"Dry January/Ex-Dream" - Jay Morris

"Dry January/Ex-Dream" - Jay Morris

The first, second, and third days tremble through the week
Stumbling and nascent, their legs shaking off the weight of entering the world
Senses sharpen like knives on the whetstone
Appetite and thirst shift between stagnation and craving
How odd to think of you now…

On the fourth and fifth day my stomach
Sends me quaking into the kitchen with appetite and thirst
I toss together kale, spinach, arugula, and olives dressed with tahini and garlic
When I first met you
You were dressed in bourbon and ginger
The night flushed in your cheeks and eclipsed your demeanor
Earth’s shadow pours blood over the moon

The sixth and seventh days convince me
Of my power over the urge
I button up my shirt, slip into oversized slacks
Crank up the car and it sputters with the weight of age and rust and moisture
Before ambling through the driveway, scraping past the shoulders of bushes
Their waxy leaves winking in the winter morning light

When I first met you
I noticed your eyes were the color of hazel
They danced between green and cold
The same way the sunlight does, bouncing from leaf to leaf
On tree to tree

How odd to think of you now

As all my poisons are dispelled from my body

"Lo-Fi Labor" - Jay Morris

"Lo-Fi Labor" - Jay Morris

Find me in my real life
Hardworking and laborious
With a loosening knee
And a tightening mind

If I told you I"d been working since I was 12
Would you believe me?
If I worked myself to death
Would you call it noble?
Stick a Benjamin in my mouth and call it a flower.
Hope it pays for my Uber across the river Styx?

Thought if I did my life right it would all make sense
But now im slugging through 60 hour work weeks for dollars and cents
My mind is unraveling
My loose knee is throbbing and im swirling and recessed
The void in me twirling and depressed

Words can't be flowers when you're working past the 9-5
And the 9-5 becomes the 6-3
But I know you'll stick a dollar bill in my mouth when you bury me

Haunted by the ghosts of all the time I've killed
Trying to stuff the hungry maw of a bank account
Listening to lo-fi hip hop in my down time
Hoping I can unwind in time
Before I clock back in for my next shift

"Lo-Fi Labor" originally appeared online at Jay's website.

"Red Beaded Gumbo Prayers" - Danelle Lejeune

"Red Beaded Gumbo Prayers" - Danelle Lejeune

Red like the Mardi Gras beads that turn
under my fingers. Father brought
them home from a bar on Bourbon Street.
I wrap them around my head, body; and dance
around the kitchen. Red like the garnet rosary beads
nailed up over her bed to warn spirits away.
Convinced the house was full of ghosts.
Poker-playing demons taunt her from the corner.
Feufollet blinking in the darkness when she closes
her eyes. In the kitchen, a pot of gumbo boils
through her mother’s aluminum pot, cracks
and spills into the flames. The kitchen fills
with smoke. Blood-red tomatoes washing
over white enamel. Red, like the fear she gave.
Mother Mary Full of Grace, protect us from this
battered lace. Red. Red. Red and lovely, scared
and curled on the kitchen floor, pregnant
with her third, fourth, if you count the one
never born. The red, spilled and sticky
on the floor. So red.

Danelle Lejeune was a featured reader at Word, January 2019. "Red Beaded Gumbo Prayers" appeared online at Literary Mama in 2017.

"Bliss" - Dennis Bagwell

"Bliss" - Dennis Bagwell

Poor Monsters bride!
Resurrected from the dead by massive electrocution
Feeling faint and unsteady on her feet
That awful gown
Face all scarred
The worst bad hair day in history
And what’s in it for her?
No bride’s maids
An arranged marriage
By a deranged doctor
To a poorly dressed, hideous monster with a drinking problem and no manners
A smoker with an unreasonable aversion to fire and limited conversational skills
Not to mention he’s prone to occasional fits of murder and he expects her to live in his damp, moldy dungeon in wedded bliss
Naturally, she rejects his romantic advances and this unreasonable imposition on her pursuit of happiness
So he mumbles an incoherent threat and blows up the laboratory in a murder-suicide 10 minutes after he meets her
What a dick!

"There’ll Be Heartache" - Tony Morris

"There’ll Be Heartache" - Tony Morris

He pulled onto the shoulder,
air breaks huffing, stopped and rolled
the window down—outside the air was dry
but cold, early-autumn evening closing in,

and I was eighty miles outside El Paso
with a pack across my back
heading west, because a friend
had died and nothing seemed to fit,
the days and nights too long, or short,
or just too damned complete—

and as the trucker sniffed the wind
as if the smell were new to him,
and flicked a Camel to the ground
and waved me in, I thought I saw a flicker
of a smile beneath the shadow of his cap,

and so I climbed into the cab, slung
the pack into the sleeper in the back
then settled in while on the radio
a tune by Johnny Cash was blasting,
“just around the corner there’ll be heartache.”

And as he pulled the rig back on the highway
he turned to me and said, “Where you headed, son?”
just like that, as if it were a script,
but it wasn’t, and I knew he meant it
as he asked again, “Where’re you headed? You okay?”

and so I told him that my friend had been the smartest
gal I knew, and how there wasn’t anything
you could do to make her angry
or act rude, and how it didn’t seem so right
that someone good like her could die so young
when other’s meanness seemed to keep them going
right on through—

and then we drove along in silence
for another mile or two before Chuck Berry’s
famous tune chugged its steady rhythm on the radio:
Long distance information give me Memphis Tennessee
help me find the party that tried to get in touch with me,

and the trucker asked if I liked the song,
which I did, then he said, “It’s the ending
makes it great”—and sure enough,
it’s true: I catch the strange twist
of misdirection, the snappy, upbeat popping rhythm;

the speaker begging, pleading
for just a bit of mercy: Help me information
get in touch with my Marie, she’s the only one
who’d call me here from Memphis, Tennessee;

the seductive, needy intonation that points us, wrongly,
to lost sweethearts and lovers—only makes the truth
more real, and sad: that sweet Marie’s his little
girl from whom he’s been pulled apart,
because her Mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis, Tennessee—

and yet I couldn’t help but smile and tap
my toe to the upbeat rhythm of six-year-old Marie
with hurry home drops on her cheek
wavin’ him goodbye, just like the last time
that I’d seen my friend as I was backing down the drive
and headed South, and how that weekend

we had talked and written down the little
we knew then, and later, back at home, she’d sent
the poems for me to read and I had saved
them all till I got the call and had pulled
them all together, laid them side by side by side,

and knew I’d seen the better part of life
with her there on that night. Then the driver tapped
another Camel from the pack, smiled, leaned back
and shifted as we trucked on down
the highway, miles ticking by outside.

Tony Morris, from Savannah, will be a co-featured reader with Danelle Lejeune at the next Word of Mouth, Wednesday January 2nd at the Globe.

"Women's Work" - Danèlle Lejeune

"Women's Work" - Danèlle Lejeune

The tractor and hay baler are stuck and broken, leaving me with blade and hot afternoon sun, swinging
the scythe back and forth through air
and tall grass, clearing a path for the electric fence.
That same fence shorts out, and I chase
and round up pigs from the road, the hen house, the neighbor's orchard, haul them home
in the trailer with the bad tire and rusting floor.
Soon enough robots will do a million other things
we can't even conceive of, I think, and set the blade down, sip the warm water and listen for my children playing
near the house. Check for blisters on my hands.
I swing the blade again, bruised shoulder aching.
One misstep, a slice through flesh,
tendon, bone,­­ the backhand of a misspoken word.
A breeze rises from the north, my tie­back hair falling onto shoulders, undone. Shhhhh, and swish, and shhhhh,
and lift, step forward, repeat, again.
Soon enough robots will do a million other things.
The children are suddenly quiet, the sky shadows. A storm eclipse. The wind shifts, lifts the ragweed stalks
and cut prairie grass. Pollen stuck to flesh, eyelashes. Birds flying to the trees.
I set the blade­-end deep into ground, lean in
on the handle and watch the clouds turn, swirl.
In song and myth, sky and the earth are woman, mother. But this storm? No. This feels like his truck
driving too fast on the road home.

Danèlle will be reading at next month's open mic at the Globe on January 2, along with Tony Morris, both from Savannah

"Love Letters From Pompeii" - Elsa Russo

"Love Letters From Pompeii" - Elsa Russo

I lost you in Pompeii
When the air caught on fire
Your hand was ripped from mine
I thought I had caught it again
Imagine my fright when I turned and didn’t see you
But just some other frightened soul
I tried to turn back
I promise, I tried to turn back
But like a fish trying to swim against the current
I was battered and bruised and burned
Finally so weak that I had no choice

The next morning I went to look for you
I swear, I went to look for you
The bodies of those on the ground so mangled and burned
Any one of them could have been you
I traced our steps back to where your hand lost mine
It seems you only made it another two steps

I saw you again across the dinner table
Of a party I was at
You were a slave pouring the wine
And I was a Roman general
Someone tore your skirt
And I flew across the table in a rage
I didn’t mean to frighten you
On my honor, I didn’t mean to frighten you
But I did
My subordinates staring at me confused
As I took the jug and poured their wine so you could mend your clothes

I saw you as we rode away
Peering through the window
I thought I saw you recognize me
For a moment, I thought you recognized me
But you turned away
The moment gone
I rode out for Jerusalem

I thought I found you again
On the pilgrimage roads to Lhasa
We walked three days together
We ate and drank and prayed together
You laughed at my singing
And you held my hand like you used to
I thought I had found you
By the stars above, I thought I had found you
Until I saw you
Walking out of the city
As I walked in

You saw me for a moment
You saw the hand in mine
You smiled
I think you smiled
And walked past me
And the one who would be my wife

I finally found you again
As my ship sailed the Red Sea
In pursuit of Mecca
To destroy it
I saw you at the helm of the Muslim ship
I saw you at the helm of the Muslim ship
And you saw me
And you saw me

I looked up from the executioner’s block
You had tears in your eyes
And I whispered to you not to cry
Please, don’t cry
I’ll find you again
Next time around

I started seeing you everywhere after that

You were the first to die of the plague in our village
As I leaned over you in a long-beaked mask
You collapsed on the ground in Strasbourg
As I sawed away at my violin
You grabbed my hand by accident
As London burned around us
Caught in the fire and smoke
We looked just as we once had
A millenia and a half ago now

You shot me in the head
When we tried to invade Russia
(I’ll forgive you that one because of the snow)
You shot me on the barbed wire
As I climbed out of my trench
(I won’t forgive you that one because we played soccer the day before)
You leaned over my cot
When you and your men liberated our camp
(This time I’m only sorry that all you found was a shell of what I once was)

I haven’t found you this time
36 years hasn’t been enough time to find you
And no, I haven’t searched every holy site
And no, I haven’t visited every battlefield
And no, I haven’t gone to whatever place it is that I need to go to find you
We have appeared in so many places now
I have no clue where you will be
Or where I should be

So this is an sos
A radio call
Tapped out across the airwaves
In some kind of mad desperation
Where the hell are you?
Where should I look for you?
Because I am dying to find you
By all the gods above, I am dying to find you
Because it is getting cold out here

And I don’t want you to find me too late