by Katharine Studer


Before the word is spoken
A man might walk on hands
Dangling mid-air without a net or wire,
Concentrating to keep the weight
of his legs extended straight in the center,
Nudging his fingers to gain an inch,
Choosing his words
like a gambler at a roulette table,
Weighing the odds of winning
a straight bet on a single number.
Before the word is spoken
doors are always opened for her, the
Red carpet rolled out and rose petals
arranged like arrows pointing toward him.
Before the word is spoken,
He might lie in bed at night
Imagining the way her face glows
In moonlight, counting the breaths
she expels in the moments between
her last “goodnight” and her dreams.
Before the word is spoken
Dragons are slayed and mountains
would be leveled
and even the slightest brush
of her hand against his leg
allows him to conjour her
as that sex goddess
pinned up on the boy’s
teenage wall, red bikinied
and always smiling, eyes
following him from every angle.

First and Last Breath

Rumor has it
we are born alone
and we will die alone
but that too is just a myth and forgets
the way the umbilical cord
holds its grip through the birth canal
and how that snip that cuts through
the knotted skin and breath
becomes the moment one
faces a solo death,
through her warm tears
we arrived in this world
she bore the clamping down of our becoming
and though they lay it
in her arms or gently place it
bare skin upon her chest,
it is expelled from her, forever.

June 24, 2018

Somewhere on a mud floor
on a Sunday afternoon
she stands barefoot, scraping
the last cup of rice
from an empty
bag and boils it into
a tender ball and drops
It into the beans
That have been cooked
to soft brown skins
and feeds it to her
four children by spoonfuls
until they no longer look at her
with open mouths. Outside
her door, a father is missing,
the blood soaked streets
remind her of the brother
who is in hiding,
the blistering heat
creates a danger of a wide
open door, as an uncle
stands guard, hidden in the bushes
by the wall that surrounds the house,
But even the spikes that line
the windows and porch won’t
Keep them out, she keeps one
ear Listening for the sudden yelping of pleasure
of blood rolling down the street like a stream,
for a car engine’s reeved-up warning,
for the thumping of footsteps
that appear from nowhere.
The last time they ordered her
to bare her legs,
so she did
without hesitation or complaint,
now her hands never stop shaking,
as she busies herself
with the exhaustion
of keeping her children in doors–
she pulls their fingers off the toy gun
refusing to allow them to pull the trigger,
reciting riddles
to ridden their curiosity
for the sounds of gunfire, for the crying
Of grandmothers whose wailings
becomes an evening ritual, she
holds the children by the waist to keep them safe,
they pull back in restraint
like a tug of war–
her arms become jelly,
no mid-day rest, no breath
and still this:

In the U.S.
children are being pulled
off their mother’s breasts at the borders
whisked away by strangers
without familiar coos or swaying
as they stand in lines in
unfamiliar places without
their favorite blankets or teddy bears
without rag dolls or stick toys
or the rocks they use to build
those cities their mother assured them they would find
every night in her bedtime lullaby’s, places
of swings and marry-go-rounds
of zoos and summer afternoons,
instead abandoned and numbered and pulled into cages
without the gripped hands of brothers
and uncles, without the lies
they might recognize that were often whispered
into tiny ears late at night, between
The gunshots and screaming,

                Be still
                Go to sleep now
                Be brave dulce nio mio

And in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco
and LA, signs are being waved to make it stop,
letters are being written by important people,
yet some shout with stern voices “Keep them Out,”
explaining the process for the thousands
and thousands of children
beyond the drawn lines
who are being photographed
waiting with sheets of aluminum
draped over their bodies for blankets
Is due—All this on a Sunday
afternoon with the church bells ringing throughout the plains
and on social media in the small towns, the suburbs and farmlands
and cities with named streets
the big announcement reads,
“Christmas Eve
is six months from today.”

About the Author:

Sophie Chen

Katharine Studer teaches writing at Ohio University at Chillicothe and The Ohio Dominican University. She holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University in poetry. She divides her time between Ohio and San Francisco. She has had poems published in The Meridian Poetry Anthology, Blue, The Cornfield Review and The Women of Appalachia Project.