George Freek: “Night Conversations”

NIGHT CONVERSATIONS (After Mei Yao Chen)

I watch a chilly night arrive.
Leaves die on the trees,
unable to survive.
Will I be afraid when
it’s my turn to die?
I tell myself words 
that are probably lies.
Clouds solid as mountains
disappear from the sky.
Death is as mysterious
as is life to me.
I talk to my cat. He’s
concerned with a worm.
He’s incredibly wise.
He pays no attention
when I tell him my lies.

About the Author: George Freek’s poetry has appeared in numerous Journals and Reviews. His poem “Written At Blue Lake” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Image Credit: Alfred William Finch An August’s Night (1898) Image courtesy of Artvee

Leslie M. Rupracht: “The Night I Lost My Souvenir Bucket Hat”

The Night I Lost My Souvenir Bucket Hat 
	
  —Exhibition Game, August 8, 1977 
      MacArthur Stadium, Syracuse, New York
 
We three—
Dad, little brother, and nine-year-old me—
watched from the low-rise, general admission bleachers 
beside right field, a long walk to the concession stand 
and nowhere convenient to shelter from the rain, and 
it did rain that night we visited the ball park to see 
the New York Yankees rival their Triple-A farm club 
Syracuse Chiefs, who, after three innings, were ahead 
on the scoreboard before the rain delay, when Dad said 

the Yanks were letting the Chiefs win, rotating 
bench players while big name starters schmoozed 
at the fence-line, and luckily, that fence was close to 
us fans who sat in nowhere-land just to see our sports 
heroes because, let’s face it, we were there for 
the Major Leaguers anyway, our pounding pulses, 
giddy chatter, and broad grins underscoring delight in 
sort of meeting our favorite soon-to-be 
World Series Champs—

star hitter and right fielder Reggie Jackson, shortstop 
Bucky Dent, second baseman Willie Randolph, pitcher 
Ron Guidry, catcher Thurman Munson, among them—
signing autographs for more seasoned fans with 
the foresight to bring baseballs and ballpoints as 
we stood a mere Louisville Slugger’s length behind 
them, our eyes wide and jaws on the gravel, until 
the rain finally tapered off, antsy fans grew louder, 
and the umpire again declared,

Play ball! and when the ninth inning had barely ended—
the Chiefs having proudly trounced the Yanks 14-5—
our soggy trio mad-dashed through the crowd, Dad’s firm
hands guiding us kids by our shoulders to the restrooms 
for a pit stop, then onward to our trusty royal blue Ford 
van in the crowded parking lot, where I realized I’d lost 
my oft-worn, multi-colored Long Island Game Farm hat, 
too late to buy a Yankees ball cap and keepsake pen,
ask Mr. October to sign the not-yet-broken-in rim. 

About the Author: Leslie M. Rupracht has poems appearing or forthcoming in Aeolian Harp, Asheville Poetry Review, As It Ought To Be Magazine, Chiron Review, K’in, The Ekphrastic Review, Gargoyle, Anti-Heroin Chic, Kakalak, a chapbook, Splintered Memories (Main Street Rag), and elsewhere. Editor, poet, writer, visual artist, and rescued pit bull mama, Leslie cofounded and hosts the monthly reading series, Waterbean Poetry Night at the Mic, in Huntersville, NC (on Facebook/Instagram @WaterbeanPoetryNightattheMic).

Image Credit: Russell Lee “Night baseball, Marshall, Texas” (1939) Public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Cord Moreski: “Casual Friday”

Casual Friday


When the evening arrives
John next door goes by 
the name Lady Flamingo 

and puts away the expensive suit 
for a dress with sequins and feathers

hides his neatly combed hair 
beneath curls of a pink wig 

and trades in the quietness of his dress shoes 
for the authority of eight-inch heels

he works business in the city by day 
until business becomes hers by night.

This morning I hold the entrance door 
for him while we both leave for work 

sporting another Brooks Brothers suit 
he tells me it’s Casual Friday 
as he points to the pink flamingo on his tie.

About the Author: Cord Moreski is a poet from the Jersey Shore. Moreski is the author of Confined Spaces (Two Key Customs, 2022), The News Around Town (Maverick Duck Press, 2020), and Shaking Hands with Time (Indigent Press, 2018). When he is not writing, Cord waits tables for a living and teaches middle school children that poetry is awesome. His next chapbook Apartment Poems will be released by Between Shadows Press in late 2022. You can follow Cord here: www.cordmoreski.com

Image Credit: Chase Dimock “LA Flamingo” (2021)

Mike James: “Howie Good’s Path of Most Resistance: An Appreciation”

  

Howie Good’s Path of Most Resistance:

An Appreciation

By Mike James

“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.

For more of Howie Good’s poetry on AIOTB Magazine, check out our archives.

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.) 

Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Desert Bloom” (2022)

Meg Pokrass: “On My Road”

On My Road

You shuddered and I shuddered and I smiled because of gravity. I moved you with my hands, and then we went to the movies. Full-screen, popcorn, real butter. You say we’ve sinned and our faces have dropped. I laugh and tell you I’ll pick your face up for you. You say you gave up women for an old yellow dog and magazines and a bad lower back. I say I wear a plastic-certainty mask when I greet the young pharmacist who knows my driver’s-license name. Your handwriting was here on my table last week. I’m not giving up on this.

About the Author: Meg Pokrass is the author of 8 collections of flash fiction.

Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Unfolding Succulent” (2022)

Ken Hines: “Expiration Date”

Expiration Date 

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 AIOTBVita Poetica, Ekphrastic ReviewPsaltery & Lyre and other magazines. His poem “Driving Test” won the Third Wednesday Journal Annual Poetry Prize. All this scribbling takes place in Richmond, Virginia.

Image Credit: Reijer Stolk “Anatomical study of the neck, arm and leg muscles of a man” Public Domain image courtesy of Artvee

Rose Mary Boehm: “Sirocco”

Sirocco 

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)

A Review of Sundown At The Redneck Carnival By John Dorsey

Chase Dimock Reviews

Sundown at the Redneck Carnival

By John Dorsey

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:

my brother
angry
red faced
screaming
& beautiful.

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
&aging dreamers
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”:

$10 here
$5 there
for a twirl
at the baton
of immortality

sometimes there
is nothing uglier
than
hope.

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”:

david
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.

.

Sundown at the Redneck Carnival is available via Spartan Press

About the Reviewer: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. His debut book of poetry, Sentinel Species, was published in 2020.

Matt Dennison: “Real”

Real

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