Chera Hammons is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Goddard College. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Connotation Press, and Tar River, among others. Her chapbook Amaranthine Hour is available through Jacar Press. She currently resides in Amarillo, TX.
It’s a house-shaker, cellar-thumper,
the sort that we are warned about,
but not all of us have basements
so we fit into our closets when it comes,
just widened-out eyes and elbows while
the outside air boils and sings with electricity.
We grow up with it, always know this might
happen to us, that we will sit in our groaning box
in a sea of wind, and will wait under pillows
that must stop whatever pieces of cars pierce the walls,
so we have planned ahead, know the safest room.
We know that while we wait
the rebar will be ripped from the concrete,
the studs will be stripped, sand-blasted with topsoil,
hail will beat the nearly-wild roses flat.
The bells at the non-denominational church
will clang like mad yelling saints, the power will flicker,
the lights may go out, the garage door thrown off
so the house is a vacuum, but the warning sirens
are always a thrill when they start up,
the way that families freeze to listen at first.
They pause in their meals, or their small talk,
and suddenly hear tree branches already
slapping the dust off their houses, and the spitting rain
that saturates the brick red like when it was new,
the windows rattling, and the mile-long rumble
that might not be a freight train.
We know more about meteorology than most.
A ridge of low pressure, straight line winds,
gulf moisture were in our bedtime stories.
The storm will pass soon, the worst ones
wear themselves out fast with their violence,
and the morning will sparkle with dew and bent metal,
the roots of the cottonwoods like old fingers
finally holding the sky like something they’d hoped for.
We have rebuilt now so many times that nobody thinks
it’s unusual if you never find some of what blew away.
We will go outside to see what still stands,
meet our neighbors assessing the storm,
and what the new day is like, preening in its calm;
we’ll call it a good day for repairing the damage,
a good thing that things were not worse.
The weather is our culture, what we have in
common, all we really know how to talk about.
—from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
Jeff Hardin is the author of Fall Sanctuary (2005), Notes for a Praise Book (2013), and Restoring the Narrative (2015). His poems appear in The Southern Review, Hudson Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, North American Review, Measure, Southwest Review, and others. He teaches at Columbia State Community College in TN.
Having read and loved a poem by Neruda,
good luck finding it again
in all those pages, book after book.
And a passage, stanza, or phrase?
Might as well reach inside a waterfall,
pull out a lily or lighthouse—
the words will have turned already
to enigma or shade of acacia trees,
an incoming wave on the sand.
And forget trying to place again a single word,
the one from which you felt a shiver.
It has pledged itself to silence, wind,
aroma of some yesterday only your bones can know.
You are now a servant of uncertainties.
Having known and moved among borders;
having sailed through open doors and solitudes
and danced upon pollen, your mouth
open, tasting a pulse on the air;
having touched surf and shawl and the rain
inside piano notes lingering all night,
now you know nothing, a child again
who picks up rocks, tosses them into a stream,
each disappearing for perhaps millennia
or never to be touched again, like a thought.
—appeared in The Southern Review, Volume 46, Number 3
Edison Jennings lives in Abingdon, Virginia and teaches at Virginia Intermont College. His poems appear in Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, Triquarterly, Slate and many other journals.
A Body in Motion
In this compact piedmont coal-town, a hospital,
a walk-in wedding chapel, and a funeral home
are all within a half-mile radius of steep-grade roads,
and you can get on a bicycle outside the maternity ward,
push-off vigorously, merge on to Court Street,
lean a hard right to the Ding Dong Wedding Chapel,
wave as you pass my house, then, looking both ways,
dash lickety-split across the street to the funeral home,
never pedaling once, while the whole contraption,
of which you are a part, frame and wheels, bone and heart,
all that makes you quick, whirs for once in concert,
so brief and sweet you lift your arms and glide, hands free,
the last few yards and come to rest at the place
that drew you from the start, downhill all the way.
—originally published in TriQuarterly.
Debra Kaufman is the author of two poetry collections—The Next Moment (Jacar 2010) and A Certain Light (Emrys 1996)—and three chapbooks—Family of Strangers, Still Life Burning, and Moon Mirror Whiskey Wind. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies and magazines, including Spoon River Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry East, and North Carolina Literary Review.
Lunch with Leonard Cohen
He shambled out of the winter air
into the dim oyster café, looking
for the one who had invited him here.
I waved. He recognized me
from his dream. We dipped
our spoons into the milky stew.
I know of a place,
he said. Are you game?
Down we went, down,
through a maze of shining stones.
I won’t find my way back, I said.
Still I followed him into a temple
where light poured through
the high stained windows,
choir voices saturated the air.
I wanted to stop and pray here
but we rode an elevator to a penthouse
of cumulous clouds. Azure
furniture floated, haloed in gold.
The saints in their chemises should be here any minute.
He turned toward me, electric with desire:
A secret chord is hidden in each of us.
We kissed the kiss of bliss while behind us
the Sisters sang Hallelujah.
Stephanie Levin received her MFA in Poetry from UVa and her MA in Literature & Writing from Hollins University. Her work has appeared in Green Mountains Review, Folio, River Styx, Prairie Schooner, and Shenandoah. Smoke of Her Body was chosen by Dorianne Laux as winner of the 2011 Jacar Press Poetry Book Prize. She lives in Chapel Hill with her two daughters.
My daughter stops a stranger: I got new sneakers. Look!
stomping so the bottoms light up.
Before I can nudge her past, the woman asks,
Do those come in big people’s sizes, too?
bending forward to look.
It makes me wonder if I keep too much
to myself; if I should say to that man
walking past the bread, I want to leave my husband
and don’t know how: see? leaning closer
and pointing to the puffy circles beneath my eyes.
Maybe as the cashier swipes the bar code
of the frozen peas, I could let her in: Guess what?
I’m not wearing my wedding ring today, so she’ll
open up to me: Sarah’s moving to Tulsa after all,
and the couple in line behind me would
tap my shoulder: Wanna know what?
We don’t make love anymore, and the manager
in his booth would announce overhead,
Dad’s refusing chemo, and soon,
we’d all reach out
for our balloons with “Trader Joe’s” stretched
across in black, the aisles filling with colors
that sway, bumping lightly into each other or bobbing
up and down as we yank on the strings—carefree, reckless—
and not one of us afraid to let go.
Sandy Longhorn is the author of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths (Jacar Press) and Blood Almanac (Anhinga Press). She teaches at Pulaski Technical College, where she directs the Big Rock Reading Series, and for the low-residency MFA program at the University of Arkansas Monticello.
Glacial Elegy II
The gray mare that gave her hair for Sunday’s first song
canters to the soothing rhythm of Rock of Ages, her coat
coursing quicksilver across her withers and haunches.
She wades with me into the water of the Little Cedar,
a tributary trickling down the years behind the ghost
of my grandfather’s rocky farm, the one he named
Ripplebrook, the only moment of whimsy he had in him.
Forty years in other hands and all the doors have rusted hinges.
The twice-sold land refuses to give up the songs of the dead,
so I trespass on and dig in the muddy riverbank. The stones
pulled from the suction of soggy dirt are heavy as forgiveness,
making me pay the price of soil-blackened knees and bruised fingers.
Across the field, the gray mare noses a bed of clover and grazes
on summer’s end. I kneel in river weeds and build a cairn,
careful to find the tipping point of each rock,
careful to be sure that the dead know I intervened.
Sharon McDermott is a literature teacher at Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh. She is the author of three collections of poems: Voluptuous (2000, Ultima Obscura Press); Alley Scatting (2005, Parallel Press, University of Wisconsin); and Bitter Acoustic, (2012, Jacar Press), selected by poet Betty Adcock as the winner of the Jacar Press Chapbook Award.
Life Without Furniture
Housed everywhere but nowhere shut in,
this is the motto of the dreamer of dwellings…
~ Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
It has always been this way with the map-makers:
Seaweed starts to burn. Plates shift.
Clouds drift off compass, skew the direction of needles.
Always the map-makers: mindful of the edge
of the world and its sailors clinging to it for dear life.
Lost, adrift, skiffs weathered in an ocean’s current
or beholden to pine needles, asleep and
dreaming of thick-inked boundary waters
and blue drawings of elephants
tipsy on the coastline.
Those fabled cartographers pinned our where to a relief
of crossed lines, tousled vines,
our back porches overburdened with leaves
and there, the last words of crows
dogging us through dusk and the alleyways,
where a puddle trembles of its own accord.
We are here, at least for now. Here and ravenous
for rugs and shelves and soup tureens
and drawers full of matches and twine.
Boots, horns and continents and so much liquid drive—
The ambition of curtains, sills, and hardwood planks,
which builds this closure, enclosure, this more-than-yourself.
(We are clams; we are oysters with grit in our mantles.)
Oh weary cartographers, slake our desire for the new world:
four chairs, a square. And walls where spiders paint Matisse
markings against a white backdrop.
Always, the cave wall with its first etchings:
this latitude of light, and hair that smells of lemongrass
this longitude of tunneling rain.
—recently published as a finalist in the first annual Tupelo Quarterly poetry prize.
Al Maginnes is the author of ten collections of poetry, including the prize winning Music from Small Towns (Jacar Prize) and Ghost Alphabet (White Pine Press,), as well as Inventing Constellations (Cherry Grove Edition). His work appears in Poetry, The New England Review, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Quarterly West and many other literary magazines. He earned an MFA from the University of Arkansas.
Mingus and Stars
I am writing this on my 56th birthday.
On my father’s 56th birthday, he died,
leaving little to measure my steps against
from this day forward. This day when I’m afraid
to close my eyes. The day Charles Mingus died
fifty-six sperm whales died on the beaches in Baja.
And Mingus was 56. He left behind
a garden as sweet and thorny as the fields
father and sons have warred in since the first
measure of time, since stick or rock
first pounded imitation of the human heart.
Tonight, presents and phone calls, the prizes
for completing a year, done, the little cake I can
be allowed, gone, I should listen to music
instead of watching a movie whose outcome
I know, turning pages in books I read last year.
I’m old enough now for real listening, to close
my eyes and let music have its way with me.
“I want to be a star,” said Mingus after he knew
he was dying, meaning not the faces on magazines
or the metal shapes in Hollywood sidewalks,
but the burning orbs of rock and gas we see
only at a distance, whose light continues long after
they go out, the way music continues after
the hand that wrote it is done. When I close my eyes,
fields of stars unfurl there. Those are the stars, bright,
unreachable, each singular as bass notes, stars
I want to shine among, but not today.