Spring 2021, Volume 30

Poetry by Shannon Cuthbert


On playdates with the boy 
Who loved collecting toads and snakes and turtles
From the reservoir 
And showing them to you 
Pressed against glass in his expansive 
Basement playroom.
He told you about their diets of insects
And small boned things
And you pressed to the wall
Imagined being swallowed 
Sometimes waited for a kiss
That never came.

In another year 
He was prescribed Ritalin
For running around other people’s yards
Catching fireflies 
To examine their workings
The switch by which their lights clicked on.
By then 
His father had run off with a friend
Left his mother to find 
A cheaper mortgage down the shore.

After he moved 
You didn’t spend time alone with boys
But you started your own collection
Of facts, ant farms and toadstools
A broken eggshell
A butterfly wing you kept in your music box
Till you opened it one day
And saw only dust.

Even went out nights to the reservoir 
With your sister and dad 
Listening for frogs 
But never once heard them.
Your dad said their skin was too porous 
To last in a place like this
Where runoff from lawns 
Bloomed the water neon,
Where pharma factory chemicals hanging
Turned sunsets loveliest of all.

ready & go

ready she gasps
as the man waves one arm
and she runs and dives 
off the forty foot cliff.
below her, my sister 
and i, wearing our mouths
in our hands, holding
our stomachs as we 
gulped in pockets
of yellow lake water.
she emerges, hair 
slicked back as a seal.
she is selkie, seasick,
a thing made almost
entirely of water and
the curve of light 
made lovely by water.
at the top of the cliff
the men look down 
and their toes curl over 
the edge so tiny pebbles
scatter down and plop
and break the mirror surface.
i think they will jump
after her lemming-like,
one by one in their 
ill-fitting swim trunks.
they do not dare.
my sister and i become 
twins of the flat lake,
preserve its soft spill,
hold ourselves so still
she will come over
and teach us how to 
bloom underwater.

Peach Lip Balm

At your first sleepover,
A field trip to the Liberty Science Center,
The fourth grade classes 
Split into cliques tucked in sleeping bags
Like moths awaiting transformation,
Little girls already 
Wearing their sisters’ stolen eyeliner to sleep,
Waking up raccoon-eyed.
Startling awake at 3am
You all peered out from your positions 
Sleeping under large models
Of spaceships and trains 
Exposing wheels and gears to show the bones
Of how we cross countries
And conquered the moon.
At night the classmates looked
Different, endangered.
The boys stayed on the other side, 
Watching across an enemy line.
One girl crying through the night
Had her mother called to pick her up.
You felt shame on her behalf,
The other girls whispering and sharing smileys
On their flip phones,
Scratching smelly pods of lotions
And leaving them under the pillows of enemies.
Under your fortress,
A hanging cell that contracts and expands 
To show its secret parts,
You sleep again,
Metal and silver twining into your dreams.
Tomorrow you promise yourself 
To build something strong enough to stay behind
Suspended here in time.




BIO: Shannon Cuthbert is a writer and artist living in Brooklyn. Her poems have been nominated for three Pushcarts, and have appeared in journals including Dodging the Rain, Hamilton Stone Review, and The Oddville Press. Her work is forthcoming in Sparks of Calliope, Ghost City Review, and Thimble Literary Magazine, among others. She currently edits poems for The Beautiful Space.