After My Father Died by Sara Backer

After My Father Died

I longed to spend time with him in a dream
but over two years passed without one. I’m afraid I’ll forget
how he whistled Cole Porter and the way he squeezed
his eyes when he stuttered on Ws. When a dream came at last,
I heard his voice—but couldn’t see him.
I looked around: an outdoor festival, stage tents, musicians.
My sister waited in one of the tents. My father, invisible,
said I could continue to hear him or I could be with my sister.
The choice was presented like chicken or fish—no other options,
I couldn’t have both, and it was up to me.
I looked beyond stages to overlapping hills streaked with mist.
Too far to see, I knew a weighty ocean rolled indifferent through its tides.
Nothing more was voiced. As I walked to the tent,
I saw my sister’s thick blue sweater on the seat beside her,
saved for me.

*
Sara Backer’s first book of poetry, Such Luck (Flowstone Press 2019) follows two poetry chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt (dancing girl press) and Bicycle Lotus which won the 2015 Turtle Island chapbook award. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Art and reads for The Maine Review. Recent publications include The Pedestal Magazine, Tar River Poetry, Slant, CutBank and Kenyon Review.

Two Poems by Donna Hilbert

Rosemary

You are the rosemary I add to the soup:
how you pressed pungent bristles
between thumb and finger,
how you lay sprigs atop red potatoes
glistening in olive oil, salt,
house alive with the fragrance
of vegetables roasting
on any given day of the week.

1,095 days past your death, young one,
I sometimes escape the earthquake
of absence upon awakening,
but daily remembrance, I never escape:
today, it was rosemary, yesterday,
blue sea glass washed up at my feet.

*

dent de lion

Don’t call me weed,
but love instead my golden
head dressing swards of green.

The sunshine of my flowering gone,
then love me in my second crown
of silver tuft and drifting thread.

*

Donna Hilbert’s latest book is Gravity: New & Selected Poems, Tebot Bach 2018. Other books include Transforming Matter, and Traveler in Paradise, both from PEARL Editions. Her new collection, Threnody, is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press in late 2021.

It Takes a Calculator to Count the Dead by Leigh Chadwick

It Takes a Calculator to Count the Dead

The sun bakes an island on the concrete.
I wake up to the smell of sulfur.
The magnolias in the yard are refusing to bloom.
I never know where to rest my hands anymore.
Between starting this poem on a Friday
and finishing it on a Monday, there have been
at least eleven more mass shootings.
I consider praying, but I was never taught how.
I dress my daughter in camouflage
and carry her from room to room. I tell her,
I’m sorry I brought you into this.
I tell her, Pretend a miracle is on its way.
I tell her, Maybe this is how we
learn how to pray.

Leigh Chadwick’s poetry and prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Salamander, Milk Candy Review, Olney Magazine, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Bear Creek Gazette, among others. Her debut poetry collection, Wound Channels, will be published by ELJ Editions in February of 2022. Find her on Twitter at @LeighChadwick5.

Three Poems by James Harms

Rail Trail

South of town the asphalt trail
turns to limestone, the woods
thicken on each side, the river
slows. A few miles further
the path passes beneath
the interstate far overhead,
which is itself a river
in the sky rushing two-
ways at once, to Pittsburgh
or Charleston, Marianna or
Jane Lew. The woods are
quiet, the river quiet, the day
thrumming like a low engine
or a rumor you can outwalk
if you walk and walk, then walk
a little more. Until the bend
below the marina breaks
the water enough for it
to sing along the bank,
the loose limestone raking
through wet weeds and reeds,
singing. Apology accepted,
you think turning around,
walking now with the river
on your left, the lies miles
ahead, back in town. Waiting.
Taking off their shoes.

*

As If (The Fading Northern Currents)

“A light-year is a distance, not
an interval of time,” he said.
“And a lie is who you are.”
There was a sweetness, anyway,
to his voice as we walked the shore.
“It’s not as though the kelp gives up,”
he said, “though it looks that way,
the beach for miles heaped with dead
strands, the slick bladders like knots
in a green rope, knots of air that float,
that keep the kelp rising in the rising seas,
a swaying forest with blades of leaves
like narrow palms turned toward the sun
until the sun raises the water’s temperature
just a knot or two above 70 degrees.
And that’s all it takes. The kelp’s roots
give way at the holdfast and gently release
from the deep rocks they’ve woven around
like the hands of a very old couple
simply slipping loose of one another
as the two of them sit together watching
the evening air fill with fireflies, their
hands suddenly grazing the grass instead of
holding.” He said all this through a smile,
as if the fading northern currents that once
kept the waters cool were like a history
worn through at the knees, the fabric
giving way to the force of a man dropping
into prayer, the beach a wreckage of wrack
and weeds and mounds of macrocystis pyrifera.
“You know,” he said, pointing at the pile
of dead kelp, “it can grow two feet a day.”
He smiled again, he was crying. “A lie,”
he said. “Your life. Mine.”

*

Steve

The wizened derelict
(the filthy old wrinkly guy)
sang shirtless on the trestle,

his voice like a feather falling in a canyon,

until he fell in the canyon.

He didn’t fall in the canyon.

He sat down in the dirt
beside the tracks
and began to cry.

The thin morning light
stayed six feet away,
scraped a hole through yellow leaves.

Far below, the sound
of water rubbing softly over pebbles

seemed sordid, insincere.

It sounded like rushing water.

The derelict called himself Steve,
“though my birth name
is a travesty, a shame I won’t repeat.”

He’d stopped crying.
He held a dead squirrel by the tail.

He said he preferred
homeless to derelict,
when I asked.

But I didn’t ask.
I watched and listened from a distance.

I heard everything he said
to that squirrel.
Or to himself.

Or I guess to me.
I mean I wasn’t hiding or anything.

*

James Harms is the author of ten books including, most recently, ROWING WITH WINGS (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2017).

A Poet’s Mother Dies from Covid by Le Hinton

A Poet’s Mother Dies from Covid

No one inherits eloquent words nor leases the brilliance
of a perfect sonnet transcribed onto parchment in blue ink.

I speak no language that elevates each syllable so that every
word will be remembered alongside the dead.

It is a myth that poets possess inexhaustible grace
and passion, or feel more deeply than other human bodies.

There is no hidden box, dovetailed jointed, stained and polished,
that holds the perfect magic of metaphor and meter.

There is only a man standing mute over granite,
only a boy who misses his mom.

*

Le Hinton is the author of six poetry collections including, most recently, Sing Silence (Iris G. Press, 2018). His work can be found or is forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2014, The Progressive Magazine, the Skinny Poetry Journal, The Baltimore Review, The Pittsburgh Review, and outside Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Two Poems by Junwoo (William) Park

The House Darkness Has Swallowed

A man rises from his front porch. It is the last day
of autumn, and he hopes that the crops don’t
freeze. Darkness engulfs the house. The wind
crawls down onto the stone linings of the giwa.
He moves from room to room, every door he passes
is a hand around his heart. Looking out the window,
he can already see himself leaving. He walks out onto
his front porch one last time. Chalked over the sky
above, the whirling cosmos disappears behind the
horizon. Above, moonlight burns the white clouds
black as he watches the last blues fading on the waves.
Looking out onto the miniature Dol-hareubangs his
grandchildren used to play with, he sees them chasing
butterflies along the picket fenced flowered path. Strings
of sunlight scattered across their messy hair, their soft
breathing filling the air. His gaze shifts to the endless
fields of crops, where he spent decades. He walks
towards the Sehwa bus station, just as the first snowflakes
spiral down onto the ground. He thinks distance is a stone
buried underwater. The gravel floats up for years.

*

Photographs from Panmunjom

Memories are the ground of the Panmunjom, buried
still. Snapshots are images that we grasp on to – what

we remember in some way protects us. You are standing
behind the glass window, looking out onto the blue houses

and brick linings. Tall and straight with their emotionless
gazes, soldiers with dark green and grey guarded

the no man’s land, DMZ. Behind you, the sky floats,
endlessly stretching in the dome above, only to be

caught by the light. Sprinting across the field, you look
back, and see bullets pierce through bodies of soldiers.

The tall grass buries your legs, a lifeless figure dropping
behind you. Gray clouds dangle from the dark sky, while

fog rolls onto the hollow valleys of Paju. In all directions
dirt is thrusted, grey wisps of smoke rise up and disperse

in the dusted clouds above. Your frozen face is stern
and your arm is frozen in mid air, waving a ‘V’. You will

not know how your life presses against this moment.

*

Junwoo (William) Park is a 13-year-old, 8th grader currently attending International School Manila in the Philippines. He enjoys writing poems about nature and unexplored topics. During his free time, he enjoys playing football with his friends and likes to read.

Three Poems by Corey Mesler

Like Life

You disappeared the way light
does one afternoon
when you are alone with your
book. Before you were so
present. What happened?
Did I love you too much or
too little? It bedevils me. I
once sat in the dark for five
hours and did nothing. I thought
it was like death, but now, sweet
reflection, I see that it was like life.

*

Sports

They’re still playing games in the
fields of my youth
long after I have wandered away
with the cries of bullies
following me like the dreams of
my missing father.

*

In a year moving backwards

In a year moving backwards
through a world shut down
by Outside Forces
I call your name
as if it is 911
and I talk about you all
the time
              in the time I have left.

*

COREY MESLER has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Five Points, Good Poems American Places, and New Stories from the South. He has published over 20 books of fiction and poetry. His newest novel, The Diminishment of Charlie Cain, is from Livingston Press. He also wrote the screenplay for We Go On, which won The Memphis Film Prize in 2017. With his wife he runs Burke’s Book Store (est. 1875) in Memphis.

Two Poems by Cheryl Snell

Nonets for a Bad Day

A woman rises from her big chair
to unlock the French doors. She comes
close enough to trace the fist-
prints embedded in glass,
and the wall; she stops
counting. This is
how the world
wears her
down.
The wind’s
whistle says
she’s to blame─
but, why should it
matter, precisely,
which clothes she was wearing
the moment she threw open
those French doors and allowed the storm
to push her only good chair over?

*

Galaxies

An intrigue of cats glares at a cowardice
of curs, and then lofts a skulk of fox
into the night sky. This was the canvas
across which the ancients etched
crashes of rhinos amid conspiracies of ravens.
An eagle still wheels above its aerie.

How can a sky so shredded with stars hold up
two worlds at once? We ask it to connect the dots,
to come up with reasons, but the light flickers
as if threatening to wipe out the past
in favor of new beginnings.

Cassiopeia. Andromeda. Perseus. We look
upward to see where we’ve been; then down
at shadows long enough for light to follow.

*

Cheryl Snell’s books include poetry published by Finishing Line Press, Pudding House Press, Moria Books, and others. Her novel, Kalpavriksha, the final volume in her Bombay Trilogy, is out now, as is her psychological novel, Standard of Care.

Sinking into the Depths of Noon by M.J. Iuppa

Sinking into the Depths of Noon

Some days, in late May, in the first true heat of Spring, you
can gaze upon the orchard full of blossoms and think of
someone you haven’t thought of in years, and see that face
as you once memorized it with the tip of your finger, tracing
its light and shade— lips parted in slow, steady breath— full
of pollen, full of bees humming— that song that would eat
itself inside out. You can recall wanting nothing more than
what you cherished briefly, and that face will disappear in the
confidence of your daydream, knowing what no one else knows.

*

M.J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 33 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

Three Portraits of a Sow by Kip Knott

Three Portraits of a Sow

      . . . . if you get to know pigs, they’re very moody.
      They’re not sweet little animals at all. That’s what
      I like about them. They get depressed . . . .
      — Jamie Wyeth

I. Portrait of Pig

Her teats dangle,
flaccid and empty.

Her corkscrew tail
has come unwound.

The eye we see remains
screwed shut tight

as bristly fur and hay
needle her skin.

Withered cobs
at her feet bear

no sign of a mother’s
appetite or desire

now that her suckling
litter is off to slaughter.

II. Night Pigs

The cockerel will wait
until sunrise
to crow its condolences.

There’s nothing more
for the boar to do
tonight but sleep.

They leave the sow
to sit litterless
in golden lamplight

beneath her own growing
shadow blackening
the wall above them all.

III. Winter Pig

She knows what can be
found at the heart

of a whiteout because she stares
into one kind of abyss

or another with every sunrise.
She knows the cold, too,

the way its emptiness
stings like frostbite

in the wind that blows
across her empty teats.

And she knows
just four hoof-steps

over the splintered threshold
will deliver her into

a world of her own making
at a time of her own choosing.

*

Kip Knott’s debut full-length book of poetry, Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on, is currently available from Kelsay Books. His second full-length book of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming later in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. He lives in Delaware, Ohio, with his wife and son, four cats, one dog, and a Chilean rose hair tarantula. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com.