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  • Big Table Publishing

MARCH, 2020

Adagio for Heart Strings

Lindsey Royce

I woke after a delicious weed-

induced sleep wholly

relaxed, as if my body had forgotten

you are dead. This high

is beginning to wear off, & my head

is becoming a jewel box

whose ballerina dances pointe

on bloody toes.

Lindsey Royce earned a Ph.D. in Creative Writing/Poetry and Literature from the University of Houston. Her poems have appeared in numerous American periodicals and anthologies, including the Aeolian Harp anthology; Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts (periodicals and anthologies); Poet Lore; and Washington Square Review, to name a few. Her first poetry collection, Bare Hands,was published by Turning Point in September of 2016, and her second collection, Play Me a Revolution, was published by Press 53 in September, 2019. Royce teaches writing and literature in Northwest Colorado.

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Ghost Dog

John Cuetara

We see our beautiful blond ghost dog everywhere running in wet sand on the beach at night and crossing a dark road his green eyes gleaming in the headlights wondering why we left him to fade out in the arms of a stranger while we suffer silently in Savannah.

John Cuetara is the author of two short story collections and one book of poetry. He attended Bennington College where he studied with Bernard Malamud. John lives on the Mystic Lakes in Medford MA and works as a psychologist.

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One Way

Steve Klepetar

My aunt wouldn’t walk against traffic on one-way streets.

I mean, she thought those thick white arrows

were meant for her, and she obeyed carefully, as though

someone was always watching. She didn’t look scared.

She was a big woman, strong arms and shoulders

from factory work, thick black hair bursting

from a blue or red kerchief, and if she got mad, watch out.

“Aunt Traute,” I’d say, “those signs are for cars.

You can walk on the sidewalk any way you like.”

“Cheeky,” she said. “That’s just what they’d like you to think.”

Her black eyes burned. She rubbed her forearm across her mouth

and we plodded on. Later she sat in her armchair drinking gin

from a flask she kept in her purse, along with communist tracts,

LifeSavers and gum.

My parents sat across from her on the couch, maybe listening to opera.

“Bourgeois,” said my aunt.

“But lovely,” my mom replied. “The human voice.”

My father smoked a cigar. He always read big books,

the kind I could barely lift, as smoke wafted above his head

in a fragrant cloud. I hid under my little desk, did my homework

as the evening ticked away. Squirrels chased each other

across our roof, claws clacking as they ran.

“Ah, Wozeck,” my father said, his favorite, the one he fed with nuts and crumbs.

Steve Klepetar lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. He is the author of fourteen poetry collections, including Family Reunion which is available from Big Table Publishing Company.

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For Emmylou

Phoebe Brueckner

Do you remember that rumor about Mrs. Lass, about how she herself caused the fire? I always wondered how she could have done it. Did she drink herself into oblivion before holding a match to the curtain and going upstairs to lie down? When the smoke detector went off, was it like a lullaby in the background? I always hoped that the smoke got her first, that it wasn’t the flames themselves.

But now I get how she could have done it, if in fact the rumor was true. It’s gotten to that point for me, with that something inside me I cannot get out. I once saw, in a movie, a man jump off a bridge. But it’s more like he fell—with his arms out and face to the sky—and I thought it was nice, in a way, to just let go and let gravity do all the work.

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone—but my energy still will exist, so don’t worry. This is what I started this letter to tell you: I’m going to befriend gravity, and we’ll be neighbors in the air all around you. It will help you hear my footsteps as I walk down the hall to your room at night to curl up in bed beside you, just like I did as a kid. So if you hear those boards creaking in the hallway at night, don’t be scared. Just reach out your hand and hold mine.

Phoebe Brueckner lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys taking long walks in the sunshine. She has published fiction and photography in Jet Fuel Review and recently received an honorable mention in NYC Midnight’s 2019 Microfiction Challenge. She is currently working on her first novel.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Bijou’s Epitaph

Beth Tornes

Wrapped in my blonde fur coat,

I was the envy of many a Hollywood star.

Marlene Dietrich was likely

a distant German cousin,

with her haughty stare

and soft, elegant hair.

Did you notice my perspicacity,

how I would warn the world

whenever danger loomed?

And when I caught a rabbit in my jaws,

how mercifully I dispatched it,

snapping its life in two? Lady-like,

sharp-witted like Marlene, I always

listened carefully when spoken to

but followed my own instincts: my life

was a happier one for it. Now I lie

in a duvet of velvet moss and wintergreen,

not listening, or seeing—but still I am adored.

Elizabeth Tornes has published three award-winning poetry collections, Between the Dog and the Wolf (Five Oaks Press, 2016) New Moon (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and Snowbound (Giiwedin Press, 2011). Her poems have been published in Ariel Anthology, Blue Heron Review, bornmagazine, Boulevard, Bramble, Field, Illuminations, Main Street Rag, The North American Review, Page & Spine, Ploughshares, and Yellow Medicine Review. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and have appeared in Poetry Daily. She has also published a collection of Ojibwe oral histories, Memories of Lac du Flambeau Elders (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004). She earned a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Utah. She lives in Lac du Flambeau. Wisconsin.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Laura Rodley

Deep in the recesses of my molar

the endodontist digs his scraper;

there's not enough anesthetic-

allergic to novocaine, he has to give

me something shorter lasting.

“Bear with me,” he says,

until the nurse says,

“She feels it,” my continued

groaning placing her on high alert,

and then another shot in the palette,

the roof of my mouth,

the cathedral of taste.

And then my friend Maryann comes

into the bright light shining from above.

She appears first in her wheelchair

so I would know her, her arms and legs thin

as a praying mantis, then walking.

“I can walk now,” she says,

her limbs thickened by muscle,

no longer a quadriplegic.

Her mother too appears,

strokes my hair as he drills

and digs. “Almost done,”

he repeats, thinking the tears

I shed were solely for pain, not

the uplift of seeing Maryann

and her mother, who stayed

with me until the drill shuts off,

and his green mask ruffles, as he says,

“We’re done here.”

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 teaches 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. 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.

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Crack Open an Egg

Ruth Housman

crack open an egg

the moon and sun

in your saucepan

your hands became

sun’s rays in yoga class

you stood trying to steady


a trembling butterfly

Ruth Housman is fascinated by the stories we tell. Her poetry and writings are found all over the Web and in anthologies. She has written several plays, and books of poetry. Her children’s book, a fantasy about dreams, The Birthday Present, will be published in time for her granddaughter’s eighth birthday.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

32 DOGS Rob Dinsmoor ~ to my friend J.T., who grew up in the town where I was born One driver showed up and opened his door But this one was followed by a half dozen more The car in the front, one guy got out And then my old man went out there to shout We did nothing to them but race is a factor To small-town small-minded hillbilly crackers One of the crackers, as big as a moose, Got out of his pick-up, dangling a noose My sister just sobbed but I ran to the closet I pulled out our twelve-gauge, proceeded to cock it That one summer day, it sure was a hot one I covered my dad from the porch with a shotgun The half-dozen cars, they showed up like minnows But our thirty-two dogs barked at their windows Thirty-two dogs Count ’em thirty-two dogs Thirty-two dogs all wanting to play Including my favorite, my own Cassius Clay One guy got out, a guy with long bangs George Washington Carver showed him his fangs One of this mob, a toothless old fellow Got a serious growl from my black lab Othello Thirty-two dogs Count ’em thirty-two dogs Surrounded by dogs, my dad’s not alone He said to them all, “Y’all go home.” With thirty-two dogs keeping them all at bay The half-dozen cars, they all drove away They showed up in their cars one hot summer day But our thirty-two dogs scared them away

Rob Dinsmoor is a freelance writer who has published dozens of short stories, as well as scripts for Nickelodeon and MTV.  His collection of short stories, Toxic Cookout, was published by Big Table Publishing Company in October, 2019.

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Flora & Fauna of Washington Square

Francine Mazzeo D’Alessandro

I was talking in my sleep when Arlene called

too early and I dreamed we planned to meet

at Washington Square. We did plan—I forgot.

We do meet—I am late. I’m wearing (mostly)

yesterday’s clothes, sleep-muddled still

as the great pageant sweeps me along –

if one can be swept along in clogs. Never mind.

The day is bright and fine, nearly spring,

nearly spring! Hurrah for blooms of batik and lace,

fur and fringe! Hurrah for greatcoats and combat

boots and breeze-lofted tangles of hair!

Hurrah, you hackysackers and hoolahoopers

and dancers in the street. We warble, we coo, we caw—

finely feathered children of America.

And here comes the Gray Line!

Wave to the tourists, Arlene!

We are their memory of New York!

Francine Mazzeo D'Alessandro was born in Brooklyn, New York, to which she has returned after living in Worcester, Massachusetts, for many years. A past-president of the Worcester County Poetry Association, her work has appeared in The Worcester Review, Poets in the Galleries, Celebration of Worcester Poets, The Longfellow Journal and other publications, including the late, great journals Sahara and Diner.

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Deus Ex Machina

Bruce W. Niedt

I want the gods descending on a crane to bear me up like in Greek tragedies, just when it seemed that all was lost and certain death, or worse, dishonor, reared their ugly masks. I want majestic eagles to swoop down and lift me up securely in their talons, just like those in Middle Earth who rescued Sam and Frodo from the red slopes of Mt. Doom. I want a billionaire someday to knock upon my door and say, “My friend, there’s way too much for me to spend myself, So take this cash to fix your roof and send your kids to school.” I want to hit the lottery, an unknown aunt to die and leave me in her will. I want my dream job falling in my lap, a fast machine to take me out of here and land me in a tropic paradise, a margarita in my hand. I want a happy ending to my story no one would expect, that I didn’t even have to earn.

Bruce W. Niedt is a retired “beneficent bureaucrat” from southern NJ whose poetry has appeared in Rattle, Writer's Digest, Mason Street Review, Spitball, US 1 Worksheets, and many other print and online journals. He has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. His latest chapbook is Hits and Sacrifices (Finishing Line Press), and he is currently fine-tuning his first full-length manuscript.

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But I Did See Her in August

David P. Miller

She was my warmup girlfriend,

the one who hurled me into romance

by launching her face at mine so fast

her tongue popped its portal, landed

right between my speechless teeth.

I already knew what her answer would be

to the heartpang oldie, Will I see you

in September? She had her future ex-fiancé

snug in her back pocket, and he wasn’t me.

I was her side gig, straddling cloud ninety

with a landmark osculation. Later, the “parking”

I’d heard so much about, the blissful etceteras.

The last time I saw my starter girl

we were engulfed by Mary Poppins

on revival tour in a picture palace.

A downtown dream depot

with few enough fellow nostalgists

taking seats at the start. Before the end

all the others folded their tents

and vanished. Projectionist, rest room

scrubbers, concessionaire, all

could have called it an early night

if not for us: two short-timers in flight

across the screen with Londoners’ kites.

David P. Miller’s collection, Sprawled Asleep, was published by Nixes Mate Books in 2019. Poems have recently appeared in Meat for Tea, Hawaii Pacific Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Clementine Unbound, Constellations, J Journal, The Lily Poetry Review, Unlost, Ibbetson Street, and What Rough Beast, among others. His poem “Add One Father to Earth” was awarded an Honorable Mention by Robert Pinsky for the New England Poetry Club's 2019 Samuel Washington Allen Prize competition.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Love Poem

Richard Fox

I rub Mom’s shoulder gently,

as if massaging a cranky newborn.

Her live eye focuses on me. Its vacant twin—

angular scar, collapsed iris— tracks loyally.

Her hand snakes out from under the quilt,

links with mine. Pulls my hand to her lips.

The smooch—a cork pop from an aged bottle

of champagne—once in high demand, now vinegar.

She rests a cheek on her collarbone, my arm.

A dish of blueberries, a bowl of lime jello, appear.

Mom drops my hand, eats berries one by one, smiling,

pauses, encloses my hand, kisses it four times.

Spoon ignored, she scoops jello. Swallows without chewing.

Snack complete, her head rolls onto the pillow. She dozes.

When I stop the shoulder rub, she wakes, turns to me.

I resume caressing. A breath, her voice, garbled.

My hand, grasped, rises to her mouth. Mom bites me.

I was warned.

Richard Fox is the author of four poetry collections plus a chapbook. When not writing about rock ’n roll and youthful transgressions, he focuses on cancer from the patient's point of view drawing on hope, humor, and unforeseen gifts. Winner of the 2017 Frank O’Hara Prize.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

A Boy Who Jumped Out of a Night Sky

Bobby Breen

So much depends

on fast wheels

of a red fire truck

arriving your lifeless form

lying in the street

face expressive

as Donatella’s David

you should have grown

to an elderly future

with children

and grandchildren

of your own

expiring some

idol summers eve

in your solitary garden

not this dreadful loss

of the secret chord

you might have played

for your beloved

your bright white-shining sneakers

and tailored denim jeans

suggest abundant care

given to one so young

Your towhead hair

falls across an angelic

now sunken adolescent face

encircled by a bright red halo

this little island

gone so silent

I do not hear

the steady traffic

flowing all around me

as we await the coroner

knowing his status update

will not shield

your parent’s pain

my breath catches imagining

with cradled helmet

under one arm

open to a taciturn heaven

wondering what Goliath

rules this day I rue

Robert Breen was born in Boston, Massachusetts, graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and, after his decades-long career as a Boston firefighter, he retired, taking his love of writing to the next level by entering graduate school and attended the summer writing program at Harvard University. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences judges unanimously decided to publish his poem “The Eighth Circle” in The Harvard Summer Review in 2000. This poem was also published in Hello Poetry. Honorable Mention was received from the Key West Poets & Writers 1997 for “The Reef.” He is a 2015 winner of the Joy of the Pen competition from the Topsham Public Library, Topsham, Maine, and was awarded the Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award for the poem “Beyond Cold.” Several of his poems were published in the Café Review editions of spring 2018 and fall 2019. His published books are The Shore Digger and Undertow: A Tide Pool of Poems. The Breen/Heaney Collection, including unpublished works, letters & correspondences, resides at Emory University, Rose Library. He lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Karen.

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A Dog’s Life

Michael C. Keith

Every time the Jamesons fought, their rescue dog would slink away and hide for fear she was the cause of the discord. This ultimately resulted in her running away and being seized by the town's animal warden. She had no identification and was earmarked for extinction. Just as she was about to be euthanized, she was taken to a northern city, where she was adopted by a loving couple…who soon fell out of love.

Michael C. Keith is the author of 20 books of fiction.

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Blah Blah Spot, Blah Blah Blah! Phil Temples

Spot whined, barked, even begged his master to take him outside to do his business. He even went to the closet, retrieved his leash and laid it at his master’s feet to no avail. The master ignored him and instead, continued to watch the reality TV show. Spot could no longer contain his frustration (or bladder). He barked a final warning then he raised his hind leg and let fly a stream of warm urine on the man’s foot. Spot’s act of desperation elicited a pause on the television remote, followed by a stream of a different type—profanity, the likes of which Spot had never heard.

Phil Temples resides in Watertown, Massachusetts. He's had over 140 short stories and a novella published in various print and online publications, along with three mystery-thriller novels, and a short story anthology titled Helltown Chronicles. Phil is a member of the GrubStreet writing center in Boston and the Mystery Writers of America.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Don Monaghan

He turned away

from her familiar face,

from the forehead

kissed so often

and tenderly – the way

spent lovers kiss in darkness,

from the eyes that watched

him fumble haplessly

for words that would summon

a smile that said “Yes”

to coffee later that day

in the small shop where

he first noticed her

sitting alone at a window table

reading Dobyns,

from those high cheekbones

held rosy in both his hands

as he kissed her outside

in crisp air and the confetti mess

signaling a new year,

and from that damn mouth

that burned his ears

and every important inch of his body

at one time or another

with a searing heat he could

never seem to equal.

He always meant it,

but remembers just now

saying “I love you,”

selfishly sometimes

just so he could hear

her say it back.

Don Monaghan studied writing at Jefferson Community College and the State University of New York at Oswego.  He currently resides in Upstate New York where he works as a Sales Manager for a family owned mechanical company.  When the Poetry Muse or guitar isn't calling, he's most likely on a motorcycle traveling along little-known back roads hoping to get lost.  This is his first publication.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

She Went the Distance

Elisabeth Harrahy

One hot summer day

when there was no air conditioning

to be found

I retreated to the shade

of the sugar maple

where the big ant hills

I liked to conquer

rose from the dirt

My mother came to the back door

sweat running down the lines

in her forehead

stained blouse sticking

to her chest

and she called me to come take

a crinkled bill

to the corner store

I was eight years old

and from the top of my street

the top of this hill

in the city of Worcester

I could see a billboard above

the old Norton factory below

that featured the same brand

she smoked

blaring “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight

than switch!”

beneath a picture of a woman

with a thick black smudge

under one eye

As I ran down the street

to buy a pack

I thought about my mom

waiting at the door

waiting for her cigarettes

waiting for my father to come back

from who knows

which other woman’s arms

waiting and readying for the next bout

And I wish now

as she stood there strategizing

in her imaginary boxing gloves

behind a furrowed brow

that she could have pulled back

climbed what must have seemed like

a mountain in those days

to get a glimpse of a new life in the distance

to which one day

she would bravely switch

Elisabeth Harrahy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she teaches courses in ecology and conducts research on the effects of contaminants on aquatic ecosystems.  In her spare time, she likes to drive her 1967 Plymouth Satellite muscle car and write poems and short stories. Her poems have appeared in Journal of Gender and Cultural CritiquesSlightly WestWisconsin People and IdeasBrambleSky Island JournalGyroscope Review, and Blue Heron Review.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The Cost of Living

Andrea Coursey

I asked the woman ahead of me in line, “If that’s Lightning Joe, would it be OK to say hi?”

"He’ll love it,” she said. “Do you mind if I make a quick trip to the ladies room while you chat? He has a hard time, but if you’re patient, it’s worth it. He’s having a good one today. Just don’t let him leave without me.” She turned him with a light touch on his upper arm and said loudly into his scarred ear, “Joey, here’s one of your fans!” then stepped away.

Face to face with him, I was tongue tied, twice over: both awed at meeting a fighter I admired, and sad to see what his career had cost.

He hid his shaking hands in the pockets of his jeans, hesitated at the effort, then asked slowly past broken teeth if he should know me.

“No,” I said, overloud and nervous, “I was just one of the screaming voices in the crowd that night at Suffok Downs.”

“You remember that? My knockout in the second round!” He settled into a pose, mimicked taking a swing. “That sound…”

“…Like a homer off the bat at Fenway,” we said together, grinning. I added, “Yeah, and at the Roxy when you moved up to light weight.”

“The night G. R. broke his hand?! That was a good night for me, not so much for him.” Pixie grin, and a tap against his still trim belly. “I wouldn’t make weight now.”

“I saw you down at Foxwoods, too, ‘Boxing After Dark.’ We had a room on the same floor as you guys. I walked down the hall beside you and the kid from New Jersey, but it was just before the fight, and I didn’t want to bother you.”

“How in heck did you know it was me, today?”

“Would you believe, it was the way you bring up your arm. You shooed away a fly when I was standing in line behind you. I just knew.”

His smile dipped, and his gaze traveled past the forked tail mermaid above the Starbucks counter. “Those were some good days. Hard, but good.” Trembling hands retreated again toward the safety of his pockets. Then, with a jagged smile he lifted his battered knuckles. We tapped, and he surprised me with a quick hug. “And you remember! You’re alright kid. You’re alright.”

Andrea Coursey is a fledgling writer who has always enjoyed collecting stories, often through her job in public safety. Now retired from the fire service she has renewed an interest in poetry and discovered the challenge of flash fiction. Previously she has enjoyed spit-balling scenes with a friend and author, sometimes in public places and with hilarious results. In return her friend wrote her into a historical romance as a minor character. A poetry writing challenge hosted by Robin Stratton a few years ago prompted her to try crafting her own work. She is inspired by the everyday interactions between strangers, friends, and family.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

American Tune

Howie Good

Love everything that lives and be fair to all the parts and do not have a hierarchy, but should the uniforms come for you under the cover of night to convey you back across the border, resolve to become like the wind that dies one moment only to return the next as poems and explosions.


I was driving because she couldn’t drive a stick, my window half-open, the air rushing past, whup-whup-whup, when suddenly there was a sulfur smell like witches burning. She looked up from her phone screen and saw the dreary sky and then the ramshackle ruins of an abandoned factory behind prison fencing. “Are we lost?” she asked. Well, yeah, maybe.


We were a block or so from our hotel, holding hands like a couple of teenagers, when we saw the dark, lumpy shape, a homeless person wrapped in a shroud of blankets and sleeping on cardboard, but said nothing about it, quick looked away and walked past at a picked-up pace, as if a crime had just been committed and our entire role in it was to forget.

Howie Good is the author most recently of Stick Figure Opera: 99 100-word Prose Poems from Cajun Mutt Press. He co-edits the online journals Unbroken and UnLost.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Gale Acuff

In Sunday School I learn I go to Hell

if I lead a wicked life. And I must

believe that Jesus is the Son of God

and died for my sins. And I should do good,

which, in English hour at school, is different

from doing well. Or is it different than?

After church I walk the long mile home. I

limp into the house, take off my clip-on

bow tie and put it in my coat pocket

and sit down to lunch. Father and Mother

have been waiting for me. They're not too hot

about church but they love God - I guess they

do. I've never asked them. Father passes

me the bread. Thank you, I say. Do you love

God, I ask. He looks at Mother. What a

question, she says. Do you love God, I ask

her. Father's turn: What a question, he apes.

I'm sorry, I say - I'm just curious.

That's alright, Mother says. Then together

they ask me Do you love God, as if they'd

rehearsed and all of this has been a play.

They look at each other like they're in love

again, and laugh. So I do, too, but not

right with them, not exactly. But I'm still

quick: What a question, I say. Then we chow.

Gale Acuff has had hundreds of poems published in several countries and is the author of three books of poetry. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.

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