The Word for Loss is Missing

Times are dark, right after the presidential election, so here’s a fun poem about the horrors of colonialism.

I usually write speculative poetry, but this poem is based very much in fact. One of the particularly malignant things about colonialism is the way colonizers rob the colonized of their very language. The language of the colonized is almost always actively repressed, and is often made outright illegal. This leads to the tragic loss of the language, either wholly or in part. This poem was inspired by the fact that Yiddish is a dying language, and the method of reconstruction used in the later verses is an actual method used by linguists – I became aware of it in the documentary “We Still Live Here”, about attempts to reconstruct and save the language of the Wampanoag tribe here in Massachusetts.

“The Word for Loss is Missing” appeared in Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry in November 2016.

Four Chambers

In early 2014, I was emerging from the second of two abusive relationships in a row. I very deliberately carved out space and time to ground and center myself, to think about what I needed and wanted, to not get swept up in another toxic person’s intense and charismatic courtship. It was the best thing I could have done for myself, and I emerged from it renewed and with purpose, albeit still scarred.

And then I started chatting with Mattie Joiner, who was shy and magical and lovely, and they gave me back parts of myself I didn’t know I’d lost or given up on. And, given that Mattie is a poet themselves, it was natural that our shy courtship would take the form of exchanges of poems.

I would have preferred to give a whole, undamaged heart, but this is what I had. Small. Broken. Still good. ♡

“Four Chambers” was published in Mythic Delirium in September 2015.

The Binding

nullThis one went up a bit ago, and it slipped right by me! It’s actually fairly strange for me to look at “The Binding” these days; I wrote it in 2012, before all of the massive life changes that changed how I wrote. It sold to Lakeside Circus quite a while ago, and I… forgot about it.

Hello, little poem from a past self about certain dangers.

I write differently now, about different things, but I still like the cadence here, and the warning.

“The Binding” was published in Lakeside Circus in April 2015.


Mat Joiner and I have just launched Liminality, a magazine of speculative poetry!

In anthropological terms, liminality is the midpoint of a ritual: the threshold where a person is no longer quite who they were, not yet who they might become. In between masks, what face might you have? What might you be in transit? Where will you go? Everything is possible in that moment; change is its own goal. Liminality is the space between.

We’re looking for speculative literary poems that touch the heart as much as the head; poems of the liminal, the fluid, and the fantastic. We’d love to see work that shifts shape, refuses to be to be easily pinned down or categorised. We actively welcome diversity; we want to hear new as well as established voices. Tell us tales we thought we knew, the way only you can tell them. Give us new myths.

We’re currently reading for our first issue, through July 31 – please send us poems!

Flying Higher! and Limbo

Flying Higher: Cover
So while I was away, I co-edited an anthology! From the introduction:

One lunchtime at Wiscon (the major feminist SF/F convention held in Madison, WI), we were discussing poetry. Like you do. In particular, we were discussing topics that Michael didn’t think could make for good poetry under any circumstances. Specifically: Superheroes. Shira and Alex Bledsoe absently agreed… then started generating ideas. “I could do a good Superman poem, I think,” Alex said. Shira offered Wonder Woman – no, Amethyst – no, too many choices! – and said, “Actually, we should do an anthology.” Since Michael never says no to an anthology challenge, he agreed.

Said idea might have been utterly lost in the mad whirl of Wiscon activity had we not ended up at dinner that night at an Indian restaurant with a dozen wonderful writers, editors, and miscellaneous marvelous people who, when Shira insisted they all write superhero poetry on their placemats, actually did so. The seeds of this collection were collected that night.

And that might’ve been it – a small collection centered around one fun dinner – but we decided that everybody should have a chance to join the fun and did an open call for submissions. The anthology quickly expanded to what it is today – a collection of over 50 superhero poems from the ridiculous to the sublime, from award-winning poets and writers to total poetry novices and everyone in between. The unifying thread through this collection is a pure love for superheroes, in general and in particular, whether they’re the heroes we grew up loving, those we create ourselves, or just the structure and tropes of their worlds.

We just wanted everyone to have fun writing superhero poems. We hope you enjoy them.


I also have a poem in this! Michael and I both waited til the end to write our poems, to give everyone else first crack at characters. Mine happened very much at the last minute! I cycled through a bunch of possibilities, but when it came down to it, of course my poem was always going to be about Illyana Rasputin. “Limbo” is a look at a character who would never have been a superhero in any other universe, a trauma survivor who had no other labels available to her…

Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry is available FREE on Smashwords, and look at this table of contents!

Introduction ~ Shira Lipkin & Michael Damian Thomas
Becoming Wonder Woman ~ Julia Rios
Robin’s Legs ~ Mary Robinette Kowal
If ~ Kip Manley
Mrs. Freeze ~ Anita Allen
Riveted ~ Lisa Bradley
Untitled Haiku ~ Amy McNally
Untitled ~ A.C. Wise
Supervillanelle ~ Lisa Nohealani Morton
The Tiger is Herself ~ Gillian Daniels
Untitled ~ Eric Burns-White
swimming lesson ~ S. Brackett Robertson
Pantone 032 ~ Torrey Stenmark
Untitled ~ Lynne M. Thomas
Said Gorilla Grodd, to God… ~ Erik Amundsen
Unofficial Love ~ Shawna Jaquez
Riddler’s Clues, a Villanelle ~ John O’Connor
Invisible ~ Emily Wagner
Hawkguy ~ Michael Damian Thomas
Darksein the Diabolic Plots His Comeback from Beyond the Grave ~ Mike Allen
Alias ~ Erika Ensign
Judah Maccabee ~ Benjamin Rosenbaum
The Scarlet Witch at Rest ~ Laura McCullough
APACHE CHIEF ~ Sofia Samatar
Wonder Woman Lassos the C.E.O. ~ Wendy Babiak
Inhumanly King. (a poem by Black Bolt) ~ Adam P. Knave
Poison Ivy ~ Emily Nordling
An Elegy for Evelyn Cream ~ Amal El-Mohtar
The Wolverine ~ Matthew Kuchta
Bat-Mite’s Refrain ~ R.B. Wood
Untitled ~ Adam Lipkin
take off your horn-rims and fly ~ Gwynne Garfinkle
Untitled ~ Stefan Krzywicki
Guarded ~ Stephanie M. Clarkson
J’onesing for J’onn J’onnz—A Fanboi’s Paen to the Martian Manhunter ~ Kelly McCullough
Rocket’s Red Glare ~ John O’Connor
The Bone Woman ~ Alex Dally MacFarlane
Unmasked ~ Claire A. Miller
knitwear is both harder and softer than suits ~ Wednesday Burns-White
The Fish Aquatic ~ John Klima
You! I Thought You Were Dead!* ~ Steven Marsh
Untitled ~ Fritz Bogott
Untitled ~ Mari Ness
Bless Us, Nellie Bly, Saint of the Secular Upstarts ~ C.S.E. Cooney
The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face ~ Catt Kingsgrave
Untitled ~ Michael McAfee
The Tick ~ Liz Argall
Superheroes ~ Meredith Schwartz
Friendship and Butts ~ Shawna Jaquez
Green in Gold and Silver ~ David D. Levine
Super Sense ~ Talib Hussain
Superhero Haiku Triptych ~ Paul Weimer
Princess of Gemworld ~ Mary Anne Mohanraj
Limbo ~ Shira Lipkin


* Michael and I were interviewed by the wonderful Julia Rios on the Outer Alliance Podcast.

* Scott Slemmons of “Hero Sandwich” says, in part: “Thumbs up. I love the complete unexpected surprise of this. I really never considered the idea of writing poetry — serious poetry — about superheroes. It still seems like an odd idea, and I’m not sure I could ever manage to do it myself. But I’m glad all these poets managed to wrap their brains around the concept so well. The variety of poems is very good, with serious works side by side with less serious ones, along with enthusiastic geekery, poets who are entirely ambivalent about superheroes, tributes to comics, films, and more than one real-life hero. There’s something here for everyone.”

* Practically Marzipan has a very extensive review here.

* The SFPA has two reviews here. Alex Plummer says “Flying Higher collects more than 50 poems by as many authors, all of which explore, ruminate on, or reimagine the complex, cape-shrouded, and ever-evolving world of the superhero. The collection forms a 91-page collage of crime fighters, cackling supervillains, and superhuman heroes; both those icons of the genre and those obscured by time. By utilizing a diverse set of poetic forms—partnering villanelles with limericks (dirty and otherwise), giving every freeverse poem a rhyming sidekick, and seasoning it all with a haiku or two and at least one sonnet—Flying Higher manages to be as varied and eclectic as the heroes that inspired it.

The collection is marked, above all, by a deep love and enthusiasm for the superhero genre, expressed in a variety of ways. Be it the retrospective sexual thrill inspired by genre mainstays, such as in Julia Rios’s “Becoming Wonder Woman,” or Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Robin’s Legs,” tongue-in-cheek humor at the expense of overdramatic storytelling, as if found in S. Brackett Robinson’s “Swimming Lessons,” (where inflatable shoulder pads are all that saves one costumed hero from a ignoble death by drowning in a pond), or an exploration of the poignant moral conflict implicit in superhuman power, as laid out by Catt Kingsgrave in “The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face,” each poem, whether affirming or critiquing, wells from an abiding engagement with a landscape populated by superheroes, supervillains, and all the characters in-between.

Several of the poems consider the less heroic and more quotidian aspects of superhero life. Consider this passage from Wednesday Burns-Whites’s “Knitwear is Both Harder and Softer than Suits,” where She-Hulk laments her wardrobe difficulties:

They can’t kill me, but they killed my sweater.
My squishy, gunky, loaf-around sweater.
I loved that sweater. You have no idea.

This shit never happens to Stark, and he buys new suits all the time.

Other poems also engage with the off-duty aspects of superheroing, but take a darker bent, considering the strain such a lifestyle would leave on an individual: the reality not often depicted in the comics and movies. This excerpt from Shira Lipkin’s “Limbo” shows a darker take on tragic origin stories:

I was not a child when I came home.

Not a child, not a hero,
but I wore your costume,
I hid my sword.

In Lipkin’s poem, the hero seems aware of the context in which he lives, and theme that traces its thread throughout other parts of the collection—heroes and villains taking on an insquisitve or even antagonistic relationship with their creators or fans; a sort of metatextual commentary on the superhero comic genre that both delights and chills. Of particular note in that regard is Michael Damian Thomas’s poem “Hawkguy,” where the titular hero is overwhelmed by the number of alternate continuities and reboots he finds himself in, as well as Mike Allen’s “Darksein the Diabolic Plots His Comeback from Beyond the Grave,” wherein a villain complains to his authors about his ignoble death.

Some of the poems of the collection assume a fairly detailed knowledge of the superhero genre on the part of the reader. Those who don’t have that extensive knowledge may find a few of the more esoteric pieces lost on them. However, with such a variety of poems, many of them worthy of a read whether or not a reader has an interest in superheroes, a lack of extensive superhero knowledge shouldn’t serve as a barrier.

For anyone looking for a collection of poetry that will at turns delight, shock, or pose serious questions, Flying Higher comes recommended. It’s available for free, so the only barrier to reading it is time—and this one is worth it. It transcends both Silver-Age comics nostalgia and Watchmen-esque gritty despair to arrive, through poetry, in a fractured but rich area where superheroes are increasingly human.”

Not Too Bold

The acceptance letter for this read “This is finally a serial killer poem that I am very happy to accept!”

Let me back up.

I grew up on fairy tales. Not just Little Red and Snow White; I dug deep into Grimm’s. My favorite was The Robber Bridegroom and its variant, Mr. Fox. I was a bloodthirsty kid! The murder and cannibalism fascinated me. I make no excuses or apologies.

It could use an update, I thought.

And I still want to install a series of signs in my house, through the progressive doorways:

Be bold, be bold.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold,
Lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.

Not Too Bold” was published in Niteblade #25 in September 2013. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

And the War is Never Over

This poem had been building for quite some time.

I’ve been volunteering with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center since 2007; I’m a community education volunteer and a survivor speaker. In the former role, I’ve been doing a lot of work within my local community and the greater SF/F community regarding sexual violence. It’s been pretty nonstop. And by the nature of it, it worked its way into every aspect of my life – especially as I began to write a novel about childhood sexual abuse. And spent some time actually working at BARCC as well.

I began to fray. Vicarious trauma, they call it. It’s not uncommon. I kept pushing myself, but I got to a point where I had to take leave or snap, and I did take leave.

And the week I took leave, I wrote this poem.

Which has new meaning now that I’ve realized that I was in an abusive relationship at the time – a relationship that exploded into violence the week the poem was published.

“And the War is Never Over” was published in Strange Horizons in May 2013.

Where We Died

This one, I remember writing.

It’s a shadow of sorts of my first published short story, “The Angel of Fremont Street”. It draws from the same inciting incident – but instead of an examination of the years beyond, “Where We Died” is a snapshot, one few-second slice of a life right before everything changes forever.

It’s short, as my poems go. By necessity. Just one moment long.

Where We Died” was published in Niteblade #24, June 2013.

The Busker, Broke and Busted

I’m in an odd position with this poem, in that I don’t really remember writing it.

I remember it coming out, and me being bewildered – because it isn’t actually a poem. It’s a song, a Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque patter song about an obsolete robot. I remember bits of it coming to me in the shower, and I remember singing the lilting “I am, I am” notes to myself. (Poorly. There’s a reason there’s no audio on this post!) I just don’t remember the impetus! Which is highly unusual, but there are exceptions to all rules.

Its sole appearance in public to this point was the poetry reading at Arisia 2012, where I had my daughter sing it – the audience laughed, they sympathetically “awwed”, and they attempted to take up a collection to purchase and upgrade the poor robot! I was also heavily encouraged to write an entire musical. Which… might happen, with the help of Erik Amundsen, if our lives ever settle down sufficiently.

Besides the obvious issue that it’s properly a song, not a poem, it’s also very long, and was rejected from print magazines for that reason, but I did not despair. I was feeling uncharacteristically bright and pushy one day and asked Apex Magazine editor Lynne Thomas when they’d be opening to unsolicited poetry again; she responded that I should consider myself solicited. Little did I know that she’s a musical theatre geek! So this song/poem/impending event ended up with exactly the right editor. I love it when that happens.

“The Busker, Broke and Busted” was published in Apex Magazine #48, May 2013.

Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades

(Art by Paula Friedlander!)

I am tired of Persephone Poems.

We all have them! I have two. It’s an attractive narrative – the lovely, innocent young maiden seduced into the underworld. People have done interesting things with the story. But it’s one of the most popular narratives out there, poetry-wise, and I am drowning in Persephone and want to drown her.

So yes, everyone loves the good girl.

What about the bad girl? What about someone who’s a Queen of the Underworld in her own right, and could be an equal match for Hades?

I’m a Sumerian mythology geek, and I’ve told my version of Inanna’s Descent. What about Inanna’s sister, who requires that Inanna surrender her very life?

That’s a strong character.

So here, Ereshkigal has a proposition for Hades.

And I still can’t read the last line aloud without blushing.

“Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades” was published in Mythic Delirium #27.