Since 1996 Volume XXI

Kathleen McClung

Kathleen McClung’s first poetry collection, Almost the Rowboat, appeared in 2013. Her manuscript,
The Typists Play Monopoly, was finalist for the 2016 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize. Recent work appears
in Mezzo Cammin, Unsplendid,, Ekphrasis, Heron Tree, Naugatuck River Review, Chronicles of Eve,
A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows and Ravens, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets
Occupy the Workspace
, and elsewhere. Winner of the Rita Dove, Maria W. Faust, and Shirley McClure
poetry prizes, McClung is associate director of the Soul-Making Keats literary competition and judges formal
verse for Poets & Patrons’ Chicagoland poetry contest. She teaches at Skyline College, the Writing Salon, and
 privately. www.kathleenmcclung.com


Wishbones, 1977           
          for Jenny

The only one awake, I wait for you
this winter Saturday. It’s not yet light
on Seventh Avenue, not yet March first,
the season of acceptances, of plans
for college far from here. It’s not yet time.
In my debate team clothes, I listen for
your car—defroster, radio turned high,
the lighter clicking from the dash—and hope
you’ll have your wishbone earrings on, your pair
of “disco socks,” and your embroidered shirt.

Those Regis boys who always wheel in
their files, their evidence, will blink at us,
will wonder if we flow-chart right. And we,
serene and eloquent, will win that round,
bring trophies home, our faith not shaken yet
that words, our words, suffice. We’ll listen to 
ourselves, our questions and our answers in
cross-x, rebuttals clear and strong. You’ll lean
to me and whisper strategies, and I
will wish that we could stay like this: two friends
who know the rules of classical debate
and love them.           Here, awake in this dark house,
I’ve also known the other arguments—
late-night, free-form, a woman and a man
unrefereed but skilled, so skilled with words,
with modulating volume, tone, to save 
the cruelest shards for calmest utterance.
I’ve hummed the opposite of listening—
my FM stations, algebra out loud,
and lullabies of glory to be earned
in tournaments, abiding by the rules.

Outside, you tap the horn, a signal lost
on sleepers. You are here before the sun,
before the rising up of sentences
from any source but me.  I’m ready now.

Publication credit:  Almost the Rowboat (Finishing Line Press, 2013)


Some races end in ties, with victors fused, unclear.
Communal tick of stopwatch second hand. Twinned cheer.
Two breastbones breaking tape.          Two boys on Sunday ran
headlong from curb to street.  In my Nissan,
I heard the sluice of denim, braked hard, veered

sharp right. The boys raced left.          I hit a deer
decades ago in West Marin, still hear
the thump and wind in weeds along the median.
Some races end in ties,

burnt rubber, eucalyptus, and a woman near
the corner yelling, What the fuck!  She slapped car’s rear
sloped edge, as though a face, and on the wheel, my hands
ice melting from my wrists.                Would her boys understand
her rage, their names small stones bruising their ears?
Some races end in ties.  

Publication credit:  Caesura: The Journal of Poetry Center San José, 2015

          for Edsel 

Next spring—or sooner—Saturday delivery
will end, reduce to five our days to speak
in passing, you and I, of how our years
speed by and how your shoulder bag grows thin,
hangs lighter now, how you anticipate
new luxuries ahead, pleasure reading

at last, Cervantes, Melville, Proust. No more reading
zip codes through window envelopes, deliveries
of birthday dollars, get well cards, unpaid
gas bills, taxes. In July fog, we speak
with awe of gulls, enormous crows on thin
black wires above the blocks you’ve walked for years

and we agree: these flocks in recent years
have multiplied, have honed their skills in reading
us and all we carry, all we drop—thin  
stuff (transfers, toothpicks, gum)—deliveries  
from mouths or pockets straight to gutters, beaks.
No wonder, white and black, they lurk, anticipate

our moves, our scattered crumbs, anticipate
jackpots from Tinkerbell backpacks six-year-
old girls adore.        Dear courier, you speak
of daughters, grown, in cubicles reading
sleek screens, phoning across time zones, delivering
their news—quick bursts of syllables, adieus—and then

silence, for weeks sometimes, perhaps a thin
dribble of lines emailed, attention paid
elsewhere. We nod. We know deliveries
wane, cease as seasons alternate, and years
like crows, fly past. We carry on, reading.
You bring the bundles to my door and speak               

of days to come, days full of books that speak
a language almost lost—deep stillness then
deep clarity, a trance only reading
calm hours will weave. We each anticipate
a lightening of load, unhurrying of years,
time ripe for reverence, deliveries

within, unpackaged, vast—special deliveries, 
so to speak, birthed by doorstep years reading            
and sorting the quotidian, signed, sealed.

Publication credit:  Atlanta Review Fall/Winter 2014;  Poets 11 Anthology 2014

For the Man at Macy’s Lurking in Swimwear

Don’t think I didn’t notice you. I did.
But that’s your fervent hope, to creep us out,
we fiftysomethings on our lunch breaks, mid-
April, determination mixed with doubt.
Our quest: acquire a bargain, flattering,
dark, dignified, a hint of whimsy though,
a Helen Mirren suit for traveling
to hotel pools, a beach in Mexico.
But you, sir, crouching by the clearance rack,
were in the way, a cone some road crew left behind.
I steered around, bypassed you, but looked back
and saw a loneliness I sometimes find
in mirrors as I brush my teeth or drive.
Awash in teal, the two of us, alone, alive.

Publication credit:   Marin Poetry Center Anthology, Volume XVII: Stones, 2014

Subletter in the Therapists’ Suite

She writes a check each month—
a few hundred dollars for this long room
with windows she can crank open,
a view of bamboo along a fence,
the occasional cat sunning on its back
in grass turned to straw from drought.

Ants bead a black hose shunned in drought—
no hands have lifted it for months,
no one has rewound or nestled it back
beneath the spigot outside this quiet room
she shares.  Other eyes gaze at this fence
early in the work week. Other keys open

this door, fan out on a table beside pens,
answering machine, Kleenex box. No drought
of tears here, no impenetrable fence
between past and present, between this month
and Julys long ago. She loves this room,
away from hurrying, a kind of afterthought tucked back

behind entrance, behind lobby magazines dating back
a few years: celebrity chefs poised to open
new bistros in 2012, golfers in mid-swing. The room
provides a dwelling place, shag-carpeted, where doubts,
the not-yet-known, companion her for months.
Some stay, amenably. Some, oak moths on a fence,

depart. A handful—barnacles. Yet she fends
for herself more capably each time she crosses back
over this threshold. With every passing month
she finds something new here by the brass lamp, opens
some drawer of amethysts or myrrh.  Drought
parches. Glaciers crumble. She doesn’t hide in this room,                         

doesn’t fold news into origami deer, but makes room
for sifting: embers, smoke, traces of dew near a fence.
Her pages fill slowly. Stanzas of flood and drought
require a steady oscillating back and forth, back
and forth—no yes outward inward stop start open
close. She comes alone twelve days each month,

enters the room reverently. If her back aches,
she lies on this couch, watches clouds drift above the fence.
Some month in winter they might open, end a long drought.



Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan