When we left we ascended into the light, sun- or street-, depending. Outside steps like stairs of the ladder, its heavenly two-way traffic. My first semester back from the Air Force. At 15-cents a draft, I could spend the night for what felt like pennies on the dollar, all on the G.I. Bill. A horseshoe-shaped bar. The low ceiling of tobacco smoke that spread its cirrus above us—locals mostly, including Evie and Althea, townie sirens bee-hived and bluejeaned since their 1950s teens. The neon script of beer signs lit the walls beside Norm the bartender’s warning, “ONLY L.C.B. CARDS EXCEPTED,” which elicited Shorty’s sorrowful tsk. We slathered slices of ring-bologna with umber mustard, ate red-beet eggs whose purples bled into golden yolks. We were treated to a non-stop jukebox among whose offerings were the same two songs—Hendrix wah-wahing his way through “All Along the Watchtower” and Marvin Gaye’s bewildered plaints in “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Just two of the deaths blocking the way back to then. A third: the bar-wooed lover I saw off and on again for years (her last house surrounded by cornfields, whose hair was the color of their silk). A letter sent to me in care of the Cellarette actually got there, addressed by a friend from Texas, who had misplaced my own. Kuttstown his misspelling. First Street, which didn’t exist. The place a cynosure all that winter into spring. I even got a big hug from Shorty himself one day: “I love you, you goddamned hippie,” which I wasn’t really, though I let it pass, heavened at the foot of the ladder.
Robert Gibb’s books include After, which won the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, and Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017. Other awards include a National Poetry Series title (The Origins of Evening), two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry and a Pushcart Prize.
Humankind needs larger birds:
red-tailed hawks scaled up
to pterodactyl proportions;
twelve-story great white egrets,
spear-sharp bills puncturing
our roofs like giant stilettoes;
a helicopter hummingbird or two
always hovering, thirsty for us
to make just one wrong move.
We need more natural predators
to humble us into greater regret,
more meaningful action. We share
too little of the terrestrial burden
that camels, mules, and antelope
bear. Let the crow outgrow
our bomber planes. Let the great
horned owl outsmart us.
And let them be, as we are,
locked doors unto themselves,
their hearts grand ballrooms
of sinew and mystery, their brains
locomotive engines of synapse
and being their own worst enemy.
Justin Jannise is the author of How to Be Better by Being Worse, which won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd., in April 2021. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Best of the Net, Copper Nickel, Yale Review, and New Ohio Review. Recently a recipient of the Imprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry and the Editor-in-Chief of Gulf Coast, Justin lives in Houston, where he is pursuing his Ph.D.
You find yourself lost in a city block, the same streets
where you ate hamburgers with your teenaged boys,
the greasy taste still on your tongue,
their boy teases, their young laughter in your ear.
And then you are idling at a stoplight in another city, in another block,
and you are pushing a second-hand stroller
up toward the grocery store to buy the food
you can barely afford.
Then you are speeding
in your 1972 Volkswagen squareback, the window open,
you laughing against the rush of air,
your friend speeding alongside
you in her Datsun, both on your way to the college
you will later flunk out of but now teach at,
the same road you drive on now,
Here you are again, an unhappy,
married woman nearing middle age,
staring up at the Eiffel tower, not wondering how it was constructed,
but how you will leave your marriage.
The circles push you out and away,
pull you back,
you on a bench on the first platform,
Paris spread out like a picnic blanket,
a new husband beside you.
— Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and The Instant When Everything Is Perfect. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Mason’s Road, The Coachella Review, So to Speak, and Salt Hill Journal. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.
The snail shell lies on its side on the ground
empty save for a few dried curls of flesh, the weight
of something solid somewhere deep inside.
I place it in the middle of my palm, feel that sad, solid weight
what’s left of a snail tricked out of the shadows
by afternoon thunderstorms and cool, summer nights.
Holly Day’s poetry has recently appeared in Plainsongs, The Long Islander, and The Nashwaak Review. Her newest poetry collections are A Perfect Day for Semaphore (Finishing Line Press), In This Place, She Is Her Own (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), A Wall to Protect Your Eyes (Pski’s Porch Publishing), I’m in a Place Where Reason Went Missing (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.), and The Yellow Dot of a Daisy (Alien Buddha Press).
Again, I miss it,
the calendar sliding by,
yesterday a million years old,
today too late
so that equinox becomes
the equation un balanced,
equal sign tilted askew.
Meanwhile, the sun and stars
scroll across the sky in a language
we have forgotten, a dialect
embedded in our bodies.
Jim Minick is the author of The Blueberry Years, a memoir about one of the mid-Atlantic’s first pick-your-own, certified-organic blueberry farms, and winner of the Best Nonfiction Book of the Year from Southern Independent Booksellers Association. Minick is also the author of two books of poetry, Her Secret Song and Burning Heaven, a collection of essays, Finding a Clear Path, and editor of All There Is to Keep by Rita Riddle. Minick has won grants, awards, and honors from many organizations including the Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Virginia Commission for the Arts, and Radford University, where he teaches writing and literature. His work has appeared in many publications including Shenandoah, Orion, San Francisco Chronicle, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Conversations with Wendell Berry, The Sun, and Wind. Recently, his poem “I Dream a Bean” was picked by Claudia Emerson for permanent display at the new Tysons Corner/Metrorail Station. He lives in the mountains of Virginia with his wife and three dogs.
His eyes closed,
feet on automatic,
he lifted the child
and held him,
a tune he heard
once in Rio
when he had
watched the sun
before the belly
came, the circles,
and now the ten
of fingers and toes
to trap him sweetly,
bitterly, late nights.
Katarina Boudreaux is a New Orleans based author, musician, dancer, and teacher. Her first novel, Platform Dwellers, is available from Owl Hollow Press. Alexithymia is available from Finishing Line Press and Anatomy Lessons from Flutter Press.
Could it have been the very day we met?
It was, walking a long path through
the woods until the sun was down
and we talking, talking, words pushing
against each other softly, like nudges,
until it was wholly dark, long past
supper, past bedtime, before
you told me things I didn’t know how
to hear, before the shocks of your war
began to shade into horror. But that day
turned night we made our way to a pool.
Shedding clothes in the dark,
as we entered, the elements
seemed to collude, water became
the warmth of air, and when
we became a single body,
it was what the diver I read today
described–ocean as vast as outer space.
The coral reefs he clung to might have been
ledges on planets, as close as he could come
to drifting among the stars, the way light
moved and flashed, and bright-hued fish,
plants swaying iridescent into his vision,
a kind of brilliance he hadn’t known
in any other realm.
Susan Ludvigson has published eight collections with LSU Press, received Guggenheim, Fulbright, NEA, and Rockefeller fellowships, and has published in Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Ohio Review, Atlantic Monthly, and others. Wave As If You Can See Me, her new collection, comes out from Red Hen Press in Fall 2020.
Maybe a seven-minute ride. Turns out a lot of us white guys are here today, pickups mostly, stuck with American flags like Band-Aids over bumpers, back windows, in honor of the history behind us.
Hauling two months of litter and beer bottles from my blue luxury sedan, I must appear to be a lost investment banker hiding the bender he’s still getting over. The guy beneath the HERITAGE NOT HATE cap smiles. “Looks like you had yourself a time.”
He smells like he’s biodegradable. I toss Buds into the dumpster, one by one, so he’ll gimp off before my box is empty.
It works. It’s only me, as I repop my trunk, and drag bag to the garbage bays to fortify the artificial hill. Mission Accomplished. Although I’ll be back, sooner or later, with another load of crap my cat and I want to be rid of, filling what cavities our land still holds.
Gilbert Allen lives in Travelers Rest, SC, from where he frequently proceeds south (and north) on I-85. He’s the author of five collections of poems, including Driving to Distraction (Orchises, 2003), which was featured on The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily. Since 1977 he’s taught at Furman University, where he’s currently the Bennette E. Geer Professor of Literature.blog
Reservation dogs of uncertain breed sleep in the gas station parking lot. A stiff hot wind blows empty packs of Camels, Hershey bar wrappers, and an empty Coors can across the rippling tar. Low, flat-bottomed cumulous clouds rest on the sky’s glass pane, reflecting the red sands of the desert below.
To the south, ancient stone cities stand atop narrow bluffs and solid mesas. Old priests with parrot feather staffs celebrate deep, dusty time in secret kivas. Every day is a god, each star a prayer.
While here at the station, the register dials up the cost in digital numbers – 99 cent Coke, three dollars in corn chips, and twenty-five in gasoline – the smell of colonial commerce.
John Nizalowski is the author of four books: the multi-genre work Hooking the Sun; two poetry collections, The Last Matinée and East of Kayenta; and Land of Cinnamon Sun, a volume of essays. Nizalowski has also published widely in literary journals, most notably Under the Sun, Weber Studies, Puerto del Sol, Slab, Measure, Digital Americana, and Blue Mesa Review. Currently, he teaches creative writing, composition, and mythology at Colorado Mesa University.
The neighborhood playground has been eaten,
oxidized and abandoned. What was
never a good neighborhood is now worse.
One swing and a crooked slide sit at the bottom
of a hill that used to seem steep. We made a game
of shoving our bicycles down riderless,
watching their front wheels turn, head southwest,
wobble, then crash, spokes spinning slower
as they lay on their sides, dead horses, defeated.
I was trying to kill mine so I could have a ten-speed.
That was the year my mom gave me her purple
sunglasses as a birthday present
because she couldn’t afford anything else. The glasses
folded up and fit into a small, circular zipper case.
My shock outweighed my gratitude and I am sorry
to say I did not hide it from her. I had already
been stealing her cigarettes, the long, brown
ones or the ultra thin white variety with flowers
on the filter. My sisters and I smoked, the youngest
only pretending to inhale. That year our mother
was a single parent. She knew poverty
was better than being beaten. There was nothing
she wanted then that she did not already have.
Recent two-time Puschart nominee, April Salzano teaches college writing in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and two sons. She recently finished her first collection of poetry and is working on a memoir on raising a child with autism. Her work has appeared in Poetry Salzburg, The Camel Saloon, Blue Stem, Writing Tomorrow and Rattle.