for Robin Radikowski
You were smart,
to slip out first.
I remember when boys
laughed at your red
face, the trouble
your kidney’s failure
caused when you didn’t make it
to Typing class, and I had no idea
that you died.
You were 12, and I lost it
Today, a blogger
victims of a birth
defect, and I thought
of you, Robin, sitting
at lunch with us.
I don’t know
if you were gay.
I always saw you
as sexless, really.
of delight: the only
relief from adolescence
came to you
as quickly as death
did, and I think, now, at age 40,
how I wish you’d come to
me again in a dream
as you did the week
you died, explaining why
you were still here, cleaning
out your locker, and making me
forget, once again, to be afraid
of this world.
From Cracked Planet, forthcoming from Negative Capability Press
First published in Third Wednesday, Summer 2014
How It Happened
It happened in the woods,
of course, where all that growls
maintains a weird light.
Dreams are petal cut-outs against
wood that happen
to ignite even the barest
fraction of memory.
The slightest growl
in the dark you remember
fingering your afghan
that night, as a branch
tapped the glass.
Only it wasn’t the woods
where it happened because you
were on the inside. You had only wished
you were the woods as dark
crept near your belly.
Nails and skin, crocheted blankets.
Just forget it.
where all dark things do.
From Cracked Planet, forthcoming from Negative Capability Press
First published in Dispatch One, December 2005.
Sister Nun does not mind
that she’s a werewolf. It doesn’t
bother her to think of the night
he pierced her back with dirty
claws, infecting her
with the urge.
Dogs bark at the night, prepare
for Sister’s visit. She gnaws their
bones, humps the women, and makes
But not everybody likes Sister
Wolf. The humans grab their
rifles or, in a pinch, chuck
silver bangles at her and
shriek. Sister growls,
laughs, and wakes nude
and adorned until the next
bald moon pulls her like a
From Sister Nun, Negative Capability Press, April 2016
Follow Sister Nun as she escapes over the wall of her convent (even though she has, in no way, been held captive) and read as she explores her identity, sexuality, and the path to enlightenment by wrestling alligators, vacationing in hell, and traveling through time and space during her 215-year lifespan.
“Weiland’s book is polished, unusual, and lovely, but it is even more than that. I don’t remember when I read a book of poetry that I couldn’t put down. Sister Nun is an unforgettable character – and this book that bears such a strong character’s name reminds me of Jane Eyre, Emma, Anna Karenina, and Lolita deserves to be in such elite company.”
-Amy King, Author of The Missing Museum and I Want to Make You Safe; winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize.
Tasha Yar At Her Best*
Pain is a small price
to pay for clarity.
Just ask Tasha, she’s died twice,
so far. But at her worst, she often
felt her best. Crawling
through trenches, phasers
set to kill. A clear target
in the muck. Even her daughter, defying
genetics with her mother’s
blonde bob, disappointed
Picard in every, single way.
Armor and purpose. Family legacy.
But here’s a secret
that Tasha never told anyone:
Her death fantasy (and we all
have one) was to expire by the pool
on a holiday planet, opal sunset.
No phasers or fighting,
not that it matters, she knows
that now. Death brings
clarity far beyond
your pool day, and this time,
she slips through colored panels,
indigo and reds, the fire-pink
of cherry blossoms, and into the deep
and changing sea.
*In “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (Season 3, Episode 15) the ship experiences a temporal rift that results in creating an alternate timeline. Yar is once again alive on the Enterprise, but allegedly dies again on an Enterprise from the past. In “Redemption, Part II,” (Season 5, Episode 1) a Romulan, named Sela, reveals that she is the daughter of Tasha Yar and that her mother was executed years ago when she tried to escape from Sela’s father, who had kept her as a sex slave.
Coming soon in new, book-length manuscript, “To Boldly Go: Poems from the Starship Enterprise.”
First published in Cahoodaloodaling, Issue 27: Joy Sticks, Fall 2018
on New Year’s.
I am cooking you
You have asked
for it many times,
but I tell you
it’s too much
work. I work
too, you know.
If your belly
aches, no point
to say it shouldn’t.
And the satin
bow in my stomach
tightens because only women
can cook smile stew,
and the knot
becomes stiff and shiny
like my smile, ready
to be ready.
So, I pluck
from my cheeks.
The glare that strains
my eyes into happy
wedges, I use
it on a glazed
in the dark.
I clear out—
I am gone—
I am haunting
my own body.
slips like a baby
doll into the corner.
Tulle and silk tossed
as you take
and open wide.
Coming soon in new, book-length manuscript, “The Cure for Loneliness.”
First published in Valley Voices: A Literary Review, (Women Poets: A Special Issue) V18, N1, Spring 2018
This week, we hear from guest-blogger, Kate Garrett, who discusses her poem, “Crack Jenny’s Teacup.”
When I came across the phrase “crack Jenny’s teacup,” on Talk Like a Pirate Day many years ago, a course was set that would reach its destination in a poem of the same name, and finally a chapbook named after a line in said poem. The phrase means, quite simply, to visit a brothel, and it got me thinking—pirates and sex workers in historical and fantasy fiction are often united in the popular imagination. Even the ever-family-oriented Disney have always included a few in their Pirates of the Caribbean films. Historically, it’s accurate—I realize this, not only in stumbling across the phrase “crack Jenny’s teacup,” but because famous female pirate Anne Bonny, it is said, was close friends with a bisexual man who also happened to be a brothel owner.
Learning about Anne Bonny’s friend led me round another spiral of thought: the many examples of queerness and empowered women in the world of historical pirates. (I was already pirate-obsessed, but more reasons to adore them are always welcome.) Anne Bonny’s crewmate Mary Read lived parts of her life as Mark Read, with male pronouns, and was equally happy being Mary with female pronouns. As well as being genderfluid, Mary was possibly also bisexual, and I know of at least one history book written entirely about gay male pirates. Buccaneer Jacquotte Delahaye also lived as a man for a time. After Jacquotte came “back from the dead,” a woman again, she refused to marry or have a relationship at all, because she didn’t think any power balance in that situation would be fair to either partner, and she was more concerned with providing for her disabled brother (which is why she was a pirate in the first place). Empowered women, ahoy.
With all of this in mind, my first port of call was thinking of a way to reclaim the phrase “crack Jenny’s teacup.” I mean, it sounds rough, crude, a bit disrespectful—all the things you’d expect from nautical slang regarding this popular shore leave activity, really. But what if the pirate visiting was also a woman? And what if the two women, both outsiders by profession in a very ‘masculine’ world, were actually in love, in a committed relationship, so bringing a further layer of separation between themselves and the men around them, and between the human beings and the jobs? After all, we speak of so many people in history as if they were only their title or profession: kings, queens, knights, cowboys, outlaws, highwaymen – pirates. I wanted to find the people behind the stereotypes this time, even if in this poem they are fictional. And the people I found were two women completely dedicated to each other.
It would’ve been all too easy to make the sex worker an observed character, to have given the speaking power to the woman in the traditionally masculine job, so I made her the narrator instead of her pirate lover. Both women stand up to the “final customer” of the evening: the speaker “shoos” him away, and when he starts to get lippy through familiarity with the speaker, her girlfriend shoots him a look and he leaves. And when, in the wee hours, our narrator is off duty, she and her lover can spend a rare night together while the latter’s ship is docked. Behind closed doors and underneath her sailor’s clothing, our lady pirate loosens “her hair and her smile,” and there is another side to her, which our narrator adores just as much as the dashing rogue: “I love her when she’s soft, or when she’s hard.”
When I started reading this poem at events, I was surprised to discover it chokes me up, and I have to read it through tears–particularly the last stanza: “now she wakes: deadly, delicate” and “but I lose her each time / to breeches, boots, and ship.” I’ve never been a pirate or a sex worker. The characters in this poem are fictional, but I can feel the narrator’s sadness as she remembers the inevitable separation from her girlfriend, because that’s something any person who’s ever loved another can understand. Pirates might be thieves, even murderers, and certainly they were terrors at sea, but that’s just it—they lived their life at sea. If any of them did have a loved one, they would be away from them for long periods of time as much as any Royal Navy sailor. And why would a pirate not have a loved one? They’re still people. Even Blackbeard had a wife.
“Crack Jenny’s Teacup” was first published at Melancholy Hyperbole, and is included in Kate’s tiny chapbook of historical pirate poems Deadly, Delicate.
Kate Garrett’s poetry has been widely published in online and print journals, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and longlisted for a 2016 Saboteur Award (in pamphlet form). However, while her poetry is busy doing stuff, Kate bums around reading books and hanging out with her husband, children, and cat in Sheffield, England. (Okay, okay, she also edits at Three Drops from a Cauldron / Three Drops Press, and Picaroon Poetry.) Stalk her on Twitter (@mskateybelle), Instagram (also @mskateybelle), and Facebook (facebook.com/kategarrettwrites).
This week, we hear from guest-blogger, James H. Duncan, who discusses his poem “Last Appointment of the Day.”
I sometimes contemplate whether or not it was wrong of me to think, upon discovering I had cancer, “I don’t want to be a cancer poet.” Please understand I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a poet exploring that experience, especially when it’s their experience, but there’s a fear of being boxed in that comes with writing about this new life. There’s a worry that this disease will overwhelm the creative desires and processes and narrow the vision.
I’ve made an effort to write about as broad a life as possible, but fighting against the sea change was a losing cause, as cancer will eat away at your existence in constant, subtle (and not so subtle) ways, just as it will your body. As such, I began noticing the details of this new life coming to the fore and calling for attention. So I gave it, and I found that writing about those details, rather than the overwhelming fears that came with this harrowing journey, comforting, rewarding even.
One of the details I noticed, repeatedly and quite hauntingly, was the empty waiting room. This limbo territory I found in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and labs became a fascination. Sometimes, they weren’t empty, but even the small groups, couples, or individuals felt remote from one another—separate tribes wandering a strange land, quiet and wary of what came next. When empty, the rooms were still littered with the detritus of those who came before and moved on, and for all we knew, may never return. How many people have read that Time or Elle? How many children that Highlights magazine? Who else has tapped on the tank of lethargic fish gurgling out an existence in the window overlooking Madison and 53rd Street? The song playing overhead from dusty speakers embedded into drop-ceilings, who else heard that muffled tune and didn’t realize that maybe it was the last song they’d ever hear?
Details like these made the experience not one of being “a cancer patient” but of being a human working through a homogenous system of rooms and regulations, of dulled grays and beiges meant to comfort but somehow dehumanizing the movement from healthy to dead, or at least being lost somewhere in between. I suppose it does circle back to some of the great fears we have, the core human emotions—loneliness and the uncertainty of what lies behind that final door. It’s something we can only know for sure once we’ve walked through it, our final appointment with the last grim doctor any of us will ever see.
Out of this experience came the poem, “Last Appointment of the Day,” which appeared in Kleft Jaw #4 and is slated to appear in my upcoming chapbook We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine. I hope you enjoy the poem, or at least, can relate to it. Then again, perhaps it’s for the better if you can’t and never will. If only.
Last Appointment of the Day
across the table where picture books and
children’s magazines wait for small hands,
across the green carpet where plastic cars
and wooden jigsaw puzzles lie patiently
for children who may never return
there is a fish tank, the saddest looking pit
of gloom ever, dark as a thunderhead
in tornado alley, listless fish waiting
on death, floating nowhere in the murk
there’s a scream in my mind but there’s
no sound, like a horror film on mute,
internal and forever, and all these
empty chairs surrounding me
the receptionist calls out my name
so I get up and go inside while music plays
from somewhere overhead
as they shut the door behind me
James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review, a former editor with Writer’s Digest, and is the author of What Lies In Wait, Berlin, Dead City Jazz, and other collections of poetry and short fiction. His work has appeared in American Artist, Up The Staircase, 3:AM Magazine, Boned, and Poetry Salzburg Review, among other journals. He resides in upstate New York. For more visit www.jameshduncan.com.
Photo Credit: the dark door by adamy on deviantart