Ever wonder what an editor looks for when she’s reading far more poems than she can publish? I look for what I love in everything I read: evocative images that draw me close, interesting characters in particular situations, ideas and emotions brought clear via fresh and lively language. And some touch of mystery. I tend to shy away from a poem (or a person) that has all the answers. I love pieces that leave me with questions, that leave me thinking and feeling. I need poets who articulate what I’ve only sensed. Thank you to all the poets who submitted work, and thank you to those whose work appears here. I’m grateful to you all.
Memye Curtis Tucker
Hide and Seek
The September moon is rising
across the way, over the Linders’ house,
full, yellow, in a still-blue sky.
Harvest Moon. But there is nothing left
to harvest. The wild blackberries
that sprang up each year – red then
black then bursts upon our tongues,
fell long ago to our lawnmowers.
The neighbors who let their daughters
stretch out on driveway walls
like lorelei have turned to seed
and blown away. Even the Linders,
whose house meant East, meant
sunrise, moonrise, have been gone
for twenty years. It is time
to gather in what used to be,
to hear the dark
calling in all its voices,
the living and the dead joining
hands and disappearing
until we come, ready or not.
Alice Toporoff Wallace
Turkey Farm Road, York, South Carolina
At the turn-off from black asphalt onto dirt and gravel,
I spot the hand-carved sign. Pebbles hitting sides
and bottom of our 1951 Jeep pickup make a pinging
sound, tiny dents and circles in semi-permanent dust.
Ping. Ping. Ping. A wedding serenade.
Humid August blows through rolled-down windows.
Roadside spectators wave: bold Black-Eyed Susan,
languid golden rod, and the blowzily elegant Queen
Anne’s Lace, whose seeds, I remember reading
somewhere, were used for centuries by savvy women
in tea as contraceptive. I wonder what the locals know.
A startle of blue. Cool water rippling in the wind? No, a field
of lespedeza miming a pond. In the Sahara a cruel deceit.
This mirage shimmers next to dusty South Carolina road. Rain,
I’m told, is plentiful here (when there’s no drought). Water
flows from a pipe, waits at the bottom of a stone well, gurgles
from backyard pump into dented tin cup, splashes over muddy
calloused palms. Here and there a shed, a barn, solitary or
huddled together, weathered gray board-and-batten resembling
sketches made with my number two pencil thumb-smudged.
Different from hard-edged tall buildings.
Past fields of brown sorghum, tasseled corridors of corn,
my darling love behind the wheel pulls over, points with wide
proprietary sweep, oh, unabashed youth, toward a fenced pasture
filled with turkeys. An ocean of turkeys. Creatures once native, wild,
free-roaming, now confined. Bred to be so broad-breasted (everyone
loves white meat) cumbersome moves would never elude a predator.
Stepping out into liquefying heat, alien mouse beneath this patch
of country sky, and before completing, “What in God’s good green
earth have I gotten myself into?” I’m blindsided by sudden breathless
exhilaration. Bold joy. Borderline terror. Inches away, thousands
of clumsy, fantasy birds pile against a wire enclosure – no less curious
than I. Wattles, red as freshly spilled blood, quiver as guttural shrieks
send forth contentious challenges. Shiny, glittering eyes stare piercing accusations.
Welcome to the turkey farm.
Hello? Hello? This is Basha, in Washington.
Washington? Did she say Washington?
My husband’s stricken face. I take the phone.
Momela? Is that you?
I can hardly hear you.
We called to see how you’re feeling.
My dear mother-in-law has never been to Washington.
That is, I think she hasn’t. I know she hasn’t.
That is, I think I know
about her life. I know about Yurburik (or is it Erzulik),
small Lithuanian village, abundant summers, impossible winters,
dense, dark forests, and a broad flowing river where a young girl
learns to swim even though girls aren’t supposed to. I know
about that. But dream memories, burrowed deep, brought to light
under blue North Carolina sky by a granddaughter’s shining curiosity;
two heads bend toward each other across generations. You never
told me about that, says her son, my husband, as he walks past
the two females who form a parenthesis around his life.
notes left in a tree’s secret hollow, hidden songs woven through
solemn chants of ancient Hebrew prayers, melodies riding out
an open window where a young boy studies Torah. Girls don’t go
to school, even if they want to. Secret songs ride bold and sure,
Oh, Bashala, Bashala, I will always love you and we will be a pair.
Beneath the window, morning sun spins gold on heavy chestnut hair.
grows faint, Basha’s not here, she’s in Washington.
Oh, Basha, I hope your ‘Washington’ is safe from indifferent
rooms, hospital faces. Are the bold, sweet songs of Yurburik
(or is it Erzulik) too painful to comfort? “Momela, I can hardly
hear you, is something wrong? What a question.
In this story grass made the world.
First, there was nothing – as always –
then grass began, sending its runners
sideways and down, balling into everything.
Roots and coils of stalk, leaflets
knitted together brown, began
the hard work of making soil to stand in.
They thrust up blades, green sails
to the light streaming from emptiness.
They reached and bent,
raising waves of winds,
a shout of crickets and meadowlarks.
Their mulch of root and leaf,
black soil for rooted beings, sustains.
Great herds wander it – antelope, okapai,
cattle with horns long and sharp as bamboo.
Horses rise from it, men.
When grass sleeps, it dreams the stars.
Awake, it summons clouds and thunderstorms
and the rush of ungulates.
It is all the world.
If fire arises, burns it
to blackened root, burns it to ash – gone,
there is that within it, unseen,
that sends forth root and blade,
the juice in the cane, the reaching
that will green again.
Mary Kay Schoen
We knock – softly – on her bedroom
door papered with posters
Food Not Bombs
People of Color Unite
and crack it open – carefully – as if
not to detonate an explosive in some dark corner.
All winter the house has been on tiptoe
as she trailed clouds behind her, wearing
on her back like a Molotov cocktail
the faintest intimations of self-annihilation.
We look past the not-the-prom dress
dumped across a chair, along with
the thrift-store bell bottoms, black
with a butterfly spread across the butt,
the purple Chucks with the holes in the toes,
the shiny black waitstaff shoes.
We step around the detritus on the floor –
horn mutes, broken choker, incense burner,
empty Zoloft bottle, odd socks,
what’s this? a kindergarten keepsake –
the melamine plate she’d painted a rainbow on –
and fondue forks, guitar picks, sidewalk chalk,
a nose ring, a scattering of Tampax.
We trip over the literary heap
Of Mice and Men (in tatters)
The Student’s Bible (stuck with sticky notes)
Das Kapital (all underlined)
How It All Vegan! (soy fingerprints)
We peer behind the closet door scarred
with manifestos and poetic whimpers
and there in the back in the dark
curled in a ball like a small terrified
hedgehog bristling with spikes –
tongue bolt and safety-pin earrings and black
fingernails and white-girl dreads –
there in the dark she waits to be coaxed
inch by inch
back into the daylight.
On Seeing an Unfamiliar Bird at the Feeder
Was it you, dickcissel, with your finch
beak outside on the feeder today?
What I noticed was your slender grace
the gentle bob of your head as you pecked
the perfect seed, the flourish when you raised
your pale bill, seed displayed, prize among prizes.
How much of your small spirit you expend
each day, seed by hopeful seed, feeding
your heart, your beating wings. Was
it you, strayed off course, or your spirit
that stopped by here on your way
from one unknown to another?
Letter to Sallie In Mallorca
You must be painting the almond trees
below the purple mountain, groves twisting upon groves
beyond your terrace. Sad news from our old
town. Now Talley with lung cancer, so soon after
his sister’s – forever in her wake – such closeness.
Is Ira able to come to Spain again?
Is he worse? Our daughters far away – where
is Augusta aiming her camera now? Elizabeth
sold an oil of the marsh. Her gallery struggles, she struggles.
Francis sends cheers and requests another dance
with long, tall Sal. We can see you – all angles in black – coiled
and ready to unwind in that beat-up pavilion over the creek.
Your Chevy stuck in reeds and pluff mud. Your crazy driving,
our laughing with Peg – she got us going until we screamed
Faster! What a threesome we were – laughing, crying, egging
each other on. Thanks for the old photo you sent. Look at us
vamping it up, hair shadowing our faces, dark lips dripping cigs
as the record spun Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Paint the blossoms,
Sallie, spill them over canvas after canvas while sheep
across the road, with backs gray as the stones
of your house, rise on hind legs to nibble the half-open
buds, their split hooves crushing the ground’s flowers. Once
you said, I’m not lonely as long as the light lasts.
Paint them now. Paint it all, before the sky turns.
The Bridge Game
I find my father
in what they call the Rec Room
on the eighth floor, doors locked,
nurses carrying keys
in starched white pockets. He brightens
when he sees me and rises
from the chair, handing me
his cards. My daughter will take my place,
thank you. He nods to the other three
at the table, winks at me. Away he slips
to the plate glass window we’d stood by
the night before, both of us looking down
on the blinking cars and lights of a street
he puzzled over. Was this the city where
he had lived for forty years or a street
in the small town of his youth, he’d asked.
I know it as the street where he
was found two days ago in his bathrobe,
hailing a cab. Now I listen
as my fellow players
bid up and down, over the top –
nonsensical, diamonds and spades
interchangeable. Like Alice,
at croquet with the Queen of Hearts,
I have to play his hand in a game of jokers
wild, all the rules changed.
Wendy White Cleveland
The pot of coffee perks and drips
into the day ahead.
I inhale brewed vanilla and glance
at the classifieds – lost dogs, found dogs,
yard sales, home sales, household.
At the kitchen table you fold your paper
in half, creasing its spine until it lies flat
then test the point of your pencil,
begin with one across.
Flax fabric, you mumble, five letters.
Linen, I blurt, set down two mugs
of steaming coffee and bite my tongue
for loosing the answer too soon.
Your shoulders rise and fall.
Lead gouges each blank square.
The coffee pot exhales a post-brew breath
like your whispered alpine cottage, six letters.
I sit on the worn needlepoint cushion,
imagine a chalet with flowering window boxes
and cows that lean to the left on grassy hills.
Over the pond beyond the house I glimpse
a skein of blackbirds driven upward, filigreed.
They rise as one, then dip and veer off,
black specks stippling the open page of sky.
A murmured acquiescent, eight letters returns me
to household items, its long list of discarded lives –
drawers emptied, rooms swept, dishes stacked.
Resigned, I think, reading the single-lined ad:
nesting bowls, blue rims chipped, as is.
Summer’s breeze fanned queries about his manhood –
those penny loafers, pink madras shirts,
and bleached hair that skimmed his collar.
In cliques people whispered, judged him soft.
Out of the loop of lopsided thinking, I fashioned
myself an outcast, the faggot’s familiar.
We spent that summer laughing across back roads,
my first time behind the wheel in his red Mustang
with its leather bucket seats and 4-speed shift,
the chrome smooth and strange in my sweaty palm.
Ease the clutch he coached as the car lurched
around the cemetery with its fake flowers and faded flags.
After he took the wheel on Rt. 7 near the quarry
we belted out My Guy with Mary Wells before he saw
and swerved around a mangled raccoon dragging itself
across the hot macadam, its back legs lifeless.
He pulled over and bowed his head on the steering wheel,
spun around, down shifted, and gunned straight ahead.
Neither one of us looked back after tires thumped
the round mess of matted fur and ringed tail.
I stared instead at chicory and Queen Anne’s lace
threading the tall grass by road’s edge,
shuddered at the rub of his sweet savage act.
Judith Waller Carroll
Approaching My 69th Birthday
It’s only the young who ask if life’s worth living.
Bluebirds belly up
to the log feeder,
devour suet, flavored
with a sprinkle of snow.
A squirrel crunches acorns
scattered by last month’s storm.
Each morning I wake up ravenous
for more bounty than I’ve got coming:
the blaze of a scarlet tanager,
the oak’s iced branches
in the first glow of sun.
Jo Ann Steger Hoffman
The Feeling of Pewter
At that time, in that life
one of my fathers made pewter
in this place,
this now-converted modern space.
I can almost see him
rising from his cauldrons
wreathed in steam,
a slight red-bearded man
with blue eyes washed to gray
behind the mist.
I can see his tight blue muscles
quiver slightly when he pours
the liquid metal into marred cast-iron molds.
I see him wreathed in steam and shining,
shining from the effort and the heat
of all his fires.
Today I call him back to me
so I can see the place this was
and learn where I have lived.
I want to tell him from this life
how I still touch what he has made:
great-grandma’s twisted candlesticks
and two of Emma’s three-tined forks;
five sadly dented pewter plates
and one slim ring-necked water jug.
I want to tell him I took more
with neither cost nor thanks,
like my need to feel the shape of things,
like the heat inside my hands;
that I took his auburn hair
that curls in steaming Georgia heat.
And I will tell him one thing more:
I also took the shining.
was built with one window
in back, small as an orange crate,
and wood walls of pine planks
pulled by wagonloads
from a sawmill on the Edisto River
long before roads around Fairview had names.
Its tin roof extends a shed shelter
overhead the sandy lot out front.
For years barefoot children chased around
parked pickup trucks as their fathers
inside picked up cigarettes, sugar,
soap, nails, wire, odds and ends.
Brogans chinked the floorboards with dirt
brought in by rugged farmers.
Rainy weather drove them from the field
to the pot belly stove in back where they sat
in company with kokola and conversation
coming and going, flat-out and down-right,
the price of fertilizer and seed,
the question of Jersey or Guernsey,
Yorkshire or Berkshire, Farmall or Ford
the weather never far from it all.
Its authority over crops
affected every man in the room
though nobody dared criticize
the Almighty’s handiwork, even if the cotton
dried up or the corn washed away.
Today the store is occupied by mice, squirrels, and spiders.
A concrete store with walk-in coolers
has been built across the road.
Next to it is the Crossroads Café where people
eat catfish stew on Thursdays and sirloin on Fridays.
People eat away from the family table,
taking food in a roomful of strangers,
none of them farmers
even if it doesn’t seem right.
Elena Lelia Radulescu
Photograph of My Mother and Her Fiancé,
June 8, 1943
she was wearing a blue dress
with a French lace collar
—the picture is black and white.
she was in love with that man
who never had a chance
to be my father
—from Tatra Battle
only his name came back.
untouched by fate
not yet deceived by times
when bridges burst into corollas
of blood and dust,
heartaching for that
early light of June,
mourn their silent, tender bodies
forever trapped into
a square of faded paper.
away from the past
you won’t forget
the day you drove
the empty field
with the top down
stirring a cloud
of dust so high
the sun shone through,
and you so young
this could go on
and on, the tilt
of the car, the way
into and over
the dust to find
that clear sky
you were made of.
Susan Shaw Sailer
September with Its Reds
Time flung an unexpected left, turned
autumn on its heels;
leaves already red
and grounded re-greened, floated up
to where they shimmered, reattached.
The north wind roughening toward cold, resumed
its summer terms.
Migrating geese reversed –
headed north, found ponds refreshed.
And there we were
again. September with its reds and shorter
days, the fleeting hours of love.
The False Doors
(based on the painting, “False Doors,”
by Joella Jean Mahoney)
There is a door.
The door is you.
What must come
through you will come.
You are dipped
in waters, pulled
You are never only
male or female. Those
are the finishing touches,
the final rinse of Lethe.
There is a place in Egypt
where the lotus of the Nile
is painted between two doors.
They are false. They do not
open, not in your lifetime.
Only after. And before.
I died once. It was easy.
My body knew what to do.
I am a door opening.
I am a door closing.
I am spirit incognito.
Deep in the mud of time
a lotus seed cracks.
Ann Neuser Lederer
Ear to the floor, to hear more:
of cyanide laden leaves,
or blossoms nibbled.
Escaped their self-spun bags
furred caterpillars travel in a bee-line.
Awoke with her hair full of blood
a girl, third grade, allergic to everything.
So torch the tall trees, Wild Cherries,
aligned along fence rows.
Alone on the rain-soaked yard, one feels
for clovers, fingering for four.
The horses eat, then abort.
They sense the earthworm heartbeats
through the bottoms of their feet.
No Thank You
The Christian soup kitchen has refused
The atheists’ help.
You, there, what do you think?
They were quite right, the atheists
Were just out for publicity.
No, it was a generous gesture!
Atheists and Christians could have cooked up
Something good together.
A little mustard and the Big Bang?
Ladled out with love and anger.
Splop splop into cups?
Tracts on the napkins:
There is no god but him! There is no God!
Vague eating implements
Handed down the line, maybe sporks.
Mutton and cabrito stew.
Hold the mustard.
No grace, but an enforced
No! Better rival soup kitchens
Next to each other. Something for everyone.
Bless you, stranger, and thanks.
Past Middle Age
(After the sculpture “As We Reflect” by Vivian Visser,
wood and seeds, 4 x 8 x 8, 2004)
We have begun our bending,
bending as before us our ancestors bent
their gaze fierce and straight when young
then curving toward earth as they aged.
In our shape we echo
each wave past its crest breaking
we echo the ridge of the dune fallen
we echo stalks of fireweed bloomed out
nodding as seedpods explode
nodding as winds carry away
what will rise to live another day, nodding,
returning, nourishing black soil.
I was reading along, immensely enjoying the work, when I came to Diana Pinckney’s Letter to Sallie in Mallorca and suddenly, so unexpectedly, gave a little sob, and then subsided. There’s a sob built into that poem someway.
This is a beautiful collection. Thank you.
What a wild and sometimes shattering garden here. “Driving Lesson,” “Domestic Terrorism,” & “For Luck” each stopped me cold with the heat of deep reading. Thanks!