Since 1996 Volume XXI

Nicole Sealey

Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole Sealey is the author of Ordinary Beast and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, winner of the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her other honors include an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from The American Poetry Review, a Daniel Varoujan Award and the Poetry International Prize, as well as fellowships from CantoMundo, Cave Canem, MacDowell Colony and the Poetry Project. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere. Nicole holds an MLA in Africana Studies from the University of South Florida and an MFA in creative writing from New York University. She is the executive director at Cave Canem Foundation, Inc. www.nicolesealey.com

Imagine Sisyphus Happy

Give me tonight to be inconsolable,
so the death drive does not declare


itself, so the moonlight does not convince
sunrise. I was born before sunrise—


when morning masquerades as night,
the temperature of blood, quivering 


like a mouth in mourning. How do we
author our gentle birth, the height


we were—were we gods rolling stars across 
a sundog sky, the same as scarabs?

We fit somewhere between god 
and mineral, angel and animal,  

believing a thing as sacred as the sun rises
            and falls like an ordinary beaast

Deer sniff lifeless fawns before leaving, 
elephants encircle the skulls and tusks 

of their dead—none wanting to leave 
the bones behind, none knowing 

their leave will lessen the loss. But birds 
pluck their own feathers, dogs 

lick themselves to wound. Allow me this 
luxury. Give me tonight to cut 

and salt the open. Give me a shovel
to uproot the mandrake and listen


for its scream. Give me a face that toils
so closely with stone, it is itself


stone. I promise to enter the flesh again.
I promise to circle to ascend. 

I promise to be happy tomorrow.

Medical History

I’ve been pregnant. I’ve had sex with a man
who’s had sex with men. I can’t sleep.
My mother has, my mother’s mother had, 
asthma. My father had a stroke. My father’s 
mother has high blood pressure. 
Both grandfathers died from diabetes. 
I drink. I don’t smoke. Xanax for flying. 
Propranolol for anxiety. My eyes are bad. 
I’m spooked by wind. Cousin Lilly died
from an aneurysm. Aunt Hilda, a heart attack. 
Uncle Ken, wise as he was, was hit 
by a car as if to disprove whatever theory 
toward which I write. And, I understand, 
the stars in the sky are already dead. 

Virginia is for Lovers

At LaToya’s Pride picnic, 
Leonard tells me he and his longtime 
love, Pete, broke up. 
He says Pete gave him the house 
in Virginia. “Great,” I say,
“that’s the least his ass could do.”
I daydream my friend and me
into his new house, sit us in the kitchen
of his three-bedroom, two-bath 
brick colonial outside Hungry Mother Park,
where, legend has it, the Shawnee raided
settlements with the wherewithal 
of wild children catching pigeons. 
A woman and her androgynous child
escaped, wandering the wilderness, 
stuffing their mouths with the bark
of chokecherry root. 
Such was the circumstance 
under which the woman collapsed. 
The child, who could say nothing 
except hungry mother, led help 
to the mountain where the woman lay,
swelling as wood swells in humid air.
Leonard’s mouth is moving.
Two boys hit a shuttlecock back and forth
across an invisible net. 
A toddler struggles to pull her wagon
from a sandbox. “No,” Leonard says, 
“it’s not a place where you live. 
I got the H In V. H I—”
Before my friend could finish, 
and as if he’d been newly ordained,  
I took his hands and kissed them.

It’s Not Fitness, It’s a Lifestyle
I’m waiting for a white woman
in this overpriced Equinox
to mistake me for someone other
than a paying member. I can see it now—
as I leave the steam room
(naked but for my wedding ring?)
she’ll ask whether I’ve finished
cleaning it. Every time
I’m at an airport I see a bird
flying around inside, so fast I can’t
make out its wings. I ask myself
what is it doing here? I’ve come
to answer: what is any of us?

Object Permanence
[For John]

We wake as if surprised the other is still there, 
each petting the sheet to be sure. 

How have we managed our way 
to this bed—beholden to heat like dawn

indebted to light. Though we’re not so self-
important as to think everything 

has led to this, everything has led to this.
There’s a name for the animal

love makes of us—named, I think, 
like rain, for the sound it makes. 

You are the animal after whom other animals
are named. Until there’s none left to laugh,

days will start with the same startle 
and end with caterpillars gorged on milkweed 

O, how we entertain the angels 
with our brief animation. O, 

how I’ll miss you when we’re dead. 

All poems 
© Copyright, Nicole Sealey
All Rights Reserved.

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Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan