The 30/30 Project: August 2022

Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.

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The volunteer poets for August 2022 are Rusty Barnes, Donna Dallas, Angelo D’Amato, Jennifer Dracos-Tice, David Estringel, R.W. Haynes, Erin Marsh, h.l. Rijo, and Elizabeth S. Wolf. Their poems are listed each day, below, in alphabetical order by poet’s name. We hope you enjoy discovering new poets, forms, and poems as you scroll through each day’s drafts!

If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please fill out our application here and warm up your pen!

Day 14 / Poem 14

Stranger in a Strange Land / Rusty Barnes

Stranger in a strange land is how I feel
in the realms of childhood and marriage,

though maybe I could claim some wan-
faced expertise after thirty-one blessed years

(you can tell my wife is my first reader)
and three children raised till more or less

grown. I slouch toward my own Bethlehem,
brazen as a Roman centurion in his mettle.

Lord, I can offer you years of being almost
there for the loves I love and matter. I can say

I tried my damndest to overwhelm
the voices by dint of good deed and hapless

prayer, a question I still pray about but
never count on an answer except in backward

ways. Into the land of the meek I stride boldly;
in the land of the proud I vouchsafe weakness,

everything I have I give in support to kids
and wife and to myself I yield to the artist

who hides the world beneath his drop cloth,
hides the world of hiss and mutter, the end

of all things imminent, turgid with the waste
of people and the barest possibility of salvation.

As Berryman once said to you, Hast Thou
prepared astonishments for man? I claw at 

the caul’s rip and hope for a human prophecy,
the wherefore of logic, the sunny dream of Lucifer.

Come-on Girl / Donna Dallas

Heiress of my golden arm
I live
for your perfect heart-shaped face
smallest of a nose
such a porcelain doll
you’re seventeen going on a galaxy
your life an infinite line
never starting
never stopping
I believe that’s how it is

You’ve just jumped into this
like Double Dutch
then you’ll jump out
keep moving
soaring – a traveler of sorts
from some deep vortex
buried in the vat of Mother
of Glorious
your little finder bleats to me

I look at Magnus our backyard falcon
with his immeasurable wingspan
Magnus hovers above a field mouse
and I think
holy shit this magnificent creature is real
and alive
and so damn awesome
that is exactly what I feel when I
look at you – magnificent little beast
spinning in such a screwed-up world

We try desperately to give it
a little sense for you
pass some virtue
fuck if we know
world was always
a disconnected craze
but your line – your glowing stick of life
that effervescent ascent
we watch from the side
It’s incredibly alive
with moonglow
it was alive
before we awoke

Those mysteries
we can feel
the bark on the tree
is alive
this velvet leaf
your laughter
such a ball of wonder
call it birth
call it an agony
of a wonder so alive
it was never not

Self-Portrait / Angelo D’Amato

He’s a gentle soul, with a tepid tongue…
and maybe a well of anger, to boot;
and, at times, a little deaf when others
need him to hear the things they’ve left unsaid.
He’s leery of ostentatious kindness,
and resents overly casual speech.
Why fill the air with trite and vapid talk?
Why pretend to befriend everyone you meet?

He knows he burns up, in romantic pursuits;
he knows he withdraws more than he’d like
(and sharpens the knives he plans to use
when he boldly steps back into the light);
But, he searches for words that can’t be said
so you can know the heart inside his head.

I Wanted the 50’s Childhood I Glimpsed at My Grandparents’ House— / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

eggs hidden at Easter, bacon bits on chopped salad, Southern
Living magazine in the pink guest room. School shopping for
new clothes, carpeted bathroom with a furry seat cover.
Lawrence Welk playing on the stereo, a piece of furniture
that gleamed with polish, the big room on Saturday nights, sipping red
Shirley Temples, maraschino cherries glowing, on the bar’s dark oak
twisting seats. Not

a mother on the current in the basement at Bronner’s
Institute down the street, suicide attempts when my father
moved with us to LA, his father’s bedroom
separate from his mother’s, soma to sleep
and cope, affairs and love exhausted by her
neediness, and his. The 50s childhood
my father lived.

Dusk / David Estringel 

The band of pink ‘bove the horizon 


toward my bedroom window— 

Astraeus’ fingertips, 

anointed with silvery sleep— 

to hush  

the stir of echoes 

that sets these lips achatter 

and draw, open, the velvety curtains 

to dreams. 

The Mind of the Flatwoods / R.W. Haynes

“It is our dream to rebuild a forest.” Janisse Ray

The St. Mary’s River flows east from the Swamp,
And the Suwanee flows out to the west.
And you can see whole families of water moccasins
Cruising non-stop from the ocean to the Gulf,
Wearing sunglasses and playing small radios,
As gaunt blue herons and white cowbirds
Shake their heads sadly at the parade.

You’ve heard about the coachwhip snake,
Who wraps itself around your ankle
And beats you to death with its body,
And sticks the tip of its tail in your nose
To see if you’re still breathing.

Wild hogs in the flatwoods
Enjoy blueberries, blackberries,
Coral snakes, cottonmouths, palmetto berries,
Wiregrass salad, and canebrake rattlers,

All up and down the Suwanee
From the Okefenokee westward
Toward the Gulf, snakes and berries
Featuring on their Facebook pages,
Where all their friends from Southeast Georgia
And Northwest Florida follow their postings
And lick their chops and listen like dogs
To angel wings’ silent salvation,
Whispering forever through the flatwoods.

I Try To Imagine Eva Braun / Erin Marsh

biting into the capsule, recalling
how he’d ridicule her romance novels and rouge, 
leave her without saying goodbye, 
how she’d rack her brain for a reason, hours
mouthing his professions of love, attempting
to interpret the tilt of his brow.
Two suicide attempts and he only drew her further 
into himself. Now alone in her room at the Berghof,
no visitors allowed and the officers’ wives despising her, 
after sixteen years as his mistress she writes: 
From our first meeting 
I swore to follow you 
anywhere even unto 
death. I live only for 
your love.
She swallows only after he shoots himself in the right temple.

Déjà vu Fights / h.l. Rijo

Have we been here before? 
What is this feeling? 
I think I’ve felt this before
Caught in the same argument
over and over and over

Have we been here before?
A spider web of entrapped minds
Just trying to understand 
How to live life as best we can

Have we been here before?
The arguing flow
The back 
The forth
It feels so familiar 
Like a comforting pillow 
Soaked in distress

Have we been here before? 
The ride of our emotions 
Is an overwhelming pull 
We’re drowning in the currents of our cyclical moods

Have we been here before? 
Where we’ve died and been resurrected
From anger to crying to rage to pain to despair to loathing and self-blame
To sadness to shame to a notice to a halt  and to semi-awareness of it all
To hearing to feeling to seeing to knowing and having empathy 
To caring to forgiveness to sharing in love to hugs and kisses and peace
Ready, set, rinse, repeat 

Have we been here before?
Once upon many a time 
Round and round the clock we go
Hear the chime of arguing arise
I’ve seen that look of a bulls red eye 
Step back and find the truth inside the feuding patterned lines
Promises of I’ll never do this again
I said, 
          I said, 
                     I said 
Déjà vu…

Moms Don’t Have a Magic Bullet / Elizabeth Wolf

When she smashed the screen of my daughter’s iPod
my ex-husband called his girlfriend “passionate”.

When she yelled and threw things as my daughter hid
crouched in the bathroom, the therapist suggested

we all come in for a big group therapy session.
I said no. His girlfriend didn’t play any part

in my parenting plan. They broke up, a few times;
got arrested for assaulting each other, a few times;

failed to attend meetings or follow the program.
So instead, I got an order barring the girlfriend

from being in the presence of my girl. I slid into court
during one of the months they lived apart, when he

(briefly) had his own place. I’m good with logistics.
Harder to handle was when my 10 or 11-year-old-

who had recorded a ringtone saying “this is your
awesome daughter calling”- sat huddled in the corner

of our brown comfy couch, sobbing, barely able to breathe.
“Why don’t they like me?” she asked. “What is wrong with me,

and why did my dad choose her instead?” Toddlers toss
questions rapid-fire, relentlessly, for years. Tweens can

stop you cold with only two or three,
targeted straight to the heart.

Day 13 / Poem 13

Cross-Country / Rusty Barnes

We drove cross-country when we
were spry enough to make

the trek work: young and convinced
of the right path we drove from

Mansfield PA to Houston TX,
our geriatric cats as smooth

to the touch as plastic. They peed
in a shoebox filled with litter

and rode the dashboard for miles
without complaint. The Mississippi

River the only place we took pictures:
it was time to go go go, our purpose

heavy in mind. We made it in good
time only to be greeted with palmetto

bugs sized palm of the hand and heavy
like no bug I had ever seen before.

We slept on the floor because we had
no bed because those were too dear,

our wallets slim as my legs and heart,
our will meant to overcome. We

felt like pioneers jutting the nose
of our Pontiac 6000 toward the Gulf

and hoping that we had prayed enough,
an unlikely pairing that would surely thrive.   

This Skin / Donna Dallas

So bony
I break like branches
veins withered
buried so deep under my skin
in fear of a poke
they cocooned deep into muscle

I beg the moon to forgive me
I beg the sun to bathe me
that float along
swabbing up my aftermath

I’ve yet to whistle
last whistle was 1996
last kiss on the mouth was around there
maybe that was when the world stopped
and my hell – is thinking
I’m still alive – the joke
of this…..
my everlasting eternity

In Love with the Absence of Empty Prattle / Angelo D’Amato

At night, when the Societally-Inclined have slinked away
to their terribly lonely beds and drugged themselves
with Benadryl and tea leaves and Nyquil,
and maybe even healing crystals and incense,
to calm those frenetic nerves that forced
anything and everything from their lips
just so they would seem well-informed
or whatever, and thus be sheltered from the things
gnawing, delightedly, on their insides–
I can hear the leaves tap-tapping each other
on the wind that trundle through,
with a genial-seeming old man bouncing
on the squeaky driver’s seat, his gloved hands
gripping the letter wheel even as he says
“All is well, good sirs, all is well,” and black smoke
puff-puffs from the rattling tail-pipe. A family
at the General Store shakes their heads and chuckles–
“Oh, Mr. Norris”–as his jalopy sputters and sags
into a spot of mud, likely filled with horse dung. “Oh bother,”
he shouts, and his cheeks–that is, the skin
which is visible beneath his patchy white beard–
flush red and the engine gives a great rheumatic Crack!–
grey smoke billows from the engine hood and obscures
Mr. Norris’s seething indignation. “Mrs. Norris
never would have tolerated such a sorry display,”
Mrs. Kipp says to Mrs. Knopp. “Oh, heavens, no,”
Mrs. Knopp agrees. She daubs her cheeks
with a rose-colored handkerchief, for it is unseasonably hot
even in the shade of the Anderson’s Bed & Breakfast,
where the Edwards children have lined up at the windows
to gawk at the commotion caused by the silly old man;
and the maids in the kitchen are preparing
well over a dozen omelets for the starving guests
(Such is the custom, at the Anderson’s Bed & Breakfast–
nothing is ever served in a reasonable time,
and everyone grumbles, and when it finally is served,
everyone is all the more delighted,
because the quality of the food cannot be surpassed
and by gosh, they will be coming here again!)
Mark, the cabinet-maker, and Dr. Dupont, the somewhat senile druggist,
approach the portly Mr. Norris, with the gentlemanly intention
of helping him to “unstuck” his car from the muddy ditch,
likely filled with horse dung. Mr. Norris huffs,
Mark gestures at the offending tire, Dr. Dupont
holds his chin like a scholar–somehow or another,
they manage to liberate Mr. Norris’s aging vehicle,
I don’t really know the mechanics of how that would work
in early twentieth-century America, but I do know
that mud splattered the bundle of white roses
Mr. Norris had picked from his garden that morning, after adjusting
his blue waistcoat, the one with the brass buttons;
and while humming that annoying ditty Mrs. Norris
had wanted at their wedding ceremony, just ten years prior–
she had sung it day after day, as her memory collapsed and her eyes lost their focus. You’ve taken a spin in my auto…*
And I do know Mr. Norris eventually managed,
after repelling the guffaws of the children and the sympathetic
tut-tuts of the onlookers with many-a gruff mutterings,
to replace the dried-up bundle he’d placed at her headstone
the week prior, even though the current bundle
was splattered in mud and the petals a little
worse-for-wear. He knew she wouldn’t mind,
would think his stubbornness was endearing, really. He touched her headstone, and–
I leave Mr. Norris there. The old man’s privacy
has already been violated by the jeering crowd.
But the leaves keep moving, and I keep thinking,
(Do tree roots have taste buds?)
content to be without healing crystals and Nyquil and what-have-you,
in love with the absence of empty prattle.

*from the early twentieth-century song “Up in My Aeroplane,” about a wealthy bachelor who has tried and failed to win over his beloved with displays of his impressive automobile and yacht, and is now trying to woo her with his aeroplane. Mr. Norris never owned an airplane, but he identified with the bachelor’s plight, as Mrs. Norris, hardened by the loss of her first husband of thirty years, was rather difficult to impress. He would describe her to his companions in the cigar club as “cantankerous” and “snooty,” but “irresistible.” 

Bubble Up / Jennifer Dracos – Tice

Bubbles, little larva eggs, jostle,
glisten on the bottom,
strings begin to lace to the surface
good enough for boiling
dump the pasta in

What bubbles up for you?
I wanted to hit
my therapist
every time she asked
this obscene question

Bubbles bond to other
bubbles, malformed

I blew one inside another inside
another, hubba Hubba
Bubba gum

Bubbles on a mouth corner

Chug of bubbles clearing a
just tapped

Something signals
beneath this
flat green southern lake
Push the spirometer balls, float them with the last bit of your air—

holding your breath isn’t what hurts,
it’s the moment after 
you’ve blown it all
and there’s nothing to pull in

Mirror Mirror / David Estringel

Watering the pink oleander, outside my front door, I spy the neighbor’s dog—small, scrappy, and brown—scrying the iridescent skin of a water puddle at the foot of my drive for answers. Lost in murky swirls of pinks, blues, and greens that stretch and pull like morning yawns, it cocks its head, shoots me a stare, then crawls under my car—tail curled under its furless belly–for an afternoon nap. The sun beating down, angrily, my head swimming in the chemical smell of the garden hose, I hear the call of cold bedsheets and lightbulbs inside. “Good boy,” I think to myself, watching its eyes grow heavier with drowsy sleep. “Maybe tomorrow.” 

Cicero Locates the Lost Grave of Archimedes / R. W. Haynes

Thales fell in a well, looking at the sky,
Which proves the importance of political vocation,
Which brought me to Sicily, where my calculation
Has restored a great thinker’s reputation,
So now in honored glory he may lie.
The forces of nature should be understood,
But in my own mind I do perceive
A skill for politics, so reverently I leave
Quantitative wisdom and seek what good
An honest Roman patriot can best achieve.
Glory comes and goes; let us contrive
To keep deserving men’s glory alive.

Aunt / Erin Marsh

We have nothing in common.
Your obituary states a love of the outdoors, wreath-
making during the Christmas season. I can’t imagine
me without the crafting of poems at my desk, safely
ensconced in my third-floor apartment.
As you lay dying, I can’t bring myself to visit.
We’ve been dodging each other since my parents’
divorce. A deathbed visit seems disingenuous. 
When you finally die, I cannot hear your voice as you pass over.
Yet, the silt of your eyes grounds the wild river of mine. 
At night, I feel your wing covering mine, encouraging
a flight away from the familial nest. 
You do not shout commands. 
Yet, I know you approve of my leaving.
My wings are just a bit stronger than yours.
Take me just a bit further

Past Tense / h.l. Rijo

The feeling of longing…

I think of you when it rains.
Your face and mine.
But we chose to stay hidden away in plain sight.
I know that you wanted me on that rainy night. 
I thought I could feel your Heart, Body, and Soul.
(Or was it just my desired projection
seeing things I thought were there?)
My dreams in the dark 
a thought I’ve now played
of you saying my name 
rolling it on your tongue 
like dice up and down through the park.
Sometimes I wish we let out our private faces public for all to see
what’s beneath sweet simmering smiles and flirting eye mysteries.
But some things are never spoken
like locks kept secret on wet lips.
I stay up on rainy nights
think of you and smile.
I know you’re far away
but I can feel you for miles…

R.I.P Jeremy Richman / Elizabeth S. Wolf

Why would someone walk into a school and kill my child? I need to know that answer. Jennifer Hensel, mother of Avielle Richman, 2013

Jeremy Richman looked for answers
deep inside the structures of the brain.
In the prefrontal cortex, site of planning
and decisions, weighing of consequences.
In the limbic system, the triad of structures
concerned with triaging emotions:
           fear             hunger                anger
guilt            shame               anxiety
learning mediating biological responses
shaping learning, in a cycle which iterates
& iterates & iterates.

How does it diverge
                                                  into violence?

In the long-range, humans survived
by building bonds. What must go wrong
for a grown man to aim a weapon of war
into the face of a child?

Jeremy Richman believed
we would find this answer
lurking in the blob of a brain.
He needed to honor his daughter,
Avielle, who died at Sandy Hook.
Jeremy knew infinite heartache.
He used every tool that he had
until he found that he couldn’t
endure another day.

Before he died, he loved.
Before he died, he lost.
Before he died, he tried.

Day 12 / Poem 12

After Reading Coleridge’s Christabel / Rusty Barnes

 remain wholly convinced Christabel
is a vampire who Leoline the baron rich seeks
to overcome lest the daughter go to hell
with only the promise of a kiss on cheeks
already flamed with love’s awful curiousness.
It is nearly eight now in my home and I can
put this book to slow yet eventful rest,
close it neatly at its worn binding and hand
the whole thing over to my imagination’s
keeping and shut my tired eyes with sure
knowledge that tomorrow’s frustration
will be that there is now no poem purer
than the master’s here of word and wit
three hundred years past his writing of it.

Dark Horses in Dark Places / Donna Dallas

NY times report on Ukraine: When images emerged over the weekend of the bodies of dead civilians lying on the streets of Bucha — some with their hands bound, some with gunshot wounds to the head

The stench is everywhere
I’ve never seen bodies in different
stages of decay
someone’s parent – someone’s son
lies in the middle of a dirt trodden road
legs askew
tongue black
eyes empty

for love of country
love of freedom
hide in basements
sit in silent terror
of being discovered
and carted off like prisoners
to a new Auschwitz

How much land
and how many countries
are enough before
Satan is fat
full and happy

Snuggled safely in our homes
with food and running water
we watch the videos of the dead
we think
oh it’s them
not us
it’s not here
we are good

We sit
in our dark places
listen to the hooves
of dark horses
stamp over
our shallow-minded graves

Pep Rally / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

Students scrunch
in bleachers across the gym
from us, the faculty.
             My thirtieth first day
             the real first
             for each high school kid.

Musical chairs—pep rally fun—sounds
mellifluous but is so
nasty. Wikipedia notes its origin:
“Trip to Jerusalem,” a German game—
not enough room on the boats
to Israel.

Parents call teachers
Communist these days, and today
it’s hard not to be
when 800 of us watch
the competition on the gym floor build as
chairs disappear, kids fight to fit
two sets of hips between
seat arms, flurry,
fight, and backward tip—
struggle, arm jam,
kid caught under
the scrum, all of us
standing and screaming,
school photographer twisting, training
his long lens on the triumph of the last one

alone in his chair.
We pound the bleachers,
he pumps his fist,
we laugh and shout his name.

Lady Macbeth / David Estringel

How black 
like night 
is your call for counsel 
to spirits, rancorous 
and thirsting,  
for the fruitless bounty 
of cold teats 
and tongue  
that bring the unmanned to sway 
in this 
Hell’s business. 
the shadows 
that escape through hot teeth 
and curled lip, 
that fall  
like judgments— 
upon noble heads and  
gaping maws of graves. 
Do hearts of pitch  
feel the ambitious stings 
of Conscience’s stabs? 
Or are they as elusive 
as Hypnos’ kiss 
or the sweet wet  
of warm suckle? 
How go, you, 
weird sister, true— 
of Evil’s Sword— 
by the sun 
and gold’s warm glimmer 
‘round weary brow 
and crimson finger? 
Watch how you go, 
fateful bride, 
for baneful cries 
ride the breeze 
like hoary devils 
or dark spells, 
to collect  
their due. 

One Riot, One Ornithophile / R.W. Haynes

A raucous parliament of excited green jays
Convenes here around the pomegranate tree,
Flapping around and squawking deafeningly
To amaze the world with the hell they raise.
Is it a family reunion? A pep rally? A war?
Why are they agitated? Never before
Have so many green birds made such a roar.
Flying tree to tree, jays from near and far,
Frantic with passion that cries for explanation.
I circle the garden with stealth and in silence
Alert for the cause of this green-feathered violence,
Peering low and high at the flock’s perturbation.
And what is disconcerting these jays’ souls?
Ah, the unwelcome trespass of two orioles.

Untitled / Erin Marsh

Her body, she thought, needed to come with a warning label,
so she embroidered her diagnoses onto a white square of cloth
using red thread, spent her lunch hour sewing this cotton declaration
to the inside corner of her left breast. Her beloved touched the tag 
through her pink dress and wouldn’t believe it. When her he went 
to unbutton it, he gasped at her unexpected opacity—there was a bright 
red paper heart in the glassine envelope of her chest, its outer edges 
visible with just a little pressure. 

Roads / h.l. Rijo

I try to change my view of 

sunrises and sunsets
with pink and purple skies kissing mountains in a cloud
to red and orange dreams of a waking world in soft dewy greens.
I keep staring at the road
letting it unfold
into the vast horizon beyond where
my eyes can’t see.
The only thing I know
is to gaze at the unknown
time and time and time 
Keep waiting to see if one day the sun’s direction would ever change…

The luring comfort of just sitting
and never changing direction 
(always a sunrise always a sunset)
doesn’t allow for journeys of 
new hidden wonderment
into the clouds, 
past the moons, 
through the nebula spools, 
and what lies beyond the constant sun.

The Cost of Lies, with Footnotes1 / Elizabeth S. Wolf

ALEX JONES, the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, Infowars:

“It’s more than these dead poor children —                      you’ve gotta go with your gut,

      and my gut tells me    

                  I’ve never felt this freaked out…            I really think

                              they’re going to come after our guns

                                             and start a civil war…

Don’t ever think

     the globalists who hijacked this country

                     wouldn’t stage something like this.

                              They kill little kids all day, every day.” 2

SCARLETT LEWIS, mother of Jesse Lewis, 6 years old, murdered in his first grade classroom:

“Jesse was real. I’m a real mom.” 3

ALEX JONES, Infowars, March 2014

“Folks, we’ve got video of Anderson Cooper with clear blue-screen out there…

      He’s not there in the town square.

                 We got people clearly coming up and laughing and then

                           doing the fake crying. We’ve clearly got people where

                                       it’s actors playing different parts for different people,

                                                      the building bulldozed, covering up everything…

SCARLETT LEWIS, mother of Jesse, who bravely told other kids to run when the gun jammed:

“The fear and anxiety and unsafeness … keeps me from healing,”

Sept 2014: InfoWars publishes “FBI SAYS NO ONE KILLED AT SANDY HOOK.” 4

ALEX JONES, Infowars, Dec 2014:

“The whole thing is a giant hoax…

              The general public doesn’t know

                            the school was actually closed the year before.

                                             They don’t know they’ve sealed it all, demolished the building.

They don’t know that they had the kids going in circles

                  in and out of the building as a photo-op….

                                  But it took me about a year with Sandy Hook

                                                    to come to grips with the fact

                                                                   that the whole thing was fake.”

NEIL HESLIN, father of Jessie Lewis, who described holding his son’s bullet-ridden body in his arms, on national television, on Father’s Day, regarding Alex Jones’ absence from court:

“My life has been threatened. I fear for my life.

I fear for my safety and my family’s safety and their life…

Mr. Alex Jones does not have the courage to face me.” 5

ALEX JONES, Infowars, Dec 2014:

I mean, I couldn’t believe it….

                     But then I did deep research—

                                     and my gosh, it just pretty much didn’t happen.”

SCARLETT LEWIS, testifying with Alex Jones sitting in the courtroom:

“Truth is so vital in our world… Sandy Hook is a hard truth. Hard truth. Nobody would want to ever believe that 26 kids could be murdered.” 7

ALEX JONES, April 2019:

                           “And I, myself, have almost had like

           a form of psychosis                          back in the past

                                 where I basically thought

                          everything was staged, even though

              I’m now learning                           a lot of times things aren’t staged.”6

  1. From the closing argument by attorney Kyle Farrar: “Speech is free, but you have to pay for your lies.” Proceedings to consider damages against Alex Jones 8/2022
  2. On December 14, 2012, 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 2 members of the Lanza family were shot and killed by Adam Lanza. For real.
  3. Scarlett Lewis excerpts from testimony at the proceedings to consider damages against Alex Jones 8/2022
  4. This article has been removed
  5. Neil Heslin excerpt from testimony at the proceedings to consider damages against Alex Jones 8/2022
  6. WTAF

Day 11 / Poem 11

Quatorzain on Divorce / Rusty Barnes

When one finds a marriage at a young age
the story one tells of it is deliberately
two-fold: a short but nearly pungent rage,
marked in drear stages like the lee
of a river in which water refuses to yield
to stone and cuts its own path through mud,
boulder and riverside grass in the near field,
only to lose itself in that story like a flood
in which the marriage like other falsity seems
to reveal only the best of itself to others.
It’s no vice to admit fault and repair midstreams
surely better that than of failed lovers,
coming at each other like wrecking balls,
night after night even as the day falls.

Burn at Both Ends Baby Please / Donna Dallas

There’s little hope
on a bender
to believe another man
is my messiah
the give-all
I ain’t got a clue

I know that blue eyes are ice
brown can mean my death
I know when sweat forms
on the brow
there’s a torment
to follow like a tsunami
the waves suck me under
I’ve seen that anger in so many faces
like a connect-the-dot puzzle

Not my first rodeo
I wanted this to be a warning to y’all
But it came out like a crying

I can’t shake it in the night
when it hits hard
the moon cringes behind a cloud
when it hits – ravenous
a hunger crying
at the same time
to be part of some damn thing
even if it’s the most unholy
of all#########################

Laissez-Faire / Angelo D’Amato

Wolves in gas masks patrol the streets.
All the better to breathe, my dear.
Wolves with guns barricade the parks.
All the better to kill you with, my dear.

Somehow, the animals have taken D.C.
The President Fox snarled an order at a press conference:
“Let the human sanctuaries burn.”
So now all of Oklahoma is dancing in flames.

Is this an allegory? A metaphor?
Who knows. A man was shot sixty times
by police. Terrorists overran the Capitol.
And (more) blood will pool on classroom floors.

Coma Wall / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

An immense galaxy filament, it is one of the largest known superstructures in the observable universe. . . where each dot is a cluster of galaxies. -NASA

Coma Wall itches. It’s the
scale of things, the sleeping
mass, contained energy and
voids, edge of the observable, the
jump scare sleeping
monstrosity, the snapping, unravelling
taut filament thread

            Squeeze you down to size

                       teacher steps into the hallway
                                    instead of exploding

                        Fuck Obama!
                                    launched into the window
                                                intersection outside work

                        My wife’s knuckles, walnut thick
                                    pink and white
                                                mid flare

                        Edamame tooth-raked and popped from the pod

                        Six surrounded reactors in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

                        Last flea on a ginger cat’s rump, full and out of reach

                        The night before the
                                    first day of school, red digits staring,
                                                unresponsive, no
                                                            sleep in sight.

Winter Comes / David Estringel

White-green, lichen-kissed 
boughs peek through soft whispers 
of cloud tow’rd grey heaven. 

Dark-eyed juncos 
scour icy patches from treetops 
for remnants of Fall, 

as Winter’s breath 
flatters breasts of snowy down 
with blushing kisses, 

while frost creeps ‘pon  
silv’ry skins of bare branches. 
Winter’s ardent advances. 

Walking Back to the Shuttle Boat from the Viking Ship Museum /. R. W. Haynes

Norway’s expensive, but delightful:
Though I haven’t seen it cold,
The autumn sun shines kindly there
On tourists young and old.

Liv Ullman sat in dignity
A couple of rows away,
Not far from Ibsen’s great-grandson,
As we waited for the play.

Then, on a huge inflated pig,
Ibsen’s Brand took shape,
And the ghosts of Vikings seemed to howl
That there was no escape.

At the reception, we all snacked
On reindeer and on wine,
And I sailed out down Oslo Fjord,
An axe gripped in my mind.

This, I Decide, is A Love Poem / Erin Marsh

I want this to be a love poem, so I say your name
three times while writing it backwards in the self-

imposed margins of this unlined paper. I use a purple
pen and make the “T” of your name bigger

than the rest of the letters—an effort to ground
your name in the open, unclaimed spaces

of my heart. I wear perfume, although I spend
the day in old, worn, see through shorts and a tank

top with no bra underneath to prove to myself
I would be smelled if we were in the same room.

When you video call me from Minneapolis, I see
your made bed and feel the care with which you

tucked in the top sheet and smoothed the comforter
over it. You tell me you love me before hanging up,

your accent lifting my name from its ordinary shape
on the page. This, I decide, is a love poem. 

freely / h.i. Rijo

when i said i love you
what i said was
all i meant was
that my soul knows
and loves you 
without attachment
without expectations
but with song

Walking With Your Heart Outside Your Chest / Elizabeth S. Wolf

The day of the Sandy Hook shooting
Barack Obama said to hug your children.
He later said that it was the worst day
of his presidency.

In middle school my daughter hung out briefly
with one of the more troubled teens, D. Until the girl,
angry at a friend’s comment, choked her
briefly in the bathroom. That was the end of that.

On the afternoon of the Sandy Hook shooting,
my office desk phone rang. I never gave that number
so I almost let it go. It was D’s mother, frantic.
“Do you know where the girls are?” she asked. “D said
she was going to hang out with your daughter at the
playground. But D’s not answering her phone, and I
drove by the park, and they’re not there. Do you know
where your daughter is?”

“Yes,” I said. “My daughter is at work, at the
After School program. Maybe there’s a mix-up?”

“No, they had plans,” D’s mom insisted. “D told me.
Are you sure your daughter is at work?”
“Well, I was until you asked,” I said.
“Let me check and call you back.”

I called After School and spoke to the director.
“Yes, your daughter is here,” she said. “We are on
lock-down. We cried and prayed before the kids came.
But now we are trying to have a normal day,
in lock-down. We need your daughter here-
unless you need her more.”

“That’s OK,” I answered. “I just wanted to be sure
I knew where she was.”
“We hugged all the interns,” said the director. “Just like
the President reminded us to do.”

I called D’s mom back. “I’m sorry,” I said,
“My daughter is at work. I don’t know
where D might be.”
“Do you have any ideas?” asked her mom.
“Is there anyone else I can call?”
I hesitated. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Our kids don’t really hang out anymore.
They haven’t for several weeks.”
“Oh yes, they have,” D’s mom insisted.
“They went to a movie with a
bunch of friends, this past Friday.”
“Last Friday?” I asked. “I’m sorry, but no,
they didn’t. Last Friday was another kid’s
birthday. We had the party at our house.
My daughter was home all night.”
“Are you sure?” asked D’s mom.
“I am,” I said softly.
“I was home. I cut the cake.”
I started to say I was sorry again but
D’s mom hung up.

Day 10 / Poem 10

The Real End: MMA / Rusty Barnes

Chuck Liddell took a shot on the temple
from Randy Couture sometime in the early

2000s when my body began to betray me,
and the only exercise I got was walking

the three blocks to the Dunkin’:
a trip I made every other day or so,

when my children were young sprouts
that I could satisfy with whimsy

and sweets. It is twenty years on now,
Chuck Liddell is picking up cash

from winning barfights and I imagine
big bald Randy Couture thumping Chuck

again their bodies singing in the cage
the tune old men know and revere,

the spirit of combat, of acting your way
through stark butcherous times and in

sudden small queernesses only their
wives will get to know: the real end.

The Last judgment / Donna Dallas

I watched from the sides
tucked under countless souls
every shade of flesh
dimpled and sinewy
beauty in these tortured limbs
begging to be forgiven
pushing to the front line
as not to be overlooked

My lover and I tight knot
step over torn and broken wings
masses of angels swarm like hornets
and hummingbirds
try to decode dark and light
try to recall what Jesus said
what did he say?
something like darkness
is in the foolish heart?
no no – as we are pulled apart in divine separation

Jesus said
To the thirsty I will give
from the spring of the water of life
without payment
as I stood on the side
parched and burning
and watched you flutter away


I Crown Myself in a Clandestine Mausoleum / Angelo D’Amato

Dust on the crown jewels.*
I leave fingerprints
on the inset diamonds.

The tapestries of kings
hang limp in their niches
as they fray.

And the silver chainmail
of a fallen prince regent
glows in the cold.

What is glory,
when your people 
have forgotten your voice?

What is honor,
when Divine Right yields
to state-sanctioned heresy?

May we remember the Rosebud**
as we wander toward death
and nonexistent tombs.

*Refers to the Crown of Charlemagne, used for the coronations of French Kings from 870 AD -1775 AD. Lost in 1793, during the French Revolution.

**The last word of Charles Foster Kane. From the Orson Welles 1941 film Citizen Kane.

Trigger / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

Click in the hall
pin strikes primer
pipe cleaners scatter green and red
classroom closet

                                    Steel comma, an

            Suggestions: what to throw at a school shooter (staff training, ’99-present):

  • Sheaf of printer paper, exploding white petal fan
  • Your ficus plant, fistfuls of dirt
  • Coca-cola coffee mug
  • Scoops of Hanukkah gelt left from last year’s party
  • White-grey grubby charging cords
  • Norton’s Brit lit, I & II
  • 1-inch, 2-inch, 6-in binders
  • Barrette, anorak, one Dansko clog
  • Every single plastic chair

                                                single hair
                                                finger squeeze
                                                phone call to my
                                                father, I’m

okay, don’t
switch on

the news

Mnemosyne / R. W. Haynes

It’s when your memory falters, and your mind
Is seized by silence in a gentle warning,
That you can appreciate Mnemosyne,
The Mother of the Muses, as you should.

You’re an epic bard, and in a room
Filled with veteran swordsmen drinking wine,
And now you must stand and roar out with eloquence,
Thirty minutes worth of dactylic hexameter,
Battle descriptions for a roomful of experts,
Your voice dominating the smoke-filled hall.

Or recall that story, of how Sophocles’ children
Took him to court to get his estate
Claiming the old man’s mind was collapsing,
And Sophocles stood and blasted the courtroom
With a tremendous chorus from his current play,
And the case was dismissed, with much rejoicing
By all the Athenian jurymen that day.

Untitled / Erin Marsh

Her therapist suggests tracing his silhouette
onto the bathroom mirror with a black Sharpie,
so when is gone at work each day, she can memorize
the slope of his shoulders and measure
exactly how much taller he is than her.
She will see this man-shape as she washes
her hands and practice showing him the map
of her disfigurement—asking him to always stroke
her scarred hips when he says that he loves her.

Wildflower Bloom / h.l. Rijo

A purple wildflower grows,
behind watching eyes,
in the middle of a park path 
overgrown with tall grass.
If change is a direction and not a destination,
then grow ever upwards 
towards the sun and sky.
Root ever downwards to find 
healing waters underneath.
A wildflower blooms 
from the chaos within 
needing both a home and its freedom.

I heard about Sandy Hook / Elizabeth S. Wolf

while I was at work. I couldn’t really take it in.
I didn’t want to. I walked into a colleague’s cubby
and found her shaking and rocking. E, I said, hey,
are you ok? No, she said, no no no. I have a
6-year-old in 1st grade. I need to see him. Now.
OK, I said. You do that. Take a breath and go.
Go hug your boy. I’ll cover for you.
I can’t, she said. I have a meeting in 10 minutes
and a design spec due by end of day.
She was still shaking. She was still rocking.
Give me your notes, I said. Give me your spec.
We got this. Go hug your boy. Listen:
There are a lot of projects.
There are a lot of meetings.
You have one son
and he has one mom
and you need to be together
today of all days. So go get him.
But- she started to say- but-
then she looked at me, took a deep
breath, and got up to leave.

I can’t tell you what the meeting was about
or what product was being designed
but she and her boy were together
all that afternoon, when it mattered.

Day 9 / Poem 9

Wing Stop Border Street / Rusty Barnes

In the heat of midsummer we decide
to eat at a local place with a good review,
and driving on our way the sky opens too
with driving rain so Heather steps outside.

The gutter spout fills with rain so thick
it’s almost a roux, paper and soda cans
run down the street like a river which spans
the front door and even when a stick

stops the runoff for a moment, builds up
a backdraft of tension and the street junk
rears its whitecapped head, flows past a punk
smoking his cigarette in mid-rain drop;

he takes his nicotine fix in the midst
and wipes his hair back: doesn’t even look pissed.

It’s So Damn Long / Donna Dallas

When night shrieks in
skirting the very edge
of my nervous system
six degrees below zero
truck stop baren
a penny for any lonely man’s thoughts
who venture in
to Sally’s Gas Station

I pine for the dawn
watch for skeletons lurking
in the doorways
of hollowed out buildings
surrounding Sally’s
a great horned owl
screeches past me
attempting feebly to solve hunger problems
or die quietly in some slovenly hovel

Bones littered about
beer bottles
some old stuffed teddy bear
so worn and dirt trodden
it became its own disease
Ima die out here…….eventually
after a certain number of shooting stars
die in their blaze of glory
straight over the mountain tops
its scrawled somewhere
under my rib cage
like a bar code

Jesus sends an angel
every so often
to give a scan check
when I feel that heat
a smile cracks my frozen face
I’ll stare up at those billions of stars
every one of em named by Jesus
every one of em a fiber of this long-ass night

Look north
the mountains glare threatening
ain’t no home in those hills
but I watched a few takers
locked and loaded
with knapsacks and water bottles
take the trek with stubborn glory
not one sorry sap made it back

Some stars are born to glory
some are deadass blazers
until they fade
to black dust
stars can be born dead
their fury bursting and burnt
before they squeeze through the milky way

Ima stay right here
watch the stars drip down
dead and alive
into this gorge of Edom
bursting with agony

Set myself up
with my teddy
wait for my star to turn

Lips of the Messiah / Angelo D’Amato

From these, words of healing trickled forth,
on the hill, in the street, by the woman
at the well;
From them, breadcrumbs tumbled
to the feet of prostitutes, newly washed
by his calloused carpenter hands;
From them, as the desert
burned his skin, refusals blasted forth
to pummel the Devil’s scheming mind;
From out the parched mouth,
a lamentation, a plea, a cry,
for mercy, for water, for Mother;
From out the wine-stained ridges,
jokes to ease the hearts of overworked friends;
Blessings, prayers, vows, predictions,
rejections, bargainings, philosophies–
And, they kissed the foreheads of children
as they died.

One must dare to be unheard, or misunderstood,
to know how the mouth must mold itself
around uncertain words. Triumphal trumpet sounds become unbearably dull
when they blast and blast
into imagined mirrors.
One must dare to savor
the sensation of a kiss; one must
cherish the intimacy of unbrushed teeth; one must
refuse to consume a lover’s soul.
One need not be the Messiah
to show the kindness of masculine lips.

(But, those lips did bring the dying children
back to life; and this, we cannot do.)

The Day I Ditched Work to Snag the Woman I’d Marry / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

The best way to get out
of work is to dress the part.
Wear a blue business suit, short
skirt, heels, even a tiny
pocket square, nearly sheer
cream shell. Of course, I did
need to visit the bank, beg
for a sub-prime mortgage post-
divorce, but that only took
an hour. The whole morning off?
Now that’s the way to get a girl
who works night shift, who will
be mid-REM, black out shades
down, spa music low, when I crack
her front door, tip-toe up stairs, slide
my palm along her arm on the covers.
Her eyes open with her
smile, she lifts the quilt, I
kick off my heels, hoist my skirt
around my waist, straddle her
boxer shorts, it’s now or never, she
is visiting her ex tomorrow with
her two young kids, on a trip to Disney
planned before we’d met just
weeks before. I had to be fearless—
and I was, and
she stayed.

Just Another Day #2 / David Estringel

It’s Mother’s Day
no cake
on the table
no roses
in the vase
just a picture
in polished silver
of the dragon slayer
who could draw down
the moon
crush milk
from pearls.
How I miss her

Short Play from a Rolling Pinto / R.W. Haynes

“Sometimes people who laugh like maniacs
Really are crazy as hell,” he opined.
“If you mean me,” she said, “I don’t mind,
But if my sanity went down the tracks,
It had help from my alcoholic friends.
I name no names here, but who brought the booze?”
“Well, anyway” he muttered, “betrayal’s bad news,
Right? And what if back-stabbed friendship ends?
What then becomes of manic laughter lost
For careless disrespect, all thrown away,
As someone we know just did yesterday,
Oblivious of what not caring cost?”
“Don’t let such things disturb you,” she replied.
“Othello got suspicious, and Desdemona died.”

I hurt you and liked it / Erin Marsh

I dug your blood from beneath my fingernails
and placed the slivers in a heart-shaped crystal box

I keep on my bathroom counter. Now I want
to tell you I am sorry, but we no longer speak.

In a dream you break away from my embrace,
terrified—your red hair trailing behind you like a fox.

I google your new name and see crisp photos of
of the family I wanted for myself: three ginger-

haired boys against a cloudless, cerulean sky.
I type your old phone number into my smartphone

but the person on the other end has no idea who
you are. I write I am sorry on pieces of white

paper, fold each one into an origami crane,
hang them from my bedroom ceiling.

When I breathe your name, my apologies stir.

musings / h. l. Rijo

when your muses speak to you
a plant whispering towards the light
come and rest your weary head
let me drive the train instead
and I’ll guide you on through to
the other side of enlightenment

when your words are lyrics
echoing on inside your tired mind
write them down
and capture each passing sound
like picking daisies from the ground of
a sunny green endless hill

when your thoughts are empty
and you have nothing left
you hear the void of nothing
just your inhaling breath
then follow me down
a stream of consciousness
your ego a sponge made to soak in
the muse’s soft effervescent whims

December 14, 2012 / Elizabeth S. Wolf

By any measure, we are failing these children. – Barack Obama, Newtown CT

The first person he killed that morning
was his mother. In her home, in her bed,
shot 4 times in the head.

Adam Lanza continued on to Sandy Hook
Elementary School, where he shot and killed
20 first-grade students plus 6 adults, including
the principal and school psychologist. Then
Adam shot himself in the head.

There was controversy over how many
crosses to erect. Someone put out 28
but 2 crosses were torn down.

It’s easy, it’s common, it’s practically protocol
to blame the mother. Nancy Lanza, after all,
bought the guns. Nancy Lanza took her son
to shooting ranges. It was something they did

Some say Nancy Lanza was increasingly
a prisoner in her own home. Adam was
“a normal weird little kid”, said his father;
later, he was diagnosed with sensory-
integration disorder, Asperger’s, OCD,
anorexia. Adam’s rules included how his mother
should move about the house. Mother and son
communicated via email. Adam broke down
repeatedly and fiercely. He refused to see his father
for the last 2 years of his life. Nancy Lanza

was planning to move out of state
so Adam could get services. Adam wrote
that all women are selfish. He withdrew,
stopped speaking, averted eye contact,
playing games online in the basement
where he compiled a massive spreadsheet
of mass murders. Before the shooting,
Adam destroyed one of his hard drives.
But he left behind the spreadsheet,
videos of the Columbine massacre,
and selfies posed holding a gun
to his own head.

Adam Lanza’s father, interviewed two years after,
said not an hour went by when he didn’t think
about that day. About the children killed.

Adam Lanza’s father wishes his son
had never been born.

How many crosses will it take?

Day 8 / Poem 8

Near Death Experience / Rusty Barnes

My grandfather used a coffee can
as a spittoon even in his garden,

the chaw-spit red and pungent on
his lips. He would always want

a kiss from me or my siblings and we
always gave it to him. I remember

at the end of his life uprooting spearmint
and tomatoes from his tiny kitchen

to take to him in his residential home.
My grandmother would stand next

to him and prompt him as to which
child blossomed to him as we all made

trips to see him dutifully at the end
of his life, how he would put his teeth

in and eat the tomato like an apple,
clear pink juice running down his jaw.

He ate like a man possessed by life.

Remember When We Had No Money /Donna Dallas

We cashed in all our change
for diapers and formula
scoured the car for loose coins
every cent a fiber of survival
every hand me down a gift
nothing purchased
items always given to us
to use with kid gloves
and carefully pass on to the next poor soul

Those valleys
we thought we’d never climb out of
with babies on our backs
bills snapping at our Achilles
money dripped in
like an IV

We were on pins and needles
for that IRS check
laughed all the way to the bank
cuz it was pre-spent

Those moments of grit
tested every muscle reflex
certificate awarded to us
for our rogue-ass survival tactic
called juggling

You and I
we were the circus clowns back then
on the brink of a fire so intense
we didn’t realize we would have burned
the entire lot of us
to smoldering cinders
had we slipped

We look back
cuz we on the peak now
laugh greedily
say it was nothing
never that bad

We just shimmied
out of that freak show
half nude
half crocked
yet still the clowns

Bullets of the Marching Soldiers / Angelo D’Amato

A boy and a girl sat on a rusted bench on an abandoned beach and soldiers marched in ones and twos and threes across the parapets of the seaside citadel as golden banners flapped in the salty breeze and the full moon deceived the night-flies, looking for light.

The boy and the girl held hands and looked at the stars and the boy said “Sometimes, if you close your eyes, you can hear the stars playing the symphony of the spheres,” or maybe it was the girl who said that, their voices were murmurs and the night sky was pure when the soldiers stopped their marching and turned their carbines to the horizon and fired a stream of rat-a-tat-tats above the sea (the bullets sank past the wrecks of enemy ships and settled on the backs of sleeping crabs) before resuming their aimless endless marching marching marching.

The girl said to the boy, or maybe the boy said to the girl, “Do we all hear the same symphony?” and the boy sighed, or maybe the girl did, it doesn’t really matter, they felt they were in love as the line of marching soldiers jumped off the parapets and broke their backs on the lichen-smeared rocks and watched before their eyes lost sight as a new line of soldiers began to march beneath the banners in ones and twos and threes.

The girl moved in to kiss the boy, or maybe the boy moved in to kiss the girl, and then—

But decades passed, and now the boy, or maybe the girl, chastises themselves for believing in something as silly as the symphony of the spheres, and the girl, or maybe the boy, wishes they had learned to hear the same song, instead of the discordant screeches that beset their days and nights, the discordant screeches that were (mercifully) broken by the bullets of the marching soldiers.

Men and the River / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

The Etowah flows over granite ridges
like submerged whale backs. Rapids
blather and burp upstream. Do they
run any faster? Or is it just we perceive
the speed because rocks roll and water
humps and sparkles? I could live
in a place like this forever. I wish I could buy it
from my cousin who controls the trust that owns
the house where his mother lives alone, ten
years clean, with her cats and racoons she
feeds nightly from her palms. Sun moves
up a gradient of green from river bed
to mountain top. Go that way—someone
is navigating. I wear a faded blue Patagonia
t-shirt washed up from one of these
oar clunking, music blaring caravans of plastic
kayaks—today, add a canoe—three men,
two reclined, one upright, two shining heads,
one shadowed under baseball cap. I lean
to shout hello from the porch, but they
paddle hard, the blue kayak edges
the bank, pushes off with paddle tip,
careens back into the current collecting
mid-river with his buddies. A carpenter
bee rises between the railings, two
hummingbirds circle and buffet each
other mid-air. A shot echoes, so
single, slow, I can almost see the
smoke far off under cicada late
morning hum.

A Scene Outside the Window of a Country Church  / David Estringel

Shocks of green
and shimmer
like dewy butterfly wings
against the mourning sky,
dotting a gray horizon
like birds on a wire
in a reckless abandon
of smears and splatters—
emerald and jade—
as boys and girls
in white
laugh (and love)
in the wood
just beyond the gates,
weaving in and out
from between wild berry bushes
and circumferences of sturdy strokes of brown,
along timeless stretches
of their highways
to the sun.

The Shortest Expert in Educational Improvisation / R. W. Haynes

You can’t be a maverick about everything.
The sun comes up, doesn’t fiddle around,
Cooks lunch, burns rubber for the barn.
So if I don’t exactly train my dogs
But sort of let them slowly train me,
I can live with that, as long as I can still
Wear one black shoe and one brown one,
As my daughter likes to point out.
So I’ve been trained by the best,
Not only my daughter but a whole wolf-pack
Of damn good dogs, up to now, anyway,
Because little Betsy has her own theory
Of owner education: her personal conviction
Is that the best way to get what she wants
Is to sit and stare at me and at intervals emit
An outraged yelp, volume increasing over time.
She’s doing it now. Go on, Betsy, I’m learning.

A Doe and Her Fawns / Erin Marsh

There were three deer, a doe and her two fawns,
near the edge of the woods behind my apartment
building. I was being dropped off, so watched
the threesome from the passenger side of a friend’s
car. The doe ate while the fawns played, their long,
impossibly delicate-looking legs carrying them
as they chased one another. Having things to do,
I exited the car and, without thinking, slammed
the door shut. I was expecting the deer to run
back into the forest, their white tipped tails flashing
like emphatic explanation points. But the deer
and her fawns turned their heads, then went back
to eating and playing. Today I sent thirty texts
in quick succession to my beloved, appearing
like the rolling credits at the end of a film
on my phone screen—all of them asking, in various ways,
do you love me? Another man would have fled,
blocking my number and warning his friends.
But this man answered yes, in various ways,
and quietly resumed his work as a nurse—
not concerned with the anxious noise in my head.

Metta Thoughts on a City Street / h.l. Rijo

Running late leaving my apartment,
to wherever it is I’m supposed to be.
Headphones on (as always)
reminding you not to talk to me.
Don’t forget the sunglasses
they reflect the sun, so you don’t see me. Feeling my best blasé self.
Suddenly I stop.
I slowdown and see you—
you with your shit stained pants—screaming.
I pause and I wonder and take off my armor and…

I think about your mother
(whoever she was) who gave you birth.
How once you were a baby
and how you’re now here, alone and filthy.
And then there’s me
watching as you rage against the world,
on the corner of the street.
Inside a small glimmer of an epiphany
I realize I too scream at the world…

Isn’t it just marvelously strange
how we’re all inherently same.
Every single human
at one time or another
goes about and shits themselves.

Reader, stranger, friend…
I wish you these words—I wish them well:

May you be at ease.
May you live out your days in harmony.
May you find a stillness in your mind.
May you be happy, healthy, and wise.
May you find sweet relief.
May you have safety and peace.
May you give and receive
love and beauty.

Cento Week 1 / Elizabeth S. Wolf

Listen, Chiquita, I’m too old to be nice about this.

Death is good for you – remember you said that?

Jesus came to me tonight as ant, all padfoot and denial.

What does it feel like, asking for a life raft?

(Haynes, Dallas, Barnes, Rijo)

Day 7 / Poem 7

I’ve Realized I’m Hurting / Donna Dallas

It’s guttural
feels like a deep deep ravine
has opened within me
I pour into its oblivion
lucid and broken
with no end in sight

I’ve realized I’m hurting
as I flow into an open and sucking sea
a menace adrift
this ain’t no yacht party
this is the thing
I have feared since childhood
no life vests
no floating devices
scared shitless
be damned
if I drown

The Advent of Frostbound Song / Angelo D’Amato

Already, I can hear the Christmas bells,
and the choir, from behind delicate windowpanes,
warbling over the snowbound streets.

It is in the icicles, this music.
In each constituent droplet hums
a note, as sung by millions of voices,
from the time the first hominid cried.

And they fall, they fall,
on the shutters and streetlamps,
the roof tiles and garden walls,
and everything is overtaken
by humming; and everything
goes quiet for the humming.

And the voices, they cry
in exultation when I break
the snowflakes as I walk
beside a freshly fallen snowbank;
and they murmur, in a diner’s neon glow
that has paused in the icebound branches
of a mighty sycamore tree;
and, when the world is calm, and the first snow falls,
my grandfather’s voice—an echo, now— drifts
through the quiet, on the remembered smoke
of remembered cigars.

And yes, not the whole world
is in jubilation—gunshots will crack,
somewhere, and brains will drip
from the walls. But, for now,
the Christmas bells, they ring;
and the church choirs, they’ve begun to sing;
and mistletoe, it grows above the door;
and I can hear the humming,
in the mist that will one day be snow.

So, you shall hear my voice, for a moment or two,
and forgive me, if I’m a little out-of-tune—
it will be hard to properly sing a song,
when I have ignored the humming for so long.

Oleanna, 1992 / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

for my father

Red was everywhere—the Kennedy
Center seats, the carpeted aisles,
the faces of the couple who stomped
out before intermission (we paid
to see this?), the girl’s cheek turned
from her professor’s slap
on stage, the crowd’s roar
in affirmation, the roses in
my lap you’d bought me after
the Romare Bearden exhibit, dinner
in DuPont Circle, a gentle man, father
she never had.

Prayer Flags / David Estringel

Silken kisses on the wind
rain blessings from above

upon weary heads—
of thread and flutters,
scribbles and color—

whispering fiery pleas
to birds and cloud,
telephone wire and rooftops—
between us and Him



Faculty Witch Regrets Magical Powers / R. W. Haynes

Here in Tasmania, things are as usual,
And, aside from missing various deadlines,
Which means I’m still alive, I have to say
I regret the lapse of patience that occurred
During last month’s faculty retreat,
When I turned the Dean into a frog.

At least, he made a nice-looking frog,
Who’d look just right in the Okefenokee,
A touch of luminous gold in each eye,
And a skin that gleamed impressively.

I probably would have reversed the spell,
But everyone seemed so very happy that
I forgot the reverse Greek alphabet,
And, when I remembered, he had hopped away.

I hope he’s happy, singing in the rain,
Diving like a champion, dining on flies,
Swimming under water, courting lady frogs.

I am my mother’s oldest daughter and only child / Erin Marsh

that still needs her physical help. When she gets down
onto the bathroom floor to scrub behind my toilet,
I am embarrassed I can’t do it myself. I have been
disabled since birth, my abnormal hips making some
chores impossible. She often complains that her knees hurt
and her hands ache. I stand in the doorway watching her push up
onto her knees and into the standing position as if
my presence could help in some small way.

Into the Now / h.l. Rijo

If now is all there ever is
then I found my sun
hiding within.
If there is no future,
just anxious projections
then I found my North Star.
It was always floating above my head
guiding me home past my thoughts to where I truly am.
If there is no past,
just endless rumination about
muddy regrets and what-could’ve-beens.
Then, I found a new world
within child eyes
seeing wonderment in
tree trunks and butterflies
as if for the first time.
Mindful, I go
into the now.
I practice to return
and begin, again.

Parenting in the Dark / Elizabeth S. Wolf

Barks like a seal and whistling stridor:
the signature of croup. When my 2-year-old
called out in a raspy voice, I recognized the signs

overheard on a phone call with a colleague.
So I knew what to do. “Wow,” I said.
“It’s the middle of the night and you know what

we need? A steam bath!” And into the bathroom
we went. I turned the hot water on high
and we sat snuggled on the toilet lid, singing

itsy bitsy spider. Over and over and over. Because
a child with croup must be kept calm, in order
to breathe. A parent must project calm certainty.

We drew shapes on the steamed-up bathroom mirror.
When the hot water ran out, we put on jackets
and went out into the cold crisp air. The yellow dog

padding alongside me, I carried my toddler
around the block of townhouse condos, looking up
at the stars, wondering if the trees were friends

and did they play together in the dark? Back home,
I crawled into her bed, propping her tired body up
against mine, so she slept at an incline, and mommy

was there to hear her breathe. In the morning
we saw the doctor, who confirmed the diagnosis
and prescribed the same home remedies. He patted

my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said:
“Good luck, mom.” And so it went: fine by day,
barking at night. On the 3rd or 4th night comes a

croup crisis; the symptoms get worse. As we
sang the song again, that damn itsy bitsy spider
still sliding down the spout, wondered as we walked

if the trees and bushes played together or if
they had separate games, like big kids and little kids,
I cursed the doctor. Was there nothing in the

21st-century toolkit more powerful than this?
Maybe steroids, or a nebulizer; my child fighting
for breath, trusting me to take care of her.

What if I failed? And then the next morning
it was gone. She was healed. And I wondered
if I had imagined the whole thing, overreacted.

Until the next bout: twice a year,
winter or fall, from 2 to 5 years old.
And each time, just like the first.

Day 6 / Poem 6

Hey Hey Mama / Rusty Barnes

is the vocal intro to the trippingest
rock and roll signature riff I know,

how the blues rock pentatonics
roll off the guitar like wet thunder,

and Robert Plant’s keening call
makes me wanna slap something

myself. If you know what I mean
and I think you do. I can only

imagine 1970 in driblets from
other people’s memories

and Lord I know if my woman
presented herself to me in those

terms I’d know she’s teasing me
but I would answer that call

with one of my own and try to
tease her back by slinging

a Les Paul down past my crotch
and letting loose with my repertoire

of licks which alas are not like
Jimmy Page’s but heartfelt just

the same and in heaven or hell
whoever’s in charge will wink.

Allow me to do what I want:
shake em on down. Please.

Shake for me girl.

Hunger / Donna Dallas

She strokes the snake plant’s stalks
with such a fervor
Is this real???
she asks as she stares through the plant
into the crowd
not interested in the snake plant at all
It’s as real as you’ll ever get baby
though nothing’s ever wanted her
in the way she envisioned
yet she still pushes men
forces them to want her
bullies them into the bed
thrusting herself onto them in hot desperation
almost breaks their frame with her full force
body a leech
sucks at them
they cower in fear
like they know
Pandora’s box
ain’t worth their energy
they can smell it

We watch as she strokes
and stares
through the plant
over the horizon of the bar
scanning the misfits
falcon eyes spot one that could fit her
the men at our table have all had her
and she them
with splintering lust

They sit quietly
cradle a Hendrickson on ice
with thin cucumber slices
anticipate her moves
as she segues to the bar
webs around a forlorn wrapping of bar men
all of them beaten
red faced
a ‘who’d have you’ brigade
jaws drop as she
unleashes her dragon
yanks out some poor sap
constricts her legs around his body

After he will quietly worm along her bedroom floor
pick his clothes up and cower away
later that week
same table
same snake plant camouflage

Los Angeles Passage / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

The LAPD has closed the alley behind the mall where
Nipsey Hustle was killed. A mural of the rapper’s profile
graces the alley’s wall in memorial. An alley also ran behind
the Santa Monica apartment where I learned
to ride a bike, tipping side to side on training wheels. I
skittered from dogs in that alley, knowing don’t run, better
to crouch into a ball, wrap my hands behind my neck. And
in an alley, my father drove his ambulance and tried and
failed to stop the murder that drove us back
across the continent to a Southern state where maybe
he could forget trying to wedge a
first responder’s van between a black man
and a white, one wielding an axe,
and the way it turned out.

Still Alive / R. W. Haynes

The soldier from Chickasawhatchee lay
Covered with snow, where the Germans had pulled back.
One man said, “Hey, this one’s still alive.”

Off the battlefield, they patched his skull
With metal, took off most of his toes, and he
Lay comatose, dreaming of explosions.

Back home, he was a college boy, good
At history and baseball, so glad to leave
The red-clay farm: he’d had enough peanuts.

He woke up shoving handfuls of food from a tray
Into his mouth, and then he had to learn to talk.
They warned him he might never walk again

And that his life would not be long, and he
Would always need extensive medical care,
And they loaded him on a bus, with a note

So someone could help him get back home.
He told his sons that while he was in the snow
Some Germans found him and tried to help

But the battle was in progress. He thought the snow
Kept his brain from expanding and killing him,
But he never cared for snow again anyway.

Family Vacation / Erin Marsh

The beach at our rented lake cabin
was not handicapped accessible— steep stairs built into the ground,
concrete crumbling like stale chocolate
cake in my hands. Our mother billed
this as a “family vacation”, so I dutifully
packed a black and white skirted swimsuit
and put all my pills into a colorful
plastic seven-day organizer, helpfully
split into am and pm. My niece
and nephews ran back and forth between
the house and the lake all day. They swam
and fished off the end of the sturdy wooden
dock—excited, but also shrieking in fear
when they actually caught something.
My mother said that she and my brother
could help me get down to the beach,
which was full of weeds. But I was worried
I would be a burden—all three of us struggling
with my bulky, awkward body. I sat
on the wrap around porch that overlooked
the water and read, the twenty-mile-per-hour
winds threatening to overturn the other four
empty deck chairs. I could hear birds
chirping in the surrounding forest, their
high pitched peeps like staccatoed questions—
what are you doing here? and do you always
feel this left out?

Lucid / h. l. Rijo

It feels like I’ve just woken up
into or out of a long lucid dream.
Am I the dreamer or the dream?
The sunlight begins to fade as I awake
resurfacing in the ocean of my mind.
Gulping for air—I forgot how to swim,
already drowning in the deepest of ends.
Eyes fixate on the horizon drifting
     over sunset static clouds,
          with painted white sails lifting,
               calming currents rippling,
                    as waves are slowly breaking.
What does it feel like, asking for a life raft?
Giving space to breathe and float,
     on the backside of being,
          down the tides of lucid dreams
               onto the other side of reality.

Rachel Joy Scott: A Chain of Kindness / Elizabeth S. Wolf

What has happened to us as a people that this should happen to us? – Reverend Porter, at Rachel’s funeral

Rachel left behind a trove of notes & messages, drawings,
a handprint behind a bureau, sparkly hearts. Rachel wrote
in her journal that she would die young. And she did.

Rachel, having lunch outside with a friend,
was the first person shot at Columbine.
Her body remained outside the school overnight

alone with the stars, cool dew, and the abiding love
of her Lord and Savior. Rachel was a
devoted believer, not only in the Trinity

of divine spirits and God, but also in our own
manifestation of love on earth. In an essay on ethics,
Rachel wrote: Compassion is the greatest form of love

humans have to offer. That is the message
that Rachel’s family strives to spread, reaching
millions- her words even more evocative

than the things she left behind: a white ivory casket
decorated with gratitude and grief; a red car,
parked at the school, transformed to a shrine;

a young man, her brother, who slammed a car door
at her that morning, before he saw his two best friends
dragged out from either side of him, crouched and hiding,

who heard God’s voice in his head, urging him to get up
and leave the library, while the gunmen
roamed the school, in the few moments it was possible

to lead an escape. And now Craig Scott has consecrated
his long life; decades after Rachel died that April morning,
he champions the web of compassion she described:

You never know how far
a little kindness can spread.

Day 5 / Poem 5

Ballers / Rusty Barnes

Outside some confused crows
serenade the nightfall with

their distinctive birdsong. When
the first streetlight turns on

the sound ceases: no train, no car
no birdsong but the slap

of a basketball on the uneven
pavement. These boys come home

for dinner after hooping all day
their voices high and teasing.

I remember my days at the house
next door pretending I was Kareem,

the ways these boys wanna be Steph,
sinking threes from thirty feet deep

with not even a backward glance.
The crows quiet as the boys approach,

and I realize on sight they are not boys,
instead they are adolescent women

talking trash and telling lies like ballers
do while I myself sit here a sexist drag.

I pledge to be better tomorrow
and listen closely to their noise,

free and happy and female,
skittering like bugs against the fading light.

Morning Ghosts / Donna Dallas

Pass through me
with the chill of dawn
as they wander the grounds
never feel the cool blades of grass
against any skin that was theirs
— no more —
long for the warm glints
the sun shares as it breaks
through the trees in rising glory

They skitter about
try desperately to latch on to something
lay claim to a cardinal
or coast aboard the massive wings
of a hawk

They ride along on some living organism
attempt to recreate that wonderful sensation
of living
over and over

The Transubstantiation of Caffeine / Angelo D’Amato

The monks on Boylston Street pull tottering silver tables
from the back of a white van, ready large plastic jugs,
and dispense coffee in plain styrofoam cups
to the passersby—

an elderly man whose walk is more of a shuffle,
he must spend half his day picking up a single bag of groceries
from the corner bodega—

and the intransigent city-folks
gathered, more or less permanently,
outside the library at Copley.

(They disturb the grandeur of the edifice
and the luxury of the European cafés
with their grudges and feuds for this bench over that bench—
They sound like schoolchildren, at times.
the whole street can hear them
and don’t give a fuck because there’s not a damned thing
anyone who’s not “of them” can do about it.
What, are you going to lecture me on the “right way to treat my girl”
while you sip your foaming latté and finger your faggoty tie?
Yeah, that’ll change me, I’m so sorry sir, your tie gives you such an air of authority,
I’ll be better from now on.)

No doubt, on some level, the work the monks do is Good.
The Eucharist is Eucharist, no matter the form.
And maybe the monks talk to the city-folk.
Maybe they know them. This would be Good.
The men and women whose skin is flayed by scars,
of one sort or another, need comforting voices
and attendant ears. Yes, change is possible,
with patience. Blessèd are the poor in spirit,
for the kingdom of Heaven shall be theirs.

Yet the white van of the monks
is marked by the name of their ministry,
in prominent and intricate lettering;
and the monks wear robes,
styled after those of St. Francis of Assisi,
handwoven, too, no doubt;
and as they hand out coffee
to “the least of these,”
I have to wonder if the man who turned down grand armies,
marching in his name, would approve
of these humble friars advertising their humility.

Forgive the sweeping indictment,
but this is why I have little patience for self-conscious churchgoers,
and minimal, if any, Grace to extend—
“Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage,”
the good Doctor says. “Virtue is only virtue
in extremis.” Ah, yes, very funny, very funny,
now tell me, how are the children? Oh, yes?
That’s good, so good to hear. Well, I’d best
be going, handing out food to the homeless,
hunger doesn’t wait for me, you know how it is.
We’ll talk again next week, gathered around this standing table,
in the parish hall of this lovely Byzantine church,
where we can see all the people we know and love
and go about our merry lives, undisturbed
by things such as poverty and hunger;
but if we are, best to say so, for we will surely receive
sympathetic sounds that will put our hearts at ease.
We are such a close community, much love to all.
Good day, now. Good day.

“Florida Man Swallowed by Sinkhole Under Bedroom Feared Dead” / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

The Guardian, 3/1/13

Did he wake at the crack of the karst?
Did he feel the box frame drop
faster than the mattress? Did he wonder for
one minute if the hole had a bottom?

Before they found her, authorities surmised
Naya Rivera might have been dragged
down by the vortex of an open
dam valve in California’s Lake Piru.

And you, my father, driving to Kennestone
to see your father in the ICU,
eyes picking out the Windy Hill exit sign
through rain that fell in slopping ropes,
did you not know a tornado
not shifting right to left
appearing still,
is moving—
debris wall—
right at

Delphic Oracle Sends Recommendations for Writers / R. W. Haynes

Look, you need to get serious about this job,
So the best thing is to emulate a saint.
Get yourself a household fool, a good
Source of excuses. Thomas More did that.
Or learn to levitate, Thomas Aquinas style,
To elevate diction, raise your standards.
But no one did better than Saint Jerome,
Who kept a lion by his writing desk,
Though you can’t be sure from the ancient texts
Whether the lion was happy or not. In some
Illustrations he looks a little peeved.

Or put a bunch of stuff on your desk,
Which works sometimes for emerging bards.
I know a guy who has a crocodile of wood,
A framed page of a Chaucerian text,
Two drying sword-bean pods, a bag
Of luffa seeds, four harmonicas, an ashtray
Shaped like a fish, a green cup from Greece,
With Hercules beating someone—a critic, perhaps—
With a big club, as Nike flits her wings.
I omit the rest, this not being a garage sale.
Maybe that will work for you (wink, wink).

Or you can write on levels, as Dante did.
Give the reader a good puzzle to solve,
And if the mystery remains at last,
The reader can die content, semper fi
To the quest. Never, never surrender,
As Winston Churchill used to like to say.

And one more option, as my boss reminds me,
Is to put on some music for inspiration.
Loreena McKennitt’s good, or Billy Joe Shaver,
Agustín Lara, or Fats Domino,
The Barking Dogs, the Chipmunks, or MC-5,
Tish Hinojosa, Sir Doug and Augie,
The Four Tops, Mariachi Vargas, hey,
Here in Delphi, we dance to them all.

Keeping The Light On / Erin Marsh

I keep the lamp behind my oat-colored chair on 24 hours a day.
When my mother visits, she always turns it off on her way out.
“Aren’t you going to turn this light off?” I tell her I leave it on
for the cat—so she doesn’t feel lonely or scared, so she can see
familiar objects and know everything is as it should be. But,
that’s not the whole truth. The real reason I leave the 80’s style
floor lamp on is because it gets so dark in this apartment that I can’t
see the edges of you. I hear the floorboards creak and rush
into the living room.I can see the vague shape of my imagined you,
but can’t make out the details that belong to the you of now. I want to pin
you down and sew you onto the pink, stained armchair so I can keep you
still and memorize the slope of your shoulders or the whorl of your
short-cut black hair. The light reflects off your dark eyes and blinds you.

Hello, Shadow / h. l. Rijo

for a friend

Hello shadow, welcome home.
It’s been a while since we last spoke.
And now I’m here to talk again, this time though—I’ve brought some friends.

A floating memory of you came
in dark Dutch alleyways left alone without you to hold my empty hand.
I found you, also, always stuck in that wood paneled room—
a lingering vortex I made forgot.
Even further in the past I remembered you on rocking chairs
a small innocent child reprimanded without a care.
(Echoes of a shadow growing…)

I can feel it all around me
all the voices at once screaming
rioting, raging, crying out, and hating.
Playing reels over and over leaving breadcrumbs out for nobody.
Writing thousands of words that I don’t share,
having hurt and pain that I don’t tell
(but you my shadow have always known.)

Glimpses of a future now seem to stay
in a well mixed with horror and a lonely alleyway.
Hopeful thoughts that you might need to eat and nourish with sweet chocolate treats.
Hugs so warm and loving in my body,
releasing pain,
an icicle slowing breathing, melting away.

Now I’ve become one
with the shadow which I was so afraid.
A union of two halves, joined and wholly made.

Ben, We Hardly Knew Ye: My Daughter’s Homecoming Date / Elizabeth S. Wolf

Ben was a friend, a good friend,
who brought candy to sad girls.
He visited our house with his buds,
a crew we called “the awkward boys”.
The kids played Manhunt, which is like Tag
meets Capture the Flag but with more
stolen opportunities for kissing.

Ben made a Facebook page as Eric Harris.
He sent out friend requests to all the kids.
I told my daughter who Eric Harris was but
she didn’t tell me that the boy behind the page
was Ben.

The probation department in Littleton Colorado
said Eric Harris had the potential to do well in life
and was very intelligent.

The guidance department at our local high school
said the same about Ben.

Ben was a wizard with video editing and computers.
He made collages and dubbed over the Columbine
security footage. No one told the adults about that

We were on our way home from my in-laws
when my daughter got a call in the car
from a boy who was crying. It was about Ben.

My daughter had missed a call from Ben
the day before, when she was at the movies.
Sometimes even kids miss calls. And who
checks voicemail?

But there was a voicemail.
From a very drunk Ben.
Saying he loved her. He called

not long before he went to the ER
for alcohol poisoning

not long before he was discharged
against medical advice

and went home with his father
and shot himself.

The high school principal let us all know
that Ben was dead, the next day.

We went to the wake and the funeral.
Pictures of Ben from the Homecoming Dance,
with my daughter, were on display.

The police came to my house.
The police listened to the voicemail.

A few hours later, the police came back with a
state trooper, asking about a Columbine connection.
I had no information on that.

Ben was a sweet sassy awkward boy
fascinated by guns
and Eric Harris
and Dylan Klebold

he died at 15

he broke a girl’s heart

and we were all changed.

Day 4 / Poem 4

Journal 8/1/22 / Rusty Barnes

after Paul Blackburn

The evening weather is mild, 80 degrees. No need to
bust open the AC unit.

I’m remembering warm summer nights
     shooting ants from my front porch with
          my Red Ryder BB gun. All those ants I shot
               gathered their souls from the sun and I

gather my soul unto you, Lord of all fathers,
does life prickle your eternal conscience?

The ants are in the house now despite all
     efforts, an orderly line carrying crumbs
          from our kitchen, as best they can avoid
               our bundle of tense felines. The birds

in the front yard: grackle and thrush, martin
and sparrow. Lift their thoughts on high!

Jesus came to me tonight as ant, all padfoot and denial.
     “Now is not the time to question, toss your logic
          aside and believe in me” he says as a runnel of piss
               flows down my leg. If I can’t contain myself in

your presence Lord, the afterlife you promise,
fluffy cloud and golden gates, I despair of it all.

Storm Residue / Donna Dallas

I don’t know why the dog’s paw
stuck out of the sand that day
after that terrible storm left the sky
dark purple and menacing
I remember it was so windy
the sand sharp against our faces
the beach littered thick with shells

Simultaneously our eyes
went straight to the large paw
that bulged from the sand
dirty white and wet
bent at its flex point
we both immediately reached to grab it
as if we could pull this helpless animal
out of its submerged wreckage

I wish I could remember
if it was a cold paw
if its pads were pink
if the body attached to this one visible paw
died in the storm
or some other strange and menacing measure…no idea
only remember its lifeless form
cupped in my warm hand

From Among the Ash Heaps /Angelo D’Amato

As a child,
I planted trees beside the driveway,
dropped the seeds (with the beginnings
of a trademarked flourish, you can see it
on video) into a hole my father had dug.
He likely patted down the dirt—
Back then, I didn’t like having impure fingers.

I visit that home
in my dreams. Walking down
the hallway, organizing
my nutcrackers for display,
taking my friends on tours
through a cavernous basement
filled with rooms and rooms of Lego bins
and Lego models…
that they will be broken in the moving bins.
The other morning,
I reached over to pull the lamp-cord
from the lamp that had been beside my bed.
Of course, it wasn’t there,
and of course,
I mourned.

It is not the Thing Itself that hurts,
but the memories,
pulled in, ground up and regurgitated,
in perpetuity,
by this Thing that cannot be
stifled, throttled, or soothed.

Hellfire, dark fire,
this fire in my skin,
this burning desire
is turning me to sin.

My earliest memory
is of chasing after
a boy
in the Village Pre-School,
caught between
the wall and the wooden play-structure,
arm outstretched, hand-grasping—

Gatsby believed in the green light,
in that orgiastic future
which year by year recedes before us.
It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—
Tomorrow, we will run faster, stretch our arms farther,
and then, one fine morning…

To every concert,
On every train ride,
on every special occasion,
I insisted on wearing a special outfit:
maroon dress shirt, black tuxedo,
black vest, gold pocketwatch,
wide-brimmed fedora,
and later, a cloak,
given to me by the girl I’d hoped to impress.
But she saw what I couldn’t—

Fine clothes and fine appearances
cannot make for a fine young man.
Yet Gatsby insisted on standing on the dock,
pined himself to madness,
for Daisy.

I told my first girlfriend
I’d only been interested
in “physical stuff,”
and she said “I hate you,”
as one rightfully should.
I wasn’t sure then I meant it, but
I did feel the Fire—
I cannot begin to tell how many I’ve burnt
while trying to douse the flames.

So we beat on,
boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly
into the past.

Last June,
I walked by the house
I visit in my dreams.
The shutters had been painted black,
the gravel pathway paved,
a scarlet fence, with imposing wooden beams,
built around the backyard.
(The turtle shell we’d used to play in
had been removed from under the deck—
it had languished there, for years).
But the trees…
how they swayed.
In spite of the years,
they swayed.

**Italicized lines are from “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and “Hellfire,” from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame

***The title references one of Fitzgerald’s alternate titles for Gatsby, “Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires.”

Ode to My Father, Who Walks Me Through the Math / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

For what value of n is | n −1 | +1 equal to 0 ? -SAT practice problem

I can’t do math, never
took physics, nothing worse,
my therapist watches me try,
divide her fee in my head, win
time writing a long slow cursive scrawl
line one, my World Wildlife check, her leaning,
head tilted, hands clasped, pumps crossed, and shit
she whispers the total. The number line

climbs like Babel Tower
in my head, each multiple of 10 waving
from a window, thank you God, now
I can tip 20%, calculated as the
cab swerves to a stop.
My first job, my blonde boss asks
the slope of some line, easy
a male colleague, also blonde,
laughs, my toe taps bathroom tiles
for 30 minutes, they
move on. Oh, my father,

greater than

don’t set a
timer to practice, phrase
break word problems

your check,
my underwater

he doesn’t
get more
custody just
because you added
wrong. Fight.

The eraser scrubs.
I try again.

When They Ring the Golden Bells / David Estringel

Days fall away
like apples
from October tress
cheeks, full and ablush,
kissing silver
from delicate wrists
and fingertips,
escaping trappings
of gnarl
and crook
and the gripping sway of
Autumnal breezes.
Such thievery—
the snatching of seconds
from sun and flesh—
to pave the way
for the procession
to Winter’s rest.
Over rock and bramble,
past crimson peeks
of velvet
through the briar,
an orchard of yews
boughs laden
with evergreen
and the opiate red
of merciful Sleep.
Wait for me,
my friend–
sweet oblivion–
where the river bends,
as they ring the golden bells
to call me home,

Retrospection as Archaeology / R. W. Haynes

Old Doctor B. would fire up his pipe in class,
Which was not only legal but essential back then,
And he’d blow more blue smoke rolling forth
Than His Majesty the Nizam of the Dragons,
And as all that nicotine and partial asphyxiation
Worked on his mind, he would pause a bit,
Verify sufficiency of smoldering ignition,
Cast a cold eye on all, take another draw,
Paw carelessly at his book, as though already
He had it memorized and felt bothered to see
It awaiting acknowledgement that it was there,
And then he’d launch the Confederate battleship
Of prescriptive iconoclasm, and sail it straight
Into the teeth of the Modern Language Association,
Broadsides blazing, no quarter for the liberals,
For that hillbilly Abraham Lincoln, or Carter,
Or the man from Monticello, or that confused
Declaration, or the Proclamation.
Those were the days of myth, back when
Tobacco ruled those half-demented halls,
And I still hear that old scholar growl,
“I don’t want you telling me how you feel.”

[Untitled]/ Erin Marsh

My therapist tells me that when she was dating
her husband, there were no cellphones
and messages could only be left on bulky answering
machines. I think of all the ways I can contact
my beloved: phone, text, WhatsApp, Facebook,
Facetime, email. And yet, there are times
I can’t reach him, and it makes me anxious.
A caged dog missing its master, I whine, pace,
and get excited when I think a ding! on my phone
is from him. I sleep with my phone on the pillow
next to me. He now tells me that he needs time—
two months to be exact. I turn up the volume e
on my TV so I can’t hear the bright blue silence
of my pink-cased iPhone. When he doesn’t make
his nightly 10:30 call after work, I hide the phone
in my night table drawer so I won’t be awakened
by the blaring black screen. After only one week,
I call the man I love over and over I miss his deep,
certain voice and the way it enters my ears at a
particular angle, causing a pleasant, full-body shuddering.
He doesn’t answer.
His voicemail is full

Waiting / h. l. Rijo

I was always waiting for us to be in sync.
For you to want me when I wanted you.
For you to see me in a crowded room
with wonder in your eyes,
curious to my thoughts and mood.

I was always waiting for you to hear the melody:

of my voice on your chest,
of your throat on my lips.
An intimate chorus,
composed just for us.

We were once close enough to kiss,
but now we live as two strangers
who vaguely remember tenderness.

I was always waiting for my feelings to be heard.
To have your love when I felt yours
and to know that it was already at home
in your soothing arms.

I was always waiting for us, don’t you see?
Waiting for us to live
as we always wanted to be.

Dylan’s Mother Susan Klebold Gives a TED Talk / Elizabeth S. Wolf

Sue Klebold says she did not know.
She asks herself if she was a terrible mother.
Sue Klebold loved her son.

Sue Klebold apologizes
if her son hurt you or anyone else
in your family. Sincerely apologizes.

Two years before the Columbine shooting
Dylan wrote in a diary about cutting himself
and that he wanted to die.

His mother did not know then
but now she sees that there was time
to get him help.

She did not know.
He did not ask.

There were no guns in the Klebold household.
Sue Klebold asks, how was it so easy
for her troubled son to obtain so many guns

and why this has not changed
given what we all know now
but did not know, back then.

Sue Klebold views Columbine
through the lens of her son’s suicide.
She does not know when

Dylan’s thoughts of suicide morphed
into plans for spectacular murder.
Sue Klebold studies suicide. She says

if love were enough,
there wouldn’t be so many suicides.
Ergo, love is not enough.

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris
are icons for spectacular murder.
Their parents loved them.

But it was not enough.

Day 3 / Poem 3

God Always Opens a Door / Rusty Barnes

when one closes and the wall
of unopened entrances sits hard

against the conscience of the holy man
waiting for that opening to envelop

his soul. But that’s too ethereal a word:
say rather than the mote in God’s eye

that those closed doors are not part
of a resurrection but instead a piling

on of thoughts better left unsaid.
The fly that enters the doorway

only to be caught by the spider;
the human who opens the door;

only to be caught on the cross,
made manifest in deadly wounds.

I am the way and the truth
and the light of the Lord. Your

panic is my pleasure. It’s always
there: the submission, the torture,

the death oh God the resurrection
of life, the healing of wounds, great

gulping sky of salvation accessible
only through me: caught on iron

spikes which eliminate the Roman
soldier; only Barabbas left this world

humble, knowing what he’d be given at
the whistle and knock of the world’s end.

All My Months of Forever / Donna Dallas

Every cigarette I swore was my last
that dang cat
you swung it by its tail so hard
rendered it vertigo-ridden
for the rest of its measly lives
back then all you did wrong was twist up that cat
would have been so easy to declare you a good soul

Winded now
from just a flight of steps – just one damn flight
you said I was a monster
yet you endlessly wanted to be with me
hence we birthed the monster together
slipped into its asylum
a toke here and there
on some good marijuana
we spiraled into the Cadillac of drugs

We died some nights
straddled together in an agony so great
it gives me chills dare I think about it
death is good for you – remember you said that?
it’s good to come back alive and on fire
I came back with one eye and dimwitted
I came back with a limp
I came back with a burned neck
I saw the stars spray
over an archipelago
in a swoon
during one of my deaths
I’m sure it was Jesus

That battered black cat long since dead
you – now homeless and a smell
caked so deep
you cannot be cleansed

I waited for Jesus under that moon
naked and battered
it took all those months of forever
it took all nine lives of that wretched cat

he came for me
barely recognizable
me – not Jesus
I’d know Jesus if I was deaf
blind or headless
when you were high as fuck
pouring lighter fluid on his beautiful white loincloth
I scrambled behind with a pot of water

Jesus remembered

On the Eve of Rapture /Angelo D’Amato

Chariots pulled by wingèd horses
to the frontiers of the moon
lost the sun in the Sea
of Tranquility. That which stains the sky
with radiant dawn is a memory; the moon
glows pure with forgotten light. The stars
fear the vast lunar tranches—this is why
they stay far away, beyond the lifespan
of the aimless wingèd horses.
They will be skeletons before they reach
Alpha Centauri, consumed by a maddened
Apollo, desperate for magnificence. But
the moon glows still, and Hephaestus
shivers beside the train tracks.
“The thunderbolts must fall,” he moans,
stroking his matted beard. In Paris,
a waiter with olived skin clears the last
of the little coffee tables. He stacks
the porcelain espresso mugs in the washer,
flips the switch, hears the magnificent rumble.
Two women died near l’Église Saint-Geneviève,
and Macron has tired of Putin’s war machine.
There will be a reckoning, he is sure.
For now, time to turn off the neon sign—
moonlight laments his heavy watch, and
drifts over depopulated tables.

Pantoum for My Father After Los Angeles / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

You sat at the far end of the plaid couch,
Bandaid holding your glasses together.
You looked out the turn-crank window
of the house you built with your father.

Bandaid holding the bridge of your glasses,
you crossed one sandaled foot over your knee.
Football echoed on the TV in the front room
against pine panels, grass-cloth papered walls.

You crossed your sock foot in sandals at your knee.
Your mother whipped pink aspic at the kitchen island,
backdrop of pine panels, pale green paper.
My cousins banged through the front door.

Your mother poured aspic into a mold at the counter,
you watched the mallard skim the pond out back.
My cousins slammed in, shouting Mamaw,
my aunt and uncle at their heels, cake box in hand.

You followed the green of the duck’s head to the dam,
I set the table with polished silver.
My aunt, pineapple cake in hand, entered
the kitchen. Your father brought the meat from the smoker.

Your daughter set down winter-scene plates,
you closed your eyes, folded your arms. Someone shouted
in the kitchen. Your father carved apple-smoked ham.
Your wife lowered a plate to your lap.

At the far end of the couch in the room off the kitchen,
you ate alone while we crowded the dining room table.
You looked out the turn-crank window,
your blue back to us all.

Henrik Ibsen Wades Waller Creek for Fossils / R. W. Haynes

The water is almost too clear, and the catfish
As swift as trout. You have to love cold,
Transparent water here in Texas.

The bucket is almost full, heavy enough,
Almost, to mean it’s time to wade downstream
In this creek which was once a crack
Far beneath the surface of an ancient sea.

Buffalo waded here, he thought, and smiled,
And wolves would lap cold water here,
And shaggy bears would bathe and play.

Back in his garret, the whiskered bard
Has a special acid, bitter and fierce,
He’ll pour in the bucket, and, faster than
You say “Rumpelstiltskin,” these ancient lumps
Will melt away to shining gem-like stone,
The monuments of ages, old shells of the sea.

Calling / Erin Marsh

Love, tonight the sky is pinking
and full of birds. I imagine
they are crows, but I can’t be sure.
I think about the loon I heard
on Howard Lake a few weeks ago
and how it was all alone, calling
out to a mate or yodeling in hopes
of attracting one. The tremulous wail hung
over the lake like the lingering smell of
of your cologne when you leave
my bed. I want to call you on the phone
to hear you enunciate the clipped “r”
of my name, making me and my existence
feel real—the most powerful spell you know.
The sky is brightening into a lurid peach
and the birds are telling our secrets
to the stolid black pine trees. I will sleep
with my iPhone on the pillow next to me,
in case you call.

One Star of a Billion / h. l. Rijo

Day becomes night
and night into day.
Light always seems
to be one step away from
black-hole whirlpools that
spill out into sun rays.
If this endless dance is how we measure time
who will know when the sunshine passes
and the earth is lifeless, and alone?
Who will ever remember
this small ephemeral life that I have lived?
One star of a many billion.
Who will know of this love we share?
Maybe it will linger
in the cracks that bind
the eternal and the forgotten.

Sammy Island / Elizabeth Wolf

After the fire, we lived for a spell
in a brown house in town, furnished
with other people’s things. Later

we moved to an old converted schoolhouse
set on 4 acres which used to be the
town poor farm. It was haunted

but lovely, an open green front lawn
bordered by a stream feeding into the
Manhan River. My 4- year- old daughter

loved our yard. She and the yellow dog
would go exploring, toting a blue plastic bucket
and a hand-drawn treasure map. They collected

pinecones, luxurious swatches of moss, bits of
bird eggs, speckled stones, skin shed from snakes.
In shorts or bathing suits we would go

wading in the knee-deep stream. Just below
the backyard was a mud beach with a
fallen-branch bench and a clump of brush

around which the water diverged. It made
interesting currents for playing Pooh sticks.
One day my daughter and I were out wandering

and she got ahead of me, claiming the patch
we called Sammy Island. I loitered on the beach
thinking how fine it was to raise an independent girl

brave and curious, my own Rachel Carson, when she
called out “help mommy!”. And in that instant,
as I dropped my phone and plunged ahead in terror

cursing my parenting, scourging myself for
ever taking my eyes off my one precious prize-
I found her, and the yellow dog,

tangled in a blackberry thicket, stained
in dark juice. “My shorts got stuckted,”
she said. “I think I tore them. Sorry, mommy.”

As I laughed and gave thanks and hugged her
too tight she looked up at me, confused,
unsure if she should laugh or cry.

Day 2 / Poem 2

Summer Evening with Beer / Rusty Barnes

I watch the snake speak with a forked tongue
as it tests the air for danger and prey
while I sit here with a beer that’s young,
and crash reckless though the loss of day.
Down the street’s pure right hand fork
the prostitute and her john slip out
into the driven dark their job as work
now done with a voluntary pout.
Say it ain’t so, said the kid of old when
DiMaggio was about to retire from ball,
and take up house with charming Marilyn,
all bombshell and glitter, blonde and fall.
I watch the snake slide under the deck
as my warmish beer goes down my neck.

Love Me Hideously / Donna Dallas

I hold your trembling hand
as we leap
into this blackened trench

You say this is bad
I say we are fools
eat the bread today
for tomorrow it could be moldy
or stolen
tomorrow may not arrive

The trench deepens
as we sift through bones
of the dead
pick a button or two
from some corpse’s
matted and shredded garments
a souvenir
to remind us
of this journey
we will never return from

American Rustic /Angelo D’Amato

Patchworks and patchworks
of green, of hay, of budding corn,
rustling beneath a starry field–

Somewhere, a housewife’s drowning in her phlegm.
Can you hear her, as her lungs constrict,
as her throat contracts,
as the human slop drawn forth by the mildew spores
is peeled from her throat,
is flung over her tongue…

Some globules catch on benumbed taste buds,
and she must admit, she likes the taste
of her decay.

Mildew spores, drifting from shadows.
This is how life is leeched from the living.

On Imagining How It Will End for My Father: A Cento / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

from Gregory Orr, Sharon Olds, Ranier Maria Rilke, Seamus Heaney, and Jon Tribble

He will break. If I move—
a clean rasping sound.
Wave his arms and cry out,
That was the end of it.
Oh quickly disappearing photograph
thin, and clean, in his clean hospital gown
to be touched so closely
cool hardness in our hands
saber’s basket-hilt.
Both hands stay
my father’s face
twisted, ornamental braid. The dignity
of a foreign leader. Quiet to bear things,
I sat beside him, something far off,
I held some ice against
the cold smell of potato mould
the North Alabama sun.

Making a Memory  / David Estringel

Yellow wallpaper
behind faded pictures
in dusty frames,
falling to the floor
in ashen drifts—ephemeral—
of births and wakes,
to the heart
like first kisses
or cold sips
of Orange Crush
but dulled
from memory
(and time)
like presentless Christmases
and old calico,
drying on the line
in the summer sun.
What ghosts roam these halls,
haunting crystal doorknobs
and bowls of wax fruit,
lingering ‘round chicken coops,
dust bunnies,
and jelly jar glasses
like palls
or the bitter of burnt almonds.
As a pale pink echo
of rose
peeks through the air’s must,
a voice whispers, “Remember this. Now,”
leaving me to chuckle and smile.

How silly it is to mourn life as we live it.

Old Man Begging in Parking Lot Puts Curse on Girl in Nice Car Who Can’t be Bothered / R.W. Haynes

Listen, Chiquita, I’m too old to be nice about this.
You don’t want to roll down the window
And let the hot air in your car, and time
Is on your side and not on mine, you think,
And looking at my old wrinkled face
Scares you a little, and my old staring eyes
Peer out from old glasses with one green lens.
Keep your cold air, and keep your money,
I confiscate sweetness from the smile
You kept contained, saved from the blessed heat
Sanctifying us, poor saints of the street.

Text Message / Erin Marsh

You told me that I, as a woman, deserve
to be wanted—to be craved. I said that I hoped
that would happen someday, and you said it already has.
I drive past Lake Bemidji and notice how many boats
are out for the opening of the fishing season—little black
smudges on an otherwise flawless body of gray-blue water.
I don’t tell you how I cried when I read those words. How it
felt to be something other than a shapeless blob covered
in bundles of scars. How, that night, I brushed my red hair
and put on the pink silken nightgown I hide at the back
of the closet. How I laid myself out, using the whole bed—
practiced letting you see me.

Morning After Rains / h.l. Rijo

As I walk, the sky sleeps
in soft cloudy grays.
All that remains
are raindrops on leaves and spider webs woven intermittently through their designated patch of grass.
The air leaves a humid residue,
you inhale like a morning summer rain dew
voyaging through a misty cloud fallen down to earth.
Mother-nature’s breath feels sticky on my neck, as I wade through her mood.
Her tears a giving life force,
her reverie a faint dream found in
the small space between
the quiet of a waking morning
and a dawned soul, breathing.

Wayne Harris / Elizabeth Wolf

called 911 on April 20th
and said the Columbine shooter
might be his son, Eric.

He said his son
was probably a part
of the Trench Coat Mafia.

Wayne Harris kept a journal
about his younger son, begun after
Eric had made a few bombs.

Maybe the garage smelled like
propane. Maybe it was just a parent’s
intuition. The spidey sense tingling.

Eric had a beef with a boy at school
but his dad thought the other boy, Brooks,
was being dramatic. No big deal. Even though

Brooks reported death threats. On April 20th
Eric saw Brooks outside the school and said,
I like you now- stuff’s about to go down-

you should leave. And Brooks booked it.
When he heard shots firing, Brooks
was the first person to call the police.

Maybe Wayne knew, as he filled his steno pad
with denial, maybe he knew something
was wrong- but before Columbine happened

it was hard to imagine Columbine. Maybe when
the police searched the Harris home that day
and found more bombs, evacuating the house

before the gunmen’s bodies were identified-
maybe that’s when Wayne Harris knew
he made the right call.

Day 1 / Poem 1

The Wind Tears at You / Rusty Barnes

It’s not the night that undresses you
but instead the wind in which your
garments tear and fold aimlessly off
your body but maybe it is darkness’s

cloak itself which is a burst of bright
light in the morning, because as sure
as that sunny break returns, you will pass
it as well and love what your sunny

body allows you to love, the forward
momentum of time, the clock of your body
which chimes in rhythm can answer
with the wind and the night both in

synchrony, as you stand before me nude
and echo my words: yes, I love you.

We Come So Close to It / Donna Dallas

The yellow hummingbird outside
our kitchen window
the red bellied woodpecker
the emerald-green coat you bought for me
in Venice five years ago
that still looks like a movie star garment
the texture of your hands
across my skin
kind of bristly
yet how I long for it

I’m closer to it now…..I think
those necessary things
along the journey
how we fold into the ocean
up to our necks
at sunset
that time is ethereal
a moving stick of dynamite
in our hands

I’ve walked by that caterpillar
on the side of the garage for days
cocooning into its holding tomb
never quite noticed the intensity
of the black carvings along its
plump white furry body

Nothing left
but to get as close as possible
to the splatter of stars
that cover us at night
the long walks to the bay
with the tugging of our dogs
pulling time with us
the reeling of some sad song
on the radio
waiting to be discovered

Eight reasons why we cannot let each other down
I say eight and you say ten
but it’s really one
just as close as we can get
to a thing
we can barely name
or label
as love
as I don’t know but something
is so close to us
and we it

Later when we see the hickory tussock moth
we realize continuity
and this
is as close as we will ever get
to a silvery glint off the rocks at the bay
the way your eyes gleam like forever
with yellow dots amidst turquoise blue
a DNA throwback
that simply cannot
be labeled

The light scurries off
before we can even realize
we were on
the raging horizon

Playdates / Angelo D’Amato

Daisy, Daisy
Give me your answer do
I’m half crazy
All for the love of you

So sings the heart that craves a home.
So sings the heart that has molded itself
to Daisy’s imagined hands.

Come, let us build a mighty village
out of plastic bricks and plastic people;
Come, let us pretend we are housewives,
negotiating the strains of a silly marriage
to a silly, silly man;
Come, let us venture into the woods
in your backyard and be bitten
by tumescent fire ants—

Now, your pinky twitches against my hand
as you hold the railing above the buffalo enclosure. You say
“What a shame, how we drove them from the prairies.”
And your lips, they shine. And your eyelashes, they curve,
and curve, and curve…

On Reaching Standing Pitch-Tree, Two Blocks from Our School / Jennifer Dracos-Tice

Friends & Brothers, Listen: Where you are now, you and my white children are too near to each other. Your game is destroyed and many of your people will not work and till the Earth. Beyond the great river Mississippi, your father has provided a country large enough for all of you, and he advises you to remove to it. -Andrew Jackson, Letter to the Creek Indians (1829)

My sneaker hits mud, no, clay,
slices through the puddle
and I catch myself in a near split.
Have I brought these kids
too far? Peachtree Creek flows
to our left to its confluence
with the Chattahoochee River
up ahead. We pick our way
clutching notebooks, pens,
phones, cross wheel-gouged tracks,
orange water pooled from last night’s rain.

This location is unmarked, except
for one internet reference
to Standing Pitch-Tree,
Creek village, trading hub
for Cherokee from the North,
Muscogee from the South. Atlanta’s
major roads were once trails that led
to this place at the convergence
of the creek and the river.
Google Earth shows a fuzz
of tree-tops, no trail. There is no sign
to mark the village,

not one. Rock ledges hulk
to our right, weed-eaters buzz
over the ridge, at the grounds
for Atlanta Water Works.
Trees drip, high grasses scratch
bare legs. A Sprite bottle glows green
on the mud-slick bank. My students

complain of bugs and the smell
behind every welcome breeze—
sewage. I hear the Chattahoochee shoals
before I see them, the creek water sliding
to meet whitecaps sparking
as they roll from the treatment plant.

I want to feel what’s under
my feet. I wish I could feel it.
Two metal trashcans glint
on the spit of land where we stop
to write and remember. A white sign
warns, no loud music, no littering.
Where is their marker? Where
were the homes? Where
are their dead?

Mimosas sway against
the darker green of pines
at the trail mouth gaping
behind us. Pink and white
mimosa flowers shake—
sweetness, smoke. The chatter
and rustle of hungry kids,
the nearby rush of water.

Black Flies / David Estringel

Black flies
skim the surface of the screen door—
deathly spirits in timeless dance—
among rusty catches
and long-forgotten captures
of smears and smiles,
looking for a tear
to let the world rush in
(in whispers and screams)
like credos
of newborns’ philosophies.

No, they don’t bother me much
those errant twings and twangs
that pull eyes away
from the magnetic hum
of hard plastic fruit,
ripening on Frigidaire doors,
and the bloody meat
of strawberry slices,
souring in a bowl of milk,
under the frosted glow
of 60-watt suns

Is it the creak
of floorboards under wooden legs
(or bones)
that heralds their come to call,
circling like a wreath,
at my kitchen door?
Or is this but a stop
on the way to the widow’s down the road,
where anonymous casseroles
and bunt cakes
still linger ‘round the doorstep?

A faint buzz haunts my ears
and the windowsill above the sink,
cutting sunbeams
with timely slices of unseen wings.
What is that crawling upon me
at the back of my neck?
Something has found its way in.
Is this a curious stroll
or a first taste of flesh?
Shoo, fly!
Don’t bother me!

We Need a Storm / R.W. Haynes

If the dust swirls entrancingly as we gaze
At the remolinos’ demented dance,
Do we hear, somehow, a spirit mourn?
“This is not the rain. This dance reveals
Our needs; its foolish wind exhausts itself,
Circulation desiccation’s crazy whirl.”

And the mind reaches toward the blessed vapor
Of the Caribbean’s vast, capricious realm
And gropes for promise, a fantasy of storm,
A whisper of coolness, a distant, deadly flash.

The Lake of You / Erin Marsh

Love, I can see so cleanly to the bottom
of you. Pearl scaled fish swim by and I imagine
a feast in my bed—you pick up a bite
with your thumb and forefinger, offer it to me.

I can see the pennies I threw in, hoping
you would be patient and kind about my anxiety,
lining the soft silt bottom of you.

As a child, I dug my tender feet
into the lake bottom to feel the supple
sediment between my toes. Then, a sharp
prick of pain and I looked down to see blood
feathering out into the glassy, sun infused water.

This evening I will go fishing on Howard Lake.
I will catch one, pull the hook from
its translucent mouth, and throw it back—
watch it swim away from the boat.

I think about how you have released me too
into the shallowness of you—how I am scared
and in pain, but swim toward deeper waters.

Make Believe/13 / h.l. Rijo

Let’s play a game of make believes.
Where I am king and you are queen
and we’re both back at age 13.
Upside down on monkey bars,
hold knees tight as we reverse,
making sky our new earth.
You’ll go next and I’ll go first:

I had a dream I came
and took your breath away.
This time was different than the last.
You saw me as I wish to see myself.
Remind me as we make believe—
why did I cry when you saw the real me?
When was it that I first had that thought,
I am not enough?

Maybe it was my 13 year old’s memory
of my mother when she said I couldn’t dance well at a wedding.
Or maybe it was my friend’s mother instead when we said I wasn’t pretty because of my acne.
Or maybe it was my father saying he wanted me to stay the same,
instead of a grown lady’s body in a 13 year old girl’s brain.
Maybe it was my first best friend who said she’d always be there,
but I was left with a dangling question without a text to care.
Or maybe it was my first boyfriend bittersweet puppy love,
but our parents intervened—
“you’ll just break up in the end,”
they said, “in time you’ll see.”

Maybe it was just one,
or many, or none at all.
A compounding mental snowball
reaffirming, rolling on
growing bigger as I run.

So let’s make believe in make believe
and pretend that those first little hurts
don’t solidify our grown up skies.
Now, next is your turn.

April 1999 / Elizabeth Wolf

My daughter was born the week after Columbine.

My daughter was born new
coated in vernix, raw, startling:
a gift, a challenge, a chance
for a major do-over.

Trust yourself.
You know more than you think you do.
(Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, 7 th Edition, 1998, p1)

High schoolers. The trench coats. Grainy
security films and 911 calls, voicemails to
parents, kids dripping out of windows.
The taunts and the screams and
all that blood.

Blue blue eyes, tiny toes,
wrinkly fingers splayed like starfish,
patting my breast. Downy hair.
Inked footprint on the birth announcement
proclaiming our expanded family, to our
extended social clan.

Every time you pick a baby up… every time you
change her, bathe her, feed her, smile at her,
she’s getting the feeling that she belongs to you
and you belong to her. Nobody else in the world,
no matter how skillful, can give that to her.
(Dr. Spock, p1-2)

They were bullied.
They were monsters.
Where were the parents.
It’s the music, it’s the price
of free love, it’s the guns, it’s
permissiveness, mental illness;
children with changed voices,
who three days prior danced at prom,
slaughtered, maimed,

My friend I didn’t marry
gave me an archival box
as a baby gift. A repository
for the Sunday front page,
weekly news magazines, grocery circulars,
artifacts of contemporary history,
our family in context, for the baby
to appreciate as an adult. If she
survived to be an adult. I burned
the printed pages, spread the gray ash
over bulbs planted the past fall.

Raising children is more and more puzzling
for many parents because we’ve lost a lot
of our old-fashioned convictions about
what kind of morals, ambitions, and character
we want them to have. We are uncertain
and worried about what kind of world
awaits them as adults.
(Dr. Spock p.5)

We were all changed,
that week. We all wore
our cloak of perspective
just a little differently.

Mothers are forever changed
after giving birth. Deep down
in their marrow, their bloodstream,
the complex pinging patterns
of their brains. My goal was to raise
a worthy child, someone both
strong and kind, who could outshine
the bursts from the muzzle of a gun.

In many ways we have lost our faith in the meaning of life
and our confidence to understand our world
and our society.
(Dr. Spock, p.8)