I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.

September 1, 2017

Anders Carlson-Wee and Kai Carlson-Wee

Remember those two cute guys standing at a booth who slowed me down at AWP? Well, here they are. Meet Anders (short hair) and Kai (long hair)–this month a double feature… and another beautiful book from Diode Editions.

Mercy Songs is a collaborative chapbook that, in alternating poems, tells the story of brotherhood. In 1:38, this trailer sets the stage for the wonderful world of Anders and Kai Carlson-Wee.


In an interview at 32 Poems,  Anders describes Mercy Songs as having a “back-and-forth structure–one poem by me, one poem by Kai–like the call-and-response form of prayer. The poems aren’t co-written; rather, they’re organized to offer a dialogue.”

I’m not going to take you through all twenty-two poems, but I’d like to give you a feel for this alive thing Kai and Anders have created.

Kai opens the conversation with “Soo-Line Yard.” The first words, “All night we listened to trains in the dark.”

Anders responds with “Dynamite,” describing a game the brothers used to play. Its last lines are

I say a hammer isn’t dynamite.
He reminds me that everything is dynamite.

In Kai’s “Deer Bones,” we visit their days of lighting trashcans on fire and setting off flares in train yards.

What became / of those abbreviated years? Now they slump / inside these passing days like sand.

Anders’ “Fire” picks up that thread and goes large, to the “time we didn’t know how to make it.”

Kai’s “Northtown Choir” begins, “When the stories are finished, the fire burned down / to a puddle of glittering coals…” Five lines in, his brother appears. “My brother / comes in with a railroad spike on a turned-over / bucket of Schwans.”

In Anders’ “Birdcalls,” the brothers are back in a train yard communicating by birdcalls–one “for if you saw something and another / for if you heard.”

In Kai’s “Posers,” he and Anders and a girl named Saturday huddle under a blue-plastic awning.

Nodding / along to the sound of my brother’s voice. / Trying out the words in my own mouth until / I am finally able to sing.

Anders’ short and strong “Lodestar” warns us. “Nothing you’ll find more orphan than the heart.”

You take your bearings by a belt of pulsing stars.
You turn to reckon with the one that doesn’t move.

But the brothers are always moving. And Kai’s “Jesse James Days,” the first poem in the collection to exceed one page, is the poem we’re primed to want at this juncture, the poem that brings us to now.

If I called to you now. If I carried your name to the skateparks
and railroad temples of rust, would you come to me, brother,
wherever you are in your faded arrangements,
your growing away from the past?

Anders, we get old. We divide ourselves up into seasons,
digressions, failed attractions, glorified versions
of jaded and lost men we promised
to never become. Do you remember the Indian
selling us dusters and turtle skulls under the bridge?

And what do we feel now,
watching the years float slowly by, as if in the skin
of another man?

In Anders’ “Between Boulders,” the boy is alone, and yet the aloneness means something about the two of them.

We say I feel / so alone, and we mean we don’t know how / to communicate.

At this point in the narrative, the book moves away from the foundation of brotherhood to the self as stranger in Kai’s “Man in the Glass” and to the homeless person as Lord in Anders’ “The Low Passions.”

The twelfth poem in the collection is the title poem–Kai’s “Mercy Songs.”

He heard them in the weight room, in the white
expanse of the courtyard covered in snow,
the way it reminded him always of Sundays, waking up late in the empty apartment at noon,
pulling his socks on, holding a can
of Steele Reserve to his chest. He heard them

In that interview at 32 Poems, Anders says, “‘Mercy’ is the idea of accepting ‘others’ through a process of seeking to understand (i.e., compassion), which requires a radical leap forward… we have a word for where we’re hoping to land: empathy.”

Anders Carlson-Wee‘s first book, The Low Passions, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton. His work has appeared in PloughsharesNew England ReviewAGNIThe Missouri ReviewThe Southern Review, and Narrative Magazine, which featured him on their “30 Below 30” list of young writers to watch. He is also a winner of Ninth Letter’s Poetry Award and New Delta Review’s Editors’ Choice Prize. He lives in Minneapolis, where he is a 2016 McKnight Foundation Creative Writing Fellow. Read (and listen to) Anders’ “Leaving Fargo.”

Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of RAIL, forthcoming from BOA Editions. His work has appeared in NarrativeBest New PoetsTriQuarterlyCrazyhorseBlackbird, and The Missouri Review, which awarded him the 2013 Editor’s Prize. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his poetry film, Riding the Highline, (co-directed with Anders) won the jury award for Innovation in Documentary Short Film at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival. He lives in San Francisco and is a Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University. Listen to (and watch) Kai’s “Cry of the Loon.”

Both sides of the Carlson-Wee family immigrated to the US from Norway in the early 1900s. Kai and Anders’ parents are both Lutheran pastors. In July, their other brother, Olaf, was on the cover of Forbes as the crypto-coin magician.

Kai and Anders’ first collaboration was Two-Headed Boythe winner of the 2015 David Blair Memorial Chapbook Prize. Mercy Songs is their second.

Come back on

to read how
spend their days.