Tuesday, 11 August 2020

No One to Know

by Jen Schneider

Invisibility, I know you. By name. You are:

… a seat at the center of a rectangular table for twelve as animated voices float over and around your seat.
… a solitary soul alone in a crowded room full of pairs and groups of three.
… the utterance a sound Hello – that is never heard.
… clothes a mix of red, burgundy, and orange hues that blend just right – complement your complexion – but which remain hidden under a jacket – a size too small – that was never removed.
… to sit on a crowded train – delayed with no AC – holding an antique typewriter – with keys that neither click nor clack – that demands ribbon no longer manufactured.
…a disconnected landline listed in directories near and far. All seven digits and a spelling error – a before e – in your very common first name.
… struggles to swallow a softly steamed broccoli stem. Bitter. A vegetable you’ve always disliked.
… cough, breathe a sigh of relief when the passage clears, and realize no one noticed.
… offers of an eight-letter Scrabble word – not telling, sorry – that no one recognizes or approves.
… memorized jokes – Knock, Knock, Who’s There – that are never told.
… pauses to view yourself in the mirror but not recognize who you see.
… to want nothing more than to be anywhere else but here. But to have nowhere else to go.
… to have so much to say but nothing anyone wants to hear.
… to see people everywhere but know no one.

And have No One to Know.

* * * * *

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Recent work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, Toho Journal, The New Verse News, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals. 

Monday, 10 August 2020

Invisibility Is Not a Choice: Daily Meditations on Finding A My Voice

Week 21, Day 1: Nothing More to Say

Hello, __day -  the __ day of the month of ___.

You look the same. Do I?

Sirens roar in the near and far distance. Again.

Tones range from high soprano to low alto. Unlike days of decades

past, when children danced safely in the streets and porch gatherings

were times of festive camaraderie. Dusty shoebox photos – blurred

in black and white ink - proof my memory is not the source of the daily

betrayals that parade before – on, through, over  us. Now, eyes darken

and elders of all ages shoo offspring inside. Hurry, now. Balls away.

Nets tucked behind fence. Careful now. Locks twist right. Nighttime

Games of tag with no winners await. Curtains draw. Lights off.

Bedtime comes early for the children

these days. Bedtime comes early – and increasingly earlier – for all.

Asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks spew unpredictable fury

after dark. Temperatures rise. Ninety-nine, One hundred,

One hundred and one. Rest calls. Daytime frolics grow shorter. Lifespans, too.

Measured in decades. Did he reach his third?

Times differ – daily’s shutter, go digital  and fear persists. Was she let go, too?

I need coffee. No cream. No sugar.

Percolate and brew – steam reveals a rising sense of unease

that fails to temper or cool. Too hot to touch. Stand back. Step away.

Yellow tape, solemn faces.

What now?

Heads turn right, then left,

then right again. Eyes lock.

Stories vary, yet truths remain the same.

Another shot. Mark made. Life lost.

Him? Her? Both?

Why? What? How? NO.

Not again. Again.

No. Yes.


“There’s nothing more to say”, we say. On repeat, as we fade into dust

and our stories evaporate into the gray air we call our temporary home

on our path to nowhere. And everywhere. Tents line 8th. 9th. 10th, too.

But there is. There’s much to say and say we must.

We must ensure the stories persist.

…Pursuits of Ms. M. and Mr. D.
... Hobbies of young Miss F.
…Dreams of Teen T.
…Toys of Tot P.

That we persist. Through speech. Loud, high-pitched yells. Low, deep-bellowed

moans. Quick, eager whispers. Punctured text. Succinct replies. Mass emails. Hand written

letters. Marches. Petitions. Sign here. On the dotted line. Pieces we call poems.

Call it what you wish, but for whatever you wish – then write.

We must.

Well-constructed arguments built on scholarly evidence and mountains

of sound quantitative and qualitative data.

Formal and informal logic. Formal and informal speech.

Simple if-then statements mask complexities

revealed in hindsight only.

…If stay at home orders are to work, everyone needs a home.
…If stay at home orders are to work, all homes must be safe.
…If we live in a democracy, all voices deserve a vote.
…If drug dependencies require treatment, all souls require care.
…If temperatures rise above 100 degrees, milk and minds sour.

Shall I continue? It’s getting dark…

When contra-positives falter, we must continue to find ways

to ensure our voices and the stories

of those who cannot speak for themselves

are shared.

First Amendment protections frayed

and fractured. Neighbors speak in whispers only.

First Amendment protections stifled

and stomped. Visitation rights on uncertain  and search

dependent  terms.

Privacy scorched and pruned. Behind the

Curtain. Turn. Bend. Cough.

Like the bare

wilted and ever so sad _____ tree with no recognizable name

or identity in my own backyard.

We speak not of the terms of our visits.
Only that they occurred. Twelve noon.
We had a fine time. Lovely, yes. Of course, we did.
No one utters his name. Fear it’s contagious, maybe.

In everyone’s own backyard. ____, there, everywhere.

Ashes and embers

flicker, as [nameless] boots on the ground tromp, trudge, and slog

through the crushing news

bites, media clips, ____ streams, and 24/7 assaults that flood

our planes, trains, automobiles,

phones, and minds. No wonder I have a headache.

Week 21, Day 2: Tell Me Why

When asked why I write, I think how can we not?

The times when “there’s nothing more to say”

are the times when there’s nothing more important than saying – anything, everything –

we can. If we can’t speak to one another, then we write. Loudly. Of the headlines,

the daily news, and the stories [ the _____, the _____, and the _____ ] of our everyday,

ordinary, uniquely extraordinary, increasingly silenced lives. 

Week 21, Day 3: Time Waits for No One

Clock alarm buzzes.

Body coughs. Bones growl. Wake up.
Hello, World. Let’s go.

Right toes curl. Left stretch.
Flannel quilt drops. Knuckles crack.
Sirens roar. Ready? Go.

Fingers find Red Bic.
Spiral notebook on nightstand.
Capture nighttime thoughts.

Vague wonderings turn
real as phantom “Thinks” transform
to physical “Things”
with a familiar name and a familiar voice.
All that which is documented persist beyond nighttime dreams – the good and bad  and daytime
wonderings – the good and bad, the right and wrong, the acknowledged and the ignored.
Write. Now.

Week 21, Day 4: Marking Every. Single. One.

Ball point ink runs dry. Please forgive the tiny pencil scrawl. Cannot – will not – miss a day. Not a single one…

Hidden behind the numbers and volumes of data that “speak” objectively of thousands of traumas –
physical and sexual assaults, rapes, and batteries - are the faces. Fingers tap, then click. Weary eyes
await, as tired souls seek refuge and transportation. Entering a vehicle with a smile and leaving
with a forever scar. Behind statistics that emphasize percentages, odds ever in our favor, and phrases
of “only” one for so many thousands, is the question: When will one – every one  matter?
Students of eighteen years, tourists of twenty, workers of thirty, travelers of forty, explorers of fifty,
friends of sixty, families of seventy, experts of eighty, and elders of ninety years of age.
Parades of lives upended  each and every one – as car processions occur on the daily -
out of a basic need to arrive at one’s destination safely. Ending a late-night shift. Avoiding drivers
with penchants for drinking. Splurging on a direct ride home. Choosing license plates over subway
unknowns. Seven months pregnant with tired feet and an aching back. Office staff spending wages
to save time. End of paying the ultimate price. Each one – Losing everything. Unknowingly entering
contracts about to be broken. Transactions meant to take one safely from point A to point B - where
loved ones, rest, and sweet dreams await, lead instead to a destination – for one and for all
of a lifetime of tossing, turning, and haunted nights. 

Darn. My pencil point broke. Hang tight. I have one more.

Week 21, Day 5: Daily Edits

The alarm clock rings at 6 AM, though the world
runs non-stop despite our need for rest. First thumbs,
then hands push Sleep twice, then shower, dress, drive. Again.
Coffee brews at 7 AM as incoming emails and outgoing
replies light up the airwaves – 24/7 without fail -
and enter the stratosphere of our daily
To Do’s with a relentlessness that never fails
to impress. Careful and cursory reads alike
generate further clicks and clacks
on keyboards that next morph into 8 AM meetings
and talk of policy, appropriate responses, and reviews
for tone. “Where’s my draft?” On it. STAT. Check
grammar, get sign off. Be careful of copies. Blind CC only,
please. Copy him. Not her. Not her? Yes, Sir. Yes, M’am.
On it. STAT. Careful now. Clock minute hands tick, emails
beep, phones ping, all the while I long for a mandatory – thank you
Federal laws and regulations – 15-minute break – my time to write.

Clock out. March to break room. Unzip
clear plastic backpack. Color tints not allowed.
Must see all. All must be seen. Always.
Open journal.
Wait – STOP. No more robot. You’re not
on company time. Relax. Write.

Smile to co-worker. Glance right. Then left.
Okay to chat? Breathe. Be. Write.

What’s writing? Freedom.
Freedom to cover, process, share
a story
however, whenever, wherever
I choose.
Freedom to speak and to be
whomever, whatever, whenever
I wish.
Freedom to take rides down rabbit
holes and emerge only for air, not
a new pressing lead or need.

Freedom not to dwell on what others –
might think, but only to encourage

Freedom to toss the manual, the samples,
the relentless checks
and line edits that strip
life, and its glorious peculiarities,
like chocolate whipped cream frosting
on eggs (Not for you? No problem. Works
for me), from the story
and myself.
Sorry. Not sorry. No one has to read
What we write, after all.
Response requested options
left at the sterile office.
No “Poem Read” requests
Required. Not YET.

Freedom to write
to find a story,
rather than tell the story
I’m asked to write.
Most of all, Freedom
to Just BE.

Until the alarm bells rings. Break over.
Time to go back to work.

Week 21, Day 6: Pick-Up Sticks and Media Clips

Games of pick-up sticks.
Pick one. Touch none. Ready or not.
Lives crumble daily.

Prime time news tells all
stories no one wants to hear.
Ten second clips of fear.

… Quick. Count down from ten. Backwards, yes.
Nothing ever looks right side up again.
Do you hear the sirens? The baby’s cries? The squelch
of the car breaks? The snap of the yellow tape. The roar
of the thunder? Two seconds remaining? No worries,
there’s more. Always more. The rush of the winds. The collapse
of the building. The slam of the door. The screams?

And the monotone voice of the concerned anchor persists…

Blink. Fast. Sound bytes play.
Media runs on steroids.
Remotes click and clack.

Pick up ball point pen.
Find last yellow Number 2 pencil.
Write to remember.

Week 21, Day 7: The Question

My logical side knew the Question would present itself. One day.
But hopefully not today. Not tomorrow, either. Of course, those
questions we are most reluctant to address are those most
likely to knock. Doorbells while we shower. Ticket collectors. Traffic
fines. Probation officers. Boyfriends. Do you love me? Him? Overdue
library books. I’m still looking for the copy, I promise I will return
it by week’s end. Whether by chance. Like wrong numbers, reply
all emails (Did I really just do that?), and a single empty seat
on an otherwise standing room only bus. I sit, knowing I might need
to talk when all I want to do is write. Most questions are intentional
and life’s a bargaining process, after all. Though I’d much prefer
anything else. Well, not anything. But not the Question,
either. “I read something, in a journal, it had your name on it… is it you?”
Me? I do not know. How could I? I do not know who writes the words
I see emerge on the page. The screen. The air between you and I. Are the words
Mine? Yours? Ours? The piece  you’ve read it. Processed it. Even interpreted it.
So, now, might it not be some of you? Perhaps. And who I am? That I say, depends
on whose asking, and when you ask.  But wait. It’s my stop. I must go.
Thank you for sharing your seat.

Week 22, Day 1: Seeing Double.

Calendar page flips

as left-hand grips new red Bic.

Blank lined pages wait.

* * * * *

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Recent work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, Toho Journal, The New Verse News, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals. 

Sunday, 9 August 2020


by Alice Campbell Romano

In the shower after sex I wash my hair,
so long and thick I could smother. 
Seaweed adrift on water. Mermaid hair.

Venus, on a scallop shell.
Zephyr blows. Venus’s red mane
strays, ripples down, shelters her sex.

Voyagers, lonely in arctic cold,
train wishful spyglasses
from sailing ships on fat brown sirens

that loll in bulges like Delacroix’s
Women of Algiers in Their Apartment,
but on carpets of blue ice.

An illusion. Sailors wield bludgeons, harvest
thick skins, blubber, ivory tusks, on which to etch
perfect tiny women over the long voyage home. 

A goddess in Assyria kills her mortal lover by mistake.
She wishes, for her punishment, to turn herself
into a fish, but when a lake god halts the mutation—

to spare her beautiful face, he says—
she manages only her bottom half and so she is left
impenetrable by fish or man.

The whole story is a myth, devised by a high priest
who conjured death, monstrosity, isolation,
to caution women against desire,

female desire, disrupter of social order.
In shower stream, I soap, rinse, condition.
Three thousand years women

have been warned off the pleasures
of their lower halves. Or maybe not.
Maybe tired women invented mermaids.

* * * * *

Alice has worked in film and TV in Italy, her native New York, and Los Angeles. Her first chapbook of poetry trembles on the brink of completion while she polishes the novel begun at Sarah Lawrence’s Writing Institute. Alice’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Atlantic Review (finalist in International Competition), Antiphon, Mudfish Review, Front Porch Review, Thema, among other on-line and print journals.  

Saturday, 8 August 2020


by Alice Campbell Romano

All your lipsticks are down to their nubs,
even that Florida-hag orange from an event gift bag,
even the purple that makes you look dead

because these last few months
you used them all just to put something on,
leave the house groomed, you know what I mean.

All the nail polish has turned to glue,
and your comb-over is as obvious as a vain old man’s.
You hope you’re disguising your roots.

Lady, that day is here again, and this time
you’re pushing hard at the door of old age.
You recall other times you had to skimp

on the little vanities: most recently
you were fifty, climbing out of Chapter 13.
Hell, Woman, once you were forty,

and still had brains which you used
to fight the creditors
back and back and back.

Girl, all those years,
whenever you ran out of dough
and a decent scented soap

you said a prayer and
shared a room
And took another job.

But it’s so much harder now.

* * * * *

Alice has worked in film and TV in Italy, her native New York and Los Angeles. Her first chapbook of poetry trembles on the brink of completion while she polishes the novel begun at Sarah Lawrence’s Writing Institute. Alice’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Atlantic Review (finalist in International Competition), Antiphon, Mudfish Review, Front Porch Review, Thema, among other on-line and print journals.  

Friday, 7 August 2020


by Jaz Hurford

Though you haven’t been home in six months, the walls are still standing. The lights still work. They glow proudly over the ceilings, extinguishing when they know everyone has had enough.

Our daughter has taken to obsessing over her crayons. She has a whole packet full of colours, but only draws with the red and brown.

Our daughter draws people sometimes, but mostly shapes. Four-sided red and brown shapes, often for hours on end.

“They’re bricks, mummy,” she sighs at me, sticking out her perfect little pink tongue as she draws, refusing her dinner. I make her favourite, chicken nuggets and fries, the really skinny kind. Skinny and nutrition-free, submerged in salt.

Still, she does not eat. She draws bricks in a frenzy as the night envelopes and my limbs stiffen, movements meticulously slow.

Yesterday her red crayon snapped and she cried for three hours. Not with the hot anger known to wrap around children, tying them in a neat bow of frustration. Had that been the case, my heart wouldn’t have quivered, or pulled with realisation.

The crying was raw and cold; unembellished. A broken howl of hysteria, a cry for help I do not have the strength to muster.

She cried and I told her it’s okay, just a crayon. We’re going to get you another.

The morning after I was getting dressed, searching for my crimson lipstick. I looked for it frantically; the colour is the one of the only bright things in my day. When I was going to be late for work I sighed, giving up the hunt.

I headed downstairs, and something within me fell when I saw it. Some of our days are a lot worse.

Our baby girl was there, her eyes shining, hair unkempt. My lost lipstick was poking out from her chubby fingers, and paper littered the floors with desperation.

The bricks were everywhere, scattered as debris. Red and brown bricks, endless mothers and daddies; endless happy little girls. 

* * * * *

A lowly twenty-something flitting between jobs, Jaz Hurford loves literature. When she isn't attempting to write she reads, cycles and spends time with her beautiful family. Some of her previous work has been published by Blue Animal Literature, and one of her pieces was recently selected for publication by Reflex Press

Thursday, 6 August 2020

The Lemon Tree

by Nitza Agam

I stopped eating.  I had forgotten the effects of extreme anxiety. The last time I stopped eating was during the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel. I was living with my boyfriend when a siren sounded and he got into his army uniform, put an apple and a toothbrush in his army duffel bag, and left to join his unit. A week later he was killed. During that week I stopped eating too. Then I lost almost twenty pounds; this time, it was more like eight. The corona virus pandemic reminded me of living through a war. The lockdown in San Francisco was like that siren. Life changed dramatically that moment. It would not be the same. Now the enemy was invisible and I was not sitting in an underground bunker worried about bombs or  the fate of my boyfriend or others, but I was at home in what would become my fortress with family and a disabled husband in a wheelchair.

That first week I was so scared that one of us would get the virus. What would I do? My husband depended on me for everything. He might not make it through the virus, and if I got it, he didn’t have the help he needed, and we could not call on friends or family to help. It seemed like an impossible scenario. I found familiar tools that I had forgotten about as well. Just like I had forgotten what life-threatening anxiety and uncertainty felt like, I had forgotten what could help ease it. I found Yoga classes online and my body relaxed, my mind was able to let go of the knots, the thoughts, the fear. Once upon a time in my youth, I had practiced Yoga but had let it go. Now it returned and the voice of the young Yoga teacher became my lifeline.

As time moved on, the fear of getting the virus diminished. I established the routine of our life, our morning chores and tasks, a walk in the neighborhood, conversations with friends, with my therapist. I realized that childhood trauma played a role in the fear. When I was three years old, I got whooping cough and was enveloped in an oxygen tent. That might explain my lifelong claustrophobia. I could not imagine being intubated or secluded. The three-year-old who wanted her mother and out of that enclosure emerged as did the twenty-two-year-old survivor of war and loss. I was both.

I took comfort in the lush, green lemon tree outside our window near our veranda. It became an altar as I faced it every morning doing Yoga or my own kind of prayer. I loved watching it change in the light. I picked lemons in the evening inhaling the scent, grateful for each day, each morning that we were healthy. I enjoyed watching the neighbor’s ginger cat stretching out in our backyard, the variety of birds flitting from branch to branch. 

Sometimes I saw “Ginger” climb over walls and fences under clouds and green hills behind him. I learned to cherish those small moments more than ever. I was the three-year-old wanting her mother and the twenty-two-year-old fearful for the safety of her fiancĂ© during a war. Yet I was now the sixty-nine-year-old safe in the refuge of my home, hoping for the best. Along with the rest of the world I sought sanctuary, I made the ordinary spaces more sacred, as I hid from the virus, and slowly overcame my fear.

* * * * *

Wednesday, 5 August 2020


by Lynne Zotalis

The crisis at hand, on everyone’s mind.
United in our anxiety, we’re held together by faith or humanity.
You are my neighbor, you are my friend and I will do whatever I can to keep you safe.
As well, I expect you to do the same for me.
I will wash my hands, I will not endanger myself or you.
What is in my power to do, I will.
This collective mind, our hidden or manifest fear
pulses like a drumbeat urging us to do more, do something, anything.
We are sheltered in place, socially distanced, unable to touch, feel, hug, kiss,
all of the comforting gestures that would calm us.
Those of us that can, that have a propensity to, write.
Putting our thoughts and prayers, our questions and confusion on paper
we attempt to move the frustrating elements a minuscule distance away,
for a minute or possibly longer.
I am also of a mind to place blame,
even though I know that is generally not healthy for the overall psyche
but it is needful for me to vent...
I hold this present presidunce,
the commandeerer in chief primarily responsible for the ignorance
and initial understatement of the current pandemic
while he bloviated about his control over the virus.
Claiming it could not have been foreseen,
that testing was going smoothly hyperbolating
even self-aggrandizing throughout his public appearances
I shuddered at his ineptitude.
When pressed for answers to the rocketing situation he blamed President Obama!
Two years ago the pandemic team abruptly left the administration.
They have not been replaced.
The centers for Disease Control have steadily been defunded.
How can we tell if Rumpletrumpskin is lying?
Hah! His mouth is moving!
He claimed people were being heavily tested before allowed back in the U. S.
but there was only enhanced screening [not tests for COVID-19!]
And this one, “more lives will be lost through suicide
if we don’t lift the shelter in place sanction by Easter!”
Outrageously irresponsible false claims meant to scare, intimidate, and distract.
Don’t be duped.
Listen carefully and heed what the medical professionals are advising.
Do isolate as much as possible.
Be smart.
Be kind.
Be safe.

* * * * *

Lynne Zotalis is a published author and poet, practicing the life-long pursuit to be a peacemaker. She believes and is involved with social, political, and environmental causes. If we can impart awareness to the youngest citizens, our grandchildren, this planet will survive. Her Amazon author page chronicles her books and accomplishments, the latest Hippie at Heart: What I Used To Be, I Still Amhttps://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DC6GZ7T