Paul Hlava


Paul Hlava holds a BA from UC Riverside and MFA from NYU.  His poems can be found in Narrative Magazine, BOMB, the PEN Poetry Series, Truthdig, among other newspapers and journals, and have been nominated for the Pushcart. He has been awarded a Poets House Fellowship, Cave Canem summer workshop, and a spot in the Best New Poets Anthology. He lives in Seattle and can be found at



I will dismiss you but first

          sidle up to me

               in this here

                   ergonomic plastic chair

     and let me deliver

a story

     before your thirty minute nap

          at the lunchroom tables

there once lived

               a boy or girl

     who wanted to sing

but couldn’t you’re not

     a singer you’re

          a rancher

     the horses said

but the boy or girl wanted to exploit

          every available ear

alone and silent scarecrow

          was distressed

     plastic owl on its shoulder its insides

          were empty

     and beneath it

the child found vibrating in dirt

          a new voice

     dug it up

          multi-faceted sparkling the child

installed it

               it fastened

          the child to itself

     which opened its mouth

and spoke

     grass fluctuated wildly

     scarecrow’s shirt snapped open

          the song shook

               curves from clouds

          bands from the bucket

     at the bottom of the well

the child ran to town and laughed


          fled the freezer

               of the butcher shop

     the baker’s bread sprouted wheat

          the stalks sizzled and popped


          I can sing so loud

     but mother

locked the door

     who are you mother yelled

          where is

               my little boy or girl

     when the child begged


bricks and mortar split

          mother huddled under a table

     from the child’s

fang its terrible

               paw the house could not


     the voice

would not let go

     at least not without

          a majority vote of all involved parties

but don’t worry

     take your thirty minutes

lay down your head

          if your unconscious

     hand slides up

to squeeze your throat as you sleep

     I’ll be here



What department can
grant a body
the ability to speak
which manager takes it I lost
my voice last
Sunday in the strand of paraders
that curved down Broadway
come now shut it down
New York is a people’s town!
was louder
than all machinery of the streets
that moved us
by the thousands
where is
my baby she cried
the firetruck’s siren set off
car alarms in our guts
another braided
cheer bleating air-horns
rushing past our
faces she called out a baby’s cry
was a net thrown through
plural waters of our helplessness
the crowd parted
and baby was there
still in the arms of Nikki
who is a good person
in this moment
which is infinite
sunny and warm
we grasp the grammatical
threat when you say
disappear from their posts
could close
but we are bundled in loans
there is no power
like the power of
defaulted student debt
and that power don’t stop
a fight is dangerous
for those with something
to lose the elevator
that requires a golden key
Nikki and baby and me
confetti-tattered bodies
beneath open
windows of Broadway
wah wah wah




Our mandatory employee meetings
were run by a woman named Kia
Stevens. First, she claimed to be a
government rep, then a labor lawyer,
but by week’s end she divulged she was
a nurse’s aide. Ellen claimed she didn’t
exist online. Was it true her son was
starting first grade? After her last day I
saw her on Broadway and yelled, but
she didn’t turn. I wanted to know how
she really felt about us. She was
hustling to the end of the block.

In my pursuit, something in my
chest opened and closed at an
unbearable pace. She glanced back. Her
heels clacked faster. It occurred to me
we were two vulnerable animals, no
greater or less than circumstances we
were born into, which we would
survive only briefly. Maybe we each
deserved our own small share of
tenderness. The streets were bare. Kia
hailed a cab and looked over her
shoulder, maybe at me. I opened my
hand and gave a tiny wave. We were
the only ones there to show kindness to
each other.