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