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Poems by Melanie Merle

In the Coal Dark

On the edge of town, brick tenements rise

impoverished monoliths at the end of the world

Grackles gather concrete stoops beneath them,

as night guards

dodging shadows, in the spaces between,

laden clotheslines, burdened with a day’s labor,

empty their ghosts onto the grassy floor,

weary dancers

Jakebrakes chug the wet curve of asphalt

between the cemetery and the pool hall

Here, the music is cherry-bright, neon blue,

here, we close our eyes, sway dizzy

A wild daffodil opens the mouth of the pit-head

Vanity run amok in the moonlight,

the hermaphrodidic bulb of perfect self-containment

from an ugly lump, a tumor in the ground,

comes as flickering Indian cross


all day, the study of sound. whir of fricative.

bi-labio- might be a kiss, “m,” mother,

where labio-dental bites, “v,” vampire.

ever constant consonant

sonorous, your voice fills my ears.

glottal-stop obstruction



i stumble

in the stubbly cornfield behind our apartment, i say tuh, tuh, tuh, teeth

“t” is a voiceless alveolar stop

i tuck into my pockets

plastic tiger, stripes missing a

cat’s eye, a comet, a bumbo

faded metal car

broken false teeth

on a dare, i scramble into our dumpster

palmsweaty, unvoiced fear tied with pink cords,

my treasure-hunt

coke bottle vase

glasses without lenses

with an unwound wire hanger, i fish through sour and soil

i disappear in sound of wide sky wind and whisper

plosive world

laryngeal world

until sibilant, “s,” slice, the sibilant blade of the tongue

blade slices me

bi-labial, “b,” blood




She didn’t ask stupid questions like, what does it mean, and he loved her for that. He didn’t ask, how did you get this way, become wounded deer? She loved the fawn in him, the dapple. He saw her dark fur, the fiddlehead fern of her head tipped to ink. He wound around her, and matched her bite for bite. She did not tell him where to place his commas or how to form a question mark, and in return he did not demand her favorite number be 9 instead of 5. Rather, he blessed her love of numbers. Pieces of her scattered along the forest trail only made him love her more, only beckoned, did not frighten. Pieces of him she gathered, tucked into tiny pockets sewn inside her skin.


A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Melanie grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After working for her tribe as a writer in the multimedia department, Melanie moved to Denver, where she teaches for Lighthouse Writers Workshop, supporting their outreach efforts, leading creative writing workshops in transitional rehabilitation facilities. Most recently, Melanie was awarded The James Welch Prize by Poetry Northwest. She is an associate editor for the literary and art journal, Inverted Syntax. Her poems, “DownRiver” and “Above Ground,” are forthcoming in Infinite Constellations: Speculating Us, out of The University of Alabama Press, in 2023. Melanie is proud to carry on the artistic traditions of her family and to nurture them in her three children.

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