Back from the city, coppice gate to ride,
I muse on life ill spent, more fortune than
design, the early evening of this year’s
midnight, a breviary to wasted time.
This sky’s the brushwork of a fallen star,
red shifted might-have-beens, a running sore
despondent with hindsight - and portents too,
the wounded herald, battles, wrongs to right.
Big picture bleared, betrayed by those supposed
to fight their corner on Damascus Road,
dismayed, they’re bloody-minded, foxes out
to beat the hunting ban, apostasy,
side with the enemy, M way to self-
destruct, vote Brexit, sound the final Trump.
Peter Branson, a native of N. Staffordshire, has lived in a village in Cheshire, UK, for the last twenty-six years. A former teacher and lecturer in English Literature and creative writing and poetry tutor, he is now a full time poet, songwriter and traditional-style singer whose poetry has been published by journals in Britain, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australasia and South Africa, including Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Anon, Envoi, The London Magazine, The North, Prole, The Warwick Review, Iota, The Butcher’s Dog, The Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, SOUTH, Crannog, THE SHOp, Causeway, Columbia Review, Main Street Rag and Other Poetry. He has won prizes and been placed in a number of poetry competitions over recent years, including a ‘highly commended’ in the ‘Petra Kenny International’, first prizes in the ‘Grace Dieu’ and the ‘Envoi International’, a special commendation in the Wigtown and silver medal award in the Desmond Healy, 2016. His last book, ‘Red Hill, came out in 2013. His latest collection, ‘Hawk Rising’, from ‘Lapwing’, Belfast, was published in early April 2016.
My father had two birthdays,
but a single life. He kept both papers
with zeal, they witnessed his existence.
His birth certificate had him registered
on a different day than the one we celebrated.
With one of those dates my tired father bribed death.
My sister and I always asked him
to tell us about his childhood.
He preserved intact the hamlet,
the village, his mother, his brothers.
The wondering, menacing animals,
the trees, imprecise like someone's dream
plus, every leaf in his lineage, each fruit
with the lukewarm temperature of its pulp.
The river close to the house,
the inexhaustible rancor.
He disappeared on that shore
at the age of six. He rose
from the worm entrails of dawn
and left without giving notice.
The house was calm, a sleeping cow,
his footsteps on the thin branches
could hardly be heard.
He would sleepwalk with his eyes
sealed with wax. Grandmother told me
she caught him by the stream ready to jump,
seek out the fish that were like threads that someone
braided to escape existence.
In his stories, things had equivocal
gestures. They gave the impression
of being disguised as themselves.
They were covered with a sweet
tree bark where, and over the years,
moss had grown and ants had opened paths
without being seen.
His father barely allowed my father
to remember him. He wasn't a man,
he was anger, a handful of knuckles,
wanton, brutal desire. He hung inert
at the center of my father's memory,
dangling face down, open throat,
while the soft clay
of his blood poured into a pot.
Inheritance must be read upside-down,
traversed with the finger
as if you were following the unequal
punctuation marks of braille.
Navigate upward, then make a boat
with the sad wood of the body.
Sergio A. Ortiz is a gay Puerto Rican poet and, the founding editor of Undertow Tanka Review. He is a two time Pushcart nominee, a four time Best of the Web nominee, and a 2016 Best of the Net nominee. His poems have been published in hundreds Journals and Anthologies. He is currently working on his first full length collection of poems, Elephant Graveyard.
You call us special snowflakes,
tell us to buck up, buttercup,
to move on and give up.
But all I hear is a bully pacing
the weedy field behind the school,
worried about whether he’ll eat that night
and who his mom will bring home.
His chaotic taunts hurt him
more than anyone else,
as he waits for someone to call him
wonderful and mean it,
as he wishes for cuddling,
as he hopes that someone will see
his mysterious, frosty edges,
his patterns known and unknown,
and deem them, with no more irony
than the desert’s late afternoon sun, special.
Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Eyedrum Periodically, and other publications. She's also the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Aldrich Press-Kelsay Books).
What We're Made Of
Netflix crashed, and we’re left to the tenderness
of our lover’s ears seen from behind. What can
we do with the long evening, summer not yet
done? Unscripted, we come up with nothing
but a walk to the nearest six pack or recreational
bud, trolling for Pokémon along the way. Why
does hanging look cool in season three of whatever
while we feel bored? Bored or boring? my dad
would ask, spanked as a boy for having nothing to do.
What if the inside of our head really were a cell, us
trapped there for the duration? Could yours hold
you, or would you paint the wall with feces, undone?
One day, rest assured, the power will go out, our
phones become nothing but projectiles to hurl
into the nearest lake. We need to stock up, get ready.
Quickly—sirens are sounding. Save yourself.
Face to Face
The old man’s alarm goes off all night. We are livid.
One after another, we parade to his door, shouting and
pounding. We fill the cops’ blotter with complaints.
Come morning, enough light to peer past grimy slats,
we see him, hair askew, fumbling key after key, unable
to open the door. Asked if he needs help, a doctor,
he shakes and shakes his head, no English left, not even
Hungarian. He has no one who can come, one child
disabled, the other schizophrenic. The police arrive
with an ambulance, a fire truck, a locksmith. Apparently,
it takes a small army to liberate one old man from
decrepitude. They load him up and wheel him away,
alarm still blaring. We look at one another, relieved
and sobered. This is old age with no family. If we hadn’t
been pissed, he might have died in there, no one the wiser.
He was never friendly. No one would have missed him.
Now alarms shriek both within and without.
Devon Balwit is a poet and educator from Portland, Oregon. She has a chapbook, Forms Most Marvelous, forthcoming with dancing girl press (summer 2017). Her recent poems have appeared in numerous print/on-line journals, among them: Oyez, Red Paint Hill, Timberline Review, The Yellow Chair Review, The Journal of Applied Poetics, Vanilla Sex Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Rising Phoenix Review, Rattle, Rat's Ass Review, and The Ekphrastic Literary Review.
Letter in the Time of the Spanish Flu Pandemic
Greenleaf, Idaho, 1918
Dear Sister Mary,
We all are well except Neva and she is well as
could be expected under the circumstances.
The weather here of late has been rather squally.
a beautiful day today, however.
I hope you are well and happy.
I will be 36 years old my next birthday.
Our lives are slipping away. Do you
Remember when I boarded with you and Jim?
And you put up such nice lunches for me?
If I have a little girl I want her to be just like her
Aunt Mary. Do you remember the time I
kicked your kettle of pears all over the floor?
Now Mary let’s go up and see Ella and stay to supper
and have cake and tea and then after dark climb up
the old creaky stairs and look out of the little window
at the great big moon shining down thru the silver maples
and about then have to go home down the road along the trees
always afraid to look behind and yet afraid not to.
Say it feels like there is a ball of hot woolen yarn
sticking right in my throat. I believe I am more afraid
to look behind now Mary. So I try to look ahead to
something better and I do believe we can find it.
How does Jim like Idaho spuds?
Or did you get any yet?
Your loving brother,
Ward D. McArthur
For a New Grandson
Walking home from the hospital
I see a late-summer green-grass lawn
filled with rows of ornamental stones
displaying names—James, Martha, Annie.
To my new grandson Riley
born only a few hours ago
his first breath stunning me
I say—as surely as life comes
little one—I give you my love
a prism of flame bursting free.
Cemetery sprinklers shoot streams of
rainbows in red yellow green blue violet
dazzling the lazuli sky and promising
seasons as fleet as autumn in passing;
winter deaths no more than preludes
to spring’s melting snow, its rivulets
soon to sparkle down thawing foothills.
So Riley, far away in future days
when you walk along and see
such a grave as one of these
jeweled by a brilliant rainbow
listen for an echo of my love.
Be stunned with an ache of desire
to love your child with this same
fever of earthly passion flowing
as now when I shiver in sunlight
wrapped in a shroud of longing.