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Seth Pennington reads from Tertulia

Last week at the Bryant Park Reading Room, organized by the charming Paul Romero, I had the pleasure of hearing Seth Pennington read, someone I’d been corresponding with for over a year, but had never met. Seth and his husband, Bryan Borland, operate a small press called Sibling Rivalry, a press of good will that publishes authors and artists regardless of sexual orientation or identity.

Seth read from his new chapbook, Tertulia, which is the name of a restaurant in NYC, where I suspect Seth spent some happy times with friends. Tertulia in Spanish does mean the get together of friends for an afternoon of conversation and laughs over good food and drinks, and the book, as I think about it, is like sitting down with a friend and catching up on things. Though it’s a challenge to read poetry in an open park near 42nd Street and 6th Avenue, the earnest clarity of Seth’s voice infused with his written words are easily heard among the hustle and bustle of what is going on around.

Three poems from Tertulia

Seth didn’t read the poems that follow in Bryant Park, but I want to include them now. Poets often think they know, and in that taking for granted actually don’t until they reflect and look through the window, perhaps, at a dying crow in a neighbor’s yard, understanding where they and the bird actually are. Taking the time to look is what these poems are all about. I add here the last lines of one of the poems, Perseid Meteor Shower, which, I’m sure, you will reread with pleasure when you come to it: It’s hard to imagine all that burning made of dust; it’s hard to imagine us, the unexplainable ranging within us, keeping us. It’s hard to imagine watching every yawn and grief disappear, either in space or in the water beneath that space. But that is where we are.


A scattering of leaves
blew into a stuck crow,
breath slow and fell over.
Like the wind burying him
with what feathers it could find.
In the window reading,
Ted Hughes tells me when Crow bit into God’s
shoulder, how ridiculously quiet he became
with what little he learned. He was appalled,
he said. Tonguing the idea of a power line,
a roof, your whole life you saw
with your bird’s eye and now it’s not
miles, mere inches, grass blades, nothing
of jet streams. Did it take this
moment to realize a landscape
is an outer shell that splits
like a fallen apple open to more life?
I am waiting for

the neighbor to manicure
his yard as he does every morning.
He will shovel you into garbage, place
your frame in the bin at the curb.
This isn’t anything I’ve not come to witness.
He won’t bury you under oak.
If you had seen his face you would
remember the stone of his eye and know
he has no patience for what you are, will
only give up space in his yard for
blooms and greener things.

I keep coming back to the blinds
to witness your chest fall, your wings,
giant black ferns. What is
this that I want to curl
with you on the lawn? Listen
for you to speak, even until twilight.
I would lie in that transition, wonder
if you have a sense of home.
Isn’t it a shame you can’t give
your body to the sky, where
you existed, where a cloud would
mark your space like some might
say a tomb; let’s say: heaven.

Our Bodies Constant

The day before our anniversary I fill
our bed with every book and dust.

You burn from five miles of running
against the river, your sweat feeding

the current your exhaust. What is left
feeds me. I name my melancholy, stand

apart from it. I disassemble rooms, imagine
our lives in them more fulfilled, more filled

with light. This becomes. The intent of every
space is against the grain, lets us

have each other without any construct.
Lets us translate what it is

to be a room, to be
our bodies constant.

Perseid Meteor Shower

Four in the morning by the river, our bodies like silhouettes, not bodies, in the sodium light. Our backs against the asphalt, the hum-threat of mosquitoes about our ears, brushing ankles, us sweating in the after-storm with the sky gone clear. Meteors hide behind the dull scrim of light—this same shower witnessed for two thousand years. We catch their movement in our periphery, two hundred every hour, like small animals moving in the dark that are sensed more than seen. Some tear through the sky’s veil, burn like the bright-carpet of an animal eye mirroring the headlight thrown onto it. It’s hard to imagine all that burning made of dust; it’s hard to imagine us, the unexplainable ranging within us, keeping us. It’s hard to imagine watching every yawn and grief disappear, either in space or in the water beneath that space. But that is where we are.


If you happen to be in a bookstore without the money to buy Tertutlia, I suggest you turn to a poem called, Skin, and it will give you a sense, a good idea of what the book is like.


My skin came through your door.
Those were days coffee was my own
musk, what you’d breathe in from
the top of my head. You told me
the purple basil in the yard was
not going to make it and you said this
with your lips against my skin so my skin
is what you spoke with, the same way I whispered
to the sleeping moth still cocooned—I told it,
Just you wait, next year is so soon, and felt it
kick at the awake I made of it. I made that
winter pass and it glowed orange
in the noise of trains crashing past and cars crashing
fast at the dirt track a mile, not even, out from
the window where I saw the yard flood the
cracking basil until it yellowed and softened.
Then once I woke in the window and I knew things
changed, even if only a season, by the way the yard
was peppered with herbs outside the confines
of the bed I’d made for it. These were the days
I lost my musk and found a language within
a language. You told me you had a love for
this new skin, how your lips broke open
my callouses so you could kiss my soft parts,
like behind the back of a pig’s ear, that
down and comfort, something like bedding.
Once you told me you called those things,
even the back of a pig’s ear, hospital,
that you’d run out of words for so many good
things you used old words for new ones, and
I called your mouth a mob and what I meant
was beautiful, but that wasn’t enough, that didn’t
beg how many parts of your mouth I found
and what I found in them: some beautiful design,
something like sunflowers, and words like prayer
flags and kisses like straight-line winds, and call me
blown over when I wake up in a new town and
someone else is tending the basil now,
the basil we grew and outgrew. Some days
I come home and I am pinned to the floor;
you are mobbing me, and I think
how all of this is what I am made of,
what I’ve actually grown into
is this happiness.

Tertulia is published by Sibling Rivalry Press. You can check them out here:


Seth Pennington

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