Three Poems by Rachel Custer


Save your sorry. Your sorry won’t get me
my crops in before the frost. Your sorry
won’t fill the propane tank. Confess me up
a big old sack of free feed, while you’re at it.
What I don’t need? A man who can’t outpace
his sorries, who leads ‘em around like a pack
of fair-weather friends. Another man hog-tied
by shoulda done. I knew a man once, he plowed
through each day like sorries leaded his boots,
each foot dragging the bodies of his regrets.
His whole life was an apology. God, what
did he think? It would stop him dying? He died,
like we all do: with dry lips and not enough
to drink. Sorry is death for no reason. Sorry
is men dying everywhere except the spot
where you stand, and you laying yourself
down in the sand. Each death deserves a life.
It’s like, I don’t know. Here! It’s like a field.
The most fertile field needs a fallow year.
The man who never rests his field grows
nothing but the knowledge of should
have done. What should I have done?
My son was just learning how to run the big
plow, and if he was too young, if another year
would have kept him from its blades – what
should I have done? What will it help
to plant, again and again, that field where
my boy died, and to harvest regret from
the black soil of the past? Don’t tell me
you’re sorry, I used to tell him when he
messed up, it doesn’t fix it. Don’t tell me
you’re sorry. Just stop doing the wrong thing.



Halfway down a country road a house leans
as if asking for forgiveness. As if asking
to be remembered well. Remembers the time
the roof caved in after a wet snow and how
the candles made stories of the walls. Nobody
knows hunger like a cold child. Hunger eats
anything it can get, and if hunger gets nothing,
it will eat the house that holds it and make
a dessert of itself. Hunger would rather reign
than serve. I would rather ask forgiveness
than permission says a woman, and this woman
knows the truth: how once invited inside,
hunger never leaves. Hunkers in the corner
and glares. How it feeds and feeds. A house
leans like a fire waiting to happen. Says a child:
I would rather steal than ask for anything
just before asking a neighbor to borrow
an egg. A man walks to work as if asking
forgiveness, leaning like a house against
the wind. A house could be forgiven for taking
hunger’s side, for demanding so much,
for its quiet and constant need. A man
could be forgiven for striking a match.



Lucky from the start, I was. Came home
lips to nipple and swaddled in a good name.
Nothing softer in this world than a good name,
nothing warmer. Like the best cologne dabbed
behind each ear. Like the deep weave of plush
rugs, the feet of soft women dancing. Before
I was poor I was rich. Before I was rich I was
nothing. I was maybe the extra finger of Scotch
in my father’s night, was maybe the crystal
just-so of my mother’s glass. I was low light.
Before I was drunk I was a child, tucked inside
others’ drunkenness and waltzed around airy rooms.
The whitewashed tombs of my mother’s breasts.
Her Home & Garden womb. Her best-dressed,
drunk at the Christmas party smile. Her royal
flush spread of hair, brushed and gleaming. I
was the kind of lush that blooms in scant light.
She was the kind of hush that looms. I can’t fight
the sure dread that my mother will look down
on me someday, that she will bend over me
like reed grass. The light behind her. Someday
you’ll thank us, I imagine her saying, everything
we gave you. The kind of name that could never
belong to the kind of man I am. The cold comfort
of no blame. A world willing to shift to fit my name.


Rachel Custer is an NEA Fellow (2019) and the author of The Temple She Became (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, including Rattle, OSU: The Journal, B O D Y, The American Journal of Poetry, The Antigonish Review, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters (OJAL), among others.

BUDDHIST FIRE-EATER by Susan Michele Coronel


Each time she strikes a match, she tilts her head
back, imagines she is entering a Coke bottle’s

glass neck, swallowing the last threads of sulfur
before its saw-toothed cap snaps on.

After she seals her lips around the head
of torch, she exhales with ease

to release the flames of attachment
she has been holding her entire life.

A siren of gratitude widens its range.
What is empty cannot be destroyed.


Susan Michele Coronel lives in New York City. She has a B.A. in English from Indiana University-Bloomington and M.S.Ed. in Applied Linguistics from the City University of New York. Her poems have been published in or are forthcoming in publications including The Night Heron Barks, Prometheus Dreaming, Amethyst Review, Hoxie Gorge Review, TAB Journal, Ekphrastic Review, and Passengers Journal.

Fire and Flood by Kristin Garth

Fire and Flood
(as two Barbie Dreamhouses)

Some have a Barbie dreamhouse as a child.
First I bought, myself, my 20’s, with cash
compiled in strip clubs, a girl going wild
in plaid. Until a stranger lit a match
to burn down everything I had accrued
with lewd choreography. Second an
abuser bought for me, an overdue
idyllic acrylic home that’s briefly
my own, reparations I will choose
to accept. Plastic families are easy
to protect, it would seem. This one I lose
by flood, recluse who lets nobody
in, no men, though this strategy is flawed.
Even plastic is not safe from acts of God.


Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Best of the Net and Rhysling nominated sonnet stalker. She is the author of 20 books of poetry including Flutter Southern Gothic Fever Dream, The Meadow and Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir. Read her poetry journal Pink Plastic House a tiny journal where she is the Dollhouse Architect. Listen to her weekly sonnet podcast called Kristin Whispers Sonnets on Anchor, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Visit her site and talk to her on Twitter @lolaandjolie