Best of the Net Nominees

Richie Hofmann
Field in Ohio

Not yet dusk and already
a smell like fermented honey as flies
slowly light up in the unmowed grass. It looks
like we're in a midwestern field, but it's really a midwestern field
for eco-friendly burials. I think I would be happy with life and death here: no one
calls me; there is one bar to drink at, where my usual
is a champagne split for one. Other people have babies. Teens grow
into their kissing skins, while mothers and fathers refuse
to clean the rooms where they sleep,
fornicate, and read. I follow you
into the field. We've been waiting all day
for the lightning to come down.
I wish we were in love
so we might experience it as lovers.

Angela Narcisco Torres
Via Negativa

The air in a room after
a door closes. The cavern
of silence following the last clap.
What occupies a glass when
it's emptied. Two equal parts —
the difference between. The void
housed by a heart squeezed of longing.
The period. The white after it.
A name at the tip of your tongue.
The lobe vacated by the missing
earring. The no one at the end
of a phone ringing. When a painting
is removed, its cream shadow,
unbleached by sun.

Cyrus Cassells
You Be the Dancer

In the small hours, under Taurus,
Let's go back to adoring
The soul of the moon-bathed hill,
Whether we're feeling frisky,
Or still beguiled by inchoate dreams—
Let's revisit the cornerstone hour
When, all of twelve, I confessed
My preening babysitter,
In his detestable paisley cap
And sun-faded overalls,
Forced me to be his faux valentine,
And, in a risk-taking gambit,
You grasped my shaky hand,
And led me to this spellbinding hill,
With its exhilarating shouts
Of sage and cinquefoil—

Long ago, amid pert rosemary flowers,
I had my first authentic kiss
(I don't count the bully!),
My first Cuban cigar
(Not the counterfeit bubblegum kind).
As brash, brand-new acolytes,
We had no elucidating word
For the hothouse link between us;
Bud-green Romeo & Romeo, we weren't
Blundering interns:
More like callow troubadours,
Meek or incautious
Navigators of the flesh—

Can you worship a place?
The way the avid Romans once revered
Their tutelary gods?
Look, here's our unmistakable boxwood,
The Blue Star juniper,
The night-silvered belvedere
Revealing the acrobatic river
And the bumpkin town
We were so hell-bent to leave:
I'm sure I could whip up a passable map,
A crude miniature
Of this facile-to-memorize hill,
Our hush-hush stronghold,
Or better still, an apt
Pirate's or scalawag's design,
Reclaimed a century or two from today,
With a conspicuous x-marks-the-spot
Leading its lucky finder
Directly to our talismanic hill—

And yes, this pulse-altering place
Was tantamount to an idyllic schoolhouse:
You praised, like a pimpled Solomon,
My terrific lashes,
My magnetic, "tea-brown eyes,"
And taught me to dance up here—
Mashed Potato, Loco-Motion, Frug, and Shimmy—
And thus, mon amour, I found my métier;
You started calling me Dancer,
And the puckish nickname stuck:
I became the nimble boy
All the doting 8th grade girls desired
On the auditorium floor,
But with you, I was a clandestine dancer—

Then in-a-dash years passed:
Some bereft of any word of you,
Some brimming with up-to-the minute bulletins
Of your escapades, blazing hopes, accomplishments—

Home now, standing on our failsafe hill,
I insist: Baby, it's worth our while,
Coming back, despite the old
Boredom, secrecy, and blatant bullying—
After relishing the compass star's clarity,
The glittering river's ballet,
You laugh and cajole:
I definitely prefer the grown-up you,
But wonder: can you still manage
A cartwheel? And dare I ask—the Batusi?—

Transformed by winnowing Time's wand
Into abiding, grey-bearded revenants,
Burly, truth-or-bust men,
We laugh in disbelief:
Look at us; I can't believe
We're lovers again at sixty—

And on this allaying hill,
Hemmed with showy, Mars-red berries
Littering a reflecting creek,
The hallowing summer night,
The ecstatic hour of our homecoming winds
The way a caduceus winds and heals—

Of course I'll marry you.

Juleen Eun Sun Johnson
Silent Storm

That day's snow, silent

comes down off boughs, as new snow, silent

only to be whisked
away as fireflies dance, silent

into grass as children and flicker, silent

as diamonds in the dark of a gem mine. Silently

put your face in the white, silent

white pillow crunch, silent

as an angel without wings and head
without a face, silent

1,000 frames a second, silent
wings move, not

as hummingbirds wings, silent
not to interrupt air, molecules

still moving with music.

Heather Altfeld
Late Atonement, Lower Sierra

By the nineteenth hour
your discussion with god grows hazy,

like a midnight argument
with someone you love but plan to leave

when you work up the nerve,
so it's all barbs and accusations,

a strange frost that grows
between your bodies on the bed.

Now it is just you, the angel,
and the sandwich.

A feast without crumbs,
water without a glass.

Like your neck, your belly
can be snapped back anytime.

A saltine, a grape, the chocolate buttons
in your pack, all ornamental,

decorative, until the mountain swallows
the last bit of sun. Near dusk,

the light begins to look strange,
the creek darkens, winding through the gorge,

a diorama of Hades, the scattered seeds,
the mistake. Look at Persephone,

one bite and the crops freeze forever,
the cold birds drop from their nests.

Try to imagine the emptiness is suffering.
Try to imagine the suffering is holy.

The breath escaping you now
is a trial attempt at ascension.

Practice the long climb up
with wool in your ears,

Nothing god asks could keep you
from that fruit. No one knows

where he hides the Book of Life—
perhaps behind the photo albums;

one snapshot of each of us, a mug
of the terrible animals he has reared.

Dark arrives and a bit of death
escapes you. In the last minutes

before breaking you see the hand
and the pen, the gold ink

and the page, something being written
next to your name. It might be Life,

Admit One or Drowning, late next August,
beneath the Pleiades, on a hot summer night

but you cannot see
the scattering of letters

or read the language
in which they are written.

You drink a sip of wine, nibble
an apple, dip a slice of bread

in honey. Don't turn around.
Try to imagine your name

being whispered in your ear,
over and over, by an angel

standing behind you, kissing your neck,
entering your feast.

Karen Poppy
Standing in the Kitchen

Sometimes I suck the ghost of you
From a plum at the sink.
Savor its skin against my lips,
Tongue its soft flesh and juices.
Cry at the hard core, that mass
That within you grew,
Took you from me, all your beautiful ripeness.
The sink drips its beat.
The incongruity of things that last:
Silence, sound, impermanence.