Three Poems by James Crews

At Grand & Arsenal

When we pulled up to the stoplight,
he leaned over and kissed my arm,

keeping his lips pressed hard against
the skin and hair as if needing to taste

all the salt there. I thought the moment
might never end, but the light changed,

and then we drove on, and when I asked,
What was that for? he shook his head

and smiled, though I cupped my hand
over the place he had kissed just in case

the kiss might catch on the wind, leap
from the window like an ember and burn

in someone else instead of me.


After Burnout

You finally decide to do no more
than is necessary, relishing each new
gulp of air drawn into your lungs,
when out of the flavorless mush
of days, even weeks without sun,
it happens again: life calls you back.
With a hint of chocolate in the cup
of coffee taken alone at the table,
or the needles of coneflower seeds
sticking to your fingertips as you
spread them around in autumn earth.
How all living things want to go on,
attaching themselves to whatever body
or breath of wind will carry them home.
Now stop in the driveway and listen
as amber-gold leaves, one by one,
break off with a simple snap of stem
from branch, that sound just shy
of silence saying to you: it’s time
to release all the relentless reaching
for the light. Rest is not death,
though it may feel like it at first.



Compassion sat quietly beside me
that December night with my father
in the dim light of his ICU room,
then led me by the hand to the end
of the hallway where I bought him
a cold bottle of Coke which I placed
sweating on his tray, unwrapping
a straw and bending the end until
it faced him. Now I see it was only
compassion that kept my voice steady
as I said goodbye to him, sensing
it would be the last time, even as nurses
hustled me out, said to go home
and get some rest. Only compassion
that made me linger by his bed,
gripping the callused hand that had
fixed so much for me over the years,
then moving that bottle of soda
a little closer, so he could reach it
once I was gone.


James Crews is the editor of several bestselling poetry anthologies: Healing the Divide, The Path to Kindness, and How to Love the World, which has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, as well as in The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. He is the author of four prize-winning collections of poetry: The Book of What Stays, Telling My Father, Bluebird, and Every Waking Moment, and his poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, The New Republic, and Prairie Schooner. James teaches writing in the Poetry of Resilience seminars (, and in the MFA program at Eastern Oregon University.

Two Poems by Courtney LeBlanc


I’m lucky to have good neighbors, the kind
who pull your garbage bins in when you’re out
of town or gather your mail. This summer
I exchanged cucumbers from my garden
for mint from hers. And to have the kind
of neighbors who deliver a bouquet
of bright yellow buttercups when my dad
died, with a note filled with such kindness
I started crying all over again. And isn’t
that what the world needs right now, a little
more kindness? Because last night the ball
dropped and everyone held their breath
and made a wish, the world collectively hoping
that this year will be better than the last.
I started the first day of this new year with
a long walk with my dog, her anxiety
non-existent on these empty country roads.
And the few cars that passed contained
people who raised their palms in hello,
greeting me as if we were old friends, as if
they would happily accept cucumbers
from my garden, grab the package
at my front door, and deliver compassion
in the face of grief. They waved and I waved
back, this small act of kindness between
strangers, this small bit of hope carrying
us into the new year.



We planned on Ireland, a week of lush
green and rolling hills, castles and seductive,
indecipherable accents. I would drive
and you would navigate. We’d hike and drink
Guinness, laugh and sleep late. Instead
we took turns holding our father’s hand,
the hum of the hospital and piped-in
Muzak, the soundtrack. After a week, we
brought him home, moved him close
to the picture window in the living room,
let the sun shine onto his skin as he gulped
for air and I pushed morphine into his cheek.
When he died we circled around his bed,
touched his cooling skin, wiped our tears
on the white sheets. Our father never left
the country, never had a passport, never
graduated high school. He left
the adventuring to us, his two youngest
daughters, the ones who flew farthest
from the nest. Let’s pull out calendars
and make plans. We’ll go next year,
or in five. We’ll explore the whole damn
world, we’ll see everything he never did.


Courtney LeBlanc is the author of Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press). She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog: Follow her on twitter: @wordperv, and IG: @wordperv79.