The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: “Absence of Stars” by Nicole Rollender


“I Was Happy Then”

The work of night
is fine bones under lamplight

as a mass of blue hydrangeas
painting this old mountain

where I live
down to a whale’s bone,

this stem
these china birds

a side street
packed with sweet

bread, the joy of honey,
catacombs piled high with precious things –

honeysuckle, the scarred hollow behind your knee,
beeswax, my grandfather’s cedar chest, so little

air. Why do you stand
looking up toward heaven?

A hummingbird’s skeleton opens my hands
like a flower. We trace her memories, wild grass

blown for miles, tart herring
in beetroot soup, a broken oar.

What keeps her last act of being
rooted here – a name

bursting open
in my mouth.

This selection comes from Nicole Rollender’s collection Absence of Stars available now from Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here.

Nicole Rollender’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly ReviewBest New PoetsThe Journal, Memorious, THRUSH Poetry JournalWest Branch, Word Riot and others. Her first full-length collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, was published by ELJ Publications in 2015. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX JournalRuminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her online at

Ben McClendon is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Tennessee. He previously studied poetry at Northern Arizona University after teaching high school English for several years. His poems have appeared in Indiana Review, Yemassee, Ceasura, Chariton Review, Redivider, Rattle, and elsewhere. He is currently Assistant Poetry Editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers and a poetry editor for Four Ties Lit Review. Ben lives with his husband in Knoxville.

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