by Christien Gholson


The graveyard-shift moon 
crests the eastern ridge, 
shines through the faces
of those waiting to enter
the Penny Soul Arcade.

A bus passes: blue light 
ignites my cheek bones.
Promises made at birth, 
made before birth, retreat 
beneath parked cars.


I pray for those I resent. Will
this change my heart? I wear 
the prayer like a mask. I’m 
just another Penny Soul, killing 
time. One of those I resent

is called out of a willow trunk
at the edge of the parking lot. 
Are you STILL angry with me? 
My resentment, dismissed 


One by one, my ancestors
sink into the soil, follow 
ancient water seams down, 
wrap around a pebble, a coin, 
a feather, a worm, for warmth 

(like lost children inside us), 
continue to fall through the earth, 
to rise, weightless, a shade, 
swinging around the moon.
Death is hard work.


I punch random numbers on 
my phone, try to call the dead
I’ve loved. Is praise all that7rsquo;s 
left when love’s lost? I build a 
scrying lens from twigs, watch 

shades I know move tree to tree, 
their eyes black as oiled seeds, 
blinking, newborn, hunting for 
those left behind. Will they call 
me back, message me?


The Penny Soul Arcade doors 
finally open. Amnesia sets in. 
Who promised an end to suffering, 
the start of perpetual fun?
Forgetting meets forgetting’s 

shadow. I put a penny in the slot,
try to find the name of some lost
ancestor who needs help, who
can help me, with the Arcade’s 
penny claw. 


TMy mask is a mask of wonder.
She was so young when she 
died. Eleven. What’s been lived 
until then? The blueprint of 
a life. Her mask is a mask of 

hunger. Hunger for the rest of 
it? I am no longer eleven, she 
says. How old are you, then? 
I am the fire inside the flower. 
I am a smoke-stained stone.


Calliope fingers drift
through the crowd. Dorian 
modes enter a dead rabbit,
lifts it. Entrails from an 
augur-puppet tells the true 

time. What is the proof we
have been here, lived? The 
brush of death from the dead,
that distant love felt inside 
the shadow of a stone?


He spoke with such weariness 
about life, desperate for the pain 
to end, yet still so afraid of death. 
Hope and fear, hope and fear, 
hope and fear, too entangled 

to extract one from the other. 
His mask was slack, mouth open, 
frozen into the long sigh of his 
last breath. My mask was a mask 
of dread.


I confess to them that there are
times when I do not think of them.
For days, months, years. I’m
told that if no one remembers 
their name, they are finally free

to go. They cannot say where.
Don’t know. To live inside a 
hydrogen atom in the heart
of a red giant? Sure, sure, they
say, why not? Red giants, yes.


The way her eyes would burn
through me and my head would 
bow. What have I done? What 
became of her rage after death? 
Don’t hurt me, please. She dances 

a dance of rage across the wall. A 
slight vibration beneath plaster: 
someone doing wash downstairs? 
Ants building an ark to the moon? 
Love, trapped.


A face appears, half-lit by 
a torch. She smears paint 
across stone. Another face
appears: a curious horse.
Which is the true ancestor?  

I put my ear to the ground. 
The train from Albuquerque 
sends a ripple of loss through 
the earth. Ghosts of eohippus 
curl in the empty seats. 


Grief lives on in stone: those
I resent, those I love, those 
that straddle the line between
the two. I toss the stone into the 
night sky and it disappears, 

joins the children of the first 
light that shattered emptiness, 
broke open the first eye, fused
bone to mind, nebula’s exhalation, 
saying: Let go... 


At dawn, there’s a discarded 
glove on the pavement. My mask
is a mask of loss. There’s a willow 
leaf inside the mailbox. My mask
is a mask of love. The Arcade 

door closes. My mask is a mask 
of forgetting. The eyes of the 
dead mirror and make the turning
sky. My mask is a mask of flies.
Crows burst from a nearby tree.


Christien Gholson is the author of several books of poetry, including The No One Poems (Thirty West Publishing), All the Beautiful Dead (Bitter Oleander Press), and On the Side of the Crow (Hanging Loose Press, re-issued by Parthian Books in the UK); along with a novel, A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind (Parthian Books).
     Other work at Mudlark includes the long poems Kill-Floor, The Sixth Sense, Four Chthonic Praise-Chants & One Lament, The Black Edge, and the eco-catastrophe-ceremony poem, Tidal Flats. The sequel to Tidal Flats, Solutions for the End of the World, can be found in The American Journal of Poetry.
     Gholson himself can infrequently be found on his blog: noise & silence. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Copyright © Mudlark 2022
Mudlark Flashes | Home Page