Friday, March 24, 2017

Poems I Admire #29

John Stupp

Each day
an old Bulgarian
walked between tables
at lunch time in the cafeteria
playing chess against all comers
you couldn’t hear anything
with all the noise
and the stink
it didn’t matte
he moved quickly
against Sicilian Defenses
and the French
and the King’s Gambit Declined
for a couple of bucks
he held a sandwich in one hand
and said very little
a chess master
before the Second World War
he found himself in Cleveland
casting engine blocks
but get this
his daughter was a nurse in the plant hospital
she smelled like flowers
like wild honeysuckle
in this godforsaken place
one year she took a piece of metal
from my eye
the pain was great
she helped me up
then moved away from board to board
quickly fixing everyone else
quiet as her father
even if you begged her

First appeared in Off the Coast – Summer 2016

John Stupp is the author of Advice from the Bed of a Friend by Main Street Rag. His new book Pawleys Island will be published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press. Recent poetry has appeared or will appear in The Greensboro Review, Poet Lore, The American Poetry Journal, Into the Void (Ireland), LitMag, The Tishman Review and Slipstream. His poem “Goat Island” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. He lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Wicker Woman of Wikiup Junction

She had cowboy eyes as deep and dry as the canyon-
cracks splitting her still-nimble fingers. The scorched
skin hanging from her face was an aged bronze sag.
She spoke through heavily-coated-with-lipstick lips,

and I huddled around her pretending to be warmed
by the divinity of having someone hear me confess.
Her laughter was a high-desert snow but her breath

was the must of hamper towels. She told stories
the way wicker women stare: through a thick haze
of antipathy. Sweat would drip between both eyebrow
grooves until she’d daub her face, pick up her tale,

and drop it exhausted as a burlap sack full of beans.
But whenever I’d close my eyes to blink, I’d see her
gentle hands on fevered faces, blowing hot thermals

of breath the way heat flows through canyons or words
snap into the language of abandonment – as if I needed
altogether unwanted scribbled into something legible.
There were times, though, her eyes became a grey sea

seeing angels, the sweetness of dreams, Christmas trees,
hospice, and the foggy goodbye glass of backseats.
They’d roll behind her head as if she were brewing coffee

or frying bacon or remembering everything. I asked her once
if I could be excused. She just kissed me on the salty nape
of my neck and tasted, I think, a certain readiness for fresh air
and all that would someday be.

Included in my chapbook "The Allness of Everything" (Maverick Duck Press)

(To learn more about "The Allness of Everything," click here.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Crow’s Feet

I ain’t never been nowhere, not really.
The grooves at the sides of my eyes
make it seem like I been around, seen
some things, know what’s what. But
that just ain’t the case. No, them lines
from a whole lot of staying-put pain,
from being all the time surrounded
by too much come and too much go,
mostly go. I guess sometimes life’s
just stumbling right into where you
s’posed to be, which is, maybe, same
as always being just a little too scared.
Still, I don’t know if I’d do things too
awfully different if I started all the way
back from scratch. I’m used to these old
crow’s feet in the mirror. I like knowing
how they got there – and I’ll tell you what,
it weren’t from staring all day long at the sun.

First appeared in San Pedro River Review - Spring 2017

Outrage Nation

Starched and crisp as slut-shaming sarcasm,
the after-flail of vigilante justice sighs – empty
with incrimination, full of dirty smiles. Its smarm

stands too close in line, leaves behind a yellow-lined
blacktop smear – just another snapshot of whisky-scars
at the very back of everyman’s throat, a burning bile

of ashes that won’t let go until the gray grows cold
as a double-tap bulge in someone’s side pocket.
Cushioned on the far side of the table by plastic planets

spinning randomly within the bronzed reflection
of a barmaid’s sweaty d├ęcolletage, we beg forgiveness.
She laughs at the burls popping from our index fingers

and wags her head as she lines us all up. There’s nothing here
but the gray residue of breaths mingling with old smoke
under lampshades stained beige and gone rancid while

we close in on the half-hot power of a smooth and steady drunk.
Our voices rasp. We swallow an envy as itchy as a bug bite
and turn stale offenses blue between spheres and points

sliding in their own special trajectories toward an eternity
full of whatever it is we call void.

First appeared in The Main Street Rag - Winter 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

On Depth and Salty Expectations

What is it about the coast and expectations?
Is it positive ions or the taste of salt rimming

every breath? Maybe it’s in the way waves roll
before crashing into hard soaked sand like tender

first kisses that become a hundred hungry intimacies
gasping for air and grasping for lips and the twist

of tongues before shifting their attentions to learning
where we hide our secrets and where imaginations turn

every new discovery into something blue and rhythmic
and very, very deep.

First appeared in Vayavya

Saturday, January 21, 2017

An Always Open Case

I showered once with her guitar
and learned all about progressions.

The acoustics were on my side
and the natural reverb married

with the unnatural rain redding
my back in a super hot steam

of hard wet wenge and mahogany.
I wanted to sing along but strummed

and hummed instead. Though she never said,
I think she knew, and I think that’s why

she took it away, why she kept its old
black case always open and empty.

Still, I never could confess to finding
those curves perfectly wide, perfectly narrow.

First appeared in IthacaLit

Saturday, January 14, 2017


This poem contains skin,
lots and lots of skin. The skin
this poem contains is soft; it’s tan
everywhere except there and there
and a little bit there. Please be aware
that this poem also has hands – handsy
hands that know the difference between
the need to caress and a caress that kneads.
The hands this poem contains come complete
with fingers for touching and tracing the skin –
about which you’ve already been warned. Know,
though, that these fingers are not only for touching
and tracing the aforementioned skin. No, these fingers
also explore gently, eagerly, the deep inside of a lover’s
imagination, a lover within whose breasts breathe wanton
breaths between kisses long and wet as the arousal of a lover
whose skin loves skin.

First appeared in Vayavya

Mommy Mode

I nibble and tease,
search for the switch that flips her
from the kids’ to mine.

Maybe backgammon
the way she likes to play it – 
no one tries to win.

I could do dishes
while she lingers in the tub – 
candles, steam, whiskey.

How about hearing,
eye contact and some nodding,
asking for details.

There’s always hugging
just for the holding her close –
just for the holding her close.

First appeared in Eunoia Review

Saturday, January 7, 2017


Her eyes have that one color green you hate
calling green. Emerald is better but just too too.
No, they’re green and cynical and deep

as the way the air in a forest’s morning mist
infiltrates your imagination and turns everything

into the lush fantasy of a primal, hungry, and never-
again-alone lust. They’re so green they make you doubt
the existence of memory, the memory of isolation,

and the solitude inside a natural passion that sweats
between heartbeats before leaving marks

where no one can see, so no one can bear witness
to the way they carry on without ever looking back
Thing is, I don’t think they started out that way.

First appeared in Literary Orphans - November 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Poems I Admire #28

I Know My Father
From stories only, from Mother’s mouth
on winter evenings by a single lamp.
A splendid man, a doctor,
taken while I drifted.
Smelling always of soap –
his fingers, the folds of his knuckles.
And from his framed face on the mantel,
unruly hair leaning across his forehead
as though windblown.

Can you see him? she asks, and I can,
bending over the beds of sick children,
soap scent whispering from his cuffs
as he warms with his breath
the disc of the stethoscope,
places it on small, bony chests, translates
the rattling of their lungs into ink on a page.
The crinkles at his eyes, the sky
deepening outside the hospital windows.
How he ruffles their hair, tucks their pain
into his pockets ad moves on, leaving
a bright wink shimmering at each bed,
leaving them drowsing,
taking their pale faces home.

Where he winds her in his arms
and lifts her to her toes, presses her cheek
into the faded spice of his collar
in the small kitchen where the fragrance
of rosemary lingers after dinner.
He kisses the back of her neck
as she washes dishes,
standing as close to the sink as I will allow,
I, big in her belly, tethered and drifting,
missing my father by weeks.

First appeared in San Pedro River Review

Ricki Mandeville’s poems have recently appeared in Comstock Review, San Pedro River Review, Pea River Journal, Texas Poetry Calendar 2014, and other journals and anthologies. She is a cofounder and consulting editor of Moon Tide Press and the author of A Thin Strand of Lights (Moon Tide Press). A speaker for various literary events, she lives in Huntington Beach, California.