Category Archives: Issue 1.2 Fall 2012

Issue 1.2 Fall 2012 Second Issue

Terry Persun

Terry Persun is a full-time writer, and has published two poetry collections, six poetry chapbooks, and six novels through small, independent presses. His latest novel, Cathedral of Dreams is a finalist for the ForeWord magazine Book of the Year Award, and his literary novel, Sweet Song won a Silver IPPY Award. Terry’s poems and short stories have been published in numerous independent and university journals, including Wisconsin Review, Yarrow, Riverrun, NEBO, Oyez Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Owen Wister Review, Kansas Quarterly, Rag Mag, Poet Lore, Whiskey Island, Colorado-North Review, Widener Review, Context South and many others. Website: http://www.TerryPersun.com

 

Hard Driver

It was about three o’clock in the morning and I was driving like a son-of-a-bitch, heading home after a long business trip. Luckily, there were few cars on the road, including cops. When I did pass someone, their car flew by in a blur and their headlights receded so quickly into the distance that I swear the light hardly reflected into my rear-view mirror.

There was no sign of a moon. No stars. Pitch black sky. Had I pulled over, shut off the car, and stepped outside, I’d be hard pressed to see my own hand. But I wasn’t stopping for anything so silly as to prove that it was dark.

My wife, had she been along, would have bitched at me to slow down. “Watch your driving.” “What do you think you’re doing?” “Why do you have to live so recklessly?” I’d heard it all often enough to recall her voice as though she were sitting right next to me at that very second. Luckily, all those sentences stretched miles ahead of me. I didn’t feel the least bit angry, just relieved she wasn’t with me. The way I saw it, if she expected me to stop living life with gusto, if she wanted me to ‘slow down’ (her words), to ‘settle down’ (my words), then maybe she had the wrong man. She wasn’t to blame though; it had taken me several years to realize that I couldn’t comply. She always said that someday I’d get mine, and she was right in a way. That night I headed for an unexpected wake-up call.

PA 80 West lay flat as the Midwest in spots. I saw this car coming on fast in front of me. It was a big car, an old Lincoln with a V-8, but I was climbing up on its tail. Regardless what my wife believed, I wasn’t stupid. I pulled over in the other lane so I didn’t scare whoever drove that Lincoln. I imagined an old couple heading somewhere to visit grandchildren. That was until the driver saw me coming and bolted.

The car sped forward quickly, even though I was hauling ass. I slid up on them and eased off the gas in slow motion. In the moment or two we were side-by-side, a little more than a split second, I glanced over and there were four young black men in the car. The inside light was on and it looked as though three of them were arguing with the driver. Telling him to slow down, by the look of their motions.

Between one moment and the next, I swear all four of them stopped talking and looked right at me. All at once. Eight eyes. And they didn’t look happy.

My heart sunk, but my car didn’t hesitate. I was gone. Their headlights were getting smaller in my rearview mirror, but not as quickly as most other cars I’d passed that night.

Then something terrible happened. The headlights began to get bigger. “Shit,” I said.

I slammed the pedal down farther and my Toyota eased faster. My heart raced. As I said, I’m not stupid. I was going about 110. That was my limit. Fast, yes, but maybe I wasn’t as reckless as my wife thought. In fact, I wasn’t reckless at all.

But I was scared.

Those four men paced me, maybe a quarter or half mile back. I’d lose sight of them while pushing into a bend then there they would be again. This went on for a while until I decided to lose them.

I floored it. The slow bend in the road might as well have been the thirty-degree bank in a racetrack. My tires squealed. My steering wheel felt light in my grip. I slowed enough to feel comfortable. The tires tightened on the road. Then I saw it. An exit sign. GAS AND COFFEE. They’d pass by – I couldn’t see them in my rearview – and I could slow down and take it easy for a while.

I slammed the old Toyota onto the exit ramp and pressed hard against the brake to slow down before I hit the turn. One-ten to thirty in, hell, 100 yards. I breathed every bit of air out of my lungs through my mouth.

At the stop sign, I pulled to the right into the parking lot. I just sat there for a moment, and then went into the station. My legs fought against the stillness of the ground like a sailor’s legs after a long voyage.

The excitement must have pushed all the liquid in my body into my bladder. After I emptied that, I got a tall coffee, paid the cashier, and headed out to the car. The whole trip couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes.

And there it was.

The Lincoln had slipped into the parking space next to mine. There were at least forty spots in the lot with only two others occupied.

I swallowed hard. I pulled the lid from my coffee cup. It was the only weapon I had. I’m sorry about the stereotype, but all I could think was that I couldn’t take four black guys. The night got even darker as my eyes narrowed into slits. My breathing got thick. My stomach tightened into a knot.

The driver got out of the car. High-school football, maybe college. This guy stood six-six and must have weighed 250 pounds. I was dead meat in his hands. But I’d hold my own if I had to. Waiting for his buddies to come around the car, he looked right at me and said, “Hey, man.”

I lowered my eyes and sipped my coffee. The only thing I could think to do. “You,” he pointed as I approached. I thought of going back inside, but what would I do, stay there all night? Besides, I’d never be able to look myself in the mirror again if I chickened out.

“Yeah,” I said trying to sound calm. Friendly.

The other three guys came around and stood with the driver. He was the obvious leader in this little gang.

“Maaaannnn,” he said, drawing the word out longer than my breath could follow. “You are one fuckin’ hard driver.”

The other four nodded. Two mumbled, “Yeah, man.” They walked past me. And that was it. I felt like an ass, and promised myself I’d never act like that again. Still, they were right about one thing. I was – and still am – a fucking hard driver. Maybe not as hard as I originally thought, but hard.

I got home about 6:00 a.m. My wife woke up, surprised to see me. “The meeting didn’t end until late?” she questioned.

“Right,” I said.

“Safe drive?” she said.

“Yes. Very.”

She started in then, complaining about my driving, like she knew how fast I drove home. For the next few hours we argued. I finally got to sleep around 9:00 a.m. But it was okay. That night I realized that I was the only one who could live my life. I divorced her six months later.

Sarah Corbett Morgan

S.C. Morgan grew up in Oregon, where she learned not everything is black and white. Now she lives in the jungles of Costa Rica where shades of gray cover the full spectrum. Her work has appeared in Camroc Press Review, BluestemFour and Twenty, and Notre Dame Magazine, among others. Website: www.scmorgan.com

 

Death Comes Calling

They said it was inevitable; no one lives forever.

He made it 98 years, though, and 94 of those were vibrant. A Great Depression kid, he grew up poor but went to college and had a pivotal role in politics— a game changer. A populist. Later he sailed the Mediterranean with his wife, and eventually they settled down in a small town back home. He remodeled their house and did woodworking for a couple of years.  

Then came the decline.

On the crazy nights he rampaged through the house, talked to people no one else could see, turned on lights, left doors open or unlocked, hid his shoes in the nightstand, stuffed his pockets full of toothbrushes, razors, soap, and other valuables because someone– They– were coming to get him.

Often during the day he was himself again, but the nights took a toll.

He was becoming a burden, something he had sworn he did not want to be. It became clear he could not care for himself, and at 92 his wife was too old, too physically tired, to care for the house and yard, the shopping and cleaning, him and his wild nights. It was killing her. 

So he was moved to a memory unit, the new euphemism for a nursing home. 

And he was better.

For a while.

He seemed to feel safer, although there were still unhinged nights when World War II swirled around him. The Admiral had ordered him to stand watch, he said. Occasionally he raged at the caregivers because no one grasped the critical nature of his assignments.

He did not understand why he could not be with his wife in their comfortable old house. He was lonesome, he said, even though his wife visited him every day, and often twice.

Then, and it wasn’t all that long after he moved there, he caught a cold from the staff.

What is the old adage? “Pneumonia is the old man’s friend.” Rapid and irregular heartbeats followed, then a fall, an emergency room visit, and finally, a family decision.

No antibiotics.

His youngest daughter, bereft, but still a warrior guarding her charge, sat by his side while hospice administered oral morphine.

For two days she whispered in his ear, hoping against hope his hearing would be the last thing to go.

Sue Eisenfeld

Sue Eisenfeld’s essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Gettysburg Review, Potomac Review, The Washington Post, Washingtonian, Hunger Mountain, Under the Sun, Ars Medica, Virginia Living, Blue Ridge Country, and other publications. Her essays have been listed twice among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays (2009, 2010). She is the recipient of the 2010 Goldfarb Family Fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and a 2011 residency as well. She holds an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, where she currently is on the teaching faculty. www.sueeisenfeld.com.

 

Finding Grandma 

We hadn’t thought to look for bialys. We were in Manhattan primarily to visit the Lower East Side, to learn about the Jewish immigrant experience and how I imagine my great-grandparents once lived. After spending nearly three hours on tours of old tenements, where thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe made their new home in America, and strolling through the neighborhood for a taste of the unique Jewish culture that’s so absent from my life in Northern Virginia, we were definitely ready for lunch.

Scanning my Internet printout of restaurants in the area, my husband spotted what I think God intended us to find: standing out amongst descriptions of notable Jewish delis and specialty pickle shops was a listing for Kossar’s Bialys—“one of the last bastions of homemade, classic New York-style bialys.” We made a beeline to the oldest bialy bakery in the United States.

Two women worked the otherwise empty store at a makeshift counter while a man in the back spread flour on baking boards. Rows of fresh bialys and bagels lay waiting on stacks of large metal trays. Having never eaten a just-out-of-a-brick-oven bialy, I salivated while waiting to try a hot one on the spot. After one bite of this sort-of like-a-bagel, sort-of-like-an-English-muffin yeasty roll—so fresh, the ground onions patted into the center were still moist—we took a dozen to go in an unmarked brown bag.

My first bialys (and all bialys thereafter) were consumed in my grandparents’ Florida kitchen during my yearly winter visit, beginning circa 1980, when I was about 10. Grandma would call from the bedroom—she was handicapped by a stroke many years earlier—with her raspy Brooklyn-accented voice, giving me instructions on where I could find the bialys, how to use the toaster, and a list of all the condiments I could spread or melt on them.

“We have butta!” she shouted in a slow, strained voice.

“We have cream cheese!”

“We have muenster cheese!”

“We have whitefish salad!”

I had already determined that butter worked best—moistening the bialy adequately, but not drowning out its subtle flavors. I re-tested my hypothesis several times a day, though, in between trips to the clubhouse to visit my grandfather, who would be playing cards with the men.

My grandparents knew well to stock up on these bready treats whenever I came to visit; they knew I couldn’t get them anywhere else. Originally baked in Bialystok, Poland, the bialy was brought to New York City by Jewish immigrants. Because Jews tended to move to Florida later in life, the sunshine state became the bialy’s second home. Not even baked anymore in Bialystok—home to only five Jews, down from more than 60,000 before the Holocaust—the New York bialy apparently differs from the original creation in Eastern Europe, but in ways that only a few historical Epicureans know.

They say bialys are meant to be eaten whole and within six hours of baking, but my family has always eaten them sliced like a bagel and toasted. Because of their asymmetrical shape and center depression, one bialy becomes two different bialys when sliced: the top half acquires a hole with a thin inner circle of onions surrounding it that browns and crisps when toasted. The bottom half still retains a smattering of onions in the center but is otherwise flat and dense. It is hard to say which half is better.

So there we were in New York City with my treasured bag of bialys: the smell of my grandmother’s kitchen wafting under my nose, her warm memories tucked under my arm. I loyally carried this bag, separate from our suitcases to protect them from getting crushed, through town on our way back to the hotel at Washington Square, in the cab to Penn Station, through the train station at rush hour, on Amtrak all the way to DC’s Union Station, to the red line metro train headed home.

When we reached Metro Center and began transferring to the orange line—the last leg of our trip—amidst our returning-home slump, suitcases heavy on our shoulders, the realization came: we were empty-handed. The cherished brown bag remained sitting on a Union Station platform, not destined for our toaster at all. I had left them behind in a moment of absent-mindedness.

The immigrants brought the bialy all the way to America from Poland and kept the tradition alive for nearly 100 years, but I couldn’t manage to bring them back to my house after less than 12 hours of discovering Bialy Central. Trying my best not to explode, I mustered up the most positive attitude I could: perhaps some homeless person would find them—breakfast, lunch, and dinner for four days, just like I used to eat them at my grandmother’s place.

After a few “goddamits” and “oy veys,” I realized that I had invested a bit too much faith in my bag of bialys, with notions of reinvigorating my interest in the Jewish religion, bringing a piece of my New York Jewish heritage into my below-the-Mason-Dixon-line home, and reliving part of my childhood with my late grandmother. Though I can still hear her deep voice shouting from the other room, I can’t expect that a dozen bialys would have given me back all that I have lost and missed.

So I did the next best thing any grieving, bialy-poor Jewish granddaughter would do in this day and age: I got online to Kossar’s web site and ordered a dozen: “baked fresh daily” and shipped overnight. Six bucks for the bialys and twenty-five dollars for the shipping, at the time. But what’s money? And when they arrived, I did what I knew how to do: I sliced one in half and popped it in the toaster. And in my heart, I heard the voice telling me to slather on the butter, to eat three a day if I feel like it, and to revel in these soft, round relics of our history.

Neil Mathison

Neil Mathison is an essayist and short-story writer who has been a naval officer, a nuclear engineer, an expatriate businessman living in Hong Kong, a corporate vice-president, and a stay-at-home-dad. His essays and short stories have appeared in The Ontario Review, Georgia Review, Southern Humanities Review, North American Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Agni, Under the Sun, – divide-, Bellowing Ark, Pangolin Papers, Blue Mesa Review, and elsewhere. Forthcoming are essays in Northwind and Under the Sun. Neil lives and writes in Seattle. Neil’s essay, “Volcano: an A to Z” was recognized as a “notable essay” in Best American Essays 2010. Find out more about Neil at http://www.neilmathison.net/

 

My Redwoods

I first saw a redwood in 1950. My family had just toured Yosemite and San Francisco. We were on our way home. I don’t remember much (I was only three years old). I do remember a saw-cut trunk, twice as wide as my father was tall, its growth rings labeled with events from history – the Declaration of Independence, Columbus’s voyage to America, the Magna Charta. I remember my mother explaining that this tree, the one she and I were touching, had been older than Jesus. Even then, even at three, I knew that something that old was old indeed.

The redwoods are old, some as old as 3000 years. Though we know the earthevolved from stardust and once-living things – comets and coral reefs and Cretaceous ferns, although we know it’s not eternal, by its daunting years, it seems eternal. But the redwoods are old in a different sense: they are old on a scale we can comprehend. Maybe because monuments raised by human hands – the Pantheon and Westminster Abbey –began to be built when a living redwood we can see and touch was already a hundred-feet tall. Maybe the fact that the trees lived when our ancestors lived makes our ancestors somehow less dead. Or is it a kinship we recognize with all life, a sense that we and the trees are of the same cloth?

They say to know a place you must let its soil become your bones, its seasons fall upon you, its winds chill you, its rains dampen you, its droughts parch you; you must watch its clouds sail overhead and mark its dawns, listen to its crickets, suffer its gales, savor its fragrances, recoil from its stenches, touch its rocks and trees and grasses, warm your feet in its sands. They say you must live in a place to know it. But I don’t believe it. In my sixty-some years I have driven through the redwoods and walked through the redwoods and camped in the redwoods and changed my son’s diapers under the redwoods and watched my mother change my brothers’ diapers under the redwoods, and yet in all that time I’ve spent less than sixty hours in the redwoods. But the redwoods shape me, are always with me, anchor me. Some places take time to inhabit. Others inhabit you the moment you see them.

The oldest redwoods were saplings before the first brick was laid for the Parthenon and the Coliseum, before Chartre Cathedral or the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, before Fontainebleau, and (probably) before the Great Wall of China. The oldest are older than Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Baha’i. They have outlasted the Roman Empire, thirteen Chinese dynasties, what was supposed to have been Hitler’s thousand-year Reich. The oldest have lived long enough to become the tallest trees in the world, to become (along with their Sierra sequoia cousins) the trees with the largest arboreal mass, and to become, next to the gnarled and weather-beaten bristlecone pine, the second-oldest living things on the planet.

Redwoods are also among the oldest species of trees. Their kind has survived longer than the woolly mammoth, the cave bear, and the giant ground sloth; they have survived the polar ice that seventeen times since the dawn of their kind crept down from the poles; survived the clash of tectonic plates that periodically rattles the California coast; survived the rise and fall of oceans; survived volcanic eruptions that turned summers into winter; survived the comet crash that killed the dinosaurs.

They are uniquely suited to survive. Their bark is thick and spongy and inures them to fire. During rainless summers they trap moisture from fog. The tannins in their bark repel insects. They survive flooding rivers – the Chatco, the Trinity, the Klamath, and the Smith – because their roots, unlike other species, know how to grow up. They survive despite seeds that are as small as tomato seeds; despite relying on the wind to pollinate them; despite germinating less than 1 percent of those seeds; despite less than one percent of those germinated becoming seedlings. They survive because they are monoecious meaning they have separate male and female flowers and do not require the pollen or seeds from another redwood; they survive because, if no seed germinates, new saplings will sprout from fallen trunks forming rings that are called “fairy rings” (a term I love for its folkloric beauty).

Redwoods have survived the arrival of Native Americans, the Spanish Conquistadores, and the Russian fur traders. They may not, however, survive the gold prospectors, railroad tycoons, loggers, the backyard-deck builders who call themselves Americans. Unfortunately for redwoods, their wood is an ideal building material. It doesn’t shrink, warp, cup, decay, absorb finishes, leak resins, or combust easily. This has led to a conflict between lumbermen and environmentalists that has lasted a century and which, by its lack of resolution, leaves the survival of old-growth redwoods in doubt.

If we lose the old-growth redwoods we may pay a higher price than aesthetics. While the Pacific Ocean tempers the cold, sends the wet-season rain, moderates the summer heat, eases with its fog the dry-season drought and thus creates an ideal environment for redwoods, recent studies suggest that an old growth redwood forest shapes its own environment by harvesting water directly from the atmosphere through “fog drip,” which in turn augments the aquifer, which in turn fills the streams, which in the turn provides pure clear water for, among other plants and animals, the endangered Northern California salmon runs.

You kill the redwoods, it turns out, you kill the salmon.

As an adult living in California, I often found myself in the redwoods, especially, it seemed, when change was sweeping my life.

I found myself in redwoods during the dissolution of a first marriage. I set out on a solitary drive up Highway 101 from San Francisco. The highway was endless and my back ached and my hands numbed and I fell into a torpor in which I saw everything and saw nothing. When I reached the redwoods I stopped at a roadside park. The day was gray and gloomy. It had begun to rain. Redwoods rose in dark, dense groves on either side of the road, their spired crowns broken by winter storms, the bases of their trunks charred by fire. To my surprise, as I sat at the picnic table sipping a Dixie cup of cheap California cabernet, it occurred to me that these broken and burned giants offered a note of hope: that life outlasts travail; that much could be said for simply weathering the storm.

I found myself in the redwoods again in April 1979, the month I got out of the Navy. I’d driven from Washington State down US 101 south, bound for a new, if uncertain life as a civilian. Before you reach the Oregon-California border, Highway 101 flirts with the ocean. It edges away at the Chatco River, kisses the coast again at the border, then skitters inland along the Smith River. The sky blazed blue. Wildflowers dappled the median. Douglas fir lined the highway. But I hadn’t seen any redwoods. Then a dense stand ahead loomed over lesser trees as if the redwoods were mitered bishops presiding over bent acolytes. I stopped the car and set off on foot through the grove. What I felt then was what I’d felt before and would feel again: a reverence similar to what you experience in the great cathedrals of Europe. Light falls in the same soft slatted way, as if it had passed through a clerestory window, trunks rise straight and true like piers in a nave, the boughs dome like arches. The trees spire up; your spirits lift; you’re closer to whatever it is that causes such beauty to exist. And how could it be otherwise? Isn’t a redwood grove – solemn, silent, sweet-scented – God’s true chapel?

Twelve years later, married a second time and with our one-year-old son John, I passed through the redwoods with my young family. We’d just returned to America after six years in Hong Kong and, though our life in Asia had been exciting and financially rewarding, we’d begun to miss the breathing room of the American West. In the press of our trans-Pacific move, however, we’d fallen into a state of exhaustion and ennui. Baby John was throwing up. His nanny Vilma had the flu. My wife Susan and I were suffering summer colds. Our homecoming drive had turned into an ordeal rather than a celebration.

We crossed into California and stopped for a picnic lunch along the Redwoods Highway. The July sun that only minutes before glared off the highway was now softened, and the stale air of our van gave way to the clean, camphor scent of the redwood forest, and as the redwoods rose above us, they seemed to shelter us, and for the first time since we’d returned home, I felt as if we’d finally come home, and it seemed not only that the redwoods welcomed us but that during all our time in Asia they had been here, a lodestone calling us back, and now, at this change in our lives, we were here again. Was it accident? Or was it destiny?

The year I’m remembering now, my son John is eleven years old. We’re camped on the banks of the Smith River in California’s Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. John skips stones across the river, which runs fast and clear here. On the opposite bank a forest rises: Douglas fir, western hemlock, big leaf maples, laurels, alder, tanoak, sorrel. And redwoods. We see their trunks, some red, some tan, some gray – the color varies because redwood color genes have evolved over such a long time that they have a larger than-other-species variety. The understory is dense. I wonder if it’s possible to even walk through it: salal, huckleberry, thimbleberry, sword ferns, rhododendron, and azaleas crowd each other in profusion. Not far from us, perhaps less than ten miles away, are the tallest redwoods on the planet. The park officials keep the location a secret (they fear vandalism) but in this rugged country even a redwood can hide. I don’t need to see them, the tallest of the redwoods. What brings me here is the whole forest, from the lichen on the forest floor to the great canopy above us with its hanging gardens and miniature groves invisible from the ground that I’ll never see. What brings me here is continuity. What brings me here is that I’ve been here before. What brings me here is that in this place I feel a reverence for life. What brings me here is that this is an ancient and holy place.

John holds up a flat, river-polished pebble.

“Call it,” I say.

“Five.” He slings the rock sidearm. One, two, three, four … The rock sinks. He shakes his head, shoots me a sheepish look.

I pick up my stone – black, the size of a silver dollar. Where was it born? In the fire of a volcano? The icy core of a comet? “At least five,” I say. I wind up and let it rip. One, two, three, four – it’s still going – nine, ten, eleven, twelve. The rock slides underwater. In a second, the current erases every trace. “Don’t worry,” I say. “You get better when you get older.”

“Like right, Dad.”

“Race you to camp?”

John takes off, his feet kicking up gravel. He’ll win this race.

But perhaps what I said was true. Maybe age does make you better. Maybe practice can lead to perfection. Maybe longevity teaches. Or maybe in the presence of old things you slow down, fall silent, listen, until at last you can hear the steady, soft heartbeat of the cosmos.

Louis Bourgeois

Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS.  He lives, writes, and edits in Oxford, Mississippi.

 

The Nuns

Only a sliver of early morning light penetrated the gnarling dark oaks. The nuns formed us into a line of schoolchildren and led us through the schoolyard to a dirt trail that went into a dense pine forest. Passing through the schoolyard, I saw wooden sheep placed on posts driven into the ground. I will never forget those sheep; their silence disturbs me even thirty years later. 

The nuns led us on and on down the trail. Some of the little girls began to weep with hunger and fatigue.  We stopped in a clearing just off the trail, and all the children sat down on the dewy grass with the nuns amongst us. We were happy for a little while. One of the older nuns pointed out a crow that was flying higher than I thought crows could fly, and I somehow got it in my mind that crows were messengers from God, and that God was smiling down on our little gathering of resting nuns and children. 

After we snacked on cheese and crackers, and drank from glass bottles of water, they took us down to a dried up creek and told us to search for stones, gems, and Indian arrows. Even the nuns took part in the search; they were in uniform, habits and all. Although I was only four years old, I understood the severity, the weight, of their clothes was intentional; I know now that they were dressed this way to spark poetry in our minds, and I wonder how they would respond if one of them should happen to read this somehow, somewhere.

We were seeking out something sacred along this white sandy dry creek. The nuns too wanted to find some object they could take home as a souvenir of this profound day they had engineered. Some proof was needed of this time that was now passing and would pass into darkness like everything else, until even memory itself is no more. 

There was a young nun slightly ahead of us who stopped and let out a cry of wonder. She signaled us to come closer. All the children and the two older nuns circled around where the young nun was looking down; it was a snake skeleton, completely intact and ivory white. I almost cried out from the sheer beauty and mystery of the skeleton — we all looked down for a long time, realizing the first inkling of the lesson the nuns were teaching us, that the sacred is not merely given to us but must be discovered, sought out, and found. Eventually, we began our trek back to the school; for me, and I hope for all of us, knowing that this day would live as long as we did. 

 –1974

John Wood

John Wood received the 2009 Gold Deutscher Fotobuchpreis for Endurance and Suffering: Narratives of Disease in the 19th Century. He is the only poet to win the Iowa Poetry Prize twice, first for In Primary Light (1993) and second for The Gates of the Elect Kingdom (1996).  His Selected Poems 1968 – 1998 was published by University of Arkansas Press in 1999, and his new collection of poems, The Fictions of History, is available from 21st Editions. Wood is also a leading art and photography critic whose books have won many awards. He co-curated the 1995 Smithsonian Institution/American Art Museum exhibition Secrets of the Dark Chamber. He is Professor Emeritus of English literature and photographic history at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where he directed the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing for over twenty-five years. He and his wife Carol now live in Saxtons River, Vermont.

 

In the Face of the Electron

In the unstopping spin and swirl
of matter’s uncertainty, it can
sometimes be caught unaware
and resting for a short fraction
just as the more common birds
are often caught, and so
the Nature artist must be quick
and snap it before it flies off
as the fastest light excels,
to snap it before the electron’s
huge and fluffy wings again
begin to beat, driving matter
mad in its motions, and before
its beak begins again to peck
at the atomic shell, and before
its maddening dance must begin
again to hold everything together,
secured in the electron’s hold,
its wide-wings’ generous, spinning embrace,
succoring with no knowledge of its doing so
the imponderable heart of meaning. 

 

 

 The Witches of Rot

            To the Memory of Jakob Albahari, murdered by anti-Semites

In the hidden wood the daggers grow.
Nearby a witch’s arm and rotting hand
rises from the mud.  And soon we’ll know
her full deformity, the barren land 

of her body and what she despises.
This is the blasted world they love, ink black,
hair-snatching, a pond for the drowning cries
of children who have wandered off from luck, 

deceived by daisies where they’d never grow.
Witch-ground, witch-ground.  Here is evil’s home.
And as she rises from her muck, we know
that nihilistic stare, that curdled groan
 
of unending hunger, as old as Cain.
There’s witch ground, witch ground always close around.
It’s blood-ground, blood-ground soaked in pain
with no end to what they can hate and hound.

Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin Willitts Jr. retired as a Senior Librarian in upstate New York. He is a visual artist of Victorian and Chinese paper cutouts. He was nominated for 5 Pushcart and 2 Best Of The Net awards. He has 23 poetry chapbooks and 2 full length poetry books including recently How to Find Peace (Kattywompus Press, 2012), Playing The Pauses In The Absence Of Stars (Main Street Rag, 2012), and No Special Favors (Green Fuse Press, 2012).

 

R Is For Radiobroadcast

WillittsPoem_Radiobroadcast

Peter Serchuk

Peter Serchuks poems have appeared in a variety of journals including Boulevard, Poetry, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, Texas Review, South Carolina Review, New York Quarterly and others. His poetry collections include Waiting for Poppa at the Smithtown Diner (University of Illinois Press) and All That Remains (WordTech Editions).

 

 

Spring Training

On ball fields and in school yards
we caught the first scent, as if
someone was barbecuing down
the road. School was out.
Summer made us restless to swing
and run, the sun simmered every limb.
Light was on our faces, moss sprouting
in hidden places, urges barely understood.
No doubt it took years to ingest,
years more to bake into our bones,
and yet now it seems the games
had just started, that we’d barely taken
practice swings before one by one
we began to disappear, sucked
into the air, desperate as Icarus
for whatever lay beyond the fence.

Kim Roberts

 

Photo by Dan Vera
Photo by Dan Vera

Kim Roberts is the author of five books, most recently Animal Magnetism, winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize (Pearl Editions, 2011), and the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010).  She has been a writer-in-residence at 14 artist colonies, and individual poems of hers have been published in journals beginning with every letter of the alphabet, and have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Mandarin.  She edits the journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly and co-edits the web exhibit DC Writers’ Homes.  Her web site:www.kimroberts.org.

 

 

THE INVASIVE WEED SYNDICATE

          Shepherd’s Purse

A rude ring of lobed leaves cling
to the bottom of the stem, and from this stage
the actors rise in heart-shaped pods
and strip to white petticoats by the open road.

          Bull Thistle

A ratchety stem with spiny leaves splays;
at the top of each spear, a green gumdrop
garbed in angry spikes wears a hot pink Mohawk,
and the bees hone in and get drunk.

          Chickweed

Tight oval buds covered in a coarse white beard
pop open to reveal a tiny white flower
like a loose corona following the sun.
Little prospector: beware the claim jumper.

          Fleabane

Leaves like elongated spoons climb,
alternating, left and right, as if marching
in single file.  The buds droop at the top
as if from shame.  So much
is beyond our control.

          Nutgrass

Tri-corner stems shoot from underground tubers,
a deep blackish-red, that tunnel
under the crops. This mission is a go:
pulling them up leaves the nutlets behind,
pulling them just makes it worse.

Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including Gone to Soldiers, The Longings of Women and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as her critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. She is the author of eighteen volumes of poetry, including The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980-2010 and The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme. Also, PM press republished Dance the Eagle to Sleep in December and Vida this year with new introductions.

A popular speaker on college campuses, she has been a featured writer on Bill Moyers’ PBS Specials, Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, the Today Show, and many radio programs nationwide including Air America and Oprah & Friends. Her poems are read frequently on The Writer’s Almanac.

Praised as one of the few American writers who are accomplished poets as well as novelists — Piercy is one of our country’s best selling poets — she is also the master of many genres: historical novels, science fiction (He, She, and It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom), novels of social comment and contemporary entertainments. She has taught, lectured and/or performed her work at well over 400 universities around the world. http://margepiercy.com/

 

Bang, crash over

Breakage.  Yes, splinters, the shards
pierce my brain.  In each friendship,
a new self grows different from any
other of the selves we make and unmake.
In every love however small as marbles
children roll in their palms and stare into,
we become.  In the big ones, our faces
change and never quite resume.

So a piece tears off after the final
quarrel, after the argument that burned
the night to cinders and a wind of grey
ashes, after the wind has dispersed
even the last smear of ash and nothing
nothing at all stays but a friendship
whose dead weight hangs from your
neck like the sailor’s albatross, quite

murdered but still of sufficient weight
to bend your back.  Your neck hurts.
Words clot in your throat like blood.
A lot of you hurts.  Pain grabs attention
but is boring as it spikes and drones
on and on. Shut up you scream at it
at three a.m.  But in the end months,
years pass and you forget.   Almost.

Lyn Lifshin

Lyn Lifshin is the author of  Another Woman Who Looks Like Me, published by Black Sparrow at David Godine in 2006. Also out in 2006 is her prize winning book about the famous, short lived beautiful race horse, Ruffian: The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian from Texas Review Press. Lifshin’s other recent books include Before it’s Light published winter 1999-2000 by Black Sparrow press, following their publication of Cold Comfort in 1997 and 92 Rapple from Coatism.: Lost in the Fog and Barbaro: Beyond Brokenesss and Light at the End, the Jesus Poems, Katrina, Ballet Madonnas. Persephone was published by Red Hen and Texas Review published Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness. Most recent books: Ballroom (March Street Press), All the Poets (Mostly) Who Have Touched me, Living and Dead. All True, Especially the Lies. And just out, Knife Edge Absinthe: The Tango Poems. In Spring 2012, NYQ books will publish A Girl Goes into The Woods. Also coming For the Roses poems after Joni Mitchell. For other books, bio, photographs see her web site:: www.lynlifshin.com.

 

More Red Shoes

Haven’t you wanted to
put them on and have
everything that holds
on to you dissolve in
the rearview mirror?
Don’t you want to be
flame? Be inflamed?
Haven’t you wanted to
dance with a newspaper
that morphs into a man?
Maybe you wanted to
just get up from a pasta
dinner, walk backwards
to get a last look at the
room and plunge into
the weird reality of the
Red Shoes film? The
guavas and rouge tints
of Paris, Monte Carlo,
London mist and be
back in the forties when
everyone wore chic
clothes and were perfectly
mannered. But you knew
something smoldered
behind the veil of their
faces and you knew you
were stepping inside a
fairy tale where you won’t
even think of that small
dining room you left with
canned peaches and a
clean napkin. You are
moth, Lorelei at once,
hypnotized, hypnotizing.
The eyes glued to you
once those red shoes
you slide into (easy
as adultery) glue them
selves to your blood,
become your blood as
you leap, smoke from
what is too hot to touch.

 

Bad Dream # 279, June 22

I go back to Vermont, to Middlebury.
It’s been a while, another life time?
And the uncles, the dead ones hover
in shadows, ghostly, their lips and
cheek bones on faces that some
how aren’t there but then, nothing is
as it was. The beautiful bookstore
with the flat above it where I dreamed
in my lavender back bedroom of
starring on Broadway or writing a book,
now looks like collapsing bricks about
to be bull dozed. This can’t be. There’s
no bookstore, no sign there’s ever
been one. The bricks shift, the building
looks like something too dangerous
to enter after a hurricane, a house of
tooth picks one small breath could
make fall down. Even Main Street, a
perfect New England small town
where Life magazine came to photo
graph this perfect calendar frame, the
red and green lights strung for Christmas,
children on sleds and of course the traffic
police who checked out every boy who
came to pick me up for a date my
mother would wait up for me from.
Have I been comatose a hundred years?
Where is the town I knew? What could
be left but mice and droppings in the
mostly abandoned street. Drug vials litter
the street instead of flower boxes and
geranium. When did the town become
a slum, a torn blighted disaster? The
only color is grey. It’s as if the mortar,
whatever held all that mattered together
dissolved. A heart beat. Just the touch
of one brick and everything I thought I
could keep will crumble.

Jeannine Hall Gailey

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Seattle-area author of Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011,) an Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal finalist for 2012. Her third book, Unexplained Fevers, is forthcoming from Kitsune Books in 2013. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in journals like The Iowa ReviewAmerican Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. She volunteers for Crab Creek Review and currently teaches at the MFA program at National University.

 

Lessons From Old Photographs:
Appalachian Childhoods Look Much More Picturesque

You barefoot in a giant T-shirt, next
to your little brother with his thumb in his mouth
and his blanket in hand, under a giant willow tree.
Just out of the picture is the sludgy pond,
with a sign telling people no one was allowed
to eat the fish. Your uncombed hair in mouth and eyes,
looking slightly pensive, slightly fearful, away
from the camera. The light around you is golden
because every picture from the seventies now
has a yellowish hue, which lends an air of nostalgia
it probably did not earn. All around you lush,
and two young children so small in the yard,
alone against the background of tree and tree and wild things.

Jeff Friedman

Born in Chicago, Jeff Friedman grew up in St. Louis. His fifth collection of poetry, Working in Flour, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011. His poems, mini stories, and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry ReviewPoetry, 5 AM, Agni Online, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Antioch Review, Quick Fiction, New England Review, and The New Republic. He is currently working on a collection of fables, parables, mini tales, comic sketches, prose poems and other prose pieces. Homepage: http://www.poetjefffriedman.com/

 

Old Bird

Old bird is creating a commotion again, flying around the room with his big stinky wings as he rages on about injustice.  “Buy now, suffer later,” he shouts. Feathers fall over us, sticking to our shoulders and faces. “Come down,” we say. “Have a bite to eat.” “Not until the time is right,” he answers. “The time is right,” we say. “Besides you’re not an angel.” “I’m a prophet,” he says. “You look more like an angry bird,” we say. Now he’s bumping the walls and the ceiling. Plaster comes down in pieces. On his next swoop, he causes the light fixture to crash on the floor. I toss some of the pellets into the corners of the room. “Food for thought,” I say.  He eats them like cookies. “Got any more,” he asks. The stench in the room is so strong we cover our noses with our shirts until one of us grabs him from behind, and then we strip his wings and toss them in the trash. “You won’t need these anymore.” Without his wings, we can see clearly his bloated belly and the ugly expression on his face. “I’m a prophet, he says as we truss his legs, stuff him with onions, and put him in the pot.

 

Tea

When Herkel returned home, his lover had become a cup of black tea. She had been sick for days, lying on the couch with a plaid wool blanket wrapped around her body. He squeezed some lemon and honey into the cup and tasted the tea. “Your lips are cold,” she said. He shivered. “Tea doesn’t talk,” he answered. “I’m not tea,” she said, “I’m your lover.” He sipped the tea again, still bitter. “Why are you drinking me?” she asked. “I’m cold,” he answered. The blanket was crumpled on the couch. He sat down on the couch, pulling the blanket over him. “If you’re my lover, why don’t you speak to me?” “I’m only tea,” she answered. He squeezed a little more honey into the cup and tasted her again.  Now she was sweet enough.

Gene Doty

Gene Doty taught writing and literature at Missouri University of Science & Technology for over 40 years. Now retired, he publishes and edits (as “Gino Peregrini) The Ghazal Page online and is moderator of the ghazal forum at AHA Poetry Forums. Up to 1988, his work was published as by Eugene Warren. His books include Geometries of Light (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980) and Nose to Nose (Brooks Books, 1998). Recently his work has appeared in Natural Bridge and Cave Region Review.

 

The Power of Story

My eyes are not immune to the power of story;
My ears are in close tune with the power of story.
A long line of refugees trudges beside a stream;
Their misery does not impugn the power of story.
Cain lays hands in bloody violence upon his brother,
An act that shapes a rune of the power of story.
Two lovers lie entwined in a hidden bower,
Their names brought to ruin by the power of story.
Your feelings, Gino, glisten on your cheeks,
Your heart’s been given a boon by the power of story.

William Davies Jr.

William Davies Jr. lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife, Theresa, on ten acres. He has three grown children and four grandchildren and has been writing poetry and prose for many years. He is not sure whether his poetry is ‘lightening in a jar’ or its naturally come to fruition, the latter he hopes! He is published in The Cortland Review and The Wilderness House Review.  He happened onto ‘The Night’ sitting on his front porch as the Perigee moon rose behind the pines. Of course there was quite a bit of notoriety in the media with this moon as to it’s larger than usual size, however, for him the moon was its same old usual self and as sweet as the peaceful evening that bore it.

 

This Night

The moon rises
And fills in
The cracks, crevices,
Spindly lines
Of the woods,
Like lead in a
Stained-glass window
That follows
The outline
Of Pilate’s arm
As he dips
His hands in
The silver bowl.

Nancy Naomi Carlson

Nancy Naomi Carlson is the author of two award-winning chapbooks (Tennessee Chapbook Prize and Texas Review Press’ Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize), a full-length poetry collection (Washington Writers’ Publishing House competition), and Stone Lyre, a collection of René Char translations, published by Tupelo Press. A recipient of grants from the Maryland State Arts Commission and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, she is an instructor at the Bethesda Writer’s Center, as well as an associate editor for Tupelo Press.  Her work has appeared in over 225 literary magazines, including Agni, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and Denver Quarterly, and is forthcoming in The Georgia Review. “Ant Hills” was unearthed after visiting a counseling colleague at a renovated public school. During their conversation, a tiny ant walked across her desk. Explaining that the school had the misfortune of having been built on a huge ant hill, her colleague smushed it.

 

If You Build It

She built a sunroom to wall in honeyed light,
but by nightfall, not a drop was spared.

Patience, she prayed, though to no
particular deity—room drained, even of moon.

The smell of new paint made it hard to breathe.
She had put her faith into star-crossed words—

cadmium lemon, corn silk, goldenrod pale—
and the hubris of human floors,

when a simple sound would do, as a song
without words—Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise

instinct in the flowering oo’s
or a river’s lap and purl surrounding a basket

woven from twigs, baby asleep,
hidden from sight but buoyed by a pattern of reeds.

 

Ant Hills

Build your house on an ant hill if you’re tired of living alone. Even if windows are sealed and a blanket wedged in the space beneath your bedroom door, they will find a way in. Let them come. They can help you get past a season of cold, or show you how purpose gives form to the day. They can teach you the language of trees. Bred to bear twenty to fifty times their collective body weight, they can carry away your fears, one by one, to the deepest reach of the ground, or bring you small crystals of garnets unearthed from below—fire-eyed.

Premiere Issue

Issue 1.1: Summer 2012

Click on the author’s name to read their work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra.

“Photosynthesis” Photo by Gin Conn

 

“Gray with Warm Lights”
Photo by Robin Grotke