“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.


“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.

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

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.

“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. 

“Paint” by Jessica Renee Dawson

He baptizes His brush
within warm cadmium yellow
a touch of alizarin crimson
painting a sunset across my sky
my skin
as timber, bare of bark
all who walk by the waters
touch my silhouette
He plunges into phthalo blue
ultramarine, and a spot of white
the colour of my eyes
clouds, moving across a vast expanse
the autumn fields
sway with yellow ochre
His bristles
touch each head of grain
and clothe my crown
with fields of golden wheat
shading with burnt umber
though my hands are Naples yellow
my wood knotted, leaves fallen
he touches my sullen lips with red earth
parched branches,
an extension of my beauty
for those who walk by
to see what would have been breathed,
beheld, lived
had my bark not shed
my leaves not fallen

first appeared in Poetry Quarterly

Jessica Renee Dawson, lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She has taken creative writing through North Island College, and has studied under notable poets, Lynne Knight, and Jan Zwicky. Dawson’s works have appeared in journals including: Poetry Quarterly, INK IN THIRDS, The Tulane Review, Wild Plum, and NonBinary Review.

“Annie” by Robert Nisbet

It seemed in winter that farm girl Annie
was lying fallow. In school she was a quiet
nobody-much, content enough maybe,
but in spring and summer, woof.

“Annie’s in bloom again”, we’d think,
and she’d be barnstorming. She’d flirt,
she’d backchat, sing and yodel in the gym,
whistle in the physics lab. We laughed,
she laughed, and when Annie laughed,
it was a thing of gales and stitches.

Later, I went out with Annie, one November.
She was a gentle girl, good company.
Chastely, we kissed. G’night. G’night.

But Hicksy once, in August, went with Annie
on a day trip to Tenby. Came back teetering.
She’d nearly had his trousers off him on the bus,
he told me. (But just allow a little there
for Hicksy’s storytelling instincts).

But then when I’d meet her, in later years,
in the agricultural shows and markets,
winter and summer, our Annie seemed
to have somehow evened out. She’d be
selling country produce, honey, jams,
her selling line a pretty effervescence,
pattering, chattering, shooting the breeze.

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.

“Speculation of the Partially-Frozen” by Shannon Cuthbert

Skate over the lake at the strike of midnight
It leads to my doorstep
My many-windowed house
Snowbound and pale as a winter rose
Through the glass I watch you like a fish
Unpeel yourself layer by layer 
Until you make of yourself only a figment
By this fire, this stone
This heated wall between us
You are thawing jaw by brow
Tooth to tail without your fur coat 
A sloppy mess on my swept floor
A wolf without the clothes 
To hide yourself, a story of arrogance
Affliction and resolution
Inscribed here in the moon’s own hand

Shannon Cuthbert is a writer and artist living in Brooklyn. Her poems have been nominated for three Pushcarts, and have appeared in several publications, including: Plum Tree Tavern, Bangor Literary Review, and The Oddville Press. Her work is forthcoming in The Metaworker, Big Windows Review, and EcoTheo Review, among other literary venues.

“The Coincidence in Numbers” by L. B. Sedlacek

The digital

coincidence or

by the

wind, the
on days

are the

a baby’s


keep on

up, the

seeking the


L. B. Sedlacek has had poetry and fiction appear in different journals and zines.  Her first short story collection came out on Leap Day 2020 entitled Four Thieves of Vinegar published by Alien Buddha Press.  Her latest poetry books are The Poet Next Door (Cyberwit), The Adventures of Stick People on Cars (Alien Buddha Press), The Architect of French Fries (Presa Press), and Words and Bones (Finishing Line Press).  She is a former Poetry Editor for ESC! Magazine and co-hosted the podcast Coffee House to Go. L. B. also enjoys swimming, reading, and playing ukulele.