The hot winds blow northwards.
Laboring hearts adapt to a slow-burning rhythm.
Nights find you breathing harder,
dreaming languid dreams dipped in Saharan orange.
Snow melts into puddles, makes
little rapids in the gullies.
Shy bright green unfolds on hitherto
barren winter stalks, like young girls
succumbing to the whispered promise
of swelter, not heeding either calendar
or caution. Cars covered in red sand
use the roads like go-cart runs. An early
tulip pushes through heavy slush,
a sense of unseemliness in the air.
On a park bench two grey heads,
woolen scarves undone daringly,
galoshes protecting warm shoes.
Old hands stripped of thick gloves,
he holds hers and bends over them as far
as his stiff back gives him leave.
The Sirocco will hold a few days.
About the Author: Rose Mary Boehm is a German-born British national living and writing in Lima, Peru. Her poetry has been published widely in mostly US poetry reviews (online and print). She was twice nominated for a Pushcart. Her fifth poetry collection, DO OCEANS HAVE UNDERWATER BORDERS, will be published by Kelsay Books in July 2022. https://www.rose-mary-boehm-poet.com/
Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Dead Leaves and Landscape” (2021)
With his trademark spare and exact style, John Dorsey’s latest book of poetry guides us through a carnival of characters that stretches across the country in space, and deep into his decades on the road. What sets Dorsey apart from the other geographers of trailer parks, small town diners, and dollar stores is the balanced empathy of his writing. There isn’t anything sensationalized or exploited. What he reports may shock, but his work never relies on shock value or gratuitously gruesome description to strike its blow. The power of his work is in his ability to make his readers empathize with the marginalized and grotesque without straying into the cheap pathos of pity.
In a poem about a man who lost part of his nose to cancer, Dorsey concludes in the final stanza:
but he’s not pretty enough for heaven
or the silver screen
& not ugly enough
to hide his face
& let some lonesome dirt road
forget he was ever there
This liminal space between beauty and ugliness, between heaven and hell, is where Dorsey’s redneck carnival is located. Beauty is always tempered by the constraints of the environment in which it lives, and what gets written off as ugly is infused with humanity, glowing with careful understanding. At this carnival, the “prettiest girl in town,” “pours drinks/ &becomes a wingless canary/ singing for tips/ in a cage filled with smoke.” Later, Dorsey’s poem for his grandmother similarly envelops us with smoke, describing her with the following:
I never remember you looking young
shaky hands lighting one cigarette
off the other
black rings under your eyes
but your smile was magic
talking about tv preachers
by their first names
as if they really did care
about your salvation
Cigarette smoke is the before and after: beauty destined to shrivel in its environment and the unsinkable beauty deep within an already withered face. As you thumb through Dorsey’s poems, the question is always, who is living in the before and who is living in the after? Who is the young and beautiful destined for pain and age, and who is the weathered soul whose beauty still flickers from inside a battle scarred body?
Take his short “Trailer Park Song, 1982” for example:
Brief, simple, yet unexpected. Dorsey hands us the unanticipated connection of anger and beauty without a treatise on their causal relationship. In another poem, “Love Letter for Jana Horn”:
the mailbox is full of postcards
from hipster boys
who just want
to be swallowed whole
by a desert rose
The young who are destined to become old, and the old who cling to what makes us young in spirit all desire to be consumed by beauty. In Dorsey’s poetry, beauty is as much an aspiration as it is a physical state. Physical beauty is fated to fade, which in of itself is beautiful, but the aspiration toward beauty is what remains after flesh fails.
The only time Dorsey is explicit in labeling true ugliness, is ironically, when he describes a young woman asking “for donations/ for a baby beauty pageant”:
for a twirl
at the baton
is nothing uglier
It’s here where Dorsey draws somewhat of a line where his appreciation of the aspiration toward beauty stops. There is an inherent ugliness in these pageants that exploit the bodies of young people and inculcates in them a belief that beauty should be subject to the judgment of others. Yet, even in his distaste for the pageant, Dorsey isn’t judgmental of the young woman asking for donations. She has bought into the ugly side of hope when our culture commodifies our aspirations to be beautiful. The same is implied in the earlier poem about his grandmother and the TV preachers who pretend to care about her salvation. It’s not the women having hope that is ugly, but instead, the ugliness is in the cynical hope sold to them by institutions that promise what they won’t deliver.
Dorsey never patronizes his subjects by lapsing from empathy to condescension. Sympathy can often be a temporary license we give ourselves to gawk at someone’s misery. While Dorsey doesn’t shy away from presenting the sad circumstances of someone’s life, he also never infringes on their agency by flattening them into one-dimensional victims. Even the aforementioned cancer survivor:
says we are all ravenous locusts
at the same overcrowded trough
as he explains his theories on women
We can only imagine what these “theories” might be, or what he might be expressing with the locusts comment. What is sure is that these complicating aspects of the man’s personality play against any impulse to use his cancer as a thin premise for sympathy. He is not the perfect victim, just a human whose cancer is part of his story.
Dorsey’s poems are all honest reports on the damage we all live with, and whether this damage is a circumstance of birth or self-inflicted, the damage is inextricable from our stories. For example, Dorsey bluntly spells this out in his poem “Young Man”:
i’m not saying
you were no good
just rotten on the inside
like a bag of sour apples
who left us too young.
Dorsey does not fear pinpointing the rot inside this young man, but also avoids any kind of judgment on him or blame on anyone else. It is taboo to speak ill of the dead, but our culture’s fear of this taboo often leads us to invent a fictitious version of the dead that paints them as blameless and brightsides their darkness. This is more of a dishonor than providing an accurate record of the life they led because it erases all their choices and every mark they made, good or bad. It doesn’t remember the dead; it forgets them immediately and entirely.
This leads me back to what I refer to as John Dorsey’s balanced empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean excusing or ignoring the faults and failings of an individual, but understanding the trauma residing in someone’s scars, including the self-inflicted. Dorsey’s balanced empathy calls attention to the ugliness of the sour apples rotting in all of us, but in just a few words, he makes the pain of carrying this rot momentarily beautiful.
Side-winding around the half-cars though
the man seeing me looking yells Don't look!
I have seen the coat-covered passenger's
arm. Real? Is it real?
—I must keep going. It is real.
As real as watching your neighbor's house
burst into flames. How fast
disaster consumes others. Shocking,
our relief—I must keep going
or run the risk of becoming
real to someone else.
About the Author: Matt Dennison is the author of Kind Surgery, from Urtica Press (Fr.) and Waiting for Better, from Main Street Rag Press. His work has appeared in Verse Daily, Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider, Natural Bridge, The Spoon River Poetry Review and Cider Press Review, among others. He has also made short films with Michael Dickes, Swoon, Marie Craven and Jutta Pryor.
Image Credit:Elihu Vedder “Study for “The Fates Gathering in the Stars”, 1884-1887. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington
Mom had to sell eggs on the sly to get the money for tickets the day we took the bus from Coldwater to Battle Creek, Michigan. Dad would never have approved of us traveling. If he had caught wind of our secret trip, he would have said, “Hell, no, you can’t go. Praying is for crazy people. Stay home where you belong.”
When we got off the bus, Mom pointed toward a tower in the distance. “That’s Dr. Kellogg’s famous Battle Creek Sanitarium. The tower, high above soaring trees, seemed to nod in our direction, the flags atop wave at us.
We turned and walked at a fast clip in the opposite direction, until we came to a white mansion with fish scales in the pointed gable. “Mrs. Reynolds lives here,” Mom said. “Her husband is a doctor. He works at the sanitarium.”
Mom softly tapped on the door, and Mrs. Reynolds said, “Come in Mrs. Miller. Isn’t it wonderful that the Lord brought us together at Reverend Safford’s prayer meeting when I visited my sister in Coldwater? Let’s have tea in the parlor, and then we’ll pray.”
Mrs. Reynolds looked over the top of her glasses at me and said, “I’m glad you are traveling with your mother. It’s never too early to learn about the Lord’s work.” She paused for a moment to let her words sink in, before asking, “How old are you, young lady? Would you like a glass of milk?”Continue reading “Fay L. Loomis: “Bathtub Prayers””→
Nobody wants to die but I don't mind
trying it if I can come back should I
not like it but it can't be all bad says
my Sunday School teacher, after all if
I don't die then I can't go to Heaven
to live forever, which doesn't make sense
but that's why it's religion and of course
I could go to Hell as well and dwell for
-ever there though it's not nearly as nice
as Heaven. Then there's the Resurrection
--Jesus was on His feet again three days
after we nailed Him, I think that's what I'd
like, to live forever that way though on
Earth is best, I'll take Earth over Heaven,
forget that I'll live less here but longer.
About the Author: Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008).
Gale has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.
Traveling on Our Stomachs
Leaving the excess of old-world Utrecht,
all gargoyles, staggeringly high churches
with their proverbial lesson in perspective,
arched doorways folding into arched hallways
like bellows on a monochromatic accordion,
I enter the gray-gray of its New Town: Massive,
hard-edged concrete slabs of cold contemporary
Dutch architecture dedicated to function over form,
utility over any hint of Rococo. I’m drawn to an
Edward Hopper-lit café, empty save the silent
server who presents a slab of creamy yellow cheese,
flaky golden-dusted brioche its tenderness cradling
the bright orange yolk of the freshest egg, satiny hot
coffee in a white-white cup, the perfect American
travel memory on a gray-gray day in Utrecht.
About the Author: Diana Rosen is a poet, flash writer, and essayist with work in online and print journals in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, and India. Her first book of flash and poetry, “High Stakes & Expectations,” was released in spring 2022 from thetinypublisher.com Diana lives in Los Angeles where she writes website content on food and beverage. To read more of her work, please visit www.authory.com/dianarosen
Image Credit:Édouard Manet “The Brioche” (1870) Public domain image courtesy of Artvee
DADDY, WE’RE ENGAGED
His expression is like a crab
moving sideways and backwards
and forwards at will.
The eyes, the nose,
the mouth, are as restless as small dogs.
They can’t settle on a frown.
And a smile is seemingly beyond them.
We stand before him,
our fingers clutching and unclutching,
but insecurely tethered here.
We came to tell him
but it feels as if we’re asking his permission.
I know my own mind.
You know yours.
But that’s still one mind short.
About the Author: John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.
Image Credit: Versuch einer Naturgeschichte der Krabben und Krebse: Berlin ;Bei Gottlieb August Lange,1782-1804. Image courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library
Author’s Note: These poems, along with several hundred others, are part of a larger erasure collection entitled Pocatello Wildflower, which examines the words of a group of Idaho writers who worked primarily from the 1970’s to the 1990’s, including the late Bruce Embree, who really got the ball rolling in my head and heart, with a few still working today. It is my great hope that folks will be interested in the original writers work, in addition to my own. Pocatello Wildflower will be available in 2023 from Crisis Chronicles Press. Thanks for reading.
strangers raised us
in ditchbank weeds
on combat rations
it was love
in the blowing dust.
Moving Past the Fetish
last year’s growing storm
a lost friend
not humping boulders
in the foolish
The River of Lovers
could burn enough nostalgia
to find comfort
in our past
a whirl of wind.
his father never blinked
a bad dream
catches in his throat.
i lost my horse
this country of shame
died in the trees
on the spot
where the sun goes down
like a red-hot needle.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
he surfaces drowsy
sees his wife
by his bedside
his hand feels
her shoulder blade
relieved he sighs
I am alive!”
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.
Stay a Spell
The cicadas kissed the curves of my ears,
pale fingers fighting nothing but air and the thinness of wings.
Chop, shift, I split the wood again
chop, shift, the butterscotch chips catching in the frays
of an old knitted coat.
Skillet fried dinner blends to skillet fried dessert—
What was that?
A rustle of leaves yields sunny-sides filled with shell
and the squirrel chuckles up his chestnuts.
He picks his shells with ease.
The warm fire deepens the orange of my hair
and blushes the apples of my cheeks.
Oxygen and black smoke trickle through my lungs—
carbon dioxide bleaching the fumes clear.
We need more tinder.
My eyes meet a doe dancing behind the flame.
Thin ankles locked straight to the left and chin whiskers
quirked to the right; she stood firm.
Who was I to stay a spell in her living room?
I didn’t even take off my shoes.
About the Author: Hannah Bagley lives and attends the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Georgia. An English literature major and German minor, she has also been published in The Chestatee Review. Hannah draws inspiration from her upbringing in Southern Appalachia and its rich history. She plans to continue poetry in the pursuit of nature, life, and expression of the human experience.
Image Credit: Winslow Homer “Campfire” (1880) Public domain image courtesy of Artvee