IHLR NaPoMo Issue 2021

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Leslie Jill Patterson Interim Editor

Katie Cortese Poetry Editor

Geffrey Davis Senior Managing Editor

Meghan E. Giles NaPoMo


Managing Editors

Jennifer Buentello Jacob Hall Maeve Kirk Sara Ryan


Copyright © 2021 Iron Horse Literary Review. All rights reserved. Iron Horse Literary Review is a national journal of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. IHLR publishes three print issues and three electronic issues per year, at Texas Tech University, through the support of the TTU President’s Office, Provost’s Office, Graduate College, College of Arts & Sciences, and English Department. For more information, visit www.ironhorsereview.com.

National Poetry Month 2021





You Ask What I Was Like Back Then / CASSANDRA CLEGHORN


Connective Tissue / LESLIE WILLIAMS


My Father As Graven Image / S. M. ELLIS

My Father Teaches Me How to Open a Pomegranate / AYESHA SHIBLI





March Propositions / KATHRYN HAEMMERLE

The Half of It / ADAM J. GELLINGS Eating Lucky Charms Straight Out of the Box in the Middle of the Night, I Suddenly Want to Be a Lorca Poem / DANTE DI STEFANO

9 12 14 16 20 22 24 29 32


34 38 42 48

From the Horse’s Mouth

In the Saddle


Around the Tracks

hirteen years ago, in 2008, Iron Horse released its first annual National Poetry Month issue, featuring cover art by Mark Strand. Then, and in the decade since, I’ve been lucky enough to publish so many poets whose work I admire. Sometimes, our NaPoMo contributors are poets I already know, but more frequently, Iron Horse introduces me to poets I should know—all of them generously willing to share their work with us and our readers. To name and thank just a few:


Nicky Beer Reginald Dwayne Betts Jerry Bradley Traci Brimhall Nickole Brown Greg Brownderville Rafael Campo Kelly Cherry Ching-In Chen Jennifer S. Cheng Tiana Clark Jehanne Dubrow Camille T. Dungy Jaclyn Dwyer Chris Ellery Stephen Dunn Christian Anton Gerard

Bob Hicok Amorak Huey Gary Jackson Tyehimba Jess Ted Kooser Nick Lantz Dorianne Laux Paige Lewis Nabila Lovelace Juan J. Morales Cindy Juyoung Ok C. Russell Price Alberto Ríos Natalie Shapero Evie Shockley Maggie Smith Afaa Michael Weaver

foreword 1


In the summer of 2020, COVID-19 budget cuts hit every university hard. Our operating budget was cut by over 50 percent, and we had to reorganize the way we manage and release some issues. Though we love holding an in-print object in our hands, love the smell of the pages, the longevity it, we were forced to convert one of our print issues to an electronic one, saving ourselves the hefty expense of a hard copy. We selected the NaPoMo issue for this transition because we recognized that working with poems would allow us to create a genuine work of art: with shorter and fewer manuscripts, we could include full-color photographs with every poem, making the issue visually stunning. Another upside, perhaps the most important: anyone can download and read our annual NaPoMo issue for free, and so our contributors’ works will reach a wider audience. Poetry is getting into the hands of more readers. It’s accessible to public school teachers and students who long to become poets some day. Because we worried that an electronic issue would generate less interest from submitters, and thus we might miss out on those really gifted poems, we opted to reduce the number of poems we included from approximately twenty-five to eleven, awarding one winner a $1,000 honorarium and ten finalists our usual $50 honorarium each. Yes, we now charge a reading fee for this issue, but we offer a free submission day for those who cannot afford it, and submitters who do pay receive a full year’s subscription of our print issues in return. The issue is now self-sustaining. Which means, for upper-administrators, that it has value. Which means it has survived; our poets and their poems are safe. Perhaps this seems like a grievous compromise. Certainly, we wish we had the funds to print the NaPoMo issue in full color, every year, with twenty-five poems rather than eleven. What a glorious goal! But given how every reader and writer we know faces new expenses, atrisk employment, healthcare scares, at-home schooling, isolation, and

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a sharp diminishment of writing and reading time because we are so preoccupied elsewhere, saving poetry mattered more to me than savoring the moment when I held the NaPoMo issue in my hands. Here, I am happy to add to our roll call of NaPoMo contributors this year’s winner (our first!), Cassandra Cleghorn, and our ten finalists: Dante Di Stefano, Jessica Dionne, S. M. Ellis, Adam J. Gellings, Kathryn Haemmerle, Julia Kolchinsky-Dasbach, Susie Meserve, Ayesha Shibli, Sarah Dickenson Snyder, and Leslie Williams. As always, I’ve been pleased to reconnect with some of these poets and thrilled to find most of them for the first time. Geffrey Davis, our poetry editor, and I agree: we received tremendously good submissions this year, our best ever, and thus the selection process was more brutal than any year before, but our hard work means delivering now, to anyone who wishes to read them, eleven poems we are so pleased to share with the world.




You Ask What

I Was Like Back



Always elsewhere always on fire the arrows my clavicles so clean of line even now I flush at the care I took to bless the tuft on each of his square knuckles no thought to bristle at my lover’s wooly russet face goldly dashed and just as the beard so the pubes memory drops to his cock held in its blond snarl I was I think I was sidereal hooking my hand in the bib of his overalls walking under jacaranda at noon that hand a careless rudder to see us you wouldn’t know I was but one match flick from blaze as the Santa Anas swept through creekbeds long dry and edged with dead zones on those winds I jasmined each vow the lemon tree sown from seed the day he died is two feet tall and slender it tends parenthetically



Cassandra Cleghorn


Connective Tissue What’s next for you? my teacher asks as the new decade blooms. I’m learning how to work silk yarn on the loom, lovely instrument stringed like the harp in sunlit lobby outside the hospital chapel where I ducked in yesterday to light a candle, red votive for my friend who’s been sneaking off to radiation without telling anyone. I’d like to stand tall instead of collapsing into rag doll, into wait and see. When I was younger, I kept reading a human’s only a reed, but he’s a thinking reed. And she’s the body, bruised as seagrass in the salt marsh, played by every current sweeping through.

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Leslie Williams

My Father As

Graven Image S. M. ELLIS

If he’s not himself, one’s not one & twice he mimics ruins: a light pole makes a car a comma, a coma I forget. Good morning giant bruise: hallelujah all-but-him: not him: a knot: not the bassist or prankster or maker of model ships not the chessman or tender of cabbage & squash. A forest is happening high as noon out back & everywhere


S. M. Ellis

worshippers say the word to make the body sacred. & scars around the almost rigor mortis? & corkscrews in his paralyzed arm? Praise paroxetine & clobazam & methadone. Amen to the taxidermy his arm became. Praise all the flesh if any. Bless this raw tidal ripping, no more a heart than a cluster of fireants: sing a hip bone joined to the leg bone barely. Tell him the mind just dreams. Tell him he reeks like a chew toy & we’re not sure why. The body. To fawn over it. Why not model planes & kneel before the glue that weighs them down. Call the wings an altar & crash as he braids my hair with one hand.

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My Father Teaches Me

How to Open a Pomegranate AYESHA SHIBLI

I learned to do everything by hand. Fingernails drenched red with juice, scratch a white pomegranate carcass with tiny holes unfull of growth. The pomegranate is as big as his hand. My father fits all of it in a single palm. He tells me you do not cut the pomegranate. He scores the crown, tears the fruit by hand. Red spills out: whole, bloated droplets, not a single one a casualty to a blade. You can only scoop this out by hand. How much of a woman is grown under such thick skin—remade into seeds. I don’t like the center of them, only the burst of juice almost sour spraying in my mouth.

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He tells me you have to eat them whole. I resist the feel of biting down too hard, spit out their drained flesh sacs tiny, flat against the seed. Tell him I don’t want pomegranate trees to grow inside me.



Ayesha Shibli


I never saw them in my mother’s crowded kitchen, but they remind me of her fingers at the end, swollen knuckles, rings trapped— the thin-skinned roots I slice and sliver, put in almost everything, how what is unseen under the earth can create a flavor I remember settling my stomach— sipping the ginger ale she’d brought upstairs and nibbling through a sleeve of Saltines on the daybed in the TV room while I watched General Hospital, inured to the squirrels scurrying in walls— the first room I remember finding how good my body felt muffled and alone, so good I thought I might get a disease from the sharp rapture and release— probably where I began to see boys as a new landscape, a place to lean against, to unleash what I didn’t know but wanted. Most good things grow in darkness— seeds, roots, a fetus.



Sarah Dickenson Snyder


The year’s final full moon is ruled by your mother the decan Cancer Cancer of Cancers emotion rock dripping in reflected light no glow without the sun I have nothing to live for she repeats without you phases wax and wane the tired even dead metaphor maternal guilt Do you even miss me? The sea of tranquility longing for the possibility of water the crater for the ice or stone that bore it the light always for more light your mother for the body she gave you the one she regrets letting cleave from hers for your chest’s full milk and belly’s showing lemon glow for the way you used to scream at being touched by strangers until your mom discovered lemons let you suck the rind and pulp your mouth dripping equal parts acid and shine while the doctor worked on fixing you your bowing thighs and fear so now



Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

you’re not afraid of anyone with the moon in your mouth she regrets this most of all December moon cold moon oak moon long night moon rising past the Solstice deceiving you both about the balance of light refusing to be named womb.

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Julia Kolchinsky-Dasbach


Heat Wave When it hits the nineties in June, we pull out the paddling pool, plastic monstrosity with a two-foot-long slide and a wildly waving spray attachment. Sammy sinks into the brine dank with piss and sunscreen and grass blades left over from mowing, and I recall his last days as a fetus, when it was also in the nineties, and close, and I’d picked up a tent-like dress

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because it was cool and blue and looked fine with a pair of feathery earrings. And one afternoon at the beach, him hiccuping inside me in spurts, I waded into San Francisco Bay, the dress engorging with each step, no suit underneath, just my underwear and unruly hair, my swollen feet and grabbing breath, and I wished for rocks in my pockets, or else rockets.



Susie Meserve


Swamp Mama It’s May, and already I’ve conjured up seventeen marshes in my sleep. I built them from scraps of switchgrass, sly cottonmouth, pickerel weed. Then I grew vast mangroves, mouths like cages—wide open green, like last night in Orlando when we chased the teens from the motel pool. I dove in and jumped your bones where we floated—green open wide. After sex, you’re gentle with your words, warm as the belly-scales

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of caimans, and all over South Florida the swamps grow deeper. Have you never heard of Harney marsh, the woman who wails all September? I’ve known her voice, and the pitch of her grief is red with tails. I am not the only maker of mayhem, these marshes, that call me by name— What we bury in the brine of our longing blooms heavy in the pool of each spring.



Jessica Dionne

March Propositions KATHRYN HAEMMERLE

1. March is a month of distemper. It ruins with its melt of frozen ground merging with warm rain, freeze and unfreeze, snow again, as if to say things get better and then worse. I allow myself to bask in a rare bright day, its weak sun, on the stone steps of a public library where the scent of soaked earth rises around me almost like heat.

2. I once believed March made way for an opening of light, like a willing flower that forms a small gap when it blooms. But this after-winter state, the static flood of melt, clouds any possibility for light. Yesterday, I took a broom to the earth’s melt and swept. But dirty water kept seeping up. So what then, when after the ground returns, flooded and suckling, the only gap is a pitted cornfield of sunken stalks. What then.

3. One March, I walked to the labyrinth garden near a convent, a series of pale stepping stones among black and polished rocks. There was wind through bare trees, dark tolling of bells telling an hour, and wind chimes. As I stood in the center of the labyrinth, I waited for illumination promised by the dead garden. Instead, an old woman in a tan coat passed by. I remember the pink of her gloves.



Kathryn Haemmerle

4. The way to get through March, then, is to see everything as a consequence of March and then see it otherwise. For me, once, it was this: Each afternoon around four, I would leave my cubicle, brew tea in the big kitchen, then stand before the long wall of windows overlooking the gray outskirt-city of a city. The sun was always preparing to set. It burnished the stone buildings below so that I couldn’t notice the sky going blank like stone.

5. The consequences were these: Distant hillside with sparse brown trees, landscape of wrinkled paper. Black tarp layering the rooftop below, weighted down by gathered rain water, wind-torn from winter and corners still billowing then snapping in March’s wind. Door opening on an adjacent rooftop, a man letting a dog out. The door closing, motion of the dog barking without sound.

6. More than once, after the sun had left and the tea cooled, a flock of birds would gather on a rooftop ledge. Sudden flight and swift dive toward a tree below, then another quick rise. Close to me, the invisible arc of their path toward the rooftop above where they settled. I wanted it to be enough—their wings beating small bright auras into the sky.

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Kathryn Haemmerle

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The Half of It As if I allowed myself to furl into a fist, pretending I wasn't ready to embrace the changing of seasons. Not until my shoulders grew shadows did I think, how exquisite— this conspicuous thing, willing to follow. I wasn’t young anymore & outside, summer’s late song fell right through the very middle of notes. My breath began to slow; I agonized over words. When will it be enough? When will I remember the way



Adam J. Gellings

we used to say town. Now, our whispers travel farther than our voices, like jaws of the doe quietly snapping dead from a bramble inside an autumn we’ve never really known. The idea that you could soften a body with the unclenching of a stone. A neckline of hedges, the beginning of elms where the river ends the vultures are circling look around

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Adam J. Gellings

Eating Lucky Charms Straight Out of the Box in the Middle of the Night,

I Suddenly Want to Be


to be translated is what we really all desire maybe or to thrum twilight blue and otherwise to sleep the sleep of apples and guitars to halt a hunger marginally still and rumbling starless to suddenly feel what’s sweet akimbo the stale day to day light the tongue and fire every cell from toe to crown with a spark: alien distance infinitely here bluing the level pitched deep song bursting from a vast small word



Dante Di Stefano


Horse’s Mouth a conversation about memory work and poems with Cassandra Cleghorn

IHLR: We love the form you use in “You Ask What I Was Like Back Then,” this year’s IHLR NaPoMo winner. The line lengths are very controlled and uniform, compressed within a single stanza, while the content of the poem, its repetition, enjambment, and lack of punctuation work against that uniformity. How do you see these two impulses working alongside (or against) one another, and how did you balance them? CLEGHORN: I’m pretty sure I think in sonnets, even when I’m trying not to—the form’s pacing and turns, its send off, etc., are engrained in my ear. I don’t count beats, but I gravitate toward symmetry. But I also love interfering with that balance, seeing how far it can tip without falling over. I read drafts aloud again and again, listening for where a boost or a hiccup is needed. In this way, you can let the words write the poem, as Fanny Howe says. My favorite sonnets are by Hopkins—so densely packed that the rhyme scheme is almost lost, the lines gasping under the pressure of the language, so that small repetitions let air into the poem: “reckon but, reck but, mind / But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these / twó tell, each off the óther; of a

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rack / Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe—and shelterless, // thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd” (last lines of “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves”). Among my other first loves were Dickinson, Williams, Merwin, Niedecker, so working in an unpunctuated—or oddly punctuated—form connects me to these internalized models. IHLR: We’re also intrigued by the phrase memory work that you use in your genesis statement when referring to poetry. Could you expand on that? CLEGHORN: I’ve spent much of this weird, suspended time of the pandemic looking backward. I call this “memory work,” but you can also think of it as play. The hippocampus has been my muse—that little seahorse-shaped part of the brain that governs navigation and long-term memory (anything that has happened more than a few minutes ago). Scientists have recently found that “place cells” and “head direction cells” fire with certain stimuli, orienting an animal to its environment in both space and time. So I’ve been thinking of poems as cognitive maps, moving me into what Dan Beachy-Quick calls “the deep foliage of the psyche,” and holding me there. In this way, the poem becomes an alternate present, a virtual reality, a miniature biosphere with uncanny resonances. IHLR: “You Ask What I Was Like Back Then” is steeped in imagery, bringing in elements of the Santa Barbara landscape and placing those images alongside the body. What role do you see Santa Barbara playing in your work? CLEGHORN: Jack Gilbert said somewhere that in a first book, a poet may use up the “germinal quality” of their writing. Inspiration wanes, and they turn to their childhood for material, again and again. For reasons I’m just beginning to understand, I’ve only recently let myself write about Santa Barbara, the place where I spent the first part of my life. Its dramatic landscape—low mountains to


From the Horse’s Mouth

the sea, droughts, wildfires, oil spills, earthquakes—made deep sense to my body, which was undergoing its own seismic changes. Though I’ve lived in New England most of my adult life, the smells and textures of the chaparral return me instantly to moments of erotic awakening, family tumult, and other as yet unassimilated, if retrievable, experiences. Wild sage is my madeleine. I’m approaching a huge store of untapped material, which has been quietly waiting—blue belly lizards, tiny silver fish flooding the beach under a new moon. Memories of the natural world re-collect the body. I’ve been returning as well to favorite California poets Joanne Kyger and Eleni Sikelianos as a way of going home. IHLR: This poem emerged during your time in quarantine; it is an artifact of this moment, a time that has physically isolated all of us from one another. We’re struck by the intimacy represented by the act of this poem: of two people going from not knowing one another very deeply—beyond knowing where each other lives—to reading each other’s journal entries as a way of “meeting in person.” How do you see this process shaping your work and your time in quarantine? CLEGHORN: As I said in my genesis statement, “You Asked What I Was Like Back Then” was written as a direct response to a question from Carla, my pandemic pen pal turned close friend. A Facebook friend of a friend posted a photo of Carla holding a giant, ancient scythe, and I knew I needed to get to know this woman. Her friend in Italy had begun exchanging watercolor journals with another Italian woman, documenting the pandemic in Naples and in rural Puglia. We followed their example, writing and drawing about lockdown in Chicago and rural Vermont. At first, we shared intimate details of our lives as one might do with a stranger—like confiding in the person sitting next to you on an airplane whom you know you’ll never see again. But the friendship quickly morphed. The shared experience of isolation, so differently inflected for each of us, sparks memories

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and associations that drop us into one another’s lives. We swear a lot and laugh, along with all the grief and loneliness and rage. Sometimes we Zoom with a whiskey and do blind contour drawings of one another’s faces—Egon Schiele meets Lynda Barry. The openness and trust of this friendship—both intimate and necessarily mediated (the definition of an ideal reader, right?)—has opened for me a new way of writing. In addition to holding a masters in historic preservation from the School of Art Institute in Chicago, consulting in preservation and sustainability and specializing in community engagement, working in disaster relief, creating Environmental Justice Reports for the EPA, running workshops on home maintenance, carving wooden spoons, playing the accordion, co-writing a book about bug architecture, and being an all-around badass, Carla is a poet. Writing for her grounds me, urges me to press into places that have felt untouchable before, keeps me from getting lost in my own head. IHLR: In what other ways has your writing changed during the time of COVID? CLEGHORN: I live at the juncture of Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, where the Berkshires meet the Taconic Range and the Green Mountains. I head into the woods more often than I used to, hiking or snowshoeing with my German shepherd, Elsie. Brian Teare wrote a great essay about “en plein air poetics,” describing how he actually writes in his journal as he hikes. I can’t do that, but I do build poems in my head. About three hours into the hike, the endorphins release, and my attention toggles between my immediate physical surroundings, bodily exertion, the dog, and the poem, which has worked its way out of me in sweat and breath. This process is so much better for me than fretting at the desk. I want to hold onto this practice when it’s safe again to head to town. —MEGHAN E. GILES column editor


From the Horse’s Mouth

In the Saddle


2 4 5


Kathryn Nuernberger’s stunning collection of poems, Rue (BOA Editions, 2020), features haunting, wandering, botanical ecopoetry on the science and folklore of plants used for birth control. When we heard about The Witch of Eye, her forthcoming collection of lyric essays (Sarabande), we knew it would navigate the subject of witches and the atrocities inflicted upon them with similar poignancy. Imbued with history, cultural commentary, and the personal, her work is thoughtfully excavated, researched, and retold with empathy. And because she’s a poet connected to the natural world and the ephemera one collects from it, we had a feeling she would have an inspiring workspace, would surround herself with vibrant objects and artifacts. We’re thrilled to share it here, a facsimile of the beloved coffee shop where she worked before the pandemic, recreated in her home and now, also, in our pages. —SARA RYAN, column editor

with Kathryn


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Before the pandemic and lockdowns began, I had a regular desk, which I mainly used as a place to pile books and papers in messy piles. I did all my real writing at my beloved coffee shop. After several months struggling to find my COVID-time groove, I rearranged the office and brought a bistro table in from the porch. I stepped back, admired my work, and realized I had created a spot that looked an awful lot like my favorite table by the shop’s north-facing window. While I miss writing in public, where I would often overhear dates, squabbles, work drama, and other interesting bits of chitchat, writing at home has opened up other possibilities. Consider, for example, my wall of notes. One of the people who live in my house says it looks like I’m trying to solve a murder; the other, that I’m planning one. Both agree it is a sign I’d probably do better with less isolation. Nevertheless, I’m fond of this wall of doodles, research notes, and salient quotes from reading for my current work-in-progress on symbiotics and other forms of mutual aid. There’s a lot of Donna Haraway, Tyson Yunkaporta, Anna Tsing, Rachel Carson, Lynn Margulis, Timothy Morton, and Kathryn Yusoff in that mixed-up web. When my child was much younger, she introduced me to the delights of filling my pockets with bits of this and that. We still come home from our


In the Saddle


hikes with pockets full of seed pods, dried flower heads, pebbles, cicada husks, and sometimes varmint bones. The shadow box atop my bookshelves is an antique wooden soda crate turned on its side. The other people who live in my house call it an altar. I call it a muse wall, where I keep those artifacts I hope to write about in some way. Right now, I have on display milkweed seed pods, North American lotus blossom seed pods, turtle shells, dried wild mustard, a stalk of dried mullein, barnacles, magnolia buds, galls from an oak tree, the skeleton key to the door of an old farmhouse on the banks of Sunday Creek, a hagstone, burr oak acorns, a dried bit of lichen, a stalk of dried wild mustard, a geode from a cave along the Missisippi, a hagstone from along the Black River, lots of cherished trinkets from woods and river-

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banks and junk stores. These help me hone my attention in on the questions I’m trying to ask every time I sit down to write.



Another rickety box turned on its side serves as a makeshift shelf to hold the books I currently have checked out from interlibrary loan. Among my distressingly overdue items is Brodo’s Lichens of North America, an 800-page, full-color guide to lichens, with photographs and diagrams. Did you know lichens are a composite organism, a deeply interwoven relationship between an algae, a fungus, and, if they’re really lucky, a yeast in there, too? It’s amazing. Finally, my notebook is on the table. I fill a couple of pages with ideas and notes every morning. This year, I started drawing comics (using Lynda Barry’s prompts in Making Comics to guide me) when I had trouble finding words. Once I fill a notebook, I spend the first few weeks with my new notebook harvesting the old one for promising lines or ideas. Once in a while, I find a page in an old journal that has a piece of writing which seems like it might really be something. (Usually it has been copied and revised, and recopied again, across three, four, five notebooks.) At that point, I type it up and begin workshopping and editing in earnest. If you squint, you can see a folder of typed drafts-in-progress atop three boxes, each of which is stuffed with older drafts, some finished and published, but most abandoned along the way.


In the Saddle

Contributors CASSANDRA CLEGHORN’s Four Weathercocks was published in 2016 by Marick Press. Her poems and reviews have appeared in journals including The Paris Review, Colorado Review, Field, and OmniVerse. She has taught at Williams College for many years, lives in southwestern Vermont, regularly reviews for Publishers Weekly, and serves as poetry editor of Tupelo Press. Cleghorn tells us that her winning poem, “You Ask What I Was Like Back Then,” came out of collaborating in the time of COVID: “This poem is an artifact of COVID19 isolation. Early in the spring of 2020, a Facebook acquaintance posted a link to the correspondence of two Italian women—one in Naples, and the other in the countryside of Puglia—a beautiful watercolor record of life under quarantine and a friendship maintained at a distance. I suggested we do something similar, though we knew nothing about one another except that she lived in Chicago and I lived in rural Vermont. Every week between March and June, we PDF’d a new journal entry to one another, recording our daily experience of the pandemic in word and image, but also prompting one another to dig into our pasts. My memory work often took me to Santa Barbara, California, where I grew up and where many of my new poems are set. The ‘you’ in the title is Carla, a friend for life whom I've yet to meet.” To learn more about Cleghorn’s writing process, see this issue’s FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH, pages 34-37. S. M. ELLIS holds an MFA from New York University. Previous work has appeared in Paper Nautilus, Straylight Literary Magazine, Illuminations, Salamander, Columbia Journal, The Iowa Review, and others.

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About the genesis of “My Father As Graven Image,” Ellis tells us, “I do not have a father. This is a poem about my uncle. He was in a motorcycle accident when I was young. The poem is about that relationship. It is difficult to talk about, let alone write about. I wrote this in Boston.”

JULIA KOLCHINSKY DASBACH (www.juliakolchinskydasbach.com) is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner of the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State UP, 2019) and finalist for the Jewish Book Award; Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize; and 40 WEEKS, forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2023. Her recent poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is completing her PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Dasbach writes that her poem, “Week 14: Lemon,” is the most raw and challenging project she has ever attempted: “The poem is a part of my forthcoming book, 40 WEEKS. I wrote a poem for each week of pregnancy with my second child, playing with the fruits and vegetables a growing baby’s size is frequently compared to. At times, I would take inspiration from the fruits themselves, as is the case with ‘Lemon,’ which expands to moon and light and so much beyond fruit and body while remaining grounded in the body and the present moment. With each week’s poem, my aim was to highlight the problematic aspects of such simple comparison and break societal taboos about pregnancy and the experience of motherhood. I wanted to harness the immediacy of pregnancy and also potentiality reach backward and forward through time, intergenerationally.” JESSICA DIONNE is a PhD student at Georgia State University, and she received her MFA in Poetry from North Carolina State University. She won a 2020 International Merit Award from the Atlanta Review, and she was a finalist in Arts and Letters’s 2020 Poetry Prize and a finalist in Narrative’s 2019 30 Below contest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Raleigh Review, Lucky Jefferson, Narrative, Stoneboat, SWWIM, Rust + Moth, Banshee (IE), Mascara Literary Review (AU), and JMWW.



About her poem, “Swamp Mama,” Dionne writes, “This poem is part of a series concerned with infertility and issues of the body, domesticity, the divine, motherhood, and the beloved—all through a lens of longing. This poem is thinking about the concept of ‘making,’ and how that making is connected with the magic of conjuring and the abundance of the southern landscape.”

DANTE DI STEFANO is the author of ILL ANGELS (Etruscan Press, 2019) and Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). Along with María Isabel Álvarez, he co-edited the anthology Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America (NYQ Books, 2018). He is the poetry editor for DIALOGIST, and he lives in Upstate New York. Di Stefano’s poem, “Eating Lucky Charms Straight Out of the Box in the Middle of the Night, I Suddenly Want to Be a Lorca Poem,” is centered around Di Stefano’s love for Frederico García Lorca: “This poem attempts to convey the wild love I feel for his work and life, situating that love within the coordinates of a mundane autobiographical detail (i.e., eating Lucky Charms). The poem says it better than my prose, of course: what a funny life we live as writers—how the taste of sugar lighting the tongue in a dark kitchen might unaccountably send us reeling into the heart of the duende, how we live our lives amidst the crassest kinds of consumerism and the highest reaches of art, how a midnight snack might spin us out into an urge to reconstitute the self in cante jondo, how reading or remembering a poem is a kind of being, too. More simply, this is a love note to my wife; we spent our honeymoon in Granada retracing the footsteps of the great Andalusian poet.”

ADAM J. GELLINGS is a poet and instructor from Columbus, Ohio. He received his MFA from Ashland University and his PhD from the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he was the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Marion Clayton Link Endowment. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Best New Poets 2017, The Saint Ann’s Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He currently teaches writing at Columbus College of Art & Design. You can follow his work on Twitter: @adamgellings.

Iron Horse Literary Review


KATHRYN HAEMMERLE holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon and received an MFA Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2018. She was named a finalist for Yemassee Journal’s 2020 Poetry Chapbook Contest and a semi-finalist for the Tupelo Quarterly 2019 Open Poetry Prize and Nimrod International Journal of Prose & Poetry’s 2019 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Common, Radar Poetry, Hobart, Blackbird, Tupelo Quarterly, Lake Effect, Nimrod International Journal of Prose & Poetry, and elsewhere. See more of her work at www.kathrynhaemmerle.com. Haemmerle tells us how her poem, “March Propositions,” arrived at a gesture toward hope after ten years: “This poem was a failed poem of mine that I started ten years ago, chose to put aside for a while, returned to, then put aside once again. It began in response to a long winter with many false springs in the month of March (I had recently moved from a warm climate to one with very cold winters), but the poem struggled to move beyond the physical climate. When I returned to the poem for the second time, I kept only a couple of lines and reshaped it into a structure loosely based around philosophical propositions. Doing so allowed the mental impact of winter to emerge—seasonal depression, religious doubt, the pervasive emptiness I didn’t have the term for, the wait for the falsely promised ‘beginning’ in spring, the little rituals and tricks that become not quite hope but attempts at hope.” SUSIE MESERVE’s debut poetry collection, Little Prayers, won a Blue Light Award from Blue Light Press and was published in 2018. Her work has recently appeared n Salamander and the San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two children. Meserve tells us that her poem, “Heat Wave,” began by watching her son play in a wading pool: “On a very hot day, I watched my young son playing in this ridiculously over-the-top wading pool we’d inherited from a friend. His little body floating in the water made me think of the way a baby lies cradled in amniotic fluid, and then the other parallels came to me: it was swelteringly hot, like it was the week he was born, and I remembered a moment at the beach when I was



so desperate to cool off and get off my aching feet that I waded out into the bay in my clothes. The last few days of a pregnancy can be miserable, and I think that's where the last two lines come from: this sense of wanting to end everything—or be taken far, far away.”

KATHRYN NUERNBERGER is an essayist and poet who writes about the history of science and ideas, renegade women, plant medicines, and witches. Her latest book, The Witch of Eye (Sarabande, 2021), is about witches and witch trials. She is also the author of the poetry collections Rue (BOA Editions, 2020), The End of Pink (BOA Editions, 2016), and Rag & Bone (Elixir Press, 2011), as well as a collection of lyric essays, Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (Ohio State UP, 2017). Her awards include the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets, an NEA fellowship, and notable essays in the Best American series. She teaches poetry and nonfiction for the MFA program at University of Minnesota. To learn more about Nuernberger’s writing process, see this issue’s IN THE SADDLE column, pages 38-41. AYESHA SHIBLI is a Muslim-American poet based in the DMV by way of Long Island. She completed her BA in Writing Seminars and English at Johns Hopkins University and received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Maryland. Her work has previously won the 2018 Academy of American Poets University Prize, and appears or is forthcoming in the minnesota review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Birmingham Poetry Review. Shibli says that the writing of her poem, “My Father Teaches Me How to Open a Pomegranate,” began in 2017: “The first draft of this poem was part of my undergraduate thesis work back in 2017. The manuscript, entitled Pomegranate Seeds, is concerned with womanhood and the body, young girls in fairy tales, and the violence of growing up. I wrote this poem not only as a metaphor for the intricate nature and strength of the female body, but also, and perhaps most importantly, as a conversation between father and daughter. There are some lessons that can only be learned by doing, and here I considered the balance of a hands-on approach laced with apprehension.”

Iron Horse Literary Review


SARAH DICKENSON SNYDER has written poetry since she knew there was a form with conscious line breaks. She has three poetry collections, The Human Contract (Kelsay Books, 2017), Notes from a Nomad (Finishing Line Press, 2017), and With a Polaroid Camera (Main Street Rag, 2019). Recently, poems have appeared in Rattle, The Sewanee Review, and RHINO. She has been a 30/30 poet for Tupelo Press, a nominee for Best of the Net in 2017, and the Poetry Prize Winner of Art on the Trails 2020. Learn more at sarahdickensonsnyder.com. About her poem, “Ginger Roots,” Snyder writes, “[It] began in a class with Ellen Bass. From there, it weaved and moved into different iterations, some including my daughter, my sisters, but in the end, it focused on the power of darkness and the magic that happens in it.” LESLIE WILLIAMS is the author of Even the Dark, winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition (Southern Illinois UP, 2019), and Success of the Seed Plants, winner of the Bellday Prize (Bellday Books, 2010). Her poems have appeared in POETRY, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Image, America, and many other magazines. She can be found online at lesliewilliams.org. Williams says that “Connective Tissue,” like many of her poems, began with various events that were clinging to her: “The poem acted like an eddy sucking everything into it, as James Merrill said somewhere. Several events were circling me at the time. I met a woman who volunteers to play the harp in the lobby at the hospital. A friend was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma, but she wasn’t really telling anyone. I was doing a lot of yoga, and the pose ‘rag doll’ captured the helplessness I felt. And I’d been pondering Pascal’s statement that Man is a reed, but he is a thinking reed since I first encountered it as a teenager. It was an idea I loved, but it was also the first time I remember bristling at the way our language expected the word man to stand for everyone. I was impressed with my friend’s strength; she’s a reed that might bend but not break.”



Jasmine V. Bailey (former managing editor) won the 2020 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize, hosted by Ruminate, for her essay “Destiny of Cumin.” She received $1,500, and her essay will be published in Issue 54. Brianna Van Dyke judged. Bruce Bond (5.1) won the 2020 Juniper Prize in Poetry for his collection Patmos. He received $1,000, and University of Masschusetts Press will publish his book.


the Tracks

Stephanie Dickinson (2.2) won the 2020 Library of Poetry Award for Blue Swan, Black Swan: The Trakl Diaries. The award is given annually, and Dickinson received $1,000. Her collection will be published by Bitter Oleander Press.

Carolyn Oliver (21.1) won the 18th annual Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize for “Reading Szymborksa Under a Harvest Moon.” She received $500, and the poem was published in the summer 2020 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review. Addtionally, Amy Knox Brown (12.5), Jill Christman (15.3), and Toni Jensen (14.6) received 2020 fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in Creative Writing. They each received $25,000.

Iron Horse Literary Review


Iron Horse Literary Review would like to thank its supporters, without whose generous help we could not publish Iron Horse successfully. In particular, we would like to thank our benefactors and equestrian donors. If you would like to join our network of friends, please contact us at ihlr.mail@gmail.com for information on the various levels of support. Benefactors ($300) Wendell Aycock Lon and Carol Baugh Beverly and George Cox Sam Dragga Madonne Miner in memory of Charles Patterson Gordon Weaver Equestrian ($3,000 and above) TTU English Department, Chair Brian Still TTU College of Arts & Sciences, Dean Michael San Francisco TTU Graduate School, Dean Mark Sheridan TTU Provost’s Office, Provost Michael Galyean TTU President’s Office, President Lawrence Schovanec

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