Transpiration by Karen Paul Holmes

Transpiration

There is nothing wrong with a slow heartbeat
in trees. A pulse once every two hours pumps
water—like our blood—from roots to crown.
Botanists know this now, have measured it:
I don’t need to put my ear to trunk, like I laid
my head on your scarred chest, listening for its
rhythm, trying not to fret over stalled thumps,
not wanting to tell you, trusting the docs who
cut you and kept your meter adagio with meds,
your blood thin, its tension down. Trees throb
to keep water pressure in their xylem, and I’d
like to believe you surge there too, drawn up
from clay to sweetgums thriving in my yard,
their leaves opening and opening into stars.

*

Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry collections, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich, 2014). Her poems have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and The Slowdown. Publications include Diode, Valparaiso Review, Verse Daily, and Prairie Schooner. She’s the current “Poet Laura” for Tweetspeak Poetry.

The Gray Rabbit by Marjorie Maddox

The Gray Rabbit

has made a hammock of the ground:
stretched out, lazy, in the patch of brown
where nothing grows. He knows
the meaning of relax, shows
the world he can’t be bothered
with worry. When one bright cardinal
trills “birdie, birdie, birdie,”
the rabbit isn’t alarmed
at all. He stretches further,
his fur body flat against the earth.
The dull backyard flames full
of comfort and color.

*

Professor of English at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 13 collections of poetry— including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Begin with a Question (Paraclete 2022), and the ekphrastic collaboration with Karen Elias Heart Speaks, Is Spoken For (Shanti Arts 2022)—the story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite), four children’s/YA books. In the Museum of My Daughter’s Mind, based on her daughter’s paintings, is forthcoming in 2023 (Shanti Arts). Please see www.marjoriemaddox.com

Iron Skillet by Donna Hilbert

Iron Skillet

I’m cleaning you now
with coarse salt and a paper towel.
Skillet of my mother, grandmother,
and her mother before her.
You’ve fried chickens
raised, killed, plucked, dressed
on farms, in backyards
by generations of women whose children
watched in fascination and fear.
You’ve fried bacon, eggs over easy,
baked cornbread, baked biscuits, grilled
sandwiches, fried fold-over pies for
farmers, mechanics, civil servants, teachers.

Last night, I blackened a sea bass
on your flat belly where tonight,
potatoes and carrots will nestle and roast
while an omelet browns on top of the stove.
Skillet, trusty instrument of nurture,
I praise your amazing utility, plurality
of purpose, example of endurance.
How easily you fashion meal after meal,
serve us, feed us, re-season, restore.

*

Donna Hilbert’s latest book is the just released Threnody, from Moon Tide Press. Earlier books include Gravity: New & Selected Poems, Tebot Bach, 2018. She is a monthly contributing writer to the on-line journal Verse-Virtual. Work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Braided Way, Chiron Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, Rattle, Zocalo Public Square, One Art, and numerous anthologies. Poems have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and on Lyric Life. She writes and leads private workshops in Southern California, where she makes her home, and during residencies at Write On Door County. Learn more at www.donnahilbert.com

Two Poems by Janice L. Freytag

Dawning

Ice grows through the night,
descending like tongues
from remnant leaves,
from clothespins left on the line.

Morning reveals the frozen Pentecost.
Trees hang low under the weight of calling.
I hear them creak and crack
in my own dialect.

I want to believe this day changes the world.
I want to believe a spirit can bend me
like a tree, fill my hollows with light,
make me shiny-voiced and new.

*

Village Encounter
      Luke 24:13-35

Fleshy sky-skin,
bulged and bruised,
folds down over the meadow,
over the dandelions greeting the day.
The land slowly turns
against its heavy shroud, rising.

Finches ribbon my world
with purple and gold flights.
They lace all things together.
They know something
I don’t. They break open my seeds,
my eyes, then disappear.

*

Janice L. Freytag currently resides in Souderton, PA. She began writing poetry after working in post-war Bosnia. Her poems have appeared in Radix, Relief, Saint Katherine Review, Windhover and others. In addition to poetry, she has written four children’s musicals. She is an enthusiastic, though not always successful, gardener.

Empty Nest by Louisa Muniz

Empty Nest

All summer long the mourning dove sits
in a shaded crook of the hickory tree.

She nests in a hard-to-spot space
and waits for her forthcoming squabs.

Stock-still, she sits, morning, noon & night.

Our eyes lock as I water the hanging begonia
on the tree’s branch.

The wind slows, then stirs to shape
& shift the air around us.

All summer long I waited for things to fall in place.
Before the surgery, the doctor asked,

would you like a picture of the kidney
you’ll be donating to your husband?

Days later, at home, I prop the picture
on my desk next to the window.

Beyond the window, sunlight leaks
like lemonade into the empty nest.

The song of the mourning dove can be heard.
The shadow of the mourning dove cannot be seen.

Some things resound long enough to be missed.

*

Louisa Muniz lives in Sayreville, N.J. She holds a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Kean University. Her work has appeared in Tinderbox Journal, Palette Poetry, SWWIM, Poetry Quarterly, PANK Magazine, Jabberwock Review and elsewhere. She won the Sheila-Na-Gig 2019 Spring Contest for her poem Stone Turned Sand. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize. Her debut chapbook, After Heavy Rains by Finishing Line Press was released in December, 2020.

Menopause is a Metaphor by Natalie Marino

Menopause is a Metaphor

It is late in spring
when the evening sky

is a swollen orange
and the night flowers

whisper their small
languages to a city

of wind. When
the horizon

is a drawing in black
herringbone, I am a stone
painted pink.

Immovable obsidian
lives inside me,

even my imagination
is a dying orchid.

The light
of the moon
is not a light,

but a love note
to a field
of cypress trees.

*

Natalie Marino is a poet and physician. Her work appears in Bitter Oleander, Isele Magazine, Leon Literary Review, Rust and Moth, The Shore, Variant Literature, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Memories of Stars, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press (June 2023). She lives in California.

Asking Dad for Help by Tom Bauer

Asking Dad for Help

A friend advised I show him a budget plan.
And so I worked it all out–the diapers, food,
everything we needed. Our sole luxuries
a couple movie rentals on the weekend.
I never wanted this. It has me shaking
like I’m Tommy Wilhelm; nervous, filled with shame.
The whole time I’m speaking I slur and tremble.
He interrupts to call me names and shout.
And then I’m outside again, stuck in the why.
Why is he that way? Why is it so hard?
Why is he so cold? Why do I always fail?
Once more the wooden door stands at my back.
It’s snowing, big white flakes on city breezes.
It’s like the rule says, a man needs principles.

*

Tom Bauer is an old coot who did a bunch of university and stuff. He lives in Montreal and plays board games.

Three Poems by Rachel Custer

Farmer

Save your sorry. Your sorry won’t get me
my crops in before the frost. Your sorry
won’t fill the propane tank. Confess me up
a big old sack of free feed, while you’re at it.
What I don’t need? A man who can’t outpace
his sorries, who leads ‘em around like a pack
of fair-weather friends. Another man hog-tied
by shoulda done. I knew a man once, he plowed
through each day like sorries leaded his boots,
each foot dragging the bodies of his regrets.
His whole life was an apology. God, what
did he think? It would stop him dying? He died,
like we all do: with dry lips and not enough
to drink. Sorry is death for no reason. Sorry
is men dying everywhere except the spot
where you stand, and you laying yourself
down in the sand. Each death deserves a life.
It’s like, I don’t know. Here! It’s like a field.
The most fertile field needs a fallow year.
The man who never rests his field grows
nothing but the knowledge of should
have done. What should I have done?
My son was just learning how to run the big
plow, and if he was too young, if another year
would have kept him from its blades – what
should I have done? What will it help
to plant, again and again, that field where
my boy died, and to harvest regret from
the black soil of the past? Don’t tell me
you’re sorry, I used to tell him when he
messed up, it doesn’t fix it. Don’t tell me
you’re sorry. Just stop doing the wrong thing.

*

Fire

Halfway down a country road a house leans
as if asking for forgiveness. As if asking
to be remembered well. Remembers the time
the roof caved in after a wet snow and how
the candles made stories of the walls. Nobody
knows hunger like a cold child. Hunger eats
anything it can get, and if hunger gets nothing,
it will eat the house that holds it and make
a dessert of itself. Hunger would rather reign
than serve. I would rather ask forgiveness
than permission says a woman, and this woman
knows the truth: how once invited inside,
hunger never leaves. Hunkers in the corner
and glares. How it feeds and feeds. A house
leans like a fire waiting to happen. Says a child:
I would rather steal than ask for anything
just before asking a neighbor to borrow
an egg. A man walks to work as if asking
forgiveness, leaning like a house against
the wind. A house could be forgiven for taking
hunger’s side, for demanding so much,
for its quiet and constant need. A man
could be forgiven for striking a match.

*

Inheritance

Lucky from the start, I was. Came home
lips to nipple and swaddled in a good name.
Nothing softer in this world than a good name,
nothing warmer. Like the best cologne dabbed
behind each ear. Like the deep weave of plush
rugs, the feet of soft women dancing. Before
I was poor I was rich. Before I was rich I was
nothing. I was maybe the extra finger of Scotch
in my father’s night, was maybe the crystal
just-so of my mother’s glass. I was low light.
Before I was drunk I was a child, tucked inside
others’ drunkenness and waltzed around airy rooms.
The whitewashed tombs of my mother’s breasts.
Her Home & Garden womb. Her best-dressed,
drunk at the Christmas party smile. Her royal
flush spread of hair, brushed and gleaming. I
was the kind of lush that blooms in scant light.
She was the kind of hush that looms. I can’t fight
the sure dread that my mother will look down
on me someday, that she will bend over me
like reed grass. The light behind her. Someday
you’ll thank us, I imagine her saying, everything
we gave you. The kind of name that could never
belong to the kind of man I am. The cold comfort
of no blame. A world willing to shift to fit my name.

*

Rachel Custer is an NEA Fellow (2019) and the author of The Temple She Became (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, including Rattle, OSU: The Journal, B O D Y, The American Journal of Poetry, The Antigonish Review, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters (OJAL), among others.

Three Poems by Joan Mazza

Waiting for the Doctor

Always late, he expected me to wait,
ready for the session’s start,
for me to take off my shoes,
lie down, not to complain or be angry
with him for keeping me waiting

for thirty or forty minutes, an hour,
sometimes two. I always arrive
early, never wanted to keep others
waiting for me. I don’t like
to feel rushed, prefer to allow time

for traffic, trouble, unexpected delays.
I waited in my car outside his house,
counted minutes. In the basement
of his house, I waited, in an area designed
for waiting, mesmerized by three giant

goldfish swimming in his giant tank.
If I was late, I lost that session’s time.
How long is too long to wait for someone
when you have an appointment? What
if he misses your scheduled time or

doesn’t show? If he never offers to
makeup time, he’s teaching you:
Your time doesn’t count. He’s the doctor.
He had important things that made
him late. I had a husband and a dog

waiting for me at home. I’d worked
a full day, had driven forty minutes,
hadn’t made or eaten dinner. I waited.
In charge, my analyst, my God decreed,
You have nothing to be angry about.

*

Tailored, Emerald Green

After Microbiology all day in Miami,
into the night I cut and sewed, hand-
stitched bound buttonholes, covered
buttons, lined the jacket in the same bold
silky fabric as the turtleneck blouse,

a suit that fit me loose enough to flow,
cuffs swaying with my walk, bright green
as the forest I longed for all those years
toiling in Florida. I waltz into my session
aglow, proud of my effort and outcome,
so well completed after a long hiatus
from my sewing machine.

My psychiatrist scowls at my twirl.
Why are you wearing that?
I made it. My voice shakes.
You’re all covered up! It’s a tent!

And so we spend another session
on his interpretation, his certainty
of my need to hide my body
up to my chin, my wearing pants,
not skirts. Proof of my hang-ups
and fears, proof of how much
more therapy I need with him.

*

What did you learn from your therapist?

All my friends were psychopaths
as were the men I dated, no matter if
I met them in church or bars. I was easily

manipulated into paying half, cooking
for men who wouldn’t take me out, only
wanted to get laid. (Didn’t I want sex too?)

Look how gullible and trusting I was
of all the wrong people. How grateful
I should be for his guidance, for teaching

to set limits, to say no, but not to him. When
I protested when he was two hours late
for a session, hours late for dinner, when

he asked to borrow money, when he mocked
my hand-tailored clothes, my haircut, he said,
You have no reason to be angry.

Too gullible and trusting of all the wrong
people, people took advantage. Couldn’t
I see who was being helpful?

*

Joan Mazza worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and taught workshops on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self. Her poetry has appeared in The Comstock Review (forthcoming), Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Adanna Literary Journal, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She stays safely isolated in solitude in rural central Virginia.

Two Poems by CL Bledsoe

Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons

I turtled my days, a wince of light.
You come to my bed every night.
Your bloodshot eyes won’t remember
my number for long, or maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe the end will come in flames and no one
will be left to complain about how hard
it is to push air through stiff lips when all
anyone wants is to be a capybara with a never-
ending supply of lemon cheesecake. Can’t you see
that I’m dying? Your love
is like the knife scarring the tree; everyone
can see your name on me. That used to be
enough until I sobered up. But I’m not sober.
I’m your only friend, and that hurts worst of all.
I blocked your number, and I’m waiting
for you to call and tell me you saw.
The trees are muttering complaints. The wind
is unhappy with its wardrobe. So much matters
to those who don’t care at all. Everything
that you touch breaks. I wanted
to be your hands. I wanted to be the shards
on the floor.

*

Working from Home

You want to say something nice to Tim,
your coworker, who is dating five women,
but your brother just died, your ex-girlfriend
is slowly being revealed as a narcissist,
in hindsight, and when the shame spiral,
the panic attacks flare, you’re trying not
to think about the bottles of sleeping pills,
the opiates in your bathroom. Your ex-wife
says it’s PTSD. You can barely make it till 4
without mixing a drink. He messaged to say
he’s worried because the one he likes made
a joke about marriage. You say communication
is what makes a relationship strong. He says
he’s dumped two of them. The last time,
he was dating three, broke it off with two
in the same night and then the third dumped
him a week later. What makes her so nice?
you ask and he says they come from similar
backgrounds, she makes him laugh. Your ex
was the most charming person you’ve ever met.
Her attention was like a spotlight, and you got
to be a star while she shone on you. As long
as you dressed the way she wanted, didn’t say
or do the things she didn’t like. As long
as you pleased her, every moment, and didn’t let
her grow bored. When things would finally start
to feel safe, she’d complain of it being stagnant.
When you finally felt something close to loved,
she’d say she needed space. Tim says this woman
likes him maybe too much. I’m great but not that
great, he says. You’re aight, you say. Your ex
told you the kindest things anyone has ever told
you after she destroyed you one morning. You’d
driven home, shaking and crying while she chatted
on the phone about her plans for the day, and after
your emergency therapy session, you told her
your therapist said you should stick it out (but have
an exit strategy), she was shocked. Were you
thinking about breaking up? she asked. You’ve
forgotten all those kind things, but you’ll never
forget that morning, in the hotel, your joy, your love
forever evaporating. You never really loved me,
she said the last time she called. You just wanted
to be saved, which is exactly what she wanted.
Tim bought a house and is learning how paint
works, the difference between wet and dry shades.
Your ex calls drunk saying how lonely she is,
and when you start to say sweetheart, she says no.
You don’t get to call me that anymore. She says stop
loving me so we can be friends. No one else
could ever want you, you know. Not like that spotlight.
That’s part of what she taught you in the hotel,
and every day you were together and every day
since. Your sister calls to say she’s been crying
for days about your brother and you say what
I wouldn’t give to be able to cry. You say my brother
died, too. Tim has been getting sloppy drunk at work
since we’ve been working from home. His seasonal
depression. What you wouldn’t give for yours
to only happen in the winter. You drink most
days but don’t make mistakes. The wisdom
of age. You don’t get to see your daughter
as much now, so you’re adrift. Your ex talked
about children when she was sloppy drunk.
What a shitshow that would’ve been, but you
would’ve done it. You’re young, you want
to tell Tim. Life will get so much harder. But
maybe it won’t, for him. He’s good looking.
He’s confident. She would take your arm
and walk beside you to the movie theater,
to dinner. All your life, you’ve just wanted
someone to love. Ever since your mother died.
What a cliché. You have so much love
to give, a friend once told you. It feels good
to talk about this stuff, Tim says. Is there anything
I can help you with? No, you say. But thank
you. Just take care of yourself.

*

Raised on a rice and catfish farm in eastern Arkansas, CL Bledsoe is the author of more than twenty-five books, including the poetry collections Riceland, Trashcans in Love, Grief Bacon, and his newest, The Bottle Episode, as well as his latest novels Goodbye, Mr. Lonely and The Saviors. Bledsoe co-writes the humor blog How to Even, with Michael Gushue located here: https://medium.com/@howtoeven His own blog, Not Another TV Dad, is located here: https://medium.com/@clbledsoe He’s been published in hundreds of journals, newspapers, and websites that you’ve probably never heard of. Bledsoe lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.