National Poetry Month 2023: Day 23

Tonight I’m featuring another lovely poem by Elina Petrova. I especially admire the seamless way it inhabits both present and past, familiar and unfamiliar spaces, meditation and memory. My own practice of mindfulness is a constant battle to focus, and this poem highlights that tension really well.

Quỳnh Says

“Breathe in. Push out. Close your eyes
and focus on sensations — scan your body.”

First time I squint, I see a younger version
of myself — all in black, with a ponytail.
“Breathe in. Let it go.”

Second time, I see petals. I’m in a boat laden
with hydrangeas and mangoes — a Vietnamese
with features of a lady breathing near me
on her green yoga mat. It doesn’t matter — her
or me. Everyone at their best is a mere breath,
a zipped pain, their first-love key keeper.
Say thanks to the heart that kept working
while you thought you couldn’t endure
anymore. Say thanks to the liver that kept
filtering toxins from frustration drinks.

Third time, I close my eyes, I open them
in the floating darkness with countless
emerald dots that remind me of a colored
X-ray image from the TESS telescope.
How do they register stellar music?
There is no sound in the cosmos. Leave
your iPad and talk to me while on the earth —
I’m a good listener. Attention is love.
Petals, petals … Thin soil to blossom.
A thin layer of oxygen to breathe —
less than four miles to stop the climb.
And 100,000 miles of brain vessels
to wire each thought with that oxygen.

Lying with twenty-seven Vietnamese
on the laminate floor above the
Hong Kong Food Market, I watch —
in a dark room — the full moon behind
a silhouette of Quỳnh leading Qigong
meditation in English. I hear old Xuân
pushing shopping carts in the corridor
to mop the white porcelain floor.
I watch the moonlit faces of my neighbors
napping on their mats, the same way
I glance at people saying grace,
the same way that, back in the USSR,
I used to glance at children
during nap time in kindergarten —
with some good thought about them,
as if I was not one of them.


Until 2007 Elina Petrova lived in Ukraine and worked in engineering management. She published two poetry books in English (Aching Miracle, 2015, and Desert Candles, 2019) and one in her native Russian language. Elina’s poems have appeared in Notre Dame Review, Texas Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature, Porter House Review, California Quarterly; anthologies by presses of Sul Ross State University, Lamar University and elsewhere. You can find her online at

National Poetry Month 2023: Day 22

I promise all the poems this coming week won’t be about grief, but sometimes we need those moments of such profound feeling that we break open our despair into lyric. One of my favorite quotes about grief was actually said by Bono: “There is no end to grief. That’s how we know there is no end to love.”

This poem by my friend and colleague Yolanda Movsessian certainly exemplifies that idea.

even roses blossom in the vale
-for Larry Lines

You died . . . for 6 minutes . . . forever stood still . . . with ice splinters in my eyes

my fire had no power to release you
from the beast eating away your insides

or your writhing pain

or your wasting

what is this collection of cells
with vast indigo spaces in between
rotating . . . multiplying . . . pulsing . . . dividing
generating bones organs emotions thoughts dreams


where does this body end and the outer rim begin

when the flurry of ice dancing around us tire and settle
what will they spell

next time Jupiter and Saturn rearrange themselves
and ghost trees shed their barks
You . . . will not . . . be here

I don’t know what the lesson is

when You turn into stardust and ash

I don’t know how to turn disintegration . . . into poetry

all I know

is the Silence

your absence . . . will dictate


the emptiness


Yolanda Movsessian is an Armenian born in Iran who currently lives in Houston, TX. She spends her free time writing, drawing, playing with her camera and plotting ways to steal her daughter’s beautiful velveteen cat. Her short stories have received recognition as the winner of Mississippi Review‘s 2020 prize for best fiction, finalist for Kallisto Gaia Press’ Chester B Himes Memorial Short Fiction Prize, and top 3 in the first round of NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2021. Yolanda’s writing, art, and photography have been featured in various publications such as Mississippi Review, Synkroniciti, Defunkt, and Equinox Magazines. Collaborating with various artists is one of her passions. Yolanda has collaborated with filmmaker Mitchell Collins on several cine-poems. Their last two projects “waxing gibbous 97% illuminated” won Judges’ first prize at the ReelPoetry Festival 2022, and “even roses blossom in the vale” won the Audience Award at ReelPoetry Festival 2023. The latter has also been accepted into Aurora Picture Show’s Extremely Shorts Festival coming up in May 2023.

National Poetry Month 2023: Day 21

I love featuring poetry by KB Brookins here on the blog. They’re an amazing poet I had the good fortune to share a stage with at Malvern Books in Austin several years ago. Tonight’s poem, “Good Grief,” encompasses so much more than the winter storm that incapacitated Texas a couple of years ago. 

Good Grief
after Texas Winter Storm Uri

I’ll admit that I’ve never thought about frostbite. 

Trauma of the blood, a thing to be avoided when heat goes out for an entire state.

I don’t know where to place this grief, this sweltering state freezing, politicians breezing over to a country that doesn’t have tissue choked out by its winter yet. 

The sky can only do what it does. 

The American government can only do what systems driven by green paper, violence, & ache can do. 

The trees bloom over dead bodies, missing. 

The sound of hands rubbing, engines purring, hopes that gas lights or chafing or the rapture won’t come first may quiver in my blood forever. 

I am Black but maybe I am doomed. 

Memory flashes like a computer screen; I see the zoom link expand. Colleagues process whatever failure number of a thousand this was this year and I can only remember white. 

Six inches deep, sunken into my boots all over. 

The timeline of friends stranded, impending doom of electricity shutting off, water pressure slipping into nothing every hour, pipes bursting on top of all that white. 

I haven’t recovered from seeing things that too closely resemble holes in a graveyard. 

I haven’t forgotten the project is due in 2 weeks. 

My therapist says take it easy as if capitalism is listening. As if the body will ever forget what it is given.

I am Black which is history, personified. 

I used to listen to “Pilot Jones fondly. With all this frostbite on my fingers, I’m not sure if I can type. 

I cannot finish another sentence on unity. 

What is unified about ERCOT letting us freeze? Knowing how to fix the problem & not doing it; how does that form a Kumbaya circle?

If I made art about every pain I’ve felt unjustly, I would be swimming in accolades for great American books. 

I would take back every word I’ve written if it ended this.

America is the worst group project. 

I’m writing a great American poem about suffering.

How much is going without food that isn’t canned for a week worth?

The absence of snow feels like betrayal. My memory mixes with American delusion. 

I can’t believe half the things that I’ve been through. 

Ice cold, baby, I told you; I’m ice cold. 

Who said it first, Frank Ocean or Christopher Columbus?

I’ve never been taught how to adequately mourn the nights spent bitching about a brisk wind; the night we almost got stranded trying to get to J before the cold swallowed them whole. 

I want to give everything I’ve been handed a good cry. Red skin & chapped lips deserve it. 

Good grief, what has Texas done to me. 

An article features a person walking past tents near I-35. 

I can’t cry about the body but I feel it.  

A highway splits a nation from its promise to be one

Everything feels blurry and the palm trees have died. 

Everything transported here withers away eventually. 

6 months later and I haven’t been able to shovel out my sadness. 

A news report said that it’s safe to go back to work. & I listen, because what else can you do in 6 inches of white. 

The snow melted and I still feel frostbitten. 

There are no heroes in a freeze-frame changing nothing. 

I pose begrudgingly. Say cheese & then write this. 

I’m not a survivor; just still breathing.

I remember grief, love’s grand finale.

What else do we have if not the memory of life? 

I cannot tell you how many lives I’ve lost to mourning, but I can tell you that the sky does what it does. 

Let’s go for a walk & touch the trees that survived like us. 

Let’s write a future more joyful & less inevitable in segments of leaves. 

Anything we dream will be better than this.

“Good Grief” was first published by You can order KB Brookins’ book Freedom House at this link, and this whole month the publisher is offering a 20% discount with the code READMORE if you buy it directly from them.


KB Brookins is a Black, queer, and trans writer, cultural worker, and artist from Texas. Their work is featured in, HuffPost, Poetry Magazine, Teen Vogue, RichesArt Gallery, American Poetry Review, Oxford American, Electric Literature, Okayplayer, and many other places. Their chapbook How To Identify Yourself with a Wound (Kallisto Gaia Press, 2022) won the Saguaro Poetry Prize and was named an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book in Literature. KB’s debut full-length poetry collection Freedom House (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2023) and their memoir Pretty (Alfred A. Knopf, 2024) are both forthcoming. 

Currently, KB is a National Endowment of the Arts fellow; MFA candidate at The University of Texas at Austin; Poet-in-Residence at Civil Rights Corps; and at work on their debut installation art project Freedom House: An Exhibition with Prizer Arts & Letters. They have earned fellowships from PEN America, Lambda Literary, and The Watering Hole among others. KB’s poem “Good Grief” won the Academy of American Poets 2022 Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize.

National Poetry Month 2023: Day 20

Apologies for not posting another poem last night. It was a very long day at work — it has in fact been a verrrrrry looooong week — so much so that I actually might have kinda fallen asleep after I got home, sitting up on the couch, reading through the day’s mail. No lie. So I’m going to post three poems this weekend to make up for it, starting tonight.

It’s no secret to anyone here (or in a lot of other places, frankly) that Houston is a marvelous city for poetry. We have a lot of things going for us — in no particular order:
* the landscape (yes, really!)
* the University of Houston (one of the best Creative Writing programs in the country for decades now)
* a world-class arts industry
* soooo many presses and well-regarded Creative Writing institutions
* a literary culture
* a thriving and multi-varied poetry reading scene
* tons of writers/authors, including poets
* a relatively inexpensive cost of living for one of the major cities in the U.S.

It is the place to be.

One of Houston’s well-loved poets is Sandi Stromberg, and I always enjoy featuring one of her thoughtful poems in this series.

Leaving Comfort, Texas on FM 473

Young, lithe, lovely, the doe races
down the farm-to-market road,
dodging my car, searching
for courage. The buck she runs with
carries a rack of antlers that mark him
seasons older. But age makes no difference
to them. With the elegant grace
of a ballet dancer, he leaps the six-foot,
barbed-wire fence and pauses in the field,
turning his head toward her as they begin
a parallel course. His eyes command,
“Jump. Jump. Now. Now.”
And I think of my own fears of leaping
as I pull to the side of the road.
The doe charges the barrier. Each time,
when her young legs refuse to leap, my blood
leaps for them, my breath held as she halts,
lowers her head in what seems a moment
of prayer, or perhaps the prayer is mine.


Sandi Stromberg is thrilled to announce that her poetry collection, Frogs Don’t Sing Red, is now in production with Kelsay Books. A devotee of ekphrastic poetry, she recently joined the editorial staff of The Ekphrastic Review. Her poetry has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for Best of the Net and has most recently appeared in Unknotting the Line: The Poetry in Prose, MockingHeart Review, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Sappho’s Torque, The Ekphrastic Review, Panoply, San Pedro River Review, and the anthology woodlands: nature-magic-mystery-myth. 


National Poetry Month 2023: Day 19

Tonight I’m sharing a prose-poem by Charlie Scott, another poet whose work I really enjoy. He’s also a colleague and a friend, so it makes me doubly happy to feature his poem here tonight.


We were walking a grass road. It was up near where the Black River jack-knifes. Crisp frost under foot, powder in the breath. The Governor and his entourage came from the east, out of the sorghum stalks, bleary-eyed in the weak winter sun. They stopped, stood around in waders like trout fishermen, shotguns instead of flyrods. “Hi there son.” The Governor cocked his hand, letting me take hold. Small, soft, pearl-white, delicate web of skin fissures, the life-lines. I was introduced as the foreigner in the group, the cousin from a neighbor state. He laughed, said Governor Wallace was not a bad man, in his opinion, not as bad as those Yankee reporters made him out to be. Course, he added, wait til those danged Yankees get hold of me. My day in the sun is most surely coming. He reached into a canvas pouch, pulled up a Mourning Dove, cranium in shreds, said Here’s the First Lady. Laughter smashed the sky at every apex. Even mine. Later we watched them being plucked and gutted for the spits. It started with the neck bent back, the head popped off, then a thumb inserted beneath the sternum and pressed through the ribcage until all the organs were purple lumps. A neat little mound in the washbasin. Even the First Lady. Speared right along with five other dark-meated bodies of her brethren. Her day in the sun. We’ve all got one coming.


Charlie Scott grew up in Fort Payne, Alabama, and studied drama, poetry, and creative writing at the University of Tennessee (Chattanooga), the University of Iowa, and the University of Houston. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and journals, including THE NEW REPUBLIC, THE ANTIOCH REVIEW, GULF COAST, ZOCALO PUBLIC SQUARE, THE POETRY MISCELLANY, WESTERN HUMANITIES REVIEW, INTELLECTUAL REFUGE, THE SEQUOYAH REVIEW, and ALABAMA POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY (Livingston Press). He lives in Houston and is a founding member of Infernal Bridegroom Productions and the Catastrophic Theatre, the city’s leading avant-garde theatre company for the past 30 years.

National Poetry Month 2023: Day 18

Fady Joudah is a poet whose work I love and whose work I love more with each successive book. This poem is from his collection Tethered to Stars. The title, “Dehiscence,” is a word that means the splitting or bursting open of a pod or a wound, and it strikes me to the core at this time in my life when I’m looking down the tunnel of empty-nesterhood, both so close and so far away, when my late-stage adolescents are navigating our parent-child relationships in concentric, overlapping orbits with my own such navigation. 


I didn’t say goodbye to the kids.
I knelt into my weeping until my heart broke me awake.
My forehead touched the floor.
If dream is memory, I was captured in a van,
incarcerated. I was and wasn’t a leader. The prison
was a camp in the wilderness. Its warden
was kind. Unkindness came from the rules,
which came from behind desert mountains.
I didn’t say goodbye to my kids.
We were watching a soccer game when it happened.
My boyhood team is in a city that was steeped
in shipping slaves, water under the bridge.
Two of the goal scorers were Muslim.
One Senegalese, the other a Turk
who would have us believe
he’s German. I forgot to say goodbye to the kids.
I sobbed, shook, woke up
with a dry face and a cloven heart,
uttered the Arabic word for it.
There’s a world out there, people
no less beautiful than you are.
I lay down for an hour,
less water with time, recalled
the moment I no longer let me father touch me:
no more his little boy, his tenderness
wouldn’t visit me the same again.
I felt his acceptance
unaware he’d begun waiting for mine.
It was after lunch, on the couch,
he stroked my hair, neck,
and forearm. It felt good then I felt older. Slowly,
I got up, walked away, his fingers trailing the air
of my wake, both of us wordless.
I didn’t say goodbye to my kids.
There’s a world out there, people
who don’t ask me what I’m about
to say. You’re not time.
I served with time and you’re not it.


photo credit Cybele Knowles

Fady Joudah has published five collections of poems: The Earth in the Attic; Alight; Textu; a book-long sequence of short poems whose meter is based on cellphone character count; Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance; and, most recently, Tethered to Stars. He has translated several collections of poetry from the Arabic and is the co-editor and co-founder of the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize. He was a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2007 and has received the Arab American Book Award, a PEN award, a Banipal/Times Literary Supplement prize from the UK, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is an Editor-at-Large for Milkweed Editions. He lives in Houston, with his wife and kids, where he practices internal medicine.

National Poetry Month 2023: Day 17

Here is another meditation from Mala of the Heart, this one from Tukaram of India. 

I spend a lot of time with teenagers, both the ones in my home and the ones in my classroom. I sometimes wish to share the guidance inherent in this poem with them, and maybe with everyone else, too, but then everyone would know the secret of teaching.


I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog
First he looked

then he started smiling, then he even

I kept at it: now he doesn’t even

I am wondering if this
might work on


Tukaram by Raja Ravi Varma

Tukaram (1608-1649) was born in a small village in western India to a family that sold produce. When he was thirteen, both his parents died, leaving him responsible for supporting his remaining family. Years later, after losing his first wife and children to famine, Tukaram retreated within and began to receive visits from Krishna. In the dream state he also received instructions to write divine poetry. His writings led to persecution by Brahmin priests and pundits. Tukaram became increasingly God absorbed, retreating to caves in the hills near his village and singing and dancing in the streets. He is said to have walked off alone one day, never to be seen again.

Biographical information respectfully quoted from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt.

National Poetry Month 2023: Day 16

As promised yesterday, a poem by me that I’m reminded of when I read Melissa’s.


The first time the understanding hit                                      
me that stars do not go away                                                 
in the daytime sky, that
their light is only blinded out
by the sun,

.                         the sky dissolved from
blue to yellow to white,
                        the glass sphere of my
world shattered into a million glittering

                                                    and later,
when all summer’s heat focused into
the smallest, searing punctures
above the dusk-darkened trees,

a glowing crescent was already moving
across the sky, hanging in the balance.


This poem has appeared in multiple anthologies, including A Fire to Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality (2022). It first appeared on the PoetrySuperHighway (2001).

National Poetry Month 2023: Day 15

Have you ever wondered about all those kids who were fascinated by astronomy but never encouraged to study it? Maybe they were girls. Maybe they were me. Maybe they found their backdoor to the heavens through mythology. Maybe they found their way to the stars later in life, on their own. Maybe they didn’t.

Here’s a poem by my friend Melissa. I love this one. It was published at SWWIM last month. Tomorrow I’ll post one of my poems that I’m reminded of when I read this one of hers.

If You Wondered About the Astronaut Who Never Went to Space
after Luisa Muradyan

This isn’t a motivational poem.
I’m just a woman doing dishes on a Tuesday.
I swirl the soap like Andromeda and count
the stars on the plate, imagining they’re suds.
The sky turns golden in the evening
and I remember nebulas I never saw,
their gleaming clouds a birthplace,
my daughter never born. Pencils
are rocket-shaped and I sort them
by color — yellow, fuchsia, turquoise,
Io, Europa, Ganymede. Wipe the rings
off the table. I can’t listen
to Holst and his Planets anymore,
the horns announcing Jupiter or Neptune.
Why does he leave one out, the only one I know well —
my meteor feet landing here and staying
since the day I was born?


Melissa McEver Huckabay is an MFA candidate in Poetry at Texas State University. Her work has appeared in Poetry South, Defunkt, Porter House Review, and elsewhere, and her short fiction has won the Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize from Spider Road Press. She lives in central Texas with her husband, son, and two affectionate cats.