north of oxford poetry

Celestial Elbow by D.R. James

moon
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Celestial Elbow
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The sky wore the regalia of flames but
turned lavender-violet quietude
in a moment’s romance. And the breeze, how
it finessed everything and cradled me.
Awakened by the dazzle, I reposed—
riveted, infused, imbued by satin.
Gift after gift from ginger tongues, then glow
audible like visions. It was never
a coddling. The nod from the heavens
judged some memories mere indulgence—and grudge.
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D. R. James’s latest of nine collections are Flip Requiem (Dos Madres, 2020), Surreal Expulsion (Poetry Box, 2019), and If god were gentle (Dos Madres, 2017), and his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free, fun, and printable-for-folding at Origami Poems Project. He lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan.

Two Poems by John Dorroh

oliver
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For Mary Oliver Who Loved Dogs
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We are learning new things
about the history of dog bones,
how they permeate the soil
on every continent, a gauge
of the manner in which civilizations
have flourished and failed, burying
their own bones beside them.
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The collective souls of canine
beings – wolves and chihuahua,
beagles and basset, mixed breeds
and the paperless hound – form a cool
gray layer that only those who’ve
fallen in love with them ever sense
or see. It’s in our marrow, saturating
the pulp of existence.
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We’ve always loved them, even
as they crouched on the perimeters
of pre-historic fires, inching forward,
cowering on bellies that kissed
the cold ground, stealing bits of skin
and meat while humans slept under
the stars.
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Reluctant Crow
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There’s a reluctant crow stuck in my throat,
unable or unwilling to recognize my face.
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How could he not remember these acid-etched
furrows, this cute pink nose, such rosy cheeks
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and a head the shape of a cube? He’s not trying,
that’s all. Sad bird. If I can remember the way
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that green bottle flies entered the dead man’s mouth
at the river when I was 8, their drone-like metallic
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buzzing, the way the lemon sun felt on my neck,
and the excitement when we pulled up obsidian
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glass shards from the bottom of the gravel pit,
then why can’t this crow remember me? Perhaps
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he harbors some gene for resilience, or experienced
a traumatic avian childhood with blood-drenched
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scenes that he can’t get out of his head: witnessing
a bald eagle being shot from the sky, or seeing
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his father murdered?  Hundreds of articles
documenting the intelligence of crows and cousins
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of crows, feathered beings worthy of scientific literature,
of behavioral antics that defy description: Betty,
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a New Caledonian, picks up a piece of wire
in her cage, uses an object to bend it, like a junior
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engineer, into a hooked tool that she uses to lift
a chunk of scrumptious pig heart up into her beak.
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Instead, I have the special crow, the one who doesn’t
fit the mold, the one who grew up just like me.
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John Dorroh’s poetry has appeared in about 75 journals, including Feral, Dime Show Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Os Pressan, and Selcouth Station. He also writes short fiction and the occasional rant.
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Two Poems by Mike Wilson

coupler
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Castle Keep
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I never saw it coming.
It doesn’t have a face,
is known through absence
of chunks and parts,
small paving stones of ordinary
gone missing.
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Empty boxcars uncoupled
still rolling with momentum
from a life lived, carrying him
through days, a click
clack along an old track,
a train without a schedule.
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At first preoccupied, then reoccupied
by patterns he no longer owns,
fragments of stories, twisted
paragraphs clutched, the abridged
version of his life, shorthand
dictated, no longer transcribed.
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Alone in gray that could turn black,
becoming the prey of his own mind,
the timbre of words
not tempered by love
uttered with prompts, delivered to
an audience of tissues and tears.
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I buried him, broken,
and shuffled along, waiting
until they made me sell the house
and settled me in assisted living
with meals, a bed, and no meaning,
but everyone is kind.
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The Golden Years
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She calls the nurse,
pressing the button nobody hears.
She calls family,
they let it go to voicemail,
waiting to see if she will die.
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She doesn’t…
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She calls to God,
presents her argument,
makes her plea,
waits for the judge’s gavel
to strike the bench with a ruling.
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They stick her in a home.
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Night fears
make conjugal visits.
She calls the aide
but can’t remember why,
can’t remember the girl’s name,
but pretends she does.
The girl leaves
when she thinks she’s done.
It must be nice.
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The same with visitors –
muscle memory
of social interaction
kicking in the tune
but not the words.
All these strangers
who are like fishing bobs
bobbing up, bobbing down,
looking at their watches.
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Mike Wilson’s work has appeared in magazines including Cagibi Literary Journal, Stoneboat, The Aurorean, and The Ocotillo Review, and in Mike’s book, “Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic,” (Rabbit House Press, 2020), political poetry for a post-truth world. Mike resides in Central Kentucky. www.mikewilsonwriter.com
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Two Poems by James Tyler

cumberland
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Cumberland River, 2am
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There’s a latitude and longitude in Tennessee
where I step in the dirty Cumberland River,
mud between toes, those brittle bones.
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It goes from here to the Queen City,
winds its filth, memories of Civil War
and white paddle steamers.
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Wind sings songs on the surface
to rainbow trout and walleye,
to the bones of drowned lovers.
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White lights shine on black water,
reflect the last silver quarter minted 1964.
The Queen City is asleep now,
nestled against the Cumberland River, 2am.
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There must be some equation
explaining how the river bends into nothing—
darkness a heavy, bottom-dwelling catfish—
darkness that betrays no moon tonight.
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I could slip nude into these black waters,
but it’s too cold and the current might take me away—
for I am a man and not Ophelia,
for there is no bard to orate about me but me.
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Somewhere around here I wish starlight could sink
all the way. I wish I could play the flute,
coax sleeping fish away from the reeds
so they could follow me into my own dreams.
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My father taught me to fish these waters,
how to hook a night crawler and cast a line,
but I never got the gumption to gut one.
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Put your ear to these waters and they’ll sing
a whole history, how sun and star burn in turn,
and maybe they’ll tell the truth, or just a little lie.
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Blade of Grass
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O to be a blade of grass, trampled upon
by the soles of a thousand feet,
to fall victim to the gardener’s blade
in the morning before the spring storm.
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Dear wind, your northern breath sour
from snowstorms and icy midnights,
spreads pregnant pollen across meadows,
the whorehouses of nature.
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I am not a wildflower, red columbine or harebell,
just a blade of green that has grown too tall,
quite worthless in the eyes of flower pickers,
but am I not one of God’s children, equal
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to lily and rose, though not fragrant or fair,
free to be pissed upon by your purebred dog
and forgotten like one of a thousand banquets
whose mother is dirt and water, seed and sun?
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The double rainbow is essential to my soul
in a mundane world whose colors are black and grey,
where I kiss the dew with tongue and a force
that can cut this blade, this insignificant flower
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whose song remains unsung in the season
who becomes golden in its turn and spun,
becomes humble food for cattle and horse,
forsaken by me, yet still touched by God.
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James Tyler earned a BA in English from Austin Peay State University. He has been published in such journals as Chiron Review, Cape Rock, Doubly Mad, and Poetry Quarterly. He currently resides in Nashville, TN.

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Two Poems by Ace Boggess

park light
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Listening to James Brown on Pandora Radio
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Thing to do while lying in bed, embracing
as slack body squeezes slack—
post-sleep, pre-awakened. Forget sex—
hard demand of it James Brown’s words &
rhythm urge like hundreds of electric pulses
in the creature reviving. Let them
carry you on a pilgrimage
where what you seek has less importance
than what you see, experience—
all music, even songs you loathe
which fill your dreams with calamities—
stir something you’ve forgotten:
maybe it’s the funk you’re in
his funk will bring you out of.
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“And What Is the Point of Walking
When There Is Nowhere You Have to Be?”
                        —Katherine Kilalea, Ok, Mr. Field
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let me be lazy without the word tattooed on my chest.
it’s hot outside. say it. yes, it’s scorching, humid.
asphalt melts my tennis shoes. my skin
slicks as though I showered in cooking oil.
when spacemen left their heaven, they left the oven on.
think light, & there is light—too much, I’m blind.
let me be lazy one afternoon with nothing to do,
no roads to cross, goods to accumulate.
I could, if forced, stroll slowly to the corner shop,
except I see no corners, only curves
that bend to monotony. let me be lazy.
let me self-medicate for aches & lack of sleep,
lulled by the computer light until my eyes
let me remember why I came.
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Ace Boggess photo
Ace Boggess is author of five books of poetry—Misadventure, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, Ultra Deep Field, The Prisoners, and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled—and the novels States of Mercy and A Song Without a Melody. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Mid-American Review, Rattle, River Styx, and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. His sixth collection, Escape Envy, is forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press in 2021.
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Another Life by Abriana Jette

seagull
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Another Life
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I met him before the wild of the present
another life entirely
(each century our story widening)
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I dreamt it might have happened
grew frightened at the untold unraveling
felt the ocean sweep my body
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bone by bone to dust wept quietly
woke up another person entirely
leaving a dozen centuries widening
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behind me the wild present
and in every retrospection
in every life I have been divided in
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beyond the confines of this body
though still a bodily calling
his voice in every version
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abrianna
The poetry of Abriana Jette has been featured in The Seneca Review, PLUME Poetry Journal, Poetry New Zealand and many other places.
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Two Poems by Edward Lee

feet
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Memory
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This soil beneath my feet
is as your body,
spread before me
wounded by age
and decay, tumbled
by strong winds
and harsh rains,
disappearing with every passing season,
as you do
from my memory,
the last of you
staining clothes
I no longer wear.
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Two Countries
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In the country
that lives
in the marrow of my bones
I am a free man,
prone to daydreams
and gentle lies,
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while in the country
that beats beneath my steps,
I am a man bound
by all the tales
I have told,
and the tales to come,
those that I must tell
for their ancestral untruths
to remain alive
and true.
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Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll.  His debut poetry collection “Playing Poohsticks On Ha’Penny Bridge” was published in 2010. He is currently working towards a second collection. His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com
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A Familiar Street, Unknown by Brian Rihlmann

sidewalk
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A Familiar Street, Unknown
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Sometime, walk a street
you’ve only driven before,
maybe on your way
back and forth to work.
Overlook nothing—
notice every pothole and sidewalk crack.
Notice people’s yards—
their statues and symbols,
and whether they grow grass or vegetables,
or weeds, or nothing.
And notice the people, too—
do they smile and wave, or at least nod,
or just look away?
Notice how easily the roots
of trees shatter curbs,
driveways, and all our plans.
Notice how easily their flesh
absorbs the rusty spikes of a barbwire fence.
Notice what gathers curbside
and in drainage ditches.
You may find rare flowers
among road grit and broken bottles,
growing from piles of dead seeds.
You may find a still glowing ember,
and something to fan it with.
You may find a memorial
with candles burned down
to shapeless lumps and a child’s note
scrawled in purple crayon—
We miss you Daddy.
Read everything you see,
everything you find on the ground.
Read graffiti and street signs.
Read the chalked messages
of neighborhood children.
Discarded paperbacks and high school essays.
Arrest warrants, medical reports,
missing person flyers.
A gospel tract flapping in the gutter
like a wounded dove.
A crumpled love letter—
unwrap it carefully as a gift
and read the words that failed
to sway a too human heart.
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brian
Brian Rihlmann lives and writes in Reno, Nevada. His poetry has appeared in many magazines, including The Rye Whiskey Review, Fearless, Heroin Love Songs, Chiron Review and The Main Street Rag. His latest collection, “Night At My Throat,” (2020) was published by Pony One Dog Press.
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Three Poems by Eric Fisher Stone

jav
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Javelina Aubade
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Javelina (Tayassu tajacu) also known as collared peccary, are medium-sized animals that look similar to a wild boar. They have mainly short coarse salt and pepper colored hair, short legs, and a pig-like nose.
—Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
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Chomping prickly pear, cholla spines
in ripping kisses, you clop earth
with your hooves’ tender bells.
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Sauntering campgrounds, your snout
delights at the dirt’s pungent nest
when dawn splits through mesas.
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I love your humid musk, your crescent moon
circling your neck, your rage snarling
with teeth that could tear my tendons.
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Rain gorges the ground, creosote
perfumes laughing toads when you funnel
the world’s voluptuous juices
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into your mouth, your joy buoyant
as coconuts. I take your picture
and wave goodbye, my hooved love,
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huffing hedgehog, silver jackfruit,
mesquite marauder, milking the plunder
of nopal. Alone, nightly in bed,
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I conjure your oval bulk and taste
your absence in the dark, grieving
that wild javelinas live no longer
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than ten years and you might have died.
Your bread loaf shape leaps naked
in the wind, so happy, and free.
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The Immanence of God
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Harvester ants boiled from red mounds
like witches’ venomous breasts.
Texas pastures plumed bluebonnets
to the back of Grandpa’s land, a creek bed
where water moccasins opened
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the fatal flowers of their mouths.
The thicket guarded an enchanted kingdom.
Ogres and dragons lumbered
past chicken coops, the shed we saw
through briars clearly inhabited
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by green gnomes with juniper beards.
Thorns jammed the jade-leaved threshold
to the other world. Gnat-clogged skies,
earth lubed with snails wouldn’t satisfy
our lust for fantasy. Later I realized
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specks of dust are planets whirring
in shafts of light, those trees weren’t borders
to the sublime but the sublime itself.
Wild plums blister sweetness
on the only world where love is real.
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Bullfrog Witness
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My cheeks billow yellow sacks
with words creaking like the shed door
the old man opens to my world.
The pond’s nectar of minnows, clumps
of cow paddies, skies blue as damselflies
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light earth’s smelly circle. The old man
slashes grass, riding a red metal horse
that snarls gasoline anger.
I mushroom myself with air
to frighten water snakes
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and bleat wet warnings to other males
this liquid acre is my nation.
Goats in the west pasture don’t know
what I am, the neighbor’s boys
ignore my heart shaped body
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pluming in a green stew
to new ponds over the barbed wire.
Youths romp innocent as wild grapes
through mesquite thickets, playing chase
with sticks, dreaming human dreams.
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Children grow tall with sorrows
weeping in hot buffalo grass, crisp fields
beyond my water which must be cruel.
Angry fathers have ripe red faces.
Their country is wide, yet they’re not free.
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eric picture
Eric Fisher Stone lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He received his MFA in creative writing and the environment from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. His poems have appeared in many journals, and his first full length poetry collection, The Providence of Grass was published in 2018 by Chatter House Press. His second poetry collection, Animal Joy is forthcoming from WordTech Editions in 2021. He now works as a writing tutor at Tarrant County College, Northwest Campus.

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