Emptiness – a poem by Anne B. Murray

Emptiness

there is an emptiness which knows
the attraction of the clean sheet to the penitent
not the threat of the blank page to the poet
which sees the potential of the fallow field
not the blight of the vacant lot
which trusts in the dream, not the fantasy

a good kind of emptiness which doesn’t
lust or ache with desire or regret
but waits in readiness content to do nothing
except prepare itself by fasting
which hollows itself out to enable
the echo of hope to be heard

this sweet emptiness
hears the contemplative silence of the pilgrim
not the dull drumming of boredom or greed
it is an innocent in the desert
with nothing to lean on
but its own fragility

 

Anne B. Murray worked for many years in Glasgow, Scotland, facilitating adult creative writing groups  Now retired, she writes and performs poetry and organises public readings. She has had many poems published in several journals and anthologies in the UK and has self-published four poetry pamphlets. Her latest pamphlet The Colour Shop is due out in 2019.

 

 

An Offering – a poem by Coreen Hampson

An Offering

Here in the land of wild azaleas and darlingtonia,
fragrance moves down my body until
I feel like new love.
Roots spread through me downward
into the Siskiyou soil.
Yes, a special place.

The snowy peaks not so far away
stand strong against a late spring sky.
They are shouting to me!

“We have seen you before, Old Woman!
You huffed and puffed up our slopes and
across our monkey-flower meadows.
Swam joyously in our jewel lakes!
We are happy to see you still walking the earth.”

I fill not with regret at my frailty,
nor longing for what is lost.

Not this time. This time
I fill with gratitude for what has been,
and still is, somewhere.

Nostalgia frequently lies like a fog
over true memories buried deep in gray matter.

Thank you, my giant friends,
for offering me a true memory out of the fog!

Coreen Hampson lives in Grants Pass, OR.  She is a gardener and poet. Her first book of poetry, Growing Smaller, has recently been accepted by Flowstone Press.

 

Penetrating Secrets – a poem by Cynthia Pitman

Penetrating Secrets
With all your science can you tell how it is — & whence it is, that light comes into the soul?– — Henry David Thoreau

The science is settled.
We know it all now.
No more need to wonder
why the sweltering heat of the wind
blows across the burning blacktop,
melting the thick tar pitch into a sticky cohesion.
Science has that covered.
No more need to wonder
why the tornadoes gyre terror
across the vast heartland
attacking and flattening the homes, the trees, the animals
and the people.
Science has that covered.
No more need to wonder
why the ocean’s cryptic creatures dwell deep in darkness,
adorned with rich jewel tones
that will never be seen.
Science has that covered.
No more need to wonder
why the flowers bleed blood-red or drip butter-yellow,
their heavy scent saturating the air
with aromatic jubilation.
Science has that covered.

No more need to wonder
why the stars gaze down upon us
while they are trapped in the frozen pose of gravity,
lighting our darkness, but never enough.
Science has that covered.
The science is settled.
No more need to wonder.
So many secrets,
and all of them –
covered.

 

Cynthia Pitman has had poetry published in Literary Yard and Right Hand Pointing. The title of the RHP issue, The White Room, was from her poem, and the artwork was designed around it. She has poetry forthcoming in Postcard Poems and Prose, and a short story forthcoming in Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.

 

Welcoming Our Grand daughter Home – a poem by Michael H. Brownstein

Welcoming our Grand daughter Home

the hollow bowl of sunset
across a sweat stained sky
casts a glint of pinkish yellow;
the clouds, hungry for light,
congregate in the near west
wait for the last color,
the surprise of the first stars–

and so
we rearrange furniture
sounds and sighs
the onward rush of a furnace coming to life
her hands
at two months
moving to the rhythm of Tommy Roe
and the Shondells and Sweet Pea

 

Michael H. Brownstein’s work has appeared in The Café ReviewSouth Florida Poetry Journal, American Letters & CommentarySkidrow PenthouseMeridian Anthology of Contemporary PoetryThe Pacific ReviewPoetry Super Highway and others. He is the editor of First Poems from Viet Nam (2011).

Awakening on the 5:05 – a poem by Scott Waters

Awakening on the 5:05

and then you got shingles and
we realized that stress is a snake
coiled in the stomach roaming the
halls of the body at will and at large

and to tame it we had to sit beside
a lavender stream in the woods in
silence tucking stars into our pockets

and then a homeless man sat down
on the fringes of this poem in his
public cloud of rags and stench
deserving the same stream
in the same woods
the same stars falling through

the holes

in his shoes

 

Scott Waters is a poet and songwriter living in Oakland, California, with his wife and son.  He graduated with an M.A. from the San Francisco State creative writing program, and has published previously in The Santa Clara Review, The Pangolin Review, Oblivion, and NatureWriting.

Religious Instruction – a prose poem by Rupert Loydell

Religious Instruction

‘The instruction manual called God’

– Dan Beachy-Quick, ‘Confessions’

 

The instruction manual called God lies discarded in our room. It feels out of touch and inappropriate, although it has intriguing and different answers that sometimes make sense, although it would be hard to put in to practice without a lot of changes and unrest. We couldn’t cope with that.

Some people say it is a book of stories, some a set of rules. Others use it as motivation for hatred or censure, some to make themselves feel better than everyone else. Others beat themselves up after reading it and are never themselves again. I am wary of those who say the instructions need interpreting or revising for the present day, but just as suspicious of those who use it to make demands on everyone else and argue for their own way.

The instruction manual called God was given to me by my parents, who both used it as the answer to everything. I didn’t question it as a child, although it seemed to exist in several different versions and with many different covers. Some looked more appealing than others, but they all said the same thing inside, although the instructions in it weren’t always straightforward or clear cut.

The instruction manual called God is gathering dust on the shelf of non-fiction by my bed, next to a monk’s zen reminiscences and an ex-bishop’s book about doubt. Sometimes I put it with my favourite poetry, other times I hide it under the bed. It feels out of touch and inappropriate, although it has intriguing and different answers that sometimes make a kind of sense.

© Rupert M Loydell

 

Rupert Loydell is a writer, editor and abstract artist. His many books of poetry include Dear Mary (Shearsman, 2017) and The Return of the Man Who Has Everything (Shearsman 2015); and he has edited anthologies such as Yesterday’s Music Today (co-edited with Mike Ferguson, Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2014), and Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: manifestos and unmanifestos (Salt, 2010).

Outside/Inside – nonfiction by John Backman

Outside/Inside

Sue puts down the notebook with my poetry in it and gazes out the window in her dorm room. “This is very good and all,” she begins, “but what it says about you—that worries me.” She looks around, grasping for words, finally settling her round brown eyes on me. “It’s like—it’s like you live on the outside, looking in.”

She’s partly right. One definition of outside is “the place where they send you when you don’t fit in,” and I never did. I was practically an only child on a street of large families. I was the awkward child where sports were everything. I cried a lot, and boys don’t cry.

During those years I learned about the beauty of inside. Inside my house, safe from the taunts of the neighborhood kids. Inside my room, with my LPs and my thoughts and (later) my weed, where I could keep my mother at bay. Somewhere in there I discovered inside-myself as well.

* * *

I’m looking out the bedroom window to the driveway below. It’s several years after college now, my cousin’s wedding day, and the bride and a bridesmaid are standing in the drive, under the clouds, doing what women have done for ages: happy talking, listening, their words tumbling over one another, the touch on an arm or the squeeze of a hand.

I belong down there, I know I do, but I look like a man and no men are allowed. No one’s dreamed of letters like Q, as in LGBTQ, as in what I am. It’s 1982, after all. So I am outside. And instead of an embrace that brings me inside, a poem starts forming, and I jot it down. It even has a title: Misbegotten Males. Aristotle’s term for women, now applied to me.

* * *

A friend gets a new job in corporate management. It’s what she wanted, but it has its costs. “When I wake up in the morning, I take my personality and put it inside a tiny drawer for the day,” she tells me. “Then I go to work and act professional until I go home.”

I’ve done something like that to grow my business, attending countless dinners and luncheons and networking events, putting on a version of myself I didn’t know I had: glad-handing, chatting with strangers, making connections. It’s a flowering of sorts. Suddenly my outside is the vital part, the part of me that grows the rest of me.

Sometimes I can’t even tell what’s inside and what’s outside. That’s all right. I’m still young, with years to sort it all.

But I must take care. The end of my friend’s story warns me of that. “All day long my personality waits for me in that little drawer. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I forget to take it out.”

* * *

Inside isn’t always warm and pretty. Like when I sit in the car in an abandoned lot and the gloom grips my heart like talons. Forty years this gloom has visited me like an unwelcome houseguest, but almost never this intense. I can barely breathe, let alone drive.

Somehow I find my way home. Home and upstairs. Upstairs beneath a puffy down comforter, head and all.

How strange that I crawled inside something when the horror came from inside. Like fleeing into a safe place to find your attacker.

* * *

Still, inside is where things happen, for me at least. Abba Moses knew it. That’s why the desert sage gave his immortal advice: go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.

So I live mostly in one room of my house. A neighbor’s maple fills the view from a high window. I watch the rains come, the buds unfurl, the red and gold leaves turn to brown and fall, branches thrash about in the winter wind.

Somewhere in there I meet God, whatever that means. It’s like a kaleidoscope, or those Russian nesting dolls. I am in my room, God is inside me, God is outside me, remarkably like sex.

Over time, the insideness changes me. I begin to reach outside and draw others in, if not to my house then to my friendship. Maybe this is what everyone else does. I don’t know. I do know that the people I draw in, they have the haunted look of being outside too much for too long.

I wonder if Julian the mystic saw her calling the same way. Julian was sealed into one room on the side of a Norwich church. There she lived in her cell, and her cell taught her everything. She met God, whatever that means, through the window with a view of the church’s altar. At another window, which looked outside, people came to her for counsel and comfort. She took what she drew in from the altar, from her one and only room, and gave it to them.

Richard Rohr wrote this about hermits: they “go apart to find a way to experience their truth in a healing, transformative way for others. They look like they are alone, but exactly the opposite is the case.”

Or: they look like they’re outside, when actually they’re inside reaching outside.

Maybe this is what I’ve always been, and I did not know it.

* * *

That would make a great ending, wouldn’t it? I could wrap up this essay on a happy note and be perfectly content. But my meetings with God, whatever they are, keep pushing.

They introduce me to Manjusri. Manjusri is a bodhisattva, those wonderful beings in Buddhism who can enter nirvana but choose to remain “behind” to help the rest of us. He shows up in a Zen koan and messes with my inside/outside:

One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”

Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”

I have left the outside after decades trekking its wastes and drinking from its springs. I have settled on inside-reaching-outside as a home for my heart. Now comes this koan that questions whether there is inside or outside at all.

I do not know what to do with this. I do know it is important and, strangely, comforting. It removes the need for distinction. By doing so it puts me at rest.

At last.

But of course there is no last. Just next. Always, always next. I take a deep breath and hold it, like a diver on the edge of an impossibly high springboard, poised for the next time when, prompted by that obscure divine push, I plunge deeper in—if in is the word—than I have ever been.

 

John Backman: As a spiritual director and monastic associate, John Backman writes mostly  about contemplative spirituality and its relevance for today’s deepest issues. This includes a book (Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart) and articles in such places as Spirituality & Health.

This Breath of Love – a poem by Marga Fripp

This Breath of Love—

God’s whisper in darkness
the chatter of sparrows
on the frozen cheek of morning

hope stubborn like spring
burst open from the bones of winter

the tears of laughter,
the grit of winged dreams,
the pearl of time.

Marga Fripp is a Romanian-American women’s empowerment social entrepreneur and former journalist living in Geneva, Switzerland. Her poems like music long to be heard, danced with and set free. Her work has appeared in Ink and Voices and Offshoots 14: Writing from Geneva, Fall 2017.

The Man – a poem by Christine A. Brooks

The Man

Who does he pray for?
This older man who, unafraid
Walks to the front of the church
Kneeling,
Praying, as it appeared he had
Every day, for many days.
Perhaps, many years.

Had his wife gone ahead without him?
Had a dear friend been lost?
Perhaps his own soul had
Been broken, battered, in need of absolution?

I could not ask, to do so would violate the quiet holy place.
As he teetered and tottered,
Slowly rising from the hard tile alter
He glanced at me.

For one moment, we were connected, two sinners
Recognizing each other, for one cosmic instant not measured on any clock,
We were
One.

 

Christine A. Brooks is a graduate of Western New England University with her B.A. in Literature, and is currently attending Bay Path University for her M.F.A. in Creative Non Fiction. Most recently a series of poems, The Ugly Five, are in the summer issue of Door Is A Jar Magazine and her poem, The Writer, is in the June, 2018 issue of The Cabinet of Heed Literary Magazine. Three poems, Puff, Sister and Grapes are in the 5th issue of The Mystic Blue Review. Her vignette, Finding God, will be in the December issue of Riggwelter Press, and her series of vignettes, Small Packages, was named a semifinalist at Gazing Grain Press in August 2018.

Night Vision – a poem by Serena Mayer

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Serena Mayer studied anthropology and social geography, and is interested in hidden texts and forgotten or discarded language. Her writing has previously appeared in Nutshell, Electric Zone, Here to Stay, I Am Not A Silent Poet, X-Peri, Amethyst Review, Odd Moments, Reflections, A Restricted View From Under the Hedge, Poetry WTF, Storm Warning, and International Times. Her first book, Theoretical Complexities, was published by Broken Sleep Books.