(in memory of Jane Kenyon, 1947-1995)
I was looking for
a book of poetry
skinny books being
easier on one’s chest for
I brought it to the sales girl
who sighed and said,
it doesn’t have a bar code.”
Ah, blessed day
for poets and for me.
I looked at the back cover,
by that fat
disorderly line-up of sticks.
“No wonder,” I said to the sales girl.
“The author has just died
and probably took them with her.”
On my way to the car
I invited the poet
to slip inside me.
“Use my body any time you wish,”
I said and waited, my feet
pattering on the pavement,
for some sort of inner settling
that never came.
I showed her
the cluster of winter weeds,
their tassels dark with age.
Somehow, in the construction
of this aromatic new Barnes and Noble,
they managed to escape
the carnage that befell the
more obvious trees and woodlands.
Did she miss them?
these earthly delights -
thick-maned dogs, ponds, frosty maples -
images from her poems.
I will miss them,
when the time comes,
something as simple as
the back of my hand
creased with wrinkles;
fingernails, all without
a family trait.
Ruth Z. Deming has had her poetry published in literary journals including Metazen, Mad Swirl, River Poets, and Eunoia Review. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people and families affected by depression and bipolar disorder. She lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.
I get that we are tough,
that we’ll get through this
because, I watched you
gripping the telephone
pressing your forehead against
her nightingale patterned wallpaper
and smiling those exact words
after announcing her passing
to the voice on the other side
would it be okay if
for right now I just
didn’t get through this, if
I didn’t even try to? And instead, stood
gaping for an hour or for a year,
tumbling down the rabbit hole in Slow-Mo
snatching after her fluttering
hospital gown, falling
through memories: her teaching me
to iron my own shirts, to vacuum, to overlap
each pass, keeping the carpet lines straight.
These little necessities I see, but
I’m still struggling
to get the meaning
in the nightingales’ wobbling song
would it be okay if
these uninvited guests got up
from her matched floral print
couch and loveseat,
her cushioned piano bench,
her lattice backed chair set with
tear shaped trickles of lacquer
hardened on each leg,
and wordlessly walked out,
taking their false sympathy and forced cheer,
bouncing and straining behind them
like white and blue helium balloons,
leaving us, unaccompanied, with her absence
would it be okay if
I just gave way, collapsed to my knees
on the ceramic tile in front of the
crumb strewn kitchen counter
into one hundred-thousand
boy shaped pieces
would it be okay if
in imitation of the indent
left behind by her withered body
in the rented hospital bed
I arranged myself
splayed out, starfish style
to sink, to drift, to drown
in the unfathomable
we are tough
I promise to be tough,
Mike Nichols was born all in a rush just after midnight, with no assistance from doctor or midwife, under a waning Tennessee moon on a chill October night behind a partition at the back of a tar-paper shack in which his unwed mother had holed-up for a time. Mike won the 2014 Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize. His fiction and poetry may be found at Underground Voices, Bewildering Stories, and Black Rock & Sage.
The carefully chosen words drip seductively from my lips.
I slip the straps off my shoulders, and I am exposed for you only.
Do you see me now?
How I struggle to let what I love go?
The ink pours from my pen as the thoughts stream from my head.
Tears branch out and burn rivers, seared into my cheeks.
Do you see me now?
Caress my feelings like you touched my body:
Hold me close and breathe in every thought of you I’ve ever had.
I taste as bitter as vinegar, my tongue tracing your lips, mixing my poison with yours.
Let your virginal hands explore the corruption that is my darkness.
I want to let myself shine for you, like at the beginning.
But one can’t shine in fear and sadness, can they?
Let my paper skin and brittle bones be your gilded rock, your silver, your gold, your fucking tin foil.
I miss being the ocean, the sun, the moon, and your constellation.
Search for me again, for I am lost.
Do you see me now?
Briana Staszak is a young writer who was born and raised in Southern California. She learned to love writing in her teens and hasn’t stopped ever since.
the sunlight races
like blood through your veins
you’re always running,
and you can’t seem to catch a break;
i know you all too well
you are the sinner pretending saint
the man who disguises lust
for love and you’ll blame anyone but
yourself for all the problems
that you’ve caused—
you can turn from a tangerine sunset
into a bone-chilling snow storm
full of blue lipped angels
in ten seconds
and i know you intended me to die with all
your other angels
but like a phoenix i rose from my ashes burning
away all the suffocating snow and ice
leaving nothing behind but
and i hope they burn you.
Linda M. Crate is a Pennsylvanian native born in Pittsburgh yet raised in the rural town of Conneautville. Her poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She is the author of two chapbooks (A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn from Fowlpox Press and Less Than a Man from The Camel Saloon) and the fantasy novels Blood & Magic and Dragons & Magic. facebook.com/pages/Linda-M-Crate/129813357119547
There is a secret
stair in my grandfather’s
closet, one tucked away
behind his clothes.
I think maybe he didn’t
even know about it,
mainly, because it seems
accessible only in dreams.
I walk up those
steps some nights, having
parted his slacks and
jackets, air getting thin,
but I never make it
to the top.
I believe it leads
to the roof, or
some other equally
Tom Pescatore grew up outside Philadelphia, dreaming of the endless road ahead, carrying the idea of the fabled West in his heart. He maintains a poetry blog. His work has been published in literary magazines both nationally and internationally, but he’d rather have them carved on the Walt Whitman bridge or on the sidewalks of Philadelphia’s old Skid Row.
Into the waking sea of stirring succubi,
I walk through the cobblestone with
measured insolence. It is my life and
yet it is not. It is a known street yet
serpents edge the ground my feet have
not trodden upon. A revised life. While
it is endured on a rewritten script. Like
curious pages from an aged notebook,
flush of spell-casting recipes and archaic
theorems. Drafted in inked calligraphy
from my hand held within someone else’s.
I am thinking I ought to shake away the
cold fingertips that I cannot slake. And
what it would be like to will my private
thoughts, and travel without fragmented
memories. But my verbal bones are deep-
seated and buried, pack together to guard
the centermost. Leaving bare the external
skin. To which I persist on as a compressed
infection, neither growing smaller in mass
nor vanishing into a fictional poem. Yet,
I know not with certainty whether I am
the vast sky or its dispersed molecules.
Or just a face in an endless sea.
Lana Bella has a diverse work of poetry and flash fiction published and forthcoming with Anak Sastra, Atlas Poetica, Bareback Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination, Buck-Off Magazine, Calliope Magazine, Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine, Dead Snakes Poetry, Deltona Howl, Earl of Plaid Lit, Eunoia Review, Eye On Life Magazine, Family Travel Haiku, First Literary Review-East, Five Willows Literary Review, Foliate Oak Literary, Garbanzo Literary Journal, Global Poetry, Ken*Again, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Marco Polo Arts Literary, Mothers Always Write, Nature Writing, New Plains Review, Poetry Pacific, Spank The Carp, The Camel Saloon, The Commonline Journal, The Higgs Weldon, The Voices Project, Thought Notebook, Undertow Tanka Review, Wordpool Press, Beyond The Sea Anthology, War Anthology: We Go On, Wilderness House Literary Review, and has been a featured artist with Quail Bell Magazine. She resides on some distant isle with her novelist husband and two frolicsome imps. facebook.com/niaallanpoe
Above, snow-dusted granite hills;
Below, thermometer at -4° Celsius;
Caught between, tomatoes drop off vines.
Richard Hartwell is a retired middle school (remember the hormonally-challenged?) teacher living in Moreno Valley, CA. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather be still tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon.
It had been a busy day in the cake shop. I’d had to throw out a gaggle of over-excited Catholic school girls who had only enough money amongst them to buy one three-penny bun. And then came in that old school mate of mine, rather plump with happiness, sod her. She spent two hours deciding what she’d like, her husband scowling magisterially at me as she fluted her detailed instructions to me, between distressed comments about how worn I was looking.
And then this blissful quiet. I nibbled on a stale truffle cake and did my accounts.
In the evening, a large raven toddled in, its claws shod in worn dress shoes. But it wasn’t a raven. It was a little, long-nosed woman, whose long chin reminded me of horrid Aunt Sally, who took me in when mother died and treated me as her slave.
She alternated between wriggling tension and delight as she inspected the cakes, her sallow little face with its mask of little wrinkles lighting up as she hugged herself. I eyed her narrowly, jealous of the way she seemed wrapped up in her own secret delights.
“What does madam want?” I asked finally, with as much sarcasm as I could muster, “A wedding cake?”
She blushed, and the general goodwill she felt for the world inadvertently cleansed me.
“Oh, no,” she laughed and I stared with shock as the wrinkles creased out of her face to reveal a beautiful child.
And then the wrinkles flooded back in, with the deep paw marks of Sorrow and Despair.
When no one tells you you are beautiful, you stop being.
Adreyo Sen is pursuing his MFA at Stony Brook, Southampton. He has been published at Garbanzo, Danse Macabre, Cannon’s Mouth, and Reading Hour.