New Crucible

Melissa Ostrom

Photo Credit: Amie Fedora/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

Photo Credit: Amie Fedora/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

When the yet-to-be daughter ignored the humbug about forty weeks then disregarded the day after the due date then snubbed another day and another and another, the almost-mother, a potter by profession, couldn’t sustain her suspense. She didn’t exactly lose interest in this prologue but turned prosaic, figured the child would come when she came and, if the lateness lingered too long, knew the doctor would induce labor.

Her thoughts instead swung to the studio where, in anticipation of a newborn, she’d already wrapped up her summertime throwing and gotten as far as bisque-firing the greenware. The shelves and work counter were lined with the fleshy pink of half-baked pots. These porous bowls, cups, colanders, and pitchers still needed glazes and a hotter firing to finish them.

With the baby a week overdue and apparently in no hurry, the potter eyed the waiting pots with renewed interest. She’d made her peace with leaving them undone. She never anticipated this bonus of unfettered time.

So though the supper hour had long since passed and though usually, by this time in the evening, she was in bed beside Michael, her head propped with pillows, her swollen feet also propped with pillows, and her book propped on a stomach that undulated with her child’s slow turns; the potter decided to stay in the studio. She tied back her hair and began the homestretch of the pot-making process, brushing wax on the pots’ feet, stirring vats of glazes, dipping, pouring, and overlapping her favorite combinations then swiping clean the residue that beaded on the waxed bottoms. She dragged fifty-pound glaze buckets across the studio’s cement floor, hauled heavy shelves into her kiln, bent, heaved, and hefted with indefatigable determination, for the first time in months, not feeling her aching back, not noticing her sore feet, not even paying attention to the hour.

Her husband checked on her at two in the morning, but she couldn’t talk. She was busy. She had to finish. She would finish.

Finally, filthy and panting from exertion, she situated the last pot on the shelf, closed the cover, and started the fan and kiln. She hauled the glaze buckets to their corner, washed the floor and counters, and turned off the studio lights. At last, she returned to the dawn-grayed house for her shower.

As the water coursed her clean, her stomach started with a seizing grip. Now, now that she was weak and drunkenly clumsy with sleeplessness, the child had decided to be ready.


Here was her new crucible:

Let the mother from the onset learn what it means to wait. To wait then to rush. Let her understand the quagmire of exhaustion. Let her, from this moment on, know profound anxiety. Yes, let her discover suspense is, indeed, sustainable. And watch how—compared to the child, pinkly naked and diminutively perfect—everything else becomes secondary: an unattended, half-done, shelved world.

pencilMelissa Ostrom lives in rural western New York, where she serves as a public school curriculum consultant, teaches English at Genesee Community College, and writes whenever and however much her five-year-old and seven-year-old let her. Her fiction has appeared in decomP, Juked, Lunch Ticket, Monkeybicycle, Soundings Review, and elsewhere. Email: mostrom[at]

Three Poems

Wern Hao See

Photo Credit: Justin Hall/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: Justin Hall/Flickr (CC-by-sa)


We scratch an inventory list of promises, made at the end
of another year, broken like the lesser reflections of ourselves

which we do not dare to cast eyes upon. The stone tablet stares blankly at us
staring at some better tomorrow, tunneling ahead into shadow.

Even before the first step, we have cast our lanterns beyond
our reach, blinded to the ink we have spilled over stone.

All there is left to do is to stumble with resolution, headfirst
against the regrets caving into our skulls.

“Never again, never again, never again” bleeding from our mouths,
the only words we know shaped by the tongues of our youth.



His office pass lies in the recesses
of the bedroom drawer

like a card from a former lover
which he can’t bear to see or shred.

The neighbours heard his last goodbye
wheeling across the corridor.

The newspapers barricade the gate,
each roll marking the days

since departure.
The sign on the door still reads

“May God bless those
who dwell within this house.”

Unemployment trickles up
from man to deity.

The potted plants sit by the window,
listening to the raindrops.

Their leaves are yellowed in the yearning
of what they cannot have any longer.


Postcard from Miami


Brave is the man
with bohemian ropes wrung
down his scalp, jerking
rusty joints with the pull
of tidal puppet strings
and reggae in a foreign tongue
he can’t yet sing.

His dance is for an audience of one,
who has long since scampered off
to pant and lick at thighs
of unsuspecting strangers.


A man came up to tell me
it costs thirteen dollars
for a seat here.

Wondering at the gaping void
of his shades, unsure
where to look, I wanted
to tell him:

This is not paradise.
God does not charge so much
to lie on window shutter
plastic chairs barricaded by
umbrellas filtering
sunlight through shadow.

Instead, I murmured an apology
and moved from the cushion
to crackling earth.
Condemned and evicted,

I scurried away,
punching cupcake craters
into the glittering ground.
Behind me,

Black men cloaked in bleached overalls
rake at sand, flattening footprints
and castles bearing plastic flags
in a single heave.

pencilSee Wern Hao is pursuing Law and Liberal Arts at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College. His works have been featured in anthologies such as A Luxury We Must Afford, Words: Lost and Found and This Is Not A Safety Barrier. Email: seewh[at]

Two Poems

Theresa Kelly

Photo Credit: Valentina Volavia/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: Valentina Volavia/Flickr (CC-by)

When I told you I was thinking about going to therapy, you told me to suck it up.

Your sadness was not worth more than mine, simply
because it had been around longer.
You should not have slammed the door in my face.

You should have opened it, lovingly,
draped a blanket around my shoulder,
made me a cup of cocoa.

With you as my example,
it was clear that I was going
to be here a while.



two years later, and this grief
is a surprise wave,
hitting you on the way out of the ocean,
dragging you back in,
back under.

you break the surface,
breathe in the air,
but the ocean water left
in your mouth
tastes like ashes-to-ashes,
like dust-to-dust

you wonder if
you can breathe underwater

pencilTheresa Kelly is a fourth-year student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania majoring in English literature secondary education. She was previously the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper. She has been published in Lip Magazine, Daedalus Literary Magazine, Literati, and the December 2015 edition of Toasted Cheese. Email: theresajoykelly[at]

This Is a Psalm of Pavement

Jeff Burt

Photo Credit: feck_aRt_post/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Photo Credit: feck_aRt_post/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

This is a psalm of pavement, of switchtrack-abandoned
graffiti and graphic arts, coffins, chain-smoking,
knives of a meth-man’s ribs, needle stuck in the arm
of open soil between two slabs of cement,
a scrap of a love letter from daughter to mother,

a scrap between a homeless couple on who gets the bike
found in the weeds by the willows.
This is a psalm of pavement, the slow shush of shoes
as they head for sunlight in morning,
the tick of parking meters as they heat,

cinnamon-scented carnations
set out in white painter pails
and sweet williams cowering beneath
like violence-violated sons,
the bistro tables covered with lattes,

blackbirds pecking for crumbs,
young women with wet hair rushing to make work on time,
an old Mexican fisherman struggling with his poles
tipping in the basket on his bike
as he crosses the meridian,

time stopped between shadow and light.
For the day that starts out wrong
for the many who look at rectangles below their feet
when their life circles in emptiness,
that their sight might be lifted

to the bright white tips of gulls circling over waters,
the soft yellow sandstone on the cliff,
I am the man with his baby strapped to his chest
who walked the long night cooing, through cries,
a psalm about this wonderful world.

pencilJeff Burt grew up in Wisconsin, and found a home in California, though the landscapes of the Midwest still populate much of his writing. He has work in or forthcoming in Clerestory, Agave, The Nervous Breakdown, Eclectica, Amarillo Bay, and Storm Cellar, won the 2011 SuRaa short fiction award, and been nominated for a Best of the Net Award. Email: jeff-burt[at]

Five Poems

Lana Bella

Photo Credit: Sean Hayford Oleary/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: Sean Hayford Oleary/Flickr (CC-by)

Life Flight

I traverse
through this shitty place,
stepping on the vertebrae of my own noisy ghost,
its fingers yawn with exposed skin
scraping across the asphalt
beneath my feet like rodents with calluses
tuning a craggy madrigal,

night drops down on the splints of
grass-shorn bed,
I look up to the sky, tracing my eyes across
where the dew-capped hills
are a full measure colder than here,
below it, there is a narrow brook
the long veins of home trickling beneath
the wilting ornamental kale,

my blood floods in,
begging for the kind of happiness that shifts
toward home, toward the tides and storm,
toward the bohemian bent of
the woodpeckers pecking
the soggy woods that is my bedpost,

the soul is a vagabond
with many hands and feet that return the body
to its birthing place:
skinny and melancholic,
any day now, a cadre of oxygen-fed commotion
will wake up the old dusky flight,
where every skyline I’ll see
is forever and always—


A Brutal Kind of Leaving

tufts of wool,
red signals amid blue whims
of careless fingers,
she is a moving trajectory
holding onto my hand,
on the roads I’ve walked many miles
staring into men’s eyes,
bemused at their sadness,

her hands,
holding the tea cup now,
avoiding the lipstick trail splaying
to disappointment,
her lips,
careful to sift through
the loose tea leaves and tepid water,
giving pause where
the weight of sighs is chained
to the bottom like anchors,

clicks of joints announce
her clumsy push from the table,
I turn back,
fastening still to the length of her city,
but it seems I am looking
to a distant place
where all past recedes to,

old souls float near each other
as if asleep, pale, dark faces,
all beautifully shaped,
exploded like dandelion plumes in wind,
and yet,
I am no longer welcome there,
for the woman I love most is wearing all
the bodies I left behind—


Chocolate Indigo Bowl

all over the narrow hallway,
small moving boxes stack atop the large, bulky ones
blue duct-tape drapes crosswise and down
over black etched letters
of the “to” and “from” addresses—

I sit at the edge of the chaise longue,
divorced from an invitation to settle in,
already, things are broken,
already, there’s a crack on mother’s chocolate indigo bowl,

its smooth ceramic plate
is now lined with a telling slit of an old back street,
of mother’s pottery shop drips in light,
of her head that always leans just so against
the poised jazz crescendos of Nina Simone,

with mother’s wear are relentlessly soiled,
and her soft-petaled hands cupping over the clay wheel,
coning up then palming down,
drawing forward while pitching back,
on a chocolate indigo bowl,

like a memory queuing
for that important berth in history,
I glimpse of a balmy afternoon by the landing pier,
tongue gently coaxes the creamy milky foam
from the chocolate pool of cocoa and melting marshmallow,

an index finger traces over the dry silicon
where the crack once held,
with the sun setting beneath the horizon,
I sip the luscious drink from my chocolate indigo bowl,
nearly dying of delight—


Room #31

Hands steeped into a reprieve,
legs walked the starved hallway where the air was
as defiled as feigned innocence,
gold eyes flicked to the end of the corridor,
lids peeled back before her sight took hold of
the hundred souls wandering,
cries percussed upon walls in words that smeared
her skin from the many toothless smiles
and sorrow sprayed wide in a tapestry
of crimson rain,

she walked into Room #31,
her father’s head lay on a pillow,
anchored between sour lime walls and
the tasteless air that seemed to pervade the place,
her father’s bed, cold and wrinkled,
its white sheets bundled tenuous flesh,
entombing his translucent bone like an incubator,
mouth aired as a baby bird waiting for feed,
a knit cap girdled his shaven head, pulling taut
over the skin that no longer sensed her touch,

he woke in startle as a living dead exhaled,
coughing, spewing dark phlegm from his famished maw,
plopping down at the edge of the bed,
she could feel her sadness dangling over the metal rails,
sensing it sank down the crisscrossed grouts on the tiled floor
where her quiet feet were deprived of direction,

she remained in repose,
a hyphen between a child and an adult,
spine curled back into the winter coat that was bunched
about the chest to waistline,
because her breaths were hardened and waiting,
waiting for his fingers to close over hers,
while lips reflected to the strange windowless room
from which he has been sleeping.


Scissored Hands

then you start from the bird-like neck,
stitch me where the pleats
dress into further gold
of the needle’s eye
as it tears down a ribbon of flesh,
binding to the long muscles
of chenille against
the horizontal blood clotting,
but you could only pull the needle
once more before my backbone
is pressed back
into the silhouette riddles of holes,
and there I lay stiff and perpendicular to
the mortised spiderweb
shrooming out of my scissored hands

pencilA Pushcart nominee, Lana Bella is an author of two chapbooks forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press and Finishing Line Press, has had her poetry and fiction featured with over 180 journals, Chiron Review, Coe Review, Columbia Journal, Elohi Gadugi, Foundling Review, Fourth & Sycamore, Galway Review, Gravel Review, Harbinger Asylum, Literary Orphans, Lost Coast Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poetry Quarterly, Roanoke Review, Sentinel Quarterly, and elsewhere, among others. She resides in the US and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, where she is a mom of two far-too-clever-frolicsome imps. Email: lana.bella[at]