Sunday 12 February 2023

Five Poems by J.D. Isip


The Blue Morphos


It is a trick of the light,
an evolutionary sleight of hand
that makes you think you see the heart of fire,
or glowing wood sprites, or an atomized god

dissembling her awesome form of hunger and heft,
a voluptuous vengeance scattered about in gossamer wings,
the iridescent hue of domed roofs in Santorini where children hold out flowers,
light the lanterns down the steps from Fira, the Three Bells singing on the shore like sirens,


songs so deep and so low
the only colours you think in are blues
which might explain Pausanias’ theory of Aphrodite split in two,
or Aristophanes’ two halves wandering the world, crying out like bells,
desperate to be whole again.


Arwen at the River




How many times have we promised ourselves, our whole selves
for a worthy sacrifice?


Here is my power and will, every last drop, may it serve this stance
or purpose or could-be love—




Where are you going, my would-be love? Can you not see all I give
for you to give back—Come back! Give back!


Where your treasure is, they say, one may find whatever keeps you
breathing, whatever brings the blood


Flow waters


Into this pale face by the water that doesn’t look back, the water
that rolls ever further from your wish


Into its own kind of force fed by our own empty hands, empty
selves gallop and shake our manes of waves


Loud water


What grace is given me, let it pass, let it pass, let it pass, pass.



The Death of Superman was announced by Henry Cavill himself
on Instagram tonight. A former fat kid who blossomed, Superman,
well, the now-former Supes, didn’t even put up his usual square-
jawed smile. He just said “onward and upward” on his way down.

He wouldn’t hit so hard if Captain America, Chris Evans, hadn’t
hung up the shield just a couple of years ago. At my age, one should
probably have fewer idols, or obsessions, but as a former fat kid
I’ve always been a step behind. Look, I even have these two tattoos

willing myself, maybe, to be an Avenger or even a Man of Steel. But
who are we kidding? It’s hard these days to want to get to the gym
or get up at all, or even try another app, much less put yourself out
there. What’s the point? When even earth’s mightiest heroes could—

(Jack Reacher is towering, all muscle, all business, all sincerity, he,
the actor Alan Ritchson, gives his own Instagram update, shaky, he
talks about being suicidal, about suffering, he says, “how to suffer
less” and, later, “I want us to believe… make magic again… aspire”) 

never see it coming? Give me a couple of days though, a week tops,
and I’ll be back at it. Belief is muscle memory that kicks in. We were
all heroes— Mariah Carey released “Hero” the fall after high school.
Mom was in the living room watching her, crying, believing each word,

I’d just told her about enlisting, “I’m so proud of you, baby”–once.



To her, it was a symbol of love. A hollow 

made in his perfect image, a cut out place 

to hold all of the magic and potential. 


He called it prison, she called it cradle 

and sang to it lullaby words of lovers: 

“You are mine. That is love. To be mine.” 


Once she had him it did not take long for her 

to forget that hollow place. Without void, 

without need it was only a trunk, only a tree. 


To him, it was an act of love. A hole 

in the shape of him he set free. His hands 

felt the empty space for magic dust 


or one fine hair in the grooves and rings 

that count the years they had him, and love 

and all of the spells they both let go. 


El Roi


Fathers are a mystery to their boys.
They walk ahead, troubled, mumbling to themselves,

turning around to tell us some hard truth
or some old promise or prayer:

Like sand on the shore!

Like stars in the sky!


I learned to stay back, to ask questions.
Not my brother. He woke up early and cut the wood,
tied it in a large bundle and burdened himself

all the way to the Land of Moriah.


I watched our father sharpen his blade.
No matter what you’ve heard, I loved my brother.
I sent the servants to follow. They said,

“Listen to him going on!”

Like sand on the shore!

Like stars in the sky!


My mother used to tell me about a desert

and her own weighted load, a child swaddled
and starving, an angel, a message to

“Fall down in wonder!”


And they were gone so long, I did
start to think of her stories, and of the old man
who eyed me like I’d suddenly burst

a spark, a conflagration.
Like sand on the shore!

Like stars in the sky!


With fear and trembling, we follow.
With flint and fuel, we flame.

J.D. Isip published his first collection of poetry, Pocketing Feathers, with Sadie Girl Press (2015). His second collection, Kissing the Wound, is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press (2023). The poems included here are part of a new project tentatively titled All Your Billows and Waves, using the story of Jonah as a framing device for the collection. His works—including poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and plays— have appeared in many magazines and journals including Ethel Zine, Borderlands, Pilgrimage Press, Poetry Quarterly, and Sandpiper. He is a full-time English professor in Plano, Texas.


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