“We are accompanied in our lives,” writes Henry Markman, “by an evolving, ever present emotional soundtrack.” The music of singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer has been through the years to many of us such an accompaniment. One turns to songs for so many things, but perhaps the feeling that we are deeply understood by a piece of music is its deepest, most primal draw. Carrie writes in what Ferenczi calls “the language of tenderness,” and what Markman aptly calls “the home key.” This idea of home is very familiar to Carrie. It’s, she says, the musical place that calls her back time and again. When we do what we love we find that we also must meet what we love’s many challenges, and when we work from that place the work we do is imbued with real spirit. On her latest record, A Great Wild Mercy, Carrie highlights the vast differences between what she calls “the news of the world" and "the news of the heart.” The latter are those things that in our unguarded, unprideful, and more tender moments we all know to be most true of our shared humanity: that we’ve more in common than not, even if the news of the world would have us believe otherwise. In this work and in this life we each have our own special gifts and talents to bring to bear on the world, and as Carrie reminds us, there isn’t a person in this world who doesn’t have an amazing story to tell. In a potluck you just have to trust what people bring. It’s a metaphor for meeting people where they’re at, Carrie says. Is there anything in our current moment more needed than this? We are very grateful to Carrie for taking the time to talk with us about her latest album and about the many ways of keeping our sense of wonderment and our curiosity about others and the world alive. In a time when hope is so uncertain we must be certain that our hope is realized everyday in the choices we make in the world that we’re in, held in deep tension with what we hope the world will one day become. In this work no one else will do, but you.
James Diaz: This new album, A Great Wild Mercy, is such a beautiful record. I have to tell you I had such a visceral response as I listened to it, it is an incredibly moving piece of work.
Carrie Newcomer: Thank you. This one feels like a special one. They all feel special, and they all have their place in the book of my life, but this one felt like it came together in just the right way. I’m glad to hear that it moved you in that way too.
JD: I love that description, that “it has a special place in the book of your life.” You’ve also described it as an “alternative way to hold these troubled times,” and boy are they troubled. I’m wondering how these songs revealed themselves to you, and what message or feeling you hope people might take away with them after listening to this new record?
CN: As I’m writing an album, I always say that I never write because I have an answer, I write because I have a good question, and because I’m writing myself into my next becoming. It’s always an interesting process after an album is finished to look back and get a little more perspective on what happened and what the particular collection is about. This collection really has emerged out of my own wrestling with how to hold these challenging times. We’re living in a moment where the message that we’re getting from every direction is to be afraid, be enraged, and then be more afraid. And I’m finding that for myself, and from the conversations I’m having with people from around the country, the weight of that is really being felt.
In the title track, A Great Wild Mercy, I write about how there’s news of the world and news of the heart. The news of the world is telling us from every angle to be afraid, but the news of the heart is much different. If you ask most people, “do you know anyone personally who is generous of spirit, who tries their best to live into their best self everyday, who has reached across some dividing line, for family, for love, for the food bank, for some reason,” most people will tell you, “yes, I know a lot of people like that. I’m like that.” That’s the news of the heart.
Much of this album I think is balancing the news of the world and the news of the heart. The idea of a great wild mercy being present in the world still. The experience of that, and where do we experience that, on a daily basis. Balancing and learning to hold the news of the world and the news of the heart in a way that’s still life giving for ourselves and those around us is really the thread that runs through the entire album.
JD: That’s so beautifully put. As you were sharing that it reminded me of a story I once heard, especially as you talked about asking someone a very intimate question that opens up their heart and engages them in a truer conversation than we do when we get into our defenses, rather than what happens when we go deeper. The story was about an African American civil rights activist who went deep into Appalachia, where so many people had told her not to go fearing she would encounter only racism. But she did go there. And the question that she asked people there was “Tell me where it hurts?” I love that. To be able to reach across a divide with a question like that and open up conversations across our disagreements, that’s so hard to find and it’s so beautiful that you are putting some of that out there in the world on this record.
CN: I also think that there’s a longing for it. I sense it in myself and in the conversations I’m having with people I know personally, and the people I meet all over the country. There’s a real longing for finding that balance. I think that art, music, poetry, the creative arts, are one of the places where we still meet and share the news of the heart. In the context of a good song, we still recognize one another. We recognize the things that happen to us as humans. That we laugh, and we weep, and we grieve, and we’re bewildered. There’s all the things that happen to human beings, and in the context of a good song, story, or poem, we still recognize one another. And in that recognition, in that moment of empathy, because what is a song but a chorus or bridge of empathy, in those moments a little space is made, and in that space there’s the possibility for something new and creative to happen.
When we meet head to head, and we’re already putting up walls and assumptions about one another, there’s not a lot of space for something creative to happen. But within the context of a song or poem, a place where a little bit of space is created, in a moment of wonder, surprising things can happen. My friend Parker Palmer, a wonderful author that I’ve worked with for years, has a saying, “when the going gets tough, turn to wonder.” I love that concept, of stopping just for a moment to say, “I wonder.” I wonder what the deeper story is here. I wonder if there is an open space here. If I step back and listen with a more open heart, what will I hear? And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have strong convictions, feelings, and ideals. I’m not saying that we set those aside and not be passionate about what we’re passionate about. What I am saying is that, while we’re living into that integrity, to as often as possible create a little bit of space for wonder and empathy, looking to see if there’s some possible shared story to be found.
Much of this new album is about paring things down to the moment. Somewhere I read “We don’t live days, we live moments.” As an artist that’s a familiar thought. We live in moments. And though we live in a world of distraction, when I open space for what is happening right now that is where I see the things that are really amazing and life-giving. I write a lot about the natural world because that is one of the places I go. I live out in the middle of the woods, and I’ve gotten to know a piece of beautiful deciduous forest as an old friend now. When you have that kind of relationship with the natural world, whether it’s acres of deciduous forest or whether it’s the tree in your backyard, when you have that kind of relationship with the natural world I think it’s another place where we can encounter that news of the heart.
JD: Yes, that’s a beautiful description of interconnectedness. A metaphor that I’ve heard and that I love is thinking of ourselves and of nature and of animals as being all one organism. And when one part of the organism is sick, the other parts of the organism should ideally move medicine down to the parts that are sick. When one part is hungry to move food down to the parts that need it, responding to where it hurts, in life, in nature, and in our lives. What you were describing earlier about being open to other people and giving people the benefit of the doubt, one of the main reasons to do so is because we do that for ourselves and our own lives. We don’t tend to think of ourselves as one thing. When we mess up we of course feel bad in the moment, but we don’t usually stay in that place, we find ways to forgive ourselves and to acknowledge that we are more than a single moment, that we have more to us than a single thing, and it is often much harder for us to extend that to other people. And we have to find ways to do that, to survive. What are your thoughts on that?
CN: There is this idea of extending a certain kind of grace and compassion to ourselves, and for many of us that’s something we develop over time, and also extending that grace and compassion to others whenever possible. There’s a song on this album called “Potluck”, and in a potluck you have to trust what people bring. You trust what they bring to the table. And that’s such a good metaphor for welcoming people for where they’re at, for what they bring. Everyone comes to the table bringing their joys and their sorrows, their worst days and their best days. We bring our whole selves to every encounter, with that sense of grace and compassion for ourselves in that process, but also, as much as we can, for others. So there’s a bit of generosity and good heartedness that came through the song “Potluck.”
It’s also maybe in a little more poignant way in the song “A Book of Questions” which was written with the idea that every line would be a series of questions, that could be almost a writing prompt to explore the experiences of your life with a bit of compassion and grace. With acknowledgement for what was hard as stone and for what was joyous also. The whole song was another way of addressing that thread of the full, deeper story. I’ve never met a person yet that didn’t have an amazing story to tell, never once.
I teach writing workshops sometimes, and I remember once a woman said to me in response to a prompt “there’s nothing really that interesting about me, I’m just from Ohio.” And I told her, “well, just give it a go”. And then she read her work, and there was all this amazing experience. She was an older woman, and she talked about love, and she talked about loss, and she talked about the image of the hollyhocks that grew alongside her Grandmother’s house, and the garden and the details of this little town where she lived. There was so much richness and story all there in Ohio.
I’ve never met a person yet without an amazing story to tell. We all, each one of us, have a story to tell that’s valuable and beautiful and worthy. I think that is another thread running through this album, the idea of each of us carrying a story, carrying the complexity of these times, the complexity of our own lives, and the complexity of the people we meet, and finding ways to do that with as much kindness as we know how. Some days I do better than others, but my hope is that each day I can do that with as much decency and kindness as I can.
JD: I’ve seen this myself also. I saw this especially in my time in Occupy Wall Street. In some ways I don’t know if this could even happen in the same way today as it did then. But there was that cross communication between people from very different walks of life. Many tourists would visit and engage with the movement, people from the south who didn’t know what to think or make of it at first but who were curious and open. We had this space called a “Think Tank” that was sort of like a story circle there in the park where people could come and share their stories or their own ideas of what they think is wrong in the world and what they think might help fix it. So you had people from Kentucky sharing their ideas with college students, and obviously they were all so different and worlds apart, but nobody really shamed anybody, and everyone kind of heard everyone out, and it was challenging at times but in a productive way. It was so beautiful to see that, because like you say people hunger for that beneath the everyday defenses we put up, and it just seems harder and harder to cultivate that these days. But I think that where we can, and maybe this is the point of your new record, is in our own lives, in our own neighborhoods. To start small, little by little, engaging each other in real conversation, heart to heart, asking people about who they are first, before we start larger conversations.
CN: It goes back to the question you raised earlier, “where does it hurt.” You know I’m not very good at chit chat at parties, I think I’m too much of a poet for that, so at a certain point I decided when the people around me say, “well, what do you do” to ask a different kind of question when I meet a person. “Well, what gives you life?” And usually people will stop for a second, and then they’ll launch - into something amazing and wonderful. Tell me a story. That idea of starting small. There’s a song on the album called “Start with a Stone,” the humblest of things. Start right where you are. Because we are so digitally connected it can often feel so wide and overwhelming sometimes. Bringing it right back to relationship, right here, right now, in my daily life. That’s actually where my life happens. It happens now. It doesn’t happen tomorrow, it doesn’t happen yesterday. It happens right here, right now, right where I am. A lot of that song is really about reminding myself: “bring it home Carrie.”
I can’t change the whole world. Oscar Romero said “I can’t do everything, but I can do something.” What is the something I will do right here, right now? There’s great power there. What can often happen when we feel so overwhelmed by the news of the world is we get overtaken by this feeling of “what can one person do.” But again there is such great power in the news of the heart. That in every encounter I can live into the change I want to see in the world.
The whole Occupy Wall Street moment, I think you’re right, I’m not sure if it would happen the same way now. But it happened in that moment because there was a chance, an opportunity and a possibility for it to happen in that way. And so what are our opportunities right now? Because there are more. There’s more possibilities, and they happen on a personal level and they happen in how we’re connected in that space and in that thread where we encounter one another.
JD: I’m thinking of that Margaret Mead quote, how can one person change the world, it’s the only way the world has ever changed. One person’s initiative and then another and another. I read somewhere this idea that I love, which is that no one else can do what you can do. No one else can bring to the world what you can bring, and to abandon that work would be such a shame because what other people have to offer is not going to be the same thing, and we all have a different solution that comes through the problems we have faced in our own personal lives, and in the special way that we are.
CN: And I think that there’s great power for us to claim there. I’m reading a book right now on hope in climate change and climate grief. And in one of the chapters the author writes: “do what you love.” What you can contribute, do it through what you love most. There’s a clue there. I’m not going to be the person who engineers a way to desalinate water and help with the drought in the western US, that’s not my gift. That’s someone else’s gift. But I can create beauty. I can create a song. I can contribute from what I deeply love. If you’re a baker, bake. Teacher, teach. If you love to garden, then love your garden.
There’s great power in knowing that the closer we get to what we love, and the more faithful we are to who we are and what we love, the more potent our daily contribution becomes. There’s both a gift and a clue there: what can I do? What can one person do? Lean into what you love with all your heart and that will make a difference.
There’s a song on this record called “A Path Through the Evening Woods,” and the last verse says: “I was born to be a restless soul, may I lean where love leads me to go.” Like Margaret Mead said, it’s the only thing that has ever really changed anything.
There’s a lot of hopefulness and reflection on hope on this album. But where do we find sustainable hope? I’ve never thought of hope as being just positive thinking, or that it’s all going to be alright. Parker Palmer has the best definition for hope I’ve ever heard, and it’s that “hope is holding in creative tension everything that is, with everything that could and should be, and each day taking some action to narrow the distance between the two.” I’m not pretending that what is isn’t. But what is the action that I live into each day to narrow the distance between what is and what I aspire for things to be? What is the space I aspire to step into, in empathy, in graciousness, in love and potency everyday? That, that is a hope that I can live and move forward with.
JD: I know you said that you were in part done with rage, but it sounds to me like you have a hopeful rage. When rage is hopeful, when it’s filled with love, when it’s impassioned, and not an empty and hateful rage, then it becomes a great motivator, a creative fire.
CN: Oh, I’m not done with rage, I’m way too human for that. In “A Great Wild Mercy” I say I’m tired of the rage, I’m tired of the worry. A lot of us are weary. We’re weary of the news of the world that would claim our power, that would leave us feeling that there are only divisions with no bridges. I think that anger and rage is really human. There’s righteous rage, when you see injustice, when you see what goes against your sense of goodness. Anger can narrow your focus. I think the ideal with rage and righteous rage is to experience it for what it is and then allow that to open. To not be stuck in a narrow version or view.
Being really angry can narrow your focus right down to a pinpoint. But to be effective, in terms of justice and in working for that better kind of world, I need to use the energy of righteousness, of justice, without it becoming something that consumes me or pinpoints my focus so much that I miss creative moments or ways to open the space up. That place where possibility resides, where something new can happen.
So I’m way too human to say I’m done with rage. I’m righteously angry about things that are happening in our world right now. That’s part of the creative holding that this whole album talks about. How do you hold that anger without allowing it to constrict your view to the point that you can’t see anything beyond it?
JD: I find it so important to acknowledge also that there’s a lot of inner work that we do before we can take on the outer work. When I try to do it the other way around it just doesn’t work and I’m not able to make the kind of difference that I really want to make.
CN: That’s so true. Howard Thurman, a theologian who was very influential on Dr. Martin Luther King talks about just that aspect in his work. Of doing the inner work so that the outer work comes from a more grounded, more clear and loving source. In my experience our outer work is usually more effective when it happens in balance with our own inner work. That too is a part of this album: exploring how my inner work relates to my outer walk.
JD: And being embodied too I think is such a huge part of it. Once the inner work is done we can begin to be more embodied, though it’s never perfect I find. To be present we have to be in our bodies, and there can be such a great disconnect before we do the work. Once we find ways to bridge that gap and work through that then we can begin to really be able to show up and really feel like we’re present for our experiences, and whatever it is that we’re trying to tackle and undertake. And that really is a life’s work, our unending work, I’m finding.
CN: Yes, it is the ongoing work. The songs on this album are the current chapter in the book of my life, but hopefully a well written song isn’t just about my life. A well written song creates that open space where we can recognize one another. That’s the hallmark of a powerful song, that within the context of a song we recognize one another. I might use my own experience and details but the goal is never to write my own diary. It’s always to create a sense of where we connect as human beings. How is this an expression of my current, most poignant questions?
My friend, John McCutcheon, who I co-wrote “Start with a Stone'' with, says that a good song is three chords and the truth. And I like that, that there’s something that we recognize at the center of a song. And music is very embodied. I do a lot of different kinds of writing, but music is so embodied. You have language, which is so powerful, but you also have music, and music rhythm, it’s the beating of a heart, you actually have to move your vocal chords to sing.
I read a study that said that when we sing together, our hearts sync up. It makes sense that our breath would sync up, because we’re singing the same words and our breath would need to happen, but our literal hearts begin to beat together when we sing together. Music is very embodied. So maybe that’s why I keep coming back to songwriting as an art form. I write poetry, essays, and short stories. I do a lot of different kinds of writing, but I always come back to song. There’s something about it that just makes me happy.
JD: Song is home to you.
CN: Song is home. Song is home.
Carrie Newcomer's new album, A Great Wild Mercy will be released on October 13th. Visit www.carrienewcomer.com to purchase copies of the new album and to learn more about Carrie's many wonderful projects, past, present and future.
Victor U CC
The words don't always settle in the right places. That's what comes to me now as I struggle to find a way to begin these remarks. It's important to try and say something. To find words. To be found by words. Whatever I would say some other way waits for some other day. What I can say is that the time I've spent with each of your words has been a gift to me these past couple of months. Hard months. Hard words. A gift. I am unashamed to say that I was brought to tears more than a few times as I read and read and read. A kind contributor tells me they have found here a place where art becomes true sustenance. That's precisely how I feel about the work you all share with us. Funny, sometimes the words do settle in the right places, just not necessarily mine. All these words here are right where they're supposed to be, I believe. And I don't mean that in some grandiose way, but in the way so many used to tell me that I was right where I was supposed to be in something. When I felt like I was doing my life wrong, or felt unforgivable/unlovable, or like I couldn't move or like I might scream: "right where you're supposed to be, kid." I may or may not have told a few of those people to "fuck off," and they may or may not have smiled knowingly at me. Had patience with me. Showed me something monumental. We're supposed to struggle with it, I understand this now. Well, no, I don't really understand it. But I'm trying. Trying to stay with the thorn that won't come out. The thorn I am. My life. Life.
But now imagine a world without any place to put it all down. We don't have to imagine too hard, many of us. As Marilyn Charles writes: "Most of us have been told too often, particularly as children but also as adults, that we did not really see what we thought we saw; hear what we heard; feel what we felt. [Our reality doubles.] We have an inner conviction that tends to be hidden as a way of safeguarding it." And we wait and wait until someone, somewhere can hear our story, our inner knowing of what we saw, heard, felt. It's important to carve those spaces out of the wide expanse of uncaring/unfeeling/unresponsive/recklessness that is much of the world. To try and be something more for each other than we can put words to. No wonder I can't always, or very often at all, find my words. I think it's the moments when people have sat in silence with me that I have felt most heard. We don't know what to say or what to do. And we try and say something.
It's a little embarrassing to admit that at 42 I still haven't much of a clue who it is I am. I'm still becoming a person in many ways. I was broken down as a person in my family of origin and I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to put myself back into some kind of order that makes sense, that feels like me. I think one of the things that has most altered the course of my life is the fact that in hell there were people who brought me water. Brought me hope. A silent sitting-with. A being there. Not giving up on who I might become, they hung in with who I was. And that meant everything to me. I don't know how most of us ever come to terms with the god awful things that happened to us in our lives. Maybe we don't. Ever. Maybe all we can do is keep telling our stories, to someone, somewhere. Find our way to those places where words are sustenance. Some stories bear repeating. Over and over again.
Right where we're supposed to be, huh. For a moment, anyway. A True North. I've always loved that phrase. Today I read in Gretel Ehrlich's The Future of Ice that "The Japanese word oku means not only "north" but also "deep," "inner," "the heart of a mountain," "to penetrate to the depth of something or someone," "the bottom of one's heart," and "the end of one's mind." The words don't always settle in the right places. We do the best we can with what we've got. It helps to know others feel it too. We're charting dark waters here. Telling the hardest of stories so that we might survive them. So that we might survive ourselves. As a sign I once saw in rehab read: "we don't believe in using pretty words to describe the ugly things that happened to us." Oh, there's beauty too. And we don't always have to look as hard for it as we think. But we must talk about all of the rest of it also. It's how we survive. Heart of a mountain. The bottom of one's heart. The end of one's mind.
Till next time, friends. Keep searching for your words. And hold on. Hold on. Hold on.
Andra Mihali CC
NUESTRA SEÑORA DE GUADALUPE
Our Lady is a brown-skinned girl
who lives in the projects, top floor, no elevator,
no A/C in the summer, patchy heat
in the winter. Her grandmother raised her
on adobo and rice and laughter and hugs
and a knowledge of dignity
in a world full of shame.
Our Lady is a black girl with black hair,
smarter than most kids on her block,
best dancer at community center Zumba,
fascinated by lava lamps, grossed out
by the smell of her brother’s joints,
feisty enough to scold him for second-hand smoke,
kind to the kid eating alone in the lunch room.
Our Lady is the single mom who knows
what it’s like to be a pregnant teen,
scared, working two jobs, all eyes judging,
so many doors closing, choosing between
a jug of milk and a commuter card, going
to night school to keep going, keep going,
all her strength needed to stay on track.
Our Lady is the user who feels like she failed
the unemployed girl beaten up behind closed doors,
the sex worker putting herself through school,
and the sex worker who doesn’t want to be one,
the domestic helper assaulted by rich bosses,
the mani/pedicurist who only cries at night,
the model who makes herself throw up every day.
Our Lady is the queen of heaven and earth
or deserves to be, if people could only see her
as she really is; she crushes the serpent
under her heel, binds wounds, heals ills,
knows every sorrow, is worthy of love;
she is the undoer of knots, mediatrix
of all graces, star of the sea, cause of our joy.
Isabel Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to the U.S. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in in America, Ruminate, The New York Quarterly, Smartish Pace, FOLIO, The Good Life Review, and others.
Use This Poem to Dry Your Eyes
Use this poem like a junk drawer,
clamour of fragment- ed pieces—half-used index
cards, one-year-old receipts, seven different brands
of pens, unused record store gift card for the turn- table
your mother doesn't know you 've donated to Goodwill
—yet still enough room to tuck you r
pain away. Use this poem
as a lover—daisy-chain fragile, nocturnal neon, on-all-fours
feral. Use this poem to kindle cimmerian corners, juice
summer apples for mulled cider, burn tongue
on the pine needle memory of hot cocoa with froth
and the big marshmallows. Use this poem like a rabbit's
foot—mass manufactured & magenta-dyed, more afterthought
than amulet, dumb luck on your worst day.
Kait Quinn (she/her) was born with salt in her wounds. She flushes the sting of living by writing poetry. She is the author of four poetry collections, and her work has appeared in Reed Magazine, Watershed Review, Chestnut Review, and elsewhere. She received first place in the League of MN Poets’ 2022 John Calvin Rezmerski Memorial Grand Prize. She enjoys repetition, coffee shops, and vegan breakfast foods. Kait lives in Minneapolis with her partner, their regal cat, and their very polite Aussie mix. Find her at kaitquinn.com.
Michiel Jelijs CC
When I hear that my sister did not attend my father’s funeral
I know she has become a weather pattern,
an atmospheric river sweeping over California
turning freeways into lakes, overpasses into waterfalls,
fields into seas. She carries everything away
with a liquid wave of her arm—barking dogs
and mewling cats thrash in her turbulent waters,
crash into teapots and flashlights, plastic garbage bins
and bicycles. Her mouth is a grotto sucking
and spewing a toppled birch tree, a flag ripped
from its post, a jump rope, a rusty barbeque.
She swallows schoolyards and backyards, strawberry
fields and football fields, parking lots and graveyards.
No one can see her cry because she is Gulliver, her head
crowned with thunderclouds. All we hear is terror.
All we smell is death.
Elya Braden is a writer and mixed-media artist living in Ventura County, CA, and is Assistant Editor of Gyroscope Review. She is the author of the chapbooks, Open The Fist (2020) and The Sight of Invisible Longing, a semi-finalist in Finishing Line Press’s New Women’s Voices Competition (forthcoming 2023). Her work has been published in Calyx, Prometheus Dreaming, Rattle Poets Respond, Sequestrum, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, The Coachella Review and elsewhere. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Best New Poets. www.elyabraden.com.
Matt Casagrande CC
June 21st, 2023
tonight is the longest night
i have to think about everything
i don’t want to think about:
my body, a rotting log
the city, a failing machine
the past four years, a bruise
over my breastbone.
choose your battles
choose less battles
choose even less battles
i’m sorry it’s just that
i don’t want to be angry
anymore. i want to look everyone
in the eye and feel okay about it,
like my guts aren’t grinding against each other,
like i don’t want to scrape the inside of my skull
clean with my own nails i’m sorry.
outside the bar,
outside the art gallery that still
gathers my ghost inside its walls,
the lights sag over the streets
and the sun
is still setting
is still setting
is still setting
for what feels like hours.
my god (and i mean the marsh
and the cranes crying out in the
tall grass and the first fire fly
i’ve seen all June, i mean
a cigarette shared from a friend
on my front porch)
my god my god how
can i yearn all through the night
when even this night is too long,
and how can i not when there
is so much to yearn for?
Katy Haas is a queer non-binary poet, collage artist, and Furby enthusiast from mid-Michigan. Their work can be found in Reckon Review, HAD, Stanchion, and elsewhere. Their debut poetry chapbook the algorithm knows i never stopped loving you (Bullshit Lit) is rumored to be about their white noise machine. Follow them on Twitter's death throes (@katyydidnt) & Insta (@mouthshroom).
Matt Casagrande CC
Healing My Inner (Feral) Child
I miss being uncomely like there’s no tomorrow
Sand gathers beneath my fingertips
Hair caked with pizza grease
Please, let me wallow in my putridity
Mirrors crack when I wink
And I trot away yowling on all fours
When I was a child I spent most of my free time
Pretending I was never human at all
I didn’t speak, I growled, whimpered
Snorted in discomfort –
I was obviously bullied mercilessly
But still I cherish that little soul
For being so listlessly brave
To be so unbearably strange
Now in the adult world of taxes and obligations
My chaos needs to be controlled
Tempered by exercise, enough sleep
I lose my shit over discounted bagged salads
(And I still take pride in that fact)
But every so often I find an old hum within me
The absurd returns home and curls in my sternum
And I find the time to scream
Natalie Wollenzien is a fiction and poetry writer living in Louisville, Kentucky. She works at Sarabande Books as the publishing and communications assistant, and is running the Zine Lunch! series presented by Sarabande Writing Labs. She has poetry out in The San Antonio Review.
Carl Wycoff CC
I never had to beg
For a pony. The horses just
Familiar as milkweed
Seeds. My mother
Had epilepsy and my father
Thought that should make
Us all as angry as he was,
Poor delicate out of control
Tyrant with his fists
Clenched tight. We lived
So easily then but no one
Knew it, the 1970s full
Of fear as any decade.
I knew raspberry thorns
And barn smell, freedom
On bike and horseback
And sneakered foot,
Place as solid as ice
In the water buckets come
Winter. And then they sold
The horses—I had not known
You could sell family--
And we moved to town.
That must be when I stopped
Trusting I would be loved forever.
John Kucera was educated at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in New Reader Magazine, The Sandy River Review, Connections Magazine and Friends Journal. He lives in Arizona, where he writes and teaches.
Matt Casagrande CC
I Keep Thinking About How Empty Your Fridge Was,
how poetry was what fed you.
If you were still alive, tonight’s a night
I’d drink straight from a bottle of red zinfandel
and get under the cool sheets in my dark bed and call you.
I’d read you the poem about the man pinching ants
off the floor with tissues, and the one about
the Gustav Klimt painting.
You’d read one of the classics
and the wine would settle,
softening my bones
so your voice could carry me,
gentler as the night wore on,
almost a whisper by the end
like you were fading.
I’d close my eyes and see your cigarette smoke
barely hanging on.
How many books were you reading
when you died?
How many endings didn’t you get to?
Do you remember when I cried
while reading a poem aloud?
We were so good at being lonely together.
I keep thinking about your fridge —
not even a box of baking soda or expired milk.
That time I asked if you believed in God
and you said yes, sweetheart. Yes.
I asked why and you gestured to the floor,
all your books stacked along the carpet like props.
Your empty fridge without a single egg
or slice of American cheese.
And you said because, sweetheart.
There’s got to be more
Sarah Mills is a freelance writer and editor. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Third Wednesday, Rogue Agent, Glass Mountain, Philadelphia Stories, and elsewhere. You can visit her at sarahmillswrites.com.
Dan Keck CC
the people I love best
seize the moment
value spontaneity over ceremony
turn catastrophe into laughter
and laugh from the belly
they tell the truth most of the time
hold my hand when it hurts
wait patiently for a new beginning
the people I love best
smile through angst
share hope with the forlorn
shrug at mistakes
and get up
they gain weight, lose face
go bankrupt and begin again
they smile under their umbrellas
and sob for no reason
the people I love best
share their fragile stories
over and over and over
then listen to mine
until I’m done
they’re selfish with veggies
and generous with chocolate
they don't slap my hand when I reach
for their obsession
they get it and they give it away
Bev Fesharaki is an educator and poet. Her sobriety—impossible, easy, difficult or illusive has changed her life for the better. She hopes to share her celebration and empathy through her poems.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.