Matt Gragg Photography CC
You were the quiet one, my oldest son.
You watched, listened while others talked.
They did things you would not do unless
you were with Jon, your closest brother,
the one you talked with for hours
into the night, the two of you in your upper bunks
with a board between them as a bridge.
Even in the middle of the night,
you talked to each other in your sleep.
You and Jon would ride his brown pony
bareback along the dirt road
across the ridge, your two heads
close as you held on to each other,
always talking; I could hear your voices
from our porch, a quarter mile away.
Sometimes you would walk the ridge,
stop and talk in the middle of the road.
I still wonder what was so important
it required stopping to wave your hands
and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Now Jon is dead, and you hike lonely mountain trails,
camp by silent rivers, build your fires in forest solitude.
Is Jon in your heart, his voice in your head
as you look up at moon and stars?
Do you talk to him still?
Does he see the eagle soar through your eyes?
Is he there beside you in the dark of night,
My quiet oldest son?
Dirt to Dirt
I plan as I plant.
Blue vervain next to orange-gold Stella lilies,
Pink phlox against fluffy baby’s breath.
The garden weeds succumb to my insistent fingers;
my shovel turns soil laced with earthworm burrows,
threaded with gossamer roots.
I find treasure:
a tiny metal car missing its wheels,
a time capsule left by little boys some thirty years before
I decreed this space a garden.
Boys carved roads, built bridges,
dug holes for their dozers and trucks.
Now one lies in distant red clay soil,
outlived by iris and spirea.
What a thought, that an ordinary plant
that bloomed when he was living,
blooms again when he is gone.
All I have are memories of a little boy
browned by sun and wind,
and little toy cars in unexpected places,
left by one who played in a future garden
tended by his mother’s aging hands.
Susanna Connelly Holstein’s work has appeared in the poetry anthology Fed From the Blade (Woodland Press), Voices on Unity: Coming Together, Falling Apart and Diner Stories (Mountain State Press) and other short story anthologies and poetry journals. A traditional Appalachian storyteller and ballad singer and mother of five sons, Holstein blogs and writes from her home in rural Jackson County, West Virginia.
Shannon O'Toole CC
(v.) to hurry away; conveys sense of urgency
Robert “the Bitter Dose” Hurst
I chant my numbers to mantra:
no male in my family made 30.
I know the jungle will suck mine
from my lips. Drag & pass, Blood.
Faith won’t fit in our rucksacks.
Here everything is abbreviation:
rain is piss; I call you Blood; Me,
I’m Dose: Mon.’s quinine defense
against mosquitos thick as rain;
bitter but Sugar, you know you want it.
Even legacy—babies & ancestors
won’t admit I existed. 19 yrs cropped
to discretion & the camera’s viewfinder.
In letters crammed with MREs reported
like occasions, Motown cursive in margins
wishing impossible daughters who will
erupt into blushes at the nightstand
where I am still warm as its exposure
in the only photo you managed to save.
I DREAM YOU ARE STILL
“The morning loiters,
you stay here
and you let me walk away
as if you were still.”
In naked light: glass. Can't write. Don't read.
I’m eating my vegetables, taking my meds.
Running a l'il piece again. Skin's clear; con-
tracts signed. The plants are green & full-
ish. This is what Well can look like.
In my dream you didn't go suddenly. Or at all.
From that side of the plane, you tell me I'm mis-
taken. I wake up though. This is also how Well
I suppose there are worse things than loss.
Even hard ones. Unexplained. Unfinished.
Take off the un- & still. Whatever power
the lost had in your life when they were
here is amplified once they’re ancestor.
I see it girl. Still, glass. You’re un- here &
won’t be here ever again. Well is the cost-
ume of glass.
I may have imagined it all. Glass seems trans-
parent. It’s always a distortion. Fragile &
dangerous. Reveals, breaks, cuts. Keeps us
at arm’s length; in or out. I’ve always been
good at keeping things in; adept at keeping
So how could you be or have been? Maybe glass.
You are un-here and won’t be here again.
This is what Well will look like.
darlene anita scott is a poet and visual artist based in Richmond Virginia. Recent poetry appears or is forthcoming in Rock! Paper! Scissors!, Kestrel, Stonecoast Review, and Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (Routledge 2019), a volume of poetry and scholarship she co-edited with Drs. Emily Ruth Rutter, Sequoia Maner, and the late Dr. Tiffany Austin. scott's photography has recently been featured in Auburn Avenue, Barren Magazine, and Hot Metal Bridge.
Ninian Reid CC
The Farmhouse is Cluttered with Memories
My grandmother lost hers there
in the stacks of thick photographs
and handwritten daybooks
My mother misplaced hers
among the old newspapers
and mismatched plates
At night, my grandmother would
shuffle out of her new bedroom
into the old house
worried that the horses were out
of her father's barn
fifty miles and eighty-seven years away
My mother in her childhood home
tries to make sense of the new strangers
who claim to be her children
She listens for the return of the dead
wonders where her husband is
when an old man brings her tea
R. K. Wolford writes poetry and tiny stories in the San Francisco Bay area.
bat fishing with Rachel
when I lived with my parents
when I still slept underneath
my favorite sister and I
would sit on the shingles
and fish for bats
with long nets meant
the sky would hold
and turn dark indigo,
but we’d stay out
until that flimsy periwinkle
on the event horizon and we’d talk
about times that we wanted
to forget. like the morning
our father hit that squirrel
with the secondhand Chevy
and it didn’t die
right away, just writhed in the road
like it had been electrocuted.
my sister would do the same thing
when she laughed
as when she cried:
bend over and touch
her knees, holding
her breath like it was
to fly away
looking at the sun
a rainbow of mums spilled across the doorway to September & the rich
folks headed to Saratoga to cast their bets on thoroughbred racing.
your boyfriend stood on his mohair sofa, your beloved Mississippi
pooling around his ankles as his feet sank into the sun-bleached cushions
i am on my way to heaven he said it only with his hands as he waited
for your neighbors to line up spherical bales of hay in the ornery fields
ponies in the starting gate—
beautiful is fast. fast is beautiful.
in Tennessee, 200 feet of quarry water held you up like a prize fighter,
your heart cherried with crimson clay.
maybe it is possible that the adults are lying about the dangers of looking
directly at the sun. because you didn’t look—
& you missed the pink lights
of his fingernails as the starting pistol bucked in his sweat-shined hands
& you are cursed with the fact that you became a part of the world
—a part of that quarry—just as he was leaving it
Lillian Sickler is a poet, writer, and birth doula living in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her work can be found in Cosmonauts Avenue, Ghost City Press, Vagabond City, Noble / Gas Quarterly, and upcoming issues of Hobart and Crab Fat Magazine. She has two cats named Laika and Junebug.
My Mother, Caryatid
I will the mirror to shatter, your freckle
at the bottom of my chin, a festered scab I
pick at until it bleeds—your parasitic blood spills
and I cannot leech you out,
a dog piss stain that vinegar can’t scrub clean.
The blood I bear in my veins
blackens and boils, blisters and bruises me:
your direct transfusion—I’d grill that umbilical cord if I could--
char it ‘til it turns to ash and
sprinkle it in with yours deep in the ground.
Your mother carried you down the cemetery,
warping under 237 pounds of you smoked into a small square box--
she stumbled and fell, equilibrium unable to adjust,
much less accommodate—I wonder where
the Kentucky breeze blew your tumbled ashes.
She thinks I am you now. She calls me Ruth Ann and
wishes me Happy Birthday on April 30th—two months after mine.
She’s forgotten falling down that hill and spilling your body
now mixed with the graveyard tree roots,
xylem and phloem a plugged highway.
What sweet relief that must be, what painless ignorance.
You are petrified to my brain, a Caryatid on my porch
and every day I must refuse to buy ten gallons of gasoline,
light a cigarette, let the nicotine course through our veins,
and burn you down one last time.
A Conversation with the Old Lady Child
Do we have any birthdays this month?
A). Yes, Granny. Mine was yesterday. We had a party and everything.
B). No, no birthdays this month.
C). Yes, mine, but I don’t want to do anything for it.
She wants to bake a cake but can’t turn the oven on.
She wants to remember the party but it’s gone--
dewdrops dried by the sunrise.
If you choose option A, prepare for:
Why wasn’t I invited?
I was here?
Yes. You gave me $20 and apologized for not having a card.
Why don’t I remember?
A).Because God is cruel?
B). Because your brain is degenerating and there’s nothing we can do to stop it but I hope you know that all of us would crack our skulls open with a dull hammer if we thought you could use the pieces of gray matter, if we thought we could give you our brain cells so yours would stop dying, if we thought it would make a damn difference?
C). Because you’re old and then laugh
Settle on C.
You cannot change her now. Nurture what is there. What is left. Help the sunshine warm her bones, even if this means the dew will disappear.
When this doesn’t work, she will ask:
Well, is there something I’m supposed to do today? What if I don’t remember today tomorrow?
Remember that video of the fish who realizes not water exists.
Remember the time you got black out drunk and fucked four people in one night but did not know where you were when you woke up.
Remember the time you kissed that girl you loved and realized you didn’t like kissing her anymore.
Remember when you lost your keys for four days and from that point forward, only put them on your coffee table.
Will you tell me if I miss something? Will you tell me if I need to do something?
Yes, Granny. Yes and always yes.
Chloè McMurray is a graduate from Union College with her BA in English and Sociology. She won the Rushton Writing Competition for Poetry in 2017, 2018, and 2019 at Union. Her poetry has been featured in the online magazine Across the Margin, Georgia State’s publication The Underground, national publication The Albion Review, and more. For nearly five years, she has led a creative writing and social justice group in her hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky which caters to minority group youth, primarily those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Lying in the Snow on Rockhill Street
It is winter. In my body,
Christmas lights buzz,
thawing through my liver.
Your string light smile,
your unblinking icy eye--
I bury all of it in the busted brick
on the corner of our apartment
and the two years between us.
I think about the traffic light,
its passionless pulsations
of red, fire, wanting. Its please
slow down whisper-scream
lighting the also red brick
of your body coated with fingers
of frost. Filling my socks with a quiet
indignation, I suspend the moment the white headlight
reflracts against your pupil, Cars halt
at the end of our street. I buried you
because I loved you. Dusk scratches its cold
fingers across the sky. I thumb through
your dusty book filled with diagrams
of moth species. My back is scarred pink
with the little lines of your fingernails. A car screeches
against the ice. This street is too slick to drive down.
Tires gouge the quiet place where
I buried _____. When spring enters
your unfamiliar body, the lunar moth
lays its bright eggs in the frozen
indentation where two bodies
once frozen together
nestled. In my body,
winter warms everything crimson.
Before delicate rosy keloid scars grow over gashes,
you held me hyperventilating on the beige carpet of our apartment.
The blue veins in your wrist spoke to my pulse.
My pulse quieted to irregular palpitations
that matched your coronary defect
you never treated. Yes, wounds can speak,
as can impressions left in fabric
and wet stains on pleated skirts.
I thought our stains complimented each other
tenderly. I want to tell you that I am not angry
at your left earring, or your face that looks somehow
less familiar in every picture. I am not resentful
for the nights you coiled up alone on the couch
in the living room. Instead, I remember your loving
fingers rubbing the knots out of my tangled spine.
I think about the way you held me
the night after the night
after the night I was raped by a friend.
How do I come back from this? I am not sure
I know. However, I am thanking you
back into my birth for you being born as you.
I am not sure I am ready, but eventually I want
to be split open kindly;
a bleeding receptacle
Hallie Nowak is a poet and artist writing and residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she is in pursuit of her undergraduate degree in English at Purdue University Fort Wayne. She is the author of Girlblooded, a poetry chapbook (Dandelion Review, 2018). Her work can also be read in Okay Donkey and Noble/Gas Qrtrly where her poem, “A Dissected Body Speaks,” was awarded runner-up for the 2018 Birdwhistle Prize. Twitter: @heyguysimhallie Instagram: @hallie_nowak
The Stages of Grief When Dying Forever
Have you ever mourned the loss of an absence? Illness is the alarm you didn’t know was set. And you wake up wondering where the time went.
Some days, most really, you simply exist, you blend in, you perform. And you do it so well that you can forget what is actually going on. You do it so well that you manage to convince everyone else around you that there is nothing wrong, that you are just fine. There are days like this when you do it too well and someone says something meant well but received poorly. Because your tired is not the same as their tired. Your sick is not the same as their sick. Your living is not the same as their living. On days like that you don’t say much because the anger is too much. You’re never sure where the anger is really directed: to the people who keep mistaking your living as presence or to yourself for forgetting who you are. If you’re not careful your silence is just as loud as the raging scream beneath your polite how-do-you-dos. You fill the air with your sick. If anyone comes too close they’ll wonder if it’s about to rain.
When you hold onto the banister and everyone looks back with confusion you smile wide and say your foot fell asleep. And no one seems to question how a foot can fall asleep so suddenly.
Recently over lunch with a work friend I blurted out, “I don’t trust anyone!” I’ve always thought this was okay. I only trust myself though I know one day even my mind will become entirely unreliable and I will still trust that because it is chaos and disruption that I’ve always found reliable, in the first place. These are the things you lose and they’re not coming back. None of it is ever coming back. This is the point of no return and you didn’t know you’d been walking or searching. My first words after my diagnosis were: but I just got started. You see, that’s the loss and the prophecy. You lose everything and you begin again.
When you shower and see the bruises on your hips you then remember your acts of defiance on the stairwell, refusing to grasp anything but the notion that you deserve to go down the stairs as whimsically as anyone else. Depth perception deficiency, my ass, you think. Indeed, your plum colored left hip nods back.
Chronic illness might be a state of constant grief. It depends but, Multiple Sclerosis is a never-ending argument. The other night scrolling Facebook I came across a post in one of the MS groups I’m in. She posted about her journey to motherhood or, rather, the journey coming to a halt. The doctor told her, after the fourth and final ultrasound showed an empty womb, that sometimes the body will stop producing eggs as a protective measure.
The body and protective measures create a language of comeuppance. For her, it was a reminder that she would not be a mother, perhaps could not be one, not the sort she’d been envisioning all her life. And a reminder that what she wants and what her body wants might be at odds. She tells herself, “open, welcome, support a life, please, I’ll do anything.” Her body responds in aggressive refusal, “I’m already here, the life I support is yours. Please let me. I’ll do anything.”
How do you trust the body when the body is what betrays you? You learn to trust the betrayal. You know it’s coming. You might even know what it will look like, feel like. Or you don’t. This is okay – because it is not the body that is yours – but the betrayal that becomes you. You lose everything and nothing at all. Because you still have you – the body – but it is not the body you thought you had. See? Everything and nothing.
Comeuppance and conjecture. Lots of buts and well, actually or sort of and maybes. By the end of the day I have moved from contrarian to hermit. I want to go where everyone doesn’t think that their sick is like my sick. Because everyone else tells me that my body should be trusted. That my body is my first home. That I should listen to everything my body is telling me. And I get it, I do. It’s very progressive in this twenty-first century to be body-centric and body-inclusive. We shift our language and place our belief and confidence in the power of the body.
“But,” I object, my body is the lie. My body is the betrayal. My body is the house come undone. The call is coming from inside the house. Humor becomes horrific.
In meditation they tell us to trust our minds – that all the mind is doing is helping and trying to protect us – they say “trust your nervous system.” So I come out of meditation. Because it is my nervous system that I cannot trust or, rather, I trust that it is no longer helping me – that is not its purpose anymore. It was robbed therefore so was I. So, a loss of trust. Perhaps, even, a violation since it is my immune system attacking me by way of the nervous system. Or vice versa. Sometimes you lose track of the villain in stories such as these.
After you face what is happening you must also stand back in wonder. You take note of the adaptations your body had already begun making in response to an illness yet to be found. There is an ease to the body’s response to sick, to the mind, within the self. When faced with sick the body will quickly and quietly adapt, softly, bit by bit into something else. Not the same body but also the same body. Making changes, edits, notes into the process of living. Your body goes into revision.
Acceptance -- I have had dozens of MRIs in the last decade. I’d always assumed they would be silent cocoons. Not wells of cacophonic violence set upon your ears and mind. I think, when I’m inside, thank goodness for Philip Glass. Maybe this was how he started. He heard a beauty in this somewhere. I used to be able to fall asleep in them but the last few have been moments of fantasy. Perhaps it is because I have now reached that age for single, childless women when my choices and circumstance are in technicolor.
Now, when they tell me to listen to your body I adjust. Ten years have passed and I hear it and adapt it to how it fits me – which is what we’re all supposed to be doing anyway.
But there is a residue. To be in such a constant state of objection and flux, to be the very body of evidence that proves the lie. Maybe, I say quietly, this still applies to me. I say this whenever the word love stands in for listen.
It has been years now. I don’t think of this too much anymore. But then I see someone rush down the stairs. Maybe to work, maybe to home, maybe to nothing but the next act. I see the flight.
And I ache.
Linda Chavers is from Washington, DC and obtained the PhD in African American Literature from Harvard University in 2013. A hybrid academic she writes on pain and memory and she teaches on Black Womens Voices in the #MeToo movement. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her beloved 4 year old Westie, Biggie Smalls and when she's not working she is in bed.
www.lindachaverswrites.com Books: Violent Disruptions: American Imaginations of Racial Anxiety in William Faulkner and Richard Wright (Peter Lang USA: 2018) This Body Is Never Yours (Gazing Grain Press: 2017)
Tuesday Night: Unarmed
No amount of dragon blood, multi-deck
tarot card predictions or perfect drops
of winter wine will hold you here, the road
your only constant, the road and the way
you always add dark beer and cinnamon
to chili. I write notes in the margins
of all your books, the back of liquor store
receipts, the bottom of the whiskey jar
you will leave behind. I will wash the sheets,
scald them free of your lemon-minted skin,
pretend the days between the days are not
real, pretend I am the girl in a peach
nightgown stained with coffee, changing from black
shoes to brown, wrapping scarves and necklaces
around my sad throat, rearranging chairs
until I’ve forgotten where you last sat.
Beth Gordon is a poet, mother and grandmother currently living in Asheville, North Carolina. Her poems have been published in numerous journals and nominated for Best of the Net, Pushcart and the Orison Anthology. She is the author of the chapbook, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe, published by Animal Heart Press. She is also Poetry Editor of Gone Lawn.
Twenty years and twenty days
since you went, slept away beside him in your bed
(didn’t want it any other way, no fuss, no public rosary said);
now it’s his turn, lonely in a hospital bed without you
he coughs and waits, coughs and waits: come back for him.
You’ll be annoyed he did so well without you, so
don’t hold it against him: we helped him cope
you know you couldn’t have managed without him
even if we’d brought the world - useless to you without him.
Heaven’s time is not ours, a score of years - nothing
to eternity, eternal waiting for him, so come,
his cough, his temperature, his discomfort your gateway,
already the room is filling, rattle-ready: come
I tell him that I love him, touch hurts now.
Cool his skin, tell him not to struggle anymore, moisten
lollipop- sponged mouth damping his occasional words
intermittent as the rain outside, 2am-quiet
We wait: our guardian angels
talk low, interrupt, confer only
what is sensed, unspoken; between
one open world, another closing
something final, yet infinite, this vast domain
waiting, waiting for completion to arrive,
a love as big as God,
a love as big as life.
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
So we sit. I don’t know what to do. It seems silly doing nothing, but nothing won’t change anything. Yet we’re looking for a change. Anything. Anything to call the family. We’ve all been here. En masse. Dribs and drabs. Singly. All together. Emily with earphones under a table. All talking. All quiet. Amy in doctor mode, in grandchild mode, checking drips, removing drips, wanting him peaceful. Quieting gurgling sounds. He coughs and we don’t know what to do. Awake, rheumy eyes look at me as I say ‘I love you.’ Asleep, I say, ‘Let go, where are you going but heaven?’ Birds screech chases outside the window. Aeroplanes zoom to another place, leave longing behind. Constant ‘Help me’ from another room. I don’t know what to do. Say the rosary. Implore. Wait as heaven gurgles-rattles, warm-cold. Jesus on the other side please answer: don’t let a privilege become a chore. Comfortable, yes-no-yes Maybe. Let him sleep. If he grimaces he needs more pain relief. He is filling up now, coughing so. Laboured death becomes birth. Birth becomes laboured. Eternity is born in death. Right-so. Right so. Tony comes in and offers breakfast: porridge, orange juice. They change his position – tell us what’s normal – this is normal. What passes for normal. The young can’t be normal in the only way they know, by acting normal. Which in the circumstances appears abnormal, but you know. Alright so. Ok, so. I feel useless, detached. To be close to horrific. Detach with love. Type because I need to busy my hands. My husband’s hands enclose his. We wait. Watch many types of breathing. There should only be one type of breathing – the no-noticeable, non-negotiable type. Listen for footsteps at the door. In and out all day. Turn, suction, position. Dr. Malcolm asks us if we want him to do anything. Francis comes to say goodbye: Granda wakes to say I love you. We take our son for the long, lonely bus journey to Birmingham to work. Lunch in Concert Hall Café, full of graduates from Caledonian Uni. O Happy Day. Head back, time passes, I fall asleep with my head on the bed rails, go home to sleep. Dad, anointed, smells of myrrh. His breathing is smoother. Sinead cries going away. We sit reminisce. The sun sinks, full frontal glow. Light skims the hills, not raging yet but soon, soon. Propped up, freshly shaved, he hears us. The room is darker now, the light outside illuminates the underside of the clouds, mustard grey. We wait, breathing shallow. Twenty to ten. We sit and wait.
Requiescat in Pace
between light and dark
between the turning of the year
and its vanishing, I think of you
November brings an empty threshold
a lonely place at my table
Christmas dinner without you
a spiritual sadness, this sad translation
soft and quiet, soft and quiet here:
a pilgrimage to mark the loss of something beautiful
a heart with no key, how can the very heart of you
not beat, how can you not beat?
dark wisdom, dark wisdom here
a mother without a father, not ready
to be grown up, not ready to take over
I’m lost without you, lost
between light and dark
between the turning of the year
and its vanishing, I think of you
Mairi Murphy graduated last autumn from Glasgow University with a Masters in Creative Writing. Whilst there she was awarded the 2016 Alistair Buchan Prize for poetry for which two of her poems were also shortlisted. Recently her poems have been published in ‘Shetland Create’, ‘From Glasgow to Saturn’ and ‘Crooked Holster (an anthology of crime). She is the editor of ‘Glasgow Women Poets’ published by Four-em Press in 2016, of which she is the co-founder.
Justin Kern CC
Classifieds: Used Car, High Mileage
When the stickers had been scraped off
and everything dull was shiny again
it almost looked like it wasn’t ours.
But the persistent drip of melted crayon,
dark blue against the grey, resistant to all scrubbing,
spoke of the years it had cradled my babies
taken all of their sticky-fingered abuse
tucked their candy wrappers in its back pocket
and picked up the muddy shoes they kicked off.
I took for granted the gift of its body,
stalwart between my little family and the monsoons,
uncomplaining in the thankless role of work horse.
It wasn’t until after the divorce that I actually named him,
when, years ago, we bonded over tears in the parking lot
after the fracturing of my family was official.
He made an unspoken promise to carry me when I could not walk,
protect me when I was weak,
and be my partner in moving forward.
He didn’t falter until my children were no longer babies
and still he would not let go of the melted crayon.
Not even after I handed him over to some oily stranger
at a gas station parking lot in exchange for a wad
of hundred dollar bills as if all he ever was
was a car.
Marianne Hales Harding is a poet, essayist, and playwright living in a small town in the western United States. She has been published in Dialogue, Segullah, Helicon West, and Rocky Mountain Runners. Her work has been produced across the U.S. and her award-winning play Hold Me was adapted for film. She is honored to influence young writers at three universities and co-founded Provo Poetry, a non-profit dedicated to bringing poetry into the community at large.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.