“Acquainted With the Night,” Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

“Running Orders,” Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

“Song,” JT Stewart

fresh off the
they break you
in barbados

they split for you
you tongue
they slice for you
you ear

they dig for you
a hole of dirt
for you big child

they whip you
make you belly
lie down

they put on you
you neck
the ring of

they say no
to no eat the
sugar cane

they put on you
you mouth
the mask of

they tie you
man to
four green tree

they make you
man fly to
all four wind

they say you
you sing

sing calypso sky
sing soka wind
they ship you
to they home

all ways
they break you
in barbados

all ways

our bones be
ocean floors

our bones be
masts of ships

our bones be
coral reefs

our bones sing
of salt

“Moon over,” Brad Leithauser

Scuba divers will sometimes drown
within a night sea
after confusing up and down.

It seems so basic — up/down — and yet,
immersed in a black neutral buoyancy,
the world’s boundaries all wet,

a person may mislay his only meaningful
compass — the heart in his head —
and mistake Earth’s centripetal pull

for that other mustering of gravity:
a firmament widespread
with stars, over a wind blowing free.


But the figure — the tiny figure floundering,
lost, in an unlit sea… He’s trapped
like a sleeper trapped in a raw, tightening

nightmare, who knows he knows a way out of here
though he keeps forgetting
the key.
How do we wake? How do we clear

the borne mind of its body and arrive —
gasping, half gone, not gone —
on the surface’s groundless shore, not just alive

but secure in the moon’s artful netting,
whose catch tonight may be one of those rapt
souls that thinks to see another dawn?

“Twelve Moons,” Bonnie Billet


Another year disappears
like a flat stone skidding over ice.
There are things I don’t wish to look back on.
New year’s day lies in the fields
covered by snow. I have yellow boots
and thermal longjohns
for walking out the cold. My resolutions
are simple.


I’m satisfied with nothing.
The cold continues today
and tomorrow. My resolutions fail
for reasons I don’t face
in a wind that runs through trees
like a comb. In the woods
the deer browse the red maple
and sweet-smelling cedar. In the village
they talk of snow.


The earth is raw. The moon eats
the wet field. Crocus come, up like teeth
biting the wind. My brother’s death was an accident.
We’re forced to stop sleeping
and begin again.


Tulips weigh the air
with color. The magnolia uses the contrast.
We’ve lived together for years
from one place to another
learning compromise. This place is new.
Coming home, our steps
hard on the first green shoots
stumble in the same direction.


I curled in the wet
until my mother gave me up
to the light. She had nervous hands
and lived in dark rooms.
I was fed pablum
until my legs were rolls of fat
and I cried until I spoke my first word:


On my knees in the garden, I weed
and pick off the dead flowers.
With a pitch fork I turn
and turn the compost heap.
I walk everywhere with pruning shears
and can’t keep my hands out of the loam.
A flower is an event.
Friends fade.


I rock to sleep
under the thunder. Wake me,
I can’t break the dream.
I lie between lighthouses
my lips tasting of fish.
I can’t move, but must listen to the gulls’
quick, cracking calls.


We fight.
He wants to be alone and goes for a walk
by the river. I follow
and find asolitary hummingbird
nesting in the hemlocks.
I’m willing to leave
but it’s too hot to pack.
Sitting at home
I wait for one last word from him.


The neighbors’ screaming starts.
Minutes later, I sit up at the sound
of fists. Men seem eager for blood
after Harvest. The windows are broken
from the inside. Yellow jackets
find their way into the kitchen.


Tree by tree turns bright or dull
in the air, then strips to the twig.
What can be done with hard October fruit?
I hear the crack of the axe ripple
and the cold weather sending the sap
into the roots. Alone
I study the subtlety ofbark.


My sister distrustshe moon,
she says, staring into its light
can make you blind, her sources
are scientific. When I climb into the sugar maple
for a better view
she worries. Fifty-five fet up
the moon is exactly the same.
I put my faith in the rope
and descend from the highest branch
burning my hands.


A marathon of nights
races toward the winter solstice.
I burn brush in the hills,
the only woman on the crew.
With a pint of gasoline and dry kindling
I can burn anything.
After lunch we stop feeding the fires.
At 3 we cover the ashes and by 4:30
the ashes are cold.

“The Violence Question, Answered by a Goat Or, Notes Toward a Discourse on Haunting through Poetry,“ Jeanann Verlee

“They would / Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees / Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder.”          

            — Brigit Pegeen Kelly, from “Song”

I was once asked to discuss the “brutal experiences [my] poetic bodies suffer” and in hindsight, I think perhaps I dodged the intent of the question, discussing more the manner in which my work dresses up/spins the violence—less about the violence itself, where it comes from, why I choose to include it. 


My father is a hunter. I was raised by death. At times we were markedly poor. When we finished the season’s kill my father had stocked away in the freezer and money ran thin before payday, my lunch was packed with creative wonders like crackers and mustard or carrots and spiced vinegar. Mother made do. Over time, I stopped eating meat altogether. It was easier. Cheaper. I didn’t have to kill anything. 


When I was quite young, a neighbor girl made habit of crossing through our backyard to climb the fence into her own yard. One day I stopped her in the walkway, told her she couldn’t cut through anymore. She tried to pass anyway. I knocked her to the ground and said something awful. She told her mother. Who told my mother. Who smacked me. The girl never cut through our yard again. 


Once, my grandmother found and gave to me a robin’s egg. Perfectly blue. I let it sit for weeks in a makeshift nest and call to its family. Then I cracked it open because I knew that it was no longer its mother’s. I marveled at its milky yellow yolk, perfect and miniature. When my mother found the halved shell, she smacked me. 


In seventh grade, I was shy and gangly and awkward. That year, a girl intentionally kicked a soccer ball into my face and I sat still and bled all over the gym floor. That year, another girl body-slammed me into my locker, demanding I never set eyes on her again. I turned red and went to class. That year, a group of girls raided my gym locker. I’d forgotten my padlock. Afraid to take a fail for the day, I changed clothes, folded the brand new checkered fleece pullover my mom had spent months saving to buy me for Christmas, and prayed. After class, the locker was empty. Only paper and textbooks left on the floor. I wore dirty gym clothes to all my classes. Everyone noticed. Later that week, I spotted my fleece on a popular boy who was flanked by girls from my gym class. I did nothing. Everyone noticed.


Once, I rescued a wounded bird who’d been struck from her nest during a storm. Once, I rescued a feral kitten who was drenched in vomit. Once, I rescued an abandoned dog riddled with mange who was roaming the side of a highway. I write all my animals into brutality. I’m always trying to prove a point.


When I was 12, a boy I liked tied my wrists with a phone cord and raped me while eight of his friends watched and cheered. Then they ransacked our house. They fled when my father arrived. He asked if I was running a whorehouse. 


I was introduced to Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s poem, “Song” by my dear friend and poet, Scott Beal. Familiar with my compulsion to navigate violence through surrealism, he knew this poem would reach me. He knew that a goat’s severed head singing a sweet song into the night would reach me. He knew the poetic bodies of girl and goat and mischievous boys would reach me.


Once, I accidentally hurt a boy while skipping rocks in a creek. The blood was staggering. He told his mother. Who told my mother. I ran and hid. When she found me, she dragged me from my hiding spot, refused to hear the story. I offered my middle finger and she beat me. 


Once, I was charged by a German shepherd. I stood my ground. I did not flinch. I did not run. He circled me and came to a halt. He let me touch him. Stroke his neck. Read his tags. I returned him to his family.


When I was 15, a boy I liked pressed a knife to my throat and described the sound of cutting through bone. He explained how easy it would be to kill me. I dared him to do it. When he couldn’t, I called him a coward. 


Each time I introduce “Song” in workshop, I lose time to someone debating its place in the genre of poetry. Is this even a poem? It looks like prose. Reads like a fable. It’s called ‘Song,’ maybe it’s just a song? No stanzas? What is a poem at all? What is poetry? But I force my own patience. I know what will come. Awe of magic. Resistance to slaughter. Admiration of language. Empathy. Lament. Wonder. Grief. Solace in making magic from suffering.


Tucked somewhere in a family album on a shelf in someone’s living room there is a yellowing photograph of me as child holding a carving knife to the skinned haunches of a slaughtered antelope. I am smiling.


Once, my mother smacked me and I struck her back. She beat me to the floor. I covered the welts with makeup and went to school.  


Once, my mother’s boyfriend showed up drunk with a prizefighting pit bull. He locked the dog in the garage and disappeared for months. I kept her fed but she was impossibly vicious. Animal control killed her on-site after scarcely any questions. I still can’t forgive myself.


When I was in high school, I went to punk rock shows and slammed my body against other bodies over and over in the mosh pit because I had nowhere to place my rage.


When my mother turned up with a bruised lip, I threatened her boyfriend with a baseball bat. 


The boy with the knife stalked me for a decade.


Once, I found a mutilated cat who’d fallen from the window of a high rise apartment. I knelt near him, ready to end his suffering with my own hands. A neighbor arrived just then, insisting she take him to a veterinarian. I told her he needed to be euthanized. I told her to hurry. 


Once, during an argument, I leapt on the hood of a boyfriend’s car as he was driving off. I slammed my fists against the windshield over and over. My hands turned the color of charcoal. 


When presenting “Song” at a recent workshop, an unfriendly woman looked me directly in the eyes and began to berate me—in third person, passively vicious: If she’s teaching poetry, shouldn’t she bring a poem? Shouldn’t she be able to define poetry? Why is she leading this? I suppressed the urge to choke her. Later that evening, I read my own violent poems and she bought my books and thanked me for telling her story. I suppressed the urge to choke her.


When I was 27, I was gang raped by four men for three hours. 


Once, my father locked me in my room for some bratty adolescent transgression. When he came back to talk it over, I was so enraged about being trapped, I slammed my fists into his back.


Once, I spotted my mother’s abusive ex-boyfriend at a bar. I approached his table and reminded him who I was. Told his friends what he’d done. Taunted him. Dared him to touch me as he had her. When he finally erupted, I smiled. A brawl broke out. I struck and struck. Like a need. 


When I was 36, a man I was dating attacked me in my sleep. Raped me in my own bed. I threatened to cut him. He called me crazy. Then didn’t. Then did. He confessed. Blamed a dubious psychiatric disorder. Apologized. Then didn’t. He threatened to ruin me. Started stalking me. My friends. He threatened them. Their children. Called us liars. Then didn’t. Then did.


Doctors say I have PTSD. I don’t sleep. I panic in rooms with too many men. I flinch in tight spaces. I keep my tongue. Then I riot. I keep calm. Then I ignite. 


A more adequate answer to the brutality question might have been: Writing the violence not only allows me to release it, it allows me to haunt its agents.


I punched a hole in the bathroom wall at 12. Gashed furniture at 15. Seared tire marks into pavement at 22. Punched a taxicab window at 27. Dislocated a door at 31. Knocked a hole in my bedroom wall at 39. I bloodied my knuckles on a wall/table/door/window at 16, 17, 18, 21, 25, 27, 31, 39. I cut into my own arms. I beat bruises into my own body. I opened my own wrist. Because rage. And grief. And survive. Because there is nowhere to place all of this.


Once, I collapsed on the sidewalk in a town I do not know because the weight of violence was more than my bones could continue to bear. I crumbled like so much sand. And no one stopped. And no one helped. And I was that girl on the gymnasium floor again. Thirty-eight and still covered in my own blood. And I hauled myself up off the ground. And I hauled myself down the street and across all the miles back to New York City and into a police station and into an interrogation room and I told them how I got here. How a woman survives and survives until she doesn’t anymore. I told them about the boys and all of their hands. About their hearts beating harder.


Once, a friend showed me a poem about magic. A poem about loss. A beautiful poem about the brutal suffering of poetic bodies. A sweet goat who cried and struggled. A girl who loved a whole love and lost her love to a grisly stunt. A poem about grief. The fracture of irreparable grief. A poem where a heart can fly as a bird in the night sky. Where the massacred sing and go on signing. Where the tormenters learn to listen. Once, a sweet goat’s severed head reminded me how to sing. How to haunt.  

Link to “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly: 
Originally in Muzzle Magazine.