(Cover Art Big Love by Jim Ross)
BATHSHEBA & SOLOMON
Altars reek of sacrifice.
I have bedded thousands
but none so beautiful
as Mother, whose wet thighs
smoked in the cold air.
I don’t like long phone calls, long
texts even less. I don’t care for most
long poems. But I do enjoy my son’s
five-page letters—sometimes printed
from his desktop, more often handwritten
in neat cursive, without strikethroughs,
erasures, or insertions. He drafts them
in pencil, deletes, interpolates,
then makes a clean copy. His long
walks, his progress in German, office
politics, all in a dark-sky blue ink.
We write intermittently, sometimes
ping-ponging our deepest worries.
Once, years ago, I took him with me
to the finance company to take out
a loan; I wondered if he sensed
the humiliation I felt for putting
the little we had up for collateral,
the cheap stereo, the mattress
on the floor we shared, little else.
I don’t ask; he probably doesn’t
remember. A lot goes unmentioned
in any relationship—some things
don’t need to be said, others can’t.
At 70 I may not live to tell all
I ought—too many second thoughts,
too many hard fact-checks against pride
and compassion; and if the past holds true,
poems I’m starting now will survive me
undone. Dear Son, it will not be
cause for grief: the world is never finished.
The sky, this early afternoon, ten days
before Christmas, shines bright blue.
A summer evening, ’59 or ’60,
we drove down ridge and hollow
on dirt and gravel roads, past a stand
of silking corn in a narrow meadow,
through fields of Holstein cattle,
to a milking barn and a tumble-
down smokehouse and a pale white silo,
a steeple without the bell.
We parked by a dirt-gray
clapboard house. Boys with dirty nails
and a naked baseball welcomed me to play
with my soft town hands. The farmer,
smiling but gaunt, the mother,
with the cracked still beautiful
sugar bowl of her mother’s, laid
chores aside to be hospitable.
One of their milkers had died;
they took us to the barn to see her butchered.
They pulled back ribs and hide
like heavy curtains, sliced open the belly
and unexpectedly I saw the calf inside her,
its hairless milky skin, its hooves like curds.
They worked by a hissing lantern’s light.
We watched from the shadows till it was late
and the cow was nothing but cuts and waste.
They gave us a quarter-side. Come back soon!
they waved us home into a low whey moon,
our faces lit by the green dash lights.
NAIL FUNGUS AT THE USED PORNOGRAPHY STORE
Dell’s Magazines and Collectibles
sat between a cobbler
and a fondue parlor
in a reek of boot black and gruyere
Inside, a fat man on a stool
flipped through 1000s of pages
Chic, Hustler, Juggs
“Trade or cash?”
Skin sallow, eyes rheumy
I wondered how
he came to have such a job
After countless sticky pages
his fingernails had absorbed
so much loneliness and shame
they had become spongy talons,
He’d take a bite of whatever it was
he was eating at the time
wet a thumb
and flip the pages
of smiling, cherry red lips,
pert breasts, parted legs
and suntans tarnished
by only the occasional
Mike W. Blottenberger
MISTAKES WERE MADE
Can I forgive myself for not
giving something to the homeless woman,
begging by the traffic light?
Can I ever let go of the pain
of loving someone who left my heart
a scorched field?
This broken bone in my hand.
Sunsets and dental appointments
I confess—mistakes were made,
but I have been a disciple to sorrow
and to her sister truth.
Let me bite into this apple.
Let me live this imperfect life,
Ronda Piszk Broatch
WE COULD BE THE BOAT MADE OF CONCRETE,
OR THAT NEW VODKA DRINK
It’s getting harder to remember your face, your features,
your darker side, your dawn. When I was eight, I worried
touching myself would make me pregnant. I miss the lake
where I walked backward and found a rusty nail, being
carried home by someone else’s boyfriend, the crutches, the
pain. It occurs to me that if you had wings, we could wear
the same shirts – the ones with special cut-outs in back, for
our wings, and we could crush about the neighborhood,
about the new hybrid dandelions that keep their manes all
year long. But instead, maybe I just recall how you laughed
so hard that night before we rode our horses, how you
snorted strawberry soda out your nose and sogged up our
bowl of Bugles. That’s okay, in the morning my dog ate
them. Sometimes I find former fragments of you in another
dimension, like when I see a mattress on the side of the road,
well, not a mattress, but the springs, or how at five am, after
the punk show you called your mother in Oregon, and I
wonder if the bunny living in the hedge is as nervously
optimistic as I am about our new administration. Icebergs are
colliding, and the water is threatening to tickle my shins.
What we don’t talk about we save for another lifetime. I say
leave the negligee on the driveway. It’s soaked, and really,
it’s not either of our color. You’ve lost all your bay leaves,
your basil, your blue borage. I just hope we find another
mirror soon, because this one is busted.
IMPERFECT SONNET WITH BIRTHRIGHT, WITH BIRD
I’m not the fruited flutter, the ghostly
bittern biding time inside a lonely year,
the universe tapping out a message
from your mother, who insists you call her,
even three years after death. Times I am
a trapezoid, the tricked absence, trapping
your traffic of gladness in a pill box,
under the bed, with dust, and papa’s guns.
If not the chambered bullet, maybe I’m
some go-get-‘em goddess, my mask strapped
securely behind my ears, my sanitized
hands more treacherous, more pandemic
than the codling moth, pyrethrum scented
apple tree. Your inheritance, your seed.
MY LATEST MIDNIGHT’S SUSURRING IN MY EAR
My religion drives a piss yellow car, smokes
like my mother. I make a note to hope, and tuck it
into my ribcage. When I’m drenched, my religion
huffs, hands me a towel. Catastrophe laughs in my ear,
tells me my mascara makes a Picasso of my face.
My heart has an endless appetite for starbursts,
and not the kind Religion’s hand slapping my ass brings up.
I high-five the briny between us, put on my shittiest
chartreuse pair of Lamont’s sales-rack pants, celebrate
my high-water teen years, my uncle’s glee. My religion
tells me to open my pain and I do, with the talent
of an octopus trainer. Now, I drown insurrection
electorally with my kombucha, give my religion
one last backward glance.
father knows best
though both parents work
he’s head of the household
and makes family decisions
three daughters (ages 8, 11, 12) have come of age
even the eight-year-old wears a bra
with his wife, that’s four women
menstruating in the house
the river flows
the cost of sanitary products funnels money
from essentials—or beer with the boys—
the government clinic offers free
birth control pills or injections
mother and girls worry
about possible side effects
of birth control on children:
loss of bone density, infertility
the women obey
it’s the law
father knows best
LISTENING TO PRINCE ON THE SHANGHAI METRO
it feels damn wrong
this lewdness in my ear
dirt in the corners
prints slide down window
lights swing guava
you so good…baby there ain’t nobody better…
the temperature is full fever up in here
I slide the scarf off my neck
run a finger over burning skin
is it me
or is it
the way she leans against that pole
the way he sucks a slice of mandarin
bursting, juice on his chin
he bites and licks
watches me watching his hunger
you’ve got the butterflies all tied up
unbearable the car slows to a throb
heart rush of lip gloss application
mouth open, grapefruit tongue
black boots, gold bracelet
if I was your girlfriend, would you remember
to tell me all the things you forgot when I was your man?
hand on thigh flesh-colored tights
winged eyeliner train moves
a finger through caramel
my stop finally arrives
I am a target here, I know.
you probably noticed my leering problem
I am a womanist but oh
the way girls sweat on August streets
it’s a little embarrassing
and by embarrassing I mean
I heart their short skirts
the vulnerable curve of plum breasts
backsides and dumpling stands
I missed my stop eight times this week because a bead
of sweat rolled down the curve of a neck
there’s one whose words make my blood hurt
my doubts double like crabgrass
I may not be an idealistic foot soldier
I miss my bad habits
this pandemic brought a lot
like this spider silk size line between poetry
and disappearing into the mountains
I’ve been drinking some
I have a fantasy that involves warming rice wine
and braiding hair
I need a sabbatical
I have 246 love poems that would
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
I used to be a red-maned goddess,
bestriding Goblin Market.
I had triumphs with weighty fish,
with a moose. I kept bees.
I was on my way to Bedlam.
I was bedlam. Once, I had awakenings
in waiting room chairs, but that
was decades ago, and now,
I believe in my convictions,
and all around me cyberspace flashes,
“come buy, come buy.”
Encircled by this benign insanity,
I have no honey. I don’t fish,
and where I live there are no moose.
These will be our last dogs; we say.
They will die just before us in these final days
of the Republic. We remind one another
of the Pax Romana, of prior governments
when hope and a mean balance remained.
This morning, too many of us have given in
to what is. We used to be like dogs, longing
for some novel thing to eat, expecting
exotic scraps. Then science died,
then facts, and we had to be satisfied,
swallowing the rotten meat, leftover
from 1776 that lay under the trestles where
the drunken Roman poets we once cherished
were sleeping freedom off.
You know how sometimes
in a dream, you are
the watcher, observing
the protagonist’s fears
and triumphs but
at one remove, chased
but not in the chase,
not wearing the handcuffs,
not holding the trophy aloft,
not four husbands deep into
a reservoir of pissed-off?
Now that would be the life.
I just scared a bear away
trying to break into our trash.
She floated across
the lighted driveway
pushed into the shadows
and became one.
GOING OFF SCRIPT
At funerals people rely
on the script—He’s
in a better place
at my father’s funeral.
This is what
I’d say back;
I don’t know
where he is, but
I sure as hell
know where he isn’t.
TREAT YOUR TEMPLE, RIGHT?
The chewy pull of taffy-life,
in blissful junk food purgatory
Teeth cracking into
a thousand broadening smiles—
The chill of kid-drunk cola,
climbing it down throats.
Chalky powdered sugar-acid
stuck on overlicked fingers,
turning Red 40
Inhaling cotton candy fibers—
the insulation to our childhoods.
Brittled peanut pieces
mocked our future bones
Deceptive nougat middles—
our light little souls.
I caught a little girl
onto a tree.
“You can’t stop them
that I didn’t know
how these things work—
ANOTHER LONG SEASON FOR THE METS
ends with a loss & a groan & a yawn & puddles
of backwashed beer in plastic cups plopped
under folded seats. At least Mr. Met the Mascot
didn’t flip off a fan this season, making
the year a success on the team’s failure continuum.
We walk from Citi-Field lurching lockstep
toward the 7-train where we board with a clamor &
bounce off each other like foul balls rattle a backstop.
Over the screeching whistles of the subway –
the train is a conundrum of mutters & murmurs –
a frustrated fan (is there any other type of Mets fan?)
throws f-bombs with the zip of a Jake deGrom fastball
& another yells back that if deGrom wasn’t always hurt
the Mets would be contenders & another howls
that Mets pitchers get no run support anyway so who cares
if he’s always hurt & on this point the car can agree. The swearing
turns the subway car into a steel thought bubble & how unroyal
Queens can be sometimes.
But this is a poem about optimism.
Because that’s all fans have: hope for the right trades,
the right free agent. The perfect bat in the heart of the order,
the lefty relief specialist with a filthy splitter.
Mets fans are a little like Sisyphus,
pushing that rock from Spring Training to the All-Star
Break to the finish of seasons that rarely end in playoffs,
only to do it all over again the following season.
Camus would have followed the Mets, critiquing the absurdity,
all this effort into something over which we have no control.
But the answer why is easy: on Opening Day,
before the first pitch thrown & the first beer spilled,
the Mets will be tied for first place with every other team.
PUSHING PINS INTO STRAWBERRIES
I got the idea from something inside
me: a steeling that goes through marrow.
Bite on tin foil and you’ll know.
I picked strawberries because
they remind me of babies’ heads:
pulsing and meaty and juicy
and waiting to rot.
You think I’ve lost the plot
but I’m searching for a way in:
the correct angle, the right pressure,
the exact ratio of pierced fruit to
unpierced fruit so as to be found out
after it’s too late.
You choosing my produce is fate.
And while you chew on the flesh
and escaping claret pours
over your lips and a delayed
prick to the roof of your mouth
widens eyes at the surprise,
I’ll be in the car park
slashing tires and myself.
LUCKY OLD BROAD
I wear elastic waist pants,
zip-up fleece pullovers with cheerful red cardinals,
cozy socks, sensible slip-on felt clogs.
I pull Mama’s 1940s glass Christmas ornaments
from their eggshell crates,
then the ceramic Christmas tree from 1970.
Bring me cold beer in a clammy long neck bottle,
watercress sandwiches with the crusts removed,
cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.
Give me grandchildren.
I want to post ultrasound pictures
of my yet-to-be born on Facebook.
I go to bed by 9:00 pm on New Year’s Eve,
clad in a Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightdress,
purple hummingbirds circling my neck beneath cotton lace.
Starlings feed in the dark.
Some say their coming is a sign of death,
but I think their inky feathers are pure beauty.
My red hair now grey,
I am the luckiest old broad
standing on two feet.
PORTRAIT OF THE MOTHER AS A YOUNG WOMAN
-after James Joyce
You were mine, even when the paparazzi
got that first ultrasound shot,
your profile, the tiny hand waving.
Chubby black and white cheeks on the refrigerator
now public domain, for all to admire.
You were mine when I breastfed,
the small mouth clamped fast, greedy, needy.
I read aloud to pass the time—
Once upon a time and a very good time it was
there was a moocow coming down along the road
and this moocow that was coming down along the road
met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.
You were mine when I would not let you cry in your crib.
Warm in my bed, clammy, finally breathing the peace only a toddler knows.
You were mine when the doctors put you in an MRI tube
then told me it was not cancer.
You were mine when I left you at nursery school,
when I put you on the bus, when I made your dorm room bed.
In your adventures, the Power Rangers and my Dawn dolls
escaped the twin Lego towers the plastic pterodactyls crashed into.
Ash covered, they took the subway home to their little boys and girls.
You were mine the day I left home,
three suitcases and the fat orange cat.
You made me confess the fears that I have.
But I will tell you also what I do not fear.
I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another
or to leave whatever I have to leave.
And I am not afraid to make a mistake,
even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.
In my adventures, I will fly away with you,
we, wild angels of mortal youth and beauty.
We will find a small apartment and play X-Box,
feed the four cats, read comic books
and eat salty Jiffy Pop.
Our candy wax wings will not melt.
SONNY’S BACHELOR PARTY
I’m the designated level-head
among Sonny’s carpenter friends,
the one who says no-thank-you
at the peyote punchbowl
but also the one who hired Brandi.
Brandi commands Sonny to remove
her pink panties with his teeth,
hands tied behind his back
and then they dance no-touch.
When Brandi takes a break
I follow to the kitchen
being the business manager of this party
and nobody joins because these rowdies
are strangely shy and respectful of a naked lady
so we chat as she sips a water bottle.
She needs no robe, her body a costume,
her beauty a shield against the ordinary,
a pleasant mom who is sending two precious children
to Catholic school, and then she resumes
dancing with the boy-men until a neighbor
complains about the noise,
and we all go home.
AUGUST 9, 1984: “I HIT HER.”
I hit my daughter.
A poke? A slap?
I can’t imagine using a fist
but then I can’t imagine slapping either.
A scene deleted from my memory highlight reel
but discovered in my daily journal
where I summarize and confess each day.
At age almost-6 she was screaming
because her brother got to go with Mom to buy pants
and she my daughter had to go home
in the front seat of my smelly truck
so in frustration after a horrendous work day
including a dropped brick on my toe and a traffic ticket
which is not an excuse but
I hit her.
She carried on screaming
so I drowned her out
with the radio.
A mile later, she quit.
By the time we got home she was singing along
with the Beatles. And me.
So says the journal.
She’s 43 now.
She might remember.
I’m afraid to ask.
She still likes the Beatles.
I first meet Dusty on a beach
beside the Chesapeake Bay
in this photo where
he’s dating my cousin Liz
who suddenly grew a body.
Dusty’s the one with chest hair.
I’m the kid with glasses.
In this photo Vietnam shirtless again
he’s on a river boat patrolling
writes Stay in college.
Stay the hell out of here.
Next here’s him shirtless and Liz shirted
in the house he built converting an old log cabin,
3 kids raised and gone. Bankers stole his pension
when they looted Bethlehem Steel.
Dusty repairs cars, raises a pig
that sleeps under the house.
Here Dusty starts posting paranoid gun-rights
crap on Facebook so I unfriend him.
He dies. Agent Orange kills him
though the doctors won’t admit it.
His life like firing a rifle at the sky:
a disturbance the air closes over.
We open our shirts,
we see the bullet strike.
Here. Right here.
IN JULIE’S ROOM
the undressing bit.
My fingers know
no lingering ghosts of
of whether we
helped one another
out of layers, into love
(I’d like to think we did).
Strange, not to retain
of how we came to
know ourselves as us at last:
rejoiced in; understood.
You’d think I would—
that I could call the process
readily to detail’s grateful eye
as with all that passed between us
on that autumn afternoon
in Julie’s room.
who we barely knew
– a music student, wasn’t she? –
someone you’d met at college;
a friend you said,
though from the way
she’d tilt her head
and gaze at you,
I thought it plain
of being more.
Called away by work
she’d let us stay,
sat on the floor,
playing her records
talking low or not at all
and sipping Schnapps:
fire in a glass. Bright. Apple red.
We used her bed,
consigned our shyness
to its loose, untidy wind of sheets,
to catch us as we
each to the other, then to sleep
for oh, a drifted hour or so ’til,
– dry-mouthed, tousled,
awestruck at our own audacity
and fearing her return –
out like thieves
for the bus
the forensic truth
On the top deck into town
as if the world might
any minute fall away
stunned and stumbling
how we’d ever find
to fit the way we felt
– no, better: knew –
broken with the past;
all calendars re-calibrated,
all we’d known with others
and we new-minted
by a paradox
that still bewilders me:
(Does it you, too?)
how making love made
virgins of us both,
in Julie’s room.
the absences that make us what we are
Some feud I can’t recall sent me over
next door’s garden wall, creeping through the dawn
to an old Belfast sink rich with oxygenating weed
rocks and freshwater snails, over whose slow procession
his neat orange goldfish used to dart and glide – shooting
away to hide that day as I squirted the washing up liquid in.
Why is it that I can’t summon what I felt when –
feigning innocence after school – I slipped back across
into my offence to watch him retrieve each russet-gold
stillness from the bubbles’ choking iridescence?
And why is it only later, when he began to guess,
that I remember the fear dragging me down,
and the sudden, buoyant thrill as any sense of fault
or remorse drowned in what he couldn’t prove,
and I realised that I could still breathe, if not exalt?
The bitter taste of apples growing
behind the broken-glass-topped wall
opposite the waste ground whose bushes
concealed your small camp in which,
under rotting leaves, you hid the bag
of naked ladies you found tossed over
the hoarding one endless afternoon –
the future’s secret pages laid before you,
like the couple you saw by the dying tree,
their faces buried in each other’s,
her white blouse undone, his hands
hard on each blue-jeaned half of her
behind which you were watching
as you lay with your ladies-in-waiting.
THE MIDDLE-AGED MAN AND THE MERMAID
I saw her when the tide hung high,
riding its swell in the weed-heave
where otters hunt the rock pools’ flood.
The brine wind blew ripples onto her skin
and chased grains of sand over the seal-slid shore
that spread all before her.
The only sounds were sea birds calling
in the autumn sky and the fish-tail slap
of each wave upon the strand.
When she sang, her eyes closed and her shoulders
rose from the cold, grey sea.
And when she sang, she sang just for me.
Tuneless and harsh, her voice
hawked up a phlegm-drenched rasp
of jagged wailing song.
She was older than I’d thought.
Her eyes were gelid, dull as limpet shells,
her long hair daglocked with weed and crabs.
Her skin sagged, the colour of silt.
Her scales were broken, some missing,
her mucous-clagged tail ragged and incomplete.
When she finished her song she grinned:
her mouth all gaps, its few teeth
crooked, hooked and brown.
She coughed hard and gobbed into the sea,
then pointed a bony talon my way
curling it over, repeatedly.
I recoiled. She cackled, grabbed
her dab-flat tits and licked her tongue
lasciviously over her salt-cracked, scabby lips.
I stumbled up the beach, the breeze chasing me
with her raucous screech. I stopped once
to look back along the shore’s drawn curve.
She’d gone. The mirroring sea had closed
over the spot where she’d been. Only the gulls’ cry
and the wide grey sky hung over the deserted scene.
IT WASN’T ME
It all started with a finger
in the haze of a – dream.
The gap between brain and hand
hardened and fastened, focused
into the semblance of a limb
– linking – the two
and all I had to do was sit
with my own arm bone lazily
for a glass of stout.
After that it was easy:
My hips and feet went off stepping,
buttocks drumming up a storm,
elbow sticks nudging neighbours.
legs and lips veering
towards fashionable girls
and honestly, it wasn’t me
when my belly lurched
away from my head
dan dan dan
sing sin sing
in the village hall.
THANKS TO THE POLICE
Oh let us give thanks to the police:
For that they direct traffic when the lights fail
and make everything slow again as in olden times.
For that they respond to burglaries with due diligence
and not just issue crime numbers for the insurance.
For that they listen to a raped girl attentively
and not comment on her short skirt or drunkenness.
For that they do not insert truncheons into prisoners,
nor concoct fake stories for the beak.
And also that they do not harass citizens
‘cos they is black or got long hair or dress gay.
But mostly for that they do not attack protestors
with a ghastly glee
like soldiers with guns and gas.
For all this fine behaviour they deserve
little umbrellas in their cocktails.
Blissfully savage, a swamp-monster revs up
Outrageous teeth like a chainsaw murdering
All moving beings. Fell thing.
Berserk, a brigand tramples pulpy bodies,
Pausing to watch two Liliths fight for the right
To his penis, slapping the victor.
Roaring defiance. Boss.
Rulers of the world in their own eras:
No lies in their lives, only
Raw bellies and power.
Eliminated now by law,
And evolution, and election.
Now, somewhere in a bunker
With electric cars and bars,
Nicely kitted-out and laminated,
Here’s a smooth young lad so very civil,
Pondering which buttons yet un-sunk,
Should shoot the rocket soon to smash
On to a distant hamlet far away;
Destined to be omelette – a continent beyond.
No-one fought for his unwanted cock
Back at college where they mocked him.
Still unnoticed, even now,
His usual erection rises
As the surging missile launches,
Savage, singing and amok.
spin with enormous torque
on their own axis. Can’t see
with my small reflector scope,
but I feel the galaxies link
with massed dark matter to form
living corkscrews sprawling
hundreds of millions of light-years
from large anchoring clusters
through elongated spirals of blue
and red shift: the largest, longest
rotations in the night sky.
Motion asymmetries prove
that pirouettes of two hundred
thousand miles per hour
occur, yet are too leisurely
to complete a single orbit
in the life, so far, of our cosmos.
I won’t live to experience
a second revolution. But why
worry when such vast structures
whirlpool so gracefully, blessing
the universe with their presence?
ON THE ISLAND OF TRASH
like a plastic raft
remote Pacific Ocean
twice the size of Texas
toothbrushes-soap bottles-fishing nets
swirled and swirled and swirled
forming an imperfect union
raising a flag
on the island of trash
It began with a flower in bloom, & I walked
alone across the park, fixed my glasses
so I wouldn’t miss the sharp contour
of tree and bush, wouldn’t miss the men
in shadow. Then, I needed love the way
a dehydrated woman needs water—
cascading & poured generously so a few
drops might land on my tongue. But love
is an inside job & the fountain was dry
& sun was high, cumulus clouds spinning
away. I left the bed. I left the room,
I left terror where terror lives—
in a dark, unimaginative place— & the antidote?
I pull tenacity into my stride, walk out
of the house, across the park, my legs
carrying me where I need to land.
As a toddler, I wore a blue top with a whale
appliqué. Even then I loved whales.
Their largeness, their weight, an antithesis
to my tiny body and small voice.
I would be safe in the belly of a whale.
Isn’t that a puzzlement? A poet
aware she cannot control what comes.
So, I left the bed, I left the house,
I walked alone across the park, fixed
my glasses so I wouldn’t miss the sharp
contour of courage which I pull on like long
socks across my thighs, higher and higher
until my tongue is ready & I move
like a leopard that no one can catch.
He’s my second cousin works on two farms
lives in a double wide trailer
on Burton Hill Road in Barton, Vermont
with his 78-year-old mom (she has nowhere else to go)
but “it’s all good” because they each have
their own bedroom and bath.
Even though I’ve never met Robert
or talked with him when I heard this news
I wanted to hop into my Lexus drive up to Barton
(only four hours away) assess the situation for myself
establish a “friendship” of sorts give him
$1000 or two become his hero and benefactor.
But after I slept on it I realized
I was being a delusional idiot
(not to mention an insufferable egomaniac)
so instead I wrote him a nice letter
had a good cry.
I wondered what she was about to do
this image slowly hardened like cement
she sat erect upon the wooden stool
I gazed as if she were a monument
she placed her hands on the piano keys
a melody declared yes, she could play
my daughter beckoned, “again ‘nanna please”
mother smiled then continued to amaze
a bit of rust did show, but did not last
her Amazing Grace made us sing along
she played gospel with flair the die was cast
this well-kept secret erupted in song
though sad for not hearing her play before
I silenced my grief then begged her for more
TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT
Aunt hauled me around
with her on her adventures
when I was young.
She was a free bird,
never had a real job,
only errands for her successful
mother and older brother, and,
my parents preoccupied with their lives,
a father busy with adultery,
a step-mother hiding in movie magazines,
left me at loose ends.
Aunt Elaine thought I was bright,
she stimulated my mind
in ways no one else did.
Always stacks of books by her bed side;
I think she read the whole library.
But pages would be turned only until a book bored her,
like the half-smoked butts she squashed, filling her ashtrays.
On the adventures in her world—
the zoo, baseball games, hole-n the wall eateries—
we visited champion bowlers who were lesbians,
she a closet one I found out years later.
Never married but verbally abused
her one boyfriend (her shield)
because he was a pro-union liberal,
snidely calling him her Comrade.
She read Marx but was a Republican
who loved Eisenhower, loathed Adlai.
Dressed like and was a beatnik
before they were named,
always wore dark sunglasses,
even inside, sported a tam,
frequented bars with peanuts on the floor,
quipping until her humor turned
the bar flies’ laughter into scorn
as her words became mocking fire,
forged by her boiling anger.
Too often I was the target of her ire.
The last time I saw her
when a young family man
who visited her only because
I felt her loneliness over the phone,
she was sloppy into a crying jag,
taking shots from a variety
of schnapps bottles, a rainbow of flavors,
getting drunker and drunker,
pounding the table over and over,
crying and moaning harder and harder
for every failure
in the world and her life.
Why did I continue to see her?
Why did I tell you her broken story?
Because I know she loved me
and, indeed, I loved her too.
Dan Flore III
NEAR WHERE GRAMPY DIED
my cousin and I
were smoking cigarettes
near the garage
where my grandfather
we didn’t mention his death
the silence of the garage
did that for us
standing there as big as his ghost
we went on talking
and I remember us
mentioning something about God
that made the sand in the yard
something I wanted
to put my toes in
and maybe never come out of
THE MOONLIGHT CAFÉ (AFTER LIU YONG)
As night slowly arrives,
I sit in a small café.
A melancholy moon stares at me,
and won’t turn away.
Amid black shadows
its rays quiver like strings
on a blue guitar.
Dead leaves fall from trees.
I sit alone, where old men
and old women eat
biscuits dipped in tea.
They don’t stare at the
moon. They don’t think
of what’s to come.
As I leave, the wind blows
my hat down the street.
It was old and worn.
I’m too indifferent to run.
HEAVEN HATH NO HATRED
the most beautiful thing
in the world is a Playboy
on the wall of a frathouse
& the tin tray of pot
in the center
of the room.
All the nightmares
of the sun
fuck on mattresses
taking off clothes—
to get it done
& get back
to the party,
& the nostrils
wide & bragging.
The rain outside,
& a spilled beer
where a center guard
through broken glass
& mouse turds
screaming school cheers
& calling friends queers,
of a passed-out
with his scrotum
for a photo
she’ll live to kill
herself for later.
There is much to learn
from the ways,
from things done so young
& dumb, just to buy
weed or speed—
much to learn on the job,
where the high cost of smiling
waits for the right time
to fart the beer farts—
much to learn once old,
having passed through
a few polite funerals
hungover as hell &
praying for the day to end…
But in those times:
rises from her cauldron
in the aspect of a witch,
printed on 10,000 pages—
the scent of flowers
fills the air,
the peckers in 10,000 hands
point to her with
her emerald eyes,
cast green light
upon her tits,
& the spiderwebs
across her breasts—
It’s hard to brake and hard to steer,
less reliable every day,
a little hotter every year.
The oil tanker’s engineer
dreams open sea to Prudhoe Bay
but still it’s hard to brake and steer.
No matter our degree of fear,
zero to a hundred, we pay
the racers hotter every year
for the black prizes they revere,
that speed them on so fast that they
don’t care it’s hard to brake and steer
where heaven’s always dry and clear
or where the clouds are steamy gray
and hotter, wetter every year
and send our bus in the highest gear
careering down the flooded way
harder to brake, harder to steer,
a little hotter every year.
I’ll take a path that’s not on Google Maps
where every way around a juniper
might be another path, find one that traps
the hiker in a siege of thorn and bur,
but once I’ve dodged, pushed, tunneled through their stings,
I’ll stand where recent rain reflects a peak.
Apache plume’s pink threads, dirt-centered rings
of grass, red paintbrush bloom. Someone will speak.
What will you pay? “A memory of success.
Healing balm off the bark of a white fir tree.”
What do you want? Now I need to confess:
“Grounds to think that the truth will make us free
and that a child in a plush seat can tell
that others too don’t clap for Tinker Bell.”
UNCLE CRIED UNCLE
He selflessly stepped out into the yard
by his favorite tree, that water oak,
to freeze himself in time and space
and not print himself forever on
a wall and ruin a room with a hole,
an indelible hell in the family home.
Always thoughtful, but the thoughts
were now no longer full. “I would like
to abscond while me, myself, and I
recognize ourselves, don’t have to ask why.
You can’t begrudge me that. Yes, I’d
like to remember the man in the mirror,”
he joked, no joke. “I want to still be here
when I leave, want to know, you know,
the fellow who’s brought in the sheaves
for all the blessed in this house these years.”
He was a thoughtful man, he was, but
all meaningful thoughts were leaking out.
He could see before long there would be
nothing there, nothing between those
sad blue-green eyes, so he put one there,
small, yet huge for all concerned,
just one, just once and for all.
Every county has had at least one:
the boy who broke through the ice
and drowned in the lake. But does
plural diminish his terrible fate?
Does tragedy’s universality
lend triviality? Not on your life.
Even though somewhat like war
where death is a dime a dozen
the stark specificity of Jim
shot all generals off their dark horses
when that black hole took him.
Though I scarcely knew the kid
(several years younger and 2 towns over)
good sleep was scarce for weeks.
Yet most of that cow pond was shallow
but under his unlucky hole
where the creek bed was deep.
And all of that horror at 8!
Old, I’ve had a million close calls
on ice, in cars, motorcycles, in bars,
with lightning while hiking,
dead blackouts when drinking.
So who handles the reasons,
takes care of the rhymes?
And who in hell seconds your motion
of oops when it’s time?
Ever dwelled on drowning,
that claustrophobically lethal failure
of the submerged inverse of screaming?
Down there no one hears a damned thing,
unless maybe Neptune is listening.
Oh dear, thoughts of futile attempts
to suck in viscous fish air
provoke in me fear and despair.
When you’re out there on sneaky
wet water, beware: Even
those expert in swimming
sometimes suck in when
they should have blown out.
And though the water is shallow,
a babe in the bath is no catfish
or trout when the poor thing slips
under. Blunders like choking
on a chunk of prime steak
or a skid on a smooth road’s black ice
for death’s needs often suffice.
One ill-timed gasp can do the dark trick.
And death is infinite orders of magnitude
worse than just being injured or sick
MOM & DAD, FAST & FURIOUS
M: Nathan, you’re finally home. What took you so long?
D: My beloved and I were planning to run away.
M: Really. What did you bring me?
D: A disease.
M: Not funny. And you aren’t much of a gentleman.
D: Did I say I was?
M: Seriously, did you bring me anything?
D: Some money.
M: Money’s good. I like that.
M: I’m planning for us see my sister’s family this weekend.
D: Oh, how I hate that bunch of Hungarians.
M: What’s the matter with you? Always against them.
D: Are you so perfect? Never tried to learn proper Yiddish.
M: So what? Your family are so clannish and don’t try to be nice.
D: My family? Don’t start.
M: Don’t raise your voice to me!
D: You can scream on your teeth for all I care.
M: I won’t and you better not.
D: Oh, you’re afraid I’ll embarrass you?
M: Just close the window if you’re going to be loud.
D: Ha! I don’t care. Let the whore on the third floor hear us.
M: Enough of this. What do you want?
D: I know it’s late. Can you make me a flank steak?
M: Sure. Sit down.
LOVE LETTER FROM THE BRUSH TO THE SHRIKE
You who are not as you seem and more than you appear
show me the spoils of your day
and allow me to assist you with them
make me a part of the bloodiest of what you carry
so that I know I am not a convenience
but a necessity.
In turn you must know that I am here always
a tangle of limbs and hair in a knot at your feet
and that you could ask me not to straighten out
or imply that the backwards bend of my knees could be of use to you
and I would never wish to walk again.
My darling boy
when you impaled your prey on my shoulders
how was it that you knew
exactly what I needed?
Between the day he let go of Mama’s hand
and the day he turned away from the mirror,
his bike tires began collapsing under his bulk.
He tries to revive them at a gas station air pump
as bullies mock, Does the doughboy live
on Rocky Road? They chortle, blind to hippo tears.
Grandma untangles her oxygen cannulas and knows
too well that the need to feed has swallowed them both—
like the last gulps of a railbird as his longshot fades.
She knows the morbid rush of macaroni and cheese
coursing through the veins; ladles of it help you
forget when you could skip rope, twirl like a ballerina.
If there is hope, it lies beyond the reach of nine-year-olds
who climb maple trees; it begins in the heart of a boy
who bravely asks a little sister to help him lace his shoes.
If there is hope, it rises in his memory of proud drawings
of horses and birds, before the fork pushed the pencil aside.
It begins with the memory of being wrapped in his mother’s arms.
FORGIVE ME MR. DRYDEN
Whether you have entered the Hereafter or you are
using a white cane to make your way to the bus stop,
I hope that you have reached your destination. Forgive
me, Mr. Dryden, for not helping you along the way.
We smoked Canadian cigarettes in the morning
mist while you drank black coffee and told me
when your father’s face began to fade like an old
photo, when the glow of a candle set off a migraine.
Forgive me Mr. Dryden for not staying at your side,
for not offering to drive you to the liquor store
after your daughter took on a new gender and your
fancy office equipment crashed.
It should not have ended this way. We drank Labatt’s
in Manitoba and watched butterflies drink what we
gave back. I still remember how you used your tongue
to feed the fishing line through the loop.
My fishing reels have rusted but I will always remember
the scars of failure, not just the ones that left you in a
darker world, but my failures to find some common ground.
I watched you cry the night you saw the Northern Lights.
Forgive me Mr. Dryden if we have nothing left to share.
CLUTCHING THE HARD WOMAN
The quills are not as sharp
as I’ve been led to believe.
And the ice has a story to tell
about every ray of sun
that shone upon it.
And what stiff metal
can bend like a throat hollow?
What kind of rock can form a breast?
I AM FIFTEEN
Anyway, we’re seated together in the dark back seats of the movie theater.
No, I haven’t got to third base. But I’ve made contact
and, with my speed, I figure there’s a good chance of an infield hit.
Christine’s beautiful. And classy. Maybe too classy for baseball metaphors.
But she breathes in my right ear. And I’m so nervous, she
breathes for both of us. I look down at my hands. How creepy they are
in the shadow. Like giant spiders. Are these the creatures I want
to represent me down the contours of her knee? To be honest,
they’re the dumbest of creatures anyhow. They wouldn’t know
what to look for, and if they did come across something worthwhile
by accident, they’d have no clue what to tell my brain.
I try to watch the movie. It was her choice. Syrupy music. Older people
making love. She sighs when stars kiss, sighs sadly when they don’t.
It’s as if she’s up there on the screen while I’m pinioned
between arm rests. Luckily the other woman shows up and
the love-fest is disrupted. Christine is clearly disappointed.
I put my arm around her to comfort her. Her head falls on my shoulder.
There’s nothing here I can brag about to my buddies.
But, at least, I’ve impressed myself a little.
The cellophane lid is cracked
the ribbon slides off easily.
In a nest of tissue, resting on a sheaf
of documents – a birth certificate,
a death certificate, letters
of congratulation and condolence
that arrived in the same post –
are a pair of shoes.
They are hand-stitched, satin,
with tiny bows that once tied
across feet so small they could fit
in the palm of a hand.
The scarlet ladybirds sewn
into the ruffles of lace
look like they are hibernating
among dried flowers,
waiting for Spring.
We are only sleeping,
they seem to say.
Gather up those fragments,
those memories of better times:
that afternoon on Benllech Beach,
the tiny child splashing through the shallows;
lunch with friends, with wine and laughter;
a walk in Delamere, the autumn leaves
gathered round our boots.
Hopes for days to come, those too.
One day we’ll meet again, and hug.
We’ll sing and dance and celebrate.
For now, these broken pieces are enough;
they have to be. The only choice we have
is how to hold them, how to piece their edges,
build up their golden seams to make a bowl
big enough to hold our love.
EDITH WHARTON POSES FOR HER MOTHER
Portrait by Edward Harrison May, 1870
The words you threw at her over the years
came hurtling back from the pages of her novels:
all those childhood criticisms,
the sly comments about her first beaux,
the suggestions that she could, should, do better.
The slights about her style – a dress too long, or short,
the wrong colour for her skin, a dated cut.
Comparisons with her brother, so much brighter
and destined for high places,
or her younger cousin, so much prettier
and so graceful, likely to marry well.
Look deeply into the eyes of the portrait
you commissioned. Only seven and already
she was appraising you, finding you wanting.
She was content to position the folds
of her crisp blue dress to catch the light,
to cascade her ringlets over its shoulders.
She arranged her smile for the portrait painter,
but he saw her frustration as he sketched.
This artist, who even then could unmask
the shrewd intellect beneath the artful pose.
THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO
“Bring it to the house,” she said,
so I let the bundle go back limp
for the first time since finding it.
“Put it on the kitchen table,” she said.
It looked too long and tired lying
stretched and flat like that.
“Where does Dad keep the empties?” she said.
I could see the boxes piled in pyramids
behind the Chevy pickup truck.
“It wants a wooden frame,” I said,
unsure of what I wanted and what
she was capable of delivering.
“Darlin’, it’s begun to smell,” she said.
I saw what she was getting to,
so I grabbed it with both hands.
“There’s nothin’ you can do for it,”
she tried to make me think before I ran
too far away from her to hear.
“There’s always something you can do,”
I cried, and brushed away its flies and watched
them buzz above the prairie afternoon.
RHINO HIDE, BUFFALO HAIR, GIRAFFE MEAT, AND ELEPHANT CHIPS
My mother’s phobia of snakes
slammed books shut if she turned
a page and saw what even looked like
one: a wriggling worm, the neatly coiled
rope, or even your sinuous, meandering
lane, diamond-backed for busses.
Magazines fared much worse, twisted
by terrified fingers into grotesque
origami status only Satan would favor
as place cards at his toxic table. Inheriting
the fear as surely as our passed down
DNA, my brothers and I, if tripping over
lawn’s slim garter snake (its white-lined black back
striking against its yellow underbelly), or
the gentle, thicker North Woods pine snake
(its coffee stains spilled over scaled khaki
skin), would jerk back like a lassoed calf.
Once calmed, we’d gallop back for scythe
or ax to hack the head from offending find,
decapitation meant to kill our waking
dreams. This summer, my psychiatrist brother
before breakfast discovered lakeside a snake
whose lazy posture gave itself up to retrieval.
Roped among fingers, it traveled up the cabin’s
eastern steps, through a screen door, to where
a three-year-old’s hands were coaxed to hold
the offering, to value the gift of knowledge,
to revere the blessing of familiarity in order
to vanquish antique stubborn fears born
not two generations past, but millennia,
when over African grasslands Homo Erectus
speared through camouflaged cover to ferret out fangs
long taught to leap at any such innocent evil,
the reason why when Paul’s niece’s short, eager
fingers received the slick, twisting contribution
to her later psychological stability, it bit
her soft, white flesh in murderous rage, the taste
bitter as ancestral skin stinking of rhino
hide, buffalo hair, giraffe meat, and elephant chips.
The little girl yelped, surrendered to onslaught, escaping
over jute woven rugs the color and feel
of ancient lands beneath a sky as blue as a bruise.
EMILY DICKINSON DAYDREAMS ABOUT HAVING HEAVENLY SEX
Emily Dickinson stared out the window. She was trying to harvest
heaven, but the best she could do was to reap Amherst’s denizens
going about their daily dalliances with husbands, wives, bosses,
slaves, mothers, and fathers. But not, certainly, with God. There
lay her disappointment! For all the gushing people made over Him
in church, you’d think He’d be more forthcoming, a bit more
showy. Shouldn’t He thank the poor souls that pray to Him, acknowledge
their white steeples, stained glass, rock-hard pews, choir lofts,
and multiple organ pipes, the paraphernalia inviting folks to Sabbath
gatherings, the audacious, ostentatious luring of non-believers
to Jesus and His teachings? All that tacky, pernicious bric-a-brac
merited at least a nod of thanks, a heavenly handshake for a job well done!
But no, apparently not. To Emily, soaked by streams of golden rays
sprayed down from the firmament’s solar showerhead more precious
than an English Regent’s tubbery, the Lord defined appreciation
not through the folderol, the kneeling, the supplication, the bread,
the wine. No. God came to her here, on shafts of light
whose beacon shone like the Groom come to ravish the Bride
whose innocence, her innocence, peaks and sparks His feral nature.
Dropping minute by minute his luminous clothes for the dark of nightfall,
His natural black self, the formless form, is milked by the moon
To silhouette evil’s purity, the waiting woman trembling at the ghastly
Promise of his entrance to her most casual dreams and desires, hoping
to finally reach her life-long tunnel’s end where past futures illuminate
only one opening, small and far away, its pale, white lunar period
turning blood red with the coming of the oncoming night.
Judith O’Connell Hoyer
WEDDING DAY PHOTO
April 30, 1943
It’s a Kodak catch outside Llano’s Barber and Beauty Shop
as they leave barbered and viewed seriously beautiful.
Prickly hairs attack his neck.
A nest of Aleutian curls blaze around her face.
Noon heaps no safety on their brows
as they squint into a vast and pounding sun.
Thirteen formidable buttons guard the bride’s modesty.
Her clutch hides a supply of melting lipstick,
bobby pins and Wednesday’s ticket stub
punched by a conductor in far-flung Eastern Standard Time.
A private salutes the couple en route to the chapel
where potted Easter lilies substitute for wedding guests.
Airy blue petals decorate her shoulder.
Khakis are his required complement.
Pure I do’s echo through empty pews
while jeeps vroom by the perimeter.
After settling for a Texas roadhouse pork chop special,
they strike out into Midland’s incendiary heat,
and swallow kisses like Karo Syrup on a spoon
while deaf to bombers’ moon-lit runs.
May 5th’s dreaded Okinawa orders are slashed
when he is fever-hit and hospitalized.
ALLIED BOMBS HIT FOE IN FRANCE HARD
NYT front page story 2/10/1944
It was a straighten up and fly right birth
a Kodak first day snap of me in my mother’s arms
set free in Texas heat, an onslaught that
began before dawn and cooled down under
waning moonlight, as Allied forces raked
a railroad junction, then everything
was square in Midland and Limoges with kisses
planted like bombs by the Brits flying low
who plastered the Nazi engine works but
one pilot failed to return and it was
not he whom I counted on to arrive
home from work at eight minutes past five
who listened to Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra
while he ate his skinless franks and baked beans.
This is how he dies: in the living room,
in a hospital bed, taking-in the map of Belgium
hung over the fireplace fifty years ago –
Claire’s country, where they met.
He is under glass too.
“Don’t touch!” the hospice nurse says.
“It hurts. Touch hurts.
Except his forehead.”
And this is how he goes: eyes keen
on his brother’s words as he recalls
the Remington mower their dad bought
when they lived on Puritan Circle in Springfield.
“It was so hard to push,” my husband says.
We understand the whispered yes.
“But the blades spun fast
giving the grass a neat even cut.”
Your email says that you move from room to room
removing his things one at a time, hanger by hanger.
I imagine you pitching prescription bottles, wallet,
eyeglasses, passport, carton of peach ice cream.
It is not what you are looking for
it’s what you find – the risk of being busy –
a risky business after all.
The certainty – the uncertainty of it all.
From the front door you do a double take –
catch a glimpse of him gabbing with the neighbor
who’s returning an adjustable wrench he borrowed
last month for some kind of car fix.
Tricked, you slam the God damned door,
bolt for your room and drop into oblivion.
Hours later you come alive to the roar of a mower
being pushed across someone else’s yard –
its sharp blade cutting one swath after another
leaving you with the smell of grass trying to save itself.
Its brass frame opens wide
like an eye eager to examine whatever drops inside:
a nickel for lemonade, dance card, hairpin.
An enveloping skin of creamy beads
is seeded around the withered handiwork
of embroidered rosebuds, daisies and silk bows.
There’s a hole in the lining the size of a white lie
my grandmother might have told her mother
about what happened that night.
Kept since the prom when it hung
by its chain on the back of a chair
as she waltzed onto the dance floor
into his arms Down by The Old Mill Stream
where the air was out of breath and her
elaborate coil of hair was coming undone.
WAITING IN THE HOSPITAL ROOM WHILE MY SON IS CIRCUMCISED
It is wrong and helpful that I am required to watch a battery of videos teaching me how not to
kill another person. We are locked in the hospital for 24 hours. My name is not even on the
bracelets. I am an accessory. Less useful than the anti-theft device attached to the nub of my
son’s umbilical cord. My wife is eating green beans and complaining that she forgot to ask for
salt, again. I am lying on the ugly teal couch staring at a cheaply-framed, poorly-hung print of a
bad painting of a quaint idyllic house. It is sweet and naïve, or ironic. I am trying to distract
myself. Trying to think about anything except the blood, and the foreskin, and the blood, and the
crying, and his tiny, reaching hand.
THE DAY I FOUND GOD IN A PURPLE RUG
I was told that under no circumstance
was I to dye my hair
in my grandmother’s home.
We lived with her, but it was never
my home – we were just permanent guests,
unwelcome ants on a picnic
blanket. There’s always at least one hiding
out, searching for a scrap of something left
behind. But I am not one for rules,
and I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
So in the dead
of the 1 PM summer
I remove everything
from the bathroom counters.
I bring in my book so I have something
to do while I wait for my hair to transition
from its dull yellow to a bright purple beacon.
I know it would be best not to move to lessen
my chances of painting anything into a purple
I was there. I grab my bright
ass eggplant colored dye and with a practiced
hand I goop it onto my hair in grape
colored gobs. I rinse and grab the black
towel to mask any purple leakage.
After I dry my hair, I finally notice
it. The blinding white bath rug marooned
in the middle of the bathroom floor –
literally maroon now.
My lungs flutter and forget how to inflate.
I frantically flail through Google, searching
for the perfect solution to un-dye.
I empty every cupboard seeking stain remover,
vinegar, detergent, baking soda, and hope
flavored fairy dust. I run that thing
through the wash three separate times
and even though I left my god
at my old house, I find
Him again in this moment, lurking
in that stupid stain.
He must have heard me because I un-
purpled the shit out of that rug.
I know for her love exists in my absence,
and one day she’ll wish for a trace of me left behind.
HER LOVER’S TEETH LEAVE A BRUISE
It is black, blue, and monstrous.
Peering from beneath the soft
edge of her t-shirt. This Rorschach
bitten into her, blood ink
pooled under the breathless
layer of her skin. I try to remember
love isn’t a scarcity,
even when someone you love
I’d learned this in polyamory
class. There’s no actual
class. The antithesis
of jealousy. Only she was there
with me wrapping
her green ivy spikes
through my bloodstream, screaming.
And then I’m picturing her lover’s
silk black hair and she is wrapping
herself around my wife
from on top of her lap. I see her teeth
and she is laughing. The insides
of her lips are painted
with merlot, blooming.
Lipstick printing poppies
and I can hear their breath
as they fog the windows
while my peeking plants blush.
And now I am pulled back. I rewrite
this fight. Love is not a mono-fits-all
label and now when jealousy comes,
she whispers. I welcome her to remind
me that love is infinite,
and we love in multitudes.
We are only better
for it, and I see this in the soft spot
of her arm where there was once a bruise.
I WILL DIE IN MY SLEEP
I have forever nightly rehearsed my closing moments,
my quiet and glamorous curtain call as lights lower,
accompanied by a final and contented sigh,
and a flash of a smile, before up the stairway I go.
I have not bothered with any other details,
the how and the when and the where.
I prefer a good surprise, a stranger at the door,
outstretched hand with an unexpected invitation.
My body, no longer mine, will remain, cooling silently,
laugh lines softening while soul skips up and out.
If allowed by whatever powers manage the process,
I will wrap you one last time in a wispy, fuzzy-edged hug.
In time, you will wake, having dreamt in meadowy breezes,
that the sun and the grass pushed and pulled us
into a dance with no steps, only an embrace,
a kiss, a letting go, and a whispered secret.
You will likely and hopefully not look forward to it,
so I keep this planned secret guarded,
not wanting to turn it all into a competition,
seeing who can go first and forever.
LINES AFTER A LINE FROM THE GRATEFUL DEAD
“What a long strange trip it’s been,”
what a lop-wheeled, breakheart journey
from babe in a buggy to boy on a bike
to ruin on a hospital gurney.
Little heart hankered for bonbons and love;
congestive heart hasn’t a clue
why the things it desired didn’t arrive
yet a bill for them did, and it’s due.
One two hopscotch cold poached egg
Martha Mills has a metal leg
one foot stinks, the other foot squeaks
Martha Mills is a Freak Freak Freak
Three four hopscotch her friend Joe
when he walks it starts to snow
all the ants break rank and sing
Look out it’s Joe the Dandruff King
One two three four hopscotch six
Mildred Lintz eats rats for kicks
she’s so fat the earthworms scream
Look out it’s Lintz the Earthquake Queen
Seven eight hopscotch nine and turn
you dumb boy, Derek, you’ll never learn
if we told you that a blow-torch was a hair-dryer
you wouldn’t know the difference till your face caught fire
Nine eight seven six hopscotch five
I am the cutest girl alive
girl can dance, girl can think
compared with me you’re the Missing Link
Four three two one hot buttered toast
I’m gonna marry a game-show host
when he wants to kiss goodnight
I’ll say Only If The Price Is Right
THE ASSASSINATION OF HENDRIK VERWOERD, THE ARCHITECT OF APARTHEID,
BY THE MENTALLY UNBALANCED DIMITRI TSAFENDAS, ON SEPTEMBER 6, 1966
” You are guilty also when you do nothing.”
~ Dimitri Tsafendas, years later, unrepentant, and (since his trial) tapeworm-free.
But who could be South African, and White, and wish to harm Hendrik Verwoerd?
No one in his right mind.
Take David Pratt, who shot Verwoerd twice in the face,
“to shoot the epitome of the apartheid state.”
That dude was (quote) “mad,” and “not political.”
Dimitri Tsafendas stabbed him four times. Ditto Tsafendas!
A dark-skinned white man, he wished to be reclassified as “mixed,”
to live with his mixed race lover; Verwoerd, he said,
“helped blacks at the expense of whites”;
he claimed a giant tapeworm spoke to him.
See? Mad! Cried the judge, “I can as little try this man as try a dog!”
They gave him a cell on death row next to the room they hanged men in,
seven men at once sometimes, says Wikipedia.
The rug Verwoerd bled out on stayed, the death-stains
swabbed and squeegeed from it, on the Volksraad floor, says Wikipedia,
until apartheid itself was ten years defunct. Only then
did the local divinities, Parsimony, Truculence, and Idolatry,
allow that it might be (quote) “shabby.”
That’s me editorializing, of course, not good old Wikipedia.
Just the facts, please, backed by footnotes. Such a comfort.
I’d come to Wikipedia after my father died.
He’d gotten us out of Cape Town when I was six:
Verwoerd and Verwoerd’s ilk had robbed him of his country.
Fifty years before, I’d watched the news of a knifing
break like a dam over him, and I’d seen—
though he didn’t exult, exactly, because what could this one man’s death
change?—how it might look to hate someone. To let oneself
hate. Even if (given the betrayal hate is,
of how a man should treat a man,
since you, I, and every man are equals),
it was surely hate for the state Verwoerd had made, that Verwoerd epitomized—
not for the man. May we all, my father taught me: Verwoerd, Tsafendas,
Black man, Coloured boy, be larger than our labels.
(There are no women in this poem. This was then!
Women were “understood.”)
Verwoerd, said the bio, was born in Amsterdam,
but left at two for Wynberg, the Cape Town suburb where I was born.
His father, believing that God had forged a covenant with the Boer Calvinists,
gave his only begotten son to be their prophet.
And lo, to die for them, and to be their martyr!
To be mourned by millions.
The mad dog Tsafendas, meanwhile, on hanging row,
shrank, over the decades, into a footnote’s squint.
(He outlived apartheid! If not that rug.)
Nor did he cry, or talk of it, my father,
but that day, in our exiles’ lair
(as I watched with him, as I felt the blade descend),
the immaculately knit fabric of something darkened—
with blood; perhaps with grudge; perhaps with grief.
shopping for real estate with wallace stevens
the cabin needs a coat of paint
windows washed trash hauled away
feral things have torn the screens
unlock the door let in some light
strike a match and try the stove
from underneath a silent rat observes
oak pops as cabin warms
the room begins to breathe
in the corner a single bed
periwinkle comforter on top
a folded nightgown white as night
cannot quite cover all that lively blue
imperfect friday paradise
we both attest as cabin sighs
rat watches us approach the bed
and lift the white to let the blue escape
a proper place for rat or man
to dream while the week moves on
celebrate its final days
stay warm throughout its holy nights
with periwinkle dreams
PENICILLIN DAY AT THE DISPENSARY, NHA TRANG, 1970
I wanna be an airborne ranger
I wanna go to Vietnam
I wanna be an airborne ranger
I wanna kill a Vietcong
-basic training marching cadence
Soldiers line a narrow hallway,
green beret still on each head,
camo pants below bare kneecaps,
waiting for their slant-eyed nurse
to pump some icy penicillin
into each American ass.
They stare at photos on the wall:
a rotted face, syphilitic sores,
fond warnings for incoming troops
who next will visit scenic Nha Trang.
Co Hai could warm syringes first,
before injecting, she does not.
Instead, with every righteous stab
she blesses girls brought low but knows
how her collaboration soon
will hurt her when these men go home.
So, she injects the painful mix,
and hears a groan, patches the wound,
thinks of her baby who waits at home,
its father now and forever gone.
CENTO FOR CLAIRVOYANCE
A flashback isn’t a memory, but an instance of time travel: the body believes it
is a predestined uterine tug and here
like an invisible comb through hair
in the fertile darkness of grammar
language and other ways to invent the water, and other ways
to collect what is inside me
still prod the coarse pink yarn into a dress.
Such facts lie beneath the grasp of contemporary research.
Exhaustion is a hall
of an unfinished poem,
of intentions, marbles filling
recesses of the brain’s fjords, too
of all the genesis—pollen of a flowering godhead,
crutched in your armpits.
How is the hyacinth’s head bent wrong?
If the pollen is heaved
from the stupor of married sleep
or the merest shake
straps disclosure and violence together in ways
papaya can’t distinguish
the future will be luminous and reckless
and in my mouth: the froth.
Citations for Cento for Clairvoyance by Margo LaPierre
ODE TO PANTIES
I’ve always wanted to write a poem about panties,
those flimsy songs from a young man’s dreams…
You see them, innocent as a young woman’s cheeks,
hanging from clotheslines, smiling like prayer flags.
Baskets for the type of fruit that makes our hands
shudder and move involuntarily as if to grab and lift
all that juicy, ripe fullness to our lips and just kiss….
The young men dream of peaches; O’ my luscious
god I could swim face first up that juice for days
at a time, like a climber tipping my face to the sun…
An older man might dream of red, delicious, apples
stable, committed, ready to nestle in all winter,
their sweetness crisp with crystalized starlight…
but I dream of the humble, ripe, avocado, bottom-
heavy, pregnant with your one large seed protected
by layers of fat that burn more healthy and clear than
any of the sugars of your blonde European cousins.
Patient, like generations of women swaddled
in traditional clothing, going nowhere, just the weight
of contentment in my hand, you open with a grin
and swallow me in to that deep satisfaction that
no one else can come close to, like a knowing
that all this will continue beyond us; these forests,
the cloud enshrouded mountains that rise
from their mists, the jaguar’s call in the distance…
UNHOOKING THE BRA
For a young man, there is nothing more
meaningful, no rite of passage more fraught
with terror and danger, than learning how
to unhook a woman’s bra.
The way those heavenly orbs can pour
their light into your hands is one of life’s
greatest mysteries, and when you actually
slide a nipple into your mouth, child,
I tell you, your spine will become a high
voltage transmission line and your hands
find a mind of their own as they reach for
fruit that’s been denied them for years.
And when you master it one-handed,
under her sweater, for instance, in the
back of the car while the windows fog over
with your co-mingled breath, you will be
crossing the Rubicon, from neophyte
to master, boy to man.
Spring will come early into the cheeks
of her high country; wind will rise
with the moans in her throat, and birds
sing from her still barren branches…
But her snow may start melting
before you are ready, her rivers
thaw out and flood…
Nobody knows who’ll be affected downstream…
But by then you will probably
have wandered into that high country,
her meadows full of butterflies and wildflowers
protected by snow covered peaks no one else
The moon looks down and just shakes her head,
the sun grinning through your glistening beard.
She sits at the top of the hill
and laces on her brand new rollerblades.
As long as she’s in gravity and time
she might as well have some fun.
Eternity is fine every once in awhile,
floating and being all meaningful,
feeling like she’s serving the light…
But on days like these– when the sky
flings back her skirts and greets us
with a clearer blue than we could
possibly imagine, and time stops,
his mouth gaping open to stare, and
gravity, encouraging mother that she is,
waits, arms open and beckoning–
well, what’s a young girl to do, but
stand up on all eight wheels, holler
a good cowgirl holler, and let go
to gods who are even greater than she.
However we fathom the meaning of time—
as particle, flow, arrow, or chime,
whether it lives in the world or the soul,
whether it’s relative, whether it’s whole,
circadian rhythm, physiological clock,
a law that’s elastic, a wave that’s a rock,
illusory pattern or synchronous change,
being becoming increasingly strange—
however we try to say what Time is
the essence eludes us like bubbly fizz.
No one ever said that we
could hold on to eternity.
But still we wish that Time would slow
down enough that we could know
where we’ll be before we’re then
pulled away from where we’ve been—
yet here we are, and here we go,
grateful, at the least, to know
that whether or not Time ever grows clear
Time’s given us each gyroscope of each year
where forwards and backwards are equally true:
you whirling me as I whirl around you.
THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY
On another morning like this
we made love softly as dawn
slipping out of the dark
as we eased from blankets
to coffee in the kitchen
our breakfast talk intimate
as the touch we had shared
in the waking light of dawn.
This dream persists in memory
as on a newly dawning morning
we once again share our love
touched softly in dawn’s glow.
I wake in today’s early light
your arm gentle upon my chest.
MY FRIEND LAZARUS
dead a dozen times
while well-paid plumbers
fixed pipes and valves
made his heart pump again
no guarantee this time
their repairs will hold
blessed with photographic vision
lazarus remembers each time
he’s stood just past death’s door
drawn toward light beyond
while plumbers wrench him
back to an uncertain world
for a regular like lazarus
death’s no more a mystery
than life that won’t let go
Now, after a bleak season of shovels
filled with heart strain, the wind’s vice
on throat and chest, here is Spring.
Am I the icicle on the eave hidden
in shade, clinging, dripping away,
not yet ready to shatter and melt?
Who doesn’t live for vibrant Spring!
Its sprouts and scented blossoms, love
almost everywhere. Who doesn’t….
AFTER THE BREAK-IN
She dresses mannequins
fixes them with fishing line
to her condo curtain tracks.
They guard her looking meaner
than the thugs who broke in
wounded body, shattered spirit.
She throws punches full of pain
curses the innocent air in the street
front room of rattling memories.
I watch a teardrop form as she snips
a yellow rose head from a broken stem.
We rearrange what’s left.
I’ll call you sometime.
Can I have your number?
It was nice meeting you.
Do I have his number?
He doesn’t answer, doesn’t call.
he doesn’t hurt you when
he doesn’t answer, doesn’t call.
Maybe he’s lost your number.
He doesn’t hurt you when
he forgets who you are.
Maybe he’s lost. Your number?
He’s like most men—
he forgets. Who you are
isn’t his opinion of you.
He’s like most men
who do their thing and just move on.
Isn’t his opinion of you
about his desire
to do his own thing? Just move on.
It was nice meeting you.
About his desire?
I’ll call you sometime.
AFTER YOU LEFT
Windows opened, a breeze blew through
my body. Wearing sweats, fur hat,
rubber boots, no bra,
I circled the house. No cracks, no collapse.
Rhododendron buds remained tight.
The weeds grew and I let them live.
I shed the veil, the mask, and plastic
smile. B followed A. No one stuck out
a foot to trip me, or found my voice
annoying. The bed was bigger. Clouds
took form. Locks changed, entry code
revised, security system armed,
I slept again. Nightmares ceased.
I woke with eyes wide, rested,
until you moved
three thousand miles away.
Not far enough.
THINGS I WILL NEVER HAVE TO DO AGAIN
Change a diaper
Scrub a grill
Pitch a tent and sleep on hard ground
Pray for a rescue, pray for anything
I will never have to be respectful
to an employer who’s a jerk, a dick
because I need the job to pay bills
or fear losing a reference,
never again have to laugh or smile
politely at racist, sexist jokes
Never will I have to write a college paper
Draw blood from a patient
Iron a man’s shirt
Mow the lawn
Endure the interview of a first date
Memorize life cycles of the algae
Insert a tampon or diaphragm
or worry about getting pregnant
No more setting up urine and sputum
to grow bacteria and fungi,
no more searching through feces
Never again will I have to tiptoe
around a crazy person under my roof,
apologize to my sister for being born,
explain my mother’s candor
No more begging
Pretending to be aroused
Faking an orgasm or two,
no more feigning interest
in engines, sports, supplements
I’ll never again read a book I hate
or be tentative when discussing it
Finally, I can be silent,
let someone else think they can fix it
First, I heard him in my laugh,
that same throated cackle
that clattered through the halls
from downstairs cocktail parties.
And there were other signs,
how I’d catch myself resting
my chin on a loose fist just so
or nervously drumming my fingers,
and still more signs until
something as ordinary as
a simple gesticulation might
suddenly assume an ominous tone
as diffident, as indifferent
as if time itself had whispered half a sentence
and abruptly turned away
with a casual wave of the hand
leaving only this echo
of time’s bared teeth
and convulsing throat.
Return at last, an aged son, quarrelsome
from years tacking against his own headwinds,
finally home to other harbored griefs
and a disheartened father still plowing.
I imagine the old man kneeling there,
one hand feeling that furrow the tusk dug,
the other outstretched to the balked rows. As if
that reach could span the long horizon of years.
And what of you and me, Father? Could we
redeem our days adrift? The old quarrels?
Memory is the greater loss because
I can still recall the trees you planted
and I am ready to come home and plow
now that you have been dead these twenty years.
THE PERSISTENCE OF SELF
I am a ship of Theseus
A kite without a string.
I slough the old into the wind.
I’m more event than thing.
Thomas M. McDade
TIME FROM ABOVE
Pigeons join the gulls on the beach
sparrows stick to the boardwalk.
Sandpipers needle Neptune’s ass,
two guys run along the shore
carrying boulders; why not?
A Mennonite family walks the beach.
Small bonnets on the women’s heads,
might as well be halos so many folks stare.
Sandcastle contest underway at noon,
owner of Jungle Miniature Golf died,
today is my suicide brother’s birthday.
I’d like to get stuck at the top
of the Ferris wheel down on 15th
and squint to make gaping adults
shrink to the size of the children with
many more years to live and I might
even see or imagine I see a giraffe
or at least one of the tall palms
on the corner of 22nd and Pacific
and name an exact hole or par.
I can’t help but laugh as I watch them
a game only she is playing
running from him her little legs carrying her
slightly stumbling fifteen clumps at a time
footsteps echo down the shopping mall corridor
she stops to look back toddler giggles
burst out like hiccups
her dad in a hurried walk bags in both hands
just past his fittest days
She laughs and takes off again
He speeds up to a labored jog
and regards me a stranger
with a look of what do I do? resignation
I smile understandingly
you chase her, Dad
before you know it
you’ll be doing what I’m doing
judging the too-short shorts
she wants to buy at Hollister
You chase her
but don’t catch her
let her run
I WANT AN EGG MCMUFFIN
the morning fog calls
a shrill ring from an old rotary
given no choice but to answer
it isn’t nature on the line
she is in the background squawking
as inaudible as Charlie Brown’s mom
it was Ronald
and his purple friend
with the murderous name
a call from three towns over
the crisp fog
an enticing excuse
to fill my belly
with slow suicide
the doctor said the medicine
that makes me shit too much
and my glucose levels are better
I celebrate with blurry brake lights
and low visibility
I celebrate with ghostly-looking coffee addicts
splayed on the sidewalk outside Starbucks
I celebrate with the man at the crosswalk dancing
when absolutely no music can be heard
I celebrate with the little girl
emerging from the fog on a unicycle
a fucking unicycle
I celebrate with the grease of a hashbrown
sliding down my bearded chin
a circular egg, cheese and a piece of ham
that Canadians call bacon
all wrapped in the loving embrace of an English muffin
with crispy burnt edges
I celebrate with a cool sip of ice tea
unsweetened of course
I’m not a maniac
from a painting in the Scottish National Museum
When once a castle stayed unused too long
In Scotland, homeless witches found a squat.
These witches, who think paying rent is wrong,
Can deal with any interfering Scot
Harassing them for squatting there at night,
Enchanting all the dear departed souls
Still lurking in the castle for a fright:
Displaying mesmerizing rigmaroles,
A charismatic dancing witch—who leads
Nocturnal rounds of hornpipes, jigs and reels—
Casts spells on any meddler with her deeds.
If you’re the rent collector, your appeals
Not only get no rent … but also you
Go home and pay the landlord what is due!
He speaks monotonal,
barely at all, and only
when not lost in his
world of the levels
and numbers of lives
he has left in the game,
as he sits in his room,
face reflected in the dark
bluish glow of the monitor,
fingers frantically pushing
the controller’s buttons
he holds in his hands.
Will he find his way out?
Will he dare enter the
unpredictable world of
flesh and blood,
instead of pixels
on the screen?
Or does he fear the revelation
of his blood being tainted with
cancer for the fourth time,
over which he has no control,
like with the push of the A or B button;
glitches, low life energy, death?
Can he put the
live a real life,
and venture outside
to the world of this
(Inspired by the painting Famine by Marian Spore Bush, 1933)
The bird has lost its teeth.
Beak flayed open now
as blades, to tear out
the teeth of those deceased.
A sacrifice offered by
those with soft, swollen
gums in the grave.
For they understand
the insatiable hunger
and desperation of
the now-toothless bird, and
still feel the desire to chomp and
chew on the lives they once knew.
The bird has found its teeth.
John David Muth
SEX AND THE ARTHRITIC MAN
Making love with inflamed joints
has a couple of advantages.
My wife has to do most of the work
which is very welcome
after spending all day at the office.
I can also better control my hang time.
When things are moving too fast,
and cracks appear in the cast iron dam,
and the whole structure is ready to burst,
I move a shoulder or hip too fast
or at an awkward angle.
A beam of pain shoots out
and solders those leaks,
saving the villagers
who live in the valley below.
Admittedly, it takes a few minutes
for the donkey to get back up to a gallop
but mom always told me
the foundation of a good marriage
is effort and sacrifice.
DESCRIBING 2021 TO FUTURE GENERATIONS
Should anyone ever ask me about 2021:
those too young to remember,
or those who were not yet born,
I’ll tell them it was like
a year-long barbed wire colonoscopy
performed without anesthetic
in the back of a kidnapper’s van
by a drop out from a Honduran medical school.
Every cancerous polyp was missed
and the bill reduced me
to financial destitution.
Attention spans will be so short by that time
they’ll probably leave the room
before I finish my analogy.
I won’t be sad to see them go.
James B. Nicola
There is a Beauty that’s not merely beautiful
as being plucked and gunked and all of that,
but creamed in care. Its shine’s as terrible,
I once saw a cat
turned monster by the tendrils of a blaze.
A scraggly, matted bundle, charred and soaked,
unnoticed darting past the firemen’s hose
into the crackling breaches where she picked
up, one at a time, by the neck, her scraggly brood
of babes and dropped them six feet from my feet.
Six times she turned back in. She knew the crooked
path to scale up leaning beams more scorched
than had they been on fire, and altered course
as beam by beam caught fire and fell to the ground.
She made a pile of her kittens, then a nest
of seven, and with each return and drop
of a blob, she got blacker, wetter, wilder.
Once all were safe from the fury of the night,
she licked them off, and only then, herself,
for all that time the ugliest ball in the world:
But no light’s more flattering than flames or candlelight
—the firemen looked great as the building burned—
and nothing in the world could ever be
more Beautiful than that mother cat, to me.
And you were with me, dear, the second time.
There was a pock-marked man, his cuffs too high,
checking out at the Spencer five-and-dime.
(I don’t expect you to remember.) You laughed, but I
did not because I’d seen him, coming in,
holding the door for two molasses women
while you sped past. And later in Aisle Four,
I saw him squat by, smile at, and restore
a girl of three with dripping eyes and nose
to a benign mother over in Five
—you’d been in Two, and picking panty-hose.
She was relieved the daughter was alive,
sure, but forgot to thank him. He did not
seem to be miffed, but just went on his way,
as to another mission. You cut me
when you laughed at him—I’d been about to say
I hoped that he’d enjoy the beer he bought—
I did, in fact. You remember: Shopping day,
the paunchy pock-marked ill-dressed geezer, I
said he was Beautiful, and you asked why?
You even liked my answer, then.
I wake some mornings and see you before
your treatments at the vanity, undraped
by sleeve or hem or collar, unsettled
by headlines of the homeless, the war-torn,
the trafficked and the pummeled and the slain,
the embers of a post-pubescent ardor
rekindle visibly behind your eyes.
I’m warmed by the remembrances of kindness
and caring–outrage when appropriate–
and former friends now activists, or gone.
Our stomachs misconstrue new gastric gurgles
for hungers deeper than the physical;
the half-heroic lungs and heart respond.
Our minds don’t think to catch the racing breaths
though, still unsobered by the mug-tipped sips,
the salaries, the rites of safe survival.
The flame is sparked. It lights the other road
we could have trod, and it invites again.
And in these moments before you and I
becalm concerns and gasps with the satiety
of warm croissants as duly-dosed as pills
delivered by the doctor of the day,
before either restores the other with
the calming, cooling quip “But who are we
to think there’s anything that we can do,”
I feel a tinge of the Beautiful in me
and swear I catch a glimpse of it in you.
Dafydd supported many of John’s matches,
helping the groundsman, standing in as scorer,
admiring but rather envious, applauding
his brother’s innings, as he blocked, pushed out,
before the cutting loose, the final drives
splitting the field, racing across the fragrant turf
on their way to the boundary.
A later contest, Falklands, the machine gun fire
streaking across Goose Green in wintry May,
and John was back, damaged but turning now
to the bowls for the disabled. Dafydd
would ferry him there, gladly in support,
and, after the winter in the leisure centre,
back out in May into the sun again.
He’d thrill to the smell of the turf, the sight
of John’s ball scudding along the green.
But moods can heal more slowly than the body.
Dafydd was tested now. He’d tease and humour,
check the tantrums, push out encouragement,
until at last the game’s convivial ending,
handshakes all round, the chips from Rabaiotti’s
and the calm drive home.
The family dog has a rabbit trapped
under the deck, or maybe it is better
to say, the rabbit has the dog trapped,
tethered to the pressure treated wood.
He orbits, single-minded like a storm
on a chain, swinging from stanchion
to stanchion. We’ve seen the rabbit
only as a silhouette, unhurried
in the shadows. The dog squeezes
his shoulders into the darkness.
I pull him out by his hindlegs, fill in
the hole, cover it with chicken wire.
This is no way to live I tell him.
You should see yourself in a mirror.
them old timer expat blues
i’m a lot like mars
people ask one another
you think there’s water on bob?
was there ever life anywhere there?
funny how that face
up there on that red and angry planet
kind of matches his own mug down here
but with better cheekbones
more macho jowls
same frown though
same icy glare
when you talk to him it’s like
one year is 687 days long
or five minutes is like three hours
if you landed a rover on him
what kinds of pictures
you think it would send back
sparse hairs growing out of pores
flakes of skin shedding
pitted and pocky as all get out
for the most part
the only signs of life
save maybe all that salt water
science now says is up there
frozen in lakes beneath
all that martian surface dirt
like tears unshed
or little green men semen
still it’d be nice to be touched upon
trod upon even
by those precise mechanical roving legs
don’t nudge him you-know-where though
the cameras remember
seldom miss a trick
so yes he’s out there
same as he is earthling down here
all alone in his own orbit
his only claim to fame
when he mentions himself
in the same breath as a god of war
of some dead civilization
or snickers candy bar brand
300 million miles away
and still sending us
his goddam poetry
ON THIS DAY IN BASEBALL: JUNE 3, 2002
OR, THE REAL SAMMY SOSA STORY
Okay, laugh your asses off. See if I care.
You think Wanda Humphire is a hilarious
name for a brothel madam, that’s your affair.
Works for me. Ballplayers like it, anyhow.
Specially the Cubs. White Sox a bunch of
goody two-cleats, if you get my meaning.
Doesn’t hurt either we are just down the way
from Wrigley. They trickle in Friday nights
after dropping another one to the Dodgers or
the Cards. But good guys. Good paying johns.
Never rough with my girls. All except one,
you know. That damn Sosa. Sammy Sosa.
Quite the stud, way he struts and swaggers.
He’s in here one night down the hall in 1-D.
With poor Sally. Been with us barely three
months now, poor gal. Horrible damn racket.
Door’s locked on the inside. I call Dusty
from Monica’s room. He was Cubs skipper
that season and always looks out for his boys.
We bust down the door of 1-D and there’s
Sally crouched in a corner shaking with fright.
Out of her mind. Shattered on his third whack,
she wails. And there’s Sammy standing there
stark naked with his dick cracked in two places.
I shush Sally and Dusty and me together we
check Sammy’s pecker. Damn thing’s corked.
No doubt about it. Against house reg’s and
Sammy knows it. Albert Belle Rule, we call it.
Back in July of ’94. Guys will do most anything
to help them last longer and get more bang for
their buck, sure. But corking, nope. We don’t
allow that. Fair is fair. And foul is foul. Sorry,
Dusty says. It’s embarrassing. Sammy’s too
good a fucker. We’ll all be scratching our balls
over this and wondering why, why. It’s too bad.
Sammy’s standing there, shaken. Humiliated.
I forgot, he says. I forgot to take it out. I cork
it for – you know – practice. But I always
take it out for the real thing. I just plain forgot.
And he seems sorry. What do you call it –
contrite. What to do, I ask myself. A tough
decision. Ban him for life? That’s too harsh.
Too hard. So I suspend him for ten Friday nights.
And then reduce it to seven Friday nights when
Sally of all people – how do you say it – intercedes.
He’s so sweet, you know, she smiles and sort of
tilts her head, when he just shortens up and bunts.
A boy, I was sat on a pony’s back,
told it was all mine. Tasted shame in
the sand I ate when it threw me face
to ground. In that pit I learned to wield
whip and crop, to hold myself hard.
To drive a horse, a car, a woman without
regard. Gleaned what I was high in a saddle,
black shining joints, a god in armor
on a field of imaginary war. Forever, I
erased that sanded outline of a boy. I
polished my teeth, my fingernails, my
cufflinks like new chrome. I am
muscle grip and money tough; my
eyes a warning flag of bright blue. I
can have anything by stretching out my
hand and taking it. The meek inherit nothing.
I wasn’t born this careless, heedless
of what might come. I never learned how
the jeweled fruits I plucked from cut glass
plates were grown and ripened under a yellow sun.
Nor the way a silkworm spins its skeins, how those slender strands
are woven together, soaked in hues of apple, cantaloupe, plum.
No one taught me to recognize birdsong,
how to be alone. I didn’t know that a pearl grows
from a grain of sand in the salted fold of an oyster.
These simple things were kept from me.
I was made for show, my face opening like a flower,
my laugh tuned to the timbre of silver,
my whisper husked to echo the rustle of paper.
My enchanted life unspooled in cool, curtained bedrooms,
the hush of white dresses laid upon white beds after
the imprint of my sleeping body had been smoothed,
erased by other hands.
HANGING THE LAUNDRY OUT TO DRY
Painting by Berthe Morisot
The clotheslines sag like Karin’s dreams,
a woman who wanted an education,
but her father said no.
So she hangs clothes. The steam train
passes. Hands wet, wind blows
sheets up into her face.
The women talk and clouds listen.
The clothes must be perfectly dry
before they can come indoors
and be folded. Mistakes don’t ride
the train. They stay and stay. She fears
being a big mistake. The day
disappears like steam. She could fall
asleep but chores are piled high.
Her arms hurt. The night sky
might kidnap her but she would
I am just about out of town
when I realize I have left
my luggage in the lobby
of the one tolerable hotel in that place.
Of course, I have to go back.
I will wear most of the clothes again
and it is less than a two mile return.
A real no-brainer.
For you, however, this is not your
luggage, and nothing you will wear
ever. One would think
this would be as easy for you
as it is for me. One equation,
different values. See,
I am going back now,
while you are on the bench
outside of the one bank in town
waiting for the traffic light to turn,
counting the seconds: green, yellow and red.
I slip by and up the hotel steps.
You catch me as a slither of shadow
and lose count.
After three years of cheating
with the secretary, you find
the wife has known all along,
had been looking for the relief.
Now you can concentrate
on why the secretary types
so slowly, and with her legs
crossed, and go on to complain
about paisley scarves, and sandals
worn against winter. The wife now
sleeps like a dedicated dockworker.
It has appeal.
The summer of another
very long year is cut by the canter
of the neighborhood fox
who has nested in a nearby
backyard. Crossing the street
as I drove to the grocery,
early and masked, it confronted
me with its pointed snout,
a mardi-gras face of russet and black.
I slowed my car to let it saunter
across the street. In that moment,
the mist of morning exhaled
in the empty space between
woman and animal, each
in its own prison of plague
and air, its own dubious solace
of breathless solitude, our eyes
meeting at the crossroads
of dawn and daylight,
hope and despair.
When you turned
your naughty pretty head,
the punishment descended,
a sodium paralysis.
The grains solidify into
the column of your body. First,
the toes, then the ankles, freeze.
Legs halt mid-step as you try
to outrun the hand of the Almighty,
the mandate of your mate.
Your torso stiffens, lungs unable
to expand. Say goodbye to air.
Your eyeballs petrify into marbles.
You are salt-lick for Jehovah.
Your children, having run ahead,
suddenly miss you. Farewell to them,
the smell of their babyness.
And Lot, striding ahead, wonders
why you could never obey.
ALESSANDRO, ONE MONTH OLD
a little lump with eyelashes.
Today, he sneezed
for the first time, startling
himself, eyes marble-dark,
cheeks a-tremble, spine
stiffening, though he cannot
sit up yet, only lounge
in his plastic carrier-seat.
If I were a kangaroo,
he’d be in my pouch
in a New York minute.
But this is not Australia
or Manhattan. I am in Chicago,
and Alessandro is in Madrid,
naked as a newborn mouse,
sweet as a newly-hatched
robin. His fists flail, his vision
follows a purple duck floating above.
In another month, an old
wrinkled auntie will meet him
at the airport. Fat as a Sumo wrestler,
he will find some kind of heaven
in her bony arms.
THE FRAGILITY OF THINGS
One time, I dropped this plate.
It was a simple act.
Enough of the pieces remained
intact for glue
to work—just some scars
and this innate sense of the fragility
of things, small and great
we hold to hope will only remain
cracked, like that time I dropped
the plate—it was a simple act.
No matter the ways
we handle the pieces
there’s no way to reclaim
the second it leaves our hands
the exact moment we know
we know its fate:
like that time
I dropped the plate—it was
such a simple act.
HOLD THE MAYO
is a death sentence
in the stars
eternity and yesterday
on whole wheat.
My fellow deckhand, Ronnie,
escaped a gang of Nashville dealers,
hitched down to the Gulf
to cold turkey off heroin.
I’m just tying bowlines for summer bucks.
On a deadbeat Saturday, Ronnie
hooks us up with a local yahoo
stoned out of his gourd by 4 p.m.
We loll on this home-boy’s front porch.
He doesn’t move or twitch for a half hour.
Then two humming birds dip and join
at the hip just above tridents of canna lilies.
The guy throws his head back and cries out,
“ Damn if that ain’t cuter
than a spotted pup in a new red wagon.”
The three of us end up at last call
in a bar with an interior decor
like an oil slick on wrenched seas.
Everyone is stiff, silent, pickled
until the needle drops
into K23 on the juke box.
Deck hands, crew-boat Captains, Ronnie,
home-boy, boiler-masters and a few Debs,
start to sing in unison to no one in particular –
low, breathy bent into bar or table tops
where brown bottles are microphones.
It’s a chorus of skunked angels,
without a soprano in the bunch.
(“ Back in Luckenbach, Texas,
ain’t nobody feeling no pain.”)
We sing as if these words
hold the only hope around
and the song itself is what
sheds light off mirror glass.
In the basement of the Louvre,
Miriam’s tiny finger pointed
at the sculpture of a man
with the head of a falcon,
another with the lithe,
muscled body of a lion.
On a morning when a fan
who stood in a crowd behind ropes
was struck by lightning at the eleventh green
during the U. S. Open in Chaska, Minnesota,
Miriam and I were often
the only two in that basement.
She was awed. I was awed.
Our mouths dropped agape.
No doubt the troops were awed
as Napoleon plundered Egypt
for the glory that is France.
As we made our way back up,
Miriam’s shoelace caught
in the escalator’s jaws.
I felt a sudden tug. Instinctively
I ripped her up into my arms.
That engine could have
shredded her foot
with only a shudder.
We stood to the side.
Crowds filed by blank faced,
as if fate and history
can be held at arm’s length,
are things printed in guidebooks.
M. A. Schaffner
FOOLS IN OLD STYLE HATS AND COATS
November 3, 2020
“Greatest Generation” makes me think
of year long minutes crouching under desks,
head in hand like their prisoner,
like children now in active shooter drills.
The nukes still linger, waiting
for a simple cue to take the center stage.
The guns still spread like dragons’ teeth
sprouting psychopaths to snarl on the news.
You get one big shot each age to save the kids
by taking the bullies’ toys away —
to save yourself from looking in the mirror
at the blown-out wall behind you
and thinking how you crouched and turned away
when you might have saved the world with a vote.
FLEW RIGHT PAST THEN CIRCLED
November 30, 2020
The house fell last decade, not last year.
The song that sounded new, an artifact
of the previous century.
Ladies and Gentlemen we are now approaching
the Forever Zone,
where all is as it always was
and will be forever.
Except for my limbs, which spring so readily,
but now just in sleep and it’s there
I see her again as we always were,
only to wake to arduous labors:
dogs to be let out, coffee to make.
No trick can evade
the shadow dimming behind me.
But last summer is still last summer.
Long walks acquire a meaning
eclipsing decades of work and striving.
Weary and abraded I still await her
each day the way a puppy greets the world.
ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
Daily we chat online, interisland/internationally,
this Asian side of the Pacific as the language
of the powerful empires must be taught.
But my First World student doesn’t need me;
she holds two master’s degrees:
one from an Aussie university,
the other one’s from the UK.
And I’m a mere college dropout
(albeit of my developing country’s
la primera universidad).
I guess she’s just using me for practice,
as verbal training partner.
But I have long submitted
to her linguistic superiority.
So earlier, my feedback to her:
“English blooms from your mouth
as cherry blossoms burst forth
WHO IS KLAUS SCHWAB AND WHY IS HE SAYING
ALL THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS ABOUT ME?
Even his name sounds slurred
upon utterance, drunken snake,
wind rubbing the edge of
a sandstone ledge, everything round
and hollow. He might be the devil,
prophet of doom preparing us for
the devil’s work, miraculous meltdown of
mankind into a mush of nonsense.
He might be our savior, far-seeing
and benevolent, an illumined being
leading us to the promise land.
From his invisible command center in Switzerland,
he predicts our future as he sees it.
More war and economic ruin, collapsing
foundational structures. He has a plan
to Build Back Better with The Great Reset.
It begins with the Fourth Industrial Revolution
and ends with a world of robot rulers.
He might be the smartest man in the room.
He might be the answer I’ve needed
to a question I’ve never asked
about a world that deserves us less and less.
I don’t mind the mindless violence
of cartoons, the falling-off-the-cliff variety,
fizzling fuses of exploding red bombs,
every time a mouse kills the cat
by turning the tables on the ratfink
jokester, hoisting up his bloody head.
Death is never the final punchline
in comedy as Wile E. Coyote taught us,
bouncing back from the Greyhound bus
accident, his body splayed across the grill,
surviving a dozen deaths each episode
because of hairbrained schemes that backfire,
as when Elmer Fudd went a-hunting
and only bagged himself, the shotgun
barrel tied in a bow. Life is no joke.
It gives worse than it receives, and while we
kill ourselves so that we may survive,
someone is painting a cave on the side
of a mountain, planning our next crash.
WHAT THE SCAN DOESN’T SHOW
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.
John Prine, “Angel from Montgomery”
The CT scan rewrites the story of her broken
shoulder. A heart attack knocked her off
the couch, her fractured scapula
collateral damage, a second
layer of dominoes
It doesn’t expose her motives, why she had
her teeth removed, refused the plan
for implants, hides away in her
cluttered den, cancels lawn
It doesn’t show the conflicts she imagines, frets over—
her rituals of checking, reassurance: investments,
accounts, the weather in Jackson, Birmingham,
Asheville (the cities where her children
live), websites of their employment.
She prefers to browse, not
to be family.
She ignores the piles of unopened mail,
turns away her sons, their appeals
and questions, starts another
round of solitaire.
A scan cannot pinpoint why she strains so
hard to protect herself, her story—
a life she gave up on
SO MANY LIGHTS
I never knew there
were so many lights
in our kitchen
there is an oven light
to see whatever’s being warmed up
and an overhead light
attached to the microwave
but actually lighting
what I’m frying on the stove
I am now the cook
she never had to show me these
and there is another over the sink
a pleasant source of illumination
with a softness
that could coax a spirit
back from where
it’s been called to
I turn it on around four
in honor of all the meals I ate
never knowing what it took
to cook them
and there is another one
outside on the patio
saffron colored and beacon-like
in what otherwise is gloom
it was hooked up to a motion sensor
but nothing stirs out there
I had an electrician change it
it comes on when I want it to
which is every afternoon
about the time
she started dinner
Flush among peonies
with your sleep-too-little,
canny, soft, and drowsy,
I came upon you on
my morning walk
and sat beside you
on the green bench.
We’re both wed,
but the air was fragrant
and so still this empty dawn
that I kissed you
All speech grows ill
when I sit down
And you won’t let it heal.
What the fuck is up with that?
Down I sit; up you pop.
You exhaust me as I try
finally to exhaust you.
My trapped readers
(numbering in the tens!)
must be very tired of it.
I know I am.
the time you sat
and missed the kitchen chair.
Get thee behind me!
the time you shyly
asked me to show you
how to use the bathroom.
Begone! your high cries
when I’d come to visit the Home.
Fly! for Crissakes, André
finding you on the floor
of your room, stained and forgotten.
Every time I sit down to write,
the first line is “My poor baby.”
Give me a time out.
Let me write about Queen Anne’s Lace
or some such horseshit.
Mary Ellen Talley
After I called
to wish you
the roof rats
to sneak out of the attic.
You told me
in your birthday rambling
that our father ate a mouse
when you were five.
He held a dead mouse,
his hand rose,
and you ran
still believing to this day
because you believed then.
Days later now,
my husband carved
a hole in the wall,
trapped two rats
that had traipsed tree to tree
and found a weak spot
in our roofline.
He was on his way
to drop the bag of rigid rodents
in the trash
when I called you in Arizona.
behind the heat vent
has terminated … but you caution me
that baby rats
you are certain.
SONNET FOR A TATTOO ARTIST
Get thee on thy retro Harley, I pray
thee glide miles and miles despite the jarring
roads, the fearsome westward end of day
when sun heads low where you’ll be merging –
deer crossing roads at dusk and if I dare
announce my worry asking you to text
and briefly let us know your current where
while we wait as parents bred to listen
for triple-trill sparrow song come morning,
lawn mowers, leaf blowers, drivers scurry
and scores of noisy neighbor kids playing
away hours, we feign away our worry
soon hearing the rev under sun blue sky.
Our son is not a sonnet kind of guy.
OATMEAL FOR SUPPER OR: GONE FOR GOOD
1953 to 2016
Tonight home to a
late supper of oatmeal
and apple slices at the end
of a twelve-hour day with still
work to do and suddenly
you are there in my
thoughts and the same familiar
rage–how could you leave us
like that?– but it wasn’t your
fault, it wasn’t suicide. You
just slipped away in your
sleep. You were never well and
something in you just gave
out. Our days are numbered,
we are told but who ever
really thinks about it? Now
I remember our forty years
of friendship. Listening to
such a volume David had to
leave the room. Drinking
so much I hardly knew
who or where I was. The time
you misdirected us leaving
the restaurant and we drove
to the airport and back before
we finally figured out how
to find your neighborhood.
Evenings in restaurants when
you were so obscene neighboring
diners left their meals and walked out.
The time you broke a glass
by bringing it sharply to the table
to make a point. Why do I
now remember all this with
such affection? Why this
endless blind love for you?
I could tell you things I
told no one else. Secrets that
burned my throat in the
telling. You listened, smiled,
said, “Mmm, and then?”
At the end, you
died at home, in a safe place, not
as you had feared, in a
flop house where someone could
and would steal your boots. In 1979
we thought we had it made:
a literary conference with
Tom Congdon, the editor who
discovered Robert Benchley
and the novel Jaws. We
made bets who would be first
on his new list for the next
year. We were sure we would be
literary lights and you
were in your particular sphere.
Well-known of many
authors, widely published,
and your work anthologized.
And I have gone on to become —
What exactly, have I
become? A teacher at a high
school, a traveler, a mom,
a widow, a person who eats
oatmeal for supper after
a twelve-hour day and scribbles
with pencil on paper
trying and failing to outrun her
tears. Vale, old friend,
a salute to you wherever
and however you remain–
a thought in my mind–
an answer to a question
I did not know I had–
a magic that is gone–
gone for good.
W. Joey Thornton
LETTER FROM OCTOBER 2002
I hope this letter finds you well. Mouth agape, you speak without lips. The river crashes against
concrete overpass railed edge. The young men, drunk with brilliance and stupidity, stand at your
mouth and laugh. Laugh at the water lapping against their ankles. Laugh at your ripe, rotting
corpse cache deep, deep in the pond downstream. Downstream with the rolling golden carp. The
young men’s laughter barks against the alder trees. The trees drop black berries and golden
leaves, making the ground slick and scaly.
Your mother calls, dear sweet brother. She wishes to hold you within her belly again. Your meat
and bile. The young men turn to walk home, uphill toward the burlap hillsides. You do not
follow. Mouth still agape, hungry for laughter.
On Antonio Ligabue’s Self Portrait with a Fly
The fly has been there as long as I can remember. For better or worse. He ticks and bites my cheek.
Drinks the water from the corner of my eye, his snout poking and popping. Sometimes I wish he’d
find somewhere else to go. I ask, “Dear brother fly, would you go off into the green fluttering
fields and find a calf, twisting and tightening?” I ask him, “Find a calf that has failed to dance with
their brothers and sisters. A calf that failed to thrive and sing. A brown or white or black calf
baking in the sun and soil. Its skin turning to supple leather and flattening against the cold earth.
A calf. brother fly, the perfect spot to raise your crawling, beautiful milky-white, wriggling
children. Brother fly, would you leave me to give this calf’s flesh the opportunity to birth your
children? Turn their failed flesh to life?” But somehow he chose me, this fly. What did I do to
deserve this constant companion? I pray at church that he will leave me some day, but he prays
too, scratching his front legs together in an Our Father or Hail Mary. Our faith in God the Father
grows with each and every tiny bite and Psalm. Oh my tiny, pious friend, will you leave me and
find happiness elsewhere? Have children and swarm the farmer’s golden fields of wheat and soft
green clover? Will you miss me?
(after Propertius I.4)
Give it up, Klaus, I won’t do it. Another string to
my bow? No thank you! And not just because
your metaphor is ancient and annoying. (Tell me:
violin or hunting? Which bowstring was
it you were thinking of? I know you don’t have a clue.)
There’s lots of scrumptious beauties in the Six–
true enough–Swedish or Chinese or…Zimbabwean,
or some Toronto-only EA mix.
So what? I dream of none of them. My Cynthia’s got
them all beat like she was Gretzky. There’s none
so good-looking, none half as smart, and, once in bed, if
the truth be told, there’s not a one as fun.
She rules. It’s no use, Klaus, for you to babble on of
Babylon. Give me no Ishtar, no She,
all your mythological foxes, no Guineveres,
and no, not even Hermione G.
Give me my real sinful Cynthia. And, Klaus, you need
to stop this scheming. Cynth will so get word,
she will so tell all her girlfriends they should shun you, and
if she proscribes you, you’ll never get hard
again. Luscious barista girls chanteusing weeknights,
marketing reps with condos on the lake,
and strippers shopping at Seduction, they will all do
just what she says. For her offended sake
they’ll see you’re living lonely. So don’t do it, dude, don’t
go there, that’s social doomsville. I would hate
to see you, panting and restless, your balls swollen with
unspent seed and you moaning for a date.
(after Propertius IV.7)
Time for a ghost story. Death is not the end–I know.
I saw my Cynth, all shimmery, her brown
bangs bloodied a fiery Irish red from when she went
through the windshield of Jimmy’s Ford. That clown.
He should have been the one to die, not her. I get it:
Toronto’s not much fun just now, grey snow,
Covid, lockdowns. She thought she’d get away, but figured
I would rage with jealousy and say no.
So when I said, “Go, his family’s had that cabin since
the Twenties, planed planks, stone floors, a lake they
own themselves,” she had no excuse, though I know she finds
Jimmy a bore. But all that winter play,
skiing and skating and s’mores, so sparkly and white, it’s
not for me. And anyway, I trust her.
But now her ghost floats by my bed, j’accusing, “If you’d
just still been jealous, just still felt the fire
for me, I’d be alive.” “Me? It’s my fault? You should have
stopped him drinking, or stayed out of that car,
or worn your seatbelt!” You get nowhere chastising ghosts,
but then that’s just the way our squabbles are:
we fight to win. “You shouldn’t have let me go. And now
you’re sleeping peacefully, forgetting those
fevered nights tangling up my satin sheets, even–I
see right through you–dreaming of some girl who’s
red-haired and bare-kneed in her skates and pleated skater
dress.” What can I say? She wins again. Death
really is x-ray specs. Seeing her bloodied hair, I
fantasized fucking Cynth as a redhead.
FROM “THE SECOND BOOK OF JOB”
On his 4 by 4 porch sat Job the Third,
counting up all those things he had not lost.
Losing his sobriety. It occurred
to him, he was gaining his buzz, a cost
he could pay. He had a roof. For now, it was the night
sky, which sang its blues like John Lee Hooker.
Or, no. That really was John Lee Hooker,
from speakers inside. He had music, sight,
hearing, touch, smell – definitely still smelled –
and he felt, as if suddenly compelled,
to thank God for his senses and his eyes
at the sight of these cerulean skies
and his neighbor – her thighs – and the decree:
words he could read, and whose words set him free.
David L. Williams
AN UNUSUALLY BAD BUSINESS
(in the age of mechanical reproduction)
My dad’s first business, way downtown, evolved
too fast. The back rooms piled with wooden blocks,
used to engrave, soon gave way to the Xerox
which, much as clocks kept track of time, soon solved
the problem of quick copies and revolved
unendingly around them, as did dad
for many years, until he finally had
run himself ragged. He was so involved
with work, at times back then I’d roam outside
some alleys, drunkards, and the shop next door
also with new machine, its owner’s pride,
until it sliced his hand off for an encore.
My nightmares grew from when it splotched the floor,
a screaming ambulance, and reams of gore.
Sul ponticello — Italian term that instructs the player
to bow near the bridge of the instrument producing
a strange, glassy sound. -inmusica.fr
Back when we drank like breaching
the sound barrier, we walked six blocks
through sideways rain, wedged ourselves
into the Irish bar on Hawthorne. The kids
were accounted for. If we were lucky,
morning would never come. Right about
the time I began to panic about how
we might never get another drink, the band
returned from break, violin unzipping the room.
The singer twisted the microphone stand
while you leaned in close to yell something
about your father’s fiddle, a probably fable
I’d never heard before, but the music
swallowed your story—everyone up—tables,
chairs—roiling. The throng closest to the bar
vibrated with regret, but they could not leave the line.
And then there was air; I was back in my chair,
posturing with an unlit Marlboro Light, owning it
like a smoker, like an actress, laughing at nothing
while you regaled the couple at the next table
with the story of your father’s fiddle, and I wondered
if the queue might be shorter at the men’s room.
Today I researched the band online, clicked
the only title I recall. Strings shimmered
like an almost remembered name. Was that
all it was? Just that? I remember it differently,
Saturday night ripped open at the seams,
plate glass window pulsing, in/out,
wishing it could shatter, rupture the moment
in undisciplined notes, let them pool
sticky and slick on the concrete floor.
Salt, tequila, lemon. Laugh.
You were seventeen, I was thirteen,
the baby must have been asleep.
I was just learning, salt, tequila, lemon.
Everything spinning, the turntable,
the laughing faces, the room. You were a
planet orbiting a dead star.
I was faking it.
You hurtled into the universe.
a cat’s eye swirl of amber and orange
not to be outshone. You dangled
place to place, low-slung jeans,
nut-brown skin. I was just a girl
with regular breasts. You enthralled
everyone, tall and hard, cigarette
between your fingers, a plan
on your lips.
You were ten, I was six. Our grandfather’s
second wife hated you, but
finally outside, you swept me
onto your back, galloped
through boysenberry rows neighing
as I laughed, our faces windblown,
our tongues forbidden red.
At fifteen you stepped into a car,
fell into the arms of adulthood,
of a man, a child, a botched
surgery, a regimen of prescriptions.
Your marrow, already steeped
in dreams you would never achieve,
hardened, recalcified into a path
I couldn’t take.
But on this long-ago night, we laugh
and drink as McCartney sings
for the rabbits on the run
and we do not imagine
that decades later when rehab
is finally off the table
you will bring malt liquor and marijuana,
and I will refuse to go.
Let’s sit here and watch the spider plants
grow, let the records spin. When the lemons
are gone, we’ll drink tequila straight.
I’ll try to keep up, and you’ll laugh at me
through those beautiful teeth.
My face flushed
when you swung into the lot
to pick me up from school.
Maybe it was the
cracked windshield or your
faded Mumu, maybe the stream
of smoke that trailed behind
your hand. The old Caddy
lurched to a stop, dieseled,
and I slipped quick
into the backseat.
Guilt swept through me
like a warm trickle
down my leg.
Memories swirl shiny
and smooth in my mouth, orbs
that crowd my cheeks, click
against my teeth. But yesterday
this one seared my tongue. I tried
to work it to the front, spit it out
be clean, but my lips were sealed
and couldn’t be undone.
LIFE IN ENTROPY
The scream of sirens
a little louder than the shouts
in her head as her son is hauled off.
He’s gone but she has the last
of their food stamps,
their broken lock, torn screens.
This week she got a job moving clothes
others leave in the wrong spot,
finds the proper place
for each blouse, sweater, pair of pants
then returns home, waits for chaos,
his unending gift to her.
Susan J. Wurtzburg
Alone together we walk
for a life-long talk.
Wonders if I appreciate
light as she does.
Pulls me near,
grateful I see.
Huddles close at midday,
shyly hides underfoot.
Brave expansion, afternoon
low sun, a lengthy stretch.
returns with the moon.
in the silver glow.
Lunar departure, and
I am abandoned again.
“Cento for Clairvoyance” borrows lines from 23 source poems. The words, word order, italicizations, and punctuation of each line are identical to those in the source poem. Capitalization may have been altered. In the list below, the first numeral refers to the stanza; the second numeral refers to the line within the stanza.
1.1 Sachiko Murakami, “Still, Here,” Render (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020).
1.2 Jaclyn Desforges, “A Process of Maturation,” Danger Flower (Palimpsest Press, 2021). 1.3 Sonnet L’Abbé, “Nomads,” A Strange Relief (McClelland & Stewart, 2001).
1.4 Jessi MacEachern, “Notes on Moving,” A Number of Stunning Attacks (Invisible Publishing, 2021).
2.1 Canisia Lubrin, “Act VI: Ain’t I a Madness?” The Dyzgraphxst (McClelland & Stewart, 2020).
2.2 Shira Erlichman, “Needle,” Odes to Lithium (Alice James Books, 2019).
2.3 Robert Lowell, “Those Before Us,” For the Union Dead (1956).
3.3 Lisa Robertson, “Cinema of the Present,” Cinema of the Present (Coach House Books, 2014).
4.1 Liz Howard, “Brain Mapping,” Letters in a Bruised Cosmos (McClelland & Stewart, 2021).
4.2 Susan J. Atkinson, “Her Sunlight,” The Marta Poems (Silver Bow Publishing, 2020).
4.3 Micheal Mirolla, “On the Acceptance of Death After Life,” Light and Time (Guernica Editions, 2010).
4.4 Elee Kraljii Gardiner, “Tunica Intima,” Trauma Head (Anvil Press, 2018).
5.1 Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. by Edward Snow, “The Second Elegy,” Duino Elegies (North Point Press, 2000).
5.2 Brecken Hancock, “Woman, Wolf,” Broom Broom (Coach House Books, 2014).
6.1 Roxanna Bennett, “Curse of the Hyacinth, Unmeaningable (Gordon Hill Press, 2019).
7.1 Doyali Islam, “33rd Parallel,” heft (McClelland & Stewart, 2019).
7.2 Christine McNair, “the problem of orchids,” Charm (Book*hug, 2017).
7.3 Nancy Lee, “Alphas,” What Hurts Going Down (McClelland & Stewart, 2020).
8.1 Frances Boyle, “handle with care,” This White Nest (Quattro Books, 2019).
8.2 Amber Dawn, “touch ≠ touch screen,” My Art Is Killing Me (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020).
8.3 Caroline Szpak, “Allostatic Load,” Slinky Naïve (Anvil Press, 2018).
9.1 Paul Lisson, “Awaiting the arrival of the butcher,” The Perfect Archive (Guernica Editions, 2019).
9.2 Elana Wolff, “Cord,” Everything Reminds You of Something Else (Guernica Editions, 2017).
Back to the poems
J.S. Absher (www.js-absher-poetry.com) is a poet and independent scholar. His full-length book of poetry, “Mouth Work” (St. Andrews University Press) won the 2015 Shull Competition of the NC Poetry Society. “Skating Rough Ground,” will appear in 2022. Chapbooks are “Night Weather” (Cynosura, 2010) and “The Burial of Anyce Shepherd” (Main Street Rag, 2006). Absher is preparing three books focusing on North Carolina and Southern US history. He lives in Raleigh, with his wife, Patti.
Jon Bennett writes and plays music in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. You can find more of his work on most music streaming websites and on his website.
Mike W. Blottenberger lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania and his poetry has appeared in Baltimore Review, Gulf Coast Review, Mid-American Review, The Pennsylvania Review, and The William & Mary Review. He works for a non-profit organization and teaches poetry in the schools.
Ronda Piszk Broatch is the author of Lake of Fallen Constellations, (MoonPath Press). Ronda’s current manuscript was a finalist with the Charles B. Wheeler Prize and Four Way Books Levis Prize, and she is the recipient of an Artist Trust GAP Grant. Ronda’s journal publications include Fugue, Blackbird, 2River, Sycamore Review, Missouri Review, Palette Poetry, and Public Radio KUOW’s All Things Considered.
Ingrid Bruck lives in Pennsylvania Amish country, a landscape that inhabits her poetry. A retired library director, she writes short forms and poetry. She writes a monthly column, “Pearl Diving,” featuring online writer resources for Between These Shores Books, and serves on the BTSA editorial team. Some current work appears in Failed Haiku, Heron’s Nest and Verse-Virtual. Poetry website: www.ingridbruck.com>
Nicole Callräm is a nomadic bureaucrat and disciple of existence in all her life-affirming and confusing manifestations. She adores rideshare bikes, red wine, and Osmanthus flowers (preferably a mix of the three…all at once). Nicole has been published in A Shanghai Poetry Zine, Nude Studio, Kissing Dynamite, and is a RAR alumnae. You can find her on Twitter at @YiminNicole.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of four books, including The Mercy of Traffic, winner of the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Award and five chapbooks. Her work appears on line and in print and this spring Doubleback Books reprinted her 2008 book, Discount Fireworks as a free download For more information, her website is www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com; follow her @wtcarlisle
Michael J. Carter is a poet and clinical social worker. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, he holds an MFA from Vermont College and an MSW from Smith. Poems of his have appeared in such journals as Boulevard, Ploughshares, MomEgg Review, Western Humanities Review, among many others. He lives with his two hounds and spends his time swimming and knitting.
Shannon Clem is an elusive creature rumored to reside with their progeny somewhere in California. In addition to reading and writing poetry, they exist to experience their love of music, Netflix, and dreaming.
David Colodney is the author of the chapbook, Mimeograph. His poetry has appeared or will appear in journals including South Carolina Review, Panoply, and St. Petersburg Review. He holds an MFA from Converse College and serves as an associate editor of South Florida Poetry Journal. David lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.
Luigi Coppola is a teacher, poet, first generation immigrant and avid rum and coke drinker. Bridport Prize shortlisted, Ledbury and National Competition longlisted, Poetry Archive Worldview winner’s list, publications include Worple Press’ anthology ‘The Tree Line’, Acumen, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Iota, Magma, Rattle and Rialto.
Susan Cossette lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Author of Peggy Sue Messed Up, she is a recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust and Moth, Vita Brevis, ONE ART, As it Ought to Be, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Amethyst Review, Crow & Cross Keys, Loch Raven Review, and in the anthologies Tuesdays at Curley’s and After the Equinox.
Joe Cottonwood can’t help it. He’s drawn to mountains and a more hardscrabble way of life. He grew up in Maryland at the foot of Appalachian ridges, spent summers in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Now he lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California among turkeys and redwoods and the occasional lion.
Prize-winning poet* Ken Cumberlidge cut his performance teeth on the Liverpool pub poetry scene of the 1970s, and has never recovered. He’s now based in Norwich, but can be lured out of cover by the promise of good company and an open mic slot. If you’ve been to an open-mic on Zoom in the last year or so, there’s a sporting chance you’ve encountered him. Ken writes about love, sex, nature, loss, personal identity and queerness, with an occasional foray into the eerie and macabre. Poke him with a sharp enough stick and he may even wake up long enough to get shouty about politics. More of Ken’s work can be found via his Linktree at linktr.ee/kencumberlidge. (* the prize was a chocolate cake. He guessed its weight.)
Craig Dobson has had poems published in Acumen, Agenda, Antiphon, Bandit Fiction, Butcher’s Dog, Crannóg, The Dark Horse, The Frogmore Papers, Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House, Lighten Up Online, The Literary Hatchet, The London Magazine, Magma, Neon, New Welsh Review, The North, Orbis, Pennine Platform, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Prole, Rat’s Ass Review, The Rialto, Stand, Southword, THINK, Under The Radar and Vita Brevis.
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, Rats Ass Review, Prole, Sentinel Lit. Quarterly and Stand. He lives in Totnes, Devon, U.K. quite close to the river Dart. His debut collection, The Taste of Glass, is recently published by Cinnamon Press.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Mist in Their Eyes (2021). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals. williamdoreski.blogspot.com.
Victoria Dym is a graduate of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College with a degree in Humility, a Bachelor of Arts, in Philosophy, from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Masters of Fine Arts, Creative Writing-Poetry from Carlow University. Her two poetry chapbooks, Class Clown, and When the Walls Cave In were published by Finishing Line Press in 2015 and 2018. Victoria is the co-founder of The Metanoia Retreat for Writers.
Alicia Elkort has been nominated thrice for the Pushcart, twice for Best of the Net and once for the Orisons Anthology. Her first book of poetry will be published in 2022 by Stillhouse Press. She was the finalist in the 2019 Two Sylvias Press Book Prize and has been published in numerous journals and anthologies. She lives in Santa Fe, NM. For more info or to watch her two video poems: aliciaelkort.mystrikingly.com.
Michael Estabrook has been publishing his poetry in the small press since the 1980s. He has published over 20 collections, a recent one being The Poet’s Curse, A Miscellany (The Poetry Box, 2019). Retired now writing more poems and working more outside, he just noticed two Cooper’s hawks staked out in the yard or rather above it which explains the nerve-wracked chipmunks. He lives in Acton, Massachusetts.
Richard Carl Evans was born in Los Angeles, CA in the year 1957. A high school graduate and lover of the arts, he began writing verse around 1996. The book Writing the Natural Way by Gabriel Lusser-Rico introduced him to the world of creative writing and poetics.
A retired special education teacher, Vern Fein has published over two hundred poems on over eighty sites, a few being: *82 Review, Bindweed Magazine, Gyroscope Review, Courtship of Winds, Young Raven’s Review, Poesis, Monterey Poetry Review, and Rat’s Ass Review. Recently his first book of poems–I WAS YOUNG AND THOUGHT IT WOULD CHANGE–was released by Cyberwit Press.
Dan Flore III’s poems have appeared in many publications. His fifth chapbook, Written in the Dust on the Ceiling Fan, was published by Dead Man’s Press Ink and is available on Amazon.
George Freek‘s poetry has recently appeared in “The Stockholm Review of Literature”; “Ink, Sweat and Tears”; “Miller’s Pond”; and “Gray Sparrow.”
Steven Fregeau grew up the first half of his life northwest of Chicago; the second half he has lived in Ohio. His vices (drawing, painting, writing, reading, scream therapy) are solitary; still he’s been published in RAR, Burningwood, Disquiet Arts, Poetry Quarterly and some others over the years.
Gerald Friedman grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Española, New Mexico, and teaches physics in Santa Fe. His poems have appeared in various journals, including Entropy, The Daily Drunk, Better Than Starbucks and As It Ought To Be. You can read more of his work at jerryfriedman.wixsite.com/my-site-2.
Mac Gay‘s latest book of poems is OUR FATHERLESSNESS, out this past June from The Orchard Street Press, Ltd. His GHOST HUNT, runner-up for Eyewear Publishing’s 2017 Beverly Prize will be out in 2022. His poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and Main Street Rag. He teaches English at Perimeter College of Georgia State University.
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, SLANT, The Daily Drunk, Rat’s Ass Review and elsewhere.
Rebecca Gomez is a Philadelphia area writer. Her short stories and poems have appeared in journals such as The Drabblecast, Sledgehammer Lit, The Orchards Poetry Journal, and Trouvaille Review among others. She is also the playwright of The Clinic, a short play that premiered in the 2019 Philadelphia Fringe Festival with Lone Brick Theatre Company.
William A. Greenfield‘s poems have appeared in dozens of journals, including The Westchester Review, Carve Magazine, The American Journal of Poetry and others. His chapbook, “Momma’s Boy Gone Bad,” was published in 2016 (Finishing Line Press). His chapbook, “I Should have Asked the Blind Girl to Dance,” was published in 2019 (Flutter Press). His full length collection, “The Circadian Fallacy,” was published in 2020 (Kelsay Books). He lives in Liberty, New York with his wife, son, and a dog, always a dog.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.
Angi Holden is a retired lecturer, whose published work includes poetry, short stories & flash fictions. She won the Victoria Baths Splash Fiction competition, and the Mother’s Milk Poetry Prize for her pamphlet Spools of Thread. Her short story Preserving History was selected for Open Book New Writing 2021.
Richard Holinger‘s books include Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences, humorous essays about surviving life in suburbia, and North of Crivitz, poetry focusing on the rural Upper Midwest. His prose and poetry have appeared in The Southern Review, Witness, Boulevard, and have garnered four Pushcart Prize nominations. Degrees include a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from UIC. Holinger lives west of Chicago in what’s considered country.
Judith O’Connell Hoyer‘s 2017 chapbook “Bits and Pieces Set Aside” was nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award by the publisher of Finishing Line Press. Her book “Imagine That” is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press in March 2023. Her poems can be found in publications that include CALYX, Cider Press Review, Southwest Review, The Moth Magazine (Ireland), The New York Times Metropolitan Diary, and The Worcester Review among others. She splits her time between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, USA.
Kyle Hunter‘s poems have appeared in Main Street Rag, Rockvale Review, So It Goes, Gravel, and elsewhere. His work in Flying Island was recently nominated for the Best of Net Anthology. When not writing or wrangling his five kids, he practices law and dreams about making good use of his BFA in oil painting.
Tyler Hurula (she/her) is a poet based in Denver, Colorado. She is queer, polyamorous, and is cat mom to two fur babies and a plethora of plants. Her poems have been published previously in Anti-Heroin Chic and Aurum Journal. Her poems feature love, polyamory, family, and being queer. Her top three values are connection, authenticity, and vulnerability; she tries to encompass these values in her writing as well as everyday life.
Nate Jacob, one of Idaho’s least well-known poets, continues to write poetry on the regular instead of folding laundry, registering the car, or even getting a much needed haircut. His children have at last given their approval, as has his wife, for his writing, which is all he ever needed. You can find his published poems online at verse-virtual.org and in the winter 2021 issue of Rat’s Ass Review, and in the upcoming Spring 2022 online edition of Streetlight Magazine.
Jim Kangas is a retired academic librarian and musician living in Flint, Michigan. His work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Main Street Rag, The New York Quarterly, and West Branch, et al. His chapbook, Breath of Eden, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in the fall of 2019.
Derek Kannemeyer‘s recent works include a poetry chapbook contest winner (Blue Nib, 2018); the five act “Play of Gilgamesh” (Silver Birchington Plays, 2019); a poetry collection, “Mutt Spirituals” (San Francisco Bay Press, 2021); and a photography/non-fiction tome “Unsay Their Names” (2021), about the fall from grace of Richmond’s Lost Cause statuary. Photographs taken for “Unsay Their Names” were the fall 2021 gallery show at Richmond’s Black History Museum.
Jerry Krajnak is a Vietnam veteran who is retired in the North Carolina mountains after forty-plus years of teaching. Recent poems have been published in Plants and Poetry, Novus, Rat’s Ass Review, Sublunary Review, and in the Flee to Spring anthology.
Margo LaPierre is a queer, bipolar Canadian freelance editor and author of Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes (Guernica Editions, 2017). She is newsletter editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, membership chair of Editors Ottawa-Gatineau, and member of poetry collective VII. She won the 2020 subTerrain Lush Triumphant Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the 2021 Fiddlehead Creative Nonfiction Contest. Her work has been published in the /temz/ Review, Room Magazine, Arc Poetry Magazine, filling Station, CAROUSEL, PRISM International, carte blanche and others. She is completing her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. Find her on Twitter @margolapierre.
Tracey A. Lightsey is from the mountains of Western Colorado, where he lives, teaches, farms, and practices massage therapy. He studied at the University of Northern Colorado with James Doyle and with Aaron Abeyta at Western Colorado University. His work has appeared in Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Sky Island Journal, and Sage Green Journal.
Diane Louie‘s book of prose poems, Fractal Shores, a winner of the National Poetry Series, was awarded the 2021 John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize, and the 2021 Eric Hoffer Award for Poetry. She lives in Paris, France, with her partner, a research scientist.
Bob MacKenzie grew up in a photo studio in mid-century rural Alberta with artist parents. His poetry has appeared in more than 400 journals across North America and as far away as Australia, Greece, India and Italy. Bob’s published sixteen volumes of poetry and prose-fiction and his work’s appeared in numerous anthologies. With the ensemble Poem de Terre, his poetry has been spoken and sung live with original music and the group’s released six albums.
Richard L. Matta grew up in New York’s rustic Hudson Valley, attended Notre Dame, practiced forensic science, and now lives in San Diego with his golden-doodle dog. Some of his work is found in Ancient Paths, Dewdrop, New Verse News, Gyroscope, and Healing Muse.
Joan Mazza worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and taught workshops on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self, and her poetry has appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Italian Americana, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia.
Brian McAllister is Professor of English at Albany State University. His greatest joy is his students. He lives with his wife, a cat, some dogs, and a horse in rural Georgia.
Thomas M. McDade is a 76-year-old resident of Fredericksburg, VA, previously CT, & RI. He is a graduate of Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT. McDade is twice a U.S. Navy Veteran serving ashore at the Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center, Virginia Beach, VA and at sea aboard the USS Mullinnix (DD-944) and USS Miller (DE / FF-1091).
Jason Melvin is a father, husband, grandfather, high school soccer coach, and metals processing center supervisor, who lives just north of Pittsburgh. His work has recently appeared in A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Roi Faineant and others. He was nominated for Pushcarts by Outcast and Bullshit Lit. He was named second runner up for the Heartwood Poetry Prize 2021. He can be found on Twitter @jason5melvin and on his website at jasonmelvinwords.weebly.com.
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, MONO., the New Verse News, Oddball Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, the Satirist, the Washington Post and WestWard Quarterly.
Lisa Molina is a writer in Austin, Texas. Her digital chapbook “Don’t Fall in Love with Sisyphus,” launched in February 2022, published by Fahmidan Publishing & Co. Molina’s next print chapbook will begin preorders in November’22. She was recently named a finalist in the “50 Shades of Blue-Flash Fiction Contest,” by The Ekphrastic Review. Read her words in Beyond Words Magazine, Sparked Literary Magazine, Epoch Press, and Neologism Poetry Journal. Visit Lisa at: Instagram, Twitter, lisalitgeek.wordpress.com
John David Muth is from the central New Jersey area. For over twenty years, he has been an academic advisor, working for Rutgers University. His latest book, Misanthropes Rarely Procreate (Kelsay Books), was published last year and can be found on Amazon.com.
James B. Nicola, a returning contributor, is the author of six collections of poetry, the latest being Fires of Heaven: Poems of Faith and Sense. His decades of working in the theater culminated in the nonfiction book Playing the Audience: The Practical Guide to Live Performance, which won a Choice award.
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet whose work has appeared widely in Britain and the USA. He won the Prole Pamphlet Competition in 2017 with Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes. In the USA he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize four times in the last three years.
Al Ortolani is the Manuscript Editor for Woodley Press in Topeka, Kansas, and has directed a memoir writing project for Vietnam veterans across Kansas in association with the Library of Congress and Humanities Kansas. He is a 2019 recipient of the Rattle Chapbook Series Award. After 43 years of teaching English in public schools, he currently lives a life without bells and fire drills in the Kansas City area.
Robert Perchan‘s latest book is Last Notes from a Split Peninsula: Poems and Prose Poems (UnCollected Press, 2021) – a steal at 130 pages for fifteen bucks. He eats and drinks in Busan, South Korea. Find him at robertperchan.com.
Adrienne Pilon is a teacher, writer and editor. She’s on the editorial teams at a couple of small lit mags and she’s published here and there, most recently at Eclectica, The Dirty Spoon, Vita Brevis, and elsewhere.
Kenneth Pobo is the author of twenty-one chapbooks and nine full-length collections. Recent books include Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), Loplop in a Red City (Circling Rivers), and Lilac And Sawdust (Meadowlark Press). His work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Nimrod, Mudfish, Hawaii Review, and elsewhere.
Ken Poyner, after years of impersonating a Systems Engineer, has retired to watch his wife continue to break national and world raw powerlifting records. They travel extensively between sites of powerlifting or literary interest. Ken’s four current poetry and four short fiction collections are available from Amazon and just about everywhere else. kpoyner.com
Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry worldwide in Shi Chao Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, The Pedestal, Journal of Italian Translation, Acumen and other journals. Her seventh and most recent book of poetry is EDGES.
Bradley Riddle currently resides in Shanghai, China, where he teaches secondary English at Shanghai American School. Brady has been recognized in various journals around the world since 2002 and featured poet and presenter at writers’ conferences and poetry festivals from Houston, Texas to Muscat, Oman to Beijing, China. Most recently, Brady’s work can be found in A Shanghai Poetry Zine and Alluvium in Shanghai, China; Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine in Hong Kong; and Prospectus: A Literary Offering in the US.
Randall Rogers is a writer from the US Midwest. He is dedicated to reading, writing, and watching TV. He attempts to co-edit the poetry publication The Beatnik Cowboy, an online weekly and triannual hard copy poetry publication offering fresh, unpretentious views of life. Conspicuous consumption of the curious. Ripley’s like in its presentation of word oddities as poems and rarely artwork. Randall is seeking new directions in poetry building on the shoulders of wee little folk. ‘Cuz there’s lots of ‘em round the Black Hills, and “they’re good poets” Randall says. Ask any local Lakota. Randall’s editorial blitzkrieg may be viewed online at Beatnik Cowboy dot com. Little people rule!!
Cover Art photographer Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after a rewarding research career. With graduate degree from Howard University, in seven years he’s published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, photography, and hybrid in over 175 journals and anthologies on five continents. Publications include Burningword, Camas, Columbia Journal, Hippocampus, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, Newfound, Stonecoast, The Atlantic, and Typehouse. Representative photo essays include Barren, Litro, Kestrel, and Sweet. Jim and his family split time between city and mountains.
Ed Ruzicka knocked around the country and globe a bit before settling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he lives with his wife Renee. Ed has two books – the most recent “My Life in Cars” addresses the marriage between desire and the American highway. Ed has been published in many journals and anthologies. Ed is an occupational therapist. More at: edrpoet.com/poems.html/.
M. A. Schaffner lives in Arlington, Virginia. Recent publications include poems in the anthology Written in Arlington and ArLiJo, and an OpEd in the Washington Post about reenacting and CRT. Past acceptances included Poetry Wales, Poetry Ireland, The Tulane Review, Boston Poetry and other journals.
Karlo Sevilla of Quezon City, Philippines is the author of the poetry collections “Metro Manila Mammal” (Soma Publishing, 2018) and “Outsourced! . . .” (Revolt Magazine, 2021). Recognized among the Best of Kitaab 2018, shortlisted for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2021, and thrice nominated for the Best of the Net, his poems appear in Philippines Graphic, Rat’s Ass Review, DIAGRAM, Small Orange, Radius, Matter, Eclectica, Better Than Starbucks, Anti-Heroin Chic, Eastlit, and elsewhere.
Robin Shepard is a poet and musician living in the lowlands of California’s San Joaquin Valley. His work has appeared most recently in Black Poppy Review, Poetry Super Highway, and Autumn Sky Poetry. He is the author of Quiet Stars Falling into Quicksand Memory (Merced College Press, 2017).
Annette Sisson‘s poems can be found in Birmingham Poetry Review, Nashville Review, Typishly, One, The West Review, HeartWood Literary Magazine, Sky Island Journal, and others. Her first full-length book, Small Fish in High Branches, is forthcoming from Glass Lyre Press (2022); her chapbook, A Casting Off, was published by Finishing Line (2019). She was named a Mark Strand Poetry Scholar for the 2021 Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a 2020 BOAAT Writing Fellow, and winner of The Porch Writers’ Collective’s 2019 Poetry Prize. annettesisson.com
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.
Alec Solomita‘s fiction and poetry have appeared in the Southwest Review, The Mississippi Review, Panoplyzine, Poetica, Lothlorien, Litbreak, Rat’s Ass Review, The Rye Whiskey Review, Oddball Magazine, The Galway Review, and elsewhere, including several anthologies. His poetry chapbook, “Do Not Forsake Me,” was published in 2017. His full-length poetry book “Hard To Be a Hero,” will be coming out this spring.
Mary Ellen Talley‘s poems have recently been published in Banshee, Beir Bua, The Plague Papers and Ekphrastic Review as well as in several anthologies. Her poems have received three Pushcart nominations and her chapbook, “Postcards from the Lilac City” was published by Finishing Line Press in 2020.
Susan Thornton‘s memoir, On Broken Glass: Loving and Losing John Gardner, was published in 2000 by Carroll & Graf, New York. Poems have been published in Paintbrush Journal, The Denver Quarterly, Rats Ass Review and SoFloPoJo. Short stories have been anthologized in The Best American Mystery Stories 2016 and Flash Fiction Annual (2017) . Susan lives and works in Binghamton New York and, for her sins, is a high school teacher of French.
W. Joey Thornton has undergraduate and master’s degrees in Music: Vocal Performance from Central Washington University. His current writing interests touch on health, disability, horror, aging, the bleak and beautiful. His work has appeared in Central Washington University’s Manastash Literary Journal.
Reese Warner lives and writes in Toronto, ON, Canada, and works as little as possible. Previous pieces–both fiction and poetry—have appeared in Grain, The Antigonish Review, and The Asses of Parnassus, among other places. For a complete list, please see: pubs.reesewarner.com.
J.T. Whitehead is a Pushcart Prize-nominated short story author (2011), a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet (2015, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020), and was the winner of the Margaret Randall Poetry Prize (2015). Whitehead has published over 280 poems and prose works in over 100 literary journals and small press publications, including The Lilliput Review, Outsider, Slipstream, Left Curve, The Broadkill Review, The Iconoclast, Gargoyle, and Poetry Hotel. His first full-length collection of poetry, The Table of the Elements, was nominated for the National Book Award in 2015.
David L. Williams is recently retired from 34 years teaching high school English in Lincoln, Nebraska, his primary residence since he went to college there in the 80s. His poetry has mostly been written since May of 2021, and he has only recently started trying to publish, with success already in several journals. More about David and his poetry at classwords.com.
Melody Wilson‘s recent work appears in Quartet, Briar Cliff Review, The Shore, Whale Road Review, Timberline Review, SWWIM, and Tar River Poetry. She received the 2021 Kay Snow Award, Honorable Mention for the 2021 Oberon Poetry Award, and finalist in the 2021 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award.
Robin Wright lives in Southern Indiana. Her work has appeared in Rat’s Ass Review, One Art, Young Ravens Literary Review, Olney Magazine, Sledgehammer Lit, Muddy River Poetry Review, Sanctuary, 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.
Susan J. Wurtzburg lives in Hawaii, with her husband, a dog, and many books. Writing keeps her sane in these volatile times, and her poetry has appeared in Bindweed Magazine, Poetry and Covid, The Literary Nest, The Pen Woman, Verse-Virtual, and Quince Magazine. Thanks to the Rat’s Ass Review Writing Group members for wonderful input over the years.
Edited by Roderick Bates
RAT’S ASS REVIEW SPRING-SUMMER ISSUE 2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED