The War Still Within: Poems of the Korean Diaspora by Tanya Ko Hong

the war
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Tanya Ko Hong’s heartbreaking collection of poems is all about bearing witness and the need to testify to a truth against all the forces of silence from both without and within that try to suppress its expression. This truth is all about treachery and betrayal. Interestingly, it is in the very last stanza of the final poem in the book, “At Tara Station in Dublin,” where we find an invitation to speak.  The speaker in the poem finds herself stranded in an Irish pub drinking coffee when she is approached by a “sweet-looking girl” who asks,
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not in Gaelic but in fluent English:
“Love! I am a hungry angel of the street.
Get me a McDonald’s hamburger and a cup of coffee,
and tell me a story of your star,
the land where you came from, please.”
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All the poems that precede this one are the story. So much of the horror of the story Tanya Ko Hung tells is suppressed – hence the title of the collection, because the war rages within the heart of the Korean woman.  These poems, then, are the cathartic expression of these cruel truths.
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There are so many forces that tell the Korean woman to be quiet, to “suck it up.” There are the long cultural expectations for Korean girls. The poem, “Asian Woman” begins:
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This is what you do with your life:
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Take what your father gives you
care, food, shelter
Learn to be wife
cook, sew, maintain your household
Obey orders, serve your family…
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In a word, the Asian woman is expected to submit. She also writes in “The Cost of Breath”:
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Nice girls don’t speak
their minds or
question men…
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In the three-part poem, “Look Back,” the speaker of the poem, who has immigrated to America, tells her daughter that the reason she came was for “better education, better opportunities, / and a better life,” which is only part of the truth of why she’d fled, and her daughter knows. “‘Oma, it’s so boring. All Asians in my class / have the same answers.’” “I didn’t want to look back,” the speaker confesses.  She goes on, “to survive, I learned / to pretend not to know.” Similarly, in “Mother Tongue,” she writes, “life’s not so bad / if you don’t pay attention.” Denial, then, is another force holding the Asian woman back.
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And besides, nobody will hear her anyway.  She writes in the title poem, “The War Still Within”:
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White man said
             No one listens to you
             No one sees
             Open your mouth
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I said
               Go ahead
Cut and burn my tongue
You can’t set fire to my secrets
My other tongue
will speak
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Against all this, balance the need to tell the story of “the land where you came from.”  But it takes courage, fortitude. The brief aphoristic poem that begins the collection, “The Way to Cross the Desert,” reads:
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Do not think about

the oasis.

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The truth that Tanya Ko Hong is compelled to tell involves the inhumane treatment of Korean women, their betrayal by their families and countrymen. The epigraph to the poem, “Asian Woman,” comes from Na Hye-sok, the twentieth century Korean feminist: “Isn’t it about time Chosŏn women lived like humans?”
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At the heart of this inhumanity is the legacy of the Comfort Women – Wianbu in Korean – the 200,000 Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II. It wasn’t until 1991 that Hak Soon Kim came forward to denounce the Japanese. The horror had been suppressed for over three decades. In a stunning suite of poems entitled “Comfort Woman,” Tanya Ko Hong shows us the horror. In “1941, That Autumn”:
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They put a long stick between my legs –
Open up, open, Baka Chosengjing!
they rage, spraying
their sperm
the smell of
burning dog
burning life
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In “1943, Shanghai, China”:
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One night
a soldier asked all the girls
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Who can do one hundred men?
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I raised my hand
Soonja did not
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The soldiers put her in boiling water
alive
and fed us
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The horror continues beyond the Japanese occupation.  The poem “Yang Kong Ju” about a Korean woman trying to survive in American occupied Korea starts:
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Koreans called her
Yang kalbo
Yankee’s whore
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The fallout from all of this is the scorn and disdain of one’s countrymen, perhaps the most compelling reason to flee. “Tiki Boy” is a poem about a Korean woman who has an American G.I.’s son.
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The women said, You’re so pretty –
but when she wasn’t there:
That yang kalbo,
her lips look
like she’s eaten mice.
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We read the sad story of a homeless elderly woman in “Grandmother Talks of Camptowns” in which betrayal follows betrayal, first by the government, then by the children, the brother, the sister, the lover.
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In a footnote to the poem, “A Blonde Whispers Korean in My Ear,”  the poet writes, “As an immigrant of the Korean diaspora, I know what it feels like being invisible, voiceless and powerless.” Coming to America is not easy, either.  We read about the difficulties of the immigrant in poems like “Second Period,” about the classroom experience, and “American Dream,” which ends with the poignant question:
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Who am I to you,
America?
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The War Still Within is moving and enlightening at the same time, a compelling collection of poems.
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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.

 

Paper Bells by Phan Nhiên Hạo (Translated by Hai-Dang Phan

paper_bells_1_530x

By Greg Bem

It rains morning to night
I still have enough to survive a hundred more years
so I’ll just lie down and sing
man’s forever song
about the infinite horizon
vast enough for countless cemeteries
don’t stress
we have a million lives

(from “Rainy Day Song,” page 1)

Through the mists and the murk of our global crisis, the current COVID-19 pandemic, a book of poetry arrives and may be able to inform and console, to demonstrate and guide. Paper Bells, a collection of poems written in Vietnamese by Phan Nhiên Hạo and translated into English by Hai-Dang Phan, is now available via The Song Cave. It is a collection rotating between storytelling and moments of rejuvenation that never loses its vision and momentum. The collection is a “selected” from his previous publications in  Vietnamese and the poems he has written since he arrived to the United States in the early 1990’s. Most of the works come from the Summer Radio (published in 2019 in Vietnamese), which followed the 2005 Linh Dinh-translated Nigh, Fish, and Charlie Parker. Overall a combination of older and newer works, Paper Bells as a collection contain variations on visions of survival and what it means to thrive after difficulty. They share what has long been of interest to Phan Nhiên Hạo: documenting the lived experience of a Vietnamese refugee and exiled poet who has sought and continues to seek that thriving through poetry.

Thematically in this collection, Phan Nhiên Hạo’s works move back and forth between microscopic and macroscopic worlds within Vietnam and within the United States. A prose poem near the end of the book reflects the worlds in the context of time and memory. The poet writes: “Once on Ngo Thoi Nhiem Street I saw an old woman squatting against one of the high walls of the hospital, weeping, tears pouring out of her face like fresh juice squeezed from a sugar cane machine” (from “Saigon on a Good Day,” page 48). Many of Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poems contain images like this: remarkable moments of interruption and awe spurred on by the anonymous world around us, or a world surreally distanced in time and space. This convergence of experience and identity find life within their center and unity. There is a sense of the allegory, of the symbolic story, of the world that opens and blossoms sending into breath, or is rung, like a bell, sending reverberations from poem to poem. These reverberations also feel like brutal logic, feel of an urgent commonsense, as in “Fragments,” which calls forward the nihilism of machines and weaponry: “A rusty gun is still capable of killing someone, / but a feeble mind can’t do shit” (page 39).

Indeed, from within their logical core, line by line, to their larger impressions as individual works, the poems feel linked, and delicate, and unpacking the book of a poet who has seen and felt many worlds, many difficulties, and many moments in between, takes time. Time ultimately informs the poetry itself, which often uses rain as a circumstantial image, an image of transformation, and, like an ellipses, an image of pause. Included in this collection is Phan Nhiên Hạo’s “Seattle Memory,” which uses a city familiar with rain to serve as pin for connecting and opening vast distances: “Day rains, stops, afternoon blazes and night comes late. Summer in Seattle, I remember Da Lat” (page 5). Lines like this one reveal the poet’s interest in juxtapositions. The self may exist now, but continues to exist in other forms and locations.

Examining location and presence through Paper Bells is extremely fulfilling. I write this review in social isolation, in a world that is “on lockdown,” this lens seems to only widen as I engage with Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poetry. When he writes of “man’s forever song” in the poem “Rainy Day Song” quoted above, I think about my own longitudinal story in space, in community, in life and being. Though different, as all stories are, I cannot help but think of the world that becomes cushioned by patience, compassion, and rest. I think also of Jennifer Cheng’s House A, and her time spent moving around the continental United States with her parents, who as immigrants explored and discovered (and rediscovered) identity, location, and stability.

While positivity and success tend to show up in many stories of survival, Phan Nhiên Hạo’s words are far from universally pleasant and straightforward. The poet here has crafted works founded in struggle that cannot be unbound from death and disruption. There is movement, flight, and escape, but a final sense of stability or rest seems impossible. Here we have a Catch-22, a schism that is profound and worth a dozen examinations: the poet’s commitment to rebirth, and the incessant loss of identity and heritage for that continued life. This poet figures this loss into his poetry in many ways. Typically, I examined loss in Paper Bells through the poet’s highlights of absurdity; they struck me as both feeling commonplace and containing multitudes of emotion:

the swampy city a breeding ground for mosquitoes
where breasts are squeezed in the beery halls until broken
and thrown into the bloody river with hyacinths

(from “Wash Your Hands,” page 31)

Phan Nhiên Hạo intercepts any sense of complacency with surprise, disorder, and decay. Nothing is perfect and rebirth will always come with a cost: again, the world is delicate and can be creased, and those creases are our memories.

Though dismal, the book is not a morass of challenge. Tension is alleviated; still, there is the rain. The rain that cleanses is also the rain that keeps us inside, keeps us at rest, keeps us centered to where our minds can transport through memory and commitment to our former selves, situations, and locations. And remain stable, fervent, integral.

As I read Phan Nhiên Hạo and think about his bus ride across the country, his time working as a delivery man and janitor, and the many other movements literal and symbolic contains in the poems and also described before and within this book’s incredible introduction, I think of the world within and beyond these poems. I refocus on COVID-19 and the crossing over from the poetry’s contained reality to the reality where the poetry is contained. While the spotlight on the virus does not equate to or replace war, oppression, and forced removal of peoples and cultures, I cannot help but think about the poet’s stories and how they seem relevant to our own shifting society. Much like Phan Nhiên Hạo demonstrates in Paper Bells, each of us can take the moments afforded to us to look at our own journey, our own stories, and the world’s rotations and rejuvenations. With that I ask, what are the greater implications of works like Paper Bells?

As long-time collaborator and translator Hai-Dang Phan puts it in the introduction: “The dissident politics of Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poetry resound precisely at a historical moment when the United States and Vietnam are reestablishing diplomatic and economic relations, and in the cultural and literary sphere much of the talk is about peace and reconciliation” (page xi). This publication of Phan Nhiên Hạo works, as translated into a thorough, indefatigable contemporary English by Hai-Dang Phan, feels of the very present, of these very days which we can learn to breathe deep and relearn, as both necessity and opportunity, our entire selves. It also feels of the future, of what can be, and where being can take us, as individuals and as a collective.

You can find the book here: https://the-song-cave.com/products/paper-bells-by-phan-nhien-h-o-translated-by-hai-dang-phan

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com.

 

 

Library Rain by Rustin Larson

library
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Rustin Larson’s poetry volume, Library Rain, has 50 pages of poems that vary in length, style and subject matter. Many of the poems have been previously published in a wide variety of literary journals and other publications.   This volume has a good mix of Larson’s tightly focused and innovative images and literary skill.
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Larson, in his poem Man of The Future on pages four and five and first published in Saranac Review, focuses on a narrator who observes riders on a transit bus and gives them nicknames. One is named The Man of the Future and another is named Mrs. Rabbit. The two sit next to each other their thighs touching. Then, suddenly, they avoid each other. Larson ends this two-page seven stanza poem with:
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                                 I’m no genius. I’ve made plenty
                                 Of  mistakes.  If life gives you something,
                                 You take it, and you don’t ask any questions,
                                 And then when life takes it away
                                 Again,  then what?  There is no elegant way
                                 to put this.  If we’ve lived this far,
                                 We’ve become the future we once thought was distant.
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Life on the bus translates in figurative form, to a truth of gain and loss and time unexpectedly bringing the future to us too quickly.  Larson’s choice of place, a bus that carries people back and forth to work, also encapsulates the repetitive rhythm of a pentameter keeping time even as it moves forward.
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John Peterson of Wapsipinicon  Almanac says “Larson writes like an angel, but one who’s willing to work both sides of the street.” This can be seen in Larson’s poem Summer Vacation (The Iowa Source) on pages twenty-eight and twenty-nine. It is like many of Larson’s poems, a vignette in poetry. A young boy has his first sexual encounter with a girl and it is more fantasy than reality as others in the poem both congratulate and condemn the experience. The narrator of the poem presents the idea of someone who is there but not there as a reality check.  The following lines suggest our involvement in our own life plot.
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                              The miracle is that we each live a story
                              That really isn’t about us at all.
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The narrator comments that this is the plotline for every thing .I find this is a little on the negative side but also I hear the ring of truth to it.
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Many of Larson’s poems have this double edge to them with the common settings and place suggesting much more.  On page fifty, the poem, A Yet to Be Determined Painting, (Briar Cliff Review) has beautiful imagery but underneath the beauty, is broken machinery.
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                        Maple sees flickered down from the branches.
                       “We are replacements for butterflies,”
                        they said with their illusion of two wings.
                        They struck the boards of the deck
                        and then they just lay there broken machinery,
                        done, the pilot green, the current strong.
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These strong images encourage the reader to take a second look at nature and how it reflects on how one imagines life.
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The poems in this book are a pleasure to read and give the reader insight into the world around them. Larson’s complex inter mix of ideas and form work well throughout the book.
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

A Fever For Colour

By Byron  Beynon

Portrait of J D Innes by Ian Strang

Portrait of Innes by Ian Strang (1913)

The Painter J D INNES (1887-1914): A brief introduction to his life and work

James Dickson Innes was born in Wales in 1887, the third son of John Innes (1853-1923) an accountant, and his wife Alice (1857-1942) who lived in the Carmarthenshire town of Llanelli.

The year 1887 appears to have been a fertile one for the birth of painters. Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986), and LS Lowry (1887-1976) were all born in the same year as Innes. However, Innes did not have the luxury of living and painting into middle life let alone mature age. His life was tragically cut short, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 27. Nevertheless during a few short years, he produced several memorable paintings, rich in imagery with an exquisite harmony of colour, or as his friend John Fothergill (1876-1957) said, “he painted nature with the brilliance of stained glass.”

His grandfather Robert and his parents valued education and had a correct ethos towards the children. The grandfather had opened a school in Llanelli and was also secretary of the art class. His mother had been born in Lyon, France in 1857. She offered stability to the family. Her connection with France may have kindled the boy’s imagination and curiosity about her life there. I also believe the landscape of Wales; Carmarthenshire, Breconshire and Pembrokeshire awakened in him a sense of place, and a need to capture those landscapes creatively by sketching and painting.

Furnace Quarry Llanelli

The Furnace Quarry, Llanelli (1906)

Llanelli’s population in 1900 was approximately 36,000, an industrial town, it produced most of Britain’s output of copper. Although an industrial town it was in close proximity to unspoilt countryside and situated by the sea.

Innes attended Christ College, Brecon, before continuing his education at the School of Art, Carmarthen. He was inspired at first to follow JMW Turner’s footsteps (Turner had made five sketching and painting tours of Wales between 1792 and 1799), and travels through south Wales, visiting and painting Kidwelly, Carew and Chepstow castles, and Tintern Abbey. Innes would later visit north Wales; places such as Bala, Aberystwyth, Llanidloes and the Arenig mountain which became an important subject matter, obsessed by it, he acquired a passion for the mountain. A favourite story of Innes about the painter Turner was when a lady complained to Turner that she did not see in nature the colours Turner saw, he replied “and don’t you wish you could, Madam ?”

 

Innes seems to have been a delicate son, not as robust as his elder brothers, suffering bouts of ill-health. Undeterred, and with the support of his family, by the autumn of 1905, he was in London, studying at the Slade School of Art. He first lived at Wimbledon, but later moved to Cheyne Walk, and to Fitzroy street. It was an important period in his life, meeting fellow artists and contacts in the art world. He would meet early influences such as Walter Sickert (1860-1942), Augustus John (1878-1961), John Fothergill (1876-1957) and the Australian painter Derwent Lees (1884-1931). He also went on to exhibit his work at the Chenil Gallery, Chelsea.

In 1908 he travelled to France with John Fothergill. He headed south to Bozouls, and then to Collioure, following the paths taken by Matisse and Derain who had been there a few years earlier in 1905. Innes’ work became influenced by the strong sunlight and his colours became bolder after he moved to the south of France. He would visit France several times, spending time at Collioure, the Pyrenees, Perpignan and Paris. Hilary Spurling in her biography of Matisse quoted a contemporary traveller taking the train from Perpignan at the beginning of the twentieth century “All of a sudden as you emerge on the crest of a hill from the rocky corridor, Collioure! Radiant with light on the curve of a small bay, hemmed in by the last burnt foothills of the mountains, a blaze of reds and ochres…..Is this still France, or already Africa, with its clumps of agave, and its palm trees dotted here and there among the garden?”

In 1912 Innes also travelled into Spain, south to Ronda, and the mountains of Andalusia, capturing in his work the light and colour of the landscapes he saw and experienced.

In the same year he briefly visited Coole Park, in Galway, Ireland. It was the home of Lady Gregory, born in 1852, who was a great friend and influence on the poet WB Yeats (1865-1939). During his stay there Innes painted The Lake at Coole Park, Co. Galway. There is a tree standing in the garden, known as the Autograph Tree, inscribed by Innes; it also has the initials of Yeats, Bernard Shaw and others.

Arenig North Wales

Arenig, North Wales (1913

Back in north Wales he developed an extraordinary passion for painting the Arenig Mountain. He was fascinated by it and painted it over and over again, just like Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) did with his Monte Sainte-Victoire. Innes developed a wonderful sense of colour, and painted Arenig from different viewpoints, in diverse lights and weather conditions. The mountain situated in the middle of the moorland between Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog is a natural landscape which Innes painted with great intensity. Augustus John who had spent time with Innes in north Wales, was amazed by the restless and creative energy that Innes had acquired for the mountain.

In February 1913 five of his paintings were selected for the prestigious International Armory Exhibition of Modern Art which toured New York, Chicago and Boston.

Sadly, during the last years of his short life, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. By the end of 1913 and early 1914 Innes was seriously ill, and after spending a brief time in Morocco and Tenerife, he was taken back to England. First to Brighton, where his mother took care of him, and then finally he was moved to a nursing home in Swanley in Kent. It was there that this skilled artist died on the 22nd of August 1914.

Town of Collioure

The Town of Collioure (1908)

Some of today’s critics believe that Innes’ work is the link between Turner’s experiments with light and colour and David Hockney’s work (b1937). The intense light of the south of France encouraged bolder and brighter colours, which his friend Fothergill thought was inspired by their stay in the town of Collioure with its “gemlike bay” and “fishing boats of antique build and scarlet sails;……and where his all-excelling sense of colour was awakened.”

Augustus John in a tribute later said, “His work will live when that of many happier and healthy men will have grown with the passing years cold, dull and lifeless.”

In 2014 the National Museum of Wales held an exhibition of his work, marking not only the centenery of his death but also to celebrate this gifted and prodigious artist, whose early death robbed Wales and the world of a great talent.

FOR FURTHER READING

James Dickson Innes 1887-1914 by John Hoole and Margaret Simons Lund Humphries (2013)

James Dickson Innes by John Fothergill Ariel Books on the Arts Faber &Faber (1946)

Matisse the Life by Hilary Spurling, Penguin Books (2009)

In Montmartre  Picasso, Matisse & Modernism in Paris 1900-1910 by Sue Roe Fig Tree imprint of Penguin Books  (2014)

Post-Impressionism Royal Academy of Arts London 1979-80 catalogue published by

Weidenfeld & Nicolson London

The Great Bohemian The letters of Ida John Bloomsbury Publishing (2017)

Carmarthenshire The Concise History by Dylan Rees University of Wales Press (2006)

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Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales.  His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Poetry Wales, Cyphers, San Pedro River Review, The London Magazine, The Worcester Review and the human right anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  He coordinated the Wales’ section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions).  He is currently working on a project with Dr Barry Plummer about the artist J D Innes

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The Outermost House by Henry Beston

outer

By Ray Greenblatt

The Outermost House is one of my favorite books. I have read many Nature works , but this one is unique. I have read about the ocean, its types of fishes, and the underwater geology, but this book is light on science. It focuses on the beach; that is partly why I came to live by the waters of the Chesapeake. This book speaks to me and for me because it uses poetic language. Beston is able to probe the vastness of the sea and the heavens.

Henry Beston (1888-1868) decided to live close to nature as Thoreau did at Walden. In 1928 he built a house right on the beach of Cape Cod. The Walden cabin was 10 X 16; Beston’s structure named the Fo’castle was 20 X 16.  He lived there for a year, recording the change of seasons. In 1929 he married the poet Elizabeth Coatsworth, to whom he was married for forty years. They then went on with their lives living on a farm in Maine.

The Beach

Since Beston writes in such an orderly manner, we shall simply follow his Table of Contents commenting on the richness of his observations. His first chapter truly focuses on the beach. “The flux and reflux of ocean, the incomings of waves, the gatherings of birds, the pilgrimages of the peoples of the sea, winter and storm, the splendour of autumn and the holiness of spring—all these were part of the great beach.”

Beston was especially aware of the light of the beach and the colors it revealed. “It has many colours: old ivory here, peat here, and here old ivory darkened and enriched with rust. At twilight, its rim lifted to the splendour in the west, the face of the wall becomes a substance of shadow and dark descending to the eternal unquiet of the sea; at dawn the sun rising out of the ocean gilds it with a level silence of light which thins and rises and vanishes into day.”  He is also apt to point out miniscule things as well.  “There is always something poetic and mysterious to me about these tracks in the pits of the dunes; they begin at nowhere, sometimes with the faint impression of an alighting wing, and vanish as suddenly into the trackless nowhere of the sky.”

Autumn, Ocean, and Birds

This chapter is dedicated to his observation of birds. He is fascinated by the migrations. “Now comes the sea fowl and the wild fowl to the beach from the lonely and darkening north, from the Arctic Ocean and the advancing pack, from the continental fragments and great empty islands that lie between the continents and the pole, from the tundra and the barrens, from the forests, from the bright lakes, from the nest-strewn crevices and ledges of Atlantic rocks no man has ever named or scaled.”

“Standing on the beach, fresh claw marks at my feet, I watch the lovely sight of the group instantly turned into a constellation of birds, into a fugitive Pleiades whose living stars keep their chance positions; I watch the spiraling flight, the momentary tilt of the white bellies, the alternate shows of the clustered, grayish backs.” He is even in awe of individual birds. “I wonder where it was that she forsook her familiar earth for the grey ocean, an ocean she perhaps had never seen. What a gesture of ancient faith and present courage such a flight is, what a defiance of circumstance and death—land wing and hostile sea, the fading land behind, the unknown and the distant articulate and imperious in the bright, aerial blood.”

“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

The Headlong Wave

In this chapter Beston tries to interpret the sound of waves, something only a poet would attempt. “Hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea. And not only is the great sound varied in the manner of its making, it is also constantly changing its tempo, its pitch, its accent, and its rhythm, being now loud and thundering, now almost placid, now furious, now grave and solemn-slow, now a simple measure, now a rhythm monstrous with a sense of purpose and elemental will.”

Midwinter

During midwinter Beston observes a variety of things. “To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimage of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and feeling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline . . . We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.”

The sun is obscured by a storm.  “With the turn of the tide came fury unbelievable. The great rhythm of its waters now at one with the rhythm of the wind, the ocean rose out of the night to attack the ancient rivalry of earth, hurling breaker after thundering breaker against the long bulwark of the sands. The Fo’castle, being low and strongly built, stood solid as a rock, but its walls thrummed in the gale. I could feel the vibration in the bricks of the chimney, and the dune beneath the house trembled incessantly with the onslaught of the surf.”

Strange sights were to greet him after the storm was over. “There crumbled out the blackened skeleton of an ancient wreck which the dunes had buried long ago. As the tide rose this ghost floated and lifted itself free, and then washed south close along the dunes. There was something inconceivably spectral in the sight of this dead hulk thus stirring from its grave and yielding its bones again to the fury of the gale.”

Winter Visitors

In an earlier chapter “Headlong Wave” Henry Beston attempted to capture the sounds of the surf. In this chapter he speaks of bird sounds. “Sometimes wings whistle by in the darkness. The sound of a pair of ‘whistler’ ducks on the wing is a lovely, mysterious sound at such a time. It is a sound made with wings, a clear, sibilant note which increases as the birds draw near, and dies away in the distance like a faint and whistling sigh.” “Turning toward the marsh, I saw a flock of geese flying over the meadows along the rift of dying, golden light, their great wings beating with a slow and solemn beauty, their musical, bell-like cry filling the lonely levels and the dark.”

However, this chapter excels in word landscapes as vivid as any painting. “There are patches of snow on the hay fields and the marshes, and, on the dunes, nests of snow held up off the ground by wiry spears of beach grass bent over and tangled into a cup.  Such little pictures as this last are often to be seen on the winter dunes; I pause to enjoy them, for they have the quality and delicacy of Japanese painting. There is a blueness in the air, a blue coldness on the moors, and across the sky to the south, a pale streamer of cloud smoking from its upper edge.”

Then he expands his vision. “There was the ocean in all weathers and at all tides, now grey and lonely and veiled in winter rain, now sun-bright, coldly green, and marbled with dissolving foam; there was the marsh with its great congresses, its little companies, its wandering groups, and little family gatherings of winter birds; there was the glory of the winter sky rolling out of the ocean over and across the dunes, constellation by constellation, lonely star by star.”

Lanterns on the Beach

The author describes the wrecks that occur every year off Cape Cod. One has to remember that in the 1920’s many sailing ships were still used for transport. “Rigging freezes, sails freeze and tear—of a sudden the long booming undertone of the surf sounds under the lee bow—a moment’s drift, the feel of surf twisting the keel of the vessel, then a jarring, thundering crash and the upward drive of the bar . . . Stranded vessels soon begin to break up. Wrecks drag and pound on the shoals, the waves thunder inboard, decks splinter and crack like wooden glass , timbers part, and the iron rods bend over like candles in a heat.”

Despite their urgency, flares even have their aesthetic qualities. “The signal burns and sputters, the smoke is blown away almost ere it is born; the glassy bellies of the advancing breakers turn to volutes of rosy black, the seething foam to a strange vermilion-pink. In the night and rain beyond the hole of light an answering bellow sounds, ship lights dim as the vessel changes her course, the red flare dies to a sizzling, empty cartridge, the great dark of the beach returns to the solitary dunes.”

The men who prevent many wrecks and try to save those in peril are the local surfmen. “Winter and summer they pass and repass, now through the midnight sleet and fury of a great northeaster, now through August quiet and the reddish-golden radiance of an old moon rising after midnight from the sea, now through a world of  rain shaken with heavy thunder and stabbed through and through with lightning.”

An Inland Stroll in Spring

Beston began to live on Cape Cod in the autumn. Now that winter is over, he remarks on the ever-returning fecundity of spring. “I began to reflect on Nature’s eagerness to sow life everywhere, to fill the planet with it, to crowd with it the earth, the air, and the sea. Into every empty corner, into all forgotten things and nooks, Nature struggles to pour life, pouring life into the dead, life into life itself. That immense, overwhelming, relentless, burning ardency of Nature for the stir of life! And all these her creatures, even as these thwarted lives, what travail, what hunger and cold, what bruising and slow-killing struggle will they not endure to accomplish the earth’s purpose?”

Night on the Great Beach

Different aspects of darkness are considered. “For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars—pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time. Fugitive though the instant be, the spirit of man is, during it, ennobled by a genuine moment of emotional dignity, and poetry makes its own both the human spirit and experience.”

A mystery occurs on the night beach. “Every spatter was a crumb of phosphorescence; I walked in a dust of stars. Behind me, in my footprints, luminous patches burned. With the double-ebb moonlight and tide, the deepening brims of the pools took shape in smouldering, wet fire. So strangely did the luminous speckles smoulder and die and glow that it seemed as if some wind were passing, by whose breath they were kindled and extinguished. Occasional whole breakers of phosphorescence rolled in out of the vague sea—the whole wave one ghostly motion, one creamy light—and, breaking against the bar, flung up pale sprays of fire.”

The savior in the night is the lighthouse. “A star of light which waxes and wanes three mathematical times, now as a lovely pale of light behind the rounded   summits of the dunes. The changes in the atmosphere change the colour of the beam; it is now whitish, now flame golden, now golden red; it changes its form as well, from a star to a blare of light, from a blare of light to a cone of radiance sweeping a circumference of fog.”

The Year at High Tide

What stands out most in this chapter is the author’s sense of smell. “I like a good smell—the smell of a freshly ploughed field on a warm morning after a night of April rain, the clovelike aroma of our wild Cape Cod pinks, the morning perfume of lilacs showery with dew, the good reek of hot salt grass and low tide blowing from these meadows late on summer afternoons.”

Orion Rises on the Dunes

A very apt final statement made by Henry Beston is found in this concluding chapter. “The creation is still going on, that the creative forces are as great and as active today as they have ever been, and that tomorrow’s morning will be as heroic as any of the world. Creation is here and now. So near is man to the creative pageant, so much a part is he of the endless and incredible experiment, that any glimpse he may have will  be but the revelation of a moment, a solitary note heard in a symphony thundering through debatable existences of time. Poetry is as necessary to comprehension as science. It is as impossible to live without reverence as it is without joy.”

There were and always will be Nature writers—a most obvious statement that could be made about poets as well. They tell us about the state of the natural world that we are often unaware of or too busy to notice. Henry Beston’s book has a cosmic feeling—the sea and sky, the major characters, cannot be larger. That factor provides an energy that makes its reading so stimulating. Beston’s prose style is full of imagery that gives pungency and further aids in making the book mystically fly!.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Outermost-House-Year-Great-Beach/dp/080507368X

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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

Open For Submissions

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North of Oxford is currently open to submissions of poetry, book reviews, art reviews, and commentary. Please follow our submission guidelines located here: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/  for consideration of publication. Our pandemic issues are now closed.

 

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4

Party Underground (1)

Painting – Party Underground by Belinda Subraman

Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #4 from North of Oxford. In order of  appearance we present:  J Thomas Brown, Emily Bilman, Akshaya Pawaskar, Jason Kaufman, Naila Francis, Donna J. Gelagotis Lee, Linda Nemec Foster, Wayne-Daniel Berard

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Hart Island by J Thomas Brown
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They come to me, a time-worn island, once more.
They come to me in rows two wide, in layers three deep,
and I am too weary from the holding and can hold no more.
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A child, grasping a handful of my grass, once said to a poet:
What is this grass? He answered he did not know,
that it seemed to be the beautiful uncut hair of graves.1
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The tides, in unceasing motion, have worn my sides away.
My belly of earth, no longer fit for the task, splits, gives up its secrets.
See the clean white bones on their march into the bay.
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Here, the water laps a shoulder blade resting on my gale eaten shore.
Nearby, protrudes the thigh of a Union prisoner who starved in the South,
and here, the ribs of one too poor to pay.
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Over there, the jaw of a woman who died alone,
unsaved by burning pitch and cannon blast to scare Yellow Jack away.
Close by, the bones of a homeless man found in an alleyway.
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Enough, enough. Today, a backhoe and fresh scrobis2
for the unclaimed who have passed.
May at last their dreams be happy,
beneath the leaves of grass.
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1. From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, 1892 version . . .it seemed to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
2. scrobis: a trench or grave
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J Thomas Brown has had short stories published in Scarlet Leaf Review and Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet. I am a contributor to Lingering in the Margins: A River City Poets Anthology, Rattlecast, and Grotesque Quarterly Review. Mooncalf, a collection of poems, was self-published as an ebook and as an audiobook by Authors Republic. Two novels, The Land of Three Houses (historical fiction) and The Hole in the Bone (historical adventure fantasy), were published in 2018.
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Two Poems by Emily Bilman
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Time’s Disintegration
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Will Covid-19 spread from the fish markets
into a metallic pool where we will mutate
into primordial fish while others remain above
the disintegration of Time? Will we, at last, leave
the bats, foxes, and pangolins in the own
kingdoms, safe from our manipulations
to avoid Covid’s thousand mutations?
Will we slow down our pace as in our
confinement to prevent Dali’s warped Time
from turning the metallic pool into bullets? Or
will our broken Time dry out all the olive trees?
Will flowers mutate into plastic objects floating
on a jelly-sea of brine below the surface? Or
will currents still circulate in the oceans
and clear the air we breathe? In the post
Covid-19 space, will our Time be stretched
into the poem’s eternal present, allowing
us transformative change through
language, rhythm, and thought?
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The Stages of Cruelty
1751 & 2020
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While a gentleman offers a tart to stop the murderer
The dog is killed with an arrow stuck to its body
While another boy pulls on his throat with a rope.
.
A youngster ties a bone to another dog’s tail and grins
While the dog tries to catch it. Cats are hung on a pole
And a bird’s eye is cauterized with a stick as boys watch.
.
The sadism of Hogarth’s slum-boys that turns boys
Into tyrants, in turn, makes men into poachers who murder
Pangolins and sell their scales for medicine, their meat for food.
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Bitten by bats, pangolins, traded and consumed for their meat
Spread the Covid-19 virus, killing thousands by lung
Constriction, leaving the rest of us in mute confinement.
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Dr. Emily Bilman is London Poetry Society’s Stanza representative in Geneva where she lives and teaches poetry. Her dissertation, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published by Lambert Academic in 2010 and Modern Ekphrasis in 2013 by Peter Lang, CH. Three poetry books, A Woman By A Well, Resilience, and The Threshold of Broken Waters were published by Troubador, UK in 2015 and the latest in 2018
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Two Poems By Akshaya Pawaskar
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As light as they come
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We were sitting tall
atop a Howdah.
Looking down our noses
at the mastodon tusks,
thinking them servile
thinking them tamed,
conquered.
How our tiny bodies
usurped nature,
overthrew gods
and straddled
coasts,
mapped Pangea,
navigated Thalassa,
touched Mars.
Now a scream pierces
the sky, silently
reverberates across
continents.
We cower for shelter.
Houses turn sacred
they have a glamour
as temples are abandoned,
gods walk out of the idols
and follow us home.
We run for life
to the deepest recesses
hiding from enemies
invisible, wingless
as light as they come
yet carrying death
on their formless backs.
.
The way of the world
.
How we are divining the civilization,
How we are trying to exorcise the evil,
How it is always intangible smoke like.
How we feel guilty about writing poems
yet how they churn out faster from
stillness of the sealed houses.
How we watch the numbers ebb and flow
watch the uptick and lose hope.
How we light candles, bang utensils
and make noises to break the silence.
How those who set out on a soul searching
journey are returning home and learning
they are none the wiser, yet how
we are rediscovering ourselves inside
the four walls, going back to basics.
How a pandemic starts and ends?
How does one come out of this crisis,
a changed person, a better human.
How long till one forgets the lesson,
the history repeats and we start again
from scratch, the humbled ones.
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Akshaya Pawaskar is a doctor practicing in India and poetry is her passion. Her poems have been published in Tipton Poetry journal, Indian ruminations, The Blue Nib, North of Oxford, Rock and Sling, Shards and Red Fez.

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Two Poems by Jason Kaufman
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Dim Witness
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Day #1 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
3/24/2020
54,856 Covid-19 cases in the US
780 Total deaths in the US
225 People died today in the US
.
I bear dim witness
to ticker counters on a phone screen,
the virus’s exponential spread
veering northward on Logarithmic charts.
The endless scrolling of Nasdaq and the S&P
replaced by real-time rising death rates.
I’m out of work and nervous about making ends meet.
It’s week one in quarantine.
My list of renovation projects is dwindling.
Our house gets cleaner by the day.
We throw family dance parties and laugh.
I embarrass myself for the love of this moment.
My wife and I make love like teenagers,
in this room and that.
.
I wonder why it took a pandemic
for us to begin living our lives.
.
Ruptures and Articulations
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Day #3 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
3/26/2020
83,206 Covid-19 cases in the US
1,201 Total deaths in the US
174 People died today in the US
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Is there anywhere on earth untouched by this? Anywhere
inside of you untouched by fear.
McCarthy calls man a lesser God,
insatiable and malignant, whom no ceding could appease
nor any measure of blood,
.
but I see caped cashiers and superheroes in the stockroom.
Homebound Troubadours singing from balconies
about a dark age, not so long ago, when humankind believed
they were created to serve the stock market.
.
Have we broken
through to a new truth?
Have we broken
from our legacy of blood and war?
Has this pandemic ruptured the chain of bestial replicas?
Will we stand up out of the rubble and discover we are new species entirely?
The potential of profound change, born at the intersection
of our heart and this burdensome cross.
.
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Jason Kaufman is a poet and visual artist living in Bellville, Ohio. The major influences on his work are fatherhood, backpacking, Post-Structuralism, Buddhism, theopoetics, and mental health advocacy.
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And have you cried yet today by Naila Francis
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And have you cried yet today, let
your eyes become water become
wonder, become soundless kiss
on the brow of this soft-skinned world?
.
Listen, in Hanoi, a water tank spills rice
into residents’ bags daily, in Ho Chi
Minh City around the clock.
.
Air pollution is plummeting, a 30 percent drop
in America’s Northeast, a breather
in the bellowing of tailpipes and power plants
that has polished the sunset to a truer hue
in China, raised handclaps in outer space.
.
In the oceans, cruiseless and calm, whales
can keep singing, and so, too, the creatures
who glide less stressed, their dreams
of motherhood tucked in the quiet deep.
.
Today, I read of a coffee shop giving
a month of profits to medical first responders,
a landlord canceling three months’ rent.
.
The math these days is dizzying, grim:
34,376 deaths in the US, globally 141,452,
in my city 311 new cases since yesterday,
in Italy a generation — gone.
.
Here, where I write from among them, 22
million unemployed, a shortfall of millions
of tests needed per week to open the economy,
thousands of gallons of milk dumped by farmers,
and still more produce, without a system
to funnel them to the miles-long food bank lines.
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But there is also $20 shoved anonymously
through a front door, two young boys
in blow-up dinosaur costumes billowing joy
in their duo of a neighborhood parade, one
85-year-old nurse leaving her retirement
to care for other seniors, 78 children
receiving free meals every day from a teacher
who walks five miles to deliver them.
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How else to take the sorrow, terror
if not with beauty, too?
How to keep counting the days
without the moments that gather
in the good, remind us “Here Comes the Sun,”
.
which is played in a Michigan hospital
whenever a patient is weaned off a ventilator.
.
How many tears have you cried?
Will they ever be enough, a trail we follow,
from here inside this keening dark,
to where our hands will meet?

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Naila Francis is a warm, vibrant and inspiring woman. She’s a poet, an ordained interfaith minister who performs weddings and baby blessings, and a world traveler whose journeys have taken her, among other destinations, to Tanzania as an orphanage volunteer, Mallorca to study poetry and Peru, where she climbed Machu Picchu Mountain with a shaman as her guide. https://www.nailafrancis.com/
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 Living Without Fear of the Air by Donna J. Gelagotis Lee
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Already, in movies it’s obvious.
Life has changed forever. No longer
Will we move as if the air
.
Were something not to be feared,
As if microbes didn’t lurk in
Suspended droplets.
.
No longer will we go out
Without thinking about what we touch
Or how close we are to another.
.
No more love-ins. No more hugs
And kisses with friends. What
Has polluted the air has
.
Polluted our idea of the air.
Our movements like a dancer’s
Let free will have ceased.
.
How I long for
That spring day we greet
In a park or at a beach
.
With neighbors of our state
Who say hi within six feet. I’d
Long to go to the supermarket
.
And not wear gloves and
A mask and sanitize the shopping
Cart. I’d like to chat
.
With the gas station attendant
Or waiter at a restaurant I’ll never
Likely go to again. If they make
.
A vaccine, it will be better. But
Not as before. Because lurking
Is the virus that will down
.
That percent who will not escape
Its grip, its residence in the lungs
That try to take in the air.
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Donna J. Gelagotis Lee is the author of two award-winning collections, Intersection on Neptune (The Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2019), winner of the Prize Americana for Poetry 2018, and On the Altar of Greece (Gival Press, 2006), winner of the 2005 Gival Press Poetry Award and recipient of a 2007 Eric Hoffer Book Award: Notable for Art Category. Her poetry has appeared in publications internationally, including The Bitter Oleander, Feminist Studies, The Massachusetts Review, Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her website is www.donnajgelagotislee.com .
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The Doctor Answers the Question: What is Breaking Detroit’s Heart?
By Linda Nemec Foster
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Not the usual suspects:
the stabbings and gunshots,
the quiet OD in some abandoned
house on the northwest side.
.
Not the typical urban mix
of gut fear, heart fear, brain scared
to death over the lost job,
the mounting bills, empty table.
.
Not the streets overgrown with fields
where neighborhoods of houses
once stood, where dreams lived and
the children of those dreams once played.
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What breaks Detroit’s heart is this: a hospital
overflowing with the dead. White body bags
like shrouds stacked in rooms, piled on floors,
sitting in chairs as if waiting for you to notice.
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Linda Nemec Foster is the author of eleven collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk, Talking Diamonds, and The Lake Michigan Mermaid (2019 Michigan Notable Book). Her work appears in numerous magazines and journals: e.g. The Georgia Review, Nimrod, Quarterly West, Witness, New American Writing, North American Review, and Verse Daily.
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Three Poems by Wayne-Daniel Berard
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My Father’s Covid
.
the landing craft
of my father’s life
has once again ground
itself on omaha beach
but the iron door
is not dropping
normandy is all gusts
and bluster like always
like him night is falling
and he wonders why
no order to disembark
and why he is alone
in the hold’s center
a single candle
gutters and gasps
drowning in the liquid
of its own meltedness
my father wonders if
he’s dreaming or gone
crazy until he hears a
woman’s voice calling
his name from the darkening
cliffs he recognizes her but
doesn’t the candle sputters
he huddles in the corner of
his craft I hope he knows
not to wait for me (denied
permission to board by
executive order) I hope
when the wick exhales
and all the iron falls away
he’ll see only enemyless
beach moonlit and know
his one love’s call unhiding
in the high hedgerows
.
Passover in Plague Time
.
So this is how it felt
to have it all turn
against you to be
blamed in the burning
choking recesses of
each breath for decisions
by untouchable powers to
watch the river of your
everyday turn red your days
turn nights your very sky
fill with swarms of deadly
devouring tininesses your
massive milieu could not
fend off was this how it felt
when no safe distance
could save first born elders
and silly unschooled children
who gathered regardless
what was the hieroglyph for
“death count?” a human with
no animal head as every beast
had quit us in joyous liberation?
did the symbol rise and widen
grow and dominate until
everything infected everything
with enslavement to remoteness and
collapse? if we were all there back at
sinai then we were all there in giza
and luxor did we say “no, nameless one,
not this! egypt loves its children too
their grandparents are not pharaoh let
our liberation not be bought with plague?”
.
Christine in my Crisis
.
We’re sitting in the sunroom
the phone is constant
it rings it beeps so
much support “how
is your dad?” “there
for you” I get up from
beside you I don’t want
to interrupt your shows
from the kitchen I gaze
every minute of every call
back toward you your
profile defines both sun
and room being light
just by being and being
the one and every place
in which I dwell I’m glad
for all the others I breathe
because of you my constant
occasion the o in each hello
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Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, teaches Humanities at Nichols College, Dudley, MA. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His latest full-length work of poetry, The Realm of Blessing, will be published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. He is the co-founding editor of Soul-Lit, an online journal of spiritual poetry www.soul-lit.com  . Wayne-Daniel lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, The Lovely Christine.
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lamp 2
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First Three Issues 

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/ Poets: Howie Good, Marion Deutche Cohen, Alan Toltzis, Charles Rammelkamp, Gloria Parker, Len Krisak, Ed Krizek, Mervyn Taylor, Carl Kaucher, M. J. Arcangelini, Eileen R. Tabios, Bryon Beynon, Greg Bem, Richard Nester and John D. Robinson. 

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-2/

Poets: Ray Greenblatt, Cathleen Cohen, Cameron Morse, Ed Meek, Joan Mazza, Hiram Larew, April Penn, Grace Andreacchi, Mary Shanley, Bruce E. Whitacre, Jonie McIntire, Liddy Warrell, Nicole Yurcaba, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Mike Cohen. 

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-3/

Poets: Don Riggs, John Macker, Lorna Wood, Michael Steffen, Matthew Ussia, Belinda Subraman, Susan Champion, Carlos Hernández Peña, Phil Saunders, Arlyn LaBelle, Peter Scheponik, and Ben Mazer

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Stay Calm – Stay Safe – Stay Home and When Out and About Wear a Mask
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter
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North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #2

Rooted (1)

Painting – Rooted by Belinda Subraman

Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #2 from North of Oxford. In order of  appearance we present: Ray Greenblatt, Cathleen Cohen, Cameron Morse, Ed Meek, Joan Mazza, Hiram Larew, April Penn, Grace Andreacchi, Mary Shanley, Bruce E. Whitacre, Jonie McIntire, Lindy Warrell, Nicole Yurcaba, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Mike Cohen.

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Three Poems by Ray Greenblatt 
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Losing Time
.
Last night rain tumbled
and ticked down metal drain pipes
making us restive in our beds
glancing the clock numberless times
not certain when we slept.
Today is glaringly
clear, yet, it feels like
the virus continues
to pound on the door.
Meanwhile, nature pushes up
its pinks, purples, golds
and infant whitenesses
as if all was well.
.
Virus
.
The sunlight in the school
across the street is
the only thing alive.
.
As the day rotates
the light moves up and down
the stairway forming students
from glare and shadow.
.
In a classroom it highlights
assignments on the board
now many months old.
.
Emergency lights
remain on at night
automatically.
.
Maintenance wanders the rooms
pushing vacuums at dust
inevitable but
no longer made by children.
.
The Moments
.
We sit in a stern little family group
holding hands for grace
staring at each other
trying to absorb every feature
we might have overlooked
might have never noticed before.
Each bite of our meal
we savor though humble.
          This might be the time for lasts.
Let music we love ring through
our brains like fond echoes.
The book we are reading
we have reread but want
to cherish each word
like never before.
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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
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Three Poems by Cathleen Cohen
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Pandemic Week Four
.
I eye my grandmother, so young
in the photo.
.
She gazes
                 not at me, but
.
out towards the yard
where blue jays knock wrens off the feeder.
.
She leans her chin on fingers
spread out like a fan.
Braids cradle her white neck,
a column, a monument.
.
What now? I cry.
.
She was 18 during the Spanish flu.
Circuit singer, sent back money
to her mother.
.
How we children adored her
singing, playing waltzes on piano
as we twirled. She was always
joking, chirping.
.
So you must have words now!
I implore, but she sits,
elegant, unmoved.
.
I tug her like a doll
from room to room,
position her on tables, chairs, desk
with a view the window, but
.
no,
turn her to face
my stricken face.
.
Measures
.
At first I count
strides
            (each a foot length)
as my mother taught
to measure rugs or the length of a room
when buying a couch.
.
This was decades back.
But now I practice
                              pacing 6 feet
.
then venture out, shocked
by blue jays swooping
.
and the bright red hat
of my neighbor
                        who appears near the hedge
without warning.
.
He’s lonely, wants to chat.
I freeze like a deer, edge back, measure
risk,
       which is not static.
.
Three teens jog past, safe
at a distance but
they’re shouting companionably.
One spits on the ground.
.
Is it safe
                  to pass that place?
When will we adapt
to this new way to orbit?
.
Between Us
.
As was written,
our trials can be lengthy:
forty years of desert wandering,
forty days of shelter in the ark.
.
But I also think of Moses
forty nights on the mountain,
cowering at first, shivering
in a crevice, surrounded by
.
thundering  voice
.
but ultimately
open, receiving.
.
He carried back radiance,
a glimpse of presence.
.
Now I search for radiance
(not in portents or the news)
but in bird flight,
the changing colors of hours,
beloved voices,
prayers sung from balconies, extending
beyond walls.
.
For walls are temporary, porous
to the  radiance
.
that must pass between us.
.

Cathleen Cohen is the Founder and creator of ArtWell’s core program, We the Poets, and a member of ArtWell’s Board of Directors (effective 2018). Following her retirement in 2015 as a treasured member of ArtWell’s staff as Education Director, Cathy continued in a volunteer capacity. As a master teacher, poet, and literacy specialist, she serves as a vital mentor to new Teaching Artists and volunteers. Cathleen holds a Ph.D. in Learning Disabilities from Northwestern University, an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University, a BA from The Johns Hopkins University and a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

.

Three Poems by Cameron Morse
.
Crucifixion of a Phantasm
.
Spring rain self-quarantine,
Augustine flays below the scourge
of bodily sickness. COVID-19
the topic of every breakfast, herd
immunity and high-dose Vitamin C,
how you refused baptism
even as your fever heightened.
Christ being nothing to you then
but a phantasm. Outside,
hyacinths purple dank mulch
with their royal robes.
Robins drop to the rippling bird bath
in the light-spangled orchard,
cardboard boxes sogging curbside
in recycling bins. I seize
upon the quarantine to learn the rules
for recycling, the new labels,
and rip the plastic window
screen from a box of spaghetti
noodles. Inhale the cleansing
chill of social distancing: school
closed, reading cancelled,
and today’s sky doubtless is a kind
of phantasm, perhaps even
a phantasm crucified, for all I know.
Its pallor overwhelms me.
.
Infected
.
Vacuity wonders where the world is
that perched upon its shoulder.
Wonders where the wonder
of the world went. Will anything
I say now make sense to me after I’m well?
Will you clear the cobwebs from my eye
shells? Vacuity listens to itself
in the conch, its own voice
carping from a great distance.
Its fatigue is talking. Shrill
as a crow in hardnosed winter air.
Its fatigue lets the dogs
spill into the house, pounce over September’s
bright new upholstery. Lets its forehead
sink into the heel of a hand.
There is no helper here, Vacuity thinks,
where there used to be thoughts.
The virus is everywhere.
.
Burr Oak Woods
.
A walker in black
leggings, pink-dyed hair,
raises her makeshift
mask to ask who stole her car,
where in the woods is
the lost parking lot that holds it.
Worn with cares and fears,
writes Augustine. A screenshot
from Facebook confirms
seven Costco workers COVID-19
where we buy pullups and wipes.
Bethany Falls Trail with Theo
for the first time, my two-year-old
emptying the spray bottle in his
mouth. My body unclenches
on a bench beside the gravel path.
All is stillness in the woods,
the oceanic wind surge, rat-a-tat
blast of somewhere a woodpecker,
faraway rumble of an airplane
lifting its crucifix over us
or against. For each passerby,
I yank my boy into the understory.
For great intervals of time,
there is only us, a single trunk
somewhere is thinly creaking.
.
Cameron Morse was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2014. With a 14.6 month life expectancy, he entered the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri—Kansas City and, in 2018, graduated with an M.F.A. His poems have been published in numerous magazines, including New Letters, Bridge Eight, Portland Review and South Dakota Review. His first poetry collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press’s 2018 Best Book Award. His latest is Baldy (Spartan Press, 2020). He lives with his wife Lili and two children in Blue Springs, Missouri, where he serves as poetry editor for Harbor Review. https://cameronmorsepoems.wordpress.com/
.
.
On Pandemic Island by Ed Meek
.
Now the seven days have become one.
Every day the Monday of a long weekend.
It’s National work-from-home-day.
Call your parents, friends, siblings’ day.
Home school day.
.
Wherever we are, we now inhabit a small town.
S, we take long, meandering strolls.
Random cars cruise deserted streets.
Weary of strangers, we startle
At sniffles, coughs and sneezes.
.
We give everyone a wide berth,
Navigating around them
As if we are in boats.
We live in the singularity
Of the eternal present.
Every day like a snow day
without snow. We plan
for the indefinite future
on an etch a sketch
.
.

Ed Meek has been published by Dash, Constellations, Blue Mountain Review, What Rough Beast, Red Wheel Barrow Review. My new book, High tide, is coming out this summer..

Three Poems by Joan Mazza
.
Sonnet for Covid19
.
Before the quarantine, I made plans
for how I’d spend the time alone at home
with only cats for company. No drone
to deliver milk or eggs. I wash my hands
as soon as I return with what might be
the last fresh lettuce, cucumbers, lemons
for a while. Everywhere—lurking demons
both bacterial and viral. Pity
those who don’t have extra for any extra
food or tissues, would not think of hoarding
Chapstick, dental floss, or Bach recordings,
plus paper books for the coming trifecta
of contagion, solitude, and ennui.
Creating keeps me from going screwy.
.
Silly Shopping on eBay
.
Balm for anxiety, we’re shopping online
buying essentials like coffee and chocolate,
wine and brandy for those who still drink.
Booze sales boom during the threat of Covid19
as it presses against a shortage of masks.
.
I won’t be buying troll dolls with succulents
growing out of their heads, or vintage Barbies
in their original box and clothes for seven
thousand dollars. No tall platform sandals for me,
no exfoliating scrub, or off-the-shoulder blouses—
.
already passé. I don’t need home hair dye kits
or articles on how to pass the time during
the quarantine. I’m grateful not to be married
to Pence or Falwell or Bundy, or the gun and ammo
collectors I once knew. My days are full, hours
.
too few. Like other quilters with a ginormous stash,
I find large scraps for sewing masks and make
them reversible. I’d add some silly beads or buttons,
beards of ribbons. But no to bling. Extra texture
might offer coronavirus another way to cling.
.
No embroidered leaves and daisies like those
on jeans in the sixties, no childish charms will dangle.
I could make bread and rolls shaped like genitalia,
cookies iced with bawdy words to bake my rage
at feeling helpless. But I’m still on a healthy track,
.
won’t gain back pounds I shed. When I come out
of the world of dread, you won’t recognize this thin
and sober, pale and mindful me in my snazzy veil.
.
What I’m doing in quarantine that I didn’t do before
.
My fantasies have changed from a larger house,
tropical vacations and ocean swimming
to shopping at Costco, Walmart, and Food Lion.
In my reveries, I restock my supplies without
the worry of using up my paper products. I stroll
the aisles of specialty shops and choose imported
spices, fresh and crisp broccoli rabe, lettuce,
.
artichokes, and cucumbers. I fill two carts
without fear of stares or microbes lurking
on the wagon’s handle or in the air. In my best
fantasy, I find everything I could ever want
or need, a dream of organic fresh vegetables
that don’t rot. My trash, including wet cat litter,
disappears as soon as I place it on my porch.
.
Today I write in that small leather notebook
of handmade paper and a metal clasp, once
too good to use, record my gratitude for my
deep freezer, electricity, and well water.
Every day, I bless the letter carrier, who
delivers packages and mail, and I repeat
my thrill to have the Internet in my house
.
in the woods. I didn’t expect to be so happy
to be alone without the men who collected
guns and ammo, men who got drunk and found
fault with how I spent my time and money,
except when I paid for beer. I never thought
I’d so easily fall in love again
with my sewing machine, fabrics, thread.
.
Joan Mazza worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and taught workshops on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Adanna Literary Journal, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia. www.JoanMazza.com
.
.
Spoons or Rakes By Hiram Larew
.
What we need now
            is glow –
The sort of night that embers make
The sound in nests
         or apples’ shapes
A glow that gives more than it takes
The kind of spoons or rakes
                 that neighbors love
Those shoreside waves that warm the boats
We need the wool of passing years
               or more
What holding does when little’s near
.
Larew’s fourth collection, Undone, was issued in 2018 by FootHill Publishing.  On Facebook at Hiram Larew, Poet and on www.PoetryXHunger.com
.
.
Two Poems by April Penn
.
Bring a book
.
I don’t recommend reading A People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn during prolonged periods of self-isolation.
.
I do recommend the book.
It does much to fight against ruling class narratives of history, but
it’s hard to hear the same cries against oppression over and over,
and see that so many died, unanswered,
and wonder what then will become of us now?
How come what can be foreseen cannot be prevented?
.
History teaches that ideas are not enough.
History is repetitive and boring without poetry.
.
I am reading poetry while also reading A People’s History.
That’s the compromise I struck
against merely listing off a string of tragedies.
.
Shortages
.
Good thing
I can’t
write a poem on
a roll of toilet paper
.
because if I could
I would still have to use
that toilet paper
to wipe my ass
.
and then depending
on who you ask
these poems would be
more or less appealing
.
Everything that goes in
must come out,
but that isn’t true.
Sometimes pain never
.
finds a way to leave.
Does that mean that pain
doesn’t enter or exit?
Pain like water colors
.
bleeding into each other,
escaping boundaries,
self-hood, ah, at last
the artist has to go.
.

April March Penn is a queer poet who visits Anne Sexton’s grave and conducts tarot readings for real and imaginary friends. Penn’s poetry is published in What Are Birds, The Offing, The Fem, The Deaf Poet Society, Maps for Teeth, Provocateur, and other literary magazines. They have featured in Boston at the Cantab Poetry Lounge, Out of the Blue Gallery, and Stone Soup Poetry. Follow them on Instagram: @pennapril

.

Viral by Grace Andreacchi
.
It can’t hurt us
it’s too far away
(that’s what we said at first)
It can’t hurt us
let’s dance, let’s play
.
When it came closer still
we thought we were safe
look outside! the sun is shining
the world is not coming to an end
that’s what we said
.
Soon, very soon we were dead
first the old and the weak
then the little children
then everyone else
.
the earth did not mourn us
only the cats and dogs
for a little while wondered
turned sad frightened eyes
in search of us, this way and that
and then forgot
.
the birds in their cages
screamed and starved
after that all birds were free
the ocean returned to the fish
the air to itself, pure and sweet again
.
the foxes moved into our empty houses
made themselves at home
tearing rabbits to bits on the sofa
sleeping in our beds
.
the lion chased rich prey
through golden waves of grass
the tigress gave birth to sweet wet cubs
in the humming forest
the birds made fresh nests
in the new sprung woods
.
the earth did not mourn us
greedy monkeys
too clever for our own good
some of us were beautiful
some of us were kind
we perished along with the rest
nobody left to say goodbye
.
Grace Andreacchi was born and grew up in New York City. She was educated at the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School, and went on to study theatre at the Stella Adler Studio. A brief period on the stage was followed by the study of philosophy, first at Hunter College (New York City), and then at Binghamton University (Binghamton, New York). Since 1989 Andreacchi has lived in Europe, moving first to Paris, then rural Normandy, and later to Berlin (1994–1998) and London, where she now resides.
.
A Smooth Stone By Mary Shanley
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and when you touch it remember
.
the waterfall splashing at Jefferson
Market Garden, remember the Japanese
Garden in Golden Gate Park.
.
Remember to take time to sit
in quietude and let the serenity
wash your clean from the images
of global destruction from the killer virus.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and remember to wear a face mask
to cover your nose and mouth.
Protection from Covid 19, invisible killer
that will take our lives if we don’t practice
social distancing and stay inside.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and live one day at a time. Forget
trying to envision what our world
will be like when the virus is stopped.
No one knows the post virus world.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and wash your hands multiple times
per day. Try not to touch your face.
This is deadly serious.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and hope the president will have
an awakening an realize how
reckless and dangerous his inaction
towards Covid 19 has been.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and hope the president will care
more about life than the stock market.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and hope the president will release
funds for first responders’s safety
equipment and ventilator’s.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and give thanks for all the health
professionals who have come out
of retirement to stand on the front
lines of the Covid 19 war.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket and hope that
The inept and dangerous president 45 will be removed
from office on election day, 2020.
.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and remember to keep holy your thoughts
about those sick and dying from this virus
today.
.
Mary Shanley, poet/storyteller, living in New York City with her wife, Lisa Genet.
.
.
What I Saw at Station Square By Bruce E. Whitacre
.
I will walk to Station Square
Though I won’t take the train
Or check out new cocktails at the bar.
I won’t worry about departures or arrivals,
Weather delays or locked waiting rooms.
I haven’t looked at a schedule for weeks.
Tickets crumple in my pocket.
The trackside trees are leafing out without me.
The funny man who pees all the time
Is no longer a comfort station customer.
The pushy lady who grabs the first seat
Must now roll easily from kitchen chair to couch,
I suppose.
.
            We gaze at screens, not out the windows
Of the empty trains passing by without us
Through a region frozen in emergency,
Of seething hospitals and blinded shops.
Trains clack over the heads of parents juggling children
And accounts unaided and without success:
Too much out of reach; too much passed them by;
Too many cash-earners gone.
Their losses will pull the spikes from all our rails,
Knock the train from the trestle,
And there will be nothing to wait for
Coming round the bend.
.
I turn back down the silent streets
And walk home from Station Square.
.
Until recently Bruce E. Whitacre was a nonprofit manager in the theatre field. His work has been published in the online journal, Cagibi, and he has been featured reader at the Forest Hills, Queens Public Library.  He received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and has served as a literary and theatre manager in the nonprofit sector.
.
.
Three Poems by Jonie McIntire
.
Easter Sunday for Cynics
.
When churches weren’t open
or her legs too brittle to hold,
my grandmother would watch
on tv, read from pamphlets, reread
old passages in a tattered bible.
.
She found God every time,
from Jerry Falwell to
the cartoons of the Latter day
Saints to the sun on her back porch.
.
I wake early, Easter Sunday in a
cynic’s house during dark times,
and I check on the robin’s nest
tucked away in a second-story
corner window ledge.
.
Three days ago, just mud and straw.
Then one egg within a day,
two in another. Now,
three perfect eggs more beautiful
than sky or sea.
.
Would You Rather – Covid Edition
.
Go to the local grocery store looking like a bandito at high noon
or have to forage in the back of your pantry for something involving saltines and spicy mustard?
.
Be stuck at home with your relatives in a house where everything echoes and creaks
or be stuck in a small quiet space with all of your loved ones scattered elsewhere?
.
Start training for a marathon though the weather is tit-chilling bitter
or make day-drinking a practice you perfect so well you are usually asleep by 7 pm?
.
Spend so much time with your significant other that you are constantly
fucking or fighting (but both are very passionate)
.
or spend so much time seeking solitude that here we are in this house together with only our resentments to share?
.
Third Week of Quarantine
.
Because we hear
highway traffic
even in the house,
.
it is easy to think
we can go,
but watching cars from
.
bedroom window,
he mistakes longing
for love and still
.
has no idea
if I like green mints
or red.
.
Jonie McIntire, author of Beyond the Sidewalk (NightBallet Press, 2017) and Not All Who Are Lost Wander (Finishing Line Press, 2016), will be releasing her third chapbook, Semidomesticated, later this year. She hosts two monthly poetry reading series, Uncloistered Poetry and Art & Performance Poetry, and is the poetry editor for Springboard, a teen literary journal. Recipient of an Arts Commission Accelerator Grant, she has poems published in journals across the country and even stamped into cement in Toledo, Ohio as part of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo’s Sidewalk Poetry series.
.
.
Coronatime by Lindy Warrell
.
How very lucky
you and I
to see the sky
and breathe.
.
Lindy lives by the sea in Glenelg, South Australia. Her poems appear online, and in journals and anthologies. She has recently published three chapbooks of free verse, evoking the Australian outback, cityscapes, old age, random moments and disturbing things.

.

Two Poems by Nicole Yurcaba
.
1.
at times
i feel clandestine
as i whisper
i have information
to the grocery shelves’ remnants
i carried home in a freezer bag
.
2.
fantasy:
i strip
for Richard Z. Kruspe
while wearing
fishnets
and a N95 mask
.
Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist, who teaches at Bridgewater College and serves as the Assistant Director to the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival.
.
.
Homeless Friend by Thaddeus Rutkowski
.
I see my homeless friend
(“friend” might be an exaggeration,
but we know each other’s names).
He is where I expect to see him,
but he isn’t sitting on his usual bench.
He is sitting on a fire hydrant
that has a cover: a sort of lampshade
over the knobby top of the pipe.
“They took away the bench,” he says.
We look through a display window
and see the bench inside a fancy café.
“They’ll bring it back out,” I say,
but I’m not sure if that will happen anytime soon.
The bench might stay inside for months,
until the shutdown ends.
.

Thaddeus Rutkowski lives and writes in New York City. Thaddeus Rutkowski

.

.

Four Poems by Mike Cohen
.
Unable to Make Sense of It (April 2020)
.
Senses don’t always make sense.
In the midst of the viral pandemic,
you get the sense
of being invulnerable to anything else –
that all you have to do is avoid the dread disease
and you’ll survive.
.
A middle aged man, walking
along a crowded sidewalk,
steps off the curb to maintain
healthy social distance from other passersby,
and is struck by a utility truck.
.
His death,
though brought about by the pandemic,
is not attributed to the disease.
Just another senseless casualty.
.
Humanity and Virulence (March 2020)
.
Uh-oh! Here comes another of those humans.
Of course, I’m human too, but
I know the human coming toward me
is not me.
And he’s likely loaded with viruses.
Most of us are. And his collection of viruses
is probably different from mine.
Some viruses are more virulent than others, some less;
just as some humans are more human than others, some less.
But I intend to stay clear of this human
and his viruses,
however virulent or human they may be.
.
Infected (March 30, 2020)
.
The demon is inside.
Inside you is a deadly virus
or a deadly fear
of a virus so deadly
it can scare you to death.
Either way,
there’s nothing you can do.
Once you’ve let it in,
the demon is inside.
.
Helpless (March 2020)
.
The impassive grey sky does nothing to cheer us.
It looms, immovable as the thought of a virus
that hangs in the air between our heads
and the unfeeling firmament.
I throw stones at it, want it to crack
a smile, let a sliver of blue show through,
release a beam or two to shimmer down
and halo someone – anyone – to save us.
But my stones fall short,
come down, each with a thud,
as the grey sky looks on, unimpressed.

.

Mike Cohen lives and writes in Philadelphia. You can find him at: MIKE COHEN SAYS

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