Acoustic Shadows South I

by David Boeving


I first heard of “acoustic shadows” while watching Ken Burns’ Civil War. During the American Civil War, acoustic shadows were zones where observers could see a battle—the soldiers, the smoke, the blood—but could not hear the fighting. Environmental elements—the trees, the water, the wind—absorbed or refracted the sound.




A field of gravel or dust. A small-leaf tree. Scattered bushes. In the distance, dark mountain cuts into grey sky. This all, frozen in 240p, and then 720 when I find another upload. Five men. Music stalled, they stand, staring at what was a camera, staring at me, sort of, their hair displaced by wind, hands in pockets, eyes pierce the window the camera films through. The window partitions are black silhouette. Imposed in the frame, left aligned, near the bottom of the screen, are these words in white serif, “Maquiladoras, meaning ‘twin plants,’ are American-owned factories based in Mexico. These factories use cheap Mexican labor and avoid tariffs.” I’m elsewhere, imagining train tracks where remains have been, sandaled feet, hardly buried. I read that one girl was thirteen. I imagine a video from middle school, quinceañeras. I imagine bus rides, punch cards, a magazine from elementary school that detailed the struggles of migrant farmers and their families. I hear the music that brought me here, some product of this snapshot of youth, sometime during high school, lyrics I only now dig into. Callous heels / numbed in travel / endless maps made / by their scalpels. Lyrics tug me toward images I’ll never see.




The search leads me here. Black chairs. Blue button-ups cover red undershirts. Plastic goggles cover eyes focused down on hands. White gloves. Dark hair wrapped tight with elastic, pressed to hunched spine. A breast-packed coop. All this through backlit liquid crystal. The glass—vertical and horizontal polarizer, color filter, thin-film transistor—the dust—pollen, hair, fiber, soil, skinI see. But I hear nothing. How could I? I imagine debeaking—a heated blade device—a shanty hearth, smokestacks like smoke signals, as if to say, the abduction is nearby. The white serif fades. “Women who work the night shift must take busses to the outskirts of the Shantytowns where they live. Some never reach home.” I imagine federales uprooting bodies, weed smoke burials, cocaine epitaphs. Intravenously polite / It was the walkie-talkies that knocked the pins down. I imagine families planting crosses, murder pink, a mass grave crop that can’t bloom, a crucifix machine, this tourist trap. I imagine that near the flower bed, those still alive, those still at work, sew shoes, jeans, couches, goods that—I imagine—I might have bought. These threads are so intricately designed.   




And then, another photo. Tan skin. Dark hair elastic-wrap fallen on uniform back. Dark eyes focused down. Mouths covered by surgical mask. Aligned beside conveyer belt, each body lit by a low-hanging light. Their hands planted behind piles of what look like pants. Blue jeans. Cardboard in-between. I imagine these dahlias like gang weed that’s buried too late, too deep. The crops too close to one another to bloom in this season or any climate, elevation, precipitation. And they made sure the obituaries / showed pictures of smoke stacks. But the business profits anyway. And in the dim grid I can’t see much suffering. Whatever that might mean. Maybe fluorescence whitewashes the bodies disappeared yearly. Maybe they’re more present as the seams wear. “Countless bodies have been found in this area.”

What Is A Word Worth: Heartbreak

by Sharon-Rose Piwang

Heartbreak—a compound term made of a noun and a verb. The first, ‘heart’, symbolizes the lump of muscle in our chests keeping our blood flooding through our bodies. The second ‘break’, is used for actions like cracking a bone, smashing a glass, or taming a horse. Put together, these two words describe the feeling of a stomach ache in your upper chest regions, the physiological reaction to the hurt caused by being a fragile human in an equally fragile world. Heartbreak is what happens when glass people crack against one another in our mission to just get close.

Millions of people around the world are using the word “heartbreak” at this moment. Some of these people are using it correctly, as in, “I didn’t think I would survive the heartbreak when Dan left me a few weeks after our fiftieth anniversary.”

Or, “After my mother died of cancer, I had insomnia for months. I would lie down at night and the heartbreak would not let me breathe.”

Or, “I didn’t understand heartbreak until after my third miscarriage.”

Or even, “Once a month I look at my daughter’s eyes through bulletproof glass. All I can think, while I sit there with my heart breaking, is that orange is not her color.”

Some of these people are tossing this word around instead of using the more accurate, “disappointment”, “sadness”, or “slight melancholy”.

As in, “You know that guy I met three days ago and who didn’t call? I need to stop talking to guys wearing black t-shirts in bars–instant heartbreak.”

A high school girl somewhere is probably listening to Taylor Swift ad sobbing melodramatically about the angular boy two houses over who is putting her through all this heartbreak.

Of course, a heart does not physically break. But anyone who has ever sat on their bed waiting for a call they know will never come has felt their chest being torn apart like Christmas wrapping paper on a toddler’s gift.

All day every day, people are analyzing heartbreak, researching it, guarding against it, trying to heal from it, or praying against it. There’s even a Wikipedia page for it. The long list of articles that come up in a Google search confirm that people are writing about it as well. Some of us sit on the third floor of the school library and try not to think of the boy with the beautiful eyes who taught us this word three years ago. And some of us have lived with heartbreak for so long it has become another skin cell, a scar that won’t fade, another layer we put on in the morning before we head out the door.

For people who do everything in degrees of desperation, the word heartbreak means lying curled on your side under a multicolored shawl, shivering and wanting to cut open your wrists just to stop the pain. For those of us who make rationality and logic our dearest friends, heartbreak means longer workouts, bleak silences, and a devotion to our safe, daily routines. For people whose worst battles are in their minds, this word means meeting all affection with a sarcastic quip and guarding all their painful memories with powerful locks.

Heartbreak is your mother sitting on the wicker couch with a mug of ginger root tea, listening to Chicago’s “Inspiration”, with that look on her face she gets when she’s thinking about your father. Heartbreak is practicing not flinching every time you see the profile picture a person you used to know as well as you know your own skin. Heartbreak makes you look away every time your married friends hold onto each other with their eyes, forgetting that you’re there. Heartbreak is the smell of old love poems you tried to justify writing. Heartbreak is the taste of dark cooking chocolate. Heartbreak is cupping your son’s warm face while he sleeps and hoping that he never meets a woman like his mother.

I write clumsy poems today because I thought I had my heart broken by a blue-eyed, curly-mouthed boy six years ago while I was a freshman in college. I tend to be more cautious now in using the word “friend” because I learned how heartbreak tastes at sixteen when my father left.

Heartbreak means bravery happened. You only become acquainted with heartbreak if you have opened yourself up to someone and watched them walk away closed. In people who practice beauty, the ugliness of witnessing that closedness can inspire art or music that goes right through the soul. Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” went right through my soul the first time I heard it and I kept restarting the YouTube video, silently vibrating with his voice and his pain. Cooke, a black musician who lived in the racism of sixties’ America, wrote this song describing the heartbreak of living in a land full of people that refused him dignity. Being black in America has always been heartbreaking. Sam couldn’t know that five decades after he made that prayer in a recording studio in a December in 1964, his sons and cousins would still be refused dignity, and this would be at the center of their own ache. That’s the worst of suffering heartbreak. It makes you hopeful even as it crushes your hope.

Heartbreak colors the fibers of your personality that people only see when the light hits you just right. Heartbreak makes you delve into your yesterdays, write all the things you’d rather not remember, tie them up neatly, and deliver them in an assignment to your professor. Because heartbreak is a terrible nightmare to sleep through, but apparently sometimes you can come up with a great story from the wreckage–and who doesn’t love stories?


by Gregory Storey


Emancipation proclamation

False free the slaves declaration

Say what you want, I just want my reparations.

They say “what about your free college education?”

Oh, the one I’m receiving cause of my participation in the illegal occupation of a country?

Anyways who has time for Sallie MAE?

Not me.

Well, on weekdays, maybe.

Social norms got us going crazy, the systems are killin the babies, and the

corporations turning everyone to Zombies.

I just wanna be a kid again, and go back to when my Ma was Mommy, and

every morning she fixed hominy Grits, scrambled eggs

and then

Send me outside to play.

Nowadays, we facebookin, youtubin, twitterin.

No longer get intimate.

We got internet.

They say:

Live fast, die young.

I’m thinking fast and growing old.

Telling all my young n’s , that in order to beat the system you need wisdom more than doe

Have goals, be focused and stay in the know.


“News” “Conference” or Play Your T. Card

“What is a Word Worth($)?”

by Gregory Storey

Be FREE. A letter to my unborn seed

Living without boundaries that’s freedom, and being free. Be blissfully ignorant so that you can know no limitations. That’s being free. Living bound by others and their beliefs leaves one caged, and my child that isn’t free. Locked up, yep that’s what that is, and not locked up physically, like those in Jackson on the west coast of the state, or downtown across from Comerica, and Ford field where athletes run free and have caught their dreams, no, mentally locked up. Don’t be intentionally or inherently ignorant, because that’s just as worse. I guess you could say that, that’s free-dum, but just a lil bit ignorant, so that you’re able to take a risk, be a tad bit braver, or courageous to break the chains of bondage that keep one caged. They say the ignorant are the ones who are never afraid, because they know no fear, and are free. An Eagle, a Lion, a Dolphin in its natural habitat; grazing, playing, floating, flying; free. Not confined within a zoo behind glass with toddlers playing peek- a boo games. Be free and run barefoot on the beach or in the rain because it’s your world, and only you hold yourself back from picking the lock that releases you to be free. In confinement sometimes one can find themselves and be liberated. It’s nothing like liberation. It’s nothing like limitations.

Don’t forget to give salutations with libations to those brothers trapped: upstate, 6 ft. deep, or those turned to ashes. Keep this goal in mind in your life: Have no regrets, and if you can live with that attitude, trust me you’ll be free and you’ll no doubt achieve. A poem with no form, free. A basketball player at the charity stripe after being fouled, a free throw. It’s a sense but not one of the five, and not related to the sixth, which they say is your intuition or third eye ,hopefully you’re blessed with the seventh cause that’s a gift, to be able to see through people’s bullshyt, and not care what they think , or do what they do. Be human enough to just be you. Live free, and think free. Be the wind over the ocean. Live like lava liquidly loose; fluidly flowing while destroying and rebuilding. No ceilings, but don’t be Lil Wayne and only focused on cash money, because then you’re on a slave to money, anything that can get it, or anyone that has it, but never sell yourself short. Live like the poor, who don’t know what that means. Live to be you. Live to be … Free. Remember money can elevate your life, but it can’t give you the feeling of freedom, or being free, because sometimes it’s a burden. Look at all the famous, and rich people and the way that they live. Remember your ancestors, and never forget that they yearned for freedom, they died for freedom, they cried for freedom, and they lived for freedom, so that I’m writing this to you, and you can read it, because you weren’t always free to read. Fight for freedom, and be a revolutionary, but don’t forget that you have to a solutionary.


“News” “Conference” or Play Your T. Card

Into the Abyss


Into the Abyss

An Introduction to Poems for Political Disaster

Juan Felipe Herrera

This new proposed American wall is one made of “dread” as Lynn Melnick writes. All of a sudden, the sense of moving “forward,” progressing with the hard-won rights for all, has hit your curb with a sign flashing “Stop!” We are exiles now, America—yet without having been cast out, still standing in your terrains, empty—Peter Gizzi’s poem speaks out, “When will I return to my country?” Calvin Bedient’s poem conjures Auschwitz. The dread is phantasmagoric but real. Does this “tone” alarm you? America, are you listening? When freedom is in danger, when you are asked, in one faked way or another, a shabby admonition, to leave your own humanity which includes the humanity of all, the alarm is extraordinary, America. Don’t you think so? You must respond, America. You must speak out, you must write. “Let me not abandon myself ” Brenda Hillman’s words implore, to themselves? To you too, America.

We do not want to be abandoned, America. All of us. Really. What will you be without America? Guess what, America? Everyone in this rough-cut, deep-hearted chapbook loves you as much as they have fought with you and for you. Everyone here wants an American home, an American national house in a global neighborhood “without children who make bulletproof vests out of cardboard.” Can you hear Carolyn Forché read this line out loud to you? I am getting carried away, America, right?

Guess I am—because all of these poets have been at this all of their lives, writing for you, America. Calling out for you, America—in cafés, nonprofit bookstores and community centers, women’s shelters, prisons and juvenile halls, bilingual classrooms, islands, archipelagos, universities, LGBTQ+ readings, 9/11 memorials, addiction centers, women’s clinics, senior centers, the recent massacres, America—listen to me, the recent massacres, writing, scribbling supersonic speed—for you! Hear me? We do not want the luxurious “Wall” America—wall of denial, misinformation, uncivil rights. What do you want? Are you asking me, America?

Guess what, America. We want you! There is always a way through the “Wall.” Ask me, I am a Mexican. Listen: You are being ripped away from us. It is the other way around. We are floating here, America. Have you ever imagined being thrown into the abyss and yet filled with the inky jelly of love for all, in the twilight? Can you hear Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s poem? Listen: “It’s like twilight to be alive now.”

…selected from the Foreword to Poems for Political Disaster published by Boston Review.

Literature in Trump’s America, or Writing Politically

from Colorado State MFA Creative Writing Blog

by Megan Clark

I spent the night of the election frantically texting everyone I knew, including my friend Wendy, a poetry MFA student at Syracuse. At one point, after discussing the many social repercussions of this election, Wendy said something very profound and very sad. “I think,” she wrote, “I’m still kind of shocked that my faith in an America that has a place for everyone has been naïve in a way… I feel like this will change my writing somehow.” If you interpret the results of the election in that way, how could it not affect the way you write? If this election fundamentally changed the way you view America, or confirmed your worst fears, this perception shift would have to affect the way you write about people and the world. Even if it doesn’t directly impact your writing, it would have to impact the way you think about your writing. All of these thoughts that have been percolating within me since the election have led me to an exploration of politics in writing and what political writing even looks like.
The mantra, “The personal is political” has always resonated with me. However, at the same time, I’m uncomfortable with the ways in which certain identities are politicized while others—white, straight, male, cisgender, etc.—are viewed as the default. These two ideas would seem to fly in the face of one another. Nonetheless, we can’t avoid the fact that some identities are politicized, no matter how we feel about that. Thus, choosing to write about young, queer women, as I often do, is an inherently political act. Similarly, choosing to omit people of color from one’s stories is also a political act. If whiteness is not the default—and it’s not—a narrative populated exclusively by white characters is sending a political message, whether we want to admit that or not. Thus, I would argue that all writing is political, be it conscious or unconscious.

read more here

What Kind of Times Are These

By Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.


from Poetry Foundation

Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

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