Jory Mickelson’s book, WILDERNESS//KINGDOM, is the inaugural winner of the Evergreen Award Tour from Floating Bridge Press, and won the 2020 High Plains Book Award in Poetry. Their work has appeared in journals in the US, Canada, and the UK. They are the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and awarded fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Winter Tangerine, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. Their website is: www.jorymickelson.com
A Human Mystery
not a heavenly one,
how to die, how to
say, let me return
To the boat, journeying
over great distances,
water is only metaphor
and darkness too—we say
it cannot be seen beyond,
but we do, light
breaks through, though
brokenly. Not so
with us, at our end
there is the last
breath and a going out and then
the rising stair
we imagine after, hanging
holding all we have
yet to know
Middle Burntfork, Good Friday
Schools of fingerlings spill from his hands
unspooling in great green rays.
His arms are thrown outward to cast away
or embrace. Christ’s outstretched fish swimming.
To be caught and released. Caught and released.
extensis manibus prosequitur
he extends his hands and continues:
North Burntfork, Middle Burntfork, South Burntfork Road.
I wriggle and swim away, flashing like a trout.
The noise of water pouring from pitcher
into glass. The imperceptible sound
of condensation. Water spills over stones and decades
of grit wear granite smooth. The suspension of
struggling fish over rock by current and resistance.
elevat oculos ad cœlum
he raises his eyes to heaven:
Stratocumulus, altocumulus, cumulonimbus.
Learning to tie a nail knot,
the follow and lead to the hook
with awkward movements. A red opening and closing
of filamented gills, fingers spread out from the hand.
A two-chambered heart pumping blood in only
one direction and the salmonid sense for return.
It took twenty years to revisit these waters.
et ab omni perturbatióne secúri
safe from all trouble:
the white farmhouse, the galvanized aluminum gate.
The enormity of silence
crowded with its solitudes, empty
after empty face, as one of Giotto’s frescos
as it ages, is set to air, the color crumbling
until not even the shadows of its hue
remain. Grape-clustered heads crowd
about the savior’s crib—plaster
particulating into dust, carried into lungs
of the centuries’ worshipers.
The scaffolding of noise
remains, even when we step
into quiet’s cordoned room. Silence
like a hammer bangs a chord
against the edges of all
we thought we’d left
behind—the many coins
worn smooth, within the black
pocket of our minds.
Left alone we can’t help
but hear the jangle, count
out revenge or find old regrets.
Each round figure a vignette
against the skull. All that silence—
such noise. All of our lives,
the chosen and discarded coming
together in the mind, while we
stand among the crowd.
My Niece Writes a Poem for Her Fourth Grade Class
(and Since I am the Professional Poet I Ask)
“So, what is it about?” My soul she says
and because I feel I must say something,
I say, “That is something” then, “what else?”
Butterflies, “Oh,” I say, “that’s…
good.” Even though I know I could
never get away with it. When we write
about something hard to see, I tell her,
we need to compare it to something
that we can: my soul is like a butterfly
whose body can endure almost any condition—
like monarchs who make a 3,000-mile
migration even if it takes five
generations to get there. How all of us
poets have to reach into the dark
within us and attempt to see
what comes next and sometimes
it will be other people telling you
you can’t write about the soul.
So, you need to keep looking,
and step forward even when
you don’t know what comes next,
it might be another butterfly.
You might remember something
someone else who never spoke your
language or would know you would exist
said: little soul, you charming wanderer
…where are you off to now?
and no one told him he was wrong
because he was a king, and also dying,
but that’s a different poem, one that
makes our own skepticism begin to look
like a sin. So, what is this about?
Something. The important part
is to keep looking and hoping you can
get there, even if you never will or if
it will take nearly all of us to do it.
Like a butterfly she says, who also,
she tells me, taste with their feet
which is gross and fascinating
and something to write down
to help others to see even if we are
only writing about it for ourselves.
Only the stars
of the early hour know this
name for you:
ark of loneliness, of those
woken from sleep, of yet to rest.
Covenant with the troubled
dark, what forgetful fish has risen
so late to praise you?
Abandoner of comfort,
even your moths
have limned themselves to stillness.
Yet, I do not trust
I will hear your voice, so I am speaking
those who wait without reason,
to no end?
Lengthener of the impossibly long hour, how much
longer before the light?
Jose Luis Pablo
Jose Luis Pablo or "Nico" is a communications manager for a non-profit. Nico's work has been published in Likhaan: The Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature, Cordite Poetry Review (Australia), Singapore Unbound (USA), 聲韻詩刊 Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine (Hong Kong), My Gay Eye (Germany), Busilak: New LGBTQ+ Poetry from the Philippines (University of the Philippines Press), The Pinch Journal (USA), and elsewhere, as detailed in joseluisbpablo.wordpress.com.
Nico has received prizes from the Normal Awards for Gender-Inclusive Literature and the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. They are based in Rizal, Philippines.
Prayer of Creation
What Godhand had created
a clod of clay and decided
it be a vessel for a soul,
clumsy and misshapen,
at least for a device of eternity?
Or a sculpture so like Adam
that it cannot distinguish reflection
from desire, companionship from
Forge me from iron,
with a tinge of acceptance
ringing across my tongue.
Clay washes away
and Eve wonders
how my gaze can wander.
Blessed be the one
who perseveres in his own design
and touches the edge of Eve’s mouth.
Blessed be the child of Nature
who attends to his mother’s wishes.
Blessed be the worshipper,
he will never slip shame under
blessed be the strong,
those who realize desire is not
water softening the clay container
without washing it
What dark flashing eyes you must have
for men to assign guilt to the pools of desire.
How their teeth must have chattered
to see themselves inverted in your knowing pupils.
Fallen alien unceremoniously dumped
into an age without #metoo tweets, holy water
absolution only found in a jar of crushed herbs.
Or, as some know, the stories are all wrong.
Mary, Mary, Mary—
The name of righteousness, someone
had to be the whore. A woman’s life reworded
by the mouth of a man in a tall hat.
Your story, suddenly
And what about death?
The image of your hair flowing in endless night
serpents, coiling and wiping those noble
soles and arches unkissed yet by nails—
it will live on.
They only want the harlot when she repents.
And what about death?
Alien meets angel.
Even when you were the only witness
to the climax, you keep a secret,
you could neither touch nor write it.
Instead, sometimes you were favored
because you were a wife,
still a scandal then.
What about your life?
Portrait of a Saint with a Chained Dog
silked in light,
the skin across your face follows.
Peace fingers raised.
The triumphant blare
soft in simmering gold
behind your head.
Your shrug lifted by unpainted wings
taken to celestial flight,
so is your gaze heavenward.
We know all of this
when we pray.
I, the beast, darkened dog.
Snout frozen in snarl.
Black electric wrath
fettered at the maw,
spine bristled in wretched arc.
Like unfaithful husband
or grieving mother,
I beg for your compassion
but the cry is caught, hidden
in a drenched forest
of a coat.
Our distance is the chain
you wield around steady fist;
I am turned against
the painter’s brush.
The air burns too bright
for anyone to see