Songs for My Mother by Lynn Finger

Songs for My Mother

1
Every death is
its own fingerprint,
nobody’s is the same:

in a dark house,
in a ward, in the sky,
in the waves, no one
leaves in the same way.

2
As you sleep,
nothing speaks,
webs of dawn gather,
cindered ash motes,
the glitter as sun
streams through
the glass of your window.

3
The oaks outside stand
crooked. I count their leaves.
I wonder why you
don’t open your eyes.
We don’t know if you
will want to see anything
again.

4
I walk in the Dante Forest
not because I want to.
It has a slight path
crossed by unsure sunlight,
where a hundred senilities
cast shadow.

5
My mother was a mermaid,
your story begins,
and my father a bear.
It’s not written down,
It has to have been sung to you,
when young.
You’ll know, if the words
vibrate like a bee
in your hair,
you’ll know.

6
In the dark corner,
the oxygen machine
roars, its own sea,
and your clock stops at 10:35.
I go home to sleep.
The shades are slant against
the evening, and that night
they call,
you are gone.

7
How to stop time.
It’s pouring honey
over the stars to hold them
still, but they continue,
fade.

8
The oak branches creak
in the night wind,
their leaves open up,
eyelashes of the sky.

*

Lynn Finger’s writings have appeared in 8Poems, Perhappened, Book of Matches, Fairy Piece, Drunk Monkeys, and Anti-Heroin Chic. Lynn also had a poetry chapbook released this year, “The Truth of Blue Horses,” published by Alien Buddha Press. She was nominated for the 2021 Best of the Net Anthology. Lynn edits Harpy Hybrid Review and works with a group that mentors writers in prison. Her Twitter is @sweetfirefly2.

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.

Three Poems by Meg Freer

Grief Has a Name

A full ten minutes at sunset, hundreds
of crows fly south over the woods.
Moments after the last one,
snow blows in from the north.

I follow sheep trails across the fields,
unwind details I have been avoiding,
mental terrain more suited
for moose than human.

Mom’s two birthday balloons cling
together in her dining room for a day,
before one migrates to the kitchen
and the other moves into her bedroom.

A day later, the bedroom balloon
floats into Dad’s study to stay
just above the books. Dad must be
directing this scene from beyond.

In my dream, he fades into view
in the doorway holding a basketball,
says nothing, watches while I read
on the sofa, then drifts away.

Grief wants me to call it by name,
knows all 360 joints in my body,
tapes their seams to keep itself
from floating into oblivion.

*

All the Sounds of Summer

As gently as he once held a fledgling blue jay,
he cradles his sister’s arm, traces each of the thin,
horizontal lines he never knew were there,
saddened by scars not yet faded to white.

All the sounds of summer vanish
as he enters into her night and wonders at the fluency
of hands that treat the body in such disparate ways.
How to fathom the plight of molecules gone awry?

Ever distressed at the sight of his own blood,
though he understands artery over vein, he can’t
understand pain that calls out for more pain and hopes
his sister will fly, as the fledgling he buried never did.

*

New Mother
        for Mary P. and Minnow

I offer to walk with her on the nearby trail,
get her out of the house for a while.
We greet Archie and Jughead, the goats
with curly horns, as we pass their pen.
I pick up a guinea hen feather to bring home.
She sets a brisk pace as we leave the farm.
It hasn’t hit her yet, this unexpected freedom.

She stops short, as if she’s seen an apparition.
A cow stares at us through the brush.
What are you doing way over here by the fence?
Shouldn’t you be over with the horses?
This moody cow moves around the horse pasture
every day, rarely spends time with the other cows,
sometimes goes off by herself to figure things out.

We leave the cow to her moping, resume walking,
then she stops, looks back down the trail.
Wait. Am I even supposed to leave the farm?
I have babies back there, you know.
I reassure her that it’s fine to take a break,
she nursed her puppies, she needs fresh air.
She catches a whiff of spring and trots off.

The robins and redwing blackbirds are singing,
the stream is flowing, the spring scents
keep enticing, we continue our walk.
A bit further and she stops again, looks back
the way we’ve come, looks up at me.
Are you sure I was supposed to leave?
My puppies might need me, you know.

I try to persuade her to keep walking,
but no luck. We turn back, the cow
is still at the fence, but she doesn’t notice,
she is so excited to return to her seven pups—
lick them all over, move them around
with her paws and nose so they all
get a turn to nurse—be a good mother.

*

Meg Freer grew up in Montana and now teaches piano in Kingston, Ontario, where she enjoys the outdoors year-round. Her prose, photos, and poems have won awards in North America and overseas and have been published in journals such as Ruminate, Juniper Poetry, Vallum Contemporary Poetry, Arc Poetry, Eastern Iowa Review, and Borrowed Solace.

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.

Three Poems by Harrison Bae Wein

My Aunt When She Drank Scotch

Whenever my aunt babysat for us
intending to stay the night
carrying her canvas tote,
wearing white leather tennis shoes,

I would wake to her sobbing
and sneak into the guest room
where she sat on the hideaway bed,
wearing her blue men’s pajamas,

nursing a scotch, both hands
wrapped around the glass.
What was wrong, I didn’t know
until one night she told me

that she once loved someone
who wasn’t a Jew
but my grandmother drove him away,
and after that, she lived like a widow

with no one to talk to over meals,
no one to sleep beside
no one to help her pick out bath towels
or have children with.

I heard the ice tinkle
as she sipped, eyelids shut,
and to this day I’ve found
comfort in scotch,

its caramel scent and honey glow;
I didn’t know then
how it burned your throat,
that it wasn’t like candies and sweets.

*

Memory of My Grandfather

Grandma divided the bed
whenever I slept over
with a wooden board,
saying she didn’t want me
catching his cancer,

but aside from that,
all I can recall
is that small apartment kitchen,

how he shuffled past
the old gas oven
you had to light with a match
in his collared striped pajamas
to sit at the dining table

and drink his
Pepto-Bismol
from a small juice glass
to ease his stomach
after the chemo,
the chalky pink sludge
leaving a foam line
on his lip,

and then how I wailed
when I learned
they’d had his funeral
without telling me—

although to this day
I don’t know
what it was
I thought I’d missed.

*

My Mother Loses Me at the Department Store

I am stranded on an island
of a mannequin stand, sitting and
peering up at the pale plastic skin,
her dress the color of canaries,

a man in an armchair winks
as if we’re in a secret club, but I
focus on the women meandering,
rummaging for bargains,

mother nowhere in sight,
muzac drifting through the air
as cash registers open and close,
sounding like distant thunder.

They disappear behind racks
of packed rayon and wool,
scarves drooping from steel saplings,
hats perched like hawks,

and I wonder what would happen
if they turn off the lights,
and lock all the doors, with me still inside—
who will ever find me

when I spot her emerging
from a dressing room,
smiling and
wearing a new dress,
the tags already removed.

*

Harrison Bae Wein’s fiction and poetry has appeared in several literary journals. His series of laboratory stories, Blinded by Science, was the first fiction published at LabLit.com. He has also been a finalist in the Glimmer Train Family Matters short story contest. Harrison has won several awards as a health and science writer, and his work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and many other outlets. He founded and now edits two health publications at the National Institutes of Health. You can find him online at http://harrisonwein.com.

For Mother, Whose Maiden Name Was German by Donna Hilbert

For Mother, Whose Maiden Name Was German

From this porch swing,
I look into the woods
beyond the highway,
and dream of you, Mother,

who didn’t like the woods,
but loved a porch swing,
who liked horizons clean:
ocean beyond a bank
of sand, a backroad arrow
through billowing
seas of wheat.

You didn’t like the woods,
but loved a porch swing.
O cradle of memory.
Your name, Zumwalt:
into the woods.

You didn’t like the woods,
uneasy when the way
could not be seen.
How did you enter then
the pitchblack woods
unafraid, serene?

*

Donna Hilbert’s latest book is Gravity: New & Selected Poems, Tebot Bach, 2018. Her new collection, Threnody, is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press. She is a monthly contributing writer to the on-line journal Verse-Virtual. Work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Braided Way, Chiron Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, Rattle, Zocalo Public Square, One Art, and numerous anthologies. She writes and leads private workshops in Southern California, where she makes her home. Learn more at www.donnahilbert.com

Three Poems by Faith Shearin

Messages from my Mother
Cousin Violet is recovering from a gallbladder operation. I can give
you her address if you would like to send flowers.
Aunt Fern has a blockage in the main artery of her neck
and is scheduled for surgery. Uncle Gus has a spot in his eye.
There was a flood at the summer cottage. I went out to start the car and opened
the door to a cloud of mold and mildew. In our absence, all that flies
and crawls has invaded our kitchen. Sadie’s friend’s mother
passed away and Mildred is driving to Boone
for the funeral tomorrow. 95 is flooded but she is hoping to take a detour.
Uncle Uther has a newborn baby girl. She has Uther’s chin.
The oven is broken. I stayed on hold all morning trying
to schedule a repair person. Our friend Hoyt may need a cortisone shot in his hip.
According to Selma, Miss Jane is growing feeble.
Your father has a new toothbrush that he says is better than going to the dentist.
It’s okay if you hate the window seat and matching pillows;
it would just be nice to hear your voice.
*
My Mother, Killing Mice
My mother was assigned mice
by her college Biology professor,
asked to perform
experiments involving mazes
and rewards, but she forgot
to feed them when she left
for Christmas holiday
in a rush of train tickets
and trunks, her best dress
and silk scarf wrapped
in tissue paper, my father waiting
for her in a top coat
on a platform made vague
by arrival. So her mice grew weak
in the glass world of her
forgetfulness: fur the color of winter,
cold whiskers, bowls of hunger.
*
My Mother, Getting Lost
She did not mind a foreign landscape or an absence
of cardinal directions. When I rode with her —
windows open, farmhouses made of moonlight —
she did not plan a route but let everything
become unfamiliar, her steering wheel
unaware of a prime meridian or compass rose.
It was as if she had been born
with the earliest star-shaped
Babylonian Map inside her: all highways surrounded
by a bitter river, land beginning in mountains
but ending in marsh, each destination a triangular wedge
where a bull dwells or the sun is not visible,
beyond the flight of birds.
*
Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Moving the Piano (SFA University Press), Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Head Poetry Prize), Darwin’s Daughter (SFA University Press), and Lost Language (Press 53). She has received awards from Yaddo, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Recent work has been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry.

One Poem by Andrea Potos

ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY OF MY MOTHER’S PASSING

Her joy becomes my joy. —
         Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

This June morning, flickering light and shadow
on the spread pages of my book
while somewhere above me in the arching
and waving branches of the beeches, one cardinal
keeps throbbing an unceasing song.
And the sky–did I mention the cloudless sky?
The softest blue, as if created
with the pastels of a master, then brushed across
with the gentlest sweep of her arm.

*

Andrea Potos is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Marrow of Summer and Mothershell, both from Kelsay Books; and A Stone to Carry Home from Salmon Poetry. You can find her poems many places online and in print, most recently in Spirituality & Health Magazine, Braided Way, Buddhist Poetry Review, and Poetry East. She is actively working on a new collection of poems, generated from the epigraph on this poem, called “Her Joy Becomes.”

On a hike up the back mountain by Melody Wang

On a hike up the back mountain

my mother told me a story of a goose
shot down from the sky by a hunter’s single bullet:

its mate, stunned by the death of his beloved,
hurled himself headfirst into the rocks below

at dizzying speed, yielding the hunter two geese —
I can only picture the weight of his bounty that day.

Some of us never know when
just enough becomes too much

exactly how much pressure it requires
to hold a heart in your cupped hands, still

frantic from overuse, cool and slick
with the aftermath of someone else’s longing

*
Melody Wang currently resides in sunny Southern California with her dear husband. In her free time, she dabbles in piano composition and also enjoys hiking, baking, and playing with her dogs. She can be found on Twitter @MelodyOfMusings.

Unstuck by Brian O’Sullivan

Unstuck

Is there a newsreel, dear?,
Mom asks in the darkened cinema, her voice bubbly,
and I want to tell her there are no newsreels anymore—
Edsels are gone and flying DeLoreans are coming—
but I know for her newsreels are
now, and,
breathing buttered popcorn,
I feel my hand clenching under my seat’s arm,
picking at dried bubble gum, and
I don’t want her to hear sirens, so, as the screen flickers, I, smiling though tightened jaws,
whisper back, No newsreel today, Mom.
              But watch!

*

Brian O’Sullivan teaches rhetoric and English literature in southern Maryland. He has published in Everyday Fiction and in academic non-fiction periodicals, including KB and Studies in American Humor.