Mission Trip

by Haley Kellner


In New Mexico, we sleep on air mattresses.

Some on pool floats

to be abandoned at week’s end

like plastic pelts, half-deflated in the

airport trash can.

They are useless here

where the only water is our spit

on the ground we must soften

enough to give the garden fingers

to supplement our own because


our bones have more give than this land.

Pop each night under a ninth grade

girl leaving footprints

across each back stiff from throwing itself

against noon.

If you are to claim this land, get to it

by dawn. Give it all the water in your canteen.

Give it all the salt in your husk. Give

up until tomorrow, you will never find

where you’ve been:


the mindset of miracles.

We were supposed to perform something tangible

like the parting of the Red Sea—dried up—and

even if the blind

could see and the lame could walk

this land would not leave

any nod to their hauls.

On the last day a girl may cry

face first into her air mattress

for a home

where the southern boot tread knows

every plot it walks. Here

the earth puffs out its chest, keeps her

at arm’s length. But the mattress,

it bends under her diaphragm.

Rises up in the exhale, like someone breathing back.


Haley Kellner is from Anderson, South Carolina and attends the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities as a creative writing senior. Over the years, she’s received a Best in Grade award from the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards as well as a Gold Medal for her poetry and regional placements spanning over poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She’s also received Honorable Mention from the Leonard L. Milberg ‘53 High School Poetry Prize at Princeton University and the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest at Hollins University. Above all of this, she holds dearest the screenplay about a reformed serial killer falling in love she wrote senior year.