Five Poems

Baker’s Pick
Russell Rowland


Photo Credit: June Marie/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

On Hold

Shadows lengthen, hours since I shaved;
the tune da capo, recorded fib recycles:
“Your call is important to us.”

In our meetinghouse, a higher call:
we celebrate recurring Advents and Lents
together—lections of patient attendance.

Once, my newly-licensed daughter
dared drive in a whiteout, to reunite
with her boyfriend. Awaiting her message
of arrival, each minute was worth my life.

When she was at Speare Memorial
for what would be Emma by caesarean,
no news was not good news. Before
my own eyes I aged into a grandfather.

Holding the phone to alternate ears today,
I had started doubting providence,
death’s distance, when the ditty cut off.
“This is Shelly, how may I help you?”

 

Sorority

Along the Tilton-Sanbornton town line
live two of Ted’s former wives: divorcee
and widow. One each side of the line.

Sometimes the women meet and pass
on walks along the dividing dirt road—
civil in address. They don’t really have
the same Ted in common. Awkward
subject. But no noses up or anything.

Whose husband he might be in heaven
depends on what you believe about
a lot of things, divorce and heaven
included (Jesus addressed that one).

Bereavement and court decree are two
valleys walked alone, to reach in time
greener pastures, more tranquil waters,
the lines fallen in pleasant places.

Ted learned more than some men
about women, but took it all with him.

There is a drawer in a hope chest
for what worked with one of his wives,
the Sanbornton landfill for what
didn’t work with the other, and a plot
in Tilton where Ted can think it over.

 

Ignored by a Chickadee

Among snubs collected in a life
of putting myself out there, this

is minor: a black-capped extravert
pecks diligently at the leaf mold
within a pace of my hiker’s boots,
ignoring me and my propensities.

Weighed against fall’s fat storage,
I am of course nothing—plus
in a crisis there are always wings.

This discipline of standing still
long enough gives other dwellers
in the arboreal city time to forget
I’m here: in nature the motionless

is invisible. Chipmunks overrun
your boots. A fox comes sniffing
right up to your trouser leg. It is
a great blessing, but hunters use it.

Leaves become eyes, the chickadee
flutters up to safety, when I move
along, aware I’m loved back home.

 

Grampy
for Emma

I am Grampy and a rock.
Climb up, agile granddaughter,
I won’t roll out from under you.

Gaze in my eyes,
as into an ornamental Easter egg.
You see the Garden earth once was,

unless I begin to weep—
then you’ll watch a Deluge make
the world anew, for animals and you.

Put up with my voice—
you will hear old funny songs
you catch yourself humming in bed.

Take hold of my hand—
I emptied it of wealth, of pretty things
like rings. Your hand was all it wanted.

I am Grampy, cannot
help it. I was born with whiskers.
Gracious years intended me for you.

Walk beside me, watch
for surprises I can already see—
the grown-up lady you, the absent me.

You made me Grampy.
But for you I would be browsing
store shelves for a name.

 

The Keeper Leaf

Hands held, they stroll fall’s litter
of colors. The ostensible conceit—
due diligence here helping to hide
a nervousness that often precedes
some expected consummation—

is to identify and take back home
to a bedroom only one of them
has slept in before tonight, a leaf:

an unsurpassable representative
of fall’s foliage at absolute peak.

Each contender is discarded for
the next and next, more brilliant
to the vacillating tastes of youth,

the search itself mostly pretense
that two heads are not obsessed
with intimate liberties at night,
pleasure’s forever-elusive peak;

that whatever drew them close
could never prove ephemeral,
its aftermath just barren limbs;
a dead leaf nothing much at all.

pencil

Seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee Russell Rowland writes from New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, where he has judged high-school Poetry Out Loud competitions. Recent work appears in Poem, The Main Street Rag, and U.S. 1 Worksheets. His latest poetry book, Wooden Nutmegs, is available from Encircle Publications. Email: russellrowland15[at]gmail.com

Two Poems

Beaver’s Pick
Jenny Hockey


Photo Credit: Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr (CC-by)

Weaned

Submerged in our north-facing bath
I remembered you’d had no evening feed.

Tummy to sheet in your cot,
by then you were soundly asleep

and so they were over for good
my long damp hours in big white bras,

so soon in our years of making a start.

 

Lost for Words

Miss Stanage is usually mute, lies on her bed
being ninety—a swaddle of plaid blanket,
a long, thin shape. It haunts me

now I’ve seen them wheeling Elsie
to the morgue, careful to block
the view of the armchair-bound,

nags me like the question of how well
you and I are not getting on
and whether I should leave,

of whether I can complete
my research on old age
that no one has funded

and what to do about my shoes
that make me sound like Matron
and frighten staff on a sly puff break.

Miss Stanage rarely speaks—
I go round scouring the sinks,
suddenly mute when she asks me:

‘So what are your special interests in life?’

pencil

Jenny Hockey lives in Sheffield, UK. She belongs to Tuesday Poets, Hexameter, The Poetry Room and Living Line – with poems in magazines such as The North, Magma, The Frogmore Papers and Orbis. She retired from Sheffield University as Emeritus Professor of Sociology to write and read more poetry and in 2013 received a New Poets Award from New Writing North. Oversteps Books published her debut collection Going to Bed with the Moon in 2019. Twitter: @JHockey20 Email: j.hockey[at]sheffield.ac.uk

Two Poems

Poetry
Timothy Pilgrim


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

Montana Watercolor

I dip my brush, paint a depression
turned from fawn to gray,
beyond the wheat, next farm down.

Re-dip, add old age, barn, weathered,
sagging—rafter rot most likely—
roof caved. Good lives faded

like Big Sky mist, a still-white,
blizzard-frozen, drifted to edge,
off canvas, across road, piled on fence.

My plan—four paintings, montage,
a single homestead gone to ruin.
These two, large, plus hope,

gold sun-streak daubed small
through corral, past manure pile
to muddy stream. Last, the ravine,

willowed, wending, steep. Chickens,
sheep, strayed, the moving van,
blackest black. Children, inked waves

from truck bed, huddled in back.
Memory complete, almost dry,
I rinse my brush, put it away.

 

Grief

from the loss of her
comes over me in waves,
a tsunami intent on some island

already struggling to stay
above sea level after a convoy
of icebergs melt by. Or like a tidal bore

not holding its breath twice a day,
headed upriver, murky torrent
choking sawgrass, anemic, half dead

from salt left to cake both banks.
Or, perhaps, disbelief any sun will rise,
casually dispense heat sufficient

to dry blood, the grieving heart
pinned like her wet virus mask
on some tattered clothesline—

in wait for a wolf to lope by,
pause at the scent, leap,
rip red, run, feast.

pencil

Timothy Pilgrim is a Montana native, Pacific Northwest poet and 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee. He has over five hundred acceptances from journals such as Seattle Review, Santa Anna River Review, Windsor Review, San Pedro River Review, Hobart, Toasted Cheese and The Bond Street Review. He is the author of Mapping Water (2016) and Seduced by Metaphor (2021). Email: pilgrimtima[at]gmail.com

Ironing Day

Poetry
Vicki Mandell-King


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

In bygone days, it was not just this drudgery
that could make a housewife want to run away.

Still, this is a weighty thing—

the heat, the steam, the heft of the iron,
the effort to press down,
smoothing out to crispness.

But today, Jane tells me she will
wash and iron new sheets for company.

When I protest that lovemaking,
and all the snores and dreams
in the toss and turn of night
will wrinkle and rumple them—

she scoffs, Then why dust, why mop?

After a pause, she turns pensive, adding
in her matter-of-fact way of speaking true,
It’s the small things that bring pleasure.

pencil

Vicki Mandell-King has been writing poetry most of her life, even during a thirty-year career as an Assistant Federal Public Defender. Her poetry has been published in numerous respected journals. She has three published collections, titled: Tenacity of Lace, Shrinking into Infinite Sky, and Hurry, Open the Gates. Her fourth collection, Singing My Pockets Empty, is in the process of publication by Main Street Rag. Email: vmkengage[at]hotmail.com

Four Poems

Poetry
Joanne Holdridge


Photo Credit: Thirteen of Clubs/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Giving This Back

In my grandmother’s kitchen
alone with you
you cut my hair.
Trembling with fear, not desire
I stumble through the words
while your hands linger in my hair
brush against my shoulders
make this haircut one long
painful seductive act.

I tell you I don’t want
to suck you off in the back
of your van, in your apartment
when your wife is out
anywhere at all anymore.
Except those aren’t the words
I use because I’m fourteen
and I don’t know what to call
what you made me do
only know that with you
I feel like a dry chewed-on bone
buried in hole after hole
hidden and alone.

You put your hands over your heart
say you’re crushed, you’re hurt
can’t believe I won’t
anymore, you still want me
and I feel guilty, trapped in your pain
even while my mouth is glad
it won’t have to touch you anymore.
When you finally put your scissors away
pull your keys out of your pocket
head out to the driveway and your van
you say I remind you of the Dylan song
“Just Like a Woman,” how I break
just like a little girl.

I’ve carried this memory, humped it
swam leagues underwater with it
hurtled it out into space
only to have it return like a honing beacon
but now finally I’ll say out loud
what I have long known
of course, I broke just like a little girl
I was a girl, I broke.

 

Accidents, After the Fact

A woman driving and talking on her cell phone
almost hits me while I’m on my bike
I stop in time instead and fly,
judging by the bystanders’ reactions,
spectacularly over my handlebars
not a bad way to go all things considered

amazingly I’m barely hurt
just torn jeans, scrapes, bruises
glasses stuck in my left cheek
my husband takes me to the ER
where they are kind and efficient
my face only needs a couple of stitches

all lucky and a gift I report to my baby brother
while he grills me in our father’s voice
on how exactly this happened
makes me show him with a fork and knife
where I was, where the car was, how precisely
I ended up with my face in the street

explaining to my brother’s satisfaction
much more time consuming than falling was
but he can’t seem to stop asking
so desperate is he to find some way to undo it
affix blame, rationally understand
why I wasn’t more damaged

until I can hear like a hive of bees
my father muttering to himself over and over
why he didn’t finish college, hire the right contractor,
fix the retaining walls before they collapsed, all the ways
he could have not gotten my mother pregnant with me
after she was

 

One Step Ahead

Moving to Florida for the winter
convinced my grandmother she might
not have to die after all

the sun was still strong there
leaves thick and green
grapefruits hung heavy on the trees
“Mortality,” she whispered, hanging tight
to my smooth hands with her knobby arthritic fingers
“might not be what I’d imagined,” I nodded

wanted to ask what she meant
but she had already dropped my hands
shrugged off the rumors of sickness and death

and slipped away to drive her boat of a Chevy Impala
as close to the sea as she could without
actually stopping or getting her feet wet

 

To My Grandfather All These Years Dead

When you saw me standing at the end of the dock
new in my womanhood, sure I was alone
you didn’t call to me from the porch
or tell me to put my clothes back on
but watched me strip them off
and stand for a moment or two
debating whether to get wet or not
then the clean dive into cool water

For years I wished you had said something
told me my body was my own
that you regretted silently watching
but telling me later not to let my grandmother
catch me doing that kind of thing
but now I feel only wet-eyed gratitude
at least once before you died
you saw me and didn’t turn away

pencil

Joanne Holdridge lives in Arlington, MA and has recently published poems in Coal City Review, Illuminations, New American Writing, Poem, Talking River Review, and Willow Review. She has work forthcoming in Mudfish and The Midwest Quarterly and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Prior to Covid-19, she spent winters on skis in northern NH and taught poetry and literature classes to ESL students at Bunker Hill Community College for thirty years. Email: joanne[at]meltzer.net

Four Poems

Baker’s Pick
Marchell Dyon


Photo Credit: Chiara Cremaschi (CC-by-nd)

Tiny Dancer

She dances…
Like all ugly ducklings do.
After, finally, discovering she is indeed a swan…

She dances…
With her daydreams.
Here metal never chimes—

Her leg braces the link of chains and
Hinges will never
Weigh enough to hold her down.

She dances…
In daylight to California rock she sways—
Watch her dance while sunlight glistens her room.

She rounds again, her many phantom partners.
A chair-bound Ginger Rogers,
Popping wheelies, turning angles,

This wheelchair is not a defeat.
These four wheels are a part of her magic.
This chair

With rainbows streamers is
A thing of beauty
As art is the faith of doing.
All her moves are holy:
All are sacred rhythms.
She sways to the bass section—

Her fingers draw a guitar from air—
While she bangs and grooves
Her head as much as her body would allow,

Like footprints on the tile floor
Her wheelchair makes step impressions.
Her soul has choreographed,

Every movement
Like an appendage the music and she
Become one pulse.

One electric nerve.
A lightning sharp as each of her senses.
Never are her movements dull or in vain.

Never are these movements without metric feet.
A harmonious dance of metal and skin, pure poetry!

 

The Guitar

He named the guitar Maria.
Upon her body,
He caresses each chord.
Like long-lost lovers untied
Once more in the dark.

Behind a locked door she occupies
A space.
On tall fragrant lit candles
Her ghost shadows, on all four walls
Her torso dances.

She twirls her skirts high above her thighs…
In rainbows of chiffon
Heels clapping,
She breathes through walls.
In waves of wild raw and ravenous chords

She echoes when finished a cool Cuban smoke.
That takes him farther away from me.
Far from the kiddy carpools and the mortgages
Back to tequila sunset
And cabana nights

Back to the beach where he roamed.
Where he found the girl with perkier breasts
The one he made love to all day on the sand.
As he tanned, eclipsed in blankets of ebony hair
Under a then-jealous sun.

 

Two Left Feet

The measure of the dance has
Never been with me.
The rhythm of body language
The curve speech like

Red polished fingernails.
The sway of hips
Like a Victorian fan singling seduction.
Only the sway of hormones

Caught me.
Through a sorted pique of feelings
A funnel cloud of emotions
Breaking and turning dancing sideways

Up and down.
Many tap dance romances surround me
Down these high school halls
Everyone is coupled up.

Everyone knows how to dance
Everyone but me.
My two left feet trip up
The interest of willing to try.

He tries to square dance pass
My naive awkwardness
I step on his toes too many times.
He walks to

The locker next to mine.
To a girl that
Knows
How to bat her eyes.

In my sad soliloquy
I am a grieving prima ballerina
At my first recital, tutu feathers thinning,
Glass in my slipper, singing the blues.

 

Eurydice’s Ghost

I electric slide through mediums
My eyes light up like disco balls
My eyes even sparkle in deep shadows

My voice of rhyme—mirrors that of poets
Listen as I smite
The sea with the colors of thunder

While my laughter becomes one,
With the phases of the moon
Hear me, singers

Melody makers—dancers before the flame.
Turn kings into beggars begging for the smooth moves
Of urban urchins.

Make proud queens envy us,
We, who can lift our skirts swinging them high—
Till all can see our embroidered thighs

Make the priest and all the holy rollers tap-
dance into the underworld and
The choirs of Orpheus sing.

And the great doors of Hades open; let those freed, and those still.
Be charmed to climb out of darkness into daylight.
But speak not a word or try to see my face.

Like smoke,
I will ghost away into the wind—
Leaving all without

The musings of a gypsy woman’s hips
Watch as she gyrates to deafening guitar chords
She invites all—

To step into the fire
Dancers become one with flames
But when the melody of this moment ends

The gypsy woman wanders away
Lite as a feather—
Into the crowd

So too, am I.

pencil

Marchell Dyon is a survivor of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She has published in many magazines over the last twelve years. She has been nominated for the Best of the Net prize as well as winning the 2012 Romancing the Craft award from Torrid Lit Journal. She has taken many workshops; she has worked hard to improve her education within the craft of poetry. With stars in her eyes and a deep-rooted imagination she continues to write in Chicago, IL. Email: marchelldyon[at]yahoo.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Kathleen Bryson


Photo Credit: LindaDee2006/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Smoking

The forests were burnt down when I was two.
By the time I was a child,
we called the trees matchsticks.
Slim charred trunks topped with tumors.
If the God of Alaska reached
down and swiped a tree against
flint, to see it burst into
sunsets, dawns and campfires,
northern lights.
Set the land ablaze,
gave us all electric shock
until numbed, dumb and slobbering,
the deity would stub out the matches
or blow away the flames
and the mapped land was left dim and ashen,
the trees dead lollipops smoldering for decades,
and us, drooling for them, in the asylum, in the dark.

Then as an adult
returning at intervals to my homeland,
I’d notice how, subtly,
the matchstick trees were disappearing,
the ones that had survived grew funny with moss
their deformed branches sprouted and
grew weird but viable sprigs,
and generally the forests thrived,
and you had the odd revelation of
every tree being taller than it was
when you were a child,
the reverse of everything else.

I stayed away for a long time
and the trees got sick.
Spruce bark beetle chewed them
and spit them out,
they were grey
and the land was scalped
as it had been when I was very little.
The God kept quiet
or had given up smoking,
had been chewing Nicorette,
or had become diseased itself,
bundled away to the asylum.

 

Nikiski Midsummer (Alexandra Palace, Spring Equinox, 2010)

The fungi on the birches big like heads and the
trees spur up and then grow tight too close and the
ferns those prehistoric drifts and their
braille-lumper undersides and the
devil’s club broad like the
lilypads waxy and hovering with
orbiting flies and the
light rain and the soft rain and the right rain
to make circles on circles in the
small lakes left over from the glaciers.

Now there are these trees
these tight trees these wrong trees
and these mushroom wounds on birches
sucking drafts on scarred caucasian trunks
and past them the fire pile hooked with stumps and brambles.

The fire, a fire is a fine thing.
A fire is a wood thing, a bad thing.
The humans are a crazy beast
a mad thing, a good thing

The animals dance and pound palms on hide
hoist moose skulls high in air on staffs
to say, here comes the light, our ball,
we are a strange thing,
we are from here, this wood,
these lakes, my birch,
their ferns, the cocky stupid moths
the animals brush away with thumbs
so as to stare unencumbered at the fire, get closer
to the light, from sky from ground
It will burn our eyes out. I will not look away.
You will not look away. I won’t.
You will not. The sun. The sun’s still hot.

pencil

Kathleen Bryson was born and raised in Alaska, and as an adult received her Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology from University College London. She studies prejudice and currently is a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University. She has had three novels published previously (the most recent being The Stagtress, Fugue State Press, 2019), as well as over 100 poems and prose pieces in other publications. Read more about her fiction, art, film and research work on her website. Her poem “Nikiski Midsummer” is based on a new tradition that has sprung up in the last 20 years in her rural hometown area on the Kenai Peninsula, where summer solstice celebrators drive deep into the woods to drum on oil drums through the whole “night” (all few twilight hours of it) and a moose skull is paraded on a broomstick. It is not official but many from the wider Kenai and Nikiski communities attend. The poem “Smoking” concerns the spruce bark beetle, which due to global warming, new territories and natural selection continues to ravage the same land. Email: kathleen.bryson[at]gmail.com

Three Poems

Beaver’s Pick
Jenny Hockey


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

Waking Up in Someone Else’s House

7.15, not too bad
and bright North Sea light
edging through the shutters.

The floor will be cold, I know—
not the floor but a granite hearth
under my side of the bed.

Nose into socks and tread right round
to the door. All the lights still on. Heating
not yet. But sun tumbles down the stairs

and a city discovers the shape of today.

Into the kitchen, a crunch of crumbs
and ease the curtains back, set Remy
scrabbling in his cage.

An odour of something
under the floorboards, here and there—
a kindred rodent at peace

Find a clean cup.

 

Unreliable Witness

I know that I cried—
I was your child,
but whether the nurse
took hold of my hand
or I took hold of hers
I forget.

I know she called me at 3 am

when the four-lane road
to the Humber Bridge
was mine.

Did she say you were poorly?
I know she lied, your pillowed face
already wax,

your forehead
skimmed by my lips
in the end.

 

Cambridge, June 1969

Elder thickened daily in the yard,
putting pressure on the windows.
It needed hacking back.

I was elbow deep, awash
in tiny bibs and socks,
cold feet on the quarry tiles.

Elder thickened nightly in the yard
muffling the strains of May Ball bands
a thousand miles away.

I was swagging nappies
on my shoulder, losing pegs
among the weeds.

pencilJenny Hockey‘s poems range from the sad to the surreal to the celebratory. A retired anthropologist, she takes an oblique view of the ups and downs of everyday lives. In 2013 she received a New Poets Award from New Writing North, Newcastle, UK and, after magazine and anthology publications from 1985 onwards, Oversteps Books published her debut collection, Going to Bed with the Moon, in 2019. Twitter: @JHockey20 Email: j.hockey[at]sheffield.ac.uk

Decades as Seasons

Poetry
DJ Tyrer


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

The decades seem like seasons to me.
The ‘Eighties a winter of contentment:
Dark and dreary with rain and snow
Yet warm with love and comfort.
The ‘Nineties a long, hot summer of the soul:
Bright and hot with sunbaked ground
And a drought of security and comfort.
But the next decade is a blur:
Maybe autumn is the metaphor
Decline and a haze of mist and falling leaves.
Now I might be in the spring:
Is this a period of rejuvenation
Or is the year about to come to an end
As the seasons finally die with me?

pencilDJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, and has been published in issues of Amulet, California Quarterly, Carillon, The Dawntreader, Haiku Journal, The Pen, and Tigershark, and online at Atlas Poetica, Bindweed, Poetry Pacific, and Scarlet Leaf Review, as well as releasing several chapbooks, including the critically acclaimed Our Story. The echapbook One Vision is available from Tigershark Publishing’s website. SuperTrump and A Wuhan Whodunnit are available to download from the Atlantean Publishing website. Email: djtyrer[at]hotmail.co.uk

Two Poems

Poetry
Liam Tait


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

washing dishes

I was washing the dishes.
I scrubbed, lathered, rinsed.

My hands grabbed each plate in turn, then felt them all over—abrasively, I’d scrape the sponge. When the grime didn’t come off, I’d put it to the side and let it soak.

Once, I was washing this blue plate, blue like turquoise, like the ocean,
blue like the color green—only you couldn’t tell, it was so dirty.

So I scraped it with the sponge—and the dirt came right off—so I poured soap onto the sponge.
And I lathered, and cleaned, and lathered, and the soap had filled the sink, as soap does,

but I saw something I had never seen before—not the bubbles, each isolated and unique,
but the borders between them, the connections, white lace, pouring out—

I saw that these white lines created everything,
that while my two-dimensional perception could do nothing to perceive the entirety, the bubbles, at least,

had never been there.

 

lace and soapshine

We have arrived—a motionless journey.

Soap bubbles float among the bathwater. Yeah, we are individuals created individually in the smithies, tanneries, foundries and canneries—in the segments of our lives.

We relate like soapshine bubbles, so greasy and bordered, and we change only in size, not shape. Out of touch, we can see nothing but white lace: where are you?

Of course we clutch at loved ones. One segmentation we can’t let go: lovers. But love requires privilege, yeah commitment means we don’t leave unless we leave forever.

Happy, pleased, to have a partner. We are individuals, soap bubbles on bathwater.
How lucky that one has chosen us and not another, how lucky are they to be chosen?

Soapshine clinging through white lace.

We have arrived—a motionless journey.

White lace—soapshine bubbles—floats over and above the bathwater. Yeah, we appear individuals, created from intersections—segmentations from li[v/n]es of interaction.

We exist in relation, like the white lace of lather, we’d rather always be changing size and shape—intermingling. Pain comes, joy comes—we keep track of love through lace.

Love is a lace. Lovers come, lovers go—a lover left is not a love ended. Yeah, not unconditional, but commitment is to the lace, not the bubble. When you leave forever we will miss you.

Happy, pleased, to have partners. The lace is strong—relations lead to more relations—stops and starts in sex, friendship, love, if those are places to stop and start. Segmentations, intersections:

we are lace. We are
soapshine clinging through white lace.

pencilLiam Tait is a writer and acrobat from Michigan. When he is not upside down, he is writing; he does not recommend writing while upside down. Email: lhtait[at]gmail.com