“The Artist Observes a Dead Tree” by R. Nikolas Macioci

2022 Pushcart Prize Nominee
2021 Best of the Net Nominee

Five separate offshoots of one tree trunk twist
into each other.
It looks as if a giant has braided
the limbs together into one gnarled distortion.
Nothing is more naked than barren limbs
when everything understood about a tree is dead.
What illness killed the annual rings, or was it
stone cold nothing of old age that stripped it bare?
There will be no more listening to language
of restless leaves. Maybe somewhere its heart
still struggles. As the book says, everything
has a psyche.

Someday someone will paint, sculpt, or photograph it
because it is misshapen, malformed, and gnarled.
Some people hunger for the ugly, enjoy breathing
dark thoughts and even adore the deterioration of stars.

This tree is nothing now but a rupture in the earth
from which birds still speak echoes. This tree
represents impeccable death, wrapped in the question
of what it is still doing here? Someday an artist,
swayed by appreciation, sympathy, or regret, will paint
this tree that has poked a hole in heaven from which
a surprise of butterflies will pour out of the opening.

R. Nikolas Macioci earned a PhD from The Ohio State University. OCTELA, the Ohio Council of Teachers of English, named Nik Macioci the best secondary English teacher in the state of Ohio. Nik is the author of two chapbooks as well as eight books: More than two hundred of his poems have been published here and abroad, including in The Society of Classical Poets Journal, Chiron, The Comstock Review, Concho River Review, and Blue Unicorn

“Big Bang Theory” by Richard DJJ Bowdery

This present is where
past and future collide,
Exploding into
the here and now,
A microcosm of life
in a single moment,
Before that moment
Is devoured by history.

Richard DJJ Bowdery has published three pamphlets of poetry — Out of the Darkness (1978); When the Cock Crows (1984); The Travelling Poet Wanders (2013). His poems have also appeared in a variety of anthologies including: Making Waves (1985); Poetry Now (1995); He is Risen (1999); Reflections from Two Continents (2000); Forward Press Poets — South & East England (2008); Honest Rust And Gold (2020).  Between 2015 and 2018 his work featured in several books published by community publishing house Cray 150 Publications. He is also co-author of Dove On The Wing (2013), a biography of English poet and pacifist Donald Ward.

“Crush” by Susan J. Bryant

I love English Literature, 
especially my Master –  
Atticus Finch with a pinch
of Rhett Butler 
and the lure of Count Dracula. 
Oh, the droll roll of his tongue  
around ‘onomatopoeia’ 
sends a spine-tingling shiver… 
a ripple and quiver 
like a leaf on wild water. 

He says that’s a simile 
in tones crooned to thrill me. 
He’s my period six lover 
(he’d say that’s a metaphor 
although I’d beg to differ) 
and no other teacher 
comes close to this preacher  
of linguistic delights… 

He ignites dull school days 
with his suave Mr. Darcy ways.

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 Line, The Daily Mail, and Openings (anthologies of poems by Open University Poets).

“Athena, Minding her Business” by Ellen Huang

Falling in love is their term for it
but I am not as careless as Zeus
desperate to spread himself thin,
spread his likeness on a fawning earth
with hyperpopulation. I do not depend
on the title of king of the gods
to get a yes and make an impression.

Aphrodite teases me for it
but many goddesses understand
what it is to find passion elsewhere
and be pleased so deeply, like offerings, like ambrosia,
with the humans with beautiful minds.

I lean against their head,
rest on their shoulders,
whisper in their ear,
play with their hair,
visit their dreams.
I inspire.

I listen to them, and let them listen to me.
Zeus knows nothing of such practice,
(Hades and Poseidon perhaps a little more)
and his type are bewildered at the mystery
of woman’s dangerous intuition.
Pity he remembers nothing from when
I was born of his mind, a warrior cry full-grown
from his skull. Pity he overlooks his brainchild
and returns to his endings and beginnings.

But with my most intimate followers,
I exchange words and philosophy,
lacing together a fully-clothed vulnerability
of the stars, an infinite space of knowing
and intimacy. I bring them fighting
spirit and maturity, and the patience
of immortal writers.
They will watch the world bloom.

I deliver and conceive much
as my brainchildren walk the earth,
born of great minds, adopted of great thinkers,
destined to meet their kin
and, for lack of genetics in the gods,
trace divine influence back to me
grey-eyed goddess who made them wise.

Ellen Huang holds a BA in Writing with a minor in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University. She is published in Royal Rose, X-Ray Lit, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Nymphs, Tealight Press, and Exhume Lit, among others. Follow her magic: worrydollsandfloatinglights.wordpress.com.

“The Peach” by Martin Willitts, Jr.

On early October mornings, we’d slice peaches
into hot oatmeal while sparrows sang.
We’d forgotten that sudden attack of sweetness—
time and memory deceive like that.
Then, the next day, peaches jumped from a knife
to oatmeal, surprising us again—
slight moisture of fall, a dip in bird songs.

We would try to hold the hard pit of memory,
but, like bath water, memory slowly drained.
We would go on with everyday tasks,
the season pulling the curtains of night closer,
but in morning, peaches were in oatmeal,
birds excitedly exclaiming, memory bruising.

As October loomed towards November,
peaches were less fresh, still savored,
slices falling like autumn leaves.
Imagine the happy bowl
cupped hands offering sweetened memories.
Imagine sparrows dashing sugary music.

Then, alas, the time had unfortunately arrived,
and the peaches went wherever peaches go.
We mourned the loss, watched grey skies fall,
nights lasting and lingering longer.

We’d forgotten each season has its own sweetness.

Martin Willitts Jr, a Comstock Review editor, has 25 chapbooks including the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, The Wire Fence Holding Back the World (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 21 full-length collections including the Blue Light Award 2019, The Temporary World.  His forthcoming book is Harvest Time (Deerbrook Press, 2021).

“Libraries and Love” by Robert Nisbet

At nineteen years of age, he said to a girl,
I have two lodestars, libraries and love.
Love? .. well, girls and dances anyway.

Vacation weekdays now, he’d go to the library.
He knew and could define the word “repository”
so yes .. his town’s repository of knowledge.
They’d all of Steinbeck there, and Joyce
and Keats, John Clare and politics and art.

Saturdays, the dances and the thrill of sound,
as rock’n’roll was shading into Beatles,
and he started taking Clara home. They’d stop
at their bench behind the Parade and now
his hands would mooch just wheresoever
they were allowed to go.

The rest of the walk, to her parents’ house
on Merlin’s Hill, went past the library. And there
was his friend the storehouse of learning,
quiet and unperturbed the weekend through.
Some nights, flushed with the evening’s warmth,
he’d cast a wink at the library. See you Monday, pal.

And when the firework friendship fizzled out,
and through years and decades on, the library stood
through weekends, wars and noise and fluster,
its knowledge there and in repose.

Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet who has been published widely in Britain and the USA, where he has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

“The Three Point Five Trillion Names of God” by Brian Yapko

Thomas, old friend, I wish you doubted more.
I watch you through your great room window
across the street staring into your aquarium,
through tempered glass, pondering colored gravel,
plastic krill and three shimmering goldfish.

You consult a guide, you monitor their darting
motions, then fancy yourself a fisher of knowledge.
Thomas, you are a scientific man. You deal with
facts. But now you claim from this miniature sea
under glass that you finally grasp the Ocean!

Thomas, we live in desert! In your sixty-six years
on Earth you have never seen the sea, nor heard, nor
tasted. Yet you see through this glass darkly and claim
understanding of a force so vast it shapes the continents,
its dark depths falling fathoms to the pitch-black floor?

The sea, Thomas! Where the albatross was killed and
the white whale raged! Birthplace of tsunamis, of
storms, of life itself! A transparent tank and now you
know the placid dolphin, the preying shark, coral reefs,
the tortoise, the currents, the islands, fjords…!

The tide pools, the icebergs, beaches black and white…
How people sail and dive, dream and drown! You
claim mastery of shipwrecks, volcanoes and ancient
statues on the floor of the sea. But you are caught in the
shallows, bereft of the salt, the blood and the ineffable.

Thomas, put aside your certainty! Open your eyes,
your mind, your heart! What if I suggested to you
that from your home for three goldfish you dare not
judge all – neither plankton nor leviathan, nor the
Oceans’ population of three point five trillion fish?

How do I speak to you, Thomas, of infinity? That
your little aquarium is not even a metaphor? Care for
your goldfish, old friend. Love them if you can. But
weigh this if you would: in the Oceans of Vastness,
you truly do not know how much you do not know.

Brian Yapko practices law and writes poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Grand Little Things, The Society of Classical Poets, Poetica, The Chained Muse, Garfield Lake Review, Tempered Runes Press and as a first-prize contest winner in The Abstract Elephant. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

“Kissing in Mamaloshen” by Leslie Neustadt

After Kissing in Vietnamese by Ocean Vuong

Grandma Freda kisses as if she could
protect me with her crimson tattoo.

Lesincoo seals my ears with endearments.
She kisses my smooth hands, my fingers meant

to turn pages, not to labor in sweatshops.
She kisses as if each kiss were a kush fun lebn.

As if her kisses ensure I’ll be passed over
by plagues. No pogroms, no gas chambers

no yellow stars—if only she kisses me enough.
Her kisses like drops of honey for her shana madela.

You’re too skinny—Her kisses
put meat on my bones. Inoculate me

from sticks and stones, No Jews Allowed.
Her sugar cookies, apple cake, dill-scented

chicken soup are kisses, too. When Grandma
Freda kisses, she inhales my little girl scent,

makes me feel like sunlight. She sits in her pew
on Shabbas, kisses my cheek as I snuggle by.

I glint with her imprint. Grandma Freda kisses
with her full bosom, her skinny legs pulsing

rivers of blue. Her kisses a map to follow
when my body fades. Now, I paint my lips

crimson, leave red tattoos with my wrinkled
lips on the grandchildren bequeathed to me.

first published in The Jewish Writing Project 

Leslie Neustadt is a retired New York Assistant Attorney General, poet, visual artist, and the author of Bearing Fruit: A Poetic Journey. A board member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, Leslie’s work is illuminated by her Jewish upbringing and inspired by the beauty and power of the natural world, mortal joys and struggles, and an unwavering commitment to human and civil rights. Online at www.LeslieNeustadt.com.

“Enthusiast” by William J. Joel

This scene was something I would never have
expected, little old lady, thumbing through
a rack of comic books. It wasn’t that she dressed
outrageously, or gelled her hair in spikes,
or had twelve piercings in each ear, or showed
a tattoo of her mother when she rolled her sleeve.
She was simply middle-aged, a simple sweater,
shorts and sneakers, nothing one would notice
in a bookstore, let alone with Superman.
Which makes one wonder, what else do they
hide from us, these frail old women, unobtrusive
in their manner, smiling, slyly as we hold the door?
Are they listening to some rock song, heavy metal,
screaming through their brains, while planning for
the rally they’ll be riding in next weekend,
dirt bikes spewing mud and rock when mama
hits the turn, enthusiastic in her game?

William J. Joel has been teaching computer science since 1983 and has been a writer even longer. His works have appeared in The Blend International, Common Ground ReviewDASH Literary JournalLiminality, North Dakota Quarterly, and Trouvaille Review.

Three Poems by Peter J. King

Grow Old Along with Me

If I were kind then I should say
That you’re as youthful as the day
I met you, and I’d claim to find
From brow to chin your face unlined,
               If I were kind.

I’d salve the worry you display
About the worsening decay
Of your once sharp incisive mind,
               If I were kind.

And when you showed me your dismay
At what the scales insist you weigh,
At liver spots, at undefined
Complaints of an obstetric kind,
I’d tush and pish your fears away —
               If I were kind.


What am I doing here, bewildered at the bottom of the stairs?
Was there some task I should perform, some object lost?
Time’s friction-flow my mind impairs.
What am I doing here?

              My intellect was clear, and yet the years I’ve crossed
                            Are being taken from me slowly, almost unawares,
              And like a standing stone I am becoming mossed.

Now on this chilly step I sit and try to gather my affairs;
I’ve outlived all my peers, but at too great a cost,
For there is no-one left who cares.
What am I doing here?

A Good Death

I wanted you to struggle,
dig your heels into existence
as the edge came into sight;
I wanted you to fasten
your frail hands on life,
and not give in without a fight.

But what I wanted
was beside the point that night,
for at the end it was your age
that helped to gently dim the light.

Peter J. King was born and brought up in Boston, Lincolnshire.  He was active on the London poetry scene in the 1970s, returning to poetry in 2013.  His work (including translations from modern Greek and German poetry) has since been widely published in magazines and anthologies.  His currently available collections are Adding Colours to the Chameleon (Wisdom’s Bottom Press) and All What Larkin (Albion Beatnik Press).