Learning Italian by Julia Caroline Knowlton

Learning Italian

I leave my Ohio English, native tongue,
its lockstep clip-clop like horse hooves

on a road, its one syllable words like
birds on a wire or fruit pie in a pan.

I learn chiacchierare—to chit chat—
admiring how the letters pirouette.

Pure music subsumes me—alba, oro,
fruttivendolo, verdurivendolo.

I fade innamorata in wonder within
curved waves of gold leaf words formed

like drapery in stone or scrolls of violins.
Now perne in a gyre, blue turn I disappear.

*

Julia Caroline Knowlton PhD MFA is a poet and Professor of French at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. The author of five books, she was named a Georgia Author of the Year in 2018. Her 2005 memoir, Body Story, was named an outstanding title by the American Library Association. Victoria Chang, the current New York Times Magazine Poetry Editor, has described Knowlton’s poetry as “devastatingly lyrical.” Recognition for her work includes an Academy of American Poets Prize and a Pushcart nomination. She regularly publishes her poetry in journals such as One Art and Trouvaille Review.

Three Poems by Linda Laderman

Redemption

Mother worries.
No man, money, or prospects.
Her hopes dwell in a junk drawer,

crammed with S&H Green stamps.
I help paste the multi-colored
squares into redemption books.

We cover each page in hues of yellow,
blue, green, a quilt of stamped wishes-
a color T.V., a hot pink Schwinn starlet.

On market day, she cozies up to the grocer,
her smile warm as a fresh-picked peach.
He winks and gives us double stamps.

Every Saturday morning, Mother sends me
to the corner drug store with a signed note.
Please sell my daughter a carton of Lucky Strikes.

She unravels the gold tape,
then taps the pack against her palm.
My cue to get her lighter.

The tip of her cigarette glows, like a birthday
candle dangling from her mouth. I picture
it burning to the end, ash singeing her lips.

She offers me a drag.
Cigarette between my fingers, she grabs it back.
Not yet, we still have more stamps to paste.

*

Mercy

A neighbor stops me,
Your ex is ill. He’s at Mercy.
I say nothing.
It’s been 20 years.
But what do I know about time?
I was 19 when I met you.
My emotions split, like bark on the birch
that stood behind our first house.
I rehearse my response.
Should I embrace you?
Will my nervous laugh,
the one you mocked, return?
An attendant shows me to your room.
Family only.
I hear the whir of machines
How bad is it?
I wonder if you remember
when I cheered your name,
hurrying from the stands
to find you under the time clock.
You said I shared your victories.
Privacy was the prize I coveted.
Filling your body with spurious cures,
you recoiled when old people
discussed their diagnosis.
Now your time is measured in doses.
A nurse asks if I’m your wife.
I tell her, I’m just about to leave.
You murmur; we did ok for a while.
I nod, slide my forgiveness into your palm.

*

Delivery Day

My stepfather takes ten boxes of Thin Mints,
making me the top sixth grade seller.
On delivery day I wait for my mother,
eager to hand over the stack of boxes.
When there’s no sign of her car,
I ignore the mid-March chill,
patches of muddy snow,
and walk the eight blocks home.
I see a row of cars parked on our drive.
Feeling bad news, I pick up my pace.
Mother, bare-armed, stands on our porch.
She motions for me to run.
Can’t she see my full arms?
Where was she today?
She points skyward and cries,
I found him upstairs.
I am still. My feet planted in mud.
How will I pay for what he took?

*

Linda Laderman grew up in Toledo, Ohio. She earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens. Her news stories and features have appeared in media outlets and magazines. Her poetry has been published in a number of journals, including The Scapegoat Review, The Write Launch and 3rd Wednesday. Her poem, War Ghazal is forthcoming in Writers Resist. Linda currently lives in the Detroit area, where for the last decade, she volunteered as a docent at the Zekelman Holocaust Center.

Three Poems by F. J. Bergmann

Age of Imagination

The worst part wasn’t being chased
through the dark,

wasn’t not being able to see the face
of the formless attacker (except it always wore
a black overcoat, was always male),

wasn’t the sticky sinking, the terrible drag
on my slow-motion feet as I tried to run,

wasn’t that it always took place in dust-furred gloom,
silent except for the implacable footsteps.

It was not being able to scream, and, eventually,
when all attempts at screaming failed,
not being able to breathe.

If I woke enough to finally croak out weak, garbled noises,
no one came. Only the tick of the clock snicketed,
unintelligible as the language of its radium constellation,
and I rarely exchanged the terror of my bed
for the terror of the long hallway to my parents’ room.

In my third year, in the first spring I can remember,
that dreamed suffocation led me to begin
the remote appraisal that saves and ruins us.
I became able to understand danger
in waking life.

I was alone in a small woods, wandering below the hill
that hid the house from sight, looking into a sunken hollow
from the path that circled it. There was no green yet
but most of the ice in the drainage pit had melted.
I do not remember being cold. I wanted to climb down
to touch my reflection in the icy water. But I stared into that dark
crater and thought of asphyxia and night without an end,
rotten leaves swirling under the surface
like the shreds of a ragged black coat,
slow as the mysterious hands of a clock.

*

Unimaginable Wealth

The old lady was too frail to join us
at the dinner table, but she always offered
her granddaughter the hospitality of her house—
excuse me, her mansion—gated golf-course vista
surrounded by Pennsylvania oak forests,
stone stables and outbuildings, sunken Italian
rose garden with petal-strewn brick paths
and a fish-mouthed fountain. Indoors,
chandelier-lit oil paintings gazed down at bronze
statues, waxed Louis XIV walnut furniture,
acres of Oriental carpets. A stream of servants
flowed silently up and down the marble staircase,
delivering trays and hushed messages
to the 24-hour nursing staff upstairs.

In the enormous dining-room, silver and china
glittered on immaculate damask under English
hunting prints and baroque sconces. White-
uniformed servers came and went from
the kitchen’s busy clatter, bearing each course
as if a sultan’s treasure. Like the finger-bowls,
(which I had been instructed not to drink from)
our crystal goblets held only tap water. Pale iceberg
lettuce with Jell-O and American cheese on the side
came with a ceremoniously offered bottle
of supermarket dressing. Roast beef like gray felt
had been assiduously cooled, as had the discolored
canned peas and spinach. The mashed potatoes
featured the grainy taste and unaspiring texture
of instant flakes. The gravy in the chased, gilded
gravy-boat was also canned. But there was no
stinting on the ketchup, nor the margarine
in an iced sterling-silver bowl, nor the stale Wonder
bread wrapped in a linen napkin. Between courses,
we stared uncomfortably at the unnecessary
finger-bowls. Dinner ended with the individual
presentation of small cakes that looked
suspiciously like Hostess Twinkies.

Air-conditioning had never been installed.
In the stifling bedroom, not a breath of air stirred
beyond the windows hung with 90-year-old
Belgian lace. We dreamed of being rich
enough to have anything
we wanted.

*

Why People Fail

They were told
that they were destined for success
and that nothing they did
was as good as what they could have done
if they had really tried.

All those books about can’t just don’t.
No one knows how large your demon looms
against the horizon, how the gravity alters
around its terrible footprint to create a bottomless well.

Something moves in that crater lake,
diverting your attention from
the shadows towering behind the bright sky.
You lean over the water
to aim your javelin at a more attainable planet
and spear your own reflection,
the darkness behind you guiding your hand.

All the things you ever wished to be fly
out of your open mouth at dusk in a streaming vapor
like the smoke of the last cigarette
after the malignancy becomes inoperable.

Ambling into long night, your skeletal illusions
shred the tenuous, wistful moonrise.
The withered susurration underfoot marks
a final fragmentation of deciduous hopes.

*

F. J. Bergmann is the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com) and freelances as a copy editor and book designer. She lives in Wisconsin and fantasizes about tragedies on or near exoplanets. She was a Writers of the Future winner. Her work has appeared in Asimov’s SF, Polu Texni, Soft Cartel, Spectral Realms, Vastarien, and elsewhere. While lacking academic literary qualifications, she is kind to those so encumbered. She used to work with horses. She thinks imagination can compensate for anything.

Wolf by Penelope Moffet

Wolf

When I turned 50
Jane said, Watch out,
the long slide down
starts now. In my 50s
I let go of a love
that hurt too much,
turned toward peace.
When I reached 60
Jane said, Now
begins the slow
collapse. My 60s
have been solitude,
early risings, poetry,
work, long walks
and swims.
Now I’m 67
and Jane, at 80,
says, Soon,
very soon,
you’ll burn out
like a dwarf star
collapsing
under its own weight.
This comforts me.
Ten years from now
if we’re both still here
I know
what her forecast
will be.

*

Penelope Moffet is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Cauldron of Hisses (Arroyo Seco Press, 2022). Her poems have been published in Gleam, One Art, Natural Bridge, Permafrost, Pearl, The Rise Up Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Verse-Virtual, Gyroscope and other literary journals. She lives in Southern California.

Two Poems by Tamara Madison

Loss Litany
When did you lose your filter? a colleague asked that year before my retirement
when I couldn’t handle another senseless staff meeting.
When did you lose your virginity? a student asked, as though it were her business
but I told the truth so she’d know it doesn’t have to happen in high school.
When did you lose your father? a new friend asks and suddenly I feel remiss,
as though I should have kept better track of him.
The doctor wanted to know how: How did I lose the IUD? Did it fall out on the street?
he actually asked, until it turned up on the X-ray, half sunk in the wall of my womb.
I still wonder how I lost that diamond earring, the one generous gift a lover gave me
on a whim; its mate reclines now on a black velvet bier in the gift box it came in.
And how did I lose that friend from college, the one I reconnected with in two different
cities before he vanished into some far place where emails are read but not returned?
Of all of these, it’s the coffin-shaped fake ruby from the ring my mother wore
until she gave it to me when I turned 12 that I wonder most about;
the empty setting, silver filigree, rolls around every time I open the drawer
where I keep orphaned earrings and gifts I haven’t the heart to return.
I remember it on her strong, brown finger, and how it skewed to the right on my own,
how my sister in the throes of dementia used to stare at it, asking Mother?
Faith
You either have it or you don’t.
Sometimes it’s given, and you wear it like an amulet.
Sometimes imposed, and you bear it like a yoke.
Sometimes it’s just a name you repeat, repeat, repeat,
working to make it part of you; you take it in
the way a tree accepts and grows around a nail.
For some, it’s embodied in a wafer, a set of beads,
a sheaf of onion-skin pages in a handed-down book,
a scroll affixed to a door frame.
For some, an elusive spirit that vanishes
as they draw near; they spend their lives in the search.
I’ve lived this long without religion, yet
I breathe faith every morning when the sun rises; it carries me
through the days, a current bearing onward toward night
where I drift in my heart’s canoe along black water.
*
Tamara Madison is the author of the chapbook “The Belly Remembers”, and two full-length volumes of poetry, “Wild Domestic” and “Moraine”, all published by Pearl Editions. Her work has appeared in Chiron Review, the Worcester Review, A Year of Being Here, Nerve Cowboy, the Writer’s Almanac and many other publications. A swimmer, dog lover and native of the southern California desert, she has recently retired from teaching English and French in a Los Angeles high school. Read more about her at tamaramadisonpoetry.com.

Naiad by Yvonne Zipter

Naiad

Those years when my love
was a water nymph, swimming

mornings, weekends, on her lunch
break, at Portage Park, the Y, or

the university, her skin and hair
faintly fragranced with chlorine—

her signature scent. For some,
it’s chocolate or oysters or

maybe figs. But give me
a whiff from a bottle of Clorox,

with its clean aroma, wholesome
as sheets flapping on a line

under a summer sun, and I’ll be
drowning in thoughts of love.

*

Yvonne Zipter is the author of the poetry collections Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, The Patience of Metal (a Lambda Literary Award Finalist), and Like Some Bookie God. Her poems have appeared in numerous periodicals over the years, including Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, and Bellingham Review, as well as in several anthologies. Her published poems are currently being sold individually in Chicago in two repurposed toy-vending machines, the proceeds of which are donated to the nonprofit arts organization Arts Alive Chicago. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend and Ransacking the Closet and the Russian historical novel Infraction.

Two Poems by Jacqueline Jules

Maybe the Cherry Tree Remembers

My old neighbor texted me today,
with a photo of the blooming cherry
in my former front yard, thanking me
for the view from her window
I never knew she enjoyed.

Funny how I’d thought every trace
of our 26 years in that red brick house
had been loaded into the long white van,
lumbering out of the driveway
on a crisp November evening.

Certainly the staircase
we climbed every night to bed,
the stainless steel sink
where we washed our pink dishes,
the deck out back never used enough—
they don’t mourn our absence
as new owners move in
to paint and carpet over
any marks we left behind.

But maybe the cherry tree remembers
that afternoon almost three decades ago,
when a couple came out of a red brick house
to dig a hole for a scrawny sapling
whose branches now reach to the sky.

*

The Honeybee

I almost reacted. Almost
questioned how he could dare
complain about more pots to wash
when I cooked all afternoon.

Then I remembered the honeybee,
how it dies a gruesome death
when its stinger embeds
in human skin. The bee tears
a hole in its belly pulling out
the sac of venom.

A honeybee values peace.
It only stings when threatened,
not over something as petty
as who cooked and who cleaned up.

And certainly not when it could rest,
like I am right now, with feet up
on the couch, while my honey
loads the dishwasher
and scrubs every pot.

*

Jacqueline Jules is the author of Manna in the Morning (Kelsay Books, 2021) and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String, winner of the 2016 Helen Kay Chapbook Prize from Evening Street Press. Her poetry has appeared in over 100 publications including One Art, The Sunlight Press, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Hospital Drive, and Imitation Fruit. Visit her online www.jacquelinejules.com

The Day Your Father Dies by Gary Fincke

The Day Your Father Dies

Three time zones east, while you sleep
in your travel-vouchered hotel suite,
the ambulance, pulsing red, but mute,
arrives for your father. Your sister,
discreet, waits for what she believes
is a decent hour, her morning nearly
ended before she places her call.

Because you mark this moment,
you will always know that the first
of six job-candidate interviews,
right then, is eight minutes away.
While you fix on absence, your colleague
carries three morning conversations;
you make phone calls during lunch.

When, during the afternoon, you begin
to season your questions with banter,
the candidates are quick to smile.
Your rooms are swept and scoured while
you overhear strangers toast each other
before dinner in an expensive restaurant
so close you can walk there, then back

to where the hours, their voices hushed,
reuse their condolences throughout
your all-night sleeplessness. A plane
taxis to its gate with no plans but waiting
for you to board just after sunrise, exiting,
then entering two versions of winter, light
about to be altered by accumulated snow.

*

Gary Fincke’s collections have won what is now the Wheeler Prize (Ohio State) and the Wheelbarrow Books Prize (Michigan State). His latest collection, The Mussolini Diaries was published by Serving House in 2020.

Four Poems by John Wojtowicz

Wake Up Time

On a Sunday, my little son
shakes me into consciousness, says,
the sky is awake
and the house is awake

and I imagine the house
being awoken by the sky
in the same blustery manner
that I was awoken
this morning

but quickly concede
that the house is probably the culprit
most mornings, urging
and goading the sky, before it is ready —

bedroom, bathroom,
then kitchen lights,
all flickering on before dawn.

*

Fruit Guy

Each morning my son and I pass
an orchard on the way
to his preschool

and this morning, he asks
what type of forest is that?

and I tell him
it’s an orchard, a fruit farm
and he declares:

Farms. Have. Animals.

I tell him some farms have fruit
but again, he insists
that this cannot be true.

And because I know
better, I ask, who grows the fruit
if not the farmer?

And my son responds,
the fruit guy grows the fruit.

And believing I have him cornered
I declare, a fruit guy
is a type of farmer

but my son retorts —
the fruit guy
is a watermelon named Mr. Banana.

I am silent
imagining
a humpty-dumpty-type
watermelon
with an unfortunate surname
waking up
next to his watermelon wife
donning overalls
and straw hat
before heading out into his fields
with basket
and stepladder.

And because this
is a reality worth escaping into —

I let Mr. Banana live.

*

Twenty Years of Education Culminating
in a Good Job

As I sit watching the hours tick
at a good job, a secure job,
a health-benefits-
pension-vacation-time-
sick-day-job, I think
about my pre-school graduation
and how the whole class
was asked to say
what they wanted to be
when they grew up
and how it felt like
there were only so many options
(firefighter, doctor,
farmer, teacher,
athlete, scientist)
and then one girl said
proudly (as the teacher cringed)
that she wanted
to be a dolphin. I think
about her often
and really hope she became one.

*

Father Time Walk’s into Kelly’s Korner at 1:45am

The bartender, Denise, who works Wednesday
nights and Saturday mornings
rings the bell. Shouts, “LAST CALL!”
The bouncer nods, “Made it just in time, sir.”
“I know,” says Father and orders a Guinness.

The manager who looks like Ben Stiller
but still doesn’t laugh the 10th time I tell him
settles my tab out of a pile of crumpled 1’s and 5’s
offers me the ride I always decline.
The regulars all stumbled home hours ago:

The Australian exchange student
obsessed with Arlo Guthrie and gin
who sings City Of New Orleans with me
over pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Baldwin who picks up college girls,
takes them back to their dorms,
tucks them into bed
after his own daughter disowned him.

The breast-cancer survivor we cheers’d
to two years who’ll be back at 7am
for a Bloody Mary and pork roll sandwich
after third shift at Saint Peter’s.

Time smirks. Toys his beard. Adjusts his Stetson.
Plays Billie-Joe Shaver’s Live Forever
on the jukebox. I ask Denise for another beer.
Father looks over from his stool, foam
coating his mustache, and says, “It’s time, son.”
He gets up, pulls a dart out of thick air,
throws a double bull as he passes the board.
I know he’s right. I slip out the back
and take to the chilly streets— where Time roams wild.

*

John Wojtowicz grew up working on his family’s azalea and rhododendron nursery in the backwoods of what Ginsberg dubbed “nowhere Zen New Jersey.” Currently, he pays the bills as a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct professor. He has been featured on Rowan University’s Writer’s Roundtable on 89.7 WGLS-FM and several of his poems were chosen to be exhibited in Princeton University’s 2021 Unique Minds: Creative Voices art show at the Lewis Center for the Arts. His debut coffee-table-style chapbook Roadside Attractions: a poetic guide to American Oddities was published in 2022. John serves as the Local Lyrics contributor for The Mad Poets Society Blog. He lives with his wife and two children in Upper Deerfield, NJ. Check him out on the web at: www.johnwojtowicz.com

At Ninety by Yvona Fast

At Ninety

When she gets anxious
and asks five times
how often she needs to take the new med…
Listen, and be mindful.
She’s ninety.

When your voice goes up in frustration,
and guilt sets in…
be patient,
walk in her shoes.
think how hard it is for her
at ninety.

In spite of your impatience
she thanks you
for reminding her when she forgets
and says she can no longer live
without your help,
how much she needs you
at ninety.

She tells you she’s lived too long…
She feels useless,
good-for-nothing,
broken –
at ninety.

There are so many things to do.
Phone calls to
electricians, doctors, insurance companies.
Daily chores
like cooking supper and cleaning up,
washing clothes,
vacuuming, dusting, cleaning…

It’s time to put away those ski boots
I was going to store away a month ago
but couldn’t find the energy
or time.

At least we’re fortunate to go on walks –
Even at ninety.
Except today
when rain is pouring,
then changing to large flakes of snow
on this last April day.

*

Yvona Fast’s poems have appeared in many disparate literary journals and anthologies in the last dozen years. Yvona immigrated to the US when she was 9. When not writing or cooking, she can be found outdoors in all seasons. Yvona’s three poetry chapbooks can be found at http://www.yvonafast.com/poetry.html. Her poetry collection, Loon Summer, is due to be released later this year.