In proper time
Outline the shape
Of human monsters
So as to leave no distinct traces
Leave vacancies in the body
Separate the soft parts
As a dog does
To tinge its teeth with blood
We hold a festival
For our conversion
The nature of drift
Of the wind, the tongue
At which my voice may be heard
In the form of a labyrinth
Names of things
Turned to stone
A pilgrim pursuing
In the binding of a lamb
To the taker’s use
Nourishes or rears
About the Author: Alexander Perez began writing and publishing poetry in 2022 at age forty-eight. He has a chapbook coming out and hopes to publish a full collection soon. Alexander is an Albany, NY native and currently lives with his longtime partner James. Come visit him for more poetry: perezpoetrystudio.com.
Image Credit: Edvard Munch “The Sun” (1910-1912) Public domain image courtesy of Artvee
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
About the Author: Rocío Iglesias is a queer Cuban-American poet. Her work has appeared in various print and electronic publications and can most recently be found in Brave Voices Magazine and the Piker Press. She lives, breathes, and works in Minneapolis, MN.
The moon’s blank tambourine
amplifies the drizzle’s guitar—
fragile droplets bruised become
sunlit wires of rain. The rising
world finds ruined fountains,
broken stonework converted
to carry running streams.
The wounded sleep to dream
again, when the day’s pain
assembles then disbands.
Loss stretches forward
to its instruments, unpacks
the stars, unravels the tide.
Morning pools the night.
About the Author: Yvonne Morris lives and works in a small town in Kentucky. Her most recent chapbook is Busy Being Eve (Bass Clef Books, 2022). Her work has appeared in The Galway Review, The Santa Clara Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, The Wild Roof Journal,The Write Launch, and elsewhere.
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 email@example.com
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.
The Pope Coffin
I do not know whether dad
believed in heaven.
He had a sense for the sacred.
Sometimes all you see is the fruit;
the root remains secret.
My father never discussed death,
except to say he wanted a coffin
like Pope John Paul II: clear
lines, no frivolous embellishments –
an architect’s choice.
The minister spoke about the city-to-come,
solemn and hopeful, consoling
without the saccharine promises
dad would have hated. One must leave
space for uncertainty.
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, The Eden of Perhaps, and A Coracle for Dreams, all published by Spartan Press. Most recently, she has been collaborating with eight other poets on the book Wild Muse: Ozarks Nature Poetry (Cornerpost Press, 2022.) Her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines; you can read some of them on her website agnesvojta.com.
About the Author: A past winner of the Jim Harrison Award for contributions to baseball literature, Tim Peeler has also twice been a Casey Award Finalist (baseball book of the year) and a finalist for the SIBA Award. He lives with his wife, Penny in Hickory, North Carolina, where he directs the academic assistance programs at Catawba Valley Community College. He has published close to a thousand poems, stories, essays, and reviews in magazines, journals, and anthologies and has written sixteen books and three chapbooks. He has five books in the permanent collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, NY. His recent books include Rough Beast, an Appalachian verse novel about a southern gangster named Larry Ledbetter, Henry River: An American Ruin, poems about an abandoned mill town and film site for The Hunger Games, and Wild in the Strike Zone: Baseball Poems, his third volume of baseball-related poems.
Image Credit: John Collier Jr, “Childersburg, Alabama. Rooms for rent” (1942) Public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress
she was a piece of us like a nose
feeling with her tongue for little bones,
if it was fish
mami's skin mingles with the drooping gown
a teta is not a breast
not even a teat
there’s a white gazebo
and the seesaw,
but we’ve come to fish,
we passed his books
brooding in the dark
the bed was empty
if I had touched him or
called to him,
he would have listened to me
and not be dead
like the moon except that
it is almost square
About the Author: Marlena Maduro Baraf’s stories and poems have been published in Sweet Lit, the Ekphrastic Review, On the Seawall, Night Heron Barks, Poets Reading the News, and elsewhere. She immigrated to the United States from her native Panama and is author of the memoir At the Narrow Waist of the World and co-author of Three Poets/Tres Poetas. She writes the blog, Breathing in Spanish, that features conversations with Latinos from all walks of life.
Image Credit:Ángel Zárraga “Basket of Plenty” (1922) Public Domain image courtesy of Artvee.
Francisco Goya's The Disasters of War: This Is the Worst
My dead stand with me before Goya’s piece,
where a wolf conspires with priests to write down
orders for the poor, suffering behind
them. The poor here starve. They beg. They freeze.
The poor are not forgotten, and that’s the trouble
with people who put on frocks and play
at sanctity. It’s the trouble with the way
wolves wait and watch their desperate struggle.
But my dead whisper to me that he’s wrong.
The trouble is also that we think beasts
walk among us, but they’re ordinary
men who have discovered that if you’re strong,
you can have your way with the weak.
We have to tamp down our own cruelty.
About the Author: John Brantingham was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines. He has nineteen books of poetry and fiction includinghis latest, Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press) and Kitkitdizzi (Bamboo Dart Press). He lives in Jamestown, New York.
Image Credit: Francisco Goya, “Esto es lo peor! (This is the worst!)” Public Domain