issue 20 · Summer 2021
Catalog of Melancholia · Mary Honaker
Upon waking, you’re ready to return to bed.
The slight pull & burn of overworked
muscles remain in your limbs all day,
a buzz like a faraway bleacherfull
of voices cheering, booing, jeering
inside your arms & legs. Your feet
are far, far; looking down your legs
at them is like gazing down a narrow,
tree-lined road at some fogged horizon.
Inaccurate fingers. Words on a page
do a shuck-jostle dance, letters
staggering over one another, drunk.
Your vision an impressionist painting.
Your vision like that in new glasses
minus the amazing every-single-leaf.
Your feet on a canted floor. You had
plans? Hopes? An itinerary? Even
a loose schedule? Ridiculous.
Thoughts unmoored, anchorless boats,
become jumbled wrack on the shore.
Your body a wet load of laundry. So
heavy. Place it on the floor. Anywhere.
Fingers pull and yearn to throw the cell
across the room, but reason forbids it.
The image of the cracked screen, the back
half popped off & skittering under sofa.
Hands also wish to shred nearest paper:
calming static of ensuing rips. You fancy
you can build a shield around the aching
organ in the chest: funny how it actually
hurts; you thought it was a metaphor.
The floor seems to hold a magnetic charge
and pulls you down, down, but this too
you Tuvok away. You build with your mind
that heart-case: a steel egg. A rounded coffin.
When it is in place the pains will be sealed in.
Sometimes in an effort to stop your thoughts
you find instead you’ve stilled your breathing.
You whisper in the cracks between activities at work,
It’s okay. You’re fine. You are going to be okay.
On the toilet, watching spirals of cat hair
tumbleweed over tiles, you say, I want to go home.
You spend some minutes dogging this notion, home,
wondering why you say it in your own house,
in your mother’s house, in the car, everywhere.
What place on this side of the sod qualifies?
Is this some Biblical or metaphysical announcement:
having confessed that they are strangers and exiles
in this world? Are you longing for that better country,
that Heavenly one? You seem, then, overeager
to get there, hissing, I am going to kill myself
today, but you don’t, & have never had, a plan.
4. Some rules.
Swear at the phone, but don’t answer it. Sound
is grating so turn the TV down. If you refuse
to answer questions your mother will stop
asking them. Keep your eyes focused dead
ahead & don’t move at all your neck. Soon
you won’t see anything. Even the eyes
can give up, the optical center of the brain
stop collecting shapes & assigning names.
You’re hungry but it’s not worth walking
into the kitchen. What a master you are:
even pangs of need can be tamed. Even
the cats will nod off if you don’t pet them.
You dig around in the past a bit for that
lost Easter egg that soured & has begun to stink.
It was painted a streaky pink, & found sulfurous,
cracked under the parked push mower
in the dim & grimy garage. You remember.
It was high summer, the stench demanding.
Somewhere in you you’ve tucked away
in folds of forgetfulness & dark grease
the seed of this thing. Was it your loved Collie,
found shot & growing formless in the forest?
An older cousin’s curious hands? The wrong shoes
you wore in gradeschool, petal pink but without
the brand name, for which you were never forgiven?
The night you don’t remember in high school, when you
trusted the lovely boy with the hazel eyes, foolishly?
The building gross and sticky glop of all these things,
tacky like a too-much-painted wall? Cracking
off in kaleidoscope chips when you scratch at it.
Maybe it’s none of these things. You often suspect
there isn’t any reason at all.
Cronos devoured his children · Annie Stenzel
and not that bastard, Time, bulging at the seams
with his accumulated potency. Distance
is one thing. Those of us who are able still
scissor several miles into manageable strides
leaving the warm air to close behind us, our footsteps
safely tucked into the space between Points A
and B. Begin, proceed, arrive. Repeat.
All that takes place in the barefaced moment
called Now. But what if the journey to be undertaken
stumbles at the border, where the abyss always
yawns, where the guardian of that fatal gap
won’t hear a plea for mercy or forgiveness?
You show me an hourglass. The sand never moves.
Known from Adam · Frederick Pollack
in the old days, in the old neighborhood.
Like everything else it comes to light. I look
rather bumptious, in my snowsuit, throwing a snowball,
the ironies too dense to be unpacked.
Mother is flawlessly
putting on a brave face. Father in a fedora
(you see me wearing it, head submerged)
is in that crowd of “vertical invaders”
State Street. (Is there a sociologist
in the house?) The Prudential Building
rises. The beacon from the top of the Palmolive, later
the Playboy Building can be seen
in the McCarthyite wilds of northern Wisconsin.
A streetcar passes one of the true,
perduring residents of the city:
two-story sooty brick – I think I know it
(Woolworth’s?); if not,
there were others. Women descend
with a look of enthusiasm. Time has turned
the red of the streetcar
and everyone else the green
of precincts. The Bible said
something about this, didn’t it? In the end
nothing will be hidden, or correctly interpreted.
The Lenni-Lenape called this ground Ihpetonga · Karen Neuberg
I look out to the water below
still – but less so than in
Whitman’s day – with ferries, barges,
tugs, leisure craft moving
This tidal estuary/New York Harbor/
East River, that I view
from the end of the cul-de-sac
a few steps from my building’s door,
reveals the mood of the day to me
and carries past present future
and all the intricate histories
flowing together, floating
and sinking, riding the wakes
as I, like countless others
watch the light show
sun provides on its surface.
Beautiful Death · Heather Bourbeau
When we landed in Tunis, waited for customs and the slow stamp of entry, a man spoke of his brother,“C’était une belle mort.” It was a beautiful death. Or so I heard under the shuffle of crowds, the soft timbre of resistance to his return.
Days later, Carthage cathedral ticket agents pointed to a statue under my feet as I exited, told me in fervent French and English it was a hermaphrodite, smiled in anticipation of shock or awe, but I had seen enough ruins that day and did not raise an eyebrow, did not break my stride.
And now, I look at photos of the Borghese Hermaphrodite, reclined in marble, soft
curves inviting the hand, and wonder what I passed so quickly on my way to Punic
merchant quarters and how young was I when I became hardened, fearful, questioning
of the ardent calls of strange men.
Deadman's Wash · William Cordeiro
Trace of Memory · Karen DeGroot Carter
To John Michael Orgera (1960-1987)
That night remains nebulous,
musky with ripe roses and close sea air,
the turtles offering mere hints to their existence,
their intuitions of ancient eras,
of lives and latitudes far beyond us.
They were snapping turtles;
my cousin kept them.
Bats beat through the intended embrace
of the evening, blind to the feeding ritual
we witnessed, intent on their own.
The turtles, shadows themselves,
chomped and chewed,
concerned only that my cousin return
the next night, and the next.
In Spring (After Mei Yao Chen) · George Freek
miles above a field of corn.
But my alarm wakens me
like a blow. The sun rises
through a foggy mist,
as soft as a feather.
Spring is the same as when
I was a giddy groom.
Flowers still bloom.
The sun appears.
But after months of pain,
my wife is dead.
On this May morning,
I see her lovely hyacinth
begin to reach up
toward the blue sky,
but my heart is like lead.
I only want to return
to my unmade bed
to dream of the newly dead.
Hunger · Christine Boyer
She sits on the bus, the cake balanced on her knees. The carton is tied with twine, and she thinks of the cake nestled inside, perfectly decorated.
She looks at her fellow passengers. She catches the eye of the man sitting across from her and smiles at him. He nods back, and it seems to open the door to conversation, so she tells him, “It’s a surprise.” She taps her fingers on the box. “We’ve been trying for a baby …” She trails off, noticing that he has already turned away. The woman’s smile falters.
They had been trying, her and her husband. At first it was a joke, a game they played – tracking ovulation, trying different positions. Tilting pelvis to get an assist from gravity, gagging down iron-rich smoothies, taking deep meditative breaths to keep the stress at bay. As months passed, the playfulness disappeared.
The bus pulls into the park-and-ride lot. She unlocks her car, opens the door, and waits a moment for the stale trapped heat of the day to dissipate. Then she places the cake in the back seat. She takes the turns cautiously, so the cake won’t slide around and ruin the delicate decorations.
Home is a beige affair at the end of a cul-de-sac lined with similar beige neighbors. On the second floor, the nursery is already prepared. The woman had painted a mural on one wall, a spreading tree with a cartoon owl perched on a branch.
The house is quiet inside except for the gentle hum of the refrigerator. She places the cake in the kitchen and sheds her clothes, strewing them in a trail as she walks to retrieve the mail. There are credit card offers. Bills – electric, credit card, lawyer. She walks back to the kitchen.
She stands naked in the silence of the house, and the tip of her tongue worries at the corner of her mouth. There’s a sore developing there, and the thin sting of pain feels good to her. She takes a knife from a drawer and saws through the twine on the cake box. She throws the lid back to reveal the cake with its elaborate frosting rosettes and smooth rolled fondant. It practically glitters with all the sugar.
She peels a strip of fondant from the cake, lays it on her tongue, and chews. It is heavy, like clay, and it leaves a film behind on her tongue as she swallows. She eats another piece and another, then the frosting rosettes with their hardened crust of sugar, until the cake is stripped nude.
She grabs a fistful of cake and buttercream. She squeezes it into a ball, then crams the whole thing in. Her jaw works through the paste of cake and frosting. The sugar burns her throat, makes her cough, forces her to slow down.
Later, she marvels at the feral quality of her hunger. She kneels in front of the toilet, delighting in how light she feels once she’s purged. Her husband, in their last fight, had called her a black hole, a suck of energy and money for the things they couldn’t control. Things she couldn’t control.
The tiles are hard against her knees. She stands up. She looks at herself in the mirror, her sticky hands running over the rungs of her ribs. She touches her jutting hip bones and lets her hands rest on her belly, concave under her palms.
A black hole only devours, but she devours and then releases. In the releasing, she removes a bit of herself. She imagines the metals leaving her body: the calcium and potassium and magnesium. All the things that weigh her down.
Soon, all the heavy parts will be gone, and she’ll be hollow-boned as a bird. She’ll climb the steps up to the nursery. She’ll throw open the window, and then jump, catching the updraft with her spread wings. The wind will carry her up, up. Away.
The Golem Platoon Arrives at the Ardennes (August 1914, Colorized) · Robert Beveridge
my love is a layer of gravel in unnatural colors
some aqua some pink some radiant green
my love is a ’74 Gran Torino, man
baby blue not a scratch on it
454 under the hood gassed up
and ready to go all the way to Crescent City
my love waxes milky and semi-liquid
my love is a Da Vinci sketch on parchment paper
used to wrap a sandwich in 1502, discarded
in the corner of a barn, preserved in cowshit,
uncovered in 2021, and used to build a perpetual
motion machine of no discernible value
my love is a capped oil well in Pennsylvania Amish country
my love is the strands of straw that dangle
from the robin’s new nest on my porch (as
well as bits of tape from an old Amazon box I
mean to break down and get in the recycle
can and never do, so my love is also available
for prime delivery until the workers go on strike)
my love wanes milky and semi-liquid
my love is an abandoned horseshoe
that fell into the asphalt mixer
and is now part of the road surface
on I-77 just south of Independence, Ohio
my love has been molded out of clay
and truth is inscribed on her forehead
I Traveled this Far Because I Love You · Zach Murphy
“The Antarctic cold definitely feels a lot different from the cold in Idaho,” Adam said.
“Sure does,” Rodger said as he flicked the mini-icicles off of his thick mustache. “Once we cross this next glacier wall, we’ll have reached the edge of the earth.”
Adam and Rodger trudged on with their overstuffed backpacks through the wintry terrain, looking like a pair of snails with shells full of climbing equipment and survival supplies.
“I really think we should turn around,” Adam said.
“But we’re almost there,” Rodger said.
Rodger pulled out his map. A harsh gust of wind swept it off into the snowy distance.
“See!” Adam said. “Even the wind is telling us to go back!”
Rodger checked his compass. The red needle was frozen stiff, as if it had given up on doing its one and only job. Rodger tapped the glass face of the compass, but the needle wouldn’t budge.
“It’s so cold that the compass broke,” Adam said. “If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is.”
“It’s not broken,” Rodger said. “It’s just confused.”
Adam sighed and rolled his eyes. “How much further do we have to go?”
Rodger pointed ahead with the focus of an olympic athlete. “If we keep moving, we should get to the glacier wall within an hour,” he said.
Adam came to a halt and forcefully planted his boots into the snow. “I have something to tell you,” he said.
“What?” Rodger asked as he hiked on.
“I don’t really think the earth is flat,” Adam answered.
Rodger choked on his own snot from laughing so hard. “You’re kidding,” he said.
“Rodger!” Adam said. “It just doesn’t make sense!”
Rodger stopped. “Wait,” he said. “You’re being serious?”
“Yes!” Adam answered.
“Did you not watch the YouTube documentary I sent you?” Rodger asked.
“No one ever actually watches videos that people send them,” Adam said. “Especially when they’re two-hours-long.”
“Then why did you decide to come?” Rodger asked.
Adam took a deep breath. “I thought it would be a good bonding experience.”
Rodger squints. “A bonding experience?”
“I just feel like we’ve been drifting apart from each other the past few years,” Adam said. “Like, there’s this fracture growing between us.”
Rodger took a seat in the snow. “I’ve always wanted to accomplish something amazing before I turn thirty,” he said. “You know, to prove that there’s something special about me.”
“Please don’t go all Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront on me,” Adam said.
“It’s true,” Rodger said. “I feel like my life has been disappointment after disappointment.”
“You’ve been my best and only friend for almost my whole life,” Adam said. “That’s a pretty awesome accomplishment.”
Rodger entered a deep stare. “I’d shed a tear right now but it might freeze,” he said.
Adam smiled. “Let’s go,” he said as he held his hand out to Rodger. “Let’s get to that glacier wall.”
Rodger grabbed Adam’s hand and popped up from the ground. “To the glacier wall!”
Adam dusted the snow off of his coat. “After that, I’m not going any further.”
“There is no further,” Rodger answered.
New York Movie, 1939 · Aaron Caycedo-Kimura
After the painting by Edward Hopper
Tuesday matinee at the Palace on West 46th, few moviegoers dot the house. The newsreel is over; Capra’s Lost Horizon begins. After guiding a latecomer to his balcony seat, an usherette idles at the foot of the stairs, leans against the alcove wall, hourglassed with light from a tri- shaded sconce. You may have seen her before, alone in the Automat on a cold night with the same downward stare or reading fashion magazines on the train – Compartment C, Car 293 – the same Ingrid Bergman hairstyle. You may be tempted to think she’s daydreaming of sunny L.A. and starring on the silver screen opposite Ronald Coleman. But as a book opens in the film, In these days of wars and rumors of wars . . . , the newsreel still flickers inside her head – flimsy pacts, fascist rants, Nazi rearmament. Flashlight under elbow, she props her chin with her hand.
Unruly Sonnet · Jack Powers
I keep trying to corral Amy and Carl into fourteen lines but they break out
alone and together.
Amy visits us, her daughter a wounded bird in her lap, says
Sex hurts! I’ve got books, flowers, Lizzie. I’m done with love, leaving the details
of her drink-demolished marriage unspoken.
Then Carl appears, sandy-haired saint,
scooping them both in his arms, luring Amy back into the open, humming softly to Lizzie. We all clap in bewildered delight.
And just when
I’ve steered them into stanzas, Amy comes north alone, slips me a photo of Carl
in a black dress wearing red lipstick and eye shadow, says,
She’s Colleen now.
It’s weird to feel her boobs in my back when we spoon. Amy raises a glass.
To Carl! To Colleen! We drink.
She posts photos of crocuses and Kerouac.
The turn comes too soon. Amy died Christmas Eve in her sleep, Colleen writes.
Lizzie and I are heartbroken.
They drive north that summer with ashes. We balance
on Amy’s old dock. Say goodbye to Mommy, Colleen whispers to Lizzie, who’s curled into her chest
and they shovel cinder and bone in high arcs into the bay.
A Sonnet · Jonathan Schiff
Win you over, cheeky grin and tame.
Knowing glance, a siphon of duress
Laughing, hand-hold life in love was to gain.
Sharing heat and lazing to pass the day
Infectious mirth expires sour sore in vice,
Restlessly imbibing, muting to gray.
Hopes of affection they scatter like mice.
The tape recorder convinces her don’t leave
Demons are mine, not hers to test make right.
I loved her and lost we both had to grieve
She lugged my baggage until final flight.
Merely a ghost when the lessons sink in
My remorse unheard, a chilling chagrin.
Let's Drop It Sonnet · Thomas Skove
we are and leave it in the sky
for those surprised
down into their legs and feet for now.
There is so little evidence allowed
I get suspicious it may be golf
or what my father does down south
that gives him so much to do.
The whole concept seems almost rude
like the kiss of kismet
if we think it isn’t
I only know what’s true
by the blanks I stumble on in what I
took from someone else’s mind.
New York Apartments in the Late 1980s · Karen Friedland
Were all painted the same flat, dead white,
were permeated with the scent of take-out containers,
bathtubs in the kitchen.
New York Times, New Yorkers
and Time Out New York lay scattered throughout
like casual love offerings.
lesbian piano bars, coffee shops on corners,
absurdly lovely flower displays, Korean food
and folded pizza slices everywhere.
A manic panoply of people thronged –
a punk rock explosion of beauty.
But I must’ve been a Puritan at heart –
because Emerson, Thoreau,
Dickinson and Plath
guided me back, as with a lantern,
uptown and out of the city,
hurtling on a bus back to Boston,
city of my head –
as it turned out –
city of my heart.
No More Than an Artist’s Beggar Bowl: A Triolet · Gail Goepfert
I beg the holy light to lace me whole.
A void of words. My tongue has none.
The chapel of my home, scarlet with sun.
Temporal clay, house of pain, you stun.
I break and break – but an earthen bowl.
The chapel of my home, scarlet with sun.
I beg. Holy light, lace me whole.
Switching Lanes · Charles Brice
our old van changed lanes
smooth as a red-tailed hawk
rides thermals. I was headed towards
my brother-in-law’s home in D.C.
where turkey, dressing, sweet-potatoes,
and suspended resentments
awaited our arrival.
Safely ensconced in the middle lane
of I-95, sure that I was headed
in the right direction, I began to think
of my parents’ friend Barry,
the night he reached into my pajamas
and fondled my penis
while I slept with him during his visit
to our home in 1955
when I was five years old.
I’d asked if I could sleep with him
in the way I might sleep
with a favorite toy or pet. That night
he shoved his hand into my pajamas
and whispered, “Betty.” When I told my mother,
she laughed. “He must have
been missing his wife,” she chortled,
and laughed some more.
All those years I’d associated that memory only
with my mother’s laughter. But
on that pristine fall day, when
our old van switched lanes
like an eagle swoops down and
carries away a salmon,
The shyness of crowns · Deborah Leipziger
Trees know not to crowd one
Nature exists in the intervals,
in the intercession.
It can happen
in any forest.
How close do we get?
How careful are we
to step into the penumbra
of the other?
Bilingual Variations · Mark Mitchell
you know are rolling
down a low hill.
Those French words
are falling from a tower
built in the wrong city.
The French have words
for things you’ll never see
in this mistake of a city.
The French words
pretend to meaning while
they are slipping downhill.
All the French words
The Way You Were Raised · Daniel Edward Moore
emperor’s obsession with nails and stone,
your grave looked like the last fairground
with feet spinning fast like cotton candy,
opening god’s tilt-a-whirl mouth to tell us
about the way you were raised on Easter in the south.
No black leather skates were needed to carve the world with affection.
A horse’s tongue gladly licked his honeyed hurting hands.
My initials were branded by light on the lily-white skin of his thigh.
Erudite, Not Quite · Kay Fields
Words are my meat and drink,
my mother’s milk. Soothing, reassuring
flowing at my whim. Others taste tart,
spicy, sweet, smooth like rich custard.
A few have a satisfying crunch like bones
cracking between sharp molars.
Words can sound sibilant when they are
spit with gusto into a polite conversation.
E words pack a hefty wallop. Words, like an
elephants trumpet, express excitement, anger,
surprise, or loss.
A few favorites; ear, effervescent, entropy,
ecstasy, ennui, earnest, eye, ego, eunuch,
envy, ergonomic, eviscerate, eerie, escape,
empire, et cetera and echolalia.
Echolalia is worth repeating like a parrot,
“Kiss me Kate, Kiss me Kate, Kiss me Kate.”
To suffer from echolalia means no meaning
is derived from the word, just a mindless mimic
is the sad result.
Meaningless repetition is just word salad
without some leaf lettuce of literacy added
Open House · Chad Parenteau
me late for
on the run
never at home
not on loan
up for grabs
sarus · Feral Willcox
and the bone gone deer
antigone antigone, sounding joy
write my answer plainly on tablets
so that a runner can carry
the correct message to the others:
wonder comes undone
We Weren't Trying to Make It Something It Never Was · Emily Wolahan
Frenzied bird song from a fern pine down the street. Shipping containers cross the Bay on business. A bare hill awaits its moment. While I don’t currently have any security in this, I can say – Look. One mutable gaze trying to read the landscape, which I think is calm. I think the flat pale rooftops, the red peak of a tower crane, people moving cars for street sweeping, are a message. This one has notifications, has bottles hand-collected for change. While it might not be a day I can touch with triumph – still the spread of embraced water, industrial park, pine tree, the sun brief between horizon and cloud cover. A voice from behind asks me what time it is.
When my daughter tells me I was never punk · Jessica Walsh
I say, honey, my being alive is punk. I made my life
out of grudges when I saw the odds placed against me,
when my role was to marry a man who’d kill me
and give me my hot young death, a guy named Charles
who would have and nearly did – the day I said fuck you
and threw his keys in the snow? That was punk.
When I called a nice guy who’d loved me steady
and thought what if I can try staying alive, that was punk;
when I had my last drink and surrendered the scene, that too was punk,
and yes I miss the me who would be dead
because I was a bottle rocket, a pipe bomb of a good time
but my being alive is the middle finger I never put down –
I did not let these days go by, I clawed each one from dirt,
and when I get my nails done I am stockpiling weapons,
when I buy groceries, when I gas up the car,
I am threatening to survive long enough to piss off
a million awful people to be alive in spite of,
I am promising to stay flagrantly alive:
This is my beautiful house. I am this beautiful wife.
How did I get here, I say, by my fucking teeth.
Cape Cod Tundra · Karen Poppy
Shuffle across waves
Frozen, sculpted like stone.
So cold, air terrorizes teeth.
Breath, spine white, every puff
A vertebrae, shifting bone.
Ice caps melt at each pole.
Old Silver Beach silvers over,
No tarnish before all loss of color.
Sunset whets sky sharp with invisible blaze,
With each storm-wild repetition of snow.
Other layers burn underneath.
Above, about twenty below.
Accelerated heat, slowed current.
How does it balance, how
Does it all balance out in the end?
(f)ear – a glimpse · Rekha Valliappan
hear the aged flow of dying – they wash up in
unplanned regularity on distant shores – pelicans
pipers penguins; it’s a tale; it’s not, mixing in odors
Light streams from the street through that same
window, exploring the room’s insides: part of the
sign of the end
part of the sound when no birds sing; when crying
doves articulate melancholy in blips, deeper than
our own sadness
Just a year into the raging grip a monarch
butterfly can’t break from its chrysalis spinning
within a mason jar; a cow’s teats grow inwards; a
dream of rainforests seek frenzied seasons; torched
pine cones on a forest floor that could be your last
In the space between your hemlock and mine many
strands break, nebulous, intense, urgent; the sky
shreds into telephone poles flipping over the icy
grey window pane double seeing the light working
up my skin: fear – to move on
Hospice · Susan Sklan
He said he would like a hot bath
before leaving. Then he asked
for a cup of coffee.
I remember the film, Wings of Desire,
when the angel became mortal,
and first asked for a cup of coffee.
It was like that, but Steve was dying.
He took three sips.
I climbed into his bed
and he wrapped his thin arm around me.
It was a cold day and the wind outside moaned.
He was quiet and sleeping, so I took time for a shower.
The water cascaded with its solace,
the blessing of water.
Soaping my body, my breasts hardened
as if engorged with milk. Drum like,
as if I had given birth.
Funeral · Vera Salter
but my mother phoned to say he was dead.
Bonney would not let me travel alone –
he knew we were a family now.
We arrived in London in time for Bonney
to touch my father as he lay dead on his bed.
Here he was, a black American, with his pregnant
girlfriend, meeting my family for the first time.
My mother greeted us through her mourning.
Aunt Katka called him a mensch.
Our golden lab, Andy, led him on the walk
my father used to take around the red mailbox.
My sister told him that he would not be able
to drive with the steering wheel on the right.
At the funeral, we sat on an oak bench at the Hoop Lane
Crematorium surrounded by memorial plaques.
Bonney wore a well-cut blue worsted suit –
I was wrapped in a red cape.
I screeched as the coffin bumped and slid
through the car-wash curtains into the flames.
600,000 Dead · Cal Freeman
the imponderable distaff of our days.
Paragraphs of Late Victorian prose
like the sooty off-white cubes
of trailers hitched to semi cabs.
The old wheelrim in the sand,
that improvised firepit,
must have put me in mind of that,
but there’s no meritocracy
in what we notice.
Big top charnel tents, the hum
of refrigeration in a public
park. Pages flipping
in a southwest wind.
The sonation of a mourning dove,
the mechanical bawl of wings,
is not grief,
nonetheless it sounds like grief.
I’ll never screech like that
when my mother takes off to fly,
I promise no one.
My Irish-Catholic mother
taught me mourning,
how it needs a steady supply
of songs and poems
for its gravity.
She sobbed convincingly
and read occasional verse
at the funerals of acquaintances
and friends. Call it civic duty,
histrionics. A caftan
is a long gown. A transept’s
where the hymns would echo.
A truck’s wake ribbons
air as a boat’s wake
ribbons water. Some facts
don’t even sound like facts.
Losses Creep In · Sheila Rabinowitch
He can no longer lick
a glob of peanut butter off his finger.
He still dresses and feeds himself,
steers his scooter to Riverside Park,
watches sailboats tack
and barges ply the river.
As darkness descends
he rides home,
his scooter’s lone light
showing the way.
Out of quarantine · Mid Walsh
than to be pressed eternally together
chest to chest, voice to voice. I try
to hide how much I’m bothered by your habits:
hippopotamus feet thundering on the floor,
wandering as you eat, mewling like a rabbit. We
endure, caged pets living jowl on jowl.
How do rabbits love or ever think of mating?
After howling and hating all day, I lie
in your arms listening to the random
arguments of rain outside. You touch
my hand and I fall out of time, softly
animal again, asleep beside our past,
into the rest of tendered cells unwinding.
Beltane, 2021 · Mary Beth Hines
The squirrel’s demise coincides with the waning of the pandemic. Vaccinated after a long and challenging year, Steve and I are ready to broaden our in-person social lives, so we invite friends and family to stop by. However, the stench keeps all visiting outside.
We believe the squirrel was displaced when our neighbors stripped their yard of some trees. A huge mobile crane, Iron Tree, rumbled in two months ago and expelled men, quick and light as squirrels, to shimmy up each towering tree, and yoke its neck. Then Iron Tree lifted them, one at a time, like a mother cat a kitten, up and over another neighbor’s house and into a chipper we heard but could not see.
The squirrel must have been looking for a new place to nest when it tumbled down a chute and into our home’s innards. Poor thing. In truth, I loathed him, so I’m surprised at the pity I feel. He must have been scared, thirsty and hungry, lost inside a maze of joists and jutting nails. He died before we could trap him and set him free. Thus the pity – but also hope – hoping against hope he wasn’t a she who’d left a litter.
Anyway, we try not to obsess. We’re vaccinated! We can leave! So when I can’t take it anymore, I drive to Gloucester to swim and walk and take underwater photographs with my sister and her wife. Their puppy, Pinky, comes along. We walk two miles through woods to reach a pond – a closely held secret place – where there’s a small beach. We shimmy into wetsuits and plunge.
While my sister-in-law searches out driftwood and good spots for taking photographs, my sister and I swim across. We pause in the middle of the pond, float on our backs, and note our gratitude to our long-gone parents for teaching us to swim, for kindling our love of sky and water. A landlubber, Pinky stares us down, whimpering from the shore.
When we reach the opposite bank, we get out and my sister leads me across a spit of land to an adjoining pond. We happen upon a couple of naked sunbathers, and she and I gape like we’re from outer space all sealed up in our wetsuits, hats, gloves and booties. Sun-drunk and sluggish, the sunbathers note us with a smile and a wave before we turn discreetly away, and plunge back to return, Neoprene muskrats, the way we came.
In My Apocalypse · Jessica Purdy
is now every bird’s song. People’s faces
smoothed as if by a lathe. The sun just a child’s
yellow circle with those rays jutting out.
I’ve had some time to think about the minds
of children. I’m already past that myself.
Then I crack the shell of the hard-boiled egg,
eat with the tongue and nose of a 10 year old.
Smell the canned sweetness of the tomato
soup I make for my girl. I remember how I’d melt
a pat of butter over the top, the fat slicking out
over the skin of the surface, the ghee separating,
though I didn’t have a name for it then. They’ve
become addicted. Hasn’t everyone? Humans
are addicts and there’s nothing that can be done.
Addiction feels like the groove in a scratched record,
the scab that heals over a wound
only to be picked off again. That smoke
that rakes over the coals of your throat
outside, with snow on the ground, sick with fever,
getting your fix before your parents come home.
Pregnancy is what stopped my habit. Maybe
the kids just need to grow up. They are still
adding details, subtracting them. What used to feel
like a gift becomes hard work and practice. The sketch
you make at 5, 16, and 50. Your thigh
and how it’s changed. Your stomach.
Whose hand is placed lovingly there.
Instead of filing down their brains to numbness,
they find the network of stars as if it were their own
synapses on fire. Venture out into the woods
when it snows, just to feel their face wet with something
other than tears. To love what they’ve reclaimed
because they cared for themselves for once. Pentimento,
a word I just learned, Italian for “repentance”,
a visible trace of earlier painting beneath layers of paint.
No, not erasure, after which the paper feels rough,
scoured. The scatterings brushed away with the side of a hand.