The HyperTexts

Austin MacRae

Austin MacRae was born in 1979 and raised on 40 acres of family farmland in Cortland, N.Y. He currently resides in Freeville, NY, and teaches English at Tompkins Cortland Community College. He is the author of two chapbook collections, The Second Rose (FootHills Publishing, 2001) and Graceways (Exot Books, 2008). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as 32 Poems, Atlanta Review, The Cortland Review, The Barefoot Muse, Birmingham Poetry Review, Verse Wisconsin, The Raintown Review, Stone Canoe, Unsplendid, Rattle, Measure, Pivot, The Chimaera, Lucid Rhythms, Pivot, The Formalist, 14x14: the lean sonnet zine and elsewhere. He has been named finalist for the Morton Marr Poetry Prize and has received a Pushcart Prize nomination. His work has appeared in several anthologies, including Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets, edited by William Baer (University of Evansville, 2005), The Book of Villanelles, edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali (Everyman’s Library, 2012), and The Best of the Barefoot Muse, edited by Anna Evans (Barefoot Muse Press, 2011). His work has also been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology 2010. He is also a musician who plays with The Brothers MacRae, a Celtic and bluegrass duo formed with his brother, Devon.

Christmas Cactus

It brightened on the windowsill, alive
in the half-lit pane of winter, a bachelor’s gift
I gave myself: defiant, rugged, fit
to burst with spines against the thought of love.

It grew dark green and seasoned as an army;
its arms grew other arms and formed a wall
of jagged leaves that looked impenetrable.
I thought if I touched a leaf it would disarm me

but watched in shock as spines collapsed like rubber
knives against my thumb. Now it’s June.
The sill is littered with magenta blooms.
Silly, but it’s the blooming I remember,

chill mornings, waking with a touch of grief,
picking out among the winterkill
the soldiers rising, as if by secret signal,
and pulling out their bright pink handkerchiefs.

Originally Published in Graceways

Camera Obscura

How best to hold a Master’s mastered light
that flickers deep in pearl, a milklit face?
His paintings stun: complex perspectives right,
well-framed, with every fold and thread in place.
Over and over, within this structured space,
he nails the tough proportions, deftly blocks
the naked eye’s distortions with such grace
of form that every stricture clicks and locks.
Like him, I shoot life through a dovetailed box,
a darkened room. Containment is the key
to breaking through. I watch what it unlocks
inside the mirror’s polished glass, and see
if like the great, meticulous Vermeer,
a blooming world pours through my pinhole, clear.

Originally Published in Stone Canoe

Mountain Dulcimer

Raised from homegrown ash,
it holds a skeleton of song
in its coffin-body, a strummed lament
that stunned the deer and bobcat
out of running wild so long ago.
Stock-still, ears pricked to the pluck
of gut reverberating down
Mt. Roderick’s lush green gown, they knew
the world had changed. Such magnitude
of change they’d felt before: first crackle
of fire, or sudden whiz of arrow
splitting the air above their heads.
But this sound pinned their hearts in thrall
forever, nailed them to the core.
So take a pick and strike a note
so sharp and pure and crisp it cuts
to the marrow and bids you hearken back
to nights before our steel existence
when music burned along the grain
of a soundboard tap-tuned to perfection,
to the morning when a maker knocked
against a trunk and heard a note
from deep within and knew he’d found
the secret of the wood, a hidden
spring that ushered in an unheard tune.

Originally Published in Atlanta Review

Catch and Release

My eyes are snagged, reeled in by what I've caught:
a thrashing silence. Slipping from my hand,
he swings away yet holds me, sightline taut—
a lidless eye's unflinching reprimand.
I grip the shank with long nose pliers' teeth
and twist it, trying not to make a mess
of his mouth. The same eye bulges underneath
the strain of flesh carved up by clumsiness.
At last the barb slips out of his gaping O
and he cuts the surface like a blade, a shiver
of light-scales with the current, lost in a flow
of silver, leaving me to roam upriver
where I’ll try to shake his fathomless look
as my throat constricts around a treble hook.

Originally Published in Stone Canoe

Scarecrow and Tin-Man


I thought the sky was always blue, for blue
was simple for a sack nailed to a stick.
I scanned for crows and felt the wind pass through
my head again. No change. I longed to pick
another shade, but blue was blue. I cried.
My problems were the same: no brain, all heart,
the rotten burlap of the crucified,
the straw-thoughts of a fool. I fell apart
and was reborn. I shivered when a girl
showed up, a storm blew in and I looked higher,
deeper than the sun, the sky a swirl
of browns and grays, a sudden streak of fire,
knowing I could hardly bear to see
the world in all its strange complexity.


Rain today, ta-dum. So sad to see
the world gone gray, the shade of humdrum life.
The days have been ta-dum since Emerald City.
Ta-dum, ta-dum. I haven’t found a wife.
Here, touch my chest: true love is just a dream
that Oz installed, an emptiness he ripped
from a million other men. Can you feel the seam
where he cut in? Does your finger catch the blip,
ta-dum, the tick, ta-dum, the beating part?
I won’t give in. I’ll take this inner tin
and march through rain until my sorrows start
spilling over the brim. It must have been
another man who stopped, his body numb,
another world that stiffened him, ta-dum.

Originally Published in Graceways

The Caricaturist

I ain’t no Leonardo, but I know
there’s always something darker down below
the surface. Just because I leave it out
don’t mean that I don’t feel it lurking: doubt,
anger, sadness, every shade of loss
that you can dream of takes a seat across
from me and looks me squarely in the face.
The trick is knowing where to leave some space
for light to shine. You got to find a spark
that catches, flickers, gobbles up the dark
around the eyes, the worry lines that run
across the brow—the rest’s old-fashioned fun.

There’s things you can’t leave out that make you slip.
This shy girl had a mole above her lip.
I made her smile, drew her out of her shell,
and then I fell—plumb silly, but I fell
in love with it, and it was like the mole
was her—her spark, my ticket to her soul.
I drew it extra-large and she got red,
so I whipped her up a pretty rose instead.
That night we rocked my van with Sabbath blaring
to the stars, and afterwards, staring
straight into her eyes, I kissed it good.
Maybe she saw herself the way she should,
not so serious. Maybe art can clear
the eyes, or am I whistling Dixie here?

Well, there you are. You like it? Good. It’s free.
A little gift for listening to me.

In every crowd there’s folks whose light has died.
I crack a joke to light a spark inside,
but nothing will ignite. It’s then I know
the session just ain’t working. When I show
them to themselves, they mutter something hot
and leave. It don’t end up like that a lot,
thank god, but even once a month’s a failure.
For years I’ve hung the rejects in my trailer.
You never know when eyes’ll start to burn.
I try to keep the faith that they’ll return,
but some nights all I feel is black around
me, snuffed-out eyes of folks who never found
the light inside. There’s times I turn away
or I’d get snuffed out, too. Some nights I lay
in bed and get all swallowed up by night,
so I get up and try to draw the light
inside my mirror, the flaws I can’t erase,
but for the life of me, I’ve lost my face.

Originally Published in The Raintown Review

Bee Season

for my mother

Nectar-driven day burns down to evening
as light-swarms crumble to ash, vanish with day,
and endless summer, at its height, is leaving.

The goldenrod, from gold to rust, is grieving,
and sky, gunmetal blue, weathers to gray.
Nectar-driven day burns down to evening.

There must still be a teeming hive, we sing,
where mothers show their sons an easier way
of leaving summer at its height of leaving.

A door must open high up in the ceiling
of the sky, a crack through which bees slip away
as nectar-driven day burns down to evening

and life splits open like a trunk, heaving
sweetness on the earth. We stop and pray
for endless summer, but amber light is leaving,

tearing itself from limbs and leaves. The breathing
canopies, stripped down now, whisper: stay.
But nectar-driven day burns down to evening,
and endless summer, at its height, is leaving.

Originally Published in Measure

The HyperTexts