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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 15: Sept. 2022
Poem: 218 words
By Rick Mulkey


In the grocery line a child crouched in a cart 
hums not so much a song as a plea 

for Pez, for Twix, for anything 
beyond her reach. Her mother, 

with each tomato and scanned can of corn, sighs, 
her own internal metronome of disappointment. 

The truth, the world loses everything 
except its voice, a tremulous murmur. 

It’s true of birds as well as people, 
we’re mostly noise, so little actual singing. 

Most of us live content, even with our constant 
wanting, in a cultivated silence. 

When Orpheus stopped he didn’t 
consider the reasons he once loved singing. 

He simply knew he wouldn’t anymore, a turn 
of the head to what would be. Is silence singing? 

I want to love the absence that aches 
inside my chest at night, the empty choir loft 

filled with ghost notes from out of tune 
insurance agents and housewives from the Baptist church, 

long-dead friends and family whose voices now clamor 
as rooftop rain and hail pelting rhododendron. 

I want this mourning to end in music. I want 
swifts at sunrise to chatter in the chimney. 

I want the nursery rhymes of children in shopping carts, 
odes to mothers and their creamed corn. 

I want to breathe the way tomatoes breathe, 
face lifted to the sun, throat red with singing. 

Rick Mulkey
Issue 15, September 2022

is the author of six collections, including All These Hungers; Ravenous: New & Selected Poems; Toward Any Darkness; Before the Age of Reason; and Bluefield Breakdown. Individual poems and essays have appeared widely, including in Poetry East, Georgia Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Literary Review, Denver Quarterly, Shenandoah, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Poetry Daily, and the anthologies American Poetry: the Next Generation; The Southern Poetry Anthology: Volumes I and II; and A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry, among others. His awards include the Hawthornden Fellowship, the Charles Angoff Award from The Literary Review, and the Gearhart Poetry Prize from Southeast Review. Mulkey is director and co-founder of the Converse Low Residency MFA [Converse University, South Carolina].

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