Home Poetry


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).


by Januário Esteves

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.

urban calamum

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

And my mother calling;
  – Narinho, Oh Narinho.


Januário Esteves is a Portuguese poet.


By Abasiama Udom

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 –


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
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

kiss me
i’m peaking

you murmur
lips pressed
i look up
to you
your eyeballs
are shaking
your hair
you look
i feel
my eyes
rolling to
the back
my head
as i crash
my mouth
to yours
my hands
on your
i feel
your warmth
my skin
my heart
your hands
rest on
my waist
your beard
my ear
and i feel
with you
my mouth
i bring

feel this

your voice
is hoarse
i nod

is it

to you

                    sonnet    sorrow
                                        brief           to             



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.

Liberty Atoms 16

by Christopher Barnes

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 Mews, Edinburgh.

Chief pool boy & beach boy supervisor

By Keko Prijatelj

Parasol’s swaying
Costume’s bending
Parasol’s lifting
Costume’s tightened

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

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


Keko 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.

Judith Skillman Interview by Janée J. Baugher

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 awake.

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 short time.

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

(Previously published in Hamilton Stone Review No. 35)

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.

Pre-sale orders: https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/The-Ekphrastic-Writer/

Full coverage

by Donna Dallas

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
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
I know I will end
with my last breath upon a window
as the steam forms
my fingers sculpt out an awkward shaped heart
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
yet days later                        when the dust settles
we crawl back into our cave
and sit on the edge
of our own skin with
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.

And the coldest tree takes root

by Daniel Aristi

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.

La violencia

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 –

                                                                                                    La muerte.

More of the same

Bullet-pierced milk
With you know
Made the street


                RE: [Exit wounds] –
                The barrio exhorts:
                Güey you better
                Toughen up, and the bullets
                Stay in


                                Bullet (n.): nocturnal, burning,
                                Flies quickly from dark to


                                                Experiment #54:
                                                Emptied box of guns
                                                Down brownstone
                                                Staircase. Only
                                                The young run fetch them.
                                                All adults
                                                Have one already.


Order: espresso & beer.

Whatever is necessity

At this time of

History: Tick-tock-tick-

Tock: 73% of respondents

Answered, “Bomb”.

A reciprocal

Perpetual blood


That’s what I had

With my first wife – the one saving

The other to then be saved back

Again & again.

I’ll have beer first –

Espresso is a

Full stop.


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.

The Campaign

by Michele Alice


     give us another chance

           to do it to you



Put a couple

         of yeast cells together

and look what happens.


Through the veil of snow,

                        signs of spring:

buds upon the trees,

crocuses in bloom,

and the cardinal in muted plumage,



Michele Alice is: Detroit born, Tucson (U of A) philosophy-major, resides in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

My First Dance

by Juanita Rey

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.

My Street

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.

A New Method of Wellness

By Charles J. March III

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 neighborhood.

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 calling card.

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.

Sleepy Whale 254

by Terry Brinkman

Shaving by night, Agglutinated Lather

City Weekly read, reread, while lathering

Unexpectedly, Postman double knocks

Titrations a clattered Milk-Can

Relathering the same spot

Aught he sought

Psychophysics therapeutics’

Full masculine-feminine

Absent of light disturbs him

Reluctant to shed Human Blood

Cut My Self

Sleepy Whale 311

Shake of a lamb’s tail

Glass of old Burgundy

Crimson halter around her neck

Dropped out of the Army

Lifting forearm tone of reproach

Sobbing behind her veil

Pure Mare’s moon light

She rests behind her hand, that’s drunk

Unshed Tears in her eyes

Inebriated murmurs vaguely

Misunderstood scapegoat’s dress

Sleepy Whale 327

Diphthong, three hands limb from limb

System-palmitic listener, Mahawianvatard

Maze of reading

Wine stained pages of City Weekly

She blew foamy crown from her pint

Splashed on her Chalkscrowled silk stockings

Crucified shirt elbows on the bar

Cowboys, steersman and Archbishop’s drinking club

Rubs stockings with Irish face cloth

Alabaster silent life of Dark lady and fair man


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.

When in Rome

by Abigail George

(for my paternal grandparents)

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

(for 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.


by Lance Lee

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

A day at Isipingo Beach, Durban, S.A.

by Natasha Deonarain

you should have drowned me
amidst your disappointments
               first-born female—

but 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

I do

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,
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.

The plot continues without them

                                               [Scene 1]

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

                                               [Scene 2]

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

                                               [Scene 3]

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
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

                                               [Scene 4]

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

                                               [Scene 5]

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.  

Poem for the New Year

by J.A. Staisey

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.

Peaceful Cohabitation

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.