Cynthia Atkins by Alexis Rhone Fancher.jpg


Cynthia Atkins 

(Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)

Selected by Guest Poetry Editor Seth Michelson

Followed by Bio and Q&A

Tree of Life                

               A silence already filled with noises

                                                                         —John Ashbery


You came without instructions.

No cardboard box or Marshall Plan

to speak of— Only the birds balancing

like robed nuns on a hymnal of branches.

These limbs are the windows, a contour

of unplanned townships, each municipal

self you have lost along the way.  

No flow charts provided, not a scintilla

of evidence to explain why you are not

welcome at each threshold, where a hateful

Sheriff stands at an electric fence.

No testimonials as to how to derail

this anguish of breathing, of losing.  

No dress rehearsal for the birth canal—

Down the laundry chute into

a dentist’s chair.  No bark or breastmilk

to fend off the savages, or how to fasten a kerchief

to your warrior heart on the brink? 

No columns or asterisks— Only these stars

in a jar, and the fireflies you captured

in the dark, when your boy cousin

led you into the crawlspace where

your ancestors hid their crowns

of madness— No small print to explain

the army of combatants.  Who could know

the pathos of an heirloom, the bully

genes that allow you to sing, or gush

or cry.  They millined you a hat of mood swings.  

Where are the commandments

stitched in.  Where is the compass between

sky and the earth?— Seeded to the roots

of this huge machine, pelt and pen, threaded

needle through the multi-tiered forest floor. 

Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including, Alaska Quarterly Review, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Del Sol Review, Florida Review, Green Mountains Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Le Zaporogue, North American Review, Prime Number Magazine, Seneca Review, Tampa Review, Tinderbox, Thrush, Valparaiso Review and Verse Daily. She was formerly the assistant director for the Poetry Society of America, and has taught English and Creative Writing, most recently at Blue Ridge Community College, where she curates a quarterly Reading Series, Lit-Salon. Atkins earned her MFA from Columbia University and fellowships and prizes from Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, The Writer’s Voice, and Writers@Work. Atkins lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, Virginia. More work and info on her website or Facebook.


A few days after John Ashbery died, I began an homage poem to his "Some Trees," which has always been a kind of prayer poem for me.


With what fictional character would you most love to spend the day?

I would love to spend the day with Molly Bloom—I love her sass and vinegar and would love to clink 'n bitch with her—

What is your favorite day of the week?

I like Thursdays—not quite the weekend, but the beginning of the anticipation—I like the preamble! 

Which movie have you seen over and over again? What keeps you coming back?

Cinema Paradiso and Big Fish—great balance of sappy, brilliant, beautiful and profane—both these films make me cry and weep and laugh and cry some more—cinematography, music score, actors, story, plot, love.