(Cover Photo Kiss My . . . by J. Ray Paradiso)
Paul David Adkins
WEAVER THE WEATHERMAN ISSUES A TRAVEL WARNING
TO CERTAIN MIAMI NEIGHBORHOODS ON SEPTEMBER 13TH, 1971
Don’t go there.
Everyone is hot.
The atmosphere’s akimbo in some certain parts of town.
I usually talk the storms and sun.
The station tells me everyone
will listen; I’ve been on the air for years.
If you trust me just one time, make it today.
I’m sorry for all the afternoons it rained on your picnics,
and thunder sent you scurrying off the golf course when I forecast mostly sunny.
You had plans, and I broke them like batons would crack a rib,
then it turned out bright and clear as you stormed within the house.
I’ve been wrong one million trillion billion times, I know, but trust me just this once.
The atmosphere’s akimbo in some certain parts of town.
Gina Marie Bernard
I embellished intoxicating rumors for mannequins
mincing sightless behind department store glass
while lifting the sequined hems of their cocktail shifts.
I breathed invocations from the sanctuary of my room;
idolized the exposed models whose cowled eyelids
vowed ascension—lithe consecrations in each paged pose.
I chinned the surface of Bass Lake, hovered above
the thermocline, and envied my wife’s pelvis—the intricate play
of tendon and muscle gunnel pumping our Wenonah canoe.
I stifled screams while counting down another New Year’s
Eve; spread my thorax—like Adam’s self-immolation—
and fashioned myself from the blood-sloughed rib.
they scraped and sutured scrotal skin to my vaginal walls;
salvaged the sensitive glans—secure under its clitoral hood.
My expectant mother joked about our prolonged labor pains.
I decline invitations to accompany my two daughters into Sephora;
I brush out each of my wigs, but fix them back on their canvas stands,
and regularly binge 24-hour news cycles in my rattiest groutfits.
My thoughts, daughter cells,
halve white-hot, divide;
kick quick, seek their light.
Not said, just felt—hid,
birthed of endured hurt,
dead inside their caul.
Lost, I scrawl hate-laced
curses, torch blessings,
score my heart—scar it.
Glut drugs, brown liquor;
crouch, performing tricks,
a slut kneeled behind
cars, and last call’s closed
doors. I smear sored lips,
wipe dirt from palm heels.
Wrists sewn; sheer nylons
ripped, slid down. Tell me
Does this turn you on?
Eyes haunted, withdrawn:
a face to be fucked,
spill your cum upon.
And I will allow,
swallow this abuse;
lips bleeding, but used.
MILK CRATE, 1955
Glass bottles of milk came in wooden crates, sectioned with metal dividers, delivered daily on the back cellar steps. The milkman dropped off two crates, took away empties. Our family of eleven drank lots of milk with sandwiches. Dad ate a sandwich but took his with tea and a dollop of cream skimmed off a quart bottle. That year jets kept breaking the sound barrier, a sonic boom cracked our picture window. A screw fell out of the kitchen table, the leg fell off. Dad avoided manual labor, I never saw him use a screwdriver. He played cello with soft clean hands and long elegant fingers. Dad got three milk crates, stacked them under the corner of the table. I worried it was stealing, mom called it borrowing. I wondered if the milkman didn’t say anything because he felt sorry for us which was worse. My little brother knocked the handle off the front door. Temperatures pushed zero. We kept shutting the door, wind kept blowing it open. When dad came home, his solution, more milk crates, but only two sat on the cellar stairs. He piled one on top of the other in front of the door, mom piled blankets on top for more weight. We went to bed with the door closed. Night wind sent a sucker punch that toppled the crates, cold blew inside, the furnace went down for the count. This happened the year Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus, nine kids in winter coats ate cheerios and milk taking turns huddled in front of an open oven to warm our fingers. No one complained about going to school that day.
My father played classical records after he sent the children to bed. I sneaked out unnoticed, crawled under the living room couch, listened to vinyl symphonies on high volume. At the crescendo, I saw the stampede of animals from a forest fire. It was the same when the mighty Moldau roared into the ocean or the Mountain King danced in his Hall. Primary colors flared in technicolor after seeing Bambi.
after the storm
soft white hands
play the cello
NEW YORK STREET
Learning of your cancer, I searched Chicago
not thinking I’d find you, a snow-pale Swede in a sea
of ash-white Slavs, but we met on Milwaukee Avenue,
your wife pressing her hand against your back
meaning you should greet me and go, her look
of fear at meeting a long-haired wild, a veteran stuck
in a fatigue jacket like a boy in his father’s coat,
rejected at college, the wind like an el train
roaring through the rails of my thin ribs,
that when you gripped my hand
and I asked how was your illness,
life was considered, you said.
For years, I thought you meant that you calculated
everything first, considered it, thought it over,
around, through, planned, plotted, because days
were numbered, few, but now I know you meant honored,
like how I felt when you ignored precaution, your wife,
and my untamed appearance and reached to grasp me,
pull me from a freefall into isolation, rejection,
back into the world.
It’s been a hot mess dating carbon,
who won’t tell me her age, priding
herself on discordant characteristics,
her fossilized convictions belying
the answers to our most existential
head scratchers. She is a dinosaur
in drag, an unflappable contrarian,
a fox on the guest list for a shindig
at the hen house. Were she not such
a roll in the hay I’d head for the hills.
Were she an oasis I’d stop lapping
up sand. Alas, I find myself settling
for a polygraphic floozy inadmissible
in but no stranger to a court of law.
IF I GO FIRST
to be first
at my wake, to lock
all entrances, disrobe,
then violate my body
in unthinkable ways, one last
romp before they put me in the ground.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
NO ONE WILL KNOW YOU
No one will ever know you like your mother, they say—
always assuming that she wants to or does or notices you
at the other end of the leash with which she holds on to your
comet’s tail of energy and guarded love. For example,
did my mother know I had worries like brush fires, like local
disasters that didn’t involve God? I suspect not. So I write a lot
about the past perfect, my childhood. It is, as they say, my “material.”
I recall most how it was bad and lost to me. I have forgotten
the nuclear wind I grew up in, the ocean and the war
that I only understood obliquely. I have ignored until now how my mother
rose in her profession by accommodation. This has enabled me to think
the cold open of Saturday Night Live would protect me from
the consequences of thoughtless politics. If I laugh, I’m safe. But
I’m wearing down. I have to turn off the news, turn away from the papers.
I try local politics but they‘re full of compromise. I hate compromise.
I know the world is grey, but I want a right/ wrong day. I live with
the whisper from Mother that I could do better and I hope it’s
someone else’s error. Meanwhile, I write so much about death-in-life
that even the air around me seems finite but still I cannot capture
mom’s absolute balance between a bargain and the sweet carte blanche.
THE LETTER S
Sex. Surf. Sand. Sweat.
Simon says and scarlet letters,
shame upon all those girls,
sweet nothings whispered at midnight,
sober regrets herald the dawn
screams and exhales fill the night air
sincerity left at home
sons who pretend to know better,
sex should never be forlorn.
WAKE SUCCESSFUL . . . FUNERAL POSTPONED
at Arthur Beasley’s wake, Father Ryan circled the open casket
filling the air with incense smoking from the thurible
handing the censor to an altar boy, he recited the
Catholic Ejaculation for Eternal Rest
“rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
may he rest in peace”
when Arthur Beasley sat up coughing, then responded “Amen,”
Father Ryan realized his ejaculation had been premature.
THE PILOT CUTS POWER TO THE ENGINES
as we’re crossing the snowy Sierra
and the plane drifts lower
across the fertile valley of rivers
to the airport by the bay.
My Uber driver has a straggly beard,
calico flesh with spots of white like half-moons,
eyes with a touch of the wild
like you see in Malamutes with their wolf-ancestor DNA
who should be watched around small children.
He asks “Where from?”
I say “Just back from DC.”
“Did you see him?”
The driver mutters a curse, then smiles. “Come,” he says.
“Where?” I ask.
He drives me south through suburbs like a Lego set
then west among mountains like misty breasts
into a forest dense as bear fur
to a redwood tree with a burn scar so large
he can drive inside it and park.
“Get out” he says.
Beneath my feet are beer cans, cigarette butts.
Scent of charred wood mixes with urine.
It smells like where I just left.
“Come,” he says.
We climb spiral stairs within the trunk
and walk out onto a massive limb
high above the other treetops,
wisps of fog blowing from the blue Pacific
in breeze that ruffles our hair
with the fragrance of salt-spray, of photosynthesis,
of prowling pumas and fresh unfolding fern.
A pair of red-tailed hawks soar spirals in an updraft.
“Here” he says.
“Yes” I say.
“You will pay me now.”
And gladly, I do.
Past midnight she shakes him, wakes him.
Something is dripping.
She means the ceiling.
Sure enough. From the location he knows
which pipe (because he built this house).
Bare-ass on a step stool with bare fist
he punches (because he’s pissed)
a hole in the drywall
which hurts good (because anger wants pain)
which is stupid and might wake the kids
(a disaster) (but doesn’t) releasing
a cold stinking splash on his hair
dribbling down face and ears
a metallic taste in mouth on tongue.
She gathers towels, a big pot. On tiptoe
with flashlight he studies the defective
piece-of-shit drainpipe when she
from the floor wiping smelly goo says
I can’t believe you’re getting an erection.
Neither can he but there it is.
He won’t repair tonight
(because would absolutely wake the kids)
so he showers his slimy head.
She steps in, squirts shampoo in her palm.
That was all so unexpected he says.
I love you she says.
SHE LEARNED TO SLEEPWALK BEFORE SHE COULD TALK
By age two in sleep she could open doors,
wander the yard or once half a mile to the tire dealer
where she tripped over shredded rubber,
scraped her forehead. We got calls from the hospital,
the police, child welfare who have no sense of humor.
Age three she could open locks in her sleep,
cross tracks at the freight yard
where a brakeman jumped in the nick.
Psychiatrist, this time, but no doc (nor anyone)
can cage her restless soul.
So we installed double cylinder deadbolts
which thwarted until the night age six
she opened a window in sleep, jumped.
She awoke screaming, ankle broken, pounding
at the double-bolted door but we were
in the shower together, couldn’t hear.
Not the phone calls of the neighbor, the police.
Reporter, camera crew.
Get that microphone out of my face.
Look sometimes we took long showers together.
No more. We promise you sweetie,
we will watch you every night.
We will feed you carrots and read you great books.
We will sing lovely lullabies.
We will guide you all your wandering growing years.
One day you shall meet a soulmate.
He shall take your hand.
He shall sleepwalk with you,
you shall guide each other,
and we shall shower.
BOTH OF MY DAUGHTERS ARE VIRGINS,
he said—pictures of them in happy poses on his desk.
One out of college, he said, and the other, nearly so.
That’s a proud, proud papa, I thought, but we were at
the dealership to price a new car, not to hear testimony
on the purity of his little darlings. Priests stop the mass
prior to the transubstantiation—bread to flesh, wine to
blood, remaking the child of history’s all-time virgin—
the sacredness halted to collect, upfront, the cash need-
ed to see what’s behind curtain number one. So, there’s
a precedent in my life for awkward moments of transi-
tion. And while he punched in numbers, worked us up,
I focused on the photos, each face, what mysteries they
held back, the twinkle that never washes off, for a trace
of the devil herself uncurling on their lips. I thought of
All-American families, and I worried over these girls,
their lives of disclosure. Did they send him a weekly
report—like, Hey Dad, Calc II’s kicking my butt, but
on the good side, my hymen’s still fully intact. And you
know what, and please share this with everyone you
know, perfect strangers, too—under the right circum-
stances, ants could trampoline on it—my timpani tight
membrane, take wild chances over God’s gorge of eter-
nal peril—pound out a jungle rhythm too far away and
soft to be heard. Something that sounds like No over
and over. Or were they just like the old man: fine at
selling a bill of goods—like, Low mileage, we assure
you, dad, and as good as new—if you must know.
TURBIDITY BY YEAST
Oberdorfer Weiss, light or dark wheat, swing top ceramic cap, metal rigging,
rubber gasket, a provincial Bavarian countryside painting on the label, nickel-
floating rich foam—malt that made me howl. Some bottles came with a thin,
white label, too, added after the fact—like a little man with glue and a stick
slapped it on. Like a fortune. Turbidity by Yeast. Like all my days to that point.
Nothing coming through. In truth, it was an explanation for Americans who
prefer their beer clear as glass. I’d fiddle with the cap, stare at the label’s stark
philosophy—a proper excuse for everything in the occluded life to come, and
when needed, a message that would do the heavy lifting, my talking for me.
I SHOULD CALL MORE
my grandmother was the first black woman in the state of Arkansas to be a polygraph examiner
her father was a pastor and owned an old country church, his photos traceable upon creaky brown walls
of homes that haven’t been visited in a while
she says “you remind me of me”
a conversation we hadn’t had in a while –
i wonder if she stills sees me in her
i wonder if the way i enunciate y’all and crinkle
my eyes when i smile
create glimpses into youthful memories of
growing up in newport, a small town of brown hills and
lonely graveyards, my grandmother would take us showing mournful praises to past ancestors
i think about how death as crept up around my grandmother, i’m scared to think about if she’s noticed too –
my grandmother home is haunted.
my past self is there, bound to apparitions
appearing in a home cluttered with baggage – from which my mother grew
as she as scribed her success into now old yellow report cards,
honored by the governor for an outstanding academic career –
she only got suspended once, when she punched a classmate for saying nigga
past memories, their recollections
i collect them
because see i am lost,
the path to know thy self is fucking harder than expected –
when existence is questioned by the gaze,
the path is twisted with emotional labor that clings
and rips the flesh from my bones
contorted with corruption of man – i ask myself how my grandmother does it
i ask myself how i am supposed to return the favor
i ask myself if my mother made it, i knows she’s still strugglin’
and i think about the ways
they navigated the world that wasn’t built for them
that they made the world work for them in ways no mere man could do
somehow, they made it possible,
to sow seeds
AN INFORMAL COURSE IN THE NOVEL
Lost Time, or Things Past? Which Proust do you prefer? Thick novels brick up the space between us. Proust with his madeleines. Tolstoy with a saber. Dostoevsky with a hatchet. Dickens with a weepy handful of foolscap. Stoker with a kiss-full of fangs. You read novels from one angle, I from another. Obtuse or acute? No, two right angles at right angles to each other. Today’s snowfall offers geometries more complex than ours, but I prefer to keep books perpendicular to the main axis. Which axis? you ask. If like Proust you isolate one snowflake you’ll find that like any crystallization it has several definite axes, even though it has only two discernible dimensions. If like Tolstoy I brush a snowflake off my greatcoat I’ll hear it clatter on the frozen ground like a cymbal. If like Dostoevsky you huddle up to a peat stove in Siberia you’ll melt a snowflake you might otherwise have come to love. If like Dickens I look out at the snowfall over London and mourn the poor, I’ll inhale one snowflake in memory. If like Stoker you savor your snowflakes tinged with the blood-light of setting suns you’ll learn to critique every novel you read as surgery on the intellect, baring the bone.
SIDE DOOR OF THE BASEMENT
In the summer of 1971 after working hard
painting houses in the sun he’d come home
to his apartment in his ripped coveralls
sweaty, sticky and spattered with paint
And the gorgeous Mrs. K from upstairs
earrings dangling, golden bracelets clinking
would suddenly appear from nowhere
cleavage glistening in her flowing low-cut dress
A goddess carefree bright and breezy
smelling luscious so perfumy sweet
and stumble into him as he came in
through the side door of the basement
She’d squeak and wrap her arms around
his bronzed shoulders and back
pressing herself into him rubbing herself
onto him hard, breathless, quick
Embarrassed he’d try to escape so as not to get
her feminine perfection messed up
He never understood this peculiar rubbing ritual
until he met Robert her husband in his tie
and tailored suit, and shook his soft white hand
lightly dusted with talcum powder.
Sometimes the worst thing that can happen
is the thing that already has
When the worst thing that can happen
does happen, you think, “The decks are cleared,”
but they’re not.
There is a worse thing,
always a worse thing.
Rather than anticipate its arrival
or recall the last quake —
Stir, stir the soup.
Light the candle.
Wash your face.
Call your mother, your wife, your daughter, the neighbor.
Call the one or two you’ve got left.
WHEN YOU REACH TO FLUSH THE TOILET
AND YOUR HAND LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE YOUR MOTHER’S
And suddenly you are twelve,
and she is sitting on the toilet,
and you are standing with your back against the stall door,
and you are watching her change her pad and put in a tampon,
and she is bleeding and she cannot stop it,
and the government doctors at the county hospital don’t stop it.
And you cannot stop it,
because she is dead and has been for twenty-five years,
and the doctors couldn’t stop the cancer either,
or maybe they could, if they hadn’t sent her home,
and told her to quit smoking and come back the next year.
And so you hug yourself, yourself three years shy of her own last birthday,
and you hold her in your arms, you, all that’s left of her,
and you cry in that stall.
And then you remember she had Harvey Wallbanger underpants,
and they fascinated you then, with the recipe on the butt,
and you look down at your ankles and imagine them there,
and you laugh as the tears run down your face.
Your own bleeding was stopped years ago; the insurance you had helped.
And your daughter hasn’t even gotten her period yet.
And you wouldn’t even be here if your mother hadn’t lost your older brother
in a bathroom stall, in a toilet, at a movie theater.
A miscarriage that caused that doctor to declare:
“If the next one makes it, if there is another one —
I’d advise against it —
she’ll be a girl,
because girls are stronger, in the womb.”
Two boys made it before you —
the first made it nearly half as far as you,
the second made it a little less than ten years shy of her —
the boy whose hands, a little larger than your own,
also looked exactly like hers.
You stand, wombless, a mother, a daughter long motherless,
and flush, your hand wrinkling as it compresses the cold handle,
and greet your own daughter on the other side.
Karin L. Frank
after Kim Addonizio
I want a sword. Actually, I want two.
I want to strap them, tanto and katana,
around my naked waist, and face painted
like Crazy Horse going into battle
with single crimson lightning strikes,
parade the avenue, in the manner,
though not the style, of Jesuit missionaries
come to carry revealed truth to heathen tribes.
I want to stride past frontal hard-hat heat,
past three-piece-armored suits
who auction off their wives and daughters.
I want my nudity, bolstered by weaponry,
to make them all bend the knee,
worship creation as it was before testosterone
usurped the altarpiece. And even if my body
can’t make your private nightingale sing
I want you to acknowledge my right
to strut the street, to threaten or cajole,
flaunting leather or lace, whichever applies.
Bare breasts and unfettered feet are what
I want. When I get them, we can all
sheath our swords (unless called to service)
and proceed to sing in tongues.
PLACE SETTING: YACHATS BEACH
Salt water taffy pulling machine,
a shop with fresh-baked pies
on shelves in a pie cupboard
like our antique at home.
milk glass and Depression glass,
seafood for dinner every night,
until I develop a rash.
Long walks down village lanes
to forage for giant blackberries,
a check of the tide schedule
before stepping into the cold Pacific.
Little crabs, colored shells,
tide pools full of sea anemones,
the marvel of sand bar patterns,
sand castles with rivers and moats.
My parents far down the beach kissing,
an older cousin who won’t let me run to them,
the intense power of a place and the knowledge
that things will never be just this way again.
Alan W. Bean
Cathy on Bed
Cathy on Bed
Waiting my turn,
the night departs
and leaves room next to you
in your bed. The mattress
stitches rise into wrinkled bed sheets
and breathes out the heat
of your sleep.
Waiting my turn,
I lay my eyes on the page
because for now
light is your lover
that strokes your back side
and slides its fingertips
from the tip of your shoulder
down the ravine of your ribs
and climbs the hill of your hip.
Waiting my turn,
lay down the fence
of your back.
Leave the light behind
and embrace me.
How can you not love the
red, orange and gray colors
of the chimney-manufactured sky.
Reminds me of a time
when US Steel, General Motors,
Dow Chemical, were like John Wayne
or Gary Cooper –
the sheriff come to clean up the town,
driving out the countryside,
letting good folks live in peace
and sweat and noise and smoke.
Folks are coughing
all the way down Main Street.
Kids come home from play
covered in soot.
And everyone’s worried
that the company’s going to move operations
south of the border
where Mexican lungs breathe cheaper
and government agencies
don’t come poking around.
Guy with cancer says
if it weren’t for the factories
there’d be no town.
Whenever he’s making connections,
he stops right there.
I am alone in a room
with a naked woman.
It’s not what you think.
I’m in an art gallery.
The nude is framed.
But it is what you think.
My admiration for the artist’s rendering
is magnified by the loveliness
of his subject matter.
But it’s not what you think.
My appreciation for that
as she steps into her steamy bath
is purely aesthetic.
But, of course, it is what you think.
All of my encounters with
the naked human body
start out that way.
However it’s not what you think.
This was painted in the
late nineteenth century.
The model is long dead.
All that exists is a
few dabs of paint.
Really, it is what you think.
Dead or alive,ancient or modern
gorgeous women are gorgeous women.
Their splendor knows no end date.
But I’m a man with an appreciation
for the fine arts. Yes, I am what I think.
But I’m also a hedonist at heart.
Which is what you thought originally.
Stephanie L. Harper
JACK’S IN THE PULPIT
My brethren of the forest floor
what need have ye for addling
adornments? Shed your dreams of sepals!
Bare your verdant spadices & engorge
your tiny pink-powdered anthers into claret
tongues heaving with notes of wild cherry
vanilla anise spice & tender plum
as you wax spermatic with song to woo
demure Jill—my but she does grow
restless in the sultry rays that breach
the canopy mottling the underbrush—
to come unfurled & unhood her spathe…
Behold her cluster! How plump & green
those berries how white their hearts!
How crimson the promise of summer fruit!
‘Twas feckish, and the irkly grobes
Did fark and fistle in the slade;
All dingly were the rectiprobes
And the dampnuts updrade.
“Beware the Trumplewock, my friend!
That bigly mouth, those puny mitts!
Beware the Tweet bird, and off-fend
The cronious Perkletits!”
She packed her poisal voice and went:
Fat chance the vapid imp she’d spare—
So quivered he ‘neath his Cheeto tree,
And feebly cried, “Unfair!”
And, as the greelish light grew pale,
The Trumplewock, with wits of wood,
Came grabbling through the femly vale
Because he thought he could!
Eins, zwei! Eins, zwei! And quick as pie
The poisal voice sliced fierce and true:
“Go flay yourself, you mawkish elf,
And burn the residue!”
The Trumplewock would rue the day
He left his diddlepot of lack.
The frankish words would haunt him ‘til
He went galumphing back.
‘Twas feckish, and the irkly grobes
Did fark and fistle in the slade;
All dingly were the rectiprobes
And the dampnuts updrade.
WHY ARE YOUNG WOMEN NO LONGER ATTRACTIVE?
Why are young women no longer attractive?
Is it because I’m now aging, less active?
Do they have less traction
because my inaction’s
transmuting to poems instead?
The Coolidge Effect can no longer be played,
which it could and it did when I wandered and strayed.
I’m writing, I’m boring,
I care less for storing
fresh data in head or in bed.
GETTING AWAY WITH THINGS
The vegetables talk quietly among themselves,
the bread complains about the cold, the butter
sleeps, still as a corpse. On the stove
a frying pan rocks and rocks, its sides encircling air.
You ask for ginger and I buy ginger. You ask
for rice and I buy rice. You ask for love
and I give you what I can—enough to feed us both
for thirty years or more. I know that elsewhere
no one gets away with things: that random shots
smash days past ordinary all the way to disaster
and refrigerator doors stand open. I try on trouble
like a dress I don’t much like, but one
so many people wear, I need to see what it looks like
on. There is no life that mine might not turn into.
But this afternoon’s devoid of sorrow:
the vegetables murmur, the rice points
every which way, and the frying pan, tired
of embracing air, wonders what we’re having for dinner.
She is content with imperfection.
Simple beauty is of little interest.
I’ve seen her fingers follow
stains from coffee cups, scars on
the leg where the cats dulled
I have offered a fix of filler,
sanding and polishing, yet
there it remains
untouched by remedial hands
a replica of our lives together.
five things you can see
I can see the blood on the pavement, staining clothes, skin, hands. I can see a bullet shell on the ground – it narrowly missed. I can see the people’s breath coming out in short puffs as they run, small rainstorms created with each pump of their arms. I can see three people around me: a priest, a parishioner, and an acolyte. I can see that none of them are moving – I need to get out of here –
four things you can hear
I can still hear the ringing from the bell towers – the noise doesn’t go away until you scrape your eardrums out. I can hear a wail from behind me, but I have to keep running I can’t stop for anyone. I can hear a bullet being loaded into a chamber, unsteady hands shaking the round. I can hear scream as I go down, body hitting the pavement as the bullet gouges.
three things you can touch
I can touch my side – warm and spongy and wet and thick. I can touch the hand next to me, but it feels pallid compared to mine. I can touch the unyielding floorboards, they’re no comfort to me, not a worthy resting place.
two things you can smell
I can smell the fear around me, roiling and boiling and coming to a head, masquerading as anger. I can smell the gunpowder, the harsh acidity striking the back of my throat as I inhale my last breaths.
one thing you can taste
I can taste the flavor of bullets in the back of my throat – harsh and bitter. I know it’s blood, but until now I couldn’t place it. I shouldn’t be able to place it.
I turn off the news and go to bed. It’ll still be there tomorrow.
H. L. Korbee
DON’T WORRY, I’M LYING
If you want the truth I’m taking a piss
If you want the whole truth and nothing but then I’m taking a piss in a bathtub. The bathtub is not altogether unfamiliar but the experience is. I squat-stand pressing most of my weight on my right foot which has the sturdier ledge. Four inch boots have never felt so much like stilts. Panties pulled artfully to the side. I watch as the dirty toe prints are washed away with ease.
But if you want the beautiful truth then the tub is porcelain. My urethra is a coin slot, and my piss gold shillings. They spill out the sparkling vessel and slide underneath the door. My earnings are enough to give all patrons of this party a long and prosperous life.
If you want the brutal truth then I can’t remember if I washed my hands.
If you want the Brutus truth then the bathroom is Rome. The tub has conspired with the plunger, shampoo, the toothpaste and other members of the lavatory senate, to overthrow the mighty toilet, as they are sick and tired of his holier than thou attitude. When I entered the toilet had been mutilated beyond recognition in sudsy massacre.
And if you want Beckett’s truth then I wait and wait for the pee to come and it doesn’t.
If you want the backwards truth then I left the bathroom, potentially washed my hands, dismounted myself from the tub pulled my panties back into place pissed pulled my panties to the side hoisted my skirt, carefully climbed the perimeter of the bathtub deduced that the toilet was unusable and entered the bathroom.
But if you want the sideways truth then I’m sorry, but you can’t. The laws of gravity do not permit one to piss sideways without making a damn mess.
I’m also unable to provide you with the shitty truth. My actions while unsightly, I’ll admit, stayed in the region of “number one”. I’m not a savage.
If you want the Shia LaBeouf truth then I couldn’t use the toilet because it was wearing a paper bag that said “I AM NOT A TOILET ANYMORE” Obviously, this comes from the insecurity about his failing career and I didn’t want to make things worse by pissing all over him.
If you want Sisyphus’ truth then I am condemned to fill this tub to the brim and watch it drain as soon as I get it an inch from the top, ignoring the hurried knocks at the door.
But if you want the simple truth I am taking a piss
And if you want it again then I am taking a piss
And if you want it again then I am taking a piss
And if you want it again then I am taking the piss
Five cloves of garlic
Escarole – three large heads
One small head of cabbage, leaves tight
Usual suspects – salt, pepper, red chili flake
Pork ribs – keep the bones, that’s where the flavor is
looking for answers
some sense of solace
Crusty Italian bread
Souls in need of soothing
make a huge pot
once someone knows
you’re making minestra
Parmesan if it’s for papa
Chicken broth only if
you need it to stretch
serve it in shallow bowls
no shallow hearts will
leave the table
Yvonne Higgins Leach
WHAT WE CAN DO
Here amid the boxes marked
as if a grocery list
Christmas, old files,
you release in one breath
instructions for packing
and in another a truth
you believe will be a fallout
from your divorce.
How can you say, as I twist
the last hook from the wall,
such a notion as this:
that our time together will be different
because it is our husbands
who are friends?
I say what we can do
is believe that nothing
will die on this day
from this darkness
what is woman and friend between us
as we are even now.
A DEAD-CAT CATECHISM
One story from the long stung
days when I was barely there
myself was my cat had litter
after litter of sick kittens under
my six-year-old daughter’s
bed, most of which I’d find
splayed, stiff, in the mornings.
I stacked them in paper bags,
planted them in sorry batches,
lettuce refusing to leaf. One
Sunday I stepped outside
with a bag and a shovel as
a four-door sedan stuffed with
missionaries drove down our
dirt road. The well-dressed
woman who got out said
truth was in the tract she
handed me. But the minute
I touched it she said, That
will cost you a dollar, and I
didn’t have one, so what
could I do? I sent her salvation
away with her, but in my head
I handed her the bag instead,
filled with shareable facts
such as the grass grows
paler over the kitten patch.
Such as not everyone who
talks the talk undoes the dark.
Such as if Jesus shows up
to save whoever lasts, I
hope his jeep has an
ejector seat, just in case.
Teenagers by the river
came of age, summer
nights, up on the roof
of the old brick graphite
factory. The river the spot
to strip and swim, the roof
the place to shiver every
hot night in the wrong
company. The factory
below, a broken field
where their feet would
absorb the grit from
the filthy floor, its
since before the war.
An armor against
a world not one of us
was ready yet to wear.
NIGHT CLIMB, ACATENANGO, GUATEMALA
Half way up, we wait for the dawn.
Rustle of a hunter, grey fox or ocelot?
Fuego is dark for once, his hearthfire smoored,
thin cloud circling his waist.
Cooried down for warmth beneath shrubby pines,
we are between sky and sky.
Above, the starstream reels;
below us, villages are nebulae.
Our honeyed coffee steams
in the deep cold of the heights.
Rifle shots crack open the blueblack silence.
at his funeral, standing near his grave
a band plays the Internationale slow
and the few who stand there at his graveside
sing out still familiar words of hope
he would not have wanted some hypocrite
preaching life everlasting over him
so an old communist speaks of past times
and of fallen near-forgotten comrades
Lenin and Trotsky stand at his graveside
chilling the hearts they had once filled with hope,
Uncle Joe is banned for being rowdy,
and Karl Marx’ words provide the eulogy
recalling Joe Hill and legends of Wobblies
some sing Solidarity Forever;
recalling long ago ideals and passions
others wonder what their lost cause had won
grey men stand around a hole in the earth
tossing in handfuls of forgotten dreams,
manifestos, and songs, then silence comes
somewhere near the edge an old woman weeps
ALL THE OLD MEN
all the old men walk like Walter Brennan
carry their canes like swords for self-defence
hunch ’round tables in and outside cafes
discuss times past without love or regret
circle tables to keep out modern times
Jeremy Nathan Marks
For I’d found that I’d come
to the end of it:
I had truly admired tragedy
as she seemed a secretary whose courage
was contained in her hips
and I liked how she had the firm ass
of a horse drawing children through a war
Words for me are now as empty as my wishes
but I admire libidinous ink
So from now on I will milk thorns
for all the dressings they contain
And I will swear to the passing trains
of migrants looking for this newly drawn
That here we clothe silk in the worm.
PORTRAIT OF TWO SELVES SLEEPING
Light can never be stolen or owned. Like
our faces, etched on our time. Reflecting.
As I on you, reversed, restaged. On your face
I see mine and know, when you open your eyes,
you see the same. Here, write me in your breath,
paint me with whatever you can hold, describe me
within the arc of your arm. The crook of my nose
straightens yours; our hair tangles,
blurring us. What I see is what you see,
not what I am. So, bundled in lies, we lie
lazy in each other’s light.
It isn’t that I fear beards
as much as I, personally, don’t want one,
particularly on the bits of flesh
that used to grace my cheekbones.
Gravity. Such a downer. Of all things—
the liver spots, the spider veins, the gray—
it’s gravity I hate most—
and that cheekbone keratosis that will not go away,
frozen off five times, same colour as the bad penny.
Otherwise the face is all right and it’s still me behind
my eyes, and if I dedicate evenings to high lumens
and tweezers, that’s between me and my God. So. Kiss me.
THE PISS ARTIST
I am pissed off about
my never-ending existential angst,
fucking tired of it.
Tired of walking in gloom
while the world shines
golden and green.
Walking, 6 am, to work
my early shift, still cool,
the rising sun shining through the amber
stream of piss.
Hey! You said ——!!
And he jumps in the car
hastily zipping his trousers.
Piss steaming off the tarmac
together with yesterday’s rain.
I could smile then
as I stomped away with
my uniform on, for my
8 hours at the machine.
Why not now?
6 am, green and golden.
I am alive, I am walking.
Piss easy, a relief.
You. And some breakfast.
I want to go somewhere so far away
I could sleep.
I want to be awake and get things done,
I want to not get things done –
to fly (but not really),
to walk with you in the City of Our Dreams.
I want to stay in bed all day and read alone.
I want to do that exercise on the floor with you.
I want to live small,
I want to dream big.
I want to get a coffee. Do you want one?
I want to belong,
to find my Tribe.
I want to know The Meaning of Life
and to always remember what it is.
I also want some candy
but not the hard kind
that sticks to teeth.
I want to live forever
and for everyone to be able to choose.
But not hard candy. I want that shit banned.
I was taught to stand up straight by my grandfather
“good posture is becoming” he would say
I always wanted to be becoming
I was taught how to feel tipsy by my cousins
barely double digits our footsteps lingered near the liquor cabinet
limbs long enough to steal sips of cooking brandy
I was taught devotion by my aunt and uncle
on their 30th anniversary they waltzed slow
reminiscing each year through body language
I was taught to make pierogis by my grandma
plump cheeks wore flour for blush as molded dough took her fingerprints
I pretended not to learn to keep her close
Mike L. Nichols
KEEP IT HOLY
I don’t believe in religion
any more. But every few years
I’ll sit through a sacrament
meeting and cry because
the hymns remind me
of my Mother.
I never knew Jesus, but I knew
Mom. She too suffered
in dying, sacrificed
Her body and Her blood
on the altar of motherhood.
The boys in badly knotted ties
pass out the blessed broken bread
and I pretend it’s Her body
instead. I know it’s
Sacrilege. But I already said
I don’t believe any more,
if I ever did, and I’m not hurting
anyone except myself making up
my own mythologies, and anyway
time after time her hand plucked a piece
of torn Wonder bread from these same trays
so there’s still a connection, in a way.
When the trays containing tiny
paper cups of blessed bloody
water come around I imagine how
just one could have quenched a
chemotherapy induced thirst.
If I close my eyes I can pretend
she still leads the congregation,
painting notes on the air with her
cork handled baton. I can pretend
to believe in human sacrifice.
And in salvation.
And in eternal life.
J. Ray Paradiso
Bruce Deitrick Price
THE RULES OF POETRY
–for Archibald MacLeish
a poem should electrocute
and be hairy like a kiwi fruit
a poem should be amorous
like two starlets
seeking the same part
a poem should feel like
to the thumb
and emit an ominous hum
a poem may be untrue
and should conspire to undo you
a poem should be loud
and well endowed
and not too proud,
like this one
a poem should be Hitchcock squeals
and stiletto heels . . .
oh forget it.
TOES in a bottle
death in a purse
only fools make rules
MANHATTAN, CITY OF SURFACES
the sheen of skyscrapers,
the gleam of stainless steel subway cars,
of kosher hot dogs cooking on a street cart.
Manhattan, city of mirrors that people live behind.
Manhattan, city of speed and sudden change.
People think they are riding something, the wind,
a space colony, an express train to Far Rockaway,
the better luck they will have tomorrow.
Whatever happened today is already history.
(Manhattan, City of Surfaces is the prologue to Bruce Deitrick Price’s currently unpublished experimental novel Manhattan Express.)
He liked scorching hot coffee,
so the waitress brewed a fresh pot.
He asked for refills before he’d finished,
in case she forgot to do it on her own.
He sat and faced me, back towards the door,
like he was scared someone will see us.
He ate pancakes from the center,
left a pool of syrup for the crisp edge.
He hunched over his plate with each bite
scared to get sticky from the pool party on his plate.
I liked it at home when he ate cereal standing up,
he looked tall and broad against the counter.
He smoked long Newport cigarettes.
He lit one off of the other, back to back,
when he could afford his own pack.
He sparked, puffed, and filled our space.
Everything I owned smelled like the ashes
he forgot to tap into the plastic tray.
When I picture Menlo Park Diner,
it’s like a scrapbook of when we were.
There we are sitting in the corner booth,
and then by the window, and at the bar.
I think I’ll order something different,
but even the menu is a memory of his hands.
ADVENTURES IN LEVITRA WITHOUT A PARTNER
Indulging in quixotic reveries,
long stem roses;
corpses stiffly rising
in their tin can coffins
like jack in the boxes;
The neighbor’s wife
mowing the lawn;
her weary halter top
failing to contain
an exquisite cleavage;
Watching from my window,
It was after trying to hang his jacket
on the back of a nursing home chair
falling to the floor,
lying there for hours
while an aide sang folk songs,
when my father decided to die.
I’ve had the Richard,
he told me from his bed
bandages on his arms, his legs and his head
drops of blood on the lino
where he’d dragged himself.
He’d seen things in Borneo
he never talked about
rode from Brisbane to Stanthorpe
on his pushbike
outlived my mother
won over a nursing home
while the cancer bored
into his carpenter’s house of bones
and blighted his good eye
but it was an old grey jacket
that felled him.
MEMORY BOOK FOR MY BOSS
Telepathic telomeres, do your morning
stretches where the fungus grows on trees
like wheat-colored beards in a heaving, dank May
while all the dyed tendrils in New York City
stay bundled in wool, and scowls on the street
say how old these arctic blasts have become.
My beloved boss retired at 70 and flew away;
I started drinking a medicinal mushroom elixir
of Lion’s Mane dual-extract, replete with beta glucan
polysaccharides that boost Nerve Growth Factor,
memory, mood, the whole brain coaxed to sprout
manically like the Lion’s Mane itself, I guess.
You can try for yourself and research the miracle
on your own, if it doesn’t plunge your blood pressure
down to sea level, like it did mine, the electric
current of my synapses impotent powerlines
after a hurricane. I do not like to be cut off.
Is blood thicker than water? Let’s see. Because
it felt like the end of fond memories for me,
when he left, with so much rain and aging
and packing up, and I heard Alzheimer’s
is ultimately triggered by a traumatic event,
such as putting together my boss’s memory book,
perhaps. He said the letter I wrote made him cry.
Then he held my hand between both of his
and they felt so tender, like the floured dough
on my mother’s kitchen credenza just before
she let me press it with aluminum cutters
SAY OR IT ISN’T SO
Because if I wrap words not around instead of weaving them through,
is that commitment? Am I on an express train? If I don’t call it,
I may not recall it. Right. Your face. Your eyelash blink,
blank. What transparency is taped? See the fuzz strands stuck
at the edges, magenta. The smell of pinking shears among the rick-rack
in the tweed sewing basket, a tomato or strawberry cushion
pinned up and pent up with a thimble and a thumb tack. I turned
the thimble between my fingers; I wanted a Monopoly game.
I was eight. I hated sewing but won 4-H district competitions
with my brightly-patterned short sets. I wanted to be Atreyu.
My diary’s pages held the comebacks I didn’t say locked in them
with an actual lock, and my oil paintings taunted me
with permanent errors in grass blades mowed
through by the rough grain of canvas.
Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal
A MOTHER PROMISES
you promise, they promise
he and she promise,
that no promise will remain, my son.
When all is said and done, your
life will not be mined for promises unkept
or dreams unfulfilled.
they will stand at the side of your pyre,
impatient hands tick- ticking away
the last mortal remnants of your
husk, and they will pray a promise
that will go nowhere, hit only
the chandan you now sleep on
and vibrate the ears of your loves
As you are awake, so you will sleep,
and the wrinkles of your fabric
will mesh with billions of others
into the space- time you never
understood to begin with.
for the fleeting nano, to micro
seconds you are here, my son-
stay happy, stay true.
All else is ashes.
But the echo of your smile will warm
lovers hearts and the din of
your truth may someday foment revolutions.
So be happy,
The rest, my son, is nothing.
Always second, #2, an afterthought, a P.S.
at the bottom of the page in six point type
hand-me-downs that sag and drag
since she is so much taller
so much smarter
my first grade to her third
where she learns looping letters
strung together like Christmas lights
my block letters march solo, serious
straight across the page
I get the smaller slice, the bottom bunk,
the broken Barbie with one shoe
she gets a house key around her neck,
a bra, a boyfriend whispering on the phone
I practice kissing my pillow
tasting my future
BUT FOR AGE
But for age we could be friends
share music, give praise
for work well done, our glasses raised,
and if we fought, we’d make amends.
But I’m afraid to look at you
like a man who still exists,
not some old fool who must resist
the claws of love; you have no clue
that when you wear your low-cut blouse
I think of Matthew 18:9
and know your dulcet voice so fine
would, even eyeless, stir to rouse
the man in me, the soaring lover,
the falcon on his final flight
all of a piquant dark-bright night.
But O! To see you run for cover…
Aides assure us there’s no cause for alarm
As the lovely old woman bays like a hound.
And the nurses? They’re calm whatever the storm.
There’s an angry man with a deadly charm,
A sorrowful man whose sorrow redounds.
Aides assure us there’s no cause for alarm.
There’s the cheerful man who misses his arm.
He rolls down the hall and cackles out loud.
The nurses stay calm whatever the storm.
The social worker has mastered her smarm,
While the wild-eyed vet tries to flee ’til he’s bound.
Aides assure us there’s no cause for alarm.
They wheel to the glade, his hand on her arm
Where the flowers are thick and low to the ground.
The nurses stay calm whatever the storm.
He covers her face; her breath is so warm.
He says his goodbyes without making a sound;
Aides assure us there’s no cause for alarm.
And the nurses? They’re calm whatever the storm.
An emblem of abstinence,
sprinkled with pecans
remained on the porcelain platter
in the middle of the gallery
table for ten minutes.
Afraid to be the glutton
who scooped it
up, nobody touched
the lonely rectangle.
Three millennial men
hovered over it,
forgetting the Warhols
on the walls,
focusing on this different kind
of art. They stared
at each other, ignored
the thin, older lady
who ambled by them
and popped it
into her mouth
before they could stop her—
a veteran of these affairs—
with disapproving frowns.
She smiled sweetly,
in a Rolling Stones song,
as they left the room
before the baker’s
in a brand new plate
of delectable delights
faster than their predecessors,
leaving another solitary
Charley Burley was too good
everybody in Pittsburgh said so
the sportswriters trainers cut men
all the mill workers the garbage men the mechanics
the great Sugar Ray Robinson said so
the great Sugar Ray who fought Jake LaMotta six times
said he wouldn’t fight Charlie Burley because he was too good
wouldn’t risk getting his face beat flat as a piece of tin
besides I have Fritzie Zivic he said
when the greatest fighter in the history of boxing is afraid of you
it was said that the parabolic curve of Charley’s left hook
was so deadly so mathematical
it was borrowed for the Manhattan Project
yet so beautiful it could have been drawn by DaVinci
the middleweight Archie Moore never knew what hit him
or from what altitude or from what continent
he almost lost an eye
the blast from Charley’s fist was so bright on the horizon
the bombsight cracked before the fallout began
THOUGHTS ON OBSERVING YOUNG PEOPLE
CAVORTING IN THE COWICHAN RIVER
Sparkling tits and
soon they’ll be
on dads and mums.
There is a young girl in Buckfastleigh
who encourages guys to fuck fastly.
She’s expecting in May
but I fear cannot say
if the father fucked first or fucked lastly.
I TELL HIM NOT TO WORRY
In his mid-eighties, one trouble leads to another—
the sciatic nerve sticks him a good one now and then and never
lets him walk pain-free. Can’t get to the gym or in for a swim.
Muscles contract and now he’s unsteady on his feet,
blood pressure low, mustn’t stand up fast. Not allowed
to drive. His world is shrinking. He’s shrinking.
But not to worry, I say—
with two bellicose lunatics with bad haircuts at the helm, one
on the ship of state directly to the south of us and one
across the Pacific—both with nuclear bombs poised
for action—each and every one of us
may be shrinking soon….
sizzled to a crisp or vaporized
to a charcoal silhouette on the wall—a mere shadow
of our former selves.
I WANT YOU
I want you like creek wants stream
I want you like grass wants rain
I want you like fire wants wind
I want you like spider wants robin
I want you like stream wants river
I want you like flower wants sun
I want you like grass wants rain
I want you like mouse wants hawk
I want you like sea wants moon
I want you like fire wants wind
I want you like iron wants magnet
I want you like match wants gasoline
I want you like swimmer wants tide
I want you like ground wants seed
I want you like flower wants sun
I want you like sane wants crazy
I want you like grass wants rain
I want you like iron wants magnet
I want you like sea wants moon.
I want you like mouse wants hawk
I want you like creek wants stream
I want you like stream wants river
I want you like river wants sea
I want you like sea wants moon
I want you like spider wants robin
I want you like mouse wants hawk
I want you like fuel wants flame.
I want you like sane wants crazy.
HOT RED NIGHTS IN COOL BLUE SHEETS
I see you in an empty room next to a mattress. I wish you would bite into my nipples and spit out pearls. I wish you would chew me warm like a cookie, licking out the gooey chocolate parts. When I look at you I see you watching me. You climb a ladder like I want you to climb my body, one rung at a time until you reach the top, then climb back down again, only to start back up. When we start, we spin like a top. Your tongue hides in your mouth; what color is it? You look at me like the Sphinx. I want to get to know the hot pink flashes that hide at the backs of your knees. I want to know if you really can burrow like a badger and stay in one hole all winter; I could stay there with you. I could go the distance. Once upon a time, I thought, I’d never run out of men like you. Like a linden tree, you lean to the left, lengthy along one side. I want to feel your cool blue tongue and lie down in lily of the valley along all my length. Will you only please give me plenty of hot red nights in cool blue sheets.
for Knight Thornton (1910 to 1988)
Nudging crows noise the morning;
a table lamp buzzes over my hand.
Think of that day you taught me to ride a
bicycle. The photo afterward shows me, the bike, and
you in the background at home. Across the street is the
church where we buried your ashes.
I couldn’t touch the
box in the Priest’s hand, hating him who
loved you too. At the hospital it was
Halloween. Orderlies dressed as mice, nurses as
army commandos. One lifted you from bed, your
ribs narrow as birds’. Think
instead of that day on the gravel path by the
water. My heart beat fast, unconvinced. You
ran alongside. “Pedal, Pedal!” Then,
pushed. I bent low over the handlebars,
moving in every part but will. The road
wobbled, then stayed firm. At once I
wanted to go on forever, held up
in rushing air, and couldn’t unclench my hand to wave.
AT THE LEONARD COHEN CONCERT
A man in a black fedora reads Kant
sitting on a couch outside the men’s room
in the historic Fox Theater in Oakland,
wallpaper with Greek columns and heroes,
gold and bronze paint, a fluted pedestal
with branches reaching upward like worshippers
from a glazed vase, the couch with red
and black stripes on cream satin, knit
with tiny stars, a tribute to performers,
their perceptions of space and time, faint
echoes of former shows and films, clicks
of cells pulled through a hot projector,
faces dotted with lint, shades of gray
and Technicolor. The author’s name
on the cover, black letters hovering
over his bust, thoughts woven
with the voice of the singer
introducing a new song, muffled
by distant speakers and thick carpets,
then backup singers with perfect pitch
standing around his centered posture,
cocked knee over woolen thigh, the brim
of his fedora leaning with his forehead
projecting pure reason, his argument
SECRETS: CAN YOU PROMISE NOT TO TELL?
“let me whisper in your ear”
the painter sings off-key
which is funny
i am five my sister is four
he is in his late-twenties
and paints the frame
of our neighbor’s door
also covers his pants
that’s funny too
on the patio
mom thumbs the hose
to sprinkle food
into the green onions
which spring forth
into the world
like we two
the glen: tire swing
his secret: a conch shell
whispering or a spell
to transform a weedy
dandelion into a full red rose?
he doesn’t ask us
to lift shirts
or show panties
pose for a photo
only to touch it
and he insists in
great big letters
“in the glen mom”
i’m a rat but he’s taken off
dropped the brush
with its ugly black hairs
this upside-down afternoon
mom still watering the plants
has a secret too
the conch shell
whispering not trumpeting
murmuring not thundering
not charging into battle
only humming a flat note:
“don’t tell dad
when he gets home
go wash your hands” she says
though she scrubs and scrubs
and scrubs and scrubs
the fingers individually
the nails the backs
of the hands the palms
our mom may be scared
he will erupt or the police
won’t do a thing
or maybe it never
to her either
Can I really be cursed, or am I just an unlucky, mostly blind,
and now deaf son of a bitch? It’s a fair question
and I’m a damn good person to be asking it in noisy desperation.
I want answers, damn it. And who other than you
could dole then out? One last prayer to you
in hopes of a coherent answer before the dreamless sleep:
“God bless… God damn.”
ROCK CREEK MEMORY CENTER: BIRDWATCHING
the mourning dove’s red-orange feet
are hidden in the dry grass of the lawn
it drives its beak into the ground
with remarkable persistence
given that it’s 120 degrees outside
surely all the worms have fled deep underground
Mom watches with interest
then sinks back into her chair with a small grunt
we are sitting near the picture window
at the end of the hall that leads to the nurse’s station
she in her high-backed wheelchair
me in the glider chair that faces back down the hall
my head cranked over my shoulder
so I too can watch the birds
there are windows everywhere
but the chairs all face inwards
I wheel Mom around the circuit of hallways
make one-sided small talk
until we return to the window
where I wrench the glider chair around and
together Mom and I watch the birds
I hold her hand
long after she’s gone to sleep
I slip my hand from hers
and let myself out
grateful I can still recall
the seven digit code required to exit
TOWARD THE EXIT
Elbow deep in diapers,
nearly numb from lack of sleep,
I gave no thought to the way
my Mom would react
to my elevation to motherhood.
Given that her own mother
had been bereft of insight,
the victim of wrenching delusions
which made victims of us all,
perhaps I could have predicted
what came next.
But I did not.
So, I was ill-prepared when,
at Mom’s first visit following the birth of my twins,
at every visit over the ensuing years,
she fell on me, sobbing,
begging my forgiveness
for the wrongs she had done me,
perceived and real.
It’s all my fault, she would say
as if I were damaged beyond redemption,
a diseased oak, punky in the heart,
destined for destruction.
Entranced by martyrdom,
she re-enacted her abandonment of me
in all the ways that mattered.
I dismissed the theatrics—
it’s OK, I forgive you, let’s move on,
making motions with my hands
as if I were herding a small child
toward the exit.
I had moved beyond all that
or at least wrung the worst of the pain
from the past she sought to resurrect.
Now I sit with Mom here in the memory care unit,
follow her vague drifting gaze
as the other demented residents
shamble by her door.
Her room smells of the desert—
Pinesol and tonight’s meatloaf.
No more drama.
My relief is a physical presence,
clothed in guilt.
I congratulate myself on having resisted
the impulse to follow in her footsteps,
to label my children broken and wanting.
Yet, looking into her foggy blue eyes,
I wonder if all is well.
Who knows who I will be –
once death has claimed her.
TO GENTLE THE STONES
I am weary
dry, heavy like your ashes
weighed down by sorrow, bitterness
sharp chips of grief
strike me unpredictably
draw blood, a thousand
tiny stinging nicks—
I yearn for cool waters to gentle the stones
where I might float
at the boundary of water and sky
resting for a time
distant bird calls
splinter the stillness
stir duty to life
I open the box
tip it slowly
let the wind and earth take you
I wake up every morning hoping that yesterday was a dream. I’d lost that magic pen I used to rewrite history. I realise we’ve collected too many postmarked stamps, now collecting dusts, right beside where you used to lie. The moon is watching over my grief each night, to make sure I waste no more tears, just in case the one who got away returns. I still dream of my father’s funeral; his favorite hymn – Mama’s hands and mine, gripping his for the last time. I put on the least of my clothes; fingers waltzing, lamenting in front of the mirror.
Please be strong. You have no room to cry.
Stainless steel chopsticks I just found,
the ones that burned my tongue,
like you did to my bridges of kindness.
A STRANGER’S ATTEMPT TO EMBRACE KUALA LUMPUR
The colour of accepting a culture
is not to mock at anyone eating roti canai
for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stop complaining
about the Monorail ride from Hang Tuah to Titiwangsa
melting in languages, dialects and religions.
In your hotel room, I replenish that potpourri
with fennel seeds, cardamom and cumin,
drinking milk tea with sprinkling of Masala spices
I know for sure you will despise the smell
that lingers underneath my nails. Remember
I told you about the plate of Seven Continents of Rice
in a heap of raw pigments, take a wild bite
to brew your Eros, experiencing overflowing of stages;
a cultural detachment if you missed climbing
any of the Batu Caves’ 272 concrete steps,
the long forgotten melody, my exotic upbringing,
breathe slowly as you’re counting the days
for this trip to end. Strands of ikal mayang hair
brush your shoulder, hearing your voice
echoes through the insomniac skyscrapers
THE QUANTUM THEORY OF SANDWICHES
I see them through the Hubble of my mind,
this linear momentum of physicists,
bonding in the CERN canteen, pondering
the matter of quark sandwiches,
arms waving through space, articulating
an uncertain theory of flavours.
I see them in their elementary huddle,
so intent on the fundamental matter,
(the charm of baguette, the strangeness of bagel),
they collide with the quantum mechanics,
armed with fuse wire and needle-nose pliers,
accelerating toward the Hadron glitch.
I see them in the singularity of their fuddle
the cosmological scrabble to redeem
the elements of their high energy regime,
scattered in the impact of the Big Bang,
gastronomic particles of quark,
lettuce, tomato and cheese.
Before boys were nibbling our lobes,
it was horses that nuzzled our necks,
quickened our unbroken hearts,
rose and fell between our thighs.
Girls like us could only gaze
on borrowed steeds, saddled
with the weight of longing, our fields
stocked with wild imaginings.
Our thirteenth summer the oaks
that grazed the clouds were felled,
their trunks left spliced to the bole,
fourteen hands, ground to wither.
Girlish dreams ride bareback.
Mine was Spirit, a sorrel mare,
an unswerving quarter horse,
her mane a silver streak,
a glance of skittish blade,
the shredding of cambium bark,
sticky with sap, or the slick
of sweat on a blaze.
Loosed in the fastness of youth,
we raced our days to glory, slept
stabled in the soundness of home,
our dreams tethered to a sliver of time,
as if freedom were ours to keep.
(after William Carlos Williams))
I cannot tell a naked lie,
it was I who took the biscuit
that you so crisply baked.
I who wolfed that piece of cake.
I couldn’t resist the humble pie,
nor the last cheese straw,
and I’m sorry to be a bitch,
but I found them all a bit rich.
You can keep the wheelbarrow
upon which so much depends,
I’ve taken the hens.
A GLASS OF CHAMPAGNE
Tell the truth. The com-
petition of long ago still
haunts. Her hair shimmers.
Problems of the past should
be a thing of the past. Are
you on board with that?
Provided you lie about it she
shot back. A violin trembles,
the telephone rings. They
walk out to buy noodles.
Paul David Adkins lives in NY. In 2017, Lit Riot Press published his collection Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath. Journal publications include Pleiades, River Styx, Rattle, Diode, Baltimore Review, and Whiskey Island. He has received five Pushcart Prize nominations and two finalist nominations from the Central NY Book Awards.
Alan W. Bean is the photographer whose work accompanies Pavloina Gatikova’s poem Cathy on Bed. Mr. Bean is married to Ms. Gatikova.
Gina Marie Bernard is a heavily tattooed transgender woman, roller derby vixen, and high school English teacher. She has completed a 50-mile ultramarathon, followed Joan Jett across the US, and taught creative writing at a medium-security prison. She lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, own her heart. She has written one YA novel, Alpha Summer (2005), and one collection of short fiction, Vent (2013). Her work has recently appeared in r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal, The Hunger, Waccamaw Journal, and Jet Fuel Review. Her chapbook Naked Gettin’ Nuder is a 2018-2019 Glass Chapbook Series finalist, and has been accepted for publication by Clare Songbirds Publishing. Her website is ginamariebernard.squarespace.com.
Ingrid Bruck grows wildflowers, makes jam and writes poetry. The Pennsylvania Amish country where she lives inhabits her writing. Current works appears in Unbroken Journal, Rat’s Ass Review, Quatrain.Fish, W.I.S.H., Entropy, The Song Is and I Am Not A Silent Poet. Poetry website: ingridbruck.com.
Helen Burke is a poet turned artist; her work has exhibited in the UK and France; she currently has an exhibition in Leeds, England. Her art can be seen on krazyphils.com and origamipoems.com; she designs greeting cards and fabric and likes to work in acrylic, mixed-media, collagraph, and water colour.
Jeff Burt lives in California with his wife amid the redwoods and two-lane roads wide enough for one car. He works in mental health. He has work in The Watershed Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Spry, Atticus Review, and The Monarch Review. He was the featured 2015 summer issue poet of Clerestory, and won the 2017 Cold Mountain Review narrative poetry prize.
Matthew Byrne‘s poetry was featured in The Best American Poetry 2007. He has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, and received an International Merit Award from Atlanta Review in 2009. His chapbook, “Silent Partner”, won the 2013 Sow’s Ear Press Chapbook Award. He received an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana in 1999, and now serves as vice president at an insurance agency in Chicago.
Nikki Byrnside has been a Champaign, IL resident for 21 years, and for about the same amount of time, worked in an auto salvage/metal recycling facility. A mother of four children ages 5, 8,10 and 16, is a member of CU Poetry, a writing group that has been an endless source of inspiration and encouragement.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of two books and five chapbooks. Most recently They Went to the Beach to Play (LoCoFo Chaps, 2017). For more about her work, check her website at www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com.
Alána Clohessy has spent her life having a love affair with words. She has a Masters of Science and worked as a Biomedical Engineer before leaving the world of industry to pursue her dreams. She went on to become an award winning makeup artist, keying numerous films and photoshoots internationally. In 2018, she has finally made the affair official and is sharing her words with others. She is from Ireland and currently resides in Vancouver, BC.
Michael Coolen has been published widely, including in Oregon Humanities, The Gold Man Review, Clementine Poetry Journal, Synesthesia Magazine, Broken, The Poetry Quarterly, Oregon Poetry Association, et al.
Joe Cottonwood is a carpenter by day, writer by night. Self-taught in each. His most recent book is Foggy Dog: Poems of the Pacific Coast.
Fred Dale is a husband to his wife, Valerie, and a father to his occasionally good dog, Earl. He received his Master’s in English from the University of North Florida, where he serves as a Senior Instructor in the Department of English. He is also pursuing an MFA at the University of Tampa, but mostly, he just grades papers. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sugar House Review, The Summerset Review, Chiron Review, Crack the Spine, The Evansville Review, and others.
kyndall delph is an undergrad at the University of Kansas studying creative writing, African American studies, and French. Arkansas native and astrology enthusiast, they have been featured in The Kiosk Fifty Seven, a KU literary magazine, for their poetry that mostly deals with identity and feeling alone – in race and gender. They write a lot of sad poetry and drink way too much root beer, but other hobbies include debate and tweeting more than they should (@___kyndall___).
William Doreski‘s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (Splash of Red, 2018).
Michael Estabrook has been publishing his poetry in the small press since the 1980s. Hopefully with each passing decade the poems have become more succinct and precise, clear and relatable, more appealing and “universal.” He has published over 20 collections, the latest being Bouncy House, edited by Larry Fagin (Green Zone Editions, 2014).
Deirdre Fagan is a widow, wife, and mother of two who has published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Most recently, her work has appeared in Amaryllis, Eunoia Review, Every Day Fiction, New Verse News, and Poetry Breakfast. She is also the author to Critical Companion to Robert Frost and has published a number of critical essays. Fagan teaches literature and writing at Ferris State University where she is also the Coordinator of Creative Writing. Meet her at deirdre-fagan-djds.squarespace.com.
Karin L. Frank‘s poems and stories have been published in numerous literary journals, popular, and genre magazines both in the U.S. and abroad.
Meg Freer grew up in Montana and lives in Ontario where she is a member of the Ontario Poetry Society. Her photos and poems have won awards and have been accepted for publication in chapbook anthologies and journals such as NatureWriting, Mothers Always Write, Young Ravens Literary Review, Eastern Iowa Review, and Rat’s Ass Review. In 2017 she won a writing fellowship and attended the Summer Literary Seminars in Tbilisi.
Pavlina Gatikova lives in southeastern Massachusetts with her husband. She is originally from the Czech Republic where she completed her Master’s Degree in English and French as Foreign Languages. She has taught English to adult immigrants. Since 2007, she has been working as an ESL teacher in the public schools.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.
Stephanie L. Harper is a Pushcart Prize Nominee, and the author of the chapbook, *This Being Done* (Finishing Line Press, June 2018). Her poems appear in Slippery Elm, Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, Figroot, Harbinger Asylum, The Ibis Head Review, Panoply, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband, two teen children, and a geriatric cattle dog in Hillsboro, OR.
Robin Helweg-Larsen is British-born but Bahamian-raised. His education came from good schools, hitchhiking on five continents and working all over the place. His poetry has mostly been published in the UK (Snakeskin, Ambit, etc), but also in the US (RAR, Love & Ensuing Madness, etc), and in Canada, Australia and India. He lives in his hometown of Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera.
Ruth Hoberman is a writer living in Chicago. Her poems have appeared in such venues as PANK, Natural Bridge, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review. She has poems forthcoming in Calyx and The Healing Muse.
Michael Kleiza has published one book of poetry A Poet on the Moon (Vocamus Press 2015). He has published in Rhapsody a local anthology of Guelph poets and has read his poetry at various venues. He has a science degree in physics and lives in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Caroline Koonce is a high school student based at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She joined her school’s writing club for less than noble reasons, and it snowballed from there. These days, her preferred genres of writing are poetry and screenplays. She has one cat named after a road sign and one dog who might be a rat. You can find more about her at carolinekoonce.blogspot.com.
H.L. Korbee is a recent graduate of the Concordia University English Literature and Creative Writing program in Montreal. She works for the government by day, writes poems by night, and stumbles gracelessly through adulthood with whatever time she has left. She has previously been published in THE FWORD Volumes II and III, 6geek.com, and MTLBlog.
Kamryn Kurtzner is a poet residing in Redwood City, California. She has been published in See Spot Run, The Pine River Anthology, Rat’s Ass Review, The Lavender Review, and Michigan’s Best Emerging Poets.
Yvonne Higgins Leach is the author of Another Autumn (WordTech Editions, 2014). After earning a Master of Fine Arts from Eastern Washington University, she spent decades balancing a career in communications and public relations, raising a family, and pursuing her love of writing poetry. She is now a full-time poet splitting her time between Spokane and Vashon Island, Washington. For more information, visit yvonnehigginsleach.com.
Laurinda Lind lives in New York’s North Country. Some poetry publications/ acceptances have been in Comstock Review, The Cortland Review, Ekphrasis, Kestrel, Off the Coast, Paterson Literary Review, and Transom.
Australian poet Mandy Macdonald lives in Aberdeen, Scotland, trying to make sense of the 21st and other centuries. Music, poetry, good wine, and gardening keep her sane. Her work appears in print and online, most recently in Dusk (Arachne, 2018), Songs for the Unsung (Grey Hen, 2017), Aiblins: New Scottish political poetry (Luath, 2016), and journals including Coast to Coast to Coast, Riggwelter, and The Curlew. The rest of the time, she makes music.
Bob MacKenzie’s poetry has been published across North America and as far away as Australia and India in publications that include The Literary Review of Canada, The Dalhousie Review, Windsor Review, and Ball State University Forum. Bob has published thirteen volumes of poetry and prose and has been featured in numerous anthologies. With the performance ensemble Poem de Terre, Bob has performed his poetry live with original music and released six albums.
Jeremy Nathan Marks is an American writer living in London, ON. Recent poetry has appeared in Muddy River, Morel, Chiron Review, Word Fountain, I-70 Review, The Blue Nib, The Wild Word, Ariel Chart and The Wire’s Dream. He is a 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry.
When not hiding in the fifteenth century, Jennifer A. McGowan hits words with spanners until they approximate poems. Her latest book, With Paper for Feet, containing many poems of folk tales and dramatic monologues, is available from Arachne Press:https://arachnepress.com/shop/. She has featured in many magazines and journals, such as Rialto, Pank, and Prole, in various and occasionally surprising countries.
E.V. McLoughlin‘s poems were published in Making Memories (CAP 2015), Connections (CAP 2016), Between light and half light (Shalom/Crescent writers 2015) anthologies as well as in Panning for Poems, Rat’s Ass Review magazines. Her poems were longlisted for Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2016 and shortlisted for the Fresher Writing Prize 2017. E.V. loves coffee, books, and city lights and lives in Co. Down, Northern Ireland with her husband and son.
Haley Montgomery is currently a student studying Kinesiology in Canada. She writes and reads poems to understand emotions better. She spends most of her time outdoors where she find nature to be one of the best catalysts for writing, drawing and other artistic things.
Mike L. Nichols is a graduate of Idaho State University. Mike was awarded the 2014 Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize. Look for his poetry in Black Rock & Sage, Rogue Agent, Tattoo Highway, Spider Mirror Journal, Post Card Poems and Prose, and elsewhere. Find more at mikenicholsauthor.com.
J. Ray Paradiso is a recovering academic in the process of refreshing himself as a street photographer and an experimental writer.
Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of seven books, most recently one on education called “Saving K-12.” (Please!) His novels range from noir detective to experimental journeys that incorporate a lot of chance, e.g., “American Dreams.” His biggest commercial success was “Too Easy” (Simon & Schuster), hailed by Kinky Friedman as the “unwed mother of all page-turners.” Price has also been an Art Director and digital artist. His literary site is Lit4u.com.
Ashley Prinzo is a new writer from New Jersey. She will be finishing her MFA in Nonfiction at Emerson College in the fall. When she’s not writing like mad, she enjoys binge eating, befriending local bartenders and blogging about the importance of mental health. She wishes to raise depression awareness with her poetry and prose.
Ben Rasnic currently resides in Bowie, Maryland. Author of four published collections (three available from amazon.com), Ben’s poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize.
Maree Reedman lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her cheeky cockatiels and husband. She wrote her first poem when she was a prison psychologist, noticing how willie wagtails waltzed on the barbed wire. Her poetry has been published in the Grieve Anthologies, Hecate, StylusLit, and won awards in the Ipswich Poetry Feast, including a mentorship with Carmen Leigh Keates. She likes to write poetry that has a story and says something about being human.
Stacy Rollins is a writer, visual artist, singer, Rennie, and fitness enthusiast who lives in Park Slope. She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing at FSU and has authored two books, Truer Faults and Learning to Read. Her other crowning achievements include designing her own religion, “Stanism,” while in law school, and also dropping out of law school. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, Everyday Genius, Diversion Press, Black Heart Magazine, Crack the Spine, Poetry Quarterly, New York Dreaming, Garbanzo, Nailed Magazine, Spine, Shantih, and The Oleander Review.
Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal holds an MA from Kings College, London. She is a recipient of the 14th Beullah Rose Poetry Prize by Smartish Pace. She is featured on the masthead of the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review as a Frequent Contributor for 2018. Her poetry has appeared/ is forthcoming in Smartish Pace, SOFTBLOW, Broad River Review, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Poetry Breakfast, The Visitant, The Same, Leaves of Ink, The Paragon Journal, et al. Her first book is slated for release in mid 2018. She lives with her 4-year-old son and husband in Pune, India. Find her work on her Facebook Page: facebook.com/aparnasanyalwrites/.
Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has been accepted by the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.
Alec Solomita’s fiction has appeared in The Mississippi Review, Southwest Review, Southword, Peacock, and The Adirondack Review, among other publications; his poetry in Literary Orphans, Rat’s Ass Review, Streetlight, 3Elements Literary Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Do Not Forsake Me, was published by Finishing Line Press in October of 2017. He was recently chosen as an honorary finalist by Winning Writers for his story “The Return.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
David Spicer has had poems in Chiron Review, The New Verse News, Alcatraz, Gargoyle, Easy Street, Third Wednesday, Reed Magazine, Santa Clara Review, Rat’s Ass Review, The Ginger Collect, Yellow Mama, Midnight Lane Boutique, Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. The author of Everybody Has a Story and five chapbooks, he’s the former editor of raccoon, Outlaw, and Ion Books. His latest chapbook is From the Limbs of a Pear Tree, available from Flutter Press.
John Stupp’s third poetry collection Pawleys Island was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press. His manuscript Summer Job won the 2017 Cathy Smith Bowers Poetry Prize and will be published in 2018 by Main Street Rag. He lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Anne Swannell‘s poems have appeared in The Honest Ulsterman, Anglo-Welsh Review, the Americas Review, and most major Canadian literary journals. Work has recently been seen in anthologies from Leaf Press, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Chuffed Buff Books, OWF Press, and Polar Expressions. She has also published three books of poetry, “Drawing Circles on the Water,” “Mall” (Rowan Books, Edmonton, 1991) and “Shifting” (Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, 2008).
Susan Thornton‘s work has previously appeared in Rats Ass Review, Best American Mystery Stories 2016, Dark Fire Fiction (UK), and Puerto Del Sol. Her memoir, On Broken Glass: Loving and Losing John Gardner, was published by Carroll and Graf in 2000. She lives and writes in Binghamton New York where she is gainfully employed as an instructor of French.
Terry Tierney has poems coming in Third Wednesday and Cold Creek Review, and his poems have appeared in Kalliope, Kansas Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Puerto del Sol, California Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, Cottonwood Review, Great River Review, Lullwater Review and other publications. He has stories coming in Fictive Dreams and SPANK the CARP, and his stories have appeared in Literally Stories and Big Bridge. He’s currently writing poems and stories while rewriting a sixties novel.
Joy Ueno has grown up in southern California, where she currently resides. In her spare time, she enjoys watching roller derby, reading literature of all shapes and sizes, and trying out recipes on her friends and family.
Richard Weaver lives in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor where he volunteers with the Maryland Book Bank, acts as the Archivist-at-large for a Jesuit college, and is a seasonal snowflake counter (unofficially). Recent 2018 acceptances include: Aberration Labyrinth, Slant, FRIGG, Slush Pile, decomP, South Florida Poetry Journal, and Concho River Review.
After many years as a visual artist and musician, Patricia Wentzel took up poetry as part of her recovery from a severe episode of Bipolar Disorder. She thanks the Sacramento Poetry Center, Sacramento Prose and Poetry Meetup and Women’s Wisdom Art program for their support over the past three years. Her work has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Neutrons and Protons, Sacramento Voices, Poetry Now, The Light Ekphrastic and others.
Deborah Wong was born in Kuala Lumpur and currently lives in Subang Jaya, Malaysia. Her work has been published in Crack The Spine, Streetcake Magazine, East Jasmine Review, Eksentrika, Wherewithal, Thiscene, Thought Catalog and other international and local online journals and magazines. She has two forthcoming short fictions to be featured in The Stray Branch. Instagram: @petitedeborah/.
Stella Wulf lives in South West France. Her work has been widely published both in print and online. Publications include Obsessed With Pipework, The High Window, Raum, Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, Rat’s Ass Review, Smeuse, and many others. Her poems have also appeared in several anthologies including, The Very Best of 52, three drops, Clear Poetry Anthology, and forthcoming in #Me Too. She has an MA in Creative Writing, from Lancaster University.
Mark Young is the author of over forty books, primarily text poetry but also including speculative fiction, vispo, & art history. His work has been widely anthologized, & his essays & poetry translated into a number of languages. His most recent books are random salamanders, a Wanton Text Production, & Circus economies, from gradient books of Finland.
Edited by Roderick Bates
RAT’S ASS REVIEW SPRING-SUMMER ISSUE 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED