How Lip Balm was Invented by Lauren Zhu

How Lip Balm was Invented

Shards of plastic splinter
in a broken pile underneath
my nightstand. When,
I ask, did plastic
cleave so fragile? These
shards reel like dust in the
corners of my room.

I march along burning asphalt, bare footed
and a pompous church hat
atop my head. My feet dyed
with black ink and
decomposing things.

Tomorrow, my fingers blush glinting piano keys with sweat.

Tomorrow, I wash my body of scabs and grit until my skin and memory are buffed smooth.

Tomorrow, I tongue sweet ointment that smells of old lavender.

I loosen the knot of hair that weighs
my head back. This is the moment
of silence before the dogs begin
to wail and this house
begins to shake. I will ask

my diary if my skin
is enough. She hands me
a pot of lip balm and
tells me to heal.

*

Lauren Zhu is a rising senior at Shaker High School. She has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and National Council of Teachers of English; her poetry is forthcoming in Eunoia Review. She reads for Polyphony Lit as an Executive Editor.

Two Poems by Merie Kirby

Notes on geography

We never spoke of weather
in California except in fire season,
hot Santa Ana winds blowing. Or to call
each other outside to see heat lightning
stippling the sky off towards the mountains,
so far away we never heard thunder.
Rain came without fanfare, seasons
marked by subtle shifts in gardens.

Here in North Dakota, we would never
just say that we opened the backdoor to hear
robins singing. We want you to know
it is mid-April, another snowstorm is arriving
just after noon; at 10am it is 29 degrees,
the sun spring-weak but shining, and
after months of only hearing crows,
in the bare-limbed elm nine robins
faced east and sang.

*

What I share with the crocodile

My own toothed mouth
the safest place
for my child. I file
each tooth with data
& statistics, numbers
sharper than diamonds.
I’ve learned
how to speak
with my mouth full.
To offer refuge
is to go about
with my mouth
always open.

*

Merie Kirby grew up in California and now lives in North Dakota. She teaches at the University of North Dakota. She is the author of two chapbooks, The Dog Runs On and The Thumbelina Poems. Her poems have been published in Mom Egg Review, Rogue Agent, Orange Blossom Review, FERAL, Strange Horizons, and other journals. You can find her online at http://www.meriekirby.com.

Learning to Dress Myself by Sierra Golden

Learning to Dress Myself

Touch the fondue pot, antique lamp,
jean jacket, platform wedge-heeled
sandals, pencil skirt, China teacup—

my fingers develop a light film—
sweat or dirt or whatever it is
that makes our things ours.

I jockey through the crowd. Race,
wait with a blue basket
at the dressing rooms. Breathe.

Check for stains, loose threads, split
seams, holes, tears, elbows or knees
worn bare, lost buttons, fallen hems.

I remember the bus ride. The moment
my head turned to look at Luly Yang’s
window: silk the color of late spring.

Let my body sing. Let my clavicle
jump from a plain v-neck tee. My hair
curl itself into a good French twist.

Oh may I be as crafty as Luly, here
in Goodwill. May I set my body ablaze,
may I buy the royal purple dress:

strapless lace bodice, sweetheart neckline,
décolletage, bow as big as my face,
satin skirt frothy with tulle.

I wear it twice. Once in suede pumps
with leather rosettes, a velvet handbag.
Man I’m supposed to marry but won’t

saying he could only like the dress more
if it were on the floor—and once
when the man I’m forbidden to love

photographs me amongst bunkers and dead
grass, wearing thick-soled brown rubber boots,
my skin goose-pimpled with cold, the wind.

The purple skirt floating up, galloping like a flag.

*

Sierra Golden graduated with an MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University. Her debut collection The Slow Art was published by Bear Star Press and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Golden’s poems appear in literary journals such as Prairie Schooner, Permafrost, and Ploughshares.

Three Poems by Kip Knott

It’s Just Human Nature

          “Death. It’s inevitable. There’s a hole you come out of
          and there’s a hole you’re gonna go in. . . . Being dead
          is a liberating experience.”
                    — from an interview in 2021 with Gary Betzner,
                    who faked his own death in 1977

Who knows what compels a man to jump off the edge
of a bridge in the middle of nowhere Arkansas,
wife and kids in the car, engine running,
churning river currents below whispering,
The water will save you. Come on in.

Drugs? Smuggling? Underworld kingpin? Spy?
The mind loves the unknown, the mysterious,
the impossible equation, the riddle left unsolved;
podcast fodder that draws the casual listener in
with what ifs, whodunits, and new clues.

If the world we live in today has shown us anything,
it has shown that we secretly crave catastrophe
when we watch the evening news, that we pray
for the hurricane to exceed expectations and destroy
everything—someone else’s everything.

After years of conjecture, the truth about the man
on the bridge reveals itself to be nothing
more than a hoax, an escape we secretly hoped
would keep our antihero free from 20-to-life behind bars.
We breathe a sigh of relief and let out an inaudible cheer.

But the real truth is this: we all hide secrets
deep beneath flesh, muscle, and bone; secrets
that eventually become too heavy to carry;
secrets that are just heavy enough to pull us under
roiling river water to a grave of silt and mud

where clouds of catfish wait to pick our bloated bodies clean.

*

Photophobia

                    May 24, 2022

I used to believe in the spirit animals
and gods that I found in constellations
of stars. But when I look at the sky tonight,

I see only bullet holes piercing the dark,
one for every child we’ve lost,
two for all the children we will keep losing

until constellations bleed together
and the night sky becomes something
other than night, something

horribly empty and horribly full.

*

Post-it Notes to a Young Poet

                    based on Post-it Note drawings by Aron Wiesenfeld

1. Post-it Note Drawing #28

Learn to wait. Rain won’t.
The bus isn’t a sure thing.
You are the rain. And the rain is.

2. Post-it Note Drawing #29

Be content to carry the burden
of all the words you plan to write
throughout your life.

3. Post-it Note Drawing #26

Feel free to worship anything.
Prayers are nothing
more than poems waiting to be written.

4. Post-it Note Drawing #25

Never forget: Shadows
have the power to cut
through more than light.

5. Post-it Note Drawing #38

A poem exists in that moment
after you’ve climbed atop the slide
and before you take the plunge.

6. Post-it Note Drawing #20

Learn to accept those moments
when your words become
someone else’s burden to carry.

7. Post-it Note Drawing #37

And learn to accept other moments
when poems slip formless as smoke
from your lips when you speak.

8. Post-it Note Drawing #40

Always remember that smoke carries
some part of you away as it rises up.
Be truthful in everything you say.

9. Post-it Note Drawing #22

If ever you lose the will to write,
burn all these notes and harvest
new words from the ashes.

*

Kip Knott’s debut collection of stories, Some Birds Nest in Broken Branches, was released earlier this year from Alien Buddha Press. His newest book of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is available from Kelsay Books. He spends most of his spare time traveling throughout Appalachia and the Midwest taking photographs and searching for lost art treasures. You can follow him on Twitter at @kip_knott and read more of his work at kipknott.com.

Because it is Spring in Appalachia by Bonnie Proudfoot

Because it is Spring in Appalachia

and the rain has stopped pummeling
the solar panels on my roof,
I begin noticing things,
the rush of green outside hits me
like a fanfare, the sun
sparkles in every droplet,
and then I realize
the applause I thought I heard
was not applause at all,
it was a pair of small birds
pecking away at the inside
of my walls because they decided
that their new nesting place
could be that little hole
in the space between the eaves.
And there it is, the outside world
has come home to roost. And me,
I couldn’t pull the trigger of the 22
on the groundhog in the blueberries,
I try to save the planet,
not just for me, alone, but so I
can share it, but not my house,
I think, yet that is
what is happening now
and here I am,
still hoping to return
to Aaron Copeland in my mind,
but the wide world has other ideas,
like a new station on the dial,
these little syncopated taps,
call on me to act or be acted upon,
and isn’t that what I secretly wanted
from this ragged, unfinished life?

*

Bonnie Proudfoot has had fiction and poetry published in the Gettysburg Review, Kestrel, Quarter After Eight, the New Ohio Review, and many other journals. Her first novel, Goshen Road, published by Ohio University’s Swallow Press (2020) was selected by the Women’s National Book Association for one of its Great Group Reads for 2020. It was Long-listed for the 2021 PEN/ Hemingway Award for debut fiction, and in 2022 it won the WCONA Book of the Year Award. Her poetry chapbook, Household Gods, is forthcoming on Sheila-Na-Gig this summer. She lives in Athens, Ohio, and in her spare time she creates glass art and plays blues harmonica.

In Tall Grasses by Sally Nacker

In Tall Grasses

Fuzzy bees
dip into purple henbit,
hover low

by the clover
all day long
in my wild yard,

quietly drinking.
Such gladness
in tall grasses.

*

Sally Nacker was awarded the Edwin Way Teale writer’s residency in 2020 where she enjoyed a week of solitude on 168 acres of nature. Since then she and her husband have moved to a small house in the woods. Publishing credits include The Orchard’s Poetry Journal, Blue Unicorn, One Art, Mezzo Cammin, Quill and Parchment, and The Sunlight Press. She has her MFA in Poetry from Fairfield University. Kindness in Winter is her new collection. Visit her website at www.sallynacker.com.

Procrastination by Susan Cossette

Procrastination

Next summer I will plant flowers
in a perfect circle around the towering pine–

Carve tiny cradles for each pink impatiens,
pat flat the cool damp mulch.

Next summer I will tame wild ivy
on the hundred-year wall,
coerce it into tidy compliance.

The soaring rhododendrons stand guard,
old wise, twisted roots.
The stories they can tell.

Next summer I will hang a suet feeder
outside the kitchen window and await red cardinals.

It is August, and next summer is a long way off.

*

Susan Cossette lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Author of Peggy Sue Messed Up, she is a recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Vita Brevis, ONE ART, As it Ought to Be, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Amethyst Review, Crow & Cross Keys, Loch Raven Review, and in the anthologies Tuesdays at Curley’s and After the Equinox.

Never Been Better by J.R. Barner

Never Been Better

Tomorrow is barely an hour old:
The dark hangs off me like a
Jacket draped around my shoulders
To fend off a chill while my date walks me home.
Streetlights play off sodium haze and smeared lipstick:
Where everything smells eternally of
Sweat, smoke, stale beer, and indolence,
And the city is a bar that never closes.
You stoop to kiss me,
Sleep still in your eyes from yesterday
As they squint to a close,
Mouth hanging open like a corpse.
I let myself get taken in,
Drawn back into the shadows,
Convincing myself that I’ll never feel this way
Ever again.

*

J.R. Barner is a writer, teacher, and musician living in Athens, Georgia. They are the author of the chapbooks Burnt Out Stars and Thirteen Poems and their forthcoming first collection, Little Eulogies. They were educated at the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia. Their work has appeared in online and print journals Flow, Anobium, and Release. New work is available periodically at jrbarner.tumblr.com.

I Want to Hear – A collaborative poem conceived and arranged by Erin Murphy

I Want to Hear

Hearing may indeed by one of the last senses to lose function as humans die.

                                                                                          —Scientific Reports, 2020

I want to hear the scarlet-headed woodpecker
on a distant oak tapping out agrub, agrub, agrub,

twigs crackling underfoot on a forest path
as sunlight filters onto my face,

creekwater running past and over rocks
on its way to the falls
like conversation between lovers.

I want to hear the gasping hiss of a hot iron
lifted from pressed fabric, a flood of steam
rising from each smoothed crease,

the cracking open of a Coke can,
the sizzling of soda bubbling up,

toast crunching on linoleum
as we stomp anger into crumbs,

the swish of Rob Halford’s tight-fitting leather vest.

I want to hear anything but the crow-cry pulsing
of my continuous glucose monitor.

I want to hear Bill Withers’ grandma’s hands indwell
the liturgy where my grandmother brought us,
the tall cross out front in bloom,

bagpipe notes wailing in a canyon,
sliding like trombones down cliffs,

cars passing swiftly, faint as peace.

I want to hear boots tapping on wooden floors
as my father leaves and returns from work,

the bustle of garbage collectors on the porch.

I want to hear a newborn baby crying,

the wise creak of a rocking chair,
heavy with the weight of a mother
and her cocooned child.

I want to hear the rhythmic buzz
of a spouse’s snoring,

the cackle, howl, and wheeze
of my family’s laughter,

grandkids’ shrieks weaving together
in the backseat.

The landline message calling my name
three days before Mom’s death.

A nurse leaning down and whispering
We are transferring you to the love ward.

The distant train whistle
of the words I and mine.

Voices running together like rain,
letting me know they’ll be okay.

And my mother’s voice again:
Everything will be fine.

*

A collaborative poem conceived and arranged by Erin Murphy during the 2022 West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, featuring lines by Mark Brazaitis, Joel Chineson, Gary Ciocco, Lori D’Angelo, Karen DePinto, Sarah Beth Ealy, Rebecca Ernest, Stanley Galloway, Katy Giebenhain, David Hayhurst, Georgianna Heiko, Irene Klosko, George M. Lies, Martin Malone, Erin Murphy, Renée K. Nicholson, Karen Peacock, Stan Pisle, Guy Terrell, Deborah Westin, Maryann Wolfe, and Nicole Yurcaba.

Erin Murphy, who conceptualized and arranged this collaborative poem, is the author of nine poetry collections, including Human Resources (forthcoming from Salmon Poetry). She is professor of English at Penn State Altoona where she organized a college-wide collaborative poetry project entitled “In My America.”
Website: http://www.erin-murphy.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinmurphypoet
Twitter: @poet_notes

*

“I Want to Hear” Collaborative Poem Prompt

It has long been believed that hearing is the last sense to go. A recent University of British Columbia study determined that unresponsive actively dying patients continue to hear in the final hours before death. The study – “Electrophysiological evidence of preserved hearing at the end of life” – was published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2020. With this in mind, you are invited to participate in a collaborative poetry project.

• Write a list of the final sounds you’d want to hear. These could be sounds you love, sounds you find calming, a sound you miss, or words you need or want to hear. Just jot them down – don’t worry about being descriptive.
• Now go back and choose one sound to describe in detail. Make notes about all of the associations you have with this sound.
• Write one sentence that fills in this blank: “I want to hear __________________.” Be as specific and concrete as possible.

One Poem by Neva Ensminger-Holland

Brenda Diana Duff Frazier, 1938 Debutante of the Year, At Home, 1966
           after the photograph by Diane Arbus

Do you have a light, honey? If I don’t get
a cigarette soon, I might pass out. I know,
I know, they’re downright nasty, but
it’s a nervous habit, been doing it ever since
she made me put on that god awful dress
and smile for all the pretty little rich boys

with their over-gelled hair and ugly sport
coats, looking for a wife who’ll treat them
like a child. I don’t honestly know
what she was thinking, my mother, when

she sent me down that spiral staircase.
I was sick as a dog that afternoon, but
she gave me two sips of brandy and said
that if I had to throw up, I’d better make

sure no one was around to watch. I was a wreck,
and have been ever since, it’s all the smoke, I think,
it’s fried my brain. I don’t think I’m gonna have
a cigarette after all. It’s really nothing, I’m just so tired,
honey, and it’s been so long since my mother let me sleep.

*

Neva Ensminger-Holland is a recent graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy, and is an incoming freshman at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. She is a YoungArts award winner and an American Voices nominee in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition. Her work is published or forthcoming in the Interlochen Review, The Albion Review, and the YoungArts anthology. In her free time, she enjoys wearing ripped tights in the winter, watching Gilmore Girls with her roommate, and hot-gluing the straps back on her platform Mary-Janes.