Poetry: Selections from Alise Versella

Cerebral by Nature

My father plays his life like a chess game
Four steps ahead to outmaneuver you
My sister beats him every time
Moves her queen to C4
They are the same, you see
Internally battling some demon unseen
I don’t have the patience for chess
Ransack the board with the quickest offense
I react first—like my mother
Deal with the consequence later
Or never
Denial looks most beautiful when all its pieces are spread out against the table
On this table, we hold no salt
We never look back long enough
To become pillar
Deflect with knight and castle, offer holy bishop casualty
A memory of my father so angry, he flipped the kitchen table
My mother broke every vase
We don’t hide our feelings inside ceramic anyway      
But it took forever to move every pawn across the board
And retrieve the pieces we had lost
She slapped my mouth once
And my teeth bit lip, drew from it
I ran through the street barefoot
A chess game can be as chaotic
Especially when played in my house
Each move becomes metaphor for underlying truths
There is no winner in a stalemate
But most times, one of us is simply holding out
The only lesson I’ve learned from chess
Has been how not to quit
For all our shit, never underestimate my family
We can play this game all day…we invented it.

Moths are Fragile, Turn to Dust Between Thumbs

I’ve lived a year of solitude in a century
Felt everything
At greater magnitude
Every plate in the cabinet crashing
You don’t understand the quake of these bones.
The flood of me
I’ve been attempting to hold back all day
My body the levee broken down by the wave
The soil of the watershed turning
To mud
All your sump-pump subterfuge
To convince me my ocean is wrong.
But salt turns kaleidoscope in the sun   my only refuge
The mountain range water creates on my face
I cry and cry and like Alice
I grow six feet tall a giantess I water the roots
What’s it mean that a daughter cries so easily and the world doesn’t?
I have been crying   my skeleton a constant state of fracture
Each hairline crack and fissure
Finally catching up
An ex once asked me why I like such sad songs
The sadness calms the silken moth
Wing raging
Raging against the light
It tries so hard to survive
In the dark
Where the wolves
Are always biting, biting
They hold my gold in their teeth
What I must let them keep
So I can turn from beast to insect
The single drop reflecting
The moon on the banana leaf.


Consider this apology
We were bound to greed
Wanted oh so many things
But the foundation
The mountains cleaved
It was our custom it would seem
To destroy everything
       But my God we thought we did it justly
You must be thinking
What price they must’ve spent
For renting rock
It literally crumbled
We were not strong enough to hold it up
Somehow the work continued
There are so many seashells
Coming up
From sand like bones dug up from graveyards
Proof of us
After the ravaging wave decimates shoreline
We existed
Left by seagulls in sand
Make no sense
No clear directional path
And tire treads make this beach look like Mars
Earth became another planet
You think the bird had no future
Bound to ground and standing
Looking at the sun making cutlery of the coast
Maybe we did not simply turn to grain and dust
Maybe we lifted our salt-weary wings
To trust in a better universe
Those footprints zigzagging haphazardly
Prove the avian rocket readied itself for liftoff
Propelled itself to sky
I hope you find our feathers detached and left behind
Create a headdress out of them
Chief to a new tribe
Or perhaps a dream catcher
To hold what we lost
Dream beautifully of the memory of us

Nuclear Awe

The most beautiful place on our earthly home is Chernobyl
Flora and fauna not yet classified
Managed to fare well out of ruin
I think of this
Gazing at
The velvet carpet of night
How November rain Acidic
Is full of microbes you shouldn’t taste on your tongue
Yet I’m inclined to admit it’s beautiful
This soothing song of chemistry pouring out
From a beaker full of stars Test-tube musical
How adequately adaptable
The wolves of Chernobyl So immune to the radiation
Like they know some fact
We never knew
How to flourish where others view
Lost causes
How they come back.

Alise Versella is a Pushcart-nominated contributing writer for Rebelle Society whose work has also been published in Academy of the Heart and Mind, Apricity Magazine, Circle Show, COG Magazine, The Courtship of Winds, Crack the Spine, DASH Literary Journal, El Portal, Elephant Journal, ellipsis...literature and art, Enclave, Entropy, Evening Street Review, Front Porch Review, Grub Street, Loch Raven Review, Midwest Quarterly, Neologism Poetry Journal, The Opiate, Penumbra Literary and Art Journal, Poydras Review, Press Pause Press, The Rail, Soundings East, Ultraviolet Tribe, Umbrella Factory Magazine, What Rough Beast, Steam Ticket, Visitant, and Wrath-Bearing Tree, among others. She has recently published a poetry collection When Wolves Become Birds (Golden Dragonfly Press) and was nominated for Sundress Pub’s 2021 Best of the Net award. Versella has worked with author Francesca Lia Block and Women’s Spiritual Poetry, whose latest anthology, Goddess: When She Rules, raised money for the Malala Fund. Kirkus has called her “…[A] boundlessly energetic and promising technician [who] crafts a unique blend of the symbolist and the confessional; a talented, promising newcomer.” She performs at local coffeehouses in Southern New Jersey and has taught poetry workshops at local libraries and schools.


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