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.

The Sirens by Betsy Mars

The Sirens

I am one with the sirens
singing down the avenues of the night,
taking water to whatever is on fire,
bringing breath to whatever threatens to expire.

I am one with wakefulness, vigilance,
one with the sea
and the rocks
against which I crash.

I am the rock, sometimes
the rockslide, sometimes
the sand— rock pounded
by my own hand,
sometimes I am the crash,
sometimes the victim.

*

Betsy Mars is a prize-winning poet, a photographer, and publishes an occasional anthology through Kingly Street Press. She is an assistant editor at Gyroscope Review. Poetry publications include Rise Up Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, New Verse News, Sky Island, and Minyan. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee. Betsy’s photos have been featured in RATTLE’s Ekphrastic Challenge, Spank the Carp, Praxis, and Redheaded Stepchild. She is the author of Alinea and co-author of In the Muddle of the Night with Alan Walowitz.

Waiting Beside My Father by Andrea Potos

WAITING BESIDE MY FATHER

In the ICU room, ten days
where he coma-slept, arranged by the doctor
to rest his brain after the fall,
I sat beside him. I remember wearing
my slate-blue jacket with the big ruffle
at the collar, its cotton soft and somehow
reassuring on my body as I watched
the nurses glide by in the gleaming hallways,
and the kind hospitalist arrived with a lift
of hope in his voice. Inside me, I felt a small, carved
chapel of patience I didn’t know I possessed.
I closed my eyes, apologized to my father
for years of crabbiness between us.
I felt his brain smoothing out its frenzy, as if floating
on a long journey, as if a river
was carrying us, though
I had never learned to swim.

*

Andrea Potos is the author of several poetry collections, including Marrow of Summer and Mothershell, both from Kelsay Books; and A Stone to Carry Home from Salmon Poetry. A new collection entitled Her Joy Becomes is forthcoming from Fernwood Press this November. Recent poems appear in The Sun, Poetry East, and Lyric. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Five Poems by Kari Gunter-Seymour

Amesville Girls

sip Squirt soda from lime green
returnable glass bottles pulled ice cold from
the chest cooler at Kasler’s corner grocery,
retrieve the dime, stuff it in the jukebox
at Fanny’s Family Diner, dance

The Bus Stop or The Sprinkler
to AC/DC, say words like warsh
and fixin’ to go, spit watermelon seeds
good as the boys, swim naked in the crick,

sneak out to sleep in the graveyard
to be closer to their grannies,
ink ballpoint tattoos on each other’s biceps,
wear fruit-flavored lip gloss to softball practice,

dream Guns N’ Roses’ tour bus
stops for lunch at the diner
and Slash or Duff McKagan
kiss their cherry mouths, finger
their buttons, white-knight them away.

*

Where We Come from Can Break Us

She was curious, always questions
from that one, a nine-year-old
going on twenty, sneaking
the backwoods to my porch swing,
earless to her mama’s played-out rebukes.

I was a new mother, alone
more than was fit.
The baby loved her singing
and she would brush my hair
for hours, jawing tales
about her made up life.

I often think of her hangdog
eyes and heavy lashes,
hope she was able to save herself
from that broke down place.
Who’m I trying to kid?

*

How Could a Woman

He could not climb in the driver’s
seat without lighting up a joint.
There I’d be, juggling bunting, bottle,
binky, strapping the baby in his car seat,
while my husband sat, rolling a fat one,
lip-syncing whatever was blasting
from the radio, sealing the deal
with nimble finger work,
a slick slip of the tongue.
He would key the ignition, flip open
a lighter, take a long slow toke,
cough hard enough to crack a rib,
ease into gear. What soured me most
was how pleased he was with himself,
that and the fact I stuck with him
for close on two years.

*

True Grit

Sweet Child O’Mine
spun throaty on the boombox,
only CD I owned. The baby
squatted in his second-hand
jolly jumper, clipped at the top
of the door frame—bouncing
as if the floor was a trampoline,
he an Olympic trainer.

I took the afternoon off work
to have my wisdom teeth pulled,
groggy from the laughing gas,
ticked off at my spouse,
who’d obviously been rolling joints,
leaving behind a whole mess
of seeds and stems, brushed
from coffee table to shoddy carpet.

Behind on the electric bill,
car tires bald, the twit once
hocked my high school class ring
to buy an ounce of pot.

I admit it. I allowed myself
to be diminished way too long.
I might never have culled my courage
had it not been for the baby,
the way he carefully cupped my jaw
as I lifted him from the jumper.
Love is or it ain’t.

*

Hanky-Panky Poker

We women dressed as if headed
to the French Riviera—frilly skirts,
teased-up hairdos, shiny lip gloss.
The men wore flannel shirts,
stunk of sour mash and tobacco.

It got intense. Five Card Draw,
nickel ante, quarter limit—
Texas Hold’em if we drank tequila shots.
There were some shining moments
before the whole shebang went briny.

Sarah Sipple called a nature break,
gone too long to the facilities
and Danny Munford who’d stepped outside
to do the same, got caught bare-assed,
Levi’s around his ankles, rutting Sarah
like some randied white tail buck.

All things considered, we switched
to Euchre, less hard liquor,
more chips and dip.
Danny Munford went tail-ass-tits to the wind.
Phil Sipple got hisself a new partner.

*

Kari Gunter-Seymour is the Poet Laureate of Ohio. Her poetry collections include Alone in the House of My Heart (Ohio University Swallow Press, 2022) and A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen (Sheila Na Gig Editions, 2020), winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award. Her work has been featured on Verse Daily, Cultural Daily, World Literature Today, the New York Times and Poets.org. A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the editor of I Thought I Heard A Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, funded by the Academy of American Poets and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Women of Appalachia Project’s anthology series, Women Speak. Gunter-Seymour is a retired instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University; the founder, curator, and host of Spoken & Heard, a seasonal performance series featuring poets, writers, and musicians from across the country; an artist in residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts and a 2022 Pillar of Prosperity Fellow for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.

www.karigunterseymourpoet.com
@KGunterSeymour

Three Poems by Robert Okaji

Neither Grace nor Body

What is ash but death
lightened, emptied into air.

A hand released
from the making of soap,
the washing of limbs.
Unfinished prayers.

Neither grace nor body recovers.

A father sacrifices himself
that his boy may live.
No one hears, but someone
digs through the rubble,
uncovering. Later. Much later.

*

Beyond Accidental

I think of you as my nightshade,
a figure standing between ornamental
and poison, between flower and blade
or moonlight and black confetti sifting
through the day’s last seconds. How
is that sound shaped by never
and the tongue’s reluctant tip? I listen
as you chamber a round and promise
guilt and years of incomplete deeds.
I do not accept your venom. I cannot.

*

Less Than Absence

How loneliness greets me
with its dispassionate gaze
focused on the dead elm
at the crest of the neighbor’s
hill, reminding me that I
am the phrase not remembered,
lying just beyond the stone
fence, tucked out of sight,
but within reach, if only
your absence were less
than absence. If only.

*

Robert Okaji lives in Indiana. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Evergreen Review, riverSedge, Eclectica, Threepenny Review and elsewhere.

Grief by Mike James

Grief

Bitter at the calendar, those red-marked days and
Turned pages, bitter at the window’s light and
The light switch in an empty room, bitter at the moon
And Taurus and Cancer and astrology’s best guesses,
Bitter at a broken dial radio and a working faucet
And soap not strong enough for every stain

*

Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His many poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog.)

Remnants by Sean Hanrahan

Remnants

Boxed up remnants of their wedding,
a surprisingly full set of china except
a missing water glass. It may have shattered
twenty years ago. We uncover
an alternating silver rim and floral
pattern I can only faintly remember
using once or twice at Thanksgiving
dinner when my grandparents came,
and my sister and I were allowed wine.

Should I be concerned how my parents
are giving pieces of themselves away,
before death? Every time we visit,
they get lighter and my husband
and I get heavier with objects
we can’t use, but accept out of an
obligation to remember their taste
becoming superimposed upon our own.
An odd number of nearly everything
as if my parents’ possessions have a sentient
need to be incomplete or ill-sorted.

We store my parents’ lifelines,
unceremoniously, in our basement
for the amusement of spiders. I should be
grateful my parents are, in their way,
preparing me for their eventual demise,
but instead of spending time with my
husband and me when we are visiting,
they haphazardly clean out their
closets as if to ward off mortality
with needless tasks. They subtract
time for the preservation of objects,
a familial archaeology. We all huff
and sigh as we consign second-
hand memories to unswept darkness.

*

Sean Hanrahan is a Philadelphian poet originally hailing from Dale City, Virginia. He is the author of the full-length collection Safer Behind Popcorn (2019 Cajun Mutt) and the chapbooks Hardened Eyes on the Scan (2018 Moonstone) and Gay Cake (2020 Toho). His work has also been included in several anthologies, including Moonstone Featured Poets, Queer Around the World, and Stonewall’s Legacy, and several journals, including Impossible Archetype, Poetica Review, and Voicemail Poems. He has taught classes titled A Chapbook in 49 Days and Ekphrastic Poetry and hosted poetry events throughout Philadelphia.