"Cash Value" - Alex Johns

"Cash Value" - Alex Johns

I accidentally dropped a nickel in the trash,
paused, thought, then opted not

to put in my hand.  You might have done the same.   Hell,
it's five cents slightly defined by President Lincoln's profile,

my dad with his bald head and prominent nose
watching the evening news
silhouetted in the window
was identical to that of 
George Washington on our quarter,

the amount an elderly neighbor paid me at ten 
for mowing his yard.

History's face made monetary,
denominations of five forever associated with
the Great Emancipator's
voiceless words over a print of Gettysburg.

By this point, an attentive spender would have remembered
that Lincoln is in fact on the empty penny, that thick nickel
belongs to Jefferson, the slave owning lecher,
wealthy expert in political theory,
etched in the pantheon
of rich dead white men.

My fellow Americans,

I was living in the Balkans
during what some called a civil war.
What it was was genocide

for nothing more than
creeds and bloodlines,

Beelzebub's ugly mug out in the open.
Saw a priest pour holy water 
on prepped artillery shells.

A boy on the street handed me a handful of bank notes,
thick as a deck of cards,
hissed in perfect English,
“Here, Yankee, wipe your ass with these.”

(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Always Pretending" - Jay Morris

"Always Pretending" - Jay Morris 

I think about writing a poem 
To bridge the gap between your pain
And my own
I burn the bridge as soon as I begin building it
Immediately aware of the futility of the task
I could never hurt badly enough to arouse your compassion
So I put my pen down
I click "yes" when Netflix asked if I'm still watching the movie
I forgot I was watching because I was too busy trying to write a poem
To get an emotional response from anyone
Preferably you, or someone like you
I think about how stupid it is to include Netflix in a poem
As a Technological Age literary device
I agree with myself that I shouldn't worry about it
And should save my energy for things that should be worried about 

When is the money going to run out?
Will I ever get married?
Should I eat today, or have I had too much?
I have had too much.
I am high on the enthusiasm of getting to pretend to be 
Someone I'm not.
A bitch with an unassuming physical presence
But a sassy social media presence
To off set my real world social anxiety

There's a point when you become so self-critical with yourself
That your life starts to straddle the fine line 
between perspective and parody
And you realize you're just parroting the perspectives 
Of people who died long before you thought 
it was edgy to have a suicidal thought

And yet, the generation I come from
Has developed a morbid curiosity
For visceral authenticity
But somehow still reflexively covering our selves
With layers and layers of psychic fabrics
To protect our fabricated sense of selves
Be real with me
Show me where your stitches are
So I can pull them at the seams and
Make you spill your guts to me 
Tell me how they simplified your identity
Made you eat even though you didn't want to
Talk me through the moment when you realized
That making love doesn't mean letting someone
Fuck you as hard as you hate yourself

Don't pretend in front of me
We are always pretending
Aren't you tired?

"Always Pretending" by Jay Morris is the title poem of his blog.(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Mary Enters the Clinic" - Emily Katherine

"Mary Enters the Clinic" - Emily Katherine 

Mary enters the clinic like it’s a cathedral and she is has been away from god for too long
she has the slow repentant walk and the surrendered gaze of the returning sinner
praying that salvation is still being offered
she has no face
just wild hair, just dark eye liner, just scars covering faintly bruised arms and knees covered in dirt
her confession is to the front desk clerk
“I think it’s time I came back
I’ve been a needle looking for a haystack to lose myself in,
well I’m gone now.”
She gets a packet of paperwork to fill out – intake forms – financial application –
proof of insurance
When the clerk asks for proof of identity, she hands her a faded polaroid of a girl smiling, squinting into the sun
says “I used to be her.”
The clerk asks for a drivers license
says ma’am, we don’t process dreams here, just the data
Mary sighs
says I haven’t slept in four days and that’s a fact
I stay up each night trying to track down a map that will take me back to a time before the trauma existed, back when I still believed in the resistance
I take my mothers Xanax from her medicine cabinet because I want to forget
when it rains the voices get louder and I cut because I never learned how to ignore an itch
I can’t feel my face anymore, I can’t force my lips to curve in the direction of a smile,
I can’t decipher my affliction but I know I haven’t been here in a while”
The clerk schedules her with a counselor,
advises her to take a seat and wait.

it’s not the best way to process a person who walks in crying crisis in a common language
but it’s the only way we know how to help
Name, age, social security card.
If you have insurance you will have a copay
If you have a god, now will be the time to pray
if you have a loved one, ask them to hold on and stay

In the counselor’s office, she asks for holy water to drink
when asked if she is taking anything she says yes, I take anything
but nothing seems to quench this angry burn around my heart, I am on fire from the inside, hell is behind gate of my ribs and I’ve been trying to crack each one to get out.
The counselor continues with questions
Do you drink?
Do you feel depressed or blue more days than not?
Do you ever feel like you would be better off dead?
She says only on the days I can’t get out of bed
Do you have a plan for killing yourself?
she says does living count

She waits for the police escort to the hospital like they are the sons of god
they seem just as rational and twice as kind
Days have gone by that god has been the only man that will answer her
he has thrown shadows against her bedroom wall and had her guess which ones were indications of her impending doom and which ones were just reflections of the trees outside
she has found signs in her cereal – measured her life by the number of cheerios she poured
she knows the news anchor on the tv is talking to her
she knows she shouldn’t have stopped taking her medicine again
– but there was a blank spot between her eyes where her wit used to live
her hands refused to fly, became fallen birds in her lap
her eyes were vaguely smiling, her heart was kind of trying
she thought she could handle it this time

The police say shackles are not a reflection of their regard for her but a matter of policy
she accepts them willingly
they wonder why she is smiling
she wonders why they are not acknowledging Jesus, since he is standing so close behind them
beckoning her with one hand
she goes willingly

When the clinic doors close behind her, the sanitized hum resumes in the waiting room
the tv is set to Andy Griffith reruns,
the clerk files paperwork grown large with numbers – 1013, 911
295.90 schizophrenia with at least two of the following – delusions, hallucinations, grossly disorganized speech, an inability to interact with daily life without being wounded by the incongruent affect and behavior of so-called normal people
the counselor finds the razor blades in the back pack she left behind
the manager stores them in the safe beneath her desk
The clerk looks up as the next client approaches the front desk

Emily Katherine's website is Gut Punch Poetry. (photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Chewing Down My Barn" - Eugene C. Bianchi

“Sit, rest, work.
Alone with yourself, never weary.
On the edge of the forest
Live joyfully without desire.”
                   --The Buddha

"Chewing Down My Barn" 

A boutique bat house high on the barn,
yet they turn up their noses.
Do they expect a flashing vacancy sign?
Too late to return it after ten years,
despite mosquitoes in a stagnant pond.
Pangs of ingratitude.

Blue birds come each year to sniff
our well-wrought dwellings,
located according to their own
building manual, sheltering
trees behind, open sward ahead,
only to take up at an undeserving
neighbor’s pool, rules be damned.
Blame the Tea Party.

The demanding wren nests
behind the garage work bench,
insisting we leave a door open at night.
How does she make the point without words?
How is it to be indentured to a bird?

“It just isn’t his idea,” my wife says
of cat Max, Prince of Siam, who spurns
my best offer to enjoy a soft rocker
on a balmy screened porch, no matter
my lecture on feline health and fresh air.
He chooses to stalk a skink by the stove,
and later bellow Gregorian Chant
in baritone on his nightly rounds.
(I want what I want, Big White Guy.)

Old age slows me down to open my eyes.
Wasn’t I born to lop off mountain tops for coal,
stride the moon with grand “pronunciamentos,”
discover the secrets of mind/brain,
tear down medieval papal absolutism,
map ocean floors, and save the world
for democracy, God and whatever?

Yet this morning on the driveway,
I find myself picking up
an ailing carpenter bee with a fallen leaf,
glad he could still buzz or growl at me,
to place him under low juniper shade
near his comrades who are busy
chewing down my barn.

Other seasons, other voices, other choices.

--Eugene C. Bianchi
 Athens, GA, July 13, 2014

(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Farewellia a la Aralee" [Ralph La Charity], a review by Tyrone Williams

Aralee Strange

Farewell to this, that, and all that ...

Ralph La Charity muses on mortality ...

Ralph La Charity, Farewellia a la Aralee (Dos Madres Press, 2014), 53 pp.—In the vatic trajectories from Whitman that inform significant figures of modern USA poetry—Ginsberg and Dorn, Olson and Eshleman, etc.—Ralph La Charity has made a place for himself as a Cincinnati-based raconteur-cum-surrealist. From early works like the scathing Seatticus Knight (Black Heron, 1985) to more recent self-published chapbooks flawed man drowns (2010/11) and beneath each Us & All(2011), La Charity has served up his exuberant, often exorbitant, blend of nonlinear neologisms and pun-riddled yawps. He has co-founded and performed in jazz/performance poetry bands and recorded his work on records and cds. Farewellia brings all his varied skills together. The first half of the book, dedicated to the memory of Midwest/Southern poet/film-maker Aralee Strange, compiles poems composed and performed (a cd is included with the book) by La Charity, some of which are culled from the aforementioned book and chapbooks and some of which are, in the best sense of the term, occasioned by the memorial. The former, often renamed (e.g., the eponymous “beneath Each Us & All” is, here, “Dark Lawful Rhythmic Infinity Beneath Each Us & All”), resonate, in texture and style, more with the writings  in the 1998 chapbook reproduced in the second half of the book than they do with recent work. One reads and hears, for example, La Charity’s playful use of alliteration in a line like “infinitely City beneath CinCinity” from the aforementioned poem and, fromCinemanuensing, “as tidal flux frisked doublebind criss & crux.” (“Stampedimenta”). The latter title, a tongue-twisting mash-up of secretarial, cinematic and poetic responsibilities, refers to a facsimile reproduction of La Charity’s 1998 chapbooka “habeus corpus poetique.” This text of prose and poetry contextualizes and records the Cincinnati environs of Strange’s film This Train, later  adapted to the stage . Finally, the cd features La Charity reciting, chanting and occasionally singing a capella, in an urgent tremulous tenor, the poems in the first half of the book. Farewellia a la Aralee is thus a memorial to Lee and celebration of the human arts (which she, like La Charity, was invested in), multiple gestures toward the primacy we give the eye, ear, throat and mouth, particular pleasures within the sensorium. 

(originally appeared online in Jacket 2 magazine)

"L. H. N." - David Noah

"L. H. N." - David Noah

My dad had a tattoo on his forearm
inked in dark blue:  the letters L. H. N.
But since he didn’t have a middle name,
I asked, when I was thirteen and ready,

what H stood for.  “Hell,” he said, “or Heaven.
One night in the navy we got real drunk
and all got tattooed by some handsome guy
who asked what I wanted.  I said No hearts

and no flowers, just write my initials:
L. N., and the guy said ‘No middle name?’
Make it an H,  I told him with a grin,
and that’s how I learned my calling.

For not one of us knows our own true name
until a stranger writes it on our skin.”  

(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Summer Lakeside Grace" - Bob Ambrose

"Summer Lakeside Grace" - Bob Ambrose

In dreams of yesterday - from boyhood in Jacksonville, Florida
Athens, Georgia
July 24, 2014

There were high summer Sundays
so blessed, instead of church
we’d head for Starke.

Unshackled from Seersucker,
kicking off shoes
for swim suits and flip flops

and freedom to breathe,
we packed the family wagon
squirming in the back seat

while Mom passed out peppermint
Dad steered us south
to ski the day at Kingsley Lake.

Four brown and freckled
stairstep children carve
the crystal surface to exhaustion

then snorkle the shallows
floating a dreamscape
like airships over fairy towns

with towers of algae and silverside
minnows by forests of lake grass
and plains of fine sand.

Perfect days wane
as we ride home with Ray Charles
cracking on the car radio

Sing the song, children.
A half century softens
when his chorus confirms

I can’t stop loving you
and I live again in memory
of a lonesome time

sensing the shadow
of an awful obligation –
growing up means going on.

Halfway home we stop once more
by the random roadside stand
to choose a ripe melon

forged of water and sun
much like our happy lives,
for even now I close my eyes

and taste it yet –
the sweetness of late youth,

(July 2014 photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Muludhara" - Peleg Held

"Muludhara" - Peleg Held

Shoulder the wires at the crest of the arch. Stand into bridge. I brought you only to sea, the ever shifting sea where you bow your song out, out from between the locks. After the drift and foam, daughter, you will make land, dust shaken from air every wind-shorn particle lith and vim strung into soil. Fate flecked off string, rosin swept up in breath, the notes slurred into grace turned to the ground.

"The Gift of Longing" -- Gregory de Rocher

"The Gift of Longing" -- Gregory de Rocher

A wee jar of figs to me hath been given,
And sealed it shall remain until the will
Which such tantalizing fruit hath closed tight
Relent, undo, and bid me to come share it:
Then alone may lips part, and tongues touch.

(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"My once love" - Shafkat Khan

"My once love" - Shafkat Khan

We had been intimate, you remember?
Like lovers forlorn,
I only knew you and loved you so.
Stretch marks of capitalism upon your breasts
were heavenly to me,
and greedy claws bloodying your back
only incited my lust for you.

I left you with hope of returning one day
and you never lacked of lovers;
though your face could be misshapen as any;
            you could smell of unhealth;
            your smile, even on a sunny day, could be prosaic.

I return to you to witness
the greedy capitalists attempting
a complete reconstruction of your face, breast, ass;
and the cutting is only half done.
You struggle to adjust to this new appearance.

Like a snake trying to fit in its outgrown skin,
you and I try to fit in as we once were
to ourselves, to each other.
We try to ignore the knives' merciless cutting of you,
               to ignore how ungrateful a lover I am 
               to forget you and seek others.                                                            

We try to forget that despite you once being
my definition of life and beauty
you and I will chivvy each other
like a snake trying to fit in its outgrown skin.

I return to you, my once love.
You were my first city
and you will forever remain so.
Just forgive me if we don't lose ourselves
                            in loving each other
                            like we once did. 

"My once love" is Shafkat Khan's first poem on the Word of Mouth site. It was originally posted on his travel blog, When I returned to these shores. His poetry blog is What I think, see, and live is all to share with you. (photo of Shakat Khan at Casa Orquideas, 2010.)

"First, Words Drop Like Overripe Fruit" - David Noah

"First, Words Drop Like Overripe Fruit" - David Noah

First, words drop like overripe fruit
from the page, and the page turns to paper.

Then stories on television go—
all those faceless young fools

shuffled like a strobe-lit tarot.
Who can think with that nonsense going on?

We turn away and see nothing very much.
We listen closely to the air slide over our skin.

Now what, we ask no one,
as our feet like little soldiers

march into a room once silent
but now magnetized by a whisper:

Once upon a time 
there was a little old man…

And even though we’re through with tales,
we open our mouths.  We listen.

We know how this one ends—
all happy deaths are alike—

but the plot is a page-turner
that grabs us by the throat.  

Photographer, poet, and raconteur David Noah is the featured reader at this month's open mic event at The Globe. His poetry website is here. (photo from Rabbit Box, January 2013.)