IHLR NaPoMo Issue 2024

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Associate Editors:



Poetry Editor


Managing Editors






Cover Photo: AKO Photography

Copyright © 2024 Iron Horse Literary Review. All rights reserved.

Iron Horse Literary Review is a national journal of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It is published six times a year (three print issues and three electronic issues) at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, 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 our website: www.ironhorsereview.com.

The opinions expressed in the journal are to be attributed to the writers, not to the editors nor to Texas Tech University.

National Poetry Month
Because / SEAN CHO A.
Thesis Proof #11 / SEAN CHO A.
Mother-Dictionary, Son-Thesaurus / LINDSEY PRIEST 18 Visitation / AMY THATCHER

To my brother who left an “I love you, when can we talk?” message one day, then jumped from a bridge the next / PAMELA WAX

I Imagine My Father Sitting on the Deck I Built for Him Just Moments Before He Has the Heart Attack / TARA WESTMOR WINNER MISCELLANY

21 23 Shadow Birds / MELODY WILSON 27 28 Having Lost Your Daughter / CLARE BANKS 33 My Mother on Her Knees / CLARE BANKS I Will Carry Her Home / SHELLY CATO 34 50 From the Horse’s Mouth
56 In the Saddle 60 Around the Tracks 61 Contributors

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, Interim Chair William Wenthe

TTU College of Arts & Sciences, Dean Tosha Dupra

TTU Graduate School, Dean Mark Sheridan

TTU Provost’s Office, Provost Ronald L. Hendrick

TTU President’s Office, President Lawrence Schovanec

elcome to Iron Horse Literary Review’s 2024 celebration of National Poetry Month, or NaPoMo. Surprising intersections and juxtapositions and parallels connect and cut across this issue—as always happens with any issue, regardless of theme, but is especially apparent here. Again and again, you’ll discover long titles, herons, the Edenic genesis of language, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, siblings, and children lost. It is perhaps the tightest NaPoMo issue we’ve ever produced, and we’re so pleased to offer these ten finalists and the winning poem—Shelly Cato’s “I Will Carry Her Home”—in one beautiful package, free for anyone to read.

And, this year, there are so many other ways to celebrate NaPoMo. Through Poets.org, you can sign up for the Poem-a-Day email, curated this April by Cyrus Cassells. This service drops a poem into your email account every morning, or you can click the link and listen to the poet read their poem aloud. Which is not only a terrific Audible-like podcast for individual listening, but is, in fact, a great tool for college, high school, and middle school classrooms. As a nonfiction writer and professor, I wish someone would do something similar for the essay. Poets.org also offers a free 2024 NaPoMo poster, which encourages young students to read poetry. This series of annual posters is a great thing to curate if you’re a poet or a lover of poetry looking for art to hang in your living room or study.

On social media, curate a poetry playlist—whether you share links to poems people can read, listen to, or watch (try MovingPoems.com). Or read your favorite poem on your story or live reels. Be sure to use the hash-

1 Foreword

tag #NationalPoetryMonth, and if you share the poem on April 18, National Poem In Your Pocket Day, add #PocketPoem. And tag us! We’ll reshare: @ihlr on Twitter (never X) and @lunchwithironhorse on Instagram. Of course, you can always watch a movie about a famous poet or poem: Jane Campion’s Bright Start (John Keats), Pablo Larraín’s Neruda (Pablo Neruda), Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion (Emily Dickinson), Agnieszka Holand’s Total Eclipse (Arthur Rimbaud), Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, or Roger Corman’s The Raven.

Or consider it a challenge: write a poem a day for any of the other national days in April: National Ferret Day or National PB&J Day, April 2; National Find a Rainbow Day or National Tweed Day, April 3; National Burrito Day, first Thursday in April; National Read a Road Map Day, April 5; etc. You can find more national days here: https://www.nationaldaycalendar.com/april/april-days.

We love that Tulane University’s library system is celebrating NaPoMo by offering students and faculty five downloadable e-books: Gulf: Poems by Cody Smith, The Tradition by Jericho Brown, Wonderful Wasteland and Other Natural Disasters: Poems by Elidio La Torre Lagares, From Turtle Island to Gaza by David A. Groulx, and Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic (edited by Alice Quinn). We wish every university library would offer this service for NaPoMo—and again with novels for NaNoWriMo.

Of course, we hope you’ll find inspiration in the eleven poems gathered here, as well as from our look at Joshua Burton’s writing studio in IN THE SADDLE. Our winning poet, Shelly Cato, offers insight about refrains and parentheticals in poetry in FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH.

We have two submission periods fast approaching this summer: we begin taking submissions for our annual ekphrastic issue, the 2024 PhotoFinish, on July 15 and for next year’s NaPoMo issue on August 15. We do not

IHLR NaPoMo 2024

publicly announce the visual prompt for the PhotoFinish until May 1, but we happily give a peek below, for our readers of the NaPoMo issue. Send us your best flash poems (fifteen lines or less) written in response to the photo below. We accept flash stories and essays (500 words or less), too.

We hope you have a productive poetry-writing and -reading month!

3 Foreword


5:15 again and I fumble to turn off the crescendoing symphony. It’s easier to wake up when there’s sunlight. Hot shower to boil out the last drips of melatonin. Unless the basement boiler ran out of oil again. Breathe. I grimace at my reflection, squeeze the unrelenting

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spare tire. Exercise before breakfast. Laces. Stretch. Twenty minutes on the stationary bike. Nevermind the elevator down and up.

It’s reassuring, this daybreak déjà vu of groping into a groutfit picked out the night before. Oatmeal, teaspoon of honey and a cinnamon swirl. Mug of steaming Bustelo, pop a B12. Fueled, I join my car to the chorus of progress and profit, and I crank the volume on my jam to drown out my hoarse throat’s backtrack of expletives the other drivers special request. Otherwise my commute spoils me. Heading north, I twiddle my fingers at drivers rubbernecking south

5 Finalist Eric Odynocki

to the City. Ease on the brake. ASMR plink of turning signal. Sometimes I think how I’ll spend five months of my life just driving to and from work. That death by sedentariness is a 21st-century truth. I refuse to be that statistic, ignore this tugging feeling like the seatbelt gnawing at my neck, that this is all for someone else. No. I stayed up my teenage nights to keep up my GPA for an adulthood filled up with my favorite things. My favorite part is the on-ramp. Before 684, the treeline looms over my route. But I make a right. Crest a hill. And the sunrise billows before me. For a moment I forget I merge into the frenetic tendrils of asphalt beaded with chrome and rubber. This drive for success. A word from Latin for going up from under. Ascending. Beating the odds. The other day I read that our culture is plagued with purpose. Elsewhere, it is enough to wake up.

IHLR NaPoMo 2024 6


i forgot where we were. where were we. the iris the fields or our connection to the landscape? our only connection to the landscape is surrounded by your iris. your iris is the lake. once i woke up in ohio. which is kinda absurd. we are sorry to our former and future selves. we are sorry for the lack of 401(k) and for not knowing what to say when the clouds began to gra

) ay.

here is an umbrella and the story where just as every started to come together all the men began speakin languages. it would be a delight: to instantaneously a new language. once i took italian and translated th comedy. and slowly week by week was overtaken b

ything ng different speak he divine by grief.

12 IHLR NaPoMo 2024

Thesis Proof #11

the difference between conspiracy and an argument is prove-a-bility. like. i pound my fist on the table and say yes it is indeed a word! but the dictionary says otherwise. but/also things change. we know this. when teaching citation a (.) becomes a (:) becomes (;) so retrospectively i’m becoming more wrong each day. logical digression: or. incorrect. there is no mortality here. although there is immoral writing. which means there is moral writing. which means i am wrong again. it used to be harmless. that weird uncle who puts the phrases moon landing & movie set in the same sentence. the difference between protesters & rioters depends on the url. on the number on the tv. nothing new here. but. people still go to church week after week. language doesn’t matter. until. it does.

13 Finalist Sean Cho A.



And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.

—Genesis 2:20

We were walking through a park that must’ve missed a scheduled mow when you noticed the white firework dandelions become as they die.

Naturally, you picked one and stared along its length from the milky cut to the delicate fro that caught your eye. Clever weeds, I thought, spreading themselves on the whimsy of children.

As quick as you picked the thing you sneezed in the direction of your new treasure and seeing the balded wretch you had left you extended your head up for an appropriately loud cry, when you glimpsed the hundred 14

IHLR NaPoMo 2024
Finalist Lindsey Priest

little stars you’d set free hovering in a constellation of wonder round the universe of your delight and you laughed and, pointing up, said Momma, the little pretties, called each weed you met a new name: little pretties and those of us who saw you in that moment, could only smile, amen.

I’d been content to call them the name I’d been given. And you, like the Spirit, speak the light on in the million miles of unnoticed pretties littering the halls of my darkening mind. I’m the stem left after you thought you’d suffered a loss. You are the stars.

You ask me to tell you the names of everything you see. I thought that was my job, motherdictionary, but since you named the pretties I don't trust the words I know should be your first names.

16 IHLR NaPoMo 2024
Finalist Lindsey Priest


I knew God when I saw him— splendoring and undersexed, evangelical in the streetlight. Blood ran from his nose to his lips. The shrill ambulance, always one bad decision away. I felt a little dangerous. As if I’d been chosen, called on to witness remarkable events. I was innocent. Stupid. Believed every halftone of light was an angel gesturing, ready to take me, with the urgency of a medic, to the repose of heaven— God watching like a doll in one of the windows. 18

18 IHLR NaPoMo 2024
Finalist Amy Thatcher

To my bro an when messa t a br

other who left “I love you, n can we talk?” age one day, then jumped from ridge the next


Tell me, would you, about the inscrutable darkness and the glimmer of us that couldn’t lure you to the living. About how you could go headlong into the negative space that must have welcomed you in ways we did not. How you reconciled to that moment on a Saturday, predawn, stood on a railing above a river and said, Now.

How your yes outpaced your no on the way down, doubt spilling from your pockets like loose change, so much that you felt buoyant— even for that instant.

21 Finalist Pamela Wax


Shadow Birds

Standing in shallows, the heron impersonates shadow, a reflection, as if to say this is what I would look like

if I were here. We watch one another— me on the shore, her in the slough.

Our gray heads dip and freeze. I can’t walk away still caught

in her eye. One glance at my watch and her wings will lift her

like the parlor trick we begged my father to perform. He studies his hands

23 Finalist Melody Wilson

between lamp and wall, fingers first wild as little girl hair then thick feathers.

His knuckles become elbows of wings, flap across the lamp’s electric moon.

I gasp, sure the bird will break free from his wrists. When I look back to the water, she has.

24 IHLR NaPoMo 2024
I Imagine My Father Sitting on the I Built for Him Ju Moments B the Heart

Deck st Before He Has Attack


in the humid dark summer of honeysuckle with its heredities of invasive white and yellow blossoms and the overripe black raspberries hanging weighing down bushels of yellowing leaves the soft lung of your language pressed into an unusual sigh what doesn’t hurt you the grass and the dew just forming on a maple leaf’s sharp edge the large mass of a tree that was here before you were here the cracked whisper of a cricket’s warning—an oncoming and uncomfortable sun—your six children leaving footsteps in what might have become a garden fingertips of the tired red roses you let go wild now tracing petals on your skin this all this that you let grow in your heart a dark shape a vine constricting a light just cresting you felt it the living thing in your chest interrupting and you didn’t make your body it seemed unfair that you should die in it

27 Finalist Tara Westmor

Having Lost Your Daughter


You stepped past the damp bricks growing moss, your hanging flowers dropping petals and last night’s rain. The day’s heat rose through the raspberry canes that line your lawn; it bore down from the sun rising over the field to walk with you into the park’s locusts and sweet gums.

Then, a doe, the early light refracting in gold leaf around her, as if she were some holy animal, brought here from a medieval triptych. Her fawn, its stalk legs folded, you said, lay some feet behind her, each step she took stretched the distance.

28 IHLR NaPoMo 2024

He was small, sleeping in the uncut grass, he didn’t know he was alone. But she was sick, you thought. Dying, you guessed. And tired, she must’ve been so tired. What was there to do but leave him?

30 IHLR NaPoMo 2024
Finalist Clare Banks

My Mother on Her Knees


her face and hands in a bed of iris their leaves sharp fans her focus a blotting out of noise of light she pulls dry tubers their roots like something left too long on the sill something forgotten there is something she must remember keep hold of the flowers cut back the dying green split the tangled bodies seamed at their bulbous curves it is not late or too late

she is not in the street yelling that her daughter is dead she has not run from the house into the hum of the evening where the tree frogs trill she is in the dusk of her garden camellia rose mint in her nails like shovels she is on her knees on the flagstones the heady green in the light like gold

I Will Carry Her Home


the sun has settled down it’s more dark than not (I don’t know how to bring you to the real of it)

First I thought it was a sycamore angled floating rough downriver paperbark white peeled back to chartreuse

Winner Shelly Cato
IHLR NaPoMo 2024

then next I thought it was a sheaf of many-layered newsprint charred somehow buoyant russet ash curling friable moted

like something somehow woven and unwoven nightly

then seeing (more than anything I need you to see)

through moss fog that it was she a great heron feathers vein-blue gray-blonde some feathers

warped like matted wood curls on the cutter’s floor

and on the bluff turkey vultures everywhere and present roosting in the leafless water oak

Winner Shelly Cato

I think it’s late and yet I must (can you feel this compulsion?) I feel it in my body now I nose my paddleboard to crest the shield of her breast thinking somehow she will hold together and I will carry her home

Instead her body slides beneath the paddleboard with each oarstroke swish ten inches swish ten more her body rolling rolling under my board until she swings out like a time-lapsed unfurling peony opening (that beautiful) blooming and unblooming

like something somehow woven and unwoven nightly

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whole impermeable to water hook light knife but not drowning

I thought of that rimed albatross the old man and the sea

yet on the bluff turkey vultures everywhere and present roosting in the leafless water oak

But I wasn’t any predator we none of us are (but sometimes, I admit, I care more for my life than anyone’s)

I said to her I will carry you home

Winner Shelly Cato

I turned my board once more toward home white nose to Krishna-blue bass boats gunning the no-wake zone her breast and paddled s then lost her I lost her in the river black night river friend of mine and not

the heron listed foile then I heard her perfect b toll down the board once and thump into my tailfin I saw her pierced breast

42 IHLR NaPoMo 2024
e feathers I nosed low ed breast more 43
Winner Shelly Cato

Yes this I did I carried her home And then (I don’t know how to tell you the why of it)

I pressed my thumb into her yellow eye to seep its liquid out I held it to the sky and gazed through it on this color of yellow I stake my life

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don’t disinherit me oh god

I must retell the truth it’s this

I carried her for my own life It became my son’s life I dragged her dead body with the Velcro strap that hooks me to my board I dragged her in my wake darters nibbled on the pink cameo of her breast’s flesh this perfect thing I marred

45 Winner Shelly

I felt your body, heron felt in mine

I felt the day I birthed my son the gurney rocked side to side the drape was up my knees spread wide my husband whispered to the violence of my body as they pulled my son out

I don’t know that you understand I have your yellow eye

I wear it as each button on my coat I steep it in my tea (it’s turmeric) in every paste-glass earring amulet doll’s eye

yet on the bluff turkey vultures

I carry your eye in my pocket O heron the son I bore his eyes refracted yellow flecks in green-blue water is it you

Winner Shelly Cato

FROM THE Horse’s Mouth

a conversation about seeing, Eden, Instagram, refrains, and the meaning of “to carry,” with Shelly Cato

IHLR: Your beautiful prize-winning poem, “I Will Carry Her Home,” uses central images of a heron and the speaker’s time paddleboarding on a river at dusk to evoke nuanced ideas of place, memory, trauma, and humanity’s relationship with the natural world. Can you speak about how you view the complex intersections between poetry and place, and especially how your kinship with the Warrior River inflects your work?

CATO: I am leaning into place, always, hushing the voice of should and must and have to and listening for the repetitions of this place—dawn, morning, afternoon, dusk, dark. I am often sitting in a metal chair on the end of a dock on the Warrior River, waiting for words. Water has always been near me, but my curiosity about and fervor for a body of water— this particular river—this has come more lately in my life. And there’s a bit of fearlessness now that gives people who love me some pause. I know the river, and where we live on Mulberry Fork, and it knows me.

And yes, as to intersections, when I write about place or the memory of place, I am most often meaning the intertwining of creature with place, human with place, what and who has come before, what and who has gone. And yes, it is quite complex.

And insofar as I can tell by research, these lands are the lands of the Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw peoples. And this river, although never called such by locals, is technically the Black Warrior River. And Black Warrior was the name of a Creek chief.

50 IHLR NaPoMo 2024

IHLR: The beginning of your poem reveals the speaker in pursuit of an accurate view and description of the heron: “First / I thought it was a sycamore” and “next I thought / it was a sheaf / of many-layered newsprint.” Then she describes the sycamore and newsprint that aren’t actually there—and only afterward does she see “through moss fog / that it was she / a great heron.” The speaker’s interest in seeing and depicting her surroundings accurately is mirrored by her parenthetical concern for the reader’s immersion in that depiction: “(more than anything I need you to see)” and “(I don’t know how to bring you to the real of it)” and “(can you feel this compulsion?).” We enjoyed the way these gestures destabilize the authority of the speaker: of course, she is our window to this world, but we understand that she doesn’t—can’t—control it. How do you think about the accuracy of description, and particularly the description of nature, in your poetry?

CATO: A two-part answer: First, the bewilderment, the “destabilization,” is a part of the pull for me—seeking to see, and if seeing, seeking sense, and once arriving at sense (or not), returning to astonishment.

Second, as to the accuracy of description, particularly, the description of nature: At these occurrences on the river, it is as if I have never seen before, and I cannot see any other way. It’s like a reflection on the surface of the water, which is not really a surface, is it? Isn’t it a sort of construct for what we see and need to name? Because the surface and every creature or tree, plant or cloud, reflected there also isn’t really there. I can become hypnotized by the fragmented waves and shreds of color on the surface—at least, for a time. So, it is my unknowing, really, that you are hearing in the voice of the poem. And during the time of coming upon this beautiful heron, I was carrying the grave sorrow of a grown or nearly grown son—watching him slide deeper and deeper into what I call “the slow suicide” of drug addiction.

IHLR: We loved how your careful deployment of images works to create rich and strange effects in the reader. Some of our favorite experiences were the deep interconnection of the heron and the water, such that the speaker paddles over

51 From the Horse’s Mouth

her body rolling rolling under my board until she swings out like a time-lapsed unfurled peony opening

How did you come to conflate the body of the heron with the body of the river (and, simultaneously, the peony)?

CATO: Well, the peony came in rather unromantically as an Instagram post, and yet, for me, it had a mesmerizing effect similar to first seeing the heron. The peony was time-lapsed photography, and the photo (the multiple series of images) might have been of a pale lilac peony. The image seemed to be tinted sepia—a simulacrum, perhaps, of an old photo, the kind with children whose cheeks and lips are daubed rose. And the compulsion to watch the peony over and over felt similar (now, in retrospect) to the compulsion to carry the heron home. The peony was breathing, and the river is always breathing, not in our human way, but still it inhales and exhales—a great sighing, a great siphoning, a great swelling. And the heron floating and rippling. All of these rhythms.

And those repetitions of place I mentioned earlier—in the bodies and in the heat, rain, straight-line winds, glass-still water. The sun. Then rain again. And the heron’s body not breathing but more life-giving than anything else for me in that moment. Saving me, really.

There’s so much kinship in the images. Much of the history for this poem came during the spring of 2020, when my son was at his fourth rehab and I was at the river with a COVID refugee from NYC, a friend of my husband’s, with whom I had little contact. I’d been isolated for three weeks when the rehab called and said my son had tested positive for COVID and I must retrieve him that day. I remember the terror. But April came, and warmth to Alabama, and my son and I paddleboarded the river. He fished, and I cooked for him. He showed me where the otter’s home was, and I named that inlet Otter Cay. It was around that time I found a map and learned the next inlet was named Mosquito Creek. And there was a chilly, frightening inlet a bit farther downriver, filled with partially crumbling cinderblock walls, and I named it Cinderblock Cove. And he named things I did not know:

IHLR NaPoMo 2024

night crawlers, alligator gars, cooters. It was a bit of Eden, you know, in the sense of the naming—and the respite.

IHLR: It’s difficult to consider imagery in “I Will Carry Her Home” without considering how the poem’s repetitions and refrains alter and complicate that imagery. How did you see repetition functioning in the poem?

CATO: I must point to Alice Oswald here. During the spring of 2021, I was in a monthly group of amazing poets—Cheryl Whitehead, Matt Rader, Brett Harrington, Quinn Lewis, Marian Urquilla. We read a book a month and met for workshop with Sarah Rose Nordgren. I was so taken by Oswald’s book Memorial, an “excavation of the Iliad,” that I recorded almost all of it on my phone—a sort of personal Audible—and listened to it over and over, as well as her lecture “Interview with Water.” She begins Memorial: “The first to die was PROTESILAUS / A focused man who hurried to darkness” (lines 1–2). Oswald’s vision became my own (as a great poem should make happen), and her use of extended similes as refrains created an echo chamber of the natural world haunted by unnatural death:

Like a wind murmur

Begins a rumor of waves

One long note getting louder

The water breathes a deep sigh

Like a land ripple

When the west wind runs through a field

Wishing and searching

Nothing to be found

The corn stalks shake their green heads (13–21)

But it is the second iteration in Memorial, particularly aurally, that leaves me trembling still:

Horse’s Mouth

Like a wind murmur

Begins a rumor of waves

One long note getting louder

The water breathes a deep sigh

Like a land ripple

When the west wind runs through a field

Wishing and searching

Nothing to be found

The corn stalks shake their green heads (22–30)

Stop now and read her refrain aloud twice—if you have time. Please. You’ll hear it!

IHLR: To us, your poem’s crux appears at the lucid, shocking moment in which the speaker takes and holds the heron’s eye. What inspired you to consider the eye as an emblem and source of support for the speaker?

CATO: From the moment I looked down into it, her yellow eye at dusk is truly what compelled me. Our kinship—all of it—came flooding in, including my unfounded surety that she was a mother and as helpless to save her offspring or herself as I was and am in this life. As any of us are. I had no reason to hope—well, spiritually yes, but not circumstantially.

I did not really press out her yellow eye, but after getting her back to my cabin well after dark, I realized there was nothing I could do with or for her. Just stare and become mesmerized again. It was growing cold, and I tied her to the dock for a bit, and then in another rush of passion, cut her free. Nonetheless, that night, I was haunted by a vision of darters picking out her yellow eyes. And this probably did happen—as nature does.

IHLR: We admire how your use of white space and right-justified refrains modulates our movement through the poem. How did you arrive at the current form of “I Will Carry Her Home”? How do you see form and white space interacting with the length of the poem?

IHLR NaPoMo 2024


CATO: The poem came some months after the heron, after turning that experience over and over. I remember we were reading The Book of Joy in a Sewanee School of Letters (SSOL) pandemic book club. SSOL generously sent the book to former students: Jamie Quatro, April Alvarez, Trish Woolwine, JJ Langston, and me. And I told them the story for no reason at all. Jamie said I had to write it!

The poem came as I sat in the chair I described earlier. And although I have spent much effort at revising this poem, not much of it would ever allow itself to be cut. I’ve even tried to write about writing it before—and literally could not. I deleted that attempt.

The main thing that happened over time was that the refrains were italicized and moved right. Pushing them to the right, but not so far away as the page would allow, made the refrains feel more floating and haunting—the way I hear each one, like a proclamation, like a soft prophecy.

IHLR: Your poem navigates wanting to have or “carry” an animal or some aspect of the natural world along with us, while still acknowledging its ultimate strangeness. Could you talk a bit about this idea of the natural world’s twinned intimacy and mystery? What does it mean for a person to “carry” it?

CATO: It’s always with a bit of respect that we approach nature—as you say, its “twinned intimacy and mystery.” We approach it also with the knowledge that the privilege of our seeing, this intimacy, is probably quite often a cause for alarm in our fellow creatures. Our observations become a tensioned puzzlement, a mystery. To “carry” part of nature with us means to notice and memorialize it in that way. To notice, and then listen to hear why. I am waiting for the river to tell me many things. This writing and other writings are and have been the river’s gifts to me. I don’t know what I’ll be able to give back.

Column Editor 55 From the Horse’s Mouth

In the Saddle


Joshua Burton’s debut, Grace Engine (University of Wisconsin Press, 2023), is one of my favorite poetry collections of recent years. Grace and engine, spirit and machine, divine benevolence and manmade apparatus, the warmth of prayer and the cold injustice of systematic oppression—Burton’s gut-wrenching poems interrogate these half-contradictory intersections as the poet grapples with mental illness, grief, faith, forgiveness, and a history of violence against Black people in the United States. The traumas that Burton probes are both personal and historical—though, of course, the two are never entirely distinct. Some of my favorite poems are those like “Giving Jim Grace” (addressed to Jim McIlherron, a Black man who was lynched in Tennessee in 1918), in which Burton “reach[es] for stories” in the dead “for catharsis.” If lyric poetry takes on a kind of religiosity here, then it is also a way of reclaiming the self—of, as Burton writes in another poem, “a sharp mirror warring itself / into a witness.” When it was my turn to pick a writer for our NaPoMo IN THE SADDLE column, I knew I wanted to invite Burton, not only because I think more people should read Grace Engine, but also because I was eager to learn more about how (and where) one of my favorite poets writes.

56 IHLR NaPoMo 2024

Desk. My cheap Walmart desk isn’t sturdy, but it does the job. It has traveled with me to two apartments. I completed Grace Engine at this desk and began my next manuscript here as well. I’ve read countless rejections here, and I read the email that Grace Engine was accepted for publication, too. The desk probably isn’t sturdy because it has helped me carry all of the joys and disappointments that come with being a poet.

57 In the Saddle 1 2 4 3 5 1

Chair. I purchased my velvet green office chair this year—a huge update from my previous chair that was missing a wheel. I don’t write poems as much as I’d like to. I can’t schedule a time to write each day or each week. I have to be overtaken by, as a friend would put it, “the spirit of poetry.” To be overtaken, there are a series of factors that must take place. The most important one: to be in a flow state mentally. But another important factor is my level of comfortability. This velvet chair does wonders.

Mouse pad. My themed mouse pad features The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh on it. I was a young, depressed writer, so Vincent van Gogh was an artist I’d think about because of his struggle with mental health. But as of late, stars have been appearing in my work in a significant way, so it’s nice to channel the piece for my new manuscript.

Desk lamp. While in Syracuse for my MFA, the poet and musician Ross Farrar and I were walking and saw a yard sale. There, I either bought the lamp for myself, or he bought it for me. I can’t recall which, but I’ve been using the lamp in my room ever since. Syracuse is the place where I began Grace Engine and made some great connections with people, so it’s nice to always have a piece of that place so close to where I write.

Laptop. My handwriting is awful and borderline unreadable, so I have to compose all of my poems on my laptop. I learned about the thrills of drowning your laptop in stickers to match your current aesthetic from my daughter. So, the stickers I’m currently rocking on my laptop are Bjork telling us “You Shouldn’t Let Poets Lie to You,” ET in a dress, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly album cover, Elliott Smith XO and Figure 8 art pieces, a picture of Fred Hampton, and art for the movies The Last Dragon and Grave of the Fireflies.

Books. When I was in high school, I would carry a Bible with me in my backpack. There was a comforting nature about it for me. Since I’m not a Christian anymore, the Bible isn’t much use to me. But I still find something sacred in books. Now I see poetry as my religion, or something close to it. I usually carry

58 IHLR NaPoMo 2024
2 3 4 5 6

a few books in my backpack to work. At my workspace at home, I also keep books that are dear to me for one reason or another. Right now, I have books by my friends and peers: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Diannely Antigua, Rohan Chhetri, Ross Farrar, K. Iver, Emily Lee, Eugenia Leigh, Joy Priest, Meg Shevenock, Anthony Sutton, and Lisbeth White. It’s comforting to have them close.

Wall lights. Every once in a while, I shut off everything but these dim lights. There’s something unique about the way they barely cast light but still illuminate the room just enough to see where I’m going.

Wall art. At the moment, right in front of me, I have some art I bought on my last visit to NYC and two collages I made at a friend’s birthday party. Collage-making resembles the way I write poems, by pulling from a list of random notes and seeing what fits together. In collage-making, I try to make sense of random magazine pieces. Both practices show how nothing is truly connected, yet everything has the potential to share space and be one.

59 In the Saddle 7 8 6 8 7

Nicky Beer (12.2) received a 2023 Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing.

George Bilgere (22.2) won the 2022 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice Award, receiving $5,000.

Dante Di Stefano (17.6) won the 2023 Mississippi Review Prize for his poem

Around the Tracks

“Dear John Ashbery (Please Clarify).” Adam Clay judged. Di Stefano received $1,000 and publication in Mississippi Review.

Ryler Dustin (17.6) won the 2023 Agnes Lynch

Starrett Poetry Prize for his debut collection Trailer Park Psalms. Jeffrey McDaniel judged. Dustin received $5,000, and his book was published by University of Pittsburgh Press in September 2023.

Travis Mossotti (24.1) has recently published two collections of poetry: Racecar Jesus (Eyewear Publishing, October 2023) and Apocryphal Genesis (Saturnalia, March 2024). Both collections contain his poem “Air Show,” which was first published in IHLR.

Zackary Medlin (26.1) won the 2023 Marystina Santiestevan First Book Prize for his poetry collection Beneath All Water. He received $1,500, publication by Conduit Books & Ephemera, and thirty author copies. Bob Hicok judged.

Naomi Mulvihill (14.2) won the 14th Annual Page Davidson Clayton Prize for Emerging Poets from Michigan Quarterly Review. Gillian White judged, and Mulvihill received $500.

IHLR NaPoMo 2024


Sean Cho A. is Visiting Professor of Instruction at a regional university in the Midwest. “Thesis Proof #11” is part of a section-long sequence, he writes, “for a manuscript I’ve been writing all during my PhD studies. ‘Because’ is the earnest exhale from said sequence.”

Clare Banks is Associate Editor for Smartish Pace. A recipient of two Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Awards, she has published poems in Poet Lore, Boulevard, and Mississippi Review, among others. She was nominated for the Best New Poets 2023 anthology by Mississippi Review and was a 2023 finalist in Radar Poetry’s Coniston Prize. She has an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland and lives in Baltimore.

Banks writes that “My Mother on Her Knees” and “Having Lost Your Daughter” are meditations on loss: “They come out of my experience in the days and weeks after my sister’s death. In particular, I wanted to consider my mother’s perspective. In one poem, the speaker attempts to communicate reason; in the other, she wants to voice the chaos of the loss. I hope that the shapes of the poems and their imagery resonate with readers’ experiences.”

Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, Texas, and received his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. He is a 2019 Tin House Winter Workshop Scholar, 2019 Juniper Summer Writing Institute scholarship winner, 2019 Center for African American Poetry and Poetics fellowship finalist, 2018 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize honorable mention, 2020 Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing finalist, and a 2023 Elizabeth George Foundation grant recipient. His work


can be found in Mississippi Review, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, Conduit, TriQuarterly Review, Black Warrior Review, Grist, and Indiana Review. His chapbook, Fracture Anthology, is currently out with Ethel, and his debut poetry collection, Grace Engine, is out with the University of Wisconsin Press.

To learn about Burton’s writing process, read this issue’s IN THE SADDLE, pp. 56–59.

Shelly Cato’s writing has appeared in Rattle, Southeast Review, Poet Lore, Washington Square Review, Harpur Palate, New Ohio Review, and TriQuarterly Review. She lived in the Mississippi Delta for twenty-five years and now writes on Mulberry Fork in Walker County, Alabama. When she is on the river on her paddleboard, everything cools and stills—even her mind. And she can see things she would never have seen before. She is passionate about long poems and refrains, and tries to blur lines between truth and imagination. She believes genre is fluid—and people are. Instagram: @shellyscato.

About her prizewinning poem “I Will Carry Her Home,” Cato writes, “In July of 2020, I was paddleboarding late, too late, and I came upon a beautiful, unmarred, unmarked, perfectly perfect great blue heron. Its yellow eye stared up at me, as if watching what would happen next, what human action next. I felt an inexplicable compulsion to carry her home, get her home, and all with no foresight into what I would do next. No why. No how. I felt in my body the desperation I had already felt for eight years over my youngest son, who is an addicted person. In my head, I call addiction ‘the slow suicide.’ The hopelessness of what I could not do—save my child—met the in-my-face bewildered twilight understanding of what I could. I could carry her home.”

To learn more about Cato’s winning poem, read this issue’s FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH, pp. 50–55.

Eric Odynocki, a prizewinning poet and Best Small Fictions nominee, is a first-generation American writer with Mexican, Ukrainian, and Ashkenazi roots. His work has appeared in Consequence, The Brooklyn Review, PANK, and elsewhere. When not teaching Spanish or Italian, Odynocki is an MFA student at Stony Brook–Southampton.

NaPoMo 2024

“For much of my writing life,” Odynocki shares, “I have dwelt on family history and heritage. A few years ago, though, I decided to start exploring mundane aspects of everyday life: the humor and torture of it, and how much of it is governed by forces outside of our control (culture, social mores, history, etc.). ‘Folderol’ is a souvenir of such observational meanderings.”

Lindsey Priest is a poet based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her work has appeared recently in Ekstasis, Flying Island Journal, and elsewhere. She spends much of her time teaching her sons, but when she isn’t, she can be found gardening, reading, or writing with her husband, Dave.

Priest shares that she wrote “Mother-Dictionary, Son-Thesaurus” while she was reading the book of Genesis and sleeping very little: “At the time, I was truly enjoying being a mom. Many people warned me about the difficulty of parenting, but there was a loud silence about its joys. I wanted to write, honestly, about how redemptive and enlivening parenting was for me. I wrote this to say thank you to my sons and to try to show how powerful it can be to call an old thing by a new name.”

Amy Thatcher is a native of Philadelphia, where she works as a public librarian. Her poems have been published in Guesthouse, Bear Review, RHINO, Rust + Moth, SWWIM, Crab Creek Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review.

On her poem “Visitation,” Thatcher writes, “I come to poetry out of a Catholic, urban, working-class girlhood plagued by chronic illness. For a long time, I wanted to be a nun. The grandiosity and solemnity in Catholic rituals and language contrasted with my gritty daily life and gave me solace in those years when I suffered a sickly childhood. I believe people who are drawn to a religious vocation share with poets a similar interior haunting of the soul. My poem connects these themes.”

Pamela Wax is the author of Walking the Labyrinth (Main Street Rag, 2022) and Starter Mothers (Finishing Line Press, 2023). She has received a Best of the Net nomination and awards from Crosswinds, Paterson Literary Review, Poets’ Billow,


Oberon, and the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation. Her poems have been published in literary journals including Barrow Street, Tupelo Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review, Chautauqua, The MacGuffin, Nimrod, Solstice, Mudfish, Connecticut River Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Slippery Elm, among others. An ordained rabbi, Wax offers spirituality and poetry workshops online and around the country. She lives in the Northern Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Wax writes that her poem “To my brother who left an ‘I love you, when can we talk?’ message one day, then jumped from a bridge the next” came from a prompt in a class: “After reading Matthew Olzmann’s poem ‘Letter to the Person Who Carved His Initials into the Oldest Living Longleaf Pine in North America,’ students were prompted to write a poem that (1) had an equally long title, (2) addressed someone directly who had done something the narrator couldn’t understand, and (3) remained curious and nonjudgmental. I hope that I achieved those objectives in this poem.”

Tara Westmor is an anthropologist poet raised in Dayton, Ohio. She received her MFA in poetry from New Mexico State University and is currently a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of California–Riverside. She has work published and forthcoming in Water~Stone Review, Muzzle, The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, Hunger Mountain, Prairie Schooner, Arts & Letters, The Sink Review, and elsewhere.

Westmor’s poem “I Imagine My Father Sitting on the Deck I Built for Him Just Moments Before He Has the Heart Attack” arose, she writes, “at a scary time. My dad had several reoccurring heart attacks during October of this last year. Not many poems came out of that scary moment. This one did. Unmercifully. In it, the multiple yards of the homes my family has moved through appear in one moment: the wilted red roses I planted that he ran over with his riding mower, the honeysuckle he weed-whacked that arose year after year, the volunteer black raspberry bushes he joyously found, the twin maples of a childhood home with the propeller seeds he hated to rake, and the deck I built for him just two summers ago. Because I was scared, because I wanted him safe, this poem sought to harm him in all the places we felt strong together. I hate it.”

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Melody Wilson is a Pushcart-nominated poet whose poems appear in Pangyrus, Verse Daily, The Fiddlehead, Crab Creek Review, San Pedro River Review, and elsewhere. She is pursuing her MFA at Pacific University. Her chapbook, Spineless: Memoir in Invertebrates, came out in 2023. Find more of her work at melodywilson.com.

Wilson writes that “Shadow Birds” is the product of a practice she adopted while working with Kwame Dawes, her advisor at Pacific University: “Each morning during those months, I looked at a piece of art and responded to it. I cannot remember what piece of art I saw the morning this poem began, but I know it included a heron and its reflection. When the weather is nice, I walk in a park that is home to several herons, so I stand and watch them often. And, of course, most beautiful ideas eventually turn to my father. So while I’m not sure I ever saw my father perform this parlor trick, if he had, I would have expected the bird to fly.”

65 Contributors

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