Two Poems

Beaver’s Pick
Judith Taylor


A diptych of two black-and-white images. The top photograph: a woman with long, slightly messy hair leaning against a white wall. She's wearing jeans and a T-shirt and has a bandana wrapped around her wrist. Her legs are bent with knees up in the foreground. The bottom photograph: a woman lying on her back on a made bed on a comforter with a striped pattern. Her left arm is raised, elbow up, with her hand placed over her right eye. Her face is slightly turned toward the camera and her left eye is closed. She's wearing a plaid shirt. The rest of her body is out of frame.

Photo Credit: ashley.adcox/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Cycle

The body adapts to dearth.
Starve it of food and it will struggle on
consuming itself, as long as self remains to it.
Starve it of sleep, and it tries
—good body—to please you

adapts to papery eyelids, sugar cravings;
that feeling of running hot, as if your skull
has become a light source and you can’t switch off;
that tendency to weep.
It only needs a little training

—staying up late, rewriting lists
from all you haven’t achieved today
into what you’ll achieve tomorrow;
or scrolling down your phone screen
for a change of news—

and the body will take what’s given it
for the new normal: wake you
after two or three hours, as if
it’s had enough; and never allow itself
to dive down into the deep waves

between your frittering dreams, as if it’s fearful
it might never regain the surface.
You can teach yourself to be
terrifyingly, constantly alert this way.
People do. Not just in wars:

there’s a kind of politician who boasts
in their memoirs, of their appetite
for the tough task; of their iron will.
How they trained themselves to exist on
two or three hours of sleep. And nobody

cuts in to say the obvious:
that living like that will make you sick
in the end, will make you
borderline mad. Like us, in bodies we force
to stay awake beyond endurance

afraid of what’s being done, that we’ll have
to surface to. Another day
to scroll down through, our eyes dry
and painful. Another list. A bad dream
we are too lit up to wake from.

 

Daughter

In the dream, he says get out of here
and don’t come back. I think it’s a joke:
he likes to do the stern Victorian patriarch.

It’s an act, he says
—confronting us with our own bourgeois morality
for our own good, since we’re too weak in the head
to be led on rational lines.

I play along
but I think about that business with the earrings
and that he’s a hypocrite too. Oh
that teenage word!
—but who can you use it on if not your father?

In the background,
in the dream, my mother frowns. She knows this game
is going to make me late in leaving
and she’s seen too much, all these years,
to find it funny now.

It’s only once I’m awake I realise
that I called her up about as grey as she is now,
and as cynical. My father, though
I must have dreamed at least a decade younger.

Still arguing, for the sake of it, still maintaining
black was white, too, if he thought it likely
someone would answer back
and give him a chance to overbear them. Not

in the slightest doubt of himself.
Not hesitant
yet. Not fragile.

pencil

Judith Taylor comes from Perthshire, in eastern central Scotland, and now lives and works in Aberdeen, where she is one of the organisers of the monthly “Poetry at Books and Beans” events. Her first full-length collection, Not in Nightingale Country, was published in 2017 by Red Squirrel Press, and she is one of the Editors of Poetry Scotland magazine. Email: j.taylor.09[at]btinternet.com

Mind Fullness

Broker’s Pick
Ann Gibson


Several upside-down bisque doll heads. The tops of the heads are open/hollow. The head in the middle foreground has blue glass eyes. The two on either side have empty eye holes. The heads have painted lips, cheeks, eyebrows. Some have closed lips and others have open mouths. A cloth doll body is in the background.

Photo Credit: Florian Lehmuth/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Present in the moment, listening,
attentive to everything that’s said.
Tell me and I’ll remember, input sticks;
who’s doing what, whether I should show.

Minutiae weigh heavy in the head;
brain brims with details, circuits clog.
Keeping track takes its tangled toll,
no space left for flippancy or fun.

You chat, chew the fat with friends,
can’t recall anything you hear;
pay no heed to scuppered lucky chances,
meetings missed, appointments double-booked,
plans thwarted by your absent mind—
I envy you your Teflon, sieve-based brain.

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Ann Gibson spent her childhood in Dublin and now lives in North Yorkshire, UK. She has published poetry in Acumen, Prole, Obsessed with Pipework, Dream Catcher, Orbis, The Poets’ Republic, and various anthologies. Her poetry has also appeared online in The High Window, Algebra of Owls, Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Ofi Press Magazine and The Ekphrasis Review. Email: annjmgibson[at]gmail.com

Starbucks

Poetry
Sharon Whitehill


A woman at a drive-through window. She's wearing a headset, glasses, a denim shirt, and a green apron with the Starbucks logo. She's smiling brightly. On the ledge outside the window are some very large white flowers in a plastic to-go cup. Trees and blue sky are reflected on the window glass.

Photo Credit: Wonderlane/Flickr (CC-by)

One smile begets another; one kind gesture invites another. —Kathleen Parker

Everybody in Starbucks looks happy:
the freckled barista taking my order,
the line of workers pulling espresso
and steaming the milk,
even the handful who service the drive-through.
A vortex of forest-green aprons:
liquid chlorophyll swirled in water,
everyone pleased to be part of the dance.

I remark on the ambient mood
to the woman calling finished orders.
“I have a good team,” she agrees,
smartly snapping the lid on my cup.

Sipping the tall cappuccino,
I think of my sister’s account
of the frazzled woman at Walmart
who mistakenly smacked her cart
on the bench where my sister sat:
a startling BANG of metal on metal.

A quick reassurance—
“I’m not hurt, it’s okay”—
kindled relief in the woman’s eyes
before a stern husband hustled her off.

Far-reaching how governed we are
by the humors of strangers.
How simple compassion can solace.
How rancor can taint the whole day.

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Sharon Whitehill is a retired English professor from West Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. In addition to poems published in various literary magazines, Sharon’s publications include two scholarly biographies, two memoirs, two poetry chapbooks, and a full collection of poems. Email: bambisharon[at]gmail.com

He Sleeps Next Door

Poetry
Diane Webster


Monochromatic photo of a metal folding chair with five wood slats for the seat and three wood slats for the backrest. The chair is in the foreground next to a shingled wall. Two windows with closed horizontal blinds inside are to the top left. All of the color in the photo is muted with the exception of an empty large green plant pot under one window. Dappled sunlight falls from the left and the shadow of a chain link fence can be seen on the concrete ground.

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

He sleeps 30 feet away
in the house next door,
but he sits on a folding chair
outside his room watching
TV in the living room
through propped open door
of his parents’ house.

He smokes cigarettes,
listens to running water
of koi pond crowded
into his area like a hot tub
for people with limited space.

I hear his one-sided cell phone
conversations with friends
at 2:00 a.m. after the bars close;
I hear him cough when he can’t sleep
and cigarette smoke invades his lungs;
I hear him slam the wooden gate
to his graveled domain when darkness
explodes within him as much
as it descends through night.

I want to whisper through my wall,
“It’s all right.  Morning’s coming.”
I wonder if he hears.

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Diane Webster’s goal is to remain open to poetry ideas in everyday life, nature or an overheard phrase and to write. Diane enjoys the challenge of transforming images into words to fit her poems. Her work has appeared in El Portal, North Dakota Quarterly, Eunoia Review and other literary magazines. Email: diaweb[at]hotmail.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Joanne Holdridge


A university lecture hall with the lights off. The image is taken from the side of the curved rows of seats looking toward the windows on the opposite wall. There are three sets of windows: all three with 4 square panes at the top and two sets with taller rectangular panes at the bottom. Green foliage is visible outside. Sunlight reflects off the rows of seats, which face toward the front at the right (out of frame).

Photo Credit: Romana Klee/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Before #MeToo

He strode into class
as if he’d just stepped down
from his high horse to enlighten
lesser mortals of our real purpose here
when I knew, knew he was the one
you’d tried to kill yourself over

I watched through narrowed lids
pulse in my forehead throbbing
sat in that room listening to him
twice a week for sixteen weeks
but didn’t get up and walk out
didn’t drop the class and add another
didn’t stop wanting a piece of him, to get back
for you, because you couldn’t

When it came down to it
I didn’t string him up in the garage
hang him like a side of beef from the rafters
still haven’t gotten
my pound of flesh, the tongue I wanted
to rip out to give you back yours
all I did that night he was sure
he had me, was say No, I won’t go home
with you, and I swung off down the hill
my whole body shaking, hands clenched
and he was alone in the rain
with his sorry self
and that had to be enough

 

When the Email Comes

from the man who raped me
the subject line reads: old friend
The message says he’s been looking
for a long time and finally found me
through an old poetry journal.
He hopes I haven’t forgotten him
and though it’s been decades
he still remembers me.

I call my brother in a cold sweat
feeling as afraid as I did at fourteen
when Roli pinned me to the white shag
carpeting of his living room floor
shoved himself inside me, grinding my left cheek
into the rug, saying women like this

I can barely get the words out of my throat
to tell Freddy about the email
and how much I hate being found
but he just orders me to hit delete
says there’s no point in my thinking
about any of that again

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Joanne Holdridge lives in Devens, MA and has recently published poems in Coal City Review, Illuminations, The Midwest Quarterly, and has appeared in a previous issue of Toasted Cheese. She has work forthcoming in Green Hills Literary Lantern and has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize. Email: joanne[at]meltzer.net

Clock Work

Poetry
Janet Hancock


Close up of red shoes on a white surface in a store window. The shoes are heeled with a closed toe and ankle straps. In the background, the store has gray concrete walls, two large chandeliers, and some spot lighting. Handbags are displayed on the wall at the right and in a glass display case behind the shoes. Three mannequins are lined up in a row facing left at the far back. Red is the predominant color of the items on display.

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

One a.m.,
cross the river,
stop to glance at
placid, black water,
wishing it were her Danube;

past house with
basement steps
on which she slept
the first three nights;

stop to inhale woodsmoke
of oven in bakery cellar,
warm herself by the vents;

snarl of prowling cat,
voice raised in anger
behind dark window;

up bare staircase,
avoiding doll with broken arm,
breathing in pee and curry;
Katya’s perfume lingers
in chill room,
Katya has not tidied the mattress,
duvet rumpled with
union jack cover,
coffee dregs in
union jack mug,
no money for meter;

a few hours to sleep,
Katya will be back at
eight a.m.,
expect her to get up
so Katya can crash out,
pillow smells of Katya,
turn it over;

in the morning, wander past
shop windows and
red shoes with a strap;
at work by eleven a.m.,
clean up, wash up,
lay up, serve:
starter, main course, sweet, coffee,
repeat,
fix smile,
repeat,
think of red shoes with strap.

pencil

Born and brought up in Worcestershire, Janet Hancock trained as a teacher in Oxford. Although history remains her first love, for many years she taught English in the south of England to military officers from the Middle East and Francophone Africa. She has had prize-winning and shortlisted short stories published online and in anthologies. Published poetry is in South 63 and the forthcoming issue 76 of Tears in the Fence. Beyond the Samovar, her first novel, set in Russia and England, 1919-20, was published in 2019 by The Conrad Press. She reviews for the Historical Novels Review. Email: janet.hancock[at]mybroadbandmail.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Bill Griffin


Close-up of a black cherry tree trunk. The trunk bisects the image diagonally from top left to bottom right. The trunk is rough with scaly brown bark. The background is out of focus, a blur of pastel blue, yellow, and green.

Photo Credit: Katja Schulz/Flickr (CC-by)

The Physicist

When we clean out his closet,
makeshift, narrow window, once
a back hallway,
we discover ivy has explored
each chink in the ancient sash & sill
and pale leaves still share his space,
not unwelcome, not banished,
brushing our shoulders as they did his,
but he is gone and they
grow brittle, it being winter for us all—

we wish we could wait for spring,
listen to the vines explain
in their fresh twining voices
how on cold mornings he stood right here
buttoning up his flannel shirt
but never alone, particles and wave functions
always whispering
to him in their relative twining voices
that he would translate on legal pads
into equations like vines
that hold everything together; he longed
to share it all with us
but more often he would lay down
the yellow paper and he himself
simply reach out to hold us
all together.

A few photons seep
through the dusty window.
We are with him here
in the universe.

 

Black Cherry

We found the snapshot a month after he died—
in the pale photo Jeff holds a shovel, leans
to rest his hand on Jodi’s shoulder
where she kneels to hug their little girl
still a toddler.
That shovel—
was he using it to bust up turf
for tomato vines and beans? Digging clay
for his wheel and kiln? The ink fades;
so shall our memories.

While a little color yet remains I imagine
this—he’s planting a tree,
so like him, something new to stand bright
among the dark trunks that frame the three of them,
a black cherry,
and today that girl
tries to circle both hands around its girth
while pink blossoms bless her hair.

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Bill Griffin is a naturalist in rural North Carolina, USA. His poems have appeared in NC Literary Review, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry and elsewhere; his ecopoetry collection, Snake Den Ridge, a Bestiary, unfolds in the Great Smoky Mountains. Bill invites you to discover his microessays, photography, and a hundred Southern poets at Griffin Poetry. Email: griffin.poetry[at]gmail.com

Smart

Poetry
Ann Gibson


A woman sitting at a desk, her right hand on a mouse and her chin resting on her left hand, staring at a computer screen. She is wearing glasses and her hair is pulled back in a pony tail. The only illumination is from the screen; the rest of the room is dark. The desk is scattered with papers and other office supplies.

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

Hunched at her workstation
in charity shop cast-offs,
scary hair and attitude,
chewing gum with gusto,
she prepares for implementation.

Her colleagues, flawlessly coiffed,
congregate at the coffee machine
to confer on her sartorial deficiencies.

Unfazed, chin in hand,
she stares at rolling screens;
straightens kinks,
tames tangles, defuzzes flaws
with a few casual mouse clicks.

As the go-live rolls out in sleek waves,
amid spirited self-congratulations
they race to the restroom to preen.

pencil

Ann Gibson spent her childhood in Dublin and now lives in North Yorkshire, UK. She has published poetry in Acumen, Prole, Obsessed with Pipework, Dream Catcher, Orbis, The Poets’ Republic, and various anthologies. Her poetry has also appeared online in The High Window, Algebra of Owls, Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Ofi Press Magazine and The Ekphrasis Review. Email: annjmgibson[at]gmail.com

Three Poems

Poetry
Ivy Raff


Image of bright yellow-green beach grass and wildflowers in the foreground, Jamaica Bay in the midground, and the Manhattan skyline with a cluster of tall buildings at the horizon. The water and sky are hazy and gray tinged with gold.

Photo Credit: Costa Constantinides/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I Once Loved Yehuda

Six thousand year old man swam
from the Gulf of Aden into my
left atrium, pressed an ear to my chest
as it battered and said, Gentile hearts
are different from ours. Closed
his face, mewled in ecstasy as my music
echoed inside him.

Before Titus destroyed the second
temple, I looked like Yehuda, I
bound books like Yehuda, I
cracked cardamom seeds with my
molars. Two millennia later he
reoccupied Al-Quds as Yemen
convulsed with hunger pangs.
Yafa sheli, he whispers, my
beauty. And yesterday grimaced
when I stuffed the headscarf
he gifted me into my backpack.

Yehuda and I lay under
a sunbeam in Brooklyn, clean
sheets, gingered lentils softening
on the stove, far and close. With his
medicine lingering in my body dreams
wick me and my grandmother’s
grandmother comes, introduces herself
as Rajchel. “The scourge of Europe,”
governments called her when she fled.
And she bound herself to her husband
for protection. She told me to run.
Told me to run.

 

A Thank-You Note to My Father’s Depression

Maybe there were moments in his life
you permitted to rest uncomplicated—

like when he griddled cheese sandwiches
as a short order cook in Morningside Heights

to put himself through Columbia.
His grilled cheese was so damn good

I can only think it sparked pleasure, learning
to smear the butter on the outsides of the slices

and flip the melt in just the right fragment of time
between golden brown and too-burnt.

Maybe you let his teeth crack the crisp and he thought
Hey this is good, a flash of mild, surprised

satisfaction. I think of how you must have stepped
back so he could stay engrossed, sky-hued eyes trained

on his father’s work-arched spine as he fixed
the engine on the Impala, mechanical mind

figuring and integrating, something that makes
sense, finally, a car engine. Or you letting him be,

for the summertimes he could steal away from you,
a little boy in a straw cowboy hat and bolo tie

in the shoot-’em-up sixties, skipping along the quiet
lapping line of Jamaica Bay, swatting away mosquitoes

between bouts of becoming engrossed again, in the twitching
lives of new guppies. He sounded delighted even

pronouncing the word guppies, babies wriggling on his
tongue. You desisted enough for his brain to invent

a similar word—iggy—to describe his chest, warm, protected,
snug-feeling inside a thick vest in winter. And he’d physically

snuggle when he said the word iggy, bearing down on his ribs,
closing his eyes and smiling contentedly, as if he were transported

back to relief from a slushy Queens December in the seventies,
everything tinted brown and decaying from the cold. But

he found, in spite of you, a kernel of warmth and life inside
himself deep at his core. Iggy, his own word. His own Yiddish.

 

Pantoum for a Eulogy

We children arrived at the Florida retirement home
after her travels in China. We found Rho in full Marco Polo mode
returned from her Far East sojourn laden with exotic goods.
She spread them on that garish lipstick-red living room carpet.

After her travels in China, we found Rho in full Marco Polo mode
gifting a rainbow of  stone-inlaid bangles to my mother.
She spread them on that garish lipstick-red living room carpet:
clever mechanized toys for the boychildren, flat-smiled silk-clad dolls for me.

Gifted a rainbow of stone-inlaid bangles from my mother,
I spoke Rhoda’s eulogy decades later to the tear-sliced faces of my aunts remembering
clever mechanized toys for the boychildren, flat-smiled silk-clad dolls for me.
Seeds in the wind! We never think they will blow back to us.

I spoke Rhoda’s eulogy decades later. The tear-sliced faces of my aunts remembered
we children arriving at the Florida retirement home
as seeds in the wind they never thought would blow back to them
until we’d returned from our Far East sojourns, laden with exotic goods.

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Ivy Raff’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Nimrod International Journal, Stone Canoe, and West Trade Review, among several others, and is anthologized in Spectrum: Poetry Celebrating Identity (Renard Press, 2022). A current nominee for the Best of the Net Anthology, she is a 2023 Alaska State Parks artist in residence, a finalist in the 2021 sweettooth//HONEY Micropoetry Contest. Her work has received scholarship support from the Colgate Writers’ Conference. She’s studied Zen Buddhist approaches to writing under Natalie Goldberg and Subhana Barzaghi, and was selected as the mentee of Kwame Dawes at Atlantic Center for the Arts. Ivy holds degrees from Fordham University and CUNY Baruch College in Public Policy and Economics. When she isn’t writing, you can find her baking sourdough challah or hiking. Email: ivy.raff[at]gmail.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Timothy Pilgrim


Image of purple lupines and pink fireweed in the foreground. Behind the flowers, slightly out of focus, are various green grasses and scrubby bushes. The grassy area ends abruptly indicating a cliff edge. Below is a river with white-capped rushing water. On the far side of the river, at the top of the photo, is an irregular rocky cliff topped with vegetation.

Photo Credit: Brian Dearth/Flickr (CC-by)

Fawn

Dawn, twins arrive, behind the fir,
her second year of birth. By noon
a third lies dead near spotted lumps
asleep in leaves under the dogwood tree.
She has a bit of time to feed on tulips,

columbine, laurel, choice weeds.
I sneak out, cover what’s left
of blueberry with net, put out salt,
tub of water, lock the gate.
Four hours pass, my window vigil—

are they alive—YES, first, one,
then the other totters out, begins
to nurse. Garden-pot-tall,
spindly, unsure, they stray,
nose the grass. Ears rise, turn

to each new sound, somehow
they re-find her, reach up, nuzzle,
nurse. Both  wobble away, lie
amid planters warmed by sun—
begin to nap. Mom reclines, rests

in grass, chews, grooms—ears
keeping track of cat on patio,
boys brawling next door, plus
blended sounds of skittering squirrel,
dipping jay, pressure-washer whir.

The pattern repeats three times,
dusk, dark—I fail to sleep.
Day two mirrors one—lurch
through salal, day lilies, taste peas,
return to teat. Rest three hours, nose

young leeks, cross lawn, find mom.
Third morning, she leaps the gate,
I prop it open, hours later see her go,
twins in tow. They lurch along
to gone. I bury the dead fawn.

 

Beat me up

Sky dances four shades of blue,
evades cloud-frowns blown
like a bad past across it,

turbulent as canyon river foam.
I believe for a time I see him,
still alive, hazel eyes not stormy,

like mine. Lupines bow low,
swoop wild in wind, admonish me,
confess. I recall summer hike here—

trail headed sunward, him left behind—
I moved out, upward, alone,
along the granite ridge. He hid,

shy, never waved goodbye. Sheer edge
still here, no way to turn, I reach
into mist, come up empty.

Maybe in the fall, if I whip myself
sufficiently with this memory,
on the way down, I won’t flail.

pencil

Timothy Pilgrim, a Pacific Northwest poet living in Bellingham, Wash., has over 500 hundred acceptances from U.S. journals such as Seattle Review, Red Coyote and Santa Ana River Review, and international journals such as Windsor Review in Canada, Toasted Cheese in the U.S. and Canada, Prole Press in the United Kingdom, and Otoliths in Australia. Pilgrim is the author of Seduced by metaphor (2021) and Mapping water (2016). Email: pilgrimtima[at]gmail.com