Dust – a poem by Cathleen Cohen

Dust


I abandon my desk, twist
down the stairwell and out 
to the street into a nearby church, 

which hosts Tibetan monks, 
three saffron-robed men 
bent over the floor, scattering 

colored sand. I blink 
to adjust to dim space.
Why don’t they ask for more light?

Two weeks they’ve been here, 
intent on their artwork.
Static fills the chapel. 

Are they whispering? Praying?
Or is this the rasp of their sticks 
dispersing dust? 

Oceans form storms,
fanciful creatures, desires, all 
needing to be noticed or made pure.

Fringed flowers, vines, yellow tongues, 
secret doors. I often return,
but can’t bring myself 

to that last ritual, that final day.
I hear that local children arrive
and bring brooms. 

Everyone stands in a circle and chants 
until one monk breaks 
the mandala with his thumb. 

This signals a great collecting of dust 
into jars, carried to the river and cast -- 
to widen the blessing.

Cathleen Cohen was the 2019 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, PA. She founded Artwell’s We the Poets program (www.theartwell.org.) Publications include poems in Apiary, Baltimore Review, Cagibi, One Art Journal, Passager, Philadelphia Stories and three books: Camera Obscura, Etching the Ghost (Atmosphere Press, 2021) and Sparks and Disperses (Cornerstone Press, 2021).

A Hole in the Poem – a poem by Beth Oast Williams

A Hole in the Poem

I balance barefoot on a rim
around the poem, wary
of glass unbroken.
Smooth edges don't last.
Just look down at the ground
along the curb on any street,
bits of bottle shape themselves
into nothing left to say,
unlike the window that laughed
right in my face when I threw 
it a curve ball. How strong
we are to fragile things, 
and yet we cannot save them.

Beth Oast Williams’ poetry has appeared in West Texas Literary Review, Wisconsin Review, Glass Mountain, GASHER Journal, Poetry South, Fjords Review, and Rattle’s Poets Respond, among others.  Her poems have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her first chapbook, Riding Horses in the Harbor, was published in 2020.

The Silver Tether (Somerset) – a poem by Alicia Beatrice

The Silver Tether (Somerset)


There sits the silver twine, 
the tether, which so delicately
Holds and guides us to the nether. 

It is lost in a furrow, 
besmirched by those
Who have touched it but once before. 

It is illuminated
by that guiding light
of Soul’s transmutation at night.

Where bound is bound no more, 
Only tied and sent yore
to a place of such delight.

It is the argent
twine of memory;
and faultless dream-bound reverie.

It has been left here, discarded,
Below lamplight of Mayflies. 
Ornately winged flying souls—
our princely visitors of the skies.

Those bright comets
devised worthily,
as it watches only from its dirt bed, 
for an eternity.


Alicia Beatrice is an autistic poet, writer, folklorist and florist from Melbourne, Australia. She studies Literature and is interested in exploring our experiences of memory through nature, as well as how we (or neurodivergent minds in particular) process grief. She loves prehistory, hiking, old churches, cemeteries and travelling through England and Wales.

In Search of a Container for Jesus – a poem by Beth Oast Williams

In Search of a Container for Jesus



This is how the talk 
of vessels starts,
the ark that might be Mary.
Or maybe it begins with the boat
that, despite carrying literally
the weight of the world, 
so easily moves on. 
How dreadful to be God's captain,
turning away the splinket
and the flomb just because
she could claim no spouse. 
It's not just attachment
but what's held inside, organic
coffee in a cup, fresh bread 
brought home
inside a brown paper bag. 
Somehow the theory holds up
if you understand emptiness 
is not a random
mental condition. 
You must believe God came
to me in a dream and invited me
for tea and biscuits, but it’s never
just that. It’s about my body
and what it could hold,
the trash receptacle,
the kitchen cabinet drawer.
Everything has a place to go
and every woman 
looks like an open jar,
or so it is written.

Beth Oast Williams’ poetry has appeared in West Texas Literary Review, Wisconsin Review, Glass Mountain, GASHER Journal, Poetry South, Fjords Review, and Rattle’s Poets Respond, among others.  Her poems have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her first chapbook, Riding Horses in the Harbor, was published in 2020.

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/