Holly Painter hails from metro Detroit, and has lived in Los Angeles and New Zealand.
She currently splices words and ideas into ghastly new creations on a little island
called Singapore. In addition to Excerpts from a Natural History, her fiction and poetry
have been published in literary journals in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand
and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her website is www.hollypainter.com.

Fish & Farm

You won't teach us to farm
like cabbagehead Englishmen
when we've got knotty nets
like outlandish neon stockings
mended too many times to know
what color they were at the start.

Push off the coast to the
writhing turquoise field
and plant our hooks
seeded with juicy bait, and see?

Here, where the fish only bite for us,
the men will come home when the clouds
squeeze the sun across the sky
like pink icing on the cakes
behind the glass of your pastry shops
on the cobblestone high streets
where rain licks the windows clean.

Here, where the rain licks the sea,
and the sea and we wear the glass,
smooth and clean and small as rain,
on strings round our necks,
we have all we need.


They put us on television as children,
chamber of self-love and self-hate,
both offerings for our future lovers.

On screen, our skin caused vertigo
in those who saw our freckles as stars,
constellations in curved space.

We left disguised as indigent pirates
in ruffled shirts from the costumes bin,
runaways before we could be cast away.

Our lunch boxes contained sandwiches
and celery in baggies. We ate in fields
with red barns posted at every corner.

We stole from hot-lit supermarket aisles,
filling our sacks with fluorescent produce
bigger and brighter than afternoon.

Uniforms approached in convex mirrors.
We arrived back at the rendezvous point
with only an apple clutched in each hand.

We forgot the smell of our homes and
our little brothers' middle names.
We remembered our dogs very clearly.

Not A Gentleman

I am not a gentleman, aristocratic drinker
Spend my Sundays in a Dixiecrat's cab
I am just a mumble of jumbled up rubber bands
Leaking liquor from a hundred mile tab

I am not Columbian, exporter of nightlife
Don't look for me in the pocket of your jeans
I am just a share-cropper, baby baron, tinker,
Bargain-shopper, mountain man of modest means

I can't pour you loving from a bottle of absinthe
Can't give you memories that you haven't really earned
I can't be the thing that gives your whole life meaning
Can't sell you lessons that you've never really learned


Your mum sleeps like a frat boy who
drinks from the wrong solo cup and
wakes up covered in sharpie dicks.

I sleep like the kind of infant we hope
you won't be — exhausted but never
sleepy, up every few hours all night.

Even in month eight, when she tallies thirty
distinct discomforts, including a constant
need to pee, she sleeps better than me.

At 3am, she is on my pillow, snoring
into my ear. I curl myself around
her abdomen and find you, awake.

You wriggle like a bag of sharks,
jabbing the walls of your uterine home
as, incredibly, your mum sleeps on.

With my skin directly against hers
I absorb the gentle rain of your frenzy,
then pull back to hold you in my hands.

I push at a bony protrusion, and you
kick back instantly, surprising me
with a tiny but unmistakable foot.

Your mum sighs but doesn't wake.
All day, at the office, she feels you
stretching, kicking, even growing.

But at 3am, it's just us in the dark
on either side of a wall, tapping out
a message that says, "I'm here."

Back to Front.