Distress Signals by Kip Knott

Distress Signals

                inspired by the artwork of Aron Wiesenfeld

                “There is a lot of darkness that people are confronting
                right now . . . . All people are like prisms, with internal
                characteristics, through which the world is filtered.”
                       —Aron Wiesenfeld

1.

When I was a child I sailed
toy ships in the drainage ditch
beneath the looming overpass
that ran behind our house.

Tires speeding through puddles
overhead channeled crashing waves
that I imagined smashed against the hull
tied to the end of my line.

Breaching eighteen-wheeled
leviathans shook the world around me,
rippling rings of greasy rainbows
from one shore to the next.

Above everything, I heard my parents
shouting, not for me to come in,
but at each other, the way thunder yells
at lightning for flashing too bright.

To this day I still don’t know
if I was the one guiding the ship,
or if an otherworldly stowaway
had thrown a line to me

and I was waiting for someone
to pull me in, to pull me under.

2.

It’s easy enough to step that one step forward and fall
endlessly away from the troubles that trouble the world
around me, around you, around us all.

To take that one step away from the edge and fall
back into all the divisions and ills that plague this world,
that step is the hardest step of all.

Whichever way I choose to move I know that I will fall
upon a high wire stretched between the precipice of a world
I will come to know all in all

and the precipice of a world that every day seems ready to fall.

3.

The sight of my reflection
waving from the cell of a mirrored
windowpane stops me in my tracks
as I walk alone to work.

I wave back. My reflection
motions for me to join him.
Over both our heads, dark clouds
shift and churn in opposite directions.

Before I take another step, I must
decide if the blood that broken glass
will draw from shredded flesh
is worth the chance to learn

who lives on the other side of who I am.

4.

We occupy a liminal space.
One of us stands, the other sits. We exist

together, apart,

not quite shadows, not quite
reflections.

Reflections
exist as both the same and other,

reversed, opposite.

One of us stands, the other sits. We exist
in an endless liminal space.

5.

I have sometimes posed
myself in a final repose
just to know the shape of death.

And now, after years
of loneliness, I am too weak
to lift my head to see

if any pose I ever struck
actually matched the contours
of my body as I slowly

drift away.

*

Kip Knott’s first collection of short stories, Some Birds Nest in Broken Branches, is available from Alien Buddha Press. His most recent full-length book of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is available from Kelsay Books. You can follow him on Twitter at @kip_knott and read more of his writing at kipknott.com.

*

I would like to offer my thanks to Aron Wiesenfeld for creating the powerful and evocative artwork that inspired this poem. The following five paintings were particularly inspirational:

· “Study” (2020)
· “The Pit” (2019)
· “Morning” (2002)
· “Hallway” (1999)
· “Chris McCandless” (2003)

SLICE OF MORNING by Mary Elder Jacobsen

SLICE OF MORNING

I’m waking to a sky
dark as chocolate ganache
swirled by the great baker,
her sparkly spatula,
her flourish of icing,
between bright coconut-
fluff layers of snow days
she’s stacked up one by one,
yesterday then today,
and soon I remember
the slice of cake sent home
after last night’s party
and I’m up like the sun,
first to rise out of bed
down the dim-lit stairwell
followed by the dog, star
of our world. How is it
he can beg shamelessly
for more? His bowl is full.
We are not unalike
after all. Let me slice
this last piece of sweet cake
in half and leave the rest.
Let me keep wanting more.

*

Mary Elder Jacobsen’s poetry appears widely in online and print publications, most recently in The Greensboro Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and the anthology The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy, edited by James Crews. A recipient of a Vermont Studio Center residency, she holds graduate degrees from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and UNC-Greensboro. She lives in Vermont, where she is a freelance editor, a community volunteer, and Coordinator of Words Out Loud, an annual reading series held at a still-unplugged 1823 meetinghouse.

Two Poems by Sandra Kohler

Morning: Still and Moving

The sky’s dun, the roses needing dead-heading
gone dull tan, the morning air thin, reluctant,
a shy child. There are those who hurry, those
who can’t. The woman who tries but is limping,
bent. There is a season dying, a season being born.

When the breeze picks up, it carries fear not hope.
Only the smallest birds fly, a sabbath silence settles
over the grayed street, one butterfly skitters
and darts through still air. It does not come to
the waiting buddleia, the rich purple offerings

a bee cruises. Dim noise of distant traffic comes
to my senses the way a scent of fire does, smoke
scent of fires a continent away. Still hope is always
apprehension’s underside, what we know and
can’t. Sudden grace: a cardinal lands, on the porch

railing first, then hops to the red car roof, perches
for a moment, flies down the driveway, vanishes
from my sight. Like possibility, sign to pursue, like
the flight of the slow gull, the tread of the fat
man with a tiny dog who’s pacing the sidewalk.

The cardinal and the gull, the dog and the bee: as
always, morning offers what I can and cannot see.

*

Duets

Our beloved dead
now come to us
as voices

at daybreak, twilight –
on the cusps of
darkness, light.

We thought we had lost
them, their loved tones
forgotten,

but liminal times –
the hours of
waking, sleep

summon them from depths
into daylight, their
voices still

present, sounding our
identities,
theirs and ours,

so giving us back
others we loved,
and old selves.

*

Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 45 years. In 2018, a poem of hers was chosen to be part of Jenny Holzer’s permanent installation at the new Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia.