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Winter 2005, Volume 22.2


Ryan G. Van Cleave

Photo of Ryan G. Van Cleave.

Ryan G. Van Cleave has taught creative writing and literature at Florida State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, as well as at community centers, prisons, and urban at-risk youth facilities. Currently, he works as a free-lance writer and editor in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, and TriQuarterly. His most recent books include a poetry collection, Say Hello (Pecan Grove Press, 2001), an anthology, Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America (University of Iowa Press, 2002), and a creative writing textbook, Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes (Allyn & Bacon/Longman, 2003).  See other of his work at:  or


The Web You Weave

Too far-fetched to go first, it bats cleanup
after The Lop-Sided Wedding Cake Snafu,
How the Postman Ended Up In the Tub,
and Why the Downstairs Toilet Still Goes BRRRUUUPPP.

Everyone's got their own whopper,
a trump card tucked away for parties
after examining everyone's wallet photos,
after all the really good liquor's gone.

   Your Cousin Ray was a good kid,
   a B+ student at Washington U,
   and a New Orleans Mardi Gras
   seemed the perfect Finals antidote.

   With a herd of pals packed in a Volvo,
   they emptied into street-wide parties
   and guzzled all the booze they could.

   But Ray turned up missing on Day Three.
   Last anyone saw, he was gutterdrunk
   in the arms of a blonde named Lonna
   somewhere on the East side, near the waterfront.

   A day and a half later he reappeared in an alley
   outside a Chinese/Korean take-out joint.
   His clothes were stained with dried blood,
   and he had one kidney less than before.

After the encore of silence, people snicker
and dismiss the tale because there's no Cousin Ray.
You consider lifting your shirt to show the jagged scars,
but by then it's too late, someone else is one-upping you.



In a midnight physical
display much like the swell
of a world-class orchestra,
he took the aluminum
bat in one hand and
married metal to metal,
crunching her Volvo's
hood, then turning the
taillights into webbed
red flowers like a star.
Dark birds wheeled
overhead as he began
to suck air hard, wondering
Where are the houselights?
The sirens?
In a downdraft
of guilt, he ground his heels
into his ex's violet bed, twenty
four bulbs just beginning
to show; even the crunch
of her mailbox did not
satisfy. There in the darkness,
he was at the edge of a cliff,
feeling his own body as if
for the first time, wondering
if the breeze chopping its
way in from the ocean offered
anything but the insistent
scent of her prize maples
burning like the sickness
he felt at watching the knifing
law of entropy at work on
their love, how it bisected
his heart and allowed him,
now, here in this utter
blackness, to peer inside.


Daughter of the Contortionist


as a light-
ning bolt
she has
yet to learn
the unravel-
ing of sinew,
the squall
and yank
of her
her sideshow
Like branch-
es of secret
water or the
of honey-
combs, there
is an order to
things, her
mother re-
peats, proof
that the crowned
of sleeping
inside a suit-
case is a way
to soar, to
stretch clear
across the dark
weight of the
world. Legs
twisted behind
her head like
a collar, a quest-
ion mark, the
girl readjusts
wire corset
and tries not
to think again
that she's
pressed inside
a bureau drawer
like a laundered
pair of slacks.
The darkness
grows, an atom-
ic blast, and it's
all she can do
not to launch
herself into
an unbecoming

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