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.

How to Dive When You Don’t Know How by Abra Bertman

How to Dive When You Don’t Know How

They fall backward, and you’re alone
on the side of the ship, pretending you don’t exhale
black air into black rubber while your big black
two left feet face the music outside your mask.

Despite hearty encouragement from the
tanned, optimistic instructor, his smile
turns dark and strained. Sea-blue eyes
cloud behind his tousled hair.

You are the bane of his summer job: each cruise
has one difficult, bookish, crumpled,
menopausal woman invading the ship, muumuu flapping
as she invokes a poem about Ocean being God

in a world where only breathing-knowledge pays.
You will never lean back into the horizon,
and he will never get to the cooler
for a beer. It’s like trying to be a debutante

with a novel instead of a clutch under the arm.
Later, prim as you please, you’ll sip tea on a coast
where sand-brown girls gulp sunrise
tequila with sex on-the-beach and in-the-city laughter.

The instructor sighs. He says he’ll count to three
And then you need to let go. Have a good time, he says.
He motions for you to fall. He pleads for you to dare.
He invokes Nike wisdom. It’s not his fault

you resist opening to the world
under water. You’re trying
to tell him there are no good symbols
for fish. What is this loneliness the water spills

onto the deck of your doubt? What are these
new feet for? What is this weight on your back?
From the mask air leaves through a tube.
Every breath is a loss you share with antiquity.

*

Abra Bertman lives in Amsterdam where she teaches English Literature at the International School of Amsterdam. Her poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Citron Review, Rust + Moth, Slipstream, and WomanArts Quarterly Journal, among others. Abra was nominated for the Best of the Net in 2016. Her poem “When the World Comes Home,” a collaboration with jazz pianist Franz Von Chossy, appears in the liner notes of the CD of the same name.

Four Poems by Grant Clauser

Fireline Trail

This trail, marked in yellow blazes
for the mapless and lost, where lookouts
once kept eyes awake for smoke and fire,
begins in white pines, the edges
needlesoft and quiet, then blends
into proud old chestnut oaks standing
straight a hundred feet in a kind
of wisdom. At the top, where paper birch
lean toward the gorge, unwrapping
in the almost noonness of the sun,
a meadow filled with low blueberry
bushes stretches until the mountain
bends to the river. I pick my fill
of ripe ones, miles from highway
traffic and the river now dying
from mine acid. Here, so much free sweetness
within easy reach the world must be
playing a trick. Maybe it’s not
that life is hard. Just our expectations
too high. Eyes bigger than your stomach
my mother used to warn. I’ll leave most
of the berries here for birds. Begin
the switchback down to the car, back
through those oaks, the dark quiet
of pines, the day’s haze that leads
toward home, the taste of blueberries,
the whole marvelous mountain,
still on my lips.

*

Weeping Willow

When you’re eight years old
and pull enough of the whip-like
branches into your hands, take
a running start and lift your legs,
half the tree may bend, but still
you’re flying for a little while,
swinging in the sun’s arc
over the rock your brother calls
the Volkswagen because it’s almost
as big as the neighbors’ blue Beetle,
and when you let go, wild leaping
out over the rock onto soft ground,
rolling down the hill into the always
wet part of the yard, you know that
sting in your hands from landing
will go away, just like everything,
the last two times your parents packed
to move, some new tree waiting
at the new house, your knee bruised
again through your hand-me-down jeans.

*

White Pine

Down in the ravine
where the Black Creek’s
stoneflies compete
with gravity, and the water
competes with boulders,
almost everything
is part shadow, even me
when I crept up on the bear
scratching his rump
on the rough bark
of a pine, the small tree
shaking with every shove
of his legs and spine
til needles sprinkled
down on him and into
the cool brook trout
waters of the creek.
This went on for minutes.
The tree pushing back
against the yearling’s itch,
the creek slipping by
unnoticed, me frozen
in shadow trying to save
every moment in memory,
that place I go to more
often these days,
that place I feel better
in, rubbing shoulders
with the past, making
the minutes last.

*

White Pine II

Who doesn’t stop to marvel
at big trees? This forest, clear cut
completely at least twice shouldn’t
have a pine so massive.
It would take my whole family
to wrap around its trunk
like a bear hug, reward
for standing still
a couple centuries.
Upstream a mile
the remains of a mill
that ground this mountain bare.
Downstream a cemetery
remembers the flood
that washed the valley clean.
If this great old tree
remembers anything
I hope it forgets the sounds
of saws and chains.
The train whistle bearing
coal to Philadelphia.
The one great fire
that finished finally
the town. I hope
for wind and sun. Some
redstarts nesting
100 feet in boughs
still growing, getting
farther and farther
from the ground.

*

Grant Clauser is the author of five books including Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven (winner of the Codhill Press Poetry Award) and Reckless Constellations (winner of the Cider Press Poetry Award). Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Rattle, Poet Lore, Tar River Poetry and others. He works as an editor and teaches at Rosemont College.

God, Guns & Ginny by W. D. Ehrhart

God, Guns & Ginny

Well, of course it was righteous.
Bear any burden, pay any price,
what you could do for your country.
Godless communists, after all.
You may have been only seventeen,
but you’d seen them already
in Hungary, Cuba, Berlin.
Something had to be done,
and someone would have to do it.

There is something about a thatched-roof
hut in the middle of rice fields, burning,
a mortally wounded woman softly
keening, child dead in her arms,
that can’t be blamed on Chairman Mao,
Castro, Lenin, or Das Kapital.
Heavy artillery flattened that home.
Ours. Our guns did that.

Long before I reached my thirteen months,
I discovered I had nothing to cling to
but a girl back home. A young girl.
Still in high school. Watching her friends
go out on dates, having fun, enjoying
all of the things that seniors do
for the last exuberant time together.
She must have agonized for months
before she sent me that final letter.
I hope she’s had a nice life. I mean it.

*

W. D. Ehrhart is an ex-Marine sergeant and veteran of the American War in Vietnam. His latest book is Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems, McFarland & Company.

Hide-and-Seek by Erin Murphy

Hide-and-Seek

         Northern Virginia, 2002

The week I teach poetry to fourth graders,
my students scramble up slides at recess

and blister their fingers on monkey bars.
They swipe the shoulders of each other’s

striped t-shirts and erupt in a chorus
of Not it! Not it! They are not squirming

in desks, locked down because a sniper
is targeting strangers. A teen in search

of a father is not crouching in the trunk
of a blue Chevy Caprice, taking aim

at bus passengers and landscapers
and drivers pumping gas. On this day,

a 25-year-old woman vacuums Cheerios
from the back seat of her mini-van

at a Shell station and returns home
to her toddler daughter whose favorite

word is why. Why dogs bark? Why
thunder go boom? Why babies cry? Why?

Why? A liquor store clerk rings up
the last sale of the night and heads back

to his garden apartment where he falls
asleep to Law & Order re-runs.

Their families will not have to ask why. I write
personification on the board. What word

is hiding inside? I ask. I’m looking, of course,
for person. In this version, there is only one boy

in the world hungry for attention, and he shoots
his arm in the air and answers cat.

*

Erin Murphy’s eighth book of poems, Human Resources, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Diode, Southern Poetry Review, American Journal of Poetry, The Georgia Review, North American Review, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her awards include The Normal School Poetry Prize, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and a Best of the Net award. She is editor of three anthologies from the University of Nebraska Press and SUNY Press and serves as Poetry Editor of The Summerset Review. She is Professor of English at Penn State Altoona. Website: http://www.erin-murphy.com

“Hide-and-Seek” will appear in the craft book The Strategic Poet edited by Diane Lockward (forthcoming from Terrapin Books in fall 2021). The Strategic Poet features model poems, prompts, sample poems based on prompts, and craft discussions. Additional contributors include Ellen Bass, Camille Dungy, Todd Kaneko, Diane Seuss, Ada Limón, Jan Beatty, Allison Joseph, and dozens of other poets.

Related social media links:

Erin Murphy’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinmurphypoet
Erin Murphy’s Twitter: @poet_notes
Terrapin Books Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/terrapinbooks
Diane Lockward’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dianelockward
Diane Lockward’s Twitter: @DianeLockward

Three Poems by Larry D. Thomas

Vampire Bats
(Houston Zoo)

The thick glass
which seals the mouth
of their dark little cave,
suffused with the dull,
incarnadine glow
of a red bulb, is smudged
with the grease of children.

At feeding time,
though they feast
daintily as debutantes
sipping soup from their spoons,
lapping the blood of cattle
from the shallow lids of jars,
people rush to their cave

as if to a scream of fire,
scrambling for position,
shoving, elbowing
and crushing the toes
of three-year-olds
to see the cruel freak show
of caged lives.

*

The Sea

Some call it ocean,
bounding main,

or briny deep.
Asteroids envy

the stony backs
of its crabs.

Its fish
are angels,

and its stars
crawl upon the sand.

*

The Rain

keeps falling,
each of its drops
the little, crystal fist
of a god:

keeps falling
as if from nowhere,
streaming down
the windowpanes:

a million rivered mirrors
quaking with faces,
each of which is nothing
but a matter of water

tinged with minerals,
imbued for a while
with the insubstantial
miracle of breath.

*

Larry D. Thomas is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and served as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate. He has published twenty-three collections of poems, including As If Light Actually Matters: New & Selected Poems (Texas A&M University Press, 2015).

Lesser Days by Seth Rosenbloom

Lesser Days

Hands gather beech leaves
cracked yellow on the walk.

Five-point maples fire
in the remains of sun.

Bough of the white pine prays
to wind—needles strewn along the rail.

Rake, sweep, brush, hose.
We make decisions before the rain.

*

Seth Rosenbloom writes poetry and consults with companies on leadership and management. His poetry has appeared in CutBank Online, Hawai’i Pacific Review, and The Main Street Rag among other publications. Seth holds a BA in Drama from the University of Washington, and he lives in Seattle.

The Heart by Jo Taylor

The Heart

         –After Danusha Laméris and Ted Hughes

The heart is not a gate.
A door that opens and closes
at someone’s will. Not
automated. Not smartphone-
controlled. It is not a soft start
and stop and could even develop
jerks and skips and flutters over
time. It comes with no guarantee,
and the warning is clear–whatever
happens there, happens.

*

Jo Taylor is a retired, 35-year English teacher from Georgia. Her favorite genre to teach high school students was poetry, and today she dedicates more time to writing it, her major themes focused on family, place, and faith. In 2021 she published her first collection of poems, Strange Fire.

Two Poems by Katy Aisenberg

plaques and tangles
      For Alan

Much to my surprise,
My father is a restless ghost.
Perhaps because he took so long to die.
He haunts the halls of his own
Hospital, phantom of the cancer wards, white coat
Flapping open at his bruised knees.

Searching for his briefcase, his bronze bust of Diogenes,
His last discovery,
He calls and calls for an honest man. He wakes his
Own sleeping patients to shine a lantern in their faces or rustle through the
Pages of their charts. He can’t stop checking for a
Small mistake he almost remembers he made. He calls me for
His route home, his wife, his overcoat,
The whereabouts of his three-speed Raleigh bike.
A host of papers cover his bed, kindling his next life.

He had work to do and he
Hasn’t done much lately.
So he starts at the corridor and
Works his way down.

What can I do for you?
Where does it hurt?
Where do you live again?

*

the game

There is always a game on somewhere.
She realized that was the joy of it, someone was
Always sitting on the edge of their chair
Or fixing drinks. You could count on it. And not
Many things now, can you count on just like that.
The scalloped roar from a crowd and people, just some
Ordinary people really cheering for one good game.
When the dusk thickens, and he sinks in his chair, he might
Never get up if it weren’t for this.
The game comes on and they settle down.
They sleep in crumbs on the couch. They fall like trees.

*

Katy Aisenberg lives in Somerville MA and works as a psychologist in private practice.

What to leave spinning by Merie Kirby

What to leave spinning

Sometimes the wheel is spinning at the right speed,
the clay has just enough water on it, your hands
feel like they have hit their groove, and one
lovely bowl is sitting on the shelf in front of you,
but this next bowl somehow wobbles,
the sides go thick-thin-thick and trying to fix it
leads to a complete collapse of one side.
Stop the wheel. Cut free the clay.
Wad it up and set it aside. Later you will
wedge it, work out excess water, return it
to what it was before you started throwing it.
Even pots thrown well can break when dried,
but if it isn’t fired yet you can soak it,
return it to clay, raw materials, potential.
Like the line that was the only thing that worked
in that poem about sun breaking through rain –
Wad up the other words, set them aside,
but leave laughter after tears on the wheel.

*

Merie Kirby earned her M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Grand Forks, ND and teaches at the University of North Dakota. She is the author of two chapbooks, The Dog Runs On and The Thumbelina Poems. In 2016 and 2013 she received North Dakota Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grants. Her poems have appeared in Quartet Journal, Sheila-na-gig Online, and other journals, with work forthcoming in West Trade Review and Mom Egg Review.