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4 poems

C A S S   D O N I S H




We talked about birds, assemblages, hybrids.

We talked about the gap between world with glacier

and world with image of glacier.


Now I’m left in the gap between world with you

and world with image of you.


The gap between your biological life and your so-called death.

People talk about moving on, but I’m here,


                                    in the fringe,               in the expanse,


watching for you, listening for your song.

I surround myself with things that represent you, 

things that are you.


You charge my home. Checkerbloom, paintbrush,

tea towel, jewelflower, and the dust


           of rock flour                and modern bones.


I think of your face, the image of your face, your actual face.

Every day, I talk to pictures of you.              


I talk to you. Actual you.

You said metonymy, “when it’s good,”

is more than simply language.


Change of name,

it is ontological—


                                    it is extension.             Your existence,


you will let us in on it, if we let you.


By perceiving you, I extend you.

By remembering you, I extend you.

By imagining you, I extend you.  


Actual you.

I kiss you, my lips pressed flat to glass.




Above the cold rush,

the cliff paths are burdened

with beauty—


how the lichen

blankets boulders, the Salish Sea

down below and glowing


under a pale sky. I remember you

happy one summer,

waiting for my orders

in a pink leather collar.


I’m on the moors in a death novel—


sandstone, clouds, wind,

and danger, the love threat—


the violent retreat

from life after life

is torn away. I don’t know


if it’s then or now

anymore. If you’re here

or already gone. If the words


I recall have already

been spoken: I don’t want

to live. A tsunami


is predicted here,

could take us all. I don’t think

you wanted to die, not that day.


    In another life,

that’s how we go: that day,

together. Torch wave,

fire in the middle


of green. You never make it

to your other death.

With all these threats



more than five hundred

anti-trans bills

            moving through state legislatures,

heat in the atmosphere

and in the sea, glaciers

unburdening their water—


what would it mean

to take vows?

To say the future—stepping, with the phrase,


toward an edge

            without knowing

what could be underfoot:


flowers, or flames,

or that sudden drop


down to water hard as gravel,

quick as a gunshot.




VIA NEGATIVA                                  



My grief is not a gigantic orb

hallucinating, vibrating, singing,


color of lava, color of a forest,

color of night, of the sun,

of a rainstorm,

  of the temperature it was on the day I was born.


It is not the size of a planet.

I don’t hold it in my arms hour after hour,




            let it singe

           my body.


She turned to baking at her most depressed

and now the fall is empty of the scent.


My grief isn’t intimate,

   daily as bread,


hot to the touch,

and burning on the inside,


burning all I’ve been      

                        I’ve never              been enough


                                    to save someone               with only love





for RP

when two people kissing

reinitiate each other’s foundation

—Malva Flores (trans. Jen Hofer)



all night long, the curtain was pulled back

and dawn drew me toward it, through the dark hours

in which, missing you, and feeling the strangeness

of missing you along with her, I swarmed above the pages

of a book searching for a lost syntax that could lead me

to this new form of desire, desire after obliteration,

I shouldn’t overstate this, the death of myself

when she died, I shouldn’t overstate it:



the first time I saw you

I was already held in your arms,

we held each other standing in the grass in a storm,

it was the night my basement flooded and my house

vanished do you remember how the first time

we met we were already making love

in the rain we were already walking between

two houses at dawn we were already right here

in the early summer storm and then

you were in another city and I was already

missing you the day we met and realizing

I was in love with you the day we met you were

out of town and I met you in the dream I had

of walking by your house and looking up

just as you were opening the window


[when a lover’s mouth

                        reinvents a lost equation]


the first time I saw you, you were standing in the street

in front of my house and you waved hello

and said something from under your mask

the pandemic was ending soon on our block

we only had to be careful for a few more years

we didn’t touch for several more years

talking all night on the porch as we grew older

looking at our watches, turning pages on calendars

the first time I saw you, you were seconds

from being inside me for the first time

the first time I saw you I was pulling you

toward me, one foot on the earth,

one in the water, one star above us the first time

I saw you I was in a field without you

with the smell of thyme, animals wading in the river,

the heat of dusk on my skin, the air soaked with dusk-light

layered with dawn-light where we met for the first time

laughing nervously because we hadn’t slept

and we heard the birds beginning to fill with sound


                        [how a lover’s voice

                        reignites a new sensation]


you were remarkable

we were going to make love

for the first time and we knew it, I kept seeing

you at each moment for the first time and never

wanted this to end, resisted the urge

to know the end, I want to learn a different way to

love I always want you        I always want to

see you for the first time and meet you

for the first time every time I wake up beside you

each morning resisting an anxiety I carry

under the surface of my skin because I am falling

in love for the first time and seeing you for the first

time each time I see you and I know the cost of love

and yet poured forth this wish and yet couldn’t

have imagined you which is why I float in the half-night

sleepwalking with my eyes open

a sight that frightens even the animals

wading in the river and the butterflies

landing on my face who try to close my eyes for me

I tell them I’m on fire, that I carry love now

under my skin, that the love in me obliterated

me when she died and now it’s rebirthing

me into myself, this my own return

to my own transmuted bedrock the way

the way we touch becomes its own occasion


Cass Donish is a queer writer from the West Coast, author of the poetry collections Your Dazzling Death (forthcoming from Knopf), The Year of the Femme (University of Iowa Press, 2019), and Beautyberry (Slope Editions, 2018). Their nonfiction chapbook On the Mezzanine (Gold Line Press, 2019) was chosen by Maggie Nelson as winner of the Gold Line Press Chapbook Competition. Donish has writing appearing or forthcoming in American Poetry ReviewCincinnati Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Gettysburg Review, Guernica, Texas Review, Tupelo Quarterly, VICE, and elsewhere. They have taught creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis, University of Missouri, Kenyon Review’s Young Writers Workshop, and Ashland University’s low-res MFA program. They live in Columbia, Missouri, where they write about grief, queer desire, and ecology.



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