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Muse 21

These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 21. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.


Vincent Casaregola, This Poem Is Just About You

This poem is just about you, not you,
not some substitute to hold you
out of time’s reach and cost—
this poem cannot touch you, cannot
feel the softness of your skin beneath
a fleeting brush of fingers,
cannot reclaim the sight of you
reclining on a chaise or standing
in the window’s morning light,
cannot be the light reflected
in your glance across the table
or be the gentle tilt of your head
when listening, or speak your thoughts
with your voice, tender or alarmed,
angry or soft, as moods propel.
No, this is a thing of words, poor
currency that barely pays the price
of simple goods on ordinary days,
passing words, mortal and fleeting,
with no eternity in store, no marble
meaning etched in history.
And when your rebel cells collude
again, rise in secret, then strike,
bringing insurrection to the lung
or brain, these words bring no relief
from any throbbing pain, no salve
for the sting of doubt and fear
as you, sleepless, outstare
the darkened midnight ceiling, nor
can they ease the ache that grows
stronger with each morning, or feel
the tangled tightness in your grip                   
as you reach for help to cross a room.
These words bring me no comfort,
not even cold comfort, but lie
dry as old paper in the musty attic,
less comfort, even, than a cold,
post-mortem final kiss that seals
the moment in the dim, grey room.
These words themselves have little or no
life, no breath for me to hear as from you
when you’d lain asleep beside me,
and they will fade, as ink on paper fades
in heat and angry sun, or as screens will
fade when the grid itself will die—
carve them on our stones, if you will,
the stones themselves erode to dust,
and even while they last, the sharp carving
smooths with age, making words clefts
for blown sand, for spores of lower plants,
for fibers of what, once, had flowered.
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Claire Scott, The Origami of Time

We wheeled the bike out of the garage then
the bike our son first wobbled on
our granddaughter now impatient
hurry Grandpa!
we clean off cobwebs, oil the chain
scrub rust, shine the chrome
and fasten the training wheels
hurry Grammy!
and off we go, running along behind
in the slip stream of our son’s delight
That night we look at each other
still crinkled skin and silvered hair
still liver spots and hearing aids
knowing no oil or baking soda
will dust off the years
no wax will bring back wild lust
yet today time folded on itself
a boy on a bike, red shirt flying
and we ride once more again
on the broad back of our love
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Donna Emerson, In the Blue Room

Wound tight and tired, he sat us down
around his Formica kitchen table,
as if for a meeting of his board:
ready to announce his funeral plans.
He spoke with such authority
I almost didn’t register the sheer white terror
behind his glassy blue eyes.
Then, tucking him in after his first surgery,
alone in that blue-cold room, no nurse nearby,
he whispered, fingers reaching my wrist:
I think I’m going to beat this thing, honey!
The doctor would tell him the next day
what he had just told me,
of the oat cell cancer
and three months to live.
But Dad’s boy-hope bloomed like a balloon
that glowing night
bouncing about his room for the last time.
Dad. it’s good to see you happy.
We’ll take this one step at a time.
We squeezed hands.  I’d never tucked
my father into bed before.  I folded each
corner, the way he taught me, military style,
pulled the cloth as high as it could go,
firm against his big chest, lingering over cotton.


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Simone Seward, It's All About the Zip Code, Baby! (excerpt)

Almost every night I have a recurring dream. In my dream, I see Black and Brown children in a grassy field. The sky is blue with a spattering of fluffy clouds, snow-covered mountains serve as backdrop. It reminded me of the opening scene from The Sound of Music, one of my favorite childhood movies, which I had watched earlier that night with my children. From a distance, the children appear to be running, screaming, jumping, playing, laughing, and just blissfully innocent. I rejoice in the sound of the childrens’ laughter and squeals. Can you see them? Can you picture them? Can you hear them? Aren’t they beautiful, happy, and joyful? They’re just kids enjoying life as they should be, I think.  

But as I get closer, I realize that these Black and Brown children are NOT playing, or laughing; they are screaming and running for their lives! They are running from the hatred of the world, hatred that was taught by generations of white nationalists and neo-Nazis because of the color of their skin. They are running from the police, because these Black and Brown children, even at the of age 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, are often labeled thugs and criminals “with their hoodies and toy guns” (Tamir Rice). They look suspicious and dangerous because they are on the wrong side of town or in the wrong…excuse me…White neighborhoods. They are ducking bullets flying through their homes, because of the obscene number of drive-by shootings that occur in their under-served, under-represented, under-resourced neighborhoods decimated by historical practices and systems of oppression favoring non-redlined areas. I’m specifying zip codes 13202, 13204, 13205. How sad is it that a zip code, a 5-digit number that was meant to get people their mail, now is the best predictor of how long they live.

Even sadder is the fact that some of these Black and Brown children are running from other Black and Brown children who believe that white or fair, lighter skin is more beautiful and more desirable and are therefore teased and bullied about being too dark or having kinky hair; internalized racism, Dr. Camara Jones called it. But can you blame them, when even the former First Lady of the United States was bullied and called “an ape in heels"? These children are running from parents and caregivers with untreated mental health issues. They are running from teachers who think they are too lazy to learn, sometimes because they suffered from severe lead poisoning.  Again, look at zip codes 13203, 13204, 13205, 13207, 13208, and for homes that still have high levels of lead paint...