Two Poems by Gerry LaFemina

It’s Christmas. The turkey vultures
             – For Michael and Barbara

It’s Christmas. The turkey vultures
have climbed into the choir loft of a nearby tree,
seven, twelve, fifteen of them ready for carols
we are too far to hear. They look sharp
backlit in their black frocks, their monastic heads
bowed & serious. Their songs all in minor keys.
Across the street another five have alighted
like Santa’s reindeer on a neighbor’s roof.
Some omen. Some harbinger. They remain
unfazed by flashing lights, by inflatable snowmen
suddenly resuscitated, by the old world
curses of a grandfather worried about
evil eyes & wives tales. These are beaks that know
carrion, talons that carry death over
backyards, patios, children pointing them out.
Winged, ferocious, hideous & full of grace
they could be seraphim. We are
miles from steeple or cemetery.
The community’s lone lake remains ice-scabbed.
The gazebo overlooking it frowns despite
its crown of holiday lights, each bulb a blazing
scarab. There are no crows or pigeons,
only the vultures. Already,
the remains of gift giving burn in fireplaces—
hearth smoke & kitchen scents mingling.
My brother wants to know what can be done
about the buzzards, talks about shooting them
with garden hose spray or shaking that tree
viciously, for they are awful & ugly & blessed all
at once, & like any of us, clutching carnage &
redemption both, our redundant lists
of naughty & nice. How radiant
the afternoon sky in the bay window, even
as occasional shadows darken the welcome mat.

*

Night Walk

Three bats scrape the undercarriage of dusk,
circle concentrically then swoop for summer’s
remaining insects. They are scraps of darkness
against the darkening sky, the way certain notes
in a nocturne’s melody resonate more,
cables vibrating from hammer strikes, sustained
almost a visible shiver, even as being played
by an unknown neighbor. E minor. Chopin.
The whole thing unsteady, uncertain, almost
unrecognizable, like the self in distant memory. Smoke
from a leaf fire a worn scarf against windsweep.
I didn’t use to believe in ghosts despite a childhood
watching Chiller films Saturdays past midnight.
I didn’t believe in mad scientists & undead.
Then I learned about the Bomb in class,
imagined being trapped in a basement shelter
with girls I had no courage to speak with
outside fantasy; the yellow & black fallout signs
that were everywhere it seemed, announced the inevitable.
Yet here we are nearly 40 years later, in Appalachia,
in an America that continues to advertise
custard cones, holiday parades, & Elvis impersonators
appearing at Autumn Glory band shells. For years
people kept seeing the King or his ghost—
the past unrelenting. Its soundtrack all nocturnes &
Return to Sender, the occasional riff of swing
or bebop. The junior high kids, instead, fall in love
on the school bus or in Math class or during
active shooter drills, teacher saying any one of you
might be a victim, so follow directions. This is how
we learn heartache, how even a name can be haunted
because a name can be a house we live in for years
walking in the empty rooms of its syllables.
We open the windows just to hear the beloved
breathing until that breath becomes the very back-beat
of our evenings. The properties of heartbreak & loss
all so similar, their overgrown lawns, their one lit rooms
behind curtains, envelopes uncollected in mailboxes.
No one knows what happened, though kids walking past
invent narratives, each one more horrific until
all that remains are the rumors themselves—
the plots like that of thrillers, all sadness or else
the threat of tragedy, & even this is American.
The piano appears again, this time Gershwin, more
furtive, further away. A feral cat rushes from wild fescue
a field mouse, metronomic tail swinging, clamped
in its fangs. Years ago this might have been an omen.
To the distant west strobe lightning flashes without thunder.

*

Gerry LaFemina is the author of numerous collections of poetry, fiction, and criticism. In 2022 he’ll have two new books released: The Pursuit: A Meditation on Happiness (creative nonfiction) and The American Ruse (poems). He is a Professor of English at Frostburg State University, serves as a mentor in Carlow University’s MFA program, is a Fulbright specialist in Writing and American Culture, and fronts the punk rock band The Downstrokes.

Two Poems by Elizabeth Savage

Walking Distance

This is an evening psalm
in the spring

Let go—a late-night
lamplight sending

up to holding out
Years ago

poor state, I raced
to claim an easement

slope & praised rain
poured like gratitude

Wrung like strength
the boat is safe

when the storm
moves on—

Through little skies
never gone

for long—& so this
psalm of the wakeful

state, song of drifting on

*

God, Matchmaker

I woke
from May’s marshes
remembering

the never-sent rsvp
big-tent Trinity
ceremony

forgotten
in the silencing
of their desiring—

saved—past regretting
the date
patient, chaste

*

Elizabeth Savage is the poetry editor for Kestrel: A Journal of Literature & Art.

Two Poems by Jeff Rath

Search Party

That farmhouse squatted stoic in winter fields.
It had toyed for generations
with collapse:
      its undulate roof line,
      its broken glass
      shattered our flashlight beams.

Inside, musty furniture—
familiar to us all
at sometime past.
Its Victorian velour rubbed bald
and colorless.
      The stuffing poked through
      like thistle on a witch’s mole.

The atmosphere was Puritan:
choked with spidered loss.
It offered so little to sustain
      that mice inside the walls
      curled corpselike in despair.

Our voices tolled
hollow as frozen bells
caroled out their names
      in the jagged air around us.
Ghosts of blame and guilt—
      handed down generations in these rooms
      like family Bibles—
settle in our souls and bones
and fueled a doubt
we might ever find them now.

We discovered the heart
they had carved in crumbling plaster—
their names scratched inside
its ragged perimeter.
No doubt to commemorate
their fugitive love—
      instead of the tombstone
      we imagined when
      all we found were broken spokes
      of moonlight
among our footprints
and the wolf’s tracks
on the mute slate of last night’s snow.

* 

Sirensong

The hard years have had their way.
Each of us gathered here
      had once raised tattered sails
and slipped away
from these coral reefs
      of who you could not be.

In the years between
unimproved by love
      you have cast us
upon this abandoned island of your desires.
Preserved us
      in memory’s imperfect museum

where you paw and inspect—
relish each moment
      for the clues it protects—
try to decipher when it was
everything came apart in your fingers
      like a weary puzzle.

If it is forgiveness you seek,
we are beyond that now.
      Only you know why you sculpted us
from your illusions.
Marooned us upon these shores
and keep us locked in your memory.

True, our obsidian eyes do stare out to sea.
Not because we anticipate
      your ship’s return.
Instead, we watch patiently,
for a smudge of smoke,
      an exaltation of flame on the horizon.

*

Jeff Rath is the author of four collections of poetry including Film Noir (Iris G. Press, 2011) and most recently The Old Utopia Hotel (Iris G. Press, 2016). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and can be found in the Delmarva Review, Bards Against Hunger, and Fledgling Rag.

Three Poems by Faith Shearin

Messages from my Mother
Cousin Violet is recovering from a gallbladder operation. I can give
you her address if you would like to send flowers.
Aunt Fern has a blockage in the main artery of her neck
and is scheduled for surgery. Uncle Gus has a spot in his eye.
There was a flood at the summer cottage. I went out to start the car and opened
the door to a cloud of mold and mildew. In our absence, all that flies
and crawls has invaded our kitchen. Sadie’s friend’s mother
passed away and Mildred is driving to Boone
for the funeral tomorrow. 95 is flooded but she is hoping to take a detour.
Uncle Uther has a newborn baby girl. She has Uther’s chin.
The oven is broken. I stayed on hold all morning trying
to schedule a repair person. Our friend Hoyt may need a cortisone shot in his hip.
According to Selma, Miss Jane is growing feeble.
Your father has a new toothbrush that he says is better than going to the dentist.
It’s okay if you hate the window seat and matching pillows;
it would just be nice to hear your voice.
*
My Mother, Killing Mice
My mother was assigned mice
by her college Biology professor,
asked to perform
experiments involving mazes
and rewards, but she forgot
to feed them when she left
for Christmas holiday
in a rush of train tickets
and trunks, her best dress
and silk scarf wrapped
in tissue paper, my father waiting
for her in a top coat
on a platform made vague
by arrival. So her mice grew weak
in the glass world of her
forgetfulness: fur the color of winter,
cold whiskers, bowls of hunger.
*
My Mother, Getting Lost
She did not mind a foreign landscape or an absence
of cardinal directions. When I rode with her —
windows open, farmhouses made of moonlight —
she did not plan a route but let everything
become unfamiliar, her steering wheel
unaware of a prime meridian or compass rose.
It was as if she had been born
with the earliest star-shaped
Babylonian Map inside her: all highways surrounded
by a bitter river, land beginning in mountains
but ending in marsh, each destination a triangular wedge
where a bull dwells or the sun is not visible,
beyond the flight of birds.
*
Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Moving the Piano (SFA University Press), Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Head Poetry Prize), Darwin’s Daughter (SFA University Press), and Lost Language (Press 53). She has received awards from Yaddo, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Recent work has been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry.

ONE NIGHT ON THE LEVEE by Sharon Corcoran

ONE NIGHT ON THE LEVEE

For Betsy, Barbara, and Celia

We were three small girls
left in Dad’s care. After dark the phone rang,
and hanging up, he said,
girls, we have to go out.
We put on coats over Winnie the Pooh
pajamas. We gathered up
Chatty Cathy, Raggedy Ann, and a teddy bear.

He drove us down to the flood plain
where a small airplane had crashed.
It smoked, but didn’t burn. Car lights churned the dark.
A farmer had made the call to Dad, mayor
of that almost uninhabited place.
Police were there, and an ambulance.
Dad drove onto the levee where,
in the light of several cars, I saw
two men, one dead, one bloodied
but alive, pulled from the crushed
and splintered plane. I held
a doll’s unblinking gaze in front of my eyes,
too late.

*

Sharon Corcoran lives in southern Colorado. She translated (from French) the writings of North African explorer Isabelle Eberhardt in the works In the Shadow of Islam and Prisoner of Dunes published by Peter Owen Ltd., London. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Kansas Quarterly, River Styx, Canary, The Buddhist Poetry Review, One Art, Sisyphus, Literary North, and Bearings Online among other journals. Her collection of poems, Inventory, was published in 2018. A second book, The Two Worlds, is forthcoming from Middle Creek Publishing in 2022.

Three Poems by Jason Gordy Walker

Brilliant Trash

       —Birmingham, AL

Hardly a splash of water on my face
and I’m out the door to scrub
pots at the pub, thinking, What
a poor dish-dog I am.
Mumbling in my car
while shifting into reverse, I slam
into a can of brilliant trash:
busted beer bottles, stuffed
rabbit’s gut bleeding cotton,
box of worm-ridden donuts.
I spin out, scratching
my stubble till my chin’s red,
hit 50mph—Caution:
Children—in a school zone,
a mother in a mini-van
flipping me off
for good reason
when a line
for my next poem
pops up in my head: This
monstrous ulcer named Work
is the foundation of Art—
before I brake at the light
while sparrows flutter
on wires, then
they dive,
peck,
eat,
repeat
until the hawk swerves in.

* 

How to Delay a Panic Attack

Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out. Repeat.
Hustle to your bathroom.
Don’t forget to scrub yesterday’s pizza
from your mouth. Breathe in.

Pluck your wild nose-hairs.
Brush lint from your shirt.
Scratch the scab off your knee
like it’s a lottery ticket.

Don’t rush on your drive to work.
Breathe out. Recite a Shakespeare sonnet.
Notice your brow’s furrows
in the rearview. Breathe in. Tally

each freckle. Are your earlobes attached
or detached? Breathe out. Rewind the tape.

*

Ode to Watching Ikiru

I pause the film. Framed by the bars of a jungle-gym,
Kanji Watanabe swings like a child, singing
“Gondola No Uta.” Snowflakes start a flurry.

Shimura shines through his role. The bureaucrat’s
final days would have been too brutal for a lesser actor:
you have stomach cancer, but your beloved son

treats you like a bank? I’ll pass. The snow falls.
Wearing his iconic hat, the old man sings,
no special effects

needed. As our hero says earlier: I don’t know
what I’ve been doing with my life. Not true.
I’m plotting against ennui, pressing play.

* 

Jason Gordy Walker (he/him) is a multi-genre writer and an MFA student in poetry at the University of Florida, where he teaches a fiction workshop. His poems have been published in Broad River Review, Cellpoems, Confrontation, Measure, and Poetry South, among others.

Tidal Island by Suzanne Allen

Tidal Island

One Monday morning she wakes
like Mont Saint Michel at low tide—
everyone gone,
her shores,
vast and exposed, stretched out around
her sea walls, which are battered,
of course, but not broken
at all. In French,
“wall” is a masculine noun, and “mountain”
and “bridge” are, too. Hers
are often fully lost
in rising tumult,

but on days like today, they amount to
a giant hill to climb from the sandy bottoms
of a natural, sort-of shifting
moat. It all ebbs
and flows with the moon, she knows,
so she sometimes stays up with it
all night, climbs her steps
alone at sunrise,
stops to rest in the garden facing the distant flames
of another day; then, just to be unable
to kiss them goodnight,
she walks around

and around all day until it’s time,
watches them slip beyond her line of sight
and turn the sky to smolder.
She wonders what might be possible
if the tide never came in again. It’s not
what she wants or
fears. She is not an island.
No one is the tide. Only gravity can do that,

and it wouldn’t dare.

*

Suzanne Allen is a teacher from Southern California. She holds an MFA from the CSU in Long Beach, and her poems have appeared widely in print and online, but this past year-and-a half, they’ve mostly only been written on postcards and mailed near and far; not coincidentally, her first full-length collection, We Wash Our Hands, will soon be released into the hopefully post-pandemic wild. She also has two chapbooks: verisimilitude from corrupt press (2011) and Little Threats from Picture Show Press (2018).

At the Depot by Matthew Schultz

At the Depot

Trains, then silence. Tracks rattle
with expectation and loss. Some
lives emulsified, others condensed.

Scenes from a life not at all like the sea
nor the soft engine steam that billows
black upon black, the sky tearing it apart.

These rails take us where they are going:
predetermined and obstinate. All aboard,
and you’ve escaped like melting snow.

*

Matthew Schultz is the author of two novels: On Coventry and We, The Wanted. His chapbook, Parallax, is forthcoming from 2River this fall, and his prose-poem collection, Icaros, is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in May 2022

Two Poems by Betsy Mars

Hope is Also a Flower

I find it in the grove, yellow
flicker at the edge of my dark
perception. What matters
is the aperture, a tiny crack
in my cataract-clouded vision.

My filter captures dross, sapped
ground, equally traps gold, a slight
twist or refinement of the lens
then: mist rising,
a calla lily blooms again.

*

Deconstructing a Cat

A pile of paws: see how the nails retract,
out of the way for daily life,
the way they extend in fight or hunt,
thumb hooked – better to grab on.
The slinky spine, sharp shoulders high
and narrow to slice through grass,
deliver a sparrow. Haunches
muscular under such fine fur.

Eyes like glass: pupils slit in daylight,
full moons at night.

A tail built for balance,
whiskers flick at boundaries.
Nose a dainty triangle, nostrils twitch
at scent. Wrapped around my head
you chirp, clutch my heart with your kneading,
a tiny tiger in my ear softly breathing.

*

Betsy Mars practices poetry, photography, pet maintenance, and publishes an occasional anthology through Kingly Street Press which she founded in 2019. In 2020, her poem was selected as a winner in Alexandria Quarterly´s first line poetry contest series. Her poetry has recently appeared in Sky Island Journal, Sheila-Na-Gig, and Autumn Sky, as well as numerous anthologies and journals. She is a Best of the Net nominee and her photos have been featured in various journals. Betsy is the author of Alinea (Picture Show Press) and co-author of In the Muddle of the Night with Alan Walowitz (Arroyo Seco Press).

Two Poems by Howie Good

My Dark Ages

Black clouds mass over a rotting city. The police patrolling in battlefield gear eyeball you. Under the closeness of their scrutiny, you can feel your face assume a guilty expression. Later you’ll complain to me about it. “Oh yeah?” I’ll say. “Try going through life as a Howard.”

                                                                    &

Christ is murdered over and over, a crime gorgeously lit in stained glass. Do we know what we look like? Not really. The voice of the turtle is too faint for human ears.

                                                                    &

This is the one road that goes everywhere. Some days I walk it to think, some days to actually get someplace. I’ve been thinking about the hateful looks my father would give me growing up. “What are you, stupid?” he would hiss. It’s strange how much darkness a person can absorb and still function. Van Gogh, the morning before his suicide, painted a garden scene full of sun and life.

*

Failed Haiku

1
Blank page on my laptop
A tree still waiting for leaves

2
A hazy childhood memory
The dense, swirling fog
in which a killer might lurk

3
Passing clouds
cast fugitive shadows
over a hayfield
Lines for a poem
that vanish on waking

4
Bright red patches
on the wings of blackbirds
Christ’s wounds

5
Your inner child
A figure pursued across the ice

*

Howie Good is the author most recently of the poetry collection Gunmetal Sky (Thirty West Publishing).