Poetry: Chella Courington – June 11, 1963

June 11, 1963


One clerk and one state trooper

sat in the DMV office

the day I turned sixteen. You’ll

have to be quick, he said. My

body shaking, hands trembling.

One wrong move meant

six more months with

a learner’s permit, someone

twenty-one always next to me.


I slipped into Dad’s black bucket

seat, my dress sticking to

my legs. The trooper slammed

his door and said drive, clipboard

in his lap. I should have gone

earlier when the sun wasn’t

glaring. My eyes already tearing

from his smoke.


One stop then a left to

the traffic light going red.

We sat in silence

while hot air shimmied.

98 degrees in mid June was sultry

even for Alabama.


Then one right turn and two

lefts. Miss, time to parallel park.


If I failed, it would be on West Main

as I put my foot on the brake and

shifted into rear, sliding past the

white car so close he squeaked,

dropping his pencil. My back wheels

turned to the curb, I was almost home.


Nothing could stop me now.

Not him, not the pencil, not the stultifying

heat. A slick new license stamped

by the state and freeing

me to go wherever I wanted.


Three hours away and three years older,

another girl sweated, flanked by state

troopers. Not one but hundreds, not

a clipboard but guns and nightsticks.

Her hands clammy, body shaking

in a white cotton dress

and white heels as she walked

head up through hecklers and bullies

to Foster Auditorium.


What she wanted was so much

greater than my piece of paper.

She wanted to enroll in summer school

like other girls and boys. Wanted to

analyze numbers, hear what their

Professors passed down.


But the governor stood against

her learning with them.

Lifted his hands to shut her out.


The sun was behind her.

She didn’t flinch when he said go back. 

She’d come too far.

Nothing could stop her. Not him,

not billy clubs, not graveled shouts.


Light fell at her feet

as she waited to be escorted

across the threshold.



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Ursa Major


Bear gallbladder bile, used

in Chinese traditional

medicine, must be



Crushed in a tiny cage,

permanent hole in the gut

to drain bile slowly

into bottles.


Black fur, spirit

of the mountains roam

for years without seeing

any humans.


One mother broke free,

smothered her crying cub, ran

headlong into a wall

and died.



Sulphur or Wood

It’s the first thing upon waking:
The outline of your loss
Like a bare sun in the morning trees.
Before you can even recall specifics
The longing hits you, cold and absolute.
Your own name, still lost in the dark
Of sleep, yet this feeling rising
Through your body
Like a rage or sickness.

It’s the kind of thing you feel
When you realize the best of days
Have passed before you, and you
Missed the music.
Regret so palpable, you can call it
Sulphur or wood.
The simplest of news holds no richness
Against the fiber of this grief.
It moves through your life
Until the world is full of ghosts
In passing.
It burns for no other reason
Than for the love of ashes.
Something in you so quietly razed
That no one at the kitchen table
Can see the chilled fire
Eating at your eyes.


visit Seth Jani online





Back in the dark ages,

before pizza delivery.

When it was hip.

When no one ever mentioned money.

When the club itself

sat like dark candy

in a proffered hand.


When we stopped listening the moment

we started listening.

At least, our listening

owed little to our ears.

They said you’d never hear the music

over the bar-tenders

harassing the customers

to buy more drinks.

So impossibly new to this,

we didn’t hear the bar-tenders.

First time, Suze and I

had ever been some place

more black than white.

Soon learned sweat is color-blind.


And ‘Trane on stage,

place so cramped

there was nothing to

know but music,

but how spit and metal

made it so,

that latest version of his band

with Tyner and Garrison and Elvin Jones,

names that, even then,

I couldn’t match with people,

that were more like departure

and arrival points on the same

weird train schedules,

that hustling locomotive

that didn’t know a side-track

from a main-line,

that swept them all in

to its steamy fury,

with that tenor sax-man

shrieking the whistle,

stoking the coals,

pushing his foot so hard down on the accelerator,

his face hear popped its veins.


The joy of a dark night’s endlessness –

time, itself a solo, teasing us with the way

it only seems to go in order –

where sense takes a cigarette break,

where each crisis is met by a top-this passion

by virile note after note after note

and the shot-glass glimmer –

and the edge, the rapturous edge,

where angels think wings, play licks, where

the wildness obeys his lips, his sound where

we hold hands, we hold the rhythm together

until that’s all but impossible

but then let go so hard, so fierce,

we catch up with it anyhow

but just our hearts up and down,

their own pentatonic scale,

the joy unmuffled,

the word “exude” built there and then

from jazz’s stark phonetics,

the whiff of everything

that is not a drug

that acts like a drug

sometimes looking down

requiring a leap of faith even

to identify our own bones.


A night, with no oxygen,

that grabbed its air from other sources.

A night where the one I was with

was just one of the many I was with.

Did Elvin and ‘Trane really stretch that for an hour,

the one riff like this one life

boiled down, broken up,

remade in all its possibilities?

And Suze?

We went there to learn to love

but not to love each other.

Sorry…I just didn’t remember

who said “Give me a call.”

A night with nothing I would change.

A wanting, a deliverance, and its own soundtrack



POETRY: Barbara Ann Meier – TORNADO


When white sunlight

hits hail, scatters

the narrow beams

of light,

they plank the sky

in hues of eerie yellow.




off each other-

a game of pinball,

igniting lights

with each slam.


In that engulfing gloom,

the bruised sky,

full of broken veins

of light,


into violently spinning air.


The fat finger of death

curls its way to dirt-

wedging itself downward.



by power flashes,

I strain to glimpse

the finger of God.


In that frozen


thoughts on internet


Doppler Radar

pinging velocity

across the plains,

I see where the blue turns to black,

and roars to silence.


The neutrality of Space,


a vacuum

that is you.


I am gravity,

spiraling earthward-

an ice ball,

burning up

in atmospheric divergence.


Face planted to fears,

grounded in a crater

of my own making.


In your silence I stand…

watching the approaching supercell.

It surges forward in darkness,

wrapped in rain,


from sight.


I await the ending-

the surrender,

debris swirling

to the West,

my pieces-



landing in someone’s front yard…

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