Photo credit: Chelista E. Linkous of Christiansburg, Virginia.
Below is Speckled Trout Review’s Spring 2020 issue. As we waded through submissions, we were very honored that so many accomplished poets shared their words with us. The poets’ dedication to their craft made for some very tough decisions. Our hope is that readers and contributors will share the news about Speckled Trout Review. The Fall 2020 publication will be a print issue on the theme of Crisis, details of which will be announced when the submission window opens August 1, 2020.
Kevin J. McDaniel, Founder and a managing editor
Nancy Dillingham, Poetry editor
Featured poets: Gale Acuff, Natalli Amato, John Barton, Carl Boon, Norma Bradley, Kevin Burris, Felicia Chernesky, Lucy Crispin, John Davis, Paul Doty, Theresa Gaynord, Ceridwen Hall, Matt Hamilton, Mary Hess, Jennie Linthorst, Michael Maul, Jessica Mehta, Brenda Nicholas, Andy Oram, Charlotte Otten, Merryn Rutledge, Yvette Schnoeker-Shorb, Troy Schoultz, Peter Serchuk, John Stanizzi, Gary Stein, Shelby Stephenson, Travis Stephens, Mo Stoycoff, Lucinda Trew, Jean Varda, Sharon Whitehill, Buff Whitman-Bradley
I wonder if Miss Hooker gets lonely
the way I do, lonely for love I mean,
especially at night, and I don’t know
why, after I say my prayers and kill
the light, I’ve got a kind of longing for
her. She’s my Sunday School teacher, and I’m
only 10 to her 25, so if
God really can work miracles I’ve got
one for Him, to wake us up tomorrow
morning the same age so I can be done
with wondering what the meaning of life
is even though I think she already
gave us that lesson, all about sinning
–not to, that is, and making sure we go
to Heaven when we die because Hell’s just
a terrible place. Folks burn forever
there, at least their souls do, and forever’s
the longest kind of time there is next to
eternity, which I’ll want to spend in
Heaven, says Miss Hooker, because all’s well
there, no suffering or labor or death,
good times only, like the best times on earth
but up there they’ll never end. Me for that,
I think, especially if Miss Hooker
goes, and I can’t see a reason why she
won’t since she works for the church and won’t take
a dime for it. You’ve got to be some kind
of good to work for nothing or a slave
but hers is a good sort of slavery.
After Sunday School this morning I said
to her, If I ever have to marry
I want to marry you. She laughed like bells
ringing, not church bells, which put me to sleep
even though they call me to rise, but
more like sleigh bells, soft ones and promising
presents but I may be too young to know
what. Someday Miss Hooker can teach me. Or
birdsongs when the birds are celebrating
something, just being alive, maybe, and
not worrying about their eternal souls
like people do. Jesus said, Consider
the birds, says Miss Hooker–God sees to their
needs. I wanted to raise my hand and say
Yes, but can birds be punished in the Lake
of Everlasting Fire like I might be?
But I let it pass. That’s called maturity,
I guess. I have faith but I’m not stupid.
I’ll always be fifteen years younger than
Miss Hooker, and if I don’t stop sinning
I’ll go to Hell and miss her completely
and I’ve got some things I want to tell her,
like how beautiful she is, her red hair
and green eyes and freckles and that’s just what
I can see of her but inside I guess
she’s pretty beautiful, too. She helps me
get to sleep when I pretend she’s my wife
and we’re going to end the day together.
And in the morning, since she’s not here,
I pretend that she’s gone off to work.
In real life she’s a hairdresser so I
want to be a barber when I grow up.
We’ll open a shop together and clip
and snip until we’re old and our fingers
grow arthritis. We’ll have a bulletin
board for the businesses and comic books
for the kids and a children’s Bible with
pictures. If none of the kids look at it
I sure will. And we’ll go home together,
Miss Hooker and I, and on the seventh
day we’ll rest, just like God and, unlike God,
we’ll die and go to Heaven and meet Him,
Jesus, too. Thou good and faithful servants,
He’ll say, welcome. I’ll say, It’s good to be
here. Miss Hooker will say, What a nice place
you have. God will say, We like it. It’s home.
Gale Acuff has had hundreds of poems published in several countries and is the author of three books of poetry. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.
Picking up Takeout
I go back to the old bar for a hamburger
only the boy on the grill is probably a stranger
I’d rather not know for sure
so I don’t stick my head between the swing doors
the way I did when I had things to yell
and people to listen
The girl behind the bar never rolled silverware with me
she doesn’t know who waited for me at shift’s end
I don’t know who she calls to get through hers
she knows I order extra BBQ and use an Amex
If this is a world where grace can dwell
Pearl would bust through the side door
and shove a mop and a pail into my hands and
I would get out on that peel-paint deck
down on my knees scrubbing
scrubbing every last splatter of seagull shit
until pink shoulder skin flaked and fell
between the cracks of the wood planks
along with the dripping suds
along with the peeling paint
there are children who grow up
without ever having played in the swamp.
And I don’t mean Granddaddy’s swamp—
I’m talking any.
I mean they’ve never had a frog pee through their cupped hands,
and their moms have never burned leeches from their skin with Bic lighters.
Cousin, I went twenty years before I learned the world could do this to a babe:
Plop them down on this earth without a guarantee that a dragonfly would land on their forearm.
There was a summer when I could feel it all ending before I had reason to.
I sat on Grandma’s couch with my nose in a book and an ear in the aunties’ conversation
about neighbors and husbands and mortgages and bad hairdressers and
I told you no,
No, I would not help you blow up the plastic boat.
No, I wouldn’t carry the nets,
the oars, neither.
Three beaches over, a toddler got green algae up his nose and died.
Want that to be you, moron?
Cousin, I hope algae fills my lungs until it decides I am part of the wild.
I hope your scabs pucker with lakewater puss and tadpoles nibble the skin from your feet.
I hope one day we are the swamp muck that sticks to a child’s water shoes
tracking through the house her mother just cleaned
and the only thing to do is rejoice
for being the residue of such glorious love.
Natalli Amato is the author of On a Windless Night. She was awarded the 2019 Edwin T. Whiffen Poetry Prize by Syracuse University. She currently works for Rolling Stone.
On my bedroom floor, your oak tuckbox sits
Empty, sun pallid through leaves of varnish
Lifting off the sides and lid, astonished
Brackets of coarse wrought iron holding it
True, your padlock missing, but neither hinge
Tongues hanging loose from rigid clasps: the scorched
Air inside tart with steam and coal; an arched
Gate open to a platform where you cringed
Lining up for the school local; choked air
Breathed in, not long withheld to account for
The tightlipped boy cagey inside the man
You sang yourself into, in tune, barest
Quaver in your stutter a strangled roar,
Nerves eased by the reserve this box sealed in.
Photo credit: John Preston
John Barton’s twenty-six books, chapbooks, and anthologies include Polari, For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin: Selected Poems, Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay-Male Poets, We Are Not Avatars: Essays, Memoirs, Manifestos, and The Essential Douglas LePan. In 2020, he will publish Lost Family with Signal Editions and The Essential Derk Wynand with Porcupine’s Quill. Born in Edmonton and raised in Calgary, he lives in Victoria, B.C., Canada. His website is http://www.john-barton.ca.
Addicts in Middlecreek
Noble County’s eighty miles from the river,
but we can hear it moving
through the bones of our ancestors
who built the bridge at Matamoras.
It mocks us with its movement;
it reflects us here in Middlecreek
where we eat methadone for breakfast
and watch the sofa cushions go green
in the afternoon.
We used to bowl. We used to drink
at The Castle in Bern before it burned
and left a million splinters. I’ve seen
Jeff Farmer stick them in his arm
and wail; sometimes even the pain
can make you float. The day the K-Mart closed
my husband took his clothes to the woods
and laced them on maple trees,
little flags to mark the world.
The people from Caldwell
bring us turkeys on Thanksgiving.
Sometimes Jessup kills a deer,
but the emptiness remains,
the thought of being elsewhere.
Only the Queen does that, the silver pond
she leaves when I’m sleeping,
the thin and wild mercury that says
she’s been here and performed
her daily miracle.
The woman I love stole all my records,
the Billie Holiday, the Etta James,
the Mississippi Sheiks.
She taught me cruelty comes
from contradiction, love and theft,
standing in a doorway spinning dimes
while the beggar boy goes by.
All those nights in Derelict City
I stroked the edges of her breasts,
waited on the sofa while she lingered
in the kitchen, Lonnie Johnson
on the turntable, bits of yellow light
peeking through the blinds.
Sometimes she danced in green slippers
surrounded by a red kimono,
daring me to do what I could not do:
madly slash her, go down to Louisiana
and bring back escapades and fury,
swamp-water, tangerine brandy.
There’s a phrase for this; there’s
a mockingbird that crossed us
and wept thereafter. And, still weeping,
studies the land where I make home,
mostly in silence now.
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007 and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.
Tribute to Harriet Tubman
Ozella’s small bag
made from scraps of family quilts─
each ten-inch square, a code.
Tumbling Blocks, Monkey Wrench, Wagon Wheel
were pieced into decorative patterns─
symbols and doorways
hidden inside each quilt
held stitches she could touch
when she needed courage.
Running her hand across each seam,
she felt her mama’s hand placing the needle
in and out.
Crossroads, Drunkard’s Path, North Star
“Run North—follow the North Star”
Carrots stuffed alongside tools in her pockets,
she ran through wilderness and water.
Ozella and her small bag ran
toward a small light,
the Log Cabin design
drawn into the ground.
Norma Bradley, poet/multi-media visual artist, spent her career as a teaching artist. She was Director of Education for HandMade in America, participated in the NC State Visiting Artist Program, is a fellow of Hambidge Art Center. Her poems have been published in the Avocet, Snapdragon, Great Smokies Review, Jewish Literary Journal, From the Listening Place: Language of Intuition.
The end, put in upstream,
defined a certain scorn for surprise,
his long slow descent into a canyon,
a boat packing the debris of a life.
He set a lean camp at bottom
on a small split of cooling sand
beside the muddy rush of the river.
Rock’s red strata in bands
marked a planet’s vast transit
through its riverbed in time.
A one-man dory running rapids
lit small fires in his eyes
that burned late into the evening,
mirrored stars beyond the rim.
They cast sparks of sun on water
in the morning when rangers found him.
Kevin Burris lives in southern Illinois. His work has appeared in many literary journals, including Poetry East, Atlanta Review, Southern Poetry Review, and The Bitter Oleander. His first poetry collection, The Happiest Day of My Life, was published in 2016 by FutureCycle Press.
In Praise of Gadgetry
How wonderful it is to be of use!
To have a purpose in the daily drawer
and cupboard. To participate in all
that must transpire in order for a day
to run as planned. Widget, gizmo, doodad,
thingamabob, and jigger: happy is
the buzzing shape in the household landscape—to be
the button pressed, lit wick aromatizing,
the call that’s placed or clever answer proffered—
reliable and welcome in form and function.
How heartbreaking, when your warranty winds down.
Inevitably riven with nostalgia,
you gather cliché dust, like a rusting mower.
A whatchamacallit shelved in Recollections,
spinning out cobwebs, missing your connections.
Felicia Sanzari Chernesky is a longtime editor, slowly publishing poet, and author of six picture books, including From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! and The Boy Who Said Nonsense (Albert Whitman). In 2018 she left the masthead of an academic quarterly to work with people who want to share their stories, ideas, and poems in print. Felicia lives with her family in Flemington, New Jersey. Find her online, with links to recent publications, at http://www.feliciachernesky.com.
It didn’t fly off as I came up the track—
seemed too low to the ground, the black legs
crooked under that dusty lawyers’-robe plumage
now fluffed and round against the cold.
I was near enough to see its young, still grey-blue eyes
shining and scanning: how it stared
with the alertness of a trapped thing,
the eyes bright as stars trapped in glass
and the distinct silvered headcap swiveling
over the plumped feathers as it looked.
It tried to stir but could not, and fear
was a reek rising from it, there where it had fallen.
I was frozen, too: an ache for the tender brokenness,
for its impotence, and mine, but tasting also
eagerness, an excitement at seeing so close
that dark cone of beak, those bright beads of eye.
A half-step nearer. It scanned still more swiftly,
tried to lift its wings, heaved itself at last
an inch to the side, then collapsed again,
helpless. I felt a small horror at myself
and like a voyeur spotted walked swiftly off
into the spreading grey of morning. I was
weeping as I walked. Vulnerable. Vulnus.
The Latin root means “wound.”
Lucy Crispin is a former Poet Laureate of South Cumbria. She has been published widely in print and online, most recently in Channel, The Blue Nib, Black Bough, The Friend, Poetry Birmingham and Anthropocene. Her micro-pamphlet, wish you were here, is available from Hedgehog Press that will publish her pamphlet, shades of blue, in 2020. Find out more at lucycrispin.com.
Cemetery Tree Climbing
We clambered up trunks to lifted limbs,
green among gray names and dates.
Our forebears were buried feet away,
but we thrust upward on rungs
unimagined by those beneath.
Atop swaying magnolias, we could see
autumn-colored roofs and square holes,
our town’s blackening brick chimneys.
The feed store sign, red and white check
finish line flag stuck above double doors.
That squat, ground-level place awaited
with all its business and rusting words.
Today there was shade among feather-shaped leaves
and a view of higher and clearer skies
for children perched like angels or crows.
John Davis, Jr., is the author of Hard Inheritance (Five Oaks Press, 2016), Middle Class American Proverb (Negative Capability Press, 2014) and two other collections of poetry. His work has been published in venues including Nashville Review, Steel Toe Review, The Common online, and many, many others. He holds an MFA from University of Tampa.
A Revelation at the Drive-Thru Window
Contemplate eating while driving: it is either the cultural transference
of Turtle Island to what we—us Americans—acknowledge as reality
sandwich, or it’s earth-eating salty food revelation. Invoke Whitman:
the dialect of licking the grease of fire-roasted venison off fingers is a
musical note Duke Ellington hits eating ham, potatoes, and eggs while
composing. Contrast this to Ronald McDonald holding forth across
those many childhoods in lurid ketchup and yellow mustard sketches,
a Jackson Pollock state of mind on a canvas stretched this nowhere to that.
Prayer north of the Adirondacks, hungry and braking where the illuminated
mechanical maw of food sits by four derelict diners near an interstate:
Give thanks for rural roads lined by a congregation of Black Eyed Susans
and Joe Pye Weed, give thanks for fiddleheads and black raspberries and
of food wrapped in waxy paper. Pick up a sack of paper, warm and slippery
as a sweating baby, and, holding it out of a window is a Madonna; even in
black and teal processed clothing, she’s beautiful. Fish out change to pay
for two bagged dime-thin cheeseburgers thinking, Christ, give me something
clever to say, inane sack over an idling engine, Christ, she’s beautiful.
Drive on because what else is there to do but drive down another rural road
imploring the stars for the improbable circumstance wherein we are together
for an impressionist picnic painted with legitimate pastrami in brown mustard.
A storm tumbles over the Adirondacks, scouring humans from high peaks
and deep lakes while, from the solitary chamber of the car, the rumble strip
shakes the impossible appetite decipherable in the lure of the fickle road of stones.
We live in an old house. If you knew us, you’d say, “That’s a couple for an old house.”
There are yellow jackets in the walls, angry blood in a civil war veteran’s veins,
high blood pressure crawling on knob and tube arteries. Three of them in a set-aside
glass of beer, and I swat one away with an aluminum watering can while attending
geraniums, backhanding the indestructible flying aggression off over the front porch.
These yellow jackets flow from some late summer pulse, these thorns airborne intent
to hide and nest and gnaw and test the patience of those of us under an old stone.
Traverse time and fated destinations until a wood-lusting wild buzz wakes a honeyed
acceptance of the stinging consumption of winging it, with a long-loved fellow traveler.
Paul Doty is the Special Collections and Archives Librarian at St. Lawrence University and resides in an old house in Canton, New York, with his wife Agnes. He has published poems in journals such as The Mississippi Review, the Cortland Review, Poetry Pacific, Nerve Cowboy, and the Rootdrinker.
On the road there are stairs, twisted like a rope.
Cottonwood kicks up yellow dust, interrupting
the breath that scrapes the surface of air with icy
trails, wheezing in circles, barely high enough
for anyone to take notice.
There’s an old Chevrolet with dangling exhaust
pipe, rattling out fumes as it lurches forward with
reluctance, playing it safe between the narrow
arches of towering mountain ranges that hover
over blue-green light,
displaying the mischief of the canyon. I reach out
with hesitation, afraid to let the westerly light breeze
touch my face before it shifts to the south. Black
Stetson and sunglasses guard against the sting as the
violent thrashing of windblown
sands offers solitude before nightfall. There’s darkness
that remains in the memory of it all, momentary
infatuation that cynically interrupts with weakness,
but I’ll take the shadows of fragrant sage over the
patches of hypocritical sunlight shaking
a wagging judgmental finger at the mesa of my spirit.
To me, the precipice isn’t so steep. Fluidity
and commodity rest buried beneath the edges of sacred
Earth. In the grand vision I want to walk through
twisting paths, absorbed by endless
space where there are no signs of printed words, just
hidden waters that remain undisturbed inside old ruins
grafted to the mount by mythical beasts, ancient
superstitions and God’s forgiveness. I want to excavate
the land with my eyes, resting my hands in the cool waters.
Theresa Gaynord likes to write about self-reflection and personal experiences. She writes about matters of an out-of-body, out-of-mind state as well as subjects of an idyllic, pagan nature and the occult. Theresa writes horror and gritty and realistic dramas. She is said to be a witch and a poet (within the horror-writing community).
I go back expecting to be glad: all the fields
green, sudden, the trees edged with buds. And yet.
My brain is a reluctant vessel. It watches the near sky,
sees its white mirror in a flooded ditch. Metamorphosis
entails loss. I note the lonely horse, the circling hawk.
We tell ourselves weather is scenery, not dream,
but the rain says otherwise. Even brief joy weighs us
to the road, the hour before dusk—living, hurtling,
becomes necessary. Rivulets, meanwhile, stream
across the windshield, run earthward.
Ceridwen Hall is a PhD candidate at the University of Utah. Her work appears, or is forthcoming, in The Cincinnati Review, Triquarterly, Salamander, Spoon River Poetry, Pembroke Magazine, and elsewhere.
The battlefield exhaled glacial mist
the morning we arrived for the tour,
roughly 30 of us etching a path
in the dark with flashlights
as the guide’s mid-western voice
pointed out sunken earthworks
once inhabited with crippled boys
not much older than my nephew.
We stopped by an open field,
grass ankle high. Canon fire
shook groggy birds awake,
a silhouette hugged a muzzle flash
deep in the woods, and someone,
unfamiliar with war, gripped my
shoulder, apologized. Her wet eyes
shined with the orange sunrise,
blue and gray reenactors, now
clearly visible, marching through
The two Prentiss brothers fought
here on opposite sides, the guide
told us. William, the young rebel,
was hit in the right knee, the older,
Clifton, was shot in the lungs.
Both men died of their wounds,
but not before they met, one last time,
in a field hospital, two soldiers
reconciled, their beliefs spilled
in honor of opposing countries.
The spirits of the dead
descended on them,
swept hate out the door,
asked them to love
as God loved them,
Matthew A. Hamilton’s stories and poems have appeared in a variety of national and international journals. His chapbook, The Land of the Four Rivers, published by Cervena Barva Press, won the 2013 Best Poetry Book from Peace Corps Writers. His second poetry collection, Lips Open and Divine, was published in 2016 by Winter Goose. He and his wife live in Richmond, VA.
Hotel Laundry, Chicago, 1911
When I shake the napkins,
scarlet as blood.
At last I lean on laundry truck,
arms limp as seaweed.
Past quitting time, we hunch
over damask squares.
In the tubs, water swirls.
White linen grazes bottom,
swims to surface,
sudden as fish in silver light.
Mary Barbara Hess has published poems in Bellingham Review, Manzanita, Common Ground Review, and The Seattle Review. She has read her poetry at Sulzer Regional Library and Harold Washington Library Center.
Waiting for My Son
After four nights of contractions at home, with no dilation of my cervix,
began to live on my skin, in my hair, in every tightening ache.
I wanted to trust
that a woman’s body was made for birth. Fourteen more hours of
water breaking, three and a half hours of
forceps, suctioning, rising beeps from monitors, faces of
the shriek from a curtain pulled across my chest to block views of
my arms strapped like Jesus on the cross, numbing medication
flooded my veins.
My husband sat at my head in blue scrubs, the lights
too urgent after these five days. I felt my mind give up
forgetting any sense of my child. My eyes
on a piece of black tape coming loose on a corner of a ceiling tile, and
I waited to hear the healthy cry of my son,
for my husband’s arms to bring him to my side–
my only son.
Jennie Linthorst’s poetry has appeared in Bluestem Magazine, Edison Literary Review, Foliate Oak, Forge, Kaleidoscope, Literary Mama, Delmarva Review, San Pedro Review and more. Her poetry books are Silver Girl and Autism Disrupted: A Mother’s Journey of Hope, both from Cardinal House. Visit her website at http://www.lifespeakspoetrytherapy.com.
Fishing from a Bridge in Fog
It arrived in a matter of minutes,
as fog can to this strand
where I frequently fish.
I can only see my pole,
but not bait, bobber,
water or line.
I fish inside a cloud
where heaven links to earth
and other things,
that I know is there but cannot see.
The surrounding white
reminds me of an earlier life
when I put money down to buy
blue tickets for my son to play
the Fishing Pond game
on primary school carnival days,
and how he held his hand around
a wooden dowel,
a string tied to the tip
that he lowered down
behind a crisp suspended sheet,
to wait, like me, for tugs on line.
He’d lift the pole to find not fish,
but plastic prizes, sans real-world
blood or guts or sacrificed lives,
just bubble-pipes and rubber frogs
that would go home to live with him
in a drawer beside his bed.
I shake my head to make this stop,
on a bridge where I planned to be alone,
but am with him once more,
one end of a long and tangled line
spanning back to a boy I feel still near,
who I last saw beneath a sheet
lost and gone now fifteen years.
Michael Maul, a 2019 “Best of the Net” nominee, lives in Bradenton, Florida.
His poems have previously appeared in numerous literary publications and anthologies.
In 2018 he authored Dancing Naked in Front of Dogs, a full-length collection of poetry, and he published his first chapbook, Birds Who Eat French Fries, in 2019. He is a graduate
of the Ohio University creative writing program.
It wasn’t all bad. I remember
the good, and it wasn’t in the big moments
(it never is). The year en Moravia whipped
me raw with the scaling Tico Spanish,
the dirty buses and whistles trailing
from scooter saddles. But that quiet day
the rain twisted my locks
into a frenzy and pressed the cotton closer
to your heart than I ever got—that
is our Costa Rica. Tucking into casadas
while the queso vendor across the street
shouted palmito specials in the downpour.
¡Aqui solo calidad le vendemos! The flies
hugged us close in the tiny soda
shop while Baila Morena lulled us all
into a stupor deeper than Imperial
could ever muster. We knew the palmito in the city
would never compare to the fresh wonder
balls sold in huts, papered with banana leaves,
along the winding rainforest back roads.
You knew I was already half gone
by the urgency of my swallows. And I knew
it would take years shrouded
in a different love,
a different life,
to ever listen to that song again.
Jessica Mehta is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and author of fourteen books. Space, place, and ancestry inform much of her work. Learn more at http://www.jessicamehta.com.
Woman on Edge
After R.C. Gorman’s Canyon de Twilight
Moonlight paints on her:
a blood-red shawl with definitive lines
striping the length of her.
She hovers, diminutive, at a cliff’s lip.
When she whispers secrets into this black canyon,
its rocky cheeks blush,
and the stars sharpen like fangs in the open
blue mouth above, ready to swallow.
Poet’s note: R.C. Gorman grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona and eventually moved to New Mexico where he owned a gallery in Taos and worked until he died in 2005. He is referred to as Pablo Picasso of the Southwest. Much of his work includes a female subject, which has inspired me to attempt to bridge the cultural gap between Navajo and white women.
Brenda Nicholas is an English Professor who lives and obsesses over her poetry in Austin, TX, with her daughter Chloe and catdog Maui. Her work has appeared in The Painted Bride Quarterly, Main Channel Voices, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey, Menacing Hedge, Snapdragon, The Helix Magazine, and other literary journals.
There is more than one.
Each nods to the next from a respectful distance,
As they turn in regiment to every task,
Not to tumble in tears.
Rarely have I thought to offer them thanks,
For no strength can go forth without them.
I laud them for carrying me the four flights to my office when lobby lines are long,
For letting me sweep my gaze across horizons,
For letting my hands gesture and balm,
And for supporting my fastidious arrangements of tools on the workbench
Before any repair can be made.
Once they all demanded tribute
That morning after the forty-five rushed minutes behind a snow shovel.
But usually they keep their silence,
Whisper confidential reassurances to the spinal cord
And maintain a sinuous grace.
Andy Oram is a writer and editor in the computer field. As an editor at O’Reilly Media, his editorial projects ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, and Vanguardia Dossier. He has lived in the Boston, Massachusetts, area for more than 30 years. His poems have been published in Ají, Arlington Literary Journal, DASH, Genre: Urban Arts, Offcourse, Panoply, Soul-Lit, and Speckled Trout Review.
Picking Wild Blueberries
We kept coming back
to the lake that swallowed
northern air and mixed it
into an incense so breathable
that even Atlas bearing the world
on his shoulders would have dreamt
of governing the moon and wiping
his sweat with air’s brush.
Our blueberries clustering in clumps
were “star-berries” to Civil War men
sent by lonely women of faith,
handpicked and canned by love’s fingers
to moisten Union soldiers’ dry lips,
whose souls licked the juices of joy
denied them in battles where rivers
flowed red with dead horses.
Charlotte F. Otten’s poems have appeared in journals as diverse as Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Agenda, Poems from Aberystwyth, The Healing Muse. She is best known for A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture.
Thunder growls. Out back my father hacks
another weed, looks up, clutches the hoe
and heads in, passing Mother who strides to the clothesline
to free the sheets already whipped by wind.
Big sister and brother appear out of nowhere,
their arms full of flashlights and comics and dragging a rug
to set up camp in the closet at the center of the house.
I’m five and a baby to them but their look includes me.
Lightning flashes with startling cracks and the hot wind
of a wolf’s breath shakes our house made only of wood.
I know an Arkansas storm is bigger than almost
anything—it snaps trees and makes houses go blind.
Here in the closet my sister and brother are calming
the dark with their flashlights, their legs tucked up near mine.
Beyond this wall our parents are guarding the windows
where hail burns like my cheeks do when sparklers spit fire.
Merryn Rutledge is a Southerner transplanted to New England. A late reader, she fell in love with words when she was able to read Little Joe Otter when she was nine; she soon began to write. Merryn taught literature and writing before founding a leadership development firm. She now focuses on writing, including guiding writing groups for seniors. Her poems have appeared in The Mountain Echo and Esprit. Her research on leadership has appeared in professional journals and books.
Reflections on Tiny Pests
There must be value
in these little things
who land on my mirror
and I brush away like dust—
the gnats and fruit flies
and such—nature’s brats
to us, but significant
in some way to the world.
The earth doesn’t judge
the genes that define
a life-form, divine
by chance or by God,
reflecting a sense of forever
within, the will to exist,
each of us being
a tiny piece of survival.
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb’s work has appeared in Clockhouse, About Place Journal, AJN: The American Journal of Nursing, Front Range Review, Lullwater Review, Foliate Oak, Terrain.org., and elsewhere, with work forthcoming soon in Weber–The Contemporary West. She holds an interdisciplinary MA from Prescott College and has been an educator, a researcher, and an editor. She is co-founder of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit natural history press.
I wake at 4:30 a.m. and take my assortment of Easter-colored meds
Under the dim light of the kitchen. I smear
Cream cheese on an onion bagel, heartbeat
Synchronizing with the living-room clock.
I wait until it’s time to drive to the cool, sterile room,
The machines and chairs and overhead T.V. monitors,
Blood taken in tubes. The nurse compliments me
On the hue of my blood, says its bright, beautiful,
Like garnets or sangria.
Falling snow dances
In the headlights of my neighbor’s car
Idling in his driveway. This is part of my unchosen routine
For staying alive. My mind backtracks when I’m awake
Before the blush of dawn. I recall
Driving thirty miles to a job I despised
Some thirty years ago, long before my kidneys betrayed me.
Paycheck promises and cheap twelve-packs
Got me through the weeks that seemed so static and pure,
Before Schopenhauer’s thick black curtain opened before me,
And death was a table reserved for others.
Night Lawn Reconnaissance
Being not afraid to die was the only lie
They couldn’t hammer into my skull when they broke
Apart the 18-year-old and built up a soldier. I’m home,
But I still walk across sand under the hammer
Of a sun that burns away everything
Including daylight. The pills (sometimes need the bottle
To center me) spill the black little secrets
Of my heart to the head shrinks. I sometimes sleep with a rifle.
Once my dog woke me, and my trigger finger took out the mirror. The landlord
Went easy on me and let me stay. He knows my uncle
And helps run the USMC bingo hall.
Long after midnight when the bars all close
And the neighborhood windows grow dark,
I circle the perimeter of the lawn, listening
To the click and hiss of a forgotten sprinkler
And the static of crickets. The bats dance above me,
And a stray possum wobbles across my path,
Stale bread clasped in narrow jaws. I conceal even the glow
Of my digital wristwatch, dressed in camo, measured breath
And the footsteps of someone trying to keep this habit
Of not dying. Three times around the house,
I pull up a lawn chair, sip the glass, and wait
For the tingle of orange to spill into the sky’s edge.
Windows awaken, garage doors yawn,
And the screams only I hear fade into the trickle of distant traffic.
Troy Schoultz lives and writes in Oshkosh, WI. His most recent collection is No More Quiet Entrances (Luchador Press, 2019).
Nothing More to Give
The good Samaritan wishes he had something more to give:
soft rain on a thirsty crop, a truckload of canned goods for
the Food Bank and homeless shelter, six-figure checks
for the Red Cross, the Indian School and the Friends of Cats.
He wishes he had a million in cash, so he could stand on a corner
and pass out handfuls to every needy soul that crossed his path.
“I’d give it all away,” he says, and perhaps he would, though others
who’ve thought the same soon found their pockets stitched to
lesser things. But, if he did and if he would, he’d certainly be
a bigger man than most I’ve met, a man whose name a finch or
dove might shape into a song, whose hand might never make a fist,
whose dreams could never be hypnotized by his wallet or his zipper.
Or, would he be called a fool or flake? The source of jokes his neighbors
make, the white knight women conjure in their heads too sweet to
ever take to bed. But since he’s neither rich nor poor, the question’s
of no consequence. He works, he eats, he reads and sleeps while
Polaris guides his prayers due north. He asks for peace, he asks
for love and lays his dreams at heaven’s door. Come morning, though,
he’s still alone, a million short, no wake-up kiss. He feeds the cats,
he reads the news, the world still gasping for its breath. He steps
onto the fire escape to search for angels in the sky. With none in sight
to lift him up, he spreads his wings, he leaps and flies.
Peter Serchuk’s poems have appeared in a variety of journals including New Letters, Poetry, Denver Quarterly, Texas Review, Atlanta Review and others. His is the author of Waiting for Poppa at the Smithtown Diner (University of Illinois Press) and All That Remains (Wordtech Editions). A new collection of poems and photographs, The Purpose of Things, (in collaboration with photographer Pieter de Koninck) will appear later in 2020 from Regal House Publishing.
Pharoah of the sparrows this harrowing raptor, the red-tail;
other birds posture, but this hawk, with grace like a
nimbus of wind, flies over a maple and releases a murmuration—
dolorosa of small birds, a black cloud of flight and fear.
John L. Stanizzi, a former Wesleyan University Etherington Scholar, is the author of the collections Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, Chants, and his newest collection, Sundowning. John’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, Rattle, Poet Lore, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Mountain Review, The Cortland Review, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Connecticut River Review, Hawk & Handsaw, Plainsongs, and many others. John is a former New England Poet of the Year and teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT. He lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry.
Note to My Father as I Near the Age of His Death
Remember that morning halfway
between the war you fought
and a war I fought against?
Dawn on Downey River:
you rowed, rowed into the mist
to leave behind our usual selves.
and we waited, imagining
what the water hid.
Then I hooked a lunker pike:
wild spray, thrash, leap, arc,
a lure locked on its lip.
You yelled, PULL!
But my line snapped, went limp,
the fish sank
and the river went back to sleep
while we, now wide awake,
re-rigged my gear.
When the sun melted the mist,
we saw what we’d left on shore:
our ticking world, all its needs.
Back on land, our cooler light.
Three modest perch, enough
to prove we weren’t skunked
but not enough to erase regret,
forget the silent ride home
or write a different poem.
Father, now I come one year short
of your death, and I remember
sitting by your hospice bed where,
in a morphine fog, you watched
the fishing channel as a Guide
made cast after perfect cast
to the right spot, and each time
he boated and weighed his bass,
I guessed which day you would die.
Death must be the last surprise,
a snapped line
closing the eye of the river.
Gary Stein’s full-length collection, Touring The Shadow Factory (Brick Road Poetry Press, July 2019) won first prize in the publishers’ 2017 national contest. His chapbook, Between Worlds (Finishing Line Press, 2014) was a finalist in the national competition. His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in many journals such as POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, Penn Review, Folio, JAMA, Gargoyle, The Little Patuxent Review, The Atlanta Review, and in several anthologies.
Dew to Dusk
Because I think I know about living,
With just a second grade education,
I can say when I build just one sidewalk,
I tell my child: don’t sink up in mud-talk
And lose your way; stay on that solid ground,
From morning dew until you sleep that sound.
A whole bunch of doors in my time I have seen;
I have yet to see knobs on a jail-cell.
I tell her to keep good knobs on her doors
And don’t court the strutting, swaggering boys
Who think they’re gods of everything, then some.
I have been knowing what I know a long time.
Each morning and night I sing to the kids.
My feet hit the floor with no boozy fits.
A whole bunch of doors in my time I have seen;
I have yet to see knobs on a jail-cell.
When I am old I will know the full joy
Inside myself, that lonely, humming boy
I was and am, the one who makes Trouble
Take backsteps, wherever I am able,
To keep my family clothed and well-fed
From dew to dusk and time to go to bed.
A whole bunch of doors in my time I have seen;
I have yet to see knobs on a jail-cell.
Photo credit: Kate Whittington
Shelby Stephenson, poet laureate, North Carolina, 2015-2018. His recent book: Slavery and Freedom on Paul’s Hill was published by Press 53.
Walter Blank 1950-2004
Silver strands of barbed wire
lead the blind man in.
The woods is dark, he says,
the woods is my sea of sorrow.
Near the house a swaybacked
collie adjusts an ear. She has fifteen
years of patrol on her record,
plus five litters of wooly pups.
Even the crows know her name.
An oil drum, supine and halved,
contains water & a few tadpoles,
its bottom slick as snot. The blind man
kneels to cup water into his face.
The cattle, seven in number, stone-footed,
do not mind. They have grazed the
pasture to where only bursts of
bull thistle remain. Pretty purple flowers.
A goat, a sheep, the blind man asks.
The edge of the silo,
open to the sky,
echoes with pigeons murmuring
prayers. Onto this day let us fly,
onto this day let us strut among
the blessed and the worthy.
The barn clutches the silo in its fist.
Because this is Thursday the house is empty,
gone to town.
Because this is September the haircut fields
waver in rain that flees by the day.
When the man finds the dog she lets him
search her coat for meaning, dry his hands.
They walk together toward the road.
Shoulder chokecherries and bramble.
A small oak fleeing the rest.
They asked if he’d like to stay & he nodded,
felt Grandpa’s hand on his shoulder, the low
rumble of his voice, the way warm milk
sounds when poured in a can.
Sit on the broad fender
of the first tractor.
Whole days without a word.
Sometimes an aunt visits, cousins, his mother &
the brothers and sister he didn’t know.
He’s good, Grandpa to his father,
the little man a big help.
It never occurred to him he was meant to overhear.
It never occurred to him that
his parents would move to California.
Walk the path behind the cows—
they like to have their heads rubbed,
they like to mock charge the dog,
stand still for the milking machine.
Snow is loud underfoot.
Rain the song of laughter.
To surprise them, he will bring
the cows to the barn early to start
the washing & the milking.
Let them find him in the barn
to switch on the lights & see
the cattle startle at
another day brought to light.
Travis Stephens is a tugboat captain who resides with his family in California. A graduate of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, recent credits include: Gyroscope Review, 2River, Sheila-Na-Gig, Internet Void, Press 53, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
What Summer Was About
These were strange, bright, unfurling months
about dresses over dirty shoulders and knees
about saltwater and pomegranates
sunflower seeds and scattered dolls
about variegated ivy under brown purple bruises
Moments quick seconds quick moments seconds quick
the days were clipped were about brevity were about
summer so green and yellow and blue
sticky candy underneath my everything
all fire and snapdragons and feathers
all laughter at sordid thoughts about August
The summer unfolded as a run-on sentence
about gray cats red leaves popcorn
all fur and salt all crayons and colors
all gentle all foreign all sugar all peach
all smooth all rolling sprints and long limbs
About bicycles and marbles and boxes of rocks
about soaring about going to the fair
all Oreo chocolate noses all sing-song
all about silver summer lightening
about a dress sewn into irises
unleashed lavender cotton raised to worlds
parties gathered lifted spilled scattered
jungle climbing spitting running hiding
The respite never lasted past minutes
then a new game exploded under the elm
jump circle spin catch fall stop start
morning the conspirator streetlights the enemy
about Easy-Bake Oven angel-food foil
easy chattering easy singing reading easiest
Charlotte’s Web A Wrinkle in Time
excited volleys of forbidden words
shit goddamn asshole wash out your mouth
If bedtime lay the dress over the closet door
dark took on likenesses of meaning
monsters dragons thieves and strangers
the window open the moon a barn owl
night not tossing a ball across a green lawn
cannot sing loudly bring sun break into a run
quiet so terrible small eyes grow larger
the morning the unforgivable sun orange the sky
room to room the brightening house the music
the breakfast all shouting all hustle all hurry
the chores skipped to daydream deep all flying
all climbing and darting and ducking and skipping squares
about sidewalks and cinnamon about
pink milkshakes about wonder about new
Mo Lynn Stoycoff is a writer and visual artist whose work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Poetry Now, The Tule Review, The American Journal of Poetry and the anthologies Di-Verse-City and 100 Poems. She is currently employed at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus in Central California. An avid fan of live music and songwriting, she initially began writing poems after failing to learn a musical instrument. She is currently working on her first full-length collection, a poetic memoir.
Knife and Guts
We open something shiny and sheathed. My father’s fishing knife. A Buck Silver Creek, lifted from his tackle box, a cartoon-colored mess of spinners, bobbers, lures and line. The leather case is scoured and craggy. Not soft like a baseball glove, but worn and hardened, as is the way of things that lay idle for more seasons than they’re touched.
The handle is bone, the blade long – sharpened each summer. My father has had the knife since he was a boy, working at his father’s hardware store. Growing up amid bins of screws and nails and hooks, walls of hammers and saws, listening to men in work boots jaw about projects and precision, he knows about caring for one’s tools. So, he angles blade against whetstone until the knife slices through the Sunday comics with ease.
We open something shiny and sheathed. A Great Northern Pike, caught in the coldest cove of Lake Champlain. The knife’s sharp edge slices neatly through belly, one long, swift score, then wedges below the pectoral fin to sever the head and split bone.
Watching the pike thrash in the net hours earlier and bearing witness to the Buck’s razor utility, my brothers and I expect blood and gore, a horror film unspooled on the rental cabin’s porch. But the fish’s interior gleams warmly, its sheen only slightly more buffed than its exterior gloss.
The parts we can’t name look like specks of sea glass shimmering in water and sun, odd bits of color – malachite, chartreuse, the brilliant yellow of taxis and antifreeze. They’re scooped onto the sports page, showered with mica-bright scales my father flays with the Buck.
We want to touch the shiny stuff, but hide hands in pockets, resisting the attraction of luminous guts.
Lucinda Trew lives and writes in Charlotte, N.C. She studied journalism and English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is an award-winning speechwriter. Her poetry has been published in The Fredricksburg Literary and Art Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, The Bangor Literary Journal, San Pedro River Review, Kakalak, Flying South, Pinesong and other journals. She is a recipient of a 2019 North Carolina Poetry Society Award.
She said it was like molasses
as it hung from the spoon,
running slowly into the teacup,
settling at the bottom, dark and
mysterious. She stirred it into
a thick gruel like mead,
closed her eyes and saw a
flower garden full of bees, their
humming so loud it filled her
head. She saw meadows they
traveled over, their leg baskets
heavy with pollen. She saw
the dark cracks of the hive,
drawers where the honey was
stored in perfectly symmetrical
waxcombs, oozing with golden
sweetness. She remembered
summers, innocent with pleasure.
They sat in the shade on a
blue checkered cloth, sharing
cracker sandwiches and hard-
boiled eggs. She remembered
how her mother would feed her
one spoonful every morning
and say: “Full of bees’ work.
Everything you need is here.
In this honey is love and
pleasure, clear amber lights
to enrich your eyes, the delicacy
of flowers to arouse your senses,
the soothingness of their humming
to put you to sleep at night
where your dreams will be
crowded with bees.”
Jean Varda gave her first poetry reading at Stone Soup Gallery in Boston Mass. where a few New York beat poets were showing up. This was followed by performances on street corners and prisons with her mentor, storyteller Brother Blue. Then she joined Cloud House in San Francisco and poet Kush, who is known to have the largest collection of San Francisco beat poets on film. She has self-published six chapbooks of her poetry, establishing Sacred Feather Press. She started four open mikes, taught poetry writing workshops, has been published in numerous small press journals and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
A Haven in Harrowing Seasons
House, you were always
my haven in harrowing seasons,
witness to dangers, depression,
and dissatisfaction within
Because of my public affaire de coeur,
moralist Calvinist pooh-bahs in fields nearby
labored to plow me under.
“She introduces,” they said,
of irrelevant information
into her classes”—
code for the lesbian writers
I frequently taught.
Dodging the prongs of their harrows
with linguistic logic—
“What might reasonable amounts
of irrelevance be?”—
I won later promotion to full professor,
awards for Distinguished Alumna
and Outstanding Teacher.
Garnered my harvest,
tossed in their faces a chunk of sod
unearthed from their touted Galatians:
“in the fullness of time.”
After my lover died,
gloom hovered for years,
a great black grackle
eager to pluck out my eyes.
Weeping into my six-pack-and-more every night,
I wallowed in wistful love songs,
neglected my students’ papers,
searched everywhere for new love,
bedded man after unworthy man.
This “feminist” boldness a blind
to conceal my emotional need,
but as doomed as a cure for aloneness
as kudzu for soil erosion.
Teenaged daughters dive-bombed me
like crows after corn,
thieved coins and clothes,
scavenged for food,
cawed cacophonous music,
despoiled their roost with droppings
of discarded garments,
a turbulent, insolent flock till they fledged.
Feathers at last fit for flight,
they flew out one by one
and flew back.
I was not among mothers
who mourned empty nests,
only contemplated how mine again bulged
with three lovely and very tall chicks.
My own soil smoothed,
my cornfield combed clean,
I hungered to cultivate
We weathered such stressful seasons
almost as if we were one.
Absorbed all the tears
wept by three girls
who grew into women together.
Watched ourselves change over time
in all but inherent structures.
You and I: built to endure.
“Uppermost among human joys is the negative one of restoration….
the recovery of the commonplace.” –Peter DeVries
You wait for me at the door—
and oh, the sight of you!
Hanks of blond hair from each side
affixed to the top of your head,
the rest flowing long down your back,
as dear and familiar as ever.
And you are smiling.
Which dissolves me into the tears
of a long grief reversed.
You whisper, “I’ve missed you too,”
and, after a moment,
“You Cancers, so emotional.”
A smile in your voice.
Alone in the bathroom,
I give myself over to sobs of release
at “the recovery of the commonplace,”
a private purgation
lest further display of emotion
damage the moment,
diminish your smile.
Our encounters precarious always,
Your passion a coarse cut rasp
to my Cancerian nature,
my sanguinity sparking your temper
as an allergen kindles a rash,
our conflicting opinions as ticklish
as the Clashing Rocks at the Bosphorus,
no space for a ship to sail through.
But today you are smiling.
Today our connection is healthy, alive,
living sinew cleansed of the toxins
built up by insoluble discord.
Today, past and future disruptions
seem evanescent as the snow I saw
just outside your door.
Sharon Whitehill is a retired English professor from Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. Her publications include two scholarly biographies, two memoirs, two poetry chapbooks, and a url collection of poems, A Dream of Wide Water, forthcoming in June 2020. She is pleased to be included in Speckled Trout Review’s second issue.
Birds of Low Repute
On the sidewalk
Outside the café
There is a large metal bowl
Filled with water,
Placed there for the dogs
Accompanying their human friends
On a mission to secure
A hearty cup of java
In order to improve the day.
But, alas, just now
For the canine companions,
They find the bowl
Wholly and utterly occupied
By a bathing pigeon
Exuberantly splashing away
In the doggy water
And showing no signs
Of intending to depart
Any time soon.
What admirable critters they are,
These birds of low repute,
These avian scavengers
That clean up after us
And assemble in beautiful batallions
On the telephone wires and power lines
Of late afternoon.
They have learned to make the best
Of making do,
Finding sustenance where it is dropped
In gutters and alleys,
Vacant lots and busy streets,
Nimbly evading oncoming autos
That seem intent upon running them down,
Surviving municipal campaigns
To eliminate them entirely
From the civic scene.
Despite the meager esteem
And often downright contempt
With which they are regarded,
They carry on unruffled,
Showing up faithfully to work every day
In the refuse industry
And, on occasion,
Taking a few moments of well-deserved time off
For a scrub and a soak.
Buff Whitman-Bradley’s poems have appeared in many print and online journals. His latest collection is Crows with Bad Writing. His podcast of poems on aging, memory, and mortality is at thirdactpoems.podbean.com. He lives with his wife, Cynthia, in northern California.