Two Poems by Betsy Mars

The improperly squeezed-out sponge*

I am, a place for harboring
bacteria, cellulose thriving
with writhing mold spores—
in my pores, an abundance
of water. Left on the ledge
too long, I dry out, shrink
to half my usual size, still
full of potential, I wait
to be of use.

*From The Secret House by David Bodanis

*

Thirty Birds

There’s a brightness folded into every bird
but the bird doesn’t know it. – Melissa Studdard

And you, in your darkened hood, fold
in upon yourself, forget your underpinnings,
your bright insides, huddle in the wind.
Oblivious to drafting wings or the fish below
whose flash frenzies this fervent gathering,
your eyes locked on churning surf, scolded
by the feather-fanned air, the squawks that sing,
the waves that level, unfurl softly to the shore.

*

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.

Bird Watching by Maureen Fielding

BIRD WATCHING

In my mother’s garden
amid the blue hydrangeas,
begonias and hibiscus blooms,
a red-headed finch sits atop the fence,
nervously eyeing the feeder.

Prodding hungry stomach,
tiny internal debate—
last doubts extinguished,
fears overcome,
he flutters from fence to feeder,
hurriedly, blissfully
guzzles the seed provided with love,
always aware
that his quiet meal
may be jarringly interrupted,
that the same hand that pours the seed
and fills the bath
is the same that flings open the doors
and shatters the moments of silence, safety, sustenance.

For sometimes my mother stands
entranced at the window,
tuned to the finch’s fragile courage.
At other times
her world is devoid of finches.
She tramps loud and heavy
on the hearts of all.

*

Maureen Fielding is an associate professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State Brandywine. Her work has appeared in Westview, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Marathon Literary Review, WLA, and other journals. She has taught English in South Korea and is currently working on a chapbook based on research conducted in South Korea about Japanese Militarized Sexual Slavery. She has also written a novel inspired by her experiences as a Russian intercept operator in West Berlin during the Cold War.

Treescape by Amy Barone

Treescape

A peephole to the world outside
reveals shades of green,
brilliant budding leaves.

The collage of trees shines
on a pink Japanese maple
as big crows probe a patch of dirt.

Mockingbirds aren’t chirping;
they’re belting out arias—so much to say
after their winter isolation.

I invited the morning shower
to wash away the cold,
help a heartier spring take root.

Rain made it easier to stay inside
and while away another Sunday.

*

Amy Barone’s latest poetry collection, We Became Summer, from New York Quarterly Books, was released in 2018. She wrote chapbooks Kamikaze Dance (Finishing Line Press) and Views from the Driveway (Foothills Publishing.) Barone belongs to the Poetry Society of America and the brevitas online poetry community. She lives in NYC.

Two poems by Nicole Caruso Garcia

Sijo for Two Sparrows

Two sparrows are beak-deep in
        tire-flattened rest stop French fries,
more or less content to peck
        an ecstasy of sun-warmed trash
here beside the Jersey Turnpike,
        when they could fly anywhere.

*

What Were You Wearing?

Because the body is a temple,
I wore the wakeful song of birds,
Lay safe beside my lover, still.

Because the body is a temple,
When he trespassed like a vandal,
I had no robe but words.

Because the body is a temple,
I wore the wakeful song of birds.

*

Nicole Caruso Garcia is Associate Poetry Editor at Able Muse and a Board member at Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. Her poems appear in Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Light, Measure, Mezzo Cammin, PANK, Plume, The Raintown Review, Rattle, RHINO, Sonora Review, Spillway, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Visit her at nicolecarusogarcia.com.

Two Poems by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Ode to the Bic Lighter

My first lighter I found in a parking lot—
a smooth red plastic tube that fit
in my pocket. I knew playing with fire
was dangerous. I knew I wanted
to learn how. I remember trying again
and again to get the right purchase
with my thumb on the serrated sparkwheel.
I rolled and rolled until my skin was raw,
until at last the brief flame sputtered then died.
It wasn’t long before it came second nature—
the smooth flick needed to produce a spark,
the slight pressure on the red tongue
to maintain steady flame.
I learned how it burns
to be lit up too long,
but once you know how to make light,
how easy it is to bring it with you
everywhere you go.

*

Small Hope

Nudged by hope
the heart rises
from exhaustion.

It’s like the great blue heron
I saw this morning
flying up from a wasteland

on broad gray wings
with strong, slow beats
for a moment charged

with grace
before—did you
see this, heart?—

it chose to land again,
bringing all its beauty
to the desolate place.

*

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer co-hosts Emerging Form, a podcast on creative process. She also co-hosts Telluride’s Talking Gourds Poetry Club and is co-founder of Secret Agents of Change. She teaches poetry for mindfulness retreats, women’s retreats, scientists, hospice and more. Her poetry has appeared in O Magazine, on A Prairie Home Companion, in Rattle.com and in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. Her most recent collection, Hush, won the Halcyon Prize. She is often found in the kitchen baking with her teenage children. One word mantra: Adjust. https://wordwoman.com/

Five poems by Joanna Milstein

Halloween Party

When you called I told you all about the party on Halloween.

About the cape and the pearls and the fishnets and the fangs.

About the men who asked me to dance to the slow songs.
The handsome one who showed me around the haunted house and let me, tender me, spooked by suspended skeletons and disposable ghouls, grab his arm.

That I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning
between the grey satin sheets of a stranger.

What I didn’t say is that I stayed at home alone on Halloween.
Listening to public radio in my pjs.
That at midnight I ate the last bag of candy that the trick-or-treaters hadn’t picked up outside my door.

That yours was the last number I’ve dialed in weeks.

That I’ve been sick all autumn.

*

Red birds

The voices of the red birds invade my house at dawn chirping and fluttering.
They ask so many questions that I cannot answer.
I am mute until dusk.
I have a mouth but not until the inky darkness does it dare to whisper.
I want to chant the quiet things but I am tone-deaf.
I long for a new voice.
A voice content to be alive.
Grateful to hear the birds hum each morning.
With that voice I could join the dawn chorus
I could soar like the immortal birds.
I could respond instead of just listening.
And with that voice I could sing.
With that voice I could sing you a song.

*

Beach witness

I walk for the wet silence
And the non-manmade noises
The unheard and the untranslatable.
Only available Tuesday evenings after seven.
But please don’t tell.
Families have gone home and it is just me and the vanishing light and the roll of the short waves up and down and up again.
I step over electric blue latex gloves and a plastic fork and a razor blade and a supermarket bag and a Barbie doll and an empty bottle of bleach.
A soaked branch decays. A black feather shivers.
Nature kills nature all the time and no one complains.
Fingerprints and footprints dissolve when the tide rises.
Scars fade but never disappear.
The gulls are crying and the prehistoric birds extend their wings to dry as washed linen on a clothesline.
You told me once that horseshoe crabs cure leprosy but their carcasses also listen when you tell them your secrets.
Dead things make great confidants.
Green sea glass sparkles, edges softened by the hand of time.
Crabs like spiders crawl on fuzzy rocks.
Did you know that female spiders kill their male partners after mating? I learned this in biology.
You always told me I was bad at science.
The tide is low and the sea has hemorrhaged rusty red seaweed and artificial possessions and the blue-grey detritus of dreams.
The ocean breathes in and out
I try to breathe like that, I like how it makes me feel.
Tide pools brim with new life, things are reincarnated there.
Streams feed a thirsting sea.
Maybe you were a brilliant scientist,
but you were a terrible father.
My sandals gently crush a graveyard of white seashells.
They crackle under my feet like crepitation in the bony joints of cruel old men.
The sand flies hum, shells become sand.
The flecks live forever. Their tiny ears hear everything and their little eyes have seen the manmade deeds that lie at the foot of the wakeful seabed.
Teeth eat flesh but hard things disintegrate, too.
Everything devolves.
Everything becomes wet dust.
I believe in the eternal silence of beaches.
So many secrets shared between me and infinite particles.
They whisper:
We know we know we know we know we know we know we know we know we know.

*

Night traveler

Last night I traveled to Brazil
forced to navigate the rainforest
I stopped a friendly stranger for directions
struggling with a guide to basic Portuguese.
The heat nearly felled me, the thirst torturous, I opened my mouth and let the rain drip past my tongue down to my parched tonsils.
You were there, too.
Arm in arm we penetrated the forest’s dark canopy.
Together we wrestled man-eating tropical plants and gargantuan snakes,
You stole perspiry kisses, pushing my back against king-sized kapoks.

I awake covered in sweat.
Not from struggling with anacondas but from this miserable cold
my passport still in the drawer next to the four-poster bed.
I reach instead for Robitussin to soothe my throat, Advil to cool my torrid temperature.
No need to brush up my Portuguese.
I’m not sure which is farther, you or Brazil.
I don’t even like hiking.
And I lost you a long time ago.

*

Scheherazade for one night

If you stay I won’t ask questions. I’ll tell you stories, she said.
I’ll weave a quilt with them, I’ll tattoo our earth with rainbows.

And so she told him about mythical creatures and cold seas and spirits who haunt and others who don’t and kings and traveling salesmen and warm-blooded fish and fishermen and manipulative genies and healing herbs and poisons and stone souls and mermaids and an automaton and grief and prophetic dreams and blooming jasmine and secret languages and purple skies and apple trees and lovers and peripatetic courtiers and long suppers in the fourteenth century. About rewards. About women who lie with men and those who lie to them. About so many selves.

But in the morning he left anyway.

She stayed home, listening to their music, her footsteps caressing the carpet where his soles once danced.

*

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Joanna Milstein is a New York-based writer. She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2019. She holds a PhD in History from the University of St Andrews. Her most recent short story is included in the winter 2021 issue of The Writing Disorder. She is currently working on her first novel.