Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Alysse McCanna





The Soldier

On the playground he pushed me down
then grasped my hand to pull me up—

my little earthmover, starshaker, helmeted
hairtrigger whose fingers laced tight in mine

when his stepdad came home early and we hid
with our noses touching beneath his bellowed bed

we played Jesus and Pontius, took turns as prodding
Thomas, our fingers searching out tender tears

my little atheist, gladiate giftgiver and tidetaker,
thumbscrewed softbellied tough guy tumbling

to take the box of matches when we played Joan of Arc,
singeing my braids, putting them out in his mouth, now you

be the executioner I heard he died in a sandstorm
but that was rumor for he was swordbreaker

soapboxer chaser of afterwinds anointer of wicked
women I still touch the scar where he wondered

what do you look like under all that skin my little bottlehead
whose throat had no chokepoint even after so many pulls

and pills I can still hear him singing
chewing a cigarette between his teeth

come on baby light
the fire


The Sailor

We tangle until the back of my head
is bruised and my hair so knotted
it takes years to comb out

He tells me canary is a beautiful woman
crow is an ugly woman seagull is a slut
who follows the fleet
from port to port

I think I am albatross
but he says you are hummingbird
flighty, drinking only red sugar
water, on my eighth Cape Cod

and counting This old boat of a bed
is a furling following sea and we bob
and bow and breathe into each other,
drink listless and lilting, mooring

our bodies to shores that turn turtle
He weaves the knot of shipwrecked men,
clean simple panic I am a swell that breaks
against the rigging, teeth that tear the tide

He makes another joke about birds
He shuts tight a fated bolt at my back
as a lighthouse beam passes black
over my face, sucks clean the stars

He uses a fish hook’s spine to cut me
loose, whispers how many the fictitious shores
before the harbor

*from Emily Dickinson’s LXXIII


The Trucker

my knight in shining    six-hundred
horsepower         teamster trickster
teeth                                 like stars
eyes like match-strike          the cab

of your truck was               catapult
combustion chamber            flying
onward we outran          your dead
wife my arsoned                    vows

your hand hot             on the clutch
my strutting spark plug    storyteller
shimmering mesa lakes      so bright
the miles                     of your voice
so blue            rolling out behind us

our road                            summer
following yellow lines            blind
& narrow                 an unmapping

outside of Amarillo        a witch hat
blew across our path   end over end
caught                   in the headlights

box-shaped tinge                of black
on the side of a               Reno road
remnant                 of a car gone up
in flames                          in middle

America                          I mourned
thousands of raccoons     little claws
curled to the sky      flattened hawks
one wing pointed up         fluttering

the flying nest               of your truck
where intermittent             we ached
brimming             the broken bodies
rolling out                         behind us


Photograph of Alysse McCanna by Mukund Ram Gopalakrishnan.

Alysse Kathleen McCanna’s poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from North American Review, Grist, Poet Lore, Pembroke, CutBank, Harpur Palate, and other journals. Her poetry has been featured on and Verse Daily, and her reviews have appeared in American Book Review and The Operating System. Alysse’s chapbook Pentimento was selected by Safiya Sinclair and published by Gold Line Press in 2019. Her work has been supported by fellowships and residencies from MASS MoCA, Vermont Studio Center, New York State Summer Writers Institute, and Sundress Academy for the Arts. She holds an MFA from Bennington College, serves as associate editor of Pilgrimage Magazine, and is a PhD candidate in English at Oklahoma State University. More from this author →