The Best of Toadlily Press excerpts

Poems from The Best of Toadlily Press, a collection of works old and new by our Quartet Series authors, together with poems by some of the distinguished poets who have supported our press.

Bed sheets curdled, the night came down
Nearer and dearer (my God) for he, a snore
beside me, bored already.Mothers and white magazines
urged Anything’s better
than alone
. I agreed. I wanted to be

the taste of one whole
flower in his mouth, the catch
in his voice when he said

I need.  I did what it took:
I was a flesh fire in fishnets,
a wet dream smoking French cigarettes.

I was the baker, kneading out bread.
I was mescaline sweat, the shine
of a landscape’s moonlit side, I was

nothing but body, raw,
all breast hip and thigh. What
he wanted, I made—less questions,

more lipstick, egg shell shards fished
from a yolk’s yellow eye—want only
to be wanted, whatever the price.


How does, how does, how does it work
so, little valve stretching messily open, as wide as possible,
all directions at once, sucking air, sucking blood, sucking air-in-blood,
how? On the screen I see the part of me that always loves my life, never tires
of what it takes, this in-and-out, this open-and-shut in the dark chest of me,
tireless, without muscle or bone, all flex and flux and blind
will, little mouth widening, opening and opening and, then, snapping
shut, shuddering anemone entirely of darkness, sea creature
of the spangled and sparkling sea, down, down where light cannot reach.
When the technician stoops, flips a switch, the most unpopular kid in the class
stands off-stage with a metal sheet, shaking it while Lear raves.
So this is the house where love lives, a tin shed in a windstorm,
tin shed at the sea’s edge, the land’s edge,
waters wild and steady, wild and steady, wild.(Originally published in Suzanne Cleary,Trick Pear, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007)


After seventeen years, I return home to my ex-wife,
without the cigarettes and bread,
without the woman and children I left her for,
older, empty-handed, and yet
to the same clothes
still in the same drawers,
as if nothing has changed.My torn t-shirt is still splotched with paint
across her left breast,
her hair has not gone gray at the temples,
and she does not ask a single question:
not where have you been,
not how could you,
not where were you when I needed you,
just, hey baby and a smile,
the Vermont air cold,
the old mattress flat on the floor,

because the frame and box springs are still in the Ryder truck,
because my first students have not entered the classroom,
I have yet to fall in love with my own bourbon-soaked voice,
our dog has not died arthritic and stroke-plagued,

there is, instead, the kitchen faucet still running,
the beans rinsed and splayed in the colander,
and there isn’t the slightest anger in her voice,
that I have missed a good dinner,
that I will have to warm it up if I want any,
it’s ok, in fact, if I let the dog out
one last time and just come on to bed.

And so I could re-enter
the dream’s cold, pine-paneled walls,
knots bleeding through their sealer,
I could, after seventeen years, step back
into that unblemished body,
shrug back on the aspirations and worries,
and begin again, sorrow by sorrow,
to destroy her love for me,
my own confidence and faith.

Because this is the nature of time,
or at least the relation of our nature to time,
to idealize that kitchen,
the string beans in the sauce pan,
the dog bed by the door—
if we can still see it, it must be real,
it must still exist there,
not frozen in stasis,
but still playing itself out,
forever, without repeating,
as the moment it is.

It is my dream, then, that is the repetition,
my return, the problem,
but if I don’t extend my hand into it,
do not turn the knob,
if I can step back outside, quickly, before we touch,
press my face to the storm door,
it is clear the young man I was
and the young woman she was
can still love each other
and have not turned away.


      When I look at the ocean, I see
a house in various stages of ruin and beginning.

—Li-Young Lee, The Other Hours

today a north wind paints white mouths
on the waves

voracious mouths      crunching shore sand
between wet lips

today even the seagull must go hungry
must stand
and face the wind

I stand and face the knowing
that ruin spawns beginning      beginning
begets ruin

You—Ocean!    I shout
What kind of a house is this?

wind whistles by my ear : like any house
like your house


To see what his father sees,
the boy stands on a chair,
high enough for the same hammer-swing
at the birdhouse, to get every angle
merit-badge right, give something back
to the birds,
the way he will later
with the sapling, hauled, root ball and all
no bigger than he is, to plant
at just the right spot for a possible peach
from his upstairs window,
or the way he will shoot
the long snake, a bully
inching toward the bluebird eggs,
then, that broken-winged thing
on his screened porch for weeks,
all the comforts of twigs, seeds, and leaves,
until at last he will hold the door open,
that bird’s nerve up enough
for a take-off.
For now, though
on this chair, in the larger shadow
he will one day become, he’s at work
nailing down the childhood he’ll leave,
not wholly gone, but following
just behind him like road dust.


The bird would dive and swim and rise
just out of reach and breathe and sink again
as we all joined in to chase it,our paddles slapping at the water’s hard surface,
until, of course, we hit the fucking thing,
felt it ring up through the wood, that striking, that

dull ache in the arms and the bird, injured, began
swimming circles at the surface, unable
to lift its head. When Dave reached it,

plucked it from the water and spun it
in clocklike swirls to snap the neck,
it would not die. So he drowned it,

held it under for what seemed like an hour
and in the heat, the fever broke. The charm
or luster, or whatever drove us on was lost.

We had no need to kill the thing, and yet,
on shore, we spread its wings wide while someone
snapped a picture, which now hangs motionless

in eight dim rooms. Eight boys tearing
at the stubborn feathers. We hated it—
and hate it still—this small ragged thing

that couldn’t save itself. When I lifted it
it seemed too heavy. I don’t know
how it ever left the earth.


That letter like a heavy
stone in my throat,
but odd: the center a hollow,
a core
bitter “o”
falling “o.”

This letter a hard stick
knotted at the far end
the dead end,
its knuckle
of detritus.

The next a vowel that like steel
sleeps a heavy beam
across your chest of drugged peace.
It was supposed to be rest,
steady breaths
such uneasy wheezing.

Lone letters
scattered, lost
from their ode,
look how
the hand trembles now, fingers
search and pick

to gather, to garner
to assemble, to make

some thing, something of such
unraveling. Such falling away.


Reliable as weather, the corner
glitters with grit while citizens
wait for the bus and pick
lake trout from their teeth. A man
with Ziplocs meets a woman and her kid.
She gets her stash. This pocket, a stillness.
Those who lean
under the orange sign: Chicken Nook, Chicken Nook
the throbbing glow of it.