Two Poems by Johnny Payne

Birds of Fire

We swam Lake Titicaca. Our skin burned.
The water’s icy waves slapped at my face
as we gasped, laughing at how quick we’d turned
the inhospitable into a place

of sudden joy, where pintails sleeked their wings.
Terns and grebes dived, heedless of the cold,
plumed bodies fired by purpose, thoughtful things
resistant unlike us, who were just bold.

Bronchitis left us shivering in a bed
of casual friends whose pity kept us on
yet rued our cocky, foolish youth that led
us to mistake danger for holy fun.

Yet in those seconds while our bodies burned
Our purpose was no different from the tern’s.

Let it Bleed

My family believes a puzzle piece
is missing, that it’s me and if they snap
it in, the family will have peace.
The picture will be whole. They’ll close a gap.

But as I stand outside, I see no space
to fit me in. The edges have gone smooth
where there were lines, effaced into a place
I visit, but its presence doesn’t soothe

the sense of absence, or the phantom limb
they scratch when vanished live flesh tingles
while they touch, and say “This leg was him
whose sudden loss now stings our fingertips.”

That puzzle is one that still puzzles me.
And looking on, I learn that I’m not free.

Johnny Payne is Director of the MFA in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles.  He has published two books of poetry: Vassal (Mouthfeel Press, 2014) and Heaven of Ashes (Mouthfeel Press, 2017).

“Chance Find After Rain” by Ceinwen Haydon

I kick sodden clods
of claggy soil.
Unexpected winds
bewarm my neck
to skin-salt ripeness.
My eyes
squint downwards
to the earth.
Hiding in my shadow
a triangled
fragment of pottery. Phow!
A tiny piece: blue, black
and once white lines.
Angled stripes. It lies
in clover leaves
covered with raindrops
refracting pewter
light in the sun-slipped
afternoon time-gifting
twilit eternity.
               Your hand
taps my shoulder,
your ears listen well.
You see my unclenched
hand, my chipped find,
my amulet
                and do not laugh.
                My love, you line-dry
                my world to scented
                sweetness, and how it glistens.
                                              La! La! La!

Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon (MA, Creative Writing, Newcastle University, 2017) lives near Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She is widely published in online magazines and in print anthologies. Her first chapbook was published in July 2019: Cerddi Bach [Little Poems], Hedgehog Press. She is a Pushcart Prize (2019 & 2020) and Forward Prize (2019) nominee. She is developing practice as a participatory arts facilitator and believes everyone’s voice counts, even when their stories are hard to hear.

“Exurbanite Lament” by J. B. Mulligan

I miss the clouds of the city sky at night
holding the reflection on city light like rain,
a soft grey awning of delicate silk.

I still have the day: the incoherent orchestra
of traffic playing the Ode to Hurry Hurry;
the obelisk buildings stretching block after block,
monuments to commerce – or mounds of drunken termites;
the stores announcing sales like the Apocalypse;
the quiet neighborhoods, dogs trotting
from tree to hydrant to streetlight, and children
walking in clusters home from school
laughing loudly, as if life were a bar or a party.

A city like a river raging with fish.

I still have the raw red sky over Jersey
at the end of the day, the rites of the corporate tribe
locked away in drawers until tomorrow.

But the night, the neon campfire’s celebration,
the giant amusement park ride of movies,
dance clubs, sports bars, restaurants,
the slack faces of strangers walking slowly home,
lovers frowning or laughing, walking hand in hand,
the geese-gaggle jabbering of nomads gathering fun.

I miss the voyage on the anonymous sea of night,
the boats of so many nations nearby,
the great clans gathering at harvest time,
the loud living trumpet of the human race
blowing its song of joy and desolation
under a pale grey heaven pregnant with rain.
The eternal candle of New York, of home.

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 two ebooks: 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.

“The Beautiful No” by Bruce McRae

2022 Best of the Net Nominee

You begin drifting off,
soothed by sleep’s sirens.
By the cradle
rocking in your mind.
A tuneless lullaby
pouring out of the woodwork.

Your eyes are weighed
down with building rubble.
A curtain is falling
in your world-weary dreams.
Your eyelids are guttering candles.

Someone once said
sleep is like climbing
under a barbwire fence.
That sleep is an island,
the undressed rehearsal
for a larger death.
Someone once went to bed
and never returned.

You continue nodding,
the executioner’s basket
crying out for your head,
his pillow welcoming
the explorer home
from the farthest bournes
of light’s bright empire.

Now, pigeons cooing.
Somewhere, dunes whispering
Old sleepyhead.
Everything’s closing,
night’s blizzard moving in,
the snowdrifts shifting,
the wind hissing up more wind,
its kisses numberless.

At the last hurdle
a dream stumbles,
its message unclear –
what is it saying
that only the heart can hear?

Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician, is a multiple Pushcart nominee with poems published in hundreds of magazines such as Poetry, Rattle, and the North American Review. His books are: The So-Called Sonnets (Silenced Press), An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy (Cawing Crow Press), Like As If (Pski’s Porch), and Hearsay (The Poet’s Haven).

Two Poems by Elaine Sorrentino

A Moment of Silence for the Salad Bar

Curtains to the possibility
of sesame cabbage salad
and tapioca pudding
forging a friendship
in the same takeout container,

Adios to sidling up to the bar,
elbowing my w​ay 
to the last pickled beet
among the vinegary cornucopia;

the heavy-weight champion
of abundant choices
as appealing as hitching a ride,
putting Noxema on a sunburn,
or helmet-free biking,

even the sexy plexi
has repurposed itself since 2020,
now guarding teenage cashiers,
instead of red bell peppers,
from sneezers and viruses.

I miss sneaky side glances,
pretending I’m not eyeing
the tempting veggie-protein combo
composed by the stranger beside me
with a thrill-seeking palate;

Goodbye to eight different lettuces,
the thrill of topping tuna salad
with pickles and sunflower seeds,
and daring to pluck tomatoes
and red onion with the same tongs.


My hands, my hands
my blessing hands
caressing hands
finessing hands,
my hands, made for undressing hands;
gentle, unafraid.

My hands, my hands
my kneading hands
my pleading hands
my feeding hands,
my hands, my interceding hands;
passionate and sure.

My hands, my hands
my guiding hands
deciding hands
delighting hands,
my fashioned-for-providing hands;
grateful for their breadth.

My hands, my hands,
my shielding hands
my healing hands
unyielding hands
they never will be wielding hands;
they have drawn the line.

Elaine Sorrentino, Communications Director at South Shore Conservatory in Hingham, MA, has been published in Minerva RisingWillawaw Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Ekphrastic Review, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Global Poemic, ONE ART: a journal of poetry, The Door is a Jar, Agape ReviewHaiku Universe, The Writers Magazine, and

“Mask & Name” by Sado Marinovic

2022 Best of the Net Nominee

Every mask I’ve ever owned was
Put away with your first cry, 27
Hours and 7 minutes long
Going insane, Mama doubled
Over in pain, fearstruck face
Measuring the loss & gain, we
Laughed like hell when the epidural

Kicked in, nurses thought us crazy
We thought them angels come to save
Us in our helplessness, deliver
You wrinkled, bloodfull, brand new, your

Cry rippled my body and I
Cried too, reeled against the wall
Midwife misunderstood, to calm
Me said It’s not a cry just a
Child’s hello call. It was a joyrage
Weep unmasking a strawman,
Nameless until the day you cheep
DaDa, still quite a few sleepless
Ways away, come here they called

MaMa held you breastbright, I
Gingerstepped to bedside, said hello
And then, to still the crying, said
NoNo and you stopped, silence swelled
To a godchant, pulsed to our
Trident heartpound and with catseye
Glaze cast more or less my way , reached
Toward the voice you’d heard for nine
months long.

Somewhere between the way
You and your mother look at me
Is where I’ll always belong.

Sado Marinovic is a writer of poetry and short stories. His style and themes are heavily influenced by his immigrant background. Along with literature, Sado has fueled his passion with work in film and music. He lives in Chicago with his wife and son.

Two Poems by Sherwin Altarez Mapanoo


the most fragile of all human inventions
easily broken
so delicate
you can shatter it
in an instant
into small intricate pieces

sometimes empty
written in water
or worth keeping
with brevity
but without guarantee
time and time again

the trickiest of all speech-acts
trust: an idealism
ambivalence: an option
treachery: a possibility
the future is at stake
savor each word
with a grain of salt


all that was left were cigarette butts
the rest turned into ashes

moments ago
you were relishing
inhaling and puffing toxins
ember was apricot-red
which gradually turned lighter
lost colors
and became lifeless
leaving residues
in your flesh and bones

eerily familiar vignettes:
you were empty
in a jam-packed room
full of strangers
same old pollution
you were fixed
but all over the place
trying to hold your breath
no burning desire
casting doubts about
the dichotomy
between smoke and fire

all that was left were cigarette butts
the rest turned into ashes

Sherwin Altarez Mapanoo is a multidisciplinary writer, researcher, and nomadic visual ethnographer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Art Studies (Interdisciplinary) from the University of the Philippines and a double post-graduate degree (with distinction) in International Performance Research and Theory of Art and Media, Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, and the University of Arts, Belgrade, Serbia, respectively under the Erasmus Mundus program. After years of being nomadic, he is now settled in the Philippines and has recently renewed his penchant for weaving words together.

Two Poems by P. H. Crosby


All suddenly black and white and remembered,
the dark crack of the creek through crazed snow,
snaggled branches above, red barberry below.

I stomp and pause. A hawk pings its prey
in the sky’s stratus comforter,
lined with blue and gray.

Juncos rattle bare twigs behind me,
a titmouse cocks its clever, tufted head.
Ravens knock and croak at meadow’s edge.

It’s been here all along, not even hiding.
Chafing and bursting, abrupt and bold,
winging or creeping or leaping in the cold.

“Only the inmate did not correspond….”

Bars pried open, I find myself here.
Left behind for now at least,
all sluggishness and fear.


I am no good at giving up things I love.
That is to say, giving with love, giving love.
Loving. Love. I’ve said it so many times now,
the word’s become funny, like when we were kids.
(Duck, we’d say. Think about it. Duck, duck,
duck, duck, duck! Then collapse, shrieking.)
How strangely the word unfolds and envelops
the mouth, starts with a note and descends with a hum
and a fricative. How strange its range, generosity
to despair. That a poem begun to self-chastise
ends with this. A paean to the word itself,
not its meaning alone, but its rarity, commonality,
flow and knot. The way it sticks in the throat
too often, or bubbles out too hot.

P. H. Crosby is a writer of poetry, fiction, and drama, published in Changing Men, The Other Side, War, Literature and the Arts, and other venues. Four poems recently appeared in “In this Together: A Virtual Exhibition on the Intersection of Planetary and Human Health” and a short play, “A Change in Climate” was produced in 2020 by The Lava Center. P. H. Crosby lives and works in western Massachusetts.

Two Poems by Barbara Lydecker Crane

On North Haven Island

Portrait of Elizabeth, 1901, by Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951); Maine

Here at our summer home the day is fine.
The salty air’s awash in light that she
reflects as she reflects on turning nine.
My daughter stands in sweet gentility,
her linen blouse with collar starched and bright,
in white to match the shining bow that ties
her honey hair. She makes a charming sight,
though shadow falls across her face. She sighs
and drops a pensive gaze on down our hill
to somewhere out beyond the lapping shore.
Do nascent hopes and aspirations fill
her head? Or are there fears she can’t ignore?
As she grows up this century, I pray
the world will be as peaceful as this day.

Little Bird

Francis O. Watts with Bird, 1805, by John Brewster, Jr. (1766-1854); Maine

Francis Watts’s parents were distraught.
From scarlet fever, both their daughters perished.
A portrait of their son, age three, was sought
from me, a neighbor, who knew how they cherished
their remaining sprout. In slippered feet
and lacy gown, the healthy lad stood still
for me to paint him. Later I’d complete
the eerie trees, the twilit empty hills,
the bird he’s holding tied up on a string.
That string’s a symbol of mortality:
when he who grips it dies, the bird takes wing,
slips its tether–as mortal souls fly free.
Francis does not know the string is frail;
for now, he keeps his trilling nightingale.

.Barbara Lydecker Crane, a Rattle Poetry Prize finalist in 2017 and 2019, has two Pushcart nominations and several sonnet contest awards. She has published three chapbooks: Zero Gravitas, Alphabetricks, and BackWords Logic. Her poems have appeared in Able Muse, Ekphrastic Review, First Things, Light, Measure, Think, Writer’s Almanac, and many others. She lives near Boston and is also an artist.

Two Poems by Kathryn Leonard-Peck


Monochrome meridians
an atlas of gray
once there were dragons
promising more at the edge
green scales gleaming
in the fire and flame
gold coins jingling
to the beat of leathery wings.

Now there is nothing
I have lost my way
manless, mapless
unloved by all
just a small frail figure
shuffling slow off the stoop
my bleached map leads to nowhere
except to bones
unmarked graves.

Cold Purifying Water

Changing state from ice to pool
cold purifying water
otters kick free from grass lined dens
sleek dervishes of the ineffable cool.

Beavers slap tails as icicles drip
buds unfurling from a half-starved branch
stubby turtles claw from thawing beds
black roses free from winter’s grip.

The stream rushes in and so I know
revenants awake
snappish, hungry, quick to lunge
vultures at the death of snow.

Kathryn Leonard-Peck writes poetry, plays, and short stories, and is completing her first novel. She also paints. She graduated from Dartmouth College and Columbia Law School and is an attorney. She currently lives on a farm on Martha’s Vineyard with her family. Her poetry, short stories, and art have been published in literary journals, including Drizzle Review; Another Chicago Magazine; THEMA; Blink Ink; IHRAF Publishes (the International Human Rights Art Festival); Auroras & Blossoms/F Point Collective; South Road; and The Stonefence Review. She was the second-place winner for the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing (MVICW) Vineyard Writers Fellowship.