Curtis Hayes: “Paradox”

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Paradox

The brilliance of the night sky
remains mostly hidden
over Los Angeles
with only the brightest stars
able to punch through the haze.
In the City of the Angels,
the dazzle of the cosmos
can only be seen
from the desert.

We were camping
deep in the Mojave,
the Milky Way above
glistening
more beautiful
than a thousand
cities of man.

We had pitched a tent
and a campfire, circled by stones
crackled and popped.
The October air was still warm
and we would instead
sleep outside,
the bed of my pickup
softened by army blankets
and unzipped sleeping bags.

We passed a bottle
looking out at the silent llano.
A shepherd rested next to her,
tired from the heat of the day.
Shooting stars crossed the sky,
so many that we stopped
calling them out.
She asked me if I thought
there were others out there
looking back at us.
I think there must be
I said quietly.
Do you think we’ll ever be able
To travel out there
And see?

I pictured miles of gravel roads
scattered houses peeling in the sun
rusted chain-link
dusty kids on dirt bikes
and the flags
that decorated the bumpers
of broken-down vehicles.
I thought about the Fermi Paradox
which is astronomer talk
for the theory that
any civilization
with the machines
needed to cross the expanse
would have burned itself out
before it could ever make the
final leap.

Her hair, golden in the firelight.
Stroking the dog
waiting for an answer.
The fire popped twice
sounding like the cap guns
I shot as a kid
and my voice
softly
Why would we want to be
anywhere
but right here.

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About the Author: Curtis Hayes has worked as a grip, gaffer, and set builder in TV and film production. He’s been a truck driver, a boat rigger, a print journalist and a screenwriter. 

He is the author of the non-fiction top-ten NYT bestseller, I Am Jesse James, and his first poetry collection, Bottleneck Slide, has recently been published by Vainglory Press.  His work has been featured in numerous anthologies and small press journals.

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Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Utah Sunset” (2021)

Samuel Prestridge: “Coyote”

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Coyote

The night before my 68th,  I dreamed

of walking a bookmarked scrap of land.

I saw a coyote following me.

He wasn’t threatening, just staring,

just sizing me up.  I didn’t want to

be sized up.  I walked the other direction.

He followed, ran to me, heeled.

We walked together.

I ignored him.  He stayed heeled.

We came to an abandoned stable, walked in.

I stopped in front of a stall.

The coyote climbed up the door,

arced his body across the gap, gracefully draped himself

              across my shoulders.

I stood there, not wanting to move, the coyote

snugged against me.  Maybe I worried

about fleas.  Maybe I was guarding his sleep.

               I don’t know how long I was still and quiet.  I don’t know

how time is measured there.

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About the Author: Samuel Prestridge lives and works in Athens, Georgia.  He has published or has forthcoming articles, poems, essays, and interviews in a wide range of publications, including Literary Imagination, Style, Appalachian Quarterly, Paideuma, Poem, The Southern Humanities Review, The Lullwater Review, The Arkansas Review, Autumn Skies, and Better Than Starbucks.

Regarding his approach to writing, he says, “I write poetry because there are matters that cannot be directly stated, but are essential to the survival of whatever soul we can still have.  Also, I’m no good at interpretive dance, which is the only other options that’s occurred to me.”

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Image Credit: Illustration taken from Wild animals of North America Washington, D.C.,The National geographical society[c1918] Public Domain. Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

M. J. Arcangelini: “The Relative Sanctity of Objects”

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The Relative Sanctity of Objects

Memories alive as spirits encased in objects,
Set in amber, locked in lucite, wrapped in plaster,
Hanging within webs of spider and silk worm.

A small shell, butterfly, baby shoes, decayed molar,
A coffee cup, refrigerator magnet, Limoges china,
That chair, that blanket, that framed photograph.

The bed which witnessed such tender gymnastics
Turned over to the junk man and thrown onto his truck.
Things given away, things thrown away, things kept.

A 1920s straight razor, a 1903 Colt .32 revolver.
Hoping to feel lighter when the gravity of the past
Still weighs heavy, tethered to dead men’s things.

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About the Author: M.J. (Michael Joseph) Arcangelini was born 1952 in western Pennsylvania. He has resided in northern California since 1979. He has published in a lot of little magazines, online journals, & over a dozen anthologies.  He is the author of five collections, the most recent of which is “A Quiet Ghost,” Luchador Press 2020. Arcangelini has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He can be reached at poetbear@sonic.net

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More by M.J. Arcangelini:

A Few Random Thoughts

Ten Movies

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Image Credit: Samuel Kravitt “Rocker with taped seat” (1935) The Library of Congress

Kerry Trautman: “When Drinking Alone, the Mind Ponders Unknowable Things”

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About the Author, Kerry Trautman: I am a poetry editor for Red Fez, and my work has appeared in various anthologies and in journals, including The Fourth River, Gasconade Review, Midwestern Gothic, Paper & Ink, Third Wednesday, and Think Journal. My poetry books are, Things That Come in Boxes (Kingcraft Press 2012,) To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press 2015,) Artifacts (NightBallet Press 2017,) and To Be Nonchalantly Alive (Kelsay Books 2020.)

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More by Kerry Trautman:

Context

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Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Utah Sunset” (2021)

Jason Baldinger: “hymn to groundhog day”

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hymn to groundhog day

this café is contrary
a strange anomaly in a land of diners
walls paper brick with watercolor mustangs
one calendar, two posters of the hulk
one hulk decal on the cooler
I wonder about the calendar to quality ratio
    an equation mastered in blue highways
then wonder how many hulk posters equal a calendar

the waitress says her son raises groundhogs
I don’t know what to say
maybe she’s fucking with me
I look deep in the hulk’s eyes
this year he has forty-two groundhogs
I say, that sure is a lot of groundhogs

bessemer tunnels and carbon snow
a few towns away
my mother’s family settled in the 1850’s
dropping the A and E
dropping the family crest
marrying into a family with a township named after them

a yellow sign juts from the snow in surrender
I miss the america I grew up in
I want to believe this is a statement
on a widening gap in equality
on the erosion of class
on the working persons giving everything away
on the ways we allow government to fail
     in not mandating social responsibility

instead, it’s another absurd conservative screed
about the good old days that never were
times when people went to church
family values happened and abortions didn’t

the stop signs have addendums
one says stop touching me
another stop, hump me
the last stop and dance
these winter messages so conflicted

I hunt frozen snakes along the kiskiminetas
here in the bleak of february
I fill myself with enough gray
to crush the restlessness that grows each snow

punxsutawney
ten hours after the groundhog
he saw his shadow
so did this town

there is no evidence this civilization
still tries to understand weather
through the eyes of animals

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About the Author: Jason Baldinger is from Pittsburgh and looks forward to roaming the country writing poems again. His newest books are A Threadbare Universe (Kung Fu Treachery Press) and The Afterlife is a Hangover (Stubborn Mule Press). A History of Backroads Misplaced: Selected Poems 2010- 2020 (Kung Fu Treachery) is forthcoming later this year. His work has been published widely across print journals and online. You can hear him read his work on Bandcamp and on lp’s by The Gotobeds and Theremonster.

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More Poetry by Jason Baldinger:

This Ghostly Ambience

It was a Golden Time

Beauty is a Rare Thing

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Image Credit: Image originally from The quadrupeds of North America. v.1. New York,V.G. Audubon,1851-54. Courtesy of The Biodiversity Heritage Library. Public Domain.

Troy Schoultz: “Gas Money”

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Forlorn sign for a long-closed gas station in Green River, Wyoming.

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Gas Money

Young, broke, classes skipped,
A bottle of Crown Royal stolen from your father’s rec room bar.
The only thing that made sense to us
When we were lost,
Was a full tank of gas.
Cars were serious currency,
An escape from living rooms drenched in T.V.’s glow,
And high schools that chewed us up.

Those years seemed composed of only morning and night
Swinging by the Amoco station for a breakfast
Of Doritos and Mountain Dew. Sunlight draining
Into the streetlights. AC/DC in the cassette deck,
We tore a rut in the asphalt of Main Street,
Waiting desperately for something to stain our colorless lives.
Bald tires, loose tie rods, burnt oil exhaust,
A blind headlight, all that mattered
Was fuel and motion. We attempted to outrun
Milltown pensions and expectations waiting for us
Beyond the polluted river,
And inflated lies of a diploma slapped in our grimy hands.

These days I’m in awe of being alive.
My car’s over ten years-old, but bought and paid for in cash.
The oil is changed like clockwork.
There’s money in the bank.
Out at the old lighthouse at sunset,
Headlights gather, stolen twelve packs emptied and discarded.
The ghosts of who we once were
Trying to make a quarter tank last another weekend.

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About the Author, Troy Schoultz: I’m a lifelong Wisconsin resident.  I’m currently a sometimes lecturer at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. My poems, stories, and reviews have appeared in Seattle Review, Rattle, Slipstream, Chiron Review, Word Riot, Fish Drum, The Great American Poetry Show, Steel Toe Review, Midwestern Gothic and many others in the U.S. and U.K. since 1997.  I’m the author of two chapbooks and one full-length collection: A Field of Bonfires Sings (Wolf Angel Press, 1999), Good Friday (Tamafyr Mountain Poetry 2005), Biographies of Runaway Dogs (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2017) and No More Quiet Entrances (Luchador Press, 2020).

I was nominated in 2012 for a Pushcart Prize by Slipstream literary magazine for my poem “The Biographies of Dogs Who Dared to Run Away.” My interests and influences include rock and roll, vinyl LPs, 8 track tapes, found objects, the paranormal, abandoned places, folklore, old cemeteries and the number five.

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More by Troy Schoultz:

The Art of Manliness

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Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “Forlorn sign for a long-closed gas station in Green River, Wyoming.” (2018) The Library of Congress

Maryfrances Wagner: “Losing Cousin Carolyn”

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Losing Cousin Carolyn

The news came via Facebook.  Simple Obit.
Immediate family only.  This is the age of Covid.
This is the time of dying alone.  Grieving alone.

We sat in a funeral home pew the last time I saw
Carolyn, cousins lined up together as we always are
when we say goodbye, in this case to our last uncle.

Despite opposite views, we shared a life together,
weddings, reunions, death.  A time to share family
stories or photos we found in a parent’s basement.

I imagine her sons graveside with their father,
no chairs, no flower sprays, no family circling them.
Her brother hundreds of miles away, kidneys failing.

I drive past the house where they lived when we
played Fish or paper dolls on her bedroom floor.
It seems so small.  The shutters and window box sag.

A vacant birdhouse sways near an empty feeder. A clump
of limp jonquils wave, and their old Dragon Blood Sedum
I loved pokes through the broken arms of a gargoyle.

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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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More by Maryfrances Wagner:

Dreaming Through Covid

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Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Bird on Wire” (2020)

Greg Field “White”

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White

Who can hold the color of the moon,
a porcelain saucer of sweet cream?
The curse of skin at times translucent,
blue veins like gold coursing through quartz.
Pink and red meat glow through with promise.
Its tide of tumbling spindrift seeking
to dissolve all else, to consume even people
poking along in the sand.
Wading through snow carrying thick black books
with tiny type flowing through pages
like marauding ants snapping at the air
they spread through forests and plains,
a seething blizzard that demands
of all falling under, the pure flag of surrender.

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About the Author: Greg Field is a writer, artist, and musician living in Independence, Missouri with his wife, poet Maryfrances Wagner.  His poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies to include New letters and Chiron Review.  His new book, from Mammoth Press, is Black Heart, which focuses on his Native American heritage.  He is a co-editor of the I-70 Review.  His paintings are in private collections all over the country.  He plays drums for the improvisational jazz band River Cow Orchestra.

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Image Credit: John Henry Twachtman “Snow” (public domain)

Sam Barbee: “Hybrid”

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Hybrid

After blight, our chestnut forests
rotted.  Their shadows now emerge,
suffering in furniture and mirror frames,
within unconsecrated slights of legend.

A ring of scientists now cross-breed
remaining Chestnuts with a Chinese genus,
conjuring a stubborn breed, not quite clones,
but another noble effort resistant to demise.

Wooden spooled crib where our grandchild lies
hosts our echo, a remnant thrashing
versus what life will offer, wandering on
with the deceased against what wind strikes down.

So much put asunder, crumbling stumps
rootless and toothless beneath heaven
in a forest felled in microscopic confusion,
among graves where the mighty stood.

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About the Author: Sam Barbee’s poems have appeared Poetry South, The NC Literary Review, Crucible, Asheville Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology VII: North Carolina, Georgia Journal, Kakalak, and Pembroke Magazine, among others; plus on-line journals Vox Poetica, The Voices Project, Courtland Review, and The New Verse News. 

His second poetry collection, That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53), was a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016.  He was awarded an “Emerging Artist’s Grant” from the Winston-Salem Arts Council to publish his first collection Changes of Venue (Mount Olive Press); has been a featured poet on the North Carolina Public Radio Station WFDD; received the 59th Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society for his poem “The Blood Watch”; and is a Pushcart nominee.

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Image Credit: Illustration originally from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.London ; New York [etc.] : Academic Press [etc.]. Image Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Public Domain

Sue Blaustein: “Rest In Peace”

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Rest in Peace

Forsythias come into bloom. Then magnolias.
This is the week it happens.

Early evening  – radio drivetime – I
head south on Holton Street.

The ad on the back
of the bus I’m following

is CALL 411-PAIN.
That’s easy to remember!

411 is kind of like 911, and PAIN
            is self-explanatory.

The whole bus – for this ad – is a puke pink.
Puke pink 411-PAIN. The bus and I

cross Auer Avenue, where a magnolia
            rules the northeast corner.

Timing! The blossoms, the bus, the blossoms…
            pink, puke pink, pink.

The tree fades in my rearview.
I still follow the bus, puke pink PAIN for my eyes.

For my ears and tender heart –
drivetime reports of celebrity deaths.

An NBA legend’s son lost at 33,
from asthma. Asthma? With all the drugs they have?

Steroids, non-steroids, inhalers…
On TV, asthma is vanquished. Or at least tamed. 

Then, an actor. He was in his eighties –
old enough to go. Notable because,

as the deejay explained, He played
Cousin Itt on the Addams Family. 

Rest in Peace, Cousin Itt.
The deejay spoke with respect, 

yet you could tell it was fun for him
to say Cousin Itt so solemnly.

Blossoms, a puke pink bus, 411 PAIN
for my eyes. And, for my ears

and sore heart Rest in Peace, Cousin Itt.
It gentled an April afternoon. 

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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.

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More by Sue Blaustein:

A Song for Harvest Spiders

A Song for Noise

The Old Ways

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Image Credit: Digitally enhanced illustration from “Annales de la Société royale d’agriculture et de botanique de Gand” Société royale d’agriculture et de botanique,1845-1849. Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Creative Commons License 2.0.