Eclipse – a poem by Anabell Donovan

Eclipse

In the slow dripping of
rainmakers and begetters,
fog rises,
wet drifting,
sifting 
into rounded contours.

The renegade jaguar abandons
his cardinal corner of the world,
bounces 
from shadow cloud to shadow cloud,
wreaking havoc amongst startled stars.

The edges of the world tremble,
slender tree trunks shed
festive skins
and stand pale and huddled
as the earth tilts.

Anabell Donovan (Anna Eusthacia) is a psychologist and educator dedicated to student success. She is driven by her love of words, their sound, weight, origin, and meaning and wants to “start where language ends.”

The Cold – a story by Megan Neary

The Cold

The old woman woke to the bite of the cold. The wind had come up and found its way through her defenses, through her blankets and plastic, through her tattered jacket and her baggy sweater and, worst of all, through the hole in the sole of her left shoe. 

The sun had begun to rise, but it made a half-hearted show of it, like a child forced out of bed and hurried off to school. The old woman understood the sun’s hesitancy, she understood the way he seemed to wrap himself up in the grey clouds as if they were warm blankets. She would have liked to close her eyes and welcome the darkness just as the lackluster sun would have liked to leave the day’s work to the moon. But neither of them had a choice. The moon, which had shone so beautifully throughout the night- it seemed she always looked more beautiful in the cold, her friends the stars always shone brighter then, too- had slipped off to parts unknown and the sun would have to do his work, though probably he could knock off early, the shortest day of the year was fast approaching, and the old woman would have to do her work, too, already the joggers in their tights had begun to run by, soon the dogs would drag their people here, later there would be the children whose parents or nannies would send them off to play on the frozen monkey bars while they drank their hot coffee and screamed into their phones. The children would huddle close together, petrified by the cold, and pray for play time to end. And it would make the old woman sad to see them like that. She liked to watch them run and scream and climb. She liked that, sometimes, they smiled at her. But she didn’t like to sit too close to the playground. When she did, often, a toddler would waddle up to her and say hi, or would tug at her sleeve, or would point at her red hat and proudly name it, pointing to her own head as she said the word. The old woman loved the children, but she did not like the fear on their parents’ or nannies’ faces when they were spotted standing so close to her, then those adults would hang up their phones and they would come running over and they would roughly drag the child away. Soon, the child would know better, would know that the old woman was one of those people you aren’t supposed to look at and you’re certainly never to touch. 

The old woman sat up slowly, fearful of the monstrous back spasms that always lurked nearby, waiting to strike. She sat still for a moment, huddled up in her blankets and plastic, then gave a great sigh and began to unswaddle herself. She folded her dirty blankets and the life-saving plastic neatly and slipped them carefully into her bulging pack. The wind slapped against her face and reddened her cheeks. She stood and shouldered her bag, then began walking across the frozen grass, away from the rising sun, toward the roaring street. 

She walked until she came to the cafe where they didn’t throw her out. She went inside and sat in the fluffy red chair in the corner. All around her, the morning rush streamed by. Inside, the baristas took orders and made drinks and called names, the customers placed orders and watched drinks be made and didn’t listen for their names then scolded the baristas for taking so long. Outside, the people walked quickly, their shoulders brushing, their bags colliding, blending together like water, moving faster where the sidewalk grew thin like a stream forced through a dam. She sat for a long while in the fluffy red chair, stupefied by the warmth after the cold of the night, by the safety after the danger of the dark. One woman glared at her for a moment then huffed away to sit on a stool. Perhaps she would’ve liked to have the fluffy red chair. One man handed her a small black coffee with a grunt that might have been words. She thanked him and smiled. He was careful not to brush her fingers with his as he handed it over. 

The old woman pulled herself with some difficulty from the fluffy red chair and stepped out into the cold. The wind howled spitefully through the buildings, scattering trash, ripping words out of mouths, roaring through every chink in the old woman’s winter armor. She crossed her arms and bowed her head and walked as quickly as her sore feet would carry her.

When she got to the church, there was a line that snaked out of the great double doors, down the steep stone steps, and past the nativity scene. The old woman took her place behind Tony, who had lost his left leg in Vietnam and his home in Michigan, and beside the third wise man, who had shown up to a baby shower with embalming fluid. That had always struck the old woman as odd, but the statue of Mary was smiling sedately and seemed to be content with the gifts. 

Standing still was even worse than walking. The cold brought tears to the old woman’s eyes and fire to her ears. The line moved maddeningly, foot-shufflingly slowly, but, finally, she was safely inside the heavy double doors. The warmth wrapped her in its arms and held her tight. She didn’t mind the waiting much then, but she was growing terribly hungry. When she got to the front of the line, the priest and the old women who volunteered to work with him and who always looked at him like they were a little bit in love, gave her a plate filled with potatoes and green beans and a little turkey and a brown bag filled with sandwiches, chips, and apples. 

“It’s gonna be a real nasty one tonight,” the priest said, “I suggest you head on down to the mission as soon as you’ve eaten. I don’t want anyone caught out in this cold.”

The old woman suppressed a groan as she found a seat at a table. She hated the mission. They slept on beds like army cots, so close together she could stretch her arms out straight and touch someone on both sides, and always there was someone coughing fit to die, someone screaming fit to wake the dead, someone crying fit to break her heart. But the priest was usually right about these things. He’d warned her of the blizzard years ago that had blanketed the whole city in three feet of snow. So she’d go to the mission. 

The woman beside her, Claudia, gave a toothless grin. She smiled back. In a past life, Claudia had conquered most of her demons, or at least managed to keep them at bay. She had lived with her sister who had given her the love and the medication she needed. She had been adored by the neighbor children whom she liked to bake cookies for and she had won employee of the month twice in a row at the grocery store where she stocked shelves. And then her sister had died and Claudia had fallen headlong until she crashed into the street.

When she had eaten, the old woman lingered for a bit, trying to store up the warmth of the place like a solar battery. But, as soon as she stepped outside, the warmth fled, the cold conquered. She shivered and shook, her teeth clattering together so intensely that her jaw began to ache. Her back felt like it was being contorted into unnatural shapes and her feet hurt terribly then, worse still, grew numb.

The lazy winter sun had already begun to slip beneath the horizon when the old woman reached the mission. A red-faced man stormed past her as she walked up the steps to the front door. She soon knew the reason for his anger. The mission was full. The doors were locked. There was no room at the inn.

The old woman limped slowly down the steps. The darkness had come on quickly and the stars seemed terribly far away. Hot tears warmed her cold cheeks. She sat for a moment on the bottom step, exhausted and afraid, but the cold of the concrete stabbed through her jeans and she pulled herself to her feet. She knew a place, a grate that would keep her warm. She didn’t like to sleep there, always felt herself awfully exposed to passersby, but it would keep the worst of the cold at bay.

She stumbled through another long walk on numb feet. The dark of the night was oppressive. The moon seemed to be goofing off behind clouds while the far-off stars shone only at half-brightness. The cast-iron street lights were woefully outmatched by the dark like so many birthday candles in a miners’ pit. 

When she reached the grate the old woman found it covered with a sheet of metal, firmly locked in place. The city had paid someone to go around and lock up the grates so that freezing people wouldn’t gather around them. “Bastards,” the old woman yelled, kicking the padlock. She struck her toe hard against the metal and gave a pained yelp. A man in a thick greatcoat and a red scarf gave her a troubled look. She walked away from the grate as quickly as she could, stumbled as if drunk through the dark and the cold until she came to a little park. In the park there was a bench. It wasn’t her park and it wasn’t her bench, but it would do for the night.

The old woman wrapped herself in her blankets then wrapped the sheet of plastic around them, pulled her hat down low and her scarf up high and lay on the bench, gazing up at the shivering stars. 

The cold bit her again and again. She curled into a tight little ball and squeezed her eyes shut tight, but still the cold circled around her, still it slapped against her flimsy coverings, still it snuck through the hole in her left shoe. She shook with the cold and with her fear of the cold. She prayed for the sun to rise, for the night to end.

A soft snow began to fall. The old woman was a little girl riding a radio flyer down a snow-covered hill. A soft snow fell and made the earth new and beautiful. Icicles glistened in the light of the winter sun. Then she was inside, standing before a roaring fire and sipping from a blue mug of hot chocolate. The old woman smiled softly. She had begun to feel so nice and warm. 

Megan Neary is a writer and teacher living in Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Rejection Letters, Near Window, and Flyover Country, which she edits.

Lilies – a poem by Jennifer Novotney

Lilies
 
The wind brushes through 
the leaves on the trees
manipulating them to wave
naked bodies dancing
against the grey canvas.
 
The rain tumbles down
getting lost in the rush of air
cold from the mountain
a sigh that never
runs out of breath.
 
The windows are pimpled
with uneven, translucent drops
nature’s avant-garde painting
as if a child has pushed away 
a splattered spoonful of medicine.
 
I see myself in those drops
the gentle curve of my lashes
marble eyes staring back
the long sweep of my nose
the dip where my lip meets chin.
 
I am so small in it
the drop that lingers on the glass
gently falling to the edge
like lilies wilted 
near the end of a funeral.
 
 

Jennifer Novotney holds an M.A. in English from Northern Arizona University. Her work is forthcoming in Buddhist Poetry Review and has appeared in English Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Unbroken Journal, and The Vignette Review, the latter for which she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2014, she won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for her debut novel, Winter in the Soul. She grew up in Los Angeles, CA and lives in North East Pennsylvania with her family where she teaches English and creative writing.

Plainsong – a poem by John Muro

Plainsong
 
                           Bonum est diffusivum sui
                          (The good pours itself out)
                         - St Thomas Aquinas
 
 
Mid-summer sky, hallelujah bright,
Waves rising in exultation, gulls tilt
For ballast and slowly rise like a 
Devotion in gusts of salt-glazed air. 
Wooden grids of cottage windows 
Are filling up with candle light, 
And the rush of incense seeping 
From hedges of sea roses, sherbet-
Pink, consecrates the air or the 
Makings of this day when heaven 
Seems closest to us and would 
Willingly lift, fold and cast all 
Burdens sea-wards leaving for us 
This shoreline’s indelible shining, 
The benediction of milk-blue water and 
Tinseled filaments of whispering light.

A life-long resident of Connecticut, John Muro is a graduate of Trinity College, Wesleyan University and the University of Connecticut. His professional career has been dedicated to conservation and environmental stewardship, and he has held several volunteer and executive positions in those fields. His first volume of poems, In the Lilac Hour, was published last fall by Antrim House, and it is available on Amazon. John’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Moria, Euphony, Third Wednesday, Clementine Unbound, River Heron, Amethyst Review and several other literary journals.

For Those Who Need Science Before Faith – a poem by Lanette Sweeney

FOR THOSE WHO NEED SCIENCE BEFORE FAITH

1.     Field Study

I once had a childish theory all souls were connected
by invisible wires that could be stretched but never snapped.

The closer two people, the thicker the strand I suspected
ran between them–like phone cables able to grow and adapt.

When I grew up and had children, my theory was subjected
to field study as their braided cables twined and overlapped

with mine, then each other’s. Their spirits arrived unaffected
by doubt; they gazed at me with unfounded trust, utterly rapt.

My theory now seemed fact. My exposed soul spilled unprotected
into theirs. Our shared joints soldered closed; our fused pipelines were mapped.


2.     Microchimerism

Turns out there are scientific names for my long-suspected
concepts: Microchimerism posits fetal cells are apt 

to switch sides–so an embryo’s unique cells are injected
into its mother, while hers spin the skin in which baby’s wrapped.

Older siblings’ cells linger in the mom, then are projected
into future children–which means my son’s particles stayed trapped

in me and his sister, even after he disconnected.
His DNA lives on in us, though his lifeline has been snapped.

Our swapped cells may explain why, when my children were dejected,
their pain overwhelmed me; my face caught fire if theirs was slapped. 

 
3.     Quantum entanglement

In quantum physics, entanglement theory is accepted
proof that some bonds can never be severed. If a photon’s zapped

in two, its split bits act as one no matter where detected
(though they hide this parlor trick if a photo lens is uncapped).  

My son’s first deity fell when I proved human; he’d expected
my perfection, found cracks in all my walls. Angry, he unwrapped

and trashed his greatest gifts: brilliance, faith, love, hope. Disaffected,
he died praying to believe. We fell down with him, thunder-clapped

by grief, our spirits pulsing toward his dead end, misdirected
into doubting we had souls—or else how could he have relapsed?


4.     Post-Traumatic Growth

Long before he learned quantum theories, my son respected
God; he believed without thinking. Cynicism handicapped

him, led his sister to mimic his scorn–’til unexpected
loss tore our shells clean off, left us shivering, terrified, sapped

enough for the hardest lesson: grief comes to reconnect us.
Each tragedy tears off a veil. Spiritually, we’d napped

through our lives, unhumbled. The skepticism we’d erected
was unwinding our frayed strands. Then Post-Traumatic Growth remapped

our wires, pushed us back toward Love. My son’s cord is inflected,
not cut. I must trust our pipes still flow, our connection left intact. 

Lanette Sweeney has worked as a waitress, reporter, editor, mother, fund-raiser, and teacher of English and Women’s Studies; she is now a full-time writer thanks to her wife’s support. Her first book, forthcoming in mid 2021 from Finishing Line Pressis a poetry collection about her son’s addiction and overdose death: What I Should Have Said. She has published her short stories, essays, and poetry in newspapers, journals, and anthologies, including the popular textbook Women: Images and Reality. She and her wife live in South Hadley, MA.

Editor’s note: Lanette has submitted the following poem by her son to be read alongside her own poem:

UNPLUGGED
A Poem for his sister, Jamie, then 22,
by Kyle Fisher-Hertz, age 24

Pipelines emanating from our respective centers
allow now to be entered collectively.
Seven billion perspectives become one 
where the pipelines meet,
our thoughts circulating like blood
pumped by a universal heartbeat.

And in this web of pipes, infinitely tangled
you and I, of course, were angled
side-by-side, adjacently connected
so close that pieces of our souls 
are shared through direct injection,
our pipes flowing and our love growing,
becoming ourselves together,

So when toxic tar like a starless night sky 
began to clog my pipeline,
nothing had a shot of getting through
except for you.
The chatter of the universe was muted.
I was a numb appendage, cut-off circulation
at risk of amputation.

And so you pleaded through the pinhole 
of connectedness that remained
for me to unplug the gunk, recirculate myself,
and love myself like you love me.

Anaphora – a poem by Luke Gilstrap

Anaphora
 
I do not pray for God to make me well. I pray for Him to make me good.
–St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia
 
Pray not for healing and feel no guilt
that you know who your mother and father is,
that you walk on the ground you were born to,
that the rain still comes.
 
Pray not for healing and do not imagine Paradise,
that it may surprise you when it arrives,
how close you would have been to getting it right
had you tried to describe it.
 
Pray not for healing unless of your relationships
then pray as fast as you can.
 
Remember the others and pray not for your healing,
but that you would meet them, in this air or the other’s,
your healing on the brink of their tongues,
your groaning tuned by their bruised or broken ribs.

 


Luke Gilstrap is a writer from Wichita, Kansas, where he lives with his wife, Megan, and his son, Oliver. He received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University and teaches writing at Friends University. A few poems have appeared in River City Poetry and are forthcoming in an anthology published by Darkly Bright Press

And what if colour was a body you could split apart? – poem by Julia Retkova

And what if colour was a body you could split apart?
 
to dream in fields of poppies and amaranths, 
those mountains in miniature, floating soft in songs 
woven fresh and quiet
 
to live inside the contours of memory fed 
on the drops of half-drunk dreams.
So! Now you can see the shapes as echoes.
 
The sky comes streaming down in spools of colour,
and we all have to ask, have to wonder why the symphony’s still blaring, for whom each song 
has been strung for, 
for there is a boy shoveling gallons of paint into the blaze of his eyes, and soon, 
when he speaks, we will not recognise him at all. 
 
He, as the splitting of light. He, as the bursting of brightness. 
What is it to see the inside of colour, torn apart? 
 
And after all, how do we understand what he has become? You rise up to speak to him and when you come back down to share it with the others you find you have no words to speak into existence that which was told. How can you explain something which does not have shape? What string does not break apart when you are lowered back to the heaving earth? 
 
Let it stay divine, let it stay suspended,
exiled in the body of its remembrance.
 
 

Julia Retkova is a King’s College London graduate student with two degrees in Literature and Digital Studies. When not working on an app that connects foreigners with their family overseas, she’s running a small literary journal called Nymphs. She was born in Ukraine, but grew up in the south of Spain. She loves reading books in the sun and writing when everyone’s asleep 🙂

The Way – a poem by Fred Gerhard

The Way
 
You’d think I was crazy if I told you
I saw God once.
            So I won’t.
 
But I sought Jesus who was the Way
and made me examine what being 
and Way-ing might imply,
 
and Buddha who showed a Way
only to be deified,
 
and Tao, ever the Way.
 
Every night I empty these from my head.
 
As a small child I dreamt a sky-high figure,
soaring black and white, and it rumbled,
                        and I knew.
 
Working in the Holyoke projects
I saw a small girl with carefully braided hair
riding her daddy’s tan shoulders, laughing
                        and I saw.
 
One summer, entering a Quaker silence, 
another room opened in me, more silent, 
and warm, where a light reached down from 
behind and held me like a child in arms of light,
                        and I felt.
 
To say that I saw God once
            is a lie.
 
                        Here
                        in me
            I cannot unsee God
                        or the way
                        of God.

Fred Gerhard’s poems have appeared in The Heavy Feather Review, The Wild Musette Journal, Black Moon Magazine, Entropy Magazine, and other magazines and anthologies. He writes from a small town in rural New England where he lives with his wife and son.

The Frogs – a poem by Ryan Scariano

The Frogs  
 
For a moment the frogs 
swim near the surface 
and I’m gazing down at them, 
reaching with my eyes 
and ears and thoughts 
toward their waiting. 
They’re interested, willing 
to give. I listen and want 
to replicate what they offer 
in these sheer seconds. 
To get it right, I must also 
bring to bear the memory 
of dawn gasping 
365 million years ago. 
I’m not yet able to do this, 
but I’m getting closer. 
I’ve begun to sense the bird, 
how there’s only one, 
how it’s tethered 
to this earth. It’s both sides 
of my breath.   

Ryan Scariano is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Smithereens, published by Imperfect Press, and Not Your Happy Dance, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He lives in La Grande, Oregon and works at Eastern Oregon University. www.ryanscariano.com

Fields and Flowers – Three Poems by Julie Sampson

Field Workings – Abbotskerswell, Devon

Found Flowers – Germander Speedwell,  Christow, Devon

 Found Flowers – Tufted Vetch, Lydcott, Devon

Julie Sampson’s collections are Tessitura (ShearsmanBooks, 2014) and It Was When It Was When It Was (Dempsey & Windle, 2018 ). Her poems are published in a variety of magazines, including recently in Molly Bloom,  Projectionist’s Playground, Otoliths, Poetry Village and High Window. Her website is Julie Sampson