Milk of Magnesia – a poem by S.C. Donnelly

Milk of Magnesia 

It’s the blue ones we’re after:
glass shards rubbed by sand and tide 
cobalt gems—a far cry 
from their indelicate past.

The ordinary green, white, and brown 
discs we pocket as well, 
for they too— 
though likely remnants 
of bottles of cheap beer
whose contents led 
to countless poor decisions—
have become something beautiful.

Should some divine eye 
look down upon our own 
manufactured selves,
if some almighty hand 
picked us up
flipped us over
rubbed us 
with a seraphic thumb 
to inspect what we’ve become, 
would we be collected into a cloud 
pocket to adorn some celestial summer home

or would its gargantuan arm skip us back 
across the ocean plane 
to sink again beneath the waves 
until our pasts were pummeled smooth 
in the tumult 
of forgetting and forgiving? 



S. C. Donnelly is a writing tutor in Boston. She has been a creative writing workshop leader, a book review editor for the Colorado Review, and a Tupelo Press’ 30/30 poet in 2022She has published two poems in The Charles River Review and several online book reviews. 

Thursday, 12:21 p.m. – a poem by Justin Lacour

Thursday, 12:21 p.m.
 
When I was a teenager,
one of the brothers who taught
at my Catholic school
actually came to my house
because he was worried
how much I was drinking.
We took a walk on the levee
and watched the cargo ships
drifting up river, then
he told me it was okay
to be angry at God;
God can take it.
 
*
 
My God, I worry You’ve
made a world where one mistake
will cost me everything
and to trust You is to provoke
disaster, but here I am,
hiding in Your great shadow.
Today, for a moment, I flew
high above the old anger,
as if pulled by a team of small,
drab birds, their hearts bursting
to lift me off the ground.
I wanted to take everything back,
make my mind another sort
of storm, and give it to You.

Justin Lacour lives in New Orleans and edits Trampoline: A Journal of Poetry.

The Queen – a story by Maggie Nerz Iribarne

The Queen

The Hive

This is her most pure sanctuary. She sits near enough to hear the throng of bees in their hives. It is honey season, and the hives are busy with their relentless productivity. She reclines on her lounge chair, her robes draping, trailing the grass, the lawns stretching out around her, acres of gardens, woods. The somber dong of the church bells. She wishes to linger here, beside this weeping willow. Hazy light filters through branches, enough to warm but not overheat. A breeze moves the trees, liberates hair from the veil. Her beauty is bone deep now, unchangeable. 

She rises, pulls herself away from the ancient sound, as old as the dinosaurs, perhaps the oldest sound on earth, the droning buzz of the honeybee. She begins her slow journey to the chapel, where the brothers will be conducting their own droning buzz. She will be late, which will be noticed. They will have news for her, but it will not be new. 

Brood

She is much younger, eighteen. Shoes feel to her like everything else constructed by humans, confining, suffocating. Her feet want to be free, her hair on her legs and under her armpits and around her groin want to grow. Living here, in this rustbelt northeastern city, she finds trees and grass in grubby parks where she allows her feet to graze, dipping them in the waters of fountains, pretending she stands in wide fields, clear rivers. The evils of man hide between blades of grass, she thinks. Although she tries to keep an eye close to the ground, a rough piece of glass eludes her, digs deep. 

“You’re bleedin’!” A little boy points as his mother drags him away by hand. 

The blood comes quickly and copiously. The tissue she pulls from her pocket does little to absorb it all. She presses until the paper is loaded and soaked, until she knows this will not end here. 

She limps to a garbage can, pulls out a wad of newspapers, secures a sheet around the gaping wound with a hair tie, and steps onto the bus that miraculously, pulls up. She presents her pass to the disgusted driver. 

“What the hell? Jesus,” he says, lets her on. 

She sits down, closes her eyes, trusting her keen senses to tell her exactly when to get off. 

In the morning she limps into the kitchen. Her father sits slurping instant coffee, watching the blaring news. She approaches the dirty dishes in the sink, begins to wash them, feels his eyes on her back.

“So ya finally cut yourself,” he says.

She scrubs each dish, placing it gently in the rack beside the sink, enjoying, even now, the process. 

“I gotta work, unlike some people,” he says, standing.

She summons her courage.

“I’m leaving. I’m going to become a nun,” she states. 

He keeps moving toward the door. Her dead mother’s face stares from a shelved picture frame.

“That’ll be a big help around here. Good luck.”

He exits the scene through the side door. She never sees him again.

Colony

In some ways she enjoys the warm, flowery scent and hum of the laundry room, but Sister Margaret’s endless jabber ruins the peace of the place. 

“-hopefully not that awful beef stew for dinner tonight,” she says, folding towels and checking items off her checklist. She keeps a clipboard on which she notes her running agenda. “I like to think of every little thing I can do each day and do it!” That’s what she said in the beginning, when they first met and she felt the need to explain such things. 

Sister Margaret seems to have grown used to the silence that comes in response to her stream of chatter, answering her own questions, offering new topics, no responses necessary. They both know that being a nun is all about acceptance, making the most of a limited existence, or spun more spiritually, finding God in all things. One must work with what one has.

She is not like Sr. Margaret; she finds God only in outside things. She should have chosen a convent in a warmer climate. She had not imagined what it would feel like to be stuck inside for months on end. 

“Many hands make short work,” Sister Margaret sing songs.

#

Christmas Eve holds all the joys and frustrations of convent life. The solitude, prayer, clear spaces to sit and allow the mind to wander. In contrast, the talking people, endless new duties. Tonight: the annual pageant. She is one of five sisters in the chorus. She silently thanks God Sister Margaret is busy with scenery and costumes. No one will notice her escape.

She slips from the back kitchen door and immediately spreads wide her arms and looks up to the sky. Her breath forms clouds before her face and her sandaled feet crunch on the snow. She resists the urge to remove all her clothes and roll on the ground. She runs down the path and back, enjoying the burn of cold rushing into her lungs. She wants to shout,  to scream, she wants to laugh, but she doesn’t. She goes to the hives, enjoys the quiet generator of worker bees shivering inside, protecting, warming their queen, a sound more soothing to her than any Christmas carol.

The Drone

A year of restlessness, change. She tells her superior the convent confines, depresses. She asks to live down the hill at the monastery for the summer with the brothers. She wishes to tend her bees and pray, she says. Her wish is granted. The head brother, Michael, welcomes her, but she eats alone at meals. 

That is where she sees him, sitting with his head down, spooning soup slowly into his mouth. She detects his scent, like burlap, or dirt, or maybe leather. She also senses his sadness, deep down to his roots, in the lines of his eyes and the turn of his mouth, like the smog from her bee smoker. He sips water from a glass and looks at her.  

#

Her first swarm in the new place comes that July. Thousands of bees glob together on a nearby tree limb. Not surprising. this is their time for reproducing, growing, finding new space. She puts on her bee veil and gloves and surveys the branch. The brother from the refectory appears out of nowhere, stands beside her. With no gloves or veil, he grabs onto the branch and gives it two sharp shakes. The bees fall in one mass onto the box below. Those that land on the ground hustle up its walls, attempting entrance. They are worker bees, desperate to stay with their queen. 

#

The bread at the monastery is very good. She follows its yeasty wafts coming from the kitchen. He is there, kneading the dough. He explains the sour dough starter, how he made it, feeds it, stores it, and how it continues to do what is necessary. He makes her a cup of coffee and they sit down at the table. 

“Nature is perfect, much better than us,” she says softly. 

 “Why are you here?” he asks. 

“I like the quiet, the prayer, the Mass,” she says. 

He nods. 

“And you?” she asks. 

“Sick up here,” he taps his forehead, “Depression. Alcoholism. The works.”

She nods.

He wraps a fresh loaf in a towel and hands it to her. 

She carries the radiating bundle back to her room. 

#

In the shadows of the monastery, they sit together on the lawn. She removes blue Rosary beads, holding them up, they sparkle in the moonlight. He shows her his prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. They make the sign of the cross and pray. Cicadas chirp, mosquitos bite on their ankles. She points to the stars and the moon, tells him how the night sky has been like an old friend, a great comfort. She tells him she has never felt a part of the human world. 

In late July he returns. She is harvesting honey, scraping it from the screens. They sit down on the ground, slather it on the bread they pull off in hunks.

In this moment, she does not pray or ask God or wonder. She opens herself to the brother and he enters. She feels whole, healed, satisfied with this act of which she has deprived herself, which bees and other creatures engage in so freely and without restraint. 

The next morning, after Mass, the old brother approaches.

“Sister, I am afraid your tardiness caused you to miss the announcement.”

She does not like to look deeply into their eyes. She looks down at the squares of slate she stands on. 

“One of our brothers died in his sleep last night. Natural causes.”

She stands in the silence.

 “A sad day for us.  We’ve lost a friend,” the older man says. 

She bows slightly, drifts down the hall to her room. 

“Sister?” he calls. 

She stops, turns. 

“I’m afraid we will need time alone to grieve this loss. You will leave here at the end of the week,” he says.

The Undertakers

Decades pass. Sister Margaret comes closer into view, setting down toast and tea on a side table. 

“Ah,” she picks up the toast, examines it.  “Sour dough.”

“Your recipe,” Sister Margaret says. 

“A friend’s.”

“How are you feeling?”

“I think I might die tonight,” she says. 

“Do you want to die tonight?”

“Just wheel me up to the window.”

Sister Margaret obeys, opens the window wide. The cold January bites back. 

She takes in the wide fields, the weeping willow where her bee hives once stood, the monastery down the hill, everything all silvery, shimmering with frost. 

She feels in her pocket, hands Margaret the blue beads she keeps there. 

“You’ve always treasured them,” she protests. 

“You know. It’s all got to go.”

Margaret acquiesces, slips them in her pocket.  

“Shall I get the others? We could stay with you tonight,” Margaret says. 

She doesn’t answer. Margaret leaves, returns with the six remaining sisters. 

Surrounding her, they hum a familiar hymn. They hold her safe, close, as bees do in winter. 

Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, living her writing dream in a yellow house in Syracuse, New York. She writes about teenagers, witches, the very old, bats, cats, priests/nuns, cleaning ladies, runaways, struggling teachers, and neighborhood ghosts, among many other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www.maggienerziribarne.com.

New Treasures as well as Old – a poem by D.S. Martin

New Treasures as well as Old


Have you seen my house   my little house?  
From it I draw treasures to share   generous
gifts given   by saints & sages   held out

open-palmed   glimmering like precious metal  
& given to me   of all people   for safe keeping  
To show you   I'll open a book   & turn the pages  

Look at the illumination   outlined in pure gold  
by an unknown monk   in a cold scriptorium  
during an age of self-denial   More shines

from the page   than the hurried will ever perceive
I hold a ruby up to the light for you to see   for you
to receive   if you're so inclined   It cost me nothing

everything   Take it with you   On this tree-lined
street   this little house   houses treasures  
where marauders would never think to look  

See this pearl?   The diver who retrieved it  
lost his life   & a merchant sold all he had  
to get it    Since then   it's slipped through

so many fingers   despite its great worth
In this glass case   such wise beauty   from
across the years   reposes   & over here   tokens

of what the broken   have sculpted in midair
Do you question the measure of all you bring
since it’s not earned you a living?

From this little house I draw treasures to share  
You are welcome to all that's here   We are not
diminished   by the giving

D.S. Martin is Poet-in-Residence at McMaster Divinity College. Angelicus (2021) is now available from Wipf & Stock― a poetry collection written from the point of view of angels. Visit his blog Kingdom Poets and his website.

Heart Jukebox – a poem by Thomas R. Smith

Heart Jukebox

For years I was aware of music
coursing through me when I woke at night,
some song I know well or only a little
playing in me as if from an interior
jukebox.  I always said I heard
those tunes in my head, but this morning
at 4 a.m., lying awake feeling
that most beautiful song from West
Side Story, “Somewhere,” take complete
hold of me with unutterable sweetness —
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there —
I knew I’d had it wrong, that instead
it was my physical heart like some bird
with a vast repertoire taken
up residence in my chest, from which
the song was pulsing in rapturous
waves, as would others, many
others, day and night without pause,
always singing, whether or not I was
listening, the song that is my life.

Thomas R. Smith lives in western Wisconsin and teaches at the Loft literary Center in Minneapolis,  Minnesota.  His most recent books are Medicine Year (Paris Morning Publications) and Poetry on the Side of Nature: Writing the Nature Poem as an Act of Survival (Red Dragonfly Press).  He posts poems and blogs at www.thomasrsmithpoet.com.

On the Heath – a poem by Erica Jane Morris

On the Heath

After the Temptation (Luke 4: 1-13)


There were skeletons of gorse, blackened
heather, scorched bracken. I had walked 
for days along narrow tracks, finding 

a clearing, where a man was shouting, 
head down, hands clenched, frowning
at his shadow; his words muffled 

in churning wind. He hunched down 
by a pile of stones. I moved closer – 
he wore a shirt, loose and torn,

laid his head on his knees, hair tangled
with dried mud, leaves. He looked up
– sores and sand on his face, lips sliced, 

The wind spun, turning me as I slept, 
he said. He lowered his head, shoulders
trembling, nails fierce on his forehead. 

There was a gash on his hand. Here –
let me look, I said. He placed the hand 
under his arm by his ribs, shook his head.

We sat on burnt ground, amongst stubble,
the murk of dusk. I asked him his name – 
I am any one of us, he said.

Erica Jane Morris was shortlisted for the Mairtín Crawford Award for Poetry 2021 and was a finalist in the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2021. She has an MA in Writing Poetry (University of Newcastle and The Poetry School). Her work is published in ChannelLunateMslexia and The High Window, and is forthcoming in the Live Cannon Anthology 2022.

Hope – a poem by Charles Hughes

         Hope
                  . . . looking beyond / . . . to the / bright place, where 
                  their undaunted / spirits were already walking.
                  —R. S. Thomas, “Two”



Hope falls like spring rain,
More miracle than an art
We strive to attain.

Hope roots in the ground,
A lush rose garden—hidden
Partly, partly found.

Hope hovers like dreams
We wish we could remember,
Like music that seems

To come from nowhere
We know, eternity’s theme
Spilling from a tear.

A young man at dawn
Singing to himself, walking, 
Waking, now a yawn,

Then he’s emptying
His small boat of rain water,
Forgetting to sing.

Pain his love endures
Seeps into his mind. His hands
Pause, longing for hers.

Sun shooting off reds.
Trees still dark on the far shore,
Toward which the boat heads.

Hope is born naive, 
Conceived, as it is, in love,
And can’t help but grieve,

Though day may reveal
Hints that time won’t prove itself
Ultimately real.

Through the lake’s damp chill,
He sees they’ll be together
Always, as they will.

Charles Hughes has published two books of poems, The Evening Sky (2020) and Cave Art (2014), both from Wiseblood Books. His poems have appeared in the Alabama Literary ReviewAmericaThe Christian Century, the Iron Horse Literary ReviewLiterary Matters, the Saint Katherine Review, and elsewhere. He worked for over 30 years as a lawyer and lives in the Chicago area with his wife.

Haiku for Buried Prayers – poetry by William Park

Haiku for Buried Prayers

the end of winter
willows fur in the chill wind 
and an almond blooms 

near the back fences. 
plums unfold under a streaked 
sky; these words - prayers, 

growing like the roots
of tall oaks. the stars raged in 
the fall horoscope 

the land turned inwards, 
biting and chasing for its
heart. soon comes the spring.

Junwoo (William) Park is a 14-year-old high school sophomore currently attending International School Manila in the Philippines. His work has been recognized by journals such as One Art Poetry, Cathartic Literary Magazine, etc. Aside from creative writing, he frequently enjoys playing football with his friends, watching Netflix, and likes to read.

Overheated (Tamid) – a poem by Alan Walowitz

Overheated  (Tamid)


Three places—in the chamber of incense,
in the chamber of the spark, and the fire chamber itself,
the priests keep watch in the temple,
The fire chamber, the largest, was vaulted, 
surrounded with stoney outcrops, 
much in the manner of the time. 
This is where the elders used to sleep, 
having with them for safekeeping the keys of the Azarah.
But in the upper chambers—a secret place—above the spark
the priestly novitiates keep watch themselves--
they did not sleep in their sacred garments, 
but took them off, folded and placed them
beneath and covered themselves 
with their ordinary clothes.
If an accident happened to one, 
he would go out and take the air
much in the manner that his elders 
have ever since recommended—
and sometimes have commanded 
surely, since the beginning of our people,
the beginning of time.
And he has obeyed, as if listening to the law
was nearly the equal of heeding a parent,
And who among us is to say it is not?  

Alan Walowitz, from Great Neck, NY,  is a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, comes from Osedax Press. The full-length, The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems, is available from Truth Serum Press.  Most recently, from Arroyo Seco Press, is the chapbook In the Muddle of the Night, written trans-continentally with poet Betsy Mars.

Meditation – a poem by Rowan Middleton

Meditation 

 
I sit, wrapped in a duvet, by the window. 
Outside, the streetlamp sends a yellow glow 
across the blankness of the neighbour’s wall. 
What else? a pole, a clothesline made of cable. 
 
A distant train horn sounds its two-note warning; 
somewhere its headlamp slides towards a platform 
where people hang about with bags and coffee, 
ready for doors that open on urgent journeys. 
 
Meanwhile, the sun is rising, the wall whitens. 
Someone unlocks their door. A scooter guns 
between the houses, joins the traffic sounds 
that heave and flow about me. The pole is rusting, 
 
the empty cable sways upon the breeze. 
I sit among the beingness of things. 

Rowan Middleton teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire. His pamphlet The Stolen Herd is published by Yew Tree Press.