Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


by John Palen

It's hard work running a lake,
commodifying water. Thousands of facts
sit in filing cabinets and hard-drives --
pumping costs, acre-foot allocations.
Dealing with them every day
you get into a routine of thinking
and hold your mouth a certain way,
and then seven years of drought
undoes it all. A forgotten cemetery
emerges along the shoreline,
water falling away like a gray blanket,
uncovering wooden coffins, bones
of former slaves, mostly children.
It’s as if they woke and rubbed
sand out of their eyes like sleep
and came down to the courthouse
to testify about a terrible crime,
and then, being children, tumbled out
among bird song and dry grass
to play a while in the free air.

John Palen’s poetry has appeared in literary journals for more than 40 years, including Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, The Formalist, Kansas Quarterly, Passages North and in anthologies published by Milkweed Editions and Wayne State University Press. He was a finalist in the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Competition in 1995 and a Pushcart nominee in 2003. His Open Communion: New and Selected Poems was published in 2005 by Mayapple Press. Since then he has had chapbooks published by March Street Press and Pudding House, and poetry and short fiction appearing or forthcoming in Sleet, Press 1, Gulf Stream,  and Prick of the Spindle. His first collection of flash fiction, Small Economies, is due out from Mayapple in January, 2012.