[Guest-editor's note: I am proud to feature at the Montclair State University Creative Research Center / Virtual Student Center nineteen poems written by present and former students at Montclair State University, all of whom have passed through the ranks of our creative writing concentration or newly-established creative writing minor. Their voices represent the range and depth of poetry being practiced today, ranging from quietly interior to in-your-face, from metered sonnets to free narrative poems, from comedic verse to poems documenting the Occupy Wall Street movement. For many of these students, writing these lines marks the beginning of their entry into the world of poetry, and their practice is proof that poetry can be both timeless and timely, but never expired. In its contemporary reception, poetry can be the child that outlives us. To use the words of one of the poets featured here, Glenn A. Patterson, who writes of a fruit fly’s fatal encounter with a library book: “How tragically perfect, to die in an instant, crushed upon the face of a poem.” - Susan B.A. Somers-Willett - April 2012]
* * * *
New York 1888
You are coffee, potatoes, and pickles.
You are fifteen dollars a month to sleep in a horse stable.
You are a group of children gathered around a horse, starved, that dropped dead in the street.
You are a colony of blind beggars selling pencils on a street corner.
You are an Arab selling dirt gathered in the Battery as a direct importation fromJerusalem.
You are a Chinaman, wifeless, inviting little girls into his laundry.
You are an Italian contracting out your rag-picking, then praying under a picture of the Madonna santissima for the strength to stab the thief sharing your room with a jack-knife.
You are steamy sunshine falling down through laundry lines onto men perched on the railings of Bandit’s Roost.
You are ten hour days in a steaming laundry and two hours at night school five nights a week in a crowded class of fifty, with a teacher so busy with her class that she has no time to notice you.
You are rats, typhus, small pox, and cholera.
You are police hunting river thieves in a wooden row boat.
You are mustached toughs smirking in bowler hats with half-closed eyes.
You are prayer-time in the nursery.
You are a Jew, with your pants hanging low, peddling suspenders in the Pig-market.
You are a police club, made of Black locust, dangling in the cold October wind.
You are a half-naked German woman, whose husband has vanished, bent over a sewing machine at a tenement window.
You are clouds, balled up in fists, churning above tenements.
You are a schizophrenic woman wandering the courtyard on Blackwell’sIslandunder a dark blue sky, dazed and sick, wishing she had a knife.
You’re cross-eyed, catching fireflies in the park.
* * * *
Through the Golden Door
“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-Emma Lazarus (engraved on the Statue of Liberty)
A man throws his son’s colorful hat in
to the sea where it floats with the others,
while downtown, girls empty the ash-cans,
looking for coal to bring to their mothers.
Ladies uptown curl into crocheted sheets,
dreaming of hills, rivers and train rides west,
while a growler gang corrals a lost sheep
to take to the slaughterhouse with the rest.
Steel ruckus from an elevated train
causes a suicide’s soul to ascend.
Tramps drink stale beer, brewed to kill at long range,
from tomato cans at dives in the Bend.
Clouds plump with rain sit in the sky and grin;
the first drops fall on a ship pulling in.
Drew Ciccolo (CHSS English, 2012) starts work on an MFA in fiction next fall, though he’s not sure where yet. His favorite poets include E.E. Cummings, Antonin Artaud, and Charles Bukowski.
* * * *
He had me when I was ambling off the N train,
Not long off when his hands tugged me to the ground
Like news of my father’s death – prying on the service ramp
A NIKE duffel and the coat off my back.
All this hell in the tunnel’s twilight gas glow
Couldn’t see his black face, but his hands, Jesus,
They could tear God from a man’s faith.
Here, see the bruise he left on my right arm
Where his fingers pinched me to a wet wall
And wordless, worked me over with the other,
The yellow stink of the wind and the pissed streets
That’d stained his Carhartt turned my stomach.
He’d spent enough and shook me free of the remaining sleeve
With a punch to the gut, tore off toward the surface,
The coat trailing him into obscurity.
He took what he could, a phone, my wallet, my name;
But now every naked street is an alley
the names of the saints and avenues
refuse me; strange faces stare back from the coinage.
Bread sinks in my stomach like stones.
And no one stopped: two fairies in the underground
Grown men in the throes, Who would drive an axe
Through this modern love?
* * * *
Gold bangles of hammered light
Shingles of sun
Jasper dawned off the low clouded rim
Wherein as fletched guitars, feather downed strings
Gulls spread their godless cries
In the rippling tide.
Let life free from its cages again
Parole raw orange
Red’s flustered wings,
That have waited in an ice of years
I’ll watch the pitted gap where the sun should be
Wait and wait for your dyed fingers to lift the latch
For the arc of rubbed brass
For encircled violet
To try their terrible span overhead
To blind me in clear day.
Anthony Cirilo (CHSS English, 2010) is an Adjunct Professor of English at Essex County College and an adult ESL instructor at Global Academy of America. He is currently at work on his first collection of poems and his writing influences include Agha Shahid Ali, Carolyn Forché, and Arthur Rimbaud.
* * * *
For Joey, Now Joseph
I was empty when my brother told me
all those big ideas he had
about the little things he noticed -
starting with Lincoln, sitting
without a chair on the back
of his birth-year penny.
I sometimes still imagine him,
tucked away at our different schools,
hiding from the blacktop hopscotch
and double-dutch queens,
hoping to be a ghost,
who could escape the burnt-grass-field
until the backyard battles
were whistled in.
I’ve learned how thoughts
work against you when
you don’t know
what you think you do.
How wrong I was,
to think that he was lonely
because he was alone -
then he told me sometimes together
During the nights I can’t sleep,
I think about the people
who really get me. I hear them rattle
like pennies in my head
as I count them downwards,
until I reach him
hiding in that jungle gym tunnel
with his eyes circling
the coral screws that hold
those slivers of plastic
together, while his ideas
leak through the crevice-joints
When the day rises, I wonder where
his thoughts will go
when we grow up tomorrow
after tomorrow until we discover
the day where he cannot
speak, or I cannot listen.
* * * *
During lunch, I thought about
asking you if you wanted to go for a walk
so we could split a coca cola
and talk about the nice parts of our day.
Since I’ve been thinking too much
about Frank’s blood on theFire Island dune buggy
and even more about Jeff Buckley in his day-clothes,
washing up in that slack water channel
after the Wolf River stole his last chorus.
I’ve been waiting so long
for someone to tell me that this has all been wrong
because I have sudden moments
where I remember being 13 and looking up that webpage
on how to shave since my dad was long gone by then -
and in that searing sensation, I still feel
the first time I cut myself shaving
as loud as the sound that accompanies
the look of lightning down my face.
Steven Criscuolo is a senior English and Secondary Education double-major. He is a future English educator and a member of ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) and the NJCTE (The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English). His studies and writing influences include young adult literature and contemporary poets such as Matthew Dickman and Matthew Zapruder.
[Note: These two poems are part of a larger series of poems about the displacement of language, focusing on words that have either gone extinct or do not have an English equivalent. Ya’aburnee is an Arabic word literally meaning ‘you bury me’. This is the hope that a loved one will outlive you as to spare yourself the pain of living without that person. Toska is a Russian word describing a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause.]
* * * *
In the Florida house laundry room,
Oma used to dry her own peppers:
they hung against the sterile white cabinets
from kitchen twine, dark and wrinkled
like a blood stain on an old undershirt.
She ground them to a fine powder
that sloppily hennaed her hands
as she funneled it into jars.
The flecks were stirred into the evening’s
chicken consomme with angel hair
spinning into shadowy sweet red pepper swirls
before dissolving to pin-dots in our bowls.
* * * *
is basil fresh-torn from its stems,
bare feet sliding through dew,
rusted wrought-iron one foot high
around vegetable patches,
evening sun cresting over the top of the hill,
and Dad’s garden clogs soled with mud
on the brick back porch steps.
Katie Demeski is a senior English major and the president of the Earth Spirituality Union at MSU. Her influences include Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, and her family.
* * * *
because of the rain and some lines by verlaine
because of the water that drips off the petal
because of the horse eating the rose of sharon
because of the grackles in the chinaberry tree
because of the rooster
because of all the roosters
because of the ghosts, the jesters, the single blade of grass up close
because of the dusky river’s ballad
because of the white sheet and the trail of lime
because of the cow with the mournful tongue
because of the nose that turned into a heart
because of the still heart in the breast of the girl with darting eyes
because of the two drill-bit holes in the dead mother’s face
because of the duality of the moon king
because the celestial kingdom is underwater
because love is a pimp in a fire station
because love is an invisible larva eating a rose
because love is a mother sawing at her child’s neck
because of every catastrophic personality
because of the beet-red sand bed veiled in the bones of horses
because of the zombie-self that startles awake with rotten eyes
because of the child who taped a knife to a chair and charged
because of the diamond-cut cane that beat blood from his black head
because he could only scream as loud as an ocean
because he spent thirty years atop a pillar praying
because the baptism demanded blood before it demanded water
because of the woman waiting inside the wallpaper
because of the savagery of pink
because of the rain i sit squinting out a grey window
because of the rain
* * * *
The Poem Defines Itself
just as sunset defines itself.
just as ice growing on a river defines itself.
Ultimately, we’re lucky.
Every seed does not grow.
Every bugle does not forward blow
some notes sour and wither.
I love and leave you behind, soured and withered notes.
just as heat from fire defines itself.
just as the lingering cool of twilight defines itself.
Ultimately, we’re lustful.
Every breath aches.
Every finger straightened
points towards a want.
I love that drops of water in proximity always run towards each other.
just as a breeze on a window defines itself.
just as the color of night defines itself.
Ultimately, we’re alone.
Every darkness is a blanket.
Every bright light brings cold
by forcing dreams into hiding.
I love the severed limbs of Osiris.
just as a new moon defines itself.
just as the depth of a raindrop’s dive defines itself.
Ultimately, we’re echoes.
every boundary’s solid
(as if a wall isn’t mostly air.)
I love that men once sought to sail to the edge of the earth.
just as a well tuned gusle defines itself.
just as the weight of a flying kite defines itself.
Ultimately, we’re rippling.
Every impossible happens;
every statistician knows
it only requires forever.
I love this promise made by new grass.
Josh English is a graduating senior in English, and a New Jersey native who will begin an MFA program to study poetry this fall. His work has been previously published in The Stillwater Review and he has self-released three albums of original contemporary folk music.
* * * *
Carcasses littered across Route 15
like an unburied graveyard.
A new body lies in the emergency lane.
She was probably
stunned. Startled. Stopped.
Caught in a blinding light
by the vibration of black tread,
by the hum of a bigger beast.
Fallen to black beaks that
wrestle scraps of pink skin from her body.
She spoils in the sun.
Melts like plastic into the concrete.
With intestines sprawled out
Where white maggots muster.
She lies against the street,
next to her shadow that lingers.
It’s a road hazard,
all of her bones that become brittle
could puncture tires.
Someone will come
to pick up her body and
toss it in the back of a truck
with more roadkill, or
the rains will wash away
the remains, a little at a time.
Mornings will pass and
eventually, it will be as if
she was never here.
She was not Joan of Arc,
not Neda Soltan,
not Saint Cecilia ,
but was a daughter,
and possibly a mother.
* * * *
Thanks for Breaking Up with that Whore 2.5 Years Ago
When you called me that morning at 2 am, spilling out drunken fears of being alone,
when you met me at New York Penn Station that cold morning to walk to a convention full of
comic books, video games, and superhero impersonators,
when you complimented me on my black Batman gloves with yellow beaded grips,
when you bonded with my dad over a love for both Star Wars and Star Trek,
that time when you attempted to see if your fingers fit between mine,
when you nervously kissed me while trying to say goodnight,
when we were in Boston at the same time,
when you ran through the rain with me after dancing all night to guilty pleasures
of Destiny’s Child and Hanson,
when you built me a tent with bright orange bed sheets because I’d never been camping,
when you refused to leave my side as I got to know your toilet more intimately,
after we figured out that I’m allergic to whiskey,
when you changed my clothes that same night after I passed out,
when you first told me you love me the next morning,
when you make me Taylor ham, egg, and cheese on a bagel for dinner,
when you don’t make fun of my love for fruity beers,
when you gently kiss my forehead while you think I’m sleeping,
when we wear similar plaid shirts and black jeans without intentionally trying to match,
when we compare thoughts on our favorite episodes of Battlestar Galactica,
when you drive 104 miles every other weekend to see me,
when we watch the sun set and the moon rise,
when you talk on the phone with me until I fall asleep,
and when I am willing to be on a 5-hour trip, on 3 different trains towards Philadelphia,
that is why I said yes.
Melissa Gregoli is a senior English major with a concentration in creative writing, but she really feels that her major is poetry, trying to take every poetry course available at MSU. Her influences include Walt Whitman, Anne Sexton, Pablo Neruda, and Darth Vader.
* * * *
The Deposition of Ouranos
Freud would have had the time of his life if he could have felt
the weight of the sickle and seen the blood rain across Earth.
The ruminations circle his couch in the form of questions:
What does it mean to reject one’s children in such a way?
Is that what it takes to spark a murderous rage? Does
something as beautiful as Love emerge from all ill deeds?
Is the flesh of children as tender as that of veal?
—here he pauses to clip a cigar and look out across London.
Splayed upon the sofa, all muscle and malice: this is what he sees
when he imagines the Titan pulled through his own element.
And wily Kronos would say, “My mother, she begged, and I love her—
So I told her, ‘yes, I will do as you wish, and in such a clever way.’”
Smoke swirls on one side of the window; fog on the other.
The good doctor takes a mental note: phalluses everywhere.
* * *
It’s the pieces left behind that matter:
the veins that now belong to him,
the brain cells she’s claimed, the ambition
that roams the halls like a scruffy old cat.
It’s the index finger I slammed in the door,
the red sandals I forgot under the desk, the
glimmer from my eye that bled away so easily.
It’s the tether I wrapped around my spine
and knotted to his office doorknob.
It’s the him, the him, the her, and the her.
It’s the everyone, the faces I know and don’t,
the voices lodged in my bursting skull,
the laughter rattling against my rib cage.
It’s the hollow sensation of attachment,
the desire to linger and the inability
to do so, the urging for me to get the hell out.
It’s the life I can’t imagine, but they all can;
the assurance that I will “be okay,” and
the doubt that counters every compliment.
It’s the pile of pencils I’ve lost, the notes scribbled,
papers printed, comments yelled, ink drained.
It’s every thought, every anxiety, everything
born in and taken from these stifling rooms.
* * * *
Heather Lockhart is a graduating senior English major, president of MSU’s Mythology Society, and a greeter at the Center for Writing Excellence. She is looking forward to graduating in May and plans to pursue an MFA in creative writing.
* * * *
Glenn A. Paterson
in the parking garage
and the echo
settles in the
of parked cars.
In one moment
the world drowning
In the next,
she is nothing more
than the candle
I am falling asleep by.
The words in my head
quiver with the sighs
of disappearing sparrows.
To be lonely today
is to be the sandwater
in the footprints
of what it was to be lonely
a hundred years ago.
I dream of being as delicate
as the woman eating pearls
of white rice with chopsticks,
but my fork is heavy in my fist,
and I detest rice.
First I was a globe,
and the weight of open palms.
Today in the sunbeams
that melted over my hair,
I plowed twenty-four acres of restlessness
with the crescent moons of my fingernails.
[“Connective Tissue” was originally published in the April 2010 issue of Fogged Clarity.]
* * * *
Glenn A. Paterson
I pulled a book from the high shelf today, listless and desperate for relief. I let the pages slip past the skin of my thumb like a flutter of wings until they stopped at one with the word Origin printed at the top just beneath a name I’d never heard before. Halfway down the page a spot of black caught my eye. As I brought the book closer to my face, I realized that this was not an indiscriminate blot of ink as I’d thought, but a small fruit fly, flattened against the ivory pages. I imagined his attempt to disguise himself as the dot atop an “i” as the oblivious reader (probably myself) quickly closed the book. His iridescent wings embraced the “l” and “o” beneath him, a skyward parenthesis. I envied him, then. How tragically perfect, to die in an instant, crushed upon the face of a poem.
Glenn Ashley Paterson (CHSS English, 2010) has had work appear in The Normal Review, as well as Fogged Clarity and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She draws inspiration from combining the written word with other art forms, such as photography, painting, and drawing, resulting in the largely visual nature of her poetry.
* * * *
I’ll never have Bob Dylan’s beard.
My hair started graying before I could taste what Dylan Thomas loved
as much as poetry. In four years I’ll be as old as Keats was when he died.
Eliot wrote Prufrock when he was only twenty-two,
and before long I’ll be approaching my Jesus Year.
Jeanne Calment, a French woman, lived to be one hundred-and-twenty-one,
while my father’s heart exploded at the age of forty-nine.
Death is breathing down my neck, and it’s the cold suspicion of a snowstorm;
it is sweet honey in frosted air, but sends a blade through my glass jaw.
Great men grow beards to wrap around their necks like scarves
to fight off this unforgiving breath, but all I have is a depression and
a manuscript of poems that will never send
Walt Whitman’s ghost to my bedside at night like the
Ghost of Christmas Future to whisper in my ear, “COME, and take my hand
and forget your reservations and feet. For you do not need them where we are,”
I would step from bed, leaving my legs behind, and of course take his hand,
fingers entwined, as we glide through haunted halls of great men—
past a gilded mosaic of the Buddha, past Martin Luther King
sipping tea beside a sculpted marble copy of himself,
past Plato thumb wrestling with Godard, and
Thoreau snacking on ginger snaps in a tea garden.
Somewhere in the museum, we will find Shakespeare
playing Chinese Checkers with Hemingway.
Allen Ginsberg will be looking on, waiting to play the winner, and
he’ll spot Walt and come over to say hello. When we’re introduced
I will stroke his beard as he kisses my forehead and calls me a sweet boy.
When we part, he tells I will see him again soon.
He will ask what gallery I will see next and I will joke,
“Whichever Whitman’s beard points to.” He’ll laugh before gathering
a stern look on his face because he knows which way his beard will be pointing.
And I’ll ask Allen, “When will he be here with you?” and he tells me, “Soon.”
And his heart will break when he sees me walk away towards the portrait of
my father’s goateed face, because we both know that I will not kiss his cheek
before his body burns into gas and his blood evaporates into incense.
I won’t have it in me.
* * * *
I am unattended ivy planted by my mother’s hands
in the shadow of my father’s home, beneath the kitchen window,
creeping up the brick, surrounding the windows, and rotting the wood
like the sea eroding the coasts of Normandy where my grandfather landed
after Francewas won to repair damaged tanks stuck on
the cobblestone alleyways teeming with townspeople repairing the cavities
in their country. In the crowd of dust he could sit on his helmet
while he lit a cigarette without worrying that a Wehrmacht sharpshooter
was setting his aim, ready to blow his skull out with a Karabiner rifle.
He was not one of the G.I.s slumped like a potato sack in the gutters,
a dog tag torn off, and their forehead a sunken hole. He went home
with a story of the war he didn’t see, and with no
Purple Heart or folded flag to pass down, with no empty helmet
sent to a waiting son inBrooklyn, my father became an accountant,
and bought a house for him to fight with my mother in every night.
They would go to bed angry and yet they still slept in the same bed,
but so far apart that the edges of the mattress became
worn down and sunken under the swollen leather of their bodies.
I used to fill the seams between the younger mass in the middle of the night
when I dreamt about dying. The space was just a crack then,
formed from tiny tremors, not yet the crevasse it is now,
a no-man’s land, occupied by not even the dog.
Greg Riggio a senior English Education major earning minors in Creative Writing and Philosophy. He is influenced by Transcendentalism, Beat lit, and the realism of everyday life.
* * * *
We walked hand-in-hand and swerved through the crowd. At times I felt our hands tugging away
from one another but we both instinctively held even tighter. It was a nice day, the perfect
day to be outside. We had nowhere else to be with only 5 dollars in our pockets.
We had been spending every day and night here and would joke at night at
how we were nomads. We were drifters like Kerouac in The
Dharma Bums. We weren’t here because we had to, we
were here because we wanted to be. Finally, our
generation began to cry the sorrows we
believed in. Our generation seemed
to be less lazy and finally
inspired to act upon
the failures of
I met a woman
who hasn’t visited a
doctor in 4 years. She was a
recent college grad and still looking
for work. She looked sick: pale and moist
with dark smudges under her eyes. When her father
lost his job and her mother had to be put on disability for an
accident that happened on the job, the insurance she once took for
granted, was no longer available. Her teeth were a dark yellow. The kind
attached to college lettering. I felt so awful and sick. Not because of her
appearance but because of the “best country in the world” can’t even throw her a bone
and offer some health care. I wondered if I could pack all my things and head to Canada with her.
“We will have capitalism but also have socialism.” “A system that rewards hard work and
ambition but cares for its weakest child.” “And being called a “FEMINAZI” will be
considered “treasonous.” “We will simply combine capitalism and socialism
and call it “peopleism.” “…Or that God damn Ayn Rand book – That’s no
joke brother.” Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask does not make you an
anarchist. The reality is in front of you: It’s the pepper spray
blinding you, it’s the baton bruises on your arms, it’s
the rubber bullet welts,
It’s your first arrest.
I remember the
first day I walked
around the park. It was a
Saturday sometime in September. I
distinctly remember how nice it was that day.
I didn’t need a sweatshirt but I needed a long sleeve
shirt. My eyes welled up to the brim when I saw the first little boy
with his hand written and drawn sign. “I want to see my Mommy happy
again!” He incorporated some blurry drawings to the above phrase. After seeing all
types of people there, it really hit me that this doesn’t just affect my peers or adults in
general, it affects the children who have to witness their parents having a break down when they
need to eat dinner. Or when it’s time to pay rent. It’s the time when kids will start to
realize that their clothes are being purchased at a Goodwill shop and Salvation
army instead of the mall. Or when they start to notice the dirty looks they
receive from strangers at the grocery store when Mom and Dad pay
with their EBT cards for groceries.
“When the rain and snow start they’ll be gone.” “Totally. They won’t be so united once December
and January roll around.” “Were they still there when that freak snow storm happened in
October?” “I dunno but probably not.” “Yeah, they’re a bunch of pussies.” “Yeah.”
“Those people who are on government help-stealing our hard earned
money!” “Yes! What lazy bums! Why don’t they just go get a job?”
“If I can get a job after majoring in business at Yale, then
anyone can.” “ObviouslyAmerica is just full of
good-for-nothing immigrants.” “They
should all just continue being janitors
Then I realized,
we weren’t there for
my ulterior motives. We were
there to participate. We were there to
show our support and also our anger. So my
zine had to be put aside for the time being. Feminism
was not this fight. Not today. I was there for my mother who
survives off of her measly Disability check each month. I was there
for my father, originally from Chile but a citizen for 30 + years who is
forced to work in a factory. I was there for the taxes my family and all the families
across America has to pay. But most importantly, I was there for myself. After 4 years, the
realization that I will not have a job once I graduate is almost too much to stomach.
I went to bed that night and I stared at the ceiling for a while. I laid next to my lover, who has now
spent many days at OCCUPY when he is not at his graduate classes at CUNY. I wondered
what my life would look like in 8 months. I’d be graduating and hopefully been
accepted into some English program at some graduate school. I felt selfish
as we laid in his semi-comfortable bed while people were at
Zuccotti Park. I laid in his arms and drifted off to sleep, the
final thoughts of the couple who had been staying at
Occupy because they had no one where else
to be: the recent college grad with
daffodil-stained teeth, and of
the child with his sign.
Amanda Zuniga is a senior English major with minors in Creative Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies. When she is not focusing on writing or feminist theory, she is the editor and creator for the zine “Suggestion,” an anti-rape and anti-sexual violence publication which promotes a safe space for victims and supporters.