from Issue #8: Poetry by Floyd Salas

Photo (CC) G&R @ Flickr

Photo (CC) G&R @ Flickr

*

My Brother

He was bent in the shadow
of the same father
wore the same anvil of ignorance
like a hexer’s charm
round his neck

But he glowed like a dark sun
while I was shrouded
black and white
and dusk grey
where the skin showed

Grey is the truer color
I wear it like a dark shroud
White is seen at dark
when only the lamp has eyes

But black catches the light more
like windshields in July heat
and hot tar on a wide street

.

 *

New Year’s Eve  

The moon goes down in the crowd’s eyes
by half
sinking into the sunken lid

The black night cups the crowd’s horror
It will spill it back again
in the cold day
when vacant eyesockets hold yellow pools
of stale rainwater
and face powder
streaks its white masks

Pinpoint the spot
the star crosses your heart
Make a sign over it
in the indelible bruise of a fist
so you won’t forget

.

*

 .

Like Smoke Streaking From Every Shoulder

Al Curtis killed a guy the other night
shot him four times with a .357 Magnum
and it didn’t even surprise me
he was always so uptight and tough
too tough for the clientele at the Salamandra
drove them away
shooed off the poets
threatened them
snubbed them
wouldn’t pay them for reading
or even give them a drink

I think Al killed because he was an ex-con
because he had done time
been caged like a beast
and acted like a beast
because he was black
and they wouldn’t let him in the hospital
after the cops beat him up
when he was innocent

Suffering made him that way
but unless he’s got a lot of money
he’ll go to Folsom Prison now
for life

One hundred years will bury him
behind cool stone gray stone
grave stone walls
built by coolies in the last century
built to last forever
You can see the chips in the stone
where the chisels bit

Picture the guy he shot
struggling for his life
holding his hands out
terror lining his face
making his eyes blaze
the scream curling in his throat

Picture his heart
deflating with each shot
four times
and the first one knocked him down
from the floor he begged and moaned
“No Al No Al Please Al”
and then three more times
like a kick in the ribs
that splinters clear through
deep inside
where it hurts
too deep
to heal
knowing he’s dying
that the light is going out
that the hole
goes clear through him
empty space
like the circle in a donut
the center of the shape
but empty nothing
there
the first circle of eternity
gone clear through him
knowing that
knowing he’s dying
becoming air
literally
picture that

I killed a fly the other night
with my forefinger
poked him with it
and got him the first time
right by my eye
on the pillow
not more than an inch away
He never knew what got him
One poke
and that’s all there was

I cross my heart
then clasp my hands
and bow my head to kiss them
in penitence
Catholic boy
the ritual of death stays with you
like Che Guevara the communist
when the soldier came in with the machine gun
He crossed himself and prayed to the Lord
just before he died
small habit he never broke
when the cross came down

We are all little creatures of habit
like squirrels under the ground
pop up into the sunlight
to see
if it’s all
clear

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

FLOYD SALAS is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of seven books, including the novels Tattoo the Wicked Cross, What Now My Love, Lay My Body on the Line and State of Emergency, the memoir Buffalo Nickel, and two books of poetry, Color of My Living Heart and, most recently, Love Bites: Poetry in Celebration of Dogs and Cats. Also an artist and sculptor, he was 2002-2003 Regent’s Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, as well as staff writer for the NBC drama series Kingpin and the recipient of NEA, California Arts Council, Rockefeller Foundation and other fellowships and awards.  http://www.floydsalas.com

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from Issue #8: Poetry by J. Kates

Photo (CC) takomabibelot @ Flickr

Photo (CC) takomabibelot @ Flickr

*

(untitled)

My lady’s pet Agàpornis,
Who sang for us all summer long
Both night and day
has flown away.
But mockingbirds around the house
Still sing the love-bird’s song.

*

(untitled)

Don’t look for beauty everywhere.
Twisted concertina wire
May bring to mind a metaphor
………….Of vine and root,
But it will never bud and flower —
………….Much less fruit.

*

Euphemism

No one knows
why
Boswell chose
π.

.

*

.

With the gift of a book

O lucky book, that witless lies
upon my lady’s open thighs!

Unlucky book — so unaware
what luck it is to linger there!

*

ABOUT THE POET

J. KATES is a poet and literary translator who lives in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

from Issue #3: Poetry by Mira Peck

Photo (CC) grendelkhan @ Flickr

Photo (CC) grendelkhan @ Flickr

*

Halina

She was nine years old and eighty pounds
When the Nazi officer stormed her Poznan home
Barking, Raus, raus, while his men sang
German army songs and carried away her antique bed,
Piano, stamp collection and favourite doll.

At ten years and eighty pounds
She was locked within ghetto walls
In an airless dungeon for sixteen hours each day
Breathing leather tanning fumes
Her skin one spectral sore.

At twelve years and eighty pounds
The cattle train rumbled under her feet
For three days on the way to the Birkenau swamp.
Schnell, schnell, the armed soldiers urged,
Shaving heads, searching mouths and fingers for gold.

At thirteen and eighty pounds
A windowless convoy delivered her to the Baltic Sea.
She watched the Camp Stutthof commandant play
Beyond barbed wire with his toddler and pet dog
Then publically hang young Russian boys.

She was fourteen and eighty pounds
When the guard caught her speaking
And beat her with a whistling oak branch
Until the sand beneath her turned red.

.

Take a look at her smiling face.
Walk through her garden of golden wattles.
Hear the warbling of crimson rosellas.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Mira Peck is an author of poetry and prose that blend her interests in science, art, family and justice. Her inspiration comes from a wide range of experiences, including the fields of chemical engineering, business, music and law; living in Poland, Australia and the USA; and hitch-hiking across Asia and Europe. During her twenty years of creative writing she has edited and published a quarterly newsletter, arranged literary workshops and public readings, and coordinated local critiquing chapters. Her multi-genre collection, Sour Cherry Tree, was published in 2012. She received the annual Goldfinch Prize for prose in 2010 and for poetry in 2011. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children and travels widely.

from Issue #3: Poetry by Lindsay Tuggle

Photo (CC) Rachel Titiriga @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Rachel Titiriga @ Flickr

*

The Bone House 

In the thralldom of debt
there is said to be honour among thieves,

martyrs, hair-eaters and others
beset by archive fever.

An oracle of sleep preceded
the resurrectionist’s calling.

Against all agonies you push through
shades of bone assuming old faces.

An unrepentant guest
her arrival marked by bells

as in some cavern mourners
choke on mouths of light.

 

There is nothing more seductive
than a ghost

except perhaps the invitation
of an ambiguous wound.

She carried that letter
in her pocket for days,

‘always thought drowning
was such a pretty way to die’

(danger is when
the hand returns).

I don’t remember the rest
but it was given as

an anatomical treatise
on the laughter of

leaves against skin:
elegy for a floating world..

.

It was a relief to no longer be seen
……………………..as hollow.

Her fists curl into organs
as she fumbles through
…………………..the open door.

All the old grievances aglow
with the lucidity of dust.

Shame ruins your taste
for the delights of melancholia.

After the whip comes down
there’s only so much charm

a girl can stand..

.

She was just there
in the asphalt,

a biological gift
………………unmoored.

Behind the trailer
clothed in anaesthetic
………….hisses
an actress with no mouth.

The unblemished girl
in the plaid silk dress

seeks mutiny in
stolen cigarettes
and snowstorms.

.

In my dream
I saw us both unblamed

so, now
we can navigate blind
alleys without enlisting

the kindness of strangers.

*

*

*

The Heretics’ Asylum

Her god never condoned
the murder of horses.

After the killing spree
the local thaumaturge
traced upon her neck
a diagram of bones.

The absent face
regrew, leaving only
a pale scar to border
sleeping limbs.

She will never leave this place—

this appellation
in the eyes of the church,
a mid-stream persuasion toward

the beguiling mechanism
of belief, dressed up for
a core of materialists..

.

Accurate use of the electrical machine
was unusual in their circle.

The physician knows nothing
of angels with proper names.

Reverence is permitted only
toward unseen patients,

an innate distrust of that
which can be embodied
in a creed.

It would be useless
to attempt so minor a feat
as the removal of bones
from the throat.

A residuum of facts exist
surrounding fringe medicine:

the cure by faith as
a demand for marvels.

Her calculated regard
for uncritical adherents
results in a book of wonders,
based on antipathy..

.

My sister could have won this race
if she’d had enough breath.

Years later I utter her name as my own
against the echo of a blank stage.

Beneath this corpulent delirium
doctors see a potential corpse
to which a ghost is loosely attached.

To enter the incubation chamber
you must provoke
the knife, the drug, and the spell.

Sleep with the fourth book
beneath your pillow.

Safety is unkempt seclusion:
a wilderness of paralysis..

.

In the absence of habitual dreaming
she complains of the walls.

Falling is the only certainty.

The evangelist’s call is
a labour of recognition.

The origin of the delusion
was only her own hair.

After the manifestation of clouds
it is no longer a comfort to know
the source of that torment

there is no terror equal to
the particularity of a name.

***

ABOUT THE POET

Lindsay tuggle

Lindsay Tuggle grew up in the Southern United States, and migrated to Australia eleven years ago. She now divides her time between the two countries and is working on a book of elegies.  Lindsay’s poetry has been commissioned by the Red Room Company and published in literary journals such as HEAT, Mascara, and Contrappasso Issue #1.  Her poem “Anamnesis” was awarded second prize in the Val Vallis Award for Poetry.  In 2011, she undertook an Australian Academy of the Humanities Travelling Fellowship. In 2012, she was a John W. Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

from Issue #3: Poetry by Rebecca Lehmann

Photo (CC) Nomadic Lass @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Nomadic Lass @ Flickr

*

Report to Work at the Usual Hour

One morning, the archways are festooned
with crabapple boughs. One morning,
black paint covers them like shellacked
thunderclouds. What is a surprise?
One morning, all the men wear
sweater vests and extol the virtues
of abstinence. One morning, the women
don color-blocked jumpers and cardigans.
The fresh polish on their toenails
shimmers under fluorescent lights.
Lunch features overcooked beef patties
and a slideshow about the ponies
of Assateague. Their beards congeal
and drip salt water as they ford
the Chincoteague Bay. A stray tabby
preens in an oak outside the presentation
room, where staff watch a power point
that outlines Standard Productivity Outcomes.
The tabby turns away and licks her left dewclaw.
Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is required
reading for May, but it is widely
misunderstood, and Dimmesdale becomes
slang for someone who can’t properly
load a toner cartridge. When hammocks
are strung from the rafters for aerial napping,
women stop wearing skirts. No one talks
about after work activities, but rest
assured they involve a television,
a bucket of old nails, and a hunting rifle.
The time for inter-cubicle flirtation,
like all things, must end. One cannot estimate
the value of increased productivity,
of pink noise pumped through the air ducts,
of a desk near a window, the highway
traffic speeding and slowing in time
to the chews and swallows of one’s
afternoon liverwurst sandwich, the colors
of the traffic a blurred rainbow, hurrying away.

*

Sport-Utility Heart

Forget about my sport-utility heart,
its swerve and sway, the shy blush
of its beat, the bleat of red cells pushed
through clapping valves. I slumber
under polyester. That is wrong.
I told you I had the $$$$$$. Well,
forget about my little pitter-pat,
my little this and that, my twenty blue
horizon lines, my acrylic on canvas.
Forget about gestation, the question point,
the knocking horse, the rocking bird,
the barred owl’s sharpened claws.
Some mystic’s vision, and five nickels
on a hardwood floor in Tallahassee.
The summer the carpet bred fleas,
and I forgot about flowers, or the smell
of a stone fence, or the smell of well
water, or the smell of my mother’s
empty perfume spritser, or the smell
of matted leaves in a stray cat’s fur.

 *

Drought

The floorboards of the new house sung in the sunshine, polished—the wood hard as a frozen river. You wanted to walk across the Mississippi where we stopped in Minnesota in January, but I held your arm and said, No—in the middle of the river, the ice is like a magician’s trap door. Still, the pull of the sublime. But because the oil on my fingertips left a special series of whorls, I kept you at my side. The text from a friend asked what the point of narrative was. I couldn’t answer. However, consider this: I stole our landlord’s money and then wrote a lyric vignette about his failing dental practice. In the summer drought, even the corn had dried on the stalk by the time the grasshoppers began their kamikaze assaults on our legs. Then a lamb at the edge of a field—a sheep’s skin in the making—gamboled playfully in the August heat. Like that, the change, the shift in seasons, the forgotten bunch of daisies left in the overgrown grass by a fencepost. And the pumpkin plants died too. Nary the shade of an ash tree could have saved them.

We loaded up a moving truck for the third time in a year and prayed for safe passage across the fly-over states. Somewhere, on the bank of a different river, high plains give themselves over to wind to form a dust storm. Beyond the plains, a wildfire sucks up Oklahoma brush. The National Guard drains several towns and ex-urbs of their denizens. There are rivers in the north, and rivers in the south. Here is a river that’s been dammed to look like a lake. Its waves are the suggestion of water, its center the locus of algae bloom and leech. There is the fire-starter, lighting wads of newspaper and tossing them from the half-opened window of his dually pick-up truck. Upon arrival, we found cockroach droppings on the kitchen floor. Not even the knotted pine walls could keep the vermin at bay. There, the secret passage for the scorpion. Here, here is where we placed our bed. The bamboo blinds rocked just so in the breeze.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Rebecca Lehmann is the author of the poetry collection Between the Crackups (Salt, 2011), which won the Crashaw Prize. Her poems have been published in journals including Tin House, Ploughshares and The Antioch Review. She currently lives in Texas, USA, where she teaches creative writing and literature. For more information, visit www.rebecca-lehmann.com

from Issue #3: Poetry by Shaindel Beers (II)

Photo (CC) Martin Cathrae @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Martin Cathrae @ Flickr

*

3.22 Miles, 32 Minutes, 10/02/12

First run through crush of leaves.
Featherlight piles of aspen, yellow litter
of locust. My runner’s mantra in time
with my breath – Breathing in, I calm myself;
Breathing out, I smile.
 Calming.
Smiling. The long history of runners without
this luxury. Bare feet that have slipped through sand.
Booted feet skimming or crunching through snow.
In some languages feet are the hands that touch
the ground. The way the potato is the apple
of the earth. The heel strike. The push off
the ball of the foot. The scenery. The grey horse
on the dun hill, which another runner may see
as sniper distance. The truck exhaust, which,
Thank God, isn’t the smoke of burning bodies
or villages. The boy I pass at the school bus stop might
in another world be holding a rifle, a machete,
instead of a lunchbox. I have this luxury to utter
mantras. Slow is the new fast. To wear out
hundred dollar shoes every 300 miles. To stop
when I want. Slow when I want. Search
for the deer on the ridge with the eyes
of the curious, not the starving.
If I say I am running for my life it is merely
a metaphor about health. A pithy saying
painted on a gym wall. I am lucky.
There is no heart pound of the pursuer
behind me. Just me. Just the foot strikes.
Just breath.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary (http://contrarymagazine.com). A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009. Her most recent collection, The Children’s War and Other Poems, was released by Salt in February this year. She is currently working on a short story collection. Find out more at http://shaindelbeers.com .

from Issue #3: Poetry by Shaindel Beers (I)

Photo (CC) Rafał Próchniak @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Rafał Próchniak @ Flickr

*

After Origin Story by Jessica Plattner

Our people believed that the earth rode on the back
of a giant turtle until we felt the sway of the man’s hips.
The rocking of his stride tumbled our homes.
Because turtles are steady, we knew we would have
to change our tale. The turtle’s slow lumber had been erased,
but we wanted to keep him. The youth suggested
we make him the man’s dinner. So, the man pushed
up out of the green algae, pressing the turtle
from him. Offering him to the sky – a prayer
before soup. Then our keenest warrior heard
a gurgle. The women agreed, and we stretched our sights
further. There, on the pale belly of the turtle
sat an enormous baby – our dreaded dictator, our god.

After Milkpour #5 by Jessica Plattner

First his cries panicked the horses.
Stall doors kicked down. Fences cleared.
No horses, no plowing. No plowing, no food.
So the men vowed to kill the enormous baby.
No! shrieked the women. What if he is a god?
What if the mountains are the breasts
that nourished him? No matter that he was here
in the village far from the mountains.
The women appointed themselves his mothers,
brought bucketfuls of milk from sheep, goats, cows,
hand expressed their own breasts. Made his clothes
from whole fields of cotton and flax.
The enormous baby became the white elephant
who would ruin our village.
Sometimes the path to destruction is saving
the one it takes too much to save.  

Friends, 1991

After Ken Fontenot

We were desperate sex in girls’ bodies.
We were girls mothers warned sons about.
We were handcuffed together to a bed at a party.
Sent home together in a cab from a field trip.
We were barns burning for anyone’s love.
We were lonely walks to the cemetery to talk to graves.
Blowjobs behind tombstones. Always hoping
to get caught. Always dreaming of escape.
We were talks on the hood of a car. Dreaming
up early dramatic deaths. Scared shitless
of ending up pregnant or poor or fat
or all three. We were learning to drive
a stick shift on gravel roads while eating
ice cream. Flirting for freebies from sweaty,
nervous boys at restaurants. We couldn’t have
lived any different. We couldn’t have saved
one another. We were just trying to survive
the only way we knew how.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary (http://contrarymagazine.com). A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009. Her most recent collection, The Children’s War and Other Poems, was released by Salt in February this year. She is currently working on a short story collection. Find out more at http://shaindelbeers.com