Fall 2019 Contest Poetry Finalist: Custom Earths


I pulled the geranium out, muzzled and damp, then loped to the hill

I imagined my hooves turned to older things, mossed with quiet, etched into deeper

atmospheres of the earth, as it was and won’t be when the letters fade me

once I was and then, written, only my mother wouldn’t know me now


when I cross the sea, an agile mountain of atomic radiance,

every danger within me broad as being suffused to gentler points

of convention, moved by encounters with murmured speech and reckoning

a sucker for becoming myth until my transforming unseams


that is how I began ending my hands and using my mouth to hold

flowered into thought, mawed by air almost strung from a wall by intent

no fox owns his den and I worked for the flood of your fur under mine

the fence is charged with our tender wars, with outflown humanness unspared


it rained—what is a divide without an illusion of former freedom lost

nearby we are still standing, painted over with inventions of dust



poised, slicing
I won’t touch
your shaking hand
particles, each

motion a promise
to keep a green gut-

ted, on

on, the tremor
silk of new paper
touching my best
month of the decade

tundra before this
dark rooms for musting
then, the possible
actions expanded
into herds

each run a timber each end a home



perhaps a hand
told us to stop
eating the petals
as they fell to the table

while the high tea
becomes a wake
for the flowers
in the near urn

or wishing
a plague on the rats
of our youth
each silo
wore the sky best in Iowa
each penning too safe
too withered to make a deal

when lines shorten
it follows the eyes
of your neighbor already reach the field

where were you?
all the while
each brother pulled
out the hem of his knife



looking over
your mother’s shoulder
for a symbol of sex
and summation

the origin story reforms
evidence says:
only to material desire

a border
to weave from eye
to high tower

the grass gives up

forms an economy
of garments

boxes of dolls
each with a custom
birth certificate



the coordinator vanished

he may be dying

on a beach


we slowly forget

the face of the coordinator


when I first earned

my lung

he pinned it

my ribcage


such an intimacy


when I breathed

and wanted

his hands elsewhere


he’s out



my breath and motions




when they said I could form

a body


I was invisible

a strange cage


the coordinator had to see

me before

the transition

could be attempted


lately I’m afraid

that I was even

visible before then


Image Credit: “Crawick Multiverse” by James Johnstone, via flickr.com, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

About the author

Alex Niemi is a writer, translator, and language instructor. Her poetry and translations from the French, Russian, and Spanish have appeared in The Offing, Anomaly, Prelude, and many other publications. Her translation from the French of The John Cage Experiences by Vincent Tholomé is forthcoming from Autumn Hill Books while her first chapbook of original poetry, Elephant, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. She currently teaches Russian at the University of Iowa, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and received her MFA in Literary Translation.

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