The Heart of Song

Broker’s Pick
Roger Singer


Photo Credit: Nicole Marie Edine/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Two blocks into Harlem. White shirts,
black ties, flowered dresses, patent
leather shoes, tattoos and beautiful hair;
the streets are always alive.

The beat mixes up. The man
with a full beard smiles, exposing
a picket fence for teeth. Conga drums
call out the dance in people. Red and purple
cotton hats jive like released shadows.
Tired feet get the sleep slapped out of them.
A guitar strings out a solo,
drawing an applause from a child.

A warm unexpected rain washes everything
down. Clouds soon part. The city
begins again.

pencil

Email: Cabanaph424[at]verizon.net

Five Poems

Poetry
Bibhu Padhi


Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr (CC-by)

Sickness: Morning

A dry mouth troubles this
body, the mind is stuck
to the taste of sand.

The salt-taste is long gone
into some other mouth,
its residence far from mine.

Drops of Hanneman and Nash
are believed to be an assurance
against further loss, any savage rite.

But the body, now getting slowly
introduced to a tired unevenness,
looks for consolation elsewhere.

Limbs go cold, like winter,
curled around themselves
to restore warmth and peace.

I go slow with things, like a leaf, pray
for a return to the basics, even as
the mind is a prisoner of disbelief.

 

Mother

I recall the day I saw you for
the first time. The white cloth on you
shone like the stars, like sunlight on

northern snow. You lisped my words
in numerous ways, so I might repeat the same,
my joy filling rooms and corridors

in magnificent forms. I wonder
if you taught all your children
the signature of your pain.

Would you mind if I misspelt a word
that was attached to your name.
Something tells me you will not;

you always misspell my name.
Mother: Today, you seem to be far
From me, in another sphere,

Under another name. Do you see me
From where you are? Do you feel worried
because I am nowhere near you—

thrown away by a wind that shakes
hills and plains, the sea’s divinity? Are you
still in the sea, the hills and the plains?

 

Once More, Faith

However you try, the surrender
is hard to come. All aspirations
have touched only the periphery
of the place where she is believed

to stay, have stayed back with you
or dissolved in the long night sky.
The stars might have seen these
just as the heart somewhere here.

How does acceptance come,
in which miraculous way, which
modes of faith and submission,
which postures of prayer?

You have merely heard about
the subdued matters, the last
line of giving oneself away,
the first words of superior grace.

Waiting is not the only answer.
It should have been over by now,
given you enough to live with
and distribute, to live for.

 

Nothing Shows Clear

Summer is large over the small
town. March is hardly here.

Margosa buds have shown themselves
earlier than it has been in years.

I touch my dumb eyes behind which
another pair rests, ready to take over.

How far is meditation from a mere
closure of the eyes, a stiff brown gaze,

the inspiration of the first view
of transparencies, heaven’s gate?

The answer seems nowhere near, like
the last winter, the first rains of the year.

 

Thinking the Now

What comes is only other than
what you thought you would receive.
The struggle for the whole continues
beyond the boundaries of reason.

Some say that is how things come,
even delay in arriving where
they are awaited by eager hands
and minds, all that is darkened

by the world’s grim ways, useless
intent for passions and possessions,
blocked by the mind’s old habit of
looking back and discovering the lost.

You have to be cautious in choosing
things, shed your past and memories, all
that you held so proudly as your own—
your body’s performances, mind’s dreams.

You must know that you might lose
what is with you now, under a sheet—
the half-line that would not come
to completion, the likelihood of its loss.

pencil

Bibhu Padhi has published eleven books of poetry. His poems have appeared in distinguished magazines throughout the English-speaking world, such as Encounter, The Contemporary Review, The Poetry Review, Stand, The Rialto, The American Scholar, Colorado Review, Confrontation, Mid-American Review, Poet Lore, Poetry (Chicago), The Southwest Review, TriQuarterly, The Antigonish Review, The Toronto Review, Queen’s Quarterly, The Bombay Review, The Illustrated Weekly of India, and Indian Literature. They have been included in numerous anthologies and textbooks. Three of the most recent are Language for a New Century (Norton), 60 Indian Poets (Penguin), and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (HarperCollins). Email: padhi.bibhu[at]gmail.com

Four Poems

Poetry
Don Thompson


Photo Credit: loppear/Flickr (CC-by)

Danse de Pommes

Doves like retired ballet dancers,
plump but content to be,
settle side by side on a powerline
close to the window.

Their gnarled feet look too sore
even to shuffle,
but they still balance like pros,
without a thought.

And with their long and elegant,
supple necks crisscrossing,
they take up where it left off
a lifelong pas de deux.

 

Again

You can almost see with your eyes closed
the thought you think
helplessly, always against your will.
There it is again—

drifting above consciousness,
that flat expanse of stinkweed and stone
you’ve shattered with a sledgehammer,
doing life with hard labor:

A dense, miasmic cloud, lint gray,
you could refer someone to who asks
the exact tint, the precise odor
of regret.

 

Aspens

Their leaves shimmer like the scales of salmon
leaping into the current of the wind:
an endangered species

struggling to escape this low meadow
on a foolish impulse familiar to us
and make it upstream—

that is, uphill, above the tree line,
across the bone bare scarp
where nothing with roots can reproduce

or even survive, except
an ancient, solitary Bristlecone,
already extinct in its own lifetime.

 

Road Work

A bungled sunrise, inconclusive
carmine and mauve, spills across the mud
that makes the road impassable.

I have to turn back, sacrificing
the long walk that heals a heart
and calms a mind.

But the winter sun, though hesitant,
always gets to work on repairs,
and soon, if there’s no more rain,

the dirt road I need to take
will be gray and cracked again,
harder than old asphalt.

pencil

Email: d_e_thompson[at]aol.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Abigail George


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

To Johannesburg, with love
(for my parents)

I’ve been living underground
like graffiti, the grunge scene,
gravity and volcanic rock for the longest time. I’ve been many things
in my life.
Feminist. Romantic. Poet.
Aunt. Independent woman.
Sister. Daughter. Ex. Girlfriend. I’ve clothed
myself in veil-and-shroud.

Having the presence of a
child around me has changed all of that. I want to be a
good woman. I want to give and love
and most of all be kind. I don’t want to think that suffering is
noble anymore. I want to put away my loneliness
inside a kind of Pandora’s box.
Along with my solitude. The futility that
I’ve carried around like baggage with me for the

(longest time).

I don’t want to say things like,
‘the longest time’ anymore. I
want to be happy and loyal to
the people who love me. I want
to be loyal to the girl inside my mother, my sister, my aunts, my cousins
in the family way. Far away in America and Swaziland. South Africa.
I’m a nation. I’m a soldier. I’m a

warrior. I’m a servant girl.
I’m a nursemaid. Caregiver. Lover.
Fighter. Daily I take the vows of a nation, of
a Christian-soldier, warrior,
lowly servant girl, nursemaid, caregiver, lover, fighter.
I have the personality of the
sun on my side. The characteristics of
and morality of moonlight.
I can wail against the choices that
I’ve made in my short life or
I can embrace the watershed. The men and women,
the translations of them that I’ve
loved in my short life. If it’s been
tragic-comic-significant-happy,
it’s been that way from start to end.
And once I reach the finish line
I will meditate on the feasts and festivals
that winter has brought me and
I will savour the photographs, the special moments
that summer has brought to me.

 

The handsome stranger
(for my mother and father)

I can smell the hungering sea
on my fingers. Your dancing
is bittersweet. The royal-loyal
invention of the cracked day overcast. Birdsong finds
itself in my palms. Between
my ears. Inside the charity of
my head. The tops of my brain
cells. The margin and extinction of night comes with
you still. An acute challenge
lies before us in what used to
be our own private ‘dream’ world. Invite the garden, you
used to tell me. The winter-guest.
The dead. The union of the spontaneity of
blood and the waves of flesh

but I no longer invite you to sit at my kitchen table. No longer
do you understand
my worldview. Your touch was concrete once.
Golden. Once your kiss planted
reassurance in my soul. Your
language musk, heat, sun, translation, weather.
Your eyes the window to your soul.

I don’t want to remember you.
I don’t want to remember your breath
(on my skin) but I do. Truth has a smallness. An urgency about its air.

Love is trapped in that smallness.
That urgency. Love is a wedding feast.
The bride a vine. The vows a list.
The groom a beast. There is stress
everywhere. In race, nature, humanity.
Where ancestors feature. Once
you were radiant. You put me into a trance. It took me
years to understand the ways in which

you did not love me. Nonetheless I
dreamed the vision of you into my soul.
I’m trapped. I know it. In order to be
free I must surrender the memory of
you. The more trapped I feel the more
I must bury you in the past. In history.
Like letters trapped in an archive. Old
pieces of furniture and paintings found in
a museum. Treasures lost and found.

pencil

Pushcart Prize nominee for her fiction (“Wash Away My Sins”), Abigail George is a South African blogger, poet and writer. She is the recipient of writing grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg, the Centre for the Book in Cape Town and ECPACC in East London. She blogs
here. Email: abigailgeorge79[at]gmail.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Rachel Burns


Photo Credit: Kent Wang/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Grandad’s Shotgun

Grandad kept a shotgun in the shed;
the farmer paid him to shoot wild rabbits.

He brought them back home, pitiful and dead,
skinned their small bodies from their grey fur coats.

He’d make a rabbit stew, adding onion,
leek, a dash of salt and a fistful of thyme.

Come teatime he’d ladle rabbit flesh
into my bowl. I’d stare at it and refuse to eat, face sullen.

You’ve brought this bairn up too soft, he’d say to my mother,
tossing me a hunk of bread and butter.

 

Manchester, Piccadilly

Sunday morning and the tram from Bury
is late getting away. Parklife same every year!
Metrolink is a load of crap! You emphasise
the guttural k.

The porters herd us forward—
I talk about my grandfather, the railway artist.
I have his poster “Manchester’s New Station”
on my bedroom wall. You stifle a yawn and say,

I don’t give a fuck about art, I don’t see the use of it
I mean what’s the fucking point of looking at a picture.

The information screen rolls down the time:
long delays

until our rammed carriage
finally pulls away
first to Radcliffe then Whitefield. The crowd engulfs us—
shiny happy faces—eyes dilated, you watch the girls
as they sway in their Hunter wellies and ripped shorts.

An elderly man tries to get off
at Besses o’ th’ Barn (an unmanned station with no guard).
He pushes the red button, voice shrill, panicky
move… move out of the way.
There is no room, he backs his wheelchair
towards the exit, the crowd spill onto the platform
like hyperactive ants, then scuttle back on again.

We continue our journey
the red light flashing,
on off, on off.
Six Glaswegian boys talk loud and lairy
about dogging a girl from Paisley. They pass
their potent brew back and forth. You listen bemused
as they sing their festival songs, lyrics that rhyme and are easy.

The discarded bottles clink across the floor.
We reach Heaton. The crowd
pulses forward
through the opening doors, voices echo in stereo
gradually fading into the underground below.

In the subdued quiet, you ask
about my grandfather, the great artist.
I see your feigned interest in the dark glass
the tram lurches forward—three-quarters empty—
he died before your time, I say.

The world outside hurtles past
Lowry’s haunts,
Oldfield to George Street, the remnants of the mills
the dying industrial scene, St Peter’s Square
and Victoria, the new modern Manchester
post-IRA.

We arrive at Manchester Piccadilly
and step out into the open air.
The view of the station disappoints; it hardly compares
to the sweeping romance of the 1962 railway poster
on my bedroom wall. You are not fussed
but I feel cheated. The sky darkens.
Like an arrow-shower it starts to rain.

pencil

Rachel Burns is a poet and playwright living in Durham City, England. She is currently an Arvon/Jerwood mentee in playwriting. Poems have been published in UK literary magazines recently The Lake, South, Southlight and Lonesome October and The Herald newspaper. She was shortlisted for the Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize 2017. Email: rachel.burnsba[at]gmail.com

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