Today in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor Shane McCrae features a poem by Aaron McCollough. About McCollough’s work, McCrae writes: “Always I am drawn in first by music. Most of the time, it is either the music of phonemes working with and against each other, or the music of the meaning of the words, whatever I imagine it to be. Rarely, I am drawn in by both together, again working with and against each other, and when that happens—well, to me, those are the best poems. Aaron McCollough writes the best poems, again and again.”



a certainty unfolds to be certain
and shimmers in the silver rayed guitar
a way to love that only moves towards morning
where, should you seek me, you may be a flower

the power not put out chugs on in the dark
as light breaking on a slope shelf
schools of minnows angle away from us
anemone. daughter of wind, wind flower

i’ve felt i could kill for the songs
little nation self, winking rain
clapping with the crowd alone in my room
as concentration pools in the flower

With proper care this may last forever
where does the suburb start, playing guitar
against the fourth wall a wheeling gray scale
with pixeled edges artificial flower 

Where the river makes a delta sounds’
shear shining and never the same
top of the fairground, the antenna top
twice, close as this flower

The sinister can be better, sister.
The sea urchin glacier conflict
land of abundant roses. Seek solidiers
in the snow. Each flower incased in glass.

Owing to a sacred infrastructure,
bone meat skin beneath the greatest guitar
wave ambidextrous other matters
out of gaps in shale shine fossil flowers  

Someone’s coughing in another room,
getting over it. Wall clouds guitar.
Wall clouds voices. Being in a body
in an apartment, not being in a flower.

Flower being and apartment being.
The feedback is coming from the guitar
lying on the bed and my pulse coiling
in the soil in the bed outside.

do you wonder what traps an esteemed man
a fountain wreath painted from a guitar
egg-shell-chipped shining from the summer dew
this tessellation of knit flowers

to smear some giant crumb over the skin,
“whatever light there is”
sunburst guitar to soften paving tar
on which moss grows but no flower

a permanent (as earth, as shell, as skin)
record sustains the silent guitar
and its rushed out waves, rushing forever
on the sloping shelves galaxy 

My front teeth keep chirping, it’s not a dream
a little panic native to guitar-
-in-the-face personal mythology
songbird-construed clouds resembling flowers

I look into the black bird’s black planet
for lake, some sustain, for ice guitar
a smokestack view with green conundrum
dredge crawling vein in the black eye flower

A silhouetted tree of the morning
disorder sense desired damask guitar
has langor I’ll never for language formed
in shadow against light in full shower

the hour upon us again in our ears
as small hands pat chime cloud pattern guitar
pattern a hoof, helmet, papyrus shred
anything we know on earth may flower

Outside the capsule of the self but not
So far that you’re alone guitar
Listen to the fugue, a word for flower

My own dull animal shell my own dull cell
sleep of the not unjust slept to guitar
strings slept together and woke together
as Spring asserts politic flowers 

It keeps inside a box it makes a home
inside a case inside a mouth
They stay behind, belonging to the world
where nothing rises, not even flowers

Inside the cloak is OK with withering
anticipated, dry as a guitar
intones still numbers, and crumbling down
(the cloak included) goes the sunflower

Headlights swept the extremities sharply
self-semblance struck the string of the guitar
to position cosmos in puff & hum,
louder than roots, a mushroom flower

felt hammer dry a soreness in handshake
hissing little dragon
from the groundcover, another shelter,
my crooked palm cup exploded

a shake between dark posts, an underpass
in day expanding strictly bright guitar
flute shouldered waves and all of us falling
toward the light at the stem of the flower


trolley guided tangle of wire walkers
open fire refinery
whine above that city not made by hand
good lord, the hill bruised in small wildflowers

the buried wire erupts with the vine
and the strings choke the juniper guitar,
juniper wind, an acrid home signal
floating above the bulb of the flower

water in the pine bark and spoiled firmness
everywhere at plank ends swamp foam guitar
radiating with the rains til a gasp
giving ankle deep in yard beer flower

entirely deep as to swallow whole
with infinite little movements
complaining or waving with the gesture
generally, line of wind and flower

householder pause, i can see you in mud,
as concocted, connected to
lines charged fungal in a mopey array
called the vault of heaven’s field

all the bird songs by the river garden
hundred claw fingers single strings guitar
stubbling progress to be mown by a ghost
corner of the park invasive flowers

suburban remove, by a rain garden
still the sirens, diesel exhaust guitar
invasive, conclusive, and mosquito
escape what? what terrifies a flower?

call them movements, touches, even feels
call them vignettes for the upright guitar,
a temple layered with only the sounds
material or petals urgently

flower says the birds leaves path bench flower
invading each other as wood guitar
in the tiny hairs of the ear canal
and the foot in the grass too says flower

the crow softens the bone in the puddle,
lumbers up a dark slide along guitar
and won’t crow this way for fear of losing
marl for marrow for a high nest flower

Crust of habitation, curl of soft skin
collision braid, bleeding hand on guitar,
on amplifier, on wall, on laundry.
Brutal textile fold beautiful flower.

Away from home with the flesh mechanics
and empty dish words, clog mastic guitar,
lullaby of nulled coolness in the head
clef null, lull furrow, look down lull flower

Bench breaking Barbarossa cardinal beak
how’s spring going, it’s gone alight guitar
to hand, long loppers, a raven cluttered
era splattered with shit we feed flowers

Rose drooped, ambulated the neighborhood
in a bee, though drooping balloon;
rose in the light in the heat expanding,
tumid as a ruddy bulbslept soul

Not flying but on the wings of warrens,
water-lily flight nor falling guitar
over the trails forking along the ridge
then meeting again, feather flowerseed

tear apart a broken chaise, throw the wood
under the guitar garden with the ground
setting fan, setting shower, the windmill.
those with ears, those with eyes, let them flower

a dead squirrel threaded tight in the bamboo
bustling with white worms stench static guitar
should you roll in it, no water on earth
should you turn disgusted then no flower

lime against the bodies, salt against them
and sand against the bodies and guitar
against the grains sticking in the moment
against the moment, pulling to the roots

Morning fill up, music peels from the pump
in one flaky layer. This isn’t good guitar.
There is nothing good about this station.
At home, a compensation, no flavor.

I will lie still in bed in the rainstorm,
each line of flight transecting the guitar,
but I am of this world not the other one,
I think, a wave pulling long warm water.

A creature of darkness but not metal
darkness or only fine as the guitar
strings wrapping nothing tight mummy darkness,
late summer, no dew left for the flowers.



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).