Gail Goepfert

Because I can’t stop thinking about Houtouwan

I watch videos on YouTube—
aerial views of a ghost village in China,
nothing more than greenscaped
cliff houses. All the fishermen gone
for a decade from the place
they called home.

The shore’s wave-gossip: abandoned.

A photographer traced
narrowed paths on foot.
Hulls of boats. Marriage beds
with mother-of-pearl headboards.
Lobster pots and fishing gear.
Ceramic water urns and tumbled
bottles of ink. Crushed custom-made
coffins once stored in homes
to bring longevity, good fortune.
Only the buzz-call
of mosquitoes and birds.

A town taken back by nature.
Ivy and ferns mosaic
the stone steps and walls spidered
with vines. Rooftops and balconies
enveloped in green-lush.
Windows like sunken eyes grow ghostly—
their frames eyelashed in green.

I can’t stop thinking about dying.
A swallowing up.
Everywhere—life masks death
in a slow creep of green.

There Is a Heaviness Between Us

Today I traded hellos with my neighbors.

What I had not foreseen—
the grave and awkward masks
    doorway after doorway—

death pointing its finger.

I hold my hands steady.
     I can barely breathe.

I forgot the ribs of the disaster—
     the locus of rupture.

what I remember best,
     the algorithm for living:

Take a pinch of light from under the ribs.
     That’s all.

Cento Sources: Charles Wright, David Benton, Stephen Spender, Adrienne Rich, Maggie Smith, Charles Bukowski, Francesca Bell, Rachel Richardson, Michael Benedikt, Kay Ryan, Theodore Roethke, Lynn Emanuel, Kaveh Akbar, John Rybicki, Jeremy Robson

Gail Goepfert, an associate editor at RHINO Poetry, is a Midwest poet, teacher, and photographer. Her publications include a chapbook, A Mind on Pain, 2015, Tapping Roots, 2018, and Get Up Said the World which will appear in 2020 from Červená Barva Press. Publications include Kudzu HouseRoomStone Boat, Postcard Poems and Prose Magazine, Bluestem, Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, SWWIM, Rogue Agent, and Beloit Poetry Journal. More at

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