“Epigraph” by D. R. James

2021 Best of the Net Nominee

Poems are never completed—they are only abandoned. —Paul Valéry

So as I begin this one—
vowing as an experiment
not to give in to the vice

of revision, that sumo
of manipulation I so try
to apply to my life—

I wonder where I’ll leave it.
Will it be in some sun-warmed clearing,
a rocky outcropping in an old pine forest?

And will I have set out
earlier this morning with getting there in mind?
Maybe it will fall out of my pocket

along a downtown sidewalk
and blow a few feet
until it lodges under a parked car,

the puddle there and the dark
intensifying the metaphor:
a poem’s being abandoned.

Thus bookended by country and city,
both speculations in future tense,
the claim neglects the unfolding.

As if completion weren’t
every word as it comes out,
means and ends at once.

The cone is not container
of future tree. It is cone.
Nor is an old cone empty.




D. R. James’s latest of nine collections are Flip Requiem (Dos Madres, 2020), Surreal Expulsion (Poetry Box, 2019), and If god were gentle (Dos Madres, 2017), and his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free, fun, and printable-for-folding at Origami Poems Project. He lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan.

 https://www.amazon.com/author/drjamesauthorpage

“Past Death” by Stephen Kingsnorth

2021 Best of the Net Nominee

I did not know her, here laid out,
a careful combing of the hair
not as I’d known it set before –
forehead laid bare, cleared silver strands;
not of my choosing, frame beside.

But father told he wanted this,
a final farewell to his wife,
though he knew, as did I, full-well,
she long had left; this trolley bare,
enforced that spirit flown the room.

By absence seeping beads drawn down –
the knowledge that we paused alone,
skeletal cage deserted now.
And since, the question posed myself –
should I dissuade through queries raised?

Poor memory’s now fixed in place –
this mask should not replace her face;
some say dread visit reinforced
that shock fires mould of empty clay –
unnecessary proof for me.

For him, for his, I dare not say;
the sixty years entitle him
to linger, lose, yet loose again
the bond and knots that tied them close.
And sons accompany past death.




Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had over 180 pieces published by on-line poetry sites, including Sparks of Calliope, printed journals and anthologies.

https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/

“Vera’s Butterflies” by Diane Elayne Dees

For the final day of my career, I dress
in black, save a splash of white in a classic
Vera Neumann scarf. It is a kind of death,
complete with flowers from my final client.
For decades, I listened to stories that broke
my heart, triggered my rage, and made me
wonder how any of us has survived—
stories of cruelty, betrayal, loneliness,
and trauma. The very walls of my office
are sealed with the tears of the abandoned,
the abused, the hopeless, the overwhelmed.
They can never be washed away or painted
over. Grief oozes from the cracks in the door,
where—occasionally—hope creeps in,
reminding me that grief and hope
must blend or there can be no alchemy,
no repair of the torn fabric of our frail lives.
I look down at my scarf, which is covered
with Vera’s abstract butterflies. She sewed
her first scarves from the abandoned
parachutes of war, turning violence into art,
and transmuting hopelessness into beauty.
I am no Vera, but I have done my best.
I close my office door for the last time,
drive home, remove my scarf, and hang it
in my closet, allowing Vera’s butterflies—
elegant, fragile symbols of transformation—
to float freely around my own broken soul.


first appeared in Nine Cloud




Diane Elayne Dees is the author of the chapbook, Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books) and the forthcoming chapbook, I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died. Her latest microchap, Pandemic Times, is available for downloading and folding at the Origami Poems Project website. Diane, who lives in Covington, Louisiana–just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans–also publishes Women Who Serve, a blog that delivers news and commentary on women’s professional tennis throughout the world. Her author blog is Diane Elayne Dees: Poet and Writer-at-Large.

“Father John Borgo, S.J.” by J.B. Mulligan

Religion takes on the flavor of the container
into which it is poured. You held out your life
to all who were thirsty, and the water
of your gentleness was a sweet relief
and a recipe of what to serve to those
in need — and to those who are simply present,
available to give to, so themselves a glass
to bear away that common sacrament.
Your aging students are scattered now
like grain, and if some spit gnarled seeds
compared to yours, each points to his tomorrow
with honesty toward a spirit’s needs.
You shared this, and your deep and innocent joy,
with many a blue-blazered, cocky, uncertain boy.




J.B. Mulligan has published more than 1100 poems and stories in various magazines over the past 45 years, and has had two chapbooks: The Stations of the Cross and THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS, as well as 2 e-books: The City of Now and Then, and A Book of Psalms (a loose translation). He has appeared in more than a dozen anthologies, and was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize anthology. 

“Song of Husks” by Jennifer Voyles

Today our black walnut opened its underside
to the shadowless light at noon. I never watched
it happen until now—the way the fleshy pale leaves,
like hands, flipped themselves over as if longing

for something to calm them, your presence
now that it’s gone. I’ve heard of plants bending
toward a window, desperate for food in the dark,
but this—with wind, each branch, a new rosary of leaves,

betrayed its body by turning. The leaves will settle
soon. I’m still in that day we pulled out maps of Ireland
and plotted tours of Cork—planned, with a picture,
to capture the same time on each side of St. Anne’s clock,

the Four-Faced Liar— the day we said that the land
wasn’t stationary: stolen and sold, broken, plates
crashing, we agreed everything changes with a whisper.
Erosion. We tried to stop it. Our tree, when we planted it,

was only nut—to give it a chance in the ground,
we stomped the green husks till they cracked, then
peeled back the hulls with our fingers. They stained
our hands for days. It’s that cracking, that constant rattle

of shell against the road, that echoes, an endless
refrain. And when the sound is beginning to fade,
I will press my hand against the bark to listen.




Jennifer Voyles lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where she directs the Learning Commons at Laramie County Community College. A graduate of University of Maryland’s MFA program and 2014 Artist-in-Residence at Acadia National Park, she has worked on several literary journals, including Sakura Review and Third Coast. When she is not working, Jennifer climbs mountains and spends time outdoors with her family. www.jennifer-voyles.com

“Frozen Ground” by W. Roger Carlisle

I remember the winter when my mother left.
My dad and I walked bare frozen
ground on the Nebraska farm, no trees,
just a few broken stalks of corn.
“Your mom is gone,” he said
everything will be OK.”

I was nine.
We were visiting my grandparents farm.
I kept asking about my mother,
listening to family whisperings,
receiving no answers,
stunned by how quickly people disappear.

Years later, I learned from my father
the unspeakable truth:
She had been in a mental hospital,
too crazy to be mentioned,
too ill to be seen.

I still live in that frozen moment.
Even now, I never ask for help,
expect no one to listen.

 

 

W Roger Carlisle is a 74-year-old, semi-retired physician. He currently volunteers and works in a free medical clinic for patients living in poverty. He grew up in Oklahoma and was a history major in college. He has been writing poetry for 10 years. He is currently on a journey of returning home to better understand himself through poetry. He hopes he is becoming more humble in the process.

“A Response From A Killer Of Coral” by Victoria Hunter

The thing came green like kale 
I’ve needed to toss out for days–and bought on sale
and removed edges browning 
and bent in with the texture like tips of my dead kinky hair. 

The thing came like ideas have to my mind,
when I have drunk so much
I could have been Charles Bukowski
on a day he spent fighting off
the shadows of beatings he got from his father.

I admit—I did what many of our species
have done to our own, 
and to a heart we’ve helped become what it is today.
I quickly picked a way to get rid of it,
like we do of a harsh tearing sound 
when we need back in dreamland.
What I did was put it in super hot water
and watched it be devoured.

What part of it went in it first never mattered. 
Sometimes, I think I know how it felt 
when it went in, as I remember my friend’s face
as we went into the courtroom for his divorce. 

There was never a moment
I almost decided not to do it;
another killer in the world can say the same.
It could be in this room right now, 
grinning with its mask off, yet nobody sees it.

And why should I regret sending it to its death?
My own skin has done it 
to skin it made become, it’s bathed and fed. 
The sickening threat it put into the atmosphere, to defend itself, 
was no worse than what my own skin has put in my life.




Victoria Hunter is from Pennsylvania and was a Pushcart Nominee for 2020 and was also nominated for Best Of The Net for 2020. She has completed various courses in writing, including poetry classes at IOWA University Online, and at The Poetry Kit Online.  Her work has appeared in Better Than Starbucks, Poetry And Fiction Journal, Sparks of Calliope, Writing In A Woman’s Voice, Online Blog, Black Telephone Magazine, The Writers and Readers Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Conceit Print Magazine, Amulet Magazine, WordFest Anthology, and others. She manages a YouTube Channel dedicated to the craft of poetry.  

“Tabula Rasa” by Leslie Neustadt

I long for the perfect journal—alabaster pages
with an opalescent glaze. Her virginal terrain, an invitation.
Fine lines that keep my wilderness at bay.

I judge her by her cover—a quiet beauty
that doesn’t demand perfection.
Just the right heft—A spine that holds her
together but doesn’t bind too tight.

Each journal is a promise of possibility, a prayer
for illumination. I begin the first page with neat print
cultivated by decades of following dotted lines.
Soon my writing dissembles.

Once I have tattooed her like a slattern,
I abandon her, seduced by the promise
of another unsullied page.




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.

“Miss Marietta” by Stefanie McCleish

Miss Marietta sits on her front porch
smoking a cigarette,
talking to her boyfriends–
the matriarch of White Oak Estates.
As she flicks the ash into her water bottle
a makeshift tray,
Blair zooms by on her scooter
hollering, “Hiiiiiiii Miss Marietta!”
Marietta cocks her head back
releases her mystically hoarse laugh
returning the greeting with an effortless and joyful,
“Hi honey!”
Her perfectly placed curls
barely waiver as she smiles
from her throne.

Miss Marietta appears on her stoop
her foot casted and trapped,
her spirit unchanged–
the epitome of resolve
as she details her plan
to heal from the fall.
Blair chases lighting bugs
on the front lawn
appearing inattentive
but yelling, “Get well soon, Miss Marietta!”
Always sitting on the porch,
always the gracious beneficiary
of a little girl’s warmth.
Blair and Marietta,
each a beacon for the other
illuminating what just a little
tenderness
can do for a person.

Miss Marietta doesn’t emerge
onto the vacant porch.
It’s been a few days.
Even five-year-olds notice
these things.
The rumors are swirling
and we hear enough to know
Miss Marietta isn’t well.
Kindergarten Blair has heard about
filling other people’s buckets.
She knows what to do.
An avalanche of art supplies
dumps onto our well-loved kitchen table.
She is determined to fix it all,
relentless hope inside,
with the crooked letters
she is just learning to make.

It doesn’t matter how little we know
about the beautiful stories
or the wondrous adventures
of Miss Marietta’s life.
A person doesn’t need to be
well-known
to be cherished.
Blair taught me that.

Miss Marittea’s spot on the porch
remains empty, unoccupied.
the silence,
deafening
her absence
palpable.
A visual for a conversation about loss
that will soon need to occur.
The house next door searches
for peace and comfort
juxtaposed with ours,
full of cartoon characters, giggly squeals
and storybook dreams.
Blair’s encounters with death are limited
to angels and pets crossing rainbow bridges.
And I’m thinking about how
I don’t know how to even begin
to parent through this,
but each night
she says a prayer for Miss Marietta,
never wavering in her unending support.
Stating, that if she needs
to go,
she will watch over us all
and always be
our great neighbor,
our friend.

Miss Marietta,
the Matriarch of White Oak Estates.
She watches over us all
from her front porch throne.
A beacon for Blair,
a light in the clouds.
A person doesn’t have to be
well-known
to be cherished.
And I just try to remember
what a little tenderness can do for a person,
because Miss Marietta taught me that.




Stefanie McCleish is a high school English and Multimedia Communications teacher in a suburb of Illinois. Although a voracious reader and lover of the humanities, she is new to the poetry scene. She is excited to grow as a poet and show her students that it is never too late to become a writer. The mother of two inquisitive children who keep her on her toes, she lives in Frankfort, Illinois with her supportive husband and dog Archie.

“Caesarion” by Peter J. King

(after Kavafis)

The eldest son of Cleopatra
stands upon the steps of the Gymnasium
before the Alexandrians,
his rich and royal clothing gleaming
in the midday sun.
Slightly to his rear, his brothers
whisper jokes, but he cannot join in
their muffled laughter.
Even when a soldier faints in the oppressive heat,
Caeasarion stays solemn, not a flicker
of a smile.  A trumpet sounds.

Antony declares that Cleopatra
is the goddess Isis, Queen of Kings,
the Queen of Egypt and of  Cyprus.
Their two young sons are named as Kings
of Syria, Cilicia, of Parthia, Armenia, and Media,
their daughter Cleopatra as the Queen
of Libya and Cyrenaica.

A pause.  A drop of sweat begins to form
above Caesarion’s right eye; he feels it trickle
slowly down his cheek.  The trumpet sounds.

The voice of Antony, his mother’s husband,
now goes up in volume but its pitch is lower.
It declares Caesarion to be the son
and rightful heir of Julius, who’s recently
been made a god in Rome.  And, as the offspring
of a god and goddess, he is therefore
doubly divine, and made the King of Kings,
joint ruler with his mother of the land of Egypt.
The small boy, dressed as Horus, somehow
stands erect and bears the cheering of the crowd,
in which he thinks to hear
an undertow of mockery.

Some four years later, at the age of seventeen,
the last of the unhappy line of Ptolemy,
Caesarion lies dead in Alexandria,
his crime: to be an excess Caesar.




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).

https://wisdomsbottompress.wordpress.com/