CLOSING IN ON PURGATORY by Marc Harshman

CLOSING IN ON PURGATORY

I thought the door
was standing open
and beyond it
all the blue
of heaven,
that it was
only necessary
to pass through
and so into
the beyond
and who cares if
metaphoric or real, pass
into a place
like heaven,
a heaven blue
as something
or other but
even that wasn’t
necessary.
Yes, it might
have been
blue but it might
have been otherwise
as we often are
and the things
around us, even me,
I wasn’t
needed, not even
the door,
though it was
there, and
standing open
and I could have,
yes, easily,
could have, but
there are
limits and this
could very well
be mine.

*

Marc Harshman’s WOMAN IN RED ANORAK, Blue Lynx Prize winner, was published in 2018 by Lynx House Press. His fourteenth children’s book, FALLINGWATER, co-author Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan. He is co-winner of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and his Thanksgiving poem, “Dispatch from the Mountain State,” was recently printed in the New York Times. Poems have been anthologized by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, and the University of Arizona. He is the seventh poet laureate of West Virginia.

Two Poems by Yixuan Wu

Beijing Never Waves Farewell

The clatter of mahjong pieces became
the nemesis of the night. Perhaps just
another round of a perpetual cycle that
makes one lose track of time. Tonight,
it was in a dwelling on Gulou Street that
cigarette butts still emanated haze,
bluffing out the room and the faces
of those inside. Those men, still
reeking of alcohol, intertwined lyrics of
a steady requiem as the night composes
its own harmony. Just the way
funerals are orchestrated,
except this time, inside the coffin
are the dreams and careers.

*

Beyond the Haze

On a train coursing through the clouds,
running on the muscle of men, I discovered

the oil painting palette beneath the sky:
the sky washing the tips of mountains white,

waves of valleys flurrying like Chinese
dragons and llamas flecking up the field.

On the other side of the rail, the sun
sheds its light, dressing the landscape in gold.

Mountain streams unravel like sleeves of
Kahta thread into veins of delta, just like how

Beijing spreads its warmth to the border
-lands. Upcoming is a tunnel, and I see myself

floating in the dark. On the black canvas,
I painted a Tibetan flag, letting the paint wash

over every bit of me that reeked of the cities,
replaced with the milky fermentation of the Chhang

laced with yak butter tea. Beyond the tunnel
rests the Tangla Mountains, tracing out

the legend of a Buddhist Guardian, its blood
violaceous as Zang Hong Hua. On a train

levelling the momentum of the wind, I trailed
the distant hymns of the Dungchen as I entered

Lhasa, forgetting the hums of the city.

*

Yixuan Wu is Chinese and currently lives in the Philippines. He is a junior attending school in Manila and will graduate in the year 2022. When he is not studying mathematics, he is either exploring different genres of music or chatting with his peers.

My Lilac Starship by Sergey Gerasimov

My Lilac Starship

My dear,
I’ve come back
from the planet of haste.
And, you know, that haste drinks everyone dry there,
leaving just skins rustling around
on two legs.
Time on that planet spins,
staying at the same place,
or imperceptibly going down,
like the seat of an adjustable piano stool.
There, work bites days and hours off your life,
eating the tastiest parts,
gnawing through your abdomen
eating its way in, deeper and deeper.
You know you are dying,
but never protest, keeping a straight face,
or even smiling,
like a Spartan boy who stole a fox
and hid it under his cloak
but kept silent and never showed pain
while the fox was chewing into his guts.
But my dear,
I’ve come back to you.
You’re sleeping, and the morning is tall and pointed
like windows of a gothic cathedral.
Don’t wake up, my love.
Here, the time stands almost still
and knowing that, I left my lilac starship in the orchard.
It’s slowly cooling down,
and cherries in bloom
drop petals on its armor,
which is still warm.

*

Sergey Gerasimov is a Ukraine-based writer. His stories and poems have appeared in Adbusters, Clarkesworld Magazine, Strange Horizons, J Journal, Triggerfish Critical Review, and everywhere. His last book is “Oasis” published by Gypsy Shadow.

The Night You Returned by W.D. Ehrhart

The Night You Returned

A road crew was paving the highway
the night you returned from the war.
It was March; they had set up floodlights;
the black viscous tar steamed in the cold.
The workmen didn’t notice you.
Why would they?
You weren’t any different
from all the other passersby that night
or any other night, just another car.
They had a machine;
they were laying macadam
mile after mile.
Black. Viscous. Steaming.
Mile after mile after mile.
Deep into the night.

W. D. Ehrhart is an ex-Marine sergeant and veteran of the American War in Vietnam. His latest book is Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems, McFarland & Company.

*HOOK HAIKU* by Paul Siegell

*HOOK HAIKU*

Throw the baby in
the pool—Take the photograph.
Nevermind what’s next.

*

Paul Siegell is the author of Take Out Delivery (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018), wild life rifle fire (Otoliths, 2010), jambandbootleg (A-Head, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths, 2008). Pennsylvania’s 2021 Montgomery County Poet Laureate, he has contributed to American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Rattle, Sixth Finch, and many other fine journals. Kindly find more of his work at ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL (http://paulsiegell.blogspot.com).

Amulet by Leah Johnson

AMULET

Finally, what do you hold dear?
The calm and quiet of green.
I wear it as an amulet. In these
clamorous times, a hum, a whisper.
A bed laid down amidst the roar.
I want no other song, no other
resting place. Green knows
my nature and my name.

*

Leah Johnson is a Washington, DC poet. A member of the Surrey Street Poets, her work has been published in Green Mountains Review Online, The Healing Muse, Oberon Poetry Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, Mothers Always Write, US Represented, The Aurorean, and the anthology Such Friends As These. She is a 2017 Best of the Net nominee for her poem “The Goldfinch” in Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Her debut collection, Bindweed, is slated for publication in July 2021 by Cherry Grove, an imprint of WordTech Communications LLC. She is a co-host of the WordWorks Café Muse Literary Salon. In previous incarnations, she was a member of the Writing Studies faculty at American University, taught piano, and co-founded Dumbarton Concerts, now in its 43rd season.

Andrew and Helga, Lost and Found by Kip Knott

Andrew and Helga, Lost and Found

      I’m a secretive bastard. I would never let anybody watch me painting…
      it would be like somebody watching you have sex—painting is that
      personal to me.
      —Andrew Wyeth

      I’m supposed to be the mystery woman, something lost and found.
      —Helga Testorf

I. Black Velvet, 1972

I have completed God’s work,
creating you as a constellation
with the empty spaces between stars

filled in and fully realized.
I have made you whole yet weightless,
luminous in the perfect darkness

of the universe, God-like
in your own right. Or, more
truthfully, a Goddess reclining

on the backs of prayers that slip
silently from the lips of supplicants.
Every night, believers look up

to you for guidance before being
pulled down into sleep,
the only world where we exist

alone with nothing, or no one, to hold onto.

II. Sheepskin, 1973

There is something you’re not
telling me, something I try to conjure
out of you with a tempera potion

born out of rabbit-skin glue,
distilled water, crushed marble,
honey, egg yolks, and beeswax.

You don’t keep the secret in your eyes,
as a layman would believe.
Nor can it be found like the remnants

of a whispered prayer
in the creases surrounding
your enigmatic mouth.

A mouth that refuses to betray
a smile or a frown. A mouth
that once formed the word yes

when I asked if I could capture
them—and you—in ink and paint.
You keep your secret in your hands,

not as one might protect the delicate
papier-mâché of a robin’s egg
found abandoned beneath a hedgerow,

but as one cups a firefly, its tiny,
otherworldly light just barely
illuminating the narrow gaps

that never fully seal between closed fingers.

III. Easter Sunday, 1975

Runnels of stubborn snow shroud
the muddy ground surrounding you
and, by extension, me.

When I found you four Easters ago,
I knew I had found the hollow place
where the desire that I feared

had died was actually hiding,
very much alive, thrumming like a hive:
the desire to be divorced from all

expectations and preconceptions
of the artist, the father,
and the husband I had to be.

You gave me permission
to paint for myself, to personify
in you every secret I keep,

to finally release my soul from gray
barnboard and brown barley grass
and live in the world again

as flesh, blood, and bone.
Now, on this Easter Sunday,
in an otherwise barren landscape,

you are my one promise of green.

IV. Drawn Shade, 1977

I am a witness to your aging
in a light of my own making,
and I will I carefully catalogue

every new silver strand that appears
like a shiny trinket pilfered
by a magpie and woven into

the tasseled cornsilk of your hair.
Already your downy temples
have begun their transformation.

Soon, your mossy brows will
glint like cattails gone to seed.
Even the gosling fuzz softly covering

your cheeks will pale from amber
to the white of milkweed silk.
And eventually, naturally,

the perfect nest resting
between your thighs will glitter
and shine as if gilded by winter

with jewels of snowflakes and hoarfrost.

V. Braids, 1979

There are moments when
you won’t even tell me
what you see when you look away

as I pull your gaze out of the darkness
surrounding you. I want you
to reveal everything to me

freely so that I may capture
in the contours of your face
the shadows of your thoughts,

the full truth of you.
When you look into the distance,
look for me. Stand behind me

as I paint you. I want you
to see your face as I do,
a wolf moon rising

out of a January wheat field
not yet blanketed by snow,
gradually eclipsed

by the penumbra of your auburn hair.

VI. Night Shadow, 1979

Beneath my hand, you exist
in both darkness and light.
I hover above

you, the form of my shadow
diaphanous and dissipating,
a storm cloud releasing

everything it holds:
water, ice, lightning, thunder.
I rain down upon your body

and baptize you.

VII. In the Doorway, 1981

This is our house, a place for our prying
eyes and ours alone:
yours trying to see in me

the way that I see you;
my own studying every particle
of your being as an astronomer studies

the depths of the universe
hoping to find the beginning
of all creation. You stand naked,

filling the entrance both
with the white light of stars
and the dark matter that fills

the emptiness between them all.
You and the doorway
have become one and the same.

To enter our house means entering you.

VIII. Helga’s Words

      quotes by Helga taken from the short documentary
      film Helga (Running Stag Productions, 2018)

He said I was his silent sounding board.
He said there must be silence
to realize what is behind the world.

He said I was starved.
He said he gave me what I wanted
and got what he wanted from me.

He said our time together was a dream.
He said he was afraid of the dream
disappearing if we talked about it.

I dreamed that I had fallen in love,
and when I woke, I knelt

at the end of my bed and said,
“Let it be true. Please

let it be true.” But how
do you explain a dream? I knew

he was always painting himself in me.
I knew I was a figment of his imagination.

Like a leaf blowing in the wind,
I was there, but not there.

*

Kip Knott’s debut full-length collection of poetry, Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on, is available from Kelsay Books. A second full-length poetry collection, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming later in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com.

One Poem by Patricia Davis-Muffett

What to do with your grief
       for Dionne, June 2020

Butter. Sugar. Flour. Salt.
I am doing what I know.

Nineteen, I call my mother crying:
“I can’t make the pie crust work,”
“Come home,” she says. “We’ll fix it.”
The ice in the water,
the fork used to mix,
the way she floured the board.
It’s chemistry, yes–
but also this:
the things you pass
from hand to hand.

9/11. Child dropped at preschool.
Traffic grinds near the White House.
A plane overhead. The Pentagon burns.
The long trek home to reclaim our child.
We are told to stay in. I venture out.
Blueberries to make a pie.

My mother, so sick. Not hungry.
For a time, she is tempted by pies.
I bring them long after taste flees.

New baby. Death. Any crisis.
I do what my mother taught me.
Butter. Sugar. Flour. Salt.
I bring this to you–this work of my hands,
this piece of my day, this sweetness,
all I can offer.

Today, Minneapolis burns
And sparks catch fire in New York,
Atlanta, here in DC.
My friend’s voice says
what I know but can’t know:
“This is my fear every time they leave me.”
Three beautiful sons, brilliant, alive.
I have little to offer. I do what I know.

*

Patricia Davis-Muffett (she/her) holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota. She was a 2020 Julia Darling Poetry Prize finalist and received First Honorable Mention in the 2021 Joe Gouveia OuterMost Poetry Contest. Her work has appeared in Limestone, Coal City Review, Neologism, The Orchards, One Art, Pretty Owl Poetry, di-verse-city (anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival), The Blue Nib and Amethyst Review, among others. She lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband and three children and makes her living in technology marketing.

Four Poems by Mehak Goyal

The Trophy

Late evening, I reach home
after tennis practice carrying
my golden trophy close to my chest.

Radha opens the door.
“Mummy, Papa- back from work?”
I ask, dismayed, not finding their car outside.

“They are having dinner with friends.
You must be hungry.
I will serve yours.”

My trophy tucked like a
teddy bear in my bed, I force my eyes
to stay open, but sleep catches me.

Next morning
Radha serves breakfast while
my parents are getting ready for work.

My school bus honks.
I stare at the golden cup one last time,
its gleam not reaching my eyes.

*

What was said when he fell in love

She can’t even cook Okra
She drinks tequila
Look! This guy is hugging her on Facebook
Short skirts. Hot pants—
that’s all she’s wearing
She likes her job more than you

You’re innocent
I have seen the world

Your love won’t last
Promises won’t be kept

You have had your fun
I only care about you and your happiness
I will choose someone for you.

*

What was said when she fell in love

He drives a Honda
He has been at the same company since the last 5 years
You will just be shifting from one rented house to another
My astrologer assured me that you would rule a business empire

Leave him

I only care about you and your happiness.

Stop crying, I will find someone.

*

Swimming Pool

Conforming to his moods
and schedule, I am his
personal swimming pool.

He dives inside me.
My coolness envelops him.
“You’re a blessing on a hot summer day,”

he says, coming out for air.
He plunges again—
strokes quicker

until he has finished.
His body leaves me.
“Another lap?” I splash.

“Work is hectic.”
He walks out, takes a
quick shower, changes clothes.

“Tomorrow, then?” I bubble.
“I will call you.”
Typing on his phone, he departs.

My waters still and murky.

*

A Computer Science Engineer with a Masters in Management from Imperial College London, Mehak Goyal ran a couple of profitable start-ups, before committing herself to becoming a full-time writer. Shortlisted for the Sakhi Awards and the Cinnamon press literature awards, her writings have appeared or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, The Madras Courier, The Woman Who Roar, Muse, The Alipore Post and elsewhere. She is working on her first poetry collection.

Brain Tonic by Luke Stromberg

Brain Tonic
        for John Foy

Like my grandmother before me, I like to drink
A refreshing can of Coca Cola for breakfast
It’s part of my arrested development.
Sadly, I never developed a taste for coffee,
A classic marker of maturity,
Like when a girl gets her first training bra.
I do enjoy the occasional hot tea
(With too much sugar and milk), but I prefer
To keep it low class. Don’t misunderstand—
It’s not a political gesture, just my “truth.”
I find the initial sip of carbonated
Sweetness akin to the lost ritual
Of that first frosty-morning drag from a Camel,
Both pleasures sneered at by the professional class.
My uncle once compared smokers to Jews
In Nazi Germany! The comparison
Was, as the kids would say, “problematic,”
But health can be a form of tyranny,
I guess…What was I talking about again?

Ah, yes! Healthful, delicious Coca Cola!
“The Intellectual Drink,” “The Ideal Brain Tonic,”
Said to relieve exhaustion and calm the nerves,
To satisfy the thirsty and help the weary.
Like Trump, I drink several cans a day
And sometimes feel powerless with rage.
I’m sorry (sort of) for these affinities
But overwhelmed by social change and struggling
To gain purchase, I’ve turned to Coca Cola.
On an airplane one time, a woman asked
If I could try to be less animated.
I was relating a story to a friend,
You see, and am excitable by nature.
…Ah, I am exhausted, so exhausted…
Beat down by politics, divorce, and failure,
The past few months have been a son-of-a-bitch.
I’d like the world to buy me a Coke, for once,
And keep me company. It’s the real thing
That I want today, the real thing, the real thing.

*

Luke Stromberg’s poetry and criticism have appeared in Smartish Pace, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golidad Review, Think Journal, The Raintown Review, The Dark Horse, Cassandra Voices, and several other venues. He also serves as the Associate Poetry Editor of E-Verse Radio. Luke works as an adjunct professor at Eastern University and La Salle University and lives in Upper Darby, PA.