2014 Festival

2014 Finalists & Honorable Mentions


 

Lindsay Ahl

Lindsay Ahl’s chapbook, The Abyssians, was a finalist for the 2014 National Poetry Chapbook Award. Her novel, Desire, (Coffee House Press, 2004) was nominated for a Discover New Writer’s Award and Ruth Lily Award. She was a Fletcher Fellow at Bread Loaf for Fiction in 2004. Her fiction and poetry have been published in the anthology From the Fishouse, and also in BOMB Magazine, Fiction Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Drunken Boat, RHINO, Vallum, The Patterson Review, and many others. She publishes Shadowgraph, (www.shadowgraphmagazine.com), an arts & culture journal. She has taught at the Santa Fe Writer’s Conference, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and Santa Fe University of Art and Design. She has an M.A. in Fiction from City College in New York, and an M.F.A. in poetry from Warren Wilson College.



In the Land of Dreams at Your Feet
everything that disappears in the Bermuda Triangle
logically explained:
shifts in the ocean floor
a magnetic force that points true north, rather than magnetic
north
swift streams over reefs
explain it away with syncopation, back
beats, bridges and hooks
you’re inside of something
lone house in the pines
vast spaces between each atom
your father left whiskey bottles,
an ancient rifle, Winchester 30-30 carbine model 1894,
loaded, on the shelf in the closet
your mother left chiffon curtains
hanging in the living room
a worn velvet-covered sofa
art books in the hallway
an old Walther PP, 1944, in the cabinet above the refrigerator
also loaded
your eyes so clear looking through to the other side
of the universe
the way the dolphins swim their way out of sludge and oils,
Fukishuma debris, dead mammals, their own stillborn calves
your body will take you home if you let it
don’t let the ocean take you, coast guard trailing
I’m the bend in the river, the dolphin said
follow me

In the Land of the Apocalypse, Your Forgotten Desire
running as fast as you can toward the river
all one moving fabric
through forests, dunes, down railroad tracks
if you’re in the driver’s seat, then drive
swimming through water smooth as fine whisky
waiting for your arrival
night flares
what we don’t understand
we mutilate
dolphins in the gulf stabbed, fins cut off
it’s a strange door
do you see the still point in the city lights
through the forest
do you see the room, the dreambody
profile in one lighted window out of millions
the flesh less taut, lines around the eyes
waiting for your arrival?
here is your forgotten desire:
this sidewalk
below the streetlamp
this moment

In the Land of Blood, Your Life
busted ribs, bruised eyes, I told people his father was born in
Lordsburg
a Kung Fu reference they usually missed
he didn’t think about it, just flipped the guy over on the sidewalk
a crunching sound, arched
the next guy starts coming at him, full of rage
dolphins in their echo-location, curious, flipping over the surface
he’s smooth and calm, always able to deflect
(dolphins drown in nets, choke on plastic, bathe in
petroleum and radiation)
I’m underwater, holding a motherless baby dolphin
time as dreamheavy water
news as entertainment, love as destruction
here is the guy mauled by a bear in the Upper Peninsula
half the guy’s scalp missing
here is my city map of Milan
here is Lynne Cox swimming from Catalina
Island to the California mainland
here is the girl child drowning in Green Lake in July
here is your last breath before you change
and here
is the next bend in the river

 

Les Bernstein

Les Bernstein lives high on a hill in Mill Valley, California with her very large and boisterous family. Her poems have appeared in journals, presses and anthologies in the U.S.A. and in Europe. Her chapbooks Borderland and Naked Little Creatures have been published by Finishing Line Press. She is currently toiling away on her third book, Amid the Din and hopes to see the end of the tunnel soon.

 

Intent on Restoring Disorder
history lumbers on
unstoppable
insinuating
while birds and everyone else
sing the same phrases
over and over
fleeing angels correct their course
seeking a fresh exit strategy
as the dung beetle orients itself
by the light of the milky way
its life as flat as a comic strip
the clouds whisper to each other
left only to bear witness
they sigh the name
of the space in between
although details are in dispute
time goes by
in an amnesic drift
the past with exultation and ache
anticipates the future’s return

Come Summer Stay Summer
a hint of winter drifts into focus
the earth’s rotation slows
according to the arc of the sun
life is drawn with a hazy outline
in the banalities of age
elliptical lessons of daily existence
progress a too short lapse of being
choreographed by the unknowable
paced with narrative suspense
a reluctant history
can only try to understand
the inky infinite that brackets life


On the Block
in a dim-light meander
a writer’s concern for precision,
compression, lyrical sound
and one simple elemental truth
goes down a very bad path
through the double lens
of imagination and memory
a flawed and flimsy
lower case moment
will be mugged
twisted turns of interpretation
coerce a deeper register of inquiry
concluding with a neat ending
and … oh, could it be ... indelibility
pending yet another bon mot
from an empty poet
the dim light of the computer cursor
blinks on and on
ready to surrender all its belongings
to a merciful delete

 

 

Myronn Hardy

 

Myronn Hardy is the author of three books of poems: Approaching the Center, winner of the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award, The Headless Saints, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Catastrophic Bliss, winner of the Griot-Stadler Prize. His fourth collection, Kingdom, is forthcoming in the Fall of 2015 (New Issues Press). He divides his time between Morocco and New York City.



Blue Cards in the Café of Old Men

Yassine plays cards with old men.
They see him as a son who remained
in a town the young flee because they have to.
There is a cloud in the café brown as bark
yet no storm above them. Only the dark
darkening that room of smoke.

The cards have blue backs lines of smoke
spinning from imaginary airplanes where those men
are pilots their cards on the floor suddenly dark.
Yassine wants them to ascend wants to have remained
a magic trick his father performed against bark
where he disappeared. He wants to
 

leave that town but doesn’t want to
disappoint those old men who smoke
themselves to clouds surrounding oak bark
as if gauze. They are wounded men.
We are an arena of limestone which has remained
despite time. Heads split arms dropped with age dark
 

with rust veins like earth itself deeper the dark
dazzles. Outside women are kneading oiling dough to
fry against seasoned steel. They have remained
constant in that town feeding that town as smoke
rises from steel from warm bread those men
eat playing cards from day to sunset skin slowly to bark.
 

This is seen through a smudged window where the bark
of oaks is mossy against the café. The curtains are dark
with filth regret feral yet caged. The men
collect cards stare at cards in fans want Yassine to
disappoint them. Want Yassine to peel smoke
away from skin to run to have remained
 

the boy his father left. To have remained
the boy in love with bark.
The cloud in the café is still brown smoke
making them sick. They cough in the dark
they have created to
cope with the boy they’ve ruined. Those men
 

have remained magnificently dark
like the bark which hasn’t greened to
moss. Yassine will blink smoke among old men.
 

Sewing Mars
The poppies in her hands were stolen
but she didn’t know it. The field more
abandoned than possessed. She needs
them for a mattress a red stuffing
 

that will stain muslin. Spheres of it
like some planet where water is found
yet no life none we can detect understand.
Stems on the floor green rods
 

will brown blow away when shutters
are wide when wind is itself wild wanderlust.
But that room will remain a place
of slumber intoxicating without
 

matches smoke.
She is fastidious needle silk
thread tightening seams.
She isn’t phased when the men
 

arrive soiled rank.
When they stare her
face sunburned
yet translucent.
 

She has traveled. The flush of her
from some dead star. Philosophy yes.
We bleed where we sleep where we rest.
The mind letting go of itself cloth
 

absorbing its perfume its sweet terror.
She will not scream even though we are evil.
Up from clay our lives.
The pulling pushing of it no reaction.
 

The tea kettle boils over.
Red liquid acrid shockingly so.
Green leaves brown with heat.
She continues to sew that mattress
 

of poppy mattress of Mars.
The shutters blow wide
as the men leave. In the sky egrets
white as Calacatta.
 

Night Song in Tamazight
There is the voice that happens
among dark trees among street
lights unlit. Among locusts hidden
in dead grass calling each other.
Their existence carried out through sound.
 

An insinuated voice splinters
the setting of sky.
Something written adhered
to for survival. Survival here
among things wild.
 

Things made to seem wild.
A dog gasps yet finds a way to bark
as dark trees fold into themselves.
There is something secretive here.
Secretive in that voice’s stability.
 

From a rotting house a boy plays
an instrument made in mountains.
Amplified electronically as wind forces
itself on faces pushes grit in faces forces
lavender in faces.
 

It pushes through shrubs short
thorny but purple flowers are soft.
The boy is joined by others.
Their instruments pronounce
journey settlement the presence of hips.
 

Hair like fire whines
in air creates currents.
Someone has left.
A woman has left.
He wants to see her.
 

He wants to see his love
not the road she walked the dirt
her feet flung into air.
Her perfume is air.
He sings:
 

The dust the road I breathe.
My love I breathe. The night
I breathe my love. The fire
doesn’t burn yet it makes
things fall. My life falls like walls.
 

The voice has no tin
yet the instruments do.
There is purity in the weight
it creates. The heft on shoulders
unlike wheat unlike stones
 

this weight is welcomed.
This weight makes us stop.
We don’t worry about the moon
waning the kingdom
in sudden combustion.
 

We are in a place where sight
opens to another. Where dark
trees are hands pulling night pulling
wind for the voice to call for a boy
to play pushing a woman to flee.

 

Shadab Zeest Hashmi

 

Shadab Zeest Hashmi’s Baker of Tarifa, a book based on the history of interfaith tolerance in Al Andalus (Muslim Spain), won the 2011 San Diego Book Award for poetry. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart prize multiple times, translated into Spanish and Urdu, and have appeared in Poetry International, Vallum, Nimrod, The Bitter Oleander, The Cortland Review, The Adirondack Review, Atlanta Review, Hubbub, RHINO, Journal of Postcolonial Writings, Spillway, and are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Drunken Boat and other places. She represents Pakistan on UniVerse: A United Nations of Poetry, and has taught in the MFA program at San Diego State University as a writer-in-residence. She is a guest columnist for 3 Quarks Daily. Kohl and Chalk is her new book of poems.

 


DINARZADE SUITE


Dinarzade Advises her Sister
I know the dead wives
as the strong winds
changing Sindbad’s course
Or rubies swallowed back
by the earth
Fear is a scepter of crushed glass
Look how tightly the king grips it
The fire the fire
kicked up by each dead queen’s heel
is in the blaze of imagination
Sherezade
What if stories
lock his ears?
What if a lifetime of giving
leaves you with nothing?
You are to each other as the cloth
that covers you
the book says
The skin of his promise
he sheds
His life’s velvet armor death’s tender
linen
Fiber of marriage
knotted under the light of delicate truths
washed in one thousand and one
storms

Dinarzade Looks Back


When he lost me to the panic of silence
it was as if I slipped from his fingers
like a small coin
Spinning in my bewilderment
I flared up the forest—
He saw me in his mirror:
an iridescent fish in the throes of death
My iced sigh
then cut through the forest
and sealed his caravan

To Dinarzade, an Insufficient Apology from the Prince

Because I am contoured
for less light
Because you remain a needle
I try to thread
Because your mind frisks
like a mottled gazelle
and I see only spots
Because I can not comprehend
nor contend any longer
with your flashes
stain your feet with henna
We will agree to camp here awhile

Ghazal: Window
Tea kettles are filled with pebbles, lizards lie in the shade of the window
When the roof has thorns, doors bricked up, hope is made of the window
Socrates sleeps like a baby in a boat of logic, while the cell and sentries fade
The youth shudder at the punishment: Cup of hemlock? Or flayed by the window?
Hear thought begetting thought in goatskin bagpipes? Hear logic in rain?
Ask and wait as Socrates did— the mind’s endless music is played at the window
The jailed mystic carves a bowl of stone, the poet writes on a cup of Styrofoam
By day prison-guards taunt, by night, are haunted by words prayed at the window
You left behind a shuttered palace for a single name carved in wood grain
Desire’s forest is treacherous Zeest; let wisdom ripen in a glade by the window

Reel
Dreamer, you are spun in the solar plexus
of the dream’s wheel. You are liveried,
spit shined to live in the same meat colored painting,
its grudge against aging chrysanthemum,
new snow, hinge of a carp’s mouth, touch of grass
and underbelly; the lovely, slackened binding of books,
secret-liquefying candle, the bark of brother seals.
You are the innermost part of the ear
with a winding darkness all your own—
a neural trapdoor, a prehistoric sun arrested in sap.

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Born in 1940 in Oakland, California, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore had his first two books of poems, Dawn Visions (1964), and Burnt Heart / Ode to the War Dead (1972), published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books in San Francisco. He created The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company in late 60s Berkeley, became Sufi/Muslim in 1970, performed the Hajj to Mecca in 1972, and has lived and traveled in Morocco, Spain, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt. In 1996 City Lights published The Ramadan Sonnets, and in 2001 The Blind Beekeeper. In 2012, a study in Arabic of his work was published by University of Fez scholar Aziz el Kobaiti Idrissi. In 2005 The Ecstatic Exchange Series began bringing out his work, of which there are 42 titles as of April 2014. He was among the winners of the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Competition in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, he won The American Book Award for Blood Songs, and was listed among the 500 Most Influential Muslims for his poetry. Among his newest books: Miracle Songs for the Millennium. He lives with his wife Malika in Philadelphia. (Website: www.danielmoorepoetry.com; Poetry blog: www.ecstaticxchange.com.)


Journey
You cross the girdered bridge where
two tall cypresses stand, walk slowly over
black water rolling under you,
go past the lengthy wall made of stone blocks and
carved human heads, walk down the hill until the
wall gets taller, the
city gate now stands before you,
twin stone lions at either side with their
live topaz eyes almost electric in their
beams, you
go in nonchalantly as if you’ve
gone through this gate before, the
city opens up here, you’re conscious of
sunny blue sky for the first time, scattershot of
tiny birds like shooting
vocal flowers through the air, making a kind of
scent with their innocent motions,
the streets are lined with shops selling
baskets in the shapes of wild animals, pottery in the
shapes of grotesque men and women, food and
spices brought from the literal
ends of the earth. Everyone who sells things here
wears coarse blue hooded robes and
hides his or her face, no one speaks, you might as
well be floating, the street ends,
checkerboard pavement begins, and in the
distance a forest, thick, black-shadow-splotched,
filled with forest-sounds, tweets and
creakings, you walk on through stands of
robust pine and fir trees,
come to a clearing, O
come to this clearing
you ancient ones, you newborn ones,
and on a small wooden altar see a
disk that is
sometimes a mirror, sometimes a
telescope lens, sometimes a
window looking out into the trees, green
open space all
around it, you
contemplate the scene and gaze through the
round disk and see
your journey reversed, back through the
forest the way you came, back through the
fascinating trinket-stalls, the gate whose
lions now come alive and
lope away, thin haunches
working like rope against a wharf,
back across black water to the
beginning of this poem and back from the
page to the reader and to the
writer who at this single moment
are one and the same.

Watching People Pass By
You wouldn’t think, looking at people with their
insignificant sizes and seemingly improvised
shapes, that they contain
mile high shale cliffs, clefts in rocks that drop
deep down into canyons, glassy
divides fully populated by
choirs, flora and fauna of the most
diverse and sophisticated kind, as well as
all the anomalies, tiny insects with
human faces and the antlers of moose,
trees taller than the tallest sequoias whose
bark hangs long like the hair of great-grandfathers
or Spanish moss,
that these bustling folk speeding past
intersections on poorly shod feet with
umbrellas and perambulators
should contain multitudes, not only of
peoples but also of
weathers, sleet and snow, icy rain as well as
tropical humidity no amount of fanning with
elephant-ear leaves of the glossiest green could
assuage, and showers of insects, lagoons of
pure silver in grottos of blue and gold,
winds that sound like the dawn of the airplane
attempting to take off only to
land in a heap of
struts and broken body-parts,
weathers, landscapes, worlds imagined and
unimaginable, each with its
guardian and its sage
sitting alone in an inner sanctum
awaiting our return,
we see these people run by on their way to miss their
train or disgruntle their employer
and we’d never know they’re at the
crossroads of territories more exotic than
India under the Mogul Empire, or
China when the emperor was at the
center of the Forbidden City
unviewable by common eyes, gazed on only by
opium mothers, consumptive princesses and
eunuchs, that inside these
stressed individuals are decisions each moment more
momentous than the last, to elect the
Hawk Representative to the tribal council,
marry their daughters to the wealthiest man in
Pompeii, or
move heaven and earth to find the inner
certitude that brings the
peace that passeth understanding
as one foot leaves the curb, the other
clicking smartly behind, arms
swinging nonchalantly, head tilted,
eyes averted,
mind wandering,
heart beating, the constantly remembering heart
beating out the divine syllables in code both
secret and well-known that create by
the propulsion of their sound
the smallest atom awaiting the command to
become a rose,
the greatest mountain awaiting the command to
bow its head under God’s power, fleecy
clouds passing by,
sky an endlessly shifting panorama
inside the separate outlines
of these hurrying people passing by.

God’s in the Details
In Spokane, Washington, at the corner of
Lily and Tenth, on a dark night,
rain puddles reflecting Victorian casements and
cornices, a flutter in the air, flashing
star-shaped yellow burst, Amelia closes her eyes and it’s
still there, writing subtle words
inside her eyelids: “Valse suave,
Monette, valse vite!”
She holds onto a railing and feels like flying.
At the back of a warehouse in Copenhagen,
behind a latticework shadows of blond wooden
platforms stored on end, Elgar feels inside his
soft cotton undershirt, brushes his
hands across his nipples, leans back and
inhales the entire afternoon, gnats and
ants included, shifts his weight,
becomes the sky, hears the words, in Danish:
“It is finished, it is hollow, it is full, it is
endless.”
In the Amazon, deep in the forest known by the
locals as “Locus of Green Spirits,”
a grandfather blows through a blowgun up into a
tree to the amazement of his
grandson, and a poisoned arrow
pierces the skin of a howling monkey who
immediately leads the chase for three miles
across the treetops until, exhausted, he
falls dead at their feet. “Machoaca labita cala” the
grandfather says, and they hoist it
onto a branch and start the
long trek home. Everything routine, except
the boy catches a glimpse of the . Between
two trees. In shadow. The long
face. The distant laughter.
The wild, red eyes. The green hair.
Between trains in downtown Beirut, watching
herself in a department store window
reflected between mannequins dressed in newest
Paris fashions, Amira
suddenly sees herself multiply like stop photographs of
opening moth-wings, accordion-like, of
herself in various blurred
replicas, her face on each a
full moon smiling like a radiant queen, and the
sound of the world drained away for a
moment replaced by celestial sighing,
cosmic intake of breath,
and she had to steady herself on a
lamppost until it passed.
And it did pass, as all these
brief epiphanies passed through their
subjects, or more precisely, their objects,
leaving them briefly
as wide open as morning mountains under
brash sunlight,
these momentary revelations entirely
vaporizing them and turning them
not quite inside-out nor upside-down, but
song came more readily to their lips afterward,
a fountain dripped in shadow from
somewhere deep within each one of them
that refreshes anyone who hears of them or
hears in detail, in divine detail, what
befell them, whatever it was that
filled them beyond their
usual capacity, and then
passed on.

Glenis Redmond

Glenis Redmond is a native of Greenville, South Carolina. She is the Poet-in-Residence at The State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ, The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville SC. Her MFA in Poetry is from Warren Wilson College. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient from the North Carolina Arts Council and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. Her latest book of poetry is titled Under the Sun.


What is in the Bank?
After a poetry performance at Bruce Drysdale Elementary School
We journey from shackle to wing.
End wrapped in Zora Neale’s rainbow
high on poetry’s flight.
I leave eager for breath,
for rest in a cup of tea.
I scour downtown Hendersonville,
find and antique store instead.
In the window a gleam catches
my gaze, a black ceramic face.
Mouth shaped like a crescent moon,
framed with a blood red grin.
I am stolen in plain sight,
plantation snatched
on Main Street, by this golliwog
pulled further down the southern road
where a price hangs
around a black man’s neck,
$995.00 the tag reads
penned in the most careful
delicate hand, Happy Nigger Bank.
The face holds
nothing
funny
just history
holding back
a silent scream
*The Golliwog (originally spelled Golliwogg) is the least known of the major anti-Black caricatures in the United States. Golliwogs are grotesque creatures,1 with very dark, often jet black skin, large white-rimmed eyes, red or white clown lips, and wild, frizzy hair.2 Typically, it’s a male dressed in a jacket, trousers, bow tie, and stand-up collar in a combination of red, white, blue, and occasionally yellow colors.

Tough Love comes in The Dozens
We spit a 12-pack punch in full-tilt verbal throttle.
We slice the heart with tongue
a sword fight where we battle with banter.
We train cave canem style.
Then, go off the chain to handle
this world in which we’ve been born.
We are passed through a hand-me-down soul train line rites of passage.
You better get in were you fit in. It’s a rick-a-shay -- we got game
--as we ping pong off the adrenaline on which we were all raised.
Our daddies and brothers carried us
to barbershops, basketball courts and street corners
until we’re fluent in trash talk and the high top fade and fade aways.
We spit insults and throw the salt from our sweat in the wound.
We say, It’s all good in the hood though we know it ain’t and never will be.
That’s why we got game; we invented the cross over lay up slam dunk
and created new ways came back to show you how to play.
Check the kicks and the move our tongues always fit the groove.
We got jokes that always begin with: yo mama so black and ugly…
when in doubt always insult the womb they came from,
as if we all didn’t push off from dark matter.
We’re amnesiacs of our own origin story.
Don’t take it personally or personal. We step up by putting down
-- lame ass lines don’t fly.
We come from a straight off the dome history.
Our metaphors be cooked in cotton fields;
fried in the sweat off our ancestors’ back.
Our tongue lashes are slave narrative driven.
You better shoeshine those lines twelve times.
Remember your rhythm, son.
It’s in the blood, the spit and the know. Flow.
Hood Code: use a pimp or you being pimped
cruel street don’t take heed to Gandhi’s
or Martin Luther King’s middle ground.
We come from Malcolm X’s by any means necessary.
We come from where Ali pummeled Lewis.
You better butterfly and bee sting it
with your fancy fist and fight dance.
Razzle dazzle them with your rope-a-dope
bamboozle with your verse.
Stun ‘em with your hip-hop wit.
We say, it’s all-good in the hood,
though we know it ain’t and never will be.
Why you think we be laughing while we crying?
We living in this devil beating his wife rain.
Our world be half dozen in one
and six in the other, we combine the two
make our own truths tap dance, even if it hurts.
This is our version of tough love
we jab with jest. We got it like this:
land street-fight blows with our mouths,
no rules, but each word we speak,
we make every syllable count.

Crystal Clear
I could see if it wasn’t for my thirst
for sugar, how I could set myself free
from the wreck of my pancreas
& its irrational habit of circulating the blood’s fire
to blur my stance. It’s on me, I know, to get clean.
Some blame mother’s milk, where the tooth
learns longing, my ache flashes akashic
red, black & green Motherland need
or the bitter void of it. I tried kicking this crutch.
But, I always fall below the Mason Dixon line
laced with Magnolias & the smell
of cattle up wind. I always come up
short, empty or high on somebody’s story
about my story, plots that don’t hold ground.
I want some truth to tide me over
not the crystal sweets that don’t address
the deep hurt I keep trying to feed.

Daniel Nathan Terry

Daniel Nathan Terry is a former landscaper and horticulturist. He is the author of four books of poetry: City of Starlings (forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015); Waxwings (2012); Capturing the Dead, which won The 2007 Stevens Prize; and a chapbook, Days of Dark Miracles (2011). His poems and short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Cimarron Review, The Greensboro Review, Crab Orchard Review, and New South. His multi-media memoir, The Camellia Effect, is forthcoming from Sable Books. Daniel lives in Wilmington with his husband, painter and printmaker, Benjamin Billingsley.



The Egret of Greenfield Lake
There is no other stillness.
Only this slim white body
frozen above the black
water. The trees do not know it.
The sky—which does not move
despite the harried spin of Earth,
the cloud-rush from here to there—
does not know this stillness. Nor
the stones of the path who are still
only because they have no other
choice. Nor the dead who could choose
stillness, but refuse it more often
than the living. Nothing knows this
stillness, except for this lone egret
who now, suddenly in flight, remains
the memory of stillness. And my small soul
that needs to be still even for a breath
is instead pulled up and out of me
with each beat of white wings
and becomes at best the egret’s ghost—
a message no medium can mouth
scried upon the black glass of the lake.

Equinox
Equal night and day, one no longer
than the other. Today, Earth lifts his shirt,
rubs his pale belly, stretches out beneath the sun
for a dozen warm hours.
Night comes. In the dark, he walks the strand
of space, counts a dozen stars that are surely brighter
than they were the night before. He is old,
but he feels again. And from the jungle
of his gut, he knows a summer tanager—
red as a winter cardinal, but unmasked,
untouched by cold—has returned
to the green forest of his chest
and will come to roost on his neck,
tucked like the soft collar of a wool sweater
beneath his chin, and they will sleep.
By sunrise the bird will open Earth’s throat
and together they will sing.

You Must Make Yourself Small
and to become small
you must lie
on your belly
in the short grass
beside the garden,
chin pressed into earth.
You must become
the beetle
to see the world
as big as it is,
to witness forests
of fescue, each blade
a tower, to understand
that the rose
is not yours, but a fortress
of its own will.

Ross White

Ross White is the author of How We Came Upon the Colony (forthcoming from Unicorn Press). With Matthew Olzmann, he edited Another & Another: An Anthology from the Grind Daily Writing Series. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2012, Poetry Daily, New England Review, The Southern Review, and others. He is a four-time recipient of work-study and administrative scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and currently teaches poetry writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.



Wonders Never Cease
All day bees built honeycombs
around the sleepers, weaving the wax
into hexagons, laying in the honey,
sealing them off. Work which might
have taken months, all in an afternoon.
The sleepers dreamed of corn cobs
and race cars, of Egyptian burial rituals.
The dreams were fitful, but the sleepers
hardly budged as thin wings sputtered
to life, the larva maturing in minutes.
The sleepers slept peacefully,
their arms crossed as though
they had been laid in a pharaoh’s tomb.
Each of us has only minutes left to live.
True ruin lies in rushing through them.

Past Perfect
Each time the ferryman
reaches the green shores,
his hand so stiff he must pry it from the oar,
he no longer knows himself.
His ashen skin, ashen eyes,
the lingering scent
of loss that perfumes him:
he cannot explain them.
Nor do the townspeople recognize him.
He knows only that he arrived
in a modest vessel
whose weathered teak
laps up the salt, whose bleached frames
arch over the outside of the hull
as though molding the ship into place,
and pull at the weak surf.
Each time,
he invents a new past,
a story that could be true, if only
because he believes in limits
to what a man can fabricate.
In one, he is a king’s sentry in exile,
in another, a good-hearted merchant seeking a child bride—
each tale has some form of complication,
a hitch which explains
the tired downward curl
at the edge of his mouth,
his battered
and calloused hands.
Whatever the tale
he settles on, he settles into it, he believes it.
He finds lodging. He suppers.
The townspeople believe it too,
his counterfeit of a life lived,
until one,
overcome with grief, walks the shore
and recognizes the ivory contours of his boat.
Word spreads through town
on hoarse voices. Soon all the mourning know.
Soon
the boldest of the bereaved approaches him,
perhaps at a tavern, where he downs an ale,
perhaps already on the docks,
securing a rigging for a voyage
he’s begun to sense he must take.
When the bereaved places a coin
in his rough palm,
the invented past dissipates,
as if it were a vapor, a fog seared away:
he sees clearly his ship’s frames
as the ribs of a skeleton.
Silently, then, he loads his freight,
turns the boat
back toward that same obscene shore,
drags the oar across the water
in the shapes of letters,
hoping to write the book of his dread,
one he can read as he paddles in return.

Downturn
What’s gone remains gone. When the Library at Alexandria
burned, scroll lit scroll. Whole languages died there.
The Colossus at Rhodes, felled by earthquake,
was eventually disassembled by order of the caliph,
carted off by camel, and smelted like scrap.
Pliny once wrote that the lankiest of the citizens of Rhodes
could barely wrap their arms around the fallen giant’s thumb.
And here, there is nothing but the wide arc
of cratered land. It’ll take decades for the foliage
to find its way back, and what grows here on battered ground,
ground which was fused to glass in places, will wrestle
its green from the grey. A thousand miles away,
a distance Alexander might have marched in seventeen days,
a distance a comet might pass in about two-and-a-half minutes,
fifty kids are sitting in a classroom, a few on the floor.
The teachers’ union likens the cuts to a crater,
likens the end of the bussing plan to deforestation.
They sound the alarm of the burning library.
But what’s gone is gone. There’s a theory of generations,
passed from middle manager to middle manager,
to describe the relentless pessimism older workers feel
about how dumb the younger workers are.
But the young, like staghorn ferns, adapt
and creep across the landscape: growth is inevitable,
even without much water, even without much sunlight.
They managed to muddle through The Great Gatsby,
they’ll manage to muddle through the market survival kits
every good capitalist eventually has to make for himself,
they’ll muddle through the whiskey and rye after five.
What’s gone is what the business world terms unflappability,
sticktuitiveness. What’s gone is the belief
in spitting watermelon seeds in the back yard,
visualizing them growing into those thick vines.
Concrete spreads, relentless as ivy, across the imagination.
The most recent Colossus fell during the tremors,
and we kept the pieces for a while, but eventually,
we couldn’t marvel at them without feeling some sorrow,
so we came with carts, and we melted those down too.

Monika Zobel

Monika Zobel is the author of a book of poems, An Instrument for Leaving, selected by Dorothea Lasky for the 2013 Slope Editions Book Prize (Slope Editions, 2014). Her poems and translations have appeared in Bayou Magazine, The Cincinnati Review, Four Way Review, Redivider, DIAGRAM, Beloit Poetry Journal, Mid-American Review, Drunken Boat, Guernica Magazine, West Branch, Best New Poets 2010, and elsewhere. She is a Senior Editor at The California Journal of Poetics—an online journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, and interviews—and the recipient of a Fulbright grant to Austria. Monika currently lives in Bremen, Germany.


Tell me
were you lonely as a lamp
left burning in a parked car?
I fell asleep and tipped
the house over.
What I remember of the windows,
what I remember of your voice—
lit up all night and something hiding
in the shadows.
I felt hungry in the carcass
of a sunken church. Angels
made me nauseous.
I called you from a dead
end, a machine picked up.
Your voice sounded trapped.
Too many closets inside the head
to hear the ringing.
Your sorry still runs back
and forth through the doorway.
I unhinged myself to open
and close many doors.

Carry Distance
February writes its obituary.
The park a little ribcage.
On the tram people stow
sadness and tomorrow’s leftovers
underneath their seats.
But the smell when it rains,
the smell when they rain
from stations built like homes
and shaken in five minute intervals.
I stay when travel is still
a procession of letters
not yet discovered to unravel
the birds, or thoughts.
In an empty apartment, listen.
How the drops from a faucet
grieve the sea, a sea
they’ve never seen.
I promise, grief needs no origin.
We carry a country’s darkness,
we carry distance, oranges
that are foreigners too.

Feels Like a Glove
Write the line that doesn’t end
and look behind every letter.
Dust reminds me of missing,
missing of memory.
Something plays the small
bones in my feet, never ceases
to play the broken keys.
Leave the city, I should,
like leaving a glove on the bus.
The body outgrows
every winter.
I read your words backwards
to get a hold of thoughts
that fell behind the bed.
A conductor whistles
at my grey station. And you
hold a ruler against the sky
to measure the distance
between two words—
here and there.

Claire Zoghb

Claire Zoghb’s first collection, Small House Breathing, won the 2008 Quercus Review Poetry Series Annual Book Award. A chapbook, Dispatches from Everest, is forthcoming. Her work has appeared in Connecticut Review, CALYX, Crab Creek Review, Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America (The Lebanon Issue), and Natural Bridge, among others, online at Sukoon, Assisi Online Journal and Mezzo Cammin: An Online Journal of Formalist Poetry by Women, and in the anthologies Through A Child’s Eyes: Poems and Stories About War and Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems. Twice a Pushcart nominee, Claire was the winner of the 2008 Dogwood annual poetry competition. A graphic artist and book designer, she is Graphics Director at Long Wharf Theatre.


Flower
In memory of Fadwa Tuqan, poet of the Palestinian people
All it takes
is a white flower
crushed
into a girl’s hand
by a boy with shy eyes
and a brother to notice
for doors to close,
windows to shutter.
But there is another brother
inside the dark rooms
who teaches you to weave
a chain of words so long
it can be thrown from the window
across the courtyard
over the fountain
into the mouths of the world.

Afghan Warrior
He rises before you from over the ridge --
His rolled pakul shades his black almond eyes
a tangle of beard sparse as the brush between these rocks
He carries Alexander and Genghis Khan in his DNA
tangled with generations of grandfathers taught
by every passing army how to deal with invaders
He carries a Kalashnikov like you held a Camel
those days you rolled your own: without thinking
He is January wind biting through the Hindu Kush
He carries the Koran in his memory, letter by letter
Nothing covers his fingers against the ice
He knows how to tangle with invaders like you --
He will give you just enough time to call on your .

Katyusha
Katyusha is a wartime song about a girl longing for her beloved and a multiple rocket launcher first used by the Red Army during World War II. The rockets make a distinctive moaning sound in flight.
Trailing a white ruffled sash
it flies due south
casts a shade
across the Galilee
so brief
no one notices.
Slender-waisted maiden
in a cloudless azure dress
how is it I know your name
and not the name of the first man you meet
he, at midday
in the orchard
green almonds
slipping
from his gnarled hand
eyes closing on a dream:
his wife as a girl
among sheep like clouds
at rest on the hillside
her khimar
the exact shade of the sky
she walks into
her name
a distant music on the wind.

 


Honorable Mentions
(In alphabetical order)

Elizabeth Grace Davis

Elizabeth Grace Davis is a first-year poet at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She is a creative writing instructor for Writers in Action and a graduate assistant for UNCW Student Media. Her work has appeared in various undergraduate literary journals.



Yarn Spinner, Third Shift
Dons’ hands crane across lengths of steady heat.
He catches the frays in deft automation, tethers them off
and loops each thread back into its white cyclone, clicking
the metal spires back in place. He shifts
on his haunches, attending his sunless garden. Fibers fall
back into their traceless rhythm. There’s light
blue paint on the walls, his hat, his badge. His motto: “Light
blue, through and through.” His boss is stressed; there’s heat
in his voice. He talks down to Don, calls him hoss. Next fall
marks thirty years, seven since his last raise. Three were laid off
last winter, so Don practices being grateful. He forbids the clicks
of his kid’s feet in the hall at dawn—a hushed house for his slow shift
into lonesomeness. He twists the blinds tight, clicks
on the TV, its familiar white noise. Don, his wife whispers, the light
bill’s on the fridge. Then she leaves. He forgets it for five shifts
straight, entranced with the curvature of overtime. He’s hot
for the cut of his check, the ding of the bell; he writes off
the extra hours as small little snooze buttons falling
from the sky like God’s great giveback prize. Don is smart, won’t fall
for the tricks, like carelessness, like tripping in front of forklifts, clicking
his hip in half. He’s lucky in life, won’t need to take off
months to heal just to be let go. Don doesn’t need weed to lighten
up, doesn’t need the bitterness, the stupid word searches, or heat
from pricey cigarettes—those trivial little splurges. Time shifts
for daylight savings. Don doesn’t notice. He’s yet to feel the shift
of his weakening gait, his heel spur, his bored heart falling
for the new knitter girl—if only for the daydream—the heat
of the yarn he spins for his buddies, the toungeclicking
of a night that never happened. The hour falls back. Fluorescent lights
snap themselves shut on Christmas, the factory’s only day off
in the year. Don knows the ground rules: don’t piss off
your supervisor. Suck it up when break’s done. Let your shift
pass how it seems to want to go, like motor purr, like lights
blinking on a stuck turn signal, like thirty years ago: that fall,
he just wanted some respect, wanted the crisp click
of cash, of a good woman, of coffee pot ignition, of the heater
in December, the fan in July, the steady settling of fall
leaves on his own property, the rapidfire clicking
of zipper teeth, keeping him warm with his body’s own heat.

Knitters
It’s hard to see the thread,
the thin white line so far away. Dexterous
fingers dance in fibers like spider’s legs looping,
pulling, tying off and
cooing strings back
into their cozy bundles.
One knitter hums all day. It feels natural to match pitch to engine, to rows
and rows
and rows
and rows
and rows
of steel tunnels.
Her throat seeps out a calm hum to a twenty-acre temper tantrum.
It trickles out to rest
in pools down in the
bowl of her collarbone; sometimes
it floats down to her hip, the holster;
sometimes
it puddles around her ankles;
sometimes
it reminds her that her mother was just there,
knitting,
that her sister-in-law is in the next row,
knitting;
sometimes
it sticks to her in a relentless humidity.
Still she plucks the threads, the strings.
She is her own accompaniment, and why not?
After all, each knitter has to carry her song Day in and
day out.
Day in and
day out.
Day in and
day out.
After all, no one else hears the song. Not the boss man walking by, his chart,
his shirt pocket. Not the sitter waiting back home, her cigarettes,
her messy purse, her upturned hand. Not the kids, their fresh feet,
their mouths full of teeth. Only her own fading sense of sound.
The hammer and anvil quiver in their place.
For years on end,
she can hear her ears pleading
Please. No more.


A Spinner to Her Husband
We are not less because you work nights and I work days.
We are less because there is no land on the clock for us to tenant,
no pile of minutes to make a pillow. We are less because there is no
spare hour to build ourselves a room.
Look at us: our collars and socks, our handcuff gloves, our scarves
flexed against our throats. I want to tear the hole in your jeans
wide open, let your skin breathe. Yes, less of this calloused denim,
more of your sheepish knee. Last night I dreamt of the kitchen table,
except the legs were made of our timecards. We crammed more underneath
at the end of each day, then found with time it was too towering to sit
and we, too tired to stand. Which one of us will say the obvious?
We made these restraints. Even when we manage to rid our layers at night,
sheets become another snare, their synthetic comfort. We wake up
untwisted from each other, unraveled at our ends.

 

Preston T. Martin

After retiring as a teacher in elementary schools, Preston Martin continues to teach and tutor, and to study and write in the Durham/Chapel Hill area. He has poems forthcoming in Iodine Literary Journal and in Every River on Earth: Writings from Appalachian Ohio (Ohio University Press).



The Facts
Walking home from a full morning
damming the stream with sticks and leaves
we trod up Depot Street.
As we passed Tommy Lucca’s house
I said it was sad Tommy had no father.
That’s when Raimon told us all
how things worked.
How everything fit together.
I stood right there in the street.
Picturing my parents in such situation
was absurd. I was indignant, sure.
Soon after someone came to visit,
I forget who, but they got my room. I slept
on the canvas Army cot
in the hall outside my parents door.
I almost called out when I awoke,
not knowing the soft noises.
As the noises rose, I knew. Why
didn’t I call out, make a sound?
I could have bumped my elbow on the wall,
I should have faked a cough or screamed,
cried out about a bad dream.
I was powerless, but to lie there, inert,
to picture, and hear, and hear.

The Getaway
In a rented convertible on a two-lane road
we rip through the swamps toward the Keys.
Salsa on the radio, snow fades from mind.
I pull to the side to light a cigarette. Suddenly
a shadow descends. An eagle crashes
into the ditch beside us and lifts immediately.
His wings and shoulders heave the air. A long snake
squirms and dangles from his talons.
Like a startling sentence you read and reread,
we watch and breathe and try to understand. And then,
where will that bird set down to work on that snake?
That’s what I wonder. The view of a lifetime
for that old snake, I think, then try not to think.
We get to Marathon by dark.
We have drinks and dinner under the clouds.
The eagle and snake hang in my mind all week.
On the flight home I sit by the window.
When the clouds clear
I know where I am.
I follow the highways to touch down in Cleveland.

At a New Place
As I doodled my math at the dining room table,
and grappled with eights and nines, I overheard
an exchange between Grandma and Father.
Just mumble, mumble, then both were shouting.
Mother shot to the kitchen to get in between.
Father stood at the sink and looked out at the church
and stirred his instant coffee. Three days later,
on Sunday morning, I lurked outside the kitchen door
and heard my Mother ask for money
for Easter offering. Whatever Father replied,
caused Mother to curse a word I didn’t know
she knew. I crept away to think.
A few hours later Mother served us
pot roast. After Father’s prayer, in her good apron
over her church clothes, she lifted the lid
of Grandma’s dutch oven. The smells
were so thick you could almost touch them.
Mother waited while I smashed my potatoes
and smiled as I put on butter and salt,
before she spooned on the dark oily broth.
Then carrots and celery, onions that fell apart
like old roses with a touch of the fork. The roast,
dark, stringy, dissolved in my mouth.
Streaks of sweet fat glistened
in the light pouring in the back window. 

Posted on 2015-04-14

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