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.