Volume 18: Summer 2017

“Garden of Choices” by Mary Sesso
“Road Trip” by Kathryn Hunt
“The First Time” by Komal Mathew
“Prison Lesson” by Sonja James
“Homecoming” by Bill Glose
“At the Mother-Daughter Tea” by Tammy Robacker
“Visitation” by Rebecca Dunham
“Home” by Doralee Brooks
“Royce—No Man’s Land” by Markham Johnson
“Ghazal to John, from Exhile” by Steven Bellin-Oka
“Whiteout” by Wayne Johns
“Hymen Hymn” by Seema Yasmin
“Escape” by Joshua Martin
“White Horses” by Roberta Senechal de la Roche
“Because the Wreck” by Mike Saye
“Wedding” by Lesley Wheeler


 

GARDEN OF CHOICES

It all comes down
to my friend telling me
he’s an empty basket.
Why not fill it, I ask,
with the dead of night,
the wet light of morning,
or maybe a sigh?

Next, a layer of sound—
the bark of an unseen dog,
song the cricket hauls
to my porch to drown out
the tyranny of thunder,
and the murmur of wildflowers
as frost hovers.

Then you could weave
across the basket handle
the hiss of a sling shot stone
speeding past your ear,
the shiver from its closeness
and the splendor of a spark
as stone strikes stone.

 

ROAD TRIP

by Kathryn Hunt

In the humid honeycomb of night,
trucks loaded down with carnage
stutter at the pumps. Neon tubes
sell cigarettes, the news, an umpteenth
million chance to get it right. I buy one
for a dollar.

We roll south and east, past fields of ripening
hops and wheat, high plateaus fashioned
from forgotten seas. Knuckled apple trees
untended at the edge of town. A for sale
sign flapping from a mothballed missile site.
The river where we knelt to kiss
the mineral rush of clear cold water.
The dreamy blur of miles.

In a campground, a herd of children
run free-range, their tracks beneath
the pines. Their voices ricochet
against basalt. Why is it now
that I remember them, of all the ones
we left behind? The way their
words chimed, calling us to look,
although I want to say they reminded me
of breaking glass, the way they traveled
privately and bare skinned into
the belly of their lives, not innocent—
we never were—full of harm and
yearnings, pitiless, proud, the mystery
of being, unhinged from time. Only
the seasons turned, only sun. Only
our bodies to drag us deeper.

Love, death, heat, gasoline. An apple
ripening on a slender stem, the makings
of a garden where no other than
the Other lives, the other one
you’d come to love if you would
love yourself, the child sleeping
in the dark. Bees pilot in from
ruined hives, their silver throats
tin cups to drink the world’s blank
suffering. Stench of slaughterhouse
in turned-down light, pumpjacks
along the highway, sexless beasts against
the sky, devouring. We all have ways
of whistling in the dark. It’s a fragile art
to breathe and settle deep into faux leather
seats beside your lover, crossing Lolo Pass,
eighty miles an hour, just after midnight,
stars, sober, a humbling mountain
range behind you.

 

THE FIRST TIME

by Komal Mathew

The first time I heard
the story of the prodigal son,
I was in college and always jealous,

imagining him in his father’s robe
and ring, eating all that calf.
Dishonor is worse than death.

I believe it because I’m Indian
and hear so many stories about
unkept marriages and children

who leave their parents in homes
where they don’t serve Gujarati
meals.  My father still makes me

promise to take care of him,
even if I have a better choice,
even if the food is not that bad.

This time I hear the parable
in my friend’s living room,
sitting on a couch cornered

by her piano and fireplace.
Her father is describing love
as if it were always good.

 

PRISON LESSON

by Sonja James

My job is writing poems / and reading them to a cloud.
—Mary Ruefle

All of the miracles have been verified.
The hand and the nightmare collide
when the husband slaps his wife.
The noodles cook anyway,
and the sniper is successful.
Two cicadas sleep an extra year,
and when they emerge,
dapper and refreshed,
they are grateful for the extra time
spent dreaming of leaf and bark.
When the sky spits snow,
the squirrels curse an indolent summer.
No one blames Tiresias for howling at the moon.

 

HOMECOMING

by Bill Glose

He loves going down to Norfolk’s docks
when a ship comes back from deployment,

all those sailors ringing the top deck at parade rest,
the white of their uniforms as pure as uncut heroin.

He’s never been aboard a boat bigger than the ferry
that shuttles him daily across the James

but can’t imagine life on floating cities
too different from the one he spent

inside an Abrams tank, buttoned up and
viewing the world from video monitors

one slice at a time. He knows he was once sick
with fear of everything outside that armored skin

that wanted in, but thinking back, all he recalls
is the cramped ballet, the rumbling pirouettes,

finding his line to target, the pas de chat of loader
passing sabot round from rack to hand to tube.

When final formation breaks and sailors rush
into arms of girlfriends holding banners

and balloons, he files the postcard moment
in his memory and says aloud, as if the breeze

might carry the warning from his position
so far away into the ears of hugging couples,

Hold on to everything you’ve got. Never let it go.

 

AT THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER TEA

by Tammy Robacker

On a good day, her invitation seemed to arrive
for me with edges threaded in gilded floss. Sealed up
elegantly with our family crest (I am waxing dramatic

here on rose hips and fragrant hibiscus leaves).
She offered me the beautiful, fruited ceremony
of mothering at times. Well-mannered in pose.

Queenly in carriage. Smiling with pearl inlay.
Passing her love around like crudités, she fancied
me, on occasions. When I belonged there

at high tea, an utter sweetness steeped
those moments. My mother’s garden table
set with smiles, white linen, a sugar bowl, and bees.

 

VISITATION

by Rebecca Dunham

She tries to bring herself to care.
Him, him— It is always about him.
Some days she wants to dress
all in white. Some days she wants

to flood her body cobalt and iridium,
wants to glow from the inside out.
Wants to walk the rehabilitation ward’s
halls and touch each penitent’s bowed

head. His she will not. It is not her
he shakes for. Sweat on his temple.
Eyes down. And something akin
to caring splinters her haze, at last. Yes,

she likes to see him here, like this.

 

HOME

by Doralee Brooks

On any given day, minutes
from the East Busway
the driver tells me the poor people ride,
I stroll up Homewood Avenue.
Candy wrappers, bottles, cans,
along the walkway
to the corner of Kelly,
where community college sits.
Before the riots in ’68,
it used to be the 5 & 10, the GC Murphy’s.
My daddy took me there,
bought me the real ring
I squeezed to fit my little finger.
The Belmar Theater, the 35 cent matinee
still exists in Wideman’s trilogy.
I called him on it once.
When was it so cheap?
 I wanted to know.
The Grandparents’ house:
7223 Upland Street, the cyclone fence,
monogrammed storm door,
painted steps to the wraparound porch.
Sunday meals, biscuits, greens, yams
my mother ate, hating
her mother-in-law’s habit of tasting
with the cooking spoon.

 

ROYCE—NO MAN’S LAND

by Markham Johnson

While my wife and child drink slurred silence
of sleep and beads of sweat
from a cloudless day have dried, I rise. Cicadas

thread scratched voices, tree to tree when I pass. Dogs bark
their Benedictus then return to Sunday rest as half
a moon clears the cloud litter and Dreamland

is stilled.  Blue Devils tomorrow, not tonight, when God’s
sole witness watches the dipper pour sweet
starred life over this green world. Crossing

Latimer, then two blocks down Frankfort Avenue to banked earth
where last train cars idle, a wall of broken
Morse code between this land and the other—black, white, black.

I know I will find you crossing like some drunk, half-dead
doughboy who stumbles from his trench and can’t
return to either side. I wait for the roar, the terrible

vanishing, a plume of viscera and bone, but there are
no mines here, just miles of keep-out track—
the Santa Fe and Great Northern Lines and coyote’s

black shadow as she picks her way between
Greenwood and Tulsa, rooting out voles, a fractured
squirrel, to bear to her litter. Some nights, murmured

words from the other side, drawn guns that flare with oil
drum fire. Are we ready? When silence healed
over the Arden, we carried home Springfield, Enfield,

Mauser, Lebal. Some nights, I wait until first light
when the dark wave of maids, porters, gardeners will cross
over.  Tonight, only coyote in the broken coda passes

safe between the stutter of track and shadow,
of starlight and shade.  I am silence, nighthawk, the grave.

 

GHAZAL TO JOHN, FROM EXILE

by Steve Bellin-Oka

Spring snow never hurts us, but still it’s a dangerous thing.
It stays our lives and shrinks our days, like any dangerous thing.

I loved you because you had my father’s name and shale-
blue eyes flecked with green: serpentine, dangerous things.

Early April, North Atlantic wind: half-thawed mud and ice.
For a diver, to come to the surface too fast is a dangerous thing.

The night I crossed the border, maybe it was forever. The guards
dumped my shoes in a heap on the ground. Boots are dangerous things.

We were 22 and sat in the backs of movie theaters, touched
thighs and arms, almost kissed. Don’t speak: too dangerous a thing.

My passport’s just expired, time-stained paper for a lukewarm fire.
Not all the flock arrives: migration’s an unkempt, dangerous thing.

We both have daughters now, but I rarely see mine. She lives south
a thousand miles. Abstract and distant, I’m not a dangerous thing.

These days, spring takes longer and longer to shuffle and shake upright.
To name something too soon is a doomed and dangerous thing.

I go by Oka now. On Granville Island, I married him, not you.
Dozens of Canadian strangers cheered. Still—an imperfect, dangerous thing.

 

WHITEOUT

by Wayne Johns

Hooded in coats, we’re coming in
from a breathtaking blizzard.

One of us is looking down.
The other looks back into the whiteout.

No way to tell from this shot
since all skin is covered.

Behind us, the figure—it
should stand for something—

that we formed. We’ve been framed
between the threshold and the storm.

 

HYMEN HYMN

by Seema Yasmin

hummmm
hum it

hum means we
in Urdu

we hummmm
hum hummm

humesha means always
always in Urdu

we always
hum humesha

hum it on my hymen
a hymn thin as a membrane

hum humesha humanghee
humanghee means harmony

we always harmonise
on my hymen

your mouth mucous membranes
my half-moon membrane

reverberate in harmony
humesha humanghee hum

hum a hymen hymn in two tongues
one language

we hum
hummm hum it humesha

 

ESCAPE

by Joshua Martin

Braced against the wood post,
               I watch the horses gallop out of the barn,
their buckskin legs beating the ground
like fists into dough, their slick bodies
bustling toward the corner of the field
               where the fence has begun
to rot, is almost jumpable. At the rails

               they snort but do not attempt the last
long stride into the pines. Only their eyes
               run out over the distant grasses
the way my mother’s ran out the kitchen window
               those mornings they searched
for something else
               beyond us playing in the yard.

 

WHITE HORSES

by Roberta Senechal de la Roche

If we could choose,
I think we’d want white horses.
They look good in light,
tearing green around their feet
not looking up, not minding us.

We’d want them going fast enough
to get us past the obvious,
despite their breath pushed hard
around the bit we wish we didn’t need
to get us out of here.

Turning easy at our hands, of course
caparisoned, smooth-gaited, bearing us
with cadenced grace through bands of rain
and any lines arrayed against us, straight ahead,
even over fields of broken flowers.

They might come if we call,
if we choose the purity
of running things gone wild,
if we will keep watch on the dark horizon,
empty halters in our hands.

 

BECAUSE THE WRECK

by Mike Saye

Because the wreck
could not be fixed,

they dragged it
under an oak.

First Budweiser, then Jim Beam,
they doused the crushed tanks,

kicked the warped fork
and pretzeled spokes—

the headlight looked like
a broken bowl.

Someone brought out the come-along
and the logging chains,

others grabbed gas
and pistols and  lighters

and ten feet off the ground—
the ape hangers canted forward

like someone’s head
hanging down—

they chucked bottles of gasoline
at my father’s bike.

You could barely hear the pistols
over the roaring,

or the sound of those wet faces
yelling his name

as runnels of gas
thinned into long feathers

and dropped as flame.

 

WEDDING

by Lesley Wheeler

There is no happy and
             there is no ending,
just gilded loss
             / muddy return.

Did you think the plot
             was pregnancy?
That this season finale
             would resolve on a woman
propped in a hospital bed,
             laugh track flowing
into cooing? Spring beauty
             swaddled in her arms? Could
happen / not like that. Maybe,
             since time went strange,
the grown figment already sulks
             in a parked sedan,
acne blooming on their cheek.
             Maybe her in / fertility
is not the watershed.

Oh, she looked
             and understood the stick’s
hieroglyphic prediction.
             Its word was not conclusion.

She is a fiction
             to herself. Many
morphologies are possible.
             Differences matter /
differences are carried
             downriver. Next
twist: marry key
             to lock, since seeking’s
all a person’s got. She will
             fall and climb, fail
and try. It may be fine.