Sue Blaustein “A Song for Harvest Spiders”

 

 

A Song for Harvest Spiders

August – I’m by the river,
watching harvest spiders.
I squint, then focus, and I see one.
A second one comes, then a third! 

They move down the ends
of rotting logs, follow long,
softening splinters. Crossing folds 
of pearly fungus, they move.

Their legs – banded with white
gaiters (where crew socks could be)
            convey that grand caplet,
the cephalothorax. Now one’s astride 

the crinkly vertical fungus!
Skinny legs lift the feet high, step
clear of bark-bound centipedes;
and the caplets rise and dip,

            rise and dip.
I call their motion silent. But really
it isn’t. My ears just aren’t
made to hear their footfalls.

Thump! They take inaudible
steps, palping for edible tidbits.
The ladies’ eggs scrape and settle
into humus. Back-to-school season,

Halloween…                  I’ll miss you
after the freeze. Companions – miss
means that when cold days come, 
I’ll be here, but you’ll be gone.

 

About the Author: Sue Blaustein is the author of “In the Field, Autobiography of an Inspector”. Her publication credits and bio can be found at www.sueblaustein.com. Sue retired from the Milwaukee Health Department in 2016, and is an active volunteer. She blogs for ExFabula (“Connecting Milwaukee Through Real Stories”), serves as an interviewer/writer for the “My Life My Story” program at the Zablocki VA Medical Center, and chases insects at the Milwaukee Urban Ecology Center.

 

Image Credit: American spiders and their spinningwork. V.3, Academy of natural sciences of Philadelphia,1889-93. Image courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library

“Blue Collar Blues: The Poetry of Wayne F. Burke”

 

 

Blue Collar Blues:

The Poetry of Wayne F. Burke

By Arthur Hoyle

 

Wayne F. Burke is a populist poet living in central Vermont, where he works as a Licensed Practical Nurse. His biography on Amazon tells us that he was born in 1954 in a small Massachusetts manufacturing town. His father had served in the U.S. Marine Corps before becoming the manager of a Mobil Flying-A gas station, and his mother worked in a textile mill. Both his parents died while he was a boy, and he and his three siblings were raised by their paternal grandparents and an uncle. He graduated from Goddard College in 1979 with a degree in Regional and Urban Planning, then took to the road, traveling around the country, working in a variety of occupations unrelated to his degree, and writing. He began publishing his poetry in 2013, when he was fifty-nine years old.

It is not surprising that a poet of such blue-collar origins would write blue collar poems, notable for their blunt honesty, visceral imagery, and gritty situations à la Bukowski. But what really distinguishes Burke, for me, is his persistent use of a deadpan irony that brings both humor and surprise to scenes and situations with dark and often malevolent undertones.  This signature attitude, or tone, he uses with skilled effect to jolt his reader into a state of awareness⎯one of the high aims of all art. To sample his unique style and technique, and hear his plain, unpretentious voice, read Escape from the Planet Crouton (Luchador Press, 2019), under review here. 

A glance at the titles of the poems in this collection reveals that we are in the presence of a poet of the ordinary and the everyday, the world of highways, farms, tattoos, naps, raindrops, firecrackers, speeding tickets, seedy bars, and sordid streets. But a feral, menacing reality lurks below the surface of this world. The tattoo is worn by an employer who fires the speaker of the poem for coming to work drunk. The tattoo is the number branded on the employer’s arm by his captors in a World War II concentration camp. “Raindrops on the eaves/sound like a beautiful/loneliness,” the poet lyrically writes, but we learn immediately that he is listening to them to escape “her/talking/ in the darkened room,/high on medication/or on . . ./whatever.” The “Nap” is not a restful snooze on a cozy couch; it is the sleep of the homeless narrator in an empty parking lot behind a credit union, “the curb stone a hard cushion/but welcome one.”

Burke’s sensory language immerses the reader in this dreary underworld. “Polio” is not about polio. It describes a Halloween prank perpetrated in his boyhood by the narrator and his friend Charlie, who “stripped the thorny pulp off horse chestnuts/and put the ebony nuts into/a brown shopping bag/and threw the nuts that night/Halloween/at the Camel’s house across the street/until cops came with their shining blue/light.” Aged seven, the narrator runs away from his harsh home “down the road/along cracked and gouged sidewalk/a quarter mile to the lime kiln/loud waterfall-roar of machinery/white dust in the air and/smoky white buildings,/trucks banging along the highway/over railroad tracks.” The stubby lines with their short rhythms throb a relentless drumbeat of despair.

Many of Burke’s poems locate the reader in a scene or situation and tell a story. The stories are often edged with irony and morbid resignation. The runaway boy, frightened by a chained German Shepherd watchdog that barks at him, hightails it home to discover that “Nobody there knew that I had been gone,” a line that hints at his neglect and loneliness. While working with a highway maintenance crew he waves at a female high school classmate who drives by in her Cadillac without acknowledging him. In another incident as an adult, he tries to escape homelessness by staying in a room at the YMCA, but gives up when he cannot think of a name to enter in the “in case of emergency notify” box on the registration form. Loneliness and alienation are persistent themes in the collection. In the final poem, titled ungrammatically “It a Lie,” the speaker insists “I will never/be in need/never cry/at night/not me/not me/I am/different/breed of/liar.”

Escape from the Planet Crouton is arranged into eight sections, several of which have a clear organizing principle, but nearly all of which give voice to the speaker’s sense of isolation from the people and society around him. The first section, which opens with the epigraph “the clapboard Inn/My grandfather owned⎯/marble in the dream,” deals with the narrator’s childhood upbringing in a severe, loveless home. The next section covers his high school and college years, marked by heavy drinking, brushes with the law, and glimpses of the rawness in the wider world. There is a section on his turbulent relationships with women, including a very funny dialogue with “The Old Lady” (his wife), and scattered poems about his health and drinking problems.

An exception to the pattern is Section 3, which is prefaced by the meditative lines “busy/all/morning/watching/the/clouds,” a lead-in to poems about art and artists, where Burke finds salvation from the drabness of his ordinary existence. His portrait of Van Gogh is especially moving as it honors “canvases/like portals so vast/and deep/with emptiness/nothing could fill them/but/eternity.” He also writes about Kurt Schwitters, Jackson Pollock (“a momma’s boy”), fellow poets he met in college, and his progenitor Charles Bukowski, “a misanthrope and/hater of the herd.” Henry Miller gets a mention too.

The poem “I Write for the Factory Workers” sums up this poet’s artistic sensibility and mission, and so I quote it here in full to give the reader an undiluted dose of Wayne F. Burke.

I Write for the Factory Workers

the bums,
the burn-outs
the renegades who
left town and never returned,
the unmarried
the unheralded,
lumpen and prole
who never made the honor roll
in High School
never were handed a job
or a promotion
or a trophy,
but got probation,
parole,
an eviction notice,
a Dear John letter,
a court summons,
a pink slip,
a knuckle sandwich,
a room in a nut house,
a ride in the paddy wagon,
a jail sentence,
divorce papers,
bad acid,
food poisoning,
herpes simplex,
crabs,
bronchitis,
mononucleosis,
and hangovers that
lasted for days.

It remains to ponder the significance of the title of this volume, and the design of its cover, which pictures a pink and yellow science fiction rocket ship zooming across the star-filled night sky. At the start of Section 5, Burke tells us that “in Croutonville everyone is guilty/until they prove themselves innocent;/the bums gather in the park,/and hot-rodders roar up and down/the empty streets;/dogs bark at all hours/of the spot-lit nights,/and the primary cause of death/is O.D.”

Croutonville sounds very much like the hollowed-out core of the American dream of which so many are now dispossessed. Burke has made his escape in the rocket ship of poetry.

 

Escape from the Planet Crouton is available via Luchador Press

 

About the Author, Arthur Hoyle: I am the author of The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur (Skyhorse/Arcade March 2014). I have also published essays in Huffington PostEmpty MirrorAcross the Margin, and Counterpunch. My second non-fiction book, Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain, was published March 17, 2020 by Sunbury Press.

Mike Acker: “Unholy”

 

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About the AuthorMike Acker lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. He has lived in various parts of the world; his early education was in German and French. While living in California, he worked as a professional translator. Mike enjoys writing short poetry, especially with the intent of exploring the possibilities latent in a single image.

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More By Mike Acker:
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Image Credit: Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night Over the Rhone” (1888) Public Domain

Howie Good: “The Third Reich of Dreams”

 

 

The Third Reich of Dreams

A professor emeritus was reading in his apartment when the walls around him disappeared. From the street outside, a loudspeaker boomed, “According to the decree of the 17th of this month on the Abolition of Walls. . .” It was now hard to be slow and small. A factory owner had been unable to muster a salute during a visit from the governor-general. He struggled for half an hour to lift his arm, then his backbone just simply broke. Officers pointed a shotgun at his face and an assault rifle at his chest. There was raucous cheering. Banners with the slogan “Public Interest Comes Before Self-Interest” fluttered in endless repetition along a street.

&

In place of street signs, posters had been put up on every corner, proclaiming in white letters on a black background the 20 words people weren’t allowed to say. The first was “Lord”; the last was “I.”  About a week later, I was awakened in the middle of the night by the ringing of the telephone. A dull voice said, “This is the Monitoring Office.” I found myself begging and pleading that this one time I be forgiven – please just don’t report anything this one time, don’t pass it on, please just forget it. The voice remained absolutely silent and then hung up without a word, leaving me in agonizing uncertainty. Somehow I finally fell back to sleep. I dreamed that it was forbidden to dream, but I did anyway.

 

Sources:

Neglected Books

The New Yorker

 

About the Author: Howie Good is the author most recently of Stick Figure Opera: 99 100-word Prose Poems from Cajun Mutt Press. He co-edits the online journals Unbroken and UnLost.

 

More by Howie Good:

“Maiden Voyage”

“Spy Culture”

“The Anxiety of Influence”

 

Image Credit: Odilon Redon “Head within an Aureole” (about 1894–1895) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

“What if Bill Mazeroski Missed First Base?” By Bruce Harris

 

What if Bill Mazeroski Missed First Base?

By Bruce Harris

 

Ralph Terry’s shoulders slumped. In leftfield, Yogi Berra turned, took a few steps back, but could do nothing but watch the ball sail over the ivy-covered wall. In his mind, a Yogi-ism. We scored 28 more runs than them and lost. It was true. Over the course of seven games, the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55 to 27, yet lost the 1960 World Series to the Pirates. Or, had they? 

The Forbes Field faithful, 36,683 strong, stood as one cheering, clapping, screaming, watching as an unlikely hero, Bill Mazeroski circled the bases. The Pirate second baseman, known for his defense, jumped, waved his arms, and danced his way around the bases. With batting helmet in hand and a smile wider than Forbes Field’s vast centerfield, he ran smack into a celebratory mob of welcoming teammates. 

In one of the most exciting World Series ever played, the Pirates had defeated the mighty Yankees in seven games to become the champions of baseball.

Prior to his momentous blast, surpassing in importance and impact Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” four years earlier, Bill Mazeroski had hit only 11 homeruns in 1960. The seven-time All-Star would eventually be elected into baseball’s vaunted Hall of Fame primarily on the strength of his glove. Mazeroski won eight Gold Glove Awards during his 17-year big league career. The second baseman was no doubt just as surprised with the hit as the sold-out crowd and those watching and listening to the broadcast. 

While the Pirate players, rabid newspaper reporters, photographers, and assorted over-zealous fans jumped, whooping it up around number nine, the Yankees players walked slowly, heads down, toward the visiting team’s dugout. The six umpires, four around the bases and one each up the right- and left-field lines stood stoically in place, watching the dichotomy of emotions between the players wearing home white uniforms versus those in visiting gray. Continue reading

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal: “Beautiful Mournings”

 

 

Beautiful Mournings

Do you object
to beautiful mournings?
The path to the
cemetery with stones and

roses. Do you like
the fumes from open graves?
Who are you to
whine and complain? You’re dead.

The rotten sun 
is the cook of your skin.
Nature’s gift for
one and all. Keep your dead 

eye on the sky.
Watch the flowers bloom as
your stench 
perfumes the collapsed trees.

The flies buzz on
not worrying of health.
Their stinking breath
worsens in summertime.

In this world the
babbling mouths speak and shout.
The dead man sleeps
soundly and with such ease.

 

About the Author: Born in Mexico, Luis lives in California and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles, CA. His poetry has appeared online and in print over the years. His poetry has appeared in Blue Collar Review, Kendra Steiner Editions, Mad Swirl, Pygmy Forest Press, Red Fez Publications, Unlikely Stories, Yellow Mama Magazine, and ZYX.

 

More by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal:

Dracula

Eat Rain

 

Image Credit: Caspar David Friedrich “Graveyard Under Snow” (1826) Public Domain

Matthew Borczon: “In 2010”

 

 

In 2010

Afghanistan
embedded
the war
in my
chest like
a pacemaker

I still
feel the
cold metal
every time
I salute
the flag

 

About the Author: Matthew Borczon is a writer and a Navy sailor from Erie, Pa. He has published widely in the small press and written 12 books of poetry; the most recent the PTSD Blues was released through Rust Belt Press in 2019. He works hard as a nurse for developmentally disabled adults and works even harder at forgetting the war he served in in 2010.

 

Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith: “A colorful rendition of the American flag, painted on the side of a large utility shed in the town of Carbon in Eastland County, Texas” (2014) The Library of Congress