Nixes Mate Review

issue 26/27 · winter/spring 2023

Is it early Spring in New England when it’s 60 degrees Fahrenheit out in February? Is it late winter when, a week earlier, it was -8 degrees Fahrenheit? Is it even winter when Boston has only received 8 inches snow versus it’s usual 2 feet by the middle of February? Where are the Nor’easters? Are we speaking too soon, jinxing us here at Nixes Mate headquarters surrounded by a rising and warming sea? Will we retain a memory of the winter that wasn’t long after it fades?

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Sonia Greenfield · Ode to the Man Who Kissed Me  When I Was Thirteen
At thirteen I’d climb the rock wall 
and cross the grounds of Nardone’s 
to get to the Little Yellow Deli. Same 
yellow as my house, which was haunted 
by the miasma that rises from a childhood 
about to fall apart – how the walls 

on Smith Street sweated their insects, 
how no monumental crack showed; 
just the feeling that the whole place 
could go like the House of Usher. Was it 
in the parlor next door, when red roses 
tended by my grandfather’s hands 

were tucked into his hands, that set it 
all in motion? Whatever the prick of 
misfortune, it hung about like the stink 
of cigarette smoke in plaster walls. 
Meanwhile, thirteen was still roller-skating 
and longing for sparkly laces, still glittery

kittens stuck to my Trapper Keeper. Still 
a long tangle of hair I never took care of. 
I’d climb the rock wall as often as I could 
if I had the quarters to carry me to the deli 
for Starburst and a glimpse of the guy 
working the register. I wore a groove through

the neat grass of Nardone’s just to get there. 
How I’d stammer. Everything was gilded 
at thirteen, like it was chromed and bronzed 
and golden, until it took a tarnish –
that was the year my babysitter wrapped 
her car around a tree, my stepfather

kicked my cat off the two-story deck, 
and the school custodian showed me 
dirty magazines in his garage, as if
death and sex were all part of the same
lesson. Still, no wonder my obsession 
with unicorns, how exquisitely close

I was to being one, wild-maned 
and magical and a creature on the verge 
of being something more than merely 
a horse. I remember how I invited him 
to my birthday party and how he climbed 
over the wall and into my yard. But was

he a man? I only know he had a thick 
crown of curls and was old enough 
to work a slicer. How must it have 
looked from his side of the counter? 
He must have wondered, at least once, 
what it would have been like to kiss

the Starburst from my mouth, to tongue 
away all the sugar because I was pining 
for something I had no guile to define. 
He only visited the party for a minute, 
and then he did it. He brushed his closed 
lips across mine and left. I never saw

him again. Thirteen was the way I could 
hear my own heartbeat over the strains 
of Pat Benatar, lying awake with promises
in the dark, wondering what next, what next, 
now that love has fled the little yellow deli 
on Washington Street. Praise him for running

from a desire too pure to be fulfilled, desire
musical as the tinkle of sleigh bells against
a glass door, desire waiting for her change,
silhouetted against July’s sun beaming into 
the candy section. What man could fulfill
only what thirteen was asking for

but not a touch more? 

Margaret D. Stetz · The Lost Girls
What do you call the one who flies in
through an open window without a shadow?
I was no Wendy, no use when it came to needle and thread
but those who arrived with nothing, who lacked
bound themselves anyway
to my skin.
  She appeared in the classroom halfway through the year
with flared velvet skirt cut too short like a skater’s and puffy
white sleeves
the same clothes the next day and many days after
until they smelled
her dirty blonde hair less blonde, dirtier
she held onto my hand in the two-by-two lines
she put her straw into my milk cartons
she picked food from my lunchbox
she followed me home and tried to come in
like Nana my mother stood guard closing the door against her
where did she go? to a house? who was there?
no teacher, no parent asked
by summer she’d vanished
in working-class neighborhoods no nets were stretched below
for those hanging on ledges/ balanced on windowsills/tapping
on glass
and anyway girls get lost
all the time – don’t they?
Eve Linn · Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
after Frida Kahlo

Sky cyanotic. Clouds cough. Grass dark as an anvil. Far behind me the world of men stretches to the horizon. Smokestacks and water towers, buildings stacked one on top of another. A steel ribbon links city to city. The relentless conveyor belt of parts swings over men’s heads. Blast furnaces roar hot tongues, flames stagger towards distant stars. Feed me, Feed me more. Insatiable beast. I shout to make myself heard. Whistles shriek. No one can hear me. I cannot hear anyone. Flowers bloom and shrivel in an instant, incinerated. I am always in between.

Bed linen gorged with my blood. Tissues of the unborn, the baby I can never hold. Folded, blunt headed, feet crossed at the ankles, arms gesture a prayer – protesting his expulsion. I hold him anyway – thin red threads from navel to navel – he floats above me, above the bed, the bed that should have held us both. I am spread empty. Belly domed, knees a bridge – a passage where sharps cut and tore. Pubic hair a dark nest, a sliver against pale flesh.

Twisted – a batt of gauze to staunch. Clots, tissue, viscera. You – covered in transparent film veins blue. No breath from the branches of your lungs, no cry. Smaller than a plucked chicken at a market stall. I fought to hold you, keep you close until I could do the only thing to save you. Paint you, still nameless, but holy. Cohesion of our cells.

What ties me to this earth – Betrayed by own body. Slow crawl as the stillborn child culled from my labyrinth. (pain, o so familiar, the slow burn, the ravish of a lover.) Each scar opened again, again. It must be this way. Sutures hum inside me. Labia fringed as orchid petals. I wanted only to paint my child, but no. Robber gloved hands took you away, fed you to steel jaws shining under a hanging bulb.

What are the works of men – I prefer my own imperfect relics. I will
return in the arms of the moon. The architecture of our bones.

Byron Beynon · African Daisies
The family who’d moved
next to my father’s house
asked the name of the flowers
that grew outside his porch.
“African Daisies”, he said.
Unfolding with the sun
they open like a greeting,
an innocent warmth
a remedy of colours
which smile
each one a primitive brazier of light.
Peter Urkowitz · No Straight Roads Out of Salem
Reaching the end of the mystery
I can’t understand how the murderer died
so back to the start
and then back to the middle
and then further forward
and later back
and then I meet the character that escaped me the first time
so that’s how it happened

From here to Boston is a quick shot
except just getting out of my own city
is a zigzag maze
that takes half the time

Just getting out of my house
is a back and forth
from room to room and again
and where are my shoes?

If I am on the ground floor
which you might call the basement but we don’t
I have to go up to exit on the first floor
which you might call the second but we don’t
and to get over to the left
you have to enter on the right
and if you enter through the lower front door
you will be exiting through the upper front back door
which is not the same as the lower back door

My best friend was introduced to his cousin’s drummer
at the festival they didn’t mean to play at
but the bridge washed out
so they had to drive south
in the van with three spare tires
and got stuck in our county
when our hardware store had a surplus
of the right kind of screws for the backbeat pedal
and she mentioned
that we should see them play
and I spilled my beer on a guy
but Mark pulled him off of me
and we both like Beowulf
and that’s how we met

I picked up a piece of birch bark
and said where did this come from?
and then I saw I was in a whole birch grove
I had walked through it for years
and never noticed

Hannah Larrabee · I Want the Mistakes - A Review of Joey Gould's Penitent - Arbiter

The opening poem of Joey Gould’s Penitent > Arbiter sets the scene by throwing off the “poem’s pretentious gaze,” grounding us instead in the world of nuthatches, those bizarre little bark-climbers whose “arrogance” does not escape Gould’s attention. This is followed by a poem in playful conversation with apples; the speaker apologizing for leaving them in “fascist rows” in the supermarket. Gould’s poems exist in a world that is both spiritually bankrupt and enriched – from the daily grind to intimate relationships – and perhaps this is the origin of the collection’s title. There is a famous scene in Indiana Jones The Last Crusade where Jones repeats the phrase only the penitent man will pass and drops to his knees to escape decapitation in pursuit of the Holy Grail. I don’t see the word penitence in use much these days, so my mind went directly to the scene. It seems strange to include a line from the hyper-masculine Indiana Jones series but reframing the idea of penitence in Gould’s imagination is much more interesting. More embodied, even. That’s just one aspect of Gould’s poems I admire: their exploration of desire – not coded or clever desire – but real, messy, desire.

And when it comes to love, which is the true backdrop of this collection, must we always be right (arbiters) or is love a constant reframing of humility (penitence)? There is a distinct wisdom in these poems and I think wisdom only arrives with some alchemical combination of observation and heart, a heart like a “bloated, red, goat,” preferably. Also, let me be clear, writing a love poem is difficult and writing a love poem for a friend is, somehow, even more difficult. In my world at least. You strip away the romanticisms we are accustomed to and go straight to the source. In this way, “Revelry” is a standout poem in the collection. The promise of delivering “a happy poem” is a meditation on the move and, once they confront this difficulty, the poem arrives, naturally, in the second stanza – with a blessing. There is something perfect about the happiness in question becoming a memory, and a very specific memory at that, the kind you know the speaker was present for: “I want you to remember me / in yellow tights / the candlelit backroom / where I left my book.” There are so many gems in this collection, I urge the reader to discover their own … but I adore the image of keeping secrets “in an apron pocket,” along with the constantly evolving idea of fulfillment in relationships expressed in lines like this: “I thought I’d see your arms full of bread.”

I am always wondering how best to converse with poetry of close attention; I believe it to be an increasing rarity, especially attention attuned to the world around us. Perhaps we can mirror Gould’s devotion to so many things in this collection through close reading. I admit, I won’t pay the spleen as much attention, but I will linger on these beautiful lines from “3 Spleens:” “The surgeon excising / the love between us shrugged, / the nurses put away the paddles.” Gould has a true talent for the craft of poetry as anyone will notice, especially fans of line breaks and enjambment: “When I notch another survival / in God’s old yearbook.”

Gould ends the collection with a couple homage poems to a fellow poet, which seems fitting as this collection has been an invocation of spirit and muse. Penitent > Arbiter asks: where do we find inspiration? Certainly not in the pristine. In music? Yes, poignantly at times. In others? Yes, of course, both enthusiastically and reluctantly. One of my favorite poems, “Candent,” follows the speaker navigating a flooded landscape (internal thoughts and literal terrain) with another and when they finally reach the Trail Closed sign they “kiss there like idiots in the temporary.” If only we were all brave enough to offer the world a line like that.

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All works copyrighted by their authors; all rights reserved.

Cover image used with permission.

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