Three Poems by Michael Simms

Sidewalk Drain with Moss and String

If it’s human
to put things in categories
like putting them in a bag
a few pebbles collected in the alley
for their odd striations of color
you imagine forged in a volcano
when volcanos were a thing around here
a tattered notebook with a few scribbles
you wrote after your mother died
a hatband, a rubber band, a hairclip
dropped by a girl you were afraid to speak to
and out of the whole deck you saved only
this Jack of Spades winking at you knowing
something about you that keeps changing
if this hoarding of memories
is what makes you human then
are crows our cousins
carrying bits of yarn and bottle caps
to their nests weaving shiny things
into their homes the way
you brought home a photo
of a sidewalk drain full of green moss
and two pink roots curving onto the aggregate
and on one of the roots a piece of string
with three pieces of red brick beside the moss
because happiness clings to small things?



Beside the highway outside McKeesport PA
a state trooper has pulled over a black man
who leans against his rusty Ford
palms flat, feet apart
assuming the position
as we say in America.

The smokey in his broad brimmed hat
and menacing chin strap
which is leather, like the leather of his boots
and belt and holster, wears his hat
low, his face in shadow.

Beside us, the Monongahela River
quickens, making its way
through abandoned pastures
and ruined river towns
on its way to the Ohio.

As the smokey rummages through
the car, the man shrinks in his clothes,
catches my eye, then looks down
ashamed. What’s he done? I wonder
What’s the trooper done?

What have I done,
what have I ever done
but look away / up the road
toward the beautiful Laurel Highlands
hidden in the white mist of America?


A Cowboy in the Chapel of Bones

Baby Head Cemetery, Llano Texas

Where I come from
it’s bad manners to speak of death
except in dead metaphors. Kick the bucket. Bite the Dust.
Give up the ghost. Swan song – a pretty phrase, but bad ornithology.
I once heard a lady from London call dying Popping your clogs
as if we throw off a pair of muddy shoes after a long walk in the rain,
appropriate no doubt in London but not in the dusty streets of Llano Texas
where tooled boots Death might wear are the rage.

Cowboys are Calvinists.
We like the dead to stay dead,
ashes to ashes with no dust left over, no grave to visit.
Ancient cemeteries are just grazing land, undeveloped real-estate
waiting its turn to be turned over to developers
of green and gold towers rising above the dry plains.
Capitalism meets fantasy, and death plays no part in the story.

But our dead metaphors are a dead giveaway
that once we had more respect for the dead.
After all, a cliché is simply a beautiful phrase
we ride hot and put away wet until it weakens and dies.


On Día de los Muertos
my ex-in-laws visit the cemetery to pray and party
with the dead, a celebration of mortality.
They laugh, eat, drink, wear tall masks of demons,
make gifts to the dead and the living alike,
skulls made of sugar and pan de muerto with frosting shaped like bones.

I love the calaveras literarias, irreverent epitaphs dedicated to the living.
Mourning his mother who stands alive in front of him, Rudolfo recites
Como extraño sus tamales, empanadas y atolito;
voy a tener que aprender a cocinar yo solito.
(He misses his mother because he hates his own cooking.)

Joking with death reminds us
it’s the only imperative, the one necessity
giving urgency to our lives.
When we remember what we’d rather forget
we see and speak more clearly,
every day becomes an emergency, an emergence, an aparición
forcing us to become fierce about our faith,
to taste the chocolate before it’s gone,
to love the lover before the body fades
and to honor the body with marigold before it rots.


I remember years ago in Portugal
walking into the Chapel of Bones as if in a dream,
skulls, femurs, vertebrae cemented into walls,
three high windows casting a skeleton of light on the floor.
Our guide Virgilio told us the Capela dos Ossos
reminds us of the swift passage of life on earth.

No shit, I thought. 5,000 corpses, he said,
peasants exhumed from Évora’s medieval cemeteries,
bones arranged by the Franciscans in squares, spirals, pyramids,
a ceiling of white brick painted with black motifs.
Skulls scribbled with graffiti. Skeletons hanging from ropes.
Two desiccated corpses, one a child, in glass cases.
Aonde vais, caminhante, acelerado?
Where are you going in such a hurry, traveler?


Michael Simms has worked as a squire to a Hungarian fencing master, a stable hand, a gardener, a forager, an estate agent, a college teacher, an editor, a publisher, a technical writer, and a literary impresario. He identifies as being on the spectrum and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who didn’t speak until he was five years old. He is the founding editor of Autumn House Press and Vox Populi. A resident of Pittsburgh, in 2011 he was recognized by the Pennsylvania Senate for his contribution to the arts. His most recent books include two poetry collections — American Ash and Nightjar – published by Ragged Sky; and two novels — Bicycles of the Gods: A Divine Comedy and The Green Mage, both published by Madville.

Five Poems by Harrison Bae Wein

Watching One America

Lying in his bed, slumped
against the wooden headboard
in his shabby underwear,
watching the newscasters warn
of an immigrant tide at the border,
the secret spying of the Squad,
and Hunter Biden’s corruption,
my father, once a doctor–a
critical thinker–sat mesmerized.

They convinced him
that COVID was a sham
cooked up by the Dems in
a plot against the president–
Mother, too, who haggled
over cuts of meat, brought
her fur coat in for cleaning,
met friends for book club.

Now, dead from
COVID, this photo
from the funeral home
is all I have of him,
looking as if he’s fallen
asleep on his new My Pillow,
watching his shows,
believing everything.


My Mother’s Anger

When I was a child,
I would lie in bed
with the door open
and listen to my mother
yelling down the hallway,
the bangs jolting me awake
as I squinted my eyes
to blur the kitchen light
into a white death ray,
or a tractor beam that
might carry me away.

I remember in Maine
at my father’s conference
when she told me
to wait outside the cafeteria
with my younger brother,
and we watched through
the plate-glass window
as she walked down the aisle
and dumped some Coke
on a stranger’s head

When I told her
I was getting married,
she shouted for the better part
of an hour–and as I tried
to leave, she hurled
a bottle of nail polish
at my head

I ducked, letting
it crack on the door
to leave a red slash
which no one
thought to clean, and
that darkened,
over time,
like a festering scab.


Last Words

Growing up,
our house was like a boxing ring,
parents in their corners,
me behind my mother,
brother with my dad.

Still, I spent Saturday
mornings in the back of his office
reading National Geographics
about faraway places
and wandering around
to hear patients praise him
in the waiting room.

When he was done
cleaning ears and
examining tonsils,
we’d walk down the avenue
to lunch on knishes
and corned beef sandwiches.

It’s hard to fathom how that cool,
confident flirt, smoking in his
consultation room as he
scanned the medical journals,
became a crooked, stooped
old man, cursing under
his breath at his wife.

When I last time saw him,
he reached for something–
maybe me, maybe a ghost–
and I took his hand.

His final words, in quarantine,
on the phone, were
“She’s killing me”
or “Help me,” but I can’t
recall which came first,
and which were his last.


Things To Think About When I Die

The placid jade water of China Cove.
The earthy scent of a redwood forest after a rain.
Coarse black sand scratching the arches of my feet.
The salty spray of a wave on my face.

Brandy on my tongue from the center of a chocolate.
Fresh, soft figs picked just that morning.
The blaring brass of Dvořák’s eighth.
Fragonard’s garden swings.

Early morning walks on Broadway, deserted but for us.
Driving your dad’s clunky blue wagon up I-95.
The curve of your hip when you lie on your side.
Planting trees together in the backyard.

Holding our newborn daughter for the first time.
Dancing our son to sleep on my chest.
Lying in a tent, unable to sleep, and
thinking, somehow, that I was unhappy.


About the Past

If I could patch
the rips in the canvas
with fabric and glue
to hide the bruises,
I might forget–
but pentimenti
always show through,
stubborn, insistent,
however many
coats you apply,
their pigments and
shapes can’t be hidden,
and flesh can’t be
scrubbed or rinsed enough
to erase old scars.


Harrison Bae Wein’s fiction and poetry has appeared in several literary journals, most recently in ONE ART and Clio’s Psyche, and forthcoming in riverSedge. Harrison has won several awards as a health and science writer, and his work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and many other outlets. He founded and now edits two health publications at the National Institutes of Health. You can find him online at

poem by James Penha

Tomorrow could be the coldest day in three years in America
meteorologically, but it’s the fever of its politics
and the warming of our oceans that chill me to the bone.


A native New Yorker, James Penha (he/him) has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha

Three Poems by Anne Babson


So much depends
A red hat about
Stitched in China
For Russia
Beside the white



The Shinto soundbyte
Smacked between bubblegum lips
Is irreligious.

Five beats, seven beats,
Five beats — and why should we think
This is not an ad?

Japanese culture
Owns the rights to bonsai verse.
Coke is it for us.



Whatever words say, bodies govern us,
Trapped by flesh, no matter which pretty speech.
But on Bourbon, bouncers don’t card this
Child corpse. They assume I’m auditioning.
I watch women spin on poles, cellulite
Jiggling while they twerk, fat nipples bouncing.
Louis and Lestat slip into the lounge,
But I am not hungry for the buffet.
I stole a wallet off my midnight snack
On Conti. I slip bills in g-strings, not
To satisfy appetites but to watch
Women’s thighs show me stretch marks and track marks
Through bronze spray tan, tattoos, and glitter sweat.

This book freezes me in glitter amber.
My child vampire body will never grow.
That’s not vampire blood. That’s vampire novel.
I ask Britni, the one I panty-stuffed
With twenty singles, to answer questions.
What’s her favorite book? She doesn’t read.
Not reading books traps, too, I see. Britni
Won’t reach fifti, my night vision tells me.
But what is your favorite book? Yes, you there!
And to what has it taught you to submit?


Anne Babson is the author of three full-length collections of poetry — The White Trash Pantheon, Polite Occasions, and Messiah. Her fourth collection, The Bunker Book, will be published in 2021 by Unsolicited Press. Her poems have appeared in literary journals on five continents. She lives and writes in New Orleans.