Back to Issue Thirty-Two

Night Swim

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

Somewhere along the shore, a strange flare, the house-light

Off a beer can. Our backs turned toward summer. August then.

It holds us like a mother. It trunks us like spare tires.

When J butterflies the lake’s heart, when he recites

The notebook under his bed—a list of quick ends—

We don’t hear him, no one’s near him. One by one, we pull

Ourselves up the dock. On the old planks, we fill up

Our clothes again, our leavings let loose different notes—

We step with different hurries—from the dock, like children

Sneaking away from some old instrument—not knowing

Which song we played, which J lurched from, slow and hard

on the sand—I hear it then: his feet in the crabgrass,

The dock moaning its shallow music, while, on the lake,

Spiders slink on all eights, loons lull, sticks kink up like snakes

On the shore, where J sits, where J flounders—

Where, when I ask where he’s been (I feel older), he dries

Each eye on my shoulder.




2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

The first of winter sets xylophones across the trees—
like the last time we spoke, after basketball practice,

your dad hung beaver pelts from the garage ceiling.
In the lantern light, they were wind chimes;

in night’s breath, given second life. So often, I’m trapped
between the beaver and the hide, tracking what kind

of friends we might’ve been—I’ll see you this weekend,
you said, two days before Thanksgiving, two days before

my dad put on his uniform, my mom’s face was wet;
and for weeks after, I saw you sliding up the creek bed,

unannounced, dragging the plastic sled by its yellow thread.
We carried you past the pews. That night, I saw you hanging

and could not turn away. Each November, memory spreads
its rough coat, I track certain animals in uncertain light—



I wrapped the animals I skinned around your hands and neck

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

I came out of the long grass. I held
a stick. I followed you down the road.

The bullfrogs sang mean songs with
their soft bodies. I piled their young

in little hills. Every crest looked like
a story we’d been told. In another story,

I turn eleven. You dipped your finger
into the pink cake without permission.

I grabbed the small egg of your head.
The blood drip down the wall trim,

the pocket of your eye. I watched you
cry. For the rest of your life, your brow

forgets to grow hair at the gash site,
the dimple on your cheek remembers the stick.


          You tell me you’re suspended
and follow me into the woods. The bully by
          the basketball hoops, you say, he fell face-down.

Children held up their little fists. I didn’t
          want to hurt him, I just don’t know what happened.
We never see the dangerous animals

in the woods; only in the yard, only at
          dawn or dusk, moments from rest. At the trash
can, black bears. At the edge of the trees,

wolves calling the dogs. Inside us, a bobcat
          screaming for another bobcat to lick.
He was hurting Michael, you said, hurting Michael bad.

The trees sounded like garbage bags.
          Leaves flapped like hand-tied knots.


The attic is full of noises. We tell sister
bears slide down in our deepest sleep;

when our arms move slowly, we want
to wake, we know we’re dreaming. I drag

my comforter to your bunk. Sister’s crawled
downstairs to sleep by our parents’ bed.

I think of stories we’ve told. I want the bad
things to only be animals and, so often,

I’m scared of myself. In your bunk,
I wrap my blanket around you

so you have two coats. When the sun
splits the maples, I slip down, fall asleep,

curl cruelly in my sheets. When you ask,
I say, too warm.


Brother, understand we pass down stories through our bodies.
          Back then, I sold you for twenty pieces of silver.

I waited outside the house like it was a pit. I carried clubs
          in my hand. In the woods, I straddled the dead tree

over the ravine. Its blight grew out of me, and I fashioned
          my pain inside you, left a dog limping in your stomach.

I said nothing right but barked as a dog would bark,
          so you listened. When I howled, you howled back

as best you could. You had to, I said. That kid had it coming.
          Trains passed alongside us, horned, covered our mouths

like moss nets a den. When I say, I am trying to become
          a better animal, I mean I have killed goodness in you.

When I say I’m not a good big brother, I mean I haven’t
          protected you from myself.



What Stays in the Lake

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

Dad returns heavy,
off-duty, and exhausted.
From the upstairs,
I cannot see his face.

Mosquitos open
their mouths across
our arms. I pop one.
I chart the blood

in the pre-morning—
the flitting insects full
of everyone but themselves.
There are lakes

on our skin. I wait on
what’s happened somewhere
else. I wait on
the hook of his arm

on my shoulder, the heel
of his foot to stall
the morning, which drips
through the maples,

before I ask him who,
before I ask him how.



Mom Hangs Dad’s Paintings in the House

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

Landscapes I grew tall in,
Long grass, poplars. Always ducks
Flying to and from something—
Dropping from the air,

Injured, like my father leaving art school
For the county jail. Then, midnights
On the force. A promotion. He learns the stories
Of dead things, an oil clotting up his wings.

This is a boring story. A man providing
For everyone but himself. A man taught
He’s good at dangerous things, aimed at what
He’s never wanted, weapons fitted

For hands. Even this pencil, I hold out
To him, young, asking for dinosaurs,
Hungry Tyrannosaurus Rexes…
Where’s the blood? I say. The predator

Is smiling, the predator is clean and plays
With the Stegosaurus. I say, this is not how
It’s supposed to be. I say, this is not what I wanted,
And he begins, again, with the eraser end.



Jacob Lindberg is an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas. Currently, he serves as Editor-In-Chief of Up North Lit. He is the recipient of the 2019 Carolyn F. Walton Cole Fellowship in Poetry from the University of Arkansas, judged by poet Todd Davis. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Cincinnati Review, Sycamore Review, Rattle, Salamander, River Styx, and more.

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