Two Poems by Jessica Whipple

Heyday

When do we stop wanting
to go up into things?
When I was ten,
we went inside the St. Louis Arch.
My brother and I rode the tram
like a caterpillar along a stem
that bends under its weight.
At the top we looked out the windows
and felt we had grown wings.

Next summer at the Statue of Liberty
we learned the crown was closed.
He didn’t care. He was older,
bored by the seeming-smallness
of brothers, cities.

Following the interstate
we took decades earlier,
I’m on my way again.
Can the drear of adulthood
really be this obvious:
The gas station where my brother and I
got Big Apple keychains and Bugles or Combos
or some other past-its-heyday snack,
even that is somehow worse-off now,
overtaken by weeds.


Behold the Pawpaw

A secret delight grows native
to our PA home: The pawpaw,
left from another time when
indigenous people foraged, built eel weirs
in Susquehanna symbiosis.

We traveled highways to a pawpaw sale,
stood giddy in a (socially-distanced) line
hustled home snuggling Potomac, Shenandoah
in crinkly brown bags heavy with hope in the promise:
Tropical flavor, banana plus mango, creamy inside.

Because we were bored, lonely
worn out from pandemic living
couldn’t help feeling
these Prehistoric-looking trees
persisted for ages in the understory
destined to bear fruit for us
yellow flesh was ours to discover
floral scent set free to fill these nostrils.

So we read blogs, Food & Wine
hungry for joy, novelty.
Pawpaw ice cream
would redeem lonely summer days.
Pawpaw salsa would salve our restless souls.

At home I sliced one open
revealed an eerie smile of black seeds
—this will be good!—
glistening flesh like overripe melon
—I can’t wait to taste!—
But if I’m honest,
what I discovered
was twenty-seven dollars
of soapy, slimy mush
not at all tropical
And if I’m honest, I was foolish
to think a fruit could save us.




Jessica Whipple is a writer for adults and children. Her poetry has been published by One Art, Nurture, Ekstasis, Rathalla Review, Stanchion, Door Is a Jar, and Pittsburgh Quarterly, with some forthcoming in Pine Hills Review and Anti-Heroin Chic. Her debut picture book, titled ENOUGH IS…, will be published March 7th, 2023, by Tilbury House, and another titled I THINK I THINK A LOT by Free Spirit Publishing is forthcoming in August. To see more of her work, visit AuthorJessicaWhipple.com or follow her on Twitter @JessicaWhippl17.

“Halloween, 2019” by James Croal Jackson

Now that I live on a well-traveled
street, you’d think I’d pass candy on
the designated day. I was at
Shady Grove for the first hour.
The servers were vampires,
I was wearing a poncho.
The lights were off (how I like it)
when I got home, not a soul in sight.
And it was trash night. So I gathered
the usual garbage and recycling,
set it by the door. And when I opened
it a kid vaporized from nowhere
chanting trick or treat! trick or treat!
give me something good to eat!
Staring at me carrying white
marinara-stained bag and a baby
blue bag in the darkness
of the porch and I said,
I don’t have anything,
thank you– I mean, sorry.
In my navy sweatpants
I walked briskly to the curb,
the wind wanting to push me
toward the black gravel of the road
but I swiveled the direction
of home. A gaggle of swan tweens
flew toward me! I covered my face,
put my head down, walked up the blind
trio of stairs far from the rustling
footsteps and laughter and wind
and turned the living room light off,
shawled myself with the couch blanket
and reached for a crinkling half-bag
of factory favorites, a Milky Way
or Kit-Kat somewhere on my rug.




James Croal Jackson is a Filipino-American poet who works in film production. He has three chapbooks: Count Seeds With Me (Ethel Zine & Micro-Press, 2022), Our Past Leaves (Kelsay Books, 2021), and The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights, 2017). He edits The Mantle Poetry from Pittsburgh, PA. Find him at jamescroaljackson.com.

Two Poems by Jodie Baeyens

Perfect

“I don’t want to disappoint you,”
He says as he tries to convince me
He’s not perfect.

As if I think he’s perfect.

With that crooked nose
That causes soft snores

That head that surely
Makes his Mama’s hips still hurt

Though damned if I care
About those things

The wounded puppy heart
So big and so broken
Capable of love
But scared to love anew

And those eyes
Brown in some light
Green in others
A bursting star of both
When the sun hits just right
Are not conducive to
Quick poems about gazing
Into your lover’s soul

I could sit and list his flaws
As easily as I list his graces
With the depth and detail
Only a poet could convey

And find no more
And no less
Beauty in either

No, he’s not perfect
Nothing worth exploring
Ever is


Shirt

The shirt you gave me
When I left
No longer smells like you.
You took it off with a sad smile
And handed it to me to place
In a Ziplock bag
As you did before every trip.
You knew I didn’t
Love you anymore.
You knew that I was never
Coming back.
But it brought comfort
To us both, going
Through that same routine.
At first I pulled it out
On lonely nights and inhaled
The scent of sweat and cigarettes
And a life left behind.
Eventually it got mixed
Into the pile of clothes and
Placed in a drawer.
You called last night
To tell your kids you love them
And sent a picture of your sad smile
When they, too busy to come to the phone,
Told me to tell you they love you too.
Today I found that shirt.
I buried my face in it
And inhaled. But there was
Nothing
Left of you.




Jodie Baeyens is a single mother and poet who teaches to support her writing habit. When she isn’t trying to find the pen she was just holding, she can be found in the forest dancing beneath the full moon. Originally hailing from New York, she now considers herself a citizen of the world because she has never felt that she belonged in any one place. Her poetry was recently featured in Door is a Jar and in Peregrine’s Fall Journal. Her forthcoming chapbook, Conversations We Never Had, was the Winner of the 2022 Vibrant Poet Award. Follow her writing at Mylifeincoffeespoons.com or on Facebook.

Two Poems by Damon Hubbs

Doll Country

In doll country
we are building a miniature
replica of our home,
a nutshell study
of rooms and hallways
forensically scaled
and measured.
There is hot and cold water
and a garage with cars
with running motors.
The locks on the doors
and windows work
with the mimed precision
of a Black Forest cuckoo clock,
its bird call and woodland scene
of hares and deer like the summer diorama
we watch from our backyard patio,
the moon as small as a penknife
in a polymer sky.

In the miniature replica
of our home
in doll country,
tiny felt tiebacks hold open
a repository stage-set with unburials—
like hunger stones revealed
in a drought ravaged river,
they tell us to weep.
Our visitors are entertained
and delighted
by our small sufferings.
And to think
that the parch marks
suggest something more—
a nesting doll
persisting, outliving us
and returning with the dark force
of sleeping giants.

“Doll Country” was first published by Roi Fainéant Press.


High Summer

We’ve jumped for centuries
clocked to the theurgy of stone and water.
Poised on the lip of the quarry’s dark summit
preparing backflips, readying cannonballs—
the spring-fed water bracing to skelp our skin
in its oozing crater.

To dream before the bending of the sky,
between the source and the mouth
is like an hourglass tipped on its side—
a bulbed, two-headed flower
as iridescent as a rainbow worming passage
through the submerged shadows of the quarry-cave.

Looking into the gold, and beyond the gold
and already the moment has passed.
Sun floaters drift like spores
threshed from an ancient combine.
The sky cataracts with thunderheads

and sudden death cap currents prickle
and sting the horizon.
The wind’s hot, buzzing swarm
gathers on our necks
and rankles our distant reflections.

We’ve jumped for centuries
clocked to the theurgy of stone and water.
Preparing backflips, readying cannonballs—
youth unfurls behind us,
and summer’s shadows lengthen
like dragon wings thrashing against extinction.




Damon Hubbs lives in a small town in Massachusetts. He graduated with a BA in World Literature from Bradford College. When not writing, Damon can be found growing microgreens, divining the flight pattern of birds, and ambling the forests and beaches of New England with his wife and two children. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Book of Matches, The Dawntreader, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, The Chamber Magazine, and Young Ravens Literary Review.

Two Poems by Ann Taylor

Taking Care

The white-haired custodian
helps me with hauling my hi-fi
to my second-floor apartment,

a studio, with one door
and a window too high
for jumping.

At the first landing, he gestures
me to the window. Come take a look.
Down there. On a cement slab,

a man in powder-blue sweater lies
face-down, arms spread into wings,
legs buckled backwards.

The cops think he jumped from up there.
I step back. Nothing to be afraid of
. . . only a dead body.

I had just exchanged my unlocked
family house for a dim hallway
of numbered doors, chain-bolt rattles.

And my futon, lobster trap table,
Chianti-basket candle holders,
Night Hawks in the kitchenette

fail to make here a home,
until Sven delivers from his stash
in the basement, four glass blocks

to hold up my door desk.
I thought they’d work.
He switches on my desk lamp.

Knowing he and his wife
dwell just beneath me,
among pressed cottage curtains,

cream cakes, and Hummels,
I brave the cobwebby back staircase
from my car, sleep better.

All summer, he places orange cones
in my space behind the building,
shoos away Red Sox fans. They’ll park

in your living room, if you don’t
lock your door, and without a word,
sweeps bottle glass

from his immaculate front steps,
trashed by my out-of-hand
student party the night before.

Later that night, he taps on my door,
jingles the keys left outside in my lock.
Thought you might need these.


America’s Main Street

On three-hundred-mile car days,
the water in our portable
window AC hotter
than the summer blaze,
my sister and I whining
for a pool – any small oval
dug before a rustic motor court,
screen doors slamming in the wind,
outhouses at the rear.

Our always-new,
pastel-with-white-stripe De Soto,
yearly cruising Route 66 –
its ruler-flat horizons, endless cornfields,
no-stoplight towns, stormy vistas,
Triptik detours, Burma Shaves,
cut-out blondes and jackrabbits,
cowboy mannequins, trading-post
warnings about baby rattlers,
knotty pine everything.
And soaring over it all,
the flying horsepower
of the Mobilgas red Pegasus.

Those rattlers, a dusty array
of plastic baby rattles in a cage,
casting doubt on our genuine arrowheads
carved by the braves themselves
and on our authentic fossils
and gold nuggets.

My mother saving for, planning
those neon-lit, root beer, carhop,
stalagtite-mines, wigwam weeks,
and my father, the only driver,
delivering us intact to all of it,
master of macadam.

Oh, to cruise once more with them
this singular street, they too singular,
to thank them for their ongoing gift –
my roadwise, wide-range awakening.
Pool irrelevant.




Ann Taylor is a Professor of English at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. where she teaches both literature and writing courses. She has written two books on college composition, academic and freelance essays, and a collection of personal essays, Watching Birds: Reflections on the Wing.  Her first poetry book, The River Within, won first prize in the 2011 Cathlamet Poetry competition at Ravenna Press. A chapbook, Bound Each to Each, was published in 2013. Her collection, Héloïse and Abélard: the Exquisite Truth, published in 2018, is based on the twelfth-century story of their lives, and her most recent collection, Sortings, was published by Dos Madres Press, in June 2020.  She is currently at work on a new collection of poems, called Taking Care. 

Two Poems by Tad Tuleja

Stout Heart

“Real men don’t cry,” he heard them say when he
Was six, and the boy, fallen, took it straight
To heart, wanting to please and not to be
Mistaken for a girl. And so his fate
Was sealed. He made a garden in his heart
Where every sadness blossomed into stone.
He shrouded it behind an oak rampart
And when he fell he went to it alone.
Impassively he watered it with tears
Invisible. This pantomime of strength
Became his shield. In vanquishing his fears
He exiled tenderness so that at length
He found himself the sovereign of a land
Where even silent grief was contraband.


Cloudbreak

A lone beam of sunlight, javelin straight,
Breaks from a cloud to irradiate our garden.
The paraphernalia of work are suddenly luminous.
Wheelbarrow, rake, gloves for a moment aglow
While a trowel, eater of soil, flings back a flash,
Blinding me like I’ve been punched by a
Phosphorus fist. Watching the beam emerge
From the riven cloud, I recall Victorian tableaux
Like the finger of God steadying Jacob’s ladder
Or comforting Jesus in Gethsemane as Peter
Denies him. Was it such a beam that made Paul
Stumble or augured a victory for Christ at the
Milvian Bridge? Things that drop from the sky
Suggest origins wondrous. In this garden, though,
I see only tools: wheelbarrow, rake, gloves,
That specular trowel. Things of the brilliant earth,
Pointing only to themselves. But in the sweep
Of the visible, wondrous enough.




Tad Tuleja is a Texas-based folklorist and songwriter with interests in the Hollywood Western, honor cultures, and the mythology of violence. He has edited anthologies on vernacular traditions and military culture and received a Puffin Foundation grant for his song cycle “Skein of Arms.” He has a weekly podcast and performs songs under the musical alias Skip Yarrow.

Two Poems by Miriam Manglani

Beach Days

I spent my childhood summers
listening to the sound of the ocean’s tongues
lap the shore’s sandy face,
the cries of gulls stirring the salty air.

Lying on a soggy towel,
holding a book over my head,
its words lifting me to other worlds.

Eating tuna sandwiches
while feeding the squawking gulls,
fighting like bickering lovers over scraps.

Hearing my parents and their loud friends from Egypt
clustered like a gaggle of Arabic speaking geese
sheltered in a group of umbrellas,
playing backgammon,
littering the sand with their peach pits
and pumpkin seed shells.

Floating on my back in the ocean
as I stared into a kite-speckled sky
teaming with white cotton candy.

Taking a shower and uncovering
a mini shore in my swim suit
of sand, rocks, and seaweed.

Going to bed and feeling the cozy warmth
of the day’s sun radiate from my reddened skin,
warming me in the cool night,
my mattress a big raft
floating in a sea of dreams, moonlight, and chirping crickets.


Homeless Village

And there it was.
Tucked under an edge
of the Charles River Bridge,
lit by the early morning light
reflected off the still river—
a homeless village.

With their colorful tents,
piles of empty tin cans
in rusting supermarket carts
waiting to be redeemed
for a few life-saving dollars,
salvaged mattresses
with their fluff spilling out
and poky springs,
empty, cracked vodka bottles,
and rusting propane tanks
for cooking whatever-scraps of food.

I stare at men emerging from tents,
as if they were beings from another world,
their waking arms yawning in the morning sun.




Miriam Manglani lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and three children. She works full-time as a Sr. Technical Training Manager. Her poems have been published in various magazines and journals including Poetry Quarterly, Rushing Thru the Dark, Vita Brevis, Cerasus MagazineSparks of Calliope, and Canyon Voices. Most recently, her poetry chapbook, Ordinary Wonders, was published by Prolific Press.

Two Poems by Felicia Nimue Ackerman

Light

My sweet-sixteen dress was yellow as the daffodils
In the seamstress’s cramped but spotless living room,
Yellow as the sweet lemon bars she made each Christmas
For the neighborhood children.
Mrs. Mueller lived at the end of our block
In a little stone cottage near a field of flowers,
Like a grandmother in a fairy tale.
She was old and poor and crippled
But always tidy, always smiling,
Even as the marshals took her away
After it came to light that, once upon a time,
She was a guard at Auschwitz.

“Light” first appeared in Free Inquiry


Irene and Beth

Irene has shining golden hair,
And fame and glory without end,
And greater wealth than even she
Could ever find a way to spend.
 
But Beth cannot afford to buy
What goes beyond her basic needs.
She must make do with what she has
And squeeze each penny till it bleeds.
 
Which woman hates her empty days?
Whose sadness makes her hard and mean?
Who yearns and yearns to change her life?
I’m sorry, but . . . it’s not Irene.

“Irene and Beth” first appeared in The Providence Journal




Felicia Nimue Ackerman is a professor of philosophy at Brown University and has had over 220 poems published in a wide range of places, including eight in past issues of Sparks of Calliope.

Two Poems by John Tustin

Her Shoulder

And what about her shoulder?
How it looked as a soft mound, covered in a blanket,
Her sighing and asleep with her back to you
In the wan still glow of the moonlit dark.
Your shiver of excitement
When she turned over in her sleep
To face you, a look of consternation on her eyelids,
What was almost a secretive smile
Flirting at both corners of her mouth.

And what about her shoulder?
Once she turned over it shook loose
And stared at you, bare.
You looked at the gooseflesh that rose on it
And you put the blanket over it again,
Where it belonged
As she began to snore, right there beside you,
Where she belonged.


Pictures with Words

I am painting pictures with words.
I do it on most nights.
There need not be structure and the image combinations
Are limitless
So why will I write another poem
Where you will see a lone man feeling barely alive,
Prostrate on his bed and hiding from the sun?
I can paint anything:
I can paint birds in the sky,
Worms dancing tribal dances underneath the grass
But I don’t and I won’t.
Why is this?

Today a hawk flew ten feet from my face
And landed in a tree, so high up
He was difficult to see.
He didn’t look at me once.
It was a beautiful moment
But I had no desire to tell you about it –
I’m only telling you now to make my point.
I could paint a little rabbit in the bushes below
And I could write about the triumph of the hawk
Or the escape of the rabbit
And make you happy with either conclusion
But that’s not what I paint.

I won’t paint the light but I will paint the heat.
I won’t paint the growth but I will paint the dark.
I hear a noise and I know the noise must be me.
Even when I try to write a lovely day
It becomes the solemn pounding of a dirge.
The moon comes out of hiding
And I look up at it and it’s pockmarked and ugly.
I want to tell you it’s lovely but I can’t
And it’s not because I won’t lie to you,
No – it’s only because I can’t. I lie to you all the time.
I look in the mirror and I see my narrow hips,
A big gut that sluices over the sides like water
Shaking out of a bucket
And I’ll have to go to funeral after funeral
Until I get to the last one I’ll ever attend.




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 Walking Wounded” by Nolo Segundo

I see us everywhere anymore,
at the supermarket or the mall,
moving slowly, often cane-less
(old folks can be vain too) along
a sidewalk like lost zombies, and
of course every time I visit one
of the plethora of doctors I rely
upon to keep my rusting body
and creaking heart working….

Why did I not see old people
when I was young?
They must have been there,
in my world of swiftness and
sex, of sprawling on a beach or
dancing under the boardwalk
or driving fast enough to
challenge death itself—but
when I saw old people—and it
seemed rare back then—it was
like watching a scene from an
old black-and-white movie,
not quite real, even quaint—
I liked old people and I loved
my Nana and Pop-pop, but only
now in my 8th decade do I know
how much they had to put up with
in living a long life, how time has
a tendency to whittle away your
strength and confidence and grace,
shrinking your bones, drying out
your joints, slowing your brain
and poking holes–oh, so many
holes in your memory….

I am not as fond of old people
now I am one—it is the young
I now see fondly—
but they can’t see me….




Nolo Segundo, pen name of retired teacher L. J. Carber, 74, became a published poet in his 8th decade with work in over 70 online / in print literary magazines in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Portugal, Romania, and India. In 2020, a trade publisher released a book-length collection titled The Enormity Of Existence and, in 2021, a second book titled Of Ether And Earth. A 2022 nominee for the Pushcart Prize, Segundo is currently working on a yet-to-be-titled third collection of poetry.