Tuesday, 2 March 2021

 

Who Does the World Belong To?

by Elise Stuart


To the raven, and their calling
To the fox, rarely seen
To the coyote, howling in the distance
To the bluebirds, flying down from the branch.

It belongs to the trees, stark and naked in winter
To the flowing river
To the nearly opened bud
To the green stones, the white shells.

It belongs to the lonely peak of the mountain
the bowl of the valley
the burning heat of the desert
the dripping rain forest.

It belongs to the constant moon
To the stars, breathing above―
And we will come and go
And we will come and go.


* * * * *

Elise Stuart is a writer of poetry and short stories. She’s facilitated numerous poetry workshops for students in Silver City schools, feeling how important it is to give voice to youth. Her first poetry book, and then her memoir, My Mother and I, We Talk Cat were both published in 2017. She lives in Silver City, New Mexico with four cats, a sweet rascal of a pup, and her piano.


Monday, 1 March 2021

 

Power Play

by Alexis Rhone Fancher


When my lover tells me I cannot say no, and I protest, she parts my legs, says yes, baby. Yes. I do what I’m told. No becomes a foreign country. I take it as permission. Open season. So when the waiter asks if there’ll be anything else, I peruse his menu. I’m stuffed, but I say yes, cram my mouth with macaroons and chocolate. And when the Lyft driver seduces me in the rear-view, eyes me like prey, asks, May I kiss you? I say yes. And when the long-legged woman I’ve long lusted after at the gym wonders aloud if I’m single, asks me to dinner and a movie, I say yes. And when she invites me into her bed, what can I say but yes, yes, yes? And when my fan in Nova Scotia begs me to be his muse, to sanction an explicit ode to my breasts, my ankles, my lower lip, a poem he’d never show his wife, I cannot say no to his lust and delusion. Now he wants to climb me, sublime me, shoot me full of stars. Is this what you want, too? he writes, and I answer yes. And when I return to my lover at last and she sinks into the heady dampness between my thighs, looks up at me and asks, Have you been faithful? I say, Yes.


* * * * *

©Alexis Rhone Fancher. "Power Play" was first published in Harbor Review, 2020, and nominated for Best of the Net, 2020.

Alexis Rhone Fancher is published in Best American Poetry, Rattle, Hobart, Verse Daily, Plume, Cleaver, Diode, Duende, Pirene’s Fountain, Poetry East, Pedestal Magazine and elsewhere. She’s authored five poetry collections, most recently, Junkie Wife (Moon Tide Press, 2018), and The Dead Kid Poems (KYSO Flash Press, 2019). EROTIC: New & Selected, from New York Quarterly, and another, full-length collection (in Italian) by Edizioni Ensemble, Italia, will both be published in 2021. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly. www.alexisrhonefancher.com

 

Sunday, 28 February 2021

 

We carry our identity on our fingertips

by Alexis Rhone Fancher


When you think that I’m not looking,
you bring your fingers to your nose.
We carry our identity on our fingertips,

you say, pattern recognition-based,
all those whorls and arches
.
I’d know them anywhere, baby,

your ridges, and loops,
how fiercely they grip and throttle.
Tonight I slice the garlic, season the roast,

rub cinnamon, brown sugar, pepper
and salt into the meat.
Sear it evenly on all eight sides.

When I bring my fingers to my nostrils, I smell dinner;
when I bring them to yours, you smell love.
I watch you scrape those tasty bits

from the bottom of the pot,
deglaze with beef broth and merlot.
We tie the rosemary sprigs with twine;

float them above the nascent gravy,
chopped onions the crown on top.
You set the timer for 70 minutes,

program the Instant Pot for quick release.
Meanwhile, in the bedroom, we’ve got time.
You school me in the efficacy

of facial recognition, palm prints, iris I.D.
rub your body all over mine, finger my flesh,
program me for quick release.


* * * * *

"We carry our identity on our fingertips" was firs published in The Night Heron Barks (October, 2020)

Alexis Rhone Fancher is published in Best American Poetry, Rattle, Hobart, Verse Daily, Plume, Cleaver, Diode, Duende, Pirene’s Fountain, Poetry East, Pedestal Magazine and elsewhere. She’s authored five poetry collections, most recently, Junkie Wife (Moon Tide Press, 2018), and The Dead Kid Poems (KYSO Flash Press, 2019). EROTIC: New & Selected, from New York Quarterly, and another, full-length collection (in Italian) by Edizioni Ensemble, Italia, will both be published in 2021. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly. www.alexisrhonefancher.com

Saturday, 27 February 2021

 

On today's beautiful full moon (I saw a preview last night at moon rise!), the 70th Moon Prize goes to Eve West Bessier's poem "The Love Tattoo."


The Love Tattoo

by Eve West Bessier


Time listens.  An old crow in the young corn.
Hungry.  Patient.

Geraldine Maia Jones sits on the front porch steps,
her bare feet planted on the boards of the sagging stair,
like they might never again stray from this place
of her birth.  Her red dress sulks between brown knees
ankles swollen from years of travel and heels.

The molecules of wood under her soles resonate
with the vibration of the instrument at her chin.
The amber violin’s sensuous form holds steady
as rapids of Rachmaninov flow under fluid fingering.
She bows the white water tones into the windless sky.

She moans and pauses.  The weather speaks Gershwin. 
She turns her face upward into the full flare of sun,
her forehead glistening.  She adjusts the violin and begins to pull
the long, languid notes from the wood.  "Summertime." 

Silver Brown’s hound dog howls
from its yard down the deserted Sunday street.
His chewed up ears hear overtones higher
than silent stars hiding under cover of heat. 

The angels arrive, the old ones who have been here for centuries.
They settle on top of the blossom-sown grass, glowing

like fireflies in the moist shade.  They rest their large, heavy wings
with perhaps nothing better to do when good folks are at church
and bad folks are sleeping on their couches, wearing yesterday’s
clothes and last night’s liquor on their slow breath.

The angels have come to welcome her home.  "We hear you, sister!" 
They say.  Even as a baby, her mother declared, there was no denying it,
"That child done talk to the Lord.  See them eyes?"

Gera Maia has eyes the color of holy water,
opals set in the gentle mahogany of her face.
You can't just glance, you have to linger there;
even if it is rude, even if you do get uncomfortable with yourself.

Those eyes can see straight to your secrets.  You feel them
make you flush with the homemade wine of shame,
and grow lightheaded when she’s laying down a melody
because the notes are all the oxygen in the room,
and you have to breathe them deep
or swoon from the silences between.

It owns her, this music born in the belly
of her unanswered soul.  She feeds it like a mother cat
takes her litter to her teats, until she is emptied, sore and red. 

She is a virtuoso.  That’s what the fat man said,
the second cousin of the Reverend White visiting from Atlanta,
wearing a suit the color of elephant tusk and sweating
in the humid air from his own excitement.

He tells her daddy that Gera Maia is too good to waste
on some poor Baptist church off a dirt road in the dead
center of nowhere.  "That child is a virtuoso," he says,
his mouth damp at the corners from the weight of the word.

And her daddy lets her go to New York on a scholarship.
Every Friday, a postcard.  Miss Liberty, the Empire State Building,
carriages in Central Park.  Her mama carries those dog-eared cards
to all the neighbors’ back doors in the lazy hours of the afternoon.

Gera Maia doesn’t come home except for summers. 
She is full of talk then, hard to turn off.  So much water pressure
she is fixing to burst, so they let her refresh their minds with that fine,
cool spray about city life and music growing into its own knowledge.

Like summer squash so big you wonder how
you’re going to eat it all and who you're gonna give some to
before it spoils.  Everyone is like a child then, happy
and full of believing in something.

Gera Maia’s mama cuts a magnolia blossom and floats it
on water in her best glass bowl.  She lays the food out
on a faded, blue cloth in the grass,
shooing flies off the sweet potato pies.

Then it's Chicago.  Gera Maia doesn’t come home
but once a year for Christmas.  "Too busy now."
Her daddy frowns, remembering about nowhere.
Voices raise one Christmas Eve to a place too tight
for resolution.  Lights stay on late, all night.

Five years of concert tours.  Gera Maia doesn’t come home
at all.  Every so often, a post card; a quick, expensive call.
A lot of space between.  Los Angeles, Boston, Stockholm,
New York, London, Paris, Rome, Sydney, Moscow.
Eventually, just a distance without words.

But, Gera Maia is home today.
Her fingers are buzzing with it,
with the being back at her roots.
She turns her spirit-water eyes
to the old magnolia of her childhood.

It is past blooming.  Tattered,
cream-colored flowers sulk
between oily green and yellowed leaves.

She gets to her feet.  Slowly and with effort
she moves through the thick silence she has suspended.
Digs her toes into the dirt.  Stands heavy, completely
in the tree’s cooling embrace, branches overhead, roots below.

She touches the aged bark, her palm
on the marks she made when she was five,
her brother holding her hand over the knife.
That day, a fresh petal caressed her cheek.

Now, a wilted petal falls, glides down
in the still air, landing on her graying hair.
She feels its gentle weight, takes it in her fingers.
Touches its velvet to her lips.  She leans back
against the trunk and eases into memory.

The polished maple of the stage at Carnegie Hall.
The first time.  Her knees unsure.
The orchestra a tense net of security and expectation.
She feels the slick, cool silk of her gown begin to cling
to the small of her back.  Alabaster to ebony.

The music is swollen with anticipation.  She feels the taut
pull of her imminent entrance.  She fills her lungs.
The orchestra falls silent.  She drops her full emotional weight down
into the bow.  Down, into the strident chord.

Down, into the electric tension of the strings.  High.  Suspended.
She streaks the silent aural abyss with the call of an eagle,
the claim of a warrior.  A thunderclap of timpani and horns lifts
her solo onto the arc of a rising canopy of sound, tossing her free

into the giddy atmosphere of Beethoven’s ethereal mind.
Her diamond notes cut the glassy space.  She finds her grace
over a rugged terrain of musical theory stretched to its extreme
edge.  She glides with profound focus over the glacial ice
of each delicate passage.  She is so young.  She is so new. 
She could easily fall.  She does not fall.

The remnants of her final notes are covered by an avalanche
of applause.  A crescendo of approval envelops her,
the daunting embrace of three-thousand strange hearts.
She stands in triumph.  She stands in tears. 
She stands, listening to the roar of her achievement.

"Is he here tonight?" She wonders,
She feels the abstract loneliness of fame
siphon away the nectar of her elation.

In her dressing room, she finds a small, white box
with a pale, yellow bow.  It contains a single flower.
A magnolia.  Her mother’s balm.

An old crow calls
from the corn field behind the house.
Time is liquid, fitting any mold.

Gera Maia rests her head against the fortitude
of her old, patient friend, her eyes full of inner rain. 
She holds the withered, perfumed postcard petal
between thumb and middle finger, and returns
her forefinger to the tree’s weathered skin.

She finds the letters there,
runs her finger in the worn groove
of wood, the old wound,
the love tattoo.


* * * * *

"The Love Tattoo" received the Kathryn Hohlwein Literary Award in 2000. It was published in: Kalliope, A Journal of Women’s Literature and Art, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2002, and is part of Eve West Bessier's poetry collection
Roots Music: Listening to Jazz (Falcon West Books, 2019).

Eve West Bessier writes poetry, fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and has received a few awards. Eve is a jazz vocalist and pianist. She’s also an avid hiker and nature photographer. Eve is the current poet laureate of Silver City, New Mexico; and a poet laureate emerita of Davis, California. More at: www.jazzpoeteve.com

Friday, 26 February 2021

 

looking out    

by Suzanne S. Eaton


he opened the window and let in
the smell of a fresh morning

the dew on the grass and the summer
scent of a world busy thriving

with the faint hum of cordial
voices nearby.

her heart reached for the
hovering tree half-lit by sun,

limbs bowing gracefully
in the breeze while the green

spring of life shimmered across
identic callow leaves.

clouds nested in treetops
with gashes of blue 

that diffused into an
endless beryl sky,

her hardships melted into a
moment of conciliation.

she loved this symphony of life—offered to all
yet wondered why some

still choose insurgency
over amity

and leave in their wake
desultory victims of malice

who can no longer look out and
take in the obeisance of life.

she adjusted the tired
blanket over useless legs

gratified by a light-hearted morning
and nature’s enlivening

that helped her forget herself,
her privation, her plight

and just feel thankful for
the world outside

with its constant rhythm and
fight to continue.

tomorrow he’ll open the window
and let in a fresh morning

with the sound of distant
cars travelling to who-knows-where

the smell of fresh-cut grass
and new possibilities.


* * * * *


Suzanne S. Eaton is an author and marketing consultant. She has written many corporate stories and magazines. She authored the book “Chinese Herbs,” reprinted by Harmony Press seven times. She has written for various magazines and anthologies. Most recently, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Writer Shed Stories, Seaborne Magazine, The Purpled Nail, The Silent World in Her Vase (TSWHV), Scarlet Leaf Review, and Rue Scribe have selected her work for publication. 


Thursday, 25 February 2021

 

New Delhi

by Sally R. Simon


Curry and cardamom combine, a sea of cilia ripple the scent landing it full stop. Men with heads wrapped in tangerine and scarlet scarves offer Masala chai in miniature glasses as if they want to fill me with liquid spice, birth memories in me so I’ll return, swallow to a distant land. Hijab-cloaked women avoid my stare, reject my presence as if I’ll rub off. Men sitting cross-legged hawk their wares, eyeing a lone woman wandering down dirt drenched alleys. Oxen plod on cobblestone, dragging wooden carts flowing with okra and onion, almond-skinned teenagers dance abreast to keep pace. I watch women pray to elephant gods I do not know. I wonder how their breath can be my breath, their sky my sky. I want to press my palms together and mirror them, but my heaven is hollow. I want to saturate myself like a cloud, cradle the moisture before it morphs into rain. I am a drop of water clinging to a glass on a sultry summer day that lingers before it slides to the surface and makes a ring that someone wipes away.


 * * * *

Sally R. Simon is a retired teacher living in the Catskills of New York State. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prime Number MagazineTruffles Literary Magazine and Adelaide Literary Magazine. She’s also been known to write a play or two. When not writing, she’s either traveling the world or stabbing people with her epee. Read more at www.sallysimonwriter.com

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

 

I Think of Dying Way Too Often

by Funmi Adenle

 

I think of dying way too often. Not a suicidal I’m tired of the motion kind of death, but the more natural I tried to run across the road and got hit or the I choked on a piece of fish bone kind of death. I think that my death, like most, will be fleeting yet elaborate. Like I’ll slump while waiting in line at the bank. The customer care agents would be rude, everyone would scoff at them and complain about the air conditioning, about the poor service, about their aching legs and I’ll stand there, with arms resting on the counter, waiting for death.

When I’m next in line, I’ll cough. Once, still heads. Twice, few moving heads. Thrice, more moving heads and on the fourth cough, when the air in my chest explodes and I kneel in collapse, I’ll have everyone’s attention. They’ll yell in many Jesus Christ’s and their bodies will imitate comic movements. The security guards will clear the already full encirclement. He’ll kneel and touch my pulse to confirm my death. Everyone will wait for his sorrowful head shake before yelling even more Jesus Christ’s, with hand above heads, light jumping’s enunciated by breast and ass and penis bouncing softly between bras and pants.

And when they would want to call a family, they would call my mom first because they wouldn’t know I have used my dad as my emergency contact for a reason. But they would call her anyway and the phone would ring and ring and ring but she’d be too busy clapping hands and marveling at other people’s problems to pick up. When they’d call my dad, he’d pick the call with a bark. There’ll be some miscommunications and he’ll yell a “You say? What’re you saying” and when he would finally understand what the call is about, he’ll stutter in “when? Where and how?” Because he likes to be scientific about things. There would be some devastation even I cannot picture, but it’ll be a loud kind of devastation that’ll rupture his precious mind and blur his vision. He might try to contain it. As expected of a man. Or he might scream in repeated “I dey come, na my daughter, she don die” as he races past the cold hospital floors.

My mother would be all the things my father is struggling to not be. She would yell a “ehn? Ki le so” with her hands on her head sealed with high bounces. She’d throw her weight on the floor, she’d scream in many Ya Allah’s and become a rolling and rolling piece of chopped wood. She’d be excessively loud.

My father would leave with my brother to sort the exhausting affairs of my dead body. I can’t picture what would happen with my brother and my sister. In truth, I don’t really care.

When I die, I’d like for it to matter to just two people. A girl I’m in love with and a boy I think I used to be in love with.

The girl, I don’t think she understands what I mean when I say I love her. I think she thinks I mean the “I love you baby” used in the political language of girl’s kind of love. I think she doesn’t know it’s a love I spend hours between a busy day contemplating over its gripping power. She doesn’t know I walk around smiling from the satisfaction that love brings me, she doesn’t understand that often, I think to myself that it doesn’t matter if I ever love a man as much as I love her, that sometimes, I’m scared of admitting its depth even to myself because of how unnatural and unprecedented it feels, to love another girl with that much abandon, to be all jesusy and “I love you regardless” about it.

Even now, I’m scared of admitting its depth to myself from fear that I might try to define it and it might end in self-imposed misconstruction even before I can explain to others.

I know that when I die, she’d roar in disbelief and mourn the many many dreams of mine others weren’t aware of. She’d talk about all the stories I was too scared to send to anyone but her, she’d tell them she was there, from the first day I wrote about disturbing things with crappy words to the much better ones with compact words and rhythmic lines and schemes. She’d be present in everything and she’d say nice things and mean them because that’s just who she is #loveandlight. 

And the boy that I used to love? I don’t think he’d show up anywhere. If he did, it’ll be for irony that’s in the literature of the gathering. He’d mock all the acquaintances who’d talk about how they’d just seen me the previous day “hale and hearty”, the ones who’d talk about how I’d supported their business and how I supported through tough times. The ones who’d say I was a good girl filled with smartness and inspirations.

He’d pfft! At them all, but I’m almost entirely sure he’ll not be present for the rounds of pretense, the failed attempts at exaggerating our friendship and the way they’d search for kind words to say.

I imagine that he’d be in a room with all the lights out, he’d fumble for the lighter like he usually does and he’d light up a smoke that makes puffs in the air in. His hands would grip the joint hard to be sure it’s real, his eyes would be set on the semen stained wall and his hands would rest on his laps. The girl he’s now in love with would kneel to spread her hands round his back. He’d hold them and tell about how he’d promised to call me and he hadn’t. He’d tell her about the time my mind disintegrated and he couldn’t understand it. He’d talk about the sweet poems I wrote him he pretended to understand. He’d say, more to himself than to her, that I used to like rings of smoke being puffed on my face, that I was always so hard on myself, that I didn’t eat or sleep well and that I could get myself to fit into many perspectives and somehow, still be myself.

He’d say to the dark, that when he really loved me, I treated him bad. Really bad, but he loved me still because he thought that was the kind of love he deserved and because he understood I was only a child of many tragic circumstances. He’d say it took him a while but when he finally learnt how to love me from afar, he couldn’t stop until I became a terribly fond memory. He’d say I was foolish in many ways but smart in the only ways that mattered. He’d say he could never afford to look at my limp body, now full of breasts and ass and fat.

At night, while he holds the girl he’s now in love with, he’d see the ghost of his dead mother. She’d be as she was the last time he’d seen her alive, lying on her bed with her back turned to him. He’d tug at her shoulder and she’d mumble a “fi mi silé, jé ki n sun” and he’d tug at her some more so she might not sleep and not wake up again. He’d tug and tug and tug and when she’d turn to face him, it’ll be me and I’d laugh hysterically.

I’d laugh and laugh and laugh and say “Dummy, you promised you’d call. Why didn’t you? Ehn?” He’d jolt to reality with a terrible migraine, light a joint and try to perform a séance by blowing warm heavy smoke into the air to send the impending madness away. 

I think of dying way too often.


* * * * *

Funmi Adenle is a technical writer and fiction writer who resides in Lagos, Nigeria. She creates content for websites and blogs as a freelancer and currently interns as a creative writer at erpSOFTapp. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

 

The Love Tattoo

by Eve West Bessier


Time listens.  An old crow in the young corn.
Hungry.  Patient.

Geraldine Maia Jones sits on the front porch steps,
her bare feet planted on the boards of the sagging stair,
like they might never again stray from this place
of her birth.  Her red dress sulks between brown knees
ankles swollen from years of travel and heels.

The molecules of wood under her soles resonate
with the vibration of the instrument at her chin.
The amber violin’s sensuous form holds steady
as rapids of Rachmaninov flow under fluid fingering.
She bows the white water tones into the windless sky.

She moans and pauses.  The weather speaks Gershwin. 
She turns her face upward into the full flare of sun,
her forehead glistening.  She adjusts the violin and begins to pull
the long, languid notes from the wood.  "Summertime." 

Silver Brown’s hound dog howls
from its yard down the deserted Sunday street.
His chewed up ears hear overtones higher
than silent stars hiding under cover of heat. 

The angels arrive, the old ones who have been here for centuries.
They settle on top of the blossom-sown grass, glowing

like fireflies in the moist shade.  They rest their large, heavy wings
with perhaps nothing better to do when good folks are at church
and bad folks are sleeping on their couches, wearing yesterday’s
clothes and last night’s liquor on their slow breath.

The angels have come to welcome her home.  "We hear you, sister!" 
They say.  Even as a baby, her mother declared, there was no denying it,
"That child done talk to the Lord.  See them eyes?"

Gera Maia has eyes the color of holy water,
opals set in the gentle mahogany of her face.
You can't just glance, you have to linger there;
even if it is rude, even if you do get uncomfortable with yourself.

Those eyes can see straight to your secrets.  You feel them
make you flush with the homemade wine of shame,
and grow lightheaded when she’s laying down a melody
because the notes are all the oxygen in the room,
and you have to breathe them deep
or swoon from the silences between.

It owns her, this music born in the belly
of her unanswered soul.  She feeds it like a mother cat
takes her litter to her teats, until she is emptied, sore and red. 

She is a virtuoso.  That’s what the fat man said,
the second cousin of the Reverend White visiting from Atlanta,
wearing a suit the color of elephant tusk and sweating
in the humid air from his own excitement.

He tells her daddy that Gera Maia is too good to waste
on some poor Baptist church off a dirt road in the dead
center of nowhere.  "That child is a virtuoso," he says,
his mouth damp at the corners from the weight of the word.

And her daddy lets her go to New York on a scholarship.
Every Friday, a postcard.  Miss Liberty, the Empire State Building,
carriages in Central Park.  Her mama carries those dog-eared cards
to all the neighbors’ back doors in the lazy hours of the afternoon.

Gera Maia doesn’t come home except for summers. 
She is full of talk then, hard to turn off.  So much water pressure
she is fixing to burst, so they let her refresh their minds with that fine,
cool spray about city life and music growing into its own knowledge.

Like summer squash so big you wonder how
you’re going to eat it all and who you're gonna give some to
before it spoils.  Everyone is like a child then, happy
and full of believing in something.

Gera Maia’s mama cuts a magnolia blossom and floats it
on water in her best glass bowl.  She lays the food out
on a faded, blue cloth in the grass,
shooing flies off the sweet potato pies.

Then it's Chicago.  Gera Maia doesn’t come home
but once a year for Christmas.  "Too busy now."
Her daddy frowns, remembering about nowhere.
Voices raise one Christmas Eve to a place too tight
for resolution.  Lights stay on late, all night.

Five years of concert tours.  Gera Maia doesn’t come home
at all.  Every so often, a post card; a quick, expensive call.
A lot of space between.  Los Angeles, Boston, Stockholm,
New York, London, Paris, Rome, Sydney, Moscow.
Eventually, just a distance without words.

But, Gera Maia is home today.
Her fingers are buzzing with it,
with the being back at her roots.
She turns her spirit-water eyes
to the old magnolia of her childhood.

It is past blooming.  Tattered,
cream-colored flowers sulk
between oily green and yellowed leaves.

She gets to her feet.  Slowly and with effort
she moves through the thick silence she has suspended.
Digs her toes into the dirt.  Stands heavy, completely
in the tree’s cooling embrace, branches overhead, roots below.

She touches the aged bark, her palm
on the marks she made when she was five,
her brother holding her hand over the knife.
That day, a fresh petal caressed her cheek.

Now, a wilted petal falls, glides down
in the still air, landing on her graying hair.
She feels its gentle weight, takes it in her fingers.
Touches its velvet to her lips.  She leans back
against the trunk and eases into memory.

The polished maple of the stage at Carnegie Hall.
The first time.  Her knees unsure.
The orchestra a tense net of security and expectation.
She feels the slick, cool silk of her gown begin to cling
to the small of her back.  Alabaster to ebony.

The music is swollen with anticipation.  She feels the taut
pull of her imminent entrance.  She fills her lungs.
The orchestra falls silent.  She drops her full emotional weight down
into the bow.  Down, into the strident chord.

Down, into the electric tension of the strings.  High.  Suspended.
She streaks the silent aural abyss with the call of an eagle,
the claim of a warrior.  A thunderclap of timpani and horns lifts
her solo onto the arc of a rising canopy of sound, tossing her free

into the giddy atmosphere of Beethoven’s ethereal mind.
Her diamond notes cut the glassy space.  She finds her grace
over a rugged terrain of musical theory stretched to its extreme
edge.  She glides with profound focus over the glacial ice
of each delicate passage.  She is so young.  She is so new. 
She could easily fall.  She does not fall.

The remnants of her final notes are covered by an avalanche
of applause.  A crescendo of approval envelops her,
the daunting embrace of three-thousand strange hearts.
She stands in triumph.  She stands in tears. 
She stands, listening to the roar of her achievement.

"Is he here tonight?" She wonders,
She feels the abstract loneliness of fame
siphon away the nectar of her elation.

In her dressing room, she finds a small, white box
with a pale, yellow bow.  It contains a single flower.
A magnolia.  Her mother’s balm.

An old crow calls
from the corn field behind the house.
Time is liquid, fitting any mold.

Gera Maia rests her head against the fortitude
of her old, patient friend, her eyes full of inner rain. 
She holds the withered, perfumed postcard petal
between thumb and middle finger, and returns
her forefinger to the tree’s weathered skin.

She finds the letters there,
runs her finger in the worn groove
of wood, the old wound,
the love tattoo.

* * * * *

"The Love Tattoo" received the Kathryn Hohlwein Literary Award in 2000. It was published in: Kalliope, A Journal of Women’s Literature and Art, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2002, and is part of Eve West Bessier's poetry collection Roots Music: Listening to Jazz (Falcon West Books, 2019).

Eve West Bessier writes poetry, fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and has received a few awards. Eve is a jazz vocalist and pianist. She’s also an avid hiker and nature photographer. Eve is the current poet laureate of Silver City, New Mexico; and a poet laureate emerita of Davis, California. More at: www.jazzpoeteve.com

Monday, 22 February 2021


The Long-Hauler

by Marianne Szlyk

 
She shuffles up the smooth pavement,
the sidewalk she used to stride on.
 
She staggers as if she were carrying sandbags,
hands and arms empty, without even a cute purse.
 
She feels muffled, a bedbound summer’s flesh
hiding last winter’s bone and muscle.
 
The air around her slows.  Leaves and
dust drift past as she skirts a puddle,
 
something she would never have seen before.
Once she ran through the park, winged feet
 
in running shoes worn only twice before
this virus took her like a woman
 
in the horror flick she streamed all summer.
To the white women walking past,
 
she has become one of the young girls scattering
empty potato chip bags in the gutter like the petals
 
of the overripe flowers that they are,
spilling out of cheap, bright shorts and crop tops,
 
needing to be trimmed.
 
Maskless, grasping for air like a cane or railing,
she pauses, praying for far-off next summer
 
when she can fly through the park again.


* * * * *

Marianne Szlyk's poems have appeared in of/with, bird's thumb, Setu, Verse-Virtual, Solidago, Bourgeon, Muddy River Poetry Review, and the Loch Raven Review as well as a few anthologies. Her books On the Other Side of the Window and Poetry en Plein Air are available from Amazon. She has revived her blog-zine The Song Is... as a summer-only publication:
http://thesongis.blogspot.com 
She has also led workshops where poets write tributes to both survivors of COVID-19 and those whom we have lost.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

 

Don’t Forget to Blink

by Jen Schneider


Photographs always frightened me. Not the act. Not the image, either. The bright artificial light. Though I knew it was coming, I knew not how to prepare. My eyes would close, always, no matter how hard I tried. Unable to erase captured film, small canisters would hold proof of my inadequacies – later documented in dark rooms behind closed doors.

Others angered. Easily. 

Keep your eyes open. It’s not that hard. 

I can still feel the others’ glares and the sting of the air on the whites of my eyes. Stretched against limits and questions with no answers. Later, wrinkled dollars would change hands over dusty drugstore counters. Fingers would unwrap sealed envelopes and pull back crisp, neatly folded paper. Quick flips through stacks of prints would inevitably confirm yet more failings. 

Not again. Yep, again. What a waste.

At the time I never understand what I was resisting. Despite my efforts, my body was unable to comply with the demands of artificial settings, forced smiles, and fake poses. 

Now, I know. All along, I was fighting the future. 


* * * * *

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. 

 

Saturday, 20 February 2021

 

Multiple Choice Test – Cars and Community

by Jen Schneider

 
Instructions:
 
Follow the rules you’ve followed hundreds of times before. 
Just another classic Short Answer, Multiple Choice Test. Open Book. 
Complete as often as you’d like. Answers will not change.
 
Note: 
 
Answers are sometimes, perhaps often, False.
Not all Answers are Solutions.
Some Solutions depend upon Questions other than those asked.
Test writers are anonymous. Rule makers are sometimes anonymous, too.
 
 
Question 1.
 
Blue Chevy, going the speed limit, was pulled over
At the corner of 10th and Main after turning
right at a no turn on red intersection. Signage
was clear. Weather also clear. Driver - Female. Mid-thirties. 
Black. Passenger. Teen, fourteen or fifteen years of age.
Both wore buckles.
 
Why was the passenger asked to step out of the vehicle?
 
Question 2.
 
Three females, mid-twenties, are incarcerated
and awaiting trial. Two will eventually be found
not guilty of the crimes for which they were charged.
The third? Charges will be dropped due to insufficient
evidence. All maintained their innocence at all times. 
 
Why did none of the three vote in the last election? 
 
Question 3.
 
Setting. Individual A is suspected of forging
a check. Individual B is also suspected
of forging a check. Neither Individual A
nor Individual B forged a check. Individual
A lives in a zip code that ends
in an even number. Individual B lives in a zip
code that ends in an odd number. 

 
Why is Individual A treated differently than Individual B?
 
Question 4.
 
Setting. Individual A is suspected of forging
a check. Individual B is also suspected
of forging a check. Both Individual A
and Individual B forged a check. Individual
A lives in a zip code that ends
in an even number. Individual B lives in a zip
code that ends in an odd number. 
 
Why is Individual A treated differently than Individual B? 


* * * * *

"Multiple Choice Test – Cars and Community" was first publishes by Warm Milk Publishing   

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. 


Friday, 19 February 2021

 

Changing Slowly Direction

by Nina Rubinstein Alonso


First dance class in six months as I’m in grad school, sitting at the library, sitting at seminars, sitting, sitting, doing barre holding onto a bookshelf, until Dahlia pulls me back to class. Didn’t notice friction with Jazmine, big group, many moving bodies.

“Rude, showing off her arabesque, sniffing at Arthur’s corrections. After class she’s bragging about apprenticing with SeedLight, but I say, ‘New York gigs can be tricky,’ and she gives me this bitchy, ‘how would you know?’ Told her we performed with Magnolia to shut her up.” Dahlia shakes out her braids, tosses red barrettes into her purse.

“Three years, until my ankle, your knee… ”

“And my baby,” Dahlia’s zipping her dance bag. “Jazmine better watch her step or someone’s going to kick her ass.” Squints at the clock,“Got to pick up my boy,” out the door.

Ankle’s slow healing, can’t dance. Met Sam at a party, offered a ride, then, “Forgot papers at my office,” where there’s a gray couch, though I dodged him that time. He lands a job in DC, wants me, and I’m tempted though his brother Ben says, “Leah, you and Sam are nothing alike.” Too bad that didn’t stop me. We’d been dating off and on, no one more interesting around, bored, needed change. 

Banford’s graduate program accepts DC courses, but soon I’m calling Dahlia complaining I can’t stand Sam, bossy, boring, lousy in bed.

When I try talking, he shuts me down,’You’re expectations are romantic and immature,” so if I’m miserable, it’s my fault?

After exams, I fly back to Boston, crash on Dahlia’s couch.

He wants to ‘try again,’ but to hell with that, as I’ve found a lawyer. Finally signs papers, claims he’s met ‘someone,’ which I don’t believe, sends a box of ex-wedding gifts mom puts on consignment. Sam’s brother Ben doesn’t say ‘I told you so,’ but introduces me to Tim. 

Getting back in shape when the director, Felicia, says, “Arthur’s moving to London. Do we want another pricey New York teacher? I’ll call Harry as he’ll know what’s happening.”

“Not the dull dude who subbed today,” Dahlia says.

Snapshot of Harry: stocky, balding white guy, performs with Zodiac/NYC, manages Dancers, Inc., and is Jazmine’s boyfriend. Dahlia sighs, “Since when does sexual attraction make sense?”

But Harry’s in touch with New York teachers, offers to share his space across town, splitting expenses, and everyone agrees except Dahlia, who skips classes, claims she can’t find a good sitter, then, “Joe’s moving out, we’re done. I’ll use my exercise bike.”

Hard to hear from my Magnolia roommate who coaxed me back to class after my crappy break-up and sprained ankle.  

Money’s tight but I buy a new leotard, know I won’t starve as Tim cooks. He’s housemaster at Hopewell, calm when students throw tantrums, but keeps hinting about ‘settling down,’ says “I think of you when walking by the river.” He’s better than Sam, but I know what ‘not in love’ feels like, can’t get out of his blue MG fast enough.

No wheels, get to Banford with Carrie, who says her doctor husband is masculine perfection, “except for a low sperm count. If  IVF doesn’t work, we’ll go the donor route or adopt.”

I’m light years away from risking marriage again, never mind babies.

My Shakespeare teacher, James Vincent O’Malley, was an army chaplain before turning academic and looks it wearing priestly black, white hair parted down the middle. He’s condescending and dismissive, claims “Most people can’t copy a row of twelve numbers from a blackboard without error,” so mere graduate students are duds on Hamlet.

Magnolia dancers came from everywhere, but Banford’s tenured professors are older white men, one woman from India teaching contemporary novel, a Chilean poet—male— leading a writing group, that’s it.

Professor Abby Kane, also an artist, is sympathetic about my dancing and writing. Seeing an exhibition flyer in her office, I ask, “How do you balance things?”

“Balance? Forget that. Banford believes great artists are men, preferably dead for decades.” 

At dinner I tell Dahlia, “Not sure Abby’s tenure track.”

“You expect them to sing Kumbaya and give an artsy woman a permanent slot?” Dahlia’s working in commercial real estate, struggling because Joe rarely sends child support. “Can’t afford lawyer fees to chase his ass.”

My worst course is ‘Exploring Shelley’ with visiting British professor, Neville Rogers, hair yellowish-white, face piggish-pasty. First class he runs plump fingers down the student list (all pressured to take the class by the department head), presses fleshy lips together, frowns as if to pronounce a pearl, and chooses Damian to read a poem.

Damian has that ‘I’m about to be skewered’ look, as he starts, “Arethusa rose/From her couch of snows.” But before the third line, the professor’s eyes close, chin sinks into its cushion of fat, pen slips from his fingers, and we hear snoring. Damian finishes Arethusa, and, stymied what to do, reads the lyric, Love’s Philosophy, jazz style.

‘And the sunlight clasps the earth, woo-wah
And the moonbeams kiss the sea, baby baby,
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me, woo-wah? 

We mock-analyze ‘If thou kiss not me, woo-wah’ until the professor resurfaces, having heard nothing. The next class Carrie's reading Adonais when the professor nods off. She blinks near-sighted brown eyes behind round glasses while Damian snarls, “What’s this stupid fucking shit show?”

Department head Bob Mayer urges us to be patient as the professor’s got narcolepsy, so we bumble along while he snoozes until he puts insulting B+ grades on papers he hasn’t heard or read. Damian says, “I’ve had rotten professors, but this is beyond ridiculous.”

We sign Carrie’s letter: “Professor Rogers clearly needs medical care.” But our second meeting with Bob is worse than the first as he lifts his cleft chin and says, “The department’s not adding to his troubles,” turns on his blue-eyed power gaze, forcing us to accept the ludicrous situation. He can cancel our fellowships, so we’re flattened, powerless, the academic version of human sacrifice.

Damian, adjusting his Rasta beret, “Pity-party, sending him to his next gig without mentioning he’s useless, easier than the truth.”

Harry introduces a new Circle teacher, Claire Marconi, a petite brunette with a balletic-modern style. After the first class she asks about my performing background and invites me to assist at Crane College. Their studio’s a high-ceilinged barn, the pianist, Dominic, tall and narrow, a Giacometti sculpture in black turtleneck and jeans.

Claire pushes dancers to “just do it,” reminding me of my ballet teacher, Virginia Wills, hollering, “You’ll be in the grave a long time, so move now,” or, “Something’s wrong with every one of you,” or “No one’s going to pay money to see legs shaking on stage!”

When a fourteen year old landed four pirouettes, she yelled, “You look like a plump Polish peasant,”not caring whose feelings or ethnicities she clobbered, as she considered the girl fat no matter how many pirouettes she could do. Everyone wanted to be chosen, no one dared complain, even when ordered to dye her hair as “red looks better on stage.” Virginia was thick-bodied in shapeless outfits, impossible to imagine as any kind of dancer, but built the company from nothing, raised funds to buy a building for studios and offices.

One Saturday a new dancer’s in class, and Virginia asks her name.

‘Dagitta Jyszkewitz.’

“Dagitta? Krista’s better for the stage,” laughs her elephantine guffaw and takes a bite of strawberry Danish. Dagitta doesn’t blink, accepting her new name like a soldier ordered into battle though named for her beloved grandma. I was sidelined with another injury when Krista Joyce signed a company contract.

My advisor Allen Goldman adjusts rimless glasses as I hand in a Yeats paper and three poems. “Paper needs editing,” he says, shuffling pages, then, “Nice poems, bring more.” Unprepared for praise, I’m blinking tears.

“Thanks, and I dance, too,” but his attention’s gone, so I head to the library. During orals I’m in a straight-backed chair opposite a row of unsmiling white men, the examining board. Allen’s there, but as my advisor, not sure how much his voice counts. The hour’s a blur of questions and my nervous answers. The men confer behind closed doors, then department head Bob Mayer appears, shakes my hand and says, “Congratulations.”

Over a glass of wine, Allen adds, “Went well, though you seemed rather tense. Time to choose a thesis topic, not wise to change direction so close to finishing your degree.”

Rather tense? After more wine than I’m used to, I take the drunk bus home and cry myself to sleep. Are there university jobs anywhere I’d want to be? I need to make money, but dance can’t be a ‘later’ thing as the body won’t wait.

I stretch before dance class reading Sophocles, hoping Dominic will compose something for my choreography. He’s six three, large  hands, strong angled nose, a dark mop of hair, a face impossible to read.

Watching rehearsal his expression’s so blank I figure it’s useless, but he says, “Multi-tracks, some layering,” starts improvising, and it fits.

At home, my answering machine blinks with messages from Tim: “Dinner tonight?”  I keep saying ‘no, too busy,’ until he stops calling.

Sunday there’s a guest teacher at Crane, print turban and tunic, cinnamon complexion, angled green eyes, Jazmine, now much heavier. She remembers being in Arthur’s class with Dahlia and me but keeps her distance. There’s a gold band, on her left hand, and I ask Claire.

“Hurt her back, months in a brace. She and Harry married in New York and started a youth program.”

“Married?” But we’ve got rehearsals, can’t talk.

Dominic’s score weaves Tibetan chants with wailing train whistles, right for my moody piece, but one dancer’s out sick so I’m filling in, getting through weekend shows.

Tuesday evening  Claire introduces a choreographer for a studio presentation, Lily Hanover, who lights candles on glass plates, turns off the overheads, leaving us in the shadows. Soon we hear harp music and Lily enters wearing nothing but a translucent wing-cape, a naked dragonfly sprite, evanescent as a soap bubble until harps fade and she melts into the dark. A few minutes later she’s tying her robe, merely mortal again, gesturing for us to blow out candles as she snaps on fluorescents, and the suspended flow of time returns. Claire wipes tears saying, “See what a dancer can do!”

June Damian’s in my flat as I’m staying in a sublet on West 16th Street. Magnolia’s gone to LA, so I’m exploring other New York studios, writing poetry, considering quitting grad school to dance before it’s too late. I’m interested in Wind-Motion as the style’s balletic-modern, similar to Claire’s.
 
Megan, twenty-seven, shares the sublet. I’m ballet trained, switched to modern after injuries, difficult, but Megan started ballet late, much harder. One evening she’s wrapping an ice pack on her ankle, ‘Wrenched it in pointe class,’ won’t say more.

Two a.m., I hear noises, sit up and see her throwing pink satin pointe shoes out the window.

“Stop! You’ll hit somebody,” but she keeps tossing until they’re gone, and pointe shoes are damned expensive. 

“I’ve had it, can’t compete with amazon teens,” tears flooding. We talk, and she goes downstairs to gather pointe shoes, but two days later she’s gone, left a note on my bed with a copy of Zelda, passion for dance bordering madness.

Mid August Brittany, director of Wind-Motion invites me to join the group, explaining their budget only covers rehearsals and performances. Dancers share apartments, work in restaurants or offices, keeping evenings free to dance, they way we did in Magnolia, except now everything’s more expensive.

“Thanks, need to figure things out,” hugs.

Back in Boston I tell Abby, “I may quit grad school to dance,” but she hands me ‘Guidelines for a creative thesis.’

“One student wrote a novel, another a story collection. You have enough poems for a book, though, as Allen says, jobs are tight in the creative market.”

“I lucked into one big magazine, the rest small potatoes, no scholarly articles, and what about dance?”

She’s pinning up her long red hair, coiled like a Danish pastry. “You’ve passed orals, put in all that work. Fine to dance and write poetry, but consider what you’re throwing away?”

Dominic invites me for pizza, not sure why until he says, “There’s a factory in Somerville converted to condos for artists and musicians, and I’m considering a space. Take a look and tell me what you think?”

“Sure, let’s find a time,” and we head to class.

Friday Allen announces, “Got something for you, freshman comp slot at Hopewell, and their dance group needs an advisor!” When he assures me Tim’s not involved, I take it.

“I’ve warned you about that creative thesis idea. Everyone has poems in a drawer or half a novel. Scholarly work gives you a better chance for a job.” I nod, knowing I can’t do ‘scholarly.’ 

Friday Claire cancels class, sits in her office wrapped in a red Mexican shawl rereading an obit:  “Jazmine Page, twenty-five, Zuri Dance Center, Seedlight New York, Ekendayo Collective.’ Her late mother’s opera singer Rebekkah Page, husband, Harry Ames, of Dance, Inc., Boston, and Zodiac, New York. Private funeral. In lieu of flowers, donate to Jazmine Page Foundation.”

We’re looking at her photo in arabesque. “Pill overdose,” Claire says, avoiding the word ‘suicide.’

We know what it’s like to be slapped down so hard it feels impossible to get back up, those times when nothing helps, but whatever we’ve been through, we’re still breathing.

Dahlia also sidesteps ‘suicide.’ “Maybe lost track of meds? A friend had a back injury, miserable getting off opiates. But Felicia called as I’m in commercial real estate, says Circle and Dance, Inc. are merging, need more space. Harry’s mostly in New York, nothing about Jazmine.”

Teaching at Hopewell is busy, classes, grading, staff meetings. At the first dance group, six girls and three boys stretch on the floor, sizing me up.

“First position,” I say, and the energy’s good, but the pianist’s not.

At Crane Dominic asks, “Pizza later, see my new place? ”

“Sure, but can you play for my Hopewell dance group,Thursday at 4? Good money.”

“Check my schedule,” sprinting upstairs.

I hurry after him as Claire’s sprained her knee, needs help. After class she teases, “New style?” pointing to my leotard’s frayed seams,” limps away grinning. 

Dominic says, “Playful since the new boyfriend. Thursdays should work okay, but any time tonight to help carry stuff to my place?”

“Great about Thursdays. I can help tonight, but what new boyfriend?”

“Guy from the architecture department,” and we carry boxes up to his condo in a renovated factory building, high ceiling, kitchenette, tiny bathroom.

A new tenant moved in downstairs from my attic flat, nice hearing Cuban music instead of blasting rock. When my deadbolt’s stuck, Miguel helps, says he manages a restaurant and is starting a design business. Sunday he invites me to a barbecue at his friend John’s weedy back yard, someone playing guitar, the menu whatever people bring, salads, hummus, pita. Can’t remember when I’ve been this relaxed, takes a while for me to recognize the feeling. We get to know each other, no connection to work or school. He’s easy to talk to, to touch, dark hair, hazel eyes.

Dahlia warns, “Take it slow, make sure the sex is good, don’t get knocked up and screwed over like I did.”

We’re back and forth between apartments, more or less living together, talking about buying a fixer-upper. No pressure, just love.

Claire says WindMotion’s booked for a residency at Crane, and Brittany’s asking about me.

I’m stirring tea when Miguel says, “Well?”

“Can’t picture being in New York again, the stress of touring, injuries, and what about finishing grad school, teaching and us?”

“Negative list. Don’t let them push you, but if you decide, I’ll drive there.”

He finishes his espresso, kisses me, leaves for work. Dahlia’s found a good baby-sitter, is dancing again, and we’re considering starting our own group in the just finished Dance Circle space.

Would be nice to make a decision without feeling pressured, but that’s not the way things seem to go. I take Brittany’s class, like her style, but don’t want to give up everything for New York. She says,“Okay, keep in touch, maybe a residency next summer?” 

“Yes,” hugs.

Shifting direction is like a big ship turning, dealing with forces of wind and water, requiring massive energy to redirect. But it’s the self, heart-center, trying to choose without making another blunder. If we were filming, there’d be a close shot of my hands gripping the rail. 


* * * * *

Nina Rubinstein Alonso’s work appeared in Ploughshares, The New Yorker, U. Mass. Review, Ibbetson Street, Bagel Bards Anthology, Black Poppy Review, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Muddy River Poetry Review, Constant Remembrance, Wilderness House Literary Review, Broadkill Review, etc.  Her book This Body was published by David Godine Press, her chapbook I is upcoming from Červená Barva Press Press, and a story collection is in the works.  


Thursday, 18 February 2021

 

Miscarriage 

by Rachel Fenton

 
A German Shepherd has his head 
and front paws in your hutch, 
lifted off the lid 
to climb in and almost has you. 
 
I had woken from a dream;  
thought I’d heard someone 
knocking the fence in. 
Outside the bedroom window,  
 
the dog stares when I scream 
‘Oh,’ as if I’ve discovered my baby 
dead in my uterus. Gormless, 
until I add, ‘Out, out, out,’ 
 
and run to the back door, 
chase wolf away from rabbit  
skin. My bark 
is worse than my bite. 
 
I shout for its owners 
to keep their dog under control 
and carry you, close 
to my chest, to the fence 
 
to tell them what their dog  
has almost done. But they stare 
blankly then the mother says, 
‘He hardly ever gets out.’ 


* * * * *


Rachel J Fenton is a working-class writer living in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her chapbook Beerstorming with Charlotte Bronte in New York is forthcoming from Ethel Press in April 2021.