Sandy Fontana

Fireflies like loose jewels shaken from the boots
of Zeus envelop me under this full moon, float
and bounce. Midnight wander on a summer solstice
eve around the old asylum grounds, and sky trips

heat lightning like cupped hands lose water, a voice-
less glimmer over the cemetery. Sunken, the name
plates here mimic stepping stones that in a misplaced
memory once led somewhere: a screen door, a pond.

Under the witness moon, a boy I knew hanged himself
in a barn; eastern sunlight, he’d told me, heals plants,
heals people. This solstice breaks like early morning gloam.
The way, during an eclipse, day tinkers at becoming night

this night has an inkling of day, an idea of luminance.
I imagine, as the moon dissolves in my throat, I learn
about phases, the pull and draw of the tides, about
hiding in the blue sky and being called a lesser light.

Sandy Fontana

Today means nothing even though birds clatter
at the rafters; like fists through starched sleeves,

they carry chaff and string to weave nests. Five
robins plash and lift from the rain puddle where

the sidewalk dips to collect rock, cradle mud—dust
in midsummer. I wonder: why bother with bitter

or ebullient, everything made-up in the made-up
world. Sun hot through this prewar window-glass

illumes its waves and bubbles as if time’s literal
breath were trapped here, enough to charm me

out of a sense of loss. These months, collecting
unemployment, I’m spoiled and broke, whiling

my time watching the backyard bloom a field
of violets, clover, wild strawberries. There are things

we don’t see that we think don’t exist: child labor
in the twenty-first century. And if we think of it we

can’t hold it long. And if we think deep and wide:
kings and slaving children and profiteers all equal

on the spirit level. I experiment with looking past
actions. I experiment with neutrality, the impersonal.

But how do our minds reconcile the patterns they see?
I want new vision, my eyes a Kirlian camera recording

haloes of energy, crowns of glory. There are things
we don’t see that exist. The ancient Romans buried

their children close at hand, under their houses’ eaves
to subdue, to placate the children’s rising ghosts.

Donna Vorreyer

There has been a small fire, burnt
tar-paper in a wastebasket, an accident
of no consequence, really—a thimbleful

of water tamed the blaze—but somewhere
buildings are burning, and I feel it is my
fault, like I have called the flames from

the cold sky with my witchcraft of longing.
I watch a calf being birthed in a pasture
surrounded by high red cliffs. I boil fresh

eggs still warm from soft underbellies
of chickens. These things are pleasant, yet
undeserved. At night, I sit with my books.

Somewhere, a fish is being angled for
off-shore. The hook in its mouth makes me
seasick, metal taste rising in my throat

like an anonymous threat. I keep changing
my address, shift from hotel to rooming
house, just to avoid the hook, the reeling in.

Donna Vorreyer

Through the years, back and forth like a pendulum,
we dance in a peculiar rhythm. We are attached
to each other by some stiff piece of wire—when one

moves, the other responds. We miss each other like
a sun and a moon never fully risen at the same time.
I have rooted myself here while you wander the roofs

of the world. I wanted to live burning, burning—but
I have settled for straddling the fence, content with
my wife, my books, my dinner parties. You live clumsy

and magical, tucked into rose-colored mountains.
Now I live in the castle we vowed to tear down, so
throw stones at the windows for me. This is only one
of many times that we will break.

: here is the oil drum of my failure,
the slick, the seep.
Here, I have come to lay it down.
A harvest would be good only for asphalt
and anyway, this is a place for walking;
I will take my 80 steps alone.

Here is where I come to lay it down.
Here, lay it down:
the kitchen furniture from your childhood,
your horse’s bit,
all your lumber and sinew.

We only partially erode – the metal will corrugate itself, the wood splinter,
the diagnosis yellow
and curl.

Of veneration in a wasteland,

something will be left to lick and kiss.

snow blind
hominid blind,

and so to lose
any estimation
of wingspan

I cannot see you for what you are, angel
for what you are not, angel

until before me,
your death
imprinted into snow     :         flopped dance, flipbook, cinematic

junk bird, you’re everywhere
even as I lie

to measure the length of one body
against another body

    *

                   look what my reverence has ruined –

                                             soot soot thurible
                                                     lo, terrible winter

–––

landscape of swelling slits: sky and salt
between an inland sea

water evaporates like water
like two is one is three, four

a woman on top of a woman
each within a horizon, which is

the beginning of counting:

heaven from earth

and other difficult distinctions,
salt from water, another

body from water,
sea from inland sea,

independence from supplication

in every body live two urges: flight and death

touch the place they manifest;
there is no more beautiful bone

Get on with it now
y’ auld blatherskite.
Aren’t we that sick of lookin’
at each other for forty years.
Twenty thousand cups of tea together
enough
         to flood the vale of Slievenamon
enough
         boiled spuds chomped
to feed a legion of Black and Tans.
A bit of quiet ’t wouldn’t be a bother.
’Tis your moanin’ in Belial’s night
I cannot thole.
Hurry now.
               Tear through the blue light.
A lamb needs to be suckled . . .

Dig the peat from beneath
his ragged nails and file them smooth.
Air the upper room, the crocheted spread.

’Tis a pity to bury him
in his store-boughten suit
when the Devlins down the lonen
go threadbare through the bog of a Sunday.

        I can no thole your tears, child.
                          ’T were no saint he.
His long silences hogged my light.
Dust on chintz curtains. Draw well
water for tea. Fetch a porcelain cup.
     Arra, Cushla, hush,
                            save a sup for him.
’T weren’t it he that was always starved
                                        with the cold.

I can hear their eyes following me through
the mist. The scale-skinned escapees
from eras past. I envy their endurance, their
desire to thrive far surpasses my own. I whisper
a tentative welcome. Search
for the response . . .
Blink.
Blinkety Blink.
Blink.
Blink Blink.
Blue Blink.
Blink . . .
[a long uninterrupted silence ensues]
Blink. Blink.
B-B-B-Blink.
UnBlink.
Back Blink.
Blink.
Blink Blink Blink.
[a distant clock clicks . . . once . . . twice]
Blink.
The brilliant lights of my phantom fellowship bless
me. I wade deeper
into the water
and

wait.

Albert Pertalion

Tannic water

Sky-scraping cypresses

Lofty limbs

Cathedral light-columns

Dropping moccasins

Alligator nostrils

Pirogue and paddles

Fly rod and spinners

Black gnats and cat-gut

Green trout

Stillness

This poem is about a swamp where I fly fished into my twenties. A true swamp, it nevertheless had an open feeling. The light coming into the darkness was like shafts of light in European cathedrals. The water was dark, but not muddy. The green trout were really small mouth bass, but the locals called them “green trout.” Moccasins would plop off a limb and aggressively swim toward the pirogue we fished from. I killed many with the paddle. The fly bait was a wet fly (black gnat) we used with a very tiny spinner and trailing a sliver of cat-gut. No fly fisherman ever uses a spinner except in the Southern Louisiana swamps. The most an alligator would let us see were two black nostrils, just above the water line. After we cooked the bass late in the day and ate them, we took small wooden stools down by the water, sat, listened to the silence.

Madiha Arsalan

Damask waterfalls cascaded down
the windows
to a jigsaw puzzle
floor of wooden blocks

that kept me busy on melting summer afternoons.
Outside, the challi waala1 hailed
for us to come out and buy his
sand-baked
cobs of
amber.

I walked out to the jharoka2
and looked down at my grandfather on his wicker charpoy3,
shelling green peas
into a silver bowl that tossed

the Indian sun back at me,
wrapped in a starched dhoti4
which he favored over the suits
that were choking

inside the many closets
of this haveli5,
one of several that he gave away.

He pointed at the clouds
and told me they were
ras gullas6 that day.

That was the summer he taught me

joy

is learning how to sleep under
a shimmering patchwork comforter
of sky.

That was before
I learned that I still carry the ache of a Bhangra beat7
inside the throbbing dhol8 of my chest.

Notes:
1. Literally means “one who sells corn.”
2. An Indian/Pakistani-style balcony.
3. A bed used especially in India consisting of a frame strung with wicker or thick cotton tapes.
4. Sarong-like garment worn by Indian/Pakistani men.
5. Indian/Pakistani-style mansion.
6. Indian/Pakistani confection made of milk solid balls boiled in cardamom-flavored syrup.
7. Indian/Pakistani drumbeats that originated in the province of Punjab.
8. Indian/Pakistani-style two-sided drum.

Timothy Kercher

Today I folded the dough
of a Georgian dumpling fourteen times
to enclose the meat spiced
with onion, red and black pepper,
cilantro, caraway seeds, and salt—
it took three times to get it right
after dividing a large ball of flour
and water, kneading, flattening it
with a roller, cutting out small circles
of dough, forming them
on a crowded balcony above
an eighty-year-old man
chopping wood as a thunderstorm
began. I watch a small fire of coals
where chunks of pork are being grilled
and a wood-burning stove where khinkali
are boiling, and I think about the other night
when I was misunderstood while ordering khinkali
despite being fluent in restaurant Georgian—
the waiter trying to hear English, a message sent
but not received, like this poem. What
I really want to write about is the hike to Lomisa,
a fifth-century church on a mountain ridge
where I lifted a chain between Georgia
and South Ossetia, placing the iron collar
around my neck to feel its six-foot,
two-hundred-pound bulk, forcing
my head to bow—I walked around
the church’s sole column in the light
of the single rock-slit window above
the altar, and what started as half-a-joke
turned into a walk of prayer, my three circles
around the stone column laboriously slow,
the many icons of St. George, St. Nino, and Christ,
a breeze blowing thin mountain air through
one door and out the other, ten thousand
wax candles melting, bending over each other,
some still burning, wavering. After the third
circle, when the weight was lifted from me,
my shoulders and neck rose as if gravity
had no pull, and I understood penance
just a little, the idea of grace
with a chain. And I think of circles
like the fourteen folds in the khinkali’s
dough to cradle meat, know my life
is not about misunderstanding orders,
but about growing old, chopping wood,
about vats of khinkali being boiled
and purified, cuts of pork being barbequed
in a rainstorm, about being flattened
and formed by chains forged
to cradle a man, about perfect
and imperfect circles.

Driving back from seeing Ephesus Neşe Otel
in Çeşme, I say, we are going home for the day,
even though we just moved from Tbilisi to Kyiv
and its coldest winter in decades. I long for
Tbilisi now, but home is Colorado—my parents’ home
where they’ve lived since I was seven. But
there were homes before that, and I’ve lived elsewhere
since, even buying a home in Dolores, Spanish
for pain, which is how I feel when I think about leaving
after just two years. Ah, I’m getting nostalgic here,
and I wonder if in Selçuk there’s nostalgia
for Atatürk’s twenties, if in Selçuk under Ottoman
rule there ever was nostalgia for Efes under
Byzantine rule, a city beautifully carved into a valley,
and if the Byzantines used to hanker for Roman
Ephesus, and if the Romans for the Hellenistic
Ephesus, and so on until the first man and woman
who stepped foot in Ephesus before it was even
a name longed for what this land was before
they ever arrived—this travel and that travel
that opens my heart to the Colorado I had
but didn’t understand when I lived there. Maybe
I will never be home. Still, wanting to feel at home
wherever I am, I build a city with aqueducts,
running water, and temples to whatever passion
I fancy at any particular moment,
and settle down by going to the same restaurant
each night to drink a çay and wait for two
döner sandwiches with chili, one for myself
and one for my wife. In this way, I feel at home,
even in this city we’ve lived in for only three days,
where I’ve established a routine, chosen a store
where I buy Efes beer—knowing
that when I leave I’ll pine for döners and Efes
and will buy one in Kyiv from time to time
to help me remember when I called Turkey home.
Maybe in the future I’ll call it home again,
or only my home away from home
away from home away, and maybe someday
I’ll be able to remember back so far
I’ll remember the home where all this began.

Let me mend this for you, I say to niece,
let me sew our sorrow—Stitch at what we
are left with, let me teach you, where we place
our fingers next to sliver of needle.
Let me show you a woman's strength, already
conjured forth from you at seven years old.
I see it, in your ghost cries for daddy,
in the way you hold counsel at brass urn.

I tell you, like mother told me, when we
become blood pricked, we suck in the crimson
drop, take in the taste of metal to rough
nubbed tongue and continue, guiding fabric.
Our hands brown to desert, turn the ravaged
tender—our fingers winded memory

David M. Harris

1

Barges pass against the cold sky
above the roads on which I cycle,
from Rotterdam to Delft,
to Amsterdam and Beek, almost
silent but for my ticking odometer.
Each revolution marking space,
time, vector.

Each morning I pluck a new town
from the hostel guide and plan my route.
Mail goes only out.

2

The land bulges with sea-level canals.
Distant barges creep by above my head.
Then bridges fling me up and over
to land, ticking softly,
in the next great green bowl.

Last year, my father’s heart coughed
to get his attention.
Next year, it will stop.
This month I coast the Low Countries.

“October 1979” is in six parts. To read the complete poem, click here.

Corey Ginsberg

Eighteen cracked teeth.
My smile is breaking
apart from my face.
Things seem fine.

Eighteen cracked teeth.
I don’t sleep well anymore.
Since the man on the roof,
the man in my bed.

Since the men
I don’t sleep well anymore.
Eighteen cracked teeth.
Switchblade ready as I count.

Everything
feels more real now
that I own a house. It’s his eyes
when I should be sleeping.

No-Grind Bite Guard.
9-1-1 speed dial.
There’s nothing to count on.
My smile is breaking.

They want to put bars on my windows.
Enamel should be stronger.
Programmable alarm.
Any sleep. Anymore.

Still my tongue drags.
Eighteen, cracked. Apart
from my face, my face
apart, things seem fine.

A metronome
of yard sounds synchronizing
every slap snap
of dead
leaves, the drone
of dead sanctuary,
the dead coming back

to rob me. Again
the trees bear
broken witness. Blind
panorama, a stampede
of hiding places. Maybe
he’s watching.
My dreams

still end
in tidal waves.
Like the other
vulnerable nights, submerged
exterior, my body in bed,
seventy percent water.
Drowning.

I had imagined
less teeth grinding, no more
apocalyptic soak-throughs.
But the buoys of ego
sleep are too lopsided
to balance
the subcutaneous

self. The same dry dawn.
The same dreary drag
of tongue over cracked
teeth. The trigger
tempts. The trigger
is just beyond
my grasp.

Heather Holliger

You can survive on only ten inches of living skin.
While I count my birthdays, sticking white twist-candles

into yellow cakes, you grow a new layer of flesh
from your cambium, a ring of growth 1/100th of an inch.

In your rings, in your old skins, you’ve recorded the climates—
dry seasons, wet years, temperatures, and you tell us

about soil and wind and bedrock, even about sunspots.
Written in your rings is a story about us; we call it

dendrochronology, as if you were a fossil, or bones,
but no, your needles are green, you make red-purple

flowers in the spring, you are the oldest known still alive.
If I had roots like yours, if I could drink from limestone,

if I could endure through a mere twelve inches of rainfall,
I would make of myself a knotted, gnarled faith, a multi-trunked, branching desire.

Thomas J. Erickson

Nausicaa wasn’t supposed to play
with the servant girls but she would
sneak to the river to find us while
we washed the clothes.

I chased the ball into the woods and
from a pile of leaves a man appeared—
naked and dirty, his hair full of brine.

We all ran and hid except for Nausicaa.
The sun on her raven hair, her silver
arm band, the ruby rings on her lily hands.
The man kneeled and asked if she was a goddess.
We took him to the river so he could bathe.
Nausicaa had us lay out a clean cloak and tunic
and a golden flask of olive oil.

When he was done, we were surprised
he looked so handsome and strong. Nausicaa
told him to go to the palace, and to enter
the megaron and ask for her mother, the queen.

That night in the great hall, I filled
the cups with wine waiting for Nausicaa’s
call. When the bard sang of Troy,
the man wept and revealed that he was
Odysseus. His tales of the war wrapped
the room around him.

The man kept glancing at the blushing
Nausicaa who caught my eye and smiled.
I trembled as I filled her cup. My hand
brushing hers—smelling the hyacinths in her hair.

I prayed to Athena
to hold back the horses under the ocean
so that dawn would not come,
or at least so that night could linger.

Thomas J. Erickson

At night after our ritual
entwinement I move
from you decrementally.

My bedboat breaks away
and the currents carry
me past charnel beaches and
fallow fields

To the temple of Janus
to offer a husk of a poem,
you evaporating
from behind the ink.

In the morning, when
the warmth of your body
draws me back, I will begin
to remember your name.

Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson

The house emerged from under
dust covers.
A museum of purposeful chairs:
the overstuffed green variety,
Nan’s highchair with stenciled flowers,
straight back kitchen chairs.

Plates still out, dusty by time.
The weight of years without
hands to clean and dirty them.
The curtains repurposed as
fractured calico floor scraps.

Even after washing dishes in the brook,
hanging our coats over the windows,
we cannot stay.
Our life here an unconceivable one.
Those memories of beds and forks,
must have belonged to others.

Strange filters around the distant fights
and sherry-filled parties.

Two days later—the comforters restuffed with hay,
the albums dusted off, books breathing again
—we return to the woods.
The house a monument, a museum, a library.
Not needed, and not ours.

Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson

How strange it felt, to pile leaves on top
of my wool sweater. Tie orange sleeve to orange sleeve
before laying my head down.
My brother covered my body with leaves and needles,
so I could be nothing worth notice
and warm. Food was hard to find
before we discovered roots for winter,
rosehips for spring. In the summer and fall
bounty overwhelmed us. The longings we once held
for mattresses, refrigerators, lamps,
replaced by lakes and loons before the sun rose.
Knitting scraps of wool into sweaters.
Praying every day, earnest words
to the God we could all now feel coming.

Laura L. Snyder

After an overcast day of mist and wind from the intertidal coastline, our faces were wind and sunburned after gathering sweetgrass for basket weaving. I staggered up the riprap with a heavy, awkward bundle of rush slung over my shoulder, and there it was. How could I have walked by it this morning? Like a plank to the face, certain senses are impossible to ignore. My teeth clenched, and both nostrils flared before I could breathe through my mouth. Otherworldly while it lived, now a couple of weeks dead, this ten-foot enormous black soap-thing was barely recognizable, stranded on the high reaches of this strip of beach in Hoquiam. Back at our cars, I asked the other basket weavers if they had seen it, but they were too tired to care. Their minds were on beating the traffic to get back to Seattle. It was a door set in my path to another world. If I had been alone, I would have fallen, like Alice. Among the muck of old marine oil and sand, dried green algae, twists of decaying rope and bleached bones of trees, I leave this messenger to the rough benediction of rain off the gray Pacific, the lapping tides.

David M. Harris

Deep into sleeptime, I kept my promise,
wrapped her in blankets, and woke her
into the cool night. I stood, waiting for our irises
to bloom. And the sky revealed itself.
I turned my almost-too-heavy bundle
to the east, and pointed. But in the time it takes
to turn, meteors vanish. Look, point,
turn, never fast enough to see
the brilliant flash on the sky. When she had missed
enough for one night, she had me
carry her inside, too sleepy
for disappointment, to the warmth
of her room and guardian bears. Another year,
another swarm, with me—or with some boy—
a candent slash across the belly of the dark.

David M. Harris

In the woods,
boy at his side, stick in one hand,
cigar in the other, he posed
for the picture I am taking.

He watched his good child marry a man
of whom he approved, whom she would
divorce three years later, after
the boy was born.

He wanted to be
a good father and loving husband.
He glared into a mirror.
He saw himself, his father, and me.

He swung an axe,
pulled a saw, hefted the logs
onto the wagon I helped him pull home.

Peter Serchuk

Imagine you’ve got one page
to tell your story: one page
to diagram the one heart you
had to lose, the one promise
you hoped to keep, to proclaim
the one God you feared most
but never quite believed in.

Time never seems short until
it is and the one debt you could
never pay comes due, the one
word you hoped to say belongs
to someone else, and the one
light you hoped to follow slips
into a gown of fog.

This may be your one chance
to set the record straight,
the one place where the stars
line up like dominoes, the one
piece of real estate you appraised
correctly before investing.

Imagine you’ve got one page,
only one. One line for each seed
you planted. You can talk about
the drought or rain, the heat or ice,
about the ghosts you stalked
until their footsteps disappeared.

Imagine this is your page.
Tell me how you laughed and lied,
tell me how the world became
your lover, how every truth
you swallowed hypnotized your soul.
Imagine this is your page, not mine.
Please, tell me everything.

Mary Meriam

Slow sweet music plays and she
Begins to move her hands as we
O yes she whispers this could be
The granite limits passing me
O wrap me round and quarry me
She swims my waters deep and she
Splash she nestles closer dear
Grove she whispers in my ear
The hazel green trees rustling near

Zara Raab

Tangle of laces, tangle of fingers & toes,
your first kiss, your first pair of shoes,
the sequence is crucial, you’re eager,
running, running barefoot through the fields.

Tangle of laces & thumbs, octopus arms
sorted out, one tentacle embracing
another, bringing it under, hands
& fingers & laces intertwining.

Your laces must be tightened on your shoes,
one strand looped, & then the index aimed
to pin the bow, hard, as you would a moth.
No running! Not barefoot through the fields.

Pressure, pressure, the laces like locks
of hair combed out, one strand thrown over
and knotted tight, repeated to double.
Mangle of tongues & whispering voices.

Tangle of grasses, strangle of thumbs.
Start again, setting one over the other,
bring it under, don’t hurry the first, first.
No running! No feet bare in the fields.

Tangle of laces & grasses & voices,
Skipping the kisses, missing the faces.
Another loop, & the rabbit is hanged,
tangle of laces, of fingers & toes,
barefoot, barefoot, running through the fields.

Hal O’Leary

My
love
will be
a silk scarf
thrown lightly about
the shoulders lest it stifle thee

Laura Madeline Wiseman

When the first Martian knocks, I open the door
with a bowl of chocolate, suckers, and quarters.

This Martian is a typical Martian: green skin,
long thin limbs, and maybe three feet tall.

The Martian’s eyes glitter. I ask, Who are you?
The Martian is silent. Then a Fairy, Superman,

and two Military Specialists crowd the porch
holding plastic gourds. I extend the bowl of candy.

Thank you! says the Fairy whose wings shiver.
She dashes down the steps into the night.

Then Superman, the military, they all leave,
but the Martian remains. I ask, Where’s your mom?

I scan the street and note my neighbors
on their lawn pretending to be stuffed dummies.

As the Fairy climbs their driveway, they growl.
I study the Martian, then glance up and down the street.

I do what any normal person would do.
I take a limp hand and pull the Martian inside.

Laura Madeline Wiseman

Judging from the changes that I have seen to occur from year to year in these spots,
one could believe that these changing grayish areas are due to Martian vegetation
undergoing seasonal changes.
∼Étienne L. Trouvelot, French astronomer, 1884

The Martian ate my comforter, mattress pad, and dust ruffle.
I only left the Martian in the bedroom for a moment as I dashed

to the guest bathroom to lay out toiletries, a towel, and washcloth.
There was batting everywhere. Large billows of spun polyester

on the floor, atop the fish tank, against the screen as the wind blew.
Long brown and maroon scraps, which were once my 500 count

Egyptian cotton sheets, draped from the lamp and dresser.
The Martian stood there in the middle of it all. No look of guilt. No

bulge in the belly to belie the act done. No sign of recognition.
This is where you sleep, not eat, I said. The Martian’s eyes

were flat and empty. I reached to grab a three-fingered hand,
but the Martian backed away as if I had done something wrong.

Laura Madeline Wiseman

As I sort and scoop compost into the wheelbarrow
the Martian coughs and says, We’re not from Mars.
I crouch on my knees and push aside brittle leaves

from the worms and refuse. I respond, If not Mars,
where are you from?
I glance from the hollow stalks
of sunflowers and withered arms of tomato plants.

The Martian sweeps away a swath of pine needles.
In the dry silt beneath, the Martian draws a canal
in a desert of saguaros. Next the Martian sketches

bison on glacial ice and spears inside Mammoth Cave.
Third, the Martian traces a labyrinth, a ball of twine,
and Minoans writing lists in a dead language

no one has yet to translate. You’re a lost people,
I infer, an unknown. The Martian adds a fourth image,
a galaxy of stars and planets and a medieval sundial.

All these people, the Martian says, have been named by you
because you didn’t know what they called themselves.

I begin to ask about the outline of three large moons,

but the Martian grabs my hand and pulls me up
until my palm is flat against the Martian’s green chest.
Shhh, the Martian says, We’ve never been lost.

James Cihlar

I.
It is not so hard to believe
that one’s husband
has murdered his brother

once you have time
to get used to the notion,
Jayne Meadows

tells Katharine Hepburn
in Vincente Minnelli’s
dizzying film noir.

II.
Her husband,
with his fine eye
for the details of women’s clothes,

has transformed Hepburn’s
sporty tomboy
from confident screwball

to stylish, mature victim.
As her silhouette
has sharpened

her confidence has eroded.
Even her crisp diction
has softened with confusion.

III.
How we want to believe
that experiences
contain lessons,

that a past event
dictates the present,
which encrypts the future.

“Undercurrent” is in eight parts. To read the complete poem, click here.

Ricky Garni

Every time somebody new walks into the bar, they ask the same question. Where’s Stubby?

Where’s Stubby? They ask the guy behind the bar.

Where’s Stubby?

Every time the guy behind the bar says I don’t know. Or He’ll be back soon. Or I think he’s in the can. Or He overdid it a little last night and won’t be in for a while. Or why don’t you ask his wife. Or he’s at his wife’s funeral. Or he’s dead.

This guy is big and strong looking and has beautiful blue eyes and dark wavy hair. His teeth are pearly. His biceps are Shazamish.

He’s Stubby.

Of everybody that comes into Stubby’s, nobody could look less like Stubby than Stubby. In fact, everybody that comes into Stubby’s is more stubby than Stubby. That’s why he calls himself Stubby. That’s Stubby for you. Really. A swell guy.

A new guy just came in a few minutes ago. Now he looks up from his stubby drink. Is Stubby really dead? That’s a shame he says. And Stubby agrees. It’s a real shame.

Everybody gets kind of quiet. Stubby hates it when everybody is quiet.

LAST CALL! Stubby says. That gets things going. And all the stubbys come up to buy a drink and to give a toast to Stubby. Stubby pours a little drink, too. TO STUBBY! They all say. TO STUBBY, IT’S TOO BAD AND EVERYTHING! It’s not a great toast at all, but Stubby likes it very much. So Stubby takes a drink. His drink tastes funny.

Ricky Garni

And that’s where I stop. Because I am not certain what the waiter offered to do.
       The waiter had a pepper grinder, and he wanted to know if we wanted pepper
on our tricolors. Yes, we did. But it is difficult to say what the waiter offered. He didn’t

Offer to pour pepper on our tricolors. Nor did he offer to spray pepper on our tricolors.
       Did he offer to sprinkle? No. Nor did he offer to administer pepper or divulge
pepper upon our tricolors. You can’t toss pepper,

At least effectively, nor pitch it, in the classic sense, nor send it on its merry way, to the
       tricolors. Shower our tricolors with pepper, I considered saying to the waiter
with the pepper grinder. Pepper that spews or discharges is not a good thing, and decanting,

Pelting, or displacing pepper is a bad thing, and I would not suggest it to Sal, our waiter,
       our waiter with the pepper grinder. Sal is a good man with a fine mustache and
a grinder. He had a beautiful wife (Angelica) who left him. Why his Angelica left him

I will never know. Sal and Angelica seemed so happy together. So right. As Sal emits pepper
       upon our tricolors, I offer my sincere sympathy for his sorrow. I understand his loss,
his loss of Angelica, and yet I don’t. Thus we begin to speak, Sal and I, of the ineffable cascade
       of love and its quizzical nature and the myriad of paths that it can take.

Angelica says nothing. Grind away, Sal does, as we speak of love, and before you
       know it, too much pepper has been issued upon our tricolors, but we do not mind—
we are used to the rush, splash, surge and deluge of pepper, Angelica and I. Finally, though,

       Angelica quietly, gently, says, That’s enough, Sal. That’s enough. Yes, Sal is raining
pepper upon our tricolors, Angelica’s, and mine. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a job. We don’t mind

That it is a job. We don’t mind Sal. In varying degrees,
       we like Sal. Sal, you do have a pepper grinder in your hands,
Angelica says. Careful, says Angelica. Angelica was once Sal’s wife—

Now she often eats tricolors with me. Angelica is the sort of woman who never cared
       for a pepper grinder. And yet we both love tricolors with pepper, and Sal
knows it. And it is safe to say that we all love

Pepper. Luckily, Sal is handy with the grinder: Sal renders us pepper, à la tricolors.
       It’s not a flood, but it has the quality of one. And we feel happy and gay. Good job
with the pepper
, Angelica says to Sal. Sal says nothing, but continues to hold the pepper grinder.

Sal, Angelica says, easy now. How did this ever happen? How this all happened
       is a funny story. It all begins with the word ‘tricolors.’ Pepper comes in much later.
Of course Sal was in it from the beginning. Let Sal tell you

Of it. Everything else came after that. Sal loves a good story. Sal knows best.
       Sal’s mustache is moist. It is a rare thing that ends beautifully.

The New York Times section attached to the Süddeutsche Zeitung declares
Anxiety about the Euro; I am reading in my new (used) armchair.

It rocks! I mean it, it literary rocks, and it's blue. It replaced
our old couch-like torn armchair; together with the new (also used)

solid wood table, our home is a bit more open, airy and comfortable.
Now that I can put my legs up, slowly blow smoke out and close my eyes,

the bass baritone voice of L. Cohen fills not only the room but
my soul and the valves of my heart too; he says “I am

so pleased that you are here, we are honoured to play
for you tonight” and the sun behind me sets; more shadows join

the dance of the candle's flame. In the photo beneath (sorry,
back to the news) there is an artist drinking something hot, his hands

wrap the cup, steaming in the freezing room, as he is “opting
for an austere and rougher way of life”. It is nothing

I am not familiar with; been sleeping in gas stations and remote Serbian
mountains, woke up on frozen grounds to sit around the fire

after a morning wash in the river. Ate the nun's bread
and the Prasad of Krishna. Now I am here; a warm apartment, hot

water from the tap, food in the fridge and love which appears naked
in the room, her hair wrapped in a towel, saying “Come, join me.”

Carol Berg

When you choose me
think of spring blossoms.

Small phoebe on a twig
with its tail

twitching, readying
for the chase of mayfly

or mosquito. Think
of pink’s unfurl,

bark of childhood trees.
In your hand, I the squeezable

breast, the promise of a heart.
You can break me apart

then flick away the seeds.
No rancor, no pleas.

Palette of red,
how I blend with yellow

into orange, a sunset.
My skin spattered with stars.

A canvas of unnamed
constellations. And when you finally

bring me to your lips,
remember

once I was part sky
once you were part forest.

She wears a skirt of chartreuse
sheen just above the knees.

You rub your fingertips together
and sniff her skin. You’re sure the Aegean

Sea has licked her dangling
lobes secretly in a tangle

of caper berry screed. She slathers
her teenage skin with honey from

Moroccan bees. Her Persian accent
persuades you to give her what

she needs. Small pungent garlic cloves
she rubs behind her shins, wreathes

of rosemary needles she weaves
into her sunlit threaded hair, sea

salt gathered by barefoot boys.
And if her almond eyes narrow

as you pass by La Boulange Bakery, don’t
believe her when she whispers

I’ll be back in just five minutes.

all we used to do was
fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck
and fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck

sometimes some days all we’d do
was fuck and spend the whole
weekend fucking

fucking in her flat in sleepy hollow
fucking away everything all that was painful
all that was phony and suffering and sorrow

fucking away
all pasts all problems
all todays and all tomorrows

all that was bad and wrong in the world
fucking away overbearing impossible
mothers and fathers fucking away

bad marriages fucking away suicide and life
and breakdowns and betrayals and you know
it was the happiest time of our lives something

i always go back to
and then the foghorns
would come sometime

around dusk and felt
they were just right outside
our window and they were

whose groans and blasts
just swept everything else up
and whose anonymous shady

geometric shapes creeping and crawling
like a mischievous thief took you in and spit
you out right into the amorphous ethereal unknown

like an old newspaper
like a welcoming ghost
tumbling down ancient

curbs and corners
of dusty distant and
familiar cobblestone

you know
all we did was
fuck and you know. . .

Jane Knechtel

Wyoming, 2009

Fences are always right. Like a gun
In the face. A gun in tight-ass Levi’s.
Saying posted. Saying I dare you. In code.
Fences are peach-fuzzed—stiff upper-lipped—
Tightly wound posses, crisscrossing my heart,
My mind, this highway. Fences are symbols
Of two men’s premeditations: their warped
God; my own suicidal impulses—of ropes.
The Tetons resemble a snow globe: pure
Winter wonderland and startled mule deer
Until you see a fence. Picture Jesus
Christ—Joan of Arc—a crewneck-sweatered
Scarecrow. Knowing there’s nothing out there
But predators and prey; a native son.

Swatches of black light glinted off her patent
leather pumps, daggers of sun. Drum & guitar
growled from speakers, subwoofer throbbed.

Redd’s untied cloak slipped into a blood-
colored puddle at her heels. I was in love
all over again—strawberry blond April—

I could see it in her eyes, I had not seen her
in years—revamped: platinum pageboy wig,
razor blade features, claw & claw mark tattoo

on her alabaster hip threatening to snip the knot
of her scarlet string bikini. She pouted her candy
apple lacquer lips, paced the platform then sprung.

Nonchalant she hung, hooked by her leg, upside-
down from polished chrome. She tossed vague
rose petal stares into the shadow blotted lair.

Reinvented, unraveled she strutted lamblike
across the stage; stopped as if she recognized
the song or something she shouldn’t forget,

then dipped down, legs bowed, pulverized the smoke
thick air, then inched back up. I in love, on the play-
ground, spinning April on the merry-go-round, un-

tamed laugh, poppy field of freckles, head thrown
back as the sky turned. . . She scoured the room.
Ashen crumpled dollars littered, littered the floor.

Barry Spacks

Desire words of Rilke Catullus Rumi
lift the body toward delicacy
like the scent before the savoring
of tea.
*
That naked girl in spectacles
reading Borges.
*
May pleasuring prevail.
May all dear bodies know full joy.

(Name one of us who'd not be kissed all over.)
*
The lover gains his bliss
feeling what he feels she feels
to feel his hands, his lips.
*
How beautiful we were
with all our youth at play
not knowing then, despite our heat,
that we were burning.
*
In the Golden Age
butterflies mated with humans.
From this comes our need for light touches,
our yearning to fly.
*
What is she trying to tell me
daily traipsing from room to room
in nothing but tiny white socks?
*
The brain, vast sexual organ,
fed by fantasy, by images, yes,
for centuries engorged by words.
*
mummy wrapped words of Sappho:

may that shining girl
come to me
*
Her beauty
beneath a gauzy blouse and skirt . . .

unclothed already she would be
the meaning
without its poem.
*
Seventeen, I worked for one day
door to door with a book of pictures,
supposed to sell refrigerators.

Insane. But a woman let me in
to sales-talk as she ironed, room
curtained, dim.

She already had a refrigerator.

For years I carried a sense of the musk
in that room,

too young, too much a salesman to see
how much she'd wanted to give away.

Mira Martin-Parker

I look at you
every evening,
and you gladly show yourself to me.

You’re not at all shy.

In fact you’re brazen.
You twinkle and shift—
wink and smile—
turn about.

Every evening
I come to you,
eager for your display.

I await your colors—
gray,
gold, and blue.

I await your smell—
smoke,
sea, and cypress.

When that time comes
and you call for me

obediently

I will slip on my shoes
and head for your door.

Michael Salcman

It’s a rare river that flows north
in North America:
the Deschutes in Oregon is one,
it changes where I stand in relation to the sun
and how my shadow falls
into the stream.
I walk up to go down before floating a fly
across the narrowest part of the river—
I’m trying to hit a white slick of bubbles
where the summer’s hatch buzzes
over a small pool fenced by a log
and a brown trout sits facing south
feeding in the current.

I’m hoping the trout’s eye will think the hand-tied fly
is something edible and alive;
I count on his greed not his altruism
and present the fly at a speed
he might think is real.
Though my odor’s hidden by juniper and pine
my cast fails. Over and over
my guide yells out for me to “mend the line”,
so I flip a loop behind the current
and the fish hits it at once.
Startled by my luck, I freeze
and watch his graceful jump break my tippet
against the rocks.

For an hour or more I try to mend my line in the heat
until my neck grows sticky with effort.
But he fails to rise—too wily for me, I say
sitting on the grass exhausted.
He’s probably long gone from this stream anyhow,
running north with the river as fast as he can:
whether out of fear or native wisdom,
or the simple wish to keep our time together
unsoiled by blood and grief, who knows?
I hope he runs forever.

Michael Salcman

As gentle as rain combing a vineyard
your fingers rest against my neck
probing it for the nerve
that will jump start my heart.

Precise as a lathe upon my arm
you inscribe the same circle
over and over.

When your tongue curls around my finger
it’s as moist as your most secret place,
it has its own gender and history:
soft as dark velvet,

and as mysterious as space cut
from a stone;
and once your tongue inscribes its sensibility
I am gone.

I’m buttoned up in midnight’s jacket, star-glow
pinpricking the pitch black. Foam ribbons along the water’s edge.
Warped pilings splinter lightning rods. Walking into the ocean,
wavechurn belting my waist, I squint into the six inches
I can see around me and watch the chalky smudge
of the Milky Way loose itself against the flash of a coming storm
tucked up against the horizon. The sea flickers its offering back,

and a smack of jellyfish rises to the surface. A yawn of tentacles.
Umbrellas with no wires. Suddenly plugged-in, the soft bells twinkle on,
a riddle of light doubling as the sky’s reflection—bioluminescence.
And as I see them glimmer on like bulbs in streetlight globes,
it’s with the same awe as when Nikola Tesla stared at lampposts
erected like bookends on every New York City block
and watched Edison’s filaments ignite with his alternating current.

Eighty-six and skeletal, still a fine figure in a three-piece pinstripe,
he picked wads of bread crusts out of his pockets,
walked up 35th to 5th Avenue. He sowed dinner crumbs by the curbside
for pigeons. The neat split of his hair down the middle. His ears
perked to neon’s buzz and traffic din; energy chugging
through the city’s veins set him in a trance. The whole earth
struck him like a tuning fork. In that sounding tone, Tesla remembered

how electricity’s pulse felt coursing through his body:
the itch under his skin as he allowed jolting limbs from his coil
to crackle and hum for miles and kindle the flickering tongue
inside of him. The wound copper and pipe—a mushroom cap of metal
pinned over a stem of cords. On the opposite side
of his study, the distant thunder of his sparking machine lit beacons
in his hand, unattached to any gadget. Lifted power from the open air.

Swooping into room 3327 from the nest of leaves and twine
on the window ledge, Tesla’s pigeon—the one he said he loved
as a man loves a woman—perched at his feet. Gray wingtips.
Fluorescent white. He believed it spoke through its eyes, beams of light,
powerful, dazzling, greater than any lamp in his laboratory.
He stared into the burning ink-drop pupils and dreamed a whole flock
followed in and speckled his suite white, a glinting chorus. Their bulbs

like the stars, like the jellyfish circling around me, the lightning blazing
a midpoint in the stretching dark. All of the other details blur together:
constellations curving overhead and rolling out in front,
the gleaming blooms beneath, and the stars’ watery echo.
I reach into both heavens, my skin aware of itself,
waiting for the arc of electricity from that storm to pierce
my body and flip a switch, spark whatever it is inside of me to flash—

enamel and bone and hair, now phosphorescent. Did Tesla want light
to beam from his eye sockets? Maybe man is enamored
with the sweetness of mirroring the cosmic, and—despite how fragile
and broken we are—is able to glow. I hope there is a morsel
of cinder in all of us. And when every candlewick is snuffed out,
when every light goes cold, I’ll blink the only way I know,
the earth’s clamoring resonance, my crude refrain lost in the endless pitch.

—was housewife in the idle sense
commanding staff with a fair hand heavy
with gems, and lightly tanned

—shunned rum, seldom stuck pins in
doubles of her husband (who was
as it happened, in pictures)
or roses down throats of wretches
setting them like coloured jars to watch
as she slid past quick in the car (that's
philanthropy for you)

—was, though over forty, so
well-preserved, servicemen lingered
making love (in the hundred-year-old
sense), and leaving let down
checked the lexicon

—knew well, if villas, sand, and
coddled lawns are common illusions
chocolate licks philosophy, easy

—was, from her balcony, pleased to see
as far as vision permitted in thick
glow-of-orange; but loved to travel
and frequently

—was, in fact, forty-three
sans surgery

Peter Nash

            Someone is sneaking through the yard at night nipping the stems of our roses. The grape vines have been scissored, the bare roots snipped, and my wife Judy is close to tears. All I can do is stare at the severed stalks and mourn a dream of pear trees, their pale yellow fruits hanging from leafy branches. Our orchardist friend, John Vargo, inspects the damage. “It’s a woodrat,” he says. “The nest will be full of sticks cut at a 45-degree slant.”
            “Kill him,” Judy tells me. “I’ll get the trap.”
            In a circle of sunlight within a grove of willows is the place I’ve been looking for. This sanctum of trees, the stump I am sitting on, the woodrat in his nest below—here, a presence broods over every living thing, and here, I shall set my trap.
            My enemy is an industrious fellow who roves the woods and yards in search of branches to gnaw his signature angle, to drag each one across the grass and place it into a structure whose design is as mysterious as the alignment of the stars. Tonight the woodrat leaves the sanctuary listening for the owl’s double hoot, the slither of foxes. He freezes at the sound of his own footpads, the rustle of a feral cat, then moving on, adds stick after stick to his twiggy Taj Mahal.
            This morning the woodrat is in the trap, his neck broken beneath a metal bar, his death a flare of yellow light. I release the bar and study his paws white as clouds, the translucent nails, his bushy tail. I know it’s the law to pay for what you have broken, and grieving, I smooth the brown fur of his back.

Eric Arnold

In the aftermath of the unspeakable mass casualty
George and I were petting a dog.
It was Wanda Sue’s dog, I knew,
But when George asked whose
I said I don't fucking know.
George had some rare pediatric kidney tumor
That would go untreated
And surely he is dead now.
He stroked the dog blithely
As it raised its narrow chest like a shield.
He was completely out of touch with horror,
And from envy and resentment
I conjured a volatile indifference.
We sat on some rocks
And looked over the district,
The peeling blue paint of dried-up swimming pools
And old wallpaper blowing through the streets
Like tumbleweed,
Some with the pattern of strawberries on a vine.

Or this:
Your daughter wakes up blind,
Mysteriously.
She will not play basketball,
She will not be photographed on a motorcycle.
All this, of course, in your mind.
It is a challenge for her to safely feed herself, for example.
She is nine.
You acquire a seeing-eye dog
That pulls her toward trees and open manholes,
And you have to teach both the dog and her
With the help of some professionals
To sense what even you cannot feel.
Something out of nothing, in the afternoon.
And everything takes on a new poignancy,
Like buying milk for example,
Reaching into the cold halogen chamber
And leaving perfect fingerprints
In the condensation on the carton,
Or the REM sleep
Of a stranger on a train.

Changming Yuan

there is no borderline
between sea and sky

waves are pushing their colors
up towards the air, bloating
their calls and songs to bold
changing shapes

it is a world within nature
presenting itself, or what
cannot be represented elsewhere

separated from the mind
the frame always trying to capture
a few fish swimming in the waters

“Any cup I hold fills with wine
that lovers drink. Every word

I say opens into mystery. Any
way I turn I see brilliance.”

–Rumi

What is the sound of little yellow birds as they flit from branch to branch
when the sun rides his silent horse over the trees?
The long sweet trills, the chirps and clicks, the rustle of feathers,
the creak of boughs in the moving air—
what language is being spoken?
And though you cannot understand the words
your heart no longer clenches
when you think of the girl in the pink house
and you do not fret as you knock upon her door.
In the liquid green brilliance you watch the two of you go inside,
the door closes, and now that your are with her
you sit easily on the ground
sipping wine from a mason jar and listening
to the sound of yellow birds as they flit from branch to branch, from sun to shade.

I like to think
if I sat in the shade
of a green leaf maple
watching its shadow
move from west to east
while the wind tossed the wild oats
in rippling banners across yellow hills
and the clouds flew through the air
like white galleons surging towards the Philippines
and I remained so still
that the chickadees clicking in the branches
cocked their black caps at me
as if I were the top of an old oak stump
stuffed with acorns—

and if I sat here
watching the lion and the ladle
twirl across the night sky
season after season,
and someone brought me
bacon and eggs for supper,
covered my shoulders with a blanket
from November to April
and kissed me good night, each night—
the grace of the world would enter me.
Though I’d be
no great green tree
from whose branches white birds sing hosannas,
but an ancient horse
all hide and bone
alone in a dusty pasture
feet splayed
bowing to the earth.

Beneath the locust tree Zoe circles and circles, gathering courage to flex her legs and collapse into the deep shade. But there is no comfort and soon she is dragging herself through the sun bleached yard, stiff-legged, panting, waiting for me to make up my mind. “Hip dysplasia,” the vet said. “You’ll know when it’s time to put her down.” In the blue air a turkey vulture circles, its swift shadow flickering, then glides over the ridgetop, and I find myself walking to the phone.

But if time were circular—like the twin tracks of the Lionel electric train of my childhood, its sturdy locomotive pulling a string of silver cars into a toy town with a crossing guard and a railroad station where I was waiting for the conductor to call out “All aboaaard”—I would climb the oil smelling stairs to the dining car where a vase of purple sweet peas was set in the middle of each spotless tablecloth and the waiter in his crisp uniform would bring me strawberry ice cream and root beer in a frosted glass.

Outside, the world would glide by in its green loveliness. Cows would stand in the tall grass beside a curving river and a red barn, and a man on his tractor would be waving at me. Beside him, black and white paws a blur, Zoe would be trotting, her tail going round and round like a propeller.

Some nights I slide my electric train under the bed and start the engine. As I fall asleep the town vanishes, the cows leave the meadow, and there is only the sound of something moving below me where Zoe went into the ground.

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