November Afternoon – a poem by Fredric Hildebrand

November Afternoon


Nothing is simple and alone.
A maple leaf drops on water,
immediately still. Wild ducks 
weave a southward flight, away 
from heavy clouds covering 
the evening light. The breathing 
forest, the living stones, every 
withering leaf, each drop of rain, 

the beasts, the birds, the invisible 
spirit in the air; we are all 
one. Anything that any of 
us does affects us all. We 
are not separate and alone. 
Nothing is simple and alone. 

Fredric Hildebrand is a retired physician living in Neenah, WI. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks, “Northern Portrait” (Kelsay Books, 2020), and “A Glint of Light” (Finishing Line Press, 2020). His recent poetry has appeared in The MacGuffin  and Sky Island Journal
When not writing or reading, he plays acoustic folk guitar and explores the Northwoods with his wife and two Labrador retrievers. 
fredrichildebrandpoetry.com

The Missouri River Breaks – a poem by Mark B. Hamilton


THE MISSOURI RIVER BREAKS

			--for Leonard Peltier,
and to my friends at Standing Rock


Now, I can begin
my apology to the Lakota, as it is
my history to do so.

All my relatives on a journey to here, safely
in a lee of willows bent by the covering sky,

My tent a doorway
of soft greens and tender grasses—
a slanted drum for the rain.

River banks curve through moist prairie clumps
to fall in great slabs of thick mud and mystery.

Beaver tails drop
like flat rocks onto the surface of the night
and jolt the tingling of stars.

Even the nighthawks carry small circles of air
in their wings to seed tomorrow’s sky.

Far from the mountains
a river feels everything passing
and knows of its approach.

Plovers foraging ahead, extend my vision,
improve my judgment: when to cross; when to stay.

See how the extravagant
birds are claiming the Milky Way
as their wild destination?

See the meadowlark who brings the sunlight
to the river’s edge in its slashing heart?

A red-winged blackbird
marks all things as its territory
in celebration of the night.

Let the crest line rise into The People
dressed in rugged rock singing the Great Mystery.

See how the White Cliffs
in buffalo robes are quietly conversing
with the wet sandstone?

Listen to the ledges where the soft birds go, and to where
I’m beginning to understand why:

Life becomes a sibling
shielded in the shade of river bank
			and slightly out-of-sight.

Each day may seem like three. Winds continue
from the east. Birds speak, if you listen.

A flycatcher will invite you
to lunch at her hidden river crossing
where the deer trails intersect.

I continue paddling farther into the crystal waters
			where engineless boats are free to travel.

I remain an imperfect
guest who may or may not be deaf
to sandpipers pecking.

They rise and hover up into the starry path, silent
above the thunk thunk of paddlers in aluminum canoes.

I stay in the cottonwood shade,
a grackle floating by on its splayed wings
speaking of loneliness.

Close enough to have reached out, I might have
saved it, if I had not thought him dead.

I remain, here
as one, in this history, since nothing
exists without it.

The night keeps riding the scented dark, bending the sage
into whispers—into gently moving promises.
 
Water and two pancakes.
One day to Virgelle, then Fort Benton.
Then, the Great Falls, and rest.

Young osprey grow strong atop the old trees,
owls in the deep cool beneath a concrete bridge.

In front of my tent
rabbits nibble on flower stems, while I	
sit clapping mosquitoes.

If I am needed by nature, it is not mentioned, although
at night I can hear the hooves in the dry grasses.


Mark B. Hamilton is an environmental neo-structuralist, working in forms to transform content, adapting from Eastern and Western traditions.
His new eco-poetry volume, OYO, The Beautiful River: an environmental narrative, (Shanti Arts, 2020) explores the reciprocity between self, culture, history, and the contemporary environment of the polluted Ohio River.   Please see:  www.MarkBHamilton.WordPress.com

Circular Prayer – a poem by Margo Davis

Circular Prayer 


Her garden survives 
her long black skirts sweeping the paths.
Garden paths widen as she turns through ferns.
The ferns turn, clinging to her skirts, 
nudging sweet peas to meet the bougainvillea 
blooms. The season will fall short. Falling short, 
the sun scolds the garden for its need, water. 

Water will collect if it rains. Rain won’t fill 
buckets if there are no clouds. No clouds today 
so she skirts her bath. Another bath, pointless 
a waste of water. Water, please, she
pleads in prayer, her long black skirts brushing 
bougainvillea petals beneath the sweet peas.
Please. Her garden.  

Recent poems by Margo Davis have appeared in Dead Mule School of Southern Lit, Panoply, Deep South Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, MockingHeart Review, & Odes and Elegies: Eco-Poetry from the Texas Gulf Coast. A three-time Pushcart nominee, Margo’s forthcoming chapbook with Finishing Line Press is due out late-fall 2021. 

Vittoria Colonna: Sonnet for Michelangelo recomposed by Anna Key

from Vittoria Colonna’s Sonnets for Michelangelo
Recomposed by Anna Key



No. 23


I wish that the true sun, upon which I
always call, would send an eternal light
into my mind, instead of this weak white
light that undoes my vision; I wish my
heart would go up in flames with your holy fire
instead of warming itself, as at night,
from a safe distance; I wish my weak sight
could fix itself on you alone, Most High,
instead of chasing shadows. If I could
see you, Lord, if I could see you as you
are, then I could stand before you and knit
your bright rays into a garment with true
lines, that my body might shine and be good,
outside brilliant and inside every part lit.

Anna Key is married with four children and lives on a small sailboat with her family. Her writing is centrally concerned with themes of spiritual and ecological conversion, and she has published poems and essays at Dappled ThingsConviviumEvangelization & Culture and Catholic Poetry Room

Author note: 16th-century poet Vittoria Colonna’s Sonnets for Michelangelo’s sequence of intensely searching religious sonnets were written for her friend and poetic student, Michelangelo Buonarroti, the famous Renaissance artist. Not straightforward translations, my recompositions take a central poetic movement and attempt to render it in a contemporary idiom, though I preserve the Petrarchan sonnet form.

Religious Objects – a poem by Kali Lightfoot

Religious Objects
 
The year I was sixteen, I carried
The Book of Common Prayer everywhere—
on the city bus home from school,
in library study hall, alone in my room,
hoping God might see it and talk to me.
 
Statues of Mary posing by a scallop shell graced
lawns around town. Though native to warmer
climes, she stood steady through rain, snow,
and sleet like a carrier to deliver spiritual mail;
answers to prayers of faithful homeowners.
 
After college I left the Christian trinity behind,
first for Unitarian humanism, then for Buddha—
Buddhas on the altar table in my home, posters
of the Bodhisattva, and my personal favorite
Parking Buddha so useful on Boston streets.
 
Later came Kashmir Shaivism: bracelets
of rudraksha beads, and our Guru
wielding peacock feathers like a queen’s
sword, her taps on bowed shoulders urging
devotees to a state of enlightenment.
 
Are we the only animals who worry about gods?
Do ravens choose shiny trinkets to anchor
their belief in the ineffable? Does a whale
sometimes filter sea water, not for krill
and plankton but for a taste of the sacred?

Kali Lightfoot lives in Salem, MA. Her poems and reviews of poetry have appeared in journals and anthologies, been nominated twice for Pushcart, and once for Best of the Net. Her debut poetry collection, Pelted by Flowers, is available from CavanKerry Press (https://cavankerrypress.org/product/pelted-by-flowers/ ). Kali earned an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find her at kali-lightfoot.com.

there is no case for God – a poem by Sister Lou Ella Hickman

there is no case for God

for a friend who lost her faith
		
					
there is no case for God
save God alone . . .
this is my ache—to know
that proofs cannot gift grace or faith
reason alone
cannot warm such hearts as yours
so, may this poem touch with light
where proofs and reason fail
as i bear the weight of ache       
and trust the Silence
to bridge the canyon of your night

Sister Lou Ella Hickman’s poems and articles have appeared in numerous magazines and journals as well as four anthologies. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2017 and in 2020. Her first book of poetry entitled she: robed and wordless was published in 2015. (Press 53) 

Letting Go of Religion – creative nonfiction by Cynthia Yancey

LETTING GO OF RELIGION

My memories of church days as a little girl are simple, ritualistic, and musical. Some of those memories are playful. We mostly dressed up for church. Easter required white gloves and shiny shoes. Sunday mornings we wore our Sunday clothes, but some evenings we would go as we were. I went to a lot of different churches, depending on which family member I was with that particular Sunday, but I have many memories of playing at church with cousins, running between the pews or out in the churchyard, sneaking communion in a back room in order to sample the forbidden blood and body of Jesus Christ, aka the Welch’s grape juice and crackers. This communion, to us little kids, seemed the main reason to eventually join the saved grownups who partook of that ritual every Sunday. They took the blood and body of Jesus Christ the savior into their bodies each service, as if it were a magical potion to make them better than they would otherwise be. To us kids it was an enticing mystery.

As a teenager I went with an unkind stepmother when she moved us to the brand-new First Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, with its squeaky, shiny newness from pulpit to balcony. I sat up top my first day there and looked down on the town drunk, who, for God-only-knows what reason, had decided that day to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. He had walked down the aisle when sinners were called to repent and be washed of their sins; he had taken the extended hand of the pastor, who then spoke out to the congregation. To my innocent ears came the shocking question. The pastor put that old man’s acceptance into their fancy Baptist church to a vote by all of its upstanding members. My young heart cringed. How could that be, how could any man think he might have the deciding vote about a broken man’s salvation? 

It was one of those moments when I longed deeply to have strength in my own voice. Had I been able, my voice would have rung out loud and clear from the balcony where I was perched, watching it all. I would have railed against the utter absurdity of the situation. How could Christians be so foolish as to think they might decide whether or not this old, dirty man was welcome in the eyes of God? Never having spoken such brazen truth before, I remained silent until after the service, when I presented all my questions to my stepmother.

“It is simply formality, Cissy,” she retorted, not really wanting to be bothered by my naivete, but then went on. “We always vote them in!” disdain in her voice, a scowl across her face as if she wished some were not allowed to join. 

“Such a rule surely should be broken!” I cried out. “Why put the old guy to the test of our approval? Why should we, who do not, in general, welcome him around this town, get to decide about his salvation?”

Marguerite shook her head and waved me off.

But I held that moment in my heart and walked on down the way.

At Ole Miss, at seventeen, studying at the university, I didn’t find my way to church except when I returned home to Kentucky, which was not very often. But then, after moving farther south to Jackson, Mississippi, to start medical school, I lived in a small, rural community outside of the city and, for some reason, found my way to the Bethel Baptist Church, which I attended most every Sunday morning.

Likely it was the scrub nurse in a hospital where I trained who taught me sterile technique and lived nearby who led me into that tiny church, as Southern Baptist as a country church in the Deep South might be. The woman had an unusual name—Ms. M, let us call her. She was compulsive in her sterile technique, teaching me to be the same. Docile is what I was those days. Ms. M liked that. She could push the young medical student me around and feel somehow better about herself as she taught me to be as careful as she was in the operating room.

After my oldest son was born just after my first year of medical school ended, I took him with me to that church and showed off his beauty and goodness. I told Ms. M about his babysitter, who lived with us. Marianne was eighteen. She had a two-year-old son of her own, who was cared for by her mother. She lived with us through the week, then caught the train back to Batesville in northern Mississippi to be with her family most weekends. Marianne was full of energy. She seemed thrilled for the work and for the warmth of our home. I never spoke to Ms. M of the brown color of Marianne’s skin during any of our conversations about the importance of bringing her with me to church. It didn’t seem relevant.

Those days, dreaming of a life in international health, I was reading Pearl Buck. I was curious about her time living in a missionary family in China. I wondered about the attitudes of the Christians she described who seemed to worry more about getting themselves into heaven than about caring for their fellow human occupants of this world whom they, in fact, were serving.

One of Pearl Buck’s stories in particular resonated so soundly with me. It was the story of an African minister who was quite thankful for the money sent to his congregation by a big New York City church. The New Yorkers had done their Christian duty by tithing their 10 percent. Their offering was enough for this African community to build their very own little Baptist church somewhere in the heart of Africa. This third-world minister was so filled with gratitude that he set enough money aside to allow him to travel to New York City to thank those kind people in person for their terribly generous gift. 

When that Black African man arrived at the tall, wooden doors of the tremendous old stone church in New York City, the doorman would not let him in for the color of his skin. Ms. Buck made a lasting impression on me when she wrote, “I realized at that moment that if there was not a seat for the African minister in my church, then neither was there a seat for me.” Pearl Buck walked out of her church that day for the very last time.

Every time I invited Marianne to go with Zak and me to church, she would shake her head and say, “You know none of those white people really want me in their church.”

I responded, “I don’t know. They asked. We could put them to the test…” knowing that it would be sweet Marianne who would be the sacrificial lamb. It would be her heart that sank when she saw the unwelcoming, if not angry, looks around the little Baptist sanctuary. For that fear I never pushed her. Yet something in me felt a need to know what their reaction would be.

The last time I invited Marianne to attend church with me, she chuckled and said, “If those folks ask again why you didn’t bring me with you, tell them if I ever decide to go to church here, I will go to the Mount Zion Baptist Church down the road.” So that is what I did. The very next time Ms. M asked where was Marianne, I told her that if she went to church, as Ms. M seemed so hell-bent on her doing, that she would attend the Black church down the road.

Ms. M did not speak a word, yet looked hard at me as if I had slapped her full across the face. The realization that she had been inviting a Black girl to our church all that time, without me correcting her or telling her the truth of the situation, was more than her devout Baptist self could bear. 

I held her cold look in my heart. I was not as eloquent or demonstrative as Pearl Buck. I did not walk away from Ms. M and proceed to the door of that little racist Baptist church that day, but I never again darkened its doors nor those of any other church. I decided that day to follow Pearl Buck’s lead. If there was not a welcoming seat in a church for my Black friends, there was not one for me or any of my children.

I knew we were leaving behind the good that is learned in church but calculated the good left behind was not enough to merit turning a blind eye to the evil within the church any longer. I was sure, at that moment, that I would never again belong to an organization that espoused a restrictive love of Jesus Christ that neither welcomed the town drunk nor folks whose skin was a different color, both of whom I imagined were much more loved by God than a single one of them.

After moving to North Carolina, I have occasionally gone to neighbors’ funerals within the community church and have been reaffirmed as they deliberate matters like whether or not the soul of an anguished neighbor who shot himself would go to heaven or hell, having committed the sin of suicide. I have had to hold myself in the pew to avoid making the embarrassing move of walking out during those discussions, but then another neighbor would stand up and sing, a cappella, the most beautiful mountain song of mourning. Still, I have rarely regretted leaving behind the church’s good with its equal evil.

After we had divorced ourselves from our Southern Baptist church for all of these reasons, and my little son Jacob and I were headed up to our final country home one day when he must have been three or four, there was a moment of quiet affirmation for this decision to raise my children outside of the church. We were driving up the mountain to our new home in Madison County, North Carolina. The back of our little brown Honda was loaded with boxes full of dishes and clothes to get us started in this new home at the very end of a backwoods mountain road. Jacob was sitting up front with me. Curving around the bends of the cove, we were witnessing all the idyllic sights along the way: cows grazing in mountain meadows, groves of white pines, spigots emptying into the mountain stream. Then sweet Jacob’s voice called out to me as he pointed to the sky. Jacob wanted to show me the sun rays bursting down through the clouds, the rays spreading colorfully, radiantly down onto our path. Jacob, in his little-boy voice full of wonder and joy, whispered with amazement, “Look, Mom! There’s God!” to which I melted a little as I thought, Kids get it all by themselves. In nature’s beauty they find a much purer God than they would ever find in church.

But then he went on to say, without a minute’s worth of Christian education, “I wish I were up there with her!”

And I, also in awe of God and a liberal education, thought I had perhaps done something right somewhere along the way.

Cynthia Yancey was an English major before she became a mother then a 
medical doctor. Now after working for over 30 years in the trenches of 
public health, from the Himalayas to the Andes to her downtown clinic in 
Asheville, NC, she is writing the stories of her life.

The Tree Stood in the Wood – a poem by Cordelia Hanemann

   The Tree Stood in the Wood

      meditation on "Dream of the Rood"


	The tree stood in the wood
but no one saw     there were so
many trees     each a cross without 
a form     a form without a cross
leaves and branches making
their own story

	So day goes     night comes
the dark surround     forms lose shape    
hours go their way       so night passes 
mid-night comes     the darkest hour
crossing a time divide    weight of sorrow    
perhaps      a longing for a new    
tomorrow        midnight moves 
making room for the march of morning

	Grief     I look for you
but you are gone     the dream too 
of the rood road way truth and light
drenched in the slow blood
of on-coming day     along
a vein of hands nailed 
to an ancient rite 
	
	If the tree speaks may it call
to me in Your name make me new
in the new dawn's day 

Cordelia Hanemann is writer and artist in Raleigh, NC. She has published in  journals: Atlanta Review,  Southwestern Review, and Laurel Review; anthologies, The Poet Magazine’s Friends and FriendshipHeron Clan and Kakalakand in a chapbook. Her poems have won awards and been nominated for prizes. Recently the featured poet for Negative Capability Press and The Alexandria Quarterly, she is now working on a first novel, about her roots in Cajun Louisiana. 

conversations with your god – a poem by Anna Ferris


conversations with your god


last night i spoke to your god.
he told me his head hurts.
how he loathes the cacophony 
of prayers, the sound
like
“a thousand trains 
on a thousand rusty tracks.”


he may have been holy once,
but now he is rotten
on the inside like a fruit 
left in the sun.

i fell to my knees 
like they taught me in church,
i played the sunday-school girl,
asked for mercy
and got misery.

your god laughed--
howled until he
spilled tears down his white robes.

 last night i fought with your god,
and shoved him out the door
like a no-good drunk.

he stumbled over his 
wild white beard

and splayed across my floor,
your god bloody on the tile,
as broken as we are.

i learned that yelling at god
and expecting him to answer 
is like throwing a glass at a wall
and expecting the wall to crumble.

your god heard me cry 
and he wept along,
and when i was done
we raged together.
monkey-see
monkey-do.
it is hard for him to give 
if all you do is take.

i looked in the mirror in the
winter morning.
and saw a girl 
instead of a wildfire 
for the first time.

god was a terrible roommate.
he used my shower.
he left on my lights.

and, just to let you know,
when he was done with me,
god took my coat
and meandered down to the seven eleven
for a payday bar and a bud light.

Anna Ferris is a high school writer from Pittsburgh, PA. She is a rising senior. Sometimes she is reading, sometimes she is walking. Sometimes both. She is Lebanese, Syrian, German, and human.

Scorch – a poem by Alfred Fournier

Scorch



“You love without burning,”
Augustine observed of God—
as if the miracle of love,
combustible as dry grass,
might flash into flame,
scorching the soul of man.
Or smolder, its embers
remnants of creation’s burden:
to be made in His image,
unworthy of the brand—
wisps of smoke
trailing from our skin,
reaching out with blazing hand
toward everything we venerate,
cherish, adore. Like Midas,
but with fire instead of gold.

Alfred Fournier is an entomologist, writer and community volunteer living in Phoenix, Arizona. His poetry and prose have appeared in Lunch Ticket, Plainsongs, Toho Journal, Welter, Ocotillo Review and elsewhere. New work is forthcoming at The Main Street Rag and The Perch Magazine.