Issue 15

Becoming  (Oil, Metal Leaf on Panel; 60″ x 48″).
© 2012, Steven DaLuz, All Rights Reserved.

Contents

Ruth Awad | Mark Granier | Ellen Girardeau Kempler | Stella Reed | Robert Walicki | Laura Grace Weldon | Chaun Ballard | Rasaq Malik | Jane Clarke | Lauren Goodwin Slaughter | Ross Thompson | Lex Runciman | Tim Suermondt | Stephen Gibson | Lisa Higgs | Gary Fincke | Jordan Smith | Elise Hempel | Matthew Murrey | Ben Groner III | Carol Alexander

Second Look – Ode to a Rat

 

If there were a heaven, we’d be asked to leave

No, there wasn’t an exact moment I knew.
It was like I stood from the cliffs of our marriage
and looked down. I stood from my marriage
and became a cliff. Fall off me, I hiss in your ear.

You hand me a fistful of rocks. See how we rush
to the ground. See how our wants horrify us.
See how I hold you like we’ve never
disappointed each other.

The fog rising from the tall grass is not like the cold
breath of god. No romance in how it feathers the clouds
above us. You say you know what it’s like to be every
other man unlucky enough to love me.

 

Ruth Awad
is a Lebanese-American poet and the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry Prize.


 

Some Mornings

it comes through a crack
in the curtains, begins its
definitions: the hanging
lampshade pale and precise
as a lunar phase, the emerging
titles on book-spines, the cave-dark
coat slumped on its hook
flickering briefly in a frail
column of light (a passing car)
and there is no need to find
words for this, calm as knowledge
that stretches and lays its head
on the pillow beside you and
opens its eyes

 

Mark Granier‘s poems have appeared in numerous outlets, including Poetry Review, the TLS, Poetry Ireland Review, The New Statesman, Daily Poem and Verse Daily. Awards include the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize and two Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowships. Ghostlight: New & Selected Poems was published by Salmon Poetry in 2017.


 

Still Life with You Gone

I cup my hands
leakproof as boats

to drink the undistilled
blues & whites of fall.

The sky’s so brittle
& the moon’s so grown.

I love you like the heron
sitting still. Peerless as

he waits to catch a fish
& swallow it whole.

 

Ellen Girardeau Kempler is an award-winning poet and nonfiction writer. Called ‘a timely and powerful selection of climate poetics,’ her first book, Thirty Views of a Changing World: Haiku + Photos, was published in December 2017 by Finishing Line Press.


 

Reading Neruda in the Jemez Mountains

Soon clouds will gather on the red bluffs,
the bottle of wine will be empty,
half the black grapes devoured.
Soon, soft rain will pock
the river where we watch
two snakes twine
under the concrete dam.

But all of that will come later.
Now you tell me,
Neruda named her thighs and breasts
but left out her heart in “Body of a Woman.”
You put a small smooth stone,
like a sparrow’s egg, in your pocket.

I named your breast, the one cut away,
sang it twelve praise songs,
stitched incantations into your lopsided chest.
Now I’m tasked with naming your heart too?
I take the last pull from the wine bottle.
The rain starts its descent.

Though we don’t know it yet,
too soon your heart will be Ribbon of Smoke
unwound from your body
Murmuration of Starlings.
When women name our own hearts
we do it with lips closed

so that worlds take shape on our tongues
Little Fruit that Bursts in the Mouth
so we can speak of each other
even after we’re gone
to declare ourselves whole.

 

Stella Reed is the co-author of We Were Meant to Carry Water, forthcoming from 3: A Taos Press. Winner of the Tusculum Review Chapbook contest 2018 for Origami, judged by Emilia Phillips, Stella teaches poetry to women in shelters through WingSpan Poetry Project in Santa Fe, NM.


 

Visitation

We take our rest
in the car ride over.
Your eyes closed to Hayden,

the slow movement almost reaching
beyond the Lexapro,
and I want to say something,

but we’ve already arrived
at her driveway and 5 inches of snow.
We drag shovels across the ground

in tandem silence, spot two
city deer nose through the broken pines,
bring inside what’s left

of her mail, purge the fridge
of the food past expiration.
And like ruthless movers, we keep going—

Caved-in boxes full of religious art,
novena beads stapled to cards promising
every desire fulfilled to whomever recites this.

I stack mail next to the olive wood nativity,
Joseph, clad in dust, bending to his son,
the kings holding gifts they can never give.

Everything here bearing witness to this waiting
for a sign— her single panes letting in that frigid air,
that misleading sun flooding her kitchen

with its relentless light.

 

Robert Walicki‘s work has appeared in over 40 publications including Vox Populi, The Fourth River, The Pittsburgh City Paper, Cabildo Quarterly and others. Robert currently has two chapbooks published: A Room Full of Trees (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press 2015).


 

Inside Out

Only by snapping open scarlet runner bean pods
do we see they are lined with fuzz, shaped
to each vividly hued bean
like a viola case to its instrument.

Only by slicing open a trout
are its bones revealed, lined up like pews
facing the back of a moving church,
its scripture stories of what came before.

We see stars only in the darkness,
feed a flame only by burning,
fuel our bodies only with what lived.
You’d think we’d see a pattern,

yet are surprised when loss
tilts our world, lifestream
into waterfall. We’re told grief
ebbs, when all we want to do

is bring sorrow’s fullness
out in the sun’s cleansing light.
Lay it on the rocks.
Let it air.

 

Laura Grace Weldon‘s first poetry collection is titled Tending and she’s seeking a publisher for her second. Her works appears in such places as Verse Daily, J Journal, Penman Review, Literary Mama, Mom Egg Review, and Pudding House.


 

Pastoral

for the Syrian families lost to war & Miss Grace

Where I see a gravel field

I want to build you a horizon
I want to build you a stadium of stars
I want to build you a home of marigolds
with unhinged rooftop
where the walls are always unguarded

Where I see a sea of ashjaar

zeit az-zeitoun
I want to close you in beneath
blueberry skies an open foyer
of ripened firmament
where you can see and see
miles and kilometers in
either direction at either time

Where I see a building unspoken for

I want to build you a garden
I want to rename it garden
I want to rewind it unstoned
turn the second hand back
until the building is no building
until gravel is no gravel

NOTE: Ashjaar is the Arabic word for “trees” and zeit az-zeitoun means “olive oil.”

 

Chaun Ballard‘s chapbook, Flight, is the winner of the 2018 Sunken Garden Poetry Prize and will be published by Tupelo Press. His poems have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Frontier Poetry, Rattle, and other literary magazines. His work has received nominations for Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize.


 

All My Life I Have Waited for Them to Return Home

Children of Chibok, boys and girls draped in the light
of morning before the spark of bullets glinted in the sky,

before they became petals torn by bullets.
Children of a dead country, their hands full of sand

to pour on the anonymous graves of their parents,
their hearts the cracks waiting to be patched with

the veil of kindness, their mouths muffled with words
too shocking to utter.

Children of a village extinct by blasts, turned into a
land where the young are buried, where the ones

whose bodies are bullet-riddled are cremated.
Children of a sad country, their arms the wings clipped

by war, their lives the stories of war waiting to be told.
Beloveds in distant countries, people who fled when

the earth groaned beneath their feet. Beloveds whose
eyes are filled with the fear of dying in exile.

All my life I have waited for them to come home.

 

Rasaq Malik is a graduate of the University of Ibadan. His poems have been published in Rattle, New Orleans Review, Spillway, Poet Lore, Michigan Quaterly Review, One, Minnesota Review, and elsewhere. He won Honorable Mention in 2015 Best of the Net for his poem Elegy, published in One. In 2017, Rattle and Poet Lore nominated his poems for the Pushcart Prize. He was shortlisted for Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2017. He was a finalist for Sillerman First Book for African Poets in 2018.


 

Snow

began to fall before dawn,
blown horizontal by easterly winds
from across the hill. This evening
it lies deep in banks and drifts;

hedges become whitewashed walls,
barrels turn into haystacks,
the wood pile disappears.
I could almost believe in miracles –

that we haven’t received
your mud-caked kit, breeches ripped
from ankle to hip, bloodied tunic,
and your helmet, slightly dinged.

I could almost believe
you’ll be with us for dinner,
having walked in your trench boots,
all the way home through the snow.

 

Jane Clarke‘s first collection, The River, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015. In 2016 she won Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year Award, the Hennessy Literary Award for Poetry and The River was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Literary Award.


 

The Fourth Bomb Threat; Birmingham JCC

In early 2017 over one-hundred Jewish Community Centers
in the U.S. received bomb threats

This morning, with my daughter, on the drive
I felt that familiar twinge
again, and when

I left her in the brightness
of her classroom

with its miniature library
and many-potted kitchen and brimming bin

of farm animal costumes
plus a bear

and watched her go

to embrace her very best friends,
the twins, Jozie and Elon—

their hands pressing so softly
where the other’s wings should be—

that twinge turned to fire
choked
by logic.

I am the stupidest of all the stupid mothers.
Everybody knows that

even, if, in an engine voice

a robot phones your child’s school
and assures you, yes,

a bomb
has been planted
that will slaughter every last sleeping baby

if that raging automaton

was really going to pull his switch
he wouldn’t give the plan away

first.
Use your brain, woman. Use your noggin.

“Have the best day, darling!”
I’m trying

to discern the exit light.

I find the long, dim,
ever-lengthening
corridor between us.

Dragging, with lead shoes

I peruse the walls
plastered with kid artifacts:

stapled cut-out heads of children

stuck on melting snow bodies;
a garbled chain

of torso-less many-raced hands;
indecipherable family

portraits:

pods of warped circles
with flat smiles

and scratched, mistake hair
pierced
by appendage rods.

I continue, I must,

to my car,
but cannot, I cannot

stop my heart, my prayer:

When it comes, God,
let me be
here.

 

Lauren Goodwin Slaughter is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and author of the poetry collection,a lesson in smallness, a finalist for the Rousseau Prize for Literature and the Eric Hoffer Award in poetry. Her poems have most recently appeared in Pleiades, 32 Poems, Kenyon Review Online, Carolina Quarterly, and Raleigh Review. She is an assistant professor of English at The University of Alabama at Birmingham where she is Editor-in-Chief ofNELLE, a literary journal that publishes writing by women.


 

Cigarette Girl

It was never supposed to turn out this way:
a facsimile of discarded scraps,
a palimpsest, a half-remembered cliché.

She was bright, sparky, pretty enough to be sprayed
on the sides of warplanes, so how did she wind up
wearing a pillbox hat and holding a tray

of light-up yo-yos, roses, chewing gum
and Home Run cigarettes, faking a smile
for handsy gangsters who boasted about running rum

through the Canadian pipeline? Their well-thumbed
come-ons made her gag as she walked the aisles
of The Ruby Moon Club, legs sharp as shotguns,

a dab of Coco Chanel behind each knee.
Once, she flew away, like Dorothy or Dahlia,
from the backwards town they named that disease

after, all smiles, fizzing with hopes and dreams,
and later reappeared, floating like Ophelia
up the Hudson River, sparkling in the sunbeams.

 

Ross Thompson is a writer from Bangor, Northern Ireland. Most recently, he was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney New Writing Award, placed joint runner-up in the Mairtín Crawford Award, and read ‘The Slipping Forecast’ on the BBC for The Arts Show. He was also commissioned by NI Screen to write a poetic sequence for the Coast To Coast project, and collaborated on a musical project with The Grand Gestures.


 

New Year: View from the Night Stairs

—Tintern, Wales

By distance made separate
From memory and from home, this sun
Looks not medieval, which this place is,

But unexampled, cold open as noon,
This place in time and out at once,
Unglassed windows, no roof but blue.

Climb then the cupped treads,
The night stairs’ chiseled risers:
At the top when you turn,

A solar physics not holy not pagan
Rubs two floor-tombs too slick for script.
Transept, chancel, aisle and nave –

Every vision is stacked wall, shaped column,
Mortar, shadow, and green wet gold,
Steam in the air, sun on grass, sun on stone.

This bright unshriven hour,
Let questions be.
Birch in a window, in a valley, by a river.

 

Lex Runciman has published six collections of poems, most recently Salt Moons: Poems 1981-2016, from Salmon Poetry. An earlier volume won the Oregon Book Award. A chapter discussing his work concludes Erik Muller’s Durable Goods: Appreciations of Oregon Poets. Now retired from college teaching, he lives in Portland, Oregon.


 

Vero Beach

The boy on the yellow bus
on his first day of school

isn’t sure he will see his mother
again. Not even a girl offering

him her orange can wipe away
the anxiety. He sees a gator

climbing out of the canal, off
to a different kind of school.

The boy’s hair is bright blond,
a color he’ll lament having lost

as the years collude. But let’s
not rush him, let him return home

like the gator full of adventure,
carrying his satchel and the sun

on a string into his mother’s arms.

 

Tim Suermondt is the author of seven books of poetry, the latest being The World Doesn’t Know You from Pinyon Publishing, 2017. MadHat Press will publish Josephine Baker Swimming Pool in 2018. He has had poems published in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review and Prairie Schooner among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA).


 

Pre-Raphaelite

When we picture Victorians, we often picture uptight women.
What do we really know about these Pre-Raphaelite women?

For Holman Hunt, and others, the female is Morte D’Arthur myth,
by day, either Guinevere or Morgana Pendragon; at night, women.

Millais’s Ophelia, the future supermodel Elizabeth Siddal (who posed
in a bath tub), didn’t aim to be the tragic to cite for young women.

(A decade later, married to Rossetti, when Lizzie OD’d on laudanum
after her stillborn, the artist was nowhere in sight—out with women.)

Ellen Smith, Rossetti’s sixteen year old in Joli Coeur (“Pretty Heart”)
had her face slashed by a soldier-boyfriend—not a fight over women.

Jane Morris (Mrs. William Morris) championed Irish Home Rule,
emancipation, Rossetti as her lover—no man had, by right, women.

On the verso of Rossetti’s Bocca Baciata is the kissed mouth does not lose its savour
his biographers use it to demean model Fanny Cornforth, to indict women.

 

Stephen Gibson‘s latest poetry collection, Self-Portrait in a Door-Length Mirror, was selected by Billy Collins as winner of the 2017 Miller Williams Prize from the University of Arkansas Press and was published this past January. He has published six prior collections: The Garden of Earthly Delights Book of Ghazals, Rorschach Art Too, Paradise (University of Arkansas Press), Frescoes, Masaccio’s Expulsion, and Rorschach Art.


 

Understanding

A girl can be rabbit at forest edge
lulled by sun. Sleepy and skittish,
this wild being wrapped in solitude

by canopy and dappled underbrush,
the forest’s sense of age and season.
Such a girl can be sure that nothing

is more important than understanding
waves of wheaten grass near tracks
curving the perimeter. Or pheasants out

to pasture, the red fox crossing fall
clearings. A girl can be so quiet,
she never notices she is alone,

her path animal amid waist-high
green, fire-tipped and easily bent
in the passing. And yet a girl

must grow and learn loneliness,
must grow and see how divided
the world. Such a girl is sure of so little,

but understands grass can be given over
to light and rain. Understands the breath
of each sleeping child that names her

woman. Knows naming is more
important than wildness, memory.
Such a girl settles toward contentment

knowing she may never reach the peace
past all. And yet seeks more: if they
can’t be sunlight, let them make stars.

 

Lisa Higgs‘ chapbook Earthen Bound will be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2018. Her poem “Wild Honey Has the Scent of Freedom” received 2nd Prize in the 2017 Basil Bunting International Poetry Prize. Currently, Lisa is the Poetry Editor for Quiddity and reviews poetry for Kenyon Review Online.


 

The Drownings of W.C. Fields

One summer, the century soon ending,
Fields practices his juggling while he works
A concession at the beach where, three times
Each day, he wades into the Atlantic
Like a tourist and swims to his drowning.

Yesterday I spoke with a woman who,
Seventeen years ago, lost a swimmer
While lifeguarding. Hand-over-hand, a boy
Had edged to deep water along the dock
That claimed part of a lake for summer camp.

Each time, suffering the fireman’s carry,
Fields goes so limp he terrifies a crowd
That circles near the junk-food stand that pays
For perfect timing, how long to perform
The life-and-death before he gags and spits.

No matter the reason, he’d lost his grip
And gone under while she’d scolded a boy
For running, adding a minute between
Her whistles for buddy checks. “Last warning,”
She’d said. “Don’t let me see that again.”

And the crowd? After Fields, still dripping, stands,
They are ravenous from proximity
To tragedy, his colleagues arriving
With popcorn and candy, working that throng
Before price becomes a thing to ponder.

Twice each night, she said, she rises to check
The breathing of her children who sleep paired
In two rooms. A trilling in her ears says
Evaluate the pillows, examine
The chests for the relief of rise and fall.

Dressed again, Fields resumes his juggling
And thinks of gin. Sometimes, he overhears
A shared version of his recent drowning.
Not once, that summer, is he recognized.
Always, the lucky victim is a fool.

Often, she said, her dreams are whistles and
Screams. Always, there is water-with-shadow,
A still life framed by memory’s limits.
Waking has weight yoked by her arms, kisses
Repeatedly offered, yet unreturned.

Imagine yourself watching a boy dragged
From the ocean, his chest being compressed
To resurrect breath. How hungry you are
For story to spew at acquaintances.
Insist your appetite is shared, safety
Impossible, and there is never shame
In the inability to comfort.

 

Gary Fincke‘s latest collection is Bringing Back the Bones: New and Selected Poems (Stephen F. Austin, 2016). An earlier collection After the Three-Moon Era won the Jacar Poetry Prize, and his next one The Infinity Room won the 2017 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Established Poets and will be published by Michigan State University.


 

Little Black Train

I never made it to San Francisco, ’55 or ’67, to Soho
Or the East Village, to Brooklyn with Whitman or Miller or Auden.
Instead I’m driving through Waterford, New York, toward North Troy
Listening to an artist pitch his memoir of good times in the Seventies

On the radio, and because he can’t put two clear sentences together,
And because the rest of the news is murder on the one hand
And on the other
I switch to an old Appalachian song, a brutal,
Christian exhortation to fix your business right.

What I miss in these little towns are the grade crossings
Where you had to stop when the gates dropped
And the squat bulk of one of the black New York Central diesels pulled through,
Then the freights, with their old-fashioned graffiti,
A tramp’s scrawled Kilroy or skull and bones or Jesus Saves.

What I miss is the fierce weight of it, just a few feet from the car’s grille,
The shock of wind and metal, whatever couldn’t be stopped, not for anything
When I wasn’t going anywhere at all.

 

Jordan Smith is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Clare’s Empire, a fantasia on the life and work of John Clare from The Hydroelectric Press. He lives in upstate New York and teaches at Union College.


 

Hobson’s Choice

The life insurance money came today
and fleshed our daughter’s bank account that was
down to just ten dollars left to pay
for gas and food. She didn’t even pause
between her oh my god, her shriek of glee
when I picked up the phone, and then her squeal
to have that much at only twenty-three,
the words, as at your death, This can’t be real.
She’d rather have you back, of course, in this
sudden deal she’s had to take, this trade,
would choose chance visits, unkept promises
over freedom, sleep, her bills all paid.
She’d choose your voice again, those random calls
over the silent shift of a decimal.

 

Elise Hempel‘s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, Measure, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Evansville Review, Southern Poetry Review, and The Midwest Quarterly, as well as in Poetry Daily and Ted Kooser’s weekly column, American Life in Poetry. In 2016 Able Muse Press published her first full-length collection of poems, Second Rain. She lives in central Illinois.


 

Grant Wood’s Midnight Ride

Out of the revolting dark, deep
as ship-scarred, crisscrossed seas,
comes horse sweat, comes breakneck,
into and through the heart of town.

What a midnight. What a light to ride through:
windows and door frames candle-flamed,
and the center lit from above as if by Godshine
or stage lights. Oh, one if by man, two if by dream.

The dark horse is stretched as far as art allows,
drawn like a thoroughbred winning—or losing
—by a neck. The rider waves and looks back
before leaving the light. He is so small
I fear he will…. He will. So brief. So snuffed.

In long johns, standing in the wash of that light
and cry, I swear it was a glorious moment. Wasn’t it?
It was a failure worth staying up all night for.

 

Matthew Murrey‘s poems have appeared in various print and online journals. He received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry a number of years ago. His first book manuscript is seeking a publisher. He is a high school librarian in Urbana, Illinois.


 

Two Sparrows

Two sparrows careen in the endless sky, veer close, pass each other, then both bank hard
in the blue to get another look, startled and curious, recognizing something neither can name.

I’ve been writing, trying so hard to pull the words somewhere, nudge them into epiphany,
when they may have already arrived in a town worth easing off the gas for, worth rolling the

windows down for and exploring. I think of her, my thoughts flitting, bird-like, from a red maple leaf among the green: how it stands out, aflame with a brilliance that needs no boasting; to

a honeysuckle-perfumed spring, murmuring and thrumming with bees pleasuring sunflowers;
to childhood memories of the ocean: how a wave can be gentle even while the tide is strong.

I erase a word, the paper’s creamy texture reminding me there is always more to discover
below the surface, always a new step to take. Like listening to a deluge of rain drumming

on a canvas tent, replenishing the soil and roots outside while we are cocooned in warmth;
like losing ourselves in an overgrown garden, lying down in a lush patch of grass, dragonflies

whirring around as our bodies melt into each other, into the extravagance of existence all around us. The other night, I dreamt a fiddle tune leapt up a mountainside, bounding from boulder to

boulder as a flute’s lilting melody capered into the scene, each harmonizing with the other as they rose, intertwined, pausing at the peak before cascading into the valley with the morning sun.

 

Ben Groner III (Nashville, TN), recipient of Texas A&M University’s 2014 Gordone Award for undergraduate poetry, has work published in Appalachian Heritage, New Mexico Review, Third Wednesday, Gnarled Oak, The Bookends Review, and elsewhere.


 

Dissonance

Afternoons, Grandfather patronized a café,
outpost of Amerikadeustscher Volksbund.
Linzer torte mit schlag. Depression glass,
those powdery crumbs snow melt.
The pastries were baked in encryption;
he fed himself broken bits of code.
But why did he spy on the enemy?
Some find ways of confounding death;
thus Grandfather, who’d gambled for tickets
to Parsifal. He later bought a ticket
for a stinking hold, weevily brown bread.
At dusk he passed a palm through flame.
Gedenken und Frienden. Day’s end brings peace.

He still desired the wife in France,
a six-month child, a cousin’s mislaid bones.
The bones had felt at one with their land
and now they were, with ashy rubble
for a makeshift headstone. Grandfather ate cake
with gloved fingers, wiping cream from his beard.
No place for Mezonot, the blessing on five grains.
His suit, I think, would have fit a larger man.
The cousin’s bones were wrapped up snug
in chimney smoke and the holies of Siddur.

 

Carol Alexander is the author of the poetry collections Environments (Dos Madres Press, Spring 2018) and Habitat Lost (Cave Moon Press) along with the chapbook Bridal Veil Falls (Flutter Press). Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. She has also published fiction and nonfiction for young readers.