Three Poems by J. C. Todd

Forced From Home

A bloom, the season’s first,
today, and a half-dozen buds
topping stems that shoot up
from a ruff of trefoil leaves.

Thirty-five years in a window box,
this single plant that once flourished
and seeded itself along the border
of a garden someone else now tends.

Thirty-five years in box,
one foot wide, three feet long,
one foot deep, reseeding
a single companion

to tilt with it toward the sun’s
narrow threading down
past shingle, brick, and siding,
into the arid, shadowed grove

of urban structures
where this migrant
has been transplanted.
Soil boosted, composted,

watered, mulched, and tended,
everything that can be done
to make a home for it, although
a holding cell is not a home.

*

Home as a Foreign Place

what’s been torn down
I revisit through language
a language of longing, solo
speaker, rooms empty of her
listening, except in memory
where I, having lived on
reassemble in sound
a monoculture of loss

*

Zemaitijos Gatve, Vilnius

I walk into their stairwell
where they passed up and down,
the granite steps dished out and chipped
by generations who went before them,
books tucked under arms—
books of prayer, laws, poems,
books of history, science, and tales
that made their way from mouth to page,
from air to ink, weighty books
tucked under coats for protection,
padding the hollows of bellies
in the starving times of winter or war.
Packed into five floors of flats, they shivered
and sweated, ate and argued, prayed and rested
and read, and then they were gone.
The gates to the ghetto were opened.
They were driven out, herded into trucks
and rail cars. 1943. You know this story, don’t you?

I’m looking back to where I can’t have been,
wishing for a girl or boy who reads them
out of the terrible dark that’s closing in.

*

J. C. Todd is the author of Beyond Repair, (2021) a special selection for the Able Muse Press Book Award, and The Damages of Morning (Moonstone Press (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award, as well as chapbooks and collaborative artist books. She is one of ten winners in the 2021 National Poetry Competition of the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom. Winner of the 2016 Rita Dove Poetry Prize, with fellowships from the Pew Foundation and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, she is a poet with the Dodge Poetry Program, Murphy Writing of Stockton University, and leads independent poetry workshops.

Bad Boy by Kenneth Pobo

BAD BOY

Mom said “Only the neat survive,”
her Bible on the coffee table
open to John 3:16, a verse
to guide anyone who entered.
I disappointed her
as I was sloppy, my room messy,
and worse, I left glasses all over.
She yelled and yelled. I thought
she was dramatic, never helped
with the dishes. She said that was
her job. Part of her job was
religious training, our church
four blocks away. If God so loved
the world, why did he insist I go
to church? School was bad enough.
I couldn’t close the top
of my overstuffed desk. So far

I have survived, still messy,
still missing her.

*

Kenneth Pobo is the author of twenty-one chapbooks and nine full-length collections. Recent books include Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), Loplop in a Red City (Circling Rivers), Lilac And Sawdust (Meadowlark Press), and Lavender Fire, Lavender Rose (BrickHouse Books). Opening is forthcoming from Rectos Y Versos Editions.

At the Indian Ocean by Jennifer Abod

At the Indian Ocean

We had never seen a beach like this.
No lifeguard chairs or buildings
to burden the view

The lack of clocks,
sirens, gunshots,
held us as we hold hands

Watch the only human
graceful and slow,
like a tall black egret
across alabaster sand

*

Jennifer Abod, Ph.D. is an award-winning producer/director of both film and radio. Two of her documentaries feature major poets of the second wave: Audre Lorde and Kitty Tsui. She organized and hosted the first virtual poetry event featuring Lesbian Widows in 2021. Abod’s poetry appears in Sinister Wisdom. She is working on her first poetry manuscript.

Three Poems by Rachel Custer

House Soon to Catch Fire

Upstairs, a man
with swarming wasps for eyes

paces the carpet bare.
Bent birdcage of a woman downstairs.

Falling matchstick of a man
who only wants to rise

like song, like the blush of pride in
his children’s cheeks.

Brief fever dream of a man
whose senses whisper lies.

What gift can he offer
his children? His name,

that prison cell inside his neighbors’ glares?
The desperate shame

of broken teeth, of ugliness
that can’t afford disguise? That man

looks at his wife, sees only bars.
Listens for birdsong, hears broken cars.

Such a man would maybe
trade a match for unheard blame,

would settle for ash lifted skyward on a flame.

*

Stripper

Whatever you think you know of me is wrong.
I came up in church. I remember all the songs –
Amazing Grace. Just As I Am. For All the Saints.
I spent a lifetime being what I ain’t.
I spent my childhood on a desperate man.
He spent himself against me. Now, I can
touch a man without him touching back.
I’m real good, too. I got the knack
for making an invisible man feel seen.
That’s why they come, you know? They clean
their dirty fingernails and shave up neat,
and sit there still as Sunday under me.
Just as they are, so wonderfully unmade.
I’m the patron saint of getting paid
for less than what a man will sometimes steal.
Sundays, I repent. It’s a good deal.

*

Factory

South from courthouse square, the church bells ring
time to clock in. A call to partake in the sacrament
of making. Here’s a factory, placed in the crease
of a hand. A factory, the promise of daily labor;
here’s peace in the land. A factory is a lung,
breathing a people, exhaling a town. In, deeply,
with sweat and life-time and dreams; out, with
force behind it, order. A factory is the land resting
behind a border, and the border itself. A factory
is a pantry full of stocked shelves. A town is a place
where a person can go to a store and pay a bit
of her life to buy a thing that she made with a
bit of her life, and she can walk away feeling
proud of her life. A town is what happens between
work and church. A life is what happens around
a town. There are men whose hands get lost
on the way to work, end up wandering the paths
of the forest called woman, the desert of a constant
thirst for wine, the grasping vine of a hot pipe.
A factory requires no leap of faith. Repetitive
work is a kind of balm for the open wound
of doubt. The church bells ring the workday out.

*

Rachel Custer is an NEA Fellow (2019) and the author of The Temple She Became (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, including Rattle, OSU: The Journal, B O D Y, The American Journal of Poetry, The Antigonish Review, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters (OJAL), among others.

After Calculating the Cost of a Trip from Spain to California by Julie Weiss

After Calculating the Cost of a Trip from Spain to California

I can´t ask them to catch the bits
of grief falling out of my voice
like marbles or bottlecaps. Falling

onto our kitchen tiles like a clatter
of coins, whose designs have corroded
beyond recognition. How many times

have they winged it around the neighborhood,
tilting and dipping, a sparkle of clouds
in their eyes? The whir, the rumble,

turbulence of laughter as they land
on top of each other, in a field that refuses
to flower a runway. Some planes never

take off, no matter the years of toil
fueling their engines. How long
since I felt decades disintegrate

in the dizzying crush of a first hug,
since my parents pressed memories
into my spine, as if working clay

in the urgent minutes before it starts
to dry? My children´s hands are too
small to grasp the plans we´d packed

into a suitcase of premature dreams,
now a heap of follies I hurry to sweep
into the trashcan along with breadcrumbs,

eggshells, candy wrappers as wrinkled
as their grandparents´ kisses
filtered through a computer screen.

The clam chowder doesn´t quite cool
to the temperature of resignation before
I spoon some into our bread bowls.

It never does. The crust goes down
hard, sours my throat. My children
chatter about the pot of gold at the end

of a bridge they may never cross as I fold
their grannies´ laps into my pocket,
brace myself for another summer without.

*

Julie Weiss (she/her) is the author of The Places We Empty, her debut collection published by Kelsay Books. She was a finalist in Alexandria Quarterly´s First Line Poetry Series, shortlisted for Kissing Dynamite´s 2021 Microchap Series, and she has been named a finalist for the 2022 Saguaro Poetry Prize. A two-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her recent work appears in Gyroscope Review, ONE ART: a journal of poetry, Sky Island Journal, and others. Originally from California, she lives in Spain with her wife and two young children.

Two Poems by Cheryl Baldi

NIGHT LANTERNS

We are here to spread her ashes,
the first cold day of fall
as shadows spill across the bay at sunset.
Six of us, in a boat while others
gather in small groups on the dock
beneath a sky streaked with pastels.
Here, we float her vessel
just west of the island, where
currents carry it toward the salt creeks,
sage green paper crusted
with Marsh Marigold, Rose
Mallow, wildflowers to seed
the space we once inhabited as kids.
Silent, we drift for a while,
and when the bay grows dark,
head home for the usual family gathering,
the familiar stories suddenly held dear.

And late, returning to the bay
we carry with us a dozen night lanterns,
those small hot air balloons we light,
waiting for the heat to build,
their thin paper walls as translucent
as her skin the last weeks of her life.
They sway and bobble along the beach
as though dancing to 50’s music
until one by one lift
into the dark, rising high
above the bay, light flickering,
growing smaller and smaller
before vanishing
in the expanding darkness:
her burial ground, reaching
from the shoals of this island
deep into the sky above.

*

SISTERS

I want to tell you the story
of our sad childhood so you know
the fear you felt was real,
but you’re sleeping, and your hands
are cold, so I tell you instead
the story of the nuns who came
each August to the shore, a dozen
or more, renting the yellow house
with the large, screened porch.
Remember? We were young
and up early, sneaking to the beach
where each morning we’d find them
clapping like children as they
fed gulls or played tag,
running through sand in black
stockings and black shoes,
their long habits puffed
by wind, their veils floppy.
We learned from their joy,
that it comes unbidden
in a moment of surprise,
like your giggles
that shake you from sleep,
awake now long enough
for me to say goodbye.

*

Cheryl Baldi is the author of The Shapelessness of Water. A former Bucks County Poet Laureate and graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she was a finalist for the Robert Frasier Award for Poetry and The Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. A former teacher, free-lance editor, and co-facilitator for community based workshops exploring women’s lives through literature, she lives in Bucks County and along the coast in New Jersey.

May by Don Thompson

May

Just before hot weather
Disabuses us of spring illusions,

Leaves become, for a week or so,
Everything they ought to be:

Plump, supple as fabric,
Indelible shades of green,

And so dense we pretend
We can’t see through them.

*

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks. A San Joaquin Almanac won the Eric Hoffer Award for 2021 in the chapbook category. For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com

The Procession of the Living by Susan Cossette

The Procession of the Living

You return to that old place.
The musty salt smell of low tide floods back flush.
You did not notice it when you lived there,
Twenty-five years.

Green lawns lush,
shrubs carved into false spires,
obscene roses, impossibly fluorescent hydrangeas–
perfect, expensive, artificial world.

Ten cars crowd the curb
near the neighbor’s grey clapboard house.

I never really knew the man,
saw him in passing, smiled and waved.
Three small children, petite blonde wife.

Then the Saturday run, then the heart attack.

The joggers still jog.
Mothers pull sunburned children to the beach in red wagons,
a slow cadence to the sea.

The purple clouds and fog hang over the horizon at sunset,
florid balloons wafting in stifled air.

*

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.

Stable by Betsy Mars

Stable

Cinnamon glints like small fires
on the sleekness of the horse’s neck
in the late afternoon sunlight
as his head pulls right, straining
to be free of the bit,

to reach for grasses and the thistles
that line the trail, and I pull back –
a battle of wills – but he doesn’t know
what’s edible versus just green,
and it’s my job to guide

as the hills release their glow, and we are on the return
leg of the ride where the corral and good hay await,
and I’ll dismount, saddle sore but fully alive
to return to the schoolroom tomorrow,
with faith (mostly) that I’ll go home again.

*

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.

Portrait of Katie by Kika Dorsey

Portrait of Katie

She sits with buried head,
won’t look into your eyes,
a woman who bled in prisons,
who spent nine years locked up
for a bag of pot and some pills,
mocked by a cruel cellmate,
begging the guards to see a doctor.
Eventually, after vomiting
the canned beans they forced her
to eat, doubled up on the cold
linoleum, they sent her to a doctor,
who removed her entire colon.

She smells like stale cigarettes,
her bleached hair now dyed auburn.
I want to touch it.
It looks so soft, shiny and copper
like a new penny,
her thin shoulders caressed by it.
Her lover of twenty-seven years
just died and now she holds
his memory tight against her, filled
with shadow and color, her past
a long highway that led
to a place she couldn’t leave,
her future a gutted fish,
a waterfall pressing her shoulders,
a stage where the red boat
may find that water tucked
between the fall
and the stone
and rest for a bit,
listening to the roar.

*

Kika Dorsey is a poet and fiction writer in Boulder, Colorado. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature and her books include the chapbook Beside Herself (Flutter Press, 2010) and three full-length collections: Rust, Coming Up for Air (Word Tech Editions, 2016, 2018), and Occupied: Vienna is a Broken Man and Daughter of Hunger (Pinyon Publishing, 2020), which won the Colorado Authors’ League Award for best poetry collection. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. Currently, she is an instructor of English at Front Range Community College and works as a writing coach and ghostwriter. In her free time she swims miles in pools and runs and hikes in the open space of Colorado’s mountains and plains.