Nixes Mate Review

issue 23 · spring 2022

Late again, late again, late again. As Spring creepy crawls out here in Boston Harbor, speech is purchased and war regains its foothold. But poetry and prose and crocuses and cherry blossoms and dogwood blossums and, yes, tree pollen screams there are no important dates. So, if time is a social construct, then deadlines are temporal tyranny. Late again, late again, late again. 

Names of Things · Eva Linn

Bare branches back lit with promise, banish night to its box full of dark folds. I shake light out and out, wider and wider until dawn is overcome with a shout. Warmth feeds cold ground, stable boards lapped snug and fast, hay bales tied red with jute, wait for the cut to slice them open, dense and thick, furred rumps weather winter’s prelude.

Undisturbed by the argument between dawn and day, horses stand silent, iron nicks ground, breath rises in hot streams, great eyes orbit in dark circles. I claim dawn – those singular hours. Those hours before your coming, when my body convulsed with me in an unknown language. Animal, mammal, woman, soon, mother. Dawn met another dawn, then day.

Your face finally, next to mine, your body next to mine, that circling we name time.

Collector · Steven Deutsch
I found it
in the thrift store
beside the coffee
shop on College Ave.
It’s become a fine
place to browse
now that all
those aged professors –
colleagues,
are emptying
their Victorians
and moving nearer
to their kids.

It’s the book
you searched for
all those years,
but never found –
in an intact dust jacket,
even though it’s
over a hundred years old.
Did I mention
it is author-signed?
You’d have given
a pint of blood
just to hold it,

You had the soul
of a collector –
books and knives
and other men’s wives.
I often wondered
if it was something
you were born with –
like a seventh sense.

Your birthday
would have been
next week –
I bought it for you
anyway.
Downsizing –
I’ve sold most
everything,
but I will take
this book with me –
to remind me
of the one thing you
couldn’t have.

Op Lit · FJ Bergman
one of the nice things
about English is that
it has the words
skunk and skink both
black-and-white striped
at least if you are talking
about the striped skink
which is also partly
bright blue-tailed which
is very exciting to me –
electrifying you might say
or electric blue (actually
turquoise to midnight)
but I digress and I am
forgetting skanking the dance
with which ska music
is associated in conjunction
with black-and-white
checks not stripes
generally a rather loud
houndstooth pattern
and I used to dance
to a band called
the Skatologists even
when I wasn’t drunk
and you might say
the name was vulgar but
I’d rather have scatology
than eschatology
any day of the week
How They Live on the Moon · Alan Catlin

 In a rare, more whimsical moment, I thought about what it might be like for a reluctant stranger to wander into “The Oasis”, unaware of the kind of clientele the place attracted on a regular basis. One of the earlier rejection notices for this story felt it was simply too unbelievable. Another felt it owed too much to the Twilight Zone. Something like this actually happened to me and I live upstate New York which has a lot of zones in it but only rarely crosses over into other dimensions. I waited on Rod Serling at a Ramada once, he was alive then, and he was pretty normal for a guy who drank about half a quart of Vodka and Orange in less than an hour and half. But that’s not the story I want to tell.

 

 In search of a hot cup of coffee, I walked into a diner where the Meadowbrook Parkway merges with the Long Isalnd Sound. As soon as I walked in a man accosts me. He looked, vaguely, like he could be the janitor in a drum and I had interrupted his counting of the invisible cars on a nearby Intergalactic Expressway in his mind. Unbidden, he offered me a bit of advice before I consider ordering the coffee at the counter. I wondered if this was what Carson McCullers had in mind when she wrote The Ballad of Sad Cafe.

 ”See that guy talking to the cigarette machine? Don’t pay any attention to him, he’s crazy. I could tell you weren’t one of them right away.” He said, smiling, pointing upward toward the ceiling, “Know how I could tell?”

 I was about to say something about not having retractable air horns on each side of my head when he said, “It’s because of the aerials they’ve got. Yours are retracted. Forgetting to retract them is a dead giveaway. Do you want to see your star chart? I get all the best information from above.”

 

 I must have looked as lost as the two old guys at the booth on the wall to the left of the counter, playing a kind of three-dimensional chess game in a fourth dimension they didn’t need pieces in. They seemed to be arguing heatedly over a disputed move one of them made that I hadn’t seen.

 ”Shut up, Henry. It isn’t you turn anyway. It’s Max’s turn.” The middle-aged lady behind the counter yelled at them. Smiling, she turned to me and asked, “Car breakdown on the Parkway?”

 ”You don’t get much casual traffic here, do you?”

 ”Not much. Usually just folks whose cars are getting repaired down the road and the regulars. You get used to them after a while and they get used to you, once you let them know who’s in charge. I keep telling those guys down at the service station to say something about the locals who come here but I think they get a charge out of how people handle the action here. Bet you never thought a cup of coffee could get this interesting, did you?”

 ”Well, it isn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

 ”You would think that a state hospital that size. One that houses some folks who are criminally insane would have tighter control on their patients, wouldn’t you? Hey, but I never have any trouble here. Don’t you go telling the boys over the station I was bitching about them not clueing you in; it would be real bad for business and we need all the referrals we can get.”

 ”You’re secret’s safe with me. Tell me exactly, how do these people get here anyway?”

 ”We’ll, as I said, the state institution is right next door, just past the overpass you walked under to get here from the station. Most of ’em walk on over. Those low brick walls and tree lines are all that’s keeping them in there. Those people may be crazy but they sure as shit ain’t stupid now, are they?

 

 ”See that one over there? That’s BJ. She graduated top of her class from Skidmore, a real prestigious school upstate. Smart as a whip, that one. Her thing these days is reading your fortune in an ashtray. My best advice to you is if they start asking for cigarettes or quarters, pretend to be deaf, they understand that.

 ”Enjoy your coffee, dear. If you need a refill or anything else, don’t be afraid to yell, everyone else does.”

 

 I watched the guy trying to convince the cigarette machine to yield butts without benefit of coins of the realm. So far he had tried mind over matter and an interesting, vaguely philosophical argument, that might actually have convinced a living being. It was almost a shame to waste all that wonderful, creative, mental energy speaking to a machine.

 I sipped my coffee and watched the freak show gather a strange kind of momentum, wondering where the sign was painted outside that warned off itinerants from entering here. I knew then, where Woody Allen had recruited the cast for the dream sequences of mutants and walking-dead on the LIRR in “Stardust Memories”. He’d just walked on in here, shouted out, “Hey everybody, let’s go! We’re shooting a movie and you guys are in it.” And they would all have gotten into a passable line, filed out as asked, gotten into whatever transporting vehicle there was, and off they went. When it was all over, they’d be brought back, richer by a day’s pay and no one would have been the wiser. That is until the movie came out.

 

 I left a five-dollar bill for the coffee said, “Thanks for the good advice.” I stopped to have a word with BJ on the way out. Unseen by anyone, I slipped her a few bucks in singles, pointed to the jukebox in a corner of the room, gave her a conspiratorial smile and whispered in her ear, “Wait five minutes after I’m gone then do your worst with the money, I gave you.” She smiled back at me and nodded as if she knew exactly what I meant.

 As the door closed behind me, she was still contemplating the hidden messages contained in the ashes of her pressed metal ashtray. I was confident that exactly five minutes after I’d left, she’d be making selections of music no one had dreamed could be left on a jukebox for anyone to find if they were properly motivated. As I walked along side of the local highway I thought, this will give new meaning to giving a monkey a machine gun.

The Ultimatum · Grant Chemidlin

You say it’s either you
or the Moon, & whichever one I don’t
choose will be gone forever. & all I can muster
is: What about the werewolves? All the misunderstood
wandering furballs of the night,
who depend on the Moon’s pearly light
to snap their spines into their truest form,
their most wonderfully wild selves, shaggy
& free to howl at whatever star they want.
How can I take that away from them?
You were a moon once. In the beginning.
Don’t you remember? How your light passed
through me, made me translucent, showed me
the real me, the me beneath this awful, human
skin suit. You used to shine every night, but now
you’ve waned into nothing, or something
cruel enough to make me choose between
the Moon & a forlorn love. Tonight,
I leave. Tonight, I prowl the silver fields
with the beasts I know & care for.

The Year I Went Without Electricity · Mark DeCarteret

There was no substitute for night. No beauty that didn’t double as unsightliness. But for now, the hour was still aroused. Less sour on life than the sky. And all it asked of the sun. Dousing it in whisky. Setting it aflame. And then, feather-fanning it, for eternity. Me, I’m sweating under my mask. Tweezing out more looks of cool withdrawal. Unwarranted dullness. Without any thought of taking a rest. While out on the river, I hear the cattails revisit an earlier history. See a blackbird act out its own assassination. And an otter drowning in its own assets. Such is shore-life! Or so this world teaches us. All day in that chat room. Going by. “Too Wordy for its Own Good.” Thank God, the moon is still under contract to rise. All silver-tined and intensifying. Hot like a radio dial. As I get older, I tend to swing more than I sing. Hit gold a lot more often.

issue 20 · Summer 2021 · page 2

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Pathways · Kerry Trautman
(Stratford Ecological Center, Columbus, OH, 4/28/18)

A pair of March calves lay side-by-side,
head-to-tail, breeze against the grain of one brown hide,

but with the other. Back down the path are various
cockerel and hen squawks and gargles. Calves trust

that cows yards away are keeping watch as they chew
grass enough to ignore late April’s obstinate cold. Swallows

swoop from birdboxes or barn rafters pinging midges
from midair like shooting clay pigeons.

The insects’ wings lied when they taught them the air was
theirs. A Jersey swollen with swaying milk aims her withers

skyward as if to puncture clouds for sun, like cracking pond
ice to drop a line for chilled bluegill. The cows warn

the calves not to be gullible when summer sidles up. Don’t
trust it to stay. Tonight, in moonless sky, bats will swallow

what the swallows have missed. Coyote, fox,
and barred owls will conspire ‘round black tree trunks.

A buff hen feather on the rocky path, then three, then ten,
matted with blood. The cows must have seen something.

The Search · Martin Willitts Jr
My grandfather’s Guernsey escaped the barn,
and he never figured out how. She wandered out
into a full-blown snow gale, her trail
vanishing under more bright
and trembling whiteness.
The cow must have left hours earlier,
as untraceable as a rumor out of control.

My grandfather went out into the blizzard,
his lantern light bounding and bouncing
on the knee-high snow, towards the far woods
drenched in accumulating, suffocating snow.

That’s all that could be asked,
all that could be expected: hunting in snowdrifts,
calling into the snowstorm, toes going numb,
risking frostbite or hyperthermia.

He never found the cow that night, or the next,
or the futile weeks thereafter, until he gave up
searching, letting nature take its cruel turn.

In summer, he found the cow’s carcass by accident.
There wasn’t much left to identify.
It wasn’t hard to puzzle out. Bones had a tale to tell:
the world judged harshly such carelessness.

Grandfather lived close to that edge,
witnessing things that went wrong.
Moments can end bad, quickly. All time needed
is just one mistake between birth and early death.

Hope was his lantern trying to find the lost.
Every action and reaction prepared him
for what to do next time and how to absorb failure.

What Happened Here · Jason Tandon
for Charles Simic

Half a mouse
lying in the driveway,
the head and belly
hollowed out, a small pool
of black blood,

where my daughter likes to draw
with her box of rainbow chalk
a unicorn
under the Tree of Magical Dreams.

Semiotics · Kevin Norwood
a roadside thistle
lifts a single stalk
a bud tightly closed
around a fringed ring
of deep crimson

its sunward turn
neither signifies
nor corresponds to
the radio tower
on the near hill

rising above oak
and hickory trees
limned in this
unreliable artifact
of the moment

Pas de Deux · Kevin Norwood
a small beaver-cut dogwood
tilts toward the lake
caught by the branches
of a neighboring red cedar
a jeté in suspension

so we stand, my dear
arms entwined
holding each other up
defying age and gravity
as the wind starts to blow

Apoidea · Danielle Shorr
I called a beekeeper when I saw the swarm
in the chickens’ food. Where were they coming from?
She wasn’t sure either. Hundreds of bees, circling
the feeder. Would they stay long? Before I could
find out, they were gone. They got sustenance
and moved on. The first time I got stung by a bee
was five minutes after I declared to my group
of seven-year-old campers that I had never been
stung by a bee. I walked outside and a wasp
hit me twice behind the knee. I wish I could say
I didn’t cry. For an hour I laid in the nurse’s office
clutching an ice pack to the spot as a child patted
me on the back. I had managed to go seventeen
years without being stung until then. Technically it was
a wasp. It would be years before I’d get stung
by an actual bee. When I plucked the stinger from my ass,
I felt sad. I had been the threat to end a life. A bee
committed suicide because of me. If it were any other
being, that would be notable. But bees die all the time
and nobody cares. Not the flowers, or the almond eaters
who rely on that skillful pollination. I want to care. I scoop
them out of swimming pools and think it rescue.
I convince myself I am not scared of their impact. I can do
more harm to them than they can to me. So I let them
crawl on my hands. I set them down gently. If I were
as small, I’d want the same: for someone to treat me
like I’m more than just the hurt I could cause them
The Girl on the Bridge · John Grey
She was always a jumper.
Even as a child, she imagined herself
standing on the rim of her cereal bowl
and diving into all those letters.

On her backyard swing,
her feet never once tried for the clouds;
she gauged height
by how far down it was.

She loved lakes, the deeper the better.
And overhangs. And third floor windows.
And wells where her wish was
the bottomless well itself.

She didn’t take the plunge earlier
because parents weren’t unkind enough,
bullies were yet to start bullying,
and friends still took the word ‘friend” to heart.

She was seventeen
before the worst of life caught up with her.
They came at her from behind.
Some still say she was pushed.

Rescue Me, Mr. Blue · Susan Coppock

This is the tree
my nimble limbs climb
bough over bough
away from Mother
mouth tight, red hair aflame,
wrong answer written
in her blue gaze,
except when her eyes unfocus, lost.  

This is my refuge
from here to watch
overweight sedans
lumbering by on the dirt road,
50s monsters flashing chrome trim
bullet bumpers shooting blanks,
push button starts, so easy,
wide back seats extending an invitation,
radios blaring music Mother hates
but that I have loved
a long, lonely time. 

This respite
high in my pine tree
needles soughing in the wind
then the sound of some souped up
Chevy rumbling past, riding low,
some teenage boy at the wheel,
my mounted cavalier,
grinning silver.

issue 20 · Summer 2021 · page 3

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Magpie Habits · Makensi Ceriani

Oh a rock how pretty / let me keep what I find / hard and pink enough to bruise me / to keep me warm / like the vintage scarf in paisley rose / or vintage sweater in my mother’s room / hard to untangle from her / 80s’ chiffon and chiffon she never / lets a body go / her body / in figure-hugging lace / or my body when it fit in taffeta and ruffled socks / all black-bagged now / and wilted in the back of the closet / in the back of her mind / when she picks up blue towels again to match the blue kitchen / to match the blue house / to match the tears I can’t stop collecting / all of our sobs into jars / I sort them here is when he left us / here is when he came back / and here we talk sometimes / me and her / of having a yard sale / a cleansing / how
it’s high time for an offering of all of what’s wrong / we’ve collected through the years / and piled down in the basement / stacked tall into cabinets / stuffed deep in the warrens of ourselves / how we’ve kept each moment of I wanted this / to fill something I can’t name / no not yet we agree / no matter how many bite marks and scratches / I hoard on my thighs / my soft flesh that’s perfect / for keepsakes and better / I’ve decided than dusty bins / no matter how she won’t get rid of anything / anyone / and how I’ve learned to keep / picking through what’s left to me / to make the best of it / I find bright red yarn / rolls of undeveloped film / old shoes too small but glittery / my blood stains at the heel / it catches in the light / and always caught I am in her hands / that continue to cherish my blankets and barbies / what was once soft and pink about me / and hands that I let leave / new bruises on me / and I remember each one / like the stuffed animals I gathered / around me at night / as if / I can recognize myself / by all that I’ve held and kept close /

My Person · Pamela Sinotte

My mother’s name is Albertine. She is 94 and has Alzheimer’s Disease. Mom’s been living in a memory care facility since February 2020 and we are on our Sunday afternoon Skype call. Each week the thirty minutes goes by more slowly, as I work to fill the air space.

Mom, what are you looking at?” I say as my mother looks distractedly from the table top, which I can’t see on my computer screen, to me then back again.

“Oh, I’m just looking at my puzzle.” This is a new behavior.

“Mom,” – irritation is creeping into my voice – “you’re supposed to be looking at me.”

“I’m sorry. I was listening.”

I feel guilty about the irritation.

In the earliest stage of Mom’s disease, my sister Cyndi and I, independent of one another, wondered if we might be experiencing memory problems, as Mom would say things like “You never told me that” or “No one tells me anything.” With all the things I have rattling around in my head, I knew this was entirely possible, until it began to happen more frequently. One day, Cyndi asked me, “Have you noticed that Mom’s memory is getting really bad? She’ll tell me I never told her something when I was pretty sure I had. I used to think it might be me.”

In the fall of 2019, I see the first indication of a progression in Mom’s cognitive decline. I stand at her apartment door, gym bag in hand and purse over shoulder, after making the hour and twenty minutes’ drive from my home in Boston to her 55-plus apartment complex in a town near Concord, New Hampshire. (Mom, never thrilled with the complex, because she’d had to leave her home of over 50 years to move there, referred to it as “The Compound.”) She opens the door and says, with a big smile, “Hi, Dear.” While hugging her, I glance to the right and note several neat piles of mail spread across the counter of her galley kitchen and the kitchen table. A mental WTF. I walk towards the area and say, “Mom…” Before I complete the sentence, “Oh, you’ll just have to excuse the mess.” Looking more closely, I see that the piles are organized into categories: bills, solicitations from charities, magazine subscriptions, junk mail. Later, she shifts them to make room for our lunch. I know what the piles mean and they scare me, as they no doubt scare her. Had her mother not developed dementia by age 90, I might not have been as concerned.

During lunch, “Mom,” I say, “if you want to go out and do something fun this afternoon, we have to go through some of this mail first, at least pay the bills. It won’t take long if we work together.” There’s pushback, the hint of a pout, but she knows I can dig my heels in as well as she. The piles have to be dealt with and I have twenty-four hours only.

Fast forward to September 12, 2021. I knock on the door to Mom’s room and she opens it. Her eyebrows shoot up and she’s beaming. “What a nice surprise!” I’d told her the night before I’d be visiting today, but I’ve come to expect this response; I could have told her an hour before and she wouldn’t have remembered. She’s neatly dressed, wearing earrings (always) and her white, slightly wavy hair is tidy.

Holding up a brown paper bag from a local eatery, I tell her I’ve brought us lunch. Mom pushes aside the pieces of a new puzzle on her card table and I take out a container of the chicken, rice and vegetable soup she likes. She sits at the card table while I pull a tray table up to her fancy remote-controlled recliner and unwrap my sandwich. “Isn’t this nice,” Mom says. I agree. She has her hot soup, crisp bread and chatty daughter, there is a slight smile on her face. After lunch, she moves to the recliner, I pull up a chair beside her and we look at my “baby” album which is filled with pictures of me from birth to about age four.

“Oh, Louise Collins. She was such a nice lady and so pretty.”

“Mom, who’s that?”

“That’s Doug Finney.” Doug, perhaps ten in the photo, was a son of the man who was our family photographer and took several of the pnotos in the album.

It goes on like this, as we turn page after page. An hour from now, she won’t remember the soup, but she knows every person in the album. In this moment, she isn’t “brainless,” as she’s wont to say when frustrated, but knows as much if not more than me. Her affect is bright – and her sense of humor emerges.

“There’s Uncle Lorenzo with Tommy and Bobby,” I say.

“Yes, he always wanted daughters – instead he got two brats.” I chuckle. My cousins had indeed been wild tormenters, destroyers of our beloved toys.

When we reach the end, Mom flips back to the first page. “Oh, Louise Collins.”

After an hour and a half, she looks tired, so I tell her I should get going, to beat the late Sunday afternoon traffic. Rocking slowly, she says, “You don’t mind if I don’t walk you out. I feel sleepy all of a sudden.” She’s always walked me to the elevator, or door, or to the car. Always. I can feel the tears behind my eyes.

“It’s okay, Mom, you just rest, maybe take a nap.”

“Okay, Dear.” She thanks me for the visit. I kiss her goodbye.

September 14, 2021 9:27a.m. A text from Cyndi:
Dr. wants to see her on Thursday to decide the next step. I spoke with the nurse yesterday and she said Mom went to lunch in her pajamas for the first time since she has been there. She was having stomach problems when I took her for blood work. She said she didn’t want to get dressed when I visited at 1:30. I also don’t know what is going on with her snacks. I just got her some and she either ate most of them or is hiding them. I think her alzheimers [sic] has gone into the next phase.

Reading these words, I felt as if I’d been on the beach, engrossed in a book and looked up to find the tide had gone out.

Mom was more than the “good enough” mother. Kind, attentive, and present, she was the mom that, I learned when I was older, some of our friends had wished was theirs. Mom liked – needed – things to be “put together”: herself, us, the house, her pies. We never had to worry about being dropped off or picked up late, coming home and not knowing where she was, or not having clean (often ironed) clothes. She gardened, decorated, was a Girl Scout den mother. Her gifts were chosen and wrapped with care. But most important, she was consistent. This mattered, because our father was not.

Dad was a car salesman; he was also a binge drinker. A loving, somewhat quiet father when sober, he was sloppy, often loud and angry when drunk. He’d go for days without drinking, then come home trashed on a Friday night, get up Saturday morning, shave, dress, disappear – and return in the same, intoxicated state later that day. His behavior put a damper on my pre- and adolescent social life, as even the best mom can’t compensate for a father who emerges unsteadily from a cab in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. (It wasn’t until my mother made him leave one summer, when I was in my early 30’s, that he finally got and remained sober. No sobriety, no more marriage.)

Of course, better than good enough doesn’t mean perfect (who is?) and there were, as is the case in most parent-child relationships, some things that irritated me about my mother. She was weird – strict Catholic – about all matters having to do with sex. I once opened the bureau drawer in which I kept my diaphragm, in a small make-up bag she had given me, to find the diaphragm sans bag. She’d been snooping and this was her way of expressing disapproval. I was 20 at the time, taking a gap year after my freshman year of college, and had a steady boyfriend.

Despite her strong views about premarital sex, which softened somewhat over the years, Mom was always available to listen when I came to her with a broken a heart – and there were many of those. “Well, Dear,” she’d say, “you know it’s his loss.” “You have so much to offer; it may take some time, but someone else will come along,” and the classic “You deserve better.” The usual Mom lines, verbal kisses on a boo-boo, but they always softened the blow, somewhat.

Decades ago, I had a dream about her that I’ve never forgotten. In the dream, I walk into the kitchen of the house I grew up in and there’s a woman at the stove, making breakfast, who looks like my mother, looks like my mother, but something is off. I’m uneasy and don’t know what to do or say. Later in the dream, I’m in the backyard, at the edge of the embankment where grass and weeds grow tall. I spy the top of a small marker stone, brush aside the grass and see it bears her name and dates.

Now my “new” mother looks like my “old” mother and sometimes she seems like my “old” mother, but much of the time, increasingly, she doesn’t. She’s unable to remember most of what I tell her, asks her three or four safe questions, often repeating them if a conversation lasts more than a few minutes, or if I don’t fill all the air space. The calls have become predictable: she answers the phone, surprised, as if we haven’t spoken in… forever, “How are you, Dear?!” I tell her I’m doing well (usually), then there are more questions: Are you feeling well? Do you have enough clients? How’s Daisy Mae (my cat)? The list used to be longer and had included: How are your friends? How’s Annie? How’s Theresa? How’s your car running? (True.) I used to call her every night. I can’t do that anymore. The conversation thread has long since broken and now there’s only this painful Groundhog Day.

I am single, never married, and have no children. My father’s been gone since 2003, not that we were nearly as close as Mom and I. My sister is my only sibling; we’re very different people and our relationship, sadly, is not of the warm and fuzzy variety. Mom is-was? (I can’t even choose the tense) – it. Pre-Alzheimer’s, she had been my “person” and I worry that by the time she’s gone it will be difficult to recall that person.

When this essay was little more than a glimmer, I was already struggling with how it might end. How do I, does anyone, circle round and find some piece of wisdom, some silver lining – in other words, a feel-good ending – when we’re missing, often desperately, our “old” mom, dad, husband or wife? Anyone who’s experienced the decline of a loved one to this insidious disease, which afflicts 32% of the United States population over age 85, will understand it’s a slow fade. Mom still knows who she is and who her closest family members are, and she’s remarkably healthy. Most days, she seems quite content, tells me her room is “very comfortable” and only occasionally does she complain of being “incarcerated.” She misses her car and house (she’s long forgotten The Compound where she spent five and a half years). She ends every call with, “I love you to pieces.” I hold onto that.

Portrait of my Grandmother Assembled From Papers in a Box · Pam Matz

She’s cut her wavy hair chin-length, the way
she always wears it, and, as always, she stands upright,

her coat belted at the waist, and strewn with name-tags.
Yiddish names, English names, spelling guessed at –

Beile, Bailah, Baylah, Belle, Bessie. Also, a certificate
proving she paid for her burial insurance.

Next to her stands the treadle sewing machine
by which she earned her living. Piled on it, linens,

patched to stretch their use, and a letter in Yiddish,
in a rapid script no one young could read. Scattered

like leaves on the floor around her, color photos
of children and grandchildren. In one hand she holds

opera libretti, for listening to broadcasts
on Sunday afternoons. In the other, a dark xerox

of a photo: a little girl sits next to her mother,
whose arm is around her. They smile at each other,

not at the photographer. The word before is crowded
in a corner of the paper, in invisible writing.

At the Holocaust Memorial - A True Story · Gunilla Kester

The old man turns around and says: you left your bag
there on the bench. I noticed. I watched it for you.
Thank you, I smile into the young terror in his eyes.
I didn’t expect a thief in this crowd! No calm in his eyes. 

His heart a bright red hibiscus color
of blood, expecting to die at any moment.
I was watching, he repeats. I cannot light
candles or talk about it. His terrorized eyes fill
suddenly with tears. He turns away.
I pick up my book. He turns to me again. 

I smile. He begins to tell me. Small scenes first. One
sentence stories. Memory in staccato. Each scene
isolated. Often interrupted. I cannot talk about it.
I am afraid. Seventy-one years of living fear. 

I wait and nod. You left your purse, he says, and tells
me about the women and children. His brothers.
The years in the camps, the quarry, the guards,
the brutality. One bitter drop at a time. A rain of lye
made from ashes, eroding time and distance. Present
now. The killed. How can I tell you? I don’t want to
talk about it. They took them away. We never saw
them again. I will tell you! But don’t share
my story. Here, you can read it, but only you, don’t
give it to anyone. I read the brief three pages
about his four years of hell. I give him back
his story. Your bag, he says, don’t abandon it
again. I watched it. Eyes of a survivor.  

In my bag, perhaps, did he see himself
and all the memories came spilling out
into that bag left by a stranger on a bench?
I put my hand on his shoulder: what is your native
tongue? He shakes his head. Your first language?
Polish. Not even Yiddish, you see,
came from a big city.  I must stop here.

Before the Lighthouse (1796) · Gunilla Kester

They named it Coal Hill and said it was a sand heap,
but we knew Candy Mountain where lovers meet
at night, wander down winding rabbit tracks
to the sea. Light up the beach with kisses, 

forbidden fires of drift wood, sea weed. Your hand
glowing when you twirled a torch around and around.
They said the Danish King ordered coal to be lit
for sea safety, to warn the Hansa merchant ships  

from Lubeck and Hamburg already in 1222. Rich
times. Herring so thick in the water women and children
fished with their hands. Did His Royal Highness know
monks are scared of the Devil? Sleep indoors at night?  

You told me of your old relative who died
in 1624. On his gravestone he was a sea captain.
Some Captain, you said. More a bloody pirate if you ask
me. He came here to Candy Mountain, lit illegitimate fires  

to lure the ships to shallow waters where they foundered
and broke apart. Men died quickly in those days. We stole
gold, food, brandy from France, took their boots and jewels.
How do you think we came to own our long house, 

my family poor fishermen, and kept it for five centuries
between frost and salt? This here, like the land and you,
have never been bought or sold. In the palm of your hand,
a shiny piece of amber, a gift and an answer.

issue 20 · Summer 2021 · page 4

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Cold Snap · Tedo Wyman

On the tidal river, ice has drifted down
from Albany and pushes out from the shallows
far into the channel, freezes into textured panes
a raven flies over: stained glass
candy in colors of licorice,
peppermint and earl grey.

Sparrows fluff out into muffins that
assemble in the forsythia
and pick at blown oak leaves,
cardinals search the ground
for edible bits, every nutlike
speck tasted then discarded.

The tea loaf we baked and glazed
this afternoon sits on its rack,
a warm cake-scent diffuser.
We whisked up eggs, butter, cream
and lemon zest, added flour and sugar,
then folded in thousands of poppyseeds.

Sealed into globes,
we lie, as the furnace
sings kettle music.
We smile, our teeth
dotted with black seeds.

To the Bride Recently Diagnosed with Cancer · Robert Guard

I remember your dress,
Snow drifting down the mountain
The day you and my brother began
A climb you had attempted before.

Your high notes have been removed
Wrapped in gauze, and still the snow
Falls like lace at your feet.

My brother the painter worries
Over his colors of dried blood,
Dreaming of another mountain
In a high desert with you.

Here in Toronto · Bill Garvey
for Tara

The delivery men assemble
our new dining table
careful to lie it top down
onto a rug while tightening each leg.
A streetcar rumbles over its rails
holding the souls of exhausted silhouettes
past an older couple walking home
from the Thai restaurant
we recently discovered,
then the phone rings, my sister
sobbing she has died.

A cousin I haven’t seen in years
but I picture a girl on a swing
in Freehold New Jersey the year
I drove from Sturbridge with my son,
she was six or seven and spoke eloquently
of Italy and Hong Kong where she lived
when her father, a big shot
in the Navy, was stationed there,
as if it were years ago she strolled
Piazza della Signoria, while
her mother rolls her eyes pushing the swing.
And then I see a woman holding
a tiny cupcake like a trophy in her
Manhattan shop, a smudge
of flour in her brown hair.

The windows of a Shoppers
reflect their age but if they are
holding hands or just in lock step
I can’t tell. When they are done
my wife tips them. It looks fine,
doesn’t cramp our small apartment.
It’s just she and I with this new sorrow.
The streetcar stops on a sigh
which turns my head toward
the window. She steps out
into Toronto, wavy hair
like her mother’s. Waving to me.
It must be a terrible mistake.

Beyond Their Horizon · Charles Joy

1.
I am present at my desk
my own familiar house
incense burning from a shelf
the radio turned off

a window closed shows frozen snow
bare trees, a lake beyond their horizon

when that lake freezes solid
I will walk across to Canada,
my small but not unprecedented
black shape emerging from the bleak surround,
climbing ashore to an empty beach
my greeting a gull screaming

2.
the road inland long and sad
I knock at a cottage, no one answers
a narrow road, veined with tar
snow-logged fields in both directions
finally an old black truck approaches slows stops
side window cranks open, lyrics spill out
. . . lava flowin’ in Superfarmer’s direction . . .

the driver, a woman, leans toward me
I explain my accomplishment
when she tells me she’s headed for Toronto
I tell her me too

dropped off on Bloor near Spadina
not sure exactly where I want to go
everything closed except the farmers’ market
by then it’s half past five
and that’s when I wake up

Pulse · Robbie Gamble
I read about a father who was dying slowly from congestive heart failure. The father was a plumber, and his son, an engineering student, wasn’t ready to accept this deterioration as fate. The two of them were fluent in the language of fluids and tubing, and together they conspired a vision for an artificial heart to carry on. But visions cost dearly, in capital and troubleshooting and patience, and the father died long before the son could demonstrate a viable steampunk titanium pump. On his journey to prototype, he discovered you can’t just turbine blood into a steady stream, herding red blood cells along like cattle down a chute, because the lungs and body require surge and release, surge and release, in order for all our tissues to properly perfuse. Nature adores its cycles: systole and diastole, the proliferative and secretory phases of menstruation, the waxing and waning of the moon, empires rising up and decaying from within, the joys and disappointments passed from one generation to the next. He carried on and trained his pump to accelerate and brake its flow into a recognizable lub-dub, lub-dub, that iambic patter we maintain within us for as long as we draw breath. Place your hand on your chest and let your fingers hear it: “I am, I am, I am…”
Confession of a Rock Star Legend · Shoshauna Shy

 There it was in the last 60 seconds of his documentary: regret. She had stood in rental voucher application lines, sat alone in their child’s classrooms with speech therapists, and as each anniversary passed by, longed for a note from him, a phone call, anything. It wouldn’t have to be much. But nothing came.

 So, in the last minute of footage, it was a relief he spoke of the women he had shortchanged. True there were dozens of them–but she knew she was the only one he really meant. She was separate from those contestant shortlisters, the honorable mentions, the groupies and one-night stands. She was the wife who inspired all those hits that pole-vaulted him to fame, their son her only souvenir. While she deserved to be called out by name, her heart thrummed with warmth at hearing him – rickety and spent at the age of 84 – admit on camera what a screw-up he’d been. Haunted, was the word he used. By how he’d treated her.

issue 20 · Summer 2021 · page 5

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Isolated Damage · Michael Anderson

Landscapes threatened by encroachment and altered by time are the subject of the images. These often-overlooked remnants – along byways, behind abandoned buildings, and between big box stores – remind us of ecosystems and ways of life that once were. The photographs capture the melancholy and splendor of these disappearing and transitory scenes.

issue 20 · Summer 2021 · page 6

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Brothers · Vera Salter

My husband was snow-blowing the sidewalk
when the police called that Valentine’s morning.

We drove to the Bowery through clogged streets,
arrived as the Medical Examiner’s van pulled up.

Edward knelt immobile by the nightstand
of his six feet by four single occupancy 

room with chicken-wire ceiling
cause of death: hemorrhagic stroke.

I thought of the two brothers who drew
horses in their Pittsburgh attic as I watched

men bring the heavy black-bagged
body down the steep steps.

Children of sharecroppers who
migrated North. Edward, who won

the citywide art prize in third grade,
came to study at the Arts Students League 

in the heady 1970s, the world
of Andy Warhol and Basquiat.

He had one solo exhibition before he was
found catatonic and taken to Belleview. 

He lost his apartment and canvases.
Denied entry to the scene makers guild, 

he illustrated romance book covers,
porn magazines and walked dogs. 

Bitter at the talent lost, all we could do was bring
him drawing paper, Ticonderoga 2  pencils and a warm coat. 

After his death his books and clothes were thrown
into garbage bags and his body cremated. 

All that remains is a thick wallet and ten sketchbooks
dancing with nymphs, horses and gods.

Neighbors · Gerald Yelle
I couldn’t remember, so asked if she liked beets – hoping she wouldn’t think I was being funny. She said yes and no. I said I always bought them, then had to eat them all myself. I told her to slice them thin so they’d cook fast. She sliced them thick, but they came out fine.

She showed me a picture of her daughter. She looked so grown up – I remembered when she was born. She said that was impossible; she’d had her by the time we met. Maybe. I didn’t contradict her. I said the girl looked like her father. She said she didn’t have a father. It wasn’t that kind of birth. I didn’t want to pry.

We watched a clip of this guy dancing with his girlfriend. I was thinking how nice for them. Then they were naked. She giggled and backed away. He had an erection that was long out of all proportion. I made some comment about the practical problem that kind of anatomy would entail. It would be like making love with a yardstick between them.

She was curious. She wanted to cruise the neighborhood looking for the guy. I offered to drive, but didn’t see the point. I figured if he wanted to be around, he’d be around.

The New Guard · Tim Suermondt
for William Matthews

It’s been many, many years later
and I no longer live in the city,
but I remember the sweet walk
from the Cortez Diner to the Cloisters

and back again, especially the sidewalks
overgrown with people spilling
out of hundreds of little shops where
everything imaginable, unimaginable even,

lives – exhibit A: a framed picture
of Charlie Parker next to a poster of Pancho Villa.
The ballers in the parks never got better,
every flaw we pointed out was true,

compassionate though we were in our critiques.
You pointed to a horde of geese flying
higher and higher as I readied
myself to give you my Einstein poem

about the great man peeling an orange on his Jersey porch.
You studied it and called it “juicy” –
all I needed to hear and still do, sometimes when
I’m alone with the geese and thinking of you.

bird with a pearl earring · Jodi Bosin
watching miyazaki with kendra feels like

meditating

when howl holds arms out straight just floats

away    i find if i unfocus my eyes

it’s almost like everything is fine

i saw you for a second time

again it was    unseasonably cold

my body seems to hold    all the things

i do not say    in the moment it’s okay

but there’s a very lonely aftertaste

a nausea that i feel    for days

how do i know whether ignorance or exposure

works best    and sorry that

anything i write about romantic love

is going be kind of sad

but why did he    eat the shooting star

why did he give it    his heart

i never quite understood that

Winter Suite · Lenice Cicchini

1

Solstice

 

The longest
kiss

the longest
night

snowing
snowing

on the longest kiss
picture

orchards

I do

going
silent

going dark

for miles

I do

the pear trees
vow
to bees
in spring

petal
– deep

kisses
incessant

dissolving

no two
alike

2

Wild Carrot

 

Here is
to wait

a chalice
for snow
a bone-box

Long shadows
reach north
tonight

take heart
red heart
paling

Stain
– Queen

cold-lashed
wish-thin

winter
will fill you

you’ll be faultless

wafered
a Eucharist

3

Still More Kisses

 

The lover slices a pear
in NYC
a once fine place

sweet-eared as heaven
those days
toppling

into
a blue
huge

heart
– spacious
her East
explicit like winter

buried
by sighs
these kisses
so light

this
wild-soft-
never-ball

shh

it’s a narrow moon
let’s make mad crazy quiet

4

Posthumous

 

A sea
a dark

the last bee
sobs

who
doesn’t ?

feel it ?

Keats’s
posthumous
poems

Vale of
Soul
Making

listen
the buzzing

but is it bees
where you are?

Is it snowing buried voices?

Is there a soul in sight?

5

What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

from Shelley’s Love’s Philosophy

And No More Kisses

 

Magdalene Maudlin
The Nun in the House

no philosopher
no rock

rolled away no Resurrection Day
no kisses no moonlit shore

The ocean’s a ghost of
a ghost of a monotype

She Once A Lover Was
on this year’s The Longest Night

not alone
Nothing in the world is single

Sleep now dream beings besieged
rising seas will be rocking you

On Pluto the Snow Falls Red · Brittney Corrigan
The schoolgirl who named a distant sphere
outlived its planetary lifetime.
In the icy belt, no longer nine,
the ringless dwarf shepherds its five moons:
tidal-locked or not, the underworld’s
cast orbits their demoted god. Cold
face of mountains, craters, a glacier
shaped like a heart. Blue skies, crimson snow.
Small world at the edge of what holds us.
COLOPHON

Fonts used:
Arvo for text; Merriweather Sans for titles; Montserrat for button and navigation text; Cormorant for issue title.

All works copyrighted by their authors; all rights reserved.

Cover image by Michael Anderson.

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