Point of Order – a poem by Dan Campion

Point of Order


We’ve pulled a thousand million G’s
escaping from the hearts of stars.
Each life’s filled with infinities.

We’ve slipped a hundred prison bars,
outrun a dozen packs of hounds,
survived ten deaths, and bear the scars.

We trespassed on forbidden grounds
the gods had posted clear enough.
Our intrepidity astounds.

We learned to deal and bet and bluff
and hide the wild card in our sleeve
from who but Nature, who plays rough.

The wonder is that we believe
belief belongs to us alone
when faith runs through all stems that leave:

a faith that granted life on loan
there’s light to spin and shade to weave.
The greenest grave is gravity’s.
Each life’s filled with infinities.
 


Dan Campion
 is the author of Peter De Vries and Surrealism and co-editor of Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song, a third edition of which was issued in 2019. His poetry has appeared in Poetry, Rolling Stone, and many other magazines. A selection of his poems titled The Mirror Test will be published by MadHat Press in 2022. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

The Tree in my Yard – a poem by Fay L. Loomis

The Tree in my Yard


Yellow-green catkins dangle
from oak branch tips 
eject golden pollen.

Red-tinged flowers open
bud-shaped wombs
receive gifts of the wind.

Spent tassels rain to the ground
—withered beads on a string—
tangle in piles like snarled snakes.

Greening acorns term
pulse to Mother Earth 
brown heads, replete with cap. 

Ravished
I lose myself
in mystery.

Fay L. Loomis lives a quiet life in the woods in Kerhonkson, New York. A member of the Stone Ridge Library Writers and Rat’s Ass Review Workshop, her poetry and prose have appeared most recently in Burrow, Amethyst Review, Bindweed, True Chili, Blue Pepper, Al-Khemica Poetica, Sledgehammer Lit, and Spillwords.

Those Times I’ve Taken God Seriously – a poem by Goddfrey Hammet

Those Times I’ve Taken God Seriously


A shorter list now than when I was younger:
No one is more worship-obsessed than the child
Who is told that there are no secrets,
And that all things--including him, and Him--are either good or evil,
And who will think of God even when in the company of others.

Now, it’s only those times when I wonder if the empty-feeling
Of sleepless nights--that black-pitted worry--
Is where God would fit, or if God is that emptiness,
The way that some people believe God is the in-between,
The gaps, the dark matter, the not at the edge of what is,
Like the line just the width of a spider’s thread that separates
The muddy-purple mountain from the sky at dusk.

To look at those mountains in early autumn,
The snow already gathering at the peak, 
Avalanching down into a blur of yellows and oranges--
A precursor of what will tumble to the valley soon-- 
He’s the last thing on my mind;
He can exist, or He can go on not existing
For all I care. Who can worship a deity so redundant?
After all, what could be more generous than this, 
Whose grace greater than the mountain that prolongs the morning,
Drags out the evening,
Those times when the day is at its finest?
Who else could put from our mind that death will come,
For which a possible heaven is no consolation,
Especially when it’s unclear
If a cloud can carry the weight of a mountain,
Or if there are autumns there in that perfect climate?

Goddfrey Hammit was born and raised in Utah, and lives in Utah still, in a small town outside of Salt Lake City. Hammit has, most recently, contributed work to Neologism Poetry Journal, The Loch Raven Review, and Riddled with Arrows, and is the author of Nimrod, UT. Website: goddfreyhammit.com

Thomas – a story by Scott Cravens

Thomas

Thomas could not be described as an animated preacher. No hand gestures. No pacing. Nothing with an offbeat rhythm. He just stood, stationary and composed. Thomas’ hands would shake violently when public speaking, but this is not to say he wasn’t good at it. For emphasis he would hammer down an inflected point—each line memorized with perfect syntax. His articulation of theological ideas was clean and easily digested by the country bumpkins who came to hear him. Rarely did he even have to look down at his spiral notebook. “It’s the words that hold all the power,” his father used to say. And of course, the scriptures.

 Thomas’ father, Pastor John, rarely spoke on things that he believed the Bible could speak to better. For instance, Thomas’ mother died when he was an infant, and whenever he would ask about her, Pastor John would hand him his old Bible opened to the book of Job, and say, “Read this, and you’ll understand.” It was the same with all the questions that a child’s naivety spurns forth. When Thomas had asked why his father and mother had never tried to have more children, he’d open the Bible to Genesis and point Thomas toward the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. He’d say, “Read this, and you will understand why we chose only to have you.”  It could even be something silly. On the drive home one morning, there was a rainbow shimmering through the dreary sky after a rain shower. Thomas had asked his father what rainbows were made for, and he handed him his Bible and told him to turn to Genesis and read the story of Noah and his Ark. “We should be slow to speak, and quick to listen—to listen to the words of God,” he’d say. There was always an answer in the scriptures. 

He heard a mosquito buzzing in his ear, but he didn’t reach up to slap it, lest he reveal his jazz hands to the thirty or so congregants before him. The members of the church were looking at him, waiting to hear what words of wisdom he would impart on them. He had been dreading this day for many months. These people, coming every Sunday without fail, to hear thirty minutes of what they already know; to be told what they believe is true; to have someone who is not from this dying, farming community come to them and validate the one thing that gives meaning to their lives. 

Most of the congregants were over the age of sixty. Farmers and wives of farmers. The oldest of the church ladies that sat on the back pew were going to town with their little fans, attempting to combat the sweltering heat of the church house. Some of the old timers that the church calls “deacons” were standing at the back near the foyer, next to a wooden altar inscribed with “This do in remembrance of me,” on its front. 

Thomas leaned into the microphone with confidence, “Turn in your bibles to the gospel of John, chapter twenty, verse twenty-four.” He paused, listening as the crowd flipped and flicked their pages in synchronicity. He waited until the dull roar of pages stopped. 

 “This morning my sermon is on doubt,” he paused, feeling a single drop of sweat shoot from the top of his brow, down the bridge of his nose collecting at the tip. 

“Um, I’ve always felt a kinship with the apostle Thomas. And that’s not because we share the same name.” This got some chuckles.  “Follow along with me as I read from John 20:24-25: 

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas looked at the crowd, their faces stoic, bearing no thoughts about what they had just read, over what they had read thousands of times before. 

***

While Thomas was sitting in the ICU’s waiting room alone with his thoughts, the folks at church called an emergency prayer vigil on behalf of his father, Pastor John. When his father had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure in the spring of Thomas’ senior year of high school, the church at Fisher made sure that “Pray for Pastor John” was posted on the prayer list bulletin board. His father’s heart made it difficult for him to travel and preach, always turning him into a frail husk of himself when he exerted too much energy. Thomas began to cover every other Sunday, practicing that family trade of oration. Any sense of uncertainty that Thomas had about his public speaking skills were met with his father’s rebuttal—a reading of Moses and the burning bush. 

  That year, each month Thomas would take him to their family doctor, always with the same lecture: his father must change his diet and stop preaching.  Pastor John would have none of it. Pastor John’s last year marked his fifty-fifth birthday, and he always would boast to the doctor that he had outlived his own father, who died at fifty-four of a heart-attack.  

As Thomas sat in that waiting room, all he had on him was his father’s bible. He hysterically tore through the pages, skimming for an answer to what was happening. 

After six hours of heart surgery the doctor came in and called Thomas over. 

“We have him stable and awake, but I’m sorry to say that he doesn’t have much time left. His heart is too weak, for any more surgery.”

Thomas walked back to the ICU where they were holding his father. When he entered the room, he was struck by the smell of formaldehyde and piss. His father was lying down on his back, eyes barely open. Like a machine he had tubes and wires coming out of his arms and nostrils. His mouth was gaping, but no words echoed from that once boisterous diaphragm. He looked as if he was in so much pain, he couldn’t muster the energy to even make a sound. Thomas slowly came in and sat in the chair next to his bed. His father’s left hand gripped his chest, bobbing up and down with each concerted breath. 

  Thomas wanted to pray, to get on his hands and knees and beg God to spare his father. But he couldn’t. The thought that, “it won’t change a damn thing,” lingered in the back of his mind. So, he sat holding his father’s hand, speaking to him softly, waiting.

After some time had passed his father gasped, “It’s all dark. It’s all dark!”

Thomas quickly stood up and held his father’s face toward his. “What’s dark dad? What is it—let me grab a nurse? Nurse! I need a nurse in here!” 

Thomas held his father’s head in his hands. Watching his dad’s eyes opened wide with fear. Thomas knew that his father could not sense that his son was holding him. Only darkness. His father continued to mutter, “it’s all dark,” quieter each time than before, fading into silence. His breath rattled, strangled on draughts of air that heaved his father’s whole abdomen into a shudder. 

The nurses pulled Thomas aside right as the flatline flashed across the monitor. 

***

Thomas looked down and closed his notebook and Bible. He looked about him, staring not at the people that were seated before him, but at the sanctuary’s architecture—the walls that arched in the center, the stage stepped into a pulpit, the six stained-glass windows whose kaleidoscope of colorfully arrayed sunbeams were squelched by the hideous fluorescent lights above.  

“You know, I’ve always found it interesting that churches are designed as an extension of the ancient Israelite’s temple. Here you are, seated in the Holy Place singing hymns, believing fully that Elohim Adonai is hearing your sacred chants. The fervor of the collective voice becomes louder, while your sight becomes dimmer. Very few look to the Holy of Holies for fear of being struck dead by an ineffable God, and in your willful blindness you believe yourselves to be St. Paul. In all actuality, you have refused to let the scales fall from your eyes. In the place of God, you have substituted a podium. 

 A clamor of disgust began to trickle through the crowd. Heads were shaking, mutterings were muttered. But Thomas continued:

“When my father died, I realized that I’d never really questioned this. I’d never consciously asked myself whether this god thing was something I truly believed. I’d just accepted it because that’s what I was told to believe. But that first seed of doubt, that moment when my father’s dying eyes searched frantically in the dark for the God he loved–the shock on his face when he couldn’t see the pearly gates, that’s when I realized we’re all in the dark. There’s just darkness. That was the shattering of my faith, when I knew that I could choose to blindly follow nothing, and profess it as ‘Lord’, or to acknowledge that ‘nothing’ is all there is.” 

The crowd was no longer quiet. A collective anger was brewing, and individuals began shouting, “How can you say that!” or “you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing!” or “Your father would be ashamed!” Here and there congregants began to stand up and trickle out the door. 

“I looked to the Holy of Holies, where no man should look, only to find that because I am still breathing, that the Lord God—”

The room was compressed with silence as the few indignant church members left waited to hear what words would conclude his blasphemy.

“That the Lord God wants nothing to do with me.”

A cacophony of disbelief and shame echoed from the congregation as the remainder of people shuffled out in small droves, scoffing as they moved toward the exit. Thomas held up his shaking hands for the first and last time. 

 “Please understand!  I have tried, I’ve tried faith. I’ve tried to reach out and touch the holes in Christ’s hands. But all I’ve ever felt—all I feel is the trembling of my own.”

Someone had hit the lights on the way out, leaving Thomas standing alone in the dark.

He descended the steps and sat down on a pew. Hunched over, Thomas held his face in his hands. His father’s last words, were now a reality he shared. Through his fingers he stared up into the darkness to combat the tears that rolled down his face. His tears subsided, as he stared at the stunning sight before him. He saw for the first-time something beautiful. Something beautiful in a place that brought him so much disgust. The beams from the six stained-glass windows projected a menagerie of hues that refracted off the darkness, converging into a fiery opus of color at the center of the aisle. He walked the aisle but stopped and stood before the convergence of light. Thomas had never witnessed a natural beauty such as this because nobody comes to church to be in the dark. Thomas extended his trembling palms into the light, and his tremors ceased. 

Then and there he recognized a deep truth that was absolute: that radiance and beauty exist, regardless of if we are there to witness it. The least we can do is try. Thomas kicked off his shoes and removed his socks. 

This was holy ground.

Scott Cravens is a short story writer from Arkansas, and is based in Oklahoma where he teaches literature at the secondary level. Currently, he is pursuing his Master of Writing at Johns Hopkins University. His work has appeared in Ariel Chart International Literary Journal, CafeLit Magazine, and The Periodical Forlorn. 

sutras – poetry by luke kurtis

西教寺
sutras


when i stayed
in Tokyo
i took walks
every day
—wandering—
with my camera

one day
i found myself
—alone—
at a hushed temple
tucked behind a wall
in a quiet neighborhood

i admired the architecture
from the outside
which is all one can do
at most temples in Japan

but then i saw a genkan
off to one side
with a shoehorn
and getabako
—signs of welcome—
but still
ambiguous
or even uninviting
to western eyes
with nothing posted to say
either “come inside”
or “no guests please”

the cubbies were empty
so no visitors were there
but i assumed
it was ok to
remove my shoes
place them neatly
and enter

and so i did
thankful my socks were new
and had no holes
as i put my shoes away
then pushed the shoji screen
just far enough
to step through

the wooden floor
was soft and smooth
and felt soothing
to my feet

i shuffled
farther along
quietly down a hall
lined by blond wood
and delicate screens
calm light dancing
like petals in a breeze

i emerged into a garden
with stone lanterns
and green moss
under shade of leaves
and pine

i heard someone coming
when a monk passed behind me
and turned my way

i nodded
he bowed

i crossed a bridge
to the other side
of the small garden
and found myself
in the main hall
tatami underneath
like soft grass in spring
glorious screens with birds
panels with gold leaf

i felt at peace
—yet—
still unsure
if i was supposed to be here

but i took a seat
joined my hands
and gazed
toward Buddha

his face was
serene
—without shadow—
eyes hovering
between worlds
a calm expression
of accord
light and life
—immeasurable—

i said a prayer
for my family
who i had been apart
from for so long
while living in the east

then i noticed a stack
of booklets
printed only
in Japanese

the cover was red
and opened
to the right
—folded—
like an accordion

i knew it was
a sacred text
—a sutra—
from the Chinese
with hiragana
which i could read
and chant
so i put it
in my bag
a bit of Buddha
to go

but later
back home
when i pulled it out
and used my phone
to translate
the words i didn’t know

i found it said
“do not remove”
right across the front

what could i do
with stolen sutras?

i did not mean
to steal
 
i thought it was
free to take
like the pamphlets
and tracts
in so many
churches and temples
in other countries

but in Japan
things are different
and my Japanese
is not good enough
to always know the way

to this day
i wonder
if i was supposed
to be in that hall
at all

or had i
wandered
—strayed—
from the path

and maybe the monk
who saw me
just didn’t know
how to say

“do not enter”

but perhaps
his bow was a welcome

and i found myself
where i was
—am—
supposed to be



luke kurtis is an interdisciplinary writer, editor, and artist. His books include Angkor Wat: poetry and photography and Springtime in Byzantium. bd-studios.com is his long-term art and publishing-as-practice project where he helms all aspects of the studio while collaborating with a range of artists and writers to realize their projects. He lives and works in New York City.

Morning Meditations – a poem by Moná Ó Loideáin Rochelle

Morning Meditations



Mid-winter monarchs
whispering wings, half-shadowed,
bless hourless whiteness.

A white robed monk chants.
A frog croaks. A crow caw caws
in winter’s warm rain.

The pond’s iced over.
Muskrats feed beneath my blades.
We share bitter fruit.

Today’s clouds a caul,
and wombs an infant cradled 
in blue hues and gold.

A mockingbird’s poem
flutes syllables of love from
night’s tallest oak tree.

A palm warbler psalms.
Heat lightening crowns the night.
Terror strikes her dreams.

Dawns pond’s ashen. A
limping Limpkin screams repent
repent all is woe.

A billion locust
swarm.  Children starve. Cruise cancelled.
Refund? One million.

They get their millions back.
Cruise cancelled. Children…billions
starve. Locust swarming.

Moná Ó Loideáin Rochelle’s poetry can be found or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Spiritus, Notre Dame Review, Southword, and Wales Haiku Journal. She volunteers for Médecins Sans Frontières. Visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/monatheresalydon/

Ways of Becoming a Flower – a poem by Devika Mathur

Ways of Becoming a Flower - 

Watch a tulip,
The buds that shine
Of fever, pink neck
A wobbly way of uttering words,
Watch the body-
A lacuna resting on the tip
The vein is a transparent home of hope.
Watch the petals,
Smaller earlier now growing.
Growing out of something unsuitable,
sit and observe,
The wind choking its existence
The wind caressing its existence
Sit and observe
The pink that glimmers
Between our small hands,
It fits.
Between our prayers, it delivers hope.
Sit and observe
The nocturnal sniff of boredom,
Of resting in a same place
The flower speaks of rising
Like the mud’s only wail.

 

Devika Mathur resides in India and is a published poet, content writer, Editor. Her works have been published or are upcoming in Madras Courier, Modern Literature, Two Drops Of Ink, Dying Dahlia Review, Pif Magazine, Spillwords, Duane’s Poetree, Piker Press, Mojave heart review, Whisper and the Roar amongst various others. Her works have been included in the US-based Indie Blu(e) Publications- The Kali Project, As the World Burns to name a few. She writes at https://myvaliantsoulsblog.wordpress.com/. She recently published her surreal poetry book Crimson Skins available now worldwide. insta- @my.valiant.soul

Distance – a poem by John Valentine

Distance 

Let us love this distance, since those 
who do not love each other are
not separated.
- Simone Weil
 

You seem to see her eyes
everywhere
in the vast afterimage of desire.
You carry her voice the way
a conch carries the sea,
no matter the shore
or the miles.
The same sweet rustling far away
in the wind.
The same soft hands that miss exactly
and only
what they miss.
And even Death is like a friend
who understands absence,
the beauty of despair,
the one pure poem you’re destined to write
to try to hold her
in the palm of the clouds
while the sky sweeps everything away.

John Valentine lives in Savannah, GA, where he teaches philosophy at a local college.

Spark – a poem by Terry Tierney

Spark


In Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, a character’s death is attributed to spontaneous combustion.


You say he deserved it,
rag collector, slumlord 
mining misery from broken tenants, 
any coin for a flask of gin,
his bloated body like an artillery shell
with fumes straining its rusted case.

Until the spark ignites and wicks
inside his windpipe, chases 
saturated blood through arteries,
devouring his flesh in seconds.
Cloud of oily smoke hangs over 
his bed, ash on last night’s dinner,
scraps of bread not even a dog will eat.

No sign of match strike or boot scuff,
no storm clouds releasing their charges 
across the sky of his room. The spark 
arose inside him, as if he balanced 
his internal ledger, always a gap, 
flint spleen scratching rib, or vertebrae 
gnashing against forgiveness, 
then the flash like a wink of usury.

You say his bedding survived,
his legs still planted in leather soles,
his hands extended toward the table,
the loose bundle of bills, glass of spirit, 
as if he thirsted for one last swallow,
one more squeeze for his still heart
now melted into the charred trunk
of his body, compressed like coal.

Easy to fault the gin, the fermented soul,
but what if you misread his gesture, 
what if he reached for his papers
to rend their threads like a widow’s clothes,
a surprise cancellation, an epiphany.

Terry Tierney is the author of The Poet’s Garage and the novels Lucky Ride (December 2021) and The Bridge on Beer River(July 2023), all published by Unsolicited Press. His poems have recently appeared in Rust + Moth, Typishly, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Lake and other publications. His website is http://terrytierney.com.

Floral Collar from Tutankhamun’s Embalming Cache – a poem by Grace Massey

Floral Collar from Tutankhamun's Embalming Cache  

cornflowers, poppies, three thousand years 
of dust, beads indigo among olive leaves 
already withered even as the tomb was sealed

and you who wove and sewed into the night
we have met, you know, among the licorice-scented
olive trees, in the poppy fields, wading among the reeds
as fish prod our ankles, we have together 
pricked our thumbs stitching nightshade berries 
to the boy king’s collar, our blood staining the blossoms 

we have exchanged lovers' glances, flirted
from across rooms and millennia, kissed
secretly and so briefly in alleyways and gardens

I have touched your hair

I reach for your calloused hands, cradle them in my own,
know that you endure in the flowers, the beads, 
the brittle papyrus

Grace Massey‘s poetry combines careful observation with elements of the spiritual and mystical. She has been published in Vita Brevis, Soul-Lit, Spry, and Ekphrastic Review, among others. When she isn’t writing, she’s dancing, in her garden, or working with shelter cats.