Fall 2018Poetry

“Front Country” and “Iceland” – Matthew Sumpter


We barely slept. Outside, diesel engines
cranked patiently at nearby campsites,
and an avalanche of fog descended

from the mountains every night.
A gathering of puffins unfurled
like a dirty tongue. We laid down

in the rental SUV with legs curled
in discount sleeping bags. The ground
around us was a frozen lava field.

Basalt columns the size of whale bones
lurched upward and revealed
the minor majesties of being alone.

We hiked the glaciers, fjords, chose
backroads where gravel kicked against
the battered windshield as the puffins rose

and fell: their faulty, penguin-ish
attempts at flight, their white excrement
painting cliffsides and gluing their nests

into a jerry-rigged equivalent
of home. Each day’s incidents confessed,
in their small way, one thing, the miscarriage.

The cold, the grey ocean that disparaged
any end to depth, the treeless birds:
the island almost made it easier.


Front Country: 10 Weeks

            Middlesex State Park

We tell ourselves nothing has changed, not our spines
or skin, not our pale feet pruning in the bluegrass,
not the smell of our hair or the sound of our breath
as pollen stirs from the weeds. We think it is only
process: one body growing, as it must, inside another.
You will still twitch before sleep. I will talk to the moon.
Then we watch the tree line as a girl gathers wood,
and the gathering transforms her: a shirt of cockleburs,
a mask of yarrow, hair strung with wild thistledown.
Her father stirs a dying fire. Marshmallows flare,
dripping down branches like brown and sweet saliva.
Cicadas chorus to their abandoned bodies as night
warms us with humidity. We are quiet as embers,
leaving our lives, floating on a bed filled with air.

Author Bio: Matthew Sumpter is the author of Public Land (University of Tampa Press, 2018), which won the Anita Claire Scharf Award. His poems have previously appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker, the New Republic, and Best New Poets 2014, and his fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train. Winner of the Crab Orchard Review Special Issues Feature Award and the Zocalo Public Square Poetry Prize, he currently teaches academic and creative writing at Rutgers University, where he is an Assistant Director of the Writing Program and Director of the Livingston Writing Center.

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