Dusk on the Bay, the summer awe
of microscopic change
has aged me. The first pair of swans
not the same, the first trio
of green-headed ducks
strangers. My thoughts disguise me
from myself. I watch the sun walk in
from behind the clouds,
its pink legs sinking slowly
until the inverted bowl of sky bells
the sea’s horizon with beauty.
Little wonder I never stop
watching the evening star
(not even a star), fold itself up
at twilight, resplendent
in its failed argument with the sun
but night falling (rather has fell),
makes me nostalgic before my trip
is really done, me unhanded at last
by an egret standing on a branch.
white blossoms bloom in the Bradford pears,
the vaginal leaves hum, your wound is luminous.
If it rains men must lay a black sparkling tarp
over the earth and hold back the start a few hours
but the game will be played.
Beneath this plastic carpet life still buds
green and frantic; and high above, harbor gulls
swoop over the park as balloons fly up and shake
in the thunderous salute of navy jets
and forty thousand pairs of feet stamping our applause.
We're joined in singing the words of an anthem
written three miles down the Patapsco,
well past Fort McHenry; we loudly embellish the O.
A ball is thrown, a batter swings.
as our destination (it calls
the hops), dusts nostalgically across
my cleats, a crater-faced stranger
grown close. There’s no feeling
in a moment of fielding, only
a reflex, & I recall being fifteen
on this very ballfield, thinking then
that I was in love with some girl
& I could predict the hit of the pitch.
Are we still so naïve? I’ve archived
each & every replay—even
the five-holers, the airmails—but
there’s no reason to consider them all
when we survey what’s ahead,
the excuse to sweat, accept our
imperfections, submit to dirt & heart & mitt.
blonde curls gliding gracefully from his pale skull,
wearing a bright smile and a tie-dye covered
in dancing bears. He'd just spun in circles and stood
to giggle for the camera before falling into the leaves
and singing the few syllables he knew. Now he's
learned to keep his butt down, to pull the ball
into his chest like a robin’s egg. He knows what
hips before hands means and I believe him
when he says they hustled, that the game was called
on darkness with the other team up by one run and how hot it was
and, like, so humid and how nobody felt really very strongly
about playing D or, as he puts it, pitching the lights out.
If he were here right now, rather than on the other end
of that long line, I would invite him into the backyard
for a game of pickle, just like me and his father
and our other brother used to play when we still had
time to run. When is your next game I ask him,
but he doesn’t know and he’s done talking
to me as his friends have gathered in his driveway
with a basketball and a free hour before dinner.
The moms down his block are due home
and this game cannot work without a clock.
Time to Share
When it came time to share, nobody stood and the preacher continued
His sermon like snow day overtime
And the sermon was boiler plate—you know how
The Lutherans do: roast beef and mashed potatoes, corn niblets
Floating in gravy on plate's edge,
Pies from every garden in town
When it came time to share, nobody stood until one crazy aunt
Reached for the last Bible devotional that came by mail
And lay on the nightstand when she was admitted, the way
The Lutherans do with their minds on the fields and always on the past
And the family all awkwardly seated on one side
Of the aisle while the other sat empty
And when it came time to share, nobody stood, not old farmers
Who came for the free lunch, not church ladies she conversed with
After service let out each weekend how the Lutherans do
Before afternoon chores: feeding pigs,
Hauling loads of corn for cattle wading ankle-deep in mud
Waiting for the final bolt gun to take them away but when it came
Time to share nobody stood: not a grandkid
Who ran muddy-shoed under her apron, through her kitchen
And across her carpet only to be spanked the way
Lutherans do with hell on their minds, careful to get every note of every sermon
Careful to sing only the hymns found in the book
Careful to cover the rite of last passage until
It came time to share and nobody stood, especially not
Her children, who didn't use the words she taught them
To tell the people in the quiet audience that she was more
Than page 273 of a free Bible study guide or to model for their kids what should
Be said about them—instead they sat like stones in a field
Waiting for someone to come along and make them into a wall
Michael Haeflinger is from Dayton, OH. He lives in Camden, NJ, where he teaches at Rutgers University. His website is http://www.michaelhaeflinger.com.
Here: my lover’s child compassion for a worm,
the first nightcrawler he’d seen appliqué
gathered turns along unwatered ground.
A large one, mottled more red than brown
among those sweet and hot peppers—fruit firm
and still idea before a bloom, leaves’ lobes
palm-spread under stems, beneath spines of today’s
flowered tomatoes, already Roma globes
in August’s mind. I came for loss—to turn
the making and provision of my flesh
to dug, raked earth, each afternoon awash
with offering, my hold on self and hours
a leaving gathered by soil and roots’ yearn—
and lost, with summer’s tongue in mine, on yours.
Hallelujah! It’s Pancake Time!
Together they and I slip on sweat
running the legs of this world’s dappled
horse, darkening each spackle spatter
spread through holes in the hide as I sink
my hands in and dissect, starting at the haunches
and the spine, the tailroot, where they’ve knifed
putty through the square mesh holes
until what’s left has dried, a bucket
and a scrape of white hard dough,
peaked as egg and sugar, as butter’s beginning.
I wring photographs, lemon, salt
in cheesecloth: rescoring, bleaching flame
on cake on tablecloth, chasing
a decade clearer, acid-burning
photoskin. I bury bottlecaps,
shredded waxed paper, twine.
I bury battered denim for his eyes
and curves of broken amber glass for mine.
My nose is narrower than his.
To remember, when I build us: his navel cupped,
mine folded; my smallest toe pressed
under, flattened; his cuticles
bloodied. I Shrove Tuesday.
Beat eggs and milk to froth
to feed the fat and sweet to us
so quick—before I fling the fibrous
pumpkin slime, the former-rooted
body fibers, the clinging dryer lint,
for nesting build: to use, these parts
of cover (picked-off balls of wool
or cotton, mud left from treading in,
flaked dried saliva off our spoons
—all in vials packed in gravel,
groundwater filtering past their seals,
corking flavor). Before a fast: a hurry.
Gluttony rather than waste, gorgeous
lines of larded sweetened crusts:
the lines of us round as lemons,
as a child, a thick-crumbed cake.
Washing Clothes at Jimmy’s Trailer
"The generative forces of the world are wholesome.”
On the other side of the woods
lies the ordered green of a cotton field,
a very real Caanan
beyond the wood’s disorder.
My wife and I sit in rocking chairs.
A huge live oak shelters us.
I am very good at some things.
Last week, I knocked down a wasp’s nest
in the shed. The wasps have now tunneled into a roof beam.
The nest was the greater miracle.
One night we walked into the cotton field.
The plants had delicate flowers
closed with the sun’s leaving.
I fold up at night, too.
I am in this land of farmers seeking recovery.
For many years I cancelled my emotions with alcohol and drugs.
My childhood is a bad neighborhood.
It’s not safe to go there.
Today, the living green sap of Summer sustains everywhere.
Dragonflies shepherd the tall grass nearby.
A white feral cat eyes us from the edge of the woods.
Crows call from a nearby pine tree.
Every atom vibrates in something I can understand.
I am no longer outside of this.
The parallel scars on my wrist fade.
I am more powerful, now.
Winter may still be some ways off.
Nature endures without apparent effort.
I have survived the passing mystery,
the metaphor of Spring.
Bryan Merck has published in Amelia, America, Birmingham Poetry Review, Emerge, Hiram Poetry Review, Kansas Quarterly, Long Islander and others. He is a past winner of the Southern Literary Festival Poetry Prize and the Barkesdale-Maynard Poetry Prize. He lives in Moultrie, Georgia with his wife, Janice.
Lake Chelan For Three
Sweet mock orange thrives here.
This year's blossoms seem closer to God,
joyful in his art, as Lake Chelan's 90
shades of blue are watched daily.
He dreamed a planet ripe
with flowers, berries, shapes, & signs.
He's charmed by the father and daughter,
laughing on the cabin's deck,
deciding to name their mythic
baseball team "The Elderberry Stars."
Small constellations swirl
in their hair,
the deck is marked
with petal shapes,
starry little cogwheels
outlined on wood.
The brother drives for miles,
through dusty four church towns
On morning arrival, he finds
His dad's childhood Mickey
Mouse spoon, tabled in place.
Grandma Mabel's gold-rimmed
plates are set out neatly,
The trio's stories retold,triple in value.
Offered the grace of rare days,
they pass memories back and forth,
like the father's rock collection
displayed on a painted spool
which once held telephone wire.
The stones clack when held together,
a diary of travels in the palm.
Their father hands over
Athens, New Orleans,
Lethogo and Cardiff.
They're all home, all home, now.
Oh gay grandeur!
In the stately Chinatown lamp
At noticing elderly tradition
Mocked in a garb of the foreign, waning heights
Still, outstretched with unbroken light
Yet from its side an unnoticed pale of glass
Broken at the edges
A shattered steam of perceptible ilk
The whole completion
Perfect in essence of earthly shade
And the light-polluted moon could not dim the celestial view
A glowing talon
Ripped through the crepuscular veil
In an instantaneous heat
A longing with the inspired duress of human sight
A billowing malignity disintegrated
Across the swill dark ocean of inebriated coloration
In a sky of impotent fire
On this northern latitude
A haze of brain
Besotted at raising the bearded chin
To gaze at the piercing scintillation of failed loneliness
On a cosmic scale
I hear they have placed
A pretty blue plague
High above your flat
So tourists can find you
And say this is the spot
Where you killed yourself.
Lucky girl, you modern Sappho
To take the quantum leap
Like a comet to take your place
Among the darkest regions of empty space
With a brilliance that few can keep
And even less the mind to know
Where no dull planet can perturb you
As fallen flowers have no faces.
Mahtem Shiferraw is an Ethiopian poet and an artist living in Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems have been published in 2River View.
Elder brother Jim e-mailed the nine surviving siblings
what third-born Theodore had confided at lunch
in their customary booth near the chip machine
in the Tex-Mex restaurant where they had caught up
for twenty years, three days before his death, at
precisely the age of sixty, thoughtful and smiling:
“He wants all of us to dig the hole.”
Of course, they were busy, with kids and grandkids,
mortgages, marriages, divorces, failed careers; the travel
to Oregon was yet another hardship, but several arrived,
disjunctly, at the graveyard, variously distracted.
Jim brought shovels, picks, and beer.
Into the space delineated with nylon tape
by the scandalized cemetery association
they penetrated at first in silent exertion,
a discipline of abstract grief, sweat sparing tears,
six feet deep by three by eight and several tons
of sod, sodden loam, old river rock, clay older still, till
Eddy, the youngest, launched a great clot of spoils
onto the bended back and ass of Jim
at the opposite end of oblivion, and all hell broke loose.
Ted was buried in a well-dug trench
next to his beloved brother Paul;
a hole greatly different from all but the oldest there,
echoing still with shouts and laughter.
In Escalade comfort we drove along the Wadi Hanifa
The cigars you smoke in memory
of Wallace Stevens threaten
to warp your spine with their weight.
Can’t you smoke more ladylike
extrusions, something leaner
and not quite as cucumber-shaped?
The corridors and offices reek
with atmosphere. No Smoking laws
fade when you invoke the Great
Tradition, for which people died
and resurrected themselves, again
and again. Smoke yellows the ceilings.
The alarms choke on it, stuttering
instead of ringing with insistence.
When firefighters arrive you hand
them cigars and they light up,
reciting “Emperor of Ice Cream”
from memory. I surrender
my right to smoke-free environments,
but I object to rousing the ghost
of that sly old corporate lawyer.
His bulk crowds me against the wall,
and his teacup rattles like the bones
of my worst enemies. You slither
off to a meeting, leaving a trail
of exhaust. I’m left breathing hard
and fast. My lungs are porous
as dishcloths, my heart awash
in pink slime. I’ll hide in the men’s room
where you can’t burn your ugly weeds.
I’ll bring Stevens’ Collected Poems
not to read but to prop the window
open, so maybe I can breathe.
Tradition and the Individual Talent
The shatter of heels on the sidewalk
as personal as telegrams,
the oily breeze clotting my pores.
I could walk forever uptown
past tenements gray as the faces
of cancer patients, every window
blown open by a scream. But
T.S. Eliot sulked here first,
his undergraduate clothes
so formal if I met him now
I'd take him for a bible salesman
and avert my gaze to the gutter.
Rather than chance an encounter
with his ghost, I'll haunt the bookshops
for bargains, slouch over coffee
at a French cafeteria,
pretend I still belong here.
Both Germany and Oxford
disappointed the budding poet,
his hat pulled over his ears.
How can I make up for his
apostasy, so personal
it numbed several generations?
Better sit quietly through lectures
while rain billows in leaf-blown streets
and traffic snarls by the Charles.
Better let the fourth dimension
have its way, bleeding through me
with heavy erasures, mulling
a marriage, friendships, apartments
so small my ghost has never
found its way out. These afternoons,
the storefronts glossy with damp,
the streets raving with strangers,
I enjoy being anonymous
in a place where I lived so long,
every pore of me open to greet
a muddle of lost telepathies,
the mass human engine flailing
with power, unrestrained yet
so inefficient nothing moves,
nothing happens. The rain drifts
like brain waves; the pavement absorbs
and instantly forgets each
random or purposeful step.
William Doreski's work has appeared in various electronic and print journals and in several collections; most recently City of Palms (AA Press, 2012).
Recalling Willem De Kooning, Excavation, 1950
There’s something shameless about the act
And display—about the carelessness
Of it all: couch cushions, laundry basket,
Bed-stand or end-table upended on the heap,
Ironing board and blender and sneakers,
The lamp with its ribbed shade. How the first things
Are soon obscured by the next—those black
Trash bags stuffed, I imagine, with clothing,
Or with whatever loose stuff (knickknacks,
Utensils) can be hauled easier this way
From her rooms down the block. Who hired
These men with their gassy junk-truck
To do this? There’s more of it, too much
Even for this disposal service dumpster
That takes up more than two parking spaces,
So that by week’s end, they have to stomp
On the bags and boxes, crush what they can
To make room for, stuff and shove aside. The rest
Will probably have to go in the alley cans
Reserved for residential trash. Just as well—
A pair of dingy jeans fell by the curb
And a passerby snatched them up.
The bones of the newly dead join the bones
Of those who died before them:
The bones of my ancestors let go
Through the door in the floor of the bone house
Into the common grave.
Such was the custom in the mountain village
In southern Greece, but custom
Changed mid-century, storing the bones
In metal boxes thought more dignified.
In rough pyramids now
Boxes are stacked according to kinship,
Some adorned with incense cups,
Icons, cuttings, or photographs.
Some customs, however, remain unchanged.
First the dead are buried
In one of several graves, elaborate,
Bordered, white headstones hollowed
For mementos—then exhumed after three years.
Washed in water, then in wine,
Cleaned and blessed, the bones set out for three days
In the church before being arranged
(Husbands and wives fitted together)
In the one by two foot box: Sacrum, ilium,
Femur, clavicle, skull.
If flesh remains, the bones must be re-buried
For two more years. Some believe
Such remnant flesh a sign of sins not yet
Forgiven. Some believe shade trees or the stony soil
May impede timely decay.
Inexorably drawn to what appears
Impossible at first to face, you peer
Inside, but keep to the edge to keep
From plummeting into what pulls you in:
There is, you fear, no exit to this vision.
There is something down there you know.
Let the eye adjust and what was
Unspeakable will be named.
In the beginning
And the earth
of the deep
In the midst of the waters, and
the waters from the waters
And the evening and the
waters under heaven
the gathering together of the waters
And the evening and
signs, and for seasons
to give light
And the evening
abundantly the moving
above in the open
the waters abundantly
in the seas
of the sea
of a tree
because that in it
plant of the field before rain
dust of the ground
And out of the ground
in the midst
that is where there
is the same is it
and to keep it
the sleep and
the flesh thereof
They, her brother and sisters, called
my grandmother Pet. I don’t know why.
She was homely and strong and deeply-religious and
could never have been anyone’s pet anything. Your
face, when she scrubbed it, shone like Jesus’ face
on the mountaintop (or the linoleum on the kitchen floor).
When I was born she had been a widow
thirty years. My father (my surmise) never forgave her
his father’s death. He died of a weak heart
back when arsenic was the going cure. It was
death cured him of life.
Strong like the mountains she’d come from
and fearfully missed. She’d go back
for short visits. My father hated the place. West Virginia
was the dark side of hell to hear him tell it. But
he loved to talk about how much he hated it and
with sly affection for the people he had known there, their
ridiculous names wonderful to the saying—Dompy and his friend,
Clunch. Three sisters, Peachy, Plummy and Pruney. Ivy, Dutch, Dolly, Pearl.
A girl with the surname Clock married melodically to her first name, Chime.
He warned us not to mistake their backwardness for stupidity. Hill
people were as smart as anybody, just not smart enough to leave.
Telling stories or under stress, my father’s jaws tightened, his lips narrowed, a ramble
of vowels and syllables squeezed unrecognizably from the back of his throat.
He might have just stepped out of the mine. You became Ye when he was in a rage.
Ye’d better get in thar room raht now. (Unless you wanted a taste—his words—of
his razor strop, you’d go, too.)
Dad and Grandma are both buried in Ohio, state of my
growing up, a place they never hated or loved
as much as where they were born.
Mark Goad lives in the Boston metro area but was born in northeastern Ohio, son on a father from West Virginia. His writing is ever informed by having been raised in an industrial city in Ohio. His work was recently published in Assisi, Bluepepper, BAQ. epiphany, analogpress and others.
collect what they took with them
and what they left us
cradling everything like a bundle of wood
as if always they were brothers
and walk together down to the river
where they saved us from drowning
where now in their memory
we spark bonfires
and watch them burn
bits of themselves from us
again and again
until their only legacy
is a sense of weightlessness
until all we have to cherish
is the fragrance of sandalwood
and our own hands
and each other’s
The moment you fell
beneath my empty raised arms
the world disentangled
into the obtained and obliterated.
That peacock feather
sweat-banded to your forehead.
Soiled. No longer able to haul
the weight of its meaning.
That became mine.
Your raw knee, your blood
that soaked through soil. Mine.
And the counterfeit tears
for dying races,
so many asides of empathy.
And the religion, whichever
slid down us from birth,
god-empty and ritualized
into a game for children.
And wherever the parents went
as we filled in what was missing.
the choice that shouldn't yet be ours
The growing ennui of distance
between intent and consequence.
And the crust we learned too quickly
gathers on sleeping lives.
The hard earth was mine too
for a moment.
And the rain that moved in.
When I shave the past
from the mirror these days
and stand like a cocked rifle
surrounded by the empty world obtained,
I wonder how I used
those same raised arms
to carry you home
to the civilized man that awaited deep inside,
as damaged and severe
as an unheard gunshot.
Regret waits in the insignificance of a missing window pane.
Stones still heavy our pockets.
There is nothing we've left unbroken.
Just inside the house we can never reenter
a light bulb swings from basement rafters,
naked, left on.
There is an unseen illumination.
We are outside now, looking in.
We still shiver at the menagerie of shadows
long understood to be winter trees.
And the children that once lived in us
invent demons from scrabbling of mice,
chaos from the slow grind of time.
There are too many synonyms for memory,
none spoken in our voices.
All the failures amassed since birth
we unload from our arms
onto the roof of our shared
that bows silently in the center,
cracks from bedroom to foundation,
and in time resembles a face
we've spent a lifetime wiping from the mirror.
Come, my poems, fly the road of my dreams,
You might knock on the right door,
Thus finally finding your dear home
In many peoples' hearts.
In my frequent wanderings
You find many forgotten signposts,
To spread my dreams along life's narrow canyon.
In my moments of weakness, I am throwing you
Into the dark,
Like poor foundlings
Who never left shadows while alive.
But you, my poems, are made of Faith too good
To be carried away by despair
Into dark infinities.
You are high born, my poems,
The souls of immortal poets
Christen you with a holy covenant;
To unmask greed;
To travel the thick forests of passion;
To open the gates for love;
To sing the Lord's praise.
Travel day and night
In a hurried flight,
Without dreaming, or eating, or judging,
Without jealousy or arrogance,
Because I would like to leave the earth
Only for a while.