Matthew Sumpter


The air conditioner drones like the ocean I have been thinking
about the ocean principally bottomlessness you can’t conjure

eternity without conjuring the ocean the slow drift down
the warm salt slide like we did as kids releasing our breath

not any we but you and me growing up five states apart
exhaling bubbles and watching them rise like jellyfish

we wouldn’t meet for twenty years but knew each other
even then you loved horses and the ocean there are pictures

you on horseback or floating in the sun-bright surf your hair
forgetting gravity because the ocean forgets all things

we could never afford horses but could always afford
to drift now we live in New York City it’s hideous

sometimes isn’t it the ambulances and doctors waiting
the postmen going from house to house like postmen

nothing else and now I forget my promise never to write
about our life together the way it lights up everything else

like submarines near vents in the ocean floor look the trees
like anemones look the sun like sulphur look the folks

from the retirement home racing in electric wheelchairs
the ocean teaches you sometimes there is nothing but body

and maybe another similarly wave-loved similarly shipwrecked
and the tide pulls us across the bed as you dream of horsehair

and hooves and I dream of you dreaming those things



American Chorus

We were young once
and bonded with spiders

made plaster masks of ourselves
and wore them to sleep

books felt heavy in our hands
we learned rites yes

we said indivisible we said
deliver us then went home

where house plants withered
thunder knocked

and we welcomed it
we swallowed ice for sustenance

laughed for years like full chimneys
under a green sky

we were the poison-breathers
we dropped tea leaves into the night

then asked the question
spilled red wax on the carpet

and asked again who will repeat us
who will sprout from our heads?

the sky opened
like a box of nails

and spoke to us in our native tongue
we knew each other by smell

in the morning we were sick
after dreaming of wires our bodies

thrummed in the power grid
the pipes all sang out Blessed Ones!

as we circled our plates with forks
waiting for the birth of our children

to tell them worship the lightning
to cry out we love you like furnaces

to whisper no one here will ever blame you


Matthew Sumpter is author of Public Land (University of Tampa Press, 2018), which won the Anita Claire Scharf Prize. His poems have previously appeared in the New Yorker, the New Republic, and Best New Poets 2014, and his fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train. Winner of the Crab Orchard Review Special Issues Feature Award and the Zocalo Public Square Poetry Prize, he received his MFA from The Ohio State University and his PhD in Creative Writing from Binghamton University. He currently teaches academic and creative writing at Rutgers University, where he is an Assistant Director of the Writing Program.