You Are by Risa Denenberg

You Are
–after W.H. Auden

You are my kitchen.
I can’t make my eggplant dish without you.
You dice the onions so I won’t cry.
You strike the match to light the oven.
You are my salon. You serve rosé in cut-glass goblets.
I have no desire to sweep the floors without you here.
You are my critic, my lost amethyst ring, my favorite berry.
You are the knife that scrapes the pith of me, the toothy grin
of the missing boy on the milk carton, my root beer float.
My legs cannot wrap around this emptiness.
You are the postcard of Calliope you airmailed
from Mykonos, that other time you left, vowing
to never return. And then, the present of you.
Gifts of brisket, banter, sidesplitting quarrels.
I make rugelach every year on your birthday.
You are my morning shower, my evening biscuit.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: This ode’s first line offers a metaphor so unusual that the urge to read on is impossible to ignore. Happily, the rest of the poem lives up to this opening, proving that sentimental poetry is not dead, and never has been.

The Hours by Risa Denenberg

The Hours

I don’t sleep at night. I count the hours until morning.
I wait for my bride to carry me off into the sky.
The hours of night are as useless to me as the inside of a paper bag.
I count the minutes until sunrise. I doze a bit by early light.
I do nothing all morning. I need to wake. I need an alarm.
I am alarmed that I do nothing. Even a dead dog does something.
I want to do no harm. So I wait
For as long as I can hold a single breath.
I count my breaths. I run out of air. I am filled with shame.
Shame displaces the wind in my lungs. I wheeze and gasp
For breath. The ticking seconds rebuke me.
I am ashamed of things I should or should not have done.
I take blame for your mistakes.
Isn’t this the way it always is? Low hanging fruit?
I count seconds of daylight, by light of day.
All day, I cannot stop eating. I am never full.
At night, I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I don’t dream.
At nightfall, I wash my face. I brush my teeth.
I brush my hair while counting one, two, three, four … 100.
I count the 18 stairs to my bedroom.
The bed upstairs is where I don’t sleep.
The bedroom door is warped and magnifies the light,
The windy nightfall, the hard-falling rain, the storms without thunder.
I count the dark hours, flooded with panic.
I am alone. I am almost old.
My books and my cat try to comfort me.
I lie awake, ready to greet the Sabbath queen,
her fragrant spices commanding me to rest.
I know death. She will come to me at night.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: This poem’s surreal and disjointed imagery is held together with repetition, giving the reader a glimpse into not just hours, but an entire life.

Best of the Net Nominations – 2017


I am happy to announce the following poems have been nominated for the Best of the Net 2017:

Abiding Winter by Risa Denenberg

Affidavit by Terri Muuss

The Balance Between Us by James Diaz

Bone-Chilled by Martin Willitts Jr.

Poem Only Half About Myself by J. Rod Pannek

Tuesday Morning by George Longenecker


Intuition by Risa Denenberg


As I entered my eighth month
of pregnancy, my grandmother, timeworn
and ripened, exited our line.

Far from home, I received the news
in a whoosh of air, as a warbler trilled
a melody I suddenly understood.

And though there was much to fear,
the awareness settled in me like a deep stream.
She companioned me for the lying-in.

A feral cat crept into the room and stayed
during the long hours of my labor. She
howled as my son crowned, cries louder

than my own, then disappeared. And, just
before he emerged, I reached inside and felt
black curls protecting his fragile skull.

At that moment, I received her blessing and saw
his face, still curled in his confinement, and knew,
as a mare knows, it was time to bear down.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: This poem doesn’t shy away from the grittiness of human life and death. The end of the poem reminds us how to be strong.

Abiding Winter by Risa Denenberg

Abiding Winter

How we made it through another winter
is not the question. It’s not even an answer
since one of us was left behind in winter.

In Spring, in buoyancy, you asked a question.
Cups stood their ground between us, tea and coffee.
You wished to be the answer to your question.

If winter comes again and yet another,
a darkling season full of melancholy. The yanking
of my soul back to its gutter, that other

place where questions have no answers,
and answers only placate. It takes rafters
of steadfast faith, or mettle, to seek answers.

Truth is brutal. So much we can’t recover,
years I’ve begged for you to wait for Spring to bloom,
living in despair beside each other, and another

stormy season while we tussle for an answer
that is a coda to the sum of all of life’s bother.
I’ve learned to hold my tongue, to question
nothing. Questions are another sort of winter.

by Risa Denenberg

Guest Editor’s Note: The sonics, especially the consonance, create a pleasing effect when we hear this one.  In no small part to the final line, this may be the best villanelle we’ll see this year.

Please welcome Guest Editor Earl Gray from March 20-March 24, 2017.

Whirlwind @ Lesbos by Risa Denenberg

Whirlwind @ Lesbos

We met in Istanbul
where your face was a veil
and you beckoned a reckless gesture.

Cover your eyes, you hissed
when I dared look through
your robe at your breast buds.

You were twelve when we first kissed
wadded your gum under the desk
whistled at me, spit into the wind
earnestly began chewing my hair.

We ran away to Naples
during the long war while flames
licked our feet and charred our skin.

Hurry, you barked over your shoulder
I was already losing sight.

I wailed all night in Jerusalem
when you turned me hard
against the stone wall
pressing against my back
as your reached up inside me
grabbed my womb with your fist.

In winter, we rented a small cottage
in Copenhagen where winds blew
snow over our bed
we embraced and couldn’t let go
you were cold and needed comfort.

We undressed each other
maidens in the fifth century
and were discovered naked
entwined asleep
your ringlets black and soft
on the silken pillow.

But then I missed the cab to the airport
slept right through the alarm
one morning in Cairo
and you were gone.

I was beheaded
with your name on my lips.

The baggage was clearly marked
but reached Paris by error.

I’m in New York
awaiting your email.

by Risa Denenberg, from “Whirlwind @ Lesbos” (Headmistress Press 2016)

Editor’s note: The uneasy narrative of this poem is emphasized by the lack of commas and thoughtful enjambment.

Rain by Risa Denenberg


Most days, I no longer long
for you. The rain has become
my welcome mat.

I soak clothes and skin in it,
bleach these personal stains,
staunch my body’s needs.

Nowhere is it fully documented
how terrifying it is to be me.

I dream in haiku
as it taps at my window
in tart syllables.

by Risa Denenberg, from blinded by clouds.

Editor’s note: This poem is not quite a haiku, but it holds the spare simplicity of the form. Emotional impact doesn’t always require a thousand lines.

Again, I climb by Risa Denenberg

Again, I climb

Again, I climb
the crest of the last rise
before the road twists its way
downhill to the bay.

She lifts into view, her frosted top floating,
as these Pacific Northwest peaks will do,
a mirage above a shimmering cake stand,
and without blush I confess to her—
my dear, dear Mount Baker.

As well I wave blessings to the moon
when it delights me, emerging full
from behind a cloud in leaden sky
to guide me home again.

The me that only sings or cries
alone in the car foresees the day I will not
round this curve again, not drive again,
not see mountaintops again, have to leave
my home for the sheltered hovels of the old,
fated to never see the moon rise again and again,
and then, to not see again.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: Personification is used to great effect in this poem. The landscape and moon are alive and well-loved, and even mourned as time passes and the narrator speculates on what will be.

“Body of well-known naturalist found in river” by Risa Denenberg

“Body of well-known naturalist found in river”

A woman wanders to escape. Her noetic life has dwindled
. . . . . . . .down to grandchildren she never sees and a failure to remember
their names. She retains an ossified memory of the taxonomy of birds,
. . . . . . . .but has lost her car keys for the last time. She miss-mates the buttons
on her flannel jacket. There is no one to straighten it or care,
. . . . . . . .no one to straighten her affairs —

not the trysts of mid-life, but the sort that bury you under piles of junk
. . . . . . . .in your seventies. Physically, she is strong with steady heart
and unburnt lungs; she can hike for hours wielding a hand-carved
. . . . . . . .walking stick, backpack not a burden, canvas for shade or to lie upon,
enough water for a day. She roams the path along the river where she knows
. . . . . . . .the flora and the pitch of bird calls.

The once-weekly chat with her daughter came this morning
. . . . . . . .at ten. She no longer looks forward to these calls, but does her best
to fake it. Pleasantries were tendered and repaid. No hint
. . . . . . . .was given of any plan or prayer. In the river, tiny eyelets open
within eddies as she slides from bank to current with a splash.
. . . . . . . .She is a perfect pear-shaped sea-bound droplet.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: At first, I balked at noetic (“of or relating to mental activity or the intellect”), but upon further reading, I found some lovely internal rhyme and alliteration in this poem.