From the Poetry Editor

Diane March        From North of Oxford, this windy March issue blows us in two directions: backward into childhood, i.e., the past and upward into a distorted heavenly sky.

Rustin Larson’s poem, “Slap” conjures up Stanley Kunitz’s slapped check in “The Portrait,” but Larson’s metaphor literally moves us into confusion with his opening lines: “It was confusing. It’s / like getting on the wrong / bus and arriving at / the wrong school.” It’s as if childhood were a treacherous journey for the speaker, which leads the reader to his second poem, “Bats and Spiders,” where the end lines of his first stanza are “Your / mother would never have / aborted you’ says my aunt. / Things like that get me / thinking.” There is a mastery and magical craft to this poem that you will want to read and re-read, complete with…”The witch’s hand / felt in her shaggy purse for / a coin.”

Wesley Scott McMaster’s “Gypsy Blood” has Romanian blood running through this poem’s veins. Dedicated to his father, who he cried with, when the speaker, I, “watched my grandfather’s body / weak and frail / carried out to be burned / to be made into dust.”  Not traveling on a bus like in Larson’s first poem, McMaster is wearing “shoes that are worn out / soles worn thin.” Walk with him and you will feel “rain or snow”, “the shit in city streets”and you will hear the voices of his ancestors “soaked in blood…gypsy blood.”

Thaddeus Rutkowski’s mode of transportation to the past, in his poem, “Where I’m From” lists several ways of getting around as a child: “I used a bike, my feet, or skates” never making “it more than a mile or two / from my childhood home.” With mixed maternal and paternal lineage his “goal was to learn to drive. / …and blow out of there.” His next poem, is where the winds of March blow upward, even inward, as we enter, “In the Buddha’s Tooth Temple,” and “We walk into a temple in Singapore to see the relic: / a tooth of the Buddha.” Led by walking, the speaker, more like a tour guide, helps us to see inside the temple, maybe even inside the winds of time, and in arriving, “No one is in the room. / There is no crowd around the pedestal.”

As wind circles, we are blown into the cross current poems of Howie Good.  Not quite Nietzschesque as in “God is Dead,” rather possessing a drier wit and sarcasm, Good’s poem, “God Is a Joke That Nobody Gets” puns on the resurrection, in a modernistic way. “Your god” (with a lowercase “g”) “tumbles/ to the ground dead, then / gets up and dusts off his pants.” Good’s speaker reduces god into an unsympathetic human, someone like an uncaring boss, who is a lot of hot air / a wind bag, that “does a crap job intervening / in human affairs.” Believe it or not, a lot is seen and said in a minimalistic way; how ironic to condense a poem about god into only nine lines—the speaker bringing down the mighty powers of god. Good’s defying humor ensues in a “little snippet” of his squirrely poem, “Against Narrative.”

Check out this month’s issue, stay grounded, and “Beware the Ides of March.”

With much respect & admiration for these our March Madness poets,

Diane Sahms, Poetry Editor, North of Oxford

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Two Poems from Rustin Larson

It was confusing.  It’s
like getting on the wrong
bus and arriving at the
wrong school.  It will take
a morning of frantic phone
calls for your mom to find
you.  And then you still
might get a slap.
Well, it’s October now and I
still don’t care about baseball.
I feel maybe someone will give
me cartoonist trouble, holding
my life together with aspirin
and duct tape.  The fish
of words will swim through all
the paper.  Thanksgiving
is exactly the same up there,
except in October, and they
are still loyal to the Queen.
It’s like getting on the wrong
bus and arriving at the wrong
Now, I have a handful of
believers.  The globe shakes
its oceans off onto the table,
and it is a wonder we
construct mail boxes out of
milk cartons; we send each
other Halloween greetings and
teeth like Indian corn.  Who
am I, your mommy?  Do
you want me to wipe your
ass?  The dirty man leaves
the telephone book alone.  We
get on the bus, relieved.  It’s
the wrong bus.
Bats and Spiders
I think I covered most of
the topics.  Not a lot has
happened to me.  I guess you
would say I’m a boring man.
I feel fortunate.  To be
honest, there are people I
detest, but they’ll get no
press here.  Bats and spiders
are in the air.  “Your
mother would never have
aborted you,” says my aunt.
Things like that get me
The dead hand massages the
head of the spider and
the spider shivers.  The chimes ring,
“Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.”
It is now 6:30
on the same day.  I forget
what plans I had.  I’m letting
it all ferment.  It is a
fine wine we have.  I couldn’t
tell you what the story was if
I tried.
The violin teacher came to the door
and looked at me sadly.  She
handed me the sheet music you
had forgotten at your lesson.
The love seat we had thrown
out of the house had been
removed from the curb.  All
the juices were being sucked
downward.  The witch’s hand
felt in her shaggy purse for
a coin.  We all had to live,
ya know.
Rustin Larson’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, North American Review, Poetry East, The Atlanta Review and other magazines. Crazy Star was selected for the Loess Hills Book’s Poetry Series in 2005. Larson won 1st Editor’s Prize from Rhino magazine in 2000 and has won prizes for his poetry from The National Poet Hunt and The Chester H. Jones Foundation among others. A five-time Pushcart nominee, and graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing, Larson was an Iowa Poet at The Des Moines National Poetry Festival in 2002 and 2004, a featured writer in the DMACC Celebration of the Literary Arts in 2007, 2008, and has been highlighted on the public radio programs Live from Prairie Lights and Voices from the Prairie. He lives in Fairfield, Iowa.

Gypsy Blood by Wesley Scott McMasters

Gypsy Blood
            for my father
I wear shoes that are worn out
            soles worn thin
            leather cracked
            creases clear
           sometimes even a gap through which
            I can feel rain or snow
I wear shoes that I don’t wash or shine
            I let them soak in the shit in the city streets
            feel the ocean water
            or the Gulf of Mexico
                        a place my father dreams about
                        even when he is there
I dig these shoes out from the back of my closet
            like pulling bones from a grave
            blowing the dust off
            stepping in piss
            in a corner of Venice
            where as a kid
I always dreamed of going
            finally walking those streets
            wearing jeans that made me
look like my gypsy ancestors
the Romani who still live
outside of the city
            a purple button down
            blazer bleached from Italian sun
            and shoes
            that will never forget why
            the soles are worn thin
            and the leather
            is cracked
            or the moment when she kissed me
for the first time
            in ten years
            or ten days
            or the moment when I hugged my father
            for the first time
            in ten years
            or ten days
            maybe the first time I ever saw him cry
            and definitely the first time
            I cried with him
            as I watched my grandfather’s body
            weak and frail
            carried out to be burned
                        to be made into dust
            my father told me
during a call to him
from a diner
in Poughkeepsie
that we have gypsy blood
            like my grandfather
            and my great grandfather
maybe this is why
my leather lasts
soaked in blood
my blood
my father’s blood
gypsy blood
Wesley Scott McMasters is a poet and professor in the eastern part of Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains, where he lives with his dog, Poet (who came with the name, he swears).

Two Poems From Thaddeus Rutkowski

Where I’m From
I don’t think anyone outside of a ten-mile radius
has heard of where I’m from.
The one-street town lies downstream
from another one-street town.
I never made it more than a mile or two
from my childhood home.
For transportation, I used a bike, my feet, or skates.
Surrounded by nature, I had no choice but to appreciate it.
I was raised as white, but I’m not white.
My father saw no difference between races,
while my mother never forgot hers.
My goal was to learn to drive,
then climb into a car with a full tank of gas,
floor the accelerator, and blow out of there.
In The Buddha’s Tooth Temple
We walk into a temple in Singapore to see the relic:
a tooth of the Buddha found in Myanmar,
long after the Buddha was alive.
We stop at a series of altars,
one for each sign of the zodiac.
In each section are a hundred tiny Buddhas,
each with a unique hand gesture or facial expression,
like those of the soldiers in China’s old capital,
whose terra-cotta bodies are identical,
but whose faces are individual.
We proceed upstairs, as all around us
the chants of monks
come through an amplified system
and fill the temple.
We pass a giant prayer wheel
and reach the room with the relic.
(I wonder if it is a molar or an incisor.)
No one is in the room.
There is no crowd around the pedestal
holding the tooth of the prince
who gave up everything he had
to gain everything he needed.
Thad at Red Room
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of six books, most recently Border Crossings, a poetry collection. His novel Haywire won the Asian American Writers Workshop’s members’ choice award, and his book Guess and Check won the Electronic Literature bronze award for multicultural fiction. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Two Poems by Howie Good

Against Narrative
A thieving squirrel defies
the squirrel-proof bird feeder,
clinging to it upside down,
arrogant tail waving off cardinals
and black-capped chickadees,
until just this little snippet
of a story is all that’s left.
God Is a Joke That Nobody Gets
Your god sews eyelids shut,
gesticulates with the soggy,
chewed-up end of a cigar,
does a crap job intervening
in human affairs, tumbles
to the ground dead, then
gets up and dusts off his pants,
and tries to slip in the door
without the dogs going crazy.
Howie Good is the author most recently of Stick Figure Opera: 99 100-word Prose Poems from Cajun Mutt Press. He co-edits the online journals Unbroken and UnLost.

The Forge by John D. Robinson

The Forge
Afterwards we lay quiet,
catching our breath,
although we’d done
nothing wrong, we both
felt guilty for some
reason and we could
not let go of this
feeling but we knew
we had to,
there would be plenty
more to feel guilty
I didn’t seek the life
I’ve led, it happened
along the way, I began
with no plans and as
we held onto one
another as youthful
lovers , we knew
life would be closing
in on us and forge us
into becoming
johnd d
John D. Robinson is a poet from the U.K.

Two Poems By Christopher Barnes

Liberty Atoms 11
Birdcaged alarm clock flew
An hour pursuant to every ten minutes.
Maisie writhed, forecasted a drum roll;
Squabbled-about lace
Reduced to tatters.
Kalanchoe petals on flung down Riesling
Ordered the tidings:
“Look, there’s a cottage.  I can see a light”.
Quote: Iris Murdoch, The Nice And The Good
Liberty Atoms 15
Razor-wire teddy bear
Fissioned its thin ice.
Cynthia’s aura
Held no mollycoddle
Into an insensitive galaxy.
Maisie wrung the cigarette
                  –       Retaliation.
And on that postal stamp:
“There were faint scratching sounds
Rats perhaps,
Or what Ilona called ‘Mousekins”.
Quote: Iris Murdoch, The Nice And The Good
Christopher Barnes is a poet, filmmaker, and performance artist.