, Thomas CC
I sit here humbled, but one guest among many who have traveled so far in the spring of their lives to share with imperfect strangers their deep songs of pain and joy and all the matters that matter. To matter. It matters how many times, or barely, or not at all, we have heard such words spoken from others. Many do not feel that they matter at all. Then, one night, a song comes on the radio, speaks what your heart has been crying out for years, washes over you, and there it is, a voice that says it matters. Sometimes, I swear, art is just a dressed up miracle.
I imagine many of you have known what it is to be almost saved, held upward by a stranger's words, or song, or painting, or film. Artists intend many things with their art, but there is also the unbidden moment, the thing you don’t see coming. Something in us works through us. It’s elusive and holy. It’s no God, it’s just… witnessing. We need a witness to our mattering. Our shattering. We need a witness in order to heal.
Our caregivers are the first witness. And if that witnessing goes wrong, or is missing, the dark we learn to adjust our eyes to both saves and destroys us. It takes a long time to learn how to separate the life-giving from the death-dealing ways of carrying on. Trauma is a force to be reckoned with. Unwitnessed early, we carry the feeling most of our lives that ours is a life unseen, unheld, unheard. Worse, undeserving.
The miracle is in all of the things, and people, we find along the way to counter that feeling, that loss. What a loss. And yet, what a gift. “We wish it were easier,” Michael Eigen writes, “but what choice do we have when illumination shines through injury?”
Can I get a witness? That’s the real deal, why we’re here. There are fancier ways to say it, but when that midnight song comes on the radio and washes us to shore, we know art to be that cracked vessel that carries us through, through and through.
I say it almost saves us, because the bittersweet truth of it is, we are never saved. But to be heard, seen, held, and believed. That’s not nothing. A listening ear, a hand to the shoulder, a seat at the table, a place to call some kind of home. Some kind of belonging. Of mattering.
Friends, I hope you know that the gifts you have brought to this space are nothing short of a miracle. An overused word perhaps, miracle, but it’ll have to do. It’s the closest thing. Just like that song on the radio, speaking the thunderous language of the heart, making it known, we are not alone. We are not alone. If not for you, there would be no here, and now, and as we are, gathered for but a moment, to witness. To hold each other upward.
Upward friends, upward.
Until we meet again... Know that you matter. That even when it doesn't feel like it, the world needs you here. Here and here and here...
misses her son, so she mourns
him with whiskey, wine, drinks the river
that runs behind the house dry. The river
that he played in, that he picked chicory
& four leaf clovers by. His hair, wet & chicoried
in the sun. She blows a cloud of smoke, twists
a lemon in her drink. God is twisted
she thinks. Some nights she brings men
home then makes them sleep out on the couch, men
who didn’t know her son. She only wants to feel
again. The ice taps her glass. She wants to feel
her son, wants to touch his hand. Another
drink. It’s late. She knows she has another
boy & he’ll come home. For now, she mourns.
I wish I had a cooler name
like Francis or Beau. I was nearly Willow.
I used to know a girl named Lovely. And she was.
Her parents must have just loved her, Lovely.
I had to grow on mine. I could have been named
Crystal or Ice. Bar-fight, High. Once when I was a baby,
my dad brought me to his new girlfriend’s house
as if to say look what I did. I wonder where
he set me down, near an open cupboard? The table’s
sharp tip? He could have called me Lucky, Dice,
Strip Club, Hit. Pieces of broken glass and bloody
fist. He wanted something biblical and big, so: Hannah.
I could have been Salome or Lazarus. I rise
again, with John the Baptist’s head.
Last night my father sent me a recording
of him singing a song he wrote. The first thing I thought
was I don’t like it. Then I thought about how he must
have set the phone somewhere close to the guitar,
close to his mouth. Atop an old 7-eleven cup filled
with tap water. He clears his throat. The phone is next
to an ashtray, a pack of newports. Two left. He presses record
and watches the red orb that means the phone is listening
and he feels less alone. He memorized the lyrics, they’re his.
Like me. Then, he plays the song through once. He
deletes it because someone in his trailer park calls out
for a lost dog. He yells out the window. It even sounds like music
when he sweeps his feet across the space, back to his desk,
across broken glass and poker chips. He adjusts
the clasp on his necklace, tarnished brass. The song, again.
This time he likes it. I don’t see the email for two
days. I tell him I love it. I wonder if he knows
I’m lying. I wonder if he knows we are the same.
Hannah Schultz is a poet from Southern California, and currently resides in San Francisco. She is an MFA candidate at California State University Long Beach. Her work is published or forthcoming in Slipstream, Cultural Daily, and Neon Door.
The Grim Atheist CC
Hand to my stupid heart
after Cameron Awkward-Rich
Everyone tells you what you are. Bleeding. Big & beautiful. Whole. Open. Vital. You, held in on every side, touching everything important. Always unbroken, whatever the song says. You do not break, I do. Even when I am, I am rarely at the wheel. Out here in the hinterlands I reach, I grasp, hurl helplessly toward harm. Every bone of me has shattered, while you? Beat on, a steady drum, a delicacy. You, hidden or not in every poem. You, the size of me closed. I could urge you back to life if only it were possible.
I feel for you instead.
The ocean also
What is the matter of fact, anyway? The matter of floodplains,
calcite, desert bloom, the insistence of light in every shadow,
how when you wade into water you get to thinking what breaks
upon your body bends and flows around you, blameless,
stays flowing through you too. Who says you're not the ocean also?
We could walk each other home and say only what we sense:
We bear what we can.
The wind will do what it does.
When the river breaks the banks, best to bless the waters freely.
I too was once an October afternoon
How today the sky ripped open? Unexpected.
For an hour, maybe two, the clouds insisted
on themselves. Sunday wept away the sun.
It was enough to ruin everything. Ruin.
How careless I can be.
It surprised even me, when I said it out loud--
I am inconveniently in love.
As though convenience feels
like coming home.
I only want a luscious life. I want to touch
the tender place our gods meet. I want
to say your name like this:
I trust you with my weather.
Kristin Lueke is a Virgo, chingona, and author of the chapbook (in)different math, published by Dancing Girl Press. Her work has appeared in HAD, Hooligan, Witch Craft, Untoward, the Acentos Review, and elsewhere. She has some degrees from Princeton and the University of Chicago, and one time, she was nominated for a Pushcart for a poem about revenge. (It didn’t win.)
all things cede to pollination.
your aunt’s house with its two wheels.
the clay was firm but bled its own soppy milk
onto our knees. you were a natural,
& coaxed a perfect vase in minutes.
i watched a solitary bee file
in & out its manufactured home & felt
the gutless clay ascend & wither, inimical.
the garden—a croon of insects.
the fruit—resting in tight, provocative clusters.
the oppressive buzzing. the saccharine, fomenting stench.
no wonder the clay resists fixity; no wonder
your mother does nothing but draw cards, etch
horoscopic wheels, melt into the divan where you used to bed
your wife. the orchids, trailing up the ficus,
bolstered by its suffocation—swollen, unseasonal blooms.
when i leave, you snort lines with an old friend
while his daughter sleeps in the next room & the labrador
swims frantic laps in the sepal-shaped pool.
even gut-deep in the gulf, the water resists orientation.
am i the land of plenty?
Lora Kinkade is a queer, rural poet residing in eastern Washington state. She received her B.A. in Creative Writing, Poetry from UCSC. She was a founding member of the Omni Writing Collective. Her most recent publications include Driftwood Press, Damaged Goods Press, and The Bombay Gin. She was a runner-up in Omnidawn’s 2018 Single Poem Broadside Contest.
If my womb could wander she wouldn’t take a map
would have no sense of the weather
would find herself in the next town over blushing &
asking for directions.
Sitting at the diner counter, she would refuse pie, confess
she likes to feel empty, even though it makes her restless.
I’m tired of tracking her down. I’m tired.
My womb refuses to listen.
She cramps. She cries. She wrestles my insides next to the heart of the matter:
I come from a long line of women in distress. Often banished
to the seaside to rest my mind. Look, maybe it’s easier
to let her go unsupervised.
We are each a vessel without purpose. I have no advice to offer her.
Let her thumb a ride to the shore. Let her ride the Gravitron, tackle
the ocean. Hawk cotton candy on the boardwalk.
Soon enough she will find how exhausting it is. Limb-laden with un-
ease, sunburned & shaken
she will find her way back to me, no smelling salts
needed. All bark, no bite
she’ll nestle in tight & we’ll finally, finally get some sleep.
Rebecca Connors (she/her) is the author of the chapbook, Split Map (Minerva Rising Press, 2019). Her poems can be found in DIALOGIST, Glass Poetry Journal, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among others. She has her MFA from Solstice at Pine Manor College and lives with her family in Boston. Follow her on Twitter @aprilist or visit her site at aprilist.com.
I dwell in impossibility.
Not the good kind, the stuff that grabs
you by the hand and drags you
laughing, and singing,
higher and further until
you drink and sweat and
piss optimism, until
your bed is rose petals
and you wake each dawn to
certainty that this is indeed
your time, that you were born
to the right tribe and
anointed to be
Just. Who. You are.
No, I hark from the valley
despite my inclinations
to thin air,
to the climb.
and I used to! Climb,
traverse, bear great loads
upon my Balkan back
and skip down smiling
well before dark and ready
for more. I mean,
I think I did.
Decades of it - doubt,
have worn my soles smooth,
so treadless that traction
became something they surely lied about,
something that wasn’t for women like me,
who lift one foot towards the path
only to slip down, landing in the armpit
or the elbow
of the valley
where I dwell
becoming one with the lame,
the ones whose time
is Not Now.
I used to be eight-limbed
like the sad
on the inaugural cover
of MS magazine.
So many hands
everyone else’s needs.
When I filled them all,
keeping a hand free
in case you,
or a neighbor,
The lower left
was the first to go.
It was an accident, really.
So many arms
to keep track of,
I slammed the car door
before the baby could slip
from the back seat
and fall out.
One gone, severed at the bicep.
I think it rolled
down the driveway,
slid into the sewer drain
I had no time to look,
being universally needed and all.
The second and third,
both on the right as I recall,
fell into the pot
of boiling pasta water
when I turned to catch
the pet hamster
who’d broken free
of her cage.
I remember thinking,
I think I thought,
how nice it might be
to run away like that.
If I bled at all
I didn’t notice,
all that laundry
The fourth arm
was, if I trust my memory,
a casualty of
that utility closet.
I reached in for a broom,
caught the vacuum cleaner cord,
turned too fast
when the doorbell rang.
I think that one
must have shriveled up
and become more dust
flying through the rooms
to spray and wipe away
as I never did get to look.
Such a deep closet,
and so many needs to tend.
Truth to tell,
I lopped off the fifth
while testing my splendid
new kitchen knife,
every women’s dream
of a birthday gift,
plopped that arm
up onto the formica counter
and just touched
the shiny blade
to the forearm.
It gave way so easily
under the cutting edge
and I kind of liked
the way the sun
caught the white bone
against the pink muscle.
disappeared one night
while I was sleeping.
something must have happened
but I was so very tired
from all that need.
Two arms left.
Enough to wrap
‘round my assorted beloveds,
and, after a good pause,
one hand to lift the kettle,
another to pour the tea.
Melinda Coppola has been writing in some form for nearly five decades. Her work has been published in several magazines, books, and periodicals including I Come from the World, Harpur Palate, Kaleidoscope, The Autism Perspective, Spirit First, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Welcome Home, and Celebrations. An artist, Yoga teacher and mom to an amazing daughter with special needs, she enjoys infusing her work of heart with her voice as a poet.
Melinda nourishes her creative spirit with singing, early morning walks, collecting and making art with beach stones, cooking, spending quiet time with her husband and daughter, and communing with her cats.
Overdose (When I Learn for Certain that My Love Alone Could Never Save You)
What there is sometimes
we barely have words for.
Like finding you
on a worn green sofa.
or like great sharks
at the ceiling
the way white cats can stare
blue-eyed at ghosts
I have not yet seen.
if this illness can be identified then it’s not
If there’s a category for it then there must also be a cure.
& so- I’m left groping & gasping & grasping at language.
I wave the magic wand of words
I name this to turn you
into an Idea,
something simplified, easily understood.
Until you are
formulated & almost
of all my prosthetic
Until I can say only:
Until I reach that place beyond
I can no longer speak
but only gesture towards----.
I am you are
us. We are
in bright white ether.
skull-white & calling
we are skin
to atoms broken down
to molecules broken
to dark matter dancing
around an empty space.
Aurora Bones currently teaches research writing full-time in Southern Illinois. She earned her MA from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and an MFA from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. One day she hopes to live in a sustainable underground house, and to grow sunflowers on the roof of her home.
Timo Hammesfahr CC
雲の峰 いくつ崩れて 月の山
Kumo no mine
Tsuki no yama
The crests of the cloud
The moon mountain.
On the way to my grandmother-in-laws property
my wife tells me of the time she took acid
as a teenager in Joshua tree –
winter break cactus wren, snow covered desert topsoil, an evaporation of self
“it wasn’t the desert that made the trip turn” she says,
“but walking into a Baker’s burger shack during the peak,
we waited in line behind a family of five where everyone
was bald and wearing the same clothes -- I haven’t eaten there since”
the dawning light refracted
through the soot covered windshield
spot-lighting her blue irises
like a coral reef Emperor Angelfish
her dimples pinched like a periwinkle
(“eyes on the traffic” her repeating mantra,
the right side tires
always vibrating on the yellow dotted lines)
as we transfer from the 62 to the 10 we hit civil twilight
and a western vignette of diffusion is only visible - incandescent
orange and cotton wool sapphire shaped like an almond
flutter above the pacific
shadows of sparse cactus and the city grid
become swallowed as we ascend the 18 serpent
corkscrew along the rim edge of the Transverse Ranges
a trucker once told me
“on the clearest of days you can see the pacific from up here”
he said this during the season
of iced-road car pile-ups
the only visibility
was the condensation
of breath hitting the pine
The mountain town
sits 5,000 feet above the San Bernardino Valley,
named after the feast of
St. Bernardine of Siena
by Spanish colonists
but really the land
“people of the pine”
later given the name
“Serrano’s” or “mountain people”
the settlement is wedged
along the hilltop
in narrow windy slopes
leading to lake Gregory – leant
over frames, rustic shingles and shakes,
narrow 70-degree driveways
Bear Claw Saloon
The Stockade – (where my wife’s grandfather holds the record for most times being 86)
mile high backcountry antique goods and camping wear
and a brewery that was once the town’s library
my wife’s grandmother bought the property
the year my wife was born –
ditching the congestion by the shoreline
for the A-frames balancing between
the Ponderosa and Black Tan Oak –
the bark covered in a million holes jabbed
by the red spotted woodpecker
during the chore run
she is followed
along the acreage
by an entourage of dogs –
Shadow, Queenie, Dexter, Trouble, Mystery, Nugget and the list goes on and on
the pig on the westside in the mud
never leaves the old camper shell – grieving the recent death of her pair
Bam Bam the goat wanders
from horse stable to horse stable
bonking the aluminum
with maladroit hooves
and Betty silently chews
her feed, glowing cashmere fur
The property is bordered by trailer parks and trail heads –
within the fence line are busted trailers
and meth heads –
some sweet and lonesome, others abusive and explosive
three tenants live in the pool room building – converted into apartments
but was once a thriving 1950s steakhouse frequented
by important members of government
Jim lives with his small Ewok-like dog, always on his lap,
a carton of cheap cigarettes and 12 pack of Busch,
it’s nearly impossible to escape conversation
when you pass him on the property – either out of sadness
or the tense isolation of living in the mountains
the other two tenants
are always arguing
over scattered junk
the westside corner
“I didn’t steal your carburetor”
“I didn’t take your dead mother’s stuff”
the other refutes
we are invisible
to the quarrelling
scene that echoes
the golden field
canyon of rolling
hilltops and bedrock
blue Steller’s jay wisp
between the pine branches
resting atop the oak stumps
small coarse furred squirrels
scurry chestnuts within vertical trunks
my wife first smoked weed
in the neighboring trailer park
when she was a teenager,
summers at grandmas
cleaning the stables
and feeding the horses –
slow gentle strokes
of long coffee patterned
Velvet Underground lyrics
to soothe their morning hunger
and clouds of 1 ¼ in. flies
to see her dance between
the stalls today is like watching
embers burst from pine cones,
handling the shovel like a vaudeville
actress sliding across a redwood stage,
her fingers gliding across the sheen
coats of American Quarters, Warmbloods
Tennessee Walkers and Appaloosas
clicking of the back molars
as if sounding the gong for morning
meditation high in temple grounds
Cedar wood chops like butter
the axe handle strikes through
like an open palm breaking
a river surface, cupping
a small fish and bringing
it into air
black widows live in the wood shed
but never bother flesh that enters,
spiders are good luck in Japanese culture
“if seen in the morning it’s fortunate,
but if seen at night be cautious”
old superstitions I’ve heard
from the elders of the land
when we visit
my routine is to chop
wood enough for the night
and morning, then repeat.
my wife sets up the a-frame
cabin – vacuuming and securing
any hole large enough for critters
to enter unexpected
when night falls
the summit is silent
between the spruce
stars are scattered
like seeds, waiting
for winter’s clouds
to bury them against
the snowfall, we huddle
around the campfire
following the phases
of the moon rising
above the eastern ridgeline
and trace the newborn fox tracks
until we slowly drift away
The Jade: Tenement Building
The beauty of things must be that they end.
― Jack Kerouac, Tristessa
A mosaic of fire escapes
pattern crosshatch corners off 7th
giving weight to the old modernist
trope of neglecting the romanticism
of desolate bricks lined like a timing belt
Carmen’s figure half blended in shadow
lighting a Pall Mall, sulfur expelling
she whistles towards the greyhound bus station
a swamp of men hacking over bent backs
the bullet glazed corner liquor store
blackened by guarded bars like claws
the residents all congregate to the graffiti line
damp brown bags scrunched in jaundice soiled ligaments
they cash their SSI and disability checks across the alley at Henrys
single fluorescent saber lighting
faces spotlit like bent shovels
Larry slings nicklebags from the jukebox
the vets hunt their reflection in the pint mug
the timeless tenement ghetto
is the plaza mayor for the noncompliant
red stilettos and white pearls knotted across knuckles
six flights of stairs stenched with sweat sex blood secrets
burnt carpet reveals fire survived wooden beams crackling bare trodden
Lucas smoked in water while reading Hemingway
too poor for a toaster, a razor never fails
the candle wax stained the porcelain
his cigar burnt down to his index and thumb
K St. below the rez hotel
buzzed like a Thai bazaar on Songkran
mermaid bartenders in tanks, karaoke joints, bright brass
downtown sparkled like a roaring nocturnal scene of Fitzgerald
but the flood of outdoor seated laughter stopped at the Jade’s gate entrance
Kiki strip-teased backroom specials
2 am Coupe de Villes circling parking lot
the rundown gentleman’s club under
moonlight, her fiancé away on tour
each floor contained umami
a unique flavor of downtrodden loners
dressed in drag, nudity or zip locked bags
French was spoken in whispers, plays enacted nightly
no one outside understood a miracle was performed behind brick
Anthony was never given the right dose
an imbalanced process of emotional recoil
ostracized for killing a friend while playing with guns
room 36 the only salvation into a neutral stupor
the train platform across the street
was mistaken for a departing breakaway
helicopter blades reflected the welding torch sentiment
obscuring the vinyl with 12-gauge shells and handcuffed violence
hypodermic caps were beacons like doorbells and hedges on the eastside
I was young as a resident
something I gained between Broadway and X St.
the tenement fell to city planning
like all great time pieces do
Never go for the visible veins first; you will ruin half your hustles;
this is the long game not the short game; there is no going back;
to survive you gotta be sharp and flexible; the impatient
one’s will have little options; find sympathetic doctors downtown
and in suburbs; really exaggerate the back pain, childhood trauma
and chronic fatigue; never go to the same pharmacy twice in the same
month; never rip off someone who gives you a good deal; learn
a trade, by that I mean lock picking, catalytic converter sawing,
ignition starting, department store buybacks, credit card making,
ID stealing; learn to run fast; don’t enter a room where the entrance
is the exit; don’t nod off on the public transit; don’t mix too many benzos
with your shot; build trust within the transient hotel workers; build
trust with the pros on the corner; build trust with the ambitious gang
members, they’ll remember you when climbing the ranks; always carry
adrenaline or Narcan with you, you never know; don’t fall asleep behind
the wheel; follow behind the old timers; don’t snitch in jail; keep a diary
of your thoughts; always wear a belt in case you lose your tourniquet;
always carry cotton, if you run out use the filter of your cigarette;
always carry matches as back up when your lighter dies; when the veins
run out that aren’t visible, try to get fresh points every time; if you burn
the bridge with your mother, tell her lies; learn from your father but don’t
follow him, no one needs a competition; don’t get into a relationship
with someone addicted as you; this may seem romantic, but it only gets
in the way of the real muse; she will only be your friend, the junk will
be your lover; find someone to take care of you; remember this is the long
game; when one city is too hot leave; sign up for methadone somewhere new
and spot out your kind; get a job in a kitchen; drugs are abundant in these places;
the workers will understand your frequent breaks; if they don’t find work
elsewhere; get a job with ex-convicts doing labor, by this time you will be an ex-con
too; if the job is getting in the way try to get a slight injury for disability benefits;
when that runs out become a journalist; work your own hours, get paid to meet
the dealer on the way to a source; find new sources and hustles from source
connections; don’t fall asleep in the newsroom bathroom; frequent the needle
exchange and harm reduction service centers; but don’t be holding while going
in, you never know if the palace is being surveillanced; if you get arrested
and have to do straight time clean your system out; write poetry in jail;
when released publish your journal and words, people are interested
in our suffering and misfortune.
T.William Wallin-sato is a Japanese-American who works with formerly/currently incarcerated individuals in higher education. He is also a freelance journalist covering the criminal justice system through the lens of his own incarcerated experience as well as an MFA Creative Writing student at CSULB. He was the winner of the Jody Stultz Award for Poetry in the 2020 edition of Toyon Literary Magazine and had his first chapbook of poems, Hyouhakusha: Desolate Travels of a Junkie on the Road, published this summer through Cold River Press. Wallin-sato's work comes out of the periphery and supports the uplifting of voices usually spoken in the shadows. All he wants is to see his community's thoughts, ideas and emotions freely shared and expressed.
A Woman of a Certain Age
When you know, you know
what you don’t know
you don’t know when you know
when you think you know
He is the one
is he? Do you think
he thinks he is
Think. He is.
I take you to be mine
to hold, to have, to part
from this day forward
I, richer, take you to sickness
lawfully to have for worse
better to cherish death
to part, yours
who gives this woman
to sickness, to death
I now pronounce you man
Emily Polson is a writer and book editor from Iowa now based in Brooklyn. She earned a BFA in creative writing from Belhaven University and has published poems in Epoch Press, The Daily Drunk, Capsule Stories, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @emilycpolson.
Alan Gradilla CC
I’d like to be wrung out a bit more
I want a fist around my throat
Can you hold my full head in your hand
I want everything I asked for
that means you
I want power, If I can’t have
a clementine, let me smash the worst
(sorry) honey willowleaf lily, castle
crammed of night/mares grave/yards stuffed
monarchs nymphalidae common tiger wanderer
I’m not a woman I’m a queen
who needs (no) god
Clayre Benzadón received her MFA at University of Miami. She is a Split Lip Magazine poetry reader and Broadsided Press’s Instagram editor. Her chapbook, “Liminal Zenith” was published by SurVision Books. She was awarded the Alfred Boas Poetry Prize for "Linguistic Rewilding" and her full-length collection, "Moon as Salted Lemon" was a finalist for the 2021 Robert Dana-Anhinga Poetry Prize and Semifinalist for Sundress Publications' Open Reading Period. She has been published in places including 14poems, SWWIM, Fairy Tale Review, ANMLY, and forthcoming in Grist Journal. You can find more about her at clayrebenzadon.com.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.