Book of Departures
Ry Book Suraski
Today, I saw a miracle on television. I looked up from some work I was doing just in time to see a guy field a pop fly ball during the Tennessee-LSU baseball game. That's all it was. There's a replay you can watch on ESPN of Josh Pearson making a sliding snag for LSU. It's impressive. But I missed that one. The one I saw wasn't anything special. The ball went high-parabola and the fielder just had to adjust his position standing in the outfield a few times to catch it. Easy-peasy. As they say.
Total miracle, though. Immediately after the batter made contact with the ball, the outfielder started receiving and processing data. There were two tiny pinpoints of light on his retinas, both about the size of a postage stamp. Two-dimensional. But his brain took those little pinpoints, processed them into 3D, and started plotting the ball's approximate trajectory, before it reached the top of the arc. That was a second away. He ran to place himself in a circular zone somewhere in which he could now be one hundred percent sure the ball will drop. Once there, he made a step north, then back a bit. A half-step to the right. At some point, he started moving his arm to approach a line that his brain was increasingly confident the ball will track. Opened his hand. Opened the glove. Whack. Snagged.
I could have given an account of a triple play. Or just the fact that the pitcher heaves a 3-inch ball at the batter at a speed that would get the ball fined by the state police on I-65 and—sometimes—one of these guys hits it with a stick. Sometimes they don't just hit it. They jerk the thing far enough to be caught by some 10-year-old kid named Caleb. Impossible. Ridiculous. (Caleb, of course: Also a miracle.)
Sometimes when I'm stressed, I think about arcs. That there are rules, expressed in equations, that can tell us about the deceleration, the fact that the ball reaches a maximum altitude for exactly no length time. And then the acceleration. Down. Faster. Down. Into the glove of Jared Dickey, from Mount Juliet, Tennessee.
On behalf of our editors, F. John Sharp, Annie Stenzel, Bill McCloud, Steve Klepetar, Ina Roy-Faderman, and F. J. Bergmann, we bring you Issue #152 of Right Hand Pointing, "Book of Departures," along with our hopes you enjoy it.
You say I should not burden you
with my small miseries,
a thousand birds nesting in your hair.
A grain of rice falls from
my fork & there you are,
blind in one eye, scabby,
half bald, famished but far
from underfoot, poised
on the marble steps
of the house where I stay
this week on Evia,
the island Venetians
colonized & called Negro-
ponte although the bridge
was never black, another
cat without a name despite
your mew, which has
evolved to match the pitch
of a newborn’s cry.
Oblong and bony
as a boy’s ribcage,
its holy miasma
stains the air.
This is the fruit
the serpent whispered,
its green husk spiked
with pointy tails.
This is the meat
Eve fed Adam,
its golden pillows stuffed
beneath shallow thorn.
This is the stench
of sweat and body,
of heaven fallen,
foul but taken,
like anything forbidden.
Icarus (Like Me)
Perhaps Icarus had bipolar disorder,
flew too close to the sun
because he was manic,
believed as only the delusional can
that he would thrive
in the face of immolation.
I must be quieter than usual because as the sky smudges itself into darkness you ask if anything is wrong. I tell you about the fox curled inwards at the roadside a few miles back and how I hope it didn’t suffer. It would’ve died quickly, you say, turning on the radio and looking straight ahead. I don’t mention it again, but I can’t stop wondering if she died slowly in loneliness, drowning in the cacophony and fumes of hurtling cars, clinging to the last remaining rays of sunlight before her heart grew metal-cold beneath all that beautiful, blood-stained fur.
Book of Departures
Beach weed, the wind, the washed walls.
Straw mat, ancient stone-white sun.
The way the light moved in, originally, on the breath.
Riding it home once, like a long wave.
Mostly we spoke of ordinary things: blue sand at dawn,
damp ground receiving us.
What I remember is your fingers
tracing me, and then the water taking everything
the same way: toward the shore, and out again—
me saying home. You saying weightlessness.
I wanted one word for loneliness before
and another after.
Sometimes at night a folding chair
drawn close to the window, watching
a moth wing beat, light flickering
the smallest sign.
Whole years could pass this way,
carried like boats, I said,
and did nothing to stop them.
Turn Left at the Ventricle
there are tomes buried in my skin, every layer of t(issue) thoroughly (re)written. invisible ink on these flipped pages, the delicate light etching its lore over the fine lines in my palm, again and again, like how poetry, at first, is only a mere thought bundled up in the collective. our elusive existences unraveling in the matrix of it, string to string-theory. where these faded fields of god consciousness go. I breathe in the suffocation of a new language, ribbons that cough up internal development. what do they call it again? adaptation to the poison? that old vein keeps re-opening. in here I might not look like much, but somewhere else I’m important.
The Good Life
and that’s how easy it is
to want what you don’t have
the same color as dusk
you catch as it falls
outside your window
concluding a day of rain
a single car rolls through
street puddles in the distance
neighborhood lights are on
just like street lamps in Paris
where you’ve never been
and just like that you are
eating what you crave
It’s just for fun—he lets them go,
or so the man in waders says
to a woman who’s paused
along the shore to ask
if he’ll be eating his catch
for dinner. The man smiles
as he works the barbed hook
out of the hinging jaw,
smiles as he tosses the fish
back into the pond, smiles
as it slaps the tarnished water
with a splash and a thrash of its tail.
All good, he says, and smiles again
as the fish disappears into the murk
to swim away as fast and as far
as it can go.
Same As It Ever Was
To quell a rebellion of the sciatic nerves,
I am consigned to four weeks of physical therapy,
where a young woman leans in conspiratorially
and whispers how nice it is to see someone
who still has range of motion left—an icebreaker
meant to compliment but instead has a chilling effect.
She leads me through rooms padded deep blue,
the humid air thick with dissolving chlorine
like a river flowing underground, and leaves me
counting reps to "classic" songs on shuffle. I row
an invisible boat to ferry the dead, where Jerry
shows up first, then Janis, Petty, Bowie, Prince,
even poor John Bonham, still drumming away
with old Led Zep. What a relief to be saved
by the Talking Heads, still trying to figure out
how did we get here, how do we work this.
Ry Book Suraski
After All I've Done for You
When you were little you looked up at me with my own eyes, bigger on your little face, and saw ephemerality, a preciousness noticed by you alone. Flashing cartoons colored your skin as you ignored them to watch me, captivated, like I was a shooting star, an eclipse. In our bathroom I did mascara while you stared from the toilet top. Your legs dangled down and you copied me, opened your mouth as I did, testament of lonely moments, witness of beauty’s labor, seeing all the years of struggle and learning it took to become your Mommy. When I fought you tried to help, slapping his legs; and you hid with me in the dark, watching me watch through the closet door’s cracks. When we left, you stared into the rearview mirror all night as I drove, knowing I was the one who made the car go, who knew where roads led, how things worked, hotels, McDonalds, past, future. You’d scream hysterically when I went out, little fists banging on the door’s inside, smart enough to hang on the knob, too small to reach the deadbolt. I returned to you still crying, gasping for air between sobs, covering my work shirt with desperate snot. I had to stroke your downy hair for hours so you could sleep. For a long time you loved me like I was the world, like closing your eyes to rest wasn’t worth my disappearance, terrified of losing me to sleep’s penumbra.
But you can’t even remember. Friends do your hair now. School lunch is free. You expect apologies. When I liberated us, I brought you out for glimpses of the other worlds that made you change, and now you imagine their planetary shadows darkening me, the life I made for you. A teacher, maybe a friend’s mom, fills you with doubt and disquiet until you think you can see me clearer through hundreds of walls, across dozens of streets, the names of which I taught you, one at a time. When the lady came to ask about discipline, check the fridge, you evaded my eye, hung your head. You thought you saw the moon fall out of the sky and realized, when it burned you, it had been a comet all along, common fire and ice. You didn’t see the face, scarred with craters, still up where you left it hanging, invisible behind the clouds.
Godhood in Ten Easy Steps
1. Paint your body slate gray.
2. Mark the center red, so you can find your way back.
3. Walk to the very end of your right arm and open the door.
4. Do not speak to the lover you left, not for an apology. He will be waiting there.
5. Flick the light on and if it doesn't switch, smash the farthest wall on the left.
6. The light will be blinding, and you will have to be careful.
7. Get to the desk and write all the ways you have hurt your mother.
8. Stop after a thousand and thirteen.
9. Burn the pages you wrote and forgive yourself.
10. Or at least try.
an official apology to khadija
I know what you taste like
but I can't brave stroking your hair.
What do I do with my body
now that I'm sure it's hollow?
Where do I get my fill?
I should have known
you wouldn't know either;
we’re two empty bodies
trying to fill the other.
Still, in the dim morning light,
I stare at the ripples of your belly
and think Christ, how pretty.
This is carnage posing as intimacy,
but it's as close as I can get.
SHE CLOSES her eyes late noon
To music of childhood
Shadowless fades out.
Later, iron on low, starching she
Hears cordless music.
A spark might fly, she could burn.
She shapes the dough into an eight
In the butter-churned light of afternoon.
Pewter plates catch late sun.
The drawbacks of living in an old house; dwarfs, the move. Reduced, but heart deepens.
The floor bends like turnips, wood-clean. heart skips a beat, then starts again.
Bulletproof Backpack: $99
they don’t work—
will cut through
anyway. they say
most of the damage
is the cavity
from the shock
(they are ballistic
maybe that’s why
there’s one adorned
they’re saying: goodbye,
dream of mine.
a small part of me
yearns to see the body
struck by lightning.
just think of the light,
pouring out from the eyes,
I like that other sky.
The one leaving now.
A black crayon streaks
across it like war.
My pajamas blaze.
Someone did this to me.
whisky or gasoline.
My arms dry sticks,
they burn well.
Push the ladder closer
to the bricks.
We’ll go in time.
Not much left now.
Pain is relative.
Pain is my father.
what is there past this amniotic stillness
when I was a child
do you believe me?
I had hair like down
I point them out to you
it’s nearly molting season that’s why
there are so many
Late for an Anniversary
After years, there is
the image of a girl.
But all I ask is
for the bones of woman,
when the brown thrush
touches down to the cut grass
for the reward of worms,
and the applause of red leaves.
freezes to perfection,
into as our land
becomes the ice of winter.
In the Tenderloin
You crack the halo quick
with heels like pistol shots,
your eye, a reptile's tongue—
as dealers duel by boombox,
your shadow's like a blade,
your voice, a drum, a drum.
Still life with birds
alight on the high stoop
of No. 12
in the brick-red row
facing the park
with Adam and Eve
as the ancient Pueblans
with a woman decked in darks
smoking in the doorway
her heart-shaped face tilted
toward the small dog
asleep at her feet and
the sparrows below
too many to count on each
of the steep stone steps
Hanged for a Witch
If you could see me, you would probably pass right out. My eyebrow is split open, my scalp practically torn off. There’s no way for me to heal that doesn’t entail worse pain. I’m like the old woman with a squinty eye who was hanged for a witch or like the philosopher who, knowing that all things are the same thing to the dark, wept on the neck of a horse. You’ll say I’m being overly dramatic, compare my thoughts to the futile buzzing of a frantic fly trapped against a window. But just as soon as this night ends, another even darker will begin.
The oxycodone I took hours prior to getting in the car is encouraging me to close my eyes. And, in fact, I may have nodded off for an instant. The traffic light up ahead changes from a smiley face to a frowny face. It must be some new kind that they’re testing. The line of cars and trucks stopping in front of me whine, shriek, sob, as if fueled by the salt in tears. On the traffic island, meanwhile, an old abandoned god stands clutching a battered piece of cardboard on which is shakily written one word: Homeless.
I like it best when the sky
is pinkish like this and crisscrossed
by pale seabirds, and there’s
a lingering smell of lilacs
where you and I have lain.
“Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place in the iron dark of the world.”
Cormac McCarthy (1933-2023)
go to beginning of #152
Farah Ali writes fiction and poetry with a particular love for the short form. She has been published, and has upcoming publications, in a variety of reputable online and print journals. Her supernatural Deerleap Hollow series is available from Amazon.
Paul Dickey has appeared most recently in Plume, The Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, and Apple Valley Review. Dickey has published over 200 online and print publications, including poetry, short stories, flash fiction, plays, and essays. His most recent book of poetry is Anti-Realism in Shadows at Suppertime.
Salvatore Difalco writes from Toronto, Canada.
Laura Goldin is a publishing lawyer in New York. Five of her recent poems appear in the Spring 2023 issue of The Brooklyn Review; one is forthcoming in Driftwood Press 2024 Anthology, and others have been published or are forthcoming in Apple Valley Review, Gargoyle Magazine, and Mom Egg Review.
Howie Good's most recent poetry book, Heart-Shaped Hole, is available from Laughing Ronin Press.
Simon Harms is a young poet from the twin cities of Minnesota, whose work concerns the natural world and the near-religious beauty of the ordinary. He has been previously published in Runestone and The Tower, where he now serves as an editor.
Willa Needham is an undergraduate student at UCLA who is soon to earn a bachelor's degree in Gender Studies and Labor Studies. Willa haunts the fifth floor of her university library where the poems are kept and longs to be published one day. This is her first attempt. And she made it.
Theo Itchon is a poet from the Philippines working as a creative writing teacher to the Filipino youth. Their poems have been published in Thimble Lit Magazine, Eunoia Review, Unbroken Journal, The Cardiff Review, among others. Talk to them on Instagram @theoitchon.
Paul Julian lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is an attorney specializing in business litigation and government affairs. His poems “Weapon Focus” and “Martians Flew the Ocean Blue” were published in Cellar Door.
h.a.laine is a US-based writer and poet who has been writing short stories and weaving tapestries of emotion and imagery into poetic 'streams of subconscious' for well over a decade now. Her work often borders the abstract and the unknown, evoking deep emotions and individual reader interpretations.
Abena Ntoso is a poet living in Houston, Texas. She teaches ethnic studies and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. Her writing has been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Satirist, ONE ART, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Trampoline, and The Wrath-Bearing Tree.
Seth Peterson is a writer and physical therapist in Tucson, Arizona. His primary research and writing focus has been on the patient-provider relationship and the humanities in healthcare. Aside from clinical practice, he is an Associate Editor with JOSPT and teaches with The Movement Brainery and A.T. Still University.
Iris Rosenberg reads and writes poetry and fiction in New York City, where she lives with her family. Her writing career includes stints as a business journalist, agency head, college instructor and poetry reviewer for Library Journal.
Hilary Sideris’s poems have appeared in recently in The American Journal of Poetry, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, OneArt, Poetry Daily, Right Hand Pointing, Salamander, Sixth Finch, and Verse Daily. She is the author of Un Amore Veloce (Kelsay Books 2019), The Silent B (Dos Madres Press 2019), and Animals in English, poems after Temple Grandin (Dos Madres Press 2020). She lives in Brooklyn and works as a professional developer for the CUNY Start Program at The City University of New York.
Lynn Strongin is an American poet currently residing in Canada who has published more than two dozen books. Lynn's new book of poems, Kiosk, is just published in England. storySouth will feature her poetry in the fall. In November, Charter for Compassion’s Global Read will feature an interview of Lynn by Danielle Ofri.
Ry Book Suraski is a trans, Jewish, neurodivergent writer living in Queens, New York, where he is a literacy teacher and crisis counselor. His fiction and nonfiction has published in Rookie, Mouth Magazine, PANK, and others. He is currently writing his first novel.
Mike Taylor is a writer/ artist, living in San Francisco. His work has recently appeared in Tricycle and Trash Panda.
Brett Warren (she/her) is the author of The Map of Unseen Things (Pine Row Press, 2023). Her poetry has appeared in Canary, Halfway Down the Stairs, Harbor Review, and elsewhere. A long-time editor, she lives in Massachusetts, where she counts rabbits on her morning walks (record: 37). www.brettwarrenpoetry.com
Patricia Wentzel lives at the confluence of two rivers with her family and three cats. She started writing poetry while recovering from a severe episode of Bipolar Disorder. She has been published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Light Ekphrastic and has work upcoming in the Tule Review and SPC Anthology
Natalie Wolf is a co-founder and co-editor of Spark to Flame Journal and an editor for One Sentence Poems. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Popshot Quarterly, Pink Panther Magazine, I-70 Review, and more. You can find more of her stuff and things at https://nwolfmeep.wixsite.com/nmwolf.