The end of childhood by Ellen Stone

The end of childhood

Your parent’s tightened
lips, their narrow love—
how it tipped & tilted
like the summer Ferris wheel
all smoke and burnt candy.
You, leaning over the edge
to see it all – old ball field,
swirling night bats, dogs
& beer faced fathers. Where
is your mother? Gone, again?
That question slow burning,
but here the lights
are twinkly, everyone
is gathering, rippled
& holding something
spooled loosely –
giant blue bears, a pinwheel,
caramel apples on sticks, silvery
balloons hovering on the midway.
Empty in this moistness, you
circling around, swooping
& knotted, your stomach,
your sinking heart.


Ellen Stone advises a poetry club at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a co-host for the monthly poetry series, Skazat! and an editor at Public School Poetry which debuts in the fall of 2023. Ellen’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, Cold Mountain Review, The Museum of Americana, and River Heron Review. She is the author of The Solid Living World, Michigan Cooperative Press, 2013, and What Is in the Blood, Mayapple Press, 2020.

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.

Everyone Has Better Parents by Robert Darken

Everyone Has Better Parents

I drive with you beside me after you’ve bombed a math test.
You’re still and cold, like city statues after dark under street lamps,
the way public art at night shapes itself into familiar monsters.

You still want to go to college but maybe not engineering, you say,
feeling carefully for safe ground between us.

At the stoplight on Black Rock, birds pass over our car
and are gone forever.
The car engine hums, listening.

I’m taking you to a therapist. You asked Mom for someone new,
someone who is not a family friend so you can tell the truth
about us: the current of my fury that crackles
through our walls,

your mother’s shackling invasion of privacy,
her way of transmuting all experiences into life lessons
like the perpetual ringing of a hammer.

At two years old your eyes were blue as berries, your hair
platinum and fine at the temples, like a halo.
What if that was the time to impart wisdom,
Before you darkened into this baffling stranger?
What if it’s now–this moment
before the traffic light blinks green?

As we drive past the bank, sunset blazes in its windows–
your face lit like red gold–and it’s like a door opening
to welcome us: some other father, some other son.


Originally from the Midwest, Robert Darken now resides in Connecticut, where he teaches high-school English. His poems have appeared in The Orchards, Red Eft Review, and New Verse News.

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.

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.

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.