issue 14 · winter 2020
Lamentation · M.P. Carver
A cut-up poem made from words found in titles from the November 2017 issue of Poetry
When did I grow up from dreams & want?
I study false feedback to distraction,
adopt security in a world of nightime,
search the windows for a beloved cloud –
my handsome balm.
Scotch Pine Elegy · Thad DeVassie
It is new season, an old routine for you, Scotch pine,
our disposable icon of gluttonous holiday excess,
assured to suffer a death by neglect and overworked thermostats.
The Immaculate Conception, in its miniature ceramic splendor,
recreates The Greatest Story Ever Told beneath the skirt
of your limbs, quarantined behind the gifts where it’s difficult
to see the promise of eternal life. The strands of lights fit
like a straitjacket, choking out your color and exposing
the gaping holes in what remains of your composure.
Now, stripped of the care you were given just weeks ago,
long before the hacksaw and twine, you are hauled to the curb
still tinseled, still artificially festive. Discolored and
zombified posture projects you as the brittle Frankenstein
of conifers, but even the bolts secured to your base
have been reclaimed. Now, as the men who are paid
to remove your feeble remains from the gutter go about
their business, we’re left to wonder if this idea of sacrifice,
in all of its well-disguised traditions, still speaks to anyone.
Incriminating · Richard E. Brenneman
my burdened inventory of life,
poems almost frozen in time.
My life reimagined in manuscript.
It would be a wonder, a miracle
to see these remains stored in boxes
in the backs of closets
revealed in sunshine, fresh air,
displayed in the front windows of bookstores.
However, such sudden revelation
as this final voice of mine is incarnated.
Squawking, then I feel
like I’d hit a baseball
accidentally through a neighbor’s window,
a picture window, a mirror,
my life for all to see.
my private thoughts revealed.
My voice is heard, my own fingers
point, not as a victim or a criminal,
Scargo Tower in December · Mary Beth Hines
On the roof we sit and sip spirits while
the sun drops and the sky flares
orange and pink, then dusk.
Beneath us, six flights of winding stairs
and ghosts – murmuring,
rising from the smooth inside walls.
Cold Snap · Josh Nicolaisen
For almost two weeks, the kind of days
where even when the sun shines it can
be hard to be outside, and even in here
ice is building up inside of our windows.
The windows plucking the woodstove’s warmth
which feels sucked right out the walls . The smoke
floats above the chimney, not really rising,
as if trying to decide if it should dive back down.
Outside the hair on my face frosts almost
immediately, and inside of trees the water
and sap snap and crack so loudly
I look up to see if they’ll fall.
The snow has stacked up, squeaking snow,
the kind that falls so finely it feels like styrofoam
and almost sounds alive when you walk, letting
out little creaks and moans beneath the steps of feet.
Our animals’ water keeps freezing, even in heated
electric buckets; thoughts wondering between how
many animals in the wild won’t make it through this one and
the hen with a bloody frostbitten comb in our basement.
The cars’ engines slowly turn over,
unhappy to be woken, and only sometimes
starting- same with the snow blower.
Schools have been cancelling because their busses won’t run.
It’s called a snap because eventually it breaks, but today
the snow shovel’s brittle plastic breaks on the first scoop,
the hen in our basement died last night, and tonight
is set to be the coldest one yet.
Forsythia · Maureen Cosgrove
Who can be certain?
The tight-bud branches
have been cleanly cut
but no one knows for certain
if flowers and leaves
will unfist indoors. Fallen
stars settle in the
yard – deflated grapes
dotting the path. Cooked
in iron pots and
saved. Stellar jam, put
on a small boy’s bread. Up
the stairs a mother waits for
tears to thaw. Late winter
pinches. The mountains
hold back echoes. Without
a sound – there is no one
to sing – she tries to shrug
off sticky thoughts of
spring. A forced cloud
of yellow offers no
reprieve. A futile feint,
a bloom of
mimicry. A blurred
row of wind-
lines the street. Leaf-
tip embryos emit pale light.
They droop their
heads, drop tiny chins.
She longs to lift them up
again, to coddle them in
soft-knit swaddling blue.
Close-fisted clouds, full of
hoarded baby teeth, crowd the
window. An eastern
tilted day crayons the sky.
Two robins share a wire. Their
hollow chests are dried-blood red,
masked by molting cloaks.
Heads withdrawn, wrapped
in themselves. As tight
as flesh enfolds to
coax a human life about the
cold, bare glow of bone.
A Golden Shovel, after "October," by Denise Levertov
Shadow Rider · Amy Soricelli
I think if I would have been a cowboy with the pants,
and maybe a horse that trusted my voice even in the dark,
I would drift along some wide range of sky;
my name across it never fading.
I would see myself in deserts, the spineless plants crooked,
angry in their shadows.
Dusty families would pull their clothes across their backs,
and girls asking how they can whisper secrets with the air frosted
so tight it whistles louder than your pulse.
Once, maybe, this cowboy would have angry stones in his shoes,
kicking kicking/no music or restless drops of moonlight
in his eyes .
there is no restless moonlight in his eyes.
There might be the low humming love song kicked like a can
into the next town, left-over whistles hanging on your lip
If I would have been a cowboy there would be ropes,
maybe mountains of dust;
I would need a good hat.
So many things would be different here.
Can hardly name them all.
Andromeda · Kim Jacobs-Beck
A girl gift to a god
the story is the same girl of little worth
takes blame belonging to others. Mothers.
Chained to a rock awaiting a monster.
Ripped to limbs and torso in the street.
Burned on a pyre. Acid disfigured. Shot in the head.
I survived, my curse of beauty
also my salvation a Hero
to whisk me away. Not that I had any say
What part of my story is stamped
on the sky? Me, in chains.
Where · Susan Tepper
the papers destroyed
as you would
love letters or a list –
Could be simple
milk, eggs, tea
Or could be the part
where you stop to think:
where have I been
Losing Skin Into The Deep · Kushal Poddar
adrift in the sea, follow it
wave by wave; my friend feels pride;
I hark for any conversation that
the goldfish may strike with
some free fish in the deep brine.
This follows the day I peeped inside
my wife’s mouth to meet my child
and decided the osmosis is the best process
for a hallowed being.
“Grow.” I urged the embryo. “into a human.”
“Your religion…” my friend says something
I pay no heed to and think about the goldfish
adrift in a case for claustrophobia.
“Your politics…” My friend changes the topic
I pay no heed to and think about the sacred,
free and rooted, its osmosis, our failures
307 · Glen Hogard
our lord notarizes the scent of the paper
he ignores the text and slight bleed through
accumulation takes us back
like forgetting the garbage
a pen on principle and to stab
holes in the surface for miles we abandon clues
someone took our clothes or were they old fashioned
splayed for the tanner
The Heartache of Forgotten Foodstuffs · Rick Blum
On the top shelf, just out of sight, sat the left-
overs in their opaque Tupperware biome, right
behind the jar of pickled tomatoes, which, up
until minutes ago, had not been taken down
from its lofty perch since your wife out-
lawed beef hot dogs as a regular repast, in-
stead replacing them with a the latest in-
digestible vegan concoction better left
to high-cholesterol sufferers who do without
larded tubes of meat trimmings in favor of right-
eously ingesting Tofurky franks while looking down
on everyday rabble like you who see only the up-
side of succulent wieners that unfailingly up-
lift the spirits of carnivorous diners in
thrall of an American culture that down-
plays warnings of meat toxicity from the Left
in favor of the raucously unrestrained Right’s
conviction that an individual’s desire to pig out
on intestine-wrapped animal scraps out-
side next to a fiery barbeque grill up-
stages their carcinogenic potential (as rightly
cited by your spouse), which is an in-
apt assertion that didn’t prevail, so you’re left
with no choice but to double down
on the mustard and sauerkraut, gobble down
this meatless mess in two bites, then guzzle an out-
landishly hoppy IPA brew that was left
in the fridge last weekend shoved up
against the pickled tomatoes, which, in-
cindentally, now serve as a downright
delicious ending to this most right-
fully decadent dining experience, which slid down
your eager gullet like a greased pig in
heat, thus capping a carefree cookout
with a smiling spouse and two kids … up
to the moment when only crumbs for the birds were left.
All this time, the container of tempeh chili, now out in
plain view in the fridge, has been feeling rather down up
on the shelf where it was unceremoniously left. Right?
I love you, Jesus Megachurch Christ · Yunkyo Moon Kim
This church is one-eyed, stained glass teeth it Smiles & one chipped, bell lit.tThe altar is my new bed & I roll it in my mouth The bread-body, deconsecrated. With my poison spit, it sinks under,
And so does my Confirmation Name, it echoes Sharp, like mouth full of exacto-blades. They
Smile with wine, smile smile watery. Whisper to me from under sleep-Latin, Consonants overlap all svelt with spit. Roll it into the ceiling and frothe it, icing on the Cake when she marries me. I hope she loves you over me. Wear a patch over that empty socket, put a Fist straight through it, pluck it like The fruit I ate at the end of last season it prunes In my hand, crumbles like static like knee the Genuflection I sneaked under my seat. I once was sermoned at the very place I Was Christianed into, this megachurch I no Longer recognize. Is this what it feels like To be baptized again? Emerge an infant scrubbed pure with salt &When they condemn erasure I become swollen With bloody tissue, I fantasize about the time I saw a woman naked, stretch the fabric Of her skin, run it under the shower & Kiss the sockets echo her lips. It’s already Sunday. Tuck me Into your drawer to talk to you, This closet priest. I wanna sing Anthropomorphic organ-hymn praises.You still split me into halves & put them eachOnto my palms, half on another. I guess that’s what I find so comforting –
The nihilism of you. I still wait for the SundayI slither under the pew and tie your shoelaces together,
Over under around & through.
You Believe that Wallace Stevens has Blessed This Space · William Doreski
Tar Spots · Dave Gregory
I suggest raking the lawn when we get home. “Let’s build a massive pile, then jump in.”
She throws her head back and clucks her tongue. “I’m too old for that.”
“No one outgrows jumping into a pile of leaves.”
Her nose remains elevated. “Besides, these are gross. They’re covered with black dots, big as quarters. It looks like a disease.”
Hannah’s right. I recall trees on this street bursting red and yellow each fall, now black and brown dominate. “It is a disease. A mild one. Just a fungus, really. They’re called tar spots.”
“Are they contagious?”
“Only to maple trees. Blight doesn’t kill them. It scars the leaves, that’s all.”
“That’s all?” She tucks a dark strand of hair behind one ear. “It ruins everything and looks like cancer.”
Her statement is chilling. We know all about cancer. “You’re right. It isn’t fair. Summer’s end should be serene and colorful before snow buries everything.” I stop and survey the neighborhood, its charm undiminished after living here twenty years with my wife. The houses are in good repair, front yards are decorated with interlocking brick and carefully tended gardens. Most porches have pumpkins on them. “It’s a lovely afternoon if we can see past the spots.”
Hannah stops and faces me. She tilts her head, raises an eyebrow and gives a look that says adults aren’t so smart. “You remind me of Mrs. Sharma, my fifth grade teacher, she called death a beautiful end to a long happy life, with loved ones gathered and our affairs in order. It was nothing like that when mummy died. Everything turned upside down.”
“It certainly did.” My sister Brenda died three years ago and I miss her every day.
“This is the same thing. There’s no beauty, just fungus and rot.”
“Well, that’s not . . .”
“Is death ever beautiful?” Hannah doesn’t let me answer. She walks on, emphasizing her words by kicking fallen leaves. “Innocent people get murdered. War obliterates everything. We eat and breathe poison. Animals are slaughtered. Dead whales have stomachs full of plastic. Brushfires, triggered by the climate crisis, burn koalas and kangaroos.”
I fall in step with Hannah and commiserate. “I agree. Pain is everywhere.”
Hannah’s scattering leaves waist high. Her voice rises above the swishing and crunching. “Pain? Children starve in Africa. Refugees drown crossing the Mediterranean. Tractor trailers collide with school buses.” She throws her arms wide. “Nothing gets a beautiful death. Not even leaves.”
My niece isn’t always morose – she excels in school, her laugh is as lovely as birdsong – but she spends too much time on the Internet, watching grim videos that didn’t exist when I was her age. It can’t be healthy. Hannah’s father never recovered from Brenda’s death. He filled the void with alcohol and neglected Hannah until my wife and I took her in.
Hannah bends and plucks a single red leaf from the ground. The backpack compromises her balance. I reach for her but she straightens and smiles – and waves her prize. “Look, I found a spotless one.”
On grassy hillsides in my youth, I sought four-leaf clovers, believing they brought luck. Hannah thinks a fallen leaf, untouched by blight, signals hope for death without misery.
For one happy moment, she’s blinded to the coming disappointment.
Jettison · Tom Daley
At Renée’s house, the quarter moon,
balanced on its bottom,
scorches the skylights, ruffles
the polished hardwood floor
with strafing shadows. Back
on Hayes Street, we have jettisoned
your false teeth, the bottom
set punctured to fit your
two remaining true. We have
found post cards from a French
lover, a confusion
of bank statements, dried
rosemary sprigs, buffalo nickels,
our father’s dog tags. There,
in your closet, hung the frayed
residue of moths eating
the crumbs of your Harris Tweed
sleeves. There was the family
of shoes, each pair a mother
and a father who could never
really know the meaning
of a synchronized gait.
In trash bags as voluminous
as moonlight over Yosemite,
we bid a hearty goodbye
to your soiled linens,
to the metal caps of champagne
corks from every party
where you played the life of it,
where you spurred your ache
to banter and bravado,
where everyone circled
your grin while you convinced
yourself that your soul’s woeful and dismal
were merely a backdrop against which
you might shuffle and shine.
Memorial Service · Steven Deutsch
the dear departed
and what was there to know
anyway? That the man
who passed unnaturally
soon was much more
saintly than I? Brilliant,
with a fine sense of humor
and parenting skills to rival
those of “Father Knows Best?”
How could I not
imagine my own service?
Suppose the speakers
were not eulogists
They’d limp up
bent nearly in two
with the weight
of their worlds
bursting with need
to expose their festering wounds
or, perhaps just one.
Dazzling the mourners
in sequins and rags,
she’d calmly stand
at the lectern
of my final pageant
to the respect of dead silence
in the same voice
that once startled
Spring · J.D. Scrimgeour
foot-high mountains lining the sidewalk,
and where someone failed to shovel,
I’m driven into the gravelly street.
Cars ease over the center line to avoid me,
and I feel both unsafe and powerful.
And now, again, the moment comes back:
night, and the two-lane through the center
of our small town, me in the back seat,
a car of teens. We weren’t drunk,
though there were empty bottles. We knew
what we were doing when we threw them
at the hitchhikers. We gasped
at our audacity when we turned around
and drove past again, and threw more bottles,
even though one of the hitchhikers
was curled in the roadside gravel,
and the other knelt over him,
waving his arm for help. Does it matter
that I didn’t throw a bottle myself,
that I asked to be taken home,
that I wept my sin to my parents,
waking them up, standing over their bed?
Thirty years ago… I slant back to the sidewalk,
my earbuds bubbling a tune,
so that the cars passing are nothing
but brushes on a snare, part
of the music, and the snow
rivulets forming at the mountains’ edges.
Low Tide · Alan Catlin
their moss from within
as if the green masses
were corpse hair forced
from a primate skull
long after the host dies
In the half-light
between dawn and night
The rocks look like
something that might be alive
Elegy · M.P. Carver
don’t steal away
into grass & ground.
My shabby story wants tomorrow –
and its moon.