issue 19 · spring 2021
On the Ferry to Spectacle Island · Frances Donovan
Foot against white-painted steel, I look up,
the sky an eggshell of light, the boats all fiberglass finery
moored in the harbor beneath a building raised
stone by stone in 1708 – granite blocks
and iron balconies,
where Elizabeth Bishop might have lived
with her lover, a slight girl in a button-down Oxford
and black capris. Decades ago, in the last century.
The breeze pushes humid air into something finer
and a young girl in a purple shirt that reads
girl power (n) – the idea of a young girl
being strong and powerful
bends and unbends against the railing.
The boat hoots and slides glass-like from the dock,
past wide, white windows ramshackle on their pilings.
The girl’s voice rises from the stir of conversation, then a man’s.
Sharp-dark smell of the boat’s diesel engine,
all the buildings of the North End slant past:
brick walls and leaded glass, mansard roofs and slanted roofs.
In the distance, the Tobin Bridge swoops twice at its highest points,
greened copper, and then the boat turns,
presents the cluster of tall buildings at the waterfront,
their shiny glass, the clock tower of the Customs House,
crown of downtown with its ghosts
of old rebellions, slaves and merchant ships,
the golden lion and the unicorn on the old State House
with a subway in its basement.
We pass Fort Point Channel, and the glass wall,
of the Federal Courthouse slants above us—
the ferry tour guide says it’s meant to be
like a tidal wave of justice over the harbor.
Derricks rise over steel skeletons – the city’s
always building on itself. I search for what’s left
of the piers
where the No Name restaurant
still serves corn and cod, the ghost of the Channel
nightclub where water lapped beneath cracks in the floorboards
and a solid wall of sound [stanza continues]
rose gritty and loud above the mosh-pit –
in the last century. Now all gone to condos, bamboo floors,
in-unit washer-dryers, anomie, dyspepsia.
Bright crowds line the quay beneath the ICA.
The boat cuts over sparkles, makes a shush that overlays
the babble of voices all around us,
thrum of the engine, while the sun burns my toes
where I’ve braced them on the railing,
and a container ship with Yang Ming
inscribed in yellow on its side sports
Lego-block containers full of stereos
and teddy bears from China,
and Castle Island slides past, its earthworks and turf roofs.
Tiny people promenade between the water
and the sunburned grass, and in the distance
the Great Blue Hills lump along
with the ghosts
of the Massachusett who named them, the ghosts
of the English who stole them.
The boat roils and rumbles, slowing as it reaches
an island made of two round hills
joined by a spit of land to look like spectacles,
an island that housed a glue factory
and then a garbage dump,
and now has green drumlins studded with cottonwood trees
that rustle in the hot July breeze, and there’s
a jazz trio on Sundays at the pier, and a snack bar
serving beer and sandwiches, and a bath-house,
and a tiny pebbled beach, and my own round body
bobbing in the waves, with the Boston skyline
orienting me home, over the harbor.
Swimming · Maureen McElroy
I see my father moving through water.
He could swim for miles free style.
One, two, three, breathe.
I see him in the frigid Atlantic
of Carson Beach, floating on his back
in a white rubber bathing cap,
in his 90s getting whistled at
by the women in senior swim at the Y.
He had beautiful form.
I still smell his chlorine cologne.
He watches me through goggled eyes.
He lived life in his own lane,
the outside world muffled
by the rhythm of his thoughts,
powerful arms cutting the waves.
I earned my stripes in Water Babies
at 18 months, started swim team at 7,
a Dolphin in a teal bathing suit.
Summer was diving off the docks
at Hale Reservation. He gave me
a life-saving skill and a love
of the pool and the pond.
The things my father taught me:
Dive in. Keep kicking.
Know what’s behind you
when you back stroke.
If you hit a wall, flip.
Our bodies are 60% water.
Ash is not that to which we should return.
I see my father swimming.
Grinning Boy in the Photograph · Ki Russell
splits his face apart leaves a whiff
of adrenaline and another scent
I can’t quite place but want to crawl inside
each time it pheromones from him to me.
This grin splits me apart with a sharp
craving to lap the glee into my cracked
lips. If I were this grinning boy
I wouldn’t have been the girl who fell
down a rabbit hole chasing long-eared
shadows. Perhaps my teeth would show
like a wolf’s, panting after the hunt.
Numerous Images of Persons of Interest · David P. Miller
phrases & sentences from NPR, 1/5-9/2021
We are going to spend the rest of the hour talking about our mental health.
A number of Democrats have actually done this in the past.
They’ve been pushed back pretty far away.
Fewer than five million of them have been put into people’s arms.
We can all admit to being a little distracted this week.
We really need to get ourselves under control here.
He is now under mental health and medical evaluation.
No one was hurt. That didn’t matter to them.
I’m inside my office. I do feel safe.
They were like time to go, time to go, and they moved us to a separate location.
Almost half the country believes them because they believe in him.
At the same time, there’s this seemingly effortless sparkle.
Basically, what do you make of this?
We have collected numerous images.
It’s tough to make sense of the rampage
if you’re looking to buy a new handbag, some cognac or lipstick.
We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms.
Censure is something that his two-million-dollar donor has raised.
The FBI takes a dim view of threats against citizens in northwest Arkansas.
Here’s what we’ve got, folks, here’s what we’ve got.
There’s three things that people like myself feel now.
As of yesterday, forty-three more people have died.
They didn’t know because they didn’t want to know.
You don’t really care about whether they’re telling the truth.
We’ve concocted a game for you. Would you like to play a game?
You may still have COVID and you may still be infectious.
It severely damaged the reputation of the institution.
Some three million people have already cast ballots.
Even though Christmas has now come and gone
they say they’re not expecting violence.
Here’s what we’ve got, folks.
I believe that we never stopped fighting the first one.
Either that or the fixation with it has gone away and
you turn the radio on and you’ve forgotten about it.
My True Life on this Earth · Karen Poppy
My own existence.
Earth greens, mists
With my naturalness.
No one is crying.
Joyous heaving away
Of gender, unweighted.
Breath, the only binary:
In & out, in & out.
As we all breathe.
Exactly alive, I am
What I always wanted.
Keepers of the House · Max Heinegg
— The day the keepers of the house tremble and those that look out of windows be darkened, because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets – Ecclesiastes 12:5
In his apron, Vincent plucks the vivid Italian cookies,
doubting correctly They’re for my girls,
& slaps his gut, Nothing wrong with a sweet tooth.
His name’s tattooed elbow to wrist in cursive,
& his neck’s adorned by a thin gold
cross, telling me the drugs are why he left town,
Turning into Gloucester…poison just handed out to kids.
I hear you. I’ve read the epitaphs of morning texts,
learned the limits of a teacher’s influence,
& haven’t seen the last of the young shadows
like the one my colleague follows
home from school, trailing the specter
of powder & the silence of
a son, like the two ghosts in my classroom who return
to take their seats when I open the window for the breeze.
When they’re listening, I preach: trust yourself, speak,
don’t court danger, but I’m talking to myself.
I regret I never told them that I used
to relish that back tongue bitterness,
taking emptiness for oasis. Friends died,
but I was lucky. When I needed safety, I still had keys
to the house I couldn’t wait to leave.
'65 Chevy · Bill Garvey
Speakers so clear I spun when No Satisfaction
Throbbed from the rear deck. He gunned its 8 cylinders
Down State Street, free hand splayed across my chest
To hold me there, or to feel my heart pounding, too.
While my Mother Dreams of Judge Judy · Tina Barry
I dream, too. In this dream, Judy’s rage ruffles the quiet cut-outs of her collar. Madame! she shouts at the teen mother whose boyfriend’s Pitbull bites. First it was the boyfriend and his infected tattoo. Then his five kids. Then the biting dog. My mother’s telling Judy about her girlhood mutt, Shadow, a dark cannonball rolling across the dim light of memory. I see her patent leather shoes, round-toed, pumping, as she chases Shadow over hills and onto someone’s picnic feast, one paw deep in the center of a chocolate cake, a fried chicken leg clamped in his jaw. He should have been on a leash! Judy says. Their laughter pocks lilac trees that open and bloom. I’m old now; mother’s my child, just like real life. Our home, many homes before, teeters, a teacup on the saucer of the lawn. Her bed, pale blue in the haze, yawns wide. Buy me a dog, she says, reaching for me in our long-ago kitchen.
The Hypotenuse of Worry · Lauren Camp
Barbed fences, a reliable indicator. The mess
of a partner, a child. Mask and bark. Each of us
back and forth in some labor or liquid to limit
the breaking while the gadgets again
to the bone, searching past grief. We’re all sour
in that view. Steering by absolute walls.
A woman I met on a hard bench in a small
hot room told me stitching is her shape
of solution. Simple patterns:
pineapples, yellow bees and safe cities
of numerous x’s. As the world moves more
to a copper-nickeled barren, I’ll have to stop stretching
into the evasions, the untitled anything:
endangered gorillas with their hair tufts and long
slopes of faces, excessive heat, slubbed ice,
and corrosive presidents imprinted
with tricks to prove truth of the grudges. No more
than the constant midst of it. Immense grit.
It’s as if the dim view is a social fascination.
I remember the morning started a week ago.
The year, stern and skinny. Common insomnia
with its love story of reciprocal anxiety. Even more abundant,
winter remained a series of silences
and small altars of ravage, compositional capitalism.
So every day now I climb a hill by my house.
Notice the sun sing its declarations: loud and sprawling,
nostalgic. I have the wide side of hill to myself.
RHYME · Bill Yarrow
Diaper rash. Khyber Pass.
The Sound + The Fury.
Coffins of the Living · Anton Yakovlev
You see them everywhere once you’ve trained your eye: in the photos of birch buds interrupted by bird heart attacks, in the Salvation Army’s medusa gaze, in the executioners’ staycations, in the overheating grandfather pendulums.
You stopped your grandfather clock so it wouldn’t disturb me. I stayed awake all night waiting for its next ring. By morning, you were wearing a scarf of sleeping flies.
Avenue of the Americas gets me every time. Here I am, walking with my peanut butter milkshake, late rain dripping off all those statues with misspelled names – and here they come, the coffins: twisted like researchers, sudden like urban redwoods.
Toward the end, your house had almost no furniture. A bit like you – beautifully Victorian, but nothing really there anymore. When you gave me a hug, your door pounded the back of my head.
In my dream, I saw beautiful coffins. They were coughing, sneezing, spewing random insults and pink mist through their unfinished hinges. Some would have pictured them as priests. Others would have hidden in them.
You started to walk on the wrong side of the trampoline. You started your sentences at their deaths. Every time I checked in on you, you looked like you had mutated into a jazz song. At times, they opened bridges in Amsterdam.
April began with a couple of startlingly disarming guitar chords before becoming a coffin itself. My brain was mostly on the outside of my skull by then.
You lived through anonymous yard sale ticks, immigrant political detachments, and shotgun goodwill. You pointed the muzzle of your omnipotence at all the wrong tuxedos. I turned my head the wrong way. I was afraid of still seeing you as the sun.
The most honest of us sleep in our coffins.
I still look at that photo you took of me, wearing film strips under the heat lamp.
The Difference · Holly Day
Baby squirrels run to the end of tree limbs to shriek at you, adult squirrels
half-heartedly disappear up the tree trunk, stop to watch you through the leaves
just in case you’re carrying crackers or some other treat to toss their way.
Rabbits continue to nibble at grass and clover as you pass,
settle into place, tiny feet tucked under their chest. Geese and wild turkeys
keep a reasonable distance, but don’t seem to mind if you pause in your walk
to watch them as they peck for the dried corn the neighbors have scattered
all over the snow-covered lawn.
Sometimes, with a dog on the leash, it’s as though the world has faded
to just you and the dog and your neighbors and their dogs,
that there are no other animals left in the world except for the occasional
territorial cat. This is not a complaint about dogs and how they terrorize
the other wildlife in the neighborhood – it’s more an observation
about how to plan your walks in the morning
depending on how much you want to see
and how much time you want to spend lost in it all.
Reasons, Bulleted, and Instruction · Lynn Bey
● Because for years what lit the fuse was fury, not love.
● Because like the women in my family I have mastered putting up a front, not understanding until too late what were the wars that needed getting behind.
● Because you called me a coward. Because the truth is I was stupid, or naïve, anyway very young, sure that the loss of you was the loss of love. Because I thought loss was failure, my failure and not yours, where all I tasted smelled touched knew was what was darkest because the blame must have been mine.
● Because your ultimatum that I let anger go was more than a sprung lock, more than a breath that takes one more. Because of the fuzz on a bashful peach. Because of the stirrings inside a forest.
1. Run fast and run far.
2. Go until you reach the earth’s edge.
3. There, hurl yourself off as though all about you are vistas, the same ones you always claimed were yours.
4. Do not imagine I am unsure about what I see, if it is fall or if it is flight.
5. Do not.
● Because there, on the mantelpiece, waits my loaded pistol of a novel.
My Eighty-Six Year-Old Father Falls Down Drunk When He Hears the News · Christine Jones
Now Mom’s father sits in the recliner.
Weeks after moving, my Dad went missing
in her mind. Mom was pissed, then sad
until Pepère appeared.
She makes up the guest room.
She calls ma tante Carmelle.
Qu’est-ce que c est?
What do I know
of tangled filaments,
of clustered bits of beta-amelyoid,
of sixty-two years of marriage,
or pints of whiskey,
of savvy caregiving, or
I don’t know.
Je ne sais pas.
Waiting to be Discovered · Gerald Yelle
(being two weeks dead –by the smell of things)
No sooner was I home than I wanted to get out, look around, see who was out
in the street. I put gloves on my feet instead of boots, thinking they’d be more
comfortable, though my right glove was coming apart like a worn-out sock
and my big toe showed through – but a glove is thicker than a sock – so I pulled
the torn part around toward the top and it worked quite well for walking
on the snow. I knew hard pavement would shred my gloves, but there was snow
enough to walk on. I came to a group of kids that looked familiar, but couldn’t
say I knew them. They started horsing around pulling punches I made a half-
hearted stab at “de-escalating.” I somehow took it in my head after that to run.
Maybe because I’d already been walking for an hour, it felt like I was running
slower than I should’ve. Getting old. Getting nowhere fast I came to the foot
of the steepest hill in town. The consultant I needed to talk to had his office up
there, so I figured I’d keep running but it felt like running in place. I wasn’t
going to make it. Then someone hailed me from behind. It was the consultant
on his way back to the office after a late lunch. He asked what I had on my feet.
Just explaining made me feel idiotic. The guy was older and frailer than I was
but took pity on me and said he’d do the running so I wouldn’t have to.
My Ancestors Wear Lip Gloss · Hannah Yerington
My ancestors are teenage girls,
they speak in sparkles and guts,
order whip cream,
kiss flowers with teeth.
They send texts that say I never ever ever want to see you again
cast curses with emojis,
mix acid and acronyms in a single message.
My ancestors climb trees in leggings,
nest among pine needles,
pull safety pins from their ears,
pierce robin eggs.
My ancestors wear thick eyeliner,
smudged tender like Vancouver rain,
and everyone who ever said you’ll understand when you’re older.
They pick locks to diaries,
wrap sweaters around their jeans,
when they bleed, wrap arms around each other,
screenshot the world’s history and save it.
My ancestors upspeak their stories best,
creating poetry out of plastic tubes,
secrets held between glossed lips,
codes clinging to music chords.
I love my ancestors best for their loud voices,
puked stars, carbonated hearts,
memories preserved in resin and rhodium.
We don’t care about your ancestors.
We don’t care about your elders.
My ancestors are busy,
Archiving scraped knees, chipped acrylic nails, the names of their best friends,
they are busy writing books,
to one day fill the greatest libraries with pink gel pens,
signatures dotted with a heart.
Moving a Book Lover · Gary Metras
I also had a good collection of small press poetry and literary magazines along with small press books going back to the 1970s; many of these books were autographed; most of the magazines were no longer publishing and had titles such as Pikestaff Forum, Circus Maximus, Stony Hills, Samisdat, The Spirit That Moves Us, Ghost Dance, Greenfield Review, December, Rag Mag, Zahir, The Smudge, The Phoenix, Northwoods Journal, The Smith, Kayak, and some that are still publishing such as Wormwood Review, Paris Review, Snowy Egret, Poetry, and so on. Looking through their table of contents, I saw listed such poets as Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Robert Bly, Gerald Locklin, Diane Wakoski and knew that they were “collectable” so these I decided to bring to a few area used book stores where the owners knew about poetry and who might be interested in them and also pay top dollar. Issues of Kayak and The Phoenix brought in the most dollars. Kayak because of all the big name poets published in its pages who were not so known at the time of publication. The Phoenix because it was published locally.
With almost every copy of these magazines I scanned the contents, found a poem or two remembered I once loved, reread them, and sadly put them in the box. I did keep a couple issues of Kayak because they had poems I really admired by poets I once used as models for my own writing and didn’t want to part with, yet.
For all these I gained a few hundred dollars, enough to actually pay for the professional moving company that would haul the household goods and furnishings.
Of course there were books I had been carrying in my heart since adolescence. A lot of science fiction, such as Robert Heinlein’s Strangers in a Strange Land, which I read and discussed with other Sci-Fi fans as if they were theological treatises. There were also many detective/mystery novels by such as John D. McDonald. There was a time when Travis Magee was my hero and I wanted nothing more out of life than to live on a boat, until I discovered I was subject to motion sickness. Ah, well, youthful fancies dissipate in reality of rent and groceries. All these I boxed and donated to a couple of local Goodwill Stores. Maybe they are still there, crowded on over-stacked shelves with the sign, “Paperbacks/10 for 10 cents.” But I hope some kid somewhere bought them to enrich or awaken their imagination.
We also knew that unless we had somewhere to put the saved books in the new house, they would just be clutter and part of the point of a new house is to leave the material mess of living behind us. So I designed a built-in bookcase for the new living room, eight feet wide and eight feet tall, to decorate the fourteen foot high wall under construction. I checked with the contractor and told him I’d like to build a book case in the living room as soon as his crew was finished with the walls in that room and move in the books even before our big move. He agreed. Then I went out and bought oak planking, had it precut to length for uprights and shelves and, while the carpenters and electricians were busy elsewhere in the house, I was staining, drilling and mounting the oak boards against the wall. We carried in a trunk-load of boxed books at a time and set them on the shelves of their new home in an order that, years later, almost makes sense to me now. Poetry titles here, signed copies on this shelf, anthologies and critical studies on that shelf. Biographies and histories on these four shelves, arranged chronologically. British fiction on two high shelves, European fiction beneath them, Russian novels and poetry below them. Two shelves just for small press poetry: all of Timberline Press here, all of Swamp Press next to it, Ridgeway Press included, as well as Bull Thistle Press, edited and printed by a former student, every issue of Samizdat magazine, my first publisher, along with all its chapbooks on a center shelf, and a few other presses I collected. And every issue of Poetry East from its inception in 1980 and still publishing today on another central shelf because that journal has published more of my poems than any other.
A whole shelf for the paperbacks and hardcovers of Robert B. Parker, I have them all, with many signed, because, as I’d said earlier, I like mystery novels. There are even a couple mystery titles by Nicholas Blake, who, as you may know, is the pen name for a mid-twentieth century British poet laureate, who dabbled in detective novels when he wasn’t writing poetry; or maybe it’s the other way around.
As a teacher, I have many books about education, foundational philosophy, history of public schools, educational psychology, best practices, some of my college course text books, too, but these only filled half a shelf. I had planned on reading more of these, so we put a couple vases and a framed photo to fill the vacant space, which later was taken over by foreign language dictionaries, including my old high school Latin text book that I apparently stole, though I don’t remember doing so; not that I was such a scholar of that classic language, but it was a required subject back then; plus, I was a little bit into church Latin as a fifteen-year-old along with the church’s once semi-glorious history. These still did not fill the shelf, so a few more Spenser (“spelt with an ’s’ like the English poet”) mysteries went up there.
We planned to put all the books about The Beatles in a separate place not yet determined. I have bought and read about forty such books about their lives, their music, their significance. There is even one just about the “Paul Is Dead” conspiracy that researches all the clues the boys supposedly left on album covers and in songs about the day Paul supposedly died; I even have the cassette recorded edition, though I’ve never listened to it. So all these were just boxed and left in the boxes for the time being. They were latter put in the entertainment cabinet on the lowest shelves while the CDs are on high, class-enclosed shelves.
Even before the several trips to haul the boxes of books were completed, we discovered that the new book case would be inadequate, that there were again more books than shelves. That forced us to keep a tall, metal, free standing book shelf unit for the bedroom which we had planned on discarding. On these I put my collection of fly fishing titles. And more boxes of books remained, which meant another weeding through and additional trips to used book stores and Goodwills. And still boxes remained, almost staring at us in a plea that weighed on our conscience. These were assigned to both the garage and the cellar, for the time being, we told ourselves. A few of the cartons in the cellar held my other Sci-Fi/Fantasy collection. When The Lord of the Rings movie was first released, I knew I had to reread the trilogy; it took a couple hours investigating which boxes had those paperbacks I bought in the 60s while in high school. I briefly considered buying a new set, maybe even in hardcover, instead of searching, but there is something special about holding in hands nearing senior citizen status the same copy of the book that captivated one at sixteen years old. I didn’t buy new copies. I don’t regret not.
The move had a further complication to the subject of books. As a book printer and publisher, I had a few thousand copies of some twenty-eight poetry titles, all to be moved along with my antique print shop, which included two cast iron printing presses, four cases of metal type containing some seventy-two drawers, reams and boxes of paper, a paper cutter, and miscellaneous equipment. These were all in a cellar room of the old house. In the new home we designed a print room attached to the garage with its own heat zone and a share of the house’s central air system. Quite comfortable, even luxurious compared to the old location in the cellar with its portable electric radiator that warmed only what was within a two foot radius, and that one, tiny half window set atop the concrete foundation where, in winter, snow would often block both fresh air and light. In the new print shop, I mounted two eight-foot long shelves on one wall, inelegant pine boards supported by simple steel angle brackets carefully screwed into studs behind the wall board. Here went boxes of leftover paper from print jobs, some I had cut to post card and business card sizes, each neatly labeled in large, black markers, then up went wrapped stacks of tympan paper and pressboard. Next, and most importantly as these were also relieving shelf space in the living room, my collection of print-related books: Mac McGrew’s American Metal Types of the Twentieth Century, Blumenthal’s History of the Book in the beautiful Godine edition which includes a full-size fold out of a page from Gutenberg’s Bible, over-sized hardcovers, a bit unwieldy but something I can’t seem to live without, along with several titles on the history of printing (Moxon’s 17th century Mechaniks of Printing in the Dover reprint edition) and volumes on the history of books. There are the three, small, worn, hardcover volumes from a 1920s series of printing textbooks, including, Mathematics for Printers, with chapters that read like strange, Masonic secret formulas for world domination; but it is only math, which I have yet to master.
Yes, I certainly do love all the poetry books I’ve edited and hand crafted, spending weeks and months on each one. Still they are not the same as the private hours spent discovering and reading Dickens, Hemingway, Woolf, Huxley, Pasternak, Vonnegut, Frost, Keats, Merwin and all the rest. Yes, I did personally pack all the Adastra Press books, inks, paper supplies, etc. But the moving company took care of them after that. One business transporting another, as seems fitting.
Our children have now left home. The son’s room is now my computer room and study. I’ve assembled two book cases three feet wide by six feet tall and anchored them to one wall. I had hoped these would accommodate the piles of newer books acquired since our move here, the ones more or less hidden behind the love seat in the living room that, year by year, strangely increased in size and density, rather like moss, or mushrooms. This seems the common plight of teachers who accumulate books, almost miraculously, at a pace greater than their scarce allotment of reading time always usurped by the correcting of student papers and tests and by class preparations, including re-reading Great Expectations for the twenty-fifth time. Maybe some of the tomes in the garage and cellar will see light after years of darkness; maybe some will again be joyously held in hands and their brittle, browned-edged pages lovingly, if carefully, turned; perhaps some of that youthful joy of discovery (the first, frenzied reading of Kerouac, the excited if plodding reading of John Ciardi’s terza rima translations of Dante’s The Inferno) will return an aging man, even if momentarily, for a few days or even a few hours, to the pleasurable adventures of reading that opened the world for him, that revealed a near secret route of escape from the mundane origins of the working class projects of his birth.