Four poems by Shelby Stephenson

JONQUILS

I don’t know why I call them jonquils.
There is no John in them, though I have
seen them rich with yellow and white
come up next to the backhouse bright
with oak seasoned by rear-ends that rubbed
the smoothed boards around the holes.

“Backhouse” is a euphemism for outhouse,
which word, by the way, we (family)
would never say. I restored it
just to show it was where my brother Paul bit
his lips as he read his loved one’s letters, finally,
before they wed; he built a house with a bathroom for that spouse.

But I was going to say, when truth sprouted up the flowers,
there, those short-tubed clusters, all jonquils,
first at the rear of the backhouse’s richest dirt,
that I must have heard my mother say the word
“jonquils” before anybody else. I don’t know why “daffodil”
she never said; thus jonquils sound refreshing showers.

*

JO-REET

The rufous-sided One is a bird,
Archie Ammons says in “Hardweed Path Going.”
He – the reddish-eyed male – with that sooty and bold
black on his breast, the soft rufous sides
and belly white as my baby-blanket, the sides
of meat in the pan sizzling grits, grits, little bird,
come get your grits, when the female, not as bold
in color, yet distinct head a brown, her back and throat going
up and down as she scratches February away, going
on with her dancing, jo-reet, jo-reet, as I say, jo-reet, to take sides
with her and with him, for I don’t want to be a bold
enough intruder to scare them into clumps. I say, “my little bird,
go on, on your own”; yet the two stay near as going
seems heavenly to me, my chirpers, never mine, so free on all sides.

*

THE FIRST GOODBYE

BECAUSE I want to be with you always
I wave the first goodbye, a friendly sway
A flourish promises nothing shall wrong
Our parting until I come back to you.
I shall prove my care a thousand ways.
We share our spun-out odyssey housing
The open road shaping our destiny.
Concept conjures a phoenix in a hover.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

I try to find myself, my Love,
Since I am the first and last; you are the best.
Welcome to upsy downsy one more time.
Hello’s Goodbye clumps our lovesome fests.
Beauty’s Truth snuggles lasting Romance.
Touch stills our hearts’ thrum when I see you.
Then our world turns to routine errands
Which stay your raw desire for requital.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

We cannot explain all this to anyone.
Waiting and waving make time seem just right
Among the bluebirds and Canada geese,
The squirrels and the semi-tamed rabbit
My father would have shot for the table
For his Maytle to fry or Q the way an artist
Might paint Grace, say a Thanks for pleasure,
Then leave all their thoughts to other parties.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

Experience turns color as it will
And marks sunrise to sunset with water
Which runs along to shape another hill,
A climb to make the past proper order,
Set things right again for us, within years,
Decades passing without losing freedom
Coming into our lives: we seem almost free,
Two, one, inbound, apparent passages.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

I know that exiting a dream’s raggedness
Demands a part in a story without mascot.
Lightness undoes the wedges stuck lock
Like sheets tangled up in warts,
Some flesh, nightmare’s history of slavery,
Before the waking up, glad to say Just a dream.
Consider an overseer scheming
To put even one loyal servant in place.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

Oh sufferers! Take all roads, low and high.
In county courthouses, search documents.
Let the preaching become a loom to weave
The fabric of infinite records there,
The defective unity of our years,
The secrecies of children in wombs,
The promise of brand new people aware
That Love and Affection shape the one soul-topper.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

A dig would reveal who lies in the graves
Across the road in the Old Graveyard kept
Now by a group of families who say
We want to remain close, by all means: let
Us not forget the many breasts we lay
On then and now, the milk and honey our ancestors
Worked for money while the muse of longing shores
Complacence to multiply awful descents.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

*

DETOUR: THERE’S A MUDDY ROAD AHEAD

                                        I

AROUND me flashes half a century – toast:
A schooling, some friends and guests, a wedding;
A corporation, leave of absence.
I am still on leave, but not from verse, letting
The words come out generously, as best
They can, the wars – Korea, Nam, getting
Into the cavern where sloughs shed my mind
For peace and energy keeping time.

                                        II

The girls I used to know fifty years ago
Fade into viburnum’s blossoms
Among schools of retirement just to show
I am tired of words that work like sloshing
Criticisms toppling shadows in rows
Of elements and brambling gospels
That vanish when a woman opens a door
And I know I am in love one time more.

                                        III

Humble with nostalgia I get sad
As my brother Paul sinks into his bed
Dies, his son, calling me, “He’s still warm, Shub,”
And I ride two miles to kiss his forehead,
Detail like that, his humor, never bad,
Corny enough to blow away the dread
Mortality puts in the song I sing
Because I know what real joy singing brings.

                                        IV

And Ammons – gone, Hughes, Wolfe, Ellison, Guest,
Liner, Jacobs, Haley, Roethke, Dickey,
And Possum Jones runs a race filled with mice
Coming into the house winter breeches.
I get my old ski-jacket; there’s ice
I see in the bird-bath, the one tickle
Over the fake well of the plankhouse, rust,
Inheritances, plus the doilies, dust.

                                        V

My eyes close and my heart and mind go dark.
That woman appears again at the door
And my eyes fade over parks.
I realize our children are more
The ones no secret ever could mark
Or surprise the story of I Love You − for
It has no ending after all these years;
No thought can change into song the lack of tears.

                                        VI

I’ve always thought of the bigger picture,
The god or goddess on the rise, the sun
Bringing on romance without sinister,
Tedious bargains in malls people run
And want to fill in time; not me: I say the lecture
And advertisements, the world-in-your-face-dom,
Shall come round again with every sunrise
To show its noble carriage void of lies.

                                        VII

Detour, there’s a muddy road ahead,
Detour, the song says, from this road, paved, now,
With zooms and blasts where once the corn turned red
In fall and boys pulled fodder when leaves curled brown
And shouldered their guns to hunt the game that fed
Us round the table: what’s next for me to sound,
Except cliché, something like What a ride
I am living now, the door, yours, opening wide.

*

Shelby Stephenson served as Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2015-2018. Recent books: Possum (Bright Hill Press), winner of Brockman-Campbell Award; Elegies for Small Game (Press 53), winner of Roanoke-Chowan Award; Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl (Bellday Books), the Bellday Prize; Paul’s Hill: Homage to Whitman (Sir Walter Press); Our World (Press 53); Fiddledeedee (The Bunny and the Crocodile Press; reprinted by Press 53); Nin’s Poem (St. Andrews University Press); Slavery and Freedom on Paul’s Hill (Press 53); More (Redhawk Publications). A member of the Society of Distinguished Alumni, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, serving as editor of Pembroke Magazine from 1979 until his retirement in 2010. He lives at the homeplace on Paul’s Hill, where he was born, near McGee’s Crossroads, about ten miles northwest of Benson, North Carolina.

ESP by Ed Nichols

My friend said, “You need to be a believer in extrasensory
perception. I know things before they happen.” I cried into my
phone. “I don’t want to know the future. Or something that
happens on the other side of the world.”

I dozed off in my lawn chair. Not needing to know things
yet to happen. Blue sky lay over the farm. Cows munched
grass…dogs napped. Life was beautiful. Why question? Worry not
about such happenings…things to be determined tomorrow, or
next week, or next year, or never?

Smell of cornbread drifted over me. Understanding what I
am…what I believe, brought a tear to my one good eye. Always
best to not know when a terrible thing will occur.
*
*
*

Ed Nichols lives on Lake Oconee, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award-winning writer from Southeastern Writer’s Association. He has had many short stories published, online and in print. In 2020 he started publishing his prose poems. He is currently working on a collection of his southern short stories.

Four Poems by Brett Stuckel

Our Work

Pipe juts
from a mudbank,
a factory wall,
a highway side,
rusty
and sludgy
and pure,
doing its job, never
complaining yet chosen
as the one to be plugged.
It freezes,
ruptures,
is replaced.

*

Shared Rails

You shivered,
dodged overtime
skunks, and flagged
the train at dawn.

Now I gamble
and roll on
the parkway, spar
with trucks in the fog.

My car is old
and too slow, wobbling
out of style, front seat
wide as the Hudson.

Traffic is my train, electric
circuit, rail
that shocks as you
warned.

*

Fired and Ice

Walk a mile
across the waist
of an hourglass
lake in rubber-soled
boots, across the dark
and bubbled thick-slab
ice, across its mottled
patches and pressure
cracks as twangs
pop beneath, your chin
goes numb.
Remember you
were fired, split
within. Gravity
and ice are all you
need to cleave, break
bones and bleed.
Shuffle, wrapped
in the fear you’re here
to forget.

*

Card to Business

I’ve carried you
in my wallet
so long
your corners are furry
and you’re worried
with cracks and creases.

You’re the only way
to remember the person
I was
so briefly, the person
you told me to be.

*

Brett Stuckel’s writing has appeared in Electric Literature, Hobart, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is online at @1kMarquis and http://www.brettstuckel.com.

Three Poems by Dana Knott

According to Werner Herzog

To become a great filmmaker
one must read The Peregrine.
                 —Werner Herzog

I know a falcon can dive
200 miles per hour just

as I know I cannot fly.
I have seen feathers flutter

on highways as cars race by
at 70 miles per hour.

A falcon’s eyes are telephoto
lenses surrounded by bony rings

that hold them in place.
How little I have seen.

Knowledge has not made
my life better or happier,

only more grounded.
Falcons mate for life,

yet they hunt and die alone.

*

Werner Herzog and The Child: A Triolet

I do not know when or how I will die.
“You are cowards,” I said. “Leave it.”
Heartbreakingly beautiful, it made me cry.
I do not know when or how I will die,
my being reflected deep in its black eyes.
It’s a phenomenal technological achievement.
I do not know when or how I will die.
“You are cowards,” I said. “Leave it.”

*

Werner Herzog as Eulogist: A Nonet

Please ask Werner Herzog to narrate
my end of life and all my dreams.
He will say, Life is chaos.
He will say, Life is pain.
We will all vanish
not with a song
but with screams
like ripped
seams.

*

Dana Knott’s poems have appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Bitter Oleander, Emrys Journal, and Parhelion. Knott currently works as the Library Director at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Peace, and outside by DS Maolalai

Peace, and outside

fried vegan
steak – a nut roast
with vegetables. a clean
and white candle
for some mild
ambience. no light
but the light
of the candle
we’re burning
and the street
on the river, rippling
kitchen walls. peace,
as outside
dublin dies
to hotellerie,
and graffiti
makes buildings
which they plan
to tear down.

*

DS Maolalai has been nominated seven times for Best of the Net and three times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019)

Two Poems by Maria Berardi

December, Cutting the Tree

Shadows on canvas of snow
dancing, eye-catching –
winter’s flowers.

No matter how brilliant the sunlight,
in the cold under the trees
night holds its own.

We bring the spruce home
because it carries this darkness:
a green nearly black.

*

Winter Solstice

Despite the word’s meaning,
the sun does not stop
though we do, into nameless dark:
Here’s the reminder.

*

Maria Berardi’s poems have appeared online, in print, in university literary journals, meditation magazines, and at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Her first book, Cassandra Gifts, was published in 2013 by Turkey Buzzard Press, and she is currently at work on her second, Pagan, from which these poems are excerpted. She lives in Colorado at precisely 8,888 feet above sea level.

Three Poems by Daniel Simpson

Farm Visit

After a long trip, we’re settling in,
everyone but me congregating in the kitchen
where Grandma brews coffee and sets out pie.
The women catch up on family news;
Dad and Grandpa talk fishing.

In the living room, I skate across
the radio dial, past the Beatles and Beach Boys,
an all-news station from Philadelphia,
and talk shows on fluttery signals
from the Midwest and Deep South,
until I land on a hockey game from Fort Wayne.

From the kitchen, my brother
cranks up the volume of his car-ride complaint,
casts about for the barb that will bait Dad.
Boring parents, he says, and stupid hicks
are not the way he wants to spend his weekend.

Dishes rattle and coffee splashes
when Dad jumps up to smack my brother
back down into the platform rocker
which scrapes across linoleum
until it crashes into the cellar door.

I don’t want to listen anymore.
I don’t want to hear the scuffle
of an adolescent kicking wildly
or the smack of my father’s palm on my brother’s face.

I fiddle with the dial, touch the antenna
as if, by fishing among stars
for radio waves, I’ll find a frequency
of magic that can set this household right.

*

A Taxi Driver Hears A Great Songwriter Speak

A weeknight evening and the place was to the rafters.
Luckily, I could swing it
so it wasn’t one of my twelve-hour days.
Some guy interviewed my hero
no more than fifteen feet from me.
Put me out big bucks for that front row seat,
but he’s worth it, the way he seems to know my life.
You know, we’re much more alike than different.
He was getting over the flu; I’d just had it.
When he took his guitar out of the case, he dropped his pick.
He might have a guitar rack in his bathroom,
but he has to sit on the can, same as me.
He doesn’t lose me with his talk
of open fifths and darkened thirds,
Little Jimmy Brown and the chapel bells.
Sure, his awards and albums made me jealous,
but I bet I know almost as much about music.
I’m as good at my day job as he is at his,
and if I didn’t have to make an honest living …
well, you never know.
At the reception and CD signing, he never showed.
We stood around with our plastic cups of wine,
while he slipped out the back. If I was him,
I’d have showed up. And afterward, I’d have walked
right out that front door and straight down Broadway.

*

Schonberg

Why would a young dog
give its life to guide the blind?
Ask the right question
to get a useful answer.
Did the dog have a choice?

What did the dog do,
once they neutered it
and slammed the kennel door
on its freedom dream?
It did its best to flourish.

And what about you—what
choices do you have left?
Do you take pleasure,
as Schonberg did in twelve tones,
unleashed by your limitations?

*

In 2017, Daniel Simpson and his wife, Ona Gritz, collaborated on two books, co-authoring Border Songs: A Conversation in Poems and co-editing More Challenges for the Delusional, an anthology of prompts, prose, and poetry. His first collection of poems, School for the Blind came out in 2014. The New York Times and numerous poetry magazines have printed his work. The recipient of a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts fellowship, he tends a blog at http://www.insidetheinvisible.wordpress.com.

Three Poems by Charlotte Mandel

Cousin Anna

At seven, my favorite grown-up cousin
was Anna
who stood out from her six siblings
by her orange-red curly hair, freckles
sprinkled over white skin, and eyes blue
as the painted ones on my doll
with porcelain head and stuffed
brown cloth body.
When my years of pulling at
pink-flowered ruffled sleeves
tore off an arm, Anna’s needle and thread
overstitched it back to the shoulder.
I kissed the stitches while Anna
kissed the top of my head.

Nearly thirty, Anna was close to
“old maid” disgrace when
Nathan in a green/blue
striped tie made her a bride.

Nobody took me to the wedding
but I woke next morning to buzz-swarms
of shocked voices between my parents
and cousins. Nathan and his stripes—
suit, ties, cheap valise—was gone,
his bride of one night, abandoned.

Anna’s red-brown freckles polka-dotted
above blue-white cheeks, wordless lips.
Her red-veined eyes
looked past me and my doll.

No longer “old maid”
Anna ever after
wore a new epithet:
“the kissless bride.”

*

Old Maid

My mother’s friend Jenny
sewed a pale green satin
trimmed with ecru lace
dress for my doll. She made
her living with needle and thread.

Thick dark hair dyed the color
and texture of black suede, face
dusted with white powder, rouge
circle on each cheek. “She was
the prettiest of all of us—

but nobody was ever
good enough.” More than once,
I heard Jenny say, “People,
they are rotten.” Sometimes,
she slept over, shared my bed.

“Rosie, keep this for me,”
her one precious jewel—
a diamond and sapphire ring—
she knew of my mother’s
safe deposit box. Had there

been a fiance? As an old maid
she ended up in Welfare Island
Insane Asylum. I was thirteen
when we visited, her bed far
against the wall of the ward.

“Am I meshuga to be here?”
and kissing my hand, “You come
to visit Jenny,” and “Rosie,
“you have my ring?” Against
my mother’s mute

lips like a line crossed out
on a bill of sale, I say,
“It’s safe, Jenny,
it’s safe.”
The subway
doors clang like prison gates.

*

At Eighty

My shadow leads me on—
shoulders narrower
hips wider
than the body feels.
Chalk a dotted outline
to mark the shape of difference.

Watch out for
up-ended corners of sidewalk.
Safeguard breakable parts
formerly ignored.

Note the doubled self-portrait—
perfect smile
somewhere in a photograph.

Blood-memory—
pulses beating
syncopated heats
soft against hard against soft against
exquisite rush of
power
and the slow
sense of waterfall
quieting.

Stand back a bit from the mirror.
Fluff hair rinsed
the color of schoolgirl desire.
Tint the lampshade rose.

*

Charlotte Mandel’s eleventh book of poetry is Alive and In Use: Poems in the Japanese Form of Haibun. Her awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from Brooklyn College, the New Jersey Poets Prize, two fellowships in poetry from New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Visit her at charlottemandel.com.

.

Arrivals/Departures by David P. Kozinski

Arrivals/Departures

The woman I don’t recognize
except in the glitter and ruins of dreamland
looks a little like Diana Krall,
tells me her father died,
not when or how

and I wrap my rough hand over hers
the way paper overcomes rock,
the way overcoming can shield and heal
and say in the commonest way
I don’t have words
for moments like this.

As if the two are related
she adds, “I was born at the airport.”
Maybe she means came into the world
with baggage. Maybe she means
people only pause, in transit.

I summon a look of understanding
to my eyes and lay my hand
flat on the table
parallel to hers, so that together
they shape something wingèd
at rest, contemplating flight.

*

David P. Kozinski received a Poetry Fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts and was named 2018 Mentor of the Year by Expressive Path, which facilitates youth participation in the arts. His full-length book of poems, Tripping Over Memorial Day, was published by Kelsay Books. He received the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, including publication of his chapbook, Loopholes (Broadkill Press). Recent publications include Anti-Heroin Chic, Broadkill Review and North of Oxford. He serves on the board of the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center in Philadelphia, the Editorial Board of Philadelphia Stories and is Art Editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal.

Three Poems by Sharon Pretti

At Redwood Creek

A glimpse of Coho is what I want,
some sign of slipping in against the odds,

their numbers dwindling each year.
Sword fern, sun-ray, not the kind of day

to contemplate loss, despite what I read
by the Buddhist monks: ready yourself:

everything, everyone. The monks would
like my brother’s latest letter—

breath, walk, soak it all in, he says,
and I want to obey. For weeks, we’ve used

a new language: fighter, positive, brave,
the words like clouds touching

then breaking apart. This crunch of root
and rock is a type of music, a release,

my brother would say, from imagining
him gone, not gone, gone.

Three miles in, the trail he recommended—
scrub jays, moss, the signs never saying

there’s more than one way to be lost.
If I’m lucky, the salmon will come,

the first gleam, the frenzy. Breath, walk,
soak it all in. He must have meant breathe,

he must have meant stay, so much
daylight left in the leaves.

*

Treasure Island

We cross a four-lane bridge to reach it
and over our shoulders we look back,

the bay and its whitecaps,
the city where we were born.

Skyscraper, plate-glass, wild, my brother says
how everything’s changed.

Here: the sound of small breakers,
an Avenue of the Palms,
a harbor.

A second scan showed his tumor shrinking,
millimeters, the time it takes sea glass to smooth.

My brother’s birthday—
I make the first toast,
names of boats bobbing nearby.

Serenity, Onward, Even Keeled
as though we could set course toward a different life.

There is sky in his voice when he says every good day.
I don’t count them,
I don’t listen for when he’ll laugh next.

Here: iced tea, sweet potato fries, and farther out
another sail opening.

*

Head-On

A woman’s pried from the driver’s seat,
southbound on a nearby bridge,
a surge of siren air. Moments before,

she might have seen a shiver of sails
or a gull’s metallic wing, the ferry’s
rolling wake, but she’s not the one

I dwell on. It’s him, the driver
who drifted to dream and veered,
the one the news won’t name.

He sees her when his eyes close,
her past-tense legs, fingers bent
to the knob of her motorized chair.

It’s him I think of when my buckle
clicks, belt sashed across my breast
and I shift, smooth as moon,

into the homebound lane. I’m sure
he’d snatch those seconds back,
the coastline view, the bird-stained rock,

his hands like talons braced to the wheel.
We’re always blinking towards our fate,
the window down, our day-tangled hair.

We’re him when we steer, our bodies
bearing that one wrong moment.
His sentence now: the one spared.

*

Sharon Pretti lives in San Francisco, California. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Spillway, Calyx, JAMA, Jet Fuel Review and the Schuylkill Valley Journal. She is also an award-winning haiku poet and a frequent contributor to haiku journals including Modern Haiku and Frogpond. She works as a medical social worker at a large county hospital where she also leads poetry groups for seniors and disabled adults.