Joey Kingsley



And because here the knotted resin 

drives honeyed tributaries from darkness

into light, I want you to see this field’s


bare wind corralled over the snow,

clarifying the ground & the air above,

adding a sharpness to what’s already


been written. An erasure?

No. More like the idea of erasure,

as thin as its slippery


comfort, a black ice you skid on

though here the land is fresh. Sugar rises

in the sap of silver & red maple


so bored into exultation, the trees weight

the pails. Here, the fastidious fasten buckets to bark,

their bodies canvassed in the wind


like the trees themselves that, dressed in ice,

lean a little numbly. One swing of the ax

& a long time to wait until the sap pools


rye-colored nectar thickening

over metal. My face rouged with frost

burns like kindling for distant fires.


We know the mouth is a red

carnation of tarnished blades. Once, scientists

imagined the mind as a Swiss army


knife—each blade a piece of serrated

puzzle, each shape defined by the line around it

so that a circle bordered by open


space was always the final frontier

receding. It’s hard to tap into the mind—

the site of entry also an exit


for the debris drilled in turnings—

but because a door balances on hinges

& the unhinged mind can hold


nothing for very long in its mouth, 

then a cry must also be as faint

as the sound of an ax’s blade as it


discs the tree or the door as it opens

a creak so fine it may hardly be counted,

a warble that sputters, body-engine’s


rumbling. But, the temps dip lower. Why are

we out here? We wait a long time

under the branches banded together. Look


up—a fusillade of dashes cut

by slivers of sky. Starlings, forgive this 

interruption. It seems the gravity


of things  relies not on weight but on

nature—even tranquilized, this laborious

drip & the one after it


sound like sap as it hits

itself, collecting.


Threshing Time


Two by two the kernels hit the metal pail,

            blue stalks stiff as thin batons 

stripped green braids from yellow tails,


nightshade cast in shadows between fronds.

            They grow like cattails in the barley light,

reaching upward across fields and tongues  


that send flour billowing into air. A figure eight

            of tractor wheels: here are bran and germ;

the shells torn beneath my nails, in hindsight,


were crisp hulls, casing seeds raw & firm.

            That’s why the end of love sounds like pain

a friend says, sweeping glass into his shovel’s berm:


the razored shards split like fire against grain

            that sharp, and sharper, with grist recede 

into corners near the door. Threshed in lanes,


the fields go dry. This harvest of tall grass and weeds

            smells like bread and gasoline. 

This is what hard winters need.



Sunday Morning


There’s no God at Sunday brunch. He hasn’t slept in,

expecting salvation hot off a line of fire, Bloody Mary to singe

his tongue paprika. No, by ten-thirty, the converted


snake down the sidewalk & jostle the door, the kitchen fan’s

turbines churning smoke into the street where they wait—

end of summer, air thick with hickory, dragging on


cigarettes, still too hot to taste, & rhubarb Bellinis, 

all for someone to say come in, I haven’t forgotten you,

there’s plenty of room—under the vaulted tin ceiling


capping the din, napkins tented over laps,

crumbs colonizing hot plates. It’s polish or perish,

so first with a damp white cloth smooth the forks 


& then into hot water skewer the knives, scouring

the water-stained generals of consumption & rebirth

until eclipsed by all the stages of the many moons


ripening over the blades, they shine. Fold into black flags

the linens, roll each full of cutlery & straighten the tables.

Really sell the place. Time later to admire the sunlight’s


arc up the wall, such a precise desire, it looks only

for you. Come in, deliver to your mouth the denatured grains     

of which rapture is made. The house phone rings & rings


in my back pocket. Come in, there’s no god at brunch.

He’s busy in the churches. The people are hungry, 

so keep an eye on the water. Add names to the wait list,


prune the nesting. When a table flips, clear & wipe it,

smile, drop check & water. Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up.

So help me, Lord, send them to The Roosevelt.





I’m cleaning the house

            of a friend in a wheelchair. As I reset

                                    his telephone’s signal, he says a Hemingway scholar

                                                used to live here & when that man died

                        manuscripts kept arriving in fat manila envelopes,

                                                            everyone scurrying after a blurb.


Every inquiry, a message

            by carrier pigeon: winged in sheer hopelessness. 

                                    We discuss the chartreuse loveseat & dining chairs

                        left behind, thinly rolling cigarettes

                                                            between thumb & fingers.

                                    It’s a fact, my friend tells me,

                                                turning his chair toward the kitchen,

                                                            that moss grows on sloths, so slowly

                                                            do they move.


His kitchen’s stink lingers like the house of a babysitter

            from my childhood who, as though lobotomized, watched All My Children

                        & General Hospital all day, her daughter pregnant

                                    & the closet bathroom rank with mildew,

                                    painted sickly pistachio. She’d lost a thumb

                                                            under the wheel of a horse & cart.


In the postcard that fell through my mail slot this morning

                                    a girl in a white tunic –sash pinned around her slim waist—

                        throws cornmeal to the doves at her feet.

            The tile floor seems gray & impervious, a field as tonight’s sky

split from within. My row of tomato plants battered

                        by a sudden summer storm. Their green scent prickles.

                                                Like the skins of ripe apricots, it is frail & wild.

                        Near the girl, a gold cloth dangles from a chair,

                                                            butternut fringe dusting the floor.


We are each alone. So little changes.

                                    Rain cuts across the windowpane, the darkness outside

                        throws into sharp relief a silhouette of elms

                                                & in my cluttered air conditioned house,

                                    I long for snow,

                                                            the remote lights of northern cities.


Late at night there, sometimes, I’d go out into the frozen yard,

                                                lie down & shut my eyes,

                        thinking that would be a good way to die.

The heavy silence inside the falling snow—

                                    the rustle of the girl’s skirts

                                                across the yard when she disappears inside,

                        into the swirl between her hem & the ground—
                                    as bony & delicate as her

                                                white ankles slipped into a drawer.


        return to poetry

Joey Kingsley is an adjunct writing instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University. She received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012 and holds a B.A. in English and a minor in studio art from the College of the Holy Cross. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jet Fuel Review, Mead, Salamander and Unsplendid.She lives in Richmond, Virginia.