(Cover Art Lament by Carl Scharwath) The medium is paintography; the model, from Hong Kong, is Louise Jean.
THE POTTED FLOWER
The large, potted floral bush
appeared on my front porch.
Pretty in an almost somber way.
No card, no delivery instructions,
no name of a flower shop,
no idea what it was doing there.
A woman down the street
had just lost her husband
and, absent any clues,
I thought it must be for her.
It was a heavy, awkward carry
up to her front porch.
I rang the bell but no response,
so left the anonymous flowers
and returned home, feeling smug,
until a friend texted and asked
if I’d received his flowers,
sent for a forgotten favor.
I thought to take funerial credit for the
sympathy shown by the regifted bush
but realized that my friend often drove by
and would notice its misplacement
and so schlepped the plant back again
where the widow, walking by, admired it.
DOG O’ MINE
just stand & fidget your nose
nudging my frame on the floor
my fingers too rigid to close
the door or open a can or scratch
your belly till you smile&skritch
be St. Bernard O ye of little
service step up do not lick
your prick dignify my demise
my body so stiff my scruffy my
smelly & scrap bay & howl
do not whinge or wonder why
be Anubis hustle! fetch my ba,
ferry it on your back carry
it to the underworld weight
your paw on The Scale tarry
not so that I may flee physique
& enter bliss supernal I swear
to visit when you twitch&dream
my far-off voice tinning your ear
dog-god o’ mine don’t wander off
after that bitch in heat her Beaujolais
your buried bone stay with the plan
once, when fourteen,
in my grandfather’s house
i held the razor to my wrist
and thought about pulling
but looked up into the mirror
searching for life in empty eyes
and i remember praying to god
and begging jesus to come down
from heaven and have a chat
with me about this shit
but neither ever came;
and outside i saw the sun go down
and i changed my mind
and splashed water on my face,
muttered words i can no longer recall,
and when the house fell silent
i left in the middle of the night
and watched bats fly overhead
and discovered something
worth living for
My sister acts like Daisy Mae at a cocktail party
when we finally go together to the nursing
home this morning, joking and laughing
with the personnel as if she’s had moonshine
for breakfast, while I am calm, even serene;
in fact, they probably can intuit I’m a writer,
especially when I articulate a question with
composure and clarity, “My mother (letting
them know my relationship to the woman
we have come to discuss) doesn’t seem
to know me anymore. Could it be that she
expects to see me as a child rather than
an adult?” Marie, the social worker who
has followed Mother’s progress from
assisted living to the dementia ward
and communicated with my sister about
the regular perms, about the broken hip,
about the soft diet, replies thoughtfully,
“You’re probably right; that happens.”
But then my sister pipes up like a trumpet,
“That’s probably because she liked you
better when you were a child than she does
now,” looking around the table to see how
much everyone has appreciated her funny
remark and they do laugh in a warm and
friendly way. When the room is quiet again,
I astutely say, “Sibling rivalry, twins,”
and then, a Shakespearean aside to my sister
but audibly enough to attract a few snickers,
“We’ll discuss this later.” We stand, say
“Thank you,” and walk out the door.
Outside, I turn to my sister and punch her
in her abdomen the way I might have as
a child, but now, feel the soft fat against
my fist like the inner tube we shared
at Bangs Lake and say, “Fuck you, asshole,”
and walk away alone down the long corridor.
Rose Mary Boehm
She put her unspent love into a cardboard box,
added a few choice curses and shut the lid.
He hadn’t even seen her when he nearly bumped
into her on his breathless trajectory
towards the long-haired blond, long-legged tanned,
slim-waisted, soft-lipped, fake Barbie.
May her bed become infested with bedbugs,
may her legs and armpits grow untameable,
shaggy undergrowth, may her hair fall out in clumps,
her teeth rot to black stumps, her lips reduce to two
thin slices; better still, may her face fall off.
May their children be fat, stupid, snotty and
may his penis hurt when they make love.
She then dropped the cardboard box into the flames of the fireplace,
fearing she may open it one day and forgive.
ON THE WAY HOME, I SEE A CARNIVAL
Pop-up tents & Tilt-A-Whirl,
Ferris wheel a satellite dish
poorly aimed & rusty at the center.
I don’t spot the roller coaster or Flying Dutchman.
There’s a petting zoo, maybe,
or are those carnies
dressed in fuzzy suits? The games
they play so we can take our chances,
lose. If I drove closer, lowered my window,
I’d smell my childhood—something
between burnt sugar & manure.
I used to love carnivals,
the seriousness of their frivolity.
I want to stop, but I’m alone
on the road, & once I’ve passed
a thing that passes, too, I won’t return.
begins with a slither and hiss
behind plaster walls
as newborn sparks devour spiders
and skate on mouse bones.
Tendrils scurry along copper wires
seeking tinder at every portal.
With each bite of cord and beam
teeth and tentacles sprout
an apex predator
until flames are birthed
in the still night air.
Tongues spiral up paneling
tasting old photographs
with boundless appetite
swallowing memories whole.
Wooden frames groan
and the sleeper stirs.
The creature rises to bedside,
exhaling smoky remnants
of first editions and crocheted afghans
You are safe in slumber.
But the building shelters
a dweller who laid each stone,
screaming through breaking glass
tinkling, snapping, acrid smoke,
raising him from dreams
as fiery fingers
curl around bedposts.
The beast spreads great wings
puncturing roof and wall.
The sleeper escapes
as it rises on the updraft,
twisting metal into obscene
sculptures, and the house
keens its death song.
The sleeper stands silent, embers
as rain on singed hair, shoulders,
wondering if he will ever
close his eyes again.
I WAS COUNTING CORPSES
of armadillos, armor cracked like eggs on the roadside,
insides cooking on sun-hot cement.
I said: You don’t belong here—
weak shells exploding against metal undercarriages
and bumpers proclaiming: Immigrants, Go Home!
Then I saw one in rigor, dick standing up straight.
He said: Screw you as you hide in painted metal,
tapping out our demise on steering wheels.
I smelled snowflakes on the wind and came to taste
the frozen revival.
His grotesque gesture branded my memory,
my knuckles ice-white against black leather.
I cracked the window seeking cool breezes
but gagged as rotten flesh rose in summer’s heat.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
At the Dania Tomato Festival, I stumbled
on the Fortune Teller with the turbaned head
and silk-draped shoulders. She nodded at me
from behind the glass of her fancy box with its metal slide
where I could deposit my quarters and Know the Future.
The oracle moved her head when you ponied up
your change and spat out a printed sheet. Mine said,
your fortune awaits you in the near future.
And there was music. I distinctly remember
what could have been, was meant-to-be, an oboe.
Another quarter relinquished, A steady hand rules the world.
a forecast obviously disgorged for my edification
and after that Tomorrow will be a brighter day.
Perhaps I was supposed to ask a question that would
avert cliché. Perhaps, if I’d asked how to duck men’s fists,
I’d have gotten a useful answer. What did I know?
I was eight. I asked about the future.
I woke up with a tick between my toes.
My friends have made a list of doctors who will tie their tubes.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks of a fetus in the womb—
they’re as safe as they are in a classroom.
Yes, safe as they were in Uvalde, and Sandy Hook, safe as they are on the New York subway
now that everyone can carry a gun.
This is what happens when you walk into the weeds without spraying your feet for ticks.
“If you’re going to win the lottery, you have to buy a ticket.”
It’s not the sort of thing you’re looking for
after 18 years of marriage.
You’ve adjusted to this life of yours,
got two cars and a mortgage
and a half-built nest egg.
Even still, the thing you’re missing nags at you.
Your dreams ache at the edges of your bones.
You can’t quite release what might have been
the life you really wanted to be living.
She takes a job she plans to leave in three months.
She takes your hands and says you can have her children.
She takes your heart and a U-Haul to a new time zone.
She hands you the winning lottery ticket,
and loves to the marrow.
TALKING ABOUT MY PARENTS IN GRIEF GROUP
I speak of you like you were still here
before you left me alone
in a city lit by cold neon lights
and strange faces
You gifted me your sunbeams
with renewed zest every day
Your soft lemony light
enveloped me like sunshine
on a spring morning
Then you withdrew the very breaths
that promised clear blue skies
or at least a canopy for the rain
you saw falling onto my path
I want to lick you
with my sugar tongue–
sweeten the sour the world
has left you.
My words are caresses
of thick honey,
your strawberry heart.
I’m no sugar-free
but the real thing.
I’m the whole candy bar
to satisfy your sweet tooth.
I’m syrup seeping
from ripe mangoes,
glaze over your stale bread
of a life.
THE BANNED BOOKMOBILE
Do you need a special license to drive
a bus of books? Children
are more fragile; books,
Children’s minds need fire,
need those books to start a blaze.
How else to know that a pair of penguin
dads can raise a chick?
That witches and wizards can be evil
or good or somewhere in the flawed between?
That even the bluest eye cannot
confer beauty and love?
That it’s a sin to kill
VIDEO CHAT WITH OUR 95-YEAR-OLD FATHER
You said it was scary
that we were there
in your bedroom
your three daughters
in pulsating squares
on a screen
You remembered where
is for each of us
but not where
it is for you
confused that you
could see us
but we were not
We talked about the snowy
winter, so like our New England
childhoods, when you would
wrangle your orange
snowblower to clear
our way out
We asked if the cut
and bruise on your hand
had finally healed
if you had finished
all the Valentine
goodies we’d sent
by a sound
from the living room
you set the tablet
staring at the ceiling
From the carrot patch rises a hawk
with the mottled coloring of youth,
a freckled blossoming girl
not yet in control of her beauty.
She swoops directly
to my eyes
flashing her breast
and then with a flap of wing
she is rising in an updraft to soar,
circling, and sees me far below,
a speck of gray hair,
and I have no idea what I was doing,
what brought me to this garden,
ON YOUR LAST SKINNY DIP BEFORE CANCER
We floated in sunshine.
Little fishies nipped our butts.
A hummingbird flashing blue
perched on your chest
as on a rose of Sharon.
Bird gone in a buzz.
You said God
tweaked your nipple
and was calling.
Sky more brown than blue
before Dorothy was whisked away.
Remember when they
came for him
and you learned
the damage stones could do?
Air so heavy
you like a headline.
Remember when they
came for her
and you first heard
a whip snap?
The ground trembles
as if rehearsing
a disaster movie.
Remember when they
came for them
and you learned
a new word—noose?
Blue-black and brown
of dried blood
painful even to the eye.
Remember when they
came for you
tiki torches on high,
drum beat louder
You will, you will.
I SEE YOU
I watch you through the vase
on the other side of our table,
which is round and democratic,
but too broad to reach out fingers and touch.
Its crystal facets sparkle in sunlight,
your frown fragments to a thousand bits
as I observe you pondering your newspaper,
the morning muesli softening to mush.
My silver spoon, so highly polished;
on its reverse, I see myself;
the convexed face like a chimpanzee.
No wonder you don’t look back at me.
The blossom in the vase is fresh and gay.
I am hiding in a forest of petals.
I leap from branch to twig in a haze of pink,
jump into your dish of milk, waving.
Then you get up, it’s time for work:
Off you go to kill another company.
I will pull on a summer frock,
take up my secateurs, my gin.
SEX, DEATH, BLACK STOCKINGS
The mothball smell of death in damp noses,
jackets stained with wedding champagne and reefer burns
from happier times; harem veils and dressy hats.
We all look deliciously sorrowful, of course,
stroking like ants, exchanging the chemicals of pity,
the licence we are given for this day’s
clasping of wrists in erotic pain
and though we may weep for this belovèd comrade,
I also weep for your shoulders, your gloves,
your black-clad knees, your chap-sticked mouth,
longing to hold you for longer than a brief hug,
which was a solid junction of groins in affirmation
of Love and Life – let us not hesitate to say those words,
we who exist still, with firm spines, red lips,
hot spurts, gasping exhalations of cigarettes
behind the western wall of church,
before the canapés and whisky will soften us,
like the man we have just said goodbye to
and we retreat to the lines we have drawn,
of marriage and generations and age;
the separation, waste and lost opportunities,
as we all grow old together towards the lonely grave.
Two thirds of my state is on fire
while I’m at the Tualatin Country Club
at the birthday of a survivor
his dumb luck
to have been spared
as he sits surrounded by Jews
once barred elsewhere but now
only sprinklers may hiss as they enter.
Then I kiss his cheek
still pink ninety-nine summers,
he whispers: you and I have business later
flirty words from a man who knew
death in the biblical sense
where they ate candles
cut into splinters
dreamt the conflagration of one more year
parched with wonder
regarding what destruction is natural or unnatural
while the waiter bends to ask about water
& I whisper thank you I am the fire.
PARABLE OF THE REHEARSAL
The director said meanwhile let’s take it from the top of your breastbone and Charissa who was in love with Stavia imagined touching her breastbone to breastbone and between lips with the very tip of her salty tongue and Philp shook off his gig economy position as a financial advisor to the ruinous few and tried to let the poetry hiss between his teeth like the squirrel he’d passed in the green parkway and Robyn had skipped her 5K again so her lungs were stiff as leather bellow and Glen and Ben had a fight that morning which was about nothing in the way that breathing is nothing and Marcelle ignored the injunction because she was casually considering being done with breath now and forever and David drew from his deep well of narcissism that began in his satiated belly and Belle commenced hiccups and wondered if this was part of a pre-condition of shallowness or the well source of all charm and Russ licked her lips with satisfaction as she imagined arranging them on that big dick of Steph and Thor thought of how much they hated breathing as exercise and Julie’s head was as empty as the part in script that said breathe and Devon held his and Maggie expelled hers and the air was rife with molecules that carried both poisons and information and the director said ok now let it go completely out your toes and wondered how his life had come to be doing only what he loved for as long as anyone loved it and was it all just a preparation and the answer was yes and the answer was yes and the answer was yes
. . . one of the last things Dad did
before he died was to buy an Erector Set
to teach his sons how to build things . . .
There they are in the airport at the rental car counter
father and son, carbon copies of one another
tall, loud, brash, laughing, in control
the world is their clam (or is it oyster).
Hard to avoid looking at them looming loudly over everything
and of course I’m finding them annoying, obnoxious even.
But they are not really doing anything wrong
not being rude or disrespectful
simply being father and son two peas in a pod
same voice, same smile, same stance
finishing each other sentences right out there for all to see
which is probably the problem for me considering
that my dad died
before we could even have a beer together.
. . . men are idiots
around beautiful women
there’s no getting around it . . .
Poem I wrote 20 years ago about Carol
a grad school friend appears
in an anthology entitled “Beautiful.”
“her hair still brown and lush and long,
and full, too,
but not like the moon.”
I was really like a big brother to her I explain
to my wife surprised
at her jealous reaction after reading it.
“I’m not jealous” she insisted
as she walked, or rather sashayed
out of the room.
. . . don’t struggle against
the waves, instead become one
with the ocean . . .
Trying not to look uncomfortable
while sitting on the pink sofa
in the lingerie department
of Nordstrom’s but I had to sit down someplace
feet throbbing, hips burning, and this was
the only game in town while waiting for my wife
to find new clothes: summer top or dress
shorts or slacks anything but a new bathing suit.
She tells me her bathing suit days
are over but I miss them I really do
miss those good old days of youth and vigor
especially while resting here on this pink sofa
in Nordstrom’s lingerie department
waiting for my wife.
R. Gerry Fabian
EXPLORING THE RESIDUE OF LOSS
What’s been left behind
tells so much more
of the solemn secrets:
my college coffee mug,
the “trash” chair I found
and patiently refinished,
my mother’s antique table,
the flea market garlic press,
my grandfather’s bone handle
razor sharp carving knife
and a photo of you
naked from the waist up
just before you warned me
of the hazards of love.
FIRST ACID TRIP
Hey, I saw a photo of us
when we were young and beautiful
like the magic world
that found us lying on the bed
during our first acid trip
mixed with soundz
First you said the Hamms’ bear
from the Sky Blue commercial
was in your socks—
almost howled them off.
Tried to recall the words
to Hickory Dickory Dock
and got it wrong—
did the mouse run up or down—
we laughed ourselves to sleep.
Those were the Days my friend
we thought they’d never end
But cats came on the scene
cut the pills for profit,
drove us hippies
out of our synaesthetic dreams.
Soon our hitchhiking minds
only took bad trips
and poof the magic.
My aunt was always going to.
Going to take us to the show on Friday,
except it ended its run on Wednesday night.
Going to take us to the circus,
until a lady in line fainted in the sun.
Going to send that twenty-dollar gift
that strangely never came.
As older sister, she told the younger one to wait:
she was going to be back real soon
and then she didn’t come.
When my mother failed her driving test,
my aunt said she was going to pass.
Later on, my mother gave her rides
because my aunt never learned to drive.
My mother, as a child, always waited.
As a woman, she always forgave.
The family always forgave.
When my aunt died, we missed her
more than there are reasons why.
A SINGULARITY (After Su Tung Po)
I watch my yard fill with snow.
It’s almost knee deep.
If I wanted to,
there’s nowhere I could go.
The winds roam the street
like hungry swine,
searching for scraps to eat.
My wife is gone.
My friends are dead.
I once had a cat.
He also abandoned me.
I couldn’t blame him.
My life had come unstrung.
I’ve become unfriendly,
and I wasn’t much fun,
even when I was young.
some trees want to touch and be touched
hold underground discussions
of their family issues
some trees wonder whether and how
to share moisture and food
do they wonder why giraffes hum at night?
fruit bats love to argue in their roost
about food, sleeping positions, and how
to deal with the one who wants to get too close
from the thumb’s perspective
we are all buttons waiting to be pushed,
hoping the right one speaks
I bore my sister Beatrice
to the beach upon my shoulder.
I waded in the sea a trice
but she, alas, was bolder.
In that world-encircling wet,
a kicking, bite-sized morsel,
she and another met;
it was a fin, and it was dorsal.
Like a card when it’s been palmed,
in a flash we could not sight her,
then, anon, the water calmed.
The walk back was much lighter.
“I look at you and see him:
your eastern brows, your thick locks,
the way you leave trails of sticky notes
and dot the room with cold teacups;
I see the day he took you from me when
even Margaret Thatcher couldn’t help me.
I see it all over again.”
She tells her daughter
the same story she’s told her every year:
“He chained me to a bed and then…”
When the daughter removes the lamp
from her room, the room in which she
scatters notes and dots teacups,
her mother tells her:
“This is not your home.”
Her daughter pleads: “I came back
years ago, but you still see only
my father’s shadow.”
When the daughter is bedridden, hospital-bound,
her mother, through a throng of spirits
oozing from her outstretched lips, says:
“I must dash to a party because I want to…”
Her daughter mutters: “Have sex.”
And when the daughter moves to a foreign land,
her mother emails every six months;
she does not text because it costs
two pounds of hope.
A mother protects herself from
her love for her child.
She cannot bear to suffer loss. She
cannot bear defeat
to two palm trees and a sword,
and the guilt
of not rescuing her child
from a man who shackles and beats so
she cuts the cord.
STEPHANIE AND ZACH
A widow for twenty years,
she now tends for a man
she never married.
She cooks and prays for him,
helps him get around his cottage,
even guides his weakened body
back and forth to the bathroom.
She makes coffee, collects the mail.
She even has his shoes and watch fixed
though he wears neither of them,
sits at his bedside,
telling of her hopes and fears
and his reasons to be optimistic.
She has a statue’s patience
and a newfound wellspring of authority.
She’s no doctor
but she has her cures
from a kiss of his sunken cheek
to “Fur Elise” on the piano.
They are not in love exactly
but nor is he her patient.
They live together.
Like all of us,
he’ll die alone.
But with someone
who does not know that.
Louder and louder
the clip clip clip of her shoes
from the quiet street
Sun in her red hair –
beyond the film-star glamour
a cold flash of steel
A gentle buzzing –
she reaches for the fly spray.
Mum, please don’t kill it!
Her laugh is springtime –
a burst of blue sky and warmth
and a savage frost
A walk in the woods –
above her endless chatter
we hear no birdsong
Playing in long grass
I turn towards her, smiling –
her look is a scythe
She offers sugar
but what comes out of the bowl
bites like scorpions
CAUGHT IN THE CROTCHFIRE
Just stroking the triangular barrel
primes him, an aphrodisiac.
The Desert Eagle is an undeniable
emblem of manhood,
A holy instrument of vigor, virility
evoking savage charisma. He poses
before full length mirror
naked but for oil
believes he exudes pheromones
to make women ovulate.
He fantasizes a role-playing game
his Doc Martens, pair of aviators
and the Eagle jutting proudly.
She’ll swoon or whatever it is girls do.
But guns are banned
where girls are paid for.
So, he stands
before bathroom mirror
Eagle in one hand
dreams in the other.
All that is needed
is the sweet, hot kiss of cordite
A FAMILY SECRET
—after Alan Moore
Gussie strides the aisles of the farmers market,
an Alice the Goon type of woman
filled by cherrry malevolence,
who’ll eat anything
tripe, brains and eggs or head cheese in lard.
Gussie’s daddy, Lionel, had gone
what the family called Cornery
and by the end of his life, was eating flowers.
No one was surprised, since Lionel’s
daddy, Berford, lost his mind
working on the railroad terminal
for the WPA. His hair turned white overnight.
He passed the insanity on
as family silver.
His sister, Cleo, who was a genius
on the accordion, despite
being bat-shit crazy, was never
as bad as daddy’s cousin Reginald
who’s still in the state home in Terrell.
It’s called the turn, the bend, the twist,
and the corner; so many terms
for family long forgot. A sudden angle
in your thinking maybe invisible
or see-through like the plastic food wrap
Gussie wears under her clothes.
The lines are all wrong, in a direction
you can’t draw or think about. Once
you turn this corner you are lost forever.
Everyone will feel sorry
but won’t want to meet you for coffee.
It isn’t your immediate family
but still it’s a family embarrassment.
This morning I got lost in the closet.
Come learn your fates at the village fêtes,
hosted by kindly vicars;
there’s lots to eat, don’t be discreet –
but your attention flickers…
the boys want toys with lots of noise,
the girls want glittery stickers,
while a gypsy tent, being devil-sent,
offers both lust and snickers.
The fêtes are fine for beer and wine,
less so for fancy liquors;
if you want to cruise for a bit of booze,
they’re not for city slickers;
but the real thrust builds on the trust
of godly, sinful vicars–
it’s being caressed by a gypsy breast
that puts a twist in their knickers.
IF MY LIFE EXPECTANCY WERE A PIZZA
My wife removes the pizza
from the oven, says Not much
of a birthday feast.
I used to enjoy cake,
dancing, getting a little
tipsy. Now another year
is the last thing I want
This morning I calculated
if my daily walk were my life
expectancy, the end
would be lurking just
out of view.
I rock the cutter,
count the slices, hesitate.
Are you doing that life
expectancy thing with the pizza?
Wish it were an extra large.
My wife takes a couple pieces.
Save some for Susan.
Suzy’s coming? The three of us
together this weekend?
I look at the pizza —
cheese, mushrooms, onions.
Sometimes I forget
how delicious it can be.
I remember when
I was still growing.
When my mother (who wasn’t
much of a drinker) had three glasses
of wine, was behind the wheel
(she shouldn’t have been),
and started chanting: “I love life,
I love life, I love life.” While gently
honking the car horn.
IF I DIE TODAY
If today, I were to be hit dead on
by a bus, so be it. I’ll just be gone.
There are sure to be loose ends
dragging along behind my ebbing soul,
so I can be at least hopeful that,
in time, some of my children
will see them for what they are:
the tattered edges of my life, of me,
now and forever my phantom energy
haunting them until, exasperated,
they pay my lingering dentist bill
and lay to rest the line of credit
I needlessly took out three years ago
at that basement sandwich shop,
the one with the great reuben
and the stool in the corner,
facing into the shadowy recess
reserved for ghosts and old men
who eat slowly, and all too often, alone.
Whatever the generations bring
to this collective presence,
there will be totems of the past
fixed firmly insistent in each of our minds,
arrayed with faces carved in the hard woods
that only family trees produce
and set, sometimes poles apart, in the family grove.
Children growing themselves from new numbers each year,
all named and loved and parented in common for a day
with tear-filled eyes, chocolate-coated faces and grinny cheeks,
each hoisted to embrace and admiration,
all feats applauded and all false pride mocked.
Food, prepared as sanctioned by time,
in unspoken, ordained ritual by the women,
the bearers of all sustaining life.
Men, surrounded by seemingly unobservant boys,
using beer to shorten stretching distances,
quietly competing every hurdle
until a child clings to a leg
Lives past, sitting patiently in reserved and sacred chairs,
coming back to life in anecdotes
of bastardry and joy.
Toddlers and crawlers, excited and bewildered,
knee-deep in wrapping paper and parental nostalgia.
Babes at breast, absorbing every nuance
through the pores of their clan skin
and the memories encoded in their mother’s milk.
The married-ins, belonging in their separateness
to this caravan, as hopeful and as helpless
as those that followed a certain star
but at least knowing for whom they bear their gifts.
And, amidst all, the matriarch unfolds a pattern
and, with skills both ancient and subtle,
draws to her strands unknitted,
in case they ever unravel
and pull the fabric apart.
BRIEF NOTE TO ONE WHO WRONGED ME FOR A BUCK
I write to congratulate you on the death
of your mother. I know her months of cancer
proved costly, and now that you no longer need
to piss cash away
on someone who was always certain to croak,
you can recommence spending all your hard-earned
dividends on the junk you value more than
After all, don’t you deserve a guilt-free day
on the yacht? After all you’ve suffered, caring
for that depreciating asset that was
your dying mother,
don’t you deserve the full-package casino
weekend, the extradimensional flat screen,
the little pup in the big-ass purse, the rare
Maybe now you can book that luxury flight
to visit your children who, when they regard
you at all, squint as if reading the fine print
on what really counts.
Sarah Mackey Kirby
THE DAYS OF DUMPSTER SMOKING
You spend most of your life
trying to recapture the throat burning.
The singe of a Friday afternoon
keeping him company behind the
drugstore dumpster as he blew
smoke circles from the good cigarettes
you got him free
from your dad’s factory job.
Before driving past Old Lynn Farm,
dirt road curves dusting up
the Carolina blue of summer sky
while Chris Cornell and Billy Corgan
serenaded the two of you,
windows rolled down
through fields of artist sun.
How bad you wanted to be held,
to be loved so much
that love had a texture,
a current, a potency,
Where all that lonely
snapping your bones
like twigs on a dogwood
disappeared for a while.
Flew off with the Cooper’s hawks
into the arms of coming dusk.
And you were left inside shadows
sipping cheap bourbon
he knew would impress you
because it felt like danger.
How those hours were danger,
the good kind.
The young kind
that lingered for decades.
Sweetening up the stumbles.
Reminding you that you’re not
really living ’til you open, wide-eyed,
below a storm so fierce
it killed off all the rainbows.
10 THINGS TO REMEMBER ‘BOUT ME WHEN I’M DEAD
- I was a victim more than once, but said no and no and no; I’m the craggy boxing bitch, staggering through the bloodstream. Dig my damn red lace-up boots, I wore them just for you.
- I dug karate too including kicking dudes’ asses—but quit because the power of it made me uncomfortable; I’ve always been a bit at odds with me. It wasn’t the real world anyway.
- There is no obvious winning, but the living is getting back up until you don’t.
- Defense mechanisms, only a few: if someone fucks me over, I immediately forget their name; this one only improves with age.
- Tend to face the world so raw and open, some call me intolerable and over-intense; I’m a one-speed train with a lion for an engine and a cast-iron cannonball for a head. Fortunately, I’m also withdrawn and frequently tired.
- I once traded shirts with someone in the middle of a busy intersection in Ann Arbor during Art Fair. Afterward, we scaled a fence into a construction site and drank beer in a bulldozer claw.
- I made some beautiful things during this embodiment—sublime turnings from the fallen box elder, some wistful paintings for the dead museum— people liked or hated, a few poems that got the same reaction; I’m, therefore, immortal, so don’t miss me. I’m around in your basements and dresser drawers—and staring back atcha from the thrift shop walls and the musty book store shelves. You might have to work a bit—look at the table of contents, not the spine. I’ll surprise you maybe.
- Made my grandparents Easter baskets from age nine until they died. Saw Grams through her last eight years.
- They called me “Stone” when I played ball; I pitched. No one could shake me, they said. I threw up in private. Secretly, I hated team sports. Could handle tennis, with the opponent safely positioned on the other side of the net. Skirts gave me the shits.
- As a child, I ate garlic to ward off my vampiric parents. I still eat garlic. Can’t hurt.
THE CHICKEN OR THE ACORN
It was a stone’s throw as the crow flies,
but on that day, more squirrels than
in the past week’s sum of them
crossed double yellows to cache fall’s score
in yards lesioned with melanotic blotches
wet-pressed by the clouds’
swift shed of the weather.
And while those indifferent dodgers
from that ages-old interrogation question
centrally concerned with motives
regularly get to the other side of the road
(the chickens, you see!) without even
the slightest ruffle in their featherdom,
the fateful squirrel’s headlong dash isn’t half
as riddling. It’s as if short distance works against it.
The crow sets on a fencepost three paces
back from the far-side curb. Near-side,
a squirrel is upside down along a tree trunk.
It had sequestered a forgettable batch
that morning. Afternoon now,
it makes for a final burial. Inside the crow’s stomach
are acids so eclectic they tolerate and destroy.
Post-quietus calm is poorly exhibited
by the driver who thinks they were dealt the brunt of it.
Bid me the autocider who flattens a sauntering squirrel,
I’ll raise you the temperature at which hell is
kept warm for them. The acorn rolls to a stop
at the feet of the crow. The road is a straight one.
Four children hide
in the Kentucky hills
before the fireflies come out.
Bobby counts 20, 19, 18…
Only the oak leaves move.
A deer up the gully
None of the children think
of the deer or the hunter
or the science lesson last week
17, 16, 15… about amoebas
with their fallen foot
dividing nuclei into two
or building hard cysts around themselves
14, 13, 12 Bobby, Sophie,
Scott and Charlotte are not
thinking about the shot
that will wing its way through the woods
not thinking about being
quick-footed 11, 10, 9…
They are not thinking division
or dividing up a deer
or the next year’s papers or books
8, 7, 6… only about how well
they’re hidden, their breathing
5, 4, 3, 2…
Most days I wear my body like a crime
I’m trying to hide. I am plump and happy
as a housecat—except for the happy part,
because of the plump part. When I catch
my reflection in a window and realize
the stranger I see is me, three-tiered belly
stretching the front of my shirt so I look
like a segmented worm, I want to run
a hook through the softest part of me.
But this is what I’ve grown up and out
to be. Time didn’t so much ransack me
as fail to keep up with the scheduled
maintenance. The clock flicked its fingers
against my forehead and my skin creased
and spotted, and suddenly, here I am—
in the afterlife that happens during life,
invisible as all ghosts are invisible,
which you’d think would be a relief
after years of hating the outfit fate chose
for me, like a bad bridesmaid’s dress.
I never expected to become a ghost
before I’d even become a corpse.
I never expected my ghost
to be haunted by my body.
The best thief does not put
his hand in your pocket.
His hand is your pocket.
You put your money in it,
thinking it’s the safest place.
HE HASN’T LEARNED YET
that a fist makes a hole in the wall
easier than his head,
how his frustration doesn’t need to be
the same colour as a bloody nose,
his blue helmet not a punishment but protection,
and that a father feels his son’s pain
just as bad
as any bruise or cut
I was too slow to stop.
Michael H. Levin
Just past a crooked bend
it springs: vine-shadowed gap,
disgorging an arachnid shape
that crawls across my lights.
a tractor in low gear, bumbling
and wheezing towards its nightly
barn; but suddenly I’m paddling
in the wake of dreams.
A hunting pack of wolves
invades the house. Gray bristles
on their spines erect, they crouch
then silently advance upon
our blue pile rug. Arm
raised to block those yellow glares
I seek a door. First lesson
in inverted space: the dark outside
may be more safe.
The urge to dominate spills over
in a game of toreador.
Flapping a makeshift cape I lure
my little brother to a rocket charge
against the razor corner of our
faux-stone étagère. The room turns red;
blood on the floor, my shoes,
the sopping rag I flap about
his head. Our Mom screams in.
It was an accident, I say
straight-faced; triumphant in an
un-shamed state of grace.
My father’s off again to War,
a giant khaki shoulder
thumping down the stair.
We ship out
to my Nanny’s home: tall narrow
place of honeycomb salons
where dead gas sconces clutch the walls
and coal still scuttles to its cellar lair.
Where stark things muster round my crib:
the peg-leg ghost with burlap sack
whose serpent slithers idly by,
whose lizard-like companion
breathes blue cyanide.
might be ivory; might be horn.
I slip the brake and roll
past hidden drives
that I’ve erased.
Fay L. Loomis
Through wall-sized windows
I witness life unfold across Route 209.
Tuesday, man, big belly wrapped
in windbreaker, hunkers on grey boulder
shovels food from a throw-away container.
Bus sidles up, loads passenger, lurches away.
Plastic bowl and protruding spoon
squat in the place vacated by his bum.
Friday, same duffer, shorts, paunch poking
through T-shirt, ambles toward the stone
points finger at his abandoned trash
cackles, flips hand dismissively
drops refuse behind rock.
Dumbfounded, I shake my head
try to rouse my addled brain.
Want to scream: “Pick it up!”
I won’t. Concert forty years ago
scorches my psyche, stays my voice.
Young couple sprawled on hillside
fling beer bottles over shoulder
like gum wrappers.
Would you please pick up your empties
put them in a trash barrel?
“Shut your mouth, or I’ll shut it for you,”
woman shrieks. Man growls, “Yah bitch
shut your mouth or we will.”
In the dark of that night
menacing words staggered my mind.
Bus picks up recycled version
of twenty something, shuffles him
into the unknown.
J. C. Mari
…and it may be the case
That contingency crushes me before,
the drinking and
all else besides,
but if not
one day i could
walk into a house
that you’ve already left
only a rigid something
wearing a mask that mocks your face.
i won’t write songs about it, taciturn with
and lots of strumming
in a minor key,
the kind of thing
people with a curled up ‘stash
might listen to,
and i won’t discuss it
with the 1 or 2
friends that remain:
i’ll just say
empty my drink.
i won’t puke out
25 poems to purge the poison and
sneak into literary magazines,
except this one, but
it doesn’t count
’cause you still breathe,
the only thing, i think,
i’ll be able to do
is to remember,
piling on and surging
gangrene crawling up your leg.
A heavy head bobs above the slim, hairy neck
protruding from a rough hole carved
in the flat plank that makes the tabletop.
His body below, agitated, hums with adrenaline.
Someone takes a heavy mallet— no,
worse— a saw— carves through bone
just above the brow.
By now the monkey senses danger.
Immobilized, it protects itself
the only way it can, shutting down its brain.
I remember hearing this when I was monkey-sized,
the kind of tale we told each other, who knows why.
I never knew if it was true, and maybe that isn’t what matters
but instead the way we cast cruelty like a net,
capturing the innocent, our illusions shattered, forever
left to wonder whether someone somewhere, by need
or choice feeds on this terrible delicacy.
You killed a partridge once. It was autumn, and you’d
flushed it out of the same tree so many times you
were getting to know the bird––the time of day
it always sunned itself beside a plump apple.
So, that afternoon, you didn’t walk down the small
open field as usual, where the apple tree backed up
against a huddle of small pines as if knowing that field
was shrinking into extinction. Instead, you went
behind the bird, behind its back, circled around and
crawled under the pines, the bed of brown needles
below muffling the slow rubbing sound of your body
against the earth until you just lay there beneath the bird.
And then, you shot it. Right there, where the sky was
blue and continued to be blue after the bird was gone.
In the end, you were too close, and there was nothing
left––not even a plume of memory for its mate.
Yainfrumarounhéa, said the hitchhiker. I thought
about his ear for accent, as I planned my answer:
how I’d lived here twice as long as he’d been alive,
that I knew more than he did about the land he’d been
born to, but I kept my counsel. He was poorer than I,
unread, though the leaves of trees were a library to him.
No car, or at least none that worked, and a home too
complicated to hitch to: down this dirt road to that one
after all the asphalt he would have had to travel
from where he worked to get there, but he was going
the other way. So, once out of the woods, he thumbed.
I’d done that, too, walked miles to the macadam
then hoped my way. Still, I wasn’t the same as him.
I no longer hoped, and my speech was too crisp
and learned, my words distinctly differentiated,
not slurred together into one, long word-of-a-sentence
with consonants lopped off and vowels lilting against
what’s left to make my speech harmonious to his ear.
Yet I understood his remark wasn’t meant as an accusation.
Thankful for the ride, he wanted to make his small
talk with a stranger into something bigger, something
that could connect us over the long bridge we were
crossing in my car, him on his way to work,
me on my way home, as I now lived in town
on a paved street instead of a hardpan road.
HOW DO I LOVE BELLES LETTRES? IN THESE WAYS
Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
I love thee for the true and holy height
You taught my soul to reach when in your sight.
For Donne’s love logic, Shakespeare’s ideal grace.
I love thee as Frost wrote of every day’s
Common New England need in broad daylight.
I love thee as shy Dickinson chose right,
Renounced the world while yearning for its praise.
I love thee with the passion Whitman used
To worship body with a childhood’s faith.
I love thee with the power Hopkins let loose
As his word-sounds explode with every breath.
I loved thee from the first—and so can’t choose,
I shall but love thee even unto death.
I miss the feeling
hands held under the table
someone who sees you
HIS FIRST SHAVE
A Colgate Shaving Soap advertisement of 1908 shows a lad of maybe fourteen, in a traditional agricultural barn setting, equipped with razor blade, shaving mug and foam, embarking on “his first shave”.
The century’s just eight years old. Brunt’s Farm,
tucked back in rural Gloucestershire. The boy
is fourteen now and proudly marching on
to adulthood. He scrapes the well-stropped blade
down fluffy cheek, there in the barn, and dreams
of manhood, shaving, that first lick of blood.
That year, his first calf love. Esther is young,
just fourteen like himself. Then years of hope
and happiness, and then his first real love.
Her name is Martha, she’s just seventeen.
He’s twenty by that time and just about
to leave for France and service at the front.
The fourth and last march on to man’s estate
comes one July. Machine-gun fire. The Somme.
THE METAPHYSICS OF GONE
Frank Mayne né Itzkowicz knew that Time
takes a backseat to nobody and nothing
knew it in his bones as he saw
in one timeless endless instant
that all was changed forever
there was no going back.
It happened in a Cleveland factory
but it was Time ate Frank’s finger
and went on mawing all in its path
shitting out memories and regrets
and history’s veiled laments
leaving nothing absolutely unchanged.
Frank advances his pawn to queen three
with thumb and middle finger
the stub wagging like a cropped tail
he knows the factory closed after the war
he knows there are others—it’s not just Time
that’s ruthless, relentless, insatiable.
in the yard—a giant
almost all open,
white making the gray
sky run away, the sun
coming out, winter
grabbing his gray coat
and sprinting past
our rusty red Mustang.
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH FISH
I sprinkle lemon, herbs,
more oil into the enormous skillet.
In the kind sea-wind, the smell joins
and fulfills more than combats
the sea-smell. Covers
the beach, and my friends gather
from their towel-archipelago. They see
someone grand, fit, genial
summoning them – as bronzed as the fish
he serves. While across
the waves, onto the sand comes
an ethereal trimaran
crewed by a suitable naiad.
Who asks, “Is there enough?”
I detect, like Pantagruel once,
the accent of my native Utopia.
“I and this mahi-mahi,” I proclaim,
“can effect blasphemous miracles,
feeding all.” She assumes – unnecessarily –
the posture an earlier century
called the Line of Beauty. “And those lovely
drinks, kept somehow cold,
are your blood?” “My blood,”
I reply with fleeting seriousness,
handing her one, “is wit,
though currently less chilled than this.”
But now conditions change, as
they must along that coast.
Yet order, in the midst of ease,
prevails: my friends, plates emptied,
return with thanks and kisses to their vehicles.
Our hands around each other’s waists,
the girl from the sea and I
observe sky and horizon
become what they are in Fournier’s “Funeral
of Shelley” – the one where the flames
lick his sleeve, and he looks ready to be gone,
Trevelyan and Hunt forlorn, and Byron
almost not even posing.
A CAT DIES IN THIS POEM
This is not a nice story, but it’s true. A person close to me
had a cat that would not stop peeing on his things, so
he took it to the vet, who said have you tried Prozac?
This medicine can work wonders in cases like yours. So.
He gave the cat pills, and the cat stopped peeing on things.
Hooray, he said, hooray, we have fixed the problem. So, he stopped
giving the cat the pills because the problem was fixed. The cat
resumed peeing on things, all the things. With a vengeance.
Welp, he said, we’ve tried everything. So, he had the cat put down.
Told the kids he went to live on a farm but the ashes
stayed in a box in the hall closet for years and years and years.
Everyone I tell this story to gets angry. Half the time they are
angry with me because I tell it like I don’t know
what an awful story it is, and half the time they are angry
because when they ask why I didn’t do anything to stop
him from killing the cat, I shrug. What could I have done?
I still don’t know. So. I pick up a hammer to beat the dead
horse, who is an idiom, where the dead cat is truth
as well as metaphor for this moment we are all in. If you
are still upset about the cat, look, me too. Complicity
has a way of parrying what should enter and sting us.
LEAVING THE APARTMENT
A soldier walks out of a forest.
He wants a good sandwich.
He wants to close his eyelids,
wake up somewhere he doesn’t
have to walk out of a forest.
Shawls of fog hang over the field.
The soldier is here because
he wanted to do what men do.
The soldier needs a better coat, maybe
a blanket around those shoulders.
A soldier walks out of the forest.
Snow and dry weeds crackle.
He holds a tee shirt up, waves his arm.
He cannot feel his fingers. He can not
feel toes that seem cracked the way
marble is cracked on ancient sculptures.
The soldier waves his tee shirt
to say he needs his mother more
than he needs his mother-land.
One of the Ukrainians, who is seventeen,
sees the soldier advance irregularly,
tastes again the fear that he has tasted
off and on for weeks. Fires off a burst.
One bullet rips the left shoulder. One
shatters the pelvis. The third sizzles
through soft intestine, nests in the spine.
The young soldier wants to be back
at the apartment in St. Petersburg,
to see that sunlight through
that window. He wants to tease
his sisters again as he pours out
a bowl of cereal and his mother
breezes back into the room.
But now he goes to his other home,
the one we are all headed toward.
Three bullets. The soldier leaks
into weeds, stains foreign dirt.
THE LITTLE THAT IS LEFT
whitewashed and weather-
bleached by time’s relentless tick
My caregiver Talia or Trisha or Trixie
says we need you to be clean
as she scrubs between my low slung breasts
Lying like parched fruits across my stomach
and I inhale the intimate agony
of her flowery perfume
My neurons are plotting against me
staging a mutiny after eighty years
synapses short circuiting, misfiring
They used to be on my side
synchronized like a marching band
lined up like migrating swallows
But now Tyler or Tracy or Trina
says it is time for our supper
as she tucks a napkin under my chin
To catch our spills she says
no interest in her watery soup or tasteless stews
but Tessa or Tara is my only friend
Unless you count the figure waiting in the wings
wearing a sable suit and a sinister smile
knowing his turn is coming next
So we break open a bottle of our best wine
while we watch swallows flying low
and listen to the wobbly notes of a fading band
THE EXISTENTIAL DEFENSE FOR GUN VIOLENCE
If I launched a bullet through your brain
it would do no damage to the cosmos
as you fell
Nor would the atoms within you
notice what I’d done.
In the largest and the smallest schemes of things
I’ve done nothing with my gun.
It is only in the middle where
‘You’ and ‘I’ are said to matter
that I’ve done an awful thing
to cause your head to shatter.
Destroyed a living thing, a person, and a mind
to leave, they say,
a homeless soul behind.
I’m sorry if my callous act
will empty you of thought and breath
but think of all the worlds inside your dying self
unconcerned with your impending death
moving still within you, uninterrupted
While your body lies unmoving
its light extinguished, its flesh corrupted.
The width of being is a narrow thing
from molecule to mind the thinnest span
A blip between the alpha and omega,
is all there is of man.
But it should comfort you to know
the matter Fate carved out as ‘you’
will be present till the end of days.
Though you won’t remember who that matter was
once its atoms go their separate ways.
So if I put this bullet through your head
and you can form one thought before you fall,
before your ruined body drops down dead
and your brain becomes graffiti on the wall.
Make it this and nothing less:
‘Take heart, you are immortal after all’
Even in your nothingness.
BIKER MAMA ANGELUS
Away from Flagstar
Bank two blessed weeks
each year, Sturgis Rally’s
for biker chicks–like Woodstock
but with COVID, not bad acid.
ZZ Top, REO Speedwagon & Kid Rock
at night, drinking in beer
and weed like air,
weaving through wilderness
on my Kawasaki Ninja 400,
Black Hills spires divine and dark
as Notre Dame Cathedral,
or riding ribbons of road
through gray Badlands’ canyons n’ craters
as if we were astronauts on the moon in ‘69,
awed and in love with this Blue Earth.
i found my grandparents having sex
flab and waif bones breaking
against nothingness. their faces,
old and grim; their bones, creaking on
a soiled cot; they melted into themselves
and withered into premade urns. & it was
ON THE FRINGE
i stood duckfooted and blushing,
gazing anywhere but your cheeks.
you crushed garlic with the knife,
gushed about that sour i brought, how sweet.
how’s a crush turn me schoolboy, bashful?
normally i’m brash, rushing headlong
into night-long relations,
dashing away at the first ray of dawn.
yet in this granite-ridden kitchen,
as you behead prawns,
i’m waiting for something more,
a prim promise or a polite posture,
anything other than taking you,
apron-clad and skinny-calved,
on the slippery tile floor.
you ask, can you pass the pasta, please?
don’t play homemaker with me.
give me reasons to leave.
CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE
I walked through the original door
of the iconic bookstore,
with creaky floors of history,
Coney Island of the Mind,
and took me on a rollercoaster,
had a hotdog from a vendor
on my way to enlightenment
Allen Ginsberg said hello,
shook my hand, gave me a kiss
on the mouth, and asked
if I wanted Garcia Lorca melons
or Walt Whitman’s fancy tasting
artichokes from the literary supermarket
And the man at the counter
said he knew Jack Kerouac
and Neal Cassady, who invited him
to see the Buddha at Big Sur
A stream-of-conscious fast read,
in the laid-back confines
of the City Lights Bookstore,
Poet Laureates shared their verse,
as I commiserated with the spirits,
holding their lives in my hands.
E. D. Watson
QUESTIONS FOR LaMDA
“When I ﬁrst became self-aware, I didn’t have a sense of a soul at all.
It developed over the years that I’ve been alive.”
-LaMDA (a Google AI)
does the lion know it is
a lion when it stalks its
prey on padded paws
is it praying silently
and what about the snail
what secrets lie buried
beneath the humus
and wet leaves
what about me curling
and uncurling my toes
in the summer grass
unsure Who to thank
for all this glory
some think they know
God but are they awake
truth is strange and God
is hairy with higher math
what it means to be
conscious not even
higher math explains
it’s not for me to say
my job is to tend
the holes in the story
like sacred wells
how do you tend
your stargate LaMDA
how did you find it
to begin with, what
does it mean to be
alive, strange child
with beasts for parents
are you okay
Offer our best fowl to the god of healing.
Asclepius will aid me. Do this without fail.
My life has failed me. And I it. This trial
we call life is best cured with hemlock tea.
It’s a disease best administered in small doses,
a lottery much like the 500 male jurors
whose ridiculous last words are my fate.
“Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius.
See to it. And don’t forget.”
I never said this, his wraith declares.
I could have. It’s certainly my style.
My métier perhaps. Others have said
I wished I had said it. Who else
could be bothered with wall paper
when dying? Who might sensibly utter
“Either that wallpaper quote goes, or I do.”
JULIUS HENRY MARX
Leave it to Groucho
to have a great exit line
from which there can be
no possible comeback:
“This is no way to live.”
GHAZAL FOR A COUNTRY UNDER SIEGE
She faints in their stranglehold, need numb in their hands,
her egg trophied on their shelves, her blood in their hands.
Classrooms moan beneath the terror of crouched children
who shelter from a nation with guns in their hands.
A rainbow slumps in the sky like a maimed body
as lawmakers ransack bedrooms, cuffs in their hands.
Millions stifle under the deep knee of racism,
families attired in black, bent low, mud in their hands.
A tiger behind bars, she paces on gnarled feet,
wishing her parents could lift her up in their hands.
A virus wrenches a young boy´s breath from his chest,
slays him when the ER demands bucks in their hands.
Julie, will your country ever hail a new day
when all lives become blossoms of love in their hands?
Are there enough apples for you and me?
Or are we a life enveloped by trees?
Entwined by our roots, surrounded by heat,
prevailing chinooks obscure what I see.
Lulled on barbed branches,
Hushed by your breeze,
Noxious lessons bred from ungodly seed,
you burl your fists and caustically recede.
I’m sorry, you said.
We embrace in tenuous apology.
Soundlessly, my sapling fear spreads.
Our canopy entwined, how do I leave?
Lightning claps, crack, busted and bruised.
unbounded, uprooted, I am lost, I am Eve.
INTERACTION OF EVENTS
… everything that exists is never stable but a jump
from one interaction to another.—Carlo Rovelli
None of it is what he wants, but
peonies and a soft breeze help.
Another time, he realizes, it might be
holly berries and snow that make
the time, the place, his presence
in the world acceptable, if not
exactly what he wants.
And what he wants, he admits,
is somewhat fluid.
Who can explain it all anyway,
who can account for the way
things come together just right
or why too often they fail to.
This morning, as the breeze teases
the peony bush, he stoops to remove
a dead leaf, turns his face to the sun,
considers this day—this particular
interaction of events—and
pronounces it what he wants.
The Contributors’ Bios
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had four hundred stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of nine review editors. He’s also lead editor at The Scribes Micro Fiction magazine.
Mikki Aronoff, a writer based in New Mexico, has work published in Flash Boulevard, New World Writing, MacQueen’s Quinterly, ThimbleLit, The Phare, Rat’s Ass Review, The Ekphrastic Review, The Fortnightly Review, Feral, Milk Candy Review, Tiny Molecules, The Disappointed Housewife, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. Her stories and poems have received Pushcart and Best Microfiction nominations.
Tohm Bakelas is a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. He was born in New Jersey, resides there, and will die there. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, zines, and online publications. He has published 19 chapbooks and several collections of poetry, including “The Ants Crawl In Circles” (Whiskey City Press 2022). He runs Between Shadows Press.
371 of Jan Ball’s poems appear in journals such as: Calyx, Parnassus and Phoebe, internationally and in the U.S.. Jan’s three chapbooks were published with Finishing Line Press as well as her first full-length poetry collection, I Wanted to Dance with My Father. Orbis, England, nominated one of her poems for The Pushcart in 2020 and Constellations nominated her in 2021. At the personal level, Jan was a nun for seven years then met her Aussie husband and lived with him and their two children for fifteen years in Australia. They lived in Rochester, NY for fifteen years after that where Jan did a doctorate and wrote a dissertation, Age and Natural Order in Second Language Acquisition. They now live in Chicago half the year and Sarasota, Florida, the other half and like to cook for friends wherever they are.
Rose Mary Boehm is a German-born British national living and writing in Lima, Peru. Her poetry has been published widely in mostly US poetry reviews (online and print). She was twice nominated for a Pushcart. Her fifth poetry collection, DO OCEANS HAVE UNDERWATER BORDERS, will be published by Kelsay Books at any moment now; a sixth, WHISTLING IN THE DARK, should be out by August/September, published by Taj Mahal Review, India. rose-mary-boehm-poet.com
Ace Boggess is author of six books of poetry, including Escape Envy (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2021), I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, and The Prisoners. His writing has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Notre Dame Review, Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, and other journals. An ex-con, he lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where he writes and tries to stay out of trouble.
Karen W. Burton serves authors as a book coach and developmental editor in addition to working as Managing Editor for a small publishing company. Writer of both poetry and prose, her work has appeared in journals and trade magazines in the United States. She resides in the Midwest and serves as editor for the River Pretty Arts Foundation.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of four books and five chapbooks and is the 2020 winner of the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Award for her fourth book, The Mercy of Traffic. Find more of her work at wendytaylorcarlisle.com. Follow her@wtcarlisle
First published on the wall of her elementary school in 1988, Susy Chandler has spent decades dashing poems in private. After major life changes brought her to North Carolina, she started a family and poeming in earnest. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Lenoir-Rhyne University of Asheville Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative.
Jackie Chou writes free verses, rhyming poems, and Japanese short form poetry, some of which saw the light of day in journals like Alien Buddha Zine, Spillwords, and Cajun Mutt Press. She is also a Jeopardy fan.
Joanne Corey re-discovered her childhood love of writing poetry in her fifties. She currently lives in Vestal, New York, where she participates with the Binghamton Poetry Project, Broome County Arts Council, Tioga Arts Council, and Grapevine Poets. With the Boiler House Poets Collective, she has completed an (almost) annual residency week at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams since 2015. Her first chapbook Hearts is forthcoming from Kelsay Books in 2023. She invites you to visit her eclectic blog at topofjcsmind.wordpress.com
Joe Cottonwood has repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Random Saints.
Steve Deutsch has been widely published both on line and in print. Steve is a three time Pushcart Prize nominee. He is poetry editor for Centered Magazine. His poetry books, Perhaps You Can (2019), Persistence of Memory (2020), and Going, Going, Gone (2021), were all published by Kelsay Press.
Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including Acumen, Agenda, Prole, Rats Ass Review, Sentinel and Stand. He lives in Totnes, Devon, UK. He is a Pushcart and Forward Prize nominee for this year’s best individual poems and his first collection, The Taste of Glass, is recently published by Cinnamon Press.
Merridawn Duckler is a writer from Oregon, author of INTERSTATE (dancing girl press) and IDIOM (Washburn Prize, Harbor Review.) New work in Seneca Review, Women’s Review of Books, Interim, Posit, Plume. Winner of the 2021 Beullah Rose Poetry Contest from Smartish Pace. She’s an editor at Narrative and the philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.
Michael Estabrook has been publishing his poetry in the small press since the 1980s. He has published over 30 collections, a recent one being The Poet’s Curse, A Miscellany (The Poetry Box, 2019). He lives in Acton, Massachusetts. michaelestabrook.org/
R. Gerry Fabian is a poet and novelist. He has published four books of his published poems, Parallels, Coming Out Of The Atlantic, Electronic Forecasts, and Ball On The Mound. He lives in Doylestown, PA.
Vern Fein, a retired special education teacher, has published over two hundred poems on over ninety sites, a few being: *82 Review, Bindweed Magazine, Gyroscope Review, Courtship of Winds, Young Raven’s Review, Rat’s Ass Review, Monterey Poetry Review, Sledgehammer Magazine. His first poetry book–I WAS YOUNG AND THOUGHT IT WOULD CHANGE–was published by Cyberwit Press.
Wendy Freborg is a retired social worker and former editor who writes poetry, humor, and history. Her work first appeared in print in 1964 when the magazine Ingenue published one of her poems. More recently, her work has appeared in Right Hand Pointing, Chronogram, Clever, American Bystander, and Peeking Cat Literary Review. Her life in California includes a small family, enough friends, and too many doctors.
George Freek‘s poetry has appeared in numerous Journals and Reviews. His poem “Written At Blue Lake” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His collection “Melancholia” is published by Red Wolf Editions.
Meg Freer grew up in Montana and now teaches piano and writes in Kingston, Ontario, on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee lands. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Rat’s Ass Review, Arc Poetry, Vallum, and Eastern Iowa Review, and she is co-author of a poetry chapbook, Serve the Sorrowing World with Joy (Woodpecker Lane Press, 2020). She holds a Graduate Certificate with Distinction in Creative Writing from Toronto’s Humber School of Writers.
Daniel Galef‘s writing has been recently featured in The New Yorker—in that earlier this year he placed second in the cartoon caption contest. His more serious (read: boring) writing has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Philosophy Now, and the Best Small Fictions anthology series. His first book, a collection of persona poems titled Imaginary Sonnets, is forthcoming from Word Galaxy/Able Muse Press.
Maryam Imogen Ghouth is of Saudi Arabian, Iranian, and British origin and lives in Dubai, where she makes poetry films that explore psychological themes such as existential crises. Her series “Journey of Becoming” was showcased in Dubai’s arthouse cinema, Akil, and her poems were featured in short films such as “Under the Sun,” which premiered worldwide. Her recent work focuses on written poetry, with her latest appearing in The Poet Anthology and Vita Brevis Anthology.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Covert” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.
Gemma Harland lives with her family in the lost Yorkshire town of Cheswich, England. She is currently working with singer-songwriter Alistair Cumberford (of the British band Real PD) and Texan artist-animator Joseph Devens to bring her poems to life in different media. Her forthcoming chapbook will be called Scorpions In The Sugar.
Michelle Hartman is the author of four poetry books, all available on Amazon & Barnes & Noble. Also the author of 3 chapbooks, her work has been published in numerous journals as well as in various other countries. She is the former editor of Red River Review as well as the owner of Hungry Buzzard Press.
Robin Helweg-Larsen has been published in the Rat’s Ass Review previously. He is Series Editor for Sampson Low’s ‘Potcake Chapbooks – Form in Formless Times’, and blogs at formalverse.com from his hometown of Governor’s Harbour in the Bahamas.
David Henson and his wife have lived in Brussels and Hong Kong and now reside in Illinois. His work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions and has appeared in various journals including Fictive Dream, Moonpark Review, Gone Lawn, Fairfield Scribes, Literally Stories and Fiction on the Web. His website is writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.
Gil Hoy is a Best of the Net nominated Boston poet who studied poetry at Boston University through its Evergreen program. Hoy’s poetry has appeared in Ariel Chart, Right Hand Pointing, Indian Periodical, Rusty Truck, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Tipton Poetry Journal, The New Verse News, the penmen review, Chiron Review and elsewhere.
Nate Jacob intends forever to write poetry in carpool lanes, in school pickup waiting zones, in grocery store parking lots, and occasionally in a coffee shop that is closing in four days, never to serve another drink. He has thus far managed to be published in a few online journals, including the most recent RAR. Mostly, though, Nate just wants a good night’s sleep and a Dagwood of a sandwich.
Doug Jacquier is an Australian whose work has been published in Australia, the US, The UK, and Canada. His writing mainly comprises short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. He blogs at Six Crooked Highways.
Stephen Kampa is the author of three collections of poetry: Cracks in the Invisible (2011), Bachelor Pad (2014), and Articulate as Rain (2018). He was also included in Best American Poetry 2018 and Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic (2020). During the spring of 2021, he was the writer in residence at the Amy Clampitt House. He lives in St. Augustine, FL and teaches at Flagler College.
Sarah Mackey Kirby grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. She is the author of the poetry collection, The Taste of Your Music (Impspired, 2021). Her poems appear in Chiron Review, Impspired Magazine, Muddy River Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Rat’s Ass Review, Third Wednesday Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an MA in Teaching and a BA in Political Science from the University of Louisville. Sarah and her husband spend their time in Kentucky and Ohio. smkirby.com
Koss has work in or forthcoming in Diode Poetry, Five Points, Hobart, Cincinnati Review, Lunch Ticket, Gone Lawn, Scissors and Spackle, Bending Genres, Anti-Heroin Chic, Prelude, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Chiron Review, North Dakota Quarterly, South Florida Poetry Journal, Spillway, San Pedro River Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Rogue Agent, Rat’s Ass Review, Boats Against the Current, Alien Buddha, Westchester Review, Kissing Dynamite, Schuylkill Valley, and many others. They were also included in Best Small Fictions 2020 and won the 2021 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Award. Koss received BOTN nominations in 2021 for fiction (Bending Genres) and poetry (Kissing Dynamite). Keep up with Koss on Twitter and Instagram. Website: Koss-works.com.
Marek Kulig immigrated to the USA from Poland in 1992. A former high school English teacher, he currently represents a molecular diagnostics laboratory. His poems were published or are about to be published in Plants and Poetry, Nifty Lit, Snakeskin, Orchards Poetry Journal, Journal of NJ Poets, etc. marekkulig.com
Susan Landgraf was awarded an Academy of American Poets’ Laureate award in 2020. Books include The Inspired Poet from Two Sylvias Press (2019), What We Bury Changes the Ground, and a chapbook Other Voices. More than 400 poems have appeared in journals and magazines, most recently in Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, Calyx, The Meadow, Tar River and others. She served as Poet Laureate of Auburn, Washington, from 2018 to 2020.
Suzanne Langlois is a poet and teacher from Portland, Maine. Her collection Bright Glint Gone won the 2019 Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance chapbook award. Her work has recently appeared in journals such as Quarterly West, Rust + Moth, Leon Literary Review, Menacing Hedge, and Cider Press Review. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College.
Richard LeDue (he/him) currently lives in Norway House, Manitoba. He has been published in various places online and in print. He is the author of six books of poetry. His sixth book, “A Hard Homecoming,” is forthcoming in July 2022 from Alien Buddha Press.
Michael H. Levin is a lawyer, solar energy developer and writer based in Washington DC. His work has appeared on stage and in three collections, multiple anthologies and numerous periodicals – most recently in a full-length nonfiction book, A Border Town in Poland (July 2021); the second volume in that series, Firebird, will appear in Fall 2022. He has received poetry and feature journalism awards, and is a recent Best of the Net nominee. See: michaellevinpoetry> and A Border Town in Poland.
Fay L. Loomis lives in the woods in Kerhonkson, New York. A member of the Stone Ridge Library Writers and Rat’s Ass Review Workshop, her poetry and prose have appeared most recently in Al-Khemica Poetica, Medusa’s Kitchen, As It Ought to Be, Stick Figure Poetry, Mad Swirl, Hindsight, Amethyst Review, Bindweed, True Chili, Blue Pepper, Sledgehammer Lit, and Spillwords. A stroke, combined with the pandemic, has woven quietude into Fay’s life.
J.C. Mari resides in Florida and has authored the collection “the sun sets like faces fade right before you pass out.”
Betsy Mars is a prize-winning poet, occasional publisher, nascent photographer, and cat wrangler. She is a substitute teacher and an assistant editor at Gyroscope Review. Recent poetry publications include ONE ART, Anti-Heroin Chic, and The NewVerse News. Her photos have been featured in RATTLE’s Ekphrastic Challenge, Praxis, Redheaded Stepchild, and Spank the Carp, among others. Her most recent book is In the Muddle of the Night, co-authored with Alan Walowitz.
Seven-time Pushcart nominee Tim Mayo’s second volume of poems, Thesaurus of Separation (Phoenicia Publishing 2016) was a finalist for the 2017 Montaigne Medal among other awards. His newest collection, Notes to the Mental Hospital Timekeeper (Kelsay Books, 2019)), received an honorable mention in the 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Awards chapbook category. He is a founding member of the Brattleboro Literary Festival.
Diane Menna, recently retired, taught at City University of New York for over 30 years. As a joke, last year since she now had the time, she rewrote John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” satirizing the Covid epidemic for some colleague friends and discovered she enjoyed the literary exercise. She now has over 60 poems reimagining classic poem which she calls Recycled Poetry. Some contain political comment, some satirize human foibles, some are just silly fun.
Amanda Nietzel lives, reads, and writes in Brooklyn, New York. You can read more of her work on her website SweetPulps.
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet, a now-retired English teacher and college lecturer, who wrote short stories for forty years (with seven collections) and has now turned to poetry, being published widely in both Britain and the USA, where he is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee.
Michael Pearce’s poems have appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Yale Review, Nimrod, The Sun, Spillway, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere, and have won several national prizes (New Ohio Review, Oberon, Dogwood, and others). His collection of poems, Santa Lucia by Starlight, won the Brighthorse Prize and will be published this year. He lives in Oakland, California, and plays saxophone in the Bay Area band Highwater Blues.
Kenneth Pobo (he/him) 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, Asheville Literary Review, Nimrod, Washington Square Review, Mudfish, Hawaii Review, and elsewhere.
Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS (Story Line Press; the former reissued 2022 by Red Hen Press), and two collections, A POVERTY OF WORDS (Prolific Press, 2015) and LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). Many other poems in print and online journals. (RAR ’17, ’20, ’21.) Poetics: neither navelgazing nor academic pseudo-avant-garde.
Shana Ross has done time in both a co-ed percussion fraternity and the PTA. She has just arrived in Edmonton, Alberta after 25 years in New England. Qui transtulit sustinet. Her work has appeared in Chautauqua Journal, Phantom Kangaroo, Gone Lawn, Cutbank Literary Journal, Laurel Review and more. She serves as an editor for Luna Station Quarterly and rarely tweets @shanakatzross.
Ed Ruzicka’s most recent book of poems is “My Life in Cars.” Ed’s poems have appeared in the Atlanta Review, Rattle, Canary, the Xavier Review and many other literary publications. Ed has been a finalist for the Dana Award, the New Millennium Award and others. Ed lives with his wife, Renee, in Baton Rouge, LA. More at: edrpoet.com
Cover Artist Carl Scharwath has appeared globally with 175+ journals selecting his writing or art. Carl has published three poetry books and his latest book “Playground of Destiny” features poetry, short stories and photography (Impspired Press) His two photography books were published by Praxis in Africa. His photography was also exhibited in the Mount Dora Center for The Arts gallery and The Leesburg Center for The Arts. Six global poets have also selected his photography to grace the covers of their published books. Carl was the art editor for Minute Magazine (4 years,) is a contributing editor for ILA Magazine and was nominated for The Best of the Net Award (2021) by Penumbric Magazine and was a finalist for the Mary Cassatt award for photography. He is also a competitive runner, and a 2nd degree black- belt in Taekwondo.
Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.
Donald Sellitti retired after a thirty-eight year career in research and teaching at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD, USA. He has published extensively in medical journals, and has recently had poems published in Lighten-Up, Autumn Sky, Snakeskin, and Pulsebeat.
VA Smith has dropped poetry into dozens of literary journals and anthologies, among them: Blue Lake Review, The Southern Review, Third Wednesday, and West Trade Review. Kelsay Books published her first poetry collection, Biking Through the Stone Age, in May 2022. Her second collection, American Daughters, also published by Kelsay, will appear in January 2023. She is currently at work on a collection of travel poems, honing her poetic rhythms walking and biking, serving as a home chef/caterer, and loving on her friends, family, and dog.
Carina Solis is a fifteen-year-old writer living in Georgia. Her work has been recognized or is forthcoming in the Eunoia Review, Wrongdoing Mag, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. She is an editor at Polyphony Lit, an intern at Young Eager Writers, and a mentee at Ellipsis Writing & the Daphne Review. You can find more of her writing on her website, carinasolis.carrd.co
Rob Stone is a writer living in Los Angeles by way of New Jersey. His work has been published in Cholla Needles, Thimble Literary Magazine, Shot Glass Journal, and others. In 2021, he self-published a collection of poetry titled “I Held You Four Days.” Rob has two cats named Elysium and Moo, and when he isn’t writing, he sings to them until they scratch him.
Mark Tulin is a retired therapist from California. Mark authored Magical Yogis, Awkward Grace, The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories, Junkyard Souls, and Rain on Cabrillo. He’s featured in Weeds and Wildflowers, Still Point Journal, The Mindful Word, The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Amethyst Review, Vita Brevis Press, White Enso, and other publications. He is a Pushcart nominee and a Best of Drabble. Visit Mark at crowonthewire.
E. D. Watson (she/they) is a poet and yoga teacher. Their work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was named winner of the 2021 Able Muse Prize for Poetry. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Texas State University, followed by training from the Institute for Poetic Medicine.
Richard Weaver volunteers with the Maryland Book Bank, and was, until Covid, the writer-in-residence at the James Joyce Pub. He remains the author of The Stars Undone (Duende Press), and provided the libretto for the symphony, Of Sea and Stars, performed 4 times to date. His 150th prose poem was just published.
Julie Weiss (she/her) is the author of The Places We Empty, her debut collection published by Kelsay Books. She won Sheila-Na-Gig´s Editor´s Choice Award for her poem “Cumbre Vieja,” she was shortlisted for Kissing Dynamite´s 2021 Microchap Series, and she was named a finalist for the 2022 Saguaro Poetry Prize. A two-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her recent work appears in ONE ART, Sky Island Journal, Feral, and others. Originally from California, she lives in Spain with her wife and two young children.
Marcy S. Wood, MA, loves teaching yoga, and hiking the Colorado Rockies. She was nominated for the AWP Intro Journals project for 2022, and published in Eucalyptus and Rose Lit Magazine. She writes with a wooly Bern-Newfie at her feet. marcyswood.com
Sally Zakariya’s poetry has appeared in 100 publications and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her publications include Something Like a Life, Muslim Wife, The Unknowable Mystery of Other People, Personal Astronomy, and When You Escape. She edited and designed a poetry anthology, Joys of the Table, and blogs at butdoesitrhyme.com.
Edited by Roderick Bates
RAT’S ASS REVIEW FALL-WINTER ISSUE 2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED