Thursday, 4 June 2020


Mourning    
                        (for Emily Dickinson)

by Susan Tepper


If you listen closely
you can
come to believe
the hissing radiator
is wind outside the windows
the eyes to a world she
decided to let go—
It was long before your time 

A war carried out 
in bloody meadows and
the fields of her country
which is your country—

Then when all became clear
she clothed herself in white.


* * * * *

More about Susan Tepper and her widely published work can be found at www.susantepper.com.



Wednesday, 3 June 2020


The Break

by Janet Koops


Every night, Sharon (creature of habit that she was), would make a pot of tea. After letting it steep for exactly three and a half minutes, she would pour it into her favorite teacup, climb into bed, and enjoy its comfort and warmth. She preferred teas that were bold and full-bodied, even at night. The only improvement to her ritual, was the perfect cup. She had searched, almost endlessly, for a teacup that not only looked good, but met all her needs. Did it feel nice in her hands? Did she look nice holding it? Did it have an air of sophistication? Was it polished and classy? Strong and dependable? It couldn’t be too new, nor an antique. And of course, it had to be big enough to satisfy her thirst. Six months ago, she had found it. Or so she thought. That’s why the break was so unexpected. One night, without warning, it just happened. She poured her tea, as usual, when she heard a distinct crack. Sharon stood there is disbelief. All that was left were two distinct pieces and a hell of a mess.

For months Sharon told anyone who would listen.

I still can’t believe it, she’d say, it was such a shock. I still don’t know why it happened.

Eventually people stopped inviting her over for dinner or out for drinks, it was that uncomfortable. Even Tanya, her sister, called less and less. Their most recent conversation went like this:

Oh, come on Sharon, don’t you think it’s time you just let it go? It was just a cup. Nothing you do will bring it back.

I can’t help thinking it must have been something I did and didn’t even realize it.

Oh my God, for the last time, it wasn’t you, it was the cup.

Sharon didn’t know what else to say. You don’t just get over something like this. She had searched for such a long time for something so cultured, so elegant, so…so…refined. It was Royal Dalton for Pete’s sake. Made in England. Her sister preferred big bulky coffee mugs. She was careless and broke so many she now bought ones from the dollar store. While they looked good at first, they never lasted long enough for Tanya to get attached.

Recalling their conversation later that night, Sharon wondered if perhaps, she shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, they never had nice cups growing up. Nice cups never lasted long around their small apartment so eventually her mother gave up bringing them home. But Sharon missed their presence. The one thing Sharon had promised herself as a young girl was that one day, she’d eventually get herself a quality, reliable, cup. One she could always depend on. She’d felt as if she’d won the lottery when she found this one at an antique store down by the lake. Something about it just caught her eye. It was understated but confident. She could feel its inner strength. She’d finally found the one.

How could she have been so wrong?


* * * * *

Originally from Toronto, Janet Koops now calls Bend, Oregon home. She enjoys the challenge of short fiction and her writing can be found on her web site http://janetkoops.com and in Blink Ink50 Word Stories and (mac)ro(mic). When she is not sitting at her computer, she is exploring the high desert with her husky.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020


Dragonflies after the Flood

by Joan Leotta


On the porch, stench of mud all around.
Grass, sidewalk, up to the first step.
A dragonfly follows me to the front door
then flits away when we go inside.
My husband grabs a flashlight and
flips on the electricity in the garage.
The air conditioner growls awake.
I press the opener. The big white door lifts
revealing poisoned stinking
mud spread from end to end.
We glance about to gauge
what can be saved, what is
irretrievable from the grasp of the storm.
Dragonfly glides in from the porch.
He has brought a friend.
I try to shoo them out.
“Chemicals, who knows what else,
is in the air here. Leave! Leave!”
They stay. We work.
We cannot breathe the fetid air for long.
About to close the door,
I try again to get the dragonflies to leave.
I think I have chased them out,
but in the morning when I open the door,
I see them, in the middle of the floor,
curled up next to each other,
like lovers—angel faces smiling up at me,
gossamer wings still shining as they did in life.
I begin to cry.
So many have lost so much in the flood
what we have lost, money can replace.
I am crying for the dragonflies.
They survived the storm, the water rising.
dying only in the fetid air after the storm.
Dragonflies, why didn’t you listen to me?
My tears will not revive you.


* * * * *

Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer, expressing her love of words and desire to encourage others on page and on stage. Her work has been published widely as poems, essays, articles, and books. On stage she most often performs folk and personal tales dealing with food, family, nature, and strong women. She has been published in Writing in Woman’s Voice, Silver Birch, The Ekphrastic Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Tema, and others.


Monday, 1 June 2020


A Stranger Came Knocking

by Cynthia Anderson


—which never happens, since
our house sits far from the street,
behind No Trespassing signs.
We put them up years ago to stop
Jehovah’s Witnesses. The last
opened with, How do you explain
tragedy in our lives? I replied,

You know that blind spot on
our driveway? If you meet a car
going the other way, that’s tragedy.
We keep track of who’s expected,
can’t let you arrive at random.
Please, don’t come back.

Today, a young woman stood
at the door with long, curly hair,
a backpack, and a big dog who
ran wild, trying to force his way
inside. She said he was a stray,
that they hiked onto our land
from the south—crossing open
desert, then over a rocky hill.

She claimed to live on the next
street, just wanted to meet her
neighbors. While she talked
about being single, I kept
glancing at a thick book
lying on the doormat—
like a Bible, with a grey cover.
What was it doing there?

Soon enough she confessed—
Jehovah’s Witness. I’m harmless,
she laughed, eyes averted.
Nervous, on a suicide mission,
ordered not to return without
my soul? Under the thumb
of the man I sent packing
long ago? An innocent,
pawn, shyster, or all three?

She picked up the printed bait.
I led her down the front walk
to the driveway, advised her
to stick to the road, and gave
her directions home. Later,
I walked the property,
wondered if her knock
was a cry for help.

Despite twisted motives,
she had the right thought—
to meet her neighbors.
One day we might face
disaster and need each other—
while stray dogs go crazy
around us, getting away
with whatever they can.


* * * * *

Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she is the author of nine poetry collections. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She co-edited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravenswww.cynthiaandersonpoet.com

Sunday, 31 May 2020


An Old Story

by Cynthia Anderson

­
There once was a lonely man
in a house on a shady street
who saw my grandmother,
five years old, and took a shine
to her, wanting a daughter,
someone to look after, someone
to raise—and soon, someone
to cook and clean and care
for him. He went to her father
and tried to buy her.
She was the ninth child
and her family was poor,
so the cash would have been
a windfall. This man knocked
on the door for weeks, brought
candy and begged. But her
father stood firm—I can’t
spare any of my children.
Not even one. How often
in her life did she pass him
in the street, the park,
the square—and what sigh
of relief did she breathe
when he died?


* * * * *

Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she is the author of nine poetry collections. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She co-edited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravenswww.cynthiaandersonpoet.com


Saturday, 30 May 2020


No Mercy in the Garden

by Kathleen Murphey

Eve opened her eyes and gazed about herself in wonder.  A being like herself was staring at her intently, kneeling beside her.  She glanced down at herself, taking in her form for the first time.  Wavy brown hair trailed down her back and shoulders.  It tickled.  She had full rounded breasts and hips and long shapely legs, and there was different coarser hair over her vagina.  She glanced back at the being in front of her and realized that he was like her and yet not like her at the same time.  They must have been of the same species—their fair skin seemed the same, their limbs mirrored each other (arms, legs, torsos).  He had breasts too but they were not full like hers, and although he had pubic hair that was coarse like hers, from the midst of his was a penis and scrotum.  Where his chest was broad and his hips narrow, her hips were wide and her shoulders were more delicate.  His face was full of sharp lines, his nose and the edges of his jaw.  Her hand reached and felt her face.  It seemed softer somehow, but she wasn’t sure.  Was there any way for her to see herself, she wondered?   
“Eve?” the being said softly.  He held out his hand to her, and she shifted, taking his hand  and sitting up.  “I am Adam, and you are my wife.  God created you to be my companion and my helper,” he said excitedly.  He rose to his feet and brought her with him.
Eve looked at him in confusion.  Wife?  God?  Created for him?  For Adam?  Why not the other way around, him for me, or both together?  “Wife?” she managed to ask.
“Yes, wife,” and he reached up with his hand to stroke her face.  It felt nice.  As his fingers traced over her face, his thumb found her mouth.  It caressed her lips, and she parted them.  He had been standing close to her, but suddenly, he was shockingly close.  His face bent toward hers, and he moved so that their bodies were pressed together.  His lips met hers, and he wrapped his arms around her in an embrace.  The sensations were pleasing.  She kissed him back, their tongues exploring each other’s mouths, and her arms wrapping around him.  Their hands roamed over their bodies, and though they had just stood up, they sunk back to the ground, and their mouths traveled over other parts of their bodies.  Instinctively, they seemed to know what to do.  They seemed to know that moving his penis in and out of her vagina would be intensely pleasurable to him but that she needed to be sexually aroused differently.  He touched her breasts and her nipples.  Her sexual arousal was as exciting to him as it was for her, and his increasing erection made his penis throb.  They moaned with pleasure, and he touched her and found her clitoris and made her come.  It was fascinating and erotic.  She was ready.  Gently, he pushed his penis into her vagina, and it was heaven for him.  She was wet enough that it was easy for a rhythm to develop between them, and then it was his turn to come, and his orgasm mirrored hers, the ecstasy of it, the pleasure of it.  This was wonderful.  They lay in each other’s arms, happy and content.
“Wife?” she repeated, “and what are you?”
“Wife,” he said again.  “I am your husband.  A man and a woman are joined as one in marriage.  You are mine, and I am yours.”
Again, his explanation raised as many questions as answers.  Why one?  Why not two in a partnership?  Two as One implied a dominant one and a passive one; she didn’t like that implication.  It seemed dangerous.  She had been created for him.  Clearly, she didn’t seem to count as much as he did—why was that?  A companion and a helper was a partner, wasn’t she?  Yours?  Possessive.  Could one person belong to another?  Should one person belong to another?  Why couldn’t each person belong to him or herself?  “Marriage,” she repeated a little numbly.  He kissed her gently, soothingly.  He pulled away from her and rose to his feet.  Again, he held out his hand for her, and she let him pull her up.
“Come,” he said softly.  “Let me show you the Garden,” and he led her through the Garden, showing her the various plants and flowers, the fruits and herbs and vegetables.  He showed her the beasts of the fields and the birds of the air.  He told her all their names.  He explained that he had named them all, and she felt a rush of irritation.  God had given Adam the task of naming everything.  God had thought so little of her that she had no voice in the naming of the things and creatures in their world, and he, Adam, didn’t feel that this was wrong or an oversight.  What kind of man was she bound to?  Pulling her out of this train of thought, he showed her the trees in the Garden, and last of all, he showed her the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and he told her that God had forbidden them to eat of this specific tree because, if they did, they would surely die.  Questions flared in her mind again.  Why would God want to withhold knowledge from us?  What was good?  What was evil?  What was death?  What was this God like?
Calming her mind, she asked, “What is God like?”
“He is our all-powerful father.  He created everything, the earth and the stars, you and me, every living on thing on the earth and this Garden, the Garden of Eden, a paradise for us.”
“And he has no companion?  Is he not lonely?” she asked curiously.
“He has us,” Adam answered.
They picked fruits and berries and ate contentedly.    As the sun set, they huddled together and whispered to each other until they were tired, and then they fell asleep in each other’s arms.  The days passed pleasantly.  They continued to explore the Garden and each other.  Making love was exciting and fun.  They did it every day sometimes multiple times.  The more practiced they became, the more they realized that Eve could come frequently whereas Adam usually need to rest some before getting aroused again.
One day, Eve was by herself gathering nuts and berries when the serpent walked through the grass revealing himself to her.  “Woman,” he said, “why don’t you collect the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”
“Because God said that the fruit would kill us?” she answered.
“The fruit will not kill you.  It will make you like God.  You will know good and evil,” he said slyly.  He left her after that.  She stared after him and did not know what to make of this contradictory information.  Surely, they should have knowledge.  Surely, they should know about good and evil.  She pushed the thoughts from her mind. 
That night, cradled in Adam’s arms, she asked, “What is good?”
“Eve,” he said cautiously.  “Why do you want to know?”
“I just don’t understand what it is or what evil is?  What is our point here in the Garden?  We are alive for what purpose?” she answered.
He kissed her suggestively, and she laughed.  “Yes, yes, but seriously,” and she pulled away from him.
He looked at her, “I don’t know our purpose beyond tending and keeping the Garden and being together, but I am content.  We have everything we need, and we have each other.  Isn’t that enough?  Why are you asking?”
She told him what the serpent had said to her.  He frowned, “We cannot risk going against God.  He created all this.  He could take it away too.  Eve, please.  What you are suggesting scares me.”
“But we are all that God has?  Doesn’t he love us, like I love you and you love me?” she asked.  “I mean, we have argued and disagreed, but we have forgiven each other because that’s what people do who love each other.”
“But we are human, Eve.  I don’t know how God would react to disobedience.  Please stop this,” he implored.
She relented reluctantly and nuzzled into his chest.  Sleep came easily, and the next morning was spectacular.  The sun streamed through the Garden, making everything lush and exquisitely beautiful.  After they had made love, they searched together for food, but they found little—only a few berries and nuts.  They ate those quickly, but they were not enough to sate their hunger.  They split up to cover more ground, and Eve found herself before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The fruit looked so ripe and so good that she couldn’t resist.  She plucked one of the fruits and bit into it.  It was wonderful, and it sated her hunger in just the one bite.   Adam called out for her, and she brought him the fruit.  He had found nothing and looked curiously at the fruit in her hand. 
“Eve, what is that?” he asked carefully.
“You know,” she answered.
“We can’t,” he said automatically and stepped back from her outstretched hand holding the fruit.
“I am full from a single bite,” she answered.
Hunger won over caution, and Adam took the fruit from her hand and bit.  It was just as she had said, delicious and filling.  He looked at her, and she looked at him, and their eyes were opened.  They were naked, and somehow that was wrong; it was evil.  Their being sexual together, naked and exploratory, had been absolute bliss, sheer pleasure, ecstasy, heaven on earth, and now it was turned into something dirty and tawdry.   They found leaves to cover themselves, and they hid.
Eve’s mind rebelled against this shame she felt over her sexuality, because as she understood their nakedness, she also knew other things about good and evil.  Good was music, art, love, joy, compassion, creativity, poetry, literature, kindness, generosity, empathy, sympathy, tenderness.  Evil was murder, greed, violence, hate, slavery, cruelty, war, rape, division, superiority, intolerance.  That sexual knowledge, the ultimate connection between two human beings, could be considered knowledge of evil instead of the knowledge of good made no sense to her.  But this was a God who discounted her, discounted a woman, perhaps all women.  This was a God who had no companion, who did not share his life with an equal partner—who saw no one as equal to himself.  This was a God who did not truly love—but only commanded and punished.  Fear engulfed her.  They would be punished for their breach of the command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Paradise would be stripped away from them, and their relationship would become more antagonistic than ever.  She, the woman, would suffer the most, because this God had thought of her as the least worthy.
In knowing about good, she also realized that she was pregnant.  A life was growing in her womb.  She knew she would do anything for this life.  She hoped that Adam would feel the same way.  They would be parents, and they would love their child.  God had created this capacity.  What did that say?  Why didn’t he feel that way for them?  Unlike the other animals who reproduced in the Garden, Eve sensed that their human infant would need their care desperately and for a long time.  That’s why humans loved, so they could stay together as a family and do things that went far beyond what were convenient or in one’s self-interest.   Communal effort would be needed to raise human children—by both parents—perhaps even beyond a child’s mother and father—and Eve wondered about a world where there were more humans than just them.  Perhaps in such a world the women would help each other with childbirth, childcare, and in other things, the men and women would work together.  Her musings were broken when God entered the Garden.
God called for Adam.  He didn’t have a corporeal form but was a staggering presence.  Eve was afraid of him, and the contrast between what she felt for the child in her womb and what God seemed to feel for her was startling.  She would forgive her child nearly anything—and yet this God would not, she knew.
“Why are you hiding from me?” God asked.  “Come forward,” he demanded.
Adam obeyed, grasping Eve’s wrist and pulling her forward with him.
“You have disobeyed me, Adam.  You have eaten the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” God thundered at them.
Adam trembled before God and turned to blame Eve.  “She, the woman, Eve, ate of the fruit and gave me some,” he said lamely.
Eve thought of blaming the serpent, but she didn’t think it would help.  “We were hungry, God.  Please be merciful,” she begged, but she knew her pleas would be disregarded.
“No.  You will be removed from the Garden, and all that was provided here so easily will cause you toil and labor.  Adam will rule over Eve, and Eve will have difficulty in childbirth.  Your lives will be finite, so you will know death.  Though you do not mention the serpent, I know of his involvement.  His legs will be stripped away, and women and serpents will be enemies forever.”
Adam was too overcome to speak.  Eve gasped and said, “My God, isn’t being driven from the Garden enough of a punishment?  All these others—how will we bear them?  How will I bear them since most of them seemed aimed at me?  I thought you made me to be Adam’s partner not his servant.  Don’t you love us?”
“I am God.  I gave you life,” God answered angrily.
“But is that enough?  I am with child, but for it to survive and flourish, Adam and I will need to do much more than simply give birth to it—a birth now that will be difficult.  Please do not abandon us,” she implored.  “To error is human, and to forgive is divine, is it not?”
But God had turned away from them and was gone.  Fire flashed through the sky.  Cherubim with flaming swords appeared in the sky.  They landed around Adam and Eve and drove them from the Garden.


* * * * *

Kathleen Murphey is an Associate Professor at Community College of Philadelphia. She had her first play performed as part the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, P Pan and Beyondland, with performances at the German Society of Pennsylvania on Saturday September 15th and Sunday September 16th, 2018. More information about her and the play can be found at her Website, www.kathleenmurphey.com



Friday, 29 May 2020


Elegy

by Tobi Alfier


I don’t remember much.
Arrivals and departures blur
like an outdoor square on market day
some place, some lovely place,
where the language is not mine.
It is finally warm after a winter
both wicked and perilous.
Hand-knit scarves the color of forests
and brambled berries now replaced
by headscarves in fruited hues.

Willows bend, applaud their reflections
in quiet rivers, still but for the splash
of dragonfly, the sound of graceful
herons landing among lilypads
and algae. They check the sun,
fly off again.

I know the calendar, welcome
new growth in the fields,
turn of the waterwheel, melody
of tractors and trains from miles
away. But I did not know how much,
how much the weight his final
departure would leave on the hearts
of all, no matter the memories,
each different and owned without
disgrace, like quicksilver mirages
widening in the unaccompanied sun.


* * * * *

"Elegy" was first published in Main Street Rag (2019/2020).

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies was published by Cholla Needles Press. Symmetry: earth and sky is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).

Thursday, 28 May 2020


High Tea
            For Amy

by Tobi Alfier


Shoulders and biceps tough,
shapely as a wrought iron
balustrade on a Bourbon Street
balcony, from thousands
of pushups in 5:00am PT,
flushed face a match for the rise
of dawn, always the count
inside her head—forty, fifty,
sixty, controlled face lowered
onto cool grass.

Now she is at tea,
a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” frock,
off the shoulder, over the knee,
I am a lovely woman she thinks,
her reflection poised in the many mirrors.
Legs crossed, patent-leather pumps,
tiny earrings peep through hair
delicately placed over her ears.
A pot of Earl Grey at her elbow,
sweets and sandwiches to the side.

No stripes, no boots, no salutes.
This is a day to remember the quiet
goodness of daily blessings, the definition
of friend. This man—this gentleman—
who doesn’t keep score, or harbor resentment
like a plague…She could get a PhD
in disappointment, but no fieldwork
will be done today. The only decisions—
wildflower honey or acacia, and which flowers
to bring home to grace both their houses.


* * * * *

"High Tea" was first published in Cholla Needles (Issue 33) and is part of Tobi Alfier's new collection Symmetry: earth and sky (forthcoming from Main Street Rag).

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies was published by Cholla Needles Press. Symmetry: earth and sky is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).


Wednesday, 27 May 2020


YOU OK?

by Anita S Pulier


In this quarantine marathon
morning is evening.
Hours poorly punctuated,
like a run-on sentence,
suffer from adjective flooding.

long
frightening
sad
sunny
dreary
endless 

Innocent verbs 
face the danger 
of domestic abuse

wake
cook
sleep
shower
wash
eat

The family chatters
on a zoom-packed screen,
eyeglasses steam up over masks,
droplets and aerosols
swarm like summer’s no-see-ums.

April arrives,
cherry and apple trees bloom,
daffodils sparkle in exhaust free air,
mockingbirds imitate screaming sirens.

How small the difference
between noise and song.

My love, look up!
The sun rises and sets,
the moon reassures,
we’re okay.


* * * * *

After retiring from her law practice, Anita served as a U. S. representative for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom at the United Nations.

Her chapbooks Perfect Diet, The Lovely Mundane and Sounds Of Morning as well as her book The Butchers Diamond were published by Finishing Line Press. Anita’s poems have appeared both online and in print in many journals and several anthologies. Recently she has been the featured poet on The Writers Almanac.

Anita's website address is http://psymeet.com/anitaspulier/.



Tuesday, 26 May 2020



UNKNOWING

by Vera Kewes Salter


At fifteen she had no language to describe
her own body when the man lured her

into his cabin and caused unknown
sensations to radiate through her.

She tried to write about this in her green leather
diary with the gold lock. Her boyfriend made her

shred it and pitch it into the waste bin at the underground
station because she was not able to say

if she had real sex. She sobbed every evening
as he harangued her on the phone.

She is glad her three-year old granddaughters know 
to say they wash their vaginas each night in the tub.


* * * * *

Raised in England to parents who were refugees from Europe, Vera Kewes Salter moved to the United States in 1969 and married into an African American family. Together with a PhD in sociology these varied perspectives inform her work. She writes at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center. She has been published recently in Right Hand Pointing, Writers Circle 2, and Red Eft Review.