Interview with Mike Lala

Mike Lala by Ted RoederMike Lala. Photo credit: Ted Roeder.

Mike Lala is the author of the chapbooks Under the Westward Night (Knickerbocker Circus, 2010) and [fire!] ([sic] Press, 2011). His poetry has appeared in FenceThe Brooklyn RailThe AwlRHINODIAGRAMArtifice, and many others. He lives in Brooklyn, where he co-curates Fireside Follies, is Assistant Poetry Editor at Washington Square, and reviews poetry for Publishers Weekly. More at His poem “Self Interrogation (Kill Team)” is published in Paperbag 5.

Cathy Linh Che: I was drawn to your poem, “Self Interrogation (Kill Team),” in part, because of my first encounter with the story—which I read about in an issue of Rolling Stone. For those who don’t know, The Kill Team was a group of American soldiers who killed several Afghan civilians for sport. Some of them kept parts of the victims’ bodies (thumbs and teeth) in baggies and showed them to friends. Others took photographs of the dead and mutilated bodies and even sent them home. The first person they killed with a fifteen-year-old farmer named Gul Mudin. The story has been with me for a long time, and I was interested to know that someone out there was grappling with it, too. Where/when did you first encounter the story of the Kill Team? Also, could you talk about your reaction to the news story as well as what led you to write the poem?

Mike Lala: It’s good to hear that you came across the story at all. If anything beyond the story itself is shocking, it’s how little mention it received in news outlets, as if this sort of violence—deranged beyond what I think most of us find fathomable—as if this sort of violence is commonplace in war—or as if we should accept that it comes with the territory.

But in any case, I found out about it either through a link to Der Spiegel or CNN, when Sgt. Gibbs was indicted (i.e. the investigation slipped by me).

My initial reaction was to a degree horror, or disgust, but it also awakened a very uncomfortable feeling that I wasn’t expecting, and one that intrigued me. I remember being struck by a thought: “This is me.” Or, “This says something about us:” something about this act, not just murdering someone in cold blood, not “just” a war atrocity, but the sort of psychosis surrounding the whole situation—how this man began collecting body parts from the corpses of his victim, how he showed them to other soldiers in a (successful) effort to keep them quiet, how he even got some of them to play along, and how his plans became ever more elaborate and outlandish (at the end, plans to throw candy in the road in front of convoys so they could run over children)—something about this saying to me this is the product of something more than one person and it hit very close to home, maybe because I grew up on military bases (my father was a career soldier), but I think also because these actions mimic in a very real way the more abstract and insidious actions we’ve taken as a country. So the poem, which is an embarrassing and futile attempt to talk about something that is sort of unspeakable (not just the act of one person, but an implication that is much wider), is an attempt to grapple with the idea that I am (or we all are) Sgt. Gibbs. After all, it’s my country, my culture, the vote of my elected representative and my tax dollars, that made this possible. It’s my crime as much as his.

CC: So much of our lives are saturated with news from afar, news that makes us angry, but that also feels like material that we can only access partially, news that’s often incorrect, manipulated, sensationalized, biased, whatever.

For you, what are the challenges, risks, and rewards of writing from something you find in the news, and how did you feel that you addressed the challenges and risks?

ML: I think that there is the basic challenge that many poets face of how to take “found” material and what to do with it, to make it work in verse. But then there’s another catch, because when dealing with “the news,” using a story like this one, you risk exploiting it—the stories of people who have suffered tremendously, who have died or had people close to them murdered in gruesome ways, and people who have been asked to bear an impossible weight or carry out a task that should never have been asked of them. You can’t well leave the victims or their family members out—but how do you let them exist in the work in a way that doesn’t exploit their suffering? Is that possible?

And about Sgt. Gibbs—how can I begin to talk about empathy, which really is what the poem is operating on, as someone who is living this relatively safe, comfortable life while he was cast (to some degree, by me) into a kind of hell I’ll never experience? So the risk, and I think something the writer has to accept, is that by taking on “the news” of the day, you ultimately fail in what you want to do, you learn that you’re not and cannot be educated enough about your subject, that there’s an inherent hypocrisy in the distance you have take to write “about” it, and to some degree you exploit something that is so not yours it’s a little sickening while you do it. But then again, you do it (even if the information you start with is manipulated, sensationalized, or incomplete).

CC: How important is it to you that this poem proceed as a kind self-interrogation? The word that comes to mind is culpability. Another word that comes to mind is solitude. How are these topics at play in your work?

ML: Well, there are perhaps many ways culpability, which is a great word, and to which I might add the previously mentioned empathy, figures into things. I think that these ideas are complex and uncomfortable enough that writing the poem became a form of interrogation or antagonism of the self, while of course the poem is an interrogation in form and takes place when “interrogation” itself is a buzz word for acts of torture this country is committing in the name of keeping its people, many of them blindsided with “the news,” safe.

Reading the story, I recognized something of myself, and of my culture, in this deranged act. Not just the killing, but the psychosis of a culture that can produce a personality that could do such things repeatedly (or better, that asks a human being to enter a situation that could produce this act and then to find enjoyment in it). To think that he is a monster, or an anomaly that can systematically be dealt with, or just to write him off and say “I told you so” because one never supported the wars in the first place is really overlooking what we, all of us, have created or allowed to happen. This act of taking fingers and teeth from corpses as war trophies especially—how can one not see it as analogous to what we’re doing on a large scale, invading countries, hanging dictators and installing our own? We’ve been doing it for half a century but now someone, one of us, has come along and given us Americans something of a terrible gift: the large act distilled into a very small one, “an image of ourselves.”

CC: I would also like to ask you about the form of the poem: the short sections, the redactions, the inclusion of tape or recording place this text in an interrogation room, but also departure from the realm of “the real” into a perhaps parallel universe of the imagined. How did you build this poem and when did you made decisions to use these particular formal elements?

ML: The first drafts of the poem were much different. The poem was lineated, and it dealt with the ongoing wars, but it was my reading of this story that pushed things along into a broken prose. It seemed for a long time that there was no way to directly address the idea of shared culpability, so it had to start in fits and slide into an acknowledgement, rather than work toward a previously known truth. So we start with home, then the conception of a home a soldier could depart from, the monologue beginning to become aware of itself as not entirely issuing from one speaker, the accusatory tone becoming confused, then relenting into an open space, a door, an encounter, but one that we know and the speaker knows is imagined and in which only he can truly speak or have agency (which in itself is an admission of failure).

As to the recordings and their redactions, there were two voices, or at least two elements, that I thought needed to be allowed into the poem: the sense of a previous history, a history or narrative that is common to us, and the acknowledgement of a history in the making. What most of us know about the wars, and about this story, is of course, second-hand, and often heavily redacted, and different narratives compete with each other for prominence.

CC: What/who are your models, influences, heroes, specifically for this poem? In other words, when writing this poem, were there other poems out there that helped you understand how to write a long poem, or how to grapple with the subject matter?

ML: Reading C.D. Wright was certainly a great help in composing the poem. I think it’s apparent in both the form and tone, so I’m indebted to her. There’s also a particular section in Alice Notley’s Alma, or The Dead Women, that I found to be extremely helpful, though it takes a much different approach to a similar subject and implication in general:

“About 450 U.S. troops have already arrived in the Philippines, Pentagon officials said. Alma is an owl and she will terrorize you in your future dreams when you wake up knocking your head against the headboard of your bed, trying to get out of your past actions, for i know things about soldiers, but no one would ever listen. because your body in its privacy in its veritable intimacy of you—and why am i crying?—knows it has no right to kill, except for food, and even that is sticky. but all of this is discredited. Alma is your omen, god is your omen, beware of her. if you see her you will know, that before your death the privacy of your body will be filled with the wings of your guilt; for you will know that anyone’s self is as intimate to that one as your is to you and you negated that, you deleted yourself. the death was yours and it was the worst thing you could do. you will know this from exactly within where god’s wings have come.”

At the end of writing the piece, I also saw Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape performed at BAM, and that, along with recent performances by innovative producers like Annie B. Parson and Paul Lazar of Big Dance Theater helped me conceptualize and work with the more formal stage and sound elements of the poem.

CC: Are there any particular artists/writers you find especially compelling these days?

ML: Too many to list, I’m afraid. I just started reading Pinter’s Death Etc., which seems applicable. Anne Carson’s new book Red Doc> also deals peripherally with characters affected by war, though it certainly doesn’t seem like the thrust of the book. But I think it’s good that a decade of brutality hasn’t completely slipped out of consciousness.

CC: Are you working on any projects? Or, obsessed with any particular ideas in general?

ML: I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a long, somewhat essayistic poem in sections that deals with many different forms of violence, including state-sanctioned and military, but also much more personal, small scale acts. And then I’m going back to a long project that involves a lot of early 20th century research and quoted text that is supposed to round out my manuscript, if I can ever finish it.

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PAPERBAG No. 5 Launch Reading

Hey Y’all!

We’re having a reading for the most recent issue of Paperbag! You should totally come. Facebook invite here:

The evening’s readers include:

Iris Cushing
Elsbeth Pancrazi
Monica McClure
M.R.B. Chelko
Mike Lala
Paul O’Connor

Things go down Friday, April 19th at 7pm at Pete’s Candy Store (709 Lorimer st.) in lovely Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Check this sweet ass flyer which you can use to make your own paperbag puppet and bring to the reading!


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Interview with Elsbeth Pancrazi

[Shines bright light on Elsbeth]

Q: One of your strengths as a poet is the ability to poetically engage with nearly any subject, which I find is a distinct trait from merely writing a poem about something. Many poets, including professors, insist we not date ourselves with contemporary language or references, but you are able to find the universal in the specific about many interesting subjects and their particular vocabularies. Is this something you find yourself actively wrestling with, or do you see the world as your limitless inspirational oyster?

EP: Shucks. Nearly any subject? It’s true that I am interested in seeing what can become a poem. It’s a fun puzzle to me: if Frank O’Hara can make a poem out of, basically, gossip, what can I put in a poem that will make it interesting to people who think they are not interested in poems?

Basically my goal is to trick people into forgetting what they think a poem is. So, the most recent example is that I noticed that when my family hangs out, we take a lot of pleasure in discussing tv shows—like, “Oh, man. Have you seen the episode where…” and then relating the whole plot. I asked myself whether I could do this in a poem—and that’s where these tv poems got their start.

Q: Have you participated in any cross-medium collaborations lately? How do you feel about the confluence between poetry and other art forms?

EP: Poet seeks artist for cross-medium collaboration…. message me privately.

I’m so interested in the generative possibilities of collaboration. The energy is so exciting and the loss of control is so unnerving—as in any relationship, I guess.

Q: Paperbag works to establishing a more substantive footprint for individual writers and artists by asking for more work rather than their best singular poem or piece. Do you feel that the magazine accomplished this for you? Why/not?

EP: I can only say that in the case of discovering other poets’ work, I adore moving through a sequence of poems, and so I hope others felt this way about mine. The poems in Paperbag do take place in a futuristic zone, and I know that takes a minute to get acclimated to, so I was excited that Paperbag gave me the chance to present a bunch of poems together!

Q: What are some of your most recent influences, direct or otherwise?

EP: I’ve been adoring Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey for the past year.

Q: What is your relationship to your readers? Do you believe in conveying a particular message, or do you regard reader response as relatively open?

EP: Well, after admitting that I’m trying to trick people into reading more poetry… I guess my message to readers should be a combination of “thanks” and “sorry”? But as your questions suspect, I don’t think in terms of message. I just keep trying to construct something interesting and even beautiful. [wipes brow]

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Interview with Iris Cushing

Q: Your poems are very rooted in place, location, and in nature as a whole. What is it about nature that lends itself so readily to poetry? How does language capture this world in a ways that other art forms can’t compare, specifically as you use it?

IC: One thing I love about language is that it’s physically weightless. It lives in the mind and body and spirit, and can be carried anywhere. When I’m out somewhere, language very often reveals itself to be a vital part of my experience of the place, inseparable from the place itself. Making a poem out of that language feels like the best way to find my own role or position in a given place. Wild ecosystems are great for this because my “human” status is totally open for interpretation.

I remember reading a set of instructions once for “how to be a Druid” in a Deep Ecology text. It said something like, “pack some food and water and a notebook in your backpack, and go out into the forest for the whole day.” It really helps me to think that when I do exactly this, I am participating in a tradition that humans have valued since our earliest existence. Even if the “forest” is New York City!

Q: Have you participated in any cross-medium artistic/writerly collaborations of late? How do you feel about the confluence between poetry and other art forms?

IC: My friend Loie Hollowell, who is a painter, is working on a book with me. Her narrative paintings are populated with cacti, strange flowers, and dream-like human characters. Her work suggests a reality that I would like to explore with language. It’s a free, spacious, erotic reality where ecosystems have a mythological significance that we make up ourselves. I’m very excited to co-create this world in our book.

Recently Loie and I are reading Diné Bahane’: The Navajo Creation Story (trans. by Paul G. Zolbrod in 1984). It’s an epic and elaborate Pre-Colombian poem-story where wise plants and animals talk. People do things like belch and masturbate and climb into and out of the sky.

The dialogue we have about the vocabulary of images in this ancient poem—verbally and visually—is so rich and generative. I always learn more about my own practice as a poet from it. That’s what is valuable to me about collaboration—the moments of thought and intuition shared with another maker.

Q: Paperbag works to establishing a more substantive footprint for individual writers and artists by asking for more work rather than their best singular poem or piece. Do you feel that the magazine accomplished this for you? Why/not?

IC: Yes, it has. I really enjoy having access to a wider breadth of my fellow poets’ work too. It feels generous to both the poets and the readers. As poets, we don’t work in tiny little units—we work in larger wholes. I prefer that kind of experience as a reader, too. It’s like getting a whole meal instead of a little hors d’oeuvre.

Q: As someone with her hands in various aspects of publishing, what are your thoughts on the proliferation of online journals? Do you feel that digital offers something that print can’t provide, and/or vice versa?

IC: I think online publishing is amazing because it’s infinitely plastic and doesn’t take up any space. It offers a completely different experiential quality than books and physical journals. The difference is hard to define, for me. Many of us are figuring out how to use the online medium in a way that honors our work.

I have always felt a great kinship with books. The ones I love the most feel very human to me, like friends or relatives or god-children in idea/word form. But in my old age, an obsession with recycling and material efficiency has started to take over. The sight of stacked-up old New Yorkers fills me with anxiety. There is a genuine conflict between loving print media and facing its avalanches of paper, knowing they come from trees. Online publishing is a beautiful sort of resolution to this conflict. I look forward to seeing what things are like in 20 or 30 years.

Paperbag, I might add, features a lot of the visual appeal that endears me to books.

Q: Any insight on your current projects?

IC: I have been writing and performing poetic monologues where I sing and play my ukulele. They are funny but also profound, if I don’t say so myself. Right now I’m working on one called “San Franciscan Night Theme” that brings together 1960s pop songs, California history, Full House and my own experiences into a kind of portrait of a place. I’m going to perform it at my friend’s gallery space (Carville Annex) in San Francisco in a couple weeks.

Q: What are some of your most recent influences, direct or otherwise?

IC: The Western poems I was writing got me listening to more traditional country western music, which surprised me with its poetic potential as a form. The risks and pleasures involved in singing, and speaking from memory, are more and more exciting to me recently. I have been checking out the work of entertainers who practiced what I think of as a kind of troubadour tradition in the 20th century: Danny Kaye, Arlo Guthrie, and Spalding Gray, for example. Folk artists who created their own interdisciplinary-yet-seamless theatre of self and language…Jonathan Richman’s “Monologue about Bermuda” is wonderful in this way, as are Sandra Bernhard’s meandering personal stories interspersed with strange, heartfelt renditions of pop songs in Without You I’m Nothing. Andy Griffith, who died this year, has been a great inspiration. His monologue “What is Was, Was Football” from 1953 is very funny and also entirely a poem. There isn’t really that niche in popular culture, anymore, I don’t think—we leave it to stand-up comedians or professional actors. As a poet, I’m very excited to work with improvisation and performance in the way these folks did and do.

Q: What is your relationship to your readers? Do you believe in conveying a particular message, or do you regard reader response as relatively open?

IC: Having readers, and being a reader, is essential to being a poet, for me. Writing and reading are very spiritually and intellectually fulfilling activities. Someone reading my writing completes the fulfillment. All I want is for my poems to be read or heard with full attention—so I try to write poems that invite full attention. And to read poems with my own full attention. Whatever I get out of reading belongs to me—likewise with the people who read my work.

Check out some poems by Iris in the latest issue of Paperbag.

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Interview with Eric Kuhn

Paperbag: Do you ever imagine lyrics for your compositions or movie scenes they could inspire? I know I do, but this interview is not about me.

Eric Kuhn: Lyrics are very hard for me to think of, for some reason, BUT, I always imagine scenes and stories and characters. When I’m creating and when I’m experiencing most art, regardless of the medium. A certain keyboard sound is a character or a series of events or a camera angle or a way to use punctuation or an accent and vice versa and back and forth forever. Music is just one way to translate all these things. And everything is about everyone! What lyrics and movie scenes do they inspire for you? (You don’t have to respond…)
One more thing on this– I’ve been continually pleasantly surprised when filmmakers and video artists use my songs in their work. The things they see in them and the ways they can be re-contextualized are fascinating, and I love making music that can live multiple lives in that way.

PB: When I listen to “Today I Am Not Remembering Anything,” I keep singing the title, and I see a lone figure in a bear costume walking. “Paths,” I think, is about an ex-double-agent who has decided to renounce the world, but before that he wants to burry his enormous salary and his GPS chip on the bottom of the sea. There are lots of bubbles as he goes up, back to the surface…
How about this – what is your relationship to process?

EK: I find process to be a very challenging thing to navigate. Particularly picking an end point to a process. I have a love for works in progress, or things left unfinished, in art and in all things really. So, I tend to create best and most easily when I’m fully but aimlessly inspired, and I prefer to leave things intentionally unfinished, or in a state where I feel like they give the person interacting with it room to imagine and dream beyond what is pinned down. I like the story to be able to continue. I also enjoy working with mistakes and surprises, in tandem with careful advance planning and relentless editing.

PB: What are some of your most recent influences, direct or otherwise?

EK: Everything about Prince, the exquisite craft of Truman Capote, the enigmatic nonchalance of Kate Moss, the fierce but methodical force of B. Hamilton, sleeplessness associated with chronic breathing troubles, the radical feminist politics of Adrienne Skye Roberts, the devastating talent and fearlessness of Allen Iverson, Coffee, running, Grunge Rock, the discipline and timing of Charlie Chaplin, the unconditional love of my parents and friends.

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Interview with Paul S O’Connor

Paperbag: Tell us more about your process. Your paintings morph through various stages. Which is the most exciting one?

Paul S O’Connor: When I’m making paintings, I never have an end goal in mind. I’ll have the kernel or framework of an idea that I work out in Photoshop, but where it goes from there is all a cycle of action and revision. In other words, I spend a lot of time looking at what’s been laid out and trying to figure out where to go from there. It’s kind of like having a set of bad driving directions; you start with a basic map, but it’s a little confusing, not completely clear and you get lost a lot. Yet, as you get closer and closer to your destination, things start to fall into place faster and faster and everything seems to make sense. Of course, of all the stages I’m always most excited by the final stage, cause it’s the point at which I’m satisfied with everything and don’t need to add or subtract anything. But I think it’s great to have documentation of various dead ends and false starts in a piece because you can go back and see some exciting ideas that didn’t necessarily pan out for that piece but might be appropriate for something else.

Prints though are a different story…. Those I plan out almost entirely, start to finish, to streamline the process of making them. I really enjoy the interplay between the two mediums. If one mode of working is feeling a little stale, I can always switch gears and give my brain a break. It keeps things fresh and the modes of working inform each other. Sorry, I don’t know why I’m using so many car metaphors…

PB: What are some of your most recent influences, direct or otherwise?

POC: I really don’t think of ideas (aesthetic or otherwise) in terms of one artist influencing another. That sort of phrasing implies a kind of rigid, anachronistic, linear history of art that doesn’t exist, but’s been propagated by tradition or habit or laziness or… something. Contemporary artists are in a continuous dialogue with artists of the past; it’s not a one-way street.

Gustav Klimt, "Portrait of Mada Primavesi" 1921

Ideas from old works may inform current works, but contemporary art has the ability to redefine or recontextualize the ideas of the past, changing the circumstances in which current audiences view artworks from another period. In the end, all artists are working in the present, with a spectrum of objects and visual ideas to draw ideas from. Everyone borrows, and the best artists steal, but I think that it’s unhealthy to reduce an artist’s ideas by giving ownership to a past artist who was working within the same framework. This is true for Caravaggio, Picasso, or Koons, or myself….
It’s better to look at art outside of the structure of a timeline, and more like a continuing conversation of ideas. If you like Expressionism and want to explore that, go for it! You don’t have a debt to Kokoschka or De Kooning; you’ve just been listening to what they’ve been saying and now you’re adding your two cents to the Expressionist conversation. Your ideas impact the past as much as past works have influenced you, so I think it’s better to have a broader discussion about the current ideas and conversations that you share with other artists (like the ideas that all Expressionist share), rather than a backwards looking, ideological genealogy of sorts. (Expressionism begat Abstract Expressionism begat Neo-Expressionism begat Post Neo Avant AbEx, and so on until you run out of clever add-ons.)

Robert Rauschenberg, "Skyway" 1964

That said, my work is focused on exploring ideas of the graphic line, but also pattern, contrasts of space (flatness mixed with illusionary space mixed with literal space), acknowledgment of materials, and the juxtaposition of pictograms to create a narrative through subjective associations. Lots of artists have tackled these ideas, but some of the best examples would be some of Matisse’s earlier paintings, Gustav Klimt’s portraits, and Rauschenberg’s screen print paintings.

Also, my work is appropriative by nature, so I can’t dismiss the relevance of the coloring books, medical diagrams, patent diagrams, and other linear images that I take from literally and in terms of diagrammatical compositions.

PB: Your artwork features non-rectangular canvasses. What is your relationship to the shape of what you create?

POC: In part, the shapes of my work are derived from the collaged compositions. While I work digitally, the process is more or less the same… Instead of cutting and pasting, I Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V to pretty much the same ends. Digital collage though allows for a little bit more control and definitiveness. In Photoshop, you have the capability for infinite expansion of the canvas, which allows for the contours of the composition to grow and define themselves, without the restrictions of tangible mediums.

Henri Matisse, "The Piano Lesson" 1916

Also, I think that the self-defining shapes reiterate the tangibility (the very physicalness) of the works. Rectilinear work always recalls a window, of looking THROUGH something instead of AT something. The practice of framing accentuates this (window frame, picture frame, ya dig?). A rectangle segregates itself as something separate from its environment, which is not the reality of the art object. An artwork with a cut out shape is inseparable from its environment; it draws attention to its surroundings, its background, its very “objectness”, instead of trying to remove itself into a fantasy of depiction, a fantastical denial of what the object actually is…

Yeah, and for some reason, the rectangle is the de facto shape of most artworks; but that’s stupid because you’re making something from scratch, and you don’t have those sorts of arbitrary restrictions. You can make anything you want! So often, I think that a rectangle is a non-choice; it’s an element or mode of composition that the unwitting artist is almost ignorant to. The traditions or pretensions of the art world insist upon a rectangle, but that doesn’t mean that you should develop your works by those standards. The piece should be telling you what it needs, where it needs to go, what it needs to be… not to be constrained by habit or expectation. These elements are important for an artist to consider because, in the end, the object and concept are inseparable, and (to the best of one’s ability) nothing tangible or ideological should be left unconsidered.

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Paperbag Pushcart Prize Nominees


Not only is Paperbag No. 5 online with a sweet new design and opening animation from our tech master Kat, but we’ve nominated a few of our authors for this year’s Pushcart prize. Please join us in wishing luck to our following contributors (and check out their poems if you haven’t already):

MRB Chelko: from Mother May I
Joshua Marie Wilkinson: A Song Called Scrawl
Paul Hlava: Bio
Adam Soldofsky: from Cosmic Ray Coincidence Amplifier
Sarah V. Schweig: The Hunger Rooms
Andrew Michael Roberts: Black Rainbow

Thanks for reading Paperbag!

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Flight Over a Small City. + Where I Live

By: Paul Anthony Rouphail

oil on paper mounted to canvas
20 x 22 inches

By: Maria Garcia Rouphail

These bones,
vintage buildings
in a quiet neighborhood
of sinew and nerve.
Marrow mulched bee
balm and white phlox
growing in vertebral borders.

to where curtains
flap in the eyeholes.

will find me
on a landing
of calcium and ash

waiting for God.

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HOME, please.

By: Molly Mac

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Paperbag Test

By: Janet Griffin

Failed again

And again
The Paperbag Test

I lay my arm on the table
Smooth, the color of cocoa it is
The paperbag lie in wait, ready to issue my grade


Too dark for this world you are
          For love
          For marriage
          For existence

You may repeat the test in 30 days


Still too dark
          For the white picket fence
          For the 2.5 children
          For being noticed

My sister passed the test
Made it through the first time
          She was courted
          She was loved
          She married
                    I hate her and I love her

Last chance to repeat the test


Always too dark
          For charming smiles
          For flowers on Sundays
          For self-love

STOP.  Pencils down.  Do not turn the page.

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