Anita Olivia Koester

Contest - Prose Poem

Anita Olivia Koester is a poet, writer, educator, and author of four chapbooks. She holds an MFA from the University of Virginia. Her poems have won the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award for Emerging Writers, amongst others. Her poetry has been published in Pleiades, Mid-American Review, The Journal, TriQuarterly, Florida Review, Muzzle Magazine, and elsewhere. She is the founder of the book reviewing blog Fork & Page. Her full-length manuscript was a finalist for the Alice James Book Award and a runner-up for the Dorset Prize. Find her website at:


Absence Archive

I could spend a lifetime building your archive, and still it would fit into a small box the way your ashes once did. Once you threw away your life, we threw away your things, not knowing that even the book of disguises might have told us something about the shape of your face. The gun, the shape of your hands. The gemology guide, something of your beliefs. Perhaps, inside it, you would have underlined the definition of allotrope: The capacity of the same element or compound to exist in two or more conditions with different properties. Carbon crystalizes into diamond in one system, graphite in another, and in its amorphous state: charcoal. The way love can crystalize into hate. The body into ash. The absent body into something I can feel with both my hands: this bronze baby shoe bearing your name.

I wrote this poem while attempting to build a small archive about my father who was arrested a few months after I was born for bank robbery and subsequently incarcerated for 12 years. He died quickly after his release, so there was little to find, though I held tightly to each bit of uncovered information. This poem speaks to the regret I feel about getting rid of the few fraught things of his I had as a teenager, as well as how writing these poems about my father is like chasing after a ghost.