Julia Tillinghast

Julia Clare Tillinghast is from Michigan. She studied poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and Virginia Tech, where she received her MFA. She has spent a number of years, on and off, living in Istanbul, Turkey, and is Co-Translator, along with Richard Tillinghast, of Dirty August, a Selected Poems of the experimental 20th-century Turkish poet Edip Cansever. In addition to translations in Agni, Guernica, Arts & Letters, Poetry Daily, The Boston Review & others, she has had or has forthcoming original poems in Pleiades, Tin House, Rattle, 3:AM Magazine, H_NGM_N, Passages North, Sou’Wester, Pank, and The Bakery, as well as a chapbook, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, from SNOOT Books. She lives in Portland with her son, Hamza.






It drove its car
Into your house
Wanting to be leaner
It poured
Its one
Lonely eye
Like a plant dropping
Its head on a stem
In the sun
Grace, defeat, gravity,
The law of the conservation of energy
Entropy, chaos, aging, getting wiser,
Hunger how
It comes like a death, death, how
It comes like a child
It poured its eye
Into your book
Like a bud on a stem, on a stalk, appearing closed
But really open
It had on its chest
Many leaves
Two for the tides
Of the aorta
The tide that sees
Faces in everything, in the grills
Of cars,
The grins
Of brothers
And the tide where everything
Wants to fall apart
A room gets messy
Just by doing nothing
Where you come home
To a nest of ants
Two leaves plus
Three ghost leaves
The father, the son, and the holy moon
The threesome you will always want, and never have
That makes five
And that forms
A paw of marijuana
A gold star,
A starfish
A hand
The pentagon
A pentagram
The neck of a girl in a purple dress
Who kissed you in high school
She wasn’t a lesbian
And you weren’t a person
A boy has a number
Of miles to run around a track
Its morning and there’s a coach somewhere timing him
There’s something he’s got that he doesn’t want to leave
In his locker, in his pocket
So he goes around and around
With that thing in his fist
He finishes his laps
His starfish
His hand
His heart
His starfish
Closed around it



I am shy about this
An American in the 21st century
Not young not old
I voted for hope and
For endless wars
I put a book in the shelf
And a space appears
For another book
Someone’s shopping cart
Trembles through the street
The birds decorating
The sidewalks clapping
It is hard to know what happens
In this final year
Of the second term
An America I didn’t know
Built a prison where people could be retained indefinitely
Without trial
We used the word ‘war’ loosely
We meant general existence
We used ‘war’
As a synonym for world
We used fighting
As a synonym for living
And combatant not because
Your actions are belligerent
But because you are you
Now you can’t go home
The peonies keep bursting
Their intelligence is in their bodies
They have no president
What they do, they do
And we bring them inside
But not the bees
I would like to press my feet
Against a sidewalk
And in the sun be braiding together
The commonalities of life everywhere
Though outside right now
An older woman is walking
In a T-shirt and shorts
It is six am and the sun
Lines the houses and trees
We knew you but it turned out
We didn’t know
Anything about anything, and all of this
The president, the birds
Like the five fingers
I hold in my hands
Is to avoid talking about
Something that happened inside me
Related to love
A broken pipe or
A broken egg and it’s
All new rivers I have
Wasted so much time on the universals
The older woman
Walks back to her domicile
The imprisonment on the prisoners
Endures in the manner
Of all hells



There is sand on my back
There is sand and shells and I am remembering
What it was like to belong to a church when I
Belonged nowhere, that was in another century
I am remembering what it was like
In the 20th century
In the 19th century
When Europe literally saw the world as a board game
Of course I was still dead then
And my privileges were soft and useful
When I walked by legless
Other spirits would murmur at my
Gleaming liver, my purple heart
My kidney like a cut flower
Once you’ve seen one,
You have to see all the other ones
When I was undead
Walking around but not alive
Before the Monroe doctrine
When what was being done in Afghanistan
Was very very clear
Like trying to murder a cheetah to hold against your face to stop
A Russian river you dreamed when you couldn’t fall asleep would
Overflow and flood the car you had already
Stolen and were constantly painting and sanding off VIN numbers of and
Parking it in the strip of land that is neither the United States or Mexico
But the Cheetah keeps not dying and you keep just mangling it further
Until all your troops have to walk back from Kabul to India except
All the European soldiers you used are now dead
I was just lying in the attic then listening
To songs rising from the floor of the East India company
When they declared Queen Victoria not only the monarch of England but
Empress of India, to compete with the Emperor of Russia in the realm of
Titles, it was so dumb that at that time
I believed I was a spiritual person and an artist
And would never concern myself with worldly matters
And people would leave me alone like as if
I was a baby genius, and all my brothers were in the Mafia telling me
To stay in school
Now I have been
Long since born
And when I read about history
It feels familiar to me
Far away like the wars that have been going on
Since we were in college
Close like déjà vu
Like I never knew that
But it all makes sense now
History is a light show
History is our medium,
Is carbon
O isolate hand
You taste like all these
Republican presidents like
Someone is here counting the dying
All these kids get killed
In the name of your people
Someone is noting that and we
Are not alone with ourselves
There is sand on my back
There are shells and a whole beach
I am imagining just hanging around a mosque and saying
Asalam-u-alaykum to the women around
And I am wondering if they will take me in


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