Home Poetry

Whose There

by Maria Marrocchino

My mind races with nonsense parables and rhymes.
I haven’t got the time to hang it up
clear it.
I’m tripping but there’s no acid to speak of.
I miss the innocence I once knew.
Eyes that look through windows of ripe cherries not yet bruised.
I want to get all the goodness from the ocean, the sky, but
instead I keep listening to widowed thoughts
telling me I’m vapid or wrinkled or wasting my time.
Me and the lonely moon are singing each other’s
high crimes again tonight.
I’ve wasted yet another love, trying hard to make him mine or perfect or something.
But I keep failing and so I get into a cold bed with just my fantasies
and I’m so fucking bored.
What happened?
Did I let all those needled scavengers rape me dry of my humility?
You see I love myself too much and really I am nothing at all.
I walk around like I don’t have a care but truly I am scared. 
I tried to call my mother and tell her she better not waste her tears on me anymore
but I was too late.
She’s shriveled.
Just like an Edvard Munch painting
I want to scream like that.
No you have a nice day, mine is already filled with too much honesty.
Trying to sort through all these filthy lines
and everyone keeps calling me to ask me how I am
and I tell them I’m so great, super, I just need to be saved.
And they hang up on me.
I guess I better work on saving myself.

This Is A Long Poem

This is a long poem
It will be passed over
But the flow of my hand
And my chestnut thoughts
Overwhelm me so I go and go
Letting blue ink stream wonderfully
I sit and the gush of everything
Comes like a full orgasm
It surely is not a great group of words
Maybe only average at best
It surely will not get printed
Maybe even tossed.
This is a long poem
Not even fit to read really
Seldom should anyone care about the outcome
But I’m up all night
For this pedestrian poem
I lose sleep
Many minutes of loss
But long poems are worth it
Phone keeps ringing
The baby is crying
My soul begs me to give up
But I go on and on.
This is a long poem
The throbbing of my hand
The crinkling of my fingers
It’s working
It’s haunting
It’s mature
Short poems are dull
To be a true love of this verse
It must be sweeping
And the opposite of puny
It’s giving me clarity
It has a barrel of hope.
This is a long poem
It stirs such uncertainty
But I feel a sense of humanity
With every crooked prose I still go
Not everyone can do this you know
A cryptic passage to let you know I’m alive
And I wonder when it will stop
Do you think now?
Why are you still reading this?
Have I made a mockery of this art we call “ode”.


Maria Marrocchino is a writer and producer living in Manhattan. She has lived in Manhattan for over 15 years and has been writing since the age of 13. Her poetry has appeared in Clockwise Cat, Broad, Belleville Park Pages, SNR Review, Main Street Rag and PDXX Collection. Her stories have appeared in The Sun for “Readers Write” and her travel stories can be found in Independent Traveler. Maria is a features writer for Dazed & Confused, Platinum, Nylon and City magazines. She has also published a book of poetry, Winged Victory: Transcending Breast Cancer.

Her website is krop.com/mmarrocchino.

Her blog is https://singlenycmom.com/

Binding the Generations

By Kim Zach

Because I am not the master,
I have the skin of a slave
who has spent her life

under the lash.
Each whip crack scatters
fragments of my ancestors.

Inside my body, I mourn.
Sorrow conjures up
my bartered children,

an armful of babies, gone.
Only whispers left
of their sweet breath

At night, yellow tears
flare like flames. Grief spills
out the cabin door, flows

through the woods, fills
the ocean and keeps afloat
ships bearing the multitude—

my blood brothers,
my sacred sisters. Snatched
from a far continent,

bound to planks, they roll
in sickness and squalor—
Africans rocking the deep.

Emerging from the belly
of darkness, they shade eyes
against forgotten sun. Broken

feet, circled in iron, stumble
onto the sandy shore.
I meet them there

and prepare to weep forever.

Hazelwood House for Unwed Mothers, 1963

The girl disappeared
overnight, escaped
from her second-floor room,
picking the lock like a young Houdini.

One slender arm circling
her burgeoning belly, she
slipped through the darkness,
down the stairs.

Maybe he waited for her, perched
on the hood of his blue Chevy,
collar turned against the swirling
snow, cigarette glowing
against his beautiful smile.

Maybe she ran to the corner
where his father’s Buick paralleled
the curb. Did he reach across
the seat, twist the handle, and say,
“Baby, baby, you made it!”?

Maybe they hurried to the alley
where his battered Ford truck idled,
her trembling hand clasped in his.
He gunned the motor, and by morning,
they had crossed the state line.

The other girls believed in maybe,
clinging to the possibility,
until the day finally came
when each forged her own escape,
belly deflated, arms empty.


Kim Zach is a writer whose work has appeared in U.S. 1 Worksheets, Genesis, Clementine Poetry Journal, Clementine Unbound, Adanna Literary Journal, and Bone Bouquet. Her poem ‘Weeding My Garden’ was nominated for a Pushcart prize. She is a lifelong resident of the Midwest where she taught high school English and creative writing for 40 years. She currently works as a book coach, giving other writers the support and guidance they need to complete their projects, whether fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. You can read more about her at kimberlyzach.com.

If self-destruction is an art

by Mikayla Schutte

this world has been
suffocating to me, i’ve
tried to carve my way out, my
flesh, my proof, my artist hands
have outlived their use, and i’m
left with a half-painted
canvas, a commission never
paid for in full, abandoned in
favor of another
ill-fated muse, i don’t know

who decides who will keep
their genius and lose
their life, or who will forfeit
their hands, the way that i
did mine, trade them
in for a few extra years, cautious
voices and paper-white walls offer
safe-keeping, a jar to
keep my hands in until the
bleeding has stopped, when i
can stitch them back on
without my fingers
curling with the urge to
leave half-moons in my
palm, sometimes i forget

what it was like to
paint, but when i reattached
my hands, my arms became
hallways, my legs an
open gallery, covered in
dusty sheets, only ripped
away in my own room, when
skin and glass stare back at
each other, and i am
reminded of the art i left, the
talent i lacked, the passion poured
into a bottle and locked in the
medicine cabinet, leaving me to
contemplate the inspiration that
leaked from under the door, only
opening it up and emptying it
into the sink after years of
I don’t want to be an artist.

The Sculptor

waves crashing against cliffs
unfinished stone
and a shifting, mercurial sculptor

chipping away

with dreams of
Marble Garden Statues
crowned with 
and bathed in 
a stone Aphrodite
soft and smooth and smiling at nothing at all

the chalky bitterness of a diet pill shoved down my throat

the sobs and heaves that dripped sorrowfully into the toilet

the curl of your lips
at the rumbling of my hollow stomach

                                        you didn’t know
that brittle rock could break
and desperate hands dig graves,        
                  not gardens
so you can drown in your 
ocean of intentions
or you can look up at what you have wrought:

a withered stone angel
staring down at an empty plot

Bury me in the backyard

the sun draws shapes in the grass, burning
the blades the shadows don’t reach, and i 
find myself scorched among them, the trees 
above me look oddly like veins, tans and browns
weaving through blue, i have the urge to
cut them down, or at least to trim the
limbs that pierce the edges of my 
vision, but i think that urge is
human—not poetic—because
when i close my eyes and open 
them again, i see the trees as a
poet, and i reach my arms towards the
sun, my fingers becoming branches, my
veins bleeding into the sky, i have the
urge to pluck one of my ribs from my 
side and plant it beside me, so by the
time the dirt sucks the breath from my
lungs, i’ll have joined them, my
fingers intertwined with theirs, my limbs
obscuring the view of the next lonely
soul to lay down in the grass and
look up at the sky


Mikayla Schutte is a Cincinnati-based poet. She is an undergraduate student at Northern Kentucky University, studying Creative Writing. She was named a topical winner for Live Poet’s Society’s High School Poetry Contest in 2019 and her work has appeared in National Poetry Quarterly and Hole in the Head Review.


by Travis Stephens

“Left handed people are more numerous among criminals
and sinister left-sided people among lunatics.”
—Dr. Cesare Lambrosco

My left hand is in rebellion,
my pinkie curling
as if to die
as if to say I’m done
find another fool
to hold onto things you
can’t pay for.
Ignore the ring finger.
A few years ago it did this,
the bands of tendon fierce and
hard across my palm.
So they injected an inhibitor,
a sort of meat tenderizer
approved by the fucking drug
houses in the land of CoPay.
Hurt like hell.
Then the smiling technician
lay my hand on her table to
straighten it out.
There, she said, as fire
licked my hand, my arm,
any hope of good manners.
(Men should not sound like that.)
That wasn’t so bad, was it?

I wish I played a banjo,
claw hammer loud,
so I had a reason for a hand
like this one.
Or was in possession of
the nuclear football;
never let it go, sir.
Instead I am dealt
a weak hand, full of poor genetics.
Only promise I can keep
is take my hand, love.
I can’t ever let you go.


Travis Stephens is a tugboat captain who resides with his family in California. A graduate of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, recent credits include: 2River, Sheila-Na-Gig, From the Depths, Miletus, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, K’in Literary Journal, and In Parentheses.


by Milton P. Ehrlich

Are a vast algebra of joy.
They make splendid curves
like eye-popping parabolas
and give off a paradisal heat.
They have tropical ingenuity
and the special knowledge
for landing on all the planets.
Plusses and minuses ends wars.
With mathematical projections
we destroy all of our weapons—
speak to each other calmly
after singing heart-felt songs,
and embrace all of our enemies
soon to become our new friends.


Humming is like weaving a gold
and silver thread across the door
of the mind—it’s a fine meditation.
Hum like fisherman and carpenters.
It keeps them company on the job.
Women who love to dance hum while
performing the drudgery of housework.
Humming allows your body to do
whatever it has to do effortlessly.
Hum like a composer listening to a tune
no one else can hear. Hum until the lights
in this dark world begin to glow again


Sometimes he loves you
with flowers and sunshine,
sometimes he hates you
with famine and tsunami—
but when he hates you,
it’s because he loves you
blinded by stars in his eyes.
If you keep your nose clean,
and follow the Golden Rule,
you might keep God smiling
more often than scowling.
His sunlight in our cheeks feels
like he’s nourishing some starved
part of ourselves.


She sings and sways to mesmerize us all—
walking in beauty in harmony with all beings,
always chasing rainbows for an aura of bliss.
The crank and thrust of mere words cannot
explain my enduring passion and intense wild love
for her svelte body, brilliant mind, and creative soul.
I am drowning in my unfathomable adoration of her
and will continue to cherish this woman until the day
I’ll be blowing kisses towards her as they lower me
down into the ground below.


Milton P. Ehrlich Ph.D. is an 89-year-old psychologist and a veteran of the Korean War. He has published poems in Poetry Review, The Antigonish Review, London Grip, Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Literary Magazine, Wisconsin Review, Red Wheelbarrow, and the New York Times.

The Moon Doesn’t Speak and The Stars Are Dead [1]

By Jordyn Taylor

The moon doesn’t speak to me like it used to,
Stars silent specks of solitude in the sky,
Rather than wondrous beings that guide me
Home. I used to wish on shooting stars,
Until I realized I was too late because the stars
Were dead. A million years ago I’d be granted my
Wish but now I’m wishing on dead souls. Flashes
Of glitter turn to dust. Ashes. What are you leaving
Behind? A galaxy. Why do you fall? To get away
From the living, to a new beginning. On Earth the moon
Doesn’t speak to you, covered instead by the commotion
Of life, replaced by the rays of the sun. Bright.
But sometimes voices sneak through. And other times hidden,
And wonders become dust. I know a few of the dead.

a loss of laughter

and when we lost your laugh, the rain
poured as if the sun had passed too.

gray clouds, impending doom. I’m lost without
your love, mourning the loss of you.
don’t cry for the pain, cry only
for the memories, they say,

but who’s to say I don’t cry for both?
a box of ashes stained with

tears, no funeral for the living.
six feet under lies the grief within me

instead of you. shovel soot instead of dirt.
a laugh as light as yours deserves to be

engulfed by the sun, not shoved down below the
surface. shed your colors down on me again. please,

when we meet again, kiss both cheeks
in celebration of life, love, light,

up the room, scream from the heavens,
echo off the balcony and through the gates.

are you watching? guardian angel? do angels
really make rainbows? make mine a double.

and when we think of you, sunlight shines through
the window and everything is silent. I hear laughter

ringing in my ears, a constant sound, never forget,
no. nobody forgets what sunlight looks like,

even after it’s disappeared for a while, and
soon we’ll meet again in the rays of you.

[1] (Inspired by, and including, the line: “and wonders become dust. I know a few of the dead” from American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes)


Jordyn Taylor (she/her) is an emerging writer from Bangor, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Susquehanna University with degrees in Creative Writing and Publishing and Editing, and a Professional and Civic Writing minor. She is a lover of thrillers, poetry slams, her three dogs, and anything out of the ordinary.

Sweet Thing

By Carolyn Adams

She was a tall, slender girl,
pretty, gamine as a deer.

One day, after gym, she showed
me her twin.  A tiny ceramic doe
cradled in cotton,
in a pink paper box.
She’d taken it from a store.

She tenderly moved the wrap,
whispering that
she’d named it Sweet Thing.

She treasured this stolen thing.
I worried, certain
someone would find us.
But she loved it so.
And she shared it with me.
I never knew that contraband
could be so adored.

That was the first time
I learned that theft
could equal love.

Night Work

Carry me off to bed,
lay me down gently.
I’ll drift in soft cotton
on a warm night sea
until I slam the bulkhead.

I’ll find myself
in the abandoned house,
the empty store,
the wretched schoolyard.
There’ll be a predator
with a dagger smile,
its breath hot on my throat.
It will turn and fix its eyes
on me.  And I’ll run.

Or there’ll be a man I can’t
get rid of.  He’ll ford the
windowsill, wade through
the front door.
He’ll demand my bed,
sex, a place at the table.
I’ll know his name.
I’ll half-recognize him.

There’ll be more
I won’t understand.

It will take all night, but
I’ll do the work.
The work that gets
me out of here.

The Map Dream

I trace the shape of continents,
marking cities with pins,
seas with fingertips.

And then I’m swimming
in one of the oceans
I’ve recently named.

The water is warm,
the sun is kind.
But I’m afraid
of what lurks just under.

There’s an island nearby
and that’s
what I’m aiming for.

I pull out the map to chart
a course.  But my destination’s
lost in a deep fold
of the ancient paper,
it’s getting wet.

And something’s disturbed
in the water.


Carolyn Adams’ poetry and art appear in Amsterdam Quarterly, Blue Collar Review, and 1870 Poetry, et al. She has authored four chapbooks, and has been nominated for a Pushcart prize and Best of the Net. A staff editor for Mojave River Review, she is also a poetry editor for VoiceCatcher.

she wears chaos like Dior

by Elizabeth Train-Brown

I’ve got my hands all over her
in the train toilet
en route to Manchester Piccadilly
and she’s alive like static
under my fingers
whispering in tongues
gulping down the sweat in the air.

when we set off the fireworks
by Lancaster canal
she ground her thumb into gunpowder
painted it on her cheeks,
her white moth eyes
chasing the Catherine wheels
spinning under the bridge on the M55.

she pulled me onto the 23:33 from Preston
with a hand around the back of my neck
told me,
I might not ruin your life
but you’ll excuse me if I certainly try.


we were walking back from theirs
butterflies in our bellies
(that might’ve just been the vodka red bulls)
and my feet were singing on the air
because I could still taste his lips on mine
could still feel his hands on my hips
fingers dancing through my hair.

we were walking back home
in the rain in the dark
and I sat down in the road

to break.

the others watched me
crumble on wet tarmac
tear the air apart
chest heaving

eyes burning

they’ve never seen destruction
quite like this
never knew sobs could rip the night sky
curdle the stars
spill into the street like oil in a storm

and they don’t know
why I keep whispering your name

they don’t know
because I’m 150 miles away
from where you died
and no one here
pours an extra vodka red bull
and leaves it untouched on the table.


see before you,
an hysteric.
call me Blanche
call me mum
call me the name
of your first lover
it doesn’t matter
because I will be
the thing you dream
of tonight.
I am the future
the night
the darkest
of your delights
and tomorrow
you won’t remember
the colour of my

I buried my heart at a crossroad

you have her eyes
like wine
like chaos.
you probably have her mouth
but I can’t concentrate
long enough
when you start giggling
against my collarbone –
all I can think of
is how your breath feels
skating over my chest
as you tell me about
how sirens spring
from the women
who throw themselves
off cliffs
how vampires are the women
who drink blood
between the legs of


Elizabeth Train-Brown (she/they) is a circus performer and award-winning journalist, studying Creative Writing at Lancaster University. She is Poetry & Prose Editor for TL Publishing, Developmental Editor for Flash Literary Journal, Poetry Reader at Bandit Fiction, and Poetry Staff Writer at Saturdaze Magazine. She won the 2020 Literary Lancashire Award, came highly commended in the 2021 Erbacce Prize, listed under Best Submissions in the 2021 SLF Young Poets Prize, and has been published over 30 times. She can be found online at bethtrainbrown.journoportfolio.com and instagram.com/choo_choo42.


By J.R. Solonche

Options presented.
Benefits and risks
of each explained.

Simply as possible.
Layman’s language.
Doctors’ baby talk.

Diagrams on yellow
legal pad, shadowed
by diagrams in air.

Now I am alone for
two days to figure
out the best way out.

Had they only come
with three straws,
two long, one short.

I look at the pad.
I look at the hasty
oval of heart, at

the arrow arteries,
at pain’s thick mark.
Statistical probability.

X Y Z prophecy for me.
So for two days
I sit by the window above

Seventh Avenue to scan
the sky for flights
of sparrows. To wait

for a cloud shaped
like a helmeted woman.
To stare at the ceiling

tiles and the fly that
must settle on the tile
with the stain. To listen

for nine rings on the nurses’
station telephone. For a
coincidence of coughs

in the corridor. To watch
for the sign in the dream
I will for two nights dream,

above the door of my wife,
that will sing in neon:
“Enter – This Way Life.”


The one says:
I did not know what you knew.

The other says:
What I know I know because of you.

The one says:
Suddenly it has grown cold.

The other says:
What should I remember about you?

The one says:
Nothing has changed.

The other says:
Once you were larger than life.
Now you are loose change in the pocket of my heart.

The one says:
The future had your profile.

The other says:
I will save us.

The one says:
I have already saved us.


In the Chase Manhattan Bank branch
on the corner of 235th Street
and Johnson Avenue, I have changed
my mind about banks. I never used
to like banks. I despised banks. Now
I like banks. I like standing in the cool
lobbies of banks. I like the brass stanchions
and the velvet ropes that are swagged
between them that you must follow
to the tellers’ windows, as though through
a maze. I like the ballpoint pens chained
to the counters where you fill out deposit
slips and withdrawal slips. I like the blue
deposit slips and the pink withdrawal slips.
I like the look on the faces of the tellers,
especially when there are many customers
waiting. They are the concentrated faces
of efficiency. I like to say something
pleasant and polite and civil to the tellers
when it is my turn at the window.
Their gratitude is palpable. It shows on
their efficient faces, and I like that.
I like being a number. I like being several
numbers. I never thought I’d like being
a number, but I do. I like being a number
and a face without a name. It is such
a pleasure not having a name for a little
while during the day. How tiring it is
to answer to a name all the time. I like
the air-conditioned, clean smell of banks.
I like the brand new bills they give me.
I like the way they smell and feel and look.
They remind me of the brand new
books they gave me in school, that I was
the first to use. I like the word. I like
the sound of the word “bank.” It’s the sound
the vault makes when it’s shut and locked.
I like to look at the big vault door. I like
the shiny brushed steel of it. I like
the solidity of it, the indestructibility.
I like the enormous tumblers of the locks.
I like the timing mechanism in its glass
case. I like the handle, big as the handle
on the air-lock of a submarine. The door
looks strong enough to keep out death,
master-thief, genius of safe-crackers.
I do not like death.


Professor Emeritus of English at SUNY Orange, J.R. Solonche has published poetry in more than 400 magazines, journals, and anthologies since the early ’70s. He is the author of Beautiful Day (Deerbrook Editions), Won’t Be Long (Deerbrook Editions), Heart’s Content (Five Oaks Press), Invisible (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by Five Oaks Press), The Black Birch (Kelsay Books), I, Emily Dickinson & Other Found Poems (Deerbrook Editions), In Short Order (Kelsay Books), Tomorrow, Today and Yesterday (Deerbrook Editions), True Enough  (Dos Madres Press), The Jewish Dancing Master (Ravenna Press), If You Should See Me Walking on the Road (Kelsay Books), In a Public Place (Dos Madres Press), To Say the Least (Dos Madres Press), The Time of Your Life (Adelaide Books), The Porch Poems (Deerbrook Editions , 2020 Shelf Unbound Notable Indie Book), Enjoy Yourself  (Serving House Books), Piano Music (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by Serving House Books), For All I Know (Kelsay Books), A Guide of the Perplexed (Serving House Books), The Moon Is the Capital of the World (WordTech Communications), Years Later (Adelaide Books), The Dust (Dos Madres Press), Selected Poems 2002-2021 (nominated for the National Book Award by Serving House Books),and coauthor with his wife Joan I. Siegel of Peach Girl:Poems for a Chinese Daughter (Grayson Books). He lives in the Hudson Valley.


By James Croal Jackson

Home is a little bit blurry.
Mom, I swear to you, it might not be
July next time I see you.

Your digital face is a little bit blurry,
but our lighthouse will always be
the one light in dark through memory,

right? I want to climb the ladder
to surveil the roof. Home has
become a wall of atrophied faces.


I have driven along red sand roads
knowing my speed uncontainable,
locked eyes with oncoming traffic
on drugs and drink. Death wants
to always remind me how close
we often get, that sometimes
he’s a blur rushing toward me,
and I must know to swerve.


Stress-eating sour worms
while working from home.
A dumb numbness. Live
a weekend for a little
joy. A stressed syll-
able. A stretched neon
bleeding the pumps
from my heart, my long
and yellow heart, crusted
from swallowing earth’s
bitter notes back. I used
to take outside for granted.

You Want Positivity? Here’s Some Positivity

The sun shines on my goddamn sunflower teeth.
Thankful my dental appointment was rescheduled

to an indeterminate point for future me (who is
that crooked reflection in the mirror? Relieved

to see bad posture alive and well) to compensate
for. When I graduated college, I fell in love

at the slightest touch– autumn leaves floating
in a pond, the draft of winter wind through

the window. Now I’m older and more ragged
(the other day I tossed a rug with a painting

of a lion so I could replace it with speckled
blue) and, certainly, with so much heat death

to look forward to.


tin colander holes  parts of me peeking
out into the kitchen horizon    past the stove
which so very recently burned blue &
contained above potentially dangerous
gas    of which you were in control
unlike last night you did the right
thing  begging cathy not to drive
home   her slurring sentences
& drunken desperation   just
hours before  all three of us
together   I had to walk home
after downing Nosferatus
and you were there with her
drinking tequila when you called
to say now I really
have to say goodbye
but everything was fine you
arrived at your destination
but she wanted to
drive again the night
air thin
& shivering &
blue when she


James Croal Jackson (he/him) is a Filipino-American poet who works in film production. He has two chapbooks, Our Past Leaves (Kelsay Books, August 2021) and The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017). He edits The Mantle Poetry from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (jamescroaljackson.com)

A Rage Against My Machines

By Torri Hammonds

I am convinced that I’m a walking Y2K bug.
That isn’t some delusion that puts me
  in the center of the universe;
If it requires electricity it has burst
  into figurative flames.
I’ve watched so many a computer succumb
  to the Blue Screen of Death,
that it no longer frightens me.

My coffee maker frequently stops doing the thing
  it is specifically made to do.
I’ve had cell phones that couldn’t hold phone calls
  if they weren’t plugged into walls.
My laptop burns the top of my lap.

I live an analogous life
  with my French press coffee,
and my cell phones, reduced
  to landlines.
I am bound to my desk with wires.

Each day is a new battle with a device
  that is supposed to make my life easier.
I am throwing up the white flag.
I am resigning myself to a life
  of slight inconvenience.


Splash me with your
  sound waves.
Wrap me in your acoustic arms
  and rock me to sleep.
Reverberate so I can use
  my echolocation
to navigate this life.
Do you realize that we
  are on the same wavelength?
These sonic sensations
  sustain us.


Torri Hammonds is a currently a student at Columbus State Community College, on the long road to getting her Master’s in Library Science. Her best writing ideas come to her during moments of procrastination and when she has had too much caffeine. Her work has previously appeared in A Celebration of Young Poets. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her boyfriend and their cat.

Dust Bowl Venus by Stella Beratlis

Reviewed by Linda Scheller

California’s Central Valley is a 450-mile-long stretch of rich soil irrigated by an extensive system of canals. This extraordinarily productive region abounds in fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, and poets. The hot sun and wide sky have nurtured many noteworthy poets, including Philip Levine, Mai Der Vang, and Juan Felipe Herrera. Another is Modesto Poet Laureate Emeritus Stella Beratlis. Dust Bowl Venus, her new book from Sixteen Rivers Press, is poetry of place grounded in the Central Valley city of Modesto.

During the Great Depression, thousands of people displaced by drought and poverty made their way to California. One of them was Hazel Houser, a migrant from Oklahoma who settled in Modesto and became a prolific songwriter of gospel and country hits. She is the muse of Dust Bowl Venus, memorialized by Beratlis in poems exploring their shared passions and common struggles.

Beratlis writes about desire, folly, and reverence in stanzas that juxtapose incantatory fervor with plainspoken determination, as these lines from “We Write Songs in His Rent Controlled Apartment” illustrate:

                        I beseech thee, stainless quivering leg of bone and ligament,
            allow me to finish the entire song. I’m no lead guitarist.
                        Is the song better served by a sharp tidy solo
            or the Janus tremolo of pure feeling? I wonder.
                        Do not counter with what is known. Fingerpick the hell out of
            these strings, in this small apartment with its brief luxuries
                        and cigarette smoke.

Many of the poems make reference to ligaments, bone, and the heart, most poignantly when the speaker reflects on her daughter’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” lays bare the terror felt by a mother shown the image of a tumor lodged in her daughter’s chest. “Castle of the Mountain” brings the reader chairside to behold the bag of bright red chemotherapy drug and hear the tick and beep of the infusion machine. Bertatlis depicts a mother’s anguish, endurance, and tentative faith with sensitivity and precision.

Dust Bowl Venus is replete with love and its flip side, loss. “All About Birds: An Elegy” is dedicated to the assassinated Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. As in many of her poems, Beratlis here employs questions and anaphora to powerful effect, emphasizing the grief of the beloved survivor:

                        Which galaxy

            contains you now? Which bird’s throat?
                        In the pines,
            the wind swept through the thicket, and I saw.

                        I saw.

But not all is gloom in this collection. Beratlis plays with language in asides contained within dashes like a hand slyly screening the speaker’s mouth, “et cetera” waving away a rueful reflection, and parentheses cupping a muttered justification. Numerous poems apostrophize with “O,” and sometimes “Oh” precedes a thought like a sigh. Archaisms such as “whence,” “woe be unto us,” and “thou” echo the King James Bible that Houser, a minister’s daughter, transposed into gospel hits. Simultaneously, the occasional “goddamn” or “busting” keeps the reader in the rough and tumble West. This excerpt from “Conversation with a Lover About the Louvins” exemplifies the poet’s whimsical word play:

            step down into street; in darkness delight. Next,
            rye paired with pear, the pair pared

            to leather, bluejean and thigh. Hazel’s rules
            for songwriting: Dip from the deeper well. Well, we are.

Intimacy and distance are balanced by scientific allusions interfused with the human condition in references to physics, botany, astronomy, and geology. The long poem “water wealth contentment health” alone contains “neurotransmitters,” “epigenetics,” “atmospheric river,” “genomes,” “fractal,” and “gut-brain.” These notes of erudition embellish poems that prove both emotionally and intellectually satisfying.

Affectionate address—“my love,” “my dear,” “my citadel fortress”—connects the speaker with people and things that inspire joy and spark recognition. A tribute to Modesto, “Republic of Tenderness and Bread” marvels at the community’s kindness. Even poems of disappointment and heartbreak hold commendable grace as in “Fracture Mechanics” and “Instant Messaging with Broken Glass” which invoke hard-earned wisdom with dry humor and a shrug of resignation.

Throughout Dust Bowl Venus, music conveys wonder, vulnerability, and revelation. As well as Houser’s gospel harmonies and rhythm guitar, the poems evoke Paganini, reggae, assouf and corridos, blues, punk rock, and christos anesti sung by the speaker’s Greek family in a Livermore cemetery. Beratlis composes verbal music by means of repeated sounds and careful rhythms, with phrases that cycle back like the chorus of a song, and in the counterpoint of silence. Her judicious use of spacing and punctuation control the tempo to compelling effect. These lines from the poem “How to Possibly Find Something or Someone By Praying” demonstrate the poet’s understanding of the power inherent in end stop and enjambment:

            I’m a typewriter wreck on the highway;
            don’t look at me.
            You are throwing your voice
            into every corner as I hunt and peck
            the light fantastic.

            A neon Lucky Strike sign, vintage automobiles, and other carefully chosen objects conjure the zeitgeist of Houser’s Modesto. “Historic Structure Report” tenderly addresses a specific building downtown—“Hush, my monolith”—and describes its architecture in detail:

            The asparagus fern of commerce
            overspills your planters,
            thrives along your bones,
            while inside, borrowed-money ball gowns
            and loggia daydreams consider a dance. Your glass,
            columns, composite floors, and floral-stamped metal—
            those vertical striations raked in cement—
            all expressions of a certain mid-century mindset.

Dust Bowl Venus is the cartography of two lives. Led to the canneries and dance halls of the “beloved city” familiar to both Houser and Beratlis, the reader is urged to observe, consider, and cherish people and places. In “All About Birds: An Elegy,” the speaker counsels:

                                    Remember to etch images
                        and locations into your mind—
            this poem is a memory palace:

In a region of relentless heat and meager precipitation, nonetheless, plants, people, and poetry can and do flourish. In Dust Bowl Venus, Stella Beratlis maps one Central Valley city and the intricate traces of the heart.

Sixteen Rivers Press        ISBN 978-1-939639-25-7      
$16.00       Paperback       80 pgs.      https://sixteenrivers.org/order/


Linda Scheller is the author of Fierce Light from FutureCycle Press. Her writing prizes include the 2020 Catherine Cushman Leach Poetry Award and 2021 California Federation of Chaparral Poets Contest. Her book reviews and poetry recently appeared in Entropy, The Inflectionist Review, Oddville Press, West Trade Review, and The American Journal of Poetry. 


By Matt Zachary

We were warned
more than once
and refused to listen
because the right answers
are the ones we want to hear.

No one wants warnings
when the sun is bright
and the money’s rolling in.

Learning to Live with Germs Again

At some point I will
offer you a sip of my drink
and you will accept
and our lips will, indirectly,
touch again, as they used to.

At some point our hands
will touch, intentionally,
or not. Our breaths will
mingle. Our flora and fauna
will meet, perhaps exchange.

And at that point someone
will catch someone else’s cold.

A Prayer against Plague

May the sun bring some salvation.
May light and heat burn without burning.
May lungs fill with nothing but breath.


Matt Zachary is a teaching assistant with literary aspirations. He is currently working on his first novel.


by Mark DuCharme

Who dreams about my arms in damaged youth?
Who knows the finite ways to make love breathe?
Who flaunts me with mournful saints?
Who prolongs absence in the eyes of past listeners?
Whose tongues know love’s brutality?
What liars are rampant as drowsy parishioners?
Who feeds upon the dust?
Who wanders bent with children’s dreams?
Who devours but cannot rust?
Who is mild with waking screams?
Who showers but can’t think on Sundays?
Toward whom do all misshapen women thrust?
Who is a varied eavesdropper, & who a skillful lunchroom attendant?
Who courses through all broken calm, then flees with bottled rain?

Policed Lines

Somewhere, I am
Someone else

Free when the ink dries

Impossible in summer rains


The trouble with
Troubles the fact—

A dish in a laundry basket—

The tune went astray


If I’d known you before
I was inside myself
Then we could think about tomorrow

& The birds that held you
In the textures of shimmers

You who would squander
The gleam in lost
Children’s eyes—

Those who smoke
Just outside the rain

After Bergman

The camera loses patience
It’s alright, what you scribble
But don’t soon come again
In a casket too stylized for whispers

If only you’d held out your hand
Or not quibbled with the maidservants
About a death you’d soon long for
As seasons draw past

Bearing monuments that cluster
With a kind of fine agony—
Could you phrase that question in another
Language? Or is it time now for you to

Return to that great city, where angels & clouds
Weep— & the moment
Of reckoning rushes
Ever immanent, ever at hand?

To Him Who Hadn’t
Got That Message

The markings of history
Are all fed back to us
Even in times of decay

Light is a perfect symbol
Of light

If you go away now
Everyone will understand
Until a little bit later

When the glamour of birth
Is through with you

Go easy
On the rains that fail
Dumbfounded lost city eyes

Wear grief
Like an entertainment
Instead of a disguise

Until you are almost
Alone & free

Of those who think of
Breath as mirth

There will come a time

When your cough
In death


Mark DuCharme is the author of We, the Monstrous: Script for an Unrealizable Film, Counter Fluencies 1-20, The Unfinished: Books I-VI, Answer, The Sensory Cabinet and other works. His poetry has appeared widely in such venues as BlazeVOX, Caliban Online, Colorado Review, Eratio, First Intensity, Indefinite Space, New American Writing, Noon, Otoliths, Shiny, Talisman, Unlikely Stories, Word/for Word, and Poetics for the More-Than-Human World: An Anthology of Poetry and Commentary. A recipient of the Neodata Endowment in Literature and the Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry, he lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Hear You Knocking

by Nicholas Karavatos

how far out I lie I speak
from between my lines

a barrier to myself
displaying a division

concealing a presence spoken into
a coffee before dawn a donut shop

another body not mine where you left me an
embodied concentrate of encamped identities

a reading list of current titles
that like I have been shelved.

you stole my body
                               even if I gave it
even if I’d given it
                               you stole my body

a line of blood in sand
a man between asleep

the permeable body is the first and last line in space every
body a frontier every body a horizon a line around a globe.

you made me a silhouette
I speak from the outline

my penetrable mind is dark to itself
is a shadow that deflates my oily hair.

Extraction Economies

That rattle in the mandarin is the bounce of fused
sectionalism under my skin. Almond oil milks my

nutteries. Artisanal meads and scented barley waters are
customary refreshments. A tribe without a flame is not a

All about me cannot last long. Gone from the picture, a played-out
character I can’t get out of. Sabotage is subtle. Inaction is conflict.

My nails grow quickly and are strong. I claw at my clothing.
Improperly wiped lenses issue attitudes on sight. These times

are smudges and smears on Time as honeybees make medicine in
Yemen and baskets of honeycombs sit high in Ethiopian trees. Bees’

honey and culinary oils are American skullduggery. My unionist oath
of outer citizenship accounts for my exclusive tastes for inner secession.

I shield my eyewear from the summertime
flash-bang. My caramelized onion head is

split like a ripe melon on a beach. Visions
of the future of the galaxy as a fruit salad.

Scent of Celery

the women
said so. Because
the men said so.

Pointedly, he’s a besider; he’s a pathetic prospect of
a hashtag campaign in his bursted languages. He has


Become no one. Done what. Too late another. Days too late. Never had an
office job or maybe did. Which one of him would be a liberated one of them?

He could’ve contended to become a fiber in the fabric
if he’d perspired through the static fantasy to its end.

Egregiously erogenous, the nonviolent hilarity of
an apocalypse could be fun if getting pantsed by

the Almighty were not violent harassment.

Venturing into holiday homecomings remind him he is the prey
and not the boast of a younger man’s ambitions. He could not

become The Cause so is half remembered on each return home.
As his accumulating subtractions space out, he wishes he could

laugh off the pieces. So, over breakfast
he chuckles a fruit frost as flakey as his

oblong orbits. He is lost to hers.
No tender for mutual cultivation

he mulches his onerous bends of space. Despite shapeliness
to their eccentricities, a figure of speech is not his last word.


NICHOLAS KARAVATOS is an assistant professor of poetics at the Arab American University of Palestine near Jenin in the West Bank. He was a U.S. Ambassador’s Distinguished Scholar to Ethiopia in 2018 at Bahir Dar University, and from 2006 through 2017, an assistant professor of creative writing at The American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. At the Modern College of Business and Science in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman from 2001 through 2006, he was a senior lecturer in humanities. His first year as an expat worker was on the faculty of the Fujairah Technical School in the UAE from 2000 to 2001. Nicholas Karavatos is a graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata and New College of California in San Francisco.

The three poems published here are from his manuscript, Colony Collapse. Two poems from this manuscript and an interview with the author are at the Cathexis Northwest Press website. Of his full-length poetry book No Asylum (Amendment Nine, 2009), David Meltzer writes: “Nicholas Karavatos is a poet of great range and clarity. This book is an amazing collectanea of smart sharp political poetry in tandem with astute and tender love lyrics. All of it voiced with an impressive singularity.”

Catch and Release

by Hana Jabr

To Jeff Metcalf

Last night I was a fish
in some river
I’ve never known.
The water tasted of moss

                                                          and the earthy mineral of smooth pebbles.
I glided and sliced
my way to the almost shore
where you stood in waders
water to your knees
waiting with your family.
A line of them
pretending you weren’t gone.

                                                         Would you catch me this time?
                                                         Raise me into the air                                      
                                                         mark me as a trophy?
                                                         Suddenly too many to count, we gulped the river and impatiently
                                             waited our turn
                                                                          trusting you saw us all                                                                                            our fins and gills                                                                                                                                      every last scale.

The sun dunked into the horizon
a biscuit breaking
the surface of a
lukewarm cup of tea.
All around me the river
tucked itself in for the night

and you disappeared into some
                                                                         murky forever.

Assessing the Damage

Exterior signs of earthquake damage include:
Continuous cracks horizontal cracks vertical cracks diagonal cracks foundational cracks stair
                  step cracks
Walk stairs carefully to check for a change in stability.
There’s a crack in the sidewalk
that wasn’t there before.
Inspect carefully
ceiling joints and floor registers. Are they loose, shifting, leaning, settling?
The crack in the ceiling still stretches when the house yawns
before or after a deafening stillness.
I can’t remember which.
But it’s centered.
Check if the windows and doors open with more than normal resistance.
What is normal resistance?
Be on the lookout for cracked or missing glass signs of water damage unusual debris shifting
                  gaps along cabinets.
Remember the tenderness of wind before?
Feel for drafts along the walls
inspect vertical mid-span rafter supports. Are they leaning, are they twisting?
Remember pictures clinging to walls?

Does the paint stare vacuous expressionless as if daring you to pack and leave
the shell of this home

No Relation

To Amy Cooper

The birds took flight when he bounded over
and the wind in the trees will bear witness.
Do you feel threatened now?
You think distance is just space that saves us
from restraint?
You are wound tightly around fear’s finger.
Your voice shivers behind a mask that hardly hides
hate as you bind him, winding the leash
until he cries
“I can’t breathe.”
He’s winded but your wounded pride fuels you
to hold him down, bound to the watchful ground
with non-deadly force.
Do you still feel threatened now?


Hana Jabr writes and teaches in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her chapbook Translation won the 2012 Salt Lake Community College Press chapbook competition and was published in an edition of 250 copies. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Start Literary Journal, Mapping SLC, and Thimble Literary Magazine. Hana is currently earning her MA in literature from Weber State University. When she isn’t working, Hana enjoys riding her horse, reading tarot cards, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.


by R.T. Castleberry

Clouded spring,
I slip on twice-worn jeans,
high top Chucks, ironic uniform shirt.
Mingled musk of hibachi barbecue,
wheat beer, Marlboro lights
press balcony and stairs.
Leveling whine of a service dog,
twist of a Piaggio scooter
disturb the courtyard.
Stepping to the sidewalk,
a rushing whistle warns as
downtown rail lights a lane of
oak limb overhang,
painted chains and guard posts.
Open hours, no work for the week,
I take the liquor store sip.
Walking to the car, I weave
across root crack sidewalk,
stretch a weary, shaking hand
to drop spare coins into a beggar’s palm.
Blood shadow darkness carves
a high-rise Southern horizon.
Tension seals the day.


In the spring, we reap a smaller harvest,
roast pigs on empty playing fields.
We read from the plague Bible,
clean gutters with firebomb and bone.

The ring hangs loose on the lover’s hand,
ribbon twisted tight on a supplicant wrist.
Winter scars seal on sunlit skin.
The plague summons is absent cause or penalty.

The chase continues in rain, a gritted fog.
Mastiffs scatter suspects across the hills.
No harm, little charm in the plague roses.
They grow gruesome along forest battle trails.

We cross the headwaters of the plague river,
drink as anointed, drained of spite.
Take the bridge. Take a ferry.
We’ll scrape the caves of lamentations.


A drink at The Zero mixes strong.
Shots spill the rim,
cocktails served brimful and burning.
Scent of lime slice, mint sweetly crushed
hovers in the smoke.
Matador and picador swing through,
each precise in his fiesta control.
Coastal painters pull them
to sketch pad, to laptop easel.
Poets sip confessional absinthe,
snipe at journal critique.

At the window tables,
the café blooms like winter lilies.
Tea and tangerines accent each seating.
Lake winds caress the elms.
The random raging wife snares
a carafe of vino tinto, settles
sipping beside the tugboat quay.
Tremulous over lover’s lyrics,
a strolling soprano warns, “Goodbye, I’ve lost.”

Garnet ring gracing clenched fist
my third adultery instructs, “Don’t marry.
Adopt a string of dogs,
the kids and cognac mothers that come with.”
She gifts me her greyhound—tethered,
dozing at the ballroom door.
Living privilege to its conclusion,
she repudiates crowns of iris, rose, camellia;
denies family pressure, ominous marriage.
Despite all balcony lies,
the horoscope years that lay between us,
if she were to ask, I’d embrace
her children fighting on the river,
her children dicing in the desert.


On mountain rail towards the bay,
I saw deer racing a fire.
Leaping a creek,
they scale a stone path upwards,
dodge through a blue oak border.
I spend a lot of time in Mexico.
I take a hard line and the train when I travel.
An ex-wife, an ex-kid live there January to June.
Leveraged in another time zone,
she lives on sand. She takes a tan all year.
The girl runs the waves, resists no temptation,
raids wallets as damage entitlement.

Spring’s mistress arrives in March,
greets each evening in
hostess silks of Persian rose,
jonquil, malachite.
A month gone, we screw till noon,
brunch over dark rum mimosas.
Late dinner is Black Jack and Coke,
hash the daughter value shops
from the village smuggler.
Beach winds etch the picture window,
waves ever wilder against the breakers.

I read a lot. Things you need,
whether contrary or contradiction:
kindness if possible, otherwise the boot.
The ex writes lyrics she shares to the air,
randomness of rant, specifying nothing.
We gloss the wreckage of marriage memories.
We share a pipe some sunsets, afternoons
walk a musk of sun-warm bodies,
microbrews taken outdoors.

“You express more. I don’t like it,” the girl says.“
As you ask attention,” I tell her, “you get it–
sneer, advice and all.”
Setting sun is a splash on the boardwalk.
She looks away. I walk away,
long neck bottle loose in my hand.
A personal life calls for me.
I’ll sign some checks before
leaving later in the week.


Hands on hips,
I stretch legs to scrape
gutter mud from new ropers.
Feeder and offramp back my house.
The sea-sound rush cascades the backyard.
A wheelchair vet nests at the front
blocking the turn lane,
begging in danger for change.
Storm clouds settle to the south,
thunder’s roll an anxiety I accept.
The clock runs out like
train cars down a bayou track,
brother’s sneak through window and wallet.
Nothing remains past
scraps of spite, a cursing conversation.
I finish a cigarette, step to the patio,
flip it arcing, sparking into the grass.


A Pushcart Prize nominee, R.T. Castleberry is an internationally published poet and critic. He was a co-founder of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe, co-editor/publisher of the poetry magazine Curbside Review, an assistant editor for Lily Poetry Review and Ardent. His work has appeared in The Alembic, Blue Collar Review, Misfit, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, White Wall Review, Silk Road and Trajectory. Internationally, he’s had poetry published in Canada, Great Britain, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Portugal, the Philippines and Antarctica. He lives and writes in Houston, Texas.


by Natasha Sharma

a cuckoo sounds, papa
slats between the light
in our tropical room bronze high
’90s fashion pressed
vermillion ink on my fingers a
tingle we’ve entered your childhood
roam rivers seeking seas
on boundaries permanently erased

our high hopes searching
your home half abandoned this century
ago who is left bodies only
innocent we try too hard

it’s lost now concrete
has made the silent vow
strips of green red streamers aloft
the trees outside construction
lingers a thrush pushes out
your now broken lost house
feel your body doing what’s left

middletown swimming

these days, we’ve chosen to be swept under some
imaginary depths of chlorine,
to have the concrete bowl be our bones
my sister and I lay in the empty pool, recall:
her violin my flute store, its strip mall
bankrupt, all the heroes with their golden teeth
and us not guessing, to play later,
notes out as dust motes in this bottom bowl

a wealthy family’s chemicals laden the air,
a leftover blonde’s lock, their painted nail
I’m choking without thinking
I imagine the splashes above me,
the bubbles rising from sinking bodies,
all ghosts of summers shadow over us

police come to hear our skin screeching
against this desperate bowl’s purpleized
mosaic, then, midwestern evening autosphere
lures bronze skies warning vehemently, to run zoom
out past vintage bicycles, broken jockey statues
and grandma’s windcatcher collection bids us chiming goodbyes


between my legs he tickles me with the calligraphy of a brush
meant for other women in his novel of us that’s not really us
aspiring to something meant for real Indian women, I paint
curry onto my nails wielding them above bubbling pots,
below, a paisley rest on my ankle bruises elephant skin
above it my legs are something for wolf-men to suckle at
it’s waxy between my breasts it’s sticky in his mouth
it’s my grandmother’s recipe

Indiana Desi

Mama has left us for her head, inside it
her purple molten plants bleed untended,
unintended we fled with the broken U-Haul

history will not hope for us
we’re the wrong color brown, saris
torn and bright, discriminate patterns

the cattle have taken our side

our bodies allowed only in the large spaces,
herdable, I hear my stomach bellow
it seems a visitor to this broken space

my people stare out blankly
cowboy laundry hanging beside black pens
cotton hued against my shaking

I forget our color out here, picket fence
imprisoned in our own country
how many chains till we feed together again?

split/marriage: a buoyant miscegenation

black hair-dye splat, bleached skin cream dot
eye me from a rose-colored carpet
a child’s bathroom floor

creeping in my oatmeal bath
brown-itchy bottom buoyant
mommy, when will I be done?
till your skin shrinks/till I can see your bones bleach

I pretend mermaid
cooking in the oven
iridescent fish turning

my fingers pinched prunes
her purple knuckles pound
dough sticky roti slabs
sizzle gold spitting oil

now Papa’s eye will turn doorways
her knuckles will snap like chickpeas
while I’m left-behind fishy flakes
a maid rotting in forgotten waters


Natasha Sharma is a tutor for early and elementary age students in Ohio. Her poems represent growing up in the American Midwest as a first-generation South Asian and touch on mental health issues, trauma, and dreaminess. She holds a Master’s degree in English from Miami University of Ohio and her work can be found in “The Hartskill Review”, “As/Us”, “Better than Starbucks,” and “Fleas on the Dog.”


by John Tustin

It’s beautiful
The sound the water makes
When it funnels out
From the gutters
And into the mud

The rain continues
And I sit inside
Dry and warm

Drowning nonetheless
In the deluge
Of my own mind

It makes a noise
That does not
Sound nearly
As beautiful
As the music
The rain

Splattering the windows
Outside my warren
And unable to touch
The skin
I’m in


I wake up too early in the morning
With one less morning remaining
And every stroke of the wind that washes my face
Represents one wish gone unfulfilled.


There was a moment…
We were in a bar.
You were drunker than me,
As usual when we were both drinking
Even though I would drink more than you…
We were kissing, sitting right by the front door,
We were kissing and I touched you, you
Touched me.
There was a moment
When you told me you had to pee
So I stood up as you stood up
And we were side by side.
I was just a little dizzy,
Perspiring a bit
As you put your hand on the small of my back
And kissed me softly, closing your eyes.
Then you went to the bathroom.
Now your hand is long gone from the small of my back,
Your small kisses lost forever.
There was a moment, though.
Tonight, this moment,
I live it.


I would live another day to just come home
To you in various states of undress
Just as I would die tonight
To see photographs of you
In various states of undress
Were I to find them
Beneath another man’s


John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in almost 300 disparate literary journals, online and in print – including Rhino, Bryant Literary Review and Chiron Review – since he began to write again a dozen years ago. http://fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry/ contains links to his published poetry online.


by Jen Knox

Every dream a slip of a thing,
a sojourn into the ordinary, coveted past
until a deep quarantine sleep
pulled Jupiter toward our small Midwestern town.
Every step heavy, I trudged toward it.
The planetary pull, cartoon-like.
Its gravitational force
targeting a particular part of me,
leaving the rest enchanted but confused.
I rolled over to check the news, the charts,
the trends, and I stared out of my window.
As so many of us have. At 5 a.m., I saw Jupiter,
a slip of a thing with Saturn in its gaze.
Surrounded by stars in a sharp, dark morning sky.
And I felt hope.


The line for irregular, black shirts takes ten minutes. Forty-plus adults take single steps as stomachs hum. Necklines hang like hula-hoops.

At lunch, there is only a half-hour. A half-dozen ham and cheese. Now there’s just cheese. Thirty-plus adults with lettuce and cheese. Blankets are fibrous and prick the skin.

Warm lettuce means peeling wilted green bits off the tongue or swallowing slimy leaves whole. The tinfoil makes a perfect, silver ball. Silver balls are thrown, kicked.

Orange cheese and loose-necked shirts with twelve minutes to spare. Silver balls between blankets are reminiscent of Christmas tree bulbs.

For bus tickets, hands remain in pockets, eyes toward the street. There’s something slippery about mobility, so many remain. Those who stand take single steps. Patient steps.

Twenty-plus remain. Activities remain. Dance last week, art next, poetry this. A young teacher looks as though she is speaking to blind kittens. She closes her eyes and recites poems. She opens them and offers a writing prompt as pens and paper are handed out.

There is nothing to put the paper on. The concrete works best. The pen navigates tiny hills on the page. First come colors: purple, green, silver, and orange. The pen suggests the salty taste of ham that almost graced the tongue that was too many feet from the front of a line.

The pen moves beyond this. The pen moves much faster than the feet.


Our shadows introduce themselves
& regulars grumble when a top set of teeth bared,
even though we all know to grab the back legs.

The dogs run in transient packs, as squirrels rustle tree leaves
& fall moves downward on a slow-moving swing.

We kiss the air when it’s time to go.

The world should know we were here, too, but our scents hug tight
& we are left to share words and walkways, to scratch the same furry heads.

The imprint of my shoe finds yours.


I was dulled longer than you, so when I lost my sight, I wasn’t shaken.
Glass seals well, blurs lines and clarifies sight, so I wore
a glass dress & glass shoes, until you arrived with science and a string.

I felt the etching of sharp lines and gentle curves, the quiet power
beneath the watery surface & had reason to shatter beneath you. You,
with your collage of circumstance. A papier-mâché from elementary foretold.
A careful collection of porcelain shattered & glued created a map.

You described it all. You told me how, but I still struggled until I realized
the texture had to be rough to be felt, to be interpreted as anything at all.
My fleshy thumbs drag against surfaces, forever searching for the right word.


Jen Knox is an Ohio-born writer, meditation instructor, and the founder of Unleash Creatives. She is the author of Resolutions: A Family in Stories (AUX Media), After the Gazebo (Rain Mountain Press), which was nominated for the Pen/Faulkner Award, and The Glass City (Prize Americana for Prose winner). Her short work recently won the Flash Fiction Magazine‘s Editor’s Choice Award for 2020 and other writing can be found in The Best Small Fictions (edited by Amy Hempel), The Adirondack Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Little Fictions, Literary Orphans, Lunch Ticket, Poor Claudia, Room Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. Jen is currently working on her first novel.