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Ruth Ellen Kocher


i begin with ocean

floating in the free space of my ribs

somewhere between

ursa major and Ursa Minor 

i begin in scorpio 

a car ride into the city

before andromeda collided with the milky way another timeline ago 

I begin as a cluster of muscadine grapes bursting bloody on their stems

i begin at the end


gorged on the ill-shaped stars which had 

not yet begun

i begin beaten by my own hands 

a comet galaxy

orbiting the parking lot of stumblin' inn friday nights waiting for a wrong turn 

in the right car

i begin as a side bet 

a detour into cosmos

via the elliptical path of my thumbprint 

i begin as magellan's cloud hovering above 

a cartwheel galaxy before magellan imagined himself 

i begin as a call into 

the deep-deep

as a black eye begging my way into medusa merger

i begin

as something found and then lost 

as a clutch

meaning a small group

as in a small group of mothers huddled around a baby fever-charged

i begin with nothing 

no history no moons



three days before 

my mother dies 

she says

i'm glad i kept you




in november

a lie fertilizes an embryo


in december 

panic begins


in january

her mother calls her whore


the northeastern sky is crisp 



the trees are raked hands 



in a very fine suit

malcolm is gunned down



has no mercy


the bullet tunnels 

a quantum path


through the badlands 

behind time


march is bloody 

selma will never heal


july becomes my body becoming

Ruth Ellen Kocher is the author of godhouse (Omnidawn Press, 2023); Third Voice (Tupelo Press 2016); the 2013 Noemi Book Prize selection Ending in Planes (Noemi Press, 2014); Goodbye Lyric: The Gigans and Lovely Gun (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014); domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press, 2013), winner of the Dorset Prize and the 2014 PEN/Open Book Award; One Girl Babylon (New Issues Press, 2003); When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press, 2002), selected for the Green Rose Prize; and Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press, 1999), a Naomi Long Madgett Prize selection. Her poems appear or will appear in many anthologies, including Best American Experimental Writing, Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poets, Black Nature, From the Fishouse, An Anthology for Creative Writers: The Garden of Forking Paths, IOU: New Writing On Money, and New Bones: Contemporary Black Writing in America.Kocher has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem Foundation, and Yaddo. She is a contributing editor at Poets & Writers magazine and serves on the Board of Directors for RASA: Race, Solidarity, and the Arts. She has taught poetry writing at the University of Missouri, Southern Illinois University, the New England College low residency MFA program, the Indiana Summer Writer’s workshop, and Washington University’s Summer Writing program. She currently teaches poetry, poetics, and literature at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

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