Metro Weekly

Outwrite 2023: Editor’s Poetry Selections

Selections from the poets participating in the DC Center's 2023 Outwrite Literary Festival.

Photo: Jason Leung / Unsplash

Poetry by Brandon Blue, KB Brookins, Dustin Brookshire, Alex Carrigan, Jason Crawford, Sofia Fey, Catherine Gewertz, Sylvia Jones, Bonnilee Kaufman, Rona Magy, Caly McCarthy, Caridad Moro-Gronlier, Steven Riel, Kim Roberts, noemi rose, and Gregg Shapiro

Bird’s-Eye View: A Psalm

By Brandon Blue

This I know, this I’m certain of:
watching a sparrow kill and eat
another (bird now full of bird)—
and fly away unbothered while
blood left on the sidewalk seeps like
libation bringing about a new spring;
poppies and dandelions bagged and
sold in neighborhoods to teach
lessons of superiority:
Men over Women over Queers.
Whose lives matter? Black men decide
leaving cars. Our skin is not different, yet you
chose to choose like them. The wind’s
patterns direct with unyielding certainty.

T Shot #5: Ode to My Sharps Container

By KB Brookins

Holder of loose blood. Taker of contraptions
I use when I’m brave enough to save myself.
Visual reminder that I can do it. Former container
of pickles so you smell like sour victory. Glass
house of my gender. Chest hair–maker.
Every interaction at the coffee shop, on the
phone with medical providers, every nervous
laughter after checking the sex on my ID
comes down to you. Ass hair-activator.
Restitution for a 20-year gap between who
I was & who I could be. Balding beauty. Conjurer of
my wildest dreams; ones I’ve dreamed since
I was 13. Activist. Advocate. Apt to be who believes
in me. Tallying up all my T, & all my bois who didn’t
get to be boys. Heaven sent. Heaven’s back door,
roping me up through the vent.

From “Freedom House” (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2023).
First published by Poetry Magazine, March 2023.

Barbie’s Guilty Pleasure

By Dustin Brookshire

After Barbie gets buzzed
on Dom Pérignon
or Grey Goose dirty martinis
with three blue cheese stuffed olives,
she slips a few houses down
from her Dreamhouse,
hair pulled up in a bun,
pink scarf wrapped around her head,
wearing Livhò Retro vintage narrow cat eye sunglasses
even though the sun’s been down for hours,
to wait for Lyft
under the name Star.
(Barbie doesn’t drink and drive!)
She enjoys the ride
to the Taco Bell drive-thru
thinking about those first years
before she was a household name,
before the paparazzi’s obsession,
pictures on TMZ, and the focus
on her measurements.
She slips the driver a notecard
with her order: Nacho BellGrande,
Cheesy Gordita Crunch,
and a Baja Blast without a straw.
(Barbie cares about sea turtles!)
She tips the driver extra
for a longer route home,
enjoys her food in peace,
stops where she won’t be noticed,
recycling her plastic cup
and trashing the remaining evidence.

First published in 2022 in Alice Says Go Fuck Yourself.


By Alex Carrigan

I often wonder what skin
I’ll have to slip myself into
to be considered desirable.

If someone wants me skinnier,
with less stretch marks across his hips
or with thighs that don’t threaten to
spark when they rub together
when walking through the city.

If someone wants me with shorter hair,
afraid to get lost in the tangle of
my Irish-Italian curls, who has to cover
their hands with Freddy Krueger gloves if
they want to stroke my head
and get through the bramble.

If someone wants me with brighter eyes,
a straighter nose, missing
the five moles around my neck
and the one hidden under my tits.

I wonder if anyone has reached for
the zipper that curves with my
scoliosis-afflicted spine
and tried to pull it down when
I walked past them in the metro station.
If they did, I hope they at least
caressed it gently,
the way they would if they tried to
pick the right peach from the fruit stand.

Maybe I felt their touch that one time,
and I wonder if I could
get them to touch me again.

After Jubi Arriola-Headley
This poem originally appeared in en*gendered, August 2022.

Untitled 1975-86

By Jason Crawford 

Dangerous bodies. Paper cuts. Stubby blades. A field
of broken glass. Branches piling a stake. One could find
their end at every turn. Somewhere a building chooses
to fold in on itself, dips its fallen planks into the river
like a tongue reaching for another’s silt. Somewhere else
it is a boy bent into a new shape, bold in the way his mouth
finds the sun. Oh how we count these little destructions
like stars awaiting their turn to dim. Oh how we wish to stay
unaware of all the coyotes hiding in the thicket
of street lamps. I have become too enamored of their fur-
ridden grins. I often think about the rabbits, running
between streets swamped in beer cans. How careless
they are with their lust. How they choose to fuck
anywhere no matter what risk is involved. How I want
that. But who owns fortune, the rabbits or the ones
lucky enough to catch them? I fear what will not
choose to haunt me, my body’s eventual imploding.
I am afraid to ask what could be more beautiful
than what might kill us. Let the boys come with their knives
ready to wet themselves with my blood, each blade curved
like a coyote’s crooked tooth. But why does every death have
to be about us? Why not focus on the dilapidated building
soon to be park or parking lot, running with drunk men’s piss?
Why care so much about me, how I end? I was always the boy
learning to sever my spine for anyone. I reconsider my lover,
the vowels of his face into a softer word, something the coyote
would howl alongside me. Let it be about the building
taking its last breath. Let it be about the man I wish
to swallow whole without regret. Let it be about
the rabbits holding all our luck in their feet.

After Alvin Baltrop.

Are you coming home?

By Sofia Fey


I’m thrilled about the rattle snakes. Let them multiply. Give them my address. It’s the first room on the right. I’m ready for fire season. I’ll breathe in deep. Get closer to the forest. I’m not close enough to the ocean. I’m talking beach-front. A mega tsunami can only reach twelve miles. Let those sea levels rise. Extra micro plastics in this drink please. Where’s that super volcano when I need it? I’m here to stomp on stingrays and swim straight to the sharks. Pack it up already garbage patch. I’m hitting the road just so I have to get more gas. Southern California’s the best idea I’ve ever had. You’re leaving and this world’s going with you. Bring on the fucking flood.


Show me where to soften and I’ll show you where to soften. I see myself clearer in our picture. I see you clearest in liquid sunshine. When lights are absent and you fill the room instead. We wait on the side of the road for six hours and it feels like ten minutes. What do I do after you show me the piece I’m missing and leave? Yes, of course I’ll drive you.

Published in Poet Lore‘s Volume 117.

I Had Loved Her for Years

By Catherine Gewertz

I had loved her for years
almost without knowing.
Daily letters, hand-written on
blue-lined notebook paper
when summer camp was over.

But when she kissed me
on the single bed of my freshman dorm room,
she struck a match in the dark house of my brain.
Suddenly, a dozen rooms lit up there.

I saw women from my past,
women who’d fluttered my heart in strange ways,
playing guitars,
or striding down hallways in sensible shoes.
I saw jigsaw pieces scattered
on wood floors.

On that creaky dorm bed, I felt her
spread fingers, holding my whole back,
easing me down,
her hair sweeping my cheek.

I heard the jigsaw pieces click together.

Oh, I said,
as she kissed my neck,
Oh yes.

Straight People Are The Reason I Can’t Read

By Sylvia Jones

social cues
their subterfuge, a brash impetus
crass, shrewd, and masked

in scientific ridiculousness
a choir of mouths
swiveling in unison like ghetto pterodactyls — singing

at me in a kamikaze tenor
down a dig site
split into laser like seconds

riffing off of throwbacks
from the 1980s
before I was alive

back when
AIDS just meant
“gay cancer”

First published in the Fall 2019 issue of the Ponder Review, Volume 3, Issue 2.

Something’s Missing

By Bonnilee Kaufman

I’ve misplaced things before
this is different. Haven’t
heard a peep. My dear sweet Eros
muted for some time
as if bubble wrapped, boxed away
precious holiday ornament
lost & forgotten a dusty attic. Off-season
is not supposed to extend
it’s been years.

My Eros used to raucous
acting all trumpet
blowing abandon
spit dripping fingering every spot,
she knew how to harmonize.

It’s unlike me these days
to lift feet off the ground
fall in love, but sometimes
spotting a cute butch just my side of tough
titillated, I’ll recall how
my Eros used to influence every single thing:
the way I stirred the pot of stew
on tiptoe, breath irregular
puffs and starts,
what I dared to reveal
in a flowery kitchen apron
for her
unabashed appetite.

Crepe Erase

By Rona Magy

Folds of my skin
wrinkle the creping of age.

It begins at the shoulders and
ripples down.

Once these arms were the oars
of a wooden boat on a Canadian lake.
Currents thrust my lover and I
out on turquoise tides.
Red cherries stained
the edges of lips.
Love pitched back and forth.
One oar split in its stride.

Some relationships begin at the shoulders and
work their way down.
Now I scan these arms
creased disclosures of skin.
Lost that boat     feral lake.
Split oar.

First published in The Los Angeles Press in 2023.

As We Wait for the Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v. Wade, I Mourn

By Caly McCarthy

May 31, 2022

At the baby shower there is a pre-natal roll call
of hoo-ha-s and willies,
and everyone acts
like this is normal
and relevant information,
and there are cupcakes,
a renewal of collective fidelity
to the fallacy
that who we are
is fundamentally related
to the color of the frosting,
when, really,
all it means,
is that pink will spend her life pining,
asking nicely,
asking louder,

for access to power
that is rightfully hers.

For Marlene, Who Asked Why I Switched Teams

By Caridad Moro-Gronlier

One night at a party,
I haggled with my date
over a bottle of Pinot Noir
and a corkscrew he refused
to hand over. He wasn’t
a prick, just a man
who thought the juice was his
because he brought me
and that’s what guys do,
even though he didn’t have a clue
how to handle the entry
or the swivel of the screw

          as if force
          could make anything
          come faster

he remained determined
despite the cork crumbling
into flecks, his failure
afloat the surface
of what he’d sullied.

A watchful brunette
crossed the room,
slid her body between us,
slid his hands off the wine,
slid her eyes down the bottle
and insinuated the tip of the screw
deeper by turns,
dislodged the cork
in one fluid motion
and poured red velvet
into my glass.


she spoke
of Portuguese cork trees,
trees so evolved
they had learned
to ward off disaster,
impervious to drought
or fire, the chew of termites
and chainsaws, trees capable
of renewing their skins.

I listened
beneath a canopy
of white sheets,
beside her bed.

Excerpted from Tortillera: Poems, Texas Review Press, 2021.


By Steven Riel

For those of us who aren’t glib,
dishing is like playing jump rope
with the girls at recess,
when I’d gape in envy at their pearly
patent leather clicking
lickety-split with nary a hitch
through double Dutch peppers,
while each syllable in our chant
multiplied the challenge —
   Fudge, fudge, call the judge:
   Mama’s got a newborn baby.
   It’s not a boy, it’s not a girl;
   It’s just a newborn baby.

Though I thrilled at jumping in
& out without getting caught,
I’d never be pretty at it, never fluid,
flubbing flyballs in leftfield,
an exile at either end of the playground.

Now, I’m befuddled by two tipsy queens
throughout a brunch of nouvelle cuisine.
Retorts dash by like greyhounds.
With pursed lisps, Miss Dish
shows Miss Thing to the lost & found.
I have a tongue like a basset hound,
waddling woefully close to the ground.
I’m no better throwing attitude around
than I was at second down.
My friends flow best ad-libbing on tiptoe.
I’m least awkward alone, in a poem;
if it resounds, then I belong,
as rope astounds the air with song.

First published in 1988.

Fragrant and Stinky

By Kim Roberts

My girlfriend keeps all the lids to her Mason jars
in a cardboard box labelled lids.

She has nicknamed her two favorites
Fragrant and Stinky. My girlfriend plays

the Two Little Dwarfs in bed:
she says she’s Pokey, and I’m Floppy.

In Genesis, Adam said hydrangea,
and lobelia, and blood root, rolling the syllables

across his new-wrought tongue. My girlfriend
argues that cats have lips. I say

only humans and fish have lips.
We look it up — she is right:

all mammals have lips, so they can suck
at their mother’s breasts. (That’s two
of my girlfriend’s best parts.) My girlfriend
makes up a story about Irish twins:

she names them Seamus and Squeamish.
A good name is like a precious ointment,

Francis Bacon wrote, more durable than those of flowers.
Dan substitutes argle-bargle for the word

he can’t remember and continues his story.
Linda says, do you need to know right now

or will ten minutes from now do?
But my girlfriend calls all missing nouns noun

After the First Kiss, at Age 62

By noemi rose 

one day
you’re going to meet someone
who can meet you
     right where you are
     on land
     the two of you once had leases to
     but lost your way

you’re going to show each other
          the way back
          to yourselves
                    through each other

you won’t even have to ask directions
     your homing needles
          know the way      in
you’ll follow rivers who are moving
     in one direction
     the same one
     as your other
who too can’t believe their luck
          at having been found
          at finding you

you’ll be about the same age
          the one where you marvel
          still at discovery

you’ll both light up
          with earthly delights
          you’d feared
          been forbidden

you’ll know how to touch their face
               their waist
          grab the belt hooks
          and pull them in

you’ll be between legs
          between lips
          between looks

and you’ll remember
          what gods taste like


By Gregg Shapiro

When Earring Magic Ken was put on display
in his shocking pink box, almost 30 years ago
at FAO Schwarz and Toys “R” Us, he flew off
the shelves as if he had fairy wings. Adorned

with the promised plastic silver hoop of his name
in his left ear, blonde highlights, whitened teeth,
tanned skin, strong jawline, and tweaker’s pupils.
The tight-fitting lilac mesh shirt emphasized
his chiseled pecs; even minus nipples there was
potential for arousal in the right (or left) hands.

Bulging biceps strained the fabric of the rolled-up
short sleeves, and his six-pack abs earned Ken
shirt-lifter cred. The purple pleather vest was
a questionable style choice, something you might

see on someone from Northwest Indiana strutting
down Halsted Street in skintight pants, desperately
trying to fit in, but standing out like a genital-less
plastic, injection-molded doll. The baggy black
jeans, polished black shoes (not boots!), reminders
of the era’s fashion confusion. Ken wore the ultimate

accessory around his thick neck. At the base of
the “silver” chain, a polished cock ring, untarnished
by lube and bodily fluids, got the attention of gay
men in every urban, suburban, and exurban location.

Flocking to the toy sections of WalMarts and Targets,
departments they’d only visited when doing guncle
duty, shopping for birthday and Christmas presents
for nieces and nephews. Snatching multiple armfuls
of gay Kens, making sure the doll was the best-selling
version in its 60-year history. Unbeknownst to Mattel,

the real magic occurred when the doll became a necessary
distraction from hours spent at the bedsides of friends
and lovers in hospital AIDS wards, attending funerals
and memorial services, burying countless loved ones.

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