Spring 2022 (4.1)

Photo credit: Kevin J. McDaniel

Dear Readers,

In this issue, poets from wide-ranging backgrounds and locales share their unique takes on life’s trials, its foibles, and the diverse paths that connect us all in this human experiment.

The Fall 2022 (4.2) publication will be a print issue with freedom as the guiding theme. Specific submission guidelines will be announced September 1, 2022.

We hope readers and contributors will continue to share the news about STR’s electronic and print publications.


Kevin J. McDaniel, Founder of Speckled Trout Review
Nancy Dillingham, Associate Poetry Editor

Featured poets: Anjail Ahmad, Ann Chinnis, Christine Cock, Joe Cottonwood, Chris Ellery, David Ford, Robert Gibb, Babo Kamel, Erren Kelly, Bruce McRae, Marda Messick, Jesse Millner, W. Barrett Munn, Charles Rammelkamp, John Reed, Jan Schmidt

an ordinary blindness

while sitting in front of the television,
i heard a man speaking, his voice deeply breaking,
about his former need to thrill-seek,
mountain climbing at the furthest point
from what really mattered in his life: 
my wife and children, he muttered in reflection.
slipping beyond the safety of towlines and crampons,
he fell against ice and rock
as he sought a yet greater summit— 
instead, face shorn, nose gone,
one arm destroyed up to the elbow.
the other sprouted a mitt, a web of flesh—
no fingers for his hand,
a man who had been a surgeon.
clipped and humbled he told his story,
his voice thin and tinseled
with tears streaming for what remained and for what was taken away.
in another case, a man lived
down cliff faces and tall buildings,
tethered only by his faith
in the line he had checked and rechecked
to hold him inches from fatality.
the night of his greatest jump,
a real record breaker,
delirious with this recent accomplishment,
he broke his own rule
and jumped again with used line.                    
alone on his cliff at almost dark,
new line tied to used,
with no time to check his links,
he dove into the dusky air.
flying down the canyon,
his cell phone dialed a friend
in a distant city
who unwittingly witnessed
the sound he made as he fell
into what was his last jump—
it’s the unrelenting pull of that unending hunger,
to make better than one’s own best,
to try to feed the unacknowledged
emptiness that demands
a feat greater than before
to feel alive.
it’s the ones who survive their private catastrophes
who can, at last, look up
out of the narrow dark
to find that pleasure 
is in simply being alive.

Anjail Rashida Ahmad, PhD, is a published poet, educator and advocate, a professor of poetry and African-American literature, and founding Director of the Creative Writing Program at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State until she retired in 2021. Her books are the color of memory (Klear Vizon Press, 1997) and necessary kindling (LSU Press, 2001).

The Contextualist

My grandfather built the centerpiece of Galena, Mo.,
a graceful but practical courthouse of red brick, tricked
out with coffee shop and jail in its rounded 
rear. I can see him grinding sandstone, 
his chiseled face caked with dust, etching
his name in the cornerstone. He always swings
his hammer as if swatting flies and smiles
at the ease of his efforts. He seduced my
grandmother who was in 9th grade, just as
women could vote, and he was laying 
the cornerstone. My mother is unable to tell me 
if they were in love or if it were convenience.
I like to think he saw a wild Ozark crow in the 
hook of her nose, heard a dare in her laugh’s 
shrill caw, that in her brown eyes he saw
himself reflected with a depth that surprised 
him. I have been told that before a young
crow leaves its nest, it is white and easy
to spy. I imagine that he was a magnetic,
yet enigmatic, husband. He left her soon
after she had her third child. I have searched
for proof that my grandfather lived, besides
my own existence. No obituary exists. Deny 
someone a grave, and the lack of an ending 
calls into question earlier chapters. He was said
to look like a movie star, was a wanderer; maybe
he was reckless. I tell myself he had an eye
for calculations and angles, that he was not 
casual. I can picture that cornerstone.

Ann Chinnis is an Emergency Physician and a student at the Writers Studio in New York. Her poetry has been published in Around the World: Landscapes & Cityscapes, Sledgehammer, Drunk Monkeys, Open Door, Didcot Writers, Mocking Owl Roost, and Last Leaves.

A List of Relative Light         
Sun sears, making much of every unfolded surface—
Drooping live oaks, centuries deep, stretch limbs  
            that sprawl and offer beckoning shadows. 
Swamp water flickers, hiding dirty Southern secrets
            while birdsong roils in honeyed notes.
Relief is felt in pattering rain that shivers off leaves
            and reaches the creek, upon whose banks I kneel, 
where I pray that this cool water, cupped in my palm, 
            remains pure enough.
A dappled radiance trails across a ground folio of twigs 
            and spent soil, reminding me no matter how much 
I trespass, kicking my own darknesses beneath leaf-litter, 
            footfalls still scatter uncontained slivers of light.

Christine Cock lives in the woods of Florida, having spent much of her life working in endangered species and zoo conservation. She has been published most recently in The Sandhill Review, From Whispers to Roars, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Red Eft Review, Quail Bell, and at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Studebaker Stick Shift

On back roads, gravel,   
Ed teaches me to drive.
We cross a stone bridge, Antietam Creek. 
Ed says upstream from here the bloodiest day,
creek ran red, dead meat stinking in ditches— 
young men our age, you and me,   
not the bankers, 
not the plantation owners; 
they were kids like us slaughtering each other 
because old people told them to. 
Now it’s birdsong, green and peaceful,
honeysuckle feeding on bones.

Narrow road. Ed shouts: Slow down!
As I hit the brake, a souped-up Ford 
yellow and black like a giant wasp 
speeds over the hilltop mid-road, 
would’ve been head-on. Somehow
Ed foresaw.

In California Ed’s brain a battlefield. 
Thoughts drop like flies on a windowsill.
Studebaker, he laughs, sounds like a Swedish chef.
Still he remembers that creek, bridge.
I steer him slow
toward the big hill.

Trillium Spring 

In Maryland we play Monopoly by California rules. 
Earthquakes destroy hotels; a single game lasts forever, 
Elaine’s rule, because her dad died in Korea. 

Elaine delivers The Washington Star
with wildflowers plucked along the route.
Sometimes I help. She’s poor.
On leftover news she draws crayon faces, 
men with golden halos.

One day she gives me a portrait of myself.
No halo. Stupidly I say: Nose like an Edsel. 
She runs out in tears. I follow to the bathroom.
Elaine has eyelashes of wispy smoke.
My first kiss, over the sink—first scent 
of female perspiration I never suspected 
and then with impish smile she sticks 
out her tongue, the deepest, richest red.

Earthquake, game resumes while I puzzle over 
unexpected warmth of lip with tiny crystals of chap, 
the strange surge down to my legs. 
Too young or too bewildered we never 
kiss again until they move to Ohio
when she pecks me goodbye.

Later half a century,
my nose almost an Edsel. 
Each spring trillium bloom with burgundy tongue. 
Come close, inhale the subtle musk but don’t kiss—
or you’ll touch pollen that clings, 
taste a game without end.

Joe Cottonwood has repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Random Saints.

Harrison, Arkansas
We got married in the morning and drove
two hours up Highway 7 to Harrison, Arkansas.
At our hotel too soon, we drifted downtown, in and out
of shops, side by side, just beginning to glue
our bodies together. We bought red Converse All Stars
with the fee that Father Shoemaker refused.
Your mother sang in his choir.
He baptized you. He buried your father.
We sat in his office for hours learning to live
as one flesh until one of us dies.
Why were we there in Harrison, Arkansas,
on the first day of our covenant?
Years before in that same town, your grandfather
crossed a picket line to feed his young family.
They left in the night in a hurry
with murderous men at their heels.
Passing the first night of our future in Harrison,
Arkansas, had nothing to do with the past.
It was just on the way to where we wanted to be,
on the way to where we were going.
Nevertheless, walking back to our hotel
with a shoebox under my arm,
I saw your grandfather driving his wagon
through town in the middle of a strike.
He held the reins like a delicate ribbon, as if afraid
that gripping too tightly might break them.
With only a look I assured him
and just at that moment you took my hand.
Nothing needs to be forever
to be worth keeping.
For years we wore those red canvas high-tops.
Today I still see them
and our long dead officiant, Father Shoemaker,
returning our check without saying a word.

Chris Ellery is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Canticles of the Body. He has received the Texas Poetry Award and the X.J. Kennedy Award for Nonfiction. He is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

Petrol Town
The refinery slicks out to the south,
A mirage of hot metal
Where black dirt alchemises into food
For snarling animals.
The town grew up too quickly around it,
Brick hutches spreading like callouses
Over the hill. A solitary row of shops:
Sprays and Rays, Joe’s Kebabs, Oh My Cod!
You beat yourself to exhaustion to sleep,
A bomb ticking away inside your head,
Always on edge. The sour distillery of your breath,
The body clenched, your words incendiary.

David Ford lives in London. His poetry has been published online and in magazines in the UK, USA, and South Africa. A collection of poems has been published by Happenstance Press.

Pantheist Notes
Deus sive Natura, as good a place as any to start.
Or the port city of Nicaea, its lake of birds,
The day for Easter marked off from the equinox,
The full moon brought to term.
Leaf bud and root crown the local forms
Of the immanence. Rain the catalyst
And the rain of light. Acorn and samara.
The shapes of leaves between the leaves,
Figure and ground, so that what stands out
Is but part of its surround. Take that figure
I saw ahead of me in the woods, leaning
Against a tree as if waiting to watch me pass,
Arms folded across his chest, legs crossed
At the ankles. He fairly beamed benevolence,
Who turned out to be a shaft of light,
Dappled and slanting through the leaves.
And the sailors at anchor off the Galapagos
Where Darwin saw finches “climbing
About the flowers of the great cactus trees.”
Photosynthesis where light takes to the body,
The tree doubling down in the roots.
Sailors off the islands they called paradise.

On Leaving Well Enough Alone
He was down there at it again today, home and gardening
the only level stretch on the hilled side of the road. His
time-on-his-hands pastime: clearing thickets of black
raspberries and mats of mulching leaves, setting cut scrub
out in bundles as at some trash-day curb. Today he was
ripping out what’s left of the coverts and the secrets they
kept, just below the ruins of the Koval place—overgrown
rubble in which I’ve caught glimpses of foxes or pictured
their denned shapes embering the earth. Tell me, what are
any of our fritterings worth when they’re set next to that?
And yet in a strange way it’s impressive, that after all this
time he can still find something to fuss about, civic or
single-minded, beneath the sheer ledged granite of the
cliff wall. Litter got him started. Deadfall followed that.
As has every stray tire tossed out of sight into the ravine
across the road. Now he’s worked his way down to the
mineral level, riprapping shards of slate, stacking cairns
along an impromptu border, the boulders swept clean
behind them, scenic beside a road over whose occasional
sins and minor bursts of mayhem he exerts no control.

Robert Gibb is the author of Sightlines (Poetry Press, 2021), his thirteenth full-length poetry collection, winner of the 2019 Prize Americana for Poetry. Other books include Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017; After, which won the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize for 2016; and The Origins of Evening (Norton, 1997), which was a National Poetry Series selection. He has been awarded two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry, a Pushcart Prize, and Prairie Schooner’s Glenna Luschei and Strousse Awards.

Vintage 2 oz. Bottle Cobalt Blue: Empty
Sitting in the bath, I would move close to the chrome.
Its curve distorting reflection, head smaller, nose enormous
then distant, a return to the familiar me. Same with tea kettles
through whistling steam, an apparition. The other trick
to stare at a mirror, unblinking, until face melts. I became
an ancient mouth, open as if to swallow myself. The first time
I saw my mother, not as Mother, but as herself, it was like winter
moving in, sound falling away from her voice. Then giddy terror
that I had been living with a stranger. Stories sprouting in my head
until dinner, the scent of her perfume a reminder of who she was.
And years later when disease began its daily diminishment,
perspective play flew out the window. All I wanted was the now
of her, a freeze frame of an endless moment; the night she was dying
all she wanted was an egg in the morning.

Babo Kamel’s publications include The Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, DMQ, Poet Lore, and Best Canadian Poetry 2020. She is a Best of Net nominee and a six-time Pushcart nominee. Her chapbook, After, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her book, What The Days Wanted, is forthcoming with Broadstone Books.

Joy Harjo, Native American Poet Laureate of The United States

the laughing tree told you to live
and you lived
as a young college student in
new mexico
you found your voice in the spirits
and it told you to tell
you are a story, song of wind and 
fire and water
like your daddy, whom you rode with
in his black cadillac, black hair slicked
along with him, you rode free and easy with
the blues
you had nothing to lose but your chains
you danced naked in that tennessee river, sexy 
and unencumbered
like a fawn,
the same places your granddaddy stole 
your body was poetry moving in water
how could you not be a high priestess
of words?
someone said
there is no such thing as an indian
poet because all indians
speak poetry, but you speak minimum wage
and working class squalor
walking by a store in muskogee, oklahoma,
a single mother, who could only look at things
she couldn't afford,
but now the power of art and music and love
gets you the things you want, child of fire
and water, shapeshift into crow, lone wolf and
rabbit,  into warrior woman, shaman
and tribal chief, dance around madness, and let
the muscogee creek warrior in you
stamp out all oppression and create a garden of
beauty, like sandra cisneros, keep dancing,
singing, praying and believing, 
believe that you
are a heart carrying songs, carrying dreams, carrying
and when you play your saxophone, know that jazz is a people's
republic, and anyone can enter!

Erren Kelly, a two-time Pushcart nominee from Lynn, Massachusetts, has published in Hiram Poetry Review, Mudfish, Poetry Magazine(online), Ceremony, Cacti Fur, Bitterzoet, Cactus Heart, Similar Peaks, Gloom Cupboard, Poetry Salzburg, and in anthologies such as Fertile Ground and Beyond The Frontier.

Before In Was Out

This is the truth.
The truth contains other truths.
Inside each of these is an even smaller truth
the colour of cold honey.
Truths are peanut-shaped,
weighing as little as a cooking apple
or as much as a snow squall blitzing Idaho.
Truth smells like peeled onions
or a chilly draft in a cancer ward.
And it’s really sorry about the money too,
the truth promising (crossing its
ever-lovin’ dirty little heart)
to be more consistent in the future.

In self-imposed exile,
the truth goes on at some length
about the spiraling costs of education.
From its house in a hole
the truth reaches for the expendable stars
and expandable planets,
plus other various sky-stuff and what-not
sprinkling night’s donut.

Keeps to itself, the truth does.
Knows how to spin a good yarn though,
producing a litter every seven working days,
earning a tiny commission
by making the best of a worsening condition,
that thing the truth doesn’t like to talk about,
not in so many words.

Storms visit, the truth administering rum.
“A hole is a hole is a hole,” it reminds us,
unaware of the bittersweet irony,
insouciant to the last stroke,
a victim of its own insufferable charms.

Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician, is a multiple Pushcart nominee with poems published in hundreds of magazines such as Poetry, Rattle, and North American Review. His books are The So-Called Sonnets (Silenced Press), An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy (Cawing Crow Press), Like As If (Pski’s Porch), and Hearsay (The Poet’s Haven).

Northbound Birds

The white pelicans soar, glistening, huge,
their black-tipped wings wide over us
for an instant, another,
then gone into the northbound air,
vanishing as if they had not been
suddenly here
in fast-moving splendor,
as if we had not looked up,
just in time.

I want to believe a beauty
seen, almost not, means
in each moment,  
jackpots waiting for the next nickel,
signs and wonders hiding in sight
or coming like new love
from just around the bend,
changing in an instant 
(I want to believe),

But just as likely
the moment swells ugly, 
a mass viewed on a scan, 
a crash as the hill is crested,
a curse flung to a target heart,
and everything (in an instant)

The white pelicans soar, glistening, 
unerring, though not knowing 
if the beacon island in the distant river
will shelter, still, hatchlings 
on the perilous earth.

Trail, North Georgia

A beetle feeds beneath the bark  
and fells a southern forest;
roots loosen from the ground
and lichens lace the trunks 
coming down on the red clay path,
decomposing as we pass, exposed 
and luminous in unaccustomed sun. 

At our roots a giving way
as death’s small beetle bores unseen, 
girdles round and splits us dry,
dark as ash in splintered pine.  

Yet in the clearing, below the mold,
the seed swells in the nut,
pale cotyledon pining upward,
greening in abounding light.

Marda Messick is a poet and theologian living in Tallahassee, Florida, on land that is the traditional territory of the Apalachee Nation and other indigenous peoples. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Christian Century, Literary Mama, Poetic Medicine, and Delmarva Review.

Lost Boy, Charlottesville 1973
Four of us lived in a damp apartment carved
into a hill in the dank basement of a house
where we smoked pot and drank beer, every day
celebrating our youth and stupidity. When Herb
suggested saving money by not using dish soap
and hot water for cleaning plates, pots, and pans,
we thought it was a cool idea, just like when we
took all the racks out of the fridge so we could keep
a keg of beer cold, just like when we started making
our own wine in half-gallon plastic jugs with grape juice,
yeast, and birthday balloons. I flunked out of school
that year, had constant trouble with my girlfriend,
as my life seemed to be barreling down a mountain road
toward some little town where everyone went to church
on quiet Sundays and wore their best clothes and still used
mules to pull plows instead of tractors. Their cash crop
might have been tobacco or soybeans, but, man, they always kept
an acre or two for vegetables so there’d be plenty of fresh
greens and tomatoes and squash to share the dinner
plate with the freshly killed chicken. In 1973, I would
have just blown through that town, briefly stopping
only if I caught the one red light in the business district
where a Woolworth’s stared down the drugstore across
the street where everyone got medicines and drank
Coca-Colas on Saturdays when folks from the country
came to shop and socialize. In 1973, I drove
my sorrows away by speeding down country roads,
often sipping Miller Malt Tallboys and sucking
a joint, which made the Blue Ridge
even bluer, even more beautiful as the smoky ridges fell
away into the western sky where maybe god lived, planning
his revenge on the drunk and stupid, on lost boys
like me who lived in a permanent stupor, who rushed
towards each setting sun as though it were an actual
deity, a way toward another place where lightning
was normal and lambs walked backwards into the barn
where they slept like little, wooly kings and queens.

A New Creature of Winsome Possibility
I think I’ll pack up my mule and leave.
Head west. Stop using deodorant. Never
shave again. Just eat beans and cornbread.
Sweet-talk the prairie dogs. Learn
to play the harmonica so I can make lonely
music and fill the air with bluesy sorrow.
Pet cattle if I can lure them close
enough to what fences me out and keeps
them in, or is the other way around.
Wash myself in midnight streams
that have been collecting light for all the years
they have tumbled down from Montana.
If I’m fast enough, I’ll coat myself with the very
starlight and gleam like a minor constellation
as I walk back down the highway that passes
small towns and wheatfields, silos, and occasional roadkill.
I will drink in those long miles so completely
I become an aching distance myself, playing out
like a slow, sad tune in the bellows of time
and space, shaped and fanned into a new
creature of winsome possibility, who
will fade like a rainbow that, for a little while,
had arched so triumphantly across the sky.

Jesse Millner's poems have appeared most recently in Grist, Book of Matches, and The Blue Mountain Review. His latest poetry book, Memory's Blue Sedan, was released in April 2020 by Hysterical Books in Tallahassee, Florida. He lives in Estero, Florida, with his dog Lucy.

The Remembered

Her framed photograph hangs on our wall
above her Cherokee name—Still Stands Looking—
fierce face beside a First Family certificate
declaring direct descendance to this woman
who walked the Trail of Tears.

On the kitchen table in our house
rests a basket of woven river cane;
it's filled with sweet, ripe peaches,

peaches gathered from a single grove,
taken from a single tree, an unyielding tree
that withstood brutal winters to produce
first one lone peach, then a bushel, and
over time became an orchard.

W. Barrett Munn writes from his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he lives with his wife Shelia and their rescue terrier Abby. In a previous iteration, he wrote children's stories, which magazines such as Child Life published. His recent poetry has been published by Copperfield Quarterly Review and Volney Road Review.

A Synonym for Surprise

On the radio this morning 
a little interlude interrupts the litany 
of imminent disaster and “breaking news”:
the world’s toughest tongue twister,
as certified by Guinness—
the sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.

I remember she sells seashells by the seashore,
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
how much wood would a woodchuck chuck,
and all the rest.

But the twistiest I’ve heard,
the one that didn’t necessarily improve 
pronunciation and fluency 
but did bring to mind the detours,
sharp curves and abrupt stops looming ahead,
the evil that lurks around the corner,
is when my wife 
sat at the hospital registration desk
(me there as her emotional support animal)
telling the lady with the clipboard,
Rammelkamp for a mammogram.

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books. A poetry chapbook, Mortal Coil, was published in 2021 by Clare Songbirds Publishing. Another full-length collection, The Field of Happiness, will be published in 2022 by Kelsay Books. He contributes a monthly book review to North of Oxford and is a frequent reviewer for The Lake, London Grip, and The Compulsive Reader.


I've seen it, unexpectedly enough,
a few times, as I've hurried through my day,
hushed and losing things, everything really,
that I've ever cherished, wanted to keep.
Have you, from the window of your Uber,
ever caught a glimpse of the foil paper,
the need-me crimson ribbon with the ruffled bow?
I don't go back. No. But there it will be,
across the avenue, shining with rain.
Once, dangerously close, I touched the tape,
frayed, unstuck, like you'd also been right here,
not peeling back the wrapping for a peek of
the gift that's addressed to the two of us.

John Reed is the author of A Still Small Voice (Delacorte), The Whole (Simon & Schuster/MTV Books), the SPD bestseller Snowball's Chance (Roof/Melville House), All The World's A Grave: A New Play By William Shakespeare (Penguin/Plume), Tales of Woe (MTV Press), Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems (C&R Press), A Drama In Time: The New School Century (Profile), and The Family Dolls: A Manson Paper + Play Book (Outpost19). He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and teaches Creative Writing (MFA program) at The New School University.

The Return  
The thick, brown stalks sway slightly in fading light   
against fallen trunks of oaks, beech, pine,   
a chipped, white painted fence. She is there  
at the same place, the same time, as ten years before.   
Then one straggly branch pokes out of a bed  
of hawthorn, ivy, and rose hips. The pink, violet flowers 
gone. She remembers a few ovals, slightly luminous— 
like a trace of a half-moon in a clouded night sky.       
Now she glances at the grove 
of plants firmly rooted despite nor’easters, 
hurricanes, snowstorms, and ravaging Cape winds. 
The only place she’s discovered them  
on journeys on beach roads and sandy trails.   
How they’ve multiplied! As her wishes and desires  
have waned, as her losses have grown, as her 
limbs have creaked, the grove has flourished. 
She snaps several branches off. A few  
just-threaded ovals—the pearl centers gone.   
Others dangle shreds like miniature, ragged 
strips of cloth. And some half-gone ones are  
like white paper cut-outs of children’s masks,   
plastered against faces of young trick-or-treaters, 
pinpricks for eyes and open mouths,  
grotesque like goblin screams.   
Still she sees twigs with intact petals.  
She takes one, peels the scarred parchment    
shells away. Picks out small brown seeds. 
Translucent pearl centers emerge, glimmer in the light. 
A silver sheen against the waste of late fall early winter.  
Like the fevered breath of dreamers. Incandescent. 
                The afterglow of youth.   
The Chinese money plant is associated with promises of good fortune, money, and good health.


There are signs 
women in the shape of deer 
of sparrows   of wind 
spirits chanting 
let the world come 
and go in you 
let the keening come and go 
let the world breathe and dream in you 
Watch for the shadows 
that darken the hearth 
the heart can only 
travel in sunlight 

Jan Zlotnik Schmidt’s poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, and Kansas Quarterly. Her work also has been nominated for the Pushcart Press Prize. Two volumes of poetry, We Speak in Tongues (1991) and She had this memory (2000), were published by Edwin Mellen Press. Foraging for Light (2019) was published by Finishing Line Press.    





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