Martha Zweig

Gloaming

Anything to anyone, no truth I’ll tell,
still I make up a humming hymn,
take another flirt at the world.

Even as I sputter & snap,
I spread to fold shut to spread open that one
more eyelet fan glance.

Heart’s murmur: not to get suckered & sapped
again by the likes of you, or by your other
lovers either, bluedevil dirty earth you,

but as I knock your gory locks of lice
& beggary, strategy, calculus, scrapheap
scrubbed & pricked to glitter, you might
mind me a bit sweeter than heaped scorn.

Do I demean myself indigo then, to incur
daylight’s own resignation from bed beside
windows without a word, reviving my natal

ignorance & illiteracy so as to catch up
the quicker to those already
dead-&-gone? Who don’t wait forever.

In April

Spring coils along in the mud slush
exposing to first light last
year’s last yard tasks undone: one:
another: alternate improvisations made in fits
of irritation. A love affair that seeps.

Any day now
someone’s sure to erupt in frolic. Dark
Blake it was who made that little lamb lurk
to witness my own stubborn
wits’ collapse into antics but not yet.

Today candles pinch in a clutch to hiss
my birthday rumors. Dear
dead mother not kissed often now, & truth
to tell not missed until more dirt
than this rips open green, be still.

Ripple

The bride wore flip-flops & wriggled
her blue-enameled toes in edgy
surf: surf

slid & hissed various ways aside, backed out. Soaked
sand puckered & popped little bubbles.
Still I envy.

Light-years away a silly-star’s
hot heart churns the slurries wherein silly
originates & flings off.

O my dear I loop around,
I focus my senses to zero in & yet just
miss you.

Trip

–after a line from Louise Glück

Everything went into the car
to hide from everything else. Nobody
let drop a clue or startled one.

If the car coughed politely, if it aroused
a muscle memory, if it ground gravel & spun
itself from behind, we were off

until everything spilled out of the car, never
to go home. We all went fishing except
mother’s lover & mother who stayed behind
in the cabin where just outside the white curls
edging the ocean heaved & swooped the sand.

Captain gaffed & netted our big haddocks, big cods.
They thumped in the box & bled.
We filled the box, a fine day for all.
Everything went in the box.

Martha Zweig’s collections include GET LOST; MONKEY LIGHTNING, WHAT KIND and VINEGAR BONE, plus chapbooks POWERS and A SKIRMISH OF HARKS. Her recognitions include MFA from Warren Wilson, Hopwoods, a Whiting Award, and Pushcart and Best-of-the-Net nominations. She lives in Vermont where she worked ten years handling garments in a pajama factory (including a term as ILGWU shop chair) and ten years as an advocate for seniors.

Donald Zirilli

Backyard Enlightenment

Using the wrong end of a rake,
I have drawn a spiral in the sand. I have drawn
a spiral from the sand. I am growing my dizziness. I have a warning
about the poems I sent you. They’re not done. The poems that you asked for
are not quite written. Whatever you saw in them is not entirely out of me.
They may best be read by waiting. (Finish them and keep
only the finish.) I’m waiting for my dog
to do her business in the Zen garden. How perfectly she understands.
Imagine how cool I look pulling my upside-down rake
a few inches through the sand, taking another step,
pulling again, the same movements repeated like a Tai Chi master
with no burden of mastery. This used to be a swimming pool. What was I?
I’m dizzy with this enactment of dizziness, exhausted
with calm. I lie down next to what used to be a spiral. It
waves and waves and waves. From what position can I see
my dizziness? Imagine how cool I look
lying on landscaping bricks, wondering when the ants will reach me,
considering I might be in a Tai Chi position called Unable to Get Up.
Forgetting the pretension of knowing that I am sinking
further toward darkness, I lift my head from my raft of landscaping bricks,
curious, amazed, perfectly ignorant, looking out across,
peering with shaded eyes over
the inability to finish a thought, a spiral if you will,
a surge of whirlpool, with all the innocence
of the wrong end of a pen.

Controlled Descent

Screams wake you up. The window
you always counted on
has replaced backyard with balloon.

These things go where they will.
It’s something all the passengers agree to,
but not the rest of us.

The pilot didn’t mean to go this far.
You tell her last time
they gave you wine and cheese.

She takes down your address.
Like a minor god of open space,
you will receive her offering.

You show her the old album
where your children who are no longer children
fold a giant balloon.

In a photo across the page,
the late Aunt Enid sits for some holiday,
a little lost, excited not to know.

In the Midst of Describing

what my dog sees,
I describe my dog

to show that she is waiting
for a sound she is too deaf to hear
of an engine that no longer runs
in a car that isn’t coming,

because the waiting
is the color of what she sees,
a pink blur teetering torch-like
above a fog-filled abyss,

an independent vision
before which she stands
patient, panting, and still,
because everywhere she goes
is a ledge one dog wide.

Not Speak

my grandmother
to whom I could not speak
the life of me
the quietly eating candy
mountains her small eyes
closed her mystery
now asks to be
considered grief

whom I could not ask
tired as she was
her head held up to see
some heavy invisible to me
strong as I was dumb
whom I saw straining
could not see dying
with others
she prepared her way

of whom I could not ask
choking in a blanket
as of snow on Christmas
over evergreens
the endless life
gasping through
painful seasons
but I believe I heard
her long ago forgiving me

already for today
for the wintry
blankness of my head
the dull abandoned
fireplace of my heart
in a house burned down
that she would answer
to whom I would not speak

Donald Zirilli was a finalist for the James Tate Prize, was nominated for Best of the Net and the Forward Prize, and edited Now Culture. His poetry swims in River Styx and other wetlands. He lives with wife and pets in pastoral New Jersey. His chapbook is Heaven’s Not For You, Kelsay Books, 2018. zirealism.com

John Walser

Joe Williams Singing

Joe Williams’s voice
is candle wax
swallow snuffing
another flame
into loose smoke:

is three in the morning
August stepping alone
out of a club
when you don’t know
it summer steady steady rained
an hour earlier:

no thunder, no thrashing:

when the night’s naugahyde
and passing taxis
sound like satisfaction:

and people stomp shake their heads
when they walk through doors:
nobody annoyed:

just the street air
like a polished stone.

His voice: that only slightly cool front
that mineral washes your neck:
petrichor:

and somehow the woman you love
next to you:
her hand on your arm:

and you are traveling lighter
than you have ever traveled before.

Alone again: his voice
is the sidewalks, the parkways
the curbs, the dead streetlights
slow lighting the grated stores:

and you want a joint smoked
in the gateway to that hot hunched night
streetlamp dampness:
the condensation of air conditioner notes.

And he sings:
No one needs to worry.

And you say to a barking dog shadow:
It is funny that way.

And you think: These things remind me of her:

even though she has no body right now.

Joe Williams’s voice
is your worrying
you won’t remember
how to get home:
which stop is yours:
until the bells
of the elevated train:
the Blessed Church of Here to There:
say:

If you can get through the turnstile
and up the stairs
you are sanctified:

even if you have to wooden platform wait
five or ten minutes
for the next train to come.

This is the moment:
the opening of the doors:

this is the hardplastic sea
the soft plastic light you enter:
and you wish you had carried a flask

and you know that you don’t want to sleep.

And you don’t sleep when you get home:

you wish for a fire escape:
you wish you smoked cigarettes
so you could sit and watch
what is puffed out disappear
vapors like Joe Williams singing.

Before the Solstice

The first sweat day
of way too early this year
praise hallelujah thrash:
of vibration waves of swelter
that make the house
expand and float
and soften.

Already the irises
already the tulips
rain and wind
and early blooming
have turned the sticks
to empty green fuses
to goblets broken off
to shafts without
arrows or fletching
without flight.

June first marks:
scrub brown drought
and need and
daily watering:
coleus, tomatoes
hanging strawberry plant
the flowering vines
we hope
will climb creep wrap
like leather work
around the rust trellis.

These are the important things:
what has passed:
what’s to come:
what’s to pass again.

A broken branch:
core living:
dangle bark strapped
to the trunk
of the apron maple.

If I talk enough about
sky wind shadows June:
if I shimmer push undulate
like the flowerbed
across the way:
if I count airplanes
that leave pale contrails
against the haze sky
almost washed of any color:
if I wonder the utility flags
that mark places not to dig.

Soon: I think:
the collapse of barely blue sky:
what is crushed
and then tossed away.

A blather of birch leaves
thick tick click shifting:
another tatter surge of storms:
too says: Soon
the rain rushes:

even though this doesn’t feel
like a summer storm yet.

Somehow despite the radar
that moved a blob
of heavy green over the city
that spurred and blossomed
to red and yellow over the lakefront:
not a drop:

when all I want
is a downpour drench
that turns gutters to creeks
avenues to swelling
intersections to the drowning
bulges of rivers
the wind to vandalism:

when all I want
is the rain to really mean it.

The lightning that flashes
now to the north
is beyond the lake
beyond its other shore
beyond the expressway cutting
across space to get to
another place:

it flare outline lights
the cloud banks.

That storm won’t pass
anywhere near us either.

Call and response
in layers of slap and overlap
crows again stark as tar
bark across the different channel distances
of the neighborhood.

The sky again greys:
and I’m listening, listening, listening.

But it’s hard to tell
if that’s a thin thin rain
or just a shimmy
of the window screen.

So I’m still waiting
for the big storm to hit:
the one that silences the birds
and floods the mud spots:

the one that rush scours
a straightline disturbance:
leaves like paper ash
windcaught and lawnscattered
like itching.

I’m waiting for that moment when
despite the translucent sway canopy
I have to race room to room
upstairs to shut out
the torrent wind, the blow in soak
and rumble roll that doesn’t stop
for thirty-seconds, forty five
a minute of grind and smudge.

I’m waiting for that deluge moment
of cloudburst grace and wonder.

Transactions

See today’s sky: the saturated grey
like lethargy, like giving up:
how it hangs high and motionless:

and the Irish cross of the well before January dusk
streetlamp like weak berry tea:

and the garage lights already starring white.

Last night we bolted ourselves in again
and tried not to go into the basement
or upstairs until bed or by the windows
that cold leaked through the glass.

Can we fairytale turn on the oven
and climb inside without burning? we asked.

We trade color drain for cold: or
the other way around:
those the only transactions:
the ones that hold us barely melt miserable
or bright freeze miserable:
December, January, February:

not much other than that.

But then something lets loose just a little
some shell, some husk, some bark
some pod, some rind, some hull
some skin, some chaff, some crust
some peel, some case, some carapace
some nut, some shuck, some chassis
some frame, some edge, some film
some coat, some gauze, some web
some veil, some foil.

So be my witness that the snowpile push
hardened by thaw and rain, by night freeze
doesn’t give even under my whole weight step
yet I am still body: yet I am still here.

Saturday Night, Summer Solstice

At Stonehenge this morning
people chorus sway gather watched
sun, rocks, pathway to the river line up:
the cycles of crops and breathing.

We have afternoon nap slept into the evening:
the water orange before sunset light
angle filter filling the hallway
hinting into our bedroom.

We call it Necessity: we call it Rejuvenation:
as primal as bleach: our skin on skin:
the sweat of sleep, the need for sloughing.

I love the word slough:
always have:

its dryness: the way in my throat:
a chrysalis: it gets left behind
like a jacket on a bench
or sunglasses in a bus
or whatever it was I left
on the top shelf of the garage
the apartment complex
I moved out of in the middle of last winter
boxes of books to donate
because we have found
this better place together.

And I know I’m being coy here:
because in every way this
is another love poem
although I still stick by my statement
that I wrote breakup poems
before I met you:

and I never want to write one of those about us:
although we both know
everything ends in the clay smooth flesh:
the cells that divide:
the splintering beat
the core wood snap:

and then the bark will slough
after the leaves have sloughed
and branches and limbs
under winter weight in springtime wind
will fall to become kindling.

I can hear your hairdryer upstairs
and it also sounds like the word slough:
heated and coiled.

This morning almost drunk in the friction
of night birds final notes singing the almost sunrise
we sloughed our clothes and rolled into each other
until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore:

and I kicked the covers down on my side of the bed
and we slept not enough
but rewound ourselves a little
my breath sloughing on your neck
your breath sloughing on mine.

In my office here, now: Donald Byrd plays
I’m a fool to want you
slow and low as this latest dusk:
and I’m not a fool to know that when
I come out, when I see you
when we sofa sit for an evening
when we kiss, when the windows
let in the soft eagerness of rain
on the full canopy of the backyard
when that next sweat of sleep again binds us
I will want you even more.

I always didn’t want to grow old and die:
but now it’s you I don’t want to die
so together we can grow wrinkled
and old as afternoon sheets.

We will still have all our teeth
and taste buds to still love
the roasted tomatoes right out of the oven
the herbed goat cheese crackers
the good white wine
we will share tonight:

and we will roll into each other
brittle and soft at the same time.

Forty more years, we say:
that nearly impossible promise:
before either of us sloughs
off this mortal coil.

Night starts early:
the simple wash of rain
that started while we slept
the afternoon:

the sky still bright:
but with the sun hidden:
no shadows or only shadows.

Isn’t that language for you?
I don’t buy that every statement
tetherless also says the opposite
also negates itself:
because I will walk into the living room:
find you in the slough of almost dark
watching television and I will ask
after I kiss you: Dinner?
Movie? How do you feel?

And I will say: Love.

Each of those unsloughably stable
as we can make them.

John Walser’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Spillway, Water-Stone Review, Plume and december magazine. His manuscript Edgewood Orchard Galleries has been a finalist for the Autumn House Press Prize and the Ballard Spahr Prize as well as a semifinalist for the Philip Levine Prize and the Crab Orchard Series First Book Award. A four-time semifinalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize, John is a professor of English at Marian University and lives in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, with his fiancée, Julie.

Barbara Tomash

Of Spirit

what if I told you a wheel without axel is not a machine what if I told you a glassy skyscraper is not a vagrant spirit though it sways like one only flagella dung beetles tumbleweeds go forth by rolling by toe and by hoof pilgrims progress in the midst of this too much scatter not even our jet propellers black boxes sacred scraps of skin and bone will be accurately dated I don’t know if we are carried in a hand basket pushed in a cart or rolled on round logs but isn’t this next place paradise nothing stirs the fossilized wheel ruts in remote roads nothing stirs the scumbled brown background submerged in dried leaves what if I told you there is a peg in my center secured to the ground and yet I am freely spinning

Of Drowning

keeping afloat my thoughts encoded as innumerable sounds song of bird or wind isn’t it easier to lay down light burdens than heavy ones to speak something to be written as handfuls of rain not drowning heart tinged with fragmentary refrains shuffle of footsteps on water the soft parts of my body a lacy blouse buoyed in darkness isn’t it better to err on the side of the invisible than the visible a fine film of capillaries gathered into veins leads back to my heart on the far shore the growling of other animals intensifies

Of Lazarus

for generations didn’t we fear coming back to life in our coffins you try to keep a center of gravity within yourself but the new laid egg’s speckled shell the silver dandelion seed entrapped in a cube of plexiglass take you off guard if one could believe in mental processes floating in air a child found unconscious under icy water may survive if their face is kept continuously cold one could go on to believing in angels yes we poured vinegar and pepper into the mouth applied red hot pokers to the feet let it not come near me but cells that have been starved for more than five minutes die not from lack of oxygen but when their oxygen supply resumes let it not fold round or over me yes we flicker off on off on in Tibet the body is given a sky burial and left on a mountain top

Of Silence

we listen for melodic echoes of our parents and offspring crying speech is produced on the exhale it is invisible it is not eating it is not thinking it is not a moveable part of the body not fingers wrists or lungs not dreaming when released from the taboo against vocalization the women of our waterside switch back without sacrifice to pure sound narrating where they left off amid foliage in the dark and in the sea

Barbara Tomash is the author of five books of poetry including Her Scant State (Apogee) forthcoming in 2023 and PRE- (Black Radish). Recently released chapbooks are Of Residue (Drop Leaf) and A Woman Reflected (palabrosa). Her writing has been a finalist for The Dorset Prize, the Colorado Prize, The Test Site Poetry Prize, and the Black Box Poetry Prize. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University.

Ashley Somwaru

Eh Gyal, Yuh Nah Get Shame?

You
      want           to be bludgeoned
don’t you?
You want

egg shaped eyes rolling down

your jucking hips, Bhaiya

to come home with his latthi

maarela and welt

you halahala blue
wheat drooping over yesterday’s

scraps of rain.
See from our
side:
belly flopping

      over the bunched up sari.
Opening thighs–

wolf’s snarl
— closing–
      spider’s web blocking noon. Legs
      scissoring cloth
for jhandi flags. Spine arched
like the leather belt used for beatings.

Slicked with soap and Black
Label. Pata stink.

Your body
as boulders breaking
sea waves.

      Tick

tick

tick-

ing time with your hips behind
the baraat.

Tassa player’s beat
      growing out of a turtle’s shell.

We been ah watch
alla de tings

      tumbling out        of you

since Bhaiya
put a mala
pon yuh neck.

Durva grass in bunches of ten.

Red ants crawling
towards the pupil. Cotton

balls soaked in hydrogen
      peroxide. Cat eyes
leaking
silver brunia.
The moon is now a burning

orange globe. The sun
is dying.
Bhaiya ah wuk but

clothes grated against

the wooden washboard

dust
      bristled off the roadside       tawa

clorox

bitter gourd sapped with oil
and heartburn
      never flows from you.

Water is leaking
through the boulder cracks.

Your cracks
are leaking
rusting
car motors
crow bars
      dead children

raising
in the sky

just the width

of your eyes        apart

from each other.

And then you say
we don’t
understand?

Dear Little One

Does it make you smile to know there was someone more muddied than you?

When your auntie said Oh, yes, that Iris’s brother. No one wanted her anyway. She’s lucky he married her, why did you decide the conversation was over? The thought of a body hanging from the ceiling post probably never occurred to you. It never used to occur to me either. But you never paused when you walked down the road the next day and didn’t see her there anymore. The girl whose skin reminds you of the black cake you only eat on New Year’s. You claimed it as happenstance. Claimed it as: who sees a stranger twice in their life?

Is this what you wanted?

I remember seeing you in the back room, stuffing your cheeks with rolls of tissue so you couldn’t sob as dougla played over and over in your head.You didn’t understand why your mother panicked and yelled as you put a cloth over your head and walked as if listening to a wedding procession. Or the times you stuffed your shirt with a pillow and your mother chased you with a slipper.

How she rejoiced when you ate out of the pot and swept your feet with a coconut broom. How she pushed you into the sun, ran her cold hands over your newly tinted skin, and said the words, lightness doesn’t mean a thing. Said the words I wish
you alone.

How you chomped on her biceps instead of bowing your head at her feet. Forgetting the one who fed you ice cream and told you to finger the musket in her bedroom. Who told you to shoot the roosters in the backyard, so you know what death feels like. So you can learn how the heart chants I want to live.

You didn’t understand before your mother became who she was, she was a motorcycle rider, a woman who could hold her head under water long enough to show you what breathing means. You should’ve said, Mother, I’ll stop feeding off your arms. Mother, I’ll let you stop slipping yourself into the pot.

You didn’t.

You’ll regret that.

Are you happy knowing there’s a woman you never tried to see again?

Or not knowing if she might be walking bent or not at all. They took a picture of her, whose skin was unheated coal, and rubbed her face between their creases. You just looked away.

Your uncle called you dougla gyal and you spent the rest of the day scrubbing sugar into your dark spots and trying to straighten the curls out of your hair. Did it feel good to sit in that circle and make fun of her? When your cousin said she so black, yuh cyan even see de dirt dey on she feet, did you sigh in relief that the group of girls sitting on the bed weren’t looking your way this time?

You should’ve grabbed the picture out of your cousin’s hands. You let her with the black caked skin wicker into the wrinkles forming underneath your eyes.

Can you live with this?

I can’t tell you what happened to her that day. There are just some things I can’t repeat.

Ashley Somwaru is an Indo-Caribbean woman who was born and raised in Queens, New York. She received an MFA in poetry from CUNY Queens College. Somwaru has published a chapbook with Ghostbird Press in 2021 titled Urgent \\ Where The Mind Goes \\ Scattered. Previous work has been published in Lammergeier, Newtown Literary, Solstice, SWWIM, The Margins, VIDA Review, and elsewhere.

Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Eliaosome

do not think I don’t know the important
element of any fabric
landscape/ wild ginger on the precipice the down
slope the true side soft

pubescent & tender                shush shush

//

I stuck wildflowers

in a Mason jar on the porch table/ Indian
Paintbrush/ Butterfly Weed & Russian Sage/ natives
grown from mixed seeds/ incorporate the world

over & what makes an ecological
advantage & what makes
the world dressed up & set schismatically in the real
or abstract straight or crooked in this

tension/ discord boxed up & tied tight with right
-colored ribbon             shush              & here I am
an enterprise flawed & wounded in amalgamates
of shame & hubris/ ambition & my own private
hungers/ something creamed off as in

scoop the topmost richest layer as in
smash the glass door to get inside           shush           shush

//

At the head table for now I keep my own       strung &
stitched in goldwork in fever/ elegy/ that sickness

of melancholy & longing                 long
long roadless & fearless underneath

hush
//

& closest
to the soil three-lobed & hollow
-found by emergent flies is the false lure of an animal
succumbed to winter as the fake thawing

carcass & the teeny-tiny oily food
gift attached/ collected by ground ants
returning to burrow – eaten – in the ebb &
freed from my own                 my own
beautiful winged eliaosome
palpable/ as pain to the insistence
of consciousness/ as a seed cast off
to germinate belongs
to the fragile infinite

Strange Seasons

Hortus deliciarum, an illuminated text compiled between 1176 and 1185 in Alsace, France by a nun called Herrad of Landsberg, served as a pedagogical tool containing theological, literary, horticultural, musical and philosophical material. The book has fascinated scholars because it celebrates a little-known monastic community of women who were writers, scribes, musicians and artists.

Praise the matrons the mothers the daughters the wives
& sisters          who wear every lash as
kindness as solicitude/ here here in this garden of delights         praise
the dames of dolor/ women pleasure-bred for bleeding in
exuberance suborned smelling of sweet pine
& eucalyptus           smelling of sweat trapped

rising from the heat of a secondhand coat from the sink
the stink of my own unwashed body squatted
in the gush & issue of a sky of a sky of a sky stung
in stippled cirrocumulus strata emaciated as the pattern
on a mackerel’s back as an omen a sign as a gypsy moth
as a Cossack trader as a Hanseatic merchant write me

in code in Graphina anguina in lichen calligraphy in nuts
& berries & tokens in gardenias’ tongues &
rotting fascia in funereal gladioli in substrate of stone & salt
my chest celled & silver lined I’m your receptor so let me talk talk
talk       write me in
transmissions           talk me in deceptions as infectious & epidemic

as the Eichstätt yellow viola as a diseased wallflower in snug in refuge
of imperfection (I’ll take honest straightforward sin
any day) as parishioner to priest       wife to husband by way of
by way of polyphony compiled in the Hortus deliciarum write me
in brittle women       write me sleepless the quiet hollered up &
fed upon rampant oceans inroads billeted in gridless magpies’

eyes in mandevilla’s gorgeous overtaking uncontrolled/ un
refined          in praise of in praise of strings & glitter
things sprinkling our midnight both the blue of distant mountains how
familiar & sad stricken/ admitted/ in closeness the callouses the feral
torch of a much too warm winter           a far too early
summer/ strange seasons       & that freak storm that sent

my flower garden sideways/ the peonies/ laid them down & tore the red
rock trumpet’s blossoms from woody vines & drove coyotes
out from snowed wood as shapeshifters as latter-day coureurs
de bois/ cut through the bearing/ waiting/ yearning for light’s
return as though the drift/ the darkness might
be avoided               one cross closer               to morning

Rope

–after W. B. Yeats’ Leda and the Swan

before the swan shape-shifted before a whitecap
crossing/ gilded in the swell            a punch a curl
before I knew I was that woman

pull me up gentle         bird           not hard
off this granite bottom lake

before the swan simpered
& coaxed & tempted/ provoked/ I was that girl

transport me single on ion-tatted wings

I was the boy-friended bevy in the boat         all wash
& syncopation sparked & gliding/ crisscrossing
the silvery slip           unseparated

as the flocking almost autumn’s honking
wedge            fistful of late-summer shimmer           I was
champion of skim & skid connected/ my knees above

my skis my parted thighs caressed by the breeze
because I was the woman           the poet’s pet

pull me up gentle           to be both           & neither

nor never the savor nor the swan
before I was the poet’s woman

I was aerialist aqueous & birdlike hanging
on a string a wire a strand a lanyard stretched
crossing/ a lofty cosmonaut sprinkling the dark of a slab-
girded inland sea          or scorched by day & day        &

night twined bird        in & out        tender & stony
culled           enticed           caught

rushed in at the wake           hit hard inside
& outside the edge’s weight

that’s the trick birdie-bye

broadside before the swan I was voltage holding
on until the dash              I was electric charge

in the spill I savored the salty stew as the flavor
not the drop from the tip I was high-wire nerve & vaulting
before puerile & passionate              I was

I know           I thought I knew

enough          to let go           of the rope

Mara Adamitz Scrupe is a writer, visual artist, and documentary filmmaker. She has authored six prizewinning poetry collections and received numerous creative grants and fellowships. Her poetry and essays have been published worldwide in literary journals and arts periodicals and her environmental installations, sculptures and artist books are held in the collections of international museums and sculpture parks. She serves concurrently as Lance Williams Resident Artist in the Arts & Sciences, University of Kansas/ Lawrence, and Dean and Professor Emerita, University of the Arts/ Philadelphia. Mara lives with her husband on their farm bordering the James River in the Blue Ridge Mountains countryside of Virginia.

Justin Lacour

Sonnet (April song)

So often, I’m in line at MO FOR LESS
TOBACCO, wearing one of the t-shirts I
got for free at the blood center, & think it’d
be nicer to be in your arms, drinking stout &
listening to Vic Chesnutt. I’ve felt like crying
all damn morning. It’s just me & the leaf blower
guys on the street. This day will disappear &
I won’t get to talk to you. It makes for a panic
on top of the panic of simply being honest while
still trying to be funny. (But if I wanted you to feel sorry
for me, I’d say I’m reading novels alone in the sarcastic
afternoon.) When you speak it’s like an animal breathing
deep inside an ice sculpture of the same animal. Even the
way you shake your umbrella is completely arthouse.

Sonnet (Tiny steps)

The woman at the discount grocery,
the one with the neck brace & the
YOGA IS NOT CHURCH t-shirt,
has probably forgotten more than I know
about passion in sad rooms, but I
want to surprise you w/a serrated
valentine I hammered together, surprise
you w/a story of how a bird swooped down
& swallowed a venus flytrap, but the flytrap
gnawed a hole in the bird’s belly midair till
they both crashed by the orthodontics place.
You may say “That’s not even how it works,” but don’t
worry. This story is just for you. You love tenacious
venus flytraps & this is how we build our culture.

Sonnet (Sonnet beginning w/my neighbor Kenny)

Kenny says he’s rewatched The Blair Witch
Project
w/fresh eyes. He sees a heretofore
unthinkable love triangle. I nod politely.
I wish the three beers I drank would wash
me back to you, even just to catch a bad movie.
Do you remember my dad when Blair Witch
came out? “Boy, go grab the camcorder &
make your father thirty million dollars.”
We shrugged & drove out into a night that
seemed to never end. That was then. Now, I
struggle to just keep our conversation going.
I could replace birds w/mechanical birds;
only you would notice. The wind’s turned
caustic; light still filters through the trees.
The light still tries, but now it has to try harder.

Justin Lacour lives in New Orleans and edits Trampoline: A Journal of Poetry. He is the author of three chapbooks, including My Heart is Shaped Like a Bed: 46 Sonnets (Fjords Books 2022) and This Fire forthcoming from Ursus Americanus Press.

Peter Grandbois

It’s not that I’m lost

like the mouse
decaying

somewhere in the basement

the one I can smell but can’t
find

I wake into clothes without
a body

walk through the labyrinth
of days

the skin grows all sorts of things
when you die

flies buzzing in ears that no longer
hear

the weeping inside

each step no more than
a biography

a calling to each other

like the sickly-sweet scent
of the mouse

that must be somewhere
in the basement

if only I could find it

I could give you my newborn
name

bind you to me with a pearl
in your mouth

stack bones against your feet

in a dream like that I could tell you
about the little bloom

of its eyes

its throat of charred
dusk

in a dream like that I could find
that mouse

lay the story of its body
down

bury it in the long arm
of leaves

fallen

like a solstice

like a simple breath

upon the earth

This blind dream

You remember
yesterday

how you said
you’d take flight

from this blind
dream

How you’d never sit
counting drips
from the faucet

never open the aviary
of your doorless body
again

only to find
a stranger

There is no mistaking
this haunted sky
for a field

where you might dig free
of this chosen
silence—

snow-covered
hemlocks

snow-covered
pines

longer than the splinter
in your eye

split from your last brief
revelation

Often, I return

to a dog-eared page
and wonder why

or stare at an antique photo
of a loved one

as if it’s a window
open to rain

I wander this still life
of a city

through the slow wash
of days framed

by the pain in the mouth
of a passerby—

a foreigner depending
on the safe lies of memory

while life hums with almost
blossoms

and drunk ghosts stumbling
along boulevards

mutter vague curses
of what might have been

Because the sparrows in the trees
whistle carefree and loud

Because the coyote calls
her whelps yipping from lack

Because you keep asking
how deep the snow

I walk through the soughing wind
into the dimming light

Faith, after all, was easy then
before the road turned

back, then back, again

Peter Grandbois is the author of thirteen books. His work has appeared in over one hundred and fifty journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is poetry editor at Boulevard and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at petergrandbois.com.

Elaine Equi

Interiors

You can always recede further,
tunnel deeper.

Darkness is relative
where backlit screens abound.

Today everyone is inside
the cold.

We say, “What are you watching?”

We’re bingeing a show about
a living doll that replaces a dead child.

They’re bingeing a show about
vampires and witches.

All afternoon, the episodes
accumulate like supernatural snow.

Replacement Parts

Riding in a taxi on a grey day.

It seems everything is under construction
behind a mesh veil of soot and scaffolds.

A new city is emerging so gradually
no one will notice, the way they say
a body replaces all its cells every seven years.

It will feel as if nothing has changed,
and yet none of this – not a bit of us –
will remain.

A different woman will be riding
in a different taxi on a cold but sunny day.

Tragic Sweater

In the moths
that followed

the ________,

she found
herself slowly
unraveling.

Spider Soup and Magic Rocks

I did it —

drained the shallow
bowl of sweet, sharp
spider’s liqueur,

then pocketed
the magic rocks
from the scholar’s library.

Stole his dusty memories,
replacing them with ordinary
stones from the yard.

Didn’t hesitate.
Didn’t stop to think.
Didn’t think I had it in me.

But I did.

Everyone into the Pyramid

Grab your pets and your iPads,

your altars, your avatars
and alter egos.

I drink the last light.

I am the hours that fly.

Take your sex toys and your almonds
dusted with pink Himalayan salt.

Don’t forget the Book of Passwords.

Everyone into the pyramid now.

Elaine Equi’s latest book is The Intangibles from Coffee House Press. Her other books include Ripple Effect: New & Selected Poems, Click and Clone, and Sentences and Rain. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The New School.

TJ Beitelman

Broken Hymn for Babel

– 1 –       There was a pink paper I remember when
– 2 –       One man I know read the library
– 3 –       Words are terrible. Music is terrible. Minds
– 4 –       Instead of school—no—my mother’s warm

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       I made these, folded in half, lengthwise:
– 2 –       Book by book until it broke up
– 3 –       Jumble in them. I was the boy
– 4 –       Hatchback (where are you going, son?)—

___________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       A transcription in something like an order—
– 2 –       His mind or marriage or bank account—
– 3 –       Following the ants to the woods—
– 4 –       Black line of beings. Strung together. Indecipherable.

Broken Hymn for the Better Part of Valor

– 1 –       The Gnostics kept mum about it, everything.
– 2 –       (Who on earth is he talking to?)
– 3 –       I tried to learn everything yesterday but that—
– 4 –       That promise to compensate us in perpetuity…

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       It was their religion. This freighted silence.
– 2 –       (Who on earth am I writing for?)
– 3 –       Was a terrible failure because I didn’t—
– 4 –       I shouldn’t have said anything at all.

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       How often we must ask for forgiveness.
– 2 –       (Who would ask such terribly stupid questions?)
– 3 –       Have the vocabulary to jujitsu my way
– 4 –       I should have left well enough alone.

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       The bishop says, “I’m a priest too.”
– 2 –       Are they really lies, these hidden answers—
– 3 –       To new understandings, or revelatory medicinal toxins
– 4 –       No one needs to know the truth.

Broken Hymn that is a Eulogy

– 1 –       Annie Due Loveless packed up in her
– 2 –       Out: what you doing you got family
– 3 –       And purple-flowered weeds in a green
– 4 –       Not do more than write our lines

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       Tomb in this the city’s oldest cemetery
– 2 –       buried up in this place? We do
– 3 –       clover patch. A storm of dust kicked
– 4 –       And step where we should not step.

___________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       One woman a full round Venus shouts
– 2 –       Not. The ground is baked hard. Anthills
– 3 –       Up by the caretaker’s mower. We do
– 4 –       And tell our lies. Homeless. Loveless. Due.

Broken Sonnet as Epitaph for Straight Talk

(A) Here lies topography plate tectonics free market / (B) Graveyard. This graveyard killed children six times // (C) The ranking member of this or that / (D) The fourth estate (to suit the truth // (E) Up. It never happened. It never happened. / (A)- Capitalism magic and epiphany and the coffee // (B) Sixty times. We are children. Seen better / (C) Congressional committee this or that working group— // (D) Of fiction). Here lies the sun, sky, / (E) I said: Here: Lies (It never happened.) // (A) Magnate. Six children kill time in our / (B) Days. Here lies wind shear. Here lies // (C) The fourth estate is dead. Here lies / (D) All the other stars. We made them

 

Broken Abecedarian on the Occasion of an Impromptu Middle-School Field Trip to Kelly-Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama, C. 2019

All together we traipse into the monumental park
Zero sum game. Zenith of what’s lost.

Built for reconciliation for shame for this
Year after year without fanfare, without fail:

City’s hard-earned blues. Young activists play
X marks where the bomb went off.

Dodgeball in the grass on lunch break.
Wreaths placed down at the blast place.

Every atom in the high sky: blue.
Vesuvius of hate on a Sunday morning.

Filament of breeze, and one man dances:
Ultraviolet. History of ultraviolence one block over.

Grace in a tattered red cowboy hat
The city answers this with sunsoaked springtime,

His impossibly baggy jeans, red cape.
Sent me home to count my money.

Impossible. Red. He sings, moves. He is
Right after the doctor stitched my wounds

Just—justice—what the doctor ordered today.
Quarrelsome: my mother would sue, she says,

Kick like a showgirl my cowboy! Improvise
Possibly understand because she is so joyful,

Lyrics for what’s left of joy, exuberance:
Or else she says something I can’t

No, says Mya, I’d be horribly injured
Melany says No, Mya! You’d be dead.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid

The man says she should shoot him now, shoot him “right in the fucking head.” The man says go ahead. There is a pattern. Blood sprays in a pattern. A wall is a wall. It can be wiped clean. Painted fresh. Life goes on: portraits of young children frozen in time; protein film unseen in real sunlight later glows electric, and always. Piece it together. Explain it away. Aftermath is still life. (9 mm.) (.30-06.) (Cancerous organ.) (Ignorance.) (Excess.) (Sentiment.) (Earthquake.) (Pilot error.) (Phillips head.) The man says it again. (Tongue, teeth. Tire iron.) (God.) (Fear of God, fear of fear.) (Car bomb, shrapnel.) He should be shot in the fucking head or anything or anything (Hammer, claw.) (Sick blood.) as long as she can bring herself (Boot heel, hands.) to do it now, to do it right this very second.
TJ Beitelman is the author of three poetry collections, most recently This Is the Story of His Life from Black Lawrence Press. He can be found online at tjbman.me.