The Poetry Project

Clarissa Keen


Picking through pieces of the past,
Like rummaging through a nightstand drawer
Full of loose buttons
Looking for a match.
A memory attached
To each smooth surface.

I examine them one by one,
Turning them in my hand,
Tracing back the loose threads that got us here.

In the dim lampshade light of your bedroom,
I pause
Wondering if any of this matters.
After all,

What is the appropriate amount of time
When building something new
To spend on buttons?

A new relationship is a fold in time;
Past and future simultaneously
stuck up against each other
and pierced through.

It is scientific fact that time changes
depending on how fast you are moving.
I am in no rush.

I have spent the past four weeks
Memorizing the freckles on your face
The colors of your eyes
Your scent
Your smile.

Time stands still here.
My hand sifting through the buttons.
My heart waiting
To hear your footsteps in the hall.


I am young.
I can’t remember how young,
My great grandmother has killed herself.
A knife snuck into her bed
To end her suffering.
I am too young to know what suffering
My parents explain
To me as I stand knee high
In her house
My feet clutching the wall-to-wall brown shag carpet
As if any moment it will be turned upside-down
And I will be left hanging.

Surrounded by fake wood paneling, the plastic covered sofa,
Unsweetened iced tea poured into glasses and forgotten,
The ice melts.
The house smells like the musty sepia tone of Florida in the winter.

In this memory,
There is no other family I know but mine.
A bunch of old women walking around in pantyhose and sandals.
I can’t figure out why their toes are stuck together,
Are they naturally webbed? Is that what Florida does to people?
They laugh and scold me for staring at their feet.
Finally, my mother puts me outside.

Stepping into the humid haze of the early morning
The sharp crabgrass cuts my feet
As small lizards dart from every step.
A passive fear in their eyes.
They’ve learned to live with it.
From an open window somewhere
My mother shouts, “Don’t touch the poinsettia, they’re poisonous!”
It’s too late,
Already standing in front of the towering bush,
The velvet red petal cracked open in my hand
The white liquid sticks to my fingers like glue.

I know
I will die.

Hereditary Rules

Blood on a tissue
in the bathroom trashcan
Bespoke death
in my house growing up.

The threat so palpable
They were never even discussed
Those tissues.

All blood and tears
discretely discarded.
Never left in plain sight
Or else
everything would come undone.
The world

In a maelstrom of anger from fear.

One day my brother lit them on fire.

They almost burnt the house down.


I like my coffee
Like I like my women
Raw and strong
The first taste like a punch to the face.

I like my coffee
Like I like my women
Icy cold and empty,
Or so hot
They hiss and splash in your hands.

I like my coffee
Like I like my women
Bitter and biting
And fighting for their life.

Unfiltered and smelling of smoke.


Black. Forgotten.

If Poems Were Wings

I can be honest with you, can’t I?
I know you would expect nothing less.

If poems were wings,
You would be Satan.
I mean that with all due respect.

He was God’s right-hand man.
The strongest of soldiers,
Enormous wings on his shoulders
Burdened with the light of hope in his eyes.

Mischievous, cunning, charismatic, and wise,
He knew there was more in us.

Inspiring armies to hear the call,
The greatest battle of all,
A yearning for freedom
So strong it broke heaven, hell, and earth.

At first, I was your Eve.
Innocence taken,
Humility forsaken,
Bite the apple and you set me free.

Then, your Beelzebub
As you raised my voice,
And gave me a choice.
I did not know what eternity meant at the time,
That your sin is mine,
Even in death, I’m still paying.

I wonder what He is saying
To you now that you are with Him
At last again.
Satan always returns to the Kingdom
xxxxxx Begs to be forgiven
xxxxxxxxxxx Before he is cast out.

If poems were wings,
You would be Satan,
And someone I love
Even now.

Issue 17