Anno Domini / Mark Bromberg


Another Christmas is past, as so many before.
The tree is taken down, the wreath is off the door.
We go back to our days of uncelebrated joys --
and our nights filled with the sound of wolves at the door.

Pulling old boughs to the curb, our neighbor comes out:
"What's going on over there?" he asks, "Looks like the lights are
     out.
Those folks 'cross the street, they're different you see --
must be a fight. She's a drunk, the kid's nuts, the husband's a
     lout."

"That's what I've heard," his wife adds. Then, "they're up to no
     good.
And others just moved in to our neighborhood --
their religion makes them crazy and their God's not ours.
She must be hiding some weapons under that hood."

The wife smiled at me. "And down the street, honey dear, no wonder they're strange!
A six-pointed star in the window! That's gotta change!"
"Our marriage is threatened by the weird couple next door,"
he said, "I'm told what they do in their bedroom's a cultural war."

He added, "God'll take care of them all, just you wait and see.
Hell's the end for them, not like you and me.
A politician told me if he's elected he'd kick them all out,
and then we'll be the home of the brave, the land of the free."

Ask, then, why doesn't it last, the anno domini,
the year of Our Lord that disappears in a day?
Where do they go, the nights lit by shining stars,
this peace of one night, gone, in the light of one day?

"Why can't they be more like you and like me?"
she interrupted my thought, "you understand, right, you know what I
     mean?
What is it with others, why can't they be neighbors like us?"
as she patted my arm -- and on whose shoulder she leaned.

A Winter Prayer / Arthur Solway


Along the frail limbs of a tree, outlining rooftops,
a light accumulation changes to heavy rain.

Just as any life can suddenly change
the way people foolishly complain, drifting

toward decline, quiet dissipation.
Do you hear the fainthearted complaints

of snowmen while others simply bitch
about the slush? Send us some healing notes,

the gentle hush of any god willing to listen.

The Seven Devils of Mary Magdalene Hide Out in the Delta / Michelle Castleberry


I.
After the casting out we are flung
many-bodied into a ravening cloud.
We take hold of thirty acres of green cotton.
We are hunger made explicit, deathless.
The two youngest of the farmer’s children
hide in the root cellar among tubers and dirt,
and stuff their ears with corn silk
to drown out the noise of our bingeing.
The oldest son is whipped for wishing,
days earlier, the crops would die so he could play.
No death stronger than our hunger, we stay
undead, kicking in puddles of poison.
Even boot heels push us into the ground
unharmed, our imprints like seals in wax
on unopened letters to God.

II.
You are so close.
You must play to win.
Happiness a scratch away.
Your numbers almost hit.
The tumbled Lotto balls, your angels.
The horses circle like earthbound buzzards
around your peace, which is lost by a furlong.
Tomorrow, two more tickets.
Tomorrow, you bet on the red dog.
You bet with the egg money.
You bet no one will notice
Grandma’s orange bottles are near empty.
Easy money dies hard in the mind.
The mind shuts on the idea of it
like the jaws of the sand-colored pitbull
clamped on the throat of your red dog
and you.

III.
Until this summer, when I turned eighteen, no one looked at me.
Hair the color of maple leaves in October and milk-white skin
made the others shake their blonde heads at me,
always walking away trailing names and knife-mean laughter.
Now they call me Scarlett Fever, if they say any word at all.
I sleep with a corona of braids around my head all day
while the sun burns over their broad backs in the cotton and hay.
Then I wake and drive to the club, unraveling my hair as I go.
From the stage I can smell their sweat
under fresh soap and beer fumes. I can smell their want.
Their wives have heard of me, those pinch-faced girls
who once had contests on who could make me blush first.
They think the men come to see my albino, pink-eyed breasts
or the small lick of red flame between my legs.
Not even the men know they come for the rippled light
shaken from my hair. They covet it like stolen copper,
like the blood of their enemies, like my open mouth.
As I dance I hear a dry pine-needle rustle in my ears,
the thousand thousand voices calling my name and theirs.

My New Voice / Mark Pentecost


This is my new voice. Same old paint job, sure,
But check out under the hood:
New clutch, new throttle, new choke,
Block and head remilled in history’s machine shop,
Filters pulled out, the muffler junked,
No catalytic converter. Lines cleaned
Of too much form and education,
The radiator flushed with psychoanalysis
And the overflow topped off with ritalin.
The roof even retracts, like scalp before the brain surgeon.
Now it accelerates like an obsession,
Revs and screams like some rancorous baby,
Or burbles and thrums along smooth as a secret.
I’m not done. The brakes are unreliable,
The windshield snowed in by smashed bugs,
And the rewiring! It’s taken forever,
Burned and shocked friends trying to help.
I need new carburators in my ears,
Sometimes the torque is too much for my throat.

Don’t ask what it runs on. Just listen,
And you can hear how I’m covered with oil and grease,
Too much for an honest mechanic. Hear how soiled I am, how rich.
In the mirror my colorless nakedness, once pallid and poor as
Some god-forsaken panhandle or the Empty Quarter,
Breaks out with a thousand euphoric gushers, blooms of dark sheen,
Stain, and damned spot. Tar sands under my nails,
My fingers glitter with benzene rings.
Orifice, follicle, pore, all ooze synonyms of hydrocarbon:
Naphtha, kerosene, pitch, sweet Texas
Crude, diesel fuel, jet fuel, napalm.
It collects in my shoes and gluts my eyeballs
With anthracite, with bitumen, with blindness;
I weep, and the kleenex stinks of thirtyweight.
My bowels are marshy with byproducts,
Rainbows gather round my shit.
My sludge-congested arteries baffle my cardiologist;
She cannot hide her dismay at
My new voice.
                This is what it runs on.

We are carbon that lives on carbon,
Eating it, riding it, selling it.
How could it be otherwise?
The force that drives the fossil through the
Cracking, the fracking, the bourse
Drives my greasy age in flames
To the anointed conclusion.
My head is the head of a match.
It sits atop my body like the spark
On the end of the restless fuse.
Inside my head, the oil fields are burning.
I stumble in the chaparral and wait for the rest of me to ignite.
By the viscous light, like chicken stock,
Like melting butter, the rendering of some animal’s fat,
I see men as trees, walking.

This is my new voice.
Is it really new? And what is a voice anyway?
At least it’s mine. Not all mine, maybe, but
Still me. Always me.
Me, the ancient fuel. Me, the combustion, the fire-tormented
    pistons,
The coiled steering wheel too hot to grip.
Me the joyride, me the swervings. Look out! Look out! Look out!
Me. Tire tracks like new-turned earth, the asphalt a burned-over
    farm—me.
The homemade cross beside the highway: me.
The highway, paved with flint and shale: me.
Is this what it sounds like, what it looks like,
What it feels like, to have a new voice?
An unmufflered mouth? Dreams in the driver’s seat at last?

Somewhere up the road blue lights flash and people are singing.
Let’s go.

The Art of Letting Go / Mark Flanigan


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

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
desperation

still, it is a strength

one
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
inspired
to light

it is something else

something you know

knew
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.

Progression In The Sky / Fabrice Julien


I stare into an empty sky
And am filled with ambitious desires
That I will never achieve.
You see, that’s the reality of my vision,
& so I deal with it.

I live with an empty soul
That is locked in the open,
Blatant so souls can see,
The key, is within reach,
But arms are tied.
& so, I deal with it.

It’s 2011- I am told and reminded.
392 years since it started,
235 since we helped,
146 since we earned it,
145 since it started again,
48 since he spoke,
46 since it ended on paper,
Told to get over it years later….
Because progression was the aim.
& correctness was the game.

It never happened they asserted,
Stay in line with the progressing times,
Erase the visible memory.. & BE, part of something different.

To this I stare with confusion and discontentment.
Am I the only one who sees that the conditions of the now, are
     correlated to the conditions of then?

Am I the only one to remember?
Am I the only one to remember?
Am I, the only one to remember?

It’s nights like these,
It is nights like these that I stare
To the empty sky and am filled with ambitions that I will 
     never achieve.

The sky knows why,
From the first to the last,
It won’t forget our past.

Carnivortex / Michelle Castleberry


To Matt

I realize now how that must have sounded
when I sized up the best placement
for a bullet, behind the shoulder-blade
of the perfectly flanked television deer
that posed like some masochistic centerfold for carnivores.

I sounded cruel. And hungry.

And that’s how I justify my easy knowledge of killing,
that I am an unrepentant carnivore.
That push come to blood, I could be responsible
for my own meat. That a country girl can survive
at the cost of something else perishing.
Like any southern church-reared kid I know of dominion,
and like anyone from working class roots, understand
the hard, red comfort of being high enough on the food chain
to make meat. And that word is crucial,
the word meat as distancing and sanitizing
as white foam trays and cellophane. Yet
the real phrase is “kill to eat,” at least more honest.

Honesty, though, is not mercy
no matter how I bless my meal.

I think of this when I see you spare a creature
that will never feed you and may, if allowed, harm you.
Something so small, so inconsequential,
that you could be forgiven (if anyone even noticed)
for killing it. I don’t know how long it would take
for me to inhabit that kind of gentleness,
that kind of joining with another, however unrelated.
So from my seat made of hunger and bones,
I watch and try to learn.

Afternoon Joe / Bob Ambrose


You smile into a steaming cup in search of grounds
and gracious lines to share with he in painter’s cap
who holds up signs by traffic stops where hand-drawn
letters spell the barter – work for food, but what he offers
one more try for wary drivers – multiply the fish and loaves
within the gap from red to green. But eyes averted never
see the narrow Galilean path that stretches off another way
beyond the light that guides the flow from bank to drugs
to Chick-fil-A and on to homes to huddle nights encased
in husks of wood and cheer, which fortify a life’s veneer
in hoarded warmth

            but those like Joe
spend hours in the public square
and nurse their warmth from cardboard
cups – a Big Joe buys an afternoon
of comfort on a well-used couch
amidst assorted Macs and pads
and textbooks cracked by pert coeds
in gym shorts, flip-flops, painted toes
by funky guys in baggy clothes
with khakis cut around their knees
or sidearm tats and tattered jeans,
by nursing interns sporting scrubs
and midlife strivers buttoned up,
a young instructor talking math
and Chinese lovers lugging packs
engaged in study and each other,
working mother, child in tow –
they come and go and barely note
an old man whiling time alone
and gentle souls at rest, like Joe

            who on a warm midafternoon
could tell you how to weather cold that numbs the soul
against the years, to finish off on cruel nights what God
began so long ago, how when a soggy winter low is chased
by Arctic mass blown south where weak won’t make
the morning light in trembling walls of flesh and fabric,
hunkered, huddled, soon to die, one last command –

     that man should rise
     and manufacture right
     on ice, from slush
     a snowman shrine to life
     submerging fear
     in warmth of play
     through bitter night
     to brittle day

            and yes, I too,
I think to say, have felt my heart so
strangely warmed behind my silent
public smile my words are snowmen
guarding night and creeping numbness
in my life, but due respect stills my
reply, and so retreat for fresh supply
of cardboard warmth that binds
the ties of mid-day neighbors, even
Joe who, unobtrusive, slips away
somewhere along the ancient path
to canvas home beneath the stars.

Lightning Strikes / Pilar Quintana


Lightning strikes
and the street lamps quiver
in Morse code.
Hands reaching through bars.
Fire glows
behind the glass.
Its power released in
tiny spurts
for our pleasure.
Lightning shrieks across the sky
and strikes.
As if it would reclaim
these bastard children
we think ourselves masters of.
As if to say
tame this.

Sidewalk Dharma / Mark Bromberg


Look where you are going, not where you have been
(tho that too is a lesson)
walk with deliberate intent, where you are headed. See?
(even if you are guessin')

But watch your step -- the Buddha would tell you
it's how you walk, not when you arrive.
Are you alive? Oh well, you'll see
it's better to trip and fall than just to survive.

Hurt and pain are the day's real test.
If you fall down, you'll get up again --
don't heed the path, and life's a real mess,
that's a free lesson with a knee's little twist. And then

whoops, whoops, you're down again. So what?
As Beckett says, try 'n fail better next time.
We all get where we're going, simple as that,
and no one said that life's a straight line --

except to the grave. That's the lesson, sure
(as the days follow one another.)
The end is still the fall without fail or cure,
so go carefully, with one foot in front of the other.

a poem / laura carter


I’ve got a thirst that would make the ocean proud. Thus began the first song, unclenched like a flag of red utopias released into the world. The boy was waiting in purple, his song filling up the ocean with coffee dripping through the syringe of sky. And then, and then, the other side of the story punches a hole in the wall, bleeds another quart. The boy, the girl. The ocean in the middle, traversed by lonely sex and melancholy. I left the bed open. The proverbial knife was leaning in from the plasticity of things, forgetting that fire is flower. And so the house becomes a flame, rounds itself out into flowers, reveals the story of what was not quite forgotten in the circuit’s closed spaces. We dwell in pointed time when not at the station where the harbor is cool and clear. I unmoved the first house and then placed it back into the center of the heart with its ruby and gold blossoms. I give him violets for his furs, yes, but also orange flowers for Saturday’s day shift.

Interrupted / or, choosing to remember memory's Made Ralph La Charity

the least important thing about
a poem's what it's saying which
is why it doesn't have to
say anything yes
it does have to mean but it
doesn't have to mean
what it says

it's important to get lost in a poem not
because you can get lost in a poem but
because lost is something that can
be gotten in a poem & it is

this be gotten that's the most
important thing, the one thing that
makes getting lost in saying nothing matter :

Makars commune with the dead & artists
who've brought back are who've
       brought back from the Other Side

The Life of Spice / Alex Johns

Which came first
the chicken or the mummy?
preserving the flesh or making it yummy?

Someone shook flowers
at the tomb's breath
like the little sling of David.
See, back then it was
frankincense vs. Frankenstein

Now
the chile sauce's ability
to form your focus for
the moment, a mouthful
of forgetting
in nasal drip and forehead sweat.

Bury the still flesh in peppers, petals, and seeds

Add some salt, and carry that
carcass clear
across the desert,
more than surviving.

Miss Jenny / Michelle Castleberry


Miss Jenny was one of our church's widow women,
which meant we gave her most of the deer meat
we hunted and dragged from the woods each fall.
She was somehow related, though the genealogy
was different with each telling.
So some days she was Aunt Jenny, sometimes Miss.
Always, yes ma'am.
I could never imagine her married,
stout as a concrete piling,
feet always planted shoulder-wide,
ready for something unwelcomed, running fast..
I watched her once in our field smoke a cigarette
and between bites of a tomato that she ate like an apple.
Her only nod to gentility
was wiping the pesticide off
on the tail of her dress first.
But she had been married back when
to a long, gaunt man
to this day described in the county
as kind-hearted soul but
bad to drink. Bad to drink.
A sweet, sweet man who soured on mash
at least twice a month.
Intent on argument and a place
to knock his broad hands, he often went for Jenny.
But after a while she figured out that he would follow her,
curses spilling from the corners of his mouth
like tobacco spit.
He followed her around winding up his rage like a toy.
One night she led him yelling to the corn crib
where she pushed him down into his own fumes
to scream, whimper and cry all night.
This became their custom.
In this memory I do not own, I see her opening the door
to the crib those mornings, to her hang dog, hungover man,
restored for a moment by a wary forgiveness
and a door with a strong latch.

Funnel / Mark Pentecost


My mouth is a funnel.
Which end is which?
In our universe,
This is a law:
When something’s emptied,
Something fills.
Which is which?
I rotate a glass of something
So the upside is down.
It floods with absence as,
From the bottle beneath the funnel,
Lack and privation are stirred up
Into the vortex,
Scattered, re-
Collected.
In our universe,
Loss is conserved.

Laura.
Tom.
Donald…
Is there a point
To going on?

The empty glass brims
With emptiness.
I set it on the table carefully.
Nothing spills and stains my fingers.
Sit down. Have a drink
With me.

what we'll be do / ralph la charity


caught our breath in tears where they ran

the whole of crossing over's
       the whole of what we do here

stutter-trills & hop-slides fare thee well
the echo's cadence till namore remains the same

the whole of what we do here won't be done again
makes you wonder why we remember what we do

staying put's not what we'll be do
       nay, tis not what we'll achieve

I walked off with things in hand I couldn't drop
I knew I'd bring it back but maybe not

the urge to stop still waits upon the rise

crossings bear namore the tilting shade
these shadows stride askance & dip askew

reverberate head bones these tones we do
each line of every song escapes in vain

all rhythms host all breath & hearts the same

       the whole of what we're doing's all
  the whole of crossing over

tis the patch of light briefly where we stood
tis the is of this that winks away



Three Presentations by Donald Harris (1938-2011)




Lazarus

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 live 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.

Regret

Suppose, for starts, we just call it quits, and let everything go, at that. After all, you have known for a long time of my hope for some surcease of suffering, sadness, sorrow, something that would be a sufficient anodyne for all my ills. If there is no certainty but death, yet death may sometimes bring a blessed relief, even though it be spring, and a robin is trilling out melodic promises of ever recurrent burgeonings. But the song of birds, the sight of flowers can never obliterate the memory of that night at that bar, where I should not have drunk that one more Pink Squirrel, even though it helped me to loudly sing, along with the rest of the crowd, of finding my thrill on Blueberry Hill, for afterward occurred the accident, in which one person was killed, another left wheelchair bound, and a third sustained head injuries whereby she was never again properly mentally functional, and I am charged with such deep regret, such cutting remorse, that ever and anon, tears spring into my eyes. I have lived long enough that youth has long since passed me by, and most of the young do much the same. By many I am forgotten, and by many others I am not even thought of, in the least, at all. I have become a vague gray nondescript nonentity. How insightful of Macbeth to recognize that his lady should have died hereafter. So shall we all. If you suppose that God sends pain and suffering, then you should suppose that an extirpation of such is a godsend too. Did Hamlet perhaps have this in mind when he considered someone making a quietas with a bare bodkin, in order to shuffle off this mortal coil? But then you maintain that Ophelia committed suicide out of a sense of maiden shame? May I be given proof or instance as to how to understand your interpretation.


Villanelle

My softness falls so hard upon
I cannot fathom out the deep
It's hard to imagine what has gone

In your company I am most alone
What I have I cannot keep
My softness falls so hard upon

What matters if I feel ill at ease
Like Lear I will refuse to weep
It's hard to imagine what has gone

I grope through darkness toward the light
Discouraged by a way too steep
My softness falls so hard upon

I have some understanding of your pain
What I have sowed I now must reap
It's hard to imagine what has gone

Life is a chocolate ice cream cone
That I have dropped upon the street
My softness falls so hard upon
It's hard to imagine what has gone.