ONE ART’s 2020 Pushcart Prize Nominations

Notice Breath

          for Julia

Notice Breath, my yoga teacher says.
It’s the year of Corona and I take her class
in New Jersey from my house across state lines,
and what I notice today is the lovely unspecificity.
Not notice my breath, or hers, just breath itself
moving unhitched, animating each of us.
One friend with the virus describes
a burning like inhaled chemical fumes.
Another, a pressure like a cheetah
chose her ribcage as a place to rest.
So, yes, these days I notice breath
the way you’d notice a bouquet
on your scarred kitchen table, gathered
bursts so bright at first it’s easy to forget
they’ve been clipped from their roots,
their fading not even all that slow.
Mother’s Day, I watched as two teenage girls
sung a hip hop love song to a masked and gloved
woman on her porch. They stayed on the walk
and I on my side of the street,
but when their song ended, the mom, or aunt
or favorite neighbor, crossed the divide,
took those girls in her arms, deciding
the feel of their heat and heartbeats and sweat
was worth daring the beast for once.
Every day, we’re made to weigh it like that,
sucking in our breath, letting it out
against paper or cloth,
noting its warmth as we do.

~ Notice Breath by Ona Gritz ~

*

March 21

First day of spring,
beneath the residue of last year’s leaves
the ghosts of November plants are stirring
their colorless first shoots
quickening into life.

Not everything that dies returns again:
the pansies, catchfly, marigolds
or my brother gone 50 years
and absent on this birthday
sealed in a past untouched by spring.

He lives solely in our minds
those engines that can pull time
only down a one way track
disappearing further each spring
in the rearview mirror.

To be human means to be forgotten,
the way the soil will soon forget
the new life it cradles this year:
the pansies, catchfly, marigolds
and all earth’s psalms that make
our brief lives beautiful.

~ March 21 by Michael Northen ~

*

In Times of Great Darkness

I want to do for you
what the sun does for me—
coax you to come
outside, to breathe in
the golden air.
I want to warm you
and enter you,
fill you with brilliance,
make your muscles melt,
make your mind shush.
I want to prepare for you
luminous paths
that span across deep space,
thaw any part of you
that feels frozen,
find any cracks
and slip shine into them.
I want to intensify
your shadow
so you might better know
your own shape.
I want to encourage you
to open, wider, wider,
want to teach you
to write your name
in light.

~ In Times of Great Darkness by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer ~

*

Miracle Carp Says End Is Near

Says this weather is abysmal, Lake Michigan
near freezing, or already frozen, so the human

animals skid over its surface, go low and
bend their faces narcissus-like into the mirror

glass of ice, their reflection shiny as scales,
as rainbow arpeggios. Miracle Carp says

swim like you want to outlive the Anthropocene,
says buck up chump, bank on no one’s promises.

Miracle Carp says any day now the ice caps.
Any day now the flood. Miracle Carp says dreams

of mud are prophetic. Says embrace the amphibious
more often than not. Says if you want to live, live

in the moment the way Miracle Carp lives in the body
of the water, a miracle no one finds very miraculous,

a fact that has not escaped Miracle Carp. Miracle
Carp says most miracles make fools of us all, says

Mostly we are busy looking the wrong way, making
too much noise. Miracle Carp says anxiety defines

this age but it will be known at the end as the age
of astigmatism, aptly, for all the miracles gone

completely unseen, even though they occur
right in front of our faces, right in front of our eyes,

like this one, the one about Miracle Carp, who knows,
knows better than anyone, what is about to happen.

~ Miracle Carp Says The End Is Near by Alicia Hoffman ~

*

Tending to Living Things

There must be a way
but all I know to do is throw
my white dishes rimmed with blue
orchids across a room
until all that I have is broken.

Except for one self-sufficient succulent,
I don’t know how to make anything live.
There must be a way
but I don’t know how.

I want to bury myself inside the dark. Stand inside
invented light. While the world falls apart,
my husband’s brain swells with lakes.

Pink roses that sprawl across the apartment
building’s metal fence don’t need me. I’m not
their caregiver of blossoming.

Grief does not ask me
to be pretty, does not ask me
to be a corsage pinned to a gown.
It wants me to push up from roots
that scarcely survived, enter
its plain door.

I want to push my husband in his wheelchair along our rutted
road as though Travelers Joy— Clematis vitalba
scrambling a lattice fence to flower next year.

~ Tending to Living Things by Amy Small-McKinney ~

*

Orange Pekoe

My brother offers us tea when we visit,
orange pekoe, our mother’s favorite brew,
and I’m surprised he’s held onto the old ways
for wasn’t he a dare-devil jumping from planes
loaded with his heavy gear, his night-vision goggles
and guns, a warrior and not one to set out the tea things:
a pitcher of milk, a sugar bowl, teaspoons.
And wasn’t he the soldier home from the war
who dared bring beer into the house
where our father forbade alcohol,
our two uncles, two drunks, stewed in degradation.
So I’m amused when he serves us tea,
proudly relating how he saves his squinched teabag
to make a second cup.
Here: a poem I’ve written about you.

A confused squinch
and he says,
            I didn’t think you thought about me.

Not a lot, I fail to say, but after this,
he likes me so much he sends me a sturdy fruit cake
each Christmas because I said I liked it,
once.

~ Orange Pekoe by Claire Keyes ~

*

Ona Gritz’s books include the poetry collections, Geode, a finalist for the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and Border Songs: A Conversation in Poems, written with her husband Daniel Simpson. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Catamaran Literary Reader, The Bellevue Literary Review, Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, and elsewhere. She and Daniel served as poetry editors for Referential Magazine and co-edited More Challenges For the Delusional, a writing guide and anthology featuring prompts by Peter Murphy. Ona is also a children’s author and essayist. Her nonfiction is listed among Notables in Best American Essays and Best Life Stories in Salon.

Michael Northen is the past editor of Wordgathering, A Journal of Disability and Poetry. He is co-editor of the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability and the disability short fiction anthology, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked. He is a founding member of the Disability Literature Consortium. An educator for more than 40 years, Northen has taught adults with physical disabilities, women on public assistance, prisoners, and rural and inner city children.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer co-hosts Emerging Form, a podcast on creative process. She also co-hosts Telluride’s Talking Gourds Poetry Club and is co-founder of Secret Agents of Change. She teaches poetry for mindfulness retreats, women’s retreats, scientists, hospice and more. Her poetry has appeared in O Magazine, on A Prairie Home Companion, in Rattle.com and in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. Her most recent collection, Hush, won the Halcyon Prize. She is often found in the kitchen baking with her teenage children. One word mantra: Adjust. https://wordwoman.com/

Originally from Pennsylvania, Alicia Hoffman now lives, writes, and teaches in Rochester, New York. Author of two collections, her recent poems can be found at Up the Staircase Quarterly, The Penn Review, Typishly, Radar Poetry, The Shore, and elsewhere. Find out more at: http://www.aliciamariehoffman.com

Amy Small-McKinney’s poetry has been published in numerous journals, for example, Connotation Press, Construction, American Poetry Review, The Indianapolis Review, Tiferet, Anomaly, Ilanot Review, Pedestal Magazine, and The Baltimore Review. Her poem “Birthplace” received Special Merits recognition by The Comstock Review for their 2019 Muriel Craft Bailey Poetry Contest. Her second full-length book of poems, Walking Toward Cranes, won the Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press). Small-McKinney’s reviews of poetry books have appeared in several journals, for example, Prairie Schooner. Her poems have also been translated into Romanian and Korean. She resides in Philadelphia where she teaches community poetry workshops and private students.

Claire Keyes is the author of two books of poetry, The Question of Rapture and What Diamonds Can Do. Her poems and reviews have appeared recently in Redheaded Stepchild, Mom Egg Review, Two Hawks Quarterly, and Persimmon Tree, among others. Her chapbook, Rising and Falling, won the Foothills Poetry Competition. Professor Emerita at Salem State University, she lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts where she conducts a monthly poetry salon.

5 Poems by Claire Keyes

A Day at the Beach

In the hot summers of childhood
all we wanted was to swim at the beach,
so we took ourselves, my kid brother and me,
on the “T” to South Boston. In a few months,
my twelfth birthday, my brother just eight.
Was the beach crowded? The water dirty?
Did we care?

We knew nothing about sewage outfall pipes
just joy as the two of us joined the crowd of adults
and kids paddling in the swell and crash of waves.
It was time to shriek, to jump, to paddle
through soft, round turds floating
because they’d exited the pipe
along with shreds of tissue.

We were nothing if not naïve
which saved the day at Carson Beach.
Easy enough to flick the turds away. Away!
What’s the use of complaining the water’s dirty,
our day wrecked? Better this, I thought,
than popping tar bubbles on the street.

Now I live along the same ocean
where a dog slithers into the water
to fetch a yellow tennis ball his mistress has thrown.
He will return to her whatever she throws.
It’s a matter of devotion.

At Waterside Cemetery, I yank crabgrass
spreading onto my husband’s grave and fling it away,
then tuck in some alyssum from the garden at home,
a fragrance he loved.

*

One Full Bath

In a family where ten of us shared one full bath,
I learned that cleanliness is not next to godliness.

That the sight of my brother in his boxers
emerging from his bedroom was enriching

as was his distress at seeing me capture the bathroom.
That nobody savors scouring the bathtub.

That sisters with long hair can be a real bitch.
That the water heater held finite hot water

and that a tepid bath just doesn’t do it.
That you can ignore your mother’s wrath:

what are you doing in there? —only so long.
That one full bath was a big deal for my mother.

That she grew up in a house with no bath:
a childhood better left unspoken.

Better yet, she had so much class
she never told us how good we had it.

*

Orange Pekoe

My brother offers us tea when we visit,
orange pekoe, our mother’s favorite brew,
and I’m surprised he’s held onto the old ways
for wasn’t he a dare-devil jumping from planes
loaded with his heavy gear, his night-vision goggles
and guns, a warrior and not one to set out the tea things:
a pitcher of milk, a sugar bowl, teaspoons.

And wasn’t he the soldier home from the war
who dared bring beer into the house
where our father forbade alcohol,
our two uncles, two drunks, stewed in degradation.
So I’m amused when he serves us tea,
proudly relating how he saves his squinched teabag
to make a second cup.

Here: a poem I’ve written about you.

A confused squinch
and he says,
           I didn’t think you thought about me.

Not a lot, I fail to say, but after this,
he likes me so much he sends me a sturdy fruit cake
each Christmas because I said I liked it,
once.

*

Don’t Tell

I can’t remember anything my mother said except don’t tell the priest
that Saturday after the abduction, the stripping and prodding.

I am headed to Confession to be forgiven my sin. Hadn’t I allowed the man
to take me down behind the garage. Don’t tell anyone, he said.

Soon I would confess my impurity and be absolved, but
my mother’s words follow me down the street and up the hill

to the church, soft and persistent as the pure steps of the Blessed Virgin.
My mother could hardly say: keep quiet to protect our family from gossip.

Don’t tell the priest is what she said, and I understood: Keep yourself
to yourself. I’m entering 8th grade, on the verge. I know nothing about sex.

Nothing about where babies came from. Yet in the playground
we would chant and poke each other’s belly buttons

and say Bore a hole/Bore a hole/ right through the Sugar Bowl
Out comes Y—–O—–U.

We didn’t know what we were saying.
Yet somehow we did.

*

Something Amusing

To be my mother-in-law in the nursing home
picking at her fingers until they bleed.
To find my bleeding fingers more fascinating
than my son and his wife come to visit.
To give him the satisfaction of laughing
at his dumb story. Nope.
To grin is the most I will grant him and her
standing next to him as if her claim is greater.
His pants fit like a glove, my son says
to me. To me? He says something
about a man with five penises,
pants and gloves fitting.
To watch his lips move.
To see him shape words with his tongue and his teeth.
To demand that my son tell me something
amusing while I sit here.
To be dressed nicely. My feet in pumps.
My white gloves in my purse.
To expect to go out to lunch with my son
and he brings some woman I don’t know.
To sit in the corridor of a nursing home waiting.
To believe I’ve been pushed here then left
to gather dust. To gather dust.

*

CLAIRE KEYES is the author of two books of poetry, The Question of Rapture and What Diamonds Can Do. Her poems and reviews have appeared recently in Redheaded Stepchild, Mom Egg Review, Two Hawks Quarterly, and Persimmon Tree, among others. Her chapbook, Rising and Falling, won the Foothills Poetry Competition. Professor Emerita at Salem State University, she lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts where she conducts a monthly poetry salon.