Reasons to Hate the Sky

reason 1: at six or seven

we were given balloons and told

that god might enjoy them.

i cried in anger while i watched

my nephew and niece reach past the car 

window, turning palms to cerulean, releasing 

ribbons from their ignorant fingers. somehow, 

even then i felt that they would never 

reach their destination


reason 2: after feeling the sun 

after months of clouds, i welcome the rage

of having lost something


reason 3: there was a day when i felt

lilac coat my eyelids while the day

shattered in slow motion. this went on 

every twenty-four hours. sunset

sunset. sunset.


reason 4: we have enough blue 

in the world as it is. i have loved this color 

too long to blink it beautiful again. 

bluebells have raised me

to know that the farther you move 

from the sun, 

the darker you become.


reason 5: looking up i grow

dizzy. we cannot tilt our heads 

without seeing evidence of our planet 

rolling. this turning always 

feels downhill


reason 6: a flattened happy birthday

beneath a tire’s heavy print. 

all it’s good for now is burial


reason 7: how the ocean can’t be what it is

without the sky as a backbone. we must move

according to our spines. a great white

leaps, mouth up to take a seal in its teeth

and i think how fish and birds are both

swallowed against the same background


reason 8: the balloon, trembling

within the car, tail wrapped around 

my careful fingers. feeling its oxygen 

as a promise of deflation, it wonders

if i’ll keep holding on

while it withers

Photography by Sumner McMurtry

Metaphor for Lilies (Covid 19)

if it wasn’t for the old ones,

we’d be dancing through this sickness

with zinfandel wine and stacks

of rice, beans, coffee, milk,

all the necessities to survive

isolation


while making a cup of coffee i wonder

if our grandmothers will die before we are able

to buy them any more flowers.

every Easter my mother gives Grandmama

white lilies, which could represent doves, signs

of salvation, or any kind of metaphorical bullshit.

i’ll add my own metaphor: my grandmother’s face,

planted in soil. three lily faces are sleeping

inside a plastic pot


first face: she stands in blue skirt and white blouse,

brown curls gripping cheeks younger

than mine are now. did the photographer

add that pink blush to her cheeks?

does she know what is coming?


second face: she stands against the background

of dark kitchen cabinets, wearing the same kind

of white blouse but her hair isn’t brown anymore,

graying against the whole-body fever

blush of her skin in middle age.

can she feel the sickness creeping closer?


third face: she wears a pink jacket over the white blouse

and holds a birthday present, peering past pale tissue paper

because she can’t remember that she already

opened this one, so she will reopen

the truth of the future and keep

forgetting it


I wonder if she knows

that we have kept away because we love–

isn’t that the way it goes? we keep away

from what we love to keep it safe?


I bought an orchid and watched it slowly wither,

turning black, first the flowers, then the leaves,

as it sputtered dead on the kitchen stove


I’ll go to the edge

of my grandmother’s driveway, waiting

until it’s safe to see the lilies again, withered,

but still hanging on, reaching

their petals toward my waiting body

from behind the screen door,

that lonely picture frame

Troubled Dogs

will we have time for our hands

to roam wherever they need?

along night air and balcony railings,

damp noses sniffing the air for intruders,

mayflies whispering against the knuckle of your 

ring finger for three quarters

of a second


we remember the freedom of being strays,

how loneliness stays as ticks and fleas.

we can’t outrun good intentions.

someone is always a phone call

away from what they call 

our salvation


if i had an insect’s body 

i would whisper with my wings 

like a dog whistle that only you can hear,

telling you we have to leave this place.

but as it is, we fill these canine back 

alley corners better than anyone else


we are dogs feeding                              

from the same bowl. you growl,

i whine. our teeth are our defense.

if we are chained, we will be loud about it. 

snapping teeth. bristled backs. we have

no other options


we want to be found. we don’t want

to be found. if chains are gone 

then we will have the memory of chains.

if hands are the reason for chains,

we will break hands

and remember them as fists


we stand in the rain

of our own frightened smell,

keys rumbling in our bellies.

troubled dogs will always belong 

to their original masters.

Door Girl

1.

You could say Regina was a door 

girl who wasn’t supposed to enter

a house where people fucked, wept,

swung sermons, then collapsed on bony

backs to face a ceiling of sometime stars. 


Or you could say she was a lookout, an only

listener & oh yes, that’s what she did.

One side of her face pressed against

the screen door while Lazee played the 

organ like a church, as though flowers

bloomed around him & sometimes they did.

Purple orchids. White lilies beckoning like fingers. 


2.

Evie was a house girl & she’d sit on the other side

of Regina’s door, singing stories through the organ’s wail, 

for once, she knew everyone: 

Frida, Tina, Leonora Carrington, 

Remedios Varo when she fed the moon,

the punks off Western, the friends who’d kicked

& the friends who hadn’t—who went back home,

or were found too late.

Angeline with her billboard breasts,

businessmen, & pink convertible.


3.

In the afternoons,

when the orchids & lilies shrunk to bulbs

& the flies got tired

of buzzing wings on screen, 

Evie licked her gold tooth

for luck & asked: 

“Regina, are you feeling cold? Because, a girl must

want a roof, even if she sleeps inside the tiniest

Matryoshka—even if she carries a Ziploc bag purse.”

My Mom’s Trip(s) to the City Jail

Can you see the future 

like you feel the wind

in your hair-sprayed perm

and under your young knees, 

pedaling your bike through 

a red Memphis evening 

because brother Kenny stole another go-kart? 


When you pass the 32nd pothole from the trailer park 

across from Pop’s “pretty good” liquor store, 

do you envision log cabin countrysides, 

or have you always known about

the cigarette college fund? 


Braking at the crosswalk, 

do you peer over your padded shoulders,

or do you focus on the possibility of baby powder

in the dry flowers by the bus stop? 


Did you know

you’d find your mother years later

in the bathtub – a martyr for watercolors – 

and did you know you’d say to me,

“Take whatever you want. 

You can have it.” 

Photography by Sumner McMurtry

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN