Read a sampler of poems from the Winter 2018 issue.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Jill Osier
Soon the time when just roads and rivers
run dark in the white. Then they’ll be gone.
 
But during such days of path and vein
you’ll trace back how things became.
 
You’re standing in a curving lane of birches
with the word confidante. The birches
 
are hilled, coming toward you, going away,
and it’s with you, this word, the same as light
 
coming bright off the snow, or light being held
as blue shadow. All of this
 
not far off, but nothing’s even fallen yet,
the woods empty, done boning up.

Copyright © 2018 Jill Osier. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Jill Osier
Sometimes a flag quietly appears
and leads one to a camp in the snow.
 
Oh, I am sick. I fade, I fall,
I curse this month, all it wants
 
to be. Its lot is the same
each time, unthawed.
 
Yet it taunts.
Dreamer month!
 
Another is just as warm,
as firm, as close to sweat and sigh
 
as I was, and this month
knows it. This month
 
sits close-lipped
and wise before the fire.

Copyright © 2018 Jill Osier. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Jill Osier
I’ll tell you this: I am the only part of winter left.
It beckoned and I followed, past all reason,
followed it like the end of a broken train
through white woods, and I stayed, with simple tools,
set on trying to construct more of a season. It has taken
all of me to do it, and you would not believe the storms.
You would not believe how I sleep. From here anything
would sound like a cry. Everything looks like pieces of God.

Copyright © 2018 Jill Osier. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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James Arthur
Some of these stories are too sweet for me.
Winnie-the-Pooh is so innocent, his little songs leave me cold.
 
But I like this—your hand across my hand,
your head against my shoulder. Your first winter, I carried you
 
even along the margins of the highway,
strapped against my chest in a sling. You never can tell with bees,
 
says Pooh, who seems to believe that almost nothing can be told,
but I am your morose, restless father,
 
and you are four years old. You like front-end loaders
and every kind of train;
 
I like reading to rooms of strangers, and a few drinks at the airport
while I’m waiting for my plane.
 
I like the book’s final chapter, a story you don’t yet understand,
in which boy and bear
 
climb to Galleons Lap for one last look out across the land—
at the sandy pit, the six pines,
 
the Hundred Acre Wood. Don’t forget me, says the boy to the bear,
who has no wish to understand
 
what he does not already know. Little boy who I carried
along the highway in the winter in northern Michigan,
 
I like hearing you in the morning
when you lie in your dark room, and sing.

Copyright © 2018 James Arthur. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Stephen Dunn, 1939
It’s the last few hours of a county fair,
or the ninth inning, score tied, in a small-town
high school big game, everything that’s going
to happen destined to feel inevitable.
Everett’s favorite cow has yet to win a prize,
and what occurs next on the field will likely determine
whether a certain boy, years later, will run for mayor,
or still be known as the guy who dropped the ball.
Elsewhere in the same town Pastor William
is writing down his sermon on what it takes
to live a moral life, confusing rectitude
with deprivation, and his wife’s frequent,
unapologetic nothing-for-you-tonight-dear.
Tomorrow, no doubt, because this happens
in towns both large and small, seventh-grade
Joshua, who knows the answer, but won’t go
to the chalkboard because he has a hard-on,
is thought to be dumb. That is, until he proves
he’s not, the answer written down in code
for Mr. Zenner to see, perhaps to understand.
Sharon the beauty is also smart and her pet pig
wins Best in Class, but she won’t accept the award.
The family needs money, but the prize is given
by the DAR, and she wants to take a stand.
It seems inevitable that in a town this size
Joshua and Sharon will marry, but she goes
to a faraway college, meets Nathaniel,
a city boy who knows nothing about pigs
but something about integrity. They fall in love
and the rest, as they say, is history—babies and
hardship, grad school and in her case visits
to the now curious place that was home—
Joshua working the counter at Beal’s Hardware,
Thursday night bingo at the church—
how things could have been
had she not become someone else.

Copyright © 2018 Stephen Dunn. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Lisa Bellamy
As a seed, I was shot out the back end of a blue jay
when, heedless, she flew over the meadow.
She had swallowed me in my homeland when she spied me
lying easy under the sun—briefly, I called her Mother
before I passed through her gullet like a ghost.
In a blink of God’s eye I was an orphan. I trembled
where I fell, alone in the dirt. That first night
was a long night, early May and chilly, and I remember
rain filled my furrow. I called out for mercy—
only a wolverine wandered by. I cursed my luck,
I cursed the happenstance of this world, I smelled
his hot stink, but he nosed me deep into the mud—
this was the gift of obscurity. I germinated, hidden
from the giants of earth, the jostling stalks,
the various, boisterous bloomers, and this was my salvation.
After seven days and nights I pushed through—
yes. Here I am, kissable: your tiny, purple profusion.

Copyright © 2018 Lisa Bellamy. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Lynne Knight
My grandmother’s arms looked scaled, reptilian,
soft and white underneath. I wondered why
she wore sleeveless blouses, exposing such shame
for all to see. I never thought her arms would be 
mine someday: ugly, should-be-hidden things.
 
Relax. That’s it, about my grandmother.
I know what the famous poet said, how looking
at wind in a meadow stirs up nostalgia, and the next
thing you know, your dead grandmother’s back.
Might as well skip the wind-whipped meadow, too.
 
I’m too tired to invent one out of sheer air,
having lain awake for most of the night obsessing
over the years I have left. Ten? Twenty? No more
than thirty. I decided on seventeen, the number
that would make me the same age as my mother
 
when she got dementia. Don’t worry, I won’t
go on about her, either. I just want you to know
that if you tell somebody, I’m a poet,
and the person says, I never understood poetry,
it’s not really true. Everybody’s understood it
 
all along: It’s about love and death. Even when
it’s about flabby arms, another bad gene
spiraled down through the family history,
it’s about love and death. Mine, yours . . .
I lay awake for hours until the dog started
 
to whine. Outside, the morning star hung alone
in the sky. I thought, again, I’m going to die.
I longed to be comforted. But those who gave
such comfort are gone, and besides, the star
yielded to light. Everywhere you look, lessons.

Copyright © 2018 Lynne Knight. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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David Bottoms, 1949
The river was off-limits, but occasionally a foul ball would fly back
 
over the press box, over the narrow drive
and down the hill,
 
and there we were—where what we called the ballpark rock
jutted into the Etowah.
 
On hot nights the stench would make us gag.
 
Two miles below the rendering plant
and chicken parts still flooded up in the pool beyond the rock—
clots of dirty feathers, feet,
 
an occasional head with glazed eyes wide.
We’d hold our noses and try to breathe through our mouths.
 
Once though, the smell was too much
and we had to give it up.
 
Listen, it wasn’t what you think. It was only Little League,
and they gave us free ice cream
 
for retrieving a foul. No, we weren’t overcome
by thoughts of filth, disease,
or fish kills. We were running down a long hill, dodging
 
trees and undergrowth, trying
to find a ball before it found the river.

Copyright © 2018 David Bottoms. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Mark Wagenaar
IT'S A BRAND NEW DAY, the greasy spoon’s sign
has recited each day for the last ten years.

Eighteen-wheelers haul their hundred hands of empty space
through an air hallowed by the smoke of a thousand-acre grass fire.

New roads take on the shape of the old
the way rivers tongue the drowned, eternal rush hour,
eternal city:

beneath the floodlights on the side of the highway
the blue eye of the welder’s torch snaps
open, a circular saw spins—disk galaxy, roulette wheel
if the ball’s skipping through the working hours

                                                                            of the rest of their lives—
then bites into concrete,
                                      teeth through stone.

*

Mouthful of cinders,
the earth has begun to reel back
its lines of chlorophyll.
Birch shadows walk on their toes on their way
to nowhere. Bark strips skiff from the sycamores,
                                                                             pale coracles,
& set off into the world. Through a screen of falling
rust-shot leaves it’s hard to tell the planes from the planets,
but I know one is Flight 90, where last week a man
confided that he’s collected over twenty thousand Pillsbury Doughboy dolls.

I tried to remember the name of the horn player
who used to play a club for a plate of spaghetti—something about being in between
cities, in between lives & hours,
had left me otherwise wordless, with nothing else to offer,

with nothing more to say about need—

*

except, once, I rounded a corner & came face-to-face
with a naked woman behind a door of glass.
                                                                     I saw her
everywhere I went the next few days.
Each time I saw myself in a window, in the canal below.
I read a billboard a mile from the glass door: VOODOO INVERSO:

BEFORE LEAVING NIGERIA, THIS TRAFFICKER TRICKED ME
WITH A FAKE VOODOO CEREMONY. I WAS VERY FRIGHTENED.

WHEN I STOPPED PAYING, THEY SENT SOMEONE TO THE VILLAGE
AND CRUSHED MY FATHER'S LEGS. NOW I TURN THE VOODOO BACK ON HIM . . .

Ten thousand days into my life, Lord, & not one more promised.
Ten thousand days & I’ve nothing

*

to say in light
of the overpass fire in front of me,
a salt furnace

except its only output
is flame & ashes upon the air.

You can take ten thousand steps & get no nearer to heaven,
someone once said, but the smoke

is halfway there. If the overpass is a temple,
it’s a Parthenon blueprinted
                                            by the stars
that are now fading overhead,
one dedicated to elsewhere,
                                            that negative mirror,
a thousand times more air than concrete, more not there
than there: a dozen pillars & a cement roof,

nameless place you only know by the places
you’re on the way to: a via negativa

of every place you’ve been. If the ashes on the air
are inch-long vanishing points of veils,
this temple had a million.

And I’ll be its augur. Already I can see the bouquets
& votives left there for its priestess, still buckled

in her burning Corolla, her name unremembered everywhere.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Mark Wagenaar
There’s no right word for the color of the ashes,
 
you said at the New Orleans hospice—
every week a new urn carried out
& poured into the nameless garden.
 
Maybe it’s true. And maybe,
just there through the fog,
this morning’s mare & her foal,
 
                                                 dapple-gray & steaming,
come close enough.
Or the grime-dulled silver of the quarter you were given once
to dig a horse’s grave—
a piano’s worth of hand-thrown earth,
when you were young, first of many.
 
A quail flailing skyward might come close,
or the color of an unanswered prayer, or the first mouthful of gob,
sucked & spat out from the rattlesnake bite
before the blood hits.
 
And if the horses are the ashes, this sundog’s
                                                                       the transfiguration,
southeast of the sun, toward Nacogdoches,
dragonfly glimmer that Sherwin-Williams might call
Skin at the Soprano’s Throat, if she’s under the bright lights,
 
if her last aria is on our forgetting
& how the language fails us, as it so often does.
 
O cloud of flesh, O dream
of rain out of cloudless skies,
                                              we begin to be erased
when we lose the graves,
when we lose the tongues. 
 
Someday we’ll know how to mend the horse’s bones
without driving her mad.
 
Someday we’ll come to the green pastures,
where we’ll be poured out, & the lost vowels
                                                                     will fall back to our tongues like snow.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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John Kinsella
The iron roof has expanded so much, corrugations
slide into each other. The wavering is not mirage—
no mirage could sustain this long, last through
such unreadable heat. In our endgame, we can
at least hope for stalemate. To take such seriousness
and game play, those orgies on the cusp of dissolution?
The rage for apocalyptic literature—entertained
and stimulated to thought at once? Or spread out,
panting, over the bed, listening to the reptile
swish through the roof space, track down its prey,
deal with temperatures beyond the scope of hotor
cold-blooded, beyond the structures of body
and psyche. This is what you choose to do—
to listen to the immensity of hunt in the cobweb
of light and dark, the sui generis of hunger, of fear.
 
So, spread out on the bed, eyes open but seeing
nothing, hearing your heartbeat loud in your ears
between the reptile’s movements you wonder: blackheaded
monitor—there is precedent—or maybe
a carpet python, long-term resident predator
of outer sheds, barns. Maybe it’s found its way
down the hill, out of the redness, into the zone
of mice and insects, of spiders and skinks.
Breathe, listen. The roar of your valves
and chambers, the rush of scales over broken
batts of insulation, down onto exposed Gyprock,
over metal transoms. Making a living. Distantly,
a cricket match drones on the television and an advert
comes on claiming the Australian mining industry pays
seven times more royalties than Brazil. “Brazil!” they exclaim.
“Our major competitor.” Amazon, lungs of the world? Investment.
Development. And jobs! Jobs making infinite voids,
mouths that can’t close after they’ve opened. Breathe, listen.
Jobs. Your half brother who worked years for the industry,
flying out beyond the limits of his endurance,
never knowing each place as the center it is, they are,
and taking home the emptiness he made. Alone now,
with his addictions cut off, in the roof space of isolation.
Breathe, listen. Write him a letter. It will be opened
by the censors. They will read of despair and pacifism.
That we are all brothers and sisters in this together,
as he paces the boredom, counts down, listens
to his heart in his ear, in his throat, the void.
 
The iron roof has expanded so much, corrugations
slide into each other. The wavering is not mirage—
no mirage could sustain this long, last through
such unreadable heat. That’s if you’re watching
this from the outside, looking down the hill,
through old York gums and new plantings,
the cluster of olive trees taking hold
as statement of survival, of stalemate.
The reptile moves fast now, across ecotones,
matching the terrain. Shaded and seething,
hungry to fill up in the overheating metabolism
of destiny. Your heart misses a beat. Proverbial.
Of course. A Symbolist on the bed, thinking
art is worth dying for? To step out before
the endgame reaches its conclusion, the jaws
close around the mysterious prey? No. No.
Breathe, listen. Ghost on the bed, palpitating
toward the scarified, the harrowed outdoors
where little can move in the heat, but silvereyes
concentrate in geraniums out of the sun,
their beaks wide open, drawing the cool
of design into their throats, splitting
           down into the syrinx, unsinging
or singing backwards. Glorious—breathe, listen.
           Their heartbeats. Their heartbeats.
And the roof space silent now, silent beyond
the flexing of metal, your loss, your fear.

 

Copyright © 2018 John Kinesella. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Southern Review, Winter 2018 Issue
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Noah Warren
           threw the pot of aloe from the balcony.
Bone yellow with a crackle glaze:
I was sitting close, I saw it teeter
on the railing,
the iron swaying— 
 
There are so many plants.
 
On slender, ringed necks
the old palms whipped up and down,
and shone, and broke
on the wind.
The squat ones nodded.
 
I was wearing my hat, above me
the sky was a lake of blue fire.
Volts of cream
came swirling off
the mountains, rushed across it,
and, twisting, tore apart.
 
I was walking up into the foothills,
I walked and walked. The day changed
in its sad, orange way.
I was unfree as the flowering pear trees,
unfree as the brown-cap birds tearing
the petals from their branches,
gobbling mouthfuls
of softness—
 
Warm rocks at my back,
valley in front of me. Oh valley
 
dark in the shadow, and dark in the light.
 
The sky moved crying
through your walls.

Copyright © 2018 Noah Warren. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.