park benches were fiberglass. sit & take pieces
inside you. we were cousins & so what could
i say? unboyed, ablaze, a cicada at ten.
make me locusts, a plague. swarm, make me.
make me locusts, a plague, swarm make
elytra out of shoulders, thorax from ribs.
Adam devolved & better for it. cycles
are simply ceremonies kept alive long
enough. ironclad beetles drag plated gold
chains through sand blooming with costume gems.
is it too bold to say that we are all
living brooches, displayed & displaying?
art & atrocity & ecology glued
together, overlapping. silverfish eat
pages until our words are fractal messes,
tender defeats, dire exaltations.
- cordyceps pilot ants great distances
just to crown new life on husks outgrown.
just to crown new life on a husk outgrown,
on a body that outwardly there’s nothing
wrong with. watch me conjure ghosts nonetheless
like wallpaper believing only in the peel.
gestation becomes us, moth-bitten, melting
with silk. you, my replacement, my invertebrate
favorite, never wonder why we haunt
ourselves with creation. why we hinge on
replenishment. cicadas reproduce by
singing, resentment with time. & hunger
please sign over each dainty organ & end,
finally. we are an inscrutable echo
woven from temperaments & grudges, faces
lost in transposition. there is nothing wrong.
there is nothing lost in transposition but light.
there was a crack under the door he stuffed
with turncoat clothes. there was a gape-locked mouth.
there, i said it. does violation
grow by degrees? by ritual like thistle or
web, strung & tentative & caging poison?
there is nothing more i want to say again.
there is a closet, a mattress, a smell.
there is skin. there is his & me & then years.
____ , _____ , _____ , & _______.
don’t speak, catastrophes are sound sensitive,
my tongue the parasite of misdirection.
latticed, fractal, slick-silenced, a calyx
worn & wearing, ragged with illumination.
ragged with illumination, worn through.
i never knew desert until it made
a burrow of me. this skin the bristle
of prickly pear & classical references
to a city long sacked but where it was said
plants outgrew life perpetually from buried,
severed leaves. how looking at West Texas
is to watch a landscape daily eaten
by brush-shade, lizard-shadow, passing re-
spite. what is the virtue of a deserted
place? what happiness doesn’t grow spines?
drips with them? creosote clones itself yearly.
prickly pears hybridize readily. what we say
devours everything to lay claim to itself.
devour everything, lay claim to yourself.
each spring my father cut back the backyard oak
balanced on a middling limb, him grown
apex predatory in the white howl of
the chainsaw & all the years he never fell.
more magic against death & fractures &
now his spine lays open to the surgeon’s
fingers. white like teeth, latex, & bone.
arthritis like a burl in his back.
never fell, but now he’s as pried as a mussel.
who asks for the displeasure of irony?
fat & fascia velvet under the lamps.
almost too beautiful to look: vertebrae
in bloom, a brazen grin, years curled concentric.
blooming, a brazen grin, years curl concentric
& we used to raise horses, my family.
now we raise two kinds of kin: the talked,
the silenced. the gaps between almost
adaptive. canopies grown shy by need.
imagine the cousin as an aphid.
imagine partitioned mouthparts mid-wriggle.
illusion the crawl, limb-furious, over thighs.
but insects have a use, their own, or ours.
crush cochineal beetles & stain ourselves
red like gods. crush cousin, get 40 to life.
there is an imbalance in justice here.
there is always an imbalance in justice.
hue us clean, please, crush us inculpable.
hue us clean, please, crush us inculpable
—did i ever tell you the time my great-great
grandfather lost a kidney under a horse?
took us weeks to find it—this joke lacks
feathers. plate me golden & make me,
laugh me, toxic me, half-living/half-loved.
the problem with stories is the end.
once they gutted maverick colts, groin to sternum,
tumbled handfuls over broodless dirt.
treeline draped with gaskins, hocks, knees, pasterns.
for days the good earth crowned itself red restless,
twitched something vital up from bones & gave.
we are born quick-footed & quickening
deathward. breakneck by nature. legs run off.
deathward, breakneck by nature, legs run off,
but we always get at least one retelling.
isn’t that the boon of all stories, the end?
indecipherable sibling of beginning. swap bits
with me? portents always come pile-driven.
the next thing i will write will be the truth.
he made me blow him. i was ten. he, a cousin.
the only people i admire are giants, because.
the only giants i admire are the endless kind,
arms legs trunks faces fangs wings—take your pick.
make me ugly, give me a cave, count my fingers
past 1000. the next line will make me cringe.
he made me blow him & i blame myself.
but i made me a multitude of limbs. count me.
i made me a multitude of limbs, count me
with the monsters once born lost babes, misplaced
warnings. when i burnished myself i made mouths
gasp across my arms, ankles. this hide un-
hidden, what is stripped, wriggled from, left
steaming. what i am behind, within, from.
slip me on—impeccable, tailor-made.
if i had a twin i’d eat him whole
our womb my mouth & when i’d fish him out
he’d pop the buttons of my throat & sing
chrysalid & clean into the wailing world
my tongue for a coat, my teeth his buttons.
this is where image ends, dazzling in carapace.
when you touch me whose gloves do you wear?
here let me take them off for you, this skin as well.
here let me take them off for you, this skin, as well
as the stories of where everything comes from:
these scars, that color, those continents, & all
the creatures half-definitive & shrinking fast.
there is a blemish of fences which keep
two populations of deer from mixing.
no predators to feed on, the secluded deer
grow pale with nothing to fear, the others dun.
teeth spur the variation of form & all its
atrocious beauteous bellowing schisms.
from above, the skin of the land runs itself
raw with concertina wire, steel posts, daily
patrols, albino deer, mottled deer suspended
like seams in flesh where something might spill.
like seams in flesh where something might spill
like broods long-sleeping or just extinct
like meticulous albums of the names of bombs
like bacteria exultant & exponential
like rainbow triptychs swept in phosphor tailings
like how what crowns value is overburden
like all the scientific names for trauma
like how to treat strangle: remove body in bulk
like what swerves in names leaves taxons toxic
like breaking down normal into reliquaries
like excuses like atoms like unsaid
what resides implied between fingerbones
rested, never rested, drumming want, nervous
rested, never rested, drumming want, nerves
leave parasympathetic mosaics below the skin
enshrined. there are bodies in the desert mimicking
stones & what is wonderful is that we
will never know the difference. paradise itself
is unknowing everything. my obex aches
& naming bone makes me less convinced
my head will not pop free from my spine
& find some other swarm to make upon.
we are not made from clay or stone or light,
but distances. where is he now? who is he
now? when doctor’s touch me clean & clinical
i want to unbloom. this cousin aches me. this distance
unspeaks _______ but in the wake, i am explosive.
make me locusts, a plague. swarm, sculpt me
from bone & meat & exuberant accident
worn & wearing, ragged with illumination
the seam in flesh where something might spill
crowns & new life & husks & evergrowing
blooms brazen, grins curled, years concentrated
& lost to transposition. nothing is ever wrong.
just devour everything & lay claim to
multitudinous grasping limbs which made me,
hued me. please, crush me unpalatable
take off this skin for me as well as
this breakneck nature, deathless, long run off.
rest me, never rest me, drum me up some nerve,
unspoken but awakened, i explode.