In Defense of Lesser Poets Like Myself / Mark Flanigan

Our failure is not a failure
at all, merely
a last-minute train ride
without tracks, destination?:
Atlantis, a place no longer
believed in; it’s like
an unpublished page, a lecture
in an empty auditorium
without either sound or light;
it’s like a body
pulling on a rope
with a weight
twice its own,
   the quarry unknown
and unknowable.

It has something to do with
no longer being able to
   know or believe in
the whole story, understanding this
limitation, a certain acquiescence,
relying only on instinct, intuition—
and we take these small things
and we speak of the little poetry
   that still blesses our lives
and though it may not seem like much
standing, as it has to, next to
a full-scale map, albeit one
   of a smaller world,
no it may not seem like much
   to Homer or Milton or Shelley
but all the same, somehow,
   it seems like everything
   to us, the lesser poets,
these small moments stamped
   into Time’s sands,
futile footsteps made surely
to be washed away by the tides
   of Poetry,
when, at last, It shall
sweep clean our landscape
one final time, disappearing,
and taking with it our
   last vestige of Truth
   last trail to Perfection
   last guide to Atlantis
   last Poet,
whether epic or lesser
no longer being of concern.

Third Person Me / Marta Dean

Marta needed words. She always needed words. Words to describe, words to run words together, to be, to do, to move ahead. Sometimes there were plenty and she wondered where they came from; these were moments of rare pleasure, delight on the abundance and wonder. She wanted to use English as she did Spanish, because she loved both, but the words in English showed up in unpredictable and arbitrary ways; English was not her first language. What is that she did that triggered language and opened the passage of thought? What was the trick? She knew the words were there.

The fact was that Marta’s experience of language was never the same, and she felt, different. Her language was different. If she spoke English or thought in Spanish, she seldom planned or knew. Code-switching, Spanglish, easy, hard, fluid, obscure, you are, you are not, you are a maybe. Condemned to partial thoughts and scattered language, scattered voices, she wondered who she was. Contemplating her chameleonic traits, she asked: “What would be like to be me?”

Marta liked to take notes, verbatim, and analyze others’ discourse, stealing, borrowing, in an attempt to appropriate the words, the phrases, their implied meanings, as her own. Not any words. Just those pronounced with meaning. Meaningful meaning. Extending the boundaries of her own thoughts, intentionally, for the sake of identity, power, and voice, she felt ethereal; like clouds passing pushed by external forces, partial, broken, incomplete, unfinished, defective, transient, temporal, undefined.

She did love both. But hated her opaque Anglo tone. What would be like to have words flowing with an oily pace and a shiny sound, to speak free of extravagances, that accent, that pose, artificially and forcefully manufactured, composed and produced? Maybe she could use a permanent marker and define her “silueta”, delineate the vocal boundaries and make all clear. What would be like to be the others?

Become just one.
Permanently herself.

Become just one. Just one. One. Defined. Permanently self. Limited. She hunched under the weight, felt oppressed, caged. Reconsider.

Thanks, But No Thanks / Grady Thrasher

Thanksgiving Day — "By resolution of the United States Congress in 1941, the 4th Thursday in November shall be observed as a legal holiday for giving thanks for divine goodness."
Dear strange newcomers to our land,

Thanks, but no thanks for helping reduce
our population in the New World
to a manageable size.
Those nice blankets you gave us
In exchange for much of our hunting grounds
were warm and comfy,
but we could have done without
the infusions of smallpox, influenza and measles.

Thanks, but no thanks for introducing us
that swell fire-water--
“Whoa! Is that really my signature
on that treaty
that gives you all our ancestral lands?
I never remember a thing
after the second drink!"

Thanks, but no thanks for broadening our horizons.
We had no idea those desolate deserts
and frozen prairies west of the Mississippi
could be our new home!
When you said you made reservations for us,
we thought your were taking us to dinner.
Ha! The joke’s on us.
Must be that fire-water again!

But, wait! We’re doing all the
Thanks, but no thanks-ing.
Don’t you remember how we taught
you white people not only how to grow corn,
but how to grow and cure tobacco, too?
How’s that for some “divine goodness?"
Go ahead. Take a cigarette break.
You deserve it.

And Happy Thanks, but No Thanks Giving Day!

The Art of Letting Go / Mark Flanigan

is only
a necessary Art
after one no longer fears
being let go of

it is a strength
that cannot be manufactured

it is a strength
no one, not even I,
can teach....
   and yet, you must learn.

it is forged through

still, it is a strength

stronger than yours

and in the end
it will be met
by someone,
   or no one,
makes no difference which,
   this strength will not budge,
knows not of compromise....

it is not a match
awaiting friction

it is not fire
to light

it is something else

something you know

are reminded of

even now

it is something
to be forsaken
for as long
as you can afford to

while time, my friend,
is nobody’s friend

and faith
can only be returned
from whence
it was first sent.

go now.

the dentist stares at teeth all day / mark flanigan

the dentist stares at teeth all day while
I stick my head in the lion’s mouth.

there’s the bitter taste of acid rain and
teeth with the urgency of barbed wire.

there’s the black widow’s orgasm.
the summoning of lightning strikes.
the licking clean of septic tanks.

the running of late for a funeral.
the sleeping on crumbs.
the last blank page still blank.
the eternal hemorrhoid....

it’s strange, this kiss.

that it merely endure
all that matters.

Lazarus / Donald Harris

I struggle with a quandry that sore perturbs my mind.
Am I something less than human, or something more
divine? It is not human to cast one's cerements aside,
and only an immortal lives on beyond a semblance of
death or being dead. Will you, therefore, sing me soft
down regimens of resurrection that I might be receptive
to my going out and coming back again? I place my
fingers into my ears so that I may no longer hear the
screams and gibberish from that semilucent dark. I am
desirous that some sentiment of satisfaction might break
through, beyond the vineyard, beyond the grove of figs.
He and John came teaching/preaching a kingdom for
the Jews, one that would overcome/supersede the Roman,
but when it became obvious that such was not tenable,
or viable, he quickly proclaimed, "No, no, I meant it is a
spiritual kingdom, one that is inside the self."
Why did he bring me back from the silence of sweet
soothing death to plunge me once again into the
rancorous wrangling of my two sisters as to which
should do what part of keeping house? How many know
that impasse of wishing for death to come as a relief
or a release from pain or grief or some debilitation,
yet one longs for further life so as to accomplish desires
yet to have been done? Was I not to know that leisure in
an afterlife where I could be a rustle in a whisper of the
wind? Where is that mercy from the life spread over as
sheltering leaves do shade the path below? By what right
am I not left to find some ease of heart, some peace of
mind? But I must turn with the turning sun, and burn
with its course across the sky, until I am no longer needed
to explicate the glory of the man who would be God.

Circular Breathing / Michelle Castleberry

I get to pick the warm-up tonight,
so it’s “All Blues,” my favorite Miles.
The bass player starts too slow,
and before I come in he whispers,
“You’ll suffocate, C.,” and smiles.
Thinks he’s smart cause
bassists don’t have to breathe.
At least not to make their
high-strung wooden girls sing.
They only use fingers and bows
to sift sound from the air.

I don’t care.

Got the perfect reed tonight.
I love all the sounds that
no one else can hear—
the cat tongue rasp as I wet my Rico #4.
The “peck, pock, poke” of shutting
the right hand keys of my horn.
That second of wind before
the vibration catches in the reed
and falls down the brass.

That bass player can
Kiss. My. Ass.

We call the drummer Take, and he
stirs the dry snare head with brushes.
Jim burbles a low trill while he eyes
a clot of drunk college boys. He hushes
them with a mean, mean face
while his trumpet snarls.
Then he nods to me, inviting:

“C’mon, now.”

I pick up the melody, like a mama
with a baby, gentle and firm.
Eyes closed.
This is not a skill as much as
something that my body knows.

I turn the tune in my lungs and mouth,
into my horn and then out.
Through the smoke rings that float stage-side.
The fratties are gentled now, just ponies
with full bellies, still and open-mouthed.

I look at the bassist as I hold the final note,
watch his eyes water before I ever need to blink,
before I look for eyes in the crowd, thirsty to drink
         what I pour and pour and pour for them.

On Angels / Czeslaw Milosz

ekasia by michelle red elk

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe you,

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at the close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for humans invented themselves as well.

The voice - no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightning.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

     day draws near
     another one
     do what you can.

For Eurydice / Michael McQuarrie

I blame post-modern writers
poets beats slammers
for every relationship problem
I've ever had

I blame the poems I absorb
every day about Nam vets
alcoholics addicts gangsters
nazis genocide homocide
suicide drugs poverty

I blame every poem I've ever read
about a tragedy
not because I don't feel tragedy
but because I've felt it,
cried over it until my tear ducts bled
and learned to fall in love with it

I want romance back
and I want it in poetry
and I want it now
but not in over-inflated language
comparing your eyes
to sparkling sapphires
or your nipples
to twin peaks of radiant desire

I want to read a poem about
and fall in love with
and I don't mean
the idea of you
the tragedy of you
but the actual you

but writers have fucked that up for me
and I've only fallen in love
with the idea of tragedy you bring
fallen in love with sitting on the porch
talking over Masoch, Delueze,
Henry and June in moonlight,
plotting new dimensions of Pain
to add
to Us

but what I really want on that porch
is to press my face into your split ends
and tell you how you smell,
like a georgia breeze rustling through pine straw
I want to lick your lips
just after you've exhaled
a breath of black clove
cigarette smoke
and tell you of the whispers
of cinnamon and ash I taste

but we're still talking about Anaias Nin
and you should know
when I interrupt and tell you this,
This is the way our relationship will end,
not with a bang, but a whimper,
that what I really mean is
I Love You

but those are the words your father used
when he beat you
raped you
and I don't want to write about that
I don't want that line anywhere in my poem

but I've already inked it in
and I can't erase it
because my ink is my blood
and to erase it I'd have to drain it
boil it dry
scrape the flaked residue down the garbage disposal
with the rest of yesterday's tragedies

and as for my fascination with blood,
I blame religion,
being washed in His blood;
if blood is a cleansing agent,
I don't blame myself for having so many scars

but when I delve deep into this martyr complex
you bathe your feet in My Blood
as you pull me
broken body baptized
from murky, red bathwaters

but all I really want to tell you about murky waters
is that your mind
is as beautiful and mysterious
as the swampland's black surface
while your teeth,
when you laugh,
remind me of the gator's gaping maw
and your eyes buzz restlessly like dragonflies
landing only where their whims direct them

but you're still pulling me from this bathwater,
telling me My scars are beautiful,
falling in love with My tragedy
like poets have taught you
comparing my number of scars
to the starry sky
and I feel warm to be your nighttime

because I am addicted to you
to your pain
your abuse
your greedy eyes
your boxed brain
your starved and swollen stomach
your black-pit heart,

and I want to romance you
like poets have taught me

but without the tragedy
without you trying to save me
while I'm trying to save you
but we're both too in love with tragedy
to do any damn good

and the only way we're going to end up
is apart
in love with the tragedy of what we were,
and writing tragic poetry about it
like poets have taught us

dr. pain takes ten / aralee strange

don't knock
nobody home
put up a sign
doctor's gone

     :looking for fun
     :looking for love in all the wrong places

check one


in some fool's paradise where men are men
and women are dreams invented and
children thrive and time flies and
nobody's hungry not even the dogs
the natives are restless
an ill wind blows
the fruit rots in the grass
and the beat goes on all night

     we see what you see
     we want what you want
     you buy what you want
     we want what you got

bonfires down shore
torch light licking river
old crone throwing bones
trouble brews in melting pot

     we hear what we hear
     you hear what you want to hear
     we know what's what
     we take what you got

          old river rolls on

beware the full moon shine
beware the black cat crossed twice
behold towering babble
land of the white man

     all our brave dead
     our blind leading our free

says jesus is coming (the one)
are you ready to meet him (the only good
Indian is a dead       )

A Treadmill & Sand Castles / Bob Brussack

A treadmill.
That's what did it.
Death by treadmill.
Not what you think.
He fell.
Hit his head.
A scholar's head.
A teacher's head.
A husband's head.
A father's head.
Messed him up.
Couldn't think straight.
Couldn't lose the blues.
Took his own life.

Sand Castles

A seven-year-old,
Innocent of the analogy,
Can savor the
Irony of sand castles.
A septuagenerian
Can take what comfort
There is in a kinship
With them, and with
Autumn afternoons
And the universe in general.

Memories / Paul Ayo (of Art as an Agent for Change)

Our hopes don’t vanish
They just pile up in memories.

Grasping the ghosts of past lives
We stir our history salting it
To the taste.

Life ends and begins with numbers
While the part that matters most
Is just a line chiseled
On our gravestones.

What is a cemetery
But memories with a
Garden on top?

We all keep going.
While hoping not to
Grow old in arm chairs or

Test my ability to
Connect bones with
The roots of Family Trees
Blood is thicker than water
Oil and water don’t mix

But, Which one can make us go?
Which one can we buy by the gallon?
Which one by the pint?

We don’t vanish.

Our Sounds go somewhere
Our Energy goes somewhere
We go somewhere

We never asked to be here
Yet we fight for life
Like a loved one that is never coming back

Nothing we Love vanishes.

We reflect courage in the mirror.
Beauty ages. Courage gets wiser.
Militant sticky notes in the corner
Of the mirror remind me to pray in
The hope that evil vanishes into dust.

There is an odd addiction
In the disappearing acts that
We smoke in mirrors.

Militant or not
I assure you peace
Can solve our problems
And hope, this doesn’t
Vanish, so we don’t pile up
In memories.

You May Have Already Won / Mark Bromberg

You may have already won
you have only to look around
maybe you should be taking notes
maybe you should be writing this down
buy a few lottery tickets more often
instead of those too-salty snacks
our state-supported gambling
supports education life woefully lacks
Take chances   change jobs    try
to identify birds on the fly   be sweet
without being saccharine   it's easy
easier than you may think    be kind
don't stress about the things you can't find

like happiness for example
or be happy
but for your sake keep it to yourself
even Buddha said that life is suffering and want
and what do you know that he didn't
get some wisdom learn to tell truth from a lie
no two ways about it
there are two sides to every story
and about faith and doubt
the jury's still out
sing even if you can't sing    just try
drive less   walk more   do what you can
take my advice   look around you
make your own plan

Things I've Learned (from last night's election results)/Grady Thrasher

Like oil and water
(as far as I can tell)
politics and common sense
don’t mix together well.

Anonymously financed prevarications
define our political conversations
--those loudly blaring altercations
on every tv and radio station
showing scant regard for facts,
inciting voters in their tracks,
transforming our would-be democracy
into a raving idiocracy.

For it’s only that which we believe
can be the truth that we perceive.
--like: the rich need more tax cuts;
and the poor are simply welfare sluts.

So here’s to taking from those in need
and giving to those adept in greed.
If you are uninsured and poor,
your politics must be impure.

Your Representatives have been unseated.
So take the punishment that’s been meted,
while the affluent gloat in celebration
that God once again has blessed our nation.