Thursday 28 February 2019

Grave Considerations

by Tina Cole

Today I bought white lilies
for women who were never given flowers,

their images collage in a flurry
like autumn leaf litter surprised by a sudden gust.

My maiden aunts,
the last disciples of crimplene,

who passed tepid Ovaltine days
under the whine of the Home Service

and woke to absence in single beds
in a house filled with lavender polished quiet.

I wondered if they ever smoked unfiltered,
red lipped and bottle blonded did they dodgem bump

the tongues of neighbours, thread grey lives
with skeins of gossip, risk all on G.I. promises?

But what pleases me most
is the fickle nature of memory

this self-indulgence
and voluntary turning of the tap,

how we can customise the past
and remember the brightest colours.

* * * * *

Tina Cole is a retired education consultant who lives in rural Herefordshire. She delights in poetry that speaks about relationships and how people manage their inner worlds. Her collection – I Almost Knew You – published in 2015 deliberately brings those relationships into view. Other poems have been published in U.K. magazines and journals such as, (Mslexia, Aesthetica & Decanto), one in The Guardian newspaper and in several recent anthologies. In 2018 she won third place in the Army – Writing Armistice National Competition and second place in the Canterbury Poet of the Year. She is the organiser of the Children’s Poetry Competition;

Wednesday 27 February 2019


by Mary K. O'Melveny

I dream of Nancy with her coiffed brown hair
borne, like a spectre, to the White House lair.
I see her mapping out her strategic plays,
happy that her Members will approve her stay.
Many were the promises she had in store
to convince her skeptics she should rule once more.
Oh, I dream of Nancy with her nerves of steel,
her persimmon dresses, her stiletto heels.
I longed for Nancy with her winsome smile.
She gave us what we needed with her artful guile.
She was an expert at rules of days gone by.
Watching her take charge made my heart sigh
as she spoke truth to power again and again,
planning for our future on the enemy’s terrain.
Oh, I longed for Nancy when the country went low,
forgetting who had always been a true (s)hero.
I sighed for Nancy when her tenure was delayed,
but she is back to show us how the game is played.
The policies we need may not be dead and gone.
Her smiles will still sparkle as the gavel comes down,
her manicured fingers wielding it once more,
reminding us all of what was good before.
So, I sigh for Nancy as she assumes the Speaker’s chair,
floating like an angel over our dank, swampy air.

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Observing The Water Denizens

by Katherine L. Gordon

There are no young people here
laughter is raspy and scant
faces lift into smile-mode
retreat behind old grief lines
hooded eyes.
“How is your health?”  “How is your money?”
“Passing fair”  “Bank held”,  the answers.
Everyone lies.
One fellow says “I don’t socialize”
but I comment on his tool-box in the walker
and he fills with light.
Perhaps a social gathering planned
to learn the WHY of our surrenders.

* * * * *

"Observing The Water Denizens " is from Katherine L. Gordon's new poetry collection Caution: Deep Water. The collection deals with the shock of leaving one’s home for the cultural phenomenon of retirement homes, expensive ghettoes for the vulnerable elderly.

Katherine L. Gordon is a rural Ontario poet, publisher, judge, editor and reviewer, working to promote the voices of women poets around the world, as they are now flowering into acclaim.  She has many books, chapbooks, anthologies and collaborations with fine contemporaries whose work inspires her.  Her poems have been translated and awarded internationally. 

Monday 25 February 2019

Retirement Home

by Katherine L. Gordon

Not the pine and maple
red oak of sturdy stone home
with stained glass and fireplaces
that echoed man’s niche
in cliff-clad valley.
No leaves, trees, bird, bush
or river and forest dwellers,
not a fairy intervening Nature,
just the brick and chrome
of industrially ordained structure.
A virtual November
for every month one survives
in long halls with fake plants
shut doors and green-deprived vistas.
All the body expects without visceral connection.
I will decorate it with hair and bone,
all that can be encased without wind or water.

* * * * *

"Retirement Home" is from Katherine L. Gordon's new poetry collection Caution: Deep Water. The collection deals with the shock of leaving one’s home for the cultural phenomenon of retirement homes, expensive ghettoes for the vulnerable elderly.

Katherine L. Gordon is a rural Ontario poet, publisher, judge, editor and reviewer, working to promote the voices of women poets around the world, as they are now flowering into acclaim.  She has many books, chapbooks, anthologies and collaborations with fine contemporaries whose work inspires her.  Her poems have been translated and awarded internationally.  

Sunday 24 February 2019

The Mezuzah

by Robbi Nester

I used to sit at my mother’s vanity
and primp before the glass, fingering her dainty
ornaments and peering at familiar strangers
smiling from their ornate frames.
I was an only child, confident in my position.
I knew the story of my parents’ lives,
marked before my birth and after.
No limits hampered me.
I could be anything I wished.

Then my fingers found a hidden drawer
tucked into the bottom of my mother’s jewelry box.
Triggering the latch, I saw a golden chain
coiled on the velvet lining of the drawer,
tiny likeness of a Torah scroll.
Inside, a scrap of prayer conferred protection
on the one who wore the charm, which had to be
a child, considering how miniscule this was.
I cupped the necklace in my palm and scrambled
down the stairs to ask my mother whose this was.
But when my mother saw the necklace,
her mouth opened and closed
without a sound. Then she said,
“For the baby boy we never had,”
told me these were gifts
for boys, but not for girls,
who didn’t get the parties
boys did at their birth.
For the first time I felt
I must have been
a disappointment of a kind.
She turned away to fold the still-warm
sheets into the basket.
leaving me with questions I would never ask.

* * * * *

"The Mezuzah" is part of Robbi Nesters new poetry collection Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019).

Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry: a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and three collections, including A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014); Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017); and Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). She has also edited two anthologies—The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an Ekphrastic e-book, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees--celebrating the photography of Beth Moon (published as an issue of Poemeleon Poetry Journal).

Saturday 23 February 2019


by Robbi Nester

One hand on the bannister,
at six, I didn’t know
my grandfather,
in faraway South Africa,
would never visit again.

my mother held an open
aerogram, cried out,
“He’s gone!”
She wept, and I couldn’t
understand why.

He had arrived
two years ago
with his bags full of gifts—
a short, round man
clutching a giant doll,
with China-blue eyes—
for me!

In his pockets, he carried
two unset diamonds
for my mother.
He said the doll distracted
the customs people,
kept them from asking
what he had in his pockets.

My mother asked,
“Why aren’t you crying?”
“He was your grandfather!”
her white face hurt and angry.
I tried to squeeze a few
hot tears out of the corners
of my eyes, imagining
the saddest things I could,
but no tears came.

For me, he was already gone.
I couldn’t fathom
words like “never”
or “forever.” So I didn’t cry,
though my mother’s tears
scared me, and her red
mouth, open as a wound.

* * * * *

"1959" is part of Robbi Nesters new collection Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019).

Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry: a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and three collections, including A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014); Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017); and Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). She has also edited two anthologies—The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an Ekphrastic e-book, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees--celebrating the photography of Beth Moon (published as an issue of Poemeleon Poetry Journal).

Friday 22 February 2019


by Gregg Voss

Lauren had never once set foot in the church’s conference room, let alone sat in one of the black captain’s chairs that lined each side of the slender, bowed table. She recalled once, as a fourth grader, running past the room with Tommy and some other kids and being shooed away by a smiling, frowning Pastor Marty, who said he was “doing deals for the Lord, praise God,” before lightly closing the door on himself and the rest of the deacons.

But there she was at seventeen, and under different circumstances, the chair in which she sat would have been comfy. But the seat and the back felt scratchy and uneven like how she imagined Biblical sackcloth, and she could feel imperfections in the surfaces of the armrests. She would have adjusted the chair higher if she had known how, but instead, she felt about a foot too low as Pastor Marty glowered at her from the other side of the blonde-wood table. His only son, Tommy, sat next to him and fiddled with his fingers.

“Well, glory to God, here we are,” Pastor Marty said, and Lauren could see tiny flecks of sweat on his forehead and bald spot that faintly resembled a monk’s tonsure. The blinds were pulled, as if he was trying to conceal something from the rest of the world, though pencil-thin lines of light creeped across the table toward Lauren. 

Was it really a month ago that she had lay naked in the shabby Motel 6 room, staring at a ceiling that looked like a lunar surface, as Tommy snored next to her, creamy and curled in the fetal position? 

It had been the first time for them both, and for her, it hurt, more than she was willing to admit after Tommy finally awoke and took a swig of the Monster energy drink he had left on the desk the previous night. 

It had been a good pain, though, a satisfying pain. The kind of pain for which some wait a lifetime.

Hurting for Jesus.

But the first test had come back positive, the blue plus sign screaming at her from just beyond her thumb and forefinger. Her heartbeat tripled and churned under her bra as she retook the test, before running out of pee. Positive again. A frantic hour later, she called Tommy.

They had kept quiet for a full week, instead fretting and crying over Facetime about what to do. He had finally convinced her that meeting with his father was the right course of action. Pastor Marty was a tongue-talking prayer warrior. A counselor. An intercessor. He had the Batphone to God, Tommy said, and that connection couldn’t be broken.

He’d know what to do.

They had agreed that Tommy would take the lead in the discussion, because it was his father, after all, but his words broke down and spluttered in the heavy air of the conference room. He placed his hands over his tearful face as if to hide himself from a car careening toward him on the nearby interstate. 

That put Lauren on the firing line, and the hot lights of Pastor Marty’s glare caused her to stutter, but only once.

Words are seeds, she had heard Pastor Marty say repeatedly over the years from behind the clear plastic lectern in God’s holy sanctuary. As hers left her lips – “I-I’m pregnant” – they germinated and formed a gray mist that veiled the room. Tommy continued to whimper, enhancing the effect.

Pastor Marty stared blankly at her for the better part of a minute before tenting his fingers and placing them under his nostrils with several audible sighs. His eyeballs roamed her face to a spot behind her head, before returning to meet her eyes.

“You’ll have to get married,” he finally replied, as if those mirthless, hollow words were the antidote to hers, the panacea. 

Tommy had stopped his bleating and sat up in his chair, wiping tears from both eyes and emerging with a hopeful countenance.

“Doesn’t the Lord say in Exodus,” Pastor Marty said, “if a man entices a maiden to whom he is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”

A pause, and he turned to Tommy.

“I’m profoundly disappointed in you, son,” he said. “Couldn’t you remember Corinthians – flee from sexual immorality? All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but one who sins sexually sins against his own body.”

Another pause and the glare returned to Lauren.

“And in Thessalonians: For this is the will of God,” he said, “that ye should abstain from fornication.”

The flecks of sweat on Pastor Marty’s forehead had grown and were glinting in the yellow light of the conference room as a vein on the left side of his head did pushups. He tugged at his tie to loosen it a bit, then crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.

“Preparations will begin immediately,” he said to no one in particular, and then turned his attention to Lauren, “Are your parents aware …”

“I don’t want to get married,” she said as simply and evenly as she could muster, a tone of voice that was choppier and weaker than she had hoped for, but nevertheless, those words became seeds.

Silence, as they grew.

“Biblically, your options are limited, young lady,” Pastor Marty replied with an imperious, parental tone, and it occurred to Lauren that in all the years she and her family had attended church, all of those Sundays and Wednesday nights, all those youth group evenings with poppy contemporary Christian music, that he had never called her by her first name. 

“I’m not getting married, not now, anyway,” she said, leaning forward and as she did so, her chair made a swooshing sound and the seat rose about half a foot, allowing her to look directly into Pastor Marty’s black marble eyes. 

“But the Bible says …” 

“I’m not ready,” Lauren cut him off, “and I know he isn’t either.”

Tommy had expended great effort to make himself look small in his chair, but sat up.

“What do you mean by that?” he said. “This sucks,” then stopped and corrected himself as Pastor Marty fired a stare at him, “It stinks, but I’m ready. We have to do this. The Bible says so.”

“You’re not ready,” Lauren said flatly, reflecting on not only Monster energy drinks but his farting, burping, off-color jokes and video games. Oh, so many video games … arcade, Xbox, Fortnite on his phone. Definitely not ready.

But there had always been something about him, a sort of bauble quality.

Thanks to funds that flowed into the church and Pastor Marty from tithing, second collections and other church fundraisers, Tommy had been a preppy kid growing up, always with the right style for that moment in time, feathered hair and polo shirts. As a pre-teen, Lauren had seen him for perhaps the first time, with as much of an attraction as can be gauged at that age. He was the first boy she had kissed, at age twelve, in the Cineplex parking lot, behind a van, away from the prying eyes of their friends.

Over the past two years, though, Tommy had drifted into pseudo-gothic garb, black t-shirts and jeans, even a pair of used combat boots he had purchased at the Army-Navy store downtown, along with a black leather jacket. He colored his straight, sandy hair black and it swept across his hairline from left to right, a lot like the guys she had seen in old movies, like Grease. He even tried smoking, Kools, for the smooth, minty taste.

The look was … sexy. 

Tommy had adopted a way of hooking his thumbs through his belt loops and leaning up against a wall, throwing his head back so his hair didn’t fall over his left eye. That was what ultimately led her to the conference room table. 

“Where you goin’ tonight?” he had said after that Wednesday’s youth group, in a lower tone that was part puberty, part on purpose to fit with his regalia. “Wanna go out?”

The movie had been the latest Mission Impossible epic, which she consented to because she thought Tom Cruise was as hot as he had been in old movies she had seen, Top Gun and Rain Man and the like. She had seen them all. Tommy simply wanted to see the action scenes, and he bobbed and bounced in his chair with each explosion, punching the air and grinning.

He had worn cologne that night, a loud fragrance she couldn’t place. But she had no experience in such matters and she thought it smelled divine, even as his lips touched her neck in the front seat of Pastor Marty’s Chrysler 300 and her hand ambled toward his crotch, hoping to feel what she saw in her mind’s eye.

He came up for air. “I’ve got an idea,” he had said, and twenty minutes and a credit card later he was entering her on the Motel 6 bed. She had freaked a little when she noticed a little bright red blood when it was over, but there was a commonsense reason for that, and Tommy gave her the quick biology lesson before curling up on his side of the bed.  

Now, that seemed so long ago.

“You’re … not … ready,” Pastor Marty intoned, placing flat emphasis on each word, as if that would somehow more effectively convey his disapproval. 

“I know I’m not,” Lauren said, before giving him a chance to continue.

“And we already know how you feel about my son.”

Lauren adjusted her backside in her chair before responding.          

“This is scary,” she said, “really, really scary. But I don’t want to make another mistake on top of this one.”

            “Let me ask you this,” Pastor Marty said, sitting up in his chair high enough that it looked as if he might spring across the table like in the movies. It caused Lauren to push back her own chair ever so slightly.

            “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” he said. “Have you been slain in the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues? Because if you had been, your attitude and decisions about this matter would be much different. They would align with the Lord’s opinion, and that of his servant.”

            Lauren had accepted the Lord when she was nine, quivering as she stood in her Holy Ghost bench (not pew, never pew) when Pastor Marty gave the call. She didn’t walk down to the front of the sanctuary as much as she had floated, the sensation of her leg movements dissipating with each step. Every instinct within her was screaming not to embarrass herself, with all eyes upon her. That was the enemy, Pastor Marty said, as soon as she arrived up front, “trying to scare you into turning away from the Lord, praaaaisse God!”

            At fourteen, Pastor Marty physically baptized her in the turbid creek that ran a few hundred yards behind church and at that same time also baptized her in the Holy Spirit, where she metaphorically stepped out of the boat of her youth into the world of speaking in other tongues. She had expected something different from that experience, a lightness perhaps, or a profound sense of relief from the problems of that time of her life – mostly homework, chores and boys, boys, boys. Including Tommy, about whom she had begun fantasizing before stolidly repenting. But she had always had a hard time articulating the babble that she could hear in her mind.

            “You’ve been coming to this church for years and I don’t recall ever seeing you get excited about Jesus, get hopped up on the Word,” Pastor Marty said. “You come to the physical building, certainly, but I don’t see any enthusiasm, any spark. No assurance that you’re saved. And I’m not going to have this ministry torn apart and have its reputation – and my reputation as the Lord’s servant – damaged by a person who isn’t a tongue-talking, born-again child of the Lord Jesus Christ. I simply won’t have it.” His voice octave heightened with each word, enough to make Tommy flinch.

            So that was it. Pastor Marty was the closest thing in their city to a religious celebrity, what with his church that hosted thousands every Sunday in multiple services and fielded media requests for commentary when something happened that shook the community’s faith. Neither Lauren nor Tommy had been alive for 9/11, but in YouTube videos, a younger Pastor Marty, with much more hair, had been a beacon in the darkness as most wondered if that horrible event was the harbinger of the end times. In those videos, he stormed across the front of the sanctuary, rebuking the enemy and all his foul works in the precious Name, alternatively toggling between English and an unknown tongue, before the scene cut to his somber face as he was interviewed by a Channel 12 reporter. 

            And then, like John on the island of Patmos, there was silence in the conference room for what seemed like a half an hour. Everyone leaned back in their chairs, as if to catch a breath.

            Pastor Marty stood and placed his hands on the table and leaned toward Lauren.

            “The Bible says it clearly in First Corinthians – because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband,” he said. “That should be evidence enough to guide you in this unfortunate situation.”

            He paused before adding, “… if you’re a Christian.”

            “I’m saved.”

            “Doubtful. The Spirit would guide you toward my words.”

            “I’m not getting married.”

            “Then you’re a harlot, and you’ve led my son astray …”

            “I’m not a whore,” hot tears beginning to form behind Lauren’s eyeballs.

            “… and you’ll have to answer to the Lord Almighty if the reputation of my ministry is damaged. For the Bible says …”

            “I told you, I’m not getting married,” and Lauren turned toward Tommy. His hands were crossed on the table, and they made eye contact for a moment before he looked down. His greasy hair fell over his nose.

            “You will,” Pastor Marty said, “and if not, then you’ll go away. I’m aware of a special home for people like you where you can have the baby and then it will be adopted by loving Christian parents. That is the end of this discussion.” He rose to leave.

            That was the first time Lauren realized she was going to be a mother. 

            A mom. The word was another seed, fraught with meaning.

            Pastor Marty had reached the conference room door before Lauren spoke again.


            He stopped, and was that a hopeful echo in his eyes?

            “If we’re going to get married,” she said, motioning toward Tommy, “then wouldn’t it be important to know a little something about me first? You’re going to be the grandfather of our child, after all.”

            Grandfather. Another seed, and Lauren could tell it was growing fast in the fertile farmland of Pastor Marty’s mind.

            Brow furrowed and eyebrows raised, he returned to the table and sat down.

            “Yes, of course,” he said. “What would you like to tell me?”

            “It’s more of a question,” Lauren replied, and after a brief pause, she said, “What’s my name? My full name, first and last?”

            Pastor Marty’s jaw dropped just a hair and he turned to Tommy as if seeking a lifeline. But Tommy said nothing.

            Lauren got up from her chair, took two steps toward the conference room door, stepped out and closed it quietly.

            She was going to be a great mom.

* * * * *

Gregg Voss is a marketing communications writer during the day and covers high school sports most evenings and weekends. In the intervening time, he is a prolific fiction writer. He has completed his first long-form manuscript, a short story collection tentatively titled "The Valley of American Shadow," which he hopes to publish in 2019. He’s also working on his first novel. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife and daughter.