The Poetry Project

Four Poems

Betsy Fagin (NL Editor 2015-2017)

swallowed wrong

Swallowed anything to plead
on behalf of ensured success.
They saw us coming,

with our generous donations
to supplement a lack of love
and never traveling enough.

Didn’t adequately explain
how money works to navigate
from the city’s hindsight

to an upstate river town
with space to roam. Lost in regret,
distant reason doing meaningful

time, showered in protection
causing known and unknown harms.
Must remember to move the car

while I’m here, find a Monday spot,
stare into the distance of this life.
I don’t know if I feel free

under surveillance. I swallowed
what was pent up in me,
about to explode: the new time

an arrow pulled back, extreme
tension, but no clear direction,
no aim at all.

I should not be here. I should have just stayed a country boy.

Microchipped, I’ve become a tracking device—
come to find out location information is pretty
important after all. Inner door gets released, on purpose

or by accident— jettisoned into the unknown: weightless,
without direction, just floating. Maybe I can breathe,
maybe I cannot. Maybe intoxicating— these dancing skills

are top notch. Maybe this groundlessness, these feet on fire
the first time ever really feeling alive. Mesmerized—
repeated exposure to danger builds a kind of confidence

that may soon unleash devastation. Gathering wild roses,
preserving summer fruits and flowers against the coming cold,
dark. Half red, half black— defiant.

You don’t like it?
Say something.
Say it to my face.

Audience having their own side-conversations,
busy on phones, destroying their highest qualities—
and for what? Replacement cruelty, having fought

so hard, wanting everyone to fight, wanting everyone
to suffer if it means they’ll soften to possibility— later,
tenderized. Awakening to fact that I’m sending flowers

right now— elixirs, hurling keys over the gates, digging
tunnels. Wrapped in blankets against the cold, relying
on inner warmth. Time split long ago— fractured

into lifetimes and moments. Into a witch hat, wolf’s milk
path leading just beyond the range of perception.
Awareness flowering slowly of its own accord.

No longer condemned to carry sword and shield
along the service road to where satellite parking was.
Zooming in is one more good reason to live in a digital world.


Speaking from the heart makes you one of us,
already soaked through, already broken.
Land already wasted, strewn with inevitable losses—

Belaboring sound with meaning denies a deeper rest
through cycles of flood and drought, plenty and lack.
Waves postponed, not cancelled.

Staying lost in underwater realms or deep space, through
future or past, through all elements and time itself,
all dimensions right here for total disorientation—

Be ready for anything: attack, deception, pleasant
surprises, kindnesses, gifts, betrayal, abandonment.
Find solace slipping into something more comfortable.

me, I’d jump

Impossible leaves thinning
the birdy oak is a riot of redstarts.

Do belonging, care and welcome require
accepting structures and rules of the group?

Generations of dead, no one to talk to, no
blending in now, of all times. Destruction sewn

right into the design. Collapsing or torn down,
falling from internal corruption. Me, I’d jump clear

up to the sky. One jump escape me forever, never
come back down to eat whatever the grocery store sells,

what everyone’s always done. Social death then real death.
Then rebirth like oh hey, I haven’t seen you for awhile, how you been?

Stuck in a train car between stations with someone smoking cigarettes.
All of life used to be like that. Dark blue cloud against a pale blue sky.

Monarch died sooner than predicted— an interesting turn
of events. It’s hard to make sense of the data, even to follow it.

#270 – Fall 2022