The Psalmody of Trees – a poem by Philip C. Kolin

The Psalmody of Trees


We belong to each other.
My name inscribed in cursive
on your ruddy skin, your leaves falling,
shawling me in glorious greenery.

What I reflect on you have already seen.
Your limbs limn sacred texts pulled from
bounty's breezes. Your rustles echo heaven's
drum snares and whispering strings. 

Together we sing in the same choir of air
savoring the long syllables of summertide.
But what a paradox we are, the soil
holding us even as we reach for the clouds.

Philip Kolin is the Distinguished Professor of English (Emeritus) and Editor Emeritus of the Southern Quarterly at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has published over 40 books, including twelve collections  of poetry and chapbooks. Among his most recent titles are Emmett Till in Different States (Third World Press, 2015), Reaching Forever (Poiema Series, Cascade Books, 2019), Delta Tears (Main Street Rag, 2020), Wholly God’s:Poems (Wind and Water Press, 2021), and forthcoming Americorona: Poems about the Pandemic (Negative Capability Press, 2022).

Trance – a poem by Lisa Molina

Trance 

Moon shaped as a C
for cancer
for chance
for cure.

The nurses hang 
the bags of potions
casting the killing spells
on all his blood cells.

My ritual now:
Light an electric candle,
brew some herbal tea,
listen to the
whooshing
whishing
(wishing)
of the 
cat-purring 
pumps.

Pulsating pumping 
in this room of
nearly-broken hearts.

Lying on the bed 
across the room
from my sleeping son,

I squeeze 
each separate
bead-bead-bead
of my Rosary;

“And blessed is the 
fruit of thy womb...”

“And blessed is the 
fruit of thy womb...”

Until I drift
into the trance
of night.

I awaken to 
swishing
(wishing)
sounds
of the janitor
sweeping
her magic
broom wand,

ridding the room
of bacterium.

Morning sun conjures
a beam of golden light 
onto his placid pale 
puffy face-

An angel’s charm.

For today, the
umbilical cord cells
of another mother’s
womb-child will
resurrect his
blood.

The supernatural bond
between these children
never to be broken.

Stepping out of bed,
I walk to the mirror over
the sanitized sink where

the unrecognizable
frightened face 
gazes back at me,
and asks again,

“Is this real?”

Lisa Molina is a writer and educator in Austin, Texas. She has taught high school English and theatre, served as Associate Publisher of Austin Family Magazine, and now works with students with special needs. Her writing can be found in Amethyst Review, Bright Flash Literary Review, Trouvaille Review, Beyond Words Magazine, Neologism Poetry, and The Ekphrastic Review. Molina was recently named Poet of the Week on the Instagram page of The Literatus Magazine.

Painted Rock – a poem by Catherine Fletcher

Painted Rock

Catherine Fletcher is a poet and a playwright. Recent work has appeared in The Hopper, Kissing Dynamite, Hopkins Review, Burning House Press, and the concert series Concept Lab. She was a TWP Science and Religion Fellow at Arizona State University from 2016-18. She also served as Director of Poetry Programs at the New York-based organization, City Lore. She lives in Virginia, USA. 

Costly Solitude – a poem by John Hansen

Costly Solitude

A sound. Barely, but nonetheless.
Hushed. Quieted. Dampened.
Pufflets of soft, minuscule, crystallized wet
blanket the blankets it spread the eve before.
  
The world has a momentary peace
seeping deeper into my marrow.
Awoken now to the chance, “Ah, to breathe!”
Fresh, untainted air.
 
My existence is solid.
Much more so than these companions
that twist, twirl,
pivot and swirl,
up, round and then
dance. Gravity is bent on our descent.
 
This mind is way too loud –
Millions of six-pointed stars
crumple under the satisfying crunch
of intention.
 
Trance broken, back to the silence
of wisps that evanesce as I exhale.
I return inside
trading pure tranquility for warmth.

John Hansen received a BA in English from the University of Iowa and an MA in English Literature from Oklahoma State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Summerset Review, Trouvaille Review, 50-Word Stories, One Sentence Poems, The Dillydoun Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Oddball Magazine, Eunoia Review, Litro Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, and elsewhere. He is English Faculty at Mohave Community College in Arizona. Read more at johnphansen.com.

Maud – a story by Sheila Kinsella

Maud

The stale odour of decay pervaded the warm air in the dayroom. Liz climbed a stepladder to secure the Christmas garland to a yellowing ceiling tile. The pin sunk in like a knife puncturing soft cheese. 

She had a fisheye view over rows of elderly residents swallowed up by enormous geriatric chairs. Their frail bodies lay in varying degrees of tilt as if the nurses arranged them according to some mysterious Feng Shui ritual.

Just beneath her, she watched Monica lean over an old lady, chatting away. How sweet, maybe she has an empathetic streak after all, Liz thought. Suddenly Monica’s hand darted down inside the woman’s handbag. Distracted, the woman didn’t notice. Within an instant a wad of banknotes was deftly stashed inside Monica’s trouser pocket. Liz took a sharp intake of breath and felt the ladder wobble.

 ‘Mind you don’t fall there,’ Monica said.

 ‘Stop!’ Liz replied. ‘Hold it still!’

 ‘Keep your mouth shut,’ Monica thrust four green fifty-pound notes at her. ‘Hide it.’

 ‘Monica! That’s stealing!’ Liz whispered and pushed the fistful back.

‘Quick! Before someone sees!’ Monica shoved the cash at Liz.

Liz shoved it down her bra. She felt a pang in her throat.

Liz endured Monica’s drilling glare as she folded the stepladder and stored it away. The moment was shattered when she heard a trickle – building to a constant flow of urine forming a pool on the floor. An acrid odour of human piss persisted. Liz glanced at the wet patch on the old man’s trousers. His bottom lip trembled.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll get help,’ she patted his arm.

‘Shit!’ Monica stamped her foot, ‘I can’t stand another minute in this place!’ 

Liz zig zagged her way through the armchairs, catching her rounded hips on their wings, to try and catch the attention of a carer. 

Christmas tradition dictated that a group of students help decorate the geriatric home that backed on to their college. This year, through lack of volunteers, Liz and Monica found themselves seconded to the task.

After securing an assistant, Liz slipped into the toilet. She locked the door and sat on the seat to check the money. Four green, not red, fifty-pound notes. Scottish banknotes: English ones are red. Her heart pounded; a lump formed in her throat. She recalled all those Sunday School stories about stealing. ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ the eighth commandment. It was wrong. She knew. But still. It was only two-hundred pounds. The old lady was so gaga that she wouldn’t notice it missing. But her soul would be damned – forever. Although, it was half a month’s rent. What the hell.

‘Liz?’ Monica’s voice interrupted her thoughts, ‘are you in here?’

She stuffed the notes in her pocket, ‘coming.’

Back in the dayroom, Monica scowled while she recced the room, ‘what took you so long? Counting it were you?’

‘What?’ Liz replied. ‘You gave me no choice.’

‘Give it back then.’

Silence.

Monica smirked.

Back in the dayroom, a commotion erupted. 

‘My cash!’  A woman screamed, ‘which one of you Sassenachs has taken it?’

An assistant rushed over to her, ‘Maud, calm down.’ 

‘Where’s my money?’ Maud yelled.

‘Maud, take it easy,’ the assistant placated her.

Liz and Monica eyeballed each other. Liz sensed her cheeks reddening.

‘Girls, girls! You can go now,’ the Matron approached them. ‘Come back at ten tomorrow to finish up.’

 Once outside, Liz and Monica parted company. As Liz walked back to her house share, she passed a homeless person crouched inside a doorway. The woman shook a tatty paper cup. Liz shook her head and continued on. Two of her housemates had returned home for Christmas already and the other one spent most of her time at the boyfriend’s. Liz was home alone. 

She emptied her pockets out on to the table: lip balm, housekeys, tissues, inhaler and the scrunched up fifty-pound notes.  She felt a knot growing in her chest. Just above her sternum. A winding, whirling tangle, like an expanding ball of elastic bands being wound one on top of the other. 

The fridge was empty bar an out-of-date egg, a piece of mouldy cheese and half a carton of milk. A tin of baked beans stood forlornly in the kitchen cupboard. Supper. 

Liz sat on the motheaten sofa, sucking lukewarm beans off a fork. Slurp. Slurp. She flicked through the tv channels, searching for a mind-numbing soap to qualm her angst, settling finally upon a re-run of a sitcom about six friends.

Later in bed, she tossed and turned, her thoughts wandered in all directions, like small children let loose in a theme park. Why did she acquiesce and become complicit in Monica’s act? Was she afraid of Monica or of conflict in general? Once a people pleaser, always one, that’s what Mother would say. She got up and poured herself a glass of milk; the sell by date was yesterday – what’s a day? On the street outside she saw a fox meander between the houses, sniffing at dustbins. Suddenly it stopped and stared up at her, holding its gaze, until spooked, she looked away. 

The bank notes lay on the table where she’d left them. Burning a hole in the wood. Etching a sin on her brain. Liz sighed, grabbed a blanket and got back into bed.

For hours she lay awake listening to the heating pipes muttering along the walls. Niggling thoughts ran through her head like mice scuttling across an attic floor. Vulnerable, that’s what Maud was, and Monica took full advantage. Cruel Monica. Complicit Liz.

Next morning, her weary face reflected back at her from the speckled bathroom mirror. Ochre coloured hammocks nestled under her eyes. A matted, tousled mop of curly hair protruded and flopped down at random angles like a cartoon villain. Liz brushed her teeth and spat the foamy bubbles into the sink. The burden of guilt was too heavy; she was going to give the money back.

Liz texted Monica:

‘Put the money back where you found it.’

Her smartphone beeped with the reply.

‘No.’

‘I’m giving mine back,’ she typed.

‘WARNING – don’t!’

Just before ten, Liz entered the day room. When Monica arrived, Liz was taking cardboard boxes of Christmas decorations out of the storeroom. Monica pinched the skin on her arm hard. 

‘Ouch!’ Liz yelped.

‘You’ll get more than that if you squeal,’ Monica sneered.

They carried the box into the dayroom. Enveloped in an invalid chair, an old lady sang to herself. A man counted the windowpanes with his finger. Liz scanned the room in vain for Maud. 

A bare, fake Christmas tree stood in the corner. Monica cursed as she untangled the Christmas tree lights. Liz laid out strands of silver tinsel in rows, ready to go. Together, they snaked the lamps in and out of the branches before threading the tinsel in-between.  Liz rummaged in the box for glass ornaments and started to hang them on the tree. 

The tree finished, Liz fingered the banknotes in her pocket and looked around the dayroom for Maud. She tried to recall where Maud’s chair was positioned yesterday. Then she remembered the garland she had pinned to the ceiling. From one corner of the room to the other, her eyes followed the gaudy paper garland overhanging the residents; when they reached the pin, she glanced down at the chair. Her heart skipped a beat. It was empty. 

‘Stop gawping and give me power,’ Monica handed Liz the plug.

Liz plugged it into the socket. A chorus of oohs chimed throughout the room. She smiled at their faded wrinkled faces crumpling with joy.

The tea-lady offered Liz and Monica a drink. One glance at the worn, no-spill, green baby mugs was enough to convince the girls to politely refuse. She pressed a plate of Custard Creams upon them without waiting for an answer. Liz rushed after her and touched her arm lightly.

‘Excuse me. Where’s Maud?’

‘She passed away during the night love,’ the tea-lady replied before giving a mug to an elderly man. ‘There you go chuck.’ She turned back to Liz. ‘No family. Sad, isn’t it?’ She sighed. ‘Mind, she was ninety-eight. A good innings.’ The tea-lady looked at Liz, ‘You’ve done a grand job with that tree. You can ask Matron if you want, about Maud I mean.’

‘Thanks,’ Liz’s eyes welled up on her way back to the tree. 

Monica spoke through gritted teeth, ‘what did you want with her?’

‘Maud died,’ Liz said.

‘Maud who?’

‘The woman you stole from,’ Liz replied. ‘You don’t even remember her name!’

Monica shrugged, ‘no witness then.’

Liz shuddered at her callousness. 

It snowed during Liz’s walk home. The knot in her chest hardened; and tears trickled over her plump cheeks. The path was icy underfoot. She took pin steps to avoid stumbling. She felt the folded notes of her ill-gotten gains scorching a hole in her pocket. Liz dragged her leaden feet past the shops. Suddenly a person stepped out of a doorway; gloveless hands thrust a paper cup at her. Liz slipped the neat bundle inside the receptacle and heaved a sigh of relief. 

‘Here’s mud in your eye Maud,’ she said to the puzzled recipient.

Belgium based writer Sheila Kinsella’s short stories draw inspiration from her Irish upbringing. An avid watcher of people’s behaviour, and blessed with abundant natural curiosity, Sheila lures the reader into a shrewdly observed world via imagery and comedy. 

Sheila graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (Distance Learning) from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom in 2017.

Wonderful Counselor – a poem by Matthew J. Andrews

Wonderful Counselor

(after Scott Erickson)


Each session is the same:
the cushion buckles under my weight,
bricks crumble out of my mouth,
the room clouds with dust.

And you sit and listen, 
nodding like a bird, lips
pursed in silent song, your soft
cursive soaring across a page.

When I am done, you lean in close,
the wind of your breath in my hair,
and ask me once again: have you 
thought any more about flying?
 

Matthew J. Andrews is a private investigator and writer whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Orange Blossom Review, Funicular Magazine, and EcoTheo Review, among others. His debut chapbook, I Close My Eyes and I Almost Remember, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He can be contacted at matthewjandrews.com

Terminal Shores – a poem by Lindi Perry

Terminal Shores


Airplanes will get you closer to God, 
but it is not the proximity to heaven
by way of height, columnar clouds are not the gate.
Instead, a collective suppression of panic rises,
admission to a trembling sky,
and the veil of my ordinary disbelief thins.
An acceptance emerges, the faith of strangers
partaking of one fate none can influence.

How many sacraments have I witnessed?
Leaving home on the redeye
over city lights that end abruptly
in dark marshes
the certain shores of our great, terminal lake.

Saline, the reflections,
salty words fill silent mouths,
turbulent thoughts echo.
We take turns gripping the arm rest--
our tithe to each other--
til we find a gentle level
and sigh one breath:
greater than ourselves.

Lindi Perry has written poems off and on since her college days, where she won some local awards and then got cold feet before she could publish. She’s braver now, and sending these little personal revelations out into the world.

Soft Address to the Bottleneck: in Stillpoint (Cranial Sacral Session) Two – a poem by Koss





Koss is a queer writer and artist with an MFA from SAIC. She has work in or forthcoming in Diode Poetry, Cincinnati Review, Hobart, North Dakota Review, Chiron Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Bending Genres, Anti-Heroin Chic, and many others. Her hybrid book, One for Sorrow, is due out in 2021. She also has work in Best Small Fictions 2020 and Kissing Dynamite’s Punk Anthology. Keep up with Koss on Twitter @Koss51209969 and Instagram @koss_singular. Her website is http://koss-works.com.

Sorted – a poem by Wayne-Daniel Berard

Sorted


We know the magic is
there just down the alley
just through the platform 
we’ve sensed it all along
and we know it’s dark
and dangerous not just
disney and pixar as
well as simply glorious
we touch our scars
the one birth gave us
and the ones you did
and count ourselves
lucky to sense the mystery
though we don’t fool
ourselves no letter’s coming
no Anglia flying to our rescue
still the soundtrack underscores
each day in our heads and
we’d rather this small
magic from this maddeningly
close distance than to join
the rest of you in eating
death


Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, is an educator, poet, writer, shaman, and sage. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His latest published full-length works are in poetry, The Realm of Blessing, with Unsolicited Press, in mystery fiction, Noa(h) and the Bark, and in short fiction The Lives and Spiritual Time of C.I. Abramovich, both with Alien Buddha Press. He is the co-founding editor of Soul-Lit, an online journal of spiritual poetry (www.soul-lit.com). Wayne-Daniel lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, The Lovely Christine. 

To Plant a Lupine at Twilight in the Company of the Earthworm – a poem by Ruth Chad

To Plant a Lupine at Twilight in the Company of the Earthworm

a Georgic poem
 

I

Dig
down
into the dark

naked hands
embedded

let your fingers
make the hole

wide and full,
give berth

to roots; let them
wind and spread

a tangle
of hair lined ropes—


II

Lumbricina—slime and moisture,
slither smoothly on their belly

rough with setae
that bristle,
protect, move them—

Do not interrupt their rounds.


III

Gently, firmly envelop
the tender seedlings of Lupinus
which you have brought
to this moment

micro-bonnets folded,
clusters of purple velvet—

Sweep in the earth.

Wait with the patience of the trees
for full flowering—

You have planted immortality.

Ruth Chad is a psychologist who lives and works in the Boston area. Her poems have appeared in the Aurorean, Bagels with the Bards, Connection, Psychoanalytic Couple and Family Institute of New England, Constellations, Ibbetson Street, Montreal Poems, Muddy River Poetry Review, Lily Poetry Review and several others. Her chapbook, The Sound of Angels was published by Cervena Barva Press in 2017.