TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 18

Winter 2020

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featuring:

Peter Grandbois, Sara Backer, Paul Jones, Barbara Daniels,

Sam Barbee, Al Ortolani, Martin Willitts Jr., William Cullen Jr.,

Michael Spring, Jonah Bornstein,  John Davis, John L. Stanizzi

 

 

poem by Peter Grandbois

 

 

When I was alive

 

I swam the waters of the Cherry Creek,

a catfish trailing a pack of boys armed

with bows and arrows, invisible dusk

descending with the birds and their shadows.

 

When the first arrow hit, they surrounded

me, too stunned to speak, watching my mouth

open and close, the only answer to fire

silence upon silence into my shining body.

 

Then there was the time I was a trout

racing down the Platte until a rock

hit me in the back. I watched from the shore

with glassy eyes, morning steam rising

 

off the river like the voices of the boys

as they argued over who would make

the final blow, as if a stone to the head

could end this unbearable longing. 

 

I suppose it’s death I’m talking about.

How our handsewn ghost is always moving

among the haunted, the way last night

I was an injured bird in my friend’s backyard,

 

or how the week before my six legs tried

to scuttle off the Black Cat beneath me,

its fuse counting the seconds until I

was blown across the Colorado field.

 

How do we open to all we’ve seen,

all we’re told to see, to the tortured hand

of every word we tried to write,

to the catfish head whacked against the rock.

 

The days are more than we are. We’ll never

understand what time makes of us, or when

it’s time to drop the oars, let the boat drift,

to be born again beneath a liquid sky.

 

 

 

Peter Grandbois is the author of ten books, the most recent of which is half-burnt (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in over one hundred journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is the Poetry Editor for Boulevard magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at www.petergrandbois.com.

 

 

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poem by Sara Backer

 

 

 

 

When We Look into the Lake

              for David Robertson

 

We start to see faces

as bubbles turn into eyes.

The first face is always a blue wolf.

Other faces surface as if invited

to a seance—owl, otter, crow.

Humans, too, appear

with mushroom-colored skin.

Some wear hats or masks.

Near the edge of a rock, the water

reveals a portrait

of a wary Wa She Shu elder.

The faces seem to tell us the same thing:

 

Da ow meaning lake.

Da ow meaning dao.

Da ow meaning meaning.

 

The longer we look into da ow,

the more likely the great bear may come

down from mountains cloaked with ghosts.

 

 

 

Sara Backer's first chapbook, Bicycle Lotus, won our 2015 Turtle Island Poetry Award. A subsequent chapbook, Scavenger Hunt, came out from dancing girl press (2018). Her first full-length book,Such Luck, is out from Flowstone Press (2019). She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in the Merrimack River watershed with gray cats, white pines, red oaks, and black bears. Website: sarabacker.com.

 

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Such Luck, poetry book by Sara Backer

 

 

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poem by Paul Jones

poem by Paul Jones

Early Fall New Moon

 

 

Early Fall New Moon

When I'm dreaming like this,

it's as if I woke up sober

and don't deserve to be.

Like I woke up to gentle rain

or a slow waterfall

after a long dry September.

Gone are the little pains.

In their place, just one ecstasy,

one immense pile of leaves

where children hide most of themselves.

They are hooting like trains

imagining I can't see them.

I act as if I don't.

I have already left that life.

But where is the new one?

The black cloud on the Black Mountain

will, in time, be the home

to trout. From rainbow to rainbow,

a path we all will know.

 

 

 

 

Paul Jones has published poetry in many journals, including Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, and North Carolina Literary Review, but also in cookbooks, travel anthologies, in a collection about passion (What Matters?), in a collection about love (…and love…), and in The Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 – Present (from Scribner). Recently, he was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and two Best of the Web Award. His chapbook, What the Welsh and Chinese Have in Common, was a North Carolina Writers’ Network award winner.


A manuscript of his poems landed on the moon’s surface April 11, 2019 as part of Arch Mission’s Lunar Library delivered by SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander.

Jones is the director of ibiblio.org, a contributor-run, digital library of public domain and creative commons media begun over 25 years ago. He is also Clinical Professor in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina.

 

 

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poem by Barbara Daniels

 

 

When I broke this finger

 

it healed wrong. It points

at me, reproachful. I confess

everything—I chose

 

invention, not belief,

chose night with its beaks

and stingers. I’m like the dog

 

in the corner of every

old photograph, smelly,

panting, gasping for breath.

 

Scabs I peel from my arms

and hands lift to rawness

beneath slipped skin.

 

What do I look for in tumbled

grass? Deer bend their diffident

heads. I smell burning.

 

I should have been a nurse   

touching the dying, washing

their hair as they lie on their

 

narrow beds, or a bird,

forked syrinx for my

mourning, my cry all vowel,

 

all retrospection. I watch

the moon rise over the city.

Sorrow does its usual work.

 

But I find the dipper

that scoops the sky—there

in a silver spume of stars.

 

 

 

Barbara Daniels’ book Rose Fever was published by WordTech Press. Talk to the Lioness is forthcoming from Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. Daniels’ poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, and other journals. She received three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

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poem by Sam Barbee

Stinger

August afternoon’s final innings.  We chatter

around the diamond.  Heckle every hitter.

In center field, soft with bermuda grass,

I bounce barefooted, interrupting robins

pecking worms. 

                            Without bristle or thorn,

clover fills the green gaps, white buds

bobbing in humid traces before today’s

cooling-down shower.

                                      I track a fly-ball

across crimson sun. 

                                 A dull sting tightens my arch,

and I collapse among yellow-jackets. 

                                                             I smack

the shiny thorax with my glove,

                                                    smash wings,

                                                    but the stinger remains –

transfusing venom – twitching in my right arch. 

Its last work a dance.

                                    Mesmerized,

                                    I gather the team. 

All fascinated to watch it quiver until

I flick it out into forgiving turf, into sparkling

clover’s downy sequins.

                                         Under glorious heaven

I accept pain, sensing we must play on

for our place in the game.

                                           Mosquitoes stir. 

Night-wind swells boughs and bats swarm. 

 

 

 

Sam Barbee poems have appeared Poetry South, The NC Literary Review, Crucible, Asheville Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology VII: North Carolina, Georgia Journal, Kakalak, and Pembroke Magazine, among others; plus on-line journals Vox Poetica, Sky Island Journal, Courtland Review and The Blue Hour.  His second poetry collection, That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53), was a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016.  He was awarded an "Emerging Artist's Grant" from the Winston-Salem Arts Council to publish his first collection Changes of Venue (Mount Olive Press); has been a featured poet on the North Carolina Public Radio Station WFDD; received the 59th Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society for his poem "The Blood Watch"; and is a Pushcart nominee. 

 

 

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poem by Al Ortolani

 

 

 

November Faces

 

There is a loneliness

in the singularity of falling

leaves at dusk,

the silhouettes of limbs,

the slant of rooftops,

the empty lawns. We turn
up the path towards home

to click all the electricity

we can into the lights.

Behind doors, we ladle

the warmth of supper

onto cold plates. We find

in the window's glass

our reflections, strangers

with familiar faces,

setting forks and spoons

in their places, always,

it seems, preparing.

 

 

Al Ortolani is the Manuscript Editor for Woodley Press in Topeka, Kansas, and has directed a memoir writing project for Vietnam veterans across Kansas in association with the Library of Congress and Humanities Kansas. He is a 2019 recipient of the Rattle Chapbook Series Award. After 43 years of teaching English in public schools, he currently lives a life without bells and fire drills in the Kansas City area.

 

 

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poem by Martin Willitts Jr

 

 

 

Blue-Winged Darter (Dragonfly)

            (Pachydiplax Longipennis) common in America

 

There was a time he wasn’t,

when all he had to do

was float as a larva

about to be named, making

music from one

quicksilver stage to another,

a poem being edited.

 

He crawled

out of clear, motionless water

onto the grey pier, emerging

like a snake,

shredding his papery skin.

 

He was a line being re-written.

He was not all he could be,

about to enter the next dream.

 

Soon, he’d skim-skirt

a shear wetland surface,

generating noise

with metallic bluish-white wings,

zipping a singular, repeating,

elongating note,

this shimmering hum,

as soft as the shell he left behind,

 

a transient, from place

to contemplative place to exit,

to a stronger poetic finish.

 

I have been to the place

where life emerges

and darkness devours, and naming

is important

to knowing.

 

 

Martin Willitts Jr has 24 chapbooks including our Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 16 full-length collections including the Blue Light Award 2019 winner “The Temporary World”. His recent book is "Unfolding Towards Love" (Wipf and Stock). He is an editor for the Comstock Review.

 

 

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haiku sequence by William Cullen Jr.

 

 

One Rural Summer

 

    

between cicadas

alternating with wind chimes

a faint radio

 

hometown parade

the silence moves along

with the rainbow float

 

empty baseball field

a squirrel under the bleachers

eating peanuts

 

 

town square graveyard

the fireflies illumine

illegible stones

 


William Cullen Jr. is a veteran and was born in Petersburg, Virginia. He lived in Alabama, Georgia and Germany before settling down in Brooklyn, New York, where he works at a social services non-profit. His work has appeared in Canary, Gulf Stream, Lake Effect, I-70 Review, Poetry South, Spillway and The American Journal of Poetry.

 

 

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poem by Michael Spring

this time the raccoon

 

this time the raccoon

keeps me from going inside for the night

because in the last light of day

I watch it emerge from a tree  

 

the darkness changes it

into a bear

then into something amorphous --

a beak emeges, a wing unfolds --

 

what was once a raccoon flies

into me

and suddenly I become the raccoon

clutching an oak

 

I'm now looking at a man opening

his arms like wings --

his head cracks open for a tree

branching into the sky's darkening inks

Michael Spring, of Southwest Oregon, is the author of four previous poetry books and one children’s book. He’s won numerous awards and distinctions for poetry, including our Turtle Island Poetry Award, and an honorable mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Michael was a recipient of a Luso-American Fellowship from DISQUIET International and served as a writer-in-residence for Fishtrap,Inc. In 2019 he was named Poet Laureate of Southern Oregon by The Southern Oregon Guild. Michael Spring is a martial art instructor, a poetry editor for The Pedestal Magazine, and founding editor of Flowstone Press. His new chapbook, Drift Line, will be published by Foothills Publishing in 2020.

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poem by Jonah Bornstein

 

 

Raven Flight at the Grand Canyon

 

I know the lust of hang-gliders to loop upward

in the grace of ravens, forming fissures in air

as if they, too, were custodians of space.

I watch them drift across the desert,

hands clenched to the reins

of taut wings, their bodies clamped to saddles;

I remember seeing

one of these creatures

dangling like a struck bird from electrical wires

above the coast highway—no formula of wellness

would return him, the bent grille

of his body haunting

me for years after. Now relaxed

in a warm motel room below the canyon,

its buffeting wind unlocked from my body

by a hot shower, I wonder whether the woman

who spoke, truly did see a tagged condor,

the exposed pink guts

of its head a splotch of luminescence

against the ragged streaks of light

shifting on canyon walls, or a moose

in Oak Creek Canyon, the trolley

of her imagination unfolding at the rim

smiling, glorious in her tellings, rose

madder dyeing the pale skin

under her eyes. It is enough, I wanted to say, to see

the particulars of where we are—

the clipped dust of deer tracks, to hear the thump of wings,

and watch a brace of ravens coil

up from the canyon’s lips, making visible

channels of air unfelt from our perch on the rim.

But I, too, have created canyon stars

out of a scattering of desert datura; and I question,

even, the hang glider forty years ago—wonder

if my parents diverted my gaze away from the snared man

to the cable of knotted cars, afraid

of death hovering above us, or that I had not

seen at all, that my young mind opened a fissure

to move the uneasy flight

of man toward earth where I could see

its consequence, and know that daring

brings death close—that my story now

is to climb the pole, lasso the impervious hum

of wires that crowds our bodies

with a language we cannot understand.

 

 

Jonah Bornstein has taught poetry and creative writing at several universities in New York City, Oregon, and now University of Denver. I co-founded and was director of the Ashland Writers Conference (1997-2002) and director of the International Writers Series at Southern Oregon University. Poetry collections include Mortar; The Art of Waking; Treatise on Emptiness; A Path Through Stone; and We Are Built of Light. Poems have been published in journals such as Prairie Schooner, One Fare, ie, The West Wind Review and many anthologies, including September 11, 2001, American Writers Respond; Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon; and Walking Bridges: Using Poetry as a Compass. In addition to teaching creative writing, I mentors poets and edit poetry manuscripts

 

 

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poem by John Davis

 

 

 

Moose

 

The calf. The moose cow. The lake. I’m in the tent and need to pee. Through the mesh screen I see the cow in the lake splay her forelegs. Feeds on plants. The tent flap. The tent zipper. She hears the zipper. She stomps out of the water. I’m in the tent, underwear and boots and need to pee. She stomps. I walk. I run. I can’t run in hiking boots but I run and know the kick of a moose can kill. The stories are flashing back: a moose can kick a corpse for half an hour. Learned the story on my honeymoon. Today: my anniversary. My wife away, working and I run. The cow trots. Fast. Faster. Around pines. Through brush. We scare up a bull moose who brays at the cow. The pines. The wind. The need to pee. She brays. Two moose. Me. I run. No time to breathe or pee. Underwear and boots. Pee dribbles down my leg. The toy stuffed moose that slept against my pillow. The tufted fur. I nosed the nose before I slept. My boyhood book: Dr. Seuss, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. I run. Trot. Walk along the muddy path. No more moose. Slow. Slow walk.  

 

I see my breath—a cloud beyond the lake. No moose under bars of morning light. I pass berry bushes I cannot name. Then another moose cow charges. I dive into bushes. She trots past me. The bell—that flap of skin under her throat—bounces. I see myself a flap of skin. Bounced. Kicked. To the pines. To the lake. Kicked. No time to breathe. My legs are her legs, her breaths, my breaths. My shirt is her skin. The minutes before these minutes. My wife. The lake. The calf. The need to pee. I run three miles to my car. No moose. No wallet. Spare key under the hood. No need to pee. Collapse behind the wheel. Trail workers arrive. Laugh. Bray like moose. Bray louder. I will not follow them up the path. But no wallet. No pack. No sleeping bag. I follow them. A worker says I carry a chainsaw. If a moose comes at me, I’ll cut its legs off. He brays. The trail.  The chainsaw.  The lake.  Lake Darling. 

 

 

 

John Davis is the author of two collections, Gigs (Sol Books) and a chapbook The Reservist (Pudding House). His work has appeared recently in DMQ Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, One and Rio Grande Review. A retired high school teacher of forty years, he moonlights in blues and rock and roll bands.

 

 

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poem and photo by John L. Stanizzi

 

 

8.24.19

7.34 a.m.

65 degrees

Pallet of the pond where reflections seem to reach deep.

Overage of reflections, the entire shoreline touches the depths.

Negate the water for the more profound image on the landscape

differentiated from actual land by the slightest ripple running off to nowhere

John L. Stanizzi is author of the collections – Ecstasy AmongGhosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!,High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, Chants, and his newest collection, Sundowning, just out with Main Street Rag.  John’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Mountain Review, TheCortland Review, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Rust & Moth, Connecticut RiverReview, Hawk & Handsaw, and many others. His creative non-fictionhas been featured in Stone Coast Review.  His work has been translated into  Italian and appeared in many journals in Italy.  His translator is Angela D’Ambra.  John has read and venues all over New England, including the Mystic Arts Café, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Hartford Stage, andmany others.  For many years, John coordinated the Fresh Voices Poetry Competition for Young Poets at Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT.  He isalso a teaching artist for the national recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud.  A former New England Poet of the Year, John teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT and he lives with his wife,Carol, in Coventry. http://www.johnlstanizzi.com