Kimberly Ann Southwick

Present and Preterit


Try to explain too late in an education
how there is no future tense and we

only hear there is no future. As if science class
hasn’t scared us enough. We are eating

less meat and taking more public transit
because if we aren’t the only ones riding,

we find it easier to get from here to there.
Plus, we can look out the window, at the river,

and calculate the exact moment we’ve crossed
the state line.


On either side of a sharp sword,

Guinivere and Lancelot slept to prove their platonic
relationship reigned. They parried accusations

that they could be two different people at once:
that their public and private selves were separate,

though their fingers interlocked secretly beneath the folds
of white sheets. Behind closed doors, the sword

proved an illusion of singularity; the lovers were plural.
Gwen and Lance lay, hearts ready to leap dead

from their chests at a key in the lock
of the wooden door.


How do we tell them, we know

what will become of you both. We choose instead not to.
We tiptoe in, as they sleep. We silently slide the sword from the bed

and replace it with a snake and an apple. We pray. Lead us not
into this uncertain future when cars run on fossil fuels,

when flocks of birds drop dead in middle America. The cracks
in the earth from the most recent quake startle at the curse.

Don’t tell them, when they wake, they’ll find the sword
beneath the bed. Watch, from the digital video camera

hidden in the medieval drapery, the panic flare in their eyes,
then the release: never again to worry or wait

for the rusted key sounding in the lock. The relief
at the thought: they know.

Kimberly Ann Southwick founded and currently edits Gigantic Sequins, a literary arts journal. She lives in Philadelphia and teaches grammar and literature. Her poems have been published by Barrelhouse, Big Lucks, Word Riot, and other print and online journals. She has a poem forthcoming from PANK. Follow her on twitter @kimannjosouth.

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