Isaac Pickell

a bird surprises two worms
debating the definition of early

you are being heckled by someone
on steel stilts and there is nothing

you can do about it, so what else
is left but to look up? we deserve

more elegant metaphors. Like,
if our words were meant to last

we’d sing ink & paper
wouldn’t burn so easy.

There are so many people in the world
doing so many little things all at once

memory carries forward unlike any other
way of knowing, spreading its patina of
mystery through every one of our bricks
& mortar, waves & flaw; recollection is

truly, delicately insane, bridging over
an emptiness as if there's another side.
right now, right this second I am not
crossing a bridge. right now, today,

I may slow down; buds to flower
crossing over like sunrise’s amber
ice. there's room, here, to depart
from re/membering as a project

toward growth, inviting instead
a single blossom to be measured
against the glowful teaked light
there to embrace, never again

to be the blurried of last year’s
bloom. what times do the trees
know it is, anyway? against this
ground, I am paltry, ridiculous,

lavender: suddenly abstract
& fluid like—not like,
lavender. and what isn’t
lavender. we got our own

sense of time & isn’t it kind of
my body to remind me.

How many ways did we make our mark before
we found the worst possible one & stuck with it

a forest is a map & a business plan, indelible

on the bark the moment
we recognized we could burn

wood & call it technology, draw our own
clear horizon from what was only smudge.

Even I who was there I don’t believe

For all the muscles in my mouth,
from all the answers to everything

to the mute earth,
can you really say people

care what people have been
through? Of course we are

all dying all over
again, rolled under

the same asteroid
in different frames:

affected hell,
synthetic hell,

hollow hell,
prefab hells,

our garbage can
is now on fire

& rude little arson boys
curl their striated fingers

from this mess of peat
to pretend wealth’s wreckage

might bloom. To germinate
in the ersatz soot as fern,

say: some secrets
are decades

gone and still they call us
secrets, say: no one

is supposed to know the answer
to everything, say: our lungs

refuse any other name.


we’re warned not to lose our form
to monstrosity even as we train
for the monstrous, shrouding snarls
and saber teeth: my best anti-racist friend
tells me how John Brown fought then
found his end on a boat; I remember the dead
aren’t lonely, the lonely are not dead, even
lost at sea: on the Ferry, in the churn.
but we’re warned of showing too much.
I start warning again when I tell my best
anti-racist friend I never much minded
loneliness, it just feels like the state
of possibility. what a touching indictment
of character or just the circular logic
of swarming bees. there’s never enough
time to mourn on the way to growth: we
surrendered to the jobless market, the war-
less wars, the banality of sorrows you held
onto like broken-off splinters; I’d rather be
a broken promise than another one-day
delivery of reprisals and last gasps. but,
the mind’s just packaged produce, picked
chilled trucked washed and overnighted.
it can be best to go through the motions
when it’s been so long since you’ve gone
anywhere at all: my best anti-racist friend
says she never sees the beast in any of us;
I know my camouflage is to blame I know
I remain afraid to look away from gift
horses crafting a monsterless me from nothing
but scraps, to take the hammer to a pipe cleaner.

Isaac Pickell is a biracial, passing poet & PhD student in Detroit, where he teaches and studies the borderlands of Black literature. He is the author of the chapbook everything saved will be last (Black Lawrence Press, 2021) and It’s not over once you figure it out, a full-length collection forthcoming from Black Ocean in 2023. His most recent work can be found in Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, and Passages North. Isaac’s taken a seat in all fifty states and has so much to look forward to.

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Founded in 2020, Three Fold is an independent quarterly based in Detroit that presents exploratory points of view on arts, culture, and society in addition to original works in various media, including visual art, literature, film and the performing arts. We solicit and commission contributions from artists, writers, and activists around the world. Three Fold is a publication of Trinosophes Projects, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Three Fold recognizes, supports, and advocates for the sovereignty of Michigan's twelve federally-recognized Indian nations, for historic Indigenous communities in Michigan, for Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and for those who were forcibly removed from their Homelands. We operate on occupied territories called Waawiiyaataanong, named by the Anishinaabeg and including the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe (Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa), and Bodewatomi (Potawatomi) peoples. We hold to commit to Indigenous communities in Waawiiyaataanong, their elders, both past and present, and future generations.