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.
The volunteer poets for July 2022 are Joanne Brown, John Burroughs, Regina DiPerna, Thomas Locicero, Courtney Ludwick, Kalliopy Paleos, Claudia Reder, Matt Sadler, and Pamela Wax.
If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please fill out our application here and warm up your pen!
Day 30 / Poem 30
Cento: Meditation / Joanne Fay Brown
I was more intent on watching what was / occurring underneath my eyelids,
makes me question / if we see the same sun or / if your clouds look different right now.
The man whose face / I cannot make out / even in the clearest of pictures
I think I expected God but got the / goddesses.
Memories like water tumbled, curved, / formed new channels, and gently collided with each other until they became like new rorschachs;
It was just a sliver of a dream / sharp and frightening.
My uncle muttered his final hallowed be thy name,
decided to let it all be forgotten.
- Thomas Lociero, “First Day”
- Courtney Ludwick, ‘Terracotta Sky”
- Kalliopy Paleos, “Blood Lineage Questions #6”
- Matt Sadler, “Good Harbor”
- Claudia Reder, “Crone”
- Regina DiPerna, “The Byway”
- Pamela Wax, “Holy Name”
- John Burroughs, “All Turned Aside”
The Very Mouth of Hell / John Burroughs
The dangerous world
did not listen,
A small flurry of laughter
might have helped.
She continued to stare,
full awake, in panic.
would rage again.
Mother, Sister, Wife / Regina DiPerna
I’m not a woman.
I’m bees breaking from the hive.
I’m not a citizen.
I’m an exploding star,
a scalpel’s judicious cuts.
I’m not a body to govern.
I’m the bowl that oceans
pour forth from, what is
ungovernable, the force
beneath forces of nature.
I’m not a mother, sister, wife.
I’m the serrated edge
of what you’re too afraid to name.
I am pink sky
tearing open the morning.
Cento on Bees and Family / Thomas Locicero
Today, when I should do nothing
because it’s the Sabbath
and God commands me to neither
create nor destroy,
I saved four bees. Granted, one plopped right back
into the pool—it didn’t want deliverance.
We were taken aback
when a bee flew into
and then flew out.
We were together back then
even when Big Foula got stung by a bee and
no one would help her because we weren’t
talking to each other anymore.
My mother always said
if bad things can happen,
they’ll happen to you.
When I was young my mother sang me one song—
Que Sera, Sera, The Future’s Not
Ours to See.
Once she gave me a secret to keep that I let go.
No matter how hard I tried to hold universes
safe in my hands they always eluded salvation,
cleaving it from all this in an attempt at
- Pamela Wax, “Today, when I should do nothing”
- Claudia Reder, “Happiness was Not a Thing”
- Kalliopy Paleos, “Athens 1982”
- Regina DiPerna, “The Curse”
- Joanne Fay Brown, “The one photo I have of you, grandmother”
- Courtney Ludwick, “String Lover”
- John Burroughs, “So Much for Saving”
- Matt Sadler, “Gawking in Awe at the Universe”
Waking / Courtney Ludwick
Phantoms flood through
slicing you up
cell by cell
the wind, dark aorta swelling
You hold up an umbrella
begging please god anything
I wake up holding your wrist
what dreams stirred you in that hull
Are you hungry? cold?
I was wreckage, whale bones
on the edge of tears
which you lick at desperately.
then no more nothing,
kinetic energy vibrating
and we need a remedy
You taste the bombs
checking our apartment for traces of lead.
- Kalliopy Paleos, “Embarkement”
- Matt Sadler, “Untitled”
- Kalliopy Paleos, “And then one day you find yourself unexpectedly strolling along with the ghost of an old courtesan”
- Regina DiPerna, “The Vendetta”
- Claudia Reder, “A History of Rain”
- Matt Sadler, “This is a Jackhammer But I Was Looking”
- Regina DiPerna, “The Amnesiac”
- Joanne Fay Brown, “The one photo I have of you, grandmother”
- Claudia Reder, “Happiness was Not a Thing”
- Regina DiPerna, “The Seachange”
- John Burroughs, “The Way of the Cross”
- Kalliopy Paleos, “Heaven says Write”
- Thomas Locicero, “A Poem About Nothing”
- Pamela Wax, “Fine Work with Paring Knife”
- John Burroughs, “State of the Disunion”
- Thomas Locicero, “The Girl in the Picture”
- Regina DiPerna, “The Symptom”
Dawning / Kalliopy Paleos
as I realize I am awake
I make sure he is holding my hand
I make sure he is clearing out the center of my body
the long vertical shaft of flesh and space
swept clean by illuminated robes.
I grasp the hand
hold on not only for dear life
– so dear indeed is life –
but also to sense the flesh of it
the blood in it
the electric current through it.
We cast ourselves
by the whispering riverside
to clear out as much as we can
from my opened chest,
pulling it out in cardboard boxes
and tossing it in, to where
it vanishes and he laughs
I can make the jump
from the old wooden boat
of wherever I was in sleep
to the landing plane of the bedclothes,
the reading of the time.
Many mornings it is Jesus
Some mornings it is Walt
My father once in a while
effervescent, seated in the chair
reading the newspaper and protectively
glancing over from time to time.
Each and every time I find myself
awake here, and powerless
suffocated by my crimes
or if not those then
the crimes of us all
or in the night if by accident
I awaken to find myself
in this sealed booth of life
I summon someone
any good soul who will come.
Sometimes it’s even the living
who send a scrim of themselves
getting each other drinks.
so I can stand it
Cento / Claudia Reder
What did you see?
On an Oakland sidewalk
a simple wood table
waiting to be claimed:
The mother in her
swallowing the moon.
a lemon tree knocking
at my window, summer ripe
the whole beach a celebration
of this wildness this life.
What do you hunger for?
for the beginning, the womb, the campfire
a universe beyond the yellow wood
The small house
of the man whose face
I cannot make out
the language of negotiation,
The encouraging Oops! Try again : )
What did you learn?
We fished, we honed until we got the knack;
A kind of bitter nourishment
For I have understood everything now, threading at my leisure through these same stone streets like a tiny black cat.
I saved four bees. Granted, one plopped right back
into the pool—
she told me my poem was beautiful—
Not only the words, she said, but the sound.
how the things inside you can transform
I might be on the brink of storm
There must have been a time when you were happy
Writer’s Moon / Matt Sadler
As the blood red moon crosses the sun,
Rigid to the very fingertips,
A skull overflowing with hyacinth petals,
causes you to dream dreams of fear.
What a strange thing to hold onto.
Like a lens it stares at you,
Words buried in your roots,
Worming deep into cells.
In my room the table glows,
Swallows the last narrow place,
Blood laced carefully,
Without compassion, without love,
A cage more shakeable than you once thought,
And the sunlight slips away so gently you feel
Stems shooting up, colors fading, a petal loosening,
And light footed in the face of terror.
- Joanne Fay Brown, lines 1,9
- John Burroughs, lines 2,10
- Regina DiPerna, lines 3,11
- Thomas Locicero, lines 4,12
- Courtney Ludwick, lines 5, 13
- Kalliopy Paleos, lines 6,14
- Claudia Redar, lines 7,15
- Pamela Wax, lines 8,16
Words of Deliverance: A Cento / Pamela Wax
We know our fables: true,
but it never really happened.
We never spoke of this—everything
redacted. Let’s pretend though
like we used to, because the turning
earth falls in its course,
the first-time smashing of dead suns,
the speck of light that wasn’t
there. I cross and uncross my fingers,
praying I will not be wrapped
up a fish from the market in newspapers
where village elders settle
differences, grudging forever.
I do not know names
of a hundred lakes, but I know
a few disappearing. The thing
about evolution is it doesn’t include you
on the way—like bone fitting
into its dazzling socket, inside every face
a skull, primordial sacs rising
and falling slightly with the breath.
I would prefer to change
the subject, but the greenery is brown.
You cannot see the green—
the earth, downsizing, death by the foot,
the next inundation
as inevitable as strip mining.
We stand on the edge of a keyhole
to slam right through the wooden gate,
to scoop from the ocean floor words
Day 29 / Poem 29
Path of Totality / Joanne Fay Brown
— after Marie Howe
and Uncle Frank, once a tank commander in Normandy,
bright star on his one-hundredth birthday,
now in a chair, on the threshold —
“My God, My God, My God,”
from Oregon to South Carolina
as the blood-red moon crossed the sun
leaving the world in darkness,
I heard them.
“I will pour out my spirit when the sun turns to darkness,”
said the Prophet Joel, “the old ones will dream dreams
and the young ones will see visions.”
Did they? Do we?
I was not on that path, but in my kitchen buttering toast.
Then I realized it was all three: moon, sun, and spirit.
Movement Like a Curse / John Burroughs
He stared at her,
rigid to the very fingertips,
his treacherous and bewildering body
like a snare about her feet
in the raucous hay.
Smelling of sickness,
naked, vivid flesh
burnt black on the bottom.
Full of anger,
the wintry air
ceased his attempts,
became more silent than ever
to her vast relief.
Melancholy, Sublime / Regina Diperna
The body’s curse
vessel, holy bitch
full of grace.
My teeth are missing
in a dream.
Everything is redacted
save the image
of a skull overflowing
with hyacinth petals.
In Times of Fear, We Are Quiet / Thomas Locicero
In times of fear, we are quiet.
Perhaps, if we kept silent,
we would have less to fear.
Maybe it is our noise
that attracts that which we fear.
The bragging…about how our teeth
are perfect, how our children
never get sick, how we’ve never
been in a wreck, how no one in our
family has ever gotten cancer. Noise.
The wise men spoke about the birth
of a child who would be king. This
troubled the man who was king.
His fear led to a decree: All
the children of Bethlehem
two years old and younger would
be slain. All that blood for noise.
All the sackcloth and ashes worn
simply because wise men spoke.
If only they had heeded the proverb,
A wise man holds his tongue. Only
a fool blurts out everything he knows;
that only leads to sorrow and trouble.
Sound so easily traveled across the
plains that Navajo infants were taught
not to cry so as not to attract hostiles.
Less noise, less to fear. Seems wise.
There are noises that we carry in
our heads. We call them thoughts,
and they can keep us up at night,
fearing. Sometimes, they cause us
to dream dreams of fear. Sometimes,
they cause us to pray, to say,
“Father, if you are willing, remove
this fear from me” when we should
be asking for the noise to be removed.
There is a reason we should let
sleeping dogs and giants lie:
because the fear that startled them
awake will visit us in our sleep.
Locusts / Courtney Ludwick
Do they sing? I can’t remember. Only a year since I saw them last but guess I wasn’t paying attention. I think someone told me once—maybe my mother, she loved to talk about almost dead things—that they rub their wings together. Do they have wings? I don’t remember their bodies in flight. I only recall their corpses. Or what I thought were corpses. How they littered the ground. Cloaking the trunk of my favorite tree. Once, I cradled one’s molted exoskeleton, such a flimsy thing. No flesh inside. No dull buzz. Where was the high pitch scream? What a strange thing to carry: a shell of a once breathing thing. I held someone’s skin once. Never my own. What a strange thing to hold onto. I miss that chorus, that used to keep me up at night. In my palm, it crumbles into nothing so fast.
The Hidden Daughter / Kalliopy Paleos
I will not be kept in the cabinet
or under the agonized bed.
I will not be wrapped up
a fish from the market
in newspapers smothered in words
I will not be left in the car
waiting, or by the window.
I have arrived
as you can hear all over the house
I have arrived
as you felt, banging my way
through the garden.
I will not be kept in jar of laughter
or in a swinging bag of pity
or beaten onto the sidewalk
I have tucked a violet
behind my ear
like a lens it stares at you
and through it
all the earth.
These and teeming other
are my witnesses
you may marvel at their robes
you may whisper praises
in my presence
for I declare myself
a living voice
among the mumbling
living and the mumbling
What Was it Like to Write a Poem a Day in July? / Claudia Reder
Words buried in your roots.
the lost nuances of a vanishing tongue.
The only time your family
made it through a meal without fighting;
how forty sounds in English create thousands of sounds.
Can we might meet in the living room
and hug as mightily as a caterpillar
clinging to a stem in a noisy wind
wanting warmth, wanting, still wanting?
Grief-ridden roads turned inside out,
horses calm on curvy roads
our bodies swaying and near
swaying as if in agreement.
The slow summer sings.
You think the sunflowers are dying
but their seeds are ripening,
how their bold blooms hold up
even in cemeteries.
Train my ear to hear the rain forests,
how their music is like discovering an unseen star,
a star dancing around a black hole,
a sonic re-wilding.
Tell me how you get any writing done
out of the dryness,
how the sunflowers started to sing.
Untitled / Matt Sadler
For A and G
Moonlight baubles on the water
at midnight. It’s the arrhythmia moon,
moving at the lazy speed of Pine Lake,
one boat still circling the dark waters.
I brought you here to show you this.
I brought you here to show you how
to look, how to open yourself like
a morning glory, how to close yourself
back up. I’m showing you how to hunt
for the spirits, how to ritualize internally,
how the things inside you can transform
this place and then transform you.
The fox darting through the yards last year
found a home underneath a driveway
despite all the rules. The Virginia creeper
haunts the flower patch from below
and offers us a hundred audacious high fives.
The carpenter bee chews a life out of the mailboxes.
The billowy squash blossom hides under big leaves, waiting
to be discovered by those who seek it,
to be plucked and filled with goat cheese
and fried. This world, real and imagined, uninhibited and boundless,
is yours. I brought you here to show this
Of Bathing Suits, Feathers, and Amateur Sleuthing / Pamela Wax
My husband calls it forensics. I
call it surveillance. If he’s angling
for a late-life career with the Feds,
I’ll remind him I’m the one hooked
on Daniel Silva spy novels, crushing
on a Mossad assassin, undercover
forays into the fifth column
of sinkholes, worming deep
into cells of terror, smoking
out old Nazis and burly oligarchs,
spying over my shoulder for liars-
in-wait. I practice for when the CIA
comes knocking, ISO a mild-
mannered female rabbi to front
some big sting. My husband’s fishing
runs tame. If I’m late, he’ll case
the laundry line. No bathing
suit, I’m swimming. Bathing
suit, he dragnets the ‘hood,
wonders who I’m schmoozing
up. We’re of an age to worry
if the other is lying in some ditch.
I keep a feather on my nightstand,
lift it to his nostrils when
I can’t hear him breathe.
Day 28 / Poem 28
Trinity / Joanne Fay Brown
On an Oakland sidewalk
a simple wood table
waiting to be claimed:
kidney shaped, faded pink paint
like a table I once knew:
My mother bought it for my room
in our new house, and we spent an afternoon
attaching the butter-yellow brushed-cotton
skirt to its arms with cream-colored thumbtacks.
It wasn’t her habit to buy me gifts;
just practical things — drab shirtwaist
dresses I pushed to the back of the closet.
That gray year of her depression
she was wraith-like, still grieving grandma
Jeni, dead at 52, I her namesake.
In my room the table glowed, bright star
in a dark sky. I adored its skirt, mirror top,
wood arms opening to a drawer protecting
my treasures: blue leather diary with a gold key,
pepperminty lipsticks, a four-leaf clover charm. I gazed
often and hopeful into its mirror, saw a shining trinity:
Jeni disembarking at Ellis Island,
mother organizing a workers’ union,
me, my pixie haircut, singing “Come and Go With Me.”
Thinking Bitterly of His Birthday / John Burroughs
swallowed the last
the damned that filled
snarling swiftly past
like fire or flood.
his face congested,
making the avenue shiver
because they did not love him.
Portrait of the Artist in the Follicular Phase / Regina DiPerna
Nearly empty skin.
Barren as in naked
not unable to bear
fruit. Soft, fluid-full
question. Blood laced
carefully through her
like spider’s web,
like spider laying
a silk-scarce foundation.
Ova full of night sky.
The mother in her
swallowing the moon.
Letters to Those Bearing Swastika Flags at the Tampa Convention Center / Thomas Locicero
Reveal to me what it’s like to live
without compassion, without love.
To choose inhumanity, to disregard
crushing and compelling history,
and to have it touch your soul
only to dismiss it. To claim
to love a God of love who calls
the people you persecute
His people, and to shrug
with apathy. To scoff at
sympathy, to see yourself superior.
To have the Word of the Savior
you say you serve on your
bedside nightstand. To feel it
move your spirit, and then,
to stretch out your flag.
I write this not to condemn you. You have
already condemned yourself. Why pile on?
I just have some questions and suggestions.
Who sparked your hatred? You weren’t born this way.
Was there a sit-down or did you overhear
a remark? To you who wore no mask, how strange
that an ideology founded—and once
believed to have ended—in cowardice
has recruited such courageous disciples,
though courage and stupidity often go
hand in hand. You claim to know a blond-haired,
blue-eyed Christ, ignorant to the Middle-
Eastern-brown Jesus, who does not know you.
Oh, and as a side note, Jesus was Jewish.
But mask or not, the photo is your mark.
It is your passport, telling each citizen
just who you are and where you are going.
This is your legacy. As the sins of your
father visited upon you, so your sins
shall stain your children unless…yes, unless…
When you are gone, no one will shrug you off.
You’re not the flat-earther uncle or the
conspiracy-theorist aunt eliciting
chuckles when you are out of earshot; no,
your intolerance is tolerated.
You’re, ironically, the Ethiopian
who cannot change his skin, the leopard that
cannot change his spots, the one whose family
and friends will whisper about, about the
monster that lived among them; they will tell your
story because you were not a butt of jokes
but one who spread seed in the company
of devils. No, this is not a small thing. This
warrants relentless revisitation.
But with help, you can heal. You can be healed.
It will require fire. A flag should not
touch the ground. Trample yours under your feet.
A flag should not be burned unless it is
being retired. Burn your flag. Don’t wait until
it is worn and tattered. And let its ashes
burn. Then it’s your turn inside the fire.
This will require some time and commitment.
I’m not going to lie; it’s going to hurt.
You can step out of the flames unscorched, anew,
Abandoning that which led you to this place.
So, for the sake of your children, will you?
If so, perhaps your Jewish God will forgive.
Loose Tooth / Courtney Ludwick
I miss the taste of fresh blood after biting down too hard on a gone-rotten apple core. The first time a tooth becomes movable. Barely notice it at first but fixation doesn’t take long and soon the enamel wears down from your obsessive tongue. Parents say take your fingers out of your mouth so you find a thin string instead. Loop it twice around their bedroom door handle out of spite, knot it good, doublecheck the bow wrapped around your lateral incisor and slam the door but nothing happens. Wet string falls pathetically to the floor. You become even more consumed. Bus ride home—you miss your stop. Favorite movie—you miss the best line. Staring in the mirror, transfixed on its give. The slack. How you have become unrooted. Reminds you of a broken hinge. Milk bone rattling in your milk skull, a cage more shakable than you once thought. Unsecure. Unsteady. You dream of teeth. One day you wake up from a good tooth dream. First thing you do is flick your tongue up but you only feel gummy flesh. Check the sheets—crimson stains and there you are. There is a release not so sweet as you imagined. Untethered. Now unfastened. But there’s a certain freedom in flushing part of your body down the toilet and pretending your mother has gone mad when she asks what you did with your front tooth. In secret, you touch the hole it left. That emptiness tastes good, like metal and memory.
The Sun Does Not Go Down / Kalliopy Paleos
the sunlight slips away so gently
you feel clearly
as a child on a swing
the earth rolling its face away
from the sun
How good the darkness
settling into the leaves
How good the eternal void
and us rolling
Crone / Claudia Reder
She could be moor, she could be ocean light.
She was the hesitation in her step, her speech.
Lightheaded, she felt she was in a Ruth Ware novel
worried about the identity theft of the soul.
Where would she find her new papers
that informed her of her new name
and what she could expect in this life
that was now hers, though only on loan?
Taking a deep breath she asked herself,
Have I found time to wave to the flowers,
to the long-leafed meddling weeds in the garden?
She has written many words
but they are the wrong words.
Words like lilies go to seed:
red, yellow, upside down pistils
in flux; stems shooting up,
colors fading, a petal loosening,
one insect-like red-winged,
one vining thick stem
bowing over itself;
Such a gray gathering on this measly branch
of this scrawny tree, that like any tree,
wants to hold birds, leaves, nests,
none of which appeared
except for six weeks
after her mother died.
She wore an invisibility cloak,
sat and braved the birds,
one had a twitch that
its body: head, wing,
tail, again, again.
that jerky motion
was his lone dance.
Heartbeat Books / Matt Sadler
I want to open a bookstore with you and call it a heartbeat. I want to swim in sea grey pools and find spiky urchins and climb to shore dripping with exhausted satisfaction, I want to drink all the wines on the road trip to everywhere to the gardens and farms with handmade baskets to collect the new fruit we find, I want to grow tulips with you and sink into a day that overlooks the sea and lasts forever in the sun. Sometimes I feel my heart slush around in there, wanting to break but a heart can’t break like a flat tire when it’s floating like a bird riding the swails up up up off of some coast. I want that first kiss energy again soaring to my breakwaters and fluttering down to a beach towel and the smell of sunscreen. Someone said you must choose to live each moment eternally and I choose, yes, all of the moments and all of their endings, all of time and space and the furniture we lay around on complaining we’re bored because I don’t want to be bored with anyone but you.
Resurrection of the Dead / Pamela Wax
There was thunder long before dawn in P’town
where I’d gone to cross the Breakwater
on the fourth anniversary—something brave
to do in his memory and as if he could walk
with me. But the yahrzeit candle, designed
to burn from one dusk to the next, sputtered
towards an early death that morning,
despite plenty of wax in the jar. Don’t leave,
I whispered, before heading out for my walk.
The flame complied, still burned after the sun
spread her purples and blues over Herring Cove.
The weight of my prayer conspired with memories
of his dancing—and kept us both brave
and light-footed in the face of my terror.
Day 27 / Poem 27
Waiting For Spring / Joanne Fay Brown
for snowmelt, a kinder lengthening
light, honeysuckle splash
on the tongue
white rice paper high desert current
black bear, ravenous
rummages my backyard
a million species
in danger, my body, the cancer
like a sniper’s bullet at ten
o’clock — right breast
scarecrow’s long shadow
then this —
friends water my roots —
beneath black earth and withered violet vines
a shimmering honeyed fruit
I tell you
I didn’t foresee it
The Way of the Cross / John Burroughs
John’s birthday fell
on the edge of tears.
He opened his mouth
and down she rushed.
Something irrevocable had occurred.
The marks of Satan,
drugged and morbid,
She would have to climb back up.
In wild uneasiness
he attacked the mirror
The Farewell / Regina DiPerna
To die is one of the body’s many cruelties.
Also: to ache, to fall, to yearn. The body will
always fulfill its allegiance to the collective beast;
it will always go back to the stars,
the pistol mouth from which it exploded.
To crave warmth is a kind of nostalgia
for the beginning, the womb, the campfire
embers of fluid and flesh, safety incarnate,
embraced animal to frightened animal.
It’s the first cold morning of the year.
The palm tree out front is stock still
save for one stalk slowly undulating
in an invisible breeze like a hand
waving out a car window
First Day / Thomas Locicero
Even as a small child with colorful toys,
I was more intent on watching what was
occurring underneath my eyelids. There, I was
granted a signet ring and appointed a smith
over bleeding images, and I sword-fought mirrors,
their sharp shards shaped like sunlit sickles,
and I tramped the yellow brick road conveniently
built but a universe beyond the yellow wood, and
there I slew dragons with a wet toothpick and a
magnifying glass. The rurality invited concrete
into its womb, and I was the gargoyle poised to
supplant the scarecrow. The earth was downsizing.
The atmosphere still produced dreams without
explanation, the dreamer a rider, a watcher, a
witness. I somersaulted within a sault inside a ball
your love or pride willed me to catch. You handed me
a bat and it flew away; later, I found it sleeping upside
down in my cave, the smell of ammonia causing
monsters to slide out from underneath my bed.
Then you sent me away and they confiscated
my Yevtushenko and my Neruda and mandated
I read primers. And everyone looked the same.
Terracotta Sky / Courtney Ludwick
Above paper houses
put together without glue
apart from the baked earth
scorching like my thighs
phone vibrates them and it’s not you wish it was
makes me question
if we see the same sun or
if your clouds look different right now
at seven o’clock sharp okay maybe a little past you caught me
is your lazy afternoon more yellow
maybe more blue maybe more like mine maybe more like me
remember when we said we’d go hiking and never did?
those were the days I’m being sarcastic let’s not romanticize let’s not pretend
another text not you again it’s my sister oh yeah she’s doing great did you know
I’m in a new place and I like it here
I really think I could like it here when the people all smile all these houses so flimsy and
do you think rain clouds get drunk because
I might be on the brink of storm might be
tipsy now okay fine maybe it’s not even five yet let’s pretend though like we used to text me when you get home wow it’s a sunny day text me so I know you’re safe I’ll stay up until you fall asleep don’t forget to look at the sunset later
Blood Lineage Questions #6 / Kalliopy Paleos
Who was he? My father’s father
leaning over the snack counter
at Nunley’s Carousel
a pointed white
soda jerk hat
on his eternal Greek head
yelling at two
of his grown sons
about making French fries
losing the tips
of one set of fingers
at the meat slicer.
Then fading into white
like a movie
that last time I saw him
but it was only into the
bright Grecian light
beating down on the freshly poured
cement sidewalk of Odos Kordiktonos.
Still, that winter the call came
through the white telephone
on the turquoise wall
in New York
that he was dead.
Everyone knows the rest
and I haven’t asked
knowing the faces
will whirl into walls
covered with wet paint
All that is left
for me to decipher
are the cracked drips
of brown glue
slapped on carelessly
long dead but still oozing
gripping the plastic hooks
to the back of the bathroom door,
and cabinets clacking against each other
– one can’t open until the other closes.
Broken brown tiles
empty below their cracks
and the coarsely
virgin mother in a frame
filthy paper backing
ripped out long ago
hole in the shape
of bundled dollars
The small house
of the man whose face
I cannot make out
even in the clearest of pictures
well preserved in plastic sleeves,
the one who more than once
had taken the money
Cento / Claudia Reder
her silence the emptiness my questions.
I grieve for the turquoise peaks.
Some say ghosts whisper.
across the synapses of colliding minutes
I look in a mirror still searching.
The past a safe for keeping things.
A bright red canvas parades behind my eyelids.
Another neighborhood to explore.
- Joanne Brown
- Regina DiPerna
- Thomas Locicero
- Kalliopy Paleos
- Courtney Ludwick
- Matt Sadler
- Pamela Wax
- John Burroughs
On Gilbert Lake / Matt Sadler
The water here
is paper and glass,
a close wood
electrical storm an
the smoke, bee
balm poking out
around the edges.
I could love you
in a different life.
I already do from
a distance, like
lavender in a far
wispy smoke, like
the coals of a fire
still warm, burning
into thin cities.
1HLY 48 / Pamela Wax
I remember those car rides to the Jersey shore each summer,
the bungalow in which we’d bunk for a week. My mother
got no real vacation, still prepared breakfast and lunch
while my dad fished his way from worries left behind
on his store’s shelves. Except for Sunday brunch—
a green renovated Victorian, its spacious porch
where we’d sit at a round table for five and eat M&M
pancakes, the primary and secondary colors leeching
on our tongues and lips. I remember paddling out to await
a big one, riding a breaker to shore, or getting caught
in the undertow, surprised and thrilled to still be alive
when I emerged coughing and triumphant, my lips blue
with cold. I remember the license plate game we played
to divert ourselves from sadness on the way home
on the Garden State, tuned to our mother’s growing
despair and the boredom of sameness that awaited us,
calling out CARPET or CAPTAIN when we saw CPT,
so proud of a word like MAGNIFICENT if it were MGI.
Today, on a July beach kind of day, though I live near
mountains, the car in front of me brought those summer
car rides to mind, and Holy, holy, holy—not hourly, nor
hilly, nor honestly—dripped from my lips spontaneously,
the whole world full of glory, confident that even
those numbers must hold a mystery I can’t yet break.
Day 26 / Poem 26
Sonnet 1: Angling / Joanne Fay Brown
We found ourselves in strange territory,
Sixteen wounded women learning to fish,
It was time, we knew, to change our stories,
Surrender to truth beyond a mere wish;
Even with cancer we loosened fear’s grip,
Opened ourselves to our losses, to love,
Nursed tenderness beyond the trembling lip,
Cherished small things and the big sky above;
However we longed for our old lives back,
We learned to let the trust within us grow;
We fished, we honed until we got the knack;
Now forever changed, we let the fish go;
With love as the balm we can face our death,
Without grief we couldn’t know love’s full breadth.
All Turned Aside / John Burroughs
John felt dusty and weary,
every movement torture.
He struggled to awaken,
thought of the joyless,
left the axe buried.
She did not flinch,
looked up with a faint smile,
had apparently taken his measure
like a flaming standard
in a terrible state.
A kind of bitter nourishment
was not what he wanted.
He decided to let it all be forgotten.
Cento (Salvation) / Regina DiPerna
Each night we see different stars.
The tiniest white and yellow buds spark their charm among rocks.
A bright red canvas parades behind my eyelids.
Spoken words looted, the book that opened
back to front, the strange words—
the world is working out its own salvation.
The red might have been the sleek handle of an ax
laughing when our spit won’t wash it off.
For Aunt Yolanda / Thomas Locicero
Mary Oliver once wrote, “Poetry
Was meant to be heard.” But I must disagree.
I was a child when my aunt asked me to read
Her my poetry. Too young to understand
But polite enough to obey, I obliged
Her. From her, I learned how to read in public,
Glancing at my page, then at my audience.
I was in awe of how she read my lips.
I would exaggerate the mouthing of my
Words, thinking it would help her understand,
But she would encourage me to read them
As they were intended to be read. I was
Nine. What did I know about my intention?
Her eyes were open in the pensive way
People listening to poetry close theirs.
She was in my world then. I read and she cried,
Then she told me my poem was beautiful—
Not only the words, she said, but the sound.
Poetry is meant to be experienced.
Goodbye / Courtney Ludwick
If the berries are not yet ripe
then why do you bite into their green flesh? If the candy is too sweet
then why still swallow all that sugar down? If the water boils too warm
why not drop ice cubes into your cup? And when your skin turns cold
why refuse to take my blanket? If you know
the answer to a question
why say you don’t? If you wish to say hello, tell me
why you say goodbye, so long, see you
in another life, see you later, instead.
Fetching the Water / Kalliopy Paleos
—Greek Reporter, July 25, 2022
I was bringing the jug of water back from the fountain but it fell from my head and crashed on the dry ground at my feet and in the puddle of smoothened dirt I saw something like a face, and I wondered how strange to see a face looking up at me not from a tomb yet with the same cry in its eyes and in the clench of its lips – the surprise of death – so that looking down at it I cried out also because we knew each other, me and this face that was parched earth before the clay handle slipped from my hand. And my hand was laughing as though it had planned it all, and all the while everyone gathered around pestering me because it was stupid of me to have spilled the water and stupid of me to have whelped like a whore. And the face was quickly drying in the merciless light yet all around the horizon a dark edge was coming to ease my throat and the skin on my flesh. Because the crowd was subsiding, muttering that I ought not be let out of the house if I were going to carry myself so shamefully, and the easeful skirt of darkness was billowing up all around us and I let the dark come to soothe my every vein and nerve. I will be slapped hard when I get back home, so late and carrying only shards. But they will not know why I from this night and forever onward I am always so serene and merry. I shall marry well and have everything I want. For I have understood everything now, threading at my leisure through these same stone streets like a tiny black cat.
Each day she would smile and say this is the best day of her life—
and it was. She was still here breathing in star jasmine,
while the salt wind of ocean knocked her hat sideways.
Now Yo Yo Ma plays the cello, sitting
on a folding chair with a music stand
in the woods. He listens, birds song
around him, their tonal qualities
appear in his chords as he plays, listening for pitch,
making sure his cello doesn’t overtake the
notes the birds offer, melodies caught in the branches
and delivered through the limelight of the woods.
Why does she love autumn, this chill in the air
knowing that winter, that fallowness is next?
She loves the scents of fireplaces, large bristle pine cone
on the coffee table in the red dish, sweaters and shawls
coming out of hiding, wearing socks to sleep,
socks, the rustic colors of leaves.
In Ojai she had a maple tree
by which she understood the changing of seasons-
but now by the ocean, the changes are subtler,
light stands out. and dimming sunsets.
and layering sky, and the horizon line
disappearing and reappearing in fog.
and an occasional dolphin in early dawn.
the constant churning in her ears
through which all other sounds filter-
the gull cry, the drone a child flies,
the father laughing as his glasses
fall out of his pocket
when he bends down to the stroller.
Charged by their voltage of laughter,
for a moment she forgot that grief is perennial,
that it blooms each summer in sea lavender,
fuchsia, in her tanager geraniums.
Some days she sees color everywhere,
even spotting a red cardinal
which may or may not have landed
on that tree at the edge of the lawn.
Even in California she senses a need
for red, a glimpse of a naturally changing world
readying for winter through bright gold
and burnished oranges.
She used to think that color lit up the center of the wood.
Now she admires the slow changes, a brief brightness.
In Ojai, the spaces between her
and the chaparral opened
until a vastness found her.
She could cross a field and feel
the silences, those invisible tracks
of air that lift her into the trees,
sunlight dangling on her shoulders.
Good Harbor / Matt Sadler
And then at Bohemia beach
there were quarter green frogs
tossed in the shoreline wash and
waves crashing, diving into the surf
at our feet, and piles of desiccated
smelt in a straight line down the shore.
Even the dunes alight with grass
hoopers so much like smaller frogs
you’d swear they were related, the grasses
swaying in kicked up wind gusts.
Here we wanted calm to swim the lake
and we got flights and landings,
the mass and swell of forces and
the animals, including us, reacting.
I think I expected god but got the
goddesses, wiry, jumpy, busy, free
the whole beach a celebration
of this wildness this life.
Chad Gadya / Pamela Wax
—Teiku: a Hebrew acronym meaning “In the time of Elijah all problems will be solved”
Tell me again, would you,
about the baby goat—just
the one, a chad gadya—
our father bought for two
zuzim, in the language
of negotiation, the lingua
franca, not the holy tongue
of our people. Tell me
about the kalba that bit
the cat, the nura that burned
the stick, and that Malach
ha-Mavet, the Angel
of Destruction, who passed
over our blood-streaked houses,
how he’ll be finished off
in the end near some paradise
called Jerusalem, a city
of peace you can’t find on any
map, because it’s a figment
of a city smelling of myrrh
and frankincense, where
the streets explode with wedding
songs of mirth and every birth
might be messianic. Each spring
we sing that cumulative song
at our tables, building
on itself from Daddy
to a goat, cats and dogs,
to fire and slaughter
of an ox, all the way
itself a figment, vanquished—
a tragicomedy of accrued
errors and fixes, the refrain
about the bargain price
for a baby goat, all alone
and unprotected, ending
where all four cups are blessed,
all four kids are safe, and none
go to bed starving, where
all questions deserve solutions,
and we say, Teiku, next year
miracles will come back
into fashion. Next year.
Day 25 / Poem 25
Baruch / Joanne Fay Brown
There was no sabbath for my mother and father, all their days devoted to bring power to the people. No balm in Gilead. Marxism healed their wounded souls.
In summer over a communal breakfast at Unity House they argued for workers’ rights, while I bent to the edge of the community pool, dipped my fingers, stroked the polliwogs skating there — all globes, eyes, tails — and waited for the metamorphosis. In early evening while they discussed strike strategies, I sat rapt on sun-warm grass thrilling to the fireflies’ light magic.
On Sundays they whisked me to the Ethical Culture Society. Gazing out a back-seat window, I saw rows of dilapidated houses, women scrubbing marble steps — Baltimore’s pride — no trees, steel-gray clouds.
I preferred my friends’ bar- and bat-mitzvahs and the Days of Awe. To say I was besotted with the sound of the shofar sounds silly, but I was, and also the book that opened back to front, the strange words whose meaning I thought I knew. On Friday nights I begged to go to Joanie’s, because Ruth, her mom, nodded to my good grades at school, and let me light the Sabbath candles. Then there was the singing. First the prayers — ancient sighs of adoration — Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu Melech Ha’olam — Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe — doesn’t every child need to hear blessed are you? And after the prayers, the Bim Bam song.
Ignorance Is Bliss? / John Burroughs
Hot flash medicine poet
streams pious kindness
from his patient breath
and perfunctory eyes
says the world is working
out its own salvation
with fear and trembling
but not to be alarmed
because all things work
together for the good.
Guilty Pleasures / Regina DiPerna
I scroll through JustJared.com
instead of writing poetry.
I take my coffee with
heavy cream—the silky viscosity
is a kind of celebration,
a luscious fuck you
I’ve browsed thousands
of bridal hairstyle photos online
and it’s better than any book
I’ve ever read. The tension
of a face-framing tendril,
the quiet curve of a chignon,
elegant and deadly
as a boa constrictor.
I fell asleep next to you
watching reruns of our favorite show.
The guiltiest pleasure of all
is happiness. Like I’m trespassing
on private property and it’s vast
and beautiful and my lungs
are full of strange, sweet air
and the warden could discover us
at any moment and throw us back
into the void
but we’re holding hands
so it would be okay.
I put six pieces of cheese
on the egg sandwiches
I make us for breakfast.
It helps the bread hold onto the egg
like a delicious secret, darling.
Looting / Thomas Locicero
I remember when people spoke freely.
So freely, in fact, that they spoke about
Freedom of speech. This is after Lenny
Bruce swore and Allen Ginsberg howled.
Now each word spoken is filtered through
The listeners’ ideologies, and if they don’t
Agree with the words, they censor the speaker,
Protesting the right to speak freely, the very
Opposite of what was done when one could
Not swear in public without the threat of
Arrest. In that respect and others, it feels
Like the last days, if not of the world, then of
The peace to live in it. When it looks like the
End of the world, the lowest of people loot,
Their bounty TV’s and beer. How proud
Their children must be! But the true end of,
If not the world but our world, is when we
Steal another’s voice. Spoken words looted!
Are thoughts next? If a device has not already
Been invented to read our minds, it will be,
And when it is, proclaimed lovers of peace
Will beat each other’s brains in—there will be no
Incentive to hide their true selves—and then loot.
The next day, they will correct their children for
Repeating what the man on their new TV said,
And, if it continues, they will hit “mute.”
Smiley Face / Courtney Ludwick
Like the one I draw on your big toe
in red permanent ink
as we sit at opposite ends of the bed
as we share your yellow blanket
as you write on your computer
as I make the lines too neat
laughing when our spit won’t wash it off
even after I leave
and darken the sidewalk outside your also-yellow house.
Interrogation / Kalliopy Paleos
We have come again
to the burning summer
scorching past any hope of
I pretend to forgive my father’s stories
as if I had a heart to do it with
but I know because I’ve searched
I was born without one
You see, I also know
my father’s stories
were told under duress
during the interrogation
for this I am supposed
to have mercy
their burning red capes
swaying along their shoulders
with their forked tongues
sitting on his lap
digging their sharp
into his thighs
the bulging leather
of his wallet
Or it might have been
some other leather
Or the red might have been
the sleek handle
of an ax
The old man who left
the wood unchopped
trudging away from the settlement
sliding into his seat
at the diner booth
plunging his frisky gaze
cross the table
into the bleached hair
wound in rollers
oh-so naked without
The interrogation my father
like many others
lots of money involved
lots of flesh in the game
Pesky red bikinis
at his balls
as he tries to answer
– No, I have no children
– No, she wasn’t my wife
for that long
And the pretty demons
burning in the summer light
g-strings stuffed with
and pretty watches
so that the lovely dolls
can count the seconds it takes
for him to answer as they
keep asking their questions
even of the dead
– for he is dead –
But I am not –
and every summer
my insides are bleached white
my livid guts lain open
for the clouds to read
but the clouds are busy
reading the notes
of other complicated cases
We are only one
of a long series of crimes
yet mercy I have none to give
heart revoked by something
very different from
whatever stupid answer love
might have been
The red verdict
stamped by a long
You May Not Enter
Crone / Claudia Reder
Early morning she sat on the living room couch
and watched the shadow play of birds through the rice paper shade.
(She had always hoped for a goldfinch
at the bird feeder, and ended up with sparrows).
Flinging seed, arguing over a branch,
The continual battling in song.
Afternoons, time to walk.The tiniest white
and yellow buds sparked their charm
among rocks. It felt like spring, the subtle
and not so subtle hues amid the dunes,
brown, beige, tawny,
as the sand dampened and dried.
By late afternoon, she was giddy for evening,
dark smoothing out her ribcage.
Evening’s easy shadows hung
over the outdoor chairs and rusted table.
At night, to the roar of the ocean,
she could feel her arms elongate,
lengthen and drop into the sea
to scoop from the ocean floor
words, webbed memories.
Now she could just be.
She sang her daughter’s name.
If the letters were reversed
or mixed up, she could be
the name of a flower not yet discovered,
or a flower that was disputed to be a vegetable,
or a plant that had mutated into a burning bush.
The letters would form a song.
She would sing her daughter’s
new name and each time
the name could occur
for an instant like skywriting, or a nebula.
is like a musical instrument, but without sound.
She saw her thoughts as marbles going
around their track, but like a musical score
nuances of emotion would appear,
then a crescendoing then a diminuendo.
Even the wind became part of her thoughts,
even the bramble on which she snagged her sweater,
the wool unraveling from the knitted hem.
Her thoughts ran up and down like practicing scales.
She repeated the thoughts until they sang in her,
until the rhythm of them came clear
and she spoke them aloud, only
it didn’t feel like her speaking/
The thoughts themselves required
in the saying in the world.
They wanted to be heard in the wind,
in the rustling brush of leaves,
in the loosened yarn she wound
around her finger.
Memories like water tumbled, curved,
formed new channels, and gently collided
with each other until they became like new Rorschachs
reshaping themselves as different memories arose:
those that channeled grief,
those that formed new aero paths for migrating birds;
those that led her into waking dreams
where she could visit with past friends.
These memories were a gift, revealing
what had brought her to this moment,
the ups and downs, the fevered charts
of vertigo, the titanium hips,
and the healing that continued
to move her from nostalgia into the now
rewording the dance of movement
that had come so easily when she was young
Now moving is full of challenges.
Everything divided into steps
like the raking of leaves:
stretch, look up
to stretch out your neck,
your back, before you
lean over towards the earth.
Take hold, a dance teacher had said
on meeting her years ago,
her blue eyes solidly peering into mine.
She had left the receiving
line wondering what the teacher had sensed,
Take hold, she thought to herself over the years
and the dancer inside her moved differently.
Late Prayer / Matt Sadler
Night fall triggers last
calls from tree to tree
and the bee balm slips into
anonymity from crimson
king. It’s easy to tie knots
that unwind in darkness.
Let sympathy blanket
this night of ours, for
every version of the after
has other versions, and
each night we see different
Tenacity / Pamela Wax
She clung to the porcelain
by hydraulic force, resisted
the rush from the faucet.
Each time I turned it off,
convinced she was well
on her way to wastewater
treatment, a leg, then three,
then all eight, re-appeared
through the drain, no worse
for wear. After the fourth
try, I conceded the match,
my arrant cruelty smelling
like runoff, putrid and fecal.
Day 24 / Poem 24
the strainer / Joanne Fay Brown
you stood at the counter rolling beef
in cabbage leaves your back to me
I could not find you then
I touched your hand the gold filigree
on your fourth finger
when you lay lifeless, three a.m.,
slipped it off carried it and the yellow roses
through the revolving door.
they called you Roz I called you mom
I look at my face so like yours
I could not find you then
you at the counter your window-sill plants
spilling into each other’s pots
like a collective of socialists
your opinions on everything
political not personal
I fumble your kitchen drawer
find rubber bands clipped coupons
a 1940 blue leather diary
June through November missing
your tea strainer mesh cup, roses
painted on metal tarnished now.
once, I arrived at the Miami airport
in a fluorescent faceless crowd
“Jo,” you called pulling me to you
your softness like egret down your lilac scent
Surf Smart / John Burroughs
The internet is full of side streets,
wide streets, narrow roads and
rabbit holes with no discernable end.
Another neighborhood to explore,
a place to avoid or perform
your chosen chores du jour.
The internet is a lost world,
boss world, debonair pasta-haired
Bob Ross world and also work.
It’s a place to twerk, jerk, listen
to Björk, go berserk, stalk Captain
James T. Kirk or simply blend in.
It’s flush with the latest trends,
commendable aims, poker games
and wave upon wave of information,
misinformation, disinformation, folks
seeking elation, illumination and if navigated
carefully it can be a swim in the park.
But look out for the sharks.
The Etymology / Regina DiPerna
I grieve for the turquoise peaks
of unnamed oceans, saltwater
fathoms filtered through
the hair of mermaids—
mer from the French sea
married with maid,
an unmarried woman, woman:
the ancient word for wife.
These concentric circles
beneath the glistening surface
of terra firma. The difference
between land and sea
Glitter packed in rock
like gunpowder is called geode,
to halve one open is to bisect.
Hidden inside is crystal, glimmer, sparkle;
the dropped e falls to its knees in wonder.
My name is Latin for queen; to reign
was to tie a string from earth
to heaven. I grieve for the uncrowned
instrument. My body ends
at my skin’s meniscus, the hollow
of my twice-broken collarbone
is a no-man’s-land, colloquial for
unclaimed terrain; a half moon
in a dip of flesh is actually a quarter
when you factor in the dark—
there’s an unsigned side
to every celestial body, a photo negative,
obverse and inverse,
I grieve for what is unspoken,
tremulous oceans on quiet tongues,
schools of fish swimming
in mysterious shapes,
the ethereal antonym
A Poem About Nothing / Thomas Locicero
From a time
there was “nothing,”
not even time,
made something of
though there was
for words to make
and then not nothing;
now there can never be
no more nothing.
Then there was grammar.
then no more nothing,
then a poem
A Searching / Courtney Ludwick
When I was four
held a statue
about my height
a girl sitting on a bench
frozen in stone
with eyes made of glass.
Evenings after dinner
before the changed sky
June bugs licked my ankles
or maybe I imagine their scratching
my palm the size of her palm
my brown eyes seemed to turn then.
I remember the frown
refusing to go
when I asked my parents
who turned this girl
But as parents do
shaking their heads
never gave a straight answer
she has always been stone
but what if she has not
had only knowing smirks
only now I suspect
they knew nothing at all.
and I don’t know if I mourn her
or her bench
or if her eyes were really blue
when my parents claim
I look in a mirror
How Can I Clean This House? / Kalliopy Paleos
cartridges of memory
huddled to the floor
know more than I do.
Through the plastic broom
I ask them tell me – tell me
every – thing that happ – ened.
I hear long talons
clicking through dust
with paper money,
coins and land deeds
with smacks falling hard along
a confused face.
But the roaches only tap signals:
dish – es, dish – es, dish – es
do the – do the – dish – es
dir – ty, dir – ty, dir – ty girl.
And so I was trying to tell the dishes
I am not an orphan
though no one tells me anything
that they were married
her sparkling eyes ready and excited
his not filthy yet, but aware all the same
his interrogation would be coming
any day now.
The dishes and cutlery
through my hands
into the water, whispering
swi – shy sheets
swi – shing in the dust
and swi – shing in the wind . . .
I was telling the pots and pans
about the nights
asleep on the boats
how they had told me I could
come back here and stay sometimes
but they laughed in the lather
We will, we will, we will,
on – ly love – you
if you fold the sheets.
When I get to the sheets
I am ready to lie down in
all that has been lain out
for me to wallow in
the banging shouts
and crashing cries
for mercy –
and for mercy’s sake I do not know
if this house will ever be clean.
The shadows in the closets
look out from under their hats
oh no, oh no, oh no
you do not, you do not, you do not
Crone / Claudia Reder
Crone forgot something but couldn’t
remember what. She stood on one leg,
the other tucked under like a flamingo.
Her arms above her head, palms touching.
Every so often her hip or thigh would flex
to help her balance.
Trust was such a part of healing.
Her movement teacher had said,
If you fall I’ll catch you.
And she had believed
no matter where she had stood
in the studio: on the floor, on the mat,
or leaning to one side,
her teacher would catch her.
She was still here
like a baby owlet in front of the barn door
having fallen off its rooftop perch.
Sleeping with the Gods/Sleeping with the Fishes / Matt Sadler
He trades vainglory for
cumulus clouds booming
into mountains on the
horizon. So easy to trick,
the human turns mist into
badly drawn turtles and says
the sky is meaningful.
Gazing up, he avoids seeing
the guns trained on him
On rooftops we feel closer
to whatever’s up there.
The soft folds of memory
The distance between you
and the beholden is the reach
of a single Yellowjacket
who’s leap to flight brings him
no closer to the wax candle
lighting the scripture.
To stand in a river only
to wish for another river
is the real miracle of us.
Glooskap slung an arrow
into an ash tree and the people
all fell out because he
felt lonely. The people then
looked up at him
wondering what they were
supposed to do.
Luca Brazzi fell off a bridge
into the Hudson in the movies
and Jimmy Hoffa breathed cement
into his lungs in our world.
Some people think being remembered,
regardless of the verbs used,
is a kind of salvation.
Others gaze down at us
from the mystery, wondering
what it is we’re up to.
Here in the physical realm, we
worry. In the garden here yet be
snapdragons, blackcurrant, and peas
forbidden only to the deer
that would mow them down
by thin wire fencing. I’ll
be out there, minding the little
toads that take shade under the big
squash leaves, that try to scurry
away when things come to light.
Free Admission / Pamela Wax
Why should I shlep to the Guggenheim
to see Kandinsky. I just close my eyes
on a full sun day, the kind of day
when any smart person would wear
sunscreen and sunglasses when facing
Sun’s brilliance straight on. A bright
red canvas parades behind my eyelids,
splashed by kaleidoscopic shards,
phosphenes blue and green, flashes
of yellow, electrically charged.
Inside, I scour my art books,
then the Internet, for the painting I saw,
sure Kandinsky had perched outside
on a full sun day, hallucinating
on the easel behind his eyes
this future masterpiece, the same
one I hallucinated, the one he never
made, the one he left for me to paint.
Day 23 / Poem 23
Overcome / Joanne Fay Brown
“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Not the Red Scare that made my family into “others,”
nor my grief —
the millions dead in Vietnam,
fire hoses and attack dogs set
on peaceful protesters,
John, Bobby, Martin assassinated,
even my own teenage disaffection,
mass shootings, a country divided,
an ever-present pandemic,
a spread of border walls —
no continent spared.
Remember — even in those dark ages
and in ours,
we are kind, we make love,
march, write poetry, sing,
the rain comes after the thunder
and in spring, butterflies float, like white rice paper
on high desert currents.
Whirl Alot / John Burroughs
The world is turning, burning
and I’d like to say yearning.
But how can we know if or how?
It’s easy to ascribe human feeling
to other entities while merely
revealing parts of our identities.
But what if the world really feels?
Would it while away its time and debt
playing online roulette for a Panamanian
company whose studio is in Latvia?
Would it pine for a girl it knew back
in high school named Karen Latvala?
Would it watch reruns of Taxi with a
distinct preference for the episodes
that feature Andy Kaufman as Latka?
The world is spinning, winning
and I’d like to say grinning because
no matter how poorly the fleecing fleas
on it behave it knows time is short
and the sun is still a yellow dwarf
and nothing is permanent and love
is a saving grace and it can’t help
but love its disorderly boarders
because it can taste the ocean.
The Aubade, Fractured / Regina DiPerna
Dark is on
the other side
of the penumbra
its wounds closed,
Tired air inhales
gold light, damp
blues and orchids,
down a throat.
Flecks of sun
fall like sugar
shaken loose from
a paper sleeve
into coffee cup,
mouth, gut, stardust.
A silk slip rustles
on a clothesline
like a silent alarm.
is a jasmine bloom,
a body transmuted
from flesh into
filter, a screen
lit with mother,
father, lilac tree
on fire, static,
pothole worn deep
in the driveway,
what carries blood
across the oceans
the body to the same
Light is a blown-through
conch shell, a lung
alive with air.
Light is crushed waves
laced with seafoam,
Light is thinned veil,
glowing with dew,
what waits in the hollows,
the point in the morning
where you no longer
see your own shadow,
the world is vertical,
you can see straight down.
Love for the Sake of Love / Thomas Locicero
I strayed from love to misery
And never will again.
The sash it wore was trickery;
Its scarf was damp with rain.
It beckoned like a baited snare,
Descended like a net.
Those that defend it with a swear
Admit they are beset.
It is a fine elixir, love,
Flaunt sundry citizen,
The potion a prerogative
Hawked as a medicine.
For children, it has value; true
For those who touch death’s door.
I’m, by and bye and through and through,
Immune to its allure.
No poet can persuade or prove,
No siren with her song
Can scarce convince me of true love,
Though I’d love to be wrong.
So on that day that matters most,
My son will see me smile
As I read Wilbur’s “Wedding Toast”
And beam above the aisle.
Winter Break / Courtney Ludwick
Dashboard blinks blue when the car needs gasoline.
The next corner station is just off the ‘way
and your hands smell like diesel and chocolate after.
We talk but only about what’s already been said.
Place is smaller than I remember. But the beer
is where it’s always been, and your bookmark
hasn’t moved. We crash even though the clock says eight.
You never did wind it back—daylight savings, y’ know?
After we sleep together, we sleep together. I forget
the bed is a twin, but we make it work, we laugh and
make earl grey while the moon’s yellow side is still out.
The clouds are black. Your back could be
a stranger’s. I forget how close your place is to the airport.
Looking out the broken blinds, I cross and uncross
my fingers, praying to god knows what. Nothing
is new here, even though I feel like I am.
You notice and ask me what’s wrong. I ask you:
can planes fly when nothing holds up the dark?
We laugh because neither of us knows how to answer.
We don’t know much but we know this.
Greek Coffee / Kalliopy Paleos
take the first
Black Fly Season / Claudia Reder
June, the gnats and black flies
biting my cheek, the horror
of gnats in my thick hair;
prickly things in the heat.
We hiked single file to cross an Adirondack
log towards a waterfall;
the blue-green of air and conifer;
black spruce, white pine,
Afterwards at the bagel place
ordered several of each, sesame,
fed our bellies cream cheese,
The next summer
we packed our bags,
hauled them to the car
but in the front hall
I stalled. I couldn’t pretend
to be well, stumbling
after months of vertigo.
I wanted to say,
Pardon me, this shame
I bring requests my company. Shame
like a sheaf wraps its sash
of prominence around my body.
Fatigue forced me back to bed,
my arm nestled around
my hairless cat whose loud
purr hummed against my heart.
Yet, somehow in my mind
I am still there with you
laughing and pining for bagels,
for the pines on that domed mountain,
for that deer eyeing us in the
here of early morning.
These Days / Matt Sadler
I’ve been having this feeling these days
that I’m going to die soon not
by my own hand not
a remission but that the world is
just going to take me that
my system is just gonna stop
working and why shouldn’t it
stop my system lately has been just
vodka and love – both pure – so how is that
sustainable I feel like a hard shell
around soft goo like those
jelly gushers so full of sweetness like
those cough drops with
honey in the middle like those
Finnish chocolates Mary got me
full of – yes – vodka
waiting to amble sweetly down
Esophagus Avenue to quench my fiery
ulcers I can’t even think but that
I don’t deserve what I have
before it all washes over me again
wave upon wave of lucky days
and painless nights like I might
be wasting a precious resource like
we do with petroleum and forests
and skies and full moons to
pray to, pray to the East and the North
with cedar and sweetgrass and good booze
pray to the South and the West
with my mother and my children pray
that it stays this good.
Today, when I should do nothing / Pamela Wax
Today, when I should do nothing because it’s the Sabbath
and God commands me to neither create nor destroy,
I saved four bees. Granted, one plopped right back
into the pool—didn’t want deliverance. Maybe
I can’t blame her, the kind of world she’d be leaving
her brood. Another died a slow death on the deck,
too waterlogged to fly, though I blew on her, hoping
she’d take wing. Technically, maybe I saved only two,
if you’re feeling stringent. Even so, to save a life
is to save the world, the Sages said. Who cares if they
didn’t grieve the splendid poison frog, the Sunda tiger,
the spined dwarf mantis and only counted humans. We
know life is life. I want mine to count for something.
Let me think I’ve saved a world or two.
Day 22 / Poem 22
On Day 24 / Joanne Fay Brown
— National Geographic, Thursday, July 21, 2022
but this poem is about spotted towhees —
every day I watched
for 24 days
first the eggs — four in a nest
five inches across
assembled in a flowerpot
shaded by a mock orange.
Ten days later
four primordial sacs
rising and falling slightly
with the breath,
and hours later misty tufts of feathers.
Each day they looked less like miniature dinosaurs
and more like what they were —
each day their fine-edged beaks
and mouths revealing deep orange throats,
perpetually open to receive.
So many times I’ve resisted change —
the shattering losses, the body’s wear and tear,
that sense of groundlessness, but see
how the towhees do it —
on Day 24, they are gone
into the sun-baked thickets,
a world fraught
with so much danger
I just wanted to protect them.
Prophecies of Disaster / John Burroughs
The evilest of men conjure
a lizard on my kitchen counter.
Birds chatter in the skeletons
close to the stink of sulfur.
I am inside this painting,
the vomit spreading slowly across the floor,
inclined to save the damned
because they’re scared of the dark.
I can’t even pretend the future is knowable.
- “The Abortion Counselor Recollects the Rampage, 1986, Anytown, USA” by Pamela Wax
- “In Each Realm” by Thomas Locicero
- “Unsayable” by Joanne Fay Brown
- “The Early Riser” by Regina DiPerna
- “Falling” by Courtney Ludwick
- “Meditation on Blue” by Claudia Reder
- “A New Room for the House on Long Island, 1972” by Kalliopy Paleos
- “It wasn’t a frog, but still, when I kissed” by Pamela Wax
- “Getting Ready for a Night Out Back in the Day” by Kalliopy Paleos
- “Girl, again” by Matt Sadler
The Erasure, Reversed / Regina DiPerna
We are looking for something.
The first-time smashing
of dead suns.
Heavy metals, volcanic.
We systematically hunt
A teaspoon weighs
four billion tons.
Crack one open
to see what is inside—
a dozen different
patch of sky crushes
the atoms that once made it
Earth, the speck of light
that wasn’t there,
must be done.
Time—it’s a big task.
We search through
a hundred million stars
for one very luminous
Wavelengths, tell us
what lies out there
in the universe.
Cento / Thomas Locicero
I see an army of creative destroyers;
I should have whispered a tremolo of danger.
We need a remedy that will never be found,
but you’ve drunk holy long before you met
the panicked hand on a compass pointing.
We mourn pittance and gravity, the end
of a meal, the death of love.
I wish to remain a mask,
so I grasp grace and stutter goodbye.
- Joanne Fay Brown, “Re-member”
- Claudia Reder, “Song of the Unborn”
- John Burroughs, “State of the Disunion”
- Pamela Wax, “The Rabbi Explains Pre-Marital Map Exercise”
- Regina DiPerna, “The Thirty-Third Year”
- Matt Sadler, “When you jump in the lake”
- Courtney Ludwick, “Self-Portrait as Fun House”
- Kalliopy Paleos, “Embarkment”
Cruel Summer / Courtney Ludwick
Where the sun stays lit ‘til half past ten
Where the grass turns brittle
before it breaks
Where people walk slow with closed-lip smiles
as if opening them
might spill secrets
onto the dying ground
Where the concrete stays thirsty
Where the hot months are quick and fleeting and
remind me of grapes
pulled straight from the vine
for such a short while
Where hills lay flat
and trees grow thinnest
Where all cicadas stop mourning
the last seven silent years
Where your skin turns cold before December blinks
Where I stop listening
for the sweet threat of rain
Athens 1982 / Kalliopy Paleos
It was the summer our grandmother got sick. Very slowly that brilliant morning, we all heard the strange bleating, trembling through the air – once, and then again. Human, we realized. Our soft ears quivered, silver earrings tinkling in fear. We could do nothing but call home and cry that Yiayia Foula was sick. And so began the days of the hospitals and we had never smelled raw disinfectant blended with cigarette smoke before or seen plain metal beds with thin mattresses and white sheets with rips in them, had never heard those exact chords of mewling bedsprings, or clacking heels in abandoned corridors. Swish of vanishing nurses. For the first time, a man winked at me, patting a grey felt blanket in invitation, yellow eyes deep in his head, hair lousy with secretions, thin lips curled like the broken string of a violin. In each room, eight beds, some bearing their bulge of earthly disease, some of them empty and dead. Waiting. When the grownups came, Yiayia was moved two floors up, which meant there was a table by her bed. Day after night after day we survived on 7-Up, cookies, cheese pies – light, salty flakes of the crust strewn everywhere – and we were together, back then. Even when Big Foula got stung by a bee and no one would help her because we weren’t talking to each other anymore – together. And we prayed for Yiayia all day and all night in those smells and in those shadows, closing the shutters against the heat and opening them again in the cool evenings, and on one of the afternoons at a traffic light when we were getting tiropita on the corner an old man turned swiftly to Little Foula, murmured You are beautiful and spun away.
Happiness was Not a Thing / Claudia Reder
No one spoke of happiness
Not even when the flower beds
and the tiger lilies
waved their orange smiles
and the tulips lined up
like dogs at a competition
for the best breed, to see who could stand tallest.
Not even when you and your sister
applauded the sprinkler
shower in summers—tongues
touching like minnows.
Sometimes happiness would sneak in:
laughter at a funeral when the giggles
would’t stop just because
you looked up at her hat.
Giggles shared a joyous duet.
We were taken aback
when a bee flew into
and then flew out.
We roared, a triad of joy.
But happiness was not spoken of
growing up. We were asked,
Are you hungry? cold?
Do you need a sweater? a snack?
Beyond that, we had the nightly news
Out with the Old / Matt Sadler
I remember burning, gunswale
and holy ashes, the past
a safe for keeping things,
dried spider wort, my mind
less jaded, fire when it lapped
at the last log.
When you dragged the body
through that field, you wore
a blazing red dress. You don’t
even try to hide
in the past. I want
to watch the past with you
like a movie like a fern
unspooling into the now.
I want the rage of gods warming
us like a sun, too far
away to reach its tendrils down
to smite us.
Diminutives of Endearment / Pamela WaxA glaz of tea
for a stranger.
for a neighbor.
for your Bubbie.
For intimacy, you pay
in syllables and hot tea.
doggy or horsey
in English when he sees one
and may ask me to pass him
(in his glazele)
if I’m near enough to do so.
For endearment, you pay
in long e suffixes
and acts of lovingkindness.
Stingy in syllables,
young people speak
a pruned language
See you at intermish,
my niece texts from her seat
across the theatre, her auto-
correct no doubt confounded.
Her brother uses
Delish with relish,
and I still marvel at the teens
I hear say,
Day 21 / Poem 21
Unsayable / Joanne Fay Brown
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
This morning there was a lizard on my kitchen counter.
Small, brown, with a long tail, the kind I see on my high desert walks. I wondered why the lizard was there — surely not for the bowl of peaches, I thought. I didn’t want to call the lizard “it,” and after reading up, I learned that desert grassland whiptails are an all-female species, so I decided to call the lizard “she.”
I wondered if she felt alone and lost amidst the coffee grinder, blender, microwave, and me. I tried to scoop her into an empty strawberry box with a lid so I could carry her outside. She darted across the counter (I learned that whiptails can run 25 miles an hour), behind the napkin holder.
Was she afraid? What was she saying, if anything, from behind the napkins?
All I know is that we were in the kitchen together. I went out to do some errands and when I returned, she was on the kitchen floor. I gently urged her, with a soft broom, through many circuitous routes — along the top of the rocking chair, under the dishwasher, through the kitchen, laundry room, and garage — to the gravel and sunshine outside.
Aspiration / John Burroughs
John Burroughs sails spry
soul serenades, slings songshouts
skyward, sleeps seldom.
The Early Riser / Regina DiPerna
Again I rise out of darkness.
I put on my flannel robe.
I open the blinds, the front door.
I pour coffee into an infinite
coffee cup while outside
the sky waves its white flag.
I walk onto the lawn.
Birds chatter in the skeletons
of trees. I am careful
not to wake the dead
asleep in the flowerbeds
as I take over their shift.
In Each Realm / Thomas Locicero
Some say ghosts whisper; the attuned hear their screams.
In life, too few seem content.
In death, ambitions are as aloof as dreams.
In each realm, each soul is bent
To bring to light one thing that is as it seems.
Here, spines were erect, minds as proud as a grudge.
There, there is no place for pride.
In each realm, there’s a conspiracy to nudge
Off cliffs the legion inside
Swine that resign to beg mercy from their judge.
The evilest of men conjure the yellow road,
Trod the wider of the two.
They will confess the narrow was understood
To be the path of the few,
But they feel inclined to define what is good.
Is that not the error of the mortal?
We measure our faith in doubt
While considering too late death’s portal,
So some murmur and some shout
In each realm, overwhelmed to be immortal.
Falling / Courtney Ludwick
No. Rushing. Hello. This way water comes. Are you sad at the plastic bag floating
in the stream here, too? I was sitting on this bench, sticky with forgotten candy,
and smelling sunscreen, not mine, when I first noticed. Oh. You haven’t seen?
Would you like to? Just past all the rock, close to the stink of sulfur,
maybe not sulfur but I don’t know my chemicals—the stink of humans, at least
—and there it stays. Snagged? Hiding in plain sight, I thought it more smoke
but it was worse. Maybe not as bad as these buildings behind us, metal and tall
and taller past those, but almost. Is that a watch tower? Perhaps more like this railing, this bridge
cutting through land older than you and me might fathom. Sorry. Before I go crazy, will you
tell me what all those people are watching way up there? It’s funny because
just before you arrived, I was resting my palm on the metal grate,
letting it burn you see. Why? Because someone needs to pay. Don’t you think?
Oh. You don’t. Maybe best if we part ways soon, then. I rather like when
I know when to dislike people. No! I meant it as a good thing. Nice to meet you.
And wait. Before you leave,
do look over the other side of the bridge. No. Your other left. The water is nicer,
almost slowing there, almost stopping. I guess this is goodbye. Though you’re still looking
at the wrong side. Your left. Not quite.
A New Room for the House on Long Island, 1972 / Kalliopy Paleos
What were they building? And was that a smell of peach? It might be a scent of new grass. It might be the hard abs of the man lying in the tub with a washcloth where we shouldn’t look. His careless smile. Tell me about school today. It might be the thousand dollars they paid Vassalisa to marry the brother for the visa. His hair thick with Brylcream. Her rented gown. Maybe it was his quick hand at the dinner party – sparkling glasses, silver platters of fish – swatting her face the moment some words escaped her mouth. Was it the smell of spring dew with apple? And sawing and hammering and small men in dungarees raining with sweat cursing under the weight of the beams. It must have been a ballroom they were building. What was it that smelled so lovely? Like bread and oranges. Or it was perhaps the virgin bride. Glossy globe of a brown bouffant with bangs, wisps escaping the hairnet, silently pointing. Maybe the eyes were still bubbling with champagne. Maybe behind them she’d already deftly forced back the hollow gaze of new fear, like a polished shoe pinning with nonchalance a delicate neck to the floor. Might have been the vomit spreading slowly across the floor, the broken glasses on the front lawn, their decals of red roses and green leaves ripped up in shards. We’re to stay out of the way. It might have been the scent of limes that first whirled into our noses, teaching us the eternal perfume of newly hewn floorboards. How hard the floor shook that night, echoing unfinished through the backyard. One rule for the dance they had brought over with them was to keep their feet pounding till dawn. Must have been a ballroom, nothing else could be so very fine.
On seeing a vase, SF Asian Museum of Art / Claudia Reder
Where you come upon this vase
under its glass case
it becomes the eye
of the room, the center of quiet,
like the time an unforeseen waterfall
materialized, and you stood near it, then inside of it
and let yourself be drenched with surprise.
If my words could be fired inside a kiln,
they would become this asymmetrical vase
that secrets the life of this full figured woman.
Begin at its dark blue bottom,
then travel up the basil green coast
into the mint green of hills,
bold sun in mist,
to the pale blemish of pink at its small opening.
To inhabit this vase would mean to empty my house
of furniture and set it on a lit shelf.
It carries the weight
of scars that I fold
into poems and send
into sacred space
where poems live
Gawking in Awe at the Universe / Matt Sadler
Here I sit, listening to the steady thud
of a woodpecker working the pine, trying
to catch a glimpse. The air is so still here
I feel talking would be sin, and
it’s quiet enough to hear the sounds
underneath, the wing flutter, tires
against far pavement, the dog sniff
at the planter, hope in all the buzz.
When something takes wing I’ll find
a structure to put it inside, like everyone,
cleaving it from all this in an attempt
at elevation, no windows to open, no damage
to fear. I’ll trap it inside my heart. One less thing
to listen for.
The Abortion Counselor Recollects the Rampage, 1986, Anytown, USA / Pamela Wax
How the odor of betadine still lingers, though no woman
has mounted the stirrups for days, and the walls
are no longer sterile, how they vibrate with the knells of 18 rounds,
a forsaken phone, the vestigial memory of a pulse. A ricochet
of light and blare a week ago, a busy clinic Tuesday, mad ducking
under gurneys and desktops: the doctor—my friend—slumped
in the lab, steel tray of fetal remains mingled with his own. I’d
performed the intake, recorded the (false) date of the patient’s last
period, her (bogus) contact information, her (confabulated?) story
of domestic terror, financial distress—while her (imposter) spouse
sat armed in the waiting area. Afterwards, we shuttled patients bootied
and gowned, baby-blue, out the back door, where I heaved
onto a discarded neon-pink placard: Smile! Your mom chose life.
The sky over the parking lot whirred—helicopters. Bullhorns
cleared the area of newsmongers and Cassandras —
with their prophecies of disaster we could avert for only so long.
Day 20 / Poem 20
Complicated / Joanne Fay Brown
Three friends lost their fathers this week.
I held their hands, offered tissue, murmured
listened to their stories, marveled
at their uncomplicated grief. Their fathers
were competent men, who built things —
one built a TV empire, another custom wood cabinets,
the third planted a vineyard.
The women were proud of their fathers’ ingenuity,
shaken but stalwart when the men became vulnerable —
the mogul’s daughter held a sponge to her father’s parched lips,
the cabinet maker’s daughter changed her father’s bedclothes,
the vintner’s daughter worried her father would suffer
from the cancer, but he died mysteriously, found by the Fedex man.
When the time came, I visited the hospice where my father
lay unconscious, gaunt, fingers pointing eerily upward. I struggled.
He built a successful pest-control business in our basement,
McCarthy’s blacklist having worked its poison on him.
I am a man without a country — his rage
like an active volcano, smoldered, then burned.
There was a freedom when he died
and the rage was gone.
But sometimes I carry it for him.
Perhaps out of duty. Or perhaps from love.
A More Honest Gospel According to John / John Burroughs
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was often wittier than God
and the Word was called God
but was really just an inadequate translation
of the Greek word Logos.
The same was in the poem’s beginning
but was not really God. And by God
nothing was made.
In Logos was life and that life was the light
of humans and the light shined in darkness
and the darkness comprehended it not
particularly when it took the form of poetry.
There was a man sent from no one,
whose name was John and he thought
it might be interesting to rewrite the gospel
so that it contained no myths,
lies or unverifiable stories.
Love one another.
The Curse / Regina DiPerna
I feel it on the breeze’s beveled edge.
In the dull wash of bus exhaust
I hear my name.
I feel it in the butterflied nerves
of traffic lights, how red
masquerades as green.
My mother always said
if bad things can happen,
they’ll happen to you.
A tenth crow lands on a power line,
then an eleventh. Here I am
chewing the half moon of my cuticle.
Here I am in a circle of salt
that will never hold back
I feel it as I brush on eyeshadow,
shimmering purple prayers
to vanity, the surface of things
belying a terrible secret,
luscious rococo curvature
carved into rot.
It’s in the slope of my nose,
the asymmetry of shampoo bottles
in the shower, the slashes
of shadow palm trees make
on our bedroom wall.
Coffee grounds swirl in figure eight
at the bottom of my coffee cup.
I am death knell delayed,
My mother always said,
if you call him he will come.
Each moment is a doorbell rung,
a twelfth crow, an invitation.
I hold my own head above water
like a preacher holding a serpent
high above the convulsing congregation.
The stinging, ringing precipice
The Great Resignation / Thomas Locicero
We see a man resigned to submerge himself
As if he’s a rusted hull taking water,
The salt of which fills his lungs, preserves his tongue,
Disintegrates the sail, the mast, the rigging;
As if each space designed to be empty
Is filled while each place designed to be full
Holds an emptiness that cannot be contained.
Who abandons ship with water yet to bail?
French Kiss / Courtney Ludwick
They say the heart is a muscle but so is
the tongue. Speaking
from experience, I know just how much
words can weigh. Whether you
tell me something sweet or whisper
bitter nothings in my ear,
everything is the same when
all of it is hollow.
Promises like a stutter step, lies
twisted in a bow
make me wish to run away
down the fire escape
and across the street—where do we hide
when words punch the heart?—
but at night, the buildings are blue-black,
the sky and stars covered by cloud.
I am sober but feel drunk. Wasted,
there is nothing tethering me
when my tongue
gets all thick in my mouth.
Your Papers, Please / Kalliopy Paleos
Oh beautiful avenue
teeming with clever squirrels and twitching birds
where the leaves whisper
their alibis in my ear – I just hate you.
Oh, glittering pavement
how I hate your fresh yellow lines
the sidewalks ready and waiting
for my glossy little dog.
And yes, I did say hate.
For here are not the feet trudging
past the golden plaster of once-rococo houses
or flames screaming from
or threats from bullhorns in sedan windows
as they trundle by, happily announcing the junta
or blistering sun, who
even as it burned people alive
wished helplessly only to be their mother.
No. Here it’s cool and sweet.
Oh, convenient street with your
not-so-bad schools and pretty playgrounds
Perhaps it’s not your fault I was born peevish
a knife in my teeth and itching to pounce
You are listed on my suburban woman’s
gratitude list, though grudgingly.
How can I but glory in having
the dry cleaner’s so nearby?
Did I say hate? It might be something else.
It may be whatever feeling
leaves the mouth open and sad
knowing my mother’s little-girl knees
ran along sidewalks clanging with boots
and her big sisters gave her the cream off the milk
it being scarce and she so small.
Once they sent her for sewing needles
and she spent it all on candy, hiding out till dark.
What feeling, since it isn’t hate?
I? Hate these kids, luminous in the sunlight
squealing below handmade car wash signs?
Hate sizzling pizzas and kites smiling down
onto the baseball diamonds?
Hate the sap dripping off the sparkling
Japanese maples, and Easter egg hunts
and furniture up for grabs on the sidewalk
that I can drag into my junky little yard?
Can I unroll my throat to read
what this feeling might be named?
Whatever clutched the breath
in mid-whirl knowing that one fine day
her father took her to Athens
and she just stepped onto an aeroplane,
sat down quietly a while, standing up
when they told her to – and then
simply stepped back down onto Earth.
Onto a new tectonic plate.
What is it, to crave something
that wasn’t mine, and is gone?
And she put her things away in the sweet
little house her father bought
with baby grass poking up, and soil
unexpectedly good for roses.
Nearby, shops crammed with food
and he wouldn’t need to bribe anyone to get it
or to sell anyone on the street or turn them in.
Is it relief? But relief can’t be bitter or give nausea.
And it does kind of make me sick, love it though I do.
This peaceful street with its occasional fender-bender,
trees gazing silently down as the police arrive
to fill out their report.
Something very like the feeling of insurance and all our papers being in order.
No Visitors Allowed, Covid 19 / Claudia Reder
When they drove you to the hospital
I heard from the tulips on the dining table,
filaments and anthers erect, far reaching petals.
The zucchinis I had spiralled for dinner
smelled rancid and landed in the garbage.
The geranium dehydrated
in the afternoon heat.
It’s true I got a lot of work done;
grading, emailing students.
I stubbed my toe and warned off evil
by spilling sugar, then salt.
Waiting. I paced, read silly mysteries,
watchful for texts and your call.
As we talked, you tired.
It was hard to hold the phone,
so many wires and cords linked to you.
At night I wanted to bring you home.
I wanted to have talons and owl navigation.
I wanted to call you down from wherever
they kept you, and that night,
a hunter’s moon shone
in the tall window, like a coin playing the slots,
knowing it’s going to win,
and I, a huntress, unable to hunt.
Stormswell / Matt Sadler
I love days when you can feel the slow
churn of a storm coming,
the birds yapping at each other about it,
the smell of water In air,
the pines stolid, the garden weeping
with new fruit.
The first cherry tomatoes and nasturtiums
burn orange like lit bulbs,
garlic curing on the old screen door
we made into an oast.
It’s not dark enough to be ominous,
but the storm is whispering to you,
his version of kindness, hey buddy,
this peace you know, the things you
have, this garden, it’s not what I had
in mind. He’s giving me notes,
stake the pepper plants, bring those pillows
in, harvest what’s ready, hold those
children, almost ready themselves, bursting
at their seams, hold those children tight.
To my brother Howard who left an “I love you, when can we talk?” message one day and jumped from a bridge the next / Pamela Wax
Tell me, would you,
about the inscrutable darkness
and that glimmer
that couldn’t lure you
to the living.
About how you could go
headlong into a void
that must have welcomed you
in ways we could not.
How you reconciled to that
moment on a Saturday,
pre-dawn, stood on a railing
above a river and said, Now.
Was it a yes and a no
in the same breath.
If you didn’t carry hate
in your pockets, where
did you lay your love.
Tell me, did you taste bile
the moment you jumped,
or did it feel pleasant
and buoyant on the way
down, smelling like home,
even for an instant,
did you think of them.
Day 19 / Poem 19
The one photo I have of you, grandmother / Joanne Fay Brown
If I hold this photo in my palms, will you know my name?
your death my name
it’s a postcard, sepia-toned, edges frayed, no message on its back
you stand sideways
to the camera, face luminous, slightly turned toward me
in a black velvet dress sashed at the waist, fur-trimmed collar
and wrists, buttons to the elbow, you lean on a carved-wood pedestal
pale delicate hands resting atop each other
in that dress, no one would know you left a shetl in Russia
sailed away from war, pogroms, mother, father
for a life you couldn’t foresee
better life, too-short life
what dreams stirred you in that hull
tossed by uncertain tides?
what called to you at the deck’s rail as you neared
the harbor, the woman with the torch?
when I was young my mother sang me one song —
Que Sera, Sera, The Future’s Not Ours To See
nor the past? I find your face, oval like mine
your face, my face
Pedigree / John Burroughs
Looking at the dog
food ingredient label
from the right distance
I see Burroughs.
When I adjust
I see by-products.
The Byway / Regina DiPerna
I dreamt a man rushed towards me
from my bedroom ceiling.
The sound of one’s own scream
is so strange—
like seeing your own organs,
these utensils inside you
you hope never to meet.
It was just a sliver of a dream,
sharp and frightening.
Sleep after was choppy, midnight
blue instead of black.
It’s a breach of intimacy,
sharing your subconscious like that.
Even for a moment.
Like the pale reaper was in a hurry
to get to someone else’s nightmare
and my body was the fastest way through.
Snowdonia, Old MacDonald / Thomas Locicero
She speaks about Snowdonia and a swing
And tells him of the song that he will sing
And, briefly, makes him think he’ll be a king,
A father, and a poet, anything.
But he’s too young to climb inside her time
And can’t foresee how he could earn a dime,
And who can buy a diamond with a rhyme?
He feels persuaded in his soul to cease;
Perhaps he had some strange epiphany.
He has the gall to pray for his release
And wait for some angelic symphony.
He slithers off the pedestal she made,
Betraying all the visions she portrayed.
Despite her beauty, he could not be swayed.
He wanders Aberdyfi and Tywyn
In search of signs: Authentic English Grub.
Now she’s a wife and he’s a publican.
He finds her favorite Dylan Thomas pub.
She spoke about Snowdonia and a swing.
Thick-sweatered, he would push their child and sing,
And “Old MacDonald” still is echoing.
The want could not accommodate the when.
The life that he wants now she wanted then.
One Way Trip / Courtney Ludwick
as I drive
into the left lane, drifting
and past these fields
too green, where has all the
red dirt gone?
Rumble strip tells me
not like that—
much too fast,
hurried and careless and
when do these fields end again?
orange lights on the road
reflect the sunset, first
sunrise I’ve seen in a while too.
light the way home.
Getting Ready for a Night Out Back in the Day / Kalliopy Paleos
That’s what the Magdalene did.
Yes, sir, they knocked her out with a tonic
to keep her calm so she wouldn’t know
to keep her from slipping on the rolling stone
And the grief rose from the cave
ascended like Lucy’s diamonds
up into the welcoming sky
that knows no tears.
And that’s what we did.
Run the radiocarbon dating
on my flesh and you will find
name after name rolling
like investment tickers
flashing across Times Square
and it won’t even be New Year’s
Their naughty laughter, ringing with sobs
and the names of daughters they never met
whose eyes they saw reflected
in my gleaming flesh all night long.
And that’s what you did
or will do, on many a rainy night
So make sure your lipstick is luscious
and that you can dance and stomp
to kick down the doors
Show a little cleavage, though
why they like that I never understood
softness always being a little unsettling
You have to lure them out I tell you
and don’t tell me it’s not fair
that the world is fucked up
because no one’s a virgin
and you were the last one
we were waiting on to figure that out.
You have to break down the door
No one is going to open it
sweep their greeting arms in the threshold, saying
Please come in and unbraid me
for I know not what I am
but I fear it might be a dog
so even if only for the twinkling of an eye
you could elevate me
even if right afterwards I will believe none of it
– still, it’s worth it, and I will even pay you
in earthly currency.
And so we go out into the dark
Seeking rich and poor
and absolve them
and confess them
and baptize them.
Sing them songs, laugh a little
hold their hand – then make sure you get out
That’s the most important part of the sacrament
because they’re scared of the dark.
Croning in July / Claudia Reder
Assure me, horizon, my needle of hope
as a muffled breeze winds through my hammers and strings.
Teach me how to hawk grief in the marketplace,
to air out disappointments and bewilderments;
how to not flick cigarette ash on my wing.
Show me how the sting of each birthday can make me strong
so I won’t shrivel like that cricket in the hall closet.
Tell me about the young girl whose mother was a witch.
Sing me that song of fierceness.
Keep away the tree limb that crackles my front door.
Remind me how beauty is a distraction:
how the red berries on the catalpa tree
the white clusters of sumac,
and vining moonflowers are poisonous.
Teach me how to lunge and stand up in five easy steps;
how to stand on my head to massage my pituitary gland.
Show me that long tree branch creeping up to the moon
and one tiny one, lopped off to reveal a scrubby hand.
Tell me, I’m acquitted for hating to clean and for not cleaning my house,
my disorganized drawers.
Show me how in lessening there is more,
how to look for a good topsoil.
Mothers of grown children who won’t speak to them need their own song.
What am I gusting after? What snacks should I plan?
What do you call it when the sky flourishes at sunrise
and I am still dabbling with autumns?
Why do I dream of a gull-shaped light streaking past my window,
the sea gobbling us all up?
Tell Sappho I read her songs. How else can I explain
that my toes are painted purple with a tiny swirl of yellow petal?
Tell me where we went wrong
Girl, again / Matt Sadler
What can I tell you, dear, but how to fold
your shirt without tucking, but how
to linger in a door.
I can’t even pretend the future is knowable.
There are ways to live your life
in the light, read whole paragraphs with
your fingers, eyes closed
means fewer shadows. Here’s how to pose
for a selfie I somehow
learned this for you, here’s how
to catch a bass in a cesspool. The truth
looks like flying on the inside, and fear
looks like this: I’ll take
you to the magic meadow where we’ll pick
mallow and bee balm and goldenrod,
my backpack stuffed with flowers
stolen from the monarchs for mom, the tunnel
leading us out of the forest is dark
and immutable shadows are everywhere.
Holy Name / Pamela Wax
My uncle muttered his final hallowed be thy name,
then crossed his death-thin arm, a wing through stagnant air.
Artie used to serve communion, Father Murray turned and said to me,
then placed a wafer on his tongue, extended and so weak.
To Artie’s lips, so he could sip, I held a paper straw—
I’m his younger sister’s daughter, Rav Penina I am called.
Uncle Arthur, Yiddish-speaking, bucked convention, lived defiance,
and I, who loved him fiercely, shelved harsh, self-serving judgments.
He showed me in the valley of his darkest shadowed pain
how to use humor as provisions when you cross to other planes.
He trusted in rewards of consistent menschlikheit—
doctrine did not matter when it came to doing right.
He loved Jesus and Aunt Mary, married her with her three children.
He was Ruth to her Naomi, claimed her people and Creator.
They trekked the world on boats and trains, returned with tales and photos.
They loved and lived and ate full-tilt, often left my parents jealous.
They called me Pammy, cheered me on, in all of my endeavors.
I’d never met two people whose laughs were so contagious.
I wondered if my aunt’s big crosses across her ample bosom
was the source of all their earthiness, might answer what they drew from.
I wanted what they seemed to have—the ease, the love, the YES—
and religion seemed to be a path that could lead me to myself.
When Uncle Arthur left this world, Father Murray offered me the pulpit:
Rabbi Wax will speak her truth now, eulogizing her dear uncle.
I could not help but notice that Jesus stood there at my left,
both a statue and an aura, nudging truth about birthrights.
Nachman son of Hirsch and Sarah, I spoke Artie’s given name—
prayed his folks and mine would laugh when they all met beyond the grave.
Since then my brother took his life, and Aunt Mary, in her mercy,
offered her assurance he’d been welcomed by my parents.
She, too, has left this world now, and I think of all of them without us—
playing cards and dancing, without the cares that hound us.
Day 18 / Poem 18
Ellis Island, June 2, 1917 / Joanne Fay Brown
My dear mother,
Ikh kum bazunder. I am coming a little apart.
Sick every morning, my lips cracked, hungry,
nothing but saltwater to wash down the foul
food or clean my body. I miss you, your
noodle kugel and kasha. I miss the light
in the kehillah. It is mostly dark in steerage.
The stench from the latrines makes me dizzy
and weak. Men look at me, they are hungry, too.
Ten days from Polotzk, 2000 people.
How strange, they bring us up to see that statue,
a goddess, and we pass without a sound.
My legs will me to walk this gangway,
some call this island, Ellis, the Island of Tears
but I am told here there is no Czar, no pogroms.
Here there is an interpreter, a money changer,
a doctor and more stink from the disinfectant
they spray on us. They ask me questions —
how much money do I have, am I an anarchist?
I am nineteen years old. I am something new.
I will write when I am at Uncle Max’s house.
My legs are still at sea. Will I be able to keep
my balance in this new land, this
something beautiful, terrible?
Apprehension / John Burroughs
After three lovely days a pounding rain begins Sunday
evening. The Weather Channel clamors that it could
continue through Thursday and this makes me nervous
about driving home in it, but mainly about the potential
for flooding. Before Dad’s barn floated off last time
there was the flood that destroyed Aunt Betty’s house.
And on my way out of town I will pass countless leaning,
collapsed shells of buildings that years after an assortment
of torrents have yet to be fully demolished and empty lots
where when I was young beautiful homes stood. I recall Mom
telling me about a flood when she was a child that filled
their house with rats. And she grew up envious of those homes
in town that hadn’t flooded, whose inhabitants looked down
on her because of it, but now most of theirs are also gone,
or at least ruined. And I would prefer to change the subject
but it’s raining hard in Richwood and even if it takes twenty
years, though I’m certain it won’t, the next inundation seems
as inevitable as strip mining.
The Blueprints / Regina DiPerna
There was a brief time
after my parents’ divorce
when my mother let my sister and I
draw on her bedroom wall.
We’d peeled off the wallpaper—
an awful ‘70s brocade—
to reveal more wallpaper.
It was white with illustrated scenes
of idyllic country life: a home
flanked by oak trees, a barn
overlooking a field of livestock,
a pond with a weeping willow.
We would draw ourselves
into each scene with Sharpie:
three stick figures with ponytails,
the rough-hewn outline of the cat.
All the different lives laid out—
as if the future was a place
you could select on a map,
as if happiness, that elusive animal,
could be a permanent status
over the snarled frustrations
of living. No more court-ordered
No more recording phone calls
with my father to serve an
unknown end in the custody battle.
No more slamming my fingers
into the door of the Nissan,
cutting gum out of my own hair.
Just happiness on a low boil,
a sense of peace, cows grazing
on invisible grass.
I can’t remember when
we painted over it. I wonder which one
—before the gray paint came
and swallowed us all,
like the tide of a great flood—
my mother chose for herself.
The Girl in the Picture / Thomas Locicero
The greenery is green
You cannot see the green
For the green
You smell the green
When you breathe
You breathe the green
You taste the green
You feel the green
And when the green calls
You hear the green
The greenery is brown
You cannot see the green
For the green
Plunged from its greenery
You hear the bombs
When you breathe
You breathe the bombs
You taste the bombs
You feel the bombs
And when the bombs fall
You see green boys browned by bombs
The greenery is orange
You cannot see the orange
For the girl
You smell the girl
You cannot breathe
You cannot feel
And when the girl screams
You hear her screams
Not the screams of the others
The mothers, fathers, brothers
Not the screams of enemy fire
Of friendly fire
Only hers, the girl on fire
The greenery is the color of flesh
The girl lives
She no longer screams
Except in your dreams
Where she no longer screams alone
Your soul screams
The whole of your humanity screams
For the greenery to be green
The Poet Leaves on Retreat / Kalliopy Paleos
So place your hoof back down upon the earth
Ride stumbling bus with fares to pay in gold.
The ghosts will jostle forth to dress your path
with signs and wonders falling on the road.
Your hoof steps down amid the banging cries
the ghosts and sprites will help you find the caves.
Frail traveller, come to rinse your failing eyes
and finding water, lie down in the waves.
High terraces of moss, the flowering rooves
all rests naked underneath coarse clothes.
Warm silence penetrates your easing hooves
The spirits spiral all around, gathering close.
Oasis, springtime, birds of paradise
frail traveler, come and feast your failing eyes.
Evening / Claudia Reder
She wheels to the desk,
switches on the dragonfly lamp,
opens the New Yorker
and looks briefly out the window
in front of her at evening
the red surly sun
like the gates of hell
She longs for someone
to put cream on her dry hands
that are fragile, but baby soft,
“I don’t work anymore”
she says to her grown daughters
who gently rub the worn, dry knuckles.
She had always said,
“If I couldn’t read, I’d go crazy,”
from her chair where she learned
to patiently sit and wait,
learned to wait for help.
Cottonwood / Matt Sadler
Don’t mind me. I’m just talking to all the birds again. It’s July but the cottonwood is putting on her annual snowstorm, late this year, the sky full with soft white seeds floating, globs of seed heads dotting the lawn. This is how it usually works, a bird calls and I whistle back, probably giving myself away with my poor accent, and when the bird calls again I take credit for a real conversation. I know it’s wishful thinking but so is religion. I could do this for hours but the itchy snow gums up the deck and gets in my wine, turns the sagebrush underneath it white with little hairs. The birds all yap at each other about the darkening sky, everything big near to bursting with flowers and fruit buds. The cottonwood erupting is a signal, that it’s time. I swear my mind is not in the gutter. I’m not out here making sex tapes and smudge bundles on the deck. I’m just trying to change cottonwood into a metaphor as I flee the backyard Vesuvius. I swear the last days of life on earth will be full of our best reflections. The ones on pinboards at our funerals. The ones made immortal with our words, so many of them, all softly drifting down into the dust.
The divo who stole the show / Pamela Wax
was a male finch, red-headed, serenading
his girlfriend from the rafters of the Tanglewood
Shed. He liked the Brahms German Requiem
enough to sing along with the chorus and the BSO,
swooping and perching, swooping and perching,
in search of the perfect spot from which to showboat,
throwing his warbling from above, laying his own
counterpoint. I liked the chorus, 100 singers strong,
but my standing ovation was only for him.
Day 17 / Poem 17
Tenacity / John Burroughs
Cherry River peace flows
yards from Dad’s front door.
A whole color spectrum blooms
between here and there.
Six years ago the same river
submerged this entire city
and Dad’s barn and all the treasures
it contained floated downstream.
When the flood subsided leaving
a Sahara of sand up South Fork
we retrieved an unbroken barn panel
and out of it made a bridge
that we placed over a drainage ditch
we had to re-dig. It now helps
irrigate the garden and protect
what remains of his property.
Found items can make bridges.
Flowers and their tenders are
sustained by what once destroyed.
A dollop of beauty erupts
from unavoidable tragedy. Though mourning
persists and all beauty eventually fades,
life, our preeminent treasure,
refuses to relent.
The Dollhouse / Regina DiPerna
This morning a dollhouse
appeared in our courtyard—
a mysterious offering
I forget they’re necessarily
cut in half
so you can see inside
all the unlived lives at once.
The empty kitchen table,
the Victorian chaise longue
with no one to hold,
not even a ghost.
They—the ambiguous they
of the future, years or centuries
or epochs from now—
will wonder what foretells
a civilization in decline.
We scatter evidence without
even knowing. The dollhouse
is cleaved open like an exoskeleton.
When the water rises, what becomes
of the fireplace still burning
with one-dimensional flames?
What becomes of our floorboards,
our rooftops, the amethyst folds
of our curtains, this resplendent thing?
Life Sentence / Thomas Locicero
An old man with his neck north of his brainstem,
Suspicious of the sounds he does not hear,
Fears he may have lost yet another sense.
A quieter morning he has never known;
He is certain he will not know one again
Unless mourning, unless sleeping, until death…
He rose upon the cataclysmic fault
Of yet another meaningless sunrise,
Anticipating when the earth would stir.
But nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.
How long? he asks the god he has denied.
What good is this long life with bursts of breath?
If given a choice, he would elect to breathe
Deeply one more time in lieu of orgasm.
He stares out at the garden a younger man
Planted, the colors once adorning his nook.
Tendrils wither, posturing from shoot to coil,
And he realizes he is his garden,
His garden is him, and he desires to lie
Beside her, beneath her, to become her
In a truer sense, his flesh decomposing
Into compost, bringing forth life again.
But, like now, he asks, Who will care for me then?
He is sentenced to yet another day
Of regretting having driven off loved ones,
Not begging the pardon he denies himself,
Beseeching just with his imagination.
If only he would string together some words
While he still has the ability to speak.
Facetime / Courtney Ludwick
Or call me real fast I have something to tell you two seconds tops no I don’t want to text going through drive thru right now strawberry cone no not you but do you want anything? okay, and that’ll be all thanks I have something to ask answer hello? (on the second ring) okay— do you wonder where things might have gone? might be like? what do I mean? good question what would have swept us up like banana slugs on the sidewalk or the spiders in your cupboard kept safe you know like feeling warm when it’s cold outside and wanting hot coffee even when its July and you don’t care if you’re sweating because you’re swept up in it not making sense? what was that? what did you say? you’re breaking up— my bad I’ll
I’m Not Waiting for You at Your House / Kalliopy Paleos
This house isn’t your house but it helps me remember your house and I don’t exactly pretend I am at your house but the ghosts of this house must know the ghosts of your house though I am sure the only link between this house and your house is that I am here and you didn’t answer my note.
I haven’t been able to stop pretending you are here.
I must stop. You stopped. No note. Violent silence. So I have stopped sending notes, or decided to stop. That’s a start. And I can start putting a stop to longing, though longing, which starts with its filament of hope and stops in its noose of shame, has itself been a house for me.
I sit in it, and I wait for you.
Waiting changes the mind into an exchange counter. Longing changes into memory. This house is not changing into that house, where we were together, changing from just people into friends. Just a few more pulsations of longing, of waiting, and I can feel banknotes of memory changing into a deck of harmless recollections. Changing from friends into just people. Violent silence. Ok, stop. Just leave the house.
Praise Chelm / Claudia Reder
The Wise Men of Chelm are also the Fools of Chelm
where foolish aunts and the old and young link arms
across the town square.They’re still unable
to figure out the world’s problems although
it’s not for lack of trying. L’Chaim!
whose stories twist and tug at you,
where Fiddler on the Roof is in Yiddish and stars Joel Gray;
where I’m reminded of grandmother and her sisters around that amorphous
dining room table that now exists only in my imagination. Today my dining table sits two.
This Anatevkah I never knew is still my homeland of which I have none.
We are at odds with who we came from and puzzled by who we turn out to be.
where people look at life through a wide-angle lens.
They think a Cockatiel should live in the town plaza.
The people of Chelm have been proven right over and over again.
where you lean against the slanted bench at the bus stop, your feet hurting.
So you get up and start walking, too sore to wait for a bus
that probably won’t come for another hour.
for its many benches in the town square
where we sit, cloud gazing.That’s how
we can move on while staying in the same place.
for its joy, for letting me know when to cry with relief.
Joy, shadow me for a day. Without joy, I am lost.
where everyone says to one another, “Don’t worry.
Give your worries to Max. He is the town worrier. That is his job.”
What Happens to a God / Matt Sadler
is not a question.
These are official statements. I can
put my hand on the dirt
and feel myself unfurling like a new
seed. I can pluck a star from the
night sky and pop it in my mouth
like a juneberry. I can make an
Ash tree into anything if it’s not
killed off by the emerald borer.
When I go to see the gravestones
the biggest one there in the middle
of the cemetery, dirt newly covered
like an earthen scar, will say “god” in old
English or new Micmac and it’s spire
will go all the way up to the star berries.
Big men need big gravestones. A god
needs a road map to its oblivion.
A cardinal burns crimson against the ash,
waiting for the next soul to carry.
Talk Therapy / Pamela Wax
my husband said
when I read
my poems aloud
to cut the fat
and turn them
“After the war—
the ones who talked
You remind me
Day 16 / Poem 16
what is holy / Joanne Fay Brown
perhaps the ankle of a horse is holy
rotation of an owl’s neck
bumblebee of blueberries and squash
elephants’ exquisite grief
turtle hatchling sprinting for her life
where village elders settle differences
blooming in moonlight
blue whale crooning to her newborn calf
raven showing wolf where to feast
in the days of the Judah Kings, Isaiah said,
one called to another: Holy, Holy, Holy – The whole earth is full –
he tried to tell them, but God said they would not hear
and that the people would be exiled and their land
become a desolate waste
today in Santa Fe
four towhee nestlings in the flower pot under the umbrella plant
a lounge of whiptail lizards on my patio
Recoil / John Burroughs
Fifty-five years after having to do it
to protect himself and his base camp
from a strike designed to blow up
their ammo dump and kill them all,
a gun blast in the face point blank
is Dad’s primary recurring nightmare.
The Rabbit / Regina DiPerna
It’s one of those perfect afternoons—
clean light, the snarled teeth of the week
mercifully in the rearview.
I feel curiously blank—it’s pleasurable.
Periodically planes roar overhead.
I came from a family
of big personalities. I enjoy
withdrawing into my own skin,
watching life unfold
from the back row. Disappearing
is so luscious—the breeze
is the only way to know
I’m still here. An invisible man
says you’re not much of a talker,
are you? And I say bingo.
I was a painfully shy child.
No one ever believes me.
I remember my father
calling me a rabbit.
It wasn’t a pet name.
Quiet women were rabbits.
My mother was a rabbit too.
His mouth was a rifle, his words
were an all-you-can-fucking-eat buffet.
There is something delicious
about keeping a secret
with one’s self, keeping
an entire personality safe.
It’s a palmful of diamonds
in a safety deposit box.
What luxury, the vault
In the mind.
I remember riding in the car
with my Aunt Lisa.
You’re so quiet, she said.
Not as an insult but as a question:
Are you okay?
Dirt-streaked Toyotas clattered
past us on the freeway like spaceships
in a vulgar sky.
New Sleep / Thomas Locicero
I shadow midnight’s vocal cords
Where eerie sounds abound.
The crackling fire my dreaming hoards—
I bounty-hunt the sound.
For fifteen years of midnights, bent
To render obsolete
My lamentation’s lame lament,
Its needle-groove repeat.
But now I yearn the reckoning,
To slay it in my sleep,
As I still hear it beckoning
Another flock of sheep.
It’s time that I shake off my fire,
The flames are mine to douse,
Embracing it, my grave desire,
To rid it from my house.
It started Christmas Eve behind
My childhood home’s front door
Where I with presents there would find
My mother on the floor.
The sound of my voice calling her,
Her pulseless in reply.
Her savior but an amateur.
Her destiny to die.
And in the end, what violent work!
My failure a surprise;
I watch my mother’s body jerk.
How television lies!
But it is not the sights that haunt,
Their memories but blurs.
The gray her body did not want
Passed to my mouth from hers.
And all the sounds that came from that:
The rattling last breath,
The body as the lungs go flat,
The forfeiture of death.
At last, through fiery dreaming tears
And with a newborn son,
I took the flames to love his years.
Now new sleep has begun.
Bird’s-eye view / Courtney Ludwick
In a glass catchall
on a garage sale table
is a ceramic bowl filled
with hand-me-down ash
and rusted loose change.
In apartment four-oh-five
on a rug worn with holes
is a blue velvet couch
with unraveling seams
that will not be sewn.
In a city
on some map
is a dot
we try to make.
School Day / Kalliopy Paleos
He takes the eighteen stairs
two at a time, then one,
then two again, enjoying the
resistance they offer his muscles,
climbing at a prance,
his bag bouncing on his back.
The first text to come in reads
If underwear decoy no underwear ok.
The second details an urgent
t-shirt meeting for Debate Club.
First period is math but his packet
is finished and corrected.
He eats his muffin, chewing
with a frank jaw, staring
at the teacher, almost unblinking.
During passing time, he bangs hard
against two or three
other boys which means hello.
During second he takes notes
on the movie and hands them in
after annotating and
At lunch he eats quickly,
then goes down the steps
behind the front A-wing,
where a girl is waiting.
She opens her mouth and closes it,
possibly saying her name,
but doesn’t say more.
He picks her up,
sets her against the wall
and holds her there
while he opens his fly.
She flinches when he slips in
and again when he comes out.
He picks up his bag.
She goes up first and
he waits for her footsteps to fade.
Lunch is not over yet,
so he goes out to the courtyard
to sit with two other boys
who don’t say much.
During fifth the teacher
hands out three different colors
of paper to each student,
which he puts in his bag
but then takes out again,
realizing they are using it
for the project on El Salvador.
The last period is approaching,
and he decides to leave early,
swinging the door open
to the left of the dumpsters
where the cameras do not reach.
Tomorrow is Tuesday.
He will be in early
for the Club meeting
and has to help
in the attendance office.
Roethke said we should know the Names of a Hundred Flowers / Claudia Reder
I don’t know the names of a hundred flowers,
but I know words for happiness,
for thriving amidst despair;
shadings of language
misfiring in my mouth.
I have not learned a hundred names of birds
but when Messiaen plays on the stereo,
birds lift out of the music,
multiple songs in the early dawn
opening the sky for breakfast,
our eyes; our ears
listening for the start of day.
I listen. The birds listen back.
I do not know names of a hundred lakes,
but I know a few disappearing: Lake Mead,
Lake Cachuma, Lake Casitas, reservoirs
with receding contours, missing boats
and the dead rising up in new mud.
I can only speak for the presence of sand
and the Pacific grinning each night
at sunset, as I and others try
to catch that impish moment
right before the sun is lost at sea.
This is the best I can do: watch, wait,
breathe, and see what changes:
crab leavings at my feet, the gull
winging near, hoping for a crumb;
seaweed washing up, entangled in driftwood.
Monarchs, you allow delight.
Is that why you are here:
to remind us of how to fan our wings,
to make sure we also can fan out
into places we’ve never been?
I Only Hold Grudges / Matt Sadler
against myself and everyone I fix
each to a star to populate
the night sky with an astrology
of new constellations. Look
there’s Fear over there, a 3 eyed
2 mouthed drunken lizard,
the know-it-all at the after party.
And there’s Doubt, a single glimmered
smear, too pathetic to do anything.
There’s sweet little Immolation,
a cable station of fireplaces emanating
the scream I once screamed into
the pillow at the crying not sleeping
child. And there’s love over there,
too close to the fireplace for comfort,
an endless list of what not to do
or else lose it, in star code, with little emoji
hearts to dot the i’s and exclamations.
Mississippi Goddam / Pamela Wax
the pink house
green slate roof
N. State Street
missed period (everywoman’s story)
everybody will know
Day 15 / Poem 15
Casa de Mis Recuerdos / Joanne Fay Brown
Once our shoulders touched
on a bench in the entry
to Casa de Mis Recuerdos
In that city of memories
you wove me a rug
with stories of mountains
the walk of a serpent
shape of rivers
seeds of life
in colors so ravishing
I could taste the salt
and spice of them
distillates of moss marigold
And the rug carried us
to the sultry cabin on the slopes
of the Alta Mixteca
and your son’s eight a.m. wedding mass
in the church built from stones
of the ancient Zapotec temple
the priest baptized children and cars
the village brass band played
and we danced
the Jarabe del Valle
while the women spread masa
and barbacoa de cabra
into corn husks
stirred vast vats of mole
and the men drank mezcal
to the dazzle whirl burst
It was a kind of deliverance
we did not want to know
but we knew
that the too-thin threads
of our too-disparate lives
could not hold —
on the last day of October
after escorting the dead
back to the cemetery we stood
in line at Xoxocotlán Airport
as I waited to board
I did not cry
I carried your rug under my arm.
Baptism / John Burroughs
Today I returned to the place of my birth, Richwood,
West Virginia. The hospital where I became alive
closed years ago and the building no longer exists,
having succumbed to black mold and been razed
following one of the many recent Cherry River floods.
Like the city today, I am the product of many floods.
Edifices that were once part of me no longer exist.
And if you think this is still 1992, just visit my hometown.
The Symptom / Regina DiPerna
There were men here yesterday,
checking our apartment for traces of lead.
Their instruments ticked like beetles,
the little iridescent green ones
on the patio.
Their tick is a mating call, though
there’s a superstition that it foretells death.
I want a home with a name—Brideshead
or Skyfall. With three strangers in it,
our apartment feels irretrievably small.
The longest lingering symptom of lead poisoning
is loss of balance. Well, it’s not lost
but it can leave at random.
My fiancé’s grandfather got lead poisoning
as a child. As an old man, he famously
dropped the Thanksgiving turkey one year.
Just fell right over as he took it out of the oven.
There are moments when poison
reaches through time and rattles the china.
It’s like carrying a little grenade in your brain—
an invisible, ineffable tripwire.
I want a home that won’t hurt me.
Recalling a Correspondence / Thomas Locicero
Has each word you were meant to write
Been written? Are you now without
The burden to create despite
The longing to? Of this I doubt.
Verse penned by sweat and yet possessed
By something few shall ever have:
A holy ghost that burns your chest
And, all at once, applies a salve.
But how the years have ridden by
Like ghosts that gallop in the dawn
And reappear as nostrils sigh
And mourn the youth they trampled on!
I see you, mentor, dim of eyes,
A hunch directs them to the floor,
But through them, I still see the skies.
When will we value poets more?
Burn Out / Courtney Ludwick
There’s Always Next Time / Kalliopy Paleos
And how am I supposed to do without all this again
now that I’ve been back and tasted the nectar of
these living streets ringing with cicadas
splashing fountain, pigeons staring
the silvery white ribbon of the man-bun bobbing by
the big spotty mutt pissing hard on
the brand new wheel of the shining Suzuki bike
the young man with a frightening grin whirring by on
his thin black scooter, crackle of laughter
as he rounds the corner
How then am I supposed to do without
the bell clanging the hour close overhead
while I’m trying to hear you
smarting in my heart because
talking and talking and talking because
fucking excited to be here because
so long and who knows when I’ll be back —
Now that I’ve tasted the smells again
fig tree laid open in the sun all day
or that perfume just glimmering by
aqua di Parma
I’ve loved it for years
just found out the name last night
and dog peepee, cat peepee, spilled beer
dried single-malt vomit no longer acrid
wild rosemary and coffee
with milk – different smell from coffee
with just sugar, or coffee
black as a scared night
walking home alone, coffee
steaming next to the fresh glass of water
glittering in the morning light
a diamond you can drink
and there’s that man again
wearing somewhat worn shoes
but also the carefully wrapped skin
of the radiant wealthy
– a mere glance –
And I’m expected to live without this again?
These afternoons so solitary
you can feel the hollow nature
of mankind, feel that we are supposed
to rejoice in the galaxy’s emptiness
though try as we might
we just can’t
afternoons where no human being
can know any other human being
except perhaps this flock of cheerful
nuns strolling along the edifice of
the hôtel du Palais and yet there’s
nothing but filth caking
the slate sidewalks
gang tags on the welcome signs
pickpockets smiling, ready,
haloed in the brilliant empty sunlight
You tell me I have to leave this?
After I have tasted the nectar
of arrival and remaining
the nectar of holding quite still
taking in this apéritif of tainted oxygen and faces?
But you know it’s physics
that I can’t altogether go
since I am here now, and broken apart.
A stain gets added, you see
an amoeba of me
the orange-white cat passes under my chair
the unkempt angel asks for coins
(I waved him away but will leave
a few here for him to find)
and because the turning earth
falls in its course –
Song / Claudia Reder
Channel grief, form
new pathways for waterfalls
and marshes where egrets
open their feathery plumes.
Include faint traces of an oak tree.
Lean its branches out over water
with slender threads, ripples
of water skin.
Show that the tree knows
how to age;
its roughened up bark,
thickened and knotted.
The Most Important Thing / Matt Sadler
I keep coming back to Heraclitus, his shoulders
hunched huddled by the river, seeing how
water shapes itself so easily, slips
into mist, how dogs lap at it and take it in
by folding the tongue into a scoop. When you
take something inside yourself it’s
automatically symbolic, but water runs through you
clean as a creek on its way to bigger water.
It can even be its own desert, silent moonlight
landing in the windswept folds. When you enter
the Bitterroot River the cool deep takes you
in the current, although the steelhead below
seem to stay perfectly in place. When you swim
Lake Michigan the waves try to throw you back out,
like a caught fish. And how many molecules
have you touched that have touched others,
been inside other people. And what else has
changed you so precisely, so often. No, you can never step
in the same water twice. You can never be
in the same life, shapeshifter, when every
moment is a brand new configuration
Edible Medicinal Plant Walk / Pamela Wax
Jewelweed for poison ivy,
ground ivy for strep throat.
Bitters for digestion, goldenrod
for allergies, clover for cramps.
Sun fern, sacheted under your pillow,
for nightmares, knotweed—japonica—
for Lyme. Queen Anne’s lace for salads—
beware her lethal hemlock look-
alike. Red sumac, never white,
and never just after rain.
Day 14 / Poem 14
They Come on Saturday Morning to Talk Issues / Joanne Fay Brown
The Cohens Kahns Levys,
Mendels Kesslers Brodskys
At my mother’s mid-century teak table
A musician chiropractor welder printer
Exterminator shoe store owner their wives
Eyeglasses slip down Artie’s nose
A double set of windows
Behind Vivian’s head light
Filters through oak leaves
Brightens Gauguin’s dark scene
Of a serious woman and her double
In the mirror above the sideboard
Around this table dressed in blue cloth with white stripes
The branded, blacklisted, betrayed congregate,
Cause a rumpus heads bowed pensively
Over coffee cups
Sam says: “Who’s going to the Women’s Strike?
Free abortion’s on the ticket,
Betty Friedan could use some help”
Testy but trusting
Never disloyal despite
The special House committee’s guile
Like old-growth Redwoods, roots entwined
Once naïve romantic strident
But never the Red Terror
The old soldiers slather
Cream cheese on lox and bagels,
Muted now earnest
Waiting Room / John Burroughs
At the dealership getting my car checked out,
a television plays The Real and assorted
employees pass through. I overhear at random:
Kirk Franklin’s son comes out as bisexual.
Let’s all go home. Shut it down!
Get back on that horse and ride.
Congratulations are definitely in order.
I am trying to figure out why the laid-back
dealership has hired a security guard wearing
body armor who eerily resembles someone
who stormed the Capitol on January sixth.
The man who waited on me interrupts
asking if I’d like him to change the channel
so I opt for some cable news network
and discussion moves on to the unreal
and the regrettably all-too-real.
The cultivation of extremists.
Arrives in Jerusalem with a long to-do list.
He fears what will happen next.
So let’s talk windows.
I feel nausea as another interruption
tells me to check my email
for a video of under my hood.
We need to start with a battery.
A series of unsolved cases.
The best economy in the nation.
Housekeeper who was recently exhumed.
Please come quickly. They’ve been shot.
I sit long enough that the talking heads are repeating
what they said an hour ago so I look at my phone
and learn that poet Noah Eli Gordon died the same
day Ada Limón was named U.S. Poet Laureate.
Starbucks closing sixteen stores.
Core inflation has come down.
Only pay for what you need.
Now you get into the financial crimes.
My black pen is leaking all over my hands
as I realize I’m writing on the anniversary
of the day Sandra Bland died
for a broken taillight
and not being white
First, inflation! The future is what’s ahead of us.
Uvalde, Texas, is fueling scrutiny.
While the gunman was free to move around.
What, if any, consequences officers might face.
The sun is out and Joe Namath
tosses me a Medicare supplement plan.
I decide I’ll pass. And then another interruption:
John, take your time
but you’re all set.
The Amnesiac / Regina DiPerna
California has a way
of making you forget. I wake up
tangled in palm pink, desert sky
brushed delirious blue.
I wake up holding your wrist
like a bone clock, sheaves
of dreams twisted at your waist.
I forget: the heart equivocates.
Our tongues become fallen plums,
curtains of jacaranda petals.
I can’t remember the routes I walked
back east: crushed up city lost
in origami folds of hippocampus.
I can’t remember how I used to use
my mouth: as spit rag, as tomb.
I think I once knew hunger
so blunt it was ecstatic:
a choir writhing in tongues,
a peach blossom tree on fucking fire.
Now, echeveria spills down my shoulders.
Whole epochs, forgotten.
I recite you like pale prayer, like water
kissing roots beneath the orange grove.
Your skin is a language
I almost didn’t speak.
A Life Magnificent / Thomas Locicero
To lose some time seems insignificant.
A day or two might never matter much.
Three to recover is magnificent.
To concentrate on how each hour is spent
Will make you lean on time like it’s a crutch.
To do that is not insignificant.
To spend your time but not the way you meant
To feels like something fleeting to the touch.
Those moments, would you call magnificent?
If ever there’s a time of discontent,
Remember it, its memory to clutch,
Then let it go as insignificant.
Don’t wonder where your wasted minutes went.
They’re loafers, loungers, layabouts, and such.
Redeem the time to be magnificent.
At times, it seems we need to circumvent
The thieving hours when we wind up in Dutch
(Those heartbeats are not insignificant)
And navigate a life magnificent.
String Lover / Courtney Ludwick
No one would mistake her
for a dancer. Legs too honest,
arms flung back. All thumbs
is a clumsy saying—
she never knows what to do with her hands.
Once she gave me a secret
to keep that I let go. Once she forgave me
so quickly that I had to ask: who pulls you up
like that? Chiding, she bit
my tongue and said wrong question.
It would be easy to call her
string puppet but I refuse.
The name makes too many think of
She is not lovely. You do not understand—
I would cry if her face
turned porcelain, if her lips turned shiny and red overnight.
She is not lovely,
not their kind of
shut up and listen
She fancies herself a marionette
but one where she controls the strings.
I just know if I had never kissed her skin
I’d still swear her wooden.
Praise for the Adversary / Kalliopy Paleos
You are brilliant as the black fish under the green water I saw in my dream last night waiting for me, staring forward each time I woke and slipped back down into the depths. Your glossy black head and feathery black hair faintly undulating in the water as your gills pluck oxygen from the thick green water, eyes moving left and right like rough stones, eyes in which there is no difference between knowing nothing and knowing everything. I have let you be this fish as I stare down from half-waking in the middle of the night because you are always there and anything can be you: the struggling aloe vera on my glass dressing table, the new leaves on the tree I thought was dead but now so gladly see among the living birches, the dog content on my knee because he has been out and shat sweetly among the pines and can now lie here smelling things at leisure. You are all of this and my broken ribs too. Last night in my dream there was no water, but I waded through the grasses carrying bulbs of glass that had been my liver and my kidneys and my lungs because I wanted to give them to you and again that black-fish stare as you neither took nor spurned them but looked forward at something else. Feathery hair tingling with messages received from abroad, and I can hear them crackling a bit too. I shall sit beneath you like a rabbit under a great black tree, and I shall watch the sun come and watch the sun go, and I will lie here sweetly now too, smelling things at leisure until you have finally become you and I have finally become I and the tree the tree, the dirt the dirt and the fish swims away freely without a sound.
Midwest Foraging / Matt Sadler
1. Ground Cherry
Perennial in the night-
shade, nodding yellow
bell encased by
papery sepals, ripen
in open fields, fall
well with chilies
on grilled fish
High and wild, mallow
from its edges,
fleshy purple lines,
its root spindly.
Waste places from
areas and seed-wheel
fruits with a small
hand tool still
high and stew root
to cool water.
3. Red Clover
Dotting with red
to boost content
is a low that can
also stand along
the stem, a showy
small nectar tube a
dry sunny contamination.
among the sweet
steam dish to infuse
an edible wild.
A Good Day to Laugh / Claudia Reder
Amid the losses are cheers: cheering each other on, cheering for the bench
that appears in the perfect spot for a rest on the way to the beach.
cheering that here we are, again, ready to write.
Leslie adorned in her favorite green blouse
has written a childhood memory that she shared with her dad.
He had said, “It wasn’t like that at all. Why do you say that?”
Again the laughter, the knowing laugh, knowing our childhoods
are no longer up for grabs; no longer aiming to please our parents.
What was growing up like for you?
For a few minutes we scribble words.
I wonder if the woodpecker
still pecks at the window
of that back bedroom.
I can still hear Mother shutting the windows,
“Sh. The neighbors can hear you yell…”
the family leaving through
the front door,
no one turning back
to tell the house good-by.
One day we wrote about feet. Some of us had expensive feet.
Those of us with size 9 1/2 and up were miserable.
Remember those black and white saddle shoes?
Did yours get dirty or did you polish them like mad?
Did you ever live in Nebraska with six cows?
Or lose everything in a flood?
The conversation quickly switches:
you can adjust to loss, prepare for it,
but when it’s sudden,
Isn’t that the way of stories? We climb out of childhood
in time for new stories to plant themselves.
We retell each one ground it down
until it is polished glass,
The night pockets what we tell it.
The next morning we take the story out into the world
and say, This is what happened.
What are your five to ten stories, the ones that shape you,
the ones that say I have lived at least five lives,
the stories that encapsulate a self you have avoided,
or the self you have emulated, or the self
you have shamed, and now must reconcile?
Oh, said Doris, The best time of day
is when I stand by the window
and take a deep breath.
I think stories, even the shy ones, live
in currents of air, waiting to land
in the right time and place.
How to See the World on $0 a Day / Pamela Wax
Leaves, twigs, even shoes left
in a neighbor’s yard made their way
eventually to the drain hole pitched
just so in the rear corner of our yard.
In heavy rains, we’d trudge in rubber
boots to our knees and shovel
the debris into trash bags, defending
our rec room from flood and mold.
On clear days, I placed my face
on the cool metal grating to see
my way to China, India, Japan. When
I couldn’t, I thought about digging.
Mostly, I thought of my good luck
to live in a house with a secret
passageway already halfway
to the other side of the world.
Day 13 / Poem 13
Cento: Things Become Beautiful / Joanne Fay Brown
What is a wound but a flower / dying on its descent to the earth
Such beauty that for a minute / death and ambition, even love, / doesn’t enter into this.
Things become beautiful, even hailstones in the strawberry fields.
Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you / I speak for the snail.
Who can utter / the poignance of all that is constantly / threatened, invaded, expended / and constantly / nevertheless / persists in beauty
I lost so much / of the world’s beauty, as if I were watching / every shining gift / on its branch with one eye.
I see now the Earth itself does have a face. / If it could say I it would / plead with the universe, the way / dinosaurs once growled / at the stars.
Let them not say: we did not see it. / We saw.
If we surrendered / to earth’s intelligence/ we could rise up rooted, like trees.
With nobody listening we are saying thank you / thank you we are saying and waving / dark though it is
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
- Dorianne Laux, “Blossom”
- Raymond Carver, “Happiness”
- Ha Jin, “Ways of Talking”
- Camille Dungy, “Characteristics of Life”
- Denise Levertov, “In California: Morning, Evening, Late January”
- Toi Derricote, “I give in to an old desire”
- Tim Seibles, “First Verse”
- Jane Hirshfield, “Let Them Not Say”
- Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Heart of the World”
- W.S. Merwin, “Thanks”
- Isaiah 55:12
Dog Day Too / John Burroughs
Our dog Bart lies nonchalant
on the deck dreaming of a world
without far-flung poetry events
except for the local outdoor ones
on days that are neither too hot
nor cold nor rainy for him to tag along.
He’s okay with Zoom readings too
especially when we attend on the sofa
so he can lie beside or on us, whereas
my office chair is on laminate flooring
that he would prefer to avoid
though at least that’s still home
and better than on the road.
He has never understood why people
like that book anyway, or any book indeed,
unless it was adapted for TV or DVD
since he doesn’t read and the only Kerouac
he ever recognizes is Nick Nolte’s dog
in Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
The Ritual / Regina DiPerna
I ask how you slept, how many
times you woke up to pee.
You kiss me goodbye before heading
out on your morning walk.
I’ve been awake for hours,
drinking coffee, trying to write,
to braid disparate thoughts
The headphones in your ears
are their own galaxy.
Isn’t it wild that we fight so hard
for intimacy but never once
get to peek into our beloved’s brain,
sit for a moment in the cockpit
behind their eyes? We’ve talked openly
about the devastation the other one’s
death would leave on the living one.
It would destroy me, you said.
Something about contentment
conjures ideas of death—
the ease and vulnerability
is practically an invitation for violence.
In 40 minutes, you’ll come back
through the back gate, kiss me hello.
You’ll have been protecting something
without even realizing it.
Informal Triolet on Formalism / Thomas Locicero
It seems it’s now political to rhyme.
The rhyming scheme has seen its day and night.
With formal verse now verging on a crime,
It seems it’s now political to rhyme.
To rhyme, to some, evokes another time
When poetry was mostly male and white.
It seems it’s now political to rhyme.
The rhyming scheme has seen its day and night.
(I’ll rhyme for love of rhyming and for spite.)
Paper Weight / Courtney Ludwick
Rested / no, placed / functional / if you say so / what’s underneath is made secure / who decides what is and isn’t chaos? / palm-sized / rounded corners / whose palm? / rounded corners is an oxymoron / unmoving / clouded glass / this much is true / murky as sin / heavy as breath.
Brevity & Dim / Kalliopy Paleos
Shady tin roof
dripping with violets.
a cradle sorrows itself
sip and breath, sip, breath, sip
a wheelbarrow of sighs beckons,
time lighthouses its gleam
across the waters:
leap, bruise, repeat
bruise, leap, repeat
repeat, bruise and leap.
Open sky domes down,
arthritic birds specter into
any almost nest
the consolation of ruin
flutter of relief in
closing eyes, closing.
Meditation on Blue / Claudia Reder
When feeling blue I play Dvorak.
On hearing Dvorak, it is always autumn
near a river, when cellos sigh,
blue warming to dusk, a requiem with piano.
I listen to the weighted chords,
wearing a cape of invisibility,
sit on one of the riverboats,
remembering the page turn
and now misremember.
My fingers remember other keyboards
and the chords that would
and the heart sings
its requiem and joy
for the music
it once knew
and for the poems
it now release.
How Monet’s Water Lilies
sang on the white walls of the Met
where I last saw it
blue eddy into whitish shallows
of the waterlilies themselves.
How long Monet worked on
this harvesting of plants,
color, light, water,
trees, and lit shadows.
I am inside this painting. I am the wave,
the light bending in the trees,
the branch touching wet leaves,
the light touch of blue green white, aqua.
I am entranced by the water
and shades of sun
I am the water, the sun,
When art becomes metaphor
it seduces us with a beautiful phrase or image,
opening the observatory dome,
a slit of night sky, moons imbued with mystery,
that leads us into unexpected corridors.
Stars reflected in the night sky,
We hold night water in cupped hands,
in awe and wonder.
Rust / Matt Sadler
Rust grows on the sea wall and we watch it over years, brown against blue in bright sun, blazing red against new snow, staining the snow, too. I’m testing a theory today with piles of loose dirt and pebbles in the stiff wind, while you’ve found a severed birds wing fluttering on the ground, a faded blue chunk of crumbling styrofoam, a different idea. The seabird, alone today on a craggy peak of bent metal, regards us a moment, the possibility of crumbs, then flies off into the green horizon, dried seaweed dangling from its beak.
It wasn’t a frog, but still, when I kissed / Pamela Wax
that red salamander, I thought I might get
lucky. He was from the same cold-blooded family,
the kind with the superpower to breathe on land
and undersea. I could use some luck, and anyway,
I believe in miracles, the anything-can-happen kind.
After he sidled up to my lips real nonchalant-like
in my friend’s pool, I waited a couple of minutes,
half-expectant and game—I could use some royal
treatment, and extra bones in the coffers. But when
nothing happened, I noticed he’d already kicked
the bucket, floating there, paying me no mind. Miracles
I believe in, just not the resurrection-of-the-dead kind.
On the prowl now for amphibians, I noticed one
give me the once-over with his bulging eyes, his 360-
degree vision the next time I swam in my friend’s pool.
I paddled over real slow, only to find he was a maple
leaf curled over on himself with two Japanese beetles
afloat for the cruise. When I placed that sailboat
by the edge of the pool, a sparrow—white-crowned
and bold—swooped down just like that for a snack
before taking off, one still hanging out of his mouth.
I felt like Jonah when he mourned the demise of gourds
that had kept him shaded from the sun. The beetles
hadn’t saved me, but I’d saved them. For naught. I’m
the same woman who unceremoniously flushes spiders
down the toilet, though my aunt always said they make
a happy home. Now I’m inclined to save the damned
things, along with beetles and birds and the bees.
Day 12 / Poem 12
Check Charging System / John Burroughs
My car died again this morning
parked between Big Lots
and a semi-sketchy Skechers Outlet.
It’s a Ford Taurus and my mom
was a Taurus who drove Fords but
she died four years before I got it.
The engine wouldn’t turn over when I had to
run to Elyria Tuesday but had no problem
starting days later for Terry’s memorial service.
Then it died again this morning
after I’d bought new Caterpillar boots
so I waited in my hot car cocoon
for my partner to come jump
me and I’ve needed a jump since before
my battery issues thanks to too much
to do and perhaps I can no longer
bull my way through grave exhaustion
without servicing my battery.
The Divine Feminine / Regina DiPerna
Why did I press a parking citation into my journal?
It fluttered out this morning like a wispy love letter
with a $50 fine.
My mother taught me to wrap my bloodied tampons
in toilet paper so my stepfather
wouldn’t have to see them in the garbage.
I knew from an early age to hide the animal
parts of myself, bend over backward
like an inverted ballerina to keep
the collective secrets of my sex.
The bra models in the JC Penny catalogs
smiled soundlessly from their pages,
demure but fuckable,
I knew beauty was currency.
I am a notorious cheapskate, like my mother.
She absorbed my father’s slaps and shoves
but brawled with a woman in line at the bank
for standing too close.
She was lightning striking the wrong rod,
righteous fury misfired.
The females of my childhood
smoked Winston Lights on the lawn.
They dragged on about their divorces
while French inhaling the smoke.
In my mind, they are a place I can go back to,
like posts on a fence, paint peeling,
lined up in their sadness.
Each morning I need my coffee to embrace me
by the throat.
I need the profane, I need the sacred
grief in my gut.
I need to feel my body bare down,
press my charcoal DNA into a diamond.
My mother told me once: you’re not the marrying type.
She also said, when I got my first period in a McDonald’s bathroom:
I’ll never forget her shock. How improbable it seemed
that I could bloom, blossom, break.
During the O.J. trial, my father commented
on how hot Nicole Brown Simpson was.
Too bad she’s dead. Emphasis on the she.
My grandmother referred to Camilla Parker Bowles
only as shit turd.
Monica Lewinsky was a homewrecker.
I am older now than my mother was
when she divorced my father.
He told her I would end up barefoot and pregnant by 17;
I was showing early signs of being pretty
and—left without my father’s influence—
I would surely become a fallen woman.
I had two drinks with lunch yesterday.
A champagne flute next to a pile of chilaquiles.
The elegant crystal leg belies the feral hunger.
The sound of the street cleaner trucks
this morning is wild and all-encompassing,
like I am standing at Niagara Falls
in 1995 again,
like I am waiting to be washed clean
of original sin but all I really want
is the crush of cool water
the relief, the goddamn
Crossing Water Borders / Thomas Locicero
A dousing of a fiery tongue. We watched
words extinguished like a liner losing lights,
darkening the sea but for whitewater in
the haloed moonglow, gray eyebrows in
a loop of constant surprise. And so it was
with all the prattling, the other version of
Father: all that remained was that which was
already in motion, rolling toward a shore
he never walked upon, and, when he arrives,
rabid-mouthed as he was propagandized to be,
he will be absorbed, but that was all we knew,
all we had been told. Mother makes cymbals of
hardened bread loaves, sending crumb signals
into the auburn air, prophesying an awful hunger.
She focuses on a faraway point, as if by sheer intent
the sea will oblige by turning gold, and for but
a moment, she is there, dressed like an American,
silk draped over new American skin. She carries
another inside her, foreseeing the weeping and
gnashing of teeth after the breaking of the amniotic
dam. Father will amble for position. He will send
for us, he promises, knowing Wife knows he lies.
Mother smiles and feeds us hope. At night, Wife
is ambushed by misgiving, curled by her heaving.
Fossil / Courtney Ludwick
Here is my face
to the light.
Most days I feel
of spare parts.
wind caress me
into unforgiving rock.
As I sit on the floor
wearing an old hookup’s t-shirt
that doesn’t fit like yours
I hold this memory as
you held that conch shell
—close, gently, up
to my ear.
Would you wish to listen again?
Heaven says Write / Kalliopy Paleos
, or you can wait by the window and let the cough climb up from your guts through your cold ribs and lay itself out in your throat, a pulsing stingray.
Or you can fistfight with your tattered cloak in the bitter wind. With each grasp, the air grates your fingers into salty shreds like aged parmesan
which you lick at desperately.
You could also talk on the phone. But it would have to be perpetually, and you may only allude to allergies or shopper’s coupons.
You could hold vigils. This would mean fleshly visitations from self-flagellating 8th century monks and their sheep. This would also be permanent, and irreversible.
Then there is the shower. You can hide there indefinitely. If you do come out, you will see how tender you are, only organs and bones wet and silvery
the skin having rinsed away leaving its film on the tub.
Before you decide, please know you shall answer for it in heaven after all. We thought this policy had been cancelled, but it wasn’t. Think it over. Perhaps jot down some thoughts.
PT for Balance / Claudia Reder
Driving up the vertiginous hill to the house
on Foothill, my daughter and I spy
a coyote chasing a chicken,
who with open wings
does his chicken do si doh
up the lumpy, gravelly road.
The chicken must be crazy
to think he can outrun a coyote.
Still, we’re rooting for the chicken.
We know our fables.
He reminds me of myself in P.T.
stumbling over foam blocks
and neon wiggle cushions.
I must have looked like the crazy chicken
trying to outfox a cartoon villain
when I went splat on the mat
while relearning my prepositions:
step over, step around, slide through.
Even though the chicken
in a flurry of fleeing,
with wings that balk,
keeps trying to outwit coyote,
coyote, ever tired,
will howl and cry, rummage around
the stars and pull the rug
out from under us tomorrow.
Hey Bear / Matt Sadler
When in the forest they say talk
to the bears to keep them away,
But I felt so stupid marching above
Hidden Lake, blue as a gem,
saying Hey Bear to the air and
the rocks and the raspberries.
I am young in this picture. I want
to say twenty-two, so of course
I knew better than anyone. I want
to strangle that kid sometimes,
to go back and be older than I was.
The girl I was with was seeing my
full plumage, and love was inside me
like the dark blue of an animal
hurtling down the hillside. Hey bear
Is reason asking passion to make
sense once in awhile, living to see
that love bear the fruit of raking
a lawn. I didn’t say it then. And that
girl was gone in a couple weeks.
Dumb kid. I’ll say it now, for you, in case
we’re in some movie time loop
or the gods of nature can whisper it
backwards into the past.
A Sonnet for Dragon Slayers Young and Old / Pamela Wax
The dragons are teeming, the angels need back-up,
God is despairing, for the old slayers are sluggish.
They’re weary and pooped, gave good years to good causes,
and now hope is a thing with tar and blood on her feathers.
These spent prophets would like to clean all of those wings,
for when they’re pristine, they’ll take lift in the young.
But even for clean-up, these elder sisters are flagging
and jaded, they’re missing the spark for the fire of battle.
They contended before, thought the war had been won;
they can’t seem to stomach starting back at square one.
To marshal our furies, Emily’s hope at our back,
we pull the trump from our pockets—whisper Greta,
and Malala, and Emma, then Paxton til a bell rings
Tomorrow! Tomorrow! in the bones of those deadened.
Day 11 / Poem 11
Every time I watch that TV Show about finding your roots / Joanne Fay Brown
I dream of having a family tree like the House of Normandy and ancestors with names like Rollo the Ganger. I’d know so much about them — who begat who, who betrayed who, who beheaded who.
I know tidbits about my ancestors, their names — Grandpa Morris Brown, a woodcarver, neé Braunstein, and before that Zaslavsky, perhaps from Zaslav in Ukraine, somewhere in the Pale, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. His father found a corpse in the forest, passport in his pocket, named Braunstein. Great Grandfather Zaslavsky boarded a boat for New York, became a Brown. Grandpa Max Gordon’s name is not Ashkenazi — his great-greats might have been mercenaries in the Scottish Clan wars, sported the Gordon tartan, marched in the Battle of Auldearn, took the clan name, which it turns out, originates from Normandy.
House of Normandy, House of Gordon, no matter. I’ve heard that blood cells carry memory. I remember Yiddishkeit, Jewishness. I remember the evil that destroyed the Temple and the shetl, hurled my people from one end of the earth to another. I remember not the words, but the sound of Yiddish, mama lashon, mother tongue, the portable homeland. I have the story of the birthday of the world: In the beginning there was only holy darkness. And then the world emerged from the heart of holy darkness as a vessel of light. There was an accident — the vessel broke, and the world was scattered into millions of fragments of light, which fell into all events, and all people, who will restore its wholeness. I imagine my forebears — their flaws, foibles, fortitude. I remember them as ordinary and brilliant as the sky.
Imperfection / John Burroughs
I was sure as Zeus that I had come up
with the perfect title before this:
Doomscrolling the Apocalypse.
Google has a way of spoiling the day.
Turns out my friend Surazeus has
already written that poem
and I must continue churning.
So far that’s today’s best news.
The Seachange / Regina DiPerna
The water flowed in, flooded
cocktail tables, notebooks
and the secret yearnings
scrawled in black ink.
The heart was an erasure,
red wine redacting the wounds.
I was wreckage, whale bones
The water flows outward now
from my chest onto shore,
tide, ocean swell. Your lungs
are bioluminescent. We are
the sea’s limitless circumference
we imagined, slaked thirst,
wave tops rising cold and clear
in the infinite morning.
Cloud Writing and Wrestling / Thomas Locicero
You, Poet, will discover the difference
Between cloud writing and wrestling with words.
Intellectually, this is no feat.
You think you are fishing, but the fish lure your
Line and you do not consider the calm.
Only later, when you are considering
Muse participation, do you consider.
You become transparent and the cloud becomes
Apparent and you understand something
Without knowing what it is you understand.
But you understand the wrestling, the slackline
Gone taut followed by the bend and the pull,
The release out and the reeling back in.
During the release, you come to understand
The importance of the thumb over the line.
When you have netted more fish than you need
And you are not sure which ones to throw back,
It is then that you consider the cloud.
At night, drained from the choppiness and chum
Of the day, you sense the cloud has settled
Above your bed. Though baited, you are too tired
To get up to write the words that rain down
Inside your head. It’s only in the morning
When you remember you’ve forgotten something.
What you consider a divine appointment
You had exchanged for a little extra sleep.
You imagine yourself in Gethsemane.
You are an undisciplined disciple,
Who could not stay awake to be with God.
Sunday Triptych / Courtney Ludwick
First. The waking hour. The long preamble. Long day before short night. (Or is it the other way around?) Today rots into yesterday so quick. Now and then or then and now? I take my time, scraping mold from the toast. Nostalgic for a shitty past. What the fuck is this present? The windchimes on my neighbor’s balcony ring too loud, too often, too early, too ringing, too much, too much too much too much.
Second. It is just after noon, not quite afternoon, and when do people stop saying good morning? At the thought of breakfast, my stomach turns. Turn an hourglass upsidedown, if I had one. Turn an hourglass rightsideup, if I knew which way that was. The sky is blue and then it is not and then it rains and you might think my neighbor’s windchimes would drown in all that cornflower syrup, would maybe sing themselves out under the tar-black, would perhaps stop, listen, understand the weeping clouds’ cries that make my frail sins wither, coil, and writhe under sod—but those metal pricks never shut up.
Third. Post dinner but pre everything else. I have half a cake burning in my freezer. That’s what the kids like to call a metaphor. No one calls. Can I write about sex if I know my family will read this? All at once, I feel too young and too old and tooinbetween. It’s my birthday, soon. A coming of age, if you will. Will you or won’t you and where was I headed? Clock says today is yesterday again and I forgot I ordered an hourglass online. It arrives so, so comically small. I take my time, unfurling its plastic, feeling its weight settle into my palm. How do people know when something is rightsideup or upsidedown and is now then or is then now? I don’t want a midnight snack. Let cake rot. Goddamn windchimes
Double Helix / Kalliopy Paleos
Inside every face
a skull the eyes
Inside the bag
that is the body
no one guesses
Inside the mind
no on can tally
before the finish
Over the head
the sun glances
Inside the feet
each individual step
Antidote for Pain / Claudia Reder
Past school and field
where today two women picnicked,
I thought I heard a bird, but it was you whistling.
You hadn’t whistled in a while.
We noticed how the wind winds
around the corner without us.
The wind that blows through the steel slats
to keep children in the elementary school safe
keeps pinging the air.
We walk single file past the silver lupine.
I smell Pollo Loco. Wild squash grows
in the lone field just mown, meaning
all those wildflowers are gone,
even the heron that used to hunt there
is gone; developers moving in.
No scent of fires yet this summer
while we untangle anger, older than us.
Days spent sorting items from the garage.
Your face itches and your skin feels
as if it was attacked by a thousand bugs.
Retirement means to deal with:
the stuff of us, of family, of leaving and going
to what, to where. We haven’t a clue.
We stop mid sentence and turn away.
Where is there to go?
Where is water?
Where is green and thirsty?
We seek it or try to expel it,
depending on the day, mood, and timing of light.
Somewhere my feet slow.
Spring rises in my throat
buds open in this confusion.
Evolution / Matt Sadler
I had a dream that the monkeys
and the humans were working together
across the evolution
like an assembly line, but my monkey
handed me a piece of shit
then started dry humping my hand
and I woke up screaming and told Mary
that’s why women hate men
and she laughed- still loving me-
but we didn’t fall back to sleep.
The thing about evolution is
it doesn’t include you
on the way like
following someone hiking
and they let the little branches whip you,
like it’s folding your elegy into
its birthday cake.
The thing about you and me is
time moves along beyond us. Dear
dear dear you, please tell me
how much better it used to be,
then we can smile and remember ourselves,
we can smile at all this new bounty
that isn’t ours.
Four-Leafed Clovers / Pamela Wax
With luck, the sorceress would find some
by the glow of thunder moon, mix them
with verbena to protect from hateful spells.
In Vermont it’s just ironic to think
they might bring luck. To skirt a rural
graveyard, a four-way clover ramp
was built—so much loss of life
resulted, that graveyard’s now full up.
Day 10 / Poem 10
Dead Man’s Float / Joanne Fay Brown
I’m learning the Dead Man’s Float in Pool No. 2.
It’s summer 1956, first Day of desegregation
and I’m six, enchanted
by the dark brown tendrils on my father’s chest,
his strong flat palm under my belly,
my red and white polka-dot bathing suit
turned to the sun, star white in a sapphire sky.
When I come up for air, water streaming,
I see the sign: “For Coloreds Only.”
I’m sixteen, besotted by Motown.
Six white girls, best friends carpooling to school, sing
Smokey Little Stevie Wonder Marvin Gaye
every word by heart
Uptight! Beauty’s Only Skin Deep What’s Going On?
The pins on their chests sport neat little guard chains.
My parents won’t let me join the sorority, “too bourgeois”
my father says. I don’t know why
I have to suffer for their ideals. What I want
is a boyfriend and a Ladybug sweater.
We’re the only whites on the block,
not invited to their backyard barbecues,
they don’t come to Sunday bagels with lox.
Bobby Goldman asks me to the Mardi Gras
dance, picks me up
in his Chevy, “nice neighborhood,” he sneers.
I’m eighteen, Baltimore smolders —
the first plate glass window smashed
at a hat shop on North Gay, 5:30 p.m.
What’s going on?
Martin Bobby John Malcolm Medger
Emmet Addie Mae Carole Denise Cynthia.
Air thick with smoke and sadness,
troops patrol with bayonets as riots of daffodils
rise up in shafts of sunlight through a chain-link fence.
Five thousand jailed, six killed, seven hundred injured,
black flags on our porch say, Leave them alone
I look up,
want to believe we are all afloat in the same sea.
Redux Isn’t Pronounced Ray Do, But That Hasn’t Stopped Me / John Burroughs
I once said I don’t want to be anyone but me,
man, really but then I tend to forget
I’m you and he and she
and the world is a poem
and whether or not we write
a word we’re all part of it
and each other
King Solomon is said to have said
there is nothing new under the sun
and he never saw cell phones
or personal computers
as far as I know
But what do I know?
I never met King Solomon
or even saw King Solomon’s Mines
though I know it starred
And in a sense we’re all this poem’s stars:
each daughter, doctor, dog, tree, rock,
sun, king, Richard, amoeba, chamberlain,
comedian comprised of star stuff, the same
atomic matter and energy that have been
around since long before Solomon’s time
So when you slap down your brother
you’re slapping down star stuff as well
as yourself because there’s no me except we
and we’re as large as we are wee
and everything’s relative as well
as correlative whether or not we’ve seen
the movie or touched a hem
and every identity crisis is a closing of eyes
and also an opening and may I never
write another careless word out of hurt
or hate or bravado or lack of empathy
but embrace the symphony of all
that is and live and love and learn
to dance with the stars
The Brother, Revisited / Regina DiPerna
I see you how you were then—
and Dungeons & Dragons
a cluster of freckles
on the moon, fingertips leafing
through a comic book
while the void waited
beneath your bed.
You told me once
you never wanted to leave
high school. And you didn’t.
You’re preserved in the brash
crescendo of marching bands
like insect in amber, cymbal crash
in summer air, the wild audacity
stinging each note.
There is always a sense
that I could glimpse you
in the crowd, teeth glinting
under a ball cap, watching trumpets herald
the end of your absence.
Boiling Frogs in Africa / Thomas Locicero
As you suckled your mother’s breast,
you were limited in what you could
consider, yet there was some primitive
instinct that embedded itself in your brain:
the notion that there would always be food.
A trash heap became your playground,
where your tiny fingers unknowingly
used arithmetic to determine if two palms-
worth of discards could feed your family.
You wrest rice from a smaller boy’s hands.
The older children’s bones show less than
your own. From them, you learn new tricks.
Those with shirts tuck them in and drop
their bounty inside. Those with too little
clothes only have their hands to carry
what they have found and they fist
food in case they are forced to fight.
Your father is in the fields his father worked;
your mother fetches undrinkable water.
They cannot afford uniforms or books
and so you and your brothers and sisters
learn from life like the first humans.
Only they had a garden and you have
garbage, but, gratefully, you do not know
this or that ignorance is often a blessed bliss.
You will not learn about the birth control
parachuted into your mud or that your father
swallowed The Pill and your mother wore
condoms on her fingers or that there is food
rotting on docks, stolen by rotund pirates.
But you will learn: you and your brothers to
hand-plow a fat man’s earth; your sisters to
avoid rape and crocodiles and to balance dirty
water on their heads, and, someday, you will
learn love and pleasure and will marry and,
because it seems natural, you will bring
children into your world because you have
learned hope, and while hope has kept you
alive this long, you have not yet learned
that it is boiling you slowly like the frog in
the experiment about which you will never learn.
Entrance to a Quarry / Courtney Ludwick
Would you believe me if I told you
there was a woman among the broken
wreaths of green?
Coming not from man’s rib
but born from the olive grove, sweet cypress tree
and meadow womb
cosseting deep-pitted quarry. Forget
what you know about this sobering
Her chin is the fragile stone. Her mouth,
I wish to trace that upturned smirk. Lashes made of
bough and limb
Scourging men come to mine these rocks but she remains, taut
neck becoming thick trunk. Unyielding, under floating
grass, she is rooted.
Though she looks asleep, she is not
any less awake. Though her eyes are closed, it is so
so easy to see.
Fury Walks into the Bar, Sidles Up in Velvet / Kalliopy Paleos
[and whispers in my ear
[pulling me close to her soft, warm tits
[into the champagne:
Take in my breath, she purrs
[incense of nard, incense of myrrh
curling around my heart]
I will reveal all your secrets
to you, she murmurs
to grip the wheel
as early dawn plucks its way
across the synapses of colliding minutes
light stealing along webs of words, of revelations
so that as you drive home in the pearly light of daybreak
and slam your car right through the wooden gate
laughter and blood will fill your mouth,
fresh and delicious
In Her Next Life Mother Wants to be a Chef / Claudia Reder
What a find! Mother sings
like a bird who has found the perfect piece of string
to coil in its nest. She won’t talk about the past,
willing it to sink to the bottom
of the ship crossing in steerage, 1939.
Why talk about that when we can talk
about grapples, plumots,
orangelos, and tangelos? Her arms full
of designer fruits, she has rushed home;
always a fast walker, her daughters lag behind.
She remembers exactly when she switched from Perrier
to Pellegrino—she applauds the smaller bubbles.
The dining table set with its fine china and silver
butter plates. On the side table waits dessert:
fresh berries and cream to be served
with crème de cassis to bring out
the liqueur of the berries. Would you like to taste
these grapes? With small snippets
of her curved grape scissors, she
serves you a cluster of the reddish plump fruit.
Why speak of unhappy things, she says,
when I can think about Coquille Saint-Jacques?
She puts out her cigarette.
It’s time to heat the butter for the scallops.
Untitled / Matt Sadler
Where are you
lost in a day
Where is your window
slicing you up
into separate shafts
Who brings you
to spin into
fabric who blinds
like a beached
Once, I wanted this
and ribbons and
I was a crow
through my dna once
with darkness and
particles of dust
sweep the still
air alight in the
there, of that
You’ve Got Mail / Pamela Wax
I hear the side door of her truck slide open across the street,
and I think mail. I think, You’ve got mail. I think, Meg Ryan
and that restaurant scene, about my own last climactic
delivery. I hear the click of our mailbox lid, think about all
the hand-written notes (who does that anymore), the birthday
and new year’s cards (tis not the season), the sympathy cards
(Hallmark doesn’t make them for this kind of grief), those thin
blue aerogrammes from Kenya and Israel (haven’t had
a penpal in over fifty years) that won’t be there, about the big
advance checks I’ll never receive, about the bills, the requests
to donate—good causes, most of them—the sale inserts
from Stop & Shop and Job Lot that I’ll sort through and put
in the recycling bin. Through the window I watch Bertie head
up the hill, lean and tan, her telltale button-up the same blue
as those bygone aerogrammes and unwrinkled (doesn’t
she sweat?), a bundle of mail in her arms. I think about hail
and sleet, the pandemic, climate change, how
she shows up even though it was never the USPS motto,
how Herodotus wrote that about the Persians in 500 BCE,
including the word gloom into his list of what could never
deter such fine couriers. When she’s out of sight, I open
the front door, slip my hand into the mailbox, mounted
within reach. It’s decorated with a #SaveThePostOffice
sticker I got from MoveOn to show her love thirty-three
American crises ago. Amongst the junk, a glossy 6×9.
I’ve just retired, but for a blink of my eye, I actually think
about applying, usps.com/careers. Sense of service
to the community. Diverse workplace. When I was twelve,
I asked about a job at the local post office for the summer.
The clerk explained civil service, said I was too young,
and besides, I should set my sights higher. What could be
higher? I thought. I show my husband the ad, tell him
I need to be of service. As I hear Bertie drive away, he leads
me upstairs. He wants to show me how to deliver the mail.
Day 9 / Poem 9
We Were Pilgrims / Joanne Fay Brown
We didn’t plan ahead,
Where we would stay,
We didn’t think about food, it was like,
Hey, this sounds cool,
Let’s get in the car and go.
Traffic was stopped dead,
The state highway was a parking lot,
We got out of our cars, started talking
to strangers and walking,
We were like pilgrims.
They hadn’t finished putting up the fences,
There were no ticket takers, no gates,
Almost a half million of us and Richie Havens
a song called “Freedom.”
Hamburgers were free, but we got hungry,
Some got sick, some had a bad trip,
Copters brought tens of thousands
of boiled eggs from the townspeople,
and 45 Army doctors.
The security detail — Wavy Gravy
and the Hog Farm “Please Force”
took care of the ones who were scared
in freak-out tents,
At night thousands of camp fires lit up the farm.
We saw stars, listened to music,
until the sun rose over the hill,
On the second day the sky turned angry,
The storm could have hit the electrical
equipment and burned us all to cinders.
We couldn’t have imagined our future,
We were against war, we thought
if a half million kids could come together
with no violence, we could change the world,
Then, swift as lightning, it was over.
Just six hundred acres of detritus left, ghosts
of young unbathed bodies and the sound
of bombs bursting in air
from Hendrix, alone, on stage playing The Star-Spangled Banner.
Disservice / John Burroughs
In the hours I had to write a poem this morning and afternoon I instead downloaded gigabyte after gigabyte of over a decade of my Facebook data in case my account disappears again and finished reading Diane Seuss’ frank: sonnets to keep myself from disappearing.
What have I
I’m supposed to meet with friends this afternoon to celebrate my recent honor from the National Beat Poetry Foundation but I’m only mostly going not to displease them because who am I to decline kindness and who am I indeed and I keep hearing a Pet Shop Boys’ refrain.
What have I
What have I
In the meantime, my backup hard drive crashed, couldn’t be detected by my computer and I panicked that I would lose years of work in addition to the hours of downloading and handyman Carl is asking for another
2000 check before his work is done and I’m having flashbacks.
What have I
What have I
What have I done…?
My computer and data issues resolved, it’s time to get dressed, put on an undismayed face and head to the gathering where I might find it easier to celebrate had this poem felt finished but it’s sunny outside and I enjoy the good moments more when I get there than I do on my way.
What have I
What have I
What have I done to deserve this?
Everything, of course,
and absolutely nothing.
The Ethereal / Regina DiPerna
Is it shell-black or
Is it fleshed
or feathered, is it
Is it darkness
or light particles
bending around darkness,
in the shadowbox
while the black hole
at the center of
an ocean swirls
its mysterious tide?
It is misty and fog-bound,
It is bird, or
it’s the door bird makes
from sky. It is pan
catching rain, or it’s rain.
We stand on the edge
of a keyhole:
sea of snow and
fractal loops that orbit
like bone fitting into
its dazzling socket.
The Lure of Whisperings / Thomas Locicero
My brother remembered remembering
A story he had eavesdropped on as a child.
My father, who’d never spoken of war,
Was visited by a Marine Corps friend.
Whisperings huddled and hovered above
The kitchen table, unevaporated
To this day. Had the soldiers been speaking
At a timbre easily ascertained,
My brother might have only heard white noise,
But whispers lure both children and gossips.
My brother did not repeat what he’d heard
For a few years more than half a century.
A chaplain my father was protecting
Was attacked and so my father responded.
In a shot, a child’s ears became adult eyes:
The seemingly skinless shins, pink and scarred;
Sunglasses worn indoors, the restive rest.
Back to sound: Okinawa, fixed bayonets.
What could this mean to a child or have meant
To my father, who, when barely a man,
Had a world war appear on his doorstep?
And so he stepped outside, outside of himself,
Outside of his country, outside of his
Conscience, and the things he saw and had to do
He kept inside, another sacrifice,
Another war, and then he brought it all home,
Lured by whisperings until lured by death.
Aquarius / Courtney Ludwick
Ptolemy found you first—you like when I know things like that. I want to say I found you second, but when my eyes lift, I can’t make out your dim stars. You text me about where you’re at now. Can anyone really see you? I have a question. If you are Ganymede, what does that make me? God, not the god who took you. The earth, then? Lie to me. Even your name does. Who came up with that clever trick? But cup bearer, you have been called. I always wanted to know if water is what fills you. You swim in it. Eridanus the river, Cetus and sweet Pisces—it surrounds you. When you were still here, I was too scared to ask if you could still breathe. Am I drowning you? Sorry I never said a lot of things. I always meant to. From my sink, your palm fills. It’s not fair how you can choose to empty yourself of me. Now I’m on the floor. Your horoscope sucks. Is it too late to call?
Love poem for my mother / Kaillopy Paleos
She knows where the funeral homes are
knows the parking lots of the hospitals
She gets there early
for whoever needs what.
Standing in her shop all day long
she murmurs over the heads of the living
advice for house plants advice
for holding onto your money
for setting up your apartment
and letting the police know you might be in trouble
on Tuesday night and then finally telling him he has to get out.
At weddings she dances with invisible
ribbons of light and you can hear God say
Oh look at her praising us all,
this is for all beings and exactly what I meant.
She has the gold coins and the glass beads and the silk shoes
and the barbecue spare ribs and little sculptures of rice
that she tips from the teacup onto your plate so that the golden
butter melts like a yellow ruby just for you
and you can laugh all you want on the holy days
when she claims
the neck of the turkey
the eye of the fish
the brain of the lamb
For to us it is cool rain and sweet breezes to praise her
and any offering we can find is
but a paper medallion with its wisp of yarn
but we give it
and our cheeks turn pink
and she says thank you honey
with a little wink.
For Maurice Sendak / Claudia Reder
Inside our village of nightmares
and fears, Sendak offers humor.
In this eat or be eaten world
of children’s play Sendak knows
that children cheer for monsters.
He knows that children often hum
as they peer through windows,
hoping for sun or rain puddles,
or stare at the moon that follows them home,
hoping to sort out the addled
adult world. They are so little
they see kneecaps, scuffed shoes,
the chin on a long face.
In Sendak stories, the pages grow
and we imagine the rest.
Always there are children who won’t admit
that Peter Rabbit got baked in a pie;
a child for whom zoos don’t exist,
for lions live in her wardrobe.
Sendak sends children out into the fairy world
but by the story’s end the baby’s safely home
tucked in her mother’s or her sister’s arms.
For children who know loss, or have no one to complain to,
no one to hug, Sendak’s stories are acts of love.
That’s how she learned that she already knew:
Life is the scary universe
that stories the pages she reads.
She holds onto her Sendak books:
the ruined copies, the hardbacks, paperbacks,
scribbled on, rained on, stepped on.
She wishes she could ask him
where his stories come from
for Sendak knows in life the story’s never done.
She picks up where he leaves off:
writing, scribbling, humming
her own song.
Squam Lake / Matt Sadler
The lake at sunset
is a room we can live in,
yellow silt to deep blue-black
and silver flashes,
the embers of cloud-light,
bulky grey structures
shadow the rim,
lives on the mend
swim the darkness
into the bright yellow pool
of a streetlight
and back out,
stitches and fish-light,
time passing in moments
defined by the swell
of slow waves.
Not good to be alone, / Pamela Wax
when He created Eve when Noah’s animals walked
the plank two-by-two into the ark.
I checked my Bible found not one mention of lilacs there.
But my friend told me that when one of his two bushes died
not long after his wife
the gardener told him there must be a surrogate
spouse in the neighbor’s yard for lilacs cannot live alone.
Day 8 / Poem 8
In America You Can Be A Bounty Hunter / Joanne Fay Brown
The Board has received information to the effect that reasonable grounds may exist for belief that you are disloyal to the Government of the United States. Specifically, the charges and the evidence relating thereto, are as follows:
- That you are a member of the Communist Party.
- That for the past several years you have associated with individuals whom evidence in our file indicates are members of the Communist Party, or Communist Party sympathizers.
You stand at the bottom
of the basement stairs, coveralls stained
by insecticides smelling of burnt matches
and rotted eggs, covered in filth
from floors where you knelt
and crawled, flashlight in hand to
kill mice. Your face dull with the ache
of swallowed rage, you do not ask
if I watched a good show on TV last night.
You do not wish me a good day at school.
This is your (our) livelihood now. You
study best poisons for cockroaches, your
Phi Beta Kappa framed, idles
on Grandma Libby’s tenement wall.
Listen, you say as I turn from the stairwell,
Why should you get to choose your life?
You were not planned. You
weren’t supposed to be born anyway.
Death by the Foot / John Burroughs
Every time someone I love dies, I start
looking for new boots. But I’m running
behind, out of closet space, and because
I haven’t made time to make up my mind
since December I now owe myself six pairs.
The Suburbs / Regina DiPerna
My love’s biceps rock-heavy / stacking paint cans in the garage or / gathering a ponytail at the crown / of a child’s head / a blackbird’s wing tinged red / on a white picket fence // We almost died not knowing / the halo of track lighting wreathed / above our heads / the ecstatic silence of a gleaming faucet after the dishes are done / the dinner is swallowed / the teeth have been polished clean by the tongues // My love’s lips taste of chlorine / summer thunder / creature comfort / a tidal wave of air conditioning between the patio and the living room // I hear my love’s voice / from every room in the house / every sonic boom / stretching from the desert’s bones / to the sofa’s legs // I know what makes the lemons tumble from the lemon tree // My love’s hair greyed at the temples / that sacred geometry // We almost didn’t know each other // We almost didn’t know sugar-scorched air / champagne ribbons of light spilling beneath doorways / while the refrigerator hums / a monk deep in oblivion // Our unborn children are sleeping / in the night-blooming jasmine / waiting / like every minute is the first.
Sestina / Thomas Locicero
I have determined to exit love
To instead execute life,
Having ambled blindly,
Content to see the sieve
Scattering skyward like a specter.
I have pursued such a specter
Which took on the form of love,
But its irretrievability
Lent to a meandering life
And the dripping of a sieve
That I flouted, blindly.
Though now I see, I do so blindly,
Identifying love as a specter
Straining through souls like a sieve,
Attributing pain to love,
Tearing at flesh as if to save its life,
Gloating in its irretrievability.
It is not until I accept this irretrievability
That I will no longer see love blindly
And believe I could reclaim life.
It is then that I see the specter
And through it glimpse elusive love,
Which tempts me to stop the sieve.
And with the stopping of the sieve
Comes the stay of irretrievability
And with it the possibility of love.
If I follow, I do so not blindly
But like you led, like a specter
Who searches the air for signs of life.
Do you not recall your beautiful life
Before the strains, before the awful sieve
That had ground a man into a specter
Who believed the life of irretrievability
And followed it, pursued it even, blindly,
Though faith, not sight, comprises love?
There can be no love without a love life,
Or else it blindly winds up in a sieve
And the notion of irretrievability spooks the specter.
Hot Cement / Courtney Ludwick
There is something violent
this way we walk. Remnants, remains, reminders–carrying
our splinters. Feet dragging. Why are your hands swinging?
I had to go outside because the television, even off,
guts me. Before I left, I touched the screen and it was warm but
I’m still mad it wasn’t hotter. The image fades, slow and ugly. I want
to be more like hardened pavement, mid-July, refusing
half measures. This analogy doesn’t work because
cracks in sidewalks don’t get fixed and we need to gnaw out the foundation.
This is nothing new so why do we keep asking what comes next? Does anyone else
feel like a sledgehammer made of putty? What can I say that hasn’t already been said?
And then one day you find yourself unexpectedly strolling along with the ghost of an old courtesan / Kalliopy Paleos
The Countess of Castiglione
dismissed her mind
cell by cell
as her face unceremoniously wilted.
She slinked, invisible,
to the photographer’s studio
again and again
bearing her burning heart
a slowly collapsing fire
diminishing into the wrapped-up embers
carried by the first people.
I sit in a café opened ten or so years ago
on cobbled ground consecrated
the morning of June 8, 1244
drinking an Orangina bottled just last week.
Kate Bush’s Running Up that Hill floods through us
strangers and friends alike
and at once
all of my life
a tarot deck imprinted
on membranes of time.
You see, after La Castiglione was turned
out of Napoleon’s soft bed
streetwalking was rough.
Step after stone after twisting foot.
Much easier to keep dogs than men,
and to direct the epic movie
of her death, one frame at a time
I remember her only
because she has appeared
because to remember is to bless.
Even if we’re not quite sure we exist,
still, a blessing we can always find
And if I place
the Card of Me at 16
at my stereo, perfectly still
for Kate’s hysterical pitch
to penetrate me
it becomes a light I can carry
through the wilds.
Next to it is cast the Card of Now
at La Panacée, coeur de l’Écusson,
on the settling silt
flooding the capsule
that is my body.
Otherwise yes, time maddens.
Whether you exist or not.
Whether you know it or not.
Or bless others by remembering.
The girl at the bar
(sparkling curls tingling
with the slowly draining
hormones of youth)
does not look at me.
Not when I order and not when I pay.
I say nothing of tarot
or Kate Bush
or the Hounds of Love
or hysterical voices lifted up.
I say thank you, and I leave.
That’s all anyone ever does.
Lighting the sidewalk
with my little candle
I amble alongside
the invisible heart of embers
To the hovering departed
I offer the blessing of the living
for I am among the living
whether I exist or not.
A History of Rain / Claudia Reder
You hold up an umbrella.
Is it raining? you ask of strangers.
You are not sure it can rain anymore
or that you would recognize that greening essence.
That sparrow in the oak remembers rain,
remembers the rush of creek
behind your house when there was a creek,
frogs intoning, mating, it’s time, it’s time.
What will the world be without rain?
without almonds, avocados?
I remember one severe storm
when a teen died trying to cross a creek with a rope.
Now that memory slides away in a flash of mud.
When we first moved to Ojai,
El Niño delayed my plane,
sweetened the red salvia,
I yelled at my husband
as if he was responsible for the rain
and commanded him to make it stop.
Now I look out onto burnt mountains,
their greens bald, their ashy slopes,
their emboldened crewcuts of renewal.
We purchase hats with broader brims.
We joke, we’ll have to walk sideways through the door.
I look out on the patio.
Even the hibiscus has spoken up.
It radiates openness and the start of a love affair,
that passionate first meeting.
It honors us with its trumpet power.
A mentor of bloom. I call other buds
to watch and take notice.
This is a Jackhammer But I Was Looking / Matt Sadler
For a cello I was looking
for a day sweet to dripping
with nostalgia. This is a spike
protein but I was looking
for a covalent bond, a convalescent
begging please god anything
helps, a cove for safe
keeping. I wanted a bagel but you gave me
a bagful, a curt nod and be on your way
to the train, rumbling with hunger
through the empty tunnels. And I know
I didn’t buy one but here in my hands on the
platform before that abyss
is a ticket, a crisp white thing,
and I’ll use it, I’ll use
what I have if I have to.
See Jane run / Pamela Wax
far from Dick naughty naughty Dick
see Father raise big voice see Mother cry
zoom in big city see Jane hide
see Jane hold baby Sally cupboards bare
see Jane see red seek more Janes
see Jane help Janka
see big men wear blue see red lights go round and round
hear Janes Doe
raise big voices shouting no
witness no run
down Janes’ cheeks between their legs inside their song
a run-on sentence all life long
Day 7 / Poem 7
Full / Joanne Fay Brown
Today in the writing workshop I prompted us to write about what cancer teaches. Lillie wrote a memory — how the doctor hesitated as he came into the exam room, how his eyes watered, his voice waivered, and she saw he was human, too.
Jamie said she puts her mind to joy, especially fishing, and helping others. Yesterday she lent a boy her rod, helped him catch three trout. She’s a deacon in her church, wants to start a caring ministry of sorts.
Katharine said she’ll offer her writing as a prayer.
Nubia said now is the time. She’ll walk the Camino de Santiago.
Marisol said walking the road of death has been a gift and letting it go a journey of love.
I see love lurking, in plain sight, on the Zoom screen.
The psalmist said, She will cover you with her feathers, and under her wings you shall trust: Her truth shall be your shield and buckler.
So Much for Saving / John Burroughs
Before almost anything I remember a bubble bath
with Dad at my Aunt Helen’s house on Wilder
in Elyria when I was probably three years old.
We were visiting Ohio from West Virginia
because Dad wanted to find a healthier job
than in the coal mines or another tour in Vietnam.
He told me not to eat the bubbles, but no
need to worry, I did not even want to pop them.
I saw each one as a universe of possibility.
A dozen years later, he and my step-mom
snooped and found poems I had written about
impending death and assumed I was suicidal.
They sent me to a shrink because he had the same
name as a guy they remembered from back home
and because they wanted to save me.
He asked about my earliest memory and I told him
about the bath and how upset I was when Dad let
the water out and wouldn’t let me keep the bubbles.
Turns out I did not want to die and was only writing
about the end of the world because a visiting preacher
their church had hosted convinced me it was imminent.
More bubbles burst. And throughout my childhood
no matter how hard I tried to hold the universes
safe in my hands they always eluded salvation.
The Conjunction / Regina DiPerna
A female fetus has eggs
even when she’s in utero
which means at one point
my grandmother, my mother,
and I shared the same body.
For a fleeting few months
we aligned like three chambered
nautiluses, an eclipse of raw
fluid and blood and time.
Each one asks herself, do I raise
this cup to my lips? Each answer
is more fractal than the last.
Each woman is a secret
hemmed into another.
Her body, hollyhocks
obscuring the dirt.
My body belongs less to me
than my mother’s did to her.
When she found out she was
pregnant a third time, it began a violent
argument with my father.
Each one blamed the other
for my existence. I picture her
arguing with him in the hallway—
her knit brow, her voice straining
against his, hands wringing,
her anguish: her choice.
At a protest yesterday, I screamed
No justice, no peace.
But what I meant was
give me back my own question,
my own answer.
Pictures / Thomas Locicero
I have a picture of you standing.
I can edit out the grimace in your face.
I can pretend you weren’t praying
not to fall. I can lie and tell my children
this was Grandma on a good day. Here
is a photo of you smiling. Of course,
you were seated, so your eyes were present.
Only when you tried to walk did you
go somewhere in your mind. A part
of you stayed to be afraid, but the younger
you was tracking sand in some island bar
doing whatever you did when you were
whoever you were. I cannot picture
who I was before I found you neither
standing nor sitting on Christmas Eve.
Fairy Knots / Courtney Ludwick
Or so my mother called them.
As the brush untangles–
soap, too, strips.
I watch it circle
and my breath catches
down the drain.
I’ll Say I Know Buddy, And They’ll Let Me Eat In / Kalliopy Paleos
Finally lost Nick. My bet, he’s down Tennessee. Always finds bus fare to go cryin’ to his momma, Nicky does. I’m meeting Buddy, I’ll say. Or maybe, I’m waiting for Buddy. Maybe put my jacket down first. No, just order, don’t give ‘em time to think. Coke and steak‘n’fries, real hot. Got some money today, yes sir. I’ll pay for my sizzling plate, scoop up that change real easy, like I do it every day, and slip my ass into a seat, casual. Use that little wooden pick like a silver fork. Like Buddy’s on his way any second. Maybe even strike up a little conversation. They’re not bad guys, I know. And I’m a- ok today.
Peter Pan is on Death Row / Claudia Reder
He reclines in his boxer shorts,
scanning the paper for news
about Wendy, Nana, or—
then he spots a report of another
mass shooting, more killings.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
That’s what he said when he was arrested.
No more fun and games, they fumed,
locking him in.
His heart ticks in time with Captain Hook’s clock.
Time on death row defaults to night.
He reads on:
Greece Wildfires Destroy Ancient Olive Tree That Was 2,500 Years Old.
He stares at the photo of its ruins,
its trunk of scar tissue
rising like the fangs and scales of a dragon.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Who can he convince?
In a local ezine he finds his favorite
watering hole has dried up, now a ditch.
For no reason, young boys keep falling in and dying.
Trees as he knew them have disappeared,
He closes his eyes to blot out night,
dances up and down the walls to keep
his spirits, remembers the tire
that swung over a creek, the tree house,
and even the tree itself, branching
into planets and outer space.
He knots that string around his finger
to remind him of what he is forgetting.
Many nights have passed.
He wants to rinse his hands
in spring rain. He’ll welcome spring
knowing in April another snow storm will follow.
He will welcome spring whenever it arrives,
no matter how many times it fools
Radishes / Matt Sadler
I want to use the word
radishes as a verb, between
ravishes and ravages
in the lexicon
of us. I want to bear fruit
in thirty days or less
and repeat myself
over and over into
a spicy neon globe.
Would you be mad if I said
your leaves are a little
prickly in a good way
like a tongue? Would you
like to sit with me and read
Dean Young poems
somewhere we could call
dappled? Did you know a
radish has only 12 calories?
We could snack on some
Dean Young sent me a
postcard once so full
of radishes my heart
nearly burst, but not like
his. He got a new one,
which must have radished
him, the kindness of others,
the random beauty of
a world full of radishes,
pointing us on our way
with a radish.
Eye of the Storm / Pamela Wax
She gets her hands dirty
in the public square,
in tweets and frays
to the editor, a megaphone
for our moby whales of grief.
In her garden, she plunges
up to her elbows into fertile
loam—moist and cool
as caverns where stalagmites
drip; the moist the earthworms
breathe through skin so they,
in kind, can justice the plants
she’s mercied into pockets
of earthen hope; the kind of damp
a washcloth proffers her neck
on a piping hot day of eerie
calm, no shadow of storm
or memory of ever meeting
one—and says, It is good.
Day 6 / Poem 6
What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You / Joanne Fay Brown
Back then our house, Lilliputian by today’s standards, was enough for a family of four. Two small bedrooms—one I shared with Carolyn, a kitchen, bath, back porch, and the crowning glory: the attic. Up twelve steps a tennis table where I got pretty good at the game. A big bed where we jumped, bounced, rolled, a bookcase where I stored my Nancy Drews, a window under the pitched roof where we could watch the street below.
The bookcase had hinges and handles, opened to a low space behind. Once when I was 30 or so my mother told me that if things had got bad enough and the government came for her and my dad or if they had to disappear, she’d asked Aunt Lil to take care of us kids in Pennsylvania.
We never spoke of this. You were kids, you didn’t know, wouldn’t have understood, she said.
Outside between our front yard and the street was a sassafras tree. It smelled like root beer and its mitten-shaped leaves turned bright red in September. It was easy to hide behind and got kicked plenty when the Woodland Avenue kids played Kick-the-Can and Hide-and-Seek at twilight. I did know. But no word I knew could describe it.
I’d worked it out. We’d be OK. I looked to the bookcase, practiced my ping pong.
Mark Twain Says Write What You Know / John Burroughs
I told myself I would write a poem before I looked at my computer
but my partner asked me to check my calendar for something
that reminded me I had to answer a time-sensitive email
which led me to Facebook where someone I don’t know said
Separation of church and state is not a law, has never been a law
It was a letter from Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist church
Do some research
Maybe he doesn’t think the Constitution is law
or doesn’t know the First Amendment is part of it
or hasn’t read it or has it confused with Revelation chapter 3
or is just being shitty
or simply needs to
do his research
I told myself I wasn’t going to be critical of other people this month,
in these poems, as the soon-to-be U.S. Beat Poet Laureate,
for the remainder of my life
I told myself I would continue to focus on how I can be
a better poet and person, uplift and not tear down
Tell the truth but tell it kind,
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind
I tell myself it’s a fine line between self-referential and self-indulgent
though self-reverential would be funnier and this keeps going
further into absurdity
Every year I do better and better
and often better isn’t enough
or soon enough and time
keeps getting shorter
I want to be a reliable reporter
Today I tried to take my cue for what to do from Mister Twain
but I’m distracted so easily and it’s happened so often
that what I thought I knew I didn’t really
So how can I write what I know
when I haven’t finished
doing my research?
The Understory / Regina DiPerna
In summer, orange flowers
littered the uncut grass.
as my father fileted
fish on the picnic table.
Adult me was crouched
inside child me, watching
from the back row.
Soon only the heads remain
on a sheet of newspaper,
silver eyes stock-still
as discarded bullets.
I inhaled orange flowers,
unsmelling the dead.
We slept with the windows open
at night. The white noise
of cicadas filled our skulls
mercifully. Before air conditioning.
Before the unlearning.
In a dream, I tell you
I will set you on fire.
Lying in Wait / Thomas Locicero
at the line
on your neck,
you laid out
in the sun
chin to chest,
like a suicide survivor
covers her wrist.
“…lying in wait.”
My head swam
as you spoke
about the blade,
how it had been cold,
then suddenly warm.
He left you there,
you told me,
and I left you,
how sorry I was,
I liked you.
I wanted to
ask you out,
but I thought
I would make you
think of him.
You would wait
years to tell me
about your surgery
and how you
for being twelve.
MULTIPLE CHOICE PRACTICE QUESTION / Courtney LudwickWhich of the following best defines the phrase “out of body?” Please circle the correct answer.
- Strange (adj.) from late 13c., straunge, “from elsewhere, not belonging to the place where found.” From Old French estrange, “foreign, alien, unusual, unfamiliar, curious, distant, inhospitable, estranged, separated.” From Latin extraneus, “external, from without.”
- A detachment. A split. A (reverse) possession (of sorts).
- Once, I dreamt I was a ghost, haunting rather than haunted.
- What if elsewhere is right here? What if place is body and body is mine? What if foreign is not alien, unusual, unfamiliar? What is curious is that distant is close. Does this make the flesh inhospitable? Estranged, I admit to feeling separated. What if I told you feeling external is from within?
- This is not a ghost story. This is not a story about ghosts.
How I Found Out Where I’m Going to Die / Kalliopy Paleos
Our backs are killing us on our hike through the rough valley. Our elderly aunts teach us how every step is a careful rooting of the first foot, then the precisely balanced heaving of the body, then planting the second foot – or else stumble into the scrape of the rocks. The heat is a hard wind, pounding us with stillness. Ahead, the ancient women skip neatly, braying at us because we’re young and slow and acting desperate. They are the laughing daughters of the stones, bearing the same crags and shadows in their bodies.
I didn’t know they were taking us to the sea. They just kept saying Vroukoùnda, pàmeh Vroukoùnda. And then there we were, in the curl of a tiny cove. A crescent of smooth stone between the sunburnt earth and the sparkling wavelets of heaven. Dolphins flashing like smiles in the swirling blue flesh of the ocean. And the dead were there, invisible dust vibrating in the caves, excitedly waving. Much had happened without me, they said. I was late, but no matter.
You won’t return for many years, they said. Oh, you are to wander until your bones are thin, with a trail of coins flickering behind you. Here is the dark well. You will fall, without language, and it will be splendid. No, the others can’t see it. For now, go take a look in that pretty little chapel with them, and afterwards the picnic. Go and enjoy it, enjoy it all. Now that you know your way.
When Louise Bogan Wrote that Her Heart was Eight-sided, I Began to Write about Hearts / Claudia Reder
I picture the many rooms of the heart that have carried their cargo all these years.
I hope they will buck the odds, that each room could become whole.
Panic sets in. You think about rooms you’ve never entered,
rooms you have forgotten, and the one room
you can’t forget and want to;
rooms you shouldered for others.
You picture yourself trying to hail a cab on a freezing night
in NYC hoping the end of the ride will bring the warmth of a room,
hopefully with a fireplace and hot tea, or even a brandy,
in a snifter like you’ve seen in movies.
An amorous heart could be eight-sided—as intricate
as colored sand funneling onto the emerging contours of a mandala,
a heart complete in its attention.
Afterwards, it’s erased in a ritual with tiny brooms.
The swirling colors, now gray, are fed to a river.
That is love and that is how you end up with so many rooms that need attention.
On Plato’s Forehead / Matt Sadler
There’s a post it note with the words
just kidding scrawled in dancing fire
shadow font, and just past him
three zoo giraffes sword their necks
down to eat maple branches and apples
from his outstretched hands.
What do you see, he asks me, winking
like a silver fox, but he doesn’t want
the answer. In the allegory we are all
suffering, and somehow he is still here
bearing witness, like the nerdy uncle
that gave you beer in your teens.
Hawaiian shirt and a screwy grin, he
yodels *the* perfect yodel then poof,
he’s gone, leaving us to our history
lessons and our humanities and our
algebra, all useless in this world full
of hungry giraffes made of smoke.
I used to go to the zoo with the girls
to pass time, and we mostly passed time
like a clock, in circles on wood carved
horses and ostriches on the merry
go round, These carvings more real
than the real animals, standing dumbly
in their pens, yawning between meals.
I’d prefer a vision of Kurt Vonnegut or
Dorothy Parker right now to howl
at what we’ve become, then sum it all up
with sardonic wit. Then my memory
could become a meme and go viral,
words and their meanings be damned.
Fine Work with Paring Knife / Pamela Wax
the white inner
each seedy core
into the sink.
of the jalapeño
like dominos, glossy
green against her pale
beech cutting board,
kinetic energy vibrating
before she even
her fingers to her tongue.
Day 5 / Poem 5
Indiscretion / Joanne Fay Brown
The year of the 17-year Cicada
the Western High girls walk
sprightly in white
symbols of purity in miniskirts
and mod heels to the Mayfair Hall
on sidewalks slick with rain.
Above our heads
coiffed in flipped bobs
a billboard reads
Agnew: Your Kind of Man
For Governor, as Spiro —
a later-disgraced veep —
bounces a baby on his knee.
At the Senior Farewell Assembly
we say the Pledge of Allegiance
and Judge Mary Arabian orates:
Fast cars, intoxicating drugs and drinks
serve no civic purpose.
At the prom the girls in white gowns,
you in white jacket, black tie.
We kiss under the arch, reverse direction
of my class ring, head to Cylburn Park to neck.
The U.S. 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division
north of Phước Vĩnh
kills 347 Viet Cong and loses 57 soldiers.
We lie in the uncut grass
locusts in our hair.
Through a Glass Darkly / John Burroughs
A couple I’ve called friends for over a decade
share on social media how we should celebrate
our interdependence over our independence
and I agree.
But I wonder how this reconciles
with their recently unfriending me.
The Asunder / Regina DiPerna
The thunderbolt has already struck.
Each half of the battle is already
blown open, the quiet carnage of retreat.
What was the answer to the question
we asked with our plans? We slice
the children’s dreams into quarters.
They remember: shared sunlight
on a corn husk, the hard pit at the center
of a plum. Each half of the whole
has already stitched itself up, headed west,
headed east. Divorce is seed-heavy
with silences. It tells you what you already know.
Sadness / Thomas Locicero
There must have been a time when you were happy,
When it was all new, or when he returned from war.
When did melancholy spread so far as to consume?
Or was your love an unrecorded victim of the war?
I am a child at a time when parents won’t speak.
How can I know our story if you don’t speak?
It is a curse to be born with both a blessed memory
And with parents who offer nothing to remember.
It is your generation. You cripple me with your protection.
You hide the diagnosis, but the sickness I remember.
It is a terror for a child to be left in the dark.
I am not afraid of night shadows, only of being left in the dark.
I am not suggesting you have no sacred secrets.
When you want to part, they will lead you back to each other.
I only want to know with whom I share my blood.
I am not asking you to speak against each other
Or to drink too long past the expiration date,
Only to consider your wings and to give them weight.
Indulge me. Imagine in the spirit world an evil one
Exists who knows our future from our past.
He has designed a scheme to blot out our bloodline
And is proud of the carnage he’s amassed in the past.
Who will protect me from this madness?
Who will appease my feral sadness?
Only now do I recognize my pathetic denial.
She couldn’t walk; neither could the drunk across the street,
Or, four houses down, the woman with the bad back,
Or the ancient Avon lady peddling youth up and down our street.
And so I somehow believed all women shuffled their feet,
Yet cashiers and teachers didn’t wobble on their feet.
If you took any pleasure at all in my happiness,
Was it so difficult to manufacture a smile?
I’m not asking you to teach me how to throw.
I wouldn’t burden you with talk about the extra mile. A smile!
Father, why haven’t you spoken about your mother?
Mother, why haven’t you spoken about my father?
I will never know the demands of five children,
And I pray I never know your pain of losing one.
But did you know that the Christmas our presents were stolen
Was the Christmas that I had the most fun? Yes, that one.
But even that memory gives my happiness pause
Because that’s when Lisa learned the truth about Santa Claus.
You are both long gone now, and I hardly knew you at all.
Years and years later, Lisa has followed Vicki home.
There’s just Gloria, Mike, and me with so many miles in between.
Have they hidden memories to render this poem useless, to bring it home?
I will make up fantastic stories of my joyful youth,
But when I write them down, I will tell the truth.
Yellow as in Lemon Tree / Courtney Ludwick
did I live on the gutted tracks
till now. And there’s
a lemon tree knocking
at my window, summer ripe
my face. Painted boxcars rush
the morning—this day
feels suspended, a wash,
too yellow, just as the leaves will turn
in three months’ time when
undone, is made bare.
At midday, a steam trumpet blasts
three hollow notes: danger?
I need to know. As if in chorus, birdsong bleats
yes. I cross my fingers, open
the windows, listen for some telltale
grinding over metal,
or wheel spoke betraying
rail. I wait for nothing but whispers—
hummingbird, you come so early. I have no
nectar, only sounds I have no names for,
and unfallen fruit too heavy
for you to bear.
*Tweaching* / Kalliopy Paleos
I’m not sure what to do about my twitching eyelid
Perhaps some light strokes
with a fingertip of my non-dominant hand
Or I could keep tugging at it hard like this
till I make it grovel and give in
If I calm down it might subside on its own,
but of course I’d rather die
You see, my secure login is incorrect
The encouraging Oops! Try again : )
flashes like a red cape
through my stamping and snorting retina
After all, a real professional
keeps her screencasting passwords
as up-to-date as the pouch
of fresh tampons in her purse
spinning immaculate audiovisuals
in the twinkling of an eye
to seduce her eager young learners
away from their overnight porn binges
Oh, but my eye isn’t twinkling.
Like I said, it’s twitching.
I know in my next meeting it will pulse loudly.
I’ll want to charge and bore
through this bloodshot left eyeball
but there’ll be no trashcan in sight
They’ve become scarce
what with all the bomb threats
And everyone will see it and think,
I bet her spare tampon stash is a mess too
Even my well-meaning slow breaths
will tick up swiftly behind
lurking in the parking lot, and me
the only one available with legs to tear apart.
So you tell me with what I am supposed to electrify
my delicately balanced nervous system
I can’t scream. I need my vocal cords
for class tomorrow
anyway, the cops would come
and all night goodly taxpaying parents
commenting such pertinent insights
about how shocking,
while eager young learners
slip down to the kitchen drawer
stealing back their phones,
screens as smooth as the palm of their hand.
Are You Tired of Being a Woman? / Claudia Reder
I am. That’s why I’m glad
I am a crone. It’s easier to be in the world
when people ignore you at the food mart,
where former students still smile and wave
even though I may nor remember their names.
It’s easier to be a crone, knowing
a part of me is alive elsewhere
kayaking, climbing a foreign mountain,
seeking that last vista
while I trod familiar ground,
aware of which bumps in the road to watch for,
how steep the curb when crossing the street,
how uneven the sidewalk.
I walk out on a sunny day
or a foggy day and enjoy them both the same.
All those years my short hair tucked under a swim cap,
a tight fit around my skull.
Now, in free fall, my curls resurface.
Thick, frizzy corkscrews soften my face.
On the path to the beach,
the slight tilt of sand pushes me forward.
I plunk down on one of five benches,
each a memorial to someone.
Each faces the Pacific.
The gift of the horizon is that it lifts my eye
from guarding my unsteady feet.
A future will arrive on its own terms.
I used to imagine Fall:
new pens, new students, a visit to a faraway friend.
Now, beyond the isolation of the pandemic,
the horizon lets me peek into a future
I can’t imagine.
The horizon holds the word ‘yet’
in a far off wind
the ebb and flow of tidal wanderings,
the possibilities of ‘not yet…’
the slowing sun in evening.
Celebration / Matt Sadler
When the first firework popped off
a thousand ducks rose up from
the dark wet and called out
in fear, some leaving their line of babies, some
babies themselves, frightened at the kinds of noises
usually made before endings, and Mary,
no longer celebrating, now talking to the birds,
pleading with them to soothe,
Everything’s okay, guys, I’m so sorry,
spent most of our explosions
with the ducks, who settled in to
our little cove furthest from that side
of the lake, and with every new launch
illuminated reflections on the water
surrounded them with the multi colored veils
of her spell, and they settled, I think, and I think,
more than anything, that is what love is.
Less than two weeks after Roe v. Wade was overruled, I was invited to dress as my favorite pollinator / Pamela Wax
for today’s July 4th parade.
Last time I masqueraded, I wore my black one-piece
with goggles, fins, and one of those Esther Williams’
flower-petal bathing caps with the strap under the chin—
a competitor for the Persian king’s favor in a swimsuit
contest after he killed his wife for being uppity.
The banner across my chest read, “Queen for a Day—
a week, if I’m lucky.”
(It was Purimshpiel. Parody gets me up
in the morning, like Andy Borowitz’s latest: Women
Declare Themselves Corporations to Force Supreme
Court to Grant Them Rights as People.)
Still uppity, I vied today for a throne whose death
forebodes a global fallout. I wore my goldenrod No Bees,
No Berries t-shirt, pipe-cleaners wrapped around my ears
spiraled into antennae, and black leggings striped
with fluorescent daffodil-yellow duct tape. On my back,
a placard—“Save the queen & other female bee-ings.”
The women cheered, and most of the men—a Northeast
college town— but in the end, I fear that by hook
or by crook, only the berries will survive.
Day 4 / Poem 4
Mother’s Milk / Joanne Fay Brown
The junior Senator from Wisconsin, by his reckless charges, has so preyed upon the fears and hatred of uninformed and credulous people that he has started a prairie fire, which neither he nor anyone else may be able to control.
—J. William Fulbright, U.S. Senator, 1954
Better Red Than Dead Better Dead Than Red
It was fear and hysteria even in the best of times. Not just the Communist boogeymen, but a way of life — fear of this, fear of that, fear of the neighbors. For labor organizers (my mother and father) and idealist fellow travelers, fear of the government’s blacklist.
What Did I Know?
Early evening light on the White House, Mother pushed me in a carriage, walked a slow line, signs reading, Mr. President, Reconsider Clemency for the Rosenbergs! Big white papers with black marks, women in dresses, high heels, hats with flowers, men in overcoats. Mother an infusion of East Executive Avenue exhaust and L’Air du Temps. I heard shouts — Free Them! bits of conversation — There are children, for God’s sake, won’t the President have mercy?
When Did I Know It?
Later I knew. A mother and father waiting in Sing Sing to be put to death for passing A-bomb secrets to the Soviets. Two small boys waiting for them at home, who on the Sabbath played catch as their parents walked to the chair, the Rabbi before them, chanting, I will fear no evil. In a flash, two Cold War orphans. In the Red Scare frenzy my father lost his job, his bearing, our livelihood. We floundered in its gloom. In the carriage with me and brown teddy was the unnameable: Cold War orphan. Fear of this, that, and everything, everywhere — even in mother’s milk. An acquired taste.
State of the Disunion / John Burroughs
Independence Day has always been
a bit of a misnomer
like United States
Many primary purveyors of so-called freedom
fracture our environment and consider it Capital!
that they can capitalize on our capitulation
and the ongoing splintering of our nation
Liberty and justice for all?
The Constitution was designed for the free-
dom of the white majority property owners
who wrote it and even they conceded its fallibility
and made provisions for future changes
while some folks today would rather stay
In Seventeen Seventy-Six
Our politics is in dangerous territory
and the God many look to for help
shows fewer signs of life
than the Confederacy
More thoughts and prayers?
I don’t have the constitution for this
So let’s not just belly up
to the low bar and July forth
like it’s a holiday since sides matter
and we need a remedy
that will never be found
in the border states.
The Thirty-Third Year / Regina DiPerna
Slush-sliding through half-
from the A train at Nostrand to
My body was in revolt:
a bone spur skewered
my right ankle
chafed against my too-cheap
boots: an arrowhead,
the panicked hand
on a compass pointing
My right trapezius
was serrated ribbon
rubbed raw from swiping
through the muck—
that glowing deck of cards,
I shot up every night
looking for you.
New York was a beautiful
I was bone on bone.
I was a pinprick of ice
in the city’s centuries-dead
lungs. I dragged my own
corpse to work.
I drank coffee
in a crypt. I bedded
a pig man. I swallowed
a panic attack in a skyscraper
while below the homeless
ate their own faces.
I wore a mask to conceal
the virus while my body
pulled itself apart
like a six-pointed star.
had to die—water-white
melancholy, lines of sick
wreathed around the Queens
hospital like a fucked-up
infinity symbol, a river running
cold, a question.
And on the coast
another ocean, you
stared at wavetops frothing
white like snow
falling for the first time.
Sad Guitar / Thomas Locicero
The old guitar is salvaged from a Spanish
garret, warped and worn, its nylon strings slack,
each a throwback to the war. It holds no
markings, no carved initials, declares nothing,
its fragility a sentence to sorrow.
No hearty thrum or strum from pick or thumb,
the flagrant aging succumbs, becomes a child,
delicate, to be held with tender restraint.
The oily frets retain identity.
The luthier still recalls catgut strings
affixed from the intestines of cows or sheep.
She is transported back to the phrasing
of the nobleman Segovia, the
Cavatina, the flamenco, and decides
that for the guitar to play, it must stay sad,
so she transfers the mood to the brittle wood,
which influences the scordatura.
Where Highway Seventy Ends / Courtney Ludwick
There’s a still heat hushed and static on the radio, car windows rolled down. On either side of forgotten road—so flat and long—sit desert dune white sands. I let them drown me in their weeping burn hot breath. Near empty tank asking where did all the neons go? Wrong turn ahead stop sign. Thick letters, bold font: NO TRESPASSING. GOVERNMENT PROPERTY. Past metal grate, listen: strange hums, whistles. Stinks of oil death. Gear shift reverse quick turn ‘round. Do not look in rearview. Think of too many stars, my lolling head neck bent like curves in the road now. Night creeps in easy like sour dream. Even miles away emptiness is so loud you’d think it’d be quiet so why is it so loud? I recall the strange hum—so unlike these cicadas circling my window. Missile range, someone says later, giving such whistles a name. Unknowing might be better. Missiles shouldn’t be so loud should they? I miss city smog everything.
Checking off My List of Rivals, Part 1 / Kalliopy Paleos
Madame de Montespan’s two pet bears and golden pheasants roamed the palace freely – this would have been at Saint-Germain since she and Louis were still renovating the other place. As for lovely beasts, sometimes my students sing through the bars, other days it’s me. Anyway, I have her beat there.
La Montespan smirked at Louis’ unusual nose. Her family was older, finer, and Rochechouart blood laughed contentedly in her blue veins. My people stole barefoot onto the hovering sloops in the darkness, slouched loping behind their hot-dog carts. Most days before waking, the flapping sails slap me, the ropes groan across my skin and pennies chatter on the metal counter. She wins.
Madame de Montespan took concoctions of mules’ milk for her mother-of-pearl skin, had her body rubbed with spirits for hours every day before her ladies dressed her, stitching final touches on her silks and fresh brocades. I mean, most of my underwear’s from ShopRite, so she definitely has me there.
Madame had seven children in seven years. (So who’s the mule now, sister?) Legitimized and given titles, they nevertheless hated her. Of course a few died. My two were dispatched to heaven in seed form by paternal decree. So I’m calling that a tie.
When Louis tired of her, Madame de Montespan slinked out for phials of potions, perhaps even babies’ blood. When mine tired of me I cried. But then of all imaginable larks, I sought the holy women, learning to read the codes of any soul who comes. And I’m good at it, though I don’t charge much.
So I win. But really, she’s a close second.
On The Third Tiger / Claudia Reder
While reading Borges’ words about the third tiger, a restlessness
taps into my chest. I sit very still. Inside, the third tiger paces.
His large muscles thicken until he realizes no enemy exists.
He stretches out on the hot stones, then sprints off to some unknowable grassland.
Oh, for padded paws so we, too, could go out in the world invisibly.
I have dreamed of tigers, and daydreamed time
occupied by tigers, time unleashed by tigers,
a time that soars and opens itself to futures, before
the tigers depart and then time thickens again, stalls,
and returns to this very moment.
At certain points in my marriage, tigers arrived to protect me
and my art. They sat at my feet wrapping
their bodies around the carved legs of my mahogany desk;
regal, woofing and grunting,
protecting what I had to say so I could say it.
They splayed on the living room couch.
I hadn’t known what to look for
but with the tiger’s presence
I would come upon what I needed,
like finding the inner silk slip of a long ago dress I had forgotten.
Months later immense paw prints
appeared beneath the purple hibiscus.
Over night the tigers had displayed
their approval of blooms flourishing
in the drought-ridden dirt.
I slept well in those years
my dream had padded out into the open.
One morning I woke and they were gone.
Tigers leave an inveterate odor. It’s the odor of their resolve,
of their presence, letting me know they are witness
to what has happened and what has not happened;
what I’ve let go of, or need to let go of.
This aroma will be the base note
below the sweetness I am seeking
just below the high notes of honeysuckle and jasmine.
Oddly, this works in reverse. When I’m in pain, the odor
will mask some of that pain so that I can continue to do
whatever I need to.
Desire is scented with tiger, the snarl, the blood touch,
the chuffing and murmur. We’re familiar
with the large paws scratching, that swinging tail
dissolving into dream,
the escape route when we need to vanish.
I Believe / Matt Sadler
That language is how it’s used, that
there are more cottonwood stems than important
questions, that at the end of the tunnel of trees I bend
under, the sky will open up with the new meadow,
widening like ripe fruit, hanging there
over the staghorn sumac cones
gone sticky and red, the garter snake
startled slithering away, bees inspecting milkweed flowers,
July birds drunk on old juneberries bounce
in the air like pinballs, and the old stone foundation
is a sign someone once understood this magic,
that the spirits that live here are close enough
to talk to, though at this moment
they are silent as the air.
Buridan’s Ass Takes a Leap of Faith / Pamela Wax
all it can do is to suspend judgement until the circumstances change,
and the right course of action is clear.
He died of thirst and hunger, unable
to pick the haystack or the pail of water.
I was the ass at the crossroads, stuck
between about-face and two-faced.
I am not a parody or a fable, but an idiom
between a rock and a hard place.
My dead brother, the one who jumped
from a bridge, bequeathed me a supply
of ruminations for the middle of the night:
whether this pile or that, life or death,
blessing or curse, there are choices,
some wiser than others, and some
a choice between two goods. So when I took
that leap from my haystack to the water,
it felt like another haystack, a softer landing
than his, a future painted yellow with hope.
Day 3 / Poem 3
First Taste / Joanne Fay Brown
Baltimore, Maryland (1952)
two men in gray trench coats and fedoras at the front door
mother in red-checked bib apron coming in from the garden
baby pink flannel astride her hip
FBI badges flash “May we come in?”
mother in red-checked bib apron coming in from the garden
pulls me closer, muscles tensing
“May we come in?” (one foot in the door)
she backs up to hide the bookshelves
pulls me closer, muscles tensing
I reach a hand forward, smiling
she backs up to hide the bookshelves
says to the hats: “I have nothing to say to you”
I smile, reach a hand forward
she slaps the door shut
“I have nothing to say to you”
like a slap to my face, I startle
the slap to the door
my face in her bosom acrid smell in my throat
like a slap to my face, I cry
she sinks into paisley armchair, hand on her mouth
My face in her bosom acrid smell in my throat
she in red-checked apron, me in baby pink flannel
her hand over her mouth
men in gray trench coats and fedoras at the front door
Dog Day / John Burroughs
Valéry assures me a poem is never finished
while Rilke asserts that no feeling is final
Emily replies that seeing summer sky
is poetry outside of any book
Cocteau says a poet listens, does not invent
while I detect an emerging theme
Weary of obsessing about who said what and what
to say I embrace the poem’s lack of finality
and walk my dog in warm wooded air
smile watching him
run with abandon
The Immaculate / Regina DiPerna
All I’ve ever wanted is to feel clean.
A spotless, resplendent room.
The anonymous luxury of hotels
holds such appeal—
pressed linens, cold air,
the elegance of only two glasses.
I have a desire
to turn down the volume
of this earth,
a belief that happiness
blooms like a white orchid
when spotlessness is at last
Displaced junk—sun-blanched chairs
in the courtyard of my apartment building,
an untucked sheet, some vile
wrapper on the coffee table—
it reminds me of being poor
and suddenly I’m back
on Shaw road and the TV
is babbling and the shag green
carpet is damp with dog piss
and the family photos on the wall
feel heavy, and in them
we are straining to smile.
Every made bed is a promise
of lifted weight.
Why can’t life
just be graceful?
I straighten the lavender
rug in the bathroom, sweep
the hallway, these vain,
I crave the word release
on my lips—the relief
in those syllables, the calm
of an uncluttered room
in my mind.
I yearn for the past
to be nothing more than a water ring
The Case of Maria / Thomas Locicero
If everything is not known, nothing is.
In the straddling, one foot remained firm
in time and space— if that were possible—
while the other drifted in a place too
mystical to concern itself with clocks.
There’s a woman. For anonymity’s sake,
let us agree to call her Maria.
She returns from the mysterious white
light, a trip, though not found on any map,
that science insists is simply explained
by excess carbon dioxide in the
bloodstream. This also debunks the tunnel.
Her hallucinations are said to be
caused by a lack of oxygen to the
brain. A release of endorphins causes her
to feel no fear. Her brain activity
spiked her into a hyperconsciousness.
Her out-of-body experience, which
science calls veridical perception,
is merely anesthesia awareness.
Perhaps temporal lobe epilepsy
can explain her feelings of ecstasy.
Science dispels her floating outside the
hospital but is awkwardly silent
by her claim to have seen a tennis shoe
on a third-story window ledge, which was
then located by her social worker.
If everything is not known, nothing is.
Fire Starter / Courtney Ludwick
No flint—cotton ball steeped in
Vaseline, egg carton or pine
needle, tuft of steel wool, page torn
from the newsprint, magnifying glass,
coal—could magick the flame
Like cardboard signs, this fire was
inherited. And still, grass turns to soil under
her march. Many have salted the ground
but she burns it. Hear the sweet knell—
ringing, her anger.
Shortfuse, hotbutton, firestarter comes
from those wishing to snuff her out. Dwell not
on matchsticks broken so easy but on her
wild, blue embers. They douse her sheets
in kerosene, forgetting she is
Saturday Morning Cartoons at Thea’s House / Kalliopy Paleos
We are waiting by the window. We are learning how long never takes, learning how long not on his way yet takes. The window is dirty on the outside but not on the inside. On the inside we have a record player with hundreds of records we’re not allowed to play, a day bed for jumping up and down, and all the pancakes we can eat. But we won’t go to the kitchen, and we aren’t allowed to eat in the front room. If we press our right cheek, one head above the other at just the right angle on the wooden window sill, we can see all the way up Metropolitan Avenue to the Jamaica Avenue corner. The mechanic there has blackened fingers, and our father knows him. Sometimes he stops there first. Cars slip past us. Maybe we missed him. We are allowed to call and check if he left to get us yet. We are allowed to call Mom’s store and check if he’s there. Then the window again. We forget to fight about who got there first. We smell the paint of the window sill. And there is the smell of everything else that’s been sucked into the paint. It’s an old house. We aren’t allowed to touch anything in the living room. But if we touch the records only by the edges and keep the volume down, we can sneak some music. Cars slip past us. What if he got mad and didn’t stop because we were away from the window for a minute? Or maybe he’s parking.
Storytellers in the Schools / Claudia Reder
Autumn conjures stories, the beginning
of the school year, that odiferous soil
where we planted seeds, raucous children
planting stories they would tell
in sock and sandal weather.
Schools asked us to find a story with a river in it;
to find a story about drought;
to locate a story where no one dies;
to create the story of the first laugh, the first kiss;
a story with no ending.
Remember the child who asked, Is that story true?
We’d chorus, Yes, it’s true, but it never really happened.
In May we focused on other worries: health, food stamps.
Could storytellers get unemployment?
I fell back into teaching and you persisted
to lift the lip of the world and listen for stories.
Until I met you I thought I had blue eyes
but mine are gray, increasingly
the lacquer of ocean, the sway of a boat .
chopping through; a lone sea lion steering toward the docks.
and yours blue—backlit like stained glass.
You still send out stories in envelopes of air,
trusting the wind to deliver your missives
through root conversations of trees,
to spring up in mushrooms up in the hills.
In my file I still keep your addresses:
New Paltz, Woodstock, Saugerties,
all those woodsy aromas.
Years later whiffs of beginnings and middles
of stories return on different roads
than the ones we first walked.
On the phone, we meet
in a folktale moment,
in the after-story-hush.
in that laughter, and that ‘aaah.’
Your apartment looks out over the river.
As you contemplate moving clouds
may the wind send you stories.
Untitled / Matt Sadler
I’m losing patience with the world.
Each day brings birdsong
and seeds floating in the wake.
Wind gusts wash the lake
Onto the sand. Flags banner
and furl. Where we came from
is not this place, safe circles
and wagoneers, but we don’t want
to go back to the caves. At daybreak
thick masses vein the roads
to work the work of daytimes. Night
brings blue light to rooms, late blue
black singing nothing is there, bring
templates of life to this, ring
stale air, night like a nightlight, like
a single bulb
on an invisible pole as if floating
in the unstarred sky.
The Rabbi Explains the Pre-Marital Holiness Map Exercise / Pamela Wax
Three root letters—kaf, dalet, shin—
spell all that is holy. Blessing wine—
kiddush. The mourners’ kaddish
for one’s dead. Do you remember chanting
kadosh-kadosh-kadosh, standing tiptoe
to reach heaven? And here we are,
planning your kiddushin. You will stand
with me beneath the canopy and become
m’kudash to each other, singular
and consecrated. But you’ve drunk
holy long before you met. Did it smell
like honeysuckle, taste like mango?
When you heard the muezzin in Morocco,
did you think sublime? Tell me how
it feels to teach your fourth graders
word problems and see the lightbulb
flash in their eyes. Don’t forget to mention
your grandma’s underground missions
to save children, revealed by strangers
at her shiva. Draw me your rivers
of mystery and synchronicity, awe
and virtue, of touching heaven
and surviving hell. Tell me, Natasha,
how you love eating sushi. Tell me, Jon,
how you love watching Natasha eat sushi.
Then tell me how it is possible you don’t
believe the whole world is filled with glory.
Day 2 / Poem 2
Re-member / Joanne Fay Brown
When I look over my patio wall at the Sangre de Cristos
Still blazing, fog of peaks, forests gone
Or talk with friends about war, insurrection, supreme courts
Or supremacist-anything, I wonder
About the Vikings, Maya, Chacoans, Mississippians.
I wonder if a young person will one day ask
What happened to them — us, the ones still here, I mean
I, me, mine, them, theirs
Remember — we walked together
Out of Africa —
Dark skinned, wild, determined
To make a world.
I see an army of creative destroyers
A divinity of fire
How we will re-member ourselves into the future
When All Else Fails Tori Amos and Bauhaus Come Through / John Burroughs
Day two probably calls for datura but I am afraid
and only have mushrooms though I won’t eat those
either because then I’ll write something even shittier
and think it’s most profound thing ever. Plus, I have
to drive to a reading tonight and I don’t want to end
up buying more books that I have no time to read
which I’ll probably do anyway, high or not, because books
tend to give me a greater euphoria than any drug.
That’s why since December the mushrooms have been sitting
inside a faux tome under a pile of some of the aforementioned
unread, I almost typed undead, books and I subsist primarily on water,
decaf coffee and an evening beer or four, not to mention food, and music
is food which is part of why Tori’s “Datura” is playing in my head.
When my brother gave me the mushrooms months ago they seemed
like a good idea but then three days later he was in the hospital
with Covid and I got sicker than I’d been in years, though we both
survived and maybe that explains the undead, either that or the fact
that “Bela Lugosi…” is next up on my mental playlist.
And I didn’t even eat them, at least not then, though I did have a nibble
a little later but not enough to get me off because, again, I was afraid
and I had too many other things to do like chronicling my chronic quagmire
and calling it poetry.
Mother as House, Letter, Ash / Regina DiPerna
I pull our house asunder and spread it out in my mind’s
The banister with cat scratches etched in.
Yellow light in the hallway before the divorce, indelibly dim.
A fractal of stairwells in a painting.
Your voice caught in amber like moth wings.
These little pieces of evidence — of what?
The night dad shoved the dresser over.
Shadows on the popcorn ceiling in the shape of a deer,
an arrow, grass stained with blood.
Writing to my mother is like trying to build a house
while excavating a graveyard. A black wave rolls
out of my mouth in a dream.
I tell you it’s been sad to lose you little by little.
I see you standing in the kitchen doorway shedding
your skin, your soul — you are ash falling upwards
from the mouth of a volcano. Silent snow. Lit orange
end of your cigarette swallowed in fathomless gray.
I re-construct the pieces: fit roof beneath eaves, fit walls
against bone, hide the telephone with the long black cord
beneath the floorboards.
Your letters are a honeycomb I scrape for sweetness.
Each sentence a chamber of misdirects, each misdirect
a nautilus of secret pain, each secret pain a tree root
on an infinite tree, a woman in the bloodline who folded
into herself like a dead star. You write I am not about
to change. And yet I see you in my memory poised
on the lip of the tub about to slide in, about to become
water, vapor, droplet, ghost of dragged fingers
on the bathroom mirror. Smoke swirls furiously
from the ashtray, aching for your lungs.
I am your shadow, your double, your long face re-drawn
in rearview mirror, your crooked teeth laced straight.
You say daughter, flesh of my flesh of my wound.
I am your muscles treading against that black water,
the cool white shoreline you never reached,
sky blown open by starlight. I am the
telephone beneath the dirt, ringing.
The Camp Poets / Thomas Locicero
They sat in peaceful manors, in seaside
houses, garrets, homey lofts, and hovels,
their backs straight, their minds sharp, their sword-pens sure.
There was written a backhanded promise,
like a prophetic punishment, or perhaps
an ancient warning, that there would always be
wars and rumors of war. We know they knew
it was forthcoming and their form and content,
no doubt, changed. Their pens set to dry for a spell,
they became as yoked oxen in their fever
to arrange the escape of their families.
They had heard of the classifications
and about how each member was used or, worse,
the use monsters had for women; even worse,
the children and infirmed declared useless.
For some, it was too late, and they saw these things
as eyewitnesses, forgetting all about
their poetry, trusting that their gentile friends
would smuggle it across the Atlantic.
And, like the Great War poets before them,
great men of letters fought heroically,
recording the atrocities they had seen,
but what the unknown poets of the camps saw
was as shocking as what they did not see.
They did not fear the tank or strafing plane
but rather the cattle car and the train.
If fit, they were spared a bullet to the brain,
instead forced to labor and labor in vain.
But for those who were known to be poets,
there was another fate. Gathered with the rest
of the intellectuals, their collective
intellect deemed a weapon meant a swift end.
In America, resuscitated in
translation, they live again in poetry.
It necessitates a triumphal entry.
No poems will return to their homeland void.
They will go forth and accomplish what would
have pleased their poets. And they will prosper.
Self-Portrait as Fun House / Courtney Ludwick
See how they step
right up through the clownmouth, past
RIDE ME! onto floortricks airbursts, men
bull-necked and waiting, creepshots up
skirts. Watch slender neck become bloated
face, then blunt circle now a cheekbone
hollow. See me turn—into a hall of mirrors,
into a lopside slackjaw buttonnose longlegged
liar. I wish to remain a mask but the cheap
fluorescents color me green and honest so
quick—go down the pig grease slide with
frictionburn thighs out the TRAPDOOR!
GOTCHA! clownmouth again, brush against
the barker’s plastic tie, avoid his plasticbead
eyes, and run under tent flap, cool tarp draped
over hot metal, before you become Some Small-
town’s broken-signed highway fodder. Discard
drumstick in gutter, inhale car exhaust, skin hot
as their pinstriped corn kettle. Oil frying, neon
drunk, walking a high wire under the big top.
Happy Birthday, June Bride / Kalliopy Paleos
Born into the world to marry it
A gown of sparrows spinning open
and diamonds pouring out
soaking the ground.
Your feet touching the earth
and the earth weeping for joy
that you are there.
dear bride of all that you see
the heart woven from plumes
of eagles of pheasants of calling bluejays
pouring into the world
their eggs of gold,
and eggs of silver
eggs of laughter
eggs of light and sight.
Bride of the world
bouquet in your hands
and each one of us who love you
a flower gazing up
the stamens of our secrets
safe, weaving into the swaying
branches of your fingers.
And my hand will always reach gently for yours
dear friend, dear bride of life
through all that shimmers
and anything that may ever break.
Song for the Unborn / Claudia Reder
I had wanted a girl, and here
you came, marking your first step into the world.
Had your embryo noted the songs I sang,
listened to the joy and love and praise?
Now I know what I should have done.
I should have learned from the zebra finch.
When it’s nearly time for the birth of a chick
they alter their song to sing
a barometer of change.
I should have whispered a tremolo of danger.
I should have tucked a warning inside a refrain,
included a chorus of resistance.
I should have provided an ancient curse.
And included the word depleted.
And teach you to say pu pu pu to all the evil around you.
and remember to knock on wood.
To prepare you for war,
for the house broken into,
to women’s rights undone;
to listen for D minor chords;
to love the portal of words.
—Or is our task simply to remember and laugh?
Take laughter with you.
Show how you brave the world
of giants with a hundred tiny steps.
When you jump in the lake / Matt Sadler
To honor every living thing
is to let go
when they cease
We mourn pittance and
gravity, the end of a meal,
the death of love
When you jump In the lake
there is a moment
when you are nowhere
A kind of letting go
only to burst back through
the surface into being
A Cento on Being a Woman of Woman Born / Pamela Wax
I passed through the narrow
hills of my mother’s hips
one cold morning—from where
else but that softness and music?
It is always the mother in my
country. Tell me it is different
in yours. Won’t you celebrate
with me if I insist, It’s my body,
a woman’s body at auction?
I had not asked for such a blood
sisterhood, deep in labyrinthine
blood. I was a bride married
to amazement, a mighty
woman with a torch who hurries
through her prayers to see
what’s really always there—
roads diverged in a wood.
I want to step through the door
full of curiosity. The fact
of a doorframe means there is
something to hold onto
with both hands while slowly thrusting
my forehead against the wood.
Sharon Olds, “Mother”
Sara London, “Tell Me”
Lucille Clifton, “Won’t you celebrate with me”
Alicia Ostriker, “I Can’t Speak”
Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”
Sylvia Plath, “Blackberrying”
Muriel Rukeyser, “To Be a Jew in the Twentieth Century”
Marry Oliver, “When Death Comes”
Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”
Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Sunset of the City”
Philip Larkin, “Aubade”
Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
Adrienne Rich, “The Fact of a Doorframe”
Day 1 / Poem 1
Cog / Joanne Fay Brown
They called him liar, loudmouth, troublemaker,
bully, bomb-slinger, slanderer, destroyer
of careers, conspiracy-monger. The biggest media
conglomerate in the world amplified
everything he said and he rode on its tracks.
Roy Cohn was his fixer.
White working-class conservatives liked him.
Republicans egged him on as they held their noses.
As he arrived at the hearing and exited the black
Studebaker Starlight, a phalanx of men in fedoras
surrounded him, scanning the crowd for subversives.
Are you now, or have you ever been a member of
the Communist Party?
People got scared. They believed a fire
burned behind the smoke.
Vaccination, mental health and homosexuality —
Tuesday May 7, 1957: A government undercover agent
at the Baltimore steel mill named 32 persons
he knew as Communists.
When he interrogated the U.S. Army, a man said
Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?
Have you left no sense of decency?
He fit snugly into the tenor of the time, had his day in the sun, died
one cog in a well-greased (ever-rolling) wheel
A Hierarchy of Needs / John B. Burroughs
I need to write a poem for Tupelo Press
but my not-so-latent OCD wants to rebel
against writing my July 1st poem on June 30th.
I need to write a poem but tomorrow’s the 1st
and several bills need paid by then and when
will I find time to walk the dog and shower
and shave or even complete yesterday’s journal entry
before handyman Carl arrives at ten a.m.?
I need to write a poem but I haven’t yet checked Facebook
or Twitter or read the news or brushed my teeth
and my partner’s son and his fiancée are here
from New York and I don’t want to be rude
and I have so many other things to do
before volunteering for ARTbar in Cleveland Heights
from five to ten tonight.
So many sallow, shallow lines
about what is nickel-and-diming my time.
I need to write a poem and I’m thinking
about my friend Terry who just died and his wife
and his teenage son and the January 6th hearings
while Ohio aims to arm teachers and enforce
a “heartbeat” bill that bans abortion after six weeks
despite the fact that a fetus has no heart then
like our legislators and the Supreme Court
has overruled Roe and I have no satisfactory reply
to my terrified niece who asks
if things will ever be normal again
or only get worse
The Vendetta / Regina DiPerna
I never saw a crow
I never saw a crow
whisper a mea culpa to the air
for the black river of its body.
I never saw a crow
by insects in the lilac eaves
of the jacaranda tree.
I never saw a crow
moon-quiet; I heard it
scream at the sky this morning.
Pale shreds of clouds
hung back like frightened children.
An unseen throat of cicadas
I saw a crow fly straight
as a fucking arrow.
It beat its wings against
the wind, dark aorta swelling
It knew right where it was going
and so do I.
The Poetry Spirits / Thomas Locicero
There are spirits who scavenged a life similar
To the one you live, who have once haunted
In life the places you haunt and haunt them still.
When they speak, their words mingle with your thoughts
So that you think your thoughts are original
Rather than subliminal. And there are
Spirits who speak when your mind is at rest.
They interject themselves into your quiet
And pulse with the rhythm of your breathing.
They are beautiful and want to possess you.
And then there are spirits whose voices are small
And still, who do not woo you to drift; instead,
They drag as one draws water from a well,
With peaceful, yet fierce, expectation
For those drawn to the measure of their thirst,
Willing to drift to where roaming spirits rest;
Who, like children of a dry reservoir, dance
In the waters of an abundant fount,
Then stop to watch the resting spirits sway.
Nude / Courtney Ludwick
As paint, you begin as equal parts red, yellow, and blue. Add white. More yellow. Maybe red, burnt umber. Raw sienna and Goethite as flesh. You look to Botticelli’s Venus. Better yet, a cast of Praxiteles’. Collier’s Lady Godiva is bleeding onto her horse. And Picasso’s 1902 is more Phthalo Blue but see how the spine curves? Yellow Ochre is your shadow. As the polaroid forgotten on an ex-lover’s desk, is your knee kept close, pulled inward, like hers too? You are 2.4 inches tall by 1.8 inches wide, thick-bordered and always-bare. Is this what Saint Valentine—from Latin Valentinus, from valeō, from strong—wanted when he wanted love? Flimsy, in his hands. As a glass soda bottle without its label. As the blank space of wall above your old couch. As a body in the tub after some long morning. You watch it fill. Watch it rise. Spill over its porcelain edges. At least Klimt had water serpents. You are only primary colors, reds and yellows and blues now streaming thick across the tiled floor, and you are running out of soap.
Embarkement / Kalliopy Paleos
As I draft my letter to
the Saints of Departure
on the eve of leaving,
leavening of evening
blue dome, swoops down.
Phantoms flood through
the stone cells
of my electric brain
each with its own trapped visitor
one phone call apiece
each tiny cry
rising in coils from my hair
charmed by the piper.
I pluck a feather from my side
trim my quill
smell the wet slate of ink.
I am going . . . but the tip splits.
Ghosts floating through
the rubbery membranes of my body
where men have emptied out
whatever they didn’t want
My flesh a lonely hotel
My skull a glowing road sign
visible only to roaming spirits:
Free Cable * Swimming Pool *
Children learning to be useful
Oh, I am leaving, that is all.
I scrawl one word,
for while I
slumber and remember
the impatient Saint stamps a foot.
Pronounce the word ‘grace’ and fly!
So I gasp grace
and stutter goodbye.
Beach, what have you brought today? / Claudia Reder
Mostly I notice the sway of dunes, the patches
of beach grass, blooms visible at every stage:
bay cedar budding;
full blooming daisy,
mock heather shredding,
ice plants, fading magenta into ragged orange;
and in the drought, roughened brown grasses.
It reminds me of the demographics of my Zumba class:
all ages, a study of life spans.
Those who rapidly jump up and down
bopping to the smallest rhythms they sense,
shaking out their energetic heights;
those who can barely twitch a hip.
but high five they are vertical!
One young girl faces front, flat on her feet,
her face messages no emotion.
I wonder about her pain.
Lucille Clifton would say when someone cried in class,
someone touch her, that girl needs to be touched, she needs a hug.
Her unheard self comes into view
sneaks around corners,
waits, then moves on again. No one hugs her.
One middle age woman who can no longer lunge
because of her bad left knee
rises as tall as she can for the hand clapping
over her head in circular motion.
Oh, she said, I was a dancer years ago.
My toes still want to touch sand,
still want to embrace space.
Behind me, an older woman dips with her oxygen tank.
She is the most joyous, smiling and laughing,
tossing her gray hair gently behind her,
much like that dandelion in a patch of grass,
sunning in whatever light shines.
Center for Public Secrets / Matt Sadler
At the center for public secrets
I deposit the fear of becoming
a father I never told my father
about. When he died we found
his fear at the center, in a little
autobiography he left there. I
put my emotions in neat little
sacs, an octopus dying as her
millions of babies float about her
in a glorious halo as wide as
the ocean. I bury the cats gifts
in a wild animal pet cemetery
full of bird heads and mouse
butts, the parts she doesn’t like,
or maybe, the best parts saved
for us. It is an honor, keeping the
secrets of the living. Pretending
it’s all going to be okay. And it is.
All the fires are in the center now.
All the scars have sealed it, like
a vault. We keep our most dangerous
and valuable treasures there.
Our nuclear waste. The biological
weapons we are.
We Know the Rumors: A Cento / Pamela Wax
We know the rumors
of our demise. We spit
them out, the line
where the hair is parted,
the place where we
are right. The thing
with feathers rages
against the dying
of the light. There will
be music despite
and lyre, timbrel
and dance, the sweet
and dying down.
So much depends
upon a red wheel
unto the fields.
Phillis Levin, “Part”
Yehuda Amichai, “The Place Where We are Right”
Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers”
Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”
Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense”
Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Sunset of the City”
William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow”
Wordsworth, “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”