After My Father Died by Sara Backer

After My Father Died

I longed to spend time with him in a dream
but over two years passed without one. I’m afraid I’ll forget
how he whistled Cole Porter and the way he squeezed
his eyes when he stuttered on Ws. When a dream came at last,
I heard his voice—but couldn’t see him.
I looked around: an outdoor festival, stage tents, musicians.
My sister waited in one of the tents. My father, invisible,
said I could continue to hear him or I could be with my sister.
The choice was presented like chicken or fish—no other options,
I couldn’t have both, and it was up to me.
I looked beyond stages to overlapping hills streaked with mist.
Too far to see, I knew a weighty ocean rolled indifferent through its tides.
Nothing more was voiced. As I walked to the tent,
I saw my sister’s thick blue sweater on the seat beside her,
saved for me.

*
Sara Backer’s first book of poetry, Such Luck (Flowstone Press 2019) follows two poetry chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt (dancing girl press) and Bicycle Lotus which won the 2015 Turtle Island chapbook award. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Art and reads for The Maine Review. Recent publications include The Pedestal Magazine, Tar River Poetry, Slant, CutBank and Kenyon Review.

Set by Ralph James Savarese

Set

I’ve broken so
many bones,
that the word
fracture might
as well be father.
I love you, fracture…
Each cast was
a coffin, and home
room, a kind of wake
where the mourners
signed my body.
Punning, the doctor
said, “You’re all set!”
Every femur
needs a foster
placement.

*

Ralph James Savarese is the author of three collections of poetry: Republican Fathers; When This Is Over; and, with Stephen Kuusisto, Someone Falls Overboard: Talking through Poems.

Poem by Melody Wilson

The Doctrine of the Kite

It floats from my fingertips—
a cathedral of rice paper
and balsa.
“Lighter than air,” Daddy said,
sipped his beer,
tapped ash from his cigar.

He said gold pounded thin enough
would cover the earth; meat should
never be wrapped in foil.
The number three always brings bad luck.

Morning was crowded with kites:
boxes, diamonds, deltas.
Children pelted the playground,
paper whiffling, tails flowing,
they released the keels
trusted in speed and skill.
Lines sang through sweaty hands.

Six toed cats are charmed, he said,
and Joshua trees can move.
Man and God are forever
locked in duel.

I held the kite above my head that day
reciting everything he said.
It quivered once,
twice, then rose
and rose.
The string pulling away
from the spool.

*

Melody Wilson lives and teaches near Portland, Oregon. She has one Academy of American Poets Award, and several smaller awards including a 2020 Kay Snow award. Her work has appeared in The Portland Review, Visions International, and Triggerfish Critical Review.

Unwelcome by Ann E. Michael

Unwelcome

The caller
was
a stranger
soliciting
I don’t
know what
I told her
this
is not
a good time
my father
is dying
and
I hung up.
Now
as night
recedes
I find my
self awake
I think of
him
dying
and how
I was
unkind
to that young
woman
in a call
center
a stranger
I failed
to welcome
into
my heart.

*
Ann E. Michael lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, slightly west of where the Lehigh River meets the Delaware. Her most recent collection of poems is Barefoot Girls. Her next book, The Red Queen Hypothesis, will be published sometime in 2021. More info at www.annemichael.wordpress.com

Replacements by Robert Carr

Replacements

I can’t do a dog, so my son’s first pet at my house
is a goldfish he names Zippy. I decorate the glass lung
of our separation. In the kitchen, orange circles –

flamingo pink pea gravel lines the bowl. Fake ferns
and a treasure chest hide a bottom feeder, the dull sucker
keeps it clean. Zippy tends to die on Fridays.

The sucker lives forever, but doesn’t have a name.
Because my son is with me twice a week,
I run out to replace Zippies before his next visit.

Whenever one goes belly up, double fins whitened
at the ends, I do my best to match the latest fish,
pray my boy won’t notice. Before we sit for supper,

Noah always asks to visit his fish friend.
I sit him on the counter, How’s Daddy doing, Zippy?
On Zippy number four, Noah cries out Daddy, look!

Zippy has a black spot on his nose! I gaze through
the far side, over a pink stone carpet. Wow! Some things
can’t be explained, I answer: He must be growing up.

*

Robert Carr is the author of Amaranth, published in 2016 by Indolent Books and The Unbuttoned Eye, a full-length 2019 collection from 3: A Taos Press. Among other publications his poetry appears in the American Journal of Poetry, Massachusetts Review, Rattle, Shenandoah and Tar River Poetry. Robert is a poetry editor with Indolent Books and recently retired from a career as Deputy Director for the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Additional information can be found at robertcarr.org

Two Poems by Matthew J. Andrews

Work Song

City birds seldom call out in song.
They speak in utilitarian chirps,
a squawking vernacular to guide
them on their morning commutes –
wire to branch, branch to dirt,
dirt to highway of cloudy skies –
the way we mumble to each other
about open seats on the bus,
our heads bobbing with the staccato
rhythm of halt and motion, mouths hungry
for crumbs scattered on the street.
Yet even then there are moments,
small moments late in the day
when the drumbeat of sledge
on steel brings to the lips a tune
our mothers used to whistle
in the kitchen as they worked,
their knuckles kneaded and buckled
but their mouths high in the clouds,
soaring on wingspreads of air,
and we softly sing their memories
to the waving branches of the trees
and listen as the birds sing back.

*

My Father and I Make Sausage

Everything must be cold,
he tells me, and it is,
the chill numbing the nerves
on the tips of our fingers.

Cutting the meat away from bone,
his knifework is almost surgical,
his free hand placed carefully
away from the sharper edges.

Out of the grinder, the flesh
is a frayed rope. The machine
whirs like a table saw, singing
the same shrill sounds as silence.

He feeds the casing until we have
links stretched to capacity with fat
and muscle. Don’t prick the skin,
he tells me, or it will all spill out.

*

Matthew J. Andrews is a private investigator and writer who lives in Modesto, California. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Orange Blossom Review, Funicular Magazine, Red Rock Review, Sojourners, Amethyst Review, Kissing Dynamite, and Deep Wild Journal, among others. He can be contacted at matthewjandrews.com.

Two Poems by Courtney LeBlanc

POEM FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY

I’m lucky to have good neighbors, the kind
who pull your garbage bins in when you’re out
of town or gather your mail. This summer
I exchanged cucumbers from my garden
for mint from hers. And to have the kind
of neighbors who deliver a bouquet
of bright yellow buttercups when my dad
died, with a note filled with such kindness
I started crying all over again. And isn’t
that what the world needs right now, a little
more kindness? Because last night the ball
dropped and everyone held their breath
and made a wish, the world collectively hoping
that this year will be better than the last.
I started the first day of this new year with
a long walk with my dog, her anxiety
non-existent on these empty country roads.
And the few cars that passed contained
people who raised their palms in hello,
greeting me as if we were old friends, as if
they would happily accept cucumbers
from my garden, grab the package
at my front door, and deliver compassion
in the face of grief. They waved and I waved
back, this small act of kindness between
strangers, this small bit of hope carrying
us into the new year.

*

FOR MY SISTER, WHO TURNED 40 ELEVEN DAYS AFTER OUR FATHER DIED

We planned on Ireland, a week of lush
green and rolling hills, castles and seductive,
indecipherable accents. I would drive
and you would navigate. We’d hike and drink
Guinness, laugh and sleep late. Instead
we took turns holding our father’s hand,
the hum of the hospital and piped-in
Muzak, the soundtrack. After a week, we
brought him home, moved him close
to the picture window in the living room,
let the sun shine onto his skin as he gulped
for air and I pushed morphine into his cheek.
When he died we circled around his bed,
touched his cooling skin, wiped our tears
on the white sheets. Our father never left
the country, never had a passport, never
graduated high school. He left
the adventuring to us, his two youngest
daughters, the ones who flew farthest
from the nest. Let’s pull out calendars
and make plans. We’ll go next year,
or in five. We’ll explore the whole damn
world, we’ll see everything he never did.

*

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press). She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog: www.wordperv.com. Follow her on twitter: @wordperv, and IG: @wordperv79.