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Red Paint

/emily kingery


I. We say of love, it never fails, but our words eclipse the full lesson. In the hollow of the car, I knew it, the vent heaving hot at frosted glass, the black around me the belly of a whale. I palmed green pages in my lap, right-left, illumined by the fullness of love: what it was to be followed. Telephone poles slid past, the moon lighting white for me my words: Good, Moon, an on-off signal, forming a promise against separation by night. I filled my mouth with the roundness of promise. The kindness chased me for miles.

II. Later, I studied the tightness of words: satellite, crater, debris. I learned what it was to wax and widened my eyes to mimic the glow; when I slept, I relished the eyelid dark. A voice said, Behold, and I nodded. Your whole body is full of light. I nodded, lamb-headed, to the filling of skin with lightness. I lifted, forgetting crust and core, becoming distant as the body I loved was distant. A new voice warned, You are becoming a ghost, but my eye, small lamp, beheld my moon. Our bodies moved, followed each other, put shadows into the rooms of our families.

III. It is true there was some wondrous year of walking, of driving in a flag and palming up dust, a year of reminding: The light is not its own. But our moon continues like this: drawn everywhere, with a face. It belongs to everyone, its egg-round eyes and jackal mouth. It can rise, fall down, float and hang, live as a manlike thing to be lassoed, which is to rope its neckless head, the fibers tugging its face to a rash. We all could swallow it, if we wanted. If I wanted, I could suck it in like an egg, intact, a blank round thing plummeted into me to incubate.

IV. We say light cast into a well is romance, gone to us but gleaming in the richness of good, deep earth. Cast onto sewer grates, it is waste, beaming secondly to the eyes of raccoons who don’t need it to see.

V. I loved, for a moment, the small, round ends of cigarettes. The on-off flick of the lighter’s gear, the glow that would rise in the paper and redden, spread rash-like end to end, the waste that would fall down to the earth. Each was an eye of a thing with no body. Each was a lamp in a terrifying room.

VI. I know the rule, but still describe both objects and feelings as good: This room is good; I feel good (I do not feel well, the place where moonlight leaves). My goodness depends on the fullness of vowels. My meaning slobbers over each like a gag, or teething ring. Children know the importance of good, and we forgive them for swallowing it up in any bright round thing.

VII. We tell them, I love you to the moon and back, imagining the moon as a place we could visit, simply—not the body that comes to us, by degrees, in darkness, or illuminates only what it can touch.

VIII. And I say that light lingers, as though it were hope, but the word means failure, a refusal to follow. The moon lingers some mornings, a still, small stain, a blanching of the open pink sky. Everywhere we begin to crack eggs, let bits of shell fall down to our dough. Steam rises, ghostlike, from the vents of our homes. We bestow our love to one another, round and full. Later, when we touch the puckering skin of its face, that feeble pouch of air, we coax out the same O’s of good, moon, look, but want the air knotted in.

Emily Kingery teaches courses in literature, writing, and linguistics at a small university in Iowa. Her work appears or is forthcoming in multiple journals, including CutBank, Eastern Iowa Review, GASHER, Gingerbread House, Midwest Review, New South, Quarter After Eight, and Trampoline Poetry, among others, and she has been both a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. She serves on the Board of Directors at the Midwest Writing Center, a non-profit organization that supports writers in the Quad Cities community.


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