At the Heart of Everything
Poems by Dawn Tefft

songs in our teeth | coordinates
How Widespread Do You Think Your Support Is?
Carnage | Little One | At the Heart of Everything
Beauties necessary and unnecessary
Nashville’s Court House Is Burning
My Daughter Sleeps with the Lights Dimmed

songs in our teeth

the frequency picks up children
in Gaza screaming with adult worries

and all the colors of the rainbow
in a childhood painting decorating a door

a channel that never turns off
we move through life like a synapse
being hit again and again 

our mothers loom over it all
spreading out their smiles

we find our way past half-off sales
and newspaper covers of CEOs

we dance, half ballet, half hip hop
hold up our arms to signal 

our manifesto: spinning vortexes of jewel 
tones that don’t need to be mined

free verse limbs and gauze
not iambs or mesh bandages

inventing a day next to a table 
made of reclaimed wood

for a daily audience in need of domestic

genius, tiny and mighty


smaller circles inside of larger
inside cities of spiraling rents

infant mortalities and TV shows
that are finally, finally good

debates inside of arguments
rainbow-colored glasses focused 

on a maybe bi football player 
tackling his long, last love

typing thoughts on internet forums
about if this is real or a PR move

showing up in mass to scream 
when the swell starts to swell

moving through wars lesser 
and greater, partisans acting in

plays, eating at bakeries and driving
over potholes the city rarely fills

while songs play in our teeth
and we try not to let fascists know

we arrive in buses at the rendezvous
recognize beautiful anger in each other

How Widespread Do You Think Your Support Is?

I like the stranger bits of vacation. 
Like people farting in Sacré Couer. 

Like flirting couples touching and posing
and being shushed in Sacré Couer. 

Like writing interview questions for striking 
workers while sitting in the prayer section.
Like pressing knee to pew, pencil to paper 
in Sacré Couer, the questions a prayer.

Like fingering the hunk of bread in my bag
that needs to get me through this journey.

Like shivering in a jacket while the mist 
covers the graffiti and the churches 

and the strikers gently hugging flares 
to be lit later in the train station.


Wrought, wrought, wrought
like the soil underneath
when the blade digs in

the grind of religion and 
the 7:30 am stop for coffee 
and the political treatise 
on the front lawn and 
under the car’s wipers
while the brain keeps grinding
out the conversation

your mother doesn’t remember
that moment in history
when everyone stood up

and your child moves through
history like a whirlwind
made of many smaller 
versions of herself

let go of the clear, clean

you have to see through your 
eyes that no one can see through
your eyes and that all you make
is an homage to what could be

you have to be in love with
the opening in the future
when you all march through 
chanting that thing together

even once you return to
the Tuesdays and the meat
slices between bread 
the floaters always hovering
in your field of vision
the backwards tumble into
the ravine and the muddy
stupid footprints on whatever
thing you just bought

Little One,

I want to tell you
of the hours.

The way my heart tolls
the years lost to moving 
objects from one place 
to another.

The bread-hands making.
The endless backlit
clicks and taps.

I used to read.

There are too many signs
and too many facial expressions. 

I once stood on an overpass,
holding up the stars 
I had pulled from the sky
and taped to a board,
spelling out the cold nights
of capitalism.

I had a brother
who told me to keep breathing
and writing and breathing
and writing.

I had a brother.

At the Heart of Everything

I go to the park because it’s warm and I’m alive. Walking there is a statement I make after the winter. I’ve been sitting in the dark hole of the couch, watching Taylor sing “Betty” and hitting replay on the beacon of her smile.

I didn’t realize a million people were going to die. Now my toddler and I are sitting at an outdoors café again, and she asks where the birdhouse is. I don’t understand how a two-and-a-half-year-old brain can remember such a small detail. A week is forever, but she knows to look for a tiny house in a tree.

I present on escalating actions for workers. I want to tell them my favorite sound is “Mommy” and that I’ve been squeezing out my heart over and over. That at night, I dive into Normal People, Atlanta, and Bridger’s “Moon Song.” Search out Oberst’s most recent drunken performances, tumble down the Kaylor rabbit hole.

I construct birdhouses to line the path from my past to the future. Things come to roost.

Beauties necessary and unnecessary

the trees look greener in foodstamp season
and our stomachs are composed 
of spider webs with sunlight on them

I’ve been whetting my hunger all day
on the strop of your abundance
while the beautiful chain gang 
that is my family
runs the streets 

their discord is a symphony
waking us all from bluebird reveries

and we rise slowly

Nashville’s Court House Is Burning

I turn on the TV to learn more
about the poetry of the headline

The news labels all uprisings
as riots instead of need

There is no easy way to step up
and say, “I demand to be free”

Mayors allow police to kill freely 
and the President tells senators
who are Black to go home

I want to write in your baby book
that everything Baldwin wrote
was in between fires

a pause to breathe hope and fear 
into chests

bellows for particular ends

My Daughter Sleeps with the Lights Dimmed

just enough to illuminate the outlines 
of shapes and colors, of what is

helicopters fly overhead, dispatched
to survey, or save, or quell 

rich men continue to invent
ways of consolidating their power

she rides whatever waves of birds and mama 
and oatmeal and traffic and song

the scary and beautiful news of the city 
country, world spells itself out 

in faint symbology of crops and regimes
teachers and small regional kindnesses

the world narrows down to the rise
and fall of a chest in a milk-scented room

Dawn Tefft’s poems appear in Denver Quarterly, Fence, and Witness. Her chapbooks include Fist (Dancing Girl Press) and Field Trip to My Mother and Other Exotic Locations (Mudlark). She earned a PhD in Creative Writing at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, volunteers as an editor for Packingtown Review, and works as a labor professional in Chicago.

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