Twenty Truths to Outlast the Sun by Dana Kinsey

Twenty Truths to Outlast the Sun

~Emily Dickinson and Ms. Lauryn Hill converse

E. I am out with lanterns looking for myself.
L. I made up my mind to define my own destiny.

E. Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.
L. Tomorrow, our seeds will grow. All we need is dedication.

E. Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
L. After winter must come spring. Change, it comes eventually.

E. The poet lights the light and fades away.
L. Oh, you inspire me to be the higher me.

E. We never know how high we are till we are called to rise.
L. You are my peace of mind. That old me is left behind.

E. I am nobody! Who are you? Are you a nobody too?
L. Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.

E. Pardon my sanity in a world insane.
L. You know I only say it because I’m truly genuine.

E. Friends are nations in themselves.
L. And I thank you for choosing me.

E. Our brains are wider than the sky.
L. What a joy it is to be alive.

E. I felt it shelter to speak to you.
L. Wisdom is better than silver and gold.

*

Dana Kinsey is a writer, actor, and teacher with poetry published by Yellow Chair Review, Broadkill Review, For Women Who Roar, Writers Resist, Spillwords, Fledgling Rag, and Silver Needle Press. Her prose appears in Teaching Theatre and Tweetspeak. Dana’s play, WaterRise, was produced at the Gene Frankel Theatre in Greenwich Village for the Radioactive Women’s Festival. Visit http://www.wordsbyDK.com.

Two Poems by Annie Stenzel

Let the skull be a bowl

A question came to mind the other day when I doubled
mirrors so that I was there, and there, and there, as far back
as the eye could see. And I pictured my skull without
the rest of me, tried to see the skull’s cracked places, four deep
dents that remember blows from some unknown
enemy who felled me on the street half a lifetime ago.

In the absence of a better vessel, the top of the skull
would serve, once the brain is lost or taken. Go ahead.
Scrub it clean of its first material, let it bake
in medicinal sun, be rinsed in rain. Call it a bone
bowl, readily cupped in the palm and able to hold
a meal. What’s to eat?

Sometimes it is necessary to cast the imagination
on a long line over the waters of history, so that the lure
sinks into a time about which little can truly be known.
Yes, there are artifacts. Maybe I didn’t invent the idea
of the brittle basin that could have been worked on, or decorated
by an ancestor, then kept to hold cooked tubers or grain.

And what if I hadn’t survived? Could my skull have become
a receptacle? Would its flaws be visible during every meal?
Would the places where the bone was broken and never
got the chance to heal make the bowl less prized
by its new owner? Or maybe more so.

*

Incarnation

We all look out of the same eyes, if we have eyes,
but the heart studies what we see. And yet, heart
is to fist as muscle is to trouble; trickster mind
an everyday cornucopia. Once, before our innocence

freckled, perception was self-regulated. We
had to learn to apply admonitions in a strictly
binary way. Go and Stay were not yet opposites, because
verbs behaved more like everyday carp in a koi pond.

What happened? These days, a kneejerk propels us
toward longing when we turn our gaze outward.
Inter-species wistfulness? Some of us peer at hypothetical
x-rays and see baleen when we search for ambergris.

Or vice versa. Then everything flashes an irredeemable
green. Because this is the bardo, not a strange dream.

*

Annie Stenzel was born in Illinois, but has lived on both coasts of the U.S. and on other continents at various times in her life. Her book-length collection is The First Home Air After Absence (Big Table Publishing, 2017). Her poems appear in print and online journals in the U.S. and the U.K., from Ambit to Willawaw Journal with stops at Chestnut Review, Gargoyle, Gone Lawn, On the Seawall, Psaltery & Lyre, SWWIM, Stirring, The Ekphrastic Review, and The Lake, among others. A poetry editor for the online journals Right Hand Pointing and West Trestle Review, she currently lives within sight of the San Francisco Bay. For more, see anniestenzel[dot]com.

Three poems by Michael Northen

Sourdough

I watch his hands knead the dough on the bread board
the same that cradle a guitar, draw portraits, create building designs.
Hands surer than mine setting up his son’s nebulizer
and gathering girls at his daughter’s soccer game.
It’s not like making cornbread
tossing buttermilk into the cornmeal and soda
stirring it around.
This bread takes patience.
The starter’s long incubation
the rising, pounding, stretching, waiting
for the rise again.
His living room is scattered with living:
first grade readers, paper mache work in progress,
a Christmas cactus from his grandmother blooming profusely.
When I get home, I’ll grab some coffee
and head to the front porch
to bite into still-warm bread
and watch the geese beyond the December trees
skim the evening’s lessening sunlight
just as they should.

*

Monastery

We walk into a monastery chapel
carved high into mountain rock
in the midst of a third day mass for the dead,
tourists in the realm of God.
Gold enameled icons cling to the walls
Above the few pews in its small dark space.

In 1827 monks held out here
against Ottoman occupiers
in caves formed in the side of the mountains,
religious tradition born of necessity.

Incense and words in an unfamiliar tongue
draw me back through remembrances of Latin mass
and chanted dies irae to the smaller, darker spaces
inaccessible to ordinary light.

The gift shop near the room where
the family of a dead son gathers
offers crosses, prayer books, icons, beads
and jar upon jar of dried herbs and flowers
gathered by the monks from slopes that surround,
petals of the past as brittle
as the remnants of faith forged in ancient hillsides.

Their scent lifts from the tea this morning,
curling upward as I breathe it in,
a hopeful acridity still seeking
those remoter silences.

*

March 21

First day of spring,
beneath the residue of last year’s leaves
the ghosts of November plants are stirring
their colorless first shoots
quickening into life.

Not everything that dies returns again:
the pansies, catchfly, marigolds
or my brother gone 50 years
and absent on this birthday
sealed in a past untouched by spring.

He lives solely in our minds
those engines that can pull time
only down a one way track
disappearing further each spring
in the rearview mirror.

To be human means to be forgotten,
the way the soil will soon forget
the new life it cradles this year:
the pansies, catchfly, marigolds
and all earth’s psalms that make
our brief lives beautiful.

*

Michael Northen is the past editor of Wordgathering, A Journal of Disability and Poetry. He is co-editor of the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability and the disability short fiction anthology, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked. He is a founding member of the Disability Literature Consortium. An educator for more than 40 years, Northen has taught adults with physical disabilities, women on public assistance, prisoners, and rural and inner city children.

Dear Scar by Barbara Daniels

Dear Scar

You’re effortful proud flesh
the color of galvanized roofing
piled in the basement

by the custodian and left
to rust in foul water.
Remember the lit bed,

wall of lights, quick feet
pounding toward me?
Dear oddity, I praise

your ugliness, your stumpy
hitch and itchy drag. You
were cooked in a crucible,

your stitchery split and discarded.
You’re a map of a coast
that sinks as flood waters rise.

Your itch might be healing.
Or a new warning, shadow
dropped through blazing day,

wind rocking trees and
rivering leaves over asphalt.
I want you to fade to an ink trail,

night coming blue-black,
the great oak a father
extending his wounded arm.

*

Barbara Daniels’s Talk to the Lioness was published by Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press in 2020. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Lake Effect, Cleaver, Faultline, Small Orange, Meridian, and elsewhere. Barbara Daniels received a 2020 fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

White Pepper Ice Cream by Patricia Davis-Muffett

White Pepper Ice Cream

We are an odd combination:
not just opposites like hot and cold,
but fully different
like cayenne and cream.

What makes us so good
when we churn into one unthinkable mess
to become a confection for only the brave?

You warn me to take small bites,
taste it a spoon at a time.
I have never eaten dessert like that.
I will eat until I can eat no more,
my tongue numb with spice,
my teeth aching cold.

*

Patricia Davis-Muffett holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota and her work has appeared in several journals including The Slate, Gypsy Cab and Coal City Review, on public radio, in the di-verse-city anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival, and is forthcoming in Rat’s Ass Review and Amethyst Review. She lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband, three children, one good dog, one bad puppy and a demon of a cat. She makes her living in technology marketing.

Four poems by Shelby Stephenson

JONQUILS

I don’t know why I call them jonquils.
There is no John in them, though I have
seen them rich with yellow and white
come up next to the backhouse bright
with oak seasoned by rear-ends that rubbed
the smoothed boards around the holes.

“Backhouse” is a euphemism for outhouse,
which word, by the way, we (family)
would never say. I restored it
just to show it was where my brother Paul bit
his lips as he read his loved one’s letters, finally,
before they wed; he built a house with a bathroom for that spouse.

But I was going to say, when truth sprouted up the flowers,
there, those short-tubed clusters, all jonquils,
first at the rear of the backhouse’s richest dirt,
that I must have heard my mother say the word
“jonquils” before anybody else. I don’t know why “daffodil”
she never said; thus jonquils sound refreshing showers.

*

JO-REET

The rufous-sided One is a bird,
Archie Ammons says in “Hardweed Path Going.”
He – the reddish-eyed male – with that sooty and bold
black on his breast, the soft rufous sides
and belly white as my baby-blanket, the sides
of meat in the pan sizzling grits, grits, little bird,
come get your grits, when the female, not as bold
in color, yet distinct head a brown, her back and throat going
up and down as she scratches February away, going
on with her dancing, jo-reet, jo-reet, as I say, jo-reet, to take sides
with her and with him, for I don’t want to be a bold
enough intruder to scare them into clumps. I say, “my little bird,
go on, on your own”; yet the two stay near as going
seems heavenly to me, my chirpers, never mine, so free on all sides.

*

THE FIRST GOODBYE

BECAUSE I want to be with you always
I wave the first goodbye, a friendly sway
A flourish promises nothing shall wrong
Our parting until I come back to you.
I shall prove my care a thousand ways.
We share our spun-out odyssey housing
The open road shaping our destiny.
Concept conjures a phoenix in a hover.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

I try to find myself, my Love,
Since I am the first and last; you are the best.
Welcome to upsy downsy one more time.
Hello’s Goodbye clumps our lovesome fests.
Beauty’s Truth snuggles lasting Romance.
Touch stills our hearts’ thrum when I see you.
Then our world turns to routine errands
Which stay your raw desire for requital.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

We cannot explain all this to anyone.
Waiting and waving make time seem just right
Among the bluebirds and Canada geese,
The squirrels and the semi-tamed rabbit
My father would have shot for the table
For his Maytle to fry or Q the way an artist
Might paint Grace, say a Thanks for pleasure,
Then leave all their thoughts to other parties.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

Experience turns color as it will
And marks sunrise to sunset with water
Which runs along to shape another hill,
A climb to make the past proper order,
Set things right again for us, within years,
Decades passing without losing freedom
Coming into our lives: we seem almost free,
Two, one, inbound, apparent passages.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

I know that exiting a dream’s raggedness
Demands a part in a story without mascot.
Lightness undoes the wedges stuck lock
Like sheets tangled up in warts,
Some flesh, nightmare’s history of slavery,
Before the waking up, glad to say Just a dream.
Consider an overseer scheming
To put even one loyal servant in place.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

Oh sufferers! Take all roads, low and high.
In county courthouses, search documents.
Let the preaching become a loom to weave
The fabric of infinite records there,
The defective unity of our years,
The secrecies of children in wombs,
The promise of brand new people aware
That Love and Affection shape the one soul-topper.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

A dig would reveal who lies in the graves
Across the road in the Old Graveyard kept
Now by a group of families who say
We want to remain close, by all means: let
Us not forget the many breasts we lay
On then and now, the milk and honey our ancestors
Worked for money while the muse of longing shores
Complacence to multiply awful descents.
                    Good night and sleep tight, my Love.

*

DETOUR: THERE’S A MUDDY ROAD AHEAD

                                        I

AROUND me flashes half a century – toast:
A schooling, some friends and guests, a wedding;
A corporation, leave of absence.
I am still on leave, but not from verse, letting
The words come out generously, as best
They can, the wars – Korea, Nam, getting
Into the cavern where sloughs shed my mind
For peace and energy keeping time.

                                        II

The girls I used to know fifty years ago
Fade into viburnum’s blossoms
Among schools of retirement just to show
I am tired of words that work like sloshing
Criticisms toppling shadows in rows
Of elements and brambling gospels
That vanish when a woman opens a door
And I know I am in love one time more.

                                        III

Humble with nostalgia I get sad
As my brother Paul sinks into his bed
Dies, his son, calling me, “He’s still warm, Shub,”
And I ride two miles to kiss his forehead,
Detail like that, his humor, never bad,
Corny enough to blow away the dread
Mortality puts in the song I sing
Because I know what real joy singing brings.

                                        IV

And Ammons – gone, Hughes, Wolfe, Ellison, Guest,
Liner, Jacobs, Haley, Roethke, Dickey,
And Possum Jones runs a race filled with mice
Coming into the house winter breeches.
I get my old ski-jacket; there’s ice
I see in the bird-bath, the one tickle
Over the fake well of the plankhouse, rust,
Inheritances, plus the doilies, dust.

                                        V

My eyes close and my heart and mind go dark.
That woman appears again at the door
And my eyes fade over parks.
I realize our children are more
The ones no secret ever could mark
Or surprise the story of I Love You − for
It has no ending after all these years;
No thought can change into song the lack of tears.

                                        VI

I’ve always thought of the bigger picture,
The god or goddess on the rise, the sun
Bringing on romance without sinister,
Tedious bargains in malls people run
And want to fill in time; not me: I say the lecture
And advertisements, the world-in-your-face-dom,
Shall come round again with every sunrise
To show its noble carriage void of lies.

                                        VII

Detour, there’s a muddy road ahead,
Detour, the song says, from this road, paved, now,
With zooms and blasts where once the corn turned red
In fall and boys pulled fodder when leaves curled brown
And shouldered their guns to hunt the game that fed
Us round the table: what’s next for me to sound,
Except cliché, something like What a ride
I am living now, the door, yours, opening wide.

*

Shelby Stephenson served as Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2015-2018. Recent books: Possum (Bright Hill Press), winner of Brockman-Campbell Award; Elegies for Small Game (Press 53), winner of Roanoke-Chowan Award; Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl (Bellday Books), the Bellday Prize; Paul’s Hill: Homage to Whitman (Sir Walter Press); Our World (Press 53); Fiddledeedee (The Bunny and the Crocodile Press; reprinted by Press 53); Nin’s Poem (St. Andrews University Press); Slavery and Freedom on Paul’s Hill (Press 53); More (Redhawk Publications). A member of the Society of Distinguished Alumni, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, serving as editor of Pembroke Magazine from 1979 until his retirement in 2010. He lives at the homeplace on Paul’s Hill, where he was born, near McGee’s Crossroads, about ten miles northwest of Benson, North Carolina.

ESP by Ed Nichols

My friend said, “You need to be a believer in extrasensory
perception. I know things before they happen.” I cried into my
phone. “I don’t want to know the future. Or something that
happens on the other side of the world.”

I dozed off in my lawn chair. Not needing to know things
yet to happen. Blue sky lay over the farm. Cows munched
grass…dogs napped. Life was beautiful. Why question? Worry not
about such happenings…things to be determined tomorrow, or
next week, or next year, or never?

Smell of cornbread drifted over me. Understanding what I
am…what I believe, brought a tear to my one good eye. Always
best to not know when a terrible thing will occur.
*
*
*

Ed Nichols lives on Lake Oconee, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award-winning writer from Southeastern Writer’s Association. He has had many short stories published, online and in print. In 2020 he started publishing his prose poems. He is currently working on a collection of his southern short stories.

Four Poems by Brett Stuckel

Our Work

Pipe juts
from a mudbank,
a factory wall,
a highway side,
rusty
and sludgy
and pure,
doing its job, never
complaining yet chosen
as the one to be plugged.
It freezes,
ruptures,
is replaced.

*

Shared Rails

You shivered,
dodged overtime
skunks, and flagged
the train at dawn.

Now I gamble
and roll on
the parkway, spar
with trucks in the fog.

My car is old
and too slow, wobbling
out of style, front seat
wide as the Hudson.

Traffic is my train, electric
circuit, rail
that shocks as you
warned.

*

Fired and Ice

Walk a mile
across the waist
of an hourglass
lake in rubber-soled
boots, across the dark
and bubbled thick-slab
ice, across its mottled
patches and pressure
cracks as twangs
pop beneath, your chin
goes numb.
Remember you
were fired, split
within. Gravity
and ice are all you
need to cleave, break
bones and bleed.
Shuffle, wrapped
in the fear you’re here
to forget.

*

Card to Business

I’ve carried you
in my wallet
so long
your corners are furry
and you’re worried
with cracks and creases.

You’re the only way
to remember the person
I was
so briefly, the person
you told me to be.

*

Brett Stuckel’s writing has appeared in Electric Literature, Hobart, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is online at @1kMarquis and http://www.brettstuckel.com.

Three Poems by Dana Knott

According to Werner Herzog

To become a great filmmaker
one must read The Peregrine.
                 —Werner Herzog

I know a falcon can dive
200 miles per hour just

as I know I cannot fly.
I have seen feathers flutter

on highways as cars race by
at 70 miles per hour.

A falcon’s eyes are telephoto
lenses surrounded by bony rings

that hold them in place.
How little I have seen.

Knowledge has not made
my life better or happier,

only more grounded.
Falcons mate for life,

yet they hunt and die alone.

*

Werner Herzog and The Child: A Triolet

I do not know when or how I will die.
“You are cowards,” I said. “Leave it.”
Heartbreakingly beautiful, it made me cry.
I do not know when or how I will die,
my being reflected deep in its black eyes.
It’s a phenomenal technological achievement.
I do not know when or how I will die.
“You are cowards,” I said. “Leave it.”

*

Werner Herzog as Eulogist: A Nonet

Please ask Werner Herzog to narrate
my end of life and all my dreams.
He will say, Life is chaos.
He will say, Life is pain.
We will all vanish
not with a song
but with screams
like ripped
seams.

*

Dana Knott’s poems have appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Bitter Oleander, Emrys Journal, and Parhelion. Knott currently works as the Library Director at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Peace, and outside by DS Maolalai

Peace, and outside

fried vegan
steak – a nut roast
with vegetables. a clean
and white candle
for some mild
ambience. no light
but the light
of the candle
we’re burning
and the street
on the river, rippling
kitchen walls. peace,
as outside
dublin dies
to hotellerie,
and graffiti
makes buildings
which they plan
to tear down.

*

DS Maolalai has been nominated seven times for Best of the Net and three times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019)