"just in case you were wondering
just in case you got lost again
just in case you run out of friends
here I am" -Mary Chapin Carpenter
We are never prepared for the losses. It's like losing electricity when there is no storm in sight and the skies are clear above. What caused the black out? Were there clues that we had ignored? Did a friend try to tell us who they really were? Could we just not pick up the signal then?
I have been thinking of the perilous nature of friendships a lot lately. Perhaps every encounter is perilous, but especially so when we open our hearts so wide to another.
I visited my best friend recently who is surviving on less than half a lung. It feels like a sacred doing, to take care of those you love most in their weakest state. It is not made of loyalty, this doing, it is made of love.
Anything that is not built on that foundation is bound to crumble.
My friend, struggling for air, is hoping to live just long enough to finish his last math paper. I see joy in his tired eyes as he describes his discovery to me, a new terrain of mathematics that has never before been traversed. I don't understand most of what he tells me, but I don't have to. This is his heart that he is showing me. It is his offering to the world. What he leaves behind for others to build on.
He has another coughing fit and suddenly cannot breathe. I hear him through the night like this. Coughing till it seems like his chest might explode. I hear him coughing all night long, just a wall between us here in the tower of song. This friend who I would give my own lungs to, if he asked, if it would help.
There is never enough time, and the little we have, it passes so quickly. Blink and it's gone, this beautiful, painful life of ours. Why waste a minute of it on those who cannot follow us on the perilous, unknown paths of love? Because they teach us what love really is, those who cannot honor what our hearts hand over to them, who drop our gifts onto the floor.
I have learned that it all matters in the end. The truest of friendships and the ugliest of betrayals, the ripping and the tearing, the loving and the holding. "Be a warrior for love." Go to battle for it. It is what there is - in this little time that we are given. It is why there is something rather than nothing, because love opens the door of the world even if it does not necessarily survive the hard years ahead untrampled. Enough if it comes through in the end. If we fight for it.
Perhaps some of us have dormant warrior hearts. We lose our way, we cannot hold or handle what we've been given. We despise the giver for their gift. It is too great a thing to have been entrusted with an open heart.
Should we close it then, wall it off, this wildly beautiful beating thing? The alternative to love is quite literally a waste of time. This time we are given, a gift and a curse. We all get by with a little help from our friends, in the beginning and in the end. We all get by.
Poetry, stories, these are the vessels which carry us across stormy waters. It's why we fight so hard for what and who matters most. The heart pumps blood and somehow our brain finds the words for this darkness. It holds onto these like sacred treasure. Is it not sacred, this weird and wonderful thing we do?
"Don't ever forget to fight this good fight." Fight to love, fight to forgive, fight to feel it all out, every inch of scar, every mountain of wound. Let it take you where it must.
Here we are. After all of that.
Warriors. For. Love. Open hearts. Friends helping friends get on down the road a bit. Half a wing to half a wing. Half a lung. A whole heart nonetheless. Why waste what little time we have on anything less than everything love has to offer?
Michael Cory CC
Instead of Suicide
I made coffee.
Read Michael Lally’s Village Sonnets.
Washed the kitchen floor.
Worked on a gallery project.
Wrote a poem.
Corresponded with The Writer.
Checked on a grieving friend.
Washed the bathroom floor.
Made the bed.
Put the books back.
Hung up the clothes.
Walked to the store.
And vanilla wafers.
Drank ginger tea with wafers.
Watched Game of Thrones.
Sunday, 2:44 PM.
Still sick of living.
Read half a Lorrie Moore story.
Slept for an hour.
One friend fell down
a flight of stairs.
Another can’t find her cat.
Called the one with the stairs.
Baked sweet potato.
Put make-up on.
And leather jacket.
Walked to Theater 80.
Watched a band open.
Changed seat because of talking woman.
Changed seat because of coughing woman.
Watched Acker Awards.
Talked to people.
Stopped at Treehouse.
Bluegrass band, Velvet Underground covers.
This is what it takes
to be ok for 15 minutes.
On the day after the election
I forgot how to say “Good Morning”
in early darkness
Two years later
I can’t say “Happy Birthday,” either
How do you wish someone
a wonderful year or a great day?
Sometimes I send birthday greetings
and write “despite it all”
Despite the Stephen King story
in which we live, despite
The Twilight Zone climate change
Despite the blaring television news
Despite the birthdays rolling on
runs through my blood
deep as the land
It is no longer
to look away
There are short distractions
Red velvet cake,
Like baseball, every day
is a new game with the same
broken rules and broken bats
I no longer want to die
I want to kill
that more people want to fuck me
than they did last year
I’m the same, a year older,
no better, not much worse
Doesn’t seem to matter
when it comes to desire
The writer from 11th Street
seeks a DeBeauvoir
for his angst-ridden Sartre soul
The poet I threw out
no longer hates me
The married friend resurfaces
as a dark-haired Spencer Tracey,
I’m his Katherine Hepburn
in a rock and roll t-shirt
The comic, the ex-junkie,
the astronaut, the entertainer
All wrapped up
in a Ray Charles song
reaching for something
to fill the void of our today
Usually, I’d rather
walk the dog
But occasionally fall
for the wrong man
at the wrong time
in the right moment
Because it’s all we have
One moment that feels
a little bit right
or at least
not completely wrong.
Puma Perl is a widely published poet and writer, as well as a performer and producer. She is the author of two chapbooks, Ruby True and Belinda and Her Friends, and two full-length poetry collections, knuckle tattoos, and Retrograde, (great weather for MEDIA press.) A fifth, Birthdays Before and After, is due for release Winter, 2019. She is the creator, curator, and producer of Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, which launched at the Bowery Electric in 2012 and brings spoken word together with rock and roll. As Puma Perl and Friends, she performs regularly with a group of excellent musicians. She’s received two honorable mentions and one first place award from the New York Press Association in recognition of her journalism and was the recipient of the 2016 Acker Award in the category of writing and lives and works on the Lower East. (Photo, Dina Regine)
Michael Cory CC
The air is what we mix with it— Coors Light and Citronella;
aluminum shavings that float, like polished dirt, all across
the ruins of a city; the scent of wild lavender as it grows
through the ribcage of a dead coyote; entire worlds breathing.
What else does the summer air smell like right before it dies?
What sights would you eat ash for, if they could be unseen?
You lifted the night sky for a moment and showed me the hourglass
of your mother’s patience, the pulsing beer can of your father’s fist,
the dress they draped your sister in when they found her by the river.
Silently, you melted into the rapture of starlight, passed through the
contrails of all the UFOs that ignored your signals; that flew across
your prayers on their return to safer worlds. All at once, the scent of
freezing water crawled into your clothing and you threw away the knife
you fed to tree bark instead of flesh for all those years. The river carried
it to an endless ocean—the exact distance between strength and power.
Some kind of strange beauty sits inside our brains and fills the air
with honeysuckle, dryer sheets, and the hope of a brief, pale light.
All of this, as new worlds continue to be born right behind our eyes.
Something fluttered in the dawning;
traces of stars, the splintered bones
of what could have been a planet.
The rising sun reminded you of a flock
of x-rays piercing through a dying fire.
Your entire life floated out with the tide.
Nothing outsmarts gravity, your father once said.
It was late October, 4 am, on a pebble beach in Main.
I’m standing on a green carpet, waiting out the day,
like I’ve waited out most of my days, overwhelmed
by a stillness which continues to stalk me.
It traces my footsteps when I sneak to the woodshed
for a smoke. I hear it in the next aisle over while I’m
grocery shopping; loudly drumming its fingers
to the insectal buzz of fluorescent lighting, waiting
impatiently while I choose my off-brand of frozen peas.
It huffs, face half hidden behind a trashy magazine,
while I stand in the checkout line at Kroger.
It jogs beside my car in the rain, always keeping pace.
There is a chemical so rare, that it can only be found
tucked somewhere in the shadows of my bedroom
on winter afternoons— days when I should be working.
I can only feel it if I reach out blindly. And only for
a moment, before it morphs into a cobweb or a pale
yellow lampshade or a pile of dirty laundry, left for weeks.
Meanwhile, we buy small packets of tomato seeds
and plan to start a garden, sometime next spring.
Only half of the storm made it to the harbor.
Your mother picked you up by your childhood
and spun you into an ornament, sweet and fragile,
like glass sugar.
In the rain, the best of your forgiveness melted away.
when I found your car, the windshield
was drenched in your brother’s cheapest whiskey.
The air smelled like melting plastic.
It tasted like gravel and summertime,
and all those lemon-lime beach towns
you swore you never loved…
Maybe in another life,
I could find you there
What would another life even look like? I can’t imagine
a silk staircase unraveling, can’t picture myself
looking through a window and suddenly the glass
begins to melt into solid light, and we’re children
again, pulling ourselves through a snow bank, closer
and closer to a warm evening of Pop Rocks and rented
movies. Even if I set out on a journey to a distant
mountain monastery, the monks couldn’t teach me
to resemble a leaf, at dawn, unfolding like the constellations.
Would there be floating pillars? Bored Virgins?
A feast, never ending, where you always stopped
yourself after three beers? I wouldn’t place
a nickel on it—that in your moment of darkness,
you looked at a castle of mirrors and walked
towards the light. But, I would eat a bowl of sand
just to prove my doubt wrong—to see you there,
arms folded, and leaning against our family tree.
I’m only sure of two things--
I still carry pieces of your cross on my back
and lilies were your favorite flower.
Our last few months together are mixed in my memory
like concrete—swirling slabs of gray movement.
A silent ride home from the mall, your purse full of stolen makeup.
Dinners with my family, where no one was sure how to make conversation.
The endless hours we spent looking at paint samples for the nursery…
and having to return the brushes.
The line at the liquor store blended
with the lines on the road.
I kept tracking slush into our entry way.
At the same time I was with you,
I was without you.
It was winter and suddenly it was summer.
I talked you into a country drive.
We stopped on the side of the road to watch
a cow giving birth in the center of a pasture.
But the calf never rose to its wobbly legs
or felt the heat of an Indian summer.
It never tasted dandelions.
The mother laid by the calf’s body well past twilight.
I stood by you, as you watched and waited, long after that.
We all mean something different when we say forever.
John Leonard is a professor of composition and assistant editor of Twyckenham Notes, a poetry journal based out of South Bend, Indiana. He holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University. His previous works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Sheila-Na-Gig, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Burningword Literary Journal. His work is forthcoming in Mojave Heart Review and PoeticDiversity. He was the 2016 inaugural recipient of the Wolfson Poetry Award and 2018 recipient of the Josephine K. Piercy Memorial Award. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife, three cats, and two dogs.
Tasha Lutek CC
One Stoplight Town
One (rusting, dandelionized) stoplight is our horse in this town
An olfactory rush of turpentine and foxglove
Its heady air of no one around
Thousands of miles worth of burnt oil away,
I’m sleepless backaches and
Dreaming of coming home
Framed in a rain-dotted windshield, driftwood bog-land horizon opens
Early pink skies, iridescent veins of lingering constellations
Rumors of cirrus wisps congregate as you
Imagine jet streams
You day dream and I melt into melatonin restlessness
A shiver of liquid chill traces over our shoulders, worlds apart
Morning and night, layers stripped raw with time ticked off
The song stays playing— “Any day now”
If There Were Any Other Way Then This Would All Be Easy
And we would be
And no one else
Kissing in secret behind the
Rusted bike shed by the
Broke-down redbrick old wall with
Your back pressed bracing on the
Uneven off-white stucco plaster
The grass underfoot still wet with
The day not yet under way
The summer still not started
And we’d be frozen
Happy or unhappy or uncertain
Soles tread at odd angles, catalyzing mid-morning cat stretches
The stretch that cuts through you, the sort that hits the soul
Walking out a new backbone, breaking in new paths
Routes through you
Necks click and backs crack
The soul is a muscle, one threaded over bones
Rearranged by the almighty will of her walk
Black and Blue
You are a series of black and blue hues
As is all the whole world we share at this hour
And when I run my fingertips over your paleness
You are the color of moonlight
And your sleeping breathing moves on me, switching from nose to mouth
And your toes go search for the comfort of
Knowing I'm here
And I couldn'trade your brand of blackenedblues
For the neon screen-print pastel block-colors they tell us to paint the world in anew
Ones full of revolutionary potential
The black and blue of you is
All the revolutionary potential there is on earth
You glow in my dark
Cathal Gunning (25) is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online literature, poetry, and non-fiction collective 'Cold Coffee Stand' (www.coldcoffeestand.wordpress.com). His poetry has been published in The Rose Magazine, Lonesome October Lit, and Lagan Online and his fiction has been published (or is forthcoming) in Tales From the Forest, The Honest Ulsterman, The Cabinet of Heed, The Runt, Snakes of Various Consistency, The Weary Blues, HCE Review, TRAIN, Funicular, The Occulum, Sleaze Magazine, and the collection 'From the Candystore to the Galtymore'. His debut novel 'Innocents' was published by Solstice in 2017. His work has been short-listed for the 2015 Maeve Binchy Travel Award and Hennessy New Irish Writing.
This baby girl is called a pep talk
Inhale exhale break break breathe.
Plant the balls of your feet to the concrete.
Deep breath now.
Do it with me
Exhale and ground ground ground
I promise the loudness will slowly drown out.
Just plant your eyes and swallow it down down from the base of your skull to
Carry it sound round round through your belly and your toes and your lips.
Let me rebound whole found. Into your fingertips.
Because your lips are so wholly against mine inside the darkest of the sleepiest
of the fullness of rooms rooms rooms
In the quiet moments when I breathe you in so deep and
We are origami so entwined and we sleep and sleep and dreams dreams dream.
In this prayer bed of holy psalms.
I worship the night with you.
Today I am trying to memorize your eyelids.
I want to remember what your skin taste like.
I'm rehearsing the lines of your silhouette.
I need to catalog the way the sun smells on your kneecaps.
Memory-Recall the mountains and creek beds of our knuckles.
Carefully stacked on top of each other.
Our bodies can fold tighter than origami creases.
You have smoothed all of my rough edges.
Your palms/PSALMS swallow me whole
Tasting my hollows and shadows under your love spell.
I am home.
And I am holy there.
Ky J. Dio is a host and Administrator for Juniper House Readings, a Slam Poet, a facilitator of creative writing workshops, and the author of 5 chapbooks. She makes recycled acrylic and spray paint art and works as a Jewelry Specialist at a pawn shop. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
i am re-learning what mourning looks like
with unsteady hands, shaking like unsettled bones;
i am equally unsettled in the rattling wind,
with a graveyard mouth that is stumbling in the dearth
where i am pinned to the roots of this gnarled tree
and the boughs are shuddering
under their own weight.
i am unsettled in the shape mourning takes beneath my palms:
the ridge of a kissed brow; the nooks of cinnamon-sugar toast
and the crannies of late spring;
the breeze of hammock touches;
a well-traveled trail, distant now,
fades beneath my fingertips.
i am wilting in the upbeat,
with a throat ripe with bruised fruit,
i am abundance that never makes the shelves,
the farmer went home,
the fruit rotted.
splintered arms dangle
over my head in lost words,
i think about you: June lips, curled under the cinnamon sun,
the rest turns to dust.
the anatomy of a woman is dendrochronology
the root of the root,
as it were,
is the tugging tendril that creeps
between the clay pot of my lungs
to bury my bones into the dirt,
where i have learned to sprout
and stoop towards the sun in despite:
despite my skin, all that damp peat
i have drowned under, or my nose bit
black in the early frost;
i have lived here,
watching the decomposition of myself
who once but also never was;
if i could,
i would speak to her from beneath the earth
but i am still learning how to describe the scent
of living soil.
i am still borrowing this creaking world
and she has all of her lives planned.
should i return,
i am just elongated limbs, labyrinthine fingers
coaxing around a heart that lifts itself
to the full sky.
my corpse is no subtle creature,
a sapling, still;
i count the soft rings of her;
i watch her love the huddled things,
the slow rise of their chests;
the curl of their molten fists;
i watch her melt into the earth
and rise into a cloud of smoke;
watch her roll off distant mountaintops.
Nestled in the mountains of Upstate New York, Kate Shannon is a farmhand and environmentalist who spends her free days backpacking and writing. She mostly uses natural and environmental themes in her work, as nature has always had a place in her heart, even in the darkest of times.
dog tail dreamline
there is a type of surfing only adults can do:
indifferent, pale yellow like the bottom of our boards.
when I was young, every night I had a dream that my grandfather died and when he finally did
I started surfing
to find him in the sheen
promised by sparkled sunlight blasted
against the blackened sea
last week, a wave ripped my body open
and placed clay where my
organs used to live
I weigh twice as much now
and move in blocky, jerked movements
clay is so dead but loves to play alive
it sits there
in accented tans and browns
and won’t be satisfied until
it fills all of me and most of my mouth
my tongue used to be just a tongue,
and a tongue, wet with cool after a drink of water,
rests on itself and lists the endless loves
of butterscotch memories
but now it’s
a molded clod of clay
heavy like the sky,
sunk in my mouth,
lapping up salt water
as if life was born
from salt rather than silence.
salt water now
means what is
made a me toy
made my drop
of a body
consumed by a moment
played, and falling into
the stink of a greening ocean I--
I sink so gracelessly
and let the weight of
of a dead man
drown me so softly
“I can drive, drive it fast now.” - Lil Uzi Vert
I can drive
I can see
I can see through the sand that stings through my skin
I can see the biting the biting
the back of a hand can be broken in so many different ways
I am a backroom like backwards
where the fragility of my body mocks me
I will protect myself as much as it is allowed
but sometimes it’s so much safer to be a coward
in the dark
in the tautness of backing out
in the moist corners of mouths
I am rarely governed by light
I move often based on sound
and find myself in the driver’s seat
like one finds themselves ripped up
but I can drive
under the little nights
I can drive
away and back again
I can drive
and I will throw myself into every road before I forget that
ghosts, who demand so much of our compassion,
crinkle into themselves at the first whiff of intimacy.
in the desert, where everything is stretched out
so comfortably, ghosts dance like ditches
ditches that turn into cars and back into ditches,
ditches lost only in themselves
in the desert, there are these iridescent
blocks of white wine, thirty stories high
magic like weathered lizard magic
like spots on the back of your eyelids
these blocks, shimmering in their own heat
are not ghosts but they stink with death
in the desert, everything is camouflaged,
pride is hunger painted as itself, and
and hunger is the conductor of an orchestra
hunger is the space between grains of sand
and the watered down blocks of silence
all my friends are in the desert
waiting for a knee deep moment
reminding me that moving is
easier than leaving
and leaving should have happened
but I love the bay
I get to pretend
that every ghost
is just a voice
and that every
voice is water
and in love with me
in the desert:
folded / ghost /
dream only of themselves
Jacob Fowler (he/him/his) is an elementary school teacher living in Oakland, CA. He recently graduated from Pitzer College with a BA in World Literature. His work has appeared in Barren Magazine, Selcouth Station, Soft Cartel, and Riggwelter Press, among others. You can find him on Twitter @jacobafowler.
Darin Barry CC
My throat exposed
Self-inflicted ink stains
A dotted line instructing
Just the right spot
RSVP on my back
In felt tip
This invitation to slice me open
See how deep my rotten goes
You are welcome here
Write me back
Silence is the greatest harm
You could do me
Bruises with no origin story
Corner of table coffee black
Slip in the shower blue
She doesn't remember
Maybe she should see someone
Let someone see
But there is always a stack of linen to work
Press creases from the pale
Check for stains
You can't tell me
How to take my tea
Don't linger in doorways
That you can't remember what my mouth tasted like
You drew a line through the room
In paint and named it after me
Watched me trip over myself
To get to you
You forced me to go first
Upper lip curled
More of a snarl than a welcome
Then we saw what I was
Held my head
And rinsed off my smeared war paint
You force fed me esteem
Eggs with garlic
Bergamot sweetened nonsense
When I backed into the wall
On your side
It wasn't you I was edging away from
You pressed a book into my hands
Don't lose focus
Sampled me square by square as I read
Then we rewrote the moral of the story
All lines blurred
All heads bowed all eyes closed
You pressed the issue into my flesh
I chose you
Something neither of us knew at the time
When I scaled up to your picque
Dizzy with pride
And tumbled all the way down
You took stories as gospel
Wrapped my wrists
In holy cuffs of patience
Then we committed crimes
My hips bruised
With your blue thumb prints
You took red pens to my early efforts
Said try again
Stripped me bare of all context
When I came to you with revisions
We tried again
Even as the climax was waning
You burned the thousand lines
Painted me black and white
Scribbled over the name of the self
Who forgot herself
That let you get to me
And I can't tell you
How long it's been
Don't forget to write
That I can remember what your smile looked like
Kerri Farrell Foley is the founder and managing editor of Crack the Spine Literary Magazine. Her poetry and short prose has been published in Black Words on White Paper, Short Fast and Deadly, Flash Daily, and others. Her novel “In the Margins” was published in 2013.
Tasha Lutek CC
in these hours of bitter sunlight,
in the season of crows,
and the biggest mistake we make here
is growing old
we learn the importance of distance,
but not how to close it,
and so we learn nothing
speak to each other softly, but
only in dreams,
and does this make what we say
more or less honest?
is the person i’ve become
a bigger disappointment
than the person i was?
i will only ask you this
once you’ve left me
for the last time
says baby, death is my answer
three figures on a back porch, a man and
a woman, his wife or not his wife, his mistress or
his lover and a man and his mother, the
three of them and two of them drunk, all of them
angry and one of them suicidal and i am there
too, or i’ve been told that i’m there
can almost remember
the three of them and four brick walls,
four doorways and the afternoon sun, the blinding
light and the absolute heat but
not the warmth
do you see?
not the warmth
sticky yellow air filled with the ghosts of
fathers and husbands, with unspoken grievances, and
the three of them there and the possibility of myself,
the fear in not knowing, of imprecise memory,
a man and a woman and then a man and a woman,
two of them, an imperfect triangle, an overdose
or just another drink and i remember
this or i imagine it
i invent my future ruins
from what the past has to offer
the three of them, who are real, and the sunlight,
the birdsong, subtle scent of days lost forever
and what happens is that i outlive them all,
am myself outlived,
and so prove the story to be a lie
prove all lies to matter, all connections and
endings, all truths, and these were the people i loved
and this will always be them, the story uncertain
and the meaning unclear but this will always
be the moment, the sunlight and heat,
the pain, and that all i have learned in my
life is all i will ever know
all i can hope to be is
everything i never was
in the kingdom of god, there is always room for despair
snow in the first grey
light of sunday morning
news of dali’s suicide
of his execution by
the king of spain
but no winners
a passing moment
my father in that last suffocating
year before his death
asks me were we born fucked or
does it just feel that way? but
then he’s gone before i can answer
forgot how to laugh and then
he forgot how to breathe and i have
stopped answering the phone
i am tired of the age of gold,
never believed in
the age of enlightenment
the machine gun is invented,
is improved and improved again, and
have you noticed that you’re
still not safe?
that the whores in power still grow
fat on the flesh and blood
of your children?
they still grow old in their
palaces of gold
while you fade from memory
they invent a past just to
make you fear the future and
what they want you to
believe is that you
never mattered at all but
will you give them this power?
will you finally understand
what it means to be holy?
there is no true victory
john sweet, b 1968, still numbered among the living. A believer in writing as catharsis. Opposed to all organized religion and political parties. His latest collections include the limited edition chapbooks HEATHEN TONGUE (2018 Kendra Steiner Editions) and A BASTARD CHILD IN THE KINGDOM OF NIL (2018 Analog Submission Press). All pertinent facts about his life are buried somewhere in his writing.
denise h bell is a mature published poet. she is a proud resident of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, NY. denise’s work focuses on the marginalization, ageism, and other ills and joys found in an urban community. denise studied with Aafa Michael Weaver, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Adrienne Kennedy, and Joel Dias Porter. She is a Brooklyn Poets Fellow. Her work appeared in Rattle Journal, Badlands, Peregrine, The Chaffey Review, The Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Her poem, “remember my name" was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Poetry Prize. To denise writing is all about craft.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.