Updated: Jan 26
To My Relatives Who Died Before COVID
My father who loved the distance. Loved being far from things. From us.
My other-city sister, who slumped sudden over a flip phone and wouldn’t be able to mute.
My mother, always lipstick, always powder. A mask would not have stopped her, because, she’d say, people know.
My grandmother, flu of ’18, who knitted and baked and ended up vision loss and hearing loss and that was her shelter in place.
My free-spirit aunt, who wouldn’t have stayed home nohow and rather she’d slip out to one of those bars with takeout only, her in the alley with her son’s best friend, the two of them not hearing my uncle’s muffled footsteps.
All of them not believing. We can’t see it. This couldn’t happen.
And yet I remember the time we all stood on the beach and looked at the horizon. We thought it swallowed everything. Look! one of us even said, A whole boat hidden behind my thumb!
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 published by ELJ September, 2021. She lives in NYC.
~*~*~*~ Just A Few Facts
Everyone always wants to remember, every head is full of facts: phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, anniversaries, the date of VE Day and 9/11.
“Remember when,” she’d say and of course I always nodded, even if I didn’t; no one ever admits not remembering.
I’ve decided to not remember three new facts a day. Yesterday I surrendered the name of the stuff that comes from cows, the color of the sky and the land mass next to New Zealand. Today it’s the taste of lemons, the smell of a camp fire on a fall day and the sound of a flute. I feel lighter already.
The doctor said you are likelier to get hit by lightning twice than to have two such fatalities. I’m sure he means to be helpful, consoling, demonstrating his best bedside manner. I remember our visits to his office and the first ultrasound with the pounding heartbeat. I remember the way Evelyn clutched my hand. I remember our drive to the hospital and the sweat on her forehead, her eardrum-shattering moans and me whisper-screaming, “Breathe, breathe, breathe.”
I remember the nurse’s yell, the doctor’s snapping, the Code Blue, a white coat taking me by the elbow, “You have to leave the OR now, give the doctors room.”
I remember knowing, even before the words came from the doctor’s mouth.
Tomorrow I will forget the baby’s name, my wife’s name, the past month.
Andrew Stancek describes his vocation as dreaming – clutching onto hope, even in turbulent times. He has been published widely, in SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review and Peacock Journal, among others, and he continues to be astonished.
On a Cold Day
My father walked out on the roof
looking at the pale morning moon.
My mother called me for breakfast,
but I slipped out the back door and ran
with my friends to school.
It had snowed and we had to carry
a little sister over the drifts.
When we got there, the teachers screamed at us.
“Why did you come today in the snow?”
We thought we were heroes, especially
the way we saved the little girl’s boots.
Her cheeks were plump and red
from cold, but the teachers didn’t care.
They put us in the auditorium, gave us
a thousand math problems, then burned
our papers in a garbage can.
At lunch time they sent us home
with nasty notes. We took the long way
past the library and soccer field,
where the big kids were having a snowball war.
An ambulance arrived and there were cops
in the street zipped into dark blue coats.
We climbed the fence, slipped into the basement,
followed the tunnels home.
My father had fallen from the roof
and was buried in the snow to his chin.
We shoveled him out and he paid us each a dime,
made us coffee, put a shot of Irish Cream in each cup.
Dinner was Wiener schnitzel with dumplings
and a Sacher torte for dessert, with whipped cream.
My father ate his schnitzel but wouldn’t touch the cake.
“Too dry” he said. “It makes the dust come out of my ears.”
Steve Klepetar lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. His work has appeared widely in the U.S. and abroad and has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of fourteen poetry collections, including Family Reunion, from Big Table Publishing.
Mike died on Friday and by Sunday, Grief arrived like my monthly period, at the worst time possible and not giving a rat’s ass what I thought about it. As if that wasn’t enough, I could tell he wanted something in return, something good. Don’t lollygag, he scolded, I’ve got other places to go. Your kids, for example. He stayed like an unwanted guest, like that friend of a friend who was never invited, but came over nonetheless. Grief became a fly on my wall. And oh, how he loved to play games, Hide and Seek—his favorite—popping up to scare me when I least expected it. God only knows what he’d do to my children. My sweet babies. They stand, inserting quarter after quarter into The Claw machine, Mama, we’re gonna get a new toy. Grief stood by and watched it all, something he’s very good at. In the end, when the kids didn’t catch the stuffed monkey, I saw Grief snicker and snort even though he tried to hide it. That night, after dinner, Grief lingered as I did the dishes, kids already asleep. Let’s have a drink, he said. We clinked our wine glasses and slipped into a silent familiarity. After the third round, we staggered upstairs and shed our skins on the bedroom floor.
Author of Out of the Blue (Big Table Publishing, 2017) and The Face I Desire (Nixes Mate, 2019), Renuka Raghavan writes short-form prose and poetry. She serves as the fiction book reviewer at Červená Barva Press, and is a co-founder of the Poetry Sisters Collective.
This Day, This Pizza
Eating cold pizza beneath an ash-filled sky,
but better, because twixt the ashes and me,
constructed by hands now unknown, is a roof.
Who built this roof, ceiling, floor?
Who built this house?
It dates to 1937, this house.
Changes have been made,
but the core remains.
A house on a hill,
a little town near the bay.
The bay normally visible
through windows, and from the porch.
beneath a dreary sky,
the bay appears only in memory.
Sometimes I notice and appreciate.
Sometimes I don’t.
Five states and even more decades.
Who made the pizza there?
Who grew the crops, built the roads,
I don’t believe in heavenly bodies
but wouldn’t it be nice
if the creators of this house
were looking down now.
and seeing me
sitting and smiling,
despite the fire-ridden sky,
enjoying the walls, the floors, the cold pizza.
Sometimes, I notice, and appreciate.
It can take prompting,
but it happens.
Tony Acarasiddhi Press writes fiction when he has questions, and poetry when he thinks he has answers: thus, mostly fiction. His story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in 2016 by Big Table. He claims 2 Pushcart nominations, 12 years in the same high school, and 25 criminal trials.
Brendan and Willie in ’73
In the Spring of seventy three
the last one true thing we shared
was resurrecting from its slumber
my father died
That fall at the waning of the year
our beloved Willie Mays returned to the Series.
No longer the young bronzed God
but old and bewildered in the green expanse
lost and failing as he stumbled the field.
I recall the newspaper photo of Willie kneeling near home,
arms upheld as if in prayer seeking one last day of youth
While I stared at the empty kitchen chair
and begged God for the same.
Stephen Barry is a trial lawyer living in New York City. His poetry has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, The Magnolia Review, and a number of other print and online journals.
Rain lilies sprinkle the yard this morning:
single stem, six petal, white flowers
that pop up and bloom for a few days
after a good rain.
The wet grass and weeds are ankle deep
around his feet as he sits in a plastic chair—
watches the morning come into being.
Holds himself still in the moment.
I am a statue, he whispers,
made of soft stone. I will sit here
until the wind blows me away
or the next rain dissolves my bones.
Or until he feels the need to pour
a cup of coffee, the coffee
brewing inside in the house.
If the world would only stop.
A blue pickup passes on the road.
The driver honks and waves,
and pulls him back into the narrative.
He raises his hand to acknowledge—
In California, fires rage
up and down the state.
Here, the ground is popping
Brady Peterson lives near Belton, Texas where for twenty-nine years he worked building homes and teaching rhetoric. He is the author of Between Stations, Dust, From an Upstairs Window, and García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce.
You Can’t Blame Her
The wounds on her legs stay open
like frozen smiles. “They show up
and just won’t leave” she says
when I visit in the hospital,
“sort of like my daughter
and her no-good boyfriend.
“I think they’re getting better,
then bump the coffee table.
They start bleeding again,
and I’m back in bed; that’s
just the excuse they need
to stay longer ‘so they can help.’”
A fit of coughing; she complains:
“I’d have to go outside to smoke.
If I could get there, you know
I’d just keep going. But then they’d
track me down and bring me back;
that’s what they call help.
“So why do you come visit
every time I’m in? You think
maybe you’re gonna help me too?”
“Nope, I come to make sure
you’re still misbehaving—
and of course, for your good looks.”
She smiles. “I’m not sure what to do.
I guess I’ll have to leave it
to the Man Upstairs.”
I suggest. She stiffens, gives me a look.
“What did you say?” “It might
be the woman upstairs, don’t you think?”
“Where did you come up with that?”
she asks, “Hell no!
I won’t stand for it!
He‘s always claimed
that He’s in charge,
then turns out to be no help at all…
damned if I’ll let them
blame it on a woman!”
Scudder Parker grew up on a family farm in North Danville VT. He’s been a Protestant minister, state senator, utility regulator, candidate for Governor, consultant on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and is settling into his ongoing work as a poet and essay writer. He’s a passionate gardener and proud grandfather of four. He and his wife, Susan, live in Middlesex VT. Scudder has published in Sun Magazine, Vermont Life, Northern Woodlands, Wordrunner, Passager, Eclectica, Twyckenham Notes, Crosswinds, Ponder Review, La Presa, Aquifer, and Sky Island Journal. His first volume of poetry Safe as Lightning was released in June, 2020, by Rootstock Publications.
It feels so real
I check my texts
to be sure. No—
you didn’t say
Mom was right.
When I was young,
running down the
hall to her room in
delight or terror,
she taught me how
to tell if it was just
a dream: Either the
worst thing you can
happens, in such
detail every nerve
is set alight, or the
very best thing.
Marissa Glover lives in Florida, where she teaches at Saint Leo University. Marissa is co-editor of Orange Blossom Review and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Her poetry most recently appears in FEED, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and River Mouth Review. Marissa’s full-length poetry collection, Let Go of the Hands You Hold, will be published by Mercer University Press in 2021.
Ode to Aunt Frannie’s Eyelashes
Oh, fluttery black fringe,
more butterfly than caterpillar,
more valance than shade.
Oh, thin lines of adhesive
along shimmery-shadowed lids.
Oh, black dot penciled
high on the right cheek, ala
Marilyn Monroe. Oh beauty
mark, beauty queen, beauty
work. Lipstick painted
into pointy peaks on a pouty
mouth. Oh, hours in front
of the mirror in the guest
bathroom on a Christmas
morning. Oh, putting on
her face. Oh, six cousins
lined up, dowdy on the couch.
Oh, flicker of the doorknob.
Oh, play up your best features,
girls. And, it’s as easy to fall
in love with a rich man
as a poor man. Oh, stack ‘o
Frannie’s Playgirls in the den.
Oh, big-eyed sneak-a-peek.
White shag carpet and purple
velvet davenport. Oh, kids’ table.
Oh, tinkly laugh and ability to flirt.
Oh, leopard tops and high heels,
push-up bras, and olives in a martini,
flickering glances at men men men,
still waving them in with her eyes.
Susan Vespoli is a poet/essayist who writes from Phoenix, AZ. She leads virtual writing circles on writers.com and has had work published in spots such as Rattle, Mom Egg Review, Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, and Nailed Magazine.
Carl hated red because Gina loved it. Red dresses, red bras, red shoes. Her hair, fingernails, lipsticks—shades of red.
Red had been a turn-on until Gina ditched him 20 minutes ago. What gave? No way she’d have known about Liz. Her hazelnut hair, brown-sugar skin, beige Honda.
Gina took him to bed. Liz baked him bread and brewed special coffees they sipped while seated on her balcony overlooking a park.
Damned Gina. Her parties rocked. Her girlfriends sizzled. Her old man made big bucks.
Liz didn’t party. She read a lot and invited him to plays he didn’t understand but attended anyway because Liz made him feel almost smart when she talked about books or movies or her fav violinist Joshua Bell, who she thought was dreamy.
Liz’s face glowed. Gina’s eyes blazed, and her body radiated desire. But he always had to tiptoe around, trying to please her. Had he been just a convenience, always expendable?
Would Liz see through him? He hadn’t read any books until lately. Half the words she used went over his head. He knew what he was.
Red made him mad. Brown made him sleepy.
Darrell Petska’s fiction has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Frontier, Loch Raven Review, Right Hand Pointing, Boston Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. With 30 years on the academic staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 40 years as a father (eight years a grandfather), and longer as a husband, Darrell lives outside Madison, Wisconsin.
Ursula’s fur had matted; her nose had been bitten off; her heart applique stank of ketchup. She does not recall her sins, but they were more real to the child than she was.
A hairy man paws through spoiled cottage cheese and expired yogurt. He holds her to the light.
Through the grime his eyes shine, bright brown stones.
Not what I expected.
Ursula tossed, flies into the jaws of a real dog, and she braces for the tearing of her limbs, the fluff flying to heaven in a cloud of canine carnage. Shreds blown into the wind, sweeping, as if she had never been. She saw it happen to American Girl.
But just as she hangs on the precipice of scattered eternity, the air is broken by the sweet song of The Boy.
“Mine,” he says, snatching her with a rap to the sloppy mongrel’s snout.
“Mine,” he says again, and Ursula prays that this one, this one will want love and not adventure, that she can fill his heart enough to divert his mind, that maybe, just maybe he will find it in his soul to bathe her in jasmine suds, to praise her loyalty, to take her on backpack journeys of his own making.
How far she has fallen she cannot say. Her friends’ nooks in pink mansions no longer matter. She wants only to be held against the boy’s flannel chest, his night light a saber pointed at darkness’s insatiable maw.
Lisa Lebduska teaches writing and collaborates with colleagues to incorporate writing into their teaching at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. Her work has been published in Lunch Ticket, The Tishman Review, Writing on the Edge, Adelaide Literary Magazine and College Composition and Communication. Her scholarship appears in such publications as WPA Journal; Technological Ecologies and Sustainability: Methods, Modes, and Assessment; and Composition in the New Liberal Arts, among others. She lives in Salem, Connecticut, not too far from Devil's Hopyard.
Do you think I’ll ever see Kerry again?
Of course Mom. If there isn’t more
to the universe than Evolution and Physics
what’s the point of any of it.
Documentary on theoretical physics (giving me a headache) trying to explain (to us laypersons) where The Big Bang came from.
How in the very beginning could the universe have gone from nothing to everything – trillions of stars in billions of galaxies – in one sudden momentous explosion! BOOM!
Esteemed physicists are explaining that space is a vacuum but contrary to popular understanding (and data from our 5 senses) nothing really isn’t nothing:
fluctuations in the vacuum of space
ripples in the nothingness if you will
produced sub-sub-atomic particles of matter
and antimatter (Yikes!)
which instantly paired off
wiping each other out. But after millions
of these tiny evaporations
(my head is spinning)
a few of the positive electron particles remained
(didn’t get wiped out) and then BOOM!
There it was the huge explosion (the famous Big Bang) which ripped the invisible fabric of the vacuum to shreds expanding in a mere nano-nanosecond into billions of stars in trillions of galaxies (or maybe it was trillions of stars in billions of galaxies)
(I am so frikkin confused)
All this was carefully, logically, thoroughly detailed by brilliant physicists from all over the world and as I listened all about
the fundamental nature of Quantum Field Theory
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle
the Dirac Equation
the Schrödinger Equation
and of course Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity
(the famous E=MC2 we have all come to know and love)
I began to realize that explaining how everything
can appear out of nothing is more believable
by simply saying – God did it.
Michael Estabrook has been publishing his poetry in the small press since the 1980s. He has published over 20 collections, a recent one being The Poet’s Curse, A Miscellany (The Poetry Box, 2019).
Rings in the River
Nina Rubinstein Alonso
Reaching the right spot in
the middle of the bridge I toss
my gold band in the river
relief to feel fingers empty
watch rowers glide over
my drowned ring
more practical to sell it as
I’m broke but bigger need is
throw it deep kill it get rid of it
years later I tell Heather
surprised to see her wince
then half smile as I’d supposed
her divorce rolled more smoothly
than mine spiraling curves of
elegant exit design
while mine was an ugly mess
of no aesthetic value
but she shakes her head
whispering what sounds like
an old song— “rings in the river
I did the same thing.”
Nina Rubinstein Alonso’s work appeared in Ploughshares, The New Yorker, Ibbetson Street, Nixes Mate, Broadkill Review, Peacock Literary Review, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, etc. Her book This Body was published by David Godine Press, her chapbook Riot Wake is upcoming from Cervena Barva Press, and a story collection is in the works.
Susan Triemert I didn’t attend
school the week of my dad’s
funeral. When I
returned, the thaw had
not yet come.
Mounds of snow
lined the streets and
sidewalks. Ice soaked
my mittened hands as I
glided them over the
Jimmy, one of
impaired students, stopped
me in the cloak room. He
your dad died.
Thank you, I signed
back. No one else looked
me in the eye. When I
opened my desk, I didn’t
see any sympathy
cards, like the ones we
made out of construction
paper for each other’s
birthdays. Beneath my
desk, I rolled
over my flattened
hands, signed: Dead.
Is he dead? I bent my wrist,
moved my fist
up and down.
He is dead.
Susan Triemert holds an MA in Education and an MFA from Hamline University in St, Paul, MN. Her essays and stories have been published in several journals, including Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review, Pithead Chapel, Schuylkill Valley Journal and (mac)ro(mic). This is her first poem publication.
An old man once lived here
before our purchase.
He was raised in this home,
married and became a widower years later,
self-exiled as a result of a menial pension,
lack of societal skills
and the death of his spouse.
It didn’t end well for him,
the neighbors say, always alone,
downsizing to three rooms
from eight that existed, enough to cook,
sleep, and exercise his passion for writing
in a six by ten area with a desk, chair,
and computer as necessary tools
to engage his fantasies
between appointed meals
at indiscriminate times,
while piling dishes till the end of the week.
Stuffed in desk drawers
we found printed pages of returned manuscripts,
identified with his name and address
atop five to fifty lines of various poems,
tri-folded, but extended flat,
no longer restricted to an envelope,
the second drawer, a file,
compiling a record of those efforts
no longer imprisoned in the first level.
A lonely story related by isolated artifacts,
a story neither one of us considered
would become our own.
A home withered then released by time,
as if severed by an axe
from the expectation assumed
at all beginnings.
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.
She had her brown schnauzer in a stroller all dressed up and wearing a frilly pink outfit like a ballerina, but the dog looked like a cross dressing old man with a thick mustache and goatee. I watched her push him through the aisles while I browsed the ornamental grass.
“Look at the pansies, Millie. Aren’t they pretty? Think we ought to get some of the yellow ones? Maybe we’ll get yard of the month in our gated condo community.” Then, she made smooching sounds.
“These have withered petals. I want strong ones in full bloom. They’ll do,” she said and put a six pack in the cart while Millie craned her neck to sniff the flowers.
Afterwards, the lady pushed her stroller through the lit-up Christmas trees, yard ornaments, wreaths, and flags, and said, “Santa Claus is going to be good to Millie. She’s been such a good girl this year, haven’t you?” She offered Millie more smooching sounds and then bumped into a young man wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses.
“Watch it, lady,” he barked, and she apologized, and once he moved on toward the check-out station, she told Millie that Santa wouldn’t be good to mean boys.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in fourteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, The Boston Literary Magazine, The Citron Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Storgy.
Bell Jeff Burt
Bessie, the bell cow, the boss Holstein, the one old Anacker talked to, cooed to, patted, whacked on the bottom in a good way for guidance, spent mornings and evenings with, lay buried under six feet of soil, and old Anacker sobbed while his wife made fresh coffee.
He flicked his cigarette toward the backhoe in a small insignificant gesture of retaliation at the machine, and the burning ember struck the base of the engine where a leak hung over a gob of grease and quickly the spark turned into conflagration, black smoke on one end and blue smoke on the other, until the backhoe appeared like a ghoul behind a wall of flame.
Anacker stood and watched it, perhaps deep inside believing the backhoe had gotten what it deserved for digging the hole in which Bessie now filled.
Anacker’s wife watched from the window with a wry smile on her face, happy there would no longer be competition.
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.
Hoping to Dream
His woman lies curled beside him burrowed into his embrace for warmth, peaceful in their common sleep. Twelve minutes from now the alarm will jangle, another day begins - another series of problems, and argument generators, and tension where there once was love. The number flips, eleven minutes now, the clock ticking, time running out on their truce. He luxuriates in her proximity, loving her presence while his mind tears at him. When did he cross the line? Where did he lose it? At what point did the golden thread that ran between their souls become rusted barbed wire? Ten minutes now, he snuggles down deeper into his mind, hoping to dream they were still in love, knowing this will be the best few moments of his day.
Two-time Pushcart nominee and former poet laureate Christopher Reilley is the founder of the Dedham Poet Society and the Leicester Writer's Guild. He is currently the owner and chief creative force at www.thebytesizedstudio.com. His third collection, One Night Stanzas, was released in November of 2019 by Big Table Publishing.
Gunnison Keegan Waller
I had a friend from a wealthy family who lived in a trailer with his wife on Teocalli Street that had a plywood door and a hole for the dog, with a gas stove connected to a duct-taped gas line that led out through a rat chewed hole ignored by the previous tenant who left in the night. Or died in the night haunting that place along with the chickens and their constant clucking that still hung in the air, along with the smell of their meat mixed with spinach and eggs for breakfast. After the dog squeezed back inside through the hole, its mouth spilling over with blood and feathers, and my friend had salvaged what he could, plucked fur and feathers from mangled remains. I plucked at his Gibson on the dusty couch and he cleaned his Mossberg while his wife made breakfast and folded that chicken’s meat inside of its own eggs. We ate under a collapsible awning, caved in from last winter’s snow, and his wife refilled my coffee and tousled my hair when I said thank you. The steam mixed with our breath
in the morning mountain air and we did not speak. In the silence outside of that trailer he pretended to be poor and I pretended to be there to see him.
Keegan Waller is a writer from Georgia who lives in Utah where he is pursuing a bachelor's degree in English. His writing primarily focuses on people and places that he loves, or loved at one time. His poetry and prose has been featured or is forthcoming in Door is a Jar, Dreich, and Folio.
Nanny’s cigarette hung from her lips
a lengthening ash that never seemed to fall
as she sifted and sprinkled flour,
folded in the butter,
beat the eggs,
kneaded and rolled the dough
to a consistency her hands recognized
as right for blintzes, cakes and pies,
pinched and prodded into pockets
stuffed with farmer cheese and fruit,
or layered and dressed for the occasion
with icing and whipped cream
One eye closed against the curling smoke,
she unfurled her stories, told in cadences
practiced and perfected over a lifetime
The details have now faded, like the recipes
my mother wrote down
a pinch of this, a dollop of that
the tears, the laughter, the tobacco ash
Emily-Sue Sloane lives in Huntington Station, NY. Her poem, “Something’s Not Right” won the CAW Anthology Winter 2020 poetry award. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Amethyst Review; Avocet; Bards Annual; CHAOS: The Poetry Vortex; Front Porch Review; Hope, the Winter 2020 CAW Anthology; Long Island Quarterly; Performance Poets Annual Literary Review; Shot Glass Journal; The Suffolk County Poetry Review; Trees in a Garden of Ashes; and the forthcoming Never Forgotten: 100 Poets Remember 9/11 and Corona, published by Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.
I began a correspondence with
the Crown Prince of Denmark,
who was, in retrospect,
overly generous – careless even
of his possessions
and something of an over-sharer.
I’d enquire of the weather, the food
or some quirk of custom.
He focused mainly on particulars:
long-deceased pets, my mother’s
maiden name, the city
of my father’s birth.
He filled a gap in my life
and seemed ever-curious, exercising
in all things a common touch.
But the friendship soured
when I declined to share his millions.
That’s when he broke it off.
Aidan Coleman’s work has appeared in Best Australian Poems, Poetry Ireland Review, Glasgow Review of Books, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review and Virginia Quarterly Review and his most recent poetry collection, Mount Sumptuous (2020) is published by Wakefield Press. He is a member of the JM Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice at The University of Adelaide.
“Isn’t it weird how some people come into your life and obliterate every memory of who you were before you met them?” said a girl in a cool, white dress and yellow flats. She said it without looking at me as we stood in the enveloped heat of a party tent, both of us staring vaguely towards the far-off bride and groom.
I had obviously missed something. Like an introduction. Or the beginning of the conversation. “I’m sorry—”
“Well, maybe obliterate is too strong of a word. But still, our lives are perfectly unremarkable…until they’re not. And then you’re picking out place-settings.”
I was about to tell her I had no idea what she was talking about, that she had obviously mistaken me for someone else, that I was merely waiting for my date to stop ignoring me and relieve me of her sweaty wine glass and the thin, paper napkin cradling her gouda puff so I could sip my lukewarm beer and stare at people I didn’t know while ignoring the fact that my dress shoes were sinking into the grass.
But then the girl in the cool, white dress looked at me and smiled, and I had the unmistakable sensation of a single black marble coursing down a gilded track, whirring round a corner, pinging off a block as the great machinery that was My Life Waiting to Happen started up without warning.
Later, I would tell her she was right.
Everything before had been simply unremarkable.
Kathleen Latham is a writer living outside of Boston, MA. Her short fiction and poetry have most recently appeared in Fictive Dream, River Heron Review, Constellations, and Red Wolf Journal, among others. She would like you to know that her productivity is directly related to the amount of time her cat spends on her keyboard.
Jet plane’s vroom breaks through sound of beeping,
as ultrasound tech takes pictures in a gray room with no windows.
in the one story office complex.
“We know when it’s good weather, because there’s a private
airport nearby and we hear the little planes
go over every couple minutes,” she says, adding,
“Sometimes we hear the trains.”
“I’ll put in an order that a train comes soon,” I say,
listening hard, anything to avoid where I am,
on this gray exam table.
“One time I heard the rooks,” she says.
“They sit on top the cell tower, way high, above
everything. The river crows-they make weird noises,
sit there too, but they are smaller.”
“How many rooks are there?”
“Three, maybe four, in a group, a family.”
A group of crows is called a murder, I inform her.
A group of ravens is called a conspiracy, something weird like that,
I add, as I wipe off the gel, and start to gather my clothes.
“You can wait to get dressed, or get dressed now,
if you’re feeling optimistic, while l check with the radiologist.”
“I am, optimistic,” I say, and wait in the gray room
with lowered ceilings.
She returns, “You’re fine,” she says,
my breasts cleared for another year.
“While he read the reports, I googled it,”
she says. “It’s an unkindness of ravens.”
“Ah,” I say. “An unkindness.”
“Says something about our bias,” she says,
as I leave.
Laura Rodley, Pushcart Prize winner is a 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 taught the As You Write It memoir class and has edited and published As You Write It, A Franklin County Anthology volumes I-VI, also nominated for a Mass Book Award. Latest books Turn Left at Normal by Big Table Publishing and Counter Point by Prolific Press.
Festival of Lights
Zvi A. Sesling
Jacob Schnitzel is about seven when it happens. His mother and father invite twelves guests for the last night of Hanukkah. They open the dining table so it can seat the extra people. Putting two overlapping paper tablecloths on the table and then dishes and eating utensils. They place their large menorah with nine candles on the table. When everyone is seated Jacob’s mother brings out the potato pancakes, apple sauce and sour cream, cooked green beans and carrots. She takes the Head Candle and lights the rest. An impatient Jacob reaches out for one of the potato pancakes and in doing so knocks over the menorah and all the candles. Almost immediately the paper tablecloth catches fire and in trying to put out the flames one of the guests pushes the paper to the floor and the flames catch the drapes which also go up in flames. Everyone panics except Jacob’s father who runs to the kitchen and gets a bucket of water which he throws on the drapes. The guests then stomp on the pieces which fall to the floor. After a quick cleanup everyone sits down to a smoky dinner. Everyone except Jacob who is sent to his room with no dinner.
Zvi A. Sesling is Poet Laureate of Brookline, MA. He has published numerous poems and flash fiction. He edits Muddy River Poetry Review, He is author of War Zones, The Lynching of Leo Frank, Fire Tongue and King of the Jungle and three chapbooks Simple Game, Baseball Poems, Love Poems; From Hell and Across Stones of Bad Dreams. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times and his books have been nominated for national and local awards. He lives in Chestnut Hill, MA with his wife Susan J. Dechter.
A night ambush, during a thunderstorm with heavy rain and wind pushing clouds across the moon. After the battle, hostile fire diminished. Muzzle flashes stopped blinking in the tree line. Darkness still covered the field. Lightning illuminated enough for some hardy souls to venture out for first dibs on the loot. Shiny little Chinese pistols, whatever they hoped to find. The M60 guy wanted to trade weapons so he could go looking for his share. I'd caught a bullet in the head moments before, and my normal enthusiasm vanished. On my crawl back to the medic I stopped a wounded NVA and apologized. I told him I was sorry. If he'd been alone he could've walked, but he wasn't. It looked like my naive intention to avoid killing was a bad idea.
Two guys holding the stretcher waited for my embarrassing episode to pass. I stopped them while I was still bleeding. As a rule, battle-hardened vets are hard to impress. Why they waited is a mystery, empathy is rare in that environment.
Tim Hildebrandt is your garden variety tortured soul. He spent four years at a midwestern art school, lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1968, served a brief tour in South Vietnam, and traveled Europe from Amsterdam to Morocco. Primarily a visual artist, Tim has self-published one novel and has written poetry and short fiction for years. He is reclusive, but he finally thinks he is ready to go public with some of his work.
In our hillside hut I cradle you, sleep-swaddled, heavy with milk, dense as dough, hushing like the wind that lifts the mountain leaves in lullaby. The birds fall quiet, and my scalp prickles: what warning have I missed? A white-capped wave advances snarling, drags the cold-boiling flood, the deep and glassy-black devourer, across the lowlands. There is no time. With leaden certainty I fathom what to do. I must give you a warm and peaceful end, cover your helpless fragile face, swaddle you one last time in my tightening arms. This I know would be a mercy. But doubt whispers: what if I survive? What if you are smothered by my hand, and I alive? I split the atom of hope and the force propels me outside. Arms full, I join the other mothers on the hill, silently seeking higher ground, not screaming.
Erin Coppin is a British/Canadian writer living in the UK. She has been published by The Fenland Poetry Journal, Irisi, Half Moon Books, and Flash Flood Journal. She was the winner of the Unpublished Poet’s Prize in the MsLexia and Poetry Book Society's Women's Poetry Competition 2019.
Charlie Brown at 45
As passive suicide,
you climb kite-eating tree,
cradle mandible branches.
Gravity and disgust
spit you out.
A new relationship
begets arts and crafts.
You cut heart shapes
for this woman.
Your quivering hand
makes them less valentine,
You true art is
to wave them off
as jokes. Despair
almost never works.
Same plastic tree winter,
no longer trusting
what your hands even buy.
Even your wisdom
hands down Bible quotes
they tacked on every time
you sought happiness.
echo hometown wins
where you didn’t play,
repeat what they thought
they heard in class.
More revelations found
post-midnight, forlorn garden.
Chad Parenteau hosts Boston's long-running Stone Soup Poetry series. His work has appeared in journals such as Résonancee, Cape Cod Poetry Review, Tell-Tale Inklings, Off The Coast, Ibbetson Street and Wilderness House Literary Review. He currently serves as a regular contributor to Headline Poetry & Press as well as Associate Editor of the online journal Oddball Magazine. His second collection, The Collapsed Bookshelf, has just been released.
It Was a Most Unusual Week
I walked across my back yard and fell into a sink hole.
I had no desire for this experience
many other experiences
like flipping my car over
being cornered by a bob cat
my Uncle Yossel who loved giving Hungarian Peaches (noogies)
feeling up the nieces
I lay in wait for him when he came to my house one night
I trussed him up like the pig he was and tossed him into the sink hole.
I think he was apologizing
everything sounds alike
Filtered through dirt. Dontcha think?
Paul Beckman’s a Connecticut writer whose latest flash collection, Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press) was a finalist for the 2019/2020 Indie Book Awards. Some of his stories have appeared in Spelk, Anti-Heroin Chic, Necessary Fiction, Fictive Dream, Pank, Playboy, WINK, and The Lost Balloon. He had a story selected for the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and was short-listed in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. Paul curates the monthly FBomb NY flash fiction reading series.
Times Square 1977
we snaked through
the pornographic flash
of times square
full of blood and cheap meat
from tad's steakhouse
we walked up the winding stairs
a beefy black man
his girth swallowed in
a gray sweatshirt
took a head count
“20 bucks a piece”
we moved to a living room
some imitation of domesticity
we sat on one side
a row of women on the other
some with leering smiles
some with the smack
on their red lipstick
i looked at a woman
her face as hard
as the mean streets
eyes that challenged me
so i picked her.
she looked surprised,
“why did you pick me?”
“forbidden fruit, I guess,”
i sat on
she was like
“what do you want?”
as everything shriveled
“just tell the other guys I was great, if they ask”
i pulled up my pants
“you got it honey.”
Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press. His latest book of poetry is The Essential Doug Holder: New and Selected Poems. Holder recently judged the Frank O'Hara Award for the Worcester County Poetry Association, and has work forthcoming in The Worcester Review, Lips, Lilipoth, Bagel Bard Anthology, North of Oxford Magazine, Constellations and elsewhere.