Poetry Issue #60

Regarding Cairns  

                        In the beak year 
              of bird,    
                 we observe 
            though some, fashioned               
    by man, stone-birds 
                       not flying.  
                So instead, I pray and gift
                    such a peach-blossom
                        morning to my brother,
             together with this quandary— 
                      this stack of stones, sudden 
            atop the loam on the trail. Come
          why not bend
          your ear a tick?           
                  I’ve heard it’s illegal
            on Skye, Isle of Skye,
                          where seabirds flourish,
            wild circling of horizon—
      razorbills, puffins,              
                     kittiwake, of course—
           illegal to rearrange any portion
                    of nature, even stones.
                Balance of  
              imbalance—how not all
           love is good, not all                                            
                  good is love.                                   
                        We fumbled, tumbled                                     
                                      back in our day—                                          d
            my brother and I employed                                                    n
                               all skinny arms and legs.                                   i
           Smashh!      Kickk!      Whackk!—                                   w
           those stone-cairns fashioned by man.               the
           At times we just whistled                       to       
                                 avian-pleasures in     


My Younger Self Learned to Navigate by the Stars,
Sometimes by Chocolate or Chicken: A Triptych     

I. Wings and Danger Bones

Sometimes in my night-vision goggles,
I’d navigate by chicken—many chickens       
those evenings my brother flew. 
And I’d satellite moons, how seven 
of Neptune’s might nebulize fluff, 
maybe even smatterings of blood. 
An unusual world set against 
nights with my father. I’d ring 
my space drawings, space atlas, 
maps, charts of the sun’s flares—
darken, opaque, even eclipse 
my father’s whorls and escape 
to my brother’s spaceship-dumpster. 
He’d model telescopes for me 
from cores of paper-towel rolls, 
and observatories from upside-down 
cereal bowls wrapped in painter’s tape—
kite-blue like domes glistening 
in the glad-unfortunate movies. 
And such became our plays—Candy-
Chop or Daddyhack or How to Train 
Your Knuckle Sandwich! A peppering 
of stories beneath tiny stars, salted. 
And even more what sustained, our Gram’s 
cold-cocoa recipe—those muscular 
bear claws she’d bake. One for my brother, 
one for me, as on occasion arrived 
our father’s shut-uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup 
fists!—mad, madder, maddest, mayhem, 
perhaps mist, if the moment went that way. 

II. The Dartboard Set and the Tonsillectomy      

Sometimes in my early space drawings    
I’d pluck a star from the sky, 
sometimes a pair of stars, conjoined. 
Likewise, Mercury-Venus, Jupiter-
Saturn, twin planets once tethered?— 
then loosed by winters?—by warriors? 
I’d see them, bodies of the Milky Way, 
and they’d see me, or so I mused, 
a girl draped in a baby blue snowflake suit. 
My T-Day, tonsillectomy, bodies of my own 
soon to be separated, set free. And the green        
comets, too, those scary doctor-folk—
I’d view them fast forwarding up and down, 
down and up the hospital corridors. 
Like long shadows, why not blot them out?—
even myself. If only for my Marks-A-Lots, 
where were they? But I was promised 
a dartboard set, my father’s gift, sure 
as asteroids collide with Mars. An odd 
selection for a girl, skittish, barely six. 
Though who decides what’s for kicks,
what’s for keeps? Choose anything,
darling, my father offered. Sometimes 
in my space drawings, those stars, some bits 
of white chocolate—I’d tack them back. 

III. The Measure of Stars, I Could Not Calculate      

only the weight of dark without them. 
Ditto the measure of my brother, launching 
his astral stories, Ten, nine, eight…
we have liftoff, sucka!—I’d cast my earth- 
sorrows amid the evening’s lonely orbs, 
how even the closest would wax ephemeral. 
Or in my drawings, my brother and I, 
Race-ya, Andromeda-space-ya! 
Moon One, Moon Two—our small faces 
among the cloud-silk skies, upturned. 
Was this still the world?—who knew, 
and I scarcely needed anything save 
a few dazzles to share. Yet, my brother, 
the welter of him—so often, just elsewhere.
Perhaps with the penumbra-dusk, his portion 
of night watching over me. But most, 
he just needed to fly—all those tricks through             
the light he’d make simply by soaring. 

I Can’t Eat the Animal if it Looks Me in the Eye. Dammit  


Forgive me Father of Daffodils, fields of daffodils, 
but your whatchamacallits are the only leanings I sow.

Don’t feed me again please, your nuance, soft mouth,                    
smooth hands—what use ever comes from flannelling?        

Stop asking, why not buy the cow even if the milk’s for free?                       
Who says it’s the shadows that shelter the rain and the young      

grasshoppers frolicking on their backs?—not my brother and I, 
Saturday mornings, our kid-loud cavorting and quash.                     

I admit the occasional hoodluming—night-greed, night-speed. How delicious     
our duels over that one heirloom fork, swirl, swirl, swirl.

It was beauty we sought—flower-star, aurora, late summer squall in our hand.   
Even babies know what they need, know what they lack—their necks

torquing, tilting, screeching for the milky isles. But is such true?—some scholars            
opine mistreated children, most of them, cannot cry. My brother and I counted                

the daily constitutionals, our parents’ screams-wide-open. Hardly a tine 
of sweetness in that house, save one fine fork fished from a Balakirev high tide.    

Yet I digress, even confess. Doesn’t the charbroil savor-divine? The au jus  
versing melodically, vesting methodically? Again, I brood on the storm.           

What use ever comes from the flailing heart, fumbling heart, feeble dumb-schmuck-       
fucking heart—without some backbone to baste in the blood.            

Ashes I Can Trust    


  “Dark is a way and light is a place.”

               —Dylan Thomas

I braid twilight in a daylight       
basement room.
                                 does not mean I go.

It’s difficult to stroke rain.  
My headscarf sisters
purposely skip one stich, 
                                   that’s how the light bleeds, 
                                   thin as a lone night’s luna.

Any luck, veils of fog follow
                                   and handsome the tepid pour.

Urned, a dog’s ashes          
                                   float starboard                          
                                   across this waterbed 
and guard flashbacks 
or is it sheet music?—
                                  of an older brother.

Trust the ashes and the cold   
                                  allegiance of the chimney.

Come, it’s late o’clock,       
                                  no one is home                        
                                  yet the dead                      
keep arriving anyway,        
                                  and a peach, two persimmons.

We could sift through clouds,                                 
                                  be some eyes                          
we borrow from strangers,        
                                  the brushes and quiet paint.    

Ash a constant color,
                                  I thread through branches,
line with ribbons                                    
                                 fastened to rain—my mother        
                                 also fumbled         
the Aramaic language                
                                 and its thick, tangled hair.          

                                 Still, I braid,      
trust the ashes,    
                                 the limitation
                                 of limitations.

Fingertip braids            
                                fingerling braids       
birdie braids 
                                beastie braids
loaves of braids
                                braids of braids.

Dark of darks              
emptying my room—                
                                the truths from half-truths,            
truths from half-lies, 
                                and a kumquat, two kiwis.                              

                                What aria                  
                                                       is the sky singing?—                        

                                                                  Are we almost there? 
                                                                                       Innocence asks. 

                                                                 Are we almost here? 
                                                                                       Experience queries.

By Tara Mesalik MacMahon

Tara Mesalik MacMahon’s first chapbook of poems, “Barefoot Up the Mountain,” won the 2020 Open Country Press Chapbook Contest. She is working on her first full length collection, “Wings and Danger Bones.” Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Nimrod International Journal, Rhino, Poet Lore, Dogwood, and Red Hen Press’s “New Moons” anthology, among other literary publications and anthologies. Additional honors include Finalist for the Dogwood Poetry Prize and Nimrod’s Francine Ringold Award for New Writers. A graduate of Pomona College and Harvard University, she resides on an island in the Salish Sea with her husband Paul and their rescue dog Hector.