Five Poems by Jennifer L Freed

How to Pack for the Move to Assisted Living

Feel once more the weight
of the little brass elephant
with the missing tusks.
Run your fingers along
the banister, the bedroom curtains. Listen
for the ticking of the antique clock
at the end of the hall.


Yellow Tags

At the parting edge
of ninety-four, my father
wonders what’s the point,
this accumulation of life
unspooling in Assisted Living,
while his home, so close,
a mere two streets away—
its wooded yard, its rooms
lined with books
and treasures—his home
is packed full

of people this very day, strangers
browsing shelves and closets,
burrowing in drawers, finding
the antique clocks and pewter mugs,
the Nikon camera he bought
in 1969, the Navy blanket
and hammock, boxed
in the basement, saved
for who knows what
but saved, nonetheless, a part
of his passing through
this life, and he wonders
how he got here—his past
now stickered with yellow tags.


My Father Helps My Mother with Her Compression Socks

He asks if she’s ready.
She sets her wheelchair brakes.
He kneels and she extends one leg.
He guides her foot to his knee, slides
the cuff of nylon over her heel, then yanks, hard.
The wheelchair wobbles.
Extra material hangs over her toes.
She does not offer her expertise
from years of putting on panty hose: how to
gather the nylon, pull gently, doling out fabric
through delicate fingers.
She thanks him.
He pats her leg, asks if the sock is too tight
below her knee. She always says it’s just fine.
Then they switch—her left foot on his right leg.
Sometimes he helps slide her feet into shoes,
the boxy, wide-mouthed pair with space
for swelling, before putting his hands on her
wheelchair arms, using them to tug himself back
up to standing. She pats his shirt into place
around his belt, makes sure he’s not dizzy
from rising too fast. Then he turns right, to the desk
with his computer, and she wheels herself left, to gaze
out the window while listening to the news.


Remote Control

My father, now 96—still spry, bright, quick-witted,
still learning yoga, climbing stairs, using his computer
to find etymologies, stock prices, names
of temples in ancient Greece—now

he asks me if—and this is not an urgent
request, he adds—but if, as my husband and I pack up
our home of 21 years, we should happen upon
the spare remote control for my parents’ TV,

which, my father explains, I would have found in the drawer
of the hutch by the den door of the house my parents left
two years ago, the house I emptied for them
when they moved into assisted living—

if I should come across that remote control now (I might not
have known it worked, my father says,
since it shared that drawer with other, outdated
remotes and garage door openers), or if I find it

in a few weeks, when my husband and I are unpacking
our lives in new, downsized rooms, then
could I please bring it next time I visit,
since the remote they’ve been using till now

isn’t responding anymore when he presses the buttons,
and he doesn’t think it’s the batteries, but
he’s ordering new batteries on-line, in case that’s all
that’s wrong.


Cutting My Father’s Hair

He’s still tough as leather, but so much shorter now.
He wobbles when he stands too quickly.
Why didn’t I realize sooner?
When I comment on his fringe of hair—a little fluffy,
I say—he waves a crooked hand
toward my mother, now maneuvering from wheelchair
to couch: She likes it that way.
Then, The damned clipper. Can’t get it to work right anyway.
And so I offer.
Why am I surprised that he agrees
so readily? That he brings out the electric clipper
almost immediately? He hands it over,
small and black with its little pronged comb, asks
if I know how to use it, then warns,
You might find it hard though.
It doesn’t cut as well as it used to.
And you can’t even find the damn power button.
Of course. The worsening neuropathy
in his fingers. His failing eyes.
They have the hairdresser here, but
I don’t know her, and why would I pay
all that money? I don’t even have that much hair.
He glances over at my mother, who catches my eye,
and winks. Your Mum always did it, he says. Before
her stroke.
So I sit him in the living room, under the light,
and he lets me turn his head this way and that.
I trim the patchy beard along his jaw, the grey scruff
brushing the back of his collar. He asks me
to thin his moustache, says the hair
curls into his mouth. I use a tiny scissors
for this, my fingers humming along smoothly
between nostril and lip. I think of the fine tuning
of my muscles, joints, nerves. How much
I have not yet lost. My mother
lies on the couch, watching us, smiling. My dead brother
hovers in my father’s face. My father’s eyes close
as I snip the long hairs of his eyebrows,
the fine whisps crowning his skull.


Jennifer L Freed’s full-length collection When Light Shifts (finalist, 2022 Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize) explores the aftermath of her mother’s cerebral hemorrhage and the altered relationships that emerge in a family crisis. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Orison Anthology. Other awards include the 2022 Frank O’Hara prize (Worcester County Poetry Association), the 2020 Samuel Washington Allen Prize (New England Poetry Club), and honorable mention for the 2022 Connecticut Poetry Award. Please visit to learn more.

Midwinter & my father wants to know by Amy Williams

Midwinter & my father wants to know

if I can forgive him. Brow
furrowed, I know it’s just

a matter of time. Unstable
blood vessels & his hazel

iris failing to control
light. It’s natural, the way

Mercury changes position
when it approaches the sun.

It’s natural, the way
tissues decay & my blurred

face when the optic nerve
sparks images in his brain.

He’s sixty-six years old
& my body tenses still

at the sound of his heels
in a quiet room.

I swear I still can feel his fingers
curving the base of my

girl neck. Darkening
my mind. Darkening

stars that rupture
in a black hole’s gravity.

You know how dust
glitters in the sunlight

before it’s pulled to the ground?
I want to know the mathematics

of it. I want to know
how he outlived my mother.

I want to know
what he remembers.

I want to know
how much I’ll regret.


Amy Williams is a writer and educator based in New Delhi. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in West Trade Review, Rust + Moth, Bodega Magazine, The Shore, Redivider, Sweet Tree Review and Contrary Magazine.



That’s me behind the lawn mower.
My father is in the background,
shouting orders.
“Hold down the bar!
Pull the cord!”
The grass is not high
but that’s not the point
of this exercise.
Though my head
barely rises over the handle,
he figures I’m old enough
to start the machine
and push it up and down
the back yard.
It’s his job normally.
But, in this photograph,
he’s working at his other job –
making me into
a miniature version of himself.
We’ve done the fishing-rod ritual.
We’ve played catch so much
I feel like a retriever.
And I’ve hammered a nail.
I’ve wielded a screwdriver.
And now it’s time
to mow the lawn.
This picture shows neither
triumph nor failure.
It’s the moment before
both things are possible.
So what happened?
As far as I know,
I did.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Stand, Washington Square Review and Rathalla Review. Latest books, “Covert” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in the McNeese Review, Santa Fe Literary Review and Open Ceilings.

Teaching My Father to Hug by W. D. Ehrhart

Teaching My Father to Hug

I had to teach my father how to hug.
For years, he’d grip me by both arms,
one hand on either bicep, firmly
holding me away from him, our bodies
never touching. I’ve no idea why.
Men don’t hug? Afraid he once held
tight, he’d not let go again? Beats me,
but in my thirties, I got married,
and he’d hug my wife the same way.

I finally decided this would just not do.
Every time he tried to grab my arms,
I’d step inside his grip and pull him
close to me, a bear hug he could not
escape. I did this time and time again
until he finally got the hint, gave up,
and hugged me back as if he meant it.

We had our problems, Dad and me,
a lifetime of arguments and ugly
moments and miscommunications,
but he learned to hug before he died,
and I feel pretty good about that.


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.

Driving My Granddaughter Back to Her Dad’s House by Susan Vespoli

Driving My Granddaughter Back to Her Dad’s House

trees covered
with blossoms toss
shade over bus stops. Yellow
palo verde and purple jacaranda
offering refuge to roofless beings
on a street where my son
was roused from sleep
by a cop, then shot
on his last

carts piled with
blankets, plastic bags,
a man holding a cardboard
sign at the stoplight: HUNGRY.
People huddled in the shadow
of the onramp. A roadside
altar: flowers and
a wooden

I drop
into a litany
of what I might
have done differently
until Molly points and shouts, Look!
from her car seat. Two massive
trees backlit in sunlight,
lavender and gold
like wind


Susan Vespoli is a poet from Phoenix, AZ. Susan’s poems have appeared in Rattle, Anti-Heroin Chic, New Verse News, Mom Egg Review, Gyroscope Review, and others. She is the author of Blame It on the Serpent (Finishing Line Press, Jan. 2022) and Cactus as Bad Boy (Kelsay Books, 2023).

Few Words for Father by Tina Barry

Few Words for Father

We recognize our father,
even with his edges blurred,
and the baritone that once curled

around our names, lost
in the hush
of the hospital’s language.

The doctor tells us he’s comfortable,
and promises to phone
when things change. And they do.

By morning, he is gone.
Because we’ve had so little
of our father to share,

we speak of him in a kind
of shorthand.
I pour coffee, and we begin:

Brut, my sister says,
recalling his cologne.
Parfait, pretty girls,

the pool, I say,
where he played with us.


Tina Barry is the author of Beautiful Raft and Mall Flower. Her writing appeared in ONE ART: a journal of poetry, Rattle, Verse Daily, A-Minor, Nixes Mate, The Best Small Fictions 2020 (spotlighted story) and 2016, Trampset, Gyroscope Review and elsewhere. Tina teaches at The Poetry Barn and

Two Poems by O. Farraige


it’s the McDonald’s trip that
you remember where you
got to play in the ball pit

for the first time and drink
coke but still were made to
get a burger you didn’t want

instead of chicken nuggets
you did and not the fact that
you were taken there as an

abstract apology for your
father hitting you in the
middle of yelling at your

step-mother because you
asked if he was going to hit
her and he chose to scream

that you should be on his
side / he punches you as
usual and asks again and

again if you want him to hit
her instead, Huh, son? I love
you, son, you made me do

this, son, it hurts me just as
much as it hurts you, son,
to break your tooth on my

knuckle and claim it was
chipped at a skating rink
I never took you to.



When I

to be three

taller than

he would
tell people

he could
still kick
my ass.



O. Farraige writes poetry and lives in SC. His work will appear in Divot and Sunspot Lit later this year.

The Choice by Sharon Waller Knutson

The Choice

He has no choice when his mother
dies giving him life with his father’s
name sealed on her blue lips.

He has no choice when his adopted
mother chooses him and sits
with him during sickness and nightmares.

Walks him to school, makes him peanut
butter sandwiches, kisses his bruises
and laughs at his silly jokes.

But when he is ten, he is asked
to make a choice at the Rose
Ceremony on Mother’s Day.

White if your mother is dead.
Red if she is alive. The only mother
he has known is sitting stiff

on a folding chair and he knows
she wants to jump up and say,
It’s okay if you choose her.

And he knows his birthmother
who is watching over him
wouldn’t mind if he chose red.

But it is his choice. With his right
hand he reaches for the red rose
and with the left hand he picks the white,

sticks them in his buttonholes
and marches off with the scout troop
to salute their mothers.


Sharon Waller Knutson is a retired journalist who lives in Arizona. She has published several poetry books including My Grandmother Smokes Chesterfields (Flutter Press 2014,) What the Clairvoyant Doesn’t Say and Trials & Tribulations of Sports Bob (Kelsay Books 2021) and Survivors, Saints and Sinners (Cyberwit 2022.) Her work has also appeared recently in GAS Poetry, Art and Music, The Rye Whiskey Review, Black Coffee Review, Terror House Review, Trouvaille Review, ONE ART, Mad Swirl, The Drabble, Gleam, Spillwords, Muddy River Review, Verse-Virtual, Your Daily Poem, Red Eft Review and The Five-Two.

The Day Your Father Dies by Gary Fincke

The Day Your Father Dies

Three time zones east, while you sleep
in your travel-vouchered hotel suite,
the ambulance, pulsing red, but mute,
arrives for your father. Your sister,
discreet, waits for what she believes
is a decent hour, her morning nearly
ended before she places her call.

Because you mark this moment,
you will always know that the first
of six job-candidate interviews,
right then, is eight minutes away.
While you fix on absence, your colleague
carries three morning conversations;
you make phone calls during lunch.

When, during the afternoon, you begin
to season your questions with banter,
the candidates are quick to smile.
Your rooms are swept and scoured while
you overhear strangers toast each other
before dinner in an expensive restaurant
so close you can walk there, then back

to where the hours, their voices hushed,
reuse their condolences throughout
your all-night sleeplessness. A plane
taxis to its gate with no plans but waiting
for you to board just after sunrise, exiting,
then entering two versions of winter, light
about to be altered by accumulated snow.


Gary Fincke’s collections have won what is now the Wheeler Prize (Ohio State) and the Wheelbarrow Books Prize (Michigan State). His latest collection, The Mussolini Diaries was published by Serving House in 2020.

Asking Dad for Help by Tom Bauer

Asking Dad for Help

A friend advised I show him a budget plan.
And so I worked it all out–the diapers, food,
everything we needed. Our sole luxuries
a couple movie rentals on the weekend.
I never wanted this. It has me shaking
like I’m Tommy Wilhelm; nervous, filled with shame.
The whole time I’m speaking I slur and tremble.
He interrupts to call me names and shout.
And then I’m outside again, stuck in the why.
Why is he that way? Why is it so hard?
Why is he so cold? Why do I always fail?
Once more the wooden door stands at my back.
It’s snowing, big white flakes on city breezes.
It’s like the rule says, a man needs principles.


Tom Bauer is an old coot who did a bunch of university and stuff. He lives in Montreal and plays board games.