Poetry Issue #21

“Is Anxiety a Defense or a Philosophy?”

By Ace Boggess

Two anxious people walk into a bar.

No one notices, & everyone does.

Depends on whom you ask, I guess,

for that joke to make sense.

All I know is the fear of “Hello”—
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*Image: “Lucid Dreams” by Bonnie Shanas, Wire Mesh Sculpture

Ace Boggess

Featured Poet


“Is Anxiety a Defense or a Philosophy?”

—Stephen Dobyns, “Who Is Mistaken?”

Two anxious people walk into a bar.
No one notices, & everyone does.
Depends on whom you ask, I guess,
for that joke to make sense.
All I know is the fear of “Hello”—
the hardest part. Next: the fear
of encountering folks in doorways
(what to do?)—the choice to be polite
or rude, to sidestep like a hermit crab
lest skin touch skin & importune.
So much fear comes from nothing
frightening. Add a touch of trembling &,
at least to Kierkegaard, that’s how we feel
in the presence of God—that awesome
awfulness bent on humbling some of us
before we’ve had the experience of pride.
When I was a child, I wore a blanket like wings
so that I could be Mothra wrestling Godzilla
in my private basement Tokyo. Now,
older, I still fight my invisible monsters
stalking me from the eyes of strangers
or a breeze off a body passing by, &
still I pretend to be a beast as well,
though my talons shake like feathers
hanging from a dreamcatcher
such that sometimes when I walk into a bar,
I say nothing & stare at nobody,
then head back out into the friendly air.


“Have You Thought About Your Funeral?”

—Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

In place of the minister, silence. God
help me, if a word is said condemning
those who go on living over what they do
to cope with just that unintended fate,
I will singe his fingers with my ghostly flame
while kinetic spirit shreds whatever
book he waves to tickertape.
I tell you, quiet—after the life I’ve had,
I deserve it, give it back to all who’ve paused
to share my passing—but, if you few
muddy travelers come to this isolated pub
agree that peace won’t serve as my emcee,
then make it a rock star, 1980s-style,
with teased hair to his nipples,
face rouged & lipstick stained,
hands in fingerless Spandex gloves.
Let him cuss & rant like a withered drunk.
Let him praise nothing.
Let him mispronounce my name
right before he breaks into that famous
power ballad, the one that used to
leave girls in the audience swooning &
reaching out to touch his sweat.
Let him grab his crotch & gyrate
as he flicks his tongue at those reporters
who came because they thought
I was somebody now that I’m no one &
comfortable at last inside my skin.


"To Will a Win" by Bonnie Shanas, 28" x 22" Wire Mesh Sculpture, Mud Season Review
“To Will a Win” by Bonnie Shanas, 28″ x 22″ Wire Mesh Sculpture



Arms outstretched, my body now a cock
probing & thrusting through the doughnut eye
of the CT scan. Hold it. Now breathe.
Hands press like branding irons
against my belly, sides, shoulder blades.
Where does it hurt? Here & here &
a little heavy over there as though a potato.

When I go to the E.R., there are tests to run,
a shot of something. Fentanyl, the nurse
says. It’s stronger than morphine.
What good is the god of sleep
when a mind awakens into pain?

How many times my bed rolls past the gift shop
where stuffed pandas & lions stare at me
through the thin glass like judgmental fools.
How much blood drains out of my arm,
down the saline tube & then back in.

I feel as if in the womb I devoured my twin,
now he shouts, Let me out, from my abdomen.

I go through this sham of examination
to have the doctor tell me, Nothing’s wrong
a lie—& even drugs I never want
won’t offer comfort. I might as well
have been part of the healing ritual
at an old-time revival so the preacher
could swear my faith’s not strong enough.

By Ace Boggess

Ace Boggess is the author of two books of poetry: The Prisoners (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014) and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled (Highwire Press, 2003). His novel, A Song Without a Melody, and third book of poems, Ultra-Deep Field, are forthcoming from Hyperborea Publishing and Brick Road, respectively. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.