Blackbox Manifold

Issue 11: Valerie Duff

Witch Hunt

Air, fire, water, earth

Fire up a gas line cleans the rock

Gusts can move a hearth behind its glass


Fog, smolder, rainfall, dirt

I might feel bad, except I am

all cords, and public

Breath, ember, pool, ash

Black from the pull of the rip

In my side, I go down, despite how I swim

Vortex, strata, breaker, flames

The feel of sand, silt 

Gives sense of it: stingray passing

Sky, woods, marsh, spark

Scattered to land, rippled

Hair lacerates the mad

Blast, soil, spray, blaze

Weight, split the day, coax me back

To test my luck and face the water down 

Windmill, totem, furnace, dew


Long Beach Island, New Jersey

Stirring instant coffee, I’ll ask you if you’ve read

The Day They Shook the Plum Tree, knew islanders

who drank grandfather’s gin, sponged out his extra-dry

martini’s olive buoy, hung lamps, glass thick as pine.

The wind’s a strung-out heirloom, whips by Engleside,

its trumpet blasting: where’d you get

those eyes? Broadcast static, creak of wicker,

water’s edge unfastens. Then the sea

from salt-box to pavilion, Fifth and Beach,

where ships, unmoored,

waked and rolled before big storms, big wars.


To think you were in love with that

dirty thing,

ramp, grid, and range,

where birds perched under cinder

longed for trees as rain

knocked blossoms to the dirt.

When all hell rose,

dormers hit the pavement,

beams ripped roofs off.

Humans clenched their bodies

(brick hard over heart)

as structures failed,

winds accrued,

lines snapped.

Dispatched, I knew

we’d not get back the neighborhood.

The day you ditched repair,

and sold the lot,

gave up your tale of going south, the weather

changed. The day

you made the front page,

I put the porch on.

Valerie Duff’s To the New World (Salmon Poetry) was shortlisted for the 2011 Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, AGNI, Harvard Review, PN Review, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Daily, Antioch Review, and other journals.  Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Common, The Prague Revue, and Poetry Northeast. Her reviews and writings have appeared in the The Wolf, The Boston Globe, The Journal, and The San Francisco Chronicle.  She has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and St. Botolph Foundation for her work, and earned degrees from Trinity College, Dublin, Boston University, and St. John’s College.  A native Virginian, she is the poetry editor of Salamander Magazine and lives in Boston.