Guest Editor Joy Priest: A Special Feature

A West Branch Wired Exclusive

One of the things I really enjoy about reading submissions—when I have the opportunity to do that work—is happening across a poet I’ve never read before, whose work instantly excites me. That work has attuned me to new voices. Not necessarily new to everyone, but new to me, as a reader. I haven’t had the privilege of reading submissions for a journal in the past year, but I have come across poets in other ways—at a seven-month fellowship, a semester-long workshop, a writing group based out of Oakland that I joined in the early months of the pandemic. I asked a few poets from these spaces to send me work and this folio is the result of that request. As I read what they sent me, a theme emerged. Each poem that reached out toward me was a site of longing. Fangary’s speaker wants to know his elders’ stories—a personal history running all the way back to the old village in Egypt. Marquez takes as his subject one of the most frequently written about sites of queer longing—Fire Island. In “The Complex Queer Literary History of Fire Island,” Jack Parlett surveys the literary history of this site and addresses the town’s history of racial exclusion, writing: “Fire Island is a landscape full of stories, but it seems that some of them, perhaps many, have not yet received the attention or visibility they deserve.” Marquez recovers one of those stories. In Kian’s poem there is “silver snatched from stubborn soil / and strung like steel track” across teeth, but “what good, a perfect mouth / if it is always wanting?” her speaker asks. Soil. Sand. Beaches. Streams. Lakes. Creeks. In the poems of McCoy and Davis—two of my fellow Kentuckians—there’s the sense of a desire for something outside of us, in the world—a different world, perhaps, or a different history, new language, more language, for the way we talk about these things. McCoy notices how “tar zebras / the beach,” and “hurricanes / skitter,” and Davis tells us that these bodies of water take “memory’s shape—linking story to sea, tucking future in the egg of the past.” 

—Joy Priest

Joy Priest is the author of Horsepower (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), selected as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. She is the recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a 2019-2020 Fine Arts Work Center fellowship, as well as the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize. Her poems have appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, The AtlanticCallalooGulf Coast, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. Her essays have appeared in The Bitter SouthernerPoets & WritersESPN, and The Undefeated, and her work has been anthologized in Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-HopA Measure of Belonging: Writers of Color on the New American South, and Best New Poets 20142016 and 2019. Joy is currently editing an anthology of Louisville poets, which will be published by Sarabande Books.

Antony Fangary


my teta comes from a city called abu tij
but teta says she’s never heard of abu tij
what does it mean to abandon one’s own memory,
to lose a source, lose yourself, lose abu tij
i say the name of the village & she stops still
stares straight, blanking hard like palm trees in abu tij
the village remains in her cooking; the mahshi,
the molokhia fills the room with abu tij
grape leaves come jarred, soaked in vinegar preserving
leaves like memory, like vapor, like abu tij
asyut is a grape’s pit to our lineage
walled by the flesh of villages near abu tij
i read that coptic priests would castrate young boys
in the eighth century, in a village near abu tij
how history can turn to martyrdom from stains
how gasoline can scald ears mouthing abu tij
i asked my grandfather if he knew where teta
comes from, he nods his jaw then whispers abu tij
teta pretends she doesn’t hear me when i speak
inaudible words in recoil since abi tij

Antony Fangary is a Coptic-American Poet, Educator, and Artist living in San Francisco. His poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Oakland Review, New American Writing, Interim, The Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, HARAM, was published by Etched Press in 2019. Antony was Finalist for the 2019 Wabash Poetry Prize, and Runner-up for the 2020 Test Site Poetry Series Book Prize. His work has received support from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Center for Cultural Innovation. 

Francisco Márquez

Fire Island

Years ago, somehow, I was at my most impetuous
and brazen with the least to lose. Broke, broken-
hearted, wasting early mornings smoking I grew
increasingly inward, plunging headfirst into cold,
exorbitant waters. Couldn’t I have stayed? Hustled
longer? Slept nights away from debt collectors or
mice in the walls? Or in rooms of elder solicitors
tiptoed out, once more, through a hatch to the roof?
Evenings, sprawled, I’d watch the moon rise and
increase the black waves and almost hear, I swear,
a voice calling out to me, insisting, keeping me far
from trouble inching towards death like a mother
to her prodigal son, but no voice, and no mother
could’ve protected me, then, from what I wanted.

Francisco Márquez is a poet from Maracaibo, Venezuela, born in Miami, Florida. His work can be found in The Brooklyn Rail, Narrative, The Yale Review, and Best American Poetry, among other publications. His work has received fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Tin House, The Poetry Project, Brooklyn Poets, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from the New York University Creative Writing Program, where he was a Goldwater Fellow. He is the Assistant Web Editor at Poets & Writers and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Aris Kian

Under Construction

what good is silver snatched from stubborn soil
and strung like steel tracks across my teeth—
what good is suffering for a stiffened smile,
the triple-glance sidewalk shuffle
from scrutinizing men—
what good is a slicked edge, a parted lip,
a gold chain dangling at the base of my neck,
a quick gloss and grin, a shimmer
across my collarbone, the dewy, dark hors d’oeuvre
of an open shoulder—
what good is a longing, a staggered breath,
and pulsing heart, jaw and wrist,
a bassline beneath the big band in your chest,
all clash and croon—
what good is smooth-talking if I am taken
to bed, one leg wrapped
around your back, and gasping to a name
I would not answer to in the morning,
if I leave you clutching your breath in your hands,
lamplight fading to dawn staining the room—
what good is symmetry in the dark,
what good, a perfect mouth
if it is always wanting?

Aris Kian is a Houston enthusiast and a student of abolition. Her poems are published with The West Review, Pidgeonholes, Write About Now and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart nominee and a 2020 Best of the Net Finalist and ranks #10 in the 2020 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She is pursuing her MFA at the University of Houston and her PhD at Twitter University.

Erin L. McCoy

when we are found we will be fused

witch-auk is not in a hurry
though hurricanes
skitter on the gulf like
dogs along a kitchen floor.
just to make her drowsy
i’ve fed her more milk
than is good for her; tied
the leash beneath her beak.
now she keeps her eyes
sheathed, though i say look
this will make us famous,
just transform the storm
back to sea, she’s stopped
looking. sometimes a shiver
rises out of her chest, blurs
to the tips of her wings,
the way a hot gust lurches
pain from nothing we can see.
what, after all, isn’t past
saving? there are many ways
the world can end, & some
have already happened.
we mount a dune. tar zebras
the beach, & the blonde gob
of hurricane like a lion
over that horizon peeping.
i tug the tether, but when
i look down the beach
to where a single claw lifts
from the sea to test the sand
for tension, she hops
with her beak to slice my arm.
the part in a curtain. that thin
sheet of helium between the water
& any savior’s feet.
she steps out of the leash
& into my arms. witch-auk i’m sorry.
i rub sand into my cheeks,
rub the nose & eyes off of me
as the storm charges, a mane
of tin tarpon cresting before it,
fuel & festoon for the beast.
though she is all that I have,
witch-auk gets lonely.

Erin L. McCoy has published poetry and fiction in Narrative, Bennington Review, Conjunctions, Pleiades, Nimrod, and other journals. She holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature from the University of Washington. She won second place in the 2019–2020 Rougarou Poetry Contest, judged by CAConrad, and her poem, “Futures,” was selected by Natalie Diaz for inclusion in Best New Poets 2017. Her website is She is from Louisville, Kentucky. 

Marissa Davis


Stream plays coy: always tranquil, mostly sunbathed, sip-shallow & bedecked in polish. We believe it simple, seeing straight through to its bottom. Don’t be fooled. The stream, one must know, is a great masker of melancholies. Think: liquid as motherless child—only fluid because nothing to do, nothing to want, but search. You too would run narrow-necked & grasping if you found yourself too far from both where you began & where you are going. Memory’s hunter & sieve. A roaming amnesia.

A lake does not like to be called placid. Knows itself, rather, an avatar of dysphoria. Stream quests for memory; lake has no memory to speak of. Some days, it feels complete in its bordered body. Daughter of its most immediate motion. Other days, the rains blow it abstract: a wreck against its own walls, wavery as gaze. No longer can it float the crescent moon on its back & believe itself anything transcendent.

Call creek a kind of medusa—swap snakes for white water, little rapids flicking like a chorus of tongues. But creek betrays tragedy, exists outside of time but makes a deity of cadence. Calls rain ancestor & dances for it. Doesn’t care what its end births as long as the middle holds minnow-spawn & a rhythm of rise. What stream makes antsy, creek makes restless. Tenacious. Unyielding & a little smug. Any tree that wants a glance must hang & beg—force its roots out the earth, pray not to fall. God willin’ &—

The river is an age-keeper, memory’s shape—linking storm to sea, tucking future in the egg of the past. River says: let the catfish nuzzle the bones of the patient drowned; let them, full-bellied, hatch their young in spring waters. When river swells, it crushes, it feeds. It leaves a pulse of contradiction, legacy of mold & silt. River asks: what is not malleable with enough patience? as it carves the earth like fresh bread. River trusts: there is a new kingdom, alive & restless in the body of the old—& every drop of it carries that place, & runs towards it.

Marissa Davis is a poet and translator from Paducah, Kentucky, now residing in Brooklyn, New York. Her poetry has appeared or will soon appear in Poem-A-Day, Glass, Nimrod, Great River Review, Southeast Review, Rattle, and Mississippi Review, among others. Her translations are published in Ezra and forthcoming in Mid-American Review, RHINO, The Massachusetts Review, New England Review, and The Common. Her chapbook, My Name & Other Languages I Am Learning How to Speak (Jai-Alai Books, 2020) was selected by Danez Smith for Cave Canem’s 2019 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Prize. Davis is pursuing an MFA at New York University.