Back to Issue Thirty-Eight




It is summer in the year 2020, and there are
a number of names for the various and invisible
ills that infect this country, keeping us apart,
suffocating, but my lover
has discovered birding and suddenly
there is magic everywhere, for him.
The retention pond, for example.
My dog is unhelpful, but I bring him anyway.
There is a toxic algae blooming
in New Jersey, so the water is off-limits
to dogs. He stands, panting, next to me
while my love peers through binoculars
at a small, dun bird in the reeds that he names,
but I can’t tell from all the others. I’ve lost
my capacity for wonder, these months, I’ve let
my mind wander further into traps
I set myself. On top of everything else, there is
an invasive insect species making its way up the coast,
destroying fruit trees: we’ve seen the photos online,
we’re supposed to smash one if we see it.
Flecked, linen-colored wings
with bright-red gashes as it flutters.
It’s beautiful, and terrible, terrible and beautiful,
like all the beautiful and terrible things that are
dying all around us. Spotted Lantern Fly:
even the name is beautiful. Someone we sort-of-know
passes by and waves from a safe distance.
All my love is here, tied up in these two mammals
still breathing next to me, and even that
feels like sticking a limb out into traffic.
It is evening when we get home, and safe,
and one day I will learn that joy can whither
if you hoard it, will learn to name, also,
the things that don’t destroy us.






It’s after dark      The girl and some others
are at the pool in one of the cinderblock
apartment complexes none of them live in
that caters mostly to university students
They have snuck in because this one
has a fence that’s easy to climb and there’s
a dark spot between streetlamps and it’s
a small underused under-maintained pool
Oak leaves collecting in all the filters
They are seventeen It doesn’t occur to them
they get away with this each time because
they are white There are five of them
held together by the loose ties of adolescence
and who has the keys to a beat-up car
They have done this before and they will
probably go on doing it but this is the last time
the girl is there with them not for any special reason
but because the summer is ending and they will
grow apart One of the boys is her sort-of
boyfriend The other two are his friends One
of their girlfriends is the other girl but the girls
are only aligned by this mutual association
with these boys who play a game called
There’s gum on my fly but really it’s some
of their sack they’re pushing out through
a slit in the fabric to trick the girls into looking
at their balls The girls understand they are
supposed to let them do things like this
They are supposed to watch the boys jump
The girls swim a little in their underwear
but mostly they sit on the edge of the pool
dangling their feet It is sticky humid
late summer hurricane season in Florida
The girl’s hair sticks to the back of her neck
and she laughs when it seems like she’s supposed to
These boys are tiresome The other girl is bored
lighting a Swisher Sweet and touching base
with her own reflection in the dim water
They have driven across town for this These
are their waters and their watering place
They drink but what does it mean to be whole
They are confused confused They think the tricks
the boys do while diving into the pool are
for their benefit and not that one will die
in a drunk driving accident four years from now
which the girl will learn about on Facebook
Time spooling out from how little you know
when you’re young When the others aren’t looking
the girl scoops a frog out of the pool drain
The leaves are spinning in the eddy One boy
gashes his heel on the concrete executing a flip
Now there’s commotion about blood in the water
and jokes about DNA evidence Time to clear out
He’s really bleeding but he’s laughing because
he wants to be a man and everyone is a little
tipsy The girl has frozen but the other girl
wraps her bandana around it and everything
is ok They’re piling into the car and no one
is dead yet and the girl has that sensation
she keeps having of falling and falling and then
good grief, the ground, and it’s made
of wet wind and something she won’t be able
to name for years


Margaret Ray grew up in Gainesville, Florida and holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College.  A winner of a Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America and the Third Coast Poetry Prize, her poems have appeared in Threepenny Review, Narrative, The Gettysburg Review, Poet Lore, Gulf Coast, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere.  Her chapbook, Superstitions of the Mid-Atlantic, won the 2020 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship Prize (selected by Jericho Brown), and will be out in 2021.  She teaches in New Jersey.

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