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Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016

Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016

by Sixfold

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2016 Sixfold and The Authors

 

www.sixfold.org

 

Sixfold is a completely writer-voted journal. The writers who upload their manuscripts vote to select the prize-winning manuscripts and the short stories and poetry published in each issue. All participating writers’ equally weighted votes act as the editor, instead of the usual editorial decision-making organization of one or a few judges, editors, or select editorial board.

 

Each issue is free to read online and downloadable as PDF and e-book. Paperback book available at production cost including shipping.

 

Cover Art by Joel Filipe.

http://joelfilipe.com

 

License Notes

Copyright 2016 Sixfold and The Authors. This issue may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for noncommercial purposes, provided both Sixfold and the Author of any excerpt of this issue are acknowledged. Thank you for your support.

 

Sixfold

Garrett Doherty, Publisher

[email protected]

www.sixfold.org

(203) 491-0242

 

 

[]Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016

 

Alexander McCoy | Questions to Ask a Mountain & other poems

Alexandra Kamerling | Prairie & other poems

Debbie Hall | She Walks Into Starbucks Carrying a 2 × 4 & other poems

Michael Fleming | Patience & other poems

Jim Pascual Agustin | Sheet and Exposed Feet & other poems

Melissa Cantrell | Collision & other poems

Martin Conte | Skin & other poems

AJ Powell | The Road to Homer & other poems

Paul W. Child | World Diverted & other poems

Michael Eaton | Remembrances & other poems

Lawrence Hayes | Walking the Earth & other poems

Daniel Sinderson | Like a Bit of Harp and a Far Off Twinkle & other poems

Sam Hersh | Las Trampas & other poems

Margo Jodyne Dills | Babies and Young Lovers & other poems

Nicole Anania | To the Dying Man’s Daughter & other poems

Lisa Zou | Under the Parlor & other poems

Hazel Kight Witham | Hoofbeat Heartbeat & other poems

Margaret Dawson | Daylily & other poems

James Wolf | An Act of Kindness & other poems

Jane A. Horvat | Psychedelic & other poems

Bill Newby | Touring & other poems

Jennifer Sclafani | Hindsight Twenty Twenty & other poems

Contributor Notes

 

 

Alexander McCoy

 

Half-life

 

         brackish boy. looking     like a question needs

 

                   to be answered,     the tooth-end of a smile or

 

       a timebomb, born into     rebel skin, as in

 

where do you come from?     why are you here?

 

 make no mistake, Miami,     they smell the brown on you

 

                            like blood     in the dark.

 

                          in this war     there are no half-lives, either

 

             keep quiet, or else     learn to kill.

 

Slipcast

 

Study this, the cartographer’s map of the face

twenty-two years in the making

much uncharted country yet left to be explored

 

and you will discover a landscape

with monuments bearing no name, whose stories

are heard ringing down decades of damage—

 

tectonic plates grinding behind

cheekbones, summer stormclouds caged

inside eyelids, fault lines carved into smiles.

 

I have buried the faces of sadness

like so many fossils underneath

a million million tons of stone.

 

Over time the residual bits of shrapnel

will sculpt themselves into a slipcast mask,

they will not let themselves be forgotten.

 

Behold! a heavy painter’s canvas, a portrait

thousands of layers thick, fresh faces

slipped into like armor.

 

Do not stare for too long

my truest colors will always bleed

through the cracks of me,

                                              this face,

inherited from a lifetime of dirty laundry

guarded behind dusty closet walls of flesh and bone

from the inside out warped with rot—

 

I cannot figure out how to keep

the smell of the compost pile

from creeping past my eyes,

 

these neon lights blinking on and off

Do Not Enter! Do Not Enter! Do Not Enter!

 

Lowstringin’

 

Lately, I’ve mistaken my shoes

for conch shells, only

when I hold them up to my ears

 

I do not hear swelling

ocean, I hear screaming,

                                                There is nothing left for you here

 

I can read it all over

fading brick faces

lined up crooked like tombstones.

 

The soil that once knew life

on this small patch of ground

I thought I could call my own

 

is now cracked and bloodless,

any familiar faces long since scattered

like anemic autumn leaves.

 

I am going to leave this place if it kills me.

Ask me what my shoes are screaming now

and they will tell you

 

Move as far away from your family as humanly possible,

throw your cellphone into the river

that you might have an excuse when you forget to call

 

leave all of your ironic tee shirts behind

(you won’t need those where you’re going)

 

Keep going until your friends

are nothing more than old ghosts

haunting all of your stories

 

(Remember, you are leaving behind a ghost-town,

only none of the inhabitants have died yet)

 

Keep going until the smell of your house

fades from the lonely pair of jeans

you bothered to pack

 

Keep going so the horizon swallows you whole,

and you find yourself in a strange land

 

where the sidewalk has a pulse

where night is not an anvil pressing against your chest

instead, a fisherman’s net loosed over bright millions, shining

 

Go! Godspeed, you reckless Sailor

In my car I become a satellite.

I treat the solitude of the open sky

as an excuse to see the world,

 

and the instant I stop to catch my breath

is the instant I drop in a blazing downward spiral

with no safety net to catch me.

 

Why should I bother inventing my own traditions

when I will only leave them to starve in the homes I bury?

It would be so much easier to adopt them from the cities I orbit.

 

In the meantime, it’s a long shot to get to Boston,

an endless struggle to get to September,

although it helps to pretend

 

I’m in the middle of a movie montage,

able to skip right to the good parts

just as soon as the staccato of low string music drops out

 

So I’ll want to pick a CD at random and pray

for plenty of cello, light up some cigarettes and drive

head first into a horizon beckoning me with open arms

This must have been how Pioneers felt,

winding up the Oregon Trail

towards nothing more than a smiling promise,

 

walking until they stumbled into a nameless grave,

not because they wanted to

 

nobody wants to die hungry

 

but because their legs never gave them a choice.

They would rather die

with blisters on their feet

 

instead of behind their smiles.

They would have dust coat their teeth

before they would let it settle over their bones.

 

I am going to leave this place if it kills me.

 

Although, on the day that I die, when you ask me

if I want to be buried in Worcester, I will tell you

 

I thought I already was.

 

Swansong for the Concert Pianist, like

 

must’ve finally gone deaf to the melody in these hands like

 

at what point remembering the story of that boy did you

                         condemn him to memory like

 

                         telling that boy he had a piano player’s fingers, needed

                         to grow into them like

                                    ten wisdom teeth crowding the same jawbone

 

                                    never telling him they might

                                    wind up crooked

                                    and so loud like

                                                landmines at the ends of both arms like

                                                                               no man’s land, no land

                                                                                   for nest-making like

 

                         finding that boy curled up

                                    inside a stranger’s handshake, looking

                                                for someone else’s hands like

                                                             teach me how to grow old

                                                                                            like you

 

should’ve taught that boy how to make room

                         for hands like these,

 

                         sing-sorry hands, stagefright hands, these

                         treat pants-pockets as second skin hands, these

                                                  borrowed birds, strangling themselves

                                                  given a moment alone hands like

 

                                    these fingers,

                                                were they piano strings,

                                                they’d be worn chords

                                                chorusing the piano’s broken

                                                                                          teeth

 

Questions to Ask a Mountain

 

My role models are older than most,

world-wise, slow to respond.

I thread questions into cavernous ears,

begging for secrets to whisper up from their veins.

 

                         You silent towers of stone and years! What

                         is it like to be tall—? to live

                                    with your head in the clouds and still

                                    have enough oxygen to survive—?

                         Where do you find the strength

                         to carry the sky on your back

                         on the nights it threatens

                         to swallow you whole—?

                                    Can you teach me how to stand up straight—?

                                    or else how to carve my spine

                                    out of something stronger than doubt—?

                         Can you teach me how to plant my feet

                         so deep in the Earth I never have to worry

                         about being knocked over—?

                                    how to swallow my anxieties,

                                    crush them into diamonds,

                                    bury them so deep they’re worth digging for—?

 

I never learned the subtle art

of stillness; to be most solid when

my body is at rest; to stay in one place

long enough to catch seeds on my tongue

and carve my story out of the treebark.

For once, I want a home to grow on me.

 

                         You ancient titans standing guard

                         over the world like teeth!

                                         Make me into a giant, a force

                         to reconsider, something to look up to.

                                         Give me so much mass

                         to withstand hurricane winds

                                         erupting from the throats of those

                              who would see me eroded,

                         would see me leveled out, see me even, see me

and never even hear me!

 

My role models are proof the world

grows by inches. Only now

am I learning my echo,

my echo is a gift falling

from their mouths. I marvel

my voice can be so loud,

that my words are worth repeating.

 

And I will learn to show the world that I am large,

that you need to crane your neck

to see how high am I willing to reach

when I want to grab ahold of the stars

and carry them around in my pockets.

 

If my shoulders are too broad

for you to walk over, I will not crumple,

an obstacle waiting belly up for the bulldozer.

You may howl until there is no wind

left in your lungs, but you can never

break me all the way down, you will never

grind me into something smooth.

 

My belly is too full of smoke.

 

And you will behold me

as I block out the sun

when I open

my

mouth.

 

 

Alexandra Kamerling

 

Plymouth

 

In lieu of collecting rocks or coins or stamps, she collects places and hands them down to me. When I ask her what she can still smell and hear from her childhood in Kansas, she says she can smell the engine of her father’s Plymouth and hear the wind as it traveled over nothing.

 

How Long She Walked

 

The house I walked towards was graying and frail. It sat alone in a sea of wheat, collecting wind through the open windows. From a distance it was barely there.

 

Inside the house sat my grandmother at 19, playing Solitaire at the kitchen table. She wore work clothes covered with dirt but her nails and lips were both a deep crimson, and her red hair was carefully gathered and twisted like a conch shell at the nape of her neck. We greeted one another, and she went down to the cellar for an extra chair, coming back instead with a bag of potatoes, a record player, and two pieces of chocolate wrapped in wax paper.

 

A year must have passed and then the house shook us out and dissolved in a pool of dust and copper kettles. My grandmother put on her work boots and marched towards the road. I don’t know how long she walked, but I do know that in this place the vastness swallows and the road is straight.

 

I left with the powder blue bathtub, which is what I had come for.

 

What Did You Learn 
When You Spoke to Her?

 

This small thing—

 

That she liked to sleep

with her hands on her ribs

so that her fingers fit

into the shallow grooves

and would rise and

fall with her breath.

 

That she’d always felt

there was an

old and low music

within her

 

and this was the proof

 

moon

pulled breath carving the tide

into her body

 

Prairie

 

In the car with my mother

we speed along the straightest road

I have ever seen

the thin thread of asphalt

never wavering from its route

to the end of the earth.

Here in western Kansas we feel alone.

 

This is where my mother’s love of vast space

was planted

and so sifted down to me

we are both unable to breathe

in the density of forest.

 

A few cups of

bitter gas station coffee

later and we’ve arrived

at the farm house with its

whitewashed walls and

powder blue bathtub

and the oak that coats the porch with shadow.

It’s empty now

the house where my grandmother lived

and lost her own mother.

 

Trailing my fingers along the kitchen counter

I wonder if the dust still has a lingering particle

of these women

I watch my mother

climb into the blue bathtub

and rest her head on its cracked edge.

 

Gathering

 

If I could

collect

your bones pick

them up

piece by piece

 

so that they

became not

wrist or sternum

but driftwood

 

travelers

left by water

a last impression

of a passing life

 

 

Debbie Hall

 

She Walks Into Starbucks 
Carrying a 2 × 4,

 

her frayed wool greatcoat

scented with mold, white hair swirling

about her face as she scans the room

and shuffles to the counter

for a free coffee sample and cup of water.

 

Without warning, she lifts her 2 × 4

and swings at the air behind her,

sends the other patrons fleeing

like a small burst of quail startled

from their bushes.

 

Let this serve as a warning,

she shouts to the air above her.

Perhaps there are malevolent spirits

that hover above her,

follow her wherever she goes,

 

or perhaps she is simply announcing

herself, claiming her right

to walk on this small patch

of real estate, to step across the thin line

separating us from her.

 

The Geese at Camp Fallujah

 

Next to the city of mosques stretching

across arid land, a compound

of tents and concrete buildings

 

stood next to a water supply—The Pond.

In a landscape where Humvees roared in,

 

kicking up great clouds of sand,

and Howitzers fired into air

electric with conflict, the geese

 

presented their newborn

balls of fuzz with orange beaks

to a city of Marines in camouflage.

 

Each night after dropping

75-pound packs onto hard earth,

the men checked on the downy goslings,

 

keeping count of each one

until the babies grew plump and tall,

ambled down the road with their flock

 

past sandbagged bunkers

in the rising light of dawn.

 

Why Stray Cats Loiter Around The Duarte Family Mausoleum

 

That day the sky was brushed with a wash of cirri

at the Recoleta Cemetery. The Argentinian workers

wove their way through thick clots of tourists choking

 

the gateway. Twelve stray cats emerged from the dark

of the tombs and began a procession past the doorways

of deceased notables. A one-eyed tomcat sniffed the marble

 

statuary lining the lanes and lifted his tail

to spray the slumbering boy angel before nibbling

the crumbs of empanadas. He stopped to rub against

 

the doorway to Evita’s final home, shining the bronze

with his whiskers before hissing at a groundskeeper

who kicked him away like a wad of trash. The Lady of Hope

 

kept a silent watch over this bit of cruelty, but stray cats

know that Little Eva will take care of them. Yesterday

they saw her in the eyes of a dowager offering small morsels

 

of herring and biscuits. Today she inhabits a spray of water

washing the dust from their thin, matted coats. Tomorrow

they will hear her voice call to them from deep in her vault,

 

once more inviting them into the shadows, safely home,

away from our indifferent cameras, our transient curiosity.

I saw how they ignored me and expected nothing else.

 

Sean

 

As a teen, rules and responsibility were never your strong suit.

At least you shrugged them off quietly—

no grand displays of defiance or bravado, no swearing

 

or railing at the unfairness of it all. You never labored

over explanations or rationalizations, much preferring

the comfortable mantle of passivity. You were sympathetic

 

to others’ frustrations with you—your wasted intellect,

lack of application, no concern for your future. You joined your family

in throwing up hands of exasperation over you.

 

Years of therapy chipped away at the early traumas: Dad—drunk,

hands in the wrong places on your sister. On you.

You shrugged that off too. Asked about your feelings, you let

 

your sister speak for you, let her pain describe yours, watched her

work through the hard stuff. You played a supporting role.

When I saw you years later, you wore a uniform of pressed navy,

 

crisp white and confidence. You shared your plans for the future

as though they’d been in your head all along. Imagine my shock,

then, when I heard about your car, abandoned at the top

 

of the Mason Street Bridge, no note in sight. I read

the tributes to you on our hospital’s website, details about your

funeral. Front and center, your picture, your grin—now gone.

 

Missing Jayden

 

Here in front of me—in my memory—

stands a small boy,

his nose almost touching mine,

 

his sloe-eyed gaze an invitation.

He is talking with great intensity

about vacuum cleaners.

 

Hoover is his favorite brand.

He wants to know mine

and how many do I own right now.

 

Apparently he is a hellion

in his kindergarten classroom.

His principal and teacher assert

 

that he has little respect

for authority, as he routinely

fails to follow instructions

 

and interrupts them constantly,

sharing facts about vacuums

and their accessories.

 

His grandmother cares for him

while his mother marks time with heroin

and his father does time upstate.

 

She loves him but is plumb out of ideas

and bone-tired. Jayden enjoys our testing

sessions, especially before and after,

 

when we extend our dialogue

about vacuum cleaners. He would like

a new one, but cannot afford it.

 

When I tell his grandmother

that Jayden is a bright boy with autism,

her eyes fill up with liquid relief.

 

Jayden’s school does not take as kindly

to this news, certain that he is just

a smart boy behaving badly

 

and has us conned. It took two weeks

to spring Jayden from the special school

for behavior problems, two months

 

to finish talking about his time-outs

in the isolation room. At our last session

together, Jayden held a photo in front

 

of my face, almost touching my nose.

In it, he stood next to his new blue Hoover,

its extra-long hose wrapped around his waist.

 

 

Michael Fleming

 

The Signalman’s Story

 

December 7, 1941

 

What do you do with the news? When the call

comes in from Honolulu—Sunday morning,

the San Francisco coast is clear, all

the other men asleep—nobody warned

you, just a kid from St. Cloud, that today

you would handle history’s lightning bolt,

you would be the first to know. Do you pray?

No one even knows the words: Midway, Gold

Star Mothers, Guadalcanal, Saipan, loose

lips, Hiroshima. Right now it belongs

to you, alone at the teletype. Refuse

to believe, as if you could choose? Not wrong,

not right. What do you do with the news?

You do your duty: you pass it along.

 

Alcova, 1971

 

Thirteen, so I knew all about it—how

to tack, how to jibe, how to sail it flat

on a broad reach or close-hauled, with the prow

pointed home, the foam boiling astern, cat’s-

 

paws ghosting the water, the telltale clues

to the fickle mind of the wind—yes, I

knew all that, I’d read not one book, but two,

so all those words were mine. He let me buy

 

it: bright yellow Sunfish, thirteen feet, used,

let me launch it just two weeks after ice-

out on a raw, squally spring morning, too

soon but I couldn’t wait, wouldn’t wait, I

 

said I was ready and hoisted the sail,

cleated the halyard, ducked the boom that missed

my head by inches, inducted myself

into the Order of the Orange Life-Vest—

 

he cinched me in tight. I clambered aboard,

took up the tiller, fumbled for the sheet,

squinted into the wind like Nelson, Hornblower,

Jones. I said I was ready. He

 

pushed out the prow, reconsidered, then stepped

a big step, unexpected, irretrievable—

barely onboard as the boat leapt

ahead, already planing, the wind heaved

 

its shoulder full force into the sail’s belly,

and I hadn’t thought of any of this—

how it would really feel, surging pell-mell

into the lake, hearing the frantic hiss

 

of cold water gurgling beneath us, how

the sheet would cut into my untested

right hand, or how the hull would buck and jounce

while my left fought a phantom that arm-wrestled

 

me for the tiller. I hadn’t dreamed

of fear, of being overmastered—my

command redoubled. We beat a hard beam

reach, downwind fifty yards, no more, and I

 

shouldn’t have fought the gust that turtled us,

should have dropped the tiller, let the sheet slip

harmless from my stubborn fist, should have trusted

the old adage—just let go, the ship

 

will find its own level—but no, I held

on tight and over we went, first a shock

knocked me breathless, electric ice, the shell

of the hull rolled belly up and it rocked

 

away from my groping, squirted away

slick, ungrabbable, the daggerboard streaming

snotbrown water, and then—what? I may

have lunged for his flailing hands, may have screamed

 

Dad!—may even have seen him go down, slip

silently down while I bobbed above, useless

as a newborn in the bright orange grip

of the vest—I may have watched myself lose

 

him, may have seen what I had to unsee,

to make unhappen: his face disappearing

into the deep beneath. Some fury

of refusal possessed me—no, not here,

 

no, not now, no, no—possessed me to poke

my frozen fingers at the frozen buckles

savagely till they gave, the vest broke

away like a parachute and I ducked

 

myself madly ass over end, kicked, felt

the burden of my clothes, my shoes, the skull-

crushing cold, I came to him, saw him still

sinking, still, like a statue in the dull

 

filtered light, a waxen head with arms raised

as if in blessing, or forgiveness, or

surrender, blank bewilderment, a dazed

emptiness, limply sinking. I lunged for

 

his wrist, latched on, kicked hard, up, clumsily

tugged him up toward the light, up, I clawed

for the light, lungs heaving, up, suddenly

broke the surface, gasping violently—by God

 

he breathed too, coughed up water, breathed again.

Dad! I sputtered. Are you okay! He nodded

dully, eyes half shut, lay shivering when

I draped his arms across the gently bobbing

 

hull, hooked the frozen claws of his hands

on the upended chine just as the roar

of a motor approaching fast, a friend

appeared (the man who ran the music store

 

in town), he’d seen it all, revved his ski-boat,

rescued us. I don’t seem to recall how

we ever managed to get warm, how we got home—

another thing we never talked about.

 

The Brace

 

I was afraid to look at it, afraid

to touch it. The cold steel plate that mapped

the curve of his torso, the canvas straps,

buckles—when it was invoked, I obeyed.

 

It scared me more than the scar itself, neck

to tailbone, the incision and the sutures,

a faint pink highway of pain. I knew

the story: Montana, a horse, the wreck.

 

He never complained—not to me. He’d say,

“Maybe you can help me . . .” and Mom would add,

“Or does your dad have to put on the brace?”

As soon as he died she threw it away.

 

Patience

 

A music man, my father—always whistling,

singing, mastering the flute. He did

it all, loved it all, called it his ministry

—a true amateur, even amidst

his gleaming instruments and X-rays—dentist

was just his day job.

                                  Evenings were

for practice—lessons, band—and Sundays meant

mass, incense and bells, and God must have heard

what all of us heard: he sang for his soul

in a thunderous baritone.

                                           Even better

than the hymns and churchly rigmarole

were Gilbert & Sullivan shows. He let

me tag along—Mikado, Ruddigore,

Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Pinafore.

 

His favorite? Hard to say. He cut a dapper

figure as a commodore, was paired

with the handsomest matrons, doffed a cap

like he did it every day.

                                       In the glare

of the footlights he found reality

in make-believe, his face behind the makeup.

When they did The Mikado he’d be

Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else, never break

character, ever so pompous, so stern,

so silly. He had it all in him.

                                                 Pillow-

bellied and berobed, he took his turn

with eyes painted Japanese, high plains style.

He sang while assuming a sumo stance,

and brought down the house with his Pooh-Bah dance.

 

I saw all the Patience rehearsals, sat

in the back of a drab, musty old gym

while the prairie howled outside.

                                                        Maybe that’s

when the notion first took root, in the dim

confines of adolescence, childhood’s winter,

that poetry is ridiculous. Night

after night I took it all in: the thin,

simpering figures of poets, their tight

velvet knee britches, their lavender-scented

hankies, their frilly cuffs. No one laughed

harder than I did—I got what it meant.

But my dad was a dragoon, a man after

all, and that’s how I learned that men wear swords—

something to sing is the whole point of words.

 

for my father

 

 

Jim Pascual Agustin

 

Sheet and Exposed Feet

 

My mother thinks little of ironing

clothes. They gather wrinkles

as soon as you put them on,

she says. Even the collar made stiff

 

with starch will get creased

in no time. She knows we all die

crumpled and naked in God’s

eyes. You don’t get to choose

 

the surface your skin must finally

press against as it bears the weight

your soul once carried. The softest

cotton, fine grain of wood,

 

tiny teeth of gravel, the twisting

arms of waves or burst of flames,

will bind to your flesh

until you are no more

 

than broken links of carbon.

For those waiting to be identified,

heaven is a white sheet too short

to cover their feet.

 

International Space Station, 
23 July 2014

 

on a photo by Alexander Gerst

 

Light, invisible unless it strikes

something: a wall, a tree, a sliver

of smoke, your eye. Fireworks makers

know how to make light whirl

 

and dance, displacing the stars

of midsummer or grip of winter.

Entranced, one can only surrender.

If you didn’t know what the bursts of light

 

Alexander Gerst had captured in space,

you could be forgiven for thinking

they were beautiful, like filigree

or deep sea creatures. But there,

 

dark waters bordered

by a scattering of lights, the beach

where four children playing

were blown up.

 

Crocodiles in Belfast

 

The morning radio reports

another crocodile attacked a woman

in Belfast. She was washing a bucket

to be filled with river water to carry

 

back home. Two other women armed

with buckets were around. They screamed

and clattered the hollow plastics,

swung them against the crocodile’s sides

 

until it released the woman’s leg.

Annoyed, it withdrew to a quieter

part of the river to wait in silence

for another meal. The news

 

will soon be forgotten

before the woman’s leg heals.

But she will be going back

to the river’s edge

 

while the drought extends its grip

on the land and the men

of the village go in search

for work elsewhere in Mpumalanga.

 

Women and Children First

 

A woman, her grip

tight as a fist, is pulling back

the hijab of another woman.

 

In the same frame, a boy

with rubber sandals is poised

to land a kick on her thawb.

 

Just look closely.

The soldiers

in the background

aren’t doing anything.

 

 

Melissa Cantrell

 

Collision

 

You were always there, it seemed, at the edges,

gripping the hems of my weekend scenes.

 

I, the allegiant regular—

The bartenders knew my bottles,

allowed tabs. I did not bluster, or get muddy.

I left upright, with dignity and dollars in my pocket.

 

You flitted, sulked, and roamed all over the joint,

your orbit slushy, sequenced to a design

only you could follow.

 

Some nights, you plinked an entire roll of quarters into the jukebox,

sifted out some lovelies from the stacks:

Donny Hathaway if you ached.

Coltrane for storms, sorting the debris in your head.

Zeppelin or Jack White, if you wanted to brawl.

You screamed for someone to turn it up.

Swagger with a pool cue guitar.

 

I caught you howling in the bathroom once.

Pretended I hadn’t, and retreated.

You came out wearing lipstick the shade of an open vein

and left with your arms around a dizzy girl,

her neck spattered crimson.

You probably weren’t merciful that night.

 

You were discussed.

 

She spreads trouble.

Rowdy.

 

I outgrew turbulence long ago.

Tossed it furious and berserk and spitting,

a mad thing with plague in its blood.

Shirked a bursting city too gutter sharp for me

and staggered West, to unravel in peace

with the rest of the quiet folk.

 

So I tried to ignore you.

 

But you just bustled in tonight,

all yawning havoc and catastrophe,

and skid a glass next to mine,

your ante for uprooting my waveless world.

 

Spark

 

July 7th, and the fireworks loiter—

Elemental fizzles to my north,

cracking the night open

like a lover with rude hands.

Take that. Feel that.

A wallop of copper, zinc, aluminum, iron.

Most times, the chemistry gets folded up,

discarded beneath the shiver and boom.

Forgetting,

Or not caring:

 

We quarter the same fuels, tourists in our blood.

 

We’re burning up there, too.

 

Affliction

 

At the next table, intruding—

a clump of youth.

Crooked, dropped-razor hair, unfinished faces.

Kick started and roaring,

slinging wide ideas over waffles and eggs.

 

You drag out the usual colossal savages to debate:

Death. War. Love.

But remotely, just nibbling the corners.

Notions deprived of knowing anything so stout,

or final, as those beasts.

Ozone and poses in your mouths.

The residue left when experience withers,

and all your crowing gives out.

 

Something mean uncoils in me at your noise.

I want to say:

 

You are as significant as ortolans,

glutted with a mash of half-grown gospel.

Your end will be just as horrible,

but you won’t gnash or scrabble

when the brandy barrel locks shut.

Taken by surprise.

Compromised.

 

(Your ramparts were so radiant, so tough, how did they fail?

Cobbled of followers, feeds, personas—

garbage slathered in every crevice, to keep out the rain and ruin.)

 

Spines duped into believing

a hashtag hits harder than what’s waiting for you outside,

in the years rattling ahead.

I’ve met the slashing gods.

 

I’ve learned to salute lesser ones.

Those who really understand how to sink into the gray spots:

Comfort. Quiet. Rest.

The burn cures of aging.

 

I want to say these things.

Give warning before you tumble out of this place.

Be the sapped, seen-it-all diviner

who lurches in, rips up your rails,

alters the story before it’s too late.

 

Instead, I let you carry on.

(Struck feeble and flightless.)

 

Pay my check.

 

Leave you to prod giants,

already hearing your bones crunch between their teeth.

 

 

Martin Conte

 

Hair

 

Without the princess headdress,

    jango jive do rag,

mother’s skull stretched bare—

spotty crust of hilltop,

tall grass are clumps of hair,

decaying under boulder.

Tufts clung where she left them

    to stick from kerchief—

my Queen, my Hippolyta—

stray antennae, strands of memory.

 

She came downstairs uncovered once,

emerged earthworm, caught me

    with eyes wide.

This mother not mine, this woman

    unknown. Once,

 

when I was four, I learned to braid

    her waist length cascade,

fibers of her being, feeling part—

Oh Queen, Oh Hippolyta—

of her tumorless universe.

 

After chemo, it grew in

gray and brittle, a brillo scrub.

She chopped it to military attention.

Now it drapes, chainmail of the knight,

clinking over shoulders, shining with frost.

 

My Queen, My Hippolyta:

you are dressed for battle.

 

Skin

 

Ichthyosis is a family of disorders characterized by dry or scaly and thickened skin. 
— NIH

 

When Narcissus finally disturbed the water,

out leapt a salmon, shimmered fish

to baby, human, unwieldy and foreign,

landlocked lips chapped without gills.

 

My body was disaster, dying faster

day by day. I was no miracle

no flower petals here, just

suicidal sandpaper scales.

My grandfather, filleting fish,

fit me in the skin.

Ichthyosis, jutting long line in a short poem.

 

At school they ooh and aah

queues of them to touch the grit,

crinkling white clutch shunting

off a dying birch.

Show them the unaching scars

as if I received these

symboled marks

for their breath only!

says Coriolanus in English class.

We’re their side-show, a need

to know how riddled we are, and so

to feel smooth themselves.

 

Will they recognize me

in tomorrow’s skin suit

rioting roots beneath

the bed, polluted air

of me and my dead?

 

Have they consumed me yet?

 

I die faster

minute by minute.

 

Flesh

 

4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie . . .

 

as the needle’s eye looks for mincemeat inside.

Who knew they could all fit?

Unfolding a thousand times

over, from plant to blue to needle’s plow

across the blank hayfield of my leg.

They’re coming up for me.

How do they see through

such a black lens?

The crow’s sense

is underestimated

at the estimator’s expense.

 

“What will you name her?”

the tattoo mystic says to me,

tickling my thigh like a baby’s,

while the crow’s belly

with its tender sheet

inches over my shy body

like ink on the underside of heaven.

 

She’s made it over my chest,

nipples a smudge,

disappearing towards my inside

horizon, hairy skies.

My skin repeating itself,

black limb on black limb

making what white is left glow alien,

splintered web of moon

at the bottom of a stone well.

 

the punk poet tattoo lady

has a mother’s unbreaking touch.

The crow’s wing brushes

the nape of my neck.

I’m drowning in them.

 

Crows don’t down,

their baby feathers

are never found.

 

 

AJ Powell

 

The Road to Homer

 

As the brief night lifts its gray blanket

My eyes drink long draughts of wilderness

 

The road is hedged by granite crumble and rock slab

The flora is white lace and purple garnish

 

Peninsular waters of cold turquoise flash sunlight

Off the wings of a blanched low-soaring seabird

 

Waterfall strands plummet past the height of skyscrapers

Down mountain mammoths my sight can’t keep in frame

 

Clouds in highest climes perch on peaks

Like egrets on the shoulders of elephants

 

The spires of this cathedral are green tangle-trees

Snagging my soul on their branches

 

My throat is thick with gasping

I am diminutive and wide-eyed

 

My senses are swallowed

By the ample world

 

If civilization drowns in the ices we melt

I will come here, become a bear,

And feast on salmon and honey

 

Caterpillar Girl

 

Daughter, did I step on you?

Caterpillar of my heart

With your spiney sensitivity

Feeling for the world’s

Hard corners and soft edges

Inching along

Bristly-soft and vulnerable

 

You taste and test

And button-hunt and press

And press and press

To know your power

Build your defenses

Arm yourself and

With charm and glances

Disarm us

 

My foot falls heavy and large sometimes

My beak-like words

Peck and threaten to consume

Your still-soft self

I am sorry

I will do better to protect for you

This world-sized, lifelong

Chrysallis

 

Your wings are readying

Present and developing

At times dampened by sorrow

And the everyday betrayals we adults visit upon

You and all child-hearts

 

Inch along still, growing girl

Travel and transform

Then

       Spread

              Lift

                  Ascend

But perch again

Near

I’ll tame my steps yet

 

Sandpaper on Silk

 

Life is sandpaper on silk

Snags are inevitable

When the beautiful and the rough

Rub against each other like lovers

 

It isn’t the sandpaper’s fault

Ontologically speaking

It has its place, can make

A hewn log as smooth as . . .

 

Silk too has its attributes

A fragile beauty which

Falls like water, whisper soft on skin

(Though I’m not sure the worm’s perspective on it)

 

Life is the terrible disappearing space between them

The unraveling of fine things

Brought too close for their own good

Balmy summer temperatures meet ice caps

And all our polar bears are left drowning

Lives march to matter more than gunshots

Neighborhoods divide along fault lines

Of difference and indifference

Mid-life crises leave children

Half-orphaned every other week and holidays

 

How can we contain our contradictions?

How do we reconcile

Peace and power

Romance and reality

The Just Cause and the just flawed

Without tearing up hearts or

Lopping off heads in private jihads

Bloody and holy and now?

 

Life is sandpaper on silk

Or a junkie’s temporary ecstasy

Or a flaming marshmallow—sugar turned to ash

 

Sun Salutation

 

We rest at night under star shine or cloud cover

Forgetting

The sun is always mountaineering

 

Our sun makes a repetition of ascents we suckle on

Like a baby at the breast, hovering hummingbird at blossom

We sip and sup the sun assuming

She will never tire, always return

 

The golden orb sits herself upon the horizon

Gathers her breath

And begins her climb to the peak of the sky

Only to descend from her zenith

To a rest she never reaches

Finding yet another day to scale

And so she clambers on

Delivering again to us

The gossamer goodness

Of her warmth and illumination

 

When the world turns cactus on us

When our atmosphere burns toxic with vitriol

When life is a live wire that snaps toward our hearts

When our minds lay the lash down on our own backs

Then let us look up

The sky is firmament

And we are living upside-down

 

So in the morning

I will sit under the caress

Of the sun’s side-slanting first rays

And consider my small self

I will watch the sun Rise

Gather my thankful breath

And proceed, breathing

 

Leaping with Esther

 

“Who knows whether,” or so the story goes, “you have been lifted up

For such a time as this?”

A question, not a statement:

Who knows whether?

For there is God’s grace spread abroad in the world

And then there is consistent stupidity and even

Dumb Luck

 

I for one can’t tell the difference

Most days are through a glass darkly

And no clarion Christ calls to me

From the noise of my circumstances

God visits me like light skipping on water

My life briefly blessed by

A ripple that makes me blink

And but for my watering eyes

I might not know it was there

Such is the God I know and love

Better by the contours of my longing

Than my faith

 

So, “Who knows whether?”

A grand Maybe, a glorious Perhaps

Holding familiar uncertainties:

Dark Humor and Bright Pain and “Who knows whether?”

A plan exists, things come together for good

Or

We are simply spinning unhinged in a fathomless sky

 

All we know is Esther

Writhed in great anguish, risked her very life

For permission to throw a cocktail party

She must’ve read the Psalmist who penned the 23rd:

Yay though I walk

              “Fast for me.”

Through the Valley of Death

              “If I perish I perish”

Thus she dressed in her best,

Prepared to gamble on her best guesses

And charmed a way for her people

Out of holocaust

 

The Jews weren’t annihilated in Persia after all

She thwarted schemes; they didn’t perish

But their defense went on the offensive

And the almost-annihilated became annihilators

Esther spoke up again and

(Please God, in time to stop the wheel

Of blood feud revenge cycles from turning)

Decreed instead another party

To turn mourning into dancing

Replacing war with a holiday

(Teaching us not to fight for salvation

But to dance for it)

 

Esther I think had a wicked sense of humor

A gallows humor

And God seems to have a gallows humor too

Giving us the gift of just one certainty—

A certain death—

Then spinning a Resurrection tale

We are invited to believe

In a scarlet thread and a golden dawn

Thorny crown and crystal throne

Bloodied crossbeam and rolled away stone

God is Absurd

Which is perhaps why I—the only way I could—

Believe

Only in a dancing Jester God, a Jokester with the Perfect Prank:

To love us, each and every fucking one

Alleluia

 

 

Paul W. Child

 

World Diverted

 

Earth takes us in awhile as transient guests;

we live by habit, which we must unlearn.

     Anna Akhmatova, “There Are Four of Us”

     (translated by Stanley Kunitz)

 

The river where the Sioux boys dashed the carp

upon the rocks because they were trash fish

was dammed up and diverted.

The boys I feared and envied

not because they were Sioux boys

but because they skipped school,

fishing irreligious all day long,

are dead in gunfights now, parched with thirst from type 2 diabetes,

cirrhotic in the penitentiary,

reading Zane Grey pulp with yellowing eyes.

 

The house I lived in as a boy

in the South Dakota town of trains and steeples,

came down in a maul of clattering hammers,

clutter of grey plaster, laths, and horsehair,

a house so broken by the generations

of Irish bully-boys and coal-haired shy colleens long-dead

I doubt that anyone even noticed

the hole I bored with penknife in the bedroom wall

to watch my virgin aunt Peg in the bath

while the world took turns,

a peephole moon cast shadows on the snow,

and icicles wept out their days upon the muntins.

 

The cathedral school in which I learned my Latin and long lessons,

timid as a chapel mouse beneath the towering eyes

of black and frowning nuns,

closed when the young priest

with the shock of chestnut hair

whom in my genuflections I tried so hard to please

but whose eye always narrowed

on my pretty little brother,

was sent for some mysterious reason back to Flandreau,

with the last tall nun on the last day

when I slammed down the lid

of the long-suffering wooden desk

at the last 3:30 bell and raced down to the river

to watch the Sioux boys dash the heads of carp

upon the rocks, the shattered orange-pink scales,

the cloy of fish-slick stones and slip of mucus,

tangled filament and hooks, sad, broken lips.

 

If you look for the old cathedral school, the house, the boys,

you will not find them where they were

in their accustomed places in that northern town.

If you look tonight for the cold winter moon,

you will not find it where you left it,

shining on the trainyards and the roofs of rooming houses.

 

And if you look for me tomorrow,

you will not find me who I was.

The world has unlearned all of its long habits.

I never was the world’s guest; the world was mine.

 

The Fault, Dear Brutus

 

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars

but in our cells, ghost ships shuttling our wills

upon the busy enzymatic tides

to the far outposts of the bone and nerve.

 

My cunning and my hatred of smug men,

that balding, simpering queen of Bithynia

whom Nicomedes pinned down on his couch,

a despot lubricate with Asian spittle,

the great man twittering like a conquering moth,

were stitched into my chromosomes at birth,

a hate so great that even as a boy

I took on Sulla’s brat in fisticuffs

and would have kicked his shins and blacked his eye

if our tutor had not separated us.

 

And now while we fret idle, driftwood fools,

this ponce plays pretty at the falling sickness,

foaming at the mouth, when it’s convenient,

knowing that a strapping young centurion

will force his sword between his yellowed dentures

to keep the prick from biting off his tongue.

And this is Rome?

 

Friend, the things that we might do together,

I, jackal-headed, dangerous, and you,

a handsome man born in a wicked world

where beauty cruelly tyrannizes men;

I, busy in the history of knives

while Porcia stabs your palate with her tongue

and twists her fingers in your glossy curls.

This temporizing will no longer do,

for scheming with slack nerve is impotent,

and beauty has responsibilities.

 

Let’s make this despot his own haruspex,

his final words not et tu Brute but

my uncoiled entrails tell me that I’ll die

of daggers here upon the Senate steps.

(His self-reflections never trawl too deep.)

 

I know a vates who is serviceable,

has ominous dates at hand for any month,

and falconer for hire who’ll let his birds

out for a nighttime shrieking. We’ll consult

the almanacs to find the perfect day

when the moon blot out the sun in an eclipse;

the comets, bloody rain, and all the rest

we can manage easily with lasers.

 

Our will will find some willing conduit,

a scruffy earringed small-town English hack

who’ll make a shilling on the London stage,

and if his Cassius is pimply-faced,

his Brutus snuffling through a crooked septum,

and if we cringe when they fall clumsily

upon their wooden swords, at least they play

at our brave deeds—but only if we act.

 

Sure, old kings will still go mad upon the moors

and drunken porters piss on Scottish doors

because they do, because they always have,

but if our fate be stranded in the cells,

the blackamoor won’t suffocate his bitch,

those dago teens won’t feel each other up

and kiss themselves to death in the cold tomb,

that moping Danish prig will fail to act,

resort instead to Prozac for his moods.

 

So, brother, if you find your will is stalled,

a trireme stilled in cytoplasmic seas,

if you don’t have the requisite x-y,

I know a woman who is man enough

to make her point by stabbing her own thigh,

a manic virago who understands

the hate of tyranny cannot be quenched,

as you must certain find out when she snuffs

the orange coals of her tongue in your pretty mouth.

 

The Muse I Married

 

The muse I married, my prophetess and seer,

who once arrested lightning from the gods,

now gossips at the fence with Kathy Kuhar;

sinks to her Slavic ankles in the backyard mud,

her hair tacked up with clothespins;

whinnies out I saids, she saids, he saids

and clucks about the Devlin girl’s behavior.

 

The mad, divining bride who shook in fits

when random gales of gods blew through her,

now hikes up her skirts at every chance she gets

and dances to amuse the neighbor girls.

 

Oh where is inspiration when the crazed

Cassandra of North Sawdust Drive

who stood upon a scaffolding of stars and seas

and screeched out oracles

now snores in front of flinty television skies,

her eyes rolled back like clamshells,

while I warm coffee from the day before

and pack the children’s lunchpails?

 

Oh where is inspiration when the mad suburban sibyl

who, frenzied, read the flights of birds,

hair scratching like barbed wire at the sky,

now gabbles on and on and on and on

with recipes for budget-saving chicken,

bawling halfway up and down our street in self-congratulations,

giddy with the noise of her own tongue?

 

Or have the gods themselves descended

to shouting out the weather and trifling cures for head lice,

to recipes for scouring sinks and haggling over prices,

to meddling with a pretty girl’s fall from grace?

 

The gods, I know, will always speak in riddles,

which we may never understand.

But must I scribble down this silly hinny’s chatter

to catch at the divine wind?

 

Astyanax in Dactyls

 

Hiding in bellies of airplanes, the wicks of their eyes soaked in petrol, the

Argive terror come once again with the dawn bloody-fingered and wearing white

helmets of tusks stitched together like dominoes made out of shiny-toothed

boars, the blind killers, to topple the topless two towers in a frenzy of

fire the city of commerce and industry, boulevards, subways, and

tony boutiques in an orgy of butchery, huge broken knuckles of

gashed stone and spears of plate glass tall as Trojans, the vast bloody cakes of red

flesh raining down in a glutting of swords while the knees of the towers were

buckling, the Hudson become once again the Scamander still burning, the

sacrifice billowing up to the ravening skies of Manhattan.

 

                                                                                                          Those

breakers of horses some two hundred fell from the floors of the towers to

graved paving stones: Some were pushed by a crush at the windows, some blinded by

smoke smut too stupid to know they had come to the edge, and still other ones

leapt for their lives to their deaths, choking better to drown in the air than to

drown in the wash of the suffocate petrol. Some jumpers held hands as they

drafted down. Friends? perhaps lovers? or two who had shared the same cubicle

twenty-three years without saying hello but determined that though we must

die by ourselves they would not die alone. And the pimply-faced red-headed

boy from the mailroom too shy till this moment to speak to her takes by the

hand the plump married young mother of two from the Bronx and through snaggled teeth

whispers her, “So it is time. Shall we go?”

 

                                                                                   Videos show these lost

fallers of Ilium drifting down raglike or fluttering excited, some

playing at somersaults, aerialists frolicking each in performance (though

one woman modestly holds down her skirt to prevent it from splaying in-

decently). Each of them woke by himself to the nightmare of gravity,

rush of an ear-wincing wind as he tore through the awnings of sidewalk ca-

fés, each torpedoed, and burst through the windy black pavements of Troy and to

blackness forever, there fallen or thrown by the Argives debauched in their

carnival killings the sirens’ hosanna from Patrick’s Cathedral, the

tocsins exhausted.

 

                                            But one from the clouds of the ninety-fifth floor in the

office of Marsh and McLennan, professional services, stepped off the

window ledge so nonchalantly he might have been strolling through doors of a

lift. Of all those who fell terrified plunged from the towers that day only

he understood that a falling must fatally follow the building of

towers, that even the towering father whose horse plumes will frighten us

into the bosoms of nurses and wives, knew that even he falls and be-

comes but a chine of raw ox-meat, his wounds kisses puckering from sharp lipsticked

spears and the killer with Greek eye-slits drags him around and around the two

towers behind an orange bulldozer dead.

 

                                                                               There was nothing so routine as

rising that day from his desk, to collect all his papers, to walk to the

window as if to remark that the weather looked ominous, step on the

ledge and to fall through the atmosphere, fall without fireman’s net or the

webbed net of fate fixed to catch him, he catching an image reflected in

glass of the towers a boy who had falln from the sky like a dying young

god who was Troy’s other hope.

 

                                                                        What did it matter that children are

casualties, paying the tax on their father’s mad vanities? What did it

matter the boys his own age with whom he had been playing just yesterday

baseball upon the acropolis lawn, those two brothers Thymbraeus and

young Antiphantes entwined in the knots of sea pythons because their old

man had called Greeks Greeks?

 

                                                                     What did it matter the bitch pathological

liar with barbed wire hair who had screeched out that bloody Achaean hearts

beat in the bellies of planes, who were hopped up on poppers, cantharides,

pills, that among them the son-thirsty son of the man who had dragged the boy’s

father who screamed like an eagle had vowed to avenge his own father’s weak

tears in a moment of womanish sympathy, gotten of woman and

woman himself but born mad to be brutal who found a new faith to give

cause to his bloody psychopathy. What did it matter that she would be

strapped to an altar by sweat-matted Locrians, greased with their spittle, and

raped to the nub?

 

                                              What did it matter that just before falling he

saw in his dizzying eyes in a red New York harbor the burning of

water the thousand unsettled who followed like formicant insects with

purpose one man who was bent under burden of piety, man on his

back like a haversack, clutching the hand of a candle-capped boy, the man’s

wife left behind in the orgy of fire become a dead wick of black

carbon returning to fetch her Versace hand bag, while he clutched in the

other the lares, penates, the fond household gods of Algonquians and

old Dutch patroons, Peter Stuyvesant? What did it matter the refugees

willing to risk the horizon, the skyline was riven with masts while the

spires of gods of that city were burning behind them, the falling man

knowing that they too would build up their towers in other walled cities of

wide lanes and tram cars, that they too would tumble down buildings in orgies of

blood to be washed by the sea to the shores of new empires and knowing their

impious jets too would cut the pale throat of the sky, that their hop-headed

warriors would pry the veiled priestess to unholy shards and America

forfeit its right to be tragic?

 

                                                                 This was the man of all men who knew

falling that towers will always be raised to be razed until history

waves its last flag, its last widow dies clutching the medals her husband won

falling on alien soil in the last sputtering war until, everything

vertical made horizontal, the earth becomes flat yet again and its

gods are all dead.

 

                                              Would it have mattered if seeing him falling past

stories a god interfering had reached through the greasy opacus of

ashes, had scooped him from air and then set him down gently in Smyrna two

hundred or five thousand miles away in the fields of white clover and

silos, of gambrel-roofed houses, the tilted green valley where Pleasant Brook

flows through the veins of the poets to mix with the sludge of the Tiber?

 

Afterwards helmeted rescuers up to their eyes in the ashes of

brokers, accountants, cinereous boys who had shuttled the lunch carts from

story to story, the tarry mascara of blonde secretaries, the

noisome black flies in the dead air of soothsaid September, men carrying

corpses upon their bent backs like rucksacks, could not find him amid all the

potsherds, the broken amphora with pictures of men running naked a-

round and around a clay track or Odysseus laying his infant son

down in the furrows before the bronze plow and the rebar of iron ropes

twisted in bold and fantastical shapes, into hearts, crucifixes and

writhing snakes flung from the talons of bald eagles, he having vanished to

vapor and atoms.

 

                                               How shall we plaster the hole in the sky where the

towers once stood, shall we paper the hole that the man with his briefcase in

hand while the wind was on fire with the swirl of our contracts and folders and

pages of blank actuary reports fell so casually through because

Troy never mattered?

 

 

Michael Eaton

 

Silence Is Quiet

 

When I attended

the poetry reading

at William Blake’s

coffee house, no one

showed up; drinking

my caffe latte,

I rehearsed, under my breath,

reading magnificently

to a wilted white daisy

in a dirty green glass vase.

 

However lonely,

there were certain benefits:

no one to critique

or blow raspberries,

no anxieties, no stuttering,

no misreadings and

starting all over again;

imagining twenty appreciative

listeners, applauding loudly,

(no, make that fifty),

the music of one hundred

hands clapping, one hundred

trees falling in the desert

with no one to hear.

 

Uncentered

 

I’ve always felt a bit off-kilter;

not in the same world as others.

A child trying to seesaw with himself

while the others played on swings.

Afraid to go to church because

the congregation prayed for

the final Rapture of death.

I believed that prayers came true.

 

I always felt my nose was larger, that

I had on different colors of socks,

the right one brown and the left one blue;

as if the rear of my pants was torn,

as if my DNA came from alien worlds.

Perhaps I was a foundling

brought in from the forest,

having been raised by animals.

 

My thoughts stroll on different paths

than ones where others are jogging.

My hot air balloon is blown out to sea;

the rescue ship has sprung a leak.

I am locked in a space capsule when

it explodes, seeing only

blue sky, flames, and angels.

 

I should sneak off and hide somewhere,

before they realize there is a wolf

loose in their holy places.

 

Remembrances

 

They only exist in the

corners of the room now,

like repossessed spider webs,

the tenants gone,

unable to make rent;

dusty strands of silk,

fading threads of memory,

offering only glimpses here

and there, sneak reviews

of life already past, or recollections

of that bare sight of thigh

above a woman’s stocking,

before she lowers her dress.

 

All things you do

become memories and

attach like mistletoe,

needing a host,

slowly draining you,

sprouting white berries;

lovely to kiss underneath,

but dangerous to eat.

 

Or, perhaps they are like

the wispy ends of dreams

as you awaken,

not telling the whole story,

but letting you remember

just enough to keep you

from going back to sleep.

 

Naked in Dreams

 

Poetry is just too damned embarrassingly personal;

airing your own dirty laundry in public,

or writing unpleasant truths about your friends,

praying they won’t see themselves in the poem,

hoping they will see themselves in the poem,

trusting they won’t kill the messenger.

 

Reading a poem aloud is like

coming out of the closet to your parents,

like standing red-faced in the bathroom

with your pants around your ankles,

like loudly breaking wind in the middle

of your onstage plie’.

Poetry doesn’t always smell like roses.

 

The audience stares with blank gazes,

yelling, “Take it off. Take it all off.”

looking for their money’s worth,

wanting to see the poet’s naked soul,

even when they know that souls are invisible,

even when the poet thought

he had it lit in flashing neon.

 

Poets will continue to be caught and embarrassed

putting their hands down unbuttoned blouses,

sneaking back in their windows late at night,

slipping the magazines under the mattresses,

trading quick kisses with other men’s wives,

walking naked in dreams while others are dressed.

 

But, poets go on with their singing—

eccentrics in their own home towns—

with stains on their shirtfronts

and their flies unzipped,

wishing their voices carried better,

wishing for the silver tongues of gods,

reading poems with pebbles still in their mouths.

 

How to Start a Fire

 

Looking at you ignites

lust; you are dry kindling,

during a drought,

stacked underneath the wood

pile, carelessly left unguarded,

your incendiary qualities

quite forgotten by your

husband, a negligence

that allows homes

to burn to the ground,

destroying families inside,

batteries dead in their alarms

with no advance warnings

of the coming conflagration.

Fire burns in your hair

and flames play between

your slender fingers.

 

If we take the next step,

and lie in the next bed we find,

the mattress will alight

without a dropped cigarette.

Neighbors will flee the condos

in pajamas and bare feet,

as a blaze of red trucks,

bringing water and hoses,

siren their banshee wails

through the dark wet streets.

 

They will be too late.

There will be nothing left

but glowing red ashes,

the woody smell of smoke,

and exposed, scorched plumbing.

 

The inspectors will suspect arson;

they will pinpoint the flash point

of ignition, will discover the

images of two smiles melted

into the blackened sheets.

 

 

Lawrence Hayes

 

After a Ten Minute Silence for John Lennon, Snow

 

Just as the silence

in Central Park ended,

 

just as the heavens began

quilting our sighs—

 

rare moment of presence

 

on this nervous

bastard earth—

 

just then

 

from the sky

an empty silent sifting,

 

the kiss of a quiet

angel

 

who pities us our prayers,

 

white tears

setting down

 

on the cool bruised

cheek of the earth.

 

Walking the Earth

 

1.

 

A path curving

Into deep woods.

 

A silence so thick and ancient

it swallows trees as I go.

 

2.

 

The path twists

And thickens,

 

two-hundred year

hemlocks surround me,

 

a stand of native

beech saplings shiver.

 

In the darkest of these woods

I empty myself of seasons, turn

 

to the mute quivering lives

each silent step divides,

 

knowing myself neither

shunned nor needed here,

 

here in the depths

of a presence so strong

 

my breath is but a dampness

it takes back and gives,

 

a flower unfolding

each finger of grief,

 

unfurling in the mist

of whatever hush there was

 

before the earth knew itself

in my name,

 

before I walked these woods

carving myself in the wounds of an ancient tree,

 

relieved when finally the new healing

wood came to curl

 

over each slow

darkening letter,

 

knowing somehow it was

better this way,

 

wordless, covered,

walking the earth without a name.

 

Cousin Steve in Vietnam

 

for Steve Melnick

 

1.

 

When the full dressed

soldier showed up

 

at your mother Mary’s

door that day

 

she lost God

in half a minute,

 

collapsed into

a grief so deep

 

the family priest didn’t dare

meet her eyes.

 

2.

 

After the brutal burial,

after the empty echoes

 

of the gunshots

in the graveyard,

 

we reconvened at the house

where things quickly spun apart,

 

there being no center

to hold,

 

your girl bent

screaming in the kitchen,

 

animal anguish

so naked and pure

 

it stunned

everything into silence.

 

3.

 

At 22 you’d left

the States

 

like many your age,

never to return.

 

The sniper’s bullet

took you

 

a week before

your tour was done.

 

In the only picture

we have of you from that place

 

you’re grinning lightly in full camouflage gear,

a small monkey chattering on your shoulder.

 

4.

 

The black granite wall

in Washington holds your name now,

 

one among many

in the too long list of the dead.

 

Chiseled by human hands

your names will endure

 

perhaps a couple centuries

in the rain.

 

In the rain

another aunt, Eleanor, said

 

it looked as if the stone itself

was weeping.

 

Birth Song for Iris

 

1.

 

In the face

of such stark naked miracle

 

Your folks

must have choked

 

on the utter

wonder of it all

 

That moment

they first saw

 

you crowning

from your mother’s womb.

 

The midwives

must have gasped

 

and danced in tandem

to your perfect beauty

 

that hour you first emerged

bloody and bawling

 

ultimate gift of the gods

themselves astounded

 

by all that pink

grasping flesh of yours

 

new blood-rich being

swimming startled into warm arms

 

Iris wet and welcome

Juniper there beaming in her own skin

 

2.

 

The cold hard world

can be set aside tonight

 

that old bitter Dylan

put on hold forever.

 

Instead from his tower

Leonard’s calm hallelujahs

 

jai on endless repeat

 

your mama’s sweet milk

spilling on your tongue.

 

3.

 

This morning you are the only

being here on earth

 

Your father’s loveliest poem

dreamt at last into flesh

 

baby borne swaddled

in soft arms forever

 

your memory that song

your mother hummed you to sleep

 

in the womb all those nights

you tossed on your inner seas

 

your old dog Sophie finally settling now

with a grunty sigh on the front mat

 

her long watch finally done.

 

Melancholy

 

Autumn, of course

is its season, dusk

its time of day.

 

Anything fleet

and vanishing,

footprints

 

the red fox

etched an hour ago

in the morning dew.

 

It ripens into

the darkest of grapes,

into the deepest merlot,

 

sweet tears spilling

on the banks of regret,

that blessing you forgot

to give or receive.

 

Nectar of the poets,

empty nest still warm

in love leaving,

night train headed

through our bones in the dark.

 

Thumbnail moon

against a cobalt sky,

distant buoys tilting

to a foghorn out at sea.

 

All we love

or have loved in this life

tugging its sweet sad saxophone,

 

each riff a play

on time past

and time passing.

 

Late Prayer

 

Sometimes late at night,

lying wide awake

with you on the far edge of sleep,

 

all at once I feel your whole body

shudder, shifting through the slipping

transmission of dream,

 

as if something

deep inside of you

were breaking.

 

At times I get suddenly

frightened, pull myself

to you a little tighter,

 

wishing somehow

I could wake you

or pray,

 

or that, closing my eyes,

I might open some secret

other eye.

 

Sometimes that day in the rain

returns, and I remember thinking how

this should be enough—

 

the matted leaves shining on stone,

our history a small black cat

that shivers and settles between us.

 

Tonight, after work,

let’s talk to each other,

huddled in the dirty afghan.

 

In the dim light let’s close

the tired book between us,

imagine a new kinder ending

we’ll work on tomorrow.

 

 

Daniel Sinderson

 

Glued Together then Burst Apart, the Pain Between Our Teeth

 

We wake together and see ourselves

as fractions, infinite geometries

boiled into ratios of space and time—

locked eyes, dawn-warmed sky,

i-love-yous from phlegm-choked throats—like a simplified bit of crystal

where we hope to find a me and you and us,

but we know that somewhere else along this surface

a living dog is eating a dead one,

and somewhere else is our microwave

or uncountable stars choking on iron.

Even outside of time we are stuck here with everything else.

Even considering questions like ‘who is happier?’ and ‘what is true?’

living an examined life seems like a wash.

How can I live with you and love you and want you

while feeling dissolved—like Cantor’s Set or a sugar cube

drowned in black coffee. We wake together and see

how we become us

choking and in love

with a few bright slivers

and another clogged holy book paged with floods.

 

Snapshot Under Vesuvius

 

Chinese takeout half eaten.

Cat’s head half inside the box

 

behind us. Bed sheets

crushed and messy. Fingers gripped

and cast in ash.

 

Our clothes tossed off as the sun cracked.

Lost for a moment. Then scorched.

 

Cracking Open, I think of Dido; 
Using My Flesh as Surface 
to Bind some Sense of Me 
as Mine in this

 

I saw it again, the drowning

everywhere. Inside, we are not one thing,

but an endless ascension of ever more total

disasters. We stay for

the show—the cheers the tears the bets—

like it’s not our ribcage in this dream

 

between the sphinxes teeth. A few years

between psychotic breaks and counting. I hear

 

those words too loudly sometimes—echoed through the theater

until my ears grow claws, until I want to eat the world away and into me

except I am already full and leaking and finished

with all those hallelujahs from the back row.

 

Imagine that you and I are alone

like everything else. Imagine that the water is high

above our heads in a wave. Imagine everything

 

is a shrieking mouth, a light, a blade, a perspective

crawling past the shadows into snow.

 

Like a Bit of Harp 
and a Far Off Twinkle

 

I’m told it happens all the time

in Heaven after the parades pass—our hands

 

sucked up into prayer, our organs

opened or replaced. That’s where

 

the music comes from—not harps,

but all that living caked up inside us

 

cut out and torched each morning.

The newbies enter freshly scorched,

 

not knowing yet that rapture means

a careful and eternal incineration.

 

Even in Heaven, death is routine.

As here, where the sun dries us out.

 

Where we smoke too much and

lose our voices and our fathers

 

lose themselves

one popped cell at a time

 

where we wrinkle and burn

and scream and cut ourselves

 

out of ourselves—half wild half nothing—

and all the knives and gas and radiation

 

ever do is simmer against the edges

of each fresh day as we smolder.

 

Those Tooth-Bright Lights 
Ahead of Us

 

From something sharp in us, our eyes water.

Our mouths open, our throats quake

 

a few cracked sentences to keep

these flimsy cities of ours from starving.

 

Still, we’re no good

as singers. What held us is leaving.

 

What holds us

today seems much the same. Lost time,

 

old skins, everything slinks away

until all that’s left is a summer’s eve of fireflies—

 

wet nights walking

through brush, chasing wisps

 

to catch a bit of light in our hands

and crush it—streaking guts

 

beneath our eyes, like burst stars;

killing for a symbol in the night.

 

 

Sam Hersh

 

Las Trampas / The Traps

 

as if by chance

you are drawn down a whisper path to a forest cove

where a strand of vertebrae marks the entrance

to which crows anticipate trespass

 

and there in a hollow

lie cream-colored catkins

wild rose hips awash in miner’s lettuce

oyster mushrooms ripe with maggots

hazel    buckeye    black oak    bay

and ways blazed

by foragers

 

                                      don’t go there

 

even now, amanita ocreata

destroyer of what was and is

craves your kiss

 

                        don’t go

 

she will tempt you in twilight

to kneel on a pillow of death and duff

and reap overtures of golden chanterelles

 

              don’t

 

 

                                      be still

                                                   very still

 

still, you won’t see it coming

 

Meme Quarantine

 

Remember

that time when

I thought outside the box?

 

That’s a great question.

So glad you asked.

 

Let me help

unpack that for you.

 

Basically,

it’s technical, isn’t it!

 

Not so fast.

What he just said, not so much.

 

It’s like, truth be told,

trending now.

 

Trust me, you people.

That said, say no more. Right?

 

Black Bread, Rye

 

I nearly forgot how sour salt caramel

crust and crumb can lap the tongue

or how caraway and wild spikes

of fennel can seed a grin.

 

I hadn’t savored that black bread, rye

from who knows where

since butter churned, someway

south of Houston Street.

 

The month after mother died,

my son baked bread that obeyed gravity,

my daughter rekindled ancient grains

and my wife drew back the curtain.

 

Winter fell, we took note,

blindly tasted and closed in,

on a collision course with an elusive hearth,

bygone, though not forgotten.

 

A good story ends

with sheaves of wheat or slashes

that score the surface, living proof,

maker’s marks.

 

We give rise, break bread

and leave the pointed end

for someone in particular.

 

Do Not Disturb

 

Darling, please wait

until rap rusts out,

Reali-TV is wrong, gone

and Cryogenic Relaunch goes 2.0.

 

I can wait until euthanasia

bears your imprimatur

so don’t be a brick shy

            more rest will do me good.

 

Before waking me,

cue that Bach cantata

you know, the one

we played, come Sunday.

 

Best wait and wonder where or when

the here and now became the there and then.

 

Going …

 

after David Alpaugh’s double-title form

 

Just as I came up

on the inside

of a fleet-footed thought

a honeymoon of a poem

segued by

 

going easy, casual as a coyote

vanishing at the crossroads

scribbling something

it chanced upon

along these lines, then

 

… Gone

 

 

Margo Jodyne Dills

 

Babies and Young Lovers

 

Babies and young lovers

kiss in much the same way.

Open mouthed

receiving

full of love

and willing to

take in everything.

When does the face seal up

to stop the flow?

Why do we become guarded,

judgmental?

We begin life,

love

and lust

with submission,

rolling onto our backs,

exposing the soft flesh of our bellies.

Then we turn to jade,

slowly,

a process that involves

little murders

and colored lies.

We die,

tightlipped,

underwhelmed, secrets buried;

our goodness tied up in old photos,

winners’ ribbons,

perfume tainted with age.

 

The Fruits of Life

 

My skin betrays me in its apathetic rage

While I face my future with a sense of doom

I cannot deny although I detest my age,

I’ll hold beyond arm’s length the sight of tomb;

Though witness conceited youth with heaving sighs

And those I nurtured at now withered breast,

Weary sit with elbows propped on tired thighs;

Watch while autumn sun drops in the west.

Some think and perhaps are right that I am mad

But I think suffer from a simple case of blues;

Cast away all things laced, buttoned and plaid,

Shuffle to meet you in my orthopedic shoes.

Make one thing clear, Ponce de Leon must not fail

To send me drops of elixir in the mail.

 

Bouts-Rimes constructed as a Shakespearean sonnet, anagrammatically using Frost’s The Silken Tent.

 

I Am White

 

I am white.

You are also white.

But you have a palette of colors I do not have.

We all come from Mother Africa but you have precise genes to document your claim. Mine have been washed away over decades, centuries, travels and time.

Danish butter rolls through our veins, you and me, and you have Norwegian, making you more of a Viking than I.

Your skin is the color of honey . . . well made bread . . . fine sand, ground to softness by tides controlled by the moon.

My skin is old now but when I was younger, it was taut and inflexible. Now it gives you something to tease me with.

You were born blue. Your eyes were black like the depths of an underworld cave, and sparkling like an ancient fire. You turned pink within moments of your arrival and later began to take on the tone of an Egyptian Queen.

We are Cherokee, you a little more than I, making you braver, more stealthy and able to lean into the wind.

We are French, English and maybe a wee Irish and German. We are many hues.

In our bones, we have the ability to break chains, sail tall ships, write ghazals of love, wipe tears off the face of defeat, leap in the name of victory, count stars and follow comets.

We are connected, like a fragile feather to a mighty wing.

We are the threads of a tapestry and we are here to protect the colors.

 

For Mila Simone

 

I Saw a Friend of Yours Today

 

I saw a friend of yours today;

He called to me across the way.

He doesn’t know my real name

But I answered just the same.

It wasn’t ’til I walked away

That I thought of what to say.

Isn’t that the way it goes?

When caught up in surprise hellos.

I wonder: what with good intention

If he will think to mention

That he saw your old friend today

And called out across the way.

You’ll know it’s truly me he saw.

He said my name with his usual awe;

The cryptic name that you once used

So you couldn’t be accused

Of knowing what I’m really called

That was simply not allowed.

I could have said to say hello

But then I thought of long ago;

The way in which we said goodbye,

And so it was I could not lie.

Goodwill greetings I could not send

Brought to you innocently by your friend.

Let him say he called my name

And then perhaps he’ll also claim

That I am well and looked good, too

And did not say hello to you.

 

The Secret Life of 
Jasmin García Guadalupe

 

Halfway down the steps close to the church

behind the mercería

where she bought thread in late afternoon

after she tells papi her stockings need mending,

Jasmin García Guadalupe

spreads her skirt into a fan,

folds it across her behind

first left, then right,

this for a little cushion

keeps her tender skin

from the dusty, cracked cement.

 

Her lips gather the corner of one small plastic bag

filled with water, nectar, jarabe,

sucks like a baby.

 

Leans her cheek on warm rough wall

watches buses rumble below,

going places she will never know.

Jasmin García Guadalupe

dreams of a seat

in the window

of the big blue bus . . .

Jesus painted on the back

arms spread wide

oversized palms

with rusty centers.

Jasmin would say

if anyone asked her

that the Bus Jesus says

“Why follow me?”

eyes rolled up to heaven

oily black smoke blowing out his feet.

 

Lovers steal kisses in shadows;

Señora Diego leans out her window, pulls at her moustache;

niños plucking mangos over a broken fence . . .

juice runs down their chins, between fingers,

laughing, cussing, shoving, “Ánimo!”

 

Ignacio makes the knees of Jasmin García Guadalupe tremble;

bent weary, he comes up the stairs,

work shirt thrown over shoulder

dangling from wiry hanger

he keeps it spotless ’til he gets to the sizzling café.

Ignacio’s undershirt with soaking armpits

so white the sun lives in it.

 

He comes to where the girl sits

whose father would like to kill him

and stops to find his breath.

 

“You are the delicious peach.

I think to sink my teeth into your skin.

I think to lick your seed.”

 

Ignacio passes,

Jasmin shivers,

church bells clang.

 

 

Nicole Anania

 

In Secret

 

My mother ran her fingers through my hair,

fever coating my cheeks, sweat beads at my hairline.

She dispensed cough drops and bandaids,

a cool hand against my forehead.

She was an open pair of arms,

a soft chest to bury my face in.

 

If she cried it was in secret,

in the early predawn hours,

as we slept in twin beds.

Behind the closed bathroom door,

beneath the roar of the toilet.

If she cried it was alone,

in the small moments,

between drop and pick up,

homework and dinner,

laundry and dishes.

 

Now my mother cries in the supermarket

between the aisles of canned soup and bathroom cleaner.

I stroke the hair she carefully arranges,

trying to hide its precipitous loss.

But still, slivers of white scalp cut through,

like thin fish in a dark river.

Her back curves, arms swinging down too heavy to lift.

I dispense cautious massages and little pills.

I help her undress,

slight movements making her shudder.

 

If I cry it is in secret.

If I cry, it is alone.

 

I watch her chest rise and fall,

wondering when we switched places.

Never admitting,

I wish we could switch back.

 

Meat

 

Your skin is usually the color of roasted leather,

rawhide left to bake in the sun.

But suddenly the light switches off,

the soft husk sapped of its warmth.

Your small, sweet gut disappears,

your stomach flat and sallow.

The weight falls away,

an insidious symptom we only notice,

once the sharp lines of your skull

jut out, like mountain ridges.

 

Check the gums.

The computer screen glows,

white rectangles reflected in my pupils.

Pale gums spell doom.

Blood trickling somewhere,

incessant and slow,

a leak in the basement.

You clutch your side,

violent spasms twisting

your shrivelled face.

 

When they find it,

a mass hunkered down inside you,

silently expanding,

I imagine cells black and toxic

multiplying,

until you are filled with a vile tar.

 

The hospital is filled with an assault of smells.

Soiled bed sheets and dry meatloaf

linger below antiseptic and clean air

pumped through the building,

trying to cover up the sweet decay

of fresh flowers and inert bodies.

You are a twisted line in the stiff white bed,

and you nod towards a styrofoam cup

filled with tepid water

and a floating green sponge.

You are not allowed to swallow,

so I place the wet sponge

on your eager tongue,

watch you bat it around

your dusty mouth.

I am reminded of the horses at the petting zoo,

their long gummy tongues

maneuvering sugar cubes from my hands.

Pain wracks your skeletal frame and I think,

you are only flesh and bone,

a hunk of meat rotting away.

 

To the Dying Man’s Daughter

 

When the chaplain enters the room

resist the urge to speak in tongues.

Resist the urge to ask him

where the fuck his God went.

Instead, let him place his broad palm

on your father’s clammy forehead.

Let the soft, murmured words

cradle him to sleep.

Accept that this stooped stranger

is cutting up his veins,

pouring life into the vessel,

attempting resurrection.

Take in the blinding white collar

against the blackened cloth.

Think of a moving metaphor,

and write a useless poem.

 

When your cautious friends call you,

do not let your pain twist

into red-hot roiling rage.

Do not swallow their support,

like rotted fruit

you are trying to keep down.

In fact,

do not answer the phone at all.

 

When the morphine starts to do its job

and his burdened breath begins to slow,

do not think of when he carried you

on his sturdy, mountain shoulders,

of airplane rides on sunken couches

his smile widening below.

Do not think of playing catch

when the sunset turned him golden,

of painting birdhouses in summer

of the thin hand you are holding.

Do not think of long car rides

the wind blowing back your hair,

of cigarette smoke and chewing gum

the future far and fleeting.

Do not think of falling asleep

in the crook of his arm,

of feeling safe and sure and loved

of how it’s all gone.

 

If you think of all those things

you will be crying too hard

and you will forget to kiss him,

even though you hate goodbye.

You must leave then

before they cover up the body.

You must remember

it is just a body.

 

Spider

 

Smoke curls in the orange street light

as your hand crawls up my leg,

a thick-legged spider

with a dozen black eyes.

Evaluating

the broken veins on my thighs,

the soft swell of my stomach.

Deciding

if I am good enough

to pin and devour.

 

I am praying you won’t care,

about the acne scars and rolls of flesh.

Knowing that if you voice disgust,

I will push you off

with an outrage so pure,

its heat will pucker your skin.

I will wrap myself

in a blanket of contempt,

I will invoke the anger

of a thousand women,

deemed too ugly

to deserve decency.

Leave you on the porch

stung and unsatisfied,

while I stomp my way

up four iron flights,

the sound vibrating through my boots.

 

But as my door swings shut,

my fury will quietly dissipate,

until only slick shame remains,

like dregs

at the bottom of a glass.

 

So please,

don’t run your rough fingertips

over the missed patch of stubble on my knee.

Don’t sneer at the stretchmarks,

translucent lines that litter my whole body.

Please don’t.

Because I’ve been here before,

and I’ll be here again.

 

The Big Girl

 

It’s hard to say when I started noticing

how much space I filled.

It might have been a revelation

brought on by a collection of disgraceful moments.

Squeezing through the maze of a crowded restaurant,

pressed between chair backs,

blood rushing to my cheeks

as I knock a glass off a table.

Twisting out of clothes

beneath the hot lights of a dressing room,

trying to free myself,

like a trapped animal.

On the outskirts of a party

magnetized to the wall,

holding my arms tight against my body,

willing myself to shrink.

Being big

you’re both invisible and conspicuous,

your form calling attention

and then dismissing it.

They assess you

and then look away.

 

I lose pounds

and suddenly people don’t look away.

They look me right in the eye.

Suddenly people are a little kinder,

their smiles last a little longer.

They don’t believe I was that big.

Their mouths drop open,

putting on a show of shock and awe.

Wow, they say.

You look so good now!

It goes unsaid

that the big girl

would not have been their friend.

 

At first I don’t notice,

the shadow that follows me.

Its edges extend too widely,

threaten to swallow me whole.

The big girl follows me,

and sees all the people she will never talk to,

all the fun she will never have.

Guilt chokes me even as I laugh,

and pose for a photo.

The big girl pinches me,

stunned and betrayed.

The big girl was never in a picture,

pouting in a filtered selfie,

grinning in a group shot.

The big girl is behind me,

breathing down my neck.

She whispers,

Isn’t this what you wanted?

But I didn’t think it would feel like this.

 

Like the big girl in the corner locked eyes with me,

and I looked away.

 

 

Lisa Zou

 

How to Begin a Song

 

Begin with sight: the electric blanket of a sky in the seconds

          before a storm. This time you leave the umbrella at home,

surrounded by the antiques your grandmother left; you learn to

          knit scarves. The whole day through, just a sweet old song.

 

Begin with smell: the blood vapor of rusting metal. How you can

          sense dust before it exists. The earthy aroma of old

bookstores; the essence of a child’s room. This time you’ll forget

          to spray the perfume on your jacket, leave the door open.

 

Begin with sound: the sewing machine’s melodic hum,

          the light switch in his apartment. The crackle of thunder,

the buzz of bees with Sinatra in one ear, and Elvis in the other. The

          spilling of apologies. This time you won’t listen. Georgia.

 

Begin with touch: the structure of the human body—the way

          skin becomes a rainbow of pink, purple, green. How

your veins stretch like roads, bumpy and convex. The viscosity

          of honey, the weight of wrapped vinyl records.

 

Begin with taste: the syrup of summer, the lemons you saved

          for winter—now overripe! Oh, the bruised peaches—

how nothing worth keeping will last. The snow does not show

          signs of melting and you knit. The road leads back to you.

 

Forget the distance between the missed and the mist.

          This begins with you—my road has always led back to you.

 

Fission

 

You grow a beard, check the mirror,

          notice you are forty years old, the next

morning, you shave it off, find you are

          sixty. But life is like that, suddenly

everyone you know is dying and they

          still visit you with your back turned to them.

One day, you took the school bus

          and you earned a gold star for answering

the last question right. Now, the nurses

          on night duty ask you something which

you can’t open your mouth and respond to.

          All you know is that someone switched

off the light and you don’t know how.

 

Under the Parlor

 

Under the Q-switched laser, the dragon

blisters from skin to dough. The navy blue

 

having stayed with me for decades—

I got inked too young, too full of hell.

 

How the lines resemble

well trodden roads, now burned by the

 

side of banana peels and the newspapers.

How the therapist said I was a slave

 

to perfection, suggested I wear

my mistakes like a crown.

 

If

 

The boy took

the other road and

stopped by

the bookstore and

 

purchased a book—

of any cover. The man

he would have

become is now dead.

 

Blind Mammal(s)

 

Scientists in Honolulu have uncovered

a primeval tortoise long alleged as extinct.

 

The blessed creature stumbled out of my sink

in the company of toothpaste patches

 

and last Wednesday’s soap suds but

now this no-eyed sea resident with three fins

 

is on a trip to the lab in Maui, traveling on a boat

rather than below it. This morning, the newspaper

 

announced that he is not native; how many miles away

from his motherland we clearly cannot fathom.

 

 

Hazel Kight Witham

 

The Week Before

 

Tonight we shimmy galactic

under strung constellations

beside fertile citrus

the desert a kind of starship

flinging us far from all we know

our tiniest torments

all we’ve left behind:

 

the boy, three years old,

the one we longed for

over two long years of clockwork trying

 

and then,

~can I say it?

when the crush

of parenthood smothered all,

how we forever longed to escape him

for just

a breath,

a minute,

a small visit to the old life

we were so determined to leave.

 

This desert night we shimmy, sway, swing,

and I pretend

the globe of my belly

full of a surprise second baby

is meant for

dance after dance

songcall summoning me to my feet

again, again, one more

even as my lungs are broke with bursting

 

six months is still babymooning time,

six months is still second trimester,

all energy and fine,

so much time still left

you have to

shake it while you can.

 

My man and I,

the new life before us

a new world between us

slung dizzy with orbiting only each other

for this one night when we are

fearless and wild

manic and mischievous

summoning the teenagers we once were

those kids who never met

until out here, all night,

broke with bursting,

like there is nothing to lose.

 

Hoofbeat Heartbeat

 

These four days are crowded and lonely

nurses quiet chaperones to a new world

I am citizened into, restrained by

 

thick tape pinchpulled over IV needle

oxygen monitor jawsnap on my big toe

legcuffs inflating to remind blood to flow

blood pressure cuff sighbiting

on its own accord first every fifteen,

then thirty,

then sixty minutes

 

All feeding the story of me, of us

to monitors that remind me regularly

of how my body is failing us both—

my swimming boy and me

 

Belly circumscribed by the fetal monitor

forever slipping from the spot where

it can listen in on the loping gait

of my tiny boy’s frantic heart

 

I learn to adjust it myself before the

nurses rush in to find the song of him again

I learn to heave

my beached broodmare body alone

 

when his heartbeat slows

because if I don’t they will do it for me

fevered and fast,

turnover turnover turnover othersideothersideotherside!!

 

I want to listen

because I need to know he is here

 

and so the soundtrack of these four sudden days

is the bah-bum, bah-bum, bah-bum

of his fast foal heart,

 

and I close my eyes and listen to him

hooves pounding some beach

we will someday run

 

bah-bum, bah-bum, bah-bum

a promise, a presence, an I’m here, and I’m fine

sure and steady most of the time

 

those hoofbeat heartbeats

that doubletime mine

 

the only thing that offers

any kind of comfort

in the empty open night.

 

First Visit

 

My feet braced on silver flips

my legs covered by hospital issue cloth

my sore everywhere body

still leadened by that

miracle metal magnesium

because, they say,

for two days after birth the risks increase

 

We twist through the halls

and we buzz for entry

into a hushed place

where I first stop

and stoop at a sink

peel back a sterile soap sponge

little plastic scrubbers

made to make me clean

 

two minutes I brace

new-seamed, scar-tugging

hunched against the pull and pain of it

watching a clock tick down

the seconds until I’m done.

 

Clean, seated again,

they push me in to the open-air pod

four babies four-cornered in the space,

he is in the back corner

beside a big window

that offers a view

that should not soothe:

a building,

all twisting pipes and mammoth machine

spitting steam into the dark night

as here, all around me,

space-age monitors attend to

the story of too-tiny babies

in numbers and sounds

 

and then

 

there

 

 

he is

 

 

closed in his new womb

bathing under violet lights

they say his skin needs to adjust

eyes cloaked by gauze sunglasses

 

all of him so tiny

 

my body clenches at the sight

so skinny, swathed in only

a diaper the size of a dollar bill,

too big for this tiny life

 

and oh, the lines:

through his nose,

into his arm

patch monitors sticking to thinnest skin

ET O2 toe glowing red,

a tangle of modern medicine

so different from soft simple swaddle

 

he sends a shatter through me

all over again,

and when I am told I can touch him

I am electric with fear

 

but I open the latch

to the portholes

of his small ship

 

I talk to him

and hope it’s true about voice,

that they know it from always,

and I reach into the warm cocoon

scar-stretched across my

own aching skin

to touch

dark damp hair

wonder-soft over spongy skull

all of him still forming

my whole hand

cupping across

the small globe

of all he is

 

My other hand finds his wildly

precise feet, the biggest part of him

all one and a half inches,

toe tips tiny rosepearls

and I press, gentle and still

 

and so

 

here it is

 

our first embrace

my arms bracing against ovals

my head leaning against plastic

my heart trying to leave my body

to enter that small humid universe

where everything

 

suddenly

 

is.

 

how to become unraveled

 

cut your seroquels in half

those pills that quelled

sleeping beasts

but made you sleep

just too deep

when rising at 3 am

has become part of your day’s

unceasing song

and you thought you’d

give your broken self

a little more pep

in the thinly threaded

night hours

when no one is up

but you

and the unquenchable thing

you strap yourself to

eight times each day

to make milk

to bring to the tiny baby

you only see

when you visit

the locked ward

for a clutch of hours each day

where he lays

every day

since he came

three months early

untangle the knots

and count the days

he’s been there

—53—

count the days

until he comes home

—no one knows—

count the ways

your life no longer

knows you

untie all of it

stack the to-dos

til they tower before you

and your stomach

twists new knots

and your body

won’t have sleep

it shakes you awake

to shake hands again

with that old

undoer anxiety

and you know

you know

you should probably

be under the care

of an expert in these things

before you go

halving your pills

but its all so tangled now

and you can’t imagine

how you’d unfurl the mess

to some expert

and it’s been so long

since you were in

your own locked ward

that you’ve earned the

title of expert now

but a baby—

especially one that comes

three months too early

and just in time

all one pound, ten ounces—

can do things

to unravel

the knots of a ladder

you so methodically tied

you are the expert now

and you aren’t sure

you’ll listen

to someone who

cannot hold all the threads

anyway

and besides,

you tried

you made an appointment

they just didn’t have one

for three months

three days after

his original due date

 

and So

 

you gather the threads

in those

fraying indigo hours

and braid them again

into something

that might hold

and hope

to hold on

until then.

 

 

Margaret Dawson

 

I See the Future in Your Mouth

 

There in the X-ray—your five-year old skull

a premonition of itself in the grave.

Behind each milk tooth the grown ones loom,

Tombstones askew, vying to be first to break

the gum line and mark the lost babies with no remorse

 

for making crooked the clean straight rows

measured as the meter of nursery rhymes

that trilled across their white surface.

Pressing your tender-smooth cheeks

I try to feel the harbingers of adult-hood,

 

of the cutting ahead, some ghost braille

cells that spell your story, code I

cannot read. More solid than flesh they will lie

with you long after I stop sharing your pillow.

They will shape the words you form

 

your life with, language I only hope to understand.

Unkind reminders, lucky gatekeepers

of your breath. They will know you—

blood and bone, better than I—I who grew them in you while you grew in me—

they will guard your secrets, daughter, cradle to grave.

 

The Cert

 

My grandmother’s blue raincoat takes me by surprise

Here is her closet behind dry-cleaner’s plastic, the rip

In the pocket finally fixed. I remember her eyes

 

Finding me crouched behind the darkness of her perfumed dresses, my lip

Bit, eyes clenched (instantly invisible), broken beads ready to rain

From my clutched hands. But, innocent now, into the cuff I slip

 

My hand to find her—smooth nails, rings, the pillowy veins

She hated, wishing gloves still a must in ladies fashion. I tear

The clear sheath and look for missed stains

 

That might map the course we traveled—that root beer

Spill from lunch at Friendly’s is now just shadow.

I press my face to the wide lapel but don’t find her there

 

Either. Guiding my arms through the sleeves—too short—though

In the mirror I make her move again, feel her low

Voice in the warmth of the upturned collar,

In the pocket, a Cert, half-way to powder.

 

Daylily

 

I inspected the buds at night with my dad

to see which might bloom by morning.

Still I was always surprised by the red

or peach that burst forth from the heart

of the blossoms and enlivened the quiet

green bank. We made sure to get a picture;

 

they were only there for the day, but the picture

would last much longer. You think of becoming a dad

when I come home today as we sit in the quiet

kitchen smiling. You make toast in the morning,

ask how I feel, say you love me with all of your heart.

I laugh at your doting and ask for the red

 

raspberry jam, but you say there’s no red

only black. I look at my belly, try to picture

how it will pop out and how the little heart

beat will get strong. I’ve been watching, like my dad,

for the daylilies, but it’s early yet, only May this morning.

The green swords protect the roots, but the top’s pursed lips are quiet.

 

I leave the radio off and enjoy the quiet

drive to work. The coats of the thoroughbreds

steam; the rain has hushed the morning.

At lunch I go to the library and leaf through picture

books, ones I had as a child. A young dad

guides the scissors as his daughter cuts a heart

 

from pink paper. It’s an I Love You Heart,

she beams to her father, forgetting the rule about quiet.

He puts a finger to his lips, and I see you as a dad.

In the bathroom I find a bright red

has filled the bowl. At the doctor’s they scan another picture,

but there is no longer shows the pulse of the first morning.

 

The blood comes heavy in the night, and in morning

you’re still awake by my side. I lay my head on your heart,

am soothed by its beat. I think of the small paper picture

and the glowing shape that was its center. I stay quiet,

hold my hand to my belly and wait. We watch the red

blossom on the sheet; Someday, you’ll be a great dad.

 

I remember the morning you thought you’d be a dad,

a picture of the future as clear as the coming red

or peach daylilies, before the heart went quiet.

 

 

James Wolf

 

An Act of Kindness

 

We are not who we say we are. We have severely failed to provide anyone the opportunity for fulfillment. Stethoscopes, ballet slippers. Crayons, pastels, and fingerpaints. A floor riddled with exit wounds, the foundations quenched by spilled milk. Ironically, you can’t hear all the shouting pouring out from the four walls of this tiny universe. He said, she said, she pushed, he fell, no he didn’t—bit by words more fanged than the mouths from which they came.

 

I’m starting to mistake our voices for gunshots. Please stop pulling so many triggers at once.

 

We take small steps. Less like who we say we are, less like who we should be. Unsteady if we’re lucky, fumbling backwards, awkward and accidental. Still no control over the momentum we generate for ourselves, surprised by all the tumbles (seeing the forest for the upside down trees might be all the perspective we’re going to get).

 

I have propped myself up on siblings who might still be bruised from my own growing pains. I have fashioned spare limbs from the words of friends who indulge me in moments of nonsense. Today, in the tenuous safety and dusty nebulae of four walls, I tried to put on McKenna’s coat (she’s two; she loved it). Tomorrow, I’ll teach an eight year old wrist locks. There may be bruises. There will never be shouting. We are more than that. That’s not who they deserve to be.

 

And that’s not who I will let them become.

 

Monument

 

Dear, (and from the start, written with too much heart, a clumsy greeting, and the deepest sense of don’t in his chest)

 

I wish you’d stop reading books like crystal balls as if they could foretell your future. As if the crinkled mirrors they contain aren’t worth gazing into (look at all that gorgeous lettering—you could mistake the lines of your face for typography). Your reflection should fall apart at the monument you are, despair whenever you walk away. Most people don’t remember what wild, wonderful faces they made seeing how beautiful they were for the first time, but somehow we grow up learning that our only value lies in our reflection? Who looks at ANYONE and thinks well, aren’t you hideous? Listen (and when I say listen, I mean you steady your shaking everything, twist your expression into something uncomfortably spectacular, like your first reflection, and find this letter like a mirror).

 

When I say every experience

is the same kind of overlap you find

in all of those pages you turn.

You offer up so much of yourself to their pleas,

and they need you to forgive.

(What is forgiveness?)

 

When I say covering declarations

of your beauty

with too many adjectives

would weigh it down.

 

When I say this won’t last. Every word is truth, regardless of your own admission or the escape routes you’ve considered. Those hollowed caverns in your chest stand on scaffolds. A lesser body would not carve out the walls of its own future, or push deeper in despite fear of collapse.

 

You are a monument.

 

To Tiger

 

You have thumbtack claws. A roar that travels in circles. Sometimes, simply standing near you is to place my head between your jaws. It’s no metaphor—I’ve felt teeth. You wouldn’t be the first to nip at a provider, back bristling for the contest as the two of us inch the volume up on our growls, snarling warnings and tweaking the slant of brows into granite intimidation. Yours is a force set to self-destruct as easily as it could demolish. A cub behind bars, steadily adding to a collection of scrapes both reckless and incidental. All that thrashing, all those tears.

 

Are you okay? You have thumbtack claws. I swear I see them dragging tallies through the dirt most days, trying to puzzle through a maze of steel wire. We all do it, or so I hope. Some scope out finish lines and sprint, others are heavy-footed with little foresight. You just had the 1 in 80 chance of being forced to navigate in the dark, not to mention the collision of echoes that comes with it. There are stretches—days, weeks—when they can only sit back and watch you take the same right turn over, and over, and over.

 

So there’s whiplash. Eruptions. Things come to blows. I keep tripping on the line between hug and straitjacket.

 

“Tiger, stop!”

 

“Ooops,” the tiger says. “Tiger is sorry.”

 

Two beasts, mangled, panting, fur in knots. The linoleum is hard on both of us, emaciated as we look. Why doesn’t this ever end up on the carpet?

 

“Read to tiger?” But tiger reads to me, and I find myself wondering which of us is more comforted in this moment, hoping that we are both stronger for it.

 

Nostalgia

(Time and Teeth)

 

Count teeth like oak rings

dazzling,

mouth of a lion,

freshly satisfied

wide,

with all its heart set on showing off

what came before, or how much is left.

 

I dont really know if an extra year means much

until you get to the last one.

“Look at all the shit I should’ve done by now,”

hours questioned,

breath withheld.

Someone hasn’t given you enough attention.

 

Up until now, I’ve only been crawling. The arms shift, the legs rock one after another, limbs so careful to keep you balanced and on track. Someone put Big Bird on a coffee table, six inches out of reach. He’s soft and grinning, and that plush beak is teething’s best friend. Scratch that, second best. The dog strolls by. Greetings in kisses. Gaping, toothless jaws from the both of us, indulging in sensory overload.

 

Hey, help me out here.

 

Watching, blindly

the clock at midnight.

And a voice that makes noise loud enough

for the ghosts of cathedral towers

to remind us

this day, we give it a lot of weight. That we aren’t

alive.

Not yet. I still have so much to do.

I’m getting old.

I’m too young to understand what that even means.

Death on the lookout,

vague sense of medical vigilance,

financial necessities,

who I have been,

and who I will be.

 

I spent a lot of time with that dog. Now I chew things over longer than I probably need to. Before today, I had a major at a university. Rewind some more, find me braver than I know myself. (“Meet me here this afternoon. I’ve got a surprise for you.”) Decisive moments, late nights with friends (growing security in dank smells), sleeping on roll-out mattresses with no a/c. Nostalgia is just the reminder that we are already living. Ageless, beautiful rows of moments strung together out of sequence like teeth lining the jaws of a lion.

 

That grin alone forms lifetimes.

 

 

Jane A. Horvat

 

the sky is falling, LOUDLY

 

When I was hatched

my mom had to pick away the eggshells,

break the film between my oasis and the noise.

It were as if I knew beforehand how loud the world would be.

Even then, eagerness to be overwhelmed was not part of

my genetic makeup.

I had hoped my down feathers would muffle the sounds

or that my wings could carry me into

a vacuum of sorts.

Yet, one morning I woke up to the screech of

the rusty clipping shears

and knew I’d be walking to Radio Shack

to buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

I wished for hearing aids

so I could have the ability to turn them off.

I learned to speak with my hands

so I could stop listening with my mouth.

Once upon a time

they asked me

“What came first,

the chicken or the egg?”

but that question is irrelevant

when you were born a chicken

but identify as a deaf-leopard

hiding behind her spots.

 

Same shit different day

 

Today I told myself,

     “Hey, it’s just a day.

     You’ll put on a white blouse,

     Tuck it into your pencil skirt,

     And catch the metro.

     Some business man in an

     Expensive suit will upend his

     Gourmet coffee on your shirt

     And grumble, exasperated,

     About his bad luck

     Without telling you he’s sorry

     Because he doesn’t have time to be sorry

     And you won’t have time to change

     But you’ll stop by the Gap

     And rip the closest cream-colored shirt

     Off its hanger and it’ll be rung up

     And on you before you realize

     You needed to buy white not cream.”

 

All in all,

     today could be worse.

 

But I sighed

     because I told myself that yesterday.

 

Blank Stares Don’t Create 
Fairy Tales

 

Is there a message to decipher or lines to read between

now that I’ve paused?

 

Before, everything was encrypted, sheaves of allegories lay strewn,

graphite and wood shavings littered the bottom of the basket.

I lived in tornado alley and new twisters swept through every weekend.

I would hide in the cellar, tie myself to a pipe, and create.

 

Chaos and angst spurred the gradual bulge of my forearm muscles.

The cacophony of never-resolving arguments was my vinyl-encased soundtrack.

I twirled ’round and ’round while maintaining the stunning lines ’rinas must keep

but only when the winds were whipping past at 70 mph or more.

 

I locked myself down there as limb-ripping gales tore through foundations.

Countless scribbles left ridges on the walls, the floor, my eyelids, everywhere.

Streaming hair fanned out mid-spin. Should’ve snapped photos it was so picturesque.

Perpetual despair looked beautiful on me. Occasional pleasure reapplied my rogue.

 

Now my mail arrives at a different address and contentment accompanies me

as the rungs of the high-backed chair bitingly remind me I’m stagnant.

I no longer pursue the same utensils.

My creations would weep if they weren’t already extinct.

 

Can’t craft a code or spin a yarn woven with illusion, not when I’m submerged in smiles.

What does that say about me?

My current queries don’t spawn stories or sonnets, just a frightened preponderance

of what this conundrum entails for a future in fairy-dust and freedom.

 

Is it even worth pressing play if there is nothing to watch?

 

Psychedelic

 

When I find myself in the colors

I drown in a pool of lavender.

A pedophile skips stones

across the surface.

Each plop sends

a ripple of turquoise spreading out,

but when the jagged rock

scrapes my forehead, fuchsia

drips down the side of my face.

When the droplet collides with

the gripping lavender

a shimmering silver portal

opens and transports us,

the pedophile,

the Vacation Bible School group

decked out in matching

tangerine T-shirts,

and I

into a silent movie

where it’s raining black and white

and my mauve screams

meet the dead air

and my head goes under

the grey water

while the pedophile’s cream whistle

is mean to keep his mind

off the pink pigtails

on my side of submerged Saturn.

Mint smiles turn towards

the smoothness of his distraction.

I notice them

with my violet eyes

and they pass over my flailing

until everything fades to black

and we are all just swimming

on opposite shores of Lake Eerie.

 

Pretty in P!nk

 

Looking in the mirror is how you and I play Russian roulette.

Looking over our shoulders is how we take a break from playing dumb.

 

You twirl me around after to our wedding song,

But I’m wearing a blood-splattered negligée,

And you’re sporting a ripped oxford and multiple stab wounds.

 

God, I hate how much I love you.

 

When people ask us how we’re doing

We smile with our mouths closed and say,

“We’re so much more than fine.”

Never lying, just burning down and freezing to death in the same breath.

 

We were smart enough

To avoid purchasing the glass house,

Despite the realtor’s insistence of it having

The perfect backyard of sand and cacti.

 

We are not black and white picket fence people.

No, we are black and blue bruises people,

Pink and green-eyed monster people,

Purple hearts for bravery and run-through-every-yellow-light people.

 

We continue to try even though we’ve gone colorblind.

 

Your embrace is holding a hand warmer

And drinking cinnamon whisky apple cider until

Your embrace is fire ants colonizing under my skin

And tequila torching me until I’m a charred mannequin.

 

I’d leave you so fucking quick,

 

But my embrace is snuggling under down blankets

And having no obligation to leave the warmth of our bed until

My embrace is a chokehold with a side of asphyxiation via pillow

And your throat is the acrid dessert awaiting the monsoons.

 

We break each other and then practice our tourniquets.

 

You rip my clothes off, emphasis on rip,

right before throwing me on our broken mattress

and kicking my legs apart.

You trail soft kisses down my belly

As I pull chunks of hair from your scalp

And leave claw marks on top of the invisible scars

From years of verbal abuse in our brick house.

 

I don’t know why you haven’t left either.

 

We sling insults over breakfast,

Throw dirty looks during lunch,

Play hot potato with pin-less hand grenades between dinner courses,

And exchange kisses between bites of dessert.

 

I throw your clothes out the windows.

You throw chairs at the walls.

We throw our hearts down the garbage disposal,

And stand, front to back, looking in the mirror,

 

Wondering how we ended up here.

 

 

Bill Newby

 

Warning Light

 

(Waiting Room Notes during Auto Repair)

 

Whether on my side or back

with a half-height or full pillow

the warning light in my shoulder

fires at the lightest touch.

 

It glows in the dark before sunrise

and flickers as I roll out of bed.

 

I dress with caution,

open the back door with care,

and turn each page of the morning paper

with a newborn caress.

 

But regardless if I sit, stand, rush or stroll,

it pulses down my triceps,

across my elbow and into my wrist.

 

I’m scheduled for annual maintenance

but might need some tweaking sooner.

 

I hope it’s just a bit of misalignment

or will respond to a quick lube.

 

I’m attached to the original equipment

and would rather not have to install

even the best replacement parts.

 

First Ladies at Ruby Lee’s

 

The first ladies stay there all night.

 

Their skin glistens red near the Exit sign,

and their eyes lock on the lead singer

as if taking vows.

 

“You are mine, and I am yours.

Take me now. Take me please.”

 

The floor crowds with dancers,

but they hold their turf.

 

One hip-sways and leans

into a shoulder shimmy,

then back in a syncopated pause.

 

The other bounces

in search of each rhythm

that her feet never find.

 

The decades pass in familiar choruses,

as we rock in our seats

and lip-read comments.

 

Swirls of energy devour our waitress,

and Sports Center replays populate the screens.

 

Hands shoot to Love Shack thumps,

as dancers twirl, jump and swim.

 

But when others drop, wet and exhausted,

the first ladies refuse to sit.

 

“He’s got to see what’s in this dress,

and I’ve got plenty of time.”

 

Touring

 

We step off the bus

lugging the Ten Commandments

and the accumulated weight

of western civilization’s struggle with brotherly love

tucked in our back pack

next to another plastic bottle

of cool, filtered, spring water.

 

Our Lowe, REI, and Merrell boots

provide arch support for our modern egos

and protect our feet from the dust, stones and debris

still lingering from Pol Pot’s house cleaning.

 

Far beyond the moat,

backlit across the skyline of harsh mid-morning glare

lays the silent silhouette of Angkor Wat,

small, black, symmetrical lotus bulbs cut free from the jungle

to provide power for a tourist economy

annually outpacing last year’s records.

 

Shaven, saffron draped, Buddhist monks

move wordlessly in the shadow of a neighboring pagoda

while we make electronic records of ornate stupas

 

then pause at the southern entrance for a group photo

before joining the flow of sweltering gawkers

walking the surrounding corridors

 

where thousands of patient artisans

chiseled stone reminders of the painful damnations

born of infidelity.

 

The actors wear different masks—

snakes, dragons, phoenixes and turtles,

farmers, fishermen, servants and soldiers—

but the plot is as common as yesterday’s Times.

 

Our shirts cling and sweat oozes across our cheeks,

but our air-conditioned bus is nearby,

and we can wash before lunch.

 

La Cuisine Novel

 

Tonight’s menu is freshly printed

on crisp ivory paper with a bit of weave,

and our waiter, Jackson, is pleased to be serving us

and will return in a moment to answer all of our questions

and get our drink orders.

 

The view from our seats by the window

stretches for miles across the Appalachians—

ridge lines and forest faces falling into hidden valleys,

mounds that say, “another, another, another”

and invite our imaginations to reach and roam.

 

And when Jackson returns,

we learn not only about his favorites,

but also the Italian village where Hunter, our chef,

honeymooned with his wife, Jewel.

 

Each dish is complex beyond belief,

but Jackson can walk us through each sauce

and around every chop, swirl, dip and dollop

that he describes as if watching an inner movie

that never fully projects on our screens.

 

And every dish triggers another story—

how Hunter experimented with Peruvian peppers,

butchering today’s whole hog,

the ice cream sandwiches Jackson’s mother awarded

so she could sleep when he and his brother rose early,

the punishing rainstorm last fall

when he first tasted Jewel’s escargots.

 

The room rebounds with stories and laughter.

Glasses are raised. Silver is replaced.

 

We wait and wonder if our meal

will live up to the press.

 

Pre-Concert Rituals

 

The tree frog orchestra tunes up slowly.

 

They refuse to play in the lingering twilight

and concede the stage to barking dogs, passing cars,

the birds’ ongoing conversations,

and a whistler baiting a hook for another try.

 

A distant ambulance wails its mission

and sings a fading aria in the wings,

but the tree frogs sit silently

 

and wait for the light to dim

and the breeze to take a seat

before they get going.

 

 

Jennifer Sclafani

 

This Is How Dreams Start

 

Without a proper beginning.

no curtain, no applause:

 

At a kitchen table, a father and son are arguing.

“How much does it cost?” the father asks.

Papa, we will not barter.

We will pay the rate like normal people.

“Normal people get the best value,” the father replies.

“Only a fool accepts the first price.”

 

In a bedroom, a wife nudges her husband.

“Turn on your side,” she groans.

“I can’t sleep while you snore.”

Sleep on the couch, then.

I can’t dream while I’m awake.

 

In a field, a bird catches the worm.

“Bring it home,” I tell her.

“Your babies are hungry.”

The bird doesn’t respond—

she takes flight

and I soar

by her side

into the sky

anxious to see

those tiny swallows—

 

Until my wingless body

catches up with my

weightless dream

and brings an end

to that which never began.

 

Speak Volumes

 

The words come to us

shouted by birds:

buzzards

not finches—

amplitudes

in feet

not

inches.

 

Mating calls hunt

primal fears

and

swallow

them

up

whole

 

then spit them out

into thin air,

vapor to smog,

dream

to

dust

 

like a silence that deafens the senses,

like the flutter of the monarch butterfly.

 

Hindsight Twenty Twenty

 

Was I a better teacher

when I couldn’t tell the truth?

Was I a better lover

when I couldn’t fall in love?

What did I do to earn the love

that made us one of two?

What must I undo to become

a mother for all of you?

 

The children sleep. I can tell:

their eyes, mouths, breath, heat.

They dream of dragons and octopus

and race cars chase their spindly legs

around their school yard world.

 

They wake me

after midnight

before my alarm:

I want to cuddle.

 

Without my glasses

I cannot see

where

the bed ends and where

the nightstand

begins or where my

glasses rest—

for only they rest tonight—

or whether they

are weeping

or giggling.

 

Never mind.

Come to bed.

How dare I waste these

wee hours?

 

What will I do

when I awake

from this day

dream

of you?

 

Mot Juste

 

To write in my native language,

If only I could remember what that was:

 

Vowels that floated fluidly, before I learned

Enunciation.

Sonorants that straddled song, before I learned

Distinction.

Words that were all mine, until I was given the

Right Words.

Simple truths I told, before I masked them in

Metaphor.

 

My voice, before the audience arrived:

Was it sweet or somber

full of wonder or worry

of the raven or the wren?

 

Courage in finding a voice,

or courage to look for sense

in the cacophony of the voices?

 

The fire from above and the fire from below

And the poem lies somewhere in between.

 

 

Contributor Notes

 

Jim Pascual Agustin writes and translates poetry in Filipino and English. He grew up in the Philippines and moved to Cape Town in 1994. He won the Grand Prize at NoiseMedium and the Gabo Prize at Lunch Ticket. His books include Alien to Any Skin, Sound Before Water, and A Thousand Eyes. His eighth book of poetry, Wings of Smoke, is forthcoming from Onslaught Press (UK). He condemns the murderous Duterte administration. He blogs at www.matangmanok.wordpress.com

 

Nicole Anania is a writer based on Long Island. She enjoys writing both short stories and poems, and is currently completing her MFA at Hofstra University.

 

Melissa Cantrell lives in Guthrie, Oklahoma with her wife, Stefani, and a passel of rescued dogs. She has worked in fields ranging from theatre arts to public service to animal rescue, but has always felt the stubborn tug of writing, and has continued scribbling words between bouts of earning paychecks. Thanks to the disordered tracks she’s made so far, and a penchant for reading, she’s a fantastic trivia partner.

 

Paul W. Child is Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies in English at Sam Houston State University, where he teaches classes in literature of the long eighteenth century and the early English novel.

 

Martin Conte is a devoted citizen of Portland Maine, where he tinkers at writing, reading, walking, editing, and educating. His work has appeared previously in Sixfold, as well as in Words & Images, Glitterwolf, Aurorean, and others. The above poems are a part of an unpublished chapbook of “body” poems. Photo credit: Savannah Leaf.

 

Margaret Dawson teaches English in New York City. She lives there with her husband and two children. She studied literature and poetry at Columbia University and Middlebury College. When she is not teaching, grading, or shuttling the little ones about, she is working on a collection of poetry about the big meaning in the little moments.

 

Margo Jodyne Dills is a member of PNWA and Hugo House Seattle. She works as a guest blogger, editor, and travel writer on both sides of the border. She lives in Seattle and travels to her little home in Mexico as time permits. She stays busy working on a getting a novel published, writing poetry, dog-sitting and hanging out with her extraordinary grandchildren. Poetry is her passion.

 

Michael Eaton grew up in Littlefield, Texas, and ran around with Waylon Jennings little brother. He writes poetry to stay sane in a sometimes insane world.

 

Michael Fleming was born in San Francisco, raised in Wyoming, and has lived and learned and worked all around the world, from Thailand, England, and Swaziland to Berkeley, New York City, and now Brattleboro, Vermont. He’s been a teacher, a grad student, a carpenter, and always a writer; for the past decade he has edited literary anthologies for W. W. Norton. (You can see some of Fleming’s own writing at: www.dutchgirl.com/foxpaws.)

 

Debbie Hall is a psychologist and writer whose poetry has appeared in San Diego Poetry Annual 2015-2016, City Works Literary Journal, San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology volumes 5 and 8, Serving House Journal, Swamp Lily Review and Tuck Magazine. Her essays have appeared on NPR (This I Believe series), in USD Magazine, The San Diego Psychologist, and the San Diego Union Tribune. She is currently enrolled in Pacific University’s MFA program in writing.

 

Lawrence Hayes is a writer, arborist, and deer fencer living in Pawling, NY. He studied with the poets Charles Simic and Mekeel McBride at the University of New Hampshire, where he received a Masters Degree in Poetry Writing in 1981. He has had his work published in The New York Times, Water Street Review, Aegis, and other small magazines.

 

Sam Hersh, a lapsed psychophysicist, lives at the foot of Mount Diablo, with his muse, Jan, and plays at beaches beginning with letters, SAN. By day he figures in the Valley of Heart’s Delight. By night, he rewrites poetry, twists porcelain and refreshes lactobacillus sanfranciscensis to perfect sourdough. His poems appeared in The Ina Coolbrith Circle Gathering, Monterey Poetry Review and the Scribbler.

 

Jane A. Horvat is a poet and short fiction writer from Rockford, Illinois. An undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame, she is pursuing a degree in English and Romance Languages and will be studying in Bologna, Italy for 6 months. She believes that the world’s various truths are best expressed through creative writing, and she is currently working on a collection of poetry and short stories.

 

Alexandra Kamerling grew up in the Alaskan interior and currently lives in Oakland, CA. She is a writer, dancer, and choreographer. She received her B.A. from Mills college in English Literature.

 

Alexander McCoy lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

 

Bill Newby worked at Shaker Heights High School (Cleveland, Ohio) as a high school English teacher and administrator and at Cleveland State University as an academic advisor and instructor. He now lives near the ocean, golf courses and friends on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. His work has been published in Bluffton Breeze, Ohio Teachers Write, Whiskey Island, and the Island Writers’ Network’s Time and Tide.

 

AJ Powell is a once and future teacher who raises her children, serves on a school board, and attempts to write in the wee hours of the morning with varied success.

 

Jennifer Sclafani is a sociolinguist who teaches at Georgetown University and conducts research on language, culture, politics, and gender. Her nonfiction has appeared in Scientific American, Journal of Sociolinguistics, and Language in Society. She is currently writing a book on the language of recent US presidential campaigns (Routledge, 2017). She lives in Virginia with her husband and twin daughters. This is her first poetry publication.

 

Daniel Sinderson is a high-tech mechanic and a happily married man. He writes often, deeply enjoys puzzles, still listens to punk music, and mostly wears pants out of consideration for others.

 

Hazel Kight Witham lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young sons. She teaches English Language Arts in a big public high school, where her students offer constant inspiration. Her work has been published in Rising Phoenix Review, FlashFlashClick, NonBinary Review, and Bellevue Literary Review. She loves how poems can transform the smallest moments of her day into revelations, and help in the slow slog toward kid bedtime.

 

Aspiring teacher and sometimes writer, James Wolf was born in Anchorage but raised mostly on Maryland’s eastern shore. He has a degree in Early Childhood Education and works as a teacher’s assistant in a pre-kindergarten class, using the quiet of naptime as an excuse to write things in the dark. His work has been featured in “GFT Presents: One in Four” and, with some luck, will eventually find its way into more.

 

Lisa Zou currently studies at the University of Pennsylvania and has previously been recognized by the Poetry Society of the UK, National YoungArts Foundation, Sierra Nevada College, Johns Hopkins University, and Rider University, among others. Her writing is forthcoming in the Lindenwood Review.


Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016

Sixfold is an all-writer-voted journal. All writers who upload their manuscripts vote to select the highest-voted $1000 prize-winning manuscripts and all the short stories and poetry published in each issue. In Sixfold Poetry Summer 2016: Alexander McCoy | Questions to Ask a Mountain & other poems Alexandra Kamerling | Prairie & other poems Debbie Hall | She Walks Into Starbucks Carrying a 2 x 4 & other poems Michael Fleming | Patience & other poems Jim Pascual Agustin | Sheet and Exposed Feet & other poems Melissa Cantrell | Collision & other poems Martin Conte | Skin & other poems AJ Powell | The Road to Homer & other poems Paul W. Child | World Diverted & other poems Michael Eaton | Remembrances & other poems Lawrence Hayes | Walking the Earth & other poems Daniel Sinderson | Like a Bit of Harp and a Far Off Twinkle & other poems Sam Hersh | Las Trampas & other poems Margo Jodyne Dills | Babies and Young Lovers & other poems Nicole Anania | To the Dying Man's Daughter & other poems Lisa Zou | Under the Parlor & other poems Hazel Kight Witham | Hoofbeat Heartbeat & other poems Margaret Dawson | Daylily & other poems James Wolf | An Act of Kindness & other poems Jane A. Horvat | Psychedelic & other poems Bill Newby | Touring & other poems Jennifer Sclafani | Hindsight Twenty Twenty & other poems

  • ISBN: 9781370009589
  • Author: Sixfold
  • Published: 2017-02-26 19:05:13
  • Words: 21124
Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016 Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016