Kai Coggin

Kai Coggin
is a widely published poet and author of three full-length collections PERISCOPE HEARTWINGSPAN, and INCANDESCENT. She is a QWOC who thinks Black lives matter, a teaching artist in poetry with the Arkansas Arts Council, and host of the longest running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country—Wednesday Night Poetry. Recently named “Best Poet in Arkansas” by the Arkansas Times, her fierce and powerful poetry has been nominated three times for The Pushcart Prize, as well as Bettering American Poetry 2015, and Best of the Net 2016 and 2018. Coggin is Associate Editor at The Rise Up Review. She lives with her wife in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.

⌘ Microcosm Macrochaos

The other night in the bedroom before sleep
I rescued a drowning firefly from the water bowl,

listened to my little dog thirsty purring in the dark
and got up to bring the bowl to the bed for her to drink,

and there it was— this slow swimming swirling light
this blinking of almost giving up

and I scooped it out with my fingers,
its drenched wings draping over my fingerprints with thanks.

In most species of firefly, only the females will blink
and her sweet cold light was dimming so I walked her to the screen door

and let her see the almost full moon, cold light reflection,
as I held her on my fingertips warming her with my body

I blew on her and unstuck her little wings and she moved
and glowed between the valleys of my fingers, the lines of my palm,

her light growing brighter and brighter as the minutes passed.
I brought her in to show my family in bed— look she’s ok! We saved her. Layla saved her.

My wife looked at the flickering light in my hand
and Layla sniffed the strengthening little being softly,

I walked outside and put the rescued firefly on a leaf
thanked her for her beauty and wished her a nice life.

This it the tenderness in which we live. We listen to the creatures.
Every tiny speck of life is given the respect and love and space it needs.

We let a spider live outside in the corner of our front door for two weeks.
Each day at dusk he would weave his elaborate web over the entrance to our house

his artwork blocking the the doorway, face full of silk
if you were to run through without noticing, every morning all cleaned up,

and we let him stay, named him Dorian Intheway
because he was in the way and a picture of the life we live every day,

giving him a safe space despite our fears, and it only taught us
there was never anything to be afraid of in the first place.

He started weaving his web with just the exact space underneath it
for us to walk under without catching silk, mutual, symbiosis, give and take,

live and let live, let live, let live— Dorian left for a new home a few days ago,
but what a lesson he wove into the space of our coming home.

This it the tenderness in which we live. We listen to the creatures.
Every tiny speck of life is given the respect and love and space it needs.

In America, 1,000 people are dying a day
while COVID tightens its fingers around the throat of our country

They are dying, that’s trueIt is what it is
shouts the emperor with no clothes holding his charts proclaiming we are great

OPEN THE SCHOOLS!! he tweets in all caps
and in Georgia a photo of a packed hallway of high school kids goes viral—

viral like a school of fish swimming to slaughter
viral like 50 million kids about to swirl around in a petri dish disaster

viral like let’s send in the teachers to die for the economy,
their lives are expendable and children don’t get the virus anyway, right?

In Beirut an explosion reduces the entire city to rubble
thousands are injured, hundreds are dead, they just haven’t been found yet,

and a mushroom cloud of grief rises from my heart
for the dead falling in the mass grave this earth is so quickly becoming,

so many souls caught in the ethers, blasted out of the sky,
dying alone strapped to a ventilator, or exploded into fragments,

and there is such a devastating chasm between my microcosm and the macrochaos
I can only find hope and infinity here in the infinitesimal—

holding a blinking firefly in my hand, breathing it back to life
calling it a poem.


⌘ The Language of Hitting Bottom


I wept at the south rim of the Grand Canyon,
rising over the ridge line to my very first sight of it

the tears poured from my eyes like something was unbroken,
like there was still a miracle that could awe me into silence,

I stood on the edge of the world, warm-blooded and alone,
as if I was a priest of the infinite and its prayer at the same time,

every atom in me genuflected at the expanse of all this stripping away,
and this chasm of time swallowed me whole with its vastness and depth,

I tossed an acorn into the wishing well of it all,
waiting to hear the sound of hitting a bottom it would never reach,

the echo of oak not yet manifest into shade
but I listen for what hits the rock bottom of what I know—

that the infinite cannot be tested, that nature has its own language,
and most of us still speak in the dialect of want and need,

when canyons whisper in the rush of untranslated water and trees,
and this poem was meant to be about wonder, and I went back

to the Grand Canyon in my mind, stood there overcome,
but depths are inextricably linked to other depths, bottomless

reflections to the language of now, the whirling abyss of waking
in the depths of what is unfolding cannot shake from me, escape from

my poetry, I find myself on the precipice of some moral tightrope,
watching a COVID rose garden massacre ripple out sickness

to the morally sickest people, the leader who led this country
into the darkest darkness breathing celebratory virus all over

nominated justice against the dying wish of a supreme dissenter,
and they all reveled in their hypocrisy, exchanging toxic pleasantries

in the unmasked light of day, super-spreading their self-congratulatory
victories un-distanced from diseased mouths, and the language of all of this

does not escape me, the quantum entanglement of his criminal negligence
and hypocrisy, spinning with the particles of death droplets

in the immoral depth that never seems to hit bottom,
there is no bottom to the emptiness of his empathy,

the nut never hits bottom, the only echo back is the sound of his superlatives
only the boasts and brags that he is the best, better than any leader before,

the roses weep with disdain for all that unfolds in the garden,
where men and women of compassion and good once stood, and now

the president has COVID, his first lady, his press secretary, his top advisors,
all the generals of every branch of the military, an infected tree disjointed and quarantined,

all the king’s horses and all of the king’s men, together in the garden
super-spreading their political end, and I walk the tightrope beside karma

and nature’s law, the medical evacuation from the white house lawn
to the best hospital in the world, and why does he get the best treatment

in the world, when he mocked the masked faces for months and spit on science,
a white coat cadre of liars and enablers give him experimental drugs and pump his ego

with steroids so he can superhero himself back to the White House
in a grandiose display of recklessness and flagrant tyrannical pageantry,

and he tweets Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.
while 210,000 dead Americans roll over in their lonely still-warm graves,

and I listen for the justice that I know will come, I watch for the bend
of that moral arc of the universe coming back around, while the reality TV star’s

helicopter touches back down on White House ground, the roses quiver and
I listen for the sound of the mad king hitting bottom,

ascending the staircase breathless, he takes off his mask in dramatic victory
in the new infamous balcony scene of our history, claims his maybe I’m immune-ity,

he’ll be back to campaigning and debating and defacing our humanity,
and I am standing at the south rim of the loss of democracy,

tears in my eyes as the supreme court injustices toy with my life,
taking away my right to call the woman I love my wife,

I am walking the tightrope beside karma and nature’s laws
listening, watching, waiting for the sound darkness of hitting bottom,

so the wishing well of justice can rise, wave, flood, tsunami blue
back into the divided canyon this country has become.


⌘ Ghost Clothes Forever


cleaning my closet
I can’t throw them out
no will for goodwill
unfitting uniforms of former selves
threads that sewed together stories
for my psyche to grow into,
fibers of who I once was
who I am
not anymore
I cannot let go of —

— a very small
yellow and white gingham dress
knee-length schooling from Bangkok
another continent
another life
how my small body recessed
and monkey-barred in the humid Thai air
a playground of possibility
this sunlight dress
is the connection to the little me
that was broken in two over an ocean
of loss

— maroon medical scrubs
my bright name embroidered in bold white
over the heart
anatomy of expectation
a path toward a nursing career
I turned and walked away from
a path that was never really mine to begin with
because I found that only words
nursed my ache
that the only medicine I could deliver
was already inside me
that it pours out like prescriptions of poetry
for all those who come looking to get healed
and these scrubs scrubbed the slate clean marooned there in a dead life
so I could chase the unknown and become my own dream

— t-shirts also
neatly folded insight
ones that spell me out publicly
as advocate
to those who
could spot me in a crowd and find
a home

made for the gay straight alliance I started
when I taught high school English
first GSA in the district
and the kids
were just young tender reflections
of me
and here
they could find a safe space in my room to be themselves
they could be here and be queer
they could find a H.O.M.E. (Helping Others Manifest Equality)

another reads ESPAÑA
red t-shirt with a black bull
I wore it in Madrid to a bullfight
before I knew that bullfights ended
with sharp colorful swords and deep red blood
pooling beneath a dead innocent beauty
in the center of a cheering colosseum
and how I screamed in shock and horror
spaniards laughing at my sobbing
and how my tears still stain
the red shirt
and the black bull stands there and
never dies

another reads of Vonnegut
an epitaph written on a tombstone
a black tee with white writing
collar sliced into a V
and maybe everything was beautiful
but it sure felt like pain sometimes for me

a men’s baby blue button up polo shirt
my high school letterman jacket that reads Visualize Whirled Peas
worn out rugby shorts and torn up tomboy jeans
a shirt with a Shakespeare quote that says THOUGHT IS FREE
all these threads somehow protected and shaped me
these ghost clothes
my dead selves wore
still live in the corner of my closet
a tidy stack folded neat and clean

these ghost clothes long to be kept
but not to be seen

I am tied to these fibers
these threads and spools of me
cotton stretched and faded
I cannot let them go
but they no longer fit
the woman
I have become

the only thread I see now
is golden
and it weaves through the strands of my DNA
and it shines in the locks of my hair
and it beams in the energy of my words

thread count infinite

golden threads
              golden threads
                            golden threads

tying all my loose ends back together

connecting me back to the sun


⌘ Plume


I am thinking about the way
the African dust is blowing in
from the sub-saharan continent
a plume that is consuming our skies
and how this hasn’t happened in half a century

of a desert
that is across an ocean
and we are breathing in
the particles of sand and life
and heat and strife
from a desert
that is calling to her stolen children,

if they can’t come home to the Motherland,
she will cross the sea to for them to breathe
to breathe
to breathe
her in
with every breath
and yes it’s making our sunsets
and pink
and purple
the hues coming in
that wouldn’t normally be in view
but maybe this isn’t about sunsets
maybe this isn’t about you
the haze like a warm gauze
over the open wound of this country

or maybe this is here to show us
we are all still so connected
that nothing ever really disappears
that water evaporating
from the tears
on our face
just go into space
to fall down again as rain
this cycle of letting go the pain
and pulling in
and dropping down again

maybe this force
of nature
lifting up hundreds
of millions of tons of African soil
into the atmosphere and bringing it here
when we are at our most fear
is an unburial
an over-turn
a rebirth of earth
like the great gardener
tilling the soil
singing her song for Emmett Till
and Tamir
and Trayvon
and Breonna
and Sandra
and Eric
and Freddie
and Ahmaud
and George
and Elijah
the infinity of hashtags
to rise into the
Mother sand
Mothers hands

that moves in the wind
to remind us
of who we are when we end
and who we are when we begin
particles of dust
painting the sunset a different color
red orange yellow hues

a fire in the sky

I breathe in Africa
I breathe in you


⌘ Not Enough Words for Light


It is the first time
we have ever gone camping,
twelve years we have been roughing it
in our own personal heaven
on earth
home outside
with all of the wild,
but never like this,
in a tent
with the night building quiet
around a campfire.

There are logs burning
crackling like our tongues
against the darkening sky
and you tell me
we will be able to see
the milky way from here,
it is one of those lights-out campsites
that cultivates stargazing
and a galaxy hangs
from my heart
and spins
toward you.

A veil of lights
or lifts
or suddenly manifests
from the ground up
and all around us
as though pinprick holes
were cut in the grass and trees,
everywhere there are tiny dances
of floating light, not just summer night
firefly light but every branch of every tree
lit up and sparkling,
like glimmer never knew
its definition
until now.

We walk across the meadow
to sit on the hood of the car,
a drive-in movie
of movement and flight,
we face the wall of trees
that hugs us from all sides
and chase the shooting flames
of bioluminescent beings
seeing each other,
calling out with the sex of their colors,
blinking their lust like a song
into the breaking open night,
oh, to make light
out of our bodies
like this
just by breathing,
chemicals reacting like this,
like us,

and how the light show
becomes a blur
because above the tree-line
spread across the dome of night
are millions of flickering stars
all shimmer and shine
speaking the same language
as the fireflies,
illumination rippling up and out
in cosmic waves,
a slow dance into the infinite
from grass to trees
to glinting sky

and there are not enough words for light
to embody this moment,
not enough synonyms for shine
to describe something this divine

and yes, we sat in wonder
and maybe we slow-danced
and maybe we kissed
and poets wait
their whole lives for
love scenes like this,

and even in this earnest retelling,
remembering sleep
underneath all those stars,
rolling over into your arms
and waking up covered in dew,
my smile is the milky way
you can see from here,
and it shines, darling,
just for you.



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