Author: North of Oxford

A journal of book reviews, commentary, essays and poetry.

Five Poems by Catfish McDaris

mcdaris
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Okra and Peyote 
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Willie came from the nasty streets
the Santa Fe R &R tracks divided
the village, whitey, brownie, blackie
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Mostly ragged folks getting by,
most of the adobes were plastered
but some mud clay blocks were exposed
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Willie was my primo, he grew mota, okra,
chilis, peyote, magic mushrooms, and
grapes, we hung it to dry from the vigas
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In the lemon-yellow sun of enchantment,
a vato came by to pull a rip off, I put a 357
in his ear and offered to cancel his Xmas.
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Black Horse
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Anyone can be gat, look
in the good book and the
Four Horsemen of the Ap-
calypso: Pestilence, War,
Famine, Death, flying
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Scorpions, nightingales, the
lady vacuumed the fireflies
from the sky, there are no
roses without bloody thorns
 .
He reached out and broke
off a chunk of banana moon
it tasted rather bizarre, tickling
the guitar strings laughter can
be heard through the adobe
 .
Village, coyotes, and senoritas
did the St Vitus’ dance until
the apricot pumpkin stars,
turned the clouds terracotta.
 .
Mexican Black
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I see ears in the swirling starry night.
the sky is drunk, the sun puking lemon
juice, the moon has a toothache, the lady
asked the dope fiend to come to talk to
Jesus, he stinks of absinthe and funk.
 .
Sometimes at night I meet
myself when I was young,
I disgust myself now
 .
What color is the wind?
What color is an orgasm?
What color is death?
 .
There is no sea of tranquility
There’s no such thing as a small miracle
.
Drinking Mexican coffee as black as death
Lady Gaga drives up in a dirty Mercury
they head to the Valley of Rhinoceroses
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Listening to Swordfish Trombone and
Bitches Brew overlooking Mexico City.
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The Sky is a Gun Barrel of Loneliness
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Death eats
you like a
soggy
cookie
in coffee
how long
will
I pretend
to care
I never
expected
or wanted
to live this
fucking
long.
.
Everyone Should Own One Nightmare
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I stare at my daughter’s bullet
proof vest and feel the thinness
I wonder how this can stop a
bullet, it’s dangerous to be a co
 .
Every night you worry if your
baby is safe, and wonder what
can you do to protect her, I would
step in front of a bullet in a heartbeat.
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Catfish McDaris won the Thelonius Monk Award in 2015. He’s been active in the small press world for 25 years. He’s recently been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Bengali, Mandarin, Yoruba, Tagalog, and Esperanto. Catfish McDaris’ most infamous chapbook is Prying with Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski. He’s from Albuquerque and Milwaukee. The photo of me is after my house burned down and my dog died, the cat escaped.

 

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Sub – Zero Visibility by Vandana Kumar

pm2.5
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Sub – Zero Visibility
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The city with masks
Buy one
Get one free
Works for PM2.5
It screams
.
And you put it on
You pass the sewages
You don’t notice the smell
.
The urchins
Long since removed
From your lexicon
The ghettos you cross
Such trepidation
.
Caught in parking lots
Can’t reverse
Can’t move ahead
And 4am extremities for the insomniac
Either porn
Or religious discourse
.
The districts in old town
Offer you flesh
Come hither looks
Or boast such purity
You think
She never ever touched herself
.
‘Smoke gets in your eyes’
The city and its mask
Works well for PM2.5
It taught you how to shed tears
But muffled the cries
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k
Vandana Kumar is a bon vivant who loves travelling, working with young minds and exploring possibilities beyond the ordinary. A middle school French teacher in New Delhi, her passions include playing the piano.  She has been published at ‘GloMag’, ‘Scarlet Leaf Review’, ‘Destiny Poets’. One of her poems was shortlisted and published by the “All India Poetry Society.
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The Patient fractures after by Arlyn Labelle

leftovers

The patient fractures after

There are some truths we do not think about often; his cat that he stopped looking for, the cat’s brother who went to his aunt? His cousin? There are other truths that we think about with the frequency of tooth brushing; the leftovers in the fridge which stayed longer than he did, the last words “I’m tired.” Then there are the truths that are not true, that we will debate about, angrily. What was the last game we played together? What did he cook that day, pork chops? Ribs? There are still other truths that we will not think for a long time, perhaps a year or two years, and then they will take the weather. When he died, there was a bucket of vomit next to his bed.

He will continue dying after he dies. His board games will be taken and put in an untouchable place. The couple with a single painting of his will separate, and the painting will only hang on one of their two walls. We will all start moving to the country, to the city. We will not listen to the music he liked, except maybe briefly, maybe one day when we want to cry while driving, and then we will listen and we will struggle to breathe and the pain will be so deep, so complete that it will scare us.

We will touch his death over and over again, frantically, trying to find new pain in it and largely succeeding. We will look at pictures of him and listen to videos where he is laughing and think, “Thank God, thank God for this.” We cannot remember our own wailing, but we will miss the feeling of it. The clarity of our pain.

We will have other deaths, all of us, many times. The graveyard he is in will fill, and strangers will stand next to it, be buried next to it. Cars will rear end each other near it and the drivers will spend some time looking in it’s direction, waiting for a police car, not knowing him but feeling some fraction of the weight of death.

There will be things that do not relate to him at all. We will own pets he never met, eat at restaurants that opened after he was already dead, buried, gone. We will have children who will not know he existed, or if we tell them, they will forget. Or, we will not have children, we will have coworkers, we will have friends, we will tell jokes that he would not have laughed at, watch movies he would not have cried at, cook meals he would not have eaten. We will do these things and we will not think of him, sometimes.

Writer's Photograph

Arlyn LaBelle is a poet and flash fiction writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared multiple times in the Badgerdog summer anthologies as well as The Blue Hour, LAROLA, JONAH Magazine,  North of Oxford, The Oddville Press, Songs of Eretz, Grey Sparrow Press, Cease, Cows and The Southern Poetry Review.

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Welcome to LA by Gary Duehr

smokingguymarlboro_1200x675
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Welcome to LA
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Here’s some on-street casting.
Three tough guys, huddled by the curb, like a lasting
Vision from some film clip:
A kid in shades, Marlboro at his lip,
Who’s taking it all in.
The older dudes in Polo shirts, deep in conversation,
Intense as any Method actor.
From birth to death they’ll stay in character,
In case a call to “Action!”
Booms out through the air—to catch one
Fraction of their life in celluloid
And so sidestep the void.
It’s Miami or LA, somewhere too sunny.
The light is thin and bright, as crisp as money.
And the Oscar goes to… Best ’80s Costume?
Best Weathered Face? Best Cigarette? To whom
Does this scenario belong?
Someone who’s out of sight, beyond the throng
That’s streaming down the street?
Anything could happen next. “A bite to eat?”
One of the Polo dudes could say. Or: “You’re dead.”
Maybe both at once: first lunch, and then a bullet to the head.
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duehr_1

Courtesy Sommerville News

Gary Duehr has taught poetry and writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. His books of poetry include In Passing (Grisaille Press, 2011), THE BIG BOOK OF WHY (Cobble Hill Books, 2008), Winter Light (Four Way Books, 1999) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press, 1999).
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Working on the night shift by Casey Killingsworth

post office
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Working on the night shift
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When you retire from your work you look
back on the jobs you did as if they were
nothing but stories. When the Easterns
said there is no past, that’s what they meant:
other than the pain that’s in your bones right
now, the here and now, everything else is just
words you distribute to your younger friends.
.
Anyway, I did the math the other day and
figured out I spent a third of my working
years on the midnight shift, working while
you slept, trying to be quiet so I didn’t
wake you, missing the sun. Every time you
woke to pee or get a glass of water I was
watering a golf course or sending trucks
out from some post office dock, and on
your way to work I was on my first beer.
.
I did the math and figured out I’m not
tired anymore, at least not the tired that
comes from fighting for the chance to
dream, or from envying sleep like it’s my
neighbor’s big house. I can go to sleep
whenever I want now, and sometimes
I just want to sleep forever
.
casey
Casey Killingsworth has been published in The American Journal of Poetry, Kimera, Spindrift, Rain, Slightly West, Timberline Review, COG, Common Ground Review, Typehouse, Bangalore Review, Two Thirds North, and other journals. His book of poems, A Handbook for Water, was published by Cranberry Press in 1995. As well he has a book on the poetry of Langston Hughes, The Black and Blue Collar Blues (VDM, 2008). He has a Master’s degree from Reed College.
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The Dog Seated Next to Me by Meg Pokrass

the dog

By Charles Rammelkamp

Meg Pokrass’s flash fictions are like puzzles whose pieces you have to consider individually and together, to see how it all fits, twisting the kaleidoscope to consider the patterns. Often humorous, witty, they nevertheless touch on a sadness at the heart of the human experience. But if the fictions are often searing with a sort of alienation, estrangement, loneliness, they nevertheless also hint at joy. Indeed, the epigraph to this new collection, is an apt quotation from the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov: “Even in Siberia there is happiness.”

Pokrass’ writing is always fresh with insight and image. Sentence by sentence you can never be sure where she might take you next. Take this observation from the story, “Spider”: “We humans and insects are all in the same boat, hoping for food, praying for love.” As in so many of her stories in this collection, the female protagonist of this story has fallen out of love with her husband, though she remembers how he used to make her feel safe and implicitly misses that warmth of human connection.

Or take the story, “Cured.” It begins: “He tasted like a bologna sandwich.” How can you not read on to see what that means? We learn that the man has lost his wife, is saturated with grief. “Grief was not angular, it was soft, droopy wet.” The protagonist of the story, a woman whom we understand is likewise on the rebound, wants to comfort him, with her sex, yes, but not only. Yet the task just seems too elusive, in the end. So many of the women in these stories go on dates with guys they meet at internet dating sites, almost always with sad results.  “For months she’d ignore the stabbing feeling of her recent divorce,” she writes in “Hi, Hi, Hi,” a story about a futile email relationship that’s a reaction to the protagonist’s situation.

As the title of the collection might suggest, dogs have a metaphorical potency in these stories. Indeed, all pets do; rescue animals in particular are a sort of metaphor for the discarded partners who populate the stories. Nowhere is this more stark than in the story, “The Bite,” which begins, “You didn’t know he had escaped. You thought he was a terrific dog, smitten with you….” It becomes clear (sort of) that this stray is actually a man.  (First hint is when he follows her: “If he could talk, he may have said something about the ‘view’ (meaning your ass).”) He has a wife (“his owner”) who goes ballistic when she discovers the affair.  The woman “…screamed at you, growled a death cry that would stop chopped ice. Told you that you were ruining her life.”

A similar confusion between human and canine is found in “What the Dog Thinks.” The story starts: “Today she seemed to be chasing her tail. I mean, chasing herself into a bad mood. At 11AM she was wearing her astral nightgown and her Jupiter slippers.”  What appears to the reader as a dog at first crystallizes into a human being, like a photograph in a developer tray. Later in the story, the protagonist reflects, “I’m tired of being a wife. It’s not a job I’m good at.”

Dogs are mentioned in about eighteen of these stories (cats in about 7; a blue-tongued skink, otters and parakeets, too), including a labradoodle in “In the Middle of Nowhere.” (“Sometimes she wanted to run away from her husband, but she could not live without their labradoodle, Timmy.”) In “New Dog,” the protagonist reflects on the replacement dog a man she recognizes is walking in the park; the old one has recently died. It’s not as gentle as the original dog, but “She believes that one must dispose of the past. That dogs are similar to ex-husbands. Moving on is critical.” Recently divorced, it becomes apparent that the woman is coping. “”She’s learning how to be thankful rather than grateful.”

In the eponymous story, another marriage has fallen apart, but as in many of the stories, the protagonist has not actually been able to “dispose of the past.” Indeed, she finds herself with “the man who used to want me but is now my friend.” They are sharing a salad. “He is seeing a much younger woman now, so I talk to the dog seated next to me.”

Not surprisingly, several of the women at the center of these little stories are in therapy. In the story, “Margaret Thatcher,” “You talk to your therapist about all the guys you’ve loved. You charm her, a weekly comedy act.”  Grief as performance art. In the story “Prescription,” indeed, a dog figures into the therapist plot! It begins, “The last appointment, my doctor popped the question – asked me to pet-sit and house-sit for him while he traveled to Florence.” The doctor has an arthritic dog named Jeeves. The protagonist cares for the doctor’s garden while he is away. The story ends: “Jeeves waddles out and plunks next to me to sit in the sun.”

There’s so much unspoken emotion in Meg Pokrass’s fiction. It makes talking about her work difficult because you feel like you’re missing so much in the analysis and description. Joy? The joy is in the writing itself! You have to read her book to see what I mean! And you’ll be so grateful that you did! And thankful!

You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781949790238/the-dog-seated-next-to-me.aspx

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf

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Oblique Music: A Book of Hours by Elizabeth Bodien

oblique

By Jenny Ward Angyal

a life entire
in the swoop of a blackbird
wing flash of red
sufficient this morning
for a rising up of wonder
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Poet Elizabeth Bodien has captured ‘a life entire’ in the 102 tanka of this handsome little book. Subtitled A Book of Hours, it is divided into nine sections inspired by the traditional structure of the liturgical day. Each section opens with essentially the same photograph of the sun over water, but the colors of the image and the sun’s position within it change to reflect the time of day or night, until we reach the final section, ‘Beyond’, which opens with an image of star-filled sky. The poems are printed in restful periwinkle ink on creamy blue-white paper; one poem per page allows plenty of time and space to contemplate each small gem. .

And it is of course the poems themselves that matter most. The poems in this collection, most of which first appeared in various tanka journals over the course of a decade, move simultaneously through the hours of a day, the seasons of a year, and the seasons of a life, capturing moments and reflections each of which is ‘sufficient . . . for a rising up of wonder.’
he poet displays a fine sensitivity to the world around her:
.
iridescent blue
two dragonflies
catch and throw
waning sunlight
onto the path
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 . . . and also to her own interior landscape:
.
lingering in bed
one moment longer
I trawl
the vast in-between
where creation might stir
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The first tanka above is an exquisite capture of something that most people would simply overlook; the second explores that fertile state between sleeping and waking where the riches of the subconscious mind may be most accessible. Elizabeth Bodien’s creations are shot through with ‘waning sunlight’, a poignant sense of the ephemeral:
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I buy cut tulips
arrange them in a vase
for their color
and because I trust
they will be here tomorrow
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The closing lines suggest that the narrator—like all of us—knows well that many beautiful or beloved things will not ‘be here tomorrow’. The clarity and simplicity of this tanka typify the way in which these poems illuminate everyday phenomena and help us to see how such ordinary things point beyond themselves to the unknown.
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barely touching
his scraped bloody knee
the boy ponders
for the first time
what is inside him
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From the child’s first intimations of vulnerability to the adult’s full knowledge of death, these poems simultaneously mourn losses and celebrate life:
.
we are all old
now that you’ve gone
you danced
like a butterfly
on the lid of our lives
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What a beautiful five-line portrait of someone whose life seems to have been emblematic of freedom and joy. Loss of loved ones leads inevitably to reflection on what happens ‘beyond’:
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smoke rises
from the burning barrel
our trash
turns to ash, to air
what will we become?
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 . . . and it is no accident that the final section of this ‘book of hours’ is entitled ‘Beyond’, reaching outside the traditional cycle of the liturgical day and  hinting, like the following tanka, at a larger reality:
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frost flickers
on the dark window
a thin veil
separates this earth
from beyond
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Elizabeth Bodien, who holds degrees in cultural anthropology, consciousness studies, religions, and poetry, recently published a nonfiction book about her past-life regressions. She has also published five books of ‘mainstream’ poetry and has won numerous poetry awards, including several for haiku. Readers of her Oblique Music will hope that this accomplished poet, with her wealth of experience, insight, and wonder, will continue to travel the tanka road.
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we peer
from the bus
across the river
our final destination
the city veiled in mist
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Jenny Ward Angyal’s  poems have appeared in many journals and may also be found on her blog, The Grass Minstrel. . Her tanka collection, moonlight on water (Skylark Publishing), appeared in 2016. She co-edited the Tanka Society of America’s 2016 Members’ Anthology, Ripples in the Sand, and was Reviews & Features Editor of Skylark: a Tanka Journal, for over five years.
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