How to Clean an Empty Nest

Tyrel Kessinger

Photo Credit: Patrick Maloney/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Misc. Yell a command to the house. Anything. Issue orders for a jacket to be put away, a trombone to be practiced (or mercifully stopped), video game controllers to be put down and that you don’t care they’re not at a “good stopping point.” You do it if only to hear a loud disturbance, to assure yourself that you still possess the authoritative tone of a parental figure known to light fires under asses. You remember the vow you once made: today you will clean out the junk drawer whose time has finally come. Dig your hands through the tangled mass like a greedy yet unsatisfied pirate. Organize the phone connectors and adapters and spare keys and all the various whatnot. Roll your eyes as you toss the odds and ends carelessly left behind: random pen caps, broken rubber bands, a bottle of long dried up whiteout, etc. Reach to the back and pull free the folded up paper wedged in the crevice, crinkly and nearly ancient. You open it and see a child’s drawing: a magenta-tinted, multi-eyed alien beast creature of some sort, posing clumsily under the auspices of a crooked rainbow, a malformed pincer claw presenting a simple flower the color of dirty cotton candy to the world. Out of reflex you look around for the child who drew it, itching so wildly to dole out praise that you can feel your heart beating through your palms. It’s beautiful. Perfect. A masterpiece. Oh yes, I’ll keep it forever, you think you told them, hope you told them—now worried you didn’t tell them. Wild horses wouldn’t stand a chance. (You probably had to explain that, telling them it meant that nothing you loved could ever be separated from you.) But of course they can’t hear you, even if you forgot that they weren’t there. You try your best not to get it wet. This was a mess some years in the making.

Sweep. Take your time. What’s the rush? As if there was anyone around to ask anything of you. Use a broom, for god’s sake, get some exercise. Push your body around the empty house and not think about how pregnant with life it used to be. Treat the cleaning apparatus like a dance partner. Queue up some eighties hair metal bands you like and go to town. Both a blessing and a stinging curse: no blushing, embarrassed faces to see you tango other than the house that somehow remains quiet even with Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love (A Bad Name)” arena-stomping the atmosphere.

Dust. The lack of constant movement, of wrestling bodies and no-sleep sleepovers, of treasured items being removed and returned, have afforded the grime and grit the insurmountable opportunity to proliferate and disseminate. You wipe all but one window sill clean, composing a message in the film with a finger, wondering if anyone will see it before the next generation of dust comes to roost in the empty spaces that give the words their shape.

Breaktime! You will consider taking up smoking again and why not? That’s what you did on your breaks when you were a server in college, that lighthearted rom-com era preceding the time of All This. As then, there are no kids to hide it from, no examples needing to be set. But there is time and empty hands to be filled. For now, you fiddle with your phone, bright with that initial possibility of hope that an armada of missed messages or calls or even e-mails await you. But there’s only a text reminder for your doctor’s appointment later in the week. (Dutifully, you text “OK” to confirm.) On TV it’s The Price Is Right. You doze off during Plinko. So many things change, you think, before you fall asleep, but not Plinko. Plinko has never abandoned you. You wake and eat the same leftovers you’ve been eating for three days now. Used to be everything was consumed by hungry, devouring mouths. Now the hungry, devouring mouths have licked their lips and departed, eating under the same stars and moon but different roofs.


Tyrel Kessinger lives in Louisville, Ky. He is the stay-at-home father of two wild animals. Occasionally he finds the time to write things. Email: tlkessinger[at]

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Coffeehouse Poem #339

Erren Kelly

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

Mourning doves coo
As the rain falls silent
As dreams
A girl types on her laptop
She wears her homeland
On her face
She shows me home
Through her eyes
They never lie
They tell me

pencilErren Kelly is a two-time Pushcart-nominated poet from Boston. He has been writing for 28 years and has over 300 publications in print and online in such publications as Hiram Poetry Review, Mudfish, Poetry Magazine (online), Ceremony, Cacti Fur, Bitterzoet, Cactus Heart, Similar Peaks, Gloom Cupboard, Poetry Salzburg and other publications. His most recent publication was in Black Heart Literary Journal. He has also been published in anthologies such as Fertile Ground and Beyond The Frontier. His work can also been seen on YouTube under the “Gallery Cabaret” links. He is also the author of the book Disturbing The Peace on Night Ballet Press. Email: errenkelly76[at]

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hand me downs

Peter D. A. Wood

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

Grandma had dozens of books from her college days
the classics like Poe, Tolstoy, Hardy
no women though and oddly enough
not a single Bible. I pass my fingers over the dry
worn down pages, wondering who else has done so, too.
From the now-ignored shelves I spot a quintessential read—
The Idiot—how appropriate this would make for me
a half-joking birthday gift. There is a short note in
the back etched in now illegible handwriting.
Maybe it’s a confession, to murder or something more
sinister like continuing a lineage. I set the book
down before I read too far between the lines.


Peter D. A. Wood is an aspiring writer originally from Iowa most recently living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Email: peter.david.arnould.wood[at]

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Four Poems

Josh Smith

Photo Credit: Giles Watson/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Black Diamond

The easiest path,
through the most difficult woods
is still Black Diamond.


By The Knife

Everybody takes cuts in a knife fight.
Winning is about who sustains less damage.

Keep your arms in, except to strike or block,
always stay moving.

It’s what the Sharks and Jets knew.
It’s what our grandparents knew, on the old world streets.
Each fight—at least a scrape, which time adds up.
Each fight, building toward an eventual loss.

A moment’s pause:
an arm is dropped, a reflex too slow.
No one raises the victor’s hand;
the next challenger always steps forward to fight.


For Elise

Monsters make monsters.
I came to you—ball of clay.
What did you make me?


Poems About Me
(after Trace Adkins’s “Songs About Me”)

I met a woman at the café,
she spotted my notebook and asked,
what do you write?

I said, a little fiction, a lot of poems,
I’ll be reading them at the bar tonight.

She giggled, and hid her face behind her hand,
said, sorry, I thought you were in a band.
What made you want to write that sort of thing?

I told her, ‘cause they’re poems about me, and who I am.
Poems about learning and living,
and fairness to women, children and dogs.
Yeah, they’re all just poems about me.

So I gave her the address,
said, I promise, it’s not what you think,
when you hear the word ‘poetry.’
She said, I don’t expect to become a fan,
but I might swing by if I’m free.

Then that night when I got done with my poems
about the road, and home, and broken bones—
she caught me as I walked off stage,
and screamed, hey, you were right!

It was like you wrote those poems about me, and who I am.
Poems about learning and living,
and fairness to women, children and dogs.
Yeah, they’re all just poems about me.

So I’ll just keep on writing
until the whole world’s reading all those poems about me.
Yeah, they’re all just poems about me.


Josh Smith is to David Hasslehoff what David Hasslehoff is to Germany… which is to say he’s foreign to him, younger than him, and smaller than him. Josh lives and writes in Buffalo, New York. Email: joshsmithpoetry[at]

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Four Poems

Timothy Robbins

Photo Credit: Jos van Wunnik/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)


I wish we’d kept in touch. I want to
tell you I’m rereading the Murakami
novel. I want to convince you of the affection
I feel for a minor character, the caretaker who
minds the power station and collects
musical instruments for their shapes as
I collect shapes for their pitch. I say “reread.”
Actually I’m listening to an audiobook.
I didn’t love the caretaker when he was mute.
I’ve fallen for him now for the narrator’s
voice like a wind from a world that has only
one wind.

I pray your kickboxing is still so
precise it’s not violent—pray you’re still
a percussionist not a pugilist in the ring.

I love the narrow forehead you try
to ignore, fearing your ancestors’
unkind love for the Mandarin’s
pale arching brow. In my nightmare once,
as you slept untouched beside me, you
took a knife to your hairline and thirstily
drank your blood till you drowned.

Imagine a pregnant girl who
doesn’t know what’s happening to her body
or how it came about. Your relation to your
beauty is that girl’s relation
to her gestating heir.


Blanket and Knife

There’s no blanket
we haven’t shared.

No hunger we didn’t
divide like bread.

There was a
game of expectations,
each a knife.

The first and last
act we committed with
the knife was to wash it.

Everything in between was
feint to get us from

the first to the
second cleaning.

Once it was clean, we
tested how long we
could stand to stare
at its shine
without speaking.


The Shape

It has only shape and light
like the form I see at head-
ache’s start. When data is

added it will be me pressed
to a wall, arms in a T—
and him, the prop. Then it

will be me fastening cloth
flowers to a spiked cross,
me driving it into parched

earth, right against the stone
which all visitors but him
will assume was there before.


Manmade Drifts

I whisper to myself. It’s
more effective than
talking. Stripping away
the vowels, reducing
verbal music to a fit of
breaths is often the only
hopeful choice. At 3:00
a.m. a snow clearer warns
me: not all voiceless
utterances are soft. In an
Oscar winner I saw last
Wednesday, a boy, with
violence surprising
from such skinny arms,
blocked his mother’s
hate-fueled screams
with a sliding glass door.
Boy and viewers—
though we weren’t lip-
readers—easily read
faggot! I wake and
see my husband’s mouth
doing, as usual, the work
of his nose. I doze and
rouse to his breath on my
eyes. It’s been so long,
the kiss surprises like
an expletive, scrapes
like a plough, exposes
where we are, clears the
way for where we’ll go.


Timothy Robbins has been teaching English as a Second Language for 28 years. He has been a regular contributor to Hanging Loose since 1978. His poems have appeared in Main Street Rag, Off The Coast, Bayou Magazine, Slant, Tipton Review, Cholla Needles and many others. He has published three volumes of poetry: Three New Poets (Hanging Loose Press), Denny’s Arbor Vitae (Adelaide Books) and Carrying Bodies (Main Street Rag Press). He lives in Wisconsin with his husband of 21 years. Email: robbinstimothy9[at]

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The Pen

Broker’s Pick
Carl Leggo

Photo Credit: Paul Sullivan/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

(for Rick)

years ago when my first book of poems
Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill
was published, my brother sent me
a silver Cross pen with my name engraved

my brother sometimes complained
I made money by writing poetry about
his mishaps and calamities (I always
explained, poets don’t make any money)

a year ago I lost the pen, and while I lose
a lot of pens, I was especially sad to lose
the pen my brother had given me, a gesture
he was glad I wrote stories, even his

on the eve of my birthday I was culling
clothes in my closet (a seasonal purging
to sustain balance amidst busy clutter)
with hope that the thrift store had room

I found the pen in the pocket of a winter jacket,
and remembered how my brother always
phoned me on my birthday with the boast,
I’m now two years younger than you, at least

for a week, since he was born one year
and one week after me, always my best friend
growing up on Lynch’s Lane, and for all our
differences, he was the brother I always needed

since he died last August, he will always be much
younger now, and finding the lost pen I knew
how a lovely mystery holds us fast, even in loss,
when my brother whispered, write more poems


Carl Leggo is a poet and professor at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill; View from My Mother’s House; Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our Times (co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Creative Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); Sailing in a Concrete Boat; Arresting Hope: Prisons That Heal (co-edited with Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski, and Lynn Fels); Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching: Honoring Presence (co-edited with Susan Walsh and Barbara Bickel); Hearing Echoes (co-authored with Renee Norman); and Poetic inquiry: Enchantment of Place (co-edited with Pauline Sameshima, Alexandra Fidyk, and Kedrick James). Email: carl.leggo[at]

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Two Poems

Bill Yarrow

Photo Credit: J.A. Alcaide/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Collect Enough Fragments, You’ve Got Yourself A Poem


The sun’s corona. Empty boxes
near the firehouse.

Red birth.
A bird’s lost wing.


The bitterness of littleness.
Apples in a pile.

Early love.
A spider, swinging.


A father’s harshness.
Twelve bills unpaid.

Leaves in a crevice.
A dream unwrapped.


The future.
Its dizziness.

Christmas cookies.
A dollhouse all alone


Thirteen Syllable Poem Ending With A Line From K. Balmont

I attended a college where fauna was worshipped.
There I studied Biology of Mysteries II.
I had written twelves pages re: mountains near Venice
after I practiced devices I learned from bad men.
I rehearsed a short play about demons and pirates,
once assembled an army of recalcitrant prigs.
Forsaking the reward for returning the holy,
I visited the outskirts of a village of thugs.
When I lived with a group of itinerant schmoozers,
I strangled my impulse to incinerate tinder.
I have traveled to cities emissionless, suspect,
where I started at laws of strict carnal compunction.
I predicted weather that interrogates safety.
I organized committees for the reuse of tin.
I once taught classes in repudiation of bosh.
I led dead seminars in The Reduction of Soul.
I saw in government a lacuna of talent.
I arranged for the drug that will parry emotion.
I opened a fissure in the magma of thinking.
I had learned to ensnare the vague shadows far straying.


Bill Yarrow, Professor of English at Joliet Junior College and an editor at Blue Fifth Review, is the author of Against Prompts, The Vig of Love, Blasphemer, Pointed Sentences, and five chapbooks. He has been nominated eight times for a Pushcart Prize. Email: bill.yarrow[at]

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Are You There

Amy Sherwood

Photo Credit: seanj/Flickr (CC-by)

I see you lying there, in the middle of your living room, set up as if you are on display. Put out in your own home with an open-door policy for others to come in and walk through. To view you like a New York City Christmas window display. Are you cold? Just under a blanket in your pajamas? We all just sit here, in chairs, around you, having a normal conversation like you are here, but you’re not. You were a woman who always had each hair in place, an outfit for every occasion, and a shoe in every color that would match every one of those outfits. When the seasons would change, and the weather would get cold, you could put on a wrap, or a coat that would complement the shoes and the outfit. And don’t forget the hat. One minute someone is saying something funny and laughing about you, the next minute someone is saying something sarcastic, maybe about how you had an outfit for every occasion. Can you hear them? I know you can hear the voices, the talking. You know they are here. You know they mean well. You have a heart of gold, that’s why they are all there. But you don’t want to be seen like this. In your night clothes. Having to let others clean you up. See your naked body. We all want to have you with us. But it’s ok to let go. It’s ok to go to sleep. Let your tired body rest. We will pick out the right shoes and outfit to meet you on the other side.


Amy Sherwood is a student in Professor Sandra Graff’s Creative Writing/Poetry class this semester at SUNY Orange in Middletown, NY. Email: aes31[at]

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DS Maolalai

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

the blood
of a place
is the river.
giving motion,
bringing forward ideas,
and water-birds; shifting trash
and lighting off parks
like a fuse
leading to fire.
was what was wrong
with Toronto; pressed instead
against a flat lake
to sustain itself;
a mollusk
clinging on rocks. a grey city
grey water,
pumping grey
all over the landscape,

like trying
to suck life
out of sand.


DS Maolalai is a poet from Ireland who has been writing and publishing poetry for almost 10 years. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press. He has been nominated for Best of the Web and twice for the Pushcart Prize. Email: diarmo90[at]

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Carl Leggo

Photo Credit: Steve Baty/Flickr (CC-by)

most of my adult life I have spent Sundays
in church, but cancer has consumed my spirit,
so I now spend Sundays at the Sanctuary,
a coffee shop a few minutes up the road

Tim built the coffee shop, especially for cyclists,
where Coffee Cycle Culture is the slogan and highlights
of Tour de France races are presented on a big screen
hung over the coffee bar, a gathering place

for cycling groups from all over the Lower Mainland
who arrive in happy numbers in spandex and cleated
shoes with expensive bicycles and camaraderie
to drink coffee and eat raspberry and lemon scones

Tim remembers people’s names, asks about their stories,
he knows I am now often in the BC Cancer Agency
and he is always glad to see me, glad to hear treatments
are working, I might actually have some future left

perhaps I will ride a bicycle again, one day, as I often did
in Corner Brook, and one Christmas bought a Raleigh
ten-speed and had it shipped by train across Newfoundland,
with anticipation of riding it in the spring after a long winter

I look forward to returning to church on Sunday mornings
but for now I will sip coffee at the Sanctuary where
I can relax in the predictable pleasures of cycles of stories
that continue week after week, a simple air of repetition


Carl Leggo is a poet and professor at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill; View from My Mother’s House; Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our Times (co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Creative Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); Sailing in a Concrete Boat; Arresting Hope: Prisons That Heal (co-edited with Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski, and Lynn Fels); Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching: Honoring Presence (co-edited with Susan Walsh and Barbara Bickel); Hearing Echoes (co-authored with Renee Norman); and Poetic inquiry: Enchantment of Place (co-edited with Pauline Sameshima, Alexandra Fidyk, and Kedrick James). Email: carl.leggo[at]

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