Back to Issue Twenty-Eight.

How Judas Died

2019 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry
Previously appeared in Gulf Coast


There’s a bird believed to suck the teats of goats at night.
Flocks alight swollen on the slash pines while we sleep.

Here, in this dark field, among what’s been cast out
from the body of birds, goats, and men, Am I late or early?

is a question. It asks the black grass against my face.
Without light, every color is a past someone decided

to believe in. The official account is this:
Judas’s organs burst from his body in an open field

or he hanged himself from a tree. It was after dark
or it was day, and on the other side of the world,

a soldier’s ear, severed from cochlea, was free of the mind
to listen properly to the dust. Cartilage coil in a street,

it spills, and this is silence. Or this is silence
betraying itself as currency. If Judas coughs up a coin

into my hand, let it be night—the birds, hungry.
If I put what was once liquid metal in my mouth, let my mouth

become a glossy orange arm reaching up out of the mold
back into crucible, then pouring out again.

Body from body, speech from speech.
Judas is there, fully eared, in the sunbright street

or he is the nightly sigh of a fat-uddered goat going dry.
The throaty creak of a branch, or the flapping of wings.

Which or both or neither, I am listening. As milk slithers back
from beak to nipple. He unbreaks his neck with a rope.




2019 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry
Previously appeared in Guernica and the Best of the Net Anthology


How many nights have I done this. Whittled
a carousel out of my hands. Invited to bed their wooden
breath. There’s the chestnut mare giving birth:
a golden hold-pole sticking out of her
side like a spear. The foal in its wet white bag
isn’t dead yet. Cue the cheery organ music.
Cue the Christmas time. Too much coconut
in the ambrosia. One stepfather who isn’t dead
yet. One stepfather who rides the blue roan
terrified through the carp pond. Draw a picture
of everyone living in the same glass barn
with a chimney. How many nights have I done this.
Everyone smiling, their toothless smiles.
I’ve populated this empty bedroom with crabgrass.
How many nights. Populated the field with a white
horse. Far away. Perfect like an eggshell.
Fog from Alabama coming closer. Cue the last call.
Cue my childish desire. How many nights
have I held my hips against this fence
as if I don’t know exactly what I’ll see.
That white horse. She is running in circles.
Rain rot all down her sides. Eating her hide away.



Ars Poetica

2019 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


The new most difficult day. Every day,
                              I look through it. Think through it. Create
               a jungle of my lone wall’s art, set big cats
                                       slinking through the glued-flat flora,
ants following scent trails up vases, 
               pausing at the lip.

                                                 I hope I’m not alone 
                              in the mirror becomes I remember
a room before this. A book
                                       of Goya’s last dark etchings, untitled,
               title rubbed off the rigid green binding.

                              My eyes for a slashed canopy,
one brief wound of real light.
                                       To witness the world artlessly 
               without translation, my two hands
touching the wet bark, witnessed.
                                                 My world
                                       to know that when I kiss him
                              I am kissing him. 


I think of leaving
this room

where I have
only one wall.

I rub at lapses
in the light

diagonally, enjambed

over the design
of two-headed flowers

as if to free
them from their

fronds’ coiling,
divorce them

from their
paper stalks.

There is dignity
in enacting

impossible tasks.
I hear it scratching

back towards me
through this caul

when I crouch
down to press

my ear to the world.
What meaning

could it ascribe
to the impress

of my feet? Shadows

against the slick


Goya, etch the demon
back to my back. Give it
wings. Give it joy, Goya.

I do not want my father to die
before something that matters
trickles from my head.

Behind my eyes, Goya.
A time of war, Goya.
There’s a dullness. A time.

That matters, Goya.
You’re dead, and that matters.
Are you sorry, Goya?

Everywhere I go in America
I’m expecting a man
to gun me down—

To open fire like em dashes
open and close and open
a sentence—Do you know

how it feels, Goya?
Even to sneeze.
Walking one block.

The fat baby’s leg
kicking in the autumn.
Goya, Goya—We can’t talk

like this, I’m spoken for.
But the dust pile on the sill
that was once a ladybug,

cremated by my neglect.
But the man in the alley
who thinks he’s an angel

yelling I am an angel!
at all hours. But how,
Goya, the dullness burns,

how long and how.

Gabrielle Bates works for Open Books: A Poem Emporium, co-hosts The Poet Salon podcast, and helps edit the Seattle Review, Poetry Northwest, Broadsided Press, and Bull City Press. Her poems and poetry comics appear in the New Yorker, Poetry, New England Review, and Gulf Coast, among other journals. She is originally from Birmingham, Alabama. Visit her online at, or on Twitter @GabrielleBates.


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