ONE NIGHT ON THE LEVEE
For Betsy, Barbara, and Celia
We were three small girls
left in Dad’s care. After dark the phone rang,
and hanging up, he said,
girls, we have to go out.
We put on coats over Winnie the Pooh
pajamas. We gathered up
Chatty Cathy, Raggedy Ann, and a teddy bear.
He drove us down to the flood plain
where a small airplane had crashed.
It smoked, but didn’t burn. Car lights churned the dark.
A farmer had made the call to Dad, mayor
of that almost uninhabited place.
Police were there, and an ambulance.
Dad drove onto the levee where,
in the light of several cars, I saw
two men, one dead, one bloodied
but alive, pulled from the crushed
and splintered plane. I held
a doll’s unblinking gaze in front of my eyes,
Sharon Corcoran lives in southern Colorado. She translated (from French) the writings of North African explorer Isabelle Eberhardt in the works In the Shadow of Islam and Prisoner of Dunes published by Peter Owen Ltd., London. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Kansas Quarterly, River Styx, Canary, The Buddhist Poetry Review, One Art, Sisyphus, Literary North, and Bearings Online among other journals. Her collection of poems, Inventory, was published in 2018. A second book, The Two Worlds, is forthcoming from Middle Creek Publishing in 2022.
Hardly a splash of water on my face
and I’m out the door to scrub
pots at the pub, thinking, What
a poor dish-dog I am.
Mumbling in my car
while shifting into reverse, I slam
into a can of brilliant trash:
busted beer bottles, stuffed
rabbit’s gut bleeding cotton,
box of worm-ridden donuts.
I spin out, scratching
my stubble till my chin’s red,
Children—in a school zone,
a mother in a mini-van
flipping me off
for good reason
when a line
for my next poem
pops up in my head: This
monstrous ulcer named Work
is the foundation of Art—
before I brake at the light
while sparrows flutter
on wires, then
until the hawk swerves in.
How to Delay a Panic Attack
Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out. Repeat.
Hustle to your bathroom.
Don’t forget to scrub yesterday’s pizza
from your mouth. Breathe in.
Pluck your wild nose-hairs.
Brush lint from your shirt.
Scratch the scab off your knee
like it’s a lottery ticket.
Don’t rush on your drive to work.
Breathe out. Recite a Shakespeare sonnet.
Notice your brow’s furrows
in the rearview. Breathe in. Tally
each freckle. Are your earlobes attached
or detached? Breathe out. Rewind the tape.
Ode to Watching Ikiru
I pause the film. Framed by the bars of a jungle-gym,
Kanji Watanabe swings like a child, singing
“Gondola No Uta.” Snowflakes start a flurry.
Shimura shines through his role. The bureaucrat’s
final days would have been too brutal for a lesser actor:
you have stomach cancer, but your beloved son
treats you like a bank? I’ll pass. The snow falls.
Wearing his iconic hat, the old man sings,
no special effects
needed. As our hero says earlier: I don’t know
what I’ve been doing with my life. Not true.
I’m plotting against ennui, pressing play.
Jason Gordy Walker (he/him) is a multi-genre writer and an MFA student in poetry at the University of Florida, where he teaches a fiction workshop. His poems have been published in Broad River Review, Cellpoems, Confrontation, Measure, and Poetry South, among others.
One Monday morning she wakes
like Mont Saint Michel at low tide—
vast and exposed, stretched out around
her sea walls, which are battered,
of course, but not broken
at all. In French,
“wall” is a masculine noun, and “mountain”
and “bridge” are, too. Hers
are often fully lost
in rising tumult,
but on days like today, they amount to
a giant hill to climb from the sandy bottoms
of a natural, sort-of shifting
moat. It all ebbs
and flows with the moon, she knows,
so she sometimes stays up with it
all night, climbs her steps
alone at sunrise,
stops to rest in the garden facing the distant flames
of another day; then, just to be unable
to kiss them goodnight,
she walks around
and around all day until it’s time,
watches them slip beyond her line of sight
and turn the sky to smolder.
She wonders what might be possible
if the tide never came in again. It’s not
what she wants or
fears. She is not an island.
No one is the tide. Only gravity can do that,
and it wouldn’t dare.
Suzanne Allen is a teacher from Southern California. She holds an MFA from the CSU in Long Beach, and her poems have appeared widely in print and online, but this past year-and-a half, they’ve mostly only been written on postcards and mailed near and far; not coincidentally, her first full-length collection, We Wash Our Hands, will soon be released into the hopefully post-pandemic wild. She also has two chapbooks: verisimilitude from corrupt press (2011) and Little Threats from Picture Show Press (2018).
At the Depot
Trains, then silence. Tracks rattle
with expectation and loss. Some
lives emulsified, others condensed.
Scenes from a life not at all like the sea
nor the soft engine steam that billows
black upon black, the sky tearing it apart.
These rails take us where they are going:
predetermined and obstinate. All aboard,
and you’ve escaped like melting snow.
Matthew Schultz is the author of two novels: On Coventry and We, The Wanted. His chapbook, Parallax, is forthcoming from 2River this fall, and his prose-poem collection, Icaros, is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in May 2022
Hope is Also a Flower
I find it in the grove, yellow
flicker at the edge of my dark
perception. What matters
is the aperture, a tiny crack
in my cataract-clouded vision.
My filter captures dross, sapped
ground, equally traps gold, a slight
twist or refinement of the lens
then: mist rising,
a calla lily blooms again.
Deconstructing a Cat
A pile of paws: see how the nails retract,
out of the way for daily life,
the way they extend in fight or hunt,
thumb hooked – better to grab on.
The slinky spine, sharp shoulders high
and narrow to slice through grass,
deliver a sparrow. Haunches
muscular under such fine fur.
Eyes like glass: pupils slit in daylight,
full moons at night.
A tail built for balance,
whiskers flick at boundaries.
Nose a dainty triangle, nostrils twitch
at scent. Wrapped around my head
you chirp, clutch my heart with your kneading,
a tiny tiger in my ear softly breathing.
Betsy Mars practices poetry, photography, pet maintenance, and publishes an occasional anthology through Kingly Street Press which she founded in 2019. In 2020, her poem was selected as a winner in Alexandria Quarterly´s first line poetry contest series. Her poetry has recently appeared in Sky Island Journal, Sheila-Na-Gig, and Autumn Sky, as well as numerous anthologies and journals. She is a Best of the Net nominee and her photos have been featured in various journals. Betsy is the author of Alinea (Picture Show Press) and co-author of In the Muddle of the Night with Alan Walowitz (Arroyo Seco Press).
My Dark Ages
Black clouds mass over a rotting city. The police patrolling in battlefield gear eyeball you. Under the closeness of their scrutiny, you can feel your face assume a guilty expression. Later you’ll complain to me about it. “Oh yeah?” I’ll say. “Try going through life as a Howard.”
Christ is murdered over and over, a crime gorgeously lit in stained glass. Do we know what we look like? Not really. The voice of the turtle is too faint for human ears.
This is the one road that goes everywhere. Some days I walk it to think, some days to actually get someplace. I’ve been thinking about the hateful looks my father would give me growing up. “What are you, stupid?” he would hiss. It’s strange how much darkness a person can absorb and still function. Van Gogh, the morning before his suicide, painted a garden scene full of sun and life.
Blank page on my laptop
A tree still waiting for leaves
A hazy childhood memory
The dense, swirling fog
in which a killer might lurk
cast fugitive shadows
over a hayfield
Lines for a poem
that vanish on waking
Bright red patches
on the wings of blackbirds
Your inner child
A figure pursued across the ice
Howie Good is the author most recently of the poetry collection Gunmetal Sky (Thirty West Publishing).
How to describe what it felt like
to be gay when I was young?
I didn’t feel different, a given
for a boy who went to church,
didn’t cuss, and stayed inside
all summer. The guy said,
“Thanks for missing the football,
faggot,” after class, and I died
inside the flood of lockers. Not
dead, or unborn: a mercy I was
afraid of, but wanted. Hiding
in the corner to change for gym,
they laughed at my soft, pimpled
back. Boys on one side of the field,
girls on the other. “Aren’t you
on the wrong side, Smith;”
even the coach laughed, and I was.
Days I stared through three-pane
windows at trucks gliding
interstate to somewhere better,
stranger, not quite right, but true.
The gray-weather chest
I carried the summer I rubbed
the pillow between my legs
and thought of the UPS man
and neighbor’s tight belly
until the semen I wasn’t sure
how to clean, but God wasn’t
watching, he turned away,
and I begged him like I would beg
all men before I hardened to stone,
not one rolled away, but invisible;
stone, invisible, not right either.
What do you call the kid of a dad
a mother calls home from evening
shift because she caught him
watching “nearly-naked men”
on television? He didn’t spank
me, but didn’t love me anymore
in the same way. “Don’t tell
your mom about this again,
Dammit!” Damaged, Damned.
I Never Went Back
It was my first spring in New York when Nancy
came to visit. The towers had fallen, and everyone
was still trying to make sense of the loss beneath
the stripped skyline; two giant columns of light
beamed against the night to remind us something
was missing. We wandered the streets near my sublet
on Second: Veselka, St. Mark’s Church, the Belgian
fries place with so many sauces. I’m not sure why
we stopped, the small psychic shop, and the large
woman who motioned us in—gray hair, draped
in a purple nightgown. Nancy, spiritual and skeptical,
refused to say yes or no when the woman pulled
the Tarot, put Nancy’s ring in her palm. If she was really
psychic, she wouldn’t need feedback to tell the future. When she
got to me, she asked if my friend could step outside.
She wanted us to talk alone. I was ready for the hard
sale, when she’d try to get me to empty my wallet
so I’d know how to win the lottery, or tell me
the line in my hand meant a long life and prosperity,
but I wasn’t expecting: there’s a dark cloud that hangs
over you and nothing in your life will ever work out.
She said, I can help you—I said I needed to think
about it as Nancy peered through the window,
pointing at her watch because she was hungry.
I didn’t trust her energy, she said, something was weird
about her. I remember the cool wind on our faces,
and the joint we smoked on the lumpy futon
as we talked poems and men and how she thought the city
was a great fit for me, and I remember the woman
watching us walk away through the storefront glass,
staring at me from inside my own reflection
that I was afraid to look too long at.
I Get Lonely
You heard from a friend
that I get lonely, or more accurately
my mother died and she did
I tell you via text. I’m sorry you say
and I don’t say you didn’t kill her,
but instead think of you gripping
our dicks in the early-evening bedroom.
Look me in the eye you said
knowing my own shame was a turn-on
(sometimes I remember it and come
on the floor in the yellow bathroom).
I’d like one more night together
I wish you’d say, but you and the man
you live with are working really
really hard on your relationship,
it has its challenges.
Aaron Smith is the author of four books of poetry: Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, Appetite, Primer, and, most recently, The Book of Daniel. His work has appeared in such publications as Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and The Best American Poetry. He is associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The faces of my former students
blur together like the crowd
in Pound’s metro station:
petals on a wet, black bough.
But you are the only student
I’ve had who suffered
such a public loss. And so,
nearly two decades later,
I can still see you
sitting on the right side
of the classroom, your long legs
tilted to fit under the small desk.
It was my first semester teaching
creative writing. I felt I had
something to prove, though
now I’m not sure what.
That I knew what I was doing?
That I wasn’t a pushover?
That despite the reputation of poets,
I wasn’t flaky or sentimental?
All of the above, I suppose.
I must have been afraid
any display of emotion would
crack my professorial armor.
Our introductory class covered
poetry and fiction writing.
You and your classmates read
and wrote poems and stories
that we critiqued in workshops.
You preferred the concrete cause
and effect of narrative, the mechanics
of getting characters from Point A
to Point B. Poems were squirming
fish that slipped between
your fingers; it was as if you
didn’t trust them. You set your
story one year into the future.
I had decided in advance
that I would treat your work
the way I would treat that
of any other student: objectively.
I would not assume
the character’s experience
was your own, even though I knew
from faculty lounge murmurings
that it was. I would not offer
sympathy. Sensitive topics
are par for the course
in creative writing. In the years
since you took my class,
I’ve had students write about
childhood abuse, sexual assaults,
gambling, and drug use. Self-harm
is a common theme, especially
among young women, though
I once had a male student write
a creative nonfiction essay
about his former addiction
to cutting his gums. In graphic detail,
he described repeatedly puncturing
the pink flesh above his molars
until he drew blood. Some students
need to learn the difference between
writing personal journal entries
and writing for an audience.
Others may benefit from a referral
to health services. But you didn’t
fit into either of these groups.
When it was time to discuss your story,
I jumped right into critique mode.
Give us a flashback or two
to develop your character,
I suggested. Try incorporating
a specific memory. Add some dialogue.
At the end, you—
I mean your character—
reflected on the one-year
anniversary and said
Everything will be alright.
Your resolution seems a bit forced,
I said. Maybe find a way to suggest
to the reader that she’s
trying to convince herself.
A month later, I would see you
dancing at the winter formal
in a blue polka dot dress, flinging
your arms into the air as if
launching missiles. But that day
in class, you folded yourself
over your notebook, scribbling
furiously. Your classmates painted
the tile floor with the soles
of their shoes. I suggested that you
build tension by withholding
information. Don’t tell us
right away that it was
September 11, I said. Wait to tell us
that the protagonist’s father
was one of the airline pilots.
What I did not say:
What I did not show:
I am. I am. I am
Erin Murphy’s eighth book of poems, Human Resources, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Diode, Southern Poetry Review, American Journal of Poetry, The Georgia Review, North American Review, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her awards include The Normal School Poetry Prize, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and a Best of the Net award. She is editor of three anthologies from the University of Nebraska Press and SUNY Press and serves as Poetry Editor of The Summerset Review. She is Professor of English at Penn State Altoona. Website: http://www.erin-murphy.com
So Good to See You
The purple, cherry red,
the pale white, dark throat, tangerine, and pink –
every blooming azalea and rhody you have ever seen –
And the leaves, oak leaves, maples – the lacy
and the fat hands, cottonwood and all the cotton,
and willow, madrone, rowan and plane, gather them
and the conifers together – gather all your losses,
every wave of wave-wash Pacific, December to July,
cold or warm, foam diamondy and sidereal,
every greeting, those welcome tonal shifts,
subtle maneuvers in the muscles of a face.
Hold your losses, for they want to escape, and as they do,
let them: let goodbye be return, be hello, so good to see you.
Goodbye, hello, so good to see you.
Lex Runciman’s selected poems, Salt Moons, was published in 2017 by Salmon Poetry. An earlier volume won the Oregon Book Award. Recent poems have appeared in such places as The Gettysburg Review, Hotel Amerika, Dime Show Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Windfall, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. With his wife of 50 years, he lives in Portland, Oregon.