Painted Bride Quarterly’s Slush Pile

Episode 97: Navigating Dirtbags & Oracles

February 21, 2022

We’re thrilled to consider new poems and flash fiction by Dr. Emily Kingery on this episode. Subtle and specific and utterly compelling, these poems make us ponder and pause and praise. We’re global as ever, Slushies: from Lititz, PA, to the KGB Bar, Gabby is somewhere in Powelton, it’s last year’s Ramadan (Ramadan Kareem!), Samantha hasn’t gotten married yet, and Kingery’s got us thinking about the trouble we got into in high school basements. Time warps and shapes shift! Listen in & enjoy. 


This episode is brought to you by one of our sponsors, Wilbur Records, who kindly introduced us to the artist A.M.Mills, whose song “Spaghetti with Loretta” now opens our show. 


At the table: Addison, Alex, Gabby, Jason, Kate, Kathy, Larissa, Marion, & Samantha 


Emily Kingery is an English professor at a small university in Iowa and the author of Invasives (Finishing Line Press, forthcoming), a semi-finalist in the New Women’s Voices Series. Her work appears widely in journals, including Birdcoat Quarterly, Blood Orange Review, GASHER, The Madison Review, Midwest Review, New Ohio Review, Plainsongs, Raleigh Review, and Sidereal, among others. She has been a chapbook finalist at Harbor Editions and Thirty West Publishing House, as well as the recipient of honors and awards in both poetry and prose at Eastern Iowa Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Midway Journal, Quarter After Eight, and Small Orange Journal. She serves on the Board of Directors at the Midwest Writing Center, a non-profit supporting writers in the Quad Cities community (, and you can follow her on facebook:

Dirtbag Wilderness

Our dirtbags, our dirtbags

were medicine men.


They spoke as oracles,

capped bottles, skated


razorblades across

the glass of pictures.


It’s just like shoveling snow,

laughed our dirtbags


as they unburied

their parents’ faces.


Like raking leaves,

want to try?


We watched their hands

swap bills, our eyes


the wrong kind of wild.

Our dirtbags laughed:


You can sit with us

while we finish.


This was intimacy:

our sitting; their finishing.


We laughed; we returned

frames to their shelves.


We bought shadows dark

and lip stains darker. Darker,


said our dirtbags, damp

on basement couches.


We envied in secret

the laughs of bright girls,


high as their hair

pinned in hard, slick curls.


They spun like acrobats

in the high school gym,


strobing in glitz

we were disallowed.


Bitches, spat our dirtbags,

skanks, whichever


words coaxed our laughter.

We swallowed them


like expectorant

and laughed in wet coughs


under canopies

of parking lot trees,


our arms crossed as though

coffined already.


We rolled in our dirtbags’ scent

like hunting dogs,


napped in stuffy rooms

as their hands, their hands


blessed guns, made backpacks

heavy with Ziploc holy.


It’s all good, laughed our dirtbags.

Our hips, our ponytails


swayed easy as leaves.

By summer, our dirtbags


wore sly, deep pockets,

weighed powders,


held capsules to the light

under a jeweler’s loupe.


The car windows glided,

phones lit up like lightning


bugs on the shoulders

of gravel roads. Such soft light,


light of vigils, light the yellow

of a forgiven bruise.


We rode to neighboring towns

of missing teeth and needles.


We cried in bathrooms

far from home. We were home


when we laughed, when we laughed

we laughed Everclear vomit.


But our dirtbags, our dirtbags

let us sit while they finished,


and their hands were warm

as stones pressing us to sleep.


Funeral for a Cat

When the cat was killed by a driver in a tragic hit-and-run, the dirt bike kid watched it happen. He screamed to gather us to her carcass: Pumpkin! He pedaled hard around the block. Pumpkin is dead!

I was afraid to tell Dad, at first. He went outside, shoveled Pumpkin into a grocery bag and dug a hole under a lilac bush. It was too late in the season for flowers, but he said they would bloom next year: a small truth sounding like kindness.

The kids begged him for a real funeral to say goodbye. He smiled a little, but not at them, and had us circle the grave and hold each other’s sweaty hands while he prayed. It was a test.

The dirt bike kid and the girls with yards of upside-down toys wept for the cat, loose with their sadness. The streetlights flickered on, and I was afraid of Dad again. I tried not to picture Pumpkin with a halo and wings, but I failed. I begged God to forgive me for it, then tried not to picture God as a cat shaking its head at my blasphemy, then prayed not to cry as the cats kept coming. I missed the amen, but I held out. I passed.

After the funeral, Dad said I was so grown-up, not weeping over a cat that didn’t belong to anyone. Not to the neighborhood, not even to God.

He prayed over hamsters in the years to follow, maybe a second cat. He prayed, and I grew into a tragic, feral thing.






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