“Hedgehog’s Song” by Henry Peter Bunch

for Crystal Joy Vagnier

Strange to feel your nimble hand
touch mine – a thoughtless accident
I thought at first—I passed you papers & you
pressed your fingers over mine. But when
you pressed again you startled me—
a cold spark jumped from spine to heart

struck the burnt-out chanters of my heart,
half that night I thought of your warm hand
felt it turn a key & open me.
Drafts set adrift as if by accident,
their papers flying off the sill as when
a guest leaves all your windows open & you

find your living room a howling mess. You
entered next week’s class – my iron heart
glowed hot enough to bend ~ & later when
we all passed out our poems & your hand
touched mine again I saw no accident
in how you bravely reached for me.

By touch you tried to recreate me
in your image, just as I now shape you
in my reveries, these accidental
shimmers flashing on my soaring heart
amongst the cumulus, a red clay hand
caressing stratonimbus when

(a (plosive (ring) ≀ class) ended). When
koans (echo) apprehend me
may they wash me off my way, my hands
spread out against their waters. You
kept blowing on my driftwood heart
to turn it back… Why start this accident

with me? How serious an accident
do you propose? I then remembered when
my ex & I had parted ways, how heart
& soul broke down, how all things blurred in me.
I asked myself if I could see you
clearly now, if I could grasp your hand,

our hands together, crushed in happy accident,
if you were a mirage, if I could bear it when
you left me, if my heart could bear it all.

Henry Peter Bunch is a poet, civil servant, and father to two boys. He holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from City College, where he co-won the Jerome Lowell Dejur Award for Poetry, and a B.A. in English & Fine Arts from Alfred University, where he won the Mary Wager Fisher Literacy Prize for Poetry. His work has been published in Love’s Chance Magazine and Promethean.

Two Poems by Don Nigroni

Timely Advice

The past is like a frozen lake
which never makes the slightest wake
yet it can seem to ebb and flow
in ways it should or shouldn’t go.

The future’s neither dark nor bright
and even those with second sight
can’t see beyond the was and now,
that logic never could allow.

What’s now won’t ever last too long,
departing like a haunting song,
and all I’ll say about today
is it’ll simply melt away.

Prior Knowledge

So if the past does not exist
then somehow it must still assist,
for if the past could disappear,
we’d never know about it here.

Don Nigroni, a retired economist, received a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Saint Joseph’s University and has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Notre Dame. His short fiction has appeared in AmbitAsymmetry FictionTheme of AbsenceMystery TribuneRune Bear365 tomorrowsFree Flash Fiction and 50-Word Stories and his poetry has been published by Candelabrum and Mystery Time.

Two Poems by Jacqueline Coleman-Fried

The Old Woman and the Little Girl

It hurt to look at the wreck of her—
legs dangling from a wheelchair, 
torqued back listing,
brain, lungs, tongue mostly mute.
Gullet sphincter too tight for meat,
the other too loose.
Yet when family came to visit,
my mother’s smile lit the room.
And, somehow, she made it clear 
who she wanted to sit by—
her great-granddaughter, Ella.
Who wouldn’t want to sit beside 
those bright eyes and munchkin voice? Ella,
from zero to four—a respite
from the pains of age, a trip
to the land of lambs and princesses. 
I often worried—
was she scared sitting next to
this wordless, withered crone 
whose very body sent
a dark message?
A few years later, when I ask Ella 
if she remembers her great-grandparents,
she looks at the floor, and says,
in a voice lined with tears—

I remember Grandma.

How lovely.
How lovely.

The Box

It starts with a box—
a quilted box—
that sat, for years, on a shelf in the front hall closet
in my parents’ house

holding a white cashmere scarf, white knit hat,
thick mittens and gloves.

Frayed but still shielding from insects and dust,
the box reminds me how my mother wrapped us
in soft words, with gentle fingertips—
but, at the slightest scent of danger,
grew fierce claws.

My sister-in-law earmarks the box,
and its contents, for trash
now that my parents are gone.

I take home the white scarf and hat.
When my mother wore them, she looked
like an angel.

I could not save her
from the blizzard’s mounting snow.

Jacqueline Coleman-Fried is a poet and essayist living in Tuckahoe, NY. She has taken a weekly poetry workshop at The Writing Institute of Sarah Lawrence College for the past three years. Her work has been published in Home Planet New OnlineThe Voices Project Poetry LibraryArt Times Journal, and The Orchards Poetry Journal. Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality and the Arts, plans to publish another of her poems in October 2021.

“Left hand bottom corner” by Liz Bennett

The woman with one breast, her hand on mouse
Click-clicks through photographs of better times
Sunglasses caked with sand pushed back on head
At tables with her girlfriends, glass aloft
Arms round her children, husband by her side.
She looks at her own eyes, centre of frame
Her makeup covering complacency
The smile of one by lightning never struck.
Then – click! – a picture, seemingly mundane
Brings her to sudden, unexpected tears
A park, a birthday party for a child
She stands side-on, in bottom left of frame
Her presence incidental to the shot
She leans towards a friend, as if mid-joke
Her out-of-focus smile is unconstrained
By habit or thought of posterity
Oblivious to the photographer
True self-oblivion appears achieved.
The notion that, when captured unawares
She would be seen with joy upon her face
Seems from a time almost beyond recall
A shadow-less existence lost for good.
And then she understands that to regain
The spirit which is captured edge of frame
She must not live as if her life’s a book
She can’t proceed with ’till she has a chance
To peek at the last page, see how it ends
That true embrace of living cannot be
Contingent on an answer that’s unknown
That early death must also be embraced
If that is how her story is to close
And if transcendence is to be attained –
To capture once again that blurry laugh –
Her daily quest, with her one breast, must be
To live as if not in the photograph.

Liz Bennett works as a mediator in the remote tropical city of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. She was a finalist in the 2019 NT Literary Awards, placed in the 2012 Australian Cancer Council Arts Awards, and has had poetry and other writing published or upcoming in Not Very Quiet, be:longing, Stereo Stories, Spineless Wonders, Lighten Up Online, and in the anthology Imagining the Real: Australian Writing in the Nuclear Age (ABC Enterprises). Find her on Instagram @liz_janebennett.

Two Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When writing poetry in high school and as an undergraduate English major, one of the highlights of finishing a piece was sharing it with my paternal grandfather. He was an encouraging voice in those beginning years of my craft, and I particularly remember him telling me that his favorite classical poet was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). The most popular poet of his generation, it was said by a contemporary that “no other poet was so fully recognized in his lifetime.” His 70th birthday was an occasion of national celebration marked with parades, poetry readings, and similar fanfare. Arguably most famous for “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “Song of Hiawatha,” his talent is also demonstrated in the two popular selections included below.

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not in mournful numbers
Life is but an empty dream–
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

The Children’s Hour

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

“It’s All His Fault” by Susan Jarvis Bryant

It’s all his fault my world’s in disarray.
My heart is hooked my brain has gone astray.
My smitten eyes are bright with starry skies
And swirls of butterflies, to my surprise,
Perform a belly-fluttering ballet.

The fact my faculties have fallen prey
To kisses with the kick of Beaujolais
And giggly, tipsy airs I can’t disguise
     Is all his fault.

It happened on that grey, umbrella day
A Botticelli cherub flew my way.
He drew his bow to agonizing cries
Of, “Bring me lips without the sting of lies!”
Post-arrow-pricking traits are now in play.
     It’s all his fault.

Susan Jarvis Bryant is a church secretary and poet whose homeland is Kent, England. She is now an American citizen living on the coastal plains of Texas. Susan has poetry published in the UK webzine, Lighten Up On LineThe Daily Mail, and Openings (anthologies of poems by Open University Poets).

“Detachment” by John Muro

Because things often come in threes,
I await the conclusion to this trilogy
Where items are accumulated by the
Act of subtraction and there’s a certain
Enchantment found in moments of desperation,
Like the time a plane, slipping into unhurried
Descent, expelled a wheel that rolled, bodiless
And at a blistering speed, down the runway;
Or the time, years later, when a compact car,
Exiting the turnpike near dusk, ambushed
My windshield with a fountain of autumn-
Orange dazzle, the rear tire having lurched
From the axle and fled like a convict, hurdling
Knee-high guard-rails into the underbrush.
And so I await the third and final flourish
That’s taking shape in my mind – where
Fear’s softened and I’m approaching the
Periphery of some other world upon an
Exquisite chariot that’s veered off course,
With only one wheel, having reached the
Right true end of a journey with too
Little recovered and too much lost.

John Muro’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in numerous literary journals, including Moria, River Heron, Sheepshead, Euphony, Clementine Unbound, The French Literary Review, Sparks of Calliope, and others. A life-long resident of Connecticut, John’s professional career has been dedicated to environmental stewardship and conservation. His first volume of poems, In the Lilac Hour, was published last fall by Antrim House and is available on Amazon.

“The Crossing” by Phyllis Rittner

I swallow whole without tasting,
scroll for virtual validation.
Water plants, empty trash,
stomp through silent rooms.

Yet I cannot escape the thumping,
belly to throat,
to slog through swamp,
to dredge up buried hope.

It used to be so easy
to masquerade
anonymous under the glow of stage lights.
To become a wicked heiress, a bawdy drunk.
Delicious revenge for an invisible child.

Now, child and adult have merged.
We hide together under a woolen blanket,
curling like a tender embryo.
Inside an impenetrable shell.

I inhale truth, exhale possibility.
Restless, my mind
can sabotage strengths,
dismiss victories.

I have always embraced
the familiar white line of highway,
with its unwavering promise of renewal.
Yet I watch, transfixed to the screen,
the woman with wild, flowing hair
scale the ridge of a cliff-side peak.

I close my eyes, inhale
the reckless beauty
of foamy waves crashing onto jagged rock.
the howl of sea,
the taste of salt.

Last night I dreamed the murky swamp
had transformed into a lush forest.
I followed its dense, convoluted trail for miles,
my bare feet deep in moist, rich soil.

In the distance,
illuminated by beams of setting sun,
stood a battered wooden bridge.
I ran towards it,
thorny branches scratching my knees and elbows.

Halfway across I saw her,
a five-year old in a grassy field.
She was singing to herself,
skipping through crimson wildflowers,
the string of a kite clutched tightly in her fist.

Phyllis Rittner writes poetry, flash fiction, and creative non-fiction. Her work can be found in HerStry, NAMI.orgThisismybrave.org, Friday Flash Fiction, and Six Sentences. She is the winner of the Grub Street Free Press Summer Fiction Contest and a member of The Charles River Writer’s Collective. Phyllis lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, and can be reached on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/phyllis.rittner.

“Your Sleep” by John Grey

is a ritual of memory and fantasy,
below ground, above water,
a dream with music
the moment you drift off to sleep,
broken here and there
by a bruise of snore,
the past coming in odd shapes,
rolling in like a tide,
darting through the room,
making a dent in the pillow.
floated and falling,
flooding the room
or funneled through the last thought
your head held before dozing;
it’s a sonata
played for you each night
by an orchestra of absent musicians
who make you feel
buoyant and protected,
who imagine you
as much as you imagine them.
You do not know I’m in the room.
I don’t hear the song.
I fade into the blueness
of our small bed.
While your subconscious
fills your mind with metaphor,
I insert myself into sheets,
my weight
against your weightlessness,
address the quiet face in the light
but unable to broach the activity within.
These are your dreams,
your soundtrack,
your willingness to keep good times alive,
to revive the beached bodies,
give flesh to shadow,
like a glimpse of shadow
celebrate birthdays with the ones
who never made it to that precious age,
listening and laughing,
eyes closed
melted in stillness
un-mourning the dead
washing over grief
with bouts of happiness,
time’s parallel blue plate special,
the right notes,
the superb hush,
the giddy surprise,
a game played on the present
that separates you from me.
The moonlight
is the shape of my grief.
The night sounds
are of wounded animals.
Through the window,
I see a child’s hind leg
caught in a trap.
But you know none of this,
your certainty as
white and firm as a shell.
Now and again,
your head makes a slight turn
in my direction.
But my presence goes undetected
unless, that is,
you’re relieving the day we met.

John Grey is an Australian poet and US resident recently published in Penumbra, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. His latest books, Leaves On Pages and Memory Outside The Head are available through Amazon. His work is upcoming in Lana Turner and Held.

Two Poems by Patrick Deeley

The Couple

Though there is the cracked bedroom ceiling
and the scraping front gate,
we give precedence to restoring the garden seat.
It mends us in return. Where flowers

grow or die, how generously the sun shines,
what the whitebeam whispers
and the ivy greening the back wall
hides, are little to do with our restoration,

yet they are all. Seasons swap the weather
about, blend, break, follow;
life’s freshet of sensualities
never quite runs out. Two children claim us

as belonging to them. Their hands
tug at our heartstrings and ankles. They gather
the nature of our garden seat,
how its flakes of rusting wrought iron

allow the earwig in, how lustrous raindrops
sliding off its glossed wood
pave a path for mildew. Our children grow
into ambits of their own, only

to come back, with each time a caught breath
that must belong to us –
as when the full moon stands,
sudden and transformative at a kitchen window.

Quiet again in the evenings
spent alone together, we look each other
full frontally in the eye
when we speak, and touch off old affection.

Children at Woodlawn

Our thoughts jump ahead of us to the dark.
We are led by a candle that tilts,
its flame cuffed by tiny, side-swipe blows.

Along corridors, in and out of cubby-holes
we ghost, while about us surfaces
slide, stretch, form ellipses. We twist corks

off bottles until they squeak or pop, tinkle
our fingers in crystal bowls, open
hoarse cabinet cupboards where jellies set

and apples season. Midnight is to our taste.
Here we parade old-style clothes,
gulp shivers, drown in silver pools of mirrors,

wrestle with wallpaper patterns
of thorn and ivied mansion. Once, ages ago,
fork lightning struck, frenzying us

all the short distance to the thunder.
We don’t say the truth’s clear-cut; or: no use
in being a fool unless you show it;

or: I am given to dreams but what the world
and its mother asks for is a sight
more substantial. We don’t say we are afraid.

Patrick Deeley has published seven collections of poems with Dedalus Press, the latest being The End of the World.  In 2019 he received the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Groundswell: New and Selected.  He has also published a memoir, The Hurley Maker’s Son, with Transworld, and a number of books for children.  He was born in County Galway and currently lives in Dublin.