A tar dealing family a former corpse in the mud of a Cumberland Farms a Cumbies a body mouthpiece, a family tar as thick as tires that could be slashed for exposing the unintended murder of the business not premeditated not intentional just collateral just the terrority
It all comes with, the cop says as he chews tar in cheek don’t tell nobody I unarmed in the seat of his game surrounded by guns, throne of gauges as we drive through a parking lot with a murder of crows little black dots on a sheet of white snow window down and dragon puffs spew from his mouth it’s a picture-perfect image of the moment
Standing on the hill more murders this year than ever before but it’s still so still
Cawing together on a sheet of white icing darkness in mass gathering until the click of overcast.
I am not a statue just a blurred photograph of one I’m rotting parts a human with a surname who was sucked into a swirling hole noir, eating solar systems without condiments and when I came out the other side the title had been ripped off detached, robotic thrown up I’m merely the regurgitation of real feelings the salvaged ones recovered in the spatial storm.
I lay in the new car smell standing upon grass not a vehicle in sight staring at their gravesite waiting for words to waterfall down but I am a desert now
The letters that I used to dress up have abandoned me an alphabet still, I pull from but their curves aren’t covered
There is less dirt dividing us now but the souls have deserted me years before their flesh suits did.
CROSS COUNTRY > DOWNHILL
We traced a ski path in sheets downhill fast and swam in each other’s frozen lakes with hesitance but also, haphazardly fast
The warning signs were there of a drain with endless sadness pouring down it even with the faucet off yet I still insisted that he wash me with the soap he was too ill to see.
I’d cry and try to get through the door but the pink wouldn’t hear me cotton in ears to blur out the noise beyond the walls and the blue, while face-to-face, would push me away I’d climb over his legs to get to the doorknob but he’d shove me down with his eyes upon items of interest books, newspapers, anything but me the toys behind me merged into a pink mess of ponies and convertibles
ABP- Thank you for taking this interview, Emma. This past spring we had the privilege of publishing “In Case I Live Forever”, a chapbook that ended up being our best selling title for the month of May.
What can you tell us about the process of writing this collection?
EM- Absolutely! I started this project in the spring of 2021, and I worked on it off and on over the next year. Because this collection takes place on a chronological timeline, and my character had no time constraints, the sky was the limit for what I wanted to research and write. The process for me really looked like picking a time period and a place, and then researching the poetic forms most popular there at that time. Then I would look at my timeline, see the mood of the other poems around it, and go from there. It was like putting together a big puzzle, and it made it so much more fun following the same character the entire time.
ABP– Can you share a poem from In Case I Live Forever with us here?
EM- I think one of my favorite poems from the collection is “She Who Saw the Deep.” It’s a ballad inspired by the old English epic poems like Beowulf, and it’s eight pages (much too long to print here, I’m afraid). It took me about five hours to write in one sitting, and it’s my favorite because I really was crafting this huge story and I knew I could only let the reader see it through a small window. I used a lot of what are called “kennings” which are old English poetic conventions where two nouns are squished together to make a new noun. So I have words like “king-graves” and “warrior-gods” sprinkled throughout in an homage to the style.
ABP- Who is your favorite writer? What is your favorite book?
EM- Oooh tough question. I think when it comes to poetry I love the poetry of Naomi Shihab-Nye and Luci Shaw. They both have their own distinct style that really inspires me in my own work. And I’m also super lucky to have two lovely women in my life who inspire me every day with their poetry: Katie Manning and Margarita Pintado-Burgos. They teach at my university, and their work is so amazing and they’re great people to be around. As for my favorite book, I’d have to say the Martian by Andy Weir. I can’t get enough of it, and I re-read it all the time!
ABP– What is the art/lit scene like in San Diego, CA these days?
EM- It’s fantastic! There are so many cool writers and poets and artists to get connected with. I recently was a featured reader at the San Diego Festival of Books hosted by UCSD, and I got to hear from some really amazing poets like Rudy Fransisco. I’m looking forward to getting more involved with open mics and book launches and celebrations this year, because there’s a lot happening.
ABP– Do you have any works in progress, or upcoming events that you would like to mention? Any plans for 2023?
EM- So many plans! I’m one of those insufferable writers who always has to be working on something. I have a chapbook that’s completed and is currently in the review process at a few presses, so I’m hoping that will happen this year or next year. I’m also most of the way done with a full length book on Biblical prophecy, and I’m just so excited about that. It’s the biggest poetry project I’ve undertaken, and so much work is going into it I just know that when it’s done I’ll be really proud of it. So look out for it in 2023!
Additionally, I’ve been trying to stretch myself this year, so I’m one draft into a fantasy novel. Prose is a very different process than poetry, but I’m enjoying the challenge.
ABP- Thank you again for taking this interview, Emma. If there is anything else that we did not cover, please feel free to tell us about it.
EM- Thanks for having me! It was really such a treat to be able to publish “In Case I Live Forever” with ABP. For any fans of narrative poetry, old fashioned epics, or a plain old fun story, be sure to head to ABP to check out “In Case I Live Forever”!
Birth Birthed from the dark, the dark that made the night, the night that made the dark, the sun hiding and the moon shining, Kahi stretches himself under the seven stars as the heavens turn over the fire of the earth. Lua joins Kahi, opens herself in the darkness of their mother, the night. They will be joined by their brothers and sisters but for now they are alone together in the dark. They see before eyes. They feel before skin. They know before synapses fire. They find each other under the watching stars, under the watching night. They will see the birth of life, witness the creatures of earth, of water, before birthing their own.
True Gods Kahi finds himself lounging in pjs on the sofa, the lanai door open to the ocean breeze, Lua ordering laulau for delivery because she has a craving for steamed taro leaves and poi. They have spent the new century, as their creations called it, indulging in living an American lifestyle. Recently, they had decided to adopt a few cats, who promptly decided that they were the actual gods and lorded over them with ease. Kahi didn’t mind. He felt a kinship with their demanding cries for food and head bumps for pets, which they received both promptly and abundantly. It was only natural to offer them their due. It was kind of nice, he thought, giving in to the needs of others.
Chicken or the Egg Lua often wonders why she is second. It’s the chicken and the egg thing, right? Which came first? She knows the answer because she is the egg and life comes from all eggs. Kahi would argue with her about this since, you know, he’s first. She just lets him keep believing that. She doesn’t want another apocalypse tantrum like the last one where he killed off all of the creatures she had worked so hard on creating, you know, using eggs. She was also experimenting with live births when it happened. Luckily those creations and some of the smaller egg layers survived so she could continue, but man, he can be such a baby sometimes.
Echoes of Rock and Air Kahi thinks he can write a song. He’s been listening to a lot of old country lately. A little Nelson here, a little Patsy there, some Johnny and Merle sprinkled on top. He has created many wondrous and amazing things. Writing a song should be a piece of cake, he thinks. He created gods of inspiration, so composing a little ditty shouldn’t be that hard.
He listens to Loretta, borrowing some of her magic to create his. He strums a strata or two, finding a key. Yes, that will do nicely, he thinks. The rocks created before him carry sounds just as old, perfect for what he wants, he plucks words from the ether and starts…on the edge of the mining town, in a little shack, fallen, fallen, fallen, a woman waits for her man to come home, darlin’, darlin’, darlin’, she doesn’t know he’s not a comin’, comin’ comin’, still she waits, a baby, growin’, growin’, growin’. Lua feels the earth shake as he sings and plays, worries he will destroy the very people he is singing about. She strums the strata in the air, lightening the melody and adds…on the edge of the mining town, in a little shack, fillin’, fillin’, fillin’, a woman lives with her family, lovin’, lovin’, lovin’, the air carries their joy, driftin’, driftin’, driftin’, to the men and boys, workin’, workin’, workin’ in the mines of this little mining town. Kahi stops playing as Lua finishes, their duet echoing through rock and air. It’s the first time they have collaborated in a long time and he’s glad. He leans into her, and she smiles, knowing what she has saved.
my mother put her face against my shoulder, clutched at me. it was agony in its miracle. her body shook against mine.
for a while, we shivered at the same frequency. it was astounding that our harmony didn’t make the lightbulbs in her bedroom explode into a starry sky. it was incredible that she believed me.
and yet, no. it wasn’t astounding or incredible.
i drove back home in the worst rain of the summer — it was a cinematographer’s dream of atmospheric storytelling.
when i reached my apartment building, i checked my phone. my mom had texted me.
i got my things and am on my way to a hotel.
my fingers shook as blood labored up to their tips.
if we thought of ourselves as just a collection of blood cells in motion, wouldn’t that make living seem so much more beautiful? constant movement, up and down your torso, your arms, a gentle, perennial tsunami of life. uncontrollable.
i flexed my fingers until the purple beneath my skin melted into white and felt my shoulders shake as i cried.
that’s so good to hear, lmk when you get there, okay?
my mother bought a vegetarian slice and an IPA from the pizza shop i recommended her. her face brimmed with life and redness while we waited for her order beneath the pastel rainbow of my umbrella. she smiled at me.
what is beauty? by assigning that word to anything, it could be argued that we imply performance — we place an audience upon a subject. within that framework, it’s cruel to call something beautiful, because then they can no longer exist as only what they actually are.
but by the same token, we can also free something by calling it beautiful if we define beauty as honesty.
when i tell you my mother was beautiful then, so alive and safe beneath my umbrella, little tears sliding around her eyes, i mean it to acknowledge her in her entirety. i saw her in that moment as nothing other than who she was.
both the audience and the subject are freed by honesty. the word doesn’t matter — i could use any adjective, but beauty freed both of us that day.
i held her hand as we walked back to the car.
refusing to be diagnosed with anorexia for five years
is there another way to say this. tell me honestly — i don’t know where to begin. maybe if i do, the words will falter and pause and land somewhere i know, some clearing in the brush that i’ve charted, that i can call by name. i’m lost. words swarm a half-eaten moon.
i am not tall enough, i am not big enough to hold everything that’s screaming to be let in. my hood is drawn against a hurting, bruising sky. how do i begin, how do i apologize. how do i know that this will answer to a name at all. these are wild things, these words. these are things with teeth. i keep walking. my wicker basket swings and swings, threatening to fly away.
red red red, says the ground when i look around. my cloak has grown so heavy. everything wants to move, and i do not. everything has teeth except for me. red red red. my hood falls over my eyes, over my mouth so that it’s all it can say. all i can say. all i can say is red red red. and it’s not enough. can’t there be another way to say this.
a bone. another rib on the path. a sternum. my hip bone. i am not alone. who am i. red red red. apples in my wicker basket. there has to be another way to say this. i’m lost. i can’t go any faster, everything is far away and i’m so tired. the eyes in the darkness are mine. bread in my wicker basket. the swishing tail in the darkness is mine. red red red. the teeth prodding at the sky are mine.
how do i begin when i don’t know the way. how do i begin when i don’t know which path i walk.
how do i begin when my body was never only mine.
how do i begin.
i want to go somewhere quiet, where my voice unravels at my feet i want my language to come apart so i can put it back together again
i didn’t ask for this, any words on my tongue weren’t there when i started my language did not originate from beneath my teeth between my tongue and cheek i hate having to speak to exist
the torah says that the world began with the words “let there be light” but is there no worse crime, or greater, more devious fallacy than comparing me to g-d? i can’t possibly begin anything with words
don’t tell me we were all created in g-d’s image i wasn’t created, i was remembered i woke up and locked eyes in the darkness i began having forgotten and lived my life remembering how to talk
i want to forget again, my words are foreign poking at the inside of my cheeks, rising like daisies in early spring
this language wasn’t meant for me only with obsolescence can i possibly reclaim my voice
i want to return to the place where language is becoming, where i don’t have to forget who i am in order to speak i remember who i am in a language that is screaming in its birth
do you remember how your skin creased around the knife? part of the story is what comes next
do you ever regret telling it?
you’re coming around — you tore the gravity off your mouth clever little fish, unhooking
what are you looking for in this world of cast- off lace, eggshells breaking, becoming smaller and smaller and many? remember when you parted the gray walls to find the sun? remember how you bled pollen and it felt like a secret when you looked at the teeth in someone’s mouth?
that’s the hook of it, isn’t it?
somehow, your hands can still touch touch your face, and it feels like witness witness even now, despite everything, you still remember how that felt
part of the story is telling it is that what really comes next? open your mouth, treat the puncture inside of your cheek learn the weight of everything without carrying it
gender and sexuality
my eyes pucker like flowers closing at night sunlight slipped down her nose like a second face
the moment it fell, i tasted honey on my tongue and she smiled in the shifting shape of a waxing moon
darkness sucked its fingers clean and spit out the bones — stars fell with a clatter on the black plate
she said she thought i was beautiful but i didn’t know what form that word took in her jaw
the water receded within her, something trembled somewhere like an egg hatching i looked up, even though the lake was staring at me below with its glassy, wanton eye the night’s belly was swollen from eating the sky
she didn’t hold my hand but the skin prickled on my palm my eyes shut completely, became flowers; you see, that was the mistake
she pounced like a fox and ran away with petals in her snarl
but who would stop a fox with petals between her teeth? such an innocent and useless prize. i might as well have given them to her they were only important to me, after all
the darkness slung volleys of wind my throat rasped with everything i couldn’t see anymore
my eyes died in her mouth anyway. she wouldn’t think they’re beautiful in daylight somehow, that’s what i mourn the most: the uselessness of it
if she would have asked, i would have given her flowers and put them in water so they could have a home with her only people who have considered their flowers appreciate others’
but she didn’t. i would have given them to her i promised the sky i would give them to her. i would have given her witness
closed my eyes for her, too if she’d have seen that it was a living thing and not something to decorate her incisors
darkness considered me, and lay down behind my body somewhere, my flowers were dying, my eyes will never quite open all the way
It is my job to count the fairies in the house. This is not stated, more, implied. There is a ladder leading out the window. I follow it and forget my job because you are handing me a pill bottle filled with sunflower seeds. I look different. You look the same. The pink flags on these lawns signify something political but I’m not sure what. I walk and the world creates itself around me. I cannot walk fast enough to get to the end of this simulation– piercing the boundary of what I thought to be the sky.
Sigh after sigh I realize– the flowers keep on dying. Birds make no difference.
I’m laughing on thin air. There is a sensation like falling. I know that soon the earth will break me.
A blushing little thing shrinking ever smaller. Invisible in crowds. Choking on river water.
The house was a sunflower. Now it bleeds. I wait to hear from you.
Cento for Jenny and Jennifer
It’s become just like a chemical stress. Someone shouts “you’re ugly.” Dogs bark at the sunset. All these eighties movies houses drown in purple light. The sky is a bluish gray. I cry into my hands. I cry into a pillow. In my dreams, I see myself hitting a baseball in a green field somewhere near a freeway. I walk next to the freeway and down the hill. Back at home I think I feel an earthquake and we’d better hurry up. I avoid the mirror again and then I look in the mirror for what feels like two minutes but is closer to an hour, tracing the lines in my face for something more beautiful than is there. I remember all the women who have not made it. I’ve barely been gone. I think about not making it. Am I asleep or awake? Where is the song? The beauty? The movement? The playfulness? The life? The crowds keep me coming back, cheering. I’ve become just like a terrible mess, commanding the wrong body the wrong voice the wrong name. I’m not a failure, I swear– I’ve got a lot over here without you, but now I want it all for myself.
Find a comfortable, symmetrical position on this lawn chair. Might I suggest resting the soles of your feet on the bottom rung of the wooden chair in front of you. Yes, the one you found on the street and painted baby blue but it’s still ugly and chipped from the rain. Do not chide yourself for forgetting your possessions in the rain: bike, fire pit, hammock.
Now, close your eyes. Someone else will have to read this to you. There you go. Inhale deeply. Recall the time when your therapist read you a body scan meditation. You felt so completely watched. She told you to exhale through your mouth, so you did. It was uncomfortable. Exhale however you damn well please. Inhale through your nostrils. Notice any scents.
Earlier, doing the dishes, you got deja vu while calculating how many more days your boyfriend will be travelling.
The neighbor’s radio static sounds unnervingly similar to those experimental bands you like. Broken Social Scene. Múm. Oh, now you’ve done it. You’re only supposed to reference myths or the Bible. You aren’t supposed to make the dual “you” so obvious.
You aren’t subtle. But the smell of your cut lawn is. Inhale it. Notice how each inhale smells a little different, almost imperceptibly, but it’s there– like the differences in each and every moment of your life. Each and every bite of your boyfriend’s chocolate cake. Notice how you’ve never noticed this before. Now, sniff your own armpit and remember you’re alive.
Tonight, I attempt to calm myself around the predictable weight of a nail polish bottle. Shade black as pupils. Butyl acetate stings my nostrils. I can’t stop myself from thinking of chemicals as unnatural. As if the world were not made of carbon. Toxic scents trigger pleasant memories: Gas pumps, road trips. Energy drinks, all-nighters. Bleach, a swimming pool. Can you believe there was ever a time we didn’t live like this? I could have mixed beeswax with orchids, crushed berries against cheeks, traversed by footfall and horsehoof, no need for microchip or safety goggle. Let us forget the word tomorrow. Sometimes the only way forward is to turn back.