Sunday Jun 23

KoetsJulia Julia Koets is the winner of the 2017 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Book Award judged by Mark Doty for her forthcoming book The Rib Joint: A Memoir-in-Essays and the 2019 Michael Waters Poetry Prize for her forthcoming book Pine. Her poetry collection, Hold Like Owls (U of South Carolina P), won the 2011 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize, judged by National Book Award Winner Nikky Finney. Julia’s nonfiction essays and poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Creative Nonfiction, Indiana Review, Los Angeles Review, and Portland Review. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of South Carolina and a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. Starting in fall 2019, Julia will be a Visiting Assistant Professor of creative nonfiction at the University of South Florida.

Eros, as fish   

                        “Eros, who jumped into the Euphrates”
                        —Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics

                        “life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea.”
                        —James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
Seagulls circled our boat, longing.
We cast our lines. We waited for a bite.

Then Jesus took the loaves, offered thanks, and gave
to those who were seated as much as they wanted.               
He did the same with Eros.

There was no one to tell us
when the ocean would begin.

All summer we lived in a bowl of glass.
We fastened a rope around our waists
so we would not lose each other.

Look in the sky and you will see us there.
Look in the water—there, too.

The Boathouse

On the bottom of Lake Lanier, leaves
settle. It’s deep enough off the boathouse
roof, he says. I don’t have to fear my feet
might touch the cold, mucky layer of peat.
Myths of breeding balls of cottonmouths
make me reluctant to jump. He plunges, leaving

me standing barefoot up there. I ease
toward the edge, watch him hoist himself out
onto the dock, estimate how many feet

lie between me and the surface, how deep
the water goes. Later, wrapped in towels,
drying off in the sun before I leave,

I try to tell him what I can’t easily
tell him, what seems impossible in the South:
I love a girl.  Saying the words, a feat

in itself. When the sun begins to seep
out of the sky, I drive back to town,
his mother’s horse in their field granting me leave.
Blue Ridge, red river, morning at my feet.


We stay up later and later that fall.
We wait for the longest night. We shine

a flashlight into the field behind your place
and see at least twenty eyes staring back,

like ships at night.  I’ve every intention to run
until you grab my hand. Deer, you say,

They’re more afraid of us.
Are we on a sea or in a field

so open we can see our latency—
field of doubt, field of apprehension,

sea of liminality. The deer stay
until all we hear is wind in their place.

Slim Light of Stars

The dog’s so old we mistake him for a coyote
            when we drive the streets in search of him.
In the glint of headlights, he’s already a ghost:

his ribs protrude like staves of notation;
            his eyes, a clearing in a field; his gait, that hymn
from childhood. The moon, as thin as a coyote,

gleams on his fur. Like a man’s knuckles, the bones
            of his spine swell like fruit under his trim skin.
One of us keeps forgetting the gate. A ghost,

he slips out of the yard several times in November.
            You call out to him from the car. His thin limbs
keep moving down the street. Last month, coyotes

killed a dog two houses down, and from their throats
            a keening kept us up all night. Under the dim
streetlight, you call out to him again, small ghost

of a chance he’ll turn back on his own. He’ll go
            without us noticing one night, and in the slim
light of stars he’ll find his way to the coyotes.
            But tonight, we bring him back, a walking ghost.

A Sure Break

The apples come like bruises; the horses
            never sleep in the stables. From my bedroom window
I put myself to sleep by counting their tall, coarse

bodies awake in the field. In my dreams, our divorce
            is measured as a trainer determines the growing
height of steeds:  from the withers of the horse,

right between the shoulder blades. I’m not sure
            how to decipher the dream, our letting go.
I only know my mind keeps running that course,

an animal awake in the field every night. The store
            of tension down my neck and spine: a row
of autumn fruit ready for a horse’s

mouth, the sure break of skin. Every morning,
            the horses are just as I left them in the narrow
hours. Still tired, I wake to the sun coursing

through my rented room. The giant sycamore
            at the far corner of the field loses its shadow
as the sun keeps coming. At the fence, the horses
            wait, brown faces like a row of apple cores.

A Love Poem to Sally Ride

I want to tell you something about the inside
of a horse. Not the guts or the organs,

but the way a current can travel
through skin like wind through a field.

When I say field, I know
you’re already thinking of gravity,

the gravitational field
surrounding a body like the skin

around an apple. A horse notices
the rough calluses on my palm

when I hold an Elstar out to him.
When I say body, Sally, I know

my associations are too earthly. Remind me
that one day on Mercury lasts one-hundred

and seventy-six days on Earth. Let’s go back
to the Carrington Solar Flare of 1859,

a solar wind, the telegraph operator’s fingers
shocked in the middle of a sentence.

A live electric fence around a field
of beautiful horses sent a pulse

through my hands and down my arms
when I was ten years old and grasped

the wires to get a closer look at them.
I knew something then about fear, what it takes

to keep what’s inside in. I didn’t know
exactly how a horse would react

to such a shock, but I hypothesized,
the way an astronomer determines

a black hole exists: by measuring
the electromagnetic radiation

experienced by a surrounding star.
Sally, Tam said you never openly told

your mother, your dad, or your sister, Bear,
that the two of you were a couple,

partners for twenty-seven years.
She said you met when you were twelve.

If wormholes really existed, I’d go back
to when the nerves inside your body glowed

electric with fear; I’d tell that twelve-year-old-you
that this year James Obergefell took Ohio to court

when the state refused to recognize marriage
on his husband’s death certificate. One week

before you died, Tam told you she worried
people wouldn’t know who she was when you

were gone, the sinews between the two of you
cut like wire, leaving a hole big enough

for a horse to slip through. Don’t be afraid,
I’d tell you. Last month when the case went

to the Supreme Court, the ruling legalized
same-sex marriage. People are changing, Sally,

the way comets aren’t constant objects, but
celestial happenings, always in flux.

When you flew to the moon, you gave me
a lunar amulet—not pearl or locket, but satellite.

Sally, I’d give you a coterie of moons.