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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.

a homesick poem

by John Sweet

sunlight and crows

a sacrifice

a clenched fist
dripping blood

these are not options,
this is the
proper sequence

we are believers in
the wisdom of ghosts

of fairy tales

we are believers in
a void of
our own making

wealth and

power from the
end of a barrel

who are you to
until you’ve taken
your first life?

between defeat and despair

first week of april all brown lawns and
grey sky, threat of snow that
never quite arrives and
what i miss are
leonora’s pale breasts in the mexican sunlight

do you remember 1937?

are we still killing for the
same reasons we were then?

seems like it was all pretty funny until
we realized that everyone
who’d died was someone we’d known

let all sounds be the sound of freedom

these houses and
the spaces between them

these streets all heavy with silence
in the early afternoon

trees and the shadows of trees
and the ghost of de chirico

a kingdom of dust
for the lucky few

can’t be god these days unless you’re
willing to bleed and
maybe that’s how it always was

not every cripple is a prophet

not every prophet understands
the necessity of hope

picture yourself as the desert
and your life
finally starts to make sense

upstate; a surrender

in a fog of numbed-out pain and
                              creeping cold

in a collapsing city in
a dying kingdom

a future built on ruins,
and what is there to say about it?

you’ve wasted your whole life here

taste of guilt mixed with
the texture of ashes, right?

the dead among the living and
                          all of us blind

all of us halfway down the
road to being forgotten

anonymous houses & abandoned factories and
each day shaped by dull light without color

each moment meaningless on its own
and then when added to all the others,
                                     and so breathe

                                       don’t breathe

gotta make a choice
either way

gotta stand up and be counted or
lie down in whatever
shallow grave you’ve dug for yourself

there will always be a despair
greater than your own

this kingdom of rain, these corpses on fire

crows outside the suicide factory,
first light of a dull grey morning

screams and whispers


there is no future in being holy,
you understand

there is no future at all

the present is always with us, the
past never remembered clearly and when i
tell you i love you it
sounds like an admission of defeat

when i get out of my car, the parking lot
is littered with the bones of angels

the machinery has just begun
to grind into motion

each day starts at zero, and then they
all move backwards from there

everyone i hate, and the reasons why

man with the gun says
there need to be changes,
but he’s just as dead the rest of us

he’s high on the fumes
of burning children

he’s trapped in the shadows
of his father’s fists

a slave and a whore,
but fuck it

no one comes to this town to
live up to their fullest potential

no one talks about better days
until there’s no hope of
them ever arriving

you learn this early, and then
it just seems like something
you’ve always known

st. nicole, lost in the labyrinth

the suicide season again,
and all your fucked up lovers say
it’s the sunlight that ties this noose so tight

they say it’s the fading warmth of
a half-remembered past
that blurs the future to a dirty grey, and
what can you do but agree?

your father never liked you, sure

left nothing but the gift of self-hatred
when he walked away from the burning house

and how many years did you wait
before you went looking for him?

how easy do you think it was
for him to forget your name?

opened the door to his shithole apartment
with shaking hands, with a blank stare,
and told you he’d never had any kids

told you his wife disappeared
back before the war

made you start to doubt you’d
                                     ever been born


John Sweet sends greetings from the rural wastelands of upstate NY. He is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the continuous search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest poetry collections include A DEAD MAN EITHER WAY (2020 Kung Fu Treachery) and No ONE STARVES IN A NATION OF CORPSES (2020 Analog Submission Press).

Do less

by Joy Williams

No one knows how
We got here.

Time lost focus –
A whole day’s worth.

Still, perhaps it’s okay
Sometimes. In fact,

Sometimes we must
Look to the ocean

Nestled comfortably,
Dwelling deep

Even under these constraints.

Poetry is not a luxury

            for Audre Lorde

The quality of light
Has direct bearing
Upon this form

This illumination
Nameless and formless
Births dark within

Hidden and growing
Your beautiful nightmare
Of places within

These places are dark
Are ancient
Have survived

Within each of us
It is dark
It is ancient

We come as
A desperate wish
We come cobbled

By daily lives
Not idle fantasy
The skeleton of lives

The foundation
Of what has been
Neither forever nor instant


Who cares if it isn’t
Real. You were born.
You took your first

Breath. No longer
Existing inside
The future, but

Distinct, astrologically
Speaking. The uses
Are vast and varied.

As a mirror offers
Reassurance and
Alchemy, serious

And vaguely silly,
The reality of the sky
Seems its own kind

Of magic. A chance
To see mirrors
Inextricably linked

To other mirrors,
All looking up. But
The sky isn’t enough

If you want to know,
Ultimately, why
Oceans rise, forests burn.


If you hate your job.
If you have a job you dislike.
If you have an unpleasant job.
Please consider building a ritual.
You are free to create one
Anywhere, any time.
There is no place and no time
Not possible.

Keep it simple at the start:
Go to the refrigerator.
The possibilities are endless.
Reach for the milk,
The leftovers,
The hovering moth.
Outrun patterns,
Inhale coffee beans.
If the coffee does not work,
Stare straight ahead.
This always works.

Note: It is essential to do this
Sitting. Feet flat, back straight.
Close your eyes fast as you can.
Repeat. When finished,
Repeat once more.


Since the pandemic struck, Joy Williams has been holed up in her apartment writing and wishing she had a dog.


by Gavriel Ross

The generative project forms
Rings, perfect inside
And out. This is where light
Becomes retrospective.
These days propose themselves; body,
Dust, breath. Blue body’s bridge and
The endless setting of things spoken or
Seen near the edge and not abstract
Enough couldn’t make me feel better.
Circle the best selection, omit nothing.

the little things

because little things are so

they wish what they wish

like a button, a grain of
sand, a needle’s eye. they
mention less than a
shadow or a speck of dust

i will wait until later. later

is what there is to do.

Run in Circles, Walk in Lines

Silently slipping from holding
The sun, you stay in river
Islands darker than the clear
Talk that opens mountains,
A string of lumbered ivy.
It’s been forever since I thought of startled light.
Through these thousand heavens, you let down long
Nights of jade wine, and I cannot contain
The concrete favor between our broken line.
September becomes an elegy, crow perched
In pine, on the staircase braids of lace.
The world becomes labored. I let myself out.

Delilah Against the World

More than enough for one
We are goldfish
                         She says a collection
With a strange distance and wants
A confession
                         A commission contained
In prize winning fabric
Her man           The first and only
In English         Is deliverance
And the first prodigal light
Of a son


Gavriel Ross is poet based in Michigan. He began studying poetry as a teenager and has contributed poems to Ditch Poetry. He was a paramedic for 10 years until he was injured while on duty. He finds that poetry is the most honest and creative way of expressing himself.

Winter fell like a hammer.
Days cut off at the knees.
Was this house always so dark?
Was that tree always so menacing?

The moon is swollen and seeps
into the clouds. A baby howls,
then a dog. Songbirds all gone silent.
What is that rustling in your chest?

It was Thursday when the doors closed
for good. I went home but couldn’t
sleep. Body accustomed to living
by starlight – rising at dusk, sleeping
at dawn. The cats and I keep
the same schedule. Nocturnal,
not lonely. I name the foxes
that shuffle through the garden.

I miss the sound of glasses clinking
in hands, dishwashers. Miss
the steamy windows. The jostling
for space. The smell of old beer
in hair, clothes. Miss
Friday nights and your hands
rolling cigarettes, waiting
for my break.

Now it’s always Monday, always
noon. Now my hands are
the only hands and
everything is already broken. No
cigarettes, just these few
empty rooms and a pair
of ceramic wrens silent
on the bookcase.


Kate Porter is a full-time bartender and part-time poet. She has been writing for years but has only recently begun submitting work for publication. This is her first publication outside her local paper.

My Red Horse Moves

by Ashley Inguanta

like a fire in the wind.
My hipbone presses to highway,
And I see her, my horse, running
like she’s got everything to lose.

Here, the desert is a pale
wish, as fragile as my horse’s shins, thin
and temporary and unsure of how long
it will last. I fell from a great place
in order to get here: a rooftop
covered in percussion, a stretch
of ragged silver and bone
in the dusk. I orchestrated tremendous
beats–shin to hoof to desert floor.
Our racket lasted for centuries.

It was no different from the way hands
clap or the way a lover may place her
lips to another’s neck. Hunger is hunger
is hunger. Rhythm is nothing but a meeting
and release. We open one door and close
the other. My red horse bolts, a fire
in the wind. Her hoofs beat sky,
then sand. I fall from a place not unlike grace,
but more like perfect joining. My hipbone
presses to highway. A truck drives by,

and I swear, there is a mirror tacked
to its door, and I see myself, and I am
screaming, and then I am laughing
with empty hands. The truck moves
into horizon, becomes a star. Instead of myself,
I see my red horse. We fell from a great place
in order to get here: a rooftop

protecting a home of glory. Not heaven,
but a lady’s house. She played records
and kissed the forever grey sky. She was
the first opening, the first feeling
without word. And no,
her house was no different than
a harvest of stones, hands trying
to make a place. Hunger is hunger
is hunger. We open one door
and close the other. My hipbone

presses to highway, and my red horse
is there, right there, and it happens
so quickly, her body touching the
pavement, like mine.

She stares at me. She’s got everything
to lose. When the land shakes, her shins
become paper. Now, she is a story
that the lady keeps with her, that I pen
one more time, my hipbone becoming
highway now.

I remember walking on a marsh bank

in the pouring rain

A friend walked with me

I was new to the everglades
then, not knowing the given name
of any bird or grass,

but I understood the language
of that rain, holding my body
underneath storm-clouds,

cooling me, cooling us all,

bringing relief


Ashley Inguanta is a writer, art photographer, installation artist, and holistic educator. In her newest work, The Island, The Mountain, & The Nightblooming Field, she gives readers a chapbook of poetry that thrives in its simplicity. You can take your copy home through ashleyinguanta.net

Photo by Tina Russell


by Diana Ha

When I was just myself, not latched onto and not
stalking my own breath, I was not aware of how
much I could unfold and conform the male race
to my recesses, and what little I gave to hunger –
six pounds to a hundred sixty of it – would meet
with simple ferocious love. I became food,
grass, playground, air, altar,
my men forgive me when life is joy and joy is skin & sweat
bloodhounds circling the promises of woman. The way
my son set upon his drumstick last night, he deboned it,
Genghis Khan on mission, worked
the cartilage between molars waiting for the jaw
lines of a young man, eyes closed to conserve energy, wrapping
his senses around the pleasure in his mouth,

I wish life were so accessible for me.

I studied his tender oval chin, turning
the poetry of it, his rapturous aggression. My husband, my boy swoop
into the moment’s ascendency while I take longer,
look out from the seconds that make up the minute.
My body has to practice and permit.
Happiness doesn’t come
bearing me up so readily; I wait and wait
at the threshold and it lingers on the other side. My men
eat, chase, swelter, sleep, their day’s laughter
lucent in the night
sky of my contemplations
like angels.


They met where the moon caught the sun’s
path, and in hope’s half-light, in his makeshift
tent, he now waits for twilight sun,

He – a soldier in love’s jungle; she – in the courtyard
of her days, terracotta, quotidian ceremonies, garden
stones at the feet of the persimmon tree.

Some dreams had a lifetime – brain, breath, and
rolled for room in the womb, but the day
comes, and air and joy are not hospitable
to them.

My Breasts

He was astonishing and fresh
out of my body, magical
out of the nothingness
that had been the world without him, just
six pounds ten ounces of will
and appetite,

I was awed – and quite gratified – when
some two months into the feeding he,
with his tongue, examined me against
the false teat of the bottle, and adjudged my breasts
more desirable. He sucked and turned
his cheek to press it upon my pillow, milk sticky
between us and suctioning his face slowly
into my skin before drying
on him like a watermark.

But my boy still loves my nipples and the round
rest of them. They form one vanishing
point into which all his mind pulls;
today, he laughed as his badminton
racquet slivered air, declaring:
staring at them will bring
me good luck.

I reached and missed the birdie.
See, Mommy? It worked!
Ten years old, he is funny, he is sick.

He runs between sea and sand, the song
and form of mermaids that await him
out deep, and the earthen floor where in younger
days he had sunk, milk-sopped and a little drunk
on his mother’s sweat. I watch the tide
sweep in, reaching to carry the M o M M y
inscribed in moist sand
out to sea.


But what has not been said of this, of
our voices meeting, our reflections hearing
each other in the river air
the nerves of our cerebellum alive
like wire, of this spiritual telepathy
like bared bodies agreeing,
of art.


A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Diana Ha publishes in a variety of genres. Her articles, narratives, and poetry feature in magazines and anthologies, among them The Banner, New York’s Emerging WritersCalifornia’s Best Emerging Poets, and with honorable mention in the Steve Kowit International Poetry Contest, The San Diego Poetry Annual. She teaches composition at California Baptist University and teaches writing at education conferences. Diana discusses culture, writing, and achievement with over 16,000 followers on her blog at holisticwayfarer.com. She details her professional development services at writexpressions.art.


by Steven M. Smith

Her shoulder-length hair gift wrapped
in a floral towel and the way she leaned
forward, her bath water breasts pressed
to her thigh, her leg up on the edge
of the tub and that arousing sound
of the razor scratching across the soapy
stubble on her shin while her left hand
cupped the hollow behind her knee.


often tell each other
they’re often concerned about
something that doesn’t concern
them such as the Sunday
afternoon they sat straight up
in the wicker chairs on their
open front porch using their
smartphones to film the elderly
woman who lives across the street
as a darkening sky brought
a threatening gust of wind
that raised and flapped her floral
cotton house dress up above
her waist as she struggled
with a mop handle near
the top rung of her rickety
16-foot ladder to dislodge a wasp
nest the size of a bugle’s bell
buzzing with a call to arms under
the second story eave of her
raised ranch in a neighborhood
where some are often concerned
about something that doesn’t concern

Names Will

But names will never
hurt us, so the saying goes.
So does that mean you can bash
the door in on our private
space with a battering
ram of name-calling?  Whack
us up aside the temple
with a rat-a-tat-tat of hate
words?  Go ahead and box
our ears with malice?  Your words
might make us wobble and well
up a bit.  Your words might even
feel like you swung a few sticks
and heaved a few stones.

But please think how lonely
and grueling and miserable
to relentlessly lug and shove
and drag from day to day
so little love all over this little
space . . . and to amass all
that unpredictable volatility
in the armory of your mouth.

November 1

Another October midnight is now
just a sigh and a shrug.  Halloween
left trash cans choking on candy wrappers.
Evil dentists counting on cavities.
Costumes shoved back into burial bins.
Cemeteries are nursing the annual hangovers
of the dead.  The burned-out jack-o’-lanterns
with their mushy flesh and brittle brain stems
know the trick is up.  Today they will treat
their maker in the compost pile.

But somewhere on a rutty path
of an urban legend and leafless trees
the ghost of a horse is still rearing
in the startled dawn, still stamping
and snorting.  Its restless horseman
still has a shadow for a head—no flaming
pumpkin to burn his way through the fog.
Only that same solitary candle continues
to flicker in the gaping hole in his chest
where his heart used to be.

Look What She Found

Look what she found
on a hook behind her late
husband’s garage workbench—
a fortification that he occupied
after his tours of duty
to minimize casualties
and endure the ongoing war:
She found his missing
dog tags folded in a farewell
note buried in a blank envelope
draped with a forever flag stamp.  She seldom
talks about the garage morning
he yanked the ring—a grenade pin—
from his finger and tossed it
into the recycling bin
as he stacked his moving boxes
like sandbags on the concrete floor
during that final battle—
before the inevitable retreat—
that would end the war.


Steven M. Smith’s poems have appeared in publications such as Rattle, Poem, Old Red Kimono, Plainsongs, Poetrybay, Ibbetson Street Press, Studio One, The River, Cabildo Quarterly, Better Than Starbucks, Hole in the Head Review, and Mudfish. He has poetry forthcoming in The Worcester Review. He is the Writing Center director at the State University of New York at Oswego. He lives in North Syracuse, New York.


by F.X. James

The day is crisp as an opened beer. Trees conjugate
with a sultry breeze. A silver plane comes in for a landing,
the bodies inside, overly complex and heavy with issues.
Not much is simple for our kind, though perhaps some
of it, a little of it, should be. Harley-Davidsons rumble by.
Denim clad dreams of teenage boys perch like raptors on the
backseats. Their admirable mores have almost faded. Life is
cruel that way. There is no wine here, only beer, and the cool
empty hours curling naked at my feet. But I cannot leave this
moment, the ideal air, the clouds thickening with life, recalcitrant
shadows undulating against city streets. Fruit flies hover with hope,
though I’ve not had fruit here for days. A slender woman carrying
a yoke of hard years, pushes a small child in a plastic wagon.
What will he recall of her in twenty years or more? A green car
runs a red light. Bellicose sirens swell. The air is cheap. The beer
is cheap. The minutes continue to unfurl themselves. Young
people stand on the corner, laughing beyond mirth, their hands
skating over unpracticed flesh. So many roles to be performed,
as trucks add oily darkness to the day, and a topless car pulls to the
curb, the clowns inside trapped within the painted vacuity of
tweets and YouTube fails. Nothing there is more than a shrill laugh,
an insecure desire to be momentarily liked. Sitting as this day rolls
on, shadows and sun, green trees, monolithic clouds, and the
ephemeral desires we hold, comprehensibly null.


The daylight lies clear and cool. Wind ruffles the feathers of
old trees. The land is flat and unequivocally unremarkable. The
denizens here act like it means something more. They carry pride
like a dog carries its collar. What would you do if you were new
here? The response is always the same: the falls, downtown,
a park or two, gutted bars, meat to be cooked outside, God,
in all his glorious indifference. Many here are fixing to make a
change, but nothing really happens. The river runs like it does.
Geese shit everywhere. Tattoo parlors fail like pacified boxers.
Books fall to the wayside. It’s all about the hunt, pale beer,
whomever laughs loudest, and what will happen when this no
longer happens. “We got it pretty good here,” a drunk dullard
exclaims, swinging his molded mug of thin beer. But he has been
nowhere yet, not even to a neighboring state. His girlfriend is blank
and overweight, and at nineteen, already much too pregnant.
Suddenly the daylight seems too harsh. Dreams lose their tenacity.
Ten years from now, it’ll be a small grey house with a dry yard, two
kids and a dead cat. It’ll be ballgames with flies, impassive love
on Wednesday nights, overtime on Saturdays, in-laws who break
the slow momentum. It’ll be this and a shallow brown river, pigs
pouring in by their thousands for slaughter.


At work the fools remain fully foolish. The lesser
one bleats of the inhumanity of it all. The weirdo
coats himself in the oily sheen of butcher/killer.
The third descends into unlit catacombs, touching
here and there a favored clutch of bygone bones.
When the air’s not moving, tempers rise like winter
waves. No one’s mother goes unscorned. When there
is no dust, there is still sweat. Without sweat, only
more boredom, more rage, more dry screws twisting
in the drums of troubled minds. Dumb men can be
so damn cruel when they’re empty. The hallways lie
thick with dirt and squalid heat. Restrooms reek of
dry piss. Flies live and die in lucid worlds overhead.
Machines stay fickle as online love. Nothing dispels
the ten hour day’s inextricable waste, and every word
not needed, or unheard, falls to the unwashed floor,
where it quickly dies under borrowed boots.


She pushes them on in a scoop of wheeled plastic.
They can’t be more than two or three, maybe less,
maybe more, who cares. Not her. Their faces blossom
bright with snot. Their small hands wriggle twenty
pink and tacky worms. Tiny naked feet are angered
by the cool empty air. A dog captures their sullen eyes.
Then a fire truck, with its blood red skin, large hands
waving from inside. She pushes them on. They are
keening loud, and the park is near. Turkey vultures
dip the ragged tips of their midnight sails. An hour
here, then home again. Nothing gained beyond
enduring. Their cries continue, though the streets
are childless, the skies thick with heavy clouds.


F. X. James is the pseudonym of an oddball British expat hiding out in Minnesota. When not dissolving in another savage summer or fattening up for the next brutal winter, he’s writing poems and stories on the backs of unpaid utility bills. His words have appeared in The Sierra Nevada Review, Prairie Winds, The Adirondack Review, Mystery Tribune, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, The Courtship of the Winds, and many other publications.


by Tim Suermondt

A word I like,
shine dripping from every letter.

Pugnacious is another,
though displaying it with gentleness

is not a contradiction and is superior.

How I’m looking forward
to standing on the deck of a frigate,

sailing to a metropolis I’ve always loved.


He’s smooth and beautiful,
An angel of words.
He always puts both feet forward,
Both of them being his best.

He chronicles the human heart
From past, to present and future,
Always seemingly at the right place
At the write time. Such ease

And wisdom pouring like honey
Over his myriad readers,
Who never fail to always follow
Wherever he takes them: a golden

Highrise, a blue mountain top,
A street too lonely to ever forget.
He’s smooth and beautiful,
You’d never doubt he had wings too.


for Agnes Varda

The night, dark as the Soviet, is here.
A cat gets lost right outside the apartment.

The world teeters on its axis—is this
when it finally falls off into oblivion?

An umbrella on a chair by the entrance
of a garage, vacations firmly put to bed.

A boy and girl looking outside the window
of a Place St. Michel high-rise, dreaming—

of red hearts painted on the street below,
the future brittle, but heroes fighting hard.


While I’m reading—and it’s kept its word
and the truce has held,
not that our arrangement is foolproof—
the world will still sting hard
and I will continue to disappoint it
and myself from time to time.
But we relish the respite together
and self-pity doesn’t stand a chance between
us—a little lamplight, the city coiled
all around behaving itself admirably, the cold
outside pressed against my windows,
waiting and watching me turn every page.


Tim Suermondt is the author of five full-length collections of poems; the latest is Josephine Baker Swimming Pool from MadHat Press, 2019. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall, Poet Lore and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.

inside the Forbidden City

by James Thurgood

         this Ming nightmare:  hordes
tromping imperial courtyards,
                             barbarians mugging
                   for posterity
                      from royal balconies

we squeeze, shove shoulders
                                              to metal rails
                  stretch, strain, crane
        raise cameras to faces, over heads
              for shadowed glimpses
of satin cushions long-faded under
   kowtowing courtiers and concubines
      – pushy crowds with earned entry
               to sheds of crumbling treasure
hope for a shimmer of silk
clack of fan
                    in regal hand
– we press the bars and gawk
           like peasants brought to witness
the jailed Last First Wife
         – who warned her Emperor
   the Japanese despise your Ching Dynasty
                                     demand towels, water
                             clean linen
             of ghost servants,
       her own body risen against her
                 for starving it of opium

                                                   back home
                 we will tell our neighbours
                    but bending to work
     wish, some of us
                           guards had
                                        barred the gates

letter from Donghai

  wake up, Father, till I tell you
             how you’d like it, this pier
     where beat-up wooden boats herd five-six deep
black and blue hulls splintered, faded
     red flag jolly aloft each main-mast
          decks grey with ground sea-grime
                white with tromped and broken shells
burly boys toting tubs abrim
       with rubber tentacles and finned legs
             shell and scale all iridescence
                    all purples, yellows, silvers, pinks
                 murk-greens – bristles, claws
       horns and webs – feelers, fangs
– where sun-browned girls in scarves
     squat back of sea-snail vats
          and starfish trays
wind-burned women kerchiefed
               grin at a lau-wei out-of-water
leathern fishermen bare-headed, all rubber boots
     all haggle and bark
       as tip-toeing townsfolk
                                skirt slime puddles
               start from horny vans –
     here fishwives by scores
                         secret in workcoats, gloves
             and peaked bonnets battened down with scarves
                   sort nets like other Fates
             untangling lives –
  briny breeze, seafolk
       wheeling-dealing, lusty youth
     plain work – just like the wharf in Arichat
                                               circa 1928

          then the market-proper:
               rows of stalls bright-caparisoned
  – each fresh live sea-beast of the pier
      dried, hung, drawn and quartered
             piled where those are pearls
that were eyes, are necklaces,
                            shells wind-chimes

      we could sit by Moon Bay, Father
in Bohai’s breeze
          savor some sea-dish
      watch livings earned – you foretelling
            gain or loss, might suggest
half in fun and all in earnest
                                     my next thousand-li step

                               I write, Father
     since you are so distant
          and I can’t wait to tell you
                                                    if only you’d wake
                     from that dreamless sleep

Notes: 1) lau-wei: foreigner (literally, ‘Mister Foreigner’); 2) Arichat: in Cape Breton; 3) Bohai: sea or gulf adjoining Yellow Sea; 4) li: measure of distance; figurative equivalent of a mile

er-hu player

              after the restaurant
     – upstairs room
                 a good twelve dishes,
toasts enough to health and long life
                   to reduce the chance of either –
          three couples arm in arm, we hear yearning
     through new concrete apartment blocks
               strains of er-hu
                                       – find on a bench
   an old man, smiling wife
                                 folded wheelchair

          may we listen
                this fresh evening

            he turns on a radio

       too shy I’m told
                 hasn’t played for so long
                                – he offers the instrument
                          to the lao-wei musician
                                                     in the old fiddlers’ way:
          do you know enough to appreciate
                but not to out-do

     bu, bu; sie-sie I decline

                  radio again

           soon on warmer nights
musicians gather
     come back he tells us

          but I’ll be gone
will only picture them summer evenings
     five or six old men
          another er-hu, a wooden flute
    lute, zither, gourd-pipe
               ancient music

     setting off, we hear once more,
          are followed by
his fading tones

     looking back, I make out
the wife turned to watch us
                    her face a waning moon

exotic travel

          the shower:
open corner
      in a small cell

       I turn the tap overhead
and chest-height valve
     – nothing from shower-head
 – turn more, a cold spray
                         around valve
     which with more turns
          targets bare flesh
as shower-head looks on, dry-eyed

                                         another turn –
                 valve shoots to palm
fire-hose torrent blasts chest,
             rebounds all directions

the valve – surprise –
      does not screw back –
   but a firm hand behind
              holds back the flood

                    what now

 extend right leg –
          Monkey Fist toes grab underwear –
     crook leg to Hissing Snake
          retrieve underwear with free hand
                    pass foot through hole

lower foot to floor
    holding valve in place,
             underwear half up

insert left leg in left-hole

with hula swivel
      hoist underwear to waist

assume Floating Crane –
          stretch left leg to door handle,
Monkey Fist toes turn handle

door is locked

gently kick

call hey ni-hao hey!
    kick till Elder Brother appears
               wavering through frosted glass

sliver by sliver door unlocked opens

             head peeks round
                                         – upstage
     a chorus of Chinese women
             tragic and comic

 Elder Brother shuts water
               – scuttle to bedroom

                              from the kitchen
                     women laughing

leaving Longkou

                      remember at Penglai
                                                    the fortress
              that warning-sign:  say no
                         to feudal superstitions

                    sea-fog sneaks
                              on dragon feet
               paved street
                                   under lights
                          where I stroll
           my last evening  –
                             from a clutch of teenaged ghosts
            a girl’s jade voice:
                   welcome to Longkou

yelling, clapping, pebble-tossing
                                              to the window
     – Elder Brother, drink in hand, looks
             and turns back inward

             the road to Yantai:

       old man in blue
            pushing a bicycle up a dirt hill
  pestered by six white goats

             among roadside vendors
     a farmer, arms outstretched
         hawks five-feet of writhing snake

                         lonely highway –
                                  on the median
                    a shrub in flames


James Thurgood was born in Nova Scotia, grew up in Windsor, Ontario, and now lives in Calgary, Alberta. He has been a general labourer, musician, and teacher – not necessarily in that order. His poems have appeared in various journals, anthologies, and in a collection (Icemen/Stoneghosts, Penumbra Press).