The powdery mildew killed my eyes
but I’d climb it anyhow
an ancient Gravenstein
with a pine tar patch
in the vee of two trunks
My dad’s friend was a jazz guitarist
and a tree surgeon
to my kid ears ‘tree surgeon’
was as good as Dr.
he did the patch
and later died of vodka poisoning
in his mobile home
I picked up the guitar myself
and wondered what dad thought about it
My dad and the tree
look worse each year
sooty blotch and flyspeck
liver spots and basal carcinomas
but big, sweet Gravensteins
as if the tree knows
these are the last
they’ll ever have.
About the Author: Jon Bennett writes and plays music in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. You can find his work on most music streaming sites as well as here. His new chapbook, Leisure Town, is available on Amazon here.
the gentle hours
a felt bluebird perches on the purple
orchid on my kitchen table
a broken heat wave
elixir for the skin
these are the gentle hours
at 6 am I’m up and around the place
shedding the shortened sleep
I haven’t yet grown into my windows,
the few flat bottomed clouds have
nested under my eyes, dawn is an
obsessive safecracker vault of blue
sky wide open dreams wide open morning
broken like an egg and opened no one at
this hour seems shocked at the sounds of life.
I think of my friends present and long gone
as interstellar rainbows, sun-kissed
children of beauty no one but everyone
ends up a stranger, they are my muses
my runes my river. When I think of them
I think every star inhabits the soul of a
desert flower, every soul a signal fire.
First news of the day will rattle some
empty cages, no doubt, it’ll take more
than imagining the contents of Thoreau’s
haversack to gentle the earth. At my age I
become something I’m not all over again
and it fits me like a glove. Fate is a direction
that won’t let me lose my way.
About the Author: John Macker grew up in Colorado and has lived in northern New Mexico for 25 years. He has published 13 full-length books and chapbooks of poetry, 2 audio recordings, an anthology of fiction and essays, and several broadsides over 30 years. His most recent are Atlas of Wolves, The Blues Drink Your Dreams Away, Selected Poems 1983-2018, (a 2019 Arizona/New Mexico Book Awards finalist), Desert Threnody, essays and short fiction (winner of the 2021 Arizona/New Mexico Book Awards fiction anthology prize), El Rialto, a short prose memoir and Chaco Sojourn, short stories, (both illustrated by Leon Loughridge and published in limited edition by Dry Creek Art Press.) In 2019, his poem “Happiness” won a Fischer Poetry Prize finalist citation, sponsored by the Telluride Institute.
“It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”
- Bob Dylan
During his brilliant and destructive youth, Steve Earle (singer-songwriter extraordinaire) once proclaimed, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” Later, older and sober. Earle recanted such unorthodoxy and admitted that Van Zandt was not as good as the forever mutable Dylan.
What does this story, which sounds almost apocryphal, have to do with the prose poetry of Howie Good? Well, like Steve Earle talking about Van Zandt, Good’s prose poems summon similar hyperbolic and unorthodox statements. In his varied landscapes which encompass the political, the personal, the pop, the historical, and the surreal, Good’s prose poems are unique in American literature.
Unlike the masterful prose poems of Robert Bly and James Wright, his work is seldom vatic. The characters which occupy his poems believe in horror more than transcendence. The god he comes across is “absorbed in his own thoughts” and acts “like he didn’t believe he ought to exist.” Within these poems, as in life, the mundane and the awful happen side-by-side. People die or climb a tree to survive, but hope left on a train to an unnamed camp long ago.
The world Good creates is both visual (he loves to reference painters) and apocalyptic. His work does not re-state the commonplace. A reader will not think, “I have also felt this way.” Instead, Good offers a kaleidoscope view of another reality which often bleeds into our own.
None of this is to imply that his work is without humor. Good often laughs at himself, but his humor is not like vaudeville. It is like the existential jokes of Steven Wright or the ironic jokes of Franz Kafka or the exit door jokes of the patient in the cancer ward. Even his many book titles like The Bad News First, The Titanic Sails at Dawn, and The Death Row Shuffle display his dark humor. Sometimes Good’s characters laugh until they cry and then they keep crying.
It’s important to say characters since these poems are occupied by various figures. There’s no self-willed persona in Good’s work as there is in the work of Bukowski and his acolytes. Only the constancy of themes (fear of the unknown, the certainty of pain and death, the cruelty of existence, and the occasional redemption of art) reveal anything about the man behind the writing.
In his essay, “A Small Note on Prose Poetry”, Good wrote, “All poetry worthy of the name exists in opposition to the churn of mass culture.” The idea of opposition is the force behind Good’s work and aesthetic. He writes as an outsider who makes arguments against the easy and expected.
Good’s background in journalism gives a clarity to his work even when he seems to take notes from a made up country. Journalism taught him the value of a strong declarative sentence and he is a solid student of the ways a sentence can be shaped.
Good’s outsider status is confirmed in his life and in his poetry. He’s a bit like Alfred Starr Hamilton: tied to no group or school he has few readers and fewer supporters, but many fine poems. His writing career includes approximately 40 books from small and tiny presses in the United States and England, but involves neither a MFA program nor a WPA conference. Since no one told Good what kind of poems he should write, he went off and wrote like no one else.
Uniqueness is both difficult and rare. Howie Good’s work is not difficult, but it is rare in the quality of the language, the vibrancy of the images, and the challenges of the worldview. What he offers the reader is a tilt-a-whirl ride where the landscape is always changing and where frogs rain in abundance.
About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His most recent book, Portable Light: Poems 1991-2021, was published by Red Hawk in April 2022. Mike’s previous poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog.)
In the dream we all had one. Some were subtle,
the back of an earlobe, the sole of your foot. Pale
digits in a delicate Roman font. Others more brazen,
a numeric ring on a middle finger. Nobody got
to choose. It was the first thing new moms checked
after counting fingers and toes, tiny numbers and dashes
in folds of still damp skin. No point trying to get rid of
them. Like the chemistry teacher who scrubbed her skin
raw with a concoction boiled up in the lab. Her
tattoo-artist boyfriend, undeterred,
wielded his needle magic to give her a few more years.
But the merciless 2022 was still there. Many
tried to ignore it, the way third graders in July
refuse to think about September. A few made it into a party,
their birthday’s morbid cousin, where black balloons had a
whole new meaning.
Later I wondered if they
were any better off, those people with indelible dates,
taking their personal time bombs with them as they
went about their lives. At least they were never
surprised by death, foretold as it was from the start. No phone
calls that drop you to your knees. But you’d still have to face
the appointed date, wouldn’t you? Alone in your den, blinds
shut tight, listless ceiling fan stirring above. Feeling the
seconds squeeze through you like cigarette smoke through a
menthol filter. Realizing as you wait—the end is still the end
even when you know its schedule.
About the Author: A 2021 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Ken Hines has written poems that appear in AIOTB, Vita Poetica, Ekphrastic Review, Psaltery & Lyre and other magazines. His poem “Driving Test” won the Third Wednesday Journal Annual Poetry Prize. All this scribbling takes place in Richmond, Virginia.
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.
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
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 email@example.com.
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
“New Highway Promises Development for Local Communities”
The Starkville Daily News
The new highway skirts struggling towns obscured
by second-growth—black jack saplings, pin oak,
scrub pine decked with hand-struck signs for still-born
cafes, yard sales, deer skinners, promises
of God’s wrath, purchases non-refundable.
I wonder who could live in these small towns.
I tell the trees, Not me. I still look, though,
still try to see how, within their limits,
mysteries keep them seething. Having failed
with farming, having wheeled to fail at retail,
their faith’s in resurrection. New highways.
In buyers who’ll slab jack foundations,
true frames, gingerbread all the worn storefronts.
Paint the whole into a groggy, pastel wet dream
with awnings, stratocumulus, lighting subdued
to shade by day, illuminate by night.
The latest iterations in gutter
technology, sewers gussied up.
Rains falling like money will hurry away,
down to the channelized river. Its banks
will blossom with summer homes. Angelic
water skiers’ wash will lap the cut bank,
will rinse mulish roots, will swamp the hand-struck
signs I’d have placed there: “No trespassing.”
“Free rooster.” “Chickens, fresh brown eggs for sale.”
About the Author: Samuel Prestridge, a post-aspirational man, lives and works in Athens, Georgia. He sometimes plays acoustic blues and jazz in local bars under an assumed name. He has been published in Literary Imagination, The Arkansas Review, Southern Humanities Review, As It Ought to Be, Better Than Starbucks, Autumn Skies, among others.
Image Credit: Marion Post Walcott “Signs advertising liquor stores are seen frequently along all Kentucky highways. South of Bardstown” (1940) Public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress
it seems as archaic
as kids carrying newspapers now
but they used to give us
a thick ring full of cardboard paper
cut into perforated tabs
they acted as receipts
when people paid you for their papers
once a week
in summer or after school
i had to walk my paper route
with the ring of cardboard tabs
knocking on people’s doors
to get the post-gazette’s money
i saw the dark on both ends of the day
i was the great interrupter of dinners
sexy time after long days at work
of infants falling asleep after hours of struggle
the great ruiner of
children’s birthdays and underage parties
i stood at closed doors
listening to hushed voices
hoping that i’d just go away
while the same dogs that barked at me in the morning
got a second chance to go at me in the evening
the people who condescended
to open their doors
looked at me as if they didn’t understand
like their newspaper just arrived
by some voodoo or magic
and not by some fat kid
trudging along in the rain or snow
or the humid damp of summer heat
i delivered to rich people with big houses
but no one ever had the money to pay me
next week, they’d say
and i’d walk away from their homes
my labor given away free for another week
left to explain to my angry dispatcher
why i didn’t have his cash some saturday
i’d have his money come next monday
like i was some errant tenant
or a goddamned junky begging to a dealer
a feeble man with empty pockets
and a huge-ass gambling debt
who’d let his life fall off the rails
About the Author: John Grochalski is the author of the poetry collections, The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008), Glass City (Low Ghost Press, 2010), In the Year of Everything Dying (Camel Saloon, 2012), Starting with the Last Name Grochalski (Coleridge Street Books, 2014), The Philosopher’s Ship (Alien Buddha Press, 2018), and Eating a Cheeseburger During End Times (Kung Fu Treachery, 2021). He is also the author of the novels, The Librarian (Six Gallery Press 2013), Wine Clerk (Six Gallery Press 2016), and P-Town: Forever (Alien Buddha Press, 2021). Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can read his baseball card ramblings at his Junk Wax Jay blog https://junkwaxjay.blogspot.com/
Image Credit: Harris& Ewing “Newspapers Coming Off Press” (1936) Public domain photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress