On Sacrifice and Honor – “What About” by MRB Chelko

Dear Third Coast Readers,

With Memorial Day approaching on Monday, May 27th, I’ve found myself caught up in thoughts about sacrifice and honor. Not all of society supports the various angles of the military, but I think we can all agree that there is honor in fighting for what one believes in, especially if the cause is noble. Even devout pacifists find alternative ways to stand up for their principles, such as peaceful protests or debates.

Whether the military is ethical or not isn’t the question of Memorial Day. Instead, it invites reflection on our choices and values while honoring those who were brave enough to sacrifice their lives for what they believed in. What would you give up for the chance to spend another day with someone you loved and lost? What comfort item would you forego in order to support an organization you resonate with? What about a healthier lifestyle? Are there any people or causes that you would give your life for?

Today’s poem by MRB Chelko from Issue 48 utilizes careful imagery as a reminder to consider the areas of life that inspire us, giving us joy and passion, from things or feelings that we may take for granted. While the means to obtain freedom, love, happiness, or a better life can be judged in positive or negative ways, there is more honor in passion than passivity.

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern

What About

summer? Flies alight in the fruit bowl? A good blue cheese?

What about the body? Tight with post-swim wind? In a towel?

A bath? With crystals?

What about New Mexico? (Its lizards like squirrels?) (Sparse trees like ghosts of buffalo?) Or this place? It’s amazing parallel park jobs? Swift maneuvers? Car-fulls of praise?

What about in-season anything? Taut, edge-ripe tomatoes?

Vines in the chain-link? Lush, probing braids?

What about fades? In haircuts? And songs?

And salt? (The way elephants pilgrim to lick it?)

What about calling it fucking and fucking loving it? (That ex who shows up sometimes?) (His bike in your driveway?) (The twine of his arms?)

And arms? Just having them? At least one? To not be a worm?

What about Rome? Piazza boys pressed to some blondies? The way clouds grope a dome?

And grapes? Sliced in quarters? On some toddler’s tray?

What about mothers?

And swallowing mint leaves with water?

And trees? (Aren’t they cities?)

((Just all of it?))


The fat cooking down? Stumbling down the hall? That aroma?

MRB Chelko is the author of several chapbooks including Songs & Yes (2016) and Manhattations (2014), which was selected by Mary Ruefle for a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Chelko’s publications include Bennington Review, Black Warrior Review, Cincinnati Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, and Poetry International. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program of the New Hampshire Institute of Art and lives in New York City.

Revisiting Issue 52 – “Night Swimming” by L.A. Johnson

Night Swimming

At midnight, the ocean shakes and knives
            drop in the water. Little floods roil
this holy strip of mirrored coastline.
            We come cleanly to the shore, naked.
Our clothes abandoned, the linen
            blooms into soft white flowers.
Briny glass, the water washes over me,
            chill ceremony to my throat.
I dogpaddle to him, wanting to touch his hands. Once,
            I spent all day lying in a field
of clover, sprawled among the green
            with closed eyes. The air thrilled
through my chest like an avalanche
            of words whispered over the telephone.
I waited for something to happen,
            for a hoped-for stranger
to appear from elsewhere and lie
            next to me, lean and tall.
Instead, I listened to the clear floating
            of bees, how they clung and trembled
against each stem and powdery stamen,
            desirous of nothing outside
of their paradise of pollen. Tonight,
            we are two swimmers. A pair
of twins in this mirrorbox of vapor
            and liquid, your leg becomes my leg
kicking off nibbling minnows.
            In the dark, I confuse my lips for yours,
somehow separate but swimming toward you,
            both of us in brilliant, blue motion.
The sea breaks into forbidden laughter, my teeth
            crack in the chill. Our bodies
bend in the division between ocean and sky,
            while all that hungers hums underneath.
Mind blank, tongue curling, suddenly
            I am held within your voice. The water
quiet, we dream of a different shoreline
            where stars rain down on us
our faces upward with awe. Invitation to cascade,
            the bright world flashes
out. We spill into each other
            with freedom, float beyond, drift
only far enough away that we can swim back.

L.A. Johnson is from California. She is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Middleton Fellow. The winner of the 2022 Poetry Prize from the Mississippi Review, the 2022 Robert Watson Poetry Prize from the Greensboro Review, the 2021 Rumi Prize in Poetry from Arts & Letters, her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, Poetry Magazine, the Southern Review, ZYZZYVA, and other journals. Find her online at http:// www.la-johnson.com.

Meditating on Mother’s Day and “Surface Tension (Andy Goldsworthy)” by Marilyn McCabe

Mother Earth, motherland, Mother tongue. With those words in mind, a connection can be made between ‘mother’ and ‘origin’. What happens when one loses their origin? Today we revisit an ekphrastic poem by Marilyn McCabe from Issue 49. This piece depicts the complexity of grief that a child endures when their parental figure is tragically affected by disease.

Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture “Surface Tension” communicates the peace that the speaker imagines after the death of their mother. Since their mother’s passing is “surely less painful / than watching the tissue of her / memory tatter”, the speaker seems to have already lost the mother that they know and love. McCabe’s poem describes an incredible work of art but also feelings of despair and internal chaos.

For those of us blessed with healthy mothers, the thought of parental suffering is heavily avoided. To those who have experienced these painful endings, you are some of the strongest people in the world. As Mother’s Day approaches this Sunday, May 12th, we recognize our mothers at the very least for being our origin. Whether the holiday brings you joy or pain, Marilyn McCabe’s poem is a beautifully written but haunting reminder of the brief time we have with the people we love, letting us know the importance of honoring those who have made us who we are.

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern

Surface Tension (Andy Goldsworthy)

From horse chestnut stalks and thorns:
a lacy wall, one circle a more perfect open
than this revealed today: gape of old snow
around a sunken rootbed,
lichen-descried knot
hollowed in a downed limb,
a place in the pond where water stirs round,
faintly disrupting the forming ice,
and it’s absence I’m wishing for,
the hole of my mother surely less painful
than watching the tissue of her
memory tatter, her dogged cheer wear,
to wash clear her desperate eyes
of the do-not-let-me-go.

Marilyn McCabe‘s work has garnered her an Orlando Prize from A
Room of Her Own Foundation, the Hilary Tham Capital Collection
contest award from The Word Works resulting in publication of her
book of poems Perpetual Motion, and two artist grants from the New York
State Council on the Arts. Her second book of poems, Glass Factory, was
published in 2016. Her poems and videopoetry have been published in a variety
of print and online literary magazines. She blogs about writing and reading at https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/.

Revisiting Issue 48 – April by Evan Nicholls

Dear Third Coast Readers, it’s that time of year when students put on their graduation regalia and move from one side of the stage to another. In this graduation season, it is common for those undergoing big life changes to be full of questions.

What will the next few months look like? How long will I be in this new job? Can I pay off my student debt before I’m 80 years old?

This feeling of puzzlement is reflected in today’s selected prose poem, April’ by Evan Nicholls. The staff at Third Coast wishes a heartfelt congratulations to those graduating in 2024.

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern


By Evan Nicholls

If I put on a boot, would a matching boot appear on the other foot? If I swallowed a diamond, would a crop
 of diamonds grow in the basin of me? If I ate a whole lamb, would my arms become legs of mutton? And if I
 listened to Simon and Garfunkel on loop, would my organs grow sprigs of parsley, sage, rosemary? Would my
 nose become a bundle of thyme? If I named my dog Art Garfunkel, would he grow the hairdo? If I passed
 away in my house, and no one found me for weeks, would Art Garfunkel use me for eating? Would I be dog
 food? If I did wrong, would an angel poof onto my left shoulder? If I prayed, would another one poof onto
 the right? And if I walked into a church, would I become the church? Would my fingers and toes turn into
 steeples? And if I opened the big church doors of my chest, would a bomb go off in me? If I were a school,
 would something go off in me? If I were a plane, would I be used as a plane?

Evan Nicholls is a poet and collage artist from the peach, fox, horse and wine country of Virginia. He is the author of Holy Smokes, a chapbook of poems and collages, and co-author of THERE HAS BEEN A MURDER, a micro-chap of poems co-written with Evan Williams and Benjamin Niespodziany. Both books are out from Ghost City Press. Evan is also a co-founding editor of Obliterat, a prose poem journal that blew up (as planned). Presently, Evan is working on two full-length collections of poetry, one of which is based on a 12th century English folktale. He currently lives outside of Washington, D.C. More of Evan’s work can be found at www.enicholls.com. Continue reading “Revisiting Issue 48 – April by Evan Nicholls”

Celebrating Earth Day – “Where I’m From, Lake Michigan Straddles the Shores” by Brian Czyzyk

In addition to the newest album from Taylor Swift, ‘THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT: THE ANTHOLOGY,’ creative writers are found expressing themselves within every publication of Third Coast!

As Earth Day approaches on Monday, April 22nd, we have selected a picturesque poem from Issue 51 by Brian Czyzyk. His piece depicts the nostalgia tied into our childhood landscapes, and describes his longing for a world without “runoff”. Whether one lives in a metropolis or a small town, I think it can be agreed upon that nature is important to us all, and should be treated as such. Even if waves only straddle the shore in our memory, there is something sacred that lives in areas untouched by the “squeal of passing cars”.

In the Great Lakes State that Third Coast calls home, we are lucky to experience four seasons. With warm weather just around the corner, Czyzyk’s poem reminds us of the wonderful lake days coming our way, as well as the need to preserve the environment we live in. Whether you live in an urban area or not, there is the opportunity to plunge into written portrayals of nature from right where we’re sitting!

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern


Where I’m From, Lake Michigan Straddles the Shores

between sand dune & cityscape.
I spent so many summers skipping
rocks along its surface, pinched flattened

granite & basalt between my thumb
& forefinger, swung one arm in an arc then
watched the ripples smooth into the sand.

I want back the sparse clutches
of puzzlegrass, the blue stretches
of water & sky—on a clear July day,

the difference grows imperceptible.
I’ve long lived like this: between water.
Now, I’m pinned to flat fields of soybeans

by horizonless sky. At a bus stop, I’m eyed
by turkey vultures, farmhands, drivers
on the highway rushing elsewhere. The whole thing

gives me vertigo. I need boundaries & shape.
Need the sun steeped like a saffron sachet
in water unmucked by runoff & swell.

I know this is selfish. As if I could stake
claim on an entire lake. But no one
ever said it’s impossible to be haunted

by a place you once called home. I guess
leaving is like this. Sowing your doubts
until you wake up to buzzards carving

hoops in the gray sky, listening to the cough
& squeal of passing cars until the bus ratchets
up, & you climb through the doors alone.


Brian Czyzyk is a poet from Traverse City, Michigan. His work has most
recently appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Journal, Colorado Review, and
the New Poetry from the Midwest 2019 anthology. He holds an MFA from
Purdue University and is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at
the University of North Texas. He wishes you the best.

Issue 53 Cover Reveal!

Happy Spring! We are so thrilled to reveal the cover for our next issue, coming to you soon! Kudos to our talented cover artist, Ashley Miller—check out more of her work here!


Emiliana Renuart
The drumming is back. Slow. Measured. Long
pauses. From behind the azaleas, neon and fervent
as they are. They are zealous, dedicated so to living.
Am I zealous like that? About living, yes, I think so.
About flowers, yes. About strange drumming, from
beyond the sightline, which stirs in me some wild
urge for sound and impact. And my home is here
now? We are barefoot for the first time and we are
watching the doves with the bleeding hearts hop
around and everywhere the world is ruined and
everywhere it is perfect. Please. Let me be surprised.

Emiliana Renuart lives in St. Louis, Missouri. She is originally from
Michigan, where she attended Kalamazoo College and worked with and
advocated for young readers and writers.