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.

The Virgin Tour 1985 by Victoria Nordlund

The Virgin Tour 1985

After listening to 96.5 FM for twelve hours straight,
I won second row seats to Madonna at the New Haven Coliseum.
I still remember the station’s number, (247-9696)
and the yellow princess phone with the cord that stretched
to a white four poster bed with a pink ruffled duvet
covered with Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Kids.
Still remember the ecstasy of hearing the DJ say my name.

I was a junior in high school. No guy had ever
thought to hold my hand, or call me beautiful,
or call me. No boy bothered with the quiet girl
with the half-shaved bob, blue tail, black jelly bracelets,
oversized Benetton sweaters, and combat boots.
I remember wishing someone would pass a folded love
note through the slits of my locker door.

I asked a guy named Jason to go with me.
I remember wishing I didn’t have to call,
to plan my own first date.
And I wondered if he was just saying yes to Madonna.
I don’t remember his face or his last name,
or why my mother trusted him to drive, or what kind of car he drove,
or if we held hands, or any conversation we had that night– or ever–

It was June 3, 1985 and I have this pristine memory:
She was three feet in front of me with her bleached-blonde bed hair,
gold star earrings, lace gloves, white bustier, layers of crucifixes and tulle
all cinched with a boy toy belt—
Writhing on the stage, asking us to marry her,
not caring if we said yes.

*

Victoria Nordlund’s poetry collection Wine-Dark Sea was published by Main Street Rag in 2020. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize Nominee, whose work has appeared in PANK Magazine, Rust+Moth, Chestnut Review, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. Visit her at VictoriaNordlund.com

Lilies by Tina Barry

Lilies
We hurried across 53rd Street, my hand in Mother’s, both of us dressed fancy
for a day in the city. Sun cast a building’s dark diamond on the pavement,
and I thought, That’s art, too. And glamorous, although I didn’t know
the word, couldn’t have told you why.
Inside, a swoosh of wool skirts, men’s sports jackets, one dull gray.
Eyes closed I saw (see, still) the underbelly of a dove.
A vast room at the Museum of Modern Art, on each tall wall,
as if seeded and birthed there: water lilies.
You’d say it was the flowers, crushed from Monet’s days, their offering
of furled hearts, that moved me.
More than awe. But in my navy coat and ugly galoshes,
mouth wonder-dumb, that’s the word you would have used.
When a stroke scrambles your brain, when my mother loses words, when a ghoul
levels a country, I consider the soul. Wonder what feeds it, what gobbles it away.
I ask for a whiff of mineral pond water, the ting of a lightly tapped triangle, some sign—
any sign—to learn the lilies live inside me.

*

Tina Barry is the author of Beautiful Raft (Big Table Publishing, 2019) and Mall Flower (Big Table Publishing, 2016). Her poems and fiction have appeared in numerous literary publications such as The Best Small Fictions 2020 (spotlighted story) and 2016, Drunken Boat, The American Poetry Journal, Yes, Poetry, Sky Island Journal, Verse-Virtual, Lascaux Review, Nasty Women Poets, A Constellation of Kisses and upcoming in Rattle. Tina is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and has several Best of the Net nods. She is a teaching artist at The Poetry Barn and Writers.com.

Summer Speaking in Turn by Vivian Eyre

Summer Speaking in Turn

On the beach, a whale looks up at me
in blue crayon, drawn on a heart-shaped stone.
My finger traces the thick-lined body,
just as I did in my whale book at ten,
certain about their signs of happiness —
when flukes were held high,
just like the flukes on the stone I hold now.
It’s July. High season for out-of-towners
when I face the bay only in early morning.
Why are you here? I ask the heart stone.
I don’t know. Maybe the stone is a valentine
to be delivered by tidal whims to a whale
with a heart the size of a Harley. I pocket
the stone heart, the smile, the whale’s face.

~

You’ve Got This—written with a red paint-pen
on a rock, then deliberately planted
on Race Point beach by the artist.
Later that week, a woman finds the rock,
and in this loose communion, her smile
dolphins up. No longer was she a small raft,
a speck floating. She leaves
the rock in its sand bed hoping
children would discover it. Imagine
this kind of day when you don’t expect to
find a friend. Yet you find one, featureless,
as alive as July. The beach is pulsing.

*

Vivian Eyre is a Rhode Island-based poet, and the author of the poetry chapbook, To the Sound (Finishing Line Press 2013). Her poems have been in The Massachusetts Review,J Journal, The Fourth River, Quiddity, Spire, Pangyrus, Book of Matches, Bellingham Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Twelve Mile Journal, The Sandy River Review. She served as the guest curator for the Whale House (Southold, NY), and as a rescue volunteer for cold stun sea turtles on the eastern shores of Long Island.

Two Poems by Martin Willitts Jr

Unlimited Love

The narcissus flower’s everlasting promise to return each spring
does not include lasting forever. There is a limit to love.

Every living object cannot last. It is terrible to know tulips
only last a few days, yet we go on our daily habits,
never noticing if they were red or yellow or white.

It seems foreign to miss those opportunities,
their absence, their intensity,
their souls leaping out of the dead.

We wait for birds to sing in morning mist,
their brushstrokes like chamber music.
We do not want to miss noticing those moments —

not even in the precision and evenness of rain.
The slow death of the orange narcissuses
proves absolutely nothing with life lasts forever.

The heart travels into endless searching,
like a thousand geese
tugging the sun across the velvet sky by long red ropes.

The sky blurs so we don’t have to see
the stupefying numbers of galaxies trying to contain
all the names of the missing,

or the ones found dead,
bodies loosening
into dragonflies skimming a pond.

*

When Prayers Form

Sometimes, I walk to where the world has not yet begun,
and wait for it to catch up to me. Sometimes, I can’t wait —
I’m so excited about starting I begin without the light.
Then, sunlight splits the ground from the sky
into a slow unraveling. But I can’t wait for a beginning or
its dramatic flair. I keep moving, dragging the day behind me.
I keep time in motion. And, when I wait by the entrance of light —
its ooze and flash, I bristle with anticipation.
There is no boundary between start and finish.

*

Martin Willitts Jr, edits the Comstock Review, judges New York State Fair Poetry Contest. Nominated for 17 Pushcart and 13 Best of the Net awards. Winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Contest; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2015, Editor’s Choice; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, Artist’s Choice, 2016, Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize, 2018; Editor’s Choice, Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2020. His 25 chapbooks include the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 21 full-length collections including Blue Light Award “The Temporary World.” His new book is “All Wars Are the Same War” (FutureCycle Press, 2022).

After The Questions by Bracha K. Sharp

AFTER THE QUESTIONS

Always, I was after the questions,
Or maybe more the answers—
The what would happens,
The what-if’s—
And the lack, too, the
Void that would not fill;
Even the birds knew when to rest.

And the yearning tangled me—a web
of thunder,
a thing that pulled. And
even the leaves knew when to go;
Yet turn away, one second, and the breath of the world
Changes—

shadows shimmering, then gone,
and also, how the sun painted the ground in stripes,
and rose over me, unchecked.

Then I stepped outside and
The world was open,
and soft;
And so much that cannot be said.

And I,
hollowed out.

And then—
the song.

*

Bracha K. Sharp was published in or has poetry forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, the Birmingham Arts Journal, and Sky Island Journal, among others. She placed first in the national Hackney Literary Awards; the poem subsequently appeared in the Birmingham Arts Journal. She was a finalist in the New Millennium Writings Poetry Awards and received a 2019 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Silver Medal for her debut picture book. As her writing notebooks seem to end up finding their way into different rooms, she is always finding both old pieces to revisit and new inspirations to work with. You can find out more about her writing by visiting: http://www.brachaksharp.com/

Awakenings by Veena Kumar

Awakenings

Let’s take our shirts off, she said.
We were on the roof of the clubhouse
at 5:30am, having stayed up all night.
No one will see. And if they do, who cares?

We had been through the biology textbook
in her bedroom: diagrams of hollow human forms
filled with organs like objects. I laughed nervously,
tiny breasts snug in white cotton barely a bra.

She whipped off her t-shirt with her long arms
then wrapped them around her knees.

She was the tallest girl in the class and I was
the shortest. With a curly-haired friend we formed
a mismatched trio of secretly mad intellectuals.
We had been forced to write a winter poem together
in English class, and knew we were more alike than seemed.

On my first visit to her house, her mom opened the door pantless
with a toddler hanging on her underwear. I knew then that I had
something to learn here, though I wasn’t sure exactly what.
(Much later, she will be the first to talk openly about making out
and making love. She will say her uncle asked, what are you waiting for?)

Just do it, oh my god, she says, and I do.
We sit on the roof watching the sun rise over
the swimming pool. A gentle wind blows
across my collarbone, the skin stretched across
my ribs, the fine hairs on my arms
and back, and I feel a kind of ecstasy.

Look, she says, someone’s coming!
And my heart leaps across the horizon.

*

Veena Kumar lost herself then found herself in Toronto. Now she writes poetry, teaches math and runs an expressive writing club at her school in Bangalore. She has moved around a lot in her life, but always manages to find (or found) writing groups wherever she is to make her feel complete.