Photo credit: Kevin J. McDaniel, From a window of a train en route to Washington D.C.
Below is Speckled Trout Review’s inaugural issue. We were honored by the numbers of submissions, and we look forward to reading submissions for the next issue. The submission period for Speckled Trout Review’s Spring 2020 issue opens on February 1.
Kevin J. McDaniel, Founder and an editor of Speckled Trout Review
Nancy Dillingham, Poetry editor
Featured poets: Ronda Piszk Broatch, Dennis Camire, Catherine Carter, Jean Cassidy, Patrick Connelly, William Doreski, Julia Nunnally Duncan, Robert Gibb, Britton Gildersleeve, Joel Glickman, Gerry Grubbs, Andrew Gudgel, Gwen Hart, Rachael Ikins, Mark Jackley, Paul Jones, Clyde Kessler, Beth Konkoski, Don Kunz, Jennifer Lagier, Diana Mazor, Jesse Millner, Kathy Nelson, Patricia Nelson, Karen Poppy, Mary Ricketson, David Salner, Pat Riviere-Seel, Cathy Sky, Shelby Stephenson, Terri Simpson, Charles Swanson
Beyond McCurdy Point, The Singed Mountains Smolder
I walk farther along the sand, knowing
no bones or bits of glass will keep the light
from fading. Behind me, moon and Jupiter vie
for my attention. Behind me my cabin, an hour away.
I am searching for time, to be ground and polished
by the Sound. Somewhere, are the bones of a bear.
To east and north Venus and Mars burn holes
in the cloth, specks of glowing ash between them. Water
strays, leaving orange starfish, small crabs pinking
near the upthrust of black rock. Such beautiful violence,
this landscape, sea convening in furrows of sand, pools
enough for bear to wet her paws. Moon and Jupiter
admire the growing night, bear, her returning flesh.
We call to one another as we walk.
Sol Duc To High Divide
Imagine walking here without a camera
leaving home with no means of capturing
the clarity of these mountains we live beneath.
Around us, a tantrum of crickets, frenzied
ground squirrels intersect the space between stars
and us, a line of stitching puckered in places, loose
where we need it taut. Imagine life outside of
this purse of fir and granite, whistling
marmot, horned goats and black bear fattening
on larvae and berry. See, I am a hive
of bees, and you are the knotted wasps, a wisp
of smoke alarming the balance
we seek. We wedge a foot between rocks
in river’s shallow eddies, find purchase
beneath sky’s inky skin. Early this morning
elk circled Heart Lake. In the evergreen
meadow they shone under a frozen moon—
twenty hulks huffing into the damp. We
keep our boots warm at the foot of our bag,
pull a new story of night into our veins
as we sleep, a new version of the horned
lark’s song. Beyond the unzipped window,
bear fingers the food sack’s brassy fabric, finds
that even this isn’t enough to quell the deepest
hungers. Morning, you hang a strip of bacon
over water, watch yellow jackets nibble
and drown, drunk on fat, while I make routine of
lingering on my back, determining each small
root and stone beneath my spine, each tiny panic
rising to the surface before breaking.
Poet and photographer, Ronda Piszk Broatch is the author of Lake of Fallen Constellations (MoonPath Press, 2015). Ronda is the recipient of an Artist Trust GAP Grant, and her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart prize. Her journal publications include Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, Sycamore Review, Mid-American Review, Puerto del Sol, and Public Radio KUOW’s All Things Considered, among others.
The Recently Deceased Fly Fisherman Addressing His Surviving Loved Ones
Now passing low pressures are our wild trout streams,
And hovering angels, the delighting dragonflies,
And unseen celestial choir, those peepers
Praising the heaven of spring’s warming waters—
So in REM sleep’s deep waters we softly cast
The colorful flies of old familiar phrases
And teasing nicknames in hopes
That you might swallow our memory whole
Then wake with the delight of a sockeye
Released after that brief lifting to the blinding
Noon sunlight. Most though, in grief’s pickerel weeds,
Never hear or see the succor of our words’
Gold-ribbed hare’s ear trolling over.
As on earth, though, we keep working
The swirling eddies of your REM sleep
And trust your sleek soul will soon rise
To our word’s own feathered “white ghost”
Alighting the pond of your conscious mind
Like that perfectly tied “royal coachman fan wing”
Seducing the old rainbow to leap from his shady lair
Between stones. In grief then, consider you’re like
Murky waters flotsam with our words’ loving lures
As nearly invisible to human ears and eyes
As that “beaded white woolly bugger” is to
The cut-throat feeding on nymphs at bottom.
And when meteor showers firefly your sky,
See our beautiful yearning casts splashing
Onto the pond of the collective unconscious
To get humans, at least, to consider some life,
Unseen, longing to commune and bond briefly—
Until, hungering, still, for that goodbye denied,
You ponder that odd pheasant returning, daily,
To perch upon our beloved garden gnome
As our “near enough skater” we lovingly tied
Then expertly set before the shy Dolly Varden;
And solace slowly crests in the nesting rose-
breasted Grosbeaks taking up residence in
That peach tree planted on our silver anniversary,
And the aggrieved heart is not unlike the arctic char
Which learned to thrive in spring’s frosty, reliable run-off.
Dennis Camire is a northern Appalachian and a Finishing Line Press Poet: Stone by Stone: Poems about the Art of Dry Stone Walling. His poems have appeared on Maine Pubic Radio and in Poetry East, Mid-American Review, Spoon River Review, Hamilton Stone Review and other print and online journals. In 2017 Deerbrook Editions published his first full-length book, Combed by Crows.
Blasting in the Pass
Nothing more serene than sun-dreaming
rock, until you drill thin holes yards deep,
pack them with concussion, send the streaming
spark running to split stone-bones apart.
Then you’ll hear stone scream.
She slices the flesh across the star
at the heart, cuts it into the pot,
tosses core and seeds into the pail
where they rest for a while on their way
back to the dirt. Not quite a crone yet,
nor a hag, though also on her way
back to the dirt, she is bent, but quick
and sure with her short black-handled knife.
Up from her kettle full of the fruits
of knowledge and death there hisses
the cinnamon-sweet steam, whispering
like escaping souls; she stirs and blends
as fumaroles smack up thick apple-
bubbles and suck them back. These atoms’
path from sunfire to mold is almost
finished. Before they’ll be young again
they must sink into this slow brew, stew
together, make their way into dark
animal bellies and so on down
into sand and soil, down into earth-
fire, dirt-sugar, lava-juice, until
root hairs pry apart each grain to drink
them up once more into glistening
blossom to feel that newness again,
re-learn all the words of earth fresh
as petals, minnows, fingerling salmon.
The apples are almost ready
to go. They cringed from the seething pot
at first, but now they know what she is
doing, what she is making of them,
how they will be lost and forgotten
and transformed and reborn from the black
cauldron, the hot clear jars, the stove-fire
at the heated heart of the whole world.
I want rain. Our species chooses sun
over rain even when the world is dust
and fire; but I want this creek to run
again, I want water to brighten soft mosses
in the groundwater springs, the seeps
that feed the sea, the days
that make the life. I want wet
clouds, and bubbling gutters,
and slick yellow leaves
flickering on the westerly wind.
But there’s no rain in this dull
air, no rain in this haze
pressing down field and street,
louring thick as time;
no sign of tears to relieve
these swollen gray skies. Fine,
then: enough. Enough
straining toward hope
that may never come. Let the dry
east wind whine in the stripped trees,
sing in the bent pines
bare to the fearsome sun.
Come on: sparkle, dry world,
in your glitter of dust,
your terror of flame,
your clear glare
of October sky. Come on,
do what you must, be what you are,
and if we can’t rain, let’s shine.
Catherine Carter lives with her husband near Western Carolina University, where she is a professor in the English Education and professional writing programs. Her most recent collection of poetry is Larvae of the Nearest Stars (LSU Press, 2019); her work has also appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, Orion, Poetry, and Ploughshares, among others, and won the 2018 James Applewhite Prize for poetry.
The Role of Raspberry
Because edible raspberries have perennial roots,
but biennial shoots, the fruit takes longer to show up;
it needs a good chilling first. It is vigorous and invasive and
grows underground, emerging far from where you’d expect.
One-hundred and two steps above Paw Paw Lake
just north of Watervliet, Michigan, there was a three-family
summer home called Topside. Campbell’s Landing
and Mrs. Foxx’s Camp for Girls lined the property
with single-flower hollyhocks of Halo Apricot and Red,
interspersed among running hedges of gnarled,
decades-old wild raspberry bushes that created a barricade
on all sides—a hideaway from adults and onlookers.
Searching for the berries was irresistible and confounding,
an experience of bramble snare; we’d eye the perfect ones
while squatting and scheming how to maneuver the tangle
of vine and thorn. There was no way out unscathed.
Mid-to-late summer the vines began to let go as the berries
came to us by the handfuls, those carefree summers
out of Chicago far away from polio’s reach. Still,
at summers end, Labor Day, then the first day of school and
always an empty desk for the ones who didn’t return.
The Significance of Apple
Apple is as apple does—a working fruit
keeping doctors away, shining
in a lover’s eye,
moderating kraut’s sauer, and providing
cinnamon a permanent place
Rolling out of children’s half-hitched backpacks down
terrazzo hallways in the Midwest, its tight little body
fits snugly alongside its neighbor, reclining
on rickety roadside fruit stands in the South.
In the twenties, Big Apple
with its vacant brick-mortar stare
capitalizing itself as a stand-out,
snubbing and rubbing
noses in its self-anointed grandeur
(an outlier back then when
humbling oneself still counted as virtue).
We all know that this kind of unchecked
vainglory diminishes itself and eventually
starts to rot from the inside out.
Then there’s pandowdy, a word
with no etymology, so it cannot be derived,
that’s why you get to make apple pandowdy
as you like it:
of those finely blemished
swashed in cinnamon
molasses and maple syrup
tucked in an
Things do bubble up when one has free rein;
the deep-red delicious careens along school hallways
where jagged fissures on terrazzo floors
under the weight of cleats and galoshes,
run counter to the design
like kids racing toward their dreams.
Jean Cassidy grew up in Chicago. She spent her professional career in hospital-based community mental health service, most recently at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Residency Program in Asheville, North Carolina. She was a member of the Adrian Dominicans for 17 years, and the community chorus, Womansong of Asheville since 1996. She’s been at the helm of SheVille.org since its rebirth in 2005. She is a writer and poet with her first book of poetry titled Toward the Clearing, Published by Main Street Rag, 2014.
Slinging for Apples
How the apples drop and roll
one by one in the grass,
beneath the boughs
of the lichenous wild apple tree,
behind the barn where you hurl
stones with a slingshot. You gather
a bucketful to feed the mare.
With the rest you dash barefoot
to fill the bowl on the kitchen table.
How I long to wrap my arms
around the tree like a giant—
the split-trunk too great
for my hands to join around—
and yank it up by the roots
to lay upon the earth
the tangle of branches
for you to climb within
and gather with ease
the plump fruit.
But I forbear the temptation
for even if I had the might
it would kill the wellspring
of your yearning. I spy you
downhearted when you miss
six times straight,
then delight in the thrill
of the stem splitting on the seventh:
the victorious thump and roll,
followed by clusters of leaves
spinning down to the lawn
like parade ticker tape,
your triumphant crow-hop.
How each bite of apple
is savored, celebrated,
when it’s the last fruit
plucked from the bowl.
In memoriam DPC
If ever you’ve watched by the bed
for the rise and fall
of the chest of a child,
ever slowed your breath
to the pulse of a fontanelle,
as the wind rushes in
and the flame dims blue,
you might have known
you would gasp, when later
you walked outside
and looked up at the night sky
only to feel
in one moment
a streak of light
and in another, the shock
of a star gone out.
When I crammed a hand into my pocket that night
on the woodland path that winds
through a copse of fir and maple—
the moon a silver sickle
at sky-breaks in the canopy—
to tear a crust of rye-seed bread
and sow it to sign the homeward course,
I hadn’t considered the hungry grouse
that roost in the boughs of the larch and pine.
Anxiously I turned around to steal
a homeward glance, though failed
to take notice of the crumbs staled fate
as my gaze searched the night sky
for the familiar curl of chimney smoke,
until it vanished from sight, like you,
after you built the fire and enjoined us
to lie down upon the bed of fir needles,
a safe distance from the blaze.
Did you know we would wake
to the orange glow of the twigs’ embers
only to stumble off in darkness,
and come to taste the sugary shingle
torn from the roof of the witch’s cottage?
Had you imagined Gretel’s frail form
bent before the oven door,
her recoil from the blast of fire,
the heat on her cheekbones?
Would such a fated twist
as her inspired will and might
ever have occurred to you,
her teeth gritted as she shoved the witch
and slammed the door?
You couldn’t have known the evil wails we endured
with our backs pressed against the oven,
feet planted and breath heavy,
our skinny bodies drenched in sweat.
Surely you could not know our rage and terror
any more than we can comprehend the despair
of a mother and father faced with famine,
the dread of a child’s fatal diagnosis,
the agony of a crucifixion,
or the shock of the sight of the black drooze
of drool spilling from a witch’s tongue,
her lips she licks raising a roast from the oven.
After returning home to the celebration and confusion
of your embrace and tears, I waited
for the full moon, to again
light out through the forest
over gnarled foot-roots and moss-felt
through the brambles of bittersweet and multi-floral rose
past moon shadows on lichenous rocks
until I found our needle bed
with the circle of ash turning to dust.
Would the story have a different ending
if instead of bread, I had filled
my pockets with bright pebbles,
or would the grouse have swooped to fill
their gizzards for the grist
likewise leaving no signposts for a return?
I stoop down now to cinch a palm of dust and ash,
only to rise and shake my fist at the sky
until the cinders slip my hold and blow to the sock
of a pentecostal gust, if brief,
and lay upon the earth a teary vale
to light a sparkled path that I pursue
with strange familiarity.
Downcast now my gaze transfixed,
my fist surrenders its embittered clench
in an act of unconscious forgiveness,
while I spy a crooked row of rye-grass shoots,
pushing up from the earth,
stride-lengths apart, a course to trace
the whole way home.
Patrick R. Connelly lives and writes in the orchard town of Harvard, MA. His poems and essays appear in a variety of literary journals in the United States and Europe. Patrick is a member of the Board of Directors of GrubStreet, a creative writing and narrative arts center in Boston.
We’ve reached a genuine seaport.
Anchored boats cuddle together,
dozens at sail in the distance.
Beyond the sweep of mist and blue,
a crumple of clumsy mountain
shields this bay from arrogant
or too presumptuous storms.
Directly below us, the wedge
shaped roofs of the village crowd
to the quay for a better view.
Have we walked far enough today?
Can we sit down over noodles
and sake and parse the distance
to Kyoto where the emperor
fumes and fusses with his status?
Do you still expect him to greet us
with laughter and a handshake?
Do you think he will recognize
the human parts of us under
our foreignness and layers of filth?
We worry more about robbery
than falling off the scrawl of trail
kinked between thrusts of mountain
depicted in murky turquoise
and mustard-colored outcrops.
We’re too agile to tumble
over some leering precipice
before we reach the hot springs
and bathe our washable parts.
The procession proceeds with
grim force forward, every step
an agony of knotted muscle.
A few miles after the hot baths,
when we’re almost to Lake Ashi,
officials will stop and search us
and confiscate all firearms.
Because we’re not the warrior class
but merely browsing westerners
they’ll let us pass without comment—
unarmed, easy prey for bandits
who like termites infest narrow
and secretive landscapes like this.
The few trees clinging to the slopes
offer little shade and not enough
dimension to conceal us
from the fear that drives us on.
Who wouldn’t laugh at the sight
of a crowd of smallish porters
with doglike lack of expression
toting a pair of sumo wrestlers?
They’re fording the Yui River
against a background of sand beach
and a clutch of sailboats wafting
like butterflies. The wrestlers
look placid and even wistful
as a pair of Zen philosophers.
Their blue kimonos shield them
against any possible reproach.
The porters are almost naked.
Their loincloths sag to expose
their tender bellies as they slog
and shiver in the knee-deep stream.
An outcrop of volcanic rock
leers at the passing troupe while
a couple of pines scratch critiques
into the lemony pulp of sky.
William Doreski has published three critical studies and several poetry collections. His poetry, essays, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many print and online journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His most recent books are A Black River, A Dark Fall and Train to Providence. “Okitsu,” “Hakone,” and “Ejiri” are about Ando Hiroshige’s (1797-1858) woodblock prints known as The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido.
She worked in Clinchfield cotton mill,
and that evening after quitting time,
she filled her apron pockets with rocks
big enough to hold her down
when she walked into the waters of Lake James
Julia Nunnally Duncan lives in Marion, NC, with her husband Steve and their daughter Annie. Julia’s creative work has appeared recently in Blue Ridge Country, Smoky Mountain Living, Red Dirt Forum, and Germ Magazine. She has work forthcoming in WNC Magazine, Blue Ridge Country, and Smoky Mountain Living. In her essays and poems, she enjoys capturing the history of her region and her Western NC upbringing in the 1960s.
A smoldering furnace on a slab of slate.
It threw off heat like a fuel-rod
When stoked with our local anthracite,
Bricks stacked in a firewall behind it.
Scuttle and bin and the film of dust
It left about, sooty and industrial—
A whole new rigmarole to me,
Who till then had burned only wood.
I’d handled a coal shovel though,
At the bottom of a shaft in a steel mill,
Loading wheelbarrows full of scale
Shed from the ovens above me.
All night they kept me at it beneath
A ceiling that kept me stooped, load
After load through a hole in the wall,
As though I’d been sent down a mine.
It was fire in the hole that night
We came home to find a glowing stove
Warping the air around it, though
I’d shut the vents when we’d left.
The only thing I could think to do
Was damper the fire with more fuel
For it, smothering the coal beneath
A banked new layer, which worked,
The metal ticking slowly to black.
For the rest of the winter it was ash
And cinders, but no more choruses
Of “Burning Down the House.”
The Sorrowful Mysteries
Mother and matter both
From the Latin root mater,
The dark beads sibilant
Under the breath
Where each “Hail Mary”
Was strung, my mother
Down its requisite decades
Till she was thumbing
The patina once again
From that savior’s
Abraded brass face.
The rosary an abacus
Upon which the tallying
Squares the account.
I take it out again today,
My only memento of her,
Dead just days after
They’d cut us apart,
Wondering just how much
Her piddling sins added up to
In the first place,
And what traces, if any,
She might have left behind
Among her dark, carved roses—
Oils from her skin
Or the head-of-a-pin garlands
Of some faded DNA?
What traces, if any,
Are now hasped in place
Among these runged
And staggered lines?
Sleaving of strung beads . . .
Words in their traces, when
What matters is the flesh.
The Fossil Record
Each day its page, facts written down
So that nothing can slip past him later.
For example, when he first had Thai
At a favorite new restaurant (a plate
Of almost translucent noodles glazed
With a green curry sauce), or the date
He’d attended that concert in the park
With a hamper full of hidden beer.
It’s his way of preempting memory
And accounting for himself. Draft Card.
Ticket stubs. Where he first heard that
Bluegrass version of “Different Drum.”
A literalist, the lilt of facts is his fix,
The nether flutter in his heart ledgered
Every time he’s felt it, and how he got
A case of the hots for Linda Ronstadt,
Seeing her pig-penned in cut-offs
On the cover of the Silk Purse LP.
Where and when he bought his copy
Part of the written record, its lament
For everything he’s failed to memento.
(Doubling down on the banjo’s idiom
Of drones and rolls, the Stone Poneys
Who had a hit with “Different Drum,”
A young Linda Ronstadt singing lead.)
Not only would life’s this-and-that
Be lost without these daily jottings,
Their warrant’s important as well,
Especially when he feels himself
Whelmed by time’s welter, his wake
On the water disappearing without
A trace. Then it’s simply a matter
Of checking back through those stacks
Of fixed-date, grab-bag pages
In which he’s not once lost his place.
Syria Mosque, Oakland, Pittsburgh
Photograph by W. Eugene Smith, 1955
A close-up shot of the Mosque: one of a pair
Of sphinxes bookending the stairs,
Her languorous lion’s body, eyes lidded shut,
Pre-Raphaelite features lifted to the sun.
Her big paws and headdress-covered breasts.
A sash of “Shriner arabesques”
Bands the wall behind her. A fretwork turret.
The lattice of calligraphy the light
Could be writing.
Cast in that basking metal
She’s almost purring—a cat on a windowsill—
Who never failed to transfix me as a child.
Nor did the names below her,
After the Armistice from lists of casualties,
Setting the stage for the rest of the century.
Robert Gibb’s books include After, which won the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, and Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017. Other awards include a National Poetry Series title (The Origins of Evening), two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry and a Pushcart Prize. A new book, Sightlines, has won the Prize Americana for Poetry 2019.
The moon so bright that moonbeams
become beacons, illuminate the dock
until an abandoned steel canteen
glitters like forgotten treasure.
Beneath a looming Douglas fir
a shelf of rock the colour of weak coffee
juts over the water’s surface.
Fog spirals from the hushed water.
Here no concrete. No 21st
century bling, no detritus to remind us
we are transients. Only the rock
knows time, and the water that carves it.
Britton Gildersleeve is the author of three poetry chapbooks, and for 12 years was the director of Oklahoma State University’s OSU Writing Project, where she taught writing. Her creative non-fiction and poetry have appeared in Nimrod, New Millennium, Atlas Poetica, Soft Cartel, Passager, and many other journals. Gildersleeve blogs at https://teaandbreath.com, and https://nimrodjournal.blog. At one time she was the token Buddhist Unitarian blogger for a national website. She still hears the voices that made her do it.
Friday Night with Sarabande
She stares back at me from where she’s
sitting — on my music stand — all dressed up
in a fancy and expensive French edition.
She is petite, takes up only half a page
and waits for me to get my horn out,
equal parts amused, flirtatious, prim.
I’m intrigued by her and also nervous. She
comes with a pedigree: Bach B-W-V-one-
zero-zero-seven, Suite Two, movement three,
another lovely orphan child of old J.S., three
hundred years adrift and counting, in the foster
system, bouncing around for centuries
from transcription to transcription, which is
where I found her, and before whom I now
flounder, and so she grows impatient and
speaks first, a little playfully, but also terse.
Oh my God! Another clarinet player! Hardly
the answer to my every prayer, but you seem
like a nice fellow. Look, please try to play me
dark and mellow, more like I would be sung
upon the cello, Papa’s original intent.
Besides, he himself did rearrangements too.
They sold well and helped to pay the rent.
But please, no jazz, no razz ma tazz,
no cheesy forced vibrato, no short staccato.
Ok, that’s good but slow it down. I am
a sarabande and not a jig. I could never
figure out why men in general, and reed men
in particular are creatures of such haste.
Alright, but not that much. I’m stately
but not churchy, and not chaste. Just stay
within the bounds of taste and you’ll be fine.
Later, as I do not smoke tobacco, I sip
a glass of wine and sit with her awhile.
She still has that overtone of laughter
in her smile. She says, Not bad. By far
you’re not the worst I’ve had. I once was
ravished by a vaudevillian who played
the saw, which bent my lovely spine
every imaginable way. It still hurts on
a rainy day. I’d as soon be violated by
a piper, hurdy gurdist, or pit viper.
I take this as a compliment and put away
my instrument, but hear distinctly old Bach
chuckling, in the firmament, above my head.
If the lawn is an expanse of emerald or jade,
then the blackbirds scattered there are bits
of onyx or coal at least, but that image quickly
blurs, then dissipates because they feast
and move about the grass which is itself
a living thing and therefore fluid too, nor am I
sure they are even blackbirds. I only know
they are black birds and not the larger crows.
So all of the above just comes to nothing now.
I have no gems nor anthracite nor certainty
of avian taxonomy, so let me start again.
If the lawn is a field somewhere in Ukraine
circa 1900, then dark birds move about
like the local Cossacks slowly gleaning
grain or gathering mushrooms in the sun,
just a short gallop from the Shtetl village
where my grandfather lived until he fled.
He said its name to me, which I remember
but can’t find on any map, and he’s long dead.
And all those hounded old-world Jews are gone,
and I don’t care a rusty kopek for the peasants
who harassed them, and they too have moved on.
So let me start again. If the lawn is the courtyard
that surrounds the Palace at Saint Petersburg
where an upstairs window of the Czar should be
open to catch the morning breeze on a summer day,
then the black birds are anarchists that insinuate
themselves inside to sit upon the gem-encrusted
eggs of Faberge until they cease to be objets d’art
and break apart. Once fledged, the plans they hatch
dispatch the Romanovs, the children too, and once
more they fly away, but infanticide is not nothing so
I will not start again. Enough harm for one day.
Joel Glickman is Professor Emeritus of Music at Northland College, having served on faculty there, as conductor, clarinetist, studio and classroom teacher from 1974-2017. Creative endeavors, besides the writing of poetry since grade school, include work as a banjo-playing singer-songwriter and composer of chamber and some large ensemble music. His poems have been published by Aji Literary Magazine, Spitball magazine (a literary magazine dedicated to baseball), and Aqueous, a regional arts publication.
After Van Gogh’s Wheatfield With Crows
When he knew it was over
Or nearly so he still wanted
To get the gold right
The wheat full and leaning
Into the diminishing sun
He wanted the gray
Like a dark feather
To push in from the corner
A prize fighter
A little wobbly from the beating
Then he sent the black birds
Out across the wheat
Into the dying light
Like a last flurry of punches
Knowing they would never land
That night would fall
The fight over at last
Gerry Grubbs lives in Cincinnati where he practices law.
We circulated, name-tags matching
Memories to flesh grown old and suffered
The indignities of age with smiles. “You
Look the same,” said to the bald, the gray, the
Athletic turned to paunch. A few were mourned—killed
By cancer or accident or murder. And we all experienced
The little death of aspirations buried
Beneath years of just living. “Not an artist, then?”
Briefly, but given up for kids and his career. Even those
Who remained loyal to the town we once called home,
The doctors and lawyers, were but
Kings and queens of a sad, rust-belt kingdom.
At the bar, the closet alcoholics ordered just one more
While we, two-thirds strangers now, swore that
This time—this time—we’d keep in touch. The motel sheets
Were rough and kept catching on the edges of lost dreams.
And in the morning, we saw once again
Steel mills shrink to nothing in the rear-view mirror.
The sun sank, the last rays crossing Africa
And all the ocean between to reach us
On the rooftop bar, drinking cocktails.
Watercolor dulled to monochrome,
Then all to black, while on the horizon
A distant storm, silent as a cat,
Appeared, its lightning doubled,
Sparkling the wave-tops with firefly gleams.
And I, slightly tipsy by now, thought that
I could never forget this moment, that
I would clasp it to my chest and hold it,
Like a beautiful woman, forever,
Yet knowing better.
For all our todays must yesterdays turn,
And ephemeral our memory must be.
First we forget our never forgetting,
Then we lose remembrance drop by drop,
Or perhaps it better said grain by grain,
The winds of time snatching sand from our lee,
Even as our lives add more to the face.
And all men are changed hour by day,
Flowing dunes who mistake themselves mountains.
Andrew Gudgel is a freelance writer, poet and translator who lives in Maryland. His poetry and translations of Classical Chinese poetry have appeared in Lily Poetry Review, Southeast Missouri State’s Proud to Be anthology, Western Michigan University’s journal Transference, and Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine.
The Devil’s Kettle
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
In June, the waterfall breaks through
the ice of indecision and chooses
all of the above. The rocks are as efficient
as a tailor with his scissors, cutting
the waterfall neatly in two, letting one leg down,
and pinning the other up tight, like a white
handkerchief a magician pushes
back up his sleeve. The water falls
everywhere and nowhere, rushing
to explore two paths at once. Standing
at the lower falls and looking up
at the intricate rockwork, people murmur
or watch in silence, flat stones, plants trembling
leaf by leaf in the mist. Like Robert Johnson,
the river must have made a deal
with the devil to take its music
in so many directions: a chipped enamel
washtub poured out; a white, starchy torrent
of rain; an earth-bound comet, rich as heavy cream.
It needs no audience but the blackberries,
runs day and night, breathless, the paint
brimming the container, sloshing everywhere,
doubling itself into twin travelers
with no passports, suitcases flung
over a cliff, white shirts and rumpled
nightclothes tumbling collar over ruffle
over hem, all joy, all encore, a torrent
of yesses overpowering every no.
How to Play the Tree
as the seed
in the dirt.
a reed in
When a hawk
reach for it;
the robin’s nest,
the dueling squirrels,
and her book.
When the horses
When the prince
When the lovers
kiss, fan their
as only leaves
in the summer can.
Gwen Hart teaches writing at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Her second poetry collection, The Empress of Kisses, won the X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize from Texas Review Press. Her poems have appeared recently in HEART, Otis Nebula, and Tiny Seed Journal.
One half of a pair of sandals
fell out of the closet this February day. “Faded Glory” the name, leather uppers, precision-cut butterfly design. A hybrid Birkenstockish/flip-flop. I wore
these shoes to run away from
you. All the way to Boston, the train station at rush hour, they walked. Space between my toes rubbed raw.
I didn’t have my pink cowgirl hat
yet nor my indoor/outdoor mocs. I wear them to cut firewood.
Your hard new Nikes stamped into my life and walked all over me. Couldn’t hear the silent constancy of my poetry streaming to join stars,
black and fathomless.
Wherever I go these days
I travel without you.
I wear Billy Collins special glasses:
he can’t see a certain person with them.
Mine dangle off a croakie,
bounce between my breasts.
“Classy broad,” you said
to pretend you weren’t oogling.
“Crunchy granola dyke,”
you laughed at my tats.
I cock my hat, shove
glasses up my face.
Notch an arrow.
into frigid afternoon and
The slam of a bullseye echoes through the woods.
looks like a ragged
Rachael Ikins is a multiple Pushcart nominee, & 2018 Independent Book Award winner with fellowships to Colgate Writers Conferences, a Finishing Line Press honorarium to read at Lismore Castle, Ireland, 6 chapbooks, a full-length collection, fantasy & memoir. Ikins’ prize winning artwork/illustrations are on book covers worldwide. Associate Editor at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.
Miles Davis on Horseback, NYC, 1944
Cold morning, uptown park. Suit and tie, clean shaven,
uniform immaculate. The home front war, endless.
Nostrils flare, breath steams, eyes burn to meet every
stare and slur. Muscles tense, ears prick to the music
of everything he wants, the blood racing towards it.
There he is again,
a cardboard sign.
Whiskey, fire lit to
swallow other fires.
Lights a smoke
the sawmill missed,
believes the April geese
stick out their necks
sounding like a
loose belt on
a rusty engine turning
over every morning,
God knows why.
Mark Jackley’s latest book of poems, On the Edge of a Very Small Town, is available by emailing email@example.com. His work has appeared in Fifth Wednesday, Sugar House Review, Talking River, and other journals. He lives in Purcellville, Virginia.
Skinnydip at the Millpond
Naked again and no moon.
The pond’s surface fully starred
and we there between two skies.
The water sun-warmed, the air
too held August heat that night.
On the far shore, four horses.
Even in the dark, their necks,
their heads, seem light and floating
despite the drab drape of pines,
the dismal crowd of pin oaks.
As if fire were in them,
their heads shake as they see us.
Their wild manes, dim torches,
burn for an apocalypse–
a beginning and an end.
They seem to beg us to swim
through the wet constellations,
to mount them and take new names.
Paul Jones’ poetry has been published in Poetry, Snapdragon, and Southern Review, as well as in several anthologies including Best American Erotic Poems (1800 – Present). Recently, he was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and two Best of the Web Awards. His chapbook is What the Welsh and Chinese Have in Common. A manuscript of his poems crashed on the moon’s surface April 11, 2019.
I was born where they found me
some town under a lake under a cloud
riddled with chimneys and drunkards
and preachers fighting then hauling me
over the inside edge of a casket to breathe
and look away at my wings in another
room where there might have been a child
with mama and papa dove-cooed in Bibles
to say: be ye so born again that a sparrow
would wear lilies for its wings, and memorize
its singing voice for the psalms and proverbs,
but then I lived the same as a derailed train
in a ghost town on an uninhabited planet,
the body the mind the winter all eroded
Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Kendall and their son Alan. Several years ago, they added an art studio to their house and named it Towhee Hill. In 2017, Cedar Creek published his book of poems Fiddling At Midnight’s Farmhouse, which Kendall illustrated.
We are bone on bone
arthritic. This joint
called love strained, made
creaky from overuse
then stillness, avoidance
of the pain such twists
Is there a needle, a pill,
a bullet of pure
gold that might
smooth and realign
the space between? Or must
we grind away, a slow
spoke of pain that no ice
or heat or weather front
Beth Konkoski is a writer and high-school English teacher living in northern Virginia with her husband and two children. Her work has been published in literary journals such as Mid-American Review, The Potomac Review, and Saranac Review. Two chapbooks of her poetry have been published, Noticing the Splash (BoneWorld Press, 2010) and Water Shedding (Finishing Line Press,2019).
The Battle of the Washita
Given sharper eyes, they could have read the future
Within the darkness through which they passed.
Eight hundred of the Seventh squinted through
The breath of their cavalry mounts, crystal plumes
Coating young soldiers’ beards with rime-frost,
Turning them into ghostly companies of old men.
They rode beneath the sky’s palling skin toward
The Washita and late November’s milky dawn.
Bordering the sleepy stream, black Cottonwood
Trunks seemed to yawn open as unmarked graves.
Skeletal limbs, weighted by crusted snow,
Cracked like the promise of sharpshooters’ rifles.
Against the Eastern sky, a tracery of twigs
Appeared to branch into a network of pulsing veins
Waiting for anger to become unsheathed sabers.
Across the Washita threads of smoke rose from
Cook fires, rags of peace waving above Black Kettle’s
Band of Cheyenne, two hundred fifty survivors
Of the Sand Creek massacre, huddled in fifty-one
Lodges buried in Indian Territory’s prairie grass
And red earth beneath the snow’s long slumber.
The Seventh charged, Custer leading them across
The Washita in a single bound, bloody dawn breaking
Treacherous as last year’s treaty the Generals
Had sworn with Apache, Arapahoe, Cheyenne,
Comanche, and Kiowa, a hard ride northeast
Where Elm Creek met the sacred Medicine Lodge River.
Running Water, White Beaver, Wolf Looking Back,
Crazy, Big Horse, Blind Bear, Medicine Walker
Woke to bugle bluster, repeating rifles, clotted cries.
They ran from sleep toward the sheltering arms of
The Washita’s embankments, breaking the skim ice
Into shards brighter than blades of the Long Knives.
A fine red mist feathered above the smoking river,
And screams of children hid among the trees.
While bullets burst over the death songs of warriors,
The ululation of captive women and painted ponies,
Blood turned dark as broken words along the Washita.
Then deaf to grief, Custer turned away, commanded
His Seventh to follow him down the long war path
Leading eight years later to a blistering Montana
Summer day, the Little Big Horn, Last Stand Hill.
Don Kunz taught literature, creative writing, and film studies at the University of Rhode Island for 36 years. His essays, poems, and short stories have appeared in over eighty literary journals. Don has retired to Bend, Oregon, where he writes fiction and poetry. He is a member of The High Desert Poetry Cell, a group of five men who donate the proceeds from their readings and published books of poetry to non-profit community organizations.
White Fire of the Stars
Title from “Sleeping in the Forest” by Mary Oliver
A refugee mountain lion
creeps across steepled roof,
onto patio, over fence,
sets my dogs barking,
awakens neighbors at 2 a.m.
Stealthy cougar slinks,
a liquid blur flowing between hibiscus,
roses, Pride of Madeira,
by security camera.
Possums, skunks, feral cats
sense its threatening trespass,
vanish into burrows,
observe from safe shadows.
From oak limbs, nocturnal owls croon.
Panther prowls, sniffs the air.
White fire from distant stars glows overhead.
Dr. Jennifer Lagier has published sixteen books and most recently in From Everywhere a Little: A Migration Anthology, Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, Missing Persons: Reflections on Dementia, Silent Screams: Poetic Journeys Through Addiction & Recovery. Newest books: Camille Mobilizes (FutureCycle) and Trumped Up Election (Xi Draconis Books). Website: jlagier.net
A Fine Order of Mirth
Hallelujah to the grace that lies in this praise season.
Here my pleasure is most.
When winter’s basement gives way to warmth, I feel myself
in the garden’s ascension, bowing—an arching forsythia
spilling lemon whorls onto the slim fingers of new grass.
I move with shifting poppies as the petals of their tea-cup heads
splay and splay more and my heart-song can be heard
in the curving trumpets of lilies as a caprice of whim and whimsy.
When the torch of the sun’s rays force others to leave,
the zinnias and I remain. Our ruddy branches are arms
that want their fiber to fill space boundlessly and reach
toward the first honking geese through air that is growing cold.
In time our skeletal glory will become bones of beauty
and the strongest of us will be the last to go.
For eight years, Diana Lee Mazor has honed her writing skills by participating in a semimonthly writing workshop in the New River Valley. In the last two years she has had three poems selected in juried competitions and has read them at the Valley Voice’s Spring and Fall Celebrations and at the Virginia Tech Center for the Art’s exhibition titled Unleashed. Her poems have also appeared in Artemis Journal, Floyd County Moonshine, and The Peacock Journal. She is a retired art teacher who spent many years helping children create masterpieces.
When I turn on the dishwasher, the white noise machine
in the bedroom, a bathroom fan—I hear country and
western music amidst all that droning. I try
to convert these sounds into meaning and I hear
lonesome voices singing about lost love,
fast horses, car wrecks, gambling, Mama,
Daddy, whip-poor-wills, Cherokees, whiskey, Jesus,
sorrow, joy, and death. My earliest memory is
listening to Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”
as my dad drove our ‘59 Rambler across East Texas,
Robbins’ crooning broken up now and then by the static
of all those miles howling through their fields
and hills, through the voices of the possessed
and dispossessed, through the lo of cattle
and shouts from bar fights and rodeos, from
financial troubles and domestic struggles—
all that grey interference carried by electromagnetic
air particles reflecting off the ionosphere, or something
akin to that, in the way we are all kin, traveling waves
of troubled meanings bouncing off windows and ceilings,
ricocheting past mountains into the great beyond
of dying satellites, cold stars and hungry black holes.
Perhaps in that dreamless dark a god or two wakes
to hear our voices and listens for a moment to our pleading
before turning back to the business of governing a universe,
which demands shutting off the radio that hums and crackles
with human suffering and focusing on the big stuff like
entropy, and how everything is losing energy
in the way light drains from a western sky
and all the fields darken until they are no longer
fields, and each barn, each farmhouse, each windmill
becomes a black silhouette before surrendering
to the night, and all the farmers, their wives, their
sweet children, all of them are nestled in a fading,
swimming world of sleep and dreams where
even love will seem possible. We spend
our days seeking patterns and meaning in everything: the sounds
of the bathroom fan, the drone of an air conditioner, the clouds
above, bird shadows that flicker across a lake, the face etched
in the bark of a slash pine. Wherever we look, me make
the random into God’s work, see holy intentions shimmering
beyond the music of this world. Ah, but to love the things
themselves: the wispy cumuli, the snowy egret, the tree
itself, which may or may not be a way of finding gods
in the miracle of photosynthesis in which
the very light fuels the green.
The Endless Rain of Nights
I drove dark miles last night down
the West Coast of Florida–Saint Pete, Sarasota,
Bradenton, bright streetlights floating beneath
the black sky, moon, and stars. I passed toll
booths, rumbling Freightliners, and gated
communities next to the interstate, where, hidden
by ornamental shrubbery, thousands of lives play
out behind fake stone fences. I passed swaths
of rivers and creeks cutting through fields and pastures
that whispered of the land that was before: Behold beauty
passing in the dark miles. Behold the cold monotony of rest
stops and gas stations and Steak and Shakes. I passed
slower traffic and sipped on my coffee, determined to stay
awake for another hundred miles, determined to see beautiful
things in the darkness: the osprey nests poised high on the weigh
station lamp posts, the running lights of semis that made
me think of ferries, lit and crossing rivers in the long night,
carrying traffic from one pier to the other place that is its
own small town of sorrows, or big city of bleak skylines
and the regret that comes with greasy spoons, cold coffee, and
the emptiness of distances shrinking in headlights, the thrumming
song of our expensive tires on asphalt, so different from the Sears’
retreads of childhood when we rode without seatbelts in huge cars
that rumbled like great beasts through Southern nights. I passed
memory at mile-marker 191. It waved back at me with the kind
of meaning I needed, that little ache at once fertile and mischievous,
ready to spark the kind of sorrow we need in this world if we are
to survive the silliness. I passed memories of my dead parents.
I passed childhood scenes where I learned slowly the art of losing
everything: baseball cards, marbles, plastic soldiers, and the idea
that life would not be a struggle from grey dawn to the endless
rain of nights, seasons of nightmares and sometimes sweet dreams
passing slowly until here I am, southbound on an interstate in the gauzy
darkness that I know is full of other dreamers, so I finish my coffee,
push down the accelerator, and pray that this world endures past
this latest night I am passing through with its phrases of memory
that sing to life the dreams of harvest moons, shooting stars, and
the silky fabric of a constellation heaving across a mid-twentieth
century sky, back in those days before light pollution when the dark
was its own mysterious country filled with voices of ghosts and
echoes of bluegrass songs unleashed from old cars with V-8 engines
whose hood ornaments pointed towards distances yet to be traveled
on winding roads framed by barbed wire fences and Burma Shave signs.
Directions to the Hard Edge of this World
To get there, time-travel to 1960, take the Crewe to Burkeville road
for twelve miles, turn right at the turnoff for Mr. Dixon’s farm,
and head down the dirt road that passes the sawmill across
from the pasture where Dixon’s bull ambles around in his red halter.
Then you’ll have to walk about a quarter mile through stands of loblolly
pine before you’ll see the rusty gate that leads to seven
acres of tobacco, which, since it’s late August is yellowing with heat
and nicotine. My grandpa’s horse, Billy Buck, is pulling a sled up
and down the long rows of yellow-topped plants, the heavy beads
of sweat glimmering on his brown flanks like diamonds and these are the
only precious things to be found in this memory of the old man’s
sharecropper life, the hard work that will lead to a trip to the tobacco auction
in Richmond where weary men with callused hands and creased brown
faces sell their crops for less money than it takes to pay the rent and feed
their families. This field resides in memory now, a place where the poor
labored, so, as my grandpa said, the rich could get richer and the world
could continue its gritty business of grinding down the poor into shadows
on a summer field, who lifted ladles full of well water out of an aluminum
pail, and sometimes, I swear, as spilled water fell like rain, as grown men
steadied themselves in the Virginia heat, as crows flew over the metal roofs
of nearby barns and outbuildings, as the fields shimmered in waves of heat
rising—as all of this happened, I would pause from stringing tobacco leaves
to sticks and wonder about the mean, hard edge this world had found.
Jesse Millner’s poems have appeared in Steam Ticket, The Split Rock Review, The Comstock Review, The South Florida Poetry Journal, The West Texas Literary Review and have been included in Best American Poetry, 2013. Jesse teaches writing courses at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida.
Sixty-six feet long, forty-eight feet high, she more than fills
the upper stories of the Provincetown Public Library.
Half-size replica of a race-winning schooner, sunk
by a German U-boat in 1917, as it carried a cargo of salt.
In the ceiling, holes for Rose Dorothea’s two masts,
her prow stuck fast in the study room’s glass door.
Builders rounded her bow to let her sail closer into the wind,
faster than any other schooner, but now, she gathers dust,
her sails hang limp, and her rigging is as neatly tied as last year
and the year before. How is such motion stilled?
a year before my mother died, I sat with her, thinking she slept,
but the nurse could not rouse her and called the stroke team,
who pinched and yelled and slapped and could not rouse her,
scanned her brain and found no evidence of stroke. My mother,
made for arpeggios and laughter, no longer wanted what small
life she had. Weary, she’d simply left her body. How does
a woman leave her body? I watched three hours while she
lay there, the pulse in the hollow of her neck, the graceful
violinist’s fingers inert on the hospital bed. Then slowly,
peeking from between her eyelids, she came back to her life,
to its bewilderment and sorrow. Soon, she would strip naked,
barricade her door, call me Mama.
I imagine a great storm,
breaking glass, apocalyptic noise, sudden wind filling her sails.
Rose Dorothea crashes through the roof and walls, lifts
from the beams and plaster and flies away, free, in open sky.
The porch opened up beneath her
like a fun-house floor
and down she crumpled―
a heap next to the barbecue,
a pile of laundry, arms and feet
in all directions.
I stood and watched,
waiting for the moment just before
to reappear―my mother ambling,
chattering, admiring the azaleas.
But, of course, the sun kept climbing
across empty sky. No clouds.
Only my reflection in the window
toting up the times I failed
to save her. What she taught me
all my life: do both at once―
keep my distance but be there
in time to catch her when she falls.
Now she sits in a wheelchair
transfixed by her lap, the wrinkles
of her pale and swollen knuckle-skin.
She’s rummaging through dusty
files of wrongs she has endured,
polishing her Purple Heart.
Between us, a bloodline of sadness.
If I began, the list would loop and
lengthen―an umbilical of blame.
Kathy Nelson (Fairview, NC), recipient of the 2019 James Dickey Poetry Prize, is the author of two chapbooks―Cattails (Main Street Rag, 2013) and Whose Names Have Slipped Away (Finishing Line Press, 2016). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Asheville Poetry Review, The Cortland Review, Tar River Poetry, Broad River Review, Southern Poetry Review, U.S. 1 Worksheets, The Practicing Poet (Terrapin Books) and It’s All Relative: Tales from the Tree (Stone Ivy Press).
The Sea at Its Edge
At the shore we are tall and twisted
dancing with our half-wild arms
among the living and the swirling dead.
The sea at its limits is full of illusion.
It drags the deeps of our words
deformed by light or motion.
Its rolling retrieves dreaming from the dark:
A distance that moves in swells
and thoughts as far and blue as islands.
We remember how things happened,
drop each grief near others of its kind
like the little struggling creatures on the sand.
Here the island blue and lost is not a loss,
only a difficult change of distance.
Harsh and loved, like the strangeness of birds.
And this emptiness like a young wind
going among the allotted creatures,
bringing a realization or a death.
Patricia Nelson has worked for many years with the “Activist” group of poets in Northern California. Her book, Out of the Underworld, is due out this year from Poetic Matrix Press.
The coal-black bite
Of night here
In Northern California.
Trees rise high,
Ancient giants among stars.
They vibrate wisdom, remembered
Fog oozes from branches, these trees
What we need, we forget until
By wildness, wilderness, silent
Rising of greats in this forest.
Karen Poppy has work published in The American Journal of Poetry, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, ArLiJo, Wallace Stevens Journal, and The Cortland Review. She has a chapbook forthcoming with Finishing Line Press and another chapbook forthcoming with Homestead Lighthouse Press. An attorney licensed in California and Texas, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Lira and the Earth
Lira grew up, left mazes of concrete walk,
rented a house attached to dirt,
found oak and holly trees as neighbors,
made friends by asking how to plant
seeds, bushes, and trees.
Fresh dirt found its way to first garden.
She learned to dig, spade, hoe,
plant seeds with a light hand,
mark rows, check often for first sprouts,
and bleed from cuts of care.
Finally, with afternoon sunshine in her face,
she pulled the first food granted by the garden,
a radish red as first blush of love, ready for taste.
She made friends with trees of beech, cherry, walnut,
carved figures of fish and animals, smiled to discover
grains and colors of wood, and blood from cuts,
became sisters with the trees.
She walked among oaks, pines, and creeks,
built a campfire, slept in a tent, woke early
to birdsong and the smell of coffee on a wood fire,
then caught a trout, thanked heaven for the gift,
cleaned and fried the fish for breakfast.
Lira learned to build a house, cut firewood,
keep warm when cold winds blew,
sit under a willow tree when sun parched
the earth past blood and grit.
Now she sits cozy by a wood stove in winter,
takes walks in the snow, bakes bread and cake.
In summer she grows flowers and wades
through a cold creek where cherry limbs dangle
and one walnut watches from high.
Mary Ricketson’s poems have been published in Wild Goose Poetry Review, Future Cycle Press, Journal of Kentucky Studies, Lights in the Mountains, Echoes Across the Blue Ridge, Red Fox Run, It’s All Relative, Old Mountain Press, Whispers, Voices, her chapbook I Hear the River Call my Name, and three full-length collections, Hanging Dog Creek, Shade and Shelter, and Mississippi: The Story of Luke and Marian. She lives in Murphy NC.
A Boy’s Payday
You walk home in the summer heat,
from plants near the harbor,
along a sluggish Jones-Falls,
through hot asphalt vapors,
to Lombard, where live chickens
flap in light blue exhaust—
then you duck into Attman’s
to order a corned beef—
and what could be richer,
for a Baltimore boy,
than to pay for a corned beef
with his own money?
You wait for your order
with surly old men
who cough up their words
in an old man’s language.
Your eyes drift to the butcher,
from his hand to the forearm
flexing on down strokes
as he shaves off pink slices
from a slab of fat brisket,
to the hairs plastered down
in a light sheen of sweat,
to the row of blue numbers
etched into pale skin.
“Enjoy it, kid,” he grins
like he’d been a boy once,
a boy like you
before the tattoo.
Frederick Douglass Arrives in Baltimore
He’d come here from the Eastern Shore
and he thought Baltimore
a fine place to be a slave in.
He was in the loft
of Hugh Auld’s attic,
had just drifted off
when something woke him,
footfalls on the stones
of Aliceanna Alley, footfalls
and the sound of chains
below his window. And something else,
between hard breathing,
a moaning, in unison,
as they were marched
down Aliceanna Alley—
and in that moment
he knew that anger
was the only good
of slavery. To keep that fire,
to breathe it in,
to hold it in his chest.
David Salner’s new book is The Stillness of Certain Valleys, recently released and available from Broadstone Books http://broadstonebooks.com/David_Salner.html His writing also appears in Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, Beloit Poetry Journal, Lascaux Review, and North American Review. He worked as iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, and now librarian.
First she reclaims the garden,
tangled north facing plot
where summer comes slow.
The root cellar holds cloudy jars
neatly stacked on wooden shelves.
A neighbor bush-hogs the brambles,
the wild blackberries, the weeds
grown tangled from neglect.
A storage shed keeps stories of better
days wrapped in cobwebs and dust.
An artist whose medium is dirt walks
behind his Gravely tractor turning soil
while she follows raking, breaking clods of clay.
Together they carve a spiral and dig
keyholes for herbs. The man plows long rows.
Autumn she plants buckwheat, begins
a compost pile. Winter she curls into the sofa,
reads seed catalogues and stokes the fire.
Spring brings blueberry bushes, flats of basil.
She plants by the moon and dreams of chickens.
A tree trimmer prunes the apple trees’ branches
split by winter winds and ice. Order brings its own
regrets, but she cannot resist the impulse.
Sunrise she kneels between the rows pulling weeds
from soil still damp with dew, thinks to stay awhile.
After the accident, someone else drove him
to the emergency room. She found the note
scrawled in his loopy hand, her name, the words,
where are you? Good, she thought, he’s on the ground,
before she knew about the nail slammed through
his boot, impaling his right foot’s arch.
All summer he spent days twelve stories
up, walking beams while she worked two jobs,
scraping crumbs from white damask, arranging
silver and goblets, sweeping floors. She wore
sensible soft soles, imagined the man she loves
living in air, disappearing like the dust he showers
away each night while her hands wring water from
his curls, letting summer slip through her fingers.
Careless, the way they built the scaffolding, leaping
from unsecured planks before tightening bolts.
Pat Riviere-Seel is the author of three poetry collections, including Nothing Below but Air and The Serial Killer’s Daughter,which won the Roanoke-Chowan Award. She teaches in the University of North Carolina Asheville’s Great Smokies Writing Program. Pat received the “Charlie Award” from the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in 2017. Before earning her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, she worked as a newspaper journalist, an editor, a publicist, and a lobbyist. She lives in Burnsville, NC.
Mose came to Mom—mom’s screened back door—he’s the colored man that
swapped odd jobs for Sunday scraps. On his head, a sweat-stained Fedora hat.
Mom-mom said Mose fell in a blizzard and froze. I was four and sure that
only snowmen died in snow, after Christmas, like Frosty in his old top hat.
When James Joyce’s patroness wired cash to Italy, the first necessity Nora
bought was a decent frock, while Joyce sent to London for a new Fedora.
Zora Hurston posed, grinning wide, clutch-bag under her arm, in the poster
that spent a decade on my wall. On her head, at rakish angle, a fine Fedora.
Snap: engaged in ‘39, Great Depression done, my parents got good jobs. That’s
why they could afford these matching leather jackets and those expensive hats.
My friend Paul loved Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon, so much
that he stole their licks, took to the road with 12-string and his father’s Stetson hat.
Markos Vamvakaris tucked a cigarette behind his pinky, chorded bouzouki like that.
A Rembetis, he charmed women with his gold tooth, black suits, and louche Fedora.
One spring day at the Harvard Coop, my lover said “Try this on. It’s you. Look at
that.” We picnicked by the Charles. I felt wholly reinvented in my new Fedora hat.
(I’ve seen his wife on Facebook. She looks like me. But much less fat.
She poses by a cabin cruiser in white shirt, khakis and blithe Fedora.)
Mother named me Cathy Anne. My boyfriend (who read Hemingway) named me Cat.
Some still call me that. The mice, one winter, gnawed big holes in my old Fedora hat.
My mother took me to jail when I
was four, part of a Cub Scout trip
to the police station. Our neighbor
Fran was den mother, three of the
cubs her sons. She’d sigh and say
she was born to be den mother. Mom
was there to drive, help mind the pack.
Anchored to Mom’s hand, I joined a
small mob of blue uniforms and bold
yellow kerchiefs. A big cop showed
us a wall of black and white photos.
A kid’s body covered in a blanket lay
in the road in front of a school bus .
This was why, said the cop, you should never,
never run in front of a bus. The kid’s
sneaker had come off and landed on
the sidewalk. The shoe was in the
foreground, bigger than anything.
A ring of keys on the cop’s belt
made jangling music when he
thumped downstairs to the cells.
The walls turned dank and close.
It got hard to breathe. I was not
scared exactly, but felt something
shady, heavy in my belly.
My parents got dressed in dark clothes
and the babysitter came. When I asked
where they were going they said Fran’s
funeral. A kind of get-together when
someone dies, explained my father.
To show you will miss them. But
who, I wondered, will run the Cubs?
Other grownups came and one said
Fran had a hard time going through
the change. It came on too early.
Spare change, jingling in Dad’s pocket.
A baby doll that peed and you could
change its flannel diaper. The bad queen
who changes into an old woman selling
apples to Snow White. I wondered how
a person can change so much they’d die.
It was years before I understood the words
depression and suicide. By then I knew the
drip-drip of repetitive days, the open mouths
and greedy eyes of infants. The reach for
a cigarette, a coffee cup, five minutes to
yourself on the back stoop. The man who
spends his need then turns and snores. The
fantasies about daytime TV doctors. The grim
sight of your tired face in the bathroom mirror
at three AM. Longings that come and must be
dismissed and dismissed and dismissed.
Until the walls start to close in as you go
down and there’s less and less air and the
room below with the tightly shut door
becomes, in itself, a kind of fantasy.
Cathy Larson Sky has one chapbook, Blue egg, my heart, with Finishing Line Press (2014). Her poems have won awards from the NC Poetry Society, including first place in the Thomas H. McDill category. More of her work can be found in The Great Smokies Review, Kakalak, WNC Woman and The New Guard Review. In 2017 Cathy was mentored by poet Pat Riviere-Seel through the Gilbert Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.
What Happened to That Lonesome Whip-poor-will
What song in the front room I hear calling,
As sleep drifts me into the easy night
Of my soul, the shy one, its hedge rising
And falling, then carried away to Hank
Moaning his “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,”
Incoming reveries, music, windy
And wet where once an angel from on high
Did govern my guilty self so sinful.
The bird’s voice comes through the picture window
Like a decree from some God that endured
Scepters, flowers fallen from church widows’
Big-brimmed hats to alter the shape-note tunes.
The female I hear now: quirt, quirt,
And the chanting of the male: whip-poor-will.
I sleep with dignity; how provident
The female bird is, wedded to her trill.
To make the more, I keep our lonely plans
And call our happy state, though developments
Here make certain the whip-poor-will lounges
In leaf-litter far from this hill’s tenements.
Hank, During and Afterwards
I never wanted to do anything
But let God write my songs and allow me
To sing them for folks around Montgomery.
That’s before the whole world called me Hank when
I was drunk or sober and mortal sin
Was staged as my subject after Audrey
Took over my life so gradually.
And she thought she could sing. I did not care.
She sounded like her voice lodged in a screen
To me, a rusty door-screen soaked with oil.
I always drank more, too, go on a binge
To free feeling her control over me.
If I had not met Audrey Mae Sheppard
I am sure my fans would miss “Cold Cold Heart.”
In fact almost all of the songs I wrote
Come right out of my ups and downs with her.
The line, “The light shines bright from your window,”
Comes straight out of our lives, that ever blur
Of whiskey and fog, fed by her desire
For a bigger house of gold and glitter.
I had a gun once. I pulled the trigger.
“Mansion on the Hill ”—that was the song.
Things just come to me now, how my daddy
Did serve our country in the first world war.
He came home, changed man, not a lumberman
Like he was before. My mother, Lillian,
Made him move away from her boardinghouse.
It seems like she never needed a spouse.
17 September, 1923,
Born. And death: first day, 1953.
I know this because Fame took over me.
I was an alcoholic at sixteen.
Think where could I go but to the bottle.
It would pick me up, then let me hang down,
When the quack doctor tossed me pills around.
I needed help. All producers wanted
Was to prop me up at a microphone
And make me sing. And then I was haunted
By gossip and rumors, breakups, unlike
Any lyric I could possibly write
To say what bad shape I was really in.
The Opry fired me. The Hayride shunned me.
So I died in the backseat of my Cad.
It was baby blue—museum somewhere
In Montgomery. And that’s not all bad.
I just did not wake up in that backseat.
My driver kept driving toward Canton,
Ohio. Ray Price told the audience
I was dead: hear me now—that’s obvious.
My son, Bocephus, carries on my name.
I cannot name his wives, though I can hear
Hank 3’s outlaw-country in honky-tonks
Across the land–Hilary, Holly too.
And Jett Williams: I made sure Mama knew
About. How glad I am she got to tour
With Don Helms and all my Drifting Cowboys.
It won’t take me long to say who I am.
I was born Audrey Mae Sheppard, the year,
Same one Hank was born in. I got married
To James Erskine Guy. I was a senior
In high school. We had daughter Lycrecia.
Hank and I married,1944.
I will get to it: 1944
I was the real unofficial I am
Of Hank’s life; later, Junior’s. Lycrecia
Wrote an honest book Still in Love With You.
We all wanted a piece of Hank Senior.
We raged each to each, like we were married.
I really mean that, as if we married
Each other at once in 1944.
I want one thing straight, though: as a senior
In high school I married. That’s who I am.
All the critics say I was in charge year
After year. I did control Lycrecia.
Not only did I manage Lycrecia,
I tried to be in charge of the married
Lives of anyone whatever the year.
I felt drawn around 1944,
And every year, all time; that’s who I am.
My second husband, Hank Williams Senior?
Why, you could say he was a real senior
At drinking up whiskey, with Lycrecia
Or his mother Lillie or me. I am
Telling the truth. If we had not married
Hank would have stayed home, 1944,
Until 1953, a big year.
Bocephus Randall: around three that year.
Once he got out on his own, like Senior,
He was ragged—right. 1944
Ran deep blood. Your Cheatin’ Heart: Lycrecia
Said, “Mama, he sounds just like he married
You.” I said, darling, I know who I am.
Movie-year? 1964: I am
Myself: Senior? Junior sings. Not married.
Gone, 1944: O Lycrecia.
Photo credit: Kate Whittington
Shelby Stephenson served as Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2015-2018. Recent books: Elegies for Small Game (Press 53), winner of Roanoke-Chowan Award; Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl (Bellday Books), the Bellday Prize; Our World (Press 53); Nin’s Poem (St. Andrews University Press), and Slavery and Freedom on Paul’s Hill (Press 53). Recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Achievement Award, English Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, serving as editor of Pembroke Magazine from 1979 until his retirement in 2010.
After “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee
My neighbor used to bring them over
in a white cardboard container,
a half bushel of glowing globes,
pink cheeked and fuzzed,
adolescent fruits, announcing
the arrival of summer.
Skins blanched in scalding water
slipped off before the fruit was sliced
with a dull paring knife, tossed with
cinnamon, sugar, and just enough cornstarch
before being laid to rest in a coffin of crust,
a pie for home and a pie for next door
where now the door stays shut to my knock.
I carry the shadow of this summer ritual
with me down the dusty road to the orchard.
On the drive here I passed the home
where my neighbor now lives, if living is the word
you still use when your memories have been abscised.
I have smelled apple blossoms on the branch,
walked among the cherries as a breeze confettied the sky,
but I can’t envision a peach tree in flower,
despite the poet’s reminder of blossoms. What I can imagine
is one of these low-limbed trees in November,
grey branches bare against an azure sky, waiting for winter.
Terri Lynn Simpson is a spiritual director, retreat leader, and meditation teacher who works with the Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage at Washington National Cathedral. In her work and her writing, she strives to make sense of the seen, shine light on the unseen, embrace mystery, and find wonder in the ordinary. Terri Lynn has a graduate degree in theology and a doctorate in Spirituality and Story.
A Million Silver Lizards out of Snow
Dear Robert Frost:
I have to write you, tell you about your hillside thaw. I see you, I think, spread out trying to catch these lizards, these melting, running snow brooks fleeing down the hillside.
I’ve seen cats do that. We’d shovel corn until the bin was almost empty, signs of mice everywhere, the small black pellets they left. I learned to know these seedlike things weren’t seeds.
The chewed grain, the meal chugging up the loose jumble of the eared pile, the red cobs here and there already stripped of every yellow kernel.
As the corn pile shrunk through weeks and months of feeding, the wall retreating to shovel after shovel, we’d know we’d be springing mice, water from a flood-soaked hillside. They would pop out and run from everywhere, run crazily for anywhere.
That’s when we’d call the cats. The best ones didn’t catch one mouse, retreat to a cozy spot, eat it daintily, licking each paw as if dinner were delightful. The best ones spread themselves this way and that—one paw here, a mouse squirming underneath, a dead mouse under a taut hind leg, another squeaking and wild-eyed in the cat’s clamped jaws. I’ve seen a champion mouser have four at a time, all pinioned fast or dead.
She’d have this crazed look, frantic as another mouse fled past her nose. If I could catch a cat’s fast mind, I’d say, “How can I pounce on that one without letting this one go?”
I’ve heard tell that Willie Nelson stood in the desert, and, Mr. Frost, you’ve written of desert places. Out in the wild acres of dryness, Nelson would say something—So many songs in the air.
I can see shaped notes hanging like constellations, visible in daytime to his eye, humming like a rain-flooded arroyo in his ear.
I can see him as he reaches for them, picks them off, red-ripe apples, or catches them on a silvery line like flashing fish, one after another after another, but there are so many.
Every time I read your poetry, Robert Frost, I see a million silver lizards, and you’re catching them, one here, one there, pinning them to the page where they are still alive and squirming, singing a song, “Let me go. Let me run free, make silver music in another person’s heart.”
I see you ringing your hands, saying, “So many lizards and so little time. So many lizards and so little time.” And then you spread yourself to catch another.
When your mouth craves
a black skillet
of fresh creamed corn,
when sweet corn
has dried up,
and money’s scarce,
then pick the ears
of tough field corn,
shuck them clean,
take your knife,
a butcher knife,
and score the kernels,
right down each row,
until the white
corn milk oozes.
The nutty husks,
the bland white gravy
if you love corn.
and Grandpa ate
until the tough corn
dried up too.
Charles A. Swanson has recently retired from teaching dual enrollment English in the Academy for Engineering and Technology, serving the Southside region of Virginia. Frequently published in Appalachian magazines, he also pastors a small church, Melville Avenue Baptist in Danville. He has two books of poems: After the Garden, published by MotesBooks, and Farm Life and Legend, from Finishing Line Press. He is a Frequent Contributor to the online poetry magazine, Songs of Eretz.