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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Bill King

Poem for My Night Nurse

Tied down by tubes in my nose, neck, and arms,

I watch the second hand on the wall clock spin

like a slow-motion roulette wheel; when the minute

hand hits my number, I press the pain button.

I want to stand as soon as possible but know I can’t,

that like Gulliver, I’m washed up on a strange island.

I’m Frankenstein’s creature, one hand outstretched,

muttering inarticulate sounds.

But unlike his master, who sparked life, then fled,

my night nurse abides. When I croak like a raven,

she wets my lips and asks if, in the morning, I want

a sponge bath. I do. First the bath and then I’ll stand,

I think again and again, until she comes in, asks

if the water is warm enough, and starts to work her way

down my body.

Yes, I say, and thank you, which is not enough

in this shockingly foreign country where everyone’s pain

is equal and you’re always at the front of the line.

Critical Distance

From the looks of it, every day is Flag Day

on my street. This year, I’ll hang mine


on Juneteenth—an act as hopeful as rising

each morning and walking to work between


the houses and cars, not because my job’s

a drag, but because I can: I can walk down


the street without fear. I’ve been doing it

my whole life without a thought. Today’s


Sunday and this creek bottom hike does

not offer escape because after I can’t breathe,


from what do I so urgently need release?

Overhead, a thin bar of clouds hushes


the warblers in the spruce, though, really,

they have few predators. They turn back on


when sunlight slips beneath the dark band

and flares like a match just above the


ridgeline. It gives one short glimpse of

Paradise, before burning it all down.


Bill King grew up outside of Roanoke, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His work has appeared in Kestrel, Appalachian Heritage, Still: The Journal, 100 Word Story, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Naugatuck River Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Georgia and teaches creative writing and literature at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV. His first chapbook of poetry, from Finishing Line Press, is The Letting Go (2018).

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