The 30/30 Project: October 2020 Pt. 1

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


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The volunteers for October 2020 are Jonah Bornstein, Joyce Brinkman, CM Downes, Jenny Downs, Clemonce Heard, R. Bradley Holden, Clyde Long, Ethan Mershon, Richard Newman, Valéria M. Souza, and Margot White. 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 15 / Day 15

Looking Back / by Jonah Bornstein

for the late Peter Sears

So many dead 
I knew, and now the living
With their closed mouths
Much like Chinook let go
In the north’s cold bay
Their gritted lips
Thin as that mountain pass
Taken years ago, manzanita
Branching into sweaters
And coming out in sweat
Belabored lives and breaths
Where hornets swarm free
Of lingering brush
Like fuming fires leaping roads
Directly into flesh
So tender, so lush, the blush
Of being this close . . .

Moon Set / by Joyce Brinkman

FIVE SIGNS OF DECAY: sweat under the armpits / by CM Downes

The Nature of a Beast is Hunt to Fill the Belly / by Jenny Downs

Elephant or gazelle. Passed from lion to cub
Those jagged teeth were born to meet throat

Born parents by destiny, those jagged teeth
Were born for parents to feed babies 

Do it quick. Do it merciful. Be thankful
Some Mother will inherit the grief

Some Mother who might have stood between
A gun has no fangs or molars

Nor mercy.  A gun has no Father
Or Mother. Or hunger 

Monarchs Migrate to Oklahoma State / by Clemonce Heard

A once in a lifetime event. That’s what
it felt like. The butterflies jacketing a lawn
outside Old Central. Their paper wing
opening & closing like cards too radiant
to read—two palms playing peek-a-boo,
like the back of a hospital gown, a visitor
or two entering & leaving the saloon

doors. I kneeled because then is when
I knew if god was real he would’ve saved
this scene for one even less deserving;
an act of mercy or some other mercurial
reason. I kneeled to become one with
a wife, extended my hand to whomever
alighted. Wondered what their fluttering

was all about. Why no one else stopped
or stooped save one woman who smiled
not at the wings applauding wind, but
me, who she probably thought touched
to bend so close to the lawn dusted with
absinthe, thought that I must have been
hallucinating, suffering from some shock

I could’n’t name, which is what I thought
too, when I started my walk towards
a building that had already burned once,
a building that stretched me on a gurney.
The peering at the field of me, a catheter
burrowing my veins, a screen displaying
the journey of my flitting, fleeting heart.

Names / by R. Bradley Holden

Adam never finished. Expulsion
came too soon. After the birds and beasts
he was to go on and give to our
emotions the taxonomy of thought.
To the colors of sunset. The gradations
of shade. The angels in their hierarchies.
He was to come in time, like a poet
perfecting his craft, to the One who
is nameless or beyond all names,
and with the hard-won mastery and 
knowledge of years speak syllables 
at long last for our understanding.

A Butcher’s Ghazal / by Clyde Long

“I’m fit as a butcher’s dog”.
We gather to laugh at his lie.

Handmaid’s crossed fingers.
A flame of justice has died.

Dark moon’s hidden, waned,
smoke and fog a thick hide.

My dogs have wristwatches.
That’s how they beg on time.

A stench of death gagged me,
maybe human that dark night.

Their doe eyes capture me,
masks hide smiles implied.

What’s up with my wet dogs?
I’m Cluaidh, they swim here.

Love Songs Volume One / by Ethan Mershon

Untitled / by Richard Newman

In the Mont Blanc store, Stanley,
who uses that name, he tells me,
“to make easy my customers life”
works hard to sell me a pen.
“Fifteen percent off,” he smiles.
“Next time you come in,
probably full price.” I’m here
to repair the Meisterstück LeGrand,
gold-coated, that my father gave me
twenty years ago, when we both
no doubt thought our fresh start
would not lead to the call I didn’t make
two days ago on his birthday
or the calls he’s been promising
for years now, just like
he promised when I was a boy
to visit more often, except
at this age I’m not disappointed,
just confirmed in my low expectations.

“Your last name so easy to remember,”
Stanley comments as he fills in
the computer screen form I can’t see
on the other side of the cashier’s stand.
“Like Paul Newman. Is he your favorite actor?
That’s a beautiful herringbone coat
you’re wearing. Hard to find
these days. Young people
don’t buy quality like that anymore.”

He’s so eager for this sale
I wish I could give it to him.
Business, in this relative calm
before the second pandemic wave
we all know is coming,
must be more than slow,
but how can I justify
putting on my credit card
the $835 or $640,
or any of the amounts
Stanley tries to tempt me with
for a tool I can get at Staples
for a buck-fifteen each
if I buy enough to last me
well beyond the vaccine
that will eventually exist.

The pens are gorgeous, though,
well, most of them anyway, and I miss
how using the one I need to fix,
because I used it only
to write poems with,
was a kind of havdalah
between this gathering of myself into language
and the spending of myself
composing the prosaic text
of each day requires.

On the work order Stanley hands me,
I read the name his parents gave him.
I want to tell him his customers
should be ashamed
if they pretend they can’t pronounce it,
but I don’t. He is not white;
the people he sells to
almost certainly are,
and I am sure that his “American name,”
which is what we calls it
as he writes it down for me
so I know how to ask for him
when I am ready to buy a pen
is part of the price
he feels he must pay
for the interlanguage mix
his English is. So instead,
I look him in the eye,
tell him, “Thank you,”
and say the sounds of who he is
as correctly as I can.

Shining / Valéria M. Souza

Six Bobcats lined up,
stationed expectantly
in front of the Maintenance Office.
Hydraulics greased, shining
like crown spires.
Ready
to accept the universal Bobcat key.

You marked all the fire lanes
of your snow plan,
highlighted them yellow (or was it orange? pink?
green?) — can’t remember because
after you “borrowed” my Sharpies
you used every possible color
on your map —

[A conversation overheard decades ago
between men on the red line T
apropos of the primary differences
between the MTA and the MBTA:
Here we got the colors —
we got the red line, the green line, blue —
there they got the letters. They got the numbers
.] ***

— then commandeered the Management Office
conference room
and its substantial table
with all the authority of a fleet captain,
diagrams and completed Work Orders sprawling
across its length,
blueprints for a reimagined paradise.

You say you don’t even need Ice Melt,
Bobcats decked out, fluorescent orange
snow brushes plus skill: yeah.
Your guys, they take it down to pavement,
down to pavement, yeah. Down to pavement.
Your guys, they take it all the way down
to pavement. Down.

Geographical intimacies,
locations of fire hydrants (ours,
not the City’s
), dumpsters,
drains, stored at your fingertips,
embedded in your occipital lobe.
You’re biding the time
until winter’s first snow.

***If you can’t pronounce the words in this stanza with a proper a.k.a. authentic Boston accent, just pause in silence for about thirty seconds or so, because this stanza is not for you.

Thimbles of Timothy / by Margot White

Wild beast, grabbing hands, rippling through the streetlights where
marauders run,
thimbles of Timothy flood the windowsill
Brighter than skin and midnight and satin gloves.

He is the exception to every rule, and jumped the gate last Saturday.
Thimbles of Timothy stand in my hair, orbiting static wind and
climbing ivy.
A broken window stands in front of a thousand forgotten homes,
abandoned in favor of life.

Allowing loveliness in a shaking strand, begging copper to slick back
the places,

Please, Please
A joke love like, against the wishes
Well meaning and odd.

Poem 14 / Day 14

Dedo Lake / by Jonah Bornstein

The blessings of Covid, she said, when crowds
thickened in the capital. It is hot.
And we are alone at the old firing ground.
Trainees long rooted out to less dense lands.
Cottonwoods provide a loose shade.
Shoreline algae lifts and falls in even breaths.
The unmasked man believes in his law,
his lone voice magnetizing a mirror,
vowing power and justice to his believers.

A cormorant slaps the water, its solid-boned body
skims the world. It extends its neck, slaps
the water again, as if power grows from the act of emphasis.
It wills itself up until breaching the membrane of gravity
and soars into its private space.

We watch and listen from our asylum,
this log at Rocky Mountain Arsenal
National Wildlife Refuge. Ironies abound. Elsewhere
unrest continues. Fear has become the face everyone wears.
The lake rolls toward us.
Like the centuries, I say.

Nearby bluestemmed poppies, bellflowers,
and hairy goldenrush glow. Steel casings mangled
concrete and rebar thrust up from Dedo Lake like angry bodies.
Behind the Bark Baird Cottonwood, its dead
branches a sculpture of fireworks, my wife sleeps.
She trailed its thick roots to a new trunk,
its yellow leaves quake with periodic gusts.
Alone by the tree her body rises and
falls with the lake waters. Even the reeds
seem settled and thoughtful,
at rest in this breathing world.

October Plantings / by Joyce Brinkman

When the ubiquitous heat melts

into cooling pools of swirling

air, the garden calls for winter

wheat and garlic. Wheat to keep

marauding weeds from corralling

earth’s elixirs, while garlic

homesteads frozen ground

until spring’s sun summons

forth their greenery.

Garlic plays the perfect crop,

with eatable parts from buried

cloves to tops of slender scapes.

In global cuisine, garlic flavors

foods from East to West. Tantalizing

tongues while most, but human,

herbivores and omnivores avoid

it’s pungent taste. As peppers,

lettuce, beans and herbs contend

with nibbles, chomps and bites,

garlic leaves wave insouciantly

in phthalo blue-green splendor.


FIVE SIGNS OF DECAY: body becomes dirty, bad odor / by CM Downes

How (not to) to Meditate / by Jenny Downs

Fiercely set sail on a tail of the sun.
Blow like a rowdy breeze through a valley.
Stand still while a kettle comes to a boil.

Blink one eye slowly.
Keep the other, a predator’s eye-
Fixed upon passerby dragonfly.
Can’t?
Ask the cat to show you how.
Ask unsought thoughts like fleas to leave.
Wait out the minutes- till wild geese fly by.
Set sail in a boat of shadow and screen.
Head out on the calm blue Sargasso.
Heave the sails skyward- set the bow due-north.
This boat is leaving the port.
Leaving the port while there’s no fish for breakfast.

Don’t think don’t …


Bravely set out on the tail of the sun.
Stand, holding the kettle,
Pouring. 

Collage by Jenny Downs

A Strange Arrangement / by Clemonce Heard

            after Mayer Hawthorne

I love the still life of cooking:
orange w/clef peel, roasted turkey
besieged by grapes & cheese;
old kimchi jar of greens, palette
& palm-sized bowls of seasonings.
It’s what I know most about
painting’s relationship to victuals.
The apron stained with mustard
paint, forearms powdered a white
more gesso than flour. I know this
is how we learn light, gradient.
Which ingredients are necessary
to make better compositions,
versus, the table salt that possesses
the necessary nutrient iodine
which sounds a lot like I’ll dine.
I’ve seen still lifes so vibrant
my stomach started growling.
I’ve taken photographs of lunches
that just wouldn’t do. Always
something with the natural light.
The shadow of me steadying
the phone swallowing the plate
before I place a fork to mouth.
By the way, I also have an affinity
for forged stainless steel flatware.
It has to be heavy & cylinderesque
as a paintbrush as not to impress.
The set I bought was dubbed
or daubed Annalise. When I told
my father that was what I wanted
to name my daughter, if ever
she shall be, he declared it was
my mother’s & sister’s combined.
As it was the woman who’d first
brought the name to me I catered
to once, & would’ve later painted
had we lied in the light of all haste.
My hands pregnant now with what
my eyes must close to recreate.

Reproduction / by R. Bradley Holden

The scientist told his colleague
all the antiseptic facts,
and in the chemical glow
of a Bunsen burner,
whispered sweet words.
Your genes, he postulated, are
a suitable match for mine.
She, at this thought, flashed
rodent teeth in what passed for a smile.
Then, coyly, with
the seductiveness of all lovers,
handed him
by acknowledgement
a test-tube for his seed.

Owls of East Bay / by Clyde Long

During our night’s walk
owls hooted in the hills.
Kona growled and barked
like they were FedEx guys.

It’s the time of owls as
rodents glean seeds for
the lean season ahead.
On moonless nights they
signal through the oaks,
hunters of voles like
squirrels gather acorns.

East Bay is not Athens –  
our owls aren’t wise, just
blue collar birds at work.

Brand Loyalty and Rushmore Shame (Starting a Garden) / by Ethan Mershon

(Shotgunning
riding next to mom after a bad trip
she led the buck silver
to the mechanic, doesnt like
Buckley
sounds).

1: Gardens and Water and Hail

Making this song up is way more hard
(Haley H. songs under a big tent,
I believed in 1800s brimstone I guess, CRINGEY, rap dork,
headass jokes brains play in
lockdown mode (When minds ask if anyone
is really listening.) (If that California king really wrote me a diss track, I’d faint. (STARSTRUCK) and then write him a thank you note (Thank the king for the water) and ask him for advice), midwest deference in the DNA, trinity is body mind spirit, come to the altar, anybody could humble me, come to
Jesus types of feelings) (a
baby boy. sleeping in the manger
on the couch at the sleepover, hand in warm
water, a prank, he wears
pull-ups, his mom tells him bullies
are sinning
and then follows
Steak to sharper image
economics). He learned to fight
bad men in his dreams,
in March. He just wants
to sing
and
sing:

Oom sha lala, I need to start
a garden. (Oh, word?) Columbus probably
listened to “First
day of my life” when he started
mayfly-colonizing his way across. (Manifest
an elephant with tusks, Lord of The Rings type shit, tusking colonizers,
that asked for scrimshaw
written on
ivory). I learned the word scrimshaw
from that robin singing about the third
of May//I move too
fleet. My friends always say I walk too fast
when I’m talking about
my real
bads. (I never mean to imply
keep keep keep
up. And would never
ask in my
lucids).

2: Tweeting every day, since Taylor, kinda

(Did you know that if you worked, fingers dusty
or fingers on keyboards, every day
from 1492 until 2020, 5 golden rings,
5,000 dollars every day: that’s less than
Amazon mastermind dragons hoard
in a week) google it, fact-check, no fake
songs here. Just starlings flirting with headlights and streetlights, and their own
dizzies. Manifesting Carnegie to apologize
about Ryan and say: (damn dude
you really let me down). Manifesting
Wonderwall covers
to replace
oasis,
this is alchemizing
green light (green
meaning grow
but also, envy
jungle-dark shades,
deep lurkings in jungle-shaped-hearts,
ghost
stories he cannot turn into
daylight). Concrete images
jungles of amphibians/amphibious/
ambiguous.

2: Wichita, spirals, loops

Therapy Center: I’m back again and
crisp Kansas suns are just now yellowing
the leaves, my teeth are kinda matching these
days, I haven’t been taking
care.
5 years ago, when “For Emma” was
my most important friend, after California these sunset walks with strangers from Wichita,
and we had the same flight home
made each other playlists… she said
“This isn’t going to work”. She was
right, but damn it
(made
a
story. Thank you
for
the
water).

We saw the same therapist in
those sunlight
days.

4: Dakota, I was studying for finals

These are the connections: The States doesn’t track how many Indigenous Women and girls are missing. That’s not a line. It’s still true,
today, on this stolen-ass-land, and my high school made the trail of tears a
footnote.
We track every other demographic. But our government literally does not track
how many Indigenous Women and Girls
are missing. (Also, we taught the communist scaries, pandemic fevered, I wanna be Bernie)
(I ask for water,
and no pipelines,
she (called David back then)
went to the
protest, Dakota skies,
I studied for finals,
I’ve been in my fortresses
and not sung
enough.) (White guilt,
and the death of your friends, fireworks
a molotov, I’ve had so many
knots in my shoulders:
“I made a promise to myself”
Jason Isbel in the night sky). (Thank you
for the water).

In a movie where Hawkeye is a hunter in snowy Montana, and his ex wife is Julia Jones, who does NOT get a lot of lines, Starling mothers ask:
Why don’t they keep
track of that? That’s ridi-
callous.

Starling holding tongue: (He remembers
to thank his water,
even when
Mt. Rushmore is kinda
fucked). Why is no one talking
about (He asks
but he just found out a week ago,
and he cracks his ground up every time
(He is a crack-up, fleet foxes,
he wants to make laughter kinda wise
cracking jokes, saltine skin and sometimes
make believe that he is
alive).
he feels the white-knuckles it means trying,
“why do I clench my knuckles
to indicate trying?” he feels his means.
he goes looking for watering cans
in the Montana bush (“She walked 6 miles
he went out with a whimper”) that’s from the movie, it’s called Wind River I think, I remember moments only
by actor faces, (He’s writing
“M-Train”, Patti Smith vibes)

I only knew hawkeye before we watched montana in the blue-light living room, (That probably says something about Hollywood,)
I sang Sunset Boulevard, senior year auditions
music theater schools, Shenandoah,
I got in, wizards of the industry stretched wings
for me to find shade in Oklahoma (This is when I was still a starling who was house-
trained). (Oklahoma City University Stars) (Good bye yellow brick) (Who am I
to throw bricks in a lightfoot window?
I was just marching to put my body between
CPD and the CPS students, and I’m not used
to conflict that isn’t passive
agg-ressive).

Sometimes I riot
against
machines in my
gut, whirring cog
blue jeans and hats.
Apple cider vinegar,
mamas moms sister drank it and lived
to be 103. That’s Florida wisdom,
“Florida Man” syndrome is to fight
alligators to recreate the thrill
of grabbing lizards, the ones with the little red
bills that would stick out of their necks
and green faces
(As a boy I’d try to feed them hot dogs
and named them
like Adam. One day in a jar,
I found them
lying still). I still bleed all my rainbows and clouds into shapes
some days.

I chose the Windy instead of Thunderdomes, drunk jazz trumpets, the same everywhere on the road,
and met a
seal hunter from Alaska, and we smoked
and watched Thor in my living room
and I studied word-poem-music, and learned
(still learning, I suppose)
to save my tusks for colonizers, /Columbus
you’re no hero to
me.

“a sip of water” “a gargle of saltwater
for strep”

and another:

“I’m not proud”.

and

“Impact is greater than intent, so even though
I’d blow the faces off myself, a one-armed bandit sneaking in with dynamite,
Wiley Coyote or someone. I don’t think (I’m learning, slow but syrup water with exaggerated movement, ) It isn’t
my place. A marathoner: the first one was a messanger. Out of breath. And apologizing for the must. ” I get really smelly after running a mile, I just am sending
messages
my sweat, musty, dank,
it usually smells like my habits,
the ones I’m working through
my system(s).

5: Jimmy Js summer delivery driver//ethan_moonshine

summer, working delivery, red rigns,
red smokes, JJs, bearing names on shoulders:
Covered in deodorant to hide the sweat,
from boss noses,
rap dorks flying around chicago, delivering
sandwiches and spoken word along to “To Pimp
a Butterfly” and feeling
thankful for the water
his boss let him take from the
store, and the music that distracted him,
from foster and kimball
again.

Three From Last Summer / by Richard Newman

1.

Like pen in black ink,
dip the paddle, head for shore.
You’ve been free-floating
long enough. Let what beckons
pull you in. Be forgiven

2.

Raindrops like pebbles
fall into still water,
like words cause ripples
the thrower cannot control.
What can’t be changed can’t be changed.

3.

Golden dragon scales
shimmer warm after midnight:
moonlight veils the lake.

9-1-1 / by Valéria M. Souza

Sirens sirens sirens
in every direction
ambulances jakes cops crews platoons
SWAT teams
EMTs red lights red
orange no
green at intersections
— don’t matter —
hit the sirens sirens lights
hit the gas, pass
through
[nearest box: 3656 Blue Hill Ave. @
Rexford Street]
BPD SUVs, unmarked
four-doors red lights blue lights
all radios on
all radios on
all radios on

Smoke and Mirror / by Margot White

I moved that moment, swift-finned tree
Tarantula boiled in gentle ticks
Under grandfather clock,
Swishing cats tail, on the left walked
Chalk later in hand of long hair
Tucked in knit cap, betraying arachnid sensitivity
Leapt forth from tree grown room
To train and hot water creaking in the vaults,
On the right a simple chair is the gift,

The gift is joy unbounded.
If I can know peace through the swift-finned tree,
Perishing rainbow skin
Loneliness a candleholder for the senses
Bearing trial in the carpet of victory, So I can
Stand in this house, I hope it moves always.


Poem 13 / Day 13

Sometimes I Travel Home / by Jonah Bornstein

Sometimes in late fall I travel home,
where the hills are buff like my neighbor’s horse,
which he rode mute into his final dream. 

The rolling bowls and long thighs and arms
of the hills contain my impulse toward the plain.
I pull to the roadside. Clouds fall into the bowls
and begin to roil like unattended campfires.

I maneuver through highway brush into the hills that are
myself, half in and half out of shadow.

In my new house over the West Slope of the Rockies
I dream the sleep of a man reaching out
from that last mute sleep for a monkey bar
to grab onto and haul himself out from the deep.

A grandchild cracks the door. She is a whisper in that space.
She ponders me, this man, her father’s father.
The ungraspable concert of time.
She is the stream beside the hills.

She pulls me from the slope, the shadow, the old dim fire
I stomped dry. She draws me east, yanks at me, until I comprehend my home.

Correcting the Future  (An Anniversary Gift for Carl) / by Joyce Brinkman

Today, I take back every word
            hurled at you in my future years.
All the snickers, insults, jabs and smears,
            all the words of hottest hate and even worse
                        the ones of cutting cold.

When my mind cannot make sense
            of whom I love.
Can’t comprehend the caring aid
            you bring to me.

When I wander down the hall
            for no accord,
believing you have stolen all
            my money, precious gems, and liberty.

At once, I take back all those words
            which will so easily escape
                        my poisoned lips.
I disavow them now,
            and evermore.

Never let them rest on thoughts of me.
            Instead fill your mind with the days you knew                                    
that you were all I’d ever love or need.

FIVE SIGNS OF DECAY: flowers on the head wither / by CM Downes

hands upon his lap
the old man’s length of hair hangs
pine soaked with lichen

i watch for his ascension
while considering his name


pale cherry blossoms             
delicate wreath of warm rain               
ceremonials                                       

youth flows like cardamom mead’s
gluttonous blush of autumn

jay       upon a jut
momentary call then flit
fluttering away

red squirrel opens dawn’s cone
vixen’s tail upon the moon

Patched Jeans in a Tie Dye Sky Advisory / by Jenny Downs

Begin with the end.
The photographs tell one story.
Put it in ink-
You have your own soul to answer to.
Whether they are smiling in old photos
Or not.
Turn left at the middle.
Dynamic & magical.
The smile in a photo is not the way life was lived.
Watch out for the eyes. 
Turn right at the bottom.
A woman is not a blurred face
To the left of the man in the photo.
A woman is not invisible.
Ask for directions.
A woman comes back stronger. 
Dig for details.
Empathy is dynamic & it is magical.
The woman in the photograph
Looks like she wishes for empathy.
Slide into center.
Here’s an end with a beginning!

Collage by Jenny Downs

Nothing To Do With You / by Clemonce Heard

To anyone who’s ever knocked on a door
once upon a time you’d opened with your key
you know it’s an especially extrasolar feeling.
But there I was, not at the door once mine,
but calling my friend who’d taken it over,
my friend I knew was inside probably looking
at my messages, rejecting my tired apology.
I’d tried On my way! then I’m in the parking lot,
but got nothing but trees I thought resembled
kids, their thumbs plugging their ears, knots
squeezed tight as talons, tongues like piers.
The trees hedging the lake across the street,
the three-mile path I’d walked enough times
to memorize the slight changes in elevation,
the path I’d dawdle until he called me back.
But he didn’t call me back, & the sun began
to bend its knees, descend behind the trees
like a father behind a son. Please forgive me,
reader, for we’ve never met, thus I don’t know
why I’m telling you any of this, but I deserve
the silent treatment for taking in then leaving
him with a place he didn’t have to pay rent.
A type of resentment from giving too much
much like a parent whose generosity ends
up rumpling the world, or just a relationship.
As the world is already tousled if you ask
anyone whose ever lost someone, like a father,
heart attack, or a grandmother, coronavirus,
or an aunt, sweet reader, his aunt with cancer
& doctors who told her with words what he
told me by silence: there’s nothing else we can do.

By Lake Michigan / by R. Bradley Holden

The dunes along the shore
shift beneath the sunlight,
sand running in rivulets
down ancient slopes.
Like eternity’s hourglass.

Best time of the day … / by Clyde Long

is this fragile moment.
Sunset leaks below starlight
as I sit here its audience
front row center, my thirst
quenched with a cold IPA.
Both dogs beg underfoot,
they feel the grill’s heat,
smell the grilling steak.

All seems safe tonight
(I feel: notwithstanding).
Smoke’s gone by now,
herbs have gone to seed.

A salad of apples and fennel
is ready, the steak is done.
I grab a plastic dinosaur
before the dogs chew it dead.
Goldilocks has blessed us,
not hot, not cold, just right.

Thank You For The Water / by Ethan Mershon

Iniquity, PJP, (Pastor) said, is when you grow
up gnarled. Your ground, broken into pieces.
Your life scattered you grow like a tree on
the side of a cliff. You learn habits
to survive (Have you seen the documentary
where in India dogs keep getting killed
by roaming big cats? And the largest pack
of monkeys, living in the big city, the narrator:
“We’re not the only primates that thrive in an urban environment”)

Iniquity might be heavy metal singing,
but next to classical music, technique-wise
some of the most advanced
instrumentations. That’s from Rolling
Stone, I think. Stoicism, I suppose.

The water, ambiguity
flowing from a hydrant set off
in Hyde Park, I was walking past
a record store with a few old men,
and a starbucks, and a lot of really loud
starbucksy people.

The water he drinks from,
is the sea of his stories,
he can’t turn over the spiquot, but he’s learning
to change tunes, and free. solo,
El Capitan, with Alex, I see how long
fingers pushing into tan, you lay down in the sun
it’s like watching someone dream
standing up. Tan sheets, and dimples
in the covers.

Thank you for the water, is the song,
a small plant in broken ground
thanking his sources
in a sore voice.
Chain-smoking
to alleviate
guilt, ever since
Quinton died. (I should never have left
you alone, too young, freshman year,
private christian school, harsh winter
for the flickering lights in the eyes
of the mannequin faces, I carress you behind my eyes, my lost, my neverland, the dead and (all too often dead and “coincedentally” queer friends of starlings). All too often I have stood
in circles in green spaces and been the Speaker for the Dead:

Leah didn’t die on campus,
she was dismissed for academic
reasons, after an attempt
in her dorm. The school called her David. I miss her every
October, and say thank you for the
water.

PJ. lives with Arlo,
the puppy who loves starbucks and she makes chili in the UP, with fritos to add. got fired, (bullshit reasons)
and I missed
Jesus ever since.

Private christian schools, nestled among
Chicago brick, long runs with no headphones,
drunk happiness with girls reduced to pandemic-fever dreams, shaggy-stoned-green-dayz with Leb, surf instructors
dreaming of catching fours in the UP
dreaming of scaling Moab fingerholds
with Jacob and the sea of stories.

Lost, amongst gentrifications and red-lining,
and systems studied for hours
in his mother’s kitchen, they argue, the starling
artist and his weeping mother,
she calls Naperville, Chicago
he calls white flight, and history
Hegellian, “call this shit a mix tape”
(I think that’s the reference that got
left out. Thank you Childish, for the water).

(There must be more than red and blue,
and lost peter pans come back from their
self-prescribed hells and thank their friends
for the water).

The neighbors hear the yelling and stay quiet.
He is ashamed at implications.
He is anxious, to be rid
of his ghosts,
he sees ghosts in the mirror (he drinks some water, and there is lightning in his eyes,
) he punches no more mirrors (that’s probably
why his fingers have been bleeding?)

thank you for the water is the song
to art that doesn’t have to mean
I always wanna die
(just sometimes). And tomorrow
I hope to find myself a watering
can, maybe rusted
on the handle,
and then, no more cowboy killer
red sunsets.

Second Photo is the author and his friend, Leah Reynolds. Leah died two years ago this month.

Fragment From A Walk 4 / by Richard Newman

I left the Mishneh Torah Rabbi Wehl—
he’s dead now, that son of a bitch—
forced us in tenth grade to buy
to balance out the Thanksgiving turkeys
he said our parents wasted money on.
“In America, the goyim
give thanks just once a year.
This is not something
Jews should celebrate.
Even if your parents don’t,
you should know better.
Rambam will teach you.”

I left those books behind—
five volumes at a dollar a piece,
“Five bucks!” Reb Wehl preached,
though he would never have called it that,
“For maybe one fourth of what the bird
you’ll eat in November will cost,
you now own the greatest work
of maybe the greatest Jewish thinker
who ever lived.”

I left those books
as I left so much else
I once believed
would make me worthy
in the eyes of the god
whose approval I no longer craved:
the way you leave a lover
whose unwavering truths
have shriveled the life
you thought you’d lead with them
to an empty, dried out husk.

Up ahead, students have started to gather
at the entrance to the Catholic school
I walk past every morning. A man
walks out of the building
and gently pulls one of the boys aside.
With one hand on the boy’s shoulder,
the man leans down
so his mouth is near the kid’s ear.
Nodding towards a group of girls,
he says something. The boy nods.
The man goes back inside.

That year, Cheryl was the new kid.
Not too long after Yom Kippur,
Rabbi Wehl pulled me aside
just like that man did.
Pointing with his eyes
in her direction—she was
talking with some of the other girls
near the lunchroom door—he whispered,
“Cheryl’s boyfriend. I’ve heard
he’s a shaigitz. Perhaps
you could get to know her a little?”

Thirsty / by Valéria M. Souza

Have you noticed all the celebrities
becoming increasingly needy
as the pandemic drags on? I don’t know
about y’all but honestly
I don’t have the time/energy to perform
emotional labor for celebs
like they want me to anymore.

Elon Musk is the most full of shit.
I don’t believe Elon Musk really has a spaceship
that can go to Mars, and/or plans to take us anywhere.
Tom Hanks and his wife want everyone to know
they got the roner, and I’m sorry if this makes me
a terrible person, but I don’t care
that Tom Hanks and his wife got the roner.

Justin Bieber + Haley Bieber née Baldwin
keep telling the public:
A. That they enjoy sexual intercourse with one another;
B. That Justin has a gluten allergy;
C. That they adore their conjoined skincare regime;
D. That they heart Jesus 4-eva.
And to quote one of Justin’s collabs with Ed Sheeran, “I Don’t Care.”

All the tabloids are floating lily pads of desperation.
I know the same celebrities who whine
about paparazzi taking pics
call the paparazzi before leaving their houses
and tell them where to go, so they can take pics
for Star Magazine & Tiger Beat &
US Weekly.

Willow and Jaden Smith keep giving interviews
and going on Red Table Talk
with their parents
to discuss topics such as “vagina hair styles”
or the fact that Jaden feels
he is not in competition with Willow because
 “She’s always been better than me at everything.”

Variety stridently informs me that 19-y/o Willow
just bought her first mansion, for 3.1 mil.
But back to Elon Musk. Elon Musk wants
too much attention and I do not think
Elon Musk ever planned to deliver ventilators
to Cali hospitals, or rescue that Thai soccer team,
or finally, finally cleanse the water in Flint, Michigan.

Primary Tone / by Margot White

The humming leaves
Scarab and gold,
Framed by white paint that dried years ago,
Between the window and her falls damp Autumn gasps,
Monuments drifting out of drops of glass,
Her arch fingers.
She knows the ground, has yet to meet the sky.
Uncanny, the flood
Moved higher.

Poem 12 / Day 12

Photo Negative / by Jonah Bornstein

He leans against the cedar fence.
His wife says, I’m old as a negative.
What that means, he doesn’t ask. The gate sags,
boards cracked at the hinges. The yard
is filled with cardboard and bubble wrap.
Smoke extends from coast to coast. Friends
have lost homes. Possessions tinder,
the sun a red wafer. At least the silver maple
will soon be pruned and their love
for other trees blooms in a late heat.

Young people, walk up and down the block, 
pushing strollers, half their faces masked.
Others act nonchalant as the homeless
down on Colfax asking for money. 
He’d give more if they wore a mask.
He’d buy each a mask if they’d wear it.

He ruminates from the porch. The lost
seasons have extended into fall.
The bees depart. Last year they stayed on to winter. 

Moon Rise / by Joyce Brinkman

FIVE SIGNS OF DECAY: clothes become soiled / by CM Downes

Destiny is Not a Night Sky Thing / by Jenny Downs

These days there are no
Spots of light to see behind my eyes.
From a site nearest feet-
Or maybe I should say
At the level of the shoe.
Anyway, too far from heart.

These days there’s not a single bruise left
On my brain.  I learned from that kind of pain
To see nothing’s black and white and never was.

These days I know more than what I believed.
Can think my own way-
From purple into shades of pink and grey. 

These days there’s no finger pointed at me.
No taut knuckle drawn and ready.
It was too hard sometimes for the belly.
Till it became crystal-drop clear.
Hard and bright like a chandelier.
I had to make a choice, a choice I had to make.
Before it came crashing down.

I still burn sage in the panic room.
But I no longer need
To polish up my beg-for-mercy act. 

Collage by Jenny Downs

Big-Eyed / by Clemonce Heard

Your Daddy always ate
like a bird my eldest uncle insists.
Still, somehow, it never stopped him
from eyeing everyone

else’s plate. His sideward scowl
fixed on the flesh cleaving to bone,
his pants now falling off his waist.
Tell me what you think

it means when a loved one leaves
& the deserted gains weight?
To my uncle’s assertion I say
he’s even begun to look like one.

Head bowed to buckled sidewalks
like the newspapers he’d toss
& thumb, manhole steaming his face.
Am I able to say I miss

those days or have you already come
to an all-conclusive duh?
A redolent snake slithering
into my room, fumigating cast iron.

Or what about the cracked-tiled
table we’d dine, gaudy light fixture
that made our food taste as different
as divorce? Stress. Addition.

Is that too much? Sentimental?
Him insisting slow down boy,
the food ain’t going nowhere, me wishing
the same is true for him.

On Dalí’s Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) / by R. Bradley Holden

Metaphysical mystery.

In what dimensions,
Dalí asks, did God die?

Or what could hold
omnipotence to that cruel tree—

the final move in a chess match
with our hard hearts—

if not unwounded love?

August Scare / by Clyde Long

Late July feeling like crap
I Zoomed with my doctor,
tee shirt for me, him too.
No taste or appetite, fatigue,
weight loss, bright lights.
Since our gym had closed
he, too, looked sickly.

My Covid test was negative
but other numbers were crazy.
Late Sunday night he called,
said you’re near to dying.
That sent me fast to the ER,
she drove me there like a fiend.
Covid barred her from my side.

They filled and drained me.
Nice room, verdant view.
Moans and anguished pain calls
next door haunted me at night.
My blood numbers got better.
After a gurney ride to imaging
they decided to let me go.

I hobbled as best I could
past disabled parking places.
She was double-parked,
revving to bring me home.

American Idiot : / by Ethan Mershon 

i:

(The starling holding his longboard
cruising down parking garages in Wichita
falling and scraping knees, picking locks
it was a way to get back and
away from home, He held his grenade-fist-heart-on-a-shoestring (. he keeps drifting
towards his green days, before so many kyles were ripping houses at the bequest
of twitter and pastors citing verses
Psalms and Proverbs “He’s 17,,,, somethings going wrong here, I’m not manifesting,
something is wrong here”, Psalms and Proverbs,
GODDAM we need new ones,) the starling wanting to help
the starling reading Jane Eyre postcolonial
“Wide Sargasso” with seizures on the bathroom floor (Gabe and Andy in the bathroom, he plays himself ocean sounds)
a bad birthday trip unleashed his closet
of ridiculous :
“Kendrick Lamar would hate my songs,
I need to prove myself to him I think
then I can be a rapper, my brain is like Eminems a little bit, images in my wordbank”
he forgets
“. You probably will never meet
either of them bro, relax, make-believe
and make art and relax. ” (The lines are
blurry with your eyes closed,
he’s hiding from dead
lions, in starling clothing,
)

(He is Legion, but without so many voices,
just two, it’s awesome, he’s pretty sure?
He self-diagnoses, he almost ODs,
he flies home to a nest, he’s never
been great with nesting, brambles
and thorns he finds and places in
conch shells and dreams, he
spirals, he spirals, he teachers
his mind, there can only be student and
teacher, he learned that in school,
now he’s the professor (Damien Rice)
and he feels like he should know?

“What”

“How to fix”.)

ii:

a pixie or someone asked on the el train
after an improv show in Chicago, “She The People”, “Whats your big-
gest insecurity?”. He said failing.

She said something about her teeth.

She made him not feel so bad about his teeth,
she liked his punk ass songs and played with
curls, wrapped them around fingers
(this could really be about anyone,
which is fine, but he’s been looking for nests,
beefing with his shadow after pissing
in the alley “BADASS AS HELL” lmao,
he makes himself a meme to understand
his actions).

He. falls. to pieces. over his empties

most days.

He’s flying for dawn, a starling, the American Idiot, the foolish and young yertle impression floating

“Sometimes life gets fucked up
that’s why-“. lil peep lean(p) since march
fire. Clumsy Yertles, adolf accents on stages at private christian schools, this dude who went to ASU: “Yeah my dad got me the bmw but I was sick about it, because the Porsche was cheaper” I Was Scraping Money for missions trips to NYC, I really wanted to see Broadway, (he’s been a dreamer since gifted was labeled, he’s fighting to not need
the gift). the yertle was for forensics
(competitive acting or something,
it’s Kansas, everything is competitive
it’s high school, freshman year
he feels icky now
he feels
icky).

He’s Lil Peep, they’ll miss me once they see how good
how quality, starvelings gets Pirsig, they must know!?
Thats TOXIC because all he is writing is
“HOWLING songs to MYSELF he wants NO MORE BEEFS with himself and he casts shade
but hopes his friends can rest in it”

He’s missing on the whole world
feeling like sunshine. Littlejustinvernonbieber
watching that interview, Bon
Iver (good winter) and Aaron Rodgers,
talking about toxic masculinity
the starling manifests
respect. with all his faces. all these faces. (Some of them look like trump cards, he’s playing
games with his real, and real with his
trips)
He’s scrambling masks, he grew up on codes,
codenames and secret handshakes,
boyhood bravery and poisoin oaks,
bright eyes and heavy shells,
little starling, he is baby, he is howling
like that old bird who bummed everywhere, (Ginsberg was dad, but even he was kinda toxic
He tried to make music with BOB, and they made friends over poems, but I’ve never listened
to the guy).

HES BEEN MARCHING BUT NOT BEING A SOLDIER
SOUL BUT NO, HE FLOWERS INTO BLOOMINGS THAT ARE NAMELESS BUT FILLED WITH MARIGOLD SMELLS AND TRIED NOT TO LET
THE KILLER IN HIM KILL THE FIRE IN HIM
(phoebe bridgers and noah gunderson
covers with younger starlings in march
before the fire was burning).

he’s just trying to leave kind
legacies when he beats
his drums, bleeds over his guitars,
cuts his fingers collaging
his word bank memory.

He’s asking to help, in his soft voices
and yelling in his loud ones.

He’s learning self-harmony
and community, he started writing his life
like Abed, on a bad shroom, versus a bad
jim, he’s slim, (DONT MESS AROUND WITH SLIM, THIS IS MY POOLHALL AND I HAVE RETURNED AND THE PEOPLE MUST SING THAT SLIM IS FREE OF HIS DEBTS TO HIS ANCESTORS) -thats a Jim Croce reference-

he started filming his life like Abed
he said “Why not just be
art jesus, or something cool” on a bad one,
where his monsters emerged from closets
he didn’t know his spirit had.

He’s watching Alan Watts lecture on hinduism,
wondering if it’s offensive for Watts to speculate, british accents and the scientific priesthood, he’s learning trinities,
he’s in the Matrix every day, taking both
pills.

he’s in the garden praying that white jesus
portraits won’t always be flown at blood red rallies.

he’s his own artist, praying that childish lines like “James Franco IS the white Donald Glover” won’t be relevant by the time he’s
finished.

by the time the pen
has wept itself blue.

he’s the american idiot.
he’s learning like the rest of them.
he’s a starling, evolving
“will he be a turtle
or elephant or wolf?”

he will not hunt for sport
is his answer.

(His panicked mind perceives threats
he is flickering in the sky
the staccato syllables on the telephone wires
stanzas of birds and he
is not blending
his tweets with the others,
he is learning harmonies
in his car alone
(the one he inherited )
he listens to Jim Croce one more time, freestyle, freesolo, alex honnold, just.ethan
sings : “No more songs
for bad J. You didn’t deserve
one”. )

(Dedicated to JM, and every other toxically masculine male who taught me fighting was a good answer. If I fight, I’ll be Ron Swanson, swift punches to jerkoff politicians and abusers). 

Dear Adrienne / by Richard Newman

Dear Adrienne,

I found your letter the other day
going through some old papers
in a box of files I’d forgotten
at the back of my office closet,
read again your disavowal of what I wrote
about who you were to me in high school
when I inscribed my first published book to you
as you didn’t know
I promised myself I would.
I remembered what your father said
after we learned we knew each other
that day he assisted me at the Apple Store:
how wild a boy I was back then—
I didn’t debate the term with him—
and how glad it made him to see me now,
a college professor with books to my name.

As he swiped my card, I bit back
the swipe I wanted to take
at what he said about your daughter,
newly married at twenty-two,
“It was getting to be too late already,”
asked him instead to wish you mazal tov,
and headed back out into the mall.

I know you’ll never read these words
and so you do not need to know
I stepped away for lunch—chicken
left over from two nights ago,
with olives and onions
in a thyme-tomato sauce—
but I want to tell you anyway,
the way I would have,
before email and cell phones,
when I often indulged the pleasure
of sharing on the page
a day or a week in my life
in long letters to people I missed
I miss you.
I have missed you
all these years.

Walking back to my car,
the portable hard drive
your father sold me
swinging in the Apple bag
hanging from my fingers,
I wondered if he knew
you’d ended our friendship
for good. I imagined him
telling you how proud he was
that you’d found the strength to do that,
how happy his approval made you.

I folded the pages containing
the last things I’m sure
you’ll ever say to me
and put them back where I found them.
Who knows when I, when anyone,
will read them again.

You are your father’s child,
fearful of opening
room in your life
for any difference
you can’t eventually circumscribe.

I’m not sure why
I’m still keeping a space
open for you
in mine.

Corner of Fottler / Valéria M. Souza

O Bestdog,
how you lunge to and fro
along the chain link fence,
Threadbare, bruiser
with the velveteen fur.

The way you blitzkrieg passers-by,
your baritone WOOF! mounting up
to treetops and telephone poles.
Housewives and corner-boys alike
shriek, recoil, scamper in fright.

Bestdog circling the arena,
charging like a prize bull.
Bestdog: ragamuffin, ne’er-do-well?
Nay — burglar alarm,
block protector, community resource.

I’ve lived here for over three years
and still don’t know your real name.
When I speak to you in HSK 1
Mandarin, you hush,
wag your tail, and I wonder

if I threw Slim Jims
over the fence, would you devour?
Bestdog, my love for you runs
thicker than the cigars in the display case
at Primos bodega.

Poem 11 / Day 11

Fire Story / by Jonah Bornstein

The wind bends in the dry brush
gently cups a sparking leaf
lifts this living light skyward
and bows again toward the many wicks
that await this burning life.

The wind rages through cypress
along the western coast; they open
their branches and lift their crowns;
the wind grows calm
soft as cotton drifting along the sands.

In abandoned sea towns, the sands
summon the wind to their tides;
they sing like siblings of the fire’s ride.

Turnip Greens / by Joyce Brinkman

The time has come when mice

leave the garden and fields

seeking warmth in the belly

of the house. Time to take

the trusty spade and delve

into the cooling earth to move

the last of the root crops

into storage for winter eating.

Except for the Seven Tops!

Those remarkable greens

that return, return, return

after each of seven cuttings.

They feed the deer through

the barrenness of winter

and seem the most sweet,

unearned reward when

before spring planting,

gathered they grace

an evening plate.

ASCENT INTO AN EMPTY CITY: Níngshì (mirando a Javiera) / by CM Downes

                            *

thin veil of the world             tu cara como
breath across the thread-bare hem 
your water-garden                  un mar des luces                           


*

Guitar Plays Mercy After A Particularly Stormy Deep / by Jenny Downs

I’ll delight in the fella who won’t wage war
Between what happened yesterday and this hereafter.

Give me the guy who’ll practice his licks diligently
Strum strings into wilderness
Light the frets on fire
Flatten the sharps
Play a thousand blue and broken chords
To make a thing to celebrate again. 

Tulsey the Turtle / by Clemonce Heard

He’d won a Grammy, then been “reduced”
to the green polyester fleece of mascots.
(As not to shame I won’t say his name).
But when I walked past his Eddie-pointed
smile, his shell no heavier than the rest
of the plush, he softly bobbled mine.
I came closer, & when I asked his he said
it’s Christian Scott (my favorite musician).
I knew this was ridiculous. I knew no high
was meant to last, the prophesy of Outkast,
& that fame remains a lifeless endeavor.
There was The Cosby Show’s Elvin Tibideaux
(echoing the French meaning bold or brave)
shamed for working at Trader Joe’s
as if bagging groceries isn’t a legitimate post.
As if the only way to not be seen as
“a failure” was to stay a plank in the eyes
of the superficial, as, in your descent
no one will be available to nurse your tail.
I must admit, I felt sorry for the turtle
& the skateboard he leaned on like a shoulder
as I knew he took his profession seriously.
That his dance & exaggerated gestures
meant nothing since there wasn’t any music.
I tried to get Kanye & his bear suit out
of my mind. I tried to reject The Cosby Show
as cosplay or Halloween as the night
& day we decorate as who we’d rather be.
If that’s any different. Or if it even matters
if the water is blue or green. Or brown.
If in his many fifteen minute breaks
when he sets the foam helmet down
like an astronaut’s or a dismal fish bowl,
or chucks it into one of the riverfront park’s
many man-made ponds, if, it will prick
the algaed surface like a real turtle’s skull.
Or will it fill like a boat on a blustery sea, or
wash up musty on some, dull, secluded beach.

To What Heaven / by R. Bradley Holden

Nebuchadnezzar is our symbol.
We are all beasts now. Apes
the years have taught to dance
and sing. Our humanity—
whatever that once meant—
we have forsaken among the fossils
and fragments of our long descent.
True, we have left the fields
and pared our nails, combed our hair
and put on clothes, which can protect us
now from autumn’s morning dew.
But our savagery, like our nakedness,
lies just below the surface. When
shall we strip and see it once again?
For seven years the Babylonian King
wandered the fields in his lunacy. We,
too, have known the taste of grass,
but to what heaven shall we now look
that our reason might return?

Our Ride / by Clyde Long

Faster the train goes we
age in miles
into months and years
counted on misted windows.
We arrange
game pieces baffled by
how to mourn.
Land behind seems safe;
no past is safe forever.
With guilt old ones
whisper fears unseen.
Next stop is ghosts –
time to ask:
may we rest in peace?


Elephants, Ivory, and Emotional Exhaustion (Starvelings sing love songs with heavy metal voices While reading Foucault) / by Ethan Mershon

Untitled / by Richard Newman

Release the impulse you’ve been told to hold
in check. Wreck the carefully constructed
edifice they’ve built to house your guilt
as an honored guest. Unravel the rest
with each step you take, and when you reach
the end of the fear they need you to bear,
watch it dissolve behind you. Grief will find you
there. You will be tempted, so give despair
its moment. Then let it go. You will not know
what lies ahead, except that you have bled
to stand at its beginning. You will not stand
alone. This work is not just yours. It’s ours.

Haiku on Princesses / Valéria M. Souza

All the Regionals
bear princess names except for
Bob, who is just Bob.

The Rover / by Margot White

What bears grip slack desert channel
Dialect drier than marks
Diamond slope of thirsting camel
Silently points the valley North and North

Stand higher than the loose tree wail
Double-crossed bed cross-dressed omen sigh
Rasping wasp get tongue stranded falls pale

Fettered blood belief back bile break
Left open stands the wood and barn hands
Flow will tumbled reached the below

I could not make you notice death
I would not disguise your vague breath
Why would I want the things that set,
Dead before they’ve really lived.

Poem 10 / Day 10

Gathering / by Jonah Bornstein

He gathers up news

and spreads it across the lawn

under the stairs, waters it

until he can no longer smell the sentences.

Spiders / by Joyce Brinkman

I like spiders in the garden.
Ensconced on their self-woven
thrones they reign impregnable
as Caesars, though without
garrisons of soldiers. Sunlight
decks their royal chambers
with gems that shimmer in wet
droplets of dew. Bejeweled
themselves in jade green,
onyx black, or perhaps,
a royal, ruby red, they
rain destruction on armies
of ants and aphids, legions
of leafhoppers and flies. I
like spiders in the house too.
They strategically station
themselves by windows
and doors constantly on guard
for marauding intruders
that try to sneak beneath
the rubber window seals
and door jams. Patiently
they wait in the stickiness
of webs. I aid and abet them
by not dusting.

IN THE HOUSE OF GOLDEN JOINERY / by CM Downes

form fabric and flow
train the tongue to starve my heart
the mind’s assertions

Future So Dope It’s Bright Green / by Jenny Downs

It’s telling the story that’s the challenge-
To cast real life shade over scarlet hot
Denial.  I used to be so dutiful.
Knew well how the chores were divided.
A smile without sass meant a slap on the ass.
And tasks done. I was destined to be
As I was allotted. While he passed me by
As he pleased. Or the seat met the wall with a shove.
Till my breath- delicate as a lantern mantle
Was a decision he squeezed like a throat.
Who could go on like that?
I paced the floors and talked to myself.
Into the smoky unknown. Into the thrilling crowd.
Where scarlet garbed dancers whirled fearlessly past-
Who showed me that stories are doors.

Collage by Jenny Downs

Ratchet City, Louisiana, / by Clemonce Heard

            also known as Shreveport was both
stomp a sucker out & stomping grounds
            in undergrad, the pleasure of dating
hair extensions & visits to malls & restaurants
            Natchitoches, the small settlement
my friend D called Nachos/tacos because
            of all the Mexican holes in the wall,
didn’t have. Our drab stints after Katrina.
            A city so close to Texas they rooted
for the Cowboys as opposed to the Saints.
            I wanted to think we had more
in common, but Harrah’s is not the riverboats,
            just as Popeye’s is no Southern Classic.
My father would call me bass ackwards
            if he heard me say I thought the latter
had better chicken, or agree with state records
            that Natchitoches is four years older
than Nouveau Orleans, as how does a captain
            make it up a Red River without first   
getting chewed by the mouth of a worn boot.
            In Ratchet City I barely saw blathering
tennis shoes hung next to the service loops
            that look like tennis rackets, but heard
the racket I thought ratchet, another word
            for a gun, & racketeering. When I held
a racket in my intro to physical fitness class,
            did my best Williams’ sisters backhand.
I thought of their father, Richard, right back
            to where he was beaten by the KKK.
Thought of my father telling me I was perfect
            for tennis about ten years too late
& the money I lost at the blackjack tables.
            To think, Shreveport was the birthplace
of Hurricane Chris, where no hurricanes can
            sustain, also chopped & screwed
like Houston, also cook frog legs like the boot
            state’s hidden stitch of I-10, & gave
our little girls their very first Disney Princess.
            All the deacons, all the beacons, all
the beads anchoring braids with no hangtime. 
            To think this would be the kingdom
of the poet chosen to encircle our rhymes. 
            The shofar raised to his lips he’d turn
to a snake, to a staff, to a cane before limping
            away like any good pimp should.

                                    for JB

         
For Margaret / by R. Bradley Holden

My mother-in-law asked
for a poem.
Ah, but what
gift could I bring
in recompense
for the one she gave?

What I saw / by Clyde Long

Loneliness was a companion.
She tended red roses, a foe
of Japanese beetles and weeds.
Southern widowhood suited her
quiet grief after my father died.

Curated shards of fatherhood
lived in snapshots and tales,
ever more precious. Dust motes
clouded as she shrank older
inside solitude’s grieved mind.

Alone her daydreams grew
chaotic weeds and roses until
lost happiness asked for her.
Lonely red roses tattoo me.

Morning Theft / by Ethan Mershon

At The Light On 32nd Avenue / by Richard Newman

Pigeons pecking dirt,
heedless of early morning
traffic. I am not.
In the eastern sky, breaking
through the clouds, sun’s rays don’t yet
reach the ground. I’ll wait.

Radio / by Valéria M. Souza

I still hear your voice in my head all day
every day forever my lead — my only
manager — my only-only.
As in, there’s a Soundcloud playlist
on infinite loop inside my skull,
and it’s you, just you.

I hear: Didn’t I tell you….??
close my eyelids, lashes bent down
like grasses, for a heartbeat.
Long enough to catch the warmth
of your smirk, tucked just beside
the reprimand.

Listen! This is a love story.
We made an unlikely pair and
I know you didn’t want me at first and
I know I wasn’t your first choice, but I tried,
tried, with every muscle I’m made of
to make you proud.

I flash off snapshots of you I wish
I’d captured outside my brain:
those weeks you stayed brandishing
a metal-handled fly swatter with a pink blade
straight out of 1950.
Even with the vector lights installed,

you couldn’t resist, would fuss:
I can’t stand those animals!
and then smack smack smack smack
smack! with perfect calculation
at the window where they buzzed,
knocking passels of them to the office floor,

creating a fly graveyard that looked like
a broadcast laurel wreath beneath the sills.
Like: …and when you become a Manager,
you’ll have to do payroll, too…
“And when you become a Manager….”
the phrase you impressed upon me daily,

intoned as a prayer, willed into being.
Like how we shared everything. Whispered
secrets, tricks of trades, in-jokes, cans of Progresso soup
with your favorite Saltine crackers, containers
of Maruchan ramen in every conceivable flavor,
slices of pizza or sandwiches from Pat’s after

an especially grueling day, i.e. – that one
July afternoon we had both
a dead body and a flood inside the office,
and were covering all the electronics in sheets of plastic
when 24 Trauma showed up and said:
“Uh, yeah — we’re here for the dead body.”

Because they most decidedly did not want to deal
with the flood,
but we did. Like how you’d enlist me
in reviewing an email before hovering
your finger over the keyboard for a few
dozen seconds,

about to be amused with your own self, then
click SEND, say Frenzy!!! to me, us
cut up laughing,
cracking. You did it on purpose
just to see me bust up, sides splitting,
I know.

I miss you already.
I miss you
I miss you
I miss you,
too.
Every day.

I know I wasn’t your first,
but talk is I may well be
your last. Towards the end,
you spoke with me about what you called
“the circle of Managers.”
And when they moved me so suddenly,

You made sure I received your transmission:
“I hope to see you in the circle of management
soon!” Another future. Another time. Another life.
Chris? Chris. For you, I’d close 10,000 Work Orders, I’d
walk with the inspector 10,000 days, I’d
burst every blood vessel in my body, rupture

veins and arteries to finish the late re-exams
ahead of schedule. For you,
for you. Even though I know you’d tell me not to,
anyway. I know
you wouldn’t have wanted a poem — I know —
you would’ve wanted a song instead.

But I can’t sing or compose music and
I have no radios in my new office and
I forgot to take the radio you gave me with me
when I left because I didn’t understand
at the time that I was leaving-leaving so,
I did it. I wrote a poem. This, my love song to you.

Poem 9 / Day 9

Thinking About This Coming Winter 2020 / by Jonah Bornstein

It is lovely to look out on a clean landscape, whether in light or in shadow.
The world is a calm place speckled with squirrel prints and leaves fallen late.
Yet when I walk into a snowdrift, will I fear what my body takes in?
Will my cells turn to crystal like the lake not far from home,
its calm ice surface crosshatched like mica under a telescope?
Will my erect body collapse and shatter on the trail
from the weight of standing and looking into the face of what will come?

Garden Grass / by Joyce Brinkman

AT THE HOUSE OF GOLDEN JOINERY / by CM Downes

Elephant In the Room / by Jenny Downs

Who in the world carries the hook
Behind the elephant.

Flushed rosy as pink carnations.
Fresh cut and placed in a vase.

Pink as flamingos in zoo lagoons-
Held back by the mesh of a cage.

Survival is no tender predator. 
On savannahs you hold your cool.

You wear wrinkles of tough-hided grey.
You listen for more than the sound

Of slashing and slavering mouths.
You wait in the base of your feet.

Detect who’s ready for flight or a fight.
Feel for the drumbeat throb.

You teach the babies tenderly
To sing an un-hearable song. 
.

Only one kind of hunger dreams
Of owning everything
and sable
and ivory.  

Only one kind of animal savors
the putting of blade to tooth.

Or bullet straight into belly. 

Who in the room carries the hook
Behind such a dangerous huntsman-

One who longs for the pinkest carnations
To plant near his caged flamingos. 

Collage by Jenny Downs

The Lodge of Saint Reborlaro / by Clemonce Heard

goes wherever you go, or wherever
there’s a thrift store, drifters & enough
paint to zigzag the walls & makeshift stage
where pros & stick-figure illustrators
alike chimera their corpses, where
wordsmiths take the mic, transport what isn’t
audible to folding chairs with the rare
confidence of a skull with all its teeth,
George Washington’s slave-chewing choppers,
George Kaiser, which if not for him none
of this would be possible, sporting
a charcoal suit & fresh pair of sneaks, yes,
we are all gathered in this gallery
tonight to summon the taste of spirits,
we are all here waiting to disappear
into someone else, the walls bearing
the smudged mirrors, shelved chandeliers,
shouting Rejoice for thou Art Rejected,
toasting In God, we thrust, blowing breath
into the army of crutches who died
waiting for you, my friend, to come limping
a lighter to the incense intense as
a bouquet of goat dung, yes, they censured
one decal but not another detail,
your mobile seven minutes in heaven,
yes, you with the onesie your granddad called
his short-sleeved pants, but you inclusive,
you fashioning a world much safer than
the traumatization they imposed,
in the suit you christened as coveralls.

            for HF

The Exchange / by R. Bradley Holden

There is no money in it,
and as for glory, no one
will know your name.
But still
I insisted upon the blessing.

The Muse shook her well-
plaited locks and smiled
at me in the darkness.
Our gift comes by exchange:
blindness for our second sight.

The loss of beauty has its
recompense in the shaped
sounds you leave me.
We
don’t take eyes anymore. No,
you must wander through
your world misunderstood—
it’s harder, I assure you—
immune to the pleasures
of your kind.
           I smiled. Plato
said it was a kind of madness.

She follows in our train.

I nodded as the moon shone
forth behind her with a cold
blank beauty.
                        Then you have
decided? No wealth, no fame,
nothing but the song.
                                   It is a
fair exchange, I replied.
                                       As she
bent to kiss me, she muttered,
It is more than fair, my child.

Our Ebb Tide / by Clyde Long

We cradled mugs of
Lapsang Souchong tea
cut with cane rum.

We inhaled its smoke
with high tide shivers,
grilled a fat sea bass.

We were sated just so,
tea smoke and dark rum,
no reason to complain.

Today we try to recall
tides that embraced us;
virus slapped us instead.

CONTENT WARNING: Mental illness, abuse, toxic masculinity

Just.Ethan//ferris_booler listens to Cudi, alone, / by Ethan Mershon

The Purring World / by Richard Newman

Curled around my cat,
midnight on the round red chair
my wife claims to hate,
the whistle of an early
winter wind pushing
hard into my sleeplessness,
a motorcycle
revving on the boulevard
below my window,
reminding me I’m not the
only one awake,
I weave my fingers into
Leila’s belly fur,
let the unselfconscious calm
of her contentment
vibrate through me; soon enough,
I’m purring with her,
not literally of course,
but I feel my past recede,
my future restored
to the blank slate it should be,
and I am nothing
but skin against fur, alive
in my own body,
at one with the purring world.

Today I Found Two More in the Basement / by Valéria M. Souza

According to the National Fire Safety Council in Illinois,
which is America,
the odds of dying from fire or smoke as of 2016 were 1 in 1,506
and so, hey hey — I’ll take my chances.

Remember that night I systematically removed all the smoke detectors,
including the carbon monoxide detector,
along with the Protection 1 ® wall-mounted home security panel,
whose wires I sliced cleanly with a steak knife?

You asked me what I was doing and I told you: I will not be surveilled.

In Saint Louis, in our loft apartment Downtown,
which is Saint Louis City,
I ascended a 15-foot telescoping metal ladder
purchased specifically for the purpose of pulling a detector off the ceiling.

Here it was simpler, just a regular step ladder. Some cords I wove
between fingertips, twisting apart adjoined copper wires,
a reverse Rumpelstiltskin — undoing metal locks, leaving piles of fine golden
threads to dangle from the ceiling, the remains of a Nordic loose wave.

Because these screeching boxes, these bleating stalactites: They are my sworn enemies.

Other detectors held batteries, nestled slyly in compartments,
which are Boston Logan airplane hangars,
popped open with safety pins I rummaged the luggage, plucked
at cylindrical and rectangular steel cans, their mutilated multicolored labels.

When it was done — 4 a.m —  we slept, finally, dismantled apparatuses
muted, duct-taped treatment of hostages, shoved deep
into the back of a kitchen cabinet, some in a drawer, also the rear, rough
doesn’t matter, forget about it, hey hey.

I asked you if we got them all, if they could somehow return, if you knew: You were sure.

Heaven Versus Zenith / by Margot White

Atticus is the thunder
Waking escapists
Circling droned orations,


Sigrid is the North Star, silver
True and Bright and Still and Smart.


Zenith, wilful butterfly
Felled a swelter swooped from bridal
Train,
Heart afire, symmetry
Could not lack change.

The trio travel serpent lurching scales
Of Fortune ringing throats of gilded callolilies,
Fragile opening sponge recitation,
Firm and unyielding as patterned rake.

Poem 8 / Day 8

Fruita, Colorado 2020 / by Jonah Bornstein

In the stillness, I hear a lizard’s faint scratch on sandstone as
dawn slips from the monument’s cliffs into daylight.
We comment on the quiet here in the desert: “How peaceful.”

And yet among the rabbitbrush, Utah Juniper, and the bighorn sheep, war
brews in minds. In markets. The masked and unmasked walk together
through aisles, silent, angry, terrified, scoffing. The unmasked
young mother is a stone. Her daughter pulls her down the aisles to the exit.

This ancient land commands:
Who does not want to protect another?
Who does not want to protect those they love.
The beast slouches forward.

This land is no longer a hand dug ditch, a sluice below an abandoned road.

Garden Ghazal / by Joyce Brinkman

Buckwheat’s black seeds, handsomely heart-shaped,
descend into ground, handsomely heart-shaped.

Fulgent poufs of white feed small, honey bees,
on tall stems with green leaves, handsomely heart-shaped.

Bedded-down deer soon appearing like patches
of melted brown sugar in leaves, handsomely heart-shaped.

Moonlight descends on yellowing leaves.
Love transcends all still handsomely heart-shaped.

Wine pours through stems to leaves, handsomely heart-shaped.
Joy stays home where peace begins, handsomely heart-shaped.

ORNITHOLOGY / by CM Downes 

I follow the sun-stained path until it dwindles to a rabbit’s width,
and go further—ferns and foliage at the hips—until eyes
find the stony isthmus splitting the river’s quipping.

A raven swallows a silver sliver of wind hidden in the cirrus,
calls, coins scales for Chinook and Coho,
whose monochrome currents lattice salt-crusted grasses,
shellacked platinum by the sun’s child-like laughter—

as when laughter was the duty of breath, as when the world was
pastel burls and life—a maw of anticipation—was obedient
to the law of smallness.

On all fours on the forest-floor, I listen for Václav Hálek’s
voice in two boletes, squat in spruce. A long time like this—
until strings lift pizzicato from the soil’s musk,
thick and sweet as sun-soaked fur.

A Seahawk’s chert—flint-whipped and spun in the wind—sprays
from the salt-snag-perch, where a graveling crow works to feed
upon a golden yoke.

               Because you have lived, you remain a part of everything.
               He says, smiles at my surprise—a ren nestled in his beard.

And then there was only a tract above the timberline, boned by
buckskin peaks.
I follow like a shadow, but he is more mountain-goat than man,
tapping a path with his alder staff; and my legs are witches’ ladders,
liquid in the bone.

A sun-scented pheasant dusts up a punk-stump in the bleached snag-
rookery,
Sitka, Valerian, Avalanche Lily.
The sounds of footsteps on the path.
The sound of their absence.

Half-light glows—violent on the living wind—twists boulders and
crags
in my speech, shallow in the throat as it breaks:        wait.
My mouth’s fragile meal spoils in the growing darkness
between us—like the odor of an expired fire:             wait.

*Note [Click Václav Hálek’s name to hear the composer’s work]


No Reality Like a Stroll Down the Sidewalk /
by Jenny Downs 

I was not looking so instead I saw it-
A tiny garish flower

A scarlet-mars, pocket-sized.
Red-hot and ruby with optimism.

In spite of audacity
It stood in a firm and decisive way-

In a crack of cement.
It ascended through rocky shards.

I want to sound like-
That shade of red between the gravel.

Saying what I want to say.
Shaking a fist if need be.

Hurling Hail Marys / by Clemonce Heard 

           Stillwater, Oklahoma, 2016

Could’ve been right, the wide receiver I tutored would joke
after guessing at a multiple choice answer, & he was right,
about probability at least, which is what I thought the night
of the election; both athletes & advisors ogling the final tally.
But we left the lights on, knowing there were no more rallies,
the moths butting in hysteria, the sky, its wry decrescendo.
My mistake was I’d underestimated hatred, my headphones
shaped like the new business building, a horseshoe suctioned
to my ears when boys filed out of adolescence, sanctioning
my darkness in darkness, hollering slurs made hard to hear.
Words I thought came a bit too easy, thus not just learned
in some fraternity or during their short stint at the university,
the dormitories, but embedded through years of dependency.
The boys taunting from across the street as if I was sporting
an opponent’s jersey, if a jersey is a person’s skin, their worry.
Could’ve been right. Though in all their uproar I could hear
nothing; not the bus & its muzzled sigh, not the jumbled jeers
from their ship passing in the night. Them seeing me as easy
prey. Perhaps the guys, who for football games, stiff as easels,
alphabet chests, & cheer whenever the Black players run right,
& when they drop a pass call them niggers like the older white
man who pumped by the same night, though this was settling
in for me & the receiver, us both hailing from the same city,
having asked the same questions but come to distant answers
& the nonchalance of it all. Football as the new plantation.
But there we were after eight years, & here we are after four
more: Him entering the draft not even two semesters before
his projected graduation; me hurling Hail Marys for the vote. 

Mother of God / by R. Bradley Holden 

                       For A.B.

We forget that she was a poet, 
that shadowy Mother of God. 
Her few words and deeds we 
have treasured up in our hearts,
where they slumber beneath
our understanding.
                                  But her song? 
It is on our lips still, the Ode 
of the God-bearer. 
                                  Poet and prophet, 
Mary could need no coal to purify 
unkissed lips that broke forth 
in praise or a soul that magnified 
her Lord in verse melodious 
as birdsong. 
                     How could she not sing 
or become a singer, when
the Word dwelled within? 

Heeding Abbess / by Clyde Long 

Spare of stature, skull
cut close in simple robe,
she taught us
do not harm even an ant –
“even an ant?!”
God’s creatures annoy,
then I hear her.
Who am I to gas them
or stomp them dead?
Dear Abbess,
I whisk them away.

Cheney Lake / by Ethan Mershon 

The Flesh On Your Bones / by Richard Newman 

“Can I ask you a question?”

Sure.

“Do you like your body?”

I haven’t thought of her in years—
Paulina, I think her name was—
sitting cross-legged
on her dorm room floor,
not looking up at me
as she spoke.

Yes, I answered.

“No,” she shook her head,
then turned to stare for a moment
out the window. “I mean
do you really like you body?”

I didn’t understand at first
what she was asking,
and I don’t know why
she’s come back to me now, here,
on my daily walk in the morning dark,
with only the squirrels and cats
who stop to watch as I pass
to keep me company.

I do, I tilted my head,
trying to catch her eye.

I miss half a step
in the rhythm of my gait,
almost falling head first
into the black trash bags
waiting at the curb
for the sanitation truck
two blocks behind me,
and I think how easy it is
not to like the way
to its own imperative
age has slowed
and reshaped this body
I am pushing
to a thirteen minute mile,
and suddenly I’m glad
to have Paulina
seated before me once again.

“So,” this time she locked her eyes on mine,
“You’re satisfied with every inch
of flesh on your bones?”

Now I understood.

I am.

Silence.

Silence.

Do you like your body? I asked.
I really wanted to know.

Silence.

“I think you should leave.”

But

“Go!”

Silence.

Are you sure?

“Please, just go…”

So I did.

The Book of COV / by Valéria M. Souza

1 And that was the season public transit emptied,
genesis of virus / exodus of passengers.
During those long winter months,
buses glode through the streets like palominos.

2 And inside, the MBTA operators talked shop:
“So, you know, I got that asthma, so,
I gotta be careful…”

3 And over the loudspeakers,
there came a solemn procession of announcements:
Next stop: Arbutus Street
Next stop: Malcolm X Blvd. @ Shawmut Avenue
Next stop: Moreland Street
…bus connection….
If possible, exit rear doors.

4 And the MBTA operators spoke amongst themselves,
about everything that was coming to pass
both inside and outside the buses:
“So this morning I got up…”
…driven by Operator 69742…
“And I took the Flovent,
And it was good.”
And one of the MBTA operators took the Flovent,
And it was good.

5 In the beginning God created
the heavens and the earth […]
And God saw that it was good […]
God made the beasts of the earth,
and after the cattle their kind […]
And God created the Flovent, and it was good.
And God saw that it was good.
Courtesy counts: riders and baby strollers
need to share space on the bus.

6 I interviewed people with questionnaires,
asking them things like: “If you were to get sick
with COVID, what would you do?”
One respondent answered: “God created this virus
to separate the weak from the strong. Stop bothering
people’s lives and counting people.
That’s the Lord’s job. It’s the Lord’s job
to separate the weak from the strong.”
(And it was good.)

7 And in the beginning, God created
COVID-19
And God saw that it was evil.
And God made the infection rate soar,
and he made the death toll spike,
and God turned his back on the people
and on the beasts of the earth.

8 And God let the virus run its course,
while on earth all the people held their breath.
(Puff, puff, inhale………..hold, hold, exhale…….)
And the people held their breath
(“I took the Flovent, and it was good….”)
And the people held their breath
Face coverings are required on MBTA vehicles
and in stations….
And the people held their breath — watching,
waiting.

The Windowsill / by Margot White 

It was a famous rain —

The globe was safe to let blood —

It lifted the world —

Childless bulb,

A fortune untold.
Black,
Cased in washing to see if it would float

It was a famous rain—

That spoke of the trouble

And dialed in the offer
No one murmured, all gave the water,

“She’s a shabby child, tearful like that,”
Hollow and tried, lifted by craft

Give her some water,
“She’ll drown like that!”

I wanted sloping brother lashes,
sister hair.
No one told me I’d be cold and laugh,
I would learn to read in a room of green
Gently spy on neighbors, their eyes on T.V.

Poem 7 / Day 7

Autumn Day 2020 / by Jonah Bornstein

With quick hard breaths
I blew through the reeds
and plates of my father’s last harmonica,
dusty as these many days
and my mind it seems forever
like distance that cannot be discerned.

I target the round vowels my granddaughters
sound, mimicking the round breaths and
burrups of bullfrogs we heard squatting
behind rich reeds, night newly descended,
their anxiousness a blessing,
arms spread like scales to quiet their bouncing bodies
as we wait and listen.

I cleaned the instrument and regretted it,
evidence of the last scales he played
brushed clear with q-tips,
the deep clear notes with which he harnessed history
              and released it.

A Season’s Turn / by Joyce Brinkman 

There’s a ruddiness to autumn.
It streaks through sunset skies
and trees.

As the Virginia Creeper starts its
turn to scarlet, the red tomatoes
linger to take their final bow.

The cardinals soon will dress
for winter, add a brighter tinge
of red each day.

Embossing feathers with flecks
of color that soon will shine
against white snow.

Before last cut, the lawn’s tall, rye
grass seems to shout by
shooting skyward, spreading seed.

Brandishing reddish, waving
stem crowns as if to bid warm days
                                               good bye.

RECLAMATION 2: Shusseken 出世間 / by CM Downes

Thirteen years searching the world’s
high and low perches, chapels,
churches, and hermitages,
mountain monasteries, thin-
places, standing stones, burial
mounds, sunken temples, desert
tables, the sacred symmetry
within the Axis Mundi.

My tongue serves too many masters.

Interior coils of thought, voice—
an acuity of agency
no longer mine—how is it so

difficult to permit silence
its primacy? In this resistance
to speech, vision wills its articulation:

symbols implicate sounds, guttural utterance
illegible vestiges evocative of designation:
sequence, rhythm, tone,

assertion without inference—yet
the mind anchors description to self,
to the desire for recompense, roiling.    

The forest is still
mist and black veins.

Master Depletion,
alpine lake in the cradle,
mountain-father’s ching.

Two Bird Song / by Jenny Downs 

If you fret be like a sonnet. Be it bomb
              -astically. Be it frantically.
Be a sestina. Play it tympan
              -ically. Let it funk, let it fume but don’t tell me

Boys with a beef are men of thunder. When
You feed a fervor you starve an artist. If
You pack your drums in a tin of rain, if
You follow the plan…

              I’ll ask you, and tenderly, what remains
              Of the furious spirit of your manic youth?

**um* Logic / by Clemonce Heard 

I washed my hands with the Ayurvedic soap
you left me. Then I took to washing the soap

with bleach. Then I jerked the bleach handle
with a disinfectant wipe soused with soap.

But my roommate said the disinfectant wipes
were just wet wipes, so he doused the soap

with his finest moonshine. Then I toweled
the bottle’s neck & gaudy wig with dish soap.

Then I wiped that bottle with its own pomp
semen. Then the White House. Then I soaped

my hands having soaked up all those particles.
Then my fingers grew diaphanous like soap

& water. Later I heard masks were all the hype.
But in removing it at a pub, I choked on sopa. 

Trying to Write Poetry / by R. Bradley Holden 

My cat wakes me
each morning
mewling his hunger

and as I stumble behind him
to fill his bowl
he turns and chirps
his encouragement

It is a kind of language

But we
with our shelves
of lexica
can do little better

We have merely forgotten
our poverty
in the few sounds
by which we utter
the heart’s desire 

Green Bench / by Clyde Long 

A man not so deranged
slept on the guano-spattered
green bench.
She, not his angel or
anyone’s angel,
tested his slumped shoulder.
Touched him.
“You okay, mister?”
His face awakened,
he answered her without words.
She sat beside to console him.
It was not sexual, just
a blessing.
They soothed together
under shared clouds.

Always they met on the green bench.
Sometimes their fingers twined.
They were each other’s
gift.
He was not deranged,
neither was she.

Pandemic with the car radio playing jazz / by Ethan Mershon 

I’m awaiting a shock
to the nose, in a parking lot
sun-basking in my car, shades
protecting my eyes from allergy season.

Everytime time the air feels like this,
I’ve been sure I have the illness. It’s the implication
that lights my cigarette            that panics at nurses
and pounds ashes into the dash with my fingers.

Fragments From A Walk 3 / by Richard Newman 

Center what’s contested squarely where
the grievance can’t obscure it. Let it grow.

Retrieve the last note you’re sure of
and cast what doubts you have
down the deepest fissure you can find.

Sincerity devolves from what you’re missing;
don’t allow it to resolve. Bring instead,
to fill the hollow you’ve been forced to bear alone,
the fierceness you were compelled to leave behind,
like a child’s shirt you’d finally outgrown.

Be forewarned: they’re coming for you hard.
Refuse the narrow way they’ll try to drive you to.
Choose instead the sparrow’s back and forth
between these branches heavy with late summer.

The birds will launch themselves into the blue.
Go with them.

#66 to Harvard / by Valéria M. Souza

Octogenarians unceremoniously slam shut
all the windows on the bus,
turning every commute into
a potential Super Spreader event.

Outside, orange safety cones line sidewalks,
upright and bright as tulips.

They are the only flowers here.

The Hall / by Margot White 

All littlest Rabbits beleaguering,
never felt so final,
Sudden rush of windswept clutches
Hearkens foxes’ counsel, dread
For hunters who look at nothing,
arching spiny rifles
Who want vein-tinned anthropomorphology
to dissect roots and shoots over gin.

So shout salt-mouthed children, blue-skinned
Eyes green,
their tunnels travesty for uprooted nurture
Vague halls of ridges harrowing, keen.

Poem 6 / Day 6

Letter to a Friend from the Colorado National Monument as a Pandemic Rises / by Jonah Bornstein

Across the plains of rabbit brush, the sun organizes the Monument’s grand walls 
in slabs of pink and gray. Throughout the lighted day, parapets 
emerge and disengage. Elections, my friend, are sometimes plays, 
as are these words long after night has fallen, 
the blush on the grand walls now nothing. But nestled in the stadium of dark 
a neon sign rises, an insult to the silence of bullfrog’s and cricket’s and the hum 
that always plays in my head. “Trump,” it proclaims. The fault lines in the shield of this retreat 
with son and granddaughters, his wife and mine, is revealed. 
We will go to sleep. The sun will open in shifts of color. 
And we will see beauty rise again to gleam on the Monument’s side. 

My Muffett (On Her Birthday) / by Joyce Brinkman 

Spiders never frightened you.
You’ve stared down greater foes.
From the cradle of the heartland
to sandy Eastern shores, from
Washington to Hollywood you’ve
traveled your own trail.

Where there has been injustice
you’ve let your voice be heard.
advocating for those lied to,
abandoned, bullied, and unheard.
You have a heart for kittens
left to roam the darkened streets,
for parched trees throughout your city
that are dying for a drink. When
someone’s seeking comfort you’re
quick take the call, springing fast
from your tuffett like a wild.
white, lightning streak.

You took a lot of teasing
because of the name I gave,
but you never shrink from spiders
You never back away.

RECLAMATION: Utsieta / by CM Downes 

You who lights the fire to illuminate the world,
I offer you the names once laid upon my life.

I hear you in the forest,
your shape of rain—like fog
filled with the river’s song.

You climb down from the lip,
the crucible of big Sitka and starlight,
and are at once at my side, staring
into the pile of icons I’ve heaped at my feet.

You motion a greeting, figure around your chest
for a tendon that won’t bend.
Snapped, broken free, you sight in each,
match with pictographs drawn above us in the air;

each dry tendril hums and glows for a moment.
There a snatch of flame licks at the darkness
and recedes.

A match is made, and I see my child-self,
scripting a testament—a wish to be given to flowers.

With that tendril-bit, you skin the image
and its spirit—token like a tanning banner—
as your face glows and grooms a notion of power.

You feed me a shaved curl of river,
and emergent from my hands, a branch—
a long-twig rune, rosined with gold
like summer-gilded roses.

*

Because you cannot stand as the trees,
sit as the mountains, speak as the river;
take fur, feather, scale, and fin
as your mentors and masters.

Place the moon in the middle of any tree and you will find me.

Sonnet- I Called Them All Forth from the Marshes / by Jenny Downs

One could catch a fish twice and let her go
Twice as quick. He yanked both hooks with a swift rip.
One wielded a bitter-as-scorpion
Fist- it burned when it struck and only hit
When he burned. My preferred was perpetually blurred
Ever covert. Could only be big to
Squeeze me small. Destined to cut and run.
Led me to a caustic trail of blue
Bubbles like choking sobs that begged for air.
I have seen in more than one handsome face
The rosy flush of witless red-cloaked ire.
My optimistic lips kissing like fish
Against glass. The tendrils of the heart all
Lead back to the heart. Mine is still waiting.

Collage by Jenny Downs

Incarnate / by Clemonce Heard

Maybe Messiah did return & was crucified
again. Something like The Time Travelers Wife
where he reruns & reruns as he’s mistaken
for a doe rather than a lamb. Steph Curry.
Maybe his desire was to come back to back
like Lincoln. Or the Lincoln that hit the deer
Kaluuya mistook for his mother, or Mary.
How does it feel to have birthed the Messiah
& see him slaughtered an interviewer started.
Did the most Blessed Madonna die a virgin?
Thy dearest departed. Nada thigh parting.
That’s far from why my grandmother prays
her rosary every night. Every Hail Mary for
the passes thrown her way. Bombs dropped.
Maybe he returned as Baldwin. His disdain
for the states so high he walked across seas.
Or maybe King, or Malcolm, a more militant
Nazarene. Jesus at the window bearing arms.
Judas at the podium with a shotgun. Panther
at the party with a pistol. Maybe if Christ’s
death graced the cover of Jet we’d be saved.
Maybe. Jesus just keeps coming back. So we
JFK, join forces with the kings and we ate all day.
Jesus would call that gluttony. Ricky would
call that ballin! Is Ross Big’s second coming
or do we elect Jay? Watch the throne homes.
Marvin Gaye, Jesus, here, my dear. Lazarus.
Lazers-R-Us. Jesus Shakur turning the tables
in the temple. He lost a lot of weight but he
ain’t talkin’ ‘bout white. But lets say our Lord
is Black. Who do we say, Obama? He was last
& he lasted. Does anyone else ever think why
no one assassinates the white devils sounds
like the arch nemeses of Angels in the Outfield.
D’ evils. Or why Elvis was ruddy like David
or an old racist toon. Maybe Baraka Obama
knew that with five more years than Messiah,
when it came down to it, neither him, Mister
Rogers nor Bob Ross could do a damn thing.

Modern Poetry / by R. Bradley Holden

The themes have been given:
the failure of language, the loss
of meaning, and the death
of God. And our medium?
The sand on the shore. We
labor to build castles for
the tide to wash away.

Intent on this task, we never
once notice the gull’s plaintive
cry or the ocean’s loud roar.

Yellow at the end / by Clyde Long

He was frigid rigor mortis.
He lay dead until morning.

She felt him cold. She grabbed
a last bottle, fled to their room.

He was so yellow at the end.
She drank to join him so yellow.

Last companions were handles
of plastic vodka bottles.

Bags of weed leaf and meth
and even vodka not to blame

No food was there, only vodka
bottles and butt-filled glasses.

He was bagged and taken away,
each piece of him was weighed.

Trying for Dass / by Ethan Mershon 

The trees are swirling over pickups
hitched to trailers, ready to haul
suburbanites to their heritage:
bow-fishing and camo crocs.

       Pretty sure somebody’s fucking
     up in that hunting blind
     blaring Drakes music
   some flag, a relic, decaled on every truck.

Sometimes hands grow calloused.
Sometimes eyes lose hindsight.
Sometimes kings stay concealed.
Juggernauts and car-phones.

Create a businessman, in the suit, weeping
his wife left him
      or
his firm collapsed.
If the latter, he’s on his knees in a church,
the sunlight moving him from the stained
glass.
The former, a single tear on the gold coast,
he’s going to get some swings in later.

      Is it accurate? When do we fall
apart? Are we supposed to lay in the cold
and not mind the freezing? These are the moments we hope for the children:
everyone gets one miracle in their lifetime
      and
everyone gets one chance to blow it all up.

Prayer / by Richard Newman 

Just as I sit down,
the garden, silent, waiting
winter’s gray touch,
grows cool. Clouds block the sunlight
I came here hoping
to soak in. A single bird
starts singing, squirrels
chase each other in circles
on the freshly mowed
grass just past the fountain.
Then, as if on cue,
sunshine casts my pen’s shadow
across this page. “Pray
for what you want,” they told me
all those years ago,
and I did, though God, I’m sure,
would remind me now—
if he were real—that
I cared more back then
for the form of ritual
than the substance.
                                         Now,
sitting here, trying
not to let the day’s business
interfere with who
in these minutes I’ve become,
I’m feeling again
the agony of knowing
none of the mitzvot
would cleanse me, that prayer would fail,
as would the frum life
I swore my future to. You
will never know that Richard.
For this, I’m grateful.

Ghazal for Aunt Kathy / by Valéria M. Souza

Hush hush don’t fight the lure of Dilaudid.
Future too unplanned, your overdose Dilaudid.

Too many days, years, endless A.A. meetings, sponsors
Gabapentin, Trazodone – chasers to Dilaudid.

Sisters sleeping just upstairs, no idea
unbeknownst and unaware your suicide Dilaudid.

Pack and move deferred, warmth surrounds your bones so still
That winter night smartphone light your final words Dilaudid.

Morning comes my Mom descends the stairs and you,
gone. Limbs askew, pet dogs confused her shock numb Dilaudid.

Hush hush don’t fight, your ashes greeting soil.
Future damned, God have mercy on your soul Dilaudid.

Ghazal for Cousin David [1] 

Hush hush lie still this house of heroin.
Family too cramped, couple slammed with heroin.

Too many days, years, endless bags syringes binges
Fentanyl the glitter glammed to heroin.

Wife pregnant, infant elbows crammed inside
butcher baker silence-maker, boot up alone heroin.

Lullabies unmoored, gauze surrounds your eyes serene
that winter night the T.V. light your skull hazed heroin.

Morning comes your wife descends the stairs and you,
gone. Limbs sunk low blue T.V. glow her grief crazed heroin.

Hush hush lie still you’re muffled now, wet soil.
Family uncamped, daughter damned with heroin.

**

NOTES:
[1]
“Ghazal for Cousin David,” was originally published in Rock & Sling 13.2 (Winter 2018) and is included here because “Ghazal for Aunt Kathy” is intended as a companion poem to it.

The Sound I Always Wanted / by Margot White 

The breath that crowds the mouth is well enough.
The feet that slip the shoe, two
Enough,
So where is that crow barking from,

A list of names
Alive on his tongue,

Enough to wake the sea,
Her brown relief tickles Welshstones, bleating Har-Har,
Startling hills rise high enough

The estuary distracts the bubbling train,

Peculiar prick that ticks the blood
Calmly blinks under my skin, this is the sound I always wanted.

A crack pared at circles’ edge
Named lovely for wandering, a smashed cup

Reverie,

First shapeless, then secure
Meeting at sun’s edge,
perpetual satyrs
infatuated
with
the seasons.

Poem 5 / Day 5

Wildflowers After Fire / by Jonah Bornstein

I am simple as Basho, slipping uphill
Over scorched ground toward the last wildflowers. 
The people ahead do not wear masks
while they bend toward beauty. 
If they looked downhill they might see
my bright blue covering heading their way. 

In a Williamsesk World / by Joyce Brinkman 

The Times truck travels

              down the road,

stops too briefly

              at the yellow paper box.

              So much depends on

              the yellow Goldenrod

for the feeding

              of the nest

by translucent-winged

              worker paper wasps.

UNTEMPERED, UNTRIED, UNTRUE / by CM Downes

 –And the lie has, in fact, led us so far away from a normal society that you cannot even orient yourself any longer; in its dense, gray fog not even one pillar can be seen.
—Solzhenitsyn

I first caught a glimpse of my prison                          
when my desk hooked and clenched my necktie;          
then instantly, instinct kicked in—I stripped                    
myself out from my bindings, the leash                     
leaving my throat with a withering hiss.                                                                                     

                        *

We have been made for more than this,                     
I think, glimpsing the head-dug ditches                     
of caryatid citizens                                                     
playing their rudiments upon                                      
headless drums.                                                           

Why am I surprised to hear                                        
fists and flesh bear witness?                              

Perhaps it is only I who dies                                
ultraviolet.  

                        *

I have since seen the coasts of our cities’                  
great spoils—finding only the heretical                    
rigor of men-untempered, untried, untrue—              

not the immigrant-toil of those 
whose grist first fashioned steel parapets, 
whose dignity was 
the commodity and currency 
of American Exceptionalism’s
ventriloquist-whims.                

Why are you surprised to hear                                        
fists and flesh bear witness, now?

Our cries ripple palatial walls                            
whose glacial encroachment obscures the truth         

of the               Indus Valley, Anasazi,                               
Minoa, Attica, Sumer,                        
Maya, Sparta, Rapa Nui.                   

I say their names aloud so they may sear                   
my anxieties as I wander                                            
the maze laid out for me,                                             
by the hands of others’ ambitions.                              

Who? you ask.                                                            
Egypt, Athens, Rome.                                                 

Whose hands?                                                             
The hands of men–untempered, untried, untrue.      

How, then, do I reclaim my life? 

Clean Water / by Jenny Downs 

Asylum seeking.
Dreaming or fleeing.
What low wall around a small garden
Was never turned back to when walking away?
How did one crossing of this particular border
Drag a body from hopeless and hopeful and breathing
Into the diminutive of a human being?

How could any quest for passage
From threat to shelter
Push any body
From pride and grace
Into such small white rooms
With bars on the windows like cages?

Tulsa Searches for Sass Graves / by Clemonce Heard 

is the headline, but when you click
your tongue a dog will come running from
behind the tombstone labeled Dick

but not the Dick you’re thinking
or willing to bring you to a page where drums
are the headlines & when you lick

your thumb there is no page to flick
over only the head of the bongo drum
behind the Tombstone labeled double-decker

which is huge when you realize how much
cheese one can fit on a ouija board or rum
to the head but link up with your clique

& you’ll see you have help in the deck
of Tarot that appears as soon as you come
behind the hewn stone shaped like a dock

where there lies only goose shit & a duck
whose quack mirrors the cackle of a chum
in the headline you dared not to click
& isn’t beneath the tombstone labeled Dick…

Mother / by R. Bradley Holden 

She repeats the same stories,
puzzle pieces she tries to fit
into the shape of a life. My
wife tires sometimes
of the endless repetitions
             and glances at me meaningfully
             when the same words come.
But I always listen with renewed attention,
hoping to discover this time
how the pieces fit and where
in a heart        so full of holes. 

Full Moon / by Clyde Long 

A speckled fawn
then another
trail their mother,
all on the move
in dry wild hills.
Crickets chirp, halt,
then start again.
A truck downshifts,
crickets persist.
Red and yellow
blossoms shade us
under moonlight.
We find a path
leading us home.

full moonlight above
fawns pose like god-made shadows
speckles of starlight

Sladdis / by Ethan Mershon 

This is the tree we chiseled
            from stone, we carved:
the rain falling on our shoulders
the drizzle resting on our foreheads.

These are the crayons from before
enterprise. Canadian Geese barked
so many times that I stopped walking
                                                      near them.

Here are the colors we keep in our suitcases:
shards of teapot,
                          our favorite thrift store,
a shirt you thought was funny,
a pink pin that reads:
“She the people”.

                                       This is the coffee shop where we juxt-
aposed ourselves, delivering
speeches we kept hidden
between our eyes, you were looking
for a shovel.

This oval is the only oval
                         that holds
glimmering shades in the sunrise
and rippling melancholy across the lake.

                         This oval:
I keep letters in my wallet
I pull them out in taco shops
while I’m waiting for my takeout.
I read them and say: “Now be normal
when the cashier brings your food”.

Every time I go looking for my keys
  I touch a stone that rests in my pocket.

                                       We’re scrambling for shovels.
Sometimes what’s living is buried.

Do you still hope for green?

Fragments From A Walk 1 & 2 / by Richard Newman 

1.

Walking this morning on 25th Avenue,
that same black cat—the one
(I don’t know why)
I’ve come to think of as Oscar—
stopped instead of running
when I came upon him
patrolling the perimeter of the playground
near the Bulova Center. He stood there,
just inside the open gate,
watching me, his left paw
lifted mid-step, his yellow eyes
wide and what seemed to me expectant
and so I thought perhaps
he wanted me to stop as well,
which I did, reaching
the tips of my fingers
palm down
close enough for him to sniff,
but just then a motorcycle
in the parking lot
revved its engine.
We both jumped,
and he bolted.

2.

When I was seventeen
and Sharon Fink was the love of my life
I could not live without
and I saw my future in the rabbinate,
I stalked between the lines of Talmud
I had to memorize
a father I could embrace.

Now, the gaping hole
where God once was in me
beckons. A reckoning
I’ve long avoided
awaits me at the edge.

Candy Mansion / by Valéria M. Souza

Everybody rich and well-connected gets to speak. I learned a long time ago that merit is a
trick word, a stealthy cognate for wealth. Like how people say “I went to school in
Cambridge,” meaning “I went to Harvard.” When I was a kid, my Mom would take me
and my brother to see the mansions in Milton, Massachusetts. She pointed them out, one
by one, told us: “You will never live in a house like that.” She showed us Milton Academy,
said: “That’s a school for rich kids. You’ll never go there.” After these trips, we’d drive to
Hebert’s Candy Mansion off the Pike and gorge ourselves on the make-your-own sundae
bar. Sugar the only opulence to which we had access.

At Ivy League institutions where I taught for years, I listened to rich people (students &
faculty) talk about their trust funds, or hedge funds, or whatever. They may as well have
been speaking in hieroglyphics, because it’s all the same to me. Things I understand
include: using my body to earn money, pulling quarters from hidden coin jars, selling
personal possessions on Ebay for spare cash, seventeen side hustles running in
simultaneity, & budgeting fastidiously, i.e. choosing books over food, wearing one pair of
sneakers until the soles have holes, avoiding the dentist until a root canal becomes inevitable.

One day, during a faculty meeting at “the Harvard of the Midwest,” colleagues cut bloody
incisions around the topic of “the homeless.” STEM and Business school professors say
things like: “We need to get rid of them,” and “They don’t belong here.” I raise my hand,
say: “I was homeless for 7 years between the ages of 16 and 22.” A middle-aged white man
from the Business School informs me publicly this is why I am a “loser” and “make 5 times
less money” than him. We have identical academic credentials. I leave the meeting. I leave
the “Harvard of the Midwest.” I leave academia. I’d drive back to Hebert’s, if only there
were enough make-your-own sundae in the world for this. 

Angels All / by Margot White 

Angels you, and you’re several
Inspiration, tattered no,
Spilled upon, of course!

A friend can lift mortal elegy,
A friend to swear by, to truth indeed.

Gravity holds no doubt, but springs
Slightly wayward still on course,
Truth and truer

Divine the one, eyeing truest you,
Knows all of you, your dreams,
Tricks you to ever greater heights.

Boundless is that soft sheep wool, that tarries
Never, and bundles you against grounded winter,

Tom who pours loose drinks strong,
Tom who catches bits of waxed words,

Angels, you, and angels all.

Poem 4 / Day 4

Pandemic 24 / by Jonah Bornstein

In the early hours traffic is a mountain of sound
after months of silence—in a previous life, a chorus of coyotes sometimes brokered
nights with strange circling squeals of feast.
He senses a fluttering at the sinkwell,
the summer’s last millers moth sipping at the silver bank.
He thinks of that fallow day he longed for a different sustenance in the heat of loss,
a friend and father having slipped from his will into the crease of imagination.
He places a tissue near its head, and, drenched, it hesitates onto it.
              “Stay put, stay put,” he whispers, wanting, not daring
                          to touch its dust. It
climbs onto the raft, a placeholder for what life it has to come.
The backdoor creaks, perhaps so unused to rain its hinges cry in a pain like waking
from long sleep in the latter part of life. He does not want
              to wake the sleeping woman in bed.
But this is a life he might save.

Love’s Climax / by Joyce Brinkman

Today’s the day.
It has to be. Tonight’s
freeze will end this summer
of love. Love of exquisitely
luscious, smooth skin
shinning and warming
with the sun’s touch
and filling my hand
and mouth with bursts
of juicy joy. I’ve given
an inordinate amount
of time to the pampering
and coaxing required and
must wait no more. Even
if I don’t see the ready sign,
I will act. Tomorrow
they’ll be mush. Tonight,
instead, they’ll be
green tomato soup.

THE BIRDS OF APPETITE / by CM Downes 
      —after Merton

Cormorant orator’s
wave heavy wings
hung in winter
wind       king & fisherman

light rain ripens the light of red lanterns

The Substance of Yellow / by Jenny Downs 

It’s alarming. I’m aligned
With the recurring image of hope.
Ultramarine slivers of hope.
Buttery speckles of hope.
Stained old photos that might suggest hope.
As delicate as steam above tea
As sunny as the heart of a daisy.


collage by Jenny Downs 

Compliments of the Grackle’s Puddled Iridescence / by Clemonce Heard 

Then a third Good Samaritan end-stopped.
His car in the middle of the road to help
shove the dry-rotted jalopy that shouldn’t have
started, much less guided the lanes in first
gear in the first place, to the closest parking lot.

The three men heaving against the raw rump
of the heifer, shoving shoulders against what
elbow grease once fixed, the old school no doubt
from the twenties, a blast from the pastoral
tasked with the feat of carriaging this couple

into another century, the whip ancient & anxious
as the centaur; charge with the laden trek
of west along with the others who preferred
not to bother with a people who sung brother
& meant kinfolk, which, though it doesn’t

always hold up, is something to strive towards.
A fraternal ballad not sung by the likeminded but
rather the like-open. The door that lets out
a cows groan when jerked ajar. When the driver
romps into the trundling mammoth to captain

it aloft the overheating asphalt. The black,
the black, the black, the black, that will buttress
the steel until its reeled onto the truck bed
like the gentleman sleeping in his spiffed loafers;
the truck’s branding as follows: Oil Well Supply Co.

The Wilderness / by R. Bradley Holden 

Lapped by Lethe, this continent
            once loomed
outside of Time, and for the ones
who chose to come
it was the Promised Land,
deliverance from a world grown Old
into the New, a place the past
had not yet touched
with its defiling fingers.
            So they drank the waters
and forgot the sins and crimes
that followed them
until a people who could not
obliterate the past
for the pain and the scars shared
cried out that these shores too
shall have memory
and we must see here
not the innocence of paradise
but what we’ve done, and do,
guilt as old as humanity
and crimes like Cain’s
            against a brother
whose blood has stained our soil.
            Then we shall drink a different draft
and taste its bitterness
and call these shores Mara,
where our wandering will end.

Late Stage Autumn / by Clyde Long 

Hued autumn leaves knew,
hanging on only to let go,

destined to their end, be it
a frigid Alaskan blast
or hotspur Diablo winds.

They fluttered bright goodbyes
like bevies of hankies waving
farewell to a departing warship,
resigned to its fated journey.

Afternoon rains pummeled
in bands from the northwest,
brash and wet. They let go
branches with final crisp smiles,
floating doomed to damp soil.

Belief, that team sport / by Ethan Mershon 

How many dazzle
in the morning, under skylights
holding coffee in one hand
some kind of analog vape in the other?

An inside joke with a friend.
             A calculated risk.
                          Like taking your mask off for a sip
of beer. Like walking Michigan avenue
and slamming white claws in the Panera
bathroom.

How many still juggle
their afternoons, kissing lips with stop-signs
pounding their bumper-to-bumper
nights, then water
for hungover mornings?

How many times will I say
pride comes before the fall, Thomas Jefferson is no
hero to me. How many times will I march
with my friends
and see men in riot gear, 1234
know they won’t hurt me, 5678
but might make me lose, 9, 10, 11
one more person.                     Fuck,

I feel 13 sometimes when I’m turning
in my sheets. I feel 20 when
I remember to think about winter. I feel 3
when I think about Jesus.
A sunlit car-ride
my mom teaching me to pray. I can still
feel the Florida sun
soaking me warm in the backseat.

I can’t afford
to lose another soft place.
I can’t let the world remove
more kindness, not without
fighting. I’ve been dreaming
about getting into a bar-fight
with a red hat and cowboy boots. It’s better
than my nightmares.

I won’t feel pride
             in destiny manifested centuries before
Bob Dylan went electric.
your visceral face proves
we have different religions.

Belief is a team-sport after all.

I’ve been slimming down.
I’ve been preparing to bolt
away, I’ve been scared to walk
the streets at night.
People get shot in the alley
behind the apartment on Kimball.
That didn’t happen in June.

I’ve been walking the streets at night,
I have more to fear than guns.

I communicate with strangers
we don’t speak, we gesture
without removing our masks.

This is how we say
                           “I see you
                           I want you
                           not to have                           
viruses”.

I start fights on facebook
to say to the universe or someone: “I will cling tight, and
                           if you take from me again

you’ll have to take me too”.

I keep deleting facebook
when I have those dreams.
I didn’t use my fists as a child I talked to Jesus
I don’t talk to Jesus
because we already tried kneeling.

A Kind of Spell / by Richard Newman 

Despite the light
by which I write
these words, darkness
pulls the harness
tight, and I’m back
with you, attack
the only mode
you ever showed
a talent for.

You can’t restore
the fear you built
in me; the guilt
I wore for you
as what was true
lies in tatters.

None of that matters.
You’re gone. This ghost
you liked to boast
would haunt my days
in all the ways
you did back when
dissolves again.

Ode to Lunch Hour at 257 / by Valéria M. Souza

There should be Ramen.
There should be extra packets of powder flavor,
so I can swap the meat for mac n’ cheese.
There should be hot sauce from Anita,
Snickers and Doritos from the vending machine down the hall.
There should be joy in the LUIs,
the pre-REAC,
the list of units in which dead roaches were observed:
refer to exterminator.

There should be your Ramen in the microwave for 6 minutes
(because you “like your noodles thick”),
and mine for 3 minutes
(because the instructions on the container say so).

There should be Zenaida’s reading glasses,
faint chew marks on both earpieces,
stowed away in my desk drawer for safe-keeping
until she returns to Dorchester,
bearing Work Orders
laid like blessings at our hands.
There should be lights out in the vestibule,
front office door locked.
An hour, an hour of peace.

Summer Fraction / by Margot White 

she ran around the sprinkler head,
slipped and it wasn’t even a blade,

into t-shirt wet with summer and
her friend and two uneven boys who

Called them there, with bodies
Like clay, nothing special, like school
Like home, just warmth where it felt
Like a twitch,

just a mouth full of cotton, thin then thick,

like smoke rising off a wet t-shirt, wet
like sweat that got rinsed and came again.

Poem 3 / Day 3

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge /  by Jonah Bornstein

1)
Some nights words come hesitant as breath
             in these days of hesitance.
Some nights I try to catch up to them
             and wake panting from the effort.
(A man falls and gets up and falls again.
They are the numbers of his birth and death.
It is hot and cold, no one is coming to help.
Such dreams form the whale of his name.)

2)
The rain is not a doorway today, but tomorrow flowers will open.
The cormorants have deserted the lake, pulling up
gravity’s thick rope and circling like doves into the heavens.
I look back, look there, over my shoulder, to my past,
            breathless youth.
I stop to entertain the lake, which holds the burdens
of so many running across these dry grounds, firing
their weapons, some to live, some to die.

3)
Whisper, whisper, whisper, the clouds speak. Let us not
             disturb what we’ve buried.
Voices peel off the lake bottom, running
             their letters across the waters.
Mountains are burrowed in their throats and they sing,
of hardened peaks that know nothing outside of knowing.
Some nights are a doorway for my body, a ground of words.
             Then the rain, it comes. 

Abandoned / by Joyce Brinkman 

As the days begin to grow
ever so slightly shorter,
they intensify in heat as if
the sun were burning hotter
because it had less seconds
to dance upon the earthy stage.

Then I become more derelict
deserting the sturdy scuffle hoe,
the zealous tug of sun-baked hands.
Shorter days bring longer sleep
as weeds creep upon the ground
that I’ve relinquished far too soon.

A foolish move since what I leave
still cleaves to unattended soil
and fights to bear the promised fruit
that had blossomed in my mind.
Destine for decay it dies away
Leaving only stones as relics.

False Awakening / by CM Downes 

Revenant / by Jenny Downs 

I keep things too long
In the purple memory box
With two filigree hinges.

The triad charm without a chain, floating free.
A photo of the two of us, slipped from the frame-
                            stained with soft squares of fuschia and ink.
A jalepeno pepper-seed forgotten by the garden.

I grasp at memories too tightly-
The sound of an old plug-in radio.
The smell of woodsmoke, waxed cotton, and oil.
The hunger for reason not to leave.

I’ll give away the keepsake box.
I’ll plant the seed and bury the necklace.
Dig the hole myself if need-
For this dead thing to finally let me be.

He Rap, He Sang / by Clemonce Heard 

             for SW

Thanks to my mother’s eyeliner we had
no choice but to tattoo teardrops
beneath my eyes & something lustered
yet tragically obscure between my brows.
& thanks too, to the aluminum foil
my grandmother pronounces furl, we could
afford platinum grills, your gum machine
gold chain, my Wally World gold watch
that amounted to our concerted bling bling.
Tell me, who could tell us we weren’t
T-Wayne, & if not then two rebels gnawing
Twain’s psyche. Your first name being
Samuel, mine close enough to Clemens.
Your high tops & top hat almost automated
in slow mo across the dance floor.
Us lip-syncing our entire two year run.
This was better than Halloween, this was
dynasty or destiny. This was pics with pixies
& the DJ digging our motto of great dreads
think alike. & we did, & we had a night,
then another night feeling like Hot Boyz
for life. Like our streak or burned tips
would never be cut. But lil did we know
there weren’t enough freestyles or covers
that could keep us warm, & that eventually
we’d end spit out the same mouth
we once spat out. That Jay-Z would release
DOA after Carter III & we’d be carted off
to a shelf titled $5 off. Bleeped. Censured.
Our baby pics in need of ensure, all without
the world knowing you could really croon
devoid of the synthesizer, & that without
cough syrup I was the best poet alive. 

Generations / by R. Bradley Holden 

It used to be
that they found love.
They have websites for that now.

In the blossoming of the body
our hearts once ached
with the mystery of desire.

That was a long time ago,
my students say. We have means
for that now.
                            For what?
I ask in my misunderstanding.

For thoughts and feelings
we could not endure. For
a tension as taut as the bow’s string.

So the arrows rust
undrawn from the quiver,
and that keen-eyed generation sees
in the illuminated flicker of a screen
everything
            but love 

Photo Reveal / by Clyde Long 

That’s me at six years old
standing proprietary over
my two smiling little brothers
cuddled in a worn easy chair.
The photo I hold is curled
with age, black and white
and nearly out of focus.
Aunt Dot wrote in their ages,
3-1/2 years and 2 months.
My expression is mirthless,
almost glaring at the camera.
By then my mother’s dread
had infected me with notions
that time would not be kind.
How can a long-ago photo
reveal prescience at six?  
Was I just a depressed kid?

The summer that turned silver / by Ethan Mershon 

I’m a roll of film

in a dark room,

I’m a developing

hypochondriac. Ever since summer started

last March.

“Is it still summer?’

“yes.”

“but now it’s October.”

“yes.”

I’ve been taking the Amtrak 

every time I’m dreaming.

I scroll through my phone

for a girl I could talk to, I don’t know why I daydream

best when I’m talking on the phone, I don’t know why it has

to be a woman. I’m not scared of purple

I’m just petrified by blue. 

I don’t know why my jaw hurts

every morning.

“is it still summer?’

“yes.”

“but now it’s October?”

Sometimes summer silvers 

into a crysallis. Sometimes I crawl

into bed hoping to transform

        by morning.

I’ve been graduating college with my roomates on 

long car rides       and in my room.

I got held

    back 

but summer lingers

and growing is lunch dates with old friends, they’ve got jobs

and make money and keep steady relationships, and I sail

this silver buck through the highway, riding

the wind. I communicate with truckers

in gas-stations and on this open sea

      these prairie sunsets,   these sunrises glinting in skyrise mirrors

these sky-roses glimmering by Lake Michigan

     these chalk pyramids. 

, I am using body-language 

like I was born fluent.

I hate that song by Pinegrove

because it feels like it’s about my old life

and I don’t want my friends to grow older

because I’m not ready to emerge from between the covers.

“I saw Leah on the bus a few months ago.

Saw some old friends at her funeral”

“is it still summer?”

I’m not sure if that matters now.

Master Key, Management Office / by Valéria M. Souza

Oh my darlings, my darlings
how you slide
the micro-chipped laundry card
to pop
my office door lock,
always legit, of course!

For example, Boss,
yesterday I needed the IPM book
to show the inspector.
And, yeah, I secured the door after. 

Silent Oil / by Margot White 

A Laugharne the men two,
a woman too
Both cheery noon cheeks streaked
by back time,
Would the rain not give way,
this afternoon diverted.

Little Aoife, Little Prudence
Fae fair sisterly drooping slip knots
Cow-toed seniors, cousin sailors
Forget me not anchors tying pleasure
To inopportune places,

My cheeks have reddened
I was dreaming of a London belt,

I am a stranger where they know the faces
dialing stamps on every Wednesday,
That steady stream of known names purchased
by
day in, day out
at castle mouth,
freckled by the lunging brigadier
the troubadour whinnying left of the lamppost,
tampered by his denim damp and twenty twenty gaze,

my cheeks are blue,
for I was dreaming again.

*CONTENT WARNING: Rape, child sexual abuse, abuse

The Line I’m Looking For / by Richard Newman 
I’m looking for a line to pull on,
a sequence of syllables, firm and supple,
that will not fray and will not break
if I thread it through the old man
standing in the living room
he lured me to
on the second floor of our building
as he forced what felt
like the full length of his penis
into my kneeling prepubsecent mouth;

that will remain intact
if I thread it through him
to the cop who pulled his piece on me,
shouting, “I will shoot you, motherfucker!”
when I moved too quickly
to show him and his partner
on the shoulder of the Northern State Parkway
my waistband with no weapon tucked into it;

thread it all the way through
our shared whiteness,
that I assume was why
he didn’t shoot,
despite my missing rear license plate,—
“We thought you might be a car thief,”
he said before he let me go—

all the way through to the comfort
I’m sitting in as I write this,
safe at my dining room table,
though it’s hard to call what I’m feeling comfort
since I’m writing after reading in The New York Times
an image of child sexual exploitation
no one should ever be able to look away from:
a woman—the paper does not identify her
or anyone else by race—a woman
inserting an ice cube
into a young girl’s vagina,
taping her mouth shut,
and hanging her upside down
so she could be beaten and slapped
and burned with either a match
or the candle it was used to light;

and I know some of you will say
I should not have written that,
that even the picture I painted above
of how that man violated my body
was too much; and some of you
will focus on the female perpetrator,
how she herself must have been a victim,
compelled to perform for the men,
and I agree they were probably men,
who purchased the privilege of watching her;
and some of you will be shedding tears
because that girl could’ve been
your sister or daughter or cousin;

and that denial, that intellectualization,
that self-indulgent appropriation
of everything the girl endured
is why I need the line I’m looking for;

and I want to say I’ve found it,
here, in the syntax
of this single sentence
as it pulls through you
what it has pulled through me:
the connections we all too often
reward ourselves for denying,
but then I look up from this page
and you are not sitting across from me;
these words have not yet gone anywhere.

—The image from the video is described in “The Internet Is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse. What Went Wrong?” by Michael H. Keller and Gabriel J.X. Dance, September 29, 2019, nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/28/us/child-sex-abuse.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

Poem 2 / Day 2

Wisdom Is Raining / by Jonah Bornstein

I don’t want any more
weight in the world.
It pools in my palms,
gathers in the named creeks
and valleys, then slides
across the lifeline before spilling
through my fingers and down
my shoes like a mourning river.
“It’s only rain. Only rain,”
my sister says. It’s only rain.
But as a child I raced
alongside gutters to see
where bubbles go, down, down, down,
inside the vented streets.
I sought answers under leaves
until I found a beetle with eggs
stuck to its ribs.
I displaced whole worlds,
lifting rocks for sow bugs
that relish the wisdom of weight.
My wife piles on so many blankets
I have to suck hard to get enough air.
But she’s only trying to become
a weighted sky. She tells me that love
bears the burdens of generations
along its sides and its up to us
to bury the distance between
heaven and history.

Aftermath / by Joyce Brinkman 

IN THE EMPIRE’S FINAL SUMMER / by CM Downes 

Cold shaft of shadow
in the empire’s final summer.

The well’s red lever
in the high, parched grass.

Dogs squat, prostrate at the end
of the bleached-stone road,
anticipating a name—spoken
from open arms.

Young and old poets’ teeth
clatter on a brittle bone.

Let go, Atlas.

The Pillars of Creation are nebulae,
a weakened grip on light and distance,
without presence, mostly forgotten.

Let go. The autumn stream rises, paints
its blood-rune on the door.

***

There was no carbon in the universe
before the death of stars.

Who are you,
huddled in that crooked box,
the breath of all these others
sketching assumptions of survival?

Whose image is this?
There, a hip of snow turns
to bristled grass.

A magpie tows a blade
of sunlight through the cold
fog in the farm-field morning.

The distant shapes of deer, feeding.

Whose image is this?

You, pale flower,
find me always
surprised at how
you’ve grown;

you do not delight
in religion’s salvage rites,
in totems and old stones
of worship—attempting
a claim on place and permanence.

You, pale flower—glimpse
of elegance—poetry
                        is your foil,
                        is not how you say a thing,
but how you guide
the soul to answering.

West Wind Drift / by Jenny Downs 

Someone told me that nobody would ever believe
That the sum of blue plus purple could be livid or
Bruise that looks like melanoma’s dangerous tattoo.

We were creating worlds- I remember them.
Mine was motley-red while his was glaring-green-yellow.
This may have explained the occasional outburst or
The unpredictable forces that led us
Salt caked and weary
To wander seaward currents, like krill.

There I go again- scrutinizing the minutiae
Mooning over irregularities
Wanting to un-damn this spectral memory.

Like all forces, predictable as polar wind
The aggregate of this circular story has remained
Somewhere on the skin or soul
Of a body that was nearest his hand.


collage by Jenny Downs 

Blue Stompin’ at Greencorn / by Clemonce Heard 

          for JH

For certain these were the circles
rippling from Congo Square.

The music that migrated with the removed
produced with each joint’s creak,

each Creek’s joint & shells. I’d like to join in
myself, if not with dance than with voice,

but I am visitor in this distant ritual.
I’d like to meet the rhythms with my shadow

stretching to a trunk thicker than blood.
My shadow at one point appearing

splendid then suspended in the flame’s flicker.
I know the indigenous owned

slaves, but who owns the land?
Maybe it both is & isn’t my place

to say anything as my history has been
a has-been. & my ancestor’s only return

whenever blueberries ink the page.
Or the pie crust with its vented ring

stomps center-stage permitting steam’s slither,
preventing vacant pockets, perforating

spaces for the spirits to enter.

Smoke / by R. Bradley Holden 

We who live without fire
have forgotten the delicate dance of smoke.
The air made visible.
                          The currents and eddies of sky,
no less than of sea.
                          We warm ourselves
by the Machine
             and forget the gray vine
whose tendrils turn
delicately
             in the autumn air,
    in the cool air
             we breathe,
a tangible reminder
                  once,
             to a different age,
of the fleetingness
of life.

Hart Island Voices / by Clyde Long 

We lost and forgotten dead,
a million of us and counting
rest stacked under the soil
of a cemetery island in our
potters field of the discarded.

It’s a place of privacy and at
peace with Covid and AIDS, 
with cancer, with cops and 
murder, from cares and loss.
No marble headstones stand.

Do not despair of us buried here
nor pandemic victims yet to be.
We have room to welcome them
and inmates who will bury them.
Do not despair for all rest easy.

CONTENT WARNING: Suicidal ideation

I-95 as a trigger / by Ethan Mershon 

with special thanks to Will Morris and Caleb Curry-Miller

March

Sorry I speed
and swear so much when I’m driving
this car. I got it from a man who died one February,
                                                                   and he liked to despise
cussing                            and said I should try
to be like the cops.
now I’m wiser than he was.

                                          My band played a show in the basement last month
in that house on Spaulding, when snow could be warm.
a friend said I looked musty.
              they meant it as a compliment.
                           they called the guitarist pretty.

I’m driving until I unlearn the thirst
for winning,                  but I keep
                                                     finding myself daydreaming into
Drunkeness,                  to keep
him out of the car.

I’m driving over bridges
I’m playing for keeps
I’m looking for smoke signals
I’m keeping vigil 
I’m lighting a camp-fire
Lonely but never alone when I drive
                                                     this
car.                    I’ve been Drinking
like every sip has to last me until

October

I keep thinking about the times I called Leah
                                                      by her old name.
From before she knew
that she wasn’t really David.                 I couldn’t wrap
             my arms around her
fast
             enough.
I couldn’t break my old Habits.

                                        I keep driving now
trying to remember how to hold in tears
                           long enough to let
the Highway take me
instead.

I keep driving away
Chicago and Wichita
I keep relearning driving,
                                        because
                                        “it’s important
                                        to be the best”
                                        and he said that in
this car.

Tallgrass and the Heartland towns, laced
with brick
and windows that hold the sun
                                        long enough
for me to remember how day
                                        feels
SOBER.

I keep following maps
                                        until I’m better at it.
I keep unlearning
                                        intuition.

I keep driving                             until
I can drive sober
                                        and still be safe
from his Influence.

I keep driving away
             I keep turning myself musty
so I don’t smell like him.

Heading West / by Richard Newman 

Walking Jackson Heights
in the morning dark, the full
moon low, afloat
in pre-sunrise starlessness:
hope glows warm in me as well.

9 7106
(Or: You Can’t Read This Poem Unless You Know All the Work Order Codes) / by Valéria M. Souza

Hey, 9 7106 it
and — while you’re at it — might as well
1 7107 &
(new line in CCS)
1 7102,
because you just never know.

And now that we’re on the subject:
do not be remiss in your duty
to also 2 7107 and 2 7102, if applicable.

Remain ever mindful
of the fact that the priority code
on this one
is “H,”
and “H” is not something to be trifled with.

(Can you do it?)

Days like this, resist the impulse to 21 1143
(as poetic as that might be),
as well as to 16 7105
(same, but also likely to incite a frenzy
with Animal Control).

Please, for the love of God,
refrain from 3 7138ing
to any of the following sites:
257, 251, 182, 295, 235.

Only after the guy’s come by and
5/9 7106ed
(you can’t double up action codes
in CCS, but this being a poem
instead of Wintegrate, I’m doing it anyway),
should you close it out:
“CON 10/02/2020 0.5 9 7106 C.”

And, regarding those 7106s, make sure the CON:
1 3117ed, 2 1104ed, 1 2101ed, 11 1109ed and
— for good measure —
18ed the appropriate baits, gels, pesticides.

Belle Stallion / by Margot White 

Grab that get gold light flickering
through antagonistic cistern grate
Its odd, jerking breath
rummaging rust calcified
with the instinct of a horse
Nearing new stride

hooves, hooves, hooves
Assured to break
quiver pale mute
A soft swerve, lofted step
first tufted then arched, pinned stroke.

Poem 1 / Day 1

Displacement / by Jonah Bornstein

The neighbors’ black locust’s leaves
sprouted late in the season. The brown from last year cling to dead limbs
like dull and blunted aspirations. I ask if I can cut those branches,
their gestures among the living futile arrangements and intimations of a deeper decay.
But daily from my bedroom window, I squint through the locust’s living green
at the sun’s light, fractured and diffused. I stare into it without losing sight.

This, my practice before the day weighs in, the usual news of the sick and dead,
my wrenched heart, dismay, that our old home has sold, a long-loved land, now fissured
and sprouting tangles of prickly weeds, even hissing from the well house.
The sumac once dead, then risen from our dog’s bones, bares its flaming leaves.
The shocked well will not comply.
I am sick, it declares.

The land echoes the declaration.
How could it not respond after my decades on the deck,
looking across the field and barn, the pasture sloping toward Meyer Creek
and beyond to town and the Siskiyous.

In heavy winds, shingles flap and fly.
The roof has exposed its sheathed inside,

the nation, too, this forsaken land, this harbor, this bearer of light that has lost its limbs.

Spring Onions / by Joyce Brinkman  

Onions rest within sweet soil
Content to hide from winter’s wind
Their sleep keeps them deep
Obtaining all their seeded need
Buried ’til the spring takes hold
Exoteric time soon unfolds
Ripe for prime impending harvest 

PRECIPITATE / by CM Downes 

                 1. Cast down. From Latin, act or fact of falling headlong, haste.
                 2. Any substance dissolved in a fluid, fallen to the bottom of the vessel.

         Our table is set    now upon its edge
         Each person a place prepared

A bouquet of black bones blooms in the aquifers
Proliferates its pollen in the seas and peaks
The deserts and the forests      our blood-dark reaches

Caustic pandemic sweat beads at brows and lips
Mucus bridged   gargling grains of bone meal
Blowing on the sky’s hot lethargy

Our family feasts upon each other’s yellow breath
Which reddens the rain and writes our name on the lien

As we haw and clamor in pursuit of blame
As if freedom and destiny meant immunity
From judgment           from seizure and forfeiture

                                      *

We desire to claim that which we know
We cannot own            the very thing for which
Kings make war for we who’d otherwise be brothers

They carve kingdoms from behind their eyes
Helical indelible fires lain in great green dynasties
To trace their version of civilization in the ashes

And our poets and politicians choose the same
I with which to apply their advice

Gnashing at the notion that they lead the way
In some ascent to truth

Licking the same rain from the faces of the dead
Whose silence signifies

Reprisal

Sonnet Enlightened / by Jenny Downs 

Whether by beauty or instinct, a star
Is a star. Trudging its arced path,
Hauling its heavy dry goods so I may
Wake in the morning to a masterpiece-
Or to find I have committed arson.
As a girl, I pressed sandals to pedals,
Hauled my bike to the top of a hill
Only to ride it down easy. It is
The same earth for the snake as it is
For the apple. The sun is as real to
the flower as it is to the thorn. Why
do you ask who owns these things? The colors
Of the spectrum, the smell before rain.
These were not made by factories but for
Soft petals and hummingbirds, who hunger
Swiftly into such blushing summons.


collage by Jenny Downs 

The Draining / by Clemonce Heard  

My other & me both agreed
our mothers wash dishes in the dark.
The forks with food
plaqued between their tines,
plates white as the moon casting
new maria to thumb away.

Neither of us can understand why
or how two women so scrupulous,
who’d once sluiced us in tubs
& sinks, were so so
godawful at such an instinctual thing.

That is until we got to the bottom
of the cup via scrub brush
& thought it simple:
shirking is a form of rebellion.

This made sense, as they’d both quit
the men to whom they’d housewived.
Both figured out their lives
without shoulder spying
like I did to the roommate I believed
closed his eyes & prayed
to find the handle & not the blade.

Or my other’s ex- who may have
held her from behind
instead of drying the way I do now.
May have penciled stray hairs
behind her ears & watched,
towel in hand. Watched her fingers
wrinkle like the water, then,
like the water, watched it all disappear. 

Married / by R. Bradley Holden 

We were too young then
to know anything
about ourselves.
But as so many before us
we pledged our lives,
unaware of the long
            decades ahead.

We grew together like two trees,
different in kind but joined now
by that common knot.

As the seasons passed,
the slow accretion of rings,
we felt our selves taking shape
and saw in the other,
as by reflection,
a sense of what we had become.

Checked Boxes / by Clyde Long 

Boxes all checked
She made sure
The papers were her
Important papers
She was adamant
When the time comes
We must decide
Boxes were checked
She made sure
She was adamant
Our bedside sobs
Said we’re sure
She wants to go
We let her go
She was adamant

Skipping Stones / by Ethan Mershon 

I took three tries to lay by the river
I wanted my eyes to shimmer
like department store windows
I’ve been dressing the mannequins
up:
            blue suede shoes
                         for when I feel nostalgic
                                       for the days I thought I was an old soul.
            A jacket Caleb and Shiloh gave me one Christmas.

I’ve been window shopping:
hiding every winter jacket,
                                         These
clouds
don’t make shapes anymore.

I pull up weeds to relieve
someone else’s tension. I pull up
weeds
but never dandelions.
I trap my hand beneath my head
and read biographies like I’m
window shopping.

I keep old things on my person:
a wallet from high school, I don’t
want a new one.                         a backpack
from grandmother,
    a penny I flip when I want to
tempt fate,
I say:     If it’s heads I’ll do
something about it
if it’s tails I’ll have a nap.

I’ve been sleeping too much
my head buried in the dandelions
I’m protecting them from danger.

I’ve been turning into a loophole,
I’m letting my eyes glisten until no
one
can see the mannequins inside
have been naked all along. 

Still Life, Thursday Morning At 6 AM / by Richard Newman 

The empty wine bottle,
dark green glass
against the yellow tablecloth,
corked, as if it still held
something that could be released;
the single glass cup,
the kind we usually use for tea,
a film of nearly maroon residue
coating the bottom;
the slightly disheveled,
losing game of solitaire
laid out across the south end
of the table, the four aces
placed all by themselves
in a crooked line across the top,
a winning hand
in every other game I know,
mocking the ambition
I promised myself
I’d bring to yesterday
no matter what—at 1:30 AM
when I realized I couldn’t win
and knew that I was drunk enough
finally to be able to sleep,
I spoke out loud
what seems to be these days
the only future I can imagine,
“I’ll clean this up tomorrow.”

Now, standing here,
poised between
the past this still life captures
and where today might take me,
I choose what has not yet happened.
I will clean that up tomorrow,
even if tomorrow never comes.

When Zenaida Gives You Half a Tuna Fish Sandwich / by Valéria M. Souza

Right hand is when she hands you half.
What I mean by this is –— rewind.

First, the Resident Custodian,

(or maybe it was the electrician
the plumber
the guy always mouthy with the “Good girl!
when she makes healthy lunch choices,
i.e. – Quaker Instant Oatmeal
from a microwaveable trough
the texture of police zipties)

floats in, brown paper bag crisp as crinoline
clutch.

And the sandwich, the sandwich is magnificent
fat for slaughter
laid out on the desk and Zenaida,

Zenaida,

knows rapacious when she sees
it and still it’s nothing to her it’s
a Work Order called in it’s an O.T. slip
signed

it’s a task assigned the laborer of lowest rank
at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning
and you all waxpaper all hands all pickle-fingered wonder

and

“Here: take it,” she says, “take it” and
right then right there
she’s given you the land she’s given you the properties
she’s given you the

Manager One position

the ring chunked with keys,
all of which unworld themselves before you:
thrown open, clear as a vacant, and

right then

she’s given you

                                                                                                                                                                                 everything.

The Boat House before I go / by Margot White 

Pebble cloud strand, you,
emphasize these
blank hands, unburden
dawn, sleeping baskets of mist.

Unbidden rays pierce the viper shell coastline, dragging its
cords zig zag // too much, the accident

// peace in vagrancy gulps the bell

Cold air, not fresh, rather
(lung filled by the Atlantic — one lung fills the Atlantic)
my heart is a stronger swimmer than I,

I, simp-toxicated by glossy rabbit wind
rippled, coughs glass, caught sun
cracked boughs, dead paws.