Maryfrances Wagner: “Dreaming Through Covid”

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Dreaming Through Covid

Most nights I dream of the dead,
my mother telling me, my father agreeing,

that we all feel afraid sometimes.
That’s what the counselors tell us.

I rescued a dog but she bit my friend.
Someone is dreaming about her daughter.

I want my mother to come back
to dream about me.

I stand in a crowd and everyone offers me
caviar, wine, and crisp crusts with smoked salmon.

Will someone come to get me when I die?
Today my nephew called to say he dreamed

about his Nonny and Papa, about going
to their house on Sunday, but I wasn’t there.

He said that he didn’t want me to die
until I gave him Nonny’s red sauce recipe.

Today the peace plant unfurled two new
cupped white heads, shiny and perfect.

Only two days ago, I considered, its leaves
tiresome, moving it downstairs.

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About the Author: Maryfrances Wagner’s books include Salvatore’s Daughter, Light Subtracts Itself, Red Silk (Thorpe Menn Book Award for Literary Excellence), Dioramas, Pouf, The Silence of Red Glass, and The Immigrants’ New Camera. Poems have appeared in New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, Natural Bridge, Voices in Italian Americana, Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books), Literature Across Cultures (Pearson/Longman), Bearing Witness, The Dream Book, An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation), et.al. She co-edits I-70 Review and served as Missouri’s Individual Artist of the Year for 2020.

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Image Credit: Illustration excerpted from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. South African botany London, Longmans, Green,1922. biodiversitylibrary.org/page/37736321

Damian Rucci: “For the Parking Lot Kids”

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For the Parking Lot Kids

Don’t listen to what they say;
you know the ones, the beautiful,
the clean faced, the scornful eyed
yuppies whose parent’s blood money
bought them a lease on the good life.

Their path was never meant for you,
their bridges are made with gold,
their teeth are porcelain, their homes are warm,
they have never met the world as a stranger.
But you’re still out there, in that parking lot,

burying your dreams with pitchers of disbelief—
doing the same shit with the same people
like you weren’t meant to cast a shadow,
living a life that you never agreed to
makes you greet death as nothing but a fool.

Even grains of sand are lifted by the wind,
even bad seeds can grow in fertile soil,
even the damned can be forgiven—
but you’ll let another day pass, won’t you?
Tell yourself you’ll start tomorrow?
Tell yourself that you need a plan?
You don’t make your appointment with destiny
you just make sure that you show up.

The only thing worse than fear is regret,
sitting on the fence your whole life just leaves you sore
there’s a world beyond this damn parking lot
hell is already filled with men who have never tried
there’s a fire in your belly, so what’s stopping you?

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About the Author: Damian Rucci is the unofficial poet laureate of every 711 in New Jersey. His work has recently appeared on gas station bathroom stalls throughout the Midwest. He is probably banned from your local bar but you can find him on Twitter @damianrucci or at damian.rucci@gmail.com

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More By Damian Rucci:

One For Cory

Hound Speak

Melancholy and the Afterglow

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Image Credit: John Margolies “The Barrel, 6th Avenue, Devils Lake, North Dakota” (1980) The Library of Congress (public domain)

Diana Rosen: “Hands”

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Hands

Small, graceful, carefully manicured every Monday evening while she sits in her Queen Anne chair next to the good floor lamp, my mother’s hands always hold the winning gin rummy cards or they’re curved against staccato knitting needles fashioning the woolen sweater she would never finish. (It hangs still in my closet, a nubby remnant one arm missing, a bodice half done.)

Aided by an antique silver and gold thimble, her fingers deftly work the needle, creating embroidery stitches of vivid names her clear-polished forefinger points to on the overturned sampler showing how perfection is not just on the surface.

Hands, purposeful and strong, guide the huge mangle over brilliant white muslin sheets cascading into the willow basket below. End-of-day hands hold paperback westerns read in deep of night, her gentle husband snoring in his easy slumber. Hands stroke the maternity dress over a baby soon stillborn; adjust the gas flame under the chunky beef stew she cooks hours for exquisite flavor. Hands, held behind her, pull her mouth into a line of unexplained fear, or severe shyness?

At the gleaming mahogany secretary, she sits in constant anxiety, scribbling notes in her mammoth black leather notebook of recipes; or writes to one sister in long-term care, to another sister of her heart’s pain engraved as teeth marks on her navy Shaeffer fountain pen.

She lies on the vacuumed carpet beside the freshly-made bed unnoticed too long in that awful quiet of seeping blood vessels, hands in push-up position trying to right herself. Hands cold. Rigid. Ready for the last task.

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About the Author: Diana Rosen is a journalist and avid tea enthusiast, with six books on the topic, who writes poetry, essays, and flash fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work appears in RATTLE, Tiferet Journal, Mad Swirl, PIF Magazine, and Potato Soup Journal, among others. She loves exploring Los Angeles’s Griffith Park, the country’s largest public green space, which is her 4,000-acre “backyard.” To read more of her work, please visit www.authory.com/dianarosen

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More by Diana Rosen:

Dinner at Six

Hollywood Freeway

Mrs. Reagan, Who Lived Next Door

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Image Credit: Elihu Vedder “Study of a hand resting on a circular object” (1885) Public Domain

John Dorsey: “Scott Wannberg Prays for Rain”

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Scott Wannberg Prays for Rain

because he has to be doing
something up there
besides playing shuffleboard
& singing duets with john prine

he says harry crews
sucked all of the air
out of the room
reading one of his poems
croaking like a frog
who had gainesville
by the throat

saying something about how
he ate all the good flies
in a dancehall

that was never
meant
to last.

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About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Poetry, 2017),Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019), and Which Way to the River: Selected Poems 2016-2020 (OAC Books, 2020). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize. He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

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More By John Dorsey:

Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead

Punk Rock at 45

Perpetual Motion

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Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “Rainbow and complex clouds form after many inches of rain over several days near Stockton, California ” (2012) The Library of Congress

Agnes Vojta: “Waiting for news from the hospital”

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Waiting for news from the hospital

she is on her knees
scrubbing the kitchen tiles
square by grey square.
The dark lines of grout
meet at right angles.

She erases
a splatter of tomato sauce,
a dusting of flour,
a smear of mud,
scours

until the floor is so clean
she wants to lie down,
cheek to the cool tile,
and breathe
the faint lemon smell.

She wipes her forehead,
stands up and paces
the empty house
looking for something
else to clean.

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About the Author: Agnes Vojta grew up in Germany and now lives in Rolla, Missouri where she teaches physics at Missouri S&T and hikes the Ozarks. She is the author of Porous Land (Spartan Press, 2019) and The Eden of Perhaps (Spartan Press, 2020), and her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines.

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More By Agnes Vojta:

Legend

Sisyphus Calls It Quits

Flotsam

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Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Tiled Corner” (2021)

Padma Thornlyre Reviews Desert Threnody by John Macker

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Padma Thornlyre Reviews

Desert Threnody

By John Macker

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John Macker has long been among my favorite living American poets and several of his titles—Woman of the Disturbed Earth, Underground Sky, and Disassembled Badlands—have confirmed that high regard. Desert Threnody is unique in his oeuvre in that it collects, not his poetry, but his literary essays, a short play, and short stories. It is a worthy read, displaying as it does a measure and range of the writer we have not seen before. My assignment of 4 stars instead of 5 reflects no real criticism of this fine work, but simply a perceived unevenness in the opening section, his Essays.

Macker does not concern himself with establishment writers; like other wordslingers I admire, he’s drawn more to the fringes than the commonplace. Indeed, his literary essays, which examine poets he has considered mentors and friends, do not address the “academy” but in a grand tradition more often associated with the visual arts, illuminate instead the outlaws and outsiders: Ed Dorn, Michael Ondaatje, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Kell Robertson, Tony Moffeit and Tony Scibella. Every essay is interesting, and his essays on Dorn and Moffeit are especially intriguing. Considering his acknowledged debt to Perkoff and his decades-long friendship with Scibella, I had expected more passion, but those expectations may have been projections of mine. Still, it is the weakest section in the book, but only because the essays are not as stylistically cohesive as the remainder of the book.

Section 2 is devoted to Macker’s marvelous short play, Coyote Acid, concerning an elderly woman in mental decline and her troubled son, recently released from the hoosegow and desperate for a hidden treasure he believes is buried somewhere on his mother’s land. Meticulously wrought, with Macker’s keen sense of the American language, every word rings true, and the ending does not disappoint—especially as I had anticipated a conclusion that I am delighted to say did not materialize.

The eight short stories composed in Section 3 made me wonder why John has not been writing fiction all along, for these are in no way tentative or pretentious, and in no instance does he bite off more than he can chew. Of course, as a poet who’s been published for the last 40 years, with well-established chops, he’s cut his teeth on a hard-edged duende that merges mysticism and injustice and exposes the grotesqueness that underlies American civilization. And don’t get me wrong, his poems are not polemics, but meditations—one could never accuse Macker of being a propagandist; in this regard, he reminds me most of the novelist Cormac McCarthy. Race, class, privilege are realities, but the real spotlight remains fixed on the human soul. The stories collected here are well-marinated in the lyrical integrity one expects of John Macker. His prose is flecked by his poetic sensibilities, like virga rain that evaporates mere feet from the parched soil, meaning that his stories, while not saturated by the incantatory power so vibrant and so defining in his poems, are yet driven by the same thirst, walking as they do through the harsh landscape of elemental forces that gather not only in the clouds but in the hearts of men. Of the eight stories gathered here, I am especially fond of “Diablo Canyon” and I open at random to this passage:

“The mankiller wind lashes itself to the landform smells of debauchery, extinction, his desert sizzles like a fuse; this is where the clouds break off from the distant humpbacked hills and float unambiguously towards Mexico. Each shape is an obscure species of shadow animal that drifts in rigorous silence high over the border; each cloud is shape-shifted with meticulous abandon by the volcanic breeze. Loco knows each of their Spanish names.”

John was raised on jazz and the blues, which explains somewhat the musical force propelling his prose. His vocabulary is vast and flawless. Enough said.

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Desert Threnody
Essays, Stories, One-Act Play
By John Macker
Carthage, MO.: Auxarczen Press, 2020
135 pages. ISBN #9798675661893

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About the Author: Padma Thornlyre, having spent most of his 61 years in Colorado, now lives in NE New Mexico with three feline females, surrounded by 5000 books, the art of his friends and, beyond his windows, mesas to the east, extinct volcanoes to the south, and the Rocky Mountains to the west and north. A confirmed Fire Giggler, he designs books for Turkey Buzzard Press and publishes the underground magazine, Mad Blood. His own titles include Eating Totem, Mavka: a poem in 50 parts, and The Anxiety Quartet (all poetry), and the unpublished novel, Baubo’s Beach, a braiding of dreams and other manifestations of the unconscious (no wonder he can’t find an agent!). He believes the writer, Linda Hogan, is right about most things; he tries to read Homer every other year and has exhausted the complete works of Nikos Kazantzakis, H.D., Amos Tutuola and Rikki Ducornet, but is still working on his collection of Ursula K. LeGuin.

Aarik Danielsen: “Prefilled Communion Cup”

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Prefilled Communion Cup

I break the seal
constraining the body of Christ,
finger the wafer like a gambler
handles his last chip.
This one’s gonna payout
or bust me for good.

“Do this in remembrance of me …”
I let it ride.

“In the same way Jesus took the cup …”
I finish the juice in a single swallow,
and feel the blood of Christ
pass greedy lips,
skate across stale breath,
settle in my purgatory gut.
Shot, meet chaser.

Liquid courage
to walk out into the world and bet it all,
believing in something
—anything—
for another day.

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About the Author: Aarik Danielsen is the arts editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Missouri and teaches at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column, The (Dis)content, for Fathom Magazine, and has been published at Image Journal, Plough, Entropy, EcoTheo Review, and more.

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Image Credit: William Butterfield “Qu’Appelle Church: communion plates and chalices” [Canada], 1892. Digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Cody Sexton “Diary in Reverse: Boys Will Be Boys”

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Diary in Reverse: Boys Will Be Boys

By Cody Sexton



“Are you going to cry?”

“No.”

“You know you are.”

 

The boy sat in silence not knowing what to say or do in response to this comment. He had fantasized about hitting the boy, several times, or any of the other children who made fun of him, but he knew he wouldn’t do it. Not really.

Another runner was batted home and took his place on the bench among his peers, being sure not to sit too close to the boy — the “pussy” — wearing the off-brand cleats.

He felt alone. He was alone. But it was the kind of alone where nothing anyone could have done would have changed anything, would have made a difference. He was just different, and how do you change that?

That boy was me. And this was the summer I, for whatever impulsive reason, decided it would be “fun” to play on our local little league team.

I’m still not sure why I decided to play. At the time the school I attended didn’t even have a little league team so I had to go to the next school over to sign up. I guess it just seemed like a good idea at the time, it’s what my “friends” were doing. I wanted to quit practically as soon as I started. 

“You start something you finish it.” My father told me.

I’m guessing he thought that it would help build or reinforce strong character traits? He couldn’t have been more wrong however. The experience taught me precisely nothing, except maybe how to hate someone properly.

Even the coaches seemed to not like me. I obviously wasn’t like any of the other boys, introverted, perhaps even a little shy, so they never understood know how to interact with me. Either because they didn’t know or simply didn’t care to know. With the other boys it was easy, with me it was hard. So they ignored me as much as they possibly could, silently wishing I’m sure, that I would quite the team.

Once during a particularly bad game for the opposing team, the pitcher had managed to walk the first two batters at plate, I was one of them, and as the next batter stepped up to the plate he caught a low one inside grounding it out to right field. That’s when I got the signal from the third base coach to run home so I took off, and crossing the home plate, managed to actually put another point on the board for our team.

However, back inside the dugout I was met with silence. My other teammates had ran the exact same play as I had, several times over throughout the season, making it across home plate either by hitting a home run themselves or were batted in as I was and whenever they did they were without fail met with applause from both the team and the teams coaches. Triumphantly greeted as hero’s with high fives and ass slaps. But there I was sitting at the end of the bench like an uninvited guest at a bridal shower. I actually began to question if I even made it home:

Did I even score?

Did I imagine the whole thing?

Had I never left the bench? 

As my doubt grew I sought to release it by asking our teams statistician if I had in fact made it across home plate, putting us ahead by another two points. She pulled herself away from the game long enough to say:

“Yeah”

And then promptly returned to cheering for her son. (Who, surprise, surprise, was also our teams pitcher). She never even turned her head to look at me.

So much for team building.

So much for camaraderie.

I got the hint and found my spot on the bench again. I had expected as much from my teammates, but at that age was still too naive enough to expect it from the adults.

I’ve likewise been told for years to “be the better person” towards people who’ve treated me like this, like shit, most of them have been relatives. I get told this because they of course know the other person won’t do it for me. (And why is it that we always demand introverted children to be more outgoing? Why can’t the extroverts at least meet us half way for a change?)

Still, I stuck it out and when the season was finally over I was more relieved than I’d ever been in my life. As I said I learned nothing and never meet anyone that later became a “lifelong friend” as my father had assured me would happen. One of those friends with which to share a few beers and talk about the “good ole’ days” when we played out on the same field as our fathers had before us and as our sons would after us.

You might remember the quote about how parents will usually let their children become anything they want, except themselves? I think about this a lot. And I think this is maybe why I was always so ashamed of who I was as a kid. I was never allowed to be myself. As you might imagine this can lead to ever varying amounts of resentment over time and as a result anger has been one of the only guiding sources of encouragement in my life. I could always count on anger. Anger was the only thing that made me strong enough to leave the only home I knew. I held onto it and nurtured it every night, reciting the litany of offenses over and over into the darkness of my room. I needed to leave. I needed my anger to help me leave. Anger has been the only thing of use my father has ever given to me. (And I’ll be damned if I ever let anyone take that away from me).

Nevertheless, I never again played any other team sport, having decided instead to dedicate my life to more bookish pursuits so that one day I might be able to live life as I am.

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About the Author: Cody Sexton is the managing editor for A Thin Slice of Anxiety. His work has been featured at The Indie View, Writer Shed Stories, The Diverse Perspective, Detritus, Revolution John, Due Dissidence, and As It Ought To Be Magazine where he is a regular contributor. In addition he is also a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee for his essay: The Body of Shirley Ann Sexton.

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More by Cody Sexton:

The Body of Shirley Ann Sexton

Heathen

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Image Credit: “SINGLE BRACKET SIGN: “LITTLE LEAGUE FIELD #2.” – Hamilton Field, Base Street Signs, East of Nave Drive, Novato, Marin County, CA” (Library of Congress)

 

Jason Ryberg: “Dreams of Empty Houses”

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Dreams of Empty Houses

Time is always calling
or dropping by (without calling)
at all the wrong goddamn times,

always unexpectedly just coming around
and turning up at the absolutely most
inconvenient and inappropriate moments,

inviting itself in and over-staying its welcome,
bumming all your cigarettes and beers,
using up the minutes on your phone and finally

leaving you, this time, with nothing but
a useless ring of keys, a head full of
crack-pot schemes, a vague sense of having
forgotten or misplaced something, and,

for some strange reason, dreams of empty
houses and apartments where you just can’t
be sure you’ve ever been in, let alone
maybe even lived once.

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About the Author: Jason Ryberg is the author of thirteen books of poetry, six screenplays, a few short stories, a box full of folders, notebooks and scraps of paper that could one day be (loosely) construed as a novel, and, a couple of angry letters to various magazine and newspaper editors. He is currently an artist-in-residence at both The Prospero Institute of Disquieted P/o/e/t/i/c/s and the Osage Arts Community, and is an editor and designer at Spartan Books. His latest collection of poems is The Ghosts of Our Words Will Be Heroes in Hell (co-authored with Damian Rucci, John Dorsey, and Victor Clevenger, OAC Books, 2020). He lives part-time in Salina, KS with a rooster named Little Red and a billygoat named Giuseppe and part-time somewhere in the Ozarks, near the Gasconade River, where there are also many strange and wonderful woodland critters.

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More by Jason Ryberg:

Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner

Sometimes the Moon is Nothing More than the Moon

All of the Above

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Image Credit: Robert Hicks “VIEW OF BUILDING 54. BEDROOM. FACING NORTH. – Winehaven, Rectangular Three-Bedroom-Plan Residence, Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot, Richmond, Contra Costa County, CA” (1996) The Library of Congress

Lisa Creech Bledsoe: “The Magician’s Handbook

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The Magician’s Handbook

 

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Twelve years old, heads together. Impatiently unbraiding the twisted paper fuses of a Black Cat half brick, fingers smeared with charcoal. Then: mailbox, culvert, tin can, matchbox cars exploded. We sliced open smoke bombs and bottle rockets, argued Spy vs Spy, dueled with matches. We smelled of saltpeter and sulphur and pumped the air with both fists, exactly who we dreamt of being.

 

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The spies. Costumes, possibly dresses. Funny, mad, bold. Could have been anything. Amazing recuperative powers.

 

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In the basement below the silversmith’s shop was a magician’s working studio. I would have sneaked down, too. When the Great War was over, the sneak sawed a woman in half. Everything changed.

 

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The woman. Tied by wrists, ankles, and thin, pale neck, locked into a coffin, holy blessed mother.

 

5.

“As an effect it has a neatness about it,” said a magician-in-residence at Imperial College’s department of surgery.

 

6.

They begged to see the pretty lady dismembered live. “Watch her face closely; even she doesn’t mind! Perhaps it only tickles.” Suddenly everyone wanted a woman to be the one subjected to ropes, saws, knives, bullets. She wore less and less, smiled more and more.

 

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He once famously invited a well-known military leader and suffragette to be the woman sawn in two. She had studied law but wasn’t allowed to practice. She had been imprisoned for shouting for voting rights for women. Imprisoned over and over again. She declined to be roped and tied, locked up and sawn in two. She knew about war.

 

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The spies alternated winning and losing.

 

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Some of them had feet of dazzling turquoise, or red. Landing on decks of sailing ships, they were easily captured and eaten. The English name booby was based on the Spanish slang bobo, meaning stupid.

 

10.

Of all the heavens and the earth, there are no animals that live always and only in the air. We must land somewhere. At sea, few choices.

 

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Pills, screens, couples, marathons, atoms. Things get divided, sometimes with illusions maintained. It has been a season of loss. You & I: we are still here.

 

12.

Unable to escape, a magician sawed himself in half.

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About the Author: Watched by crows and friend to salamanders, Lisa Creech Bledsoe is a hiker, beekeeper, and writer living in the mountains of Western North Carolina. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two full-length books of poetry, Appalachian Ground (2019), and Wolf Laundry (2020). She has new poems out or forthcoming in The Blue Mountain Review, American Writers Review, Sky Island Journal, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Red Fez, and River Heron Review, among others.

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More by Lisa Creech Bledsoe:

Some Revelation is at Hand

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Image Credit: “Harry Houdini, king of cards” Chicago : National Pr. & Eng. Co., [1895] Image courtesy of The Library of Congress