Three Poems by Andy Fogle

Bad Language in Third Grade

Four white boys are playing a game 

they made up with a globe. Fingers 

drop to a random point, drag 

in a direction determined 

by a roll of dice. Spin the globe, 

close the eyes, point the finger, throw 

the bones again, slide to where chance 

may point them. From Switzerland, they are sent 

due south, to Niger, but they don’t 

pronounce it like that. They laugh and moan 

“Nooo!” as they go. Nigeria 

is even funnier to them, 

hurtling east from Point Comfort, 

20 miles north of their school. 

After my parents’ date night, 

they pick me up at my grandmother’s, 

who reports, “He’s so quiet 

you don’t even know he’s here.” 

Years later, my dad ribs me 

in front of friends: “He wouldn’t say shit 

if he had a mouthful.” And all


growing up, I am the only-child 

follower, locating myself 

between two cousins, brothers. I had 

none, and lived happily in so much 

silence, but that day, I was 

the ringleader getting laughs, I was 

there, talking the shit a child thinks

will bring him love however twisted, 

however dirty it makes us all, 

however young. My parents and I 

would go over to Judy

and Johnny Eggers’ place, Johnny

my dad’s closest friend, and Judy

who I took my first steps towards.  

They’d play cards, shoot pool, drink, smoke, and snack 

while I watched Smokey and the Bandit 2,

and was told to block out both their own

and the movie’s bad words. They’d shrug it off, 

chuckle. So with every shit, ass, damn 

or even hell, I’d block it out, flex 

my tensor timpani, no idea 

what or how, so a puff of thunder 

followed each curse, that rumble the sound 

of my own muscle. Or I’d just yell 

at the grown-ups, “I heard that!” and they’d 

“Sorry!” and deal another hand. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love profanity

almost as much as I love my people, 

but you can’t just block shit out. 

It was fool’s comfort, though I get it: 

you’re pinched by this world and deserve

some Ah, fuck it now and then, all of us

complicit in mutual despair

over the things we say, the things

we hear, and the things we cover up. 


In Sunlight Rain

She assaults the brakes, we lurch 
forward, she pops the horn,
then hisses, Stupid n_____.
All I say is “Ma!”
A minute later, dying
to forget, I breathe the steam
that billows from WTKR: 
Ooo-oo-oo, baby, baby. 
Smokey Robinson knows
he’s done wrong, and now watchful

crying is his only hope. 
She said that kind of thing around me
less and less in her last
forty years, not at all
in her last ten, and I hope 
it was a sign of modest 
good, but casually trash-talking 
my dad stayed a favorite song. 
(He did her wrong. His heart 
went out to play.) How deep 

in stewing denial am I in 
to need years to begin to look 
at such ugliness and pain?
Smokey, I’m sorry your song, both smooth 
and seethe, is tied up in all this
loving a racist I held
at arm’s length, never saying
enough of anything, carrying
that sin from child to man. 
Murillo says we all inherit

some serious shit
from a past compounded
by a watershed 
of other pasts, and that’s
where I am again, shaking
my head at the past one second, 
nodding into it the next. 
I can whisper I still love you,
I can call her stupid
and bitter, myself silent

and soft with the softness
that kills, I can ponder
mercy, grace, and resolve, 
but I’m just about at 
the end of my rope. On the day 
a man sobbed his hope to me 
through the radio, the rain 
and sun were one, and I’m thinking 
I cry now too because I can just 
still love, and maybe forgive. 


Prepping Vegetables with the Dead

His back patio faced 
a few rows of corn to the west, 
and we shucked a bunch, my
grandmother, her brother, and me. 

We held the silk, drew it down 
the husk in thirds, took hard
the shank to break it off,
shoved all those wild-bladed

green angles and white frizz
into a brown paper bag.
We each snapped a bowl of string beans, 
tossing the stems and tails 

into a basket between us.
I can’t touch either plant now
without feeling that afternoon. 
Their father died before they 

were ten, their mother died 
at 91, and all but one
of five brothers died in between. 
They were close. Their arguments

were lightning in a treeless field, 
but that day they were quiet, 
minus the odd instruction
to me. All that was needed was

to get the corn and beans ready 
for fixing, and make sure the boy
knew how, too. It’s like they were 
practicing for something. 

Andy Fogle
is the author of Across from Now (Grayson Books, 2020) and seven chapbooks of poetry, including the forthcoming Arc & Seam: Poems of Farouk Goweda, co-translated with Walid Abdallah. A wide variety of writing has appeared in Anomaly, Blackbird, Image, Parks and Points, and elsewhere. Some bumbling, homemade music is at He’s from Virginia Beach and the DC area, and now lives in upstate New York, where he is the recipient of a 2021 Individual Artist Grant from Saratoga Arts to write poems related to abolitionist John Brown.