Abigail Beckel

Three poems

20th Anniversary Reflections

Abigail Beckel’s poems were featured in the Fall 2011 Portfolio Issue (Volume 12:4). She guest edited the Prose Poetry Issue, Volume 14:4, in Fall 2013. That issue was our first special issue based on a verse form rather than on a theme, and Beckel’s expertise in hybrid forms made her the perfect person to put this issue together.

She writes, “I loved editing the prose poetry issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly. I’m drawn to reading prose poetry by the form’s often wild deviance, surprising rhythms, and endless variation, and even though the form still has its detractors, we got over 500 submissions to the issue from only 5 mid-Atlantic states, showing that many poets are drawn to the prose poem’s versatility and challenges. I really enjoyed seeing the range of techniques in the 44 poems we chose for the issue, everything from retold fairy tales to ekphrastics to epistolary poems—every poet in the issue brought something new to the form.”


Three Poems by Abigail Beckel

In the Badlands

The earth breaks apart as you walk,
clay crumbling, silty shale crunching.
When it rains, the buttes melt away,
cascades of mud running into canyons,
a landscape slowly eroding into flatness.
There are no trails because you can’t hurt
the Badlands more than the rain does.

That’s how I find the jawbone.
In a mounded, broken hillside, I see teeth,
brown and glossy, the white of bone.
Later the Park Service will visit the site
and tell me it’s 30 million years old,
the jaw of an extinct grazing animal
with no descendants, who lived
in herds and was most like a llama.

30 million years ago, a strange society
of animals lived in this swamp—
the visitor center a carnival of oddities.
Fanged dogs the size of ponies. Tiny
horses the size of dogs. A snouted pig
as big as two rhinos. The long-toothed cat
that feasted on my grazer. We’d never heard
of these creatures, lost in an epoch
after the dinosaurs, before the mammoths.

My prehistoric llama wouldn’t recognize
this brittle, dusty landscape, once a wetland.
Big-horn sheep navigate a cracked ravine,
a few bison graze on the mesa.
Prairie dogs stand upright by their holes
and yip warnings about hikers and hawks.
Eons from now, what creature will scrape
the earth from my teeth with a ballpoint pen
from the Radisson Inn? Who will run
a hand or claw or tentacle along my molars?

It is convenient for them that we have buried
ourselves in boxes, rows and rows
of perfect skeletons, laid out under stones.
They will not have to puzzle us together
and guess at our shape, but only wonder
why we separated our bodies from the dirt.
After all our attempts to control or consume
this spinning flux of a planet, we will rot
or petrify like every other heartbeat body
troubled by small wounds until extinction,
the earth erasing us and starting over.


How We Know the Cold is Coming, or October

My husband is unraveling the mummy
that chases him, all moaning and death.
He could have torn the fabric from the head
first and killed it, or started at the feet
to slow it down, but he grabbed at the midriff
and now the mummy wears a crop-top
belly shirt over wasted flesh still stalking him.
I laugh a little when he tells me this part,
despite the panic flared in his eyes,
his futile unwrapping fresh in his fingers.
He almost never remembers his dreams.
My dreams collect in every slumber like sighs—
in my dream last night, I had a hundred dreams.
Winter came while we were at the beach,
a giant “W” on the skyline, frost hardening
our bathing suits tight to summer skin.
The snow whirled wild and thick, sticking.
The sand, the snow, small particles pressing in—
sand, snow, sand, snow, foam, frozen, vertigo.
Nature’s teeth held us above, below, ankle-deep
in intensity and icy surf. It was deafening,
the endless lapping of darkness at our feet.



I’m in love with the stars,
but nothing beats the home team,
those nine, now eight—poor Pluto—
foam balls hanging from the roof
of our solar neighborhood.
Out there in the darkness,
in the no air,
the planets talk dirty to each other,
molten, gaseous, ringed,
or cold-shouldered,
coupling like train cars,
no, like magnets,
swinging out straight-lined from the sun
like a radar scan blipping for meteors.

You know that’s not how it works, right?
They’re millions of miles apart,
all orbiting at different speeds.
I think of a hundred science fairs,
papier-mâché, and fishing line.
Sure, I guess, I shrug, but we all know
when Mercury goes retrograde.
The heat of Venus, the inscrutable Mars.
And the Mars Rover is going to find
life up there, so maybe…
The Mars Rover didn’t find life,
you say, all it brought home was sand.
Red sand?
Just sand sand.

At the beach, watching
the invisible moon jerk the water
up and back in restless waves,
I write I Love You in the sand—
with stones, with shells,
with seagrass pods and driftwood.
The sea devours it every time,
the surf a bright foment of hunger.
Before the ocean pulls it away again,
I collect my sand message in a jar,
hoping that sand can hold an answer,
some gritty storm of truth, sticking
to our skin, binding our bodies
in the same short loop around the sun.


“How We Know the Cold is Coming, or October” previously appeared in the anthology Shortest Day, Longest Night from Arachne Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.



Abigail Beckel is the publisher of Rose Metal Press, an independent, nonprofit publishing house she co-founded in 2006. Rose Metal Press's mission is to publish and promote books in hybrid genres such as prose poetry, flash fiction, flash nonfiction, novels-in-verse, and text/art collaborations, and to encourage writing that moves beyond traditional genre boundaries by providing a publishing home for authors doing innovative work. Beckel's poems have recently been featured in Barrelhouse, Rhino Poetry, Ecotone, and The Fourth River. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland. To read more by this author: Fall 2011 Issue