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Lana K. W. Austin
Walking the Manassas Battlefield, September 14th 2001
We’ve walked late afternoon through
early evening once a week for years.
Three days ago my husband didn’t die
like his friends at the Pentagon,
so we’ve come to walk here
for the normalcy of it.
Each week the deer materialize at dusk—
but this twilight teems
with more movement than before, not
just in the corner of my sight
where the animals normally flit
along the forest’s outskirts,
sometimes butting up against
the walking trails, or sloping
down, clustered in the middle
of a field far from peopled paths.
They fill my vision
when they walk right up,
a hushed sentry. Nineteen deer, so far,
I could have
touched if only they’d stepped or I’d reached
just a few feet more. We’ve finished
hiking the yellow trail and turn
back towards the cannons. Four more deer
approach. One, the twenty-third—
a prime number and a psalm--
moves next to me, not tentative, but with the smell
of soil after hail.
Barren River Sonnet
Where the dull, brown-green Barren River meets
gray pontoon boats on the algae-ridden
liquid surface, a water moccasin,
wraith-like and thin, smirks with its silver teeth.
This pale snake, with a slick alabaster
underside, puffs out its grin, hollow cheeks
making it the cotton mouth serpent. Deep
it dives, only to rise back up and steer
itself right along the side of my boat,
looking for my dangling fingers or feet
to house a poison that would make me choke
and sputter, tight muscles clenching to breathe.
Compelled, though, I reach out to the water,
knowing my role in this fallen Eden river.
Sex At the Ryman
Yes, sex at the Ryman,
but not quite what you think.
No, we didn’t actually do it—
my husband and me there
for our fifteenth anniversary
to soak in the almost Patsy Cline
voice of Neko Case-- but it made us
(well, how should I put this politely?)
want to fuck, because even after
fifteen years there’s passion,
thank you God for this
Song of Solomon seduction
still throbbing and you know it
had to cross our minds to do the deed
‘cause you know Patsy
did it with her husband
or lovely Loretta with Doo,
those salt of the earth sensual singers,
and if not there then maybe
nearby in the alley
next to Tootsie’s, at least some
quick groping between sets
and dear heavens, I pray my preacher
doesn’t denounce me for writing
this, but I think he’ll understand
since every time he stomps up
in that pulpit there’s as much wild
physical force as fire and brimstone
and, please Grandma, don’t roll
in your grave after this, but I know
you won’t since you had to
have done it, too, and hard,
with my Grandfather, everything
needing to come undone
in that fierce coupling, forgetting
the crops that failed, the babies
you buried, clutching each other against
the seasons turning, but not in that
moment, not in the savage union
which held on to the here and now.
–From Blood Harmony, published by Iris Press, 2018
Prompt: As in Lana Austin's "Sex at the Ryman," explore a forbidden act. You don't have to write about something as taboo as Austin's public sex. You could write about carving your name in a church pew or stealing a car, skipping school or cheating on the SAT. No matter what it is, what matters is what this forbidden act says about you (or your speaker). As always, have fun.
Bio: LANA K. W. AUSTIN'S poems, short stories, and reviews have recently been featured in Mid-American Review, Sou’wester, Columbia Journal, Zone 3, Appalachian Heritage, The Colorado Review, The Pinch, and others. Winner of the 2018 Words & Music Poetry Award, Austin has been a finalist and semi-finalist in multiple other competitions, including the James Wright Poetry Award, the Crab Orchard Review First Book Award, the Zone 3 Book Award, the American Short Fiction Award, the Still: The Journal Fiction Award, and the Machigonne Fiction Award. Born and raised in rural Kentucky, Austin studied creative writing at both Hollins University and the University of Mary Washington as an undergraduate and has an MFA from George Mason University (2008). Her full-length poetry collection, Blood Harmony, is from Iris Press (2018) and her chapbook, In Search of the Wild Dulcimer, is from Finishing Line Press (2016). Austin has lived in England, Italy, and Washington, DC, but currently resides in Alabama, where she is an adjunct instructor in the English department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.