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Two Poems by Lauren Oertel

Sometimes when I hate
my body, for its brokenness, 
its susceptibility to illness, 
injury, and disease, I go outside. 
Even if just for a few minutes, 
even if it’s too hot, 
or even if I can barely walk. 
I try to breathe, take in the oxygen 
gifted by our Texas live oaks 
more directly than sucking it 
through our gypsum plaster walls 
and dust-crusted vents. I look for little signs 
I’m not alone. 
A screeching grackle hops on one leg, 
a half-dried worm struggles 
on the sunbleached sidewalk 
until I nudge it into the grass. 
I wonder if the bare and weed-riddled patches 
of our lawn will get us an HOA notice, 
although the lawn looks perfectly happy 
displaying its imperfections. 
A few of the large-bloom magnolias 
have browned edges, 
and aphids seem to have chewed 
holes into our neighbors’ magenta roses. 
All of these blemishes, injuries, 
and inconsistencies help me release 
my expectations, accept that life can be a struggle, 
and know that I’m doing my best. 
I know that I’m part of the natural world 
and I’m not alone. 
 

Taking a Spring Drive in the Hopefully Not Too Distant Future
after Franny Choi
You see that field over there? How it flourishes with food and flora?
The fire-red turkscaps, orange squash blossoms, 
and pink evening primroses weren’t there before. 
The land had been slabbed with cold gray concrete.
Thick razor-wire-topped walls enclosed people
as punishment. 
Those on the outside were told that was what safety looked like. 
In the sweltering Texas summer heat, so thick it smothered, 
you could drive past it, this same area, and know there were humans baking 
in that building. 
At night, if you turned down the radio, you could hear their suffocating cries. 
You reminded yourself it was for the best, necessary for you to sleep soundly in your air-conditioned home, knowing every scary potential scenario was locked away 
in that oven.
They could never reach you. But when you reached in, those years ago 
and with all our hands, inside and out, 
we clawed away at that concrete, our teeth sawed through the steel bars. 
All of our hands, smooth, callused, burned, or scared, 
they came together to break something down, 
but that was just the first step.
Together we put in the work and built something new, 
something that flourishes. 
Lauren Oertel

Lauren Oertel is a community organizer covering Texas and New Mexico for a nationwide nonprofit. Her work has been published in The Ravens Perch, Evening Street Review, Noyo Review, MONO.Fiction, and The Sun Magazine. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her partner Orlando and their tuxedo cat Apollonia.

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