from We Will Take Any Mother; Code; Cut; Every Verb Is a Lesson in Longing or Dread; After Vermont, My Hipster Hunter’s Cap; & from Test


from We Will Take Any Mother



time is a fold in my body           along the edge of blue shale            in my terraced Ohio
my mother and I are suspended           two hundred twelve feet above ground
on a bridge where parallel to us           mere feet away           a second bridge 
is swaying           the multiplex below           Metro-parks below           the valley below
is real           there is nothing comforting about it           smearing 
gradients I see in the distance           are a mechanism of the coast           this rare 
Midwestern fog now scattering           and opposing the light           
the tree canopy          like waves           at low tide

next           what looks like Sutro Tower           changing
in angle of incidence           on my left           but on the right there is another Sutro
despite my mother           my passenger           the succulence           and the slope
this is San Francisco           and I am alone           with feral 
rosemary bushes in the devil strip            wafting up
dense and slow           I can’t even hear her voice




a series is real           the face does distort this           contrapuntal body
muscles under the surface           pulling          in opposite directions            darker 
and lighter areas           like a social studies diagram           illustrating the schema           
of mesa           cavern           and town
it is not a real place           you know           a collection of features
but no real occurrence           like my face closed down            when I am not 
looking at you           I make my face a blind           I hide all
my guns           get back           to your mother as a child grabs hold
the soft of mother’s upper arm           “near” and not “in”          
maps should not be conflated                    object permanence is the first mother            hidden
in her own hands           peek           at the mother now lost in a field of—
this is how the landmark works           hands you know pulled back                      
to reveal the familiar face           you have forgotten           admit it




dolls are a kind of practice           making them speak           washing their plastic bodies      
by now           I recognize the numbness            that comes upon me in sleep
as I sit next to the mother           not speaking           also by touch 
I keep Sutro to myself           like a small midnight
hour              I learned from the other dolls           seven sisters show 
there are seven ways           to hold the breath           my mother wakes from her morphine sleep
in J 3-3 asking           what next           this is the warp of day           her shock           her sterile room
just another white box           on earth           where she repeats 
the horror           of waking           several
times           when the full light hits           day is a long labor 
across a landscape           that is not still            even once
the day we are reaching for           throws us
down the next sloping drive           I would like you to know now           
the proper word for this          is not shock           
a pilgrimage tamps you down           makes you lie
flat           you follow something I ’d call fear            trying to scan the darkness 
for color           beneath the red black           find the bluer black
beneath sea-foam green            and its black that is breaking up           
black like a swift exhalation           black that exceeds the bound







glass took on a milky feeling we’ll call frost          in room J 8-2
among matte tile-work          the curve of the hall made me feel          

a certain diameter          on the monitor          sound                 
had been turned off          but a deformity in time    

took place on screen          whenever my mother moved an inch
I froze          the computer lit a green box around this          called it   

an artifact          artifacts were pretty          no one ran to the room 
in J 8-2          my mother’s body was an unbuttoning

surgical scars         like topographical notations          leading you         
to the river          where you will dunk your body seven times

where you will cry out with gratitude to be healed          the pattern                                                   
on her gown was also beyond comprehension          a contagious            

chaos          like all her data          a shape you could see       
but not read          if at all times I didn’t think of her          I was formless 

this was also a kind of death          I could hear a code called anywhere 
in this building          I could feel the night     

nurse at her desk          couldn’t feel the day  
when a man died          on the transplant floor          and his light 

flashing          code blue J 8-12          code blue J 8-12     
then wailing from a woman          just ahead          

obscured by the curve          I was the dark          
moving down the sea-green hall          on this ward 

I was becoming tectonic      







When the home-aid nurse comes

to check on my mother’s drainage tube

I am sharpening my knives

with my new Bavarian edge.


When I hear the nurse say proximity

to the toxin, I entertain the thought

that disease might be seen

as a measure of intimacy.


A knife is my favorite kitchen helper.

Come a little closer.

Look here at what is

wanting near. Nurse and I both


in our power play

where any vision of safety

that suggests we could terrify

or outrun an illness undoes us.





Every Verb Is a Lesson
in Longing or Dread


my mother can speed through the constellation

of her lungs in her online results: the patient-customer

can carry her own film through the corridors


because another pair of eyes on the data field

is always helpful, like the divers clouds of notation

above the jagged range of my mother’s EKG


her community of caretakers also dot about the city

aunts and church mothers, across municipalities

form a recombinant purple feeling


one mother is a clear airway of articulation

before the rasp in the throat

she is the high C5 lifting


one mother is a sure eye, a locked

door, the astringent sting

one mother is the clear


agenda of the body, the gauze, the warp

one mother is the lymph, the system-keeper

the catalyst that propels our offensive


one is the dream of health my mother forgets

upon waking, the prayers of one mother

are the metal plates they rebuilt her with


rod that holds the bone, then the finest

black stitches we use to chastise

and fool the body


upon discharge, the physician reads

the litany of prescriptions and dosage

there is the beating fold in J 2-3


of the esophagus, the breath, diaphragm

in its stretch and tensile strength

for my mother, we are the human mic


we are the composite body

that amplifies the message in the call

and response style of the labor rally


mic check: my muscles cramp uncontrollably

mic check: I can’t keep any thing

down, we repeat the pain


my mother enumerates, we flood

her patient experience with a scatter

of light as if all the doctor has to do is land





After Vermont, My Hipster Hunter’s Cap

after a line by Lucille Clifton


is stockinet in a color

that means someone is trying to kill me,

even when indoors. In the city,

no bears for such hunters,

but there are guns. Lucille knows,

despite the odic expression,

stinking amygdala in a skull

cap that cuts

across my head, exposing

my nape. This is how

close. I can come to

bleeding without a scratch.

Orange licking the radium

dial. Hands all up

in the shade as a battering

imposition a loud cackle

the trickster kinship

between the other-world

and the unaccountable.

Between nickel azo red gold,

and burnt sienna. It is not

this column of flesh

holds the warmth.

I maintain no argument

as regards the landing strip

of my body that I could distinguish.

Lit up beneath the convex

flowering foliage at my face.

That I am laid down in the black

color of my crew

neck is something I watch

me submit to. This tee

crawling up my neck

is my home

animal, but anything so neon

covers my embarrassment

with my embarrassment.

While some colors beat

our spectrum, I get all indignant.

My head is the flag I raise.






You see everything as formless and you forget
that this is a sign of life.

—Hilma af Klimt


Nearness is owed me

There is a sea of red


Lights suspended fifteen feet

Above the tarmac


Something bad

Is beating about the color


Taken, as in carried

Away. Taken in transgression


The left face of the form

And the right, running


Into one another like

Stress waves in solids


My body is a heartbreak

I clock away from


The wrong hills

And valleys jumble


Lines broken like

When you can’t read


The harm in my tone

I can pull you


Across the tarmac

In my fury, fervor


I am roving over the lots

Metal stakes in the frozen


Ground, tufts of brown grass

Ice pilings, I follow


The pattern

Out of my hands—


Large wings unbending

Go up with a start




I woke up angry

In my dream


At the shore, her blood

Washed around like a weak tide


A sine/cosine of my own

Interference. I am


The cold forming the ice

My body runs this


Show like the unseen edge

Of an electromagnetic field


The luminescent cast at my wrist

Was a thin screen I read through


I wanted to beat and course

Where I stood, the pressure


In my face was a ten

Even miles away


That raggedy mass hung together

I was trying to leave


While my friend on the lakefront

Was dying of pancreatic cancer


I ’d starve at the light field, waiting

For a question. Creatinine 3.1


Creatinine 1.9 Creatinine 2.4

Certain 4.3. A god


Of monsters, minus one

Point. To lose composure


Stranded on a darkening

shore. This is a kind of loving


April Freely (1982–2021) was a Cleveland-born poet and essayist based in New York City, where she directed the Fire Island Artist Residency. Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships and awards from the Ohio Arts Council, Vermont Studio Center, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and others, Freely was a graduate of Brown University and held an MFA in nonfiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MFA in poetry from New York University. In addition to her advocacy for LGBTQ and BIPOC artists, Freely was an activist for labor rights and the end of gun violence.