The Liar’s Asylum by Jacob M. Appel

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By Lynette G. Esposito

The eight short stories in Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum are amazingly fun to read.   The 168 page collection, published by Black Lawrence Press, explores common every day experiences with life twists that both surprise and confirm the human condition.

Appel is a keen observer of people interacting with their life situations.  John Jodzio, author of Knockout, comments,  ”I am in absolute awe of Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum.  The stories here are magnetic and knowing, funny and inventive.  Appel is a master of form—deftly able to conjure up pitch perfect characters whose lips spill out both truth and wit.”  I agree.

In the story when Love Was an Angel’s Kidney on page 120, Appel narrates the story of a young eighth grader fascinated with a high school athlete who comes to her father’s camp for youth who need dialysis. The story, in true beginning, middle and end short story form, shows how love can happen and end anywhere. While the young girl would give up a kidney for her innocent love when she is skinny dipping with him in the camp lake, her financially inept father is losing the camp to the bank and his wife to his best friend.  Her father never finds another woman for whom he would sacrifice an organ, but she wonders about her young love and if he still thinks of her.   She asks:   Am I what remains when an angel’s kidney evaporates in the past? This is an interesting concept when looking at love itself as it fades into the past but remains in the heart.

In Good Enough for Guppies,  the story opens with Divorce infected the air last summer and Appel sets the scene for old women (78) seeking love in a variety of places all told from a candid observer who once in awhile participates in the story by suggesting the relationship he has with his own wife.  The narrator, Gene, and his wife, Shelia, must deal with Shelia’s mother, 78, marrying a man in his forties with a Bronx accent.  Shelia is almost hysterical because it is her mother and Gene attempts to understand survivorship in a long-term marriage.  The story suggests and shows average people reacting to love at various stages in their life and how they react as well as judge others outside and inside the family.

Appel is a master of unique and inventive story lines that are well controlled, developed and meaningful.  He sets clear scenes with unique twists that help the reader see and understand the characters in more than one perception and in more than one dimension.  I enjoyed every story.

The book is available here: https://www.blacklawrence.com/the-liars-asylum/

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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

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A Brief Biography of My Name by Yalie Kamara

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By Michaiah Samples

A Brief Biography of My Name, Yalie Kamara, a Sierra Leonean American, explores the theme of self-discovery through a series of reflective poems by drawing from her past, her family’s experiences, and her cultural heritage.  Her words capture the joy and loneliness of trying to find one’s true self.  On the chapbook’s cover is a metal statue of a bare-chested, African woman, with a lifted chin and a proud stance.  This cover image reflects the determination needed to find one’s identity and the hard-won pride of its discovery.

She devotes her title poem to an exploration of her names, Yalie Saweda Kamara.  She uses beautiful imagery to capture not only the significance of her names but also the significance they have for her identity: “I wouldn’t have sought the sound of whiteness, / if I’d known I was a song strained from indigo. / a note wrapped in lapis lazuli.”  She even reclaims a lost name, Masuba, a name her grandmother took from her, and imbues it with her own meaning to complete the picture of herself.

In “Space” she writes about a time when she left off the “i” in her name on school assignments and no one noticed.  By the poem’s end, Kamara writes, “Nobody else played the game, so there’s no / record of the joyful sound that was made when / the long-lost me, found the small, brown, I.”  This clever twist at the end emphasizes the close connection between a name and an identity.  When she restores her name, she also restores her perception of herself with new significance.

In “Pest Control,” Kamara reveals the nature of liars and flatterers by comparing them to the long mot arata, a kind of rat that munches on the heels of sleeping people.  The story of the long mot arata teaches her “to doubt the admiration of anyone / who loves me without good enough reason / to look for punctured heels following any / explosion of praise leaving a familiar mouth.”  Kamara describes the pain of falling under their spell, “seeing a bit of myself hanging / from your smiling lips,” and also the triumph of moving past its pain to see that deceivers destroy themselves when they destroy others.

Yalie Kamara also draws from the words of her family.  “Mother’s Rules” is a tribute to her mother’s instructions on how to live.  Her instructions alternate between a sarcastic playfulness, (“Never order me a meal that is spelled with silent letters.  I came to eat, not / to explore”) and a hardness that reflects reality (“You laugh at me now.  Like I laughed at my mother”).  “I Ask My Brother Jonathan to Describe Oakland, And He Describes His Room” is a tribute to her brother.  The poem shows her brother “creating a new town” in his imagination, “where his body is unfettered by the terror of others’ imagination.”  Each of these glimpses into her family provide a place for Kamara to reflect on the lives closest to her, yet she does not directly connect them to her own search.  She allows the reader a clear view into her family, and she lets those poems stand alone because her family is part of her identity.

Through her poems, Yalie Kamara provides the reader glances into her journey of self-discovery.  Her beautiful imagery and her unflinching stance towards the pain of reality make this chapbook a necessary addition for anyone searching for their own selves.

You can find the book here:

https://www.yaylala.com/new-page/

Michaiah Samples is an undergraduate student at Lee University, where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English.  She has a forthcoming interview with Yalie Kamara on the website, Speaking of Marvels.  She likes to crochet scarves and study Hebrew in her spare time.

 

The Middle Ground by Jeff Ewing

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By Charles Rammelkamp

The characters in the nineteen stories that make up Jeff Ewing’s new collection, The Middle Ground, all seem to be trying to come to terms with bleak realities for which they bear some responsibility but whose fuzzy dimensions go way beyond their grasp. Indeed, as the story “Coast Starlight” begins: “Clifford could have been anyone, though no one from around here.”

In the story, Clifford, who may be a con man after all, fills a waitress’s mind with fantasies of movie stardom. Elena. Elena’s daughter asks her, “Don’t you wish something exciting would happen to you just once?” Elena remembers Clifford, then. Elena is married to the dull but reliable Matias. When she makes an impulsive trip to Los Angeles (aboard a train called the Coast Starlight) in a half-baked plan to pursue the dream of stardom, only to return to the stoic but forgiving Matias, you’d think there might be a moral here, like something out of The Wizard of Oz.  “No place like home.” But no, at the end Elena, if somehow wiser, is still indecisive, hovering ghost-like in the middle ground.

What is the middle ground? In the eponymous story, another one in which a parent and child clash over dreams, Ewing writes of the son, “He was one of those who can’t think any further than the negation of things. No nuance, no middle ground.” In the middle ground there are no clear answers to the situations people find themselves in. Maybe this, maybe that. Some of this, some of that.

Indeed, several of the characters in these stories deal with an unexpected celebrity that seems to shine a light on their lives, but only in a confused and upsetting way. The little girl Anna in “Lake Mary Jane” who is bitten by an alligator while she is swimming becomes a fleeting figure of interest, and she is forced to consider events in a new light. “When the gator had bit down, it was just a thing that was happening to her.” Then come the doctors, the reporters. Her dad and a character named Emily (mother? sister?) react in complicated ways. Finally, somebody shoots a gator in the lake they claim was the one that bit Anna. But her reaction? “All she knew was it had left its mark on her, which is what love does.”

In the first story, “Tule Fog,” the narrator remembers his high school girlfriend Lisa who became a celebrity of her own, giving motivational speeches, selling books and DVDs, on the subject of “Moving On.” She clearly moved on from the narrator, who feels stuck in his bleak California town where “no one anywhere, not even the dead, will wish they were here.” It should be noted that Lisa dies in an airplane accident near Lake Tahoe. “It took over a year for the wreckage to be discovered….”

Similarly, in “Coast Starlight,” as she’s finishing her shift at the diner, Elena comes upon another waitress, Shelly, flipping through a National Enquirer and, “tsking and shaking her head” at the shenanigans of the dubious famous people whose shenanigans are detailed in the scandal sheet.

“These people got everything you could want, and nine times out of ten they piss it away,” she said.

Elena asks her coworker, “You think it’s different here?”

“Jesus, yes. Are you kidding? Nobody’s got anything to piss away.”

It’s strange and perplexing how right there in the middle ground where nothing is clearly one thing or another how events will make you feel your insignificance. And certainly this seems to be the great challenge for so many of the characters in these stories, this urge for a meaning to one’s life. The very title of the final story in this collection, “Hiddenfolk,” gives a hint to the great trials most of these characters face. “Dick Fleming is Lost” gives another, a story in which the protagonist, George, becomes obsessed with the whereabouts of a former classmate, who has gone missing.  “Maybe Dick Fleming would be found,” the story concludes, “and maybe he wouldn’t. Either way he was no longer alone.”

The stories in The Middle Ground are bleak but thought-provoking and end with the same ambiguity with which they begin, though indeed there is always a kind of resolution. Nothing ever quite ends “happily ever after,” but the characters all reach a kind of self-understanding that makes their destinies easier to accept.

You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Middle-Ground-Stories-Jeff-Ewing/dp/1775381307

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

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The Love Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

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By Ray Greenblatt

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          Kenneth Rexroth was considered the senior member of the Beats. He was writing experimental free verse and lengthy exhortations to the world as early as the 1920’s, a generation before Ginsberg, Kerouac, and the West Coast poets.

          But I think he has been overlooked for his exquisite love lyrics. These poems are often set in the wildest of the back country. Let’s insinuate ourselves into these scenes of love to observe how Rexroth illuminates them:
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         You beside me
          Like a colt swimming slowly in kelp
          In the nude sea
          Where ten thousand birds
          Move like a waved scarf
          On the long surge of sleep. (“Camargue”)
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Rexroth loves to look minutely at his lover. Indeed she becomes part of nature:
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          Eater of moonlight, drinker
          Of brightness, feet of jewels
          On the mountain, velvet feet
          In the meadow grass, darkness
          Braided with wild roses, wild
          Mare of the horizons.
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          It’s enough that the green glow
          Runs through the down on your arms
          Like a grass fire and your eyes
          Are fogs of the same endless light.
          Let the folds and divisions
          Of your anatomy envelop
          All horizons. (“Air and Angels”)
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The following poem opens with imagery that Rexroth remolds in his conclusion:
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          Lean back. Give me your mouth.
          Your grace is as beautiful as sleep.
          You move against me like a wave
          That moves in sleep.
          Your body spreads across my brain
          Like a bird filled summer.
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          My eyelids sink toward sleep in the hot
          Autumn of your uncoiled hair.
          Your body moves in my arms
          On the verge of sleep;
          And it is as though I held
          In my arms the bird filled
          Evening sky of summer. (“When We with Sappho”)
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          Sometimes the locale shifts to a foreign city, but the intense sensuality remains:
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          Your face topples into dark
          And the wind sounds like an army
          Breaking through dry reeds.
          We spread our aching bodies in the window
          And I can smell the odor of hay
          In the female smell of Venice. (“Sottoportico San Zaccaria”)
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          At times Rexroth removes all censure so that our faces redden at the intimacy, as in “Floating”:
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          Take me slowly while our gnawing lips
          Fumble against the humming blood in our throats.
          Move softly, do not move at all, but hold me,
          Deep, still, deep within you, while time slides away,
          As this river slides beyond this lily bed,
          And the thieving moments fuse and disappear
          In our mortal, timeless flesh.
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The poet is also able to capture moments of a lover’s personality:
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          Suddenly you laugh, like a pure
          Exulting flute, spring to your feet
          And plunge into the water.
          A white bird breaks from the rushes
          And flies away, and the boat rocks
          Drunkenly in the billows
          Of your nude jubilation. (“Still on Water”)
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So many of his poems are like scenes caught by a painter—nuanced details, striking movements often in open air held fast in bright colors:
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          A fervor parches you sometimes,
          And you hunch over it, silent,
          Cruel, and timid; and sometimes
          You are frightened with wantonness,
        And give me your desperation. (“Between Myself and Death”)
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          As Kenneth Rexroth’s art matured, his view toward love developed deeper feelings and interpretations. In “Incarnation” after a day of climbing, the narrator returns to camp and glimpses his love in the distance:
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          The crinkled iris petal,
          The gold hairs powdered with pollen,
          And the obscure cantata
          Of the tangled water, and the
          Burning, impassive snow peaks,
          Are knotted together here.
          This moment of fact and vision
          Seizes immortality,
          Becomes the person of this place.
          The responsibility
          Of love realized and beauty
          Seen burns in a burning angel
          Real beyond flower or stone.
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The lover remembers all his past loves, the highs and lows:
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          Under this tree for a moment,
          We have escaped the bitterness
          Of love, and love lost, and love
          Betrayed. And what might have been,
          And what might be, fall equally
          Away with what is, and leave
          Only these ideograms
          Printed on the immortal
          Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone. (“Lyell’s Hypothesis Again”)
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Sometimes we must apologize for mistakes to let the relationship heal and continue to grow:
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          Now my heart
          Turns towards you, awake at last,
          Penitent, lost in the last
          Loneliness. Speak to me. Talk
          To me. Break the black silence.
          Speak of a tree full of leaves,
          Of a flying bird, the new
          Moon in the sunset, a poem,
          A book, a person. (“Loneliness”)
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An outer and inner peace can be achieved eventually as seen in “Quietly”:
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          So quiet, our bodies, worn with the
          Times and the penances of love, our
          Brains curled, quiet in their shells, dormant,
          Our hearts slow, quiet, reliable
          In their interlocked rhythms, the pulse
          In your thigh caressing my cheek. Quiet.
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          At times Rexroth infused a religious tone into his poems of love:
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          Let us bring to each other
          The gifts brought once west through deserts—
          The precious metal of our mingled hair,
          The frankincense of enraptured arms and legs,
          The myrrh of desperate, invincible kisses—
          Let us celebrate the daily
          Recurrent nativity of love,
          The endless epiphany of our fluent selves.  (“Lute Music”)
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          “She Is Away” is from a more mature poet’s point of view:
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 O love,
          I who am lost and damned with words,
          Whose words are a business and an art,
          I have no words. These word, this poem, this
          Is all confusion and ignorance.
          But I know that coached by your sweet heart,
          My heart beat one free beat and sent
          Through all my flesh the blood of truth.
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          Kenneth Rexroth lived from 1905 until 1982. His first wife Andree died in 1940, and he always revered her memory in several lyrics over the years. A very touching one simply titled “Andree Rexroth” concludes:
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          Bright trout poised in the current—
          The raccoon’s track at the water’s edge—
          A bittern booming in the distance—
          Your ashes scattered on this mountain—
          Moving seaward on this stream.
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          In the realm of poetry there is almost nothing more difficult to write than an original love lyric. We have looked at a number of passages. To conclude I would like to quote in full a short but very effective poem #X by Rexroth out of a series of linked poems titled “The Thin Edge of Your Pride”:
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          Out of the westborne now shall come a memory
          Floated upon it by my hands,
          By my lips that remember your kisses.
          It shall caress your hands, your lips,
          Your breasts, your thighs, with kisses,
          As real as flesh, as real as memory of flesh.
          I shall come to you with the spring,
          Spring’s flesh in the world,
          Translucent narcissus, dogwood like a vision,
          And phallic crocus,
          Spring’s flesh in my hands.
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All poems are taken from: The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth, (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
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You can find the book here:

https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/pages/browse/book.asp?bg=%7BD2AA026E-B2F1-46AF-9735-90395CFBBCD6%7D

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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.

Remembering Mary Oliver

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By Stephen Page

Oliver as Nature

            This afternoon, I am rereading Mary Oliver’s American Primitive for the sixth time.  I first opened the book yesterday, and every time I reopen it, the poems make me forget the reason I am reading the book.  I am supposed to be looking for an interesting topic to write an essay about.  Each time I get a thread of an idea on what to write, the poems carry me to the place the narrator is, climbing a tree, eating blackberries, standing by a pond, watching a bobcat walk by, feeling large snowflakes land on my upturned face and melt on my cheeks.  I am immersed in the poems.  Being of quick mind, it took me only six readings of the book to understand why.  This is Oliver’s intent.  She immerses the reader into the poems by immersing herself into the narrator who immerses herself into the subject she is observing.

            The poem ‘White Night’ is a prime example of what I am speaking about:
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All night
     I float
           in the shallow ponds
                 while the moon wanders
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burning,
     bone white,
         among the milky stems.
              Once
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I saw her hand reach. . .
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the muskrat
     will glide with another
           into their castle
                 of weeds . . .
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           I want to flow out
                across the mother
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of all waters,
     I want to lose myself . . .
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You see how the narrator and the muskrat are similar in place, viewpoint, and action?  They are congruous.  Similarly, the second party, “her”, corresponds to the fourth party, “another.”   This “her” is possibly a lover of Oliver’s, and “another” is a mate of the muskrat, but if you take into consideration that Oliver starts the poem with “I,” and not “We,” I am guessing “her” is the transition-being of the narrator to the muskrat.  A morph.  At the end of the poem the speaker is the muskrat.

Similar transformations happen throughout the collection, in fact, almost in every poem—though Oliver is talented enough to make each transition unique.  Sometimes she writes mirror poems—for example, the bear poems.  In one she is observing a bear climbing a tree, finding a honeybee nest, enjoying the taste of the honey and so elated by the sweetness he is ready to fly like a bee.  In a sequential poem, the narrator is the bear, climbing the tree, having paws, eating bees that are in the way of her raid of the golden syrup, and then she too has the fantasy to fly.

Of course, success at having the reader become the subject via the narrator via the writer is due solely to the talent of Mary Oliver. Her lush language immerses the reader into the subject by stimulating all of the senses.   Only an adroit writer can pull this off.  Most writers resort to didactic-ism and over-explanation—Oliver simply shows, she never tells.

American Primitive has myriad themes that could be discussed in depth, but my theory is that Oliver was trying to convey one main idea—that is, that every living thing on this earth is connected.  She shows this in several ways: one, the morphing; two, by having subjects who die, or pass on, return to the earth or to the sea; three, the title, which along with several poems in the collection infers that the people who were living on the continent of America before Europeans arrived some five hundred years ago were in tune with the natural world—this is an indirect way of saying that the people who recently populated America are not so in tune.

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Stephen Page is the Author of The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA from Bennington College. He also attended Broward College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, reading, travel, family, and friends.

https://smpages.wordpress.com

2 Poems by Jean LeBlanc

Grave-Robbing-Main
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Snatching the Body
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If you are lucky, the night is coolish and dry. Especially dry. At least the ground is not compact, amenable to being moved yet again. If there are stars, you do not see them.
If one falls, blazing a trail across the heavens, it does so unnoticed. You have brought
at least one helper, but all mouths are mum, silent, tight-lipped, mute. Only the spades converse, an untranslatable slate, slate, slate in the receiving earth. And then the lid.
And then. A sign of the cross, or perhaps just brushing away a clod of dirt.
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crocus
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thousands of them each spring on the hillside high up where the snow melts slowly and there on the edge of snow/no snow did I say a thousand it’s more like stars on a clear night a sign of spring a promise though like any promise breakable shepherd’s tears it’s also called or shepherd’s folly because they are so beautiful these thousand thousand little blooms that we forget and a lamb wanders off or a wolf oh little lily this cleft of stony ground I sleep beside you and awaken crushed
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Jean LeBlanc
I teach writing and literature at a community college in northwestern New Jersey. Teaching informs my poetry, inspiring me to imagine other times, other worlds—and the connections to our time, our world. My poems have been published in several collections, most recently A Field Guide to the Spirits (Aqueduct Press, 2015). Art and photography also complement my writing, pushing me to see in new ways.
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Old Bones by Lou Gallo

catacombs
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Old Bones
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When I swivel my neck now I hear
cartilage popping and although it feels good
I think instantly of old Hasdrubal of Carthage
leading elephants across mountains
and I think of the bones in our back yard
on Columbus Street that my dog Spottie
buried, dug up, buried again, sucking
out that sweet marrow, and I think too
of the catacombs in Mexico City
that terrified me as a child—and
still terrify me—and of course who could
not think of Ozymandias . . .
oh I think lots of things because
how intimate is ossification and better
gather the memories while you can
before the neck becomes less a conduit
and more a fossil, not grainy like Lot’s wife
but solid, I like to think, marble,
a work of art some sculptor might carve
into a skylark or turtle or tiny peacock
that winds up on the family mantle.
At the moment I stare at the meat
placed before me in the Ancient Steak House
and can’t help poking at the bone
with my fork fancying it might emit
a signal of sorts explaining the difference
between its situation now and before when it
lived inside a cow . . . and I think of angels
and ghosts and sprites and how one
might thrive without the bones
always left behind, eroding into dust
eventually, the skull and teeth and
fingernails and ribs and elbows,
the structure collapsed,  the thinking
over, the old bones, old bones.
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Louis Gallo
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic,, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth,  Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others.  Chapbooks include The Truth Change, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books:  A New Orleans Review.  He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
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