On the Third
I had another seizure,
I started twitching, then shaking—
not as bad as last time.
Last time, her lips
turned blue like a heron,
or a river’s numbness,
or lead paint.
You do not say,
Let me hold your hand,
or worse, those lines
as saccharine as glaze
on potluck pound cake:
If I could, I would break
and break again
so you don’t have to.
You watch her climb
this hard-earth trail
like the mountains
where you were young,
her feet sliding in the leaf fall,
yours going too.
When Every Poem I Write Becomes Violation
In this language, where you can say an arduous
recrudescence of lexical lacunas, and fill every cavity
your voice leaves open with another bundle
of sound, there are still not enough domesticated
words that you can bridle one and ride it like certainty
into your own articulated sunset. When it’s horrors
you have to tell, the dictionary grows wilder, bucks
against its harness, and throws off the rider as it leaps
the fence. Dazed, you are left with I didn’t want it
and I’m not sure. Every poem becomes a story of grasping
for words, a reach for the reins of a galloping horse.
You chase the beast; you run with your battered body,
but language kicks dust in your face, and you come away
with only another handful of I know I’ve said this before.
Letter to My Grandmother
You sat with me on the porch swing
in my dream last night. Do you know that?
On the front patio, all the cousins
danced like fireflies, but I sat with you
in creaking canyon air, and you said nothing,
quiet like the morning before us grandchildren
awakened— but I could touch the curls of your hair,
fluffy like carnations, or the fruit of prickly pears.
If the dream’s desert plants —yucca, juniper, cactus—
had allowed, I would have slept that night
on a dusty mattress in the sloping loft,
and trickled out of bed the next day into the kitchen
to watch you cook pancakes with popping bacon grease.
The grape-seed oil that Weight Watchers recommended
would stand distant as October on the edge of the counter,
all but forgotten, like sand on the doormat.
I can make my own pancakes now. Maybe
you know that, too. Joy of Cooking.
My mother taught me— did you teach her?
In the dream, we are back in Palo Duro Canyon,
in the summer cabin that hasn’t yet been sold
to someone who prefers bright blue paint to 70s wallpaper
and who no longer owns a VHS player.
In the dream my feet grew tough again,
though still not as coarse as those of the older cousins
who ran barefoot on the caliche rock as I clambered behind.
Would you recognize my feet?
They’re eight sizes bigger than the imprint
left on the concrete Granddaddy poured
to make the back porch. They’re walking across
a college campus. They’re not in Texas anymore.
Coffee circles on the countertop remind me
of the speckled mug you drank from, of the carved wooden ducks
quacking along the windowsill. I am afraid
of one day seeing those murky spiraling stains
and thinking of Mama the way I dream of you.
Looking at my desk today after the dream
(I have my own desk now),
your cluttered cabin office space passes through my mind
like pollen blowing through sturdy cottonwood branches.
I see your phone, whose cord coils like sandpiper calls,
whose clunky buttons I’d watch your polished fingers press.
I want to ask you to paint my nails desert red like yours.
The dream ended before I could jump out of the swing,
scamper past the screen door, and follow
as you walked to your rolling maroon-backed chair,
as you pulled me into your lap to hear the ringing. I woke up—
the morning silent as an answering machine.
Biographical Note: Kelly Morgan is a senior at Vanderbilt University where she is currently completing a creative writing honors thesis. She serves as editor-in-chief of Vanderbilt Review and poetry editor of SciLit Review. She has presented her work at the National Undergraduate Literature Festival, and her writing has appeared in Blue Route Literary Journal, Mosaic Art & Literary Journal, Young Ravens Literary Review, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2021 Iris N. Spencer Villanelle Prize, a finalist for the Lex Allen Poetry Contest Prize, and recipient of a Scholastic Art and Writing Silver Medal. She has poems forthcoming in Rainy Day Literary Magazine and The Oakland Review.