A Mutual Aching to Leave

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from March, 2022.

I. cardiffian, n.

I start my day
watching river water
flow into the bay.

II. barley sugar, n.

A candy shop by the footbridge
switches its sign
from closed to open.
The display case filled with fudge,
hard candies my mom would like.
I consider buying them, before remembering
she’s gone.

III. beastie, n.

A dog walks by that looks like hers.
No matter how far I travel,
I cannot escape her memory.

IV. interrrobang, n.

I keep landing on
inconsequential memories,
not ones with thematic resonance
or impactful consequences.
Why do I keep thinking
about the time her tea kettle vibrated
on the element, her worried exclamation
asking me what I did, her laugh
afterward scolding herself
for jumping to conclusions?

V. toyetic, adj.

I used to run across the house
barefoot on Saturday mornings
to beat her to the tv
so I could watch cartoons.

She’d bring me breakfast,
which I’d absent-mindedly ignore
while children would command
small monsters to attack each other.

VI. kente, n.

I head back to my hotel;
wrap her urn in a cloth
made by her best friend,
gifted at her memorial back home;
place it in my backpack
to take her on a Dr. Who walking tour —
something she asked for
in the hospital.

VII. anythingarian, n.

As I walk
from landmark to landmark,
I debate
what to do with her ashes.
She told me
many different ideas, locations,
never settling.

VIII. chipmunk, n. and adj.

During a break for lunch,
a chipmunk approaches
my table outside the cafe,
looks me dead in the eye.
I see her. In those eyes. It’s like
she’s sending me a message.

IX. bandulu, n. and adj.

A voice emits from the eyes.
“Rialto Beach. Scatter me
on the rocky shore.”

I open the permit application when I get
back to my hotel, but the letters
blur, the boxes checker.

I book a flight back home.
I’ll just go the coast and
do the thing.

X. zombocalypse, n.

People walk around the airport
like packages on a conveyor belt.
I sit alone by my gate
in an uncomfortable pleather chair
when someone walks toward me,
sits in the seat right next to me.

It is my mother.

XI. cuddy wifter, n.

A notepad appears on her lap,
a pen in her left hand.
She draws quick lines
to make feathers
of a great blue heron
standing in a still pond.

“I want so much to be at peace.”
Her voice a tired drawl.

XII. amaxophobia, n.

The ceiling dings. An announcement
about my flight boarding soon.

“I can’t believe you flew my ashes across the planet. You know I hate flying.”

“You said you wanted to see the places in Dr. Who. And it was a walking tour.”

“You can’t believe everything a dying woman tells you.”

XIII. bassa-bassa, n.

The ceiling dings.
My boarding group is called.

She stands before I do, stomps
her feet, yells at me for putting her
through this.

People walk through her
as she screams.

XIV. belove, n.

She continues to guilt me
as I walk through the skybridge,
down the aisle to my seat
near the back of the plane.

I’m sure she will go on
for the whole ten hours
until we land in Seattle.

I will do whatever is needed
to give her peace. It’s what
a son should do.

XV. overshare, v.

My guilt is immense.
Guilt about making her travel;
guilt if I hadn't traveled in the first place.
There is no winning.
My guilt is immense.

XVI. utopiate, n.

My ZzzQuil kicks in somewhere
over the Atlantic; I fall
asleep. My feet bare,
toes dug into the edge of sand
pulled under by the surf.
Soft wind, quiet roar,
the sun behind
a pale canvas of clouds.

XVII. flaithulach, adj.

The last time
my mom saw the coast —
winter — a last escape
before chemo kept her
homebound.
She stood on driftwood logs,
arms wide, a deep breath of salty air.
Ocean spray or tears, I’m unsure.

XVIII. powfagged, adj.

An overhead announcement
of our imminent arrival in Seattle
wakes me. My eyes struggle open.
My mom's voice crescendos
as blurs transition into shapes.
She scolds me for falling asleep
while she was talking.

XIX. credentialism, n.

Baggage claim, she draws me in
a graduation robe, holding a diploma cover.
“I wish I could have seen it.”

“Me too.”

“You shouldn’t have taken that semester off.”

“I had to. You are more important than a piece of paper.”

“I was dying. That ‘piece of paper’ would have been your key to a successful future.”

XX. bestiary, n.

I wait for my Uber
in the parking garage.
Midmorning, the smell
of concrete and gasoline.
Five Subarus drive by
ten people and one ghost
waiting for their getaways.

A blue Prius pulls up.
The driver leans their purple hair
out of the window to announce my name.
They offer to help with my suitcase,
but I decline, placing it in the backseat,
until my mom mutters
under her breath. I put it in the trunk.

XXI. wych elm, n.

The driver makes small talk
while my mom complains
about how everything’s changed.

They stop the car just past the driveway
under the tree in our front yard
whose branches leave
a fluctuating pattern on the hood.

I transfer luggage from their car to mine
while my mom taps her foot,
stares at the mailboxes down the road.

XXII. free solo, n.

I take 512 to I-5 to 101 for a beat,
route 8 to 12, then back to 101,
but clockwise,
along the coast —
the sun sinks into the pacific.

She watches it all in silence.

XXIII. siu mei, n.

The full moon exposes
a near-empty parking lot.
The rocky shore tinted blue, except
for an orange spot at
the driftwood’s edge.
A family sits on logs around it,
laughing, singing.

XXIV. light fantastic, n.

My mom walks
over the logs to the wet sand
— no footprints —
and dances to the singing family.

XXV. imagineer, n.

I wake up to an overcast sky —
a matte canvas
behind my fogged windshield.
My mom's urn secure
in my backpack beneath
the passenger seat.

It’s time for her final walk
along the coast.

XXVI. archaeobotanist, n.

“Before you were born, your father drove us out here for a weekend in the summer. Rialto was pretty unknown back then — hardly any other people were walking the shore. You could really hear the waves crash and the rocks shuffle beneath your feet.

“We sat on a log right around here for a break halfway to Hole in the Wall, and I just stared at the horizon. The crashing waves surrounded me. Then your father, that sweet man, put this flower in my lap — looked like a paintbrush imbued with fire — so orange, so warm.

“I kept that flower in a notebook for years. I pressed it between the pages I wrote about the trip.

“I never wanted to forget.”

XXVII. dayside, n. and adj.

After a rest, Hole in the Wall in sight,
I take her urn out of my backpack.
It feels like
she would want to see it approach,
feel the sun
one last time.

XXVIII. saketini, n.

She squats over a tide pool
to poke a crab hiding
under an anemone.
It flinches, untouched.
She laughs. “Yes,” a sigh,
“That’s what I needed.”

XXIX. chip, v.

The rock juts out into the water.
Hole in the Wall, an arch at its end.
Tide’s coming in; I have to move fast.
I step around tide pool edges
barefoot, quickly, before they’re buried.

XXX. monophobia, n.

Under the arch, anemones sway
in tide pools sloshed by the incoming tide.
I hesitate. Her urn, opened, in my hands.
I know I need to. I know she needs it.
But what will happen? What will happen
when she is finally gone?

XXXI. jeune premier, n.

I scatter her ashes along the tide pools
on the north side of Hole in the Wall.
I look south to her standing on the other side.

She walks toward me through the arch,
dissolves in beads of light, which expand
to the Hole’s rim, fade to an overcast sky.

Odds & Evens

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from February, 2022.

I. bak kwa, n.

A new year, another long day
corralling teenagers into
an English class reading a book
half of them won’t open.

Stayed late again, grading essays,
finalizing semester grades.
The smell of pork in our foyer
from the dinner you’re cooking.

II. crafternoon, n.

You’ve been working late,
like every other January.
The sun sets before you’re home —
before you even start driving,
I’m sure. I created a sun
using some tissue paper from
the tub of wrapping stuff in the closet,
hang it over the gas fireplace, switched on,
so you could bask in its warmth.

III. haterade, n.

For 15 minutes, I ramble
about the grading system erroring out
all afternoon,
making me hand-enter each grade
for my 170 students.

You listen patiently
to complaints I’ve made
so many times before.

IV. orthogonally, adv.

After I place food on the table,
you take your usual seat
on the side of the table to my right —
the same seat you took
on our first date years ago,
saying that
the seat directly across from me
would be too far away.

V. shakebuckler, n.

I finally stop talking and
ask about your day.

You talk about the traffic downtown
on your way to city hall,
an argument you had with
Councilmember Meyers
about building better infrastructure
for busses and bikes around town.
“He said to me, no joke,
‘You bring this issue up
at every damn council meeting.
We simply don’t have the funds.’
And then, when I brought up
last year’s increase to police funding,
he slapped the folder out of my hand!”

VI. antiquating, n.

Meyers has been
— and always will be —
stuck in the past.
I’ve argued with him
— constantly —
throughout my entire tenure
on city council.

VII. oojamaflip, n.

There’s a term you always use
to describe Councilmember Meyers
that I can never remember
until you say it again.

The memory plays back,
but the audio muffles.
I see your smile, I hear our laughter,
but I can’t hear the word.

VIII. froideur, n.

I continue,
“It’s like he can’t even entertain the idea
he might be wrong or
should change course
ever. He just double-downs on
every. single. issue.
Even Louis Armstrong would call him
a moldy fig.”

You laugh.

IX. chicken finger, n.

Some students eat in my room at lunch —
the commons’s chaos too much for them.
They carry little cardboard bowls,
small cartons of chocolate milk.
We talk while we eat, and
they ask about you.
When I tell them about
your infrastructure bill
and Councilmember Meyers,
they are as heated as you were
at dinner last night.
They ask if they can do anything to help,
and I get an idea.

X. chopsy, adj.

Meyers gives a longwinded speech
at our next council meeting —
the first Monday of February.
His prattling is punctuated
by his wrinkled cheeks shaking
every time he sneers the word
“homeless.”

XI. bonze, n.

My class’s next unit
focuses on world religions,
so I invited a priest
from the Buddhist temple across town
to talk to my kids.

They talked about
community.

XII. japchae, n.

I take a long lunch
after the morning session —
long, because of the time it takes
to get to my favorite Korean restaurant across town, both
by foot (because of the distance)
or car (because of the traffic),
which are the only viable methods of travel
due to the inaction of city council.

XIII. rakeshame, n.

Kids tend to talk in simplified terms —
good people, bad people,
nothing in between.
So when my lunch group talks about
organizing a protest,
I have to remind them
(albeit begrudgingly)
that Councilmember Meyers is a person,
not a monster.

XIV. passado, n.

The restaurant is empty,
like most days,
despite signage outside detailing
their deals,
their signature dishes.
They greet me by name (and title).
I watch car after car
pass by.

XV. maple leaf, n.

The season’s last leaf whimpers
on a branch outside
my classroom window.

Change begins with
whispers on a breeze.

XVI. anecdata, n.

While my lunch cooks, the daughter
who runs the cash register tells me
her family’s history — how busy
they used to be, before
Main Street became a highway,
starving side-street restaurants
like theirs.

XVII. foul case, n. and adj.

It’s so hard to not step in
when your kids — so full
of passion, energy — 
stumble over their words,
to not take the reins.
They need to learn this,
do it themselves.
You're just there to support them.

XVIII. haggis-headed, adj.

My heart hurts as she gives me my lunch.
I want to help them, and every other
family-owned business in my district, but —
but.
I stumble over my words.
I can make promises all day;
promises don’t help people.
The laws need to change.

XIX. witches’ broom, adj.

Every day more kids show up
to prepare for a protest on the 14th.
They complain about
their families’s stores struggling,
not being able to get anywhere on their own.
They call Councilmember Meyers a fungus.

XX. whoo-ee, int.

I wake up Sunday morning
while you’re making breakfast,
my phone bursting with notifications.
The top one is a message from my assistant
with a link to an article in the Tribune
in which Councilmember Meyers
calls my plan “unamerican,”
“an attack on our way of life.”
A day before the vote and he pulls this.
I hate
how little I’m surprised.

XXI. enoughness, n.

The kids decided on a walkout
at the end of 4th period
leading to a march to City Hall.
They timed it so they would arrive
just as arguments
on the infrastructure bill
would begin. They created signs,
flooded Instagram and Snapchat,
built a crowd to overwhelm the sidewalk
they’d have to take there.

XXII. dwaal, n.

As the session gets closer,
I sift through the notecards
of my speech, eyeing
the window to the courtyard.
You said your students would arrive
as the session began. What if
they don’t show up? What if
I fumble my words? I miss the gavel
marking the start of the session;
Meyers takes the floor.

XXIII. gyaff, n.

One of my students in sixth period
tells me some parents joined the march
with wagons full of water bottles and
granola bars from Costco.
Only one-third of my students remained
at the end of the day.
I’m out of the parking lot before the buses.

XXIV. genericide, n.

Meyers moves through
the usual talking points
as a crowd forms outside.
They pour in, all these kids,
fill the balcony, signs waving 
about their independence.
His speech drowns in
their cacophony.

XXV. garderobe, n.

I have to park in the library parking lot
a block away from city hall, because
all the street parking is taken.
Some students shout to get my attention
from the middle of the crowd outside.
They clear a path for me to get inside
to the staircase to the spectator balcony.
I look over a mountain range of heads
just in time to see you stand up
to begin your speech.

XXVI. woofle, v.

“What my colleague fails to realize is that our community is growing. This growth is beyond the comprehension of our predecessors, who fervently believed that sprawling outward was their best option — an option supported by the modern real estate community and some members of city council.

“The sprawl is unsustainable, both in a physical and a communal sense. We have neighborhoods extending out of our city limits into unincorporated areas, but the children in those incorporated neighborhoods attend schools within our limits, within our care. Those children — like the children filling the balconies now — need to have access to our city’s assets: our parks, our schools, our stores. They must be able to traverse the land in our care effectively and safely- whether that be by foot, bike, or public transit.

“The dependence on cars has hurt our local businesses. Many small stores, the family businesses that built this city in the first place, are struggling, collapsing due to a declining customer base, primarily due to the siphoning of routes to Main Street and their shops being one block too far off that path.

“This bill, which I authored, allocates city funds to the creation and maintenance of resources to fix these problems: sidewalks on streets within school zones, bike lanes on major roads throughout the city, buses with more accessible and reliable routes.

“Certain members of this council have called this plan ‘unamerican.’ And, they are are correct if we only take an antiquated view of what America was. If we look at what America is, what America could be, this plan is as American as it gets.

“The vitriol with which some members of city council use to denigrate this bill is antithetical to the promises they’ve made to support their constituents and their community.

“We should be fighting for our community. We should be fighting for the independence of empowerment of our youth. We should be fighting for our local businesses. We need this bill to aid in these fights.

“Thank you.”

XXVII. antical, adj.

Thunderous applause
as you step away from the podium.
Your name
chanted by students in the balcony.
Your face
so full of pride, confidence, triumph.
You wave
when you find my face in the crowd.

My heart is so full.
I love you so much.
I am so proud of you.

XXVIII. jump-up, n.

The path of progress
has a steep incline,
many switchbacks,

but eventually, we will
reach the summit; the future —
the line where the sky and ridge meet.

There is no one else
I’d rather be on this journey with
than you.

A Traveler’s Hymn

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from January, 2022.

I. caravette, n.

He packed his bags and threw them back
behind the driver’s seat.
His destination was not known,
but still he headed east.

The engine revved, the shifter clicked,
and gravel stirred below.
His horn honked twice, he waved his arm,
and turned onto the road.

II. limbo, v.

The highway’s flat and straight until
the city’s skyline spouts
and overpasses form above
his head so full of doubt.

He ducked his head — no logic there —
when under every one.
And all the morning, he did chase
his guiding light: the sun.

III. hagiologist, n.

He prayed to Bona, Pisa’s saint,
as dusk became the night.
She watches over travelers, when
the sun is not so bright.

His eyes were heavy, night was young;
at some point he must stop.
He hoped that Bona'd keep him safe;
his head his arm did prop.

IV. chutzpasik, adj.

He drove nonstop throughout the night
to see the coast at dawn.
Not tired, he said, then shook his head
when lines began to yawn.

His car’s warm hood, while parked askew,
sent steam into the sky.
The sun did peek from o’er the sea;
its beauty made him cry.

V. hagfish, n.

When hunger fin'lly sank its teeth
into his quiv’ring ribs,
he walked across the parking lot,
and tore off trash can lids.

He dug around to find some food
inside curled fast food bags.
A bite or two to get him through
that morning’s final drag.

VI. belongingness, n.

He ate, returned to beach’s edge,
and inhaled salty air.
He combed his matted hair by wind
and at horizon stared.

He breathed in tandem with the sea —
the tidal ebb and flow.
He wanted this to last fore’er,
but knew he had to go.

VII. driving box, n.

The driver’s seat was worn and cold
and sighed when sat upon.
He had to find a job so that
he’d have new clothes to don.

His wrinkled shirt from Applebee’s
was fading, tearing more.
It’d lasted sev’ral summers, but
no longer could be worn.

VIII. up a daisy, int.

He drove until a hiring sign
did fin’lly ‘pear downtown,
then par’lleled parked across the street,
the visor’s mirror down.

A deep breath there, then slapped his face 
and stared into his eyes.
“You got this, Adam,” said he then,
and donned a clip-on tie.

IX. ghostbuster, n.

“For months now, we have heard these wails
from down below the shop.
We’re ‘fraid a spirit’ll one day rise,
the floor our blood will mop.

“Now, I’ve been told a spell exists,
or something science-y,
to rid us of this blight. Can you?
We’d pay you handsomely.”

X. inadvisably, adv.

No hesitation in his voice,
he took the job and said,
“I’ve never failed to catch a ghost
or zombie or undead.”

The shopkeep pointed to the door
that to the basement lead.
His confidence successf’lly hid
a plan to fake instead.

XI. gee-whizzery, n.

Atop the stairs, she left him there
to go down on his own.
Her glasses fogged with nervous sweat,
her legs were heavy stone.

He closed the door to hide his work
and falsify results.
So dark and cold, a thick’ning fog
reveals something occult.

XII. zom-com, n.

A paw broke through the concrete floor
with saggy, patchy flesh.
Long nose and tail, now on all fours,
teeth flared to eat afresh.

Then Adam reached behind his back
to find something to throw.
He didn’t know ’til out his hand,
it was a squeaky bone.

XIII. scrimmaging, adj.

Like lightning, pounced the dog on bone,
whose squeaks to heaven cried.
Its rubber shards like mist in fog;
its tone grew low and died.

The dog’s eye sockets, empty voids,
to Adam turned at once.
T’ward him a blur of fur did dash 
like he’s the prey it hunts.

XIV. bridle-wise, adj.

In grade school, Adam wrangled cows
at Uncle Nathan’s ranch.
When bored of ropes and tying knots,
he’d settle calves by hand.

His callused palms had softened since,
but muscle mem’ry stayed.
He took a stance to catch the dog
in order to get paid.

XV. ghoulishness, n.

He caught the dog with thund’rous boom,
the hind legs in his hands.
The sound of crackling tendons popped
like snapping rubber bands.

Adrenaline had blinded him,
so fearing for his life.
Removed both legs, then broke each bone
and grabbed his pocketknife.

XVI. summum malum, n.

To throat he took his knife to slice
to separate the brain
from body; with no signal then
on concrete floor it lain.

From out the neck, a thicker fog
as black as void did rise.
It filled the walls, and ‘cross the room,
as red as blood, were eyes.

XVII. sitooterie, n.

Engulfed in black, no gravity
nor distance clear, alert
he was to all. A canvas rip 
below him revealed dirt.

He staggered back onto his feet.
A willow tree gave shade
to chairs, a man in tailored suit
with red eyes said his name.

XVIII. cardioid, n. and adj.

“Now Adam, why would you do that?
My heart, you drive a stake.”
His voice consumed all other sound,
left silence in his wake.

“You’ve killed my dog, I can’t forgive
this slight upon my house.”
He raised his palm, a flash of light,
in flames, the willow doused.

XIX. garden bean, n.

While burning branches fell around
his twitchy, icy hands,
he balled his fists, assumed the stance
that he, for ages, planned.

He knew the man with eyes of blood
would find him once again.
His constant moving to escape
from every demon sent.

XX. fantysheeny, adj.

His pocketknife, passed down to him
on father’s bed of death,
vibrated harsh — a phantom pain,
perhaps his final breath.

Unsheathed then clicked the blade in place,
glowed yellow, orange by flame.
“I’ll exorcise you with this knife
that bares my father’s name.”

XXI. baje, adj. and n.

He lunged with blade in hand and dodged
a fist engulfed in fire.
He stabbed with a calypso beat
against the well-dressed pyre.

So many holes, his knife did leave,
in that maroon suit coat.
No blood did pour around its waist,
no fibers drenched or soaked.

XXII. witching, n.

Despair set in; defeat was near —
he’d die without a sound.
Blue waves of light flowed ‘crossed his knife;
he spotted dewy ground.

He plunged the blade into the spot,
then twisted it in place.
His arm aimed toward the eyes of blood
set in his father’s face.

XXIII. spirit-stirring, adj.

He felt a stream of water flow
from blade through arm to chest.
A geyser ‘rupted out his palm
at he so finely dressed.

He heard a scream, ethereal,
while launching his attack.
His father’s howling scream was there
to take his body back.

XXIV. meet-cute, n.

The flames extinguished, eyes of blood
evaporated then
in mist unholy darkened sky.
His father back again.

The sky, grown black, engulfed the tree
and everything around.
He woke up ‘gainst the shopkeep’s chair,
the basement door unbound.

XXV. ram-stam, adj., adv., and n.

He wiped his hair, and dust and ash 
cascaded to the floor.
“Your problem’s gone, I guarantee.
No ghosts will haunt your store.

“About your door, I’m sorry that
I broke it off its hinge,
but can your help me to my feet?
my lower back’s a twinge.”

XXVI. jai, int.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, so, so much!
The door is no big deal,
‘cause you have saved us all. Can I
repay you with a meal?”

She blushed, and o’er her ear she brushed
her soft magenta hair.
She did not meet his eyes, because
the floor is where she stared.

XXVII. toydom, n.

His heart still fast, like jumbled words,
the pictures in his head.
His vocal cords did vibrate, but
he knew not what he said.

She helped him off the floor and walked
across the shop. Sunset.
His body moved all on its own —
strung like a marionette.

XXVIII. swag, n.

A wave had crashed along the shore
as they had sauntered by.
His lungs were full of salty air;
he felt he’d never die.

His thoughts and limbs back in control;
his body fully his.
He fin’lly asked her ‘bout herself;
she said she goes by Liz.

XXIX. banteringly, adv.

The restaurant Liz chose was lit
by candlelight’s dim glow.
The sun, which set o’er harbor west,
was split by masts of boats.

They joked about the days they had
way after food was done.
The conversation was so nice,
he felt no want to run.

XXX. drivel, n.

The truest form of ease, of home,
is when you talk about
whatever happens to come up,
as free as geysers’s spouts.

So, Liz and Adam talked all night
until they kicked them out.
But then, they just walked ‘round the pier —
a moonlit walkabout.

XXXI. haggard, n.

Throughout the night, unceasingly,
his thoughts returned to home:
an aging farm, his father back
to tend it on his own.

He built a shell, their future pruned,
he tried to not look sad.
“As much as I would like to stay,
I need to help my dad."

Whatever Home Is

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2021.

I. flatshare, v.

Someone always there
to take care of the dishes.

Someone always there
to sign for packages.

Someone always there
to watch for red Corollas.

II. amirite, int.

They walk up behind me
as I watch the traffic
two floors below— green Forester.

A hand on my shoulder, they sit
on one of the throw pillows
we scattered on the floor in front of
the sliding glass door
to the porch— blue Civic.

They flick their wrist
toward the street, say,
“Next summer blockbuster!”
Met with silence — yellow Mustang.

III. infodemic, n.

It takes time to sift through it all —
the humans on the sidewalk,
the song of warblers by the window feeder,
the caws of crows by the garbage cans,
the whistle of their tea kettle boiling,
the glare of the sun in the glass door —
in order to focus on the cars in the street.

IV. amscray, v.

Early evening, a familiar shape
of headlights come round the corner.
They slow by our building, connected
to a body the shade of dried blood.
I spin so quick, the pillow slides out
from under me across the fake-wood floor,
and I have to scramble to my feet,
dash through the apartment to the bedroom
closet, slam the door shut.
A suitcase’s coarse fabric rubs my temple.

V. bardo, n.

No light.
Three thumps.
A click.
A squeaky hinge.
Muffled voices.
Silence.
A suitcase’s zipper in my fingers.
Footsteps in the hallways.
A gulp.

VI. fastballer, n.

Everything happens
in the blink of an eye.
The closet door opens,
my arm is pulled,
the suitcase is packed,
and I am planted
in the backseat of the car
staring out the window
as the curb flows by me
like the water of a river.

VII. phantastikon, n.

A man runs along the curb,
jumps over hydrants,
swings under streetlights,
grinds along benches.
He speeds up, slows down
in tandem with the car.

VIII. Fast-medium, adj. and n.

I’m put in a chair in front
of a large desk covered
in loose papers, sloppy folders.
A person in a wrinkled suit
sits behind it, says their name,
quickly asks a bunch of questions, 
checking boxes on a piece of paper
hidden by a beat-up clipboard.

IX. amatorio, n.

On the person’s desk is a small tray,
no bigger than a side dish, which has
a couple stress balls in it. After several
questions I don’t answer, they offer
a ball from the tray, which I accept,
because it feels like the right thing to do.
The tray is thick, uneven, and in the vacuum
left by the ball I grabbed is some writing
painted on messily. “Mom” and a heart is all
I see before the tray is back on the desk.
I squeeze the ball and breathe.

X. fairyism, n.

I am not in my body
for the rest of the interview.
I float through the ceiling fan’s blades,
watch my body’s mouth
answer her questions,
don’t hear anything.

XI. taffety, n. and adj.

When I land back in my body,
my eyes lock on the curtain
over her right shoulder.
Teal waves against
an overcast sky.

XII. scribacious, adj.

She hands me
a composition book with a cheap pen
to express my thoughts, saying
it can help
me process my feelings.
She escorts me to a small room
with a desk and a twin bed,
says we’ll talk tomorrow.

XIII. botheration, int. and n.

I don’t get how writing something is going to help me think about anything. It doesn’t even make sense. I’d just “process” the literal words on the page; there’d be nothing deeper than that. How is writing a detailed play-by-play of me walking to the grocery store going to help anyone do literally anything? It’s just stupid. Fucking pointless.

XIV. slow drag, n.

It was last Tuesday. We were out of milk and bread, so I had to walk to the Safeway on the other side of the apartment complex.

Taylor wanted to have Mac and cheese for dinner, but without milk, they couldn’t make it. I suggested just using water, but they scoffed at me.

The bread was my idea. I thought it would be good to get a fancy sourdough instead of our usual 12 grain loaf. It’s December; people get to splurge during the holidays.

I didn’t realize how icy it was. I saw it snow that morning, yeah, but I figured over the course of the day, it must have thawed out.

I was wrong.

I only made it around the corner of our building before I slipped. I landed hard on my hip. That’s why there’s a bruise there. 

Nothing else happened.

XV. ballyhack, n.

Wake up. Breakfast. Write. Group. Write. Lunch. Write. Solo. Dinner. Write. Bed.

XVI. lachrymabund, adj.

It happens suddenly,
middle of the
the second night.
A weight presses
on my chest —
I can’t breathe.
Every memory alive
full-throated screaming into
a flat pillow,
wet with tears.

XVII. fairwater, n.

Around three, I give up
on sleep, stare at the
constellations in the ceiling tiles.
Maybe there is a future
where my brain doesn’t eat itself,
where my ribs aren’t a windy cavern.
I slide the notebook off the nightstand,
scribble in the dark.

XVIII. autokinesis, n.

There’s a streetlight visible
through the metal mesh
of my room’s window.
It swings in a wind
that doesn’t affect the tree branches
or the pole that holds it.

XIX. popskull, n.

The first time was the morning after Taylor shared some moonshine they made in their apartment’s detached garage.

It was their first attempt. They were so proud of themself. So I tried it. You have to support your sibling, right?

My mouth and throat felt like a python had contracted around them. I took each punch as well as I could. I hadn't had liquor before, but people at my school talk about it all the time, so I figured it would grow on me. A rite of passage or whatever.

When I woke up the next morning, my head throbbed. It felt like Neil Peart was doing a drum solo on my brain.

The pain was unlike anything I’d felt before. Felt like it would never go away. I wanted to let it out. So, I dragged myself to the craft drawer and found the X-Acto knife. Took it to my thigh.

XX. medium coeli, n.

During every solo session,
the lady talks to me
about what I wrote
during the previous writing session
as if
I’m the protagonist of a tv show
she’s binging.
Like I fit into some archetype,
some box, and she already knows
everything about me.

XXI. sunstay, n.

There’s supposed to be
some epiphany
I have while locked in this room.
That’s what they tell me.
That’s what happens in movies.
Where the fuck is it then?

XXII. supervacaneous, adj.

I give up on correcting her
the fifth time she calls Taylor
my “brother.”
She must have selective hearing
or selective memory, at least —
whatever fits the narrative.
I only need to last
one more day.

XXIII. toyi-toyi, n.

“… and that’s why I believe it would not be in your best interest return to your brother’s apartment.”

“You can’t.” I stand up. “You can’t.”

“It simply isn’t a safe environment for you. Your writing indicates,” she flips open my notebook on her desk, “he served you alcohol, thus creating a situation in which you purposefully harmed yourself,” she flips to an earlier page, “and your bruises have dubious origins that you are not being honest about.”

“You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.”

XXIV. belsnickel, n.

Everything feels
slow motioned and fast forwarded:
my hands slam her desk,
two nurses grab my arms,
hallway doors like trees along the highway.

Last year, Christmas Eve,
Taylor spent hours
making dinner for the two of us.
Because that’s what you do
after your family exiles you.

XXV. jough, n.

Christmas night, two years ago.
After a day of small talk,
stories from decades past,
unsolicited advice from aunts and uncles,
I escaped to the patio
just outside the porch light’s range.
Taylor came by, placed
a warm mug in my cold hands.
We sat in silence under
cloudy sky, falling snow.

XXVI. gombey, n.

I put on a stoic face when they come
to pick me up with my suitcase.

I put on a grateful face when I arrive
at a foster home full of strangers.

I put on a welcoming face at dinner
while I tell stories about a made-up past.

XXVII. lime, n.

There are three other kids
around the dinner table.
They nod along with my lies,
introduce themselves, but
their names
don’t register in my brain.

XXVIII. ginny gall, n.

I hate it here. It doesn’t matter
how much food they give,
how much personal space is provided,
how much anime we watch.
It’s a strange house full of strangers.
I hate it here; it doesn't matter.

XXIX. hen-cackle, n.

Under the shroud
of pre-dawn twilight,
snow crunches
under my weight
with my suitcase.

XXX. sinigang, n.

I don’t recall
these streets,
these cars.
I try to remember
Taylor’s soup —
how it made me
feel warm, like home
even on the coldest nights —
and use that to guide me.

XXXI. willie-waught, n.

The place I sit, a bus stop bench,
is co’ered in ice and snow.
I guess I’ll sleep till morning comes.
I wish I had my phone. 
The cold consumes my fingertips
and gulps my soggy toes.
While snow upon my hat does pile,
my eyes begin to close.

I hear my name, a frosty crunch,
familiar to my ear.
I struggle up, but cannot see;
the streetlight's reach too short.
But once again, my name is said.
I rub my eyes and blink.
Then from the dark is Taylor’s scarf
unraveling from their neck.

They wrap their scarf
around me, hold my face
in their trembling hands.
Sitting beside me, they ask
what happened, dig out a flask
from their jacket.
After a swig, they offer it to me,
then take me back home.

After the Colonizers Came

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from October, 2021.

I. decolonize, v.

The tendrils of empire
strangle nutrients from the soil.
Echoes in the water, the air,
your mind itself.
It must be undone.

II. septemfluous, adj.

Before they came,
many rivers flowed
through our land.
We prospered — drank,
ate well, danced.

III. nidgetty, adj.

When we tell them
how things used to be,
how we miss those days,

they tell us
it was a long time ago,
it should be forgiven.

IV. anaphor, n.

Every few years,
they create a new term for us,
convoluting our history,
obscuring our identity.

V. niveous, adj.

They came in fine silks,
pale as sea foam
on the edge of the tide.
They brought
books with illegible script,
weapons beyond comprehension.

VI. queuemanship, n.

Whenever we bring up
their unfulfilled promises,
we are told to wait our turn.
It is clear that the only option is
to reclaim our space
ourselves.

VII. panoplied, adj.

Rest assured in
who you are,
who your people are,
what you are capable of
together.

VIII. mocktail, n.

They think
acknowledging what was stolen
is enough
to make us equal.

IX. cockamamie, n. and adj.

They put on costumes
with our sacred symbols
for their own amusement.

X. foolosophy, n.

Conquest. Claim. Consume. Conquest. Claim. Consume. Conquest. Claim. Consume. Conquest. Claim. Consume. Conquest. Claim. Consume. Conquest. Claim. Consume. Conquest. Claim. Consume. Conquest. Claim. Consume.

XI. plutomania, n.

ever enough.
It is
never enough
for them.

You can seea flame crawl
across the landscape
in their wake.

XII. mariachi, n. and adj.

We sing our songs in earnest.
They sing our songs in jest.

XIII. cakeage, n.

They bring their own crops
to our land,
because, apparently,
our food isn’t good enough.
They insist
we learn to grow it
for them.

XIV. redivivus, adj.

It all seems over,like a waning glacier at summer’s end.
It feels like
we will wither to nothing,
our blood run dry.
But these lungs still hold air,
these hands still make fists.
We will take back
what is ours.

XV. zeeping, adj.

A battlecry
from graves centuries-old
rings in our ears.

XVI. fairy bells, n.

Even flowers
hang their heads
in mourning.

XVII. almond butter, n.

Their cities are built
with concrete
made from crushed bones
dug up
from mass graves of
our ancestors.

XVIII. hákarl, n.

They dig up our dead
to adorn their museums.
They always speak of us
in past tense.

XIX. beardom, n.

We come from the bears
who protect the mountain.
Their strength flows in our veins.

XX. dingolay, v.

Limbs fling wildly
with the licks of the fire
center stage.
Our history
told with our bodies
to the rhythm of our drums.

XXI. otototoi, int. (and n.)

Our history is full of people
who did much to bring us
the world we once had.
We carry our loss
in our chests, nestled
between our lungs and heart.

XXII. fastenment, n.

Knowing what was,
what will be,
makes the safety
of our children
our top priority.

XXIII. festie, n.

On the autumnal equinox,
we used to celebrate that year’s harvest
with other groups from around the area.
We even invited them after their arrival.
We shared our crops, lodging, warmth.
They invited more of their people
year after year,
put gates around the festival grounds,
then charged us to gain admittance.

XXIV. fast foodery, n.

Convenience, they argue,
is the heart of their market.

Affordable, they say,
for our low-income community.

XXV. almuce, n.

We ride in horseback, furs
handed down from our ancestors
under our cloaks.
They will hear
the thunder of our hooves
roll across the hills.
They will hear
the roar of our grief and anger
roll across the sky.

XXVI. aloed, adj.

To think of what was lost,
how much cannot be undone,
stirs a storm.

XXVII. amrita, n.

Before we ride, we
bask in the moon’s light,
drink the blood of gods
for their courage, their power.

XXVIII. badman, n.

They tell stories
of us
stealing their food,
capturing their children,
killing without conscience.
They call us
savages.

XXIX. nostalgist, n.

When they talk about
the good old days,
we don’t see
idyllic villages, friendly neighbors.
We see
hateful slurs graffitied
on the walls outside our prison cells.

XXX. unmute, v.

For generations,
they took from us.
For generations,
they kept us from telling our stories.
It ends now.
It ends with us.

XXXI. hattock, n.

Our ancestors’ spirits
hover over us
as we fight
for freedoms taken from them,
for homes taken from them.

Our future —
our children’s children’s futures —
will be full of
lush crops, wide-open spaces,
our wrinkled faces telling our stories.

Through a Fog

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from September, 2021.

I. padfoot, n.

They sit cross-legged,
back against the fence,
head low,

next to a rock
the size of a football
painted in blue and green swirls.

They murmur between deep breaths,
place a dandelion by the rock,
walk back inside their mom's house.

II. mycophilia, n.

Their stepmom is in the kitchen
humming to herself,
slicing white mushrooms,
throwing them into a saucepan.

They walk along the wall opposite her,
a balance between quick and stealth,
in an attempt to avoid any opportunity
for her to ask how they’re feeling.

III. whangai, n.

Successfully back in their room
unnoticed, they sit on their bed,
open their laptop from school,
get greeted by a log-in screen with
a first name
they wish would die,
a last name from a woman
they wish would leave.

IV. good-sister, n.

“Hey Z,” Layla, their brother’s wife, says
as she enters their room.
Since their brother’s deployment,
Layla has come over each Sunday
after her morning shift at Applebee’s.
She flops on the bed,
releasing a wave of french-fry-scented air.

V. goodsire, n.

“Your grandpa told me
dinner should be ready in about an hour,”
Layla says as she digs through her apron.
“Should be enough time
for the next episode
of Wild Wild Country.”
She retrieves a joint and her lighter, 
as is tradition.

VI. micromania, n.

While the citizens of Antelope
describe how the Rajneeshees
overthrew their local government,
Z stares at their toes
shrinking in the foreground
of their laptop’s keyboard.
Maybe their whole body with shrivel,
finally take up less space.
What kind of life is it 
when your sister-in-law is the only one
who uses your name?

VII. mumblecore, n.

They lose the thread
when Layla goes on about
a movie she watched last week
they’ve never heard of.
Everything spirals back into place
as they realize the episode’s credits
are scrolling by.
Dinner must be almost ready.

VIII. humidex, n.

After establishing an alibi
for their bloodshot eyes,
they walk with Layla
into the dining room.
Sweat drips down their spine.
Their neck aches,
their breaths shallow.

IX. urbanscape, n.

Luckily, their stepmom doesn’t notice
Layla and Z enter the dining room,
too busy going on about
her trip to the glass museum downtown
with her friends and their kids
which Z wasn’t invited to.

X. boody, v.

Z experiences dinner
through a fog.

They eat silently,
can’t hear anyone.

XI. gribble, adj.

You can’t be that surprised. You’re not her real kid. She wanted to be with your mom. You were just part of the package. Maybe Nevaeh left your mom because she just wanted to get away from you. You’ve probably always stood in the way of your mom's happiness. You are just a burden. When people talk about pride, they aren’t talking about you. When people talk about liberation, they aren’t talking about you.

XII. necessarium, n.

Put on pajamas. Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. A bottle of melatonin. A bathtub and hair dryer. A razor with a loose blade. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

XIII. human, adj. and n.

While dreaming,
Z isn’t confined
to the body they were born in,
which locks them in a box
 people force on them.

They can exist
in a body
free of gender.

XIV. hens and chickens, n.

When Z wakes up, they feel it
wash over them in waves.
Dread of confinement
in a body that doesn’t fit.
Pressure to be someone else
by everyone around them.
Hunted by an idea
of who they’re supposed to be.

XV. yom kippur, n.

Not wanting to be a burden
to everyone around them, 
Z takes up less space.
They don’t eat.
They don’t speak.
Maybe this will make up for
how much they’ve worn out the people
who have had to put up with them.

XVI. spiritdom, n.

After school,
Z sits in their backyard
watching their dog’s ghost
chase squirrels
through their mom’s garden.

XVII. min-min, n.

Lights float somewhere
above the roof of their house.
Closer than a star.
Blurry and flat
like an out-of-focus comet.
They imagine
Herry chasing a bone
across the Milky Way.

XVIII. urbs, n.

Z thinks about graduation —
just a few months away now —
then moving to the city
for school, maybe, but mostly
to get away from this house.

In the city,
they can be their true self
without the shackles of their family,
knowing it is also
without the stars they can watch
Herry chase bones across.

XIX. hearty, adj., n., and adv.

Sometimes, Z isn’t actually sure
they’ll make it to graduation.
They drag an anchor
down every hallway
until exhaustion grips
their heart and brain and
nothing seems worth all the effort.

XX. boohai, n.

alone, engulfed
in the smoke from pickups trucks
without mufflers.

XXI. tziganologue, n.

What if
there is nowhere
you will be accepted
you for who you are?

Maybe
no one else will ever
call you your name.
You may be alone
forever.

XXII. paddling pool, n.

Z sits on the side of the cafeteria
with friends who forget
what their name is,
who say it changes too often
to deserve extra effort.

If high school is this
and the future is made of
people like them,
then why would it be
worth getting to.

XXIII. almondine, adj.

Z walks in
from the backyard,
past the living room
where their stepmom
sits on the couch
eating almonds.
She asks “Aaron”
if they want any,
clearly forgetting
their name, their allergy.
As usual.

XXIV. garden room, n.

From their room,
Z stares out the window
toward the backyard.
They wonder about the height,
how fast they would fall,
the force with which they’d land
on their stepmom’s tomato plants.

XXV. feastly, adj.

At dinner, they savor every
last bite.

Their mom,
home for dinner for the first time in weeks,
takes a large scoop of
the macaroni and cheese
she spent the evening making.

Z eats
until their stomach hurts.

XXVI. slow-bellied, adj.

A full stomach,
they take slow, deliberate steps
up the staircase.

Committed, still,
to the plan they made
completely.

XXVII. pacable, adj.

It used to be bearable,
when Herry was alive,
when he could comfort them
after a hard day.
But since he died,
each day
feels more torturous
than the last.

XXVIII. almuten, n.

A force beyond words.
A slow crescendo inside their skull.
Words they cannot ignore:
You are a burden;
Nobody wants you here;
You do not belong;
Everything you touch decays.

XXIX. hat tip, n.

Cold air through an open window.
Cold words on crumpled paper.
Cold acrylic of a bathtub.
Cold steel of a razor blade.

XXX. alogical, adj. and n.

There isn’t really a word
for the grief that drowns you
when you find your child
dead in their bathroom.

There especially isn’t a word
for the waves of grief and guilt
when you find your partner’s kid,
who you never particularly cared for,
bled white, their final note
in your trembling hand.

Maybe you don’t go back

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from August, 2021.

I. placcy, adj. (and n.)

You’ve avoided
the inside of grocery stores
for over a year.

A pickup order every week,
Fred Meyer insists on
using their own plastic bags.

Your bag of tote bags in the trunk
remains unused;
your stash of plastic bags under the sink
steadily grows.

II. pseudosopher, n.

Your brother’s podcast plays
as you drive up Meridian,
back to your apartment,
so you can know which propaganda
the algorithm served him this month —
which arguments to have and avoid
at the family reunion.

III. zizzy, adj.

The engine revs louder
as you climb the hill
passed the fairground.
As you pass
the assisted living facility
across the street
from the private Christian school,
the sky —
orange with wildfire ash —
comes into view.

IV. bearding, n.

Your brother’s voice
becomes a yell
as you turn
down the side road
to your apartment.

He yells about 
a fraudulent election
orchestrated the bankers
and Hollywood elite.

You know he
means Jewish people.

V. off time, n.

Your Absence has been Approved

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VI. baku, n.

You watch
as buildings shrink
under the wing of your plane.

You sigh
as the hypothetical
gender critical rant
by your aunt 
in your head
fades
under Antonioni’s "Malcomer"
as you secure earbuds
in your ears.

VII. lotophagous, adj.

You read
the same line in your book
four times
without realizing it.
The words unfocus into
ridges of a nurse log along
a trail you’re hiking
alone.
You swear
your partner was with you,
but they’re gone.
Their voice flows
through ponderosa pines;
you feel calmer.

VIII. goombay, n.

Awoken by the thumps of
wheels against runway.
Your heart carries the rhythm
as your book falls
off your lap
onto your bag between your feet.

IX. chicken rice, n.

Among the din of impatient passengers
waiting to leave,
you feel so alone.
You start to text your partner
to tell them you landed,
unsure whether they’re
sleeping or driving to work —
you feel like an inconvenience.
You wish they were here,
but remember
how they said
during their first post-reunion dinner
they couldn’t do it again
after last time.

X. muharram, n.

Your father meets you at baggage claim.
Happy to see you, but somewhat hurried,
he keeps staring
beyond you.
Following his gaze, you find
a hijabi woman
waiting for her luggage.
He remarks how
she’s “just been standing there,”
wonders how
“those people are even allowed on planes.”
You gather your thoughts enough to start
explaining how wrong and racist he’s being.
He waves his hand at you,
says, “Better safe than sorry.”

XI. oscines, n.

His truck is loud;
his radio is louder.
He attempts to yell over
the hair metal shaking the door frames
to ask you about your flight.
You struggle to focus
on anything.

XII. machinina, n.

When you arrive at home,
you ask for some time to unpack and nap —
the problem with red eye flights is
the sleep you get is always subpar.
Your bedroom is as it was
before you graduated.
Posters on the walls,
notebooks on your desk,
a stack of novels on the floor by your bed.
When you sit on the comforter,
you remember the nights you couldn’t sleep,
where you’d watch Red vs. Blue
until three in the morning.

XIII. owczarek, n.

Groggy, half-awake,
you hear paws pat at the door.
A head rush as you sit up.
You barely turn the knob
before the door flies open,
a white blur rushes in,
lunges at you, licks your face.
They somehow still remember you.

XIV. chinchy, adj.

You finally feel prepared for your family.
You leave your room,
walk down the hallway
toward the dining room.
Around the corner, just in earshot,
you hear your parents
tell your uncle
how much you all still owe
on your student loans.
He groans about how foolish they were
to pay someone
to poison your mind.

XV. queenborough mayor, n.

When you were younger,
they’d talk about how intelligent you were.
When you were younger,
they’d praise you for your computer skills.
When you were younger,
they talked about your bright future.
When you were younger,
they repeatedly said college was important.
When you were younger,
they cheered when you got accepted.
When you were younger,
they implored you to reconsider your major.

You walk tentatively into the dining room.

XVI. oppo, n.

The subject of their conversation
shifts abruptly
when as you enter the room.
They greet you, tease you for napping,
ask how you’ve been,
how and where your partner is.
You make up a story:
they couldn’t get off work to come.
Your family accepts this and
your other short responses
to their questions.

XVII. changkol, n.

Guilt
about lying to your family.
Guilt
about how easy it was.
Guilt
digs into your bone marrow.
You
feel seedlings sprout on your forearms.

XVIII. gentlefolk, n.

Quiet for the rest of the night.
Claim to be jetlagged,
but really
just lament the actual reunion tomorrow,
when your grandmother gets there.
What questions will she ask?
What lies will you have to tell her?

XIX. busybodyism, n.

Your extended family start arriving
throughout the morning —
a caravan of pickups and trailers.
As you help
set up the food table in the garage,
you are bombarded with questions
when each new group arrives.

XX. freemium, n.

You fill a kiddie pool with ice
for the various potato and macaroni salads
when the news breaks:
The Taliban have encircled Kabul
with little resistance;
the US sends troops
to evacuate citizens from the capital.
You hear it from your father
complaining about
ungrateful savages who can’t appreciate
all that the US has done
to give them democracy.

XXI. pythoness, n.

Your mother chimes in,
says she knew
it would be a disaster
after Biden “stole” the election.
“Incompetent,” she calls him.
A bang
as she open a bag of salt and vinegar chips.
“Senile bastard.”

XXII. dangdut, n.

It is constant —
dog whistles and foghorns,
racism and conspiracy theories
you had filtered from your Facebook feed.

It is overwhelming —
your heart rate increases 
with your internal scream.
You don’t know where to begin
or how.

It is bewildering —
you’ve read so much,
but your throat tightens.
You are in a cage.

XXIII. ophiolatry, n.

Your grandmother finally arrives
in a minivan driven by your brother.
He helps her get on her Rascal scooter,
then she slowly drives herself
by each picnic table in the yard,
excitedly greeting and hugging every person
she can reach.

You brace yourself for her proximity,
her embrace, her questions, her theories.

XXIV. tom tiddler’s ground, n.

You hear your name.
She exclaims it
as soon as she turns
away from your cousin’s table.
She brings up
how long it’s been since she’s seen you.
Her questions are rapid-fire:
How is school?
What can you do with that degree?
How’s your partner? Where are they?
Why aren’t you married?
When are you going to have kids already?

You struggle to catch your breath.

XXV. irritainment, n.

They seem so coordinated,
they must have spent weeks
planning, rehearsing
what to say
to upset you.
It must be funny
to see
you silently fume,
to see
if they can find your breaking point.

XXVI. spinback, n.

When your brother
starts explaining how
Jews corrupted the US military,
siphoned off billions from the budget,
and made us lose in Afghanistan,
you’re done.
A quick rush of air catches in your throat.
The dam’s concrete fissures.
The dregs at the bottom of the lake surface.

XXVII. antwacky, adj.

You see red.
Your brother is yelling,
but he sounds far away.
He’s saying something
about his First Amendment rights.
Now, your mother is telling you
to not ruin the reunion
by taking things too seriously.
Your uncle tells you
to stop forcing your beliefs on everyone.

XXVIII. genteelism, n.

Walls are rebuilt
one goosebump at a time.
You offer an empty apology,
excuse yourself,
head back to your room.
The closed door,
a silent monolith of judgement.
Its corona filled
with shadows and laughter of people
happy to be around one another,
probably happy to not be around you.

XXIX. bonny clabber, n.

Things get quiet as night falls.
Your room’s ceiling darkens
the longer you stare at it;
you stay wide awake.
The afternoon keeps replaying,
every comment echoes.
You miss your partner;
they’d know what to do or say.
You can’t stay here anymore.

XXX. cantopop, n.

Hastily pack your suitcase,
download Lyft,
request a ride to the airport.

Leave a note on the kitchen counter
apologizing for ruining the reunion
and leaving early.

To stay awake, your driver
plays loud, uptempo music
by an artist their dash calls Zpecial.

It’s enough to make you feel far away
from that house and those people.
You can breathe again.

XXXI. merdeka, n.

In your partner’s arms barely
through the threshold of your apartment.
Welcomed. Accepted. Loved. It’s all here.
Why did you ever leave?
Maybe you don’t go back.

There’s always a chance you’re wrong

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from July, 2021.

I. hen scratch, n.

An omen,
they say,
crawling across the sky.

Hard rain,
thunder, lightning
will scar our cropland.

II. baksheesh, n., adj., and adv.

To stop the storm,
we offer a loaf of bread
wrapped in

a ceremonial woolen cloth
buried beneath
an ancient cedar’s roots.

III. zinger, n.

“You actually believe in
the burying bread thing?!”
my son laughs.

“You might as well ask them
to make Monday follow Tuesday!”
He shakes his head.

I sigh.
“You’ll understand when the rain calms
and the clouds burn away.”

IV. noctambulist, n.

Moon walks behind the layer of
blue-black clouds —
a bruise across the sky.

Stars appear, sprout rays toward the moon,
which set clouds ablaze —
a sheet of pale flame.

V. astrogator, n.

I point at the clear morning sky.
“You see! You see!
They took the offering”

My hands wave back and forth.
“They cleared the storm
with the moon’s fire!”

“Preposterous. There must be
a scientific explanation for all that,”
he dismissively shakes his head.

VI. seven-pennyworth, n.

“Look here, right here!
An explanation for the storm!”
He points to an article in the newspaper.

“An abnormal weather pattern
brought about by the changing climate.
It’s science, Dad.”

VII.  amazingness, n.

I scan the article.
“Reasonable, I’ll give you that,
but you cannot be certain.”

Pointing to the final paragraph,
“There’s always a chance you’re wrong.
It’s science, Son.”

I sip my coffee.
“The climate, the moon, or the stars —
The fact is: the storm is gone.”

VIII. dunger, n.

A quiet drive in my old truck,
a Ford whose red paint has faded
to the hue of a house finch’s breast.

Its motor’s hum,
the only sound
between my son and me.

IX. okada, n.

The truck hiccups,
comes to
a complete stop.

“Did the moon and stars
kill your truck too?”
He laughs, pulling out his phone.

I pinch my eyebrows.
“So what if they did?
We’re stuck either way.”

He calls a friend who lives nearby,
who can get him to the station
on their loud motorcycle.

X. krump, v.

I stay with the truck
to poke at it, see if I can
figure out what the problem is.

I turn on the stereo on the seat
which I bought after the built-in one broke
to find a radio station to help me think.

It catches when I try to start it up, and
I pop the hood to find
something moving around the engine.

XI. odditorium, n.

A bushy tail.
Eyes red as arterial blood.
Two long claws on each paw.

A claw cuts a cable.
A hiss through sharp teeth.
Two wings unfurl, carry it all away.

XII. seventhly, adv. and n.

Dave arrives to tow me home.
“What the hell happened?
Leo said your truck just died?”

I completely forgot the plan
we came up with when we saw
Leo only had enough service to text.

I can’t keep my voice down.
“I don’t know! Did you see that?!
Why are there so many omens lately?!

“What
is
happening?!”

XIII. ovulite, n.

Dave cannot draw
the connections himself,
so I help.

I talk about the storm, the stars,
the creature in the truck,
every weird occurrence around town,

how each element
fits together
like sedimentary rock.

XIV. dogleg, v.

Dave listens as he tows me home,
curves around the backroads,
nods politely as I talk.

XV. automorphism, n.

It can’t just be me.
Everyone must see it too;
it’s too obvious.

Dave gets it.
He doesn’t say so,
but he does.

XVI. staycation, n.

“I think the sun might be getting to you,”
Dave says as he maneuvers
my truck into the driveway.

“You might need to rest a while.”
His sentence punctuated
by the grip of the emergency brake.

XVII. papri, n.

Dave leaves. I pop the hood,
the knife of my leatherman
unsheathed, ready to strike.

Nothing emerges.
I find the broken cable,
unattach the loose halves.

I get Leo’s road bike from the garage,
ride it to the AutoZone by the strip mall.
Its thin wheels hum in the wind.

XVIII. mandela, n.

The stereo on the counter
blares some talk radio voice in the store;
its antenna pokes over the register.

I pace through the aisles ’til
I find a replacement cable,
then return to the counter.

Ger methodically rings me up, grumbles,
“Always namedropping insteada
doing anything to change anything.”

XIX. custard pie, n.

Ger holds the cable
in his callused hands.
“How this happen?”

I sigh,
“The truck died, and
a monster under the hood cut it.”

He looks at me, then at the cable,
raises an eyebrow, then guffaws.
“Musta been one scary squirrel, Harv!”

XX. butin, n.

Not wanting more ridicule,
I notice the month with no clouds,
but say nothing.

At least
the storm
didn’t destroy our crops.

XXI. buster suit, n.

Midafternoon.
Condensation pools around
a glass of water on the table.

In the waves above the road,
I see myself as a child
running in the soft rain of early fall.

XXII. star shot, n.

An omen, a message
from the stars, hanging from
the sitka spruce branches, I say.

A common mold, a fungus
without meaning or purpose,
Leo says, showing me a picture on his phone.

XXIII. olive branch, n.

Lift my cap, scratch my head,
“It wouldn’t hurt
to leave an offering just in case.”

“A loaf feeds us for a week.
We can’t afford to waste it.”
He rubs his eyes with both hands.

XXIV. rebetika, n.

Midnight —
when the moon and stars meet
to discuss their plans.

Midnight —
when crevices and faults open
to release demons to our realm.

Midnight —
when I take our last loaf of bread
to bury under the ancient cedar’s roots.

XXV. genteelness, n.

“Dad. What the hell?
Where’s the bread?”
Leo slams the cabinets shut.

I rub my shoulders.
“We can get by without it.
The offering had to be made.”

Before he speaks, I hold up a hand.
“Now hold on. Listen.
Rain will come and save us and our crops.”

XXVI. roman à clef, n.

I try to read the stars
as they appear just after dusk,
to see if they’ve listened.

Without a cipher,
I don’t recognize any of the names
they mutter to themselves.

XXVII. unplug, v.

Leo makes breakfast the next morning:
coffee, eggs and
toast.

I stare at the plate.
“Where did you get more bread?
I thought we couldn’t afford it.”

“I dug up that loaf you buried.
The soil kept it cool, the cloth kept it clean.”
He smiles at his own cleverness.

He has
no faith in the process,
no idea what he’s done.

XXVIII. Henatrice, n.

A hellish caw
echoes over our acreage,
shakes the window frames.

In the sky, a winged beast,
feathers and scales
and menace in its eyes.

It soars over the house
toward town,
death in its wake.

XXIX. ang moh, n. and adj.

Looking at the window,
blood drains from Leo’s face,
now pale as calla lilies.

“I- I don’t-
I don’t understand,”
he stammers, wide-eyed, mouth agape.

XXX. Parafango, n.

I get out of my seat.
“You took its offering.
Now we need to fix it.”

I gather all the pieces of the loaf,
blend a mixture of
wax from a prayer candle, ash from the wood stove.

After coating the bread in ashwax,
it’s wrapped in a woolen cloth,
reburied at the cedar.

Shielding my eyes
while running back to the house,
I hear its caw as it returns.

XXXI. Greeze, n.

“How did you know that would work?
It’s nonsensical,”
Leo scratches his head, as the beast flies away.

I take a deep breath.
“It’s drawn to the ash and wax,
something the elders said worked long ago.”

“That’s all superstition though!
That’s not scientific at all!”
He grips the hair above his temples.

I put a hand on his shoulder.
“Science isn’t an answer;
it’s a question.”

The Ballad of Coll Tabe

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2020.

This story is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.

I. Sprunny, n.

The tavern din
surrounds me,
an undercurrent for a song
I’ve heard before—
a hundred times from a hundred bards.

They sing and dance
the way you do
before your love
is torn from you.

I see her dancing with them—
her ghost
swaying with the lyre—
the way she did
before.

II. Celebrous, adj.

Polite applause
from drunken patrons
after his song ends—
the same thing as every other act.

Finally, then, they took the stage,
shouldering their lyre.
A legend ‘mong bards, whose name is known
to fill souls with newfound fire.

I first saw them perform here
years ago
on the Hash Brown Tavern stage.
The first song they played,
they called “Corse Boyfriend,”
chilled me to the bone.

In their chords,
I heard his voice, I saw his eyes,
I lost my breath until the last note died
to a smattering of applause.

I returned each week,
to study their hands—
to learn the chords
to produce his eyes
on my own.

My bloodstained lyre
keeps him from me
still.

III. Auguste, n.

Whenever I perform,
I stick to standards—
the shanties they want
from a halfling like me.

They laugh and cheer,
but I always fear
That I, not the story’s fool,
am the object of ridicule.

IV. De-Extinction, n.

The last time I held you,
there were rocks flying over our heads.

The last time I held you,
your blood was soaking into my cloak.

The last time I held you,
they pried you away

from me.

The last time I was home,
I watched you die in my arms.

The last time I was home,
they chased me to the edge of the forest.

The last time I was home,
they said my kind isn’t welcome

anymore.

V. Briticism, n.

Leaving Mossmeadow meant
leaving the winds of Lake Quarx.

The capital
isn’t far from Mossmeadow,
but the way people talk in
Arcton
took time to understand—
some words they use
aren’t used the way
I’d ever heard them at home.

Leaving Mossmeadow meant
leaving my son.

Walking through the city,
I see many families—
many children
learning the ways of their culture,
the foods of their families,
the stories of their elders.
I think about who is raising him,
how much he is missing.

VI. Bigly, adv.

“Coll, you’re up,”
says the tavern keeper—
an old dwarf
whose auburn beard
has started graying out.

I down my ale
to handle my nerves,
grab my lyre,
head to the stage.

“Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe.
This is a song
I used to sing to my son
to teach him about our history
back when he was young.
This is the story of Maro Lightfoot.”

I play so loud
the wall shake.
I hope they hear me
back in Mossmeadow.

VII. Magnalia, n.

The first love of my life was a baker
who brought rolls
to my family’s inn, and we’d talk
’til the church bell tolled.
I asked her to dance in the village square
under the setting sun.
We were wed nary a year 'fore she died 
delivering our son.

The second love of my life was a farmer
who brought gourds
to the autumnal market, and I’d buy
all that I could afford.
We drank one night in public for once,
and then they made us run
from rocks that flew and broke his skull,
and then they took my son.

I don’t know why the sky and sea
must take them all away from me.

VIII. Slobberknocker, n.

A string breaks.
Back on stage.

The happy song
had traveled with me
into the memory,
became a lament
without my realizing.

It’s apparent
in the audience’s faces—
it is not what they wanted.

IX. Anemious, adj.

It’s nights like this
that make me move
from city to city—

a leaf on a breeze
that never lands
anywhere.

X. Zero-Sum, adj.

I sulk back to the bar.
A fresh pint by my chair.

“It’s alright,”
the tavern keeper says.
“You’re getting better,
for sure.
In the meantime though,
their displeasure in your playing
makes them buy more ale,
so this one’s on the house.”

XI. Sportingly, adv.

“You really think that?
That I’m getting better?
It doesn’t really feel that way
at all.”
I take a swig.

“Oh, of course, Coll.
Everyone eventually
gets better
when they put in effort.”

I shrug.

“You think
I was born
able to make the best hash browns
in all of Kardpaz?”

I sigh.

“It took me a long time
to find the secret
to cooking potatoes, Coll;
It’s true.

“You know,
Uku was just like you
when they started playing here
all those years ago, too.”

“What?”

“You look up to them right?
I saw you scribble notes
after they performed
‘Raccoon with a Dagger’
last week—
never cared for
that raccoon friend of theirs—
Anyway, you’re usually here
when they perform, and
you get so focused
until their set’s done, then
you start scribbling on
whatever you got.
It’s pretty obvious.”

Dying inside, I clear my throat.
“You must be real old, then, Rosti.”
I gulp my ale.

He laughs,
“Older than stone.”
He turns, back to work,
helping someone a few seats away.

XII. Gee Willikers, int. and adj.

After Rosti leaves,
I finish my ale,
rest my forehead
on the cool rim of my stein.

“Hey, uh, Coll, right?”
A voice behind me asks.

I nod,
tilting the stein with my forehead
off then back on
the counter with a soft tap.

“I just wanted to tell you
I thought you did well tonight.
I’ve head Maro Lightfoot a lot,
but never a rendition
with so much heart.”

Vaguely familiar voice.
“Um, thanks. It means a lot.”
I turn to shake their hand—
a custom in human cities.

A kind smile
on an elven face
the shade of night sky
on the summer solstice.
A poof of white hair.
Uku Silve is standing in front of me.
They’re talking to me.

Wait.
They complimented me?!

XIII. Bokeh, n.

“Wow! Um, thank you!
It means so much!”
I can’t keep my cool.
“Sorry, I just never thought
you’d know my name.”

“It’s alright, dude.
Don’t worry about it.”
They gesture
at the stool next to mine,
“May I?”

I nod
fast as hummingbird wings.

I stammer,
“Mind if I ask you a question?”

They nod.

“Is it true, what they say?”

“You’re gonna need to be more specific.”

“Is it true
you were kicked out of your village?”

They sigh, nod slowly.
“Yeah.
My parents kicked me out as a kid.”

“I only ask because
I was kicked out of my village, too.
And seeing you succeed,
hearing your songs,
just gave me so much hope.”

“Your parents kicked you out too?”

“No, it was my dead wife’s parents.”

Uku nods, holds up a finger,
writes something quickly on a paper,
puts it in their cloak pocket.
“That sounds difficult.
How’d that happen?”

“A lot of it’s a blur.
They caught me drinking
with my partner at the tavern, decided
I was not a fit parent for my son, Towhee,
took him and ran us out of town.”

They shake their head.
“Damn. Where’s your partner now?”

“Qualen’s dead.”

XIV. Mentionitis, n.

“He died?”

“Yeah. He didn’t make it
out of Mossmeadow.
They threw rocks while chasing us.
He got one in the head.”

“They killed him?”

“Yeah.”

“Your dead wife’s parents killed your partner.”

“Yes.
They didn’t approve of me
being with another man.

“They never really liked me. I think
they blame me for Corvin’s death.”

“How’d she die?
Wait. That’s rude.
You don’t have to answer.”

“It’s alright.
She died giving birth to Towhee.”

“Shit. That’s a lot of trauma for a person.
Was all that recent?”

“Not really. They ran me out
about four years ago;
she died ten years before that.”

XV. Pastinate, v.

Uku sits with that for a while.
“You’ve had to hold on to all that
for a while.”

“Mhmm.”
I fiddle with my stein handle.

“It comes out in what you play.
It gives your songs a different hue
than when other people play them.”

“Is that… good?”

“It makes you
unique.
You got a future, Coll.”
They jab my arm.

They say they
have to travel in the morning,
look forward to seeing my next set.
They tell me
to get in touch
the next time I’m in the city,
to maybe try checking out
the temple of Pelor down the road
to see a friend of theirs.

XVI. Sir Roger de Coverley, n.

The last time I met clerics of
the god of sun and time,
They played their lutes and sang their songs,
the equinox was nigh.

We halflings love to drink and dance;
we let ourselves indulge.
The steps are so important that
a misstep would repulse.

A shift they brought to people’s mind
when songs and dances ceased.
They looked from o’er their shoulders then,
would scowl and glare at me.

XVII. Ruck, n.

I do not sleep.

All night, discomfort— I toss and  turn,
pace around my room in the tavern.

I do not sleep.

Cannot forget, but should I forgive
people who hate me for how I live?

I do not sleep.

Uku said that they have a friend there;
they would not send me into danger.

I do not sleep.

I hear her last breath, see his blood spill,
feel hollowness that cannot be filled.

I do not sleep.

XVIII. Meeja, n.

The sun rises—
the clerics describe it as
Pelor greeting us,
reminding us of his grace.

The sun rises.
I can see it arch over
the temple’s bell tower
through the window
from over the bed’s edge.

I’ve heard the praises my whole life—
the background of half of our songs.
Pelor’s temples always the largest,
the most polished.

Their clerics travel
throughout the kingdom
to convert more fanatics.

Begrudgingly,
I make the decision
to get out of bed
and go to the temple.

XIX. Hysterology, n.

Above the temple doors,
a giant seal of Pelor.
Gold, intricate details
of His face in the sun.

Around the necks of vendors,
small symbols of Pelor.
Metal pendants on small chains,
they grasp and whisper into.

Behind the tavern counter,
a sun carved into a plaque.
Silent and everpresent,
always watching from above.

Entering Mossmeadow,
a yellow sun on red banners.
Tall humans in long cloaks
want to help, spread the word.

In songs they sang to us in school,
the sun god saves the day.
He feeds the starving, heals the sick,
deserves all our praise.

XX. Pronoid, adj.

Even in the early hours of morning,
the temple is full of people
praying alone, lighting candles,
confessing to clerics and priests.

Lost in a forest of humans,
I look for a cleric to ask
about Uku’s friend.

I bump into someone,
turn to apologize.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s no problem,”
says a cleric, a young human
sitting in a floating platform—
a chair with no legs.
“Are you okay?”

“Yes, thanks. Um, actually
I’m looking for someone, a cleric.”

“Well, I’m that, so can I help?”

“I’m looking for someone specific.”

“Okay. What’s their name?”

“I’m told they go by
Applelegs?”

“No one goes by-
Who sent you here?”

“Uh, Uku Silve.”

He nods.
“Yeah, that sounds like them.
You’re looking for me,
I’m Elyon.”

“Why Applelegs?”

“When we met,
I used parts of an apple box
for my chair.”
He taps the side of the floating platform.
“I assume they thought
it would be a good joke.
Which, to be fair, it is.

“They and their friends
got me this new chair
after our, uh, adventure.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,
why do you have the chair?”

“Oh, I can’t use my legs.
Never could, but,
thank Pelor,
I was raised in this temple,
so I was well taken care of.”

XXI. Nirl, v.

“I know what that face means,”
Elyon nods.
“You don’t need to pity me;
I get around fine.
The way I move through the world
may be different from yours, but
I am no less of a person.
I’m not some charity case
to remind you of your privilege either.
Had to go through a whole thing
with Uku’s friends about it—
they were obsessed
with trying to ‘fix’ me.

“So, can we skip that whole bit?”

XXII. Teh Tarik, n.

“Right, sure. You’re right.”

“Good.
Why did Uku send you?”
Elyon scans the pews.

“I’m not entirely sure.
They watched me perform
at the Hash Brown Tavern
last night. We talked afterward,
and they said I should
stop by the temple to see Applelegs.”

“Well, that’s ambiguous,” he chuckles,
squints at the stained glass
over the temple’s entrance.
“Follow me.”

He floats away from the pews,
down a hallway with fewer people.
“Have you eaten?” He asks,
opening a door.

“Not really,” I say,
walking into a cafeteria
in the side of the temple.
People in rags and bandages
sit at tables,
huddled around warm mugs.
Clerics serve food, sit with them.

Elyon gestures at an empty table,
floats behind the counter.
He returns with two mugs
of something I’ve never seen before.

He hovers across the table from me,
sips from his mug.
“Uku usually sends people to me
because of their past
or ours.
So, which did you talk about?”

XXIII. Gorger, n.

I recount
everything I told Uku
about my past.

Elyon nods;
sips from his mug;
loses attention, gets tense
when an older man
enters the cafeteria.

His robe adorned
with thick metal chains,
a staff in hand
topped with an intricate carving of Pelor.

A priest.

XXIV. Futzing, n.

Elyon clears his throat.
“Ah. I think I understand now.”

He places his mug down,
eyes it, rotates it slightly
with his thumb and middle finger,
aligns his napkin by it
with his index and ring fingers.

He holds his hand up in a fist,
analyzes his arrangement, nods.

“You’re stuck. Uku probably
thought I could help you get unstuck.
Follow me.”
He floats over to and up a spiral staircase
at the end of the cafeteria.

I follow him. “Stuck?”

“You haven’t noticed
how much you talk about their deaths?
Your loss?”

I pause.

“It’s normal thing to struggle with;
I’m not saying you should shrug it off—
just that I think I can help.”

I nod.

“What happened to your family?
Your parents?”

“They’re still in Mossmeadow.
Why?”

“That’s lucky. Traditionally,
people have their parents
as a support structure.”

“They didn’t really try to
help me when shi-
things went down.”

“Oh.
Should’ve seen that coming.”
He sighs.
“I never got to meet my mom, so
I kinda idealize parents—
assume the best in them—
I guess.”

“You never met her?”

“No. She, um, also died in childbirth.
Delivering me, actually.”

“Oh. I think I understand why
Uku sent me here now, too.”
My thighs start to ache.
“How much further are we going?”

“Oh, right. Here.”
The stairs arrive at a platform.

“That was convenient,” I gasp,
bend over to stretch my legs.

“Well, it’s a magic staircase.
It pops you to whatever floor you want.”

“What?
You could’ve done that
the whole time?”

“Yeah, but
we were in the middle of a conversation.
It would’ve broken the rhythm.”

XXV. Jough, n.

Elyon takes me to his room,
an entire wall covered in bookshelves.
“First things first,”
he gestures at the shelves,
“please don’t touch any of the books
without asking first.
The last time someone was here,
they knocked over the shelves
and I had to spend hours
putting everything back where it belongs.”
He sighs, “It was Uku’s friends.”

I hold my hands up.
“Not a problem.”

The door creaks behind me.
“Morning, Elyon.”

The priest is outside the doorway,
a mug in hand.
He takes a sip.

Elyon turns around quickly,
lowers his head.
“Morning, Father.”

“I trust you’re showing your,”
he looks at me,
“guest the best hospitality?”

“Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir.”

“This won’t impede your duties
in the temple, I gather?”

“No, sir.
I will complete all my tasks, sir.”

“Very good. Have a Blessed day, Elyon,
Elyon’s guest.”
He turns.
His steps echo from the staircase
going upward.

Elyon releases a breath.

“You alright?” I ask.

“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s okay.”

“That guy seems intense.”

“He can be, but
he had his morning drink, and, well,
he can be better whe—
well, it’s a balance.”

“You live and work here
with a guy like that?
A guy you tense up around all the time?”

“Well, yeah. He’s the high priest.
He raised me.
He took me in when I was a baby.”

“He doesn’t seems to... like you
at all?”

“He’s just stern, you know how
religious people steeped in tradition
can be.”

I hear rocks bouncing off tree trunks,
breaking Qualen's skull.
“Uh, yeah. I guess.
That doesn’t mean
you need to put up with them though.”

“Coll, the sun shines on all people
regardless of who they are,
what they do or think,”
he pauses,
“or who they love.

“The people who killed your partner
do not represent Pelor
or His will.
They are hurt people who hide
behind His name.

“I hope you would not lump us all together.”

XXVI. Howzit, int.

I’m quiet,
imagining different timelines—
where I return and they welcome me,
where they never ran me out,
where I return and they reject me,
where Qualen didn’t die.

“You alright?” Elyon asks,
putting a hand on my shoulder.

Back in the present.
“Um, yeah. I’m alright. I just-
I can’t just-“

Elyon nods,
clasps his hands in his lap.

“How can I just
forget and forgive
everything?
How is that a
reasonable
thing for a person to do?”

He bites his cheek,
looks over at the bookshelves.

“Some say
being in the shadows is
a choice a person makes.
Pelor shines on all land, all people,
indiscriminately.
His light will hit
anyone who wants it— it is
a choice to go into the shadows,
a choice to stay there,
a choice to avoid His light.

“He cannot keep you warm all the time;
He must attend to
the needs of all people, of course.
But night ends,
and His light and warmth returns—
if you choose to embrace it.”

“Are you saying
I’m choosing to be upset
at Qualen’s murder?
At Towhee being taken from me?”

“Of course not, Coll.
You should be upset.
Anyone would be.
Avoiding to grow or move from it is
a choice though.
What you do
with the hand you’re dealt is a choice.

“No one can steer your life
but you.”

XVII. Zeroth, adj.

“I get that Pelor has done a lot for you,
and you have lived in His service
your whole life, but
leaning on some dude in the sky
can’t be your only plan!

“To assume
everything will work out
comes from a place of privilege, Elyon.
You’ve had a safety net
your whole life that will catch you
if you fall too far, too fast.

“I don’t have that!
I’ve been on my own for years!
If I fall,
I hit god damn ground!”

XXVIII. Throgmorton Street, n.

“I hear you,”
Elyon says, grabs a book off the shelf,
offers it to me.
“Make yourself a net then.”

I take the book, open the cover.
“You want me to have this?”

“You can get it back to me
when you’re done with it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me,
I have chores to do.”

I thank Elyon for his time
and the book,
leave the temple, then find a bench to sit.

The book is Elyon’s journal
from the time
he spent with Uku and their friends.
I read
listening to the din of the market.

XXIX. Radiatore, n.

I eat dinner at the Hash Brown Tavern,
Elyon’s journal by my pint on the bar.

Closed, fully read,
his story echoes in my head.

Rosti waves a hand in my face.
“You there, Coll?”

I shake my head, rub my eyes.
“Yeah. Yes.”

He places a plate by the book.
“The daily special.”

“Thank you,” I say. He knocks twice
on the bar, moves on to someone else.

I stare at the plate. Looks like
a pile of open ribcages in a pool of blood.

A vision? The past? The future?
What am I to do now?

XXX. Acheronian, adj.

“Coll, you’re up,”
says the tavern keeper.

I down my ale,
grab my lyre,
head to the stage.

“Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe.
This is... a song.”

An improvisation:

your boat’s in a river
shrouded in smoke
out to deliver
your soul down below

you look up t’ward the sky
trying to find
anything warm to dry
your drowning mind

he greets you with eyes black
deep as coal mines
you’d seen them before back
in empty steins

shattered skulls on cave walls
painted in blood of
everyone in your life who
made you feel loved

shattered skulls on cave walls
painted in blood of
everyone in your life who
made you feel loved

XXXI. Bicky, n.

Silence after the last note dies,
but I don’t mind.
There’s an old elf in the back
with misty eyes.

I go to the temple of Pelor
in the morning
to drop off Elyon’s journal
with a cleric.

I go back to the tavern
to say goodbye,
and Rosti is cleaning the bar,
removing steins.

He looks up when I enter,
signals me o’er
offers a bread wrapped in cloth.
“One for the road.”

Leave the tavern and realize
where I should go.
Need control of my story.
I’m going home.

A Moored Ship After a Storm

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from November, 2020.

I. Spiritato, n.

Rosa sits between
her sister, Haylee, and Uncle Martin.
Tired from the four-hour drive
across the state.

Her grandma asks Uncle Martin
to lead the family in Grace.
He clears his throat loudly,
so that the kids in the other room hear too.

His Grace is long—
as it is every Thanksgiving—
expressing thankfulness
for every event in the family’s year
he gathered from his Facebook feed.

She stretches her neck left and right,
looks at each bowed head
with closed, reverent eyes—
utterly baffled at the sincerity.

II. Volcanello, n.

Uncle Martin closes Grace
quoting the priest of his church

which Rosa stopped attending
her junior year in high school

after he gave a sermon
about women’s role in the home.

She bites her cheek,
metal on her tongue,

closes her eyes, a scream
escapes as a restrained sigh.

III. Pastinaceous, adj.

Grandpa Leo carves the turkey,
serves a slice to each person
around the table,
same as he does every year—

a tradition
passed down to him
from his father,
from his father’s father—

a taproot
reaching down
so far
no one can see the end.

IV. Overberg, n. and adj.

A polite smile on Rosa’s face
as she accepts her slice
from Grandpa Leo.

He pauses, smiles.
“We’re so glad
you were able to make it this year.”

She nods, fidgets
with her napkin on her lap
to avoid eye contact.

When she looks up, it feels
like looking at a mountain range
from a fire lookout.

V. Sprusado, n.

The Walker-Estradas are not a
sedentary family.

As soon as it seems like
everyone’s done eating,
there is no sit-and-talk
like business people during a lunch rush.
No, the dining room is abandoned
for places to stand—
the kitchen, the patio, the living room.

Rosa gets up from her seat,
pinches the button-up
she wore on Wednesday’s shift
through her cardigan,
flattens any potential wrinkles,
adjusts her tie.

A deep breath before
she grabs her water glass,
tentatively walks
toward the patio.

VI. Hot-Brain, n.

Rosa didn’t really plan ahead—
the decision
to drive over the pass
to see her mom’s family
for Thanksgiving was
last-minute.

She was wiping down
the tables and booths in her section
after the last party left—
the Wednesday before Thanksgiving
always nonstop.

All night,
she heard people talk about
their plans—
seeing their families, elaborate recipes.
The hosts were talking about it while
wrapping silverware in napkins for Friday
when the dam broke—
she missed home.

Afraid of chickening out,
she stopped by the Arco
on the corner of the parking lot,
bought gas and a 5-hour Energy,
drove toward the highway.
Her only stop
was at a rest area outside Srague
for a nap.

VII. Cheesed, adj.

Maybe it was
a reasonable response,
maybe it was
because she slept in her car,
but

when she got to the patio,
heard Uncle Martin grimace about
“illegal votes,”
she groaned,
“Oh shut up, man!”

All eyes on her,
every conversation halted.
“Um, excuse me."
She sips her water,
walks back inside.

VIII. Chedi, n.

Solace in the bathroom
down the hall by the guest room.
Rosa places her glass on the counter
next to a picture of her sister
waving from the top of a ladder
leaned against exposed plywood.

She sits on the toilet lid
taking deep breaths to center herself.
She stares at other pictures, souvenirs
on the wall from Haylee’s
white-savior, voluntourism trip to Mexico
with her church group.

IX. Waynpain, n.

Before enough time passes
that her family would think
something’s wrong,
Rosa flushes the toilet for
the illusion of normalcy.
She washes her hands—
pure muscle memory—
stares at the soap dispenser.

She remembered

an afternoon
when
she was a child watching
Legends of the Hidden Temple reruns
when
her dad came in
after working in the yard,
his shirt inside out
over her ears, draped like a ponytail.

“Wanna see a magic trick?”
he asked between gulps of water
from a weathered half-gallon jug.
Rosa jumped up from the couch,
followed him to the sink.
He ran the water. “Clear, right?”
He filled his jug to illustrate.
“Watch.” He paused,
concentration on his face.
“Abracadabra!”

He shoved his hands under the water,
gripped his fists, twisted them like
he was trying to get the last bit
of toothpaste out of the tube.
The water pooling in the sink
turned brown, matte.

“Whoa!!!” Rosa exclaimed.

He snickered,
leaned close to her face, whispered,
“I turned it into poop.”

Rosa continued yelling,
but out of disgust,
as she ran back to the living room.

X. Presentific, adj.

Deep breath, Rosa.
They’re family, Rosa.
It’s going to be okay.

XI. Earthfast, adj.

Hand on the knob of the door,
one step from rejoining her family,
after practicing
all of her small talk.

She freezes.

Her fingers twitch.
Her breaths short.
Fully conscious of how long
she’s hidden in the bathroom.

Move. Move. Move.

XII. Pricket, n.

She closes her eyes,
counts to ten
between inhales, exhales.

Thaw the ice
in your skin,
Rosa.

She gulps
the rest
of her water.

XIII. Spiritus, n.

She breaks through the door
like a pika out of its burrow,
fueled by adrenaline
and guilt.

XIV. Callidity, n.

"Oh, don’t worry. I’m alright.”

Interspersed head nods,
sustained eye contact.
Ask follow-up questions
to avoid saying more
than necessary.

Be a screen
they can project onto.

XV. Ambilogy, n.

“Oh, you know,
work’s work.”

“Yeah, bills have been tough,
but I’ve managed.”

“No, haven’t really
been up to much else.”

XVI. Fascine, n.

To get a break,
Rosa walks over to the fireplace,
a fresh cord of wood
on tightly layered kindling.

She sits on the carpet, cross-legged
like she did as a child during story time.
Closing her eyes,
she feels radiant heat wash over her.

She imagines it mixing with
the warmth under her cheeks.
She starts to cry.
It shouldn’t be this hard.

XVII. Brewstered, adj.

She could feel the distance
palpable
between herself and her parents—

her shoulders and the mantle
accented
with plaques, senior portraits.

A dark marble slab
floating
in a red brick facade.

XVIII. Badderlocks, n.

“Hey Rosa!”

She shakes her head,
back in her body.

Haylee is behind her,
leaning to her left,
a plate in her right hand.
“You doin’ alright?”

“Uh, yeah,”
she stammers, rubs her eyes.
“I was just, uh, cold out there.
Needed a minute to warm up.”

Haylee straightens up, nodding.
“Mind if I sit with ya?”

She scoots over,
gestures at the space
before hugging her knees to her chest,
placing her chin in their crevice.

Haylee sits,
picks a grape tomato off her plate,
eats it. She asks, still chewing,
“Want one? I grew ‘em
in the planter out back.”

Rosa looks at the little bulbs
on the tilted plate, smiles.
“Sure.”

XIX. Reptiliferous, adj.

“You think you’ll ever tell ‘em?”
Annabelle asks
from the bench
adjacent to Rosa’s.

She wedges her mask down
to sip her mocha, readjusts it back up.
“I don’t know.” Her head shakes.
“Maybe.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Annabelle asks,
adjusting her scarf back over her nose.
“I don’t wanna pressure you, but
they should know.”

“It’s not- it’s hard.
My family’s not like yours.
We don’t-
I haven’t even
been back home in two years.

“And, like, everything I say
has to go through so many filters
when I talk to them.
Layers
of social appearances, Jesus, money-
I can’t just…
say it.”

Annabelle nods slowly,
sips her chai tea.
“They know you’re gay, right?”

“Uh, yeah.
I told them in high school.
It wasn’t a big thing.”

“You were able to tell them that.
Is this that different?”

Rosa stares at
where the sidewalk ends.
“It feels different.”

Annabelle reaches an arm forward,
clasps air,
struggle in her eyes.
“Is there
anyone in your family
you could tell?”

She takes another sip of her mocha.
“Haylee, maybe.”

XX. Molly-Blob

Haylee runs
her fingers through her hair—
blonde as marigolds—
over her ear.

Always protective
of Rosa, even though
she was the younger one
by two years.

Less judgmental
than her youth group friends—
bridges she’d torch in public
if scripture was quoted to justify hate.

A pang
of guilt in Rosa’s heart—
their roles
worn backwards.

XXI. Cockle Stairs, n.

“So, uh,
how has Whitworth been?”
Rosa asks.

“It’s pretty good, actually.
I mean, as good as it can be
with all the remote learning stuff.
Got to save money
by staying here though.”

“That ever annoying?
Like, not getting
the actual college thing as a freshman?”

“I mean- yeah?
I get why, but it IS disappointing, y’know?
Plus, Dad decided to start a new project,
‘cause workin’ from home
wasn’t enough for him—
turns out, most of his work day
was talking to his coworkers.

“Before he started building
that outdoor living room
for Seahawks games,
he’d try to talk to ME while I was in class.
I learned the mute button REALLY fast.

“It’s like-
I don’t know-
like, we’re all trying to get through this,
be better and responsible, right, but
it feels like
no matter how much we do,
we keep ending up
in the exact same place.”

XXII. Footpad, n.

Rosa nods slowly,
sips the last drops of water
in her glass.

“What about you?
How have you been?”
Haylee asks,
nudging her shoulder into Rosa’s.

She regurgitates her rote response.
“Oh, uh, it’s been alright.”

“That’s good to hear.
I’ve heard
it’s been really hard over there—
closures and restrictions
on restaurants and all.”

Rosa gulps.

“I worry about you is all.”

Rosa bites the inside of her lip.
“Well, uh” she starts.
Deep inhale, exhale.
“It actually has been hard.”
She nods, swallows.
“Most of my cash comes from tips;
when everything closed, that dried up fast,
let alone the reduction of shifts.”

Haylee places a hand on Rosa’s knee.

“I, uh-“
A gulp. A breath.
“At one point,
my dinners were leftover fries.
I’d, uh,
tell the cooks
one of the tables wanted
another helping of ‘em,
and since Red Robin does endless fries,
they wouldn’t question it;
they’d just scoop some in a basket,
place it in the window.
I kept a to-go container
under my coat in the back,
and stash ‘em there.”

“Rosa, you know
we’d help you if we knew-“

“I-“ Rosa cuts her off.
“I- I know.
It’s just…”

Rosa doesn’t finish the thought.
Her sister does what she always did:
hold her close and tight, tell her it’s alright.
Rosa does what she always did:
nod, go limp, cry into her shoulder.

XXIII. E-Waste, n.

In that moment—
a puddle in her sister’s sweater—
Rosa remembered
what she really missed about
home.

She thought about
the memes
her family shared on Facebook
spouting love and support
unconditionally,
how hollow each one left her.

But here,
it feels
real, full.

XXIV. Ambigu, n.

Her grandma’s turkey,
her mom’s cheesy mashed potatoes,
her uncle’s rosemary garlic bread,
her sister’s tomatoes.

Warm,
familiar,
home.

XXV. Cryonaut, n.

Uncle Martin
appears above them,
clearing his throat.

A plate in each hand.
A slice of pumpkin pie
her grandpa baked,
a scoop of ice cream
for each of them.

He purses his lips, nods,
offers a plate to both sisters,
who accept their desserts.

Rosa scoops a bit
of pie and ice cream,
bites.

She’s five, playing tag
in her grandparents’s backyard
with Haylee and their cousins.
Sundown. Only able to see
by the lights outside
her grandpa’s shop.
Their mom calls them in
for dessert.

She’s 40, returning
to this house again—
probably by self-driving hover car
or something— maybe
with Annabelle and kids of their own,
who play tag with Haylee’s kids,
and she calls them in
for dessert.

She realizes
she had never
imagined a life
that far in the future
for herself
before.

XXVI. Magnanerie, n.

In her head,
the house was plain,
peeling paint,
full of insects
gnawing at everything good.

She felt, now,
her misconception,
saw the bigger picture—
the soft sweater sleeves
wrapped around her torso.

“Haylee,” she hesitates.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”

XXVII. Amouring, n.

Not ready to say it
in front of her whole family,
Rosa leads Haylee
outside
to the driveway.

On the way, she rehearses what to say,
remembering July—
when the cases were low,
when she told Annabelle,
who immediately drove to her apartment,
despite Rosa’s protests, saying:
“In an emergency,
you have to break protocol.”

That night, after it all
calmed down,
as their legs were entwined on her bed,
she felt
human connection for the first time
in months.
Her head on Annabelle’s chest,
her heart a metronome in her ear,
up and down with her breath—
soft as a breeze through cedar branches—
like a moored ship after a storm.

“You didn’t have to come here-“
she started, waves of guilt in her eyes.

“Stop. I had to. I love you,”
Annabelle interrupted, then
tenderly kissed the top of Rosa’s head.

Rosa started to feel
like maybe
it was worth being alive.

XXVIII. Empedoclean, adj.

The driveway,
a large patch of gravel—
jagged fragments of earth shift
under her feet as she walks.

The fireplace,
a glimmer flickering in the window,
barely visible through
the November mist.

Deep breath,
cold air fills her lungs—
a brisk bite,
the kick she needs to move.

“Okay,” Haylee shivers.
“What’s going on?”

Rosa sighs, holds her elbows.
“So, uh- It’s hard to say.”

Haylee rubs her biceps.
“It’s alright. Take your time.”

“Things have been...
worse than I told you.

“When everything shut down,
I, uh, got laid off for a while.

“In July, when it seemed
like everything would turn around,

“my hours stayed low, and
I couldn't covers both bills and food,

“I was so isolated— couldn’t even
see other people, so-“

She winces, looks away from Haylee,
toward the stars over the road.

A gulp.
“I tried to kill myself.”

She lifts her shaky hand, rolls back
the sleeve of her shirt and cardigan.

XXIX. Slummock, v.

Haylee stares
at the scar
on Rosa’s wrist.

Quiet.

After a few seconds, maybe hours,
Haylee speaks.
“That’s a lot to process.
I appreciate you telling me;
it must have been hard.”
Her jaw clenches.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?
Were you afraid to tell me?”

“No, no- I just-
I didn’t want to worry you,”
Rosa stammers.

“Well,” a frustrated exhale,
“you don’t have to tell me anything
you don’t want to, but
I’m always here for you;
I’m always going to support you.
It’s my job.”

“I want to tell you.
I wanted to tell you then, but I didn’t know how.”
She rolls her sleeve down.

Haylee grabs Rosa’s hand,
ice-sickle fingers around Rosa’s palm.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Rosa nods rigidly.

“I, uh, made the decision around 4, when I would have gone to work. A steak knife from the knife block on the counter. I held it in my hand; I could barely think. I texted Annabelle to say I’m sorry. She called me as I, uh-“

Rosa gestures at her wrist.

“I froze, heart racing, dropped the knife on the floor. The clang broke my concentration, and I answered her call. She came over immediately, told me to put a towel and pressure on it and not move until she got there.”

A gap. A space for Rosa to breathe.

“She saved me that day. She helped calm me down, didn’t try to push me into anything— just sat with me for hours.

“I don’t know if it was the blood loss or the heightened emotion of the whole thing or the first time I’d been with her outside of work in months, but I was overwhelmed, lost control over myself— I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her like-“

“Rosa. Gross.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

Haylee laughs, hugs her sister
tight as kite string in coastal wind.
“You don’t have to apologize;
I’m so glad you have a partner like her.”
She cries into Rosa’s shoulder.
“I’m so glad you’re still here.”

XXX. Hammer, n.

Her brain may be
where shadows loom;
where memories echo
in jarring fragments;
where thoughts, feelings,
breaths are held
for someone else’s sake.

But 
in the gaps between fractured earth,
in the secondary light of the moon,
in the warmth of her sister’s heart,
Rosa felt like she could overcome them.