Breadwinner by Nancy K. Dobson

Breadwinner

Our last married winter I unwrap the good soaps,
Lemongrass, Cedarwood, and finally, Mint.
Inhaling the essence of each bar, I reimagine an aromatic feast
at our secondhand dinner table,
flash on a bouquet from a sunny mountain hike,
the perfume of a long flight home, me asleep on your shoulder,
or the tang of you in the doorway
after cleaning the gutters under lightning
in a raincoat and battered shoes.
Pale images that have dissipated
like a dried sachet in a dresser drawer.
I thumb through the day’s mail,
stack the bills under the first picture
I hung in our entry way,
a black and white line drawing of a heart
divided into tidy spaces and segments.
I study that geometric illusion and wonder
what I will do when I reach the center
of my own construction
and discover your scent has long since vanished.

*

Nancy K. Dobson’s writing, both fiction and poetry, has been published in a variety of publications including Madcap Review, Quince, Variety Pack, and more, and is forthcoming in Blue Moon Literary & Art Review. Her poetry has won a few prizes. A former teacher, she’s on Twitter @nancy_dobson.

Two Poems by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Ode to the Bic Lighter

My first lighter I found in a parking lot—
a smooth red plastic tube that fit
in my pocket. I knew playing with fire
was dangerous. I knew I wanted
to learn how. I remember trying again
and again to get the right purchase
with my thumb on the serrated sparkwheel.
I rolled and rolled until my skin was raw,
until at last the brief flame sputtered then died.
It wasn’t long before it came second nature—
the smooth flick needed to produce a spark,
the slight pressure on the red tongue
to maintain steady flame.
I learned how it burns
to be lit up too long,
but once you know how to make light,
how easy it is to bring it with you
everywhere you go.

*

Small Hope

Nudged by hope
the heart rises
from exhaustion.

It’s like the great blue heron
I saw this morning
flying up from a wasteland

on broad gray wings
with strong, slow beats
for a moment charged

with grace
before—did you
see this, heart?—

it chose to land again,
bringing all its beauty
to the desolate place.

*

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer co-hosts Emerging Form, a podcast on creative process. She also co-hosts Telluride’s Talking Gourds Poetry Club and is co-founder of Secret Agents of Change. She teaches poetry for mindfulness retreats, women’s retreats, scientists, hospice and more. Her poetry has appeared in O Magazine, on A Prairie Home Companion, in Rattle.com and in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. Her most recent collection, Hush, won the Halcyon Prize. She is often found in the kitchen baking with her teenage children. One word mantra: Adjust. https://wordwoman.com/

Poem by Melody Wilson

The Doctrine of the Kite

It floats from my fingertips—
a cathedral of rice paper
and balsa.
“Lighter than air,” Daddy said,
sipped his beer,
tapped ash from his cigar.

He said gold pounded thin enough
would cover the earth; meat should
never be wrapped in foil.
The number three always brings bad luck.

Morning was crowded with kites:
boxes, diamonds, deltas.
Children pelted the playground,
paper whiffling, tails flowing,
they released the keels
trusted in speed and skill.
Lines sang through sweaty hands.

Six toed cats are charmed, he said,
and Joshua trees can move.
Man and God are forever
locked in duel.

I held the kite above my head that day
reciting everything he said.
It quivered once,
twice, then rose
and rose.
The string pulling away
from the spool.

*

Melody Wilson lives and teaches near Portland, Oregon. She has one Academy of American Poets Award, and several smaller awards including a 2020 Kay Snow award. Her work has appeared in The Portland Review, Visions International, and Triggerfish Critical Review.

Poem by Lynne Schmidt

The Reoccurring Nightmare Where You Won’t Be Able To Save Them

I want to tell you
that when the flood waters
sweep the car away,
my surgically repaired shoulder
will become bionic
smash through the window
and pull her to safety.

I have had the nightmare,
water in my mouth as I scream her name,
and I don’t get to her in time.

I have had the nightmare
where I save one
and not the other.

And I have had the nightmare,
the one
I imagine is closer to reality,
where we all submerge.

*

Lynne Schmidt is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, and mental health professional with a focus in trauma and healing. She is the winner of the 2020 New Women’s Voices Contest and author of the chapbooks, Dead Dog Poems (forthcoming from Finishing Line Press), Gravity (Nightingale and Sparrow Press) which was listed as one of the 17 Best Breakup Books to Read in 2020, and On Becoming a Role Model (Thirty West), which was featured on The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed for PTSD Awareness Week. Her work has received the Maine Nonfiction Award, Editor’s Choice Award, and was a 2018 and 2019 PNWA finalist for memoir and poetry respectively. Lynne was a five time 2019 and 2020 Best of the Net Nominee, and an honorable mention for the Charles Bukowski and Doug Draime Poetry Awards. In 2012 she started the project, AbortionChat, which aims to lessen the stigma around abortion. When given the choice, Lynne prefers the company of her three dogs and one cat to humans.

After a Mass Shooting by Cathleen Cohen

After a Mass Shooting

Frantic. No names
have been released, you scour

the air for electrical flow
between loved ones. No

spirits touch your face.
How much pain

can a day contain
until the vessel bursts?

No telling how many fell,
their days, like grass.

You pace and pray
for resource

until he calls, his voice
assuring he wasn’t there

in that moment.
But things tilt.

Wounds arrive so often
they can’t be bandaged

or peeled off
like days on a desk calendar,

paper squares let loose.
So many were felled,

their days, like grass.
Winds pass through

but this place won’t forget.
This is not a psalm.

*

Cathleen Cohen was the 2019 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, PA. A painter and teacher, she founded the We the Poets program at ArtWell, an arts education non-profit in Philadelphia (www.theartwell.org). Her poems appear in Apiary, Baltimore Review, Cagibi, East Coast Ink, North of Oxford, Passager, One Art Poetry, Philadelphia Stories, Rockvale Review, Rogue Agent, Camera Obscura (Moonstone Press, 2017) and Etching the Ghost (Atmosphere Press, 2021).

Two Poems by Barbara Shisler

Prophet

Fall frost threatens and from the porch
I save the pot of lush pink begonias.
They grow slowly thin on the sill
their pale discouraged threads.

Today at winter solstice
an oak tree
unfurls among the shreds.

Squirrel!
You wily prophet
cast on this dour day
a blast of Easter laughter.

*

A poem for five men

..… to capture the flowing away of the world.
Archibald McLeish

Dinner over, these five move to the deck.
One speaks, then another. They laugh, lean
on the railings, scan clouds, survey gold
at the finch feeder. Through glass I watch.

They are young, middle-aged, old:
husband, brother, son, grandsons.
I add up the years I have loved them,
a river of joy, fear, comfort, hope.

Splendid men caught
in the flowing
under sun and shadow
on this Easter afternoon.

*

As a child, Barbara Shisler loved reading and writing poetry. These days she lives in a retirement community, in Souderton, Pa., with her husband and Cairn Terrier. She continues to find writing a source of great pleasure. She has published several collections, most recently Momentary Stay (Dreamseeker Books).

Unwelcome by Ann E. Michael

Unwelcome

The caller
was
a stranger
soliciting
I don’t
know what
I told her
this
is not
a good time
my father
is dying
and
I hung up.
Now
as night
recedes
I find my
self awake
I think of
him
dying
and how
I was
unkind
to that young
woman
in a call
center
a stranger
I failed
to welcome
into
my heart.

*
Ann E. Michael lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, slightly west of where the Lehigh River meets the Delaware. Her most recent collection of poems is Barefoot Girls. Her next book, The Red Queen Hypothesis, will be published sometime in 2021. More info at www.annemichael.wordpress.com

Three Poems by Heidi Seaborn

On Turning Sixty

When I leave my husband
alone for an evening, he microwaves
the soup I make in batches for nights
like this. It could be a dress rehearsal,
you never know.
By this age everyone’s had a Guggenheim—
I applaud myself with my mother’s
hands. How old
is the cheese in the fridge bin?
I should grate some over the soup.
I should be grateful for such good genes.
Empathy is in short supply
when all around me—
the lamentations of swanning
thirty-year olds.
I’ve caught myself in so many lies.
Weights and measurements are an inexact
science. I prefer the fashion statement.
I prefer a bit of flare
even when it makes me appear
aloof. Or did I mean to say alive?
My mind swerves over the median.
I’ve crossed so many lines—
What do you think of this scarf?
I’ve had it for ages.

*

Spatial Continuum

I am at my desk, while at the same time
I have lit the burner to boil water for tea.

I am at the stove, while at the same time
I empty the last fire remains from the hearth.

I am at the hearth, while at the same time
I slip beneath the down duvet on my bed.

I am in my bed, while at the same time
I am in the garden and hear a bird.

An ornithologist would know the bird,
its origin and could imitate its song.

I learned to play the flute by listening
to the birds in the vast maples out my window.

The boys next door would watch me undress
in my window until their mother told mine.

My mother was more often in the garden
than in her kitchen or at a desk or in bed.

But when I stand at the stove, she’s there
frying codfish and boiling green beans.

She is hunkered over a novel by the fire
and when it reduces down to ash, she rises

and flicks the desk light off before she walks
upstairs and climbs into bed where she hears

the bird and knows its name and vows
to tell me in the morning.

*

Pleiades
~for my sisters

Middle-aged, hot B-type stars
not a billing really, more a snarky aside—
whispered too loudly by a passing cluster
clutching cocktails at a high school reunion.

We of beautiful bones, bright eyes
obvious to the naked eye in a night sky—
sisters.

Even now in winter, time
and distance freeze us in the past.

We were a town of sisters then—
an abundance. A mess
of beauty.

Our bodies the stuff of stars,
carbon, nitrogen, oxygen atoms
aligned. We left an atmosphere behind.

That’s what lingers, the blue heat—
luminous, the stories spilling over time
and how we sail through it all.

*

Heidi Seaborn is Executive Editor of The Adroit Journal and author of [PANK] Book Award winner An Insomniac’s Slumber Party with Marilyn Monroe (2021), Give a Girl Chaos (2019) and the 2020 Comstock Review Prize Chapbook, Bite Marks. Recent work in American Poetry Journal, Beloit, Copper Nickel, The Cortland Review, The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review, The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith, Tinderbox and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU. http://www.heidiseabornpoet.com

Two Poems by Nicole Caruso Garcia

In Praise of Gray

My graying hair, for now, is free of dye.
There’s darkness plenty in my alibi,
No rage against the youth-obsessed. (I’m vain.)

       I’ve reached the age my mother was if she’d been
       Roused from sleep to go identify
       My body, had I bled it. In sterile light,
       She would have clutched my father as they cried,
       Their firstborn’s hair forever chestnut brown.

My graying hair—
Hurrah!— it grows more wiry and defiant,
A crown to celebrate and testify
I’m here. And though I never can atone
For the crush of dawn they’d nearly known,
Just look: the sunlight can’t deny
My graying hair.

*

Easy Money

The mother made a point of telling me
that she would leave for work before the dad.
Before he left for work, we’d be alone.
So what? I’d been alone with dads before.
They’d drive me home and wave goodbye.

Easy money, and I knew the drill:
Just watch the kids. Give piggybacks.
Cut crust off PBJs. Tie shoes.
No diaper changing. Kids both potty-trained.
Braid Barbie’s hair and settle squabbles.

The mom and dad stood opposite the sofa,
gestured, Sit. The standard interview,
except arm’s length from where I sat there was
a year of Playboy fanned out on the table.
A cache of skin mags spread out like hors d’oeuvres

unnerves. Like bath time in the Barbie Dreamhouse,
there lay a mansionful of plastic flesh tones,
soaped and oiled. Act casual, I thought.
This was not my parents’ coffee table—
not Family Circle, Road & Track.

The summer of the naked harbingers.
I’d seen the whisper-pouts of lacquered mouths
and faintly heard them: Run.

*

Nicole Caruso Garcia is Associate Poetry Editor at Able Muse and a Board member at Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. Her poems appear in Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Light, Measure, Mezzo Cammin, PANK, Plume, The Raintown Review, Rattle, RHINO, Sonora Review, Spillway, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Visit her at nicolecarusogarcia.com.

Two Poems by Faith Paulsen

Mother-in-Law

Invited to call her Mom, silently I called her Umbrella in Sunshine
Flea-Market Wristwatch Three Phone Calls A Day
Flash Flood Warning.
Why take a chance?
The cat will suck the breath out of the baby.
Spare Room Hoarder of get-well cards and flashlights
bottles of sleeping pills. (They’re not habit-forming – I should know,
I’ve been taking them for years.)
She called me Broken Eggs Hamster in a Plastic Ball.
Half-hour Early/Ten Minutes Late
She called me Barefoot in Snow–
That name I kept.
Years after her death
I wake stunned
when others call me Worry and I respond Be Safe.
Please don’t do
anything stupid.
Call it Poetic Justice. Call me So soon?
I call myself, I Didn’t Know—

*

My Mother’s Pessary *

Was she buried with it, I wonder?
That pinky-ball that for years supported
the vault over my begetting? My fault,
we used to joke.
Large baby, traumatic birth,
long-awaited longed-for,
late, costly.

Decades later, I witnessed
the price paid in her halting gait,
weary eyes (blue green like mine)
seeking a bench so she could sit down.
This is not like you, Mom.

Then it was I who supported
undressed, lifted. Even though
I was by then several times a mother —
I did not know this secret toll
that there could be this
late-in-life weight in the pelvis
pregnancy of years
this falling through
her overstretched muscles
falter, fail, a curtain’s elasticity lost
turned inside-out like a sock.

Attended, midwife to my mother’s aging
counted her breaths
an inexorable roller coaster inverted
dangles on the verge of dive-drop,
ripening
her tummy measured to house this blushing little thing
that for the last years of her life plugged up the dam
and kept the sky from falling.

* A therapeutic pessary is a medical device most commonly used to treat prolapse of the uterus.

*

Faith Paulsen’s work has appeared in Ghost City Press, Seaborne, and Book of Matches, as well as Thimble Literary Magazine, Evansville Review, Mantis, Psaltery and Lyre, and Terra Preta, among others. Her work also appears in the anthologies Is it Hot in Here or Is It Just Me? (Social Justice Anthologies) and 50/50: Poems & Translations by Womxn over 50 (QuillsEdge). She has been nominated for a Pushcart, and her chapbook A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press) was published in 2016. A second chapbook, Cyanometer, is expected in 2021.