(Cover Art Woman with Rat – Timidity by Cynthia Yatchman)
Brian J. Alvarado
where, oh where
has my eurydice gone?
for i have traversed
a new hell daily for
well over an attic year,
plucking at electric lyres
with chipped heart picks
and some sleepless nails,
warbling metallic ariettas
through futile crawlspaces
of dense boxes left packed
has she gone away
when i turned around
to look back on how
i had failed to die and
return a changed man?
did she depart when
i about-faced to check if
doubt was lying— or worse—
lying in wait to collect the
spoils of a shattered
was she ever even there
ere i gave way to oblivion?
at the mercy of divine will,
and much too far behind you
now, my mortal ditties
charm no longer, and my
cardboard walls shan’t
erode soon enough for
me to see you again
even in death
Describe the dream with a hatchet, or something finer. Hacksaw blade, piano wire. Make it sit still. This is harder than it looks. All the things you could’ve been. Coffee cup, undergarment from an 1890’s catalogue, a telephone pole. That pole rising from the earth wanted to be a tree but it could never lift the sidewalk, never send roots down to the sewer, and so it settled for its present position, connected to all the other branchless uprights. Wearing a nest of wires like a halo, whisperings of forest. It’s like that, the dreams you’ve buried under your skin, moving through your flesh, displacing another day.
In two decades, police have pulled 77 bodies
from Manchester’s canals. Most are young men.
The Canal Pusher, their supposed killer,
has entered local legend.
Push – men in my city know
walking the canals at night
and glance back over
shoulders at a tricky streetlamp:
bulb that needs replacing
or the shadow of a branch.
Even if we haven’t seen, we know
the victim hooked below the barge
and drawn up rigid from the concrete floor
his eyes upturned, unblinking, fishmeal.
We have our theories. Each of us
has made the pusher of a passer-by.
That hooded lad, that chronic loner
must be the attacker who has killed
eighty of us on a night like this.
Then he passes. Strike of gavel.
Not guilty tonight.
The beer is warm inside us and the cold
unfelt a time – our step
is light now that we are alone
and we come to the steep brick lip:
the edge of the canal
to feel the hands against our back
the fingers in our unwashed hair
our disappointments and our hopes
racked up beside us. Now we are aware
of our reflection incoming. We know
the man behind the men in the canal
and glancing up the empty path, we push.
Between young and old, a line of snow.
This side you’re rolling heads
of snowmen through the city park –
that side you’re housebound
or doddering on ice.
Outside, the street is under new control.
The mouths of bins are frozen shut;
icicles like judgements hang above.
I walk in someone’s footsteps up the road.
In my path, in someone’s print,
a needle pointing up.
The plunger has been drawn – the golden
residue of blood.
If I’d found a baby I might not
have wrapped it up so tenderly in my coat.
I thought of bins, then of the binman’s fingers.
I thought, a night like that – snowstorm, gale –
and still the hunger pulled someone outside
to shoot up on my road. I felt the cold
steal through my jumper.
The coat hung in my arms. I felt an ache.
I almost lost my balance on the ice.
A child was laughing over the white road.
We walked through war-zone destruction
to renovate Old Broadway.
We walked steadfast, serene
through jackhammers, backhoes, noise.
To renovate Old Broadway
our lives, dead marriages, torn-up love.
We walked steadfast, serene
moving forward, looking ahead, matching strides.
Our lives, dead marriages, torn-up love.
You reached for my hand, folded fingers into fingers
moving forward, looking ahead, matching strides.
And then, you let go.
You reached for my hand, folded fingers into fingers
reliving the past, refitting a future, matching strides.
And then, you let go.
Cracking concrete. The terror of touch.
Reliving the past, refitting a future, matching strides
I reached for your hand, smoothed palms, folded fingers.
Cracking concrete. The terror of touch.
Again, you let go.
I reached for your hand, smoothed palms, folded fingers
looking forward, matching strides, moving ahead.
Again, you let go.
I said, “You don’t like to hold hands?”
Looking forward, matching strides, moving ahead.
Silence, silence, silence. Jackhammers. Backhoes. Noise.
I said, “You don’t like to hold hands?”
Midway, midstride on Old Broadway, a dead end.
PAINTING OF THE RED BRIDGE
The color of truth is gray.
The red bridge squats
eponymously over blue water.
Demolished years before the artist’s
birth, the red bridge is painted
from imagination, painted from directions
given over generations: “Take the Red Bridge . . .”
In a place where things don’t change
much, where grandparents may never
have travelled out of the state, much less
the country, the red bridge has been
reconstructed since slavery. Unlike
the lead-colored smokestacks lurching
into sight as I-95 curves into town, the red
bridge sits not in a place, but in collective
memory, joining Providence to East
Providence. How do you get there? You
take the red bridge. Today’s bridge is no
longer red, but everyone knows what you mean.
The color of truth is gray, like
smokestacks. The color of nostalgia
is heart-hued. My bridge flies cochineal across
the Seekonk River, your bridge hovers
rust-red like an abandoned train trestle. This
painted bridge squats carmine. Everyone knows
you eat raw oysters in months that have an r in them.
SEA OF SHADOWS
This bitter sea of shadows
can still warm your heart
as merrows require hot blood
in meat as raw as the shore’s
best rocks for breaking ships
and taking men; a golden treasure
can’t compare to one night
with a fresh man, still half alive
from drinking air; the maid
has her cake before the feast,
and the roast is all the sweeter
for the effort, so they say.
Their songs are not laments
but keening pleas for twofold
pleasures; creatures of the sea
don’t mourn a death, for every life there
springs from that which goes below
with black spots for eyes,
blind now to these reckoning
machines, all carapace and claw
and sucking mouths, living stomachs
that would devour the light
had it the courage to plunge
into this cold kingdom,
past these maids of doom
and their patient songs,
their hungry need, their beauty
halved by the horrors of the deep.
Her first kiss invites nakedness
familiar to the start of life
or its end, where breath surprises
with its pain, and the heart’s
confusion makes us lose our way;
again, again, but the embrace
turns harsh; breath fouls in a chest
robbed of its center, its source
of warm remembering; a thirst
comes on, but let it in and it quenches
all love, all hope, all fire
for life; escaping bubbles delight
the maid, as they form his binding
vow of faith to never part,
or fade, or drift away untrue.
THE POEM PRETENDS TO BE A TWIN
so it can swim beside
my mother, her untethered sister
in a rocking, saline sea.
It would like to neatly print
letters on oaktag, listen
to her lips form sound, perhaps
“C” like the “sea,” not “cuh.”
It would not correct her.
The poem recites her stories,
embellishes moments she’s proud
of, thinks of them as gifts.
The poem can tell you
who broke my mother’s heart.
First Sheldon and last Eddie.
It remembers her
in the navy-dotted two-piece, sees the hat’s swoop
of dark shadow across pale legs.
The poem forgets,
but like my mother’s memories, the timeline
of history is fluid. It believes
there’s no shame
in confusing the date of her birth
with her grandmother’s.
The poem says, “I’m sanguine.”
But I know better.
I’m further along
in this trudge
from now to then. Ready
the poem’s hand in mine, to hurtle
backwards together, past my mother’s hobbled
walk, last tiny apartment, her children’s
children, the red-faced wail of a baby,
the long train of wedding dress.
To slowly lift the veil.
I hated watching your body deceive you, call it quits
way before the job was done. You made a swift
turn, from heavy and strong to weak and helpless.
I hated your worthless body.
I hated your tongue for showering profanity
over anyone who tried to help you. You said
things that would never spill from your healthy lips,
biting remarks which did not become you.
I hated pulling your pants up and down
like a yo-yo. I hated the repetitive
chore of lifting you up out of your
rolling chair and lowering your body gently.
to a mobile pot.
I hated the new bed that held you hostage,
trapped you in like an endangered animal.
You looked odd, your stout frame
settled in a metal trap with no escape.
I hated brushing your stained dentures
and replacing your hearing aid batteries. I hated
that future meals would be pureed,
soft and slick like slop.
I hated being your caretaker, when for fifty
years I had been your baby girl.
You lifted me high in the palms of your hands,
and I was not afraid. I could not lift you.
I hated being the one who watched
your blue eyes slide shut for the last time.
I hated holding your cold hand, the only
thing I could do to help you cross
your very last street.
Dorothy Parker offered ways to die
then talked us out of it.
Jonathan Edwards warned of angry gods,
and Clemens had us watch a jumping frog.
Old Santiago lost a fish. Young Goodman Brown
misplaced his Faith. The Bad Little Boy
did not get punished, and the hare
lost a race with a turtle.
Laura believed in unicorns and Atticus Finch
forever scorned Faulkner’s rotten South.
Widow Douglas prayed for fishing line
and Ellen Foster found a home.
Richard Cory put a bullet through his head,
and William Carlos Williams ate some lovely
plums. Plath and Sexton breathed their way
out, and Wordsworth left us daffodils.
Frost gave us apple trees and fences
and Sandburg showed us Chicago and fog.
Benet whistled the whippoorwill and God
sleeping in his long white beard.
Lisa Creech Bledsoe
SCIENTISTS REVIVE ANIMALS FROZEN FOR 24,000 YEARS IN SIBERIAN SOIL
They (a) rubbed their icy little cilia together,
(b) got something to eat, then (hell yeah) had sex.
Jesus, Mary, & Joseph it had been a long-ass time.
И ежу понятно. That’s Russian for no-brainer.
Rose Mary Boehm
HUGH PAINTS CICADAS
Hugh specializes in stuff for budding composers. Makes new, intuitive user interfaces, lets the punters play a MIDI instrument, his software takes care of the details… you don’t really want to know more. Unless you feel like buying-in. He called his software ‘Ravel’ and declared her to be his girlfriend. First Hugh taught Ravel to hum. Then she learned to imitate the sounds in Hugh’s garden. Excited the wood pigeons, warbled the goldfinches, and scattered the African bee-eaters. For her next trick she scratched the cicada’s love songs. While his girlfriend was communing with cicadas, he began–playfully at first–his series of untitled multimedia on canvas.
ALWAYS THE FIRST
She always was the first
to thrust her hand
in the air, ‘I know it, Miss!’
Even if she didn’t. Made
it up real fast. Most of the time
she was right.
She was the one who first lost
her virginity. Not that the guy
liked her that much, but couldn’t
resist her insistence. We heard
all about it.
She was the one who sat
in the first row with her blouse
half undone. The teacher we all coveted
couldn’t see anything else
but her tits.
She was the valedictorian and
only talked about herself. We didn’t
quite understand the choice they’d
made, but I later heard she’d been ‘nice’
to the principal.
It was her I found on my wedding day
with her face between my new husband’s
legs. In our new bedroom.
He said there was no way
he could not.
They found her in one of the city’s
garbage containers. She’d been
hydraulically compacted. There was
not enough left for the police to figure out
how she got there.
you wake up early
after too few hours of sleep
alert, excited, anxious
you’re in the shower
shaving so smooth
every part of you
clean and fresh and ready
pulling your nylons up
tightening your bra
slipping into your pumps
you pack extra panties in your purse
already feeling the reason why
just coffee this morning, black
food will have to wait
too nervous to add weight
too excited to eat anyway
instead of going to work
you go to the hotel
where you meet him
a twinge of ephemeral guilt
overwhelmed by your desire
to be touched so deeply
so deeply it hurts
to be held
to be valued
to be loved
even for such a brief time
of a small company
a non-profit of sorts
I organize, strategize, supervise
doing all jobs
in all departments
without pay and with little gratitude
yet so much slacking
but if one loves one’s job
one never works
and I never do
Dan Brook is a fine organization
even if sometimes disorganized
I am in good company
this is a company
that I will retire with
There are wild lovebirds on our island. Not that they conduct their romantic lives with wanton abandon, they’re just not domesticated. Ornithologists think they might be mutations of species introduced long ago, or perhaps something else. But they definitely travel as loving couples and are very good at it. If one flits past, its partner is seconds away and can be spotted before the other disappears to the foliage. They express affection by feeding each other; it’s part of their continuous courting. They’re monogamous, mate for life, and live with their partner 15 years or more. They set us all a good example. Only once did I see a lovebird all alone. It troubled me and I wondered what happened. Death? Divorce? Trial separation? Simple misunderstanding that couldn’t be worked out? Avian homewrecker? Served a bad worm? I never saw that lonesome lovebird again and wondered if it flew forever into the sky to find its mate. If my love flew forever into the sky I would follow.
CHEWING MY NAILS
I’ve been in a lifelong battle with nerves
if you ever wonder how I am
just look at my hands
I console myself
it isn’t chain smoking
an eating disorder
not that I haven’t flirted with
other anxiety busters like those
I had perfectly manicured nails for
these last three months
understated classy– in control
Monday I cut all my nails
a preemptive strike against this need
to gnash and tear at myself.
Tuesday I gave in to the more banal
urges, appeasing that lust for destruction.
Today I’m down to hangnails.
I listen to you tell me how happy you are
lapping at a little drop of my own blood
the salt brings such umami to the soup
of your sweet voice
and my bitterness
TO A GRAY HAIR-
I’m having a hard time with this aging thing
it’s not feminist or woke
but I feel like I am disappearing…
I found a gray hair on my head and now
I’m feeling jealous of men
stupid silver foxes
steeped in that age = increasing power thing
aged scotches of the world
vintage Rolexes and shit
I’m all in on this jealousy
giving that easy confidence some serious side-eye
I’ve started fantasizing about being a man
–for a day, maybe two
I want to be a big boy…nice and tall
not because I want to have a man’s body
I already know how that hardware works
I just want to feel it…
the experience, I mean
I want the bromance
I want to interact with women
walk into any space
hold court like the sultan I am
another man in a man’s world
(this daydream also has ulterior motives)
I want to see how you react to me in this man body
will your eyes feel the same on my skin?
will I make you feel small
or will you still vibrate through my entire universe?
when I talk to you
will your breath still catch in your throat?
will you look down, tugging at the hem of your sleeve
a half smile on those lips
in that heart-stopping shy way that murders me?
I am dying to know.
you see, I haven’t told you about this gray hair yet,
I’d like to see first how you react to it when I’m a man
my woman’s ego is still reeling from the discovery.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
It’s not that I don’t remember
your name or the date
of my first marriage, or when
we were friends, it’s just that
a combination of finick
and a childhood trauma combine
to keep me from recognizing
your value or the value of those
forfeit years. I see pictures of us
together me/you/him, in various combos
so, I’m sure those things I never think of
happened, but calling the extinct to rise
is a picnic of the damned, although
I will think longingly of the big
Ivory-billed woodpecker, appearing
as a specter in the Arkansas bottoms
this century, no matter how many
Pileated woodpeckers are in my yard.
My memory has always been
a precarious thing. I’ve written
about its treachery a lot.
But I’ve never written about
the Red-headed woodpeckers that
used to be abundant in the woods
around our house, waking us with
their shrill cries and their pounding.
My friend Harold says divvy up
the land and sell it off, but what
would we do with the money,
the squirrels, the less-picturesque
woodpeckers to say nothing
of the hummingbirds that summer
around our porch, the bats that live
in the eaves. There are a gracious
plenty of other animals to take up
room in my hippocampus without
recalling the random men who
loved me then changed their minds.
Neither hot nor cold,
my touch is smooth.
Many are not even
aware of my presence
until moments after
I have passed through.
I am the faraway flash
of the muzzle, arriving
long before your pain
reaches its destination.
I nit-pick another strand in tin can aluminium
pubic and wiry as the scouring pad clumped
on the kitchen sink the dishes can wait
the hydrogen peroxide gunk coagulates
thick like blood molasses because I’m worth it
two for the price of one dripping on dirty plates
knives and forks smeared in Tesco bean juice
on the wine glass lipstick kissed in Candy Flesh
bubble baked in last night’s Chardonnay
my frown puckers forward loose skin slack
around tight mouth laser-precision focus
on the pearling plastic tip give it to me baby
fingers jerking at my roots I wonder if
I’ll see you again and if I have eggs
in the fridge to make that Botox mask
Riding in my backpack
she charms the man
who is in a good mood
so he repairs my chainsaw
on the spot, no waiting,
asking only for
two six-packs of Bud
which we buy
from the bodega next door.
With greasy finger
he touches her nose,
leaves a smudge.
“Don’t tell Boss,” he says,
winking at my daughter
who giggles, who is as yet
of her power.
LILY’S SMALL HAND FITS INSIDE THE PEANUT BUTTER JAR
scraping corners that hide the best stuff.
All the rainy ride to preschool in deep
depressing December she licks fingers.
Goombye a peanut butter kiss.
Today’s job an auto body shop
replacing fluorescent ballasts.
Amid clanking wup-wup-wupping
I overhear one guy say on the phone:
“You mean he’s dead? Really? You mean
actually dead? Did the kids see?”
Neighbor hung himself in the back yard.
Had children, a family. Jesus!
So at lunch break we talk about why and about
another guy who went out drinking with 5 friends
and shot himself in a bar. Splat. And we wonder
when dead do you care what people think?
Yes, I say. You care.
I pick up Lily. Burritos to eat in the truck
driving home in the spicy-stuffy cab.
Today she took a field trip, got to ride
an alligator (she calls it) to the second floor,
got to push the button.
Next morning the rain has ended.
A new jar 100% peanut all natural, no sugar.
A spoon, she licks. That man, not here.
ALL NIGHT IN A RADIANT STATE
I know my wife knows
even when she’s dreaming,
that I’ve left the bed.
She feels the weight of me lift
like a dark balloon.
Swiftly each night she sleeps,
falls to her playground,
child running for swings.
I wish my feet could feel the chain-link fence,
jump over it, run as fast as a boy can run
full bore without a gulp of breath.
Instead, I step across the creaking floor.
From a window—yowls—cats at possums,
mockingbird reciting the declaration of independence
in trees powered by sodium lamps.
Dull metronome thwacks my head, and the room disappears:
Somebody said So what the other day
about my poem remembering
the time I slept on the beach
long ago with friends,
woke up with that habit
in my lungs craving more damage,
but I had no smokes.
A girl walked by at sun-up,
sat beside me, lit a cigarette.
We shared it, did not speak.
She flicked the butt to sand, teasing gulls,
then ambled, mirage toward a life-guard stand,
and vanished in the last line of my poem.
In a few hours I’ll take my meds, make coffee, watch the sky
slowly wonder why I’m here.
I dive through the screen door of Chester’s old house in Islip
as rain hisses
the white noise
After his old man’s
porkchops dream of Alto,
Georgia in my mouth,
Chet says Let’s go upstairs:
on an unmade bed,
paintings of sunflowers
and Malcolm X.
Chet flips through his LPs:
Coltrane, Monk and Miles.
And I’m like, Who?
He places the Billie Holiday record onto the turntable gently, carefully,
Thou Shall Not Touch
Holy Vinyl With
And there she is:
A voice of barbed
with rust and violets.
Is Your Figure Less Than Greek?
Chet smiles seeing
my white universe
break up into black holes,
my shadow packing its bags
and heading out of
Ain’t it like raw milk, he says, ain’t it like moonlight and blood?
IN THE SUN BY GOD IN THE HAYWAGON
God Bless the grass
outside, the grass the fields
The fields to cut and bale and load
the hay, bless the barn that will not
burn, bless alike the snake
that bit itself crazy
and died in the sun days ago
Bless how it moved even dead
but not like dead, turning with worms
Bless the big hungry dog loose
from its rope
Bless it twice how it ran and in
three swallows was done eating the
snake the worms and ran again
in the sun. Bless the
The children play with pots and pans
I have promised to keep them safe
while Magda fetches rations from the trucks
it is useful play – they learn about weight
and metal and receptacles
my ears suffer din remembering
blistering rounds of bullets
ruined glass and wasted copper and brass
I collect and hammer things from
to pass the days
I have fashioned plates and bowls
they cannot resist fighting
over biggest pot
I teach them to make communal drum
and then to fix firm shelter tent from carpet
they know how to live like this
huddled snug in den
the pattern of carpet is helicopter
I shift to a book I cannot read
those far-away stories
I make it all up
upside down I look at sky
it is mostly blue these days and clear
yesterday I saw a banana
ate a kitten
got smiled at by soldier
I grab a child before it climbs
perilous concrete stair
leading to nowhere
Alexis Rhone Fancher
1. ODE TO MY HUSBAND’S BACK HAIR
How it births just above his derrière, a dank profusion
of blackness, fuller as it reaches his waist,
climbs up either side of his spine like kudzu.
Lust, a determined furrow of dark confusion,
the spring and flatten of his pelt embraced;
the grip and tug of my exploring fingers.
How he lowers his sweet face down to me,
nuzzles my neck, his nose in my hair,
bare-back, silken, thick.
A dense forest tangles the slope of his shoulders,
grapples his neck. I starry night him in the shower,
soap his back, whorl his eager flesh,
Don McLean’s Vincent*,
sung straight-faced, an homage.
*(O Starry, Starry Night)
2. ODE TO MY HUSBAND’S HITCHHIKER THUMBS*
Asked what about him I love best, I confess:
His thumbs. How they reach down, into me,
their hyper-extensibility, a jolt, a thunder bolt,
fresh from his double-jointed exploration,
curved inward, toward my center, the nub he rubs –
his heat-seeking digits for my clitoral amusement.
He’s won the genetic lottery, two recessive
alleles determining a thumb’s nature,
its bend-ability to please instead of tease.
How he slip-slides into me,
grabs my ass with dexterity,
holding firm, bent on pleasure.
I give him free rein, his thumbs
hitchhiking all over my landscape.
*The Hitchhiker’s Thumb is a thumb where the distal joint can bend as far
backwards as 90 degrees. It is often referenced as a visual trait of genetic inheritance.
3. ODE TO MY HUSBAND’S HERNIA SCARS
She needs symmetry, my husband tells the surgeon,
pre-op, as if that explains everything. She’s an artist.
He makes swashes through the air with his pointer fingers,
parallel, like two eyes, winking.
He’s considerate of my POV, fellating his cock,
staring at his up-close groin.
Thoughtful like that, always looking ahead,
he knows the value of encouragement.
When the surgeon calls, post-op, she chuckles.
The incisions are identical, perfectly symmetrical.
Your spouse wanted me to reassure you, she says.
Once home, my husband lifts his shirt.
Wanna see my scars? Like they too, are art;
like they’re every bit as sexy as back hair.
4. ODE TO MY HUSBAND’S MOUTH
I trace his lips with my fingertips.
Generous portal, housing
his dexterous tongue.
When I suck it, he opens wide.
I push my body into his, hairy chest
tickling my breasts and belly:
spelunking each other’s depths.
His tiny kisses follow me down,
earthquake at the back of my neck,
setting off fireworks, wet works,
a deep trembling.
Oh! How his lips respond to mine,
the lick and pull as he nibbles my clit,
my body’s shudder, that hot-rush response
programed for his dining delight.
Gulp. Lap. Guzzle. Quaff.
A mouthful. A gobble. A canapé.
5. ODE TO MY HUSBAND’S DEVIATED SEPTUM
When we’re missionary, eye to eye,
his body wedged between my thighs,
and I look up into his face,
I see his nose is out of place.
the only time I wonder why?
A biking mishap? Attempts to fly?
I ponder, from birth or accident?
A slip and fall on hard cement?
Then it hits me, when he goes “downtown”
it’s his crooked nose that ruts around,
parts my labia, diddles my clit,
no reason to complain about it.
When asked, he shrugs, I was born this way.
I could have it fixed. — But why? I say.
I don’t want to change you, not one bit.
Besides, I’ve gotten used to it.
I caress crooked cartilage, smooth the skin,
think of the places his nose has been.
6. ODE TO MY HUSBAND’S HEART
We call it afterglow, this reluctance
to uncouple, heartbeats synchronized,
in cahoots. We linger.
I caress his pecs, circle his left nipple
with my tongue, my ear close to his heart.
A human electrocardiogram, he ignites sparks.
When we fuck he is ventricles, arteries,
rimming my heart’s surface, pumping pleasure
like oxygen into me, into us.
Webster defines it: “Young, easily cut beef, and
a sentimental heart can each be called tender.”
If you’re cooking, baby, make mine rare.
I hold my breath — will time to stop
in this heady space. Let us linger in his tenderness.
ago our old Volvo trekked
toward the North Woods
for our honeymoon.
I lost the car keys,
delayed our passion,
left the salami and cheese gift
from your parents
at that gas station,
forgot the take-out ribs
at that fancy restaurant.
Holding hands still,
the differences no marriage
Thanks for your forbearance
as we made it through
the ruts of our years
just as that Volvo
bounced through the ruts
in the road to the rustic cabin,
where you, dear wife,
slid cold feet out of bed
that first morning
to light the pot-bellied stove.
Once was a girl who slid on the ice
as if the ice were frozen wind.
Pink-cheeked and laughing
her plaid scarf wildly flapping,
whenever her shoes reached
sidewalk end, she would cry:
as if the ice were Life.
From the top of the driveway,
I sense that the farm has settled
into stillness. Beyond the barn,
the long limbs of the pines
hang unmoving. Not a needle
stirs. In front of the house,
Black-eyed Susans nod,
half asleep. Everything waits.
Though it’s been years
since you died, Mother,
I remembered your birthday.
Now I wait for you to come out
onto the porch and tell me
everything I’ve done wrong.
Karin L. Frank
She watches the couple
depart under the glamour
of prom night magic, knowing
her innocent daughter will later
sit in an air-cooled café,
eats fried pickles dipped
in Ranch dressing, and
drink Vietnamese coffee
in the company of
her jeans-clad warrior.
Do you love me
even if my hips are big?
the innocent will ask him.
Of course, he will answer,
how could I not
when the overhead spotlights
your breasts just so?
With hot-tongued kisses
he will gag her doubts
and lure her, bound
in silken lassoes,
to the hold of a rented limo.
At home alone her mother
waits for her return, knowing
she cannot prevent
these fried delights,
and sweet, caffeinated potions
from tempting the naive into cool cafes
and the dangers of dates with slavers.
NO MOON IN TBILISI
I never saw any moon during hot nights
when sweet apricots, salty bread,
mint lemonade and coolness of turquoise
walls relieved heat from sun bright
as the yellow bird in a courtyard cage.
Perhaps moonrise starts its journey
in the west in that mythical land.
Surely the moon shone over Tbilisi,
but I only ever saw sunrise
through sheer white curtains.
Virginia Woolf, in a previous century
Being a novelist most exemplary
Penned a fine, witty tome,
Then went for a swim and sank like a stone.
Affected a lisp.
And wrote with acidity
Of his lost, regained virginity.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, to friends, Jack
Suffered a serious drawback
To his presidential aspirations
By innumerable, intimate liaisons.
To intellectuals, a chump.
To the faithful robustus,
Their own Iesus Christus.
THE MOUNTAINS OF R.I.
There must be mountains in Rhode Island,
high rocky places, nothing as tall as Everest,
but a snowy peak or two where you can scan
the roofs of rich mansions and maybe hold
a cool cocktail and sip it while you watch
the regatta or a commencement at Brown
and pretend you had boodles of dough,
enough to wipe out an epidemic or change
the University’s name to yours.
you learn all these things,
I remember my Hungarian mom
taught me “chokolat shegem”
which translated meant “kiss my ass,”
actually a polite way of saying
“go to hell”
then there were worse things
so bad I won’t repeat them.
I’ll just say one of them
stood for that part of a male horse
only truckers shout in a traffic jam,
mom then told me
where babies came from
and it’s not really the belly,
and dad who’s Polish told me
Hungarians were wild people
who rode into Europe
from Central Asia on short horses
and only knew how to cook goulash.
Still, I was assured I had inherited
the best of both of them.
MEET THE CHILD
She had been definitely
scrubbed clean, hair brushed,
for this moment.
Her face glowed like polished peach skin.
There was a touch of boldness
in her eyes,
and her mouth twitched
despite her best efforts
to keep her lips straight,
as she fought back
a loud burst of laughter.
I was confident enough
that I wasn’t funny looking.
So was it the thought
of me with her mother
that was so humorous?
she was quickly ushered
out of the parlor
and into her room.
There would be no audience
for the comedy to come.
VISITING THE FORTUNE TELLER
You must be joking?
But no, you take my cup
in all the seriousness you can muster,
examine the arrangement
of the tiny black flecks
at the bottom.
I’m thinking that
one extra slosh, shake, stir
on my part
and my future could have
gone from trampled dead by moose
to CEO of Fortune Five Hundred company.
Not even luck is this random.
According to you,
neither of those fates is in the china.
Instead, I will marry a childhood sweetheart,
have two kids, own two cars,
a suburban house,
while holding down a well-paying job.
In other words,
the future is the present.
Plus, of course,
the first cup of tea
I’ve drunk in years.
She has no husband, no children,
not even a dog or a cat.
Her apartment building allows
all of these things
but her life does not.
It’s another morning
where she’s shocked by
the rigidity of her
feelings and beliefs.
She’s forty-one in a week’s time.
Birthdays are for measuring
how far life has gone
with her less than full engagement.
There’s always the comfort
that some of her students
will go on to better things.
It’s also a copout.
But a generous one
when someone thanks her
for the start she gave them.
But, for too long,
she’s been no more
than her job description.
And now her breasts
the purple veins in the back of leg
are squeezing their way
to the surface,
and there’s a lump on her shoulder
she may or may not
tell the doctor about.
She wrangles oatmeal in a bowl,
makes her own coffee,
marks papers at the kitchen table.
It’s another school day.
She has much to teach,
little left to learn.
WHAT’S WORSE THAN FINDING A WORM IN YOUR APPLE?
goes the joke, the kind simple enough for a kid to set up
and deliver–a first-joke joke–and the kind an adult doesn’t mind
rehearing, because don’t both kid and grown-up know by now
the truth that a bad situation can always get worse? And can’t
both see the humor in what’s unsaid, in piecing two halves together?
Though it is a fine line, the humor of misfortune, because who,
for a real belly-laugh, wants to consider the worm in all this,
whose situation is certainly worse? What’s worse… the young worm
might say to the older, setting up a joke the older worm remembers
telling in his own salad-nibbling days, a classic of worm-humor:
What’s worse, it goes, than to find yourself munching through sweetness,
the sun spilling in green-tinted and the sugar slaking your wormy body,
which tunnels along at the sour taste on your skin and the thought
that this is more than you could ever eat: you could never eat a world,
which this is, a planet of light and life–you’re no destroyer of worlds,
just hungry, and, just as you’re feeling it’s all too good to be true,
this heaven you find yourself in is bitten in two (and you with it)
as a God with a black-hole maw makes a snack of existence itself,
and then tosses you aside with disgust at what was your home,
and you, and leaving you wondering what had happened and
wondering where, oh where, had your other half gone?
No punchline, but the older worm will laugh because one laughs
at what one can’t control, and because don’t both know by now that,
for a worm, what one can’t control includes nearly all of it?
Luck was all it was, being a worm born beneath an apple tree,
the soil sweet from last year’s rot, and the plunk of falling fruit that
drew you up, out of the dark, savory soil to sugary flesh.
And then there’s the joke that nobody tells, because it’s a joke
only understood by apples, which goes, What’s better than to be
an apple, so green after a summer of bobbing on the hot wind,
so fat from sucking the sweetness from the molasses-colored ground,
and so planet-round that someone, going in for a bite, hardly notices
the worm-sized hole, edged in brown like a cigarette burn,
which, you thought, might mar you from being enjoyed again,
but then–ahh–the snap of teeth sinking into firm, worm-riddled flesh,
and what’s better? What, possibly, could be better than that?
My mother was chopping onions,
and I said,
“Put a matchstick between your teeth:
that’s what I’ve heard.”
“Lit?” she asked.
What do you think?
But, actually, I didn’t know:
all I had heard was, “When chopping onions,
place a matchstick between your teeth.”
What good was my advice if I couldn’t say
whether lit or unlit, or whether you struck it
only to blow it out, letting the smoke
claw at your eyes first, before the onion could?
Did you bite the wood bit, or did you crack
the head between your teeth like a pink peppercorn,
a spark shooting onto your tongue,
the smell of sulfur in your throat?
Did you hold it sideways like a rose stem in a lover’s mouth?
Maybe you did light it, and you looked down
to see the onion through fire.
You chopped fast,
because if you thought
an onion could make you cry,
well, a lit match between your teeth,
that would give you something to cry about.
It wasn’t anything at all, she said.
Though songs are written on the subject–no,
it wasn’t poem-worthy, just what one did
when one was young and caught in hormone’s throes.
I guess that I could see how anything,
including sneaking out on summer nights,
a different boy each time, could turn routine:
for some, hard to imagine–yet it might.
I could have said some dreamed of “just a kiss,”
that she, in summer, blithely kissed away–
and yet, today I’d thought the same: just this
again, just happiness, and just a day,
the type of love that one comes to expect–
and who would think to make a song of it?
My Big Island Airbnb host
is sultry, a stoner, and
wonderfully fucked up. Wise.
Hibiscus lips, always the lips.
Butterflies are everywhere,
busy little movements of air.
I ask her the word
for butterfly In Hawaiian
“Pulelehua”, she purrs.
But then she stops.
Leans to me, all serious,
kisses me first.
Her worn saddle hands,
There’s no coy anymore.
We are fevered. Mad.
She is ferocious,
takes it all for herself.
But this hot animal
is only in my
Walking to the bay,
I listen-sort of, watching
the small of her back,
her tattooed swale.
When I stop chasing
it, pussy-that is,
there is a chrysalis,
and the freedom to fly.
I mean, she is straight,
but crooked and twinkly.
Biggest doobie roller I know,
holds it close, like a bottle.
And I can say I know her,
because she cried
like four times, over sadder
people, she can’t save.
Her easy tears,
dovey eyes, Koa brown,
lithe-hearted, willed by fire.
Our broken edges, fused.
So I share my hopeful
love of everything,
my own sad knowing.
I let her see most of me.
But I keep it collared and
replay my pussy’s own
pet vignette, over and over.
Fast walking, ahead
me, me-ing, along,
she weaves her curvy
And trailing behind,
I strain to hear
my best intentions,
breaking over the waves.
She trusts a perfect
stranger, more than
she really should.
WHEN YOUR FLESH FRESHLY
When your flesh freshly and your face flushly
Face the imperatives of flesh,
I find your mind now unleashed lusty-lushly…
Must we not then enmesh?
Many the tunes whistled, the songs sung
Of fiery loves that have gone sadly cold;
As a girl, I loved when I was still too young–
But now I’m grown, and he has grown too old.
This multitasking stuff has too much asking,
I just can’t handle it.
Take ‘asking’ out of ‘multitasking’ –
I’d rather just mull tit.
You led the way and I followed.
The shadow to your every movement.
Now the sun is overhead and I have come to where you stand.
But as the sun moves behind you I move ahead,
To make my own way.
Always knowing that you are behind me.
Mary Beth Hines
He cradles the ivory pendant between his palms
while behind him shadows climb, flicker and spin,
and when he presses it softly, squarely in the middle,
an angel slips in through his moon-washed window.
She glows in her nurse’s white, her soft words soothing,
as she settles the alabaster charm with quiet hands,
and they stare into the dark courtyard together—
hair pale, eyes milky, though not just because he’s old.
It’s a trick of light, a match, a flare that falters
after twilight when all color seeps and alters.
ESCAPE FROM KABUL
Distant bombs thud a steady drumbeat through the night.
At dawn, blasts seem to explode in my head
as flames crack open the purple sky.
Threads of black dust rise from the hills.
The Taliban wait, ready to close in, like a creeping bloodstain.
Long ago, they killed my uncle, stabbing my mother
with heart sickness until she died. One night,
Baba never came home.
I work hard at the network, proud
to help them speak in clear Dari
as I haul stacks of files, scramble for
Ron’s camera crew, and run messages
for producer Toni. Today they say we all must leave.
I am to meet them at the airport.
Jaleel, Toni says, be sure to bring these.
At the runway, my eyes sting from oily smoke. Heated air
streams up in waves from roaring monster engines.
Jet hatches are locked, but my people still form lines
like saw-scaled vipers, crooked and dangerous.
The two thumb drives from Toni sit heavy in my jeans pocket.
When giant tires start to roll, I break
from shouting men with knives, duck under a wing
into shadows. A hot chrome bar helps me to swing my legs
above the wheel. Below me, rushing pavement drops away,
and the plane tilts back.
Gripping hot metal, I hug the scene to my chest.
A fringe of green encircles our domed mosque, its minaret
like a gun pointing at the sky. Flying high, I watch
hard-baked desert spread a brown river
flowing over mountains and far off lands.
The burning metal bar folds up into the jet’s belly.
MEMORIES OF PRAGUE BY NIGHT
A misty rain dissolves the time before, safe time.
The café waiter clears our dishes,
crouching to retrieve a crumpled napkin beneath your chair.
Even with your warm hand cupped over mine,
we are numb to each other’s pain, focusing only on the brie,
a buttery pool melting into a baguette.
Feral night creeps from the dark
when merlot flows like blood in a rich stream.
Tasteful stringed music covers our murmurs
as we struggle not to speak of diagnosis, prognosis.
Hand shaking, you drop your napkin.
Lights twinkle off the savage cutlery.
The waiter uncorks a bottle, leaving
a gleaming plate of bread and cheese.
We settle on a café beside the gurgling river.
Prague Castle looms over the Square, lit spires
jutting into twilight, questioning,
searching. Festive strings of lanterns
guide us along the cobblestones, the astronomical clock
ticking our every step. Its hands resist our urgent pleas
to pause or halt or reset to the time before.
Lights shimmer on the banks of the Vltava.
The air smells of rain yet to fall. Halfway across Legion Bridge,
we stop to admire other crossings upriver,
graceful arches marching in a row,
an illusion of infinity while we struggle over this bridge
and the next, and the next, and the next,
or refuse to cross any bridge all.
FATHER TO SON
You are unlikely to understand this any time soon,
perhaps not until you are blessed as I am
with a child who behaves perfectly childishly
at all the right moments,
metronomically and always on the right beat.
Like when you sense the pressure of my hand
increase between your shoulder blades
as I steer you in the humane direction
of good choice and right living,
like all good fathers should do.
You push back, step away and fast,
pull me level with flamed eyes
so that you can deliver the proper verbal punch,
direct and perfectly placed in my old solar plexus.
“I don’t love you” sounds an awful lot like
“I hate vegetables” with the added perk
of rendering me breathless.
I smile and let you know that I’m okay with you,
then gently return my hand to your upper back,
turn you right again, wipe my lids and
resolve to commiserate more regularly
with the broccoli and the Brussels sprouts,
with the green beans and the asparagus,
all of whom are surely told how little they are loved,
not only by my own childish children and
countless other millions of misguided children,
but saddest of all, by their own little sprouts,
who would benefit greatly from the wise guidance
of their patient and loving vegetal parents.
Melissa E. Jordan
Our happiest days were spent thinking of shoes —
ballet slippers, split-sole taps, and worn cowboy boots.
And he sketched by the hour, the washed greens and blues.
You’d think that their stories would be easy to choose.
They’d be married, or twins, or thieves in cahoots.
The happiest days were spent thinking of shoes.
We didn’t mind lost time; it was our time to lose;
to spin wallpaper stories of peacocks and fruits
for him to sketch by the hour, the washed greens and blues.
And we plotted the Oz-turn, a burst of chartreuse,
faded vines sprouting sudden, lurid red shoots.
The happiest days were spent thinking of shoes.
Soon enough each pair began dropping more clues —
little hints of backstory, with us in pursuit.
And he sketched by the hour, the washed greens and blues.
Finally story joined image, our usual fuse
of last minute magic and rude absolutes.
Then came the book of our beautiful shoes.
And after, the bruises, the washed greens and blues.
THE SEVEN CARRIES
He tells me that the girl that he marries
(teasingly, as I stumble through my first portage)
will have to conquer the Seven Carries;
That she can’t be running away with the fairies,
but stay firmly with him, bundling the cordage.
He’s speaking, remember, of the girl that he marries.
When the canteen tastes of iodine and berries
and free-running streams are at a keen shortage,
she’ll still have to conquer the Seven Carries.
(One night at a wine bar north of Kingsbury
he frowned when I laughed over paying for corkage —
not something he wants in a girl that he marries.)
I got three paddling books from the library;
I’m learning about the sins of keel warpage.
Soon he’ll trust I can conquer the whole Seven Carries.
I try campfire tricks with franks and Pillsbury;
practice roping high branches for bear-proof storage.
Still he keeps saying that the girl he marries
will have to conquer the Seven Carries.
I had no choice but to build a cabin
from nesting boxes and blue milk crates,
there in the bed of a woody wagon.
I laid down every blanket I could drag in
but left my school clothes to the fates.
I had no choice but to build a cabin.
I chinked the crates with flannel-back satin,
(a scrap bin score, from some lower state)
there in the bed of a woody wagon.
In one crate shelf I set a pewter flagon,
then a specked bowl and a green-rimmed plate.
I had no choice but to build a cabin.
In this tiny space I was the new Aladdin
pillowed time out of mind, snacking on dates,
there in the bed of the woody wagon.
Some nesting boxes held crystals and dragons,
totems to cheer me when the driving went late.
I had no choice when I built that cabin
there in the bed of a woody wagon.
Sarah Mackey Kirby
to protect your king,” he said during
the first game we ever played.
Ash brushed jacket and Naval yard
clad with a cigar, pointing toward my rook.
As he slid his black pawn forward.
Even two phone books high, I sat
too low to be an equal. But my grandpa’s
eyes scanned the board as though
I was a formidable opponent,
“If the move you make’s not
’cause you’re thinking of mine
four moves down the line, you’ve lost.
And take control of the board’s center.
I nodded but didn’t.
“It’s like everything else, you know.
Have a plan, and if you’re down too
many pawns, your bishops are better
than your knights. Most times they’re
better anyway. Strong on the flanks.”
The longer we played, the rougher
his coughs got. Pain-scrunched face
staring deep concentration.
“Never drift your mind, girl.
Always watch your surroundings,
or you’re liable to get mated.”
As I sat, butterfly sandals dangling
well above the floor.
“Be smart,” he said,
thick Brooklyn spilling spit-crumbs,
imparting grit square across the board.
COMING TO JESUS IN THE BACKSEAT
OF A DENTED 1992 FORD EXPLORER
WITH A GUY NICKNAMED MOSES
(SWEAR TO GOD)
It was one of those Oh God nights.
The kind that was a waste of breath mints,
that required prayers for more leg room
before dipping salty
into a Dead Sea Friday float,
a week after Y2K turned out to be
just another turnkey into icy
Where the waxing crescent moon
shined through the window,
and the back-digging seatbelt buckle
gave you the impetus for a
series of hail marys that could fool
even the most insecure man
into believing he was leading
you along the sparkling sacred
waters of the River Jordan.
Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie”
popped in loud through the radio,
in a coitus interruptus
sin-stomping bounce from glory,
stopping the hollering of
drawled-out holy beatitudes
in the West Ormsby Street
delivery of your sermon on the mount.
And how that was the moment
you confirmed Moses was a prophet
(with dyed-black spikey hair
and a Mr. Magoo tattoo
on his neck).
An exodus of your straw man
rationalizations seeping through the cracks
of the window with his cigarette smoke,
blessing you with the knowledge
that for God’s and fuck’s sake,
there had to be a better plan.
Watching the TV, it seems as though everything is about the same distance from me, and consequently that everything has equal value. A tube of Crest falling through an ethereal sky has about the same impact as the latest plane crash on the six o’clock news. There they are, neatly contained in the little box behind glass. One appears right after the other. The sameness may be enhanced by black and white, which I happen to have—and the black and white can render an otherwise threatening event quite harmless since I know the real tangible world in which I live is multi-colored. Usually. Sitting in my armchair, I am safe from the TV, its explosions, its propaganda, and its subliminal messages. And it is safe from my occasional verbal interjections and other less overt responses (which occur infrequently). The perfect equilibrium attained through my static vantage point (from the armchair) allows me to transcend all horror and experience television images aesthetically. This equilibrium is disrupted, however, if I move my chair in relation to the TV or switch the stations. It’s during these moments of chair scooting and channel changing that art is conceived.
AFTER READING ED DORN’S GUNSLINGER,
I GO OUT AGAIN TO FACE THAT OBSTINATE BASS
He clenched truculent fishy jaws and stared
at the clumsy lump of stuff that stumbled on shore,
dismissing me with scorn. All mythic smoothness,
he eased inside his liquid moving home
and lingered just enough to let me know
that he, not I, would determine the time to leave.
Then like that self-assured cosmic gunslinger,
he made a choice, flicked a fin, and pivoted
to face infinity where unbound by constraint
of time or place this self-propelling missile
most elegantly detonated himself into the West.
Workers used to complain that my Australian shepherd
would tear the flesh from a leg or else disable one’s tire
if they came up the drive in a white truck or dressed
in a uniform unless I was there to tell him no.
The UPS guy, though, he smothered wetly with kisses,
as he did an ugly cat who appeared some mornings
to share his nest. Reluctantly, I gave him to a rancher
who offered a fenced and safe new home across the county.
Once that dog was gone, the homeless cat
disappeared too. I never discovered where.
A year passed, and out of the fog one day the cat
showed up, minus an eye and lots of fur, and was followed
by my old dog and then an ecstatic polyphony
as the reunited pair joyously adjourned
to frolic where the dog house used to stand. “Been gone
for months,” I was told, “kept digging out and was attacked.
In time, we found his fur, some bones. Bear, maybe,
or coyotes.” I hung up, looked around, was alone.
That dog was like my often-frowning neighbor
who lived by himself in a house full of cats. Old Ben
scared children and their mothers but brought me melons
from his garden, and we sometimes talked
of fish too huge to catch that sulked in his pond.
He lived alone but plowed his neighbors’ drives
of snow in winter and shared the deer he shot,
not accepting payment. A private man.
I never would have guessed at what later was found
in rooms behind the kitchen where at times I had sat
while Ben shared his wine and his lies with just me:
In his bedroom twenty loaded long guns
leaned against unpainted walls. Chests crammed
with shells and pistols stashed under pillows
were left to be catalogued the day I discovered Ben
on the floor in front of his stove with a note
entrusting his remains to me. When the sheriff
locked his door one last time, a few neighbors
lingered on Ben’s porch, questions in our eyes.
Then we all silently nodded to one another,
stepped off the creaking boards, and went to our homes.
Today, as I gaze across an empty field,
summer dreaming and thinking of that day,
I again sense movement among the brown and gray,
and for a moment I swear that I can see
a cat, a dog, and with them a gnarled old man
whose long missing smile has suddenly rebloomed
as he holds out a bucket of red tomatoes
and a platter of ribs that he has seasoned
and smoked for me on his Big Green Egg.
JUST OFF HIGHWAY 12, OCRACOKE
I watched a gleeful
naked little boy
hold up one hand
and offer bread to gulls
and with the other
aim a stream of pee
and paint the sand
until his interest waned
and he abandoned
birds and art—
attention to the waves
that lashed the shore and the wind
that howled and stung,
to the sun that erased his work,
to the sand where ten
incautious little toes
were being pulled
toward a frothing sea.
Why do hydrangea flowers
desiccate, stubborn stalk
poised posture unbroke—
while we shimmy down
feathers over wool,
and slip and loop knits—
in self-preservation? Out-enduring
chlorophyll muted dim, shriveled
crunchy decay, sacrifice
chapeau worn by searching roots.
Other flowers wither
trailing goodbye, whisper
shushed with snapped crunch,
See you again soon telegraph
sent to the mud via seed. Iridescent
fluorescence, instead spills ink
into blot skeletons.
Why are the fluttering paper
frigid and lonely, no
lead nor follow—
into the wind? They say
open blooms are 95% water.
Can parched ghosts—
catching dripping showers, hands
thrust open, pockets wide
make up for their loss?
When we are empty,
can we be poured full—
if we can catch it?
THE SPRING BEGINS WITH ADORATION
We wander by the reservoir,
to breathe the exhale
of the firs, to admire
the ducks, paired off
diving, focused in search.
The breeze rests in same.
flatten, leveled polish.
I look in the mirror
of the sky. All I catch
is your eyes
the wind ruffles
HAM AND BUTTER SANDWICHES
In the carpeted gym, piled
high on trays, pedestrian white
buns, numb bland slabs,
slathered with butter, or maybe
frugal margarine, it was the Midwest,
after all. Closed inside, cold slice
of ordinary deli ham, not the type
served at a celebratory feast.
After the sad ceremony comes
those mournful sandwiches,
leftovers, accompanying our grief home.
Sweat and smell in the regalia
of Archduke, Pope, Chancellor, Lord
Privy Seal, in the fur-lined robes
of the Empress Dowager—in spite of
rosemary, bergamot and lemon in enemas
or an orange studded with cloves
held to the nose,
and in the gowns of ladies of the court,
who gracefully dipped down in the royal,
orderly gardens, and left behind
as in the plain black of the scullery maid,
the coarse wool of carters and draymen.
Beshat and bepissed silks,
velvets, brocades, chemises
of fine linen—brushed and aired by keepers
of the royal wardrobe, or soaked, pounded
and scrubbed by laundry maids, backs bent,
their own simple shifts consigned
to even lower laundresses
“whose privilege it is to serve.”
Our common being, naked
under hierarchic layers,
so weak in itself—yet that certain
knowledge, century upon deafening
century, almost never power.
Long after money and race replaced
inherited blood, even my immigrant
mother, who served coffee and cake
for the Black maid from Harlem
who cleaned our three-room
Bronx apartment, when we could afford it,
my mother, who sometimes cleaned
with her cleaner (as though they were working girls
living together) behaved as if her “woman”—
whom she’d instructed to use
a newly discovered toilet bowl scourer—
was personally pleased to appraise
our crapper that she’d made gleam
on her knees.
“Puberty begins under your arms,”
the parish priest earnestly explains
during our mandatory counseling session.
He instructs us on sex,
tells us laws of gravity must be observed
during marital embrace.
We’re told to reject sinful birth control,
reproduce as often as God demands,
revere the sacraments, attend Sunday mass.
“It’s the woman’s role to model Mary,
pray, sacrifice, obey,” he admonishes,
“Give your husband
unconditional love and respect.”
I glare at this man in a dress,
Catholic cult-leader who probably prefers
his altar boys pre-pubescent,
vow to break as many archaic rules
as often as possible.
After an hour of misogynistic bullshit,
resolve to erase medieval dogma with tequila,
never set foot in Father O’Dollar’s
grifter cathedral again.
To see his terror at sitting on the toilet,
only to realize it’s a fear of change
that most hide
by punching a wall
after too many beers on a Friday night,
staying up until after midnight
on a Wednesday
rewatching an old sitcom,
or accepting a silence that asks no questions
of the minutes we flush away.
Michael H. Levin
(5 March 1953)
They say [Maria Yudina’s] recording of Mozart was on the
record player when the ‘leader and teacher’ was found. . .
— Shostakovich, Testimony (1979)
The fast-play disk
The Hetman’s defunct
though no one yet knows.
It’s three AM; when
minions arrive, fearful
to knock, there’ll be hell to pay
and savage successions.
He sprawls on
his couch in Red pseudo-garb,
short as a toadstool, webfoot
concealed by tall boots
nicotined fingers flung
outward; pockmarks for once
not erased. The disk
was made from pure panic:
hearing her broadcast, he
asked for the record — the
session was live. Pre-dawn
saw a terrified
conductors, marched to fulfill
his ‘wish.’ One round
quickly was pressed.
When he sent her a cash prize
she gifted it whole to the Church
“for your sins.”
Warrants to wipe her
lay blank on his desk
though millions were inked
without pity. Opaque
as Asia, did the ogre
have feelings? Was it
merely a whim of power –
of ‘could, but choose
not.’ His cause
held lives less than zero,
yet she played on:
force steely and strange
to faint applause.
THE LAST TIME WE SAW BUCK
was when he and Ruth drove down
to visit us in Atlanta.
Buck was already in the throes
of dementia but Ruth somehow refused
to accept it letting him
get lost three times within a mile
of the house before Barbara
dispatched me to lead them in.
At first he was much the same
and did the old tricks for our sons
like the one where he would put
his thumb between his lips
and blow pretending to pump up his bicep and make it wiggle
or the old jingle about
Ooey Gooey was a worm Ooey Gooey liked to squirm
and at the end the boys would get to scream Ooey Gooey!
but we had to balance the tricks
and laughter against the rest of it like
his pacing the carport
and mumbling about who Ruth was out fucking now
when she and Barbara went to the mall
so when I suggested
taking the boys and him to the Braves game
the women were so relieved
and Ruth tried to slip me a twenty to pay his way
but Barbara said our treat and hugged Buck
and kissed him on the cheek and said
y’all just have a good time daddy and give them Mets hell
for me. But he couldn’t help but take
the hell upon himself
first whimpering for Ruth
and crying out Ruth Ruth at some woman
who was kissing her lover
and then he spilt beer on his pants-leg
and kept getting up and trying to leave
and finally just started bawling
like a baby until the boys led him off to the rest room
and this lady in the seat behind us leaned over
to tell me not to worry
because she had an uncle that was the same way
every time the Mets came to town.
When mama called to say daddy
was dead from a stroke, she tried to convince me
to stay home, too expensive, she said, and besides,
she was having him cremated, and they make everything so simple, she said,
nothing left to do but stop by for the ashes,
but then her voice broke
and she fell apart, and then me too,
until neither one of us could understand the other one,
so i caught the next flight out, which is how
i came to be sitting in the kitchen of the two-room apartment
over their little grocery store,
sharing a warm six-pack of miller’s and a partial fifth of daddy’s wild turkey,
as we recited old stories and tried
to console one another until we ran out of things to talk about
and just sat there holding hands.
But then she saved us and got out the photo album
so we could go through the old
brownie photos and polaroids of them and me, and me and my little brothers,
and this relative and that, and don’t forget
this one, she said, turning the page
to the full color naked butt studio portrait of when i was a baby
which made mama laugh and put a hand to her heart, saying
just look at yourself so proud mister man.
And so it went till the fifth was a dead soldier and she found another bottle somewhere
with the seal not even broken
and the radio was playing in the background, tuned to the opry on wsm
when somebody, like we punched a button at the jukebox,
started in on the wild side of life
and mama gave a low grieving moan
saying listen listen oh god honey
they’re doing your daddy’s favorite song it’s a sign feel it can you feel it?
And then she stood up and held out her arms to daddy’s ghost
waltzing around the table, whirling and whirling,
until all of a sudden they stopped
and mama stood there mumbling some sweet something
i couldn’t understand, but when daddy said something back, she cocked her head
like a mockingbird and turned on him so quick and cold, saying
just go then, do what you have to,
see if i care, you miserable fuck you motherfucking fuck,
and slapped at him so hard she fell over
on her hands and knees, straddling him and hitting out again and again at nothing
until i managed to get my arms around her waist and lift her up
where we could hold on to each other to keep balanced,
neither one of us saying a word,
and if mama wouldn’t look at me, what did that matter? Grief is grief.
But then, quick as it came up, the storm clouds
seemed to disappear
and on the radio, some little girl way off in opryland was doing
you are my sunshine, all alone,
like joan baez, like a hymn,
and mama just relaxed against me and put her head on my shoulder
half singing half humming along
and i can’t believe this
i’m dancing with my mama for the first time ever
like so far away, like that girl from winston-salem, what’s-her-name at the senior prom
and then she lifts her face up and closes her eyes
and how it happened i don’t know
but there we were kissing yes oh yes
and i could taste the frozen strawberries
we had for dessert
until she pulled back, eyes wide, and shoved me away
like i was a stranger,
and ran off to the bedroom, slamming the door.
Jesus, no understanding some things,
especially on a day like this, so i shrugged it off, and it wasn’t
bedtime yet but i took two greenies anyway what the hell and chased them
with the last beer thinking, fuckit, if i’m early, i’m early,
when, without any warning,
everything seemed to take hold at once
and there i was, jabbering and shushing myself, half asleep,
back at the catawba river, like in a movie,
and we were just kids, me and ray and richard,
playing cowboys on our broomstick horses, laughing and shooting
and falling over dead, but even then i hated it,
hated there wasn’t anybody but us for miles around,
and i’d lay awake at night gritting my teeth and swearing if i ever got a chance,
i’d run off to california
and i almost made it, too, sort of,
far as atlanta,
except the whole time, without knowing it, all i really accomplished
was a full circle back
to this pissant grocery store barely thirty miles
from our old pier where daddy first picked me up and threw me in the water
saying swim you little shitass, swim!
and i stumble to my feet now dog-paddling to the surface
thinking i don’t know what
thinking maybe if i was really the firstborn son they dreamed about,
somebody they could talk to or cry to,
not like my brothers, richard, divorced and whoring in miami, and ray, in his f-16,
on a aircraft carrier, god knows where,
leaving just me, always a shoulder to lean on,
someone to offer his comfort, like now, in a time of real need
instead of going in there like this
to stand by mama’s bed
warm from the soft glow of the burning hickory in the fireplace
like it’s, like i’m five years old again
and i tug at her gown, whispering mama i’m scared mama can i sleep with you
but no she moans no baby no no
and pulls the covers over her head and turns to the wall.
So okay then
okay you bitch!
and i march off to my roll-away across the room
where she’s laid out daddy’s flannel pajamas ironed and folded so nice
and i grab them up impulsively,
tossing them into the fucking fire
and strip down naked
before the gabardine flames
shouting look at me dammit mama damn you!
and she does, at last, her eyes like wet stars, but not for me, not with me,
not here at all, just somewhere way off alone
as i crawl into my bed
and kneel like an incubus from the coals
my hard cock in plain view
and just give up
and begin to masturbate
crying look mama
i’m alive alive
Lorraine Henrie Lins
bury their son today.
I worry about how
to juggle work coverage,
and is there a gas station
on the way, what
does one wear
to a funeral like this;
is it too cool
for stocking-less legs
if she’s even slept,
figures out how
she’s going to remember
once she’s let the breath out.
I bought a porcelain butter dish;
white with a small-knobbed lid
and round-edged corners
on a flat fluted base
not because we needed one
but simply because it was the most
nonsense thing I’d picked up that day
and because that morning
after three days of unanswered
phone calls, she told me
that his landlord found him,
his almost-green eyes closed over
as if he could have been sleeping,
and because we’d always
just put our butter on an oval
blue-rimmed plate where toast crumbs
would nestle in the blunt cut edge
and because no one
really needs a white porcelain butter dish
with a flat fluted base and a small-knobbed lid
but me, then, that day.
TONGUE IN CHEEK
The submission guidelines say No obscenities
sexually explicit material or violent language
What could be safer than the tongue
That essential organ to chew, taste, swallow and talk
As innocent as a child’s first words
The pink-tissue purity in licking a lollipop
or sucking on a cinnamon stick
The protraction useful for a mock or otherwise insult
The knocked-out daze of a cartoon character
An outthrust of photography fun in Einstein mode
A kindred gesture if you were a Maori warrior
Perhaps a flash of flesh to display distaste
Or to show what shan’t be shown
by the poor handicapped poet
How the tongue can slither
around in another mouth
That French invention inviting
other organs to intermingle
The poet wouldn’t dare describe
how a streetwalker calls to cars
with her curled come-on tongue
Flat yo-yo flicks for fucking
The tongue tail wag for doggie style
Around the clock of lips for fellatio
The alliteration of cock and cunt
would be contraband
Nor should she comment on the size
of Mick Jagger’s monstrous tongue logo
as anything other than a genetic mishap
Or detail the KISS tongue length of Gene Simmons
entertaining an ovary
No, the poet must turn prostitute herself
for her words to appear in this book of fairy tales
So pristine they polish the publisher’s ass
Oops, she means apple
–After a partially-nude photo of a Well-Hung Man
God of Optics, I can see you but am blind
to the routine recipe that defines desire
I can taste the sweet kindness of your lips
Their hot spice from phrases
like My little crotch blossom
or Sexier than a banned book
I can feel the words Let’s go slow Baby crawl up
my thigh in their Antonio Banderas voice
Hear the soft steps of ache
as it traverses my neck
I can smell that scorched brown
heartbeat in your naked chest
that rises like imagination of what
underlies those low-cut tight jeans
But size of what lies there whispers the word irrelevant
across my prescription for pleasure
Fay L. Loomis
wrap round logs
a purple crocus
They approached from nowhere
a drop-in centre, a rooming house
a big man and his smaller friend
walking fast. The little guy
ten paces ahead, cursing and crazy;
the big one in his Blue Jays toque
and brown Goodwill suit –
two hundred and thirty pounds on a six-four frame –
bounding down the sun-flecked sidewalk.
Their synchronicity an ancient code
welded by oath of brother’s keeper;
their tandem a ship breaking waves,
an outpatient drama past discount stores,
donut shops and people moving away.
The big guy loud with hawker’s singsong,
his refrain a peacekeeper’s mission,
his face bewildered by love:
“I know how hard to hit him.
I know how hard to hit him.”
This Halloween, I’m wearing my usual
disguise, no frantic digging through old clothes
for bell bottoms, tunics, head bands.
Invisibility is my superpower. I fade
into the background, match the woodwork
with my splotchy, thinning skin and hair.
My eyebrows have nearly vanished.
I’m quiet, no longer shouting to be heard,
but I listen and I watch. Not much is lost
on me, although you won’t remember our
meeting or my name. As usual, I’m wearing
sturdy jeans and sneakers, comfy long-sleeved
shirts in dark colors, not the bold, bright
prints of Laugh-In nights. Even my car
is dull and boring. Lost in the sea of other
Camrys painted beige, no need for
a cloak of anonymity, I disappear.
PRAYER BEFORE BIOPSY
Of all the body parts to lose —
your arm (the left) with which you write —
would never be the limb you’d choose.
Yet you may wake tonight to find
the things it held or tried to hold
now lost to touch though not to mind,
gone ghostly, yes, but not grown cold;
a curve of hip your fingers traced
and memorized, another hand
you took in yours, all loves embraced —
their print preserved as bruise or brand;
a map of scars your forearm bears,
a tattooed rose and thorn brocade —
you still remember when and where
every cut and line was made;
a wedding band you couldn’t shed
and wore well after he was gone —
so you to cede the arm instead —
all these things you think upon;
small sparrow eating from your glove
and how you got the lyrics wrong
(you swear she sang ‘a one-winged dove’)
to a favourite eighties’ song
and how it lost its wing and why
and how you prayed it still could fly.
Our neighbor’s crops died.
They dried up in May.
I blamed April, who brought
We had floods in June.
Washing out the bridge
down the dirt road
leaving us stranded
at home with
mosquitoes and blackflies
who didn’t seem to care
about the weather.
July there was one lovely day
when we picnicked and played
until more rains came
and drowned most everything;
plants, worms, farmer’s hens,
and the woman who
drove her car through
the flooded out road.
Now, it’s hot and humid
where nothing moves
except the goldenrod
with her yellow rags waving
flags of surrender, giving up
on summer all together.
I was wrong to blame April.
I look down into the muddy water
thinking it should be clear, but then,
who am I to judge the world of a frog?
Where they leap and swim from my curious eyes
that hope to see beyond the shallow edge
into the depths of a brown-green pond,
into a world as obscure as the homeless man
who sleeps in the tent across the railroad tracks,
hidden behind the overgrown chokecherry
and poison oak where I see nothing of his life.
KATIE O’CONNOR PERFORMS A MIRACLE
A miracle it was, you know,
and happened in this very place.
Who did it only goes to show
the loving bounty of God’s grace.
Our neighbor’s youngest daughter Kate,
who was a sweet and winsome child,
is gown up now, and changed. I hate
to say it but she’s rather wild.
She goes out dancing every night.
And every night with different men.
Come morning it’s a common sight
to see her walking home again.
On Sunday Katie at Saint Brigid,
her granny’s missal in her hands,
sees Father Flynn. He’s not too rigid
about her frequent one-night stands.
Last week when Katie made confession
(her in a tiny little dress)
it took a thirty-minute session.
She had a lot to say, I guess.
Like any conscientious priest
the father has his little ploys
to tamp down lust. I mean, at least,
he stays away from altar boys.
But Katie’s long and detailed tale
combined with Katie’s pulchritude
was just too much and couldn’t fail
to put that poor man in a mood.
Said Father Flynn “The Church is Love.
Come to the vestry, we’ll explore
transcendent metaphysics of
a deeper physical rapport.”
Well Katie thought it very strange
when Father Flynn there in the nave
proposed she shag him in exchange
for benefits beyond the grave.
So many boyfriends, what’s one more?
But Father Flynn? She didn’t stay.
When Father tried to block the door
she slipped around and ran away.
Then Father Flynn put on some speed
(he goes out jogging sun or rain).
Kate only had a tiny lead
and Father Flynn began to gain.
Said Katie to herself “Well this’ll
never do, not Father Flynn”.
She used her missal as a missile
and saved that priest from mortal sin.
She hit him hard and laid him low.
The priest gave up, his lust deterred.
Another miracle to show
the power of God’s Holy Word.
Jessica Lee McMillan
The pavement was dry and February grey
for the drunk to correct his turn
In physio, I took care of the whiplash
but my left side twisted hot
when the baby missed their turn
After they were cut away
along with the faulty route,
it felt part of the same bruise;
three weeks of black and blue
and building of scar tissue
Staring at the mirrored closet,
from the bed in keloid March,
my eyes emptied in the glaze,
and up at the pock-marked ceiling
Imagining curves and limbs
on my ceiling of lunar terrain
I remodelled from whiplash
and birthed new silver lanes
Autumn is the season of falling leaves
childhood is a season of losing teeth
The loss of the first incisors
starts at the dissolving of roots
as though child pulls from their soil
like fish who then walked on land
The metamorphosis entails
shedding vestigial organs,
then the parent
Perhaps gratitude for what remains
only comes when parts of the body
no longer regenerate.
Bristolians aren’t sure what they should do,
Regarding Colston’s statue in their town—
If he should be restored for public view,
Ship-shape and Bristol fashion, or stay down.
The range of views expressed is very wide:
Old fogeys want him upright, in good name,
Left-leaners want him toppled on his side,
Forever daubed with paint to mark his shame,
And some would dump him back at sea. I say:
Set Colston on a spindle, and rotate
Him clock-like by the sea, so half his day
Is spent submerged, yet twice a day his pate
Obtains top spot, as briefly he stands tall—
Now surely that’s a compromise for all!
Mark J. Mitchell
BIRTH OF TRAGEDY
The air is blue and cold today.
So hard that, if you struck it
just right, a note would sound.
From that note, a song could rise,
voices of a mixed chorus singing
the prologue to a play:
A husband returning years too late
to a wife drunk with blood desire
after a war that never should have been.
Juan Pablo Mobili
Do you remember when the heart rowed
close to the world?
Then, we were not so averse to risk a fall,
and the traffic up the mountain to the oracle
Those were the times when our mind
wrestled with itself before we made a choice,
whether the choice was to telephone a friend,
or write a poem you’d leave casually
on a table,
or a secret,
something so close to the hull
that you had to keep it to yourself.
At least for a while,
at least until you found out what flag
the ship was flying
before you surrendered your oar,
was all that secret needed,
at least then.
I dreamed I rowed a river of regrets,
floating like lilies close to my oars,
my mother’s wish to be noticed and adored
floating near my father’s hope that justice
would mend our country’s broken bones.
In the dream I let go of the oars.
My shoes are damp under my bed.
THE MAGIC OF NUMBERS
I don’t remember why my brother and I
were so ill at ease with thunder the summer
of 1961, above our small apartment.
Perhaps it was the frightful magic of numbers
like our ages, or a decade barely crawling
away from the fifties, or disgraces
beyond our comprehension.
My father’s aunt would tell us not to worry,
she lived with us because she lost her home,
—once you had a roof over your head again.
thunder was barely worth worrying about—
and reassured us that it was God
rearranging the furniture in heaven.
That was the magic of small living spaces,
what you lacked in square feet,
you made up for with your imagination,
the magic that had numbers kneel down
and let you dream that God was the rabbit
pulled from a top hat, quivering.
I pluck a teardrop
of glass off a floor plank
in the hallway
morning after a kids chair
from IKEA shatters
the ceiling light. The more
things we buy at IKEA,
the more I feel at home
in the showroom, the more
home begins to feel
like a showroom
of shattered glass. The chair
required assembly by
an Allen wrench that came
with the chair. I’d prefer
not to say what it was doing
up there with its feet
flailing in the dark of Theo’s
bedroom after the blackout
curtains flapped to their
respective rods and blotted out
the last bleed of daylight.
But there I was, vacuuming.
Listening for the clickety
clack of the vacuum cleaner
saying, yes, another splinter
of glass, and now what I can’t
get out of my head is this
cartoon from childhood about
a little girl and a boy who
is held captive by the snow queen.
Omi is easy enough to fasten in her car seat. It’s Theo who wavers, not wanting to leave mommy alone in her trembling rage. Sticking the key in the ignition, shifting into reverse, and backing down the driveway requires more courage than I have ever needed. Yet the stalemate stands: Lili demanding an apology, me unwilling to apologize: I just can’t—more a surrender than an offensive, my late night brain so soundly beaten. And Theo appears at the front door, finds me parked in the street, the white whale of our Toyota Sienna opening askance, and I buckle him brimming with where’s mommy’s. Turn onto Lynn Street.
A knot of hair
on the shower wall
Nearly nine years married
We arrived in narrow Fall streets
to walk up steep hills,
carrying baskets into the night sky.
The room had no TV.
You traced ideograms on my back,
drank my juice.
We sat up late by the window.
You started losing your leaves in September.
We would hold hands and jump
into streets of brightly colored houses,
just a month before the earthquake,
riding the Bay Bridge to Emeryville.
You walked through a gate
as though you were never gone.
Too cold for the pool.
October’s leaves spoke softly.
Why do I dream of you night after night?
No warning before it all began.
Sand we used to visit
turned cold, dark;
black curls fell over your ears.
Your hair must be gray now,
if you are still here.
So she tells me that
Church Camp has rules.
Who would have guessed?
Agape, she cannot believe
it, she tells me. The rules
for the Church Camp
will not permit bra straps
to show. Easy solution she
tells me. She will not wear
a bra. That will show them.
And can you believe it?
she asks me. Shorts must
come to the knee, she says.
She says she does not have
any shorts that long. Can you
believe it? She asks again.
No, I cannot. Yes, I can.
She is just starting to get
the hang of this teen thing—
angst, rebellion, and spirit.
I can only hope—OK, pray,
there is no ghost of a chance
that any father or son confounds
Patristic and eucharistic.
The mind and body ache.
The crickets rattle, ceaseless in the night,
a senseless noise to make,
perhaps a small mistake
of meat convinced that going on is right.
The mind and body ache.
Yet it is hard to break
the heart’s habit of beating under the light –
a senseless noise to make
since you can never shake
the quick skeletal wings, the gape and bite –
the mind and body ache
and still won’t stop. You take
each breath like nectar in, and sigh – a slight,
a senseless noise to make
perhaps. You lie awake,
uncertain of waking. You groan, and that’s all right:
the mind and body ache.
A senseless sound to make.
SARAH IN THE WOODS
I do not want a man
to free or to bind me.
No meaty presence
above or below or behind me.
I want to live
free in the hot still air
of my juicy summers,
before I come to bear
my load and children,
before my eyes grow dim
and dry, and it’s the same
to tend to them or him.
I want the hawk’s cry
of the young loose man
distant from the future
of an ordained plan.
And yet, the wrinkled men
dragging the tail of their lives
look no less worn,
no happier than their wives.
Here I would stay, content
with sparrow and salamander,
and would not look at the web
and the fly’s brief wander.
Twinkle, twinkle little man.
Think you’ll reach us? That’s your plan?
Think again, you little shit.
You don’t know the best of it.
We’ll be here when you are gone –
well, some of us. The ride goes on,
long past flickering of a star.
You’re half a blink. You won’t go far.
You think the Pyramids are grand?
Those monuments to brief command?
A star’s small fart is, by compare,
larger and stronger, and still hot air.
A word of ours takes more of time
than your existence. We’ll still rhyme
long past when all your songs and ears
are crushed in vanishing atmosphere.
So make your planet sweltering Hell.
Ignore that loudly tolling bell.
Surely it cannot ring for thee:
God said you’re special? We shall see.
Thirty-five across is a newborn’s
vocal milestone, three letters
which is just as silly as
thirty-nine down which is a name.
I never know any names for actors
in The Office or Newsroom, or
Jon’s dog. Who is Jon?
But my millennial grandson
tells me he doesn’t have enough knowledge
for most of the answers I know,
which makes me feel just a
bit better, though still frustrated
at what a joke is called in (59 Across)
or that trail mix is called “Gorp.”
I want to call the makers
of these puzzles and rail
at their obscure and devious minds
in a game that’s supposed to sharpen
my brain’s function, not hone it to a point
I can jab through my eye.
So they asked Joan of Arc
why always your thighs?
They allow, she replied
the longest consecutive lines.
There would be my back
it is true. But the story, then
should be written by somebody
else. My thighs are at hand.
Why the inside? The surface
is softer, a bit easier to carve.
They open and close
like a notebook.
Starting isn’t a problem, she explained.
Don’t look for beginnings. There isn’t one.
You shall start the poem, she said
at the very center.
In the middle? Sure, darling.
The way you came into life.
In the middle of things. Didn’t you
The end of the poem, she said’s
easy to figure out. You
should leave it exactly
as you found it
like a public toilet.
It’s the least you can do.
Leave it as you found it.
Ajar is fine. Thank you.
INTERNET DATING STORY
There are those that get away
and then there are those that just go.
It was physical for my part,
It was the color of her hair, the color of her eyes.
Hey Mormon girl, have you ever served a mission?
Hey Mormon girl, do you still wear your garments?
She told me that it was easier to divorce her husband
than it was to leave her faith.
(She said she’d burnt her garments.)
She’d taken up with a handsome man, she said,
separated from his wife,
who then moved back in with the wife
deferred telling her about it.
This is internet dating, isn’t it?
Trading stories about our scars
and how we got them
and the people we knew
and the conveyances that brought them.
After that first date, it was like a horoscope had been cast
and its spell revealed in rhyme, but in another language,
and her eyes and her hair and her scars,
went back to that married man who had, again,
separated from his wife
and who, again,
went back to that same wife.
History’s rhyme, incantation
come to compel her and to bring her to ruin.
(For the wife there is no room in this story,
save that she too,
must have suffered something,
and that should be acknowledged too.)
The woman I had sat across from,
to say that this is how I got this mark,
and this one,
and to laugh at old pains,
she moved somewhere, anywhere,
to not have to go through that again
to be made a fool of a third time,
at least not in front of me,
and I never did get a second date.
they get away, man,
and some people,
they just go.
The toughest motherfucker I knew
It wasn’t a Saturday night without a fight.
At bush parties,
lit by a bonfire and fueled by rye,
he’d fight three times a night.
He entered a “tough man” contest,
in Medicine Hat of all places,
one of those last man standing things,
and two carloads of locals went out there
(again, to Medicine Fucking Hat)
to see him kick some ass.
Club beer in a cooler on the back seat
and AC/DC on the stereo,
because that is music to fight to,
fuck all that other shit.
Forty-five seconds into the first round
some Hell’s Angel knocked him out
The boys brought him back,
driving at night under the clear
past the flowering mustard and the moonlit flax,
uphill all the way
and back to my hometown
where he stayed
one of the toughest motherfuckers
I ever knew,
but only one of them.
Charred by the deep gold bar colored sun, we picked
gemstone sized bulbs of potatoes from a wooden shelf in the market
I watched you hold a smiling child on your lap, and
like the tree in the jungle with no one there to hear it fall,
I could love you without making a sound
ANECDOTE OF THE
One is for the
of our buttons
The other we
between two cheeks
like a secret
Excuse me, said Jean
from a buttoned
affair, but I have a
between my lips
THE CLAW HAMMER (IMDb)
The Claw Hammer has a rakish profile.
It loves to see its silhouette shadow
up there on the screen behind its noir
murder namesake thriller. Its face all
blunt nose and its swept back sinister
hair bespeak the hardscrabble toolbox
origins it can never escape. Just looking
at one you know it belongs behind bars.
I bunked with one in Marion once. It had
not lost its stroke. Just think, it pounded
on our sink, if I had been born the gavel
that put me here. Then we would have
our sweet poetic justice, wouldn’t we?
Next time you go rummaging around
your workbench brain for inspiration
and sympathy, try giving this a swing:
My paw banged my maw between two stints.
The wretch rocked my cradle with a claw
where I stretched and hardened into a thing
only a mother could love and never tried.
Next Tuesday I go up for parole again,
it winked, and sized me up, and smiled.
D. Larissa Peters
Does every girl remember that time? Tonight—
with you and a cliche vodka-cranberry, I thought
of that guy and the tequila haze of uncertainty.
How I’m gun-shy sorry—and now
I still can’t tell what I want
what I like
what I need
and I guess…I know I did you—and me
a disservice when in a tentative, brave moment,
I said yes to a simple bar side swipe. But I’m scared
in all that I don’t know
It’s not you … I trust
no one. Least of all
LANDING IN THE UNKNOWN
Uncertainty is only a merging of curiosity and desire to just stay
under the covers. The trip to the store
turns into a detective’s search for tones and facial movements,
expressions of a friendly face. That question:
“Did you find what you’re looking for” opens
eager flood gates of tales:
rental issues, parents calling—inquisitive and caring, the weather
unchanging, until the realization dawns
on both your faces: this conversation is awkward—somewhat inappropriate.
“Can you tell me where the Tahini is?”
“Aisle 3, on your right.”
WAX AND WANE
My aging body no more will behave!
The things that waxed and waned now wane and wax.
Some areas that once required a shave
have shifted and the tightened parts grown lax.
My mem’ry comes and goes much like the tide,
so please forgive if I misplace your name.
Despite these things my spirit will abide.
Believe we’re never meant to stay the same.
But never fear there are joys to be had
despite the way the seasons carry on.
No sense in dwelling on it, being sad
is not a useful way to greet the dawn.
I’m proud to say my heart is ever growing,
while nether regions no longer need mowing.
How ‘bout a short experiment, my love?
It’s possible you will enjoy it, too
and may be something you’ve been thinking of.
But I can see you haven’t got a clue.
You often ask if I have missed your presence
upon returning from the grocery store
Would be so nice to really feel your absence,
then for your company I might implore.
Too much togetherness can surely smother
love’s tender flames and turn desire to ash.
Consider, please, a visit with your mother.
And on your way for once take out the trash.
Dear, from your company I need reprieve.
How can I miss you if you never leave?
THE TIME IS NOW
Your first ex-wife
had the lyrics of ‘Good Riddance’
tattooed across her back.
I don’t need that
I would settle for forgiveness
injected chest deep.
But we both know
you have zero capacity for
a cold day in hell.
Did you burn our bed too
upsetting the new neighbours
with smoked dirty laundry?
My vanity is petite ego.
I hope you find happiness
beyond our potash.
FOR THE RECORD
I can’t recall her name
any more, something unusual
sounded elf-like or Irish.
Her mother drove a turquoise
old Morris Minor van.
The girl, she smoked roll-ups,
left some in your bedroom.
She had a frond bob cut,
hair dyed that plum-reddish
so popular back in the 90s.
When you finally admitted
you had slept with her,
all I could remember
was her saying her boyfriend
had recently died of AIDS.
I wanted to rip you apart,
set your intestines free.
A buzzard feasting on
an old carcass, rotten flesh.
I wished I had burnt
all your stolen vinyl,
watched the flames leap
off your Iron Maidens.
DRACULA FEASTS FAR FROM HOME
Initially, this realm was too scary for me.
Now it’s kind of my hideout where no bodies
frighten me at all. The waiting room overflows.
I eat my friend by way of his wound;
There’s a hint of gangrene on the knife.
Another friend gets angry then asks for help.
You can’t tell them they’re way too rich.
Instead explain why when sucked through teeth,
flesh tastes like dry roots, veal and horsemeat.
Children drinking blood are no worse.
Survival means losing more immortal blood.
Did I mention I have red on my incisors?
It’s such unnecessary damage: the fingersticks
and venipunctures. I wonder what would happen
if we found a way to turn drinks cold in the vein.
FRANKENSTEIN’S CREATION GETS DRUNK ON LAKE GENEVA
Gradually his mind grew clear,
clearer than the water
(not that he was drinking water),
and the trees watched him
through their secret leaves.
He’d earned this first day
of his new life with stolen bread
and a cup of comfort, pure retreat.
Eventually, he laid down
on the bottom of the boat
and observed the cloudless sky.
He drank with a calm
long alien to him then cursed
the hellish monster who’d made him.
MRS. JEKYLL HAS DRY SKIN
She was a slim-faced woman who never smiled. Cool, thin and uncomfortable in conversation, she hid behind her temper; pretended to be dull and soft. She knew he got dirty from the bad things he’d done.
They dined in a large room, encased in stained glass that projected tiny prisms on the table and desktop, as if fairies from the courtyard had snuck past the windows’ iron bars. Outside, the square was full of dust.
Every surface, every drawer needed only a glance, because everything was barren, empty, and everything , accordingly, was spotless to a fault. For a long time. Point to the sinner, not to the sin.
Because of these remarkable events
a nurse makes time
after her shift, and after playing with and feeding
her kid, arguing her
to bed, and washing up,
to write, in longhand on school paper.
She has poured a drink but ignores it.
One of the doctors died today.
We all loved him. I was there. He was brave.
I’m exhausted but I want to write this.
Three other patients died.
One screamed all week that he didn’t have it
(didn’t scream really). Two were old,
one was a cute guy. He was already comatose.
I looked at them all, before and after.
I had the thought that whatever
their personality or craziness
(and the ones in denial are crazy)
they’re all human beings. Beneath all that. Apart from
all that. As a nurse you’re supposed to feel that –
they’re patients. But this was something else.
I used to stop in the chapel awhile
after shift, and I always pray a lot
at night, but I don’t think I will any more.
Except to beg him to keep
my daughter Janet healthy, but that’s different.
EMIGRATION FOR ALL
From the laughing, sunlit shore
through the city and across the kitchen floor
runs an invisible and inadequate fence,
built without a notion of defence,
to mark the border with a peaceful land
at which a deft and well-scrubbed hand
may present a final prescription,
that, or a lurid crime-scene description.
Visas like these grant permanent residence,
but then, some don’t wait for official licence,
they just go ahead and slip the border . . .
Strange – they never get a deportation order.
Compliment Cheryl’s spidery shawl
she says this old thing, I’ve had it
twenty years, meaning You Didn’t Have
To Be So Nice, buy these underripe
bananas if you like, work can’t deflect
that smile, placing pea shoots and carrots
in paper bags, two wholesome take-home
mangos too. Exact change. Into the street
both sides sunny. Beautiful day for a day
dream and a towering coffee, black.
Lung puckers. Climb out of the hole in
your head. Thinking of Zal Yanovsky.
Show the barber his picture. Can’t get
your hair there. That was twenty years
ago, long as Cheryl’s shawl. Apartment
stairs send you singing again. Bundle,
joy. Hour of beer, you pull impossible
lasagna from the oven, wonder
what she’s doing for dinner.
Doing my best with what
I got left wheezes
who could be doing worse, to us
since we’re trespassing on his land
on our way to the pond
in the middle of the city.
Once we’re clear you say
the words I long to hear
hawk at five o’clock
as if you’ve just made down
payment on an audience with God.
Griffinflies flit in rutted mud,
mollified by fermenting fern juice
and two verses of No Rain,
tire tread tracks mucking
up the geologic record.
We’ve gone way off piste
and that’s half the point
of escaping clanging buildings,
stripping off shredded denim
and Pull Your Part tees.
Coastal empiricists exchange
clouds in this clearing.
We achieve the clarity of tears.
did a dangerous thing
felt my way through time
this, an unacceptable regression
as though having run away
into a bed of brick
fingering the trigger
learning to shoot
and kill some wildlife
glorious pots of dishes
from twelve boy curry
to meatballs stuffed with stilton cheese
and a drink, a drink, a drink we go
leaving a mess
drowning in snoring
the first wounding bled
over my ice white nightgown
stained in pain
we seem to have a language together
I do not wish to be rude
but the sensibility is inviting
I have no idea what he’s saying half the time
we laugh and shake our heads a lot
dressed to kill
he gave a gift
then took it away
I paid and lost
unless that conversation
was a deeply
now and again
shaken into language and remembering
we meet a formidable alien
so we kick back
have a good time
trying not to offend
witness the cumulating exchange
game by game
learning to play
practicing smoke and mirrors
there’s flesh between the skin and bones
feelings surge, liquid or dry
running all out and over
we get beaten, we beat
thinking of savage acts
sifting easily or lightly among cracks
in the way thoughts blend one into the other
deflate or elevate
as the moments pass
and life crowds itself into a corner again
marriage is an attempt
to make something substantial out of
for such a little thing
strong as it is
said facetiously, “well that went very well.”
after his still partner
(with whom therapy is worth it)
brushes me off cold as ice
and I think – what must he have told her about me
there’s certainly more here than one can discern
she could hardly have been more rude
more angry and tense
with a beautiful face
one shiny stud in the nose and gold earrings
but dressed badly, as though witches still ruled
there is such anger there
two parts of a brain
born in phases of the moon
birth, death, rebirth
of fertile mood swings
and symbols in the sky
AGAINST A CLOUDLESS SKY
Once, I caught a moth
mid-flight, pinned it
against the wooden plank
of a picnic table, watched it
thrash under my thumbs.
My mother’s boyfriend
loved to punch violets
into walls, tear
the back end of her jeans
in front of me.
Dust bronzed my fingers
when I pulled its wings,
ripped, easy as newsprint,
the metallic thorax,
the bloodless scales.
He’s too young
to remember, he said
when I punched glitter
in the air,
hung two dead planets
against a cloudless sky.
limping on a crutch
of a lost childhood
a father who didn’t
a mother who couldn’t
no taste for life left
years on the scratchy couch of Dr. Danna Slate
thousands of dollars spent
blaming parents for never practicing the piano
for picking the wrong partner
for being unpleasingly plump
while she smiles and nods
and suggests five times a week
cheaper to travel to Lourdes
where Bernadette had visions of the virgin
when she was only fourteen
where people have been cured
of cancer of cataracts of cold sores
pass through the Grotto
pray for a miracle
sip the holy water
feel the blessings flow through your body
feel the ragged longing lighten
shedding memories of belts and bruises
of missing meals and murky closets
leave the crutch and couch behind
your heart riding high and run
on solid legs toward the life
that belongs to you
never too late, even if you are fifty
and you didn’t have any visions
in the shrine, not a single one
I LIKE IKE
We had campaign buttons
we could even see ourselves
or facsimiles thereof
and not leave the house
figures that tried to be like us
as we tried to be like them
so we became a copy of a copy
a replica in sepia
we were being watched
we were being laughed at
Dad had a long face
like a horse
not a racehorse
not a thoroughbred
more like a draft horse
used to plowing
the plow was us
me and my brothers
we liked having fun with dad
when he came home
we liked to fight at the dinner table
and call each other dirty names
mom hated it
we wrecked her nerves
one night we saw dad help her
take her clothes off
through a half-closed door
she was so drunk
she couldn’t do it herself
we threw each other off the porch
we wrecked cars
we brought home animals we caught
in the Forest Preserve
we stole bicycles
we threw up in the front yard
we set dogs on fire
we threw firecrackers
at the people next door
and opened a hydrant
that flooded our block
we hurled snowballs at cars
and sometimes, rocks
when dad died
someone sent a wreath
like you see sometimes
on a thoroughbred at Churchill Downs
we put it on dad
at the funeral home
he looked like he won
the Kentucky Derby
Tricia L. Somers
At the liquor store
and strapped for cash
At the liquor store strapped
with required mask
“Take all that fuqin paper
n put it in the fuqin bag
& just roll
Roll like tears
down grubby little cheeks
Every day dashed hopes
A child’s resiliency
Days into weeks
and yet they still wait
With all of the emptiness
you have ever had
roll down the road
like an empty paper bag
As weeks melt into months
are satin tears into pillows
made of cement
With all the trash and
the litter of the whole
wide filthy world we spin
And still they are waiting there
Put the money in the bag
and cast it to the wind
I sit alone in my garden these days
this spring, this fall
there’s nowhere to go.
The birds are used to me now, they
perch when I appear. The robin hops
by me and stays, cocks his head
at a worm, or at me.
He flies low and fast and gray,
the oriole higher, orange streak,
his song a treat, the stakes
so high—a mate.
Where is she? Let her not appear,
or no, not yet. I want to hear that song again,
a reminder of what I could be.
John L. Stanizzi
“East Windsor strives to preserve its quiet, small town feel.”
– The East Windsor, Connecticut Website
—for Jim Landwehr, with gratitude
…it’s a narrow two-laner penciled in between huge squares of shade-grown tobacco which billows and glows like a field of ghosts at one-thirty in the morning, when you’re high. And you’re making my broken heart smile this morning, Jimmy. You were so lucky to have Sal and Damion. My boys were Andy and Phil, and they came from different planets.
Andy was a clean-shaven, straight from Ukraine, thick-glasses-wearing, neurotic-to-the-max and just as eccentric, classical pianist who I once saw play 17 minutes of Rachmaninoff from memory, until he touched one wrong note, smashed down the piano cover, screamed YOU MOTHERFUCKER!! and went directly for the vodka, any vodka.
Phil, on the other hand, had hair down to his waist, a beard like Billy Gibbons, and when everybody else was jamming to Iron Maiden, Phil was head banging to Coltrane’s Live in Seattle, and draining a bottle of Stoli.
OK, so maybe they weren’t completely different.
I fished with them – when I went with Andy we went in his brand new Saab.
When I went with Phil we went in his 67 Dodge.
With Andy, I never worried.
With Phil, I worried every second.
We fished the mouth of the little Scantic River where it gently joined the massive Connecticut in East Windsor, Connecticut, an absolutely bucolic paradise of tobacco fields and cows and cottonwoods whose blooms in late May covered the field along the riverbank with so much white fluff you’d think there had been a blizzard. I can’t tell you how beautiful and incongruous a sight that is in early summer.
But I digress.
The poem you sent me called to mind our ritual at what we referred to as The Mouth – the fishing spot was the mouth of the Scantic River when it emptied into the huge Connecticut, The Long River.
We’d take our tackle boxes, poles and nightcrawlers, plenty of herb, and a bottle of mescal, with that little rigid orange-ish worm bobbing around the bottom of the bottle.
This behavior always made the ride home an adventure as Andy or Phil negotiated the narrow back roads.
When his cassette player wasn’t eating the tape, Phil would blast Pharoah Sanders or Sonny Stitt,
and steer with his left hand while he banged the dashboard with his right, his wild hair alive and flying out the window, the hot summer air blasting in and wrapping us both in invincibility.
Andy wouldn’t blast anything – he needed to concentrate on driving.
Be cool, Johnnie, he’d whisper nervously, as if someone heard him talking we’d get busted. What a character.
Don’t turn the radio on. Be cool..
When you wrote in your poem, …a cool reminder that he shouldn’t be driving/but he is the best of the three of us/and that ain’t sayin’ much…, you brought me back there, Jim.
Phil and me coursing along skinny Abbott Road between the shade-grown fields. It’s late – one-thirty, two o’clock in the morning, and Phil’s doing his thing –Freddy Hubbard – Live at Fat Tuesday’s – he’s banging the dashboard… Oh, I should say, Phil had eaten the worm this time,
and that meant we’re gonna get home.
I said, How fast you goin’, man?
Phil said, Hundred and ten, muthafucka.
I said, I didn’t think this piece a shit could go that fast, and I laid back in the passenger seat, closed my eyes. hoped for the best and saw those fields of ghosts roar by every time I opened my eyes.
Somehow…somehow…we made it every time. Luck of the draw.
With Andy it was different.
Yeah, he’s negotiating Abbott Road and it’s just as late. He had also eaten the worm, but he starts his Johnnie be cool routine, all in a very quiet whisper. So weird. Like I’m the one
who’s gonna get us busted. And why’s he whispering anyway. Just fucking weird.
At two in the morning you don’t see a single car, not one, on Abbott Road. But this particular night we see three. Three cars, Jim. And we see them because
they passed us!
Remember I told you that Andy had a brand new Saab, a 1983 beauty, loaded. Well ‘83 loaded included a digital speedometer – no needle on this baby – actual numbers went by, big orange neon numbers. I remember thinking, “Dude, that looks just like the New York Stock Exchange.”
I say, Yo, did you see those three cars pass us?
Andy whispers, Yeah. Yeah.
I say, What’s up with that?
Andy says, I don’t know, man. I don’t know. Then he whispers, Be cool, Dude.
I say, How fast you goin’, man?
Andy begins to get a little frantic. I’m asking too many questions.
I don’t know, man. I’m drivin! Be cool. I don’t know! You check.
I lift myself up from my fully reclined, leather passenger seat and try to get the New York Stock Exchange speedometer in focus, and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I truly can’t believe it. I’m in complete shock.
All worked up and nervous, and completely disregarding the “whisper rule,” I shout, Andy, yo, yo! Andy. Andy!! You doin’ FOUR man. You doin’ FOUR!! FOUR!! You gotta speed up, MAN!
Andy says, Yeah, yeah, I know, man. I know. I KNOW, he whispers, loudly. Be cool. Be cool!
And so I was cool.
I sat up in the passenger seat and I talked us home at a cool thirty-five.
They’re both gone now, Jim. Both of ‘em.
That’s why I say you made my broken heart smile with your poem, man.
Michael Angelo Stephens
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY FATHER
He was five years old, wandering alien
Streets in Brooklyn, his mother having just
Died and his father nowhere to be found,
The young boy walked around the world that way
Out in traffic of the borough until
Two of his County Mayo uncles found
Him wandering around, raggedy and
Dazed, and already hardened, suspicious,
Hungry, but he accepted their food as
Well as comfort and let them search the bars
Until they found the drunk, missing father,
Who didn’t seem to know his son or them,
His brothers-in-law, until much later,
Sober, he asked them how his sick wife was.
If she could recall that old song dancing
Around in her head when she was young and
So alive with pleasure for life, if only she
Could remember, she would see that as much
As it was good then, it is still good now,
And if she could sing, this is what she’d sing,
This song about her life, and how it is
Remarkable, and so she might tangle
And untangle those years until they were
Unknotted and smooth, almost as though years
Became seconds, unraveled like a skein,
Until she stood there in front of the hall
Mirror, clothed or naked didn’t matter,
Neither old nor young, and yet beautiful,
In this predicament called life, if she
Could run or kick or scream, it would not make
One bit of difference to this quiet
Moment there with herself, and herself who
Accepts who that person is before her.
A ROGUE WAVE
Ocean gardening was the challenge, how
to make vegetables grow in the salt
air, or going the back road that led to
Truro, searching out blueberry patches
that, like wild bears, we used to ravage with
our purple tongues, bringing home oysters by
the bucketsful, freezing the pieces of
striped bass–not yet become contaminated—
and smoking bluefish to be eaten with
olives and onions. All of these things broke
like a rogue wave over me as she stood
in the doorway talking about summer.
Boston still lacked sunlight, and yet as I
walked to the T, the sky turned oystery.
WHAT THE BUTLER SAW: A WHODUNIT
If you please, if you will, sir, right this way.
Madame is under the weather, but she
Will be down shortly. His lordship is here,
But he is occupied at the moment.
The children and grandchildren are away,
Sir, I am working with a skeleton
Staff, just a maid, a cook and me.
If you please, if you will, sir, right this way.
Madame has had a fall, only a slight
Contusion on her forehead, some bumps and
Bruises on her arms and legs, but is well.
If you please, if you will, sir, right this way.
At the same time, sir, my lord hurt his hand
In the bathroom. If it is all right with
You, we’ll let you wait here in this parlour.
If you don’t mind, if you’d be so kind, sir.
I’ll call the lady of the house for you.
I’ll tell his lordship that you are now here.
If you’d be so kind, sir, if you don’t mind.
If it is not an inconvenience,
Please wait in this parlour to the right here.
Have a seat. Have a cigar. May I park
Your car for you, may I offer a drink?
If you don’t mind, if you’d be so kind, sir.
RUBAIYAT FOR THE BOYS LOOKING FOR ONE THING
Dick Fuller was leader of The Gang.
His motto was “Everyman Does It” – along
with ducks and birds, dogs and chicks,
hummers and drummers, possums – bang
they go – and that is it, and if you don’t believe it,
he’d put another empty drink bottle in a crate – and say, “No shit!”
Dick kept his car full of gas
that way, selling the empties, plus siphoning
gas from school buses in yards
around the neighborhood, especially if they sat like blobs
of yellow far enough from country roads
to give him ease in his role as Thief in Charge.
Meanwhile, the girls he took to his backseat
to rock and roll, he’d say, as his culprit
in arms turned the steering wheel into Booger Branch
or the Goat Pasture: sometimes the boys hit
home runs, they’d chatter, when they took turns.
What a memory: I never would participate in such except to yearn
for better days for the girl they groomed for such atmosphere,
she, alone, forsaken, no mother, a father whose soul for God just burned
all the time to have his sentence multiplied,
charged from “thou shalts” to will
the judgments he pronounced in church,
his refrain, “God’s will be done,” he supplied
to make a case of eating under Eden’s Tree so bright,
all this before TV and Me-Too, where right
now brims Sorrow all the days of our lives,
as she and she and she, though blighted, brave hindsight.
But that’s not good enough, Dick,
even though later your life you clad in clothes thick
with fire-engine red, even drove the truck,
won awards for your service to quicken
others to join you in helping in the community;
when I see you, I smell the taint of unity
in my having to go on, inside my skin of what-beast,
I cannot say, to try now my puberty.
A man by any inwardness is older-younger,
never forgetting the righteousness, the lingering
array showering memory to installments imperfection
craves to cover the goodness you have done as you belong
to seeds which grow, however bruised, beyond your foe,
that adolescence, the damage, the bullying, and more:
you married first the sweetheart in your class,
a high-school romp; the marriage dropped in woe,
you grew up: hail to thee: your grin
strengthens the women who were girls once in your thin,
push-over, raging supply of backseat dramas.
If a frog had wings, I swear, you would be Dunce-king of Backseat Springs.
I have a scream
for Valentine’s Day
six white words
six red words
a pain bouquet
I have a scream
in my back pocket
swirling silver band
on one knee
I have a scream
to empty into you
as you look back
as the fresh
I have a scream
to fill his bottle
as you hold him
with tired eyes
and a wilted smile
I have a scream
to tell you
as the sun rises
my life is yours
my love is madness
READING IN BED: A LOVE POEM
I made a man out of books,
the body of which rests beside me
on a queen-size bed.
This man cannot keep me warm once
my lamp is switched off, but until then
he does keep me company quite well.
The shape of him shifts, depending on my mood.
His feet might be poetry or some epic tome,
his torso a coffee table book about art.
Currently his legs are of science and the natural world.
His groin has a history—the account of men driven by desire
to form civilizations they like to call their own.
I cradle his head—a constant novel—in my hands.
It’s filled with romance, adventure, and that certain kind
of cruelty humans heap upon each other.
At the end of each night before turning out my light,
I run my hand over his form, thinking about my husband
whose warm body rests on the other side of the house,
snug and snoring on one side of a king-size bed.
I’ll visit him tomorrow—a Saturday morning—and share
what my book man has whispered all week long.
He fucked himself into
an “emotional shock.”
this is not the right expression;
joggled, physically as
well as emotionally,
fits better. He says,
“it’s the opposite of losing someone”
and he’s “just not used to it.”
What exactly did he find,
I wonder? What
is it about me he has discovered
to keep? Did I spill
any keepsakes to take
I did not know I was
a treasure hunt: G-spot – check;
clitoris – check; boobies – check (not
strictly in that order, as we approached
things slowly, rather
like island-hopping of two desperate
pirates). What exactly
did he pick up, is keeping close
to his heart when
I don’t even know myself
what more I had to give?
As a still stone garners moss
you gathered the wraps, some barely worn,
you kept them all on hangers and hooks,
left no instructions.
Months after it stilled, your heart was in
our donation—I felt it quicken
in time with mine.
At homeless services the guy took them
in his arms like great bundles of flowers, gave
a radiant smile, already matching each
to a favorite, seeing it brighten her day
and warm her nights: a bulky coat,
a feathery scarf, a neat pair of knitted gloves
in blue or green.
Our hearts were in it and rejoiced,
for small vanities are that rare
unmixed pleasure of the dispossessed—
as of the dying, drained and disfigured by
In the final week of our four decades, we
conspired to cheat the nurses of your care:
I washed and combed your hair, made you look pretty
for your nap.
I COULDN’T HAVE KNOWN
what lay beneath
this humble man of science
seeking truth in a whirlwind
of possibilities, complex discoveries
that roused him from sleep
and sent him dashing to the lab
it would be our last trip
as I kicked my way
during dull off hours
from the AACR conference,
my perma-scowl at endless trek
to see museum after museum in D.C. —
my father and I would walk
the same path for the last time
what would happen
when I no longer know
what his voice sounds like
The words you can
not say because the catch
in your throat swells
where you dream a hand
grips it, from the arm
of a former journalist
turned hack, Air Force vet
gone soft and bitter,
who grips to stop the sounds
that mean a daughter
will look away or not say
a few words, new silences
each year, for something
gutless and guttered
he slowly earned but that you
describe like a toothpaste flavor,
a car amenity. Look:
if you can’t say fire
or change your life or
endanger a home or any
of the real, hard things,
then you have made
that hard choice to lie
about the span
of what you do.
Later—an entire marriage
lodged in her teeth—his wife says
You were nothing but fair.
You were nothing
You were nothing but
My childhood was a collection of lost things:
rolls of yellowed tape, spit-stained cigarette butts
with a few desiccated puffs left in them,
Charles Atlas ads torn from comic books,
tarnished silver dimes found around
that I counted and rolled into paper sleeves,
placed with others of their kind
in a scuffed-up cigar box–
still sweet-smelling of the stogies
my dad snuck puffs from when the boys
came over to play poker–
my frayed-lace six-finger baseball glove,
good enough for one inning a game in right field,
and the broken backyard swing-set with its chipped wooden seat
dangling from one rusted chain. And me, part of the collection,
striking out at everything, baseball, being a hit
with the girls, or even the boys for that matter –
except when I was ten, there was Donald
with whom I’d sit for hours, us wielding
sharpened pencils and fine-lined graph paper. We plotted
parabolas, calculated the areas under arcs,
forgot our lonely hearts until we parted,
went the next day to school where
our lessons in loneliness and basic
arithmetic carried on.
FAILING NINE ELEVEN
(after Chen Chen, Circle “C” If You Just Don’t Know)
On nine eleven, I watched as people
failed at being birds, as clouds of dust
failed to rematerialize as people,
as the morning sun failed
to raise up pieces of a falling sky.
And all these years, I’ve failed to write
a nine eleven poem because I failed
at nine eleven, failed the death and desolation
failed the drama in our home, the oh-my’s,
the looking away from the TV bodies falling like ash,
the can’t look away. I failed to feel anything but me
even the flower-flame’s bloom on the sides of towers.
I failed my eighteen year old – a sparse bearded boy
who as a babe I called “Taterhead,” sometimes still do,
who hopped nervously in our living room,
said he was down with enlisting, going a round or two
for his country and though I was quietly proud,
I hoped no cause was worth him dying.
But I was OK with the boys in his senior class
signing up because they needed the work and college
wasn’t in the cards for them and someone had to fight
for America. In the school gym they brought
recruiters, all creased and smart in their camo,
surrounded them by cheerleaders who whooped
the teens into a tiny-flag waving frenzy.
I failed to go there, to stand and shout, “STOP”
even though I knew in the still dimly-lit parts of me
that “with us or against us” was an evil worse
than planes penetrating buildings.
I did not fail to raise a righteous teen, a girl
who sat on her angry hands
when the other kids rose and proclaimed
allegiance to a flag which stands for nothing
except an America that strapped men to boards,
poured water over them until they broke into tiny pieces
of America – the tortured, the torturer, the brown,
the white, the naked and the jackbooted. I failed
all of them, if failing is just complaining
and doing nothing.
And finally I failed to understand
that before nine eleven, America was a jewel
and bile encrusted coffer, much like
an inside-out Pandora’s Box, lid cracked open,
with hope trying to get in and all these evils
that have always been America slipping out.
Nine eleven blew the whole thing open,
doused the hope in jet fuel and disgorged white hot
entitlement in all its guises over the browner half
of the world.
So, on this the anniversary of the eleventh day
of the ninth month of the two thousandth and first year
since the birth of the lord of peace, I kept the shades drawn,
the radio off, blew by the day-long nine eleven porn
festival of forgetting what was really lost that day
until I eventually failed at that, too.
Russel G. Winick
WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?
Why did the chicken cross over the road?
To get to a place less corrosive.
Where chickens are free to cross roads as they choose,
And no one will question their motive.
Those never quiet
Sure ought to try it.
I wander the blues,
long to twirl my skirts
in the purple, the pink,
dance round and round
until I’m dizzy. No more
dragging gray behind
like a shadow in the corner.
Father could have performed
but juggled a sales job
paid a mortgage,
pacified a wife
who wanted a house
the size of a Big Top.
He could have left selling
to the ticket man,
jumped from the audience,
performed his act.
Instead, he wrote occasional poems
for weddings and funerals,
the words he needed
to say good-bye.
Cynthia Yatchman is a Seattle based artist and art instructor. She works primarily on paintings, prints and collages. Her art is housed in numerous public and private collections in the Northwest and she has been shown nationally in California, Connecticut, New York, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon and Wyoming.
Brian J. Alvarado ( @wrdsrch) writes and sings. Recent work is featured and/or forthcoming in Thimble, FERAL, Trouvaille, Sledgehammer, and Versification, among others. He holds a BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University. brianalvarado.com/writing
Peter Anderson fled Michigan for Canada and never looked back. Well, actually he did look back but despite Satchel Paige’s warning nothing was gaining on him. He lives in Vancouver where he acts, writes plays and poems. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Unbroken, Better Than Starbucks, Sublunary Review, MoonPark Review, Flora Fiction Literary Magazine, Last Stanza Poetry Journal and The American Journal of Poetry. His plays are available online at the Canadian Play Outlet.
James Appleby is a poet and translator. Commended in the 2021 McLellan Poetry Competition, his writing has been featured in Marble Poetry, Litro Magazine, and others. jamesapplebywriting.co.uk
Catherine Arra is the author of Deer Love (Dos Madres Press, 2021), Her Landscape, Poems Based on the Life of Mileva Marić Einstein (Finishing Line Press, 2020), (Women in Parentheses) (Kelsay Books, 2019), Writing in the Ether (Dos Madres Press, 2018), and three chapbooks. Arra is a native of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, where she teaches part-time and facilitates local writing groups. Find her at catherinearra.com
Susan Ayres is a poet, lawyer, and translator. She holds an MFA in creative writing with a concentration in translation from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a PhD in literature from Texas Christian University. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has appeared in many journals, including Sycamore Review, Cimarron Review, Valparaiso Review. She lives in Fort Worth and teaches at Texas A&M University School of Law. Find her at psusanayres.com
A writer and artist based in San Antonio, Jeff Bagato produces poetry and prose as well as electronic music and glitch video. His published books include Savage Magic (poetry) and Computing Angels (fiction). A blog about his writing and publishing efforts can be found at jeffbagato.wordpress.com
Tina Barry is the author of Beautiful Raft and Mall Flower. Her writing appears in numerous journals, including The Best Small Fictions 2020 (spotlighted story) and 2016, Drunken Boat, The American Poetry Journal, Nasty Women Poets: An Anthology of Subversive Verse, A Constellation of Kisses, and Yes, Poetry, and has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, as well as Best of the Net. Tina is a teaching artist at The Poetry Barn, Gemini Ink and Writers.com.
Teresa McLamb Blackmon is a retired English teacher who lives on a farm in eastern North Carolina. She received an MA in English from N. C. State University and an MLS from North Carolina Central University. Her first book of poems, Daddy Said, was published in September 2020. A chapbook on literary characters is forthcoming.
Watched by crows and friend to salamanders, Lisa Creech Bledsoe is a hiker, beekeeper, and writer living in the mountains of Western North Carolina. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two full-length books of poetry, Appalachian Ground (2019), and Wolf Laundry (2020). She has new poems out or forthcoming in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Chiron Review, Otoliths, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and Quartet, among others.
Rose Mary Boehm is a German-born British national living and writing in Lima, Peru. Her poetry has been published widely in mostly US poetry reviews (online and print). She was twice nominated for a Pushcart. Her fourth poetry collection, THE RAIN GIRL, was published in 2020. Her fifth, DO OCEANS HAVE UNDERWATER BORDERS, has just been snapped up by Kelsay Books for publication May/June 2022. Her website: www.rose-mary-boehm-poet.com
Dan Brook teaches in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University in California, from where he organizes the Hands on Thailand program. His most recent book of poetry is Sweet Nothings (Hekate, 2020).
Eric Burgoyne lives on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. His degrees are from Reading University, Berkshire, England, and the University of Utah. Later this year he completes a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Teesside University, Middlesbrough, England. His poems have appeared in As It Ought To Be Magazine, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Brickplight-Poetry Beyond the Pale, Spillwords, Skink Beat Review, and elsewhere.
Nicole Callräm is a professional paper pusher and lover of hot pot. She currently lives in Shanghai, China and loves to drink wine and ride bike (preferably on a sunny day and in that order).She has been published in River’s Meeting Project, ASPZ, Alluvium, and Visions. She has found a home with Shanghai’s Inkwell Poetry Workshop and is a better human for having found this group.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of four books and five chapbooks and is the 2020 winner of the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Award for The Mercy of Traffic. Doubleback Books reprinted her second book, Discount Fireworks as a free download. Her website is wendytaylorcarlisle.com.
Jared Carter‘s most recent book of poems, The Land Itself, is from Monongahela Books in West Virginia. He lives in Indiana.
Anna Cheung is a poet based in Scotland. Her debut poetry collection will be published in September 2021 by Haunt Publishing. Her poems have been published by Dreich, Potluck, Zarf, Haunt, Dark Eclipse and Dusk and Shiver. Her poem ‘Survival of Solitude’ was included in From Them, To You, an illustrated book by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (published by Speculative Books) gifted to breast cancer patients in the UK to help improve women’s body confidence and mental health. @annsmcheung
Joe Cottonwood has repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book of poetry is Random Saints.
Lenny DellaRocca is founder and co-publisher of South Florida Poetry Journal-SoFloPoJo. He has published two full-length collections and two chaps. His poetry has appeared in many places over the years, including Rat’s Ass Review.
George Donald was born in 1957. The son of a minister, he grew up in a series of rectories in the Deep South, before leaving home at the age of 15. Trained in Languages (Russian, English, Spanish), as well as in Voice performance and Phys Ed, he works as an Interpreter in a large urban Trauma Hospital. He was a member of writing groups both on the West Coast and in the DC area.
Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including Acumen, Agenda, Fenland Poetry Journal, Neon Lit. Journal, Rat’s Ass Review, Prole, Sentinel Lit. Quarterly and Stand. He lives in Totnes, Devon, U.K. quite close to the river Dart. His debut collection will be published by Leaf by Leaf in November 2021.
Alexis Rhone Fancher has authored seven collections, including The Dead Kid Poems (KYSO Flash Press) and Junkie Wife (Moon Tide Press). EROTIC:New & Selected, from New York Quarterly, dropped in March, 2021. She’s published in Best American Poetry, Nasty Women Poets, Cleaver, Diode, and elsewhere. Her photos are published world-wide. Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Daily. She and her husband live and frolic in San Pedro, CA. Find her at alexisrhonefancher.com.
A retired special education teacher, Vern Fein has published over one hundred fifty poems on over eighty sites, a few being: *82 Review, Bindweed Magazine, Gyroscope Review, Courtship of Winds, Young Raven’s Review, Monterey Poetry Review, Sledgehammer Magazine, and Rat’s Ass Review.
James Fowler retired from the Navy in 1994 and returned to school to graduate with a Master’s in Environmental Science. His final practicum was to edit the poetry anthology, “Heartbeat of New England” (Tiger Moon Production 2000) Finishing Line Press published his chapbook “Connection to this World” 2012. “Falling Ashes” was published in the Hobblebush Press Granite State Poetry Series as volume VII in 2013.
Karin L. Frank’s @klfrank1 and karinlfrank.com) poems and stories have been published in a wide variety of venues both literary and genre, in the U.S.A. and abroad. Nurtured by the fantasies and sciences of both coasts, she is now officially an old lady disintegrating on a farm in the Midwest. A Meeting of Minds, a collection of her science-based and science fiction-based poems is available through Amazon.
Meg Freer grew up in Montana and lives in Ontario. She worked in book publishing, and now teaches piano and enjoys being outdoors year-round. Her photos and writing have appeared in journals such as Ruminate, Vallum, Arc Poetry, and Eastern Iowa Review. She co-authored with Chantel Lavoie a chapbook of poems, Serve the Sorrowing World with Joy (Woodpecker Lane Press, 2020). Her poems have won awards in several contests in the U.S. and Canada.
Jeffery Gainer has been a published writer since 1976. A precocious high-school student, he contributed frequent book reviews to his hometown newspaper, The Charleston Gazette. Since then, he has published social criticism, management essays, technical articles, and fiction in numerous publications. Mr. Gainer now lives in the Park City, Utah area, where he works occasionally as a private chef. On quiet summer evenings, he dons a patriotic costume, flies through the air, and fights crime.
Gene Goldfarb now lives in Manhattan having recently moved there from Long Island. He loves reading, writing, travelling and is a foodie and film afficionado (all kinds). His poetry has appeared in Black Fox, Green Briar, Quiddity, SLANT, The Daily Drunk and elsewhere.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Penumbra, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Lana Turner and Held.
Goddfrey Hammit was born and raised in Utah, and lives in Utah still, in a small town outside of Salt Lake City. Hammit has, most recently, contributed work to Neologism Poetry Journal, The Loch Raven Review, and Riddled with Arrows, among others, and is the author of the novel Nimrod, UT. Website: goddfreyhammit.com.
Erin Hay is a poet living in Santa Cruz, California. She lives with her sweetheart, in a menagerie of pets and plants.
Robin Helweg-Larsen‘s poems, mostly formal, have been published in Rat’s Ass Review and other magazines in the US and elsewhere. He is Series Editor for Sampson Low’s ‘Potcake Chapbooks – form in formless times’ and blogs at formalverse.com from his hometown of Governor’s Harbour in the Bahamas.
Sydney Henck is a social worker by day and a poet between clients. He received his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawerence College and his masters in social work from the New York University Silver School of Social Work. Sydney is an asexual transgender author, who loves swordfighting, beekeeping, and baking bread from Yeastifer the wild sourdough starter. Sydney lives in Connecticut with his husband and their misbehaving cat, Lady Capulet.
Mary Beth Hines’s debut poetry collection, Winter at a Summer House, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books in 2022. Her poems, and short fiction and non-fiction, appear in journals such as Crab Orchard Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, FERAL, Madcap Review, Rat’s Ass Review, and Snakeskin among many others. Following a career as a communications and outreach program manager, she writes from her home in Massachusetts. Connect with her at marybethhines.com.
After a thirty-year career teaching literature and creative writing at a South Florida university, Christine Jackson’s latest retirement addictions are poetry and pickleball. Her poetry has been published in many online publications, including South Florida Poetry Journal, Ekphrastic Review, and Verse-Virtual. Chris lives with her husband in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Nate Jacob is a full-time stay-at-home father to six, and a part time slave to an on-again, off-again Muse who drags words out of him at the most convenient times, to varying degrees of success so far as poetry is concerned. He is a newcomer, having only recently seen his first publication, but he plans to ignore his children’s pleas for love and sustenance more so that he can write more and better poetry.
Melissa E. Jordan lives in northwestern Connecticut. Her poetry collection, Bain-Marie (Big Wonderful Press) was published in 2015, and was also a finalist in both the CutBank Chapbook Contest and the Slate Roof Press Chapbook Contest. Jordan’s poems have appeared in The Cossack Review, Word Riot, Otis Nebula, Terrain, Off the Coast, Squawk Back, and elsewhere.
Sarah Mackey Kirby is a Kentucky poet and writer. She is the author of the poetry collection, The Taste of Your Music (Impspired, 2021). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Chiron Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Rat’s Ass Review, Cajun Mutt Press, and elsewhere. She holds an MA in teaching and a BA in political science from the University of Louisville. She and her husband live in Louisville. smkirby.com/
Koss (she/they/them) is a queer writer and artist with an MFA from SAIC. They have work in or forthcoming in Diode Poetry, Hobart, Five Points, Spillway, Cincinnati Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, North Dakota Review, San Pedro River Review, Chiron Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Rat’s Ass Review, Moist, Amethyst Review, The Lumiere Review, Filth and many others. They also have work in Best Small Fictions 2020 and won the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry 2021 Contest. Keep up with Koss on Twitter @Koss51209969 and Instagram at @koss_singular. Their website is koss-works.com For writing, poetry, art, web design. copywriting, and marketing services, use the same link.
Jerry Krajnak is a former altar boy and a Vietnam veteran who is now retired in the North Carolina mountains after almost fifty years of accumulating degrees and teaching. Happiness these days depends on having ripe tomatoes on the vine, grandchildren on the phone, and mountain internet that is actually working. Recent poems have appeared in Wingless Dreamer, Novus, and Plants and Poetry.
Andrea Krause (she/her) lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, daughter, and snoring greyhound. Her work is published or forthcoming in Kissing Dynamite, Autofocus, Eunoia Review, Moist Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She nods along on Twitter at @PNWPoetryFog.
Judy Kronenfeld’s fifth full-length collection of poetry, Groaning and Singing, will be published by FutureCycle in early 2022. Her most recent prior collections are Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017) and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Judy’s poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Connotation Press, Ghost Town, New Ohio Review, One, Rattle, Slant, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verdad and other journals, and in over two dozen anthologies.
Jennifer Lagier has published nineteen books. Her work appears in a variety of anthologies, ezines (including past issues of Rat’s Ass Review) and literary magazines. She taught with California Poets in the Schools, edits the Monterey Review, helps coordinate Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings. Recent publications: work included in Humana Obscura, Harbinger Asylum, The Pangolin Review, The Rockford Review, Syndic Literary Journal, Fog and Light: San Francisco Through the Poets Who Live There, Second Wind: Words & Art of Hope & Resilience. Her most recent books include: Meditations on Seascapes and Cypress (Blue Light Press) and COVID Dissonance (CyberWit). Forthcoming: Camille Chronicles (FutureCycle Press) Facebook: JenniferLagier Website: jlagier.net
Richard LeDue (he/him) currently lives in Norway House, Manitoba. He is a Best of the Net nominee. His first chapbook came out in 2020, and a second chapbook, “Winnipeg Vacation,” was published by Alien Buddha Press in 2021. As well, his third chapbook, “The Kind of Noise Worth Writing Down,” is forthcoming in early 2022 from Kelsay Books.
Michael H. Levin is a lawyer, solar energy developer and writer based in Washington DC. His work has appeared on stage and in three collections, multiple anthologies and numerous periodicals – most recently in a full-length nonfiction book, A Border Town in Poland (July 2021). He has received poetry and feature journalism awards, and is a recent Best of the Net nominee. See: michaellevinpoetry.com and A Border Town in Poland.
James Lineberger wrote the book and lyrics for the rock opera, The Survival of Saint Joan, and the screen adaptation of the movie Taps. His poetry has appeared in Boulevard; The Cortland Review; The Main Street Rag; UCity Review; Natural Bridge; Rat’s Ass Review; Pembroke Magazine; Quarter After Eight; B O D Y; and New Ohio Review.
Lorraine Henrie Lins is a Pennsylvania county Poet Laureate and author of four books of poetry. Lins serves as the Director of New and Emerging Poets with Tekpoet and her work has appeared in wide variety of publications, including a small graffiti poster in New Zealand. Born and raised in the suburbs of Central New Jersey, the self-professed Jersey Girl now resides along the coast of North Carolina where she pumps her own gas.
Ellaraine Lockie’s recent work has won the Oprelle Publishing’s Poetry Masters Contest, Poetry Super Highway Contest, the Nebraska Writers Guild’s Women of the Fur Trade Poetry Contest and New Millennium’s Monthly Musepaper Poetry Contest. Chapbook collections have won Poetry Forum’s Chapbook Contest Prize, San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Chapbook Competition, Encircle Publications Chapbook Contest, Best Individual Poetry Collection Award from Purple Patch, and The Aurorean’s Chapbook Choice Award. Ellaraine is Poetry Editor for the lifestyles magazine, LILIPOH.
Fay L. Loomis lives a particularly quiet life in the woods in Kerhonkson, New York. A member of the Stone Ridge Library Writers and Rat’s Ass Review Workshop, her poetry and prose have appeared most recently in Burrow, Amethyst Review, Bindweed, True Chili, Blue Pepper, Al-Khemica Poetica, Sledgehammer Lit, Spillwords, Undertow Poetry Review, and Love in the Time of Covid.
Ken Massicotte lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He has published in several journals, including Wilderness House Literary Review, Gray Sparrow, Poetry Quarterly, Ginosko, Crack the Spine, Matador, Sleet, and Grain.
Joan Mazza worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and taught workshops nationally on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), and her work has appeared in Italian Americana, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia.
Lisa McCabe lives in Lahave, Nova Scotia, Canada. She has published poetry, reviews, and essays in various print and online journals including, The Sewanee Review, The Dark Horse Magazine, HCE Review, Better Than Starbucks, The Ekphrastic Review, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Front Porch Republic.
Elizabeth McCarthy lives with her husband in an old farmhouse in northern Vermont where they raised two children and several generations of free roaming hens, and made numerous attempts at keeping honey bees alive despite cold winters and marauding bears. She retired from teaching in 2018 and turned to poetry in March of 2020 when COVID-19 closed the world down and time became a windfall. Her collection of memoir poems and essays, The Old House, was published in October of 2020. She is an online member of the Lockdown Poets of Aberdeen, Scotland.
Bruce McGuffin divides his time between Lexington Massachusetts, where he has a day job as an engineer in a radio factory, and Antrim New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife and pretends to be practical (when he’s not writing poetry). His poetry has appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, The Asses of Parnassus, Better Than Starbucks, Blue Unicorn, and other journals.
Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She made her grade 12 Literature teacher cry. She likes crooked, shiny things and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, Bewildering Stories, Goat’s Milk Magazine and Pocket Lint (A New Journal).
Mike Mesterton-Gibbons is a Professor Emeritus at Florida State University. His acrostic sonnets have appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better Than Starbucks, the Creativity Webzine, Current Conservation, the Ekphrastic Review, Grand Little Things, Light, Lighten Up Online, New Verse News, Oddball Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, the Satirist, the Washington Post and WestWard Quarterly.
Mark J. Mitchell was born in Chicago and grew up in southern California. His latest poetry collection, Roshi San Francisco, was just published by Norfolk Publishing. Starting from Tu Fu was recently published by Encircle Publications. He is very fond of baseball, Louis Aragon, Miles Davis, Kafka and Dante. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the activist and documentarian, Joan Juster where he made his marginal living pointing out pretty things. Now, like everyone else, he’s unemployed. He has published 2 novels and three chapbooks and two full length collections so far. Titles on request. A meager online presence can be found at www.facebook.com/MarkJMitchellwriter/ A primitive web site now exists: mark-j-mitchell.square.site He sometimes tweets @ Mark J Mitchell Writer
Juan Pablo Mobili was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has been an adopted son of New York for many years. His poems appeared in The Worcester Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Mason Street Review, and The Banyan Review, among others. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. His chapbook, “Contraband,” will be published by Poetry Box in April of 2022.
Cameron Morse is Senior Reviews editor at Harbor Review and the author of six collections of poetry. His first collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press’s 2018 Best Book Award. His latest is Far Other (Woodley Press, 2020). He holds and MFA from the University of Kansas City—Missouri and lives in Independence, Missouri, with his wife Lili and two children. For more information, check out his Facebook page or website.
Elizabeth Morse is a poet who lives in New York’s East Village. Her work has been published in literary magazines such as Blue Mesa Review, Hazmat Review, and Freezer Burn, as well as anthologies such as Crimes of the Beats and The Unbearables Big Book of Sex. Her new poetry chapbook, The Color Between the Hours, is forthcoming from Train River Press. A previous chapbook, The Future Is Now, was published by Linear Arts Press. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her poetry with a job in technology. .
Bruce Morton splits his time between Montana and Arizona. His poems have recently appeared in San Pedro River Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Loch Raven Review, Ibbetson Street, and Sin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders. He was formerly a librarian at Montana State University.
JBMulligan has published more than 1100 poems and stories in various magazines over the past 45 years, and has had two chapbooks: The Stations of the Cross and THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS, as well as 2 e-books: The City of Now and Then, and A Book of Psalms (a loose translation). He has appeared in more than a dozen anthologies, and was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize anthology.
Barbra Nightingale’s 10th book of poetry is Spells & Other Ways of Flying (Kelsay Books, 2021). She has seven chapbooks and two other full volumes of poetry with small presses. Over 200 of her poems have appeared in National and International Journals and Anthologies. She is an Associate Editor with the South Florida Poetry Journal, a retired professor, and lives in Hollywood, Florida, with her two and four-legged menagerie.
Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. Born in Rome, living in Los Angeles, she is an artist, musician and dancer. She is the author of Other Maidens (BlazeVOX, 2020), An Alphabet of Birds (Moonrise Press, 2020), and In Her Terms (Cholla Needles Press, 2021).
Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collections “Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock” (Tortoise Books, 2017), the novella “Starseed” (Seventh Terrace, 2019), and many other individual things. He is a Pushcart and Best of the Net Nominee and is part of the Editorial Collective at The Black Dog Review.
George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, domestic violence counselor, and adjunct instructor in the humanities at Finger Lakes Community College. George’s blogs, essays, letters, poems, and photographs have been published in a wide variety of national and international outlets such as USA Today, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, The Buffalo News, Albany Times-Union, Syracuse Post Standard, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, The Toronto Star, The Minority Reporter, Chronogram Journal, Ovi Magazine, CounterPunch, Moria Poetry Journal, Ampersand Literary Review, Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and more. George’s first book of poetry, A Time Before Teachers, is available at Amazon.com.
Robert Perchan’s latest book is Last Notes from a Split Peninsula: Poems and Prose Poems forthcoming soon from UnCollected Press – a steal at 128 pages for fifteen bucks. He still eats and drinks in Busan, South Korea. Find him at robertperchan.com.
D Larissa Peters grew up in Indonesia and has been somewhat of a nomad. After meandering around the East Coast for more than 10 years, she moved to California—in the middle of a pandemic. This is only one of the many cities of residence in the last 40 years. Her poems have appeared in Adelaide Magazine, Plum Tree Tavern, Rabid Oak, Pangolin Review, Corvus Review, and Louisville Review.
Penny Peyser is a writer / actress / documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She is a 2018 winner of the Maria Faust Sonnet Contest and her work has been published in Defenestration, Blood & Bourbon, Lunaris Review, Page & Spine, Chantwood Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review and White Ash Literary Magazine among others. @penpeyser on Instagram, TikTok: @real_LadyPenelope
Linnet Phoenix is a poet in North Somerset, England. Her work has previously been published in Red Fez, Fearless, Heroin Love Songs, New Verse News, Rye Whiskey Review, Gasconade Review, Rat’s Ass Review, ImpSpired Magazine, Poetica Review and others. Her chapbook Rusty Stars & collection Urban Mustang have both been published in 2021. She has poems forthcoming in both Cultural Weekly and Raw Art Review in December 2021. She also enjoys horse-riding in rainstorms.
Drew Pisarra is the author of Infinity Standing Up (2019), a collection of homoerotic sonnets, and You’re Pretty Gay (2021), a collection of queer short stories. A words grantee of Curious Elixirs: Curious Creators (2021) and literary grantee of Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation (2019), he’s also the co-founder of Saint Flashlight (with Molly Gross), an art activation project that gets poetry into public spaces.
Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both Story Line Press; the former to be reissued by Red Hen Press. Two collections of shorter poems, A POVERTY OF WORDS, (Prolific Press, 2015) and LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). Pollack has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Magma (UK), Bateau, Fulcrum, Chiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, etc. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Rat’s Ass Review (2017, 2020), etc.
Trevor Price works in the textile industry. Other than verse, he writes novellas in Latin. Favourite poet: Alexander Pope.
Peter Relic is a writer, photographer, and collage artist inspired by the Georgia Barrier Islands. He has worked as an usher at the Rose Bowl, tour manager for Grammy-winning rock ‘n roll band The Black Keys, and as a journalist for Rolling Stone, where he interviewed artists from Neil Young to Snoop Dogg. He works at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and lives in Savannah, Georgia.
Judith Ren-Lay, born in Denver CO in 1943, began writing scripts, songs, stories and poems after moving to NYC in 1975 to dance in the company of Gus Solomons jr. A concerned human doing the best she can, she works in music, performance, small sculpture, drawing, photography. Her four decade body of work is archived in music and dance at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. website: judithren-lay.com
Michael Russell (he / they) is Mama Bear to chapbook Grindr Opera (Frog Hollow Press). He’s queer, has BPD, Bipolar Disorder and way too much anxiety. His work has appeared in Arc Poetry Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Homology Lit, Plenitude among other places. He lives in Toronto and thinks you’re fantabulous. Insta: @michael.russell.poet
Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.
Paul Smith writes poetry & fiction. He lives in Skokie, Illinois with his wife Flavia. Sometimes he performs poetry at an open mic in Chicago. He believes that brevity is the soul of something he read about once, and whatever that something is or was, it should be cut in half immediately.
Tricia L. Somers is a native-born Californian residing in Los Angeles. She can be found at Outlaw Poetry, Milk Carton Blog, and New Verse News, and also in the semi-annual print journal The American Dissident, (Issues 39, 40, 41, and upcoming 42), which includes poetry, essays and debates with the editor, who is known to be somewhat testy.
José Sotolongo was born in Cuba. His work has appeared in Atticus Review, The Cortland Review, The Southampton Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His second novel will be released in 2021. He lives with his husband in the Catskills of New York. More at sotolongo.net.
John L. Stanizzi – author of Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, Chants, Sundowning, POND, The Tree That Guides Us Home. Besides Rat’s Ass, John’s poems are in Prairie Schooner, Cortland Review, American Life in Poetry, and others. John’s nonfiction has been in Literature and Belief, Stone Coast Review, and others. He was awarded an Artist Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction, 2021 from the Connecticut Office of the Arts. johnlstanizzi.com
Michael Angelo Stephens is author of 25 books, including the novel The Brooklyn Book of the Dead; the travel memoir Lost in Seoul; and the award-winning essay collection Green Dreams. His most recent books are Hobo Haiku (Moonstone Arts, 2020) and the prose poem collection History of Theatre or the Glass of Fashion (MadHat Press, 2021). His next book, When Poetry Was the World, a nonfiction work, is due out shortly.
Shelby Stephenson was poet laureate of North Carolina from 2015-18. For over three decades he was editor of the international literary journal Pembroke Magazine. He is a member of the Society of Distinguished Alumni, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison. His recent book is Shelby’s Lady: The Hog Poems.
Nathaniel Sverlow is a freelance writer of poetry and prose. He currently resides in the Sacramento area with three cats, one incredibly supportive wife, and a rambunctious son. His previous publishing credits include Typehouse Literary Magazine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Squawk Back, and Bone Parade. He has written two poetry books: The Blue Flame of My Beating Heart (2020) and Heaven is a Bar with Patio Seating (2021).
After working many years with visual art and graphic design, Barbara Tyler began writing poetry in her 50s. Since then, she has been shortlisted for the 2021 Fish Anthology Poetry Prize, judged by Billy Collins, and published in the online journal Golden Walkman Magazine. Her work also appears in several poetry anthologies from the Utah-based group Rock Canyon Poets. She has two self-published chapbooks featuring her writing and artwork.
Ronja Vieth is a Texas cowgirl at heart, an energy healer by profession, and a poet by passion. She regularly publishes and presents her writing in the USA as well as internationally. Her works have appeared in the Cincinnati Review, Texas Poetry Calendar 2017, Southern Poetry Anthology – Texas, Lindenwood Journal, Bohemia, ROAR, The Southwestern Review, the Linden Avenue Literary Journal, the Brooklyn Review, and the Taj Mahal Review.
Tim Walker read, for pleasure, the complete novels of Charles Dickens while earning a BA in Environmental Studies, and the complete novels of Anthony Trollope while earning a PhD in Geological Sciences. He lives in Santa Barbara and has worked as a computer programmer, healthcare data analyst, used book seller, and pet sitter. His essays and poems appeared in Entropy Magazine, Ragazine, Squalorly, DIAGRAM, and pacificREVIEW.
Melody Wang currently resides in sunny Southern California with her dear husband. In her free time, she dabbles in piano composition and also enjoys hiking, baking, and playing with her dogs. She tweets @MelodyOfMusings and reads for Sledgehammer Lit.
Gabriel Welsch is the author of four poetry collections, the most recent being The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse. His first collection of fiction, Groundscratchers, appears in October 2021 with Tolsun Books. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his family, and works as vice president of marketing and communications at Duquesne University.
Dick Westheimer has – in the company of his wife Debbie – lived, gardened and raised five children on their plot of land in rural southwest Ohio. He has taken up with poets and the writing of poetry to make sense of the world. He is a Rattle Poetry Prize finalist. In addition to Rattle, his poems have appeared in Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Rise Up Review, and Sheila Na-Gig, among others.
Russel G. Winick recently began reading and writing poetry at nearly age 65, after retiring from a long career as an attorney. Over 100 of his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in over a dozen online or print journals.
Robin Wright lives in Southern Indiana. Her work has appeared in Rat’s Ass Review, Sledgehammer Lit, Muddy River Poetry Review, Bombfire, Spank the Carp, Sanctuary, Black Bough Poetry, Ariel Chart, Re-side zine, and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her first chapbook, Ready or Not, was published by Finishing Line Press in October of 2020.
Edited by Roderick Bates
RAT’S ASS REVIEW WINTER ISSUE 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED