Tag: poetry

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. 

From Issue 20: St. Martin Ludgate

Philip St. Clair

The baptismal font, an octagon of marble carved
seven years after the Fire,
bore a palindrome in Greek more clever than reverent –
cleanse my sins,
not only my face, the guidebook said. Then I wanted
to visit the altar,
and as I walked down the left-hand aisle upon the stones
carved with the crests
of the noble and wealthy buried beneath my feet,
I thought of a deck of cards
and the robes and sashes of crimson and gold
on the kings and queens and jacks,

and I remembered a winter evening fifty years ago
at Dover Air Force Base
when I walked into the barracks after an eight-hour shift
loading cargo on the flight line,
and I saw Jim Mayhew at a table with only a desk lamp
to light the dark:
a red poker deck scattered beside him made a pool of fire.
He wore an expression
of deep sadness as he stared at something in his hand,
and for a moment
I thought it was a Dear John letter from his girl back home,
but when he saw me
he silently raised his arm to show me a Queen of Diamonds
he’d cupped in his palm,

and I remembered Kennedy coming on TV in the dayroom,
telling us that the Russians
had sent a fleet of freighters loaded with nuclear missiles
to Fidel Castro in Cuba:
next morning we trudged up ramps through the clamshell doors
of C-124 Globemasters,
piled our duffels on the platform beneath the aft winches,
buckled ourselves into seats
made of canvas webbing, got the word from the loadmaster —
we’d be flying TDY
to a SAC base on Florida’s panhandle, just north of the Gulf.

One of us had been there.
He’d seen big brown pelicans flying like fighter escorts:
sometimes five or six
in V formation, sometimes ten or twelve
in a single ragged line.
He said they could glide so slowly it was a wonder
they never fell to earth,
but when they’d see a fish on the crest of a wave
they’d fold like a jackknife,
hit the water like a bullet out of a thirty-ought-six.
But I never saw any
either time I was there: all those aircraft coming and going
must have driven them away.
Once I saw fifteen transports circle the field and land
in fifteen minutes:
three thousand troops with BARs and fifty-calibers
and mortars and bazookas,

And a year later, not long after Kennedy was shot,
I sat in the back row
of a Gaumont cinema close to Prestwick Airport
and watched the end of the world:
a single B-52 flew like a pale shark through gray clouds
and over gray mountains
on a bombing run to Russia that could never be recalled –
the cowboy captain, some
thick-jawed dipshit caught up in his own private rodeo,
straddled an H-bomb
and rode it down to target with a one-handed hoo-raw,
and during the montage
at movie’s end, when fireballs swelled to the size of cities
in a half-second,
I laughed out loud in astonishment as Vera Lynn sang
“We’ll Meet Again,”

And forty years later, soaking in the chlorinated pool
of the Hilton Hotel
at Daytona Beach, I saw pelicans against the noon sun:
fifteen of them
glided above my head in single file toward the window
of my room:
dark, graceful shapes with great beaks and broad wings
gathering near my balcony,
suspended as if they were made of mist and smoke.
I held my breath
as I watched them hang in sunlight for a long moment
as if they came
out of some other dimension to stop time just for me,
and for seven days after
I carefully watched the sky over chrome-plated diners
and retro-deco towers,
over tee-shirt warehouses and fast food bungalows,
but I never saw one dive.

 

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. 

From Issue 20: Emily as a Moving Pocket of Blue

Darren Demaree

I have been the half
of a person I’ve needed
to be

to stay sober.
It is true that I am alone
all of the time,

even with Emily,
but I am alone in a way
that will bury me

with a small smile
on my face. I am still
with her. I watch

her small dances the same
way a guitar player
watches orchestras.

It doesn’t make
sense when I sing,
but I always do.

 

Darren C. Demaree is the author of eight poetry collections, most recently “Two Towns Over”, which was selected the winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press.  

From Issue 20: Weeping Willow

Joan Colby

A cutting from the willow tree,
Our newborn child sunning
As I rooted it in water. A dozen years later
It wept over the house falling
Into our intemperate climate. Children
Calling in the dusk, catching fireflies
While we argued or didn’t speak.
A rainfall of wishes. The street buckled,
Sewers blocked by eager roots arranging a thirst.
Everyone drinking, smoking pot or sleeping
With someone else’s spouse. The dogs barked
At nothing. The willow tree
Swayed its gentle hula as jackhammers
Tore up the blacktop. We
Moved elsewhere with our books and tools,
The drama of our children. Green braids
sheltered the Immeasurable.

 

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 20: Going to Toronto

Mary Jane White

From the countryside
To wait out the term
To delivery. And return.

Quietly. Unremarked.

To go through rehab
And then return. To town.

Going to Toronto —

An old way of speaking
In front of you . . .

Who recall how it was:
In the countryside,
A suicide . . . Gone to

Toronto. No return.

For Michael Andre
November 18, 2017

 

Mary Jane White: MFA Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NEA Fellowships (in poetry and translation). Tsvetaeva translations:  Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988) New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke (Adastra Press, 2007); Poem of the Hill (The New England Review); Poem of the End (The Hudson Review), reprinted in Poets Translate Poets, (Syracuse 2013).

From Issue 20: There are Bellies in This World

Martin Ott

Who limbo with pool cues in nameless pubs,
who swing in time with jiggle and aplomb,
who sweat and stare with a single eye
and undulate on buffets and hotel beds.
There are bellies in this world who swallow
typing tests on a dare, who lie to mothers
they barely know, who master the art
of escaping the tuck and never seem
to outpace their luck. There are bellies
in this world voted class clown, filled
with knowledge but play the jester’s role,
who master the one thing we cannot live
without. There are bellies in this world
we do not know at all, who look perfect
but there is pain, who gurgle in the night
and dream of unending appetite. There are
bellies in this world we did not know were
out of time, who whisper wild and sundry
secrets, who remind us what we’ve swallowed
is not the same universe we keep inside.

 

Martin Ott has published eight books of poetry and fiction, most recently LESSONS IN CAMOUFLAGE, C&R Press, 2018. His first two poetry collections won the De Novo and Sandeen Prizes. His work has appeared in more than two hundred magazines and fifteen anthologies. 

From Issue 20: A Man Woke

Richard Weaver

to discover himself buried in a forest,
near a tree, not deep enough to never be found,
but within snout range of a truffle hunting pig.
How he came to be where he was,
trapped and in need of olfactory rescue
was never a part of the dream,
and is unimportant to this poem.
The facts are: a man died, or is dying,
has some level of consciousness,
enough to be aware of a tree, its species,
oak, one of several associated with the presence
and proliferation of truffles, and therefore
creates the possibility of a pig discovering him,
his body, alive or not, and uprooting him
in its belief that he, the man, is a giant truffle.
There’s no reason attached to his being
underground. No hint of politics. Or murder.
There’s a sense that the man is happy there
in a spare heaven, replicated many times over,
but with a likelihood, remote and unthreatening,
of a hoof-led snout parting the world below,
and the light above glowering as it darkens
the new life he has come to know as his.

 

Richard Weaver lives in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor where he volunteers with the Maryland Book Bank, and acts as the Archivist-at-large for a Jesuit college. He ‘s the author of The Stars Undone (Duende Press). Publications include conjunctions, Poetry, NAR, crazyhorse,  Pembroke, NER, Southern Quarterly, Adelaide, Barrow Street, Steel Toe, and elsewhere.