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.

Listening to Elgar’s Enigma Variations While Thinking about My Son’s Soul – a poem by Valerie Bacharach

Listening to Elgar’s Enigma Variations While Thinking about My Son’s Soul


Perhaps the soul is a rogue cell 
from an unknown
god
slipping its wonders among the body’s atoms, weaving,
knitting organs and muscle. An amorphous something
residing in the heart’s chambers, sparking
neurons in the brain.

Cellos underlie violins, notes rise 
like a charm of goldfinches.
Some think the soul takes flight when it leaves
the body. 
A photo of my son on his snowboard, one arm raised,
body airborne in blue sky.

Woodwinds join, an upswelling
until grace notes fade.

I want to believe in my son’s soul.
All rough woes soothed.

I think of words from psalms

lie down		        bless		        his life
	
        gather breath		        console

Valerie Bacharach’s writing has appeared or will appear in: Vox Viola, Vox Populi, Whale Road Review, The Blue Mountain Review, EcoTheo Review, and Kosmos Quarterly.  Her chapbook, Fireweed, was published in August 2018 by Main Street Rag. Her chapbook Ghost-Mother was published by Finishing Line Press in July 2021. 

The Night It Culminates – Creative Nonfiction by Nathaniel Lee Hansen

The Night It Culminates: July 7, 2015

It began as a way to cope with a broken engagement in December 1997.

*

My single dorm room stifles me, so I drive to the Super America, buy a 20-ounce Mountain Dew, bag of Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion chips, and Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies. I drive around this college town, drive out in the country, alternating between sad songs and songs by Christian music artists I like. I sing. I sob. I stuff my face.

*

An April 2015 evening, the kids in bed, I’m waiting for my wife to return from work. I am (for the thousandth time) searching online for different weight-loss tricks and tips. By some fluke (or maybe not) I am scanning the 20 possible symptoms of food addiction. Check. Check. Check. All but three apply. You’re advised to talk to your doctor if you’ve experienced even one.

Even one? I think. What if you’ve experienced almost all of them? 

*

The first 8 weeks of my summer break I tabulate my food intake, most days managing between 1,800-2,000 calories. I exercise at least four days a week. On Saturday afternoons I pull on all my dress pants, and they still fit exactly the same.

*

My son, who is 5 and who can read, has been reading nutrition labels. He comments on the grams of sugar, the grams of fiber, the protein, the carbohydrates, the fat, and (God help him) the calories. For him it is about the ability to read and learn more. My family knows I try to minimize my sugar intake. I went through this year’s Lent without having anything sweet, without having any dessert. Not even my 90% cocoa. Later, after I seek help, I will look at my son’s behavior as a warning sign.

*

Whenever I glance in my mirror, my shirt off, I am repulsed. Disgusted. Hate festers. Cellulose gathers above the waistband. I grab the flesh, wish I could rip it off with my hands. I wonder if I could somehow slice it off. These last months, those thoughts have become more common. I wonder how overweight one has to be for bariatric surgery, how much it costs. A former student had undergone the procedure, wrote a personal narrative about the process. That could work for meright? I think.

*

Whenever I’m eating, I’m thinking about food (the calories, the fat, the sugar). Whenever I’m not eating, I’m thinking about the food I will be (or should be, or won’t be) eating next (the calories, the fat, the sugar). Sleep is the sole stretch of time my thought patterns don’t cycle around food. Sleep is becoming my only escape. I look forward to it more and more. There’s a seven-to-eight hour window where I’m free.

*

Over these last months, I’ve been regularly imagining what it’d be like to see my ribs again, just as I did in junior high when I was so skinny. My nickname was beanpole. Oh, what I would give, what I would pay, what I would do for that to happen.

*

I am not supposed to have this problem. I’m 40 pounds lighter than at my food-binging worst in 2001. I’m a Christian, supposedly not consumed by the things of this world. I’m “educated.” I should know better.

*

I like being in the water. As a child, I loved going to the local swimming pool, going to a lake, especially the one at my grandparents’ cabin in Northern Minnesota. Now I live in Texas. 

This July evening, while my wife is working, I take my two kids, 5 and 2, to the municipal waterpark. Our towels on plastic chairs, sandals askew on sweltering concrete, they charge into the shallow pool, shrieking. Even though I know no one is studying me, I am dreading my final preparation. I wince as I remove my T-shirt, thinking everyone is disgusted by how fat I am. I know that, more than likely, no one is looking at me, but logic cannot always defeat folly. There are so many other things I’d endure rather than take off my shirt: eat a plate of steamed broccoli, attend a Nickelback concert, visit an NRA convention, work for a Texas roofing company.

*

More and more often I am often thinking of my skinny friends: Adam, Austin, Tim. I think of musicians I admire, men tall and sinewy. I am so jealous. I want skinny more than I want anything else. Even more than having a book published. I’m a writer. Short of my giving up my wife or kids, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to button a pair of size 32 jeans and need a belt.

*

In junior high and high school, basketball is what I live for—I talk about it whenever I can. I play it whenever I can. I watch NBA and college games with my mom and dad. I skip lunch most days, instead taking the dollar lunch money and buying snacks at mid-morning break, so I can play basketball in the gym during lunch time.

My stomach rumbles through afternoon classes, through basketball practice, through track practice. I get hunger pangs that hunch me over in my desk. The pain is the most intense and uncomfortable I’ve ever felt.

*

Maybe this problem precedes college.

*

My kids asleep after their joyful playing at the waterpark, I sit in the recliner. In that span before my wife returns from work, I am wandering, aimless. I look at information about food addiction and eating disorder symptoms, and it is so glaringly obvious.

I turn to social media for connection, and a friend’s post on Facebook reads, “There seems to be a lot of pain and loneliness in the air tonight. I love you.”

I want to cry. It is the nudge. I begin writing.

*

When my wife returns from work, I’m sitting in the darkened living room still writing. I have not bothered to switch on a light.

After pleasantries, I grab my Bible, return to the recliner. It’s time for our evening devotions. I read the account of the Ethiopian eunuch, his conversation with Philip. 

My wife prays for me, for my summer class to go well, prays for our son, and then it is my turn to pray for her, and to pray for our daughter. And the tears start. My conscience (or the Holy Spirit, or two labels for the same thing?) is saying, just express your emotions; don’t hold all this in anymore; you don’t have bear this burden alone anymore; admit that you can’t handle it on your own; you’re becoming out of control.

She prays for people in our small group, leaving the other half of the group for me to pray for. And the tears are more regular, but I keep somewhat intact. I have to swallow hard a few times to keep going. 

I sign off with our usual, “And I pray that you would watch over us this night, and that our sleep would be restful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Before we had started praying I took some ibuprofen, telling her I have a headache (which I do), but I know that it’s also a result of the dam about ready to burst. I’m ready to admit defeat. To hoist the white flag. 

She asks, “Are your eyes watering or are you crying?”

I throw this burden into the day’s last light that is a line running from the entry way window across the hardwood floor to me.

“Crying,” I say. And then without turning to her, I tell her about how I’ve spent the last hour in the darkened living room, writing about my unhealthy relationship with food, about how I have 17 of the 20 symptoms of food addiction. My face is a mess of tears and snot. I tell her I want to eat like a regular person, without thinking. Just enjoying. Not obsessing. Not spending my day thinking about what I just ate, what I’m eating next. Not adding up numbers. I’m so tired of numbers.

That I have a problem. That I need help. 

I tell her I wanted to convince myself that I don’t have a problem, an eating disorder, but when I read her the symptoms I have (or have had), being the counselor she is, she says, yesyou have a problem.

And because one of my weaknesses is sweet things, and because she makes baked goods for friends, for us, I tell her that sometimes I feel as though I’m an alcoholic trapped in a liquor store. After all, I have on occasion, eaten so much leftover frosting and so many cake scraps that I have eaten the equivalent of half a cake. On occasion, I have dug old cake and frosting out of the trash can.

And in this, she just holds me as I sit in the recliner. She is crying, now, too, but she is listening, listening as she always has. 

I tell her that I realize that my problems with food go back, way further than a broken relationship two decades earlier.

I tell her it feels so wrong to have this problem when so many people in the world lack sufficient food. There is the ongoing civil war in Syria. There is police violence. One in 6 Americans are in poverty. 90 percent of the world lives on less than $1 a day.

She hugs me. Yes, she says, you need help, but it’s going to be okay.

When the crying has subsided, and as has my headache, I feel spent, exhausted. 

She tells me that she had been planning to have sex. I don’t have a desire for that. I just want to hold her. To be held. The thought of being naked with her, after all, rarely fills me with gleeful abandon. Rather, I see my obese body on our bed, and I am disgusted. If I were a woman, I would be repulsed by my body, say, Pull up the sheet! or For God’s sake, you really need to work out more.

*

Yes, this problem has a history.

#

Nathaniel Lee Hansen is the author of the short-story collection Measuring Time & Other Stories (Wiseblood Books, 2019) and the poetry collection Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life (Cascade Books, 2018). His website is plainswriter.com. He is on Twitter @plainswriter.

Cemetery Park – a poem by Will Griffith

Cemetery Park
 
Row upon row of recovered slabs
ease back onto iron railings,
clustering in renovated space.
 
Sixty-nine, forty-nine, nine,
here and there, a full house.
 
Half-covered verses slant into earth,
trite end-rhymes thrown up
like Titanic’s terminal gasp.
 
Causes of death flatly declaimed
like news of a passing train:
drowned, killed, passed, taken,
stand well back from the platform edge.
 
Where headstones once affixed their plots,
sandwich crumbs pepper consecrated land
in strange, eucharistic slow-motion.
 
A giant sundial is the crowning glory,
a noble, great, uplifting thing, towering arm raised
above granite quoins to bisect the hours.
 
Tired kids shuffle on their way to shops,
scuffing an inscription which sticks in the throat:
remember those who are buried here.
 
And so we strain in abstract prayer
for solemn applause of our own devising,
while mourners have long quit the stage.
 
All the while, we forget small pieces of ourselves 
sunk in airless pits,
pieces of time, pieces of love 
laying low,
just for a while,
until the great call comes.

Will Griffith is a theology graduate and former chorister who now teaches philosophy in a secondary school. He has had poems published online and in print, and has work forthcoming in Reach Poetry (Indigo Dreams), and The Chamber Magazine.

Wings – a poem by Liane Tyrrel

Wings

What if we had wings.
What if we flew above our houses.
What if we flew above the fields.
What if the sound of our wings 

pulsed and beat gently in rhythm with the blue ether 
of the sky, the shared air above the lakes, white 
with a sheen of snow still. 

What if we flew until our wings wearied, 
the muscles of our human arms tired 
with the work of flying and we floated down 
softly to land among our houses, our wings worn 
and resting on the surface of the earth, 
looking up at our houses, 
looking up at each other.

Liane Tyrrel is a poet and painter. For the past few years she has been writing poems about a haunted childhood home, memory and disappearance, animals both living and dead, and the woods and fields in New Hampshire where she lives. https://www.lianetyrrel.com/

Dust and Ashes – a poem by Christine (C.L.) Fisher

Dust and Ashes


outgrowing 
the confines 
of my chest
my bone-shell
resonating
Heavenward
a knelling
of angels
stands between
me and morning
and I am fixed
on this one star
as I fall up into
the Splendid 
gauzy edges
of faith
with my 
daring laud 
in a single 
question
Why 
God

Moved by words, trees, butterflies, art, music and all forms of truth expression,  Christine (C.L.) Fisher is a Christ believer who yearns to create art that glorifies the only One worthy of our praise.   You can find her poems and learn more about her faith and love for God’s creations at her blog https://poeticmeanderings.com.

From the Life of Iris Origo – poetry by Anne Whitehouse

FROM THE LIFE OF IRIS ORIGO

(a cento, mostly)

“The days go by waiting for better times.”

	I

Day after day we sat in the library 
of our isolated country house, 
listening to the voices on the radio
with an increasing sense of doom —
Hitler and Dolfuss, Eden and Chamberlain,
schoolchildren and soldiers singing Fascist anthems.

On June 10, 1940, we were ordered
to listen to Il Duce’s speech.
We set up our radio in our courtyard
where a hundred people gathered,
who lived in the local villages
or were tenants on our estate.

In the long delay before the broadcast,
Antonio and the keeper 
discussed the young partridges
and twin calves born that morning.
The keeper said one wouldn’t live. 

Mussolini’s speech was pompous,
bombastic, and full of lies, 
the gist being that Italy was at war 
with England and France. Afterwards, 
people shuffled away in silence.

We stood looking at each other—
Italian husband and English wife. 
“Ci siamo,” said Antonio.
“I’m going to inspect the wheat.”
Gloomily, we fetched our hats and coats.


II

At seven she lost 
her beloved American father
who died of TB at thirty. 
At seven, her only son 
succumbed to meningitis.

These losses defined her life
with the negative space
of their cancelled lives
and her unfulfilled longings.


	III

As a fatherless child, she was feuded over
by her American and English grandparents,
but they were defeated by her father’s dying wish
that she be raised without a national identity.

At nine, her artistic mother moved them to Fiesole,
where she spent a lonely, fairy tale youth
in the magnificent villa designed by Michelozzo
for Cosimo di Medici, with its terraces and gardens

restored by her mother with her father’s wealth.
Raised in a hothouse atmosphere of intellectual 
expatriates, tending to her invalid mother
or accompanying her on journeys in quest of culture,

she found solace in books and could read
three languages by the age of six. “Although 
any language will do for telling a story, some things 
are better said in one language than in another.”

Her happiest hours were spent as the private pupil
of Solone Monti, who decided to try out on her
the Humanist education Vittorino da Feltre
gave Cecilia Gonzaga in the fifteenth century,

in which Greek and Latin were learned together,
as living languages, and poetry was considered
the fittest instrument to train the mind.
Without school syllabi and exams,

her mind was free to roam. Say it in any
language you like, said Monti, but feel the poetry.
The path of learning was enlivened 
and made easier by elements of surprise. 

“For nearly three years, from ages twelve to fifteen,
my imagination was entirely filled by the world
he conjured up for me, and I owe him
not only what he taught me then,

but, in enthusiasm and method of approach,
all that I have learned ever since.” In 1917,
Monti died of the Spanish flu. Her dreams
of Oxford were quashed by her mother,

who insisted she ‘come out’ as a debutante
in three countries. In New York and London,
she was clueless and miserable. “The only dance
I enjoyed was the one my mother gave me

at Villa Medici on a moonlit night in June.
I had a ball gown from a couturier
in shades of blue and silver shoes,
and I almost felt pretty. The terrace,

where supper was laid on little tables, 
was lit with Japanese lanterns. Fireflies 
darted among the darkened wheat 
in the farm below, and the air 

was perfumed with roses and jasmine. 
At midnight, fireworks from the terrace
soared like jeweled fountains
between us and the valley.”

IV

Although it is necessary, sooner or later,
to learn something of the ways of the world, 
I would have been happier at Oxford,
working at subjects I cared about, 

instead of exposed to values I did not share,
but was not yet brave enough to disregard.
I encouraged men whom I did not like
and was distressed when they fell in love.

At eighteen I met my future husband
chaperoning his younger sister at a dance.
Two years later, when we met again,
he was caring for his father dying of cancer.

After long nights at his father’s bedside,
he would walk up the Fiesole hill
to meet me in the early morning.
Eventually we reached an understanding.

In marrying Antonio, I chose life in Italy
over England or America. We bought
a large, neglected estate in southern Tuscany,
seeking a pastoral, productive existence.

Of life’s pleasures, only books and reading, 
at every age, have never failed me,
but in the early years of my marriage, 
I stopped writing, bound up with the farm,

my son, and my husband’s interests. Only
after Gianni’s death did I return to writing. 
Seeking impersonal work to absorb my thoughts 
and distract my grief, I chose biography.

Might I, who always preferred
being an observer to being observed, 
assemble the parts of someone else’s life
and character into a pattern?

The only tribute the biographer can pay
to his subject is to tell the truth. 
But what is the truth about any of us? 
A record of happenings is not a life.

There are facts about ourselves
 we do not tell or do not know.
The biographer must seize the small facet 
of truth that catches the light.

The biographer’s real work 
is to bring the dead to life
in the context of the universal drama.
George Santayana, my father’s teacher,

wrote to me after Gianni died,
“All our affections, when 
not claims to possession,
transport us to another world,

and the loss of contact, here or there,
with those eternal beings,
is like closing a book which we keep
at hand for another occasion.”

Anne Whitehouse’s most recent poetry collection is Outside from the Inside (Dos Madres Press, 2020), and her most recent chapbook is Escaping Lee Miller (Ethel Zine and Micro Press, 2021). She is the author of a novel, Fall Love. She is currently writing about Edgar Allan Poe. You can listen to her lecture, “Longfellow, Poe, and the Little Longfellow War” here.

Don’t Forget the Other You – a poem by Yuan Hongri, translated by Yuanbing Zhang

Don't Forget the Other You

Don't forget the other you,
those numerous yous, either in the body or outer space,
those sweet smiles and the diamond flowers that never wither,
that make boundless years on earth turn into a snippet of bird song.
Yes, the crows of a heavenly Phoenix.
Those sweet lightnings hit you,
let you suddenly wake up and see Gold Heaven is with you.
And your body is the golden body of giants,
and makes all time become sweet.
6.10.2019

不要忘了那另一个你

不要忘了那另一个你
那在身体里在天外的众多的你
那甜蜜的笑容永不凋谢的钻石之花
让你在尘世的漫漫岁月化成一声鸟鸣
是的,那是天国鸾凤的啼鸣
那甜蜜的闪电击中了你
让你恍然醒来 看见黄金的天国与你同在
而你的身体是巨人的黄金之体
让一切时光变得甜美
2019.6.10

Yuan Hongri (born 1962) is a renowned Chinese mystic, poet, and philosopher. His work has been published in the UK, USA, India, New Zealand, Canada, and Nigeria; his poems have appeared in Poet’s Espresso Review, Orbis, Tipton Poetry Journal, Harbinger Asylum, The Stray Branch, Pinyon Review, Taj Mahal Review, Madswirl, Shot Glass Journal, Amethyst Review, The Poetry Village, and other e-zines, anthologies, and journals. His best known works are Platinum City and Golden Giant. His works explore themes of prehistoric and future civilization.

Yuanbing Zhang (b. 1974), is Mr. Yuan Hongri’s assistant and translator. He himself is a Chinese poet and translator, and works in a Middle School, Yanzhou District, Jining City, Shandong Province China. He can be contacted through his email-3112362909@qq.com.

After the Thunderstorm – a poem by Carl Mayfield

After the Thunderstorm
                         
                                 a solitary heart
                                 is no heart at all

                                            Antonio Machado   

the sandy bottom arroyo
channels what the mountain

can't use between banks
of sage and saltbush 

each grain of sand
lending its voice

to the music
we call running water 

Carl Mayfield does not sigh as much as he thought he would in old age. His poems have found homes at various places on the map.