S. J. Dunning

"They call each other 'Milkshake' and 'Hot Pocket,"'" Trinh Sari Nguyen

“They call each other ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Hot Pocket,'” Trinh Sari Nguyen

The Golden Hour

Pop your hip out with your blue dress
(the color of my pen). Turn
your torso toward that building.

Walk toward me now,
your hands at your sides,
your hands on your dress (my pen).
Smile. You’re doing really good.

Now stop. Put your hands on your hips
and kind of laugh. Look back
over your shoulder at me. Take
your hair and pull
it forward. Take
that hand, push
your elbow
toward the wall
I’m facing.

I want you
walking away now. Fix
your dress. Just
like that. Give me
a long shadow.
Yes, you can
smile again.

Keep walking.
Just like that.
Make the most
of this light

before it changes.
Beautiful.

Whenever you’re ready,
I’m ready.

The City of Destiny

In Tacoma, John Henry doesn’t drive steel. His heart hasn’t given out. He restores classic cars in the basement of USA of Yesterday, alumnus of penitentiaries where he served time for crimes he didn’t commit. His house burned down when he was a child. His silver tongue ushered bullies who bruised him. What became of Francine, and the other women who loved him so deeply? He can only wonder. But now, he wears a suit most days, and he’s proud to have found the Good Lord’s graces: immaculate leather, sheen of chrome, headlights of the old blue Chevy I felt cruising my soul as I swiped the face of his phone, and everything. Maybe what he didn’t do was kill a man. Maybe each door he hinges on Saint Helens is a ghost of the one his long arms never pried open against its will. The truth eluded his persecutors. It had no audience until now. I empathize. Now, his art is for sale in galleries, and more than one man has told him to write his story down. I envy him. Tacoma: The City of Destiny his t-shirt said the last time I saw him. In his hand was Jung. This is synchronicity, I said, after he recited a poem I needed desperately but can’t remember now to save my life. What phenomenon of energy dressed him that day is what I want to know, and why I haven’t seen him since. I want to give him my old Cadillac. I want to give him a poem back.

These Boots

Make me want a motorcycle under me,
a badass machine full of gasoline.
I want scars. I want to scar.
I want to be packing
something sharp.
I want patrons of this bar
to look at my leather even longer
when I tap my ring against the pint glass I’m sipping from,
smile, say sorry,
I’m taken—too late, sucker.
These boots make me marvel
at how short that distance is
between any lips, hips, heels
and my own, how easy it would be to cross
the one I love, the one for whom I’m waiting
to push open the door
of this god forsaken tavern already,
this heart he’s dared to etch
with his name. I want to know
what love really means, and mercy,
in boots like these
I’ve been breaking.


S.J. Dunning lives in Tacoma, Washington. Her writing has also appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Flyway, Dogwood, and YES! Magazine. She is currently writing a memoir about emptying and cleaning foreclosed homes with her father throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Trinh Sari Nguyen is a Houston-based artist. See her full bio here.