ASAKUSA HONGANJI TEMPLE IN THE EASTERN CAPITAL – a poem by Lee Evans

ASAKUSA HONGANJI TEMPLE IN THE EASTERN CAPITAL
                (after Hokusai)
 
Up on a roof,
Up on a hill,
Above the clouds.
 
The Temple always needs repairs.
It’s always deteriorating—
And so we are always building, building.
 
And so the kite is always flying, flying,
Over the clouds,
Attached to a string
Held by someone far below us
Among the huddled houses.
 
And a scaffolding touches the sky
From somewhere across town;
But nobody climbs it,
Nobody hangs on for dear life.
 
White clouds pass through its skeleton
Swaying in the wind from the Mountain.
 
The Temple needs repairs.
The kite is always flying.
The scaffolding touches the sky.
 
Up on a roof,
Up on a hill,
Above the clouds.

Lee Evans lives in Bath, Maine, with his wife and works at the local YMCA.

And Laid Him in a Manger… – a poem by Tony Lucas

AND LAID HIM IN A MANGER...
 
Some want of clinical hygiene, perhaps,
but then birth always is a messy business – 
blood and tears, tissue, pain and sweat.  
 
To add in dung and straw, earth floors 
and darkness, only amplifies the context 
out of which this frailest hope is born.
 
However faltering a candle in the gloom
it will attract unlikely visitors.   Expect
the fluttering wings, or steamy breath,
 
intruding stares, the timid holding off;
all wondering why they should feel moved,
so deeply by another mouth to feed.
 
It’s one more head to count, yet such our hunger 
for some chance of change – however long 
the odds, how faint a promise, or how often 
 
hope gets snuffed out, overwhelmed with troubles, 
threatening dark, that yearning still persists – 
the slightest crack for new light to seep through. 
 
 

Tony Lucas has lived and worked in inner South London for many years.   Hs work has been published both in the UK and America, with the most recent collection of his work, Unsettled Accounts, issued by Stairwell Books in 2015.

Anything But – a poem by Carol Casey

Anything ButBeauty is truth, truth beauty”
John Keats

“Tell all truth but tell it slant”
Emily Dickinson

It’s tricky of truth to need 
to slant all blinding beauty
so that cornea, lens, retina 
tamper, measure, clip, 
alter light to give us only 
what won’t kill or drive insane.  

And malleus, incus, stapes
contain galleys where 
excruciating music gets 
rinsed, chopped, cooked, 
and presented as 
a comforting pablum 

while censors in the brain keep 
busy with white-out so that cognition 
receives its correspondence full 
of gaps- blank spaces with 
enough words left to make sense, 
leave us unsuspecting.  

And some filter, when we 
look at each other, illuminates 
blemishes, jowls, wrinkles, 
skin colour, scowls, scars, 
stains, fashion sins-
anything but the miracle.

Carol Casey lives in Blyth, Ontario, Canada. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Prairie Journal, Sublunary Review, Plum Tree Tavern and others, including a number of anthologies, most recently, Tending the Fire and i am what becomes of broken branch. Facebook: @ccaseypoetry; Twitter: @ccasey_carol; Webpage: https://learnforlifepotential.com/home-2/poetry/

Driving Home on Highway 10 – a poem by Jean Biegun

Driving Home on Highway 10
 
My Honda speeds
past a sudden field of yellow. 

I don’t do what the Buddha said:
Let it go. 

So much of me desires
instant yellow fields,
 
bouquets of Heaven’s
smiley face salutation, 

high-fives of that bliss
I rush to.

Jean Biegun, retired in Sacramento, CA, began writing poetry in 2000 as a way to overcome big-city job stress, and it worked.  Poems have been published in Mobius: The Poetry MagazineAfter Hours: A Journal of Chicago Writing and ArtWorld Haiku ReviewPresence: International Journal of Spiritual Direction and other places.

The Church in Exile – a poem by Patricia Davis-Muffett

The Church in Exile

Here is the truth: when the pandemic forced us
to move church online, join the Diocese
in Cathedral services, I was swayed
by the beautiful windows captured on video,
the professional cantor’s voice
echoing in the empty chamber.

I miss you, fellow travelers--
still saying the peace to each other through texts,
as we meet in the virtual Cathedral.
Maybe this is ok.
Maybe this is the future.

But then, the call comes, 
and I do as I have learned--
from you, from my mother, my grandparents.
Yes, I will pick up food from our repurposed church,
take it to desperate mothers.
I drive to our church, step through the side door,
met again with the dirty steps, the peeling paint,
our strange sanctuary, its unfinished floor.

Here, my first child crawled, knees and hands blackened,
as I found my voice and sang of resurrection.
Here, I prayed for the lost babies (two)--
hidden lives, the grief that much harder.
Here, I welcomed the well-wanted child,
her laugh filling eaves, her steps racing thunder.
Here, I grieved and was held.
Here, I held the grieving.
Here, I cried for my child alone, in pain.
Here, he prayed for lemurs’ survival
while fighting for his own.
There was work.
There was boredom.
Money to be raised, 
the building to keep up, 
exhaustion.

Here, the rose windows 
are the eyes of those fed.
Here, the cantor’s voice
of our rambunctious children.
This, our dingy cathedral,
the one we have built
from the lint in our pockets,
the gum in our mouths,
the spit of our thumbs, polishing faces.
Our foundations buttressed
by the arms of our elders
grasping on tightly, holding us up.

It is not photogenic, 
but I will choose this imperfect cathedral--
our home--when the locks are undone
and all of us, dirty, limping and loud,
stream once again through its doors.

Patricia Davis-Muffett holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota and her work has appeared in several journals including The Slate, Coal City Review, and Gypsy Cab, on public radio, in the di-verse-city anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival and is forthcoming in Rat’s Ass Review. She lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband, three children, one good dog, one bad puppy and a demon of a cat. She makes her living in technology marketing.

Uriel Fox and the Enchanted Spectacles – a story by John Zurn

Uriel Fox and the Enchanted Spectacles

The morning air felt brisk as Uriel ventured off the highway and began hiking through the rather large town called Discovery. Weary and hungry from his long two day hike, he sat on a bench to rest. His feelings of isolation intensified as he watched the people hurrying past him. They all seemed to have places to go.

Uriel wandered all the way to the edge of Discovery before he noticed an elderly woman sitting in an old blue chair. Her ebony eyes seemed to gaze right through him as he approached her. “My name is Mary Light Feather,” the ancient woman exclaimed. “Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee, here on the porch?”

Uriel felt uneasy and surprised that the woman would speak to a stranger on the street, but despite his trepidation, he replied, “Thank you. I would. My name is Uriel Fox.”

Almost before he could sit down, Mary began asking about him in a warm and sincere manner. Uriel felt comfortable around Mary almost immediately, and he began to describe his life experiences. “I stick to myself mostly. I wander through towns by utilizing the shoulder of the highway, so I can connect with various places. However, everywhere I visit, the people are usually unkind, and when I attempt to help them or teach them, they usually reject my assistance.”

Mary listened carefully and replied, “Why do you feel the need to assist everyone?”

“I can’t help it,” Uriel answered.

Mary became more direct, “Do you desire to change things because you feel a genuine need to help, or do you need to control situations instead of letting things play out naturally?”     

Now Uriel felt frustrated, “I just feel it’s important to do the right thing,” Uriel explained. 

“Perhaps you’re not always right,” Mary continued. “Apparently, people don’t seem to appreciate your efforts. You didn’t even mention any friends you might have.”

“Actually, I have none, right now,” Uriel answered. “That’s why I feel alone. I really don’t need friends. However, sometimes my life is difficult.”

Mary thought for a moment then exclaimed, “Well, you have a friend now.”

Light Feather then reached under her chair and retrieved a silver case. She handed it to Uriel, and he quickly grabbed it. Inside was an old pair of horn rimmed spectacles with transparent lenses. Uriel looked puzzled and said, “Mary, I don’t need glasses.”

“These glasses aren’t simply to improve your vision. They’re enchanted,” Mary explained.  

Suddenly, Uriel became more interested in his gift. “Why do you say they’re enchanted?”

Mary replied softly, “These spectacles identify people you actually need to help. When you observe someone who actually needs you, their physical appearance will exhibit a gray fuzzy glaze around it.”

“I don’t believe you,” Uriel replied rudely.

“It’s not a question of belief,” Mary persisted. “It’s a matter of direct experience.”

Uriel, still skeptical, decided that he’d better listen to Mary, since she had no discernible reason for deceiving him. “I’m sorry,” Uriel relented. “Please go on.”

“You seem to be highly invested in helping people, whether they ask you or not,” Mary observed. “These spectacles will help you discover individuals who need help, as well as inform you about people who can truly help you. From our conversation, it seems that you feel completely autonomous, so Uriel, wear these eyeglasses at all times. They should help you find your way.”

As Uriel stepped off the porch, Mary called, “Come see me again. I’m always here.”

Uriel continued down the street, now keenly observant. In a deliberate effort to test the enchanted spectacles, he covered the entire town of Discovery. He eagerly walked every road and alley searching for people who might need help. Nevertheless, he was extremely disappointed when he failed to find a single gray fuzzy vision. Before the day ended, Uriel headed back toward the highway, confused but determined.

Fox shuffled down the highway for several days before he received an opportunity to experience the power of the enchanted glasses. He had just turned off the highway and found himself on a lonely two lane road with a solitary house near a curve in the road.

Uriel hurried up to the front door and knocked, but nobody answered, so he simply pushed past the unlocked entry. He immediately sensed something suspicious was happening. In the bedroom, a young man, covered in a fuzzy gray shadow, appeared to be sitting up in bed motionless. In his hand, he clutched a picture of a woman who appeared to be his wife. Uriel knew he needed to help the seemingly paralyzed man, but he wasn’t sure how to do it.

Finally, Uriel began calling to the young man while gently shaking him. “Sir, are you all right? Sir, I’m here to help you.”

After several attempts to communicate with the man, Uriel could see him rallying, so he encouraged him to speak. “Sir, what is your name? What happened to you?”

The man spoke slowly and he proved difficult to understand, at first. Before long, however, he seemed to recover. “My name is Jim Shields, and my wife Susan has just been killed in a car accident.”

“Oh my Lord,” Uriel exclaimed. “How long have you been sitting here?” 

“Since the hospital called yesterday,” Jim blankly replied.

“Hasn’t anyone come to help you?” Uriel asked in surprise.

“No, I haven’t told anyone yet. My brothers live about a hundred miles away, and I just haven’t the strength to call them.”

Uriel helped Jim into the shower, and cooked some soup for him. Next he searched for the family telephone address book. When he found the brothers’ numbers, he called them.

As Jim slowly began to comprehend the magnitude of his loss, Uriel patiently comforted him until his brothers arrived. Then, Uriel left the house barely waiting for the brothers to thank him. By the next afternoon, Uriel had traveled to several more towns feeling good about his experience prompted by his mysterious glasses. 

While he trudged down the highway, Uriel eventually spotted another side road, so he left the highway once again and began his custom of investigating the landscape. However, he hiked for hours without finding any obvious places to visit. Finally, he came to a crossroads and feeling frustrated; he sat down on the side of the road.

For once, Uriel Fox felt completely lost which rarely happened to him. He felt like being lost meant he was slipping somehow. 

But before he could continue with his musing, a young man ambled up to him and asked, “Are you lost or just homeless?”  

“No,” Fox protested. “I’m not lost or homeless, but you look like you need help.”

The stranger introduced himself as Billy Bumper, and he exhibited a light fuzzy shadow around him. He also looked so intoxicated; he could barely stand, yet when Uriel asked him again if he needed help, Mr. Bumper still insisted he was fine.

Uriel felt baffled. How could he possibly assist Mr. Bumper if he adamantly refused any help?  “Okay, Mr. Bumper,” Uriel replied attempting to end the encounter. “I’ll see you later.”

Fox concluded that the intoxicated stranger appeared to be somebody he could never help. However, as Uriel attempted to leave, the unsavory Bumper grabbed Fox from behind just when Uriel turned up one of the alternative roads. “You’re going the wrong way!” Bumper screamed. “There’s evil on the road you’re taking!”

Uriel’s patience with the fiendish Bumper was finally spent. He freed himself; grabbed Bumper’s arm and thrust him to the ground. As he returned to the road, he felt justified and more confident of his directions.

Yet, this self-confidence proved to be premature. About nightfall on the road, Uriel distinctly heard the terrifying howls of timber wolves. He instantly remembered Mr. Bumper’s warning and began running as fast as possible back in the direction of the crossroads. When he returned to where he had encountered Bumper, Fox could visibly see the wolves approaching in their tenacious pursuit. Uriel swiftly turned up the alternate road and continued running. As if by some miracle, he spotted a canoe next to a swift flowing river. He jumped into the boat and paddled as fast as possible down the waterway. Since the wolf pack appeared to be skittish about swimming after him, Uriel realized that he had made an astonishing escape.

Needless to say, the gray shadow that covered Bumper’s body meant that Bumper was meant to help Uriel, not the other way around. Fox’s arrogance in assuming Mr. Bumper needed his help provided a valuable lesson.

While Uriel continued to safely paddle down the river, it began to rain, first in sprinkles then in torrents. The rain soon filled the canoe, so Fox had to swim to shore to avoid sinking. On the shore, the ground under his feet was already saturated, making it clear that he might need to find a formidable shelter to escape the downpour.  

The deluge continued for three days and nights with no break in the clouds. As Fox followed the road near the river, the surface felt thick with mud. Fortunately, he finally encountered a small town nestled between two steep mountain slopes. Feeling optimistic and more at ease, Uriel raced down a long steep stretch of road and approached the town.

To his utter astonishment and dismay, every individual he passed exhibited the same fuzzy gray aura surrounding them. No matter where he turned, Fox witnessed the same shadow, and he failed to understand what possible meaning the visions could suggest. After a while, he also remembered a news article he had read years earlier. The article described mountain slopes overloaded by a relentless downpour that created the perfect conditions for a catastrophic landslide.

Fox immediately surmised that the entire town appeared to be in danger. If Uriel proved to be correct, the residents would all be buried alive if he didn’t warn them. He realized the most efficient and effective way to notify the community would involve finding the local radio station in town. He gazed up to the sky and discovered a large radio antenna almost directly above him. He raced inside the building and up the stairs, and then rushed into the station’s front office. 

“Sir,” Fox pleaded. “You must broadcast an emergency message! This town is about to buried by a gigantic landslide!”

Before the young man at the counter could respond, the DJ entered the office. She had overheard Uriel’s desperate comments, and took him seriously. “It is possible we’re in danger,” she stated, glancing at Uriel. “With all the rain we’ve had after such an arid summer, I think we should at least warn the people of the possibility of a disaster. If this man is wrong, it will simply amount to a waste of time. However, if he is correct about the landslide, we could save the entire town!”

Since Sue Ann, the DJ, appeared to be one of the most respected citizens in town, the residents didn’t question her emergency message. Instead, the residents raced from their homes and climbed up the road in a wild scene of organized chaos. Unfortunately, they didn’t need to wait for very long to see the horrible event unfold.

The mud, sticks, and boulders rolled down the slopes in a frenzy of destruction just as the last stragglers reached safety. The landslide proved to be unstoppable, as it steamrolled over the entire village. Although Uriel certainly saved all the residents from perishing, their homes, cars and all their other possessions were ruined.

The responsibility for the spectacles had finally proven too difficult to bear for Uriel. The visions the glasses created almost always involved some sort of danger, and he wanted no part of them. How could he spend the rest of his life anxiously waiting for some shadow to appear that might require him to act in a way he couldn’t predict? Mary Light Feather’s gift had turned out to be a curse, and Uriel wanted an explanation.

After reaching Light Feather’s home, Fox vaulted up the steps and banged on the front door. When Mary appeared, Uriel’s voice sounded explosive and disrespectful. “How could you give me the spectacles when you knew how much trouble they could cause me?”

Mary seemed to expect Uriel’s tirade, and answered, “Uriel, do you still believe that you live in the world alone? You should have understood by now that we are all connected. Everyone has some relationship with everyone else. You can’t help people if you can’t identify who they are.”

Fox shot back. “I’d rather remain alone and take care of my own problems.”

Mary paused a moment and then continued, “Uriel, the enchanted spectacles aren’t actually magical. Your own intuition perceived the fuzzy gray shadows. I simply allowed your potential to surface through your own mind.”

“That’s impossible,” Uriel interrupted. “Here, take the spectacles. I never want to see them again.”

Mary took the glasses but also gave Uriel Fox an important message. “Uriel,” she said, “you’ll find that now the visions will appear without the spectacles. Seeing these images has become your burden to carry; your most important purpose. Your life will be more difficult now. However, you will also be much more helpful than ever before.”

Uriel soon found himself near the edge of town ignoring Mary’s assertions and feeling much better. He felt a great burden had been lifted, and he enjoyed the freedom. But before Uriel could truly savor the experience, a beach ball rolled past him on the sidewalk and into the street. Then a little girl appeared with a fuzzy gray shadow surrounding her. She impulsively began to run for the ball, but Uriel quickly grabbed her. The girl’s mother instantaneously scooped her away from Uriel and hugged, kissed, and scolded the child all at the same time. It was then Uriel Fox apprehended the truth of Mary Light Feather’s prediction. For now, at least, his life would be much more complicated, for better or worse.  

John Zurn has earned an M.A. in English from Western Illinois University and spent much of his career as a school teacher.  In addition, John has worked at several developmental training centers, where he taught employment readiness skills to mentally challenged teenagers and adults.  Now retired, he continues to write and publish poems and stories.  As one of seven children, his experiences growing up continue to help inspire his art and influence his life. Website: https://www.portalstoinnerdimensions.com/

Ripple and Poplar – a poem by Ruth Holzer

Ripple and Poplar

A shining ripple,
lighter than lace,
trickles over the breast
of the great blue heron.

A declining ray of sun
illuminates a ragged 
tulip poplar leaf,
picking out

its map of veins:
another tree, slowly
emerging to stand
before the opened eye.

Ruth Holzer’s poems have appeared in Southern Poetry Review, Connecticut River Review, Slant, Blue Unicorn and THEMA, and in other journals and anthologies the U.S. and abroad. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the author of five chapbooks, most recently A Face in the Crowd (Kelsay Books, 2019) and Why We’re Here (Presa Press, 2019).

The Staircase to Heaven is a Spiral

THE STAIRCASE TO HEAVEN IS A SPIRAL
Double Golden Shovel after Dylan Thomas
 
Night falls, and I wonder what good it is to do
good, to serve soup to the other, to do not
that, but this. Do ladles of soup allow one to go
into heaven? I tread the stone steps, gentle,
gentle, and approach the beckoning light. I go into,
go into, go into the echo of heaven. Is it that,
not this, that will matter? What does good
do in the great celestial ascent, now that it is night?

Before moving to the Washington DC area, Raima Larter was a chemistry professor in Indiana who secretly wrote fiction and tucked it away in drawers. Her work has appeared in GargoyleChantwood MagazineCleaver, BULL, Linden Avenue, Another Chicago Magazine and others. Her first two novels, “Fearless,” and “Belle o’ the Waters,” were published in 2019. Read more about her work at raimalarter.com.

Soren Kierkegaard was Dead by Age Forty Two – a poem by Mark J. Mitchell

SOREN KIERKEGAARD WAS DEAD BY AGE FORTY TWO
 
                        As a tragic hero it is impossible for him to remain silent.
                                                                                    --Soren Kierkegaard
 
                        Prompt as a northern clock and just as stiff,
                        he appears at midnight. The glass is laid out—
                        your fantasy ritual will play out
                        as it has for decades. Life must be lived
                        forward, he always said. He had a gift
                        for the pithy. You’re surprised he looks so young—
                        now you’re years past him. He hadn’t begun
                        to go gray when he died. Just play your game:
                        Welcome his smoky ghost, pretend he’s tame
                        as the cool wine. If he speaks, you’ll be stunned.
 
                        He sits still, considers himself unknown,
                         coughing his throat clear. “Has it been a year?
                        You look the same. My father—his old bones
                        so long gone even my heart’s bleached out fear
                        of him.” You want to warn him not to say
                        what you know he will say. “Come Easter day”
                        he goes on (sparing you the tender wound
                        you’re ready for) “Something has to rise—
                        but not me. Close your pilgrim weary eyes.
                        Let my love affair with God light your room.”
 

Mark J. Mitchell was born in Chicago and grew up in southern California. His latest poetry collection, Roshi San Francisco, was just published by Norfolk Publishing. Starting from Tu Fu  was recently published by Encircle Publications. A new collection is due out in December from Cherry Grove.He is very fond of baseball, Louis Aragon, Miles Davis, Kafka and Dante. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the activist and documentarian, Joan Juster where he made his marginal living pointing out pretty things. Now, like everyone else, he’s unemployed. He has published 2 novels and three chapbooks and two full length collections so far. 

Refinishing – a poem by Diane Elayne Dees

Refinishing
 
Less than half an hour after I tossed it 
to the curb, my table found a new owner. 
A man stepped out of his truck,
carefully lifted it into the cargo bed,
and drove away. The table was old,
its parquet finish worn, its top marred
by an unknown substance,
and it no longer suited my needs.
I wondered, as he drove away,
where the man would take my table.
I guessed that he would strip, scrape,
clean, and sand it, then apply stain
and give it new life. I imagined 
it would find its place in someone’s hall
or entryway, or behind someone’s sofa.
And now I wonder: Is there a curb 
onto which I can toss myself,
for I, too, am in need of having years
of trauma, bad decisions, worries,
and regrets stripped away. 
Is there a curb where God picks up souls,
removes layers of psychic toxins,
and applies a stain of pure beauty,
sealed forever with a clear coat of love?
I ask because I am in need of refinishing,
and I seek new life.

Diane Elayne Dees‘s poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies. Diane, who lives in Covington, Louisiana, is the author of the chapbook Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books), and has another chapbook forthcoming. Diane also publishes Women Who Serve, a blog that delivers news and commentary on women’s professional tennis throughout the world.