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 May 2018 were María Luisa Arroyo, Steve Bellin-Oka, Rebecca Ferlotti, Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann, ava m. hu, Maria Nazos, Tom Sterner, Christine Aikens Wolfe, and Jess Young. 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! To read more about the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, including a complete list of our wonderful volunteer poets and to read their poems, please click here.
Day 30 / Poems 30
ausencia / by María Luisa Arroyo
Papi used to hose off screens come springtime, spray off winter’s sludge, decaying bodies of flies who mistook windows for freedom. Papi’s annual request of his grandson Shaheen? Plant beefy tomato plants bought on Avocado Street from big-fisted farmers. Plant jalapeño peppers to sting squirrel mouths, that yipping dog that crawled under backyard fence, his best friends’ lips as they played boleros, drank beer on front porch. Papi’s cuatro chords, a duet with Colon’s sonorous voice, stirred our kitchen sighs, the cucubanos whose bodies flickered with light. This March? No more garden, no more música.
We Should Have Brought the Trees Back with Us / by Steve Bellin-Oka
& hid them in the U-Haul trailer
behind the mattress stained with the spilled
milk of our bodies. We should have taken
the catalpa with its leaves
big as faces. & the lemon tree, its white
blossoms corsaged against the yellow
fruit. But we were afraid the border guards
would drag them forth like Lazarus
in reverse, cut the bark & bleed them
as a check for disease. Abandon them
on the Canadian side of I-95. Then
we’d never have the chance
to plant them in the new grass of our
homecoming, on a hill with southern
exposure, less lonely because of their rustle
& sway in heavy wind. We wouldn’t hear
in them floor creak, plate rattle, water
splashing in a sink. Here it hardly rains;
there it always did—the circumlocution
of wrens as they hop from desert grass
to desert branch & back. Their singing
now an anthem & we’ve forgotten the words.
Retrospective / by Rebecca Ferlotti
Bible verse stickers scream
at me on 480.
I shuffle papers,
push them onto the floor,
pour water on top –
my right-hand mirror,
pink and white bubbles blur
I tear dandelions,
erase skies with yellow.
Stained hands clutch
stained wheels –
they carve themselves
I throw dandelions at windows.
All Birds United / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
The 8-year old sits shotgun
in the parking lot, windows open,
waiting in the sun
for his mom. A post-school
pedicure is on his horizon.
He thumbs rough
through glossy pages of National
and ahhhing over photos.
Concerned about dry
lake beds and bombed out
buildings in Aleppo.
He understands depiction
of war by sandbag
stacks blocking unglassed
Another flip and he’s quick
to cover a pic of a flamingo
wrapped in a hyena’s jaw.
“Your favorite bird,” he says,
He giggles at where
Uranus parks on the map
and marvels over migration
patterns of birds. Afternoon
moments turning to memory.
Poem of Last Lines from All Poems for the May 2018 / by ava m. hu
Look at me as if I were hands pulling you out of the dark.
We don’t do things in the dark, do we?
Her hands still stained with the blood of cherries.
Self portrait in white.
Begin symphony, begin wild birds, begin you.
You and I in a boat long past midnight.
Urgent, melodic, hypnotist-
The earth lets go of you. The sinking of petals when they lost light-
We hold onto each other. We hold on again.
We are desperate for bees. There’s no turning back.
The river never looks back.
Even the river banks repeat her name.
We, the invisible, as air-
Yellow dust of bees entering fruit.
The body on fire.
Hold back. Hold back. Hold back the way the sky holds back a sudden storm.
The way you let go. I let go too.
Of water when filled with a strange light, of everything she ever was, or will be, this obsessive desire, a masterpiece.
Can you hold your breath for long?
We moved from winged form to song.
We never wanted to go home.
Friends come in and out of the rain with yellow roses, bright umbrellas, smell of desire and longing in their palms.
We shall become the delicate creature’s children’s books are made of.
A whole year we didn’t meet, but we meant to.
Her hands move forward, making flying birds on the wall behind me.
Nobody, not even the wind, knows my real name.
The master’s brush holding up all this spring.
I will always remember how we first met.
Would earth be witness enough for you?
To the Cousin I’ve not Seen for Ten Years, Who left an Angry,
Drunk Comment on My Facebook Wall After Going on a Bender / by Maria Nazos
I understand why we spray-paint black coils on cake-frosting walls,
or pitch a three-tiered flaming birthday cake
off a fifth-story balcony. I’m acquainted with feeling a tiny blossom
hate for those whose lives seem pristine
and gleaming, like a Bentley I’d love to run a key across. I’ve felt the sweet
rotten urge, like tooth decay,
to scrawl a comment as a footnote to the photos of my reformed
wild-woman college friend,
who displays albums of her naked babies like a deck of pornographic
Cousin, it’s natural to find someone else’s balanced living
annoying and mistrustful. For years,
I safely toed the line between the slums of excess and suburbs
of my own limits without the police
of our addictive genetics holding me prisoner. Yesterday, my fiancée
pulled me so close, as sunlight streaked between
our bodies, and said, see how lucky? Whether luck or stubbornness,
when you sign on to life, you either
let the ink dry on your skin, a flaming rose tattoo, a mural of sweet
suffering, or you close and wilt like an hourglass rose.
As kids, we stole cigarettes and weed and beer behind the pool hall,
and I felt free of the cornfields’ golden handcuffs.
Your anger: a wall of salt in the rain. I’ll take your words with the whole
shaker. I know how it feels to watch one human
become a memory split away from you. Why can’t we look
at each other, spot-on and sober and say, you hurt me?
Instead, we hide behind stanzas and misspelled tipsy rage, our own walls
of protection we build when the graffiti is not enough.
Black ‘n White / by Tom Sterner
Slain in layers in an attempt
to make something out of nothing
a stack of photographs
black ‘n white
It’s a dirty damned shame
he ain’t got nobody
Those crazy guys
in the pictures
they were young in Nam
and got to stay that way
He’s way past that
but fairly sure he’s in there with ‘em
shootin’ a moon
Yeah, that’s him but
bottle o’ Coors in one hand
.44 in the other
For the hundredth time
he gags on the barrel
They were braver ‘n that
Damn ‘em all t’ hell
for leavin’ him behind
His finger tickles the trigger
The Coors drops from his hand
Youth is more than a notion
even in black ‘n white
Temple of the Rat / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Please click here to read the poem.
The Orchard / by Jess Young
Five hoodlums in their twenties
Let the raft guide drive the church van
Through South Carolina back roads.
Soon they stopped
And it was black–
The sky and all around them.
Without a word they shook their shells
To disrobe and go running
Skeleton arms bared apples
Hay stabbed their calloused heels.
Separate, then together, eyes adjust to purple light
The moon was halved and the stars pale
As the oracle’s blind eyes.
The hoodlums breathed and smiled
Hands on hips, proud as Hercules,
Conquering something, again, as though each summer
Mocked a trial, and they were innocent.
That night, after all the fun,
The hoodlums slept in their van
And woke with the sun in a clearing
Where no orchard had ever been.
Day 29 / Poems 29
The Dog Is Dreaming Again / by Steve Bellin-Oka
His sigh is heavy, a weight he’s carried all day
finally exhaled and put down. He doesn’t need
to rehearse his incremental failures, the lost
minutes Kenichi and I hold like spent coals
in the hearth. His sleep is nearly immediate,
wedged between us on this raft of a bed
too small to bear the three survivors
for long before the most vulnerable is cast
into the dream’s watery, futile flotsam. His legs
twitch and kick, a motion of swimming.
The clock clicks and whirs, endless.
Now he’s barking, muted, sporadic, the shoreline
still at a distance, the driftwood floating
always just ahead, just out of reach. I’m still
not sleeping. I shift my weight, heavily, and turn
to face him. His legs go still and he comes up.
In the moonlit room his eyes flash open and there
I catch everything I know of trust and hope.
Poem Twenty Nine: Notes / by ava m. hu
Would you lay your handprint down here
with no one watching, where no one
will remember your name, your face,
your footprints blending with red flowers
and the musk of the river?
Would earth be witness enough for you?
Narrative Poem / by Maria Nazos
This is the poem no one wants to write. The poem about desire,
not for the one you’re with, but for another—
This is the poem where there is no victory, defeat, or hero:
Just a man and a woman in a hotel room,
without a metaphor, like a strip of gauzy veneer which can
be easily unpinned,
She’s spent the night beside him in her clothing. They will not touch,
but they will want to—she will feel a hot cowbell erupting
in the white space between them. They will touch their own
bodies. She will tell herself the story: no touching
means she’s not unfaithful. Please, softly put your hand on the door,
uneasy as you rightly feel. Please, enter
this uncomfortable room, this poem which reeks of unwashed
adults, and tell her what you know:
that this is the story of how we live in our own private rooms
of desire, and we choose
whether or not to open them to someone else—
Tell her that it doesn’t matter whether
she touches this man. This is the story of the body which begs
for touch and forgiveness. This is the song
for anyone who’s ever desired another person, though they still
love the other one, though their mouth
tastes like bitter ash, and their hands feel like April ice.
But this isn’t the whole story—
Sometimes two bodies collide, then separate, and sometimes
don’t merge ever again.
The other man back home has his own tale. He’s noticed the nights
are longer and darker, along with her eyes,
except for her tiny flash of resentment when she slices the vegetables,
reflected by the knife’s blade. He’s tired of being ridden
like a rocking horse with wheels, of her shrinking
like a lily from his touch. Their laughter’s become a beloved
childhood song he can barely hum.
Now, back in this hotel room, this poem is not a childhood story,
but the grown-up lie which we tell ourselves:
that something isn’t broken and wrecked and beloved. If you are still
here, in this room, you may be remembering
how your own body betrayed you with desire. How you either left
the room or stayed to make a mess of flesh and sheets.
But please, if you’re still here, watching, tell her whatever she does
to craft a story of virtue and restraint, is beside the point.
Back home, it’s already over. Tell her how the heart and eyes
become hard and lacquered. Please, enter that room
where I tried to hide and make myself another person altogether.
Confront me like a lover, ask me what the hell
I’m thinking. Get me the hell out of there. Take me home, make me stand
In my truth. Make me decide how the story should end.
Mastery / by Tom Sterner
Chilly, late spring night
communing with the motorcycle
I open the garage door
almost walk into a spider web
reach out instinctively to brush it away
stop myself just in time
when I see a tiny traveler traversing it
I’ll have to make my way around
I take a small step and feel Buddy Kat
rubbing against my legs
Wonderful, just before midnight
awesome creatures to share it with
I have cat treats in my pocket
Buddy Kat says thank-you
What am I doing out here in the driveway
Not a wasted trip if I forget like I sometimes do
these guys were waiting for me
Oh yes, gotta get a shot of the moon
cloudy but clear enough if I’m patient
Out in the middle of the street
telephone aimed, up and out
stepping toward it
closer and closer
then it happens
I step into the moon and smooth away
Gratitude – You Know Who You Are / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Please click here to read the poem.
Stripes / by Jess Young
The blanket we carried
Tempered the light in rows
Like farmer’s fields after
Corn bows to a tractor.
Adam and I built temples,
To lounge and hide away,
Connecting corners of fabric
Edged with pink silk
To dining room and kitchen chairs,
Fascinating ourselves with
Shadows and hiccups
From laughing as we crossed
Our big brown eyes. The white
And yellow stripes followed us
To Disney World, the van’s seats
Removed to make way
For our sunshine caves,
Only big enough for us
And a camera, snuck in
By mom’s hand to capture
A reaction to what must have been
The funniest joke on the planet.
Day 28 / Poems 28
Decoration Day / by María Luisa Arroyo
April 25, 1866, Columbus, Mississippi
Our husband, our fathers, our sons, our brothers
– our dead –
are more than numbers
notched on the belt
of war victory.
Today we decorate the graves of our own.
We know them by name.
We still hear their voices.
We still see their living
before they became
in the Battle of Shiloh.
Today, we decorate the bare graves
of soldiers not our own, imagine
the women not able to travel
here, their wounds
as fresh as ours.
May 5, 1868, Decoration Day, DC
“When spring blooms all over our country,
let our children sing hymns, walk
among the graves of war dead, strew
flowers, be taught to remember.”
May 28, 2018, 9 a.m.
How long will it take me to recite
the names of the 40,000 Black men
who served in the American Civil War
and died for the freedom
to be seen as men, no longer
as the property of Whites?
May 28, 2018, 3 p.m.
for one minute of silence
to remember and honor those
who have died
to our nation.”
Morrissey Cento / by Steve Bellin-Oka
I know it’s serious,
the death of a disco dancer. It
happens a lot around here—
sex implores you to let yourself
lose yourself. Ouija board, work
for me. Shut your mouth: how
can you say frustration renders me
hateful? November is a time
I must put out of my mind: I swear
I never even knew what drugs were.
I’m the end of the family line. Go
back to the old house where you
shoved me on the patio. Stay
on my arm, you little charmer—
I would gladly lose both my legs as
the air hangs heavy, like a dulling wine.
Balloon / by Rebecca Ferlotti
It strips clouds
from tree bunches,
blowing leaves like dandelion
puffs in August.
American Horror Story / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
They’ve taken the children.
Punishment for parents
wanting a better life.
They pry babies, toddlers, and teens
from loving arms.
Families ruptured: no recourse.
Immune to inconsolable cries
and heartbreaking wails,
these monsters get paid
to shuttle away
boys and girls, and at the end
of the day, go home
to their own families.
They’ve tortured the children.
Neglected, abused, sold,
molested, and threatened
Forced them to sleep
on floors, without blankets,
They’ve lost the children.
Over 1400 children missing.
Some to foster care,
some to dog cages,
some to trafficking,
They’ve lost these children
on our watch.
We the people are the true animals.
The unspeakable creatures
complicit in this American horror story.
Poem Twenty Eight / by ava m. hu
My diamond jewel, goodbye.
The good night has come
to take you to the other side of the waterway.
Do not be sad.
I will always remember how we first met.
Fidgets / by Tom Sterner
don’t feel good
Have me a lay down
shootin’ junk pupils
dull dawn evil
We don’t exist in actuality
Metamorphosis / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Butterflies come to mind as May’s a-fleeting,
butterfly bushes begin to wave
. . . . . . .their green fronds, their blossoms in greeting
to me and to monarchs, Danaidae.
Arrival from Mexico takes generations
but DNA guides their high-flying feat
milkweed draws females of monarch nation,
they lay eggs. Their larvae hatch through and feast.
Quiescent as pupa (or chrysalis)
a phase that we mortals might emulate…
they dream & transform, emerge in wet bliss
eat milkweed. . . . .acquire a bitter taste.
In Mexico, male pheromones draw females’ heat;
they fly north to lay eggs. Then brood cycle’s complete.
The Butterfly Storm / by Jess Young
It shakes the pines, branches flow
like caterpillar legs fleeing floating docks
of Smith Mountain Lake.
I remember my quilt cocoon
on Grandma’s swing as I stand
on my mother’s back deck
listening to thunder boil.
When old water is shed
I am lionhearted,
the wind whistles around the house,
lightning frosts the lake like a dream.
I don’t speak to the adults
there’s little to do at Grandma’s
but color empty Disney princesses
or build Lego castles
and talk of health and medicine and I
am in between understandings.
I think they knew I went outside.
The wood creaked and the swing sang and I
wrapped up tightly and let the raucous swallow me.
I even tried to nap.
Silly little girl, so ready to absorb
I remember no one came to save me.
So when I look back and hear you ask me
to come inside
I am struck by old resilience.
My mother and her mother
letting me weather some storm,
a mirror of our current state of spring,
your hand on my shoulder
limbers our soggy butterfly’s wings.
Day 27 / Poems 27
canción / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Dzvinia Orlowsky
When I die, I want Papi’s cuatro, boleros in air. Quémame con su canción.
You say, I burn you with my voice. I say, bésame con tu canción.
After Papi’s death, 8 songs are growing in my throat. His orphan’s
ache lives in the cuatro chords you play. Tócame esa canción.
1989. To love you again, I sell my violin, fly 3,000 miles. We forget
our mother tongues, our bodies, one. Ámame con nuestra canción.
From “Silvertone”: “Father’s reaching deep/fingers stretched
into seventh chord/to find his soul.” Dzvinia, llórame esa canción.
Mami says she left her first love in Manatí, refused to share his body.
Papi’s bass chords stateside, new spiritual balm. Sáname con tu canción.
Twenty-one stories up, your colibri caresses before & after. You want
to meet my son. I refuse, bury this now. Entiérrame con esa canción.
Blue / by Rebecca Ferlotti
I see god at the bottom of my tea cup
intertwined with strands
of gold –
The sun is overhead.
sing their afternoon
They mingle in the clouds;
they meet their
Things My Unknown Biological Father Might Like, Based on His Name / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Solar decathlon entries
Philanthropic contributions to education
Words like stones
Colin Kapernick taking a knee
Digital concrete scanning
The sun shining in
Music by Usher and Poison
Homes in Wooster
Information on tenure review
Creating small accent pieces
Adding to the bottom line
Presidents who don’t take foreign assistance
Access to parking
Hot load transfers
Sydney’s northern beaches
Poem Twenty Seven: Notes on Painting / by ava m. hu
The only thing of value
is the pigment found
in the painter’s hands.
We draw pencil sketches
of blossoms while they
nuzzle their naked bodies
The master’s brush holding up
all this spring.
Choir / by Maria Nazos
As I leaned over the balcony, a choir of girls drifted beneath
the high-ceiling. They wore white dresses like fine mist, and began
to separate and float throughout the chamber like cumulous clouds
separating for light so I saw the light etching their silhouettes,
though there were no windows, and when they sang, walking
through the white room as if through a glade, they sang like angels.
Their eyes rolled heavenward, their voices silk, their dresses silk too.
I began to think they were angels, that I had stumbled, clumsily
into a corner of God’s eye: convex and glistening, where women
paced and sang unrehearsed songs in an unknowable tongue.
I tried to understand the words but could not. Though
I knew I’d remember this song when in between sleep
and awake. The songs were not in my mother tongue, though
they felt like a mother: endless rocking, a cradle perched on
an icy bow. But these women were neither mothers nor children.
Maybe they were sisters to each other and to ghosts and blood
and spaces between words, the kind you don’t say because
I didn’t want to pick up the rock and see the pale creatures
beneath it. The girls began to form a single-file line, as if waiting
for a bank teller, a trail of petals leading up to a bed or a long
white cluster of cabbage whites, an endless chain of little white
deaths of small, plain butterflies, the kind I’d find limp on the back
porch, as a child. Once I found a three of them, dead,
and attached like a chain. I remember holding them, trying
to separate them, but they refused to part, I remember my mother
telling me, everything dies, but go ahead and hold them,
and as I held them, the wings grew huge in my hand, their dying
suddenly huge, their wings large enough to fit on my own back.
There were no wings on the girls’ backs, as they stood in line
and sang, but they appeared to be floating a foot above the ceiling.
Maybe ghosts, maybe jellyfish, maybe glass bells rung by the dead.
Maybe they were an unbreakable chain of daisies or the lost daughters
of fallen stars. Though they did not rise, their voices did, echoing
through the chamber the way blood moves through the chambers
of the heart. Finally, they drifted, again, in different directions,
out different doors which I had not noticed before, each in
a separate corner of the room. Left alone, looking down
from the balcony at the empty marble room, left to wonder
whether I was teetering at the edge of a dangerous abyss.
But they were still singing, their notes swirling like petals,
filling up the room with sweetness and white shadows, turning.
When the Dragon is.More Than Paper / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Please click here to read the poem.
Po-ém / by Jess Young
I just want you to know,
I’ve been thinking about you, poem.
The past few days have been a questionable offense
A pastel pretense
Some would say, anyway,
I wasn’t going to write today.
But I believe in you so I’ll do it regardless,
Thanks for the month’s head start
For the surreal journey into my mind and its art
Day 26 / Poems 26
Weekends / by Rebecca Ferlotti
I crease pillows and
unfold hotel-style towels.
There are crumbs on the floor,
so I leave them.
I let my feet drag on the carpet,
push leaves out of the way.
I decide my phone is better
off. I delete
Under Pressure / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
He spins away from the surface, away from land and people
who don’t understand. Bubbles, like
breadcrumbs, mark his murder trail. Anenomes recoil as he snaps
their digital pornography. Slick brown tendrils trick him
into lingering. He feigns interest in the bumped landscape
and underwater photography while the Rock Cod
mock the glass mask holding his face in place. He swims the grey
seascape with ambition, leaving a different type of handiwork
anchored in a sea tomb: his victim deposited
with a side-eyed flounder as the only witness.
A slender blonde in chain-belted
canvas; the material covers his prize in a death veil.
It is easier for him to ignore her when her faded lips and clouded
blue eyes are hidden pearls in the sound. The camera snaps memories
and his dive is complete. His breath comes slow and sure. The black
rubber flippers whirlpool currents behind him as he
prepares to reach the surface; his mermaid’s last
siren song sung.
Poem Twenty Six: Notes / by ava m. hu
I am a boat breaking waves
as dawn pulls her gold fingers
through water. Nobody, not even
the wind, knows my real name.
Last Day in Antigua / by Maria Nazos
All the hostel owner said was American girls can’t drink, and here I am: proving him wrong, in an Irish bar owned by Australians, one last hurrah before I barely miss my bus home across the border to Belize, then home. Gold beer spills over pint glasses, an Irish rock band blares, and the women drink like men in drag. In the middle of the dancefloor, a man with red dreads is playing a game: chug a beer, then fall to the ground in a plank pose. His girlfriend, a dark-haired curvaceous woman, snaps photos, eggs him on, until finally, he collapses under the weight of pressure. I know what it’s like to collapse under pressure and get back up. I’ve traveled by myself for the past few weeks with nothing but a misplaced confidence: my skin pocked with sand flea bites, I’ve swum with sharks and manatees, fallen in love with a twenty-five-year-old vet, snorted cocaine off the inner thighs of a former-felon-turned- tattoo artist, and for once, I’m not sorry. Finally, I feel alive and back in my body after years of my skin feeling like a coffin. After years of lying down for a man whose love crushed me, as I lay back to take his weight and allowing our directionless drifting and sinking of two comfortably resentful people. Still, we hung on and sank, slowly. Still, I pushed back up to the surface: sent him back to the Cape with a white flag in my throat and pearl-studded daggers in my eyes. Now, back in the pub, my eyes collide with a British painter, who whirls me onto the dance floor. You don’t belong here, he says, you’re not drunk and loud. I reassure him, as we swirl like ice cubes in whiskey, that I am. Just one dance, I say, I’ve got a bus to catch. He leans in, whispers, I’d bet money you don’t make your bus and I laugh in delight. You aren’t going back, he says, pulling me close. For a long moment, I don’t. For one long, last moment, I never do. Then, the pub door swings open to a shock of sun. I touch his face tenderly, hoist my backpack, and walk out into the light, back to the self that I can’t—and don’t—want to escape. Back to the part of me that’s waiting, that never left.
Afterlight / by Tom Sterner
Is this twilight
where I meet a bad bartender
where I need to be
What does sunlight have to do with it
It ain’t nothin’
but reflections of a moon
I haven’t visited before
Ignore me after
bring me a drink
I am the only thing heavy in the room
then leave me alone
lovely flames outside the fire
Ain’t no such thing, honey
You’re in or you’re not
Sing the song like you wrote it
Put it down
It’s not your fault
No one can pin it on you
You did good
Behave yourself now
Lay down wooden
You turn around
Look at my child with your hungry eyes
You got nothin’ to worry about
You aren’t real
You ain’t here
I’m headed for jail
where men like me belong
You just one more ugly-assed smear
no one has to worry with
just doin’ my time
I been suckin’ up midnight
with creatures like myself
preying on predators
turning on a dime
Ain’t no future in your limp-ass game
It ends with the wrong victim
whose monsters run deeper
Doing what you do
no victim in mind
Vengeance is a word
sure as hell ain’t no crime
Go on, tempt shadows
one at a time
Screw me down right
On your midnight throne
Come back at noon
you’ll find me alone
Piss on me
puke on me
I feel your pain
like an empath
like a preacher
I’m a devil
got your name
from a book handed me
by the dying hand
of a suffering, twisted
friend of man
It’s a killing list
he didn’t get done
of men like you
You’re the very next one
Men without shadows
Is this twilight, am I
the man without shadow
the only man
in the room
with a gun in his hand
An Ode to Alzheimer / by Jess Young
Oh, Lord, what do I do?
She’s here and then it seems
She is there with you,
Gazing at every moment as though
It’s so new.
Oh, Lord, what can I say
When she asks me why I’m tearful today?
I could never let on my loss in the wilderness,
That I seek her daily but find fear in excess.
Oh, Lord, how can I feel?
There’s milk in her brain You’ve congealed,
And maybe it should be exciting to never know
The right or the wrong, the Spring or the snow.
Why and how could you send me a friend
Who I need more and more at each week’s end–
To try and make me forget my wife?
You think I’m a coward, you tempt me with strife?
But, oh, God, thank you for teaching me true.
‘Til death does me part, like Terry and Lou
Who lived ‘cross the hall and I helped them to hospice,
Like father when mother turned yellow with jaundice.
I’ll never stray, though you take them all away,
You selfish God, I’ll pray every day,
Because I miss my wife, her mind’s astray…
Oh, Lord, what can I do today?
Day 25 / Poems 25
Home / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Mary Oliver
In the Stop & Shop parking lot, the geese guard their nest.
Why this grassy island curb for home? Was it instinct?
Were they forced off course by April snow? How do they sense
safety? Do they see the cars around them as boulders
in motion? When one slows down, one goose arches open
its wings, leads with its head, ready to protect. One night,
cones appear, set up an orange perimeter of safety.
Another night, barricades, two plastic tubs, one with water,
the other, oatmeal and seeds. Imagine such tenderness
for new neighbors, displaced by Hurricane Maria.
With Becky in the Puerto Vallarta Departure Lounge, May 2004 / by Steve Bellin-Oka
Other Americans kept keen eyes
on their carry-ons, but not us.
Loud all week, full of bravado,
we’d ridden horses
into the unmapped hills,
imperious as Cortés,
wondering how anyone
can live like this
as we rode past
the crumbling, sunbeaten houses
beyond the palmetto trees.
When we swam in the green pools
below Yelapa Falls we thought,
try not to ingest any of this
subaltern water by mistake.
And we drank overpriced
Dos Equis all week, here
in the airport bar too—más cerveza,
I told the camerero. I still
have worthless pesos to get rid of.
Over the loudspeaker, a pastiche
of tourist Mexico—mariachi music,
La Bamba, ads in perfect English
for all-inclusive time shares. The cops
swept the beggars out like flies
from the entranceway and concourse.
Flight to Phoenix, gate 12.
I walked her there a bit unsteady,
as if my legs didn’t take proper
precautions and caught malaria.
I hugged her and she faded
through the jetway cocoon.
I got what I deserved.
She was still healthy then—
we didn’t know the tumors
had started gnawing her lymph
nodes. Back in the bar, I waved
my hand for more beer, another
ugly American who doesn’t know
the difference between
the word for swimming
and the word for drowning.
Spring / by Rebecca Ferlotti
I drip paint on the neighbor’s tulips
from the balcony above,
pluck leaves from branches parked
next to my house
as peace offerings. I throw them
off. The flowers cry –
I push a glass of water
off the ledge. It shatters
over daisies. Their lights
flicker. The dog
barks. They say, “it must be
Experienced Sitter Needed / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Sterilize every bottle and binky as well as any surface
baby might touch. Let his drooly wide-mouthed smile
form over his dangling toys but make sure they’re out of
reach. People used to think it safest for babies
to sleep on stomachs. But now, put them
down backside even though you envision the terror
of finding him cold-blue from a milky-white
trail of milk he couldn’t fight.
No pillows. No blankets either. Swaddle.
Make sure the room isn’t too warm. No brightly-
colored animal-imprinted bumper pads:
impeding air flow. If you trip carrying him up the stairs,
hope beyond hope that your maternal instinct
fires up, and you tuck his head, protecting
the priceless fontanel while banging the hell
out of your own shins on the unforgiving
wooden risers. Although I raised his mother, with what now seems pure stupid
luck, it is hard to put this one, her little one,
into the crib, turn out the light, and tiptoe out of the room.
I check time and time again; willing the world
quiet so I can hear the tiny in and out of breath..
Poem Twenty Five: Notes on Painting / by ava m. hu
I’d like to investigate the way the painter
makes shadows on the walls with his hands
while he mixes colors.
They hold their breath
while they move
through her quiet hair.
We are not lovers,
we are not brother or sister
though we drift hand in hand
down the midnight streets.
I try to paint her shoulders
the color of cornflowers.
There are blood cherries
in a wooden bowl on the table.
Her hands move forward
making flying birds
on the wall behind me.
Self-Portrait With Lipstick On / by Maria Nazos
I was born painted, dancing
in the doorway of the womb,
spraying graffiti on the wall
of my mother’s uterus, a string
of stresses, a lot of color, winging
my eyeliner, though my eyes
were sealed shut. If only I
hadn’t been told who I was:
tempted with the seduction
of wearing pink skin. I’ve been
trying to get back to the caves
of women who put sun-flecked
feathers in their hair and hung
their gods from trees, to see them
shining like frosted diamonds
on dark boughs. When I opened
my eyes, I could see them—
shimmering: a chandelier at the end
of a long dark tunnel, a torn
thread of a spider web. Oh my
goddess, oh my goodness, oh my
gravy. The unfinished future
tense of color and shade, my
shiny glass eyes holding unfinished
drinks, spilling the wine the color
of ancestor’s bleeding ruptured
syntax & hyphens. Greek-American,
My mouth is a red M-dash, I wear
ellipses for earrings. My great grandmother
used to sit in her drunk living room
and try to put it back together, polishing
the floor until it was nothing
but shine while the other living
and bisected things came and went—
chicken, fish, stray cats, girls.
Versions of it, broken like beads
on a necklace and scattered in corners,
broken like men without mothers,
my friend’s old horse. Harnessed words,
and all I can do is yolk them together,
trot them out. I know they are shaking,
and there are pauses and empty
glasses in between. I know that
the empties need to be picked up,
that there isn’t much to go around,
of me, of you, of them, so we always
have to keep coming back and making
something out of the scraps and shiny
bits that we’ve got rolling into dark corners.
Harpy / by Tom Sterner
Lap-dog on her shoulder
furry sucky beast
drinking from her 7-11 cup
She is a fleshy thing
and so is her dog
riding phat by the window
fresh doggy grin on its face
lip flappin’, wind blowin’
She got fresh dribble on her neck
thirteen wrinkle fat chins
drivin’ slow with her pooch
lipstick on her teeth
fur on her face
kissin’ a peach
Roses Are…Roses Are… / by Jess Young
Roses are snipped and placed in a bottle
Violets are growing in the wilderness, far from the realms of table accessories
Poppies, poppies will make them sleep—
Strawberries pop out of the porch
A robin on one good leg decorates the cucumber pot
But I snagged the newest berry,
Sweet and red with a seedy white tip
Poor bold bird, hungry in the sun
Day 24 / Poems 24
Life / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Sharon Olds
Sharon, your wounds live in your poems, rage, tear at this life.
The dark – human, man – no longer a lair in your life.
Unafraid, I redirect the dead in my dreams. Mami is here.
Yes, your sons are safe. No, I still want to wear this life.
Post-Hurricane Maria. Nightmares of flying zinc, uprooted
trees. Awake, my brother, family man, bears this life.
Khosro, more than an Uber driver, speaks about his family
in Iran, desperate economy there, earns fares for their lives.
At Papi’s wake, Mami, post-surgery numb. You ask what I’d do
if you hurt my mother in the receiving line. Dare me to take your life.
Queen’s Street Gambit, Declined / by Steve Bellin-Oka
take for example stopping at a traffic light
& seeing the boy opposite leaning against
the brick of one of this city’s colonial buildings
his body a river that has not gathered the rain it takes
to learn the limits of the self are malleable
a single unbroken curve from the underside
of his jaw to the one leg propped against the mortar,
soft moss of belly hair beneath his hiking up t-shirt
oh to be that young again, to have a body
not yet creased & scraped with age
to be a man without the heaviness it brings
to be learning desire is deep
water & still be unafraid of drowning
Road-Side / by Rebecca Ferlotti
He walks in bamboo,
blue plastic twisted
in his hand.
He wades through green;
he yells at dandelions.
He has no direction;
he only looks
at his shoes.
Requiem / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
The rabbit died.
Not a notification of impending
pregnancy, but because trauma
to its tiny frame
was too much to bear.
From cursory inspection,
than my small- jawed Persian
did the damage, disabled
the bunny, allowing
for the cat’s discovery.
I consoled the bunny for hours,
medicating its wounds, hoping
it would pull through. Black
beaded eyes watched cautious
from a Kleenex cloud. Petite
ears folded flat back
twitched as I stroked its head.
I radiated love, spoke in soothing
tones, and it rested against my palm,
passing away later while dinner
simmered on the stove.
The boy and I dug
a modest hole in the front
garden, placing the tissue-
filled box beneath loose black soil.
The raccoon said mass
and the raven’s dirge drove
us to tears.
Poem Twenty Four: Notes on Atlas and the End of the World / by ava m. hu
His hands, the long necks of birds,
Atlas, holding the sky on his shoulder.
Mollusks open and close. The tip toe
of little music boxes. Snow quiet
as fingerprints on glass.
Dark creatures emerge from dark canyons.
Memorize more Shakespeare.
Thread yourself to him
like gold sequins on orange cloth.
Do you want this poem to stop now?
My skirt catches on tall grasses.
I am jade wrapped around the wrists of the poem.
The eternal perfume of the sky. This sea
shaking and shivering, Atlas-
Will you think of the end of the world
and say nothing?
A whole year we didn’t meet but we meant to.
Rupturing Poem / by Maria Nazos
The woman slumps on a log beside a man in a backwards hat. She’s backpacked across the border to this island. The man hands her a key heaped with white powder. She inhales it. Wonders what she came here to find, especially when she left a marriage behind. A man twenty-three years older. A six-year-old soundtrack of curses and screaming and conditions she’d thrown down like plates on the kitchen table, commitment or not, until finally, she broke. She’s set her sweaty bags down, trying to put her shattered self back together. But everywhere there are pairs: at dinner, alone, as she sips a martini, a tourist woman reaches across the table, stroking a man’s face. She overhears the native couple who own the hostel she’s staying at, arguing in the kitchen, the woman threatening to get her own apartment. Later that day, as the woman is sitting at a picnic table, she sees them holding hands, walking down the beach. She even looks down into the clear dock water, and sees a pair of long sand sharks, and realizes how alone she is, until some kind locals brought her to this secret beach, primarily reserved for the natives to escape the heat and tourists. A few men play cards at a neighboring picnic table. The woman, sitting on the splintered log beside the man, keeps crying. Am I losing my mind, she wonders, sobbing to a stranger. Still, she tells him that she feels like a lightning-struck tree, I am splitting in two, she says, feeling ridiculous: a coked-up white woman and her first-world problems. But the man says, feel the bullet in my arm. His eyes are flooded tidal pools. She touches the hard nub buried inside his arm, the place where his best friend shot him, she feels whatever strange and silent force kept him whole and here, where he split apart like mitosis, where he felt pain she couldn’t imagine. She feels shame for her own pain; the bullet she’s never felt. She’s wondering why she hauled her sadness here and thrown it on whomever will listen. For a moment, in awe because the human heart ruptures in ways we can’t imagine, can take a bullet, and still, it can listen. Still, the heart listens, even when one person’s sufferings are fleeting compared to another’s. And the heart breaks from this sweetness, then comes back together, again. By now, the tide has come in. The water’s up to their knees, the log almost floating. So, they sit together: saying nothing. Feeling themselves open and then close, over and over again.
Ozark Serenade / by Tom Sterner
Chicken coop birthing
got the squirts
wasn’t that great
to a Catholic orphanage
Daddy rides the rails
can’t get work
spit on and beaten
ashamed of himself
Momma gone crazy
running the streets
of Saint Louis
all the way gone
Where are my daughters?
and not coming back
Before the meat wagon
scoops her up
hauls her away
Do you believe in angels?
With No Warning / by Jess Young
A white guy who adopted South Koran babes
Speaks nuclear relations at the Union Bank
Breached communication once,
With a string of children desperate
To know America,
Peppered him with questions, he said
Swish swosh goes the mother fish in her
Korean pond, adaptable, admirative—
Not trustworthy, though
Since we all know who blasted that airport in 1988–
I’m amused by the teller.
She asks me, “Why?” with a keen parrot’s glance,
The one the bird gives when it speaks human,
As though I should know.
I lean on dry elbows waiting for work’s
Deposit slip with a berry face trying to witness
This man for my later poem.
“Nobody wants nuclear war,” he states to the white ceiling.
I agree but wordless, vastly numb to the prospect
Having read Song of Napalm just that morning.
Day 23 / Poems 23
Read & Write / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Pat Mora
“If I were a bird/it’d be very absurd” –
At school, teachers fueled my secret love
for words, wrote me passes to school library
to borrow, read & return. My backpack, pregnant
with books. The dictionary marked “obsolete”,
my treasure. Any notebook, sudden journal.
Mr. K started every class with Mozart or jazz,
music that washed away my middle school worries:
Are my brothers being bullied? Did I pack
their homework? Did I iron Papi’s uniform?
Set Mami’s alarm for –
Letting Go / by Rebecca Ferlotti
I pour too much Dawn
on my grandmother’s dish.
It’s a laundry scene
from a 90s sitcom
when they use too much soap.
A woman once told me
she only used soap if it got
really sudsy –
She refused to use anything less.
I scrub the plate.
My mind gets frustrated with me,
attacking itself with sanitation tips
I learned in cooking school.
I cry into the water.
It runs clear.
Killer Queen / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Before the front door
closed shut with a click
the cat whizzed in
past my leg. A low
moaning growl escaped
around her prey.
I caught a bare
glimpse as she made
way to the stairs.
My heart sunk somewhere
near my stomach while
I ushered the 8-year old
to the car. No trauma
necessary before first bell.
Memories of earlier
A spotted sparrow, multiple
butterflies, a small opossum
and so many mice. If left
indoors, she fetches
used tissues or wadded
paper towels from
the wastebasket, certain
she’s saved me from harm,
and proud of her valor.
Mind in overdrive,
if my pet hid her treasure
or where I might find it.
I imagined a fight
over the carcass
between cat and dog. I
pictured a fragile
squirrel family missing
Dread slid as I moved
room to room in search
of the departed. Dustpan
in hand, I passed my cat
preening proud on the
bedroom floor. The lump
of brown fur left alone
on my side of the bed.
Not a squirrel, but a
bunny, wild and still alive.
My chest swelled
as I scooped
the baby to safety.
Poem Twenty Three: Notes on Milkstars / by ava m. hu
Milk of stars. The bride
throws a bouquet of flowers
into the crowd.
I catch them.
He catches them.
We catch them in the dream.
Larkspurs and daffodils
make marks on our arms
we will talk about come morning.
Have we been looking for a long time
into a telescope at the stars?
At the fields filled with ripe corn,
the sound the crickets make
on a late night in May, when we wonder
what is it we have done with our lives?
Who have we become?
The wedding party gets into a boat
to careen across the still water of the lake.
We shall shake the sleep from our arms.
We shall become the delicate creatures
children’s books are made of.
Call Center / by Maria Nazos
After I’d said I’d rather get a bikini-wax
with duct tape, or give a lap dance to the Devil himself,
or drink a shot glass full of rusty nails, rather than work,
again, in customer service. Here I am: training,
the supervisors tell me, for a job, which has nothing
to do with my actual one, but instead is intended
to instill humility for those of us new employees
on salary, to experience this challenge of our subordinates:
sitting with a headset all day, solid as a pillar of ice,
while the irate voice on the other end slowly
swings or chips away. This is a slippery slope,
I want to say. I’m not a mountain for people
to dig their picks into. I’ve already done this,
for so long, can I please train for what my job is?
I have humility, I want to scream. But instead,
I push the mouthpiece to my lips as if
teasing it with fellatio. Listen to the woman
demanding that her above-ground pool was lost
in the mail, though records show it was delivered.
I feel a rage which I’d thought was dead or dormant,
since I left my 20s. I am an ice sculpture, I tell
myself, flicking a rubber band across my desk,
trying to break my hardness and reach a place
of warmth. Her voice almost melodic, had it not
been laced with the rising syllables of anger.
I dug a hole in the ground, she says. Still, no pool.
I am sorry, I tell her, but I have become a puddle,
a melted pile of ice. All I can think is, white woman
problems. I want to ask her if everyone in her family
is healthy and relatively happy, if she sees the stars
at night and feels sad and happy. I want to say
that pool-sized gripes does not compare to the hole
in your heart when your best friend lies, half-bald
and barely able to speak in hospice care. But isn’t
this life: not realizing how good we have it.
I recall back when I was working at the sunglass store,
and overheard my boss, a heavyset woman whose
moods were like a wooden plank you ran your
hand across, only to hit an occasional splinter,
When I was Windexing the giant pillar of glass
of Cavalli sunglasses, she was telling her friend,
a local cop, who had just returned from dealing
with a local woman whose boyfriend had
raped her. My boss was saying to him, I never believe
those bitches. Like that woman who said
Kobe Bryant raped her; they’re full of shit.
I remember pressing my forehead into the glass
case. Telling myself that I was turning into
that pillar of glass, wishing I could dissolve into it,
wanting to smash the entire display. Instead,
I put on a pair of amber lenses because
they didn’t paint other peoples’ stupidity
rose or black. They let me see the world
the way it was: full of beauty and pain.
And that to me is forgiveness—
As I return from my reverie, and back
to five years later, sitting here, at my desk
for what will only be three more days,
to the woman in my headset, to her lost pool,
her canceled Memorial Day party, how she’ll call
her lawyer if I don’t give her a refund. I look out
the window, where the evening sun has painted
it the color of those same brown lenses. So, I can see her
voice as a human, again, as much as I can see
myself and all those times I called and polluted
the pink seashell of some distant person’s ear,
probably in India, not getting paid a fraction of what
I am. I put the bat down. I become the block of ice
that is melted by the sun, so slowly, I become a soft
amber lens: a long coil of light.
Grieving / by Tom Sterner
That dark tunnel lonely
smacks you, smooth upside the head
When you know they are gone
you kiss that face
as you have each of them, your lips
caress flesh spirit has left behind
All around echo voices weep and croon
“I know what you’re going through”
You gag on your reply, choke it back
Your brain careens out of control
a mad bug locked in a marble
years, some of it
you remember what she said
You do that impossible thing
she dared you have faith to do
You go on
but grief is a shadow
on the river of your blood
Her hand squeezes your shoulder
“Let me go”
Yours is a weak smile now
a shadow of what it was before
. . . . . .and his 8-leaved map of the world, Typus Orbis Terrarum, 1570 / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
In Belgium, young Abe took his research & a ruler
made an eight-leaved wall map-drawing of the world. Alas!
He was the first atlas artist, so he bore
. . . . . . . . . . . . .all the credit. . . . .all the blame
if his drawings of land & sea
. . . . .were not to scale…. or accurate. To him, more
important were his thoughts on continents, those
. . . . .had once been joined, he was sure –
. . . . . . . . . .their outlines matched.. . . . .He showed the
. . . . .world what the world looked like. His atlas of our orb
first appeared 1570. . . . .widely reprinted.. . . . .Hear, hear!
· note – Use letters from his name to make the last word on each line.
Leave Me To The Trumpet / by Jess Young
My friend says the rain
is God mourning lost love.
I wonder what that says
of heartbreak on a sunny day.
Free laughter of swallows
Versus the raucous of thunder.
Nest string and ribbons
Contrary to flooded clay.
Asphalt releasing fumes
due to hot, salty rain drops,
Or joyous song, a welcome
into the twirling cacophony of every thing…
Both bold moods, God.
But I could make Jericho tremble
with the possibilities
adjunct to my heart’s loss.
Day 22 / Poems 22
Postcard to John, with Old Photograph Taken in Charlottesville / by Steve Bellin-Oka
My eyes just off center to the camera’s eye,
the green leaves of the summer gingko trees
behind me unwavering, stolid,
confident and sure of their place. My smile
is unforced, higher on the left than the right,
It’s a pretty mouth, you said. My head
is tilted up a few degrees—it hadn’t yet
learned to protect itself from the swirling
entropic air starting to pull us apart,
the graffitied bridge over Rutland Avenue
crumbling in slow motion, too slow
for me to see as I look over your shoulder
at the late afternoon sky darkening.
Baby, why won’t you tell me what you want.
Tuesday / by Rebecca Ferlotti
The sky opens – green.
Dead flowers splay on sidewalks.
Dirt veins in concrete.
Gathering / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Monday night I provided
. . . .(in the form of Kit N Kaboodle)
to an ink black raven
and a wily raccoon.
The bird tried to say grace,
but the trash panda plucked wafer
upon wafer from the plate,
nibbled greedy and smiled
with his eyes as he chewed.
He confessed his plentiful sins
before washing slender fingers
in the small pan of holy water,
leaving earth-black sediment
drifting toward bottom.
Disgusted, the bird tapped
her bowed beak against
the telephone line and shook
her shiny feathers into a ruffle.
She asked about my novel,
whether I still struggled
with plot points, and suggested
a scene with an alternate
form of narrative.
Heart light and belly stuffed,
the masked one grew bored
with shop talk, stretched,
and waddled off to a spot
below the neighbor’s porch.
The raven clucked disappointed
at the lack of gratitude. She
daintily picked kibble, listening
to details of my day. It grew
late, so she bid
adieu and flew to the crest
of the chestnut tree,
cawing goodbye as she
headed for dusk.
I brushed off the dishes
and slipped inside,
my family unaware
of the gathering.
Poem Twenty Two: Notes on Desire / by ava m. hu
Moths like to burn their wings
in this kind of light.
Dust, blood from flowers, locks
of a lover’s hair shorn, coconut shells
filled with jasmine’s fragrant hope.
This is the description of what one places
in a river before praying.
This and that of choosing a word
matched with the description,
of inviting the guest in to stay a while.
Press the fingers into the inclines of a map.
Lips become flowers. Legs become running water.
What’s in the destination when charcoal
can be spread across paper like this?
It’s just before rain hits the skin
that makes it so beautiful.
Butter effigies melt in the mouth of the saint.
The spring breeze moves in his cloak of straw.
The oar hits quickly the sandy shore.
Friends come in and out of the rain
with yellow roses, bright umbrellas,
smell of desire and longing
in their palms.
Interview / by Maria Nazos
Why are you the right person for this position?
Do you ever find yourself, listless, shooting rubber bands, and staring off into space?
Do you look at your hands and see your father’s hands instead?
Have you ever sat down beside a stranger on an airplane?
Have you ever clutched your section during takeoff, and felt secretly fortunate
and terrified that you were ever alive?
Do you feel alive? Do your knuckles and feelings prove that?
What other jobs have you worked? Did they teach you how to stuff your anger inside you,
how to fall in love with strangers?
When you sat beside that clean-shaven suited man on the airplane, do you recall how
he asked why you were visiting Boston, and you said, my friend’s funeral, he died of cancer. And that was the first time when you doubted that the universe was in conspiracy with your best interest?
What about this job interests you, anyway?
Have you ever wandered outside and wondered how you got here?
Does the universe feel aimless and random or do you believe it serves a purpose?
Have you ever felt hungry, then realized you just needed a drink?
Do you recall how that man, that stranger, said, my mother died of cancer too, then began to shake and silently sob, so you sat there, equally silent, with only the arm rest separating your sadness?
Do you ever cry in front of strangers?
Have you felt rain when there was none?
Do you wake up every morning and go to bed at night?
Have you ever stepped into a mud puddle out of sheer pleasure and sadness?
Do you see your mother in every woman’s face? Or do you never see her, not at all,
and you wish you could?
Do you believe in past lives?
What sign are you?
Do you believe in signs?
What makes you stand out from the other applicants?
Tell me about a time when you owned your happiness.
Tell me about a time you tried to speak, but there were no words.
Tell me about a time when you found words, anyway, dug up the gold syllables
from the backyard like truffles, and held them, gleaming in the sun.
Do you seek to listen or wait to talk?
Do you lead, or do you follow?
Does your past ever follow you into rooms and take on the form
of every person you’ve loved? Or do you banish them beneath the bed,
then buy new dinner plates?
When you look at this picture, do you see an old lady or young woman?
Tell me about a time when you made a mistake a work.
Tell me about a time when you wanted to speak but couldn’t.
Can you talk without speaking?
Do you have a friend who doesn’t work at all, just lives in his van and sings in the rain?
Do you envy him?
Could you please speak up?
Can you lean closer to the receiver?
Do you believe in giving or receiving?
Have you ever wanted to die, then decided you didn’t?
Have you ever wanted to live, then decided you were out of cigarettes?
Do you think our time is running out?
Have you ever wanted to laugh and cry at the same time?
Do you believe in God or a Higher Power?
What color is water?
Have you ever seen a ghost and sworn, it was the color of water and breath?
What makes us human?
Tell me about a human whom you’ve loved, deeply, so much that you agreed never to call or write?
Tell me, without speaking. You don’t need to tell me: we all carry that person behind
our eyes; it makes us human.
Do you have any questions for me?
Take a long drink of water and a deep breath. Relax: I can hear you breathing.
Very good: now, do it again.
Artisan / by Tom Sterner
In the lady’s heart lives a painter
whose brushes have been lain aside
in favor of living for decades
tending to family
She hangs on to a painting or two
from her college days
works of still life
the beat of her heart
and contemplates living a real life
with art at its center
Loved ones may not understand
but she does and it’s okay
She excuses them
chokes back a tear
sways to the music of her brushes
continues to paint a tapestry of their lives
Where I’m From / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Please click here to read the poem.
Green Thumb / by Jess Young
A watered vine grows quickly
swaying, damp, thirsty.
His thumb rests on a leaf,
green and invasive,
unclasping the wires of biology and
makes room, gently,
until the balmy soil groans
Day 21 / Poems 21
Tongues II / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Demetria Martínez
From kinder, teachers ground their heels into my tongue,
Celebrated English words I learned, blood congealed on my tongue.
From “Fragmentos/Fragments”: “[…] Spanish […] is/ like driving
without hands [….]/ English. My mask, my/sword.” Heal your tongue.
Mr. Skala, my Spanish teacher, dislikes my Puerto Rican accent, warns
my peers in Castilian, ignores how my Spanish feels on my tongue.
Post-Hurricane Maria, my brother still dreams of uprooted trees, boxes
of food labeled in English, neighboring elders’ appeal for his tongue.
¿El gato asombrerado? ¿Los huevos verdes con jamón? Latinx children
need children’s books that look like them, sound real in our tongues.
X-Ray / by Steve Bellin-Oka
The whole house begins to spill
over with dusk. All day spent
across the storm windows
with my back knotting slowly,
like leftover twine
in the bottom kitchen drawer.
Yesterday, I watched my spine’s
curved ladder flicker briefly
from the x-ray screen before
it steadied, stretching
down from the lit skull.
White smears of arthritis
shone in the vertebrae.
Pain is a thing made of contrast
and light. You and I
have been fighting, again.
I go upstairs and switch on
the hall light. In our room
you’re sitting on the bed,
your body lit white
against the shadowed walls.
Clumsy / by Rebecca Ferlotti
When I move,
I know I’m gonna find
a pile of
behind the fridge.
I hear them flying –
the football players of the skies –
constantly running into walls
or the kitchen track lighting.
I’ve left coffee mugs outside for days
until they’ve climbed out.
I’ve trapped them with a champagne flute
and AAA priority mailer
while waiting in a virtual line
for $435 Hamilton tickets
I won’t buy.
Poem Twenty One: Notes on Adam and Eve / by ava m. hu
There are three forms of deity.
physical, subtle, and supreme.
Intoxicated. Lawless. We
were four hands and four legs
until God became afraid of our power.
We are one arrow of flowers
previously thought to be two.
The earth is between you and heaven.
The more you look the more you fill
the world with longing.
Birds made of milk and water.
Sailboats in the tall grasses.
What string did the music master say
was too taunt to hold?
We never wanted to go home.
Retail / by Maria Nazos
As he stood holding his thin wrist out to me,
I couldn’t help but stare at the bracelets of puffy scars
circling his wrists. I draped the watch across him,
touched by the way he held himself out with such
trust, the way he had a sparrow’s chest, though he
did not sing, and had not migrated from the cold
Midwest of his teens. I tried to be gentle as I fastened
the tiny buckle, hoping that my touch would say what
every comforting phrase couldn’t: that it gets better.
That life doesn’t come with a warranty to protect
against suffering, but please, hang in there, and you
will become someone different whom you didn’t
expect. As I turned the watch to face upwards,
I realize that maybe we are more hourglass than
wristwatch: we can lie sideways and stop and
take a breather and stop thinking we’re made of glass,
even though we are, largely, transparent, hard, and fragile.
As we looked into the tiny glass face, my eyes
met his, in his own tiny, glass face. I saw my own life
looking back in both. I told myself that although my story
was different, pain has the same cheekbones.
I like it, he said softly. It’s a great piece, I said.
I wanted to say, watch it only sometimes. I wanted
to say, time will pass faster than you think. Instead,
I ask him if he’d like me to put it in a box, or if he’d like
to wear it home.
Destination / by Tom Sterner
Another long night
a thousand miles
beer can ashtray overflowing with dead soldiers
Flat on his back
in the middle of it
grass tickling his ears
He lifts a leg
rests it on the seat of his Harley
Where the whistling hell am I
He feels the sun creeping up
behind the machine
threatening to swallow them whole
He scooches up a bit
takes a flask from his back pocket
a thousand miles
smacks his lips
They got meetings for people like me
Take It Easy, Kid / by Jess Young
Blood-vessel sponge paint
Freckled like a solar sector
Pressure, I suppose, is costly now
I sense a warning—
A sign says, “Cliffs if Moher Deadly!”
Covered in one thousand stickers
Warnings be damned but
The tenderness of oatmeal
Can have me today
Day 20 / Poems 20
First Fierce Steps / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Audre Lorde and May Ayim
You inspired Afro-German women poets in Berlin
to take what is theirs: their Germanness, their mother tongues, their skin
and rise up, rise through, and challenge the corrosive myth
that German=white=purity=go back to where you came from
| Ich bin von hier.
Wie du bin ich im Mutterleib gewachsen.
Wie du war ich von Brot & Wasser & der gedämpften Musik
. . . . . . .einer deutschen Frauenstimme
. . . . . . .die sprach & sang & flüsterte in ihren Träumen
. . . . . . .über mein Werden
Ich gehöre hierher.
| I am from here.
Just like you, I grew in a woman’s womb.
Just like you, I was nourished with bread & water & the muffled music
. . . . . . .of a German woman’s voice
. . . . . . .who spoke & sang & whispered in her dreams
. . . . . . .about my becoming.
I belong here.
[Tet] / by Steve Bellin-Oka
Last night it rained for the first time
in six months. Though the ground was
nearly dry, you could tell from the dust
streaked on the windows, musty fingers
tracing the glass’ torso down to its groin.
Not enough to wash anything away—not
the white splotch of magpie shit on the car,
not the sparrows foraging in the damp
. . . . . . . . . .Not this burrowing hunger
in my gut. All my needs welter
like water boiling in a scratched
saucepan carried back from Canada
in a worn U-Haul box. We left so much
behind—sake sets, the tonsu you built
by hand, lacquered pine and beechwood.
The monogrammed cheeseboard we bought
for ourselves after the wedding.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Everyone else
must’ve thought we were gifts enough
to each other. Tell me the wine glasses
didn’t shatter when the house flooded.
Tell me one day we’ll stop wandering.
Tell me I’ll want you even when I’m dead.
Time Travel / by Rebecca Ferlotti
They dignify you –
from going through
I can’t imagine you
You make gray
my favorite hair color.
Your hands showcase
your hard work.
Your arms hold
I can tell from your
that you’ve seen things.
Your crow’s feet
have been through weddings
from California to Ohio
and back again.
The Midwest never leaves
If Found Please Call / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Sometimes my pieces slip
out of place,
and slide into hiding
no one cares to look.
Sometimes my parts
on missing posters
on scarred power poles.
Poem Twenty: Notes on Cicadia / by ava m. hu
The moon, a small boat,
effigy in planetary spin.
Secret, weapon, fuse,
etheric, invisible double
of the human body:
my life boat-
the invisible air
that surrounds me.
We move from winged form
Off-Season / by Maria Nazos
It’s that time of year: the tourist-filled streets thinning like a bald spot, the whales drifting down to the Caribbean, the whale watch boats docking at the harbor, and the fishermen and captains retreating to the Old Colony Tap to drink in scarred booths, relieved of steering awkward boats seamlessly through white-sided dolphin-studded waves. Beyoncé, Cher, and Lady Gaga walk the streets in high heels, determined to pass out flyers to their final show. I watch them from the front of my designer sunglass store, which was optimistically still open, although there was no sun. Suddenly, Beyoncé puts her fists on her hips. Her leaflets flutter, like a snowdrift, to the ground. She hikes up her gold taffeta skirt and aims her words like uranium beams at a slight tourist with a blonde pixie-cut, “Go fuck yourself!” screams Beyoncé. “You Mary Martin-looking reject!” As the woman backs away, Beyoncé moves towards her, “Go fuck yourself sideways!” Then Beyoncé starts to sob, her broad shoulders quaking, as Lady Gaga and Cher comfort her. By now, the blonde woman has vanished. A few tourists watch the three divas, clustered on the sidewalk. I walk over from my storefront. Ask what happened. “She said I needed to lose thirty pounds from my thighs,” Beyoncé says, sobbing in Lady Gaga’s arms. “I worked so hard to lose weight,” “That was an awesome comeback,” I say. Though I can only feel half of her pain—as a woman who was born a woman, whose body has never felt adequate—I want to say I understand. But I don’t and never will know the strength to be born a boy, to envision the survivor inside you, to feather your wig, to apply adhesive to your lids, then strut out onto the street, only to be slung with insults. It takes a real boy-turned-woman— with a dreamy glint in his dark eyes, like a penny shining a dark well, to wipe off her mascara-streaked eyes. “You handled it well,” I say. Lady Gaga reassures her, “You got this.” Beyoncé smiles, fluffs her hair. Steps out in the street, again, as if hailing a cab. And she fans her flyers like a winning hand, because tonight, no matter what, it’s her show and no one else’s.
Desperados / by Tom Sterner
Wake up, feeling like that
blood in the room
winkin’ and blinkin’
dropped from the womb
itching and scratching
ground for a bed
hiding in the closet
howling in the head
We end up like that
older ‘n the moon
folks like us
a hungry damned spoon
Ain’t no in-between
the fresh and the dead
a foot outside momma
price on your head
Into the Forest / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
. . . . . . .… they say many flock to (this wood) every day
. . . . . . .and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.
. . . . . . .As You Like It. .Act I, Scene I. .Wm. Shakespeare
Midway…the journey of life
. . . . . . .found myself within a forest
. . . . . . .the straightforward pathway lost.
Not Dante, more like Parsifal,
. . . . . . .searching
. . . . . . .are you my Mother?
. . . . . . .surprised by the grail cup appearing
something which I drink from
. . . . . . .often held by a woman
. . . . . . .(who is all women)
surprised to find forest leaves a-shimmer
quaking, they say, and sparkling of sun & wind
is it Rosalind?. . . . . . .Who is my Rosalind?
. . . . . . .Today, she’s 4-year-old Violet
whom I am playing with
as her mother attends a birth
. . . . . . .sacred occupation
. . . . . . .Violet tells me she is Rosalind
a goddess of wind and water
demonstrates how she can fly
then point. . . . . . .zap the evil gnomes
I believe her.
. . . . . . .My four-year-old grandson Henry
. . . . . . .pushed on a swing at the playground
by my husband, shuts his eyes as he swings
says he sees all the colors and names them:
blue, red, yellow, black. . . . . . .and green!
I’m back in the forest
wondering about incidental/ or the magical connections
. . . . . . .about hey ho, the wind and the rain.
All I Want to do is Cuss / by Jess Young
Sunday lushes bury the week
Aphids sipping on an
Day 19 / Poems 19
Unfinished Stained Glass Window / by Steve Bellin-Oka
Where I was with you—an abandoned
cathedral, wood rot and pew, columbine
flowers purple as bruises. Faces etched
in soda-lime glass. Nickel to blacken
their hair, their eyes; selenium for the lips,
full and pinkish. If you can’t love everything,
you said, try to love what, in the end,
matters most—not the image complete
but the idea of it, the form, the figures
kneeling on a wash of chromium meant
to suggest grass. The sun behind them
like a yellow coin once of value but no longer.
Poem Nineteen: Notes on Volto Santo / by ava m. hu
A stone thrown in the river sinks fast.
Water moves over other water.
Mind is transferred to other mind.
I know the weight of gravity.
I am the weight of gravity.
Can you hold your breath for long?
Like attract like.
Mind transferred to other mind.
Change of heart
from scholar to devotee.
Your respective neural firings
come to mirror one another.
Can you hold your breath for long?
Class / by Rebecca Ferlotti
I push you
out of my way,
grab a rum and coke
and a five sol
smeared on the dance
floor from inappropriate
You don’t have a
partner, so you grab my
twirl me into the
couple and don’t
Faded Red-Plastic Monkey Swing: / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Disc suspended in mid-air
by a yellow vinyl rope
sprouting out from its donut center,
securely fastened over a sturdy branch
in the impossible blue sky.
A medium knot
in the bark of the chestnut tree,
a magical button to transport me
as I spun
through space and time:
All were possible
on the monkey swing!
All were within grasp
as I hovered above
smooth brown chestnuts
and the spiky green porcupines
of those yet to come out.
Back on the ground,
twirling to flare
imaginary princess dresses,
to my adoring onlookers,
their brown heads
reflecting the summer’s sun.
Picking up the smooth-skinned
treasures, I’d feel the coolness
beneath my fingertips;
that begged to be touched
as I danced
into the afternoon.
Cape Cod Funkmobile / by Maria Nazos
That night I left the bar, I had sworn off men who drank
their women like shots then slammed
their rusty half-hearts shut like a bar that closes for the winter.
But it was summer: the bars were wide
open. I’d hop into the passenger’s seat of the huge van, which
my friend, Jake, drove up and down
the main drag, looking to pick up drunk tourists, drag queens,
and men who’d cruised another one.
There were spinning spotlights on top and a microphone plugged
into the dash which projected through a loudspeaker
onto the main drag. He’d pull up, I’d get in. I’d sing a few bars
into the microphone. This was our ritual
of heartbreak: I’d bitch about my lover. Jake would tell me how,
once and for all, he’d sworn off his fire-twirling
girlfriend, who’d had left for Burning Man without telling him.
We’d drive past a drag queen dressed like Beyoncé
in gold lame, past Lady Gaga, past the piano bar where a fat man
played show tunes and in-between
heckled the audience, past Well-Strung, a naked guitar group of men.
This is the last time, Jake and I agreed,
driving past the Old Colony Tap, where a woman sobbed outside,
and battered fishermen slumped,
drinking in the battered front booth with my ex, who had gracefully,
deliberately, fallen off the wagon.
The fishbowl, they called that booth. Once you sat down, you drank
and swirled endlessly for years—
Finally, we picked up Cher, with a young college man so drunk,
he fell over climbing into the van.
“Give me the mike!” Said Cher from the back seat. She began
to rap to a song without words,
something about the pussy and the heart. The whole street
of townies and tourists holding ice cream
and shot glasses, stopped as her voice blared into the streets.
The lights on top of the van were twirling.
By now, Jake and I had remembered how to laugh. This is love,
or at least relief: queered-up,
done-up, not what you expect. Love knows no body. It takes on
the body of a man I’d never sleep with, just ride beside.
Love is a man’s body which, thanks to adhesive and imagination,
and a teased black wig,
morphs into a diva. She raps, relentlessly, all the way home.
She takes me out of this tiny
quirky town I’d stayed for far too long. Her voice drops me off
at the door. And she will walk high,
her drunk man draped over her shoulder, and somehow, Jake
and I will decide to keep on going
and see what happens next.
Lusus Naturae / by Tom Sterner
The bane was in the soup
He’d have drowned it if he’d known
Now it’s too late
Night whispers demanded
Do it soon
It will not do itself
The poisoned unaware
go about their day
They do not see them
Everyone ate the soup
He doesn’t understand
Others don’t seem to know
he’s come to save them
put them to sleep
No one sees him
No one ever has
Dreams and Story: In a Hamlet Moment
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Try These Ideas / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
What are these gossamer. . . . . .these cloud-thin dreams?
Journeys to the unconscious. . . . . .or to the past?
Like story. . . . . .they say. . . . . .they’re more than they seem
. . . . . .a slender thread to which I can hold fast.
A sheen of joy. . . . . .of human strength a glimmer
a clue to shed sunlight on my way.
Found the sacred cave, saw her face a-shimmer…
on waking. . . . . .feel I’ll make it through the day.
Uncertainty and doubt will cast their gloom
try to undo me. . . . . .Proud me no prouds…
but, buoyed up by poetic story, no doom
has power over me.. . . . . .I dream aloud.
And so, intent indeed to play The Fool
I smile, write poems. Use words as my tool.
Farmers Market / by Jess Young
Well here I am
under the arugula tent
the bright stench of scallions wafting in with the rain
I dumped my bucket of muck
at the compost bin
and bought Dark Forest—
spruce and vetiver—
from the soap maker,
her soaps ripe with patchouli from the moisture
What a headache.
Customers are jacket-wrapped
Confederate and blue
packaged babies on their folks’
baby bok choy
Siberian fir needle, Virginia grown
No one barters
This isn’t the old world, sustainable organic palm oil comes full price or nothing—
A cowboy with bear arms
sells premium bacon and his son
dances in the puddles
as water slaps the pavement.
Day 18 / Poems 18
Face / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Dorianne Laux
At the poetry festival, you touched a seer: Mami’s face.
Your poet’s hand read no lines, no fears on her face.
Darkest daughter. Nine = no more school. Cook for white
Ricans, Spanish-speaking like you. Erase here. Your face.
From “Family Stories”: what a normal family was like: anger/
sent out across the sill”. Words? Spears in her face.
Victoria Fashions, Milton Bradley, Springfield Wire. Factory
work + quotas = finite joy. No children’s tears on my face.
A perfect Mother’s Day gift?
No stench of beer in our faces.
Elegy with a Bruise in the Shape of a Ring / by Steve Bellin-Oka
I want a red-caped hero to swoop down & stop
the grass fires slithering through the underbrush,
to leap from a willow tree’s hooped skirt with cropped
brown hair, a faint scar—incurred in war—flush
with his left eyebrow. I want a hero whose desktop
is filled with unsent emails to a wounded song thrush.
This morning the room I sit in is empty—except
for the daybed, on which his body once overslept.
I want a hero who plays piano off-key in the unswept
basement of a decayed suburban house, the cobwebs &
dust mites accruing in the corner where I misstepped,
sunk & ripped my eye socket open on the baby grand.
It took eight stitches to close. I want an almost adept
hero to wipe up my blood & plaster it with sand.
I was twelve & told the doctor really, I slipped, I fell.
Not he’d hit that little queer so hard his fingers swelled.
Recipe / by Rebecca Ferlotti
I always used to smell
like onions, lime,
and tortilla chips
when I left work.
I would walk out
to a car-sea
of people eating burritos
in the front seat
alone. Shuffling through
their paper bags
for napkins, utensils,
stolen hot sauce.
most cars held two burritos –
which could be for one person
I never stayed
to find out what happened.
I would just
get in my car,
take off my hat,
and wait to eat my food
until I was
Three Rings / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Late night after a hectic week and non-
existent weekend, the black-blue tv light
flickers against my eyelids: an old-time silent
movie of what could have been
my life. Imagination stirred to an exotic
world where the scent of pines shaved
to dust is sharp, full and real under
the red-striped canvas of the big tent.
I walk backstage and pass
a bald strongman with a waxed mustache
lifting giant black weights
like balloons as he listens to his
freckle-faced eight year old reciting
spelling words, while a bearded woman
in a badly-flowered housedress grooms herself
in front of a fun house mirror.
“Little people” armed
with loaded seltzer bottles (for squirting
un- suspecting guests) pack themselves
into a tiny electric-blue car and whiz through
everyone’s delight. Eyes squeezed
tight, the floodlights kaleidoscope around
me while I breathe in the sweet alfalfa
from elephants’ beds and shiver with each
tiger roar. The barker dodges the chaos
of clowns: Please welcome Sasha…
All turn to catch the sequined path sparkling
across my outfit. Ridiculous stilettos
carry me to my destiny. Fishnet stockings climb
my legs and the men’s eyes travel along for the ride.
The crowd gasps as I take my position
against the rough white board. Slender wrists slide
through old leather straps and my legs spread
slightly to reach the ankle ties. Victor
is fifteen feet away, his silver blades capture
the dazzle of electricity in the air. He strokes his
long mustache and gives a wink. I lick my lips
into a pout, and he throws
his first shot. The metal splits the atmosphere
with a whir, and I feel the draft from the dagger
as it splinters pine near my ear. He knows every inch
of my body. I trust that, but the danger
exhilarates. I close my eyes, drunk
from the scent of pink cotton candy, the gasp
of the crowd, the bulge of music, the flash
of lights. My eyes tighten
with each throw. Adrenalin flows, but I know
it is almost over. The world whirls me back,
my head safely at rest against the crook
of his bare shoulder. Now the only danger:
his warm snores brush my ear and mimic
the rush of the knife.
Poem Eighteen; Notes on Girl with the Pearl Earring, Vermeer / by ava m. hu
The mind must be open to see:
blue folded into silk waves
cascading about about her head.
Lapis and oil. Matter into anti-matter.
Stillness set free when the brush
crosses the forehead.
Should we be afraid to see flesh like this?
Behind closed doors, by candlelight,
by measure and turn of the lighthouse,
by heavy cloth dropped from the body,
this abundance noted with the tart
crimson of apples, by the cork of the wine
bottle set upright, by the needle warmed
before it’s thrust through the soft lobe,
before the pearl shall dangle ever so quietly,
as if haloed, as if turned into sacrament,
placed on the tongue.
Shall we step back catching our breath,
taking the weight inside of air for shelter,
ashamed of seeing what’s inside her,
not memorized pages of books dirty
with rain, not hands tired from washing
heavy linen, not the rosary of living
released in heavy breath inside
the confessional, no, not this bearing
the innocent fragrance of skin, when
inside, you discover, something of value,
worth mixing what you find precious
with oil and gemstones, essence
of fingerprints erased by the brush
while it paints, a girl with skin the color
of water when filled with a strange light,
of everything she ever, was or will be,
this obsessive desire, a masterpiece.
Googling Ex-Online Lovers, Ten Years Later, on a Sunday Morning / by Maria Nazos
Just this morning, you were stirring your coffee,
and arranging your Pinterest board according to rooms,
bothering the bored cats, who stalked on heavy paws.
You had stared out the window, at a slack-jawed toddler,
while arranging your Pinterest board, sorting each room,
but then began typing a man’s name you thought
you’d forgotten, but then stared like a slack-jawed toddler,
at his freshly-shorn face and fiancé smiling through your screen.
You’ve gone exploring, again, a man’s name you thought
you’d forgotten; a future you didn’t want anyway.
As his wedding registry appears on your screen, you know
he was all wrong: he lived in a cabin without running water.
You don’t care anyway; you didn’t want that future.
Not with him: he strummed banjos and stank like cows.
He was wrong for you: he lived in a cabin without water.
and after you drove from the city to visit him, he dumped you:
a hobo, who played bluegrass banjos and smelled like cows,
who’s since cut his dreads and is marrying a soft-eyed coed—
After you drove from the city to meet him, he dumped you.
Mountain men don’t commit, and you’re too much, he said.
He’s since cut his dreads and marrying a bright-eyed coed.
They’re registered at Williams and Sonoma, which further
baffles you—Mountain men don’t do city girls, he’d said calmly.
But ten years later, he’s marrying a woman from the city.
You’re trying to register: now he wants Williams and Sonoma?
You can’t help but wonder what it was about you
that made him marry a woman from another city—
then again, you punched him when he broke up with you.
Still, you can’t help but wonder: what it was about you?
But that was long before he lopped off his dreads,
after you socked him, because he sent you back to the city:
honeymoon’s over, baby, he’d said. Mountain men don’t commit.
Midnight Blues / by Tom Sterner
a necessary evil
its ugly twin
children on the doorstep
warriors and whores
unlike the muse
a gnawing bone
running with night dogs
dancing the demons
to a woebegone moon
There’s a Magical Child / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
in all of us, say the Jungians,
and – if you can tune into your inner self –
or your Fool in the World,
you’ll be able
. . . . . . .like Lear’s fool
. . . . . . .to speak truth to power
. . . . . . .even do so wittily
that may not enable you to rescue Cordelia
from her father’s impulses.
I want to hold your hand. . . . . . .anyway
reassure you that you can face your demons
. . . . . . .one at a time
. . . . . . .the caterpillar
becomes a monarch butterfly
and you. . . . . . .likewise
. . . . . . . . . . .will dance
. . . . . . . . . . .and fly.
A Nod To Courage / by Jess Young
Mango strings between the teeth
Plum juice down the chin
Lovers beneath the walnut tree
Can hear the storm roll in
The cosmos winks a threat to life
Wicked and suicide
A conjurer of potions says
In her you may confide
But beware of crude fate’s choice
Accept her peacock’s plume
A stage salutes the repartee
Mulling a maverick’s doom
Day 17 / Poems 17
[Dis]Place[d] / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Meg Kearney
You say, your skin saved you from foster home. You, condoned in that place.
A family saw you, thin as the wind. Your eyes? Not yet stones in that place.
I measure my years in dreams. The young girl who still lives there, writes.
Watchful, she has hope on “pause”, has outgrown no place.
From “Tattoo”: “[…] my bastard’s birthmark/ three ravens […]/ stranger
who kept me in her womb.” Why were you disowned from that place?
How to erase blood memory? Years later, Papi’s orphan ache still gaped.
He over-shopped to give away his love – on loan in this place.
Mami, I wish I could heal the electric storms in your face, sheath the nerves.
Matinees make me invisible – no worries. Unknown in this dark place.
Rain Psalm / by Steve Bellin-Oka
the hundreds of sparrows // are lies the ghost told us // in a gutted cathedral // the stars like pinholes in an aging roof // come sea, come salt // drowned toddler face-down on a beach // a little water clears us of this deed // and the ghost said // the body is two-thirds water one-third bone brittle // I will make hail to sweep // away your houses // sponges soaked in gall // come storm surge, come lightning // extinguish the candles in our hands // the skulls of horses in the Sonora // and of fallen men // the multitudinous seas incarnadine // making the green one red // swallow the islands // unsplit the rock in the desert // unmake the division of the waters from the land // lay low the glaciers // come hurricane, come wind // flood the scorched cities of the plain // ask anything in the ghost’s name // and it shall be granted // so it will be rain // let it come down // like mercy
Mic / by Rebecca Ferlotti
He stumbles in
at 8:38 p.m.
with envelope tidbits,
scratched with broken pen –
smudges on knuckles,
I throw words at the envelopes.
I steal pens from mouths.
Instructions for Not-So-Heavy Petting / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Isabella, the tri-colored tortie
Persian with resting bitch face
yearns to smash
the patriarchy. Not happy unless
she comes and goes at will,
she may allow light strokes
along her back, stopping short
of her tail. Especially
the broken bump-nub
kink at the tip.
Avoid her hip — dislocated
during a 15-day mystery
disappearing act —
or she will cut you.
When she’s feeling benevolent
her forehead, ears and chest
are fair game.
Theophilis the ginger
Persian. Disposition as warm
as his color.
Theo only lets you hold
him in the kitchen
or downstairs bathroom.
He will alert you when it is time.
Long fur flies fierce when he’s loved
along his spine. The broad velvet
nose bridge is another favorite
spot. Caress soft along the grain.
But the triangle of his ears
are the ultimate weakness. Massage
in a gentle rolling rhythm
and his orange eyes close in contentment.
Oliver Q. Pinkus is fickle.
A Himilayan, he’s loyal
to a fault. More like a dog
he follows his people room
to room, seeking proximity. Out
of sight he forgets
until any noise brings him running
to find you with excitement
in his pale eyes.
No clear petting path along his seal point
topography, he prefers to rest his head
on your breast, listening to the thump
of your heart in your chest. Happiness
found in your arms, he often rolls side
to side, slip spilling to expose
his soft, creamy belly. Although
it may seem like an offering,
don’t be fooled. Claws
of death spring an attack
Poem Seventeen: Notes on the Garden / by ava m. hu
You, ceaseless, amaranthine.
Hydrogen, dust, perennial
nebula of the flowered world.
Is it the nature of the mind
to bend bamboo just enough
so it won’t break?
Does hungry mean you eat
everything on your plate?
It was a long day and night
we reached for each other.
This essential switching
of self with others.
Leaves in the garden began
to fall when they recognized God.
The way you let go
I let go too.
Meteor Shower / by Maria Nazos
—after Kim Addonizio
Some men will pick you like a scab.
Some men swim in your name like a sea of bitterness.
Some men will pull you out, breathe their own breath into you until you cough and rise.
Some men just pull out.
Some men inflate your leaky heart like a beach ball.
Some men own a secret inflatable girl.
Some men roam grocery store aisles, remembering the distant women in their lives.
Some men will still go home to those women.
Some men will lie down in bed beside her and watch her cold back turn away.
Some men are better cooks than you.
Some men will constantly remind you of that, and the other ways in which they excel.
Some men will pull you out of the burning building of yourself.
Some men are made of parts of your father.
Some men are strapped to surgery tables, waiting to wake up.
Some men never do, and you try to remember this.
Some men rise like lightning, anyway, covered in scars from where they put themselves back together.
Some men are electrically-charged.
Some men come with batteries.
Some men will leave you in the dark.
Some men sit around a shot glass and wonder why they’re thirsty.
Some men will pour whiskey inside you in Costa Rican hostel, then hold you upside-down by your ankles and drink you like a shot.
Some men see that same glass as half-full.
Some men will say the speaker in your poems is “out of control.”
Some men will like other men better than you.
Some men will ride you like a horse in the surf, then trample you once
. . . . . . . . . . .you are finally standing, again, on the ground.
Some men, let’s face it, really are too sensitive.
Some men are sealed shut, so you have to shuck them open like a clam.
Some men pray to a God they secretly believe in.
Some men will cling to you like fungus.
Some men are their own strange species, neither plant nor animal.
Some men will grow in dark patches that suddenly fill with light.
Some men will shine down on you.
Some men will love you in spurts; their hearts crumble like comets
. . . . . . . . . . .which disintegrate. On clear nights, you scan the sky,
. . . . . . . . . . .trying to discern them from planets, waiting to feel them
. . . . . . . . . . .rain back down.
Veracity / by Tom Sterner
Truth is not won
it is earned
cannot be bought and paid for
It is not where you find it
but when you find it
what you do with it
not easy to look in the face
be careful how you handle truth
Contrary to the well-worn adage
the truth will not set you free
It will most likely bind you to it
open your eyes to the comfort of lies
Growth / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
creeping. . . . . . .crawling
seeping. . . . . . .slipping
permeable. . . . . . .pulsing
. . . .if roots are strong
. . . . . . .leaves supple
ideas. . . . .and language. . . . .grow.
Circumstantial Phone Calls / by Jess Young
A ten mile stone!
Some things never change.
You speak wisdom to the glass
And your message in a bottle
Made it to my island
Because some things never change.
A sharp intake of laughter is
Good medicine for the aching soul—
Ringing church bells echo a chuckle
I envy the last time I was so free
I came to you in vows of silence once
And you understood every word.
I miss those times but don’t need the past
Because some things never change.
Day 16 / Poems 16
“I want my writing to be a multigrain loaf from Whole Foods,” / by Rebecca Ferlotti
and not Wonderbread –
I want my writing to be fatty,
like Liebling’s bacon bookmark,
or prime ribeye –
something that would make Ohioans proud,
instead of low-cal
I want my writing
to be sweeter
than Amish apple fritters
to have more substance
to be heartier
than Michael Symon’s laugh.
I want my writing to be
covered in cheese
at the Geauga County Fairgrounds –
contained in a checkered food tray,
to be aged
longer than the cheap wine
in the fridge.
I want my writing to be chewy, to be filled with cranberries and blueberries and chocolate chips,
the way mom used to make cookies – the ones that got in the newspaper.
Fight / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
There are times we fight like sisters
from separate mothers.
Raising you so different
than raising myself.
We’ve grown up together
in survival mode.
what I was doing —
how to be a mom —
I fought. My best
at the time.
I worked to secure
your happiness, plug
holes of my childhood
so ghosts of the past
would not slip through.
Sometimes the fight
is for you to stand
and learn from my mistakes.
Do not waste
emerald- precious time.
Fight early. Grab
moments of happy-neon
yellow and squeeze
Poem Sixteen, Notes on Desire / by ava m. hu
Night and ether.
Bow and torch.
of arrow, this river
won’t let me go.
You can’t hold onto notes
as they escape a guitar
the way you can’t hold
your breath for long.
This scene underlined:
two actors hold the stage captive
by clutching close in a sudden rain-
Nothing can hold onto
the way you are.
Here you go again
Hold back. Hold back.
Hold back the way the sky
holds back a sudden storm.
Starfish Beach / by Maria Nazos
We’d come to look for them, so we waded out deep. Still, there were none. We grasped the water, and called to them and held the water, which held no starfish, only stars, though it was the early morning. We squeezed lumps of the sticky, salty sand grits in our palms: not even a seashell. Not a single flash of fish. A small girl and boy surfaced from the water, we can take you to find them, they said. But you live on land, I replied. Though their house was part-water: a rickety clapboard shack on stilts. Their two skinny naked brothers were making sandcastles, and two plump spotted hogs ran in the waves. The boy jumped on your back, the girl on mine. We dog-paddled, the children cheering us on, keep swimming, deeper and farther, they said. The girl clung to my hair like it was a horse’s dark mane, they both rode our backs like horses in the surf. Still, we swam farther, and the sea floor was clean and gray and cratered as the moon. We began to wonder if perhaps we were floating on the moon, because their grandmother floated by in a hollowed-out tree-stump canoe, because still there were no starfish. Soon, the children kept saying, because the water holds stars. Because maybe we’d asked wrong, requested fish, not stars, or the other way around. Either way, the sun was beginning to set. And you and I were tired; we’d fought the whole vacation. Over breakfast I’d asked you to look at me and say you loved me. By now, the stars in our eyes were fading. By now, we swam into the deep waters of each other’s tempers and hungers, constantly asking for what the other could not give. You’d threatened to leave the island, to stop looking for starfish. But here we were, still searching. Finally, when we were out deep and the children were strapped heavy to our backs, we were about to call it quits. It was almost night. I said, I’ll settle for stars or even fish. Then the boy let go of your back and disappeared down into the water. The sea was smooth, he was gone, for a moment we panicked. I wondered if he’d left the island too. Then, he resurfaced, holding a nuclear-orange starfish as large as his head. Don’t you see! He said. They were always everywhere. And we looked down and saw them: limp Dalìs resting on sand-shelves. Stars, they lit our way though it was day time, they were brighter than light, though there was no light in our stars. The little girl handed me one: I had to hold it with both hands, it weighed as much as she did. By now, the water was up to my chin. “It glows if you touch it,” she said, “and it eats what it wants.” By now the sun was down. The boy put his face to the water and drank the stars. There were still no stars or fish, only stars in the water. So, we stood there, holding up our heavy chunks of light, clinging to whatever luminescence we could. Almost collapsing under the weight of our bright and heavy innocence.
Gravity / by Tom Sterner
Cobwebs corner to corner
ragged curtains drooping
wallpaper, worn, thin
faded flowers, peeling
through a lone tall window
capture dust dancing
collapsing into layers
onto a crooked lampshade
books scattered about
He lifts a bony hand
interrupts a tiny spider
jumps from his hand to the arm of a chair
“Sorry, little friend,”
he intones in a gravelly voice
Sometime last night
an ambitious creature
erected a bridge
from one of his feet to the other
Deep sigh, he closes his eyes
sends mind and spirit to cross the bridge
As I Stand Ironing / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
The power & need to create… is native both in women and men. Where the gifted … have remained mute… it’s because circumstances, inner or outer, opposed the needs of creation.” — Tillie Olsen
I never ironed when I was a teacher
but now – in our ‘retirement’ – we opened a BnB
and one of my jobs is ironing our white guest sheets.
I think a lot as I iron. . . . .various things or about varying folks
Tillie Olsen. . . . .among others, and her fictional mother-character,
who reflected on life as she ironed.
I do that. . . . .as I see mental images
of triangles tessellating. . . . .or plot out a story…
I write fiction, like Ms. Olsen, but in a modern vein
I admire how her views come through her story
working-people’s rights. . . . .views on women
on girls. . . . .on mothers & their daughters
Born much too late myself to be optimistic about Communism
as she, Doris Lessing and other seekers were –
my seeking’s after Gaia. . . . .righting our broken Earth
though I’ve also marched for peace, for justice
for women’s right. . . . .they’re all connected
if one has eyes to see and ears to hear.
The good brown earth of earth
will bloom and yield one hundredfold
if shaman, people, tribe agree to work together…
That one for all and all for one seems to elude us
here in the land of. . . . .I, me mine
perhaps I need to read Olsen’s bio
see if she had the vision
to know her gumption would be admired, emulated
by writers. . . . .readers. . . . .in generations after.
Keys to Self Quarrels: A Morning in the Forest / by Jess Young
Silken pouches hung from a log, heavy with rain
I believed you may hear me in the wood
So I said nothing—abandoned my heart there with the insects and lavender bell blossoms.
Ominous nature is but the insistence of light
Rapidly my trail dissolved
Into clear, bubbling arms of a stream
The bridge across a damp, soft fallen tree
To pass was to pass
I remained still, for it never meant more to me.
Day 15 / Poems 15
Mami’s Questions, Translated / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Joy Harjo
Why is only one poet speaking?
When will the poets who are listening have their turn?
Why did so few raise their hand when the poet asked:
How many of you have heard of Sor Juana de Ines?
Where are the poets who look like you?
Why are the poems only in English?
Why are some poets cold and others, warm?
Why did that poet take off his shoes in a room
with no windows, no real air to breathe?
Why did that poet sit on the floor?
Why is your elbow bleeding?
Why were the heaters on?
How did this festival choose you?
Little New Mexico Fugue / by Steve Bellin-Oka
I hold a hand mirror up so I can see
behind me—the 5:14 train loaded
with cows on their way to slaughter
in Texas, crammed like monks
in mobile cells, the high desert birds
cawing overhead as they drop
their marshmallow custard shit
on the cars below. How do you
tend this star-sown grass, dandelions
plucked and ripped in half,
let loose on the swirling dust
mixed with air? So dry for so long
now a grain elevator will catch fire,
change shape and burn. The wind
takes it in its arms as it ascends.
Crushed flowers aromatic of smoke:
when did I sprout these old man’s
hands? I think they can’t be mine, though
as a child falling on concrete I snapped
their bones like the breadsticks we eat
with bean soup in our wine-dark house.
At the field’s fenced ring two workhorses
in blankets tear at the grass. Some days
I cup cubed sugar in my palm and watch
them eat. Potatoes burn while my ghost
materializes in the leaf-strewn street.
Little lizards like peeled lemon rind
sun themselves on the plaza outside
my office. Magpies in migration
somewhere north. They’ve fumigated
the building: cockroaches on their backs
waving their tiny, semaphoring arms.
On our old piano, I played La Cucaracha
as my sister practiced her novice
tap dancing in the basement. I wonder
why I survive when she didn’t. I fool
myself my body is only blood and semen.
Pus that should be aspirated. Why do you
say these terrible things?, my mother
asks. Because the page is crisp and white.
Because I cannot go back and say
what I should have said. Because today
it’s so windy I open my mouth
and dust cakes my forked tongue.
Trashed / by Rebecca Ferlotti
The rotten strawberries
still smell sweet after
One-by-one, they wheel out
leftovers and discarded
Poem Fifteen: Notes on Survival and Desire / by ava m. hu
There are a thousand methods
for making rain.
Invisible language of trees.
Love overcomes death.
Water becomes other water.
Who will see me like you do?
Root flowers wrap around one another.
It’s impossible to know the difference
between survival and desire.
Dualities, eclipsing binaries,
the collaborative physics
of the way you are I am,
a star’s gravity magnifies
it’s companion light.
Praise snow for rain.
Praise water for taking the form of it’s mate.
It’s not as romantic as lighting
the body on fire.
Smoke Alarm / by Maria Nazos
A watched pot never boils. An unwatched pot, glazed with thick oil
and left unattended after a draining but fulfilling
day of training in which you watched a series of faithful twentysomethings
take phone calls
with slightly disgruntled or clueless customers, that same pot
you leave because you retreated to that place
where you go when your brain shuts down, like an overwhelmed
hard drive, and return to the kitchen
only to see flames in that same pot, a giant smoky rose almost reaching
the ceiling, that pot makes you scream.
You try to throw water on the flames, which only makes them
more excited, so you scream, again, “Oh my god!”
so your naked fiancé, who was already irked because you turned
on the upstairs faucet
while he was showering off the dirt and dramas of his own day,
runs into the kitchen, naked and wet,
and throws a lid on the flames, which miraculously disappear.
As you hold with the fire extinguisher poised
over the burner, although you left the pin inside it, then fan
the smoke-filled kitchen with an old rainbow flag
from last year’s Prize Parade, the irony here is too much.
After you’ve both opened the windows,
sent the confused cats down into the basement, and the alarm’s stopped
shrieking, you sit together
on the front stoops, while the house, reeking of black burnt
oil ventilates, and you offer to take him for pizza.
You’re sure he wonders what happened to his old life: when he came
home, surfed the calm online waters for new distant
faces of women, faces which held promises of a life that was calm,
quiet and clean, without the messiness
and crisis carried by a special brand of human. Despite and because
of all this, there’s no escaping, well,
at least he’s not escaping. He’s stayed, sitting beside you on the porch.
You look at each other and burst out laughing,
because life is a series of narrow fire-escapes and risks and that’s if
you’re lucky enough to live and become
acquainted and forgiving of another person’s bright flaws. So you both
walk down the quiet streets, leaving
the windows open and the smoke to clear: an imperfect memory
which will make you both laugh, as long
as you both remember that sometimes, at the day’s end, tired and sooty,
that is all you can do.
Redemption / by Tom Sterner
There’s sand in my shoes
my hair is turning brittle and red
itching, what the hell is a chigger
The well went dry in May
Wyoming whipped through her hair
She pressed it to her head with her hands
damned the dry hole deep in the ground
struggled back to her tiny ranch house
Now the damn door was stuck
She put her weight against it
“Lizzy!” she shouted,
help me with the door.”
Moments later she fell through
landed hard on the front-room floor
“You’re seventy years old
You have no business wandering around out there.”
Lizzy hovered above her
“The well is dry,” her mother reported
“I’ll have to call and have the backup tank filled.”
Lizzy grabbed her arms, dragged her to the kitchen
a wooden chair standing there
dead center, alone in the room
She picked mother up
plunked her into it
tied her legs to its legs
arms to its arms
body to its back
Lizzy pinched the skin on her upper arms
twisted it, let loose and slapped her across the face
“It’s your fault I’m stuck in this godforsaken place
out in the middle of nowhere.
If you believed in God
That’s me, you know
God is your own daughter!”
She patted mother on the head
“I have a date. You stay put.
I’m taking your car and some cash.”
“But the water, I left both buckets at the well.”
Mother struggled against her restraints.
“You can call tomorrow is there’s any money
left after my date tonight. Your Social Security check
should be here any day, shouldn’t it?”
Lizzy smiled and touched up her lipstick, twisting her head,
admiring herself in a mirror she took from her handbag.
“I’m meeting him at the Cowboy Tavern.
Wish town wasn’t twenty miles away
drive, drive, drive, that’s all I do
Stop fighting that chair now
You’ll fall over again
You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
The door slammed shut
Lizzy was gone
He had to die, didn’t he, mother thought
She had to come then, didn’t she
Elizabeth, fifth and favorite of eight children
Her stepfather, a hard and cussed mean man
wouldn’t have her around
Everything would work itself out
Mother slumped forward into her last thought
a favorable cloud
Sisters from the orphanage
come to carry her away
freedom from god-things
Night Fantasy / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Just because I dreamed myself a knight
in shining armor, doesn’t mean it’s true
only that my daytime self seeks to do what’s right.
As teacher, tutor, poet. . . . . . .I want to shed some light
on how one turns a burnt heart toward gold, anew,
perhaps that’s why I dreamed myself a knight.
Like any other artist, I don’t claim second sight
I merely open to a universal clue;
my daytime self seeks to see what’s right.
If I buckle on psychic armor, it’s to guard myself from slight
for words can harm me. . . . . . .the adage is askew
and so –. . . . . . .I dream myself a knight.
But when it comes to others, if they need me in some fight
impulsively, I mount a bold rescue;
my daytime self seeks to do what’s right.
Do dreams (or poems) speak in black & white?
I say, a shadowy likeness. . . . . . .then leave the rest to you.
I only know I dreamed myself a knight
perhaps because I seek to do what’s right.
The Sky Is Falling / by Jess Young
God is teased by a beggar
The beggar is eaten by moth,
The moth’s velvet wings
Lunar and green
Are peeled off by a dove
Day 14 / Poems 14
Whiteness / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Magdalena Gómez
How many times do those complacent, who turn to their whiteness,
mistake you for one of them? Your words burn their whiteness.
For years, U.S. educators flattened my tongue into English, mistook
my fluency for assimilation, their false yearning for whiteness.
From Shameless Woman: “Borikua mother/Dominican upbringing/Spanish
Father/Taíno beginning/African soul […]” You unlearned the pressure of whiteness.
For lunch or market runs, I drive extra miles to Springfield, prefer
to shop in peace, not bristle at stares, stern in their whiteness.
2004. Gertrud Kolmar on our lips. We listen to each other’s wounds.
Through our poems, the audience learns not to mourn the myth of whiteness.
Narration / by Rebecca Ferlotti
The kid next to me at Panera
plays flip cup
with an orange juice glass
before he whisper-reads
chapter 24 of his textbook.
There’s a room of empty tables
bound in glass;
he argues with himself about it
while shuffling through his backpack.
He picks up a Winn-Dixie sticker
from the ground,
discarding a white pen
in its place.
Pedi / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
A Monday morning
row of black-haired women,
pink-masked and smocked,
sit ready. Waiting for
the steady flow
of hands and feet.
Many belong to white
women with wonderful
senses of entitlement.
A bright yellow
sign apologizes in advance
if any Vietnamese is spoken
between employees. “To serve
you better, ” is the rationale
behind allowing small bursts
of communication in their native
language. It’s a Seinfeldian
nod to “the American way”
where everyone is expected
to speak English or risk
offending those who
know it is all about them.
assaulted by a barrage
of caustic chemicals
on the daily
through barked commands,
statements with raised voices
(as if they cannot hear), and
thrust criticisms rather
than respect, kindness
No cure for this petty.
Poem Fourteen: Myth of Light / by ava m. hu
We minus the myth of light.
I stay up late praising the darkness.
I stay up late praising the deer
inside the darkness.
What’s in between
your shoulder and mine,
word and its execution,
the moon and your hands.
Galileo blinded by looking at the sun.
Yellow dust of bees
Burlesque / by Maria Nazos
The bar is shaped like a giant black studded spaceship. A young woman hands me a shot glass, “It’s pie,” she says. And yes: it tastes like pie. I ask the man sitting beside me with long, loose hair and a curved nose what he does. He tells me his job is to play the harp for the dying. He sits beside the patient’s bed and strums the harp. I ask him if he’s ever sensed the passage of the soul from the body, but I don’t get an answer, because suddenly, there is a stage in front of us, and a drag queen, Dr. Lucky, telling everyone to shut up. Then there is music, but we are not dying. Onstage, one by one, the women strip. One of them, with slight bowling-pin curves, strips down to her bare ankles, peeling back her sequined top. The next one, larger, undoes her bra and lets it drop to the floor. Dr. Lucky teeters onstage, adjusting her wig, her makeup is bright and luminous and sweaty under the spotlight, reminding of those proselytizing people on late night T.V. who claim to know God. “Now the boys!” She calls. And David and three other men stand onstage while the dancing women stand and squeeze beer bottles between their knees. The men kneel, take the bottles in their mouths, their Adam’s apples quaking as they chug. By now, I am flushed and filled with pie and wonder for the body and the way it suddenly appears and then goes, just as fast. How the flesh refuses to remain confined or stay in one body. How now, a woman in ruffled panties lies down on the stage and opens and closes her legs like a flesh-toned underwater water, and how the dying aren’t dying not when they’re alive and begging, half-drunk and breathing, to catch the notes to this last song.
Ruminations of a Father / by Tom Sterner
(past and present)
Children being children
difficult to fathom
Children growing, considering
Children coming of age
keen to achieve independence
ass over tin-cup ambitious
Red, White and Blue / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Drove with my husband to a nearby nursery
passed a sign, God Bless America
. . . . . . .Welcome to Newburgh (fictional name).
For some reason, these signs make me nervous
Which America am I (or they) asking God to Bless?
Or spacious skies with amber, brown, pink, red and
black people now. . . . . . .and in our future. Purple mountain majesties –
We are here for that beauty now. . . . . . .were all immigrants once.
Even Native Americans had ancestors
. . . . . . .who crossed the Bering Straits
we all came looking for a life of freedom / equality / community.
I love the flag as much as the next 60’s type
. . . . . . .(if you must put me in a box) owned flag shoes, wore flag shirts
I’m sure my red blood would spill out full of stars if you cut me open…
I read a Good book in which I’m told not to throw stones
if I’ve not walked in someone’s shoes. . . . . . .so I try to reach out / smile
chat with anyone who chats with me,
but – beware the fact that I’m an outspoken redhead –
. . . . . . .if someone shows off his hater cred
I’m likely to say something challenging (even ugly)
before I walk off.
. . . . . . .Cross and crown. . . . . . .I know which I own and honor
before the other.. . . . .All men are my (potential) brothers, all women sisters
but I’m wary
. . . . . . .around know-it-alls. . . . .hypocrites. . . . . . .boasters
been there myself. . . . . . .and took a fall.. . . . . . .Buddy, can you turn and learn?
I pray so.. . . . . . .Every day.
The Skeptics Meet a Poet on a Bridge / by Jess Young
A skinny, famished floater
reeks of poems
he shivers to stand and
ask for money, as he
will write a verse for you.
O’ and the streets could be littered with gypsies
And here you have found the one starving artist!
Words for money on a moonlit bridge
The stones are silent for your ear
Brown eyed gall–
The will to ask, “Can I create for you?”
“Can you read aloud?” They ask.
Columns of streetlamp reflections do not waver
Neither your ambition to live
Stop the strangers on the bank,
See that they are lovers–they could be
And hand them verses off your tongue
A hand of sand, bashful whimsy,
Where did your teardrop fall?
Bring back the bottom line…
Give him the money, for he has done what he said:
Written you a poem to live
And that is what it ought to be.
Day 13 / Poems 13
Whose Hands? / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Diana García
The video praised Hammond’s genius, how he built
a replica of a medieval castle, his home. Falso,
Mami said. Whose hands hauled the stone? Cut
& laid each step for staircases that spiral? Plastered
the cooling walls? Swept the steps for cobwebs?
Whose hands built the air for echoes, cathedral
ceiling, hollow walls for this organ’s pipes?
Who dusted the inside of each of them? 8,100.
Rubbed to a sheen the metal of empty knights?
Cooked & served beef tongues? Whose hands built
these mosaic-tiled floors, cleaned the spit & vomit
of guests on them as Hammond recounted his joke,
the story about Saint Anthony? Who stood here
silent by the tapestry, pointed out on command
the tongue torn from the saint’s mouth?
Charms against the Next School Shooting / by Steve Bellin-Oka
Scurry of squirrels across the roofs’
red asphalt shingles. Slow crumble
of the grain elevator molting at the corner
of West First and Fir Streets. Vestibule
of the one grocery store in town swirling
with grit and leaves from the wind. Piles
of white-tarped cow shit beside the factory
farm stalls. Tumbleweeds scrolling
across Avenue C like discarded ticker tape,
a parade of carpenter ants on their way
underground. Let spring come and go,
give way to summer, at least for a while,
before September when the oaks will drop
their acorns in bursts, like spent shell casings.
Miles Per Hour / by Rebecca Ferlotti
A flannel in golf shoes
strolls down 87
towards red lights,
two trucks kissing
in the background.
You remove one hand
from the wheel.
I try to find logic
in your freckle constellations:
why you don’t make plans,
why you never use
Broken / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Blue squirt of Dawn
froths below the faucet.
Hot water hushes our
He stands sinkside
towel strewn over one shoulder
hands able and ready.
The rag swirls suds inside
the blue-tinted wine glass he
used at dinner.
“I think I want a divorce,”
he suggests simply
as if he just told
me I missed a spot
on the silverware.
from my body
through the gash
in my hand.
Poem Thirteen: Notes on Shibori and the Danse General of Daphnis and Chloe / by ava m. hu
Have you forgotten the world?
Silk wings of moths,
slow open of honeysuckle;
we are pulled by things
we cannot explain.
Bind, stitch, fold, and twist.
We are two moons tied
around each other’s wrists.
A pair of leaves slip stitched
to the silk of a slow moving river.
Shibori knots of clouds sewn
to the tips of blue mountains.
Yellow dust of bees
The pattern achieved
depends on how tightly
the cloth is bound.
The way a bulb knows
the yellow flower it will become.
Thread must be pulled tight
and secured with a knot.
What’s bound inside earth
takes courage to imagine.
Tradition requires thread to bind.
We are kept alive by
the zig zag stitches of bees.
We, the invisible, as air-
Séance / by Maria Nazos
The man speaks to the dead, except during this session, he is only talking about
speaking to the dead. The guests sit in the audience, fanning themselves, wanting
him to speak to the dead. A regular séance, thinks a girl standing in the back row.
She’s helped set the stage for all this, to powder his face. He reminds her of one
of those shiny-faced people on TV at night that tell you to be careful, God’s watching,
as if God is a crazy ex with a pair of binoculars and wild eyes, who watches you sleep.
She had an ex who watched her sleep, and sadly he is not dead, though she doesn’t speak
to him. And she lost her friend, earlier this summer: a man who was not supposed
to be dead, a man with a penchant for Harleys, who did not drink, was now dead.
When she spoke to him, the night before he died, she felt as though she was speaking
to the dead. Don’t talk about dying with him, warned his wife, he doesn’t care to
discuss it. So, instead the girl tried to talk to her friend on the phone, his voice blurred
with morphine. My father came back as a cardinal, says one audience member, a
woman with frizzled brown hair and carmine-stained lips. Yes, says the man onstage.
Cardinals are our dead. How long, says another woman in a gold Hermes scarf, her
hair swept up in a messy bun, does it take to manifest something, like say, money?
The girl in the back row wonders too. She has no money, so she’s doing this job. I can
feel your pain, says the man who talks to the dead, zeroing in on her now.
He walks through the red aisles, hands her the microphone as if she can communicate
with the dead. My friend is dead, the girl says, flatly, and I can’t hear him, and I’m
having trouble believing anything you say. The man takes back the mike, Maybe, he
says, maybe your whole life was leading up to this moment. Maybe you were meant
to meet me. My friend is dead, the girl says, quietly. Nothing is meant to happen
the way it should. We come on this earth to die, says the man. Don’t we all come
to this earth, waiting to die? And suddenly the audience went still, and everyone
strains, listening, and waiting.
Indigenous Personage / by Tom Sterner
what no man can be
or exist without
A native in the yard
his woman butchered
by renegade missionaries
for her godlessness
ignorance and contempt
for the great book
all things spiritual
not connected to earth
He meant to make away with her
to rescue her spirit
from the barbarians
who had slain her
taken her skin
tacked it to a framework
for curing and tanning
a valuable artifact
His wife, whose tattoo work
told stories of family, ancestors
bits of her all
a woman whose medicine
should be honored, passed down
Their children’s skins
worth twenty dollars apiece
the vision of them nailed alive to trees
puts out the man’s fire, encourages him
to fall on his spear
drown the black book in his blood
Mother’s Day, 2018 / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
My mother, Jean, was born in 1912
survived many things: The Great Depression
her own mother’s death –
. . . . . . .she helped raise six siblings
. . . . . . .younger than herself
(would’ve been seven, but Sister went to the convent
. . . . . . .at age 13, sent home at 16 to be sure of her vocation
returned to the convent at 16½ ). . . . . so
. . . . . . .Mom worked as a secretary, brought her mother her wages
to help with bills. . . . .My grandfather was in shoe sales
not especially lucrative. . . .in the 30’s. And when her mother died,
she went on raising the last three, until the day she married,
when they were in their late teens.
She had a steadiness. . . . . . .an optimistic outlook
that drew many toward her
. . . . . . .my sisters and I had friends who loved to visit her
. . . . . . .right through her 90’s… when she lived with me & H.
Tomorrow, my daughter, now a mother herself
. . . . . . .her husband and mine. . . . . . .will go out for a Mother’s Day dinner
at the City of Asylum, a marvelous bookstore / performance venue
and restaurant. . . . . . .which supports poets in exile…
my daughter has finished her PhD will be our family’s first professor
(though I’ve taught as an adjunct at the college level, and we have MDs, JDs
. . . . . . .DVMs and an incipient MD-PhD…)
My daughter’s degree earned while she had 2 sons
. . . . . . . . . . . . .and taught as an adjunct, three fall semesters.
We have a photo of my daughter, my mom and me
. . . . . . .taken when our daughter got married in 2006;
since only my mother (of the three of us)
. . . . . . .changed her name when she got married
my husband calls it:. . . . . . .Three generations of Wolfe women.
Mom died in 2011, and since then, as my daughter lives in Cleveland,
. . . . . . .there have been few years when I had another mother
to celebrate with
so this year, celebrating her doctorate (just completed)
. . . . . . .and Mother’s Day. . . .with two generations of mothers living
will be very sweet and special.
3 Poems To Read Out Loud / by Jess Young
Sharp sweet air,
Morning time all caught in the folds
Of sheep skin and cheap sheets and heat creeps
Between us, sweat pools on our brow
Until, eyes closed, we rust.
. . .
The clock bongs seven
The alarm of the century
The inmates are led to the state penitentiary
We are amiss to this cunning law
And paw at the alarm to readjust and fall
Back to sleep heaven.
. . .
Didn’t know this flow
Was still inside me
Thought it’d take a miracle
To conjure the timing and
Write like I’m rhyming to some sick beat
Thank you Oliver, Gambino for
Inspiring this feat.
Day 12 / Poems 12
To Be Loved / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Nicole Terez Dutton
At 5:01 a.m, música wakes the clock radio.
. . . . .It sings boleros in the empty bedroom,
. . . . . . . . . .alerts the parakeets of Papi’s visit
in dreams. Two years, two months now. Mami sleeps
. . . . .in the guest room, its wallpaper, mail-a-prayer flyers
. . . . . . . . . .with Jesus, hazel eyes like Papi’s –
imploring. At 73, Mami still wishes to stay, not go.
. . . . .Forty-nine years together. Still she feels his orphan’s ache,
. . . . . . . . . .Bottomless. Su espíritu. Yearning to be loved.
Essay on Powerlessness / by Steve Bellin-Oka
That rainy April when I was eight I talked for hours to the red latex of a helium balloon, pretending it answered. One hand cupped around the spherical face, the other a fist anchoring the ribbon, the sky blue spinal cord of its invisible body. Running my hand along its cheek, it squeaked like the worn-out hinges of a door closed slowly, not the way the door to my parents’ bedroom often closed—their voices raised, music swelling, the slam a cymbal crashing before the muffled undercurrent of strings resumed. Once I rubbed too hard and the balloon popped like blood vessels when a man’s fist strikes a woman in the face, ethmoid bone creaking. Then it was quiet and the rain began, blurring the windows of the family room like eyewash.
Streets / by Rebecca Ferlotti
Just like any city
loses its charm
after a while,
I can tell New York does too
for the woman who scrunches her curls,
for the doorman who spins the revolving door.
My ears pop as coffee trickles down my thumb.
I stare through the seashell glass in the elevator.
cotton candy water,
burns a hole in my back.
He asks me how I’m dealing with the weather.
I ask him if he’s ever been to Ohio.
Relative / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
. . . . . .and bind.
A damp clump of stories
into clinging strands
web-stuck to you like glue,
into a multiplied ball
of fly-catching lies.
from phrases like
. . . . . .don’t stand out
. . . . . .be a good girl
. . . . . .keep the peace
. . . . . .blood is thicker than
. . . . . .water
but not ice
which runs cold-frosted in veins
when you suspend disbelief.
Hold your tongue
. . . . . .on a perfect
sweet secrets as step-siblings
forced under sharp
criticism and I-told-
Paste tears of
intolerable surface tension.
Wet drops stretch. Stretch.
. . . . . .Hold. Please hold.
. . . . . .Hold the image.
toxic and burnt
sure you never had.
Poem Twelve: More Notes on Orpheus / by ava m. hu
I sing you on the blue shore.
Birds find shelter in leaves.
Rain finds shelter in mountains.
I swallow air.
I go down
Heavy breath of the river.
The myth drowning
in the mouth of the myth.
We created in the likeness of being.
Waterlily laid upon waterlily.
Room made of rising water.
How happy can this story end
before it floods the lungs?
Who’s fault is it?
The girl did not see
the snake winding
through the grassy banks.
I stand still.
I stand still.
I stand still.
Waves pull the threads
of our watery bodies
close as they can.
I go down.
I go down.
Even the river banks
repeat her name.
Confession / by Maria Nazos
I’ve grown wary of those who cross their t’s and legs,
who mind their p’s and q’s until they’ve forgotten
the low vowels of the body’s gas. Yesterday, my fiancé told me
how, alone, in the gym locker room, he exhaled sharply,
so a bloody glob of snot shot from his nose. You can breathe
easier when you get it all out. Then comes the highest level
of intimacy: when you share not only the body’s disgusting
wonders, but also the cruel truthful facts—when I see a baby
at the next table at dinner, so ugly, a troll doll could be
its spirit animal, and the mother, who’s not ugly,
but becomes so when she scolds the waiter for bringing her
an orange slice with her cranberry juice, not a lemon,
and flicks him back to the kitchen, as though he’s a rock
of snot on her fingertip. Just watching this cruelty,
I wish spit or piss flung into her drink. None of this
is noble but letting it out it feels good. Once I ran into an old
ex-friend who kept my security deposit and stole
my rent money. She was back in our college town: bartending
at a place called Ugly’s, mixing shots for the dried-up locals,
ever since she’d lost her job due to repeated drunk-driving.
As she told me this, I listened with false kindness, and secret joy,
sipping my rum-and-coke. Then there’s my grandmother,
an enormous woman who wore black and lived in a house
which reeked of cat piss, who would pinch my nipples and tell me
not to be a slut. When I’d visit, she’d lie in her air-conditioned room,
and shut the door, so the whole house stank like a giant litter box.
Yes, the body is beautiful in its ugliness, but not when you trap others
inside of it. When she finally died, after her funeral,
in the car I muttered ding-dong the witch is dead, and my sister,
a much better person than I, hissed, grow up; that’s terrible.
And then the woman at my hometown bar, who’d get
so drunk, a meanness emerged like uranium beams
from her eyes. You think you’re something special?
She’d say. You’re a regular phony. One day, when
walking on a pair of stilts, she tumbled into a ravine:
problem solved. When I heard the news, I buried
those puss-filled nodes of relief under my skin, until that
night, straddling my fiancé and popping the hard pimples
on his back: a regular topography of grace, I told him:
she’s fucking dead. I’m so happy. This is what loving
someone looks like: when we flip each other and see
the pimpled, flawed underbelly, and see each other
for who we are: a human full of shit and blood
who knows how to love and to hate and, in spite
and because of all of this, is worthy of being loved back.
Warfare / by Tom Sterner
is full of promise
death in abundance
“We’re #1 placard parades
affirmation of overkill
bodies piled high
mothers, fathers, children
liars, enemies all
Unlike most promises
there is no end to war
All hail the fourth reich!
Mysterious Well or Spring Found under Many Cathedrals / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood;
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
. . . . . .Shakespeare’s Macbeth. . . . . .Act 3 Scene 4
Blood will have blood, (which makes stones move) they say,
blood causes trees to speak.. . . . . .Four centuries hence
. . . . . .do those with faith sense mystery in blood?
Lamb’s blood (sacrifice) reborn as blood of Lamb.
Ritual when maidens bleed. . . . . .become women.
. . . . . .Bloody sheets began marriage. . . . . .at one time…
Now, Mother Goddess. . . . . .asexual virgin
bloodless mother. . . . . .Crone forgotten. . . . . .’Tis She
. . . . . .Woman. . . .whose blood feeds rich black fruitful earth
Earth grows. . . .foods (blood orange). . . . . .flowers (bleeding heart)
. . . . . .crops in shades from plum to blood. No Mother thanked.
Our blood calls blood. . . . . .in living water.. . . . . .Taste
. . . . . .spring. . . . . .of She who heals. . . . . .buried under crypts.
. . . . . .Kneel, praise. Raise sacred liquid to your lips.
Once I Watched The Birds / by Jess Young
Once I watched the birds
And counted the colors, feather by feather
As ate they happily and quickly from
my mother’s birds feeders amongst the roses
Once I listened for the peeps of cardinals
And became an identifier
The difference in coos of oily pigeons and clumsy doves
Is hot on my mind even now
Once my dog lay still in the backyard
Three vultures circled the eye-blue sky
I waved my arms, “Nothing dead here!”
And they skulked away, carnivorous for death
Once a snowy barn owl with a moon for a face
Perched in the blue pine between us and the neighbors
My father and I watched it for hours
It had nowhere to be and watched us back
The neighbors cut the trees
And I believe
I’ve seen that owl once since.
Or a ghost glided quickly
‘Cross the deck in the morning
As I sipped coffee in the sun room
And listened for no one.
Day 11 / Poems 11
Essay on Power / by Steve Bellin-Oka
He threw me facedown
on the bed. Oh prayer, oh prison.
What came next—if there’s a gem
in this down comforter, I’ll find it
with my teeth. Brilliance of moon
crystals, ice and sleet pelting
the window like gravel before turning
to snow. Topaz, turquoise, tanzanite—
December’s birthstones some gradient
of blue and off-blue. As were
my wrists the next morning, bruised
black on my white skin. Oh
paradox. I feigned sleep
as, leaving, he ruffed my hair.
Stars / by Rebecca Ferlotti
Nothing makes sense
when you’re 17,
prank calling kids in Indiana
who think they know your name,
sleeping on a trampoline
in Geauga county,
Red Bull crash,
to fresh coffee —
in the bushes,
catching the cat.
Poem Eleven: Notes on Orpheus / by ava m. hu
There are two sides to every story.
No one could resist his lyre.
The yearning river. Rock without ears.
Even the air held its breath to listen.
The man who had everything
desired one thing-
the darkness that enveloped her.
Question: Can your music
bring back the dead?
Here’s your test. The sound
of her footsteps behind you
must be enough.
What does darkness hide?
Is this the land of no return?
Bring me back, bring me back.
Bring me back again.
We climb up and up.
Look at me, look at me.
Look at me.
The desperate sound
of footsteps. The hum
and hum of bees.
Would you abandon
all the heavens
for one look back?
There will be no change in the sea.
There will be no change in the rising
and setting of suns. Everything
will move on without you.
Not even a hand can hold
molecules. Can you
I had a vision of night singing birds.
They were calling your name.
Can you call yourself a river?
The river never looks back.
Facebook Message Pantoum / by Maria Nazos
Because, even ten years later, he can taste her sweat
on his beer glass, though he’s since sworn off drinking.
He remembers summer nights; only sixteen when they met.
She’s stopped taking his calls, he still wonders why thinking,
clutches his beer can, though he’s stopped drinking.
He licks his lips and searches, typing in her name.
Though she stopped taking his calls over ten years ago,
he says to hell with it, hovers the cursor over her name,
and licks his lips, searching to find her city, her face.
When he pulls up her profile, there she is, the same place.
He says hell with it. Hovers the cursor over her name,
presses “message,” and holds his breath, types in lower-case:
When he pulls up her profile, there she is; the same place.
He recalls the prayer to grant himself serenity,
but hell, he needs a drink, as he hovers the cursor over her name.
I’m sorry, he types, I’m sober now, I acted crazy.
He recalls the prayer, to grant himself serenity,
but remembers how her skin smelled like burned roses
I’m sorry, he types: I’m not toxic, not anymore,
then backspaces, starts again, writes: now I’m sober—
But remembers how her skin smelled like burnt roses,
How, ten years ago, he’d called her, too drunk,
so backspaces, again. Writes, this time I’m different
wishes he knew what he’d said that last time they spoke.
Ten years ago, he’d called her, off-the-wagon, and drunk,
so she’s since blocked his number, but there’s always a way.
He wishes he could recall what he said when they spoke:
he fears that maybe he’d told her, you’re my past, my today.
Although she’s blocked his number, this is the way—
another chance to redress what he said or did.
He fears maybe he’d told her, my past is my today.
Though he’s not sure she’s the same, he knows who he is,
a man granted another chance to make it right:
though he spent last night under an overpass, though
he’s sure she’s the same, he doesn’t know who he is,
he remembers how he held her small shoulders.
Though last night he slept beneath an overpass,
today’s another day; this year’s another year.
He remembers—like it was yesterday—holding her small shoulders.
if there’s no present, there is no past and no death to fear.
Today’s another day, this year’s another year.
He remembers those summer nights: sixteen when they met
how he lay above her and held her tiny bare shoulders:
because, even ten years later, he still tastes her sweat.
Wonderment / by Tom Sterner
The greatest rewards in life often appear
in the tiniest, most unexpected, packages.
Sisters, Old and New / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
It was my third-grade self
sitting in the cherry tree
. . . . . . .who realized
. . . . . . .that Wonder Woman was not so lucky
Her mission –
. . . . . . .to slay evil in all forms
. . . . . . .aided by gifts from the gods:
. . . . . . .strength, moral courage and so on –
but Diana traveled alone
I had three sisters:
. . . . . . .Minerva, Artemis
. . . . . . .and Ulrica.
Each summer, we’d climb the backyard trees:
one apple, one pear, one cherry
. . . . . . .(perhaps tiny Ulrica took the porch swing)
And – from there – each headed her own star command:
. . . . . . .Mars calling Jupiter come in Jupiter
. . . . . . .Saturn to Earth. . . . . . .do you read me?
Nothing stopped us
. . . . . . .Minerva climbed to the top of her apple
. . . . . . .and shook the branches from her precarious perch
and – as we grew older – nothing stopped us
from devouring every book that we found – home, school or library.
In college, I discovered books written by women about women
fiction & poetry in which we were the only characters on canvas
. . . . . . .tender, personal. . . . . . .universal
Had I described myself before I read those books,
when my authors (other than Jane Austen)
. . . . . . .were named William, Charles, Anton, Fyodor and Miguel
. . . . . . .I would have called myself alive, filled with verve and joy
but now. . . . . . .I grew. . . . . . .spiritually. . . . . . .as large and round as the sky.
Now my favorite exemplars have names like Alice, Gloria, Lucille,
Allison, Marge, Vivian and Grace.. . . .And the list keeps growing
I’ve found. . . . . . .a new sisterhood.
Forest Dweller / by Jess Young
He harvests sparrowbone,
Brittle brown skulls
Of those what once flew.
Shimmering galaxies of light
Beam from his soul.
Recognized is he by Earth
As a brother.
The gifts of the natural world
Come to him as pressed wildflowers,
river bend stories, and peace with a book.
Day 10 / Poems 10
Not Spaniards, July 1898 / by María Luisa Arroyo
Manatí, Puerto Rico
for Rita Dove
Papá says the soldiers this time are not
españoles. Los americanos,
they march through town, rifles
on shoulders, some
with flags of many stars.
Papá tells Mamá to hide
our flag with one star,
our hens, eggs, tells her to keep
us home, especially the boys
who love to play war.
Bright Summer Things / by Steve Bellin-Oka
Our cat’s been mauling sparrows
again, breaking them open
to the meat. At night she gavottes
with the mindless moths that batter
themselves against the glass door.
She’s not quite quick enough
to spear one with her filigreed claw.
So she feigns boredom, licks
her stomach with her grackled tongue.
Then she leaps into our overgrown
grass—like a small motor low on oil,
a field mouse’s sporadic screaming.
Her delicate chewing, the crunching.
At a church crab feast long ago
I taught my sister how to open
the steamed blue and spidery shell,
to scrape away the lungs, the gills,
and pull the sweet interior flesh away
from the half-shell underneath. And to
wrest the claws away from the husk,
pound them with a wooden mallet
until they splintered like white
and irreparable bone. Like porcelain.
I missed my connection from Denver.
Arrived three hours late. By then
the paramedics had pronounced her,
wheeled the gurney of what
was left of her away before I got
to the house. Summer stretched
ahead in rivulets and cataracts
that empty into the Chesapeake,
become like any other salt
water. On the deck I snared
and smashed a lightning bug.
Fluorescent green mustard
splotch on the railing
gleaming for a time then fading.
Untitled / by Rebecca Ferlotti
Grandma put so much
care into cards –
She kept her holiday displays
in labeled boxes.
The coffee table
was her monthly stage
for Beanie Babies,
from Amish country.
She always said
I was perfect,
that I should always use
that bad things
happen in 3s.
Poem Ten: Notes on Pollen, Orpheus, Eurydice, and Bees / by ava m. hu
channels to portals: she runs.
Like a thief. The river snakes
beneath her. One bite and she
disappears in the tall yellow grasses.
In your search you honey-guide.
Nectar-driven. This desperation
Light and pollen.
The motion of life.
Swallow it all, or hide it.
The magnetic trails you follow
to find her, anatomy of flowers.
Can you do this with your eyes closed?
We hold onto each other.
We are desperate for bees.
There is no turning back.
Ten years after the Tsunami / by Maria Nazos
He’d sit in the sand where the waves lapped the shoreline, staring into nothing or something I couldn’t see. After the wreckage, he’d envisioned a home on stilts and shaped like a boat, which would welcome travelers. Every morning I’d wake and stare out my porthole-shaped window at the sky or the ocean or sky, which had become a more forgiving ocean. A boat, not a home, he said, sitting at the waves’ edge, rolling a joint. A boat, not a home, because his first daughter had drowned in his arms. Those were his words. Drowned in his arms, not mine or anyone else’s. His second daughter: lost, he said, like words which dissolve in your throat in the throes of grief. Those are my words, not his. Lost, he said. So he built a boat when it was all done. He’d since called himself Captain Ben, and the name had stuck because somehow, he’d kept his head above the dark swelling suffering and built a boat and welcomed travelers, from behind the ramshackle desk, with a joint pressed between his lips and his hair lank and long and black, spilling across his sparrow’s chest. He’d built a boat and married a woman who, like a boat, kept him afloat by setting down her backpack and in the midst of her vacation, had helped the locals rebuild the island. There were still places that could never be fixed: piles of garbage and debris they’d swept to the outskirts of the island. The woman, like a boat, whom he’d married and had another daughter. My last daughter, my new daughter, he’d say, kissing her dark, curly head. Strong man, was all I could say, my words dissolving in my throat because there was nothing else to say in the face of impossible survival because of amazement and sadness, a sugar cube, dissolved in my throat. Life isn’t perfect, he said, handing me my fresh towel, and then: you know I’ve only been sick one time in my life. Strong man, I said, again because those were my only words. Because he’d held his two-year-old daughter, ten years ago, who by then was not breathing, who had become nothing but a memory. Because his other daughter’s body was never found, so he had to live with only the memory. Because he had memories, though not many: scraps of salvaged photos pasted beneath glass behind the bar. Because he’d built a boat, because there are no words for strength or suffering. Because sometimes a boat is our strength and our suffering, and you either have to stay on or sink. Because sometimes you have to build a boat and push on, raising the white flag of memories of those you love, of those you refuse to lose, of the part of yourself which could have drowned in sadness.
Totemic/Cigar Song / by Tom Sterner
Trees in the tall forest
stand older and wiser
than the manmade path snaking
through, the Little Water
running, laughing down
from the Rockies, sings its song of ages
A circle of friends pass the pipe
There are women and men in the circle
boys and girls frolicking around its edges
comforted by the warm tobacco smell
kinship of elders, safe
in the tight weave of the village family
Leaves blow down the street
as summer trees weep their spring
green autumn turned yellow
An old man lights a cigar and closes his eyes
listens to the wind whisper trees
paces his breath and waits
gives silent thanks for a moment of forest
From his front porch seat, he listens to the voice
of a woman speaking to her son
The boy laughs and she joins him
The man ignores sounds of automobiles
an airplane passing overhead
takes solace in the music of their laughter
He is reassured
by the warm tobacco scent of his smoke
the call of a tiny bird from its home
with his friends, the trees
The day is rich with autumn
as he prepares to sit this evening at table
with the people of the woman
Trees in the tall forest
stand older and wiser
than the man with his eyes closed
wisps of cigar smoke circling above his head
a smile on his lips for secrets
the comical import of the voice of the wind
Awakening to Gender Possibilities / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
When I was in the 5th grade,
I wanted to sing in the choir,
but our Catholic school only accepted
. . . . .Having the name Chris
I imagined scenes where I tried out
giving the choir master only my nickname
hoping he’d think I was a boy…
. . . . .only a daydream.
When my sister attended college
she played the guitar. Once, waiting for a train,
she was playing and singing a Beatles song,
. . . . .long red hair swinging
when an older woman approached to ask,
“Are you a girl or a boy?”
She laughed as she told her. . . . .girl.
Seems so important to know
then and now
. . . . .though now. . . . .one can claim fluid sexuality
a bit different than Greek heroes, who identified as male
. . . . .had male lovers on the battlefield
. . . . .wives at home with whom to procreate
and intellectual free-strolling prostitutes with whom to lunch
and discuss. . . . .philosophy. . . . .these women were intellectuals
as well as workers in an ancient trade.
Mary Renault, author of books about bull dancers in Greece,
. . . . .opened my eyes to see that bull dancers could be women-loving women
and adult life, especially when I worked in alternative fields like public radio
and the YWCA, allowed me to have both gay and lesbian friends.
. . . . .The range for humans is said to be from 1 – 7, with purely heterosexual,
purely homosexual on each end.. . . . .Most of us, say modern psychologists
(more enlightened than they were a few decades ago). . . . .fall in the middle range
but. . . . .do we express. . . . .ourselves?
Harmonious Living / by Jess Young
One can find a friend on Wolfe
Unless they are a Snake.
The Restless Moon is spilling brew
To combat working men.
The women neighbor calls at eight
Demands to kill the noise,
But children hop despite the cop
Who brings the message in.
Day 9 / Poems 9
Destierro Means More than Exile / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Hilde Domin (1909-2006)
Destierro means more than exile.
Uprooted from. Banished from. Punished
for being deutsch-nicht deutsche, a German
suddenly not German, your mother tongue,
your motherland, no longer yours. Your first flight
with Erwin? Rome. Your second flight?
England. When the U.S. refused to give you visas,
Dictator Trujillo welcomed your whiteness –
three years after he ordered
the massacre of 25,000 Haitians.
Ship-weary, you & Erwin landed. 1940.
Granted 80 acres, 10 cows, a mule & a horse.
Your currency? Your skin. The languages
you taught & translated. The photographs
you took for Erwin, art historian. 1940.
You learn too late of your father’s death
in American exile. Vaterlos – no father now
on this island, this ocean, this temporary
life at the edge of suicide. 1951. Your mother
dies in American exile. You learn too late.
Mutterlos, you mouth your Muttersprache, write
your first poems only auf Deutsch, return to
Deutschland with Erwin, change your name
from Löwenstein to Palm to Domin
to remember the choice you made
between suicide and rebirth.
Motorcycle / by Rebecca Ferlotti
His arm skin waves
like the fire decal
just over the white dashes.
His sunglasses fight to stay.
Yard Bird / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Squat rhubarb plants,
with wide elephant ears
hiding red-green fruit flesh,
border the east corner
of the garden. They take their places
in the dirt; faces toward
rows of peas, beans, carrots;
backs to the lawn and
old farmhouse that holds
A line of rich loam contrasts
grass-green carpet’s edge;
the fence positions itself as an
un-menacing but stable boundary.
Stretched wire-thin between
3-foot posts of red cedar
its mesh bends and sags with
memories of being useful
at keeping puppies out
of vegetables and black dirt.
Unlike ancestors’ oxen
cranky red rototiller sits,
dreaming of puffing its grey
breath into the summer breeze
its gnarled toes rooted but
ready to roll through greenery
and push weeds under
to earth suffocate.
Sunshine sparkles off scarlet,
orange and deep olive skins, raising
temperatures and coaxing growth.
They bask until late afternoon
when the thermometer
crawls blood red.
A rusted sprinkler stands in the midst of it all,
its rusty arms stoically frozen
– taunting a waiting raven –
ready to save the day and
embrace the sky.
Poem Nine: More Notes on Descent / by ava m. hu
The sinking of flowers
We sink like ships
The seeded promise
You the reverse photosynthesis.
What’s the use in speaking
through the passage of light
We hold our breaths
with all that’s green.
We reach further into the dark earth.
We are pulled with violence
We are sinking ships.
How fleeting the expression
of things who exist above ground.
We follow each other the way
water is absorbed into sand.
We disappear from one another.
We calm fierce animals
by saying their names.
You a river snaking
You attempt to turn metal
This is the crossing
of the first threshold.
Put the light back
into the mouth of the king.
There is a chance we will
be born again.
Vision Quest / by Maria Nazos
When he pressed the shriveled buttons into my palm,
I swallowed them with a swig of Pepsi, hungry
to try anything at that point. I liked the guy who
gave them to me. How he lived without parents,
refused school. There was something strangely
mystical and old about him, his music, the Grateful
Dead, though by then, Jerry was long dead. The guy
was quiet and gentle, not like his friends who were
in the next room, inhaling nitrous-oxide balloons
and snorting coke, most of them kind, but with a certain
small anger in their eyes, like a child squishing a lump
of Play-Do into different shapes. What am I supposed
to feel? I asked, waiting for the climax, the story,
the drama. Wait an hour, he said. So, I waited, sipped
a beer. I was a Midwestern kid, trying to make sense
of whatever little life I’d lived, of a loneliness I was
certain only I’d felt. So, we turned on the blacklight
and sat, and I kept waiting and waiting for that
insight that would change me, that would give me
an answer to why, until then, love was a condition
that my parents slapped down when you brought
home an A, why since my grandmother died, my
mother had cracked like a china plate, refusing
to remove her black clothing, saying, this is what
Greeks do when loved ones go, although,
I wanted to remind her, we were in America now,
and had been for years. I don’t feel anything, I said,
waiting for the answers to why I was a sea captain’s
daughter, foreigner, as they called me, and indeed,
I felt quite foreign to this strange world of incense
and blacklights and wooden beads draped over
doors. I still don’t feel anything, I sighed, sitting,
holding his hand in the dark. I’d heard the stories—
the girl who flapped her arms and flew out
of her bedroom window, of the guy, at a party,
who squatted down and shat on the living room floor,
I’d heard about the boy who now thinks he is an orange
and that everyone will peel him. I’d seen my friend,
her mother, who had scars across her wrists like fleshy
bracelets, and would sit, listless, at the kitchen table,
smoking. It was the acid, my friend said, she did as a girl.
I was looking for a reason to join the misfits, or at least
a reason for why I was weird. I still don’t feel anything,
I said, sitting across from him on the floor, and realized
That was the problem which followed me. I had learned
To feel nothing, to wake up each morning and put on
My skin, to pretend that life was business as usual,
though my father was always escaping back to the Greek
island where he was from, though my mother was
always crying and drinking, and saying, this is all your
fault. And I assumed it was, and wanted to get to
the root of whatever it was inside me that was rotten
or strange, but had gotten so good at leaving my body,
daydreaming. So, naturally, it came as a sweet surprise
when the boy leaned in and I felt his tongue, cold
as a garden slug, which I welcomed and allowed.
For that brief moment, and for all night, I never saw
a gnome or someone’s face melt, or stood in breathless
wonder as my spirit animal spoke. I just felt the odd
sensation enter my skin; a warm flush, a tingle,
which I hadn’t ever felt, so I welcomed it and pulled
His face closer: one caged animal, clawing to enter
another, not wanting to be let free, but to go home
in a few hours, lie down in her bed, and know, finally,
that she was not alone.
Bewilderment / by Tom Sterner
Heard an airplane chugging by
outside in the periphery
A bit distracted
writing, editing, reading
checking the weather
Should go for a putt on my ol’ Hawg
Have to work up artwork
for a couple of pieces first
A big-ass fly
smacked me in the eye
Damn! that hurt
Armed with a notebook
I get up to take his dumb ass down
I get lost
can’t remember enough
to put anything off
Just Because / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
in honor of Sarah Williams Devereux, teacher & friend
“Just because I’m only in the 2nd grade
doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings,” I think
for the 100th time
as I approach the giant girls (probably in 7th grade)
who stalk the playground
at Our Mother of Sorrows Elementary
looking for victims
I’m often one.
I love walking the 9 blocks
from our home
to our Catholic elementary with my older sister.
Uphill and down. . . . . . .beside the woods
. . . . . . .finally arriving at the playground
. . . . . . .where she goes one way and I another –
besides, she’s in the 4th grade
and – I fear – much smaller than the giantesses,
. . . . . . .not sure that even she could do much.
This winter day my nose is dripping
. . . . . . .any decent scientist could tell a kid
. . . . . . .it’s a natural phenomenon,
cold nose – warm mucus – it comes out to protect
. . . . . . .but. . . . . . .ahead of me, as I feared,
Giganta. . . . . . .and her twin Gargantua.
“Hey, kid! Your nose is leaking,
you been cryin’ again?”
. . . . . . .I gaze at their knees and thighs
. . . . . . .say nothing
“Maybe we oughta give her something to cry about.”
“Aw, for gawd’s sake,
. . . . . . .you sound like my pap. . . . . . .just shut up.
Plus, you take a swing at this pipsqueak
and you’d miss her teeny weeny head
. . . . . . .you’d haf to stoop like a cat at a mouse hole
to get at that…”
My face, already pink from brisk walking,
is now 20 shades of scarlet.
The giantesses give me a parting glare
. . . . . . .saunter off.
Why don’t they leave me alone?
Don’t they realize
. . . . . . .that even though I’m tiny now, and timid,
doesn’t mean that I won’t learn to use my quick wit
coupled with well-chosen nouns like bitch and bore…
I have a feeling
. . . . . . .that these cats – who grow so stunted that they
. . . . . . .won’t even stoop to mouse hole –
. . . . . . .will soon. . . . . .have nowhere to go,
while this mouse will be growing.
Harrow / by Jess Young
To bite so strongly
Baring such short stanzas
Is to tear gristle or snap bone
Retrieving unicorn’s blood thread through skeletons—
The able sell their marrow for profit
I write to say what I am!
Jowls creak and crack
At the thickening verse.
Day 8 / Poems 8
They Say / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Judith Ortiz Cofer
when I arrived,
head covered with curls,
the women warned Mami
to cover them with a cap
in Manatí heat
against el mal de ojo.
She listened but
it was not enough.
two months into this life
my eyes rolled white,
my tummy ballooned hard
as if filled with river rocks.
Shaking his head, the doctor
sent me home to die.
my aunt bundled up
Mami’s grief, took us to see
a woman dressed in white, black
hair flowing up in incensed air.
this woman’s hands floated
over my prone body, never touched
the taut skin of my jutting belly,
scanned me from head to toe
with prayers in a tongue
Mami did not know.
Mami & aunt say
as my bowels
my life returned.
Self-Portrait at 45 / by Steve Bellin-Oka
— after Franz Wright
He’s no longer in the hospital—
the hospital’s in him. Smoke breaks
under watch in the courtyard
every few hours. The orderly’s Code Blue
alarm a plastic cross twisting on the neck.
This is his blood in a little paper
chalice. This is his body in oblong
off-green capsules. He already knows:
you shouldn’t break full-length
wall mirrors in your house with a yellow steel
crowbar. You shouldn’t hold
knives to the veins in your wrist.
Talk of winding a noose around
the upstairs banister. Or drinking
Canadian Club, walking out into the blizzard
and lying down. So the cops drive him
to Queen Elizabeth, again—his other
country, his other life. Triage
and the emptying of pockets. Never will he
lose his strangerness, the birthmark
on the small of his back just above
the sacroiliac joint. Say just once
he knew he was waking daily to disasters
nearly all of his own making. A nurse’s
white uniform splotched with blood
droplets in the dayroom. What was once
unutterably clean and now is not.
Sunday / by Rebecca Ferlotti
We find our way
It’s never enough
just to have
You speak in books.
Your eyes are dictionaries,
battered by tears.
You wonder how we got here.
You search for quarters,
but there are none left –
and a half empty
in your cup holder.
Imagining / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Over coffee, the discussion inevitably spun
around to the story of over thirty thousand
farm mink released in the wild.
Your neighbor, gruff in voice, bragged
how he would slit chickens
from neck to leg, stuffing fish oil
and oysters inside feathered carcasses.
He would drag the fowl bodies
across green field grass, scent-washing
toward steel-jawed traps
waiting to spring.
I sat back, choosing to imagine
the astonishment on his face
when the smarter-than-cats mink
would avoid his bait, one hundred twenty
thousand furry feet blazing freedom trails
through summer, traipsing
toward sun-dappled water
for a refreshing swim.
Poem Eight: Notes on Descent / by ava m. hu
Urgent, melodic, hypnotist.
The hero crosses water.
A symbolic butterfly
shown over her head
to symbolize innocence.
The writer places a copy of image
inside of itself. The image caught
between two mirrors infinitely
The line from the cloud, to bow,
the target of the gold tipped arrow,
this white foam, this gradual descending,
the silty soil you sink into, this infinitely
I hear the storm coming in.
I hear his watery white hooves.
I hear the compass change course
in it’s infinite spin.
The earth lets go of you.
The sinking of petals
when they lose light-
After Hours / by Maria Nazos
When I came out of the stall, I didn’t know her, but she
was there. She was standing at the sink, trying to rip
her T-shirt down the front. What are you doing? I asked,
tipsier than I cared to admit. It was past midnight by then,
that time on the Cape, in the winter, when anyone
with scruples has long left for the Keyes or stayed home,
painting, because as locals said you come here to heal or die.
I don’t like this shirt, she said, tugging at the collar before
the mirror. I’m trying to rip it. As I stood beside her
at the neighboring sink, I tried to recall how I knew her:
I knew her because one night, when we were one of the few
people sitting at the bar, she told me she thought my ex,
a barefoot whale watch boat captain, was handsome,
and asked with such straightforward innocence, whether
I would mind if she called him, later that night. I had
pressed my lips together, and said, he and I are long
done, go ahead, but was certain her thoughtlessness
was rooted in malice, the kind two young women carry
in a small town where the men are sparse and their
youth and looks position them in a strange, unpurposeful
competition. As I stood beside her, washing my hands,
I also recalled another night when she’d told me, casually
as draping a black blouse across a stool, that her father
had died. I had squeezed her hand, and she’d pushed
her blonde hair off her face and said, that’s OK. But
I’d seen her at the bar every night since, drinking with
one red-headed fisherman who recently had tried
to strangle another woman in the parking lot. Tear it, she
then urged, interrupted my reverie. I shook my hands
free of water and turned to face her. Are you sure?
I asked. Tear it, she said, again. There was already
a small notch in her collar where she had gotten off
to a good start. I began to tug, gently, at the fabric,
until I heard stitches pop. I recalled how once, I’d asked
her, who are your friends? To which she’d replied,
I keep to myself like you, but I’ve always thought
you’d be a good contender, and how I was slightly
insulted and flattered that she’d found me out: a loner
masquerading as a social butterfly, someone who
flitted onto the Cape from New York City, after a trail
of shattered relationships, telling myself if I move
by the ocean, that won’t happen again. By then I had
split the shirt down to her collarbone. More, she insisted,
just a little more. But it’s a nice shirt, I protested. Just
do it, she urged. So, I gave the collar another good rip
and a deep V formed a fissure between her breasts,
like an upside-down heart, and she put her hands over
mine and together we gave the fabric one last rip,
and I remembered how after her father died, I’d seen her
walking on the beach during the day with a collie
trailing her. As I got close, she smelled like gin,
and her eyes were glazed. She was clutching a dirty
pink bear, she kept saying, this is his toy, but
he won’t play with it, then laughed so hard, her fillings
showed. And I realized how much these tiny moments
mean when you realize you’ve lost or let go of everyone
and have to clutch whatever little love you can to your
chest, or briefly tear open your clothing, right above
where your heart lives, protected, or so you think:
and let someone else into a moment of tenderness, saying,
as she did, one last time, go ahead, fucking rip it,
before you both say goodbye, and part ways into dawn.
Familiar / by Tom Sterner
He loves oatmeal cookies
and barbecue potato chips
tomato soup with saltine crackers
We go for walks in the park
talk to crows
argue with squirrels
avoid other folks whenever possible
We like the same things
He’s always glad to see me
best friend I ever had
We live for each other
We’d die for each other
me and this dog
An Invitation / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
. . . .it’s amazing to me that you
who read me here
seem so shadowy
. . . .I can’t count you at all
even though I suspect some of you
are out there: Paula, Robert, Greg, Marlon
Devi, Lynn, Megan, Mike and Clyde…
but as for others who dropped in to enjoy poetry,
. . . .how enchanting!. . . .On your part, a heartfelt
statement.. . . .On my side of the screen, grateful.
I want to invite all of you
to a poetry reading tonight at Hemingway’s Café
in the Oakland section
. . . .of Pittsburgh. . . .(not Los Angeles, Clyde).
The poetry room is behind the sports bar
. . . .both rooms packed on Tuesday nights.
Poetry fans in the back sit in two adjoining rooms
readers on a bar stool between.
I can see all audience members when I sit here to read
. . . .about 40 – 50 of you,
all friends of poetry.
The readers this May 8th are members of Pittsburgh Poetry Society
I am the president. We’re older, ages 62 – 96,
but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t irreverent and funny
. . . .when we want to be.
Seven of us will entertain you tonight,
pondering on subjects from oak trees’ histories
to the raising of poetical swords to face off
. . . .against windmills of oppression.
Show up if you can.
If not, I’ll see you
. . . .on my Wonderland reversible laptop mirror
. . . .and in our unhurrying petty pace
. . . .tomorrow’s tomorrow and its tomorrow.
Inspiration Window / by Jess Young
It is six pm,
My attempt to crush together metaphors
And orange peels produces clean laundry,
A rearranged kitchen counter, and
Each sticky as the heat on my munching teeth
And more delicious than any idea I’ve had today.
Day 7 / Poems 7
homenaje to my body at 50 / by María Luisa Arroyo
Please click here to read the poem.
Polaroids with Spring Hail / by Steve Bellin-Oka
“There are always two people in every picture—the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams
The sky’s green tinge like a Depression
glass candy dish upside down on
my grandmother’s bureau. After she
came to live with us—cataracts,
Alzheimer’s, the stroke a cumulonimbus
filling with hail—she stopped
recognizing any of us. Shadows
on the cave wall. You stole my house,
she said, her gnarled and noded
finger an unnoticed tree branch
almost stabbing an eye.
So damaging to crops, to livestock,
in the Middle Ages church bells
were rung as a hailstorm hovered.
As if the sky didn’t hold its hands
to its ears to stop our keening.
Comes the pelting, the sway,
the jacaranda tree’s green hoop
skirt shaking its frenzied lone
waltz in the wind. The debris
is unconscionable—sparrow chicks
with broken necks in the dirt
wheel ruts turned now to runnels.
She said it was a migraine
freezing the right side of her body.
Point your hail cannon
as the storm approaches. Fire
through the cone a shockwave
every second or two. Inside
the cloud’s gray matter the stones
will break into slush or rain.
Lithotripsy for the sky.
Though she no longer knew
who I was, I held my grandmother’s
limp hand as she crumpled down
to the couch draped
with an afghan she knitted
decades before, wailing
something’s wrong, something’s
wrong. The siren spinning,
still blocks away in rush hour.
Thunder and white clumps
of ice like manna. Like
the bleats of two goats synced.
Earl Grey / by Rebecca Ferlotti
Flowers on the sidewalk,
whiskey in the rain gutters.
through a cracked window,
puddling on a porch
Ivy twists –
candy swirls on vinyl.
dark clouds in the distance.
Poem Seven: Notes on Deer Woman / by ava m. hu
Her breath on your neck. You can break
her spell with chanting and tobacco.
Her hooves crush the yellow heads
of wood violets, the rolling waves
Your smallest finger on two merging planets.
Her hooves crush the smallest pinpricks
How gravity works in relation
to magnetism, how desire
separates from survival,
this weightless leaf-fall,
water-fall, my inept
calculations of the distance
of outer space to earth-
it’s nothing compared to you.
She is a private goddess.
Her spell broken
by chanting and tobacco.
The hunter closes in.
Struck by a silver arrow
she runs fast as a deer.
What god thinks they are more powerful
than the power of desire?
Before you, there was no reason
for the human race to mingle with the gods.
Cupid, by mistake, pierced himself
with one of his own arrows.
Urgent, melodic, hypnotist-
I Go Back to Mykonos, Greece 1976 / by Maria Nazos
—after Sharon Olds
I see them, sitting in the whitewashed taverna
overlooking the pier. I see the white archway
gently curving around them. She is visiting
the Greek islands with her family, the young
sea captain is home from Africa, where he bought
long contraband tusks and survived a monsoon.
They’re having a drink, but the ice cubes are melting,
because of the heat from their palms. By the third martini,
he will ask her to marry him, though they barely
know one another. I want to enter this picture,
walk into the bar, and say, think twice. I want to order
a drink, sit down with them, and tell them
as kindly as possible, that they’ll together create
another generation of pain. I want to tell him, finish
your drink and get back on that boat. I don’t care how many storms
you’ve survived, the real one is going to drown you. I want
to tell him to court one of the island girls,
the one who, forty years later, will still see him
at her bar, run to the restroom, and return,
with a fresh coat of lipstick. I want
to tell her, my sweet young woman, haven’t you heard
of the great North American philosopher, Pamela Anderson,
who said, Never get married while you’re on vacation?
I want to tell them how vacation lovers are dangerous.
Tell them about that time, when honeycombed with sadness
from my own failed love, I backpacked by myself,
through Central America, licked cocaine off
a Belizean man named Ruddy, who professed his love for me,
and armed robbery. When I awoke in his tattoo
parlor, amazed that I was alive, I crossed the border,
alone, into Guatemala, my nasal passages still
dripping, my heart thudding like a celebratory
drum. But the problem is, this is Greece, long
before Pamela Anderson and Baywatch, long before
I existed, a daughter with a penchant for wandering.
This is also before Reagan reigned over his long
line of wreckage which followed, and couples
shot themselves, together in their cars. And
the Vietnam War is over. Sometimes people
would rather die slowly than live together.
Look at me: a daughter, strong or just lucky
enough to be alive, despite and because
of them both. They cannot know the new wars
they will wage; that they will move from Greece
back to the Midwest, she will drink, alone,
in her kitchen, that he will leave for the island
every chance he gets. When he’s with her,
he will stare into the aquarium, and long
to be back beside the water. She will look at him,
gaping in silent rage, as if frozen behind glass, when
he calls her lazy. I want to say, but Pamela Anderson said—
but this is so long before Baywatch. But they are
watching the bay. The sunset-streaked harbor reflects
in their eyes. They cannot see their unborn children,
the nights spent tattooing, I hate you, inside each other’s brains.
They’ve given me this life, and love of risk
and words, and ability to survive under self-enforced
and precarious conditions, for which I love them.
I tap the glass window of the tavern, like Morris code,
once, then twice. I am sealed in a tank of silence.
On the other side, against all odds, my now peaceful life
awaits. So I say the ocean will be there. I say, swim or sink,
sometimes we have to plunge. And I leave them, the same way
they knew t when I wanted something no matter
how ill-advised, it was best to leave me to create
my own history, because they too have the right
to live: even if it means loving someone else to death.
Desideratum / by Tom Sterner
in the heat of anger
desperation and despair
likely as not
return in dreams
remnant bolts and nuts
when the future arrives
creaks and moans
What (Grail) Do You Seek? / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Many of us know that we
. . . . . . . . .are on a quest
something is missing
. . . . . . . . .from our lives. .. . . .our culture
if you have an inkling
. . . . . . . . .if your intuition whispers to you
you may find yourself swimming
. . . . . . . . .in a sea of ideals that send you
toward Avalon. You may wish
. . . . . . . . .to find the grail
be it wooden cup without handles
. . . . . . . . .or gem-encrusted chalice of gold
your heart wants to share the joy
. . . . . . . . .of communion, trust
Love that the grail story began with.
. . . . . . . . .Where you seek is so dependent
on your readiness, on finding your guides
. . . . . . . . .your gateway or portal
If today finds you standing at that sacred threshold
. . . . . . . . .though your grail may have another name
the mystic mountain. . . . .the valley of horses
. . . . . . . . .if you find yourself thin-skinned and edgy
you may be called; transformation means entering
. . . . . . . . .the unknown. . . . . .this causes fractiousness
Open yourself to a sacred snake within
. . . . . . . . .shed skin and allow yourself to be guided
luminosity. . . . . . . . .awaits.
Curse Obscure / by Jess Young
Three noose sag from a flowering Cherry
or maybe it is children’s rope,
meant not for souls of dishonest men,
or those who carry out their own subjective law.
Maybe it is for playing,
building strong arms and sister-games,
hosting trapeze artists and adventure…
Fog swallows the tree and I follow the dog
Sweet onion grass holds the morning dew.
Day 6 / Poems 6
añorar / by María Luisa Arroyo
Please click here to read the poem.
Love Poem with Alternative Etymologies / by Steve Bellin-Oka
As air entering my lungs—
As floorboards clicking
into place. No, that’s inspire.
I tattooed your name
in black ink on the small
of my back. Permanent,
kanji I can neither read nor see.
Still after twenty years
desire takes us by surprise,
a magnifying glass held
over ants in direct sunlight.
Missing / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
Mountains and rivers peek from behind a broken kingdom
The city springs: grass and trees thick as thieves
Time lashes and slashes deep to bleed
tears not flowers
Separation cuts with a dull blade.
Birds fibrillate our hearts.
Flared fires flame for three months on end.
Messages from home rival riches untold.
Grey hair falls on the pillow like tears
The strands thin and weak against my cheek.
Poem Six: Notes on the Holy Spirit / by ava m. hu
We wait for the return
of a comet predicted
by the movement
of your hands.
The hero plummets
to the underworld to return
with a quest-object, or loved one.
As if the Holy Spirit
repeats our names.
rise and fall
Salt waves click
in the mouths
House made of rising water.
Our heads pressed against
the water of our chests.
I wrestle with an angel
to find my name.
You and I in a boat
long past midnight.
Prank Call / by Maria Nazos
Long before Caller I.D. or a sense of moral decency,
we’d pick on the weak, the tired, the vulnerable,
or simply the ones unlucky enough to be sitting
within stabbing distance of the phone. There was no
hypocrisy: kill or be killed, as they say in prison.
Because that summer, it was open season. That summer,
the same season when we began to focus
on the body’s beauty and breathtaking shame.
The shower nozzle and hot tub bubble jets
gradually became objects of pleasure.
Two girls, at a slumber party were christened
“dykes” when they tongue-kissed passionately,
later claiming to be hypnotized. We all knew
better than to be cruel, and yet we did it
anyway. The boys said whoever jacks off is a fag.
The quieter ones said, it’s a sin; you’re loving
another guy. Rule One: when you called, you
never confessed your identity later on.
Same as when you beat off: never admit it.
Especially those like me, too terrified to touch
a boy. The calls were a joke, like masturbation,
until the joke was on you. When I picked up
the phone and a boy said, in an accent,
we’re taking a survey of how many Greek
foreign bitches shave their armpits, what could I
do, except curse them out, while
my hyphenated heart slowly separated.
But like touching myself, emotions should
be hidden, masked and wielded in the form
of hurting others. What else could I have done,
when later at my friend’s bidding, found an unsuspecting
man named Bates, and punched the buttons
of my friend’s hot pink receiver? I took
a deep breath, while my heart flushed
from my ears into my face and said,
“Is Master Bates there?” Only to be greeted
by his own useless string of expletives.
My friend and I collapsed on her floor in a fit
of fear and laugher. What would have happened,
during those hard years, if Bates and I had met,
and talked? If instead of filling the receiver with resentment,
we could have related to how the summer days
were filled with a certain listlessness, a loneliness.
Perhaps we would have confessed our secret
of feeling trapped and lonely and harassed.
We could’ve have talked about our tender hunger
for a love that was always a hair’s breadth away.
I know, this is entirely another kind of fantasy,
but what if? I picture him: standing alone in his kitchen,
maybe his wife long dead. Pressing the microwave keys,
only to be greeted by another half-frozen Salisbury
steak. Only having his own hand to love. And then the phone.
The same joke he’d endured since he was a boy, spoken
by me, a girl trying to push through her hurt,
and clutch her last seconds of innocence.
Today, there’s no landline from which to call you, sir,
and say I’m sorry. So, when I am lying here,
and the sweaty sun hangs low, now an adult,
and more or less, a kind one, with my sure
hand, I take it all back. I lie back in apology
and self- forgiveness, because Mr. Bates, sometimes
despite our flaws and sins, we only have ourselves to love.
Brevity / by Tom Sterner
The efficacy of words, crisp philosophy.
May the Sixth / by Christine Aikens-Wolfe
not Mother’s Day
but those of us who
know every day
is Mother’s day. Children
who are lucky enough to claim
a mother never let her forget her role,
her place, her duty, her unending connection
the thread, the rope, the tie that binds her
forever & ever to those she birthed.
Its agony is steady and slow,
its joys come quickly. . . . . . . .sometimes remain
She is many things:
. . . . . . . .some days. . . . . .herself
other days a lover, marida, amor
a sports lover a tennis player
a professional worker as nurse, doctor,
lawyer or chief
. . . . . . . .but a hobby. . . . . . . .even work
has breaks. . . . . .vacations. . . . . .down times
a lover can be held at bay. . . . . .or lost
On the other hand, one’s own daughters or sons
are within a mother, without, beside
. . . . . . . .in her unconscious mind
. . . . . . . .always.
Where The Hermit Lives / by Jess Young
I clung to sandy sleep
Whereas the sun had not come out
So I could not see the birds;
Because of faltering ideas
Who caused a feast of words.
But the martyr habit is
It is now half-past two
And to say the damp spring breeze
Feels good on my bare ass
Is an understatement.
Day 5 / Poems 5
Protection / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Naomi Ayala
Broad-shouldered brown men, hands thick
. . . . . . . . .with work, turn their backs, shields against
your poisoned darts the moment
. . . . . . . . .they stream in for Saturday coffee.
Behind them, I watch you scan each one, settle
. . . . . . . . .on the silent man before me in line. You bore
a hole in his left shoulder. It smolders.
Standing taller, I, his round, brown Boricua sister,
. . . . . . . . .catch your gaze, do not waver,
the privileges of my degrees tilt my head up.
. . . . . . . . .The soulfire in my eyes burns your retinas,
my floating copper scarf, my “Buenos días”,
. . . . . . . . .more shields for my brothers, hands thick
la protección / by María Luisa Arroyo
para Naomi Ayala
Hombres con hombros anchos, manos duras
. . . . . . . . .con el trabajo, viran sus espaldas, escudos
contra las flechas venenosas de tus ojos
. . . . . . . . .el momento que entran para comprarse
el buchito de café. Detrás de ellos, te observo.
. . . . . . . . .Tú escaneas cada uno, decides perforar
el hombro izquierdo del hombre callado
. . . . . . . . .en fila en frente de mi. Su hombro arde.
Más alta que él, yo, su hermana Boricua gordita
. . . . . . . . .y trigueña, atrapo tu mirada, no vacilo,
los privilegios de mis grados de educación
. . . . . . . . .hacen mi cabeza inclinar hacia arriba.
El fuego de mi alma por mis ojos te quema,
. . . . . . . . .mi bufanda de cobre, mis “buenos días”,
más escudos para mis hermanos, sus manos duras
. . . . . . . . .con el trabajo.
My Husband and I Discuss How to Break Out of This Rut / by Steve Bellin-Oka
He never said the tumbleweeds
gusting across the road
were large enough,
spiny enough to pierce
our Toyota’s oil pan. Never said
it was only May and already
hot enough to burn my bald
scalp. Carpenter ants are
streaming toward the wood
foundations of the house
like traffic glimpsed from
an airplane window high above.
One flies over and its jet trail
is like a finger of cloud
pointing. He never said our cat
has disembowelled another squirrel
and left a yellow bird shredded
on the porch. What he said
was: listen. We’re not
too old yet to adopt a child.
Israel / by Rebecca Ferlotti
The tattoos on the bus
look through me.
The tissue Mt. Caramel in my pocket
protests me being outside.
A family stands in the middle of the road fighting,
the children doing tricks on their toy motorcycles
and running over men’s dress shoes.
They pass with their hands roller coaster-style.
I can’t find proper change,
so I block the doorway
until someone tells me
According to Those-in-the-Know, Jennifer Fergurger Likes: / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
to think she can get away with anything because of her looks
paradigms of artificial intelligence programming
to spend time at Philadelphia Museum of Art
it in Malaysia
it plain and simple
flying her hot air balloon
the semantics of movement
to move to anything: techno, reggae, country, or Chandri Mahtani. This girl
likes to get down
FOX sports grill, ballroom, high dive and nectar
to experiment with cooking
to rest off hours
scribbling articles about this industry
composing music in order to get ahead professionally
watching her dog’s eyebrows bob up and down
to escape the city and spend time in the mountains
backpacking to distant countries
to play these games.
Poem Five, Notes on the Heart / by ava m. hu
Other words for the heart;
sovereign fruit, oh this
Your hands the light
from a speeding train.
The shape of the heart
is the same as a fist.
The apparition so bright
your hands take hold.
Is it happenstance or superstition?
The left ventricle of the heart
shudders still with or with
begin wild birds,
Graduation / by Maria Nazos
As my father hands me a bouquet of snipped roses
dyed the shades of twenty sinking suns, my mother
grasps his steady arm, teetering slightly, her body
having begun its slow revenge for what it begrudged
all along. She’s afraid to walk now, since her last
fall, which snapped her hip in half. My father is
tired of holding her up, and snaps Just take it
as her hand shakes, holding up the iPhone to take
a photo of me, standing in my mortarboard cap and hood.
Let go and take it, he says, as she tries to take a one-
handed photo. But her one trembling arm stays looped
through his, while the other shakily holds up the small
phone. I stitch a smile across my face. The phone
flashes. As she still grips his arm, I can hear him
in Greek, in the language reserved for anger
and once for sex, the language they speak and still
don’t think I understand, Can I live this way, Tia?
He asks, as she snaps another unsteady photo.
Can I live this way? I clutch my bouquet to my chest,
and smile, once again, trying to pretend these flowers
aren’t lopped off at the stems. Trying to stand up
strong. To move into the next phase, realizing
that two people can hate each other and love you,
and perhaps even love and hate each other at the same time.
Refusing, for once to wilt into that place I’d go as a child,
when I’d hear their fights and retreat, alone to the backyard,
and play with the cats, praying to make something
of myself, however small that they would notice and love
more than they resented each other. Maybe this is moving
on to the next level, I think, shifting the flowers
to my other hand. How can I live like this, he says to her,
again, in Greek. Maybe I have reached the next
level of understanding: staying upright and in place,
and smiling into the face of two people’s
slow and steady resentment. All three of us
trying the best we can to love each other, to hold
each other shakily and steadily upright.
An Exact Double / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
What if everyone’s best friend or spouse
showed signs of having lived in another era?
For example, I know that my spouse
was a Medici
because I showed my mother a photo of my husband
in an orange baker’s cap
the brim pulled down on his head.
She said it reminded her of something,
and, on her travels home to Florida,
stopped in the Smithsonian Art Museum.
She sent me a slide of a painting
one of the Medici princes. The same profile
the same ear showing, orange turban at the same angle
as my spouse’s cap. . . . . . . .same face.
The man in the painting appears
. . . . . . . .to have plucked his eyebrows, eyelashes
and his mouth (same lips and chin) is closed
whereas H.’s mouth is open. Small differences
. . . . . . . .same man.
One day, you’ll see someone on the street
. . . . . . . .who looks exactly like your bestie
. . . . . . . .or your spouse. . . . . . . .you’ll call their name
only to have a stranger turn and stare
. . . . . . . .You are not a reciprocal doppelganger for them
which is just as well, considering.
Morning Haiku / by Jess Young
Music swells above
soft voices, beer after rent
makes the poor man sing
Merciless curse I
misread the pain, artless, blue
the leaf begs the branch
Day 4 / Poems 4
racism. . .puerto rico. . .1955 / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Elizabeth Alexander
male riders on mopeds & bikes
one to steer
one to slash
with razors, switchblades
the butts of blackbrown women
their god-given bodies & gaits
under long cotton dresses
see the cotton bleed
see the baskets spill sheets
ח / by Steve Bellin-Oka
Let me smell, when death finds me, if
there be sense at all, the way a mosquito
smells blood and bores its tiny drill
into an open pore on the skin.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Or the sting
of hot oil splattering, the skillet left
too long on the stove. A drop of water
sends it roiling. Cavernous, this interior
life—I no longer believe, if I ever did,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .in the soul,
the hard gleam of diamond though formless.
The body is all there is, isn’t it, though always
we can find no joining of ours long enough,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .deep enough,
to quell the low boil of knowing our cells
are always shedding, always flaking away
from our arms and legs as they intertwine.
Though we daub blood over the doorway,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .still it comes,
the droning buzz far off slow and close,
unheard until it jabs the ear like a dart.
Ohio Spring / by Rebecca Ferlotti
The threat of snow
rests on the backburner
with an old pot that smells like burning plastic
when I boil water.
A frisbee decorates the lawn.
It’s been there since I moved in,
since the sick man downstairs
Our condo lawn mower
rides around the frisbee carefully
as if it’s some sort of ancient relic.
More mowers appear
like an Ohio cult –
buzzing in unison,
Across the ragweed,
a man in a light blue t-shirt mows his lawn
wearing the same shirt,
the same khaki shorts
and baseball cap.
It’s all routine.
It’s all avoiding frisbees.
I stand by my old pot
that smells like burning plastic,
watching the water.
Pain By Number / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
The neurologist hands her
the outline of a body,
asks her to shade each area
she feels pain. To show where ache
rains through and rushes
into swollen spring rivers
She needs to itemize each
level of discomfort, a virtual
of her days.
Behind the safety of his desk
the neurologist questions the ‘quality’
of the pain and wonders if
it burns, throbs, tingles,
stabs or shoots.
She wishes she could give him
a small dose of insight,
share a bit of it all,
until he begs her to stop.
Poem Four: Notes on The Overshadowing / by ava m. hu
you smell of white earth
and tobacco. The sun
floods my hands. The reason
unclear to scientists.
I tell you everything.
Pink sakura blossoms flood the page.
What is to come for the living?
Must we learn what the living do?
Milk of the ascension.
Milk of the mother constellation.
He will overshadow you.
Self portrait in white.
Cartoon Physics / by Maria Nazos
When the eccentric British fellow would come to the coffee shop,
telling me each time, fill up my cup two-thirds full
and I hate lids. I liked his honesty. Not only how he ordered,
but how he told me a story
while I was wiping down the espresso station, of how he stood
on a cliff’s edge outside of Santa Fe with his then-
wife, Joyce, of twenty-five years: a philanthropist, a gold-winged angel
of a woman who lived a balanced life, never
teetering on the precipice of drama. He told me how, as he watched
her glistening hair trail down her slight frame,
at the edge of the deep gulch, overlooking striations of red
muscled rock, breathing in the sweet stink
of oleanders, he had the urge to put his hand on her small back
and push her cleanly off the edge.
When he told me this, I put down my rag. Trying to grab some hard
edge of shock. But I feel the same
sad relief when I say there are people for whom our words leave off
and our feelings trail into thin air. And we look down,
like the cartoon coyote, realize we will fall into the consciousness
that we are cruel, thievish, yet equally deserving of love.
My friend, Katie, told me how at the height of passion, she wished
she could rip her husband’s spine out of his back.
I can look at my mother: now settled into her old age, who drank
like Janis Joplin. When I was a kid, she’d crank up
songs from her paisley-pattered youth on the turntable, and say, I heard
it’s possible to divorce your kids, and sent a record flying
at my head with military precision, and beat me so hard the cosmic
OM rang in my ears while telling me she loved me, dammit.
Twenty years later, I know what it means to reserve a special kind
of love for a person who dances
on the tip of your last nerve, whom you would love nothing more
than to push them off, and they you. Not a clashing;
a peaceful coexisting of bitter hate and overwhelming love,
which can move into your heart and live
side-by-side peacefully. So when you look at that someone: their back
turned, teetering precariously between love
and tipping into hate, in the fiercest act of kindness, you back off.
Instead, you stand beside each other: not talking;
just taking in the unspeakable, breathtaking view.
ZZ / by Tom Sterner
He walked crookedy-crook down the sidewalk
spikey red hair poking willy-nilly
every which-way but down
the hint of a beard on his chin
struggling to get itself noticed
To top it all off, literally
there were four bolts anchoring a crown to his head
rods hooked to the apparatus
attached to something underneath his shirt
He paused and stared at two old men
leaning against the bed of a vintage Ford pickup
“What the hell is that?” one of the old guys asked the other.
“Don’t worry, brother. He’s harmless
a little goofy but harmless.”
They looked him back and the younger man wobbled away.
“Why you always wearing pajama bottoms when I come to see you?”
“Hell, they won’t let me run around nekked,” the shirtless brother replied.
“I tried that a year back when I came out of the coma and was courting Ashley
that schizo, manic-depressive, black girl downstairs in lockup.
She sure is a sweety.”
“Well, you seem to be doing a lot better this week.”
“I’m fine. They call this a rehab. I’ve spent time in prisons with better food.”
“Hey, my wife’s going out of town for a week. How about you put in for a pass.
I’ll pick you up next Tuesday noon.”
“Well, damn me, that’d be great, anything to get away from ‘the farm’.”
“You got any chocolate ice cream?”
“Sixty-six years, little brother; I didn’t know you liked chocolate ice cream.”
“Hmm, neither did I. Sure sounds good, though.”
“I’ll buy a gallon before you come over. We’ll break all the diabetes rules.
I got some Bailey’s at the house, too.”
“Ain’t this nothin’?” All those years we spent chasing wild women, dope
and Harleys. Now we’re sneakin’ ice cream.”
“It’s a plan then. Maybe we’ll tinker with that ol’ Hawg of yours.”
“Sounds good. Not sure I’ll ever be able to ride it again
but it’ll do my ol’ broken heart good to give it a hug.”
He paused and stretched
A dust devil danced through them
beards and hair wild in the wind for a moment
He reached down and hitched up his pajamas
“Sorry to bring this up, big brother
but you know how it’s been with me and Dad all these years.
I need to see that old man one more time
shake his hand, maybe go for a hug
Put all that bad shit behind us.
Suppose you could take me for a short visit next week
maybe act as go-between?”
“ZZ Topp! I knew it the minute I saw you two!
Look at you guys. I’m a lucky man.
God bless this day!”
The red-headed man was grinning
support rod to support rod
He did a little happy dance
fell into the brothers’ arms
“Told you he was goofy.
I’d better help him back inside before he hurts himself.”
The brothers hugged.
The older man climbed into the driver’s seat of the old Ford
He watched his brother and the halo man
make their way slowly up the handicap ramp
When they were out of sight, he started the truck
their father’s truck
A tear rolled down his cheek
Dad had died forty years before
Daffodil / Lilac / Peony / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
Spring arrives at last. Yard and lane
fill with April’s Daffodil.
The robin’s chirp can’t fail
to ease hearts worn pale
by winter.. . .Then. . .Lilac
wafts her delicious odors, treating all
to purple’s perfume. No ill
will befall those who lope
outdoors in May to wonder. Can any
color, odor or shape lap
these two majestic blooms?. . .One alone –
who arrives in June in her blowsy gown, Peony.
Footnote: all end words are formed from the letters
(and only the letters) in Daffodil, Lilac, Peony.
Using Magic: When Life Is Easy / by Jess Young
A boy and a girl,
On a roof in buttercup season,
Use levitation spells
On unsuspecting bumble bees
Warring over tree flowers
As a fat, hungry robin
Looms in a budding
Day 3 / Poems 3
cruelty / by María Luisa Arroyo
In 2018, the youth rage against empty prayers, guns, more cruelty.
No place safe for children, for Black men. Our country, open sore of cruelty.
With this president, masks fall. The KKK, Neo-Nazis, white
angry men march, their minds twisted to the core with cruelty.
Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Renisha McBride. Eric Garner.
Cops did not see the God in them, aimed for cruelty.
Decimated by Spaniards, Taíno traces survive only in maternal
blood & words. hurakán, storm god who roars with cruelty.
In your poems, Ai, no angels, no wounded healers. Hurt lives,
hate breaks, sex devours. Souls here? You tore out of cruelty.
When the professor jokes that the hurricane has my name,
I say: I have family there. Thank you for your cruelty.
Reluctance / by Steve Bellin-Oka
The world is too much with us, yes, but
what else is there—an SUV driven intentionally
into clusters of people on the corner holding signs,
others just unwilling to cross against the light
because they’ve heard an engine revving nearby.
Though they can’t see him, the man behind
the wheel is praying. His lips move like a fist
unfurling. So much is exploding, everywhere.
You look in the fridge at the lettuce uncrisping
in the drawer. You tell yourself, I can buy more
tomorrow. You tell yourself, I must remember
the electric bill. In some other too-warm city
a traffic light careens yellow, then red, then green.
In Memoriam: Chagrin Valley Times / by Rebecca Ferlotti
at a later date
little yellow house
cream puff keen
Thursday / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
A train wails in the distance while another
chugs down steel tracks
vibrating with the weight of its load. The two
pass each other just outside of town
a blur of transported goods down double tracks.
Traffic ties into a snarl:
cars impatient to cross into neighborhoods.
A parade of parents wait
outside the elementary in silent
competition, ready to get inside the gates
and free their children into the afternoon.
A man in his late 70s pushes
a mower outside the neglected school —
the poorest in the district.
This gardener, a volunteer
to beautify the grounds and allow
the kids to feel pride, while inside
teachers struggle with students
to complete end-of-year testing
that will never meet expectations.
Poem Three: Notes on Mary & Cherry Blossoms / by ava m. hu
Her hands stain
with the sap of cherries.
fall with a desire
to tell their own story.
Perhaps that is more frightening
than first imagined.
It’s happens so fast when the wind comes:
body torn from body, the holding
reckless to air-
This is before the angel came.
Do we have time still
to change our destiny?
There are two sides to every story.
When the angel set his knee down
before her, when he leaned forward
to whisper in her ear, ” Son of God.”
Did she even lift her eyes to look in his face?
Body torn from body, limb letting go
of flower, the weightless
adagio with air, who you believe
you are, exhales
almost as invisible as
pollen blown from the trumpet
of the angel’s mouth, he said,
“Son of God.”
Her hands still stained
with the blood
Aubade / by Maria Nazos
That morning, his parents find a note on the table which makes their heart jump out of the sugar bowl: went to go find god, wrote their son. They run upstairs and throw back the comforter: nothing but feathers. Feathers mean our dead are safe, says the wife. But he is alive. Says the father. They have tried everything to save him: counselors, doctors. Tried to mask the cuts across his arms with a new wristwatch. They look, frantically, rummaging through closets, searching beneath the porch, until they aren’t sure whether they are looking for god or their son. This is it, says the mother. We’ve lost him. She and her husband set out trudging through the woods behind their house, waiting for their hearts to fly up from beneath the leaf piles, or shredded and hanging from branches. But still: only a trail of feathers piled on the ground, tinged with salmon-tips. Where is he? Cries the father. By now, they have begun looking for god in earnest, or the boy, or the god who was also a boy. When they approach the clearing, a weak strain of light pours down: he is sitting at the edge of the pond. They call and call to him and god. He is wearing his ragged black T-shirt. He has plastered black tape across his arms, his hair is cobalt blue. They call and call, but he does not turn. The mother puts her hand on his shoulder, and in slow wonder watches as a red-tipped wing slide through his shoulder blade. She wonders if some people are too gentle for this world. She wonders if maybe she shouldn’t have gripped him so close. She and her husband then watch in slow awe as he turns, and the tape on his arms turn to flesh. His scars disappear. The parents think their minds might be teetering on the edge of a dangerous precipice: but by now there are only white feathers falling down! around them.
Rider by Tom Sterner
As one with the roar of the machine
thundering through the city
tunnels of light
mystical, magical connections
secrets of midnight
Held by a separate wind
accepting, learning, earning its due
sharing its corners
full throttle blind
daring to challenge
limits, conditions, impossible odds
aware, in the moment
dancing with devils
flying through faces of gods
free of the fear of death
Loretta’s Testimony / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
I killed a man
I didn’t mean to kill,
. . . . . . .Your Honor,
I only meant to knock him out –
A posh part of the Southside
on the way to my car
in an alley behind shops
. . . . . . .two of them came out
. . . . . . .opposite me,
a heavy man. . . . . . .a slight woman
all the loud yelling / hitting
were on his side
. . . . . . .she mewed like a wounded
I saw him drop
. . . . . . .something big / square / mallet-like
I stood behind him before I realized I’d run over
he was using hands now. . . . .cuffing her
I grabbed it up (a meat tenderizer?
. . . . . . .they were at the back of the boucherie
probably ran the cheese and meat deli)
I bopped him. . . .hard. . . . .meant to fell him
. . . . . . .so I could get her to the hospital
. . . . . . .when the officer came running
. . . . . . .I told him everything
the truth and nothing but
I really didn’t mean to. . . . . . .kill.
Harrisonburg Homeless / by Jess Young
I am young and have an apartment
An hour-to-hour half covering the till
English muffins, my books, a fish and a snail.
I never could have afforded my mattress,
A gift from my parents so I won’t sleep on the floor.
Once purchased, I cracked, “No wonder there are Homeless.”
400 for a bed, plus 600 in rent and bills?
My father shrugged, “You’ll find there is plenty in life
More expensive than the rent.”
My long-time friend calls the give-and-take
“Playing the game,” a nice way to say freeloaders
should buy something or get out.
They bring free church coffee
To her coffee shop couches
And that is not how the game is played.
One nice man will leave if real business picks up,
With him a simple deal was struck.
I think of them, no mothers lending beds
Congesting street corners, the benches by my office
I see bible salesmen where I once saw panhandlers with signs
And I wonder, did they save them?
Day 2 / Poems 2
comelibros: the girl who eats books / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Kathi Aguero
Kids in school & on my street nicknamed
me “The Brain”. Where their backpacks
slacked, mine swelled with books
from two libraries, some stamped “obsolete”,
mine to keep. Mami called me “comelibros”,
the girl who ate books. Abuela whispered “loca”,
my appetite for books matched her son’s,
an urban hermit in Puerto Rico. He crammed
towers of books into his head.Words gushed
out his mouth – non-stop. I live
in my head to protect my body.
Those Who Want a Mask Have to Wear It / by Steve Bellin-Oka
Where there is sorrow there is
holy ground. I am not worthy of it
yet. Myrrh and cassia. An orchard
made white with broken blossoms,
strewn with fallen fruit. Don’t regret
having lived for pleasure—cheat
the wise crocus into squandering
its gold. Bitter herbs, the low ground
nest of the lark. I was in the pillory:
love is a sacrament taken kneeling,
and I have ruined myself.
(found poem using Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis”)
Day to Day / by Rebecca Ferlotti
I feel the coffee in my eyes –
an abandoned straw.
The table next-door
discusses black licorice
and red wine.
A dog sniffs
and a crumpled napkin.
#HerToo / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
In the middle of the night
her mind wanders to places
it dares not travel during daylight.
She shifts gears
and her thoughts scuttle
her away from dark patches
better left unvisited.
A fragile warrior hides
from monsters of the past
and fights the good
fight to get to sleep.
Behind closed eyes, she distracts
herself with a myriad of daily
to-dos, and that seems butterfly
simple until the sheer number
of them collecting together gets noisy.
Flapping wings of need turn
to a different sound,
blurring into a hum of panic
that revs like an unserviced engine.
Tasks and tasks and lists and lists
Should should shoulds
circle her brain
like vultures seeking tired flesh
of the not-nearly dead — just wounded.
Poem Two: Annunciation / by ava m. hu
He came crawling
on his knees rather
than wings. He,
He, cursed with showing
the outlines of things.
When he arrived
he folded his wings.
Tea leaves settle in a pattern
a fortune teller reads.
of an angel when he touches
his feet down. The unsettling
Was she overshadowed by him?
Was she the vase
in which flowers would grow?
Would she still be touched by light
when no one watched?
She was waiting for the word.
There are wildflowers
in the darkness.
Lily who springs from tears
from the woman who was
expelled from the garen,
chaste lily, frightened lily-
the white armed lily
reaches for her.
she was already one in herself.
The grasses taller
than she remembered.
There was a desire to name things.
We just don’t do things in the dark.
Sixth-Year Vacation / by Maria Nazos
We stood in the park, admiring the view, decompressing
. . . . . . from another one of the same
six-year-old fights. The dialogue so worn, it was practically eaten
. . . . . . by moths, so we could hardly even
recite the words: “Why don’t you want to get married?” I’d ask,
. . . . . . junkie-hungry and irked as a rat
trapped in a coffee can. “Another year.” You’d say, your eyes trained
. . . . . . on a distant sunset, as if chasing the pink streak
of a long skirt. As we walked through the serene green grass,
. . . . . . something crunched beneath my flip-flop—
it was a glittering syringe. They were everywhere, shining, all around
. . . . . . us, almost beautiful, washed in pale gold
by the setting sun, the needles still intact, like tiny narwhales—
. . . . . . We grabbed each other’s hands and walked
quickly out of the park, trying to ignore the sound underfoot,
. . . . . . like dry bones crunched under our thin sandals.
We walked fast: past the man who looked like a bag of bones, but for
. . . . . . sun-battered face, his eyes as bald
as his head. We walked past the strangely thin woman whose neck-
. . . . . . veins bulged, as she lay down beside him, blissfully
oblivious, on the grass. Between her lips, she pinched a tiny red
. . . . . . plunger, about to affix it to the waiting needle—
This must be some version of love: leading each other in blind hope
. . . . . . through danger, even when the outcome is hopeless.
Ignoring the warnings underfoot, keeping our heads up, and our feet
. . . . . . moving towards that last red shred of sun
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .before it slips away.
Weather I Do / by Tom Sterner
Sleeping in until ten
Saturday morning plans
except when your seven-year-old son
is sitting on your chest
six a.m., bouncy-bouncy
Springtime, damned daylight savings time
“Will you take me swimming today, Dad?
Donald and James and Joe wanna come too.”
Who is this noisy creature?
I close my eyes
Maybe it will go away
‘Wish I wouldn’t have used that to
entice him to rise and shine
on school days when he wouldn’t do either’
I think, water dripping off my nose.
I open one eye and smile
resisting the urge to howl in indignation
Instead, “Did you potty the dog, Son?”
“Oops!” He hops off the bed, runs down the hall
I take the opportunity for a potty break myself
determined to spend the day in sweats and t-shirt
I don’t wear pajamas
“Holy shit, Dad! It’s raining like hell!”
I give him that ‘don’t act like me’ look
“Holy moly, Dad. It’s raining like heck.”
I pat him on the shoulder, disappointment in my voice
“Can’t go swimming in the rain
How about some breakfast?”
The boy leaves the room
I head for the kitchen
Boing! Bip-bip, boom, sizzle-bang!
loud television, video game racket
“Hey, Dad, I’m gonna call the guys
have ‘em come over and play video games
Will you make us popcorn?”
Wow, this day’s going to hell in a hand basket
“Hold up!” I cry desperately
“Maybe we should eat and read a chapter book
before you call the wild boys over.”
Mickey Mouse pancakes
Well, sort of
The ears came out pointy instead of round
I couldn’t have made them do that if I tried
He slices off an ear, pops it into his mouth
“Cool bunnies, Dad!”
Yeah, I meant to do that
Children’s faces, expressive, impressive
especially with that look you’ve come to know
as the ‘just for you’ look
“Wow, hey Dad! We can start that rabbit book
I brought home from the school library yesterday.”
Two hours spent learning something about myself
and my son I’d just as soon not have known.
“Don’t say ‘em in voices, Dad.”
He didn’t appreciate my growling and squeaking
when reading to him. But there was more to it
than that in this case.
“I don’t like rabbits doing people things, Dad.
Rabbits aren’t mean and sneaky like that.”
Some years later, I learned there was a word for it
No Google back then
You just had to pay attention to your feelings
research in dictionaries, encyclopedias and such
talk to friends, neighbors, and associates
risk being treated like, feeling like, an idiot
We went outside, my boy and me
What had been a drizzling rain
was now a fine misty miasma
I opened the garage, lit up the barbecue
tore a few pages from the book
breathed deep the smell of their ashes
“Dad, that’s a library book
You can’t do that!”
“I can if I pay for it and I will.”
It took a while but he joined me
amazed and in awe that we would do such a thing
“It’s for the rabbits,” I explained
“And our spirits, what is referred to as a purging.”
“I like the colors in the fire,” he mused dreamily
“And the smoke shapes.”
That afternoon the wild boys came to visit
I took them swimming in the rain
A day for breaking rules, shiver and shake
Later that night, an overnight I was informed
Boing! Bip-bip, boom, sizzle-bang!
Popcorn and video games
“Time for old guys to go to bed,”
I yawned expansively
“Will you read us a chapter story first?”
Off went the television
Munch, popcorn, munch
I harrumphed to summon my best narrative voice
“This is the story of two dogs and a boy”
Cry Out / by Christine Aikens Wolfe
a row of daffodils
. . . . .Spring slow this year
. . . . .to don her finery
turns my smile light yellow
I have been hungry for color
. . . . .lately
everyone so black and white
. . . . .and the spaces in between
. . . . .inconsolable
where the gold that rained down
on Danaë. . . .where the god’s gift
. . . . .where the dancing naiads?
joy. . .frozen. . . . .or frightened
. . . . .in us –
I look to my sources
. . . . .water included. . . . .light
Nature alone reflects what is missing
. . . . .elsewhere
the presence. . .of. . . . .She.
The Writer’s Friend / by Jess Young
Prose and poem
He shook from me
A lucky change of pace
I was amused
By his precocious taste
I never knew
He would exist
When scripture I would fill
A voyeuristic thrill
Then each one stake
Thieving began to tether
To be friends with
The writer is
To lose oneself forever
Day 1 / Poems 1
breaths / by María Luisa Arroyo
for Janet Aalfs
at 47, I re-
turned to my body
belly deep, not frantic
in my throat
doctors called it
I named it pillo
de mis sueños
thief of my dreams
the recliner, my bed
now at 50, I breathe
Report from the Excavation / by Steve Bellin-Oka
These small red truncated cones, stamped SOLO on the underside,
must have been used by priests to capture sky water. They were
unaware, it seems, that rising sea levels would make rain scarce
as the lions that once inhabited their mountains and went
extinct in the geologic period under study, the Plasticene.
And these flat, mangled shreds of clear plastic—many have incantatory
writings: sorbitol, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup. Some experts
believe they were charms against poisoning. Others say they had
so many of these plastic artifacts, of so many colors—green, white,
even blue—they must have been used as money. We will display them
in the museum with holograms contextualizing both interpretations.
We have also unearthed many of their rusted moving dwellings, of all
colors and sizes, though we cannot say why the front areas are all
filled with primitive machinery and hoses or why many families
attached the same nameplates to their houses: Toyota, Ford, Lincoln.
Most baffling to us, though, are the black steel cylinders, some
the length of a human arm, their handgrips embossed with the letters
AR and the number 15, so prevalent in the continent’s middle third,
so scarce at the rest of the planet’s archaeological sites. A technician
turned the hollow end toward his face and squeezed the mechanism
on the handle. His head exploded like a pumpkin thrown at a wall.
Times / by Rebecca Ferlotti
A second grader tells me
his favorite foods are macarons
and mussels –
he makes sure I see him
emphasize the Ms.
The timer beeps.
He leaves me with
a girl who doesn’t know her times tables.
She adjusts the neon rubber bands
embedded in her teeth.
I try to remember 7 x 8,
looking up at the cracked ceiling for a 56
hidden in the spackle.
Dimensional / by Kimberlee Titus Gerstmann
They measure my movement
Muscles stiff as armor.
Each act becomes an ungraceful
dot — a galaxy plotted
in my chart.
with turned up corners
float above the top
of clipboards. Medical
staff note angles and document
degrees of inflexibility.
Pens scratch upon paper,
mapping distance versus time
and ability; a fluctuant
vast and dark
as the Milky Way.
We eclipse. / by ava m. hu
If you feel afraid:
Cry wolf. Shoot arrows
at the moon.
Blood is like a parachute.
Obscured light from body
minus body. Binary pleasure
of finding root.
I call you my other half.
My swallowing mouth.
My moon eat sun.
Night crickets and frogs sing.
Day birds stay silent.
Sea creatures rise to the surface
and sink back again to the deep.
Look at me.
Look at me.
Look at me
as if I were hands
pulling you out
of the dark.
The Living Ghazal / by Maria Nazos
You awaken, go to work, feed a sweet dog, which is half-dead,
You give him bleached bones from last night’s body because you’re dead.
Tonight, ghosts rise like mist from graves, tonight they walk dark streets—
They wear faces of everyone you’ve loved. Their hearts hungry, though they’re dead.
When I asked my mother what the dead eat in heaven, she said there’s nothing
to eat and no one starves, because they’re dead.
Last night, a young woman disappeared into a square of gold corn.
Every billboard had her face, just lost, not dead, said the city and then she’s dead.
An ex-lover hid in your front yard bushes. He watched you sleep.
He just loves you, friends said. You said, help, somebody. But just like that, their ears were dead.
Yesterday, a woman who sang like a broken bluebird was found,
gunned down. The coroner said she’s a he. Male anatomy, oh well: I guess he’s dead.
Alone and backpacking through Belize, I crossed the border into Guatemala;
I’d left a six-year, love: My backpack heavy. My body groggy, but not yet dead.
When I finally allowed another man to enter me, on the beach, after I’d almost overdosed
accidentally, I came back to life, lucky: I wasn’t yet dead.
Because there are those I love who die in foolish ways, and when I
hear overdose, I sigh and say I love you, stupid junkie. Now you’re dead.
Your lover says that when you open your mouth, butterflies fly out, because
you’re so tired, all you have is blind comradery, and then you’re dead.
My name means sea of sorrow. I’d change it, but this is the name beneath
my poems. So I will keep it, hoping you’ll read me when I’m dead.
What does it mean to awaken and hear my name, Maria? It’s just a name
which calls to my tired body, wake up: you’re here and then you’re dead.
Drifting / by Tom Sterner
Drawn to a pair of tulips in the yard
entranced by their delicate
she kneels next to them
hands tingling in anticipation
desire to stroke the wondrous petals
“No,” she chides herself gently
A black wasp lights on the nearest flower
high-steps its way into the yellow-black
heart of the blossom
“Yes, you,” she breathes
A bit of driftwood whisper-winds itself
into the periphery of her vision
She rises, steps quietly toward it
awakened by its everlasting creativity
Twisted, broken, driven to ground
willing itself to the nether vapor
In the moment, she joins it, drifting away
Children of Earth, month of May
The Hair Dream / by Jess Young
Under an Australian sun
Somewhere much further than the
Down bedding I am caught beneath
Black as tar hair bounces from shop to shop
I see, as I obey my subconscious ether,
It is long and gleaming like a tiger’s tooth.
Australia is too far to have been followed
I warn her crop with an ogre’s swipe
My emerald hands grasping at an innocent mane
And I catch it, and I yank it
Until the cement of sleep melts me to my post
Deserted roots dangling from my fist.
It has been a year, and I am awake now.
My foot of matted lock a reminder of unusual
conformity. I am desperate for scissors.