Karen Rigby is the author of Chinoiserie (Ahsahta Press). Her poems have been published in The London Magazine, Grain, Bennington Review, The Spectacle, and other journals. She lives in Arizona.
Nightingale & Firebird
As if the song encoded in the wheel could railroad
to the garden, the mechanical grind transformed
the nightingale to music-box, the music to evergreen
vistas. The firebird was another story: inventory
of dust on the wings. Dried blood on the red-gold
coat. One thread about tin substitutes for splendor,
the other a ghost-image for your burdened heart.
Easy to confuse the black chinoiserie with feathers
torn from ashes, twin halves for a childhood fear:
you were never loved. You could surrender
to the hammer or the flame but no one would come.
That which they called wonder was only a greased key
in a courtesan’s palm, and when the bird sang, no one
heard the sound a wing makes when the current breaks.
"Nightingale & Firebird" was published in Chinoiserie (Ahsahta Press, 2012).
Topaz Winters is the author of three full-length poetry collections (most recently So, Stranger, Button Poetry, spring 2022). She is the founder and editor-in-chief of the internationally-acclaimed publishing house, literary journal, and arts organisation Half Mystic. Her peer-reviewed research on poetry, identity, and queerness in Singapore is published in the Journal of Homosexuality. Her creative work has been published in and featured by Diode, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Straits Times, Entropy, the Boston Poetry Slam, the Singapore Writers Festival, and the Academy of American Poets, among others. Topaz is 21 years old and in her second year at Princeton University. She writes love letters to a worldwide audience of thousands at topazwinters.com.
The Night You Are Diagnosed
after Austin Smith
you name every rifle in your father’s
hunting cabinet another synonym
for escape. This crevasse, a rite
of passage: your hands trembling
in unknowns, exquisitely foreign
& freezing in the dark. Somewhere
in a city drowning in dusk,
your mother tries to shape your sorrow
into something she can blame herself for.
By the side of a road, a dead man
promises his children that tomorrow
he will wake from hibernation.
The precise moment it comes,
you are infinity within creased knuckles,
wishbone from a body that is not yours
or one that was, once, until you traded it
for the memory of incandescence.
Listen: every deer in this forest
is learning the sound of anguish.
Listen: the moon rises so loud the sky
turns black in fear. In some other
version of this night, your body knows
all the places it has not yet been.
Perhaps one day you will relearn
the art of inhaling, but today is not
that day. Instead there is only your
father’s cabinet, somehow swinging
open. Mouth glinting, soulless, teeth
as so many rifles swimming helpless
& hungry in their trapped
I Start Crying During the Best Part of the Film
& you carry me out of the cinema & drive me home
because you’re in love with me & that’s what people
in love are supposed to do even if you’ve been
wanting to see this film for three weeks & you
were really looking forward to getting dinner after.
on the way home it’s raining & you’re humming under
your breath & your hand is on my knee at every red
light. let’s play a game where if we close our eyes loud
enough your hands will dance again & the raindrops will
travel up instead of down the car window & my father
will stop being so angry with me all the time. or let’s
play another where none of that will happen but my
sadness will finally suffocate me so you can drive back
& catch the end of the film. i’m no good at apology or
sleeping in cars but i swear i was just trying to find a way
to protect my collarbones. i always thought that’s what
love was supposed to do but maybe it’s only here to
drown itself in all the wrong places & ruin the film for
everyone. i wonder if you’re mad at me still. i wonder
if the highway is in love with the wheels of this car or
if kissing all the time just makes them tired of each other.
i wonder a lot of things. soon after that i fall asleep &
when i wake up the rain still hasn’t stopped but you’ve
carried me into the apartment & googled the way the
film ends & i’m still sad & looking for answers but this
time i think i know which way to turn to understand.
you give me a fortune cookie from the chinese takeout
you ordered & it says the best things in life are free & that’s
how i know you were never really mad at me in the first
place. your hair smells like rain. you ask me if i’ve taken
my meds today. nothing really hurts except for my chest.
i wish we’d seen the way the film ended, but i guess we’ll
have to settle for everything else instead.
"The Night You Are Diagnosed" was originally published in DIALOGIST.
"I Start Crying During the Best Part of the Film" was originally published in
Rust + Moth.