Five Poems

Poetry
Wern Hao See


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

Rust

You bought me the necklace a month before I no longer needed it. The Seven Mile Flea Market put its worth at ten dollars but you, good with words, halved it on my behalf. Black string tinkling, three rings sliding along. In place of a crucifix, there was me, you and the children we did not make time for. Faith was a house in Milwaukee, complete with shelves of your favourite Terry Pratchett novels and my select Singaporean poets. A backyard and fireplace, laced with the crackling of branches and unfilled mugs of hot chocolate.

In the dream, the people believed the machinery would screech again, fractured pipes snapping back together like bones. The factories would exhale rust from their lungs, guzzling oil like beer. She would be back at her station with her flowing coarse braids, slipping a knuckleduster of padlocks through fingers, clicking and unclicking.

If this is a dream, and if no one saw her slip through the backyard when the grapes started budding from olives, oiled by sunlight, then,

she did not rip the necklace off my nape, leaving half of a stinging red halo.

she did not pin me down, spread-eagle, to the foot of my bed.

I did not sink my teeth into her lips, a lick drawing iron, a sip of breath

Ferric oxide, when inhaled, may result in metabolic acidosis. Symptoms include rapid breathing, confusion, lethargy, shock and death.

Being agnostic, I refused to commit to life where there might be none, yet I was not brave enough to release my clutch on the steel curled up in my palm.

She plied me with her index finger, slipping along the back of my forearm, following each and every twitch. I started panting, salt coating my singlet, darkening crimson,

sun looking away. She hovered, less flesh and more shadow, swallowing me inch by inch. Moan. When did I convert from the undecided to the damned? At what point did dawn finally split from night?

A pool of rust seeped into the sheets.

A ring of red dirt spreads across the Midwest as more people move to larger cities, leaving behind rows of houses fixed with fireplaces with nothing to burn for. Yes, faith breaks down into hope breaks us. Yet, you could shift into one of those houses if you wish. Stack your Terry Pratchett novels against the door. The wall paint still flakes off like skin, the knocking you hear is only wind.

 

Names

My dearest, sunshine, slipped away, replaced
by names we learnt from birth.
Stuffed toys we called our children
were split. The dolphin is marooned
in the corner again. I forget
to pick it up. Before I sleep, I hug the fox
until its neck hangs limp by my elbow.
I say mama is coming back.
I say papa is smiling.
All they ever do is smile back at me.

I stroke the dolphin’s fur
with my cheeks,
and I find myself again
sprawled over the mat
on the polished parquet floor.

I lay there for hours
on Sunday afternoons,
until you told me
it was time to get up.

I clutched onto the dolphin
almost as a hostage.
Papa! The dolphin nudged me
to stay. Ngah ngah? Enough. Now,

I nuzzle my nose
against the hard plastic knob
sewn on loosely by your errant hand.

It fell off the first time
you swung it against the wall. After,

it never quite stuck again.
The fox no longer paws at you.
The way your boyfriend says vixen
lacks my cartoony inflex.
But he still lets you
big-bear-huggles the children to sleep.

I imagine you leaning
into my clavicle, then I catch myself.
The way wind nestles
into a tree branch, the sun’s reflection slipping
between rustling leaves,
then lifts off again.

What is love but the willingness to scar,
knowing your lover would heal before you
had the chance to hurt?

Rubbing your neck, you try to hide
teeth marks. I wish you well.
That he would hold you
for the roads ahead.

I hold my fist, praying
for restraint.

I scoop the dolphin
from the dryer. In the morning,
my palm is warmed by your cheeks
yawning half-awake,
wide glass bead eyes blinking,
flaking into lint.

 

Every Decay Came From Sweetness

“No person we have met in our lives is ever relegated to silence, even if we have split paths with them due to anger, chance or circumstance. Our entire body enacts a stunning resurrection of the dead.” —Lan Samantha Chang, at a lecture at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, 13 July 2017

By now, my lips would have shed
the taste of yours, the way cockroaches peel
off what is dead to become larger,
uglier versions of themselves.
Without you, I have just been feeling
my way through dusty walls, crumbling,
bumping into chairs with gimp legs,
limping to bed. That is to say,
I have always been the cause
of my own bruises.

This poem will not be sent to you, air-headed
newspaper roll beating guilt
in until we are bent, still twitching
with sentiment not yet dead.

Since then, I have sought bodies, crawled
over them all sour and wet. I binge on
You’re adorable, love, familiar
syllables which, although sour,
get me hard. I curl long strands
of hair, almost soft enough
for a pillowcase. Let me start again:

there was the sobbing and the kiss,
death of skin, flaking salt.
All this eating ever since is only desire
to find where I left
what was left of us, to keep
that lesser picture down my throat.

 

Projected Break-up in Retrograde

The train pulls into Hillview station,
spitting me out. I stagger
to the lobby of your condo block where,
outside, passersby pick coins
from an auntie’s cardboard box,
returning tissue packets in neat squares.

You descend, the lift doors open.
We clasp hands, promising
an easier time where we would see everything
good about each other.
The suture in the bruised sky opens, orange
trickling out. Then, the pus
of afternoon sun spills over tarmac.

Everything is warm again.
Everything that should warn me about you
disappears with our tongues, leashed
to our throats, probing each other
with a certain frenzy. Repeat:

What are we? Now,
release our lips and unconfess
the love we have made. My dearest

best friend, forget my kinks.
Forget the pliancy of my body, so used
to you. Forget my fear
that repeated motion would only become
boredom, not comfort. I reclaim
these thoughts and you are unburdened.
Let me, for once, uncrease
your panties, straighten your hair
and button up your blouse. I zip
my eyes. They open

in front of the Western food stall
on the college campus. The sirloin steaks
drain their blood to the fire.
My cheeks flush: “What luck,
to have found someone
who loves House of Cards as well. Yes,
I am from around here, too.
Hope I am not disturbing. Hello.”

 

On Healing

Do not pretend that absence
makes the heart. How fond
you are of longing. The seat
by the windowsill
of the first ice cream parlor date
is still filled by lovers
who have not learnt to stumble
into a bar counter.
No need for drunken hyperbole now,
the darkness pooling at your feet is not
an extension of flesh. It is only
yourself tomorrow, stretched
towards wherever your soul travels.
In time, if even the ice cream parlor
becomes a fast food restaurant, and then
not even that, know that nothing will grow
in its place. Your poetry must not bloom
from tears alone. So tear yourself
away from the pedestal of high rises
no longer there to cast a shadow
for your brooding. Be gentle.
Spread your fingers, let light slip
through their outline
when you have no one to hold.

pencil

See Wern Hao is pursuing Law and Liberal Arts at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College. His works have been featured in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Softblow, Forage Poetry Journal and Apercus Quarterly. He has also contributed to anthologies such as SingPoWriMo 2015/6 and Rollercoasters & Bedsheets. Email: seewh[at]hotmail.com

Happiness

Poetry
David Polochanin


Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Two old ladies are practically in tears
as a new mother pushes her shopping cart
toward the checkout line at Stop and Shop,
carrying her infant in a shoulder-strapped pouch.
I have not witnessed this kind of happiness
in a long time. The young mom is overwhelmed
by the ocean of parenthood, you can tell,
and I am thinking from my angle
near a shelf of cereal that this may be
the first time she has gone out in public
with the baby in tow. How many days old?
What is her name? The grandmothers are dying to know,
not meaning to be intrusive, but they can’t help it.
They want to touch the little girl with their slender,
arthritic hands, and move their aged faces
close to hers to smell the smooth,
perfect flesh of a new life.

pencil

David Polochanin is a teacher, essayist, poet, and former journalist based in Connecticut. His poems have previously appeared in Toasted Cheese, Negative Suck, Blueline, Albatross, Gadfly Online, and Blood and Thunder. Email: polochanind[at]glastonburyus.org

Beneath the Surface

Poetry
Cassie Creley


Photo Credit: chiaralily/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

she was drowning
but she did it so beautifully
that no one noticed.

look at her dance, they said
even though
she is underwater.

pencil

Cassie Creley lives near Seattle, which of course means she lives fairly far from Seattle in a city you’ve never heard of. Her poems and photographs have appeared in two other literary journals. When she is not daydreaming about writing, she is daydreaming about chocolate.

Five Poems

Poetry
John Zedolik


Photo Credit: Nicole Yeary/Flickr (CC-by)

The Image Persistent

The El stop toward the back of the Loop,
not so far from the river, comes to me while
I read a Katherine Anne Porter short story
featuring a structure similar but in the Big Apple
set well more than half a century ago;

however, the image of the Chicago El has come to
mind repeatedly in the last thirteen years without the
obvious prompt, so

I wonder why those patterns of steel and wood hover
then dive at times to me without a connection to
current image in mind or sight. They

must push the air eternal, waiting with
wings to brush my vision at the slightest
summons, unknown to my conscious self but
apparent deep below but not deep enough to

avoid those dips from distance, staying,
not so far

 

Hot Core

She is frustrated in her student fervor,
crumpled upon her problem, a world
intent upon its mantle and core, where
writhes the heat and

magnetic pull generated of molten
iron and in turn generating aurora
australis and borealis to battle the
cosmic rays of that sun which can
sometimes

be killer—so she continues, intent upon
solution, when she can turn toward sky
and add her own beams to the display—
and the fight

 

Scent Sign

The bathroom is redolent of licorice,
a not-unpleasant sensation, on the first
floor of the career development center,
where

the job-seeker takes steps to end his
search and the unpleasantness of his
life, so takes

the sweet scent as a harbinger of coming
prosperity amid the tile and stainless steel
hard as

the world outside that must, the seeker surmises
—even so—
contain air similar.

 

Benign Business

We siblings called
the hollowed-out,
irregular pit

around the telephone pole
at the edge of the yard
“the factory,” for what reason

I cannot recall but do remember
the small, rounded stones we
scooped and manipulated

even when they were wet
with water from some unknown
source that I do believe

was relatively clean since I
don’t recall any ill effects,
as would have occurred

in say, seventeenth-century
London, wiping us all out
as a result of our play,

not making particularly
anything but piles of
innocence in that

imaginary manufacturing concern

 

Ever Ripe

The banana card came back even though it was the
best birthday card because it was about getting spotted
but getting tastier as it and you aged—

because you had no more use for it in your new state
where you will not receive any cards or cake but we will
celebrate the date anyway, and I will keep the

banana card, the fruit curving as if gesturing “tah-tah” to time
or turned on its side smiling in whimsy,
in all its yellow glory ripening and preserving
your presence in time even as yours has been over

pencil

John Zedolik’s iPhone is now his primary poetry notebook, and he hopes his use of technology in regard to this ancient art form continues to be fruitful. Email: principium14[at]gmail.com

Grandfather’s Fingers

Poetry
Sarah Valeika


Photo Credit: Brandon Fick/Flickr (CC-by)

There were cracks along the ceiling,
And one of them looked like a middle finger.
Like my grandfather’s middle finger,
spindly and dwindling flesh, knobby and grotesquely twisted—
thin.
By the time he used his finger like that,
meant it like that,
it was thin thin thin

He showed it to me once,
when I laughed at him for his potty chair
And his smile smirked but that finger
oh that middle finger was thin thin
just like a crack in my ceiling—
long, just like the crack in my ceiling

And just like a crack in a ceiling,
its very there-ness meant
a beginning of an endpencil

Sarah Valeika is an Illinois poet who, when not writing, performs in theatrical productions (preferably period pieces!) and in small orchestral ensembles, playing her viola. Email: sarahavaleika[at]gmail.com

Five Poems

Poetry
Simon Perchik


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

*

These gravestones left stranded
warped from sunrises and drift
—they need paint, tides, a hull

that goes mouth to mouth
the way seagulls come by
just to nest and preen

though death is not like that
it likes to stand and lean
scattering its brilliant feathers

—look up when you open the can
let it wobble, flow into you
till wave after powerful wave

circles as face to face
and your own loses itself
already beginning to harden.

 

*

You need more, two sinks
stretching out as constant handfuls
though each arm is lowered

by the darkness you keep at the bottom
—a single cup suddenly harmless
not moving—this rattle you hear

is every child’s first toy
already filled with side to side
that’s not the sound a small stone makes

trying to let go the other, stake out
a cry all its own, fill it
on your forehead without her.

 

*

You collect grass the way each star
Eats from your hand, trusts you
To become a nest for the afternoons

Not yet at home in the air, named for nights
That circle down, want to be night again
Take root in your chest as the ripples

From the long stone fallen into the water
Teaching it to darken, to stay
Then smell from dirt then shadows

—side by side you dead pull the ground closer
—with both arms need these whispers warm
already the place to ask about you.

 

*

And though this stone is small
it has more than the usual interest
in the dead, waits among tall grasses

and water holes, smells the way dirt
still warms the afternoons
that no longer have a place to stay

—you leave a nothing in the open
letting it darken to remember
where you buried the Earth

as if the sun could not be trusted
to take back in its light
and by yourself turn away.

 

*

You read out loud the way this bed
listens for the makeshift seam
loosening each night down the middle

and though there is no sun
you peel off page after page
as if underneath what you hear

are her eyes closing—word by word
louder and louder—you think it’s air
that’s falling—everything in your hands

is too heavy, becomes a shadow, covers her
with a single finger pointed at the ceiling light
what’s no where on the pillow or closer.

pencilSimon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by box of chalk, 2017. For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website. Email: simon[at]hamptons.com

Dear Kelsey

Poetry
Matthew Heston


Photo Credit: Nevenka Mazic / Flickr (CC-by-nc)

By the end of the night, I’d looked into
your eyes for so long, I had forgotten they were

attached to you—like when you repeat a word
so many times it starts to lose

all its meaning, or when you stare at a
Seurat and forget each dot means something

larger than itself. Sometimes, our eyes
play tricks on us, like the kid who knows magic

that no one invited to this party, but he
still showed up, and he brought his deck of cards.

It’s true there’s probably a logical explanation for
every ghost story you’ve ever heard, but that doesn’t

make them any less spooky—it’s worse
knowing that the truth is out there, but still

made itself invisible. Whether we like it
or not, a lie told enough times to enough people

becomes a truth. But the opposite is true, too:
a truth repeated for long enough becomes

common sense, and that’s the easiest sense
to destroy, because you forget why

you believed it in the first place, or if you
ever really believed in it at all.

pencil

Matthew Heston lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he is a graduate student at Northwestern University. Email: matthewheston[at]gmail.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Miki Byrne


Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

In the Shadow of Sand Point
Somerset, U.K.

The coast is not bitten into bay-curves,
chewed away by tides to leave a flat spread of sand
but is a backwashed muddy curve
nestled close to the Point.
Shadows of rearing rocks darken salt-streaked debris.
Dried, hooked by every rocky nook and finger.
Even ubiquitous plastics of civilisation are faded,
scoured, scraped,
where sea’s abrasion scrubs them raw.
Until even they take on a seared beauty,
all lumps and labels rubbed salt-clean,
or scratched milky-opaque by the sea’s glass-paper rub.
Sea-kale ties its ribbons into knots, grasses root in mud
that crusts in summer, oozes in damp.
At the horizon, clouds show.
Sun-caught, limned and illustrated, as if an artist
has lined them with a silver pen.
An expanse of tide-cleared mud, rippled like a dog’s palate,
runs toward the sea.
Sharp indents of seabirds lay patterns of their progress.

 

Angels

There are no angels in Tewkesbury.
Once they glided in loop-the-loops
over the Bloody Meadow.
Shuffled bones of old soldiers beneath the sod.
Exploited their interest in archaeology,
where battles once melee’d.
Or they played ‘skim the river’ along the Severn
till one caught a wing against a bridge
and broke bones.
They once danced waltzes at night
through the old flour mill,
flushed rats from their holes with celestial singing
but local kids freaked at the whiteness of them
when they wandered outside,
toes barely skimming the grass
and rolled balls of starlight along Back of Avon.
Sometimes they were seen on The Ham,
floating ghostly and serene through meadow grass,
only visible from waist up
and made wildflower circlets for their heads.
I’m told that they left overnight.
Offered neither notice or reason,
left the town in a state of sad puzzlement.
Others say one still lives in the Abbey belfry,
weaves love into wedding-hymn words
and surreptitiously dabbles his fingers
in the font at christenings,
to bring blessings on the child.
He accepts bells tolling, as it is always
for a good purpose and in the name of God.
I’ve never seen an angel.
Though I did find a fine, white feather
by the abbey’s great door.
I looked up in hope but it was only
the passing swoop of a bright and sunlit swan.

pencil

Website: mikibyrnepoetry.com Email: mikiandharry[at]yahoo.com

Four Poems

Baker’s Pick
Jim Zola


Photo Credit: J. Mark Dodds/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

To the Nail Found Under the Pew

Mine is the church of the smoldering limb,
the burnt self, the flesh missive.
At work, Geraldine sits across from me
plump in front of her screen
sings from shift start to shift end—
hymns, gospel. I call her Sister Hummingbird.

The church of the cracked jelly jar,
the knocked over bucket,
the broken spoke.
After I quit, Gina calls to tell me
Geraldine passed, hospitalized
for simple surgery, she never woke.
What church do you go to?
The first question asked when we moved South.
Church of the nevermind, church of the random
rancor, of the chewed nail.
At the service, we are whitecaps bobbing in the sea.
A blue-robed choir and four-piece combo lead the way.
The bass player has someplace else he needs to be.
The preacher shouts how the dearly departed wouldn’t want
wasted tears. The woman next to me shoots up,
slaps her thigh three times in praise.
Church of the ball peen hammer,
of the rusty shiv,
of the rotted plank.

 

Purlwise

I’m dreaming of beautiful trains bedazzled
in graffiti balloons, body part clouds adrift

upon random cars of sky. Sitting
at the crossing I watch this cumulus

of mysterious cargo pass into
eternity, into a heavenly

sadness that I long to wear like a sweater
my grandmother knits each Christmas, always

wrapped in shiny red paper. Eventually
she knits herself into an afterlife

of beautiful trains in clouds of red paper.

 

Sonnet Wearing a Mask as Disguise

This not answering the phone’s bring-bring is a kind of a sonnet
or a mask you buy because someone says it looks good on you
but the truth is it makes your monstrous head appear even bigger
than it already is. Back to the sonnet—bring-bring
it refuses to rhyme and the lines grow ragged, a single mom
waiting to order McNuggets for mistake number one
pinching the fat wailing cheek of mistake number two

while outside clouds sing like Ray Charles. See the girl
with the red dress on, she can do the Birdland all night long.
Because isn’t it all about desire? Fornication grows
ordinary. One chicken hawk waits on the leafless branch
for a nut drunk squirrel. Somewhere construction workers break
for lunch, pails filled with corrugated stars
and the homeless hold hands and pray for us all.

 

A History of Selfies

We had them.
We had mirrors for posing and zit checks.
We had other reflective things—
shop windows, hubcaps, butcher’s knives.
Not puddles, although more romantic types
might disagree. But their faces are
rippled and wet. We had shadows, still do.
We had artists, if that’s what you call the guys
at the World’s Fair who did
caricatures. Then our selves
had elephant ears, ski slope noses
and crazy cowlicks. We had Polaroids
to point and flash and wait and shake
while cheesy smiles magically emerged
from paper, first outlines then ghostly more.
We had photo booths with dusty curtains,
boxes guaranteed to produce giggles
and goofy mugs once the quarters
were inserted and the signal flashed.
I had a brownie camera held together
with lots of tape. I used it to take
pictures at the Berlin Zoo. Now,
all I have is a photo album full
of cockeyed stills of the giant walrus
who never ever smiled when I took his pic.

pencil

Jim Zola has worked in a warehouse, as a security guard, in a bookstore, as a teacher for deaf children, as a toy designer for Fisher Price, and currently as a children’s librarian. Published in many journals through the years, his publications include a chapbook, The One Hundred Bones of Weather (Blue Pitcher Press), and a full-length poetry collection, What Glorious Possibilities (Aldrich Press). He currently lives in Greensboro, NC. Email: jimzola[at]hotmail.com

Anniversary Waltz

Beaver’s Pick
Donna Pucciani


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

November 24, 2016

I’ve always hated
the dark of November, the suddenness
of night at four in the afternoon,
after custom has dictated
the changing of the clocks.

As it happens, we were married
forty years ago this day, while
the world was still light.
The autumn afternoon slanted
our shadows on a leaf-strewn lawn,
colored us through the stained glass
of the university chapel.

We never feared the night,
never even thought of
the blunt forces of darkness.
Now I’ve learned to hold my breath,
awaiting the inky tentacles of time
to squeeze the life out of our
blissful dailiness.

We’ve spent the past in noisy classrooms
of adolescents resisting Chaucer.
What we know now are
four decades of drifted leaves,
friends and cousins falling
in the wind, backlit by a setting sun.
The real pilgrimage begins here,

in our small house silhouetted
against a reddening sky and the arthritic
fingers of surviving trees. Our eyes
tire of the light, perhaps readying
to frame the arc of a harvest moon.
We are a floater in the eye of winter,
its aura reflecting the whiteness
of our breath.

pencil

Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poems on four continents.Her work has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Italian and German, and has won awards from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, the Illinois Arts Council, Poetry on the Lake, and others. Her seventh and most recent book of poems is Edges (Purple Flag Press, Chicago). Email: dpucciani[at]yahoo.com