Our lives are stolen by others and
We do not live them, Rule One, but we
Are lived by thieves whose avarice
Or generosity in some simplest
Matter, once upon a time, wrote our
Existence. We don’t own so much as
A mood, a Tuesday, our face, any
Part of our future. So history
Obsesses Godard, who laments the
Designs of memories as if they
Belong to anyone, or could. Rule
Two: History is pubescent,
Hysteric, fictive, transient,
Divided into chapters which are
The ghosts of spaces, empty as rooms
Unremembered by whoever dreamed
Within once. These are its chapters.
Memorize them, or try, for the test
On Friday. Nothing happened in a
Billion variations at any
Time. And Rule Three: Ghosts write the
Upcoming but not by writing but
Erasing. The long ago dead steer
The car over the cliff, or onto
The Channel ferry, or straight across
Texas. A phantom drove you to an
Addiction to the naked girl in
Afternoon sun, and the genetics
Of raw chance you called love.
James Robison has published many stories in The New Yorker, won a Whiting Grant and a Rosenthal Award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, Grand Street, and other venues. He has poetry and prose forthcoming in Story Quarterly, The Blue Fifth Review, Commonline, Rick Magazine, Scythe, Metazen, Corium Magazine, and elsewhere. James taught for eight years at the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program, was Visiting Writer at Loyola College of Maryland, and was Fiction Editor of The North Dakota Quarterly.
first thing i know it's Weirton Steel,
sulfur-stink, ore dust, and my mom,
baby sister and i have driven dad
down US 2 till the tin mill swallows
the sky; i must be three, four, tops
and we park next a man-bridge,
and beyond it this tiny door gleams,
open on the bay; though it looks
like the evil eye, dad grabs
his pot, pecks mom, clambers out,
and then it's me on the bridge
and it clanks under my steel toe
boots, and just before that evil eye,
i smile, look back, wave; inside,
the bay teems, humming, bright
and it sure smells like jobs in there
Among other venues, Will Watson's poems have appeared in Blue Collar Review, Labor, and New Laurel Review. He is a member of the English Department at University of Southern Mississippi.
On trash-strewn streets all across America
There are drooping, black draped figures
Walking into stark-lit mini-marts
Just like me; justified by an ethic
Of experience and intensity
They clamor and grasp, speak in tongues
Looking for the new highs
Promised behind every cellophane wrapper.
Like them, I am sick with myself and seething
Teeming with a hungry mass of devils
Scraping my desiccated wastes of brain
And finding only the generational vice
That we’ve laid, like a garland of depraved flowers
Over the chains of the young – the young escaping
The interminable boredom of two-dimensional
Representations of reality and secondary mediated experience
Only to find that they’ve choked themselves
With plastic cords.
I grapple, perhaps with conscience and certainly with a sloppy
Insubordinate body, for the tamest of entertainments
In six Tuesday-Night beer bottles
And watch the sloping, hooded figures snatching for hope
In a flat, glossy mirage of spread-legged girls
And watch the crooning street-celebrities
Reach another level with the false and commodified
Spanish-fly that Playboy has stamped with approval
And watch the pock-faced Indian lady
Take their money. And when it is my turn in line
I try to explain to her that there is nothing wrong with us
With any of us, but I can’t quite find the words.
Peter Fernbach, Assistant Professor of English at Adirondack Community College and author of The Blooming Void (BlazeVOX Books), has been published widely in American journals and is concerned, lately, with the transformative and liberating effects of poetry on the unconscious mind, especially of those who are still impressionable and exploding with exuberance and possibility.
Pennies in a bowl
next to the register
collect like crumbs. Cast
like too many mouths
to feed. Take one.
Even out, exact the due
on a fill-up,
smoke pack, chew.
Take two, they're small.
Three. Four's the limit
Think of thoughts
Feel their heads
while there are still
to rub together.
Hear them utter when
you pinch them, slam them
down, slide them
like an ante
across the counter.
Smell how they linger
on your fingers, in damp
of your palm.
on your tongue.
Like giving. Blood.
Charles Springer has degrees in anthropology and is an award-winning painter. Over the years, he has been published in Apalachee Review, The Cincinnati Review, Faultline, Heliotrope, and Oxford Magazine, among others. New poems appear or will appear in The Coe Review, The Avatar Review, Sawbuck, Forge, The Lumberyard and Edison Literary Review. A recent Pushcart nominee, Charles is currently working on a manuscript for his first collection.
I sell cigarettes and gasoline
and hate myself for it.
I’m the Clerks cancer-merchant,
the ex-punk buying in.
I’m the cashier who sells
everyone out, that documentary
Marjoe, the scam artist
who hates the scam.
To pass the time,
I try to guess what the customers
will buy: pack of bubble gum,
pack of cigarettes, quart of oil.
I get a feel for these products I sell,
get a feel for the people I overcharge.
Over the PA, I’m the voice of god:
Pump Seven, you’re approved.
The night shift looms
like a tree branch caught
between high voltage wires.
Nobody wants to touch it.
But the spindle of necessity spins
this ragged thread of a schedule
into something just less
than a forty hour week:
no benefits here.
I measure out my take home pay
in forty ounces and frozen pizzas.
The counter is a barricade,
a defense I’ve forgotten
how to put down,
a distance I’ve forgotten
how to cross.
At home I wake from dreams
to the sound of the register opening.
I’m selling myself short.
Andrew Rihn is the author of several slim volumes of poetry, including the forthcoming chapbooks Foreclosure Dogs (Winged City Press) and The Rust Belt MRI (Pudding House). http://arihn.wordpress.com/.
Waiting for the Snow Front, Watching out
I use my debit card to scrape ice from the inside
of my windshield. This dark morning drive to work
has a January feel, left over from last year and the years
before. This sameness makes me feel secure, holds me
in one patient place. Even the deer remember to wait
for my headlights before leaping across the gravel road,
testing my reflexes. They stage along the S curve washboard,
but sometimes one will burst from the Russian olive grove.
We are in this together. I like to be right in the middle
of dialing in the weather forecast on the radio
when it’s time to hit the brakes, gear down and avoid
excessive swerving. I was made for this. I know the snow
will either come from the north on the Arctic carpet ride,
or from the west after cresting the Crazies. The radio tells me
which horizon to scan once the sun wakes up, but today
the forecast is interrupted with a news bulletin. Kinsey’s post office
is shutting down, stepping off the map even though
the entire town had signed a petition to keep it open
with a hundred per cent voter turnout. Sixty people are not enough
for Washington to listen. This startles me in ways that deer in the dark
cannot. Kinsey was where my grandmother raised my mother.
Sugar beets and alfalfa fields, deer eating from Grandpa's apple
tree. Artic fronts or Chinook winds, children filled
the school bus with pioneer family names, wrapped
in knitted homespun wool. January led to January.
Nothing was meant to change.
Sherry O’Keefe, a descendent of Montana pioneers, is the author of Making Good Use of August (Finishing Line Press). Her most current work has appeared or is forthcoming in Switched-on Gutenberg, THEMA, Terrain. Org., PANK, Avatar Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Two Review, Babel Fruit, The High Desert Journal, and Main Street Rag. Currently working on a full collection, Loss of Ignition, she is the poetry editor for Soundzine. http://www.toomuchaugustnotenoughsnow.blogspot.com.
smoked long round vowels through lips
fixed in the thinnest of scribbles
and gripped each word in tongs like those
once found in the smithies
where his consonants were fired and burred
in the tales he told he spoke of kye pairks
of doors left onsneck’t
of men wha’d been gassed in the war
his craft was mainly bicycles by then
cannibaled constructions and repairs
but occasionally on a fancy
just to entertain us
he would fire up the cold furnace
and spit sparks from the anvil
then e’s powie wad dirl
as e pín’t oot the airn
bruntin the win wi e’s darg
kye pairks: cattle fields
e’s powie wad dirl/as e pín’t oot the airn/bruntin the win wi e’s darg: his hammer would ring/as he struck out the iron/scorching the wind with his labour
Andrew McCallum lives in Southern Scotland and writes in both Scots and English. Finding himself unable to write anywhere else, he can only conclude that his artistic calling is exclusively to give voice to his own remarkable microcosm--the few square miles within which his ancestors (coal miners, farm labourers and railwaymen) have for generations ‘drenched the earth with the sweat of their days before returning to invisibility.' His website can be found at http://www.andrewmccallum.weebly.com/.
Out on the dock, local men are fishing mullet:
blue bottom dwellers, casual as koi. In another season
we’d see floating gators here, and the heavy,
waterbound shapes of sea cow. But today
it’s snap turtles and the patient, red-eyed perch
that witness your confession: At the end of my life, I'm all alone.
And knowing it, I press your hand.
Incredulous, you bend to understand
a grandchild’s sudden sympathy: the slippery
scales of despair, flipping indignant from a heavy hook.
Out! out in summer air: the gasping gills, the strident tail,
and slowing rage in lidless eyes. Like a match
the mullet dies: first fierce, then blue,
then soft as smoke. Hushed by the stillness of what it knows.
A Seattle native, Susan V. Meyers has lived and taught in Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico. She earned an MFA from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from the University of Arizona, and currently teaches writing at Oregon State University. Her work has recently appeared in Calyx, The Minnesota Review, Rosebud, and Dogwood, and has been the recipient of several awards, most recently a Fulbright Fellowship.
Only you and I would be giddily
in overalls digging out poles with
petrified worms (from the last trip)
still clinging to the hooks, throw it all
into the trunk of your parents’ old Impala
and head south without a map, or enough
gas, or any bait. The Tom Sawyer in you
always choosing the long way out of town,
across the tracks where life tasted rougher,
dustier, different. Not just danger and risk—
though that was part of it. Some basic truth;
life ain’t gonna be no crystal stair.
Not for a young gay boy. But I didn’t know
(1972—you didn’t know, either).
We just knew people thought we were cousins;
twins. For an entire year, we snorted
like Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine. (Pity the poor
teachers who had us together in class.)
Summer days, we’d drive your parents’
car all over hell and gone. No particular route
or destination. Sometimes the Sangamon,
sometimes Kickapoo. Once, the pond in back
of your uncle’s farm in Mattoon. Sometimes
we never even made it to water, like the time
we bought cheese and bread and cider at an
Amish farmhouse near Sullivan and chewed
the afternoon away in tall grass. The fishing
was just an excuse to get in the car and travel
where we felt like, to sit in humid air. To be
quiet—but mostly to talk and laugh, to get the
feeling you get after doing that for hours.
Going home had its own ritual, its own
expectations of stopping by Steak ‘n’ Shake
to buy white bags filled with food wrapped
in the same white paper, grease spots spreading
out here and there. Then, food-filled and
exhausted going the rest of the way home
slumped in self-satisfaction, finally quiet,
but still incredibly wise.
Priscilla Atkins' poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and New Poems from the Third Coast: Contemporary Michigan Poetry. Presently a resident of Michigan, she is originally from central Illinois, but has also lived in California, Hawaii, and Indiana.
Marian, August 1918
Everything, it seems, ripens
at once: limas and sweet
corn for succotash, cucumbers for relish,
peaches for jam.
For three days we chop
and snap, pack and boil. I wish
my hair was cornsilk, I say without
thinking, and Em tells me
to hush and keep shuckin’.
It smells better than
the factory, but I’d still rather
play ball with the boys. Mom says
everything else must wait
with such abundance
on the vine. When Pop comes home
from the factory he says don’t
it look like we’ve caught
summer in those Mason jars.
I feel like a tomato, about
Ann Eichler Kolakowski is currently a student in the MA program in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, where she also works. Her previous credits include Antietam Review, Concho River Review, The Madison Review, and Slipstream. "Putting Up" is from her manuscript-in-progress, chronicling the lost mill town of Warren, once located in northern Baltimore County, Maryland. Ann's grandmother, Marian Brown, who died in 2006 at the age of 103, spent most of her life in Warren, and is believed to have been the last surviving mill worker.
Sex is in the eyes and the smell and the past. The hint
of sweat from straw-colored hair. The taste
of a smile. The lilting voice. The slow catch of silk
on nipples. No man covets shoes, though some
covet memory. Delilah, I miss you. I miss
Tulsa dying in the rearview, the sickly linger
of your cigarettes. But I’m not humping the passenger seat
anymore. Remember the time we got stuck in a ditch chasing
a field fire? A farmer called a sheriff, refused to tow us,
and kept his snake-rifle on us while we scrambled
to find wood to shove under the tires. He was afraid
we’d steal the night, the fire, the slow death of not knowing
what to believe that choked his heart. But we were
all first sons, whistle-britches, all looking for a place
to stick our hearts for safe-keeping. The boarded-over windows
of our mothers’ eyes watched from graves half dug
but not full yet. We were forever looking back, saying:
we will stand tall when the winds die down.
Where is that white camper of my youth? The old
Ford that only drove in third? Horses painted
on the side as we circled the back roads
out by Summer Sweet then back home, stoned boys
hanging from the back bumper. When did I begin
to consider Holden Caulfield’s student loan debt?
The rank smell of feet in his unchanged socks?
We drank Cisco, vodka, whatever our already graying
hair could get us across the tracks. We didn’t have
to worry if the music we made was too good, only
if it was real. Now, there is so little room left in the closet
to store my old drum set. Holden didn’t know the cliff’s edge
was protected by a guardrail. We never grew and yet
we’re grown. These knees, blown from humble living—
if I could climb, I’d be over that edge, falling, falling.
C.L. Bledsoe is the author of two poetry collections, _____(Want/Need) and Anthem, and a short story collection, Naming the Animals. His poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe. His minichap, Texas, was recently published by Mud Luscious Press. C.L.'s story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. Nominated thrice for the Pushcart Prize, he blogs at Murder Your Darlings (http://clbledsoe.blogspot.com/). C.L. has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere.
Being the Only Child in the Suburbs to Grow Up Eating Homemade Macaroni and Cheese,
June Cleaver Goes Back to the Old Neighborhood In Search of a Recipe, Discovers the Kitchen Is Not As Big As She Remembered
There were things you did not have
things you wanted–
the blue box of macaroni and cheese
turquoise toilet water
lighter blue eyes.
Then there are the gems you hold
in your fists while you sleep–
the melody of tap water in a cobalt goblet
key of B as you slip the pad of your finger round the rim,
the rush of warm oven heat
a blanket of soft white cheese,
eyes that match your father’s
and the river he swam in as a child.
When you are blue
remember these dinners
on speckled tin plates
steaming macaroni and cheese,
the blue gingham apron
keeping your mother clean.
Jill Crammond Wickham is a poet/artist/mother living in Delmar, New York, and funding her writing habit by teaching children's art and writing classes. Her poetry has appeared in Crab Creek Review, Naugutuck River Review, Weave, Blueline, and others.
My Mother Is Depressed Because She Wanted To Be Totally Transformed In A Year
When my mother cries she hunches,
she doesn’t let go, she holds on tighter.
My mother the snail, my mother the child,
my mother the house on stilts.
I have a horror of her mons
how pale it is and how it swells,
how the hair covers it too thinly
yet over too wide an area.
I do not want that, I have thought.
Raise your hand if you feel shame when you look in the mirror.
Keep it raised if you feel the same shame when you look at your mother.
Only the girls?
My mother, pale and puffy, lying on an inch-thick crappy mattress
in Sicily somewhere when it’s too hot to move,
when all of us are in the room sweating and waiting for something to change.
She has stripped in the heat and she is crumpling tomorrow’s maps,
squeal-laughing with the absurdity of being overheated
and covered in charts.
A family turns like a screw in wood,
biting deeper into the grain.
We couldn’t stop if we wanted to.
Sarah Stickney recently earned her MFA from the University of New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Scarab, Praxilla, and Clementine magazines. She currently resides in Bologna, Italy, where she has a Fulbright grant to study migrant writing.
Andy has a button that says, "This is what
a feminist looks like"
And when he wears it I remember my mother, the way she took me to the pool when
I was two, when my father left for work and we had the summers together. The only
language I knew was hers. There may not even have been words, it was mother-tongue.
But she told me it was time for me to learn how to do things for myself, and put me in the
water with floaties. It was our secret, she said, fathers are too protective. She wanted me
antigravity. Her hand under my belly, I floated. No. I was a wave on a body of water: I
skimmed. She told me about swimming lessons at the pier at the Y, the earaches, about
knowing how to get away in any situation. The body as a vehicle. She lifted and held
me, then slid her hand away, the balancing act between mother and body. The days were
long then, morning stretching and heating like dough or like a baby's lungs when she
gasps before pinching her nose, ducking under.
My Father, the Detective, Understands Nothing About Poetry
Dad doesn't get verse, metaphor. He is a concrete thinker.
On walks home from preschool,
he planted silver dollars, pendants,
letters between people I'll never meet.
He taught me to explore even things we think
we know so well. Lessons
on clues, on the courage to seek.
There must be a metaphor in there somewhere.
When I woke late, we loaded into his unmarked car
with phantom plates, or a van with a periscope,
a toilet, recorder gear, stacks of cigarettes
and snacks to last the week
and hurried the back roads to beat the late-bell.
It feels unpoemable, that strangeness that feels nothing
like a secret, nothing like an uncovering.
There is a bevy of red leather-bound books
in my parents' basement, gold stamped years on the spines.
Thirty years seeking out the city
until streets become asphyxiation burns—
the scorched paths some follow, are followed by.
Phone calls with a strained voice
to hear us speak, discover us still alive
in pajamas late at night while he guzzled coffee
and considered the notes he'd take later:
the body of a six year old, the messy drill
still hanging from his pupil, the father
stoned dead in front of the smashed television.
My father dizzied and worry-wrinkled—
this detail would not make it into archives.
Dad knew the location of every car accident
in Massachusetts, how the bodies hung, eyes exploded
onto the streets. He points them out as we drive
to buy dog food, take a walk for coffee and donuts.
He explains how to push eyeballs back into a face,
how to unroll a tongue.
These are not my lessons, aren't things I can learn
in a lecture. I did not scurry alleyways
finding fingers dimpled into walls, mortared.
But he kept a journal and never hid it—
my father who doesn't understand language
or the craft of it. Every day for thirty years,
an entry, striated with photos:
"murder, knife, questionable." "wife suspect?"
"Stench of vomit and burnt rubber. Source of death unknown."
My dad wants his story documented,
wants it written out of him.
My father the detective. His pockets
of nervous habits and the lessons
he planted in me, an effort to teach
the evil out of this world. His memoirs
scribbled like a collection of suicide notes
anthologized on a basement workbench.
Carolyne Whelan received her MFA in poetry and nonfiction at Chatham University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Now, Eclectica, and Chapter & Verse, among others, as well as in a collaborative chapbook, Are You Free? (Glass Key Press, 2009). Carolyne's poetry recently won an award from the Sacramento Poetry Center. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is the editor of the fledgling chapbook publisher, Longshore Press, while also working as a freelance writer and performer. Her forthcoming chapbook, entitled The Glossary of Tania Aebi, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2011.
in the Archipelago
of Bodegas and Brownstones
I’m still photographing chalk outlines
on the sidewalk and street
in front of a brownstone,
the site cordoned off by yellow tape
when Where’s the gun? someone in
a suit and flashing his badge asks
someone in uniform. Where’s the knife?
someone else I can’t see
for all the people milling about
adds. Technicians mutter—
maybe to themselves, maybe to each
other: fingerprints, DNA.
A needle and ballpoint for the homemade
tattoos—that’s all they turn up,
and those stashed in an underwear drawer.
The TV’s still on inside: Saturday morning
cartoons. You can hear the goings-on,
the windows wide open, and what
you can’t you can fill in on your own.
Wyl E. Coyote, that sad sap
of the southwest, falls off cliffs,
lands impaled through the chest
on a tree limb below or
gets blown up, body parts flung
helter-skelter across the wasteland.
An arm lands on a cactus. A leg
flies into a circle of vultures overhead.
Seconds later, he lifts himself off
the limb or collects himself from the sand—
a lie not even children buy.
Jim Elledge’s H, a collection of prose poems about outsider artist Henry Darger, is due shortly from Busman’s Holiday Press. His A History of My Tattoo: A Poem, won the 2006 Lambda Literary Award for gay male poetry. Jim's work has appeared in Paris Review, Jubilat, Five Fingers Review, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, and other journals. He directs the MA in Professional Writing Program at Kennesaw State University. His father worked in the blast furnace of Granite City Steel in Illinois for all of his life.
A Lesson in Talking to My Father
From this window: a neighbor’s kitchen.
Girl does algebra, man flips through
an old newspaper, licks his thumb at each page.
His wife flips a burger. So this is family.
A house indented from the page
of the street. Its insulation, marrow jammed
behind walls, stands strong as bones,
breast milk runs through their pipes
like water. And what of the wish to saw
the legs off their table, crack their white
china with my teeth. Ashes confetti
into the gutter as I tap my cigarette out
on the roof. The wish to burn a peep
hole into it, so I can peer upon my father
below, slumped in the recliner, eyes dead
at the weather channel. Could he care
more for the snow in Wisconsin than for me?
He is the tumor of this house, waiting to retire,
waiting to be grated out like mold
from a ceiling. Do I nag like my mother?
Let him teach me to flip people off
on the Belt Parkway and file for my taxes?
There ought to be a remedial course to teach
me how to talk to my father. The old fashioned
way. The Bay 49th way. Any
way that would make the house stop
squeezing me until my ribs hurt: each room
a vast width, throbbing like a muscle pulled.
I stand in a stretched coliseum, distance piles
up like bills and I can’t pay a damn thing off.
My father rocking his chair against my head.
Maria DiLorenzo was born in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BA in English from the College of Staten Island, and is currently pursuing a MFA in poetry at Hunter College. Maria was awarded the Provost’s Graduate Study Award in 2009. She was also nominated to read for the CUNY Turn Style reading series in 2010. Her works have appeared in Barrier Islands Review, Caesura, Connotations Press, and Pennsylvania Literary Journal. She currently lives in Staten Island.
Over-Easy at the All-Night Diner
I dump out the old brew and sizzle up the grill around dawn,
when the third shifters thin out and the day shift rolls in, then
I spot him; red stitching above his breast pocket reads, Tom.
In wrinkled coveralls, he leans on the counter and orders eggs
over hard; yolk hard as the August sun (bubbled like fresh tar
under his roller); leaves me his change and downs the dregs.
Most folks take theirs over-easy, they like for the yolk to ooze,
and sop it up with a slice of bread. Most still dreaming, eyes half-
open; maybe wishing the day was already over, but nobody says.
Bet he knocks off same time as me; I follow him home, in my head:
a tidy one-bedroom painted light blue, with pictures on the walls.
We'd sleep in 'til whenever, and then I'd bring his eggs to the bed -
over-easy this time, spread jelly on his toast. Then he turns me once,
easy, over. I notice the color of his eyes. (This is where it gets blurry -
we have nothing to say, or say nothing; either way, things get tense.)
I'll keep an eye out for a guy with a sewn-on name, to spoil my theory
while I sizzle up the grill, scoop out fine-ground joe, in no big hurry.
Barbara Sabol’s poetry and prose have appeared in Public-Republic, Blood Lotus, Poets 350, the Tupelo Press Poetry Project, Red Lion Square, Apparatus Magazine, Tributaries, and on the Akron Art Museum's website. Her chapbook, Original Ruse, is forthcoming from Accents Publishing. Barbara has an MFA from Spalding University. She is a speech therapist, living in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio with her partner and dogs.
A Message for Stephanie
Stephanie, whoever you are,
your brother called about 9:15 pm
from the bar. You know which bar,
it’s the one he flees to when
he just can’t take this shit anymore.
He was already pretty damn toasted,
misdialed the number by one clumsy digit,
left the message on my phone instead of yours.
Didn’t notice the answering machine
announced a strange name.
Stephanieeeee, call me.
It’s your brother. Clunk.
Whatever else you do this evening,
when he calls again—and we both know he will—
call him back.
Or I will, hoping that my brother
will pick up from the last bar in the universe
where he’s just placed the same call
and he’s pretty damn sure that this one time
his despair will be more important
than my disapproval.
Dr. Jeanetta Calhoun Mish is a poet and literary scholar. Her second poetry collection, Work Is Love Made Visible (West End Press, 2009), won the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award, the Western Heritage Award, and the WILLA Award. She has published poetry in LABOR: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, Poetry Bay, and Sugar Mule. Dr. Mish is currently a member of the faculty of the Red Earth MFA program at Oklahoma City University.
Charley Plays a Tune
Crippled in Chicago
on a dust-filled
harmonica he found abandoned
on a playground of sand.
He hears bedlam when he buys fish at the local market
and their skeleton bones show through;
lies on his back
in a dark rented room,
pine cones in his pillows and mattress;
prays to Jesus and rubs his rosary beads.
Charley blows into his celestial instrument;
notes float through the open window,
touch the nose of summer clouds.
Overtaken with grief,
Charley plays a solo tune.
5 solid minutes
like a kayak competitor
against ripples of my
60-year-old river rib cage—
I feel like a nursing mother.
Nikki is a little black
kitten, suckles me for milk,
and I, her substitute mother,
afloat in a flower bed of love,
give back affection
freely, unlike a money exchange.
I go to the kitchen, get
Fancy Feast, gourmet salmon, shrimp.
A new work day begins.
Michael Lee Johnson is a poet and freelance writer from Itasca, Illinois. He says that he is heavily influenced by Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, and Allen Ginsberg. Michael's new poetry chapbook with pictures is entitled, From Which Place the Morning Rises, and he also has his new photo version of The Lost American: from Exile to Freedom. Published in over 23 countries, Michael is also editor/publisher of four poetry sites, which can be found at http://poetryman.mysite.com.
the Passaic River dragging garbage
hosts dragon flies with tiffany wings.
hearing they nip we never touch, never never.
in the park, we wave forty fingers
up at the food counter man—
lunging octopuses wanting icepops,
dixiecups, creamettes, hambuggies—
crunchable junk to chew by cheekloads.
with such scrummunchies
things aren’t so bad in lonetown,
each of us a wheelee-o cowpunk
resolved up in his own mind.
suburban sidewalks are level
but these citywalks sail and
the earth around the slabs carry
homes for insect millions, ants building
whole houses in dots of millimetric brick—
ants working regular – digging, toting,
worrying leaves, micro-tough
jack russell terriers blooming muscles,
flexing their aggravated jaws
and wanting to be in the movies.
i never then named that uncared-for life;
i never then took words to own my own.
coming around i see
the bunting carousel
built of passionate slats
in the middle of kindergarten;
Bubbles - age thirteen full of
heart attack in a party tissue-dress
flared out on a pebble sidewalk of
rusted, beetle green and blue stones.
oh i thought she’d merely gone someplace
with her mother, not gone the way
death came and went for most
of my faint heart that day.
i see a mad dog in the street
shot in the heart or near
by the guncop; i see
rows of silk mills called “shops”
where my father’s hearing cracked;
deafened by modern new looms,
so mad and shaken he did not want
to talk about it ever;
he kept a box of styptic pencils
his shaving hand shook so
and i was afraid every time i touched
his twentyplus ring of cold keys or
found a coin he dropped from
a pocket no one took time to mend.
although i saw out
from a chill, unmothered flat,
was running wild everywhere and
to postpone a desolate home,
fragments of scenes tumble
in sundry colors of stone like
workmen’s clothes on
spin cycle in a porthole washer.
David Schultz was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He began writing before puberty and has never stopped. Now some five decades later, he has been published in a number of small magazines for poetry and short stories. David says that writing has been and will be what he most loves to do for the rest of his life.
Candy Store Shopping List
First, the candy cigarettes
For that cool and mature look,
Dangling one of those sugared sticks from the corner of your mouth
And accenting crude cursing with a deep cough,
Like the neighbor down the block
Who, parents said, had been to college,
Yet worked in the foundry like everybody else;
And then the M & M’s for pills,
Like the ones mom took after she spilled sauce on the kitchen floor
And screamed at you in the next room
Because your laughter at the Road Runner had distracted her;
And lastly, a dime Coke
Shaped like a little woman’s body,
Cold and labeled it contained no narcotics
To swill like your uncle did his beer
Whenever he got caught reneging at pinochle;
And then sitting with your friends
Under the large maple tree in Polonia Park,
Watching the bats working the river for insects
After the Little League game in which the only home run
You’ll ever hit was wiped out because you failed to touch first base,
Needing things like these to fall back on.
Speech for My Sixtieth Birthday
For the first time in my life
The cake is mine,
This one with my nerdy sixth-grade picture
Reproduced in icing.
And what can I say
To all of my friends and family gathered here tonight?
Now I am officially old.
Little more should be expected of me:
The children are grown;
The final accursed essays are graded and shredded as they deserve.
O, there may be a lawn or two to mow;
Flowers to be divided and given away.
And if I keep my wits about me,
A snide comment about those who play golf,
As if for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory,
Because now I am old and can say what’s on my mind.
At this stage, there is little left to ask for.
Yes, I’d like to see the wall in Jerusalem to wail at,
Though I don’t believe in wailing.
And I want to go to Africa to see lions chasing zebras
To remind me that nothing naturally reaches this age.
And, though there is no one to thank,
There is still much for which to be grateful:
That my daughter, even in her Howard Hospital bed,
After she tells me that I might outlive her,
Lights up as her lover enters the room;
That my son who waited and waited
Finally gave up on Godot and met love,
How across our table at the Boulderado
He smiled at her so wondrously that he
Showed the teeth that made his orthodontist rich;
That same smile that I find
In our photos from Santorini or The Bridge of Angels in Rome
Which kind tourists were gracious enough to take,
That same smile that is on my wife’s lovely face tonight.
And finally, to all my family and friends,
I would like to raise a glass and say
May those I love always love.
And even those I don’t.
Which is how a man thinks
When he’s certifiably old
And about to take a bite out of his head.
Ron Yazinski is a retired English teacher who lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife, Jeanne. His poems have, or will soon appear in Mulberry Poets and Writers Association, Strong Verse, The Bijou Review, Edison Literary Review, Lunarosity, Penwood, Jones Av., Chantarelle’s Notebook, Centrifugal Eye, amphibi.us, Nefarious Ballerina, Amarillo Bay, The Write Room, Pulsar, Menagerie, H.O.D., Forge, and Crash. Ron's chapbook, Houses: An American Zodiac, was published by The Poetry Library. He has also written a full-length book of poems, entitled South of Scranton.
Line of Sight
Frayed fur, mottled and patchy, the coyote
cocked his head and answered his mate.
I stood downwind, but he must have heard the crickets,
haphazard in their skitters, startled from my path.
He could hunt beaver, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, or voles,
though what could be easier than picking off our chickens.
Stunted hunter, grace shaped him, despite the mangy coat.
I steadied the rifle butt against my shoulder.
He leaned his forelegs into the howl
as plaintive cries pealed from his chest.
My wife feeds our kids with those eggs.
I drew a bead on his head. The other coyote bayed.
I opened steel into sky, opened silence
where splendor once swayed.
Jill McCabe Johnson is the recipient of the Paula Jones Gardiner Poetry Award from Floating Bridge Press, and two Pushcart nominations. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Pacific Lutheran University, and is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska. Her writing has been published in numerous journals, including The Los Angeles Review, Poetry Quarterly, and Harpur Palate.
Salmonberry Mountain, 1911
Working with double-bitted axes
sharp enough to get a good shave,
fallers hew out slots
to fit springboards into bark.
Balancing on these planks, chips fly
like ants gnawing a giant stalk.
After the wedged out cut, big enough
for a lumberjack to lay down
and pretend he might be crushed,
they rip with a crosscut saw
the entire afternoon,
until the tree begins to snap.
Leaping like bucks,
each man searches for safety—
playing the odds
the fir will not fall crazy,
pounding them with one blow
as a sledge drives a stake.
A tremendous cracking fractures air,
the immense weight roaring through space . . .
slamming the ground—
exploding limbs, shrapnel.
Where the crown used to be
is a hole in the canopy
like looking up
from the bottom of a grave.
Mark Thalman's book, Catching the Limit (2009), is part of Fairweather Books' Northwest Poetry Series. His poetry has been widely published over the last three decades, and has appeared in Carolina Quarterly, CutBank, Many Mountains Moving, Pedestal Magazine, and Verse Daily, among others. Mark received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon, and teaches English in the public schools. He is editor of http://www.poetry.us.com/, an anthology publishing national and regional poets. Mark lives in Forest Grove, Oregon. http://www.markthalman.com.
The can SNAPS and exhales as he
tears off the top and slips it inside,
knocks back a double VO then
a long cool swig of Genny,
the shot glass slams down
a starter gun for the melodic belch,
echo inside the chemical vats
he scrubbed at the varnish company.
Hit me again! And, after the second
tilts his head back, Ahhhhhh…
those were not the glass lined tanks
of Old Latrobe, no one drank Rolling Rock
after pulling him out the pitted
steel tanks he lowered himself into
every night the second half of
third shift to scrub the caustic
with caustic that over years thinned
and pulled the skin across and around
his face and balding skull so tight
he became his nickname, Tuna,
drinking with the other fish
at the gin mill across the street
each dawn before swimming home
tighter and smaller each day
with black lunch pails to be found
one day packed with a few documents,
shriveled policies, worthless stock,
waving on their way out of the plant
to the boiler men walking in
to stoke fire and steam, crank
the monstrous valves of another day,
shout to the line teratoids
hammering lids, racking barrels
cans, steaming stacks and vats
tombs polished and prepared pouring
acrid day into astringent night
until morning bellies up
to the varnished dawn.
I still hear the whistle, see
the razed plant when I drive by
cracked cement with mutant weeds
buried drums, broken bottles
overlooking the tracks where
three lunatics lived in a shack,
the nothing in his wide eyes
when they carried him from the plant
gills heaving, dolphins and tuna
snagged in the same net.
A clothesline waves, the bar
wiped down with a white towel,
punch clock, neon, double VO,
three, four, five, Genny chaser.
R.A. Pavoldi's poems have been published in FIELD, Hanging Loose, Margie, Exquisite Corpse, and ARS MEDICA: A Journal of Medicine, Health and the Humanities, Mount Sinai Hospital, Department of Psychiatry. He received an International Merit Award in Atlanta Review’s 2005 International Poetry Competition and in 2003, was a finalist in The St. Louis Poetry Center’s 43rd Annual National Poetry Contest, judged by James Tate. He makes his living in the publications development, production and distribution at Excelsior College in Albany, New York.
Eulogy for a Modern Day Proletarian
“And for every death / there was a building or a poem." - Stephen Dunn, Introduction to the 20th Century
Comrade, your work is through at last.
But lest you think you came up short
while drawing straws in the afterlife as well
as this one, let me say this: be not remembered
for your smoke stacks or fire escapes,
but the gentle rise of your arm as you displayed
your wares, the grace with which you capped
bottle after endless bottle. No rebar stuffed
beneath your arms like crutches, no air conditioner’s
wheeze, only the memory of your assembly line antics,
a spoon dangling from your nose while the rest
clanked to the factory floor.
Recall that a building looks out and sees only
other buildings reflected in its glass face. A poem
looks inward, to the pocket change you always kept
for the violinist at top of the subway stairs.
A poem hangs a cross around your neck
instead of a badge. You lose a dimension,
and yet we clearly see your face pressed
against the thin pane of the page, beard trimmed
and black, eyes erased at last of pain.
A week before your last, you told me
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Comrade, light as a post-it, stiff as a screwdriver,
we recall you now in a comfy chair with a cup
of chamomile. No more shift work whistle,
no more time card punch, no droning whir
from the hydraulic wrench, just the whisper,
imagine, of a slowly turned page.
Jennifer Gresham's work has appeared in numerous literary jounrals, such as Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, and Rattle, among others. Her book, Diary of a Cell, was the winner of the 2004 Steel Toe Books Poetry Prize, judged by Charles Harper Webb. Jennifer is currently the author of the blog, Everyday Bright.
The Man Who Taught Me Endurance
I knew a postal clerk with one small job - to untie knots
on misdirected parcels, a wizened gnome hunched
over a low wooden table scarred with scissor wounds,
ink tattoos and stacked high with every rope conceivable:
hemp coils, nylon, polyester, and polypropylene
all braided, kneaded, twisted, cross-hatched, choked, and tangled
in prophetic yet productive shapes such as dolly knots
that held their loads as long as something tugged the other way.
The man untied all kinds - double eights for climbers, half-hitches
for those who couldn't bear heavy loads, true lovers (overhand knots
that must be equal to stay locked), and the hangman,
a final knot applied when others would not hold.
Everyday from six a.m. till four p.m. for forty years
he battled boredom, visualizing himself as Marie Antoinette
in her last few moments while she inhaled the steel and terror
sparking from a sharpening wheel in the courtyard of her palace.
The Immigrants - 1929
Grandpa healed the great locomotives, herding them
out of Southern Railway shops along the veins of tracks
connecting both coasts to the Hoosier heartland. Paid enough
for bread and a few of those potatoes the Irish learned to love,
he brought home a bag of coal every week in winter
to fire the iron stove rising from the floor like a black orchid.
That stove split the house into kitchen and parlor.
Grandma bought “blue john” milk from a horse drawn wagon
and enough sugar to make the oatmeal taste better than paste,
but all that luxury ended when the stock market crashed.
The Southern trains quit running. Not afraid of hard labor
Grandpa took odd jobs at first, then hired on with the WPA
to clear brush, swing a pick, bust rock into gravel and build
a hundred farm roads that still crisscross Gibson county.
The word Depression had more to do with cash than self-esteem.
If he plowed no garden no garden got plowed, fed no chickens
no chickens were fed, and dinner wasn’t as long on presentation
as it was practicality in those lean days, those days they learned
that living with need was better than giving in or up.
Grandma shared no patience with wastrels in her house.
My dad and uncle “Ding” split wood or went to bed hungry,
although a hobo might sample apple pie if the budget
had allowed for a show of wealth on a particular week.
These rules sustained their home –
Treat others better than you would treat yourself.
If you must steal bread to keep from going hungry, go hungry.
Curse only when the Cardinals lose the pennant.
Never take a drink on Sunday and use spittoons in the house.
Say nothing at the dinner table that doesn’t sound grateful.
Show all women respect and all men equality.
When you die, let no one wish it had happened sooner –
and because they followed them, they never felt poor.