Kathleen McClung (Featured Poet)

Getting to yes

San Francisco, 2018

The two young men discuss a business deal.
A microscopic table yokes their drinks.
The one immediately to my left
holds forth with fuckin' this and fuckin' that.
It's clear he's passionate about some goal
involving apps, investors, and himself.

From where I sit, he seems to have no self-
control, no editor within. The deal
looms large, trumps all, perhaps the dearest goal
he's ever had. The other fellow drinks
iced coffee slow, inserts a question that
I don't quite hear. A zinger, though. It's left

a mark. The fuckin' man who's on my left
falls mute, blinks hard. This pause he gives himself
may be the first in years. I notice that
the volume overall descends, the deal
entwining all of us eavesdroppers, drink-
ing cappuccinos here. Our tacit goal:

take in the juiciest tidbits, the gold
of dialogue, and yet appear we've left
each other all alone with separate drinks
at separate tiny tables. I myself
have listened in for fifty years, ideal
apprenticeship for specializing at

the FBI in covert this-and-that.
But I digress. Returning to the goal
at hand, we pseudo-spies lean in. The deal
is hanging by a thread; so much is left
unsaid by fuckin' man who finds himself
surrounded by big ears, small screens, and drinks

unsipped, suspense now peaked. Nobody drinks
until, at last, he blurts a sentence that
has no four-letter words at all, no self-
aggrandizing bluster. It's bland. A goal's
been met. The two shake hands. And we are left
to drain our cups and text our kids and click on deals:

free drinks with each Big Mac, pedometers
that track our self-improvement goals. We cut
our deals: what lies ahead, what's left behind.

Lockdown Crown

The only one who does not dive into
a tiny screen when lights flick off, I gaze
at twenty heads. For us, it's nothing new—
this moratorium on speech, this blaze
of twenty candles with no wicks. I stand
behind the rows and listen to them breathe,
these scrollers, fidgeting or still, pretend-
ing nonchalance yet marking time. We leave
our textbooks closed for now, the formal verse
and free, the Plath and Berryman, Millay
and Nemerov. Tonight we must rehearse
for chaos, mime the most efficient way
to outwit shooters in the hall. Our drill:
we're playing dead. Nobody here to kill.

We're playing dead. Nobody here to kill
but plenty who have gone before. This room
is crowded in the dark. Perhaps we will
remember bowling shoes, an apron, broom
or clothesline where she clipped wet sheets and shirts,
a van he drove on fishing trips, live bait
in peanut butter jars. (Especially it hurts
to conjure drowning kin, imagine weight
of stones impossible to cleave, release.)
Tonight our minds must pause from studying
and imitate a sort of coup: police
negotiator outside readying
to bargain for us sort of hostages.
A bullhorn bleats: "Stay calm," a man's voice says.

A bullhorn bleats: "Stay calm," a man's voice says.
I nearly laugh. And yet what kind of tone
is that to set? I might get fired. The college pres-
ident might leave a message on my phone,
might summon me. (I've never seen her suite.)
I'd bring the union rep. I'd be contrite,
concurring: "Lockdown drills are a complete,
but sad, necessity. I don't make light
of them at all. My laugh, no disrespect,
just nerves, just id escaping from a drawer."
But, luckily, I keep it shut, that drawer, reject
that laugh before it flutters to the floor.
We're all obedient. We're calm and mute.
We follow protocol without dispute.

We follow protocol without dispute:
the shades are drawn. We cannot see the trees
companioning the panes. They bear no fruit
but, elegant and lush, these limbs still please
us adjunct profs with aching lower backs
as we arrive, unpack our gear and gaze
through windows to a sky beyond our stacks
of Atwood essays to return, our A's,
B pluses justified with margin notes.
Who chose, who planted them, these chaperones
who sway just past the shades? A prayer devotes
its syllables to mystery, its tones
to reverence. Tonight, here while we hide,
I praise old branches, steady, sanctified.

I praise old branches, steady, sanctified.
If truth be told, I'm growing old as well.
More gray. A slower climb up stairs inside
this building. (Hell, I traded stairs for el-
evator years ago. Who's kidding whom?)
AARP keeps offering me their tote bags,
and I keep shredding in my dining room—
a ritual, post-bacon-scrambled eggs-
and tea. Retirement looms down some road,
not here, this room we occupy tonight
behind this bolted door. We'll hear a code,
ALL CLEAR, before too long, flick on the lights,
continue with our inquiries, our quests.
We'll wrestle with new metaphors, new tests.

We'll wrestle with new metaphors, new tests
of what we can endure if not transcend,
we carriers of compact life rafts, nests
of sorts, but twigless, not designed to bend.
They're woven to our palms, these envelopes
that bulge beyond imagining, that burst,
in fact, and no one licks. We stuff our hopes
inside while texting, wonder if we're cursed
or blessed. Do our devices carry us?
Enough of metaphors! They're simply phones,
equipment, nothing more and nothing less.
And we who hold them close, we skin and bones—
we're more complex by far, more fragile, fierce
and flawed. I vote for failing better. Volunteers?

And flawed, I vote for failing better. Volunteers
do not exactly swarm, I know. I've been around
the block. And yet, how else to persevere?
I use our dreaded drill to muse, propound
some notions, not just fume, despair, or fret.
I tell my class to rest or meditate
tonight while in the dark. We don't forget
the murdered in the schools. We must not hate
the broken boys with guns, now locked in cells
or graves. They once sat down in desks like these.
Perhaps they memorized the capitals
of fifty states or doodled lemon trees.
I listen to us breathe. Tonight we may play dead.
Unlocking fully, though, requires more work ahead.

October Glosa

"Still dark.
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep
inquiringly, just once."

—Elizabeth Bishop, "Five Flights Up"

Rattling glass wakes me,
insistence of wind—
what can it want from sleepers
and why this scent, such sweet wood?
Still dark.

No sirens here,
only a hush, then the trembling resumes.
Pillows offer no logic now
but dim chimneys of dreams.
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch

and the cat curls on blankets, holy
and routine. North, in Sonoma,
horses trample grass, a hospital empties,
asphalt burns bare feet fleeing cul-de-sacs.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep

and I wonder if my neighbors
mistake this aroma as I do, imagine
a block party nearby, a muted dawn feast,
flimsy paper plates. I stand at their door, knock
inquiringly, just once.

The Juror's Lament

1 Box

We must not: speak, return to scene of crime,
(bleak dive-bar street) or, worse, research online
the cast of players in this cheerless room—
plump, sneakered judge instructing us, "Assume
no guilt for now" (she looks like Gertrude Stein);

stern prosecutor, watchful like a mime;
public defender, sleek in Calvin Klein;
accused at table silent as a tomb.
We must not speak,

but pay fifteen to park, arrive at nine,
inch through antique metal detector line
and take our seats inside this box, resume
our stoney faces, doused in dull perfume
of civic duty, steno pads. Confined,
we must not speak.

2 Locked Hallway

A smaller room awaits us twelve who word-
lessly observed from swivel chairs. We heard
this case: murky surveillance video,
paid expert witnesses who swore they know
who did it, how, and why. So much has blurred

these weeks within our box. We have endured
the bloody photographs, the vague, absurd
insinuations. Now it's time to go:
a smaller room

will house our conversation long deferred
while lawyers spun their tales of what occurred
in winter, 8:03, four years ago.
We shuffle down a hall, reluctant row
of citizens. If we convict, he is assured
a smaller room.

3 Verdict

I print Guilty with ballpoint pen and sign
my name. Below I add the date and time
(from Howard's phone): 11:43.
We've made our peace. We wrestled mightily
for days, the bailiff locking us at nine,

the grim defendant on hall bench—assigned
or self-imposed vigil as anodyne?
His presence brought us no tranquility.
I print Guilty,

relieved to finish, stand and leave behind
the awful pad marked JUROR 6, blue lines
thin horizontal bars—a penitentiary.
Success: our reaching unanimity?
Perhaps. The punishment, our judge defines.
I print Guilty.

Dear Robocallers

Don't bother me again. The No Call List
explicitly forbids your pitch, your candidate
from purring in my ear. I'll slash each wrist

if one more time share rep or perky atheist
inquires about my future plans to recreate.
Don't bother me again. The No Call List

includes ten digits, mine. Or have you missed
the 5, the 2, or possibly the 8?
This purring in my ear, this grim zoologist—

Save Arctic Polar Bears!—no catalyst.
The opposite of mobilize: numb, irritate.
Don't bother me again. Misanthropists

are made, not born. We start idealists
but get too many calls and come to hate
the purring in our ears. We slash our wrists,

blaze off the grid to some survivalist
compound in Idaho, explosives at the gate.
Don't bother me. Consult the No Call List.
Stop purring in my ear and Save This Woman's Wrists!

Postcard from Deep in Middle Age

Dear friend, please come: my birthday bash next week.
Remove your shoes. (Teakwood Thai restaurant.)
A private room's reserved so we can speak
or keen for climate change as often as we want.
Or sing. I leave that up to you. My hair
is grayer than last year. I contemplate
the Feinstein route, but I'm no Senate chair
of anything. Please help me celebrate
by ordering a curry dish, some rice,
a chardonnay. I welcome gifts and cards.
My aunt's toy store is gone. You'll pay a higher price
for animals online: alpaca, aard-
vark, antelope. But feel free, my dear,
to bring nothing. We're unemployed. We're all friends here.


The surgeon left a hyphen here—
no words on either side, just skin.
To make that organ disappear
the surgeon left a hyphen here.
Pathology report: All clear.
Your celebration can begin.
The surgeon left a hyphen here.
No words on either side. Dear skin—


Kathleen McClung is the author of The Typists Play Monopoly (2018) and Almost the Rowboat (2013). Her poems appear widely in journals and anthologies including Southwest Review, Naugatuck River Review, Unsplendid, The MacGuffin, Ekphrasis, Atlanta Review, cahoodaloodaling, California Quarterly, Forgotten Women, Sanctuary, Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, and elsewhere. Winner of the Rita Dove, Morton Marr, Shirley McClure, and Maria W. Faust national poetry prizes, she is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee. Associate director and sonnet sponsor/judge for the Soul-Making Keats literary competition, she teaches at Skyline College and The Writing Salon in San Francisco, and has taught/advised student teachers in the credential program at Mills College. She directs Women on Writing: WOW! Voices Now on the Skyline campus, celebrating creativity in writers of all ages. In 2018-2019 she is a writer-in-residence at Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. www.kathleenmcclung.com


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The most recent addition to The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline is Phillis Wheatley by Kathryn Voorhees.

Kathleen McClung is the recipient of the 2019 Mezzo Cammin Scholarship to the Poetry by the Sea conference.

Megan Marlatt:Looking like large puppet heads, it was "anima", the root of "animation", that led me to the making of the big heads, (or "capgrossos" as they are called in Catalonia where I learned the craft.) Anima is the soul or what breathes life into a being and to animate an inanimate object, an artist must insert a little soul into it. However to bring attention to what is invisible, (the soul), I chose to mold its opposite in solid form: the persona, the ego, the big head, the mask. Nearly every culture across the globe has masks. They allow performers to climb into the skin of another being and witness the other's world from behind their eyes. While doing so, the mask erases all clues of the performer's age, gender, species or race. In this regard, I find them to be the most transformative and empathic of all human artifacts.

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