Niche – a rondel by Dennis Daly

Niche


I walk my dog on broken path
That crumbles into ocean tides.
High voltage lines above divides
The world below from aftermath.

The rain drives down. The storm hath
Blitzed. My intentions it derides.
I walk my dog on broken path.

If one still doubts, he checks the math
Or knows the way that God provides.
Apart I step, still mud abides,
Past woodsy niche I face that wrath.
I walk my dog on broken path.

Dennis Daly has previously published seven books of poetry. He writes reviews regularly for the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene, the Somerville Times, and Wilderness House Literary Review, and on occasion for Ibbetson Street, the Notre Dame Review and Boston College’s Religion and the Arts. Please visit his blog at dennisfdaly.blogspot.com.

Working from Home (La Dolce Vita) – a poem by Paul Stephenson

Working from Home (La Dolce Vita)


Monday morning, and I’m meant to be working, but how can I,
what with the men and their machines digging up the street below?
I’ve tried white noise, but my ears get hot. I’ve tried ocean waves 
crashing against the shore, downpours in tropical rainforests.

I was livid when they showed up. We’re all working from home you know!
The pavement opposite is newly cobbled and looking beautiful.
I felt proud of them. Then last week, nothing – not a man, not a van, 
not a pneumatic drill. Had they achieved too much too quickly?

They’re back today. And the gas people have got the slabs up.
I just watched a man fix a chain around the neck of an old
parking meter, then stand back as his mate in the Caterpillar
ripped it from the road, hoisting it into the air, holding it up high

like the statue of Jesus with outspread arms, carried by helicopter
over the rooftops of Rome in the opening scene from Fellini.

Paul Stephenson has three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop, 2015), The Days that Followed Paris(HappenStance, 2016) and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017). He co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and currently lives between Cambridge and Brussels.

Expectations – a poem by M.J. Iuppa

Expectations
           — after Clock with Blue Wing, 1949 Marc Chagall
 
A woman, with a wide-eyed stare, stands in night’s
    open doorway, watching the sparks of fireflies rise
above the village’s clay roofs into the skies of Scorpius.
 
She looks and looks and looks, with her arms holding
     herself still in the intimate hour of ten past ten, imagining
stolen kisses that once were hers, long ago, in the shadows
 
of the intricate clock whose precise works didn’t chime
     its warning, like the morning’s rooster or the fleeting black-
bird’s dark wing passing overhead like a sleight of hand . . .
 
So warm that night, she can still smell the perfume of roses
    and hear the yelp of hunting dogs running in hedgerows.
She thinks of Artemis who, like her, never married, but
 
was one to live alone among snow-covered mountains.
   She learned all this the hard way—to understand the price
of happiness.  Or, was it what the itinerant man told her
                                                                      
that summer night?  To carry something unknown to
  someone who would accept it in good faith, like her
broken clock, keeping the intimate hour of ten past ten.
 

M.J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 33 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

Mammina Proves the Existence of God – a poem by Mary Ford Neal

Mammina proves the existence of God

The day is on its hands and knees. Mammina basks
on the balcony in great-grandmother dignity,
in all the quiet of a woman who has outlived her daughter, 
collarbones glistening, little cross flashing pink 
and gold among rivulets of August evening sweat 
as the sun finally loses its grip and goes down fighting, 
painting the duomo in eyeshadow colours. 
The whole horizon is made of churches.

An ambulance squeals along an unseen street, 
not the smooth wail of the ambulances back home, 
but a desperate, discombobulated sound like the cry 
of a confused animal. Mammina makes the sign of the cross, 
lets loose a fast prayer. Her words are a string 
of small, round beads, tumbling one after the other.

How can you be so sure anyone is listening? I ask 
in her bubbling tongue. My head is dusky with 
the sweetness the city gives off at the height of summer, 
and with all my days and nights at university. 

Mammina opens one eye, closes it, smiles back in her chair,
takes a fat medjool date between leathery thumb and 
forefinger, squeezes it lightly, and says,
This perfect thing does not exist by accident. 


Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic living and working in the West of Scotland. Her poetry is widely published/forthcoming in magazines including Long Poem Magazine, Atrium, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Madrigal, Capsule Stories, and Marble. Her debut collection ‘Dawning’ was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in August 2021. Mary is assistant editor of Nine Pens Press and ‘192’ Magazine.

Linktree: https://linktr.ee/maryfordneal

‘Dawning’: https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/mary-ford-neal/4595319360

At Bedtime – a poem by Jan Seagrave

At Bedtime


we are reading
about the boy
who held his finger in a dike
keeping the ocean at bay 
Rescued and back home 
he kneeled to say his prayers

             What are prayers

             my little girl asks
I swallow doubt and sigh
It's when you talk with God
tell what you need
listen for answers
say thank you
             Oh she says   then silence
             She'd heard that word before
             adults swearing 
             Oh my God

The Dutch boy in the tale
felt the water's heavy mystery
saw the odds against him
grow like the sea-wall crack
but he kept plugging the leak
He knew he needed others
to miss him
to find him
to shore up the dike
He knew who to thank

Waiting for help or ruin
did the boy whisper a plea
and listen in silence
             Quiet for now   does my girl 
             feel the current of the night
             hear the rush of salt water
             under her skin

Jan Seagrave has been a writer for universities, a storyteller, and a librarian. Her work appears or is forthcoming in San Pedro River Review;Gyroscope ReviewEunoia ReviewReverberations II, ed. Pendergast; Marin Poetry Center Anthology 2016, 2017, 2021; Redwood Writers Poetry Anthology 2018-2021; Amore: Love Poems, ed. Tucker, 2016.

The Psalmody of Trees – a poem by Philip C. Kolin

The Psalmody of Trees


We belong to each other.
My name inscribed in cursive
on your ruddy skin, your leaves falling,
shawling me in glorious greenery.

What I reflect on you have already seen.
Your limbs limn sacred texts pulled from
bounty's breezes. Your rustles echo heaven's
drum snares and whispering strings. 

Together we sing in the same choir of air
savoring the long syllables of summertide.
But what a paradox we are, the soil
holding us even as we reach for the clouds.

Philip Kolin is the Distinguished Professor of English (Emeritus) and Editor Emeritus of the Southern Quarterly at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has published over 40 books, including twelve collections  of poetry and chapbooks. Among his most recent titles are Emmett Till in Different States (Third World Press, 2015), Reaching Forever (Poiema Series, Cascade Books, 2019), Delta Tears (Main Street Rag, 2020), Wholly God’s:Poems (Wind and Water Press, 2021), and forthcoming Americorona: Poems about the Pandemic (Negative Capability Press, 2022).

Trance – a poem by Lisa Molina

Trance 

Moon shaped as a C
for cancer
for chance
for cure.

The nurses hang 
the bags of potions
casting the killing spells
on all his blood cells.

My ritual now:
Light an electric candle,
brew some herbal tea,
listen to the
whooshing
whishing
(wishing)
of the 
cat-purring 
pumps.

Pulsating pumping 
in this room of
nearly-broken hearts.

Lying on the bed 
across the room
from my sleeping son,

I squeeze 
each separate
bead-bead-bead
of my Rosary;

“And blessed is the 
fruit of thy womb...”

“And blessed is the 
fruit of thy womb...”

Until I drift
into the trance
of night.

I awaken to 
swishing
(wishing)
sounds
of the janitor
sweeping
her magic
broom wand,

ridding the room
of bacterium.

Morning sun conjures
a beam of golden light 
onto his placid pale 
puffy face-

An angel’s charm.

For today, the
umbilical cord cells
of another mother’s
womb-child will
resurrect his
blood.

The supernatural bond
between these children
never to be broken.

Stepping out of bed,
I walk to the mirror over
the sanitized sink where

the unrecognizable
frightened face 
gazes back at me,
and asks again,

“Is this real?”

Lisa Molina is a writer and educator in Austin, Texas. She has taught high school English and theatre, served as Associate Publisher of Austin Family Magazine, and now works with students with special needs. Her writing can be found in Amethyst Review, Bright Flash Literary Review, Trouvaille Review, Beyond Words Magazine, Neologism Poetry, and The Ekphrastic Review. Molina was recently named Poet of the Week on the Instagram page of The Literatus Magazine.

Painted Rock – a poem by Catherine Fletcher

Painted Rock

Catherine Fletcher is a poet and a playwright. Recent work has appeared in The Hopper, Kissing Dynamite, Hopkins Review, Burning House Press, and the concert series Concept Lab. She was a TWP Science and Religion Fellow at Arizona State University from 2016-18. She also served as Director of Poetry Programs at the New York-based organization, City Lore. She lives in Virginia, USA. 

Costly Solitude – a poem by John Hansen

Costly Solitude

A sound. Barely, but nonetheless.
Hushed. Quieted. Dampened.
Pufflets of soft, minuscule, crystallized wet
blanket the blankets it spread the eve before.
  
The world has a momentary peace
seeping deeper into my marrow.
Awoken now to the chance, “Ah, to breathe!”
Fresh, untainted air.
 
My existence is solid.
Much more so than these companions
that twist, twirl,
pivot and swirl,
up, round and then
dance. Gravity is bent on our descent.
 
This mind is way too loud –
Millions of six-pointed stars
crumple under the satisfying crunch
of intention.
 
Trance broken, back to the silence
of wisps that evanesce as I exhale.
I return inside
trading pure tranquility for warmth.

John Hansen received a BA in English from the University of Iowa and an MA in English Literature from Oklahoma State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Summerset Review, Trouvaille Review, 50-Word Stories, One Sentence Poems, The Dillydoun Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Oddball Magazine, Eunoia Review, Litro Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, and elsewhere. He is English Faculty at Mohave Community College in Arizona. Read more at johnphansen.com.

Maud – a story by Sheila Kinsella

Maud

The stale odour of decay pervaded the warm air in the dayroom. Liz climbed a stepladder to secure the Christmas garland to a yellowing ceiling tile. The pin sunk in like a knife puncturing soft cheese. 

She had a fisheye view over rows of elderly residents swallowed up by enormous geriatric chairs. Their frail bodies lay in varying degrees of tilt as if the nurses arranged them according to some mysterious Feng Shui ritual.

Just beneath her, she watched Monica lean over an old lady, chatting away. How sweet, maybe she has an empathetic streak after all, Liz thought. Suddenly Monica’s hand darted down inside the woman’s handbag. Distracted, the woman didn’t notice. Within an instant a wad of banknotes was deftly stashed inside Monica’s trouser pocket. Liz took a sharp intake of breath and felt the ladder wobble.

 ‘Mind you don’t fall there,’ Monica said.

 ‘Stop!’ Liz replied. ‘Hold it still!’

 ‘Keep your mouth shut,’ Monica thrust four green fifty-pound notes at her. ‘Hide it.’

 ‘Monica! That’s stealing!’ Liz whispered and pushed the fistful back.

‘Quick! Before someone sees!’ Monica shoved the cash at Liz.

Liz shoved it down her bra. She felt a pang in her throat.

Liz endured Monica’s drilling glare as she folded the stepladder and stored it away. The moment was shattered when she heard a trickle – building to a constant flow of urine forming a pool on the floor. An acrid odour of human piss persisted. Liz glanced at the wet patch on the old man’s trousers. His bottom lip trembled.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll get help,’ she patted his arm.

‘Shit!’ Monica stamped her foot, ‘I can’t stand another minute in this place!’ 

Liz zig zagged her way through the armchairs, catching her rounded hips on their wings, to try and catch the attention of a carer. 

Christmas tradition dictated that a group of students help decorate the geriatric home that backed on to their college. This year, through lack of volunteers, Liz and Monica found themselves seconded to the task.

After securing an assistant, Liz slipped into the toilet. She locked the door and sat on the seat to check the money. Four green, not red, fifty-pound notes. Scottish banknotes: English ones are red. Her heart pounded; a lump formed in her throat. She recalled all those Sunday School stories about stealing. ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ the eighth commandment. It was wrong. She knew. But still. It was only two-hundred pounds. The old lady was so gaga that she wouldn’t notice it missing. But her soul would be damned – forever. Although, it was half a month’s rent. What the hell.

‘Liz?’ Monica’s voice interrupted her thoughts, ‘are you in here?’

She stuffed the notes in her pocket, ‘coming.’

Back in the dayroom, Monica scowled while she recced the room, ‘what took you so long? Counting it were you?’

‘What?’ Liz replied. ‘You gave me no choice.’

‘Give it back then.’

Silence.

Monica smirked.

Back in the dayroom, a commotion erupted. 

‘My cash!’  A woman screamed, ‘which one of you Sassenachs has taken it?’

An assistant rushed over to her, ‘Maud, calm down.’ 

‘Where’s my money?’ Maud yelled.

‘Maud, take it easy,’ the assistant placated her.

Liz and Monica eyeballed each other. Liz sensed her cheeks reddening.

‘Girls, girls! You can go now,’ the Matron approached them. ‘Come back at ten tomorrow to finish up.’

 Once outside, Liz and Monica parted company. As Liz walked back to her house share, she passed a homeless person crouched inside a doorway. The woman shook a tatty paper cup. Liz shook her head and continued on. Two of her housemates had returned home for Christmas already and the other one spent most of her time at the boyfriend’s. Liz was home alone. 

She emptied her pockets out on to the table: lip balm, housekeys, tissues, inhaler and the scrunched up fifty-pound notes.  She felt a knot growing in her chest. Just above her sternum. A winding, whirling tangle, like an expanding ball of elastic bands being wound one on top of the other. 

The fridge was empty bar an out-of-date egg, a piece of mouldy cheese and half a carton of milk. A tin of baked beans stood forlornly in the kitchen cupboard. Supper. 

Liz sat on the motheaten sofa, sucking lukewarm beans off a fork. Slurp. Slurp. She flicked through the tv channels, searching for a mind-numbing soap to qualm her angst, settling finally upon a re-run of a sitcom about six friends.

Later in bed, she tossed and turned, her thoughts wandered in all directions, like small children let loose in a theme park. Why did she acquiesce and become complicit in Monica’s act? Was she afraid of Monica or of conflict in general? Once a people pleaser, always one, that’s what Mother would say. She got up and poured herself a glass of milk; the sell by date was yesterday – what’s a day? On the street outside she saw a fox meander between the houses, sniffing at dustbins. Suddenly it stopped and stared up at her, holding its gaze, until spooked, she looked away. 

The bank notes lay on the table where she’d left them. Burning a hole in the wood. Etching a sin on her brain. Liz sighed, grabbed a blanket and got back into bed.

For hours she lay awake listening to the heating pipes muttering along the walls. Niggling thoughts ran through her head like mice scuttling across an attic floor. Vulnerable, that’s what Maud was, and Monica took full advantage. Cruel Monica. Complicit Liz.

Next morning, her weary face reflected back at her from the speckled bathroom mirror. Ochre coloured hammocks nestled under her eyes. A matted, tousled mop of curly hair protruded and flopped down at random angles like a cartoon villain. Liz brushed her teeth and spat the foamy bubbles into the sink. The burden of guilt was too heavy; she was going to give the money back.

Liz texted Monica:

‘Put the money back where you found it.’

Her smartphone beeped with the reply.

‘No.’

‘I’m giving mine back,’ she typed.

‘WARNING – don’t!’

Just before ten, Liz entered the day room. When Monica arrived, Liz was taking cardboard boxes of Christmas decorations out of the storeroom. Monica pinched the skin on her arm hard. 

‘Ouch!’ Liz yelped.

‘You’ll get more than that if you squeal,’ Monica sneered.

They carried the box into the dayroom. Enveloped in an invalid chair, an old lady sang to herself. A man counted the windowpanes with his finger. Liz scanned the room in vain for Maud. 

A bare, fake Christmas tree stood in the corner. Monica cursed as she untangled the Christmas tree lights. Liz laid out strands of silver tinsel in rows, ready to go. Together, they snaked the lamps in and out of the branches before threading the tinsel in-between.  Liz rummaged in the box for glass ornaments and started to hang them on the tree. 

The tree finished, Liz fingered the banknotes in her pocket and looked around the dayroom for Maud. She tried to recall where Maud’s chair was positioned yesterday. Then she remembered the garland she had pinned to the ceiling. From one corner of the room to the other, her eyes followed the gaudy paper garland overhanging the residents; when they reached the pin, she glanced down at the chair. Her heart skipped a beat. It was empty. 

‘Stop gawping and give me power,’ Monica handed Liz the plug.

Liz plugged it into the socket. A chorus of oohs chimed throughout the room. She smiled at their faded wrinkled faces crumpling with joy.

The tea-lady offered Liz and Monica a drink. One glance at the worn, no-spill, green baby mugs was enough to convince the girls to politely refuse. She pressed a plate of Custard Creams upon them without waiting for an answer. Liz rushed after her and touched her arm lightly.

‘Excuse me. Where’s Maud?’

‘She passed away during the night love,’ the tea-lady replied before giving a mug to an elderly man. ‘There you go chuck.’ She turned back to Liz. ‘No family. Sad, isn’t it?’ She sighed. ‘Mind, she was ninety-eight. A good innings.’ The tea-lady looked at Liz, ‘You’ve done a grand job with that tree. You can ask Matron if you want, about Maud I mean.’

‘Thanks,’ Liz’s eyes welled up on her way back to the tree. 

Monica spoke through gritted teeth, ‘what did you want with her?’

‘Maud died,’ Liz said.

‘Maud who?’

‘The woman you stole from,’ Liz replied. ‘You don’t even remember her name!’

Monica shrugged, ‘no witness then.’

Liz shuddered at her callousness. 

It snowed during Liz’s walk home. The knot in her chest hardened; and tears trickled over her plump cheeks. The path was icy underfoot. She took pin steps to avoid stumbling. She felt the folded notes of her ill-gotten gains scorching a hole in her pocket. Liz dragged her leaden feet past the shops. Suddenly a person stepped out of a doorway; gloveless hands thrust a paper cup at her. Liz slipped the neat bundle inside the receptacle and heaved a sigh of relief. 

‘Here’s mud in your eye Maud,’ she said to the puzzled recipient.

Belgium based writer Sheila Kinsella’s short stories draw inspiration from her Irish upbringing. An avid watcher of people’s behaviour, and blessed with abundant natural curiosity, Sheila lures the reader into a shrewdly observed world via imagery and comedy. 

Sheila graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (Distance Learning) from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom in 2017.