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.

A Poet’s Mother Dies from Covid by Le Hinton

A Poet’s Mother Dies from Covid

No one inherits eloquent words nor leases the brilliance
of a perfect sonnet transcribed onto parchment in blue ink.

I speak no language that elevates each syllable so that every
word will be remembered alongside the dead.

It is a myth that poets possess inexhaustible grace
and passion, or feel more deeply than other human bodies.

There is no hidden box, dovetailed jointed, stained and polished,
that holds the perfect magic of metaphor and meter.

There is only a man standing mute over granite,
only a boy who misses his mom.

*

Le Hinton is the author of six poetry collections including, most recently, Sing Silence (Iris G. Press, 2018). His work can be found or is forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2014, The Progressive Magazine, the Skinny Poetry Journal, The Baltimore Review, The Pittsburgh Review, and outside Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Two Poems by Betsy Mars

Kavod HaMet*

I circle among my dead,
trying not to neglect anyone.
What can I say of those
I have never known?
Even my mother eludes me,
her mind ever hidden
in shadows. We all flee
when we imagine danger,
acquiring a taste
for what can be carried,
the weight of the unrisen.

*honoring the dead

*

Bearing Water

To wash dust from jagged leaves
I turn the hose on the hibiscus.
Shriveled flowers fall to dirt,
water drips into soil, roots
reach for a sip, when suddenly
a moth, its rusty wings heavy
with moisture, fanning the same water
into steam, flutters to the earth,
damned while new buds open.
Some feel my intentions as mercy,
others nearly drown.

*

Betsy Mars practices poetry, photography, pet maintenance, and publishes an occasional anthology through Kingly Street Press. Her second anthology, Floored, is now available on Amazon. In 2020, her poem was selected as a winner in Alexandria Quarterly´s first line poetry contest series. In addition, she was a semi-finalist in the Jack Grapes poetry contest as well as the Poetry Super Highway annual contest. Her work has recently appeared in Sky Island Journal, Kissing Dynamite, Better Than Starbucks, and Gyroscope among others. She is the author of Alinea (Picture Show Press) and co-author of In the Muddle of the Night with Alan Walowitz (Arroyo Seco Press).

Four Poems by Sandra Kohler

Having lost it…

When I tell my therapist about having lost it completely three days ago
when my husband gets angry at me because I’ve left a cabinet door open
and he bangs his head on it, says it’s something I’ve done before, I
tell her I don’t understand what set me off so completely, so that
I scream I can’t stand it, threaten to leave, to kill myself, outrageous
unforgivable behavior, and why, all because of his understandable
irritation at the end of a long siege of frustrations, stress, anxiety
in these awful pandemic days.

What was this about, I ask, and she asks me. “My mother,” I say. That
answer that we all come up with in the end, unless it’s “my father.” But
for me, it was her, not him. And somehow, I don’t know how, I have
reached, in these days, a kind of grim unrecognized decision: I reject
her definition of me, my life. I don’t want ever again to feel guilty or
unworthy or incompetent, I am done, finally, with apologizing for my
existence.

*

Recognition

I’m thinking this morning, as I often
do, of my wish that my husband and I
had known each other decades earlier,
ages before we met, middle-aged, with
years of living behind each of us. But
today for the first time I realize I’ve been
wrong, we do have that knowledge.

Each of us still carries the young self
we were inside, bringing a childhood,
a parentage, family, first marriage, years
of living adult lives. Here and now, in
the present, we see, hear, feel aspects of
that life, that person in the other. Here
and now, in this relationship, we are
each all the selves we’ve ever been.

*

Vanishing

Climbing a steep hill of iced-over
snow in front of a public building,
library of some kind, I know I have
to extract one book from the depths
of the mound, it’s what I’m here for.
The rest has vanished. We vanish
and don’t. We are alive in the dreams
of others, or dead, dreams which may
be closer to nightmare than dream,
or not. We are strange familiar ghosts
becoming apparitions, visitations.

I lose a hearing aid, the key to my
house, an hour, a morning, a slip of
paper with the name of the nostrum
that could save me, a child’s first all-
accepting love, a friendship that was
never whole but whose fractures still
beckoned. I lose my sense of humor,
my sense of proportion, my way,
my whereabouts, my why.

Do I have anything left to say? Of
course. Do I know how to say it? Of
course not. It’s the not which gives me
the knot to unpick, whose threads can
be woven into patches, forming a
patchwork which can be sewn into
a fabric which will be a statement
of something I don’t know I know.

*

What Follows

After ten years of living here, I still
don’t know the weather, its patterns,
where it comes from. Or the domestic
weather: my daughter-in-law’s moods.

Talking to her about the garden, I get
what I’ve asked for and then don’t know
what to do with it. I can accept or reject
it. Whatever. What would whatever be?

There are grave limits not on what I
can want but on how much I can have.
The sky says anything can come along
and will, but not what or where. Our

roses are blossoming today as if there
is no tomorrow. If they’re right I should
be attending not to weather but whether:
what can I create from today’s offerings?

*

Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word
Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of
Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, (University of
Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including
The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many
others over the past 45 years. In 2018, a poem of hers was chosen to be
part of Jenny Holzer’s permanent installation at the new Comcast
Technology Center in Philadelphia.

One Poem by Patricia Davis-Muffett

What to do with your grief
       for Dionne, June 2020

Butter. Sugar. Flour. Salt.
I am doing what I know.

Nineteen, I call my mother crying:
“I can’t make the pie crust work,”
“Come home,” she says. “We’ll fix it.”
The ice in the water,
the fork used to mix,
the way she floured the board.
It’s chemistry, yes–
but also this:
the things you pass
from hand to hand.

9/11. Child dropped at preschool.
Traffic grinds near the White House.
A plane overhead. The Pentagon burns.
The long trek home to reclaim our child.
We are told to stay in. I venture out.
Blueberries to make a pie.

My mother, so sick. Not hungry.
For a time, she is tempted by pies.
I bring them long after taste flees.

New baby. Death. Any crisis.
I do what my mother taught me.
Butter. Sugar. Flour. Salt.
I bring this to you–this work of my hands,
this piece of my day, this sweetness,
all I can offer.

Today, Minneapolis burns
And sparks catch fire in New York,
Atlanta, here in DC.
My friend’s voice says
what I know but can’t know:
“This is my fear every time they leave me.”
Three beautiful sons, brilliant, alive.
I have little to offer. I do what I know.

*

Patricia Davis-Muffett (she/her) holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota. She was a 2020 Julia Darling Poetry Prize finalist and received First Honorable Mention in the 2021 Joe Gouveia OuterMost Poetry Contest. Her work has appeared in Limestone, Coal City Review, Neologism, The Orchards, One Art, Pretty Owl Poetry, di-verse-city (anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival), The Blue Nib and Amethyst Review, among others. She lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband and three children and makes her living in technology marketing.

Two Poems by Faith Paulsen

Mother-in-Law

Invited to call her Mom, silently I called her Umbrella in Sunshine
Flea-Market Wristwatch Three Phone Calls A Day
Flash Flood Warning.
Why take a chance?
The cat will suck the breath out of the baby.
Spare Room Hoarder of get-well cards and flashlights
bottles of sleeping pills. (They’re not habit-forming – I should know,
I’ve been taking them for years.)
She called me Broken Eggs Hamster in a Plastic Ball.
Half-hour Early/Ten Minutes Late
She called me Barefoot in Snow–
That name I kept.
Years after her death
I wake stunned
when others call me Worry and I respond Be Safe.
Please don’t do
anything stupid.
Call it Poetic Justice. Call me So soon?
I call myself, I Didn’t Know—

*

My Mother’s Pessary *

Was she buried with it, I wonder?
That pinky-ball that for years supported
the vault over my begetting? My fault,
we used to joke.
Large baby, traumatic birth,
long-awaited longed-for,
late, costly.

Decades later, I witnessed
the price paid in her halting gait,
weary eyes (blue green like mine)
seeking a bench so she could sit down.
This is not like you, Mom.

Then it was I who supported
undressed, lifted. Even though
I was by then several times a mother —
I did not know this secret toll
that there could be this
late-in-life weight in the pelvis
pregnancy of years
this falling through
her overstretched muscles
falter, fail, a curtain’s elasticity lost
turned inside-out like a sock.

Attended, midwife to my mother’s aging
counted her breaths
an inexorable roller coaster inverted
dangles on the verge of dive-drop,
ripening
her tummy measured to house this blushing little thing
that for the last years of her life plugged up the dam
and kept the sky from falling.

* A therapeutic pessary is a medical device most commonly used to treat prolapse of the uterus.

*

Faith Paulsen’s work has appeared in Ghost City Press, Seaborne, and Book of Matches, as well as Thimble Literary Magazine, Evansville Review, Mantis, Psaltery and Lyre, and Terra Preta, among others. Her work also appears in the anthologies Is it Hot in Here or Is It Just Me? (Social Justice Anthologies) and 50/50: Poems & Translations by Womxn over 50 (QuillsEdge). She has been nominated for a Pushcart, and her chapbook A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press) was published in 2016. A second chapbook, Cyanometer, is expected in 2021.

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

Two Poems by Adam Chiles

Inheritance

My mother found the dog rooting through
the mulch out back, nosing rotten cabbage leaves.
A blood shot eye. Need pushed deep into its nostrils.
What could she do but love the animal,
this famished stray, dirt steeled firm to its skin.
She nursed the creature back. Took to the fells
each day. Wandered the gravel paths
above the stacks and kilns, happy to be absent
from the tempers of that house. It didn’t last.
Her father kicked the animal out one night.
Snatched his supper plate and slammed it
against the wall. My mother rubs her arm
as she speaks. Eighty years on, she still feels it,
that sting, that phantom shard of porcelain.

*

Widower

Weekends, he parks his bike at the oak
and eases through the chapel turnstile.
As usual, a satchel slung over his back
filled with clippers, trowels, a bunch of
wildflowers. He walks to her plot, takes
out his tools and begins, digging out
a thin trench of soil, trimming its frame.
And what else can he do for her now
but this weekly crop and mend. His face
lost to a rampant beard. Below him,
daffodils, their ceaseless gold alarms.

*

Adam Chiles’ latest collection Bluff will be published by Measure Press this Summer. His work has been anthologized in Best New Poets 2006 (Samovar) and has appeared in numerous journals including Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Copper Nickel, Cortland Review, Connotation Press, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, Magma, Permafrost, RHINO, The Threepenny Review and Thrush Poetry Review. He is professor of English and Creative Writing at Northern Virginia Community College and serves on the editorial board at Poet Lore.

Naviphobia by Sean Lynch

Naviphobia

My mother was once
a teenage girl trapped

on a boat in the middle
of the bay with a boy

her father called Jesus
because he was a dirty hippy.

No oars and no motor
just time and the sun.

I don’t know how she reached land
but when she did, she decided to stay forever.

Not long after, Jesus got shot in the leg
while breaking into a junkyard

so she left him and met my father.
My mother was a perfect swimmer

but she never set foot
on water again.

*

Sean Lynch is a poet and editor who lives in South Philadelphia. Recent poems appear in Hobart, Meow Meow Pow Pow, and SurVision Magazine. He’s the founding editor of Serotonin and the Program Director of the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association, in Camden, NJ.

Traveling Back by Barbara Sabol

Traveling Back

On our nightly walks, my dog, Traveler,
will crane toward the occasional passing car,
studying each driver’s face, maybe searching

for his first master, the one who might have
taught him to lean full-bodied into love,
who conditioned in him a fierce loyalty.

Perhaps gone astray chasing a chipmunk
in the park or, slipping past a backyard gate,
he found himself irretrievably lost.

Rescued from the street two counties
and six years removed, my cherished companion
may believe, in the instinctive sensory wash

of canine thinking, that his first master
has all this time been driving everywhere,
still looking for him.

I was the family black sheep, declaring to the one
whose life was given over to my care,
I wish you weren’t my mother, with no thought

of my power to bruise. Knowing only the chafe
of that bond, I left with a one-way bus ticket
in my blue jean pocket. In the last years

of my mother’s life, I worked my way back,
fumbling with the intricacies of that knot,
frayed with time and distance, but still holding.

If one day some driver should stop, push open
the passenger door, call my dog by a name
that pricks up his ears, makes him shiver and whine

with joy, I wonder if I could release his leash,
let him leap into the car, and then with a resolve
hard as love, close the door behind him.

*

Barbara Sabol’s fourth collection, Imagine a Town, was awarded the 2019 Poetry Manuscript Prize from Sheila-Na-Gig Editions. Her poetry has appeared widely in journals; most recently, Evening Street Review, Northern Appalachia Review, The Comstock Review, and Literary Accents, as well as in numerous anthologies. Her awards include an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. Barbara lives in Akron, OH with her husband and wonder dogs.