It is with nothing short of elation, Contemporary American Voices is back up and publishing. After fifteen months of non-compliance due to a major life event, I plan to re-spark CAV in May 2014. As CAV’s editor and creator, I can offer no excuses, only to say it was with great grief and sorrow I was unable to stay on task. I ask for forgiveness and a second look. New work expected beginning May 2014.
Other notable work by Janet E. Aalfs.
María Luisa Arroyo-
Odilia, Tell Me the Story of Your Name
for Odilia Galván Rodríguez, August 2012
Odilia, tell me the story of your name.
Is it a flower in bloom? Or does it mean patria,
or the mirage of a childhood home, now lost?
Through Google, I learn of Santa Odilia
and find poetry in the story of an 8th century nun,
who was born blind but granted sight
after being baptized into this world.
Odilia, you share truths as painful as bee stings
about this patria, the mirage of promise,
as SB 1070 flays the rights of our peoples,
whose names bloom with “o”s and “i”s and “a”s.
May their names blossom with thorns in the mouths
of those who mispronounce and persecute
as they grope for our identity cards.
In Search of the Word before Aftermath
Aftermath, I understand.
But is there a word for the stage before that?
Terror skewers open your eyelids
12 nights in a row in a room that you share
with ancient men who imagine walking
when they have no legs.
DNR or full code. I cannot understand
the asking. My voice flattens
when you want me to explain the difference.
Standard procedure. You are in a ward
for the dying. On the 13th day,
you come home.
Arteriovenous Fistula. You don’t understand
the need to create a portal for your blood
to flow into and out of your failing body.
Your heart forgets to beat 50% of the time.
And your kidneys, exhausted beans in your back,
forget to remove the water that bloats
your amputated legs. You pee perpetually.
Is this now the time for faith?
What Matters is Space
Mami, it doesn’t matter the number of saints
you dust off and cradle upstairs
to line the bureau of the bedroom
that you share with Papi
as he frets about the possibility
of an a.v. fistula to save his life
because his kidneys are dead.
It doesn’t matter how carefully
you measure out the cups of water
he can sip per day or sort the pharmacy
of pills he swallows, dry-throated,
or how you read the scale
as he, double amputee,
trembles on air.
What matters is space.
Space for him to rail against God
And then beg for life.
Space for you to retreat
and to stop hovering
like a hummingbird of death.
Space for me
to find the words for him to hear
that it is his choice
that – life or death –
it is his choice.
“Pain Becomes a Source of Wonder”: An Oxbow Gallery Visit
for poet Janet E. Aalfs and visual artist Susan McDonald White
Tremulous eyes leak blue love as we walk through the doorway.
Her body, taut. A harp unstrummed for months.
I taste your energy on your lips- milkbreathpure. Full open.
Willowy Crane, you are sister to Turtle Woman.
Hyponatremia: The artist, S. M. White, shows a brain
splintering and “pain becomes a source of wonder”.
Sculptor, the fullness of your statues has fled, as has your love.
The thin slate plates pressed against the wall flatten your spirit.
Here is there. Gears are worms. Carrots are swords.
Balls are breasts that spurt graphite milk. Under/stood.
Wool gloves burn as we dare to turn each page.
Tiny French words landscape each figure’s round flesh.
Umbilical and telephone cords are cut then dangle in space
like thick pasta. Eyes ogle, mouths gape. No words.
Words over here fragment and slip under white-out.
If you find the place where love fires up in my brain, press it.
Die Nur-Frau: The Only Woman
after “Die Nur-Frau” aquarelle by Hannah Höch, 1943
[originally written by the poet in German]
I am alone, the only woman here
in this forgotten Eden
of trees near Berlin. It is 1943.
Naked, I plant my feet,
curl my rooting toes in earth
and walk slowly, the rub
of my trunk-like thighs a whisper
of silken flesh. My left hand
I extend behind me – a tiny goddess
wing – while the other brushes my thigh.
My breasts hang heavy and free.
I am not retreating into Nature.
I am Nature – female, organic,
vulnerable, strong, resilient,
and ripe with hope. It is 1943.
Naked, I plant my feet
and know that I am safe – for now.
When the Nazis storm in, I know
they will overlook the art of my body
stained with watercolors
because I am only an old woman
and the only woman here.
A Massachusetts Cultural Council Poetry Fellow educated at Colby, Tufts, and Harvard, María Luisa Arroyo has published poems in journals, including CALYX and PALABRA. María Luisa’s first collection of poems, Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras, was published in 2008 (The Bilingual Review, ASU). Her poetry workshops include “The Power of Code-Switching: Poems Don’t Have to Be ‘English Only’” at the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival. With acclaimed playwright, Magdalena Gómez, María Luisa co-edited the anthology, Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions, Catharsis.
Janet E. Aalfs-
Eyes on the ground, branches
bare, drawn like a flame-
blue thread through silken
mesh to the other side, I felt
my mind pulled upward, gaze
precisely tuned, no startle,
no flight, as dark antlers held
the light between us taut.
So skillfully the weaver stitched
our meeting fully shimmered.
That moment spread like wind
in feathers across the Oxbow.
Then a car appeared
on the empty road, and a man
jumped out, phone in hand
to shoot. But all he got
were the trees the buck
had stood among more still
than my heart, palms together,
fingers soft on my lips,
and the sky kept bleeding
gold, and hoofprints in the leaves
A stranded Starcraft, windshield jagged, sits
in a cornfield, tipped to leeward, hull full of leaves
and river sand from the Oxbow shore.
The January wind must have floated
it in from Mars, no motor,
no gas, not even a ghost
to steer it through deeper currents
that hold me now. In the bow
a plastic rug, aqua as a swimming pool.
In the stern a purple ice tea can dented in rust.
My father loved the salt on his arms,
and sun splashing his face.
When I drove that boat
I was nothing less
than an osprey hitting the waves
eyes first, and the stun
of clear green ocean in my beak
shattered every sound.
All these years beyond
I’m only beginning to speak of
what I found.
I watched her open
a spiral of hair
the way I remember
dividing embroidery thread
one strand into many
each able to slip then
through the eye
of my needle multiplying
the number of stitches
I could sew
Now I recognize
that long ago
motion in her hands
able to find
in every breath
uncoils a fiber
the weight of light
stars that guide
and blossoms to mark
PREACHER: Coal River Mountain
he opened the ground like a book
to plant his chosen words
in glistening soil by the headstone
that tilted like a body wanting
to fall into moon-drifts
our long starving hopes
fearing the dark too close
in their eyes he shivered
like a golden bird
caged in the damp shaft
poison gas prayers dispersed
lighter than breath
doubting his own music
he applied his hand
like a bandage
or a wound
stamped upon this clay
irises that wilted
in the chill
through the gully
at the base of his skull
Janet E. Aalfs, former poet laureate of Northampton, MA and artistic director of Valley Women’s Martial Arts/ HAVPS, has been a Dodge Festival poet, performer/ educator in Cape Town, South Africa, workshop facilitator at Split This Rock, and presented her poem-movement weavings all over the world. Her books include most recently Bird of a Thousand Eyes (Levellers), and her writing has appeared in A Fierce Brightness: 25 Years of Women’s Poetry (Calyx) as well as many other anthologies and journals.
Other notable work by Peter V. Dugan and Claudia Van Gerven.
Christina M. Rau-
The Trouble With Glasses
The dead look so awfully
dead except in the dead of winter
when the lenses fog up
transitioning from cold to warm
even in cooler temperatures
inside of homes for corpses and coffins.
This prescription is five months old,
lenses thick and heavy,
growing thicker every
six months or less,
smeared with fingertip oil,
proof of why museums don’t allow
human touch towards antique statues,
ancient sculptures, modern paintings.
The prints blot out the city views,
ocean views, reviews of theatre,
films, novels, and the ballet.
The macular degeneration slow-
ly creeps in. The optic nerve
deteriorates to the point where
fashionable frames become just that:
fashion—as do the need for lenses
lest the magnified appearance of
blind eyes becomes chic.
No power or curve or laser
will assist in making
blurs become less of themselves,
or even more of themselves.
Arms squeeze too tightly.
The bridge pinches too much.
Better glasses than these
get buried after morgue and mortuary.
Muscles take too many breaks.
Pupils to pull towards each other.
Lids pull down. Tired of seeing
a live world. Tired of seeing
The Trouble With Sleep
This would be Fall—
Autumn gives way to
There is a night within
The inner drains souls dry
more quickly than death;
the outer welcomes sleep,
restless and false in peace.
Any light that seeps in
casts more darkness
in the shape of shadows
that move in the periphery
through sideways glances
that make heads jerk to see
nothing there except what
they thought was there before.
Sometimes we’re more boring
in the dark, less ugly,**
but the beauty of the night breaks:
so fragile the bone structure
so weak the contours
so thin the skin of it.
Loudness is a horrible secret***
revealed in the stages of R.E.M.
It screams from skull wall
to skull wall
until the paralysis wears off.
The pinch shoots straight up
into the cerebellum and beyond,
that shock, that scent,
that envious grasp of timeless spice,
the mottled, cratered, nullified surface
the hand sweeps across
accidentally and shakes away
like a spider web,
only the spider stays
when the web dissipates.
Its seven and a half legs
crawl with endless reach
as it searches for warmth,
a glistening thin line tracking behind
until light comes,
but it’s a temporary remedy.
It fades, always and every.
It succumbs to gnarled, desiccated trees.
It defaults to a gavel slammed down.
It loses to thick muddy Earth, frozen,
sticks in and sinks down,
in an effortless flow of ether.
[* Frank Bidart’s “To The Dead”
** Graham Foust’s A Mouth In California
***Norma Cole’s Where Shadows Will]
The Trouble With Swimming
Even a thimble-ful of water
kills oxygen dead.
Little sacs inside pink lungs
give up the attempt to pump
when they get wet.
One second of drowning
becomes the longest two days
of your life, the time to ponder
lessons by Georgia O’Keefe:
“Nothing is less real than realism.”
or by J. Benys:
“Before I was shot, I always thought
I was more half-there than
or was that Warhol?
sometimes it’s hard
who said what.
It’s like being a drunk sailor
at the mermaid bar
trying to make all the gals
flip and flick their tales
by buying round after salty round,
but all that really gets accomplished
is wasting a paycheck that would have
been better spent on spinach
or an anchor tattoo.
The mermaids will never be
impressed by men with two legs
who can’t walk a straight line.
They know dolphins who can do better,
and dolphins don’t even have limbs.
Dorsal fins are highly underrated.
Yet the call is there:
the sweet, littering, soft crash,
water over sand over water
over sand over
and over again
into the breakback
harmony to the Siren’s
melody, back to the break
of dawn the body remembers
even though the waking mind
does not, back to before
when oxygen came from liquid
straight into the lungs—
that’s the appeal of it,
that’s the false security,
or it could be real
if the will is real enough to test it.
I want to know what green is.
I want to know if what I call green
is what everyone else calls green
when we all watch Dorothy
walk down the yellow brick road.
I would have to be in someone
else’s head to know for sure.
I would have to be John Malkovich
plus everyone else.
Max Weber told me on a museum wall
that “color must be more than a color,
a form more than a form.”
Yet he still cannot clarify for me
the green conundrum.
Color can play tricks on your mind,
making you mistake vanilla for marshmallow
with a simple slight change in white hue.
There are some chemical compounds
we can smell only when they evaporate,
like coffee and chocolate.
Those compounds are volatile.
Green is not one of those compounds.
Instead, green is a reflection of light
caught inside the prison of a prism,
locked in the middle of a rainbow’s arc.
There are people who can taste color.
They call themselves synesthetes.
They say green tastes like almonds.
I’ve heard cyanide does, too.
The liquor store up on Sunrise sells
propane and cigarettes.
That is an interesting business model.
That’s also the place where after
a rainstorm the sky grows clear blue,
clear enough to relieve your sinuses,
where the buildings part and reveal
complete rainbows as the humidity disappears.
It smells like springtime.
It tastes like grass.
Grass is green,
a non-volatile substance
that smells freshcut long after
the gardeners leave with their
Maybe that’s what green is.
A lingering newness. A fresh break
from time. A universal subsiding.
Something that simply clicks.
Consumption of Space
A bright room is a vacuum,
all heat and light,
all colors vibrant and willing,
pulled in towards one apex
dull and hard.
The speed of light is
186000 miles per second
700 million miles per hour
denoted by c.
That makes breathing near impossible.
The nothingness fills the room,
pushing against itself
while the rest pulls
towards invisible boundaries
that grow out and up.
The formula for volume is
length times width times height.
The point when taking notice will
mean something passes.
Only remnants of that point
remain to mock, to scold,
to turn scornful eyes.
Under a magnifying glass the room
grows but so do its objects
so that illusion won’t work anyway.
The area of a triangle is
one half its base times its height.
The shortest path between two points
backfires on itself,
proving what it was trying to hide all along.
Christina M. Rau is the founder and director of Poets in Nassau, a reading circuit on Long Island, NY. She teaches English full-time as Nassau Community College, where she serves as Editor In Chief of The Nassau Review. Her works have most recently been published in Prime Numbers Magazine, Aunt Chloe, and Handful of Dust. When she’s not writing poetry or blogging, she’s watching reality tv, of which she is only a little bit ashamed.
Peter V. Dugan-
Inside the poisoned ivy covered walls
of the center for termination,
a room is filled with witnesses
as the eternal deathwatch continues.
A lifeless body lies on a bed surrounded
by bouquets of gargoyle gladiolus and black dragon lilies.
On a table to the side, a pineapple pen and paper await,
a death certificate to be signed in black-cherry ink
Artificial life support ceased.
A do not resuscitate order will be enforced.
The cardiac monitor still beeps and bumps.
The chest rises and falls in faint rhythmic breath.
Cerebral intellectuals and other attending physicians of the inhumanities
predict death is imminent and wait for the patient to flat line.
While, wild-eyed overzealous, overeducated academics,
coroners of literature and art, are at the ready to dissect
and perform an autopsy on the body of work.
Morticians pace the hall in anticipation to embalm the corpse.
But don’t know if it is to going be cremated, buried
The body begins to spasm and tremor
Is this the rattle? Is this the end?
The body bolts upright,
rises above the bed
and flies out the window.
Out on the streets, life goes on.
Little or no crowd gathers any moss
amid the blend and meld of music
a cacophony of natural and unnatural sounds
flow into the jazz like euphony of existence
but no one seems to pay any attention
as it never was
but forever is
It’s Totally Art
The city skyline is invisible,
or is it just
a consciousness contrived
by a counter-culture conspiracy.
There is no point of reference.
You’d chase that high
all the way to Manhattan
to experience a systematic instamatic
cinematic collage of images
granted powers beyond the nature
of their existence
by linguistic acrobatics presented
by illegal Mexican midget wrestlers
aliens from outer space,
who only rant and rave
wreaking havoc and mayhem
curled in the fetal position,
weeping like virgins
leaving graffiti marks on the walls,
bruising egos and shattering self-esteem.
But, you are always filled with the fear
of being deported to a jazz bar in the city
like a rogue asteroid exiled
from the community of planets.
So, burn them in a sacrificial flame
scatter the ashes in the wind.
That’s why God created IKEA.
But they don’t deliver
in the red rust glow of twilight.
it’s time to face reality.
Oasis of Chaos Theory
innocent satanic goat heads
adorn art class avatars
street level Cossacks
and Dali wanna-bees
as the silver bullet trio of snobs
play clarinet, tangy steel piano
and out of tune cello
anemone gladiators spew verse
recite odes of gun-port malaprops
while the sharp edged co-anchor
co-authors unveil a wired vat anthem
of misnomer ear candy epaulets
filled with alien slang sarcasm
to garner old flame Elysium stand-ins
and amuse runner-up vestal virgins
shed rabbit tears
as a village voice cries in the wilderness
tied to a gothic chain link fence
enforcement of a weedy leash law
enacted by red face rat race atonal icemen
who inflict seedy red-hot exclamations
to provoke a bar room brawl
whiteness wastes away
as they drink low end olive oil
a spot of tea and manta ray ale
Peter V. Dugan was born and raised on Long Island. He is a graduate of The New School in New York City. He has published four collections of poetry, Medusa’s Overbite, Members Only, A Cul-de-Sac Off Of Main Street and Getting IT@The Oswego Tea House. He is the Nassau County coordinator for The North Sea Poetry Scene and hosts readings at the Oceanside Library and Wyld Chyld Tattoo and Café on Long Island. His major influences have been William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Frank O’Hara and Jack Kerouac.
Claudia Van Gerven-
The Uses of Angels
–If an Angel deigns to come, Rilke
all moon-pearly and gorgeous as an iceberg
will he melt and leave the polar bears
to master the back stroke?
Or will he dissolve a lone star in a pale heaven
fizzing like expensive champagne?
There must be a song in this–
or at least some bit of musical theater, a rousing
chorus with lots of high-stepping
amber-lit as sunset, moon
a slim slice of vermeil.
Geese keep coming and going–
quills shed by the lake as if
they had words in them.
Are they heralds, those restless V”s
scrawled across the moon,?
Do they presage something Other?
Why do we pray
to every four-leafed clover– its fate
as green and perilous
as our own?
Isis swirls a swift wing, whiff of ozone
surmise of thunder in your shiver
wink of a dark iris
and you are alone again on that shore.
Plovers thrust small white breasts across
unaccountable seas. Do they conceive
a destination? In what do wings believe?
The goodness of air. A wave ripe with fishes.
What do nets of coral retrieve? Tiny first
urges tumbled in sea and the forests
of kelp tangling at your ankles, a cat’s
cradle, blooming new
with each wash of waters– and it happens
without your consent, like air
green and sticky in your lungs, coming
and going without thought.
What can you know in that slim throb
of light and the vast
heave of night– there a stone sea washed
in moonlight, here the muscled door
of oyster? In her shouldered shadow
in her sweep of winged light, slices
of what’s lost, what’s found.
Later Than You Think
Swaying is a discipline to the sea grasses
rooted in a vast restlessness
as stiffness to mourners among headstones
another casket draped in skirl of pipes lurching
toward pearling gates we don’t believe in
The one-eyed imaginary rakes the desert
from its green pyramid of symbols. The masons
have deserted their temples. The sphinx waits
a mouth full of accidents. Shoppers huddle
in their tents waiting for Black Friday
The fallout, they say, was a cloud of
purple dust, a fiduciary wafture
through the weeds, under the docile hooves
of cows. Childhoods withered among
the nettles, the red stone
Dying takes a long time. The gingko unrolls
her green ampul into the flat palms of
an new era. Wars are no longer cold, but scorching
gritty. Debacles at six and then cocktails
We collage lives with pixels and glue sticks
Think of the rigors of rowing, the dragonfly
lifting transparent signal
flags across the waving heat
of Utah desert, lighting on pointless
needles of Saguaro
Claudia Van Gerven is a published poet who teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder.. Her chapbook, The Ends of Sunbonnet Sue, won the 1997 Angel Press Award and her full-length manuscript, The Spirit String, has been a finalist for the Backwaters Poetry Prize (1998), the Verse Poetry Award, (2000) and the Bright Hill Press Poetry Prize (2003). In August of 2003, she won a Residency at Hedgebrook Farm Writing Retreat on Whidbey Island, Washington. She also researches and writes about feminist pedagogy, writing pedagogy, and women’s literature.
LIVING BY WATER
Give me the nearness of water–
boats cleaving wind-brushed
gem-green, molten grey, and sails
birthing full colors to air–
the way a child might wish
for the sight of her mother
through an open door,
arc of her mother’s hands
turning the pages of her book,
stirring the broth on the stove;
the ruffling of her skirts
as she moves, her hair
accepting whatever light
passes through the window.
My daughter tells me she doesn’t like
the light of late afternoon, those hours
when the sun
is drawing down and the air
takes on a molten hue
that makes her think of autumn.
I hate fall, she says, the beauty
of the leaves
doesn’t make up for their dying.
I don’t know how to refute her,
nor can I manage to agree, looking still
to hold those moments
of ochre-gold, before the falling
my daughter already can’t help but see.
TUG OF WAR
Before I laid
down this rope–
spent hiss on the ground–
friction of desire
where my lifeline lay–
once when the Greek sun
had its say
over the terraces and cliffs,
the lapis water of the caldera
waving and blinking Yes.
Even the feral tabby settled
on the veranda
where we stared,
where we breathed
stricken by beauty,
a word we would not understand.
BACK FROM ROME
When people say: Welcome back
to the real world,
I want to tell them how I awakened
to Romans passing through the piazza
outside our windows, how one day a woman
in a red coat eating a pastry stopped to clean
her sticky fingers in the fountain that sang
even through the nights,
that men strolled with their newspapers
and cigarettes, and children chased pigeons
on the uneven cobblestones everywhere
that made me aware how it is
I walk on the face of this earth,
on my way to the forno where a tall,
silver-haired man sliced long slabs of
pizza bianca just emerged from the ovens,
how he smiled Prego! when handing me
the gold bread glistening with oil and a sprinkling
of peccorino romano, and I left to devour it
while walking in the Campo di Fiori where
vendors sold me plums and berries,
miniature bottles of limoncello and bags
of rigatoni, spaghetti, and candied almonds
that dissolved on the tongue; along with pendants
of murano glass and jackets stitched with ³Italia²
in red and gold letters–Italia–that country where I
slept and breathed and dwelled for
nine spacious days, there in the Mediterranean–
on the map nearest to Albania, Croatia,
Greece, beside the life-sustaining seas.
Andrea Potos is the author of four poetry collections; her newest is We Lit the Lamps Ourselves, just published from Salmon Poetry in Ireland. Potos work also appears in many journals and anthologies, including Poetry East, Wisconsin Review, Women’s Review of Books, Southern Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Beloved on the Earth (Holy Cow! Press), Claiming the Spirit Within (Beacon Press), and A Fierce Brightness (Calyx Books). She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her family.
Other notable work by B.Z. NIDITCH.
In darkness, heart pumping, just enough blood manufactured
to make a difference to my dozing body.
Laughter rises up out of the lawn. I’m on my bicycle
steering it in ever greater circles. Shannon is
tossing baseballs like the girl she is. One lobs near my head.
Almost topples me from the saddle. The day is
composed of its elements: oxygen, nitrogen and Shannon.
Even before I sleep, dreams are restless to get to me.
My head is clean white canvas. Summer-scapes are all the rage.
Back comes the trembling moment right before the sigh.
Stream gurgles. Eyes pop. Grass smells like another species,
soft, scented, fortunate in its spreading ease.
Shannon takes my pale white hand. Shannon…
no lovelier bearer of that name.
All night long, recollections tip-toe around an ancient August sun
Blood thinks it has the night off but no, it must feed my brain,
wash away the leftovers.
Feet dangle from bank. Some swimming is accomplished.
Boy, girl, emerge dripping from the water.
They kiss. Girl says his name softly. Boy can only whisper “Shannon.”
This never happens when I am wide awake.
But the unconscious mind has more of me to go on.
You have thought about it interminably,
in grubby kitchens, on trash-littered tenement steps,
how you never asked to live
and yet here you are,
how Bobby never wanted to die,
so why isn’t he dawdling home now,
across the park, by the basketball court.
The lids of your eyes dig into your cheeks like knives.
How do the murderers, the thieves, the liars,
ever get what’s coming to them, you wonder.
Your brain feels like an overweight backpack.
Nothing more will fit and yet more has to fit.
And here comes the mailman
no postcards, just bills.
No one says, wish you were here.
Just stay where you are and pay for it.
What can I say? It’s an alley-way.
It’s a rough part of town.
There’s an old man sprawled
with his back against
the crumbling brick wall
of an abandoned shoe factory.
The best warning he can give
is the sight of himself
He grips a bottle like it’s his Bible.
It saves him from everything
but his thirst.
What can he know if me?
Has he ever read “The Great Gatsby,”
listened to Erik Satie,
indulged his European forebears
on the Grand Canal in Venice.
Maybe he was a fighter.
Maybe he drove a truck.
He can’t be me.
Bet he has no scrawled record
of every busted love affair,
each family slight.
Can he open a book of
himself at twenty, at thirty, at forty?
The only drunken poet I know
is Dylan Thomas
and this sure isn’t him.
Probably the past is so drunk out of him
that only today happens.
“Spare change?” he grunts.
What can I do?
I need my changes for my work.
WHAT HASN’T HE CHEATED ON
He cheated on the car as well,
the lease in both their names.
And that couch has been cuckolded
in the extreme, likewise the television
where the deceit on-screen is merely play-acting.
In fact, the entire room where they
sit together is such a victim of duplicity
its paper starts to peel, once bright green
turns sickly yellow.
What doesn’t feel something even if it
doesn’t know the woman’s name?
The bed? No way three fit
but does the one now lying in it
know she isn’t even there?
And what about this kitchen?
Wasn’t the way to a man’s heart
through his stomach?
She feeds you him but that
dumb stomach has no way these days
of passing on the romantic information.
Pots and pans, relentlessly cheated on..
Knives and forks… if they only knew
they’d jab the life out of the traitor.
He turns on a tap to wash his bands.
Dirt gurgles down the drain.
So that’s what water is… collusion.
The rickety ship rattles as much
as it tosses.
The grizzled man beside me
is glad just to be sea-sick.
His cousin died of cholera yesterday.
His baby caine down with typhus this morning.
His wife curls up in a corner and sobs.
There’s as much blight on us here
as rotted any a potato crop.
We huddle down in our field
of rats and sickness
to putrefy, to fester,
while we whisper of our days in Ireland
like we’re talking of the dead.
The ship lurches, the sails
slap into a wild frenzy,
the cables whip across the decks,
lash the squealing masts.
Will we ever reach America, I wonder.
I fall asleep a little.
A dream of Kerry hills.
is quickly dragged into
the swell of nightmares.
My head floods with the heaps of corpses,
too poor to be buried,
and the faces of the landlords,
grim and hard as unfertile, rocky soil.
And there’s the crowds of the nameless,
down at the gray and foul-smelling docks?
shunted into such a coffin ship as this,
and the eyes turning around,
staring back at that
green, despairing land
with the last of their bitter love.
John Grey is an Australian born poet, works as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Poem, Caveat Lector, Prism International and the horror anthology, “What Fear Becomes” with work upcoming in Big Muddy, Prism International and Writer’s Journal.
NEVER SLEEPING CITY
That nervous blind
of the blues
here at midnight
in packed clubs
living in the torque
and tongues of Bird
a stranger sweeps
by open doors
with a fugitive face
ashen with pale
runaway snow kisses
in spare arms
asking to dance
she made up her own
in unfamiliar corners
on the clay floor
in unfamiliar corners
absorbed by whispers
in vigilante beats
against a graffiti wall
of a lost sax
taken up by flashlight
of mercenary love.
the first of winter
as blind snow
kisses chestnut trees
your eyes open
on cold mountain air.
B.Z. NIDITCH is a poet, playwright, fiction writer and teacher. His work is widely published in journals and magazines throughout the world, including: Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Art, The Literary Review, Denver Quarterly, Hawaii Review, Le Guepard (France), Kadmos (France), Prism International, Jejune (Czech Republic), Leopold Bloom (Budapest), Antioch Review, and Prairie Schooner, among others. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Other notable works by Hannah Larrabee and Michael Fisher.
with thanks to Uncle Walt & Nina Marie Tandon
get stung up along
electrical line white noise buzz
shoestring tangle, dangled into voice swarm head rush noise–
when we are nucleus, embryonic charged, merge of small and large, the outlet.
Destiny Would Be Hyperbole If It Weren’t So Obvious
No, she does not look like me. She is pink where I am yellow,
her eyes blue, mine green. What you see is our history, linked
as we are, by something I know exists but cannot name. Not god
as you think of god, but perhaps goddess as they do in the East.
I wrote of her the day she was conceived by others, woke with her
name on my breath. What she will mean to this world I cannot imagine,
but I do know she lifts the mood of a room. I joke, magic baby.
She scares me in this way.
In the Absence of Patience
Mourning doves nest in the eaves above our side door
and I watch them sit on what will be their brood. I can see
only part—one sweet head, one gentle eye blinks curiosity
at my two blinking back the same. Other birds have young
peeping at them at the feeders, but these doves waited
until their nest was done. I know the anxiety of their wait.
What will happen when the baby arrives? Will they protect
with their lives the one for whom they’ve built everything?
She Asks Me To See Myself At Seventy
Gray hair spins around my face like cobwebs, and I settle
in a faded red wingback chair facing a window.
It isn’t a bright day.
Dressed in a turtleneck and pants faded to match dried hydrangea,
posture straight, but gentle, my breath does not fog the pane.
Brambles gnarl my garden path, knotting tightly at the gate.
Tea shivers in my grandmother’s rose-print cup.
Ash dusts the book fallen open in my lap, cold embers
from the fireplace behind me.
Beyond this, the large room withers.
My roots sink into compost—potato peels, green pepper guts,
stringy stuff from bananas rotting.
You’ve got to stir it up, spread it around, use it for planting, otherwise
it’s a pile of decay fit for flies. I pretend I’ve lost the key to the tool shed,
the shovels are in there and so is he, waiting for me to let the light in.
In my first memory he is backlit in front of a gray tent. In photos he sleeps
while I nurse empty bottles, toddling in his shoes.
In a dream I shot him inside the paneled office of his repair shop.
I walked into a lovely day—shirt sleeves, cobalt sky.
Some things grow wild with neglect, even under your own roof.
Thick branches burrow, heaving linoleum and concrete like ice.
Long fingers extend beyond soil to mantle, straining,
for the warmth at the core.
Jenn Monroe is the author of Something More Like Love (Finishing Line Press, 2011). She is an assistant professor of writing and literature at Chester College of New England. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Petrichor Machine, Tygerburning Literary Magazine, and The Lindenwood Review among others.
“Voyager 1 will cross the heliopause sometime within the next one to three years,
making it the first human-made object to come in contact with what lies beyond
our solar system.”
Snow is the backdrop.
A child is carried
in this way
through city streets,
blanketed and warm:
We are meant
to stay within each
other, to leave
the confines is to feel
silence. One town over
a man’s wife strayed,
so he wounded
then turned the gun
He left her alone.
in a bolder place
Voyager 1 nudges
against the heliopause;
it is the farthest
we have ever
No one waits for it
save for a few
and the morning
news. And no one
waits for her,
The papers all say
he was only good,
the kind of man
who cannot be
Voyager 1 snaps
over its shoulder:
the Earth no bigger
than an egg
glowing in uterus.
Snow is the backdrop.
At home, she wraps
herself in a blanket,
no longer home.
Voyager 1 turns
off its camera
It is not silence,
Oh, the things we pour
to get at each other,
to get outside
the daily one-room schoolhouse
think of how
we have done this over
and over, and still
are no better at it.
Oh, eloquence of booze,
in vino veritas;
think for a minute
back to when you asked
for us to share one last drink,
(it wasn’t the last)
to talk about things
we never had before,
and think back
to how we left the bar
early, not one thing learned
Oh, there was anger then
heavier than a barn door
there is nothing drink
can do to anger
but allow it to speak.
Oh, but we do not need it now
and so we ask for it
(in love) in warmth,
we ask for it
in the conversation
in the conversation
of old films,
in the patience required
to teach me to dance.
And not needing it
leaves me smiling
into your shoulder
so that you won’t see all
as you spin me around
the room, oh,
a slow building
Hannah Larrabee lives in two worlds, and the only thing that seems to follow is her writing. By day she works in radio, by night she teaches writing, and in between there is always writing and the reading of writing. She considers herself tremendously lucky to have spent several years studying with Charles Simic, to have completed an MFA in creative writing, to have engaged in two fields of work that keep her going, and to have found one person who happens to be the subject of quite a few love poems. She’s also a newshound and a fan of pre-prohibition drinks, and conversations that involve both of those things.
Live Music and Cocktails at Ralph’s Diner
Short necks, long necks
lines of brown bottles
and shot glasses shine
like cubic zirconia
under a blanket of seared beef.
The bouncer uses his degree
in engineering from MIT
to shine a mag light on Ids.
Consecrated night, late summer.
Days get shorter
before black jean boys and girls,
who twitch to top forty spinning
through their bodies,
feel a hint of a new fall.
This is an ugly city.
The old man stretch pastel shirts
over their guts, patina skin–
empty espresso cups
flies and ants, also ugly
lap ouzo out.
The school kids
single file and second hand
next to stucco mud side buses,
yellow paint behind their bruised hair–
almost parody of their fashions.
And the punk, blood dried
like cinnamon spilled
over his shirt and mouth
grinning to know his left canine
is swaddled like a newborn
in someone’s fist.
Michael Fisher lives in Worcester, MA. His first collection “Wolf Spider” is available through plan B press.
Robert Klein Engler-
They are together on the campus grass.
Sophomores, maybe, on the grass not far
from Old Main, not far from Jefferson Hill,
not far from the overhanging chestnut
tree that has yet to cast an inky shadow
and darken the fresh, spring grass.
She reaches over to place her arm across
his chest, then pecks a kiss. Quickly. Look
up! Did any one see us kiss on the grass
by the wide chestnut tree, not far from
Old Main? Did anyone see the first kiss
of spring on the green, green grass?
I did, and remember the tide of green
that rushed in me, overflowing the dam
of books, to flood all my good intentions.
What rose in me rises in them, so I won’t
tell them about who sleeps below the grass
or of the church bell that tolls the hours.
I won’t tell them how a kiss tastes like
earth and grass. Why ruin the surprise.
I won’t tell them how they say all flesh
is grass or how to turn the grass to words.
Let them find it out alone by the dogwood
flowering white and the yellow tulip bed.
There’s always something left undone.
There’s always the dark heartache that
never sees the sun. There’s always the wish
that flies away and the hope for just one
more day. Always, always, the deep well
of the heart. Always, the magnolias and
the corrugated shack, always the trusting
cattle, heads bowed down. Always, the
confetti of swallows against the evening sky,
and the clack of wheels that say, “good-bye.”
Always the urge to tell, always, the rusted plow,
and a darkened window with a half-torn shade,
always the wanderer from home and noontime
bells, the broken promise and the poem.
Always the silence of the grave, always
the bed, the sigh, the wave. Always a golden
bauble just out of reach, always the cypress
hung with moss, the white heron on its glide,
always the cross and the doubt like an itch,
always the holding on and the reluctant
letting go, always the swallowed, “No.”
Always grass in summer and in winter gone,
and something in the soul like a splinter,
always the drought and the flood, always
birth and blood. Always fire and water, sons
and daughters, always hail, always nails.
Always the sky above like hands that bless,
always the prayer for grace to say, “Yes.”
.KING EDWARD TOUCHED ME.
There’s a pair of crutches on the overhang,
above the doors leading to the Jackson
Station. You can’t see them from the street,
but you can from the fifth floor of the King
Edward Hotel. OK. What’s the story, here?
A miracle: “Upon arriving at Jackson, suddenly,
I could walk again.” Or just common cruelty?
“Dem mothafuckers took my crutches and
threw dem up dare. Lord, what I gonna do?”
Then, there are those who think it’s funny.
Or maybe just the same old daily trouble.
No matter, “Trouble gonna cost ya money.”
.LEADING A LIFE OF THEORY.
The fuckin’ L runs late, so I am late.
A homeless guy then greets me at the stairs,
his hand held out. I never take the bait.
Some emo brats go through the doors in pairs.
Last night the garbage laid in frozen piles,
the union called a strike. It’s been a week
since they rolled out a truck. The turnstile’s
broke. This transit thing’s almost antique.
My girlfriend says there’s drugs at school.
The sales tax is now past 10 percent.
My friend got fired. She told a joke. The fool.
Milk’s high. Why I can hardly pay the rent.
Still, I can’t decide: Adopt a Chinese kid,
or get a compost bin without a lid.
Robert Klein Engler lives in Des Plaines, Illinois and sometimes New Orleans. Many of Robert’s poems, stories and photographs are set in the Crescent City. His long poem, The Accomplishment of Metaphor and the Necessity of Suffering, set partially in New Orleans, is published by Headwaters Press, Medusa, New York, 2004. He has received an Illinois Arts Council award for his “Three Poems for Kabbalah.” If you google his name, then you may find his work on the Internet. Link with him at Facebook.com to see examples of his recent paintings and photographs. Some of his books are available at Lulu.com.
Other notable work by Amanda Fields, Nancy C. DeJoy and Christopher Hornbacker.
Driving through Deer
I was fourteen
let me drive
he gave me
and I took
a few more
from the cooler
in the passenger
the Illinois night,
into the abysmal
of it all
it was easy
like a physical
of the wrist
it sailed right
into the black
of the abyss
I kept drinking
the empty cans
out the window
took a cigarette
from the pack
a small herd
of deer stood
in the middle
of the road
they all turned
I hit the brights
the car jumped
through the heart
of the night
stirred you want
me to drive
I want to
The Wrath of the Corn King
Half the civilized world believes I’m flying through
clouds alone in a hot air balloon Dad – the astronaut
farmer – built in his barn. Coast Guard helicopters
have been sent to intercept this strange creation, silver
and UFO-like, and save me from certain doom, my eternal
fate. Earlier, Dad was testing the strength of the balloon
under heat. He lit the burners and studied the gauges.
When he went back to his work desk to check a conversion
I unloosened the tethers and slipped into my hiding place.
My shadow passed over his shoulder. He looked up to see
me in the sky, and so Icarus reincarnated took flight.
An extraordinary burst of flameshot lifts me up off
the ground. Some gases are lighter than air, he explained
to me, so now I, too, am lighter than air, sailing up over
homes and buildings, just like my dreams where I soar
over treetops and telephone poles, or leap from rooftop
to rooftop. There are no bounds anymore. I’m floating over
mountains and cornfields, slipping into orbit. My freedom
defies him, the corn king, whose wrath I will incur because
of it, whose appetite grows with every solar cycle like tree
rings. The more he eats, the quicker he dies. The quicker
the death the sooner the resurrection, and so Icarus…
Regardless of him and the cycles I am reborn once again,
yes, my flight the total consummation of every human
imagination. Every dream. If not me then another possessed
by the gift of flight. Destined for wind, rain, cloud, and sun,
the earth is no longer my home, gravity no longer necessary.
Dad is always there at his desk with the calculations. Farmers
go on planting, ships sailing. I’m past the meaninglessness,
zipped past it like a rocket ship, so that you may know
and recognize the tragedy, comprehend the scope of floating
and flying, manhood and irresponsibility, drifting, unbelievable.
If not me then another… simultaneously known unknown.
Hanggliding over Crete
A vivisection of these mountains would bear the remnants
of every major civilization to pass through the Mediterranean.
If you could reach down into the soil you’d find figurines
of women pregnant – the original god – the same prehistoric
relic spread all over Europe and Asia. Egypt is not far south,
could almost smell the sand, but here it is fertility and earth
mixed with sea water. On the bus to Knossos, dilapidated
Venetian windmills stand on crests near waterways. A picture
book in your lap, you can’t stop looking at the one of youths
flipping over bulls like acrobats. A series of cryptograms
line the balustrade. Supposedly the city structure had indoor
plumbing. So here is where they sang of moonphases, star
changes, rebirth, the Minotaur lurking through the labyrinth,
and of the one who flew too far toward it: his eternal splash.
Going back, a hang-glider leaps over the edge toward the valley.
Phaestos Disc in hand, a key-ring souvenir from the market,
don’t know if it’s Linear A or Linear B, if it’s pre-Phoenician
or not. But today it doesn’t matter. Earthquakes, volcanoes,
tidal waves, the mythical Atlantis…. You don’t recall ever
seeing anyone actually hang-glide. How in the hell do they
land with their feet in that position? This man must be some
sort of daredevil. Lord, what a view! What an endeavor!
The second time you surprised me,
leaping up from the horizon, running
full speed across U. S. 41 in the violet
dawn, outrunning sunlight, it would seem,
sublime and super-coordinated, before I
could even concede recognition, disappearing
into a corn field, then became the eventual
fruition of all possible reckonings: a shadow
in the wake of your impossible stealth. The first
time, though, was as if I were expecting you
(again), pastel daybreak, a dirt lane leading
to a boat launch, shadow phantom, crossing
a river path, and still another transposition.
I often wondered if that was the extent of it,
walking, waking oblivion. A cat at the end
of a tip of a bough of ash, it would seem,
a glimpse in Tennessee and a flash in Indiana,
déjà vu, engendering all subsequent and inter-
mingled déjà vu, your faint, distinct presence
permeates the new ground I’m able to turn,
boundaries, all the maps of my imagination.
I’m learning simply to live with the plain
knowledge you exist beyond, just beyond,
that, inexplicably, the wind brings it back.
She smiles acquiescing to it all,
her eyes sharpened by everglade
the pool silver-blue, the mirages
radiating at the horizon, distant
fractured light scattered across
the bottom, polyhedra floating
and silver moving over it,
the waves, she steps onto her
whatever its scientific name,
this one would have been
its home the crystal palaces
of icebergs and ocean
stuff of Arctic legend,
keeper of unintelligible
social, intelligent, communicative,
supersonic, could track man
alike by vibration, speak:
leviathan, black-white beast
of ice and death, yin
and yang, and here she is
in a wetsuit
on a platform with a bucket
of fish and a head full
as they line up and fill
the seats, she scans
thinking their language,
living their thoughts,
through their circles,
they cry out to her familiar –
out with knowledge, dumb
love, out of water
they fly and twirl, back
bursting through air
over her, and then back
into the belly
of the whale, wondering,
‘What did I get myself into
Nathan Prince has studied writing all over Illinois and currently resides near Chicago. Most recently his work has appeared in Burning Word, Subtle Fiction, Permafrost, and Euphony. He enjoys running around.
One Pine Lake
The Iron Range appears untouched but
bristled, once, with human feet.
That first realization –
oak trees in the hills
spawned by whorled fingertips.
We spread open a map of lakes,
curtained origins of names.
In the cabin we pour wine from a blue bottle,
swallow a pressed taste,
digest doilies and wolves and red velvet,
the moon-blue plate of One Pine Lake, and
the paddle slipping, and
how long it would tease on the surface, and
where it would go, and
how far down.
He cups hands behind his ears
closes his eyes
calls for prayer.
It is a new campus
in the desert
where you cannot hear
the echoes of muezzin upon muezzin.
The student newspaper captures him.
He is quoted:
males and females
on this campus
should not interact.
The philosophy course
should not be required.
Black Desert, White Desert,
we pace a bowled arena of flower rocks
our heads bump in the jeep
so much habibi from the radio.
Our drivers fast,
ply us with water in refilled plastic,
their English trickling toward us.
They seem pleased by our efforts toward Arabic.
Makeshift mosque on campus
Someone keeps hanging signs:
Lower your gaze before women!
Why aren’t you veiled?
At the hot spring
an old American in her bikini,
the stench of sulphur
boys requesting allum and filooz
you are free here, you are free
says our guide
a desert patch of Egyptian clover,
tended by a barefoot man while
I piss behind a shed while
we swim in concrete while
we eat baladi and fuul, and
everyone is fasting and
everyone is starving and
the spring runs through the hut
before a palm tree holding bars of soap
for washing feet, and
we are served and served.
I remember that student,
the one who stands in the photograph,
palms cupped behind his ears,
eyes squeezed shut,
calling and calling for prayer.
Each time I returned an essay,
he caught the pages with two fingers
placed as far from my fingers as they could get.
I cannot allow for a softer verb.
We must have a Bedouin meal
under the stars
on a sand dune
You must, says the guide.
The driver overshoots the dune
our faces mashed in seats
we grasp for each other.
The fire is an interpellation
between stars and sand.
Whole chickens roasted,
we are requested to dance,
you must dance,
they insist. Dance.
We lie against the cold slant of the dune.
We do not know what to do with each other.
We do not know how to absorb these stars.
Amanda Fields, a Pushcart nominee received an MFA from the University of Minnesota and an MA in English from Iowa State University, and she is pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric, Composition and the Teaching of English at the University of Arizona, where she is a Crossroads Scholar. She has been published in Indiana Review, Brevity, Cerise Press, and Superstition Review, and her work has been reprinted in The Compact Reader: Short Essays by Method and Theme.
Nancy C. DeJoy-
Being and Not Being
There are spirits among us,
so close they brush up against
our cheeks and hearts,
appear to us as birds, or deer, or flowers.
There are ghosts among us,
so distant that they empty
our souls and mouths,
appear to us as blank spaces, or lost memories, or work undone.
These rhythms of being and not being
merge into clusters of
trillions of cells and series of bone,
appear to us as ourselves and one another.
I have a pair of unworn black
spiked heeled sling backs
sitting on top of their box
on my dresser.
The curved heels and silver ring clasps
make everyday a question
about if the weather has turned yet to spring.
This hope merges with a more general
sense of the inevitability
of sex and spring
inspired by the fact that
a new load of wood arrives tomorrow.
Once it is stacked in rows in the garage
I’ll put those shoes on and do a
to Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love”
that even February won’t be able to resist.
Age and Change
There is freedom in age.
Waves of letting go
Grains of life’s texture rearrange
themselves in patterns
outside of the lines
and we are what we will yet become.
Nancy C. DeJoy is a writer and a professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. She lives in East Lansing, MI with her cat Lily in a house full of art and music. Nancy is currently learning how to play the drums.
At the Head of the Table
There may be only one room
in this world, furnished
with a table of places
in the bowls that the soup
slips through, chips in the china
cups that cut the lip.
Who has been invited?
The virulent, cultured aunt,
the twice-daily drunken father,
the cousin whose breasts
cause you to perspire.
The list progresses
to family friends and casual acquaintances,
one-night stands, total strangers,
the Pope’s chauffeur–all are there,
supping into the horizon
of your table,
as if demonstrating perspective.
The filter of voices strains
meaning from the air.
No one seems to notice
the ambition of this
meeting of selves.
Can the Senegalese barber
seated down by the stuffing
senses the tension as butter
passes from the hands
of the New Haven minister
and into those of the geneticist
When the imam from Ahvaz
takes his seat beside
the punk-rocker from Beijing,
how many blessings must be said
or unsaid before a single fork is lifted?
Before somewhere, beyond the point
where vision ends,
at the head of the table,
someone fiddles with his napkin,
wonders about the weather
and waits to excuse us,
or to be excused.
This is what happens. A vista
collapses into dimensions ungraphed
by the geometer’s tool—
the soul peeling away
from the finitude of earth
measured in the familiar
into a voice, a pulse, a strangeness
of the body’s fluids,
a forceless resuscitation of dreams
neither fulfilled nor destroyed
but only busied,
donning the guise of things
feared just moments ago
it seems, when I was fifteen—
Berlioz, his witches in the woods only half knew
apple blossoms and the transformation
into mature sex organs,
fruits meant not
just to be tasted, but carried
into a vigorous continuity,
how we see each other—
in terms of sex
everything else is almost,
an adequate accident,
ancillary, like later, my loss
in your hair fawning out as a symphony
of lush darkness, a forest full
with the things forests contain.
They always go before us,
the slanting, stumbling, ambling
remains of living like wounded trains,
tracks that wind like the parts of a clock
until sprung and stopping time,
always easily derailed
by some penny on the tracks,
a wish in a well of green,
its mantle of moss pondered,
the rough cut stones that ring the water
so far below that the sun never reaches,
like the darkest waters of the ocean
where the creatures that can,
make their own light,
like oxidized copper,
some slow bobbing in the depths,
lanterns held out,
lures for the foolish and small
that feel the hunger of never surfacing.
These alders receding against
the mundane beauty of poppies, so alizarin
and obvious in the foreground,
but how color clings to each
ingenious detail, the whorls
perfectly balanced somewhere
between thio violet and dioxazine
purple, stamen reaching toward darkness
of lenticulated bark, an achievement
arranged by the strokes of some brush,
composed for you, you thought—
the way it would feel
if it were your will to touch,
if only you were present
as the alders, the poppies too,
as more than an artist
at his painstaking task
of reproduction; a mystery
when compared to the simplicity
of wind and insects that do their work
effortlessly amidst a day’s
Christopher Hornbacker currently resides in Hattiesburg, Mississippi where he is pursuing a PhD in poetry at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers.
Other notable work by Bryan Borland and Joanna S. Lee.
AFTER THE LONG SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT
Turkey vulture, buzzard, carrion-eater,
a dark tension soaring on dihedral wings
tipped with light primary feathers like
fingers reaching apart, stretching beyond
what’s possible, taut to nearly splitting.
Linked eyelashes blinking in the sun,
tracing spirals on blue-sky thermals
above the golden mapled ridgeline,
one, two, four, fifteen vultures now
circling not to a kill but to a change
of season, each blackness marked
by a featherless head, purple-red
like an open mouth, a ravening beak
to pick clean the carnal landscape.
The tension is not life and death,
it is that tautness that keeps us
circling miraculously on thin air
like a love poem, like the tenuous
and ethereal mystery of you and me.
No poem, my love, can fly carrying
the weight of cliché vultures massing on
an upswelling wind like death angels.
Look again, watch them glide
with the flick of a feather, see the way
love floats away, just out of reach.
Then came the storm, after a hot,
dry season, a torrent upon the dust.
You could tell me not to say parched land,
not to talk of tempestuousness after
the long summer of our discontent,
but listen to the argument of hot and cold
resolved in sudden winds and sky tears.
GENTRIFICATION: FIRST BLUSH
Squatting in the boarded-up brownstone
of your fin-de-siécle love, in moieties
of decay and splendor, sophistication,
world-weariness and fashionable despair,
I say “It’s not habitation but rather my art”
when they come to evict us, I call out
“Don’t come in, I am painting a nude model.”
My brush hairs stroke your intimate SoHo,
my fingertips chalk your pastel breasts.
Celluloid lovers caught in the rain
hold sections of the Sunday Times
over their heads and run for cover.
Inside the planetarium, they stroll across
the lunar surface beneath ringed spheres
and the mute gaze of pinpoint stars.
They come from a planet with air
and water and wedding announcements,
Arts and Travel and The Week in Review.
What do we really know about gravity
and attraction, the stark silence of space,
the ineffable mystery of love?
Heads bowed into winter rain,
we tramped across the Village
to a Korean bodega for chiles
and tortillas, tequila and limes.
Arm in arm we splashed
through the neighborhood,
my Loisaida girl and I.
It was our season of bilingual
wordplays, when you teased Poggi
at the hotel revolving door
by calling him oggi, Italian for
today, the only day that counted
for two lovers spinning ‘round
the axis of right now
in a wedge of whooshing kismet.
Fifth floor walk-up packed
with friends – I’m chopping salsa
while you pour frothy margaritas.
Was that the night Mark
did his funny mouth thing
in the gay bar by the little park?
Following you up the ladder
by the fridge to the sleeping loft,
oh long-legged temptress, your freckles
the stars by which I navigate
this uncharted territory, your easy
mocking laughter my siren song
above the lulling waves of Tracy Thorn
on a distant shore, head in her hands,
singing so keep your love and
I’ll keep mine. Morning, bright sunshine,
walking south into the new day,
to Canal Street to buy acrylics
at Pearl Paints. I will paint you
the Renoir of the beautiful woman
in the blue dress and crimson hat
and the girl with the chapeau fleuri,
and I will remember forever
your face, your auburn hair
damp and tousled, your cheeks
flushed pink, the very last time
we made love.
You are too young for this, so tall and thin
and beautiful, sleek and sophisto in straight-
legged jeans, a soft pink sweater and scarf
to cover your hairless head, your left breast
gone, a fresh scar stitched across your heart.
Lunch at Sofra Bakery, Cambridge,
passed much too fast for me, one hour
after twenty-some years, but time
is a one-way ticket on the express line,
and you can’t unwind the past’s
long and complicated spooling.
We talked of your four children
and my three, then it was goodbye again.
I took the inbound to Park Street, then
the E train to the Museum of Fine Art.
You know me, straight to the Impressionists,
Monet’s water lilies and haystacks, poplars
and poppies, bridges and cathedrals,
then Renoir’s “The Dance at Bougival,”
a young couple outdoors at night,
his face behind the broad-brimmed hat,
her eyes drawn to the fallen blue flower.
His left hand is on her waist, pulling
her close, her breasts pressed against him,
his breath beery upon her flushed cheek,
waltzing as the night sky twirls around them,
making me dizzy and nauseous. You betray
no malice for the way I left you that muggy
August afternoon on the train for JFK, but
I have never forgiven myself, never stopped
asking what if. This is not about you, Ray,
the dancer said. I know, I answered to myself,
but we each are responsible for our own healing.
The path of desire
does not follow right angles
or obey the warning signs.
It cuts diagonals across vacant lots,
crawls through holes in chain-link fences
and trips through broken glass.
Bloody footprints mark the way,
one set flat and wide, the other
with narrow heels like ripe red plums.
Ray Sharp is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet from the rural, rugged and remote western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His work has appeared in many print and on-line journals and anthologies, including Astropoetica, Bolts of Silk, Caper Journal, Eclectic Flash, Misfits’ Miscellany, Poetry Breakfast, Qarrtsiluni, Referential Magazine, and Voxpoetica.
Instructions on How to Approach the Bereaved
Do not dance around
the dead elephant in the room.
Do look over your words in the mirror
and remove the last sentence
before it leaves your mouth.
Simplicity is always best.
Do look them in the eyes and say
I’m sorry for your loss
Please let me know if you need anything
you secretly hope
Recalling a Last Conversation Between Father and Son
I am angry at myself for not
staking his words to my hollow chest
so that these spaces of excavation
and mental archaeological digs
would hold more artifact. We talked
for five minutes, joking about
mortality and the missing spines
of politicians. The rest,
I’m not sure, layers scraped away
by the trowel of sleepless nights,
dreamlike words hanging
like dust in my throat, as reliable
as the stories we give to bones
found buried in the sand.
Introducing a Grandson to His Grandfather
You will know him through your own
sense of humor, the practical jokes
of heredity that make your eyes water
to the detriment of friends.
You will know him through acts
of kindness, the anchor of heart
that compels you to share your treasure
with less fortunate pirates.
You will know him, little Noah,
when a cat stakes her purring claim
against your leg, when you walk
the first of many dogs on winter nights.
You will know him in your name,
in your knees, in your near
tone-deaf ears that hear melodies
beautiful in the absence of pitch.
Another one, yesterday. Another sympathetic doctor,
another nurse in tears despite her hardened arteries.
Thus it begins: the planning of a death at some unknown point,
weeks or months or years from now; the slow snuffing out
of life; the pragmatic brother with the carpool spreadsheet,
colored cells, who will take dad to chemotherapy; altered cells;
who will police the family meals and remove all talk of disease;
who will scrub his clothes to rid them of the stains
of hospital waiting rooms and fevered incontinence.
Another one: pancreas. Another one: liver. Who will
be the first to think of medical bills in the unmentionable
context of our dwindling inheritance; who will be strong
enough to see frailty. Another one: lung. Another one:
blood. Who will spend lunch hours hunched over keyboards
reading words like terminal and metastasized and radiation
and the size of a walnut. Who will rationalize the slow burn,
be thankful of goodbyes, be grateful of the order
of finality known long in advance.
The Day Cemeteries Change
Like a backyard quarterback
I kneel with my bare knee to the dirt
to settle the flowers we leave
against the winds of our absence.
The morbid nature of cemeteries
has died with you. It is family,
this place. It is my duty
to patrol these grounds,
to straighten the silk roses
on the graves of your neighbors,
to wipe the bird droppings
from my high school teacher’s stone.
Bryan Borland is a multi-time Pushcart nominee and the owner of Sibling Rivalry Press, a small publishing house based just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. His first book, My Life as Adam, was one of only five collections of poetry including on the American Library Association’s inaugural “Over the Rainbow” list of noteworthy LGBT publications of 2010. He is also the editor of Assaracus, the only print journal in the world dedicated to the poetry of gay men. For more about Bryan, visit www.bryanborland.com or www.siblingrivalrypress.com.
Joanna S. Lee-
the saddest love songs
sound thin at the elbows,
stony and shallow like
river waters at the beginning
of reckoning season.
can seem soft on first
sinking; the slate
of moonlit hearts full
with mystery & wrapped
in sweaters against the chill
of autumns that have been.
some nights, they itch.
some days, there is no cure.
secrets from our
in the box on
that dark shelf in
trace your name
in the dust on
its lid, whisper
off the tracks, by the water
the spray over the rocks is
chase each other in
dark shallows; herons
fish in pairs, build nests
in high branches. you,
you make me want
new lingerie. i love the way
it looks like linger, like
that trick you did with the
strawberries, that time
we got tequila-drunk
at two in the afternoon. this
is the poem i should have
written then, weaving line
breaks into the space
between our breaths as we
dreamed of sea air.
but we are far
from the ocean here, do
our best with river-sand
and stolen seconds,
making silent promises
in sunlight that the river carries
to her mouth
& in her bones: this will not
end as it should.
there is a poem
in the exquisite onslaught
of early May traintracks,
late night rainstorms; swooning.
plume of cavalry. a little
girl tips back a big bottle, up.
up. we compare commit-
ments, strawberries. i was
committed, once. it was
raining then, too. barefoot.
no white horses. no
pink rose. like the bath scents
i brought mother that
last time: rose, pink, bottle.
she never usedthem. this poem
is supposed to be
about other things, not
mothers and bottles: thunder,
the whistle of trains
in darkness. skipping
over rocks. barefoot,
rivers can be
white horses there,
either. it is
early May after all: who
will catch you? strawberry-
blonde, he called her.
she wrote him love poems
but even they were not
happy. fuck happy poems,
she tells me. poetry
is always barefoot. even
over broken glass.
poem about termites
In Verse.S.54.9 of the Samhita, it is stated that sweet ground water
would be found near a termite mound located east of a Jambu tree at a
specific distance of 15 ft to the south of the tree.
These things you should
know: love always leaves
written traces; one must
only drink absinthe when bro-
ken; and though i have no
talent for endings, there are
worse things than this:
there are worse forevers.
if you find yourself looking
for me between them, always
take the road South;
seek a mound east
of the Jambu tree; listen
for the telltale trickle.
The tick of time
chewing into your heart
will slow, and it will
smell like fresh sawdust
sprinkled on a painted
ocean. that will be
the last poem.
Joanna S. Lee lives in Richmond, Virginia where she spends her time searching the riverbanks for unborn poetry. Her first book, the somersaults I did as I fell, was released in 2009. Her work has been recently featured in such journals as Right Hand Pointing and qarrtsiluni.
Other notable works by Oonagh C. Doherty, Sally Bellerose and Ellen LaFleche.
The Balance Stone
~after a sculpture of the same name by Isamu Noguchi
there used to be another stone
the ghost stone is not there
above the stone that is
the stone that is is on the roof
of the building where air passes
through windows that are not there
like the quartz gathered in the woods
near the house a child used to live in
who used to be me
the ghost of the child
is balanced on the roof
of what I have forgotten
The Bar where the Physicists Drink
Is a simple old place that serves Guinness.
They sip in sync with the universe,
calculate the time it takes
for heads to dissolve into golden lager,
observe the centrifugal force
of barstool turns, the trigonometry
of dart throws, comment on
the waitress; whether she exists
in time and space while she is on break,
the centripetal force of her inert body
leaning against the outside wall,
inhaling molecules of smoke; debating
if her curvature is equal to her curves.
They don’t order martinis, but if they did,
they might contemplate Pascal’s 2nd Law
of Hydrostatics, how an olive
affects a change of pressure in a
homogenous, incompressible fluid.
They drink their beers, join the flow of charge
as the current of money quickly ebbs.
When the conjugate quantity of beer consumed
is equivalent to the linear movement of time wasted,
they declare this system closed and depart,
leaving a sense of relative uncertainty at every table.
I believe in strum and riff,
in the medley of pluck and thrum
in strings pulled taut to tune
finessed with finger picks,
or tickled with steel for a slide,
in the thwap of a chord,
the vibration of hammer on.
I believe in a good fake book
in the midnight jam
I’ll bring my axe, you bring yours.
We’ll play St. James Infirmary
and Uncle John’s Band
until the sun comes up
over the Hudson or the O-hi-o.
Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak
a knock and sequence, hands
unsuccessful, reach for numbers
twelve hovers atop
a round white mountain
long sweeping curve of shrug
a gesture in one direction
the hiccup of a second
the thousand spins of a life.
Lori Desrosiers’ book of poems, The Philosopher’s Daughter is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2012. Her chapbook, Three Vanities was published by Pudding House Press in 2009. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is editor and publisher of Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry.
Oonagh C. Doherty-
A time like the space between tracks -
cyclic whisper of diamond needle
on the record’s swaying warp:
Abbey bells woke me at night,
a patter of feet after pubs closed,
laughter of strangers, a song, a crash.
Morning I brewed tea stubbornly using
the oldest loose leaf Lyons Red Label
though it had mildewed and tasted of hay.
Drink, don’t waste. The least I could do.
So much could not be recovered. I fixed pillows
measured opium syrup into tarnished spoons
until the automatic morphine shunt
hung round his neck in a gay crocheted bag.
A good work of the Women’s Institute no doubt.
I walked to the shops while the winter jasmine
sheathed itself in ice as did another pink flower.
He said, good butter is worth the cost,
so I bought good butter in town.
At the Sikh’s round the corner I chose
The Manchester Guardian. He opened it
but could no longer read. I went again anyway
I asked the turbaned man behind the counter
if he knew my Dad, He came in every day for the paper.
But my eye was on the Teachers and Beefeaters bottles.
You must know him, I said, an older man, bearded
not so well lately. He came in every day I’m sure.
Over time, the record warps and rasps, the shunt sighs.
I think they are for you
heaped tannic acorns which grind to dust
in the driveway -
twin seeds yellow as stored sheets.
If I could unbutton your sleeve
touch skin between
wrist and elbow with my lip
would that move you?
What if I found the right words
and you even read them?
If we met (instead) in the forest -
could we run and fall
until cones and needles marked our skin?
The waning moon is for you
as it gleams
between shifting oak leaves.
My eyes hurt.
Does the grey in my hair,
another man’s ring on my hand
still all desire?
Was it never there?
RADIO TELESCOPES IN THE DREAMTIME
I remember walking the flatlands of Cambridge
that was the way we traveled then
until we saw the seven white giants
planted, spanning the ploughed fields.
Still they were, rapt every one of them,
facing the sky as though the sky mattered.
There was a day you gave me a whelk shell
such were the gifts we gave then
We listened together to vanished waves rushing,
seas where the trilobite paddled the old silt,
sharing a dream time with Tethys and Koios,
myth waves now faded to static in sea shells.
From a slate roof, we watched the stars burn
that was the way the night was then
You told me of red shift and big bang and Doppler,
the purpose of giants which crane towards deep space:
they girdle this planet from Cambridge to Moscow,
listing as radio breaks from the heavens.
You tried to explain, but I never could fathom
that is the way I am now and was then
how radio, singing, and crimson are all waves
differing only in wavelength and distance.
I saw the salt ocean’s hammering rhythm
not arching sine curves when I thought of waves.
It is a long time since I last saw you
life is no longer the way it was then
The flatlands, the stars, and the learning have passed on
I do not believe that the deep space is rushing
lapping with waves of rough radio signals:
Kronos runs forward, the echo is gone.
Oonagh C. Doherty was born in Scotland, and grew up in both the United Kingdom and the United States. She has recently published poetry in Measure, Crannnog, Margie, William and Mary Review, and Existere. She has short stories in an upcoming issue of Black Lantern, in the current issue of 34th Parallel and was a 2009 Pushcart Prize nominee for poetry. Like Robert Louis Stevenson, Martin Espada, and a quantity of nonentities besides, she is member of the bar.
The Poem is the Hummer carrying
bottled water and weapons
to the war zone.
The Poem is the channel,
tread, and the spin of a tire,
the gravel that spit on the child
abandoned on the side of the road.
The Poem, of course, is the child.
This poem is no haiku
It’s a fantasy
of frog-thighed lovers
No mamsy pamsy
Sorry about the wet skin
and webbed feet
May I ma’am’s
Brought in with the Swiss chard
a three-legged grasshopper sits on my counter
prehistoric unmoving. Even the bulbous eyes
only appear to shift around in their orbits.
No threat to me.
The missing fourth leg makes me sigh
before smashing the monster
between thumb and forefinger.
Chartreuse bleeds through paper towel
wetting my skin. The grasshopper was big.
I had to squeeze hard.
To live it would have had to look
a little less alien
a little more like me.
Days turned night side up,
he is nonetheless awake, his nose flat
against the window pane this morning.
His spouse says, “Eat your breakfast, darling.”
“Front row seat.” He nods. “Look,
our backyard is Broadway.”
Sleep deprived by his night wanderings,
his spouse squints out a dirty window,
sees his chorus line of berries
dewed in glamour on the leggy vines.
With coffee and Fibre O’s
from the breakfast nook they follow
the day warming to full rehearsal,
berries high stepping in the heat,
plumped in longing,
keeping perfect time.
“Dying to be picked and eaten,”
he sings portly sweet,
waving from the window,
“Red raspberry…black raspberry
choose me…choose me.”
He’s in a good mood.
His meds are working.
By late morning he is dozing on the Lazy Boy.
His spouse is drinking yet another cup of coffee,
staring at low-hung,
dangling in the hot sun.
All is quiet then, except one Jay
caws and staggers.
It’s too early, even for a matinee.
How they had loved the theater.
The spouse watches.
Delighted by the bad bird’s
peck peck pecking,
he wakes his husband.
“Come, come see your Broadway,
there’s a villain with a beak-full,
badgering the chorus
getting drunk on stolen wine.”
Sally Bellerose is the author of The Girls Club, Bywater Books September 2011. The novel won the Bywater Prize a Fellowship from the NEA. Excerpts from the novel have been published in Sinister Wisdom, The Sun, The Best of Writers at Work, Cutthroat, Quarterly West and won the Rick DeMarinis Award and the Writers at Work Award. The manuscript was a finalist for the James Jones Fellowship, the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, The Backspace Scholarship, and the Bellwether Endowment. Bellerose is also a poet who loves rhythm, rhyme, and messy emotion.
On the Beach
After making love,
you bury me.
You sand-sculpt my legs:
slender calves for stroking,
I hear the tender slap-slap
of my breasts being formed:
adorned with pebbles and shells.
You arrange salt-damp kelp for pubic curls.
Only my head is unburied:
egg-tight and white
in my rubber bathing cap.
Night comes. The moon
glides into my mouth. It snags,
a hook in my throat.
The tide drools down my legs,
cooling like ejaculate.
Gulls strut on my hips.
In the morning
beach umbrellas blossom open,
colorful mushroom clouds.
Beyond the sea rocks:
the siren’s haunting wail.
~What I was thinking at three in the morning
Giraffes ambling through the safari park. Twisting
their rubber necks to gawk at
the smoking car wreck.
Scent of thunder and electrified lilacs
my ex-lover’s legs.
Smoke and black gas venting from
the shotgun’s sewage pipe.
My ex-lover’s eyes,
blue as the flushed face
of a fornicating squid.
pushing against the nostrils
of a corpse being mourned.
My tongue sucking sweat from the rose
tattoo on my ex-lover’s shoulder.
Blindfolded child teasing the birthday piñata
like a sweet-filled hive.
Just before coming,
the bullfrog puff
in my ex-lover’s throat.
Dead friend turning her skull
to the questioning owl. The slow way
she reaches for fog and moon,
for skulking bug.
The ex-lover opening his mouth
to swallow my foot.
My sleeping pills making fatal
music in the rattlesnake’s shivering
Making Old Love with my New Love
your gray nape hairs
against my palate
like smoky meringue.
when I tug on it
your brittling limbs
shiver during love
between your legs
has faded to the scent
of mint tea
steeping on a vintage
when you look at my dyed
through the halo-making
haze of your cataracts
you see an angel.
Ellen LaFleche’s manuscript, Workers’ Rites, won the Philbrick Poetry Award and was published in 2011 by the Providence Athenaeum. Her chapbook, Ovarian, was published in 2011 by Dallas Poets Community Press.