Photo credit: Kevin J. McDaniel
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 extremely—leaping 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 6/7/17 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? 7/20/21 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 stories 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 back 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 horses 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 spirits 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), everything. 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) changes. 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. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Ribbon 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. Keening 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.