Levels of Concern by Stephanie Frazee

Levels of Concern

Late summer.
We stay inside,
though the house is an oven,
because the outside air
is damaging.
The sky—
dystopian-future orange.
Air seeping
under the doorframes
smells of campfire, bonfire.
I’m ashamed
to want
a marshmallow.

The chickadees are silent
as they flit to the feeder,
the same color red
as the AQI warning.
Beneath feathers, muscles, breast bones,
particulate matter
deposits itself
in a system designed
for lungs the size
of peanut halves
to find oxygen at high altitudes.
But here they are,
gleaning oxygen from smoke,
dropping seeds
from the feeder
onto the wooden porch rail,
furred with rot,
and hopping down to eat them.
I’ll hold my breath
if I refill
the seeds.

Spring again, and
the chickadees nest
in the laurel hedge.
I’m still waiting to hear
the hungry shrill of chicks.
One daffodil, bent over,
half yellow,
half brown,
half dead already.
The hydrangea
is all brittle wood.
I forget the last year it bloomed.


Stephanie Frazee’s work is forthcoming from The Evergreen Review and Bayou Magazine and has appeared in Third Wednesday, Juked, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is a reader for Juked, American Short Fiction, and No Contact, and she lives in Seattle.

Two Poems by Linda Lerner

About Whales and Breathing

I’m thinking of whales
who sleep using only one side of
their brains, the other half stays awake
to make sure they’re still breathing;
thinking of how it used to be
before breathing had become routine
before it stopped, and someone
nudged me awake, how everything
I’d do, like making coffee in the morning
once was like breathing, I’d feel
every breath, could taste and see it,
I didn’t need someone else
to remind me, when breathing wasn’t
just pushing out one gray day
to let another in; I’m thinking

of people struggling to let out
each breath, tied up to ventilators
for months, not making it, and
thankful to be breathing at all;
I’m thinking of whales this Thanksgiving
how they breathe, and what
it takes to be alive every minute


Not Them Again

I wasn’t thinking of Eve
mythed from Adam’s rib when
I broke off the last part of my cat’s name,
Samsara, to create hers, six weeks
after he was gone on his 17th birthday,
a few days before my estranged brother also left…
did it to get Samsara back,
sister to a brother she never met
brings back my own brother
but this poem is not about him

Sara, would have none of it.
No lap sitting cat, would not let me
force her into his image, led only
by her instinctive nature
I watch her breathe new life
into this name, to own it absolutely

and see a long line of women
shadowing her, my own struggle against
a favored male sibling I resented…
that ongoing fight for women
to be who we are, a fight
for not against who we’re not


Linda Lerner is the author of 17 collections, including Takes Guts and Years Sometimes & Yes, the Ducks Were Real from NYQ Books (2011 & 2015) and When Death is a Red Balloon, her most recent collection (Lummox Press, 2019) Her poems have appeared in Maintenant, Paterson Literary Review, Gargoyle, Chiron Review, Free State Review, and Rat’s Ass Review among others.