Tuesday 13 June 2023

The Last Time I Saw You

                        by Shaun R. Pankoski

was in front of a pancake house
outside the Strip. The air was dirty dry,
those boots hurt my feet, my sequined shirt
looked garish in the mid-afternoon light.
You called me a cab,
walked me to the curb, pulled me close.

In the crook of your neck I said
“I love you,” plainly,
in that same,
matter-of-fact way I'd said goodbye
a sad, sweet long ago.

Yet, here we were again,
leaving fragments and fibers of ourselves behind,
the space between us just large enough
for the exhale of one
to be taken in by the other.

When you replied,
I tried to imagine not leaving,
becoming indivisible,
immovable in a swirling world.
But like a scab,

a tangle,
a pulled tooth -
thinking about the loss
was more painful than the loss itself,
and in the aftermath,

* * * * *

Shaun R. Pankoski is a retired County worker living in Volcano on the Island of Hawai'i with her cat, Kiko, and a bunch of coqui frogs. She held a Top Secret clearance in the Air Force, was an artist's model for over twenty years and was a founding member of a Modern Dance company in San Francisco. She is a two time breast cancer survivor and makes a mean corn chowder.

Monday 12 June 2023


by Tong Ge

Saturday, following a movie and some wine, my new boyfriend and I retired to bed.  We have been dating for six months and have never argued. Then he leans over and squeezes my breasts playfully.

“Stop it!” I shove him away roughly.

“What’s wrong?”

“Never do that, okay?”

 “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

I turn away. “Look, I’m fine. You didn’t hurt me, not physically. I just…”

“I’m listening.” He spoons me and presses a light kiss on my shoulder.

I turn around. It’s time. I have never told anyone this story, not even my mother.


As a sophomore living in China, I fell in love for the first time. Love poems poured from me like a water-spring gushing out of a fountainhead. 

My boyfriend, an art student, was the older brother of my girlfriend in high school. When we first met three years earlier, I never dreamt that we would date one day. You see, he was just too handsome for an average-looking girl like me. Now, with a movie star face and an artist’s hands, he becomes an ideal husband.

I didn’t tell my practical, stable, unromantic parents about him. Dating would take time and focus away from my academic studies, my mother claimed. But I was not going to give up my Movie Star—not for my studies, not for anything.


Life was perfect except for one thing. I had developed some small, painful lumps in my breasts and armpits. I put up with the problem until I couldn’t anymore. I had to seek medical attention. Movie Star dutifully accompanied me.

When we entered the hospital, a tall, slim woman with wavy hair walked elegantly toward us. Movie Star and she exchanged a brief greeting. I was not introduced.

“Who is she?” I asked after she walked away.

“A model in our school,” Movie Star said dismissively.

I knew what he meant. Not just a model, but a nude model. He’d seen her naked and sketched her long legs. Nude models were a new and stigmatized occupation at the time. Old-fashioned Chinese called them whores and most of them had to keep their occupation a secret. Those who were found out often were disowned by their families.

“Does she have a boyfriend?” I asked.

“Not among the students.”

“Because of what she does for a living?”


So, even art students were not immune from deep-rooted traditions and public opinion.


When it was my turn to go into the doctor’s office, Movie Star waited outside.

After learning about my problem, the doctor told me to unbutton my shirt. A pair of claws gripped my beasts and squeezed. I knew right away it was not the right way for a doctor to examine a patient, but if I screamed or said anything, Movie Star could hear, and he might dump me.

I should have screamed and slapped the doctor’s face anyway. I should have jumped up and ran out of the room. But I couldn’t risk losing Movie Star.

I tried to see the water-color sunset that Movie Star had painted earlier. The lights and shadows danced in brilliant colors in the river, in the reflection of the sky. My future could be as beautiful as the painting. I would not allow anybody to take it away.

So, in dead silence, I allowed this doctor his actions. I allowed those dirty hands to squeeze and fondle my breasts—the breasts only my boyfriend had ever touched. I clenched my teeth, enduring the pain and the shame.

After he was done with me, the doctor told me the lumps were harmless. I buttoned up my shirt without making eye contact with him.

The beautiful painting was gone. All I could see now was a dirty spot on the canvas.

Why had I come to the hospital in the first place? I had done it to myself when I insisted on an examination, hadn’t I? Maybe God intended to punish me for not only dating a boy but allowing him to touch my breasts.

As long as I had Movie Star in my life, I told myself, I could endure anything.


A year went by. One weekend, Movie Star left his book-bag in my dorm while he went out on an errand. I knew he kept a journal. I soon found it in the bag. I only wanted to know how deeply he still loved me. To my surprise, I found an entry about him stealing an item from a local air force base. He didn’t say what the item was, but it must have been very valuable or very useful for him to risk jail time. Then, a line about me made my heart almost jump out of my throat:

“Qian would have never guessed if she were to come between me and what I want, I would not hesitate to point a dagger at her heart.”


The day I broke up with Movie Star, I cried hard for my soap-bubble future—beautiful but fragile; destined to burst. I cried for the compromise I had made for a man I hardly knew. My imagined future was not the beautiful colors in the sky but only a reflection of it—a delusion.

            Over the years, I have managed to paint something on that soiled canvas, to cover the spot, to pretend it is not there. But I know it will never go away. Thank God I was not raped. If I were, I would have had to burn the entire canvas.


When I finish my story, my boyfriend gently brushes my tears away. “I’m so sorry.”

“It was a long time ago,” I say.

I don’t tell him that sometimes the memory of that day comes back like a wave of nausea and the suicidal thoughts have never left me, not even after I had immigrated to Canada. But I couldn’t kill myself. My mother would never survive my death. She would never know how her beloved daughter was once squeezed between silence and a scream, between shame and dignity, between the ugly present and a beautiful future. She would never know how she had saved my life, and I, hers.

* * * * *

Born and raised in China, Sherry Wong moved to Canada in 1988 to pursue her master’s degree. Since 2012, she writes both under her real name and her pen name, Tong Ge, and her works may be found in publications including PRISM International, Canadian Stories, Ricepaper, Academy of the Heart and Mind, FLOW magazine, Vineyard Poetry Quarterly渥水远方的诗, Polyglot Magazine. She has also received three literary awards and is among the finalists for another five. Her debut novel The House Filler will be published in Canada in October of 2023.

Sunday 11 June 2023


Night Travels

by Lynn Bechtel

She calls every day, my younger sister. I don’t always answer. I can’t reach the phone or my supper tray has just arrived or I’m too tired. Today I answer.

How are you? she begins. I can hear the worry in her voice.

Fine, I say, fine.

I want to say I’m not fine, this isn’t living, these endless minutes in this bed, this room, this fog, but I don’t. She’s so far away.

The phone is small, a shiny orange wafer that gets lost in my hand.

Where are you? I ask.

At work. Lunch break. Cheese and crackers today. She showed me her office once, on a long-ago trip. I remember stairs and a window looking out at a street full of rooftops.

I got my hair cut today, I say. Everyone says it looks nice.

The phone is so hard to hold; I grip it tightly and my hand spasms.

She’s talking now, a flow of words, one sentence then another, static smothering the sounds. I hear “home” “office” “photographs” “Tashi.”

She says “Tashi” again and I can feel the lean feline body, smooth fur, the vibration of a purr.

Is Tashi OK? I ask.

I think so, she says. Your neighbors took her in when you first got sick. Remember?

But you said something about Tashi, just now.

I found a photo, Peter with Tashi on his shoulder.

As she speaks, I remember the day I took that picture, Peter, my love, bent to his desk, Tashi perched, both turning to look at me as I raised the camera, quickly snapped husband, cat, late afternoon light slanting into the room.

And I remember our house with its low ceilings, winding staircases, and long sloping hallways, the view of the garden out the studio window, the apple tree spilling fruit, the honey locust tree and freshly mown lawn, husband and cat walking down the path toward me.

I wake sometimes in the night and my bed is in the studio at the top of that house and I can see the garden under a full moon, the shadow of the honey locust tree, smell the cut grass, hear Peter’s footsteps.  

I keep this to myself. I told her once about my night travels. Dreams, she said. Delirium. And I said yes, you’re right, but I know it’s real, know that I leave this room, these walls, and my bed takes flight.   

* * * * *

Lynn Bechtel is a writer, editor, gardener, reader, knitter, and novice meditator. She lives in western Massachusetts where she writes essays and short stories and the occasional poem. Her work has been published in journals including Entropy, The Sunlight Press, and The Berkshire Review and in the anthology grief becomes you.


Saturday 10 June 2023

Evening walk

by Mary Wescott Riser

the trees make a cave
cool and shimmering with energy
at dusk
buttercups float in the shade
vibrating with color
the immense pulse of life
surrounds us
whether we notice or not

* * * * *

Mary Wescott Riser worked in Virginia independent schools for 30 years, most recently as Head of School at James River Day School, a K-8 day co-ed day school in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she served as Head for ten years. Mary received her B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Oregon. She writes the education blog “What’s Best For the Children?” www.maryriser.org. Mary and her husband, George, live in Covesville, Virginia and have two adult children.

Friday 9 June 2023

A letter from Virginia to New Mexico

by Mary Wescott Riser

the dogwoods are in bloom
and soon your high desert
cactus will show her bold color
and you, fierce friend, will run
and dance, so free, alone,
consumed by joy

my heart is comforted to know
you are in your writer's room
making space for every woman's 
song. I long to walk with you
through piney woods
to sun-warmed stones and blue

* * * * *

Mary Wescott Riser worked in Virginia independent schools for 30 years, most recently as Head of School at James River Day School, a K-8 day co-ed day school in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she served as Head for ten years. Mary received her B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Oregon.  She writes the education blog “What’s Best For the Children?” www.maryriser.org. Mary and her husband, George, live in Covesville, Virginia and have two adult children.

Thursday 8 June 2023


A Quiet Night
by Susan Isla Tepper 
Naturally years later
you’d show up
during the full moon—
just as I’m dozing
into dreams, curled 
on the rubber sleep pad
each night rolled out and
pushed into the low tight prow
of Isabelle, humble trawler.
Bedtime everything puts to order:
Spiders sucked in the dust-buster,
Isabelle tied up anchored
sur la Seine
tucked in beside a larger sleeker vessel.
Safety in numbers.
A quiet night—
water slapping the hull; that’s all.
‘Til a ping of pearls
pearls washing through sleep
And I’ve wakened; listening
to this, delicate
intermittent by sheer seconds
hitting the round window in the batten door. 
Brushing away what seems a web 
woven along my jaw
I wriggle out,
stand, look through the window
It’s you— all right; there
in the open stern
the balmy—
sporting those silly
psychedelic-blue shades 
that I remember, somehow;
you tossing pebbles
from the trucked-in sand.
O glorious Paris riverside
resplendent summer season!
The glasses smashed to your face
seem to vibrate colors
over you, the water, the deck
Picking up frequencies.
Like mine— like how you found me
here, under a light post beamed
high over this water
this boat
where we spent
a stretch of languid nights. 
Please do come out your voice implores.
Wobbly, slightly drunk, loud.
I cannot make a move.
I hardly recall your tone.

* * * * *

"A Quiet Night" was previously published in The Galway Review.

Susan Isla Tepper is the author of eleven published books of fiction and poetry, and three stage plays. Her play The Crooked Heart premiered as a staged-reading at Irish Repertory Theatre on October 25, 2022. Tepper has received numerous awards and honors including 19 Pushcart Prize Nominations, a Pulitzer Nomination for the book version of The Crooked Heart, a winner in the Francis Ford Coppola Novel Contest (2003), and more. Two new novels are forthcoming. Tepper was recently made a Brand Ambassador for The Galway Review, out of Ireland.