Friday, June 16, 2017

Poems I Admire #35

Lot’s Wife
Mike James

The marriage was never good. Lot lived and lectured within the dull walls of his piety. Never sipped water or ate a crust of bread without giving thanks so all might hear. In Sodom, his eyes watched the ground. When women stood in doorways and called and called he did not answer. Instead, he scurried down the one path to home. At night his sand coarse hands touched his wife: the same spots in the same order. He knew only one way to enter the house of her body… quickly, while shuddering thanks. Beneath him, she dreamed of another’s salt. Her whole life, a backward glance.


First appeared in Main Street Rag

Mike James has been published in over a 100 magazines across the United States. His work has appeared in such places as Negative Capability, Soundings East, Chiron Review, and Birmingham Poetry Review. Among his nine poetry collections are Peddler’s Blues, The Year We Let The House Fall Down, Elegy In Reverse, and Past Due Notices. A new book of prose poems, My Favorite Houseguest, will be published in the summer of 2017 by FutureCycle Press. He has previously served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review, as an associate editor of Autumn House Press, as the publisher of Yellow Pepper Press, and as the Visiting Writer In Residence at the University of Maine, Fort Kent.

Friday, June 9, 2017

On Macramé and Excuses


They’re in the way you wind your steps
into a tightly twisted macramé – except
that they change the way things change,

the way others wonder why your’re never
where you want to be and why they wind
their way – step by step, like a macramé –

into their own threads, laced easily
into the vague theory that things bleed
and scream like the every part of everyday

lives lived in purple origami twisted
into something birdish and crinkled,
a useless paper macramé, small and bent.

They’re in the flatness to your plain way
of walking back and forth from kitchen
to bedroom in the dim nightlight light

of one midnight snack after another. They’re
there when you wind around the furniture
in twisted socks and toe holes, tripping

over macramé like you’re still wearing bellbottoms
and your juted fascinations all panned out somehow.
They’re in the way you’ve always tied slip knots loose

and lazy, more interested in the slip than the knot
twisting slack as the jaw of a disinterested kiss
and of tongues that will never know macramé.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Poems I Admire #34

Loose-leaf Memories
Ciara Shuttleworth

Somewhere, a movie. Orchestral music,
a space odyssey in surround sound.

Now, the rise and crescendo
that means the hero has saved the girl,
at least temporarily,
from being alone. But too many times can you tell
they are both still lonely.

Even if I’ve been dead wrong my entire life,
I can’t take a single crossroad back.
Loneliness isn’t about
being alone. My old love letters
read like a series of misdemeanors,
but at that time I thought I was Juliet.
Too much introspection
and suddenly a wooden bowl is not just a wooden bowl,
but a vessel keeping dry my failed self-improvement efforts
and memories kept intentionally loose-leaf – easier
for sifting through, for catching flame.


First appeared in San Pedro River Review

Ciara Shuttleworth was born in San Francisco and grew up in Nebraska, Nevada, and Washington state. Her poetry has been published in journals and anthologies, includingConfrontation, Hayden's Ferry Review, The New Yorker, The Norton Introduction to Literature 11e, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. Shuttleworth received an MFA in poetry from University of Idaho, a BFA in painting/drawing from San Francisco Art Institute, and a BA in studio art from Gustavus Adolphus College. She was The Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando's 51st resident at Jack Kerouac House. Shuttleworth's poetry chapbook, Night Holds Its Own (Blue Horse Press), and her gonzo prose book, 4,500 Miles: Taking Jack Back on the Road (Humanitas Media Publishing), are available.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Twelve Lines Running Across Our Bed

It’s a gray-laced tennis shoe leaning on its mate
or blinding beams of sunrise when walking at dawn.
Sometimes it’s the once red fade of thin lips gone blue.

Stare at it. Watch it become God on Judgment Day,
Satan taking names at baby’s First Communion.
Squint now for focus. See it blur into concrete

gray as the hair beneath a dye so black it’s blue.
You wash its ashen feet with tears and perfumed oil.
Its room fills with bric-a-brac and the aroma

of your forever-and-ever-ago: cut grass, warm bread,
pancakes-and-bacon-and-hot-coffee mornings,
Brylcreem and aftershave, sheets needing cleansed.


First appeared in Literary Orphans - May 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

Poems I Admire #33

The Family Waits
Rich Youmans

They hear his muffler first
– pop-pop-pop-pop-pop –
faint through the screen door
that he’ll walk through in a minute,
then louder as his Plymouth
turns the corner. They picture him
passing the Merkel twins in
the fire hydrant’s gush,
passing Mrs. Lee out on her stoop
with her glass of “iced tea,”
passing Bobby Mac as he paces
up and down the sidewalk,
talking to his shadow
and avoiding the cracks.
Louder and louder that rapid fire grows
– pop-Pop-Pop-POP-POP – until it
stops.

Then the driver’s door creaks open,
and the air shifts to give him room.

They can tell, it’s a bad day.
He doesn’t shower first to wash off
the stink of sweat and tar,
to quench his muscles’ burning flares.
Instead, he marches straight to
the kitchen table, his eyes fixed hard
on its scarred maple top.
He sits down at the table’s head,
waits for his sons to take their seats,
for their now-quiet mother to lay out the meal,
the plates and platters not quite full.

When she sits, he folds his hands,
each knuckle popping like a white flag,
and begins – O Lord –
his voice low, his head bowed,
his fingers locked tight
as if strangling something,
or holding on for dear life.


First appeared in Naugatuck River Review

In addition to writing narrative poetry, Rich Youmans enjoys exploring the Japanese forms of haiku and haibun; a forthcoming collection of haibun, All the Windows Lit, was a 2015 Snapshot Press eChapbook Award winner. He and his wife, Belle, live on Cape Cod.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sudden as Adultery

In the place where tumbleweeds
roll along nothing but humiliation
and scads of blisters gone scab,
everyone can see what everyone
already knows: the wind wrongs
scorched evenings into a used up
tan of desperation so hot our red
sweat dries before it falls. Spittled
curses, all the anger we can find,
a few dry yellow plants, and spite
fill the only space remaining in us,
a space of shade and conversation
raging hot against the unusual still,
where floodwater flowers bloom
then die as suddenly as adultery,
bright, a passion never fully shared
and strangely sweet between sheets
balled into fists. What comes next?
Secret pleadings for a soft explanation,
an ever-sting at the center of our core,
and the aching understanding of this:
everything lives to be gone for good.


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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Poems I Admire #32

Early Sorrow
Liz Dolan

After the three sisters had waited nine months
for the baby who was born dead,
they fretted about her being buried alone.

So they placed next to her
their almost-favorite stuffed animals,
the toucan by her plump cheeks
and the kookaburra by her elbow.

In her hands, they put the board book
Good Night Gorilla, in which the gorilla-hero steals
the keys from the zookeeper’s belt,
and frees the elephant, lion and giraffe.
The sisters knew she would laugh
when the animals followed the keeper to his house,
and the gorilla slept in his bed.
Plus she would learn about locks and keys.

And when Grandma died seven days later,
they knew she would read the book to the baby
and blow on her belly and sing
Toora, Loora, Loora.
                                     These are the things
the three sisters did and told us,
the grownups who did nothing, but sit
like stones in our chairs, staring.


First appeared in Naugatuck River Review


Liz Dolan’s poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, nominated for the Robert McGovern Prize, Ashland University, has been published by Cave Moon Press. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was published by March Street Press. Liz has won the following prizes: The Nassau Prize for Nonfiction, 2011, and the same prize for fiction, 2015; The Cobalt Review’s Baseball Poetry Prize, 2014; Delaware Beach Life’s First Place Poetry Prize, 2012, and Trellis Magazine’s First Place in Poetry, 2008; The Gypsy Satchet Award in Letters from Fiction Fix 16. She has also received fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Martha’s Vineyard Writers’ Residency. Liz serves on the poetry board of Philadelphia Stories. She is most grateful for her ten grandchildren who pepper her life and who live on the next block.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Time Is Strange

A moment can be as short as a breath,
or as long as eternity.
― Cornell Woolrich

There’s a gray squirrel twitching
on a picnic table. I’m not sure if he sees me
seeing him, but when a dry leaf lights
beside him, he takes note, takes flight
to the safety of the closest fir. He climbs
straight up, unaware that he is beautiful.
The breeze grabs hold of the leaf and sends it away,
leaving the mossy wooden picnic table empty
and all the way gray.

I woke up the other day headache-free.
Neither shoulder hurt. I was hungry
for oatmeal and toast. The very next day,
I woke up to the sound of horns honking
because the light was green. I could not remember
which way I was supposed to turn.
I stuck my arm out the window and motioned
for everyone to pass. It occurred to me then
that my pickup truck would make an interesting
coffin.

I remember the first time I saw her smile.
I remember the first time she smiled at me.
Those smiles were half a year apart
and those were good first days.
We share a hot tub now where I soak alone
in the evening and watch blue clouds fade
pink against my sweat. I lean back
into steamy heat, hold my breath,
close the lid.

A red-headed woodpecker bangs its way up
the squirrel’s tree. I don’t know what to make of that,
so it flies away. There’s lots of green here, the breeze
is an easy thing. The gray squirrel descends
upside down. Beautiful.
I can’t tell if he sees me seeing.
I just can’t tell.


First appeared THAT Literary Magazine  - 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

Poems I Admire #31

Heaven
Andy Roberts

Albert don’t know shit from apple butter,
says my Dad, stirring a frying pan
of beans and franks. I’m seven years old,
watch some ash from his cigar drop in.
Maybe that’s what makes it taste so good, I think.
Albert, my uncle, can’t cook. Can’t drive a stick shift either.
I can drive a little, work the clutch and three on the tree.
Dad’s in a good mood. We skipped church,
let Mom and the girls try to get to heaven.
The only thing I liked about church were the
cookies and Dixie cups of fruit punch after.
I knew I was never going to heaven
because of my greed, the looks the pastor
and Uncle Albert gave me as I pigged out.
I told Dad I wasn’t going to heaven
and he laughed, delivered his comment on Uncle Albert.
Eat up while it’s hot, he says.
Mixes me a cup of half coffee, half milk,
four teaspoons of sugar.
It’s good and sweet.


First appeared in Off the Coast


Andy Roberts, a four time Pushcart Prize nominee, lives in Columbus, Ohio where he handles finances for disabled veterans. Since the mid-1980's his stories and poems have appeared in hundreds of small press and literary journals including Albatross, Atlanta Review, The Aurorean, Coal City Review, Chiron Review, Cloudbank, Fulcrum, Hiram Poetry Review, Lake Effect, The Midwest Quarterly, Mudfish, Pennsylvania English, San Pedro River Review, Slipstream, The Sow's Ear Poetry Review, and Tule Review, among many others. His latest collection of poetry is Yeasayer (Night Ballet Press 2016.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Uncle Sam

His remembering is a silted bog of nose hairs and earlobes
grown long from his being everything he ever promised.

This is where he turns logs, bends grass, stains his bare feet
green, and balladeers his way to Paradise; where ferocious

pangs of nevermore lie somewhere between imagination
and crust; where his center culls the heat from a closeness

that tears at everything real: innocence; see-through love
emptied of wanting to hear the cold melt into a loud

and sweaty must; a hidden, never confessed match head
turned hot and sulfuric as the lingering of days grown soft

along weeks torn from flesh, red and stringy and raw –
until all that remains is wasting away into defeat

and gorgeous lines of battlefield – slick with red, wet, and soot
over pine needles as forgiving as layered down, echoing songs

of wispy reality remembered though never lived, and serving
as no real ending at all.


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

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Poems I Admire #30

My Father Was a Vegetarian

When I was growing up he told
me that if you want to eat
an animal you have to kill
it yourself, and if you want to kill
an animal you have to eat it.
So when I killed a spider he let me
swallow it with milk, and when I killed
a worm he covered it in chocolate.
With his steady gaze I wriggled
the soft worm down my throat
trying not to chew. See how easy
I make things for you?
he said.


First appeared in Off the Coast – Spring 2013

Ginger Duncan is a writer of poetry, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. A native Oregonian, she lives and works in Portland, but always has her eye out for a new adventure.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Poems I Admire #29

Flowers
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 décolletage, 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

Warning

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

Jaded

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