Derek Mong

In the Land Between Sex and Conception

there are no trees, save
the shadows of trees, and words

that roll their shadows to root.
Whatever line will divide

the earth from the sky
hasn’t yet squinted its sight

down the globe. The wind lulls
in translucent coils

but unrolls to release all the birds.
The beasts nest in their own

thought balloons. And you—​
unborn notion, no skin

yet to float on—do you lounge
here near oceans still learning

to pool? Or are you dispersed
like so many concertgoers

awaiting the music’s faint cry?
It will come, it will come

to where the rivers now run
like dreams in the grooves of a knife.



The Second Year

Like the last house still lit
within a cul-de-sac

you draw the street’s sporadic
light behind your glass

and hold it. Your thoughts, I mean,
they trend effortlessly inward

as less leaves you enamored.
Not long ago I scooped

a bubbled necklace
from your bathtub, or paused

to point out—​see it, caught there
in Sutro Tower’s tongs?—moons

still risen in the morning.
But the surprise of sidewalk stones

has given way to words;
they dull a new thing’s charm,

make room for make-believe
and remembering.

I’ve long dreaded the latter—​
how my impatience

will lodge itself inside
your mind’s dark loam.

Nothing bright from it will thrive.
What faults of mine won’t fester?

In time these words will replace
the man I’ll become, while

the man I’ll become
will replace the one who wrote them.

I feel your eyes upon me
endlessly. I see myself

smoldering inside them.



The Undecided Voter

​Look for me in the stillness preceding
your footsteps, in the hand

hovering over a tray of desserts.
My shadow angles at any given hour

toward the largest gaggle of people still
milling around. Would you please

buy me your drink? We’ve met
in the hiccup between cable stations

but lean now into this tavern’s laughter
and wonder: will it lift us like a wave?

My preference is to prefer nothing.
You ask to swap past lives like hot air.

From my childhood I remember
other children. From high school I learned

how abstinence seduces till it’s gone.
This will be apparent if you follow me

home. See my front door, faded
from such eager knocking. See my voicemail

ticking its red numbers north.
My whispers (come closer, come listen)

make poll graphs quiver like tantalized
nerves. Will you consider spending the night?

The still air reminds you of all you’ve not said.

Derek Mong is the author of two collections from Saturnalia Books, Other Romes (2011) and The Identity Thief (forthcoming, 2018), and the poetry editor at Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, & Translation. He recently completed a PhD at Stanford University, writing on marriage in the lives and afterlives of Whitman and Dickinson. A former Axton Poetry Fellow at the University of Louisville and Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, he now lives in Portlan