Emma Binder


What if in this potted plant, a planet?

What if in this waterglass, perched on the windowsill’s

winter half-light, a watchfire? What if in the sink’s

shadows numberless, spawning in dishware,

the thick discarded cape of a shade? What if

in the kitchen corner’s dust-pile, bone ash?

What if in this secondhand sweatshirt – charcoal,

hooded, burned thin at the cuffs – a prior life?

What if I don this prior life and reap

its memories? What if my gait and voice alter?

What might I remember? What if I call

my mother? What if she’s waiting to forgive me

and all I have to do is let her? What if the prior

life’s name is also Emma? What if they’re tensed,

their tiny fists balled into marbles, expecting some

passerby to hurt them? What if the molten

edges of these hours are chain-linked

to the past? What if in the fleeting candle

of this hour, the bones and planks required

to dream a different future? What if I am

one of many minor, radiant carpenters

of the future? What if I take up these bolts

and seasoned knives to perform my needlework?

What if mere needlework could change the texture

of the earth? What if each whipstitch,

no matter how small, affects its neighbor,

in the way that all the world’s creekways

are corridors to oceans?


Irascible enemies, man who would have me dead!

Acute enemies, he who chipped links of the mail-shirt,

loosing sheaves of rage against the door

to my fright!

Liquid enemies, marsh-dark foibles of the blood,

arising at night in the bathtub!

Inherited enemies, estranged family in the Sandhills

doing Lord Knows What Now,

the Devil Knows What!

Tangential enemies, the goon who cheated on Katie!

Minor enemies, fur-coated man with a big shoulder,

throwing his terrain this way

and there!

Poacher of pink chair,

late person,

dew-beater of the twilit alley,


Self-made enemies, elbows

and shelfworn stuff I own, rickety table-legs,

undergrowth of bones.

Joints and pebbles whose racket

I lug amongst rooms,

haul across rooms

and wash daily!

On-and-off enemies. Tin-hatted birds

breaking and mending notes at all hours,

tacking small baskets in the crooks

of my rafters. Eep eep in the morning, they say

too early,

eep eep!

Long Ago But Not Forgotten enemies,

evil poet with a stopwatch and distaste

for animals.

And beloved enemies. Wrinkled and fugitive

language, dark runes, the naming

of things. Scaring bell. The knots

I nurse. The hill outside. Up and down

I go, up and down,

determined to enjoy

its plain, earnest friction!

Spectral blue enemies, upturned screws

in the brain’s parlor. The itch that suggests

I careen too fast. Many star-shaped barbs

in my hands, courting flame.

Half-perished enemies, Meredith

from the first grade, a recollected pain

chewed to pulp like drowned wood,

nibbled into lace

by the worker Time,

and slimy as a rising moon.

Enemies like distant bells. Who said it?

Who made right? Who’s standing

in that dusking field? Shrouded

by encroaching evening

which scrubs all thoughts

into white animals,

slipping through fences

and back again!

Always slipping through fences

and back again!


They live in definite houses.

They are skilled in the art of sweetness.

They are born without feet. They fill innumerable cells

with wax, arrange their own dinners, and run private workrooms

to which no other species is invited. Their tenements

frost from the inside, like paper moons.

Luck is native to them. Yet they are exhausted,

losing track of the chore at hand. What did I mean

to say? they ask one another. And what

is our eminent concern, today?

They are born exclusively from the corpses of cows.

Their expressions are, to put it simply,

undisguised. All day they toil with wax,

attempting to condense and further condense light,

attempting to build a star.

This is what they have always been up to.

Very exhausting, lunatic work! You might try to stop them,

say cease this branch, wax timber beam, chilled by the wet

nocturnal cloth of spring –

it is earthly.

Labors of madness are writ in bee-brains, madness

of which sweetness is a byproduct. All day

they spin pink and gold broths, domestic ingredients,

building kitchens and hearths

while meaning to build a star. Star big star

they say to one another, star

it must be a star a big star.

Big giant big giant big spheroid of its own observable life

Big galactic halo clearly observable from anyplace

Yet in truth their star straggles, a grounded confection

cracked into many wet, sugared fragments.

We are exhausted, they say, very faded

and confused. We are beginning to question

the edicts of our blood –

must we go on like this, big half-boiled star –

can we stop now –


Exeunt! Get out of there!

Time to fly! Not a minute more!

Knockabout yon bellybeard

before the winds replace yonself!

Formally the caravel has left

and tackles stript. Officially yon

roustabouts have clock’d

their final dogs. Show yonself

to the deep scud and Bathe.

No nearer! Hard apport!

Hard to Heaven! Nix nix!

Urgently haymow, even if yon

portals of all beards

and personalities are nip’d!

Neigh no. Hm sorry.

See you tomorrow. No need

to bring Texts. Decamp, skip dust,

absquatulate as yon consorts say.

Find vent. Seek pylon. Have done!

Belay there! Spark and carriage!

Wrong way!

Emma Binder is a fiction writer and poet from Wisconsin. They received their MFA in Fiction from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and were the 2020 – 2021 Hoffman-Halls Emerging Artist Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. In 2022, they received the Gulf Coast Prize for Fiction and the Tupelo Press Snowbound Chapbook Award. Their work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Narrative, The Texas Review, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. They currently live in Western Massachusetts, where they’re working on a collection of short stories.