The Kansas night sky feels like home.
Those stars soften the empty black
and comfort me, so many towns away
from home where I imagine
Mom is thinking about me.
Mom sits on the front porch, swinging
in the glider, one foot dangles.
She puffs a cigarette, tip blazing
like her chipped nail polish,
sends swirls of smoke upward
into the nothing that joins the stars.
The wind blows, the streetlight flickers
on and off and back on again.
A chained mutt down the street barks,
rusted metal clacks barely audible.
Mom is unfazed.
She’s waited all day to live this moment,
nothing left to distract her thinking.
Both her boys off to college now,
so many towns away.
The house holds less breath, so she’s turned
our bedroom lights on.
She’s scattered the house with the clothes
we left behind, to trick herself.
She’s sat in both our beds to fill the cold
blankets with some kind of warmth.
She’s checked all the channels on TV,
but nothing’s on.
Now she finishes her last cigarette.
Sips the last sips of her sweetened coffee.
Under the stars, calm, her breathing
is slow, deliberate.
Inside the phone rings.
She flicks her cigarette into the dampening grass,
grabs her slick mug, and hops inside
to find my name on the caller I.D.
~ Cody Shrum
Cody Shrum is a first-year MFA candidate studying fiction at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His poetry has appeared in such magazines as Rust + Moth, Kansas Time + Place, and velvet-tail, as well as the anthology, Kansas Time + Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry. Cody and his wife, Kylee, live in Kansas City with their two dogs, Zoey and Zeus.
Guest Editor Melissa Fite Johnson’s first collection, While the Kettle’s On (Little Balkans Press, 2015), won the Nelson Poetry Book Award and is a Kansas Notable Book. She is also the author of A Crooked Door Cut into the Sky, winner of the 2017 Vella Chapbook Award (Paper Nautilus Press, 2018). Her poems have appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Broadsided Press, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. Melissa teaches English and lives with her husband in Kansas.