A Picnic in Golden Gate Park
Sunny, shirts off, he newly moved
to San Francisco, me at the end of
a solo cross-country bike trip, we’re
making out on a blanket in the midst
of kids playing, families and friends
having a good time. I’ve never kissed
a man like this, outside, among other
people, but he seems so comfortable
that I follow his lead, amazed how it
feels so easy, natural, sublime.
And now he tells me he felt the very
same thing, that he’d been raised never
to show affection of any kind in public.
And I laugh, ‘So I was leading you?’
We’re on the phone, connected for
the first time in 40 years, reliving that
day. “You were so fucking cute” he says,
the thickness of his Minnesota accent
surprising me, the memory of his beauty
still bowling me over. “An elderly couple
was on the bench beside us,” he says,
and the gratitude, realizing that this day
was as indelible for him as it has been for
me all these years, is beyond words.
And I still can feel the brush of his leg on
the back of mine, momentous and ordinary,
40 years ago and now at the same time,
basking in the newfound happiness of being
more completely me.
Father Son Talk
My mom and dad dated again
after their second spouses died,
some 30 years after their divorce,
and they’d call me up giving their
versions of how it went. I could
only utter single syllables like
‘oh,’ ‘wow,’ ‘good,’ the kinds of
words I was trained to use on the
suicide prevention line where you’re
urged to never challenge any of the
callers’ delusional voices they might
be dealing with. Dad had all these
plans for their future while mom
was reminded why they had split up
in the first place. He was excited, she
found herself getting depressed.
The dating only lasted a few months
when mom finally called it off and
afterwards every time I’d visit, dad
would pour over conspiracy theories
of who had poisoned her thoughts
against him. “It was all going so well,”
he’d repeat and I’d mostly nod, try
to steer the topic off in another direction,
avoid giving advice or hurting him further,
thinking of all the plans, romantic and
otherwise, that hadn’t turned out even
near the place I’d intended. ‘Sometimes
there isn’t a reason, dad. Things just
don’t work out.’ And we drive in silence
for a while, on our way to Smokey Bones
for a little barbeque, corn fields spreading
out forever on either side of the interstate,
silos standing sentinel in the distance.
Mom in the Nursing Home
Where or When – from “Babes in Arms” by Rodgers and Hart
I sit by her wheelchair. We listen to a jazz duet
entertaining the memory unit. She’s all smiles.
The keyboardist is me and I’m a guy hitting on her.
When we’ve held hands, it’s been a death grip; now
it’s soft, intimate. Her Estee Lauder is all for “me.”
And so it seems that we have met before
and laughed before and loved before
but who knows where or when?
She’ll know me again in the morning, but for now
it’s getting late, so I kiss her goodbye on the cheek
and tell her that I’ll see her tomorrow. Pleased, she
fixes me with a look I’ve never seen before and asks,
“And what’s going to happen then?”
Early December Farm Breakfast with my Grandpa, 1962
Why do I keep coming back to this kitchen?
What dark nourishment do I seek?
I sit at the oil-cloth covered table watching him
fix breakfast, the meal I’ve watched him make
a million times before.
The grease sizzles and pops in the cast iron skillet,
smelling of smokehouse and slaughter. He has
his back to me, focused on the task at hand.
The eggs are hard for him to break. He tries to
work the arthritis out, opening and closing his
thickly calloused hands that smell of lava soap
and work, a life of work. He takes turns rubbing
each hand, trying to bring life back. Useless,
useless, he whispers, as if I’m not even there.
He leans against the counter near where his
cane is hooked, near where his birthday cake
sits, barely eaten though it’s apricot, his favorite.
He wears faded bib overalls and flannel to keep
the December chill out. He’s kept the heat off
because it costs dear. He’s a man of few words,
but I wish he’d talk to me. It’s all on his terms.
Outside it’s dark, down in the coal mines dark.
Inside too. Eggs sunny side up, though the sun
won’t be up for a good while now and he won’t
be here to see it. The ground outside the breezeway
waits, as does the hunting rifle. Ground he plowed
and planted and harvested, all grey corn stubble now.
Breakfast made, he places a plate over it to keep it
warm. He’s not hungry. Down the hall, Uncle Bob,
who will find him, dreams of robbers. And as Grandpa
makes his way out of the room toward the inevitable –
a smile on his face, something I didn’t expect – he turns
to look at me. He sees me, years older than he was then.
And he leaves. Again.
Dan Butler is known primarily as an actor whose credits include major roles On and Off Broadway, on television, and film where he has also written, directed, and produced. In 2011, Dan adapted and directed a screen version of Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s verse poem “Pearl” starring Francis Sternhagen and himself which had a great life on the film festival circuit. In addition to being published in ONE ART last April, Dan’s poems have been seen on the Poetry of Resilience site, on the “Commissary,” a creative artist’s collective, as well as in the anthology “The Paths to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy” edited by James Crews.
At daycare, she says, Sue serves us spoiled eggs.
Oh, you mean boiled?
No. Spoiled. And I don’t like them.
Later I ask Sue, who elucidates, Scrambled.
In the parking lot, we talk license plates.
Mine has a loon, she explains,
And yours is green.
Yes, yours is a loon because you’re from Maine.
Yes, Grandma, but I’m from License Plate too.
I squint into space,
trying to imagine the state of License Plate,
but find a mind of scrambled eggs.
I once lived on a great wide river,
a time of deep aloneness, after loss.
How soothing it was to watch waters passing,
sunlight reflected in circular currents,
a white moon cresting
above the shadowed mountain.
I miss the river, though not
the hushed quietness of that time,
the endless plumbing of depths
I never guessed, which nonetheless
led me to choose—a wife
calling me from another room,
as she is now, to come downstairs for tea,
steeped to the color of the river.
Laura Foley’s most recent collection is: It’s This (Fernwood Press, 2023). Her poems have won many awards and appeared in many journals such as Alaska Quarterly, Valparaiso, Poetry Society London, Atlanta Review, and included in anthologies such as: Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, and How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. Laura’s poems have been turned into choral music and performed in venues such as the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Carnegie Hall in New York. She lives with her wife, Clara Giménez, and their two romping canines, among the hills of Vermont.
Hot Tea and Hamantaschen
A cup of hot
vanilla caramel tea
with a cherry
takes me back.
No, it’s not Purim.
My local bagel shop
bakes them all year round.
a reminder of my mother,
a reminder of the time
one of my daughters
brought home a recipe
Sipping on my tea
I see my little girls
as we baked together,
mixing and rolling dough,
spooning cherry pie-filling
then folding just so—
into the shape of Haman’s
is not handed out
like Halloween candy.
If there is none
where you wish to find it,
feel the loss then rejoice
in fortuitous discoveries.
The deep purple bloom
of an African violet
created from a single leaf,
the taste of a fresh banana,
the company of someone you love,
the encouragement of a friend,
a book you long to return to,
music—an arrow to your heart,
baby birds with open beaks
in a nest outside your window,
and a blossoming hydrangea
you planted seven years ago
in memory of your sister.
Calling All Poets
After June Jordan
impressive to see.
Feel the silent breeze
watch the wisdom
of the birds
Listen to their calls
rings through the air.
what is the message?
Notice how swiftly
to full bloom,
barely time to
Lois Perch Villemaire writes poetry, flash memoir, and fiction. Her work has appeared in such places as Blue Mountain Review, Ekphrastic Review, One Art: A Journal of Poetry, Pen In Hand and Topical Poetry. Anthologies, including I Am My Father’s Daughter and Truth Serum Press – Lifespan Series have published her memoir and poetry. Her first book, “My Eight Greats,” a family history in poetry and prose, will be published in September. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Lois lives in Annapolis, MD, where she enjoys yoga, researching family connections, fun photography, and doting over her African violets.
I Couldn’t Do What the Pedicure Lady Does
All day bending toward disagreeable
with a surgeon’s precision—
especially not the way she does it,
always trying to catch my eye,
while I, already squirming
from the intimacy of the procedure,
try to stay inside
the separate station of my book.
I think of feet, how they tether me
to this world, how one day
they’ll be reduced to nothing,
and she will no longer take them,
naked as mole rats,
into her hands, rubbing the heels
and between the toes
with her lotioned fingers.
Now as I wait for the polish to dry,
she sweeps nail clippings
and clumps of skin into a dustpan.
Someday everything in this salon
will be gone—fake poinsettia wreath
on the door, the oversized calendar
printed with Bui’s Natural Tofu.
Box fan in the corner ruffling
a strand of my hair.
I think seven years into the future,
when my skin will have renewed itself.
I like to think I’ll reinvent myself
with whatever warmth
she carries in her hands
as she kneads my calves,
her fists pounding look up, look up.
First Week in April
Already the azaleas
are in bloom, the rhodies
busting out too.
up a month, as if time
has rolled up the rug
and left town. What will
happen to the Mother’s Day
Maybe folks will learn to love
the delicate skeletons
at the square dance, I loved
fishnets, a hot-pink shirt.
I slid into do-si-dos,
swing your partner.
I think of my father’s
artificial hips, how he quit
dancing for fear
of falling. He and my mother
out on the floor,
suede soles gliding
across the wood as if
they could go on forever.
I think I know
of loss, but I don’t.
Or it’s been here so long
it seems normal,
like browned-out grass.
Rising as they do
when the sun returns
after a cloudburst.
Fleeting as steam.
Eileen Pettycrew’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in New Ohio Review, CALYX Journal, Cave Wall, SWWIM Every Day, and elsewhere. In 2022 she was one of two runners-up for the Prime Number Magazine Award for Poetry and a finalist for the New Letters Award for Poetry. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Eileen lives in Portland, Oregon.
Losing a Homeland
It’s as if we are reading a book
with too many unfamiliar words
and keep having to look them up.
If only it were that easy to understand the story
of how one loses a homeland,
how a young couple flees
with only a suitcase to fit their life’s belongings.
In their minds the sentences shortened,
certain words disappeared, some things
were unspoken until their hair grayed, fell.
Maybe they would never be uttered or heard.
How will our family story live?
Zeina Azzam is a Palestinian American poet, writer, editor, and community activist. She is the poet laureate of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, for 2022-2025. Her poems appear in literary journals, webzines, and anthologies, and her full-length poetry collection, Some Things Never Leave You, was published in July 2023 by Tiger Bark Press. Zeina’s chapbook, Bayna Bayna, In-Between, was released in 2021 by The Poetry Box. She has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. www.zeinaazzam.com
Yesterday a katydid was keeping me company
on the patio when a praying mantis snatched it.
That must be why my dreams are scary—
I’m afraid the clock might run out while I’m enjoying
the sun, and suddenly it’s dark black with no
leftover green bits of summer.
Time, like a butler in white gloves doesn’t care
if I’m katydid gentle or if my bite doesn’t hurt.
Last night I dreamed he brushed sand
off his fingers, and suddenly I was filled with a fear
of the dark. Then I watched him exit with a murmur
of sun in his eye.
Mary Sesso is a retired nurse who lives in Bethesda, MD with her dog, Beau. Her latest work appeared in Lock Raven Review, Cardinal Sins and Cutbank Literary Review. She’s the author of 2 chapbooks, The Open Window and Her Hair Plays With Fire.
Undone by My Own Hands
-After Mary Oliver, “It Was Early”
I’m in grade five. I notice a snag in my tights.
I pull the loose thread. The unraveling begins.
I try in vain to leave it alone, but I continue to pick at the flaw
until one half of my tights sags around my ankle,
leaving the other half to rest above my knee.
I try everything to close the gap:
knotting, self-pity, paper clipping, hiding,
but come to terms that the only way out is to stand,
allowing all in the room to gaze upon this mess I’ve made.
Sometimes things have to fall apart in order to see
the blessedness hiding underneath.
Angela Hoffman’s poetry collections include Resurrection Lily and Olly Olly Oxen Free (Kelsay Books). She placed third in the WFOP Kay Saunders Memorial Emerging Poet in 2022 and was a runner up in the 2023 Wisconsin Sijo competition. Her poems have been published in Agape Review, Amethyst Review, As Surely As the Sun, Blue Heron Review, Braided Way, Bramble, Cosmic Daffodil Journal, Moss Piglet, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Muleskinner Journal, Of Rust and Glass, Poetica Review, Solitary Plover, The Orchards Poetry Journal, The Poet Magazine, Verse-Virtual, Visual Verse, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets’ Museletter and Calendar, Whispers and Echoes, Wilda Morris’s Poetry Challenge, Writing In A Woman’s Voice, and Your Daily Poem. Her poems have also appeared in Amethyst Review Poetry Anthology: All Shall Be Well and The Poet Anthology: Our Changing Earth. She writes a poem a day. Angela lives in rural Wisconsin.
We assemble in the hall
eager to administer justice and pick
an amount fair to both sides.
The plaintiff’s back is said to be
blotched by light therapy
despite smiling cruise photos.
approaches her in the witness box,
and offers a packet of Kleenex.
Hands resting on hip,
her counsel locks eyes
and presses for compensation.
The litigant meets our verdict with
a blank stare. The settlement
mitigates her suffering.
Outside the courthouse a man
sleeps on a steel bench. Snowflakes fall
on his head.
Citizens turn to look
at the pink blanket-draped
The choir director prays for us to abandon
fear, yet by the fifth verse I forget my one note.
What I would do if I were not afraid:
make the swamp oak shudder like thunder,
disrupt the cheeping that holds the flock together,
let my hair fly free and tangle in the wind,
eat hot wings and listen to dance tunes,
go to sea with the owl and the pussycat,
tango with my sage, battle my saboteurs,
pop the infant off my breast,
smudge the love letter,
commission a raise, chip
the china, leave a sandwich for the man
under the bridge,
sing tall the tricky notes.
Born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Gaby Bedetti is the American translator of Henri Meschonnic’s work, a contributor to Lexington’s poetry blog and a professor at Eastern Kentucky University. She has published in Off the Coast, Poet Lore, Italian Americana, Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere.
“It’s boring, boring,
boring. I hate school,”
he said near tears
on the way over in the car.
Big hand, small hand:
I walked him to class,
then turned my back
and left, though he begged
in a raspy whisper—
chin and lips quivering,
eyes brimming and blinking,
don’t leave, please.”
Like a doctor who lost
his patient, or a priest
who lost his faith,
I headed off to my job.
Before lunch at work
I was thinking of angels;
“Pity us,” I whispered
as if there were pity,
as if there were angels.
Matthew Murrey’s poems have been in One Art and other journals. Poems have recently appeared in The Shore, Whale Road Review, and EcoTheo Review. He’s an NEA Fellowship recipient, and his collection, Bulletproof, was published in 2019 by Jacar Press. He was a public school librarian for over twenty years and lives in Urbana, Illinois. His website is at https://www.matthewmurrey.net/ and he is still on Twitter @mytwords.