Updates from Sour Lake
In Kansas there is still the prairie:
we saw sheep being trucked away
down the interstate, their baby faces white and moony
as they slipped and rattled in the steel.
At a rest stop, birds warbled ancient sets of sounds.
Then, at night, the grassland was so flat
a clear dome of stars went unbroken to the rim of land.
In California the mountains
were hard against the sky, with organic foothills—
rolls and tucks and crotches
green and stretched out, an ongoing body.
In Arizona we picked through purple and green rocks,
wary of scorpions, looking for gemstones in the sandy soil.
On the way back to the motel with the kidney-shaped pool
we saw someone slam his Jeep into a solid wall of rock.
We called 911.
For a split second, I said, I thought there was another road he was going down.
The cop nodded. The man hadn’t made it.
After a shitty fight in Texas,
I left myself at a gas station, but we didn't go back.
He* and I stayed together long enough to see a massive sinkhole.
It ate away at the land – it felt like the whole town might disappear.
*He could make the sound of a mourning dove,
breathing through his hands
like they were a flute,
fingers lifting away from each other
for the high notes.
About the Author: Carolyn Sperry is a freelance writer based in Rochester, NY. She has published articles in news outlets across the United States and is a winner of the Gotham Writers Stories Everywhere competition. She lives with her husband and two sons.
Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “The pumps have long been dry at this little truck stop east of the town of Sabinol, Texas” (2014) The Library of Congress (public domain)
TRIPTYCH FOR CLAYTON
IN MEMORIUM (Dec. 1954 – May 6, 2022)
Through a corner of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness
we hiked around the back of Quail Prairie Mountain,
to where it nuzzles the upper reaches of the Chetco River.
At the spot where Boulder Creek merges with the flow
we set camp on the high bank where water won’t reach
until winter or spring. This was August, 1976,
the river was low, but that didn’t stop us from fishing.
We scoped out the area, built a fire,
cooked dinner, then planned the next day
of basically doing nothing before
falling off to sleep as the moon was rising.
Clay shook me awake, Shhhhh, he said, pointing
down the bank and across the expanse of stones
to the river’s edge. A mama bear and two cubs
were drinking cool water in the bright moonlight,
their tails twitching toward us. He whispered:
Grab your camera. But I held off, concerned about
frightening them with the flash. Instead we lay there,
watching in wonder, hoping they wouldn’t notice us.
After a while, they ambled off easy upriver.
We looked at each other, grins filling our faces,
then slid back into sleeping bags and dreams.
It’s not important what argument started the fight,
there we were, rolling around on the kitchen floor,
fists flying. Clay got me on my back, straddled me,
throwing punch after punch. I was fighting just to
fend off his blows while his wife Sue, with
a terrified toddler holding onto one leg, and
balancing a squirming infant in her arms, did
her best to talk him off of me. Finally she
handed the kids to her friend, and pried us apart.
We were best friends.
Sue held Clay back while I lay on the floor
crying, poking around at a bloody nose
and what would become a black eye.
With his pummeling abruptly interrupted,
Clay noticed me sobbing. He helped
me up and out to the car. He got me into the
shotgun seat, then produced from the backseat
a fifth of whisky. I’m sorry, he kept saying.
I didn’t mean it. You don’t want to let anyone
see you crying like that though. A man ain’t
supposed to cry. He drove us around,
up the river and back, until I could stop
shaking and crying. It’s ok if you’re with me,
but no one else should see you like this.
I’m really sorry, man. Have another drink.
The next morning we both told people
some bullshit story about the black eye
and after a while folks stopped asking.
Do you trust me? Clayton asked.
Really trust me?
His face 6 or 8 inches from mine,
his eyes reflected the flickering campfire.
He held a bottle of whisky in one hand,
and his empty dinner plate in the other:
I know every inch of these woods.
He pointed with a sweep of his arm,
played here when I was a kid.
I know my way around in the dark.
You believe me?
Do you trust me?
Then follow me!
He threw down his plate,
turned and bolted off at a sprint
toward the nearest steep hill. He
shot up into the dark woods like
he’d just set a choker and had to
get out of the way of the cable.
I jumped and took off before I’d
lose sight of him, he had the whisky.
It was so dark among the trees I had to
follow his rapid footfalls across the
dry forest floor as he ran headlong through
the woods, blindly dodging trees and rocks,
scratching through the underbrush,
avoiding holes and fallen branches.
Me running behind him, just as blind,
amazed that I hadn’t tripped, fallen, or
run into something yet. Then he turned,
headed back downhill and I began to see
the light of the campfire through the trees.
He was waiting for me there, waving
the bottle around and calling to me to
come get some, telling me I’d earned it.
But when I went for it he yanked it out of
my hand. I tried again. He held it out of reach.
Our arms were growing tangled and then
we were rolling around on the ground,
laughing, wrestling over the whisky.
Finally he let me have the bottle.
We got up out of the dust and I took
a good, long swig before passing
it back to him and so it went.
We sat, still breathing heavy from the
exertion, passing the bottle back and forth
across the fire blazing between us.
About the Author: M.J. Arcangelini (b.1952 in western Pennsylvania) has resided in northern California since 1979. His work has been published in print magazines, online journals, (including The James White Review, Rusty Truck, The Ekphrastic Review, The Gasconade Review, North of Oxford) & over a dozen anthologies. The most recent of his six collections are: “A Quiet Ghost,” (2020) and “Pawning My Sins” (2022) both from Luchador Press.
Playing at Forever
The ocean never stops its tug of war
with beach sand. Its great democratic voice
consumes all the laughter and whispered vows
vacationers make on blankets, spread out
under brightly striped umbrellas under
the sun and our tans that end where our suits
begin. We have come as far away from
our careers as a tide of untimed time
could take us, yet we find there is something
naggingly familiar in the way native
children smile at us. They coax us to throw
coins they dive for, perhaps their only real
freedom. Resurfacing, their faces glow
brightly as their palms lined with silver.
Our minds float above us like jellyfish,
permeating our days with stinging
responsibilities. But here we are
untethered from time’s twins, and our bodies
ache to be calmed, cooled and retuned to whim.
We swim under water, holding our breath,
carefree as children playing at forever,
though we know we must come up for air.
About the Author: Richard Levine, a retired NYC teacher, is the author of Selected Poems, Contiguous States, and five chapbooks. Now in Contest is forthcoming from Fernwood Press. An Advisory Editor of BigCityLit.com, he received the 2021 Connecticut Poetry Society Award, and co-edited “Invasion of Ukraine 2022: Poems.” “The Spoils of War” is forthcoming in American Book Review. website: richardlevine107.com
Image Credit: Herman Hartwich “Cape Cod, Beach” (1894) Public domain image courtesy of Artvee
cold water glistens
we were raw souls
we didn't know it
sapling catalpas roam
subtropical summer sidewalks
desperate for a breath
inside the walls of swelter
there would be this electric
buzz rattling in the air
of our childhood bedrooms
our teeth would chatter simultaneous
then we would be in the streets
in our shorts, our underroos
the local fireman opened
the plugs, the water rushed
torrents along neighborhood curbs
all the kids were there
between parked car rapids
some feet in, some ass in
some attempt to swim
some erode into
the debris of the city
these little catalpas
inebriated in perfect equation
cold water glistens
meets summer afternoon
a still life in eternity
About the Author: Jason Baldinger was recently told he looks like a cross between a lumberjack and a genie. He’s also been told he’s not from Pittsburgh but is the physical manifestation of Pittsburgh. Although unsure of either, he does love wandering the country writing poems. He’s penned fifteen books of poetry the newest of which include: The Afterlife is a Hangover (Stubborn Mule Press) and A History of Backroads Misplaced: Selected Poems 2010-2020 (Kung Fu Treachery), and This Still Life with James Benger. His work has appeared across a wide variety of print journals and online. You can hear him read his work on Bandcamp and on lps by The Gotobeds and Theremonster.
Image Credit: Angelo Rizzuto “Young boy leaning on fire hydrant” The Library of Congress (public domain)
There were only insulation dreams while we lived in the tar paper shack down by the old steel mill on the other side of the river. The river no longer burst into flame, but now and then wild roses along the river’s edge made us think of fire. Our fingers would rub the insides of our pockets looking for matches. We never thought to sell matches to the men who spent their days in alleys and empty lots beside upright oil drums. We gave away what we had when asked. There were no threats. Our code name was never apathy. This was true even at night when we prayed with a penny in our mouths. All our prayers lasted more than a minute. The trick was to keep the penny on the tip of your tongue.
About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog.) In April, Red Hawk published his 20th collection, Portable Light: Poems 1991-2021.
Kiss the Cheffor greg edmondson
somewhere the 70s live forever
there’s always tequila overflowing
each story begins & ends at the mouth of a river
whether you’re a boy in the fields of tennessee
or the ghost of tennessee williams
screaming into the night
at imaginary gods of rage
it doesn’t matter
nobody is going to get to eat
an overcooked pork chop
until after you rid yourself
of the past.
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), Which Way to the River: Selected Poems 2016-2020 (OAC Books, 2020), Afterlife Karaoke (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2021) and Sundown at the Redneck Carnival, (Spartan Press, 2022).. 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 email@example.com.
Image Credit: Harris & Ewing “Ernest Zahn, chef” (1938) Public Domain Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Smashing A Spotted Lanternfly At The 35th Annual Fall Festival
On a clear, hall-of-fame day
somewhere between the Yo-Yo swing ride
and Crazy Mouse coaster
under the canopy of the carousel
while calliope music mixed with
a thousand bustling patrons and peddlers,
I found myself in the shade on a bench
eating flash frozen ice cream pebbles
when an unmistakably stylish bug landed at my feet.
Just then, The Swinging Squares took to The Midway Stage.
Women dressed in five-tiered, earth-toned calico skirts
began to twirl as their partners circled them round.
Bright red petticoats flashed.
With deadly intent, I stomped the invasive pest
with the toe of my sneaker.
I felt satisfied, even, one might say, good.
I had killed to protect the harvest,
and I would do it again.
About the Author: A native of Pennsylvania, Lara Dolphin is an attorney, nurse, wife and mom of four amazing kids. Her first chapbook, In Search Of The Wondrous Whole, was published by Alien Buddha Press. Her most recent chapbook, Chronicle Of Lost Moments, is available from Dancing Girl Press.
Image Credit: Arthur Rothstein “Brownsville, Texas. Carnival ride” (1942) The Library of Congress
Here's Looking At You Kid
of all the beer joints in all the towns
in all the world you walked into mine
here’s looking at you kid
here’s to walled gardens left to rot
here’s to sigils on the napkins of
dirty bars on the jersey shore
here’s to Cemetery Drive muffled
from the wind of an eclipse at 90 m-p-h
here’s to a setting sun on the backs
of the wanderers waiting outside the hotel drunk
here’s to two bottle of patron nights
here’s to backseat minutiae
here’s to punk rock shows in sheds
in the woods of Flemington, New Jersey
here’s to missing work, to misunderstandings
to half truths, to stumble under sinister moons
here’s to you’ve never seen me sober before
here’s to everyone in Long Branch has problems
you may be the one to sort yours out
here’s to I may be the only cause I’m interested in
I never know which lines to cross or which to sniff
here’s to the boardwalk, the arcade, howling
in the basements of New Brunswick, church
is in session and the priest has smashed his guitar
here's to new beginnings and swan songs
here's to I've heard your poems, I raise you
a bible of circumstance and clever words
here's to friends and long nights
here's to we may never have Paris
but we will have the basement
the Eiffel tower is an obelisk
at the center of our pounding hearts
here's to next time, kid
About the Author: Damian Rucci is the author of 8 books of poetry including Poets Ruin Everything (Honeybee Gazette) & Corrupt the Youth (Between Shadows Press). He is the founder of the NJ Poetry Renaissance and host of nine poetry series. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Image Credit: John Margolies “Boardwalk, Long Branch, New Jersey” (1978) The Library of Congress
can of handy
sockets and prosthetic
About the Author: Kathleen Hellen’s collection Meet Me at the Bottom is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. Her credits include The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin, her award-winning collection Umberto’s Night, published by Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, her work has appeared in Arts & Letters, The Carolina Quarterly, Cimarron Review. Colorado Review,Massachusetts Review, New Letters, Nimrod, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, The Sewanee Review, Southern Humanities Review, Subtropics, The Sycamore Review, Tampa Review Online, West Branch, and Witness, among others. Hellen’s awards include the Thomas Merton poetry prize and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review, as well as individual artist awards from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts.
Sturm and Drang
You start a poem the same way
My father-in-law lit the grill.
Fill a brown paper grocery bag
With a whole measure of briquettes.
Soak the bag and contents
With a liberal amount
Of lawnmower gas.
Set the bag in the middle
Of the round grill top.
From daringly close distance
Toss a lit wooden match
Onto the gas-soaked bag.
My oldest son at four
Watched the explosion
From a guarded distance:
Fighting back tears.
It was the first time
He’d seen poetry.
About the Author: A past winner of the Jim Harrison Award for contributions to baseball literature, Tim Peeler has also twice been a Casey Award Finalist (baseball book of the year) and a finalist for the SIBA Award. He lives with his wife, Penny in Hickory, North Carolina, where he directs the academic assistance programs at Catawba Valley Community College. He has published close to a thousand poems, stories, essays, and reviews in magazines, journals, and anthologies and has written sixteen books and three chapbooks. He has five books in the permanent collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, NY. His recent books include Rough Beast, an Appalachian verse novel about a southern gangster named Larry Ledbetter, Henry River: An American Ruin, poems about an abandoned mill town and film site for The Hunger Games, and Wild in the Strike Zone: Baseball Poems, his third volume of baseball-related poems.