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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Plans; How to Navigate in Three Dimensions; Second Spine

By: S.K. Brownell


He says he does not know what comes next

but we are always saying that.

In conversation, lulls are filled with impression

—that is, need to impress.

He says let’s not have plans or hopes

they only get us disappointed.

I say desire is worth more to me than risk.

He says we never did pronouns but no,

they were always in the air.

The first time we met, I told him I was everything.

He wasn’t listening closely enough yet.

He was still speaking convenience, to convince.

He says we never did pronouns but

we did.

He says he does not know what comes next

with a woman as if I would be different

if I were a man. Bodies fit with bodies or they don’t.

Every night his hands are frantic, making plans and

cupcakes—we need something to do after all.

We cannot lie in bed and stare

each other in the face, strip off

what is not us and lay bare, dripping

anxious for a kiss or touch and

I have the sense he is afraid of me

as if me is what he can see.

Still he says, let us not have plans

they only lead to definitions.

He says he does not know what comes next

or rather he shows it when I bring the conversation

round again, round like the earth and the moon and

my body, which he is still staring at, perplexed.

The sense that I am missing something, long and fleshy,

cradled in my arms like a child that is not a child,

held up like a lion on a mountain top, pride and prince,

is now not only in me but in him.

We go out and we do not have plans.

He says let us not declare or display

affection or any other form of nearness.

I know he is fearing it will erase him,

and fearing, he erases me.

He says he does not know what comes next

and why is it always boys who say that?

What part of me is drawn to certainty because all of me

is uncertain, a wavering that cannot declare or

defend, desire, an absence that is both too much and

too little, spreading toward the center of the earth.

I am a soft, slow animal, again receding.

He is a soft, slow animal in a pen.

What is opening between us is this:

What he has defined, he is bound to disappoint.

What I define, I too deeply defend.

How to Navigate in Three Dimensions

He says my legs are tired of being legs. And

I know what he means.

My legs are tired of muscles and fat.

My legs are tired of tendons.

My legs are tired of bone structures and patellae

and moving and moving and staying still.

My legs are tired of uphill and downhill but mostly uphill and uphill and mostly flat.

My legs imagined there was no such thing as the work week or a

destination and they

thought about painting and gave me

monkey toes and I am


My legs imagined they could swim and

had gills and

were fish and

knew how to navigate in three dimensions.

My legs imagined they teleported to Antarctica because they

know how to teleport and they

know about Antarctica and it

doesn't make them cold.

My legs are talented.

My legs are tired of being legs.

He says: Me too.

Second Spine



it became a game they could play

who could speak the syllables fastest

of languages not meant for sound

after dinner they sit on the pier

naming names and speaking in tongues

she sits on sand stuck in swimsuits

at least there is a breeze here

the name is longer than the fish

and her name is longer than her body

latinate and plump

underneath dun eyebrows

her mother tells her God is real

she does not argue


rocks don’t wilt, they fragment

like memories and hard disks

her invertebrate mother

digs under

silt under soil under

sand in her swimsuit

the sediment of a life

the way to make stones sparkle is to crush them

and daughters too


she should have been a shelter

she is moved by nothing

obstinate to water, wind, and glaciers

her inveterate mother who feeds

on things below the surface

the bottom of the body

benthic, she locks herself in place


rhinecanthus rectangulus

is often found solitary

particularly in captivity


she imagines that the night is like the ocean

that humans go around with lanterns in their heads

a starfish disintegrates

an angelfish changes sex

a wormfish digs its grave and waves

goodbye and will we ever

have our own names


triggers have the remarkable ability

to rapidly alter their coloration

she is in sepia

demonstrating submission

she will be of nature, prismatic

healthy and unthreatened


searching she is

searching the sediment

for edible detritus

to keep her alive

she is eating her

invertebrate mother

she is not a shelter

she is a predator

her mother prays

in a classic way

she has tried

kneeling, clasping

singing, nothing


searching she is

searching the firmament

for textual referents

to keep her alive


humuhumu they call it

when they’re not playing games

of course, she never calls it that

what can be known

of weathering and erosion

is already known

what can be tolerated

of conspecific women

has already been tolerated

human human

her hypoxic heart beats

she is subsisting on debris

not god or fish


S.K. Brownell is a writer, artist, and educator from the Midwest. Their poetry, prose, and drama have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine, Seven CirclePress, Punt Volat, Decoded: Pride Anthology, Crack the Spine, formercactus, and elsewhere. They are a 2018 Sewanee Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar and winner of the 2015 National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Excellence Award. They hold an MFA from Boston University, teach writing at GrubStreet, and create with Artists' Theater of Boston. More at


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