Kami Westhoff's work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including Meridian, Phoebe, Third Coast, Carve, Sundog Lit, decomp, Prism Review, The Pinch, Redivider, and Passages North. She teaches Creative Writing at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. 

Elizabeth Vignali is an optician and writer in Bellingham, Washington. Her poems have appeared in various publications, including Willow Springs, Crab Creek Review, Natural Bridge, Nimrod, and Menacing Hedge. Her chapbook, Object Permanence, is available from Finishing Line Press.

​​S T A R S   I ' L L   N E V E R   S E E  

                                                                                  (Elizabeth Vignali)

Feel sorry for yourself, tongueless fish, 
but know this: you are free as I am not. 
You river through schools
of threadfin jack and sanddabs 
and gesticulating fingers 
of blue seagrass. You watch 
the moon with your tarnished eye.

My life is spent within 
your slick glistening. A poor 
stand-in for muscle and taste, 
the stunt double 
for a dumb organ. 
My mother always said 
You can be whatever you want 
when you grow up, 
as long as it’s a tongue. 

A parasite must find wonders 
in the small. 
The syncopation of saltwater 
and blood, the red-denned 
oriental carpet mapped across 
your mouthfloor. High above
my small head, your white bones 
vault in cathedral arches,
Gothic arrows that point 
toward stars I’ll never see. 

K A M I   W E S T H O F F   A N D   E L I Z A B E T H   V I G N A L I

​​H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L

O N C E   W E   W E R E   U S  

                                                          (Kami Westhoff)

It is true that I feared you before I knew you.
I’d heard of your slick-gilled entry, migration
to tongue once your body matured, the pain
that leaves one speechless.  But you were as subtle
as oxygen when I breathed you in, and the clawed
clench that coaxed blood from my tongue
more suggestion than demand. And once it was gone,
your body rooted in the gut of my throat, relief.
Imagine graphing the topography of tongue
from the fleshy arch of the pallet, craving texture
instead of taste, understanding the dimension of flesh,
muscle, and bone only by its resistance and surrender
to the tip of the teeth.
I know you will leave me soon. Maybe you’ll slip
into the sea, rest among the slick fins of eelgrass.  
Or retreat into the pit of my stomach,
where you’ll disintegrate into my last supper.
It doesn’t matter which. Once we were us 
we could never be anything but. 

I will swim along, tongueless, ignore the silver flick  
of lives waiting to be ended, starve in slow motion, 
until the sea surfaces me into a flash of pale 

for the sky to swallow.