this poem was written for john dorsey in the el bronco bar, richmond indiana
chill as fuck
across gossamer ohio
through endless western sunset
babe, I'm sorry it was you
cancer took to the prom
when friends hear you're together
they freeze in existential headlights
brother, I'm sorry that grief
doles out shitty drunk lap dances
no care if those duckets
ever roost in a g string
john, I promise fried chicken
and all world shaking doom allows
in less time than a waffle house day
I'll be on the horn to gus's
soon as I kill the engine
in the sky high pie parking lot
maplewood is an armadillo away
over dinner the other night
I said magic and loss
I say it often, in and out of context
a friend replied, with enough time served
magic doesn't hold sway over
the ocean of loss we worship at now
I can't say I disagree
except the waitress who calls
me amigo like I've never left
just delivered a grande margarita
in the hum of three hundred easy miles
and the shine of tequila
I won't want to buy a camper
but I have the receipt for short walk
in lights between speedway and meijer
lights that stretch from here
as far as midwest wherever
you know I'll be there soon
About the Author: Jason Baldinger is a poet and photographer from Pittsburgh, PA. He’s penned fifteen books of poetry the newest of which include: A History of Backroads Misplaced: Selected Poems 2010- 2020 (Kung Fu Treachery), and This Still Life (Kung Fu Treachery) with James Benger. His first book of photography, Lazarus, as well as two ekphrastic collaborations (with Rebecca Schumejda and Robert Dean) are forthcoming. His work has appeared across a wide variety of online sites and print journals. You can hear him from various books on Bandcamp and on lps by The Gotobeds and Theremonster. His etsy shop can be found under the tag la belle riviere.
Image Credit: John Margolies: “Package liquor store, Cheyenne, Wyoming” (2004) Public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress
I like to get going, then just go…It’s easy in the morning because sunlight’s in every window, curtains open…Who needs curtains if you have no shame…Wake before sunlight, there are lamps everywhere…Anyone will tell you the light’s not the same…Light’s better in the summer…Duh, but true…Summer means no sweaters even for an ice queen…Scarves are year round…I walk the same summer route every day, but the view changes…Sidewalk people look scared or studious…Leash dogs look happier than their walkers, especially in the park…Squirrels were created for distractions…In my park there’s a hollow tree children whisper into when lost…I was often lost as a child…People forgot me…Once I was left at a zoo…I stared at a lion all day…I still can’t roar…I can draw a map, but can’t read one…I have no sense of direction…If it wasn’t for gravity I might chase a balloon…Flying might be fun on heavy traffic days…Also, I like watching television through other people’s windows…Everyone loves trash on television, even when they hold their noses…Trash is an equalizer…The same on any boulevard, in any zip code…Some people travel to prevent boredom…Nothing bores if you don’t care about neighbors…Your mother might say some scolding things…If you turn your back she’s in another room…Close your eyes and spin around on Dorothy days…If it can be wished true in Kansas, those wishes work anywhere…
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.
Image Credit: Digitally enhanced public domain image of Judy Garland
Occasionally – very occasionally – a relative or acquaintance will look up long enough from their phones to ask what a chapbook or a prose poem is. Their unfamiliarity with the terms suggests the general irrelevance of my writing to even people I’m related to. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and it isn’t to me, but it is dispiriting.
According to my research (OK, Wikipedia), the tradition of chapbooks arose in the 16th century, as soon as printed books became affordable, and reached its height during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Many different kinds of ephemera and popular literature were published as chapbooks: almanacs, folk tales, ballads, nursery rhymes, poetry, and political and religious tracts. Usually between four and twenty-four pages long, and produced on rough paper with crude woodcut illustrations, chapbooks were the reading material of the poorer classes. “Twenty-volume folios will never make a revolution,” Voltaire said. “It’s the little pocket pamphlets that are to be feared.
The term “chapbook” for this type of cheap literature was coined in the 19th century and is still in use today for short, inexpensive booklets. I’ve had something more than 40 chapbooks of poetry published since the early 2000s. It’s very much like me to succeed in an area of publishing that most people have never heard of.
Eating Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken with Larry Gawel
this is life how it’s supposed to be
larry with a long dangling mop of silver hair
just off the highway
resting his arm
on a rainy friday afternoon
talking about alaska denver
spain & tokyo
& this garage has never felt so small
a leaky freighter
of all the things i’ll never do now
as hummingbirds wait out the weather
by my window
we run into town for stamps & chocolate ice cream
my friend brian felster’s life
began & ended on a boat in alaska in 1982
before he died at 48 surrounded by love
richard hugo laughed by a stream with buddha
on a deserted montana hiking path
in the middle of the afternoon
larry’s glasses are drenched in rain
as we come in from outside
he is a springsteen song
always born to run
& he will never die
or run out of chicken.
About the Author: John Dorsey is the former poet laureate of Belle, Missouri and the author of Pocatello Wildflower. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Image Credit: John Margolies “Chicken cowboy billboard, Elko, Nevada” (1991) Public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress
I used to be afraid in other ways.
When one fear comes another goes away,
I should count myself lucky in that way.
My fear of apes at night just fell away
when I saw a snake put a rat away.
Those fanged apes were dream creatures anyway.
The snake coiled and crushing. Death underway.
Those sounds. The hissing. A shriek. They outweigh
sleep's imagined deaths. They won't fade away
at dawn. Experience smooths night's highway.
Like rockets, fears race down the straight-away.
Then they take my head for their hideaway.
I used to be afraid in other ways.
But then I saw the black snake's weave and sway.
About the Author: Paul Jones poems have recently appeared in Hudson Review, Grand Little Things, Tar River Poetry, and not so long ago here in As It Ought To Be. His book, Something Wonderful, came from RedHawk Publications in 2021. In 2019, a manuscript of his poems crashed into the lunar surface carried in Israel’s Beresheet Lander. In 2021, he was inducted into the NC State Computer Science Hall of Fame.
Image Credit: Image originally published in Descriptiones et icones amphibiorum. Monachii, Stuttgartiae et Tubingae, Sumtibus J.G. Cottae1833. Public domain image courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library
A Lightness of Feathers
Who among us hasn't broken a collarbone falling
out of a tree after we climbed into a bird's nest
and pretended to be an egg? The ghost of omelets
gone wrong. Something with feathers condemned
to a passing glance. A side table. Somewhere dust
calls home. I’ll rebuild my life with doilies
and photos of surgeries I’d like to have. Did I mention
so-and-so died after a lifetime of regret and forced
choices? Never forget your name is on someone’s
Do Not Love Again list. No matter how you measure
it, you’ll never have what you’ve lost again. Another
name for insouciance. At least you’re not the kind
of bird that kicks the other eggs out of the nest
when you settle in. It’s the small victories keep
us going and coming. That’s how they get you.
I don’t even know what kind of tree it was.
About the Author: Raised on a rice and catfish farm in eastern Arkansas, CL Bledsoe is the author of more than thirty books, including the poetry collections Riceland, The Bottle Episode, and his newest, Having a Baby to Save a Marriage, as well as his latest novels Goodbye, Mr. Lonely and The Saviors. Bledsoe lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.
Image Credit: Public domain image originally published in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, London : Academic Press. Image courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library
After Wayne Shorter
Your fierce tone
Moved in silent ways,
Ambient jazz soldier,
Your ghost hangs
Like a long held note,
Like some slow breath
Over me tonight,
As I spin your
As your carefully
Etch out a small
Piece of sky
Where you sit,
About the Author: Ted Jackins is a poet and musician living in a small town in North Carolina with his wife and 17 year old cat. They’re work has previously appeared in Red Fez, Zygote In My Coffee, Blotterature, Citizens For Decent Literature, Black Out Zine, and Outlaw Poetry. He is the author of the chapbook Psych Ward Blues (Alien Buddha Press).
Image Credit: Digitally altered public domain image of a saxophone, courtesy of Wikimedia.
Lilly Works The Late Shift
at the VA hospital as a janitor
what they call housekeeping
in the hospice wing with veterans
who cannot afford to die anywhere else.
She went to a two-year college
to become a baker and a chef
but the degree was useless.
At her first job the other chef
chewed oxycodone pills
and had an 8th grade education.
Now she touches the shoulder
of a nurse from the Vietnam era
with ovarian cancer.
They talk about the Pirates
who are as terrible as ever
after a couple decent seasons.
Lilly says “It’s the owners.
They won’t pay for a pitcher”
and the woman says
“I always thought I’d live
to see the Pirates
make another World Series”
and Lilly says “You may”
and the woman says
“The doctor said six weeks
not one hundred years”
and they both laugh but small
tiny slivers of ice
to help cool death.
Most of the soldiers she cleans for
never saw any combat
or even speak of their service.
It surprised Lilly but not anymore.
Now she puts on her gloves
and finishes the trash
then takes off her plastic gloves
and says “Good night”
and the woman says “Good night”
because it is, somehow.
Lilly loves her work, loves hospice.
She never thought she could love death
but maybe she does
because someone should.
She knows when each person will die
because she breathes their smells
and hears the rasps in their lungs.
She puts more hours in the wing
than any doctor
any surgeon or shrink.
She knows the names of the patients’ kids.
She knows the names of their grandkids.
She brings Hershey’s Kiss and for the ones
who can’t have chocolate
she says “You get a real one”
and places her lips on their foreheads.
After Lilly punches out, she drives home
to her small house in Penn Hills
where she lives with:
who lost his job
who lost his job
when he slid
on wet shingles
who lays cable
and is going
not to be bitter.
The men in her life are warm rocks:
they know how to love but seldom speak.
Lilly doesn’t mind:
she talks all day and is happy for the silence.
She will nudge her husband
until he starts to look for a job again.
The settlement will arrive
and the doctors will fix her son’s back.
Her brother will quit swearing into flowers
and find romance.
She thinks she should get some food
maybe a pizza and a salad
because the men do not cook
or do not cook well
but she is too tired to stop
and is fine with eating cereal or some nuts.
From the driveway the house
is darker than the night but that’s January.
The men have either turned in early
or moved to the basement to watch sports.
When she steps into the house
and flips the living room light switch
the men appear from the darkness
in party hats
because it is her half birthday
something she did not even know.
Her son hands her a glass of wine.
Her husband gumbands a hat to her head.
Her brother tells her to make a wish
and holds out a cake burning with candles.
She blows out the fire
then everyone sings
“For she’s a jolly good fella”
and they take her in their arms
and she is so happy
to be with those who love her
in the most unexpected ways.
On the dining room table sits
5 bottles of wine
and what appears to be
a plate of burnt grilled cheeses.
About the Author: Dave Newman is the author of seven books, including the novel East Pittsburgh Downlow (J.New Books, 2019) and The Same Dead Songs: a memoir of working-class addictions (J.New Books, 2023). He lives in Trafford, PA, the last town in the Electric Valley, with his wife, the writer Lori Jakiela, and their two children. He spent the last decade working in medical research at the VA in Pittsburgh and currently teaches writing.
Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “Hospital operating or image examination room” Public domain image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Cancer Song #9
your first mri
you have to be pulled out 3 times
hardly able to breathe
now they place a towel over your face
& offer you a warm blanket
& some easy listening music
piped into your headphones
& it almost feels like you’re on vacation
& you dream about staying in there forever
safe from the outside world
somewhere cancer & time can’t follow you
& you think about squeezing a button
& ordering a cold drink
& asking about the inflight movie.
About the Author: John Dorsey is the former poet laureate of Belle, Missouri and the author of Pocatello Wildflower. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Ledge
Minny reaches her arm out
the open window, sets
a glass of water next to me.
Head stretched as far into the air
as possible, she speaks but
never says, Come back in,
only talks about my kids, my cat,
how the blues and grays of my rug
swirl together like glass
in a kaleidoscope,
asks me what I use to clean it.
She piles one small word
upon another on that ledge,
dissolves the ugly
that pushed me out here.
Jimmy bends to slip
through the open window,
eyes wide, breath held
until he sits next to me,
What now, he whispers,
reaches for my hand,
waits for my answer.
Silence wraps the air
around us like a sweater.
He squeezes my hand,
looks at me, waits,
sweaty palm holding tight,
for a minute, an hour, a day
until I decide.
About the Author: Robin Wright lives in Southern Indiana. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in As It Ought To Be, Loch Raven Review, One Art, Young Ravens Literary Review, Spank the Carp, The New Verse News, Bombfire Lit, Rat’s Ass Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Sanctuary, and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her first chapbook, Ready or Not, was published by Finishing Line Press in October of 2020.
Image Credit:Jacek Malczewski “Sketch of a Woman in the Window” Public domain image courtesy of Artvee.