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The Good Place & Hairbrush

Cynthia Atkins

The Good Place 

Can you see us, we’re almost there? —

An outline, a shadow that knows

no boundaries. The sky is blue, a kite

sailing, but we’re looking down

at our indolent phones. Look at us,

invisible in the shag carpet

of our screens. We’re inching to find

God’s other ear, some bluesy gospel song

that we can swear to holy hell in.

It’s not rocket science, a run

in the stocking is bad, until it’s a gash

in the leg, until the leg is gone.

Everything is context.

This place is gooder than good.

Watch us, we can throw a stone

and hit the empty shoes dangling by

the shoelaces, slung over telephone wires.

Power lines buzzing with drug deals.

The plumage, the plumage of clouds.

(first appeared, The City Salt)


Once upon a strand of time, my son was a shade

of bandwidth inside me. Far away as a constellation —

butterfly inside me, unmistakably, a living being.

For years, he was embarrassed to let anyone know

he had a mother. He’d blush at the clothes store,

buying those little boy pajamas of trains and planes —

I washed them so many times until they were balls of lint.

Now, at 19 years old, he is brushing my hair. Tonight, my man-boy

fumbles to put up my hair. I have no daughter, only a son,

and I stumbled down a rabbit-hole and broke my arm.

He’s held baseball bats, soccer balls, pencils, twine, knives,

but never a hairbrush. Bristles pulling like an autumn rake,

jagged at first, but then smooth with maturity. When his age,

I cut on my own vein until it bled. I needed to know

I could feel pain. I thought I felt all the pain I was allowed.

But actually, found that there is nothing worse

than feeling the pain of your child’s pain. He begins

at the crown of my scalp. He parts the two sides like a tree

branch at the V, and I think of all the forks in the road

in all the storybooks about emerald forests, kingdoms.

All the swinging bridges we travailed. Mariners, trains, conductors.

He’d fall asleep on my chest, breath light as a falling leaf.

Now, he glides the bristles down my neck — He gently fluffs

the tufts, like airing the pillows. We’d be tucked in on a snowy night,

a magic carpet would fly us away from illness and death,

news of hate. The tines swilling through my hair like love itself.

(first appeared, VOX POPULI)

Cynthia Atkins (She/Her) is the author of Psyche’s Weathers, In The Event of Full Disclosure (CW Books), and Still-Life With God (Saint Julian Press 2020), and a collaborative chapbook from Harbor Editions, 2022. Her work has appeared in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Barzakh, BOMB, Cimarron Review, Diode, Green Mountains Review, Indianapolis Review, Los Angeles Review, Rust + Moth, North American Review, Permafrost, SWWIM, Thrush, Tinderbox, and Verse Daily. Formerly, Atkins worked as the assistant director for the Poetry Society of America and has taught English and Creative Writing, most recently at Blue Ridge Community College. She is an Interviews Editor for American Micro Reviews and Interviews. She earned her MFA from Columbia University and has earned fellowships and prizes from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Writer’s Voice, and Writers@Work. Atkins lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, Virginia, with artist Phillip Welch and their family. More work and info at:

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