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poemoftheweek poem of the week

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

like always,

                 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.

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