the 30/30 project: November 2020

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.

Donate to 30/30

The volunteers for November 2020 are Shannon Austin, Victor Barnuevo Velasco, Ellen Birkett Morris, Angelina Brooks, Brett Gastineau, Christina Lee, Nathan Lipps, Andrew Posner, Isaac Randel, and Alison Stone. Read their full bios here.

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

Poem 30 / Day 30

So Often, I Tell You, I Was Made Breathless /

(a cento with lines by Shannon Austin, Victor Barnuevo Velasco, Ellen Birkett Morris, Angelina Brooks, Brett Gastineau, Christina Lee, Natan Lipps, Andrew Posner, Isaac Randel, Alison Stone)

See the silver-green aspen leaves? They tremble and quake —
the holy force of gravity.
Your hand will always touch something it thinks it never has.
The body finds new ways to break.
A matchstick carries the means of its own ruin,
which is a gift,
a whole made so by
philosophy —
the intricate rules about circles and burning,
not the birds, my idea of birds,
the spun-sugar kind of clouds, too,
and quiet, unceremonious
midnight, when anything is possible.
Have you chosen your dream yet,
with a blank page where
a person can walk on water,
a moment in mid-afternoon when everything falls silent before evening begins?
I would praise, but
the daisies
become a tight fist.
The moon is tired.
Someday we will all sleep through the night.

The Meteor / by Austin Shannon
            for Luke

A wayward meteor finds
solace in a forest’s bare arms,

wind singing through
its body’s runes, a secret

language tracing its course
through suns & moons,

their histories told by touch,
the promise of another

world parallel to this, held
safe by bark & branches

and in this story, you
are not the meteor:

you are the wish
that brought it all here.

 The first poem / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
for Floyd

on the last day before the last month
of the first year of a new decade: a heart,
molded in multiple solitude and fissures,
is whole again. Today brings certainty
of how all hours lived have come to this.

After all the words — the monosyllabic
and unpronounceable, the fragments
that refused to spore, phrases stemmed
into toadstools; the toads for inspection,
real and imagined; the garden of earthly
delights, Gethsemane, and Eden; burning
bushes, ashen stumps, mounds of coal;
seasons of cracked earth, deluge, glacial
winds; blurred mornings, blistered days,
damp nights; plague of pigeons, dance
of cranes, murder of crows; congregation
of misanthropes stomping on hallowed
grounds, groveling for the unimaginable:
facts, and figures of speech – after all of
these, there is only this: silence. And still-
ness. Silence and stillness and home. You.    

North Towards Detroit / by Ellen Birkett Morris

I drove Dad home just once,
as he pointed out the gas station
outside of Detroit where at fifteen
he was caught stealing a car.
His father’s anger tinged with pride,
a hard man, he valued honor among thieves.
Returning from union meetings
in a bloody white overcoat,
his father stood in the doorway drunk,
reciting Chaucer in Old English
before passing out,
a sour lullaby.
What of love’s sharp edges?
The backhand, the recitation, the empty fifth.
Dad in his fifties, visiting his ghosts,
unpacking his shadowy secrets,
waiting at last to be seen.

The dust I leave / by Brett Gastineau

I know that there are no important things catalogued in books
and that the truths go green on the pages.
I am in a hurry to be and to cut the lighting in the garden at night.
The butterflies grace upon the flowers and know that memory
is what remembers us.  Theirs is a language of water and leaves and rocks.
I want my hands to be rain.
I want my skin to be a love letter.
I want to know how we are to slow time
or why it is that time is slowed when I call your name.
I know the heart speaks in its secret words about the
wounded paradise from which we stumbled.
I would like to know how to touch as the dark touches.
I would like to know how to grow brighter and louder as the stars do
as they imagine  the world below anew…
and then the dark unsays them.
I want to be a wild, long, blue body of light,
then I might have something to scratch on the pages.

Advent / Christina Lee

Here at the start of another swell
of waiting, our breaths catch
against the emptiness.
But we go on,
stringing lights across our porches,
weaving wreaths with broken-off branches,
humming bright songs into the darkness.

Ireland / by Isaac Randel

This was back before the beginning.
Everything was washed in nervous light,
which colored the ancient cobblestones
and every vaulted arch we passed along
the way. You weren’t here— and that small thought
ballooned until it was the only one
that I could entertain. The ocean— grey
and clouded over and resplendent 
with myths and old attachments carried on
the winds we knew (though separately) on other shores,—
the ocean and country were full
with life, and they were empty. My chest kept
lightening: every other step fell heavily.
Nothing stopped it— and when there was nothing
left to try, I stopped trying. You weren’t here,
and all the wide jade hills of Ireland 
were empty for it. I pressed my head 
against the glass and counted the hours—
counted the actual hours— back to you. 

Poem 29 / Day 29

Non-Traditional Cento for My Mother / by Shannon Austin
                      with lines spoken by Keanu Reeves

Open the doors.

What is it about this game that frightens you?
We don’t really even know how to play.

Leaving is leaving, but you are
resilient, like quicksand.

I know you’re out there,
deep in the forest.

You take care of a garden,
your own design.

An act of faith, one of the wildest
and least known.

The trick is living without an answer.
These are for you to give me:

I know who you’re not;
let me be that I am.

Build a house out of your body.
I know that you’re afraid.

But dude, we are already
dealing with an uninvited guest.

Open your door.
Life will never be better.

*Lines taken from the following films: Speed, Always Be My Maybe, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Destination Wedding, The Bad Batch, The Replacements, The Matrix, Thumbsucker, Knock Knock, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Something’s Gotta Give, Street Kings, Much Ado About Nothing, The Lake House, Point Break, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, John Wick, Sweet November

The Years Between / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco  
for Cynthia

What else can be said that silence
has not said, or could not, or need
to? We have lived the hours with
courage and trepidations – neither
matters, only that we have lived.

Remember Prufrock in a forest
of bamboos, barely sixteen, before all
the murders and creations – already
the man too scared to eat a peach and
dutiful to roll the bottom of trousers.

We became old before we learned
we needed to be young – mapping
the sky for escape, loading our backs
with everything that could not let us
go. Everything. The teacups, too.

But had the past never changed every
day — as it does — there would be
no photos on the walls, or letters
in the drawers, or journals that never
seemed to get finished. In short, words.

Words that even as they turn into a
murmuration of starlings remain words.
Perhaps it is time we leave the prayers
for the dead to the dead. What vespers
or matins will we have then? Often,

I forget the words. Still, I find myself
humming the air on nights the years
between us stretch too long. Or
the memory too short to remember
what I once longed to be. I know

the stars which have been mapped
centuries ago into gods and animals
are still there. Fortunes and freedom.
But now I measure the ground for
how wide I have come around. Tonight,

I shall look up at silence to tally the years.

For Liz / by Ellen Birkett Morris

I think of you when I look
at the food-stained page of a cookbook,
the filmy beauty of a passing cloud,
hear the rattle of the leaves in a tall tree.
I remember all the things you loved—
pedicures and chapstick,
coffee and caramel donuts,
Days of Our Lives and Prairie Home Companion,
the sight of your family around your table laughing.
I saw you watching us, your inward smile.
You created this, the people at the table,
the food we ate, the feeling that this feast
of love and company would never end.    

Suicide and Osprey / by Angelina Brooks

I’m fine. My therapist tells me
that I do this; say I’m fine,
and move on to the next item.

The neighbor committed suicide,
and I ask my husband if he wants
a smoothie when he tells me—I’m fine.

The neighbor is gone,
and my husband knows it will be
in a poem. I won’t tell you

where or how, but we will talk
about birds, and how osprey
hover over mountaintop lakes,

and then just fall.
Head first, wings tucked, resigned
to gravity. I’m writing

in these birds because there are no
living ones in my poetry yet.
They are all dead, too.

I’m fine, but maybe I should
add an osprey for hope
or just variety. And you may think,

reader, if you’ve forgotten
our dead neighbor, I should
have picked a bald eagle

(also by mountaintop lakes),
but I’m not here to tell you,
I’m fine.

Rain / by Brett Gastineau

Rain, if only you left me with a colorless feeling.
But you haunt my steps, become a dance of strangers in my blood,
and follow me like constellations.
And still, there is love for you, rain.
Your knock unexpected but known immediately;
the knowing feels like dreaming.
Hope sown into a cloud.
With each drop fallen, a conquest,
a reaffirmation to each cell in each body there can be no
pull from the center of your lives, only a constant remembrance
of this place, of this time.
I can hear your singing in my skull.
Today, I want to come after you.
I want to feel the delight of plucking the skin,
soaking your feet,
our feet becoming the sea.
I can feel your gray.  It is my gray.
Our gray separate from the voice of the sun.
Our gray like a forgetful child.
Sweet, serene drops of gray and
beneath a constant pain mated with a constant joy.
This gray a remembered flesh that touches all.
I can feel it.
I feel it more than I feel my own feet.

But should we really be so scared? / by Christina Lee

From the Washington Post article “Murder hornets sound terrifying. But should we really be so scared?” by Bruce Beehler

Poem For The Last Day / by Alison Stone

Something is ending, I feel it
In the air’s new chill, the tightness
In the faces of the passersby.
Is it worse not to know
what you’re about to lose
or to see the future
you’re hurtling toward
in all its red-toothed majesty?
Morning’s are the hardest,
the tug of blankets
as the alarm shrieks, shattering
the last remnants of dream.

Poem 28 / Day 28

Watching the Live Stream of a Guy Beating the Big Texan 72oz Steak Challenge on Thanksgiving 2020 /
by Shannon Austin

You can tell he’s come with a strategy: steak first,
in its entirety. Then sides. No utensils to slow his stride.

Nothing quite says confidence like a fistful of salad,
lettuce wilting in one’s palm waiting for an open mouth.

Already full of the normal things, I keep checking
his progress, watching this stranger gradually

consume everything in front of him, each bite deliberate,
savoring the end by uncomplicating the middle.

Each shrimp in succession. A potato, peeled from its foil
& devoured bare. Breath & few breaks, talking to

those out of view, taking pictures just before a victory.
A Fluffhead sign adorns the table, an inside joke.

To finish: a shot each of sour cream & butter.
One final test. To see how much he can fit

inside himself before bursting. To see how much
one can see before finally being satisfied.

Fragments ala Heraclitus / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
for John E.

The distance between the last embrace
and silence is always two breathings:
the first syncs with the heart, the other,
which may be anticipated as an end
is in fact only a beginning. Always.
Because love is a constant renewal,
as persistent as a night after a day,
after a night, after a day. And so on.

What the partial light of night reveals
may seem sacred but in the bright
of day all sacred figures need dusting.

Love is always an undiscovered
country that once visited must be
purged from memory. Then look at
everything again as if for the first time.

The fire that razed a forest liquefied
the resin that shut the cones, freeing
seeds that turned into pines by firm
alchemy of wind, rain, and gravity.

The first must be the last. Constantly.
Each beginning an end unto itself.
The inverse is not necessarily true.

Words often lack what
an embrace can express best.

What words cannot express must
never be spoken. Or thought again.
Unless you can dance without music.

Unnamed Love / by Ellen Birkett Morris

I fall in love too easily with the
drummer at the bar who takes
his credit in sandwiches to bring
to his wife and children, the neighbor
who offers his dead dog’s leash
for my new puppy, the doctor whose
warm hands cradle my sore neck gently,
the author I interview who shares
the story of her father’s death
when she learns mine is dying.
If there is a name for this kind
of love I want to know it.  This
messy, sad, beautiful, tender
unnamed love.

Moab Meditation / by Angelina Brooks

I think even the landscape is becoming a distraction. I chant
its geography like an incantation against you: plateau, swell, wash.

The birds pick threw golden desert grasses so dry they sound like the shuffles
of a person, and I turn to look for you.

Like a desert’s dedication, I have worked up to this. I am alone with river,
sandstone, cliff, dog, and not you.

I had hoped you’d disappear like the sound of the trucks on the highway.
No echo, their hum gone. Or the tufts of cottonwood seed by the Colorado,

but I have misplaced both of my metaphors. You always come back.

Ascension / by Brett Gastineau

I had already climbed half the staircase.
I had met the moon
and I knew most of the flowers, at least by blush.
I was learning some of the ways of the ants.
I was walking a narrow path and all I had to show
for it were thorns in my throat.
Seriously…well somewhat seriously….well sadly mistaken.
There was a chess piece in my left eye.
There was a music box in my stomach.
There was a rabbit’s foot in my shoe.
The bitter taste of coffee stained my name.
I wore only a tie and an overcoat.
I looked behind me and there was no one.
I looked below and above and there was no one.I felt pain in the absence of others.
Who would know the specialness of my nose or
that the name of my left eye begins with a capital?
Above would be a room filled with the deliciousness of velvet.
Above the resonance between an earthquake and a dream
Above a joy without a name or a body to hold it.

Postpartum Dream Sequence / by Christina Lee

You see yourself 
bound with thick ribbons: 
wrists, knees, 
ankles, waist. 
Tied off tight, anywhere 
you might break. 

You might break anywhere. 
Bright-colored, kind of 
beautiful, even though
they’re constricting 
blood flow, movement. 

Somehow you know 
you tied them all yourself. 
A while ago. 

Now you take hold of an end, 
unravel the knot. The silk
slips off, spirals away. You flex
your naked wrist, 
which is healed, 
which was never broken. 

No. 28 / by Nathan Lipps

The body is a lamp post
on the ocean floor

for our small act
of consenting
to time

knowing the sudden loss
of any object
resonates for years

if a year means anything
beyond not yet
let there be more

which is why water
lives inside water
and we call it a body.

Here’s a Fun (fun?) Game to Try / by Isaac Randel

Take a box or room or solitary house
or strip of land and make a note that reads:
This Is All That Remains of Civilization And
Of Human Effort Generally. Here, for example,
is a box in a room in a solitary house.
Records and records and pictures. And
other records. Maps and mimeographs crammed
with deeds and news clippings. Electricians’ receipts
and the Wi-Fi password. Combinations for safes
elsewhere in the house that (we’ll assume)
didn’t make it in the Catastrophe. All right,
let’s try the game (we’ve started already):
this poorly printed face here at the top
is one of half a dozen that remain—
these few typefaces and scripts and scrawled reminders
are all the language we have— these scribbled placenames
are the physical world that’s left us. What kind
of world was this? What kind of creatures thought
to make it? How great a loss! Of course,
this game is only fun with friends
who don’t think it’s macabre. And who don’t bother you
with complaints about consistency— “who are we
supposed to imagine would be finding this box?
And why would they care about anything
in it?” or: “who’s to say their priorities are the same
as our priorities?” “Who’s to say they could think
as well as us?” Stupid questions like that. You need
players who take this seriously. You need people who know
enough about the world to know it won’t be ending
soon. Because it can’t. Because that’s out of the question.

Late Fall / by Alison Stone

The maples drop their flames like Dante’s god
showering doomed souls with fiery rain. 

Who is innocent? What is forgivable? 

A stray dog pees into the weeds.
The sidewalk shines with weak, persistent light.

Poem 27 / Day 27

Circe Makes a Dating Profile / by Shannon Austin

Grew up halfway between sun & ocean,
otherwise known as lineage.

Eyes: forward-facing
Hair: sea-swept
Height: unknown

Hydra > Hesperides
Mind > Might

“Don’t get mad; get a menagerie.”

You should message me if:

           You want a lunar eclipse.
           The illusion of castles made of sand
           & salt, waves forming walls
           against a summer shore.
           Woman without end absolving endings.
           You want all things at all times;
           you want to want without consequence.

Must be a dog person.
Or willing to be.

I Love Therefore I Am / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
A cento from Pound’s Pisan Cantos, for Danilo Tiamzon

The imprint of the intaglio depends
            in part on what is pressed under it
the mould must hold what is poured into it
                                                what matters is                                    (LXXIX)

it exists only in fragments unexpected excellent
in short shall we look for a deeper or is this the bottom?
I don’t know how humanity stands it
            with a painted paradise at the end of it
            without a painted paradise at the end of it
To study with the white wings of time passing
“sunt lumina”
all things that are are lights                           
undying luminous and translucent                                                      (LXXIV)                                                                                              

amo ergo sum, and in just that proportion
            “With us there is no deceit”
                           said the moon
To which I replied: I am not:
            Mallarmé, Whistler, Charles Condor, Degas
The old trees near the Rue Jacob
and Le Musée de Cluny.
I have perhaps seen a waning of that tradition                                   (LXXX)

                        “Hay aqui mucho catolicismo – (sounded
            y muy poco reliHion”
                       in those days he did thumb sketches,
impressions of the Velásquez in the Museo del Prado                       (LXXXI)

the drama is wholly subjective
the stone knows the form
and the greatest is charity
            among those who have not observed  regulations
                                    The wind is part of the process
                                    The rain is part of the process
                                    grass nowhere out of place                             (LXXIV)

dove sta memoria                                                                                (LXXVI)

crystalline, indestructible
greek moulds in the margin
man, earth : two halves of the tally
neither they me
but that a man should live in that further terror, and live
            the loneliness of death                                                            (LXXXII)

nothing matters but the quality
of the affection — in the end –

is measure by the to whom it happens
            and to what, and if to a work of art
            then to all who have seen and who will not                           (LXXVI)

to have done instead of not doing
To enforce both the grave and the acute?
To draw up leaf from the root?
To have gathered from air a live tradition
This is not vanity.
            Here error is all in the not done,
All in the diffidence that faltered…                                                   (LXXXI)

What do you want me to say? / by Ellen Birkett Morris

That words saved my life? That they were my corner of the closet, under the blanket, closed door refuge from the sound of my parents fighting, from my neighbors’ older brother who lured kids down to his basement lair, from the pain of finding out I lived in a world that didn’t want to hold my hand? That words gave me some place else to go, another way to deal, a portal into other worlds?  That words could charm, shield, defer, cajole, demand, and carry me to a place beyond which there was anything left to say? 

Struck / by Brett Gastineau

I am lucky to be alive.
She hit me like a truck and
left me a mess of blood and
bone in the middle of the road.
I watch as she walks away—the red footprints
she leaves growing small—and the way she flicks the
pieces of marrow and clumps of hair from her
shoulders.  All very nonchalant.
I rise.  My insides hollow and I am
a tuning fork wobbling.

No. 27 / by Nathan Lipps

The warmth of waking up
half alive
and washing the face
with cold water.

It’s a silence that deceives.
Hell-bent, running
from perfection
I am greedy for the future
and its broken light.

Look, if only once
at me. The fruit within
is low and easily gathered.
It’s a season like any other.
Eventually frost.

Housesitting, Pt. 2 / by Isaac Randel

Of all the things we don’t deserve, it’s dogs
we don’t deserve the most. That doesn’t mean
the feeling goes both ways: these two have little
patience for almost anything. Especially the older one.
The smaller one does laps, and sits in front
of the fireplace, gnawing embers from the grate.
Or trying to. They care; they’re just distracted—
short lives contract the regular human niceties
into small, better proportioned gestures.
The smaller one plays fetch, and stops when
it’s clear the game’s played out. The older one
clambers up each time I sit to stretch a paw
across my chest —listen, man— and both of them
stay close the whole time. Sure, one shirks the blanket
to find a better one; the other, unbalanced,
keeps slipping off the one couch they’ll both
fit on. But they stay close the whole time.

Untitled / by Alison Stone

The bird is eaten.
Greasy dishes fill the sink.
Quarrels kept at bay.

Poem 26 / Day 26

Gratitude / by Shannon Austin

Echoes return, defining
distance as finite.
My voice reaches out
to touch clouds, a grove
of peach trees, a neighbor
walking a Pomeranian, before
curving back to reassure
me that someone is
listening. This, I think,
confirms our own
proximity—that we will
unite after we have
traveled as far as we can
from each other.
This is what I think of
today, what my mind
repeats when my voice
doesn’t carry.

The Secret of the Source / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

a large body moving
                                         in time to avoid
                                                the depth
                                      remembered that
                                    Down, down
                        at the very bottom
                                    what were they doing
out there
                                                fungi and roots.
            Tiny particle
               darting here and there
                        rice      Gradually dawned

*The Philippines was a US colony from 1900-1935. During this period, American politics and society were divided whether to keep the islands and its resources. Books supporting both sides of the argument abound in the US. This is one such book. Published in 1917, 10 years after the Bud Dajo massacre, where approximately 1000 Muslims were decimated by American military, it was about a Muslim boy who helped Christian missionaries convert a group of natives.

By erasing the words that erased the history of Filipinos, I hope to repurpose these colonial instruments and reclaim the humanity and dignity of my heritage.  

Cry, Cry Baby / by Ellen Birkett Morris

Wasn’t Janis beautiful with her wide leg pants,
feathers in her hair? Fearless big sister,
who played with the big boys.
Her husky-voiced, plaintive cry
coming down like a hard rain
on a dirty street, sometime after
midnight, when anything is possible.
You might find love or end up drunk
on the curb, singing into your beer,
waiting for the late bus to take you home. 

Moon / by Brett Gastineau
For Jose Maria Lima

The moon is tired.

Recognize the stuttering heartbeat.
Look how she’s forgotten herself in the
dark underbelly of the rivers.
Moon whose deep voice resonates with the
underpinnings of our lives and gives us the false impression
we might be the architects of our own paradises here on earth. 
Moon petty with affection.
Moon happy to leave us under a black sky
filled with constellations of blood.
Or hide when that sky is pregnant with clouds
and leave us longing.
And not for the sun.
The sun could never rise again!
For it is only in the light of the moon we exist.

The moon is tired.

This strange silence courses through our too simple veins,
makes us feel as though we’ve been running through
centuries plagued by a contaminated air.
All because she is absent.
And the nights without the moon make the days lethargic and meaningless.
Aren’t the minutes frantic?
The stories of the old and the young pause.
There is a pain in our narrative, a breath departed.
Our dreams abandon us.  Make us foreign to ourselves.
Each of us solitary. 
Each of us left in too wide a space.

Moon do not sleep but help us to gather our bones of memory.
Shift the wind and blow back our souls.

Housekeeping / by Christina Lee

My mom is paring back, 
cleaning out the Christmas closet. 

She texts me pictures of the old ornaments
laid out neatly in two rows on the floor. 
She’s placed a handwritten number 
on a slip of paper 
underneath each one. 

Do you want any of these with you this year? I’ll send them. 

I tell her no, but it’s nice to see them all.
I can smell the box she keeps them in.

They’d probably break in the mail, or Lee would try to eat them. 

She agrees. 

She hasn’t met him yet. 

I’ll keep them all out this year, I guess,
she says after a while.  

That sounds good, I tell her. 
They look so pretty all together. 

No. 26 / by Nathan Lipps

I have to say love
spiral it around my body
like barbed-wire from heaven
like a thing holy and cursed
how any good religion
reinforces what holds it up.
I have to run through the city center
and ring the bells of warning
that a sudden seiche will eat
your children, first their bodies
and then what remains.

Or else it is the rope too slender
the open-ocean plank
of everything I believe in
turning itself into lie
how the wind pushes this water
so daman hard it floods
what it cares most.

Tangentially Thankful Poem / by Isaac Randel

The story: I was in a car, moving through a canyon;
a podcast was playing, and a new voice came on
and it surprised me. That’s the story. The instructive purpose
of the story: in a word, thankfulness. In more than a word:
surprises’ echoes of a deeper sense of what we find remarkable
in the world. And in those small remarkable facts is found
thankfulness. Some necessary context: you’d need to know where
I was going, and where from, but suffice to say:
I was alone, between two places, and in no hurry.
The podcast: something on some corner of the ancient world. I was:
at this point struck with unceasing curiosity
for those pediments and peoples I ignored in my education.
My education: pretty good, actually. To the point:
the podcast droned on and (as it was night) the dark rust
lights lined the winding road through the canyon, and
as there was nothing pressing (so it seemed) around me,
there was nothing to think about, and (as is usual)
things (in a sense) went blank. They stayed blank. There was
nothing but what was just around me: orange light
and orange road and sheer orange edifices;
enthusiastic Britons speaking about a king who slayed his horse
mid-jump— and then a new voice. A new Brit:
who must have been in the studio the whole time,
slouched over the microphone and only now (so it sounded)
spoke up. The lyrical flourish: things exploded
into one general sensation that the world carried more
than it could ever appear to hold at any one time.
The actual description of what happened: a general sensation
of mild, benign surprise. The lyrical flourish again: everything
was magnificent, and (as this was only one place between
others and only one moment between others) how much more magnificent
would it become, when I arrived where I was going!
The ending note: thankfulness (again) for these and other symptoms of life.

Abandon All Hope / by Alison Stone

Dante’s just self-insert crossover fan fiction,
my daughter complains, confused by the Greek deities
populating Christian hell. She understands
we’re centuries too late to get the satire and snark,
politicians he’s skewering as forgotten
as a years’-old YouTube star.
Her frustration’s her desire
for religion to make sense, something I
abandoned early, disillusioned by a childhood
of rib-made women and kosher forks.
She does appreciate Dante’s language,
and the grove of goth trees, but why is Cerberus
a dragon who acts like a dog instead of just a dog?
Who knows how the details of damnation were chosen,
the intricate rules about circles and burning
no odder than those of our own time, where courts
are trying to assign personhood to zygotes,
and recently decreed that Subway sandwich rolls
have too much sugar to be classified as bread.

Poem 25 / Day 25

The Garden of Second Chances / by Shannon Austin

I could open an exhibit:

The Hall of Dead Flora, or,
Plants Used to Harsh Climates That Have Expired at My Touch.

A pepper plant curls in on itself, leaves browning amid
orange baubles hanging on like twinkle lights from the 90s;

bamboo dries at its roots,
cacti beg to be the desert’s middle fingers,

a succulent petrifies &
the arms of an aloe swan dive from its pot.

My hands crack to the wrist.
I wish my fingers knew what my body was taught:

how to cradle water,
how to fold into a river,

give the most of myself to another
without a thought.      

Underneath our deck, ghosts of daffodils
occupy a small plot circled by brick,

stalks standing naked as the wind
tears yellow from their necks.

Every so often, as I walk past with the dog,
I look to see their remains, steadfast

in their stances, taking whatever rain
the deck’s slats offer,

giving every bit of yellow that remains.

Father/Figures / by Victor Velasco
(a work in progress)

Self-portrait with the Desert, 1982

You reach out your right hand to measure the sky:
the horizon that will claim you someday shimmers.
In that moment you are still a stranger and the sky

is shelter still. The country is sand dunes still. It is
mud houses still, ancient sandstones still, etched
with parrots and peacocks, monkeys and gazelles.

Behind you are flashes of caravans of camels, bearing
sacks of wheat, sorghum and barley; oranges and dates;
coffee and myrrh; carnelian, ametrine, and garnet.

But it is a highway you are asked to see: a new gash
lacerating an old skin – veins breaking into capillaries,
— roads into alleys — bloodied sweat of your country-

men building a kingdom that look down on your sons:
echoes of thousand horses, footprints of tribal wars –
sacred pilgrimages you are not allowed to partake.

In the icy nights of the desert, you write of ancient
roads where you now sleep, of a lake buried by sand:
of dried-up water wells turning into rivers of oil.

Figures in Marble

Where there are no stars,
the best way to measure
distance is by a triangle:

you told me I was my mother,
who told me I was exactly
like you. Because I was both,

I knew I was neither. So, I
carved in marble the faces
I found, cutting fears away.

I was twelve when I stepped
into your crosshair. You saw
something you couldn’t read.

That night, you told me how
you were told men shouldn’t

cry. Then you almost cried.


Father I had to kill you
after you died. Because I
had to live, I waged wars
against the dead — and I
wasn’t armed enough for
both of us. That which you
couldn’t name I celebrated,
what you couldn’t ask I

I got tired of promised lands,
of tribes wandering in the
desert, of fathers sacrificing
sons on the altar of vengeful
gods. I whittled my own god
from the kindness of strangers.
And saw that he was beautiful
and good.

And he went forth and multiplied.
And on the fiftieth year – on
the year I was finally older
than you ever would — I rested.

Self-Portrait with Mirror, 2020

In the dark, I gave birth to sons: a quarrelsome
tribe, full of madness and grief and vengeance

I had to tear them with my teeth: their flesh
tasted like dates, their bones ground to mud

like coffee, their blood red as carnelian. Once
they were all slain, your absence became me at last

– the child as the father of the man, or something
like that, surveying the distances of stars.

In a country that would never claim me, rest was
only a passing courage. Because to live was to war.

Every morning you stared at me in the mirror.

One day, I would have the courage to stare back.

Dad / by Ellen Birkett Morris

I learned to count his anger
by the weight of his footfalls,
notice the faraway look that meant
he was telling himself a story where
we would all end up losers, keep my
laughter, fear. opinions to myself until
they all but disappeared.  How easily
strange became normal. How quickly
silence filled the void, suggesting approval
that didn’t exist. How long after he left
I waited in vain for the world to explode. 

Buried / by Angelina Brooks

I have been that. Buried
under flood waters, under
phone calls to make, under
grading, under bookshelves
filled with books from friends, 
buried under what should
be good for me, buried
under my father’s words
under his well-meaning,
under jokes of which
I am the butt, under
memories projected
in my mind like live-action
replays, under fear
of burying what
I have not buried yet.

Lament / by Brett Gastineau

The words I would write sour in my stomach.
I would praise, but
—silenced by anxiety—
Bile rising washes dirty
the memory and wisdom of love
when it was young and keen with desire
to know no fear and trust
only in the newness of two skins together.

Discontent is not an achievement.
Anger lives in this body: the language of
spent love in a nameless dark
yellowed this year and we
become two bodies alone in the violence of our grief
and only curious to investigate our separate wounds.
The skin of the dream pulled back…left with
a house where no one is home.

How many / by Christina Lee

poems pass through us 
as we settle in for this evening,
which could be any evening, 
to drift off early, 
crack open a cold one, 
comfort a crying child, 
run a bath, 
hit the gym, catch
feelings, deep
breathe, hit 
the books, bake, flip 
the channels. 

What would 
we have said, had we 
asked ourselves
instead for words?
Anything good? 

I watch the apartment windows
light up one by one, everyone 
home, blinds open, the building 
glowing like an advent calendar 
a kid opened early.

Some poems 
are not words at all. 

Come sit down beside me. 

No. 25 / by Nathan Lipps

I am worried about self-improvement
and diminishing time.

Even my carcass dreaming
of a better fiction.

Should one step forward
always imply gain?

Does revision
birth progress?

The many coats of paint
undoing the wall.

If this car runs out of gas
and I am forced to walk

by walking I have invented
a choice from air.

Yes, tomorrow I will shine the apple
and feed it to the horse.

A Fable / by Isaac Randel

At first we gave The Name to those tyrants
who gave it to themselves. And after them,
which is to say when tyrants were deposed,
we gave The Name to those of us who earned
The Name— and when they took The Name they kept
a record of the lives of those who kept
The Name before them and insisted they ­­­­
were not the ones their mothers birthed, but just
The Name— the same as those who’d been before.
And archivists were driven to their deaths
far earlier, for fear they’d been too slack
with centuries’ worth of The Name’s artifacts.
When one The Name died, The Name was given
to a new The Name who, in its mortal life,
had cured disease or answered riddles— but
when that The Name took up The Name there was
no chance of keeping up the work— the weight
was such that each The Name would sit inside
its gilded chamber and lament. So then
to stave off early deaths of each The Name
we gave The Name to everyone— and though
it means that we are all what The Name is,
it also means that the The Name is just
the name that the The Name gives to itself—
a terrible thought, but still the right one.

Brother-In-Law Haiku / by Alison Stone

You posted Christ Saves,
bones in your face reaching out.

The phone rings with death.

Poem 24 / Day 24

Daisies / by Shannon Austin

The field – jealous of sea & sky –

            tries to fashion a mirror

for the sun

            to reflect on its own radiance.

The daisies,  

                        however, / thin their spines,

bend backwards

            to see themselves

in each other’s eyes.

The Great White Tribe in Filipinia / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

was                           locusts  trying                                        to fly.
The                                    the town-crier

          blades as sharp as scythes

    another day, another army


      hauled heavy timbers, singing
in unison.


                         women came


in triumph.

*The Philippines was a US colony from 1900-1935, after a mock battle between Spain and the US and the Treaty of Paris in 1898. During this period, American politics and society were divided whether to keep the islands and its resources. Books supporting both sides of the argument abound in the U.S. This is one such book, published in 1903 detailing the life of a Christian missionaries among “primitive and often savage people”.

By erasing the words that erased the history of Filipinos, I hope to repurpose these colonial instruments and reclai the humanity and dignity of my heritage.

I Was the Kind of Kid Who / by Ellen Birkett Morris

Said this is a nice place to visit
but I wouldn’t want to live here
while walking through the cemetery,
thought my closet as an adult would
be filled with flowing white robes,
put a bunch of pencils on the teacher’s chair
because I believed she would roll off them
cartoon-style, had my first kiss in kindergarten
during naptime, had a diary filled
with descriptions of my favorite food,  
had to have a chocolate bar while reading
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, pressed
on the walls of my closet hoping to get to Narnia,
asked my mother to fill in the x’s and o’s
on a letter to a friend because my hand was tired,  
asked for set after set of small golf clubs because
I liked the plaid bag and small wood, aspired
to eat as much as my dad during dinner,  
sat in the morning grass imagining
the dewdrops were diamonds.  

Kite String and Errands / by Angelina Brooks 

Today, I am tired
of my own voice.
I’d prefer this narrator
omniscient, distant.

The morning light
is heavy. I try
to wake but curl
next to you again,

nuzzle your back.
I’d like to give
up on the world
that has given me

you but threatens
to take you away
every hour—flood,
sickness, suicide.

We’ve seen them
all too often
lately, and I cling
to you. We hold

each other to earth
with little more than
kite string and errands.
I just want to stop

making sense
where there is none.

On e.e. cummings’ [somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond] / by Brett Gastineau 

What is this surrender I so gladly give?
So unlike myself or the self I thought I should be.
I wake to you like a flower to the sun.
Hoping to drink of light, to be filled, and I am.
Thirst abated but always present.
There is no end to the honey between us—
the pollination of our hearts.

And yet, I will close my buds,
become a tight fist,
brace for the onset of fall and
the long-tiredness of winter.
The gray skies whisper of rain.
The snow is close at hand.
The fear comes so suddenly like
dreams shaken from our pillows.

Nothing can compare to this strange
fragile play which compels me.
I willing become intoxicated with
the colors of our wanting.

Kaleidoscope / by Christina Lee 

In the fog, walking home, whirling,
I split myself again: 
One of me 
who would stay, stays. 
And the one 
who must return, returns.
Is it a trick of the late light, 
or are we infinite? We are always 
leaving one of ourselves behind, 
and another self spinning on forward 
to go where she must go.  

No. 24 / by Nathan Lipps 

Is it better to behold the field
or understand it?

I can see
the land more clearly
when I don’t look upon it.

If the day stuck
stock-still in the sky
would night return
to an idea, only?

What is perceived is known.
The world lost in a fingertip.

That the two of us
when we look up
each other
see anything
is the miracle.

Housesitting, Pt. 1 / by Isaac Randel

The poets have taken over Emptiness; Death
belongs to the scholars and the faithful;
Quietude has been claimed, I guess, by
the sound engineers; Stillness, by geocentrists,
probably; this house belongs to others. So
when by way of explanation I should say
I Sit In A Still, Quiet House Whose Emptiness
disturbs by its suggestion of Death— I don’t
have license to use half the necessary words
sincerely. In just the same way, I don’t
know if this long, low gloom is my own
or the rightful property of others who’ll be
coming by soon to pick it up. Nobody does come by—
it’s me and the dogs for a few days more.
They want nothing to do with the property rights
of melancholy— they want treats, and a generous
helping of them. Every essential feeling,
they’re versed in and have seen past. They
don’t know quite what there is to mope about—
it’s obviously (obviously) time for a walk. 

Though I Tell My Kids It Isn’t Pie, / by Alison Stone 

my brother would insist that love divided
thins until, like watery gruel, it nurtures
no one. I’m the younger child.
I’ve never been fully fed.
Last night my mother came to me
in dream, disguised as an old lady
on a game show, bright lipstick
and flowy scarves, choosing the “sure thing”
$40 prize, and the assurance of coming back
tomorrow, over the possibility
of kitchen appliances or a new car.
Mom’s healthy diet and early death
taught us that nothing’s sure. I wish
she’d learned that in the afterlife,
could finally become the bold role model
I always craved, could throw her training
to the ground like an old coat
and open Door Number 3, then hug
the host and cry when his blond assistant
pointed to her shiny Thunderbird.

Poem 23 / Day 23

Coastal Highway / by Shannon Austin 

We can’t agree on how much salt
the ocean contains, only the
strength of its cartography.
Brine & sardines packed in
a breeze shimmy between
cracks in our car windows, &
we arrive before our eyes: the
stretch of asphalt heating beneath
our tires, the treads of worn feet
releasing granules of sand from
the crevices of thong sandals.
Trashers’ fries dot planks of
Boardwalk wood, seagulls
fighting over the spoils.
Lines of hotels play Tetris with
mini-marts & diners, arcades &
ice cream parlors. Bayside, a pink-
painted palace serves crepes &
Belgian waffles inside
strawberry-covered walls. Mini
golf courses with yellow
hydroplanes & teal waterfalls.
All of this, we imagine
from another state as we pass
the quiet calm of undeveloped
dunes, signs warning of turtle
crossings. A bridge looms silver
up ahead, its wires catching
off the sun. We cross, & I think
of the turtles in the marshes,
waiting for the chance to find out
if their patience will be rewarded. 

Rough/Draft / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco 
News of the world in multiple choice, with apologies to e. e. cummings

The man in blue suit and gray bow tie stares at me
with finality; declares, for the third time:
things can change in an instant. Irreversibly,
somewhere in the world
             a) a town disappears, leaving a hole the size of a heart.
             b) a boatload of faceless children is turned away.
             c) they hand out bullets in breadlines.

Which is also breaking news the previous year, this time
delivered in upbeat tempo: remastered, reverbed;
retailed by word and phrase because it is
             a) how a whole is assembled into fragments.
             b) the economics of wisdom.
             c) the way the past reclaims the present.

To sum up the program, the meteorologist warns
everyone to get ready: tomorrow
             a) the planets will align into a holding pattern.
             b) the opposite of alone is imposed sadness.
             c) half of the world will forget the other half.

Which is a polite way of saying
           { a) the saints go marching in }
when { b) the shit hits the fan            } nothing
           { c) you wish upon a star          }

not even the rain, renders death and forever with such small hands.

* Inspired by a piece of Merce Cunningham, the reader is encouraged to select by random a letter a to c, four times.
Then read the poem by selecting the line in each stanza corresponding to the selected letters. This way, there should
be 81 variations of the same news. I mean, poem.

The Embodied Word / by Ellen Birkett Morris

All poems start in the body
Prickle of desire
Itch of curiosity
Throb of grief
Deep ache of wonder
Beset by noticing
There is no turning away
Surrender to electric pulse
Alpha wave discovery
Fingertip to keyboard alchemy

The Score / by Angelina Brooks

I count roadkill like a convict,
ticking off days until her release:

armadillo, vulture, house cat, coyote,
too many deer to bother. And some so dead

there is nothing left to tally:
feathers, innards, fur.

Strange Arrival / by Brett Gastineau
for Jose Maria Lima

Today I finally arrived to me.
There was no telling from where I had come or
how long I had stayed there or answers
to the when and the how of my history.
There was only the darkness, strange and wide,
filled with the echo of my name that I repeated and repeated;
a vast darkness that was somehow also in my shape and
which held me and was thick with love for me.
And I shouted, “I am and I am not.”
A breeze sang across my midsection, gave me certainty and a cross to bare,
a truth to rest in which was that to live was to not ask permission.
And the hour of my arrival…
3 a.m. is no different to noon or even 8:45 at night,
just a chorus of white noise, eulogies of car horns and
children screaming from the jungle gym and the tick and tock
of old clocks or is that the hum of an ice box—
at least that is what it seems for the ghosts that loiter in this world
still remembering the dark that loved them.

Nappoem for Lee / by Christina Lee

I unravel my heart
stitch by stitch
while you sniffle and moan 
at the unfairness of it. 

(It’s painless.) 

I make of my heartstrings
a quick heart-blanket
and wrap you up in it.
I take deep, slow breaths. 
You settle yourself, warmed now.

I set you down and tiptoe out
but can’t seem 
to get my heart
to fold back
how it used to sit
neat in my chest. It won’t fit.

No. 23 / by Nathan Lipps

They want to tell me
trees experience time
as a constant glow.
The temperature
just wavering
over the centuries.

I’ve walked this path
before. Not a thing
in sight.

Layman’s Conditional Praise (or: Cellular Data) / by Isaac Randel

It would have been enough to keep
around a few pistons and antennae.
To send sound, words, pulses,
bodies themselves where no natural cause
would carry them. Now the air itself
is charged with signals of another sort.
All morning and all afternoon, in the inmost,
dullest moments of a day, I’m pierced
through all sides by signals— sent from almost
everywhere and carrying almost everything—
and even at their most absurd, they make
a spectacular crystal parish in the way
they move— not so much when I or others
have them, but when they move: unappreciable,
silent, stripped in the passage of all
that makes them what they were,
when they were sent. 

Google Directs My Questioning (Part 2) / by Alison Stone

how to make slime
how to convert to islam
how to convert to pdf
how are you
how are babies made
how did peppa pig die
how is the election going today
how is simon cowell
can dogs eat apples
can you please
what is antifa
what is fracking
what are prime numbers
what are carbs
where’s my refund
where are my downloads
where are the fires in colorado
where did columbus land
who is brad pitt
who was the youngest president
who is president now
who was i in a past life
who am i
when I work
when calls the heart
when they see us
when the party’s over
when will i die

Poem 22 / Day 22

Poem About Writing a Poem Featuring Part of Another Poem / by Shannon Austin

When you try to be clever, it almost never works.

I wrote the beginning of a ghazal from the inside
of a fortune cookie, each end the words in bed, such as

Tomorrow you will be cursed in bed, or,
The early bird gets the worm in bed.

I thought I could make this funny,
but the assonance thought otherwise:

The first in bed.
The worst in bed.
Immersed in bed.
Thirst in bed.
Burst in bed.

Something needs to be cleaned up, but
I don’t want to know what.

The early bird is back, but doesn’t want anything
to do with me, the worm already eaten.

Once, I received a fortune with the words,
The weather is fine

& I thought it was the best and worst fortune, somehow
the definition of & the absence of a forecast.

Maybe that’s clever.
Maybe I’m wrong.

The weather is fine in bed,
and that’s where I belong.

Onions / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

Donum Somnia / by Ellen Birkett Morris

Thin gown, cold cot,
light’s florescent glare,
the nurse’s myriad questions.
My mind wanders,
playing out each eventuality.
I roll past rooms to the surgery bay,
give yourself up to fate.
As the anesthesiologist injects
medicine into my IV,
he leans over and asks,
Have you chosen your dream yet? 

The Curse is I’ll Always Remember / by Angelina Brooks

I hear a falcon call as I let out the dogs. His screech pierces the neighborhood’s peace, its stillness protected by towering live oaks. I didn’t learn his call in the oak and ash walls of this city. Driving across the Midwest, my dad would point out the circling birds, and toss the ornithology guide in my lap. No. See there. Look at the color under its wing. What kind of falcon? Years later, three-thousand miles West, I learned to follow its call high into the aspen, tune my ear to its direction. When my dad lay dying I asked him if he remembered this, the gathered feathers and quartz and sheets of mica I’d organized on the dashboard in order of states. Once, I drove into Wyoming just so that I could say I’d been to a W state. A magpie flew in front of my car, and I’m sure it cursed me before it died.

Joy Harjo foresaw the future of America / by Brett Gastineau

Before he died, the despot was visited by a shimmering being as he lay in bed.  Safe, he thought, in his palace.  This being was covered in a robe of feathers, some blue, some gray, and some the color of lemons left to rot.  She did not have a mouth but a beak.  Her hair was long and a near violet hue.  Her eyes shone like headlights.  There was an invisible fire that came from them, licked his body with flame.  And she spoke with the voice of his mother.  Tears of blood streaked her cheeks as she spoke.  The words were lost on him but not their meaning.  Cold sweat pooled in his clavicles, beaded on his brow.  He cried out for his guards.

When the guards entered, the despot was dead.  Where the being had been a cloud of butterflies flittered and danced and pulsed.  A pool of blood and a sheep’s intestines lie on the floor, glowing strangely.  On the bedpost an innumerable amount of tics were scrawled, rough edged as though the blade that had left them had not been sharpened.  On the bed sheet the words SHAME and TOLL, bloody smears.

The body was removed from the palace and taken to the city center.  On a pile of old tires, battered office furniture, and the bones of livestock, they burnt the despot.  Black smoke circled up into the night.  The smell made the onlookers cover their mouths, but they could not look away.  The fire popped and hissed and grew and shrank and grew again.  Some swore that they saw the arm of the despot shoot up and his fist clenched in a salute.  The onlookers collectively spat at their feet.  A curse in the old tongue was faint on the wind.  The guards cowered as the crowd circled close.

The soul of the despot took the shape of a crabapple as it existed his body.  This was strange since souls are often many limbed and expansive.  Imagine a swirling mass of arms, legs, feet, and hands moving at the pace of a child’s laugh.  A small, knotty orb rose above the flames and the cries of the guards.  The palace was on fire now and the streets were chocked with people singing the old songs in their banned language.  Some guards committed suicide.  Others prayed as their throats were sliced.

The people sang of the children bussed to the stadiums, corralled, made to form lines, and…they sang of the men and women, sisters, brothers, husbands, mothers, and daughters who’d dared to march, to cry out, to name the crimes of their leaders, who were stolen in the night.  Vanished, their end unknown.  Most believed they were abandoned in the desert.  They died with parched lips, eyes stung by sand, and hopes that curdled in their throats.  They sang of the families drowned along the border, face down, death become a wet nightmare.  They sang of those made to sleep beneath too thin aluminum blankets, suffocating in the stench of days old diapers, as they were pressed against the wire of cages.  Oh yes, the people sang!

The soul of the despot was aware of the singing.  Pain is not lost on a soul.  His soul could not make the journey to the next world.  The ladder did not present itself.  A white deer ran down from the stars and took the soul in her mouth.  She carried the orb to the highest hill just above the capital.  With her hoof, she dug a hole and deposited the soul inside.  After covering it, she left.  In her wake, thunder and rain cleared the city streets and put out the flames.

The soul sprouted into a tree over time.  Its body and limbs the color of ash and blood.  Fresh courage glimmered from the capital down below.  The people made mistakes as people will do but they knew the truth that this earth was once a star.  Mothers passed on their songs to the children.  The songs were the map they would follow through this world and into the next.  The tree knew the words now but could not join the song.

Mistakes / by Christina Lee

I mistook neighbor’s lamp
for the moon, 
thought the morning light 
through half-opened blinds
was spilled milk.
I thought my grief 
would stay weightless, 
thought my weight
dictated my happiness thought 
if I cast
my heart across 
the water I could gather
it back, thought 
knowing was over half
the battle, fought harder
than I had to, forgot
what they taught me about 
abstractions, got caught
cutting corners, cut back,
slept through it, had
to laugh. 

No. 22 / by Nathan Lipps 

It’s a shame that we must
convince ourselves
flesh is enough
to break or hold
a pattern invented
to maintain the necessity
we numbly inherit.

The lake gives as much
to the shore
as it takes
is untrue but pretty
like that great failure in the garden
by the red of the apple
and nothing else.
It’s brightness mirroring
the idea of heart.

Apples do not exist.

Is touch as true
as how it feels?

If a body moves
what does it become
if not a thing defined
by its relocation?

None of it is true
if truth is a memory. 

The Republic of Vermont / by Isaac Randel 

Small New England towns, old in the American sense
of standing long enough to stack a few litters
of pioneers on top of one another until their children
stop thinking of the Highlands or County Kildare
as home, look so much back into this humble
few-hundred-year antiquity that the present, empty
of Revolutionaries, strewn with petroleum and wires,
feels less miraculous than it is: like beavers feel. Like this
specific beaver feels, in his small New England pond—
who, felling trees and commandeering brush, feels
nothing much at all of the gravity of what he makes,
or what the minnows and frogs must think of what
he makes if they knew what they owed him; or what
all of us might think if we knew what we owed him.
He thinks, instead, if he thinks, of smaller things:
here’s a stick. Here’s another stick. A whole lot of sticks.
And a landscape, under his vassalage, flourishes.   

Google Directs My Questioning / by Alison Stone 

Why don’t we
Why women kill
Why were chainsaws invented
Why do we dream
Why are you running
Why is the sky blue
Why is my poop green
Why is my computer restarting itself
Why are cats afraid of cucumber
Why does my eye twitch
Why did I get married
Why meditate
Why will I die
Why you little
Why me Lord

Poem 21 / Day 21

Pure Water / by Shannon Austin

At the end of a short tunnel
seeming infinite, a wall of blue &

a sudden drop. You stare until
the color sits behind your eyes &

I watch you watching the room
aflame in magenta & orange,

hot pink morphing into purple
corners disappearing.

You open yourself, all eyes &
sound disregarded for this

stereo filling our ears with light.
When you turn you keep on

turning back, gazing at the wall
that was once there.

Night/Shift / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
for Nimesh S.

If you will, a drill: start
with a blank page where
night was likely born —
tug a string of beads —
prayers — a white crow,
a wax palace, the blue
God dancing on the heart
of lotus – onyx hair drenched
in musk, balsam, and citrus.

Sum the pulses between
                  the heart and fingers.
Sum the fingers limning
                  the edge of space.
Sum the space between
                  the rules and words.
Sum the words between
                  the navel and wisdom.
Sum the wisdom between
                  the eyes and the target.  

If you must, regard: at last —
the notes on the margins —
the fallen remiges, an emptied
quiver, an oasis with dried up well,
light falling as echo, echo
hollowed by silence.Here’s what I learned from silence:
                  words are not love. Love
is not poetry. Poetry is not magic.
                  Magic is not life.

Still: at night, when you lie down
next to someone, seeking fire
and proof of life, the burden
is to seek what they are
and not what they are not   

Recherché / by Ellen Birkett Morris 

Etched champagne flute we broke but didn’t have to pay for
Our little dog’s diamond shaped paws
Fall light through a brilliant red maple leaf
The lightest of kisses given one after another
Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s face
A warm hand resting against the sore spot on my back
First line of the book I’ve been waiting to come out
A moment in mid-afternoon when everything falls silent before evening begins
My teeth against a perfectly roasted potato as its skin gives way
The Dalai Lalma’s laugh
Pain that disappears without a trace

We were born of the color green. / by Brett Gastineau 

That dress you wore on our third date.
Green like the waters of Lake Superior
along the northern border of Wisconsin—
a stillness there that strikes time silent.

There you were by the front door of the Jazz Kitchen.
April bright on the sidewalk.
So often, I tell you I was made breathless.

We sat at a booth in the corner and listened
To two sets by a group paying tribute to Herbie Hancock
The funk and bass punctuating the air.
We shared a salad of steak and leafy kale, sweetened
by a citrus vinaigrette. Pear slices soaking in the sugar
and the red juice of the meat.

Later, I walked you to your car.
You asked me to sit and talk.
Cars passed—pockmarks of sound—
the light of a nearby grocery store swam into the cab.
Echo and the Bunnymen pulsed from the radio
breathy visions of water, waves, and lips.

It wasn’t I who kissed you
or you who kissed me.
There was just we.
A whole made so by
the holy force of gravity.

Eveningpoem for Lee / by Christina Lee 
31 Days Until the Solstice

Around 4:15 tonight

             I put you on my chest,
                        and trooped up the hill.

             We couldn’t quite
see the sea but we caught

             a good glimpse of the water tower

and behind it, thick clouds piped
             like icing,
                           gray and blue.

             Above them,
                           the spun-sugar kind of clouds, too,
                           moving fast on the wind,
                           pink and white and brittle
                           with cold.

             And the Christmas lights,
                           blinking on,
                           just a few bright strands.

I’d buttoned one of your Daddy’s
             flannel shirts around both of us.

You loved it, you kept burrowing down,

then looking up at me and laughing
your eyes bright
as the ocean right
after sunset, when it’s still holding
all the light.

                          I guess we’ll make it another month.

No. 21 / by Nathan Lipps 

He no longer sets
the coffee pot before bed
because the thought of pleasure
in the morning kept him from sleep.

This time of year
the green tomatoes
will never make it to red
and still the vine says wait.

A person can walk on water
if it’s cold enough
which is a gift
we eat with fear.

It’s not a sadness
holding these smaller movements of joy
as triumph. The coffee, for a moment
too wonderfully hot to drink.

“David Redding, Executed 1778, Bennington VT” / by Isaac Randel 
I kept your love of country, and of true
liberty. My people were your own;
your land my own; your king was my king;
these were our fathers’ woods, and these our new
lives’ fallow grounds. Our English blood, I own,
was too much wasted in these silly things
we called wars. But it was English, not new,
blood— you’re Englishmen. Keep your republic—
it will not last. Your children will absolve me. 

Mother/Son Cento / by Alison Stone 
(with lines from the anthology First Light, edited by Jason Shinder. Punctuation has been changed)

Listen, children:
For your own mother you remain Baby,
all the rabbits saying Yes, all the frogs saying Yes.

She is the day, the walk of the moon
I look up at.

I wanted that face to die —
In its forms, the beasts originate.

Tonight I look, thunderstruck.
The bad mother left her children behind
howling in stone cities
in the sub-zero weather
where the burning cold illuminated
this neat suburban avenue full of maples.

Well, it is over now, it is over.

Life must go on.
It will be a heaven of blackred roses.

Poem 20 / Day 20

Songbirds Don’t Inspire Me Much These Days / by Shannon Austin

Give me, instead, the low register
of a cassowary devouring a plum.
An image unlike the one I grew up on:
massive claws tearing through
the bat on a yellow insignia, the Dark
Knight injecting its neck with the
sharp end of a hummingbird as
other hummingbirds flap their wings
uselessly against the ground.
How do I always come back to this?
Not the birds, my idea of birds
born from cells, movements
multiplied to produce a sigh,
sound matched to a mouth.
I don’t want to be the one
to take the plum from its beak.
Enough space for its rumble
to become a new refrain.

Manual for Gardening / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
for Maricel Madelar Dineros

The fact is there are no precise instructions but
it helps to think like this: once you dig a hole, cup
soil around the stem, their nature is to wither.

Because God is entropy. As precise as stars tear
away from the center of galaxy, children name
new clusters, orbit other children, form a universe,

reset time. Like the Garden of Eden falling into
disrepair — ripe with knowledge of creation —
pollens scattering, blooming elsewhere. This is

what I have known about gardens: they are not
terrains but our supplications of grace. On days
you can’t look up at the sky, the pinwheel jasmine

flowers Orion, the red and yellow hibiscus explodes
into nebulae. It is that certainty — an aeon — we
can cherish: a blast of splendor before it fades out.

Lost / by Ellen Birkett Morris

The hawk that is joy circles overhead searching for lambent treasures—
gold earring, slippery coin, errant key

Swoops down when you least expect it piercing the flesh, drawing forth
sweet red globes, jeweled droplets

Suck the wound, hold the hot iron, double helix of your history in your mouth
cherish the wound, polish the scar

Never expect the bitter with the sweet, like your dying mother’s smile which you return
though you want to fly away

Fallow / by Angelina Brooks 

Luke for a boy and Mae for a girl or maybe Sybil—
yesterday I found my list of baby names.
Thirty years I’d spent on this, choosing each letter

like picking the most perfect pastel macaroon,
moving each moment of my life forward towards
when I’d be ready, and then it began with my wrists:

radius and ulna or maybe lunate. Each morning spoke
its truth; I dropped the 7-ounce heavy gallon of milk,
I broke all of the coffee mugs, I gave up fried eggs

because I couldn’t hold a fork. I quit tears, too,
but that ached less than hunger—I just
pushed aside the idea of a baby bundle ever in my arms.

A slight of fancy: I forgot the would-be warmth
of soft cotton blankets, kitten-like mews,
the downy blonde hair of my daydreams.

Now, I fix my gaze to the present, make
exclamations about how goddamn mindful I am.
I am better at being present than you. See

the silver-green aspen leaves? They tremble and quake
all day long, but they could easily be confused
with birches and youth or maybe happiness.

Fall: a haiku progression / by Brett Gastineau 

flit float fly
            yellow couples orange
                        leaves’ brief
courtship…laughs sky

irate crows
metallic taste
October leaves

                        dandelion fluff dances
                        with bare branches

                        ice bulbs droop branches
                        within the ghosts
                                                  of apples

Good ground / by Christina Lee 

must fallow
every few years 
on the crop
but then what 
do I know, 
I’m no gardener.
I’m just exhausted,
for a metaphor 
that will let 
me take this hot bath 
in peace. I hope
to soak away a recent 
twitch. We all reach 
the end of what 
we have to give
at some point.
Best to say it plainly:
I need rest.  

No. 20 / by Nathan Lipps 

Last night a deer
his antlers bare
approached the concrete slab
where I finished
a beer in the dark.

I was pretending to care
about starlight
when he broke through
the fallen branches. Confident
enough in the sound.

We were both lost
in the giving up.
Acknowledging each other
by looking away.
Perfectly kind.

Preamble to an Open Mic Night Reading / by Isaac Randel 

So this next one comes kind of out of uh
the concern in a lot of my recent
work that deals with public language and the—
I think it was Mallarmé who spoke of
the language of the tribe and the poet’s
role to kind of preserve that and bring it
more into the aesthetic world. I don’t
really have the answers on how to bring
this I mean the language of the tribe thing
into poetry or really what it
means and I should say this is only a third
draft but I hope it’s of interest. I guess
I don’t want to take too much more time up
here so I’ll just start.

                                After my Apple
ID locked me out, I decided it
was best to just forget all—

you— sorry you know what I just have to
quickly say regarding my last poem
I didn’t— I think I misspoke at first
and I hope it was clear that I only meant
my first comments as a tongue-in-cheek— look
we’re all adults here and I have a lot
of trust in all my readers and all my—
well in everyone here that you’re able
to handle a rougher kind of humor
without taking it to heart too much and
of course that’s— those weren’t my real thoughts on
the issue I was more just kind of uh
it was a touchy issue for a lot
of people here I’m sure and I tend to
use that as an opportunity to
speak more ironically for a kind of
ironic effect. So it wasn’t meant—
look actually I think it’s better to
let someone else come up here and give it
a shot so I want to say thanks to all
my friends who came out and I hope you got
something out of it and weren’t too— I
didn’t mean to offend I hope you know.

Eighth Month of Lockdown / by Alison Stone 

We’re drawn, snippy, worn,
drifting in a daze of Xeroxed days.
Both lonely and infringed on,
we Zoom nowhere, grow flabby
and un-gymed. The dull ground,
splotched with trampled leaves,
mirrors our discontent.
Persephone’s long-gone, perhaps
having hot sex in hell, perhaps
a prisoner. Good time for questions,
for grief at what’s been lost
and what’s on the way –
my father shaky, short of breath.
The pushed-aside-by-other-news
endangered animals. Dusk brings
its chill and shadows, rouses feral cats
that slink around the leaf piles
and sap-smeared pine cones, which glitter
slightly in the tepid light that’s left.

Poem 19 / Day 19

Cryonics / by Shannon Austin

By degrees, we count stillness as a measure of longevity. Blood curdled to garnets, tissue to stone. Memory as breath captured by liquid nitrogen. Present, past as future. Legacy is a block of ice sculpted by a mathematician: each figure perfectly calculated. Thawed, every rink is a pond. Every heart a problem. Particles from blades mix with algae until green. Neurons tangle inside arteries. Nothing stops except the planet in your periphery, spinning out before you see it blink.

No One Wept for Binitayan / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

Even the mountains ceased to wail. Downriver
to Sangangdaan, the bodies were driven like logs.

Mostly they meandered, as if dreaming still.
Jammed in rapids. Sometimes one or two drifted

away, as if their spirits wanted to confess
to those crouched in silence on the shore.

They who had seen bushes burn, birds plunge,
were cleared at last by winds. Had they heard

the sound of trees falling? Or the ground ripping
beneath them? Had they seen signs and warnings?

Don’t look for them, no atlas inscribed their names –
no mileposts or markers, no last rites or sacraments.

They could be anywhere, therefore, nowhere. If by
accident tourists wandered one day, I could show

where there were once trees, a river, houses huddled
like bodies in storm, street names, stories, dreams…

Ode to Kentucky / by Ellen Birkett Morris 
After Kevin Young

I want to be drenched in flour,
11 herbs and spices,
and deep fried.

I want to wander through
the deep green hills
listening for the God’ voice

to tell me when to shoot
the deer, and go home to
watch enough basketball

that I forget all the players
on my team are white boys
in their own special fraternity.

I want to take my OP 30
in peace, smoke my cigarette
anywhere I want.

Watch the ponies run, and when
they stumble go back to the bar
for a beer and a bullet.

I want my wife to look
like a beauty queen, while
I stare at the girl at Dairy Queen.

Heaven is a place where
nothing ever

Who Will Ever Talk to Me of Greater Things? / by Angelina Brooks 

I have always wondered at waterfalls. The rivulets of shallow creek
beyond my window remind me of that time we thought you were dying.

Your heart was beating wrong—two heart attacks or maybe three, I don’t remember the year.

We drove out to the mountains, and since you couldn’t hike, we found a roadside waterfall.

I was reading Kant. I said that the waterfall was awesome, and you said,
Use a better word. Why not sublime? Or if not, forego hyperbole?

And we were so pretentious standing there debating the threat of falls,
whether or not this one was grand enough to wrap our brains around.
(Thank god I hadn’t read C. S. Lewis or Coleridge yet.)

I pointed to moment in the stream when it pools. Pools.
And the crashes over the rocks.

The stillness. The pool. That was the most sublime moment in a waterfall.
I don’t remember your response, but I know you disagreed. Read more,
you dummy, probably, is what you said.

A Turning / by Brett Gastineau 

There is no pleasant measure in this longing
just a resting in your wounds that leaves me knitted behind time.
I know not the hour of your return or if it will come.
The grief debris ebbs like twilight.
I note the leaves changing and the birds’ chatter;
You’ve pressed me to this world.
I live across the window panes and sleep the dried-bone sleep
of crows as the moon gathers our silence.
The stern blue of the mountains between us becomes
a comfort in these parched hours.

See the proud roses.
Their fine folds and sugar scent attract butterflies.
These crimson blossoms lean against the balustrade
and radiate like embers with their springtime fire
which tickles like a skin closeness.
The breeze unfurls their delicately hidden veil.
I love them best in the morning as they are covered in dew.

Santa Fe / by Christina Lee 

Perched on the high rocks cheering
the sheet lightning, splitting
the night with bad jokes 
and off-key harmonies,
sipping straight from the bottle, shaking
our fists at anyone who dared
shush us, so sure of what the world
owed us. 

No. 19 / by Nathan Lipps 

In the late morning
he unearths bulbs
before the frost, the earth
slanted now enough
the sun skips noon
leaning on its elbow
as it passes by.

Gathers the bulbs in bushels.
Leaves them in the basement to dry.
Reheats the coffee.
Makes a list
of each event.

A thousand years
from now
it’s raining. 

The Eagle / by Isaac Randel 

“Again, in Britain, when some of the foremost officers had accidentally got into a morass full of water, and there were assaulted by the enemy, a common soldier, whilst Caesar stood and looked on, threw himself in the midst of them, and after many signal demonstrations of his valour, rescued the officers and beat off the barbarians. He himself, in the end, took to the water, and with much difficulty, partly by swimming, partly by wading, passed it, but in the passage lost his shield. Caesar and his officers saw it and admired, and went to meet him with joy and acclamation. But the soldier, much dejected and in tears, threw himself down at Caesar’s feet and begged his pardon for having let go his buckler.” – Plutarch

                   Gaius: Don’t think I couldn’t think of what would come,
                   or that I’d thrown in with a tyrant for
                   base expectation of reward—
                   don’t think I forgot the faint honeycomb

                   kisses of Julia, or her father’s
                   stern patrician brow— the smell of stables
                   and my own poor mother’s haunting fables.
                   I know well what I left, and whom. Brothers,

                   an eagle graced my dream some time ago,
                   and in its claws a man —a nobleman—
                   who could not even scream, his pain was so
                   severe— and underneath them both there ran

                   a pale Italic river full with blood—
                   and on the other shore, a golden throne—
                   and at its feet, a general clothed
                   in purple— and the sound of trumpets flooded

                   the room— and then I woke, more still and sure
                   than any time before. I know so well
                   what these portend, I cannot say in words—
                   I’ve seen the future, friends —it is not hell—

                   thought it will seem so for years, and then years
                   to come long after— take heart, friends, and ask
                   if you will measure life by sword, or flask,—
                   a new, great age will come for the severe.

Thanksgiving / by Alison Stone 

We eat our beliefs.
Lentils, spinach, rice-filled squash.
The rescued turkey breathe.

Poem 18 / Day 18

Statues in the Park / by Shannon Austin

Honey & rose crawl over Druid Hill,
drenching the tower with light

as the last few bodies sit in the grass,
reading or watching the cars

exit the highway. Inside, you & I
sing along to Lorde on our way

to pick out movies from the last
true video store in the city.

I’m waiting for it, those two floors
of faces we look for in different

universes. On the hill, silhouettes
look like statues: monuments

to women with strollers; a girl
sitting next to a boy, sharing a bag

of chips; someone smiling
despite the distance.

Pure speculation, drawn from
a world pushed against ours.

It’s almost too dark to see. We
pass the hill & round into

another chorus, same voice.
That green light, I want it.

Fly/Fishing / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

“Where the eyes go, 
the body will follow.” 

–    yoga instruction

An osprey marks 
a target sixty feet 
up in the air — steels 
its legs, grips talons 
into moving lateral 
lines, plunges spicules 
on scales, snaps 
a toe backward,  
rotates the catch 
headfirst to diminish 
resistance – then  
takes a plunge.

Beneath the thin 
film of water, a spotted 
trout glides buoyant, 
circles a hatch of midges — 
oblivious to a shadow 
that dives — serene 
and quiet, unceremonious 
as death.

Prayers of Elevation / by Ellen Birkett Morris 

Mom hardly ever traveled, a trip to Niagara Falls,
another to Cincinnati to stay in a round hotel
with a view of the dirty Ohio, and the trip to
Florida with a girlfriend after the divorce, a black and
white picture of two women in their forties, basking
in the warmth, as if the rays could burn away the grief.

So where did I get my wanderlust? So eager for new sights
that I’d get on the plane, afraid of engine failure, stuck landing gear,
rubbed wrong by the crying baby three rows back, the probing stranger
for whom my stories will become cocktail talk.

It was Mom who said: Look at the clouds,
you won’t see them like that anywhere else.
A diaphanous blanket, a column of sun making
a path into the unknown, and cities below,
patchwork, game board, relief map.

And in the small houses, mothers saying prayers
of elevation for their daughters high above.
Our only link, the St. Christopher medal my mother
placed around my neck before I got on board. 

The sweet rot of Autumn is carried by the west wind. / by Brett Gastineau 

The river appears to blush in the darkness
made rose jade by the fallen leaves.
Above the sky is greenish, void of stars.
Unseen birds voice the night.
My heart catalogs the minutia of my day.
Tonight, as always, the absence of one with
whom to share my thoughts weighs heavy. 

Auto-da-fé / by Christina Lee 

How little it mattered. At the end,
your anger
would always spend itself, 
as anger does. 
No fire burns forever.

But I kept watch anyway,
wounding myself willingly.
It was all I knew.  

How wrong we’ve been 
about Christ. We were never 
meant to bleed like Him. Our blood 
won’t wash a thing. We just 
aren’t wise enough. 

If a stone turned
into bread, I’d eat it.
Out of curiosity
if not hunger. 
You would too. 

All those nights 
I stayed quiet on the line,
so lonely, 
willing your mind steady,
so sure I could heal you 
with my suffering. 

No. 18 / by Nathan Lipps 

I am still looking
for that bird
in the kitchen.

The bowls now
broken and replaced
with nothing.

Was it ever here?
Was its song the sound
of my forgetting?

I am leaning out the window
looking. Wave up to me.
Throw me bread, a grapefruit. 

Domesticity / by Isaac Randel 

Before this was the way of things, it was
pretty nice to sit and find ways
to be partitioned from the world outside.
Pretty nicer still, to think of all the things
outside to be partitioned from. Memories
(if that’s what they are) of earlier times
in a solitary life and in the life
of a genus, or the whole mammalian clade,
come back when hail or rain
or viruses scratch the windowpanes—
the thrill, if that’s what it is, of seeing
scaled, sea-weathered beasts stalking
past the cave entrance, and escaping
detection. It’s uncourageous, probably,
but still— the thing in grown men
that clings to thoughts of firmly
locked doors and windows, it’s
unescapable. It goes back a while,
is what I’m trying to say.

                                    And even then,
when watching fires dance across Lascaux’s
meticulous bulls, or hiding in the necks
of trees from creatures we couldn’t name
and wouldn’t last long enough in any case
for us to name them, that thrill of not
being eaten by bigger, serrated things,
for another night, was a conditional one:
even then, there were some— distant third
cousins, perhaps— who didn’t make it
to their own caves before nightfall, and
weren’t seen in the mornings— even then,
burrows well-secured against the night
were not secured, enough, for all of us at once.

Late November / by Alison Stone 

The cold settles in.
Ghost leaves hold to dry branches.
Last stubborn birds sing.

Poem 17 / Day 17

Lesser-Known Laws of Time Travel / by Shannon Austin 

1. The nest will never tell you how it was built.

Feathers do not divulge their keepers, nor shells their inhabitants.
Hold them in your palms; watch them fall & break.

2. Your hand will always touch something it thinks it never has.

The past & future slow to reach a similar speed.

A sharpened fingernail grazes a sun’s swollen yolk.
A matchstick carries the means of its own ruin.

3. Norma Jeane has always been Marilyn.

Recognizing the fire before the forest.

4. The past cannot be changed, only realized.

A certain word on a certain page
connotes a return, not a sign.

5. By the time you reach the end of this, you will be your future self.

Each time you read this will always be right now.

Christmas Begins When Berbers Arrive / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

Suddenly, once again: it is September.
In the middle of a story, we become a tribe
in the desert: children of one of the twelve
children – but which, no one knows — family 

seeking an inn: refugees in howling wind.
It is time of monsoon: still: snowflakes fog 
windows: sugar pines appear between
palm trees — out of nowhere — flower red

and green spheres, strings of silver bells: guiding
stars blaze — by dozens – brilliant and acrylic.
This is the constant season: we are born,
we die: year after year: a miracle we narrate

ourselves over plates of roasted peanuts,
bottles of beer: baptized in water, anointed
by sand — drowning in between: betting lives
toward salvation: shuffling earth & heaven.

Audio Ambien / by Ellen Birkett Morris

My Covid-era sleep aid is a meditation I found on YouTube designed to reduce my worries done by a guy from Australia, who sounds like a member of Flight of the Concords, whose Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros makes me laugh as much today as the first day I heard it. I like it because he has me breathe in deeply twice before reminding me to close the blinds and turn off my cell phone notifications. Then he has me imagine lying down in a field of wildflowers and falling asleep. Sometimes I fall asleep and wake up hours later, wondering if I missed the part where he had me sleepwalk over to my wallet and call him with my credit card number. Sometimes I stay awake and follow him as we leave my sleeping body in the field and walk into the forest, just like your mother told you never to do with strangers. I know this part should induce worry, but I follow him every time, maybe because he had me imagine my worries as dirt on my hands that dissolved into the breeze. Maybe because I have nothing better to do in the middle of the night. I follow him into the interior of a hollowed-out tree, which is where we dump the heavy stuff—hatred, jealousy. I imagine killers in their beds offloading the bodies, while I toss in my garden variety lust, tedious gluttony and self-obsessed fear into the pile. After this part there is thirty minutes of floaty brain wave music and if I don’t drift off then I know I am in for a long night. I’m not sure why this meditation works for me. I’m not that outdoorsy. It’s something about the field of flowers and the Australian twang. I realize now that he’s well into his day by the time I am trying to end mine. I hope he remembered to open his blinds and turn on his cell phone notifications. 

Heat Lightning / by Angelina Brooks

blows in from the south, decades away.
The storm will be gone like the stars
when their light finally reaches
the moment a dad’s finger points out
constellations to his child, their backs
on a damp picnic table. The last coals
in the firepit memorize the stars, too. 

Press / by Brett Gastineau

In paradise, the angels were scornful,
busy with brooms and dust cloths, they
chided me for arriving with the smells of earth
and cinnamon and wine.
“You bring love letters in your pockets!”
“Forgive me,” I said, “I’ve stumbled here
misled by the feel of green and the memory of strawberries.”
They left muttering psalms as they went.
I could do nothing but long for the bonds
that had held me below and the press of time against my skin.

Leaving Home / by Christina Lee

Years later, you feel fine, 
you’d even say settled. 
But a few times a day, you see flashes. 

You wouldn’t call them memories. 
You can’t hold them down, can’t crawl inside.
Just snapshots, never summoned:
the second floor Central Library stacks,
the Metro kiosk spinning,
the trailhead drinking fountain,
that bakery with the good flan. As if 
another version of you
decided to stay.

No. 17 / by Nathan Lipps

The sound as branches in a windstorm
because the pressure is constant
leave behind the one thing
they knew.

Tonight ten thousand homes
will lose power. Standing outside
shouting you won’t hear
your own voice, finally.

The birds weather it
by existing tomorrow.
It passes, they say.
It passes and returns.

Bahamian Seagull / by Isaac Randel
(for the Deweys)

I’ve never seen a scene so full:
packed crowds, and waterslides;
grey dolphins, and a clever gull
who flew off with my fries—

a wayward school of angelfish;
wide, opalescent skies;
and turquoise waters, next to which
that gull stole all my fries.

I’ve never felt the air so thick
with salt, and laughs, and sighs
(and squawking from the sneaky, quick
seagull who ate my fries)—

and whorls of white casino smoke
and sunscreen— which disguise
the memory of that bird’s cruel joke
(in which he stole my fries).

All through the lazy river I
just wondered where he’d hide:
behind that rock? Above that slide?
Where did he take my fries?

Too soon, we had to leave. Our plane
took off— to my surprise,
I saw, above the wing, the same
vile bird that ate my fries!

. . .

In winter, when the frost sets in,
and darkness starts at five,
I think of the Caribbean— and
that jerk that stole my fries.

Untitled / by Alison Stone

Sun on leaf-splotched grass.
Pulling weeds by their thick roots.
Will what I love grow?

Poem 16 / Day 16

The Thirteenth Floor / by Shannon Austin

Where we gather our superstitions & play
with them freely, building a ladder to walk under. 

Where we step on every spine in the sidewalk, cut
a splinter at the place it becomes a birthmark.

Where an umbrella is always open in the wake of
a dry wedding. Where we gift yellow roses & toast

with water, our bodies. Wear red to call lightning.
Where a mirror spies another looking into itself.

Where we break both. Where we hoard a thousand
copper memorials, ignoring the face they house.

Where we walk backwards & investigate the steps
we’ve just traveled. Where we whistle

when no one’s watching, an invitation to the owls.
Where we say nothing at the start of each new year.

Where we leave ourselves open & offer
everything we’ve never been given.

Quarry Lake / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco  

The water is quiet now,
shimmers, sequins seamed on
surface of silk — shines silver
on wings of migrating cranes.

                  Around the edge
limestone powder tongues
the waves, mottled mallards
skim hydrillas for life.  

                  For there is life here.
Now. Clemency blooming
as bladderwort, cattails;
burning bright bur marigolds.

                  What we hallowed out
gifts us back splendor. Nature
abhors a void: light fills in ether,
chasms become water.

                  That, too, is how we heal:
first specters of pain, then scar,
then skein settling; taking new
form, surface grandeur, skin.   

Worn / by Ellen Birkett Morris

When each parent died,
I slept for months
in their old t-shirts,
knowing their skin touched the fibers
that they ate, drank, laughed,
cried in these clothes that they’d
once picked them out special,
laundered and folded them,
pulled them from the drawer
in anticipation of what
the new day would bring.  

Grief is Every Left Turned Sharp / by Angelina Brooks

Lungs wheezing as if on top
of a mountain but you’re not.
You are flat-footed and still.

Yet, your longitude has shifted,
pulls like misaligned tires, perhaps
just one-half degree south

of where he used to be.

Sage and scattershot wisdom / by Brett Gastineau 

On the first alarm, reflect before you act
On no account throw yourself, or allow others
to throw themselves from the windows.

Plants can communicate.
Daisies speak cheerfulness
A Pineapple given demonstrates
your intention to keep your promises
Tulips revel in delight, like you, in the beautiful
eyes of your lover.
A dog rose climbing the walls weaves a narrative of
pleasure and pain
A scattering of dogwood blossoms upon the threshold
asserts I am perfectly indifferent to you.

One of the most admired ornaments of the person is the hair.
When the individual is heated, the smell of sulfur in the hair is very perceptible.

A black snail is very unlucky to meet first thing in the morning,
for his trail reads death.

A girl must take from a window ledge, and without returning thanks for it, an apple. She is to cut it in two and must eat one half of it before midnight and the other half after it. In sleep, she will see her future husband.

To free the house of fleas, there are two curious expedients, which I may mention, but neither of which I recommend: (1) putting a layer of straw over the whole of the floor and then setting it (the straw) alight; (2) driving a heard of cattle through the building to carry the fleas with them on their exit. In the first case, the house will probably burn down; and in the second, damaged, without any remedy being obtained.

A visit and an umbrella should always be returned.

A mole on the right side of the forehead promises a contented life and a loving state in matrimony. A mole on the left side of the temple promises loss and affliction early in life but a hard-fought happiness in the end.

The hair off the belly of a goat, tied into knots, and concealed in the roof of the house of the beloved will produce furious love.

A Parable / by Christina Lee 

I forget all about the fig trees
behind the old swing set—
three of them at least, gnarled biblically,
grown into the chain-link fence
at the edge of my parents’ yard—

until one summer evening, dreaming
fickle dreams 
of crisp tartines, 
pots of jelly, avant-garde pizza,
still life artfully
arranged in a silver bowl
on the side table,
I planned a sudden harvest.

The fruits’ skin gleamed strangely 
but I, no gardener, kept
reaching out until, at my first pluck, 
every fig shook 
and burst open into so many 
sets of bright wings, 
and the purpled evening sky
filled with a swarm of emerald scarabs,
plague-like yet lazy, lifting off 
from where they had burrowed
into the fig flesh, trilling mine mine mine,
sending me running back to the porch 
with my empty basket. 


No. 16 / by Nathan Lipps 

Am here with the day
and its new dying.

The dog cleaning herself
on the couch loudly. Am thinking
of this maintenance
we’ve perfected.

Autumn, inevitably.
What apples remain
rotting towards something
commonly misunderstood.

There has always been enough.
Tomorrow rolls along
because of this excess.

Our time split by memory
spilling into the ditch
of the universe.

Of course we exist.
We make this so
by giving ourselves
over to it.

The Inevitable Postponement of the Artemis Program and Brief Invective Against the Postponement of the Artemis Program / by Isaac Randel 

These silly Old World patrician Cold War platitudes
not only pull us from progress here
but sink us back into the dark. Our fear
is that these bread and circus stunts, shrewd
as they are at mobilizing classes and
countries, will stoke the kind of
numbness that precludes real love
of liberty— just try counting on one hand
the pressing matters of today and tell me
what excuses such a waste? 
The fact
we’ve never been without our pressing matters; our
myth-starved, soured
myopic kind of life needs it; this tract
of green is beautiful seen in relief.    


Chores / by Alison Stone 

The moon raises her blade
above another day of cleaning and regret.
Great works of art un-begun.
Important conversations lost
to logistics. Tired and wired,
we scurry, stopping for arguments
and power bars, imagining
a slower, more peaceful age
that may never have existed,
or if it did, was only for the rich,
who visited each other and drank tea
or walked the grounds while servants
pounded fancy gowns clean, polished
the silver, dusted the manor, and then fell
into the dream-ravaged sleep of the living.


Poem 15 / Day 15

The Saber-Toothed Tiger Responds / by Shannon Austin

Look twice, at the end
of your wanderings. Every branch

a bone, knuckled white. Every leaf
loosed like a baby’s tooth.

Real enough, the idea of extinction
plastered across each living

face, eyes wide with terrible
wonder. Look twice.

You may find an answer
at the tip of a two-edged blade,

the question you have been repeating
& one you never thought to ask.

Let them unfurl, naked against
the wind & stars. Strange

happenings still happen. Have
happened before. Strange

as a body within a body
questioning a body without.

Reading the Line of Heart / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
  for Leo Pura

It transits past Saturn and Apollo – this thin
line — pulsates in your wrists and temples —
aims for but seldom intersects your mind.

It is a river that runs from Jupiter —
swift towards the messenger of the gods —
what you have sought counsel all your life:

What is love? It is a forgiveness of the past,
the longing to run naked towards the sun.

What is forgiveness? It is the persistence
to light the magnificence of your body.

What is light? It is the proximity with yourself.

Out there is the entire universe: the moon,
wars, wellness, fortune. But this — your
heart — threads your hours: fragile, finite. Fine. 

For My Uncles Who Went to Vietnam / by Ellen Birkett Morris

The boys they were, long-limbed,
sandy-haired, sweet-faced boys.
Who’d played with toy guns as children,
shooting at imaginary bad guys.
Who’d been told to put their chin up,
stifle their tears. Alone in the dark
night of the jungle, hot air flooding their
lungs, the mosquito buzz for a lullaby.
The patriotic songs got it wrong, no bomb
sounds like a cymbal’s crash. Everyone looks
the same at night. No backsies once the
shots are fired. They sit in the dark waiting
for their mothers to call them home.

Proclivity / by Angelina Brooks

There is a moment before the lake dyes the night black
when the sky is violet. Everything bathed lunar light
makes the lake a moon, as the moon rises, as grey and elegant
shadows stretch towards night–where everything is closer
and certainly treacherous. The spider under the picnic table
is a Black Widow, scrambling through its web towards
its catch. Everything is moving towards something, even
the grass inclines towards the cliff.

cummings attempt / by Brett Gastineau

Morningpoem for Lee / by Christina Lee

Early, early on 
when you wouldn’t
sleep and I couldn’t 
sleep and the milk 
wouldn’t come
I brought you 
into the bedroom 
to try and soothe you 
and you caught sight 
of the strips of light 
through the closed slats 
in the blinds
and your eyes lit up 
for the first time
with wonder at this world 
we’d brought you into.

No. 15 / by Nathan Lipps 

The hurricane is beautiful thing
before it makes landfall.
All that air and water
for a moment married.

Even the great battles
pastoral and attractive
if the space between you & them
is sufficient.

That our sight fails
us with age
is the surest proof
of wisdom.

Look around you
the men eager
to reinvent proximity
the telescope the satellite
the corrective lens.

It fixes nothing
but teleports us
without moving the body.
The grass possibly greener
across the way
But what of its taste?

Above Kaaterskill Creek / by Isaac Randel 

All gradations of a late deciduous fall
and of late fall’s light toll on patience
and of actual elevation
passed over us in a small
few hours. It swelled to
that old familiar vague sense
of thankfulness
and an abstracted need to
give the kind of praise that mountains would
themselves understand;
but we came into a russet and green
grove, with ferns and deer and bobcat tracks and wood
and laurel —nature crowned itself with laurel— and
all attempts to match it seemed obscene.    

Because It Absorbs More CO2 Than Trees / by Alison Stone 
I weed the yard to make more room for moss,
hope this gesture might matter,
tiny bit of cooling for the burning earth.
What can be saved, what borne
is the question of our time. I push aside
a damp mass of fallen leaves.
The sharp, unsentimental
moon starts to rise.

Poem 14 / Day 14

Everyday Encounters in Baltimore / by Shannon Austin

Last night on my way home,
at the intersection where they turned
the Bel-Loc Diner into a Starbucks,
I saw what appeared to be the
skeleton of a saber-toothed tiger
riding the top of a blue car, flanked
on both sides by American flags.
I know what you’re thinking:
that couldn’t have been a real
saber-toothed tiger. Rather,
not a real skeleton. In the after-
math of a storm, sky darkening
as the hour crumbles, I’m not
focusing on what it could have
been, or why someone would
want the bones of an ancient,
extinct species planted like a
victory on their roof. I only
watch my headlights’ path,
the road’s new shadows, &
swerve around a stalled mail
truck, anticipating the next
abrupt shift from the lane I
currently inhabit. 

Glass Flowers / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
for Aleli Ustaris, after Marianne Moore

My father used to say,
 “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink,
uses countless words to conceal
his thoughts. Superior people plant
their solitude in gardens,
display equal contentment
in conceiving what winter looks like
and in snapping needless flowers —
taking to privacy their victories.”
Think of how you chopped the head
of the smooth green snake
that wound around your Snake Plant —
your favorite – asking no one for help.
How you showed your love in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.
Or how you were never insincere in saying,
“I don’t like plastic or glass flowers.”
Flowers, to be tended, must wither.    

Levitating / by Ellen Birkett Morris

There is a line I go back to over and over again—
gravity and wonder. The weight of living in the world
with its daily horror and hurts, personal and political.
A million small miracles, an easeful breath, a kiss,
the gentle clapping of fall leaves in the trees.
It’s not a question of keeping our innocence,
who would want that? But keeping enough
light that occasionally our feet leave the ground. 

Friday, November 13, 2020 / by Angelina Brooks

I keep saying that I just want 12 hours where nothing is stressful. I want to lock myself away in a white hotel room with bleached sheets and all media shoved in that Bible drawer next to the bed. Throw the room service menu there, too; it’s disappointing at best. I want you with me, to lie next to me and stare at the ceiling and thankgod that nothing is going wrong in that one vacuum of a moment. But that is not the world we are living in. We are living in a world where our next-door neighbor sought solace in a hotel room and never left. We are living in a world where hotel rooms are dangerous, where every moment threatens to crush us, where the tower that we stayed in in Vegas—where you sat on the bathroom floor when the wind was too strong—will topple. This is the world we’re living in. The elevators are always out-of-order, and we have to take stories of stairs out. There is always bad news. The sky just keeps falling. The President won’t let the President-Elect help, and I scream at my colleagues in well-constructed emails. There are students who log in every day, and submit their assignments, and no one sees their wan white silhouettes but me. I wake up screaming in a nightmare. No one (but you) is listening to me. Maybe my words are just the gasps that come out of a fish just caught and flopping on the dock. A death gasp through gills. No one is listening to the scientists. No one is obeying the signs. The world is breaking. Somehow, we keep getting up in the morning, and yesterday it was to an actual act of God. The creek overflowed its bank, and we helped the neighbors evacuate. I cried when firemen carried an old woman and her dog from the flash flood waters, saviors in red. We celebrated with mimosas, pulp left in champagne glasses like the stinking mud that will keep us further inside for more days. When my mom cried that she could only help so much, I cried, too, because I’ve been out of help for so many months. We’ve chipped away at our dreams, and I just keep hoping that they are marble and not glass, and maybe we are Michelangelo, and there will be a David revealed, relieved.

This Evening / by Brett Gastineau
after Deborah Keenan and Sophia Shalmiyev

This evening is like another and another and another
a steady accumulation of dark hours
always it is the end of the year always it is a time of memory
rain shakes down the leaves and the beginning of his invisibility becomes
fragrant in the blue that comes before the black
the sounds of the tub filling and the laughter of the daughter and her mother
            make a love, a melody, a beat
            a knowledge that each exists to feed the other joy
and still he is left cataloguing the stories that made him restless
searching for the right wording about sun etching the Badlands and the audacity of plain grass
searching for the reason he couldn’t dance in La Serena
searching for the meaning behind a bent and faded Queen of Hearts found on Ocean Beach
searching for a way to not name the particular you in each scene
the past is present because the past is the present when it will not be past
and still he returns to the metallic wash of blood in his mouth when the realization hits again
he had always lived with the thought that he knew what loss was
knew what loss would mean
had lived in the anticipation of it
in truth he should not feel crazy to posses a normal life
in truth he would have to begin to imagine that surviving did not require running.

Month Eight / by Christina Lee

We are past the novelty of it, 
past jokes or banter, 
past weepy commercials about it. 
Past remote happy hours, past
asking when it will be over. 

On evening walks we 
know now to cross 
to the other side 
at the first sight of a neighbor,
maybe giving a slight 
wave if we’re feeling friendly
or lonely. We know now 
how to fall asleep
beside our fear even
if it takes us hours and how 
to blink back awake again 
and make our coffee
and color
inside the boundary lines 
as brightly as we can. 

Convenience Store #1 / by Isaac Randel

A trip to the market and all the attendant
connotations opened the day. Minutes

inside and, half-hazed from unearned
overbaked sleep, none of the magic of “markets”

(desert oases; languorous suburban
memories) has arrived. Nothing substantive

of the miracles (buffalo chicken macaroni,
etc.) sprawled down aisles got to me. It seemed

—horrible thought— mundane. I told
myself months and months before,

you will never take anything small, anything,
for granted again. And all the rust

and cherry packaging and evidence
of a million silent labors couldn’t rouse

the awe that’s owed them. I wasted
time, checked out, drove home,

more well-supplied and cushioned and
accounted for than anyone I could remember.

Friday 13th, 2020 / by Alison Stone

Ill-omened day in a hard-knock year,
though thirteen once meant powerful or sweet –
number of witches in a coven,
extra cupcake in the icing-streaked box.
If only luck were simple as a horseshoe,
pluckable as clover. If we could convince
ourselves the future was ours to control.
Take action, leave results to God,
my aunt used to say, but isn’t God
another word for Who Knows Why
Things Happen As They Do? All we can do
is step forward into the day’s uncertainty,
coat buttoned up against the arrived-overnight chill.
Rotting pumpkins on porches,
the ground strewn with wet, red leaves.

Poem 13 / Day 13

Seeing the Ruby Slippers at the National Museum of American History / by Shannon Austin

The sign says they’re a mismatched pair, and I think:

Sounds like a buddy-cop comedy.
They should solve some crimes.

[Insert gumshoe joke…nevermind.]

What I wonder is, with their twins up in Minnesota,
having been already recovered by the FBI,   

why not rejoin them? Two matching sets, unsplit.

Like the Mona Lisa hanging on her own wall,
these are the only items in the room.              I wonder

if the other two have their own room at Judy’s place,
or if they’re surrounded by other memories.

Maybe it’s better this way: each talking about the way
an arch folds differently against a spine,

how a dance number felt the first or sixth time.

They keep whispering and we walk around
a small glass box, trying to imagine all the permutations of red,

painted sequins layered on top of painted heels &
how much of the original shows through.

Reading the Whole Story / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
for Pamela, after Mary Oliver

That summer you went to the edge of the lake
and plunged right into the heart of a reef –
a wild one, carried coral by coral
from halfway around the world —
where you used to run barefoot.

Your mother, trailing behind,
saw the little girl she had always imagined
and let go of your hands.
She counted the zebra sharks, the white-spotted
guitarfish, the spotted rays beneath
her feet skating like butterflies in slow motion,
the moon jellies glowing electric lights,
the sea stars immobilized by brightness
of hundred cameras snapping the same
scene all at once — in thousand
little fragmented words — whose significance
is known only to those telling the story.

Later — looking at the photos you took — she
reminded you how the tropical sun
made everything brighter and more vibrant.
You wanted to tell her that in pictures,
happiness and grief are always incomplete.
Instead, you nodded in recognition
of the spectacle on display — just as you
understood the day when — looking out
the window –at manicured lawns
                  and meticulously clipped hedges

–she wondered where all the people had gone. 

Untitled / by Ellen Birkett Morris

Overnight the crimson leaves 
have left the maple. Porch 
unshielded from the weak fall 
sun, there is nowhere to hide. 
Everything is sky and branch.
Stark silhouettes, signifying nothing.

In My Presence, They Are Haunted. / by Angelina Brooks

The grey sky finally broke,
and the clouds gathered themselves cumulus.

I watch the shiver of elm scratch the sky
above the rhododendron.

Another day these might be string-fingers
that hold the balloon clouds.  

Reunion / by Brett Gastineau 

We were comrades in a dream, that’s how I recognized you.
Or perhaps that was just the pattering of rain in my brain.
Was it from a crack in the moon we parted?
Or was it we that pierced the moon skin cracking it?
We embraced the flash of our birth.
We, this round, full body composed of a jungle of sun,
stars tangled in hair and streaming down the length of spine.
A curious, beautiful flesh laughing as we struggled and delighted in our need.

We were cast far from each other.
I had to imagine trees and an air that would welcome my fall.
I came to live like them, without roots.
I walked alone in the chill of the dawn, unable to scratch
the sweet blue history of the dream
and was met with only the smells of wet earth.
I never did become sure-footed in solitude but with the fear
came clarity and a deep love with empty.
I carried music in a cup and dust in my pockets.
I came close to shedding the need of wanting.

The pilgrimage was only a voluntary numbness.
From the horizon rose your laughter, the star responsible for yesterday.
I let the light take a good taste of my face. 

Ecclesiology / by Christina Lee 

“I just thank God for all that President Donald J. Trump has done and continues to do.
What do you think?” -Franklin Graham, Evangelist

I don’t know what to think.
But I do know
that the Deutsche Christen movement
had their own flag: red white and 
black, with a swastika
nestled inside a cross. 

And they built a church for themselves
with a wooden pulpit carving
of a Nazi solider sitting
at the foot of Jesus 
as he delivered the Sermon on the Mount. 

They cited Luther. 
They had prooftexts and hymns,
they had creeds and leaders 
and a seminary. 

And when they prayed,
their prayers hissed
from their lips,
choking the oxygen
from the room. And they closed
their eyes and believed
in themselves. They blessed
themselves and shivered. 

Then they sang 
the last hymn and shook
hands and headed to the Sunday supper
they’d been looking forward to all week. 

No. 13 / by Nathan Lipps 

I can still see the steeple rise
breaking through the tree line
waking or sleeping.

The grass beneath the painted glass
returning each week
despite the mower
or because of it.

This Sunday the dog
I walk with
killed a fawn along the river
which was high
because of much rain.

Returning, I collect the week’s mail
throwing much of it away.
I will never earn this living.
Maybe a prayer in the evening.
Maybe a wish to forget.
Sometimes it’s the gray

before the rain
that illuminates by closing.

Lines On Jerry (Jerome) Garcia Sims Passman, 4, Canine, Upon the Occasion of
Jeff Passman’s Birthday /
by Isaac Randel 

for the Passmans

Thou, Jerry G, oftimes “Jerome,” thy name
connects thee with the legends of past times.
Let humankind not be deceived! Behind
those kind obsidian eyes is perched the bane
of groundhogs, squirrels; a warrior’s countenance
is marked upon thy photogenic face—
and though fair Lola shares thy living space,
still thou usurp’st ninety-nine percent
of all attention. True, as wedding guest,
thy manners were sublime— true, thy head tilt
can thaw the iciest hearts, say what thou wilt—
and true, unmatched thou art in th’Art of Fetch—
yet I exhort thee, Jer Bear, do be kind!
lest thy new-wedded owners lose their minds.

There Is Still An Orange Cat / by Alison Stone 

Some days the heart’s had it –
disappointments sprouts like mushrooms
in relentless rain. The news bad,
or worse. The body finds new ways
to break. Prayers chalky in the mouth.
Can we love while the planet burns?
a poet I can’t remember now
asked, and can we even
keep up fondness in the face
of daily irritations and impending
warty truth? Some days
it’s routine that saves us, fear
of veering from the expected
9 AM arrival, and a need,
(tinged with – admit it – joy)
before setting out, to plop
food in a metal bowl for the simultaneously
yowling and purring cat.

Poem 12 / Day 12

Reboot with Cameo by Original Actor / by Shannon Austin

Near the end of the movie, someone steps out of a car / works the counter at the local dive bar / comes to the protagonist as a literal angel / shows them to their seat / shows up at a movie premiere / holds the door open / smiles from across a crowded room / walks up and shakes their hand / delivers a one-liner & turns away, hair flipping in some magnificent twirl / is older them, giving advice or giving the finger / smirks & sighs, nostalgic for some far off thing the protagonist doesn’t seem to understand / is an inside joke & by the time they leave we’re cheering their arrival, relief at reliving what’s already gone. At any moment, I expect to see myself come up to me, wink & walk off, never to be seen again.

A Poem Floating Down the Street / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

Children of water, we are islands
floating in brown and anguish –
squatting on roofs, waiting
for rescue by our better selves,
watching our better selves float by:

the table we dined on for ten years.
Bookshelves and chairs.
The tire we hanged from a tree.

The tree. The gate.

The street

on which we have drawn grids
to jail the weaker. Slower. Frailer.
Bar and hack our enemies
who are our friends —
while our feet are chained
to lines of water.

This is how our history will be told:
First we are islands, then we are
washed to the sea — searching
a sky of sleeping deities. Praying

Bathala. Bahala. Baha.
Bathala. Bahala. Baha.

What I Want / by Ellen Birkett Morris

is not a viral
a contract,
money, to make
a name for myself.
I want your attention,
your ear, processing the
sound the symbols make
in your head as you read.
What I want is dark
magic of letter to word
to image to recollection
of lived experience.
The moment when my
thoughts become yours
(or I become you). When
my images rub against
your memories, when we
come together on
the page and lose ourselves
in a space that reminds us of
sun on an unmade bed,
when our minds unite
to share immeasurable
pleasure, unbearable pain. 

Just Married / by Angelina Brooks

The largess of the sky is unsettling
as we lie on our backs in the desert.
Just eloped, it’s as if we can read
our future in stars, the breadth

and depth of which is horrifying.
How will we move through a world
that is so easy to fall from? How will
we hold the soles of our shoes

to the ground without slipping off
the planet’s edge? We are so
magnificently new and small
amongst Joshua Trees and rocks

and mountain hallways of the planet.
And no one knows we are here.  

Visiting Fengxian Temple at Longmen by Tu Fu / A Tu Fu translation by Brett Gastineau

I left the monks in their temple, bent in penitence before their mountain God. 
I craved a night in the dark valley nearby with its empty music
and the moonlight which would scatter shadows amongst the trees.
Above the stars are cradled; I sleep blanketed by a mist. 
At dawn, the first bell sound comes and I wake in cold clothes. 
An unending green of lands stretches both north and south—this waking stirs deeply.

Visiting Fengxian Temple at Longmen” from:
Du, Fu, and Stephen Owen. The Poetry of Du Fu = Du Fu Shi. De Gruyter, 2016.

I keep telling this story to anyone who will listen / by Christina Lee

My body was a lure,
and then it was a liability.
Then it was a lockbox,
and then it was a storm,
pure pain and ice, and then
a land mine and then
a gold mine
and then a revelation
and then a Psalm to memorize.
Then a picket line for me to cross. 
Then a home to return to.

No. 12 / by Nathan Lipps

It just so happens
the vine is faster
than the tree.

We are told in Nature
there is either separation
or joining greatly with intention.

To go against this is chaos.
You see, they say
move on, let it go.

The day’s end and I
have yet to speak
a word out loud.

But inward
my spirit is climbing
the body.

I know in time this scaffolding
will wither into uselessness
that each forest arrives upon itself.

Even love crawls upward
from the desolation
of the individual

the vine and it’s hope
strangling the hope
of the other.

Proem for a Minor Parable / by Isaac Randel

Stationed too long outside the blast doors of experience,
he was irradiated by all of it (the world). Needing to
exercise some penitence
for years of indulgence, he settled on
giving the world something it didn’t already have. Now
the world at this point was full of forms, true
to life and untrue, of such high development and long
histories —all these literatures, peoples, landscapes—
that even the smallest words were lifted from stories
he didn’t belong to (another thing borrowed! How
fitting!). And he settled on an escape
into that body of thinkers stretching for uselessness—
pure mathematicians and hermits who sat crafting
hieroglyphs for themselves only, but in crafting
for themselves crafting for infinite God— and even
this private language was too rich with meaning
from outside, and he lamented, bitterly,
How can I offer what isn’t mine? How can
I return what I hardly understand? And
at that moment a fat
pair of chipmunks crawled on the rock where he sat
and startled him and he tumbled headlong into the canyon
which, to this day, is cleft in the exact shape of a man. 

Untitled / by Alison Stone

Overnight, red leaves
obliterated the lawn.
My cat’s fur thickens.

Poem 11 / Day 11

Misdirection / by Shannon Austin

We put faith in deception
to keep its promises.

A rabbit pulled from some
hidden space.

A woman cut in half,

This is no great surprise,
just another day

they are meant to hold
another’s secret,

smile fed to the bottom
of a shark tank. 

The Visit / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

The Everglades paid us a visit yesterday,
this friend estranged for many summers.

He brought fragrance of mud, limestones,
crushed shells, burnt cypress — poured water,
purred wind, churned dust into sediments.

He waved at the front door and finding no
one awake, snuck to the side, slithered under
the rusted gate, dove past gardenia
and pinwheel jasmine, shook the morning
glory, downed the petunia, stirred the plumbago,
looped the yellow bells, puddled around
the azalea, and remembering where he once
looked up at stars, settled in contentment
under fishtails and birds of paradise.

Later the TV declared the sky cleared —
time to arrange in place roots and branches.

Would that our friend brought tarpons or
jacks — bass, ten pounds – a couple of mudfish!
Would that there have been great recompense.
But as social manners go there is no way
to predict: guests, not hosts, make the visit.

Gravity and Wonder / by Ellen Birkett Morris

Most days I wake up to find my bones heavy with sleep, the dull ache, numb crawl, slow creep of time and disease.
I lie in bed stretching my legs, opening my arms, moving my neck, the lightness of youth barely a memory. I carry the weight of my years as I move into my day, setting up small rewards along the way, the berries in my oatmeal, the butter on my toast, permission to spend an hour listening to mindless morning chat on television.  I sit at my desk and lose myself in words. Stopping only to look for grace in the face of my small dog, beauty in the falling of the leaves, reliable wonder in the white clouds borne across the blue sky.  

Silence / by Angelina Brooks

The sun rises behind rain clouds and a grandfather
teaches two children to fish, fussing as he says
they’ve abandoned silence. Water vapor ghosts
skate around their canoe ignoring fishing lines.

A dog finds a porcupine and howls irreverently.

Rain song blusters and keeps me from my window. / by Brett Gastineau

The babbling ditchwater causes me to leave
my meal untouched at the table as I mutter
the memories of our time beside the meandering river and
the promises we made a mere half-step from my door.
The saturated clouds only strengthen the resolve of a leaky heaven.
Am I to scream into the black-toothed night?
Call to the scattered children of my heart?
Let my rage run until it breaks into wind?
My mouth knows its hunger too well and my pride
wants to see an animal dignity in what our bodies shared
and in the fact that those bodies and their truths are now vanished,
casualties of time.  Now, residing  in the delicious scripts of dreams.  
The mountain to the east might sink or drift away as
the watchful spirits cast their curses on the blossoms of chrysanthemums
and the words I bleed onto this page.

The First Elegy Can Suck it / by Christina Lee

During naptime, I read some Rilke
but then I remember
that Rilke left his wife
and six-month-old daughter
to study with Rodin in Paris

and now I can’t take him
quite as seriously 
when he writes 

Take the emptiness
you hold in your arms
And scatter it
into the open spaces we breathe.

Listen, Rilke.
I am holding
my sleeping son in my arms

and the wife you left 
was a sculptor, too.

No. 11 / by Nathan Lipps

It happens
when the light from their lamp
strikes the edge of the universe
and it happens again
while they talk
the night pressing
all the otherness beyond the room
and out of focus.

There is comfort
in the narrowing of scope.
They feel it, unspoken
as do you.

Where does the boundless thing go?
How our memory
knows no limit
is the simplest truth
of creation.

To speak properly
they don’t need the light
but they long for
the slight turn
at the mouth’s corner.
We look for the slow nodding of the head
as confirmation
of our existence.

Tell me your great secrets
in the light or the dark.
The door is closed
the windows shut.
It is only us.

Porousness of Memory at the Santa Monica Pier / by Isaac Randel

There are places, I’m sure, that don’t throw themselves
on other places’ blades. Sand, cresting waves,
crested terns, green-spiked dunes recur enough in space
that even memories of their memories turn capacious.
Language for this exists; it’s not for us.
The pier breeds: other pier, breeds: piers
less pungent, or delicate, beyond the delicacy
in all built things. This one swells
with what is also elsewhere: games and sweet oil,
a man who plays guitar above rough
Pacific wind. He ends his set, I move
to drop some change and shake the hand
of a comrade offering verses to the world—
he peels off a hot shoe, rubs his bare sole
with his palm right as I reach out my own.
He pauses, takes it and the coins.
I mean to wait before I wipe my hand,
discreetly, someplace else —artists recognize
disgust in others more than most
— and then forget to.
The afternoon, like others, proceeds: like
mussels —what motivates mussels?—
the afternoon proceeds.

Haiku with the Wrong Syllables / by Alison Stone

Safe as Basho’s spider,
softening, fuzzing the rocks –
my garden’s moss

Poem 10 / Day 10

I’ll Take Closure for 400 / by Shannon Austin
                        in memory of Alex Trebek

In the beginning there was blue, then
numbers navigated into words he spoke

into certainty. The answer is in front of us;
the question is how we ask for what

we know to be true. Let me go with
One-Word Song Titles. Bird Hunting.

‘60s Potpourri. This can be an omen
or a morning, a mourning or an homage.

What is a blackbird resting on a limb,
sky spread out in front of him?

Each time the Daily Double flies out,
I tell them to bet everything, knowing

there’s always something holding
them back. The other night, we played

Trivial Pursuit & I won with the easiest
question, phrased like a trick.

This is how it goes: sometimes
truth is harder to take.

In the form of a question:
What is kindness without expectation?

I think I know this. I’d bet it all.

Silence the Length of I-75 / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

If you’re lucky enough, it takes only one
lifetime to escape Florida. There are no

guides but the warnings are everywhere:
“slow down, turtle crossing”, “beyond

this point you may encounter nude
bathers”, “so and so is a convicted

sexual predator and lives in this location”,
“at dusk… if it moves, it’s food.”

Despite all the words, the state is as long
as silence, as wide as grief. It begins –

east and west — from two centuries ago
and ends right next to Cuba. I have no

luck of one lifetime, so I have three escape
plans. The best careens on an alley cutting

a sea of grass, which cuts Florida in two,
which cuts the Atlantic from Mexico.

It is a state of hundred cuts. On it a highway
snakes through roadkill, an accumulation

of thoughts and feelings long dead.  They
bruise, bleed, deadly as the sap of manchineel —

manzanilla de la muerte
 – which used to
be everywhere, now a cautionary tale. 

Kin / by Ellen Birkett Morris

You can see it in our faces,
same dark hair, crooked smiles
wicked twinkle in our eyes.
I met my first cousin once-removed
in Quebec City. We strolled the cobbled
streets, lingered over lunches of ham
and brie, cups of rich coffee.
We headed for the coast, unspooling our lives
as we went, finding the web of things we
share by virtue of blood—wanderlust,
irreverence, the pull to play the odds.
We stopped at a blueberry stand in the middle
of nowhere. Bought a pint of small, deep blue
berries and ate them in the car as we passed
green fields, our hands purpling.
It will be hard to return to real life,
I said. This is real life, he said. 

Passed the “Road Closed Construction Traffic Only” Sign / by Angelina Brooks

Despite the warning, this lane is still trafficked,
kept open by the insistence of commuters, minivan

witnesses who ignore the sign and the deer’s corpse,
which has been left for longer than the DOT’s usual.

Must have been the snow that set them back or just
a well-meaning lack of concern. But I notice

and I still worry it, fiddle it like a skeleton key in a lock,
feel it catch and open the deer’s rib cage

like a cargo chest—rib pairs divided at sternum—
lost deep in a grey ocean somewhere,

and then I am drowning.
You died weeks ago, but I still number my days

in relation to your last: 1 week and 6 days
and less than 12 hours.

That’s how long it has been since you were more
than vertebrae and sinew.  

Rexroth seeks a teacher / by Brett Gastineau

The spring ends with the falling of a June rain.
I have loved this season and am mournful
as the blossom petals litter the ground beneath the trees.
The rain shows no remorse, just blind indifference as it
strikes the branches.
I watch from the window, disordered in thought and emotion.
Withered grass and mud stretch to the horizon
concealing any road by which she might return.

The rivers are still dark with ice.
The sound of chopping wood tossed
between the silent peaks.
I find you and you ask for nothing.
At night the grey gold of stars surrounds you.
You have learned to be gentle and forgiving like the moon.
Someday, I will be a better pupil,
empty and carried about the sky.

Jeopardy! / by Christina Lee

7:00 pm on the dot weekdays,
even if he’d been too low
to leave the house all day,
my dad would yell from his armchair:

it’s on, and no matter what
had happened earlier,
how sour the mood

we’d all migrate 
to the den. He’d unmute 
the TV in triumph

and we’d settle in to shout
our guesses, basking
in the glow of this grid

of certain answers, this break
from all our questions.

No. 10 / by Nathan Lipps 

To the north
they have set fire
to a thousand acres
of forest
to prevent future fires.

Walking through the ash
it makes sense to him
the many ways
we handle a decadence
not ours.

The trees survive, of course
their bark seared
but intact
the ground charred and gray
with hope.

It makes sense to him
burning down the fear
before the greater pain sets in
singing praise in a cloud of smoke
watching the animals flee. 

The First Step Pleas’d Me So Much / by Isaac Randel 

I would do anything to preserve one or
a few sensations that drove out the rest.
Always. The first notes I played on a guitar
were the only ones I played for days; fourths
hollowing out the hollow laminate
until all other music was obscene—
I was everywhere in them: the very
night air above sculpted and tortured towns
I’d either been to, or not; it was enough—
in the middle of the day it was the kind
of night a child not only tolerates but loves:
and then, it ended. Not the visions only,
or the sound that spurred them; the simplicity
of two or three notes came to bore me. And
years later, language came to call this evil
or naïve— Art’s capacity to dull
responsibility through escape— etc.
But, years still later, it’s back: concertos
and subway cars, whatever their own charms,
let notes ring out too long —two or three notes—
and the night air comes back in (midday or
otherwise)— the same way it did before,
maybe worse— maybe better. 


November 7, 2020 / by Alison Stone 

My neighbor’s yell alerts me,
no words, just a roar that rises
and keeps going. Pulling weeds in the yard,
I nudge my daughter, fenced
inside her headphones. I think he won.
A moment later, the street erupts
with shouts and honking horns.
My husband and I take the motorcycle
downtown to join an impromptu parade,
gasoline sharp in my nostrils as we crawl
past people holding banners and signs,
arms raised with the sign for peace.
Bright Pride flags wave next to the Stars and Stripes.
Burroughs said, Perhaps all pleasure is relief,
and what I’m feeling and see mirrored
isn’t like the ecstasy from a Lotto win
or the heart-bursting bliss of new parenthood.
Instead, we share the giddy exhale
when a car that almost hits you
stops in time, or a loved one,
lost for days in fever-dream, wakes up
to take some shaky-handed spoonfuls of broth.


Poem 9 / Day 9

THE GROTTO / by Shannon Austin 

A statue of Jesus stands in an alcove, spiders
webbing nests around his head. Painted

rocks & rosaries scattered at his feet, offerings
for fortitude. I sit here, listening to paws

scurrying amid the fallen red leaves, burning
the ground bright with color. Your voice

in my ear, talking about possibilities: a future
trip down the West Coast, bookstores &

Mulholland Drive at night, stars counting stars,
& suddenly this is a memory, curving

around a cul-de-sac in an old truck, stopping
on a street laden with names, Smoke’s

poutine & too much of a good thing. As we
remember, the sun gets hotter on my back &

I get up to read the rocks, their intentions.
Prayers placed at the bottom of a hill, a quiet

grove. Nothing stops moving except our
plans, which I place in one of the webs, near

what I fear most. Where I know they’ll be
safe, until I need them.

Idylls on Florida Sunset / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

Imagine the palm trees, how they were
last to paint cirrus fire — lavender,
and mauve, salmon floating in opal sky.

Imagine how they were first to brush the night.

Imagine the pasture that was once here.
The field where dogs used to hunt.  
Where dark descended in metallic chips —

Winter warblers warning burrowing owls.

Imagine this perfect symmetry of cars,
were acres of sawgrass flower,  
a graveyard of ibises and herons now.

I trade you these for sunset, I told a man

selling pineapples and pork cracklings.  
He said his back was hurting, he wanted
to lay down the grass and look at clouds —

and beyond the clouds, at the sea miles away.

And beyond the sea at his chair, around
which were his wife and children,
waiting for his grace for ten years.

Imagine the street began to light giant

postcards, of golf courses and retirement
homes. Imagine a home, the family inside,
the silence they bury under the pillows.

Imagine them as sunset, dazzling, dimming.    

Witness / by Ellen Birkett Morris 

Let us now attend to the dying
Let us hold their hands and brew their tea
Talk about the sunlight through the trees
Pretend nothing is wrong as we watch TV

Long to hear him say I love you
Touch my wrist to his
Watch his chest fall
As he gasps out his last breath

There is nothing left to do
Nothing to say
I saw him
Watched his soul slip away
I marked the day

Audacious / by Angelina Brooks 

I want to eat pomegranate for breakfast,
to not bleach the countertop after, 
dye my day magenta before its begun,
to know something in life is so bright.  

11 o’clock thoughts on a Sunday night / by Brett Gastineau 

Love is hunger.
Love is maddening.
Love has no end, no beginning.
Love finds you face down.
Love touches your chin first.
Love tickles and punches and sours your stomach.
Love is a word with too much baggage.
Love wants foliage and the ocean and smooth, smooth hips.
Love is probably Spanish.
Love is a wind made of hands.
Love is a long gone name.
Love comes in red but turns to black—shade of its remembering.
Love reminds us that the body is blade and a swarm of want.
Love is light that keeps its shadow by swallowing it.
Love, like the earth, will wait for what is returned to it.
Love makes us forget that even loneliness is time spent with the world.
When love is lost, the desire for a solvable absence consumes us.
Love is a question no answer can extinguish or satisfy. 

August 21, 2017 / by Christina Lee 

Remember the eclipse? How we all
left our offices,
gathered outside on blankets,
brought popcorn? How the shadows
were moon-shaped in the rose garden?

It seemed impossible, 
like we were just seeing things:
moon-shaped shadows. 

But we looked it up later
and sure enough. Moon-shaped
shadows. It’s mostly 
the strange things we keep within us.

How many walks
across that same lawn 
are lost now, slipped away
into ordinary peace,
days when we saw the whole sun?

No. 9 / by Nathan Lipps 

We become accustomed
to this slow fading out

Our hinges dry
the foliage of the mind
drowning as the waters gently rise.

But we can yet walk
along the streets and see
a face we love.

It’s more than a joy
that quick flashing
and gone.

It’s not postponing
the assault
of the body.

It’s not leaving the hospital
after the cure
the bright day waiting.

It could be
noticing that cigarette butt
white against the gray of the parking lot

ground down to its idea.
Knowing someone smoked it
with their wonderful lungs

that they arrived
at the end of a thing

That they left it here.
That they were here
where you stand.

That they exist despite
their familiarity
with living

as you do
in none of it. 

On John Ashbery On Kenneth Koch / by Isaac Randel 

Some sons of light there are; and daughters too,
whose laughter scraps all apparitions
of languid Gothic language and romance:
we need to be reminded of true

textures, or truer textures, of our position
in the world— I get it. But some hands
can dance across a page, and others clog
their tracks with too much haunted stuff. I

know: depressives stooping over pages
sunk, like Hrothgar’s Hall or Grendel’s bog,
in ancient melancholy, run us dry
after a while. “There’s too much ancient

brooding going on in small Midwestern
university towns,” you said, or
something like that. We need the city noise—
sometimes— I agree. But their gestures,

(these brooding lovelorn Presbyterian bores,
these star-afflicted daydreaming boys)
I know too well: an undergraduate,
somewhere, right now, is looking up from

his pages at an emptied library.
He could pack up; he doesn’t do it.
He leans back in his chair, with the thrum
of ghostly rhythms already shaping that night’s dreams.

Haiku / by Alison Stone 

Horns honk, people cheer.
A nation’s held breath released.
Rainbow flags fly. Pride.

Poem 8 / Day 8

Technically Accurate Facts / by Shannon Austin

A knight is a horse riding
a diagonal line is a straight line
sideways is the fastest way to
a dead end is the opposite of
a live beginning is a redundancy
is a passageway you pass
through is a doorway is an unlocked
wall is a windowpane is a house
for drapes is a furniture store is
an indoor garage sale is
a confused auction is the dating
game is the premise of a bad
show is 2020 is perfect and
imperfect vision is hyperopia
is not seeing what’s right in
front of you is mistaking a
pawn for a knight.

On Viewing Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled (Falling Figure) / by Victor Velasco

America Lookout / by Ellen Birkett Morris

After Seamus Heaney

It shocks, history’s relentless quest
to repeat itself. Tyrants rise again
and again to spew their scary stories,
stoking fear and division.
It takes courage to love
what you don’t understand,
to see the humanity
that pulses within us all,
to let our better angels rise.
So hope and history
can once again rhyme. 

Look Down / by Angelina Brooks

Deer moss plumes beneath slash pines
are tombstones, miniscule rows of grey grief
knitting their way across clay.

Heartland / by Brett Gastineau

for Dave Pluimer

Small, white, idyllic the church on the outskirts of a poke-and-plum town.  This region they call the heartland, filled with abandoned televisions on the edge of cornfields and gas stations not so quietly rusting.  If you were to look from above the spattering of homes stitched together by differing greens and lines of asphalt or rock, you might think it were a replica of the Milky Way.  There’s a silence like space that fills the old state roads, a texture like the soul of a dog.  I like the quiet still, the lack of a need to fill a place with words.  I’ve been a tourist of these places my whole life.

Along the side of the church climbs a rose bush.  Each bloom rich and red, a reminder that the wounds of the world are always open.  What colors, what scents do the psalms bring in this time of year?  Such an aimless sadness stepping from my shadow as I ease my spirit from my skin.  Or maybe it is just the odd sense of waking from a dream that’s come while my eyes where open.

Sleep Training / by Christina Lee

you howl again,
stirred up 
your wordless
needs: we pace
toward sleep, keep 
the light on because it keeps
you calmer
we’ve learned,
we whisper assurance:
you are okay, 
you are okay,
we are okay.

No. 8 / by Nathan Lipps 

Here he moves metal
through the soil
he will move metal through
a year from today
and the years after
what he wants for himself
is buried beneath
the layers of what
he’s been told to become.

His brother down the road
shot himself last fall
because the price
of milk
and sudden almond groves
and that failing those you love
too often
is suddenly too much.

Around the corner in the church
the hymnals are hard covered
and tightly bound
a protection against what we
are unwilling to fear
perhaps time, too much communion wine
perhaps against what we don’t want
to question in the dark, in bed
dropping the kids of at school
standing at the kitchen sink
in the haze of dawn
unable to drink from this cup of water
the earth trembling underfoot.

The soil, the rain
the sharpening of steel
the wonderful persistence of rust
pressing a blade into the mud
asking God what other sacrifices are needed
give up the family for the family
surrender love
for what death promises.

Give me just one more day
the wind at my back
the crickets frustrated racket
rolling out of these forgotten acres
just one more cup of coffee
too soon cold and bitter
one more glance across the room
at the person I love
just one more goddamned day
to move with purpose in the dirt
before the knock
the mail box over-full
the many rocks I’ve pushed
to the edge of the field
and lined up
a row of tombstones
I cannot bare to see. 

Revelry / by Isaac Randel 

The Third Estate is out in force; brigades
of stragglers armed to the teeth with bric-a-brac,
inexhaustibly manic, color screens and streets
in all directions: faces enough to find oneself
in some of them, not all; in some placards, not all.
Crowds have a way of bringing to the front
of the mind the worst questions: can public life
incubate a soul? Better to place
the better part of oneself in the reeds,
hidden from Pharaonic hates and jubilees
alike. All this to say: out from the thrall
of saxophones comes a grouch,
who thinks we’re happy, but maybe
we’re not happy for the same reasons—
and is that the same as saying there’s no
public happiness? Say there’s a man who thinks he
has a coin in his pocket and there’s no
coin in his pocket, and as he reaches in to show
the coin, a coin falls from the sky into his pocket;
and he says, see, I told you this coin was in
my pocket all along. Did he know?
Is the coin its own measure of truth?
no crowd could offer up the sum of half
its parts, it’s settled. Dionysiac-
antipathy aside, there’s no denying
what they do to you when you’re in them:
what they do tonight; the proud manic
scurry to reclaim simple words from what
makes us think of them as antiquities:
Justice meets Dignity in the square
and each preserves the other from a fate
they were, collectively, resigned to. Faith
and its brother Hope brush up, too close,
against a rail where guardsmen wait—
and, this time, nothing happens; Charity,
applauded, heads revelers toward a stage
where, in another year, nothing much to boast
of, happens— but it isn’t another year;
the tangled, stuttered words of prayer
are, now, more than what they are: All Souls,
All Saints— All Souls, All Saints— All Souls, All Saints—
All Souls, All Souls—    

No Poem / by Alison Stone 

Matters as much
as the news we heard
and cheered and cried
and finally, after four years,

Poem 7 / Day 7

MULLIGAN / by Shannon Austin 

Around the bend of a kidney
bean, labyrinth of hedge rows
forming triangles, through
the legs of a Viking captain,
the teeth of a shipwreck, a pirate
hoard, up a hill and back again
and back again, a hidden door,
pipeline, a time loop,
down a turquoise creek,
waterfall, river delta,
netted from a lake,
below a swinging pendulum,
dragon’s breath, guillotine,
across a wooden bridge,
another lake,
four arms of a windmill,
jumping a gorge,
inside of a gorge,
through the eye of a tire—
its rim— a wall,
there seems to be the idea
of a straight line, open green
nestled between two topiaries:
what you expect & what you get,
two different streams.

On Turning Fifty / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco
for Jennie, after Adrienne Rich

Hurry up, your sisters said —
the ones you have known
longer than you haven’t,
in the way you have come to know
time — its leisurely healing
of wounds and its obstinate
fever, mothering evenings
and half the village from distance.

Because you are sisters —
survivors, secret-sharers,
dragon-slayers – against time
you, too, can be willful.
They can wait.

So, you slow down. There is time
still for another glass of wine.
The day of turning fifty will come
eventually. Twice, in fact: first
for your mother, then for you —
or is it the other way around?

One day, you will be fifty again.

That time will be for your daughter —
perhaps on a winter night, when you
have completed a cross stitch
you started before you changed your name,
or when the pieces of puzzle have
been locked solid in place,
in front of scrapbooks whose pages
you can throw at last
into the fireplace for warmth.
She will look up and recognize your face
finally, the way you can recognize
the faces of your mothers, sisters,
conspirators — everywhere –
everyday turning fifty.

Wanderlust / by Ellen Birkett Morris 

Every night at 11:30, I hear the sound of the train blowing its high lonesome horn from a chair in my house on a
tree-lined street in a medium-sized city in a southern state. The train sounds close, though the tracks are miles away.
It not as if I could go outside my door and stand alongside them as the graffiti-covered cars rush past, already the canvas for someone’s dreams. Or reach until my hand touches the cold metal bar and hoist myself onto an empty car as we cut through the countryside headed for places unknown, the horn echoing in the ears of those still awake as they imagine what lies ahead.

The Irises Bloom for the First Time in November / by Angelina Brooks 

Their blooms unfurl slowly.
Pearl tight and polished at first,
lettuced in that thick iris-skin,

the knot of would-be flower
gains layers of confidence
like an onion, having stored

years of morning sun.
When you first moved in,
I told you our home was the one

with the purple flowers.
They were just front stoop pansies
in a flowerpot that I forgot

to water, and when they died,
you can home and declared,
This is not our home, no purple flowers.

You were doing this then. This is not
Daddy’s house. I don’t live here.
We kept telling you it was,

and we loved you, and I bought
purple impatiens for late summer,
which somehow made things better.

And, now, the irises, too,
are unfurling cautiously. Their lace
edged petals open one at a time,

each a modest hope of purple. 

Oddment / by Brett Gastineau 

 You know the place
smells like fried chicken
and the name on the awning of the laundry mat there has faded
and been replaced with graffiti that promises the second coming.
Marvin Gaye comes silky out of an open window—
Honey, you do me wrong, but still I’m crazy about you.
The sidewalk is pockmarked like teenagers.

 I came to the bus stop shelter with tic-tac-toe games scrawled in the Plexiglas.
All the seats have the word HOPE written on their backs
and placed neatly on them were cards with floral script
that read—Reserved
I did not sit down. 

Birthday Poem / by Christina Lee 

It’s so gray today, but 
I still keep finding confetti:
a flock of starlings scattering over the nearly-still water, 
white berries dotting brush in the field, 
early rain spattering the asphalt. 

No. 7 / by Nathan Lipps 

I’m searching for where air
separates from another air.
How to untangle an enclosure
that only exists when you look at it.
Eyes closed we are free.

At the dollar store
deciding between discounted cookies
bales of hay and the space they left
still tumbling through my mind.

It’s warm for this time of year
we tell each other. Praying
for snow
to reset the frame
of what makes us long
for change.

Chocolate chips
because ubiquity
feels safe. I know
you know this.

And wedged into every crevice
hand sanitizer
like a flashing skull
as though to worn
if you touch
that can of soup
you’ll have to eat
this fear first.

This is a good journey
I tell myself
getting out of the house
accomplishing, at the very least
this simple performance of capitalism
but what I’ll call
an exchange
because it’s gentle.

Outside the shop in the parking lot
the dog is locked inside
her day’s great moment
allowing movement of any kind
to imply meaning.
When air meets another
we call it air, not wanting to distinguish
this substance we press ourselves through. 

The Years to Come / by Isaac Randel 

Too poised to call in debts of patience
and old faith, our chalk erasers clapped dry
and set to turn the work of years against
themselves,  we’ve missed the marrow of our time

and thrown the bones away. It could be,
after all, our course is right. Tranquility
was promised us; and whether cultured dreams
of peace can blend with atavistic grumblings

has —still— to be seen. But there was, back
at the beginning, a little movement toward
—not a reckoning— but hope; in fact,
a hope for reckoning not bleached with words,

but reckoning in fact, which only words, perhaps,
could rectify. It didn’t last— it didn’t even
really start— but it was there. What lasted
is the worst of it: some dead rage, unleavened. 

Newt Gingritch Claims 150,000 Dead People Voted / by Alison Stone 

I want to believe him,
to imagine the dead marking ovals
or pulling levers with transparent hands.
Where did they go after, their “I Voted” stickers
stuck to whatever they were buried in.
Lots of suits and fancy dresses
heading to the polls. Were they allowed back
for this one act, or could they stay,
pick up plastics from the beach or push
a child from the path of a car? Were they confined
to the state they died in, or could they cross lines?
Thanks, Newt, for giving me the image
of my mother helping choose the first female V.P.
Perhaps she’s on her way to my house now.
I’ll put the kettle on, make sure her favorite cup is clean.

Poem 6 / Day 6

On Learning Betsy Ross Was Born with a Full Set of Teeth / by Shannon Austin

I feel like I should be thinking
about stars. Etched in a mouth,
cut in a flag. Circle of points that
together somehow say something
about a country, like a line struck
through the moon. One way to
a circle. Here’s another: natal teeth,
when loose, are pulled for fear of
aspiration. That is, they loosen
because their roots are not strong
enough to hold them. Or, they arrive
too early to understand the wonder
of wide pink gums, a land they are
too eager to conquer.

Girlhood / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

for Denise Wilson, after Denise Levertov

The kitchen window frames the perfect view
of a catalogue garden – St. Augustine palmetto

trimmed at each blade, laid down warm
and tight like sheets on ironing day. By the

fence guard mango trees – like the one you
did not climb as a girl, careful that the starched

shirt and skirt remain crisp and spotless to
make room for ribbons and medals. Those years

are neatly tucked away in boxes, labeled in color-
coded highlighters. Right now, what you really

want is to rearrange a few trees, maybe sweep
the clouds to the side, and smoothen the Florida

sky undulating in the pool. Before morning is over,
you are done organizing the rest of the year. Still

you check that your husband has lunch, and your
sons wear fresh shirts. It is a house full of men,

but one which fits perfectly in post-its and detailed
notes in your planner — embossed in gold with

the name of a woman who refuses to dye her hair,
who hums softly to herself every time she passes

a mirror, who resolves her tears to sweat, and
glows when she dances, when no one is watching.

During the Pandemic / by Ellen Birkett Morris

We have practiced
our evil laugh—
side by side on a park bench
between critiques of the tennis
players on the nearby court.
Taken so many drives,
marveling at the recklessness
of the people conversing
side by side, maskless.
Turned our porch into a coffeehouse,
the TV room a cinema,
the dining room an arcade.
We’ve made countless
loaves of bread,
popped popcorn,
conjured comfort food
for what comfort
it could bring.
Fought to keep
the dread at bay.
Stealing small flashes
of joy like magpies.
Laughing, though we
know that evil is real.  

Over the Prairie / by Angelina Brooks

the sky expands towards infinity,
but I can see the glass of this marble.
Maybe it is enough to be neon
bee boxes and pumpkins, humming
as they bake in the sun.

Confession / by Brett Gastineau

I act like an idiot because I have a void in my heart.
I hate birds.  They fly.  I can’t fly.  And their chorus
is an indifferent witness to our lives.
Loneliness is my one unforgivable crime.
I knew I loved you because I wanted to be stamped.
I ran over the cat and never told you.
I kept you from my bookshelf because in each book were poems I wrote for you.
I have two reoccurring dream. 
In one, I ride a giant owl above a forest of quartz.
In another, I sit in a blue love seat in a pasture looking up at a bruised moon.
I am ashamed of my dreams because moons in dreams are suppose to be Mexican
and shining on music.  And we’re suppose to be wandering the refrains of our other lives.
I have no other lives.
I sometimes want to be a secret agent, have seventeen passports, and suitcases filled with
different bills, a technicolor of currencies.
I feel guilty about my father’s death.  Guilty because the truth of the matter is that never was there a parent kept alive by the love of a child.  My love wasn’t enough and was never going to be enough to mend his mind or frame.
I get scared thinking about death, scared by the thought that all the people, all the animals, all the plants, and all the insects are reborn.  There wouldn’t be any room left in heaven or on earth, would there?
I don’t fear pain in death.  Pain blesses the body, returns the meaning to the body.
Each morning I awake and know that your hands are the only place in this world and
I will act like an idiot because I have a void in my heart.

I don’t know how to pray for my enemies / by Christina Lee

and I don’t want to learn.
Nobody does, if they’re honest.
Look at the Psalms. Even David,

highly favored and all that, can’t do it:
he asks to dip his foot in the blood
of his enemies. He asks for plunder,
for empty wombs.

I don’t really want
to dip my foot in the blood of my enemies.
But I don’t want to pray for them, either.

I don’t think anyone ever has.

Maybe Jesus. Maybe.
But Jesus, he was tricky.
His words slipped like fish
through a net, filling, emptying.
His words like sudden waves,
like a storm calmed, like a flock of birds
shimmering at the edge of the horizon,
forming and changing 
impossible shapes.

Paneling / by Isaac Randel

White with frills of lichen, firewood under the deck
was getting damp from rain
and two of us, near-strangers, put up new grey
panels, all afternoon trading anecdotes and drills
whose cords caught on rocks, and checked
ourselves when hatred of the natural world came
flooding in at every brush-up with a spider,
remembering, however obliquely, our place in it.
“It’s bad out there,” he said. “I’m waiting
until the assassinations start.” I stopped to pivot
on a rotting log, nodding solemnly. I love
this country and its million million artifices
of civility, and nothing, not even animal thrill,
could quicken that expectancy in me. Above,
we’d mislaid a row, wood showing in the interstices
of petroleum-grey. A spider landed on my knuckle
and would not leave. I crushed it, almost,
but not entirely, without thinking.

November / by Alison Stone

The leaves are dull this fall,
something about temperature,
or lack of water. I’m dull, too,
ordered to take naps to quell the virus
inflaming me to torpor.
It’s always something, Gilda Radner said
before her early death. Always something
the predictable, fragile body breaks from.
I hear hooves and turn to see the teacher
from the school for troubled teens
strolling the emotional support goats,
their spotted heads lowered
to look for something tender
in the gutter. Where but the body
is there to live? What but eyes
can register the subtle beauty
in the leaves’ orangey-browns,
less in-your-face than the season’s usual blaze,
like the mildly-attractive person you turn to
after the hot ones break your heart.

Poem 5 / Day 5

Ghost Stories / by Shannon Austin

After we’ve exhausted
our tales of swamp creatures &

blood-letters, we start to talk
about ghosts. The hook-handed

killer scratches a message to his lover
into the side of a blue Volkswagen,

a red Camaro, the red bark of a poplar.
A daughter holds her mother’s hand &

doesn’t realize she’s let go. Voice to wail
to whimper: the trajectory of memory,

non-linear. Around the firepit, we talk
about fear. Like love, how it comes to us

in the slightest moments, desperate
for acknowledgement. Asking

for a chance to haunt quietly, dimly
lit by the reach of our own spirits’ glow.

Lauds for the Newly Waken / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

This is the hour of mercy. Still dark, a rooster
crows, A dog answers.

Beyond the neighbor’s roofs, a car
                                                      screeches into a halt.

I wait for the sound of a gun or a crash
only to hear an engine restarting.
Maybe, someone makes a sign of the cross,

murmurs a plea of forgiveness and gratitude
and kisses a picture of children hanging
from the windshield.

Soon, it is the hour of magic — no crepuscular rays,
no sun still, but the sky diffuses its own light.

It is an hour when everything
                                                      is still possible –
voices that will become faces at the door
after months of isolation,

flags waving on the street not with supremacy
but joy, an invitation to dance.

I sit down and wait for words I can string
into a prayer, or sound I can twine with meaning,
even to prophesy. The palms trees respond –
not yet, but in time:

O, departing night that laces the sleeping  
to the heavens, let the shivering shadows
release themselves from the dark.

                  When I open the windows, let the prayers
of trees join with mine. Let the rustling between
silences turn the dawn into morning. And let
the morning become a day that reveals
to light all that is lost and hidden. At last.

In the Lobby of My High School / by Ellen Birkett Morris 

I walk toward the familiar door,
gunmetal gray, heavy,
without the customary dread
that accompanied my school days.
It could be 1983, because just inside
there is a table manned by Dwayne,
who went to my high school.
He laughs and calls me “little Birkett,”
though we both know I’m not little anymore.

Across the slippery floor is a table
full of ledgers. I wait while they find
my name, check my ID. I look with
anticipation at the partitioned table,
the sharp pencil that awaits.

It never gets old, filling out the bubbles
next to my candidates. I go over it once,
lightly. Once more for emphasis.
Before I hand it in I look at each race
again, measuring my choices.

I was raised to value my vote,
set in front of the television by
my dad during Watergate, became an
avid watcher of debates and conventions.
Each candidate telling their truth,
back when truth was a thing and
words had the power to illuminate.

I’d assumed back then we were taught the same things.
Respect yourself enough not to lie. Respect other people.
Look out for your fellow man. Winning isn’t everything.
Memories of school yard bullies so faded that I almost
forgot the sting of the taunt, the dodged punch.
I thought we had all grown up.

There Are Too Many Ways This Metaphor Can Go / by Angelina Brooks 

Women parade into beauty school
with their mannequin heads:

some in hand, some in leftover gift bags,
some tucked under arms full of supplies.

There can be nothing worse than
dropping your coffee and your head,
it finding the abandoned trolley rail
on Elizabeth Ave., rolling down
the neighborhood while your coffee
has just splashed onto your shoes,
and you’ re fumbling to retain control
of the bags you strapped to your shoulders,

while shouting for the head
that remarkably keeps evading car tires.

I want this comic release,
but there is no evidence to support
that this has ever happened,
and there are too many ways
this metaphor can go.

Divided / by Brett Gastineau 

The following is a “Found” poem, taken from Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech from June 16, 1858.

If we could first know where we are
we could then better judge what to do.

Far since confident promise,
of putting an end to agitation.

That agitation has not ceased.
It will not cease,
until a crisis shall have been reached.

And passed a house divided
half slave and half free.

The Union dissolved.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
The opponents will arrest the further spread of
the course of ultimate extinction
or will push it forward.

Have we no condition?

Let any one who doubts contemplate the machinery
study the history of its construction, and
trace the evidence of design and concert of action
from the beginning.

The new year commenced the struggle,
opened all the national territory to slavery.
Provided for squatter sovereignty,
otherwise called sacred right of self government perverted.
This attempted to justify that if any one man, choose to enslave another,
no third man shall be allowed to object.

That argument was incorporated into the language
and questions of freedom and reason.
At length a squabble sprang up between the public mind
and the principle for which many have suffered to no end.

That principle squatted out of existence,
tumbled down like temporary scaffolding –
like the mould at the foundry served through one blast
and fell back into loose sand then kicked to the winds.
The people were to be left perfectly free.
Declare the perfect freedom of the people to be just
no freedom at all.

These things look like the cautious patting and petting
of a spirited horse, preparatory to mounting him,
when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall.

And why the hasty adaptations?
And all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces
exactly adapted to their respective places?

It should not be overlooked that
unlimited power in the people
is left an open question.

Care not, welcome or unwelcome,
the power of the present political dynasty
shall be met and overthrown.
We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming
that the people are on the verge
of making their reality.

This is what we have to do.
A living dog is better than a dead lion.
Oppose the advances of slavery.
Impress upon the public heart to care about revival.
May rightful change clearly be our cause.
Conducted by those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work.

This under the single impulse of resistance.
Of strange, discordant, and even, hostile elements,
we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle.
We shall not fail if we stand firm.
The victory is sure to come.

Recounts / by Christina Lee 

I can’t do this math in my head.

I velcro a number up
to the flannelgraph hung
behind my eyes but
it slips down before
I can even tack the plus sign
up beside it. And lately

I’ve caught myself
counting and recounting
hours of sleep the way
my mom used to:
holding up fingers, listing
hours-by-hour under my breath
in a harsh whisper:
“twelve to one,”
“one to two,” and so on,

as if counting carefully enough
could change something.

No. 5 / by Nathan Lipps 

Wind is just another word
for pressure

a too hard touching
of the thing unseen.

You travel to the coast
and stop short

because you’ve forgotten
how to walk

on water
when it’s calm.

All the storms
and that tossing, sure

simple, but this calmness
will drown you.

Outside Visitor Hours / by Isaac Randel 

There, they say, life is heavy. It gets the right
tone and anyway, if lines on grief begin
to sound the same, it’s because grief is the same, night
after night with its two plucked chords that in
better circumstances could put an old mother to sleep. For
weeks the sky makes the better part of comfort and
brings what doesn’t come back on its own. Pearled floors
of cafeterias give way to dead lands
on screens in cold rooms; the watchful eyes
of wallflowers and doorknobs. Memory, though everything,
is stupid enough a measure of truths and lies,
and at a certain point some won’t take its shit. All things
considered, I don’t blame her for packing, sneaking past
the night staff, going home. The sneaking past.

Waiting for Results / by Alison Stone 

Four years ago we watched the map bleed red,
stain spreading till I sent my kids
to bed, aborting their school assignment
to color the states. That election’s ghost
chills our  home despite the thermostat’s number.
What is a country anyway?
What are my neighbors?
I’m not a Buddhist, never believed
the answer was to let desires drop away like leaves,
leaving the stark, accepting soul. They say
pain comes from resisting what is.
Nails bitten down, jaw clenched, my body
offers proof. Dragged out by the dog, I glare
at other walkers, looking for a smile
or a clear brow to indicate
they’re on the other side. My puppy
doesn’t care, she wags at everyone,
her skilled nose leading me
into whatever the future will be.

Poem 4 / Day 4


Elvis falls off his horse & she rides away without her luggage.
Elvis comes along dressed like actual Elvis & she asks for a song.

Oh, you think you’re something else? Be something else.

Green screen: The desert leads to a mountain range, an oasis, Reno.
                          The desert opens into a black hole, another dimension.
                          They change their minds & make it a tundra.

              She wears the same outfit, except now she’s a snow leopard.

Sometimes, the last shot is her turning into a giant cat,
still not impressed.

Okay, so you’re a lion tamer?
A fortune teller? The Jolly Green Giant?

The Pope’s cameo gets cancelled due to a scheduling conflict,
but he sends his best.

An abridged list of rejected suitors:
         -rocket scientist
         -Rocket Man
         -Brad Pitt
         -Brad from next door
         -the Ghosts of Christmas Past & Future

A complete list of acceptable prospects:
         -the catering crew

                     Now don’t get me wrong, but this bagel’s alright.

A man streaks naked across the set & she applies another
coat of pink, lips & cheeks.

They try for a skyline running across her lids:
                     fuchsia lightening to rose, an aurora.

Oh, so you’re something else? Be something.

The hatbox contains four lemons & an actual hat, for accuracy.

American Elegy / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

We were hiding from heat when I finally understood
                  the difference between the summer I was born
into and the summer I will most likely be buried in.

It was the day the crabapples cascaded flowers in piles
                  of snow — a windless day — leaving pinheads
on branches which were hidden until the berries of fall.

I realized, perhaps a bit late, that the months of sun in the old
                  country were not a season, but a bargain for survival —
a time to patch walls, brace house posts, and nail down roofs.

It was time to remember salt and oil – no one knows exactly
                  how early the monsoon comes. These are secrets
from nameless ancestors, passed on without words

around gas lamps on nights of storms. But there’s no one
                  here to pass these secrets to. There are no
burial grounds of ancestors on which I can lay a wreath

of persistence – their bones were corals in the depths
                  of oceans. So, I became my own country, marking
the cycles of seasons in my arms, the alternating paths

of the sun on my back — drawing borders of hopes where
                  they fall, planting broken hearts that will foliage
into crabapples – with their secrets that only I know.

Travelogue: Oban, Scotland / by Ellen Birkett Morris

A drunk man bumped into me near the stairs
Sorry, sorry.
It’s okay.
American or Canadian?
What state?
Kentucky Fried Chicken, Muhamad Ali.  
Yes. The Kentucky Derby.
No recognition.
I’m a long way from home.  

Resolution / by Angelina Brooks

Golden desert grasses
sound like old man’s shuffle
as birds sift through them.

I haven’t stopped turning
back to look for you.

Midlife Haiku Reflections / by Brett Gastineau

Bare-chested neighbor
shares profanities
with his cat

                                                        Summer city
                                                        moonlight sharpens
                                                        teeth of raccoon on rooftop

sticky from cinnamon rolls on a Sunday morning
Patsy Cline visitations on the radio
love songs aged like bourbon

tomatoes spoiling
in plastic bags tethered
to an abandoned wheelchair

                                                        clouds whispering their dreams to me

the red behind closed eyelids

cicada chorus
                            bee’s drunk shimmy among pears

blossoming fury beneath thunderheads
                            white-capped waves’ knocking
cannot silence rain’s pelting of sand

                            rain creates black puddles
leaves within black as well
so cruel fall’s passage

                                                                      backdrop of moss covered pines becomes Milky Way
                                                                      fireflies’ ballet

morning waking
weary back, temples heavy
her bare legs’ warmth

Nightpoem for Lee / by Christina Lee 

Someday you will be older.
The world will not be on fire.
At least, not this fire. 
Someday we will all sleep through the night.
Tonight, you nuzzle against me,
fuzzy headed, snuffling,
nodding off against the bottle.
Tonight, I sink into the couch
under your small, determined weight.
I’m bleary with the brilliant glare
of so little sleep 
and such fierce love.
Soft breathed, slumped into me,
you are snoring
the tiniest snore in the world.

No. 4 / by Nathan Lipps 

I have yet learned to be
though I look for you who has.

I am sitting down in the Midwest.
Exactly in the middle. The sound of five cattle

and aware of their shit in the pasture.
They won’t be here in the Spring.

                                                      So many things.

Later, the smell of old roof shingles
think tar and a decade of trying

being removed from a shape
across the road

against a noon
on a July day too far

from any sensible
body of water.

We think of what we want.
This the flower, that the weed.

In the dirt.
Everything in the dirt. 

Too Close to Call / by Isaac Randel 

Moments that, years later, calcify into memory
(showered with ornaments only later ones of us
know enough to give) feel sickly when we feel them:

that is, when they’re hardly moments,
just constellations of shot nerves. Last night,
for instance: a whole republic unglued, and all

I could do was eat. What we know of empires, happily,
comes to a smattering of maps and marble busts—
just fractions of the blood lost, make their way

through to us. Imagination takes the rest.
When we want to live the great moments, a still,
small voice is there, whispering: no— no, you don’t.

“Your Life Can Change In An Instant” / by Alison Stone 

they say, and they’re right –
a chance meeting in a café,
a physician calling with lab results.
An election. I stand in a line
that curves like the snake on the flags
the thugs waved when they blocked the bridge,
police on the scene and doing nothing.
Though my doctor told me,
Sleep as much as possible. Take naps,
nothing will move me from the chance
to blacken ovals with a prayer.
The line shuffles forward over stones
engraved with names of somebody’s
beloved dead, a few half-covered
with dull leaves that dropped before blazing.

Poem 3 / Day 3

Pearls / by Shannon Austin

The oyster opens, dissenting
prying fingers & seas

forged by lungs. By touch,
how we say what we mean.

When we look for it, we grasp
soft membranes of air &

expectation. Light blue
escapes from shells marked

by algae, softened by decay.
Salt carried in crevices

has sheltered in a coral bed,
seen the underside of

a hammerhead’s fins.
Listen: if you hold its heart

long enough without breaking,
you can still feel the ocean’s

depths. Somehow, that will
have to be enough.

The Road Home / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

Mother packed rice and adobo in banana leaves
the day I left her house – the one
she had at the end  — but also the one she carried
like turtle shell for two decades,
fitting in two sons,
moving them from island to island,
scratching the carapace to mark
the gains of years, the losses of new geographies.

Don’t look back, she said – she who kept moving
forward, farther and farther from the woman who stared
ahead on her wedding day, holding back tears —
but remember to choose the road that leads home.

She did not say “back home.”

I moved forward.

She told me a man’s fate changes every time
he crosses a great body of water.
Years later, I crossed the Atlantic and gained three seasons.
Years later still, I crossed the Pacific to bury my brother.
I did not make a crossing for her.
Nor for her mother, father, a sister, a brother.
I moved forward.

Often, I thought of those who crossed seas and oceans
long ago — an entire village that sailed for months,
arrived in a strange land, and became a first generation.
Or those who crossed unnamed waters
and were never heard of again.
How great the bodies of water would be
to cross from air, in hours, by invisible trail —
to see a road home as those left behind moved forward.

Crossing against the Light / by Ellen Birkett Morris

So close, he could feel the heat from the bus,
as he stepped back just in time. We laughed like
children caught stealing dessert. But when the light
changed, we crossed slowly, hand in hand.
I’d never understood the term brush with death before.
With its images of the grim reaper passing a bony hand
just above your head, so close the hairs would stand on end. 

Fragment / by Brett Gastineau

He had no courage in his love
It felt too much like black birds thrashing in a storm
Perhaps he was allergic to it, scared shitless by
that scent of rot at the ecstatic center of love making,
although that was only a rumor he’d heard.
He sketched a picture of his eye, maimed it with an X,
and sent it to the girl who misread its meaning.
She disappeared into the twilight.
Made blue in a sort of death.
He continued to keep a record of his raptures.
Continued staining pages with ink.
The birds writhing within separating their song from their bones
Him made mud by a simple equation of earth and rain.

I’ve heard / by Christina Lee

Before the brothers got
their hands on them

the tales were whispered 
woman to woman
as a sort of shared survival manual:
How to wander
long enough
to outlast a father, brother, 
devil. How to turn fear 
to feathers. How to grow back
a limb. How to magic
a circle. What to do
when you fail. 

Not so much stories as spells
for singing through the ache
of bad bargains, 
stolen tongues
and swollen wombs
and singing bones
and lost souls.

Tell me those.

No. 3 / by Nathan Lipps

He walks the path up
to the house
each day in time
for what he’ll call
a meal. The gourds outside
the door already unraveling
into mush because of routine.
He worries about the mind.

What he’s trying to work out
is whether silence is just another sound
we haven’t figured out yet.
So he hums in rhythm
with the knife and bread
and the hour goes
and another day unravels.
Down the path

away from what he wants
to matter. Time and how it moves.

FORGIVENESS / by Angelina Oberdan Brooks 

She sits, age 7, at window vigil.
Her purple duffel packed.
Her front seat bag ready
with coloring books and maps.

On the long drives across country,
she flips through bird guides: hawk,
vulture. She doesn’t remember
seeing a bald eagle until later,

later when her car broke down
on a two-lane highway in lake country,
way north, almost Superior, almost
Canada. And an eagle waited

with her. Circled and lit on pole
and circled and watched until
she was safe. She wants it to be him,
waiting with her, instead of her

waiting for him, but she knows
he was never eagle. That would be
too easy and simple and clear.
And they were never that.

He was always late or not there.
And she always loved him,
and he always loved her, but
not well. She tells herself, not ever

as well as he wanted, but that
is just her prayer, too. Her prayer
for memory’s omission,
not forgiveness, but for

forgetting. She waits to forget. 

I Remain Marvelously Alive / by Andrew Posner 

One life is not enough.
I’d like to live twice on this sad planet,
In lonely cities, in starved villages…” – Czesław Miłosz*

In the creak and give of floorboards,
hollow of trees felled by storms,
fists of despots, palms of departing lovers,
click of deadbolts, swing of doors;

In the purr and pant of aging pets,
hush and sweep of forgotten tombs,
sway of ships at night,
darkening of sunset in quiet waters;

In the sweet-smelling rot of discarded apples,
shimmer of heat rising from denuded lands,
diesel roar of trains disappearing in distance,
tremor of aftershocks, of cello strings;

In the splatter of blood, of ink, of midnight rains,
buzz and throb of wasps, of poked-at hives,
opening of veins, rip and tear of mail,
lick and seal of unsent letters, locked away;

In the reading of wills, of eulogies, of elegies,
caw and cry of wild, dangerous birds-of-prey,
tantrums of children, sadness of hospice
strange warp and bend of space-time—

in all this, what foreboding and thrill!

There are myriad ways to die
yet I remain—marvelously—alive.

*Poem excerpt from Dawns

The Last Time This Happened / by Isaac Randel 

The thrill of seeing history congeal
into a few horrific faces and
the thought of saying listen, I was there,
gave way to years of roiling dullness. Steeled
for new calamities, we stand
abreast of faces fissured by the wear
of other, and of worse, years. All of us
remember when the way that “us” was used
began to change. Me: it was nothing huge.
I had the liberty to be nonplussed,
and little more, but still— a good friend turned
and said, Should we go to the store or something?
We did, and shoved two carts down empty lanes.
Him shaking.  I was sure, man. I was sure.

One Day Before the Election / by Alison Stone 

The country readies like a hunter, crouched,
while children play in the wind-whirled leaves
and scared shoppers wipe boxes with bleach.
Teens obsess about death
without believing in it.
Radios drone poll numbers and predictions.
Hope alternates with terror
like a billboard blinking between ads.
Even the dog cuts her night walk short,
straining back toward our familiar street
under a moon that shows us
her whole face, inscrutable
and light years from the nearest star.

Poem 2 / Day 2

VILLANELLE FOR MINTHE / by Shannon Austin 

Pluck the least of me, let me shrink
into green. Tealess, read my dregs
& I could still make the whole drink.

Winds whisper taunts to my unpink
cheeks, stalk the thin stems of my legs.
Pluck the least of me, see me shrink

against the sides of a glass, silver sink
the battleground where lemon & nutmeg
teach me how to make a whole drink.

The tease of a rim, a toast & a clink:
a promise, like the crack of an egg.
Pique the beast of me, shrink

as my leaves bring you to the brink
of your senses, peppered powder keg
waiting for me to open, a whole drink

numbing your mouth before you can think.
Truth is, I could make a body envy, beg
to pluck the least of me for one shrinking
moment: one sip, then the whole drink.

All Souls’ Day / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco

There was a time our family gathered around
the rest of the family. That was before the children
decided to change names — dropping syllables,
adapting a new lilt, a dash, altering cadence.

That was before we were petals scattered by trade
winds. That afternoon death was still a foreign
country, although the dead were all around us.
Here’s mother, my grandmother declared,

bending to clear the makahiya that covered
the name of a woman we hardly knew but she
kept incanting in prayers. The leaves drooped
before she could uproot them. We followed

her gestures without anyone telling us. But  
first we traced the spines of the grass, and watched
each pinna pair fold inward, row by row, as if
they recoiled in horror from recognizing our touch.

Grandmother searched for her father, who was
hidden under tangan-tangan. Be careful, she warned
no one in particular, they will burn your skin
or stop your heart. In time, we stood on top of our

family. Where are the flowers? Somebody asked.
Flores son para los vivos, grandmother replied —
only for the living — as she lit candles around
her parents. The lights will guide their way to us.

We must keep the dead close, grandmother
reminded us, but the living closer. That was the day
the dead gathered us into a bouquet of something
still familiar, something almost like happiness.

So Much Winning / by Ellen Birkett Morris

Believe me  . . .                                                           we’ll be going to Mars very soon

We’re going to make  . . .                                           record numbers of COVID cases

A lot of money . . .                                                      spent on hairstyling

He’s a great guy . . .                                                    Rush Limbaugh

We’re going to take care of  . . .                                 huge corporations

The incredible men and women . . .                           who voted for me

Billions and billions of dollars . . .                             stolen, misused, wasted

Pastoral / by Brett Gastineau 

Barefoot I leave this world and step out onto the balcony.
In the back of my throat rest all the prayers of our fathers.
             I had collected them to carry the truths I could discern.
Lightning flickers in the north.
The moon comes from the west,
trailing a snowfall of plum petals and apple blossoms.
I feel like a visitor in a novel or grass that grows into the living room
                                                                                            or a spiritual long past July.
I know now the dreamers don’t feel the change that overcomes them.
Moved by an invisible hand to mimic the willow’s aimless sadness—one day
they awake, they dress, and find themselves settling
             to dust into the future’s fade-to-white.

Suddenly it is summer. It is not the moon, but flowers that light the fields below.
The treetops relish their play with the breeze and
the music of an endless procession of weddings
for it seems one wedding begins right after another is ending.
I can see the happy couples giving themselves over fully to daylight and air.
Within them that desire almost met
to experience what another feels from the inside
                                                                              when you are touching them.
                                                                              To be of two thoughts.
                                                                              To burn.

I have been easy with the trees too long.
Mothers collect the late apples, red, yellow, gold
in the indigo of midnight. Their bridle gowns now cobwebs.
Somewhere it is raining. Here a touch of the cool.
The women lift up their hands as if to know the stars that float
in the vacuum of the dark’s voice.
I feel my legs like snow and set out on my final path,
trampling the sky.

Worry poem / by Christina Lee 

worry my
worries silly
             I worry my body bruised, blessed
                          like beads    like breath

worry my heart slick stomach
worry the hinges rusty    worry dust

the tops of the bookshelves

worry from
the kitchen
I can’t ever seem
            to get clean

                         breathe it in belly-deep keep
of eight exhale stale
                                       worry back out

fill the tub with worry
             soak in it
a can of worry
from it sudsy
down easy

it tune it scale it harmonize

it in
year’s worry
sizes too small)

warp and weft it pattern
             pavement pound it
kneed it
leave it

it rise. 

No. 2 / by Nathan Lipps 

How the beginning of any day
feels like a good idea.

Or that because it already knows
it is alive

the butterfly does not sing.
What we do to escape our lives

or how we convince ourselves
that escape is the word.

That it does not work out
has little to do with anything

is the easy part
that it could have remained

was the risk
looking into each other

preparing the little we knew
for the mouth of eternity

The Navajo Sandstone / by Angelina Oberdan Brooks 

still echoes its long-gone water,
and the way the sun beamed
off eddies and follies and pools
can still be fingertip traced.

I want to be loved so much as this.

Watching Workers Plant a Tree in the Park While My Son Plays Nearby / by Andrew Posner 

November 2, 2020

Is it too late for things that hope to grow?
What does it say that the sapling’s leaves
have already turned? That the first frost is just
weeks away, and the workers are in a hurry?
How much care does a young tree need in
winter, and who will provide it?

Richard plays on the swings; he takes no notice
of the workers, or the tree, or of Dada fretting
about an election. It is just as well he does not
understand the relationship between metaphor and
extinction. I will stand here through the bitterest
cold, long after the swing is buried in snow
and I fathom what’s making me tremble so:

come spring,
I’ll know just what my son stands to inherit. 

Truncated Meditation / by Isaac Randel 

Attention, splintered now between the twin frontiers
of glass and browser windows, lands each morning
on the same array, and meets it with the same
crusted glaze. Attention, it’s true, brings me birds
and views of trees in ever finer shades
of brown, and garnishes mornings with politics
which, in return, I try to organize
and turn to some purpose. Attention and I,
we disappoint each other in the way
spouses must: we’ve known our better selves.

I know what it really is. I’ve seen its architecture:
Whitmanic temples built to hold the store
of others’ lives and loves in such a way
that nothing in the world, and no achievement,
could not be found tucked in some alcove
or gilded high among the plaster angels.
I’ve seen its secret vaults, its archives,
its treasure hordes and galleries: I’ve seen, in short,
the world, though at such distance that its colors
spilled each into the other.

I shouldn’t be upset with what it brings me now:
a stand of reeds and bramble on a walk.
I’m not ungrateful. It isn’t nothing.

Anything Could / by Alison Stone 

The pier is dangerous tonight,
a waning moon too thin to light
scattered scales and discarded condoms.
Anything could reach from the shadows.

A waning moon too thin to light
the walkway littered with dead fish.
Anything could reach from the shadows –
a mugger, a memory.

The walkway’s littered with dead fish.
Soon, the emergence of
a mugger or a memory.
The water’s busy with intractable currents.

Soon, the emergence of
the night’s first stars.
Brave couples come to watch
the water, busy with intractable currents.

The night’s first stars
are faint in the thick sky.
Brave couples come to watch
clouds hold, then release, the sliver of moon.

Faint in the thick sky,
a plane, or possibly a planet.
Clouds hold, then release, the sliver of moon.
There’s much to see once eyes adjust.

A plane, or possibly a planet.
Scattered scales and discarded condoms.
There’s much to see once the eyes adjust.
The pier is dangerous tonight.

Poem 1 / Day 1

Miss American Zombie 2020 / by Shannon Austin

The only thing we have to fear is Zombie
Eleanor Roosevelt’s arm juggling routine, the way

she keeps them all afloat, her own & those
she borrowed from Zombie Nellie Bly, taking notes

with her teeth. Zombie Amelia Earhart steals hearts
& intestines, may fly away with second place.

This year’s categories include: Body Rotting,          
Walking in a Straight Line, & Swimsuits.    

Q: What is the biggest problem facing your generation?
A: Proximity to sewing needles.                    

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?
A: Knowing when to take my time.

This year’s Miss Congealing holds her tongue
until it bursts, her smile a red carnation.

The runners-up receive consolation prizes,
an adoring audience. In the end, we couldn’t

imagine cancelling, not with everyone
wanting to know how it would play out.

All Saints’ Day / by Victor Barnuevo Velasco 

Light the candles on the bookshelves,
let the tallow liquesce into penance of sandalwood,
almond, and leather, perhaps a hint of orris –
the root, not the flower.

Follow the flares as shadows travel between
books and bottles of rum – not exactly prayers,
but ones that often do the healing.

Take your place in a procession of the blessed
and the canonized – between those robed
in purple and gold. Bend your knees, bend your body
from the waist and tilt your head forward,
but don’t reach for a halo yet, you will find
only a tongue of flame — burning your palms like frost.

You will remember then that saints
are but names for grace:
              Take Mary, who seduced young men
              and a ship full of pilgrims. Or Vladimir,
              who murdered his older brother, the prince,
              took his wife, then built his own harem.
              Or Joan, a heretic burned for witchcraft.

Claim them as kin. Remember that their sadness
was once as profound as yours.
Claim, too, this day, though you have
no catacomb or crown, no canon or gospel
or chant.

It is indulgence enough that every day
you breathe in miracles: the call of bluebirds
before dawn, a branch of crepe myrtle
you snapped that dripped white petals,
the blazing heart you plucked from a bouquet
of unsent letters, asking for forgiveness.

When evening comes, light candles again —
for yourself and all other saints.
Let the wind cry your melisma of longing.
Kneel. Keep pleading for the light of stars,
even if the antiphon of sky is coldness and silence.

Family Portraits / by Ellen Birkett Morris

Forget ancestral portraits,
my walls are filled
with pictures of my dogs.
Tippi, my first,
her slavish devotion
to me, matched only by
my slavish devotion to her.
Finn, fickle but smart,
with the heart of a lion.
There is no shot of our latest
addition, a ten-pound
strawberry blonde terrier,
who guards the house as if
it was Fort Knox. Who sits
on my lap at night as I soak in
her youth, clear eyes, soft fur,
firm belly, which I stroke softly
as she sleeps. Lila, it’s time
for your close-up.

Untitled / by Brett Gastineau

I cast my nude thoughts into the sky,
hoping to remove its net of stars and see its face plainly
hoping to drown in an ocean of now and forget the homesick feeling
of losing the memory of your affection.
This music box mind
begging the dark to give me its quiet.
I could chew my heart, eat the burning fire that
screams the blood to my legs.
I run, I stumble, I make myself breathless and then
the birds gather for the burial
their beaks wise in the hunger
with which they meet the dawn.

When I can’t write, I think of Amber / by Christina Lee 

running in with another poem
scrawled in a spiral notebook during history,
paper grooved with the ghost
of an earlier page of attempted lecture notes
abandoned when the poem took over.

This one is titled THE MEANING OF LIFE.

As she rips it out, a little puff
of paper confetti flutters, a tiny launch party.
I read it out loud and she closes her eyes,
savoring every sentence.

She stays to chat a while, but when I try
to sneak in a reminder about her missing assignments,

             Gotta go, enjoy the poem,
             she calls, racing off like a fall leaf
             scuttered from its branch, moved not by wind
             but by the sight of her crush out the window.

I watch her take the steps three at time screaming

hair streaming like honey in the sweet afternoon sunlight,
almost-but-not-quite-tripping toward a terrified Damien.

She careens across the quad, rendered
weightless by certainty.

Arms spread wide as if she might lift off
on a light breeze and circle high above the rest of us
stuck here on the ground
with our gradebooks and our lectures,
our decorum and our doubts.

No. 1 / by Nathan Lipps

When they arrived at the coast
what little had not been said
was not worth
what air moved between them.

This was November.
The water cold and moving
against time
in time with nothing.

Wet sand holding the memory
of their moving bodies
a few seconds and gone.
They agreed

it was a hopeful metaphor
this quick return to form
not knowing sand
was once rock.

THE EARTH IS TENDER NOW / by Angelina Oberdan Brooks 

We can say at least the grass was mowed,
and dogs allowed off leash careened
towards frisbee orbs, cherry trees held

their petals as long as one does. We can
say at least we were happy
at cards around the kitchen table,

sunsets were pink and turned
the trees’ new leaves neon,
and oceans stayed mostly

within their shores. We can say
at least the earth kept its tilt
and the child her spunk and the cat

its midnight prowl. We can say at least
the hours were 60 minutes and even
though cars didn’t leave their spots

we washed the pollen off, and we
wiped down doorknobs with bleach,
and we worried the fringes of throw blankets.

We can say at least that we tried not to
cry, and we kept laughing, and we can say
somehow at least we lived.

*** “so even if spring continues to disappoint / we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain” is from “Dear One Absent This Long While” by Lisa Olstein

A COVID-Safe Love Poem / by Andrew Posner 

Even the dead weep for our isolation;
in the pit of night, I dream of you at my
side, bleary-eyed, maskless. We stare
out the same window at the same desolation.

It is that hour when the fog is so thick
we turn inward and see things as they are.
I feel for where we last touched, before this
madness: it is what the rain does not wash away

that sustains. The floodwaters will recede;
we have time yet for proper funerals.
Soon enough we will flourish again like lilies
in a patch of earth we’ve made beautiful together.

Until then, I bite my lip hard. Does this pass
for a kiss in quarantine? If to my arid tongue
the blood tastes of honey, how much sweeter,
then, the thought of your lips on mine!

Chiasmus: The Dead / by Isaac Randel 

I killed a vagrant moth and for a month
my dreams were of things coming back to life.
The moth herself was first:
unfolding from the thumb-creased paper towel
and hauling off her fresh-stitched carcass, blazed
with fury. And our childhood dog, his head
still in a cone, untangled from the pouch
of dust he is, walked trembling past the couch.
Some nights (these when we knew she should be dead),
Grandma talked of books we were amazed
she’d read, for hours, and laughed, unfettered now
from truth, and pain, and thirst.
There are some things too bright for waking life,
which, weighed too much with hope, come half-occluded, and are done.

The Woman Who Didn’t Respond When Solomon Suggested Cutting The Baby in Half Speaks Now / by Alison Stone 

What fool could believe that I was satisfied
with half a corpse? Or even that Solomon
had the stomach or the blade to slice through bones?

Struck dumb, incredulous at the stupidity
of his suggestion, I stayed mute, waited
for him to self-correct. He was, after all, the king.

I did as I’d been trained, just as I smiled
at my husband’s dumb jokes, or gave coy grins
when asked if I was satisfied.

Where did that other mother learn
she had the right to speak?
The boy who breathed was mine.

Sisters, not much in the bible’s
for our benefit, but my tale teaches –
though the moral’s been hidden by male scholars –

Words are caged in every woman’s throat.
Do whatever’s necessary to release them.
Silence can cost you everything.