• Big Table Publishing

OCTOBER, 2020

Updated: Oct 15


To Godfrey, the Horse Who Rode My Secret

Evangeline Sanders

I remember grinding the metal pick

into the groove of the hoof, the chipping

and clumping of caked dirt and straw.

The acid stench of peat and ripe manure.

I tugged on the saddle straps and wedged

two fingers between the girth and damp

horse-belly, feeling for space. I pulled

them out slimy and streaked with sweat.

The saddle creaked as I clenched my thighs

and clicked my teeth. We trotted beside the

tire tread slush, past the Barbie doll tricycle

with the pink-and-white streamers and the

oak that stooped into the algae pond.

You glanced back at me with your speckled

eyes and peppered lashes, swishing your tail

from the flies and heat that nipped at our

skinny legs. You bucked me off, once or

twice, and I dropped like a coconut

into the dirt and cried.

It’s funny— I don’t remember how to clean

a hoof or strap a saddle. I can’t recall how

a clump of your hair felt in my fist, or how

the sun tasted as it cracked our lips and

caked our tongues. But I remember the

way you watched me when the evening

bled into the night and the stars crawled

shyly out. When I thought of him.

Good boy. Good boy, Godfrey.

You and your grinning eyes.

Evangeline Sanders is an undergraduate student living in Charleston, South Carolina. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eunoia Review, Teen Ink and Creative Communications. She is a two-time recipient of Teen Ink’s Editor’s Choice Award.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

You remember cigarettes

Carla Sarett

They say air in San Francisco

is like eight cigarettes a day.

And Manhattan's filled

with chain smokers.

They languish, ironically, in squares

Madison, Herald, Union, Washington.

Flaunting the older dangers

flicking their tattooed wrists.

You remember.

Cigarettes and coffee

your lipstick-stained butt,

burning in his ashtray

a quarter to three

they lit up the dark.

You remember ....

What we used to call risk.

Carla Sarett’s recent poems appear in Third Wednesday, Prole, One Art, Halfway Down the Stairs and elsewhere; her debut novel, A Closet Feminist, will be published in 2022. She lives in San Francisco.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Different Catalogues

Timothy C Goodwin

He continues washing dishes, after having just accidentally called her Laura.

He first thinks: GAAAAAAHHHHH

Then: Sure, I’m in love,* but that doesn’t mean the old files just get, like, deleted.

And: Maybe she didn’t catch it.

She caught it.

Catalogues it.

Catalogues, also, that he definitely recognized it, and now addresses it by asking her if she likes Doctor Who.

She shakes her head No and continues to dry the dishes.

*Again.

Timothy C Goodwin graduated in writing from The University of New Orleans and has been writing essays, music reviews, and interviews for local publications since then. He has written two novels, one firmly entrenched in rejection-letter phase, the other entrenched in editing purgatory. His latest piece, “Private Companion(s),” was published in Marathon Literary Review.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Theogony

Nicholas Shroeder

God had to decide what to do. Robots had wiped out the human race—in one fell swoop. But these robots, on the other hand; They were devout monotheists. And he really enjoyed their worship.

He could start from scratch. Design a brand new universe. But what a hassle. Wouldn’t the same thing just happen again? And the billions of years of boredom. God sighed.

God checked down on Earth. The robots were building a new church. The largest ever built. God concluded why not make the church even bigger. All he had to do was get in their heads’ and make them do it. He couldn’t do that with humans. There was that whole covenant of freewill he made. But he didn’t have a covenant with the robots. He could play with them like puppets.

God had such a great time moving things around, doing whatever he wanted without restriction.

Time passed, and then something happened... The robots recreated two humans in a lab—an act of mercy. They called them Adam and Eve.

“Fuck!”

Nicholas Schroeder is a philosopher, living in New Orleans, who enjoys writing flash fiction with a philosophical bent.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

What Goes Unseen

Christy Prahl

How is it that I’ve come to sleep in the car? An hour ago

we were fine. Mundane, even. Playing our favorite board game,

which you were losing, uncharacteristically, and you told me

you no longer cared about this game, at all, so I packed up

my tiles because winning seemed less important than the

feeling of simply being together in this broken universe, perhaps

on the brink of civil war, perhaps on the brink of fighting for

flour, of finding places outdoors to defecate because plumbing

required more water than we’d been rationed for the week.

Suddenly the packing up of those tiles became the

autobiography of our marriage, and it was terrifying

and vast in its emptiness, so we took out that pain on

one another because what other target did we have. Your

last move in the game was wear for just 14 points. Had we

continued, I would have added a y.

Christy Prahl is a philanthropy professional, foraging enthusiast, and occasional insomniac. Her past, current, and future publications include the Alaska Quarterly Review, Carolina Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, Blue Mountain Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, Bangalore Review, and Twyckenham Notes. She splits her time between Chicago and rural Michigan with her husband and plain brown dog.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Objects

Michael Loveday

“If you had to describe me as a household object, which object would you pick?”


“Do we really have to play this game?”


“Yes! Yes! Go on, what object?”


Simon thinks. It’s like balancing stacked coins – one false move and the whole construction will topple. She scrutinizes him with her bulging eyes. He wants to say magnifying glass of course. He’s the flaccid balloon that’s smouldering in refocused light. “I don’t know. Candle?” he offers. Sounds Romantic, big R.


"Not bad. Why?”


“You’re delicate, you light up the room, you’re relaxing to be around.” He feels pathetic, always crumbling into placating her.


“OK,” she says. “Now, your turn.”


He waits, eyes to the floor, chewing his nails.


“You’re a porcelain vase,” she says.


“A vase?”


“Without flowers,” she says, looking pleased with herself, and sits back in her chair.

Michael Loveday’s hybrid novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He is currently completing a flash fiction collection on the theme of secrets. He also writes poetry, with a pamphlet He Said / She Said published by HappenStance Press (2011).

~ * ~ * ~ * ~


My Day

Peter W. Yaremko

Mother called to say happy birthday as she does each year.

She told me of the day I was born: how she was at Woolworth’s on a winter’s spring afternoon, buying buttons for a sweater she knit.

Mothers did that. Knit sweaters for their babies. And there was always a Woolworth’s for the buttons.

Except this time she felt a little something that signaled a momentous day.

I teased, reciting the story along with her because she recited it to me annually.

She wanted me to remember my day. Because she had no one left in the world who remembered her day, where they were and what they did.

She wished it wasn’t so.

Mother’s gone now. So I have no one left in the world who remembers my day, where they were and what they did.

And I wish it wasn’t so.

Peter W. Yaremko is author of three non-fiction books: A Light from Within; Fat Guy in a Fat Boat; and Saints and Poets, Maybe. His novel, Billy of the Tulips, was released in 2018 by TouchPoint Press. Published poetry: Allegro Poetry Magazine, Ariel Chart International Literary Journal, Avalon Literary Review, Dual Coast Magazine, Loch Raven Review, Poetry Quarterly, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Third Wednesday Literary and Arts Journal.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

2020 is a Vampire

Kaecey McCormick

The world is a vampire, sent to drain…

Smashing Pumpkins, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”

It’s 2020 and like the song says, the world is a vampire.

A global pandemic has made us freeze in place or suffocate.

My country is being ripped apart by the same old fight for power

and those who bear the brunt of the war are pressed

deeper into the ground beneath the feet of white privilege.

Storms tear apart the land, flooding cities, drowning souls.

My state is consumed by flames that claim back the forests

and wipe away anything that gets in their way — no exceptions.

My city is covered in layers of smoke and ash beneath

an apocalyptic sky that casts an orange glow on us all.

The world is a vampire, sucking away life as we know it

while we stream videos on Netflix in staggering succession.

2020 should be a call to action, a call to arms, a call to sit up,

wake up, take notice and scream, What the fuck?

It should be a clear message that change is in order

and we can either be a part of it or get swept away

like the ash that litters the streets all around me.

In the midst of it all, as the fangs press down on my neck,

I can’t help but worry about what to make the kids for dinner

and the pimple erupting on my chin and did I remember

to put the wet laundry in the dryer and the slow spread

of my hips on my working-always-from-home chair.

I wish I could be a selfless savior of the masses.

Instead, I close my eyes and lean into its bite.

Kaecey McCormick is a writer and artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Named the 2018-2020 Poet Laureate for the City of Cupertino, her work appears in the book Pixelated Tears (Prolific Press) and numerous journals and anthologies. When not creating, Kaecey enjoys time with her husband and four daughters.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Love Can Live Outside of Words

Richard LeDue

Watching you smash your head

against the wall, and I can only

sympathize, try to remember being

five, imagine still speaking

in gibberish, wearing diapers,

yet knowing I was seduced by words.

Allowed the noises I still make

to flirt with meaning,

until realizing language is a loveless marriage.

Checking your forehead for bruises,

and inside my clenched mouth,

I taste sorrow,

its flavour similar to my own blood.

Being too polite to spit

into a napkin, I swallow it.

Then you grab my hand, needing

something I'll guess at, waiting

for your smile to answer me-

the sentences on this page can't help

but be jealous from their own

inadequacies.

Richard LeDue was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, but currently lives in Norway House, Manitoba with his wife and son. His poems have appeared in various publications throughout 2019, and more work is forthcoming throughout 2020. His chapbook, The Loneliest Age, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Jules Never Told

Zvi Sesling

Jules liked to invent things. His latest contraption was a large chair in an even larger frame with a giant fan at the back and a clock in the front. There were dials and numbers and other doo-dads that, when the gizmos were turned on would spin and whistle and make clanking noises. So Jules decided he would sit in it and turn it on. It was July 4, 1898 and outside an Independence Day parade was in progress. They were playing patriotic music that seemed to fade along with the horses and buggies leading the marchers. Jules moved the handle to stop the machine and saw strange vehicles that moved without horses and whose metallic frames shone in the sunlight. He heard music he had never heard before and clothing on men and women that he could not have imagined in his wildest dreams. He pulled a lever back and the dials spun in reverse until he was back to where he had started. It had been an exhilarating but exhausting experience. Climbing into bed Jules Verne told himself that when he awoke in the morning he would write his next novel, The Time Machine.


Zvi A. Sesling is Brookline, MA Poet Laureate. He edits Muddy River Poetry Review and is author of The Lynching of Leo Frank (Big Table Publishing, 2017)and six other poetry books. His flash fiction book Secret Behind The Gate will be published in early 2021 by Cervena Barva Press. He has published poetry and flash fiction both in the U.S. and internationally. He lives in Brookline, MA with his wife Susan J. Dechter.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Zoology

Chad Parenteau

I know I would like to fuck you is the first line

in not-a-poem to not-his-wife (who waits

for breakfast), his mind set to cook

to the timer of the boiling eggs.

Every egg seems to come from a sick phoenix,

impossible to crack yet easy to smoosh,

thrown away half eaten, back in dairy aisles.

Eternal embryos and failure, two constants.

Wife's in bed, wincing at premature cracks.

He heads back for coffee, to catch the cell

before it rattles the counter with her reply:

I know. I would like to fuck you too!

Followed with, This could even end up helping

you both. Do you think I could ever talk with your wife?

He pictures his infatuation, her cyclopean tunnel vision versus

three-headed dog, headed by spouse and both in-laws blazing.

He walks Hades, looks back, his Penelope and family,

not going anywhere. Secret Delphi says it will be okay

with less footing than myth. His laptop's private browser

trojans porn away from all their eyes.

He imagines hunting and killing unreal beasts,

pictures wife transmogrified from real phoenix eggs,

her heart able to rise above its own ashes

recalling all his time in other rooms not sighing.

Her heart will burn but survive this decimation, forced

immolation, justification. It will endure. It had better.



Chad Parenteau's work has also appeared in journals such as Résonancee, Boston Literary Magazine Queen Mob's Tea-House, Cape Cod Poetry Review, Tell-Tale Inklings, Off The Coast, Ibbetson Street, Scriptic,and Wilderness House Literary Review. He currently serves as Associate Editor of the online journal Oddball Magazine. His second collection, The Collapsed Bookshelf, has just been released.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Take Me With You

Tane Kim

I sit down on the

metal platform and

try to block out the sirens behind.

Birds overhead

migrating in a “v” shape

utter distant “cakaw”s,

their pale wings

contrasting boldly with the maroon background.

“Take me with you

to warmer places

beyond the horizon”, I whisper.

My neck spasms and I relax,

looking downward for the first time.

The sirens are louder than ever.

I gaze with vehement disgust at

the river and harboring city that I call home, and

I spit, hoping that the saliva will hit something…

anything.

But of course it won’t.

I watch strainingly as my little white glob

makes its way down, and

the merciful wind carries it to shore.

Closer than I thought.

It’s almost sunset now;

I better get going.

As I prepare for my exit,

my eyes wander to the horizon.

Interesting.

I can still see those birds after all these minutes.

I guess the horizon stretches

farther than I thought.

The gulls' bodies now resemble unified snowflakes

or globs of spit,

hovering towards or away from

who-knows-where.

At least they are going somewhere.

Somewhere…

As the last crescent sliver of sun leaves departs the heavens,

the sky seems clearer than ever.

Still hard to bear, but clearer.

I place one leg at a time

onto stable cement

as they come to embrace

me.

Looking back towards the sky,

I can still see the horizon

and those birds drifting

to somewhere

in its endless reach.

Tane is an avid teenage creative writer who goes to the Irvington Union School District in the suburbs of New York. Through his work, Tane hopes to provide a relatable reading experience to other young adults who are going through times of hardship. In his free time, he enjoys eating... whatever the time, place, or food, Tane loves a good meal!

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

All Aboard

Paul Beckman

“I want you. You want me too. Take me now,” Sophia said sotto voce just as the New Haven Metro train was pulling into Grand Central Station. And I did as Sophia demanded and then lost my conductor’s job for the one person I couldn’t turn down—my former mother-in-law.



Paul Beckmanis a retired air traffic controller. His latest flash collection, Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press) was a finalist for the 2019 Indie Book Awards. Some of his stories are in Spelk, Necessary Fiction, Litro, Pank, Playboy, Thrice Fiction, and The Lost Balloon.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The Month of the Dead

Deirdre Fagan

It seems wrong now, but at the time it seemed the most sensible thing

to suggest that October was the month of dying.

You told me you didn’t want to make it to the holidays;

you didn’t want one like this.

The hospice nurse, standing by the back door, told me you wouldn’t make it

to Christmas, told me you were ready.

“He’s waiting for you,” she said.

After stumbling to the minivan and driving blurry-eyed to pick up the kids,

I came numbly home, knowing the end was near.

The next time we were sharing, I made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how

the other four had all died between August and October, two in October,

so that at least by the Day of the Dead, the mourning season is past.

“Maybe October would be a good time…” I winked, “if you were looking to get out.”

You always did consider what I wanted.

The weekend you died, the sun stopped shining on Friday, and didn’t shine again

until you were gone two days later.

Your breaths were so shallow, your voice barely audible, our love for each other

and the children as immense and powerful as the sun that reflected on the leaves that had

yet to fall.

Deirdre Fagan is a widow, wife, mother of two, and associate professor and coordinator of creative writing in the English, Literature, and World Languages Department at Ferris State University. Fagan is the author of a chapbook of poetry, Have Love, a forthcoming collection of short stories, The Grief Eater, and a reference book, Critical Companion to Robert Frost. Fagan writes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and academic essays on poetry, memoir, and pedagogy.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Invisible

Gerald Kramens

“So he never hit you,” said the bearded officer, to the thin woman slumped across from him in the interrogation room.

“No, sir. He used things besides his fists to keep me straight. Like the snakes he kept in a cage beside our bed. Said he’d throw them at me if I misbehaved.”

“Snakes? That’s all? Why didn’t you call the police?”

“What would you have done? He never hit me.”

“Never hit you, “ repeated the other officer, a petite Black woman, silent until then.

“I was always afraid, ma’am.. No money. No job experience. We married right after high school. He called me a sorry whore, said no other man would want me because I wasn’t clean.”

“And the gun?” asked the policeman.

“It was on a kitchen shelf, unloaded. The bullets were locked in a drawer, He’d said if I ever ran away, he’d use it to track me down and kill me. After he went to work yesterday, I used a screwdriver to open that drawer. I never fired a gun before.”

“You’re both lucky. He was barely nicked,” said the policewoman. “So he never left a mark on you?”

The woman being questioned momentarily stiffened, before sinking down into her chair. “Not,” she sobbed, “so anyone could see.”

Gerald Kamens has worked in a mental hospital, the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His work has appeared in flashquake, America, the Christian Science Monitor, Baltimore Sun, Grief Diaries, Ravensperch, POZ, Dirt Press, Abbey Hill Literary, Strata, and Litro. Recent works include children's stories, essays, and short plays. His last acting role was in Chekhov’s The Seagull. He lives with his wife in Falls Church, Virginia, USA.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Goulash

Thomas R. Moore

Not an elegant Turkish çorba

with cumin, sumac, and bay spiraling

from the pot, but home-formula

Friday goulash, a basic stew for

ravenous kids. I love those burly

kitchen aromas after biking home

from mowing lawns or picking apples:

hamburger frying with onions

in the black iron skillet, canned

tomatoes and elbow macaroni

bubbling with glops of past meals

from the fridge. God knows what else

Mom adds to feed all seven.

In the other room my parents knock

back Old Guckenheimer exploring

the day’s losses. The pup thumps

his tail under the table. The mongrel

brew gurgles on the stove filling

the house with sweat and possibility.

Thomas R. Moore’s fourth book of poems, Red Stone Fragments, was published in 2019. His poem “How We Built Our House” won a 2018 Pushcart Prize. From 2017 through 2018 he served as Poet Laureate for Belfast, Maine.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Don’t Know Why

Laura Rodley

Training as an EMT, I studied how to look for and keep

a severed finger, put it on ice in a Dixie cup to be reattached,

hold a femoral artery at the thigh, tie the tourniquet

below the bleed. I was ready for my clinical

at Boston City Hospital, ready, and wide awake,

but during my two mandatory shifts to become

certified, no one came in injured from an ambulance,

I saw no blunt force trauma.

Classmates saw car crash victims,

severed arms, collapsed lungs, stabbings,

blood streaming just before the fear of AIDS.

In 10th grade, I was spared dissecting of frogs

just after removing one from the jar of formaldehyde

due to having pneumonia, and spared SATS

because we moved to another country.

I never knew why I was spared, but wonder now

if it was training to be ready for the long reaching

arm of Covid, to have less burnt-out, more

reservoirs, to offer my friend after she evacuated

from Grass Valley solace, to see the ash that still hangs

in the air, feel the smoke that lingers on her skin,

take it in, breathe for her over the telephone lines.



Laura Rodley is a Pushcart Prize winner, quintuple Pushcart Prize nominee, and quintuple Best of Net nominee. Publisher Finishing Line Press nominated her Your Left Front Wheel Is Coming Loose for a PEN L.L.Winship Award and Mass Book Award. FLP also nominated her Rappelling Blue Light for a Mass Book Award. Former co-curator of the Collected Poets Series, Rodley teaches the "As You Write It" memoir class and has edited and published As You Write It, A Franklin County Anthology Volumes I-VI, which were also nominated for a Mass Book Award. She was accepted at Martha’s Vineyard’s NOEPC and has been a participant in the 30 poems in November fundraiser for the Literacy Project for Center for New Americans. Latest books Turn Left at Normal by Big Table Publishing and Counter Point by Prolific Press.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Bob Dylan’s Dream

For Peter King and Mark Rerek,

comrades in arms

It is a little known fact

that Bob Dylan fell into

the company of thieves

in 1968,

after having broken both his legs

while riding his favorite horse,

Gray.

During that time

Dylan holed up

in a blue house,

near the red desert.

It was there,

for the first time,

that Dylan met the poets

Allen Ginsberg

and Gregory Corso.

While living in that house,

that only had pink lights,

Dylan and Ginsberg

discussed falling in love,

but decided to forego the experience

so as not to sully their relationship.

The day before the poets arrived

Dylan had breakfast one morning

in a café that had no name.

It was called “The End of the Line.”

That morning at breakfast

Dylan was served by a waitress

Whose name tag read

“Days of Rage”.

It was 1968 and

In support of the war

people frequently gave themselves

nom de guerre,

military names.

When he found out that morning

that the waitress was actually named

“Sadie Goldstein”

all Dylan could do was laugh

and sputter.

“You must be some kind of Jew,

Little Sadie!”

In any case it was all in good fun

and Dylan, Sadie, and the poets

spent that winter holed up

in that house without heat,

just beyond the desert.

It was at the blue house

that Dylan wrote his classic album

“Mud on the Cross”,

the story of his troubled relationship

with man and God.

And so, it’s now been fifty years

since Dylan joined up with

brigands and viziers

and in that time not much has happened,

except for one thing;

two writers are approaching

and the sun

burns cheek to jowl.

Rabbi Steven Lebow was the first Jewish clergy to perform same sex marriages in the Deep South. His life and work in civil rights has been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, CNN and NPR. His poem “There are no Pianos in Hell” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Hoping for Willie Mays

Steve Klepetar

My cousins are in the attic, I hear their footfalls overhead,

see them covered with dust, their arms full of old clothes.

They are making a Halloween man, a monster trailing cobwebs

to scare the kids. Every stitch says stay away.

We’ve strung webbing in the treBioes, we’ve painted the door black.

Nobody will come and the hunter’s moon will yawn in the sky.

My aunt is asleep in her chair, my uncle has left for work.

The neighbors hate us, but we are not afraid.

We have toads and worms. A black cat roams the neighborhood.

Sometimes it sleeps beneath our porch.

Once it brought a half dead mouse, laid it on our kitchen floor.

Dogs howl when it ambles by.

My cousins call her sunset and throw her scraps

when they don’t forget.

I wash the dishes, even when it’s not my turn.

I’m still learning to tie my shoes.

I go barefoot through the neighborhood, my nose to the ground.

Or I climb a tree, hang upside down from a low branch.

The cousins call me the bat because I don’t see well in the dark.

They send me down the street for cigarettes and let me keep the change.

I buy baseball cards, hoping for Willie Mays.

My mother hoped I’d be a doctor, an honest trade, she said

as she bandaged my wounds.

Listen to your mother, my father said, falling back into the arms of his open book.

Steve Klepetar lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. His work has appeared widely in the U.S. and around the world. His book Family Reunion is available from Big Table Publishing.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

L

Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

By fourth grade, I still couldn’t tell what hand was left and what hand was right, the teacher would singsong out to me notes traveling on an invisible staff landing at my desk to raise my hands and make the shape of an L, whichever hand made the L correctly was left, but I never listened. One day—mid-November—still not able to tell she stood behind me and put her hands on my wrists raising them to eye level and told me to make the shape but I kept my right and the left hand in fists instead.

Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. She is the editor of HOOT Review and Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit, and a former genre editor at Lunch Ticket. Jane-Rebecca is the author of Better Bones and Marrow, both published by Thirty West Publishing House, The Guessing Game published by BA Press, and Thirst and Frost forthcoming from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. She occasionally drinks wine out of a mug that has a smug poodle on it; she believes that the poodle is the reincarnated spirit of the television show Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Cupped Palms

Jeff Burt

A know-it-all, wise-cracking seventh grader unable to keep his mouth shut, I watched Mrs. Traub’s fingers make circles as they held a scalpel and probe to the dead gopher’s still warm body, razor’s edge slitting and slipping under the fur, the long almost feathery pinkie, and middle fingers with a slight tremor as if a breeze had disturbed their weightlessness.

The thumb and index curled as if to say okay to the discovery of what had kept a gopher alive, to investigate how complicated a little life could be. The tools moved not with plotted manner but with a tenderness to not disturb, lift and raise, not the knife and lance of butchery or dissection but extensions of her delicacy.

When she yielded the instruments, she said she wanted to see my palms while I worked, a position that meant when cupped they turned toward catching or spiritual yielding and the thumb and index could manipulate but never plunge nor sever, nor with incremental pressure disconnect a tendon from a muscle or organ from the gut. I woke to the concept of soul that day in the classroom, eighty degrees and lawn mowers spilling the scent of newly trimmed grass, Mrs. Traub’s hands exposing not useless bits of sinew, binding, and flesh but the whole being of the gopher, thief of weed and grass, connoisseur of shoot and root, mover of earth, earthbound bird rising from the underground.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, and has contributed to EcoTheo Review, Williwaw Journal, Red Wolf Journal, and won the 2019 Heart Poetry Prize.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The Ocean that was my Father

Francine Witte

That hush-hush of waves that final summer. They knew, but wouldn’t tell me. The screechy gulls hovering above, hanging there like puppets, hanging there like truth. I was only ten. My father the age he would always be. The way the water would wash up and scrub our names right off the sand. The lifeguard whistles, three quick bleats. First thing a lifeguard probably learns. You can’t save everyone. First thing a daughter learns is a father’s life will come up as high as it can to the shore. And then like foam, like fingers of foam, it will try to hold on, but will have to let go, fade into the whoosh of water, the chatter of birds, the boats out there on the horizon heading somewhere far away

Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, Passages North, and many others. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and (The Theory of Flesh.) Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) will be out September, 2021. She lives in NYC.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

In Black and White

Michael Keshigian

Upon the old film projector

a few revolutions remain,

moaning as it casts

grainy, matte images

upon the portable screen,

enabling us to visit a bygone era.

Rapt, we stare at the curdled frames

of lost memories, departed parents

and us, their offspring,

squinting at our younger selves.

We frolicked under the glow

of ancient lights,

carefree lunges beneath

the cold water sprinkler

that emanated from rusty faucets

attached to a three-decker abode,

the summers unfaltering,

we gathered, smaller, more flexible,

clowning, our parents, so young,

no wrinkles, more hair,

all of us summoned

for a group pose

by the off-screen director.

How silently time runs its course,

with strange, peculiar hints

if the changes are noted.

We yearn to climb back,

recapture the innocence and joyfulness

the calm, silver light exudes.

Then it ends, the old reel flapping,

the brief nostalgic rekindling

has also run its course.

Michael Keshigian is the author of 14 poetry collections, his latest, What To Do With Intangibles, released in January, 2020, by Cyberwit.net. He has been published in numerous national and international journals and has appeared as feature writer in twenty poetry publications with 7 Pushcart Prize and 2 Best Of The Net nominations. His poetry cycle, Lunar Images, set for Clarinet, Piano, Narrator, was premiered at Del Mar College in Texas. Subsequent performances occurred in Boston (Berklee College) and Moleto, Italy. Winter Moon, a poem set for Soprano and Piano, premiered in Boston.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Where Have All the Lipsticks Gone?

Tara Mandarano

At night, after the zopiclone kicks in and my turquoise dream catcher

fails to sweep me into of the arms of Morpheus, my army of lipsticks

form a military line and crawls out from underneath my bathroom sink.

They pop their caps and swivel their necks until they can see their sisters.

Their competitors.

But that old rivalry between Almond Rose and Perpetual Peach

is on pause for the moment, as they huddle together and try to decipher

their current cosmetics disaster.

Some of their natural shine has already faded.

Even those were not made matte feel suddenly flat.

“Why have we been forgotten for the past seven months?”

“Why has the woman who used us every day now unpainted and naked,

whether she leaves the house or not?”

Naked Coral, the most popular lipstick for over a year now, has become their leader.

She even has clones who have never been opened, just waiting for her to be used up.

All the discarded shades that didn't quite make the cut

but have not been thrown out try their best not to gloat.

Naked Coral says she has heard something about a virus,

and has seen the woman wearing cloth masks covering half her face.

Hiding those beautiful and bare freckled lips.

“But the fall season has just started!” shouts Blushing Berry.

“October is the only month I'm allowed out during the year.”

The other, darker hues nod their heads in agreement.

“I’m sorry, but there is nothing for it,” Coral replies.

“We must simply wait it out, like an expiration date.”

But there is high-pitched dissent among the ranks,

and the pastels have a long time to go until spring.

Tara Mandarano is a Best of the Net–nominated writer, poet and editor, as well as a patient advocate in the mental health and chronic illness communities. Her work has been featured in the anthology BIG: Stories About Life in Plus-Sized Bodies, and she has also been published in The Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Week, Reader's Digest, Motherwell, The Sunlight Press and Dying Dahlia Review. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @taramandarano.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Jack Bildner's Ghost

Andrea L. Fry

That most things don’t last.

That I had no money for a ball field or a plaque,

That I couldn’t write, and if I could, my letter—

stuffed into a bottle, or buried

in the earth—would likely not be found.

And even if they found my letter,

Would they understand anything, would they care

about an old logger from Calaveros County,

whose kin never found any gold,

whose leg was crushed?

These are the thoughts that came to me.

Because I only knew water, wood and dirt.

And my name—I knew my name.

I’d draw my initials in the muddy bank

and watch the river smooth them,

but slowly and kindly so I didn’t realize,

the river was getting rid

of the smallest trace of me.

You remember I said that most things don’t last.

Well, that’s true—except for one thing—

I don’t know anything as old as the sequoia tree.

So, I hauled out my saw and dragged

my purple leg up it.

That tree was 2000 years old.

The only thing standing after a fire.

Even the fungus and the beetles can’t get at it.

I spent the whole night on that ladder,

working my saw into its side.

I carved JB into its flank.

I made those letters a foot tall,

which was nothing compared to how tall it stood.

You can see them if you study it hard.

I don’t know if anyone will ever see them.

But I know they’ll last as long as that tree.

Which will be the closest to forever

I’ll ever get.

Andrea L. Fry’s Poisons & Antidotes, is scheduled for publication in spring 2021 (Deerbrook Editions). The Bottle Diggers was published in 2017 (Turning Point Press). Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Graham House Review, Plainsongs, Sequoia, Stanford Literary Review, Writers Resist and others. She is a nurse practitioner at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Solitaire

Steve Deutsch

I knew right away,

but it was 45 minutes

before I stopped wrestling the pillow

and gave up on the night.

My approach has always been

warm milk and cookies,

although the milk is now

some fat free oat brand

with all the comfort

of rutabaga

on yesterday’s rye.

Heart happy

the carton screams,

but there are many

ways the heart might

be made happy.

There was a time

when I would

manage the night

with a deck of cards—

I knew a dozen

kinds of solitaire,

and growing up

in a house

where you needn’t ask twice

for a cup of coffee

or a game of cards,

you could often count

on some sleepless

someone else—

my grandmother

for 500 Rummy

or my mom

for games like Spite and Malice

she seemed to make up

on the fly.

These days I rely

on the muted cacophony

of TV or iPad.

But tonight I find a worn old deck

that counts to 52.

Simple Canfield to start—

soothing rhythm of the mix

and half an eye for first light.

After a glamorous childhood in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Steve (and his wife, Karen), settled in State College, PA. Steve’s work has appeared in more than two dozen print and on-line journals. He was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is the current poetry editor for Centered Magazine. Steve’s chapbook, Perhaps You Can, was published by Kelsay Books in 2019. His full length poetry book, The Persistence of Memory, has just been published by Kelsay.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Men I Did Not Know

Joseph Kleponis

In the photo,

there they are,

Dad and his brother,

young men

on bicycles in a park,

dark haired

playing to the camera,

the picture taken by Mother,

or by Auntie,

or maybe by some secret someone

young with dark flowing hair,

on a bicycle as well, perhaps,

not in the picture, though,

with these smiling men

whom I did not know –

young men who laughed and dreamed

before daily jobs

and houses

and children

and bills

and troubles

and illnesses

rounded their shoulders,

lined their faces,

set crow’s feet by their eyes,

and sent them

searching for other pleasures:

a quiet cigar after Sunday dinner,

a warm shot of whiskey,

a nap while the ball game droned on the radio,

no more bicycles

for the work weary men,

Dad and his brother,

the men I knew

in my youth.

Joseph Kleponis is a retired teacher of English and American Literature and lives north of Boston, Massachusetts. His poetry has been published in numerous journals including, The Aurorean, Eucalypt, First Literary Review -East, Leaflet: the Journal of the New England Teachers of English, Penmen Review of Southern New Hampshire University, Methuen Life, Modern English Tanka, and Muddy River Poetry Review.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Cardinals

Richard Johnston

My friend John had been droning on about his children’s latest accomplishments when I heard a familiar, down-slurred whistle behind his voice on the phone and said, “Is that a cardinal?” In the silence that followed, I heard a second call.


“Are you there?” John asked.


“I’m right here,” I said, sitting up on the couch and pressing the phone to my good ear.


“Who are you talking to?”


“I’m talking to you,” I said. “Where are you?”


“I’m in my garage,” John said.


I closed my eyes and saw the garage, a yellow frisbee still on its roof. I saw his driveway and house. “I think they’re in your maples,” I told him. “There are at least two, maybe more. Can you see them yet?”


I heard a metallic clatter – a socket wrench, I guessed. “You want me to look for birds,” he said.


“Yes, for cardinals.” Seven years ago, I moved to Colorado, and there aren’t any cardinals this far west. I hadn’t been prepared for that. “They’re bright red birds, John.”


“I know what they are, smartass.” I heard the crunch of his boots on leaf-strewn gravel. "What’s wrong with you today?”


“Nothing,” I said. “I’m homesick.”


“You just bought a home.”


“I know,” I said.


“What’s this got to do with birds?”


“Hurry,” I told him. Out of all the words for a group of cardinals, my favorite is radiance. “Do you see them now? John, they’re right there. You have to see them.”

Richard Johnston is an English professor at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. His work has appeared in Blunderbuss, Corium, Hobart, and War, Literature & the Arts.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Cherry Blossoms

Yunya Yang

She thought you didn’t notice, but you’d known for a time now. The problem with being a teacher was that your students never saw you as anything beyond your function. Your existence ended as soon as they stepped outside your classroom. The despairing truth was that it didn’t. You continued to exist, as a wife, a mother, a woman.

She had been in your class since freshman year. You saw her blossom into womanhood, her supple body bursting with youth. Were you the same way when you were seventeen? It was a distant memory, strange like somebody else’s dream.

You didn’t dwell on dreams. That was why you repainted the never-used nursery and made it into an office. You slept there often and woke frequently at night, as a new mother would when she hears her baby crying, although no crying came to you.

Your husband never complained about you sleeping in the office. He didn’t talk to you much these days, even though you worked in the same school and sometimes ran into each other in the hallways.

She said more words to you in the hallways than he did. As she passed, you could smell her perfume. It reminded you of cherry blossoms in Japan, where you went on your honeymoon. That was what gave it away. You often smelled the same fragrance somewhere else — at the collar of your husband’s shirt.

Yunya Yang was born and raised in southern China and moved to the U.S. in 2008. Her passion for reading and writing started early in life during frequent bookstore trips with an editor father. She lives in Chicago with her husband Chris and their cat Ichiro.


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