issue 16/17 · covid 2020

If 2020 could be summed up in one Twilight Zone episode it would be “Time Enough at Last” from season 1, starring Burgess Meredith as the bookworm who finally was given the time to read. Like us, he planned each month, him after the world had been destroyed, us during quarantine. But then …

When quarantine started, just after a heady book tour from Erie through Memphis, Texas, Atlanta, and Asheville, we thought that the spring and summer of quarantine would be the perfect time to redesign nixesmate.pub. But then …

All book publications were put on hold when our printer scaled back operations. We waited for Jeff Bezos to pony up, to send out to the 6000 odd independent bookstores some of the money he made while the bookstores shuttered, some permanently, while everyone wondered how to proceed. But then …

The redesign took on a life of its own, as if Frankenstein’s monster didn’t need the good doctor for its own birth. All the while we realized that we had become “essential non-essential” workers and found we had little time to do the necessary work of publishing. But then …

To paraphrase/quote John Cage, here we are now publishing the last issues of 2020 on the first day of 2021. “More and more, we have the feeling that we are getting nowhere.” ¹

¹ John Cage, Lecture on Nothing, 1961
Table of Contents
Travelin’ Light · Jonathan Penton

Alison Saar
American, born 1956
Travelin’ Light, 1999
Bronze
Gift from the family and friends of Sunny Norman on
the occasion of her 90th birthday, 2001.248
Installation funded by Mrs. P. Roussel Norman

My Black wife and I went to a gallery opening. The exhibit was a mix of painted photographs and mixed-media sculptures on the subject of the lynching of Black Southerners. The artist was a white man, and he was attempting to explain his work to two other white men, as well as educate them on the source material and events. The two observers were agitated and aroused, thrilled to be there, opening night, for such an important exhibit. They said that the subject was painfully heavy, but they found it cathartic, as well. My wife did not sleep that night.

This sculpture is a man hanging from a rope.
He is upside-down.  He is hanging from his feet.
His head is hollow.  His head is a bell.
The clapper had to be removed from his skull so that people would stop ringing it.
That is what I know.

Hunger is a Suit Like Farrah’s · Colleen Michaels

My first job in a sandwich shop
the saloon doors plastered
with the two halves of Farrah.
Red swimsuit, a Mexican blanket,
those nipples. I’d bust through
her and place the orders for veal
Parmigiana or a large American,

hots or no hots
pepper and egg on Friday, the Catholic
owner’s specialty, He’d make each sub
handing it out, holding back Farrah’s
shoulder. Each night the aluminum
stock pot of sausages was put under foil
the top oily, red and dark, a good
burn worked into the sauce.

I could put an Italian to bed, the soft
padding of the roll, a pillow of white
bread, sheets of mortadella and salami
rose medallions of marbled fat
three slices each, angels themselves,
then good provolone, that barely wants to
bend. I’d tuck in tomatoes and pickles,
then oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper
already mixed together. If you had done it right
it wouldn’t want to close.

Rescues · Colleen Michaels

The Charles River bass my father caught and brought home
to briefly bang the walls of the murky tank of our living room.

A goldfish won at the Burger King parking lot carnival.
We blew too heavy on his gills, cried when he bloated in a teacup.

Gentleman Charlie, we abducted while he crossed the street,
technically he was ours if we avoided the missing turtle signs.

A cat my sister named after a popular girl for the pleasure
of saying I’m going home. Kaitlyn is waiting for me.

The boy who was dropped at a church where my father was janitor,
skinny boy with the look of a deer about to bolt. My mother told us

not to ask why someone had put nail polish on his small fingers.
We kept quiet when she served him meat on macaroni night.

The guy on the motorcycle that crashed near our hedges
shaved head, in just a t-shirt in summer. My father grabbed

towels, even the dirty ones, all of them smelling always
of a smoker’s house, and told us to stay inside, don’t look.

At Once · Yvonne Higgins Leach

North of the peninsula
we can see for miles on both sides:
barns, farmhouses, and how the deep
measure of light
tongues the tall grass.

The North Atlantic wind
beats into our faces.
Sea arches, salt spray, the smell of peat.
Sometimes I wish for better days,
but not today.

You slow the car –
what was vast is now singular.
A tribunal of cows saunters
across the road
from one field to another.

Heads hang like lanterns,
a chorus of hooves,
jabbing of shoulder blades.
This procession of trust knows
no timetable.

Be it the sweet prod
of the farmer’s voice
or all of us watching
in silence,
we are home.

Vast Knots of Miscellaneous Lives · Meg Tuite
Today is pleasurably mute, infused with the stillness of the manswarm. There pervades a comforting lack of voices on a late Sunday afternoon. That point outside when darkness clings to the last strain of light before succumbing to its inevitable aloneness. Bracing itself for that shudder of solitude. Its lonely plight is without fail. The waning hours paint themselves more dismally on this day when streets call out to take refuge in their blank, silent embrace. Maybe a chorus of a million mute cries bank off the muddy puddles, endless rain taps against the panes that stare out with a frightened eye and wonder what it is they must do.

Numberless cold plates sit on tabletops, scatter remains of potatoes, carrots. Endless hands hold forks in bleary kitchens as eyes stare out of icebox windows into other darkened windows. Row after row, street after street, single lit rooms trail one another until each blurs into the next, yet somehow exist apart.

A travesty of foggy dreams splay out into the damp atmosphere, multiply through the soot-ridden avenues. Anyway who dares to walk these sidewalks spirals into cacklings of empty hope. Pedestrians glut with aches of fixations–an invisible collusion links the melancholy plight like holding hands with the ruinous multitude, as though one’s own weight wasn’t enough.

Rain, winds rise like sounds of Mahler. The winding trances of woodwinds. Battling wail of flutes. Lurk of the brass surrounds.

The sinking doom of another Monday imprisons us with its rattling monotony; its migraine pace. The conspiratorial rasp of the clock snickers and the numb tread of men loop the same track with impunity.

I sit in my kitchen, fork dangling in my fingers. I look out into the dim light of a kitchen with another hunched figure who leans over his plate, who stares out a window at yet another figure. We watch for the creep of hours like the face of another life.

In Transit · Terry Sanville
Every morning except Mondays, Del climbed onto the Number 2A bus and sat near the front door, facing the aisle. He smelled of Old Spice, his brown face scraped clean, no doubt with a straight razor, leaving only a pencil-thin mustache.

“Hey Leo, how’s it goin’?” he asked the driver.

“Same ole, same ole, Del. How ’bout you?”

“Going to Social Security. My check is late. Those pendejos messed up again.”

“Yeah, it happens.”

The bus continued along Lost Valley Road and pulled to the curb next to the Burger King. Emily and a bearded man I didn’t recognize got on. He paid with coupons from the homeless shelter. Emily sat across from me, large, fleshy, with a hard-to-watch habit of constantly rolling her thick tongue out of her mouth.

The man shuffled up and down the aisle, pulling at his beard, and finally slumped into a seat next to Del. The bus accelerated. Del smoothed the lapels of his beige suit coat and fingered the gold cross hanging around his neck. His lips moved as if in silent prayer.

The bus merged with traffic. The homeless man carried nothing but the ragged clothes on his back. His stench – a mixture of sweat, booze, and shit – overpowered Del’s Old Spice. I breathed through my mouth. I’d shared air with the indigent before.

The man gave Del the once over then, without warning, yelled, “Hey driver, what stop are the free showers?”

Del put his hands on his knees and pulled up his knife-edged slacks to expose argyle socks and oxblood-colored shoes.

“Did ya hear me, driver?” the man yelled.

Del twisted in his seat. “Hey bud, the church you want is three stops away. I’ll tell ya when to pull the cord.”

The transient turned toward Del and stared with bloodshot eyes. His hands shook with what looked like a Parkinson’s tremor. “Stay outta ma business. I’m not talkin’ to you.”

Del blinked a few times. “I was just thinking that if you’re new in town, I could help you find the place.”

The transient glared at Del. “Been here five years. Don’ need help from no fuckin’ spic.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Fernando lower his magazine and stare. A big guy, he worked the night shift as a janitor at the University where I used to teach drama until my character failed me.

The driver yelled, “Watch your language or I’ll kick you off this bus.” I saw Leo’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He studied us, watched our one-act tragedy play out while steering the bus through heavy traffic.

“Sorry,” the transient muttered. He folded his bare arms across his dirty T-shirt. They displayed military tattoos almost hidden by dark hairs. His whole body vibrated and he rocked back and forth. His gaze swam in and out of focus.

“You’re drunk,” Del muttered. “Such a baby. They shouldn’t allow you on the bus.”

The transient glared at him. “It’s a free fuckin’ country. I go where I fuckin’ want.”

“Hey, this is your last warning,” Leo called.

“Sorry.”

Fernando slid to the front of his seat. He looked eager to throw the homeless drunk off the bus if the driver gave the word.

Del pushed strands of oiled hair behind an ear and stared straight ahead. He fingered his gold cross. “You know, I used to be like you, living from drink to drink. But then I took Jesus into my life. He showed me his love, gave me strength.”

I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck. The odds of a confrontation between a drunk and a Jesus freak turning out well seemed poor. I slid over one seat. The bus quieted.

“Jesus ain’t my friend,” the transient said. “I gave ’im plenty a chances but got nothin’.”

Del smiled. “But you haven’t changed your heart, have you?”

“You know nothin’ ’bout my fuckin’ heart.” With a trembling hand he reached forward, ripped the gold cross from Del’s neck, and slung it down the aisle.

Del and Fernando bolted to their feet just as Leo hit the brakes, hard. Horns blared. Tires squealed. With a solid crunch the bus hit something and tilted to one side. The duo tumbled and slid down the aisle toward the front door.

Leo unclipped his seat belt and stood, all three hundred pounds of him packed into a six- foot four-inch frame. “See what you idiots made me do.”

The transient stood and stumbled toward the rear door. He gave it a shove but it didn’t budge. Fernando caught up, grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him into a seat. “Sit down, shut up.”

“Is anybody hurt?” Leo called.

The passengers stayed silent.

Leo slipped the radiophone from its hook and depressed the button. “Route 2A to base, over.”

“Base here. Go ahead.”

“We’ve had a collision.”

A rapid-fire conversation ensued. In a couple minutes patrol cars, fire engines and ambulances arrived, red lights flashing. The police cuffed the transient and hauled him away. They questioned each of us outside on the sidewalk while the firemen sprayed foam on a smoking SUV with a crumpled front end.

Del touched his neckline, searching for the phantom cross that seemed to have deserted him. Emily handed it over along with its broken chain. She gave Del a gap-toothed smile, looking happy to be a part of the drama. Tow trucks arrived and removed the damaged vehicles. Another bus showed up to retrieve the displaced passengers.

I decided to walk, to think, to consider options. Should I buy a gold cross and give myself over to some deity, one my ex-wife prayed to for my salvation? Did Jesus really succeed with Del? Or was JC just a crutch to get Del past the shakes? Besides, does God even care about us individuals? Does he intercede in our fates?

At the Broad Street Bridge, I watched the fast-moving river cut through our town. Tumbling brown water ripped at its banks. I remembered the poet John Berryman who believed God would help him. But he jumped off a bridge into the Mississippi.

I reached into the inside pocket of my sport coat and withdrew the pint of Old Crow. I’d bought it just that morning. It was perfect, the seal not even broken. I placed it on the bridge railing, noticed how the morning sunlight passed through it, casting golden shadows on the sidewalk. I nudged it over the edge and walked away.

issue 16/17 · covid 2020 · page 2

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After Her Third Wedding This Summer My Thirty-Year-Old Daughter Is Wondering · Sarah Snyder
Is she asking too much
of the men she meets –
not to fly a plane

or jump between
sky scrapers, but perhaps
like that – to leap from this to that,

to peel back
layers to the rush
of gravity.

Nandha · Flavianny Silva Rabelo
It’s still early my love,
but know that when your titias threaten
to lock you inside of a little box,
they are looking for a way to safekeep your soul.
When they say that they will eat
your tiny body whole,
it’s because inside when you were inside
of your mother’s belly
no one could hurt you.

Katita married at nineteen.
Maria wailed the whole ceremony, it was the burial
of her beloved sister. No longer a daughter,
now someone’s wife. During the wedding
you whispered to me: “eu sei de tudo
que tem pra saber no mundo.
Will you cry when I get married?”

Hopefully when you are old enough someone
mother or aunt
will have figured out a way to swallow
and keep you down.

Keep Moving · Bruce Morton
(for Maggie Smith)

It was basic training.
The drill sergeant would remind
Us over and over again.
It will save your life.
Keep low. Move fast.
Keep moving.

Most of us did.

The Museum of Last Things · Alan Catlin
At the entrance, toll takers collect tickets
that explode.

Cut the printed words into small pieces
and paste them onto warrants
to be served at a later date.

Twin Security personnel point in two different
directions when asked, “Which way do I go?”

Obviously, you are screwed no matter
which option you select.

Once inside, the automatic light sensors
refuse to turn on; even the Exit signs masked.

The exhibits are all covered by layers of cloth.

Have accumulated dust, spider webbing,
insect and mold spores, making it impossible
to know what lies beneath.

The interior shadows have emotions that
feed on yours: the more extreme your reactions,
the more radical yours are.

It is not recommended to express fear or anger;
management cannot assume responsibility
for whatever happens after, if you do.

Confusion is okay.

As is consternation.

Proceed at your own risk.

Mottled · Susan Tepper
After exile you plant
fire in the garden
the soil seeded
deep rows
yields a mottled leaf:
one to shade the yard
eventually another
becomes the sea
in autumn –
early sunset blazing
makes your forget summer
the table’s red cloth
stained from the morning coffee –
you wanted to be happy
but forgot
the sun rise over purple clouds
drifting, a sky
that pulses your veins
once forced currents
an undertow that pulled
your ankles to knots
– then forgetting, looked back.
The Termagant Poet Speaks · Eileen Cleary
I prefer your light stomped underground –
smothered and sucking what drips
from the sweet water of my saccharine nod
doled to mollify my thousandth savage barb.
I’m composed of eye roll and ear steam,
putrid green. The stakes are low, and all mine
unless I deign to launch one into your chest
for daring to be third party to my party.
No. I won’t admit you. You’re a sorry oaf
for caring. I’m born of wire monkey and glib
need to devour, empowered at the helm
of my stingy verse realm where I’m Queen Bee.
A hex on you for your sin of seeing me.
Skull on a Chain · John Tustin
You wear the skull on a chain
I sent to you
Long distance
After long giving up hope on us
But still knowing
What should be.

You sent me a picture
Where you wear it
And I smiled seeing it.

You remarked to me
That you get such compliments on it
When you wear it
And people ask where you got it
Again and again

But you never told me
What answer
You give them
When they ask,

The impassive face
Hanging silver from the chain,
Vaguely grinning,
Telling no tales
About us

Or him

Or on Kentucky Avenue

When I first flirted with you
When you were just a girl
And you fell in love with me

In silence,

Even then.

issue 16/17 · covid 2020 · page 3

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Holy Ground · Matthew Andrews
With every hellscape of wildfire,
 before the flames consume

cities and return them to dust,
 before the empires of green

turn to charcoal in the blaze,
 before the mouths of the living

choke on the ashes of the dead,
 there is always one holy man,

barefoot, who waltzes
 into the infant inferno,

burning on yet a single bush,
 and demands to hear God’s voice.

New Jerusalem · Matthew Andrews
Getting inside the city is hard
when you are not sure
if you believe in doors,

circumambulating the walled
edges with heavy footsteps,
the fingers rubbed raw

tracing the grooved jasper,
the eyes red with neon
light shining from the courtyard.

Bygone Whales North of Boston · David Lawton

I. Moby Dick, Wakefield MA

White as a sheet on Halloween night
Sheet metal skin on steel skeleton
Guided by track into New England wetland
More special effect than maritime danger
Melville without biblical angst
Leviathan of Pleasure Island’s ten summers

Raised from its abandoned depths
Sought out by stoner Ahabs
Who would lovingly punch a hole in his carcass
To realize their childhood fantasy
Before he was hauled off to the scrap heap.

II. Tilly, Salisbury Beach MA

Stucco painted cotton candy pink
With long eyelashes and kissy-poo lips
She gaily greeted vacationers for 30 years
Promising a geyser of misty escape
A landmark of enduring memory

Until she collapsed under her own neglected weight
And all the nostalgia of her boomer pod
Could not bind her crumbling exterior
Or save her from the real estate value
Of her sun-kissed absence.

Finding Words · Darrell Petska
AnneMarie considered what one might say to console the likes of the elderly, mournful-looking gentleman nursing a coffee at the corner table. From her well-vantaged seat, she observed how his fine gold watch emerged from his sleeve as he dabbed a silken hanky to his cheek.

A man openly distraught in public concerned AnneMarie. Her experience with men – one ex and a couple dalliances along the way – suggested they’d rather be publicly depantsed than show a wayward tear.

This man seemed oblivious to his surroundings, his attention focused on a newspaper folded before him. As he studied it, his hand distractedly raked his silver hair – which very nearly would’ve matched AnneMarie’s had she not tinted away time’s depredations. His tweed trilby on the table had raised a cowlick at the back of his head.

“Are you OK?” That, she’d reject at once, for obviously he wasn’t. Or maybe he wouldn’t care what one said, his display of emotion a sign he’d readily accept consolation.

Was he poring over the obituaries? Had the markets crashed, leaving him destitute? AnneMarie hated the stock market: she’d cried for an entire day when her ex almost ruined them with his risky investments. Maybe this poor man was gripped by despair – all the more reason one should act.

“Pardon me, but can I be of help?” – No, that wouldn’t do: she could already imagine his wan smile and “Thank you. I’ll be fine.”

When she finally left her cheating excuse for a husband, she’d have welcomed anyone willing to listen to her tearful railings against him. AnneMarie knew enough about tears. Maybe the fellow was grieving a beloved dog. How she’d cried when her sweet pug, Nelson, passed away.

“Is that man over in the corner alright?” AnneMarie asked the waitress refilling her coffee.

The waitress glanced that way and shrugged. “I couldn’t say.”

“I believe I’ll inquire,” said AnneMarie, put off by the waitress’s disinterest. But AnneMarie felt tied to her chair. Hadn’t she the nerve to reach out, comfort a fellow human? She didn’t want to be that kind of person.

So she stood, but her feet felt leaden. Had she actually any business approaching him? Would he rebuff her? Would others notice?

AnneMarie set off, carefully balancing her brimming cup on its saucer – a clever opening gambit, she told herself. Offering her a seat, given her precarious load, would be the gentlemanly thing to do.

During those final, intervening steps, she decided to allow her fellow feeling to determine what she’d say as she leaned into his sight with her most compassionate expression. She flexed into a smile to counteract the glooming effects of her crows feet and sagging cheeks.

Raising her eyes from her sloshing coffee, she pulled up almost at his back as he rose, pushed the newspaper aside, and walked gingerly toward the door – without his hat!

AnneMarie quickly put down her cup, grabbed his trilby and caught up with him at the door. “Excuse me, you left this!”

He paused, raising his eyes – the sadness in them stole her breath. He took the hat from her hand, nodding with a faint smile, and left.

Shaken, AnneMarie walked back to his table to retrieve her coffee. He’d barely touched his, though he left a ten-dollar bill. A ballpoint pen jutted from the newspaper folded to reveal the daily crossword. He’d managed only four words.

At The Beach · Miriam O'Neal

Sunk in shallow water, we waited to exhale.
Our flailing at the sand stirred up a cloud
and the sun, piercing the water, lit us like a match –
our small girl bodies paddling like dogs,
parted small waves overhead like a mow
of long grass, our arms streaked with purple fig

and fuzzy stripes. We didn’t give a flying fig
that our lungs might burst before we could exhale.
It was enough to sit on the sea floor, the mow
of our fingers like blades cutting the cloud
of sand we’d roiled up. Pawing water the way dogs
dig up a garden for a bone, we flicked the match

tip of the sand flats, lit each other – matched
each others’ bars of violet like striped ripe figs,
then burst through sun-split water, left an aquatic after mow
of oxygen, the trail of bubbles as we exhaled
the air from our lungs filling a sonic cloud
when we spoke pretending to be dogs

who knew how to bark underwater, dogs
who, in a grassy field would have snuffled through the mow.
Below the surface we pretended to drink tea, each pursed exhale
from our lips a bubbling garbled match
for some word spoken at the party,  Aren’t the figs
especially sweet this time of year. Oh yes, and light as clouds.

One pinky finger raised, our shell cups stippled in the mow
of water swirled by our commotion, we matched
our parents’ party play – nudged elbows, grinned knowingly. And when a cloud
threw a shadow cool as chilled green figs
across the bay, we’d surface, spluttering, blow great exhales
and stand to fill our lungs like panting dogs.

In cotton bathing suits like fig leaves sewn to fit, we’d float on clouds,
hold underwater teas – exhale a pleasure we didn’t know would dog
us out of girlhood and mow us down with longing in middle-age. There is no match.

Valhalla, 1984 · Crystal Karlberg

Eventually you will turn yourself in
after a long day of fishing and the cat

dead as a brick thrown through
your parlor window. What light?

Did you expect to look up
and see golden shields? Instead

you woke in a ship in a field
of black roses with one arm in

and one arm out, forced to trace
a blank map with cloudy eyes.

You’ll remember something about
bowling, something about a wrap-

around porch and hearing
your name. I wonder why it is

we say riddled when we’re talking about
death? What is there to figure?

The chosen are no better off than
the unchosen. Study it from different angles

it’s always death. You can balance
a soap bubble on your finger, turn

a feather and see such luminous colors.
Iris as the seashell’s intimate curl, under-

belly of the mackerel you put on ice.
You can’t help playing devil’s advocate even

while you’re sipping tea with your
father and his cancer and your mother

watching you worriedly
from across the room.

Burnt Toast · Arianna Sebo
She asked me what was up with my
spice cupboard
the paprika was mixed in with the
lemon pepper and the cinnamon with
the honey
I told her I don’t supervise my
cupboards after hours
I do have a roommate who often
comes home in the wee hours of the
morning, though
Sometimes I hear him crisping
strange things on my George Foreman
grill
I wish he would quit burning
my toast

issue 16/17 · covid 2020 · page 4

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Wyf Thinks of Summer · Max Heinegg

She spells it the old way, calls our girl a Viking
warrior, proclaims our halls safe, restores the day’s
initial mystery, calls the sunny two-bed Mexico,
paints All sorrow is less with bread in our kitchen,
makes a den of the ten-month year, & bravely
brings them forth. She won’t lie & say she doesn’t
bask in the exhaust of the last bus, but once
vacation starts, it’s slippery. Then August ads drop
the taunt of where we’re all headed, friends
secretly pleased our lease’s up & it’s the grind
‘til holidays give the pause no one challenges.
In December, when the chimney draws, she tends
the light down to the word’s coals, plays Hestia
& paces the interim of our state’s cold spring,
but when June alights on the North Shore tides,
she wakes to chart them as they rise, inclines to
hear the salt-water music, not yet beginning to end.

Oxy · Linda Lamenza

I’ve been awake since the day
I met your incessant silence,
me with deafening dreams.

You are fickle.
So often you go missing.
And always, I collapse with joy
at your return.

Entangled in the line,
I take the bait,
follow your lead, but never get it right.

Wintering · Linda Lamenza

We found the Asian Ladybugs
huddled in a clump in the living room,
in the easternmost ceiling corner.
Ana called it the “meeting,”
As in how’s the meeting going?
They wouldn’t do any harm,
and shouldn’t be disturbed –
I looked it up on the Internet.

The Internet said they were wintering
and if they were thirsty
they would fly toward water.
One morning I found one in the
bathroom, next to the sink.
I put my fingertips under the faucet and
drizzled water droplets
beside it on the counter.
It dipped its tiny head,
a close look showed movement,
tiny antennae twitching, surviving.

Will they make it through?
We filled six small Pyrex water bowls,
Placed one by the TV, the plants,
wherever we imagined
they would like to go.

Mama, could we set them free
in spring, watch their wings glide on air?

Untouchable · Andy Conner
On my recent trip
to Gujarat

I took
numerous
pretty photographs

of Modhera
Palitana
Dwarka
The White Desert

and other pretty places

but

the image
I can’t delete
from my heart

my hard drive

is of a ragged street child
at Vastrapur Lake
who stepped out
from the promenading crowd

raised
his left
index finger
into the stifling
late afternoon

air

and drew
a rectangle
to take
an imaginary selfie

with me

That which doesn’t kill us · Carrie Jewell
We haven’t had rain in twelve days, and the grass is
August-brown in late June.
Cue the marching lines of fire ants.
Blessed are the meek, I guess,
for they shall inherit the next great flood.

It is not for us to question. Scientists and engineers didn’t
build the ark. On my way to the bike shop I saw
a sign on an embattled front lawn: God. Guns.
Country. (There were no bikes.)
The Arctic just topped 100 degrees,
prelude to the lake of fire.

You have to give it to Him: He speaks His mind.
There are brown caterpillars in Maine whose tiny hairs
get into your clothes causing an all-body itch, distressed
breathing. We keep reading that children are carriers.
Hose everything down. Those hairs float in dry air,
don’t even dry your clothes in the sun.

Taking to the streets is the new minivan.
Teenagers swap selfies for signs, face shields, humanity itself.
My son, disgusted that we don’t fish,
made his own rig out of a stick and grey yarn.
He’s gotten a few bites.
The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Name · Chad Parenteau
One afternoon, you’ll remember
that you left it to seed
beneath the backyard rubble.
Anyone could have it.

Someday, you will remove your gloves,
unafraid to use your hands.
When feeling your face for tears
you can pick it back from the air.

When Will You Ever, Hope · Sharon Kennedy-Nolle
(After Hopkins)

It’s not about you anymore,
hope, my cardinal sin.

I’ve run out of recall and no one else’s sharing their stories
and that leaves me in the middle
of this trestle bridge,
staring off, smarting still
from your cursed crimson flight
across frozen water, where blown snows streak,
squiggling closest to ghost.

The therapists insisted you were a must,
had to keep you on the wing, going the distance,
those guardrailed miles between institutions
until he would just outgrow this,
like ear infections or bedwetting.

Your bright-blooded flutter
made me look the other way,
saying, “Someday, he’ll go back to school. Find himself,”
when he cried in the shower.

Hope kept the glass half full,
a needed drink after steering him through
lunch and a movie on the half-day pass.

Hope kept me humoring him along,
like any other kid who eventually declares, “You know I never asked to be born!”

Only he added, “Please, Mom, respect my choice
to leave the world.
I was given none to enter it.
Love, your son.”

issue 16/17 · covid 2020 · page 5

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I Lost A Small Forest · Kenneth Pobo

Owls went with it
and many ferns.
I knew some owls
by name.

A cinnamon fern
grew by a creek.
We didn’t talk.
I waved
as I walked by.

Clear cutters
killed off
much of it.

I can still walk
around there –
waiting for birds
that never come.

Queen Mary's Collection · Anne Levine
Vase in rock crystal
Fabergé styled.
A king or two
A jolly knave too
And her own head
On a silver platter.
Your Office After the Eleventh · Anne Levine
Less thinking goes on here than I imagined.
You are lost in the Bridge section
A tremendous feat.
You push a silver wave off your forehead.
I kick the crispy sheet.
Your demi-tasse perched half off the table.
I will it to fall and destroy the Sunday puzzle.
But I resign myself to stay and stare at your diplomas.
Bread: 1918-2020 · Beate Sigriddaughter
in memory of my mother

One day a hundred and two years ago my mother stood
by her own mother’s casket.
It was the time of the Spanish Flu.
Four years old, she asked the maid who held her hand:
who will now give us our bread?
Did the young woman fold her gently into her arms?
Did she say: We will. We’ll do our best.

Twenty-seven years later she stood in line at a mill,
two hungry sons and a hungry sister waiting
back at their makeshift refugee home. She had no grain
to trade for bread like farmers did. She had nothing
except the humility to beg. The miller, reading her
thin situation didn’t make her beg, but gruffly asked:
And how many do you get? Pedaling home
on a borrowed bicycle with two loaves,
it was a happy day for her.

She was always a lady, hlaf-dige, giver of bread.

Give us this day our daily bread, we pray
and then forget to value the familiar. It is raining
and the air smells of yeast and spice. I remember
the world through her eyes: stockings with lace
embroidery down the side, delicate dresses,
and bold Sunday hats. She served me bread with honey
and hot chocolate on winter mornings.
Winter is always a good time to remember who I am.
Spring, too. I am still hungry. Still curious
about her many secrets. The men in her life treated her
like some kind of furniture, a sturdy convenience.
Too soon she died from destiny and complications
of unhappiness. I am her hungry daughter.
Who will give us our bread?

The bread in my freezer will last a while,
even in these fragile times. I keep dreaming
this time it will be different. This time breadcrumbs
will show me the way back home. Home
has become unfamiliar so quickly.

Golden Shovel · Kasy Long
FEELING BURYING HER PAIN

After Gwendolyn Brooks’ “A Sunset of the City”

I worried all night until I
could not fret any more. I am
tired – tired of losing sleep to a
man who does not know I am a woman;
therefore, I bury my pain more than those who
are open and free. I am the one who hurries
through my sorrow, who does not want to go through
pain, because then I am weak; the one who doesn’t see her-
self as others do. The one who saves those tears for her prayers.

Friday Night · Alan Britt
(For Tommy Konrady & Tommy King)

We went looking for the crackers who
broke a pool cue over your skull & banged
your older brother up pretty good.

We swaggered into the joint where you
engaged the crackers one weekend before
& eased beneath the bar before the bouncer
said, You boys gotta go. I know why you’re here.
We don’t want no trouble tonight.

Tommy the elder suggested that patience
sometimes is the better part of valor.

So, we took a left, as I recall, toward
the Armory where a British Invasion
cover band was playing, one eye peeled
for the crackers who broke a pool cue
over your skull & banged your older
brother up pretty good.

Stocking Up · Robbie Gamble
In COVID Costco, I discover pallets groaning with twenty-five-pound bags of jasmine rice and King Arthur Flour (one per member, please!), and there is plenty of house brand TP, as the run on paper goods has subsided. No chicken though, or porkchops, and just forget about Purell. I channel a Brezhnev-era babushka, snapping up random products (raisins! tomato paste! Frosted Mini-Wheats!) to fill in larder gaps for gloomier days ahead. Everyone is practicing decent mask etiquette (no exposed noses), but six-foot distancing is impossible while navigating those battleship shopping carts through narrow snack aisles. I miss the dour Costco matrons offering toothpicked chunks of Chicken Florentine, and the sparrows who used to nest in the upper storage shelves in pet products have flown, too. At checkout, cashiers cower behind newly-erected plexiglass partitions, and the tour package desk has been dismantled, leaving one swaying poster of a perky family, group-hugging with Mickey and Pluto, just the faintest nudge of hope that we might one day burst our bubble of shelter-in-place, to journey into a Magic Kingdom.

issue 16/17 · covid 2020 · page 6

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I Forget to Inherit My Father’s Book National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (The Kerner Report), 1967 · Paul David Adkins

When he died, I took a lot of his books,
but not that one. I didn’t know
he left it for me.

There was no note,
no inscription,
no letter tucked on the page
with the photo of Detroit women
kneeling in the ashes of their home.

This is what he wanted –

not for me to know
but search:

a Guardsman, for snipers;
a son, for his father.

He wanted me
to find answers
for myself.
He locked the door behind him.

I am a man.

Separate. Unequal.
Black. White.

This is the Commission’s conclusion.

I left his house,
fingered what books I took like keys.

Retired USAF Master Sergeant Ronald Gene Simmons Addresses Why He Did What He Did to 14 Family Members Between December 22nd and 26th, 1987 · Paul David Adkins
Everyone was getting a little too close
to the truth, the abuse, daughter Sheila
who birthed my daughter.

Little Matryoshka:
child in a child.

I could have kept it up forever.

But you were getting
too close.

It was all too hard to handle.

So I did buy a gun,
and I did fill a barrel for drowning the children,
and I did line the corpses before the TV,
relaxed with a beer in my hand.

Why? Why?

Oh, Bronze Star,
you and I know
a military man doesn’t surrender his secrets.

Sheila Simmons McNulty Testifies About Her murderer and Father · Paul David Adkins

This was life. I was a kid: what did I know?
In passing, I told a school counselor
my father had fathered my child.

He found out I told,
moved us next day: New Mexico to Arkansas.

After, my father wrote me:
I’ll see you in hell.

But when it was Christmas years later,
my husband and I visited,
brought his daughter-granddaughter.

I still loved my mother.

I’ll see you in hell,
he said.

Maybe.
And maybe he’ll have his way again.
That’s the way of hell, I suppose.

I wanted something else.
Why couldn’t I have it?

Why couldn’t I tuck him in a matchbox
and bury them both in the clay?

Of all the men who died in Vietnam,
I waited on his news the most.
He returned sound with a Gallantry Cross.

At the airport,
we fooled him with our crying.

October · Jennifer Franklin
I’m trying to hold on to the sunset over the lighthouse at the edge of the Cape but the tornadoes we drove home through threaten to erase it from my mind. We never reached the lighthouse. The white-headed dog got sunstroke and collapsed in the sand. We hitched a ride back to the bed & breakfast. Now, the people who know me best have never met me. The few I love, I hold in my fist like the wooden tulips I bought myself one Mother’s Day. The news inserts itself into my sleep—the faces of judges who should not be, the children still in cages. I used to read, incredulous, about the crimes of the past. Now that we have our own concentration camps and ghettos, I am finished with history.

Sontag wrote, “Someone who is permanently surprised that depravity exists…when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood.” One fall, not long ago, I grew up. The pumpkins, piled in cardboard boxes pitied me as I walked past. I used to hold my tongue like the good girl I was taught to be, hair brushed and braided. The waves beat the whale-watching boat but the tide was there for me, returning me to the months I was pregnant and told I could not end it. By my husband. By my mother. Today, a woman has voted against all women. I am not surprised.

Sontag was right. “It hurts to love. It’s like giving yourself to be flayed and knowing that at any moment the other person may just walk off with your skin.” I am safe on the cold beach picking shells. Every child on the sand knows this dilemma. The shells all look perfect, cradled in the wet sand, before you bend and hold them, find each dull and dry in your hands. I stash a few in a chocolate tin with a watercolor of the lighthouse on the lid. They sit on a small cake plate of hot pink depression glass. I touch the tiny matching shells that feel like mother-of pearl. I memorize the one I found so I know which one is mine.

Hiking At Yarmouk · William DeGenaro
Stony dusty path on the
mountaintop. My shoes and the
rolled cuffs of my jeans
powder and fade to the
Earth’s greys and browns. The
trail guide, Emad, pauses to
build a fire, boil water,
make tea with sage and
sugar. Someone passes dates like
holy communion. We sit on
rocks that were here when
Jesus worked miracles at Lake
Tiberius, visible to us but
murky across the horizon, and
over the border, a blue
anomaly and maybe a mirage.

Our hike’s been easy and
this tea in the shade
of deciduous oaks seems unearned.
But after sating, then dousing
Emad’s fire, we begin to
descend to Wadi Yarmouk, the
valley, down steep, slippery switchbacks.
We focus on staying upright –
that eternal journey – sidewinding, testing
the ground before fully committing,
at last spiderwalking or sliding
on our asses, unpretty, down
the impossible final five meters.
In the wadi, wild mint,
oleander, giant reeds, sage, and
olive trees. Even a trickle
of a stream. The lowest
point is the most beautiful.

Loiter · James Duncan
laughing teenage shadows
hiding in the dark
to smoke their lungs and finger their maturity,
making Pink Floyd noises throughout the underbrush
as women scream for mercy half a world away,
across the plains, down the street, in cities and fields,
they scream in the light of glinting teeth and knives:
sex ripped from their legs, tides rolling from the shore,
stars imploding in white incandescence,
the injustice of coffins lowered into clay, wind tainted
with the scent of teenagers hiding, laughing
deep in the suburban underbrush, unaware
of what horrors lie in wait for them beyond the dark
of the treeline; the hell
it is to be human
and the fire that hounds us all
Texas Pacific · James Duncan
towns stand silent in western
gothic rust,
abandoned gas stations
in the distance hasten shadows,
obscure scrubland,
crawling darkness,
urging us onward, the divisor haunting
the memory of Satan drying
on the cross, rotting corpses finding
us at occasional intersections
and railroad crossings

the train lurches on,
each of us holding tight to the stupid
hope that all we’ve seen hasn’t
reached ahead of us
to tarnish wherever waits
at the end of this line

I think of how April windows would
marble with sudden rain,
how the sun once broke free
during the heaviest
downfall in that small New England
town, every particle a diamond then,
every breath fresh with green and
blue procrastination,

but now it is all black,
no stars in the desert sky of western
Texas, an indolent remainder
of how it all began,
of how much we lost,
of a story that took too long to tell

the epilogue will not be kind, either

issue 16/17 · covid 2020 · page 7

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Do Not Flush Paper Towels Or Foreign Objects · Zvi A. Sesling

Harry reads the sign in the unisex bathroom:

Do Not Flush Paper Towels or Foreign Objects.

Harry wonders what exactly is a foreign object. Perhaps a moon rock brought to Earth by an astronaut or a Martian stone blasted here a million years ago by a cataclysm on the red planet. It might be something from another country, a Swedish meatball, French pastry, Haitian voodoo doll or Chinese bamboo stick. Perhaps none of the above. Then Harry realizes they must mean anything that is not toilet paper. He thinks for a moment, takes off his shoes and socks. The socks are Made In America so he throws the socks in the toilet and flushes.

Note on a Crumpled Napkin · Daniel Edward Moore
Let’s worship time
as it disappears
like a clock at night
in the town’s dark square
where hands made of pigeon’s wings
break at the praise of midnight.
You be a rumor
slaves sing near death
to keep their tongues alive
& I’ll be a gift oblivion made
to keep us both oblivious.
Civilization · L. Ward Abel

Winds blow the timbers holding up the porch.
I hear thunder to the north, making strange
the evening voice, second day of spring.

The sun tilts; it still burns like Sherman’s
Columbia, conjures shadows into lengths
of prophesy, eventually stretching to combine

into a night we don’t recognize. Aroused
by southerlies the blooming starts; it spreads
across my flashing countryside.

Nullifidian Ballad · Vincent Green

A bindweed of the genus Convolvulus
curls its slender vines round your limbs and fingers.

Anastasia of Sirmium,
patron saint of weavers, healers,
martyrs and exorcists,

“the only saint whose feast day
falls upon the Nativity of Our Lord[,]”

anoint me from your bowl of fire.
Help me. Help me to bury the dead.

The Best I Can · Will Walker

May I attempt a lullaby?
Something they’d sing to you
soft and low, whoever they were,
the invisible ones who once
hovered nearby at the end

of what you didn’t yet know
to call the day, at the dark
uncertain start of what you later
learned to call the night?

A song that says something
so wholesome we give it a tune
and some nonsense that means only
God loves you, though you don’t
yet know what that might mean,

if anything, not God, not love,
not even, really, you, and yet
something you feel, the music
of a solitary voice filling a hole

you don’t yet know is there –
and yet this thing called song,
so new, so much different from the dark,
is what you’ll try to sing
your whole life long.

The Orangery Garden · Byron Beynon
Lodged on the bank of the Thames
the Orangery garden with iceberg roses,
air of lavender, melting herbs,
a flavour of coriander
in this summer world
fixed with assiduous insects,
territorial blackbirds
as a breeze of warm season
preens the atmosphere;
vistas of plants and trees
watched by perceptible eyes
that remain ajar
during the folding over of darkness.

issue 16/17 · covid 2020 · page 8

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Etymology · Anastasia Vassos

A painter tells me that the argenteum in Pissaro’s rendering of leaves
doesn’t exist in nature.

 

The leaves’ undersides
fluoresce as I cycle past.
The air is full of sentiment.

I see that silvergreen curling
everywhere. No one sees me
down this road.

Cycle – from Latin cyclus
from Greek kyklos
circle of time
when phenomena
echo back to us –

Morning’s silence whistles
into me. Carbon, steel circulate
under bone and muscle.

Last night I promised to pray
for a stranger’s husband.

What do I know
about speaking to God.
I wear a mask.
What do I know.

Waiting for the Barbarians · Anastasia Vassos

Panic on the shelves.
On the other side, sickness pants
like an animal. We can’t sleep.

The moon rides the hem
of waves heaving the shore.
My knees buckle into sand.

Fox in the coop leaves
hens covered in Jesus’s blood.
We refuse communion.

Hand to hand, conjoined twins
must let go. I have time
to translate the gospels.

You place my face in your hands
and I recall it now: violence
means haste in Greek, and

when I say violence, I mean 
stand back. It’s not safe.

January Daybreak · Paul Bluestein

The mist is rising from the earth
like steam from my cup of coffee.
Blue jays and black-capped chickadees
silently share their perch with a Revlon-red cardinal.
Ice tears along the branches of the trees
flare in the sunrise,
looking like tiny Christmas lights that have hidden in the forest,
escaping an eleven month sentence
of solitary confinement in a dark attic.
The only sounds are the ticking of the kitchen clock
and the occasional creak
or clank of an aging house.
Soon there will be traffic,
the morning news
and snow shovels scraping streets,
but right now, there is quiet and time to wonder,
to watch the dogs sleeping in a curl
and wish the clock would stop
for just a little while.

Dust · Matt Dennison
The fact that she had killed twice before
never bothered me. In fact made me strong,
for I knew that if need be she would kill for me.

What is dust but the broken-off ends of this world
that we filter and hate as best we can
in order to see air, and be glad?

Bitterness · Steven Deutsch
I got a letter
from you
yesterday.

Handwritten
in your slanted
script

which leaned
so far right
it seemed

ready
to make
a break for it.

I thought
it strange
to get

a letter from
the grave,
but you were

always
breaking
new ground.

I considered –
perhaps a map
of your buried

fortune?
Some advice
from your

perch
of wisdom
on fulfilling

my life?
I burned it
unopened

and added
the ash
to your urn.

In spring
I will scatter
your

ashes
in four
desolate

spots
in the far
woods

for fear
you might
reconstitute.

Why I Won’t · Sarah Ferris
I’m not allowed
to slide the smooth
sharp edge
along my vein.
Not allowed to cut
little slivers
along my leg.
I’m not allowed
to inflict my mutilation
on others,
wound others
with my internal critics.
Not allowed
to slip
into oblivion
which would release ripples
of horror
to unknown places
and touch unexpected people
because suicide
is like that.
It vibrates in the air
long after you’ve gone.
Masks and Dogs · David P. Miller

I have recently crossed paths
with many people and their dogs,
or several in a hydra, as it appears

dog-walking is an essential service.
That is, I do not cross but bend
my path in a neighborly parabola

to dodge odd arcs made by no-see-um
spit flecks. I wonder what they think
of their owners’ faces shrouded.

It wasn’t like that when they were young,
the dogs. Perhaps for dogs
it’s a passing fashion statement, something

they’d sniff out as trendy, if canine noses
could be bothered with the merely chic.
It doesn’t seem to matter to them.

Maybe for dogs it’s just another dress-up,
meaningless, like mittens or a scarf.
My wife and I sport decorative muzzles

for daily strolls around the park. The dogs
look at us as they always did, which is to say
barely at all. In a sudden world of people

with half their facial cues blocked, dogs
don’t seem to be the slightest bit perturbed.
This is not a strange, unprecedented dog year.

Gertrude Stein said, I am I because
my little dog knows me. If I had a dog to know me,
I’d have the selfsame face, unveiled or wrapped.
As present to the animal as the animal to me.

COLOPHON

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All works copyrighted by their authors; all rights reserved.

Header image from the collection of Lauren Leja.