“Calm Before the Storm” by Joanna Grant

The Gulf is calm tonight. The ships
ride at anchor, from the wooden dhows
to the grey troop ships, all under their
home countries’ flags. At peace.

For now. When the wind turns
here in the Middle East as we
all feel it will from the salt tang
in the stiffening breeze—

then, well. The storm. We get them
even here in this tiny country of date palms
and sun where mostly one quiet day

goes down to day. We wear our masks,
that fight is over, now, even the mutinous
obeying the order in the end, reporting to
the base clinic doors at their mandated times.

Here. There. Wherever we might call home.
A pause. Under the awning shading the
main courtyard, a loosening. Unwinding.
The smokers smoke, the drinkers drink.
We greet each other. Relief. The young ones
flit from bench to bench, their flirts striking
sparks in the quickening breeze. Relief.

Until the next great swell, the booms and cracks
of the inevitable lightning, when the sea turns,
as we all know it will, even now the twinkling
of moonlight on the pretty wavelets barely masking
the rip, the rend of the many unquiet currents.




Joanna Grant holds a Ph.D. in British and American literature, specializing in fictional as well as nonfiction travel narratives of the Middle East. She spent eight years in that region, notably two years in Afghanistan, teaching writing, mythology, and public speaking classes to American soldiers and gathering materials for her own memoir, which she is currently completing as part of an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Southern New Hampshire University under the direction of Mark Sundeen. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in journals including Guernica and Prairie Schooner.

Two Poems by Stephen Jordan

Coltan

Past the fray of foreign weapons in local hands, the scramble
of brother against brother, scream of gunfire and low
concussions underfoot, children unlocked their necks and
pulled swollen eyes away from the river, silt and
threads of heavy metals curling around black thighs.
Past the treetops, floating over their corrugated world,
mud and lean-tos and an angry heat, they strained further,
wondering about the world of smooth pavement
window treatments and airplane fuel, like toy towns
built from buckets with endless pieces, a car ad
on a crumbled page trampled in the dirt, the unreal blue
on the backpack of a more adventurous traveler;
place of myths and shimmers that carry their fingerprints
through its grid—

                                                                      a shower of pixels
raining down and filling up our streets, spilling from our eyes,
each tear holding a scene like a snow globe, images rendered
from analog waves ion streams and phosphenes quick to
adulterate families of axons and dendrites and lobe chemicals
back out to satellite dishes, raw elements of a new creation
a growing beast that lurches with mercury-tipped fangs,
swirling and drunk and in the way of the sun, oil slicks
and plastic spittle and neurotoxins on its breath, picking up
the train concussing it downhill flung into the aisle
grabbing at seats and passengers upended headlong
thrown back skull fractured window spider web cracked
pinning a shoulder anywhere just to glance outside.


The North Cascades

Perimeters dissolved like a spider web in my hand.

And now with the hotel walls in slow collapse,
borders beget borders, lines clearly drawn,
I think of just a few days past,
back to the backcountry, to the North Cascades,
back when I was continuous,

The wood chips and duff that floated in the campfire coffee,
We drank them down.

The field mice that ran across my sleeping bag,
ran across my forehead,
the summer stars wanted in.

The dirt that drew the maps of my hands,
fingerprints ready
the earth that rambled around me,
that settled in as newborn skin.

Our thirst went straight to the river,
a river wound down from the mountain
to the deepest cirques,
over sandstone, mudstone,
the surface blinking to the sun.

The outskirts of my body were dubious, margins porous.
My self as self was doubtful.




Stephen Jordan was born and raised in the Midwest, the son of Colombian and Serbian immigrant parents.  He has taught high school English for over twenty years, taking occasional leaves of absence to live and work in South America, East Africa, and the UK. Steve has been published in Lalitamba, Third Wednesday, Lyrical Somerville, Common Chord Anthology, English Journal, and Gamut Magazine.

“Break the Clasp” by John Tustin

She keeps the banjo Jay bought her
Right beside her bed.

Alex painted her portrait
And it sits on the bedroom wall,
In view of her sleeping body
Night after night after night.

My 500 poems written about her are in a drawer,
Underneath some blankets and a book beneath her bed.
My photo is turned down, wrapped in a shirt in another drawer.
She used to keep it at work, so I was told.

She is going to start practicing the banjo again.
It’s important to her.

The painting by Alex,
Her daughter remarked how much she liked it.
She has no idea who painted it and wouldn’t know his name,
Anyway.

She tells me she will always love me.
She doesn’t love Jay anymore,
Hasn’t for a decade.
She never loved Alex, not even a little.

In another world
All the poems I wrote for her paper her walls.
Before bed she chooses a different one each night to read.
In another world.

In this world
I will always be relegated to the closet,
To be brought out
When the parents or the children are asleep.

She keeps me in a locket.
A locket that she never wears.
I lie in between her spare bedding
And some forgotten boots,
Pushing outward;

Trying to break the clasp.




John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals in the last twelve years. His website contains links to his published poetry online.

“The Keepsake” by Kelly Sargent

You kept a rusty Bugs Bunny tin of marbles in our bedroom
on the shelf you thought I couldn’t reach
because you dreamt they might be worth something

Someday.

I found one under your bed this morning
when I was clearing out Mom’s house
and your side of the room exactly as you had left it.

An abandoned, cerulean-blue
glassy cat’s eye stared at me
lifelessly

from the dark corner of the rectangular outline —
darker than the rest of the Brazilian cherry wood floor —
that the sun had never touched.

I reached for it.

Cool — almost chilled — it was, by the absence of life-giving rays.
Smooth, in its betraying lack of indentations.
It was weightier than I had expected.

My fingertips caressed it, gently at first;
then with increasing pressure, earnestly hoping to infuse it with life.
I wanted it to see me
and be happy to be found.

But it didn’t know that it had been lost
and could not find joy in the moment.

Like you.
With the cerulean, glassy stare you gave me when I found you
in your bed
when you were 16.
You didn’t know that one to match lay on the wooden floor beneath you.

I recalled the time that I spilled your collection
and how the clatter roused you from a lazy Sunday nap.
I froze in place and shivered, anticipating your ire.

You considered me with cerulean compassion,
a golden lock matted against your forehead.
And you laughed silver strands of grace at me.

I never knew the last time I laughed with you
would be the last time I laughed with you,
until it was.

I nestled the marble in my palm
and put it in my pocket.

It was worth something.


“The Keepsake” first appeared in The Purpled Nail




Kelly Sargent was born hard of hearing. Adopted in Luxembourg, she grew up with a deaf twin sister in Europe and the United States. Her most recent 2021 poems and artwork, including a current Best of the Net nominee, appeared, or are forthcoming, in nearly two dozen publications in the U.S. and abroad. She has also written for a national newspaper for the Deaf. Currently, she volunteers as a reviewer for an organization dedicated to making visible the artistic expression of sexual violence survivors.

“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

2022 Pushcart Prize Nominee

2022 Best of the Net Nominee

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).