Learning Arithmetic in First Grade by Judith Harris

Learning Arithmetic in First Grade

Across the window pane
of my study, the woody vines
of the Boston Creepers
cling tight to the masonry
like beads on an abacus’ string.

As I look closer, I’m reminded
of how I learned to count
by methodically moving each bead

as a day to the side, counting
to myself another day over,

then putting my head on my desk
for a nap, and leaving the rest
for tomorrow.

*

Judith Harris is the author of The Bad Secret and Atonement (LSU Press) Night Garden (Tiger Bark Press), and Signifying Pain: Constructing and Healing the Self through Writing (SUNY Press). Her poems have been published in The Nation, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Hudson Review, Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, the syndicated newspaper column, American Life in Poetry, and Poetry Daily and Poem of the Day from The Poetry Foundation and on NPR. She is currently at work on a new book of literary criticism, The Poetry of Loss: Romantic and Contemporary Elegies (Routledge Press) to be published next year.

Two Poems by CL Bledsoe

I Wish You Were Fun

I don’t know what the birds are singing
about, but I suspect it’s something to do
with their sciatica. Mirrors begrudge us
for not being Picassos. All sadness and past
due bills while needing a haircut. I wish
I was fun. I wish fear didn’t strangle my smile
while I am just trying to get the shopping
done. There’s so much weight on my
shoulders I can’t look up without something
important sliding off. Laugh. At least
I’m not Ayn Rand. It’s a different kind
of fear. That I can’t open enough
to the world or that I can’t close fast
enough. Either way, no one is happy
with every new recipe. When I close
my eyes and think of you I see commercials.
So many times it’s about flirting with the void
when all you want is to be held by the darkness.
I’m sorry that you aren’t happy, but I’m not
going to be your midlife crisis. The difference
between an adventure and a mistake is all
in the telling. These days, I’m all mistake.
Coward cowering indoors for fear of storm.
I’m already wet and I have so far to go in
these squeaky shoes. But you remember
when I was fun. Were there ever days
before these?

*

Mornings, Feeding the Fish

There was a different smell in the morning.
The cows were quiet. The breeze

came in from the Lake down the hill.
The sun hadn’t heated the dead

fish, yet. You could believe the world
was new, just because it hadn’t

seen light in a while.

*

Raised on a rice and catfish farm in eastern Arkansas, CL Bledsoe is the author of more than twenty books, including the poetry collections Riceland, Trashcans in Love, Grief Bacon, and his newest, Driving Around, Looking in Other People’s Windows, as well as his latest novels Goodbye, Mr. Lonely and the forthcoming The Saviors. Bledsoe co-writes the humor blog How to Even, with Michael Gushue located here: https://medium.com/@howtoeven. His own blog, Not Another TV Dad, is located here: https://medium.com/@clbledsoe. He’s been published in hundreds of journals, newspapers, and websites that you’ve probably never heard of. Bledsoe lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.

How to Float by John Wall Barger

How to Float

My mother writes me details of
her holiday in Goa. A man is snoring
in the next hut. A big rock in the sea
is covered with crabs. I can just see her
at an internet cafe typing emails,
air thick with incense and Germans
smeared with coconut sunscreen.

People used to ask if we were sister
and brother. No more. She’s
frailer, child-like. Nervous.
Mothers are strange. Primal force
ramming against the ego.
How do they find peace?
She writes, I just sink to the bottom!

How do you float? She’s so thin.
Does she have the body fat?
Was she buoyant before me?
Before my father? What invisible
anvil does she hold? Any little thing
can wreck you. Maybe her dad
winced at a drawing of hers. Perhaps,

in the water, we must become
someone lighter. A lady who skips work
to smoke clove cigars and play
the marimba. I mean, why don’t we
drown every time we see a photo
of an elephant, face hacked off
by poachers? I picture my mother

wading to the dark edge of the sand
where fear begins. She should float.
Look at her. Porous as balsa.
Guileless as an apple. I write her,
“Just fill your lungs, have fun!”
I wish I’d said, “Please avoid
the ocean! It’s fucking terrifying.”

*

John Wall Barger’s fifth book of poems, Resurrection Fail, comes out with Spuyten Duyvil Press in fall 2021. He is a contract editor for Frontenac House, and teaches in the BFA Program for Creative Writing at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Two Poems by Kristin Garth

First foot fetishist

I meet at the strip club adores a horde
of stilettoed feet — mine, two more paid if I’d
take a seat at his table, champagne poured,
to unbuckle shoes, nothing undignified,
untoward — removing bras, plaid print skirts.
Rest your sock feet (he knows they hurt) upon
a seat discretely close to him — not pervert
but gentleman who would never come on
to you, ask to touch. Proffers rote questions
about school, movies and such though his eyes are
on arches, toes when you respond. Obsession
makes him an automaton, a strip bar
regular. Every dancer knows the routine—
It’s still demeaning if not quite obscene.

*

Transmutability

I drive across a bridge sometimes to write
where I was born — an insular beach town
my parents scorn because, somehow, in spite
of the tank they fabricated to drown
me in somebody else’s vacation place,
I too am a tourist who travels
an hour, unicorn notebook, pencil case,
towards this gulf to share some tranquil
coffee shop space with teenagers, doing time
like me, with strangers hoping to find
transmutability maritime.
I blow through here for a breeze that reminds
me of the resilience of my mermaid brain —
a gulf could only nurture not contain.

*

Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Rhysling nominated sonneteer and a Best of the Net 2020 finalist. Her sonnets have stalked journals like Glass, Yes, Five:2:One, Luna Luna and more. She is the author of 23 books of poetry including Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir (Hedgehog Poetry Press) and Atheist Barbie (Maverick Duck Press). She is the founder of Pink Plastic House a tiny journal and co-founder of Performance Anxiety, an online poetry reading series. Follow her on Twitter: (@lolaandjolie) and her website kristingarth.com

A Day in the Life by Bunkong Tuon

A Day in the Life

Make sure Chanda leaves for school
with warm kisses on her head.

Pick up lettuce, carrot, and for
something a little different, maitake.

At the Party Store grab big bright
balloons, along with a poster of

Nella, the biracial princess knight
who rides her pink unicorn and battles

Badalf, the wicked wizard.
On your way home, get gas.

Call your wife to let her know
she is Queen of Niskayuna.

Turn on the stove, throw in
the diced onion and garlic.

Eat less meat and more vegetables.
Read Doc McStuffins to Chanda.

Grade papers.
Plan lessons for next day’s classes.

Look up at the night sky.
Breathe in the cool autumn air.

And pray for no more news
of another school shooting.

*

Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer and critic. He is the author of three full-length poetry collections and a chapbook. His publications include The American Journal of Poetry, Diode, Chiron Review, Paterson Literary Review, Misfit, carte-blanche, among others. He writes for Cultural Daily. Tuon teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

Unfinished Landscapes by Gerry LaFemina

Unfinished Landscapes

My friend Peter pointed out the condensation
on his glass & declared how much love is like water:
everyone wants it, & how it comes

in a torrent or a trickle; though it can also be
a still pond with mosquitos, cirrus-like, above it
so that sometimes we might confuse

the soft insect buzz for love itself, but no.
The water metaphor was what was important
in the end—how we thirst & how

we can’t cup it in our hands for it seeps
between fingers as we bring it to our mouths
so it’s as if we kiss our own palms.

Some people, in desperation, get on their knees
bend over like a dog to lick at a puddle.
So easily we lose our dignity, & easily, too,

we fight for it or weep in its name.
That’s something never taught in science class.
Ditto how to cope with heartache or how to enjoy

the way sunlight seems to cast itself
on only select leaves of a spring catalpa
so they grow a little greener, more lush & thus

more lovely. Ask the landscape artist I see some days
in May, in Central Park, & he’ll show you how
he mixes acrylics, shade after shade of emerald

whisked in, sometimes, a bit of yellow to nix
a daub of blue, then feeling it thinned out too much
adding something darker. The brush swirling in hues

so that it resembles a smeared thumb print,
a bit of forensic evidence, the way the fine brush hairs
form thin ridges in the paint.

Then it, too, is gone. Likewise, day’s luminescence
which gives way to evening with a shuffling sound
that can only be described as wind through leaves.

The painter picks up his tubes, canvas, & easel
though he’ll stop to let you know that
this is another in a series of unfinished landscapes, &

that he used to paint boaters on the lake
from one of the stone bridges.
It made him hopeful, somewhat nostalgic—

those couples with their secret languages &
picnic baskets, their laughter
competing with busker song & the giddiness of kids

clutching balloon strings. He never says what changed
his mind, or how much sadness is like sunlight—
ubiquitous, momentary. Along the curving path

comes a woman with a poodle, whistling
Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. There’s no call for rain,
yet an umbrella swings from her free hand.

Peter would say that proves everything.

*

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 Ted Kooser

Three Leaves

The first from a cottonwood, a rag
of a leaf, yellow with green stains,
the kind you might pick up by one
corner and cautiously sniff, a strange
oily paraffin odor. Next, from an elm,
in that dusty, green bleached down
to brown paint of a ’48 Plymouth,
rust holes all over it, the wind
pushing it rattling over a sidewalk,
then tipping it into the gutter.
Then one from an oak of some kind,
with the scuffed leatherette brown
of an old Samsonite suitcase, long
out of fashion, our last leaf today,
part of a matching set, handed down
autumn to autumn.

*

Dust Bath

Had it not been a good path
to scuff to the barn in the evening,
across the low slope of a hillside,
this shallow rut—with today one
brown cow in the lead, seven
following, heavy heads nodding
and blowing—would be grass
like the rest of the pasture, but
just now it leads up to and then
on from a place that stays put,
a shallow around which a kingbird
is flying as it waits for the last
cow to clop past before flitting in
for a vigorous dusting, just a puff
from this distance, like smoke
from a cannon that’s so far away
you can see it, not hear it, then
the bird shooting out and away,
too small and too far for an echo.

*

Ted Kooser is, at 82, fully retired from teaching and public appearances but writing every day at his home in rural Nebraska. His most recent collection of poems is a fine letterpress limited printing of A SUITE OF MOONS, from Gibraltar Editions in Omaha. He is a former U. S. Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Three Poems by Anton Yakovlev

ALARM WILL SOUND

Our childhoods crack their fish heads through the ice
of our routine-embellished brains—
good cats show up on windowpanes,
magical moose surprise us with advice
on days of blight or eaten love
when scimitars we thought we’d left behind
glisten around us until we’re blind
and faith is a rotten baseball glove.

Our childhoods hold our hands when we’re adrift
in romance fjords, sewn into hair-shirt gloom,
when failures tenderize our living room.
Our operating systems sift
through inner icebergs to spit out
our first grade thermos, our grandparents’ tea,
Napoleons baked before a black and white TV—
good jetties in a bay of doubt.

Our childhoods are wrapped in police tape.
The moment someone touches them, we scream
skewed words from a forgotten dream.
We sink like snowmen on a fire escape.
We turn on lovers when they get too close,
build black-hole walls around our memory
of garbage dumps we pioneered at three
in our miniature Harlequin clothes.

What else is there to do but scapegoat fear?
It’s been a lifetime since our self-esteem.
We dream in stripes, except when we don’t dream.
Hyenas frolic; children disappear.

*

LINEAGE

We handle carefully our holiday homecomings,
knowing the homes are not riot-proof.
The nap of anguish produces avalanches.
Leave well enough alone in a dusty bedroom.

But then they tell me I’ve gotten too chummy
with all the aggression we’re asleep to:
creatures comatose in a tree, the cream-cheese
feeling of being related. I’m related to fury

but we’re a dysfunctional family. Piles of Legos
loosely stacked. Later, I’ll rearrange them
worse. There are more ashes among kinfolks
than in any midtown columbarium.

Inherit the inertness. Inherit the inferno.
Inherit the drumming. Inherit the warbling sirens.
Inherit the random fire. Inherit the intervals.
Inherit the silence. Inherit the saxophones.

Inherit the love. Inherit its improbably heavy petals
then hold hands with that inheritance.
Hold hands but note the unexorcized among you
and disconnect as soon as the curtain calls.

*

INVERNESS

Before we know it, her car will screech down the hill
past cows with spots that look like music notation

on her way to a stage kiss. She tells me about
her hardest knock on the head, her corsets, her nightly

tumbles down ladders. We compare the colors
of our wheelbarrows, rummage through

our backpacks for signs of care.
Einstein said gaps between

bodies were an optical illusion.
“Through Eden took their solitary way”

assumes “in the same direction,” how else did Adam and Eve
fall asleep that night and every other

night? Far below, serial riptides hurl their foam at the cliffs
as we walk away from each other.

*

Anton Yakovlev’s latest poetry chapbook is Chronos Dines Alone (SurVision Books, 2018), winner of the James Tate Prize. He is also the author of Ordinary Impalers (Kelsay Books, 2017) and two prior chapbooks. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Criterion, The Hopkins Review, Measure, Posit, and elsewhere. The Last Poet of the Village, a book of translations of poetry by Sergei Yesenin, was published by Sensitive Skin Books in 2019.

Two Poems by Natalie Homer

Efflorescence

From the rain-glazed street I can see into a high window
where a papel picado banner spans someone’s apartment:

royal blue repeating in rectangles riddled with cutouts,
like constellation maps backlit with yellow light.

Sometimes this West Virginia town carries the soul
of a much larger city. I feel it most in the greenery

that grows in eddies of brick and cement—
that unexpected flourishing. This week

I received tulips twice, yellow then pink.
More things I won’t be able to keep alive.

Old wounds can always be reopened, it turns out.
I had choices and made them passively.

I’d like to be the color of the sky right now:
purple-gray. Thick with storm. But I would settle

for the pale pink of this potted tulip,
surrounded by paper birds on toothpicks in the soil.

*

Year of the Butterfly

I curated them—Tiger Swallowtails,
pale yellow and sharp-edged,
swarming down a dirt road after a rainstorm;
Silver-spotted Skippers bouncing on the July air
like stones across a lake of shimmering heat;
Pearl Crescents perched on warm rocks,
something erotic in the way they fanned
their burnt-sienna wings, then brought them flush.

In the thrift shop, a blue netted butterfly
clung to the edge of a custard handkerchief,
and I imagined it magicked to life,
little imago lifted on the air currents.
Among the old, water-rippled books:
Butterflies of North America waited for me
with wing diagrams in black ink,
blurred and bolded over time.

I pressed pigments, sunset coppers and pinks,
the shape of forewings, onto my eyelids. Flicked
the liner into the same curve as the black, empty veins.
The moon, I realized, was a Cabbage White all along,
and the roadside flowers—Viceroys.
My old hurt and grudges made a home in me
and I sheltered them, tiny eggs
on the underside of a leaf.

Long after their season was spent,
I caught sight of a few stragglers,
the frantic mating of Clouded Sulphurs
in the tall grasses, already orange with autumn;
Monarchs tossed in the rush of traffic
on their migration south; and a quivering cluster
of delicate feet and probing tongues
on a road-ripped carcass.

*
Natalie Homer’s recent poetry has been published in Puerto del Sol, American Literary Review, Four Way Review, Ruminate, Sou’wester, and others. She received an MFA from West Virginia University and lives in southwestern Pennsylvania. Her first collection, Under the Broom Tree, is just out from Autumn House Press.

Six Poems by Ethel Rackin

Pride

Some things go with it—
the anxious stares
the desire to attenuate things—
so that a flower in a vase
stands just
as it is
as long as it is
invisibly and because.

*

The Color of Trees

All these creatures filled
with petrified wood
as I am—little bird—
as I am—snow-filled skull—
ornamental nightingale—
so my early years and late
stretch in a thin line—
break and breathe—
as trees thrown by a river
rise—what’s the difference
bird—call me if you need
any 200-year-old trees.

*

Frets

The forest will take you—
you with your sudden
aching parts
your steely starts
and uneven gait
your unconscious fits—
don’t fret, Friend, walk—
something will roll you
something will lift you up
as if by wind—
a frond.
A river walk.

*

Idyll

Something it is that hangs
on the backs of bushes—
laundry-line or vine, half-
occluded woodbine—
or those rotten birches—
the hollow ones—now
that we’ve become
no more useful to them
than this unpredictable sun.

*

Another Summer

Dogs walked the streets
trees snuck behind shadows
the world was an alley
in my heart a tune played
ice fell and melted
large drinks were served
these were the salad days
but we didn’t yet know it
we were so busy counting
our private miseries
our secret wishes.

*

Remains

What remains in my notebook
now that the day is done
here on this sick planet
I think I’ll pour another
look up at the dim
stars—for tonight
they’re on fire.

*

Ethel Rackin is the author of three books of poetry: The Forever Notes (Parlor Press, 2013), Go On (Parlor Press, 2016), and Evening (Furniture Press, 2017). Her new text, Crafting Poems and Stories: A Guide to Creative Writing, is forthcoming from Broadview Press. Poems are forthcoming in Allium, Colorado Review, and Guesthouse.