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Poetry Summer 2020    fiction    all issues

Poetry Summer 2020 cover


Cover Vecteezy

Rodrigo Dela Peña
If a Wound is an Entrance for Light
& other poems

Shellie Harwood
Early Evening, Late September
& other poems

William A. Greenfield
The Deacon’s Lament
& other poems

J. H. Hall
& other poems

Kimberly Sailor
Two Aphids
& other poems

Sugar le Fae
& other poems

Lauren Sartor
Shopping Cart Woman
& other poems

Nathaniel Cairney
Mushroom Hunting, Jackson County, Kansas
& other poems

Elisa Carlsen
& other poems

Daniel Gorman
The Boy Achilles
& other poems

Samara Hill
I Look for Her Mostly Everywhere
& other poems

Nicole Justine Reid
Returning to Sensual
& other poems

David Ginsberg
Butterfly Wings
& other poems

Katherine B. Arthaud
Café Sant Ambroeus
& other poems

George R. Kramer
Young Odysseus
& other poems

Amy Swain
In Praise of Trees
& other poems

Frederick Shiels
Bad October: 2016
& other poems

Matthew A. Hamilton
Summer of '89
& other poems

Chris Kleinfelter
Getting from There to Here
& other poems

Martin Conte
Ghazal for the Shipwrecked
& other poems

Natalie LaFrance-Slack
I Do Not Owe You My Beauty
& other poems

Susan Marie Powers
Dark Water
& other poems

Nathaniel Cairney

There in the Wet Autumn Leaves

October’s last apples

warp slender limbs, bending

them like an old man’s back

when my son, looking down,

spies a rotting Braeburn

lurking in wet red leaves.

I fling it toward heaven.

We hear it carom off

the metal stable roof

then noiseless it descends

into nettle groves where

cats hunt fat compost rats

while moles burrow beneath

pastures that masquerade

as playgrounds for children

who appeared like April

blossoms on fragile stems

never suspecting we

were simply fruit meant to

nourish the dark earth.

At Night the Borders Disappear

From here I dream flat earth bends

toward river bluffs where four lanes

of cracked asphalt stretch ghostly

past all the places we once haunted—

the dry cleaner, the meat locker,

the seminary, your garden store.

Recession summer steals in as I breeze

past half-stocked Belgian grocery store

shelves until settling at last on bulk sumac

plentiful as memory and blazing red

like your father’s final wish and at once

I am on the little street that led to

a window’s worth of slim branches

dancing over shattered barn roof tiles

where heavy trucks lay abandoned

to riotous green shocks of saw-toothed

stinging nettles and the gazes

of two immigrants unclenching our fists

to sigh together toward the past.

Even as it inched toward ruin, you asked

how can I not love the place where

I learned to love? When you turned to ash,

when slate gray sky dawned and I woke,

I said, too late, of course I love what’s broken.

Mushroom Hunting,
Jackson County, Kansas

I blunder through

root and thistle, lost

in the implication

of rotting wood,

withered ivy,

abandoned dens and

bleached bones

when it appears—

an April morel,

substantial like prey,

pulling me


to see what majesty

springs from decay.

Four Trips to the National Forest,
November 2016


Pine needles, billions deep, covered soft earth.

When elk were near, I could smell them

and they could smell me,

a stranger driven by helplessness into groves

where cows and calves stalked valleys and ridges,

ears alert, skittish and tense.

But the bull, in mid-November, at dusk,

in the thick of the rut, a forest king with a king’s power,

glared at me from one hard charge away.

He snorted a warning, and I looked about wildly.

A climbing tree towered to the right.

My only ally.


Two coyotes lolled in golden grass.

A male, the larger of the two, sprang to his feet when he saw me,

ears raised, long jaw beautiful and deadly,

eyes betraying nothing,

unaware that I was there to fling myself against the wilderness

because it was the only thing capable of swallowing my sorrow.

The female rose a few seconds later,

uncaring that her presence as a predator

banished humans from my mind

for the first time since that night

forced me, weeping, to the floor.

I clapped my hands to remind them

I was a creature who had hands to clap.

They glanced toward a thicket of scrub brush,

an invisible pack unimpressed

with opposable thumbs that could make noise.

I strode quickly away,

looking back every chance I got.


I had long since abandoned the footpath

when I stumbled across traces of humans—

a fence, a blue plastic water barrel,

a brown house hewn from logs,

murky windows, rectangles and frames

and a dirt lane rutted by fuel-burning metal machines

with crushing black tires.

In the presence of people,

neighbors but still strangers,

ancient fear spiked the base of my neck.

Despite sharp hooves and killing teeth,

the beasts of the forest

do not own pistols.


I brought them with me at last,

their small dirty sneakers stamping faint imprints

as we wound deep into the darkening wild.

We dropped from the smooth skeleton of

a long-dead pine giant, ducking hardened roots

torn whole from shallow soil before

pausing to press our hands

against the ruggedness of living alligator juniper.

Singsong voices,

incapable of betrayal,

chirped wonder at the crescent moon

chasing sun to darkness, softening

the edges of everything made jagged.

Punching Permanent Ink

With a thick black marker our gloved hands scrawled pain

on red canvas—the Polish boy who broke your heart,

my aching knees, your cancelled trip to Paris.

We corralled phantoms and named them like fugitives

on wanted posters: fear of making mistakes,

fear of disappointing others, faithless friends, dying.

I first taught you to throw a punch during the age of living

room dances, horse rides and long blonde ponytails.

Nothing seemed unmendable then, but now here we are

in this frigid garage, fists balled, taking aim, on an edge—

no, I warn, arms up, don’t ever let them hit your face,

head back, eyes forward. The heavy bag hangs still

as you step into warmth and light, where glad voices

welcome you. You ask me if I’ll be okay remaining

in the cold darkness, where the floor needs to be swept

and the jump rope stowed. Yes, yes, I murmur: always.

Nathaniel Cairney lives with his family in Belgium, where he writes, cooks and hosts podcasts. Originally from the U.S. Midwest, his poems have been published or are forthcoming in Midwest Review, Broad River Review, Sixfold, California Quarterly, and others. He holds an M.A. in English Literature from Kansas State University.

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