“Styrofoam Psalm” by Esteban Ismael

Picked a rabid bat out of the lineup by Alan Bern

the body aches to be
Styrofoam: ageless
& indestructible, soft

lipped & full of
purple tonic, blue elixirs
that fold emptiness

into the shape of a liver
in a cage of bone—
the cup’s round mouth

gives a satisfying quiver
between the teeth
that almost makes it

worth the 500 years
to forever
it takes to break it

down into a white shell
waiting in the sand,
sailing the Pacific

a bone half-buried
beneath the indifferent stars,
uncountable hours

that stir nothing into
clouds & back to empty
blue—the body wants

to be filled with sky, water,
wine, time: something more
than what waits after

the kiss releases
the mouth
is finished

& everything else
we made for ourselves
turns to fossil, a dream

no one will translate
except for the fragment
of that soft cup

that recalls
what it was
to be held


Esteban Ismael is an instructor at San Diego College of Continuing Education, where he teaches literature courses and writing workshops. He is the recipient of First Prize in Poetry from Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry & Prose. He was selected as a Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival’s 2016 teleplay competition, and he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Spillway. His poems are forthcoming or have recently appeared in Pigeon Pages, Ruminate Magazine, Poetry Northwest, Southern Humanities Review, Harvard Review, Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century, and Conduit.

Retired children’s librarian Alan Bern is a photographer who has exhibited in California, Italy, and Switzerland. He is also cofounder with artist/printer Robert Woods of the fine art press Lines & Faces. Among his recent awards: honorable mention for the Littoral Press Poetry Prize (2021); finalist in flash fiction for Ekphrastic Sex: The Contest (2021); first runner-up for Raw Art Review’s first Mirabai Prize for Poetry, 2020; and a medal in 2019 from SouthWest Writers for a World War Two story. Recent or upcoming writing and photo work in Aletheia Literary Quarterly, CERASUS, Mediterranean Poetry, Slouching Beast Journal, Feral, and Mercurius. Alan is the author of three books of poetry. He performs with dancer and choreographer Lucinda Weaver and musicians as PACES, and with musicians from Composing Together.