"Why are we so afraid to commit ourselves to loving each other?" Leo Buscaglia once asked. He goes on to observe that "our growing inability to relate one with another is reaching frightening proportions." "Isn't it time," he asks, "that we forgot our petty egos, give up our fear of appearing sentimental or naive and come together in our universal need, one for the other? Why is it so difficult for us to embrace each other fearlessly and with passion and say, "Human being, take my hand"?
That we are each and often so easily hurt and done in by one another makes it incumbent upon us to love and to tend towards the border of doable kindness each day. What good is it if we spend the little time that we have here on this wild, aching earth, for hurt and self-before-all-else and empty? Do you know it took thousands of years to cultivate kindness? We worked for that, we built that, each of us, generation by generation. Much of what came before us was dark and wrong, not just in families, but towns, nations, the whole earth. We know the song of history is filled with blood. Enough blood. Enough.
Little by little dark and wrong were faced-up with light and love and the right thing, which continuously changes and asks us to examine our attitude, our faith towards the world. The right thing today is bound to become the wrong thing tomorrow. We must pay attention to the look and feel of pain in the other. That is our work, no matter our profession. If someone says that you hurt them, that, my friends, is a plea of humanity. And are we not?
Most difficulties are more easily solved than we'll allow ourselves to admit. Who doesn't like to nurse their wounds and resentments, it feels good even if it hurts like hell. Imagine two people saying sorry to each other at the same time, an overlapping, spontaneous intention to heal rather than to wound each other. It has happened. It happens everyday. The thing about invulnerability is that ultimately it's a lie, a dark fairy tale; immaculate conception of self. We all need each other. And we are also very afraid of each other, often for good reason. So, what do we do with that? I find questions help a lot in times like these. Rather than assert "this is so" asking "is it, though?" What more might there be, might we be?
Trauma does many things to us. It wrecks our faith, our trust in the other. It forces us to be on high alert daily. For some, trauma makes them harder, tougher, meaner, cynical. For others, softer, more gentle, more kind. Or a bit of both. A border between the two runs through most of us. The thing is; we don't know that we have a choice until we do. Once we know our choice, we have more areas to work with in getting along with one another. Who can say what form that will take until it happens? We learn in motion.
Luciano De Crescenzo writes that 'We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.' Descartes was wrong, I and though, therefore we are, the remedy that he missed would have to wait a couple hundred years.
There's something about this time of year that temporarily transforms us into what is truly meant to be our every day struggle. Yes, it is a struggle to be loving, inviting, warm and kind to one another. Has there ever been anything in human history that came to good without struggle? What are we so afraid of? Questions are good companions to have. Whatever the answer is, it is probably really simple and really doable, and why wouldn't that scare the hell out of us? More questions.
I would like to thank each and every one of our beautiful (kind) contributors for ruminating and wrestling with hard questions of kindness and sensitivity. "What is damaged in relationship must, after all, be healed in relationship," writes Annie Rogers. And in community, too. For my part, keeping this small, but steady fire, warm in the field, and the soup on, is my little bit (my-our peace offering) toward the greater good. Good is great, friends. May I call you friend? I feel like we know each other. Owe each other. A bit of kindness. A bit of "mercy now."
Mercy. Why not now?
TO MY BODY - SOME OF YOU HAS HAD MORE LIGHT
A gathering of earthy deposits
I would sit here
among your many river-stone selves
watching your personal shift
of cartilage on granite on moss.
I know now the worn unlovedness of you
the tearstruck slick of you
how the quartz in your heart glitters and scars.
I touch the perfection of your unholy edges
capture how your mind has cauterised
’til you spill to the spaces between.
I lift up through the compressed weight of you
I fall into cave-dark love with you.
Leonie Charlton is a writer of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. She lives in Argyll in Scotland. Her first book, ‘Marram’, a travel memoir, will be published by Sandstone Press in March 2020.
To Jessica, Part 1
It’s gotten late again and I’m in bed
waiting for the daylight to start creeping
in through the blinds because I promised myself
I wouldn’t get caught off guard by the sun anymore.
My apartment’s messy as fuck.
There are clothes on the bedroom floor,
styrofoam containers of leftover
chicken tikka masala and green glass beer bottles--
four, all empty, like I’ve been feeling.
But I’m doing okay.
I thought about Prague a lot today.
It’s Andy’s birthday and he took a shot
of something strong and clear,
then bit into a strawberry
and it was all sweetness again.
The days he and I wandered the streets
together blur at the edges, but I’ll always
remember the astronomical clock
in the old town square. Every hour,
the bells chime and a skeleton
comes to life to dance on top of it
to remind us we’re one hour
closer to our deaths.
Isn’t that wonderful?
We’re all going in the same direction.
To Jessica, Part 2
Last night, I went to a party
in a warehouse and a white
dude with dreads sang
while I downed Rolling Rocks
like water and cried
on the brick steps next door
because this boy doesn’t love me.
But I guess that’s fine.
I spend most days smoking bowls
and swallowing pills. I keep
waking up in stranger’s beds--
my body made of velvet
and begging to be touched.
And it works until it doesn’t.
I’ve got two sprained ankles,
sore ribs, and skinned knees:
I can’t seem to stay on my feet.
I wish I was someone who doesn’t
always need to hit the ground
before realizing they’ve fallen.
My therapist once told me
to stick my face in ice water
when my mind runs away from me.
Told me that the cold will shock me
out of my head and back into my body.
But, honestly, I think it’s nice
to not have to live inside of myself.
I get so tired of my skeleton.
To Jessica, Part 3
Last weekend, my friends and I
drank gin and danced in the living room
until 4 a.m. before we decided
to drive to Corpus Christi.
So we did. I sang along
to classic rock, drinking
shitty malt liquor
out of a can in the backseat.
And we stood, hours later,
facing the Gulf of Mexico,
laughing in the freezing cold.
And it was good. We were good.
Sometimes I fall back in love with the world.
Other times I’m reeling in nostalgia
for a place I’m not even sure exists, or
for a person I’m certain I never was.
Now becomes then
and then becomes better.
And maybe it was.
I just wish you were here.
Abby Cothran (she/her) is an Austin based writer from the Carolinas. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in journals such as Mookychick, Pink Plastic House, and Common Ground Review. She is currently an MFA candidate at Texas State University. You can find her on twitter and instagram @abbzsz.
Joshua [Every Fourth of July]
Here, in this Seattle, it doesn’t seem possible, so many
changes ago, yet I know every nook and cranny of every
memory we shared, buried under new buildings, beside
those still exposed, where bushes and trees now grow
out of any proportion to how I once recalled them, slight
changes to the light from the life we lived back in the day
but Joshua, the blackberries waste no time, reminding me
of the way we loved, covering every surface they can find
with a kiss of blue-black juice — and the prick of time
Stephen Jackson lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. He is the originator of the Seattle small press So Many Birds publishing (SMBp), which produced the literary magazine Harness, and the biannual youth-focused chapbook Future+Present. His poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Chronotope, Dream Noir, The Fictional Café, Grey Sparrow Journal, IHRAF Publishes, Impossible Archetype, and Nightingale & Sparrow. Please follow him at https://twitter.com/fortyoddcrows
I’m still considering
…so pleased to hear you
I like bright and dark sounds
that saxophone screams
I’m new here
re-new-ed been before
was born here re-turn-er
it’s like locking a woman in a room
with an angry man
feels alright now
in this moment…
…he’s on the right side of angry
lonely won’t leave him alone
and this place stinks to high heavens
doesn’t that tell you something?
don’t know what’s ahead
I’ve lost my sea legs
yes the ocean I’m here
at the Firth of Clyde
flowing into the Atlantic
to you my dear friend
on the other side
its daunting sometimes
the vast infinite width
and depth the divide
it un-anchors me
takes me down deep within
a-minor tsunami at low tide
calms too calming yes
yes calm as the day
Icarus fell chasing dreams
was he fallen? did he fall?
smashed against a rock
I heard seas
unpredictable like that
a sudden change in weather
raging surfs slap like angry parents
my mother once
not my father shocked me
she cried afterwards empty-eyed
like a ghost in the kitchen
me too silently
alone in the bathroom
knowing I deserved it
I know these are small things
just coasting not just
still there are days I feel I can’t be fussed
I know I need to re-adjust
re-learn to trust
get real or completely combust
then I turn like tides
today the flow can’t wait
cause it’s so good to hear from you
whitecaps rolling in
my lips curling a-drifting smile
strains on that horn whispering
s’bin too long
I catch you on the high note
I’m switched on enriched
screaming staccato you got me bewitched
releasing water keys
it’s been a long session
sliding cross rhythms
my trans-Atlantic connection
Ruby McCann is a flâneuse and creative practitioner experimenting across genres and disciplines active on the Glasgow literary scene. A former Chair of the Scottish Writers’ Centre (2014-2017), she is a founding member of Cheeky Besom Productions, an Artist Collective hosting the Glasgow Literary Lounge in the east end.
Case Number B9406017
In a season of bindweed and fire
came the day when the plain van appeared,
when the screen door whined, scraping.
when the father turned (handcuffed).
That house sat mute--hollowed of rustlings.
In Our Movie about Virginia Woolf,
light runs, yolk-thick, over a sea like one hundred umbrellas opened upside down. Clouds smolder. If you have to name that gray, call it empyrean. A hazy sun swings. Clouds with the long necks of animals coast. Notes come in uneasy chords, the way a woman might flatten her palm against the screen door.
Try a fade. No. Slower. Overexpose the frame. Let light singe the edges. Cut to the long shot of the mirror the color of ink.
Joshua holds an MFA from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine, an MFA from the University of Mississippi, and an M.A. from Pittsburg State University. Recent poems are forthcoming or have appeared in Apalachee Review, Muse/A, and The Museum of Americana. He is a doctoral candidate in Literature at Ohio University, and he now lives near Tampa, Florida.
One Christmas, my mother gifted me
my childhood silhouette in a silver frame:
a featureless profile in black, set against
a white background. I recognized
the weak chin and the errant curl flipped
below my crown. What better self-portrait
of youth than a faceless one, lips gapped
as an accessory to take in more air?
That little girl was all shadow, swallowed
by the too-brightness around her.
And she had no eyes — nothing to bring in
the light right there in front of her
as she turns away to face the coming
of the longest night. She cannot see
that this darkness precedes rebirth.
On Winter Solstice, the ancients say
the sun is born. I wish I could cut
an aperture in my early form, save her
from a lifetime of blindness.
I open the mason jar, switch on
the fairy lights — a string of fireflies
animate as if it’s June and I’m capturing
lightening bugs in the backyard.
I screw on the metal lid and recall
how the real ones flickered, then faded
overnight. I lift this gift from a friend,
unblinking, bold, brilliant: a beacon
lit from the inside.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the sun kicks inside the dark womb of the moon.
* Italicized line from “Clear Night,” by Charles Wright
The last time I looked into your eyes
they were pools, unspilled,
deep on a late December night.
Soft yellow light
threw the living room into shadows,
illuminated the deathbed
of our beloved father.
None of us knew
you would soon follow him
as the great stag passed into the dark.
The sweep of loss
As the great stag passed into the dark
you would soon follow him.
None of us knew.
Our beloved father
illuminated the deathbed,
threw the living room into shadows,
soft yellow light
deep on a late December night.
They were pools, unspilled,
the last time I looked into your eyes.
Ellen Austin-Li is an award-winning poet published in Artemis, Writers Tribe Review, The Maine Review, Mothers Always Write, Memoir Mixtapes, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Masque & Spectacle, Green Briar Review, Panoply, the Riparian anthology (Dos Madres Press, 2019), and other places. Her first poetry chapbook, Firefly, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2019. Ellen is active at Women Writing for a Change in Cincinnati and has studied poetry in many workshops. A recipient of the Martin B. Bernstein Fellowship in Poetry, she begins the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program in Winter 2020. Ellen lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband.
I got sent from
house to house,
badly. I made
to the West.
passed me around.
I wasn’t alone.
We had no one
Many of us
we turned 21,
Look for us
IF I FELL
My promises break.
Their busted twigs
litter my house.
My own road to hell
isn’t paved at all.
I mean to keep them,
honest. They gnaw holes
in letters of my name.
I forget who I am.
Please promise me
forever. I won’t promise
anything. I’ll make you
a sandwich of darkness,
chop up some moon.
Kenneth Pobo has a new book out from cyberwit.net in India called Wingbuds. His work appears in Chiron Review, deComp, North Dakota Quarterly, Mudfish, and elsewhere. He likes growing African violets and dahlias.
Today I forsake the company of people
for the easy conversation of cats,
and dogs who keep me on my toes,
warm my feet, speak with ears
cocked, the better to show me
their attention is transfixed.
What more do we want
than scent, well-placed scratches,
a full stomach?
To be content with only touch --
with not talking or thinking
The silent gaze and knowing
tongue, the kneading, the instinct
to understand when play is needed,
and when just being is enough --
a sigh, a stretch,
a soft rumble of cat happiness.
*First appeared in Your Daily Poem
The wind chime pendulums
on the porch
were once tossed
driftwood on this beach -
here among the rocks and lost socks
and bits of sea glass
I wander the length of the shore
seeking the perfect shell –
to the right the sea grass waves
to the left small swells –
and in the distance
sailboats and kite surfers.
Instead I could sit still
on a square meter of beach
and find, if I look closely or dig
deep, every piece I seek –
the smooth stone perfect
to palm or skim across calm waters,
the rough rock with striations
like rainbows, the abandoned
shell once home to dinner,
the glass shard of a bottle
that held minerals and sugar -
sun and soil magic for the tongue
in grief or celebration,
or solace on a lonely night
when I try to sort, seeking
home in a handful of beach.
*First appeared in Alinea
Betsy Mars was born in Connecticut, but has spent most of her life in the Los Angeles area. A two year stint in Brazil as a child made a lasting impact on her in terms of her early awareness of language and culture, socio-economic differences, and left her with an abiding love of travel. She is an educator, mother, and animal lover, and is striving desperately to make up for lost time after decades away from the serious study and writing of poetry. Her work has recently appeared in Writing In A Woman's Voice, The Rise Up Review, and the Peacock Journal.
He is more than what I made of him
I tried putting him in a box
To define his boundaries.
I put him in a story that
Didn’t end well. I tied a ribbon
Around his heart and it broke free.
Left alone, I completed his details.
I tried making him Satan and savior.
He fell short of both.
I saw him as a tarnished penny then a diamond being shaved.
I tried clothing him in deceit,
But that suit was ill fit.
I tried coloring him with puce and pewter.
He remained radiant.
I then deconstructed his ingredients like a recipe:
Two-cups father, one-cup grandfather,
two teaspoons each of brother, son, friend.
Finally, I understood…
He is more than what I made of him.
I tried to weigh him down, to keep him for myself.
Holding on didn’t work, so I released,
Then learned -- His haiku is a love song
His short story a novella and his narrative contains
Plotlines I couldn’t foresee.
Jeri Thompson lives in a sunny big city in So Cal, pushed up against the sea. She spends time writing, watching old movies (1930-40s) and takes long walks when global warming doesn't get in the way. She has appeared in Chiron Review, Silver Birch Press, Lummox 4, and Blaze/VOX.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.