Liberty and Justice

By Gary Beck

American troops dead in Iraq
month after month following the conquest,
a feat of arms comparable
to Germany’s defeat of France.
Iraqis, however, are not Frenchmen
and lacking western civilized ways
were willing to suicide themselves
to resist encroaching democracy.
Politicians in our homeland quibbled,
while our youth’s blood stained desert sands.
Some of our more extreme citizens
accused our president of war crimes,
a charge normally presented
by the nations that hate us.
Conspiracy theorists complained
that we were waging a war for oil,
while they bought bigger SUV’s.
Journalists weaken our will to act
by invoking the dreaded specter
of the quagmire of Vietnam.
In this softer, more liberal age
it’s unreasonable to expect
public approval for blood and guts war,
but there should be recognition
for the sacrifice of our troops
who suffered and died
to create democracy.

 

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. His chapbook 'Remembrance' was published by Origami Condom Press, the 'The Conquest of Somalia' was published by Cervena Barva Press, 'The Dance of Hate' was published by Calliope Nerve Media, 'Material Questions' was published by Silkworms Ink, 'Dispossessed' was published by Medulla Press, 'Mutilated Girls' was published by Heavy Hands Ink and 'Pavan and other poems' is being published by Indigo Mosaic. A collection of his poetry 'Days of Destruction' was published by Skive Press. Another collection 'Expectations' was published by Rogue Scholars Press and 'Dawn in Cities' and 'Assault on Nature' are being published by Winter Goose Press. His novel 'Acts of Defiance' is being published by Trestle Press and 'Extreme Change' is being published by Cogwheel Press. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

* * *

Poems By Neil Ellman

Somewhere in the Grass the Devil Hides 

Not any devil
but the one you know
he hides in inch-high grass
and stalks the midnight latitudes
so small
almost invisible
to the naked eye
speechless
seldom heard
except as a buzz
disguised
as the wind
somewhere in the grass
he hides
waits
deceiving your eyes
in green camouflage
he
knows your name.


Whispers at the End of Time 

it  will never come, they say,
live for today
tomorrow is an open wound
and tts secret in
whispers and
prayers to an empty tomb
hush
no faith matters
more than the sun
no sun matters
more than a
belly-full of time
until tomorrow
then
shhhhhhhhhhhhhh
for now


Photons in My Coffee Cup 

Particle or wave
(or something other than something)
faster than a speeding train
(slower than nothing we know on earth)
even faster than the earth
careening through space
at twice the speed of
nothing more than space
itself or less
(if less is more than speed)
and speed is mass
(or something else)
think of it this way:
when I flick the switch
they fill my room
and coffee cup
with light.

Neil Ellman lives and writes in New Jersey. Hundreds of his poems appear in such journals as Alba, Anemone Sidecar, Bolts of Silk, Counterexample Poetics, ditch and Rusty Truck, among others.

* * * 

Poems by Brian Fanelli

Road Fears 

My hand grips the wheel until my fingers
leave burning half-moons on my palms
whenever my car twists and turns around I-81’s barricaded corridors. My heart throws itself
against my ribcage whenever behemoth 18-wheelers sandwich my Hyundai, playing some sick game

to make the smaller driver sweat.
Last night, I dreamt my car climbed mountain roads until houses looked as small as LEGO villages below. My vehicle slid to the right, almost smashed jagged rock, until I jerked from bed, rattled by a car horn
blaring outside. I leaned back, touched my legs,
felt my forehead, found no blood, then remembered
the charred car I saw hauled away
on the Turnpike, weeks before the dream,
the stench of smoke thick
as my car inched through tortoise traffic to an exit.


At 18

He marched through February sleet and snow, shuffled through protest cages like cattle, billy clubbed by Philly PD, months before bombs,
pummeled Baghdad, before his sign’s red ink smeared and looked like blood dripping on his black boots.

He defrosted his numb cheeks and ice-gnawed hands over hot cocoa in a café where June Bugg,
his activist lover who smelled like autumn,
designed DIY flyers stamped with Howard Zinn’s words- War is the enemy of humanity.

At open mics, he signed his name Peaceful Pete, rasped Dylan covers over his out-of-tune Epiphone, backed by June Bugg’s tambourine chimes.
After 3-song sets, they sparked cigarettes that burned like coals against the night sky.

A decade later, June Bugg married a banker, slips to South Street bookstores now,
has an affair with lefty literature in aisles where her husband won’t catch her

reciting lines by Adrienne Rich and Muriel Rukeyser.

A decade later, he teaches history to youth that yawn when me mentions Zinn or Chomsky, but he still lectures and trusts one of them will pick up A People’s History, enroll in an activist army, raise a picket sign,
join him on the streets against the next war.

 


Country Girl 

She lives along Route 6,
where fracking trucks and tractors rumble along the only highway in and out of towns
named Noxen, Wyalusing, specks on maps,
a road that ascends the mountain to a point where clouds and fog could swallow cars,
spit them out at the bottom of a hill.
At night, she plugs her ears with headphones, ignores frogs croaking louder than car horns.

In summer, she roams Main Street,
where orange hunting suits and rusted antiques
hang from shop windows.
She moves to McDonald’s when streetlights flicker on, fishes for change to buy a soda,
her price to stay and talk to friends
just as bored by bucolic farmland and lookouts
where teens turn their car lights low,
slink in their seats, blow off another bible study.

She collects college mail from Ithaca,
Boston, Syracuse, imagines crowded cafes, bus stops, bustling hallways, students scurrying to class.
She plots how best to leave,
how to let her parents and town down easy,
like a broken-hearted, bad date,
how to avoid a life dressed in soiled clothes,
bobbing on a tractor with a busted seat.

 

Brian Fanelli's poems have appeared in Red Rock Review, The Portland Review, Word Riot, Boston Literary Magazine, Harpur Palate, Third Wednesday, Solstice Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing), and his first full-length collection will be published in 2013 by Unbound Content. He currently resides in Pennsylvania and teaches at Keystone College. 

* * * 

 

Poems by Bud Kenny

 

The Pretense of Rhyme

 

I have heard it said my times,
            when talking of poetry that rhymes,
there is pretense in writing such stuff.
I guess the thinking here would be,
           and maybe folks think this of me,
if you’re rhyming you aren’t feeling deep enough.

Does this mean my verse is insincere
            and what I’m feeling is not really clear
because I rhyme every so other line?
A poem is in the feelings it conveys
            and emotions are aroused in so many ways
because we are all different by God’s grand design!

Is it not the challenge of the poet
            to take an inner feeling and show it
so his audience will feel it too?
With all the different souls that there are,
            with emotions being as varied as they are
arousing great numbers is an amazing thing to do.

The best poets touch the most souls!
            Now that’s the mark of a true bard!
And when they do it’s in such a way
            that it doesn’t seem to be very hard!

Master poets can compose a tune
that sings so no heart is immune
to the emotions the verse tries to convey.
You need not rhyme every so other word,
verses have moved me that sounded absurd,
as long as the audience can feel what you say.

But I must honestly tell you right here to your face
you’re missing something my un-rhyming friend.
And that’s the fun and the thrill of the chase
of a rhyme that comes to a natural end.

 


The Naked Truth

Little kids only know now!
            They have no history to mark them,
no regrets that make them cry,
                        no secret agendas to hide–
life has not marred or scarred
what they brought into this world.
            So it should be no mystery as to why they
strip down and parade in front of us naked.

They are not being undignified.
They’re simply communicating who they are
the only way they know how.

                                                 It’s us,
the well-dressed adults, who are lacking in dignity.
We feel like we have to cover up all our old news
            for fear of being discovered who we really are.
Preachers in flowing robes
                        and old bitches in gaudy makeup
            will chastise nudists for the lifestyle they choose. 
            They say from Godliness they have ventured too far.

             
                        But I think God would smile favorably
                                    on those who hide not their life’s results.
    
I have not been without sin,
so you would not expect me to be a nudist.
            But I’m finding lying myself bare is simpler
than trying to cloak it.
The fashionable lie gets harder and harder to wear.
As time goes by you have to keep adjusting it to fit
            each situation.
Alterations are constantly in order.
Stronger elastic,
                        heftier hems,
and it seems like you’re always
having to zip up your zipper.

The scars of pretense are scarcely pretty.
The fat of lies forms in layers of foul flesh
that when exposed will disgust everyone.
  
I have seen it, and so have you.
I have been it and I bet you have too.

And isn’t deceit always a desperate destination
that always adds extra baggage to every situation?
    
That’s why when I grow up
I want to be a stripper!

 

Bud Kenny is a performance poet who has published five books of poetry. Learn more at Kenny’s website.

* * *

 

Eulogy

By Christopher Pascale 

 

The sun sneaks through 
the clouds and is trapped
again as the wind sweeps
through the empty fields
and my mind drifts too far
for me to see.
I play 
chess 
and
love
and
war
and give up before I try,
but not before my
seconds in the Sun.

They say a sad life 
makes for good poetry. 
It’s not the life, it’s 
the lies we tell about 
ourselves that make it
good. But that’s crap, too.

Jimmy Carter was the greatest 
poet I’ve ever seen, and 
the lies that live within 
his lifetime won’t matter when
the days sweep through the
orchards of this world
and transcend into Heaven
where he will build palaces
as great as the ones he’s
put here, and serve a
nation greater than all others.

When I die that’s the only 
name the end of my life 
will bear. There will be
no wind, no great transcension;
only the ash under your 
fingernails to be clipped
or scrubbed away.
There will be no wind,
and certainly no tears;
just the sweeped street
and recycled burial plot
where I will lay.
There will be no great transcension, 
no tears, and 
it will definitely not be sad;
just another day,
another chore,
another handshake
as you say ‘how’ve you been,’
and they say ‘I’ve been good’
while you all look sad
when you aren’t sad.
Drop a flower 
and say goodbye.
And then goodnight.

 

Christopher Pascale is an accountant from Long Island.

* * * 

 

Poems by Charles Rammelkamp

 

The Bond

After all these years the pain
seared as fresh and vivid as a brand,
flaring up in Marjorie’s eyes, bright
as sparks flying from an anvil.

“Life with Mother was hell,” Marjorie told me,
recalling those bleak post-war years
she and her husband and their toddler
had lived with her parents
while Cal substituted at the high school,
tried desperately to find a job in his field,
her mother critical of everything
she did, aspired to, believed.

“Even after Cal got the tenure-track job
and we left town, as if fleeing a dictator,
I felt her tugging at my sleeve,
gnarled fingers clutching at my elbow,
yanking me away from my life.

“And then of course she followed us
after my dad’s heart attack,
widowhood giving he carte blanche
to meddle in my life.
Even though she had her own apartment,
she never felt she had to knock:
what was mine was hers;
she’d given birth to me, after all.

“And finally, after the fall, the broken hip,
she moved in with us,
took over Carol’s bedroom,
demanded I wait on her,
cater to her every whim,
the Queen, the grande dame –
‘just like I took care of you,’”
Marjorie’s voice imitating a Disney witch.

Now in her nineties, her mother
dead nearly half a century,
still it sounded as if
this could have happened last week,
Marjorie waiting for an apology
she knew would never come.

On Turning Sixty

“I’m gonna be twenty-five in June,”
Sugar Kovalchik confides to “Josephine”
the cross-dressing alto sax played by Tony Curtis
in Some Like It Hot.
“That’s a quarter of a century.
Makes a girl think.”

My daughter, who will be twenty-five
on her next birthday,
reminded me of an elementary school playmate,
a kid I’d completely forgotten about.
“I think Carly’s a lesbian,” she divulged,
“at least that’s what it sounds like
on her Facebook page.”

I had a gradual recollection
of driving Anna to playdates
in the distant neighborhood
where Carly’s family lived,
awkward moments in the foyer,
making arrangements and polite small talk
with the anxious, anorexic mother,
the graceless older man who was her husband:
a friendship I didn’t miss when it ended.

This and other losses and recoveries
slip in and out of memory,
as regular as the days melting into weeks,
turning into years.

I’m going to be sixty next month.
It makes a man think.


Inspiration

When I mentioned my shock to Marvin
upon learning in synagogue
that young Rachel Edelstein
was becoming a funeral director,
the rabbi congratulating her at the bema
for completing her mortuary science studies,
getting an appointment at the Jewish funeral home,
Marvin’s reaction was, “Wow, there’s a poem!”

I thought of my friend Roger
with whom I’d go to bars
when we were in our bachelor twenties.

“Wow, get a load of her!” he’d marvel,
when a pretty young woman went by,
and then we’d spend the evening
trying our personalities out on the girl,
young women about Rachel’s age.

But yes, I thought, it was worthy of a poem,
trying to capture the fundamental change
in the way I now looked at Rachel,
a pretty young woman devoted to the dead.

Only, I knew Marvin would write one too,
and his poem would be better,
the way Roger always got the girl.


After My Mother Died

After my mother died and we sold her house,
Marcus West reminisced that fifty years back
he’d received his first blow job
in my bed,
one summer afternoon
when  my parents were away
and my older brother Ricky –
himself dead these past dozen years,
felled by an aneurysm at a racetrack,
like a towering oak blasted by a lightning bolt –
had organized a private poker party
with some of our high school buddies,
complete with a couple cases of beer.
I must have been away, too;
Ricky threw poker parties
whenever my parents left town,
an excuse to drink beer.

I didn’t know whether to be sick
or congratulatory – Way to go, Marcus! –
wondering vaguely if I’d slept
in the same bed
before the sheets had been changed,
a vision of germs and jism
flashing through my middle-aged brain.

When Marcus told me who did it,
I just felt sick.
Nancy Flanders was my girlfriend.


Boyfriend/Girlfriend

When my friend Cathy mentioned
that over the past year
not only had her first boyfriend
in college died, but her last boyfriend
before she married her husband
almost twenty years ago had died, too

I remarked that a girl-I-had-sex-with
had also died in the past year,
but she wasn’t really a “girlfriend,”
which got me wondering
what we mean
when we refer to somebody
as “my girlfriend” or “my boyfriend.”

I’ve probably always assumed
it’s shorthand for
the-person-I-am-fucking-exclusively,
but you hear middle-aged women
talk about their “girlfriends,”
and it seems to mean their pals.
When a man refers to his boyfriend,
it only means one thing.
Maybe the word means different things
at different stages of our lives.

Note that I called Cathy “a friend,”
which implies no physical relationship,
but I’d be more bummed out if she died
than somebody with whom
I’d only had casual sex.

But the rule still stands:
I can call neither one “my girlfriend.”
Still, I’m not about to ask Cathy
what she means by “boyfriend.”

 

Charles Rammelkamp's collection of poems about missionaries in a leper colony in Vietnam during the war, entitled Fusen Bakudan (“Balloon Bombs” in Japanese) was published in 2012 by Time Being Books.  He edits an online literary journal called The Potomac  and is a fiction editor for The Pedestal.

* * *

 

Poems by Mary Shaughan

 

Canine Crossing

Waiting at a stop-light,
I watch in amazement as a dog
crosses the street within the designated lines.
When he turns to face traffic I see the fright
in his eyes, the long flat tail sailing behind.
This is no dog, but an ancestor who was attracted
to the town’s bright lights and belatedly realized
that here are the very dangers he’s been warned about.
Just as I grasp that this is not someone’s lost pet,
he reaches the curb and is loping up the darkened street
away from me, hoping to reach home
before he is spotted by another member of the pack
and his transgression reported.


COUNTRY COUSINS

I never see them, but what parties
they must have in my basement.
Cracked acorns in baskets,
sunflower seeds on the floor,
and tucked into the toe of my discarded red shoes,
a fistful of sugar cubes,
put aside for the next get-together
with their city cousins.
They never invite me.


Friday Night Lights

When the sun goes down,
we slip into scratchy wool uniforms,
white ‘bucks’ on our feet.
In the more-than-usual disorder of the band room,
students forage for instruments, packets of music, and lyres
like women at a lingerie sale table,
then parade out onto the empty green field
to loud cheers from the bleachers.
Out of confusion comes order.
Row upon row, straight as if following a chalk line, 
each person lifts his (or her) left foot,
then the right;
counting, always counting the beats,
the steps,
the formations memorized after long days of drills.
Ostrich plumes on gold-braided hats flutter,
threaten to take flight,
some small successes noted.
The prancing majorette high-steps in front,
leading the way.
When she raises her baton
we lift horns to our lips and play,
mostly marches by John Philip Sousa,
still counting,
always counting,
our feet reliable metronomes.
Step by measured step we move from rows
to assigned positions,
horns wailing in the crystalline air
over the rattle and boom of the drums.


To Peter

When you died, our family shrunk by only one,
but the gap you left felt enormous.
People told me work would be a salve,
but it wasn’t.
I was astonished to discover
that all around me, life went on.
Seasons continued to change.
That maple on Meadow Street pierces my heart when it blooms red.
My throat swells when geese honk their goodbyes.
Buddy’s muzzle finally turned white with age.
You know I’m no Hindu
but you have a nephew, a brown-skinned boy
who’s infused with your spirit.  Scary.
I retired and became a poet.

But maybe you know all this.

 

Mary Ellen Shaughan calls herself an “accidental poet”, since her goal was to write exquisite short stories. Her poetry has been published in Mid-America Poetry Review, Timber Creek Review, Words of Wisdom Magazine, Peregrine: The Journal of Amherst Writers & Artists, Foliate Oak, Long Story Short, Daily Palette/Iowa Writes, and Silkworm. She is a native Iowan who now calls Western Massachusetts home.

* * * 

 

Mercy Rule

By Michael Ugulini

                                                          

                        Baby girls sold for as little as $8…

                        Chinese smugglers drug infants, then stuff them in bags.

                                                        …National Post Newspaper (Canada)…July 31, 2004

So, finally

this is it,

our season winds down

like a dying cobra.

We will play

remaining meaningless games,

like a sad-sack ball team,

limping through September.

Worn gloves;

tired bats;

(a promising season start)

then the dog days;

dashed hopes;

losses mounting;

no heart;

Classic Fall.

no intestinal fortitude;

going through the motions.

No Fall Classic…

just a

Classic Fall.

 

Michael Ugulini is a freelance writer from the Niagara Region, Ontario. He is a published writer of newsletter articles, feature articles, SEO articles, and corporate profiles. Creative writing works include short scripts, short stories, and poetry. His short screenplay PARCHED won First Place in the 2006 American Gem Short Screenplay Competition.