By Carrie Albert
Mom imagines they still live
at home and Dad can drive. She forgets
how he kicks her onto the floor.
The nurses tell me I must replace
their queen with two hospital beds.
Dad dreams of golden circles.
He wants to return to his maker.
Limbs turn purple. He curls,
cannot swallow. Damp cloth brings
water to closed lips.
Nurses and aides gather
like angels. Mom wants to stay.
She says, No one should
die alone. Separate beds, still together,
they sleep through. The hinge,
his jaw, opens.
He becomes hunger without body.
He still has a good appetite,
yet doesn't answer. He is at work
again. I hate when he leaves me
here at school. She ventures out
to the common area, to help
others less able. She opens
one’s book, offers another a fork
or spoon. He becomes sorrow
without bone, ghost who still calls.
She needs a new chair,
with arms so she can stand.
She wants a desk, the one
with curves. His space becomes
pen and blank paper, empty
drawers, the patient wait.
Carrie Albert is Writer-Artist in Residence at both Penhead-Press and ink sweat & tears. Her poetry has recently appeared in Grey Sparrow, HEArt, Earth's Daughters, cahoodaloodaling among many others. She lives in Seattle.
* * *
We Come Bringing Jesus
By Sophie Buckner
Ana won’t answer our calls,
so, with black tags stamped hermana
and El Libro de Mormòn swinging
in our hands, we go to her trailer home south
of King’s Highway.
On the porch railing,
a plastic crystal bowl holds
ashes and Camel butts. The door hangs
open. Like a mouth without anything to say.
Jasmine, the daughter, runs out, flings
tiny arms around me, sinks
her cheek into my belly.
Loosening tangles in her onyx strands, I scan
stained bibs, Takis bags, bent
bottle caps mottling carpet.
Last week, with Corazõn Salvaje
muted on the screen, we talked
about heaven, and it came
to us in this room. A celestial glow concealed
cucarachas clambering over our feet,
fumes slithering from the crack
under the bedroom door.
Now Ana comes out with tender eyes.
She stands by the counter and says que no
les puedo ver mas and slides
a magazine to hide a bloody rag.
Sophia is a recent graduate from Utah State University. Her work has been published in Weeds and Scribendi. She loves playing tennis and walking through cemeteries.
* * *
Tree House Hill
By Grant Clauser
Every crooked line ended in nails
enough to nearly kill the tree.
Tar paper held with spit, wire
and duct tape helped to keep out
rain, but not spiders—they crept
in on wind the creaking trees explained.
We thought of it as something we owned,
though built on someone else’s land.
We stole the wood and nails too,
stole candles from our mothers’ cupboards
and Schlitz cans from our dads’.
Broke every branch that wouldn’t bend.
Its rotten timbers wore through winters
and its nails held fast in storms.
Mice and birds that burrowed in,
we chased out, and out again when found.
The trees always trying to reclaim
what we’d build up from the ground.
What’s left is dirt on someone else’s field.
When trucks and dozers tore it down
to build a road, we had long since left
our younger lives for cars and beer.
Now, when pavement cracks
and weeds fight through, I think of trees
that filled the hill like soldiers standing
up against a surge, all the lines we knew
would end, and all the bets we lost.
Ladder, roof and door, four walls
held up by hope and wire more than nails
and all the treetops washed in fire in the fall.
Grant Clauser lives in Hatfield Pennsylvania and has published two books of poetry: Necessary Myths (winner of the 2013 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize) and The Trouble with Rivers (Foothills Publishing). Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Mason’s Road, Southern Poetry Review and others. He also writes about electronics, teaches poetry at random places and chases trout with a stick.
* * *
By Roxana Doncu
In your palms I rock myself to sleep,
your eyes a lighthouse on the beach.
Deserted on the carefully licked sand
a pair of sunglasses and a burned bush.
The wind travels from north to south
carrying away what ashes he can find,
Our past, a toxic cloud, graveyards of shells and ships.
The shadow falls diagonally between blocks
moving slowly on the afternoon’s chessboard
advancing, though not winning yet.
Roses grow in the old sea town
spreading their knowledge in spirals,
across the whitewashed wall
safe from the eyes of strangers.
Only you and I have been admitted here,
citizens of a lost Atlantis,
we count the eyes of things, some open,
some hollow, like shells washed on the shore
again and again, by the sins of old prophets.
I shed my past
become a stranger to myself
like a train leaving behind the two rails
that keep growing
At noon there is no shadow on the beach
and I am entire.
This is the hour that hurts the most, the skin
singed, the face
It is only in this pain
that I regain
Roxana Doncu is a Romanian writer and photographer living in Bucharest. She works as an English teacher and translator, and in her free time she loves exploring the world around, either by traveling or reading. She loves experimenting and working with different media as well as writing at the intersection of genres. Her recently published book Decalogul/The Decalogue is a collection of short stories which participate, according to the German literary critic Robert Matthias Erdbeer, in the ‘re-enchantment of the Real’.
* * *
Theory of Relativity
By Joseph Dorazio
You are a victim of time and space!
was the exhortation my father swore
he heard in the middle of the night
waking him from his drunken stupor,
the favorite ghost story he liked to tell--
how the grim voice couldn’t have come
from the radio or tv, since growing up
we couldn’t afford much beyond the basic
necessities, yet somehow my father
always had money for whiskey.
we’re no closer than Parmenides was
in answering the big questions like
why time’s arrow flies in only one direction
affording no chance of revisiting childhood
making it less inscrutable, or what space is made of
beyond expanding dark and mysterious matter, or
even understanding human consciousness;
a family’s cycle of dysfunction
is but another carapace in an infinite tower of turtles,
so for me,
the issue isn’t really whether or not I believe in God,
but who it was years ago--
who uttered those words,
filling my father with the truth.
Joseph Dorazio is a prize-winning poet whose poems have appeared widely in print and online, including: The Worcester Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Southampton Poetry Review, The New Plains Review, The Fourth River, and elsewhere. The author of four volumes of verse, Dorazio's latest collection, No Small Effort (Aldrich Press) was released in November.
* * *
Pissin' in the Woods
By Kyle Hunter
My boy and I
stand in formation, hanging out
at the lip of the clearing
facing away from tents and unlit fires
into the roiling calm. I can’t tell
whether the green is falling
all over itself, or just relaxing
in layered contentment, living
till it’s time to die.
My boy is me
but shorter, skinnier,
more hair on the top of his head
(and less everywhere else).
He has more fun:
lights on his shoes
pants at his ankles
doesn’t know that
maybe he should be afraid
of being bit in the ass
My boy laughs
as the stream jumps
twice, three times as long
as he is tall, thundering sunbeam rain
onto a canopy beneath the canopy
shaming my gentle brook, misting
the few feet in front of my boring
gray tennis shoes. I miss
my youth and I smile. Living
till it’s time to die. My boy is me
Kyle Hunter is an attorney with a BFA in painting from Indiana University. He live in Indianapolis with his wife and four young children. His work has been published in Gravel, Branches Magazine, So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, and Silver Birch Press.
* * *
By Daniel Moore
Consider the way apology felt
bolting from the gate of my mouth,
a pearl gray stud of bones and regret
living for someone to bet on.
Standing next to never again
did not make the moment feel smoother.
Trust told my legs that if I ran slow
the burns would be deeper than skin.
With a graciousness only horses possess
waiting for the lash and lunge,
turning, we faced what my hands had done
after guilt had dismounted.
Daniel Edward Moore’s poems have been published in journals such as: American Literary Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, River Styx, Rattle, Western Humanities Review, Mid-American Review, Columbia Journal Of Arts And Literature and others. He has poems forthcoming in Broad Street Magazine, Common Ground Review, Tule Review, The American Journal Of Poetry, New South, Weber Review, Roanoke Review and Lullwater Review. He lives in Washington on Whidbey Island where he is working on his first book of poems, “Waxing The Dents.”
* * *
Da Reever Taked 'er
By Corinne Nulton
I don’t want to ink away your accent
by jotting in the articles and apostrophes,
crossing out “s” and “es” where plurals shouldn’t be,
fixing possessives, while losing perspective
of the narrative that was lost somewhere between
the replaced “ons” with “ins” and “lys” at the ends.
Red scribble is mostly all that’s left of what was
your voice, but, I mean, hey, it’s “grammatically correct”
since your professor bases intellect
on misplaced modifiers.
Your classmates “don’t” or really just “won’t”
understand what you say,
and even Word has no idea what you are trying to spell here,
yet there’s something so bewitching about the gaps between
the actual language and your interpretation of it.
While you need to bridge those barriers,
I wish teaching you didn’t involve rewriting that part of you.
For example, the best story I’ve heard had da’s instead of the’s.
A refugee recalling a childhood civil war,
causing him and his family to flee to the corner of their country.
A swooping, snake-like hand gesture curves across the table,
articulating the sensation of a fast-flowing “Reever”
Fingers symbolize graves downstream of the lives it had taken.
“Like eyes closed” he repeats, blinking, conveying the darkness,
the fear of not knowing if they were even in the water until feeling
the fidget splash. The three adults, clinging to children,
barely even a ripple in its rapids.
He wraps his fingers around my wrist to show me how
his family crossed, hand clenched around hand.
Deeper and deeper, waists well under wakes, the waves
crashing over heads, drenching and dunking them downward.
“I dree, maybe? Four?” I can’t picture the six-foot-tall body builder
being small enough to fit in his mother’s arms, hoisted up and tucked between
the nape of her neck and shoulder.
But, he nods repeatedly, swearing it’s true.
His mother, “she yell ‘a’me, cause I keep, eh… durning?”
He twists to show me.
“Drying da see m’fa’der.” He looks over his shoulder, as if expecting to see the gigantic
man I gather his father to be, holding a daughter in each arm, trudging through the river.
The sisters hold hands across the back of his neck,
eyes squinted, then shut. Black hair blowing out of braids.
Terrified and squealing at the crisp water biting them.
My student wants to be with his twin
He’s angry at his father for separating them,
“It make since ‘or him da dake da gurls—but, I dink, we come daget’er, we leave daget’er, no?”
He can hardly see the sister that shares his age and at every submergence,
“If I not choking, I feel ‘er choking. We swear our soul da same.”
As for his mother, “I feel ‘er heart hit my chest. She so afraid. It bruising me almost.”
Their father shushes all of them between mumbled prayers.
It’s clear by the middle they will not all make it.
They have to let each other go to try to swim against the ripping water.
I can’t understand how that realization didn’t paralyze them in the icy depths.
He shudders, “At night I wake in deepest part’o dat reever still,”
gasping mouthfuls of water, bashing against the bottom of the river bed.
Behind his mother was his aunt. “’Er face right in m’ face.”
He leans across the table on his forearms to show me just how close.
“She about half your age. ’Er eyes not like most dare. Lighter like yours.”
She holds his mother with one arm, and her newborn balanced in a bundle
over her shoulder, locked between her elbow and her neck.
“She so tiny” he lowers his eyes as if a curse just crossed his lips.
Her head bobs under. She loses her footing. Her hands desperately try to keep
the baby above. My student yells something like “auntie” in his language,
watching in horror every time the water “Disappears ‘er from me.”
“Then a big water come,” a wave that almost knocks the baby from her arms.
She lets go of her sister to hold the baby.
“Wooosh . . . I reach for ’er, but. . .” He shakes his head.
“Da reever taked ’er.”
Droplets of the frozen water drip down my spine; even poorly pronounced, it chills me.
How is it that even in the wrong tense his words lose no intensity?
We sit in silence for a moment. I touch his hand, “I’m so sorry.”
He shakes head. “Only ‘er face I remember. Anyway dat is why one day I build breeges.”
A bridge builder in a stack of essays not half as poignant.
“What words good fa me da say dat?”
“Yours?” The draft just recited feels perfect.
The accent cannot be wedged away from the experience,
without losing both and all balance in the “reever”
for me at least, though I know academia has less patience.
It breaks my heart to help him turn his da’s
into a’s and the’s
Something beautiful is lost as fluency’s gained
Though it’s hard to name exactly what the rapids wore away.
Corinne Alice Nulton writes and teaches writing, sharing her love for the craft while jotting down her own words in the breaths between. She values her English Language Learners, for they inspire her to break linguistic rules in ways that she never would have seen as a native speaker. Her short story “Ember and Ash” will be published in Night Bazaar this January, and she had her play 14 Symptoms featured in the Brick Theater’s Game Play Festival in 2014. She has had several short stories published in literary magazines, but this is her first poem, drawn from her affinity for accents and a combination of students’ stories.
* * *
With Jim Bowie in San Francisco
By Thomas Piekarski
In San Francisco today the summer wind is frisky.
I park my car and stroll toward Embarcadero
as the Bay Bridge glistens in the distance.
Jim Bowie is keeping me company. He bobs
along on my left shoulder, sprightly guide
through the rough and tumble urban jungle.
While I ramble along Jim openly admits
he wasn’t much help at the battle of the Alamo.
But he was bedridden then, in an advanced stage
of tuberculosis when the Mexicans laid siege,
unable to put up much of a fight.
I boost Jim’s ego a bit by reminding him
that for valor and battle skills he had few equals
in his time. Although many a tale spun about him
was nothing but purple prose, nevertheless today
he’s widely portrayed as a hero.
As we near the waterfront I point out to Jim
a bundle of new skyscrapers built to the south
of Mission Street, slick structures highlighting
mint green windows that reflect sunlight down
on motorists who negotiate a packed freeway.
Bowie confides that he feels a little guilty about
having done business with the pirate Jean Lafitte.
From that two-faced scoundrel he and brother Rezin
bought slaves that were shanghaied on the high seas,
then sold them on the black market for huge profits.
I try to console Jim, as he was certainly no prophet,
so he shouldn’t be rankled by such recollections.
Bowie snickers, which indicates his appreciation
for my empathy, as I amble through a bazaar
where vendors peddle various handmade crafts
under tents in front of the vintage Ferry Building.
Excitement mounts in Jim as we begin our journey
down the waterfront. He has heard of late about
a woman murdered at dusk on one of its many piers
by a man who was released five times from prison,
and he promises to protect us from such an attack.
We reach the Exploratorium, an architectural
wonder that was built on one of those piers
a hundred yards or so out, above bay waters.
I offer to pay Jim’s way in, but he isn’t interested,
not especially technically oriented. Some credit him
with inventing the deadly Bowie knife, but in truth
the first one was fashioned by a blacksmith,
which Jim then adopted and made his own.
Renown came Bowie’s way when the story spread
about a monumental one-on-one battle he had
with a ruffian who’d lodged a sword in his chest,
whom he then disemboweled with that famous blade.
We follow trolley tracks, stop for a rest, and look up
at Coit Tower atop a high hill above North Beach.
The bay breakers pretty mellow, slap gently on yachts
and assorted fishing boats as I ask Jim why it was
when Sam Houston urged he and Travis to abandon
a defenseless Alamo they all stayed, none cut and ran.
What was it that made them stand and fight
to the last man in a hopeless contest, knowing well
they would get slaughtered? Was it hubris? Stupidity?
Sometimes you have to lose a few battles in order to
gain an advantage, he replied, and further explained
they had to hold Santa Anna back to give Houston
time to collect and train an army. So they sacrificed
their lives, lost the battle to win the war. I responded
I can only hope that future conflicts during which
priceless lives are destroyed will be great causes
that propagate worthy nations seeking justice for all.
Arrived at San Francisco’s famed Fisherman’s Wharf
we pause near Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, in front of
Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, an opportunity
to relax and reflect some more. I take Jim back
to when Santa Anna sent a courier to meet him
outside the Alamo, before the battle had begun.
The courier suggested they surrender, and vowed
that prisoners would be spared. But wily Jim
knew full well Santa Anna had decreed
that all Texian revolutionaries were pirates,
subject to execution upon apprehension. Bowie
couldn’t be fooled. He knew they would be slain,
so refused and galloped away.
Jim Bowie had a lot of pirate in his blood. He was
a swindler par excellence. Early in life he became
quite adept with a knife, but also showed a talent
for doctoring land documents, then selling property
to which others held title. When his welcome wore out
in Louisiana, he headed for Texas, hoping to snatch
as much land as he could. Once settled there
he didn’t waste any time in arranging a marriage
with the daughter of a Mexican land baron through
lies, claiming he had vast holdings that he didn’t.
Jim shouldn’t be particularly proud of the fact
he abandoned his American citizenship, then swore
allegiance to a foul Mexican government, and even
converted to Catholicism in attempt to glut himself
on personal gain and glory. His plans panned out
quite well, that is until Santa Anna mandated
that all Texians must surrender their weapons,
leaving them defenseless against his aggressions.
That was the last straw. It’s when Bowie’s infamous
temper was ignited. He revolted along with the colonists
against that egregious decimation of their liberty.
During early skirmishes of the maiden revolution
Bowie led bold men in ambush and raid,
proving himself fearless and fierce in battle,
after which history affirms his status at the Alamo.
I walk with Jim across the street, over to where
Alioto’s, Tarantino’s and Fisherman’s Grotto,
staples for many decades, line the wharf. I indulge
in a crab sandwich and sumptuous prawn cocktail
as Jim rests content on my shoulder, quite like
those fat harbor seals that on occasion I watch
lounging on the beach, well away from the waves.
Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly. His poetry and interviews have appeared widely in literary journals internationally, including Nimrod, Portland Review, Mandala Journal, Cream City Review, Poetry Salzburg, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Boston Poetry Magazine, and Poetry Quarterly. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and Time Lines, a book of poems.
* * *
Dinner Outside Time in Killarney
By Jacob Riyeff
For my brother
It was years before the housing market crashed,
before our children were born:
leaving upper midwest lands for the shores
of Éire and greater Britain.
Cutting thru crisp morning from Dublin town
to western Kerry and Ardmore.
And you drove that stick past rivers and castles, thru streams!
our mechanical pilgrimage--
Ireland's hardened saints of old, leaving
home and hearth and all--
bathing neck-deep in icy streams,
on fire for another world--
would have been proud seeing your holy maneuvers
faring in a strange land.
Our first night in Killarney of greenest green
and the great empty cathedral,
whose meticulous landscaping staged brick and mortar
against the setting sun.
A full day of driving, watching sun-streams wash
across Cistercian ruins,
evading the cows and ruminating bulls who keep
vigil here now,
carefully brooding where white-robed bees once hived--
strange lay brothers.
And now for food; the only meal for two
broke and hungry brothers
who came across the sea with too few
Euros between them.
Atop a crest in Aghadoe, looking
down on sapphire waters,
three tumbling peaks cut toward an island
and we hear the care-free calls
of three unknown birds, the exhalations
of one tawny horse.
And we decide in the dying light to find somewhere
to eat away down in town.
Thru streets, past hedges, under striped awnings
and we spot an Indian place.
With little strength left we slink in the door,
greeted by side-long glances
from hostess, maître d', and waitress, the first
of whom mumbles something.
It becomes painfully obvious, without the words beings said,
you and I are not
the American tourists they want to see: disheveled,
stained second-hand clothes,
mismatched hats and shoes, unfortunate facial
hair and soiled backpacks--
not polished Southerners and New Englanders, tired from castle-
touring, but put together.
Without a classist word, the maître d' transports
us to the hungry street
to find other fare. And we find another
two blocks over—they see the hunger
in our faces and welcome us,
showing us to a corner table past high-contrast
prints of Krishna and Radha.
And there we feast for two hours, samosas,
chai with such spices, and we have to pour
the sharp, black infusion
into warmed, ceramic cups and add cool cream
and mountains of molassesed sugar.
We feast not to spite the other restaurant's
staff, no—we feast because
the verdant closeness of life had us there,
wrapped in its fecund embrace,
strangers moving from place to place for the sheer
joy of movement unrehearsed.
Now, years have passed: you wear loafers
and black-rimmed glasses;
our hair cut too short to make much fuss;
ties without irony.
But I imagine that if that hostess and maître d'
looked square in our eyes
today, they would still discreetly usher us out
into the hungry street,
and we would still be left to find our feast
Jacob Riyeff teaches literature from the early medieval through the postmodern at Marquette University. His first chapbook, Lofsangas: Poems Old and New, appeared in 2015 (Franciscan UP). Jacob lives on Milwaukee's Lower East Side with his radiant wife and two (soon to be three!) wonderfully bewildering children.
* * *
For Erin Hyman (1972–2014)
By Zack Rogow
Rebbetzin of Temple Beth Sholom, San Francisco
Glass knives. Splinters. Clattering
fragments. That’s the first month
How could the universe allow it--
you hadn’t even tasted the frosting
on your son’s eighth cake
snapped in half by illness.
Not youth, not beauty, not brilliance
could protect you. Not medicine, not faith,
not laughter. Not even love.
But with your deep eyes for art
you declined to see
only scars. Dying, you wrote
about your hundred-year-old Grandpa Johnny
who felt he still had paintings
that wanted to leap out of him,
about a black bronze of Lilith
hanging from a wall like Spiderman,
and the healing power of chocolate cassis scones.
I believe you would want us to thank
the God who took you
for giving us even this day, this month
of deafening sunshine.
The sculpture of Lilith, you wrote,
like the morphing stories that have evolved
around her name, remains
wild, suspended, resisting
any attempt to pin her down.
Zack Rogow is the author, editor, or translator of 20 books or plays. His play Colette Uncensored had its first staged reading at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and ran at The Marsh in San Francisco in 2016. He teaches in the low-residency MFA, University of Alaska Anchorage.
* * *
By Karen Wolf
Facebook is nothing but unedited movie scenes
most meant for the cutting room floor
visible in bold colors
like shots of
over-sized ice cream sundaes,
calorie laden burgers and fries.
Actors vie for Oscar status
requesting confidence- boosting “likes”
and praise for turning another year older.
The plot, “Hey! Look at me,” plays out
in vacation stills around the Eiffel Tower,
on San Marcos beaches,
and in one-year-ago-remembrance scenes
of new cars, honor roll grandchildren, and cats wearing hats.
Spliced between river cruises,
heaping plates of food,
the plot twists into violence and struggle--
a father running from bombs clutching his dead child,
hunger lined faces of old and young in a refugee camp,
news clips of suicide bombings,
gang wars, police brutality.
Another plot twist of compassion and mindfulness
could end the movie, set the stage
for a better sequel.
Karen Wolf has an undergraduate degree in Education from the University of Toledo and a Master of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University. She has retired from a 30 year teaching career and is semi-retired from her own pet sitting company. She has been published in Smokey Blue Literary and Art Magazine, Dime Store Review, and Tree House. She also received the E.E. Cummings Free Verse award and the Creative Challenge Award from PRIZM ‘s Art-A-Fair 2016. She says that poetry soothes the savage beast and opens her eyes to the beauty that abounds within the world.
* * *
By Katie Zeleski
The howls outside my window carry pain
They are the town criers
The sobbing widows
They delight in my insomnia
My body twists and turns in sheets twisting and turning in the wind
Keeping rhythm, staying syncopated.
They resemble my insides
Katie Zeleski is a senior English Major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She works for the Nebraska Writer’s Collective as a Teaching Artist who works with high school students who perform and compete in slam poetry competitions. She writes both fiction and poetry.