Welcome, H.R. Webster!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you H.R. Webster, whose poetry collection What Follows is due out next summer. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 




The Author

H.R. Webster has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Vermont Studio Center, and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Poetry Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, 32Poems, Muzzle, and Ecotone. You can read more poems at hrwebster.com



On Writing What Follows

I wrote What Follows while walking the dog at night with my keys between my knuckles. Walking in the dunes of Cape Cod looking for a snowy owl hunched in the rain. While hiking in the woods alone, squatting to pee behind a mountain laurel, words like a blister forming between two toes. I wrote What Follows at a bar after getting stood up, getting sun poisoning on the beach at Belle Isle, while my marriage failed, while I sat on the floor of the locked bathroom, on the back of my hand in ballpoint pen in the cell phone lot at the airport, eating a cold cheese sandwich over the sink in my apartment above a garage while the Hare Krishnas chanted outside the window. I wrote it in Nebraska while bats threw themselves into the mosquito netting covering my bed, wrote it picking apples and mowing the orchard. I wrote it by a lot of rivers, one estuary, Lakes Michigan, Superior, even Erie, two oceans. It took a lot of years and lives and landscapes to make and it isn’t finished but I am ok with that because it’s a book full of disappearances/lacks/failures and words which are also failures. When I say “wrote” I mean I noticed things.

I deleted a whole bunch of poems a whole bunch of times because I grew up on small farms picking black walnuts to dye clothes and gathering hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and baking pies for county fairs and going to quaker meetings and calling the butt a “rear end” because butt was a swear in my house. I put them back, in the end, because something made me brave. I don’t know what it was that made me brave: any number of disasters and the kindness of many women.  It is called What Follows because it is full of snakes, my grandmothers, making the same mistakes over and over.




What Follows

Every house I’ve ever lived in was filled with snakes.
The black snake in the attic, wrist-thick as a man.
The copperhead beneath the couch cushion. Garters’
quick green caulking between the kitchen tiles.
The single timber rattler, invisible except for the tender
husks it left for me, crinoline rustle like a party
dress pulled down over the shoulders then breasts
in a rush. Wherever I went they followed, dragging
their delicate purses of venom, their noise of forage
in the china after dark.

                                              The snakes I live with now leave
quieter marks. Long dark hairs caught between
the paint and the bathroom wall. The animal
musk of water from the tap.  The nightmare impression
of a single sharp red nail drawing a part in my hair.
The fear that no matter how many years have passed
any child I bear will be yours. No, will be you.
A little boy, blond and fat, who will industriously beat
at the tall grasses with a stick, will wade into Lake Michigan,
not to swim but to punch the waves with your tiny fists.
I can’t stop watching teenage boys eat shit at the skate park.
It gives me real pleasure.
I imagine pulling the stitched pennies of scabs
from their shoulders and knees. A man
barks at me like a dog from the window of his car.
A man shouts I want to fuck you in the –
I lost the last word to the parking
lot’s rattling sea. I think it was ass.
It could have been mouth.
The computer can’t stop suggesting yours—
truly. There are only so many words.
I can’t stop reading

articles about the woman who pushed her dead
toddler on a swing for a full night and day.

My mother wouldn’t have.
Wouldn’t have pushed me I mean.

So few of us are original in our disorder.
The computer can’t stop suggesting I begin
To Whom It May Concern. Suggests I might be hurting
my eyes, staring at a screen so long.
It might have been pussy, but that seems unlikely.
I imagine pulling the boys’ torn
white t-shirts over their heads. They aren’t hurt, not really.
Not badly. They don’t smell good, that’s ok. I run them
hot water.  I test it with my wrist—fingers  
practiced so they don’t say when things are too much.
The computer can’t stop suggesting I sell someone
my eggs. Girls like you can make big money.
It knows my height because I bought those jeans,
the chimney fire of my marriage,
my student loan debt, breast size.
It must know I am not well, inside, that I have

spent hours reading about the woman
who drove the wrong way down the Taconic Parkway
with a car full of kids. The abscess
in her mouth, the gut’s thrum of clear liquor.
People get pissed when they talk about Diane.
I lick every word clean. Still the computer
wants my eggs, the ugly teeming of my
innards. A man sends me a message online:
I want to cum on your
face/tits/ass. Strangers know something
the computer doesn’t, should have guessed.
There are only so many kinds of girl I am
permitted to be. It is hard not to imagine
a child slinkying down my steep wooden stairs.
The way each thump of the body downward
is inevitable, but still makes my face break
just slightly, the smoke sucked
back into the red hole of my mouth.
I will be at the bottom. I will be watching.
Watching is what I know how to do.

“What Follows” first appeared in Ninth Letter. “Autocomplete” first appeared in Hobart.