We burn the witch, the old goat the little old man of the old year and our scapegoat carries our sin. We are blameless now, we are forgiven. We burn the Other for easy atonement, give over the bad ones surrender the sorceress, conjurer, evil eye hand over the misfit, misbegotten, miscreant. Consensual fire cleans bone to white and dissolves fleshy folly to ashes while we sleep gently tucked beneath a blanket of snow by cool white long slender hands. Come a cold morning those ashes will mark each clean brow with grey dust but tonight we dream the blank white screen while our shadow selves scream in the bonfire.
Wren Donovan (she/her) writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Her work is published in The Mark Literary Review and upcoming in Cauldron Anthology and Luna Luna Magazine. She is also a Tarot reader and meditative dancer who tends to hide in plain sight but likes to wear things that jingle. Wren wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up, but when that didn’t work out she studied literature, Classics, folklore, and psychology at Millsaps College, Chapel Hill, and the University of Southern Mississippi. She lives in Tennessee among many trees and can be found on Twitter @WrenDonovan.
Raw heartache is axed clean by my prairie smoke love somewhere deep in honey wheat Helena.
We stay up eating up only sweet truths, potato plain as pie.
Oakley Ayden (she/her) is an autistic, bisexual writer from North Carolina. Her poems appear in Ghost City Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Maw: Poetry Journal, Not Very Quiet, Blue Bottle Journal, Brave Voices Magazine, Neologism Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in California’s San Bernardino National Forest with her two daughters. Find her at oakleyayden.com, on Twitter (@Oakley_Ayden), or Instagram (@Oakley.Ayden).
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein
Does God create a human’s skill for wit- Or maybe spiritual enlightenment? Some cleverness of carpenter’s kit An analysis and environment
The insight is in adapting to change- An understanding in the need for shift. The ingenuity to accept strange- Athena has wisdom to coexist.
The tidings brought are not always wanted Cailleach may freeze your mental flow and flux- While Lakshmi’s brilliance makes one bonded. Information, by pixies or by pucks.
Words from the cosmos, may never be true Knowledge leaves, unless you find it in you.
Sarah Warring has a B.A. in English Education, a M.S. in Literacy, and is a New York State certified in English Language Arts. She has been writing for over 20 years, and has been both an unofficial and official English/Literacy/Writing teacher for the past 10 years in classrooms and various organizations. She was accepted to the Inaugural Yale Writers’ Conference. She was accepted to be a speaker for the World Literacy Summit. This talk was published online, but was originally slated to be given at Oxford University. Recently, she has had 2 articles published on the World Literacy Foundation’s blog.
I dream of Oðinn upon the towering tree, Its bone-like branches, a spine jutting through the earth. Tight throat, choking on a swollen tongue– How long is nine days and nine nights When you can’t breathe? Time constricts and dilates into an eternity.
The Hanged Man says to let go and Four of Swords to rest. Forget the envious, evil eye that pierces and Nails you with its gaze. I pray to the Devil: defend me from those eyes, Against the people’s eye, against the stranger’s eye, Let no eye bear witness to my shame.
Let me tell you a secret, sweet one: The blame is not yours to take. Thrice-born Zagreus committed no crimes Yet he too was torn asunder. May you be an isle in the sea, my love. May you be a staff to the weak.
Wear an iron coat, iron cap, iron mantle and iron boots. Snow-white of heart and innocence, Make the tithe of wrath though the heavens fall.
Penny Senanarong is a Bangkok-born poet whose work can be found in Better Than Starbucks, Burnt Pine Magazine, 50-Word Stories, and ENIGMA Journal. She is a human rights advocate with interests in queer theory, mythology, and the occult. During her free time, she likes to sing to musical show tunes.
Let me rise from this bed insensate Where, with inconsolable eyes, I weep; A child of no–one sobbing in darkness. Desperate to ease the burden of his fate. They have gone, they have gone—Damnit, where am I!? Where is the shining joy of the light? Of amber candles inflamed in the night Dappling with splendor the husk of Spring.
O crimson branching Nihon sentinels Richer in loveliness than blood red wine, From your shadow I passed to Orodruin Longing now only to sleep in oblivion. But the land of my dreams is one of nightmares, Of Nazgûl shrieks and Ixion pains, Beaten, blinded, broken and castrated, A weight of gold suffocating my throat.
All that was green and good in this world Long since hurled in the furnace of wrath, I grope across a barren land blindly Turning on the throats of my friends with a sword. For I have forgotten the taste of bread, The sound of wind whistling in the leaves, Till all that remained was the unfulfilled knell. Hide me in darkness till I pass away.
They have gone, they have gone—Never to return. No, spare me your contemptible pity. For, though it shone with consummate tenderness I would run horror–stricken from you. I would render my flesh with the razor, Quick–shattered shiv of self–flagellation. But, though I beg through enervated tears, I am sunken forever in loathing.
Give to me now, O halfling melodist, Wherever your heartbroken reed may blow, In tremor beyond all fruitless words The sanctity to remember and pretend That I, in my righteous gall, might have spared you This burden unbearable that degrades. Now we are far from the light of the Valar. Beyond all human subscript of grief.
Benjamin Rose is a poet born and raised in Washington, D.C.
He had the wings of angels that were feathered softly with light. He blessed me with kindness when all I’d known was fright. What did he see in me, a mere mortal void of grace? What worth did he find in my sobbing, tear-streaked face?
He hugged me close and took my hand
saying, “Do not be afraid my friend.
This world is cruel to boys like us
And it’s hard to know who you can trust.
But follow me and we’ll see it all.
See, I’m like you and need a friend to call my own.”
So, I took his hand and we soared through the heavens, over green mountains and white puffed clouds. My heart started racing while my mind started guessing, “Ok, what happens now?”
He said, “This planet has more than grief and heartache, my friend, but that’s all you’ve seen.
If you want to go back just say the word and we’ll forget everything.”
I grabbed him tighter and gave him a smile
I said, “No, I’ll follow your lead.
We have the wind at our backs
And I promise you, that’s all we’ll ever need.”
Holding him close we soared over oceans, we made our course without worry or care. Because no matter the destination, it was better than the damnation of living alone and scared.
We landed on an oceanside; I heard his soft wings shifting the sand. When I looked in his eyes, I finally realized that this angel, this boy, would take my loving hand.
I said, “Yes this world is cruel
For boys like me and you
But we have something they’ll never have.
A Freak and an Angel,
All too relatable,
Seemingly brought together by chance.
You’ve opened my eyes
I’ve soared through the skies
And I’m never turning back!”
There was some time that we traveled. We saw sights that most never see. But in the end every wonder of the world simply could not compete. Not with his kindness nor his wit, though the latter is dryer than reeds. For a simple life together with him, I would give everything.
So we bought a cottage in the country, far from oft traveled paths. In the back I planted a garden, a future to erase my past. The winters we’d spend baking together. He’d make fresh custards, fruit pies, and jams. While I’d create fluffy muffins and tasty gingerbread men.
Then in the cozy firelight, after dinner and the dishes were done, I’d snuggle closely into his chest and with his wings he’d keep us warm. He’d sing a heavenly ballad about something; anything I didn’t care what. His loving voice was all I needed, all I wanted in the snow and mud.
As gentle snowflakes tiptoed on the window ceil and the scent of evergreen tickled my nose, the world softly waxed by around us, like two squirrels cuddled up close.
“Can’t we stay here forever?” I asked,
“The two of us snuggling so tight.
Let me hold you for an eternity
Forgetting about the storm and ice.”
He chuckled warmly at my request while delicately fiddling my curls. As I nuzzled deeper into his neck, his laughter lost its control.
He laughed, “That’s very tempting dearest
But despite your persuasive frill,
I wish to see the whole of you
Through autumn’s crispness and spring’s swirls.”
So we laid there, two souls -two hearts- by the fire
Basking in the season of chill.
We must have stayed there a century, 20 years, a decade at least, but when my eyes flickered open the next morning, I still felt his soft hand on my cheek. I could not describe how peaceful he looked or how content with us under his wing. All I knew was that this moment was perfect, even with the weather so bleak. The fire sat dead before us, as winter sunlight pierced through the room. A sleeping house on Christmas morning, it was cold, cozy, and new.
He wouldn’t wake for some time yet, so I snuggled back into his warmth.
I closed my eyes nodding off into darkness,
feeling so grateful for the fact I was born.
That afternoon we packed ourselves into layers and placed soft mittens over our ears. We downed two cups of hot chocolate before entering that brisk, December air. Wool gloves concealed our fingers as we held our skates close with care. Behind us our sweet cottage faded, a memory and promise shared.
The pond was neatly frozen over, just perfect for what we had planned. It took me some practice but with his assistance I found I could balance and stand. The circles we skated and laughs we created made me wish to never again step on land.
His gloved hand for me to hold,
That raw December cold;
It was perfect, he was perfect,
A moment of sparkling gold.
As we slid across the ice, his wingtips, they left their mark. A delicate portrait meant for gods that pierced its way into my heart. We wove ourselves through snowflakes and smiled amidst ice and bark, from now unto forever may we never be apart!
Noah Sisson is a graduate of Beloit College with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. While completing his degree, Noah also worked as the News Editor for Beloit College’s student newspaper, The Round Table, where he received training and experience in journalism. Noah found his love for poetry in high school after his poem “Tickets” was published from a writing contest in Eloquence. During his time at Beloit College, Noah continued to write poetry and produced several individual poems as well as small poetry portfolios for various classes.
Youtube education today… Sitting at home, the video plays while one stays in their seat. A presumptive expert (Which he is). A receptive hard headed pleeb (Which I am). Enter into a one sided dialogue for two.
The expert is confident that his grand expertness is essential. He went to Yale, so he would know. Research, Preparedness, score reading (He is a music critic don’t ya know) are all essential ingredients in his word soup.
The pleeb keeps asking himself…Why? Does the writer have a six figure student Loan debt waiting for him at home in a loveless marriage, founded in passion, filled with frustration knowing one can never measure up. Decades of reinforced abuse about the truthiness in the world. Where can the pleeb filter out the bullshit from purple prose from fact.
A cynic’s view needing an optimist’s touch. One fact gleamed, it seems one has to enjoy the cooking. A taste whether, good or ill, is essential. The rest is just salt and pepper.
Jeffrey Hampton is pianist and educator, having went to school for piano performance at Indiana State University. He splits his time performing as well as teaching privately out of his home studio, finding time to write when he can. He currently lives in Vincennes, Indiana, with his wife, Cahtlyn.
Soothing my soul with aching appetites, with sad songs, these soliloquies and screams, of caffeinated, sobriety.
Soaking through notepad assumptions, in a scoff of slippers, on late-night, linoleum.
When all you need is the world to slow down, just a little, so you can catch up, or slip up, on the same people, over the same lines, read aloud,
in the pages of the soul.
Alex Dako, a Canadian writer residing in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is a former columnist for the Niagara Falls Review Editorial Board, with poetry appearing in the Night Picnic Press, Daffodils: A Poetry Chapbook, and The Stirling Spoon Literary Journal. He is a single father and enjoys spending his time listening to music, shadowboxing, or rereading the classics.
Routines begin Wash, makeup, try to appear thin. Designer top, glazed persona Let’s see who can bring the drama. Turn on the camera, the lights So they can capture all the fights. Miss the old days, when things were normal Things didn’t always end in turmoil. They’re back again, time to roll. Smile, cry, doesn’t matter the toll. Just make every second matter And don’t look any fatter.
Allison Lemel is a writer and performer in New York. In addition to writing, Allison has stage managed over 80 productions, as well as assistant directing. She performed her one-woman show, Places Please, in the Plus One Solo Festival with Tongue in Cheek Theater.
Yes, we let our ego be center stage on occasions and my ego became the Trojan horse. I myself constructed the Gulliverian prop, then willingly revealed the path to the sanctity of my comprehensions. It proved treacherous hastily and it seemed clear I wanted it to be found willingly by my conscience. The necks are twisted, eyes massive and bolting, legs twined and tails growing from navels. Mouth’s grinning, hooves puffing, manes stiff like frightened quills fallen from a porcupine. A few men’s faces focus on the fight, unnerved. Rest appears barren with cardboard cut outs filling the arena. As my Trojan horse fell on its back, the bulls came darting poised for the final denunciation. I upturned my hands to face the sky seeking alms of forgiveness. The bulls transformed into thousands of Ganesha, some airborne, some prancing, and one sitting near me engrossed, observing my expressions. I was able to walk away, ego bruised, subdued and ready to start anew. That night I pushed my Trojan horse into Ganesha’s care to be melted and reused as asphalt binding me to modesty.
Ganesha: Hindu God of prosperity and success
Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP is a professor, poet, short story writer, and children’s writer. She teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. Anita has two books of poetry, one of flash fictions, four for children, two edited poetry anthologies and one edited nursery rhymes anthology. Her third book of poetry is set for release in August 2021 by Kelsay Books. Originally from New Delhi, India, she is the daughter of novelist Chaman Nahal and educationist Sudarshan Nahal. She lives in the US with her son, daughter-in-law and golden doodle. For more: Visit Anita Here.
Outside, my mother, thinly waving her arms, talking to uniformed blue, a neighbor’s arm around her narrow and shaking shoulders
I only barely saw the girl, Her back and limbs, Shimmering in her azure beauty, Nude, submerged in the thawing river Her hair a tangled nest of twigs and algae
And the air outside that morning was brisk, watering my eyes
My mother’s fear stunk of sweat and menthol cigarettes
I couldn’t yet understand the confusion and need to escape— neither my mother’s urge to flee the woods to safety— nor the girl’s decision
But I sometimes think about my mother’s hand dropping mine once we reached safety and the hand bobbing in the water
Previously, a university instructor of English and Theatre, Colleen Kennedy is the publicist and managing editor for Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where she is also a teaching artist. She has published arts and cultural interviews and reviews for District Fray, On Tap, Upstart, and Little Village, and academic essays for Appositions, FORUM, Shakespeare & Beyond, and The Recipes Project.
Tuesday sunset went baroque, all gold-edged and filigreed in a frame of holy squiggles.
Yesterday it was high renaissance muscle, flesh-colored and fingering the clouds.
There’s been a reformation this evening, giving us hard-edged still life, not a breath of movement.
Until you came leaping up the stairs, parting the air, dispersing clouds. You grabbed me
by the waist and laughed me onto my palette. You painted me creamy in broad brushstrokes.
Our borders blurred in your rich impasto. Adhered and embedded, we heard the rain begin.
Lillo Way’s “Dubious Moon” won the Hudson Valley Writers Center’s Slapering Hol Chapbook Contest. Her poem, “Offering,” won the E.E. Cummings Award from New England Poetry Club., and “Appropriation” was awarded a Florida Review Editors” Prize. Her writing has appeared in RHINO, New Letters, Poet Lore, North American Review, Tampa Review, Louisville Review, Madison Review, Poetry East, among others. Way has received grants from the NEA, NY State Council on the Arts, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation for her choreographic work involving poetry. Her collection, “Lend Me Your Wings,” is forthcoming May 2021.
In the afternoon, when sun is king, I walked along the shore; Three shadows followed me Each one longer than the next.
The first was child in adult form Groping for a hand to hold; Sinking steps in yellow sand; The sweater he wore had once been mine; I buttoned it up so he wouldn’t catch cold And did my best to arrange his tie; It made me cry as we walked along.
The second was worldly, Propelled by the tide Of habit and experience, Pale with fear despite the sun, Furrows deep along the brow, Creases in the cheek, Desire dried and cauterized Long before he had reached the beach; It made me cry as we walked along.
The third was a shepherd, Sober eyes, solemn pout, Crooked neck and head bent forth; He’d lean upon his walking stick, Bronze wood scarred by wind and salt; He lifted it up when the sun turned red And pointed to the mountain ahead, Dim blue edifice, azure crest And, all at once, we all looked up; It made me cry as we walked along.
Walter Weinschenk is an attorney, writer and musician. His writing has appeared in the Carolina Quarterly, Sunspot Literary Journal, The Esthetic Apostle, The Gateway Review, A Rose For Lana, Cathexis Northwest Press, Tempered Runes Press, Button Eye Review, East by Northeast Literary Magazine, an anthology entitled Falling Leaves published by Day Eight and forthcoming in The Courtship of Winds, Months to Years, Penumbra, Ponder Review, The Raw Art Review, and Iris Literary Journal. Walter lives in a suburb just outside Washington, D. C.
Since I was locked up and the key dangled
Like a body from each nurse’s neck,
This gray matter has lost the privilege of shades
And the world is black and white.
Either I was fucked or it’s just a phase.
Either you climb from the wreck
Or you burn in the tangle of the metal.
Only so many flames can fit in a forest,
Have you ever thought about that?
I was hit at 5, at 50, hated, emasculated,
Locked in/out but low-grade, first-world,
Not worth moving heaven and earth for
And if I walked into the sea, the drowning
Wouldn’t make waves. Abuse gets used
Up, no matter how much hurt’s rained down.
My wife used to spit
On me so who needed tears? Hats off
To Lady Saliva and the horse she rode in on.
Whether I’ll be back is a matter of fate
But where I’m going is so big and gorgeous
There’s room enough to recover,
Like the open road of summer
When I was 18, like Georgia, wildflowers
Bent at the waist like a retinue.
Rex Wilder was a misfit from the good old days whose mind finally forced the issue in 2018 — a nervous breakdown, hospital lockup, the full Sylvia Plath. Before and after that, three books of his have been published, and he has poems in TLS, Poetry Ireland, Poetry, Ploughshares,The New Criterion, The Nation, National Review, Yale Review, Harvard Review, and many anthologies, including the celebrated Together in a Sudden Strangeness from Knopf. This poem is from his new book, Faces Around a Room.
I like the way we are together now – compatriots, companions, clandestine lovers exchanging recipes, searching for yeast to create
Kneading and breaking bread in doughy goodness, we are shattering the silence of our fast letting our buttered selves slip through gloved hands into a new kind of comforting
Is this why I have always loved the rain? Pelting of glass, windowed song with blinds open, curtains drawn for a knowledge that we bathe in it together, and in this knowing, this being, a most precious stasis shared, the NOW that is most certain and all we will ever have
In this splendor of exchanging recipes, we exhaust the noise of all else, we concentrate while kneading and breaking bread – knowing safety in the present humming our favorite rain day tune, watching creation rise, breathing it in.
Effie Pasagiannis is a NYC lawyer, writer & curator. Her poetry has appeared in journals & anthologies, notably in Mantis, Stanford University’s poetry journal (2019). Her first poetry book Anagnorisis was published by Dancing Girl Press in January 2020. Effie is working on a chapbook of villanelles and a short story collection. One of these short stories is being adapted into a feature-length film by Nomadis Images (production slated for Spring 2021). As a curator, Effie brings together artist and writers to collaborate and showcase their work. She looks forward to many more events and readings post-pandemic.
Something blossoming, a star! For all I see, in stolid smoke and shadow, weaves universes all their own.
When I wake from a dream within a dream, doctors scale my reach, whispering, to peel the sky’s clouds like petals.
I love you, I love you not, until only blue. In wake, feel part of a poem unfurling that no one reads. I am its metaphor which mixes, in the end.
Drain the moon its silver; inside wilts a rose I could watch die, or instead water it to life, or something beautiful beyond death, for God knows the moon keeps a greater soul.
I was standing still, with hopeless descent of the mind, to remember my inner child, he who remembers my imagined future, older than anything at all.
Still, our hearts break to recapture under-earth as constellation, to paint a lake to drown my sorrows, and maybe someone else’s. I know not everyone will know what I hope I know.
There is nothing sordid about this scream. Glory’s demand from outside heaven’s gate still serenades: You are there and I are here.
I want to believe this rips out our roots, to before the dream began. I finally see the end is the light, the light at the end of all the walking toward the end of the light.
I have walked longer than I can remember, agaze at smoke and shadows, weaving universes all their own.
Jonathan Koven grew up on Long Island, NY, embraced by tree-speak, tide’s rush, and the love and support of his family. He holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from American University, works as a technical writer, and is Toho Journal’s head fiction editor and workshop coordinator. He lives in Philadelphia with his best friend and future wife Delana, and cats Peanut Butter and Keebler. Read his fiction and poetry at Lindenwood Review, Night Picnic, Iris Literary, and more. His debut chapbook Palm Lines is available now from Toho Publishing.
We walked into this bar A bit too fancy for four dudes Looking to put a couple away Before watching Mad Max in IMAX But a beer’s a beer, right?
Dark-stained hardwood throughout Not even a scuff on the floor The bartenders and waitress Wear black slacks and ties Over white shirts, sleeves rolled.
We sat at the bar, cellos rolling Out vintage harmonies From hidden speakers and The woman back there handed Us the beer list—
A leather-bound volume With gilded brass at the corners Listing ales with fancy names, Leading me to assume they came From the furthest regions of the Earth, And man’s experience on it, like all of our Collective consciousness was brewed In austere and unknowable locales Then assembled there for us to tap into, Assimilate with the rest of history In one swig—
The King Tut from Egypt Or the German König Pilsener. They all found something they wanted Right away. “One minute,” I told her.
Something Dutch? A Japanese Sapporo? My friends watched me, my face red with Frustration and humiliation and None of those fancy-lettered titles Meant a damn thing to me anymore.
I’d drank Sapporo in Sapporo and Downed pints in Huntingdon and Oslo, but I don’t know if I would revisit them just then, Given the chance.
I wanted to walk across a field Toward a lake, a lost love The connection to a time Where everything was clear When everything was about her When the cosmos seemed aligned And alighted to her
You could run all over the world Looking for something And find it where you began.
“Excuse me?” I asked the bartender, And declared what I wanted. A smirk curled on her lips and she looked At my friends to see if it was a joke Then looked at her watch.
“It took you seven-and-a-half minutes To figure out you wanted Bud Light?” I only shrugged and my friend explained That it had taken me a hell of a lot longer to Figure out much more important things.
“Waiting for him to sort things out is like Watching a hamster sleep on a wheel.”
W. F. Althaus earned his BA in English (Creative Writing) in 2008 from Wright-State University, and currently lives and works near Colorado Springs with his wife, three kids, dog, cat, and his daughter’s rabbits. His poems have been published in Deadly Writers Patrol, East by Northeast and The Penwood Review.
I’m a juice box girl, squeeze me, play me like an accordion, box-shaped, but gagged edges. Breathe me inside out, I’m nude, fruity, fractured, strawberry melon, nightshade wine. Chicago, 3:00 a.m. somewhere stranded someone’s balcony memories undefined, you will find me there stretched naked, doing the Electric Slide, taking morning selfies upward morning into the sun then in shutters closeout pictures Chiquita bananas, those Greek lovers running late, Little Village, Greektown so many men’s night faces fading out. Wash cleanse in me. I’m no Sylvia Plath in an oven image of death I resuscitate; I’m still alive.
Michael Lee Johnson lived 10 years in Canada during the Vietnam era and is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, amateur photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, Illinois. Mr. Johnson published in more than 1092 new publications, his poems have appeared in 38 countries, he edits, publishes 10 poetry sites. Michael Lee Johnson, has been nominated for 2 Pushcart Prize awards poetry 2015/1 Best of the Net 2016/2 Best of the Net 2017, 2 Best of the Net 2018. 194 poetry videos are now on YouTube . Editor-in-chief poetry anthology, Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze; editor-in-chief poetry anthology, Dandelion in a Vase of Roses. Editor-in-chief Warriors with Wings: the Best in Contemporary Poetry.
I’ll say to you what no one ever did: This is not your fault.
Yes, you pocketed those Tic Tacs while your mother spoke with the cashier, and you let slip a lie about your father’s fortune to those kids at school.
And when your little sister asked for a drink, you poured hot sauce in her Coke then laughed as if it were April Fools’ Day though it was only March.
Sure, you fingered your father’s quarters and snuck a few in your backpack, like the day you took another classmate’s foreign coin collection, just the islands as proof of a larger world.
All lessons in regret — attempts to right an injustice you could not yet name.
Kelsey Erin Shipman is a writer and educator. She earned her MFA at Texas State University and is the founder of The Freehand Arts Project, a non-profit that brings creative writing classes Texas jails and prisons. Her work has been widely published in places such as The African American Review, The Austin Chronicle, Sagebrush Review, and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. She served as the 2013-2014 Writer-In-Residence at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, and was the recipient of the 2007 San Jacinto & Althean Literary Societies’ Grand Prize in Poetry. A native Texan, she loves big dogs and breakfast tacos.
I appeared on Lakeshore Michigan naked and pure Borne on a golden palanquin by an obedient horde Of zebra mussels, mumbling their hymn of praise.
Found by South Side maenads, dancing at night in Empty lots of junk, my slight ethereal size seized them To rush me to the hospital, ravaged by pre-birth reaving.
Cosseted solo in warm plastic, single blanket, I survived.
Earlier in the world, my mother drank and smoked in secret, Unsure of this thing growing inside, what responsibilities Lay on her now, whether it was what she wanted at all.
First published with a second place in the 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest, David Rogers has also placed poems in Metonym Literary Journal and Voices de la Luna. A memoir of his time in the anti-war movement while being active duty in the military, “Peaceful Meridian: Sailing Into War, Protesting At Home,” was published in 2020. He lives outside Denver, Colorado.
She heard him sing by the water, Not knowing that the songs he sang were his own; He sang of the river, its torments, its dark allure; And what he sang came to pass.
These days No one dares say his name: That boy who drowned, That tramp, That filthy lad, The one who stole and swore and spat. Stolid aldermen shake their heads— Now just as then— And yet there are men who gather beside the rough waters Trying not to remember him Whose corpse still floats so near their feet. Brambled crowns weaved in their flaxen hair— In lieu of laurel’d orbit— For there are no triumphal days along these muddy banks. Trembling hands Pocketed away in shame Because At first, they could not hold the ropes; At last, because they could.
A feral cry Silences the forest— The girl remembers him as he once was, Naked at dusk, By the river, Launching his boat, Which looked like paper in the twilight, As it slipped into the current…
In the gloaming, A flock flies As shadows pour down And fill the spaces From which they Alighted. She closes her eyes, Sighs, And whistles a plaintive song,
A song she learnt from him So many years ago, Concealed in the penumbra of these woods, Riverside.
Nathan Robert Cox lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is an adjunct professor of philosophy. He received his B.A. in philosophy at the University of Tennessee and both his M.A. & Ph.D. at the University of Kansas. His specialty is early modern philosophy, especially the work of David Hume, Spinoza, and Kant. He teaches at Pellissippi State Community College and Thomas Edison State University.
She took junk shop treasures home to me like a crow stealing buttons for someone kind: A porcelain doll in a sunflower apron, A wicker basket full of miniature linen geese, A short-sleeved t-shirt with a red hood. It was an autumn habit—storing up garbage for a long, long winter at home. But little girls cannot eat garbage.
Most of the crows died after West Nile, a consequence of life in swampland. In summer, the floodwaters would pool up in the basement past my ankles. She used to sleep down there, a bed in the corner by the washing machine. She tacked postcards to the exposed two-by-fours in the walls and did loads of laundry poorly.
There’s no one left now to do grandmotherly things; No constant percolation of foul coffee, mixed light and sweet with Splenda and half-and-half. No frightening tins of tiny dead fish in the cupboard. No slow, lotiony hands with long fingers to braid the scent of Vicks VapoRub into my hair. These are small ways to work on a small heart and they go into the cremation oven with everything else.
I don’t know how much time has to pass for someone to become long dead. But it had been years, anyway, since I had let her touch my arm or feed me a soup accidentally seasoned with white sugar— so I don’t know when to start counting, but now and then I do see the great-great-granddaughter of a bird who got better.
Brigidh Duffey lives in Brooklyn with two ill-mannered cats. She studied Anthropology and Gender Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Her poetry explores gender, spirit, and identity. Her work has appeared in Panoply, The Blood Pudding, and From Whispers to Roars.
I often think dying is annoying, like a grade school bully boinging my curls. And dying is inappropriate, like laughing in church when laughter knows there’s a time, and a place, and it’s not in God’s face. Mostly I think dying is embarrassing because humiliation knows no vessel like the human body in decline and when I clutch my chest in cardiac arrest, I am reminded of the blood seeping through my shorts sophomore year of marching band, knotting a hoodie around my waist to conceal my biology. I think dying is, above all, a waste of time. I sat, dumb in the limbo of the living and the dead, and the waiting, and the pity, and the looks. Dying is a desert where people expect you to swim and the sand is heavy and the air is hot and just when you think it’s the last breath you’ll take it’s cruelly followed by another.
Annie Woods is a recipient of the Stephen C. Barr fellowship for Creative Writing from Wichita State University. Her work can be found in Gigantic Sequins, Hobart, A VELVET GIANT, and great weather for media. Her manuscript was accepted to the Tin House 2020 Nonfiction Winter Workshop under Esmé Weijun Wang. Annie is from the heart of Texas; she often writes about illness visibility. In her free time, she likes to wear lipstick and spin in circles.
Work oh work! Here I lie Prostrate on my sofa Tired and all spent My face, A freeze of drained energy My mind billowing in heaviness Of grief and pain and sorrow My black purse stare blankly at me And I wonder when I shall ever be free To smile outside this scorching heat African sun, O quench your fire! When will I find succor from this strain In my spirit? How can one work Yet has no reward? Oh, I look on in hope That one bright sunny day I shall smile, smile and smile And give thanks to you Dear work!
Nneka Joyce Duru is a wife, mother and a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Rivers State branch, Nigeria. She is currently the winner of the 2020 AWA Award in Poetry in Africa. She is a prolific writer, a teacher and an advocate of African women and children’s rights.
last time I let the sun kiss my skin I was stung smooth quick and aggressively my flesh shrieked; acidic Venom spread across my face the Venom boiled away at the arrival of anger and humiliation to be stung in private where only walls and dust balls could observe was purgatory to be stung in public where eyes looked past you, but sympathetically glared at your back was hell
I was stung the last time I let the sun kiss my skin hot pins and needles itched my cheek, the sun blurred away anaphylaxis settled in me my stomach churned restlessly; ears rung into oblivion underlying rage burned in my biceps down to the very tip of my fingers twitching with an eagerness I was orchestrated to suppress to avoid being stung again
I stung back for the first time —
my stinger seemed to be much better equipped for retaliation disastrous cold had returned, low gray clouds buried the defeated yellow jacket healing skin and revived senses rejoiced hibernating through the new cold, I prepared for the return of the warm, prepared with not embarrassment for myself, but with excitement for the sun I had been stung by a yellow jacket for the last time, I can let the sun kiss my skin
Destiny Bookman is a sophomore college student from Philadelphia. She wants to be a child therapist because children are great and deserve support. Her primary interests are writing, pretty rocks, underrated animated shows, and listening to years old albums she should have listened to sooner. Destiny writes a little of everything. She hates bugs but, when needed, uses them as inspiration to escape writer’s block.
are those transcendents who burn themselves alive for a cause. Which locks your lungs? Elfin daredevil tightroping with Jesus across the incandescent bowl of a volcano on prime time, or mild monk who torches himself on the marble porch of the emperor’s palace, sealing history with the melted red wax of his soul? Tally all test pilots who land book deals. Count the black-and-white busloads of social activists who didn’t end austere careers couch surfing. Heavyweight champs, sopranos with golden throats, laureates with proletarian codes tattooed in coal dust down both forearms, the tycoon grinning philanthropy at the chattering clash of cameras, Brazilian bull riders, the jailed saint, princess vowing poverty, hunger strikers— guys like Gandhi—none compares in absolute purity of purpose to the fed-up Tunisian fruit vendor, obscure Canadian novelist decrying the wanton destruction of beauty, the female Iranian soccer buff, bankrupt Greeks, sad Japanese Esperantists, the Amherst substitute teacher abhorring The Gulf War, estranged Czechs combusting in the city square to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of other Czechs who roasted there, Rajput concubines under siege, tyrannized Tibetans blazing like hundreds of fiery middle fingers flipped at China, lithe Lithuanian teens not keen on Soviets, Hindus not cool with speaking Tamil, grieving Russian Old Believers, entrenched French Jesuits, the young Australian heiress opposed to her family fortune, Quaker dad on a day trip from Baltimore with the kids, barbecued below Bob McNamara’s Pentagon suite, all ascending in hot apotheosis with Thich Quang Duc and Kathy Change in an uproar of kerosene dreams, the crackling columns of fire and smoke swabbing the heavens, the frantic mobs swarming to warm wilting hands and sing the songs of astonishment around the human bonfires in silence and screams. I burned at sixteen, shirtless in skimpy orange track shorts, clocking dogged country miles of bloody dusk and charred ditchbank weeds, my body a smoldering sun rising to singe through the horizons of clouded mountains in my drowsy northwestern town of two thousand, my young revolutions cooling soon to resolutions of ash. Now: What icy injustice could make me touch the final spark to the fuse of my heart? What wrong would stake me, the raging candle, on my deathday cake? Will the sorrows of tomorrow find me on market day, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette in lotus position atop a sawdust pile soaked in soybean oil, seconds before the doleful oxcart rumble and bored hellos erupt in shrieks of horror? If I charbroiled myself, it would be to end martyrdom. At the Founder’s Day summer fundraiser and cookout in Memorial Park, I would mount the gazebo—cutting off the mayor’s welcome, squelching the brass band of veterans raising a rumpus with “Bill Bailey”— and, to the rush of relieved sighs, toss aside my empty gas can and soggy matchbook, offering not the terror of my black skeleton like a scorched scarecrow flailing away in a jumping-jack inferno, but a new vision of the world: our planet covered, as it is, with billions of troubled pagodas, each housing a small blue flame that refuses to go out.
Petals adorn my broken self and like our Native ancestors I search for the tale in each. Seeking the shadows of animals that stood with us. Seeking the brothers and sisters that fought with us. The crackling of winter fires that sheltered us. Some have roamed the world, seeing, sprouting, waning and passing into dimensions inside us where we go when others treat us different. Don’t shake your head and offer pity over my amputated legs. Ask instead, what, where, why they walked, kicked, dragged and slumped upon. How a warrior I was born. Don’t nod in understanding without looking straight into my eyes which still sparkle in my guillotined head on the butcher block. How a warrior I was re born. Don’t put your arms around mine without feeling the compacted air that extends beyond my shredded joints. How a warrior I was born, again and again and again.
Don’t offer to cover me up with your tainted blanket. With your prude coat. With your carefully sculpted sentences pulling a spoof that you are wise. Don’t smirk at distances between loves. Don’t try walking on my footprint’s ashes still smoldering. Don’t look for my hands to clasp to tell a joint story. Don’t. Don’t. Just watch. Just watch as my remaining petals keep disappearing. Watch the air around you solidify. Watch the ground beneath you harden like metamorphic rocks. Watch till I become a whisper at the end of the last drop of water. And then, you can scream.
Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP is a professor, poet, short story writer, and children’s writer. She teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. Anita has two books of poetry, one of flash fictions, four for children and two edited poetry anthologies and one edited nursery rhymes anthology. Her third book of poetry is set for release in December 2021 by Kelsay Books. Originally from New Delhi, India, she is the daughter of novelist Chaman Nahal and educationist Sudarshan Nahal. She lives in the US with her son, daughter-in-law and golden doodle. For more: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal
i deep me in the shallow waters of your heart it is a familiar sacrament the one which our bodies are cremated into fine ash & scattered atop this outer sign grace is cliché, it is how my name melts like caramel on your tongue each time you call me from a distance it reminds me of growing up of street debris of little feet on seashores washed away by the water of our baptism
ChineduNzere is a lone writer from the broken streets of Lagos where he picks words off sidewalks and people’s lives. He is pursuing his first degree in Accounting at the National Open University, hoping he doesn’t fill poetry into Balance Sheets. He has his works published in Prose and Poetry Hood Valentine Poetry Competition, Writers Space Africa Magazine where he won the Editor’s Choice, The Dillydoun Review… His works have also appeared or are forthcoming in Virginia Quarterly Review, Origami Poems Project, The Offing, POETRY Magazine and elsewhere.
The precise day everything wakes up: the sunshine bright and warm, the breeze cold, the skin unaccustomed to feeling air again.
Four childrens’ muddy hands entwined with four garter snakes, all eight of them stooped over a low-lying creek,
the kids huddled in curiosity, the snakes dipping and swerving with yearning for freedom.
They are released simultaneously, a race of S-es across the surface of the thin water,
still sleepy with cold, still dull with burrow-dirt, but pumping along the bright wet,
all four aimed for the other side and a rock on which to curl and bask.
The children are delighted, proud, dirty, and bright-haired. It is Sunday afternoon and this is just the beginning.
Maria Berardi‘s poems have appeared online, in print, in university literary journals, meditation magazines, and at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Her first book, Cassandra Gifts, was published in 2013 by Turkey Buzzard Press, and she is currently at work on her second, Pagan, from which these poems are excerpted. She lives in Colorado at precisely 8,888 feet above sea level. Her process is one of listening for transmissions and trying to catch them on paper before they dissipate: the glimpse, the complicated knowledge.
Walking there, my wife and I talk about writing, the intelligence of dogs, riding the Orient Express and what we’ll do for the season,
maintaining our original focus on the chicken we’ll bring back to fry Southern style and every ingredient involved in the tasty project, those
thighs, breasts and legs reminding us that not everything should be political, the Congress today will have to carry on without our participation, if they can.
Tim Suermondt’s sixth full-length book of poems “A Doughnut And The Great Beauty Of The World” will be forthcoming from MadHat Press in 2021. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall, Poet Lore and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
Objects associated with my mother: hair pins, dish gloves, a pink flamingo. The plush bird, a humorous birthday gift from her crazy daughter. Hawaii-visit detritus placed in orderly rows, top drawer of the dresser.
Handles pulled, a glimpse inside, amusing reminders of her presence. Mixed with heart pulls, muscle memory of farm days by her side. Clasped hands and hugs with my mother, across the ocean now.
The only bridge, a telephone cable runs deep beneath the sea. Down the line, breathe and laughter, but longing for contact. A touch of the hand, a walk, shared laughter and observations.
Susan J. Wurtzburg is a retired academic, and lives in Hawai‘i. She writes and runs her editing business (Sandy Dog Books LLC), in between water sports, hiking, walking her dog, and socializing online, while she waits for the pandemic to diminish, allowing life to resume.
I could feel the sidewalk through my white canvas sneakers, as I paced in front of the B Green Line station. The train was going to stop running soon. I was torn by visceral feeling and rational thought. He was surprised I waited so long to meet him after work. We went to a still-open-late Korean place, and in between soju drowned in beers, we got acquainted It was the least we do could do before sleeping together. Negra, he whispered in my ear as his hand smoothed it’s way down my back. Afterwards, between cigarettes he told me how his nanny took his innocence when he was fourteen and since then (he told me I should know) he’s not the greatest for any woman. I stared at his profile and took a long drag from my cigarette. The next morning I found out he had a girlfriend. I was just another night.
M. Cornell is a 31 year old poet from the Connecticut area. Formerly from New York City, M. Cornell was born in Queens and raised in the Bronx. Her poetry centers around trauma, trauma recovery, general observations of the world, her intense love of New York City, and finding the profound within the mundane.
We stayed inside and scribbled down our thoughts in lines of verse as strident as politics, as cruel as children sensing a weakness in their prey. That was how we passed the time: mostly alone.
In lines of verse, as strident as politics, and cruel, We made up little songs, to sing in the shower: That was how we passed the time, mostly alone, or staring at a screen until the light burned our eyes.
We made up little songs to sing in the shower, like a kind of lonely concert, better than silence or staring at a screen until the light burned our eyes. That’s the way the pandemic went, until it ended,
like a kind of lonely concert, breaking the silence ringing an alarm in our brains, over and over: That’s the way the pandemic went, until it ended. A steady march from day to day, each the same.
Ringing an alarm in our brains, over and over: like children sensing a weakness in their prey. A steady march from day to day, each the same, We stayed inside and scribbled down our thoughts.
Patrick Dunn is a professor at Aurora University, where he teaches linguistics, literature, composition, and creative writing. His poetry has been published in Poetry Sky and Fifth Wednesday Journal, among other places, and his book of poetry, Second Person, was published by Finishing Line Press. His writing has been translated into several languages, including Chinese, Russian, and Slovak. He lives in the Chicago suburbs, in a small house surrounded by an unkempt lawn, where he plays the piano (poorly but with great feeling) and cooks (reasonably well and with tremendous gusto).
(she says) Ah, but love you’ve forgotten the cool nights on the hot streets when Nightingale Rose kept us rapt with her cooing, and Bella Jo drivin’ us all to pieces with her red satin swishing on the dance floor
’til there wasn’t room for no one but you and her lighting up the room and your feet moving near as fast as my heartbeat.
But then you saw me standing with Bluesy and you asked me to dance, but Farm Boy Willy threw down his straw hat and grabbed my arm before I could say yes.
You’ve forgotten the old Captain, too, when he called on you to help him when his bed catched fire and you came with ten buckets on your head.
He lost all his best Sunday clothes and you let him have half yours and your best pair of shoes, too. But Minnie she just complained they didn’t fit right knowing she didn’t have no clothes half as good fearing he would leave her for a woman in satin.
Man, you forget your people who never lost faith in you and singing your praises like a Hallelujah when Darvin Red accused you of cheating at pool that Friday when we all went down to Jay’s ‘cuz the streets was too hot and you cooled him off with a tenner and never looked back.
Them was sour times, and sweet, too, and both mixed up with each other and there is no one knows you like me and I says they got you all wrong and I’ll stand here ‘til the Nightingale sings through my bones.
Maryann Lawrence is a sales professional, solopreneur, antique collector and writer in Southeast Michigan. To wit, she makes ends meet. She has been published in Literary Mama, Vine Leaves Press, Light & Dark and Foliate Oak. Read her essays, poems, short stories and children’s lit at MaryannLawrence.net.
for those believers who believe their belief trumps truth
it seeped deep into their bones: unadulterated capitalism filled the bone marrow chasms and bled hatred and disgust and disdain until it oozed out for everyone to see christians, patriots, fascists all were all consumed by this thing called capitalism which, once unfettered and loosed by a slack of religion then married to religion was manifested as greed, pure selfishness, treachery, and murder
moloch loosed upon masses by simple utterances and grumblings—demonic politicians created from nothing by mere wishes; a malcontent collected by a semi-consciousness of wills
those who had created them then withdrew into their own shells of safety behind walls of disrespect and god damned ignorance of all others— they then only understood their own needs and knew their own imagined fears told to them repeatedly in shadow puppet shows run by puppet masters who freely pulled their puppet strings
the garrote of godliness tightened tightly around necks of the faithless believers strangling any spiritual understanding until they relented to ignorance or choked on mouths filled with hosts of religious intentions the rationalization to believe—to beg for faith, to have some measure of hope, but hope only came in their own damned selves and even more damnable myths forgetting science and facts and choosing rather to solely believe an excuse to not hear, see, speak, or apply critical thinking
belief is not faith, belief is hope without foundation faith is knowing beyond doubt, and while belief reigned supreme, discernment of faith became as dead as isaac would have been under abraham’s blade had abraham’s faith been found as equally ill-equipped and godless and believed only in the lamb and not had true faith
god’s not a lamb in the bush god is that last hope-filled glance god is thought, an idea, a gleam in the artists’ eye; words, sound in the poets’ mind; the mind’s eye; the consciousness found in every person— without consciousness there is no god
so then, if thought is dead, and reason also dead all we have is a thoughtless, self-righteous world view with self-sanctifying belief in self-fulfilling prophecies, in myths of our making, then the collective weight of humankind’s own ignorance, hubris, and struggle to replace faith with belief; god with religion, capitalism, competition, hate and fear mongering will be that belief and those who believe will have served to faithfully kill god dead.
Raymond P. Hammond is the editor-in-chief of both The New York Quarterly and NYQ Books. He holds an MA in American Poetry from NYU’s Gallatin School and is the author of Poetic Amusement, a book of literary criticism. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife, the poet Amanda J. Bradley, and their dog Hank.
When it was easier to hide in the haze of my youth Not yet accepting of the bright hot sun on my back in retreat of lesser gods, men evoking rituals on the soft body, reviving little ceremonies of distrust, I knew hiding was verb and noun, the act and the person. A hiding. Is hiding. In him. On him. Inside him. Them. Before I carved the binary out of my bone Before I could look at myself and sweet-kiss it.
Mateo Perez Lara is a queer, brown, non-binary, Latinx poet from California. They received their M.F.A. in Poetry as part of the first cohort to graduate from Randolph College’s Creative Writing Program. They are an editor for RabidOak Online Literary Journal. They have a chapbook, Glitter Gods, published with Thirty West Publishing House. Their poems have been published in EOAGH, The Maine Review, and elsewhere.
It rises like a shark fin from the coughing soil in my lost backyard.
I look around, over each shoulder. No neighbors to peer through windows. Dry grass scratching beneath my shoes.
Just a stump now,
the rest had been cut away. Clean bites of a chainsaw gleam, from sometime before the end.
Maybe someone would’ve eaten from it now, instead of watching the sickly fruit pile on the ground
to rot like I used to.
Those absent branches hold no answers, no direction, they point me nowhere.
So, I lie down with it for a moment, resting my limbs on forlorn roots and, looking up, feast upon the sky’s song,
an aubade I haven’t yet named.
Orey Wilson Dayne was born and raised in Nevada, Ohio. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English at Otterbein University. He received his MFA in Creative Writing at Rosemont College in Philadelphia. He resides in Columbus, Ohio where he hangs out in his hammock, drinks whiskey, and leads tabletop RPGs.
girls sit down between the rest we look first one way then the other did you raise your hand did you lose your place did you do good then did this silence this face go silent upon a subject silent
Nancy White is the author of three poetry collections: Sun, Moon, Salt (winner of the Washington Prize), Detour, and Ask Again Later. Her poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Review, FIELD, New England Review, Ploughshares, Rhino, and many others. She serves as editor-in-chief at The Word Works in Washington, D. C. and teaches at SUNY Adirondack.
I feel a film not washed off after all these showers a filth, a bruise I don’t want anyone to see a consciousness of being not enough smart pretty tough not enough
What do you want, I don’t hit you, do I? fists up, baby on the seat
Cowering tower not believing in the bad the evil the lying side hoping in the wash of good side I saw when we met the better self you put forward a hooked soul waiting to be let out if someone could unlock the purgatory
I don’t care if my father died yesterday, we’re havin’ a pahty . . .
the day he died you drank yourself to sleep though you barely knew him cycle begins again
Believing, believing you’re not doing dope didn’t say bad things about me demanding wife ball and chain neck drop lagging up your high
“. . . it’s too bad she has to put up with him at least he doesn’t hit her . . .”
The essence of the film the icky lie that you don’t hit me with words shake fists anger disintegrates my ‘front’ inch inch take the wall down
each morning before I leave baby bag packed briefcase over shoulder baby draped in my arms out the door off to work you tear at my self façade I set to make it through the days anything to ruin my to make damn sure that icky film stays on
Eve Chilali is a poet and writer living in the Greater New York City area. This poem is part of a forthcoming collection, Some Other Perfect.
You with your constant smell of indifference And I so hungry for even a sweet side glance.
But it was not to happen. Maybe it was fate on the snowy evening I sailed Away from you: The last night I entered that ferry The same ferry that always took me back to you Because I was seduced by silly things That never mattered.
I must have looked so crumbled, so forlorn, That a nun stopped reading the Bible and moved To sit closer to me, to give me comfort And solace… and she did.
As I drifted the waters to reach my home You disappeared and grew smaller in every way Possible, so in many of my later years you Became a blurred washed memory.
And after a great time, when my forgotten passion Surfaced and took hold of me, When the longing that once lived inside of me Cornered my thoughts and turned you into a rumination, I tried to find you.
But you were gone. Really gone. And there was a heavy stillness in my place. On cold nights, I remembered the ferry and All I could hear was the nun, The nun who so many years ago told me: “You will still be here In the morning.”
Marjorie Levine was a teacher for 35 years and she is now 74 years old and retired. In 2009, she was the 1st place winner, in a Beat Poetry Contest, for her poem, “What Way to Go Today”. Her poem, “Coda”, was published in Pinky Thinker Press in February 2021.
My children, I never taught you to destroy; my yearnings are of love. So what is it to be confronted, to embrace such a deep canary? What is it when you pick yourself apart for a promise, petal by terrible petal? My desire runs with the heaviest stones in the river. My desire is a wet leaf carried by the wind. For the sake of a promise, would you break the root over your chest, would you devour the light and the rain until you yourself were devoured?
Brett Thompson has been writing poetry since his graduate days at the University of New Hampshire where he earned a M.A. in English Writing with a concentration in poetry. He has been published in various journals, including Plainsongs, Tilde, District Lit, The Literary Nest, and the Cobalt Review. He teaches and lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two young daughters.
“You’re a pretty big wheel, ain’t you?” my grandfather asks. Words tossed my way from a green armchair in the dark corner of the front room of his Appalachian home.
It’s like an impromptu game of catch, his words propelled with disdain (bewilderment?) at the soft boy standing in his home.
Maybe it’s my dad’s fault. Surely it’s my dad’s fault. Mom has told me it’s my dad’s fault. Mom uses heavy, sticky words like grandpa does. This was her dad.
I was nothing like the men my grandfather knew: strong, dominant brutes with calloused hands whose days were spent underground in the dark coal mines of Kentucky, where the beauty of my grandfather’s otherworldly ice blue eyes went mercifully unnoticed.
The men he knew lived in perpetual darkness, entering the mines in the morning before dawn and exiting at dusk, the blackness seeping into their lungs and slowly, painfully robbing them of air. These men didn’t waste their breath on unnecessary words.
My dad, the man my mother chose, relishes the light, his sensitive hazel eyes perpetually watery from being outside. His hands are soft, in spite of years of janitorial work before he joined the military, reflections of his days working retail and the brief time he taught high school history. His words are too plentiful to be heavy or sharp, like a constant barrage of ping pong balls that, while irritating if beamed in your direction, are never dense enough to leave a scar or sting when they hit you.
But the heavy sticky words my grandfather threw at me? My mom taught me to catch them all in my small, soft hands, and not let them fall. Hold some in my heart. Hold some in my head. Hold the weight of others like a hammer or pickaxe, feel their burn like flares from a stick of dynamite until my hands, too, became calloused.
I stare at him awkwardly, waiting for direction. My mother is nowhere to be found but also deeply present.
I respond to him like my father would.
“I guess I am, Grandpa. I guess I am a pretty big wheel.”
He glares at me, those blue eyes glowing in the dark corner of the room. He raises his strong, thick hand like he’s going to strike me. Watches me to see if I flinch. Waits for me to retreat. Waits for me to fall.
He reaches out, squeezes my shoulder hard, and expels a deep disappointed sigh (my mother learned that from him, as well) as I turn and walk away.
F Cade Swanson is a queer dad who grew up in Southeast Virginia. He runs a community center in Seattle, Washington and his work has appeared in Soliloquies Anthology, Nine Cloud Journal, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, Day Without Art 30, Ailment: Chronicles of Illness Narratives, HIV Here & Now from Indolent Books, and Stonewall’s Legacy Anthology. Check out some of his published works at fcadeswanson.com
deposits her seeds each fall among barren fields, eager the sticky cotton coating and crude oil will fertilize her children better than the beer and liquid meth mixture she’s been manufacturing for years.
This May on graduation day, goddammit, the crop is greasy rooted, shriveled – again. So, once more, the black-robed children beam across the makeshift gymnasium stage, and she bestows freedom with a yellow-toothed smile, and cheap diploma cardstock.
Before my brother and I disappeared, Eunice whispered about the inhabitants of old Nancy’s Salon. My mother tried to color its grey roots and trim the ends into a home, but the bristly and rasping doormats she chose for living room carpet skinned more knees than she ever kissed.
The neglect looked like dead guinea pig crosses guarding the front lawn, and an abandoned Bowflex jungle gym in the bedroom corner that watched us sweat out innocence in our sleep.
Each night before we left, Eunice breathed tension into the midnight fog, which lowered like a wet blanket onto the squeaking whines and snarls from the neighbor’s pit bulls. Across the fence and the porch, the dog man’s crooked teeth, illuminated only by a lit cigarette, was the only supervisor to our night games. My baby brother and I blew away from the Autumn swill with the wind and germinated elsewhere. But, our hometown blood is still oil-slick, and our teeth still rot in our dreams.
Emerson Kurdi is a Master’s Student at Texas Tech University, studying Poetry. He is originally from Allen, Texas and spends his time training his dogs, playing guitar, or hanging out with his friends on a restaurant patio.
From the window of my office I watch her plump brown body emerge from the snowy underbrush – carried on legs thin as saplings. Her’s is a gentle step too soft to disturb the budless willow branches frosted from the first snow.
And I, from my office, want nothing but to step out those doors and join her there beyond that border only wild things can cross. A threshold we carry in our lives of which we know nothing.
As I watch her disappear just as quick as she arrived – unexpected, unbound back into the snow burdened boughs, I too have something to expiate: not a pettiness, but a longing.
Nick Trelstad is a poet based out of Northern Minnesota. He was a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee, and his poems have appeared in literary magazines including Sink Hollow Journal, The Blue Marble Review, and The Scriblerus Review.
My thoughts carve me hollow like a stream against limestone. West coast valleys between my breasts, a highway of mountains down my spine. There’s a grand canyon forming in my mind, water licks grains of sand.
It’s persistent, it’s slow like the rain that gently knocks against my window pane– don’t ask me when I opened it, but there’s mold on my walls and beetles in the carpet. I wonder how Noah liked the rain. Droplets plink the glass
like a broken piano, ivory yellowed and ebony chipped. I want to love its song like a pianist. I want to love the world like a doe loves its fawn– unconditional. I shut the window.
Kari Villanueva is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh studying English Writing and Public and Professional Writing. Kari has been published once before in Forbes and Fifth Magazine.
It’s a hidden, lungless stone, this waiting. Whitebait might be emblematic of an immaturity
you still carry in the bulge of your knees, the way you swallow after speaking, after nodding in agreement.
Tell me, iron smith, man of coals and grinding, what did you expect after I took you in, closed
your thin waist with the parenthesis of my thighs? The reflection between my legs ate you right on up.
We still tell each other into flatness, into a stream populated with sleeping trout. I am sending you away
with a quilt, a goat’s pure stomach, and rough lapis. The corpse of our longing gets fed after shutting the door.
Kelli Allen’s work has appeared in numerous journals/anthologies in the US and internationally. Allen is the founding editor of Book of Matches Literary Journal. Allen’s new collection, Banjo’s Inside Coyote, arrived from C&R Press March, 2019.
He was a man who left spit to congeal on the roadside. I watched him and knew we should be kind. We should take warning. We should forgive each other the iron in our eyes. He bent suddenly to his life and walked away
still I stood in the snow. (I never said it.) In the night his footsteps filled with silence.
Remi Seamon is a Lower Sixth student in Cambridge, England. She was commended in the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award and has been published in a scattering of small publications. She considers her primary inspiration to be her dog.
There was a moment I hung head-down in the storm-deep creek, knee pinned between a tree and my bicycle, when all fear went out of me. I mean completely, the way the sea removes debris from the living purple lace of the body of a sea fan. The current waved me, gently. I felt the light shining through my porous body. I could look downstream, to my left and right, but not behind me, at my wrecked bike, the fallen tree, or any other aspect of my life. I remember thinking well, you always wondered how you would die with a sense of awe and curiosity, which I’ve only ever known from reading the kind of books that make me forget everything, the kind I wished I could stay in. This was how I could have lived, in a different life: free of anxious thoughts. A leaf tumbled by, a last-winter’s leaf twirled in the current, falling as I must have fallen, end over end. In the light, every flaw stood out like a jewel.
Rose Strode is a poet and essayist. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Poet Lore, and The Broad River Review, and is forthcoming in Sugar House and New Ohio Review. She is a recipient of the Gulick Fellowship at Valparaiso University, a student in the Creative Writing MFA program at George Mason University, and a managing editor at Stillhouse Press.
this is not the time to despair— new tides are growing out of your gutter-mouth slurping truth however you get it sideways. currents are flowing
along the malls of reconciliation holding steady for your belting elegy. you declare funeral of past—horizon of tidal compromise and glass house press conferences.
you scream of renewed mandate yet wreak of dilution—stewing broth of platitudinal possibility. i wish you would mean what you pray lay down the prickly fern and declare what we
have dreamt for longer than your gilded commute to commiseration. the portal will bellow your praise and you will have to decide in that flash whether you are a spiller of ink or a molder of clay.
Manjot Singh is a rising poet living in Los Angeles, CA. He is a political consultant by day and plans to attend law school this fall. He explores issues of diaspora, nature, nostalgia and connection in his dynamic creative writing. He is working on a poetry chapbook which he hopes to publish in the next year.