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Brett Warren

Learning to Fly

After the rape, I took up

with a paraplegic guy

who said he’d gotten high

and jumped off a building,

thinking he could fly.

I wasn’t convinced this

was what really happened.

But his story seemed important,

the kind of truth that might arise

when you’re trying to survive.

We slept on his waterbed,

which was tidal and complicated,

but also peaceful, like when

the wheels of a plane lift off

and you get to be nowhere,

in between places for a while.

We were both damaged.

He had learned to adapt.

I was new to it, noticing

obstacles everywhere. Curbs.

Stairs. Doors that swung out

instead of in. He had to look up

at the liquor-store clerk,

who had to look down

at him. He kept his money

in a canvas bag, its handles

slung over the back of his chair.

He’d ask the clerk, or even

a stranger, to fish his wallet

out, shimmy a six-pack in.

The bottles rattled

when he crossed

the threshold and rolled

down the uneven sidewalk.

He wore racing gloves,

the kind with no fingers,

so he could save his hands.

Sometimes I’d sit on his lap

and we’d tear down

the dark streets

of our college town,

flashing in and out

of pools of light,

past ruined lawns

and palatial houses

where frat boys

passed out drunk

on top of their victims,

no one awake

to see us flying by.


Though I know exactly where you are,

and it’s not far, it seems unlikely

we’ll see each other again. We lived

in a rented house with a kitchen so small

there wasn’t room to change your mind.

Or so you said. But you made sourdough bread

in the creaky oven, omelets in a hinged pan

you could snap shut and flip over an open flame.

You grew catnip in a pot on the porch,

and the cat curled around it to nap in the sun.

We smoked into the night, again in the morning.

Once you spilled the bong on the carpet.

We never did get the smell out. We were young.

I’m not sure we really tried. The garage had doors

nailed together by someone before our time,

scrap wood painted over but still rotten

from the bottom, a hole big enough for a cat

to squeeze through. Ours stood half in, half out

of it the morning after she was hit by a car,

made it home but had to be put down anyway.

I sold my motorbike to pay the bill. I went back

a few years ago, crawled along in my rental car

past the corner store where we walked

to buy a single bottle of beer. The house

was gone, torn down to build something new.

Your eyes were topaz. Strangers in churches

always thought you were the savior.

You’ve taken yourself away from everyone

who knew you then. Sometimes one of them

remembers something, wonders where you are.

I don’t tell. One thing I know is that you

don’t want to be found.

Mothers of Boys

One frosted her hair.

It might have been a wig.

She enjoyed an afternoon martini,

toy poodles arranged

like sofa pillows around her.

She didn’t bother to get up.

Two had a head injury

from a car accident

six months before her wedding,

which went forward anyway

out of duty. People said

her husband was burdened,

a saint, and she was shrill.

But I liked the way

she snapped her gum

and stood in the front yard

brandishing a cooking spoon

at speeders.

Three was divorced

and had to work

as a hostess in a restaurant.

She had black hair

halfway down her back,

black boots up

to her knees.

She had seen it all

and she was tired.

When she talked,

a cigarette bobbed

in the corner of her mouth,

and when she stopped,

it dangled there.

If ashes dropped to the floor,

they were ignored.

Four was always

wiping down countertops.

She was the wife

of an alcoholic.

Five was nervous.

She confided once

when we were alone

that she had diverticulitis.

I pretended I knew

what that was.

She was married

to a demolitions expert.

Six kept a crucifix in every room

and a squirt bottle of holy water

on the sill by the kitchen sink.

I wasn’t Catholic. I thought

it was sin repellent.

I never met Seven. I left for college,

which turned out to be a fast track

to freedom. But I swore

I could feel her suburban curses

rise up and catch a tailwind

from middle America

all the way to the coast,

where I was already learning

all the ways women find

to say no, and how sometimes

it becomes an affirmation.

Suicide Rosary

For years I thought of it as a rosary,

every bead a different color. Milky

white of the coroner’s nocturnal skin,

his waxy hands clutching a clipboard.

Red-brown spatters of blood on the wall.

Amber pooled in a shot glass squatting

on the nightstand, yellow label

of the tequila bottle standing at its side.

Lapis blue jeans, crumpled the way they do

when they fall to the floor and someone

crawls into bed for the last time.

But I’ve put the rosary aside to tell you

that the police radio was what woke me,

and strange lights flashing without a sound.

That every night at 3 a.m., I was jolted awake

by a gunshot I can’t remember hearing.

That this went on for more than a year,

and all I could do was stare at the ceiling,

because I had nowhere to go with my grief,

my rage, questions I couldn’t even frame.

That I was afraid this would happen

every night for the rest of my life.

But time, in its time, brought the surprise

of morning light through naked glass. The sun

on more than one day. I won’t lie and say

I don’t remember, don’t think of it, if it

happens to be 3 a.m. and I’m awakened

by beginning rain or the slamming car door

of the neighbors’ drunken son. But memory

isn’t a bullet in my brain. It’s not a rosary.

If I say healing isn’t being made whole,

I might mean peace is a string that frays

until it breaks, and the beads just fall.

Science & Religion @ 5 am

would never have seen her

if I hadn’t heard a screech owl

hadn’t stopped in the still-

dark street hadn’t

turned around (how

senseless to look for an owl

or try to unravel the mystery

of what in us turns & turns

toward what can never be known

or known again) a streetlamp

could not be less of a mystery

yet it too was essential light & hinge

to open the way for the gift:

black outline of wolf emerging

from the ancient cemetery

a black pause in the pale flicker

I am a believer in the genome:

its continuity across & within species

how it blurs distinctions

between ancestor descendant

& living being so I knew

she was there: guardian

spirit animal my wolfish dog

dead three years yet steadfast

both of us inside the summoning

of a bell only we could hear

it was the morning of my birthday

& all day I carried the gift:

knowing she had paused in the pitch-

black shadows between headstones

watched as I walked by waited

& calculated a perfect arc

over the black iron fence

into the intersection of our worlds

to make of them one world

before she crossed the street away


Brett Warren (she/her) is an editor whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including Canary, The Comstock Review, duality, Cape Cod Poetry Review, Eunoia Review, Green Fuse, Halfway Down the Stairs, Provincetown Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, Rise Up Review, Unbroken Journal, One Sentence Poems, and Shot Glass Journal. She lives on a peninsula in the Outer Lands archipelagic region of the Atlantic Ocean. Her house is surrounded by pitch pine and black oak trees—nighttime roosts of wild turkeys, who sometimes use the roof of her writing attic as a runway.


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