Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is now a third year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She was the 1st place winner of both the Poetry Super Highway and the Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests. Her work appears or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Glass, Iron Horse Literary Review, Hobart, Frontier Poetry, SWWIM, TriQuarterly, and others. Her chapbook, Bloodwarm, is forthcoming from Variant Lit this summer. She is represented by Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency.
The following work is Copyright © 2021, and owned by Taylor Byas and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
In a Picture on My Boyfriend’s Phone
Another woman ripples,
naked in his eager grasp.
In our bed, they dirty the sheets
I cleaned. He snaps photos,
fills the memory card,
shot after shot
of a woman who looks like me.
I do not know
how to leave him.
I touch him, I learn
to step outside of myself.
He makes love to a distant thing and records it.
To step outside of myself,
I touch him. I learn
how to leave him.
I do not know
of a woman who looks like me.
Shot after shot
fills the memory card
I cleaned. He snaps photos
in our bed. They dirty the sheets.
Naked, in his eager grasp,
another woman ripples.
previously published in Big Lucks
And So You Want A Poem
—after Anita Scott Coleman
And so you slap it on the ass
at the bar, buy it a drink. Between you
and the bartender, a double. And so it’s
single, blowing steam after a hard
day at work, bleary-eyed and losing
hope in everything except what’s in that
glass. And maybe you. And so the music
revs up and you drink your body
into a cage, two arms on either side
of the poem, enough room between the two
of you for Jesus and the list of tricks
you’ve mastered with your tongue. It’s late
now and the rowdy Friday night crowd spills
in from another bar, all mint
and maraschino mouths moving, marking
each other up. And so you can’t hear
the poem, have to really lend
an ear to it, get down on its level. And so
you ask it if it wants to go somewhere
more quiet, back to your place. Once home,
you tell it to get comfortable and it asks
for a beer. And so you crack open two, tornado-
gulp yours to prove you are made
for pouring into. But it’s not ready
for anything yet. And so you suggest going out
back, it’s a nice night. And so you lead it
out into the yard, show it where you cut
wood for the fire. You wear a shirt?
it asks, and this is your shot. You are shirtless
in the moon’s mirror, nudging the poem
to sit on the tree stump with axe-nicks
that cross and uncross themselves. Let me
show you how it’s done, as you weed
the axe from the earth. And so the poem
is impressed as you wind up, your body
more machine than muscle. You cut
a whistle into the air. The shawl of cicada-
song dulls the thud of your axe bit
burrowing into the face of the tree. And so
the poem’s two halves part like angry
lovers. So quick it couldn’t scream. And so you can’t
begin to realize what you have done.
previously published in Frontier Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2020 OPEN Prize
Kathleen Holliday lives on an island in the Salish Sea in Washington State. Her writing has appeared in The Bellingham Review, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, Common Ground Review, Ocotillo Review, Poetry Super Highway, SHARK REEF, and The Write Launch. She is a graduate of Augsburg University, Minneapolis, MN. Her debut chapbook, Putting My Ash on the Line, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2020. Two of her poems, “Indoor Life” and “The Wine-Dark Sea” were tied for 4th place in the Poetry Super Highway Poetry Contests 2019 and 2020. Her poem, Boatman, Pass By, was long-listed in the Fish Poetry Prize 2021, judged by Billy Collins. Some of her published work can be read and heard at: www.kathleenholliday.com
The following work is Copyright © 2021, and owned by Kathleen Holliday and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Boatman, Pass By
If that boatman were to float by
on this river of night
where I lie feigning both sleep
If he were to lean down
to check for coins to collect,
I’d open one eye and say,
I’m trying to sleep here.
Perhaps he’s thinking of all
those other nights I hailed him
like a water taxi, when I prayed:
Anywhere but here,
And I think, how like me then,
to be early for an appointment
whether in Seattle or Samarra.
But there’s one less thing
to worry about —it’s too late now
for me to die young.
When it’s time he’ll circle back
for my body as freight,
my soul for currency.
And then, with his ear against
my cheek as if to ask,
Like a tourist eager for a place
yet unseen, I’ll say,
The Wine-Dark Sea
A sea wife,
my mother didn’t have time
to pace a widow’s walk,
searching for a sail on the horizon.
She was too busy
pinning up sheets to dry,
weeding the garden,
kneading floury bread dough,
wrangling four children.
No suitors to fend off.
No weaving to unpick.
She knitted argyle socks
for her Odysseus.
After a shift at the cannery
she sat up late tapping
on the old Remington
the songs she’d written
in her head while sorting
green beans for Del Monte.
Did she ever wonder
if a Circe waited
at some exotic port,
if he ever answered a siren’s call?
For nearly twenty years,
she heard the Trojan stories,
every pub crawl and brawl
from Ithaca to Yokohama retold.
When he retired from a life at sea,
to his pipe, his dog, his guns,
his wife and children,
to reclaim his throne-like chair,
her once-familiar stranger
brought home the war.
Among those things my father
kept within easy reach, I remember:
a round glass ashtray, walnut pipe rack,
foam-edged beer glass on the lamp table,
boxes of red shotgun shells
under the full gun rack,
a black leather belt on a hook
near the back door,
back issues of Guns & Ammo,
American Rifleman and Outdoor Life.
I flipped through to a feature story.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose
as I read of a grizzly
that tore off a hunter’s scalp
and most of his face,
clawed his torso,
ripped his shoulder open.
The hunter lay still, played dead.
The bear buried him
under dirt and leaves,
left him alive,
to tell the story.
I slipped the magazine back
where I’d found it
and considered how I might
survive this indoor life.
Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who earned an MFA from California State University, Long Beach while working as an in-home health-care provider, an occupation he continues to this day. His work has appeared in High Shelf Press, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Panoply: A Literary Zine, San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was published by Tebot Bach in 2021.
The following work is Copyright © 2021, and owned by Jonathan Yungkans and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
In the Early Moments of Wondering
after John Ashbery
Pretty as a picture had nothing on San Pedro’s Sunken City.
Contented myself with Atlas Obscura, too much a fraidy-cat
to jump the jail-bar steel fence. Concerned about breaking
an arm, a leg or the law seriously enough for some neighbor
to have me hauled over to Terminal Island—the real steel,
as far as cells go—and the sky glowering, barbecue smoke,
its mood lightening just a little over Cabrillo’s rock beach
when I teetered on it later, finding a square of old sidewalk
near the surf, where someone had spray-painted an outline—
bubble-gum pink heart—leaving some heavy-ass Valentine
past which I walked and eventually toppled on both knees,
rediscovering my love for good legs in the lightning flash
that sang as if my bones were exposed rebar. The pictures
on Atlas were a rainbow rubble—a Flintstones movie set.
Streets mirrored Pacific waves, caught mid-break for shore
in tectonic indecision—on edge between the devil’s details
of South Bay geology and the profound blue, amnestic sea.
The ocean wanted the land back and couldn’t tell you why
or take no for an answer. Just kept shuffling back and forth
like we all do sooner or later. A Krylon palette washed in—
onto sandstone that couldn’t decide whether to remain sand
or something more determinate and instead went hot pink,
vibrant lime, lemon, a blue just lighter than Pacific, in piles
stacked just high enough to get a decent view of the water,
past palms looking dug and plugged into place, Lego trees,
and the names and notes drawn expansive as onshore fog
onto corrugated asphalt and cement in tangerine and navy,
something approaching winter sky with no trace of smog,
and emerald. A beautiful ruin, precarious slopes and slants
for hiking. I settled for water’s gentle lap, the beach below.
But There Is in That Gaze a Combination
after John Ashbery
Rap music puts a smile on Mona Lisa’s face, a sparkle
into that trademark look—I know something you don’t
and I’m having a blast not telling you. No one catches
her shoulder-shimmy to the beat. Louvre’s been quiet,
Covid leaving her dust motes for a fan base. She knows
people aren’t oil on Lombardy poplar, don’t just fade—
they disintegrate, leave vacant space. Maybe it’s not
a Vogue fact, but blank has never been the new black.
Mona Lisa should know, rocking black for 500 years—
the dress, the wall behind her, framed in bulletproof
respect and impenetrable glass. But she’s feeling good
vibrations from the floor—metal’s substantial groove
while staff wheels dollies loaded with friends to clean.
Children’s toothbrushes whisper like Christmas Eve,
cleaning hieroglyphics in the Egyptian wing. Workers
blow on fresh gold leaf tamped on Louis XIV ceilings,
dropping their masks long enough to make it adhere.
And they brought music, thank God—the good stuff—
floor men cranking it as they hammer parquet into place.
Lisa’s ready to jump out of her picture frame and dance
but won’t cause a scene—who knows what these days
ends up on Twitter, YouTube. Just ain’t no way, baby—
famous art has to maintain some propriety. So she settles
for that smile, which has widened maybe a hair or two.