by Amy Small-McKinney

 Amy Small-McKinney_Philadelphia

Beauty was hard for me to find on a spare cot or in the back

of a truck, when I had no home. & then I did,


when beauty had bars on its windows & a Coleus sat on my sill

with its purple hearts & old Tony sold me necessities

& came to know my name & the butcher without a thumb brought a Thanksgiving turkey

to my front door & young Tony upstairs lost a finger in some war, or so he said.

I was happy to hike the flight of stairs to sit with him and talk.

He borrowed a glass vase, nothing more, &


at the nearby market, startled pigs & cheeses hung on racks,

women peddled chestnuts & nutmeg, their voices ancient pigeons promising no hunger.


A Vietnamese restaurant, the place for cheap soup with long noodles & airy leaves floating.

A boat, I could sit for hours & row away from loneliness.


No one knew what they meant to me then.

The green leafy soup stars or the nine-fingered butcher,

his attentiveness filled me like a luxurious meal.


To tell you I was hungry is beside the point, very young,

left home, no choice, love rationed like air.


Now I think I know beauty,

look up at stars, some have names,

are gifts for birthdays.

What I want to say: how little I know of anyone’s life.


We are a country, a world, a universe of division.


We imagine this must be beauty:


Doesn’t everyone love Evie’s homemade Nduja, her hair pulled back in a chignon?

Or this: A woman drinks morning coffee, mistrusts newly leveled fields,

worries for her seed beds.

Or: Summer & a man sits beside the stoop of his sweltering house playing checkers, waits

at least five minutes to move his piece.

& I have found it, at times, when the train rumbles under my window,

its constancy a parliament of beautiful owls, returning.

Amy Small-McKinney won The Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press) for her second full-length collection of poems, Walking Toward Cranes. Most recently, her poems have appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact and are forthcoming in The Indianapolis Review.  She facilitates poetry workshops and offers independent study in Philadelphia.