Richard Foerster’s seventh poetry collection, River Road, was published by Texas Review Press in 2015. Among his many honors are Poetry magazine’s Bess Hokin Prize, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, and two poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. A native of the Bronx, New York, for the last 30 years he has lived on the coast of southern Maine.
Tor and torque, this endless torah
of waves, their spikes and spillage
unscroll like EKGs at my feet. What
communion today is not infected
with the broadcast stain of human presence?
The sun’s a pustule beneath bloodied gauze,
and to probe the morning’s wind by how
the seagulls brood on its adversity
is not to escape the static I cannot dial away:
Nine squatting black-backed gulls
are trained upon the heart of it,
sleek as bullets scoured of sentiment,
unruffled by the fiery salvos of the air.
Such grace, we say, or bravery when it’s met
dead-on like this, and absolution too
for anyone standing among them, waiting
for the blades of his better-angel wings
to scissor wide as if on cue
and cut through the currents
of this or any other brutal day.
I’ve watched it all before, how a body
shudders a bit, as if uncertain, then edges
slowly higher to veer, sudden, up and out
above the waves. Wind-snagged, like smoke
or an incense woven into the ashen nave
of the clouds—isn’t this what we’d prefer
to think, watching them dissolve,
the nine as one, into fathomless history?
But this morning a tenth one remains
balanced on a yellow leg, its head twisted
back in the inelegant posture of a yogi.
It cocks a defiant eye which seems to hold
in its gaze all the entanglements it’s seen
of severed lines and baited hooks, the debris
our species sheds like skin, and the shadow
I too am known to cast, dark as hate across the sand.
Clyde is old and does not care
the sparrow—not a foot
from where his muzzle, flush
with the parched lawn, twitches
in faint awareness and snorts
up tiny clouds of dust—
is gleaning bristles of shed fur,
a whole sheaf now held
in her beak, comical almost,
like a handlebar mustache,
tilting this way then that
as the bird eyes the ground,
intent, till burdened to the max
she wings off and ducks beneath
a knotted clump of grass . . .
only to return minutes later
to forage next among
the downy hairs between
Clyde’s shoulder blades.
The bird notes me noticing
but knows we three are sworn
conspirators in the same creation:
this business of quiet taking,
the measured weave, the fated
cup left on open ground, and the song
we’d have break toward evening.
Pan and the She-Goat
At the end of one of the galleries is a small room kept locked . . . in which
is placed a single bronze statue of a goat and satyr in a joined unnatural
position, that with decency cannot be described, and had it been mine
I would have thrown it into the burning mountain . . .
—N. Brooke, Letter of May 14, 1794
Not bronze, but the illusion of what a chisel
let remain: stone enfleshed by its flaws, the ferric
stain more true to pelt than pure Carrara could be.
At the Villa of the Papyri decades before, convicts
had labored under the Vesuvian weight of the god’s
embrace and bore it on a litter back into light.
In their furs and frippery, the Bourbon king
and all his court at Portici awaited yet another
splendor unearthed for their amusement. But what
had the diggers promised beyond a polished hint
of marble? Then came a glimpse of horns,
then upraised hooves, the goatish gaze. Free
to stand at last, the men in their grime
saw first and (adjusting their pants) sniggered
at the pair caught in the common sweat
of such pleasant labor. —Bestial obscenity
their betters claimed, not just in the way Pan
penetrates his prize, but in the way his stare
thrusts against a barrier they’d keep impermeable.
But look how his ears prick toward any sound of her,
how his lips advance and brim with a word unspoken,
a kiss withheld, the wonderment of release delayed,
how he holds her fast by chin and haunch
even as her foreleg, which could cleave his skull
in an instant, lolls beyond panic. See how her gaze
delves his. All of nature, and not, burns in her eyes
as the rusted hinges creak wide at the click
of that epiphanic lock and we at last, peering—
again unmasked, depthless and dark—erupt
into the other with the force of lava.
John Gosslee edits PANK, Fjords Review and directs C&R Press. Project notes at johngosslee.com
My Body is a System of Enlightenment
What if the gods of whatever
come to my house and test me,
but look like a blue jay dive bombing robins
as they feed in the yard?
I lope down the mountain side,
but my wings won’t open.
Grey stone buildings freckle
My feet are covered in scar tissue,
the toes are fused, where have I run?
Angels put their hands on my shoulders
and hold me in place.
The hatchet lain against the sapling
fuses into the trunk over time.
The cat comes across the table
because it wants the birds.
My hand on its head, its purr
like a little earthquake ready to swallow the world.
Day of Lost Things
I want to bring the rain forest into the house,
but not talk about the animal bones
stacked up to my waist like books in the hallway
no one knows how to read.
I’m done with the world of dead leaves,
the laptop’s blank glow on the desk,
the snow pillaring in the street
as the road crew anchors salt and gravel.
We miss each other in the letters.
I put the cover on the futon early in the morning,
wipe the bottom of my feet,
set the world on silent before I go to sleep.
Sometimes the distance of the stars terrifies me,
I watch Orion’s belt move across the tree’s bare crown.
The files full of other people’s histories
are sorted on the floor, the prison of language
alongside the hum of my first voice
and something vague I don’t remember
are in the measure of the log’s flame
coughing out of the fire pit.
I smoke because my consciousness
is in the exhale, the trees, the soft voice
above the rasp I hear at the party
echoing long into the night after I leave to study
the certificate that fences in the city.
The camera records the steps from the door
to the cross-hatched brick sidewalk,
the rope of car horns and sirens tying down the night’s peace.
Samiah Haque is a Kundiman Fellow, and has received her MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan where she was the recipient of a 2014 Hopwood Award in Poetry. Her work has most recently appeared in Santa Clara Review, Nashville Review, Paper Darts, CURA, Winter Tangerine Review and elsewhere. A Bangladeshi-American poet, raised in Saudi Arabia, she currently lives in Ann Arbor.
The Black Stone
To my mother Saudi Arabia is both exile and homecoming. The darkness of the Ka’aba in Makkah a rock, a stronghold. When her mother died on her thirteenth year, it was God’s breasts that filled her mouth.
The story goes that the stone was once dazzling white, only gathering darkness with the sins of every pilgrim who kissed it over the centuries.
My mother did not kiss the stone to be rid of sins. Rather, kissed it for it to carry her sins, to lift them from her body and take them to God—through this, bring her closer to him.
To my mother this was the closest she could return home, the mute black oceans of the Ka’aba, the heavy rock that pulled her close to its heart.
Though she remembered the bustle of Bangladesh, the wide fields and mountains and ripe fruit in the red mud of her village, those memories grew distant with the years.
My grandmother’s passing closed the old country to her.
Years later, she meets my father who brings her to Jeddah, to an apartment forty-five minutes from the Holy Mosque. As close to God as she could imagine in this life.
There are countless stories behind the etymology of the city’s name. The one I believe with the most conviction is that it is derived from jadda the Arabic word for “grandmother.”
It is the city where Hawa—Eve—is been buried in. I picture her in her tomb, heart beating beneath our city.
To me, Jeddah is waking up early in the morning to the strains of the muezzin’s as salatu khairun min an noum.
Prayer is more exalted than sleep.
My father coming home from the mosque before daybreak, his white thobe clinging to him in static.
He lays the sweating plastic bag of freshly baked loaves on the dining table in the bedroom of our two-room apartment.
These loaves are tapered to points on either end. Some mornings I find my mother has torn the ends off, eaten them with honey and labneh.
First, the Pilgrimage
Sometimes my sister and I come home from school to the sound of the sewing machine, the bedroom door closed.
When my mother emerges from the room, the ground is covered in snips of cloth.
I wish creation to be as scattered, as holy, and as akin—
She begins by searching for cloth in the historic downtown of the city, Souk al-Balad, close to where Hawa is buried.
By the time my parents arrived in Jeddah, the graveyard had been cordoned off by Wahhabis, to prevent idol worship of her tomb.
Around it the city had blossomed into peddler’s carts selling everything from gum Arabica to luggage, strings of pearls—
so genuine the sellers would bite them for you, stamp on them, throw them against the ground, burn them, and hold them up, still shining—carts of oranges and stalls of fresh guava and mango juice and row after row of dingy gold shops, walls lined with red velvet and 24-carat gold jewelry.
Years later we return to those shops to buy jewelry for my sister’s wedding, and perfume for her husband.
My mother likes a certain zest of color. She likes it when flowers are little she likes the purity of single colors.
She runs her fingers along bolts of cloth stacked up on one another, covered with a film of grime from sand.
Only the bolts of white cloth at the ends of the carts would be covered in plastic to protect their whiteness. She reveres the bolts of white cloth. Reminder of death—the kafan is always white—a reminder of God.
The process of finding the right cloth, the right weave, is a lesson in chemistry, a lesson in attention.
Touch the cloth in this way. Rub it between your fingers. Light a corner of it in flames. Are the ashes sticky?
She buys a few meters of cloth and lets it sit in her cupboard. Sometimes for months. Sometimes years, folded neatly in stacks.
When I was nine, my mother made me a green dress.
The Green Dress
The marble grounds of Al-Haram were first our playing grounds, then our worshipping grounds. My sister learned how to make roses with plastic cups, how to make lanterns.
She learned it from a Syrian woman who was teaching her own children how to play in those long hours between Isha prayer and Fajr.
In those hours my sister my magician, sitting cross-legged at the center of dark red Persian rugs stretched along the marble grounds
making rose after rose for little children, sent by their curious mothers, drawn to my sister’s deft lips and fingers
as she made little marks on the rims of the cups, bit hard, then tore them into strips.
She could see from the corner of her eyes that my breasts were filling out, new curvature to my posture. My clumsy attempts at hiding my changing body.
Once, she asked if she could touch me. Her bedroom dark, her eyes full of marvel and sorrow.
My mother who shies from displays of affection, my mother who has never once said I love you to me or to anyone else brings her fingers to my chest with a weight of tenderness that in my adolescence I cannot bear to witness.
The material was cotton. It was a green laced with yellow and brown. A kind of true green, like a wilting leaf. It had short sleeves because I was still too young for my mother to start sewing me long sleeved dresses.
It had laces at the back of the dress, and buttons all the way down to my waist. In the front, she had sewed a vest made with a cloth patterned with rosebuds.
The vest was for purposes of concealment. The rosebuds, because they were beautiful and because she had run out of green cloth.
David Brendan Hopes is a poet, playwright, and painter living in Asheville, NC.
Three Poems from the Hidden Verses of Ibn Dawud
In the Garden of Unearned Delight
There is a book in which there is no doubt,
a guide to those who seek the Way,
a comfort to those who trust in the Unseen,
who maintain the prayer
and spend only what was provided for them.
Who are certain of the Hereafter.
This is not that book.
I sat me down in the garden
to compose the Book of Doubts.
I took a chair under the cedar trees
to compose the Song of Crossroads
where there is always a choice and never a sign.
I begin, of course, with the recitation of lineage:
Adam who heard his Father’s word
and, as any son would, shrugged it off;
Abraham who, in the presence of the delectable slave girls,
would not wait;
Moses who struck the rock twice to be sure;
our mothers and fathers, who by an hour’s vanity,
a punishment unjustified, wrecked conviction
of the great Dome solid from the base to crown.
One’s colleagues are righteous in the marketplace,
but when alone with their devils
they light their little candles, the needless,
the manifold, in confusion each
contradicting the others’ light. What they know of God
is rolling darkness edged with lightening,
like a storm out of the desert.
They are caught up.
The foxes hear their cries.
They will not come back.
God besieges the faithless.
Yet here I sit in the garden of unearned delights.
A catbird bathes in the still pools.
I presume He has not found me out,
the One who punishes and sets right.
I could wait a while longer.
I could set out cakes and cooling beverages–
the kind that draws the kindred I desire–
I could purify myself with limpid waters.
The catbird at the basin’s rim pauses,
plucks at two feathers under his gray wing.
“Look,” he says, “a dark wind whirling from the desert.
Edged with fire."
The High Places of Babylon
The high places of Babylon sink like ships into the sand.
Jackals haunt the temple precincts.
Owl vomits his spent mouse upon the implements of queens.
The River lifted her skirts and went another way.
It’s all in the Hebrew prophets,
what comes of too much victory,
of taste exceeding in refinement, apparently, God’s own.
Yet I pick my way to the dead city
with a blue hood over my head.
Bring a tidbit for the jackals and they’ll let you pass.
I find comfort here. I find comfort
walking in the world that was before the world began,
before the Instruction, before the stern Instructor
at once imperative and ambiguous.
I come here for heart’s ease, for the blood
and purple flowers brought from the world’s end
a thousand years ago and set in a garden that is gone,
themselves enduring, miraculous, for this little while.
The Scriptures name a thousand ways to die.
A broken heart is not among them. Yet that is the portal
open before me. One chooses less than is supposed.
I say to the high places of Babylon,
“Be revealed in all the wicked glory that once was!”
Owl answers, the jackal bitch with the
shadows of her little ones lined up behind her
in the moonlight. This is what comes of everything.
It is an unexpected comfort. I might die of what I please.
I might curl up in the sands and be forgotten.
The lights of living Baghdad glitter in the distance.
When it is dust, lovers shall come to the ruined places,
to the jackal haunted precincts, the gore-stained tiles
and the twisted stems, to the empery of owls.
Someone will have told them that someone, sometime
died for love. They will wait under the traversing moon
until they hear a voice, not knowing any longer it is mine.
The Conversation between Ibn Jami, Ibn Dawud
I will put a veil over my face before I go into the street.
I will place a veil because in the mirror I saw such beauty.
I want nobody to see it before you.
Through the shadowed streets and the sunstruck ones
people will be wondering, “What could lie behind the veil?
Some great beauty hoarded for a lover,
some sad disfigurement hidden from the mockers and pitiers.”
Only you will know, when I am safely gathered in the
walled garden, when the nightingales have ceased
their calling in the hour of first light.
I will hear your footsteps approach across the tiles.
I will await . When you say, “What?” I’ll lift the veil.
You will cry out, “God is great!.” Of all the Faithful
crying that in the vaulted mosques at first prayer call,
you alone know what it means.
My love awaited in the garden as the day broke.
He wore a veil in honor of the veil the world
wears at that hour, covering the scarlet and the ivory,
covering the black curve of brows like the moon
of a backwards universe bowed in its white night.
I don’t know what he expected when he raised the veil.
I fell down onto the little flowers, knees wet with dew,
crying, “God is great!” Only the Faithful
in the vaulted mosque knew what I meant.
Lovers overheard me crying the words in to God’s breast.
I see my father striding in from the desert,
leaning on his staff of wild thorn.
His one robe, his one wife, the one road
received from the Prophet from which he never varied.
I meet him at the gate, so he will not be mocked
for his simplicity–as I in fact mock him,
the creases on his face reddened with dust,
the difficult language he speaks
in which there is only yes and no.
“I have a beloved,” I say. He smiles,
for this is “yes” and it is grandchildren
and it is him at the font of a flood of progeny.
I tell him the beauty of my beloved is the swift
sun on the face of the Two Rivers, gold and
ravishing, hemmed about with the long-legged birds.
I tell him I veil my face to let my eye light on nothing
before the face of my beloved rising soft from sleep.
He knows I am a poet.
I regale him with tropes learned in the Caliph’s waiting room.
I feed him with delicacies he had not dreamed of.
I bathe his body in the scented oils.
Laden him with gifts for the journey home.
He says, “Son, it is time to speak the truth.” I say,
The truth is this: against your advice
I have come to the labyrinth and was not lost.
I have come to the garden of deceptions
and was not deceived.”
The difficult poetry of the mystics maintains
that God’s second witness are those damned for love,
whose hellfire is the fire of love
from which they would not be released.
Their flower is the rose, betrayed by its own intricacies.
Their flower is narcissus, who chooses
and gazes at one still point forever.
Their element is flame that rekindles desire anew
even as previous desire is by many violences attained.
Even the damned are lovers, whose ways
are longer than the world, the dark rose and the dark road
they are treading until the unforeseeable coming home,
when God Himself cries “Ah!” We are blessed
in a God who suffers Himself to be loved.
We are blessed in the God who sows Himself
among the bodies that all love might be His.
I have awakened from dreams in which God is my lover
into the room where you are my lover and perceived
no time has passed, no space traversed--
lips to His lips, heart to His heart in yours.
I know you are coming veiled to me through dark streets,
that when you arrive I will cry out “Who?”
and when the veil is raised I will not know you.
I will fall upon my knees crying the Holy Names
one must not cry but at that hour
I know that my heart’s blood will stream upon the tiles.
That you will bend. That you will lift me up.
Jenny Binckes Lee lives, writes & whispers to growing things in Kensington, Maryland. Stringing words together is how she reminds herself to notice bravery, kindness & the quicksilver beauty of small things
Our orbits have evolved
into this and that, me
the wrong notes, you
singing water across the skies.
My dear, lean into the sadness
of me, of this very room, this dry
and sightless country.
There might be joy then
If there are colored
bottles placed against the
curve of your
upstairs window, then
they are fluted truths,
missives from another
singing time. And if we
insist upon their color,
their strange confetti
joy, we will thrive.
The Face of Small Beauty
In the East Frisian Tea Museum
you learn that the townsfolk of Nörden
drink tea out-of-doors, even when
the wind whips up corners of tablecloths
and grandfathers lose their walking caps
to the sky.
No matter. Here, roses bloom
across every white teapot, whatever
the weather or time of day.
Cream, too, can open like a flower
in your cup. No one stirs.
On this estuary of the North Sea
even the windmills are known to be
is a first year PhD student in poetry at Georgia State University, but grew up in Mississippi and North Carolina. A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, Joshua’s published or has poems forthcoming in The Kentucky Review, Soundings Review, The Concho River Review, The San Pedro River Review
, and elsewhere. His chapbook Passing Through Meat Camp
was a finalist in the 2015
*italics from Mark 16:17-18 & Acts 28:1-6
Because of the present rain,
and because of the cold,
a viper rises from a wicker basket,
coils around a preacher’s shovel-spent hands
as simple pews bear the weight
of the now-standing faithful.
Here, where land slopes like gaunt cheekbones,
they shall take up serpents,
call upon He-who-moves-them as venom
drips from fang to wrist,
as the preacher’s words begin
to tangle like calves in barbed-wire,
and the serpent, tempted by neck-flesh,
heeds its own holy call to strike.
Screams of children, thud of dropped bibles,
the air turns thick with disbelief as man
and snake writhe on the dusty floor,
as the congregation stumbles back
toward their shacks, knowing nothing
can cast out devils from their bodies
and fields now, from the mines
they must descend come Monday,
carrying neither canary nor God.
Cabin on Rough Ridge
Here where the front porch
groans from the weights
of our boots and wind whistles
through wood slats we stand
before a door we know
we shouldn’t enter, feel another time’s
last breath brush against the splinters.
Something about this house brings
us here, its logs sagging like flesh
from old bones, its windows emptier
than sockets in a mule’s skull,
and through the walls another
sound seeps- an infant’s whimper
as the fire smolders, turns cold
as cast-iron clanks in the hands
of a young mother whose husband
doesn’t have a lick to get them through winter,
who knows the pangs of a coalmine
are better than an empty stomach.
How could they have known we’d be here
long after the last coal crackled,
searching for souls inside their house’s
hollow body? How could they have known
we’d pray for even the faintest flicker
of life-light in that dead and forgotten home?
Under The Fallen Dock
Some nights my brother and I swim
beneath the wreckage of the dock,
our feet kicking up mud and rusted nails,
the spiders slinking down on us from the splinters.
We bob between the well-worn beams,
dive to the frontier of fallen cleats
where the voices in our house
can’t reach us, where our grandmother’s
cancer-slimmed body doesn’t manifest
in clouds of stirred-up silt.
We are young and new to grief.
Loss is just beginning to wrap
its cool fingers around our waists.
In a couple of empty summers
the remains of the dock will be gutted
and taken to the county dump, but tonight
our hands slap wood slimed with algae
and we believe we’ll sit on the edge
of this rebuilt kingdom again
as daylight draws in, our lines
cast into deeper water, our limbs
feeling nothing but the pull of furtive fish.
Samuel Piccone was born and raised in Colorado. He is an M.F.A. candidate in poetry at North Carolina State University and holds an M.A. in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. His poetry won the 2016 NC State Poetry Contest, received honorable mention in the 2016 Event Horizon Science Poetry Contest, and was first runner-up for the 2015 Kay Murphy Prize in Poetry. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including, The MacGuffin, Chronogram Magazine, New Plains Review, and Thin Air Magazine. He currently serves on the poetry staff at Raleigh Review.
Things I Wish I Told my Mother
Thank you for rescuing me from Clint’s trailer
on the Wilhelm family junkyard
out near the Uncompahgre River.
I didn’t have fun at his birthday party.
I shouldn’t have slept over there.
You were right not to like him.
He traps junkyard crows.
Keeps them in a silver cage
atop an old cattle ramp.
I think their song
sounds so painful,
like death is talking for them.
I’m eight years old and I think
I’m already afraid of the world
and embarrassed to say so.
Clint showed me
how to hold crows
like bouquets of flowers
and pry open their beaks
with scissor blades—their tongues
I don’t want to talk at school anymore.
Boys tackle me on the playground
and shove crickets in my mouth.
Once I swallowed one—it tasted
like wet dandelions. When I tried
to cry for help, all I could do was chirp.
It will be hard to forget
how bird blood is black.
Did you know you’re supposed to
cut their tongues out? Clint says
it’s the only way to teach them
how to talk.
Brief History of Vaurie’s Nightjar (as told by Charles Vaurie)
No one believed
I held you.
the tundra of Xinjiang.
under piles of snow-leaves.
the color of shadow-moss.
I told the ornithologists
back in Pennsylvania
Pliny was wrong
to call you goatsucker,
too small to fit around an udder.
traded milk for poison,
never left nannies cursed visionless.
I told them
Catesby was wrong
to paint the fringed hair around
like fangs—they look more
on a red petunia blooming in the dark
and the reason
your open beak
rises to the winter sun
is to warm the glossy egg
your petal-tongue, and that proves
all silent creatures
are keeping something safe,
noble secrets sustained by time,
thrown into myth,
by history. There is a purpose
silences; we need to know it.
My colleagues said,
For us to believe this bird exists,
you have to prove it.
I hadn’t taken photos.
swallowed my notes.
bring myself to speak anymore.
I should have
kept that story for myself.
My Pitbull’s Name is June Bug
It was the summer I noticed Iowa smelled like a train slowing
through a town—the air trailing behind all sweet corn sunning
in a truck bed, ripe apples in fog, water tower steel, steaming
rainstorms, grass so wet and thick it turned to cloverweed.
It was the summer I did my best Theodore Dreiser impression,
jerking off after every page I wrote, picturing myself as a horsefly
champing the bowl of rotten limes and roses on the kitchen
counter as I waited for you to get home, kiss me, touch me.
Instead, you told me about the dogs you saved, the dogs you put to sleep.
It was the summer June Bug couldn’t stop chewing her paws, the
pads peeled raw. I sat with her on the front porch watching the
maple shadows bleed across the evening. I scratched the rash on
her balding chest. I covered her paw with my hand and let her
lick until my fingers chapped. I smoked cigarettes and scribbled out
the butts in the spaces between her red footprints.
You came home with a cardboard box of sweet corn and I told
you how cigarette beetles were once called “corojo pests,” used
to eat perique from barrels in general stores. How they brew
yeast beneath their shells and release it after giving birth or right
before death. How life and death coalesce in them and how
much sense that made to me.
I noticed the dead beetles on the windowsill. I remembered
the poison I sprayed around the house in late spring to keep
them away. I watched one suffer final spasms, legs upturned and
flinching, caramel shell in a pool of yellow mess.
How strange it felt to realize June Bug’s paws were yeast infected
because my cigarette drew beetles to poison, chasing tobacco the
way I chased tobacco, chased your touch, waited for you to love
me. I couldn’t decide if I felt guilty or enlightened anymore. Then
a train wafted past behind our house, and steel and lime and
cloverweed, and June Bug chewed her paw, and you said I don’t
think that’s it, and I waited for you to kiss me.
Barbara Presnell’s latest poetry book, Blue Star, forthcoming from Press 53, traces her family’s involvement in war from the Civil War to the present through military records, census reports, letters, journals, and photographs. Her book, Piece Work, won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Prize. She has published poems in War, Literature, and the Arts, The Southern Review, Malahat Review, Appalachian Journal, Chariton Review, and other journals and anthologies. She has received grant and residency support from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Kentucky Arts Council, Soapstone, Inc., and Willapa Bay AiR.
The Pink Vase
Sixty dollars, said the appraiser at the estate sale
which is what we wrote on the tag we tied
around the neck of the blown glass container,
size of a coffee cup, color of a bougainvillea
or the Dutch irises that sprang up in the side yard
each June, but at noon it sat there still, unbought,
this favorite of our mother’s, so we dropped the price
to thirty then fifteen then ten, the house almost empty
by then but for the World Book encyclopedias,
forty-year-old flatware, and other unwanteds,
all of which, late that afternoon, we were hauling
to Goodwill when the front right tire jumped a curb
sending everything flying everywhere, onto the floorboard,
between the seats, down the small space by the door,
the pink vase projectiled past the headrest
to the front windshield. It was summer.
The brilliant sun fell down at the edge of the world
and splintered into thousands of pieces.
July Walking Meditation
This for the June bugs that float in the field,
their shiny green backs quivering with dew.
This for the rain that hides under leaves,
the dampness beneath them festering with grubs.
This for the sweet gum balls at my feet,
the broken limbs that stumble in my path.
This for the squirrel who has no tail,
his wobbly leap from branch to branch,
for the thrashers molting in the dirt,
the split-winged crow zig-zagging overhead.
This for the rabbit, oblivious to the hawk.
This for the hawk with blood on his beak.
This for the Budweiser Lite in the bushes,
the Gatorade bottle empty in the grass,
the cigarette butts, the Hardees receipt,
the condom rolled outward, the gum in a wad.
This for the June bugs, a month too late,
so many I could walk their crusty green backs.
Walking the Pup after the Old Dog Dies
In the park, night sky seeped in purple,
our neighbor and his boy have stopped on the path
and are looking up. Satellite, says the man.
Do you see it?
I see the moon, its tilted head, a single star,
and a plane, swift-moving and flickering.
It is early May. Warm air brushes
against the cool backdrop of spring.
My husband, weary from loss and shoveling
through red clay, says, Maybe it’s our little dog,
looking down on us. We lost her, you know.
The neighbor lowers his eyes to notice
our solitary pup, who has sniffed the collar
of the dead one and moved on.
No, it’s a satellite,
says the boy. We saw it on the news.
Across the quiet evening, I hear a northbound train.
A pair of joggers rounds the trees, talking.
Sorry about your dog, says the man as we walk on.
When they can no longer hear us, I ask,
Did you see a satellite? My husband
shakes his head. I think it was
that plane moving. Whatever it was,
it’s gone now.
Martin Settle is a poet and assemblage artist, who resides in Charlotte, NC. He has masters degrees in English and Communications and has taught for 32 years, the last 17 of which were at UNC Charlotte. In 2015, Main Street Rag published his poetry book The Teleology of Dunes, and he has another book on haiku Coming to Attention that will soon be published in 2016. He believes that he has succeeded in following his destiny, even though at times he has had to be dragged into it screaming.
The Great Stream
in remembrance of Don Chamberlain (1952-2014)
testing the waters
I find nymphs beneath the stones.
trout, you said,
only exist in the purest streams.
fog rises in patches from deeper pools.
there are ghosts this morning,
signs radiate from beneath the mirror
where mouths feed on the surface.
I see the short-lived caddis flies
swarming in filtered light,
a new hatch urgent to mate.
they will be today’s communion.
I choose the sympathetic fly –
“match the hatch” you said –
and I tie the knot you taught me,
seven, ritualistic loops tightened with spit
to secure the hook
I cannot fish without your presence.
the signs were there for you, too,
polluting poisons from the pancreas
that bloated your abdomen
and darkened your urine.
the doctors told you
your time would be brief.
then we fished and fished
laying out line after line
casting in companionship to catch hope.
in the end you could barely walk the water
but you continued
until your colon silted up in cancerous sand.
I walk up midstream alone now
fishing like we used to.
my line laying out offerings
like a magician’s hand.
a large trout rises from the pool.
I feel the tug, then taut fight for life,
innocence fooled to the death.
soon it will be part of me.
you never believed in god.
I can only say I believe the great stream
that moves through the Milky Way
is speckled with life,
carrying with it mysteries
of eat and eaten and return.
it would not surprise me in this flow
to see you up ahead.
Reunion and Homecoming
written for a 50th high school reunion on the bluffs
of the Mississippi
half century of exile
enough to know there is no cheating.
I should have danced with the girl in the corner
stood up to the bully
skipped school in cloud absolution.
should have wandered to hidden chapels
should have trusted blindfolds
should have stood closer to the fire
I summon today that whistling boy
in numerology of 1325 Lind –
you too are with him –
down the street, up the alley
in the park with ball glove, bike
in Putt Putt nights
near the house where I kissed Phyllis
I return by the sunset gate
where I first was called away,
embrace that boy,
tell him I have lost and gained faith
lost and gained a wife
lost parents became a parent
crawled out of holes of disillusionment
celebrated on crests.
he tells me that he and I are one
that he has never left me
always at my back
in cut grass vapors
in burning leaves
shooting baskets in twilight
quick behind my eyes in the mirror
I summon you
who have walked with me
in many processions
to open-mouth schools
to communion rails of tongues
to ceremonies of robes
our names being called one at a time.
down sacramental aisles with white-laced spouses
down gold-handled paths to tombs
always thinking whose turn next
I summon those who have gone before
through the darkest door –
in the name of Bill Abel
mythological boy first slain ora pro nobis
of John Schutte
restless romantic doomed to early death ora pro nobis
of Larry Waterkotte, the loving bear
of Leo Vogel, tragic Huck Finn orate pro nobis
of Sancte Kolodziej,
Sancte Muldoon, Sancte Brinks orate pro nobis
blesséd be their sanctity
blesséd be the unceasing river
blesséd be our bodies that wrinkle in the wind
blesséd be the torches of old teachers
blesséd be the divine aroma of nuns
blesséd be the waxed-floor corridors, locker doors slamming
blesséd be the quarterback, the nerd, the clown
blesséd be the stuttering, the shy, the bold, the polio embraced
blesséd be the male and female body, the courtship syrup
blesséd be our children and children’s children
blesséd be the dead that cease to breathe but not inspire
blesséd be the burden of youth that was ours
have you failed enough to forgive?
have you betrayed enough to withhold judgment?
have you lived long enough to be condemned and redeemed?
you have been in my dreams
dust dancing in curtain light.
once I thought I knew what was best for me
once I thought I was lighter than my losses.
I would speak now for consolation
in the buoyancy of shared sorrow,
in the consecration of your faces
tinted on the horizon
reflected in the river
ahead I see
the layered limestone bluffs weep tears,
the floods cycling, the silt settling,
in new generations of bottomland corn.
And I see once more the statue
of angel and child above the grade school door
and read, as when I first could read,
that double-edged message
“GOD’S WILL, THE END OF MAN”
beyond that vision
I only have hope
for a homecoming where the ancestors wait
with time enough to tell all the stories
until we see each other for the first time
in a merciless light that allows mercy,
burning away all earthly crust
until we stand purified
pillars of flame
Response to Creation Museum in St. Petersburg, KY
cynical after leaving the museum –
a pterodactyl with fur? really?
I pull onto the highway.
the righteous heart is a bitter nut.
heading west partially blinded
I am angry with the sun.
the fallow fields stretch out
in seasonal dullness.
maybe the engine’s hum
will eat my mood.
out of corn stubble
I notice black motes
rising like gauzy fabric.
a whirlwind of starlings
blaze into the horizon.
thousands turning through themselves
in centerless synchrony.
I pull off the road
to witness sheets
of fluttering sunlit wings,
shifting, twisting in pointillist patterns.
their jubilance a hand reaching down
opening my throat
but directless swirl
eddies creating eddies
each bird playing its part
in close proximity without accident
unaware of larger schemes.
I wanted to be among them,
I was among them.
the cells of my body among them
bacterial colonies in me among them
genes of ancestors among them.
ever altering forms
I get back in my car
the living dust had spoken.
how dull the cross sign
plus or minus religion.
nothing has ever reached me like swarm,
name I now keep for god.
Jon Tribble is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by Southern Illinois University Press. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology. His first collection of poems, Natural State, was published by Glass Lyre Press in 2016. His second collection of poems, And There Is Many a Good Thing, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2017.
Not a flame or a flicker I would see
when someone set fire to the night
outside the camp in 1963 or ’4 or ’5,
and I too young to know my father
had told the camp director before him
that if he had to own a gun to be here
he wouldn’t be here long, my father
who had trained Marine officers at
Quantico after World War II at a now
peace-time rifle range and then never
to my knowledge picked up a gun again.
They burned the cross because they said
he was a communist who wanted to mix
the races, put white and black together
for summer medical camps in Arkansas
where mentally handicapped children,
teens, and adults could swim and canoe
under the shadow of another cross
marking the camp as United Methodist,
that cross’s reflection in the muddy water
the symbol marking the boundaries of
my childhood and young adulthood.
They were right, of course, about his
intentions if not the ideology they wanted
to paint him red with and turn him out,
but we stayed for eighteen years until
this past was just a poor memory he
only mentioned to me in passing, a story
he wanted to believe was of another era
before time left him blissfully unaware,
his dementia and Parkinson’s removing
the cruelty he worked against all his life
until the only mercy left was to leave it all—
the woods, the camp, the children and lake—
only devotion and halting prayers he uttered,
an empty cross and the hope it held for him.
Her coffin in the drawing room where
all light seems destined tonight
to trail away from kerosene lanterns
and candles into the scowl of storm
battering the front door, an unwelcome
caller paying its respects to husband
and middle son, two survivors whose
vigil guards the hearth and silent home.
Two sons too young to watch the night
through howl and biting rain fracturing
the Alabama dark, two others off waging
Pacific and European conflict; daughters
all in other homes or traveling through
dusk and dawn to bring mourning's shared
sustenance—the shudder and embrace, tears
and memories of other siblings stillborn
or lost, the hardships the red earth spills
out equally and unjustly, but the trees
will hold on tonight, hold on for years
beyond this house burning and just
a memory, like the one dark portrait
she sat for, unsmiling, sensing too many
children, too few years would leave only
a husband’s name to gather her descendants.
Leslie Park Natatorium and Steamroom, 1968
Slick with sweat, slim minnow-hipped boys
pop rattails at thighs, too-white skin
too easy a target in clouds of heat.
Every angle of hairy legs, hands and towels
conceal and heighten the lazy genitals;
men who can’t look at each others’ bodies
talk to the air. Men only on Wednesdays,
midweek respite from Arkansas August.
The boys know shorts—at least briefs—
are the rule for swimming, but they dive in
anyway, shock the skin with a cycle
of hot and cold, pores braced in a violent
series of open and close. Next summer,
this pool will integrate, adding a Colored
side of three dripping spigots. They’ll pass
stricter rules to keep flesh hidden, afraid
of glances they can’t avert. But now
a group of older boys—thirteen or so—
foam the water with the push and slap
of a makeshift netless volleyball game.
The server rises from the shallow water
with a rush, body lifting like a cork
unsettled in its buoyancy. Slow voices
try to rise above the whoosh of steam,
settle into easy stories of bullfrog gigging,
duck hunting Stuttgart’s flooded rice fields,
State Playoff touchdowns and All-Stars
forever pump-faking and then throwing
the opposite field impossible pass.
A man in a wheelchair, his belly bright
red as one big blister, stares down
at the sweat running through the gray hair
of his legs, and someone else sitting
on the upper level—nostrils and mouth
covered with a towel for breathing through
heat—turns to his left and in swirling clouds
of steam sees a shadow, some future
companion, he won’t tell anyone about.