[Le Fond] / stephen ellis

The afternoon is
like the crisp still

of a transparent lightbulb
filament in a film

by Hitchcock from
the 30s, that is,

black, white, and burning,
despite there's blue

sky out there, probably
for the sake of an

emotional distraction
than for the sky

being an actual color.
Pleasure through

moderation [Socrates]
comes modulation where

that little bitch Mikka
foots a dead coon

into river shallows
and asks about

sacraments. She's
got a lot of nerve, but knows

it's about spacing,
and whether death is

its water or wind
casting lots and dividing

between hairs or pissing
through fine bones.

But the transfer
is not so simple.

Rodents come to eat
the corn you store

for the horses of
a stranger. Death

is not stranger than
life, whose hip-

bone occasionally
hits the ceiling.

And hunger is anyway,
weirder than either.

Lovesong / Mark Flanigan

     for Cathy Rihm

Who, sad girl, struck the match that lit
   My first cigarette, and world. And who, maybe,
Even now — for what’ the reason, or
   How; too, for however far away, still
Care she takes to throw light my way
   For good (imprecise as ever... more
Likely, should I say bad?) measure.

“Who? Why? What way?”—Hey man, since alone
   I’ve chance (need?) to survey, explore Treasure,
Unknown in past by me (you?) thrown open, now
   I see: Your memory, my crutch, Cathy,
I need no more. “Too much,” you say, “explain,
   Explain.” Today I understood the dance and, thus,
My Treasure:

   One’s all you need to remember.

Pagan Necessities / Stephen Ellis

    for Aija Uzulena

Erasure, illegibility
are partnered in

transparent epiphany
as whatever comes

into the disappearing
act that all act

immediately becomes.
There is no other

means to be present
but to become

the penultimate
"step behind" all that

through which the first
piff of magic

steals your flesh
by giving its name

a place in syntax
no longer your own.

Why do we love this
"feeling of belonging"

to the still center of
drama gone awry,

its orgasmic shimmer
that takes us forever

away with it?
The pagan way is

still our way, we
children who line up

alphabet blocks
over and over until

we come to the sequence
that finally allows us

to disappear into
our love of attempting

such arrangements,
ecstatic and toxified

by the terror of
selflessness finally felt.

We enter the semiotic
stream, attached to

all that to which the signs
refer, the inevitable

tragedy of being led
down the garden path,

not because there is
either path or garden,

but for the presence of
these as analogs

for the confusion
and heat that rise

in the heart as
a form of bewilderment.

We go beyond ourselves
not by will, but

that we are simply
taken there, as amechanos

as Hamlet, for it is
not for us to decide,

but only to push against
all that seems to

determine how wrongly
we perceive the changing

positions we each occupy,
around the sip of

each expurgated midnight
cup or petal of some

stranger's rose, all
to the end of neither

knowing nor not-knowing
throughout the means

of every aching occasion.
To erase is to mark.

There is no inversion,
no rabbit-out-of-hat

switcheroo difference
between night

and day that is
telling enough to do

more than pray
that much more to be

present to the cloud
of pink diffusion

whose center we
mistakenly believe is

as black as Celine
or the kerosene smoke

that makes damp
stink in the January

streets of Damascus.
Erasure is the step back

that is nothing more than
stunning. That we can

"see it all" remarks on
how mere, how plain, how

lovely is our incomplete
sense of our own

illegible occasion. See
me. Show me

the spots on the dice.
And in so doing,

mark the distance
through which to spell

the nameless rush of
all that you can love.

Tecaran / Parker Feierbach

two people are on a futon
in a three-roomed apartment.
the king of rock'n'roll is playing
in the background, quiet.
a candle is burning but the lights
still on.
in the kitchen,
two empty thai food boxes
are sitting
on the counter. his was
spicy because he likes that strange pain
the refrigerator purrs.
in the upper corner of her apartment
he draws
a small black heart
with permanent marker.

her hands are soft like dockleaves
and dust,
and she has tattoos
to remember herself
the way that children do
on trees.
her shelves shelter her
favorite characters,
stacked stones,
and animals.
her thumb taps his leg
to the beat of the King's staccato guitars
she has a book in her lap
the second
volume of a diary
she has penciled through.
her eyes laugh
at the computer screen
with him,
at what they both know
what they both understand
at foreign lands
at tradition,
at small gods.
he kisses her head,
tousling her short hair
with his lips.
she giggles in her throat.

when we love,
we kiss ourselves often.
we find our passion in
muscle and skin
in the pages of spines,
in the squinting of eyes,
in quick-drawn breaths.
it sucks into our lungs like boron
and we choke on it.
we writhe in our stomachs
to the uncomfortable comforts
of recognition,
and feed dreams to our
with embraces
and the shaved,
creaking support beams of our skeletons.
Love is a circular action
because it bends back on itself
and kisses its tassetted toes.
it wears furs,
and refuses to be questioned.
it is an apple
with a forest at its core, and
we bite it
and toss the uneaten middle
until we once notice
the left flesh and decide to take all of it in
and leave only seeds in our palms
waiting to be tossed into earth
and die or grow up,
up beyond the canopies
of our hair
outstretched arms.
until we let the roots
creep under
and into our chests
until we are breathing
green branches
and bird's nests
and we cough out
feathers in great tufts.

But I am weak-kneed
and brittle
and my inner rings
house sleeping winters.

just ask me once
and i'll let you fill your fireplace
with my arms
or make books with my fingers
or build a home with my legs
I'll let you cut me down
and burn my dry skin.
with clouds out my eyes
and birds out my throat
i'll sing.

Static / Michelle Castleberry

You burst in full of hot laughter frosted 
in the night air. Frozen stars lit the crow-wing 
shine of your head. When you shook snow 
from your shoulders I remembered my father. 
Some nights he brought rain home in his hair. 
His kisses glazed my forehead with cool shine 
while I counted goosebumps into sleep. 

A tiny blue spark licked from your fingers 
to the doorknob. We both squealed at the snap.
 As you leaned in for a kiss I thought 
I smelled ozone, tasted tinsel. Shivered. 

Every night since I have put on wool socks, 
the green Shetland sweater you like,
and the knit cap you left behind.

 I have walked heavy and slow, dragging 
your absence along the carpet,
then gathering you up again with 
each electric nip at the door.

(previously published on umbrellajournal.com)

Waking to Vertigo / Bob Ambrose

From the darkness
that ushers first light
before consciousness coalesces
I feel tenuous
faith fighting for birth
    to a new day –
a new day that spins about an unstable axis.

To a new day, cold
with calculating anger
honed by hardened voices
sharpened on diamond-edged ideals
clawing aggressively at the heart of power.

To a new day, hot
with outspoken ignorance
and tinny pride, thinly trumpeted
    by vuvuzela
pretending to the sweetness
of Marsalis, or of angels
with all the redemptive depth
    of ground bees
swarming in distress before their phantom fears.

This is the day
it is always the day
the anointed redeeming spirit
is transformed by arrogance
into avenging demon
strapped to the white warhorse
    locked and loaded,
goaded by bright trumpets of fury
playing in the proud key of certainty.

And redemption? Earmarked
    for the mighty
while wrapped in weakness,
the tender teacher
healing rabbi
kind-eyed spirit who would save the world
fades into ether
    excarnated again
from the empire of strength
spinning in the midst of the whirlwind.

This is also the day
it is always the day
that whispers serenely from beyond
the breaking news, beyond
the tight smile and firm jaw
beyond the clenched heart:
    unseen, implausible
love lurks in robust fragility.

Confronting ignorance
it is extinguished in darkness
    only to rise
as the midsummer sun
to illumine shrouded hollows with searching light.

Confronting anger
it is crushed underfoot
    only to rise
through the soles of the jackboot
to dissolve the calluses that encrust the heart.

Ideas fight for incarnation
    as they must
through the living media
of our mind and muscle
that birth the virtual soul into existence.

We are redeemed not by knowledge
of biochemical mechanism
or theological formulation
    elegant though they be.
Our lives bear meaning
by what we incarnate
in the fertile heartland of the emerging soul.

Under the Bright Lights / Mark Bromberg

One day they will wheel me under the bright lights
and open me with the surgeon's scalpel
and out will come the valuable organs I depended on
expended at last from their necessary work no longer needed
the lungs I needed for breath to form words and kidneys the filters
  for alcohol
the ears I listened with to be able to tell the truth from lies
  every day
the pump the heart that I needed to keep me going for so long
believing in love and trust in the goodness of others

The surgeon will remove my eyes
the ones they said made me look like my mother
in the old photos and I wish while the doctor is busy working
he'd remove my father's crooked grin too
the one I used to see in my face every morning when I shaved
catching myself with the razor in the exact spot he used to
it's unavoidable this genetic blueprint
even as I mutter to myself I've turned into the old man at last
I wish he'd take it right off
it took a lifetime to accomplish this remarkable family resemblance
even though it seemed like no time at all
I am through with it and will not need it where I am going

Next out will come my old man's liver embalmed in beer and whiskey
such a fine preserving fluid that kept me in friends and partners and
their conversations and crazy ideas late at night
sitting in warm smoky bars until past closing time
and the doctor will remove my own sharp tongue the one that spoke
usually before I had a chance to stop myself
simply because I liked the rhythms that the words made
and leaving the bar sometimes too late
sitting shivering in cold driveways in mid-February still talking
when we should have gone inside and lie together
the touch of other's hands and the brush of a thigh
better than any blanket to make me warm even just to think of it now

Then he should remove my own hands first the one and then the other
I won't need them any longer their work being finished and complete
my right hand the one that curls helplessly spasmed
around nothing at all as though it were holding on to life itself
will relax now from its palsy and release as though nothing were the
the poems I lost and never found again will finally come pouring out
the words all spilled from their vessels the small vials of fingers
all those poems will finally come pouring out in immutable and
  perfect meaning

At last very carefully and with great precision
the surgeon will remove my brain from its stem
solemnly intoning come up Kinch you fearful Jesuit
in the final sacrament as I lay splayed upon his table
and he holds my brain aloft in the light of the surgical theater
when I am not alive anymore all these things will be possible
I will finally be free from the firing of synapses
and the electric overload of epilepsy sparking tremors
there will finally be no hesitation between thought and the word
the thoughts will spring from my mind released from its case
and all the words I formed and never said will fill the room
I will return to the universe once more and become the electricity of

Of What Is / Janine Aronson

When I look inside,
Into the deep, dark recesses of my soul.

When I see who I am,
Trapped a mile deep as a Chilean miner.
Though for years wondering
If I will ever see the sun,
Smell the fragrant air
At the surface, outside, freely.

Through a small hole,
Bored with care
Brings air, water sustenance and HOPE
To my soul.

I feel tenuously connected to humanity
For what feels like the first time.
Breathing fresh air, drinking fresh water
Eating the first fruits of God’s sun drenched world.
I feel tenuously connected to humanity
For what feels like the first time.

My inner light starts to shine,
My soul breaks free of my prison.
Making that long journey upward
In a small transport, through a small tunnel,
Eyes wide open, filled with Terror
Of what will be, of what will come,
“Of What Is.”

What I Saw on a February Afternoon / Bob Brussack

Out there, beyond the clearing,
Under the bare limbs of the sleeping trees
In the chill gray light of a February afternoon,
Something caught my eye.
A tawny leaf on the forest floor
Uncoaxed by any breeze,
Up and did a jig.
A few seconds later and a few feet away,
Another leaf erupted,
As if to the staccato cue of a plucked string.
And then another.
And another.
And then, as I resolved the details of the scene,
I realized that each leaf had a partner, a robin.
So, I thought to myself,
The snow that might come tonight
Will not long have its way.
The red-breasted vanguard of spring has arrived.

Nonsense Poem / Jenna Lancaster

Elephants march down my fingertips
As I tell you a story
Of a torn violet scarf
We will watch high heeled stilettos
Dance across the floor alone
With no help from my feet
Which is good anyway since I never could walk in them
And the women on the cover of those fashion magazines that you
And read until the pages fall out
Will wink at us and occasionally wave
And I will sit against red brick walls and sing to you
And rock you to sleep
While the pen will write you a lullaby with a bit of help from the
Because pens are not known for being very good spellers
And it will be peaceful
And the records need no player
Because they will sing themselves when my voice tires
And frames need no pictures
Because they are creative and would rather make their own
With pastel colored paints that please the eye
And make old women tell their knitting needles to stop for a moment
So that they can stare
Before they tell the needles to continue knitting them a violet scarf
While they twiddle their thumbs and watch
But I always preferred to listen to the classic books
Read themselves to me
And reveal the secrets within their binding
I must admit
It makes me sad to realize
That with everything helping themselves
They really don’t need me
But you still do, and always will
Because I am the only one who knows
Just what you need, on a cold rainy night, when the kettle is making
   itself some tea
And the rainboots are busy with the coats, dancing together in the
And we will sit together and watch
Because a part of you will always need a part of me
Nothing is ever nonsense.

How do you say "I love you?" / grady thrasher

How do you say, “I love you?"
Those three words so sublime,
Yes, but how do you say ”I love you”
After it’s said a thousand times?

The happiest hearts are the ones that are giving
Unspoken I love you’s in everyday living.
A flushed cheek or a gentle touch
Can say more than words, when words aren’t enough.

A shiver of joy while sharing a dream,
The confident glow you show as a team,
A quick forgiveness or pardon spoken
To soothe a hurt before hearts can be broken.

A knowing look, a special squeeze,
An early laugh at a friendly tease,
By now it should come as no surprise
That “I love you” shines from loving eyes.

For being in love is that state of grace
That joins two together in time and place
Woven by love in the fabric of living
for timeless joy as partners in giving.