by Jacob Fowler


Shame is a word soaked in itself.
On a January morning, glinted by
second grade iridescence, my
grandmother on my mother’s side
taught me how to plant and care for a
shrub so that it blossoms just right.
She said

we are everywhere: in the desert,
in the softness of a dead rabbit,
in the trenches, in turnpikes,
in the lists that the butterflies
dream up in captivity 

and in the infinitesimal length
of a stretched out humanity 
ten toes down on a dirt ground
is so insignificant. 

we fondled thick, green leaves
and I imagined what they would 
look like brown and knew then–
as I do now– the death of a leaf
is its feel, and has little to do with 
anything else.

My grandmother on my mother’s 
side left a war and moved to a town
made of dust and married a boy who
was leaving the same war from
another side. That boy died at forty,
my mother knew that boy for two
years, and I’ve seen only a picture.
Forever he holds my mother with the
doe-eyed look of a new father with a
sense he’ll die before his fawn finds
out his secrets. 

When my grandmother on my
mother’s side started to die she
started growing snap peas. Maybe
she was looking for music, a vibrant
postlude with whisps of curly cue
greens. During our last conversation she said son 

Ms. Tooley’s peas look better than
mine and I hate her for it.

Shame is a word soaked in itself.
Soured by a thousand years of use,
it’s damper than even the most fertile
soil and sticks with you like dirty




on your west coast with your broken
beatitudes and your

book of praise to the red-
dawns that so
often ring for us

there is music in the water.
When the rivers sing I know
that my mother feels it like sun
even under
our cragged, asphalt sky.

Telegraph Avenue is a mess,
it speaks
in a language that bites.

I can hear it only because
I’ve begged so much because

I have two scars over my left
eye, which is to say, this year
will be the last

for the lauding of the
indelible charm churning
in your heavy soul.

heavy land under a heavy sky
let’s let the sun go down
another time

and forget that next year we
won’t remember much about
each other.



At eleven, you learn to shiver
when you see what addiction
does to grandmother and at
sixteen you’re old enough to
feel it for yourself and
eighteen you practice the
thick purple of loss so much
that at twenty-three of course
your dad is what he is. At
thirty I will ask my love to 
marry me. At the reception,
my love’s father will ask:
“Are you dedicated or
committed?” and I will say I
do not know the difference
and he will say, “the fox is
dedicated, but the rabbit is
committed.” I will nod, as I
fold into myself like
imploding in slow motion,
and I will continue to
nod, with glossy eyes and
gossamer excuses for
the rest of my life for I
know: I was born with so
much fox in me.


Image: Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash