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Jen Karetnick



A Neighbor on Nextdoor Asked

Under the Influence of

Harvest Is a False Flag

Evaporating Villanelle for Procrastination: An Aren't Poetica


In third grade we were taught a curriculum concerning care.
About the body. About the homes we lived in. About how
sometimes, they were one and the same, both attracting heat,
explained by sputtering projectors in the classroom, narrators
with grave voices instructing us how to “stop, drop, and roll,”
or visitors who battled lightning’s natural zeal and other quick-
striking dangers. They gave out graphic window stickers, silver

as skeletons, for rescuers to know who was trapped by flames,
and where. But my mom forbade the attachment. An aesthete
of glass and stone, cognoscente of book and text, she kept us clear
from glue marks and slogans. But she couldn’t repress the flames
that after bed, began to ash my pajamas, shoot up my dreams.
Soon they exploded my days, too, forced me to query about
escape routes everywhere, my head abuzz about what to take or

leave behind. At night, a decade-old insomniac, I envisioned
the hidden beginnings of ignition: Shabbat candles still alive
in the sink, left alone to glow down to coals. I’d feel the plank
of my exit—hot to the touch meant a blaze—and think about how
I’d wake my family, ducking the gate of smoke. Like childhood,
vigilance became a job I couldn’t quite shake. The only time
I could sleep was when the sky extinguished any possible sizzling

wood siding with rain. Or during an inquisition of snow, figuring
nothing could burn through a blizzard. This phobia: Such trivial
kindling it took to start. So much gas for it to grow. Finding my bags
full again and again as if for visits to grandmas, my mom finally
put most of it out, pouring dirt on any sparks. But I still laid
an imaginary X on our lawn so that I could aim from the quads
for a last-ditch jump, mapping out how to go down on my own.

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After purgatory, after we collected moments
of solitude like marbles and sealed every isolated
walk in amber to carve and wear like jeweled faces
around our necks, we blitzed our exquisite 

anguish by waltzing with all kinds of vodka, king
salmon, and caviar, adjourning to clubs to catch
a quick buzz off of any willing, axial body without
thought for contaminants, a particularly gross sum

to calculate anew each morning. Still we felt no greater
zest for life. More sex, more booze, more briny oysters,
juicy lobster, foie gras: Why even expect sanitation, let
alone satiation after such a long quiescence? To make it

less than luxury? Which meant taint and lust and sinful self-
indulgence until recently, when it defines as plenty and excess.
There, then, was the jib’s cut—indulgence, quite a crackling
talent itself. This was preserved until the Renaissance sizzled

up. We remembered what all illustrious sybarites achieve.
Oscar Wilde, that roué, said that we should all live, but
that most merely exist. A score of profligate poets could
be hospitalized; still, they’d joke, acquit themselves

on the page afterward, however wrecked and hungover.
Extract from us that amazement of art. How abject we are
to the unequaled. Used to be, we forgave all for unparalleled
products. Now, we look away when useful although

we know better. Who will admit to watching a Woody Allen
film, like Manhattan, continuing to perform on HBO,
the very network that adjudicated him with that documentary?
No acquittal there, but he will exchange Mia for a jezebel

as he always did, call her crazy, and half the world’s
population, equipped with quick excuses, will believe that
virtuosity outplays justice. And with dry gin cocktails, who will
turn on the TV and recall when the landscape was black and white?

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A Neighbor on Nextdoor Asked

Are these truffles? displaying an image of three bumpy, fist-sized skulls,
canvas-colored, cleansed of the oolite-interrupted dirt that he discovered them in,

explaining how he was fixing sprinkler heads near his dehydrating
guachipelín tree, which gives such honey-colored wood should you
insist on cutting it down to form floors you don’t have to stain them.

Kitchen knives came out along with fettuccine, Parmesan—it was already a mass
meal in the making before another neighbor insisted he should have them lab-tested.

Only taste them once you know! But pecan trees spore Tuber lyonii at their roots,
quickening like wombs with twins or triplets; we trod oblivious as toddlers on other
species all the time, unnamed by humans whose noses can’t detect the odors from

underground with the same dexterity as pigs brought over centuries ago from Spain, now
wild and uncontained, snouts to the ground of chestnuts, hazelnuts, oaks, and beeches,
yielding their finds to no others, least of all to the dormant animals who also hunt them.

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Under the Influence of

age, my father is thinking about his five
books of the Torah, his name on the embossed

covers, which makes him unable to pass them
down or donate them to a synagogue.

Exact as computer code, he doesn’t want them
found in a heap at a garage sale or thrifted.

Gut instinct tells him this would be a sin,
heavy as hurricane-ready sand bags,

if only because the Schwartzman family
jimmied the gilded pages into his hands,

knuckleballs he couldn’t ever throw,
laced with a petroleum jelly that didn’t

make them slippery but instead glued them,
notwithstanding his beliefs, to his palms.

Orthodoxy is a question to resolve for more than
psalms gifted to him on his bar-mitzvah three-

quarters of a century ago. Still, to entomb these
religious artifacts you must perform a genizah,

shroud documents and tuck them in a cemetery
to protect the Hebrew words from erasure.

Under the influence of age, my father
values tradition, decides that he will bury them

with him. Every week I receive new instructions,
Xcel sheets filled with plans for postmortem, what

yields to expect, his life accounts balanced to
zero as if he expects mine to soar with how he’s left.

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Harvest Is a False Flag

My first tomatillo falls to the ground before I can pick it, papery
epidermis cracked from brushing against the pickling cucumbers’

prickles on the way down. Two rows over, bush bean seedlings have
poked through dirt like dogs raising their heads to sniff a faint wind

with raised-brow doubt. I haven’t gardened for a decade and this
heated soil knows it, sneering in its raised beds, plotting on top of

invisible weed barriers to hurl galvanized stakes to the side as if they’re
toothpicks and garrote my ankles instead, rustling with revolution.

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Evaporating Villanelle for Procrastination: An Aren't Poetica

So much for that essay I planned to write.
The editor awaits my document.
But a touch of pure spring assays the land tonight.

What a floral assault! To withstand this blight
of paperwhites, I try to delete the elements.
So much for that essay I planned to write.

Which muse to pursue or understand,
the head’s or the heartbeat’s high?
A touch of pure spring assays the land,

the mulch in raised beds like hands
that cradle seeds wet or dry.
So much for that essay I planned.

I chose this issue.
Time, that predator, dates
a touch of pure spring, assays

its clutch. Perennial misuse
toward which I gravitate:
Just one touch
for oh so much.

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Jen Karetnick's fourth full-length book is The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, September 2020), an Eric Hoffer Poetry Category Finalist and a Kops-Fetherling Honorable Mention. She is also the author of Hunger Until It's Pain (Salmon Poetry, forthcoming spring 2023) in addition to six other collections. Longlisted for the international 2021 Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize, she has won the Tiferet Writing Contest for Poetry, Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition, Hart Crane Memorial Prize, and Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, among others. Co-founder and managing editor of SWWIM Every Day, she has had work in The Comstock Review, december, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Missouri Review (online), Poet Lore,, and elsewhere. Based in Miami, she works as a lifestyle journalist and is the author of four cookbooks, four guidebooks, and more. See

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