TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 19
Featured poets: SARA BACKER and GEORGE DREW
Book Reviews by MARGE SIMON and JARED SMITH
Poems by LORRIE NESS, WILLIAM DORESKI,
GERARD SARNAT, JOAN COLBY, BARBARA PARCHIM,
KIKA DORSEY, MICHAEL LAUCHLAN, JOHN GREY,
ELIZABETH WEIR, ANNETTE SISSON,
MARTIN WILLITTS JR., JOHN L. STANIZZI,
and a story by JIM ROSS
POEMS BY SARA BACKER
It’s worth the steepness, ice and slush, and muck
to reach the flattened brow where ground is dry.
I love the trail between bald boulders, hard
packed dirt, and acorn shells. Yes, love. That word
for sudden uptick of a sun-baked breeze,
the shift from closeup mountain laurel leaves
to the expanse of sky woodpeckers tap.
Nothing about this mood is logical.
I suppose that makes it my religion
except I don’t believe. I only feel
connection with this habitat, and not
with any definition of a god.
I read the lichen patterns on oak bark
without pretending I know what they mean.
4 poems selected from SUCH LUCK, 2019:
NOW'S THE TIME
Long ago on the edge of Vienna and lost,
I walk of the map into an alley of street vendors
squatting on tablecloths beside strange treasure:
ebony snakes carved as bracelets, silver coins strung
as necklaces, lace scarves, intricately
painted eggs, tiny porcelain elephants.
everything. I can’t
Someone whistles sharply:
a six-note rif I recognize
from Charlie Parker’s saxophone.
Vendors roll tablecloths into sacks and run.
All at once the alley is empty.
Nothing lef but old bricks and grafti.
As two policemen walk the beat,
I stand in the middle
of this magic trick.
Wind wrestles our windows. Something snaps:
instantly, the two of us powerless in the dark.
No internet, no phones. No electricity for the well pump
means no water. Our toilets won’t fush.
I picture a tree leaning on power lines;
I once drove under a struck pine with smoking branches—
a foolish risk just to get home faster.
Memories of damage invite us to more destruction.
Flashlights dead from neglect, we do the wrong thing:
stand by the big window to glimpse, in lightning spritzes,
how sturdy oak trees sway, leaves fipped inside-out and silver.
And you, my love, in silhouette assume the shape of your father
who smacked your head until you seized, declared your talents
worthless. Perhaps I mimic my complaining mother?
We stay silent to keep your father from hitting my mother.
Must we be destined to curate our childhood dynamics?
When I light a candle, my mother and your father disappear.
We can hold hands and be afraid.
Te dead oak collapses on our storage shed—the house jumps!
Come morning, air rife with deer fies and mosquitoes,
the gentle black snake glides through rubble,
and milkweed blossoms into pink freworks.
AFTER THE CIRCUS LEAVES
A scarecrow jumps down from his pole
to gather, in his clumsy straw-flled sleeves,
the litter—ticket stubs, cigarette butts, sequins,
paper cotton candy cones, fex straws, coins,
ripped mustard packets, tiny plastic shards—
cleaning his feld.
A clown’s discarded red ball nose—
his prize fnd!—he puts on his burlap face
and walks with a bit of samba in his step
back to his post, where he gazes skyward
and pretends to juggle
three circling crows.
LEAVING THE CITY BEHIND
Te frst city you picture when someone says city
is your love city, the one you learned by foot,
whose concrete abraded the soles of your shoes,
whose subway map still appears in your PET scan,
whose towers of glass skies and doorways of urine
revealed how rich rich people really are, how poor the poor.
You rented a studio: tiny foor, tall walls, curved window,
fve locks on the door. You answered
phones, made copies, added numbers, poured cofee.
Tis city trained you to sense buses coming,
distinguish Bhutanese and Tagalog, to know
the taste of rabbit from goat.
In the daily treasure hunt of your love city,
you found an all-poetry bookstore with wing chairs
from a thrif store next to a neon stripper bar.
Gradually, you discovered you fell in love
with all your lovers because they were part of the city.
Tey fattened and shrank in the nearest feld.
Leaving the city is not the same
as leaving the city behind.
You leave the city by car or ferry or phone.
You leave behind what has challenged and changed you
into someone able, at last, to follow a black swan
without fear—to become who you are outside of the city.
Acknowledgments where these poems first appeared:
Now's the Time (Crannóg), Rubble (Tar River Poetry), After the Circus Leaves (Silver Blade),
and Leaving the City Behind (Turtle Island Quarterly).
Sara Backer’s first book of poetry, Such Luck (Flowstone Press 2019), follows two poetry chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt (dancing girl press) and Bicycle Lotus (Left Fork) which won the 2015 Turtle Island Poetry Award. She lives in the Merrimack River watershed amid white pines, red oaks, and black bears. Web: www.sarabacker.com.
BOOK REVIEW BY MARGE SIMON
Such Luck by Sara Backer, Flowstone Press, 2019, 56 p, paper $13.00 +shipping
As a fan of Sara Backer’s work, I’m pleased to say that her enticing new collection does not disappoint! Her cover choice is a Tarot card relating to the Ace of Cups. A medieval page holds a chalice with a fish rising from the wine as if telling a story or giving advice. It contains elements of her poems in a collage of styles of that era, similar to Gentile Da Fabriano, Master Bertram, Fra Angelico, and Jan van Eyke.
“Luck” and “Such” are separate sections for a purpose, arranging the “Lucks” as the poet’s more personal revelations and "Suches” = odd poems, not so personal. In short, experience in LUCK, observation in SUCH.
With this very first poem below, you’re seduced. I’m not giving away how it’s carried to a close, but the next thing you know, you’re on page 56, the last poem in the collection. And wanting more!
“Long ago on the edge of Vienna and lost,
I walk off the map into an alley of street vendors
squatting on tablecloths beside strange treasure;
Ebony snakes carved as bracelets, silver coins strung
as necklaces, lace scarves, intricately
painted eggs, tiny porcelain elephants.
everything. I can’t
-lines from “Now’s the Time”
“The Death Jar” tells of a child’s disconcerting discovery that the beauty of a Japanese beetle matches that of the rose it destroys, and the question why such a creature must be killed to ensure that another beauty may thrive.
“Such Luck” links to the cover with a glimpse of the poet’s single girl life in California. “I drank in bed. The more/ I drank, the larger my glass grew. I waded surf with cabernet/in hand and yearned for love. Until I sipped and found a fish.” The poem continues with a surreal conversation and a most satisfying ending. If ever you’ve been lonely for a lover that never showed, it may well have been for the best.
Sometimes I found myself thinking, “I relate to this, and the way she’s framed it blows me away!” Such was my reaction to “The Menu at the Bridge”. Herein, a man hikes into the hinterland in winter and is caught in a blizzard. He thinks he’s been rescued, but then “three pale men dressed in bones trudged toward him”. Don’t miss the rest! Buy it, thank me later!
Marge Simon is an award-winning poet/writer. Her works have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, Silver Blade, Polu Texni, Crannog, JoCCA and numerous pro anthologies. She is a multiple Stoker winner and Grand Master Poet of the SF & F Poetry Association. She attends the ICFA as a guest annually, and is on the board of HWA. Amazon Author page:
POEMS BY GEORGE DREW
WHOLLY SMOKE: THE SHAMAN SINGS
The forests of Colorado are burning—
Snaking, Black Mountain, Schroonover,
Iron Mountain, Hayman, Missionary Ridge.
And in Arizona forests are burning,
and in Canada, too—the smoke rolling
down the Hudson and the Mohawk,
rolling over Brooklyn, over Queens,
over the Bronx, over Manhattan,
Staten Island, and Long Island, too,
smoke so thick it stops the taxis,
the buses, brings to a shrieking halt
the airplanes at LaGuardia and JFK.
And what shall I sing of now?
Shall I sing of the sandstone cliffs,
the ancient dwellings of the Pueblo?
Shall I sing of the fireplace pits,
of bones and bone utensils buried deep?
I have always sung of these.
No—I shall sing of forests burning,
that this burning is Nature’s way,
that this burning is human folly,
that this burning is my calling.
I shall sing, then, of this burning.
I shall sing both long and hard.
I shall sing of the forests burning,
of the spires and steeples burning,
of the synagogues and churches burning,
of the mosques and temples burning.
And I shall sing of the electric cross
burning in the foothills west of Denver,
and of the lights down on the plains
burning all through the night
like the Roman campfires on Golgotha.
I shall sing of the burning of the flesh
of naked creatures huddled in the hills,
creatures of fur and creatures of skin.
I shall sing of the burning in their eyes
and in their hearts and in their souls.
I shall sing and sing of these.
I shall sing of the eagle and the hawk
wheeling above the burning forests,
wheeling above the sandstone cliffs,
wheeling above the crumbling bones,
wheeling above the burning cross,
wheeling above the creatures burning.
I shall sing until the sun snuffs out,
and when I wake in the starless dark
and the forests are memories and ash
and the eagle and hawk are shrieking
like the airplanes falling from the sky
I shall sing of the burning absence
that once was flesh and blood and bone.
I shall sing of it deep and long and hard.
And then I shall sing of nothing no more.
4 poems selected from
DRUMMING ARMAGEDDON, 2020
AIN’T YOU LUCKY?
So you want to know the blues, huh boy? Well, look here,
when Mama up and left that no-good low-life sonofabitch that spring
in Greenweed, Mississippi and skedaddled south to Baton Rouge
and there was never no more horses and hounds and hunts
under the Delta moon, that, boy, was the blues sure and true,
and when not three months later Mama up and left you hunkered
down with Granny and Aunt Vi and skedaddled north back to that
contagious woman-beating peck-o-wood, that was the blues
beneath the blues, blues only the favored few can know.
Now ain’t you lucky, boy? I say, ain’t you lucky, now you know?
I KNOW YOU'RE IN DETROIT
August 13, 2018
Dear Aretha, I know you're in Detroit and I'm here,
miles and miles away, but I'd like to apologize,
before it's too late. You're on your deathbed,
that's pretty clear, surrounded as you are
by family and friends, and the national press
in the trenches already, sensing a headline. Poems
like this are more personal than public eulogies,
and for the most part not even close to being a blip
on most Americans' consciousness. So my apology is
between us, which is proper and more poignant.
Aretha, I apologize for having never written a poem
for or about you, not in all the Hit Parades of years
I've grooved to you and your soulful music. I admit,
I've written many about many of your peers,
some equal to you in their various musical ways,
some not even close. I apologize, I really do,
but know this, dear Aretha: Even as you lie bedridden
there in the shadow of Motown, this latecomer poem,
unlike any others I might have written, catalogs nothing
less than the entire opus of the entirely beautiful you.
THE WORD SWAGGER
Swagger is a nice word most
especially when there is a deficit of swagger.
Swagger is what you crave,
like the full tilt grit of Janis Joplin,
or the guttural smolder of James Brown.
Swagger is a flood of Elvis lookalikes
in Las Vegas—it's that glitzy, that raw.
Swagger is a mouth harp, a fiddle,
it's Ginger Baker in a bluegrass band.
Swagger is getting back your bite
like Jerry Lee after the world
has kicked you in the teeth.
Swagger is a nice word after good,
but swagger is even nicer after bad.
Swagger is what you have left
when the world has nothing left to give.
Swagger is a bray without a mule.
Hendrix. Joplin. Cobain. Morrison. Now,
Winehouse. What is it about this number,
twenty-seven? This nothing number?
What significance did it ever have?
My mother was born in 1927, though not
on the twenty-seventh. But so what?
It could have been 1926, and almost was.
The only numbers I ever mastered
weren’t numbers—they were letters,
all those little, mysterious letters
in equations. Algebra was the only math
I liked, and the only high school math
I more than just passed: not A,
but B was mastery enough for me.
I don’t believe in the magic of numbers:
that seven always means good luck,
that a thirteenth floor is a good thing
to omit from any architectural design,
that six of one and half a dozen of another
are the same; and as for sixty-nine,
that old satanic sign, the hell with it.
Things might or might not be cheaper
by the dozen, but sex gets a pass,
sixty-nine in its case dripping magic;
and triumvirates and trinities aside,
three is a number with real clout,
structuring everything from fairy tales
to Hegel, atoms, pop music and jokes.
But twenty-seven? All right, so there are
twenty-seven books in the New Testament
and twenty-seven generations from David
to Jesus, twenty-seven Hebrew letters.
For Morrison and the others did this matter?
As a lunar sign, if it means light in darkness,
light lost. The Bible uses it six times.
George Drew is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Pastoral Habits: New and Selected Poems, Down & Dirty and The View From Jackass Hill, winner of the 2010 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, all from Texas Review Press, Fancy's Orphan, Tiger Bark Press, and Drumming Armageddon, Madville Publishing. Drew won the Knightville Poetry Contest, The New Guard, his poem appearing in the 2017 edition., and two other poems as Honorable Mention in the Steve Kowit Poetry Contest, appeared in the 2018 and 2019 San Diego Poetry Anthology. He was a recipient of the Bucks County Muse Award in 2016 for contributions to the Bucks County PA. literary community. Drew's biography will appear in Mississippi Poets: A Literary Guide, U. of Mississippi Press, edited by Catherine Savage Brosman. He is also a runner up in the 2019 Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Prize competition,and an Honorable Mention in the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize competition, his poem appearing in the 2020 Paterson Literary Review. Recently Drew has collaborated with singer/songwriter Rick Kunz on a CD of original poetry and songs entitled A Triumph of Loneliness, KBW Music, 2019.
BOOK REVIEW BY JARED SMITH
DRUMMING ARMAGEDDON, By George Drew
Madville Publishing, Dallas TX, 2020; Paper, 63 pp.
This is a long, rich poem-sequence knotted together along multiple themes played in major and minor chords weaving from south to north and east to west across our country. These chords are then woven through a myriad of national and regional mythologies, shaped by the cultural and socioeconomic influences of each part of the country as reflected by its music and the songs in the heart of its people. They start and end with the blues, for as George Drew writes:
The blues are like a shoelace,
sometimes double knotted and tight,
sometimes so long and loose
they trip you up, send you sprawling…
--from The Blues Are Like a Shoelace, p.4
But you always get up. You have to, and you keep on following and unwinding the chords because they are the chords of life.
George Drew was born in Mississippi and spent half of his youth there and in Lousiana, half in New York State where his father was born, shuttling back and forth in a turbulent childhood.
As a young man he lived in New York, Oregon, Colorado, and places in between. This rootless spirit of the open road gave him a sense of home in widely different social and esthetic landscapes of our country—creating perhaps a sense of loss and loneliness in all of these landscapes… and the need to better see, create, define, and remember a place where he could honestly be at home in within himself to overcome that loss. These factors in part, I believe, have sharpened his language and visual acuity, allowing him to speak of the chiggers and sweat and fluffy biscuit mornings of the southland with the same clarity and honesty of a New England farmer strolling the crisp cool fields of northern mornings.
The blues of “Mama’s pisselum switch” and “Granny’s buttermilk on a sizzling Delta day” are in his blood and in his poetry from the beginning, and are swirled up into the entire sweep of the music that has given voice to the deepest emotions of every part of American mythology and every depth of joy and sorrow that has shaped our inter-regional culture for the past century. The poems move through the blues, rockabilly, country, folk, rock, and beyond, but always finding the notes that shake the human soul, matching the moments we remember. From the radio Deejay trying to serenade the first sexual fumblings in a beat-up car to spending time with Peter Yarrow, “the six string seer,” who flies in on his jet plane, to the sometimes Satanic thump of The Rolling Stones, George follows the pain and thirst of human longing through his poetry and our songs. It is quite a trip.
In his words, we see everyman as a musician, “his hands like ivory blossoms adrift in the brown pool of wood” which he plays his songs upon (p.16). And as George writes of Roy Orbison, “…from the black/cauldron of his throat eruptions of sound/so dark it bullies the sun into total eclipse” (p.28) rise up and shiver along our spines.
Throughout, George finds not only the sound but the images to transform words into the full musical/emotional cascade of the blues that emanate from an any artist’s soul. This is poetry and music speaking together at its best, and it uncovers a human dignity that we all share across this country.
Music and memory live forever. Poets and musicians, however, don’t. And so the last section of the book explores the trajectory of our lives against the aging of our music. We witness Elvis in an old age home unable to sing his song; Harrison, Joplin, Cobain, Morrison, and Winehouse, among others gone to notes upon air; The Fab Four at what would be their last performance set against Robert Frost in the New England countryside. It is a mélange of hope and spirit set against the inevitability of time. And in that last section we find the title poem, “Drumming Against Armageddon,” in which a “doper” entering middle age becomes a “ferocious drummer…twirling his sticks high over his head…drumming Armageddon into exile. (p.55)
Isn’t this what all of us poets and artists strive each day to do…drum Armageddon into exile on the wings of our mythologies and the beauty of our world? There is a manic rage involved, and a deep sorrow, and a magnificence beyond words alone. And George adds a luminous lightness and acceptance of this as he presents the final poem, “Bovine Bop,” which I will quote in full:
One evening Charlie Parker stood
on a country road and like
a wolf lifting its muzzle raised
his sax to the night sky
and blew a tune so gadalmighty hot
the cow to which he played
spat out its cud and tore
the pasture up doing the bovine bop.
Jared Smith has served as a Poetry Editor of Turtle Island Quarterly since the beginning. He is the author of 14 books of poetry, and his work has appeared in hundreds of journals in this country, Mexico, Canada, the U.K., Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. He was the Judge of this year's Founders Award for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and the winner of the Colorado Authors League Poetry Book of the Year. He has served on the editorial boards of Home Planet News, The New York Quarterly, and The Pedestal Magazine, as well as serving on the boards of literary and arts non-profits in New York, Illinois, and Colorado. He is listed in The Colorado Encyclopedia, Colorado Poets Center, Poets & Writers, Who's Who In America, and other reference and professional sources.
POEM BY LORRIE NESS
Chilly nights in August
are autumn in larval form. We camped
to push our summer a few days further into fall.
A string of lights shaped like whisky barrels
drooped from poles. After dusk, there’s no such thing as shade
only trails between embers and stars.
Everything was brighter in the dark.
I laid on my back, holding safety scissors up to the sky
cutting round and round the moon.
Trimmed it to fit inside my jar of fireflies.
Back home I’d keep it in the treehouse —
turn our oak into a lantern.
In the shadows, my father didn’t have to be a man.
He just smoothed reflective foil around the jar
becoming a little bit daughter.
Chasing things we couldn’t have — all of us.
A moon-clipping, summer-highjacking
family of thieves.
Lorrie Ness is an emerging poet working in Virginia. Her work can be found at Palette Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Typishly and various other journals. In 2019 she was nominated for a Best of the Net Award by Sky Island Journal.
POEM BY WILLIAM DORESKI
Legs? It stalks the ocean floor
in search of fodder. Lobe-finned,
not really legged, it scrambled
ashore many eons ago
and didn’t like what it found there.
Rock, brush, wind, sand, nettle—
something inhospitable drove it
back to the depths. A tiny brain,
a heart that’s hardly a tube
of muscle. Half a billion years
of refusing to evolve.
The coelacanth avoided
the “Great Dying” and hardly noticed
that nearly everyone else had gone.
William Doreski has published threecritical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared inmany print and online journals. He has taught at EmersonCollege, Goddard College, Boston University, and Keene State College. His mostrecent books are Water Music and Train to Providence. williamdoreski.blogspot.com
POEM BY GERARD SARNAT
EXPLORING THE MILKY WAY
not yet great
I would love to
know much better
reminds me of that
bald round-faced man
in the moon which floods
us fools with full soft smiles
then gibbous dis/ reappears
waxing & waning again
& again: buds, though
truly vast as well as hard, let’s make
this planet’s translucent challenge to
start shining just like we are our
very own solar system of stars.
Invoking higher powers during conventional last phases
(let me count the ways) of life
as well as our shuttle craft’s
final stage breakaway bivalvular red space capsule
which will ferry us to probable deaths
we who thus ended our time there on worn Mother Earth
feel so lucky to have known her wonders and people
before entering this next New World Order
weightlessly spinning spinning in creamy orbit
hoping, waiting for that miracle of all miracles.
iii. Wastrel haiku
Has our curdled earth
become just a placeholder
as we explore space?
Gerard Sarnat is a physician who’s built andstaffed current homeless and ex-prisoner clinics as well as a Stanfordprofessor and healthcare CEO. Currently Gerry is devoting energy/ resources todeal with global warming. Sarnat won the Poetry in the Arts First Place Awardplus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for a handful of recent Pushcartsplus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry is widely published in academic-relatedjournals (Universities of Chicago/ Maine/ San Francisco/SanFrancisco/Toronto, Stanford, Oberlin, Brown,Columbia, Harvard, Pomona, Johns Hopkins, Wesleyan, Dartmouth,Penn, NewMexico) plus national (Gargoyle, Main Street Rag, NewDelta Review, MiPOesias, American Journal Of Poetry, Poetry Quarterly, FreeState Review, Poetry Circle, Poets And War, ThankYou For Your Service Anthology, Worldpeace, Cliterature, Qommunicate, Indolent Books, PandemoniumPress, Montana Mouthful, Texas Review, Boston Literary Review, pacificREVIEW, BrooklynReview, San Francisco Magazine, The Los Angeles Review and The NewYork Times) and international publications including Review Berlin and New Ulster.He’s authored the collections Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s(2014), Melting the Ice King (2016). Gerry’s been married since 1969 with threekids, six grandsons andlooking forward to future granddaughters. gerardsarnat.com
POEM BY JOAN COLBY
DEATH OF THE LAST HORSE
DEATH OF THE LAST HORSE
The coffin bones
Sink through the hoofs
So she is standing on the bones
That carried her across the finish line.
Consider the kindness of an inoculation
And the blessing it must be to die
On the sweet grass in sunlight.
Her eye still beholds my reflection.
The vet says the brain
Is the last to go. I seek a word
She could take with her—a sugar cube
For the journey into earth
Where her body merges with the clover she grazed
In the pastures of retirement. Old mares
With their heads together. She is the last
Of the horses who lived here. The foals off
To hurdles or the ovals where crowds cheer
Or tear up tickets in despair.
Dark daughter, fine boned –stakes placed..
I watch as you are dug under..
All the horses, goats, dogs and cats
I walk over on my way to the woodlot.
Not spirits, but earthbound, the biblical dust
Out of which everything flowers.
Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner.. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review's James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010). Her poems are winners of the 2014 and 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. She also was selected as an International Merit Award Winner in the 2015 Atlanta Review contest She has published 22 books including Selected Poems” which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize “and “Ribcage” which won the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her latest books are “Her Heartsongs” from Presa Press, Joyriding to Nightfall from FutureCycle Press and Bony Old Folks from CyberwiShe has a new book forthcoming from The Poetry Box titled The Kingdom of the Birds.. She is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Good Works Review.Also,
POEM BY BARABARA PARCHIM
The snake lies full length against the farthest wall
having freed himself – as if he were Houdini -
from the feeding bin where he has devoured 3 mice,
the lid still in place and weighted with a heavy rock.
The most temperamental of all the snakes housed here,
I will need help recapturing this black pine -
but for now, I simply watch and wonder
if he feels euphoric – finally able to stretch his full 6 feet,
having lived most of his life in a 2x4x5 foot enclosure
shared with a female of his species.
In his native habitat -
a southern clime of longleaf pine forest -
he may have roamed as much as 100 acres
and burrowed underground in the sandy loam
to hunt and shelter from cold and heat.
I visualize opening the doors of his confinement
against the artificial light and heat,
and Styrofoam platforms in hues of brown and green
meant to simulate rocks and vegetation.
I would send an incantation as potent as an amulet
for safety in his return to home ground.
Barbara Parchim has lived on a small farm in southwest Oregon for 45 years on land that was originally homesteaded in the late 1800’s. Retired from social work, she volunteered for several years at a wildlife and rehabilitation and education facility caring for raptors and wolves. When not busy gardening with her husband, she enjoys hiking with her dogs and feels most alive when out in the wilderness.
POEM BY KIKA DORSEY
My roaming is a birdless wing
that lands on the railroad tracks where I used to walk,
where the chain-link fences
held growling dogs
and some houses were blue,
ours too brick, too harsh.
I was missing my body,
my blue veins traveling to the heart.
I said I have no heart for this
when the preacher held up the crucifix
and I dreamed of powerful men with loins
of steel, not hands of nails,
not all that death.
I had enough of it,
Father on the couch
crazy as wingless birds
hopping on a desert floor
with hawks hunting.
They’re always hunting,
I counting railroad ties
to measure how far
I was willing to travel from home,
pretending they were miles,
each one a wing I made into a bouquet,
blue wings I could set
in vases away from my parents’ scrutiny,
away from the grout sealing brick
crumbling in acid rain.
I walked to a statue of St. Francis.
He was feeding a deer with birds on his shoulders
and he became my patron saint
in the convent where women traded
sex for psalms and I roamed
with my dog, his gray body
like something trying to be shadow
but the light filtered through
the mesh of that piece of sky overhead
leaking, raining down what I lost in prayer
because I always asked
for what no one could give.
So feathers became foibles,
wings were wanton and whipped
in the wind of Midwestern storms
that sent us into the basement
of our brick house
and my parents laid down a bed for me.
I slept through the thunder,
trusting the heavens still
although it hid a sky,
it hid a haven of blue
and later it hid my children
who stopped following me long ago
though I still pray for them
to collect nails
and paint their houses blue
because it’s the color that can sleep
and I want them to sleep better than I,
to feed what has no words
and I want them
to see the train coming
and step off the tracks.
Kika Dorsey is a poet and fiction writer in Boulder, Colorado, and lives with her two children, husband, and pets. Her books include Beside Herself (Flutter Press, 2010) and three full-length collections, Rust, Coming Up for Air (Word Tech Editions, 2016, 2018), and Occupied: Vienna is a Broken Man and Daughter of Hunger (Pinyon Publishing, 2020), in which “Blue” is published. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times. Currently, she is an instructor of English at Front Range Community College and tutors. When not writing or teaching, she swims miles in pools and runs and hikes in the open space of Colorado’s mountains and plains.
POEM BY MICHAEL LAUCHLAN
A face on airport screens looks
reassuring staring into the lens
saying unarmed refugees won't
be shot. Not anxious to kill
children clinging to mothers--
unless things get out of hand.
Soon I'll be instructed to note exits
and reminded of my flotation device,
the proper use of oxygen masks. Soon
everything will start to move and shake.
Then the grid of former farms, the roads
and curling exchanges, shrinking homes
and dusk over a river that slaves crossed,
dreaming of freedom. Then clouds
and sun on wings. And drinks.
Michael Lauchlan has contributed to many publications, including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, Nimrod, Sugar House Review, Louisville Review, Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, and Poetry Ireland. His most recent collection is Trumbull Ave., from WSU Press (2015).
POEM BY JOHN GREY
This river slips through holes in the scenery,
dresses itself up in asphodel or a cloak of fine light.
Look at that. Fish eyes. And over there. Rock eyes.
It can scud. It can colonnade.
And how innocent the water seems.
As if the young boy drownings don't count.
The smell of crushed fire, the sight of migrating birds,
cold lapping, the last of winter making its excuses,
short jagged ripples, foam hallucinations,
physical effects approaching transcendence,
and air, one minute gasping for breath,
the next undecided as to which way to blow.
Seated on grass I am,
part of the straggle not the bustle,
perched higher than the surface
but lower than the cascading life,
with pinched lips, wrinkled brow,
poking at the current with my eyes,
thoughts disappearing down the twists, the spirals.
But a man must a pick a place,
even if it's not in the midst of the action.
No swimming, No splashing.
No drowning like those young boys, thank God.
I just make my body comfortable.
And myself amenable.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, DalhousieReview and Qwerty with work upcoming in Blueline, Willard and Maple and RedCoyote.
POEM BY ELIZABETH WEIR
LISTENING WITH A MIDWIFE'S EAR
Overhead, a woodpecker drums resonant wood.
I search bare March branches. No movement.
Again, the wood-bell rap, a distinct sequence,
repeated and amplified by a hollow tree limb. I listen:
this, not a drilling for insects, not a nest excavation,
but a declaration of territory, an appeal to a female.
Spring slumbers beneath knee-deep snow
but the sun’s arc is rising, awakening desire.
I clomp to a Scots pine and press my ear to its rough trunk.
All I hear is the outer world of aircraft and passing cars.
At the next tree, an old linden, I find the curve of a burl, risen
like a pregnant belly. I set my midwife’s ear against its swell.
Down the length of lignum the woodpecker’s rap quickens.
I hear his fervor, sense the promise in our turning Earth.
Elizabeth Weir’s book of poetry, High on Table Mountain, was published by North Star Press of St. Cloud and was nominated for the 2017 Midwest Book Award. Recent work has appears in Evening Street Review, Gyroscope, Talking Stick, and the Kerf.
POEM BY ANNETTE SISSON
And everywhere, bones.
Ravens darken this cerulean
bowl, its lip a slender
pebbled strand. The Char’s
estuary bends round,
rises into shelves of Jurassic
cliff, a mausoleum bearing
its dead back to sea.
In the fly-speck village
a lone parish churchyard
is laden with graves, modern
beside crumbling relics
askew. Villagers’ remains
layer the eras, strata
of western clans guarding
their tight bonds, carrying
their freight of bones like spiny
furze gathered in baskets.
Beside the waves, the living
murmur into sinking light.
Brooms of cloud smear
evening’s sky with rouge.
Young boys stalk
hermit crabs that skitter
to the deeps, take shelter
against time. The dwellers,
with their fishing nets and intricate
webs of kin, shelter
too beneath Charmouth’s
outcroppings, ammonites spiraling
across a rocky beach,
as if they fathom the ocean’s
thrust, as if they scorn
the town’s accretion of bones,
brush of briefest eelgrass
by an ageless purling sea.
Annette Sisson enjoys teaching, traveling, hiking, supporting theater, watching birds, baking, playing piano, reading, and writing. Awards: Fellow, 2020 BOAAT Writer’s Retreat (national); winner, The Porch Writers’ Collective’s 2019 poetry contest (regional); hon. mention, Passager’s 2019 poetry contest (national. Pubs: Zone 3, Rockvale Review (“Best of the Net” nom.), Nashville Review, Passager, Typishly, One (Jacar Press), Hamilton Stone Review, KAIROS, The Ekphrastic Review, SPANK the CARP, Underwood, Roanoke Review. Chapbook: A Casting Off (Finishing Line, 5/2019). Forthcoming: The Blue Mountain Review, KAIROS, Front Porch Review, The Orchards Poetry Review, The Pangolin Review, River Heron Review, and Nervous Ghost Press’s anthology, Writing for Life.
POEM BY MARTIN WILLITTS JR.
FOUR BLUE HORSES
Painting by FranzMarc
the unseen is out there
the horses have been to the river
traces of loss on their muzzles
colorless as the sky
just before darkness comes in
a herd grazing silence
the river makes statements
manes in running wind
heads are turned
to the sounds we do not hear
a river clip-clopping over stones
neighing and striking forelocks on fallground
horses know the word eventually
is past time to corral them
blue-black clouds hoofprints
a storm galloping in quickly
muscles of sounds
Martin Willitts Jr has 24 chapbooks including the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 20 full-length collections including the Blue Light Award 2019, “The Temporary World”. His recentbook is "Unfolding Towards Love" (Wipf and Stock, 2020). He has twoforthcoming collections.
POEM BY JOHN L. STANIZZI
Partition of rain between the clouds and me,
and a phoebe
overstands these showers, the potential for clearing,
the rasp of his two syllables.
Negligent stream sentinel, Joe Pye has bent
with the rain and
devotes itself to bowing before the shallow
trickle as if the answer to all water were there.
NOTE: the poems are from a one-year-long project called POND -- The poems are acrostics.
Everyday, at different times during the day, John would visit his pond with notebook and camera in hand. He’d jot down some notes, take a picture or two, if a good photo op. presented itself. Then he’d head home and write a four-line acrostic using the letters P, O, N, and D.
John L. Stanizzi is author of the collections – Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, DanceAgainst the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, FourBits, Chants, and his brand new collection, Sundowning. Besides Turtle Island, John’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, TheNew York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Mountain Review, Tar River,Poetlore, Rust & Moth, Rattle, Hawk & Handsaw, and many others. His work has been translated into Italian andappeared in El Ghibli, The Journal of Italian Translations Bonafini,Poetarium, and others. His translator is Angela D’Ambra. His nonfiction has been published in Stone Coast Review,Ovunque Siamo, Adelaide, Scarlet Leaf, Literature and Belief, and Evening Street. John has read andvenues all over New England, including the Mystic Arts Café, the Sunken GardenPoetry Festival, Hartford Stage, and many others. For many years, John coordinated the FreshVoices Poetry Competition for Young Poets at Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington,CT. He is also a teaching artist for thenational recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud. A former New England Poet of the Year, John teaches literature atManchester Community College in Manchester, CT and he lives with his wife,Carol, in Coventry. .
STORY BY JIM ROSS
AN INVITATION TO WITNESS
After pilgrimaging solo along France’s le chemin St. Jacques—rarely certain where or even if I’d find a bed for the night—I returned to Paris to fly home. On my last, late-October night, I stepped out for a pre-dinner walk. I passed two women wearing hooded black coats who stood motionless on a shaded street corner. One’s masked hood covered almost all of her face. The other’s pale, gaunt face was mostly visible. It appeared that a heap of backpacks stood beside them.
On my return, the two hadn’t budged. Perhaps they really were statues. I maintained my stride, but turned and looked at them directly. My eyes locked with those of the woman with the gaunt face. When I reached my hotel room, her face stayed with me. I had to go back to make a connection, if only to find out why they were there at dusk guarding a heap of backpacks.
In the preceding months, the knitting that bound together everything I called “me” had ripped and I’d fast unraveled. I told people I was going on a pilgrimage to engage in a prolonged act of contemplation. Secretly, I planned to lose myself and maybe not even come back.
zMost pilgrims lived on the fly, carried their lives on their backs, had no idea where they’d spend the night. I refused to make reservations because millions before me accepted Que sera sera! There were some close calls. I spent one restless night cocooned in bubble wrap on the kitchen floor of a priest’s house.
As I approached, the two women didn’t flinch. The gaunt-faced one had removed her hood, revealing a clear complexion with no signs of excessive sun exposure usually observed in street people. The second woman, olive-complected, still wore a masked hood revealing only her eyes, nose, and hair-lined upper lip. What I’d mistaken for backpacks was a mammoth shopping cart stuffed with small suitcases, carry-ons, backpacks, and water bottles varying in size and fullness. I saw no scraps of food, no shopping or trash bags, no collection cup, plate, bowl, or box, no sign to explain who they were and why they were there. Instead of sitting on a step, portable chair, or ground, they stood like sentries. Neither reached out or made entreaties.
Both turned to me; neither cracked a smile nor spoke a word. When I said “Bonjour,” they reciprocated. I asked if they spoke English, expecting “no” or radio silence. The younger answered, “Not so well, but I understand it and can speak it.” Up close, she looked about 30; the other, about 60. The younger’s partially-open coat revealed multiple layers. The elder’s coat resembled monk’s robes.
“I saw you standing here. I wondered why?”
The two spoke in French. The younger finally said, “I would like to introduce my mother. We are poor and homeless because circumstances resulted in our losing everything we owned except what you see here. Ask us questions, as you wish.”
I’d asked the daughter a question, she’d confer with mom, and eventually the daughter would answer. Occasionally, the two argued over my meaning, how to respond, or whether to dismiss my question. Now and then, the daughter warned, “You used a word that carries a different meaning in French than you probably intend. Would you like to rephrase your question?” As the conversation gathered momentum, she increasingly answered without conferring with mom, or asked, “Is that really the question you want to ask?
After dancing around, I asked, “What caused your being thrown onto on the street?”
“Do you want a social answer or an individual answer?” she asked.
“Whichever, both if you like.”
She began offering a social explanation, then stopped: “You don’t need to know that to appreciate the circumstances that changed our lives.”
“You’re homeless now,” I said. “You live on the street. But you’re obviously university educated. You haven’t always been poor. You’ve known life’s comforts.”
“Correct. We had no idea what being poor felt like. Now, the street’s our bedroom."
They began passing cigarettes with an insistence that belied the austere sense of control they’d shown earlier. I rationalized: a cigarette’s stinging warmth buffered them briefly from the cold. The daughter’s fingers were heavily stained by nicotine; grit crammed her fingernails.
“Smoking is expensive and one of the worst things for your health,” I said.
“But this is all we do, we don’t use drugs, we don’t even smoke cannabis.”
After 45 minutes, I tried handing her a 10 Euro note. After conferring with mom, she said, "We’re glad to talk with you. You don't have to pay us to talk with us.” She lifted a water bottle from the cart, took a long sip, and passed it to mom.
Initially, I kept my eyes on the daughter, waiting for what she’d say next. During their back-and-forth, I didn’t look at mom. I suspect mom, likewise, only attended to her daughter. Gradually, mom and I began to focus on whoever was speaking. Then, we began looking directly at each other while listening to daughter’s voice in the background. I could understand mom better after she adjusted her mask so I could see her lips. The daughter’s role evolved into confirming what the mother and I had already come to understand.
The energy balance shifted; they began firing questions at me.
“What kind of work do you do?”
“Research on the health and well-being of children,” I answered.
“No, health risk behaviors like unprotected sex, carrying weapons, using tobacco.”
“Where do you look for inspiration? What books? Where else?”
“Most is government funded. Little seems inspired.”
“What’s your academic field?”
“Psychology. What’re yours?”
“Knowing that won’t help you understand. You Christian?”
“I believe the divine resides in you and me. Religion should help us act compassionately, instead of causing disputes and wars. What about you?”
“We don’t believe in God and place no value on religion.”
“Where do you sleep? Where will you sleep tonight?”
“We often sleep on the street, probably will tonight. We’ll see.”
“Usually in the same part of the city?”
“No, we keep moving with no real plan.”
“Are there social service agencies that help provide shelter for the homeless?”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t address the underlying situation. The homeless stay homeless.”
“How will you get out of this situation? Winter’s coming.”
“Maybe we won’t.”
I said something about homelessness in America. They opened their eyes wide. She said, “We had no idea you were American. I thought there were no homeless in America.”
“Where’d you get that idea?”
“Rudy Guiliani said, ‘there are no homeless in New York.’”
“Rudy hasn’t been mayor for years. Anyway, he lied. There were 40,000 homeless in New York. He wanted to make them disappear so he took away benefits, as if that would force them to remedy their situation, as if it were that simple.”
“Are most of the homeless in New York?”
“Not, they’re everywhere, especially cities. In Portland there are lots of services; the problem is, it’s hard to find jobs and stop being homeless.”
“That’s what I’m saying. We once had a good life, but lost everything. Even if we could find jobs, how can we get back to any kind of life?”
After a pause, she asked, "Why did you come back?”
“I’ve been away. I wanted to talk with someone.”
"I saw your face.”
They looked at each other. “People stop and talk with us because they have a need. What is your need?”
“I came back to find out why you were here. I stayed because I could feel your ‘Maybe we won’t.’”
“What did you feel?”
“When I walked in the mountains, I had no idea where I’d spend the night. Long ago, I had no place to live, so every night I slept in the forest. I came here because I feared losing everything, in a different way.”
z “Are you’re saying, you can feel what it’s like to have lost everything and have no idea how to rise above these conditions?”
“I can begin to understand ‘maybe we won’t’ because I saw no way out either.”
I shivered in shorts and t-shirt. I said, “I wish we had a fire!” meaning to say it to myself.
She said, “We need to move because it gets dangerous here during the night, especially for women.”
“Where’ll you sleep?”
I reached out my hands and she held them in hers. As our hands warmed each other, I transferred 20 Euros into her left hand and closed her fingers tightly around it until her hand surrendered. Finally, the mother spoke and the daughter translated. "We accept your money and thank you. We will use it to buy food." No translation was needed.
The daughter dropped an empty liter water bottle back into the shopping cart. The two began pushing it across Avenue Secretan. “Bon Nuit” were the last words we exchanged.
Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after leaving public health research. He's since published nonfiction, poetry, and photography in well over 100 journals and anthologies in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Publications include Barren, Columbia Journal, Ilanot Review, Litro, Lunch Ticket, Kestrel, The Atlantic, The Manchester Review, and Typehouse. A nonfiction piece led to a role in a soon-to-be-released, high-profile documentary limited series. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals working on the front line and grandparents of five preschoolers—split their time between the city and the mountains.
This first appeared in Sisyphus, a small ezine published by two Berkeley poets.