Hiram Larew: Lucky

Hiram Larew is one of the featured poets in our Summer 2017 Issue. He has graciously allowed us to reprint his poem here. 

Hiram Larew
Drawing by Donna Luhrs

Lucky

I’ve never been able to add right
Somehow for me one plus one turns into black wavy hair
And all the stars up there—they just become
Eyes glancing down.
Even as a kid when I overheard someone counting
All I could think of was skin.
I am just estimated
Like how straw scatters in wind.
Things are almost too much for me—
When I dream of vast prairies
Or am in a crowd of luck
I’m stunned by so much desire.
In fact lately I’ve realized that
When a tally is taken
I’ll be the chewed pencil.

BIO:

Hiram Larew’s work has appeared most recently in vox poetica, Every Day Poetry, Honest Ulsterman, Viator, Shot Glass, Forth Magazine, Seminary Ridge Review and Amsterdam Quarterly. He is a global food security specialist, and lives in Upper Marlboro, MD.

 

NOTE: If you enjoyed this poem, please check out LPR’s Summer Issue 2017. Order copies here (Note that annual subscriptions are available online as well.)

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Clarinda Harris: Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Clarinda Harris is one of our featured poets in the Summer 2017 issue. She has graciously allowed us to reprint her poem here. 

Clarinda Harris

Sorcerer’s Apprentice

“I asked for water, boy; you’ve brought me beer.”

—Attributed to Mrs. Siddons, ca. 1850

Here comes my man playing man-servant,
bringing me a pretty wineglass full of milk.
the third so far. I’d asked for a glass of water
to drink at my computer, pretending to write,
unable to escape from email. “You’re so sweet,
sweetheart; just put it in the fridge for now.”
No water but more and more whited wine
glasses will be on their way. I think of the buckets
of water the sorcerer’s apprentice set in motion.
I remember the flood. I forget what stopped it.
I remember the famous Shakespearean actress
who lilted iambic pentameter even in a pub.
I forget how to make any rhythm of my own
In the din of glass on glass on glass on glass.

BIO:

As well as being the longtime publisher of BrickHouse Books, Inc., Maryland’s oldest literary press, Clarinda Harriss is a professor emerita of Towson University. Her published books include two academic books (one of which is a co-authored translation of the medieval poem “The Pearl”), five poetry collections, and one short story collection. She also co-edited with poet Moira Egan Hot Sonnets; An Anthology.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this poem, please check out LPR’s Summer Issue 2017. Order copies here (Note that annual subscriptions are available online as well.)

Peter Marcus: Black Light for Etheridge Knight

Peter Marcus is one of our featured poets in the Winter 2017 issue. He has graciously allowed us to reprint his poem here. 

Peter Marcus

Black Light for Etheridge Knight
after Terrance Hayes

Count those living a locked-up life who sleep with one
eye open, always open. Black is the horse running from
the fires. Ka-toum Ka-toum, Ka-toum. Ka-toum. Black are
the horses galloping in silhouette across the stone-white
face of the moon. This song in which the dream-god said,
I will give you two hands that cut with the skill of Kara Walker.
The dead you left behind on Korean fields. The near dead
you lived among in wintertime on Midwestern city streets.
Those kept temporarily warm by Pluto’s snowy light.
The cemeteries of the heart one carries like an ancient vision.
Who among us is not less than their history of grief?
Who’s never drowned in the wine of their own blood?
Who’s not been beset with a vision of America without
its prisons, shelters, slums? I too lost faith in the systems;
sustained only by friendship, family, forgiveness, art. How
you sung the talking drum, the kindness drum. Bearded bard
of Memphis, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh. King of cobalt. King
of indigo. Ka-toum. Ka-toum, Ka-toum. Ever shadowed by
a racial blues: its horses, her tender hands. That primordial
blue where the stars still yearn to feel themselves scatter.

BIO:

Peter Marcus has poems upcoming in Miramar, Slipstream, and Prairie Schooner and in Broken Atoms in Our Hands, an anthology on nuclear war and disaster. He will be attending an upcoming residency fellowship at PLAYA (Oregon) in May 2017. He has published one book, Dark Square (Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press imprint, 2012).

 NOTE: If you enjoyed this poem, please check out LPR’s Winter Issue 2017. Order this issue. (Note that annual subscriptions are available online as well.)
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Kyle Graber: Reading Comes First

The LPR staff is pleased to welcome our new poetry reader and my friend, Kyle Graber. I met Kyle my sophomore year of college, and amidst many of our similar interests, we found that poetry provided us with a common bond.  Over the years, I’ve asked him to edit many of my poems, and here he shares his trials and errors of writing poetry in college. We look forward to his insight and input on the LPR team. Welcome, Kyle.

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To forgive, or merely to make sense of our younger selves from the perspective of our currently occupied selves, can be very hard work. When we stumble upon an impressive, but inept drawing from childhood, we laugh, maybe even get a little sentimental. But I challenge anyone to revisit a poem written at age eighteen, three years later, and try to find that kind of inability adorable. For most people, the experience will be disturbing and maybe a little embarrassing.

When I look back at the poems I wrote as an 18-year-old freshman, I’m acutely aware of how different a person and, invariably, a writer I was. For example, I used to write much more than I read, much more. Sometimes I’d even watch people recite their poems on Youtube and call that reading. I also took no issue with length — excepting the work of others –which might be indicative of a belief that everything and anything that I wrote was fundamentally pretty good. Naturally, I wasn’t big on revision, though one can name any number of admirable writers who’d claim not to be either. But what really matters is, from then to now, I didn’t possess anything you could call doubt.

It wasn’t until late in my freshman year that I was introduced to a little emotion called shame. Along with a friend, I attended my first poetry workshop — which, as it turned out, was a casual one, facilitated by a senior, Noah. As a kind of parody of fraternal initiation, Noah joked that “the new kid” would be the first person work- shopped in the group. (But then, how much of a joke could it have really been, seeing as I was, in fact, made to go first?) I read my poem and received a couple comments of timid praise. Then, it was Noah’s turn. He spoke disinterestedly and proceeded to all but instruct me to re-think my personality, publically, no less. There was even a point, toward the end, when my work actually got him reflecting on his younger self.

“Y’know, ha-ha, when I was a freshman, I remember, I thought I was really smart,” Noah said, not quite looking at me, “like, really smart, but then I kind of realized, actually, ha-ha, I didn’t know shit.” Here he gave his most expansive laugh of all. “Anyway, thanks for sharing your stuff, uh, Kyle?”

“Yeah, Kyle,” I said.

What’s funny is that, aside from being a senior, Noah didn’t even have any intimidating credentials. He was just a guy who was openly unappreciative of my work. But since I had a hot streak of confidence, I suppose it’s true that no one had yet challenged me so directly. This might explain why I took it as hard as I did, allowing doubt, for the first time in years, to seize the higher ground. I didn’t produce any writing for a long time.

When I tried to, it always came out as unbearably self-conscious. Every poem I wrote was about how I was struggling to write an unselfconscious poem. Although, amidst all the turbulence, I stumbled into a genuinely fulfilling relationship with books. It was a novelty, really, to read a book just for the purpose of enjoyment. I’d previously conceived of reading to be a type of necessary training for writing, but it was around this time that I understood reading as a pleasure unto itself. Memorable books from that time are Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Mary Oliver’s A Thousand Mornings, to name a couple. Both writers nurtured in me this kind of poetic value of focusing on the small things, even if, and especially when, what you really want to say is something big.

Looking back on what I’ve learned, it’s the reading- comes-first mentality that I’m most grateful for developing. When I ask myself now, What’s more important to me, writing or reading? the question is at least tougher than it used to be. To enjoy a book, without constantly having to worry about my own writing, instills a kind of modesty that ultimately works in my favor when the time finally comes to write.

If I have any advice for a young writer who’s about to enter their first workshop, it might be this: Prepare to be fractured. Or, even better, perhaps: Don’t prepare. Don’t prepare at all.

Bio: Kyle Graber was born and raised in New York City and is currently studying psychology and English at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland.

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Danish Modern

Isabelle wondered how long it would take for the police to arrive.

Five minutes?

Fifteen?

It depended on the store’s security system, she supposed. A silent alarm would be nice because then the racket wouldn’t disturb her (although she’d become quite adept at tuning out noise: conversation, TV, crying).

What she wanted was right there in the window, a mere six feet away. She could scramble through the wreckage and have a few quiet moments before the cops shuffled her off in handcuffs. She would get caught, of that she was certain, but at least there would be no eyewitness to testify against her. This town shut down on weeknights, making it easy to stand here, undisturbed, at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, with a cinder block cradled in her arms and a diaper bag spilling its contents on the ground a few feet away. She’d abandoned the bag—an oversized Vera Bradley with kitschy flowers and quilted material—after discovering the cinderblocks next to the warehouse. All that stuffing puckered between thick stitches reminded her of cellulite. When her mother-in-law gave it to her, it overflowed with poop-related paraphernalia including a bottle of something called Jr. Lil’ Stinker Spray Poo-Pourri.

“You spritz it on the diaper before it goes in the trash so it doesn’t smell as much!” her mother-in-law had said.

“Wow,” Isabelle had replied. “Who knew crap required so much crap?” and her mother-in-law had cocked her head and blinked the way she does when Isabelle mentions politics.

Isabelle had meant to transfer her wallet and keys to a real purse before going to book club earlier that night, but Jim had been late and she couldn’t remember where a “real” purse was. Or real pants. Or real shirts. Seven months out and she still wore maternity jeans. The other women at book club had bemoaned their pillaged bodies as they scooped guacamole and gulped margaritas to the chant of “Pump and dump!” Isabelle wanted to discuss the book—it was her pick tonight—but it became clear no one had read it. Except Margot, of course, and she immediately pulled Isabelle in close, so close that Isabelle could smell the garlic and see a piece of tortilla chip stuck in her lip gloss. “I just didn’t get it, Issy,” she slurred, “I mean it’s so dark!” It wasn’t dark, Isabelle wanted to say, it was Philip Roth. It was literature for Christ’s sake. Just because a romantically slighted woman didn’t toss off her life to travel the globe (funded by what?) in search of cannolis, Capoeira and cunnilingus didn’t mean the novel was dark.

Cameras. Isabelle hadn’t thought of that. She was safe from the police-issued ones mounted to poles, the ones with the blinking blue lights. This neighborhood had too many white people now with warehouses metamorphosing into loft apartments and gluten-free bakeries and day spas. Blue lights would be bad for business. But maybe the store had its own camera looking at her, recording everything. Maybe she was busted before she even began.

She pressed her nose and forehead against the cold of the window and squinted inside. Her eyelashes swished the glass. The warehouse had been disemboweled, its skeleton exposed and painted a glossy white. HVAC pipes, vents, concrete pillars, the floor, everything. All white. How many coats of paint did it take to cover up 150 years? That was a feat. Keeping a white room clean, now that was really a feat. Not so much as a scuffmark on the floor.

The first and only time Isabelle had lived alone, her apartment had been immaculate. Wood floors gleaming from Murphy’s Oil, dust-free ledges, Windexed windows. A slim Parsons table for a desk; impractical, really, with no drawers for pens or papers, so she stashed bills and stationery and stamps in a bag in the coat closet. The only other furniture included a bed, two knock-off Eames chairs, a steel and glass coffee table, and a walnut dresser that a woman in a flea market said was an original Paul McCobb.

Isabelle had no idea who Paul McCobb was, but the woman extolled his importance to the modernist movement and the dresser was an apparent steal at $300. The man-before-Jim had complained of a lack of comfortable places to sit and she had explained her search for the perfect sofa and wouldn’t it be fun if they went together to scour thrift stores for an affordable piece of Danish modern, something clean-lined and simple and with no fabric duster sweeping the floor? The man-before-Jim demurred. He had called her apartment “spartan” and apparently meant that as a critique.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” So said William Morris, according to a quote cross-stitched onto a hideous and uncomfortable throw pillow in her mother’s living room, the irony obvious to Isabelle even at the age of 10. Nothing was as useless as a throw pillow and her mother had scores lining a down-filled sofa so deep that you couldn’t sit up straight no matter how hard you tried. The cushions sank under your weight and pulled your butt backwards and your legs upward so that you looked like a mollusk trying to escape its shell. Perplexed houseguests attempted not to spill afternoon tea while being swallowed by furniture, having found no place to set their cup. Her mother’s tchotchkes assaulted every flat surface. A menagerie of ceramic animals marched across the sideboard, end tables teemed with chinoiserie jars and crystal candlestick holders (devoid of candles) and replica yellowware vases. Plastic maidenhair ferns filled brass buckets atop full-to-bursting cupboards. Every little box, jar, vase, and drawer held something more, something smaller—coins, matchsticks, marbles, pebbles, beach shells. The house was a Russian doll opening, opening, opening, until you felt like a tiny speck of plasma trapped inside all those layers. Maybe her father hadn’t up and disappeared after all, maybe he’d simply opened the wrong closet.

Isabelle extricated herself after college and lived gloriously alone and clutter-free until Jim came back to her apartment one night for a Limoncello. A few months later he took her to a trendy Chinese restaurant near the theater district in D.C. on a surprise weekend getaway. She ordered dumplings in a shiso broth because the dish sounded simple and exotic. A glistening fist-sized lump arrived, leaden and white and drowning in a tasteless brown broth. Not at all what she had envisioned. She debated returning it for something else, but that would draw attention to herself or admit to Jim that she had flubbed the order. She extracted piece after piece of the doughy mass with her chopsticks, felt it expand in her stomach like insulation foam, while Jim shoveled Kung Pao chicken in his mouth with a fork and exclaimed over and over again, “Isn’t this fantastic?”

Later—after the musical, after the cordials, after the chocolate torte at the lobby bar—she rallied and made the most of the Westin’s signature “Heavenly Bed” (more furniture suffering an overdose of pillows and down. Like fucking in meringue.).

Several weeks later, with another white lump expanding inside her, she would remember that meal and go hurtling for the tiny toilet in Jim’s tiny rowhouse. When she finally emerged, there was Jim smiling like the Cheshire cat, hand reaching for her belly. “Isn’t this fantastic?”

Jim didn’t see the point in buying a couch, not when he had a perfectly good hand-me-down from his mother. Isabelle tried hiding the blue and gray gingham with a store-bought white slipcover, but the proportions were all wrong, too tight on the bloated armrests and too loose on the cushions. A custom-fit cover cost too much, halfway to a new sofa, so why bother? Besides, Jim said, no use buying something just for it to become one giant burp cloth.

Piles of laundry now buried the Parsons table and the McCobb (a fake, she later learned) sold for a loss on Ebay in favor of an armoire for Jim’s sweaters and socks. Isabelle aspired to knit organic rompers for the Dumpling, handmade and soft to the touch, in muted colors like Wheat or Oatmeal, but instead she had baskets of second-hand clothes, garish made-in-China neon onesies emblazoned with cartoon animals captioned by “Mamma’s Little Monkey” or “Daddy’s Grrrrl”.

Was the Rainforest Jump-a-Roo beautiful?

Was the Tickle Me Elmo useful?

Each morning she vowed to vanquish the clutter, but let’s face it, babies come with infrastructure and the Dumpling was winning.

In the evening, after the Dumpling finally passed out, and before Jim got home from work, Isabelle poured a glass of wine and flipped through home magazines. Her architectural porn, Jim called it. She liked to imagine that she lived the kind of life that inspired the articles. “Tiles from Marrakech inform the color palette of the foyer, with the subtle blue and orange tones mimicked in the paint trim. The foyer affords a startling reveal to the mammoth living room beyond, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows and original Hans Wegner Wishbone Chairs discovered at a vintage boutique in Montauk.”

 Isabelle didn’t have a foyer. There was no “reveal” in a rowhome, there was only the front door opening smack into the living room and, if swung too heartily, smack into the gingham couch.

She clipped images of rooms she loved and glued them into a Moleskine sketchbook. Bright, airy spaces with whitewashed walls and exposed beams and ceramic bowls filled with clementines. An Eva Zeisel tea service on a teak dining table or a Chemex coffee carafe next to Heath Ceramics mugs suggested the homeowners who lived just off camera, but the rooms she clipped were always devoid of people. People were messy.

She always kept an eye out for her sofa. She’d seen many that she liked—B&B Italia, Blue Dot, vintage Arne Jacobsen Series 3300—but nothing quite like The One. She’d spotted it, years before, in a coffee table book on Scandinavian design and had she known she’d have such difficulty finding it again, she would have shelled out the outrageous cover price for the hardback. She had all but given up and then she saw it. IT. On a Tuesday night. Glowing bright white in a window as she drove home from book club half in the bag because pico di gallo did nothing to stave off the effects of tequila.

Unlike the boxy gingham at home, this sofa was long and lean, a marathon runner. A clean, rectilinear box perfectly sliced in half, clad in nubby cotton fabric and held aloft by elegant, tapered teak legs. Four tufted cushions lined the backrest. She guessed it wouldn’t even fit in the rowhouse and with a price tag of $9,500, it never would.

All she wanted was to crawl inside the store, lie down on that firm, clean couch, and pretend it was hers. Just for five minutes. Maybe take a nap.

The cinderblock dug into her palms. She could lob the thing from her chest as though shooting a basket, but she knew she wasn’t strong enough. The most upper body exercise she’d had lately was pumping the air out of a pinot noir bottle with the Vacu Vin Wine Saver. Besides, the trajectory needed to be less arc and more direct force in order to break the window. Underhand would be best, like the way she bowled as a kid. Two hands down between her legs, knees bent, a few practice swings of the arm, aim and fire.

Crickets chirped inside her diaper bag, stopped, then chirped again: Jim wondering where she was. The cinderblock weighed more than the Dumpling. About thirty pounds she wagered. Ninety-seventh percentile, this one.  She laughed. On second thought, maybe a witness would be beneficial to her defense. “There she was, teetered against the window, laughing and talking to herself, a concrete slab in her hands. Clearly insane.”

What would the police think when they arrived to find her prostrate in the display window of a furniture store? What would she say? “I’m sorry officer. Modernism made me do it.”

Oh shit, what if the glass crumbled into tiny bits like a windshield and got all over the sofa? She would have to clean up the mess first and that defeated the whole enterprise. If she wanted to ferret Cheerio-sized objects out of furniture she could do that at home and save herself the B&E charge. Or worse, what if it wasn’t safety glass and it shattered? She’d need to hoist herself over the stalagmites careful not to gut herself. Goddamn logistics. Everything logistics.

Isabelle pulled back from the window. Her nose and forehead had left a greasy smear on the pristine glass. Now she’d ruined it. Her perfect view marred by sebum. The crickets were having a picnic in her bag, chirp, chirp, chirping away. She needed to get rid of that smear. That goddamn smear. The more she looked at it, though, the more it looked like a bullseye. She stepped back a few paces and got in position. She held onto both sides of the cinderblock and swung her arms through her knees. Just for laughs, she thought, just pretend. Just to see what it would feel like. She would come to her senses, put the cinderblock down, get in her car, apologize to her husband, tiptoe into the dark nursery and put a hand on the Dumpling’s chest to feel it rise and fall. But at that split second when the cinderblock had upward momentum, at the precise moment when she should have stopped, she let it fly.

About the author: Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson’s articles, essays, and short stories have appeared in The New York Times, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, McSweeney’s, and PANK among many others, and her work has been recognized in Best American Essays. Her essay “On Nostalgia” won the Hrushka Nonfiction Prize, and her writing has been supported by the Maryland State Arts Council, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Elizabeth has been a fellow at Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Cuttyhunk Island Writers’ Residency, and she is the winner of the 2017 Mary Sawyers Baker Prize in the Literary Arts.

This piece originally appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2013 Doubt issue.

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Kat Hellen

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Nine Circles

The boy heard
ringing in his ears

that left a hole
in her thigh
the size
of a button.

It bled in her hand
into the patterned sofa he hid under
and he ran

feet loco-moting
like the Road Runner from Coyote.
River Street retreated

into bars and liquor stores.
He turned the block
nine times or more
before

Miss Geneva called him in
her tiny kitchen
gave him lemonade, said:
“Don’t be afraid, Jabo.
Your momma and your daddy
just don’t see things quite the same.”

About the author: Kathleen Hellen is the author of the collection Umberto’s Night, winner of the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, North American Review, Poetry Daily, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, the Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. Recipient of the Thomas Merton poetry prize, the H.O.W. Journal poetry prize, the Washington Square Review Poetry Prize, and twice nominated for the Pushcart, she teaches in Baltimore. This poem appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2012 Social Justice issue.

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Myra Sklarew

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Myra Sklarew was profiled by Lalita Noronha in the Winter 2014 Science Issue. Then-editor Laura Shovan reads this poem at the Winter 2014 issue launch.

The Sunflowers of Umbertide

Before I go into the dark places, before I enter
the tunnel of the past, before I climb down
into the pit where I kneel on the earth,
where those I once loved leave me a remnant
of bone, before their lost names scatter
to the wind, before the trees forget what they witness,
before for no reason at all a child is taken
from life, before before . . .

I stand in Umbertide

where the sunflowers turn their bountiful heads
eastward, their buds still in circadian rhythm.
And I am warmed by them, my eyes fill
with their seeds and petals, florets in perfect spirals,
their golden offerings risen high on their stems.
I carry them in my arms, the entire field of sunflowers
from Umbertide, so the coldness of the pit
in the cold country will not freeze me entirely.

Order your own copy of the Winter 2014 Science Issue.