Wait I Say – a poem by Jessica L. Walsh

Wait I Say

Whole rooms are made for it,
designed to hold fast
what isn’t happening.

Wait on Him, they say.
Wait. They say. On Him.

As though wait is a verb
when we know it is no part of speech.
Wait is verb’s inverse.

Wait I say on what
reward? To what end or ending?

Remember grace? No
one deserves it.
Even the people who do.

All we have as we wait
is hope that wait stops.

.

Jessica L. Walsh is the author of two poetry collections and two chapbooks. Her work has appeared in RHINO, Tinderbox, Connecticut Review, and more. She is a professor at a two-year college outside of Chicago.

Texas Gypsies – a story by Donna Walker-Nixon

Texas Gypsies

Postcutters picked up any roots they might have and moved like Gypsies from one small Central Texas community to whatever came next. BigDaddy, LittleMama, and eight children followed country roads that wilted into the next community BigDaddy wanted to live. They settled into a three-room shack when BigDaddy announced, “This’ll have to do for now,” which meant they’d stay three months or maybe a year until he decided to move on, not enough time for any of the children to pass first grade in more than three years. BigDaddy often hired the family out to chop cedars to the root while he sat in the shade and fanned himself with a dirty old newspaper.

Brother passed first grade in three years, and BigDaddy declared him the smart cookie in the family. He found a full-time job hauling and unloading pipe. “It pays real good,” he said.

BigDaddy claimed to have a 6th Sense. “I just don’t know. When it snows in April, ill will surely follow.” His voice echoed all the misery he ever suffered at the hand of man.

Globes of snow wafted toward the middle ground, but the white-gray crystals melted when they touched the soil. Brother slogged through puddles of sludge. Because they couldn’t afford an ice-box, when he got to the creek, he pulled out a jug of blinky milk, which curdled in his mouth. His work shoe separated at his toes. Most times he stapled the top to the bottom with the secretary’s stapler, but now he had stapled his shoes so many times they pinched his toes. He needed new shoes, but postcutters could not afford them.

***

At the school Easter egg hunt, in my quest for eggs, I transfigured into a cowgirl who bucks her Roy Rogers brown and white plastic rocking horse, while chanting, “Faster, Trigger, faster.”

The bus driver took us back to the two-room country school. The bus rocked from side to side. Nausea, like a calf with scours, scraped my stomach and all my flesh while I counted eggs and tried to count my blessings, one by one. I sat by Sherry, the oldest daughter of the postcutter kids who called her Sister. She was two years older than me and in 4th grade. I pried open the cellophane wrapper of a candy egg and chiseled with my teeth at the rock hard candy with pink yellow, or green hard crusts and the sickening sweet white hard mush inside.

Once we got back to school, Mr. Franks frowned. Even then, I could see black nubs in his gums where he once had teeth. He told the postcutter kids to remain on the bus. I sat next to Sherry who muttered, “What have we done now?”

***

Sister viewed a slow action movie playing over and over and over Brother moving slightly from one scene of his abbreviated work day to the next. Talcum-powder snow nipped his nose and became a quagmire of mud when it hit the ground. He slid across the unpaved parking lot as he walked toward the truck BossMan said they’d take to deliver pipe. BossMan told him and two other boys to sit on the tailgate and steady the load in case it slipped. They headed up a gravel road and across a sagging bridge. BossMan gave Brother the job of sitting in the middle of the tailgate. Brother didn’t mind, said he liked inhaling asphalt and gas since they smelled better than the shack they claimed as home for now.

They’d driven this route before, only a mile, maybe two. BossMan failed to secure the pipes. Brother had joked with Sister, “There ain’t a corner he don’t cut, but BossMan’s got power seeing as he’s a County Commissioner. Wish we had his money. I’d buy DoryAnn an engagement ring fit for a queen.”

The pipes—like fate—shifted. An eighty-six-year-old man who was blind in one eye pulled out from a caliche road into the path of the truck. BossMan put on his brakes, but there was no stopping the middle pipe from shifting downward at an angle in a collision course with the back of Brother’s skull. The pipe sounded like wind chimes celebrating an angel’s voice as she provides sustenance to make it through a dark, weary night.

“We just can’t read the mind of God.” Mr. Franks sucked air through his yellow nubs. His attempt to explain in soothing words what happened to Brother failed. No words could replace the fact that at 11:13 A. M., Sister shivered and then could not shake from her mind Kodak moments of Brother who did not know the pipe lunged toward him. But Sherri viewed every detail as it happened, and Jesus God, she did not want to carry forward that movie scene in her mind until the day she died.

***

Mother brought food. Every woman in the community cobbled together what they thought the family might eat—fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pineapple upside down cake. When they got to the Collins’ shack, one woman asked to put her tomato aspic in the ice-box. “It ruins easily if the Jell-o is not placed in a cool spot.”

“There’s the creek bed. That’s where we place our milk. The rest we eat before it ruins.”

“I see,” the woman said, and scraped her fancy food into a cheap bowl on the table with the fried chicken and the green bean casserole.

Mrs. Collins saw my baby sister Grace hanging onto Mother’s arm and said the child could have some food if she wanted it. “Kids like sweets.” She pointed at a plate only partially clean and a smeared fork.

Grace shook her head no, and Mother sighed in relief. For all the food the women in the community took, time would pass into other elements while we grimly consumed years we stole from God’s other creatures. Mr. Franks had his buddy at Lester’s Used-But-Every-Bit-Still-Working Appliances donate an ice-box to the family, and folks smugly observed, “Mr. Franks knows how to get things done.”

Sherry told me, “We had one at the old place, but it was too heavy to take with us. We start from scratch everywhere we go.”

We drove in a winding caravan of cars, mostly used ones our parents bought somewhere, somehow. We didn’t take time to know those things—just that each family owned a car; the moderately well off had two. We had two because when Uncle Ray died, Mother inherited his DeLuxe Chevrolet that reeked of Camel cigarettes. We might have ridden with her to Chalk Mountain cemetery, or maybe we rode the bus. Details escape me as I try to reinvent that day. It was the Friday before Easter, and we stood on slopes of grass and mud, where the snow had melted and left behind ridges of pecan tree fronds that stained our white Easter shoes.

The funeral home assistant director said he didn’t see the need to bring chairs for people to sit in since he could barely make the coffin stand up when he tried to place it on the uneven, rocky burial site. The married sisters tried to soothe their whimpering babies. They groaned in rhythm to a song I never heard before: precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul. No mention of God, nor Jesus, nor even the Holy Spirit—and in the Church of Christ one of the Trinity had to be celebrated. They moaned and almost fell, consumed in their own way by the rocks and spittled soil.

In the coffin, the once red, blue, and white toboggan had been dyed an insoluble maroon. One mother commented, “We tried to convince the family a closed coffin would be most appropriate, but the father would not have it. He wanted to see his son one last time. These postcutters.”

“It’s hard to let go of those we love,” Mother said.

Like a mother who’s lost her fragile body to birthing fifteen babies, Sherry’s father moved his hand and upper body across Brother’s falsely ruddy cheeks, almost stumbling into the coffin before his daughters caught him.

“Look!! They can’t let go,” someone echoed, but I couldn’t pinpoint who said what in the next few minutes. “Even the married sisters are climbing into the coffin.” I couldn’t see well enough to know whether they were or not.

The mother who brought tomato aspic stood next to me. She scraped her teeth together and smeared her lipstick over red, red lips. She pronounced her judgment, “Postcutters!!!”

***
The sisters who lived in Williamson County held their babies tight to their breasts, whispering words as they comforted the babies and the children who scampered at their feet and played tag around the hem of the coffin lining. To complete their gestures, the married sisters touched the blood saturated toboggan as if their moot actions could bring Brother back into their world. Not able to yet let go of their brother, like creatures who consume the blood and brains of the dead, they fought off each other and appeared to climb into the casket. Blood from the toboggan mingled with the orange pancake makeup. Their hands covered with the mixture of blood and makeup, they seemed to think this was their eternity, a place where Brother pulled blinky milk from the creek bed each morning.

BigDaddy wailed into the pallid earth. With fear and dread of what would happen next, LittleMama reached out to steady the man who had impregnated her fifteen times.

In the rancid shack after he last touched the blood soaked toboggan, he cried out his pain: “Why Brother? BossMan must’ve known the pipes would shift!” BigDaddy reached under his straw mattress and got the gun he never shot. He swore to kill BossMan as his hand gyrated, and he dropped the weapon on the creaky wooden floor. One of the older sisters picked up the gun while another reached under the straw and took the bullets. And again he cursed his foul luck, “It’s always us!! Brother deserved better than he got.”

The sisters wanted more than life to shore up precious memories. They tried to believe in unseen angels who would restore the bittersweet moments of their pasts. To them, though, there were too many home scenes of their separate childhoods to produce fond memories. Too soon, their babies would grow up, never know Brother existed, and harbor only piecemeal images of BigDaddy.

For now, BigDaddy slept fitfully. But at least he slept, and that was enough.

.

Donna Walker-Nixon was a full professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where she received the distinction of receiving the Mary Stevens Piper award for excellence in teaching. She currently serves as an adjunct lecturer at Baylor. She lists her five primary professional achievements as 1) founding Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature in 1997, 2) co-editing the Her Texas series with her friend and mentor James Ward Lee, 3) co-founding The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas 4) publishing her novel Canaan’s Oothoon, and 5) serving as lead editor Her Texas, which has boosted Donna’s faith that the voices of women writers and artists truly mean something to both men and women.

Who is she who comes? – a poem by Mary Mulholland

Who is she who comes?

What is that coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant? (Leviticus 2:1)

i

Salutations
She who is the personification of beauty
She who is all powerful
She with riches beyond compare
She who was summoned by a hoopoe bowing his golden crown
She whose intelligence and wit make her the equal of Solomon
She who came with riddles across deserts in her quest for wisdom
She who brought frankincense, gold, myrrh: in this queen from the south was the trinity of kings
She who acclaimed, sum nigra sed formosa, I am black yet comely
She who worshipped the Sun God Ra
She who was temptress, an enigma, mysterious, miraculously healed
She who was breathless after her encounter, returned home and bore a son
She who is immortalised in the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud
She who is revered by Rastafarians, the Yoruba
She who is referred to as Nicaula, Sibylla, Makeda, if never definitively given a name
She whose kingdom is unknown: Yemen or Egypt, Ethiopia or the land of Punt.
Salutations, O Queen of Sheba!

ii

Others suggest
hers was a trade mission
the Song of Songs is a celebration of life, the making of poetry
she’s a muse, from Della Francesco to Duncan Grant, to the stuff of Holywood
she can be merged with the Sibyl Sabba, Lilith, may be Hecate’s daughter
she’s linked to grandmother’s footsteps, that game of old witch
she is black yet shown with golden hair
it’s unlikely anyone would answer the summons of a bird
Solomon’s floor mirrored her hairy legs and cloven foot creating a parallel with Queen Berthe’s leg or even Cinderella who was proven by a foot
she’s no more real than Lady Macbeth, who cried out that not all the perfumes of Arabia could sweeten her bloodied hands
there’s even doubt as to why her empire has not been categorically located
Salutations, salaam, Sheba, Queen of Sheba

.
Mary Mulholland came to poetry after careers in journalism and psychotherapy. She has a Poetry MA from Newcastle and has been published in magazines and anthologies. She won the US Momaya prize in 2019, and has been commended and shortlisted in several national competitions. She co-edits The Alchemy Spoon.
www.marymulholland.co.uk

Heterochromatic – a poem by Sanjeev Sethi

Heterochromatic

Hard-heartedness
is a malediction.
Let us locate the lens
to grief that has no lexicon.
No legs to stand.
Nobody to lean on:
a wail no one catches.

To cloak behind
hauteur of ratings
is a way to camouflage failings.
Let’s be on the frontline.
Let our wares be marked
by myriad forces
for their true color to flash.

.

Sanjeev Sethi is published in over 30 countries. He has more than 1300 poems printed or posted in literary venues. He is joint-winner of Full Fat Collection Competition-Deux organized by the Hedgehog Poetry Press. Recent credits: Gold Dust Magazine, The Poetry Shed, Flashes of Brilliance, Rochford Street Review, Pomona Valley Review, Ephemeral Elegies,and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.

If the Early Days of Our Relationship were The Holy Trinity – a poem by Jack Houston

If the Early Days of Our Relationship were The Holy Trinity

Jesus Christ would have to be the sex, wouldn’t He?
The attraction that crept over the both of us, fitting
us into each other, making us see somehow & spookily
what we’d be for each other, I’ve got as The Holy Spirit.
God? God’s sat in the heaven we hadn’t yet guessed
we were designing: the flat in which we’d live
with stickle-bricks & jigsaw pieces increasing over
the floor, corresponding twinkles still spooled
in our eyeballs; the framed memories up on the walls;
the British Heart Foundation Furniture Shop sofa
I’d one day swear would never fit in the lift.
But the substantive body nailed to the cross?
That has to be effort we put in each & every time –
whilst occasionally proclaiming His good name.

.

Jack Houston is a writer from London. His work has been shortlisted for the Basil Bunting and Keats-Shelley prizes, the Live Cannon Pamphlet competition and was runner-up in the 2017 Poetry London Competition. His online lockdown poetry workshop with Hackney Libraries can be joined by emailing jack.houston@hackney.gov.uk

I Spoke Into Heaven – a poem by Margaret Marcum

I Spoke Into Heaven

and a message was delivered. Becoming a part
of the clouds, the pale winds which
make the sky. A parting of seagulls,
white plumes

the plainest song ever sung—
prophetic diamond essence of coal.

Then I heard a vibration deep in return,
euphoria forming from the Earth—brilliant shards of
words and numbers strung together like blueprints
of constellations. A pattern of agreement, of purpose between,
among, and beyond moving, dwelling
in the essence of motion, in the fourfold of the world.

The rest was near to come and the work
began to get done—co-creator of carpentry. You gave
us a voice of wood to design and care for.

And finally, when the sun and moon came down to rest,
the four sources came to complete— we sat down to eat
our last before an answer, low and old:

a bird, made from air and light, come
to save us with one feather
soaring down upon the sunset of Creation.

.

Margaret Marcum is currently a student in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. She graduated with a B.A. and her literary interests include animal rights, healing the collective through personal narrative, vegan studies, and ecofeminism. Her poems previously appeared in Literary Veganism and Children, Churches, and Daddies. 

Discontinuity/ At infinity – a poem by Marian Christie

Discontinuity/ At infinity

When I first learned about asymptotes, I puzzled:
what happens to the graph at infinity?
For there’s no dividing by zero in life,
no abrupt switch from positive almost-infinity
to re-emerge at negative almost-infinity.
Later, I stopped wondering.
I trusted the mathematics
without letting thoughts of life intrude.

But now, in this time of lockdown, I know
what it’s like to be at infinity,
this odd indeterminate state
where all that we hear is birdsong
where the skies are so clear, we can see
the secrets of the universe
where the only touch I feel
is the air on my skin

and who knows
when we re-emerge
at what point on the graph we will be?

.

Marian Christie was born in Zimbabwe and has lived in Africa, Europe and the Middle East before settling in her current home in southeast England. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Allegro Poetry,Amethyst Review, The Beach Hut, Black Bough Poetry and The Ekphrastic Review, and in the anthologies The Stony Thursday Book 2018 and The Bridges 2020 Poetry Anthology.

When not writing or reading poetry, she looks at the stars, puzzles over the laws of physics, listens to birdsong and crochets gifts for her grandchildren. She blogs at www.marianchristiepoetry.net and can be found on Twitter: https://twitter.com/marian_v_o.

 

 

Bonfire Travelers – a poem by Lynn Finger

Bonfire Travelers

We camp in the Santa Catalinas,
saturation of sage, mesquite, mackerel
sky, wind threaded bird song.
We’re office warriors, but quarantine
sends us out. We set up a twisted tent

that leans in the tough ground. Darkness
layers, we build a fire. We decide to make
mulligan stew. We take an empty coffee
can, fill it with raw burger, carrots
& potatoes. Put it right in the bonfire.

It’s a haiku: the tent, the flames,
the shawl of stars. We hold hands
& wait hungry. Finally, we pull the can
straight from embers with tongs,
pour it out onto plates. It’s juice-stained

& raw. What does it mean we can’t
turn fire to cook meat, no matter
how hot the embers? We toss it.
It’s the connection
to the flame that makes it right,

not what comes out. We trust the
fire still. We make smores: chocolate,
marshmallow & graham crackers,
crackling on sticks, like fishermen,
or women, a good supper under the pines.

We burrow into lumpy sleeping bags,
our minds awakened to the distant stars.
“We can’t cook, can we?” you say.
“What does it matter?” I say.
“The stars are here, & they love us.”

.

Lynn Finger’s work has appeared in the Ekphrastic Review, MineralLitMag, Night Music Journal, Journal of Compressed Arts, and is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, Feral, and Tiny Seed. Lynn also works with a group that mentors writers in prison.

Heavenly Scene Backdrop Banner – $10.37 – a poem by Megan McDermott

Heavenly Scene Backdrop Banner – $10.37

Clouds, beams of light:
the classics.

I’ve sometimes been afraid
of heaven, and this is
the heaven of my fear –
an eternity encapsulated
in something unnatural,
static and devoid
of heart.

Who wants to live in the air?

Still, the Bible has a few
other images – cities
and banquets and rivers,
things I’ve known,
things that feel human.
But that doesn’t dilute
the fear of forever.

Any image is still a grasping
at something my hands have never held.

.

Megan McDermott is a poet and Episcopal priest living in Western Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Susquehanna University. Her poetry has been published in various publications, including The Christian Century, The Cresset, Psaltery & Lyre, Amethyst Review, Rogue Agent Journal, Gyroscope Review, and Saint Katherine Review.

The Potter’s Wheel – a poem by Lynne D. Soulagnet

The Potter’s Wheel

Creation starts slowly.
Palms surround the amorphous form,
begin molding as the wheel turns
spinning clay, soft and damp.
Each turn transforming matter,
this pliable earthy mass.
As if by magic, slight-of-hand,
when fingers press in, a vase appears.
A mere touch and a lip is added,
the vase becomes a pitcher.
Thumbs brought in pushing out,
a bowl comes into existence.
The evidence of things unseen,
something made from nothing.
Or was it there all along
waiting for the master’s hands?

.

Lynne D. Soulagnet was born on Long Island and grew up in Dix Hills where she worked for many years as a nurse tending to people in all stages of life. She will never forget the influence her wonderful English teachers had on her, giving her the lasting gift of a love for poetry which has followed her all her life. She has been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Paumanok: Interwoven, The Avocet, Better Than Starbucks, The Paterson Review, Blue Collar Review, Months to Years and others. She remains active in many poetry venues in New York.