The Night Before Prozac by Susan Cossette

The Night Before Prozac

The amber bottle of green and white capsules
waits in the plastic pharmacy bin,
for three days now.

The strap of muscles clenched around my ribs,
The nausea and stomach churn tell me it is time.
My pulse pounds
go, go, go.

At 3 am, I will think of the perfect things I should have said at work but didn’t.
I will regret the things I said but said anyway.
I will imagine every way I could possibly die.

CNN reports a 50% increase in the number of liver transplants needed
due to pandemic binge drinking.
I cringe at the dozen empty wine bottles
in the kitchen trash.
So many colors, each with its own mood.
The good pinot grigios remind me I overspend.
The cheap ones scream of bored desperation.

In 1999, I crawled into bed for a month.
Nothing existed but the lace curtains, the damp sheets,
a toddler and his grandmother in the next room.
All it took was a pill to wind me up again–
a blank-gazed cipher in pink gingham,
contorted limbs, stiff painted smile.

At 3 am, I will worry I won’t write another poem again.
But I need to sleep and smile and do my job,
the one I waited my whole life for.
I have bills to pay.

The amber plastic bottle waits.

*

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 and 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.

Two Poems by Ralph James Savarese

KISS

Putting up a Christmas tree
when you’ll be gone
for Christmas is a bit like
taking your sister to
the prom. The ornamental
satisfaction is the same
or nearly the same.
Your house, a gangly
teenage boy, is all dressed up
and presenting its corsage—
the lights a kind of doorbell
for the eyes. But the tree
pities you, or you pity it.
With no gifts below, it’s
like the man ringing a bell
outside Walmart. (If
salvation’s an army,
there are many deserters…)
You and the tree both know
that, after some dancing
and some punch, absolutely
nothing will happen.
Every dream is platonic,
and every prayer, a wise guy.
No heart can ever be king.

*

CHRISTMAS PEAS

Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight…
–John Keats, “I Stood Tiptoe upon a Little Hill”

Peas make carbonara divine: a little sweetness,
a little green, a little pre-masticated mush.
Yet alone, like bachelorettes flirting nakedly
with a bowl—no, thank you. I’d rather eat pebbles….

Well, tonight they arrived by frozen ambulance:
a kind of Santa, though not for the mouth,
that ridiculous chimney, but for the hand or arm.
A coldness so kind it can pull you from the past

and its roiling riptide, deliver you by nerve-ending
to the shore, to certain sand. Years ago,
at Christmas, in foster care, a much older boy
who’d been sodomized by his father brutally

attacked our son. Ever since, it’s been a season
of infected needles—the tree a hospital all lit up,
the whiteness of oblivion calling and calling…
(When the sky dissociates, Humpty Dumpty

accumulates on the ground.) Although I loathe
the boy for what he did, I know that the attack
was nothing more than paying for the meal of the car
behind at a drive-through in hell. Happy Holidays!

As our son flailed on the couch, threatening to put
his head through a phantom window, the peas
arrived on their sleigh and beat back the demon
with their one and only gift: the present. Our son

looked up at us and smiled, then looked down
at his hands in wonder—none of us can ever quite
believe this tactile trick. Once as a boy, coming
out of anesthesia, he typed on his computer

(he doesn’t speak), Easy breathing forever.
We were at the dentist. For years, he couldn’t
tolerate anything human in his mouth. Now,
opening the door to his bedroom and watching

his chest rise and fall, angry at myself for becoming
angry with him, tired as spent tinsel, I think
of my friend’s mother who insisted that the last line
of “Silent Night” is sleep in heavenly peas.

*

Ralph James Savarese is the author of three books of poetry: Republican Fathers (Nine Mile Books); When This Is Over (Ice Cube Press); and, with Stephen Kuusisto, Someone Falls Overboard: Talking through Poems (Nine Mile Books).

What I Want for Christmas by Luke Stromberg

What I Want for Christmas

One of those women who jump out of cakes.

She would be scandalously young, preferably—
twenty-one or twenty-two—
And—what the hell—let’s make her a blond,
one that looks good
in a white bikini bottom
and has a flat tummy.
That’d work.

Nah. Not really.

I wouldn’t know what to do with her.
We’d probably end up friends.
She would look up to me.
Later, she’d introduce me to her boyfriend, Kyle.
He’d be a guy in a sleeveless t-shirt
who likes to call me ‘Bro.’
Most likely he’d look up to me, too.

How about a swordfish, then,
or one of those big, goofy moose heads
to mount on the wall above my fireplace?
But I actually don’t have a fireplace—
so one of those, too.
And some logs to burn in my fireplace.
And a velvet jacket and a mug of grog.
And a high-backed leather chair to drink my grog in.

A Model-T Ford.
A scarf, a pair of gloves, some goggles.
A submarine.
A fleet of bicyclists.
A typewriter
possessed by the soul of an alcoholic playwright.

Or someone I could talk to.
(The nights are long and dark this time of year.)

Someone who makes me laugh, who finds
something debonair about a man in glasses.
She could have red hair and smooth skin, too,
the whitest teeth,
a way of sighing to herself
she probably doesn’t even know about.

There’s a good movie playing downtown.
Maybe she’d like to go.

*

Luke Stromberg’s debut poetry collection, The Elephant’s Mouth, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. His poetry and criticism have appeared in Smartish Pace, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golidad Review, Think Journal, The Raintown Review, The Dark Horse, Cassandra Voices, and several other venues. He also serves as the Associate Poetry Editor of E-Verse Radio. Luke works as an adjunct professor at Eastern University and La Salle University and lives in Upper Darby, PA.

Two Poems by Gerry LaFemina

It’s Christmas. The turkey vultures
             – For Michael and Barbara

It’s Christmas. The turkey vultures
have climbed into the choir loft of a nearby tree,
seven, twelve, fifteen of them ready for carols
we are too far to hear. They look sharp
backlit in their black frocks, their monastic heads
bowed & serious. Their songs all in minor keys.
Across the street another five have alighted
like Santa’s reindeer on a neighbor’s roof.
Some omen. Some harbinger. They remain
unfazed by flashing lights, by inflatable snowmen
suddenly resuscitated, by the old world
curses of a grandfather worried about
evil eyes & wives tales. These are beaks that know
carrion, talons that carry death over
backyards, patios, children pointing them out.
Winged, ferocious, hideous & full of grace
they could be seraphim. We are
miles from steeple or cemetery.
The community’s lone lake remains ice-scabbed.
The gazebo overlooking it frowns despite
its crown of holiday lights, each bulb a blazing
scarab. There are no crows or pigeons,
only the vultures. Already,
the remains of gift giving burn in fireplaces—
hearth smoke & kitchen scents mingling.
My brother wants to know what can be done
about the buzzards, talks about shooting them
with garden hose spray or shaking that tree
viciously, for they are awful & ugly & blessed all
at once, & like any of us, clutching carnage &
redemption both, our redundant lists
of naughty & nice. How radiant
the afternoon sky in the bay window, even
as occasional shadows darken the welcome mat.

*

Night Walk

Three bats scrape the undercarriage of dusk,
circle concentrically then swoop for summer’s
remaining insects. They are scraps of darkness
against the darkening sky, the way certain notes
in a nocturne’s melody resonate more,
cables vibrating from hammer strikes, sustained
almost a visible shiver, even as being played
by an unknown neighbor. E minor. Chopin.
The whole thing unsteady, uncertain, almost
unrecognizable, like the self in distant memory. Smoke
from a leaf fire a worn scarf against windsweep.
I didn’t use to believe in ghosts despite a childhood
watching Chiller films Saturdays past midnight.
I didn’t believe in mad scientists & undead.
Then I learned about the Bomb in class,
imagined being trapped in a basement shelter
with girls I had no courage to speak with
outside fantasy; the yellow & black fallout signs
that were everywhere it seemed, announced the inevitable.
Yet here we are nearly 40 years later, in Appalachia,
in an America that continues to advertise
custard cones, holiday parades, & Elvis impersonators
appearing at Autumn Glory band shells. For years
people kept seeing the King or his ghost—
the past unrelenting. Its soundtrack all nocturnes &
Return to Sender, the occasional riff of swing
or bebop. The junior high kids, instead, fall in love
on the school bus or in Math class or during
active shooter drills, teacher saying any one of you
might be a victim, so follow directions. This is how
we learn heartache, how even a name can be haunted
because a name can be a house we live in for years
walking in the empty rooms of its syllables.
We open the windows just to hear the beloved
breathing until that breath becomes the very back-beat
of our evenings. The properties of heartbreak & loss
all so similar, their overgrown lawns, their one lit rooms
behind curtains, envelopes uncollected in mailboxes.
No one knows what happened, though kids walking past
invent narratives, each one more horrific until
all that remains are the rumors themselves—
the plots like that of thrillers, all sadness or else
the threat of tragedy, & even this is American.
The piano appears again, this time Gershwin, more
furtive, further away. A feral cat rushes from wild fescue
a field mouse, metronomic tail swinging, clamped
in its fangs. Years ago this might have been an omen.
To the distant west strobe lightning flashes without thunder.

*

Gerry LaFemina is the author of numerous collections of poetry, fiction, and criticism. In 2022 he’ll have two new books released: The Pursuit: A Meditation on Happiness (creative nonfiction) and The American Ruse (poems). He is a Professor of English at Frostburg State University, serves as a mentor in Carlow University’s MFA program, is a Fulbright specialist in Writing and American Culture, and fronts the punk rock band The Downstrokes.

Winter’s Toll by Melanie Figg

Winter’s Toll

The deer are starving.
Summer was too dry and snow came too soon
and too thick. They usually don’t come out
of the woods until February. It’s almost Christmas
and they’re in the trailer park by ten.

My mother died a week ago.
We cleaned out her refrigerator,
found two bins of apples
she had no energy to can
and left them for the deer.

After bar close I drive in slow: two doe and a fawn.
For a minute I feel lucky—to see animals so hungry
they’re at front doors eating
Christmas wreaths. One doe swings her head,
watches me park and go inside
my mother’s house. They keep walking,
looking for apples on the snow-covered lawns.

*

Melanie Figg’s debut poetry collection, Trace (New Rivers Press) was named one of the 100 Best Indie Books of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews. Melanie has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The McKnight and Jerome Foundations, the Maryland State Arts Council, and others. Her poems, personal essays, and book reviews can be found in dozens of literary journals including The Iowa Review, Nimrod, and The Rumpus. As a certified professional coach, Melanie teaches creative writing, offers women’s writing retreats, and works one-on-one with writers and others. http://www.melaniefigg.net

Gears of the Night by Dawn Sperber

Gears of the Night

for Jennifer Simpson

The night before Christmas,
people were busy in their lit houses.
The moon kept revolving all the same.
The tide headed out, then returned,
headed out, and returned.
The shoreline breathed the rhythm.
The bugs bored into the trunks
of the trees behind the factory.
Tick, tick, tick went their tiny teeth.
The metal slats across the overpass
clattered each time a car drove past:
clac-clack, clac-clack.
Then, the traffic cleared
and only crickets sang.
Out from the darkness, a pickup sped by
—clac-clack—
and the pigeons under the bridge
lifted in a swirl and swooped away.
There was a snail working
his way up a drainpipe.
He’d stopped and rested some hours,
his slime hardening on the corrugated metal.
With no fanfare at all,
he returned to his journey up the pipe.
The moon noticed but said nothing.
Why would it.
On Christmas Eve,
outside of the busy, lit boxes,
the gears of the night turned onward.

*

“Gears of the Night” is dedicated to Dawn’s dear friend, Jennifer Simpson, devoted writer and literary community member extraordinaire. Jennifer led Dime Stories in Albuquerque, was co-founder of Plume: A Writer’s Companion, volunteered for years at the Children’s Grief Center, and among her many other efforts, she hosted the drop-in writing group, where Dawn wrote this poem one year ago. 

On December 12, Jennifer Simpson suddenly passed away. She was a beautiful ally to many people, in countless ways. This piece is shared in tribute to her influence on the writing community. Go to talkstorypublishing.com to learn more about Jenn’s various projects and check out the fine books her press published. 

Dawn Sperber’s stories are forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction and Zizzle Literary, and her fiction and poetry have appeared in Bourbon Penn, We’Moon, NANO Fiction, Going Down Swinging, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in New Mexico, where she’s a writer and editor. You can find more of Dawn’s work at dawnsperber.com