Øyvind Holmstad CC
There is a basic troubling truth that haunts me, I have both acknowledged and refused to acknowledge it at various points in my life, and it is this: art both saves us and fails to save us, time and again. The basic rhythm we tie into is a mad kind of faith that somehow we’re able to redeem a small bit of what we carry on the back of whatever it is we’re wrestling to the ground in the form of a poem, a prayer, a wounded child’s protest: this shit just ain’t right!
I’m an optimist when it comes to what art can do for us, in large part because I was born in hell. I’m talking about perpetual storm country. I am almost certain you too must know that place. Not a damn thing added up in the world we were brought up in. And in the time when it mattered most, we were too small to fend off all that dark for ourselves, worse: the people creating all that dark were “our” people. It got inside of us, that dark, played tricks on our hearts, our heads, our bodies.
“Wounds of childhood are wells on fire.” writes Michael Eigen, “We cap them as we can and harden around them. We may try to suffocate the fire and sometimes nearly succeed. The fire may become a shriek.” I don’t know about you, but when I found writing I didn’t find my voice in it so much as I found my scream. There’s a mute muscle of faith that runs deep in us, calls us back to the land of the living kicking and screaming. Eigen calls it “Embryonic trauma growth,” I call it “whatever is near to hand.” Sometimes it’s the things that nearly destroy you, sometimes it’s the things that nearly save you.
But the saving part too fails us more often than I’d like to admit. Why did I make it and so many others I knew and loved in storm country didn’t? Why was I spared? It’s a useless question but I keep asking it. I didn’t have a special talent for surviving, I just did somehow. I wonder about the unseen hand of that somehow, but it’s just a question mark in the center of my life. I used to think that it’s because I one day found that I could write creatively about my own pain, but we all know that writing failed to be enough for many writers.
I keep coming back to this, and I know it now as the truest thing: it’s people, people saved me. Many forms and types of community. Well, they didn’t save me per se, only we can do that in the end, but they showed me that it was worth trying to hang around long enough to see what else might happen in my life. Of course the poems helped. But art, without other people to share it with, and now I’m talking life, because it’s all art in the end, is meaningless. We come together in different ways to learn the words to the same song: how do I heal? How am I still here? What do I do with it all?
What I’m trying to say is it’s a wonderful thing to gather here with other survivors of storm country. It’s in the gathering together of that long dark night that we find our light. No one makes it out of hell alone. You’re not alone. Say it with me: we’re not alone. For but a moment we carry each other in this way, with our capped wells of childhood fires, the hell and dark we’ve seen, and we turn to each other to remind each other that without this, the words don’t mean a thing.
It’s other people, this life, this place. May you each find a song or two here that feels as if it was written just for you. Whatever it is you’re going through right now, I hope that you’ll stick around for the next chapter of the story. Take it from a fellow traveler, it gets better. We get better. And not ever alone. No. We get better, together. Healing is many places, many ways, many people. We came such a long way to get here, from the place where “there is nothing but pain,” to the place that talks about that pain and more. That something more, it keeps growing, glowing. It’s the “darklight” we each, somehow, are for each other.
Till next time, friends... keep on being that light.
kelly bell photography CC
sitting in a wicker chair against
floral wallpaper in oakland heat
there is a portrait of huey newton
in my church.
it’s communion sunday
and mama has on her good shoes
with the gold links.
the jackson boys are dressed
to the nines
their pants starch-creased and hovering
above their snakeskins like halos
hueys in a Black beret—
but gone, anyway-
what’s blood without a body to show for it?
in the states, what is more righteous than a gun
and a spear sitting
at the left hand of god
on a wicker chair
wicker chair out front since before cointelpro
bludgeoned the panthers.
we’ve come because it’s easter
and we’re hungry. inside,
marvin gaye’s falsetto
seeps in like a gentle flood
and the kitchen becomes
a small soul train line
for 12 minutes instead.
all these bodies bending like prayer
Black means religion is second
only to dancing.
the day america stormed
i was Black and in exile
for yanking a tulip
from the ground
i shouldn’t have,
but wanted something
more beautiful to die
before i did-
call it civil disobedience
what i imagine my mother meant when she said you sound like one of those conspiracy theorists
after i tell her nobody should be in be in prison
“I am interested in what it feels like to imagine yourself as large and immovable as the sky”
imagination is a possibility we don’t yet have
a language for. when you’ve been taken—
you focus on the pieces that havent. what’s in front
of you, she says. there’s less room for possible
here. what i tell my mother sunday at dinner:
the sky we look up to is larger than the world
it surrounds & we didn’t have a name for heaven
until we decided some people don’t deserve
to be there or kyle rittenhouse siting in a bar
with neo-nazis makes him the devil or god
depending on your definition
of salvation or my mother and I watch outside
my living room window, I decide only a deity could
shake a tree that big, so I ask the wind to show me
its palms to check for scaring. I want to see
the battle wounds, the bruised joints, buckling skin
& deliverance resting on tender ankles.
we once watched the earth shift against itself
as if the cascades reconsidered their location
& i am reminded she has witnessed possible.
I am a nod to my mother’s hands. outstretched-
over me, like an evocation asking the day to end
before I do.
enlarge my territory
i watch into the cosmos & feel
how the homies must
feel when they watch
the birth of a nation
or any other carbon-
copy slave movie
the battle, the victor
i can't help but think
about the boys
i grew up with
who claimed to “run the city,”
not in colonial terms, but
how they’ve learned
to measure land, not
by geography, but
through flesh & the taking of it
in this way, perhaps,
the obsession has always been
& the destruction
it’s capable of wielding
or falling victim to
in this way, they too
if not imaginative—
if not through
in this way,
we are huge, after all
how the few feet
separating our nikes
the entire sky
Daniel B. Summerhill is Assistant Professor of Poetry/Social Action and Composition Studies at California State University Monterey Bay. He has performed in over thirty states, The UK, and was invited by the US Embassy to guest lecture and perform in South Africa. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Columbia Journal, Rust + Moth, Button Poetry, Lily Poetry Review, Flypaper, Cogs, The Hellebore, and others. His debut collection Divine, Divine, Divine is available now from Oakland- based -Nomadic Press. His sophomore collection, Mausoleum of Flowers will be published by CavanKerry Press in April 2022.
Martin Cathrae CC
My father used to work in the mines when I was little
Salt mines, mostly.
He would bring my brother and I
Chunks of soft, pink rocks
That I would press my tongue to
Like a curious fawn.
My father traveled the country, once.
He loved the Badlands and Louisiana.
“I lived in New Orleans”
He told me.
His car broke down so he worked as a carnie
Until he had made the money to fix it.
Like Johnny Cash
He’d been everywhere.
It was so hard for me to imagine my father,
Jumping from state to state
Because he lived in the same place
For most of his life, now,
Along with his entire family.
Most of which I barely knew.
But I loved to imagine him skating through the country
On water that was once frozen for him.
Sometimes when I was little, I imagined my father as a grave digger,
Salted ground and upper lip, everything still and quiet around him
With no one to talk to except for the earth and the hidden things.
Some searched for and some never to be looked at again;
I have lived with him playing both roles:
I, too, have talked only to the hidden things.
Once my father brought me a chunk of fool’s gold
From the mines—taught me the word “Pyrite.”
I asked, “how do you know it’s fake?”
I held it up to my eye imagining it to be a periscope into another world.
I don’t remember at all what he told me,
About how he knew--
But as he sat down beside me he said:
“Isn’t it wonderful how it shines almost exactly like the real thing?”
Sarah Morris Shux (she/her) is a poet, screenwriter and short story writer currently living in Los Angeles with her very loud Siamese cat, King Tut. She enjoys obsessing over ghost stories, roller skating, stress baking and spending too much money on vinyl records and weird, antique tchotchkes. Find her words published in Sledgehammer Lit, Not Deer Magazine, Superfroot and on Medium. Find her on social media: @awwshux on Instagram and @MsShux on Twitter
Pawel Maryanov CC
Rain clouds over I 94
For Wesley Blake Wellborn
I don’t know why I thought of you this morning, Blake
with storm clouds still settling above the slick highway,
the soft white belly of a plane sinking onto the runway
over the ridge. But you were there just then in the jet’s
descent, your voice, polite, its quiet drawl. I think it was
the way the airplane glided in as if it was not a miracle,
but something we were meant to do. I thought of how
you must have been when you were young, a boy down
there in Alabama, probably so full of awe as all kids are
of things with wings that fill the sky. I saw your face
there, too, the easy placid way it held the room, the air
not quite aware of you, or who you could become.
You were sweet butter when you talked, how much
you likely kept inside, contoured to fit the shapes others
build to keep us all contained. Somehow, we lost
you to the metaled world, its sharp and hardened edges.
I know I did nothing to help you as you lived, Blake.
But I feel you settling down into the tawny fields, trees,
the river there to hold you finally when we cannot.
The plane coming in, rain splintering off its windshield
refusing to stick, earth deciding what remains, what floats
above us, hovering, maybe forever, even without our say.
Depression as guest
In a picnic Polaroid down on the farm, all of us wince
into the lemon light of May. The yard, new with green,
table laid with Tupperware. You can’t see people much,
but here the macaroni salad peeks out next to my sister
stuffed in near Granny wearing pink in glasses pointy
as triangles. We carry out what was inside all winter.
Chairs, cabbage from the cold room – sliced thin
folded into vinegar, Hellman’s, and fried chicken,
rhubarb cake, Wise chips. And, Mom is there, isn’t she?
The halo of her hair somewhere. Dad, too, in his tee shirt.
It’s Memorial Day. We spent the morning in the garden
planting. It’s celebration time after Grant took flowers
up to all the graves. And, somehow, this is when she comes
to all the holidays, D. who stands off to the side, planted
there like some odd tree. No one seems to question it.
She is morose, buts she is family, so in she comes. And she
sits down. Evermore, we add her in, her troubled stare.
And rumpled clothes. She sleeps all day, then joins us.
For the special days. So, holidays will never be the same.
I understand it now. Along with joy, we have to think of her.
Ellen Stone advises a poetry club at Community High School and co-hosts a monthly poetry series, Skazat! in Ann Arbor, Michigan where she taught special education in the public schools and raised three daughters with her husband. Ellen is the author of What Is in the Blood (Mayapple Press, 2020) and The Solid Living World (Michigan Writers’ Cooperative Press, 2013). Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Ellen can be contacted at www.ellenstone.org.
The Girl Grew Deep
They drained the pond behind my home.
They did not find my body. They found only
turtle shells and cracked bird bones.
It was a dark dirt catacomb,
a suburb's gaping mouth,
this once-a-pond behind my home.
I never drowned out here alone,
was not murdered, dragged, and bound,
with turtle shells and broken bones.
I spiked my fingers in the loam.
Skin and nails drilled further down
beneath the pond behind my home.
I weave tree roots into a throne.
Upon my head I place a crown
of turtle shell and hollow bone.
My Kingdom is one perfect poem
to hold this body I have found
in the pond they drained behind my home
of empty shells and my own bones.
Heather Truett is an MFA candidate and an autistic author. Her debut novel, KISS AND REPEAT, released in 2021. She has published poetry and short fiction with Hawaii Pacific Review, Rust+Moth, and others. Heather also serves on staff for The Pinch.
Pawel Maryanov CC
There is something trying to live
in the stubbled thyme
vining the cracks
in the mortar,
Brush your fingers against it,
gently, your hand
will be inhabited
tiny white flies,
a cricket nymph
in scarlet constellations
across your palm.
But this is easy to imagine,
there are so many corners,
ecotones we’d rather ignore
where something is breathing
a spark of energy,
that might leave you wounded
were you to dig around
something is always struggling
beneath the rubble,
that wild square foot
between your home
and the alley.
You say one day, you’ll
plant something there,
but you don’t
you only dream about it,
a dream of lost teeth
that are not your own.
What wolves have you been?
What wolf are you? and what wolves have you been? the truck stop t-shirt with the wolves walking through your chest, the one you begged for when you were ten, what do they know of you, having been through your ribs, bones that cage nothing, not your lungs, which have always breathed evenly, but that's not how any of this works.
What wolf are you? greying against a grey sky, how long have you waited to eat? have you always waited to eat? when you were hungry and chewing saltines in the back of a minivan parked for some time, what were you even waiting for? water. you waited for water.
What wolves have you been? the sharp side gnash and nip at the small and vulnerable. when they fuck up, you will hurt them to save them, but you will also hurt them to save yourself. you didn't mean to, but you probably smacked a wrist. you were ten. what were you waiting for? the wolves were out hunting, but you stayed behind.
Elizabeth Joy Levinson teaches and writes on the southwest side of Chicago. She has an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University and an MAT in Biology from Miami University. Her work has appeared in Whale Road Review, FEED, Tiny Spoon, Floresta, SWWIM, Cobra Milk, and others. She is the author of two chapbooks: As Wild Animals (Dancing Girl Press) and Running Aground (Finishing Line Press). Her first full length collection, Uncomfortable Ecologies, will be published in the fall of 2023 (Unsolicited Press).
Tony Webster CC
My worry practices knowing all the ways I will lose you
A blade slicing your best tattoo
in half / A bullet through your mouth
/ A belt along your throat / A breath held
so long it becomes not-breath /
Your blood emptying into trash bin
or bathtub or gravel lot / The wrong number
of hours alone / A tongueful
of sedatives / A five dollar six-pack
and a cheek of Grizzly mint pouches
/ A quick drive off the Blue Ridge
Parkway / Don’t we always laugh
at the railings there / so low,
so impotent / Maybe it will be the flames
behind you / Or maybe something you do
not choose / On a day you are whole,
blood-full, breathing / A foot on too-slick ground
/ Your leaking heart / A jolt and a twisting
of metal / Why are there always more ways to lose you
than to keep you here / And what counts as here anyway /
Are you still here, bathed in a deep ache / Held
by pillows and darkened rooms / My worry, always
looking for your absence / My worry, always holding
my breath, always nudging me to search
for you / Even as we are together, buried
in laughter / My worry, always
fighting to keep itself alive /
When you find your branches
indolent and brittle;
when you have forgotten
colors other than tan,
beige, gray, ash;
when you find your
sense of wilt and
know there is always
something under the dead,
the sleeping, the empty
handed. You must only decide
to seek it. Scramble
to that adequate elevation,
where roots cling like regrets
to the mountain. Wait for that
precise angle of light, when
the sun is neither
accusing nor neglectful.
Wait, breath held,
to find illuminated
what has been thriving
beneath all along.
wax-leaf glittering in the sun.
Danielle Garland (she/her) is based in southern Appalachia where she strives to love freely and live slowly (and to strive less). You can find her adventures in poetry and in the woods on IG @_daniellegarland
kelly bell photography CC
SITTING ON MY GRANDMA’S NORTH PORCH AFTER MY HYSTERECTOMY
epistolary to my body
You hold my bones and blood river-winds the north
and south of us. You hurt right now — we hurt.
There is no sadness like a taking,
and gentle body, we have endured a wild taking.
Songbird, sick on her feeder, is the baby we lost.
Bleeding down our leg is the lover who left.
Also, the drowned kitten is the baby who died.
The dead doe in July heat is us, in the hospital,
waking out of humming anesthesia. My dumb-tongue
confusion stumbling out of anesthesia, scared. Starved
baby is the baby who stopped growing. An empty bed
is the lover who split. Inhumane slaughter: all of this taking
and all of this leaving and the uterus lame, useless
But you, color of dried chamomile, my sweet body,
you and I glitter in the sun — tiny hairs holding
light, stars in the afternoon, while the clematis
sways in tender wind. My grandma
opens the door to come sit. Quiet and near me.
Erica Anderson-Senter lives and writes in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She teaches high school English and creative writing. Her work has appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, the once CrabFat Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, Off the Coast, and Dialogist among others. Her chapbook, seven days now, was published by The Dandelion Review. Her first full length collection, Midwestern Poet’s Incomplete Guide to Symbolism, is available through EastOver Press. Erica hosts free literary events throughout her city to bring poetry to the public. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing through the Writing Seminars at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.
Frerk Meyer CC
This Happened on a Friday
A feather of starlight fell
through the canopy of the forest road
and I picked it up, the feathered light
and tucked it behind an ear
and bent my body like a cloud
taking up autumn’s breath
in my thoughts and lifting up and up
through old forest towards the eager curtain
already drawing the act to a close, and up
into their happy I expanded, the feather
of starlight fluttering as I grew
wise, blown up with glamour as starlight
feathered me and feathered me after, following
the wind, following hereafter.
Cassandra Whitaker is a non-binary/trans writer from the rural south. Their work has been published in The Daily Drunk, and Up the Staircase Quarterly, among other places.
Things I don’t know the answer to when lying in our attic bed aged 41
I don’t know the type of bird that fills the air up with its
bag of feathered song opened wide. I don’t quite know
how it suspends itself, plume and wing mid-air, a parcel
in stasis for a moment, a gift for us each dawn. And I can’t
think exactly where I bought you the dusty snow globe from,
that sits on a shelf now, eternal winter in its glass, I only remember
the heavy weight of it in my palm, the lightness of its circling snow,
blizzards of emotion. I don’t know how many words are held in the
books we’ve bought, decades of sentences, their punctuation and
spaces, their typography all stacked up here; each comma, each
exclamation mark bearing witness to us, the stories we have written
and read to each other, prose and verse. Volumes look on as we lay
on this bed, our own sentences written, the punctuation of our love.
And I don’t know where your freckles go when the moonlight turns
your sleeping profile silver-white, the soft blurred edges of your skin,
illuminated glow at midnight as I watch on quietly at this blue show,
an audience of one. But there is one thing I do know, and know and
know and keep on knowing. In this attic oasis of ours, where strange
flowers grow and blossom from cacti leaf, where there is always heat
and thirst. Many things I do not know but one thing I always will.
E. A. Moody is a mother, paddle boarder, runner and fan of vintage T-shirts from South Wales. She is published in Apex, Black Bough, Green Ink and has work forthcoming in Seventh Quarry. Twitter: eamoody1
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.