Page 1


T H E

W I L D

R A B B I T

[ a love story in ghosts ]

sophia starmack


Copyright Š 2015 by Sophia Starmack All Rights Reserved

ISBN: 978-1-937739-74-4 Published by Deadly Chaps Press (emergence) New York, NY 2015 DCs5SS|3| Book Design and Cover Photo by Joseph A. W. Quintela

www.deadlychaps.com Portland New York London


contents [ prologue: alice considers history ] summer

3

[ under the streetlamp alice ] joh too in wait

5

6

[ what i know now ] seven women

7

8

[ the leather jacket ] the long road

9

10

[ it lives in the mess ] the noon whistle fall

1

11 12

13

[ alice likes to test it ] places forgotten

15

16

[ a cherry coke please ]

17

the strap of a sundress

18

[ the stag shaped like desire ] joh’s heart a wild rabbit

20

[ two boys and the old girl ] which is more illicit winter

21

22

23

[ the long ride home ] the screen door

25

26

[ the night ship approaches ] rose of sky

19

28

27


[ the burning building ]

29

the newspaper building on fire

30

[ the question of the luminous present ] watching her sleep / the little scar spring

31 32

35

when the rains come

37

[ there are more curtains in this town ] the journey from my heart to hope

38 39

[ let me tell you a story / interlude for springtime storms ]

40

just a little farther now [ alice is invisible ]

41 42

one more lonely lover [ i have become ]

43 45

epilogue: the edge of this town acknowledgements about the author

47 48

46


for all my ghosts, with thanks


THE WILD RABBIT

[ prologue: alice considers history ]

[ if i too, thinks alice / then the glacier / in the beginning grinding its fingers / the grit of schist and granite sticks to its lonely bone / its white soul to steer it / a whalebone whistling north if the glacier / thinks alice / then i / if i then the ice / if i too then the mouth / of the river the mouths / of the dead through my dream if i / too then the rock and the names carved in the rock / if i / too then my mother / her fringed leather jacket / if i too then the calf / and the cow’s hanging udder if i / too then the field and each wheatspear turning if i / too then the song / under the lightshafts striking / if i too then each / blade of sun unturning and the darkness / the darkness hollering over the valley / and after ten millennia even a glacier / gives up the ghost ]

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sophia starmack

2


THE WILD RABBIT

summer

[ the call ]

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sophia starmack

4


THE WILD RABBIT

[ under the streetlamp alice ]

[ at fourteen and one half years old alice waits

/ for the

last baby tooth to scatter / for milkweed over the dry stalked field / for seed against the darkening sun / back to her star self alice / is the rabbit come to sip at the night dew in the nettle / backward stretched / over the flat top boulder behind the church alice / knows the magnet iron heart / the rock and the aligned atoms / of her satellite self rings / around rings around the soft hot ash / of alice waiting / in wait / in ]

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sophia starmack

joh too in wait

twenty-six cities nodding their heads good-bye, one for every year. flour mills, canal ports, factories now cobwebbed. the miles glare gold, the deer reveals its tender tail, sheet metal, brick, white-on-white sky till the dappled veil falls over the dash. barns hide the hillside, farms sag sweet, white, yellow, the giving sun wrapped tight to the curving earth. and joh knows less of carbon atoms or ash, but joh knows dust in mouth, joh knows road unspooling, joh knows the hot beat of the iron heart, the trail untraveled, backward outside through. somewhere in a small town, joh sleeps under the strange call. a cricket, she whispers, and joh, too, knows the valley scarred by slender lakes, the fingers trailed through dust, knows time will hasten the glacier’s work, fill the craters with water, rub shores to soft sand, bedrock to pebbles. the gravel stings her feet as she wades in, winding back the milktide of her milky milky way.

6


THE WILD RABBIT

[ what i know now ]

[ what i know now / knows alice / i will know forever / i will know enough / i will know until / the boxwood hedge beside the bank alarms me / green awakens / i know this from and somewhere / before these waxed wet leaves the dew still clings / the sun begins to pull / drops bit by bit disappear while i wait / the sun lifts pungent oil from the hedge my body too grows ripe / my arms and hair and scalp after i’ve run through the meadow / the yellow stain under the sleeve of my sweater / my toes straight still and tanned in my slip ons / the strong sweat of becoming alice knows deep / till a shadow falls over the stoop ]

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sophia starmack

seven women

with the windows down and the radio on, joh’s got seven

women on her mind. seven women like seven stars, one for each finger of her left hand, and two, the invisible fingers of feeling. one the stories reaching out for, two the stories reaching back. seven women, seven stars, seven sisters tucked in orion’s belt. joh knows orion, knows his iron shield buckled against the night. the heavy arms of his terror, the little knife he keeps.

8


THE WILD RABBIT

[ the leather jacket ]

[ the leather jacket hangs on the doorknob / the door half open the hall / all moon and pine and tender and alice / without her jacket a mess of dreams and white / my mother / sleeps with her mouth open / observes alice / grown up sleep is sour / she tries it / the breath an arch the vault of

a

rib

/

she

scents

the

her lips lets nothing escape ]

9

stale

dream

shuts

/


sophia starmack

the long road

in the end joh left the futon, the liquor store cartons of teacups, the turntable and stack of 78s. the record going round and round: pack up all your dishes make note say

goodbye—

the street a black scroll unwinding and a cloud of night petals blazing another village awake. silence falling through the dark doorway of all those lives.

and still rolling along the yellow line, the half deciphered words throw a long rope across that old dry highway of desire: the streetlights scrambling photos of now, not-now, the slide carousel exposing pictures on the dust stained screen.

10


THE WILD RABBIT

[ it lives in the mess ]

[ it lives in the mess of two by fours and poison ivy / the pen of chicken wire collapsed / bent nails on the edge of the yard / the leash dangles between the trees / it wears a baseball jacket and has so many arms it carries all the sweet and noxious bottles / out of the gas station at once / it licks the light that pours from the first floor bedroom patched / like a dream on the lumpy old house

alice

your

stockings

don’t match / alice your hem is undone alice / isn’t there school today / alice you’re so spoiled you’re not spoiled nobody feeds you alice / you’re eating too much you’ll grow too fast / alice’s hand / in the cooky jar ]

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sophia starmack

the noon whistle

the noon whistle fries up this town like eggs in a pan. all the golden dogs of joh’s desire run howling down the street. in the spotlight of their slavering smiles joh’s too late. ambling abashed in the diner, wiping her sweat with her daddy’s hanky. the old men shuffle, make her a place at the bar. the waitress has a nametag with jan pinned over her heart, the curls pinned back in her hair. she slaps the last brown mug on joh’s slow linoleum smile. the old men grease, moan, rearrange their teeth. the radio’s neon chatter tuned to drought and the minor leagues, joh’s heart tuned to high heaven. jan flexes her curls in the big battered pot.

sweetness, i could make it rain on your town.

the coffee

bangs up again, stirsticks up joh’s thirst on a dry july day, hot enough to whet her whistle, send her dogs all panting home.

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THE WILD RABBIT

fall

[ the season of ghosts ]

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THE WILD RABBIT

[ alice likes to test it ]

[ alice likes to test it / climbing out her window in the coil of the last church bell / her t shirt her feet the blow the dirt the shock / under the streetlamp back in the shadow / one foot in one bare foot out of alice / the village sleeps empty / in the streetlamp shiny dark / the moon unrolls its coat of cold / but alice needs no shoes / working up her toughness all callouses and blister / and sweater over her school skirt / the road bumps into the nighttime / the street and its ribbon of dew / the night-work trembling alice / a blossom of headlight and alice tuned to the night-machine the dew and the crickets and alice / knows summer is gone now and alice / wants to be real / in the headlight wants to be touched under her dress by flakes of light from the unknown gaze of a stranger late from work / or something worse / they have seen / not seen each other for everyone knows / this town goes to bed at nine ]

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sophia starmack

places forgotten

i had forgotten they still made places like this, thinks joh, when the hot sun slams back in her eyelids, the ripened darkness. the drugstore hazes and drifts. what is a drugstore

after all, remembers joh. something about sweet syrup and chipped ice, something about penny candy, thinks joh, asking the pimpled boy behind the counter for a soda. the sly ceiling fan unwinding dust from late september. i’ll take it, she says, and pays for a cherry coke.

16


THE WILD RABBIT

[ a cherry coke please ]

[ a cherry coke please / says alice in her sundress / poised on the concrete stoop / alice in her feathered down furze like blond coat alice / on the edge of becoming alice / drinks like a greedy wolf from the waxy paper cup / leaves sweet sweat on the rim ]

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sophia starmack

the strap of a sundress

it’s only the strap of a sundress on the last afternoon in september. the poured cement of an old time drugstore.

shouldn’t you be, asks joh, in school? but alice holds her eye, says nothing. they sip at cherry cokes and suck the ice, the wax. flakes on the skin, peels on the shoulder. i

have become a woman, writes alice in her notebook but before disappearing through the greening light it slips. just the strap of her sundress, her peeled skin shoulder and joh, without thinking, pulls it up.

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THE WILD RABBIT

[ the stag shaped like desire ]

[ the stag shaped like desire stalks through the strip / of blackberry cane and bramble that guards the yard from the neighbor’s barn / the mosquito trap burns blue over the double door / the horned and invisible shapes of the night / alice scissors the sheets / the stag’s breath bellows the basement lungs of the house / the root rot floor ringed with rust and horseshoe dark / but her mother heard it first / in the kitchen at the bare scraped table / midnight streaming its mane of stars the earthenware ashtray / one cigarette / the leather jacket / i can’t sleep for all the

hoofbeats / whispered her mother / the ghostly flies all biting it tells me it wants to be free but sometimes / i think it just wants to be heard ]

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sophia starmack

joh’s heart a wild rabbit

joh’s heart a wild rabbit thumps in her chest. she draws the curtain. headlights of hope extinguished, the garage groans its restless rush. joh can feel them. the hot, desperate tongues of youth in the backseat hour. a map of milky kisses, heartache born of small towns, cornfields, pinprick light from orion’s belt. joh didn’t know she would weep, staring into the hands of the dark.

20


THE WILD RABBIT

[ two boys and the old girl ]

[ two boys drowned in the lake / alice didn’t know them till they drifted in to rattle her sleep / in her blue bed alice floats / a tangle of seaweed and zebra mussels snaps at her toes / the hair of lost dreams twines / eyes closed alice knows they were only trying / to swim to the other side / the boys make pig eyes puff out their cheeks and grin at alice / the machine raps out its watery code

but the saddest of all of alice’s ghosts is stuck / in the upstairs closet / alice thinks she was six / or maybe seven / she’s so lonely / stubborn alice / in her stupid white dress and sitting on an uncle’s pink stuffed rabbit / that old girl in the closet peering through the door / the plastic medal of saint cecelia slap slaps against alice’s dream / she hears the girl’s soft staring / the house of clocks night-ticking one streetlamp against the stars / they know they’re dead / thinks alice / they’re

only bumping the floorboards and stealing the housekeys to call us to listen / to throw out a line ]

21


sophia starmack

which is more illicit

which is more illicit? a not-so-little girl in the streetlight? or the driver back from a guilty errand, a car shining approaching? joh considers the moon, its horns and its feathers. the orange disk of its suffering. this is the weight of one. she rubs her toe through the hole in her sock. all over town the good people sleeping, their wives and children sticky with dreams, and joh tastes at once of frost. november blowing in and the moon casts pebbles of ice and trouble. joh can’t undo, can’t take back the girl made real in her headlight. hands strong and sullen, joh alone in the darkness, alone in the breathing. again the twin needles of night and winter to come.

22


THE WILD RABBIT

Winter

[ the burning building ]

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THE WILD RABBIT

[ the long ride home ]

[ button your coat / says joh / and alice does though she’d rather make a face / against the snow that’s shaken down all day / their world soft and small as they trample the parking lot’s wet weft and high beyond their knitted hats / the maple branch scrapes letters on the striated sky its branch / already piled in white / nothing so safe as snow / murmurs alice and / what / says joh turning the key inside / joh’s car is warm red velvet against the bleached black without / the slow soft mile is silent / the engine muscling its song / its coded message / all the way home ]

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sophia starmack

the screen door

alice’s skirt is stained with water. she rubs the damp spot between her palms. the path through the darkened room to the door. the sleeping hulk of the sofa, the rubber plant in the pot scrubbed with age, the fluorescent light spreading cold from the kitchen sink. the loaf of bread unwrapped. an ache older than the owl spills like salt down the empty stairs. joh waits as the dark fur of the house bristles and stirs up the shape of alice. the stark scentless night beats time on the door.

something written in the ice trapped in the squares of the useless screen.

i’m not scared, alice answers. flash of little cat fury and claws. the darkness swallows again and spits out joh on the frost rimed step, raw as frozen water in the pail.

joh, too, still in wait. the ravaged paint, the cheap plexiglass plate, and the front door so small. the church bell begs to be heard as if it had wings, words casting flickers of light over the pink stained snow.

26


THE WILD RABBIT

[ the night ship approaches ]

[ when the belly of the ship begins to slide over the living room ceiling / the double nature of the piano with its split wooden soundboard is revealed / it has two skins / one green one gold / it will not keep an e flat / on the staircase wall the portraits unhinge from their frames and the old tune tumbles into the room / johnny has gone for a soldier but alice still has his steamer trunk / a stack of science fiction medals tied in twine / the saint christopher medal for journeys over water / if alice squints there’s something too of the chest where the medal once hung / a v shaped space / the velour bathrobe and white skin furzed with black / the piano hurls its hammers along the hall / the sharp ones lodge in her notebook / they crack the hands of her mother upstairs beating back / the wild wet web of ash and sleep / alice knows the double self / despair and forgiveness / the house knows its yearning / dreams that cool in the dish rack / walls that settle and ache ]

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sophia starmack

rose of sky

joh pushes at the night-stuff. alice trembles back. the red rose rushes through the crack, the frost laced window, ice on the wall. the kitchen is alive again. scratch wool blanket and its slippery edge. one of them will have to leave. joh knows it already, preparing her suitcase, fishing for the quarters she’ll need to vacuum the trunk of her car. unseemly the errand. packing her trousers, button shirts, the jar of wax pomade, the photo of joh at nine grinning like a lamp in the willow tree. it was only the strap of a sundress. the garage grinding layer and layer of dreams from her suitcase she didn’t mean. the car spun its own way north, rabbit needle trained to home. joh pulls back the curtain as two girls in snowsuits dig at the moon’s orange glow. falling, one man raises his plow against the white.

28


THE WILD RABBIT

[ the burning building ]

[ step into this light that burns up the glass all my life / this window a window but now / the screen where i watch my body becoming / the film of who i will be dressed in white or naked with breasts and long hair / behind the curtain the stag / the beast in the pen crawling close alice wakes / before the siren / the trucks blazing by and the crashing bricks rose on pink atop the flickering snow / what does she know of the darkening world / what has she seen / between my bed and the burning building two neighbors / a barn now empty of sheep / the methodist church / i’m

not afraid to stare down a burning building i’m not afraid / of what flames in the dark / says alice pulling on her grandmother’s coat ]

29


sophia starmack

the newspaper building on fire

words will burn and burn and burn again, sees joh. in the blaze and grinding thunder of sawdust the pop of ink and printing oil. now all the things i’ll never know against the sky

and the ash falls like snow. now we see as through a glass darkly, remembers joh, watching long enough to know. it will not be saved. face to face till timbers fall from the ceiling, and the stones begin to split, and there was alice. the village bright around the dark door of her dress, the path laid bare in the snow.

30


THE WILD RABBIT

[ the question of the luminous present ]

[ alice has slipped inside the question / of the luminous present / the white heat of her face / the phosphorescent cave of joh’s mouth swims / with the blind fish of feeling / alice traces / the wide mouth jar of her longing / travels the unmapped edge where a girl might fall off / it isn’t love / thinks alice / but the new mint kick of discovery / two flares firing / the highway of her lonely nightgown / alice pulls at joh’s hair / to open the little lip / peel open the door that leads / to the room filled with light ]

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sophia starmack

watching her sleep / the little scar

it seems that all joh’s lovers have slept in this way, as alice gives herself like a rose to the river that takes her body, the river clotted with ice. the dream of alice sitting backward in snow. the telephone blipping in from the place where joh wore her father’s old socks, his voice dark on the line. it’s

( … ) in your hometown and i’ll have to stop in for a shave. like the difference ( … ) after you learn that ( … ) was there all along. no, no, i don’t want any chicken soup. the wire flat again and the moon stained boards in the empty hall. [ i was six years old, alice wants joh to know, the fourth of

july and everyone’s parents were drunk. the firecrackers wrapped in paper, stacked in the shade beside the bright sweating coolers full of beer and cherry coke. the sun fried pools of silty water on the dock and i felt nothing. only the hot nylon stink of my swimsuit, and the little star. look, she says, lifting her t-shirt, now i have become that star ] the walls fold like paper around everything joh still can’t touch, the words heavy and lost. the streets of snow and sleet wash into rivers, rivers to some sea, creaking its arms under a golden eye. one little boat in a rage of boats alone.

alice, i, the others, joh thinks they are her lips moving.

32


THE WILD RABBIT

someone locked in the old van, murmuring something about the little one and—

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sophia starmack

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THE WILD RABBIT

spring

[ i have become ]

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sophia starmack

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THE WILD RABBIT

when the rains come

when the rains come the basement floods, the green plastic carpet dampens and peels. in the cellar’s metal must joh aches at the threshold of the century standing ajar—once the boys here had shoulders for burdens, fields, fathers, wheat, tractors. joh, pushing a hand through her hair, her ankles in rain, shoring up boxes of yearbooks, photos, maps. moving the past to higher ground.

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sophia starmack

[ there are more curtains in this town ]

[ there are more curtains in this town than there are windows / the willow unrolls a darkening veil of green / alice pushes aside and opens / the door onto the train tracks / no train but pennies / the engine long stalled / did it make more sense in the days of the pennies / asks alice to no one / she counts glass bottles / syrup / boxes / the rusty corrugated cars / a cheaply sided shack / the town’s white sheets all flapping / in the one-room VFW the old boys all dialing time through the holes in their bottles / the beer’s waterfall foam and finished with tractor grease and alice / alone in her patchwork / of green and star white petals staring / dreaming / the shifting ghosts of this town / the once and never dreams / of all its men ]

38


THE WILD RABBIT

the journey from my heart to hope

the journey from joh’s heart to hope is ringed around this little scar with bitter fingers sour salt, sin, and there was alice. already the door unravels the flesh unpeels bright bodies now stars, now lamps, now holy. the glacier scrapes the ravaged floor and time will soften all this too, roll my

body to gravel sting my feet as we enter in.

sometimes

after a long journey joh’s face returns in the glass. the light, the eyes, the lips, each tender bud unpetals its dew. the clapboard houses uncurl their tiny shining, unclench their dreams. sometimes after a long journey, the hungry return to rest. the arms the altar, the heart’s lamp lit across the scattered snow. the sea of desire now lit with floating words.

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sophia starmack

[ let me tell you a story / interlude for spring storms ]

[ let me tell you a story / in the beginning i remember my mother / a car / and me we drive from i don’t know what / to i don’t know where / perched in crinkled paper a bird in my haphazard nest i watch the road / box bodies / trucks bumping black of tar electric lines / slice my sight in two / three / four parts i squint / the world to my dimensions / i slide / sleep and knowing / dreams no warning / am i awake and sure of what i see / or is this / the car / the motels / the road white paper electric wires my mother / me / are we asleep and dreaming / like this in a high wooden bed ]

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THE WILD RABBIT

just a little farther now

alice: just a little farther now. joh: it’s dark. alice: don’t be afraid. joh: i’m not. what was– alice: watch your face on the bramble. don’t step in that nettle there by the clearing. that white one, it’s called baneberry or dollseyes. it’s poison. that’s mayapple, you can eat it. that’s jack-in-the-pulpit, it stinks. the sky could swallow them in its lust and alice opens her arms. they have found it, the edge of the ice unmalting, the gap in the hedge. the open field where the stag steps forth, where the beast shines its face like the sword of spring.

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sophia starmack

[ alice is invisible ]

[ now alice is invisible / she practices / the streetlight blinks / there is no alice / there is softness / and wings that thrum the dark / the starry night a blanket of satin trimmed wool / night’s tongue unfurled and open and all its fingers breathing / blink / stare / a brush of thighs / the sigh of crickets and under the pulse / this is the dream this is the heart / this / beats alice now alice again / in the skin of the night and her school dress ]

42


THE WILD RABBIT

one more lonely lover

she didn’t wave good bye. i wanted to give, to leave her something but

the tulips are breaking the dirt in the neighbor’s side yard, the forsythia blares like the sword of the angel, the one who hides his eyes.

i slipped through the hands of the clock when she gave back the keys. pulling out of town, i thought i could see them all: men and women running backwards like children over the damp furrowed field.

down the water, lay in her lap

gravel

and

moon snail

pebbles.

the lake, shore, the low cement

i

wall. the

scent of some nameless flower like powder shaking over the bed

all night

i took a photo of the cottage, that last

lilac night. i dug my elbow right

into her rib

the soft

place

the little scar strong.

( six years old fourth of july )

when i hurt her she

breasts were like

she is so

hits me right back and her

sometimes in the water with the s s s

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sophia starmack

s soft

i think you’ve died she said

she kissed me

and

the road again is very clean. my face, floating once more on the windshield, the spring sun tumbling in like pollen over the dash.

44


THE WILD RABBIT

[ i have become ]

[ i have become a woman / writes alice in her notebook / the walls stacked with schoolbooks / stuffed toys / paintings done by her mother / broken beads her ragged coat / cards candles wax the clatter of crows / the bush that fires the flower outside her window / the petals that shatter and shake / the driver her mother the village the moon the street / i / joh / the rabbit wild the ice unloosed the ash / alice lowers the strap of her sundress / her face floats in the glass / the blue blades of desire / the lake ablaze with diamonds fish and feeling / the long road of alice she laughs / steps into the waking world ]

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sophia starmack

epilogue: the edge of this town

the edge of this town is the end of the world. joh’s come to fall off with a bottle, a match. joh doesn’t know why she’s done it. a thousand miles of tar ahead, behind a lover’s voice. glass on the highway. lithium yellow print on the mind. sunset, oil drills, slick hope. a little mining town. it’s finished. the rigs point up and down, the rhythm like sex, and joh’s still got a thousand bucks in her bankbook. lick the glass lip, the paper filter. behind closed eyes the floating ash is visible, the spark that ignites the world.

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THE WILD RABBIT

acknowledgements

“alice considers history� first appeared in best new poets

2012.

fragments of songs and scraps of phrase were lovingly borrowed from the eagles (seven women), guy clark (the long

road),

a

traditional

folk

tune

(the

night

ship

approaches), and st. paul (the newspaper building on fire).

47


sophia starmack

about the author

Sophia

Starmack

received

an

M.A.

in

French

and

Francophone Literature from Bryn Mawr College, and an M.F.A. in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. A 2014-15 Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Sophia's work has appeared in Best New Poets 2012; Short, Fast, and

Deadly; Her

Kind; and

other journals and

anthologies. Sophia lives in Brooklyn, where she teaches elementary school students. (photo credit: D. S. Mattison)

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THE WILD RABBIT  

a love story in ghosts by sophia starmack

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