Two Poems by Fran Schumer

High Summer

I trudged through the day,
figured and refigured
plane routes, train routes
which buses to take
to see my aging parents.

My husband and our neighbor
would figure it out on the spot,
in the station, on the platform
bang bang it’s done — in situ
but I am not an in situ girl.

I plan
I worry.

Different parts of their bodies fail
lungs, livers, my father’s skin so delicate
it tears on the sheets at night.
Only their hearts keep beating
their ancient hearts
their faithful, ancient hearts
keep beating
keep loving us
keep us loving them.

Their kind doctors speak
in numbers, percentages, odds.

At dusk, I finish packing when I notice
the light, low and golden.
It’s high summer, early August
sunset still an hour off
the days warm and lasting.

Why not, I think, and carry my dinner
out to the deck where I listen
to the birds, the flap from the oven vent
tap tap-ing against the wall
watch the golden light
lick every leaf of oak and beech
until they glisten.
And I wonder
What did I ever do to deserve such happiness?


Ghost Writer

Who knew what a good job
it was for me who loved
to pretend I was someone else,
the only way
I knew to be myself.

They told me their stories
and I became a young lawyer
fired for marrying her boss;
an actress who gained and
lost and re-gained weight;
a thief; a bulimic; a druggie.

I slipped into their bodies
like ghosts in old movies,
cast spells to make them
heroes, victims, saints
and martyrs — and writers!

When we finished, I missed
them. But when I tried to
write my own book, the spirit
vanished. All that remained
was a ghost-white page.




Fran Schumer is a journalist and author. Her poetry has been published in The New Verse News, Hole In The Head Review, and Contrary. Another poem is forthcoming in Prospectus. In 2021, she won a second-place poetry fellowship from the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She majored in Social Studies at college but wishes she had spent the time studying Keats.

Two Poems by Felicia Nimue Ackerman

Mina Says No to Hospice

I entered the world with a blast,
Triumphant and ever so loud.
The room was engulfed by my cries.
My mother was weary but proud.
 
And now, although 90 and failing,
I still want to live as I am.
They said I came in like a lion —
I’ll never go out like a lamb.


She’s welcomed and flattered and favored and kissed.
She’s promptly invited; she’s first on the list.
She glides through the envy that always awaits her.
Because she’s so popular, everyone hates her.




Felicia Nimue Ackerman is a professor of philosophy at Brown University and has had about 200 poems published in a wide range of places, including two in Sparks of Calliope last May and two last June.

Two Poems by Judy Lorenzen

Fog

A thick fog rolled in this morning,
and it’s just one of those days
when clouds of memories come in
and eventually move way, as one
picture comes clearly into focus—
now I see my father sitting
in the living-room chair
after cooking in a hot kitchen
all morning and afternoon long
at The Platter on Interstate 80—
his eyes, closed,
his feet and legs aching.
Ronnie Milsap’s “Smoky Mountain Rain”
plays in the background,
and I hear my father’s voice,
“I’ve had a change of dreams,
I’m comin’ home. . .”
I am moved by hearing his voice again
and realize that he was singing from a place
of deep understanding of the song—
the rain, the regret, the homesickness,
the “doing everything I can to get back, but
no one will let me in”—
and for the first time,
I see him.
He harmonizes with Ronnie
and the memory is sweet,
and just like the rain in the song
and the tears
the singer has to wipe back from his eyes,
I’d give anything
to see my father again,
a man whose love
I rejected most of my life
when the fog of resentment obscured my perspective—
then I took his love for granted
like he owed it to me.
But death and memory offer
the sorrows of hindsight,
the blessing of clear vision.
Now I see everything,
and what I see
is all that I failed at,
and what I remember
is goodness,
and the only thing I feel
is mountains of love.


Gratitude

Tonight,
high above the old barn,
which began leaning years ago,
is its Milky Way roof,
starlight shining on rotting boards
and broken hinges. A rush of wings
escapes out the broken door
as I approach.
This is the way I remember
Grandma and Grandpa—
beautiful and falling apart,
grey haired,
arthritic hands and bodies,
sitting in their lawn chairs
in the evening, smiling—
always welcoming.
They felt the years of hard toil
in every joint,
never complained—
and when they couldn’t keep up
any longer,
they learned to let go
and enjoy stars.




Judy Lorenzen is a poet, writer, and English teacher. She holds a BA in English; an MSED in Community Counseling (LMHP); an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Kearney (UNK); and a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from UNLHer work appears in Plains Song Review, Relief Literary Journal, PlainsongCelebrate: A Collection of Writings by and About Women (Volume XVI), Nebraska LifeThe Fence Post, The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets, The Grand Island IndependentMisbehavin’ Nebraskans, Voices from the Plains, Vol. 2,Verse-Virtual, and Your Daily Poem, among other publications.

Two Poems by Cat Dixon

Disappointed

Disappointed in the mansion with all
its thrills—library, jacuzzi, firepit,
and pool, you attempt escape by way of secret
never-ending tunnels, but you’re lost in the maze.
Emancipated from wealth and fame, you grow
neither thin nor pale. The paparazzi grows
gaunt waiting at the front gate. Your steps are
uninterrupted in this game of hide and seek. 
Your fans haunt every mirror and light fixture.
Every floorboard creaks like a thousand
nighttime stalkers hunting for a photo-op.


Prompt but Undereducated

Prompt but undereducated, you hold
recipes and a cup of chamomile tea
in one hand and dark lipstick in the other—
never meant for lush lips—that dark. The hidden
cockles of your heart are shocking red/black.
Every other color fades, but not this lasting
satin finish with its sweet flavor and sweeter
stories of long lost lovers who flake, but never
cave to the pressure of your chipped teeth
against such delicate skin. You arrive
royal and clean, but they’ve noted the flaw
only hidden by your bangs. You can’t 
love anyone, except the one that matters,
you. So sip the tea, cook the risotto, 
number the hours and days alone.




Cat Dixon is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. She is the author of Eva and Too Heavy to Carry (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2016, 2014) and the chapbook Table for Two (Poet’s Haven, 2019). Her recent work was published in Sledgehammer Lit and Whale Road Review, and she is a poetry editor at The Good Life Review. Find her on Twitter @DixonCat.

“Populating Thanksgiving” by Ken Gosse

In a world full of people
there’s hate, crime, and war,
but today we recall
what we’re most thankful for.

At the top of the list
let’s place people again,
the young and the old;
girls and boys, women, men.

Our family, relatives,
neighbors and friends,
even strangers unknown,
way out where the Earth ends.

More than things or events,
fame, fortune, or glory,
the people we love are
the best of our story.

So pause to reflect
and take time to give thanks,
even though, now and then,
we’re all crotchety cranks.




Ken Gosse prefers writing short, rhymed verse with traditional meter, usually filled with whimsy and humor. First published in First Literary Review–East in November 2016, his poems are also in The OffbeatPure SlushParodyHome Planet News OnlineEclectica, and other publications. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, now retired, he and his wife have lived in Mesa, AZ, over twenty years.

“Photographing Hoodoos – Bryce Canyon” by Terence Culleton

“Thou still unravished bride . . .” —John Keats

As of yet these, too, are still unravished or
too slowly carved to call it ravishing.
Distended, urn-like, rust red, eighteen soar
above me as I inch down, ogling.
Some seem countenanced like totem poles
or tiki men atilt to ruminate
as I square round to frame their limestone souls
within the finder lest the inner state
of stone be only stone, what wind and hail
have carved respond as nothing to the eye.
And I’ll insist on thinking up the tale
of what I see here—now—and maybe why
I see them this way, beautiful, and true
as anything I’ve known or thought I knew.

“Photographing Hoodoos – Bryce Canyon” from A Tree and Gone (Future Cycle Press, 2021).




Terence Culleton is a former Bucks County (PA) Poet Laureate, a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee, and recipient of First Honorable Mention in the 2019 Helen Schaible International Traditional Sonnet ContestTerence has published two collections of formally crafted narrative and lyric poems, A Communion of Saints (2011) and Eternal Life (2015), both with Anaphora Literary PressPoems from his forthcoming collection of sonnets, A Tree and Gone (FutureCycle Press), have recently appeared in Antiphon, The Lyric, The Eclectic MuseInnisfree, The Road Not Taken (including Feature Poem), Blue Unicorn Review, and Raintown Review.

Two Poems by Stephen Kingsnorth

Rust

Why turning rust leaves on the trees
paint wonder – but not metal form,
the oxide scar, green metal bench?
Both witness chemicals at work;
the autumn auxin taking charge,
so damp air driving season’s cost.
A copper beech, the chestnut bract,
fall flaking branch, strip modesty;
yet next that picnic bench neglect,
with viridescent bottle mold,
its palette range a mirror work?
Would pristine tree in summer dress,
unchanging, satisfy our eye?
Why should our plant, this country seat,
not share the turning of the year?

“Rust” first published by Ariel Chart


Sycamore

The story of this sycamore,
as ancient lore, a tree of life,
whose squirrels gather winter store,
if where forgotten, sapling grows.
The canopy, a hiding place,
nuthatches headfirst, make their mark
uncurling bark, find canapés,
beak garibaldi, biscuit bugs.
The green man, universal sign,
a deity, a jack of all –
who else is hidden by the climb,
horizon scan from vantage point,
to see above the crowd below?
There is a man, against the grain,
who rudely asks himself to lunch;
it seems he shakes the fruit from tree.

“Sycamore” first published by The Dawntreader




Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had some 350 pieces published by online poetry sites, including Sparks of Calliope, printed journals, and anthologies. Find more at https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com.

“Mnēmosynē” by Peter Dreyer

“O Duty,
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie?”
—Ogden Nash

Abandon beginnings,
make compromises.
Losing
    or winning
    ask nothing;

but for articulate payment
rise to the bait,
if needs be,
eating your words.

Flog (if you must) your vermilion
blood, your cold bones steamed
in the conscientious
copy shop of the mind,

    crab-cracked
crania, skulls exposing
iridescent entrails—
innards of the spirit,
a rainbow of

motley and multicolored,
birds of the soul preening
on all azimuths unashamed.
Conscience, lime-feathered;
common sense, porphyry
streaked with white crystal;
lust, madder—rock ‘n’ roll!
rage, a blippy blue sea,

    but black
    O black!
singular as midnight, black,

    mother memory




Peter Dreyer is a South African American writer and author of a number of books, including Martyrs and Fanatics: South Africa and Human Destiny (New York: Simon & Schuster; London: Secker & Warburg) and, most recently, a novel, Isacq (Charlottesville, VA: Hardware River Press, 2017).

Two Poems by Diane Elayne Dees

The Grief of Trees

Joined at the root, two tall pines
form a “V” that reaches toward the sky.
Their marriage, an inosculation,
is forever. Each is allowed to grow,
yet they never leave each other,
for their foundation is strong.

They once had a child—
a gnarly vine with bark
that stayed close to the parents,
while—like all children—
it explored the environment,
swaying in the breeze.

But breezes became strong winds,
and—over time—the trees lost
their offspring. The mighty pines
continued to sway and grow,
though who can discern
when a tree is grieving?

Not far from where the bereft gemels
stand, I, too, had a partner,
and hoped to grow while rooted
at our base. But the wild wind
of betrayal weakened our structure,
and an ice storm blew through
and detached us. No child was lost
in our storm, for there was never a child
to lose—an unseeded forest is also a loss.

Who can discern when a tree is grieving?
I grieve for them, and I observe them,
as they continue to thrive, joined securely
at their base, able to withstand the winds
that tear down the framework of those
whose roots do not reach deep into the earth.


Storm Debris

We have seen it before:
the downed trees, the piles of limbs,
shingles flung to the street,
dozens of overflowing trash cans
reeking of rotted vegetables.
We know the drill—
the power will come back on
some day. There will be cable TV
and Internet some day,
and when we least expect it,
our phones will work again.

We are tough, we are resilient,
but we are powerless to escape
the sounds—the roar of generators,
the constant buzz of saws—the sounds
of Katrina. They blow through
the deepest recesses of our psyches,
they flow like restless bayous
through our waking dreams.

We knew then that we would never
be the same. Our hair stopped growing,
or it fell out, or turned suddenly gray.
The displaced, with their glazed-over eyes,
were easy to recognize. The rest of us
shuddered every time we saw the images.
Our bodies tightened like vises
every time the talking heads told a story
that had nothing to do with what happened.

We hear the droning symphony of saws
and motors—the sounds that remind us
that our DNA has been altered,
and that future generations will bear these genes.
The never-ending soundtrack of Katrina
is background music for the movie
that will never stop running—people
crammed onto the floor of the Superdome,
beloved pets tossed into the street to drown,
the sound of bullets on the Danziger Bridge,
deputies entering houses and shooting dogs,
the caskets of long-dead relatives
floating down the street, the deadly effects
of black mold and lead poisoning,
the remains of looted stores,
the search for missing corpses,
the leader eating cake in the desert.

Suddenly, there are birds
and dragonflies again,
and one morning, the sun shines.
At some point, generators will shut down,
and the saws will be put away.
But their sounds remain,
vibrating through our cells,
a deadly signature unique to us—
the eternal hum of trauma.




Diane Elayne Dees is the author of the chapbook, Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books), and two forthcoming chapbooks, I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died, and The Last Time I Saw You. She also publishes Women Who Serve, a blog that delivers news and commentary on women’s professional tennis throughout the world. Diane lives in Covington, Louisiana, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. Her author blog is Diane Elayne Dees: Poet and Writer-at-Large.

Two Poems by Doug May

Quarantine

For years it nibbled at his tired routine:
The urge to book a fortnight at some inn
Beside the sea. An inspiration clean
As ice and bracing as a splash of gin
It kept returning like a melody
From vanished days until his brain
Looked forward to its questioning refrain.

But with each passing year, he grew less sure
Of how to leave the house, compiling lists
Of things his settled ways could not endure
For long: the lumpy beds and drizzling mists
Of beige motels and plane connections missed–
Postponing the escape that none can stay
By snuggling deeper into yesterday.


Derby Days

Lubricated Delta Taus on infield grass
Egg on their dates to flash the TV crews
While solid seconds float between starched tents
Of towering hats and cable interviews.

Far from the off-track bets and whispered touts
In dim seclusion wait the thoroughbreds
With grooms and stable cats to calm their bouts
Of nerves before the solemn post parade–
Their blinkered eyes indifferent to raw slits
Of blazing sun and viscous smears of rain

Where uncrowned champions must either catch
A second wind and triumph on the rail
Or stumble gamely down the final stretch,

Deaf to the painted crowd and pounding track,
The shingle of one dangling hoof askew
Beneath flawed bone’s hereditary crack.




Doug May has published two chapbooks, Song From The Back Row and Cold War Piano, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poems have appeared in many online and small press publications, including Raw Art Review, Cathexis Northwest, Rat’s Ass Review, Breath and Shadow, Wordgathering, and Beloit Poetry Journal.