The Blacker the Berry by Erica Jasmin Dixon

The Blacker the Berry

Based on conversation had while traveling outside of the U.S.

A foreign woman asked how I got my skin color
A question I had never heard asked before
But one she has probably thought of on those rare occasions
When she saw someone of a brown complexion
“Do you paint it on every morning?”

The question stung with embarrassment,
Not for myself but for her
And the lack of knowledge in a world filled with those of color,
Yet somehow unknown to her and others.

To think that every Black person rises each morning thinking
“Hmm…What shade shall I try today?”
House or field,
Cream or coffee,
Almond or chocolate,
(It doesn’t really matter because we’re all still sweet…)

I explain that I was blessed enough to be born with this melanin,
Carried down from my mother’s mother’s mother
Though I’m sure there is a reason for my light-skinned color…
She gave a look of pity
I smiled cheerfully and stated
“There’s nothing else I’d rather be!”

*

Erica Jasmin Dixon is a writer, actress, and artist originally from Raeford, North Carolina. She holds an MFA degree from Queens University of Charlotte and her creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in various literary publications, to include I-70 Review, For Women Who Roar, Dream Noir Literary Magazine, and blood orange tarot.

Two Poems by Courtney LeBlanc

POEM FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY

I’m lucky to have good neighbors, the kind
who pull your garbage bins in when you’re out
of town or gather your mail. This summer
I exchanged cucumbers from my garden
for mint from hers. And to have the kind
of neighbors who deliver a bouquet
of bright yellow buttercups when my dad
died, with a note filled with such kindness
I started crying all over again. And isn’t
that what the world needs right now, a little
more kindness? Because last night the ball
dropped and everyone held their breath
and made a wish, the world collectively hoping
that this year will be better than the last.
I started the first day of this new year with
a long walk with my dog, her anxiety
non-existent on these empty country roads.
And the few cars that passed contained
people who raised their palms in hello,
greeting me as if we were old friends, as if
they would happily accept cucumbers
from my garden, grab the package
at my front door, and deliver compassion
in the face of grief. They waved and I waved
back, this small act of kindness between
strangers, this small bit of hope carrying
us into the new year.

*

FOR MY SISTER, WHO TURNED 40 ELEVEN DAYS AFTER OUR FATHER DIED

We planned on Ireland, a week of lush
green and rolling hills, castles and seductive,
indecipherable accents. I would drive
and you would navigate. We’d hike and drink
Guinness, laugh and sleep late. Instead
we took turns holding our father’s hand,
the hum of the hospital and piped-in
Muzak, the soundtrack. After a week, we
brought him home, moved him close
to the picture window in the living room,
let the sun shine onto his skin as he gulped
for air and I pushed morphine into his cheek.
When he died we circled around his bed,
touched his cooling skin, wiped our tears
on the white sheets. Our father never left
the country, never had a passport, never
graduated high school. He left
the adventuring to us, his two youngest
daughters, the ones who flew farthest
from the nest. Let’s pull out calendars
and make plans. We’ll go next year,
or in five. We’ll explore the whole damn
world, we’ll see everything he never did.

*

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press). She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog: www.wordperv.com. Follow her on twitter: @wordperv, and IG: @wordperv79.

Two Poems by Lisa Krawczyk

The Poet Finds Themself in the Bottom of the Orville Redenbacher Popcorn Bag

The movie theater butter sticks to fingers:
greases your keyboard and pajamas, the flannel
blankets. Kernels rattle at the bottom. The whole bag
never able to fully pop. The steam that hits
your face is the spirit of the unpopped seeds.
Another night of steam and nutella to top
that which have sprouted
from the vacuum sealed bag. It sits
in the microwave and begins to breathe
as the kernels spring to life. The bag
injected with microwaves. Your brain
waves could never compare to Orville’s
torture. The bag is never empty,
only able to eat three-fourths of the bag.
How can you find yourself this way,
half eaten? Part satiation, part emptiness,
and a small part desire. Ready
to call it for the night.

*

Memories of Burdick

Remember the concrete of the first day
of public school. The new clothes—
a dress or frilly top. Elementary school
you try to find your place. Hugging
the wall in the cafeteria line. The silence
of the students and the chaos within.
Sitting in groups
waiting to go home. Every day
so similar to the next. Walking down
hallways you never forget. Milwaukee
public school. Tap dancing and theater
after school. (You never could stretch
even after months of trying, your stubborn
core). Band practice in the computer lab.
Failing home ec. Sleep overs that you dread.
Sleep overs you couldn’t live without. Going
to hockey games with your bestie of the week.
Remember pretending & failing to find
what you so craved to feel, the fitting
of your own identity. Mask your gender,
mask your ADHD. Mask the overwhelm
in your stomach and go forward.
No matter what: forward.

*

Lisa Krawczyk (they/them) is a poet currently based in the Midwest. Their poetry can be found and forthcoming in The West Review, Defunkt Magazine, In Parentheses, Periwinkle Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. They teach formal poetry for Gris Literatura.

Two Poems by Seth Jani

Dance

Like everyone,
haunted by the past,
I hear the slipshod music
of a distant summer
loosening its bloodred grip,
easing-up, not on the heart,
but on the memory of itself,
until I’m left with the blur
of vanished faces
and the glittering, indistinct desires
prowling the fabled hall.

*

Hunger

Even with time passing through
the jeweled carcass of summer
I still find myself
climbing the dim hillside
to take the moon into my hands,
that dark bread, which all my life,
has fed my longing,
has made my hunger shine.

*

Seth Jani lives in Seattle, WA and is the founder of Seven CirclePress (www.sevencirclepress.com). Their work has appeared in The American Poetry Journal, Chiron Review, Ghost City Review, Rust+Moth and Pretty Owl Poetry, among others. Their full-length collection, Night Fable, was published by FutureCycle Press in 2018. Visit them at http://www.sethjani.com.

There should always be pie in a poem, — by Lailah Shima

There should always be pie in a poem,

she muses, when you writhe under weight
of worry, precarity of hope.

Calloused, her hands slice apples, sprinkle
spices, drizzle honey. Measure nothing.

You don’t understand. Unceasing,
she crimps a circular seam along the lip

of a glass dish, as out the door you drift. Mind
your feet, she chimes, as if sidestepping

despair could be enough. Screech owl tremolo
and sharp slant of late light pull your torso

upright. You hoist your body into the center
of a seven-stemmed cedar. Let it cradle you.

Your vertebrae vibrate along one of its spines
as it sways and sings in gusts of wind,

as dusk settles. Below, mycelium woven with roots
shuttles carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous

plant to plant, according to need –
shuttles signals your cells also receive.

Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger.
Persist, persist, persist.

*

A mystified mother of teens, dedicated practitioner of Zen, and aspiring hospice chaplain, Lailah Shima lives and writes in Wisconsin. Her poems have so far appeared mostly on friends’ phone screens, but also in CALYX Journal (when she was still Lailah Ford) and Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Five Poems by Ron Riekki

The Kid Who Drank Himself to Death During the War

lived in the barracks right across from mine.
His face was all brilliant with light, like
the sun hitting the ocean. And they hit us
in boot camp, the revelation of that, how
the recruiters don’t mention this little fact,

or they did—unsure if they still do it now,
but my suspicion is yes, the fists all bone
and temple, the church of war. I remember
my mind before the explosions, how it used
to think properly, or maybe it didn’t, the river

near my home owned by the mines now,
oranged. I walked to it yesterday, stared
down into the deranged red, so close to
the color of blood. I pulled up my hood
and walked home. I can walk though.

*

I Worked in Prison

My jobs have all been fist fights for cash.
When I was a boxer, I started getting tremors,
the doctor telling me to stop or they’d become
permanent. I stopped. They stayed. I thought
about how I’d been a boxer my whole life,
even before I was boxing, how the military
takes your skull and kills it. Sure, you can
still live, but it’s a bit like your body is
a house that’s been built, but abandoned,
foreclosed, possessed, a sort of Satanism
to corporation, a sort of corpse-creation,
that reminds me so much of prison, how
there were all these sons in there, no sun,
the paleness of their skin, everyone, no
matter your race, how it looked like they
were all fading, their psyches, their souls,
the violence where if they ever got out
I knew they’d be changed, how violence
stays in your veins, how a bloody life
stays in your blood, how we really,
honestly, could do anything else other
than what we’re doing and it’d be
better, but we’re promised to this cash.

*

(lucky) I Work in Medical

Which means medical works
me, because medical doesn’t
work, because of this equation:
politics + medicine = politics,
and the nursing homes aren’t
homes and there isn’t nursing
there, because the CNAs and
the med techs and the EMTs
are all making minimum wage,
which means my partner fell
asleep driving the ambulance,
turning it upside-down, just
like his life, trying to make

the torment of rent, how it
tore into us, you, me, every-
one when even the EMTs
don’t have health insurance,
and we know that the word
minus ends with US, because
it’s all about erasers, melting
pots where the kids come in
overdosing on marijuana and
one of them says, But you can’t
overdose on pot and I tell him
Well, you are right now and
it’s beautiful—hyperemesis,

how it is, this existence where
the overdoses are normalized,
where my uncle, his heroin
addiction in a hick town, how
I call him and he answers,
voice in slow motion, the ice
outside his window so loud
that I can hear it, the blizzards
of poverty (the anti-poetry),
A Cell of One’s Own and
we’re owned and I’m ranting
about the renting because I
am worried as hell about home-

lessness because the word virus
ends with US and this won’t
get published unless the editor
has been to the pub and is OK
with saying f- censorship—too
afraid to write the word, too
afraid to talk about how when
they play the sexual harassment
training videos at work, everyone
does a play-by-play commentary
like Misery Science Theater 2021,
how we’re all Orwelled and all it
takes is one hospital bill to end a life.

*

In This Poem, I Am Happy and Blessed

but it’s a short poem. It’s a poem where God
gives me a bird, walking, at my feet, how I
almost didn’t see it, the thing rainbowed as
all hell. Who makes something that beautiful?

I snuff out my clove, hurry inside to my cubicle.

*

I Can’t Stop Winking

It’s a defective muscle. My trauma-head
all butchered. But people misread it, think
I’m flirty. Or that I’m sharing some sort
of secret with them. They look directly
in my eyes with a look like yes, I under-
stand too or yes, I saw it as well. Saw
what? The occasional frown, sometimes
a wink back, sexy. But I’m twice
their age. I want to apologize, say
that my eye is owned by history, but
they just move on, their bodies so
perfect, able to control everything.
How do they do that? How?

*

Ron Riekki’s books include My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Apprentice House Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press). Riekki co-edited Undocumented (Michigan State University Press) and The Many Lives of The Evil Dead (McFarland), and edited The Many Lives of It (McFarland), And Here (MSU Press), Here (MSU Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book).

Five poems by Joanna Milstein

Halloween Party

When you called I told you all about the party on Halloween.

About the cape and the pearls and the fishnets and the fangs.

About the men who asked me to dance to the slow songs.
The handsome one who showed me around the haunted house and let me, tender me, spooked by suspended skeletons and disposable ghouls, grab his arm.

That I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning
between the grey satin sheets of a stranger.

What I didn’t say is that I stayed at home alone on Halloween.
Listening to public radio in my pjs.
That at midnight I ate the last bag of candy that the trick-or-treaters hadn’t picked up outside my door.

That yours was the last number I’ve dialed in weeks.

That I’ve been sick all autumn.

*

Red birds

The voices of the red birds invade my house at dawn chirping and fluttering.
They ask so many questions that I cannot answer.
I am mute until dusk.
I have a mouth but not until the inky darkness does it dare to whisper.
I want to chant the quiet things but I am tone-deaf.
I long for a new voice.
A voice content to be alive.
Grateful to hear the birds hum each morning.
With that voice I could join the dawn chorus
I could soar like the immortal birds.
I could respond instead of just listening.
And with that voice I could sing.
With that voice I could sing you a song.

*

Beach witness

I walk for the wet silence
And the non-manmade noises
The unheard and the untranslatable.
Only available Tuesday evenings after seven.
But please don’t tell.
Families have gone home and it is just me and the vanishing light and the roll of the short waves up and down and up again.
I step over electric blue latex gloves and a plastic fork and a razor blade and a supermarket bag and a Barbie doll and an empty bottle of bleach.
A soaked branch decays. A black feather shivers.
Nature kills nature all the time and no one complains.
Fingerprints and footprints dissolve when the tide rises.
Scars fade but never disappear.
The gulls are crying and the prehistoric birds extend their wings to dry as washed linen on a clothesline.
You told me once that horseshoe crabs cure leprosy but their carcasses also listen when you tell them your secrets.
Dead things make great confidants.
Green sea glass sparkles, edges softened by the hand of time.
Crabs like spiders crawl on fuzzy rocks.
Did you know that female spiders kill their male partners after mating? I learned this in biology.
You always told me I was bad at science.
The tide is low and the sea has hemorrhaged rusty red seaweed and artificial possessions and the blue-grey detritus of dreams.
The ocean breathes in and out
I try to breathe like that, I like how it makes me feel.
Tide pools brim with new life, things are reincarnated there.
Streams feed a thirsting sea.
Maybe you were a brilliant scientist,
but you were a terrible father.
My sandals gently crush a graveyard of white seashells.
They crackle under my feet like crepitation in the bony joints of cruel old men.
The sand flies hum, shells become sand.
The flecks live forever. Their tiny ears hear everything and their little eyes have seen the manmade deeds that lie at the foot of the wakeful seabed.
Teeth eat flesh but hard things disintegrate, too.
Everything devolves.
Everything becomes wet dust.
I believe in the eternal silence of beaches.
So many secrets shared between me and infinite particles.
They whisper:
We know we know we know we know we know we know we know we know we know.

*

Night traveler

Last night I traveled to Brazil
forced to navigate the rainforest
I stopped a friendly stranger for directions
struggling with a guide to basic Portuguese.
The heat nearly felled me, the thirst torturous, I opened my mouth and let the rain drip past my tongue down to my parched tonsils.
You were there, too.
Arm in arm we penetrated the forest’s dark canopy.
Together we wrestled man-eating tropical plants and gargantuan snakes,
You stole perspiry kisses, pushing my back against king-sized kapoks.

I awake covered in sweat.
Not from struggling with anacondas but from this miserable cold
my passport still in the drawer next to the four-poster bed.
I reach instead for Robitussin to soothe my throat, Advil to cool my torrid temperature.
No need to brush up my Portuguese.
I’m not sure which is farther, you or Brazil.
I don’t even like hiking.
And I lost you a long time ago.

*

Scheherazade for one night

If you stay I won’t ask questions. I’ll tell you stories, she said.
I’ll weave a quilt with them, I’ll tattoo our earth with rainbows.

And so she told him about mythical creatures and cold seas and spirits who haunt and others who don’t and kings and traveling salesmen and warm-blooded fish and fishermen and manipulative genies and healing herbs and poisons and stone souls and mermaids and an automaton and grief and prophetic dreams and blooming jasmine and secret languages and purple skies and apple trees and lovers and peripatetic courtiers and long suppers in the fourteenth century. About rewards. About women who lie with men and those who lie to them. About so many selves.

But in the morning he left anyway.

She stayed home, listening to their music, her footsteps caressing the carpet where his soles once danced.

*

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Joanna Milstein is a New York-based writer. She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2019. She holds a PhD in History from the University of St Andrews. Her most recent short story is included in the winter 2021 issue of The Writing Disorder. She is currently working on her first novel.

Not Alone, but Swimming — by Daniel Edward Moore

Not Alone, but Swimming


Does giving up mean being over,
                                                    the way a dumbbell leaves
the hand, saying this arm is done?

I listened to the sound the ocean makes
                                      where like a bridge I found myself
arched above your rippling yes,

feeling you curl under me as if
                                                   the arm that once was tired
found a way to bend again and

stroke the perfect blue. Wet
                                                     with wonder, we returned,
not alone, but swimming.
                                             
                                                    You made the sea believable.


*

Daniel Edward Moore lives in Washington on Whidbey Island. His poems are forthcoming in Lullwater Review, Emrys Journal, The Meadow, West Trade Review, Toho Journal, Muddy River Poetry Review, The Lindenwood Review, Sheila-Na-Gig Pandemic Anthology and the Chaffin Journal. He is the author of ‘Boys’ (Duck Lake Books) and “Waxing the Dents” (Brick Road Poetry Press).


			

The Temporary World by Gerry LaFemina

The Temporary World

The water tranquil, soft loll of sunglaze
as one sailboat lazes from its dock toward adventure
beyond the bay.
Isn’t this how so many stories begin? Behind me

all tumult—jackhammers & Harley growl,
shrieks of children, their laughter gift wrapped
in golden light.
Old oaks chaperone, wear boas of Spanish moss.

Anoles have gone into hiding among
the underbrush; I even watched one leap, an Olympian,
from the sidewalk,
before it changed from brown to green

the way they will, adaptation necessary
for survival, to avoid workmen sawing away dead fronds
& the wrens that
woke me earlier, which seem harmless enough

seeing as they’re barely fist-sized,
their beaks almost dainty. But deadly. Such deception
shouldn’t shock us.
When it closed its eyes that lizard disappeared.

The school kids have returned to classrooms,
but before they left the cutest one said, Fuck no!,
so natural
a reaction when summoned back. In only minutes

the bay’s begun to churn, foam gathering
along the water’s edge, & the child-drawn clouds
to the south furrow
their brows, portent to a storm I still can’t fathom,

so that, hours from now, rain will lash
the windows, breakers crash beyond the storm wall.
Imagine those lizards
how important to survival it is for them to hold on,

the way they must cling to some quavering branch.

*

Gerry LaFemina’s most recent books are The Story of Ash (poems, Anhinga 2018) and Baby Steps in Doomsday Prepping (prose poems, Madville, 2020). He’s also a noted critic and fiction writer, and his first book of creative nonfiction, The Pursuit: A Meditation on Happiness is forthcoming on Madville. He teaches at Frostburg State University, serves as a mentor in the Carlow University MFA program, and plays guitar and sings for Snubbed recording artists The Downstrokes.

Night Work by Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Night Work

In the lucid hours of insomnia
I build and multiply images—
a whole wall of unsleeping,

feel the stillness
of my husband’s body
against my unspooling.

I lift the necklace of marigolds,
a gift in Rishikesh, almost inhale
the-more-dirt-than-flower scent.

Now I’m on our road at dusk
in that echo of one gunshot.
It’s hunting season, everyone

wearing red or orange.
Where did that bullet land,
did it sink in living skin?

I am on a mission
to dig and dig
until the clink of bone,

and I find the rhyme
in love and blood.

*

Sarah Dickenson Snyder has written poetry since she knew there was a form with conscious line breaks. She has three poetry collections, The Human Contract (2017), Notes from a Nomad (nominated for the Massachusetts Book Awards 2018), and With a Polaroid Camera (2019). Recently, poems appeared in Rattle, The Sewanee Review, and RHINO. She has been a 30/30 poet for Tupelo Press, nominated for Best of Net, the Poetry Prize Winner of Art on the Trails 2020, and a Finalist for Iron Horse National Poetry Month Award. She lives in the hills of Vermont. sarahdickensonsnyder.com