Tag: poetry

From Issue 21: Sea Gate through a 35mm Amourette 1928

Eric Berlin
Maybe the glare is why she scowls as she turns,
the shutter convulsing in the handheld camera
her husband keeps between his open eye and her,
but I’d wager my life that he said something cruel,
focused tight on her nape with its gossamer curls,
then tapped the button, not noticing her pursed brow,
her downturned mouth, only the fluid way the strap
of her bathing suit rounds her back, spans the hollow
from shoulder to collar bone. Buckling shakes and stucco
bake in the summer light beyond her. This is half
of the split-frame photo. To the overcast sky
that burns out the other, his left hand holds aloft,
as if for sacrifice, some orphaned animal,
a puppy or kitten, its details mostly lost
to the brilliance above (nothing automatic
back then) and below too, where the sun strikes his watch.
Squinting at me as if I weren’t her grandson,
she stares through the greater part of a century,
distrustful, but not used to feeling such disdain,
bracing herself as if for necessary pain.
 
 Eric Berlin’s poems have won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, Bradford on the Avon Poetry Prize, National Poetry Prize, and The Ledge Poetry Prize. Currently, he’s researching various genres of oral literature and teaches online for The Poetry School.

From Issue 21: The Doll

Joan Colby
At Marshall Fields that year
When I was eight,
They took a photograph to make
A doll with my face,
My wavy auburn hair.
I unwrapped that doll
On Christmas day. She had
A wardrobe of clothes
Just like mine. A green wool coat
Trimmed with muskrat fur,
A taffeta skirt and lace collared blouse,
A skating outfit and small white skates,
Flannel pajamas and scratchy underwear,
All sewn by my mother
Late at night on the Singer.
The doll was eerie, my
Doppelganger. A better child
Than I would ever be.
She had a pimpled leather prayer book
Fit for a believer,
Unlike me.
She sat in my bedroom
On a quilted chair
Before the vanity mirror
Where we were both reflected.
Her hair brushed to shine,
Her smile impassive,
Her complexion putty-colored
Minus my freckles, her brown eyes kind
And compliant.
My mother named her Dolores, her choice
For me vetoed by my father who said
It meant sorrow.
Dolores’ legs bent
So she could kneel
With her little rosary
In her little fingers.
 
 Joan Colby’s Selected Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Carnival  from FutureCycle Press and The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books. Her latest book Her Heartstrings was published by Presa Press in 2018.

From Issue 21: A Note to Hemingway's Women

Twila Newey
I saw your shadow pass in the high window near La Rue Moufftard. You, his first wife, the baby in your arms waiting, not knowing. I penned run! as the rain drizzled and turned cobblestones to fish scales. Sealed the envelope and slipped it under the door.  You didn’t read it.
It isn’t then. It’s now. You already got out of there, eventually. Left him after he left you. More than once. Stopped leaving your baby in the care of the cat to follow him to café or salon or bar. The baby grew up, which takes decades. He wanted the short, straight line. Avoided the curve of comma, the complication of semi-colon. Though his dogma stretched fifty years past his lived life like a petulant poltergeist banging out periods on a typewriter.  He claimed to love you.  He claimed to love. A short sentence. He wrote about you, looking back through winter drizzle, through film of age, romanticized you, but did not see the bruise healing; green, purple, rust, in cobblestone. The soft wound beneath his feet.  
He was good at the sharp, the blunt. Limited in his ability to appreciate the subtle, many colored circuity. Blind to the beauty of tangle.  It’s why he left her, Paris, and his other women. Just part of his collection. Lovely severed heads to mount on his memory wall. 
His only true love the fast thought. The shotgun sentence.
 
 Twila Newey graduated from The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics in 2003.  She has completed her first novel and is currently querying agents.  A portion of that manuscript won publication in Exponent II Midrash contest.  Her poetry has also appeared on Poetry Breakfast and in Rust + Moth.  She lives in the mountains west of Denver with her husband and four children.

From Issue 21: Dream of the Red City

William Doreski
The streets run parallel. No cross streets, no vanishing point. I toil along a dreary stretch of abandoned warehouses. I want to reach the next street over, where restaurants and theaters gleam like rhinestones. But when I try cutting through the warehouses I find they have no back doors, and between them range high metal fences crowned with coils of razor wire. The stink of decay and wasted lives sours the night. I can’t see moon or stars. The reddish dark overhead looks solid as a concrete dome. The faint urban glow tastes salty and glib. If I could get on the roof I might see a way of reaching the populated district. I find a spiral staircase that opens onto a flat tarred surface and realize I could leap to the building facing the other street. But the long fatal drop between is daunting. I remember Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, hanging with both hands while a uniformed cop falls to his death. So I descend and exit into the broken street with the reddish glow washing over me. Laughter and loud conversation, drifting from another world, encourage and disgust me. How much humanity do I want to assert? How much wants to claim me?
 

William Doreski has published three critical  studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall. 

Featured: Contemplation

Jay Carson
All food is 80 percent water,
a doctor once told me.
When you think about it,
it has to be.
I thought about it:
I didn’t think it had to be.
I’m a theological libertarian:
God could do anything she wanted.
All food could be like Jell-O,
which might be a better plan
for no toast stuck in the throat;
or bricks, for that matter;
Bad BBQs prove we’d survive that
If you think about it.
I had a smarty girlfriend
who used the same phrase,
like: Marriage is the most
logical manner of living for humans,
if you think about it.
I thought about it.
I didn’t think it had to be.
I live single and alone now.
 
A seventh generation Pittsburgher, Jay Carson taught at Robert Morris University for many years. He is the author of the books, Irish Coffee, (Coal Hill Review) and The Cinnamon of Desire, (Main Street Rag) as well as more than 100 poems and 4 short stories in journals, magazines, and collections.

From Issue 20: Catastrophe

Benjamin Harnett
We talk about the wreckage, a hillside of trees stacked
the saws have been buzzing and snarling for weeks.
Trees come down like great knuckle cracks.
Another development with “river views.”
A catastrophe. There have been others:
the election, something wrong with the fridge,
your Gran passing.
We are heading into a catastrophe of clouds;
some storm kicked up over Lake Ontario
or Erie. A dead tree is weathered into bone;
some cars flicker, a procession of candles
parallel the train; red-and-green running lights,
a single tractor trailer against the green base
of the mountain. So that’s night,
I dream we are together, though we will meet
somewhere below the Middle West. Past midnight
in Ohio, the carriage fills with Amish,
moonlight hollows their faces, but they smile,
read magazines. We pronounce it
with such overweening, personal pride,
“catastrophe.”
It is only the turning point, the last unwinding.
Of the barren hillside, I regret only the no more
deer at dusk, frozen in my passing.
Mule-eared and white muzzle shining, I could run
my hand along its bristle-furred back.
Life goes on. The longer we have,
the more we lack.
 
Benjamin Harnett is a historian, fiction writer, poet, and digital engineer. His works have appeared recently in Pithead Chapel, Brooklyn Quarterly, Moon City Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. He holds an MA in Classics from Columbia University and in 2005 co-founded the fashion brand Hayden-Harnett. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife Toni and their pets. He can be found most days on Twitter.com: @benharnett. He works for The New York Times.

From Issue 20: From the Porthole

Julio Monteiro Martins
Translated by Donald Stang & Helen Wickes
To be in the world
as on a ship:
to attend to the wellbeing
of the passengers,
inspire their confidence
in the crew.
Attend to the engines,
which mutiny and rebel
just as people do,
and to the passengers,
who get jammed
just like machines.
Feel at home
in the kitchen,
in the laundry,
not allowing the wind
to shred the flag,
and if that happens,
replace it immediately.
Then, once in a while,
glance outside,
through the porthole.
Because beyond the small world
inside the ship
is the larger world
swirling around it:
other ships,
distant torches
in the night,
fireflies that float by.
And also the currents, the winds,
clouds heavily charged,
pregnant with lightning,
and the terrors of the sea,
mountains of water
that suddenly rise
like a god staring at you.
The men
peel potatoes,
the women
tidy the beds
for the children
asleep in the life jackets;
every man and every woman who,
without the will or the courage
to look outside,
has forgotten
that they are aboard a ship,
that they are few in number—
every man and woman
will be protected.
They will have to be put ashore
in some port
before the storm.
They will have to learn to swim.
They will all have to get into—good God!
the little lifeboat:
women and children
first.
But then,
who will paddle?
Who will carry them to safety
past so many horizons?
And if the drinking water
runs low
who will choose—what bad luck!—
those to be
thrown into the sea?
But for now,
no one thinks of that.
One is at home
in the world,
even though onboard a ship:
warm the milk,
reattach the arm of the doll
and the wheel of the tractor,
sweetly kiss
the breasts of the beloved
and, innocently,
smile at her.
But the corner of the eye,
tactfully,
peers out of the porthole.
And the eye knows
that out there it is dark
even at midday.
A giant wave?
A passing cloud?
Inside one plays
in the darkness.
But outside
everything is moving.
 
Julio Monteiro Martins was raised in Brazil, then lived in Italy. He was widely published in both countries and died in 2014. Our translations of his poems from Italian into English are the first to be published in the US.

From Issue 20: Mourning in an Office with No Windows

Twila Newey
Sitting on a child’s chair in the doctor’s office, I fold a thin line, make a crease in the paper.  There is a sentence here about an old woman’s heart.  He sits next to me on a small blue chair, nine-years-old, tall and thin as green meadow grass. He begins sorting little wooden animals into their habitats.
The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly.  It wraps its glandular wings around the front of his throat and mine.  We feel the flutter, its urge to dislodge and fly up and out of his mouth, like something wild.  Most apparent in the rare moments when he is still.  At night when I lay my ear on the thin bones of his chest and listen to the race of his heart.
We sit and wait for the pediatric endocrinologist: a specialist who will give us the answers we already have.  His T4 levels are high.  His TSH is normal.  His skin is hot to the touch.  His emotions volatile.  His heart, on fire, burns the body of evidence: four pieces of French toast, a full bowl of yogurt and granola, two milkshakes, three large plates of roast, mashed potatoes and gravy.
I am re-reading the line about the old woman’s heart when they begin. They are well dressed.  The woman is blond and wears lipstick.  The man clean-shaven, in a suit and tie.  In unison they chant, 
This is your fault, your failure.  Another one. 
I know.  Shut up.  I’m trying to read.  I’ve read this same sentence nine times. 
We followed the long curve of double yellow lines for an hour.  He sat quietly in the back seat.  What is the thyroid? 
It’s a gland that tells your organs what they need. 
Mine isn’t working? 
That’s what we’re trying to figure out.  He breathes on the window, with the tip of his finger draws a butterfly in his breath.  
I love you.  
His smile in the rearview mirror, crooked.  His wavy blond hair a nest for wild birds, a tangled net to catch blue winged meadow flowers. 
Love you too.   
By the ninth explosion on a normal day, the twenty-seventh on a bad, I sometimes forget to breathe.  In and out.  In and out.  Instead of breathing I yell:  
STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP YELLING AT ME!  
My voice rising to match his.  My heart racing to match his.  My body full of adrenaline.  As if my child is a threat that I must flee or fight.  Nothing solved, least of all his fluttering red mystery. 
You are a bad mother, they chorus. 
I know
Pull him in close. Feel his body wanting flight.
I lick the folded edge of the paper and tear, as though I am calm.  His BMI is less than one percent.  If he gets sick and cannot eat, his head may stop growing to compensate.  His bones might be as old as the earth, might crack beneath the weight of air.  The door opens.  A small woman in a white lab coat comes in.  I slip the line between the pages to hold my place.  The old woman’s heart beat like a blue butterfly.  I reach out catch the flit of his hand and feel him settle in next to me.
 
Twila Newey graduated from The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics in 2003. She has completed her first novel and is currently querying agents. A portion of that manuscript won publication in Exponent II Midrash contest.  Her poetry has also appeared on Poetry Breakfast and in Rust + Moth. She lives in the mountains west of Denver with her husband and four children.

From Issue 20: Trafalgar Square

Philip St. Clair
Near the Empty Plinth on Wednesday afternoon: we were adrift,
mixing with tourists on the broad gray steps,
and above us, overcast presaged rain. Not much busking going on:
no woodwind trios from the conservatory nearby,
no morris dancers, no painters of children’s faces – even Yoda,
who levitates as he sits in lotus, had taken the day off.
But there was a piper in kilts, his skirl muted from the damp,
and there was a mime in leotards, her chalk-white face
twisted in fear as she ran both palms inside the invisible box
that trapped her. Near the statue of George Washington
a man in a knit skullcap cradled a sign: I AM NO TERRORIST.
A sudden gunshot made us flinch; the pigeon flock
burst skyward with clumsy flaps. Alarmed, we looked about —
no one crouched or ran and the police were unconcerned.
My wife knew at once. Just a recording of a shotgun blast
set to play at random five times an hour, a farmer’s trick
meant to drive off any nuisance birds by making them wary,
by keeping them uneasy, but it wasn’t working here:
the pigeons scattered to the air, wearily circled Nelson’s Column
for a moment or two, then drifted back down.
Across St. Martin Place to the church. Three homeless men,
fitfully day-sleeping, had huddled together
on the narrow edge of the portico, kept there by a metal railing —
the vicar, we suspected, must have had a talk.
They wore the livery of the down-and-out: grimy sweaters,
shoes without socks, trousers ragged at the cuff.
The church was empty. We walked down the center aisle,
sat in a pew halfway to the altar, better to see
the great east window, once blitzed in a wartime raid,
now a field of plain glass squares, and in its center
a tilted oval of milk-white crystal that seemed too heavy
for the cross of glazier’s lead that held it.
Then it erupted in white flame. The blaze pulsed once, twice,
disappeared, and for a moment I sat astonished,
thinking that unbidden grace had come upon me,
but then I knew that rifts in the low gray clouds
had let the occulted sun strike it and fill it twice,
and I remembered one afternoon with friends
who chatted and laughed over wine on a suburban porch:
fatigued by all their banter, I stole a moment
away from them to stare into the tree-lined distance,
and I saw a space ten feet before me
begin to churn, and as the light within rumpled, folded,
a small round portal opened, and first I thought
it led to a hidden universe, but it was only a cloud of gnats,
swarming as they left for somewhere else,
and then I thought I should come back and take my place
among my witty friends, tell all of them
what I saw and what it came to be, eager to enter their talk
by a joke at my expense, but a voice within
said no, not now and not here and not with these people:
you must keep covenant with yourself
and not betray what has been revealed in your fragment
of solitude, your time of elsewhere and other,
your flash of wonder and delight unmapped by reason.
Three more tourists had entered the church:
stage whispers, the rustle of shopping bags. They wandered
down the left-hand aisle, pausing at the stairs
that led to an elevated pulpit, and when one of them touched
her sandal to the lowest tread, an old parishioner
rose out of the shadows, waved her arms, drove them away.
 
Philip St. Clair has published six collections of poetry.  He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council and was awarded the Bullis Prize by Poetry Northwest. He lives in Ashland, Kentucky.