Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.
The volunteers for June 2019 are Bill Abbott, Christine Darragh, Dana Delibovi, Lisa Grunberger, Samantha Kolber, Jude Luttrell, Michelle Menting, Alexander Scalfano, Ruben E. Smith, Lydia Unsworth, and Irene Villaseñor. Read their full bios here.
If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please fill out our application here and and warm up your pen! Below, please find poems by our current 30/30 Project volunteers.
Poem 24 / Day 24
Origin Story Part Two / by Bill Abbott
I am from Saturday cartoons, from
three networks and PBS. I am from
times of no war with any other country.
I am from 25 cent comic books and
trips to grandma’s at least twice a year.
I am from church every Sunday and
Southern cooking, potatoes and
bread with every meal, strong sweet tea
and sunbathing aunts on the back deck.
I am from before microwaves, when cooking
took more time; from days spent outside
in a two-stoplight town. I am from
Star Wars at the drive-in, more local
restaurants, pizza and putt-putt. I am
from the Pac Man craze days, from
the Atari and Colecovision. I am from
long bike rides down dirt roads,
dinners around the table, no soft drinks
in the home, sliding down the hall
in my socks. I am from action figures
and toy cars, creeks and water striders,
catching lightning bugs but being afraid
to touch the June bugs that friends would.
I am from library trips and books always
around, from television shows at certain times
and reading the rest of the time, from sand
boxes and a disabled brother in his
wheelchair, from playing in the woods
and looking through graveyards. I am from
paper bags at the store and strip malls, from
bonfires in the night and family camping
by the river.
Untitled / by Christine Darragh
I have waited for you, as
hibernal ground longs for spring
to coax back all that would grow.
Wanted you to reveal yourself
slowly—like June mornings creep
in at the window, butter-yellow smiles
and gentle whispers. I’d have pieced
you together then, like a puzzle
that makes sense of incongruencies;
amber eyes—liquid sunshine softening
in firelight. Sea-weathered shoulders—
a harbor. I could have discovered
the coastline of your collarbone—
tongue sounding its depths. Worn
paths through a tangle of two-day
beard, kisses found hidden at the margin.
But, you were a tempest—sudden,
candid. And I—willing the gale to stay,
to become a riddle sighed on the wind.
The Parking Lot Is the New Basilica / by Dana Delibovi
Train your eagle eye,
as a poor teardrop falls
on a stained-glass gown.
Click your fingers, while
the phonics of the rich
sound from their loaded
SUVs as they roll by, windows
plugged against the soft,
ugly flight of the
moneyless. Watch as one more
fiery red Target bag
clings to the freaky
specter of St. Augustine,
who bangs his fist at the thought
of keeping anyone away
from adoration, in the
vacant time-slice of the present,
which is no time at all.
As Though a Wound / by Lisa Grunberger
As though I
were a wound
my body a balm your hunger
that creates me
your blue-violet eyes forever watching
as the light changes from rose to gray
speak with hands that see
Show me everything
Optical Brighteners / by Samantha Kolber
I’m going to empty my head here on this blank page as white as white supremacy, as white
as the glare from new summer’s sunshine, making me squint just walking down the street.
Emptying my mind of the migrant children and the glare of their silver thermal blankets, another flash of whiteness, not eyes flashing—don’t shoot
until you see the whites of their eyes. Another kind of whiteness, the white-washed news,
the white separates of laundry loads, the white elephant everyone sees: the white
republican elephant stampede. The White House has never been whiter, thanks to optical
brighteners: vinegar, bleach, borax—The Lorax is probably dead anyway. Zero
tolerance policies, distilled and vinegar-sour, this president’s getting our whites whiter, and doing a tremendous job.
Three Card Monte / by Jude Luttrell
Keep your eyes on the cards, place your bets
Place your bets, keep your eyes steady,
On your mark, on your mark, now get ready – – –
Now here’s the Jack, but look here, he’s gone
And here are the Queens; did you lose one already?
Lose one already? Look for the red, follow the Queen.
Where is she now? Left, right, or middle?
Follow the lady, keep your eyes on the action,
Three cards on the move, sleight of hand deals distraction.
Sleight of hand deals distraction. Are you ready to fold?
Don’t be so hasty. Wait! Here comes the crimson!
Are you watching closely? Don’t let your gaze falter.
Three cards on the table, the Jack and two Queens,
Two blacks and a red on the con game altar.
Place your bets, make our offer!
Place your bets, make your offer! Are you all-in?
Take a gamble, make a wager, get in the game,
Stakes get no higher, face down cards look the same.
But study the corner, does it seem a bit bent?
Is the game on the level? Will it win you the pot?
She’s a beauty, the right one. Go on, take a shot.
Find the Queen of Hearts, so winning and winsome.
So winning and winsome, she’s a clever dame,
Knows well this chancy confidence game.
Les Trois Perdants, as the French like to call it
Three losers – three cards – dealer takes all of it –
Dealer takes all of it.
Exchange of Dragonflies / by Michelle Menting
Rocket banter, hap dash natter of flight: snap
moves, danger-zone, the soundtrack-
Zip left, spot right.
Zoom for horsefly, deerfly, mosquito-lunch-
on-wings. Day essence insect, sun-speed
false-specter capturing gnat, midge, & mite.
No-see-ums? They see ums.
How they dart & dart & dart.
Just dash. Dodge before a windshield
slam. Avoid the dishonorable
wiper-death: stuck to the stick
that just aims to wipe, wipe you
to one side, the other side,
that side again, flat out of the way.
Splinter In The Palm / by Alexander Scalfano
say you never read this
and no one is proselytized
the nature of the day still uncurls
with the slow tuning of a fiddlehead
despite a gut full of crows
despite the mountains everyone is shouting from
no matter what the neighbors are
having another goddamn barbecue
so the house smells
like meat and family bonding time
weird summer has started to flatten
into a comforting heat
a cat on your lap season
so maybe we can just sleep it off
it’s hard not to be bitter
to grin like a dried up lemon rind
to drink beer just so you’re holding
something in your hands
while the hotdogs blister
there’s no baptismal font for feeling
for sure that loneliness will end
the best that can be hoped for is hope itself
for which the heart does its dowsing
the magnetism of pure water to the rod
a kind of cross that teaches us
where we can be clean
Morning Sickness, or How a Storm Can Cause a Haiku / by Ruben E. Smith
Trash litters this yard,
Heads ache in the storehouse now
All is careless drops.
Like This So Near / by Lydia Unsworth
One who prefers to walk is a liability next to all the cars. It’s nearly always half a day to water, drivers scream, out of their rolled-down dust-scuffed window panes. I missed the bus on purpose to feel scale. I’ve got my phone, wallet, sunhat, suncream, map of the known world (tracked, trapped, sleek in my short-trouser pocket). I’ve got keys to an apartment, shoes, access to food, a bench, a tree, a street to trace. The best state is small, from such a position you can only be favoured, teased, brought up into this wide life. From there you are given gestures, a lap, common ground, dress sense, grace. Learn to weave, to revive. Fields are knocked back to make way for the roads. I know how to tack a rug to a wall, I know what it’s for, but right now (slowly missile) I am slipping into this train \to be carried/ one last time.
Mars Square Neptune / by Irene Villaseñor
The drug for discouragement is escape
minor bites of life
allergies that won’t go away
frequent stomach troubles
extra-sensitivity to medicine
generalized physical weakness
It’s your fault
it’s not all your fault
taking defeat personally is
Poem 23 / Day 23
Road Trip to the End of the World / by Bill Abbott
We talk mass extinctions, numbers of species killed / but get distracted by half-naked and sexy / lose our way as the old white men decide on money / instead of survival / because they’re not going to be around that long // but it takes a global village / to raise a global child instead / of a bunch of global village idiots / ready to die for the wrong cause // prosperity gospels in this world / leaves the believers in a heaven of wealth / instead of a world for anyone else / and the biggest carbon footprints we can leave / is just a manner of showing off just how destructive / we all can be // We head to our own apocalypse / banking on the fact / the afterlife exists and we deserve it / despite our failure to be stewards of this earth / despite our caring for each other / much less the strangers and climate refugees // It’s hard to believe / we don’t deserve what we’ve created
SILVER LAKE / by Christine Darragh
Dawn was a consciousness ribboning
westward across the dark. The world,
a shadow caught between the infinite
and its recollection. Two trees bowing
away from the morning, away from the
sacred aurora. Their shade—fingers—
reaching across the mirror lake to
a knowing I could only grasp at
as I stood upright, ignorance my
protection as the day doubled itself,
and a swimming buoy wavered
between—a reverent orange
caught up in its own peaceful reverie.
Novena at the Refrigerator / by Dana Delibovi
When I take for granted this cold ark
laden with ham, turkey, cucumber, and jam,
sit me down on the kitchen floor, Madonna, and
trap me in your veil until I know: This is a temple.
When the abundance of this iced cornucopia
leaves me in ignorant bliss, Mary, show me this:
the sacrifice of hogs, the shredding of the corn,
the flesh and blood, the fruit and leaf I ought to
bless, even when I grab it to eat in my car’s front seat.
Foe / by Jude Luttrell
Like Robinson Crusoe’s soul mate,
My shadow stalks me, even on cloudy days,
Muttering admonitions designed to entangle me
In a half-nelson hold of self-doubt and watery despondency.
This enemy mine thrives on dark doubt,
Planting sinister weed seeds to sprout wildly
Within the sea bed of my otherwise level, loving head.
Not cannibals I fear, but Friday, more frightening foe!
He pretends to ward off hazards like scorpions and falling coconuts.
Instead, he creeps crookedly behind me,
Invoking primitive prerogative to berate and badger me,
Cursing me ever to be
Arboreal Love Letter Unsent / by Michelle Menting
upstream, pollen swirls: a continuous
funnel of yellow
that never settles, never
flows, never couples
with its many, so many,
The Sacrament: Rebirth / by Alexander Scalfano
shadow of fragrance
from the pear tree
the fields by the highway
gone fallow as a guitar
with nylon strings
lit dully by the plastic
light of the for lease sign
a river otter lopes across
the road slick as April
machines made of water
and green shadows
whirr to life beneath the gray
in the swamp behind
the maple sugar shack
night slips naked into the water
the baptism never ends
and so we are
Moments I’ve Missed and Some I’ve Lived, Smoke Rings in the Back of a Restaurant on a Friday Morning / by Ruben E. Smith
“Sometimes you got do
What you gotta do,
And hope that the people you love
Will catch up with you.”
It’s true, these queer
These tingling morsels
Of memory and sinew
In a steak on your grill,
The charcoal those little lights
In your mind—bulbs exploding
Into moments of smoke
And then it’s gone,
Either into your meat
Or into the forgotten air
Surrounding your brain.
You do have to work all your life,
Become a part of this world,
Sacrifice all of your moments
Of happiness for grief,
Joy for pain,
Those smiles become pale,
Lips drawn up,
Nose cringed back
In repulsion to the stench
Of old smoke, a distant
Thing that tries to come
Back when it has no
Business being there.
Do those people love you out there in the audience, do they actually know your name, or is this just another dream as you toss out other people’s food and garbage so you can make your own at home?
Beat the devil
And down he goes,
Speak of him
And he’ll stick around
Another hundred years
Just depends on
Rockets streak blue
Skies with flame
Brushstrokes like the
Artist on PBS brushes
His own canvas of life
With the same colors,
Trying to find that perfect
Smoke color so he too
Can remember the truth
About his own family
His own friends
His own self
Out there in all that blue,
Caressing the inner
Linings of forestry
On fire in California.
Do you understand what it means to give it your all when you don’t have any to give, do you know the weight people must carry around in order to be willing to smoke a cigarette after working in a hospital?
Bleed on the canvas,
Soak up the smoke
In your T-shirts and
Levi jeans, all that hair
On your head filled with
Forgotten things and drops
Of liquid smoke, ready to
Be doused out by another
Bottle of water when you
Get the chance in the morning.
Don’t forget to leave
The light on for me,
When memories come to me,
They flood my kitchen
Like that smoke,
Like all that burnt smell
From those over-baked
Pies and cakes and cookies,
Things smoke is most attracted
To—sweet things often
Rot the quickest, my
Inner thoughts confirm
As I wash another dish
In this lone world of dirtiness.
If Desire Stirred I’d Bury It / by Lydia Unsworth
You say I sleep like a log, sunburnt and outer layers peeling off. I say I’m letting the world do what it wants. There’s no time for preventative measures, not since the dreams of the artist were auctioned off. Sold to the lovers we might find in the compound, if only we’d go and say goodbye, finish them off, stand atop the last remaining tower and stamp our feet as the frames come folding down. Be careful what you say after you’ve passed a place, your words can no longer be held up against it, no longer the soft e, the heady s, dialect has died and left us. What I’m saying is international, passionate, if only the governors could grasp it. Slowly the everything I’ve ever been immersed in. Slowly the missed mist and our eventual transformation. Slowly missile. Firing its blank pages. And the plaque in the waiting room that says mistakes are only changes we haven’t made yet. The undone hangs from the ends of my shoelaces, free until it settles in its own discord.
Mars Square Uranus / by Irene Villaseñor
This energy is abundant and brilliant
but dangerous if it stays raw and unfiltered.
Ambitious, direct, and unconventional
often equals trouble and controversy.
Is this situation impatient and
explosive or dynamic and sexy?
It leads to power struggles either way.
Teasing and ostracization made me tough.
Years of taking things impersonally protected me.
So my ego is reasonable and my self-confidence remains.
But if I thought more about others, I wouldn’t
be so quick to be dismissive or vengeful.
I’d have less conflicts, including accidents.
There’d be less drama if I learned some moderation.
Poem 22 / Day 22
A Prayer to St SpongeBob / by Bill Abbott
St SpongeBob, I pray to you today
to shower this congregation with your
compassion and your dedication,
which is as your dedication to your
pet snail, Gary.
Oh, St SpongeBob, I beseech you now
to rain down your laughter upon us,
to give freely of the krabby patties
of love, so that none may be found wanting.
St Bob, I pray that you might save us
from the cynicism of the heretical
Squidward cult, that you might
overshadow the dark worship of
the muscle heresy of St Larry’s
most prominent followers.
St SpongeBob, give us your blessings
as we send up our voices to the protection
of the krabby patty formula. Lead us not
into Plankton worship, nor to the clever
words of computer wife Karen.
I pray these things in supplication,
that I and those around me, Bob,
might be, metaphorically speaking,
worthy fry cooks in the
kitchen of Holy Father Krabs.
HIDDEN CENTER / by Christine Darragh
Perhaps I orbit you—
for an incidental glance,
circling the space—
I wish you occupied.
You are not there:
black hole, covert
rent, a fleshy hunger
that crushed my resolve.
I am empty—wandering.
What wholeness could fill
matter. The push and pull
of gravity keeps me
in place. At the core,
a fear of falling into reach—
or out. It depends some days
the destruction I prefer:
polestar sweep—new gravity,
or irrevocable plunge
beyond your event horizon.
Accidents While Drinking / by Dana Delibovi
falling down on climbs upstairs,
twisting under purple and vermillion sundowns,
hungering to obliterate the day
by eating the liquid candy center,
and carrying all that wretched life forever
in the sandlots, grimy parks, and bike lanes,
on the bus to West Point,
on the sidewalks of Morningside ripping holes
in the knees of pantyhose,
summer upon putrid city summer
it all inflames the raw tweaks,
the nagging pain during half Lotus,
the bone and muscle that hold those
people hurt by the blowback,
forgotten until just this cringing minute
Mimesis / by Jude Luttrell
The late George Romero’s seminal undead, serve as studies
In rigorous, sleepwalking restraint, shambling shadow mimes.
After all, zombies have learned to take their timeless time
Cultivating post-mortem, post-modern relationships.
Dragging their faulty feet toward more or less lively loved ones,
Rigid bone cold arms outstretched, hungry for fleshy embrace.
Storm in a Sunburst Hour / by Michelle Menting
It comes right before you tie on your shoes,
after you’ve opened all the windows, all of them,
and the cats giddy themselves to the sills, to bird
spy, to sun stretch. The whole of the morning
grew to a dew point tit, but bright, cloudless,
no glove of vapor gripped the horizon. No storm
in sight. Still you felt it. You did, the moment
you dressed and readied to venture outside, to do
the day as you do. But the joy in pretending: o,
how unexpected this downpour drench! A delirium
farce: you’re ten again. How freeing to step barefoot
on sopped sheet moss, to dance as if the day is done.
The Sacrament: Stigmata / by Alexander Scalfano
I do what anyone would do—
I pour a drink and wait
to be reminded to forgive
my enemies, let the late sun
bleed out against the window grilles,
my own private Calvary shadows
across the living room carpet,
the thousandth time today
I’ve thought about my easy sacrifice,
and, for reasons having to do
with my biography, about terrible haircuts
and polyester uniforms. It’s a tired
example, as tired as every platitude
about having the grace to love
even when you’re born to suffer. Oh,
do tell. Sometimes art is all we have
to remind us that we’re still trying
to say “all this to say: I’m sorry,
I love you,” which is precisely what
Jesus was trying to say
around the moment he realized he wrote
beautiful poems about love, but was given
terrible career advice from a father
who was also trying to figure out how
to say, “I’m sorry, I love you” through
his son, a poem bleeding into the sand,
as if he couldn’t think of another way
to make us pay attention. It’s all
too subtle, if you ask me, when
it took thirty-one years for me to realize
there’s another choice available
other than hating myself and the universe
that spewed me like bile into the driver
seat of a Subaru on the way to the co-op
on soup sample day. It’s too real, we need
a set list, to know where our lives are headed.
You can’t ask me to deal with pre-forgiveness
and to decipher how to pay the cosmic
bounty hunter back for that.
I wasn’t immaculately conceived, the voice
in my head sounds like late seventies
Bowie. Hand me a saxophone and a cigarette
and tell me you want to feel sad
but driven to dance. The blood
on my palms will grease those keys real good.
Leave the Fish in the Deep / by Lydia Unsworth
Growth hormones push through the ground, give a girl a cuttlefish and see what comes out. If you’re one of those people concerned about germs, then put your headphones on and stay away from the arrondissement. Be careful near the edge of the boat, a strong wind, loose shards, a stalk of gulls―never flapping, always the same distance and always the same height. To be permanent you have to move, hips wobble in your time-dependent strength on land. Gills, wings, you’ll be trampled in the aisle. A hovering cloudlet is seen like an apocalypse, heavy and predictable, a shade of monster quick to be dismissed: it’ll never touch us. What does? We are repellent to our neighbours. The side mouth, the trying-to-be-neutral eyes. Agents of holiday death, a lighthouse, a light. We float, we know we float, I have dropped goods into the wetness and witnessed. Shallow, we stick to the shallows where the sand in the water sometimes shatters the sky. Try to smile while you say goodbye, stiff lips won’t reveal the coastline of a shaking hand, the clots of origamied life. I’m a row of boats: arrow-thin masts, flaring matchsticks. And the endeavour of never wrapping around a cell, a planet. The moon is the biggest of all the stars, nearby, unknown, a tyrant.
Poem 21 / Day 21
News of the Day / by Bill Abbott
The best offense, she said,
is an offensive defense.
Or did she say defensive offense?
Or did she defensively say
to be offensive? The best offense
is to defend? To reoffend? To
redefend? To derefend? No, she
definitely said to fend in some way,
to be fensive somehow.
THE TAMBOUR / by Christine Darragh
“I was there,”—you claim
to have been a witness
to the early cadence waking,
sticks smooth and ready.
You beat its classic rhythm,
scoff at the new. Set snares
for women—catch them
up in curiosity, then steady
arms. The way I was caught
in coffee shop rendezvous,
kindred trysts—we counted
out a tercet of secret years.
Foolish didact so pridefully
I am the author, granter of time
governed by agile hands,
nimble sticks. My heartbeat—
you play a devotion tattooed
across time, in stars—by virtue
of my favor. Our affair an
attuned worship. Remember,
you are only part of this song—
a few measures, little more.
All that’s meted, time turns
to fumbling—fingers stutter,
sticks falter. You repeat the final
cadence before we kiss goodbye.
Interstate 70 / by Dana Delibovi
In ’56, America cut a slice in her heart,
then sealed it with concrete to the horizon.
It is now a burnt and smoking trench for my cargo pod.
Here, I teach my teenagers to do what I do.
They have permits to hurl their very lives
into the tiled rubble
like bombs packed with nails.
High above, the hungry strobe-lit
billboards prepare to jump.
Writing with Poets / by Samantha Kolber
Sing this way,
the song leaving
out the window
to the tops of trees
to that long line
of white-grey sky
Sing it wrong
or sing it right,
but it will be yours
to give to this night.
born of poetry
shop talk and editing,
reading and revising, we sing
our songs together,
ask, do you get
what I’m trying to say?
Is this line too long?
That one too short?
Are those tulips
too red, is that sea turtle
or newly born?
become our incantations
that tell us we are home.
We are a kind of family,
one built on poetry.
And I am old enough to know
is a newborn child
I bring home to myself.
of something so small
I can hold in the crook
of one arm. It will grow too,
this child, this song,
this poem. Grow toward
the world the way the Robin
throws its own voice
in the air,
which travels a long distance
to reach whatever ears
are open to hear it.
(Note: The line “And I am old enough to know this incantation is a newborn child I bring home
to myself.” is from Penny Harter’s poem “Three Lives” in The Practicing Poet by Diane
Scary Movie / by Jude Luttrell
Wedding video – 1983
Barefoot bride approaches shaky camera from a short distance.
Sheer, ghostly muslin gown fits more like sack than glove.
Her frizzy red hair squashed by crooked wreath,
Better suited to marble model of Diana.
Escalating the horror, bride’s bare-chested fiancé
Shambles into imperfectly tinted Kodacolor frame,
Bedecked in faux suede, fringed vest; his furry upper torso sways atop
Long boney legs swaddled in hound’s-tooth trousers that end in belled cuffs.
Stiffly mimicking the dancing zombies from Michael Jackson’s Thriller,
Groom suddenly stops aping, then strokes his goatee and winks at camera.
Bride shields her eyes from blinding sun
As the most terrifying scene begins.
No haunting soundtrack to punctuate the chilling climax,
Silent movie couple walk arm-in-arm, along dirt path lined by cypress trees,
Then stop in a clearing in front of a petite mail-order minister,
The bride’s dental hygienist, Kim.
The almost-wife in the frame, now the old woman she became,
Lip reads with quivering dread,
As the silent, violent lie falls from the groom’s mouth–
Solstice Differential / by Michelle Menting
The coast is closed, the water too high,
so we resign our hike on crags to walk
through lupine instead. This makes sense:
to greet this inching of night with flowers
of wolves, siblings of peas, legumes
of luck. Inland, humidity holds
so tight: we seal our lips, choose silence
over sieving the air with words.
Why punctuate this reception with talk?
When haze glaums on, the sun still
sets, but we don’t see a minute of it.
Experience isn’t the same as witness.
And still we serve as witness
to this curtain of progress, this veil
of smog: the exhaust of all we’ve made.
Isn’t this world supposed to be a cycle
of greeting and farewell? We walk, dusk-rind,
to welcome the season, to watch the light
stretch and stretch before it fades.
We wander through lupine, embrace
the luck of flowers, feel wolf-like, howl
at the blinded moon. Who knows how long
before we jar this wheel, before we’re stuck,
stagnant, in our own manufactured dark.
Out of the Closet, Into the Fears / by Ruben E. Smith
I still close my closet door, even now at 20. I still have a fear of the things in the dark, the things that used to haunt me will return to haunt me again, their voices and faces all a blur of darkness in the narrow doorway. There are things we cannot see in that night, like a stepfather in overalls yelling at you, your sister, and most of all your mom, like a mother crying herself to sleep at night because she has no money in her account but bills are past due and collectors don’t understand terms such as “single” or “unemployed” or “mother,” like a father leaving his family behind for another woman, some dark lady of the night, who he brings to light after some months of hiding out on levees and late nights on the job, like a sister worrying about her marriage, her family, the things that matter to her, where she’ll get her own next check from, where she’ll draw up a compromise with her husband, a woman of just 25, waiting for the times to get better all around, a kid getting sick and another doctor visit later, she’s still trying to make it in her own world, like a grandmother who’s losing her mind as she grows older and more distant from her own children because of her decisions and their decisions and these consequences of being a victim of the times and of old age catching up to her like a fish in a net, continuing to wait on her daughter to call her to tell her she loves her, but that day will come when the grandmother is far gone away from all this, like an ex-girlfriend, the love of all my life, is standing there, hair hanging down, going through a lot more than what a teenager should ever, learning to grow up too quickly and too soon, knowing that things would never work out, and yet the two will still share a kiss while a yellow sponge is on TV, car rides after lengthy car rides to schools, to dates, to places anew, the two shared a life for only a brief moment until the time came that two became one, one became two with someone else, not a month after the subtraction occurred, like an ex-boyfriend, the second love of my life, in the front seat of your truck, sharing a look of confusion because this was a first time for one of them, two naive souls sharing love, not knowing that what was to come by December, February, July, and at last December again was to haunt one of them forever, while the other lives his life to the fullest, like a mirror image of himself, eyes of hollowness and an empty beyond measure peer at the body of a maniacal man, caught between whatever heaven and hell this was, in this limbo of laughter and dread, grief and happiness, a fake smile always on so others would never question what was off, time hardly spent with friends and least of all family because he’s too busy searching for the answer at the end of the question mark, the after, the outer, and one day, he’ll find it in the comfort of some old movie he’s seen before, but this time he has someone new with him, someone he can say is finally his own, no one else’s, and this is the life that he has chosen, was born to be in. I still close my closet door, even at 20.
The World Comes to You / by Lydia Unsworth
Nowhere I could go that could be more coast than this. And what do you want when you get there? Edgy? I can give you a thing―a patchwork, thousands of precious names that the tide will take away, and if I dull my eyes the whole of the sand is phosphorescing as a turned-on kaleidos. We talk, but I see you see the class in my staccato what-is-left-of finger shells, and I grasp the formless form, that is, the gulf (gulp) that lies (dare I?) between us, and what I want is thick and fast and full of guts and lust and anything congealed enough to be called stuff and what you want from life is fine and certainly isn’t mine, but I came (pause) and you came (paused) and we ended for a brief in the same space, and on that sand and in that taste you and I were / was most certainly rejected. She who sees birds flying away has eyes for the prize but hands for the light brush of a coat on the back of a chaise longue being not-so-subtly exit-lifted. I cannot, without nuts, husks, tell you about my day; you cannot, without music, tidbits, tell me about your husbandry. I lie down upon your double resort and wait and wait as the water encrests the bulk of my (is there any other word for it?) body, each lap of tide an amateur (age-old) manner of protesting (testing). I am hurt (broken) amplified (leave it) each time anyone (anyone) walks (wait) away.
Cancer / by Irene Villaseñor
Haunted and held back
By insecurity and pessimism
Controlled by negativity
It’s hard to grasp a new subject
Then calm consideration
Arrives upon awakening
Where am I?
Leave the house, the people, the whole situation
Wrap yourself in blue if it helps
Prepare yourself for the inevitable changes
Did you scare your friends?
Avoid everyone before they notice?
You are extremely shy and retiring
Especially in front of the unknown
Timid but ambitious
Tenacious but moody
Let them help you
Sometimes lacking in imagination
List everything you want anyway
Venture out step-by-step so fears
Fall away and look clearly at all
Check on your affairs to reassure
Whether there is solid ground or not
And laugh at what bedevils you
Follow your hunches, rely on your intuition
Go for it, there are still possibilities
Take small risks to build a tolerance
For something good to happen
Poem 20 / Day 20
The Mystery, Unsolved / by Bill Abbott
The compromised crime scene
known as my life has given away
all the clues, smudged all the guilty
fingerprints from every surface,
washed away all the DNA evidence,
and stolen the bullet shells
so some child could make
necklaces. Chalk outlines have
been redrawn, segmented,
gerrymandered until no vote
is left. The balance has gone out,
shifted wonky, tilted. There is
no chance of conviction using
the evidence remaining.
AFTERNOON SWIM / by Christine Darragh
I remember the Baltic steaming
from salty skin, our brackish lips
touching. Natural harbor—my head
resting in your shoulder, an ocean
within me widening to greet the tide.
In the Image / by Dana Delibovi
Such a busy God,
always working on experiments
like the Black-Eye Galaxy and humans.
Such a logical God,
who knows a law is a law:
no married bachelors,
no simultaneous x and not-x.
Such a distracted God,
such a fragmented God, because
it’s so hard to stop checking that phone.
So God’s ear can’t possibly hear
all prayers at once
from the billions praying—
unless God’s different,
and we’re made in the image
of something much less
Flooded Streets Haiku / by Samantha Kolber
Flooded streets don’t wash
away loneliness, only
pebbles that surface.
Close Quarters / by Jude Luttrell
Two nights into the heat wave, ugly temperature persists,
Like a sweltering bully spiking past one-hundred, as if it’s August!
Beach-close bungalows jilted by ocean breezes threaten to spontaneously combust
Like flaming clapboard dominoes / falling from one end of the block / to the other.
Deadly intentions slice slim alley between my cottage and theirs,
Those monsters disguised as neighbors!
Their ginger-haired offspring fills the slight void with grating, grinding, murderous fiddling,
Propelling me to stifling kitchen to sharpen knives. All of them!
That innocent-looking huckleberry teenager reveals his brutish side: tone-deaf thug,
Gravely sawing a violin like an atonal lumberjack, cutting imprecisely across catgut,
Laboring to fell premature Christmas carols
Like rotten trees. Who needs yuletide carols in June?
The boy’s dirty blonde mongrel pants at picket fence,
Bays and barks at every thump of my heart,
As if the bitch hears my thudding dog whistle pulse,
Piercing her mite-infested eardrums, along with not-so-Silent Night.
Melting from smothering heat, I collapse to nap,
Sweaty surrender still jinxed by Daisy’s drooling, dogged yapping.
As sun sets in the nick of time, I covet cooler dark,
Just as the foul patriarch next door settles down to harangue the Golden State Warriors.
His booming baritone blows past whirring window fan,
A noisy dart that bursts the boiling bullseye: my patience.
Sunglint / by Michelle Menting
Make no mistake: I’m aware of indifference.
I’m a master ghoster myself. I can fade
like those pooled mirages on heat-struck highways.
Come closer, I recede. Let this summer night
we share unsheltered, gliding past the harbor’s
inlet, towards this river’s oxbow—this nocturne
full of indecision: of weather, of rippled & silvered
sea, of where we two glide next—be our truce.
This is how we are, fostering both shadows
and mirrors in our depths, the great center of us.
When we canoe this river’s length, how different
are we from two grebes skimming, searching below
the surface to satiate a hunger they can’t within
one dusk fulfill? How different do we want to be?
The Sacrament: Instrument / by Alexander Scalfano
what it does
it doesn’t do
without us like Christ
without a rope
full of fire
it’s a belly full of nothing
A bit of twang
off the maple wood
a head like an owl asleep
it’s truth and light
as honest as stain-
less steel in which the malls
of America sell us back
our faith again and again
we never learn or forgive
which is an artistry
of a higher born animal
some flange on the heartbreak
a bit of crunch for the serotonin
longing— a sexy guitar flip
to keep the energy up
A Lament for an Ex, Edge of Cliff, at 19 / by Ruben E. Smith
Do you wake up in the morning like me
And feel like each day is a hammer
Held back, ready to release against
A light bulb, each day something of
The same nature as before, before you?
Do you ever throw yourself
To some bottom of the pit to say that you’ve made it somewhere in this horrible world?
To say you can feel something finally?
You ever pick up the morning paper,
Read about the other people,
See what everyone else has been doing,
Checking social media, that constant
Addiction to soft chuckles and questions,
Wondering who is left out there
It does its work / by Lydia Unsworth
If I were a featherbed, saved up from the leftovers of how I used what came, I’d sag soft atop your cool, firm base. Unindulge me with a single word, flamboyant dash on my curl-crueled fist shape. Undone like too much looking at who’s afraid in public space. Presence remembered through an accidental (non)cha(la)nce. Down a certain path you see a certain owl, a certain boy punches a certain woman against the corrugated card of this small business is closing down. You do not intervene properly, but later begin to walk through the built-up park at the switch of night, anonymously exposed, expecting. I want to say armour, but it’s harm rather, a manner of protesting the prideless division of your time and (personal) space. Hallelujah, says the park gate when another body finds the threshold to another paltry vertical escape. Flesh is to leaves as a slip hazard is to an open grave. All over it, the park sprouts clappy yellow bivalves of preventative danger: wet floor, wet floor.
Poem 19 / Day 19
Set Up to Fail / by Bill Abbott
You build the thing you most need,
scrabble it together from scrap and
missing assistance. You construct
your worldview from the lost and
misunderstood. You wonder if the edges
are frayed because you’re the usual
adrift within your own home, untethered
from the reality you are expected to
inhabit, to survive, to thrive within
without the hands that lift up. You
reached for the hands that pull away,
until you understood better that those
hands do not exist for your comfort,
that the voices are only there for your
chastisement. The hands leave you to
fail, and the voices tear you down
for failing. You are left, a lifetime
later, to build that thing you need,
to scramble for meaning in your
own way, through your own means,
in your own world. There are no
blueprints for success here, only
a recognition when you don’t arrive.
Nobody else will do this for you, but
the voices will echo in your head,
telling you about your shortcomings.
You will construct your own way
HOUSE OF MIRRORS / by Christine Darragh
and further than
pride will allow. Akin
in the hall of mirrors
reveal what’s poured
divided against itself.
Mother and daughter
of common heredity
—a double helix
tangled in my hair.
It’s hard to unsnarl
the historic civility
lodging us on flip-
sides of any face-off.
Fire silent rounds—
turn us sideways, birth-
rights snag on tricky
fictions. What is truth
to a daughter? Fidelity
to a mother? Inheritance
is only distortion, seen
through the rearview.
rattles in the family closet
once believed empty.
We petition planes
of shifting incidence
to see. Eye to eye,
to shared shame—
only threadbare clichés
carrying a tandem
tune: the steady
tambour, easy lyrist
croon for hungry
ears the distorted airs
of funhouse lovers.
for what’s greener—
the tempting grass
the spitting image,
despite what seems—
the ring master issues
his warning: heed not
the silver tongues
of charmed mirrors.
What If Everybody Did It? / by Dana Delibovi
What if everybody decided
to chop off all their dolls’ hair, what then?
What if everybody stole their dads’
old radios, then nailed them to red wagons
to work (impossible anyway) as motors?
What if everybody murdered all their
persnickety neighbors’ vegetable plants,
one by one, just for something to do?
What if everybody were as muddy and fierce
as you are right now, stamping your feet
and back-talking on the honeycombed floor mat?
I think I would love it.
Until I Hit / by Samantha Kolber
We are witness to this crisscross section of life so blue with light and life
and the dark, too.
We are witness to this dance of numbers on a wall with a voice of
assistance, not resistance as it should be.
I wipe it clean, this slate of white and black—ink stains, scratches
scratching nothing, absolutely nothing.
An inky octopus in plain sight, sitting far away in my bedroom to write, I
still hear the husband’s yell, the daughter’s cry.
The silence and time that follows is a million stretches away, an invisible
clock’s invisible hands counting up the minutes until I hit send.
Ebb Tide / by Jude Luttrell
Summer sprites surface from winter caves:
Cramped offices cluttered with wrinkled raincoats,
Rows of grey flannel cubicles littered with empty cans of Diet Coke,
Trappings of lackluster after-party to raucous summertime.
After months of being cornered in dreary hibernation,
Eager sun worshippers head to bright shore,
Wearing little more than sunscreen.
They take their places in tipsy summer parade,
On the boardwalk along Ocean Avenue.
The energetic merrymakers
Flip flop spots
With aging townies
In extra daylight,
Upon Seeing on the Barn a Shadow the Shape of an Emu / by Michelle Menting
or perhaps a banjo. Who can be certain? The light
fades and the neck twists and bird becomes instrument
becomes bird. This barn houses no fowl, only cars
and bikes, pots without plants, webs without spiders,
everything retaining its shape but Peter-Panned: without
shadows. How can a bird from Australia lose its shadow
in Maine? That’s not how it works. Of course I know this,
I do. The light plays tricks on you, and shadows are slippery
slips of us. Trapped to our bodies, should they chance
to slide free, they’d travel on their own for sure. Why not
rest on barn sun-soaked at the base of woods and meadow?
That’s not how it works, of course. I know this, too.
But have you ever looked upon a shadow and thought,
there, that’s it, the true thing? Separated tenor from vehicle?
That is, this flightless bird, stuck on a cracking Aussie
plateau or penned in a petting zoo against mildew-cleft
goats and banshee-ing peacocks, focused on sun & self
& shadow and astral-projected its shift of invisible skin
to a moment of quiet, sun-shade patch of place where
the day still has dew-point, at least for now, and now
being this second, this flash of time. Because sure,
it works that way. Maybe the emu knows more
than we do, or maybe its shadow and all shadows
have a grip on this world and how we cast ourselves
on it better than we do (and all we do). Or maybe up
on the barn that’s a garage that holds inside just cars
& bikes & shells but no shadows, maybe it’s just the slip-
shade of a banjo I see, one plucked free, plucked
solitaire. But I’ve waited too long—we’ve all waited
too long—to be certain of what’s solid, what’s air, mass
or silhouette: the whole side of the barn has gone dark.
High School Reunion: 10 Years / by Alexander Scalfano
I want to forgive you for unwittingly playing the role you were given, the hand you were dealt in a game you thought you had figured out the rules to. Forgiveness is all we have when we get older. Forgiveness exorcises the past, at least muzzles its shrieking. Forgiveness is what Christ was trying to say through a mouthful of blood, but it’s the suffocation that kills the crucified first. Forgiveness is the solvent for the industrial-strength brutality at the center of being human.
It’s a goddamn mess you left me. I wish that you had read Plath and Tolstoy during every minute that you were drinking beer that was cheaper than Coke. I wish you had been asking your mom about therapy during every minute that you were meticulously formatting Blink-182 lyrics for your AOL Instant Messenger away message. I wish you had yelled at your friends more.
You live in a cave on a mound of floppy disks and Nu-metal cds surrounded on all sides by still dark water. I want to dynamite the mountain side and drop it all on you. I want to be the giant subterranean fish with blind, bulbous eyes that drags you down and eats you whole.
With Regards for Everyone, Put the Load on Me / by Ruben E. Smith
After “The Weight” by The Band
Pluck pluck pluck:
I was Jesus once,
Tired and sore,
Hands dripping of wine,
Teeth of pearls
And yet a load to bear.
You can’t do anything
Friends will stay, but the
Person you once loved
Will never be around anymore;
They have their own weight
To pull in this hard world.
You’ll have friends come
and then they’ll turn on
You so quick you’ll have to
Figure out who you are after
The chips have fallen down.
You have to feed those mouths
Around you, their teeth chomping
Down at every bite you spoon,
Ready for the next,
And then nothing will ever satisfy
Their terrible, troublesome thirst.
They hunger for their meat, meals
Of wickedness ready to be served
Up fresh, daily and hot.
You’ll soon learn that this is
The divine plan,
Spread across centuries of
Preparation and demanding,
Times of crying
And weight of waiting;
This is the new age of death
Battling in your backyard.
I was Jesus once,
And Ms. Moses,
And I got to stay and keep
Your dead company
While you take things from
The living above.
Do not be prideful, the poet wrote, for pride eats the inner lining of your stomach after each meal.
Force Serves / by Lydia Unsworth
Ending a day is the hardest, that much we’re born into. Shouting help across proto-thumbs as we dim the lights. He looks down on the ground to find the next thing you’ll be requiring: a bracelet, a toy car, the lesson a dead-bodied sparrow lets drop from loose insides. As I said, don’t let your indecision take you from behind. After which, we stepped into the funicular, expecting rice fields, steppe, alpine shards, and receiving instead a diminishing dark, an excavation of town. Taught us a thing or two, the ride, how to put the fun in punctual, how to overcome the underground (mole-like, with half-closed eyes), how you can’t bypass anything in a week, not even with purpose, purchase. It’s the traffic islands I want to cling to, those remote, self-standing safe spots around which high-speed disappearance rumbles. Persist like a fingernail persists, like an ant underfoot persists carrying another ant upon its middling thorax. Love life, take it by the home. I pitched my tent in the estuary to be delivered archetypically into the open mouth.
Poem 18 / Day 18
A Morning in Time / by Bill Abbott
My son, at nine, sings along
with SpongeBob, laughs along
with the moments he likes best,
when he looks up from Minecraft.
The cats and dog have torn
through the house, left deep puddles
overnight at the foot of the stairs.
My daughter sleeps on, absorbing
as much sleep as she can before
waking and relaxing her way through
her last summer before high school.
A handful of miles from here, people
attempt to rebuild after having everything
taken away by tornadoes.
There but for the roll of the die.
I still have everyone, everything
important to me. Even when they
pee on the floor.
Middle Age Stops at the Bar for a Drink / by Christine Darragh
Smoking the give-away—it’s misplaced sophistication.
Out-moded dress, slinky and tight enough to show
the residue of years padding her hips, a miracle
of spandex squeezing and pushing, revealing
its border from beneath her swelling attire.
Fig and plum-bruised eye lids, waxed lips leaving
a kiss on cigarette butts, martini glasses, later
dress-shirt collars. Performing at a bar, solicitous
laughter, well-practiced but flat. Wild animals
smell the fear of their prey. She makes eye contact,
holding her ravening gaze steady—looking out
for what’s next. A man can sense the loneliness
of a woman. A Hawaiian shirt leans in, offers a zippo.
Memory Is No Match for Craving / by Dana Delibovi
The dogwood has not forgotten
what we forget on any day
we really want that handbag.
Peruque Creek has not forgotten
what we forget on days
we really want a trip to Cancun.
The hawks have not forgotten, nor have
the ice and the soil forgotten
the constant, dripping tailpipe
of human craving.
Vernacular / by Lisa Grunberger
It is the vernacular of us I miss,
“the homely bits of background bits
that architects call vernacular,
places like the Albanese butcher shop
on Elizabeth street in Little Italy,
which looks and smells today as it
must have in the early 20’s,
a magical place because it has landed
neatly and intact here in our time.”*
There’s a place in Queens where they make
the tenderest baby Mozzarella. You refuse
to share it so we order two. First you order wine
and miraculously it comes to the table
like a loyal prop pulled up from the cellar.
In the absence of vernacular, a building has no charm,
no ambience, no atmosphere. It is the ordinary geranium,
the picture of the grandmother on the wall of the cafe,
the dirty ashtrays, the salt and pepper shakers,
sticky and ancient beside the olive oil and balsamic vinegar,
which turns a house into a home, turns a space into a place.
I wish we could find a way to be as ordinary
as a plastic covered sofa in a house that will always
smell of garlic. I wish we could make something
that will out-last our own breath, like a garden,
or a child. You pour more wine.
It is the vernacular of us I miss —
call it the weeds and roots of love,
an architect’s unplanned dream,
the sublime accident of a well-placed bench
that people actually sit on, gather ’round,
in summer and in winter, and all the times
* New Yorker 6/5/00
The Poet / by Samantha Kolber
after Jane Hirshfield
She is working now, on so many
things: poems, yes, but also websites
and newsletters, answering emails,
in a room that is also her family’s
dining room. Her table is covered
with paper—bills mostly, but also
school pictures, tax records, things
waiting to be filed. Old peonies wilt
and brown, petals receding back to
a small, tight bulb. And what of the bulb
of her lamp? Is it like yours? Or is
the dining room filled with sunlight
on this first day of warmth in June? Can
she hear dog-barks and neighbors
through the open back door? Perhaps
these will end up in her poems. Let her
have endless supply of material
for her poems, and yes, let her loved ones
be healthy. Let her have time, and silence,
though I can tell you poems can be written
without silence, time, or loved ones.
Her chair—let us imagine it, though
I could tell you it is hard wood, and high-
backed. She leans forward, furiously
typing. On deadline, always on deadline.
Sign Language / by Jude Luttrell
At the funeral of my teacher friend,
Her ever obedient, middle-aged son, Stu,
An ebullient man in a loud, lively tie and snazzy socks,
Positioned himself at the pulpit to jump publicly
Through the final hoop of parental expectation:
Complying with his late mother’s last wish,
In lieu of delivering tearful testimony,
Stu coached the community of grey-faced, red-eyed mourners
To form a finger heart over our respective heaving chests.
Then he snapped a photo with his phone of the grieving graduating class,
Digitizing his mother’s lesson of love.
Kennebec Valley Woods Haiku / by Michelle Menting
gimcrack-like frog spawn
crows catch their sun-glint sparkle
vernal jewels picked clean
One for Emily Dickinson and All Those Other Dead People, Twenty Decades Before the End of the World / by Ruben E. Smith
“Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul -”
Other poets want to be like you,
But there is a problem they haven’t considered:
They mustn’t call themselves poets.
You were never really a poet,
And all the poets today will gasp and clasp
Their brooches, scream in night vales,
Look at what this boy has written:
“Emily Dickinson, 1830–1886—
Gone, forgotten, and not a poet.”
A world is not conclusion, you’re correct,
Especially about this world,
For it is not the end of us.
Carry on, write on anything you can,
But if you want to be Emily Dickinson,
Refuse yourself, reject the title of poet—
She was not famous when she lived,
But she was famous when she was alive.
Contradictions are like those dashes,
Here and there, mixed around lines
Of words and shaken dead.
Poets are narcotics, addicted to lines
Of black, words of black, on all this white,
And behind their skull, a tooth gnaws
And gnashes its white in the minds of us.
Wait until that great turtle pops its head
Out while you’re sleeping at night and you
Raise from death to write a few words—
That is what it’s like to be Emily Dickinson.
Nobody’s Servant / by Lydia Unsworth
Enduring averages yield under weight. A life-long abstinence says sorry, says sorry again. I will teach you anything but apologetics, chagrin. If everyone could fall low, the world would be perfect with no sky and we would be able to touch each other’s things without ruining them: dropped glass wouldn’t break.
A transparency is conceived to fragment.
As for my father in his tower, throwing his unwashed washing down the communal rubbish chute; I told him we couldn’t hang our clothes out to dry anymore, not in Rome, not in any of your interchangeable knots of carbon. You see, everywhere was full, and that symptom of outsideness, that exoskeletal display, it wouldn’t end up anywhere good, and those vests and knickers would just become another garbled Wikipedia page saying maybe criminal, maybe cultural―
and maybe it is enacted over the whole of this insert-timezone, but we’re not looking up, in case the belt takes our eye out again. And all the crumpled garments lay loose-limbed on the floor. And we’re (not) sorry we didn’t dig this city because under every metro station was a little hole waiting to be filled.
The one that flies over can stay where it is; I’m not asking for a plane to trail a banner into all this anyway cloudfall. I am just a girl who says what she feels, who picks up indiscriminate after-objects on the beach, who still turns her head a touch too quickly if somebody calls her name.
Poem 17 / Day 17
Wikipedia Entry: Bill Abbott / by Bill Abbott
He is a crowdsourced invention, a flesh-and-blood automaton who has all the sinews but lacks the moral ambiguity. He faces east at sinrise, west at sinset, and north at due midlight. His bird feeder rocks regularly in the wind, pushed by the squirrels of doubt and the singing of the silent dragons. His isthmus is narrower than yours, and his archipelago wanders tunelessly across the skies at night. If he is cornered, he tends to howl inconsolably and swirl in polyprismatic promises, shifting from dark purple into dark violent. His love for the word is obscene, profane, and wistsomely wholesome. He claims the usual number of limbs, extremities, and forethought, though he often has to borrow some or all of them in order to be properly prepared for inspection or introspection or retrofixion or inverse traction or indigestion. He was raised by candyflossed, indigent, streetwise, transit authorities who moved, wiggled, and fled the scene as quickly and as often as they could. His intelligence, while never mapped to scale, has been marked as suspicious by the improper authorities. In case of profuse uselessness, return for proper recycling. He is tall.
The mouth / by Christine Darragh
It has been hungry now for ages, but there was a time
that men struggled to fill it full of food—shoving heavy spheres—
that ignited in its throat. It would vomit them skyward.
A mouth to sink ships. A mouth to destroy armies. Mouth
now memorialized in a park, dedicated to the triumph
of human violence against itself.
This day, the meal is lying still on a bed carried by others
dressed in pallid colors whose tears are dewdrops
glinting in the evening sun. The meal—it’s a man—
is placed reverently into the mouth. Family’s last goodbye,
then the lilt of chanting voices. A fuse. The mouth launches
this body into the air.
It is welcomed into the evening. The man hangs in last light,
spreads his wings—clothes transformed to pinions—soars
out beyond knowledge. Or, the sky became a suit of armor,
and he plunged below its empyrean surface, closing over
the trace of his passing. Then swimming to a place
where bodies are called back into being, where flight
carries us beyond the horizon of this world, souls
tumble through the tattered curtain to take another shape.
Novena for the Interstate / by Dana Delibovi
You know, Madonna, that I have lived in the hammering hum,
of asphalt highways, in sleep and waking, since my birth.
The roaring dragons of the road intone all my seasons.
Tinnitus flows through the atmosphere, into my nerves.
The irritation has twisted my very organism,
that’s evolved all crooked in this rumbling satrapy of ours;
I stiffen in the still-dark morning, my voice drowned out
while I try to pray. But I sit here, still, every day
asking you to hear me over the infernal combustion.
Well / by Jude Luttrell
To know how I got here, to a lonely waste land
A desiccated, lowly place, adjoining a dry well,
Demands me to connect doing and not-doing dots
Now too disparate and damaged to link inside my ancient heart.
Thirty years spent stringing life’s experiences
Along a cherished daisy chain with you,
Flowery loops of honor and love endure,
Despite your belief love’s garland has been torn asunder.
Beautiful blossoms are not dehydrated,
Have not dropped from the ribbon.
You fail to see the remaining vibrant buds,
Like halos, gracefully adorn the hearts of our lovely daughters.
These women are living proof that babies, grown or not,
Are formidable creations: lustrous, durable, beautiful
Peerless pearls who endure, during and after a deluge.
Polished, round, smooth, precious formations of love.
After a night spent dreaming of our daughters,
Each morn I arise to survey the dreary landscape.
Renewed by soothing sleep, I try again to prime the well;
Each daybreak the pump gurgles a throaty “Salve!”
Water trickles like tears from the spout
Into the thimble I hold beneath it.
Wetting my parched lips on rim of tiny receptacle,
I humbly thank the sun for rising again.
I thank myself (and you) for our radiant daughters,
Then meekly express gratitude to the well for her gift,
Knowing if I faithfully return to the source,
Someday, I will need a bowl to catch her blessings.
How We Scattered the Ashes / by Michelle Menting
first we released them under
the small pine, the one
our father planted to hold up the shore
then we scattered them over
spring-fed waves every palm
cupped full of ash before drifting under
like how we swam all of us
together: we’d get used to the cold
first and slowly dip our fingers into the crests
we’d ask: are you used to it yet? are you, are you?
we’d cup the water, warm pools in our palms,
then set our bodies adrift
lastly we gave them to the biggest lake made the short trip
as we did every year (as we will every year)
how we’d gather looking for agates, cup them in our palms
& search & search & search
first & then & lastly
what we loved we cupped in our hands,
released let the lakes run our palms clear
let drift, let go
are you used to it yet? mother, are you?
The Sacrament: Blood / by Alexander Scalfano
you who will only wash the dust
from your feet with someone else’s hair
you don’t help at all
a woodpecker knocking on my chest
to find the soft sleeping child inside
I’ve made up my mind
to be suitable for company
more like a bed and breakfast
than a home
nobody really lives there anymore
except the old stuffed animals
some photographs I purchased
from an interstate antique mall
trying to be authentic
you who send fig trees to hell
for being out of season
you can take your whiskey
on the porch thank you very much
the sanctity of your promise
the way your soul melted
into salt and dough
you said love and they traded
that word for a handful of nails
I’m not at all saying you’re so wrong
I’m saying your blood doesn’t mean a thing
If my veins aren’t ready to receive it
I’m saying I’m holding my own
reflection underwater as long
as it takes for him to stop struggling
the mystery is forgiveness
Hope is a Mason jar full of heavy cream / by Ruben E. Smith
Hope is a Mason jar full of heavy cream,
At least 20 minutes,
Butter comes at the end of the process.
Dreams are these things we talk about, over cups of ice tea and lemon wedges, plastic straws bending
between our teeth
because we’re so nervous, anxious
about what’s to come
out of all of this.
Order is just a fancy way of saying chaotic,
Disarray and movements,
Forward and reverse,
Time mixing with the theories
And then there’s us,
At the end of that pier
Jutting out on the water
Like the handle of a spoon,
Resting on a spoon holder.
Have you ever been so mad that you could melt iron with your mind,
A soupy mess of metal on a cool night,
Your eyes the color of rage and lightning,
Your fears all becoming one with the iron?
Slam it hard
And shake that jar of hope
Until dreams come out,
Until all your life is chaotic order,
And you’ll know yourself in the mirror
Every morning from now on
Because you finally decided to look.
Hope is a Mason jar full of butter,
Ready for the knife, the spoon,
To dip down in there and take some out.
Do you remember that time I burned myself on your oven,
That pie you said you’d cook but I had to because you didn’t know
How to do it? Do you remember anything important ever
Or are you too caught up in your own world you had
To create to forget about me again, to remember I’m not
Here anymore for you, to know I’m not coming back again?
Fine Weapons (an unfitting) / by Lydia Unsworth
Saw in the morning with a wet kiss. Slid over sleep like the promise of snow did. Grabbed you lion-shape on the floor and told your body to grow, like a daffodil. I do not have a fortune to buy you pretty things. Do not have the stamina to chase your breakneck thrill. You, too, can hate weapons, if you give up the drink. Splat like a storm-leaf, I mean, darken, fill. Never say pregnant with. And the water in your eyes found its way into mine, because a river, casual, will wend a route to its prize. Imagine an obstacle, for example, a comb, a calculator, fear of lightning, three men in the night. And now imagine a leak. Loud as a tooled-up father, toiled-out after Time spent keeping it all in. The starling-bomb cloud, the one that flies over, leaves a nightclub of sky on the blind of your eye. The ceiling sinks down from all the electricity it is currently holding and the night won’t stop taking my photograph, screaming at me to release.
Poem 16 / Day 16
Body Type / by Bill Abbott
You beckon me to come hither,
pull me toward you, drive my desire
toward you, but you need to understand,
Your body is an abattoir, a collection
of bones and meat, with sprays of blood
across the walls. Your body is a dressing
room, a scarecrow for clothing, a see-through
doorway into the way things should be, as seen
through your eyes only. Your body is a
motorway, with roadkill on display to anyone
foolish enough to attempt the trip. Your body
is a theme park, and I get motion sickness
just considering your roller coaster hills and dips.
Your body is a wonderland, where I wonder
what fiendish ploys you have in mind. Your body
is a haunted house, with past and gone ex-lovers
strewn about the place, staining the floors with
their ex-bodily fluids. Your body is a shopping
mall, empty except for the cell phone booths
and going-out-of-business clothing stores.
Your body is a business under siege, with
employees hiding under their desks, hoping
the gunman hits a different part of the building.
“He would have wanted it that way” / by Christine Darragh
Voiceless spirit, unaccountable—
spoken for. The living use their dead
as weapons against one another.
Garden / by Dana Delibovi
My flower beds get mitered out.
I watch the rain cut wanton corners
and devastating muddy troughs
of troubled worms. The white iris
is a firm hand and, I think, I’m a free pilgrim
on my firm ground. The journey
to make home here, hasn’t been innocent.
I have learned to kill what no
angel of the cloud-banked vault
would ever kill or compost. Tomorrow,
I’ll cull any stragglers or fussy ones
that the rainstorm persecutes. I hoped
I would change my fighting heart, but
all the old beatings come down to root.
Bricolage / by Jude Luttrell
Boxes stacked and stored year
assuming the shape
of a life.
First, the closet of a
rented apartment bulges
with wedding cake topper,
Rand McNally Atlas, cameras.
Then, resin storage shed
in the backyard
of a rented
filled to the brim
with chipped dishes,
rusted ornament hooks, faded pool toys,
Finally, the two-carless garage
attached to split-level
home, chock full of old
laptops, canceled passports,
all rasping the ceiling.
A ramshackle Jacob’s Ladder
erected with plastic storage tubs
and water-stained cardboard
The path to heaven’s gate
with the sacred word: Staples.
Daydream / by Michelle Menting
All the registers froze. A nightmare for sure,
being in a place you don’t want to be
and made to stay longer. But this is hardly
a horror show. Others have it worse
than shuffling inside Target holding a 12-pack
of toilet paper, bandages, 42 oz. of M&Ms.
The last purchase, a whim. This whole stop,
a whim, which makes it sound whimsical, dreamy,
a fairyland delight. Wouldn’t that have been nice
instead of the haul off haul on the way home.
Imagine aisles of honeysuckle rows, dragonflies
dressed in lavender gowns (big dragon flies—
dragons with wings), frogs—all the very best
endangered kind, trilling in lily pad pools. Moss
everywhere, the air just a kiss damp. Shopping
baskets: all seedlips. There’s music over the store
speakers. Let Katy Perry be swans, real ones,
so many trumpeting birds with gondola necks.
And the cats in shelving trees minding their own
business: wild ocelots, watchful but full of mission.
In-season strawberries in produce blossoming
buds then fruit right there on the vine unfolding,
then folding, pulping to stems like stop-motion
photography. A cacophony of crickets playing
hopscotch and bickering the best way to festoon
a clover. And everything swirling, swirling,
a whirlpool-funnel-choreographed tornado
to a heightened puce bow. Until the register clicks
with light, the clerk is ready, her hands squaring
the bottom of your canvas bag, making space
for your wares: the t.p. a necessity, the Band-Aids,
a necessity, the candy just there. You had to stop.
Your local market closed by commute’s end. This just
a quick run in, quick jot out. People do this all the time.
The Sacrament: Wings / by Alexander Scalfano
At breakfast, I say “shook”
like an earthquake in a coffee cup
(which is the quickest way
to get your morning right). And you
say “true” like there is a bird
pushing through the sun’s egg-
shell. A silence invented speech
to appeal to the sound of a moth
mining for light that stays. Wavering
in a flame spilling from your trick
candle. How you kept my birth-
day wish in limbo. I candle with
a moth under the porch light on
its birthday to uncork the day-
light before it goes to the deep
ground. To will a feeling into the feather
lattice of my soul. Down fountain
of rain on the autumn lawn. A face
like mine in the deadness
of the leaves (with a voice spun
with small spiders and pill bugs)
drowns in a dirty puddle. Work today
will be forgetting the weather,
what will become of the ground cover.
Before I leave the house (wearing
the world as a cloak) and reach
into my chest to empty the tray,
scattering a handful of ashes
onto the gray and brown yard
(like a birthday party for moths),
I want to see both shades as one—
a true fall day that can only be seen
by eyes with the light leaving them.
Get It Over With / by Lydia Unsworth
Plastic-covered piles all over the ground form a base layer, something to build on. Polyamorous as my ten little fingers, the confetti bifurcates and teases its clutch into submarine loads. It was the knowledge I wanted, but now my attic’s so full that the ceiling sinks down. We say, disorder in the streets, but I, too, am a piece of traffic. You’ve just got to start baking and not telling anyone about it. Covert little cakes, sugar grains spilling out from your unbought clothes. I see people bend their backs as if a life is worth nothing. We’re not paid to dance and I’m not paid to twirl a mighty hose around splendiferous gardens. There’s no choice but to carry on talking, force out a little slackness. Let the words come low and boil around our melting toes.
Poem 15 / Day 15
Bunyip / by Bill Abbott
The bunyip is part bird, part alligator, with the
head of an emu. The hind legs are strong. There are
claws. It swims like a frog and walks like a 12-foot-tall
Really? That’s most unflattering. Just because we live
in the wilds of Oz doesn’t mean that you have to
describe us like that. Really, it’s a stretch to think
we’d want people to fear us. And calling us imposter
devil is really hurtful. Wouldn’t our stories be
more interesting than all these rumors?
Like my unhappy childhood, my problems with addiction, my
mysterious yet attractive past lovers. There is so much
more to my story than some “emu giant dude”
weirdness that you just made up to sell papers.
Or John’s story. He’s a motivational speaker. Or Mary’s.
She’s a burlesque dancer. Don’t judge. Or our Stan. He’s
done quite well for himself on the racing scene.
The important thing is we’re all different, and this
overgeneralized view of us all is hurtful and disappointing.
We just want to set it straight. We’re individuals with all our
own stories. We tell our own stories, our own emu-headed tales.
Recipe for a Lifelong Partnership / by Christine Darragh
First, think about all the ways it could be better.
Weep over other’s joy, be especially destroyed
over scroll-and-double-tap superficiality. Try
to understand where, how it all went wrong.
Rewrite the script; Scream this time and
stomp your feet; Throw dishes just to get
a response; Fight so that fucking feels good.
Rehearse it again and again, until your mind
has worn circles in your heart—until answers
show themselves, though nothing concrete
emerges. Do this every day. Every hour. Every
minute. Store the past as evidence, projectiles;
File away suspicious eye contact, grumpiness,
gruffness, add these to the armory. Be certain
now that you are alone. You are each alone
in this shared misery. Lately, admire strangers’
biceps on the street. Wonder how the mire
deepened without your notice, how overnight
a chasm could widen its breadth, how anyone
could breathe with all this air pressing inward.
Novena of the Stuffed Toys / by Dana Delibovi
Did you see, Mary? On a wet fall day in the 6o’s,
my mother threw away all of my stuffed animals
without asking, and I was left pleading. Mothers,
as you know Mary, make hard decisions. And sometimes,
a mother needs to toss a bag of bears and a pink puppy,
to make the point that her daughter should be working on
becoming the first woman president or some other
icon of second-wave Feminism. But this penance
missed its mark—I didn’t sacrifice myself as planned.
God’s Flesh / by Lisa Grunberger
By the end of the day
she is dirty
brown earth-smears on calves
strawberry jam stains on surfer shirt
honey curls dotted with falling flower buds
black dirt under her nails
Mr. Softy chocolate cherry lips.
Is my tongue red she asks, sticking it into the dusk.
Neck deep in orange blossom
she surrenders to the loofa
let’s me scrub and scrub: Head, shoulders
knees and toes. Eyes and ears and mouth
and nose. We sing away the dirt.
Before I lift her up
I take one big pruned toe inside my mouth
still hungry for more.
I imagine God is dirty too,
at the end of another day.
I lean into the rim
of the tub and suck her toes.
I Get Called Irrational and Write a Fucking Poem About it / by Samantha Kolber
I get called irrational
because he makes plans
for multiple fishing outings
in one weekend, leaving
me home with a sick
kid the day after I get home
from a funeral.
I get called irrational
because he thinks
he’s supportive of my poetry
groups and my writing. Dear
reader: I get one night a month
for my poetry group. Fishing?
At least three times a week, plus
an upcoming all-weekend,
out-of-state excursion next
I get called irrational
because I actually want a husband
who wants to be around.
I get called irrational
because I say, I need
you. His response: Why?
Is that my red flag, dear
reader? Should I follow
Maggie Smith’s advice:
divorce and keep moving?
Keep writing? Will I be
Sea Glass / by Jude Luttrell
Like a squat green beer bottle with bad intentions
Hurled furiously across a dimly lit dive bar at unlikely enemies,
She stomped through life, an enraged raw emotional brute.
After impact with wall or head or heart, hurt found its true target —
Her broken spirit, stippled and crippled with jade splinters,
Fragments of pain and shame.
Then, such a miracle! She beat the brutish odds.
On the shore of a bright beach, she discovered
The beauty of her own brokenness,
Scattered and repurposed like smooth sea glass,
Sharp edges rounded, rutted surfaces smoothed
By ebb and flow, tidal waves of love.
Nocturne / by Michelle Menting
That night lug nuts fell off my wheel, but I didn’t yet know it. I felt the wave and shrug of the tires but thought it was the wind, maybe me. It was treeless and I’d been driving eleven hours by then, following the U-Haul truck moving from the center to north of center, land of prairie to land of lakes, all in one swoop. It happened so fast and it happened so slowly, the long trip on highway then interstate then highway. Somehow the two of us were the only drivers on the road. When I pulled ahead of the truck, then we saw it wasn’t me growing tired, but the wheel loose and wobbling. I drove so long like that thinking it was me, I was causing it all to shake. Maybe, in that moment, I should have felt powerful, but that doubt was good doubt. Hardware failure of a kind, this time. When we pulled off on a gravel drive of an exit tavern, the sky was pink with early summer. We were still on central time, a mere hour or two from eastern. Just before solstice, that sun stretched out until the tip of 10pm. The tavern’s sign creaked on rusted hinges, read “Leinenkugel” as if just one. The missing ‘s’ burnt out or shot out, like a scene from some western but updated for hipsters (this was the time of hipsters and we dressed the part). If we had been more lucid, we might not have laughed when the line at the bar turned toward us all at once as we walked through the door, everyone staring for a full hot second. It was hot; I had forgotten that. And then they turned back, the regulars, again all at once. Maybe this was a sign of acceptance. We ordered some Cokes, found the wrench, and tightened the tire. The parking lot, I swear, was empty: not a vehicle in sight just gravel and patches of grass. For a moment, static silence, except that sign that creaked in the wind. But there was no wind. What I remember so clearly was the sound of coyotes howling off beyond the potatoes and ginseng, across the windbreak, at the start of the forests where we were headed, our final destination, at least for a time. Wolf country, or what was left of it. Home. For me, this was a return. Summer nights as a kid, a constant sibling argument was whether the yips and croons at the moon were coyotes or wolves. Sometimes we said both. Sometimes we said loons. We wanted them to be wolves–sentinels of true wilderness, what we knew, even then as children, was fading.
We’d settle for coyotes, we thought, my partner and I, on that night of cross-country travel. It wasn’t as romantic as that. A couple leaving the bar, pegging us full of wild beast worry, told us the howling was the Reeds’ dogs up over the hills: two yellow labs tied out every night on chains. Said they called the authorities. They always give them back, those dogs. They’re fed and all; just don’t get to be free. Every night they howl until the moon is all the way up. And they drove away in a pickup I swear was never there. We finished our Cokes. Slowly got back into our packed car and truck. I drove with the windows down so I could hear those wolves sing.
Pulmonary Circus / by Alexander Scalfano
Someone is tuning my heart strings. Is that why they are called strings? My chest acoustics, the redness of my instrument. When I give it away, does its music go with you? A fist coiled around a delicate system of chords pulling the rest of the body together. My blood tastes like brass section, humming a song for blood cells titled “Everything
That Comes To Me Is Close To Dying.” You are like a heart breathing to its own rhythm. Could someone play the chambers like flutes? Then the menagerie, along the veins, the exotic animals. Wreathed my endocrine system in flame just to say: jump through me, listen to the cheers. This is not how it sounds, I’m not making a spectacle of us. This performance is all we have in the hospital waiting room. The chemical orchestra that cues the trained tigers in our bones to leap, the acrobatics of oxygen in the blood stream. The thrill fades as fashions change. The years with you— an ER waiting room TV watching itself perform the same world doing tricks to crowds with varying appetites for tumbling. What scares me is that I will wake up after surgery, dressed in white, and you’re nowhere to be seen. To find out they have changed the word “love” to something else without telling me.
Traveling Through the Valley of Death, Someone Close By My Side, Looking for the Answers to Answered Questions, or Where Is the Big Man When You’re Down and Out? / by Ruben E. Smith
Then the lightning, that flash in a jar of dark,
And you pull me close in the dark room,
About the future,
And then there’s the silences that grow between us,
Each time we’re hunkered together in a loose sheet.
I made a turkey one time for friends, for you, for us, and I knew what I was doing then as I did now, rubbing my finger around on bare, just the way I put that clarified butter on that turkey skin.
We were good, in love, people mashed together and worrying about nothing but the time at hand—dark night, date night, we parked somewhere and felt the universe squish through a strainer.
There, walking alone, a man on the side of the road, myself in the future, my own body bent downwards and my shirt ripped, a piece of cardboard dangling from bloodied fingers. He’s walking towards his own paradise, one I wish I knew, but instead, you took the ring and smiled at me when you left, went to your room as I was taking off, and here I was, on the side of the road watching a man—watching me—walk through darkness to his light, my light, and I want to trade places with him.
An email not even a month later and you say you’re not doing well, you need help, you can’t get it from me, and I know the truth about everything. You’re finding yourself in this world, and I haven’t found myself yet. I still need time to adjust to the air over here, the smells, the feeling that I’ve become more than what I used to be, that I’ve seen things I can’t unsee.
And lightning crashes on some tree, and I don’t think about all those bad thoughts that come with every storm, every raindrop some memory I want to remember and forget so I can breathe the next day.
So Sometimes Ahead and Sometimes Behind / by Lydia Unsworth
On the out-of-action travelator I enjoy the hum of suitcase wheels rotating round. Various degrees of metal, plastic―grating. In the vibrations of my active life, the smell of failure, what remains of the countryside, your cold light. A long thread of recognisable hair that ties me to a sound.
The words came low and mournfully from the loudspeaker: I don’t think anyone can. And a fantastic range of fragrances swallowed the social animal whole.
We prepare to land like boxes of distant grief dropped from altitude: ample, one square metre apart. Squatting in formation on the sand we relieve ourselves, are relieved, dawn dawns on us, sudden and bright as our gashes of open eyes, alerting around. We live in a state of indecision, not yet certain enough to admit that inaction is not the same as deciding not to. Pinning our rained-on bodies to the tongued ground. Caught between doing and undoing, resting between sentences like being too scared to enter a room.
My chin rests babyshape on our suitcase handle, until it chews on the lever and drop-darts down. The tears drip like an unfamiliar shower in a land you were once accustomed to, as you fly towards the year 2000 looking for the point of departure, trawling for asymptote rainbow gold. Until the snapped elastic sends you back through to your opposite bullet hole. Everything is contained in the pillow of another’s shoulder, in the narrow strip of sea that tells our houses to face the water. Sunlight sparks mosquito swarm into trying to grab anything with your razor-blade hands of a person. Observe the wires and contact points and closed-up circuits, cut a line through skin and look about. Telephone boxes have a place in my heart. Sometimes, a start, a control.
Poem 14 / Day 14
The Art of Death / by Bill Abbott
There is an art to death, or so the title of the book
on the coffee table seems to say. An art to dying.
A more theatrical and dramatic way of
shuffling off this mortal coil. A way to
expire properly, so that everyone watching
will appreciate, perhaps applaud, your
successful effort. The art of dying is an
esoteric art, one you master by doing,
though you can study technique. You can
practice your heartbeat, make the right moves
that will emphasize your potential stroke,
your shattered heart giving way, your
cancer giving its final blow. With enough
practice, you can pass away in front of
an audience with no fear of embarrassment,
no worry of disappointment for your viewers.
Some may think death is cheapened by
theatrics, but those are not your people. Prepare,
practice, plan, and be fully ready when
that dark and shadowy figure appears.
FEUERSTEIN / by Christine Darragh
Firestone, black as coal—obsidian promise, plasticine seed. Falling whole and ready from rock white as the spent ash of a hungry world youthful and burning hot—that disintegrates even as it gives life. There is mercy in its silken surface, a grace to each layer carefully hewn. Worry hands over its sagittal planes, content to feel the soothing presence against clinging fingers. It is fire we conjure, a promise of hearth dancing in its shadowy glass.
Thing of Mine, Unyielding / by Dana Delibovi
Same as that water-stiffened suede jacket I found
at the edge of the path, I am caked stubbornly, right through
with something that rose up slowly, and poisoned me without
antidote. So I hibernate, souring on a question,
over and over: Can I deny, what’s obviously stuck
fast, perfected, sheathed in amber, knitted of steel—
this craving? I yearn for recognition, it’s my
bondage, which having been pulled tight so for long has
ossified, casketing away the love that rigged it up.
Loose Bricks 2 / by Lisa Grunberger
It was minutes before spring
when the memory suckers came to town.
At first the gate was squeaky
but when it opened
cries rained upon the unfortunate land.
The rooms were quiet.
For generations children sung
not to know where I come from
or where to go.
Later, they forgot even this.
She swore off rum, but clung to vodka
for “it’s close cousin to water”
measuring it out in dead earfuls.
“Helps me listen” she said
as she downed an earful.
Forecast / by Jude Luttrell
Behind the talking heads of wind-blown weather reporters,
Hundred-year-old palm trees flap fronds as if they’re waving,
Photo-bombing correspondents outfitted in rain-slicked windbreakers,
Grasping little beyond their microphones overwrought meteorologists
Misunderstand the epic essence of so-called storms of the century.
Ages before oracles, Poor Richard’s Almanack, and Doppler Radar,
Eons before anchor desk forecasters calculated each catastrophe’s ETA,
Uranus and Gaea’s trio of hundred-handed sons pooled their primordial paws,
Put together their fifty ferocious heads (better than three) to make mega-monster mischief.
Thugly gangsta gods, brandishing floods, hurricanes, volcanos, and blizzards like handguns
To level humanity — because they could.
Riding Lesson / by Michelle Menting
Sit like a sack of potatoes; your butt is a pit is a stone
fruit settled in its cup of leather. It should be.
Your knees turn in just slightly, your heals hang low
just so. Show compromise. You kick, she’ll kick.
Think of when you’re weighted with doubt,
or heavier: ownership. How obligation can be
a burden that mires you down in muck and
manure of responsibility. Translate work
to duty to avoid any misstep or be hobbled
in permanence. Yes, take these abstractions
literally. Think of what it must be like to cart
such weight upon your back all at once, knowing
you can’t freely gallop into low hanging
branches to wipe the weight away. Yes,
I mean this literally too. Show trust: let slack
some rein. Don’t error on the bit as a pestle
in the mortar of the mouth. You want to go,
let go. Think ramifications. A mare does, you know.
I’m asking you to have empathy for this horse
who carries the full load of you. To have respect,
to learn to ride with rhythm, with skill, this creature
with the quiet strength to doze while waking
and a brain capable of plein air dreams of fescue
grasses. Think about that. Heavy are her hooves.
Know this. She does. She saddles her knowing
with every leadline trot, every haltered canter.
No Little Peace And Plenty Of Friends To Get Me There / by Alexander Scalfano
in my lab notebook
I’ve recorded my summer—
moon is great reflector of all
the light leaving us.
In the margins, in a similar handwriting
someone has added commentary—
stare hard enough into a star and see
the darkness crowd you in.
This is all to say that night shapes
are all the same to my conjoined
ghost twin, tethered to my observations.
We share a knowing look as someone
passing us on the sidewalk
by the book store says “death”
and I distinctly hear “rest.”
I’m afraid, I record on the next page,
that human animals are easy
(My twin peers over my shoulder, checking
my grammar, the accuracy of my figures…)
I’m afraid I’m the twin.
My twin arches an eyebrow
and snatches the pen, scribbling
furiously onto the next page—
damn the eyes of anyone who says
you are living in a borrowed suit
on the hellgate’s dime;
death is just a popular trade route.
“would a living person be
so consumed with dying?”
My twin, staring straight ahead,
whispers like a partial moon—
“that’s what living is.”
One About the Heart of the Donor, Twelve Days After the End of the World / by Ruben E. Smith
“‘“Come and see,” and I saw, and behold a white horse.’”
White horses blend with green fields, grass flowing and moving like the names of fire on the horses, children are singing in some distant church, some place forgotten by time, and this is all that is left here, at this time. You can’t see everything in the universe without sacrificing your eyes, giving up each piece of your body to those who need it, and after that, you’ll transcend the cosmos and explode with supernovas, planets colliding with other planets, worlds merging into ink blots and stains on small napkins.
I can’t give you happiness anymore, this is all I can give, my friendship on a silver platter, blood pooling around it.
This is nirvana on stage, the band playing so loud that you can’t see the meteor showers, little space rocks flying down because of this thing they call gravity—the gravitas of gracious greetings from galactic genomes grows—and they crash down into our home, like a hand falling down against the bare skin, bruises hidden by long sleeves in the summer.
I can’t say I love you anymore because that’s not what this is, this is a heart I’ve got to give you, but I can’t because I’ll remember you when you have my heart, I’ll remember everything in this world, all the horrors that we saw laid out in hoof tracks on fields.
(Grasp at) Externals / by Lydia Unsworth
Trust in legislation/the seabed, empty your pockets and pause by the security camera and say not yet. When it’s windy in my heart I turn to hypha―determined downward twitches that apologise while gaining ground. Fingers in alcoves of loose skin, bleach-garbed manipopulations dribbling a hundred ways to sling a country further into the ring. Let me out by the estuary, thanks. Tie me to the cliff on the west side of the island, pink ribbons in my hair. Guide me to the silo. Silence. Send me sliding down the shapely side of the nuclear power plant, my crisp eyes tearing up as my property flies out of my open bag and over my control. When I die, leave me in a sun-roofed sinkhole, fondue to your foundations, and tear my stolen stillhouse down.
Poem 13 / Day 13
Six Ways to Look at the Living Room / by Bill Abbott
My son sits in my chair,
his for the time, scarfs down
Skittles, asks for milk. He
looks closer at his iPod,
exploring his world in Minecraft.
Pets roam the carpeted space,
attention. The litter box
needs cleaning again.
The television offers
children’s shows that
make my son happy.
“Whenever you’re in trouble,
Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol…”
From the outside, they
must wonder what to make
of us sitting here, sometimes
lost inside the small screens.
Dinner on the couch again.
All food on the couch if it’s
not eaten while standing in the kitchen.
Domesticity wraps the couch
around the room. TV stand in
front of the non-working fireplace.
Goddess of the broken hearth.
Red Tape Destiny / by Christine Darragh
Passing the afternoon in a secretary of state office,
playing cards—there are now 99 people ahead of you—
to pass the time. Skipping out on destiny to reprint
a state I.D.—please place your name and address
on this form—on a short tether, a long line,
altogether unaccounted for, caught anyways,
in a labyrinth of folding chairs, triplicate forms
precise questions, citizenry pressing in—please
check the accuracy of all responses—eternity
is a queue, numbers ticking across a screen,
marking the seconds of our stay—now serving
number 6198 at window 8—bureaucracy, a hades
of modernity. Democratic trade-out: lawlessness
in exchange for long lines, simple requests require
notarized sacrifice, signatures of three witnesses—
sorry, we haven’t heard from you. Please join
the line again later—everyday it seems is later
than we intended. We rise, only to wait-out
all the ways we wish circumstances would fall
into place, for life to deliver on all we’ve hoped.
Vikings for Tea / by Dana Delibovi
Before I hurtled on home above the Viking-plowed water,
I breathed the vapor from my cup and sank down into that
last day in a shawl of Scottish wool, surrounded by lupines.
The plundering Norsefolk came up in conversation
more than once, but the old marauders seemed a bad fit because
passionflowers dangled from the walls of the solarium,
where we ate our crustless cucumber sandwiches and wiped
our fingers on napkins filigreed with inherited lace,
watching the honey bees sample the flowers of the kingdom.
But never forget the death you can feel by the North Sea,
Lydia said, nibbling on her biscuit. Never forget—
our bones are steeped and our soils are drenched in the blood of pillage.
Nods all around, then to-the-brim refills of black tea and cream
in porcelain cups that forced our pinkies out in a manner
absent from the deck of any self-respecting Langskip.
Real Poems with Green Eyes / by Lisa Grunberger
do you know where I hide the real poems
up my sleeve
where the good china is
and the gold and diamonds
it’s a myth that women hide things
inside their sex
just as it’s a myth that this same sex
has teeth and that goblins have pink eyes
they have green eyes silly
Linked / by Samantha Kolber
Find a nice Starbucks
he texts when I ask about
where to change for the
funeral. No heat
today but cloud cover, apt
for the covering
to come. Dirt. Ash. Hair.
Bones. No smiles. Never any
smiles in his pictures.
How could the funny
boy from our childhood be gone?
How to prepare
to see his parents, the
ones who practically
raised me? And I, still
here. Sad, too, like he
was. I have no excuse to
be here. Grieving for
a boy buried deep
inside a man I never
knew. James. Say his name.
Second Sight / by Jude Luttrell
Two pimento-stuffed olives lie skewered by bamboo toothpick,
Partially submerged in my vodka martini,
Tipsy garnish glancing dully at me through slightly dirty, murky mix.
The savory green spheres remind me of St. Lucia:
Her legendary emerald orbs captured the attention of single-minded suitor,
One captivated by her piercing eyes: jade windows to her solitude-seeking soul.
Looking forward to a consecrated cloistered future,
Lovely Lucia calmly rebuffed the gentleman’s attention,
But he just wouldn’t see it her way.
To discourage further romantic discourse once and for all,
Lucy bloodlessly removed the objects of her stalker’s obsession.
Sightless, she stumbled to kitchen,
Placed her peepers in a fancy rosewater-filled jar,
Storing them on the cupboard’s top shelf, like relish.
Leaving Lucia finally free to view her world through third eye.
Rain Date for Pessimists / by Michelle Menting
Should we formally cancel our plans with friends
because of weather, we’d just create a new plan
for a new plan for another time later, challenged
to make up on the spot for one lost strategically
pinpointed supposed adventure. Let’s say
nothing instead. Be rebel. Just don’t show up.
Let’s flop. Pretend we’re fish ashore before
swimming in blankets. That’s cheesy for sure.
Let’s have some—cheese. Wine. Why not?
Indulge. Satiate our insides while staying inside
this dank day of foiled preparations. Let’s resolve
we’re human. Again. And this day won’t be
the first nor last. Avoid the coil & cluster of social
gathering. If we two whisper against this drizzle
of midday rain, our words might slip from us, escape
all proper understanding. That’s fine. We’re due
for some quiet from structure, from language.
This world will go on, full blither & blather. You know
it. Ceasing one thing is always the birth of another.
One About the Hollow Left Before The Person You Love Dies, Right As the World Ended / by Ruben E. Smith
“Love is the greatest deceiver,
It hollows you out like a drum
And suddenly nothing is certain.”
—Mary Chapin Carpenter
Cries erupt from the bedroom, death ever near, and there’s redness around the eyes, around the room, around the sink drain, all these holes and nothing shines through. The breathing has become labored, heavy, like an elephant was there, sitting on a feather, weighted hands pressing down, words of prayers and hope escaping through chapped lips, and yet she still will die. A baby cries, but it’s not the same as the cries of an adult, tears shed before someone leaves for good, water only saved up for this one specific time, this exact moment of tranquility and grief, splashing out onto floral print shirts, torn memories of what’s becoming the past in this present. Everything needs to stop for the departure, no more food brought over by neighbors or friends, no more happy laughter when sharing memories with each other, no more cars filling up the parking lot to come see the dying body, because that never matters when you have lonely people and death involved in a room so hot, the sweat mixes with tears. There’s talk of what will be, funeral costs, casket colors, song choices, who’s next to die, but that isn’t what is to be discussed, shouldn’t be, because the only thing that should matter during death is the feeling of dread that you’ll be next on the slab and that you’ll put that hollow feeling in someone else. Grief is like a viral infection, sympathy crying spreading like butter on warm biscuits, and the hollow stretches wide to be scooped out one more time.
Managers and the Managed / by Lydia Unsworth
Suddenly an open door, said the lionfish to the lionfish at the biopsied neck of the Suez canal. Remove the cyst, sister; our springboard fins have come home to this beautiful land! Like when your head fills up with the same thought over and over (in one nostril and out the other) so the lionfish expands. The seabed drains into default auto. Fashions change. I stepped over two soon-to-be-not-long-dead-bodies on the way to a life’s work this morning. Couldn’t do a thing about it. The queue said go on.
I’ve never been this close, I whispered to the sherpa who had photocopied my passport. Leaving no trace, she took my heart rate and diminished up the hill with my fast lost blood on her over-gloved hands. Never had a skirt fit me so well. Never had I seen a thing happening to my body and been at one with it. Sedentary, sedated: fetch the osteopath, the chiropractor. Hemorrhaging last-chances like a long-bored couple killing everything within sight two times a week. I said it, I told them as the committee gathered to put their trust in legislation, but I did not say it well.
Poem 12 / Day 12
Signaling When Lost / by Bill Abbott
We got lost in the poem, tripped over
all the descriptors and slipped on the
metaphors. We took a wrong turn at the
turn, gave way at the similar similes,
decided to camp when it got dark and
cold in the alleyways of awful
alliteration. We huddled together
in fear of the howls of the wild sonnets,
roaming the fields of eye rhyme, looking for
slow and weak haiku they can take down.
We alluded to the way out, tripped over
our own feet, personified our meters.
We had to defeat the villanelle
to hyperbolically couplet our way free.
Ill Starred / by Christine Darragh
The evening, a noir film.
The moon—a spotlight
on the gelatin-print
of trees, hand of death
from clouds flying
in tatters across
the sky. What else
was there to do,
but turn our unease
on the other? Nearby,
campers made light of
softly sparking fires.
Instead, we warred
quietly below ominous
a corrupt and hazy night.
The Right Question / by Dana Delibovi
What if I asked, “How can I help?”
instead of, “How can I help myself?”
What if I showed up at the party and wondered,
“How can I be useful here?” instead of
“How long do I have to stay here
so they don’t think I’m rude?”
In the office conference room, suppose
I inquired of my heart, “What
do my colleagues need to learn?” and not
“What do I need to say to sound smart?”
Maybe the right question
is always about serving others.
Maybe the will of God is no mystery at all.
Maybe the right question,
if I bothered to ask it,
could work a revolution in my life.
Spit / by Lisa Grunberger
when I spit
I am found
in the beginning
the mud builds
so a man
she has to turn
to go away
turn it and turn it
the silence is not pierced
the space between
my mother’s two
I put my little finger
not so long ago
the space between mountains
between a woman’s legs
wrap me in that space
I want to go home
and turn around
and find you again
7-Minute Fairytale / by Samantha Kolber
Oh my, three years old and how can I protect her from the horrors of the world from the trafficking and the cages from the gang rape frat boys in college, will she even make it that far, this is what I think about when I caress her dimply skin, when I hold her in the rocking chair, of which she is too big for now but holy cow time moves too fast not like the soft squeaky sway of the wooden rocking chair, the one I bought on Crag’s List from a lady who said she raised her two daughters in that chair—rocked and nursed and rocked some more. Are they safe now, I want to ask her. Did they make it through unscathed? And by they I mean their bodies, of course, girls and woman as only a body, as only how our culture sees them—us—the vultures swooping down among the most vulnerable bodies, the ones with holes, the pink ones, the moist ones, the soft ones, baby-fat and chubby cheeks, chubbier thighs, at three these are adorable, delectable, delicious, but someone somewhere other than me, her mother, wants to eat her too, gobble her up like the wolf did to Granny, just waiting for the juicier, tastier red-hooded body of a young girl.
Bukowski at Moyamensing Prison / by Jude Luttrell
A draft dodger, you spent your two-week sentence
Sealed behind castellated Gothic rampart,
Overlooking anachronistic Egyptian Revival wing.
Never knowing Poe spent a night there for public drunkenness,
Never knowing Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman took tea there with a media darling abolitionist,
Never knowing about notorious serial killer who hanged there, twitching for ten full minutes after rat trap was sprung,
Never knowing freedom was yours, long before the heaven-sent 4F was stamped on your soul!
Repaved / by Michelle Menting
This afternoon the thermostat
reads 78, the blacktop
warms, so you take a walk
your soles to this new
spring. This road, country
& rock-walled, is over
a century old. Now it’s a blend
of rock and tar, petroleum, sealant
mix to make a more drivable
surface. When logging trucks
pass, they do so with hums
instead of rumbles. A manufactured
intent in sound. You pass
lilacs, caterpillars crossing, navigate
around the one dead raccoon.
At dawn and dusk, the trucks
move smooth and fast. Prime
time for raccoons, possum,
deer, and porcupine. All
the others. You sidestep
a pattern of slugs
in the center of the road.
has passed, done its job.
The slugs are fine, like a star
in the sky of the road.
Alive and communing,
they form a six-slug-séance.
What is their prayer?
The pavement sparkles: the light
turns when it spots through leaves
of the oak, ash, maple that shadow
the road. This can be mesmerizing,
all that covers. The crows pick at
the worms dried in sealant cracks.
The beetles make their way
to the raccoon, as if their duty
as six-legged road crew.
Is it possible we sample small beauty
in what we stumble upon
to balance the glut
of guilt in what we make?
You turn back, for your feet
are raw from burning.
Instincts / by Alexander Scalfano
Nobody to run with. The wolves
all out with the silver spoon. Corralling
the night against the cliff edge. Family
is knowing you’re after the same prey.
The stars in your pulse spill salt
in the same red sky. No ugliness
in bloodshed. The house you built to hold
the killing tools. Faith is a flick of the ears,
exposed teeth, a series of performances.
The hunt as one muscle, not tensed
but activated. The feeling in the body
when a part of you is doing exactly
what it’s designed for. A heart full
of moonshine and saliva. A learned brutality
when the cradle’s full of knives,
the country on tv screaming through
the night about how to keep you safe,
but the blood pounding in your ears
is another animal’s throat collapsing
beneath your song.
Death in the Hot Sun of June, or How the Field Bent When a Body Hit the Ground / by Ruben E. Smith
Hands as wrinkled and worn as time smoothed out on old cotton sheets, and she
Looks up from her place on her loveseat, head had been nodded off, time had stopped in a nap, and there
She was, sweating from the heat coming in waves through the window, from all around her.
She picked her needle from beside her and set to crocheting another afghan for the coming
Winter, her husband was somewhere outside, tending to whatever animals needed to be
Tended, but she noticed the clock on the wall announced it was a quarter past eight.
He was still out there, in the dying heat of the day, and she wondered why he hadn’t come in
After dinner had been had, she thought where could he have gone, if something had happened
To him out there, in the field, in the pasture, outside of the home he had come into.
She got up from her spot, putting the needle down as she went, and looked outside the back
Door, glancing around for any sign of the blue shirt he always wore when he was working on
Something, but the shirt or the person in it were nowhere to be seen, so she stepped out there.
She called his name to no reply except a cow giving her a bad look and baying at her to
Come look, to come see what they saw, and she ran down the steps in a hurry to find her
Husband, but she still couldn’t see him anywhere at all, no blue shirt, no man of the house.
She was flushed in the face, sweat pouring off her chin onto the ground as she
Ran out into the field and saw him, face down in the tall grass, lifeless and unresponsive
To her pleas, which meant it was serious and bad, something out of her control entirely.
He was out here dying in the heat, dying in the invisible flames, and it was all her fault he had
Been out here, she had said she was taking the nap, taking the time to get herself
Together, but look where that got her, with a husband on the ground and tears in her eyes.
She knelt beside him, pounded his body, but there’s no answer, as if she was hitting a door
To see if someone was home, but the lights were off and the car was gone from the
Gravel drive, moved out, foreclosed, abandoned ship, left without notice, in a hot minute.
Lost Faith Breeds / by Lydia Unsworth
Regret spills out into public domain. At first the leader isn’t noticed; then the five stages of grievance. Podium warfare silly-dancing into all our hearts like a first love, if we had one, if we convinced ourselves of the piano in the amygdala behind the fringe of trees. Mama is a word I prefer not to notice, so often am I wet up to the kneecaps, doused with filth, striking at the striking transport for the inconvene. Once adored―then fear, then hate, ignore. Then lose. Let loose. The darkness had to leave. Although I’m mud and gory spattered, I’ve gathered all my offspring. We’re pitching our tent and leaving no trace by the side of the water. And you can’t say you personal-assisted, you can’t say any single motion was either fated or natural. Hail effluvia, I’m moved―shame not to be. Banking on finding the right mood.
Poem 11 / Day 11
The Concentration of the Writer / by Bill Abbott
You reach for the words to write, and your son
repeats words every few seconds that he
hears on television, expecting you to repeat
what he said.
Bubble move. Magic stick, give it a word.
What word is that? Yeah, fan. To make it move.
Straight ahead. Alright, buddy. Here we go.
Here we go. Here we go. Look at those big fish.
Whoa, look at those big fish. I lie. Aye-aye.
Sound. Bubble sound fins. Good work, Captain
Wally. Just little further. After that grab crab.
Grab crab. Grab crab. Fence word today. Yo
ho ho. We are pirate snails. We are pirate snails.
Every day of the week. Fun? Fun? Well, it’s just fun.
What word is that? Fun. Fun. How to have…fun.
Are we having fun yet? Place. Face. We’re having fun.
Yo. Thanks, pirate snails. Don’t worry, buddy. Don’t
worry, buddy. You like it? Just do that. He is so.
Love, Inc. / by Christine Darragh
A red smear and poorly chosen type face,
scarlet clip art crayon-mark heart. The sign—
too small to read from the passing car—
fixed to a dingy beige store front. Too far
to tell if the mark in the center was more
stigmata, or phallus.
It’s a small town bookstore perhaps,
full of dated evangelical titles scattering
sparse shelves; porcelain figurines
gathering dust; filigreed icons hanging
from dainty chains at the counter—
weary with an outworn hopes.
Or, backwater sex shop plying its trade
in old-world objectification; sticky-paged
magazines, condoms, a counter-full of
lubes and gels; Scratchy lace hanging
off picked-over racks; an ignored shelf
of leather toys. Which was it—O God
or ”Ooh! Gawd!”—either possible really.
Both capitalizing on desire, promising
to satisfy life’s appetites—carnal or spiritual.
Bubble go fast. Ready. Sound.Optics / by Dana Delibovi
study how light
through the cracks
around the door
howls in green
trip the horns
blisters the spot
a sunscreened hand
a ripe tomato
out of dirt
pumps the cycle
of morning coffee
and pigheaded hope
Before It’s Gone / by Lisa Grunberger
Snow on the slanted roof,
house heavy, gutters full,
my branches bear the snow caps well.
Wooden chimes on the patio
where the cement bird feeder sits,
a single leaf in its empty belly,
moan a deep moan
unlike the high-pitched soprano
of church bells at noon.
I still live by old signals —
the fluorescent timelessness of airports
does not run through my veins;
my river runs towards
the spooning body at noon,
the rain that will come
to wash away the snow
the promised sun
of you coming home
on time, no train delays —
I’ve opened up the wine
to let it breathe before it’s gone.
A Poem About Heat on the Day My Father Enters His Umpteenth Paranoid Psychotic Episode, or, How I Questioned the Peonies, or, My Father: Only He Knows the Truth, or, It’s Still an Emotion That’s Contagious / by Samantha Kolber
“If I feel heat, I write about that heat.” –Ruben E. Smith (also of italicized phrase above)
When I feel the heat burning from the sun
or from the son of my father—yes, my brother—
who texts me to say he got a call from the FBI field office in Trenton
that said dad’s been ranting and raving about conspiracy theories again,
what can I do but look again at my peonies, pink and white,
happy and fragrant,
filling up the whole house with perfume? What do they know
about crazy? Of believing terrorists
are out to get you—you, a retired, middle-class white male
who worked in computers
before the internet. What kind of net
do peonies know? And what kind of net is there
for my father—alone, schizophrenic, psychotic; in denial
and a drug addict, too—reaching out to the government branch
of law enforcement, the same office he claims is bugging him,
following him? I look at the peonies, heads held high and humongous
on impossibly green floral stalks, and I wonder
for the first time: what if we choose to believe him this time?
That instead of shaking our heads, laughing, or rolling our eyes—oh,
that’s just crazy dad, having another episode—what if
we choose his path? See through his impossible eyes?
See his rants and raves as true?
Because, like these peonies told me just now,
who really holds the truth of the world? The heat of the sun?
A lonely, old, and sick man? A poet? Who, when she feels the heat,
writes about the heat. In all its fatuous forms.
The Most Powerful Poem I’ll Never Write / by Jude Luttrell
Is the one that would make all despair spontaneously combust.
Is the one that would wipe clean the slate
And replace it with an interactive whiteboard.
Is the one that would remove all doubt during REM sleep,
And replace all cynicism with good luck.
Is the one that would make your heart skip a beat one million times a day,
And then one million times more.
Is the one that would cinema-scope and digitize all of our memories
And park them in The Cloud.
Is the one that would spin hope as easily as carnival cotton candy.
Is the one that would raise the dead, especially James Brown.
Is the one that would always and forever,
Make me wish I’d never met you.
What You Ward Off You Can Conjure / by Michelle Menting
I have taken to eating raw garlic again,
whole bulbs of cloves that with a knife
pressed with conscience, enough thought
for the outer skin to flip out a corner,
I can pick, peel back, expose the slivered
white claws. It’s enough, this flavor
of hot memory, of summers out back,
walking the trail from the house to our
desperate garden and following enchantment.
Eat whole cloves to keep mosquitos away,
they don’t like the scent. Eat it raw
to ward off the ticks—it throws off their radar
for the flow in your veins. When you’re eight
and taught two spears of heat will keep away
what wants your blood, that stays in your thoughts.
Old wives’ tale or true woods medicine, its power
saturates through once you hear the words.
You return to it every year, every hot day.
When you ache to go back to those woods,
the hemlock trail that seemed so long, the one
that led you from the ramshackle cabin, the one
you took with your sisters to watch your mother
while she planted tomatoes and sweet corn the deer
would eat anyway, despite the paper plates
brushed with dog hair tacked to the posts.
Another deterrent, folktale or real—what did
it matter? We loved the process: brushing
the dogs, tacking the paper plates. We loved
too the magic, the imagined power: each of us
mini sorcerers warding off the creatures
who wanted us. We secretly hoped they’d come.
That we’d witness their surprise at our awesome
powers. As part of the spell we’d script: four legs
befriend. Wings and needles take flight, eight legs
end. It made no sense and all the sense. The ticks,
the mosquitoes, the deer, and rabbits. Decades
later the spell becomes prescription each summer
you refill: take two cloves to repel what pest might
ale you; peel back and swallow a bulb to transport
to the ache of a garden, the memory you lived the most.
Editorial Privilege / by Alexander Scalfano
What I meant to say at the time was heartache, but really mean it. Not a swan through a parachute of fog that reminds you of kissing her on the side of the mouth in a hurry. Not a clearing where a tribe of wild turkeys pose like the stations of the cross and you thought of Christ working out what he was going to say when it was all over, something he could slap on a t-shirt. No, what I meant to say at the time was heartache in a big way like I wanted you to know that the fist in my chest could burn the stone and ruin Easter like it was pumping pink and purple into that sunset on your insta that shattered the social media circuit when everyone was like “damn, I fell in love under your sunset because it turned aesthetic to ash.” Seriously, when I said heartache at the time I was lacing my sneakers with Satan’s sinew and headed out the door to pound beers with Elliot Smith’s guitar and we sloshed into an American ballad in D minor like we didn’t give a goddamn about how you feel. When I said heartache back then I even scared myself.
Emmylou Has Gone and Done It Now / by Ruben E. Smith
In response to “Till I Gain Control Again”
There are some turns, she sings, there are some things out there, things that’ll come at you from all around you and cause you to go blind with anger and rust, your eyes crusted shut. The lighthouse awaits you, a swirling light going around and around, signaling for others to know that it stands there, but it never sees the light it shines. Roads unfold and yet, you never get anywhere because you’re stuck on that pothole thirty miles back, stuck on your husband who says you aren’t the same person anymore, stuck on the black lines that guide you to another morning of diner coffee and trashy waitresses. You know you like to spend your mornings in a sunrise with your thoughts flooding in like creamer mixing with dark coffee, all of time had slowed down for you because there’s hope that someone can hold you, rock away those thoughts of yesterday and pain and abuse and lies, all those things gone until you can make it on your own, until you can feel all of the world turn once again for you. But as a lighthouse, you stand alone, and you’re the end of that journey, no matter how many roads you travel, you’re only looking for yourself on blacktop, driver’s seat, cup holders, all those lies and lines blending together once more for a spoon to drop in and stir.
This is thought to be
a late interpolation / by Lydia Unsworth
Empty as real estate, the moon shines fairly in an undeveloped dawn. I try to stand still but the motorbikes are going round and through me. Splashing my small intensity with their crude virtue, unhelmeted horsepower slick like oil. If the hat fits, I’ll buy it―shame not to. Sometimes a thing doesn’t happen twice. Stay empty or you will be rendered so: stripped of atmosphere, nude as punishment. Tie your shoelaces to the nuts and bolts of the ground and, pinned down, let your body blow. You are safe if you are slow, grand if you can secure land. Shine a light in every corner of my heart; my lungs are chocked with petrochemicals, despite what the underlying lichen would have you believe, so don’t stray far. Stay, like the baggy clouds, keep me from looking up at everything I will bludgeon, crack open, and allow to die. Come back to haunt me with your nothing-cannot-haunt spiel, with your space where a word should be. Yearn for silence? Embrace this: a zoo without a z, a mars without an ours, a moon we shouldn’t own. Umm. All things are active, my fingers twitch. To buy is to cope, to handle. I want to exchange my stock, forge bonds, expand. An empty shelf is a dusty shelf, a source of respiratory hardening. It’s not my vault. Reapportion what you want, but not blame, not here. I’m not trying to frighten you, I’m just trying to make you agree.
Poem 10 / Day 10
Engines of Longing / by Bill Abbott
Imagine yourself as a train, a couple of
engines up front, a bunch of cars, maybe a
caboose if you’re feeling fancy. You fly
down the rails, rainy days and snowy days,
days where the weather doesn’t care about you.
You slow down for towns, stop here and there
for a few moments, attacked by spray cans
proclaiming things in swirling letters. You are
canvas, then moving artwork. You ride the rails
literally, gliding your way through the dark and
the light, leaving lonely whines in small towns
that teens will think is a beckoning call to travel.
Your trainship, your trainliness, is the romantic
freedom, the quiet and lonely freedom, the way
of the world until life derails you, spills your
cargo across the fields, or the towns. Spills you
across the roadways of life. Reminds you
that your freedom only extends where there
are rails. Reminds you there are limits, but
aren’t they scenic?
Incubus / by Christine Darragh
It was never the apple
with its cautionary skin,
rather the steadfast refusal—
incarnadine fancy swelling
in her mind. Mouthwatering
peril, obsession consuming
her. Curious in the grove,
eyes closed as she went,
it could luck into eager
palms. Or running—reckless
amidst hedgerows, happily
wanton—that blushing fruit
would happen into her grasp.
Perhaps some night, body thick
with new wine, hunger ripe,
she’d rise in bruise-black night—
a forked-tongue susurrant
in the treetops, crimson guilt
on her newly conscious breath.
Coconut Cake / by Dana Delibovi
for Theresa Smith, 1930-2019
Back when you took care of that motel
your yardsale Tupperware
sat neatly as ever, every lid in place,
in your rental-office home.
And in your little kitchen, in an ancient oven
flaking its enamel, you conjured up
the coconut cake of a lifetime.
From Norwalk to Bethel we drove
on a cool and cloudy summer day,
to visit you and talk about your favorite topics—
serial murder and sobriety.
Little did we know, headed up Route 7,
that what you made would leave such sweetness
ever, ever in our memories.
Currently / by Lisa Grunberger
So much depends
a red rec-
sickled with yellow
beside the white
Peony Etheree / by Samantha Kolber
when I look at
peonies? Why do
they get to open, show
off vulnerable insides?
White trumpets thrusting, pink petals
feathering, perfume permeating
into the depths of me uninvited.
Peonies heady now with its fragrance,
with its own open weight, forcing me
to at least smell something nice, at
least soften somewhere in my
body. What body of
stalks grow this green? Who
blames them for their
Leviathan Love Song / by Jude Luttrell
My favorite love song is the one
You wrote about my sea blue eyes.
In the antediluvian days before the flood,
World of two topographies: one land, one roiling sea.
Awakening in those briny ancient depths
After epochs of muted, murky silence,
In a groggy foggy gesture, you yawned,
Opening wide your titanic mouth.
From my solitary roof walk,
I mistook your amplified watery maw
For an invitation to take refuge in that gaping grotto,
To lose myself in the depths of you.
Creature without fear, I dove headfirst
From my perch, swiftly sinking
Beneath your glistening white wake.
You returned my bravery with serpent song.
Building slowly like a ballad,
It uncoiled progressively to reveal
A thrashing hard rock hook:
YOUR EYES! YOUR EYES! YOUR EYES!
The song stripped me bare
Of fear, loathing, clothes, and hair—
Spewed me from belly to shore.
I rise: Naked. Humbled. Innocent. Reborn.
Rental Still / by Michelle Menting
Because it’s May and spring came late,
the humidity is shy, the mosquitos not yet
settled in their dusk routine, the windows
on the house sealed with plastic, duct tape,
misplaced pet hair, the truck in its layers
of salt sits in the driveway of mud. Too cool
to dry anything outside, aprons and smocks,
Carhartts, and shirts with names adorn
the backs of kitchen chairs. The dryer
broke months ago—the landlord, still
in appliance denial. Everything quiet under
a blanket of rind except the murmuring
voices on the pullout couch. They say,
we’ll move this time. The last frost, we will—
this is our final thaw. This world, just one
flicker of waiting, a throat catch from thunder
before the gasp of storm washes everything
forward, breaks it wide open.
One While the Train Took Off From the Station, Just Before the World Ended / by Ruben E. Smith
My overpriced orange juice sweats in between my legs and the ticket checker is almost to my seat.
How can I explain to him I never had this happen before, I usually just jump on a train and take off to wherever?
How can I tell him I don’t have the money for a fine, a ticket, or anything for that matter, that this was my last trip ever?
He reaches for my ticket and I look up at him with eyes of confusion and grief, a mad man pleading for his life.
I tell him there’s no ticket here, he retorts that there’s rules you have to follow and this was breaking several.
He says it’ll be whatever amount, and I explain that a snake sometimes sheds its skin against rough places.
He’s not buying my snake story, and this is where it all began, where all of time began to stop one clock at a time.
There’s someone waiting somewhere for something, and I tell myself that this is just one of the clocks breaking,
Just one of those moments that soon wouldn’t matter anyway, and the man calls for another checker.
A woman comes down the car, looking mad, and she explains I have to pay or they’ll call the real police.
I throw my hands in the air, tell them that I’m just some drifter that’ll go on about his life if they’ll let me.
They explain that can’t be done, and it will have to be, just for now, just for this moment of tranquility.
The silence thickens and the tensions rise as the man pulls out a cell phone to dial the police to come.
The next station was for another thirty minutes, and I told them I didn’t mind waiting for the cops.
I was waiting for whatever was to come, and it’d be here sooner or later, without their help, of course.
Old Masters / by Lydia Unsworth
Valley-dip of evening and loose, loud clink of a corner chair in crowded blue. Is there room enough for two? For two more halves? Joy only costs a day’s pay and if we meet before night is over then I’ve (been) granted a step, a stoop, stupor. –> Stupid. <– Too pissed to frighten myself out of the room. We’re on the bottleneck of the mountain ridge and I was guaranteed by my former self the return leg―was promised air. My foot in my sock in my shoe only wants what it’s entitled to. The sketch of a descent. More expensive flights again. The people here who really want it. And no more. Who is whole? I was a whole thing in the blanket, I shared this with you, going limp and then slowly stirring up life. We can’t be pinned down: deft and subtle as populist rhetoric. Keep banging that drum till the neighbours appear, and then, self-effacing, face them. We chase litter down the street, blowing in the angry pressurised air. We’re jumping to catch a strip of blue tape with silver spots on: is this plastic? We’re unsure. Trying so hard not to get hit by a passing car.
Poem 9 / Day 9
Afloat / by Bill Abbott
You take to the lake on a
one-person kayak, first time
skimming the surface, and
a light rain goes with you.
Your companion has done this
several times before, tells you
the best approach to the
paddle. You glide around the
lake, working on your turns
when you, again, get too close
to the tree limbs sticking out
of the water. The heron keeps
you in its eye, flaps away when
you get too close, but only a few
feet further away. Lily pads float,
and you watch as they form
puddles of rain on top, almost afraid
to reach the lake, to become
part of the larger body. You feel
guilty if your paddle hits a lily pad,
wanting to be a part of the world
without stumbling through it
as usual. The lake whirs by, around,
ahead of you. The peace on the water
Self-Portrait at the Laying-on of Hands (c. 1992) / by Christine Darragh
Imagine the wooden folding chair,
its plywood layers chipping away—
ready to snag Sunday morning tights.
Imagine the people, a crowd gathered
round—well-dressed, modest. Women
in calf-length dresses, flat shoes, bangs.
Now the air weighing on the chest.
The sticky spring evening wilting in at
open doors. Smell the gym, decades
of sweat moldering on walls, in textiles.
A circle of chairs, drawstring of people.
A girl caught in the center, flushed—
cheeks hot. Swampy hands extended,
fiery with the Spirit. Voices rise—
first singly— then a chorus of blessings,
of petitions. Others join—a glossolalia.
Sound pressing inward, insistent.
The girl—fighting for air, weight
pressing her chest. Bodies—
smothering; hands—a net. Strangling,
stifling, burning. Eyes screwed shut.
Then, she knows what she must do.
Doves, rising in the updraft emerge
from a babel-open mouth. Heaven’s
cacophony gains another voice.
Summer Wedding at Sainte Louise / by Dana Delibovi
The folding chairs are gathered on the lawn.
A ribboned bower frames the lake.
The maid of honor stifles back a yawn.
The caterer wheels in a cake.
Soon, the guests will come. The bride will wend
the footpath round a dying tree.
Soon, the plastic champagne flutes will bond
with other plastic in the sea.
Lines from Never Forget to Lie / by Lisa Grunberger
for Marian Marzynski.
During the Holocaust God was
taking a long nap.
I call my religion survival.
In our old bodies we are
From now on your name
is Maresha. Never admit
you are Jewish. Papa showed
me how to make the sign
of the cross.
I remember boots,
clean beautiful boots,
noisy shiny boots.
At eye level that’s what
A haunted past.
I see people in the windows,
my people in the windows.
Somebody’s going to come down.
Does this look like your courtyard?
All the Jews out!
I never stopped feeling
To survive in the insane jungle
you had to be an animal yourself.
One gold tooth
a few nights in a B & B
for Jews in hiding.
I’m a child, a young little girl
I want to live, please please
have mercy on me.
You will never forget
my face, you will always remember
you killed an innocent little girl.
So he said, run, run, run!
The Jews are burning smoke
over the ghetto.
I dreamed of becoming
I’m your mother.
I don’t remember you.
Moses’s mother letting him go
to save his life.
I have roots.
I thought I was an orphan.
I jumped out of the train.
I have always known the location
in the forest.
I never had the strength
My Father, my father.
My father’s watch.
I don’t want to remember.
I don’t wear the watch.
Snowbound / Jude Luttrell
We longed to roll out the Welcome mat
For the slightest hint of allegedly cruel April.
Instead, frigid wind rattled roofs, spines, and teeth,
Tinting noses and lips deep lilac blue.
We stirred thin milk into cups of weak tea,
Tuned and re-tuned staticky radio,
Read The Waste Land late into the night.
Weak fortification against numbing squall.
You squinted through frosted cataract of kitchen window,
Fearfully scrutinizing grey granite stones bordering backyard,
As if they were vermin creeping violently toward our dreary hovel—
Ill-intentioned animal army wielding brittle twigs.
In antique green medicine bottle on nightstand,
Dried hyacinth shivered in draft’s path,
Shedding brittle, bitter blossoms,
Nearly crumbling under winter’s weight.
When even the county plow couldn’t make it through,
We dined haphazardly on old soup, sauerkraut, and stale crackers.
Played Gin Rummy with cards from an incomplete deck.
Disinterested in winning.
True Story / by Michelle Menting
Somewhere, years ago, in Idaho or maybe
Wyoming, I slept in the open uncovered
with no barrier or tarp between view from iris
to star, which is to say, star to star, eye to sky.
The bugs weren’t bad, the car still had gas, and I
was fortunate to pause a night of good weather.
It was just like that: rambling across the country,
escaping some moment of chaos before another
chaos of ghosts to follow. What is the collective
noun for ghosts? They always form in pairs, no,
triplets, unless that’s just me. In the midst
of one ellipse, I threw a carpet over this river
I wished were metaphor. I slowed its flow.
Everything continued to stream and I witnessed it
screenshot: the deep murk of waters green, turtles
with cracked shells saucering around sawdust and limbs,
sweet-liquored bottle bits, corners of cardboard
and tissue in the current, and the deep bass
of a highway’s semis out of sight. But none of it
out of sight. By night why bother with a tent.
Why sleep under the roof of the car. Band-Aid shelter.
I unrolled my bag on this mix of meadow and sand.
It seemed only right and fair to lay bare to the sky,
to share in this pact of what it means to be vulnerable.
Incompatibility Test / by Alexander Scalfano
I suppose the reverse is true. I walk backwards
into my apartment and you’re leaving the keys
in the dish by the door. In this handful of stones
is our shared consequences, sand piling on
your feet as you stand rigid as a staircase
to the moon and the stars are the silverware
you’re tossing down the steps to let me know
not to come back. My photonegative heart
squeezing all the blood away without oxygen,
taking the ice out my drinks and neatly
back into the tray. All the starlight in an ice cube
deflected until it absorbs the lamplight from the living
room into a wheel of shadow, the VHS of our dysfunction
revolving into your face only visible in the sliver of empty
space between the door slightly ajar and the hinges
bolted into the wall. When our single eyes make contact,
the ice storm outside flickers the lights and now I can’t be
sure if I’m pulling the door open to let you in or leaving
the room. It’s our communion in circuit, aching in circles
body of Christ melting on the tongue, held
just outside the purple dark of an open mouth.
One Sitting in Front of a River in France, The Day After the World Ended / by Ruben E. Smith
Nestled neatly in its sack, a bottle of wine from the region rests
All worlds converge here, the worlds of rivers and gnats, meeting up.
I take out the bottle, twist in the opener, and pop out the cork, but there is no satisfaction here,
Only sadness and dignity lost in waters, tainted with vineyards and old people on bicycles.
I can’t say whether or not it was divine intervention, but rain began to fall across the water
Peppering me with the somber tone of church bells on a Monday morning walk through desolate streets.
I remember walking out of the house, the one that didn’t belong to me, and I felt shame rising in my abdomen,
The feeling worse than rain diluting your glass of wine, the feeling worse than knowing you have lied to everyone you’ve ever known.
among trees of loneliness and sadness
the wicked pluck their strings
This is where rivers meet, and they sing to each other in melodies of pain and lose, and they paint in hues of dead flowers and broken stone,
These Three Qualities (Null Set) / by Lydia Unsworth
Every night’s a Friday night because the music in us will never end. We’ve been told to listen, but I’ve turned and turned and I can’t hear a thing. My own voice rang out from underneath the pillow: Apparently. Woke me up, a word so bright. Ladies, this sure feels right. I’m collapsing into Soho on a Saturday night. Air so thin I’m dressed in membrane, contactless, going off people’s given names, where their hearts begin so same so same. Standing by the growth chart, nothing’s changing, nothing at all. What night? I only register as taller when the rule falls off the wall. Call it excitatory if you like, a word that itself peaked around 1999. I can’t be pinned down, seen. On the glowing squares, it becomes important to know the history of dancing. The history of drink. Still, we believe that we were made to laugh and sing.
Poem 8 / Day 8
Real Growth Industry Induction / Bill Abbott
After the attack on the roundabout fountain,
everyone debated the best way to safely
protect the rising waters flooding the lines.
You plan to grow like stars in the night sky,
but instead glow like stars in the rose bushes.
Fanatic fantasy pants make you look really nice,
but they’re unrealistic in the long squirm. Berm.
Term limits. Thingie. The changes in the
atmosphere around the state house can best
be explained by risk analysis and competitive
rages. In the meantime, please fill out this poem
in triplicate, hoping to qualify for quality. You
like life in nature, things that move around, and
good for you, but your fascination with walking
rocks is distracting and distraught and fraught with
macaroni bracelets. That may be using your noodle,
but it is hardly constructive in the overall dream
of things, with you as the dreamer, the failed
schemer, the absolute queen of couplings. Your
tent pole politics have given way to an influx
of strippers and stripers of all slices, and
the emus and ferrets know all the best secrets.
The redacted redundancy leaves space for change,
and enough change equals dollars, so the country
operates on a surplus of wreckage. Slice thin the
best meanings in the constructive confusion, serve
it on a dish of your own forging. Give it a proper
garnish, and hope someone drops in for a bite.
Phantom* / Christine Darragh
It is found that some people deprived
of a sense—hearing or vision—hallucinate.
Brains creatively, autonomously filling-in
for the loss. This can take months—even
years—to manifest. Those who lose limbs,
sense the phantom within days—sometimes
minutes. Injury reveals the second self—
an incorporeal anatomy—connected to, but
hidden from the other. Aren’t we all
of certainty, concern, hopes, dreams?
And all these, shifting with time.
Apparitions enclosed in solid form—
spirits chafing against ill-fitting flesh.
*after reading Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
Cells / Lisa Grunberg
Everyone looks down
not toward the earth
even the rain
is lonely and large
the snowflakes refuse
the old no longer old
the thumbs of young boys
have grown large
who are they connecting with
a pigeon asks
landing on a broken
Gift Horse 3 / Jude Luttrell
Betting the race would end in a dead heat,
Grandstanding kings and ruffians panting uneasily,
Queasy when the hot-blooded filly failed.
Sensing the seriousness of her invisible wound,
Jockey, bowed rider on her back, pulled up on the reigns,
As the optimistic odds of the morning line vanished
At the finish line she was too broken to cross.
Symbiosis / Michelle Menting
She made it look so easy, my sister,
when she paused before the trail tunneled
into hemlock and oak. How she dipped
from her waist as if nothing but hinge
of skin, grazed the patch of dandelions,
and pet the backs of bumblebees.
We all doubt the real magic
of this world. I question the insistence
of beauty in planted peonies, why
so many maintain it’s there, how
you might see a flower, so wondrous,
of pink and puce, white, or heart-
blossomed red, and I repulse, reject
those petals of tottering globes, full
bobbles of stick shaped like popcorn balls
we’d make as kids, corn syrup glazing,
baptizing our palms as we cupped
and cupped so desperate for sweetness.
And then I see those peonies
covered with ants and neighboring
aphids communing or broaching
something thought baleful: an orgy
of insects groping slick nectar so
eagerly you’d think, how unseemly.
But don’t you see the mirror? Let’s
reconcile this religion of flowers—
believe me, this is a psalm: to fingertip
the felt of an insect pollinating
a weed is to praise and partner
in all the green wonder we are.
Burial Verse / Alexander Scalfano
While I am doing my best
to wake myself up,
the cat is lying in the window
mingle. The world is throng,
every day is an inquest. I am
invisible to a star when standing
where a star is becomes
the neighbors walking through
the beginning of their days
ignite a universe
with each little electrical signal.
How can I continue
to move through this life
aware of all the lives
I am making impossible
with my choices?
The parentage of
the multiverse— living
in funeral black, desperate
to make more room in the yard
for the dead children.
The sparrows, quickly
again like a mouth exhaling smoke
played in reverse. They are now
insular, a portion of the light
shatters against their tiny
shoulders. I wouldn’t say
I’m at odds with myself, but I am
dying in so many more ways than
living. Is that human? Thrown
forward by hundreds
of miniature explosions?
Goat / Lydia Unsworth
Nothing in the world that could stop me rising―the way a source of meat rises plucked from
an open flame.
I won’t spend hours deciding what to wear; the word heel frightens me, puts me in my place.
I want to trample over 7,000 hectares of your crops, take what I need. It is only because I have
a body that I am seen.
On the television, you present my fat childhood that others might learn. Trust her. When they
are on top, they are afraid. Heavy clods in the thinning air.
Let someone who doesn’t give a damn about us give a damn about us. Two accidental arms
flung backwards to see what they can reach. Disco-ball facets in their million-fold face. The
hardest thing to spell is a long ohh-oo-oh and to keep the feeling from feeling like a mistake.
Instructions For Opening Up the Heart/ Irene Villasenor
My heart is like a
murder of crows
If I want to scare you
it will be clear
where I deposited
My heart is like an
unkindness of ravens
With tails and wings
and everything else
straight to the point
not evil in disguise
My heart is like a
clamour of rooks
I want a lot of space
but don’t always need it
and what once was silence
is now known for noise
My heart is like
the tidings of magpies
Walking free, finding
someone to nest with,
and full of good news
Poem 7 / Day 7
All of This to Say I’m Sorry/ by Bill Abbott
The winds have picked up, and the signs are down.
The birth pangs of the birthdays have increased,
leaving nobody the wiser nor prepared. The bog
monsters have bogged their way to the sacred grove,
where their monster masters will glow with pride
at the price paid by humanity in order to call up
civilization again. The new faces will need names.
The new body shapes will need titles. The lost souls
will need finding again. Or losing further. The
angels, fallen or risen, all will need to take their places.
The skies glow red this evening. Sailors may be
pleased, but philosophers and theologians fear
even deeper. Look even deeper, and you’ll see
the destruction has already begun. We should dance
our way through it, leaving the rubble behind us
as we reach the end. If, that is, you’ll take my hand?
Their heart grew cold.
they let their wings down.—Sappho
The couple, wedged together on a too-small couch.
A room too-small to contain what politeness
forbids them speak. She is masked eyes, and he
a singed tongue. Together, caution and civility.
The woman across from them asks, and they speak
of a lingering afternoon, hours lazy beneath a cloudless
blue. They tell of a restful boat launch, silhouettes
baking on concrete; Of a solitary loon, whose eerie wail
summoned others—a hush of wing beats, hysterical
laughter answering. “Usually such solitary birds!”
the wife tells of the flock rising as one, winging westward.
The couple sits on either side of a gulf—calling out.
But the pleas do not carry over the roar of waves.
Another sky grows fiery, then dim. Stars make tear-
drops of their reflections and night draws close
around. Opposite the couch, the woman speaks
of flight patterns. A shadow of wings darkens the
man’s face. His wife senses rather than hears an
echo unraveling in the night air. Then, stillness.
Internet Accounting/Dana Delibov
Four hours of life
dribbled down a hole last night,
as I tried to fix an error on my Office 365.
Two hours of life
ebbed away this morning,
while I was hungover with guilt
for how I spent my night.
Twenty years of life,
eroded and replaced;
watching the herons in the pond,
swapped for watching You Tube.
I’ve traded at a loss,
and I will never pay my debts.
I frittered away the living birds.
Time’s ransom will go unpaid.
The Hebrew word for ark, tevah, is also the Hebrew word for a “word.”
In the bookstore the dove’s shadow was still.
A butterfly landed on its wing. I could not speak
and swallowed words like boats. The store was to close,
the owner’s ears tired as desert dust.
With olive pit between my teeth a hard life vest, I begin to walk.
I did not cleave to the night. It birthed me, I rode it,
somehow I brought myself inside it, a tired red, as never before
I was brought. I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask.
Was ready to be found by those who did not seek. Here I am
I said to the dark stranger who lay in the doorway to the store with
fake diamonds in the window. Call me when you have returned
to the receding waters. We will sing the round songs
soaked in gosammer and tears.
What Feral Means to A Writing Mom / Samantha Kolber
“there’s a feral / glint in some eyes around here.” –Bill Abbott
whining for her
hides upstairs in
to write a poem.
This is the definition
of ferality. No wild
animal but the one
I made and birthed,
hide from now.
Gift Horse 2 / Jude Luttrell
According to St. Jerome, after accepting a pony present,
Avoid inspection of the steed’s teeth.
You never know what you might find there,
Besides, of course, the space for the bit.
A hoary horse’s maw houses molars, dicers, and grinders
Worn out, broken down choppers—-
Casualties of the bridle and the feedbag,
Toothy tick marks on a timeline of steady, painful, domesticated decline.
My mother was buoyant,
in water she was a float
supreme, held no shame
in the folds of her body.
She’d let me climb atop
her one-piece, the suit
with straps that’d slip off
her shoulders ashore
but in the depths of lakes,
they’d rise, u-shaped twin
halos paralleling her neck.
This was but one part of her holiness.
Just beneath her collarbone,
right above her breasts, I’d hug,
careful, and only after ample
practice, to leave space between
my arms, her soft skin. Breathing
room. And we’d dive. We’d submarine.
With smooth flight moves, we’d wave
beneath the surface. Below:
minnows, pondweed, wild celery,
the one bass nest. She’d point out
the bladderwort and I’d hold it in
no longer. I’d break our stream
of gloss with bubbles of underwater
snickering. The names of plants
and fish were for the surface.
Once on the lake’s horizon,
we’d dip below again, sink in
the fluid silence. Submerged,
our bodies turned vessel of one
on a single gulp of air.
My dream begins in a opossum’s crushed skull
baking on the highway beside a speed trap.
In the leaves, each one flourishing the individual
emerald of its cape, another dream waits.
The history of a mouth is language
or rather language is the history of a mouth
opening inside of a skull
inside of another skull.
Coffee grit in the back of that mouth—
or morning as a spray of blood, which keeps
the viewer reminded of their essence.
The next day as a darkness
underneath the water.
The next day as refused
passengers from the flood.
The ovulating moon
flush, expectant in the daytime sky,
a molten bit of yearning.
But caffeine is a rapid delivery of the feeling
of what I’ll do regardless of where the sun is
or, in another context, caffeine is just the twinkle
in my blood’s eye. And death is that sediment
underneath the bloodstream,
hardening the veins.
It’s not a moment but a long, boring novel
about everything I do and don’t do
before the rupture,
before the seance,
before the spring.
Spring, which is actually
death of the previous year,
the way new growth is born from death
and will grow up to be just like its parents.
What’s this black rock in my teeth
that tastes like soil and feels like the end
of a long day of grading papers?
The sediment of the academic year,
the coffee-stained papers crumpled
into forgotten flutes at the bottom of a bag.
I played your instrument but you carved
the wrong holes or I knew the wrong
notes and the discord makes me depressed
and turns me towards punk rock and videos
of hedgehogs with custom made
hats (the really dark stuff).
Have I become eternal?
My body still feels the same, pliable, having the give
of wet unfinished wood.
No one marks the time I have left but me
And even then I’m still waiting for an estimate
that’s never coming. A syllabus
made of ash and bone.
It’s crippling to be aware of one’s self,
to be apparent.
To exist is to long for the moment
before one was aware of desire—
to drink tea in silence
and draw faces on a napkin.
Liquid beds silently expand the way ivory stockpiles, the way the balloon wouldn’t burst however many times you bounced on it and I kept
saying it would because, as we would see, I was wrong. You keep bouncing anyway; only you can know what your body demands. The bluebell
hangs its drooping head as if to focus on itself. The only treasure I’ll ever have is the functioning of my is you until you’re gone. Raw leaves,
even spinach―all worryingly wild. The idea of letting anything inside, even light. Some like it raw, without any kind of seasoning. Plain rice
absorbing water like tears brought into pillows in the night. The threat of anything but us trying to take back land. Some people have booming
elephant populations they’d rather not come in to contact with. Can’t sell them on because people without elephants are telling people with too
many elephants what to do with their elephants: it’s not on. I say do what your belly tells you, look in, not out. Firmly insert the magazine. The
elephants can take care of themselves. Don’t be shy. Take what you need, not what you want.
Poem 6 / Day 6
Thursday Morning, Near Downtown / by Bill Abbott
Cats gather, a full senate of fur,
at the window. They chirp their
broken meows at the trees nearby.
The guy next door works on
building a porch for his rental,
complaining how the college kids
left the place. The neighbor out
back builds a tall garage
with no heavy equipment. The cats
sing their songs to the birds; the dog
charges out and chases them away
with a fierce burst of barks.
A twenty-something woman
looks in the empty house next door,
tells me she used to live there
when she was little. Casing it
for heroin money. Saws
whir. Squirrels run through the yard,
scrounging for food in the grass,
waiting for more food in the feeder.
Stray cats, an occasional rabbit,
wander the back field. The suburban
coyotes are urban legends in any
furred form, though there’s a feral
glint in some eyes around here.
Reluctant Native / by Christine Darragh
If you peeled back years like an onion,
you might begin to understand the present
as a veil hiding what came before. Places,
like transparencies held to the light carry
filmy marks of how they’ve changed. Suburban
trees reach to the sun, their age rings spreading.
Worn strip-mall-lined thoroughfares bruised
with potholes, paint peeling from dated store-
fronts boarded up and replaced by chain stores.
The movie theater where you first saw Snow White
became a whirly ball court before being paved into
a parking lot. These days you find yourself saying
“Remember when ___.” and, “When I was a kid____.”
And know you have become the memory for this town.
Neighborhoods do not care if you are uncertain—
that for you, ‘native’ bears with it intimations of
provincialism, close-mindedness, myopia;
Streets do not know you have wandered across
the Alps, lost yourself in Berlin streets, spoken
familiar German with strangers in Florence,
or shared common awe of the Sainte Chapelle.
They do not know your struggle to belong—
when can anyone be certain of it?—it’s nothing
a municipality or infrastructure could understand.
Is four decades enough? Perhaps it is not duration,
but the heart’s angle of repose—reluctant thread
tugging persistently through every memory of here.
Tunnel of Glass / by Dana Delibovi
In memory of the philosopher Derek Parfit, 1942-2017
When you still thought you had a self, you felt
encased in glass. There, your jewel of a soul
rolled along on a conveyor-belt
toward the yawning and compulsory hole
of death. If any hand reached out, or any voice
called for you to see the sparrows in the quad,
all you got were fingerprints or muffled noise,
nothing of comfort, nothing to be loved.
But once you knew the jewel was a fake,
in need of no protective walls, fresh shards
clattered at your feet. Now, to die is less to bear,
a gentle flow not a terminal break.
No ego blocks the touch of hands and words,
so you—and I—can live in open air.
Loose Bricks / by Lisa Grunberger
in the market near the new grapes
a voice: when will we not buy the old couch,
the used clothes. When will we buy meat?
Oh, what I’d give to bite into a juicy steak!
The butcher offered his thick forearm.
Everyone laughed and the dark came early.
the handwriting on the wall was four-eyed.
A basket weaver with yellow teeth
sipped tea between a cube of sugar.
The sun set for so long people slept, made love,
hung sheets. Children made believe
they were dogs and dogs slept on the edge of beds.
When he walked around the city
his palm against the brick,
set his nose to brick
to sniff the old stone.
Once, he picked a loose one up,
held it in his palm for a long time.
I was patient with him and am pleased
that it was so.
He said it was like a tooth,
the loose brick, and he bit
into it, to taste what he loved.
the wallpaper curled into its yellowness
as though pawing the darkness.
Dusty butterflies entered her mouthdry from sleep. She called this
I Pursue It / by Samantha Kolber
I stare up at a bright sparkly thing in the night sky.
I just wish a fissure would open up.
I want to unzip you and crawl inside like a skin.
I let you punch me down and I submitted.
I’m a bad Jew.
Green shadows, yellow shadows.
Keep the unexpected.
I can’t see where I’m headed.
The world is burning and there are locusts in the back of my throat.
Oh sorrow. Oh joy. The world is burning.
I carry a fractured fragile mind in my pocket.
Once I hid in my closet to get away from his bald, red anger
so his fist wouldn’t fracture my body.
It worked, crouching in that narrow Egypt,
shedding great crocodile tears over the phone for a boy.
The one called my father, his crazy tucked deep in his pill-popping
pockets, never touched me again after that.
I am your mirror and I break at your voice.
I shatter at your screams.
I make you scream and I make you silent.
GIFT HORSE 1 / by Jude Luttrell
Ancient lore surrounding comely Helen’s snatching
Focuses wholly on the punch line —
Dark horse Bronze Age homeboys
Squarely sieged and sacked Paris’ sleeping posse.
Mediterranean men bent on revenge for the seduction
Of Leda’s fledgling granddaughter,
Rolled a hulking hobby horse to the Homeric gates,
Troy’s equestrian mascot made over for monumental treachery.
Winning the war delivered Achaean bragging rights
As hollow hollow hollow as the horse.
City razed, temples desecrated, women widowed.
The spoils-laden, chest-bumping victors headed home,
Hobbled by fuming Gods hell-bent on shipwrecking sailors
And saddling Grecian gifts forever with suspicions of insincerity.
Baby Porcupine / by Michelle Menting
The chocolate lab split the kit in two,
snapped its tender spine with a single
vice of its jaws. An incisor still stuck
to one tiny padded paw. The quills,
barely developed thorns, served
poorly as armor. In soft pairs
they pocked the dog’s tongue
which rolled with drool, saliva
drips dripping to the clinic floor
with each thwap of tail. The owner
sat back on the waiting room
bench, let his dog’s leash dangle,
drop, go free. “They’re everywhere
out there in our woods
by our house with their goddamn
dangerous spikes. They cross
our road when we drive
our truck home. They’re slow,
you know, don’t bother
to get out of our way.”
But at least you give them
agency, these selfish creatures
on all the wilderness you own.
Fragments of an Unknown Planet, My Girl, & a Nirvana Album / by Ruben E. Smith
She says she’s heard all my music before on old radios in
cafes, carnivals of coffee and cheeseburgers.
She knows the words to most of the songs that play on
my radio, a rapid-fire repetition of rock and rifts.
We spin around on the turntable, a needle playing our music for all the world to hear, and we, too, know not our origins.
Origami helps us sleep at night, folding ourselves into sheets, holes in random places, and we tilt our head towards the center of the universe.
She says she’s never seen a dead body lie still for hours before
tonight, when thin fangs threaten the living.
She says she’s never been this close to a person of
integrity, an illness that insistently infects the insides.
Our name is like god, but it’s somewhere we haven’t looked, a place time has forgotten and left soaking in dish water.
The fans say bands all sound like us, but I can assure them that there’s proof in our sound, that sonic fury of noise.
She says she’ll be back tomorrow,
but we both know the answer to that.
Doors and Windows / by Lydia Unsworth
Loops of inefficiency bulge us tighter in spaghetti inhale. I can’t even notice the real world when virtually every object in the sky has more than one designation. They’d always just been there. Stars like gasps of not, which without, a Messier fullness. Eighty-seven spokes join the rim to the hub, and it’s habitable for now. They’d always just gone there. I’m told how to enjoy the many missing animals like a bowl made from clay that we couldn’t use if so much of the sphere hadn’t been taken away from us. They’re calling for the bans to end because some like it raw, some like it shot. The pathetic flicker of a new moon. You don’t know who’s coming back, and that, you think, is the benefit of living in the city, that surprise, that waiting for it, that bubble you create only to have it pop.
Litanies to Tyranny / by Irene Villaseñor
“My First (Grade) Boyfriend”
Bobby was a bad boy
got in trouble a lot
threw desks at teachers
he liked me so much
I was to expect him
right outside my home
waiting for me
that’s fine Bobby
but how many times
do you want
your legs to get broken?
“My Third (Grade) Admirers”
A car full of teenage boys
sped down my block
to street harass me
for the first time in my life
as I skipped down my steps
intending to fetch the mail
I started running after them
Come back assholes
so I can throw a tire iron
through your rear window
“My Sixth (Grade) Beau”
Jamie snapped a jump rope
like it was a whip
in gym class
I don’t jump motherfucker
whenever you come around
How about I throw firecrackers
into your bedroom
this week when you’re asleep?
Poem 5 / Day 5
They Climbed Aboard that Starship / by Bill Abbott
News reports from military pilots
say the flying saucers have arrived
just in time. We knew this would happen.
Hollywood warned us, then remade
the warnings when they didn’t happen
right away. But our leadership knew
and acted right away, pulling together
the Space Force just in time. Quick,
put our space ships in the air and
chase the tentacled, green, obviously
back to their home planet, never to return.
Our leadership will then be proven to be
the best and wisest, least inept, least useless
leader we’ve ever had.
Thank goodness the problem occurred
conveniently after we decided on the solution.
Fine / by Christine Darragh
A word to grind coarsely through tightly gritted
teeth; a word to impale on elbows scrubbing
furiously at oil splattered porcelain. Sour syllable—
scouring black mildew from damp corners;
or violently detangling itself—yanking free
of hairball-choked brushes; fierce enough
to bleach napkins—now righteously vindicated
of barbecue sauce; even chafe coffee rings
off mugs. A word whose context betrays subtext—
knows the coded meaning of a rage-cleaned home.
Ice Cream Music / by Dana Delibovi
A subdivision away,
hear the calliope
of old-time tunes,
of Beautiful Dreamer
and Semper Fidelis.
Closer it comes,
luring us out
with a siren song,
with the promise
So we stand
in the twilight
waiting for the sound
to turn the corner—
the lone customers.
who do not, just now,
in air-conditioned WiFi.
Long gone, the packs
of dusty-footed kids
tattooed with cuts,
running in for quarters
at the first frosty notes.
the parents by the windows
change in one hand, sweating
gin-glass in the other,
to the sweet-wheeled music
of ice cream.
Losing and Finding Thumbelina, or How Mommy Discovered Me / by Lisa Grunberger
Thumbelina is gone
at the pharmacy.
I cry so we return
to the scene of the crime.
Stop crying Mommy says
look at the lady at the bus stop
with the black umbrella
look at how the cold comes out of her mouth.
I kneel in front of the play chest.
Thumbelina is gone,
but I find four slinky dinks,
three Raggedy Anns, a Cookie Monster puppet.
I want to steal them.
Here she is.
She seems more tattered, dirtier
against the nurse’s white.
You can check her heart beat
with the stethoscope.
The nurse winks
and it is a different wink
than Uncle Jake’s wink at Thanksgiving.
She has amnesiaI say.
Mommy hands me a plastic bag,
select five beautiful applesshe says.
Thumbelina will help you.
I hold her to my ear.
The redder the apple the more it hurts
to forget says the doll.
Mommy tells the story over
and over, like a cat cleaning itself.
She changes a detail. I never know
who the hero is supposed to be,
Mommy, me or Thumbelina?
The nurse, the apple, the lady at the bus stop?
The black umbrella? A Mother puppet
lives astride the aorta
Find the most beautiful appleshe says
Run the extra mile, wash the car,
cut the bread, do this chop that
go back until you find it.
Diatelle / by Samantha Kolber
“We have lived our lives with the assumption that what is good for us is good for the world.” – Wendell Berry
me. I will
want my own cell.
If it’s against my will
how can I tell, who can I tell?
Hear the laws receding, clear as a bell.
Love the opposition, they say. Create armies,
I say, for love alone is not the gel
to hold it all together well.
Lay quiet now, be still.
Utter a spell.
Therapist / by Jude Luttrell
Your too-bushy moustache has a mind of its own
When you purse your lips and nod knowingly at my teary panic.
Walrus-like, it overtakes your face, a wild St. Vitus Dance,
While you patiently try to teach me to breathe
The heartbreaking photo on your wobbly Ikea desk
(Of you and your now-dead steadfast lover)
Makes me want to tell you how sorry I am for your loss.
Makes me want to ease your bulky grief,
As it threatens to collapse the cheap furniture, along with your heart.
Your watery dachshund eyes make me want to tell you
How proud I am of the distance you’ve come since Hugh’s death.
Your raucous breezy belly laugh makes me want to say,
You will be all right. I will be all right.
Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. Just breathe.
interdigital neuroma sounds like a useless grammatical term / by Michelle Menting
my feet are semi-colons abrupt
near full stops of hurt that keep going
because I make them keep going
despite the flares that feel like em dashes
smooth bolts punctuations of nerve
that are tired and confused like parentheses
that don’t know to close or should be
brackets and end there there is no symbol
for this repetition of pain only the inflamed
and no one knows why but doctors want to
cut to cut to cut out the nerves the tendons
and into the balls the pads the ligaments
quote unquote the whole compound
sentence of arch and toe and revise my feet
as if they are shitty first drafts that they
the doctors who do not run blame the running
the movement the blissful miles of trails
in woods among fields out in the shade
and sunlight and all the things that keep me
me my mind my body my heart full not fused
but run on and fused are not necessarily the same
but the enjoyment of joining is there discursive
sometimes perhaps maybe in fragments but whole
with my pulse an ellipses an ellipses an ellipses
until interdigital neuromas declare no not
a pause a break but a period a full complete stop.
Settlers / by Alexander Scalfano
alone in my skull there is only a blue sun that never sets on the irradiated bones
the scurry of scavengers make shadows play on the ruins
unsettle the ashes in my lungs
I hold my heart under the lake water to wash the oil from its feathers
a black lacquered headdress of alien feathers I wear on feast days for the god of wishes, the god of little twilights,
the god of lost birds, the god of summer discord
this ritual is about forgetting
this ritual is vacation from the lost planet
this ritual is apology to your hands who love me
I want you to hold me under the lake until a new god claims me
the lake slides to my vision like a pearl bracelet breaking from a girls wrist like the shadow cast from a loom in okayama
like a spring of lavender suspended in a cup of tea
I was sure I could love you regardless
when the wind cupped my face with both its hands and said gently “it’s not against you I’m breaking”
and each wave on the lake
because it’s a day for things to imagine they are larger than themselves
each wave was a tongue curling around the word “feel”
and I’m stunned as the oriole in the wind’s hair, out of season, the wrong color now
where is summer?
I came to the lake to the hide the water sign of when our hands touch
not the fire of a new skin
a bit of me I don’t hate in
an oil glaze of my being
I came to the lake to wash it away for you
Something the moon might ladle onto your sleeping face
how else could you love me like this?
and the wind against the window
a sister to your kindness
Getting Lost Anywhere in the USA, or: Red Hot’s Answer to Life’s Unending Questions During Times of Solidarity and Traffic Jams / by Ruben E. Smith
They tell you to never look directly at the sun or it’ll burn your eyes,
But there’s something in the sun we all need, something there.
Astronauts have mirrors for the sun when they’re close it,
Their eyes veiled by the giant corpse floating in a ball.
Skyward, we have moved,
Skyward, we have gone,
But there’s always some gravity greater than us that pulls us back down to some conclusion, some determining how that causes us to fall back down, hard.
No one on earth thinks of a heaven airplane anymore,
That white hull shooting off towards all that expansive nothing.
Answers fall out of the sky like razor cuts on your chin,
Slowly working their way down towards your own heart.
Downward, we fell,
Downward, we climbed back up,
And there in that in between is the land where you grew up, you raised your marigolds to imitate the sun, a mirror for the sky, but there’s also where you found happiness and love, death and loss.
Do not look at the sun,
It too moves in circles,
Or your reflection of it
Will no longer shine on.
Much Talk / by Lydia Unsworth
I crawled to confession early today. Crept through the half-closed slat to learn my tyres had been slashed. I was on the wrong side of the door. Silent as a sine wave, I corkscrewed to the core of your business ventures, your video conferences, your seasonal promotions. What I did there was I knocked on the walls―reconstucted, as thought―and the women kept flowing through, following the clear arrows. No one else could make me sadder than a line of you. Than the nothingness of a Rembrandt I’m told how to enjoy. If you drop your wife in a car park, spin her round three times, and make a run for it, you can paint what you like. The routines of cleaners will get her body off the floor., will water the flowers, the stags tied to the lampposts. Polish the laminate of the many missing animals. There are tiny factors sterilising all the surfaces. We move, we yield, sucking up and spitting out her hair.
#Me Too* / by Irene Villaseñor
I still get knocked down
by a near miss
I’m carrying the weight
almost 100 pounds
of my fall
maybe I need
to let go
my legs tingle now
ten years ago
maybe I should
have let go
twenty years ago
I left home
I wanted to see the world
but the world also saw me
thirty years ago
I started building
I needed protection
* For that time I learned what could have happened to me if I didn’t throw that powerful man’s cell phone number away during a business trip.
Poem 4 / Day 4
Self-Portrait with Dating / by Bill Abbott
She sits across the table,
looking; no, examining me
as if I might grow extra arms
or as if I already had. Lord knows
the third ear and the hump on
my back have already given her
enough grounds to leave me
behind with a “no spark” as soon
as she gets home.
Small talk always turns out to
fall apart. My self-doubt establishes
the beachhead, sends troops to
surround the food. I forget what
I look like in the mirror. I never believe
I could be attractive. She looks at me
like I never could. No spark.
I try to spark. I push to spark. I only
manage to combust in front of her.
Immolation should be sexier than it is;
otherwise, I may be perpetually single.
the Goddess & Author / by Christine Darragh
The question hung in the air, dissonance
trembling—a tenuous architecture holding
the fraught space between appeal and antiphon.
Sounds of the restaurant fell away—hot food clanking
in its rush to mouths, took its time. Conversations blurred
to a soft buzz. Disquiet amplified the seconds.
Petition crawled over my body—undressed me
slowly. Subject to that profane gaze, the rituals
well-breasted women already familiar, a claustrophobia
of unwanted attention. Still—disarmed. Deferential
servers offered wine. Our solicitous enclosure
shuddered. Knives raked porcelain, ice rang softly
against glass. The author turned from his grudging
venus to a generous plate—just another delectation.
One in any number of small gods, ripe for worship.
Novena in the Queue for Customer Service / by Dana Delibovi
Mary, let a wisp of hair escape your wimple.
Turn down the celestial wind machine
that billows your robes for the painters,
and be real. Teach me not dump my rage
on the associate who will be with me shortly.
You who held your tongue at Herod, you who
swallowed your motherly advice, muzzle me,
when a live human voice tempts me to avenge
every lash I ever took from polite people.
Quebec Memory / by Lisa Grunberger
In the brew of autumn leaves
lies the mother’s orphaned cries.
Your feet, heavy with gallons of milk,
crush them. You didn’t mean to.
It is late. How familiar are we?
High up on at the top of the hotel
the room turned 360 degrees around.
We sat at a high table, a bowl of salted nuts.
We ordered drink that arrived to ease the passage.
The stiff scent of hotel sheets strewn with rose petals.
Again, upon entering, my breath, your hand. All gone.
Time is stripped like a bed.
Two spoons, one bowl
of everything to share.
The red cherry floating on top of the Manhattan
like a faceless nose of a lost clown, or buoyed,
In time, you grow accustomed to loss
the way a wall of brick grows accustomed
to the promiscuous invasion of moss on its cool hard body.
We press crumbs into wet thumbs
at the croissant table, reality a disruption.
What are lovers? New-born babes, says Hugo.
Innocence, soft skull, language new –
give me breast, food, sleep.
And you did. I did. Here
at the beginning, arriving at the station,
nothing but time.
The paradise where loss has no name
where Cain loves Abel, they start
a bagel company in Hoboken,
and Jacob, Jacob neither dreams nor deceives.
I do not know my place. Perhaps it turns on
a small word: with, by, in, near, or, at, to.
Georgia Acrostic / by Samantha Kolber
Get your paws off my body, get your
Egregious laws off my body
Open your eyes to the blood upon my body
Read between the lines, my body is not up for debate
Great gaps in the fertility of the story
In my body are mine and mine
Èrase Una Vez / by Jude Luttrell
For more than 100 days and nights, stoic, silent Aztec Emperor Cuauhtémoc
Faced-off against second-rate magistrate Hernán Cortés and his Grunts.
Four months in, the metal-headed Spanish wrecking crew prevailed,
Caging tight-lipped Cuauhtémoc, pegging him an uppity local, ripe for waterboarding.
Fueled by rumors of agitated Aztecs made restless by los conquistadores,
Panicky Cortés hanged the Emperor, then planted the Spanish flag — five thousand miles from home.
In another realm, Inca Emperor Atahuallpa took a crack at diplomacy to turn back trespassers,
Supplying a roomful of ransom gold for Cortés’ copycat cousins, the illiterate Pizarro brothers.
Spaniard siblings returned intentional Inca hospitality with vicious ambush — — —
One-hundred-sixty ground-pounding Spanish Lancers and 80 horses — — —
Bling-greedy Old World victors strangled Inca sovereign,
Claiming Peru for the ruff-wearing king and queen of Spain.
Drooling over dazzling loot, the Pizarros’ privates turned over the spoils, a ten-year-old girl,
To confirmed bachelor Francisco, completing the terrible trifecta: Pillage. Plunder. Rape.
Five hundred years later, a caged child descended from royalty
Awakes to an exiled nightmare and cries for the mother she’s lost.
Y los conquistadores vivieron felices para siempre.
Ars Poetica / by Michelle Menting
This morning I was inundated with orbs, so much
roundness in plant, human, and beast. So much
pregnancy of form, molecule too. And I know:
don’t use orb in a poem. And I know: don’t use poem
in a poem. So even this becomes circular, a full
cycle, returns to were we began. Where we began
was in the garden with a trellis of peas. (A real garden—
this loop is a twist, is a spiral—not in the beginning
of some text of preaching of paradise, though who
can deny the perfection of peas?) The trellis, mud-
founded, was sinking in pockets, so low and unsteady,
its tines wavered then sunk in half moons of dirt.
It was a sight, to be sure, the earth gestating downward
with no one to blame. No mole, no groundhog, no vat
of snails. Just pocking of soil from too much rain.
Nothing held still. And all the woods around the garden’s
perimeter were full, brimming with red-breasted grosbeaks,
shy cardinals, ravens waiting for yesterday’s bread. So many
joyful flights with abundant seeds (the feeder was full
and the squirrels off chasing in trees), and yes even the trees
were electric: near bursting with blossoms, branch whipped
tips of seeds and caterpillar nests. Everything round
and echoing, but an echo sounds hollow and this morning
outside everything was full, was orbs and circles and orbing
and circling (and I’m circling back, eventually, it’s coming)
and that was beautiful, but saturating, which is yet another
kind of full, of round, of bursting, or like the soil: saturated
and wet, sinking, hanging low and out the other side of surface.
So when I returned inside and read the news, the emptiness
of this world—this world inside and inside of us—carved out
a hollow, a true waning in me and, reader, probably in you
in some way, and so maybe we’re all concave, empty,
like the ads, the so many ads, beneath the headlines.
Those ads full of “supplements! fertility! your heart too
can be full! full-bodied, full-flavored, full-chested!”
those ads and edicts of fullness, as if my heart is empty
because my chest is a plain, because my womb’s fertile
valley is my own vacant and blissfully unoccupied terrain,
because in some way the roundness I lack can be filled
by proclamations of what I need, what I need, what I need,
instead of stepping outside beneath the trees along the garden,
listening to birds, watching the mud, sinking in it,
content to do so, cycling back, arriving again full circle.
Your Inner Life Rejects The Journey / by Alexander Scalfano
Night is the executioner’s hood. Moon is the hefted
ax. Day is the glorious rise of the new regime.
The same way dead stars, whose last light is still on
its way to us, rejects death. It’s just life and waiting
to be witnessed in a final flare. Nothing vast as
the exposure sickness of being lost in the self,
which is salt water and souls sequencing through
bone, a magic lantern light that projects a comforting
morality tale— the green pools around your feet
as you trudge through the abandoned playground,
a myopic horse in the yellow field who can’t quite make
you out. The dry nib of a star scratching into the sky
the same word over and over, praying for ink.
Armadillo / by Ruben E. Smith
George Straight is on the radio, I look over into the land beyond me and see my life out there, waves of blurriness, heat, and lies, all rising up towards the sun, an orange peel against a sunset so beautiful it’s hard to imagine it can be looking over my life. An old man about fifty miles back told me that there is only holes out there, dug up by claws of fury and hands of hatred, ready for someone to accidentally trip in and fall. He said they dug holes to remember that they’re alive, to remember that they have some purpose out there in the desert, in the heat, and sometimes, when it rained at night, those holes would fill up to serve some purpose. That old man had a scar running down one eye, very similar to a scratch from a wild cat, some beast that he tried to wrestle in another life, not this one. I should have listened to him, should have headed his warning about those holes because my life is being taken away, grain after grain, and they’ll soon take over everything, just to have everything fill with water and it disappear again.
Untangle / by Lydia Unsworth
With one hand in your mouth /and your finger in your eye / you soften the glare of the spilled cocktails on the boulevard tiles / You soften the words lining your tongue before you spit them out / to flap about on the cool post-puddles / until you cohere enough to open a floodgate / spout.
Cracking up like this is not an oil painting, like this is not the average time it takes a person of my age to get their body off the floor. My feet can hold me. My arms can hold me. Standing on the edge of a diving board, not jumping, only enjoying the small room of it, the floor-to-floor windows of it, the oneness of it, the me in a blocked-off space of it. The nothing-to-do of it. The potential energy loaded up inside like I want to be your shelter and keep you safe and I could but instead I’m here on this hypothetical springboard to a fathom and all I need do is wait. Chlorine wharfs between us. The unplanned patterns of displacement meets design.
Promises I Wished Were Kept / by Irene Villaseñor
That once was enough
That I was truly desired
That I was unlike any other
That we would speak again
That I’d got it done in time
That I didn’t miss you
But I do
That everything would be fixed
Throwing money on a problem is too easy
But generosity is not a substitute for justice
Poem 3 / Day 3
Curation of Memory / by Bill Abbott
Anniversaries pile up as you age,
reminding you of births, deaths,
accomplishments for people
who are no longer there. They
stack high, day after day, to
remind you of the losses.
You married on this day to
the person who divorced you.
Your parent, grandparent, passed
too soon, too late, and you try
to revel in the positives, but
the loss comes around again,
driving you into the loss.
At some point, you become
the holder of the flame of
history. The pictures, the
memories, the tchotchkes,
the leftovers of family and
friends that fill the basement
in block by brick of memory.
You become a historian of
your personal history. You
hold the keys to all the memories
that fold back in, as curator of
the losses. You embody the missing
while trying to avoid the pain
that surrounds you.
Arcadia Bluffs / Christine Darragh
Cars motor up the long hill, engines shifting
to make the effort. Tires brush the median
and the road screams out caution. Sounds
of unseen neighbors drift uphill—slammed
car doors, a voice calling. Between those furies
is a silence—and wind threading softly
through treetops, whispering. From here,
the soft morning lake blends hazily to sky.
Treetops tower overhead—roof for a roof.
A double protection.
The Neighbors / by Dana Delibovi
I’ve never lived without at least one neighbor
who beat back the value of everyone’s
property. A neighbor with a couple of
hooptie pickup trucks or moldy siding,
a neighbor who befriended the noisy or
took in the family felon, while everyone else
sealed the driveway on a regular schedule.
My parents had a big tomato garden
and a clean job car filled with shiny tools.
The T___’s next door hosted Hell’s Angels
one summer, so my father took the Lord’s
name in vain more than usual. He forbid me
to lie on the hood of the car in my bikini,
slathered in baby oil, to work on my tan.
In New York, my building housed batterers.
Later, in my first house, the neighbors clear-cut
all their trees to install a plastic-sided pool.
They drove their van over my front lawn, twice.
When at last I moved among people partial
to hanging petunias and power washers, soon
boomerang kids arrived to drip oil and sell pot.
Once, I lived in an old rented house by a marsh
with my true love. We were broke, so I could not fix
the taped-up window or the motorcycle
ruined when a hurricane flooded the yard.
I could not fix my sheer human weakness
and could not lift a trashcan, let alone
depression. I was that neighbor, that time.
Falling in Love / by Lisa Grunberger
Some days on the subway
I choose a woman to be my Mother,
someone with high cheekbones and arthritic hands,
someone with hazel eyes and curly hair.
I stare at her. If I can get close enough
I smell her too. By this time, she’s staring back at me.
For a few stops we do this staring dance,
as though we were falling in love.
Riding the red-line uptown,
I feel like I’m in the Garden of Eden
and God has granted me
the power to name his creatures.
It’s been over a decade
since I called someone Mother.
Some days the ache is a hunger
and I eat a piece of chocolate cake.
Other days the hunger is an ache
and I will it to rain,
look up at the sky
(which I call Beauty)
until I can smell its promiscuous canopy
begin to sweat and I pray for rain
so my grief can sing a duet
instead of a solo.
Acrostic / by Samantha Kolber
Abortion is not a
Law you can fabricate to make me
Before man there was
A woman, giving birth.
Matrimony to you or your religion,
Mantra / by Jude Luttrell
Awaking from a pleasant nightmare at 2:00 am,
In a trance, I rifled through the kitchen junk drawer,
Looking for a prayer wheel.
Under a set of rusty keys, next to a stubby dull pencil from a summer game of mini golf,
Atop a flattened, dry slice of crumbly Juicy Fruit gum,
I found the mini lint roller missing since last spring.
I used the snub-nosed pencil to scrawl the mantra
Onto the white powdery inside of the chewing gum wrapper.
Then, I flipped it over.
I stuck the wrinkled silver side of the paper rectangle
Onto the sticky barrel of the lint roller,
And gave it a spin.
Om (hoping to kill my ego)
Ma (trying to snuff jealousy)
Ni (praying for patience)
Pad (to let go of my ignorance)
Me (to let go of him)
Hum (to shed hate)
Oṃ maṇi padme huṃ.
Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.
Spin. Spin. Spin.
At the Chicken Barn Antique Mall in Ellsworth, Maine / by Michelle Menting
This world of untreated wood, cast-iron
loops and baubles. Like island
of misfit toys except the island
is a barn is a warehouse is a barn
sans chicken or sheep, and the toys are not
elfin in creation but as if an internet
search for “farm faux field thumb-
tacks” were wanded into concrete form,
full and tangible. Those toys for sale
for display not use and no longer staples
of New England kitchens with dirt-packed
floors, barrel-churned ice cream, kettle-
popped corn because barrels and kettles
were common for labor not quaint, not decedent
like that pet llama in the yard wearing its own
knit sweater, or the organic wheatgrass and red beets
rumored to be blossomed by pixies.
When containers were containers of use, of requirement
(not from the Room of Requirement) instead
of art, artifact, artifice. Rough. Real. Mighty
with work. Tools, you say, You mean tools.
When they were tools like spearheads on sticks,
and we all knew to use the pointy end
from practice instead from story.
I don’t know—it’s all story. In a corner
on a sandblasted table, scarred to look scarred
by oxen but perhaps scarred by oxen,
I see a box of Wheaties full with seams
unbroken. Arthur Ashe on the cover.
I pick it up and loft its flakes of gluten, loft
like Ashe lofting tennis balls (but that
was real, was work, was form, was art).
It’s all story, this place, or myth or myths
of stories, this warehouse once barn once shed
of tools, sheep shit, chicken scratches, and wool.
Story. Like how Wheaties will make you serve
like Ashe and Ashe will live forever by Wheaties:
a hero with white shorts & balanced racket, hero
lunging from a backdrop orange yonder.
The story of wheat before gluten, the tales
of that $500 kettle with bits of corn ambered
to its pot, the plot it holds from then to now,
now to some kitchen on the coast where everything
is spotless, alabaster, all characters erased. Slate
wiped clean, metaphors no longer set
or mixed but somehow everything still legendary.
An Ache With A View / by Alexander Scalfano
I miss you like an open tuned
guitar, something that sings
with its whole body. Like a ghost
trapped in an old house
that we both released by dying
in the same old house,
fulfilling its revenge curse.
Like a tea party, an adjacent
dream to mine where I’m better
and never needed anyone
and could live easy,
like I just would ask
when I was feeling lonely
and it wasn’t like wrestling
with an ogre
in my throat. Like for you
all the fish in the lake leapt
into the setting
sun, it was as red
as their insides. I miss you like
a next life, having already worn
through the knees
of this one. I miss you like a hand
in the dark when I slip
on wet grass. I miss you
like when I see my face
superimposed on your face
and I look disappointed
and I feel you disappointed
in me (and that’s one chamber
of what it means
to be in love, the canopic jars
that fill the heart
from floor to ceiling).
I miss you like a signal flare still
unwrapped inside a sunken ship.
I miss you like a child
made of leaves blowing away
in my hands. It was our child.
Pin-up Boy / by Ruben E. Smith
Laying in the bed, I look over at his pictures pinned to the wall, knowing that he had lived these lives before,
He has his eyes closed and a girl sings from his phone, lying next to us in the dark.
I see a photo of him as a kid, probably 5 or 6, and he’s smiling the same smile when I had met him,
And he has his face hidden under a pink hat, the shadow hiding more than the pain that was to come.
In other pictures, there’s one of him as a baby with his mother, who he said had died when he was a kid,
One of his mother holding him, tightly, her eyes the same as her son’s, and she didn’t know what was coming either.
My arm falls asleep as I move towards a postcard of some Japanese garden from his trip to Japan,
A metro ticket pinned above it, and I remember how he had said he loved the country there, the people,
And I wish I could find a way to move him there, to his home away from home, from this place of solitude.
He talked about the trees, the beauty, the way things are done there, and how he’d love to go back if he could.
I told him he would one day, shedding a tear, for I would be leaving him forever here, tomorrow morning,
Going off on another adventure, another time, and he’d still be here, preparing for another trip to Japan.
Quiet Ambition and Strengthen Spine / by Lydia Unsworth
Up to no good, the sky is red tonight with no rewards. If nothing is done, all will go well, they cry, casually flinging out the wild roses, stems cut at aggressive angles, undesired vases slicing the fat, loose air. I want to want nothing, to stop stealing treasure from my own safety-deposit boxes like a coin stealthed between two closed hands and loaded silence and punchline plunge and ta-dah. Take me to a field of weeds so that I, too, can untether. Wean me on your dominant pronouns so that I only see myself as shades of Smashbox or CoverGirl. Nude as the cream foundation I was born in. Cracking up like Golconda on a wall. To be tracing one warm line through a land so dark, melting a little fire into the chamber pot of what we expected, what was expected of us: that we go on being beautiful and living small.
Sweetheart / by Irene Villaseñor
what they’re doing
visits strip clubs
to find its models
and will solicit
My high school
became a stripper
after getting bullied at school
after getting kicked her out of her home
after her mom institutionalized her
after she broke free
after the National Center for Lesbian Rights represented her
after she marched with them in the San Francisco Pride Parade
on the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising
Then said yes to the Penthouse job
because she knew
what she had to do
Poem 2 / Day 2
Origin Story / by Bill Abbott
I come from Southern dirt and bicycle rides
across the hot asphalt. I remember not the
theme parks, but losing the helium balloon
getting out of the car at home, after getting
back from the theme park. I lost a front tooth
to the hot asphalt after a sudden deceleration
from my bicycle. The comic books and
action figures encased my imagination
safely, gave me a chance to grow up,
to find my way into a book and never
crawl back out. The small-town spaceport
was a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
The field on the corner burned down one night.
I explored the x-ray machine, teleporting
my action figures around it, in the small
hospital on the corner. If ever there was a street
that deserved my sunrise, it was mine. If ever
there was a deserving moment, it was then.
Wildlife / by Dana Delibovi
A robin fills the nest
that was mud-glued in the eaves
seven years ago.
A squirrel chews a nut
it clawed from the treasure chest
of the backyard earth.
A fox lopes along,
a baby rabbit in its mouth,
warning the roses.
There’s no home like an old home,
no food like a hand-dug food,
no life without death.
Ghazal: Song of Apricots / by Lisa Grunberger
My Father says now we’re cooking with oil.
His bed is empty. His voice inside me sings.
In the bone-filled cemetery my cousins walk.
They have come to pay respect, their footsteps sing.
It is hard not to read the names on tombstones.
I desire tongue for eyes, so I can taste the engraved name-song.
I desire Block 4, plot 43.
I desire snowflakes the size of grapes.
I desire a horseshoe circle around the grave.
There are hands holding me up, hands that sing.
There is fruit, there is labor.
When they come together, April families sing.
The keeper comes, bearing apricots.
I desire my mother’s hands at work.
7-Minute Poem / by Samantha Kolber
“And from the darkness, fire turns in the darkness.
The fire gets away the darkness.” –the poet’s daughter, age three
And from the darkness
what can fire do? Can it turn you blue
as you choke on the truth? What can fire turn
when you burn and yearn to be—
free, sure, but so much more. Maybe to be the fire itself,
to be like a firebird, hot and free,
free of yearning and the only burning is what happens
in the wake of your fire-feathered wings
turning air to ash.
There, I stopped for just a second
and came out of my ADD reverie, the quick-brained quibbles
with metaphor, rhyme and reason,
or is it the season
where everything turns and turns,
where words burn up the pages, where ink
blacks up the white spaces. Is this safe? This place
I’ve carved out for myself: a seven-minute
writing exercise to excise the poem from my…
From where do poems come?
From what part of me are they born?
My hand that holds this pen?
It’s not how, but when, and now,
I pry, I slide into poetry in the 27 minutes left till deadline. I have a minute
and a half left to write and nothing new is coming. This is all blank, blah, boring,
the duds that will be cut though I keep writing as the clock demands
because if time won’t demand poetry of me,
what, or who, will?
Be still my—insert body part where poetry comes from here: mind, heart, hand.
Can you stand
to keep writing
right up until the end?
Hopscotch / by Jude Luttrell
On the wrong side of railroad tracks separating city from suburbs,
Two peppy eight-year-olds, twin girls gussied-up in Sunday best,
Skip into stretched shadow cast by skyscraper housing projects,
On their way to raid the candy dish in Auntie’s subsidized flat.
Stooping to eye a pair of pink Spalding high bouncers, deflated in the gutter,
Little girls’ high-flying hopes are quickly punctured by experienced understanding,
Rubber balls too flattened for fun from everyday smashing into improvised handball court:
Corrugated loading dock door of pharmaceutical factory.
Skipping sisters turn metaphysical corner bordered by drug company fortress,
Scurrying toward gang graffitied doorway, flanked habitually by gargoyle junkies.
Crossing the threshold, schoolgirls collide with a big bear man bathed in panic cologne.
He bounds from the building, trailed by wild-eyed woman in threadbare blue bathrobe.
She tracks him relentlessly, one squashed breast exposed,
Single pink sponge curler dangling from snarled hair.
Her man prey bellows something the girls understand only after he collapses into muddy blood puddle.
She got a gun! Sweetie got a gun!
Accustomed to their ferocious neighborhood,
The pair make game of trauma, missing only a beat or two,
They skedaddle upstairs toward reward: Auntie’s candy–
Hopscotching through the hazards of life in the city.
Questing / by Michelle Menting
When ticks “quest,” they crawl to the end of an exposed blade of grass or branch and extend their legs outward in the hopes that they can cling on to a passing host. – Seney National Wildlife Refuge
It’s true: I do want, and want you.
To be a part of who you are—
your parts to be my parts, all parts
so whole. How lovely is that?
We two become ecosystem of one.
That’s hot. Or what adventure, o yes,
it’s a quest after all, and either one of us
can be hero. You can be my hero,
o sing it. Or mentor, all true
adventures have one—you, o wise
two-legged guide, guide me, baby.
You, your parts, your blood,
become mine, then mine, so many
of my, baby, mine. O, baby,
it’s love after all. Love as journey.
Such love, hot love, passion.
It’s all flow, after all: your flow,
my flow, blood flow. Let me suck
your sweet flow. Let’s share,
let’s vampire. O, but it’s natural
after all. It’s nature: my nature,
your nature, the world outside
with its roots & stems & trees.
Steamy. Lift me up from this blade
of grass, this branch wick of oak.
I’ll reach, I’ll reach, I’ll reach.
Aging Ritual / by Alexander Scalfano
The scrap of blue ribbon that kept the lavender bound so it would dry together is faded in three places—
The spool of ribbon I left on the desk where between 11 and 2 the sun leaned across the desk like a lizard with a deadline.
History tells us that it is more likely that we will discover how to transmute iron into gold than how to say goodbye from a car window.
At the end of a superhero movie, in the twilight between the final credit and the houselights, you were a little blue like there was water between us.
Pleas from the Rope, Charred Remains of Yesterday’s Doings / by Ruben E. Smith
After Fred Gildersleeve‘s “Photo of Mob Preparing to Lynch Jesse Washington, 1916”
All you can see for miles is white, pale faces, hats of snow, teeth of pearl,
And there in the middle is their tree of pride and anger, fully displayed.
At the bottom of this tree, a disfigured corpse, burned black by the town,
Bends and twists and mangles itself into a horrible remembrance of a human.
The townspeople know what they’ve done is their doing, their hands of god
Playing the devil for a fool, churning the world into milky matter for themselves.
He had a name, but it disappeared when they hung him up and burned him,
Stripped him of any meaning anymore, took away his manhood, his life.
The mass of white stand around, laughing and smiling at their job well done,
Their children standing and smiling at their parents’ makings of a man.
He was just a soul looking for a clean shirt, a reason to be innocent,
But he muttered yes and was tried by thousands of angry men.
The children take pieces of white teeth, blood soaked, and sell them for pennies,
A man holds up a piece of what was once on a man’s body, a part no longer.
He was viewed upon, inspected, cut, beat, violated, mangled, disfigured,
Displayed, sold, bought, hung, burned, killed, and worse, misunderstood.
Waco telephone lines and personal memos spread the news,
Swirls of voices, laughter, and yells of justice paint a picture grim.
Jesse had a nosebleed, but he did more than that on the Texas ground,
He was a human, a person, but not according to parts of the past.
Nothing will ever be the same after viewing a photo like this,
And I don’t even know how to put emotions into words anymore.
Beget Each Other / by Lydia Unsworth
Oh, don’t tell the gods I left a mess, tell them to send more clothes instead. Out of the unwashed pile on the floor, I choose the cleanest, sniff the nooks. Exertion is only noticed with the nose. It’s a skill to know which flowers are worth smelling, to know alternative names for things. We say op, which means up, which means gone, which means where―and I imagine I’m saying operation every time I finish a thing. Casually flinging out the p, which seems to happen more and more since I had the baby. Oh.
One aspires and then closes the hole. We’re growing faster than wild roses (as) one by one we queue for the children’s slide. It teaches us about size, about the boredom and fascination of a life in time, letting oneself go.
The Crow’s Lament / by Irene Villaseñor
appropriate actions with inappropriate objects
is how some describe sin, but it sounds like play
to me if i was hand-raised, taken in hand, captive
pick them up, peck at them, and hide them
even though I’m thousands of miles away i cannot
forget you i did that all so i could find you again
i can recall hundreds of thousands of seconds
out in the wild i played with whatever i could find
some would deny i did anything at all that’s real
it was only practicing they claim but i know what
i want the shine, the glimmer, the gleam, the glint
the thrill of being alive and possibly pierced by desires
Poem 1 / Day 1
Pantheons / by Bill Abbott
The storm gods have all called it off,
watched as the deserts grew,
let go of the reins as the tornadoes
and hurricanes smashed into the
remains of humanity.
The trickster gods have given up,
decided the fun has drained out
of the trick, the nuance lost,
the joy gone from the tricks
when anyone believes everything
The war gods have become overtaxed
by the fight to own what dwindles,
the battles to gain the needs to live
for just that little bit longer. Justice
no longer matters. Causes have
been replaced by survival
that no desert-centric movie
could have prepared
The sun gods have closed in,
driving their chariots nearer
to the earth, showing all people
the excitement of carbon dioxide
overload, the thrills of rising
The gods of commerce and cash
gathered up and consolidated
the profits of production
until they ran out. But the gods
ran out of it all, and we had to
decide about extinction.
We are still deciding.
Fantasia Land, Cologne / by Christine Darragh
seconds ratchet us
gravely, closer to heaven.
Abruptly we’re let down.
With a clatter—gathered
upward in facsimiles
of assumption. Ecstatic,
weightless again. We fly,
side to side—so sure.
drops us, finally, into
We comfort ourselves
with second-hand salvation,
other ersatz ends. Devastate
ourselves for a thrill, reprise
fear. Breath pretending rebirth,
electric in uncertain relief.
Walking a Pig / by Dana Delibovi
Today I saw a man walking a pig,
in Maplewood, where they brew beer
right in the neighborhood, daring you
to enjoy the smell or get used to it.
I saw a man walking a pig of brown
with an orange harness-leash. And I saw
what it means to live among people:
Every one of our species wants attention.
You leave your house, just for some fries
and for a look at the sidewalk art show.
Then here comes a pig-walker,
wanting everyone to giggle, everyone
to expect a dog, see a pig, feel some envy,
and maybe even write a poem about it—
a poem that’s my way of grabbing a leash
and walking a pig, after all.
Just like his Muttie taught him / by Lisa Grunberger
he rolled his socks into a ball
and placed the ball inside his shoes.
They didn’t wash the socks every day.
Only on laundry day, Tuesday.
Sometimes, his feet were clean.
His mother’s hands were always busy.
Chopping vegetables, hanging laundry to dry.
Her hand on a forehead, her face.
It was a long train ride.
His mother cupped his chin.
He moved away her hand, for it was too tight.
He could hardly breathe
but he saw a bird,
or did he imagine one.
He never smelled anything so bad.
Like rotten eggs, like his brother’s feet
facing his face for they slept head to toe.
This was worse than his brother’s foul feet.
Socks absorb sweat his Muttie explained
one day while she was chopping onions for soup.
He saw her tears for the first time.
He placed his hand over hers,
and she jumped, and raised her voice.
“I could chop off your finger,
God forbid!” Her voice loud
was not like her voice soft.
He was learning to distinguish
this from that. Inside from outside.
Inside it was quiet, orderly.
Outside, you never know.
A brick fell from a building.
A classmate named Sophie died.
He thought it was a shower.
He wanted to get clean.
His socks still await the return of his feet.
Mr. Shimmel was the cobbler.
Mr. Shimmel had goldene hande.
On his fifth birthday, Muttie took him there.
The Girl is Three / by Samantha Kolber
The girl is three and my husband and I talk about buying a gun
to keep us safe when the fascists come.
The girl is three and we talk about selling the house, buying an RV,
traveling the country.
I worry, to where could we travel that is safe?
Where the radicals and snowflakes don’t chafe?
The girl is three and already white men want to control her ovaries
in many states except for the one in which we live. Why leave?
The girl is three, and we cannot leave her.
She will need us in this world for far
too long. See, just now she ran up to me: “Mommy?!”
“Can you put this on cozy, fuzzy, bear eye?”
I am needed to put a doll-sized, cloth pair of glasses
on the eyes of a stuffed bear wearing a red cap and gown. Task
done, the three-year-old runs off, grabs her keyboard,
and sings “E-I-E-I-O!”
See? I have much important work to do. I am the fine-motor-skill-finisher.
I am witness. I am mother.
And the girl
is only three, sitting, naked legs wide open, singing songs.
Privilege / by Jude Luttrell
Invisible bus boys refill Bloody Marys and Arnold Palmers
And shoulder weighty trays of porcelain cups and saucers.
Bacon-thick Sunday air meanders from bayfront cafes,
Creeps over shiny silver railing and mingles with the riff raff: diesel fumes and deck paint.
Beneath the water’s surface, scuba-suited executioners terminate
Ancient, sedentary lives of tenacious barnacles . . .
Parasites who fatally mistook bloated white boat bottoms
For hulking underbelly of legendary, triumphant whale.
Springy, rubberized path encircling the marina
Cushions slow strides of pale, pin-thin socialites,
As they inch toward Inn the Drink to chug chardonnay|
While painting not quite identical lopsided lighthouses.
On the grassy knoll fronting the yacht club,
Breezy tow-headed yogini poses atop Moana beach towel,
Leading stiff-limbed weekenders in perfecting cobra postures.
Gleaming sunlight bleaches massive yachts,
Huddled together tightly in slim boat slips, moored and moaning side-by-side:
Sol Mates, Livin’ the Dream, Sea-Esta, Let the Good Times Roll, Life’s a Beach–
Lonely vessels squeaking and swaying to keep themselves occupied.
Ode to the Poster of Amphibians & Reptiles Tacked to the Exam Room Wall at the Animal Clinic on South Street / by Michelle Menting
Its smears of Nolvasan solution and earwax
taters, the aqua blue blobbed by brown
shows no judgment when it covers the spines
of lava lizards, doesn’t say how do you stay
furless in Nebraskan winters where wind
would blow your scales? No. None of that.
When the Pekingese in the room next door yelps
out its thermometer probe, I swear the tattered tip
of poster flicks up a salamander’s several eyelids.
Distraction for sure, while the tech inserts the needle
above a tortie paw, while the mews, so faint, slow
to acceptance. While I stroke her fur and we both
forget the winter outside, this place we’ve come to,
this place today together we’ll forever depart.
Anniversary Repress / by Alexander Scalfano
And the self heads to the factory
where it’s pressed into vinyl,
the sound driven into the media
like a dream chiseled
into a cross section of skull
stored for a night
where I’ve forgotten
anxiety. The needle on the finger-
nail of my sleeping passenger,
finds a groove and plays me
out of sleep. A child I don’t know
because I haven’t had a child,
a never-heir for my loneliness,
the guilt-summoned apparition
passing of a clenched jaw,
the way I hold my hair
back when I’m focused
projected onto graveyard fog.
Ghosts aren’t hereditary, are they?
How I feel like I’ve failed you:
First by never meeting you,
second by never being the one
that gets to choose
to live. You don’t want
these bones. I’ve tracked each
one with a scream, played
in reverse it yearns for desires
reflected back. A bullet spinning
backwards into smoke.
There’s a bonus track in every tooth
that’s just feedback
from grinding through the night
A tensed muscle
in my neck (you’ve felt this,
haven’t you?) never unfurls
like squeezing a lemon
into an exposed wound
until the squeezing hand shakes
and goes numb like lemonade
for blood (like you don’t want
scurvy, do you?). Vitamin See?
Keeps the body strong,
but its the music that you don’t
want. The indie bedroom pop
that is this skeleton, recorded
in a weepy cabin somewhere
in Oregon, whispered into
the pleasingly authentic static
of a cheap USB microphone,
released for free for the fans
because the fans make this all
worth it, make every reverbed strum
worth it. Every organ streaming
on bandcamp. Five dollars
or whatever you decide for the EP.
It’s for the scene. I’ve got a real
job that keeps me afloat
and you don’t want to be someone
who has no choice, but to love
the sentiment of belonging.
This yearning I’ve carefully curated
inside of each rib where I host
a series of subreddits
and they can upvote each little crackle
in my lungs (your lungs, kiddo,
do you get it?). It’s on the net now,
so this body is more real than my body,
you are more real than this body
to have not been.
Atticus Finch’s Dictation of Virtue to His Children, 1935 / by Ruben E. Smith
There are some things you’ll never understand in this world,
Things aren’t always black and white, brown and pale,
There are dangers out there, among the vast unknowns.
At the end of witch hunts, have you truly found a witch?
And when the mob’s pitchfork is stuck in the body,
Who are the parents of the body being stabbed?
Questions left unanswered for eternities and tomorrows,
And then you’re stuck defending an innocent man,
His black face the same as your own, your son’s face.
Do not question the world unless it first questions you.
Remember that yeast takes time to make dough rise,
That truth is just a construct of twelve humans in a box.
I never want to hold rope in my hands again,
That feeling of coarse hairs wrapped around you,
The feeling of no feeling, sensations of righteousness.
Take away from this experience that no one is real,
Everyone has their own personal arsenal at the helm,
Prepared to do dubious battle in the courtroom of life.
I am weak in my knees from hoping that darkness dissipates,
That you will have brighter tomorrows and lives to come,
And you’ll know what is right and what is wrong to man.
Beware of corners, they hide the sinful and the beasts,
Edges of familiarity and commonality, netting flesh,
And then you’re left with a load of guilt, whisky, and tears.
Fear yourself before you fear the others around you,
They’ll smell it on you, like gasoline on your shoes,
And they’ll toss their matches at you to set you aflame.
The biggest thing take from my rants of truth and justice
Is to remember that you’ll never be right in a place of wrongs,
And that virtue is just a made up word for you to feel better.
Outer Play / by Lydia Unsworth
You roll out the map to insulate your home. Stapling cloth to the wall is the only way if your heart doesn’t wish to give in. You staple the end of your sleeve to the corner of a reappropriated patch of curtain, forgetting the day-to-day demands of your arm therein. You roll your body inside out, trying to escape the reassurance of self-defence, rustling newspapers behind card behind card behind thick old coats once stuffed with the straw we also used to sleep in. You’re inside-out now, your arm interlocked with a finite but uncertain number of other limbs, bodies tipping, loop-the-looping, hands in hands in nameless patches of cloth. The goal is to become a slim ring, ironed out, blowing in the redirected wind. The goal is to shrink a bedroom back to the size of the cupboards that render unnecessary the seperate bedrooms we used to dream in. Built into the living room, as then as now, closed off during the day. If one day someone asks about me, tell them I’m finally learning to drive. Tell them that up on the moor it isn’t even cold. Tell them there’s a farm boy in the rear-view mirror holding his cows to account, trying not multiply. Tell them to send more clothes.