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.
They 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 them.
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.
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.
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.
Pugnacious is another, though displaying it with gentleness
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.
THE WORLD AND I STRIKE A TRUCE
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
So that life is not just heartbreak And don’t give in to capricious arbitrariness It is vital to raise the spirit to the limit of the symbol Bringing from this strength the hidden deities And the cruel stupor that brings the disease Advance without fear the song of praise For the charm of the dream of modesty Settle doubts that clamor with clamor Everywhere share the experience That translates the transfigured life dream In the most intimate and painful experience In chaos do not fall or be vilified Bringing customs and signs very close Disguises of others not wanting Sweet and warm memories of my parents Juxtaposing correctly in crescendo.
He lived off the money his mother took out of the safe on lies that were told with a start in the cinema when the neighbor once died watching a pornographic film and a newborn was found in the trash. And through flying cars, satisfaction comes close to the accounting aspect of the sum of hours spent in urban traffic that rewards the recycling of consumption that is available in artificial intelligence and in drones that spray the crowds in disagreement with the governments with holy water. passion being a sporting success plagiarizing the personas who manifest themselves in the collective spotlight with the avatar corrected by social acceptance posthumously in which survival is thrown at the minimum wage on the way to a secular spirituality in the confrontation with the urban beast in orgasms of faith public with the day full of affections in a traffic enraptured by the paradoxical being perplexed.
The joke of the man from beyond the grave who laughs for the last time at his own funeral asking for a divine intervention to the saints that is canonized in the memory of those who stay here and to the delight of a capitalist who healed of problems in the vertical column was acknowledged on a holiday with Mass in which they celebrated it.
Play time And there we were all Flushed with enthusiasm Running through the undergrowth Discovering the hidden body In the timeless innocence of childhood We felt sweaty from the cold We ate carcasses with sugar and butter Barefoot between the gravel of the street In the starry night the promised wishes Noble intentions of a pressing wish That impelled us to enjoy brotherhood In the howling reeds that huddled us The sheets of a dreamy night
Sun has been here ever for so long when will the rains come? When will the pitter-patter on our zinc roofs we hear?
Sun has been here, we seek the coming of the rains like unto the coming of angels may it appear suddenly in our moment of wait but who can tell the way of the rains?
Our fathers lift the dust of the earth over fire to call it forth, It will not listen. Who can tell the way of the rains? Our brothers lift their glasses, looking in instruments pointed to the sky, it will rain today they say with a smile. The rain defies them a mocking smirk on his face, He laughs true thoughts to scorn.
For who can tell the way of the rains? The earth cries out in thirst, trees and leaves morn their fate for who can tell, man or angel, the way of the rains – Today it will come or tomorrow, never too soon but not too late. Who can tell?
I come from the corner birthed in darkness in the weary cold night. I was conceived, in October, brought forth in July my life will never see sunlight, only the dark. It rains tears and sorrow and my father never had a face, Mother always weary. It is time to ask my creator what sin I sinned. For there is a name I often bear the beginning of a taunt the muttering of a chant It is the feeble cry of some or the roar of all. It is the word of no man’s, it is the call of a bastard –
YOU, I AM.
All around you, I am in your food, in your water in the air that you breathe close, right by your side. I am your reality – Your future your fini, your very end. I be your all.
** The growl of a Tigress, the pant of a Leopard I am – the very roar of the Lion the howl of the drowning whirlwind the swash of soul seas the cry of the lone Wolf I am, the dark eyes of the hooting Owl, the enchanted paws of an enraged Cat I be your all.
** Coming from the darkness like the laugher of a closed heart the wand that drips blood the piercing scream of the eagle – the vampire resident in tales and myths I am here, beside, the hate in your heart I am. Your friend. I think you see – I am you.
Abasiama Udom is a Poet and Writer with polymathic tendencies. She is currently pursuing a personal course on the meaning of life and has found a few joys during this study: food, music, books, family, sleep, and football. Twitter: @AneuPoet
(it is spring), i miss your damp forehead between my shoulder blades
(i can’t bear to look at the moon again); i miss how you used to bite my earlobe whenever i drifted away [or whenever i picked up books like
the hundred thousand songs of milarepa because poetry more beautiful than ours gave you a headache]
(my darling), i miss your firm grasp on my hips
(i’ve been sleeping on your side); i miss how your eyes used to soften when i sang ballads to the cosmos, wearing your duvet as the high priestesses of athena would have worn their robes
[and when you looked at me with
adoration i felt like an enchantress
,,,,, dazzling, alive, fire in my belly, a daughter
of the seas ,,,,,, and i conjured all the elements in the
texture of our lips]
(i’m sorry i promised to visit but i didn’t) i miss curling up to you sweaty hearts pressed together, your fingertips drawing stars and suns on my back;;; the night i left you i laid awake locking eyes with the night sky through your half-opened window, i was cold and i wiped my tears on your pillow case. at one-point i could have sworn the sky slipped into your chamber and laid in bed with us and i thought etcetera.
kiss me i’m peaking
you murmur lips pressed against my forehead i look up to you your eyeballs are shaking your hair is damp and you look so beautiful i feel my eyes rolling to the back of my head as i crash my mouth to yours my hands fall on your chest and i feel your warmth slip through my skin wrapping my heart your hands rest on my waist your beard scratches my ear and i feel tangled with you my mouth is dry and the music is tearing my chest open i feel dizzy i bring your hands to my heart
do you feel this
your voice is hoarse you are holding my youth between your fingertips i nod
is it love
i don’t know but i feel so close to you right now
sonnet sorrow brief to
I am digesting my loss as life dances on the tip of my tongue
Téa Nicolae is a Romanian poetess based in the UK. She writes
confessional, Occult and devotional poetry. She was short-listed for the
Literary Lancashire Award 2019 and her poems have been published in several
print and online publications, including Cake
Magazine, TAST Zine, Dissolved Magazine and SCAN. She is an editor at Flash Journal Lancaster and she studied
Film and Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
Uncoerced lion stirred the brink Of his roundabout, Dodging traffic’s eyes. At the open-hamper belt Maisie’s plastic fork cracked. Lipstick deformed into a grudge. Coordinates on our map highlighted words: “Quick, quick, come and see, Bettina is teasing a spider”.
Liberty Atoms 17
Nettle-plait bracelet Fringed her snow-lace. Quickstepping limped as the amp passed over. Maisie jostled into our hawthorne, Sizzling to ends of permanent wave. Imprint on beetle unevenly read: “‘I want so much to help you,’ said Edward, ‘To bring you anything you want’”.
Liberty Atoms 18
Toy pigskin angel Sweats by cinders. Vase sorrel decomposes, yawning. Blubbing keeps Maisie from playing up. Sequins on our drop-leaf neatened to: “Oh let that not be so! thought Thomas”.
Liberty Atoms 19
A falcon and Maisie Voodooed seven clocks. Herky-jerky brick-stuffed pillow Couldn’t intuit dim light. No phantoms undertook to align. Riven fingernails inscaped with: “Edwards’ first searching look Was for a male figure, waiting”.
Liberty Atoms 20
Gossamer ping-pong ball Vaporized into lustre. Maisie flounced, clacking stairs. Postwoman disputes virtue Of balanced economy. Our ladybird’s spots can be networked to: “We’re quite cut off now, it’s nice”.
Quotes: Iris Murdoch, The Nice And The Good
Christopher Barnes won a Northern Arts
writers award. Christmas 2001 he debuted at Newcastle’s famous Morden Tower
doing a reading of poems. Each year he read for Proudwords lesbian and gay
writing festival and partook in workshops. 2005 saw the publication of his
collection LOVEBITES published by Chanticleer Press, 6/1 Jamaica
A stone between two stone piers Passes to everyone’s satisfaction Murava flourishes In green waves Blazing attractions A bumblebee lands on the waterpolo ball Broom is yellowing Out of it the yellow scent of the Sun And lemon
The system of considerations
Insects Perfected in that specific environment In thousands of nights & darks Crashing into that bulb Light impacts of ferocious attacks Congratulated admired Each character with its own specialty A monolith of single purpose In thousands of nights & darks The rise of expansionism Of endless scrolling You’re on the upper floor Comfort lies in the littleness of things You’re on the upper floor but why wait You might as well jump in
The thousands of nights & darks
There’s one wing swing One leg movement One eye catch The possibility of reaching the total With no comparison Just one bulb and thousands of bugs Nights & darks
In the window Crystal reflection In the dawn I Am attacked by panthers lions by wolves bears In the window I Crystal reflection of me In the dawn Will slaughter A bear a lion a panther a wolf
Prijatelj is a writer from Croatia. His work has appeared in several Bosnian,
Croatian and Serbian magazines, and most recently in Maudlin House. He
is currently working as a junior project
manager for an IT company, while majoring in linguistics and phonetics.
He has a bachelor’s degree in film & TV directing, and he occasionally directs plays.
Janée J. Baugher: As an undergraduate in the 1970s, you had a rich introduction to poets and politics.
Judith Skillman: Yes, as a student at University of Maryland, I studied with Rod Jellema, Ann Darr, Reed Whittemore, and others. The visiting poets at that time included Galway Kinnell, Tess Gallagher, Stanley Kunitz, and others. Because UM didn’t yet have an MFA program, I studied English Literature with an emphasis on creative writing. Supportive criticism was not in vogue then. Peers in workshops would make statements like, “This poem is shit.” Whether or not someone’s poem is crap, it takes a thick skin to continue to write after feeling eviscerated by your peers.
Richard Brautigan came to Western
Maryland College (now McDaniel College) when I was an undergraduate. His
anti-war poems were so resounding at that time. I was politically active when I
was young, joining campaign groups, manning the phones, wearing buttons, and
handing out fliers. Working at campaign headquarters in proximity to Washington
DC was exciting. When my daughter Lisa was born and only a few months old my
mom and I went, all dressed in white, to the Women’s Rights March at the
Washington Monument. I was a feminist then, and a member of NOW, for which I
did freelance work.
As a child who had to go down into
the bomb shelter during the Cuban missile crisis, I have been aware that the world
could go nuclear since I was nine. I won’t forget the trauma of walking down to
the underground cafeteria carrying my blanket and lunch. One can barely watch
three seconds of news before being reminded of the brutality of mankind.
Since moving to the Seattle-area,
I’ve had the privilege of taking workshops from Beth Bentley, Patiann Rogers, William
Stafford, Madeline DeFrees, David Wagoner, Jana Harris, Marvin Bell, David
Wojahn, and Andrei Codrescu, to name a few. At Port Townsend Writer’s
Conference in 1995 I met the illustrious Jack Gilbert. We kept up a modest
correspondence for a few years. He taught me that when you revise your poems, it’s good to be aware of the
difference between fancy and imagination, particularly with
associative material. Fancy is contrived, whereas the imagination is defined as
the “mind’s eye.” Fancy fits under imagination, and not vice versa. Although
it’s employed under the verb, fancy is a “faculty of the imagination.” We want
leaps that follow a subconscious thread. We don’t want to impress the reader
(s/he doesn’t exist when we’re writing, anyway) with ostentation, showiness, or
flamboyance. Keep it understated—that’s a good measuring stick with which to
judge images that run rampant. Prune adjectives—another way to resist the
ornate. Write from feeling, not from intellectualizing or over-thinking. Pay
attention to your dreams and the songs that get stuck in your head.
JB: In our digital age, I wonder if “letter to a young poet” correspondence relationships are still happening. How much did you gain as a writer, for example, with your epistle relationship with Jack Gilbert?
JS: I learned so much from Jack. He was single-minded in his passion for writing, and lived a monkish life, rarely leaving the cottage at Centrum where I was his neighbor for a month. After I gathered up the courage, I showed him a poem, which was, I think, about deer—there were many deer in Port Townsend—he pointed to a few lines in the middle of the piece and asked me pointblank “Is this fancy or imagination?” I remember being both puzzled and fascinated by the question. So we talked about the quality of fancy and how it differs from the imagination. He took it upon himself to teach me this lesson, which has become extremely important as years go by. Fancy is contrived. Jack had an eye and an ear for whatever is fake, forced, strained, artificial, affected, or put on.
While I was under his informal
mentorship, Jack spent not a small amount of time discouraging me from continuing
to write poetry. He said that there was no point in it, as so few poets would
get a job even at the community college level. Yet he continued to support me
in my work, as we exchanged letters over the course of ten years or so. I have
saved these for their truthfulness. I learned something of his “métier”—to
write a poem a week while enjoying the “meanwhile.” For him, the idol of so
many poets and non poets alike, the act of writing was one of communication
with a wide audience while living a solitary, frugal life.
I recall, when I saw his kitchen
table, that there was a letter from The
New Yorker soliciting his work. I asked incredulously “Aren’t you going to
send them something?” To my surprise, he replied with a shrug. This was not an
act. It was the gift of a great poet bestowed upon someone struggling for
recognition—a gesture that said everything I needed to know and to remember. The
writing is what Gilbert was after. Sitting with his feelings and letting them
percolate and finding out what was in there that had resonance; what could
become a surprise or the hidden meaning in a broken relationship. It was not
the acquisition of a reputation, fame, or fortune. This despite the Yale
Younger Poets Award, and the fact that he told stories of walking around with
Pound in Italy. He spoke much of his wife Michiko, whom he mourned with an
altar on his dresser in each place he landed. This self-imposed reclusion despite
having been nominated for the Pulitzer at the same time as William Carlos
Williams made him truly unique.
JB: How does a person leap from being a student of poetry to having published eighteen poetry collections?
JS: When I had my first child, my mom was very supportive. She said, “Babies sleep a lot. Why don’t you enroll in law school?” So, after I attended one semester, I turned to poetry, which people are wont to do. Anyhow, shortly after I quit school and began writing, I made a decision. “I’m a poet,” I began telling people. I turned to magic realism, the fiction of Borges, and lapped-up the language of Mark Twain. I wrote poems and was, therefore, a poet. Simple as that.
JB: Is poem-making for you like creating sand mandalas? Normally, I wouldn’t mention obsession, but, given how prolific you’ve been throughout your life, what would you say about the compulsion to writing thousands of poems?
JS: Making is the thing. Poets write the same poem over and over, similar to mandalas. What lasts? Why do we do the things that we do? This isn’t something one needs to overthink, nor should one. The War of Art is a book that, for me, explains the necessity of overcoming one’s resistance to succumbing to one’s innate passions. Why do we have so much resistance? It seems that the “maker” in each writer does have a war to fight, against her/his own inner critic.
As humans we are especially
self-critical. The internal voice demands to know why on earth the “I”—that is,
the ego—would expend itself to serve the self. There has to be some gain,
right? Some recognition for all the work that goes into creating a unique
package of words—a poem, a novel, a memoir, or a screenplay. A piece of visual
art, or sculpture—even an entrepreneurial endeavor. What is the pay off? I
learned a lot when Tibetan monks visited my son’s college (Reed College, Portland,
Oregon). They spent a number of days creating beautiful mandalas of sand. My
son played pool with one of the monks each evening. Parents came on the day
these works of art were to be thrown in the river that flows through the
campus. There they would turn to milk, all color gone, nothing left to identify
any one of the particular, unique pieces.
Poem-making is the same process. We
bring the inner beauty and magnitude of our thoughts out on paper. The
exquisite moments of that are personal to the extreme. Will anything come of
this act? Will the endeavor last? This is not for the maker to decide, nor to
concern him or herself with. It is an act of relinquishment.
Obsession plays a part, as in,
possibly, OC syndrome—in that a writer may not feel grounded unless they are
playing and replaying some incident in thought, and mimicking this by
repetitive behavior. For me, the act of writing poems (and I have dabbled in
fiction and essay writing, and written reviews as well) is a welcome respite
from the daily grind. Simply sitting still within one’s writing place, whether
it is a corner carved out of another room or a room of one’s own, stills
habitual thought patterns. Reading and mulling over events become a kind of
practice that yields, at times, unexpected results. Sometimes I find myself
sitting very still and a strong feeling wells up. It may be uncomfortable. Life
is full of grief, for instance, though we prefer to talk about the weather.
There are the numerous transitions our children go through, aging parents,
financial problems—you name it.
So the compulsion to write poems,
while it resembles other repetitive acts, is completely different. In the act
of feeling and subsequently writing down what comes to mind without censoring
that material, some seed appears. Perhaps the would-be poem remains a fragment.
That’s fine. Fragments can be pieced together or lead to sequences. If the
internal censor can be vanquished from the room, the act of piecing words
together based on either a form or free verse or associations (I prefer the
latter) can lead in surprising directions. Connections may not be clear at the
time. It’s a form of day dreaming, or, perhaps, in the best case, of dreaming
JB: Some writers have spent a lifetime writing about the mundane, but you’ve found artistic fodder in the subject of trauma. Robert Frost reminds us, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Is it trauma’s dramatic occasion, its personal significance, or its intrinsic tension that interests you?
JS: My personal traumatic experiences go as far back as I can remember. My childhood tonsillectomy, for example. Instead of getting ice cream I vomited three bedpans of blood, and had to stay overnight in the hospital alone. Parents did not stay with children in the sixties! I had hallucinations of spiders; climbed out of my metal crib and wandered down the hallways only to be stiffly reprimanded by a nurse. As a writer writing of tragedies, it’s curious to me how and why I remember these sorts of details so vividly. I barely remember my graduations from high school and university, but those imagined spiders from my childhood still haunt me…
So your question is salient. I
would say all three of these come into play—the dramatic occasion that lingers
or malingers in the mind, the personal significance, and the tension and/or
angst provided by the memory. It demands to be exorcised. I am not sure why my
happier memories aren’t stronger. Somehow it’s the wounds that want to come out
of the closet when I write. I have tried to change this. Public readings about
unpleasant events—these poems are not leavened by humor in the slightest—leave
me feeling the audience is not only getting depressed, but I am too. Of course
there are exceptions. But by and large, perhaps because of expectations that
may have set me up for an easier path through life, my attraction to the trauma
has not diminished with the years.
JB: While writing-through-trauma isn’t new, the current zeitgeist is making the mode even more relevant and necessary. While we usually don’t think about the biographical elements of Robert Frost’s poetry, the fact remains that he was a man long traumatized by his loved ones’ diseases, mental illnesses, and sudden deaths. “Home Burial” is a remarkable illustration of that gulf that exists between people caught between the dead and the living. Do you feel as though you’re a poet who writes through tragedies and trauma?
JS: Yes, and there’s so much to unpack. I’ve tackled topics from childhood illnesses to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Rimbaud was right when he wrote, “Too bad for the wood that finds itself a violin.” I think artists of every discipline, compared to the average person, have more acute sensory awareness. Often this manifests in a heightened sensitivity of the body. For example, Wordsworth has a poem about chronic insomnia; it’s his third night without sleep and he invokes God. Sleeplessness erodes confidence. Insomnia is both humbling and insistent, as is chronic pain. One feels one can’t trust the body, its impulses when young, and its ongoing ever-increasing sensibilities and foibles as we age.
JB: Your treatment of writing-through-trauma is resolute and understated, and the mystery is palpable. You span subjects such as illnesses, disease, depression. W.H. Auden was precise when he wrote, “About suffering they were never wrong.” In your Journal of American Medical Association poems, there’s surprise in the juxtaposition of beauty and pain. There’s something ethereal beyond or somewhere within the imagery of tragedy, trauma, suffering.
JS: The fact that MFA writing programs may be offering a new track, writing-through-trauma, is interesting. One of the first “trauma” poems I wrote was “Written on Learning of Arrhythmia in the Unborn Child”. The title describes exactly when this was written—after an ultrasound late in the first trimester of pregnancy, when my then unborn third child had an arrhythmic heart beat. The uneven heartbeat became just the tip of the iceberg, as a subsequent ultrasound revealed that she only had one working kidney. The title “Written On Learning of….” might be an inherent preface for each poem written out of a traumatic experience.
I believe the authenticity of the
work depends upon a sliver of disengagement from actual events—an ability to
detach, even if just momentarily, from the object or subject of one’s shock. After
shock comes fear, and that seems more ordinary. Perhaps by ordinary I mean that
fear in the context of daily necessities can become uncomfortable, but subject
to avoidance. Daily routine presses onward, and any space one might have for
contemplation is lost. By its nature, shock includes a surreal element, but
this can make it easier and, in fact, feel safer, to look away from the
abnormality of the experience—to discount strong emotions and move on with
problem solving. Of course, at the time, I was in a state of shock, as prior to
this I had two healthy children by natural childbirth. That is not to say they
didn’t have any problems, but the early illnesses they experienced were garden
variety compared to this set of issues.
JB: So, while that poem, “Written On Learning of Arrhythmia,” published by Poetry over 30 years ago was your first trauma-related poem, it certainly wasn’t your last. Is it true that for the last 25 years you’ve had over 25 poems published in the Journal of American Medical Association?
JS: Yes. It was at the time of my third child’s major surgery, which required an eight-day stay at Children’s hospital in Seattle, and she came home with tubes in her kidneys and bladder, that I wrote “The Body Especial,”—my first poem published in JAMA’s Poetry and Medicine column. The subjects of my JAMA poems have included, diagnoses such as Hashimoto’s disease, Epstein-Barr, post vitreous detachment, tinnitus, spasmodic torticollis, traumatic brain injury, shingles, serum sickness, and diagnostic procedures such as mammograms, echocardiograms, and biopsies.
While I have had personal resonance
with this list of subjects, my first concern is honoring the energy of the
moment in which I write. When various maladies are diagnosed, words get
involved and that becomes exciting. There is the challenge to discover not only
what the word holds, but what the body is holding onto. Our bodies know more
than we do about how events in our ever-changing environment influence our
lives. I found the term “Spasmodic Torticollis” very funny even as I
experienced the pain of a wrenched neck. It does sound like an Italian dish, so
the poem’s first line was a found line.
JB: As a poet who battles chronic pain, you’ve mentioned to me the importance of having read Sarah Anne Shockley’s book, The Pain Companion. Will you discuss the correlation between intellectualizing and managing your pain with writing about it imaginatively?
JS: Well, there is a depth of fury and rage when one’s body doesn’t function normally. Often this anger turns inward, towards oneself. That is unproductive and exacerbates the condition. You have to choose how you want to relate to your pain. I can’t trust the body, and have rarely felt comfortable in my own skin.
Writing, however, helps establish a
foundation for trust in reality. There is a tremendous amount of release
available when one can take to a private place such as a poem with one’s
feelings—the heartache engendered by trauma. It isn’t a panacea by any means,
but writing holds the moment in place. By anchoring an event with words, the
experience becomes externalized, and makes shock more bearable.
So while I feel rather like a
magnet for trauma, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to express these
events of varying kinds and proportions in the form of verse. While there is
little to recommend about trauma, except perhaps the ability to empathize with
others who experience it, we all live through deeply distressing experiences.
Just being born is a critical condition for the human infant, who relies on his
or her parents to meet each and every need for a full year, as compared to
other mammals, who are born and learn to fend for themselves in a relatively
JB: Writing-through-trauma seems like a method by which a writer can actually claim an event that she herself couldn’t control. By writing a script in which beauty collides with trauma, a writer can orchestrate a slowing down, a way of regaining command of a life that’s vast and unpredictable. In that spirit, talk to me about the poem, “You’ll Never Heal.”
JS: I have been inspired to write by new traumatic events that seem to spring up continually and leave scars. “You’ll Never Heal” was written after one of my children had a serious car accident. It speaks of the sensibility of a shock experience from mother to daughter. I know for myself healing doesn’t necessarily happen in the actual world. In the ideal, of course, we want and expect that restoration and exactitude: that our loved one will emerge unmarred, unscarred. The thing about poems is that verse, at least for me, can capture the moment better than autobiographical prose can.
Though they say it could have been worse, give you ice and pills, nothing bandages the millisecond you can’t remember
or the afterwards, a shock wave traveling in slow motion through your knee, your back, neck and stomach.
Though they say the limp will disappear, you feel as if cottonwood fell to the curb to be collected by the accident and packed into the ball and socket.
This kind of snow never melts. Through glass you watch the great hulk of mountain, that part you can see, its summit clipped by cloud, frame, pall.
(Preprinted with permission from Came Home to Winter, Deerbrook Editions 2019)
JB: My favorite Anne Sexton quote concerns her label as a confessional poet: “I often confess to things that never happened.” I wonder if “Writing through Trauma” is just the 21st century term for “Confessional” writing? What’s your take on the mode of writing-through-trauma? Do you consider your writing about trauma to be confessional? Is trauma a matter for art? While there’s an inherent autobiographical nature to writing-through-trauma, my question to you is how can writers ensure that their work doesn’t succumb to self-indulgence?
JS: I would say stick with the experience, stay true to the details, and keep yourself present to what happened. Also, follow the mood, if and when that develops. Think of a mood as a guide forward into the material that needs to be accessed and brought back into the light in order to be examined under a microscope. Use your senses, all five, and the sixth sense if it can be accessed, to avoid self-pity. Know that you are not alone—trauma is experienced every day by everyone, even if it is present as the affront of a wooden table to a toddler who is learning how to navigate a living room. When the pity and confession begin, allow yourself to feel that, but don’t engage overlong. The smallest child moves forward with mercurial changeability from crying to laughing, and in a split second is on to the next thing. That’s a good lesson.
JB: So, is that to say that your primary concern in poem-making is image development versus writing on the facts of a certain situation? Writing-through-trauma for you isn’t a means of catharsis?
JS: I think it goes both ways. The first impetus is “Let’s get this thing that feels like being slimed out of my body…let’s make it into words, because it is too awful to retain inside.” The facts are the facts and they are important. This experience happened. It was shocking and surprising. It made me feel angry, upset, hurt; it caused pain and suffering. I am still here, however, and looking out at a world that doesn’t seem to care that this happened. In fact, people can distance themselves from their loved ones who suffer—this occurs much more often than one might like to think. Pain and suffering are scary and uncomfortable. They remind others of their own pain. Clearly PTSD and its attendant emotions can become a toxic and isolating concoction.
So what in nature does this
feeling-experience resemble? That’s where image development comes in. There’s
an organic part to being human. We try to pretend that our animal qualities
don’t exist. We have our cities, our high rises, concrete, pavement—we’ve
covered civilization with a flat veneer of ‘enlightenment’. Despite this, if,
when wounded by our own bodies, we turn back to the natural world, there are
abundant examples of scarred trees, burnt vistas, branchings, tramplings,
floods, and randomness. Many images are available to translate our feelings
into words. The correspondence of image to situation may or may not ease the
current situation. It is not something to be done for the purpose of catharsis.
That may backfire, because any purpose can become pat, forced, studied, and
artificial—again, can be fancy.
JB: Speaking of the autobiographical elements in your writing, you’ve had physical injuries, hereditary maladies, social trauma, and chronic pain, all of which have been given voice in your poetry. Will you discuss the struggles inherent to using personal pain as a subject for poetry?
JS: I’ve always had a sensitive constitution. Acute sensory awareness, sympathetic pains, feeling deeply about things, people. A propensity for worry. I’ve felt shame, guilt (some milieu-induced and some society-specific) about my chronic pain, but that never prevented me from writing about it. Trauma is omnipresent and omnipotent, which is to say that no one’s immune. I’ve done research on PTSD, and still I cannot figure out why some people are consumed by it and some people seen to be inoculated from it.
JB: In your poem, “Biopsy,” which ends with the words, “She couldn’t feel / more like a hostage / were she to don / the bee’s jacketed stripes, / the garb of the jail,” there’s a curious string of associations from needle to sting to bee to imprisonment. Do these associations come easily for you in the creative process, or do you made these conscious links during revision?
JS: They simply arrived, in this case. The associative process was working—all I had to do was get out of the way. Of course this doesn’t always happen. I think in this case the links were internalized from having been stung by wasps, bees, and hornets some twenty times while growing up in Maryland. Physicians and/or nurses often use the phrase “This will feel like a bee sting”…again the process is dipping into what’s already there, waiting to be found.
JB: When I substitute taught your Richard Hugo House class, “Generating Associative Verse,” I puzzled over who were my favorite associative poets. In that class I realized that your poetic associative moves are the ones I most admire. One of my favorites is your punctuation-free poem, “Tiny Animals,” which has that bullet train feeling:
in blown glass on shelves Wedgewood plates stacked on the buffet for company quilted place mats salt and pepper shaker from Tahiti horns of ivory rhinoceros don’t you dare touch else the host will bellow you’ll become the child who ran into winter jumped the fence to fall on concrete where a shard entered your palm look at the cicatrix like a tattoo a little leg pulled from flesh
published in Hamilton Stone Review
JS: It’s the subconscious that knows best, so the question then becomes how to access that part of our minds when we go to write. Sensation seems to be the driving force for a poem, especially one of an associative nature. “Tiny Animals” is one of my personal favorite associative poems also. It’s impossible to explicate why, except perhaps that when I look at it now there are concrete images and explicit warnings. The injury experienced by the ‘you’—“you’ll become the child” is a splinter from one of those “Tiny Animal(s)”—but how does the piece move from beginning to end without knowing consciously that there would be a convergence? Because it (the unconscious/subconscious part) is the best tool available to any writer.
JB: Will you talk about the image-and thread-driven nuances of associative writing?
JS: In writing associatively, it’s the subconscious that knows best what material is of the utmost importance for addressing—or for feeling our way—through a specific subject matter. So the question becomes how to access that part of our minds when we sit down to write. Dreams are poem-like; associative poems can be dream like, and are compared to Hieronymus Bosch by Richard Hugo: “When you see a painting by Hieronymus Bosch your immediate impression may be that he was a weirdo. A wise man once told me he thought Bosch had been a cynic, and the longer I thought about this the truer it seemed… Had Bosch concerned himself with the relative moral or aesthetic values of the various details, we would see more struggle and less composure in the paintings themselves. The details may clash with each other, but they do not clash with Bosch. Bosch concerned himself with executing the painting—he must have—and that freed his imagination, left him unguarded…One way of getting into the world of the imagination is to focus on the play rather than the value of words…” (from The Triggering Town)
JB: Besides the propulsion of associations through your poems, will you enlighten me about the irreducible relationship between your titles and your first lines. There’s so much happening in that white space! The poetic leaps don’t feel like leaps at all; they feel more like scaling a German wall. Here are some of my favorite title/first line combinations from your selected, The Phoenix, 2007-2013: Wind—Like pain it came and left by halves; House of Burnt Cherry—Here the martyr and the porcupine; Extinction’s Cousin—I came back for scraps; and November Moon, Past Full—Pours its dead, mimetic light.
JS: In that white space, the poems take-off, so to speak. I think that exists because of the need strongly felt in the body to write the poem. It’s more of a mood or a feeling than an idea. Ideas are the enemy of associative writing; the goal is to allow ourselves access to what’s frozen, or invisible, below the tip of the iceberg. The feeling that drives the poem’s initial impulse and its title come almost in tandem, then a huge feeling that must come out (William Stafford: “writing a poem is like getting traction on ice”). The first line may be the easiest part, because the rest of the poem is figuring out the relationship between the first line and the feeling. You have to wade through self-doubt and confusion. As David Wagoner has said, you have to become a mad person when you write, to see where the mood and the music leads you.
JB: Your poems are a rapid-fire in that I don’t ever know exactly how I got to the end of each poem and when I do get there I want to reread the thing immediately. In a 2008 interview in the Centrum Foundation newsletter (Port Townsend, Washington), you said, “The best poems are those that go through you like a bullet train.” Is that to say that good poetry reverberates? Good poetry is blurry? Will you explain what you mean?
JS: I learned this from Beth Bentley, when I studied from her at the UW. She wanted emotion in poems. She didn’t want philosophy, or even, necessarily, a lot of narrative, though she herself is a master of the narrative voice. Good poetry moves quickly. It contains images that build upon one another—the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Too many ideas spoil a poem—that’s what I came to see from bringing poems in to Bentley’s workshop. The idea contains seeds or germs; this is what needs to be developed. So yes, I would say that good poetry does reverberate in that it calls upon the senses. If there is any blurriness, that would arise from connotations that differ somewhat from person to person, but it’s a straight shot from start to finish, and when you are done reading a good poem, you feel electricity. There is then the aftermath of watching that current pass through you.
Perhaps the poems feel fast because they are not rational, and not puzzled out in logical imagery. I’m more comfortable when I’m in that trance zone—when an unusual or unique feeling leads me to where a poem is headed. These are poems that I don’t really revise. I’m comfortable with the unknown, a gut feeling that I’m an explorer, an adventurer—perhaps the luckiest gift of being raised as the child of two scientists. I love letting thought follow some half-wrought lines anywhere they wish to lead. While composing verse, I myself am suspending disbelief.
Janée J. Baugher is
the author of the poetry collections Coördinates of Yes and The
Body’s Physics, as well as the forthcoming academic book, The
Ekphrastic Writer: Creating Art-Influenced Poetry, Fiction and Nonfiction (McFarland,
2020). She teaches Creative Writing in Seattle.
siphon these little varmints from beneath my skin they’ve done nothing for me – these depraved little muses softly killing me an awful curse this constant barrage of music and the words – the never ending words their songs part me through the middle slice down to the birth thoughts I cannot sleep I write like a beast eat little then wait to hear a sonnet a song perhaps a riddle……. something to fill in the blanks
Gods of a Bonehead 1
I am your fortuneteller I whisper the song of a future star born to the sky on the day of a year in your bones you know we are a layer of a layer we walk among bodies with minds we think we are gods but we are as vulnerable as a baby bird yet we hold such power as to wield weapons – but let me get back to your palm that long deep line with so many breaks so many crackled dips I cannot find the end nor the beginning the future speaks the wind blows secrets at us the rain bleeds on us the eagle seeks your forearm as if you were a G-O-D a falcon grips the serpent – do you remember anything my love? I only know that you are here flesh and blood and I’ll hold you cradle you
Gods of a bonehead 9
I put makeup on so it looks like I’m not wearing makeup I don’t know any real reason why I cried at 5:28am I know the motion of my gut I know the wave of a feeling that we are all moving in this direction……. this dreaded direction I drive a car with monthly costs that could feed a village if I’m blank it’s because my rip tore the universe splitting it in two we long for the other half never the one we are in while we dry ourselves up to bone dust yearn for the thing out there missing all the things in here along the way
Gods of a Bonehead 11
All is the same maybe it will always be the same and is that so bad? what’s worse than the same? only death only end to anything that is substance for breathing I know I will end with my last breath upon a window as the steam forms my fingers sculpt out an awkward shaped heart later another breath steams that very piece of glass and the carved heart reappears will it be the depth and magnitude of a universal bonding I don’t know I only know we are all in motion twirling around in a circle of carnal lust from Dante’s Inferno those lovers lost in the wuthering tunnel can’t stop to catch you yet need you so desperately sick joke that Inferno so well thought out it rocks centuries into the millennium as if Beatrice could walk in at any minute we would all stand in awe of her ethereal face and cow soothing eyes and the only time we learn to live again is when something so terrible or so epic occurs yet days later when the dust settles we crawl back into our cave and sit on the edge of our own skin with boredom because those tender times when we were rocked to sleep have disintegrated into the frivolity of our aged bodies
Donna Dallas studied creative writing and philosophy at NYU. She has most recently appeared in Red Fez, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Opiate, Beatnik Cowboy, Burning House Press and several other publications. Her recent novel, Death Sisters (Alien Buddha Press) has just hit the market. Donna serves on the editorial team of Red Fez. firstname.lastname@example.org @DonnaDallas15
They’ve come late In the evening 1,000 ants Like ninjas – Felled this ole Gulliver At the ankles (Tomorrow we expected both sunshine And war).
Body load is distributed flat
On minute tribal shoulders
In a poised, expert manner
That suggests experience –
Why don’t ants grace humbler flags, they The Dark Rivers?
Skin had grown brownbag
Over the wedding ring –
That’s how old he
A fist of twiggy fingers sworn together into a pyre
No more running-faster-than-the-bridge-crumbling-behind-you
You know, you can measure time in teeth
And I want to be buried in my playground – furtively, at night, by loyalists
A tad bit drunk.
No better, thinner. No better, Taller. No better, Got a gun:
– Goes Unchallenged Now (GUN)
– Gimme Ur Name (GUN)
– God’s Urgently Needed (GUN)
Qué macho es el Gun, you’ve got another Dick, hombre mío.
In Spanish victim is female – la víctima – and
Bullet is female – la bala – and bullseye
Is female – la diana – and death is female –
More of the same
Bullet-pierced milk Mixed With you know Made the street Pink
RE: [Exit wounds] –
The barrio exhorts:
Güey you better
Toughen up, and the bullets
Bullet (n.): nocturnal, burning, Flies quickly from dark to
Emptied box of guns
The young run fetch them.
Have one already.
espresso & beer.
this time of
Tock: 73% of respondents
That’s what I had
With my first wife – the one saving
The other to then be saved back
Again & again.
have beer first –
Espresso is a
Daniel Aristi was born in Spain. He studied French Literature as an undergrad (French Lycée in San Sebastian). He now lives and writes in Belgium. Daniel’s work is forthcoming or has been recently featured in Main Street Rag, Berkeley Poetry Review and Cold Mountain Review.
This is what it looks like to be dressed in what a family can’t afford: a chiffon dress, blue as a lily flower, wide lace, vertical pleats, new nylons, creamy white shoes, tight enough to hurt.
My mother remembers when she first went dancing. Her parents went without for her on that occasion too. It’s romance. She figured we all owe a debt to it anyhow. Otherwise, there’d be none of us. So why not owe more.
My father can remember hanging out with his amigos, all done out in hand-me-downs, watching the cluster of la chicas. on the opposite side of the hall.
He was brave enough to ask my mother for a dance. So she reckons the expense will be worth it if I meet someone half as fine as the man she married.
Of course, mostly they argue these days. But always in clothes they can afford.
Families, loners, occupy the tenements, play in the park, shop at the grocery store. I’m sure there’s a story to why all these people live where they do. I’m learning it bit by bit. Some have been here all their lives. Others are just passing through.
Lots of folks sit out on their stoops. If you want to know why they can’t get a job then stop a while and listen. Economy’s bad, they tell me.
This city’s a crazy grid of streets just like this one. Except elsewhere there’s different houses, different people. So it’s not alike.
Some of the streets are better kept up. Some look like battlegrounds. Some boast fancier parks and grocery stores. With others, the playground’s littered with glass and needles and, if they have a store at all, it’s most likely boarded up.
I’ve seen people sitting on their stoops on block after inner city block. But I only get the news from the ones on my street.
The Whistle from Above
Are you pleased with yourselves… I think the word is “voyeurs.” Or is it “lechers.” This is what comes of all these English as a Second Language classes. I have rid myself of el lascivo, el libertino but then some would-be stud takes their place.
Okay, I get it. I’m a piece of meat with hair where it should be and brown skin where it’s not. And I have the shape that corresponds with someone’s momentary libido. Now there’s a word that’s the same in English and in Spanish. So there’s no getting away from it.
But, to be honest, a catcall, high up on a construction site. has nothing to do with me. From that distance, my possibilities are endless. Up close, I can only be so much.
Juanita Rey is a Dominican poet who has been in
this country five years. She has worked many jobs while studying to improve her
English. She has been writing for a number of years but has only recently begun
to take it seriously. She enjoys reading. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison
are particular favorites. Her work has been accepted by 2 River View, Harbinger
Asylum, Pennsylvania English, Petrichor Machine and Madcap Poets.
Maybe I begot the Y2K bacterium… I mean, it’s conceivable—since I was a reckoning, millenarian millennial—who withdrew from the world while waiting for the coming of God; notwithstanding the certainty that I wasn’t yet counting down the days until my odometer was ready to roll over and cross the great divide, as I progressively gazed forth to my calendar being filled with astronomical events, leading me to consider giving the 12 modes of Gregorian chanting a chance, which, I knew—in all likelihood—would have reflected my new light potential like a Gregorian telescope. So I started to deliberate about the day when I would get up-to-date with myself, be the arbiter of my arbitrary actions, and advance on a date with Destiny.
But many twelvemonths would make their way
before the good government of my being would come to be. Momentarily after the
millennium, I ran my eyes over different discourses of methods, which fomented
my overthinking—therefore—winding me up in an extremely existential existence.
I became cynical, and skeptical of the whole shebang, as I started smoking more
peace pipes than Method Man, and yenned for my red skinned counterparts. I
progressed to the edge of unemployment, and ambitioned about cutting myself in
the line, but my avant-garde alter ego guarded me. I even thought of utilizing
a TEC-9 technique, by shooting my star-crossed nut, but instead of destroying
my third eye and waking up to a pearly gated ghetto—some of my pearly whites
were serendipitously purloined by a slug, and I ended up in an ebony
I tried to plead temporary insanity—by saying
that the state of my art was underdeveloped, and that all of my original ideas
about original gangsters who experimented with experimental drugs would one day
be certified fresh on old-fashioned tomatoes—but nobody bought them.
Providentially, I wasn’t prosecuted, and was able to persecute different
pursuits. The only doohickey I got out of the new deal was a set of newfangled fangs, which left my debt in mint
condition. Perchance the second-hand smoke and hackneyed horse would have
executed me toothless regardless. The solitary structure I had at that juncture
was puncturing the organization of my largest organ, which was semi-erotic, but
wasn’t likely the best logic. I was kindred to a method actor in a dreamlike
requiem I once had, which turned out to be the nest of a nightmare gone bad.
People were starting to co-sign my slow death
by design, and not even Dakota Fanning could stop the subconscious planning of
my inner world’s wars. So I tried methadone, but got sick from its scientific
methods, and knew that I needed something more, in spite of the fact that my
spiritual practice was out of practice, and that the ecclesiastical tactics
were rather taciturn—the bells would shortly toll for me, and my éclat would
soon emulate the complex algorithms of Method ringing that were set/sent by The
Holy Spirit. The pedantic permutations of my modus operandi began to find a
routine, but it all became too routine, and I digressed from the process as my
strategy grew into an elegy. I knew I needed a new order, because all my sun
declines were like blue Mondays.
So I set out to get away from all my
Hellenistic mistresses, who were like Nike—in that they were mindless, damaged
goddesses who wanted to just do it, but which I suppose were sublimely
beautiful witches nonetheless. And when I look back, it’s putative that they
were all victories in discernment. Posterior to the pronouncement of this
purpose, I ended up erecting passage to pristine pastures in an area where
flora and fauna flourish, where the Beats found their rhythm, and where
customers who are accustomed to alternative lifestyles have consumption. I also
decided to take another shot at/as the unknown soldier, and the days that
shadowed were extremely strange. Even familiar faces seemed unfamiliar. But I
put my trust in The Man with the
plan, and one day, my fiendish friend—who goes by the moniker of Monk
(sobriquet, due to the resemblance to Tony Shalhoub and his OCD, but I suspect
that he does, indubitably, have a certain, ostensible cenobitism to him)
introduced me to a consortium called New
Method Wellness, and after many kismets, came across the possessors, who
launched me into a whole new way of life. The trying of untried herbs was
inaugurated (which enabled me to be reborn by means of Mother Nature), and I
also engaged in various, vigorous exercises (which were reinvigorating, and
refreshing to my physique).
This all went well for a time, but the day
where I became diffidently indifferent to “something different” soon betided.
They then suggested that I get the lead out of my head, so I made progress to
become an inky octopus, in search of the 8 areas of wellness. But then the
rabble began to call my babble dense, and in a sense—it may be verifiable—but
at least I rarely lose in scrabble. And I never scrawl before any man when it
comes to the spouting melody of my fountain pen’s composition. Having said
that, I only sign things when I see sigils to do so. I log my Logos, list my
trysts, and scribble as I see fit (which usually ends in the ripping up of my
scripts), but in the end—it all has a hand in creating the calligraphy of my
Anyway, many moons have waxed and waned from the time that the tides brought me upon these beauteous beaches—and I’ve since become involved in many New Thought Movements—where I preserve to attain alternatives to my old-self-medicated alternative medicine. Under no circumstances will I peter out in the persistence of being a wellness tourist, and peradventure—my passport will unabatingly be stamped—even as I pass onto/into the thereafter-life.
Charles J. March III is an impoverished, asexual, INFJ, neurodivergent Navy hospital corpsman veteran from the South Side of Chicago, who is currently trying to live an eclectic life with an interesting array of recovering creatures in Orange County, CA. His avant-garde poetry & prose has appeared in Literary Orphans, Stinkwaves, Fleas on the Dog, Harbinger Asylum, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, et al., and is forthcoming from Angry Old Man, 3:AM, and Free State Review.
Terry Brinkman has been painting for over forty-five years. He started creating poems and has had five poems in the Salt Lake City Weekly. Five Amazon E-Books. Variant and Tide Anthologies. Poems in Rue Scribe, Tiny Seed, Juste Milieu Lit Review, Utah Life Magazine, Poem Village, Snapdragon Journal, Poets Choice, In Parentheses, Healing Muse, Adelaide Magazine and the UN/Tethered Anthology.
You and that see-through dark-haired girl, you love her, don’t you. Let me count all the ways you love her. I could be dead, or just missing, or just missing out on you. Your name is a song inside my head, and mob justice burns bright tonight. There’s so much of you in the narrative and context of my stories. There will always be so much of you. And we were never lovers, nor boyfriend and girlfriend, just a crack in the system, and you know how much I love you, and you know about my nervous breakdown, that I never finished high school, and I know you want to be a family-man, I know you want to build a home; I know you want to belong, but life means different things to us, to us. My home is the world, my home is under Scandinavian skies, my home is sexy-Swaziland, minor earth and
major sky. Your lips are like velvet, and my face is made of stone. I think you’re the epitome of cool, want to kiss you so much, pull you in real close, but you’re in love with a dark-haired girl now, and I have to respect you, and remember you, and remind you I loved you too, I loved you before she did, I loved you first. It’s lonely out here blogging away in this frozen wilderness, but writing brings an order to my life, and my neck is graceful, and you’ll never see me naked, it has been too long, and so many things have gone unsaid between us. So, this is goodbye then my loyal friend until I see you in heaven. And I’m going to cry Argentina, there’s nothing you can do about that. We could have been lovers. We could have been lovers. We could have been lovers. And I’m not maternal, although my throat has a masculine energy.
Hemingway is third time lucky
my paternal grandparents)
I’m lost, I’m lost, I confess. In a minute I’ll be gone. In another minute I’ll belong to the past, escape the present. I’ll be stripped bare. I’m a stranger to man, and I’m a stranger to woman, and all I’ve ever wanted was to be in your arms, and be loved forever. But, this relationship, or whatever it is, or was belongs to the past, and I’ll count myself forever holy amongst the stars, and the passing of time, and the illustration of dust, and the interpretation of prayer. And all I ever wanted was you, dear boy, dear man, dear finite space, and biological gap, and psychological warfare, and a wish bone to lead me home, and universal sanctuary, and a university degree, and a high school diploma, and now, and now I have none of these trivia, none of these things that makes the woman, that marks the career woman. And I have a mother, but she abandoned me at birth because my father loved me more, and my sister despises me, and my illness, my disease, my Christianity, my radical feminism, and most of all me. I’m an extra, I’m a starlet-harlot, I’m a monkey who does not want to behave, but I’ll only behave in your arms, except that position is filled. It is nearly midnight, nearly turning-point when I’m near-death, near-life, and in death I’ll be extraordinary and in life I’ll be extra-ordinary. And if I ever get married, I promise to submit, I promise to obey, I promise to love in sickness and in health. I am in a tunnel fast approaching another bright light, another nervous breakdown, and was I really so difficult, so different to love, and you tell me in a thousand different ways of how much I’m impossible to love, and the hallucinations, and the insomnia leave me bleary- eyed, and I look you straight in the eye, I want to try and make
eye-contact with you, but you look away because you love another, and I don’t binge-drink anymore, I’m no criminal mastermind, fuck my intelligence, I’ve never slept with a married man, I’ve never fallen for a woman, and even though I feel as if I’m a statistic, you don’t, you don’t, you don’t love me anymore and I find it all so difficult to be on my own, and I can’t bear the loneliness, I can’t face you with another woman on your arm, and you say I look like your daughter, and then I find it difficult to breathe, to look away, because all I’ve ever wanted was you, and you tell your secretary to tell me to fuck off and leave you alone. You’re work, and I love your superstar personality, you were my sweet escape, once my sweet embrace, and now because of the Sylvia Plath- effect you want nothing to do with me, because of the mania and the euphoric-high, because of the unstoppably catastrophic blue- depression I guess I’m no good for anyone, but especially for you. I’m a saint walking on water, I am Saul of Tarsus, I am Paul on cocaine on the road to Damascus. I am the finite apostle glowing. I’m swimming, my body like velvet, head above water rooting for all daughters, and then drowning. Body-surfing, and then head sinking beneath the vibrations of the waves, drowning again. You have genie-daughters, while I have none. The lunar-phases of endometriosis saw to my infertility. I have had orphan-abandonment issues in the past. You have had abandonment issues in the past. We’re both orphans. That’s the one thing that we have in common. I can’t bear the rhetoric, the dogma, you can’t bear the church. We should be in love, life-falling for each other but we’re not.
Abigail George’s fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film and television production at Newtown Film and Television School opposite the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. She is the writer of Africa Where Art Thou (2011), Feeding the Beasts (2012), All About My Mother (2012), Winter in Johannesburg (2014), Brother Wolf and Sister Wren (2015), and Sleeping Under the Kitchen Tables in the Northern Areas (2016). Her poetry has been widely published in anthologies, in print in South Africa, and in zines from Nigeria to Finland, and New Delhi, India to Istanbul, Turkey. She lives, works, and is inspired by the people of the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Night empties a pitcher of rain through my trees. Sibelius spins, weeps, rages. The washer rocks back and forth.
My dog barks, but Orion, behind the blinding storm tightens his belt and passes unseen as my friend cries, grief-stricken, but holds
leechlike to death, sucking life from the dying rune of his wife. I want to say nothing ever dies, but wonder
if I can move so far from despair and fear, my own wife so near death once, my life full of terror from wishing ill,
dreading good, so incomplete a man threatened by wholeness or lack in you, touching the dread of living with my death,
that child who grows in me until one day I will be the old skin he sheds. The truth is very strange, for the best things
are wrung from opposites, closeness from hate, courage from despair, life from death: profoundest love from the grave.
In memory of Bob Rodman
Grandfather Daddy Wilds
Myth, Malevolence, Truth
Two images haunt me: Daddy Wilds willfully slewing his Lincoln around at a hundred miles an hour in the rain, sure he would spin the right way home: and, his face battered as a refined boxer’s, shambling from his room at the end, though warned any motion would burst his heart.
He was the wild free father brimming with gifts: cars replacing those his son smashed, always found unused in some maiden aunt’s garage; money he went on making as a stockbroker, after the ’29 crash; adoration of my mother he kept company as she modelled, outfacing all the young men until too sick to face my father down; the castle and title he spurned because they weren’t good enough:
and he was the man whose mastery grandmother punished for ten years with no sex, who laid in his deathbed while his son went on smashing things for someone else to make good, and his daughter brushed leadpaint and turpentine around, as if no one was there: the man who got up and broke the only heart he knew he could.
Some nights I hear him hum like an engine under the dry white rain of stars we spin beneath and I grow dizzy looking for true home and lie there, short-breathed, my jaw set like a boxer’s against the pain in my side, weighing what fuels our pride, our bribery of love, our final love of death.
Or so my father whispered when I was young. Older, the truth is precious as breath. Grandfather smelled no paint where he lay on the far side of his home, while all his son smashed were Germans in North Africa and France, and himself, earning a Purple Heart: and grandfather died in bed in my mother’s arms, who was heavy with me— his death a shockwave in us both.
Some nights I hear him hum like an engine under the dry white rain of stars we spin beneath and I grow dizzy looking for true home and lie there, short-breathed, my jaw set like a boxer’s against the pain in my side, weighing what fuels our pride, our bribery of love, our final temptation to love our end— or if, as he clove to her ripe body he knew too life is more pure more adamant than death.
The Names of Love
The Red-Tailed Hawk of My Forgetting
rises on a thermal of desire over the sunlit seacliff, red red tail flashing as he turns head lowered, eyes spears that seek the merest telltale motion in the chaparral— found, he stoops down the angle of his need a sharply exhaled breath, talons hammerheads to the careless head whose thin scream they cut off in a fury of feathers and dust and blood.
Or he perches on eucalyptus trees winter winds have long stripped, that brace one another or they would fall— Ten years he muses twenty slides downwind in hunger forty mark him changeless as I age. So I shimmy up the gunbarrel smooth trunk to meet his gaze, dig my feet in for traction: sweat blinds I shake from my eyes until with a last heave his gaze meets mine…
‘There is the man who day by day watches me. His father mother children are all one, and no one. The years are long peels of eucalyptus skin that fall to the earth, the man always the same while in me waits one whose greater wings one day will spread and shed me like a husk as he cries into the sun. In his gaze I forget my father’s name, mother’s, children’s, and love forgets mine. I am become everyone, and nothing…’
‘Here is the hawk who day by day ignores me. His father mother children are all one, and no one. The years are long peels of eucalyptus skin that fall to the earth, the hawk always the same while in me waits one who someday will shed me like a husk as he steps away from the sun. In his gaze I forget my father’s name, mother’s, children’s, and love forgets mine. I am become everything, and no one…’
Therefore wherever I go I name all I see, given or new-coined— it is all one to me. What I record may last while the sun endures, past that no one can care. Name by name I chip away at my forgetting. Each word I give is a name for my love.
Report from the Front
Everything tumbles together, syringa in bloom, sweet clover on the air, the earth’s breath between showers, bitterns poised to strike unwary fish who abandon their granite posts with staccato QUAWKQuawkquawks! when I come too close; muskrat who ignores me as she parts the water with her nose, twigs for her den in her teeth; and hissing snapper with jaws even death respects who slides into tall grass that trembles at his passage. Not far from this suburban edge semis from Quebec roll by with cargoes of furs, blocks of ice, cedar sprays, antlers, Eskimo songs and shrieks of children from farthest north where they fence small squares of sky from wilderness and polar bears. I want to link all these in a causal chain, as though I am he who knows, weighs, values, names— but only this moment by moment teeming answers my hunger for sense.
Lance Lee is a Los Angeles poet, playwright and author. His poems, stories and articles have been accepted in both American and English journals such as Antioch Review, Cross Currents, Agenda, Outposts, Stand, Acumen, Nimrod, Iron, and Poetry Northwest. Recent publications include Iconoclast, The New European (UK), Ambit (60 Anniv. issue) (UK), Orbis (UK), POEM, Chiron Review, and Blue Unicorn. Books include Wrestling with the Angel, Becoming Human, Human/Nature and Seasons of Defiance (2010). His most recent book, Homecomings, is available here and in the UK. He is a recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and various other scholarships. A full review of his works and further samples can be found at lanceleeauthor.com
you should have drowned me amidst your disappointments first-born female—
instead I floated free
where longing became a bone ache in the middle of ocean undercurrents nipping at my heels
wanting to give in to the pull back let my tongue swell with brine tie my limbs in weeds
but I emerged from the waves gasping and when darkness washed from my sight
you were all I could see backlit arms outstretched
awaiting my arrival
It wasn’t like I’d planned it months in advance, setting the date, time, the flowers, wine— our song;
not like I wanted anyone to see us on the way to the ceremony, she and I pulled over, opening the door spewing vomit in the street
and not like I wasn’t going to make it right between them and me, Shacking up with that man, hers; A disgrace to the family, his.
It’s not like I’d never held the bouquet or posed for their pictures in a white-satin strapless placing one sober heel in front of the other lockstep time to Pachelbel’s canon pounding in my temples, wiping the memory of last night’s
pasty pipe-cleaner shins, dishwater blue eyes— the acid taste of second-hand cheap cigarettes and beer in my throat as he goes down on me smelling of her
or like I know what he wants when under the Aegean sun he whips his head round, jams brakes on the Honda, straddled motor purring between knotty thighs, waves of golden carpets rippling under the pebbled beach of his forearm
and not like I’d ever know his lashed hazel stare, exquisite lips overlooking a jutting rock jaw tonguing words off cliffs I catch in my mouth but can’t understand
as if I’ve done something wrong when— he switches to English and says, “Get on.” I do.
plot continues without them
Must I endure your hiccups? It’s not enough to want darkly, you should want me, adorable nightmare. When the crows discovered the murder, he left home with a broken wing but unlike us, lions will never give up their pride
or goats their kids. Every new day is a fresh homicide, fear and loathing aren’t required for the plot to continue. Snakes build nests but don’t fly so you really shouldn’t get drunk at the feast. Someone is bound to betray you after I speak my confession to the praying mantis, but forgiveness hasn’t been invented yet; we still live amongst the unkindness of ravens. Dandelions send helicopter drones to spy
on the swollen desert (without healthcare benefits, of course) but my hard-boiled legacy, cut from rapture when the Yangtze River was still an irreversible wonder has no place when the backdrop changes color. Look, if you have a question, don’t be afraid to hold up your hand— receive and you shall ask. Its will is done if you so name it, for when you allow the Book to open, it falls to the correct page. She doesn’t like your charms, but to a fox, water’s your best friend
or your worst enemy. It all depends on hindsight. Is the stairway to Heaven paved in stone, you ask? It depends on how far this pavement goes but be careful, no matter how far they let go, sonar always brings them home. Should I call You Mister or Missus, then? The Gardener doesn’t know if crimson will be in style this year, but pay what you owe. He’ll decide the price later since this journey’s not done. The lightness of being is insatiable yet we still hide truth
under our pillows in the quiet’s night air. Remember don’t take the shortcut or you’ll be cut short this time, like lonely cows in a lonely field that really don’t feel alone when they stand and face the pelting storm, so you should easily find
your own compass through this dark matter and other such physics particles. Shards of glass embedded in your skin don’t hurt but you still feel their hurt. It’s the business of ferrets that you’re too concerned with so rather adopt an attitude of shrewdness like a few apes with whom you’re well acquainted. Oh for Heaven’s sake, why should all this be such a mystery to you?
Natasha Deonarain is a medical doctor and lives part-time between Arizona and Colorado. Her poems are published or forthcoming in The RavensPerch, Door is Ajar, Crack the Spine, Juked, NELLE, Rigorous, Packingtown Review, Thin Air Magazine, Dime Show Review, Prometheus Dreaming and Canyon Voices Literary Magazine.
Crack the champagne Yesterday already happened once and for the first time Now it’s almost morning The resolutions will be made diamond-hard on the pale slates of memories So when we forget it will be intentional and when we say we didn’t know it will be because we did We will pick up dust and soldier on through fields that aren’t ours past the eyes that know our names Eyes that know our footfalls and the lies trapped by teeth Evident and obvious to skeptics Those enquiring minds Wondering when will the clock sound and where did all the champagne go?
120 Lincoln Ave.
Through the door and into the puddle of mail— waist-deep, knee-wide.
A bag in the corner means ‘junk,’ means ‘sorry they don’t live here now.’
We sift and sort our way to the stairs, fishing for our keys.
Neighbors come and go so fast no one notifies the banks or next-of-kin.
Since neither of us has been able to exterminate the other, the roaches and I have learned to live together. Our initial bloody battles—the screaming, the poison— none of it got us anywhere. This is their home just as it is mine. They were here before me and will be here after me; I have learned to respect this. They have history and numbers. I have size and a lease. Determination is shared. So this—cohabitation—is the only available solution. We try to keep to ourselves, go about our business, interact as little as possible. And we’ve managed to lay a few ground rules, our own peace accord: drains and windows are acceptable, drawers are not, the bedroom is reserved for me alone. Though occasionally a renegade breaks free, to explore uncharted territory. Being of greater stature I seldom venture into their terrain. I did once reach behind the heating pipes—am still sorry.
notes on a scene
1. Six-thirty in the morning and I can’t sleep like this. Knocking on the veranda door, a misinterpretation: I only want help. Fingers pulling pins and flowers from my hair. Gathering on your bed all you’ll keep once I’m gone. In the morning it will be too late; the bags will be packed. So, this is all there is. Your fingers, my hair.
2. She returned a month later wearing the same clothes as the day she left. By coincidence or design, it drew all his attention. He kept trying to think of something else to say as she poked the ice in her glass. Twice he opened his mouth. She blinked nervous and thought of smiling, smiled, the glass at her lip. A coaster moved into place.
3. Midday wakes alone, but not me. A girl still sleeping in the bed as I dress, leave. I find you at the harbor where we sit, drink beer, try to eat. Again and again I look at you; again and again linger on your lips where words come out. Here we are, in chairs separated by a table killing time: you pull at your hair, watching the water. Waiting to stand and turn.
J.A. Staisey lives in Los Angeles. They work in an office by day and write by night.