• 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, though,

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 lucywainger.com.

New Mexico State University

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