"The poem I don’t want to write - A working draft" - Emily Katherine




"The poem I don’t want to write 
- A working draft" - Emily Katherine


The poem I don’t want to write is sitting on the couch, 
looking smug, sipping her third cup of coffee at 5pm
Go on, she says, I dare you
I raise my eyes a bit, but it’s like staring at the sun – too 
hot, too bright, to close to searing my retinas
I blink away after-images of tiger lilies, look at her knees 
instead
They are bare, dust in the creases of her skin – her knee 
caps are maps of my childhood,
all bikes and bruises and hunting down imaginary wild 
things in the woods out back
Her knees are boney and strong – they don’t need my 
helping hands to push them off the earth and allow her to 
stand.

The poem I don’t want to write reads the news over my 
shoulder in the morning
I turn to her, a challenge, but she just laughs
tells me there’s not a enough time before work and I’m 
not saying anything the BBC or NPR won’t say anyway.
she says you can’t, you will sound too country, too white, 
too privileged, too young, to have any real knowledge of 
the world
She says my doubt is infectious, best to hide it away, 
isolate the sickness
She says “you’re voice isn’t strong enough and when you 
raise it, you’re not raising an army, you’re just shouting.”
I finish my coffee, put the mug in the sink and head into 
the office

The poem I don’t want to write watches me put on 
makeup in the evening, pre-date
She has indelible red lipstick, she says this is vital, this 
color
she says red is blood, and red is power and red is 
dominance
and surely I must need some power painted on me,
because if I was really strong, I would practice the 
principles I preach, go out
naked face and flat shoes and fall into the open arms of t
he world, sure they will be there to catch me
But since I tiptoe a tightrope, stretching between my city 
sky-scraper-self and a man I hope is an architect, with 
building plans in his heart and masonry in his blood -
obviously I need some false convictions to believe in
obviously I need this make-up mask to hide behind
obviously I can’t hold her finger-polished hand to the 
page and force out the anger like hot steam congealing 
into words – I feel it constricting my middle, at the idea I 
have to smile
at the idea I have to “not be such a bitch”
at the idea I should take it as a compliment
at the idea that I do take it as a compliment

the poem I don’t want to write is looming shadows, nights 
I can’t sleep, words stopped up in my throat, looking for 
signs in the wrinkles of the sheets, hot face warming the 
pillow, praying for a prayer to appear in a language I don’t 
speak – but will try like hell to learn
She listens
She is not always smiling
she holds my hand
rest, she says
she’ll stay here with me, she says
steady back against my bedroom wall,
until I’m ready to write her down


Emily Katherine's website is Gut Punch Poetry. (Photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Wine from Rumi's bottle" - Shafkat Khan




"Wine from Rumi's bottle" - Shafkat Khan

Falling in love is much like
reading Rumi's poems.

Never ask if this is the best
poem this night,
but ask if the poem
speaks to you.

Ask if the bottle
from which you drink
is a gift,
and not if that bottle is the best
you could buy at the last call
of the Vintner.

The Vintner wishes you to
taste the wine,
feel it in your tongue,
infuse the sweet aroma in your breath;
and neither to own
nor to enslave the wine.

The wine you want to own
may not ever be truly yours.
But, at the end of the night,
the bottle that
holds you gently at a kiss's distance
wishes of your lips.
Only at that hour
the two of you become one,
for you become the lover, keeper, and dreamer
of the bottle.

Falling in love is much like
reading Rumi's poems.
If you're wishing for a different poem,
you keep on wishing.
Because gathering close to the heart
what is yours,
and not asking if it is the
best you can gather is the secret of love.

Open the bottle.
Breathe in your lover's breath.
Drink the Red.
Kiss the lips.
Read of Rumi.
Or the glow of the morning sun
can never caress your naked flesh.
Or the silver of the fullest moon
can never shine on your naked soul.

---

A note from Shafkat:  "Dedicated to Michelle Castleberry and Matt DeGennaro.  The muse for this poem is a secret who I keep deep in my bottle. And of course, Rumi."

"War stories" - Sharon D. McCoy

"War stories" - Sharon D. McCoy

“The Kid’s War,” he wanted to call it. I don’t think he ever read
Vonnegut’s Children’s Crusade. He just saw it that way, too. 
Maybe that’s the way they all are. Stories to craft a
narrative box for surreal horror that cannot be contained. 
Stories to push back the nightmares haunting years,
lifetimes, never able to grow up, grow past
get away, be unafraid, always taken back in the
reaches of the night. Brotherhood we listeners can glimpse
only in the foggy breath of the stories.
He saw in surprise on the airfield one day, a face he knew
A boy from his hometown, his high school. They spoke
Excitedly, made plans for coffee and conversation when the planes
Returned. Waving jauntily, they climbed into their birds, patting the painted
Ladies’ butts for luck – See you on the ground, babe.
Strange serendipity it seemed, their planes next to each other in aerial
Formation. Looking across the cold cacophony of sky, taking comfort in the
Familiar face he knew was in that turret, watching at the very moment flak
Shattered it, bursting light and smoke. On the ground again he rushed to
Help. They handed him a hose and said,“Find the dogtags for his folks, if you can.”
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that?  Legs
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold feel of the hose, burning even altitude-numbed fingers,
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
I wake with night sweats – stiff silent gaping terror – once again lost behind
Enemy lines.  We were reported killed in action, I later learned.  But really just lost – 
Short on rations, ammunition, fuel for the last tank, protective shell we cannot lose
Tired, scared, searching, boots leaking, hushing wounded moaning softly inside—
Must keep them quiet, safe. Finding what we did not want to find – oh, god, why us?
Soldiers, surrendering.  Surrendering, oh, god, to us.  They outnumber us,
Could take us, but they lay down their arms, tired of war.  Bastards. 
We are, too.  Not enough food for us, let alone them.  Not enough guards to watch.
Not safe to let them go. My choice. No choice.  Rivers of blood undammed – my own damned
Purple heart. No choice. My choice. Even now, how hard to see even their children as human.
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that?  Even wounded legs
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold feel of the unspeakable choice unspoken except in nightmare
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
Sobbing on the cold bathroom floor, rocking, lost in my own vomit – Happy New Year!
A gentle touch, a quiet voice. No – cannot trust – but warm arms break through
Barriers of memory.  Our last day, shipping out, going home at last. The little boy
Shyly offering the “kind American soldier” a sandwich.  I watched him take it,
My scowl washed away as he ruffled the boy’s hair, thinking of his own son.
Little boy – oh god, so little – scampering off with that shy smile.  My buddy,
My brother, raised the sandwich to his lips, hungry for so much more than food, never
Dreaming of the live explosive lodged between the bread.  Never close my eyes without seeing –
Not him, but them. I tried, but I failed, oh, god, I failed. Their son, clutching her waist below
Her hollow eyes. In that moment I knew I’d lost the race with the black-bordered telegram.
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that?  Even wounded must
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold feel of the failed mission that no alcohol or drugs could drown
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
Silent screams pierce my dreams. Ears shattered and screaming, I bolt upright,
Reaching for the needle, seeing her there sleeping, and I know she will leave me.
But the needle is my only hope for silence.  Intel told us it was a Viet Cong stronghold. 
We hammered it, hammered it with shells. Shells. Hit the surrounding jungle with napalm. 
Guns at the ready, tense, knowing this could be our last, going in. Not even birds
Disturbed the burn. We searched, but nothing.  No bodies, no weapons, nothing left.
Off to the side, finally, I saw, the blasted, crumbling remains of a wall. My trigger finger tight
I rounded the rubble – a temple wall, I could see, I do not know why. Huddled behind, torn,
Fragmented bodies of old women and children – children, oh god, mouths gaping silent screams
Only heroin and alcohol can drown, even now.  I reach for the needle, knowing she will leave me.
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that? Even wounded must
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold silent screams of those we cannot hear
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
We tell stories to children. Stories to ourselves who used to be children and somehow
Never stop. Stories to craft a narrative box for surreal horror that cannot be contained. 
Stories to push back the nightmares that haunt years, lifetimes,
Never able to grow up, grow past, get away, be unafraid,
Always taken back in the reaches of the night. Lost childhood.
A brotherhood we listeners can glimpse only in the foggy breath of the stories.

"strength spell" - Ciera Durden


"strength spell" - Ciera Durden


Say your name.

Say it
Again.

Sound it out like holding a chunk of pyrite, 
No true gold, but hard vitality, a willpower-gem you can’t decide whether to bless
Or to throw.

Say it, some days, like you would put amethyst under your pillow,
Others, how you would step up to the burning staff.

Say it, drawing a circle in the woods,
Say it, sweeping out your doorstep, 
Say it—
Curse, 
Incantation,
Swansong, 
Hemlock,
Poplar, 
Nightshade, 
Alchemy 
In action,
Cat eye, black wing, coal, 
Say it many fingered, drunk on a moon dance,
Say it like bending over cast iron and fire,
Say it hungry, and angry,
You deserve
To be angry
Say it 
In love, 
Say it
With salt, 
Pillar, sea, purity ring,
Croon, song, wish,
Amulet, talisman, charm. 

(Photo of Ciera Durden October 2014 by David Noah.)

"My Story" - David Noah




"My Story" - David Noah

My story grabs a hobo’s name
out of a boxcar and stabs it on my tux with a safety pin.
It draws blood with every breath.

My story is embarrassed
to see lovers fight in an elevator.
It is the Mammoth Cave National Park gift shop, but not Mammoth Cave.

My story is retired and lives on a pension in a small Mexican town, for tax purposes. 
Like a zen master squirrel, it is always on the other side of the tree.
Or it wears aftershave on a full beard.

My story is napping and wants to be alone.
It is six years old and runs by a snow-melt creek in Flagstaff AZ. 
It lurches when it walks, and sports a shy grin.

My story is about the women I have loved and the men I haven’t. 
It is a flag I wave when I forget to be alive. 
My story my story my story

goes bump bump bump down the stairs,
followed by a library of books
making narrative arcs all the way down

like a herd of feral slinkies.
My story is homeless, and uncertain about its future. 
My story won’t shut up.

"April at Hark’s Bar" - Gregory de Rocher






"April at Hark’s Bar" - Gregory de Rocher


In the further afternoon, at Hark’s Bar,
April stares through her beer.
Her slouch aims her gaze into the blond cosmos
where snow is falling upside-down.
It explodes and disappears on the yellowing mirror.

April, who was fairest of them all, April without showers,
before her flowering, when the gardens of Eden
were as nothing to her perfumed bowers and irised spendor,
when her eyes were life itself contemplating new life,
love enshrined, grace in the flesh, joy oblivious of its bounds,
before hops were summoned to make her new again . . .

That April is gone,
so she will now have time for yet another.

(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"A Mundane Pride" - Jay Morris



"A Mundane Pride" - Jay Morris


You woke up this morning
And even though your body
Felt like it had suffered a small death
In the dark, sleeping hours
You got out of bed.

You took a shower
And even though the pounding water
Echoed panic, panic, panic
Can't you see the world is flooding
Go back to bed
You stepped out, shook yourself dry
And were clean. 

You got dressed
And even though your reading hands
Said there was too much here
Or too little here
Or this stretch of skin just won't do
You put your clothes on with 
A mundane pride.

You made breakfast
And even though your appetite
Felt like a loss of control
You ate.
You felt your food hit the bottom of your stomach
And took comfort in the solid sound of the reverberation.
You are not the dark center of the universe
You think you are.

You went to work
And even though 
The frantic sound of typing fingers
Sounded like the lurid language
Of frenzied dragonflies whose 
Vocabulary consisted only of the words
Not good enough
You made it through.
You were good enough.
Even if it was just for today.

You went home.
Undeservingly exhausted
You crawled back into bed
Pulled the covers over your head
Made no promises for tomorrow.
You measure your lifetime in days now

And there are still hours left in this one.
There are still minutes left in this one.
There are still seconds left in this one.
And every tick of the clock is a step forward
On the lifelong road to recovery.

Jay Morris read "A Mundane Pride" on the Poets' Porch during the Prince Avenue Art Crawl on Saturday, October 11. (Photo by David Noah).