In Lieu of a Red Pencil. 5 Poems by Holly Day


Sometimes you have to get super close to see what the problem is.
You’ve got to take a thing apart and study it under a magnifying glass, a  microscope,
an electron microscope, a nanoscope. Only then can you see how truly fucked up
something is. I tell you this, I wave the photographs under your nose
tell you all the things bubbling under family picnics and Christmas sweaters
but you have subsided beneath concrete and denial. I  could set a barbecue
on top of your hiding place, have all the neighbors over
and no one would ever know
The police could come with their dogs and even they would not know.

Sometimes you have to rip a wedding dress into shreds and make a ladder out of it
sometimes you have to stuff bits of the wedding dress
into the necks of bottles filled with gasoline
before anyone listens.
Sometimes yelling isn’t enough because people develop selective hearing over time.
Sometimes you have to get super close to see what the problem is.

and Run

You can wake up before the sun rises, pull the suitcase out
from under the bed, slip into your shoes
step quietly out the door
but you will never leave them. You can dress up in any
traveling costume you want, apply for a passport
tell the dog you’re sorry it has to be this way
slip into your children’s bedrooms and kiss them
in the dark

but you will never actually step out that door, no matter how much
you’ve spent on that plane ticket, that overnight bag
those high heels that seem silly on a mother, a wife.
It’s all pretend, which is why
You always keep receipts for anything other than groceries
you always cancel your flights, your cruises, you rental cars
within the 24 hour return window

because there is nothing that can tear you away from this reality you’ve built
there is no fantasy strong enough to pull you all the way out the door.

When It Happens

When I kill you, it will be as a bird, a crane with a long, sharp beak
great wings stretched out like an angry cape, there will be no misunderstanding
no talking me down, as a bird I cannot help but be very single-minded
with eyes as black and sharp as my intentions. You’ll see.

When you hear me singing outside your window, perhaps tapping on the glass
in the middle of the night, when a bird should be asleep, head tucked under a wing
you’ll know why I’m there and how I’ve come and what I’ll do
because you’ve read it all in the chicken scratch of diary pages
in the letters I’ve folded into the thatch of our nest.


I slip a piece of paper beneath the perch and ask the bird to take a letter
paint ink on its little toes and dictate in German. In between my bad diction
and the canary’s inability to properly shape words, I imagine
that someone might think we had composed a poem together,
written in some archaic language from an extinct desert people
who carved words in the mud with the ends of pointed sticks.

This is how hard it is for me to talk to you, it’s as agonizing
as corresponding via avian persuasion. In the end
the letter I pull out of the bird cage will need heavy editing
before I fold it into a paper crane, puff air into its chest to fill it out
toss it out the window and pretend it’s fluttered away.

 In Lieu of a Red Pencil

The longer a book sits on a shelf in the basement
the more editorializing book mites and silverfish makes to the passages
the more likely entire passages will be excised from chapters
by brachiating arms of lichen and blossoming paper molds.

Eventually, the book will become more the property of the tiny editors
that swallow words whole and allow pages to disintegrate
until it becomes so unrecognizable  from the original text
that even the author will have a hard time explaining the inspiration
behind phrases reduced to nonsense, illustrations encrusted beyond repair.

Holly Day

Short bio: Holly the books, and Day’s poetry has appeared in over 4,000 publications internationally and she is the co-author of Music Theory for Dummies Music Composition for Dummies.She currently works as an instructor at The Richard Hugo Center in Seattle and at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

Holly’s cover note to the Editor:

Dear Robin Ouzman Hislop, Poetry Editor, Artvilla:

Just outside my window, hundreds of brown and white sparrows are covering my back yard. They blend in so well with the curled brown leaves and dried-out plants that the only way I can tell they’re there is when one of them encroaches on the other’s foraging space, resulting in an explosion of tiny wings and the occasional puff of loose feathers. Every fall, this congregation of birds both excites and depresses me—excites me because it’s simply glorious to see so much wildlife, even if it is just sparrows, right outside my window, yet depressing because they only gather like this at the end of summer.

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