Editors' Picks, Week 4Poetry by Katie Chicquette, Karen Mandell, Annie Diamond, & C. Prudence Arceneaux
Why It Is So Hard To Meet a New Student at the Alternative High School
by Katie Chicquette
On day one they enter, cagey
and tight-eyed, uncertain. My room
is in a whole other building–the old
high school is miles away. This place
is meant to be separate, special,
different–better. They are meant
to meet this place with hope.
But they walk in across the eggshells
of other people’s opinions of what it means
to now be a student at the school for bad kids.
They have lived behind profile pics, cameras off,
for a long time now; they might have forgotten
who they are, that they are corporeal.
They might curl down their shoulders and spines
as far as they will go to reduce the obviousness
of their presence. They may crow loud as a
lost boy across the room to hide
the size of their trepidation and fear.
It is so hard, on day one,
to meet this new person, not because it will take time
and a delicate, powerful kind of energy
to build the bridge they need
from lost to found, from not okay
to holy shit, I can’t believe I might
be okay—no, the hard part is resisting
the urge to forge a rapid short-cut,
to circumvent the necessary,
confounding patience and exchanges,
to stop myself from delivering
a monologue, including assertions like
I really believe you will have success
here, and I will help you no matter what,
and it probably seems impossible to you
that we will end up joking and swapping
musician & movie recommendations
and discussing how good the local shoe
repair guy is and I will probably teach you
to knit and you will enjoy it a little and
just so you know I absolutely do
have books about hunting and queer history
and eating disorders and ghosts and
whatever it is, you can absolutely tell me:
I can’t promise it won’t get worse
before it gets better but then again
most tornadoes do.
I hold my tongue; I know I can’t bring such
cocky fire to the first meeting, or even such
cloudy, saccharine support. I wouldn’t trust
that, either. I say as casual as linen in a tone
and volume that implies, don’t worry,
I will let you wallflower for a few days,
“Hey—come on in. Sit wherever you’d like.”
Katie Chiquette is a writer and at-risk ELA high school teacher in Appleton, WI. Her work has appeared in Portage Magazine, Wisconsin People & Ideas, First Review East, Torrid, Bramble, and elsewhere. One poem is a Pushcart nominee, and another received an Honorable Mention in the Wisconsin People & Ideas Poetry Contest in 2021. She assists with Poetry Unlocked and Storycatchers; her passion is for her students and her community to feel connected to themselves and each other through stories and language.
by Karen Mandell
Martin’s tailor store was a good spot
for searching out treasures, the detritus
of pockets. Suit jackets, blazers,
pants, their treasures abandoned
in the changing stall at the back.
A gold metal bow watch that you
pinned your shirt. It worked
for a while. Coins Martin put in a jar
on the linoleum counter. Chocolate
Necco wafers in an unopened roll
left on the bench. On a shelf
underneath the counter an orphaned book.
There was only ever one. Nana, faded blue
cover, soft with age, pages slightly furry
with handling. I never had a book
that wasn’t from the library. At the front
a list of illustrations. Was Emile Zola a woman
or man? For adults only judging
from the length and small print.
On the last page a black and white sketch,
a woman lying naked in bed, her privates
Exposed, black dots scattered on her skin.
Everywhere. I knew exactly what it was—
a sickness given to her because of Sex.
No other explanation needed.
Maybe knowledge embedded in my cells—
This Is What Happens When You Do Those Things.
I put the book back and washed my hands
again and again with the jagged sliver of soap
Martin kept on the bathroom sink.
Karen Mandell has taught writing at the high school and college levels and literature at community senior centers. Her stories and poems have appeared in various literary magazines, such as Indianapolis Review, Notre Dame Review, Atticus Review.
by Annie Diamond
The ecological state of a species being
unique to a defined geographic location:
fringed spineflower endemic
to the San Jacinto Mountains.
Cosmopolitanism the opposite, refers
to species that occur on all continents
save Antarctica. Humans, cats,
orchids, lichen parmelia sulcata.
I wonder if some species started out
cosmopolitan, then became endemic,
finding the location that best suited.
Annie Diamond is a poet, Joycean, and breakfast enthusiast living and working on the traditional unceded homelands of the Council of the Three Fires. She has been awarded fellowships by MacDowell, Luminarts Cultural Foundation, The Lighthouse Works, and Boston University, where she earned her MFA and taught creative writing in 2017. Her poems have appeared and are forthcoming in No Tokens, Yemassee, Tar River Poetry, Western Humanities Review, and elsewhere.
by C. Prudence Arceneaux
“She doesn’t want to live on a boat, in a tent, or on a truck. Not on bicycles either. She’s a middle class straight person who has fallen in love with a guy who wants to be a modern- day aborigine. No one is to blame, it just happens.”—from The Happiest Man in the World
To be clear—he never asked her to live
in a tent or on a boat. But she could feel it coming:
the way he shuttered his eyes at random times
during the day, their bright green fogged,
like the blinds on the windows, the lids
had to click four, five times to distinguish
her brown skin from the brown sheets of his bed,
her face from the smudges of everything else.
The uneasy quake when she entered or left
the trailer, in retrospect, seemed like training
for the unsteady heave of tides. She realized
at some point she no longer noticed, her weight,
her gait adjusted, she realized she no longer cared
whether or not the neighbors could see
their naked shadows cross the windows, whether or not
they ignored the list, the creak when she stayed the night.
She figured they were all out to sea in the trailer park.
But he showed her land once. Behind the wheel
of a truck, one hand on the back of her neck,
he drove with purpose, leagues from the familiar
following the sun star, his thumb rubbing
a biology lesson on her spine, then harder still;
the knotty bones—a worry stone. He spoke of “grass”;
she remembered not to correct him: “weeds.”
He offered her food: tomatoes, overripe, fluerdels
recurled, still growing; slow finger circles help peaches
free of skin; they gnawed meat from rib bones, laughing
as she wiped her face with her wrist. He eyed her wistful.
Yet every time she stepped up to the mast of him,
he stepped two states away, until there was no more land.
Then when there was no more water, stepped into the sky.
She waited, for a time, for him to fall from the dark—
……..eclipsing moons, shooting stars, solar flares—all the signs.
This is her test of endurance; she stands in the night,
knees locked, shielding her eyes as if from a bright light,
to see if she could find him, because surely if he didn’t tumble
back to her, he must still be there. She knows he’s gone.
……..But she can’t help herself.
C. Prudence Arceneaux, a native Texan, is a poet who teaches English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College, in Austin, TX. Her work has appeared in various journals, including Limestone, New Texas, Hazmat Review, Texas Observer, Whiskey Island Magazine, African Voices and Inkwell. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry– DIRT (awarded the 2018 Jean Pedrick Prize) and LIBERTY.
BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month
As the pandemic has continued into its second year, we at Brain Mill are thinking about spaces & places: how we exist in space, the importance of access, and the particulars of navigating places. We have gathered together in ways that may have been new to us over the last few years, greeting each other in small squares of connectivity, developing relationship and care with virtual check-ins, follows, and voices translated via technology. In our best moments we have learned to listen; in our worst, we have been caught up by all the ways we need to do better and think more deeply about community systems and for whom entry is barred.