Back to Issue Eighteen.

fall formal



It’s a rented strobe light, not the harvest moon. The posters promised
Gates of Heaven, but the tulle and garden arches
where pairs pose for formal shots, the dj’s earnest crooning through his set
can’t disguise the lunchroom smell and so the girls slip off

their Payless heels, dyed to match their dresses, and sway against their dates.
Suddenly you’re down a dim hallway, quiet inside
the lone unlocked classroom, Mrs. Klein’s conjugations
still carved into chalk and board like God’s own words.

They’re the earliest lessons, and you learned them years ago:
How to conjugate a regular verb. How to pair the gender,
case, and number of the noun to adjective
so that all their pieces lock in place. The boy’s

beside the point. His hands circle the satin and corseting
of the dress you bought last spring on sale at Macy’s, dreaming
of a night like this. His hands flare like wings around your waist,
meeting at your sacrum, as if to split you open

and find you what – gooey-middled as a pie? rippling
with individual beads of sweetness, like segmented citrus?
He leans in as if to finally learn a secret you didn’t know you’d kept.
Below, the dj plays the last slow song

before the fluorescent lights kick back on. You rest your head
against the chalkboard and whisper the simplest lesson:
will love, love, loved, will have loved.





Sister, when you wake
the world won’t know you.

Like all the dangerous dead
you’re buried at the crossroads
so death won’t know how to claim you

or whose you are. In the first moon
beyond your passing we burn fires
in the four fields and the men

keep watch all night. Though the horses shriek,
nothing rises from the spot where you
lay sleeping. The roots of maples

tangle in your hair. I’m sorry,
sister. Before they bound your body,
father broke your legs so you can’t rise

or run. Before they filled your grave
I placed an orange between your teeth,
thick skin a flare against the earth.

Nancy Reddy is the author of Double Jinx (Milkweed Editions, 2015), a 2014 winner of the National Poetry Series. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in HorsethiefThe Iowa ReviewLinebreak, and elsewhere. The recipient of a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, she teaches writing at Stockton University in southern New Jersey.

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