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Kilter - Julie Benesh


We all feel off kilter. It used to be fewer,

of us, so now there is more consensus.

Is that an improvement? Discuss

Can we agree on what is on kilter,

that sense of rightness?

(Differentiate between rightness

and righteousness.) Discuss

Remember all those things we used to say and do?

Were we a) quaint, b) evil or c) merely ignorant?

Is it offensive for us to refer to ourselves

as any or all of these? Is it offensive not to?

Is it possible to offend oneself? Discuss

We used to clean our plates in honor of

the starving children across the globe,

but now they live only a few miles

away, so we care less. Is consuming excess food

less of a waste than throwing it away? More? Discuss

We worry about hurting the earth

but are we really only hurting

ourselves, meaning one another? Must we earth

mothers infantilize Mother Earth?

Is quality assisted living available for her? Discuss

Is our tolerance for intolerance

expanding or contracting?

Which is preferable? Discuss

When did we become capitalist handmaidens

to all the wrong kinds of intangibles? Discuss

What if what we are inherently good

at is not inherently good? Discuss

Therapy used to instill hope. Now we have “hope

abatement": (e.g., your fiance is not coming back.

Your dead wife. Your former profession.

Immortality will not be attained during your lifespan,

nor will time travel.) Is this progress? Discuss


The winners write history.

Now they repeat:

we are sorry we stole everything,

and for the inadequacy of our apology

with infinite recursion, i.e., ad infinitum.

Let’s straighten out our argument, our sentence.

Let's pretend like it matters. Let's make it fit the crime.

Can we write wrongs (right)?


An accounting:

I had a religion called literature; a religion

called romance; called activism; career.

I used to believe a new hair product

could change my life the way fragrance

changes a mood. There is evidence,

empirical, for this:, confirmation bias,

hedonic treadmills, feedback loops.


Until: grief-struck, midlife orphan, divorced against my will.

Out of work through no fault of my own. Or was it?

--one never knows, or is the last to know.

Easy to think I was living the wrong life,

slightly off. Then, that ripple animated.

No assemblage would endorse my conviction,

but I didn't need stakeholder approval.

Past/present/future collapsed. The earth

tilted springward of its own accord.

I felt it lurch, unsettle, right, resettle,

redeeming the problematic creature:

Fallibility/Unreliable Narration/Weakness

of Character/Permanent Imperfection.

The grace that came before

and after the joy, making it breathe


Julie Benesh is author of the chapbook About Time and the forthcoming full-length poetry collection Initial Conditions and has published work in Tin House, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Another Chicago Magazine, JMWW, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program and recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Read more at


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