american wasteland: margot armbruster & kobi manolson russel

Featured image: Hughie Lee Smith





For Baton Rouge, Louisiana
For Falcon Heights, Minnesota

here, the sky unraveling
into taut cloudy strands

cannot stitch itself back
together, cannot reconcile

men in blue, hefting
triumphant guns,

with the bodies at the end
of their barrels. this morning,

a teenager fractured
with grief called out

for his father, so loud
America thought

he would answer.
the sky is the only

answer—now black,
now peppered

with sharp and gleaming
gashes. if only

I could shape
a constellation

from these bullet-holes.

Originally published in Red Queen Literary Magazine.




Election Day (Nov. 8, 2016)

Dear America,
Today, I felt the cold hand of hatred eclipse the sun
For many months before this dreaded day, two familiar faces fought
Like planets, set on a course to collide at the speed of light
Now, a line has been drawn through space and time
And it seems…
America the Beautiful, I fear we may never move forward

The sun did not shine on those whose complexions differ
from the eerily subdued white of the ballot
Nor did it shine on those who pray to faceless deities and exalted idols alike
All those who love without borders
And those who travelled over them
And our mothers, daughters, grandmothers
Who cannot help but clutch feminine essence in a poison perfume jar
Poised to protect
The sun was hidden from them
And hope—dashed from their ever-thirsting lips

I want to hug
Scooping up the unblemished, flowering children, trying to grow roots in hardened soil
Embracing the elders whose voices trailed off in a tale of “I told you so”
Squeezing the lemons I’ve been given with every drop of strength I have left
Until a river of lemonade flows freely to meet the ones who need it most
You may have felt the unshakeable frost of ignorance
As I did
But if we all hold each just a little bit tighter
The sun will feel our warmth and shine
Once more


margot and kobi on ‘american wasteland’

We agree that poetry can be, and should be, a vehicle for social change. We hope that our exhibit can serve as a time capsule of our, and perhaps others’, feelings and worries about our current politics and that maybe someone reading our work will learn to see the world in a new way.


margot on process

In our exhibit for this month, my partner Kobi and I both chose to select poems of political dissent. After reading his “Dear America,” an election reflection full of emotion and conviction, I immediately thought of a poem of my own called “Salvo,” a response to police brutality. Through working with Kobi, I was able to refine my work and clarify some dangling pronouns, while also gaining helpful insight into the way a new reader experienced a poem I was by now very familiar with.

Working with Kobi has been a complete delight– he was always punctual and diligent, ready to consider every comment I made about his poem and eager to improve. I hope I’ve been able to help him refine his poem in the same way that he forced me to reconsider my own work.


kobi on process

Margot was such a pleasure to work with. Her keen eye for detail and poetic structure and her innate emotional intelligence is unique to any poet I have ever worked with. Being the indecisive individual that I usually am, I presented a vast variety of my earlier and most recent work to Margot for her to explore. Graciously, she took on the task of looking through my many poems and picked out a favorite – a piece called Dear America – one I had written the day after the election expressing my negative emotions towards the result. Next, she matched the theme of my poem with a piece of her own work – Salvo – a poignant look into the devastating effects of police brutality that makes powerful use of extended metaphor.

Reading Margot’s poem Salvo, I soon came to love the way she chose words and line structures that said so much with so little. Along with Margot’s commentary on my poem, and the inspiration I had received from reading hers, I began to “trim the fat” – so to speak – on my poem “Dear America”: cutting out words and lines that felt unnecessary and awkward, and reworking my own extended metaphor.

I cannot thank Margot and the Word Exchange enough for the brief but extremely educating experience I had working on this exhibit. In the near future, I hope to take with me a newfound lense with which to edit my own writing and the writing of others, and a new, quite poetic, friendship!


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