Alexa Jane Wolff


My brother was a welder. He talked about it constantly.
One of his great, true loves. When he’s gone,
I learn to hold a welding gun. To make lawn art or decorations,
the instructor explains why most women are here.

I hold an arc of light like I’ve never been scorched before.
Like my brother didn’t wear black holes like moths had struck.
Gloves so thick I forget there are fingers inside.
Shield so dark you’re blind until firing.

And when metal meets metal the gun swerves
so you have to guess which way it will go before it even knows itself.

Welders’ intuition.

I hold an arc of light audacious, like the belief I deserve to exist.
Like the air I’ve stolen from bees and neighbors.
Like the space I take up to sit.

My brother was a welder. A hunter. He knew every part of every gun I ever met.
He was so good at naming things, a skill I don’t inherit.

I yelp at the laser cutter. Flinch out crooked welds across cobbled farm bolts.
I make no beautiful yard art.
I just wanted to feel what he felt.



Thirty-seven days after my brother disappears
into the marsh,

a classmate shares an updated parabolic denotation
of the grief trajectory.

Knowing I have only emerged from “shock” to “anger”
5 days prior

             (when I laid one hand where I could only guess an arm should be
                          covered in the blue funeral paper)

I am so mad — that I write a poem to every tick along the path
to “healthy grief integration.”

Like I’m ticking off bubbles on my Iowa Tests of Basic Skills
again, and we’re in the church basement, and

children drape from my grandmother’s sugarmaple
small & shrill & the children are us.

& we’re stealing apples from the neighbors
and hurling our bodies, bikes and all, to the wind.

We’re drunk on New Year’s, while my baby brothers turn
21 in matching suits.

We’re going full speed down the river
on the jonboat.

We’re grilling, we’re bonfires, the whole damn test charred over,
and I get so damn the-pencil-snaps mad

That I’m all the way back on “shock” again.



I hold a stone and turn it over
like the River legs that scatter the marsh
the secrets they hold like breath
or the glitter fog of a prayer
we cut through on kayaks to find you–

you should be here.

A wildflower moves the highway
and my feet become anchors
in some ugly Earth.

I hold stone highways like they might move if I let go.
Like the River even feels anchors or jonboats.
Like breath or glitter even matter.

They hold you under.

I drop a wildflower to learn how a body floats.
It turns to its back, its legs on the trees, its feet
like fog I can’t hold any longer.
Is that an elbow? I thought I saw an elbow.

I turn over like moving could hold you here
like you’re fog, glitter, anything that small.
The highway plants a seam across the earth,
cut like lightning bug currents, stale prayers,
all legs and no anchor.

You’re way above wildflowers, now,
your limbs like lightning’s pulse.

Your legs never held you anywhere
like we’d imagined they should
like your fog-littered lights slipped
up the currents that freed you.

The currents we cut through to find you.