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  • Lucy Wainger

Four Poems


Dark is a bathroom

I go home to.

I spend lots of time

in bathrooms

chasing thoughts with

my tongue: it bends,

makes a ring. In life,

there are many things.

When I eat birds,

I spit them out; bees,

I swallow. These

are the rules. The sun,

zero. The moon, a smaller

zero—facts I remember

the sound of. Like a song

with no words. During recess,

I hum. I stay

on the bench: first the right end,

then the left. The other kids

have faces

like fish. What I mean

is I can see them.

In the cafeteria, I eat

oranges and their juice spurts

like boys. That is what hands

are for: wiping mouths.

I want to sing. I want to break

something but I think

that is a wrong thing to want.

These are the rules. They look funny

from behind. I am terrible

at staying where I am put.

In class, we learn facts

about zero and the ocean

and gravity: the string

that holds them together—

a long string the air moves, like my hair

when I play. I wish I had

a big pair of scissors. I have

so many thoughts, but none

of them like words. I have

this body—residue—

I just don’t know what

left it.

Poem with a Slightly-Altered Line by Tracy K. Smith

After the end

it’s hard to decide

what to make for dinner

or what album to listen to

while making it

Outside, the land smokes

the sun goes to zero

the last few birds shuffle back

and forth across something

too wide to call a sky

Inside, you preheat the oven

and turn on the tap

If the world is ten thousand things and

if the ten thousand things get broken

down into endless soil

and you put some seeds in the soil

and the soil changes the seeds

and sends them out into the air so small

and new and tenuously rooted

it’s hard to decide

what to call them, like

are they seeds or

are they soil or

are they something

else, the way

the children of gods are not always gods

After the end

you’re beginning to make dinner

and the phone rings

and the voice on the other end

sounds more like yours

than someone else’s

First Love


The air bled

all winter. Don’t you remember? Of course you do.

Your coffee was black. My tea was white. My hips curved

in a way they had not curved before.

We walked a city of neon lights, walls

of white ice, and buildings older than the building codes

that say if you’re standing in the street, you have to be able

to see the sky. Maybe we should’ve looked.

By the end, the stakes were low: I wanted to leave

because you had to go. I didn’t realize I’d left

my scarf on the train

until afterward. The buildings

sutured behind you.


From here the city could be a field

of silver wheat, or one hundred outstretched fingers.

We don’t talk about the sunset but here it is, obscene as a cut grapefruit.

This is when I don’t tell you

I don’t love you anymore. Instead I say It looks

like a field, and you say It does.

All summer I’ve sprawled in swaths of new grass,

watched insects swarm the creases of my elbows. I want to tell you about this

but I also want it to rain. You say You’d never say so from the inside,


would you. It isn’t a question. It still isn’t a question.

Self/Portrait as Echo

Kneeling at the edge of the green pond, ground beneath me unfastened by days of rain: this is the part where I stare at you.

Of course you are as beautiful as a steel jaw trap.

Of course you’re not in love with yourself—just furious the water won’t stay still, surface pockmarked with tiny corpses: bronze leaves, brilliant insects. Sometimes I forget water is not a living thing.

Sometimes I walk so slowly, I can’t tell whether or not I’m moving.

I carve your face into the dirt with a twig and my index finger, and then I do it again: eventually I will know the lines of your face the way you know a city map, or a story you’ve heard

over and over. I will reflect you

and you will look at me, say something useful, something I can live inside of.

I once survived all winter on seeds gleaned from bird shit. I drank green water

and memorized the forest, wandered barefoot,

silent. No one knows this.

You say your own name like a question

and I repeat it like an answer and the gods

will call that echo, call that a story someone will tell someone else.


Lucy Wainger grew up in New York City. Her poems appear in Best American Poetry 2017, the Collagist, Nashville Review, Poetry, Vinyl, and elsewhere. She studies creative writing at Emory University, where she won the 2017 Academy of American Poets Prize. More at

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