the moon and I shift workers
- Stefanie Bucifal, Germany
It is no special occurrence to look up at the moon in loneliness, and yet, that experience is framed anew for the reader in this poem. As fellow shift workers can attest, especially those that work until the wee hours, it is easy to feel that every single person in the world is asleep but you, that you are even the last person alive. But in Bucifal’s poem, we are not completely alone. Not only is the moon present, it is one of the poet’s fellow “shift workers,” making its journey across the sky just as the poet must make it through their shift. With great economy and ease, the solitary nature of a night shift has been altered and the moon is less a distant satellite and more of a partner.
almost gone the word for pain in my mother tongue
- Antoinette Cheung, Canada
Beyond the initial curiosity regarding “pain” in this poem (what kind of pain? what caused it?), there is an issue of greater complexity: language. “Almost gone” can refer to “pain” (which may allude to physical pain) but “the word” is the true focus. Language is being lost, and though it is just one word, it may not be the first, and it is safe to assume it will not be the last. Is this loss related to age and memory, or separation from other speakers and culture? This brings us back to “pain.” How does it feel to slowly lose the ties to one’s culture, heritage, and identity? This poem could have been stripped of its weight had it ended with a phrase like “my first language.” By selecting “mother tongue,” the poet has made clear how important that language is, the deep connection they have to it, and how its loss can be a source of pain unto itself.
mountainous the interstice between i can’t and i can
- Harshada Kulkarni, India
There are “mountainous” contrasts in this short poem. The reader is left to wonder what exactly is “mountainous.” It could be any number of things the poet might have to confront but the reader is already made to feel daunted. Right after that though, is the word “interstice,” which can be a small intervening space or an interval of time. We are now comparing something mountainous to something akin to a crack in a wall or a fraction of a second. That is the space and time we are working with when we come to the last part of the poem, “between i can’t and i can.” The reader is presented with another contrast, this time of absolutes. The margin for error feels unforgiving, nearly impossible. What will be the difference—the space between a cell membrane and its internal structure? A tenth of a second? It is especially interesting to interpret the “interstice” as one of time rather than space, and that the completion of the challenge the poet faces hangs on whether or not they have one more moment of rest, or one more minute to think. In a sport like basketball, a tenth of a second can be the difference between a buzzer-beating game-winner and a too little, too late attempt that ends in defeat.
sound after sound constructing a house
- Minal Sarosh, India
This is how the majority of people experience construction: distant sounds that may or may not go on for hours, starting too early or finishing too late. It is rare to witness each and every step that goes into erecting a structure, let alone understand why some steps must come before others and how they contribute to the whole. In this way, the buildings around us can seem to be the products of a mysterious unseen process—like magic. “Sound after sound” may seem vague, but how many people can correctly identify the tools or machinery they hear? This wording allows the reader to imagine those sounds as they normally would, elusive and distant, yet loud and penetrating. The way that “sound” leads directly into “constructing a house” allows this pseudo-magic to occur. These unseen tools, machines, and the people that wield them are merely sounds coming together to give a house form, much in the same way that words are merely sounds strung together, assigned meaning, eventually constructing things like sentences, declarations of love, eulogies, or even spells.
declared a non-event the li(v)es I’ve never lived
- Shloka Shankar, India
How incredulous does an event have to be to inspire skepticism? How strange or unbelievable a life does one have to live for people to completely deny it? These are the questions that come to mind reading the above poem. That it begins with “declared” instantly casts these unknown people as pseudo-authorities, whether they deserve to be or not. “Non-event” can be read in two ways: as a flat-out lie, or as something lacking great significance. “li(v)es” is the poem’s most critical word, or words. With the use of parentheses, Shankar lets the reader know that something far greater than a single event is in question, but an entire life or lives. This is the power of the poem. Entire lives and experiences are being negated. Why? Because they are patent lies or exaggerations? Or because they are so far outside the realm of others’ experiences that they cannot fathom them, and write them off as fiction? Is this how a person who is well off views the lives of the poor, how men view the experiences of women?
depression lingering winter shadow walks slowly
- C.X. Turner, UK
Depression is more than just “the blues.” It can be pervasive and persistent, altering one’s inner and outer landscape, much like winter, when many people suffer from this disorder. This poem pairs those two appropriately. The first possible fragment comes after “lingering.” The reader can either read “depression lingering” as one distinct phrase and pause a bit or they can be carried forward as “lingering” bleeds into “winter.” These three words alone capture near-universal ideas about depression and the coldest part of the year: both are times that seem to stretch on, long past their welcome, “lingering.” Having “shadow” appear next expands on this stark, reduced space, as the reader can imagine the poet feeling like only a shade of themselves. It also speaks of the season again, as winter days are shorter & nights longer, increasing the amount of darkness we experience. Finally, “walks slowly” adds another dimension to the poem, as it introduces the surreal element of one’s shadow moving at a different pace. This could speak to the altered experience of life one has when suffering from depression, and “slowly” embodies the entire experience of the poem: the world and life itself seem to have slowed down, changing our perception of things, and the end to this alteration feels far off.
Jonathan Roman is trying to be a good dude in a world of dudebros. He has a penchant for doing things he is not particularly good at (writing poetry & fiction, playing basketball, living, etc.). He is delighted when words conspire to make him feel things. You can find his scrivenings in his book Deeper Into Winter & another he co-authored with Tia Haynes, After Amen: A Memoir in Two Voices, which was a 2021 Touchstone Distinguished Book Award Honorable Mention. Say obscene things to him on Twitter: @deft_notes.