POETRY – Modern Sonnet Sequence by Daniel Penny

Great Flood

You are kneeling on the slick tile floor
of our bathroom after the great flood,
scraping out long troughs of half-frozen mud,
bent over a bucket of grout; back sore,
wrists aching, tendons tight as bungee cords.
The dark house lit yellow with hammer thuds.
I stare at your pink throat, the way it glugs
on your diet coke breaks. This is the fourth.

How Mom wept when she first saw the water,
her little face twisting in on itself.
Kirk-like, you grabbed a flashlight from the shelf
and sprang to turn off the basement breakers.
I stood by the hearth: a hamstrung daughter
watching Mom weep and wanting to shake her.



Turkey After Sandy


Our talk is peripatetic, never
wants to settle. Fifteen lilting voices
avoiding Israel and gun control. The weather,
its caprice, how the carpet is still moist,
where Aunt Pearl got the turkey, the dryness
of the stuffing. Our tongues dance around the room
in a sticky waltz. The guests feign shyness;
they stare at their phones, smooth faces pale blue.

Howard is in rehab–a stroke from the yak.
My shrunken uncle looks a locust husk
waiting for a boot. My aunt has grown fat.
We bought or baked more cakes than we can cut.
The den is dyed indigo: the tarp shell
for the hole in the roof where a birch fell.



Pet Show Sonnet


Chicago pet expo at the racetrack
on Saint Patty’s Day, the dull river dyed
green with ground Leprechaun. Thin-ribbed dogs
staggering like winos on the last train back
to Skokie. Smell the hot dog-breath cheese-fried,
kiss the Malamutes and the yellow fog.

Slam the door and there’s Argus barking
at the neighbor’s chow-chow, poking his snout
in a Chinese-food container of white rice.
His eyes follow the gray squirrel darting
in the yard, would turn him to red gristle,
would bury him under the lilac twice,
trot home, fur matted with blood and thistle.



A New Class


Their flesh seems so taut and lean in the light
of early September. That new-car smell
lingers about them like a perfume: bright,
pungent and plastic. Trees yet to be felled.

How our teeth have turned brown in four short years.
Tea-bag bodies piled high on a dirty
plate: limp and clammy. Let us count the beers
we drank like alumni pushing thirty.

Driving across the parched plains I wonder
what will become of this nubile crop
whose dry throats cry out, “Give us your Thunder-
bird,” then flop on lawns like groceries dropped.

Perhaps, I’ll read this at convocation
to twenty-sixteen, post-fermentation.


Daniel Penny is an essayist, journalist, and poet pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at Columbia University. Daniel is the winner of the 2012 Norton Writer’s Prize and the 2013 Lorabel Richardson American Academy of Poets Prize. His work has appeared in The New Inquiry, The Rumpus, Cereal Magazine, Slice Magazine, Nat. Brut, Art Observed, and others. Follow him @dwpenny.

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