Three Poems by Nikki Ummel

Hemphill, Kentucky

My father stiff strums Stella,

plucks her into purring. 

She presses her neck into his palm,

her back into his belly.

His fingers arthritis crooked, more glove 

than hand. Nails chewn red & eternally dirty. 

Thirty years of day shifts & nights spent 

scrubbing vinegar into his raw palms.

My father canaries, catalogs his blues. 

When I go, he croaks, close my eyes 

and set fire to me, naked in the bathtub, 

let God take me as I am. 

The sun licks our shaved mountain,

slicks air like Ole Girl grooming her pups, 

wet tongue and pulp.

My father coats me in his cough.

His fingers freeze on G-D,

spittle quaking as he croons

his nightly prayer, 

bless these blue hills, oh God,

the only home I know. 


hurricane litany

1. hymnals soaked heavy littered the churchyard like big water beetles

2. sunday trousers rolled to the knees, 

                                naked feet, 

                         pews silted

3. piled collection plates towered the piano, gaudi-esque when throwing shadows

4. a plague of cicadas circled the chancel 

as a lonely watersnake slithered 

     from the rain gutter to the shingles

 then dropped beyond the roof’s ridge

5. fish circled the floodwater, 

      surfaced to collect soggy communion wafers

6. body of the lord, the preacher said, 

                                                     won’t be the last as he picked mud 

                                                                                                from beneath his toe nails



after Halla Birgisdóttir’s installation, The Factory, 2022

djúpavík shimmies clean. sheep sheerless 
with bleat in their eyes. a bull dog poses 
on ancient brick, and three women with sweaty brows
bend towards their shovels. the first frost will arrive soon. 
herring huddle & ghosts cram the cannery, compete for ambiance. 
when is the past the past? crystalline waves continue their slow meals, 
zipping and unzipping iceland’s frozen fingers and boat bones. 
i think the past is here, halla, flashing its fleeced belly. 
And now, the future, ramming its horns.

Nikki Ummel is a queer writer, editor, and educator in New Orleans. She is the 2022 winner of the Leslie McGrath Poetry Prize. She has a poetry chapbook, Hush (Belle Point Press, 2022) and a hybrid chapbook, Bayou Sonata (NOLA DNA, 2023). Follow her on Twitter @NikkiUmmel.