charles rammelkamp

Summer Reading Recommendations 2021

Top ten book reviews based on readership of North of Oxford

scott

A Little Excitement by Nancy Scott

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/04/01/a-little-excitement-by-nancy-scott/

erotic

Erotic by Alexis Rhone-Fancher

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/erotic-by-alexis-rhone-fancher/

danish

Danish Northwest/Hygge Poems from the Outskirts by Peter Graarup Westergaard

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/04/01/danish-northwest-hygge-poems-from-the-outskirts-by-peter-graarup-westergaard/

red rover

Red Rover Red Rover by Bob Hicok

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/red-rover-red-rover-by-bob-hicok/

RAZOR WIRE

Razor Wire Wilderness by Stephanie Dickinson

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/05/01/razor-wire-wilderness-by-stephanie-dickinson/

American Quasar CoverA Camera Obscura Cover

American Quasar by David Campos / A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/06/01/american-quasar-with-poems-by-david-campos-and-art-by-maceo-montoya-a-camera-obscura-by-carl-marcum/

world

The Likely World by Melanie Conroy-Goldman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/02/01/the-likely-world-by-melanie-conroy-goldman/

HunleyCov

Adjusting to the Lights – Poems by Tom C. Hunley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/adjusting-to-the-lights-poems-by-tom-c-hunley/

savant

The Philosopher Savant Crosses The River by Rustin Larson

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/the-philosopher-savant-crosses-the-river-by-rustin-larson/

come

Come-Hither Honeycomb by Erin Belieu

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/02/01/come-hither-honeycomb-by-erin-belieu/

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Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

mary jane

By Charles Rammelkamp

Narrated in the first person by a 14-year-old girl in 1975, Mary Jane isn’t so much a coming-of-age novel as it is a coming-into-consciousness novel, which may be a quibbling way of saying the same thing since “coming of age” is ultimately all about a character’s self-awareness, but over and over again in this charming, often laugh-out-loud-funny story, the protagonist, Mary Jane Dillard, notices things for the first time, such as her parents’ racism and anti-Semitism, and comes to conclusions about what things are actually valuable and meaningful in a person’s life, as if she is waking up from a long, long sleepwalk.

Mary Jane is the only child of a conventional Republican father and a humorless, church-going homemaker mother. A framed color photograph of Gerald Ford hangs on their dining room wall, visible over her father’s head as he sits at the head of the table reading the newspaper while his wife and daughter serve the meals. Mary Jane has been hired as the summer nanny of the five-year-old daughter of Richard and Bonnie Cone, a psychiatrist and his wife who likewise live in Roland Park but are the opposite of her parents. (Bumper stickers declaring, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever are plastered on a door.)

The child’s name is Izzy. (“Our neighbor, Mrs. Riley, had told me her name was Isabelle. But I liked Izzy better, the way it fizzed on my tongue.”) Mary Jane immediately takes to the child. Like Izzy, another only child, Mary Jane has no real friends, feels awkward around girls her age and has absolutely no interest in going to sleepaway camp with her contemporaries. “When I did have to socialize with kids my age,” Mary Jane confides, “I felt like I was from another country. How did girls know what to whisper about? Why were they all thinking about the same things?”

In contrast to her own orderly home – a place for everything and everything in its place – the Cone household is chaotic, books and clothing piled everywhere, food rotting in the refrigerator. Bonnie is not a homemaker, and her shrink husband is a luftmensch, his head in his work, not his home. Mary Jane will bring order to the household over the course of the summer, but the more relaxed and loving environment of the Cone family will have a profound effect on her as well.

Later in the novel, Mary Jane reflects, “In my own house, each day was a perfectly contained lineup of hours where nothing unusual or unsettling was ever said.” By contrast, the Cones are loud, intense, emotional, and Mary Jane always feels a little afraid. “But along with that terror, my fondness for the Cones only grew. To feel something was to feel alive. And to feel live was starting to feel like love.”

When the story starts, Richard Cone has cleared his calendar for the summer to care for a recovering rock star, Jimmy Bendinger, lead singer of Running Water, who has a heroin addiction. He is accompanied by his celebrity wife Sheba, known all over the world for the popular television variety show she’d hosted with her brothers called Family First! Jimmy and Sheba are in Baltimore incognito, and in one of her first acts of rebellion, Mary Jane doesn’t let her parents know about them. While Bonnie entertains Sheba and Mary Jane runs the household (eventually she takes over the grocery-shopping, cooking and cleaning duties), Dr. Cone and Jimmy do their work out behind the house, in a garage converted to Dr. Cone’s office.

Blau’s characters are as quirky as Anne Tyler’s memorable Baltimore characters, though not as complex, but then, they are seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl who still sees things in black or white and either/or terms. There’s Beanie Jones, the nosy neighbor who keeps popping up in comic relief but who precipitates the climactic therapy scene on the beach, whose conclusion provides the novel’s real surprise plot twist. The Cones and her parents are vivid in their own ways, the parents for being so conventional, uptight, anti-Semitic and racist. But the real bigger-than-life character is Sheba, the former TV star celebrity bombshell. The story lights up whenever she’s around.

There’s also plenty of humor in Mary Jane, much of it involving Mary Jane’s ignorance and squeamishness about sex, her fear that she is a “sex addict,” even though she is a virgin who has never even kissed a boy. She overhears Dr. Cone use the term and it sticks in her head. She wonders if there is something wrong with her for seeing a penis when she sees a cucumber. It’s like a running gag through much of the novel, and part of Mary Jane’s “coming of age” is resolving this issue at the group therapy session on the beach.

All of the women, Bonnie Cone, Sheba and Mary Jane, have “mommy issues,” conflicts with their mothers about their social roles and behavior.  Bonnie’s mother is horrified when Bonnie marries a Jew; Sheba’s mother continually slut-shamed her daughter when she was growing up.

This mother-daughter tension is especially spotlighted in Mary Jane’s case. We’ve seen that her mother and father are cold, distant, but her mother can also be mean.  When Mrs. Cone and Sheba enter the kitchen after Mary Jane and Izzy have cleaned out the refrigerator, “Mrs. Cone leaned in and kissed the top of my head. No one had ever kissed me like that. Not my mom and not my dad.” Mary Jane remembers an incident when her mother caught her drinking milk from the carton, slapped her head, which caused the milk to spill, and ordered her daughter to mop the kitchen floor. Her mother provides specific instructions for buttoning a blouse, to ensure her modesty. When Mary Jane gets her period, her mother supplies the napkins and belt but does not discuss any of it.

But at the end of the summer, after Mary Jane’s deceptions catch up with her and the double life blows up in her face, she is able to resolve her conflicts with her mother (her father remains remote), but we saw that coming all along. Mary Jane is the real “adult” in Mary Jane, truly a heroine. This novel is such fun to read!

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Jane-Jessica-Anya-Blau/dp/0063052296

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

The Bold News of Birdcalls by Edward Morin

birds
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Constructed around the notion of birds, four parts entitled, Noise of Blue Jays, Melody of Wrens, Endurance of Robins and Passage of Swans, each section containing ten or eleven loosely thematic poemsEdward Morin’s charming new collection, though steeped in the natural world, principally in the Great Lakes region, contemplates so much more than feathered bipeds.  To be sure, there are more than half a dozen poems focused on birds – blue jays, swallows, wrens, robins, juncos all in the spotlight; thrushes, kingbirds, siskins, ducks and grouse making cameos, and, as he confesses in “A Bird Story,” “I killed / a cedar waxwing, then swore off hunting.” There are poems about invasive plants (“Mighty Phragmites”), fish and fishing (“”Beneath the Bridge,” “The Big One”), flowers, anemones, a toad, a dog. But the ultimate attention is placed on humankind.
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Morin’s lived a long life, as he recounts in several of the poems. “Moments Musicaux,” a tribute to his younger sister Audrey, who died at 73 in 2010, tells her life story in snapshots accented with reference to music, singing, musical instruments. For one, there’s the ukulele he holds in the family photo taken when his mother comes home from the hospital with his new sister, older-sibling-resentful (“I look ready to wring its stringed neck”). There is also the image of a devoted brother singing Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus at her first wedding.
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Morin’s love is implicit in his description of what sounds like a challenging life, Audrey’s two marriages, her five children. The first husband? “He chased gals and the American Dream / to the Coast.” But through it all she shows grit and determination. Later in life, when she answered phones for her suburban Chicago police station –
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She would coax abused wives and suicidal
teens away from permanent solutions
to temporary problems. She knew more
about caring than many social workers.

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“Elegy,” “Poetry Man,” and “Old School Ties” are other affectionate poems celebrating lives that have touched Morin’s, two of them former colleagues, the other a friend from childhood, all of them now gone. “Poetry Man,” written for Lawrence Pike, concludes:
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In isolation I ask myself:
Why go on writing? Is it for glory?
promotion? a fee? self-help? Or even
to knock another poet out of the ring?
Larry, I celebrate and share your
compulsion: fire smoldering in the belly,
rising to enchant the heart and brain
and fly out of the mouth, as a gift.
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These reflections are echoed in the poem, “Depression,” which ends, “Loneliness is a feeling time has run out.” But note the “celebration.” That’s the main note in Morin’s poetry, despite the trials and the adversities. My favorite poem in The Bold News of Birdcalls bears this out. “Yes” is a poem about the single-note birdcall of “Joe Sartori” (a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, “comprehension; understanding”) – the bold news of a birdcall indeed.
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Satori is the middle-aged neighbor of the narrator’s mother. Home from college, the narrator visits Satori at his mother’s request. Satori has evidently had a stroke or suffers from some disability. He can say only one word, his one-note birdcall, “Yes.” Years later, when he reflects on his neighbor, the narrator puts things in perspective:
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When I was broke or girlfriends dumped me
and I feared the horrors of life’s end,
Joe’s predicament stormed into my mind.
Fate gave him one word to last his life.
Not a bad choice, I still say out loud
to the night sky in witless affirmation.
Yes.  Yes.  Yes.
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“Valentine’s Day, 1972,” with its allusion to the legendary 1929 murder of seven mob members in a garage in Chicago, is a noir description of a hold-up in a store in which the poet was clerking.  (“Nixon had ordered wage freezes to curb / inflation; bosses cheerily complied. / My part-time teaching paid child support.”)  It’s a grim memory of a hand-to-mouth existence. But this, too, teaches a lesson. (“It was only a job.”)
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The Bold New of Birdcalls includes a number of humorous poems, some reflecting his years in academia, including “Adjunct Winslow’s Discourse,” a poem about the subjectivity of grades and one buxom coed’s attempts to have hers changed. “Father Holtschneider Considers Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s Tenure,” related in the voice of Holtschneider himself, President of DePaul University (an actual historical person),  tells the not-so-funny story of a man applying for tenure and the politics that surround such decisions. “The Bernie Madoff Hustle” – to a tune something like “Barney Google” – satirically roasts the charlatan financier.  And that “Odelet to a Toad” (“Can you fathom why some call you ugly?”):
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For you, being there is more important
than getting there. If I were to reach
down and clutch your soft body so we
might discuss this matter face to face,
I suspect that you would wet my hand.
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In the final Passages of Swans section, which includes a wedding song to a friend (“Epithalamion”) as well as advice in the form of a letter to “Tom Katt” from a wise, older friend about navigating the stormy straits of love (“An affair is the poor man’s vacation”), there are, among the episodes that mark a life, a couple of meditations on old age, regarding his mother-in-law, that stand with the previously mentioned poem about his sister. Wise, sad, compassionate.
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The poems in The Bold News of Birdcalls soar with humanity. Yes.  Yes.  Yes.
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You can find the book here: The Bold News of Birdcalls|Paperback
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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Razor Wire Wilderness by Stephanie Dickinson

RAZOR WIRE

By Charles Rammelkamp

Toward the end of her harrowing true crime memoir, Stephanie Dickinson writes that her own experience with missteps “has shown me that life sometimes does give you a second chance, and that we must seize it.” Razor Wire Wilderness focuses primarily on Krystal Riordan and Lucy Weems, two inmates in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, New Jersey, a maximum security prison for women, how they got there, how they survive once they are incarcerated, their urgent pursuit of that second chance, that redemption.

Dickinson weaves her own story throughout Krystal’s and Lucy’s, from her dull mid-century childhood in rural Iowa to hitchhiking around North America as a teenager, rebelling against a repressive Midwestern mother, her fateful meeting with her friend Michael in Montreal, and eventually attending an inauspicious Thanksgiving Day party in North Carolina at the home of Michael’s psychopath friend Charlie, who, drunk and jealous, blasts her with a shotgun, rendering her left arm useless for the rest of her life.

Dickinson had already read Capote’s In Cold Blood, the newspaper stories of the Manson cult girls in the Tate-LaBianca murders, the accounts written by Auschwitz survivors, the brutal Andersonville prison camp during the American Civil War, when, in the summer of 2006, her attention was snagged by the lurid cover story in the New York Daily News, Hooker Watched Boyfriend Kill Teen, a true crime story about Krystal Riordan and her pimp lover Draymond Coleman and their victim Jennifer Moore, murdered in a shabby Weehawken, New Jersey hotel.  Stephanie befriends Riordan, sympathetic to her through her own life experiences, and the friendship results in Dickinson’s much-heralded 2014 novel, Love Highway. Razor Wire Wilderness is as much backstory to that novel as it is a story of deliverance.

Krystal is born with the odds already stacked against her. Her mother, Eva, is a prostitute who neglected her children.  Indeed, when Krystal reconnects with her mother years later, Eva steals from her! Lice-ridden, Krystal, already molested by an uncle before the age of five, and her younger sister Nicole are “rescued” by Child Services and subsequently adopted by the Riordans, a middle class family in Orange, Connecticut. Despite the parental attention, Nicole will become a junkie, Krystal a prostitute.

For almost a decade, Mrs. Riordan, a Girl Scout troop leader, ferries Krystal and Nicole around to therapy sessions, music lessons and, in 5’9” Krystal’s case, basketball practice, until one day, when Krystal is 14, her mother catches her in her bedroom with some boys, and after consulting a psychologist for “disturbed adolescents,” packs her off to a boarding school for troubled teens in Maine called Élan, which turns out to be more like a prison run by sadists than a nurturing educational institution. Students are humiliated and attacked by residents who are egged on by school officials. They shout, “You’re a whore!” and “We wish you were dead!” The whole approach is later described by investigators as a “brainwashing technique.”

Élan ultimately closed in 2011 after stories of deprivation and abuse circulated about the place whose annual tuition was around $50,000. Stories of suicides and prison were common. But in Krystal’s case, the damage had already been done – or exacerbated. After she graduates, it’s almost no wonder she turns to prostitution.

This is how she meets her psychopath, Draymond Coleman, a man almost twice her age, whom she loves with the passionate conviction of a person in the grip of Stockholm Syndrome.  Dray is both her lover and her pimp. Often, at Draymond’s direction, they engage in threesomes with other girls, and indeed this is how things ultimately go wrong.

One night a group of teenagers from New Jersey comes to Manhattan for a night of fun. One, Jennifer Moore, get separated from her friends and falls into Draymond’s clutches. He takes her to the Weehawken hotel where he and Krystal are staying, and things get out of hand. Draymond strangles Jennifer, and he and Krystal dispose of the body.  They are caught and Krystal winds up at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF).

Dickinson describes the bleak existence at EMCF in great detail, from the treatment by guards to the work details to the humiliating desperation of “Toilet Paper Day” to the interaction among the inmates. It is at EMCF that Krystal meets her friend Lucy Weems.

Dickinson describes Lucy’s life in grim detail, from her rough treatment by an uncle, her life of drugs and prostitution, the heroin addiction that drives her to the grimmest decisions.

“It’s hard to get off the hooker hamster wheel,” Lucy confides. “I’ve given blowjobs for $400 and anal sex for $20. If you’re dope-sick, you’ll do anything.”

Dickinson describes the intensely possessive friendships among the women at EMCF and how Valentine’s Day with its explosions of love and sex is the signature holiday in prison. “Love’s an obstacle course that sometimes ends in blood,” she writes. Fights are usually about cheating.

By contrast, Mother’s Day is sad. Children are ashamed of their incarcerated mothers; mothers of inmates refuse to visit their daughters. Those that do are awkward and self-conscious. Dickinson tells the grim stories of so many of the women, like “Anna,” who has sex with her 14-year-old daughter’s boyfriend, for which she’s been sentenced to five years at EMCF.

Do Lucy and Krystal get a second chance? After her release, Lucy reunites with the father of her younger daughter and seems to be making a life, difficult though it often is. The COVID-19 pandemic occurs when Krystal is still facing five more years at EMCF, still determined to get out and start over. “I look forward to a normal bed,” she declares. “Wearing real clothes and shoes….There is so much I want to do.”

In a final reflection, Dickinson dreams of a final redemption for all the girls – for everybody – who has taken a wrong turn, made a disastrous decision. Razor Wire Wilderness is a fascinating look at a world so many of us never encounter.

You can find the book here: https://www.kallistogaiapress.org/product/razor-wire-wilderness/

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

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North of Oxford – Spring 2021 Pandemic Issue #7

Dreamscape.
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Dreamscape by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/
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Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #7 from North of Oxford and Maria Keane for graciously providing her art. In order of appearance we present: Ray Greenblatt, Robbi Nester, Tim Suermondt, Charlie Brice, Wayne-Daniel Berard, Eileen R. Tabios, Stephen Page, Joan Mazza, Faith Paulsen, Marion Deutsche Cohen, Maria Keane, Wesley Scott McMasters, Megha Sood, Judy DeCroce, J. H. Johns, Charles Rammelkamp, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Linda Nemec Foster, Stephen Mead, James Walton, Antoni Ooto, Ethel Gofen, Michael A. Griffith, Ken Soyow and Bartholomew Barker.
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Ray Greenblatt
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2020 Summer
The boardwalk stretches away
straight and empty as if
          a landing strip waiting for the first plane.
Mr. Peanut exits his shop
squinches in his monocle
twirls his cane and peers
          around in disbelief.
And yet the tantalizers
of caramel corn
and pizza slices
          float on the air uselessly.
In the casino
the roulette wheel still spins,
          fanned cards lie on the green felt.
While on the wide deserted beach
the gulls seem to hoot and hoot
          derisively.
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This is the dream of a million minds
thinking now in terms of six paces
thinking that their words are muffled
          with winding cloth.
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Covid Days of the Week
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minute a bug bite
an hour a mud ball
          in the eye,
but a day
. . . wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday . . .
we lug like a tombstone
tall    dense    mossy
gray    grainy    granite
obit etched,
until the end of the week
to add to the foundation
upon which we build
          a wall of months
so high and gray
it obscures the sky
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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. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
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Robbi Nester
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Tu B’Shvat During the Pandemic, March 2021
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I have been watching out this window, waiting for
everything to change, if only for a moment,
a day, a week. Now, outside my window, three slender
trees, young girls swaying on the sunny path, have
begun to bloom, buds bursting in the spring’s first warm
sunlight. The trees take on soft edges, branches raising
garlands to the sky. Soon, next month maybe,
blizzards of white petals will fall to the grass, and trees
unfurl their leaves. Let the bees enter the vaulted
chapel of each blossom, drink from each raised chalice,
bless us with the sweetness of continued life.
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Robbi Nester, like so many, is just beginning to emerge from sheltering in place and finding it more challenging than she imagined. She is author of 4 books of poetry, who used much of this year to write and host readings, as well as editing an anthology, The Plague Papers.
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Tim Suermondt
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  The City is Returning
                      Easter, 2021
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But the city is returning
only because more and more
people are—not in a torrent yet,
some streets still looking a bit
lonely, but the signs are there,
like the bridges across the river
that were shrouded in a Covid fog,
the bridges coming to life
in a flow of sun and gulls and human
traffic. I want to wave to and embrace
everyone, but I keep myself dignified
as best I can—there’s much living
to be done for those who made it,
over sorrow and resilience, to this day.
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Tim Suermondt’s sixth full-length book of poems “A Doughnut And The Great Beauty Of The World” will be forthcoming from MadHat Press in 2021. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall, Poet Lore and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
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Charlie Brice
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Mugsi Doesn’t Wear a Mask
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But I do because of the pandemic.
      Mugsi doesn’t because she’s a dog,
a black standard poodle that
      we don’t cut up to look like the freaks
owned by rich ladies in Manhattan.
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On our walk we come across masked strangers
            who always appear menacing,
but who invariably wave because
            they are my neighbors and
we all like one another.
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They remove their masks and I recognize them—
            a sheen of familiarity that brings relief.
It’s always good to see what’s behind a mask,
            even if the mask is an illusion of civility,
something that covers brutality and barbarism,
            even if what is unmasked is the bare bottom
of our culture, the butt end of racism,
            the guttural groan of fascism.
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Mugsi wiggles her tushie while she walks,
            smells everything available,
is very intense, but always has time
            to wag her tail if we meet
a crossing guard who might
            have a treat for her.
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Mugsi never holds a grudge even
            when it rains or snows too hard
for me to give her a walk.
            She always forgives me.
She loves to sit in my chair
            when I’m not in it,
and she knows exactly where she
            wants a scratch.
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Charlie Brice is the winner of the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest and was awarded third place in the 2021 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. His fourth poetry collection is The Broad Grin of Eternity (WordTech 2021). His poetry has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Pangolin Review, The Sunlight Press, Sparks of Calliope, and elsewhere.
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Wayne-Daniel Berard
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Mars
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The unhypocritical
virus says “aren’t
I lovely? Velourishly
spherical don’t you
adore my red fleurettes?
Don’t I deserve to live
just as much as you?
Person, it’s nothing
personal I can’t just
change lifestyle eat
plants eschew carbon
(not that you would)
you are my incubator
and the purpose of
viral sex is procreation
if the mother dies
you know how that is
impregnating your paradigm
because you can’t give it
up even if it kills you allow
me I learned from the best
worst case we sleep our
smallness in your big sleep
and catch the next meteor
to the next world wasn’t
that your backup plan too?
See you on Mars, mamma.”
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Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, is an educator, poet, writer, shaman, and sage. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His poetry chapbook, The Man Who Remembered Heaven, received the New Eden Award in 2003. His non-fiction When Christians Were Jews (That Is, Now), subtitled Recovering the Lost Jewishness of Christianity with the Gospel of Mark, was published in 2006 by Cowley Publications. A novel The Retreatants, was published in 2012 (Smashwords). A chapbook, Christine Day, Love Poems, was published in 2016 (Kittatuck Press). His novella, Everything We Want, was published in 2018 by Bloodstone Press. A poetry collection, The Realm of Blessing, was published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. Noa(h) and the Bark, was published in 2020 by Alien Buddha Press. Wayne-Daniel lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, the Lovely Christine.
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Eileen R. Tabios
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The Covid-19 Hay(na)ku
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There are other
ways of
dying—
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But when it
occurs, we
wonder
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even when we
sometimes must
forbid
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ourselves from asking
such insensitive
questions
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The Lockdown Tanka
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But the near-strangled
planet shook off its blanket
of smog—the canals
reveal frolicking fish—we
see scales and eyes as sapphires
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Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In Spring 2021, she released her first novel, DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times (AC Books, New York). Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. More information is at Eileen R. Tabios
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Stephen Page
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A Virtual Constitutionalist Convention
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A honey bee hovers around yellow flowers
Growing out of Teresa’s vertical garden.
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In the rectangular cement planter that divides
My office and the living-room patio decks
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Newly planted lavender stands tall
Vibrating gently in the breeze
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Between red daylilies
And clusters of blue columbine.
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Last night I watched a virtual convention
Where people talked disdainfully about Dictator Reginald.
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They spoke about his autocratic, manipulative, bullying tactics,
His lies, his divisiveness, his homophobia, his racism.
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Of course, the DR trilled epitaphs and threats at them
And is still trying to dismantle the United Colonies Postal Service.
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The mandarin-haired DR sits in is square office watching TV
While the plague outside attacks his voters.
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The Orchids
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My wife is preparing French toast,
While I sip coffee in front of the sea
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That for the last five years
Reached farther inland every high tide.
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A sparrow lands on the patio deck,
Hops over closer and tilt his head while studying me.
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On the coffee table behind me,
The orchids which have for four years
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Had only been wire-supported stems
This morning blossomed with purple-streaked petals.
.
Last night, on the international T.V. news channel,
Non-mask wearing Nationalists sat side-by-side in droves
.
To gaze up at the non-mask wearing Dictator Reginald
Screaming “A phantom virus! Climate change is fictional!”
.
“Make our colonies great again!” he bellows,
While wild fires rage on the split screen.
.
Life with and Without Father
.
I love opening an old book
And am struck with sunlight
While standing in an attic
On a wood floor,
The air swirling with flecks of dust.
.
I am driving Father’s white pickup
On a state highway
No traffic
                        The open road
                                                            Trees lining the ditches.
.
I am at a baseball park
                        Lying on the outfield grass
                                                The afternoon sunlight bathing me.
.
My father died
Of a heart attack
While seated in a hospital admissions
Room, while ambulances were lined up
For blocks outside the hospital.
.
Today Tyrant Reginald said, “I have learned
A lot about COVID-19,
The old-school way.”
.
Our Own Demigod
.
And all this time I thought
That Tyrant Reginald was just
A dictator, but it turns out
He is a God, immune to the virus.
.
Yesterday, he sucked all the air around him
And raspingly declared, “You have nothing to fear,
Unless you are already dead! Go back
To work, go back to school, go
Eat inside restaurants, don’t
Wear masks!” His bleary eyes
Stabbing into the camera lens.
.
Then he turned around,
Grabbed a golf bag,
And bordered Sea Soldier 1.
.
Stephen Page is part Apache and part Shawnee. He was born in Detroit. He is the author of four books of poetry, several stories, essays, and literary criticisms. He holds degrees from Columbia University and Bennington 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, a First Place Prize in Poetry from Bravura Magazine, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. https://smpages.wordpress.com/
.
Joan Mazza
.
Ode to Variants
.
You who insinuate yourself into every
living thing, you who invade and commandeer
the cell’s machinery to reproduce yourself
by the billions, with only a simple nucleic acid
in an envelope of lipids and protein,
.
let us praise your innovations. Proficient
at disguise, you are a survivor, evader
of antibodies, antivirals, phagocytes,
and cytokine storms. Ever mutating, you
sidestep human high tech assaults like
.
black belts in karate. Though invisible,
your morphing army marches forward,
adjusts to human precautions of masks
and distance, ever more contagious, more
virulent, resistant. O, mighty miniscule
.
life form, you never surrender. Ignorant
and mindless, without intention or will,
you keep us locked up, ever on standby.
You live by the command, Adapt or die.
.
Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam). Her work has appeared in Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia where she writes a daily poem. www.JoanMazza.com
.
Faith Paulsen
.
Another Poem About Light
.
I
Homesteaders now, before going out,
we strap on our paper masks. Beyond our walls,
just steps away, the wind’s ashes toll like a bell:
The faraway dome is breached.
Rushing home, we slam the door
shed our shoes, their mouths open.
.
We are hungry—
We have nothing to eat or breathe that isn’t
tainted. We begin to think that the bad spots
are cherries. In cupped hands we hold
our losses.
.
II
One house has plenty of eggs. The other has all
the apples they need. You buy half the beans
in the market. We tell each other we can
make something out of this. Just then
a girl in a red satin headband recites a poem about light
and in spite of jinx and dread, we begin.
.
String teardrop bulbs from the streetlights,
dangle from windows our brave-enough flags.
Night comes,
a snow lantern, lit from inside.
.
III
Let us wake up now and eat rice with orange peel.
Let us spread our
bread with honey.
We will not live through. We will live
during.
.
We will sing a capella the chorus of light
not at the end —
but in —
the tunnel.
.
Faith Paulsen’s work has appeared in many venues including One Art, Ghost City Press, Seaborne, and Book of Matches, as well as Thimble Literary Magazine, Evansville Review, Mantis, Psaltery and Lyre, and Terra Preta. Her work also appears in the anthologies such as 50/50: Poems & Translations by Womxn over 50 (QuillsEdge). She has been nominated for a Pushcart. Her chapbook A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press) was published in 2016. A second chapbook, Cyanometer, is expected in 2021. For more information, please check the website at https://www.faithpaulsenpoet.com/
.
Marion Deutsche Cohen
.
The Abandoned Muscles
      The Excel Physical Therapy mailing tells us that achiness is common during
      quarantining.
.
I do my exercises every morning.
Make sure to do a few extra wriggles in extra directions.
I walk 4,000 steps a day, 500 at a time all throughout.
I play my piano, Beethoven’s late sonatas, arms all over the place, am even beginning to
    trill with my left hand.
I move my writing muscle, Zoom muscies, cimbing stairs muscles, dancing muscles.
   sex muscles.
But there must be muscles I’m forgetting.
.
Outdoor muscles, Reading Terminal Market Muscles, grocery cart muscles, thrift-
    shopping muscles.
Muscles that are protesting
giving me gentle reminders
appearing in dreams
trying to move the way they’d move in reality
and therefore moving too much.
Clenching too much.
Cramping too much.
Aching too much.
.
Angry muscles, muscles turned mean.
Obsolete muscles that won’t go away.
.
Physical
.
Am I only imagining that I’m finally feeling my age?
Sinus crap, jaw pain, clenched back, the possible recurrence of trigeminal neuralgia?
And now I can hear my heart beating.
It sounds like water dripping from my childhood drainpipes.
Sometimes it wakes me up.
Or maybe it’s only the nightmares.
Different nightmares from before.
That people refuse to stay six feet away.
They come at me, hands dripping with droplets.
In one dream there was an orgy of them.
Or it’s past the equinox but the days are getting shorter rather than longer.
Every late-afternoon the darkness begins sooner than the late-afternoon before.
And my husband tells me his nightmare.
The door to our house was put on backward
locked from the outside so anybody could get in
and he needed the key to get out.
The locksmith arrived right away but then took away the entire door
said he couldn’t get back ‘til next week.
All week long outside kept seeping in.
Inside was disappearing.
There was no such thing as inside.
.
Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 32 collections of poetry or memoir; her newest poetry collection is “Stress Positions” (Alien Buddha Press), and her latest prose collection is “Not Erma Bombeck: Diary of a Feminist 70s Mother” (Alien Buddha Press). She is also the author of a book of #MeToo poems, two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a trilogy diary of late-pregnancy loss, and “Crossing the Equal Sign”, about the experience of mathematics. She teaches a course she developed, Mathematics in Literature, at Drexel University’s Honors College. Her website is  http://www.marioncohen.net
.
Lantern by Night

Latern by Night  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/.

Maria Keane
.
A Reckoning
.
I beg
to hear the river rushing
an incessant rocking
down a deep corridor
where darkness—
its there
I am tied to it.
.
Not even wings can free me
from the black
for a reason we suppose—
is for the good.
.
Night blooming trees
feed a need to breathe.
Their perfume
saturates the senses
splinters a fracture
to eliminate hysteria.
.
Walking through a web
 I break, unraveling
the first silence
under the sole edict
of sound.
I see it now
and quench some dark history
in the presence of anxiety.
.
I will walk in shadow,
hold on to murmers,
listening for you to arrive,
You reduce the havoc of the trees
repair my will
to believe
all things are only in the moment.
.
Wesley Scott McMasters
.
A Haiku for a Pandemic
.
It is so quiet;
or have I grown tired
of the same voices?
.
Wesley Scott McMasters teaches and lives just within sight of the Great Smoky Mountains with his dog, Poet (who came with the name, he swears).
.
Megha Sood
.
Unclaimed Freedom
.
The cerulean tinge peeking through the barbed wires
a gaping hole, like an open, stretched out calloused palms
seeking empathy in hunger, in pain
color tinged rays making their way
 through the mishmash of thick wires
.
I squint my eyes to even the shades
 Even then I can see the mesh obstructing  my vision
there is too much restriction these days
the invisible virus boisterously ruling our lives
Holding lien to our breaths
making us beg for the next one, a novel privilege
.
I want to rip apart this entrapment
Pry it open the obstructed view of the open skies
Let the fraying ends come loose
Shifting wings like a soaring eagle
in the vast cerulean skies
laced with mellifluous melody,
I want to taste freedom through my squinty eyes
.
I know this calling,
I can feel the warmth in my bones
the sorrow draining from every iota of my existence
I take the clamps, cut the wires
one joint at a time
slowly but surely
.
Making way for my petite body
to pass through the thin gaps
of this corrugated mesh
and claim the freedom
which is truly mine.
.
Megha Sood is a Poet, Editor, and Blogger based in New Jersey, USA. She is a Poetry Editor at MookyChick(UK), Life and Legends (USA), and Literary Partner in the project “Life in Quarantine” with Stanford University, USA. Works widely featured in journals, Poetry Society of New York, Kissing Dynamite, and many more. Author of Chapbook ( “My Body is Not an Apology”, Finishing Line Press, 2021) and Full Length (“My Body Lives Like a Threat”, FlowerSongPress,2021).National Level Winner Spring Mahogany Lit Prize and Three-Time State-level winner of NJ Poetry Contest.Blogs at https://meghasworldsite.wordpress.com/ .Tweets at @meghasood16
.
Judy DeCroce
.
A Repeat of the New
.
“It’s happening again, because it’s new to them.”
—Antoni Ooto
.
A reply
natural in the hum
.
beginning with the concrete
and then a buzz annoying
.
a mystery in context
for such a transparent idea.
.
Strangeness is marching
through a metaphor none saw coming.
.
Is it danger or a riddle?
(hard to know)
.
The moment shakes us in
and we grab its edges.
.
Along the way
ideas stand and rearrange.
.
It’s happening again…
because it’s new to us.
.
Judy DeCroce, is an internationally published poet, flash fiction writer, educator, and avid reader whose recent works have been published by The BeZine, Brown Bag Online, North of Oxford, The Poet Magazine, Amethyst Review, The Wild Word, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, and many journals and anthologies.
.
J. H. Johns 
.
“There was a Time Before the Time” 
.
                                                           There was a time
                                                            before the time
                                                            when things changed;
.
                                                            slowly-
                                                            then instantly-
                                                            we went
                                                            from
                                                            the momentary past
                                                            being an instant away
                                                            to that same past
                                                            which became
                                                            a historical memory;
.
                                                            so quickly;
                                                            so instantly;
.
                                                            what used to be
                                                            our present
                                                            dissolved
                                                            in a viral concoction
.
                                                            that was out to kill.
                                                            There was a time before the time.
.
            J. H. Johns “grew up and came of age” while living in East Tennessee and Middle Georgia.  Specifically, the two places “responsible” for the writer that he has become are Knoxville, Tennessee and Milledgeville, Georgia.
.
Charles Rammelkamp
.
Coronavirus Cooties
.
“Daddy, Ian said I had cooties,”
Stephanie pouted to her father
about a kid in her first-grade class.
.
Amused and gratified to hear
the term still in use,
generations later,
her father asked,
“What are cooties?”
.
“They make you fat,”
Stephanie answered without hesitation,
disgusted by the fact,
body-type issues infecting
even elementary school children.
.
Originally World War One soldier slang
for body lice in the trenches,
cooties had mutated over the years,
just like any other virus.
.
In her dad’s day, girls gave boys cooties,
boys gave them back to girls,
like an unacknowledged venereal disease,
polio in the 1950’s,
AIDS in the 1980’s.
What next, in 2020?
.
The Bald Guy with Long Hair
.
I was in the Documentation Department
at Infodyne, in the late 1980’s,
working on operations manuals.
.
“Go talk to Woody,”
my supervisor advised when I went to him
with a question about COBOL coding.
.
“The guy who works with the mainframes,”
Paul clarified when I confessed
I wasn’t sure who Woody was.
.
“He’s always in here talking to Joyce,”
he went on, as if I knew
the people my colleagues consulted.
.
“The bald guy with long hair,”
Paul finally explained, a poker player
producing the ace up his sleeve.
.
“Oh!” I exclaimed.
Now I knew exactly who he was talking about,
the skinny guy with the shiny pate
and hair down to his shoulders,
a Fu Manchu mustache.
.
Why do I remember this now?
It’s been four months
since my last haircut,
wary about going into a barbershop
in this age of COVID.
.
That could describe me:
the bald guy with long hair
(not to mention eyebrows like caterpillars).
.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Conversations

Conversations by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

.
Thaddeus Rutkowski
.
Cold Day Outside
.
I see my homeless friend
sitting on a step and smoking a cigarette
on an unpleasant day.
The air is filled with water, and it bites.
“Where’s your mask, man?” I ask.
“I’ve got a mask,” he says. “But I’m outside.”
He’s right. “The virus doesn’t travel well through air,” I say.
Then I ask, “How long have you been here?”
And he doesn’t answer.
He looks like I caught him doing something he shouldn’t.
“How many hours?” I ask.
“Five,” he says.
Indeed, he should not been sitting outside,
in the cold and rain, for five hours.
It is not natural.
I give him a bill, and he says, “Bless you.”
But I’m not the one who needs blessing.
.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
.
Linda Nemec Foster
.
Pandemic Litany: The White Chair of Absence
.
If death has a color
it would be white, the color
that reflects and scatters
all visible light:
this chair, this chair
becomes my mantra–
.
white chair of solitude
white chair of isolation
white chair of the absent father
white chair of the abusive mother
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten child
white chair of the silence that comes before
white chair of the cry that comes after
white chair of solitary confinement
white chair of the hole in the gut
white chair of the bone-white fist
white chair of the shroud
white chair of the wedding veil
white chair of the dark secret
white chair of the white lie
white chair of the what now (what now)
white chair that doesn’t leave
white chair that doesn’t arrive
white chair of the recurring dream
white chair of the yes
white chair of the no
white chair of the maybe
white chair of my birth
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my death
.
and the wind in the long grass
above my white bones
above my white bones
is the only voice I have
.
Linda Nemec Foster has published 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 journals: The Georgia Review, Nimrod, New American Writing, North American Review, and Verse Daily. She’s received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and awards from Arts Foundation of Michigan, National Writer’s Voice, Dyer-Ives Foundation, The Poetry Center (NJ), and Academy of American Poets. Her new book, The Blue Divide, is forthcoming from New Issues Press (2021). The first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.
.
Stephen Mead
.
                     Blue Mask Seas
                                                                                   (for my Friend, Tom Stephany, taken by                                                                                                                    Covid on World AIDS Day 2020)
.
They are so easy to picture:
that ridge for the nose a wave’s curve
& the surrounding white outline being froth’s tips
creased pleat upon pleat…
Even the hue is a Madonna’s robe gentleness sky-expansive
though these horizons are grayer, often opaque,
a chloroform of loss stopping things up.
Face without a body, not modeled in the round
is how one dictionary describes that eye-less paper relief
there on the parking lot paving, blowing now across the sidewalk
& into the weeds lining the pharmacy’s brick exterior,
its chained-up trash can overflowing with refuse,
all the six-pack plastic for a tortoise’s intestines.
This stray one didn’t make it to that heap anyhow, whether a careless
sort of pocket-escapee or dropped on purpose as a take that
Mother Nature. Caring is sharing.  May others be touched
as you have touched me.
Come, don’t be cynical about how so many are angry
& searching for a companionable mob to show that their great misery
is oh so inconveniently displeased about shops & salons, (the nerve of them)
wanting their employees protected when Privilege
is now a Liberty Fight to carry Uzis through marches for Peace
to keep mutating and spreading genome A to genome Z.
No one is tear-gassing that, pleading “can’t breathe”
like in the sterilized wards the size of stadiums if put together
globally – see – waving white flags to reflective face shields,
goggles & layers of gowns stretched into latex, the gloved touch
an antiseptic cry of good-bye mirrored in beeping equipment,
the hissing, decompressing & pumping ocean of lives
named or unnamed in today’s pandemic headlines
tomorrow’s may forget once vaccines return normalcy,
that other great body, blood-red, industrious, tidal & churning
or is that just the fear, blue mask asks blue mask,
that the human species has learned nothing
.
James Walton
.
Tsundoku
.
(the condition of acquiring reading
materials but letting them pile up
in one’s home without reading them)
.
They are laid out for this Sunday
stations between lockdown dates
and if an ear is pressed to them
.
words singing out of lethargy
rise out of loose leaf castings
.
from waiting rooms across the city
a fall of sound as another bearer
signals to lounges kitchens hallways
.
that awakening hope of release
in the chugging unopened language
.
where skimmed pages delayed
hanging on by the faded light
of patience stretched amongst the piles
.
convey the railway alphabet
a slower mystery of words
.
stops to start again ticket less
written as we are by each other
for carriage into other lives
.
James Walton is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He is the author of four widely acclaimed collections of poetry. ‘The Leviathan’s Apprentice’, ‘Walking Through Fences’, ‘Unstill Mosaics’, and ‘Abandoned Soliloquies’. His fifth collection will be released shortly.
.
Antoni Ooto
.
We’ll Remember…
.
“Stop the Steal”
.
that day—when the weight of the mob
breached the barricades.
.
When anarchy broke through,
.
scaling the walls,
crushing, storming The Hill,
bludgeoning police,
.
a shot fires into a woman
as the incensed mob screams on
.
scouring the hallways
crazed,
battering doors, disrupting the senate
.
through a “test by combat”
encouraged by our tyrant and his cronies
.
All this—
a performance of “might makes right”
.
as proudly grotesque figures
carry away trophies.
.
This was the worst and the least of our nature—
it was the winter of a nation coming apart
.
before a cell phone lens…
revealing no enemy but ourselves.
.
(January 6, 2021)
.
Antoni Ooto is an internationally published poet and flash fiction writer. Well-known for his abstract expressionist art.His recent poems have been published in Amethyst Review, The BeZine, Green Ink Poetry, The Poet Magazine, North of Oxford, The Wild Word, and many journals and anthologies. He lives and works in upstate New York with his wife poet/storyteller, Judy DeCroce.
.
Ethel Gofen
.
Coronavirus Haiku
.
Coronavirus:
Epic pandemonium,
Pandemic upset.
.
If you’re feeling scared,
Change those letters to sacred;
See it in each soul.
.
Vaccines have arrived.
Herd immunity awaits.
We shall overcome!
.
Ethel Gofen is a poet, author of two books in the series, Cultures of the World, for which she wrote the volumes on France and Argentina in 1990 and 1992.  She and her husband both survived Covid-19 in May 2020.
.
Michael A. Griffith
.
Mercy
.
What kills you fastest,
the fleece in your lungs or thorns
in your throat? Choking and the loss of vision
as constriction becomes everything.
.
Worms and fireflies swim across darkened eyes.
Everything becomes constriction.
Your hands not your own, your spine a jellyfish.
Pinprick of a voice over you: No,
everything is not alright.
.
Heat—wet, oppressive, surrounds you.
Heat—no air worth breathing,
what air is to be had? Gulping
is never enough, gasping is never a help.
Python oozes heavy around your chest.
.
Surrounding you, the urinal smell,
as the tube is taped to your lips
in a machine’s tinnitus whine.
A sting to your upper arm—
and constriction becomes mercy.
.
Michael A. Griffith teaches at Raritan Valley and Mercer County Community Colleges in central NJ. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, Bloodline, Exposed, and New Paths to Eden. Mike hosts a monthly poetry workshop through the Princeton Public Library. Recent work appears in Kelsey Review, 13 Myna Birds, Impspired, Page & Spine, Haiku Journal, and North of Oxford.
.
Ken Soyow
.
Deadly Virus
.
She cried when I left,
each time knowing it could be the last.
.
She used to keep meticulous records,
said the woman who did her taxes.
It’s sad watching her grow old, said a friend,
as my mother limped past with her walker.
.
I was there in March, as the rope tightened —
screening, testing, restrictions,
daily notices of what they’d do
if any cases in the county,
if cases among nursing home staff
or among residents —
.
I cut my visit short, skipping coffee
Friday morning for fear of a lockdown.
When are you coming back? she asked,
left alone with her caregivers
planted in front of the TV.
.
When the pandemic is over.
When they let me in, I said.
.
Pick me up and take me home, she said.
You are home, I said.
The furniture looks familiar, she said,
but this isn’t home.
.
Are you coming to visit today?
No, I’m six hundred miles away,
and they’re not allowing visitors, I said.
Maybe your brother could pick me up.
.
She sat in her wheelchair, often napping.
She dreamt her dead husband was calling
from the doorway.
.
It was a stroke, the doctor said.
.
Ken Soyow is a retired physician, living in Massachusetts.
.
Bartholomew Barker
.
A River Flows Through Us All
.
I was talking with this fish
the other day while I rested
on the banks of the Eno River.
She’d noticed a change.
.
The water was clearer,
the air quieter
even the bugs tasted better.
She felt lucky—
.
Lucky to be alive
in this glorious time.
She had no word for virus,
so I explained that my people
were sick and dying.
.
She sympathized— wished
the best for me and my school
and as she swam away she remarked,
In the weeds or over rocks—
by the shore or in the darkness—
a river flows through us all.
.
My Hermitage
– or How I Started a Pandemic
.
I last touched
a germ-covered body
over a year ago
and I am finally blossoming
into my hermitage
with a beard longer
than Longfellow’s.
.
I was bored with bookstore readings,
stale coffeeshop open mics,
workshops in sterile libraries
and tired of everyday showering,
putting on both socks and shoes,
the horror of going outside
in fetid heat or brittle cold.
.
So, with candles and wine,
I cast a spell of words,curling forth the RNA—
Rhythm, Neologism, Anaphora—
to spread through journals
and blogposts, infecting
my innocent readers.
.
All so I could languish
in these long nights,
sit in darkened rooms alone,
listen to Gnossiennes
and write, write, write
until the antibodies
kick down my door.
.
Bartholomew Barker is one of the organizers of Living Poetry, a
collection of poets and poetry lovers in the Triangle region of North
Carolina. His first poetry collection, Wednesday Night Regular, written
in and about strip clubs, was published in 2013. His second, Milkshakes
and Chilidogs, a chapbook of food inspired poetry was served in 2017.
Born and raised in Ohio, studied in Chicago, he worked in Connecticut
for nearly twenty years before moving to Hillsborough where he makes
money as a computer programmer to fund his poetry habit.
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Hot Sauna

Hot Sauna  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

Summer 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-6/

Spring 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2

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

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3

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

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-4/

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Stay Safe – Vaccinate – Mask Up
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter
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A Little Excitement by Nancy Scott

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By Charles Rammelkamp

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Perhaps because so much of her poetry involves dreams and death and anthropomorphized animals, Nancy Scott’s new collection has the force of fable, subtle moral insight and a long view of existence, lessons for living. “My mind lives in a neighborhood I don’t want to visit,” she writes in “Some Things Never Change,” a poem that, like so many others, takes stock of some of the frightening elements of life and ends with an image of longing and regret.
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The modest claim in the title is reflected over and over again in the 41 poems in A Little Excitement. Take the poem, “Gone Fishing,” which begins in an erotic dream but moves on quickly to frustration and remorse.
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I was deep into this dream
where our tangled bodies
were naked in the wet grass,
stars overhead, suddenly
a neon sign flashed
Vegan Cocktail Guaranteed to…,
no matter, the magic was gone.
I floundered around for
a new dream and found myself
standing in front of your grave,
but you weren’t there.
Gone Fishing was staked
next to your headstone.
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The whimsical term means checking out from reality, and it applies here in more ways than one, from the brief, interrupted, sensual dream – the magic gone as instantaneously as the neon flash – to the stark reality of her lover no longer living.
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As in ancient fables, Death is a real character in several of the poems. There’s “Death Attends a Poetry Reading”; Death is not really a welcome guest!  “Mixed Greens” begins-
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After a spate of relatives dying, funeral wreaths, heels
sticking in mud on the way to the gravesite,
I decided to dine with Death to discuss the situation.
I love what you’re wearing, said Death to jump-start
the conversation.
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It’s an amusing poem; Death seems to have the narrator’s best interests in mind, for the sake of her longevity (though one is reminded of Saul Bellow’s observation in Herzog, “Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for a dropping lightbulb.”).  Similarly, in “The Old Woman at the End of the Block” (Aesop couldn’t have come up with a better, more portentous title!), she brings a measuring cup over to the 103-year-old woman to borrow a year or two.
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If you still need more time,
come see me again,
because after I’m dead,
what good is it then?
I thanked her profusely,
and, with cup filled to the brim,
I took my sweet time home.
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Like Death, animals have human features, too. Poems such as “The Bear,” “The Birds,” “Dumping the Emu,” “The Elephant in England” (fifth cousin of Babar’s wife, Celeste), “Playing Chess with the Muskrat” and “Rabbit Diva” (“She was the warm-up for Wayne Newton / in Vegas. She had a million-dollar fur coat / and pink ears to kill for.”) could be straight out of French fabliaux, as anthropomorphized as any Reynard the Fox. In the title poem, “A Little Excitement,” which begins with a bemused observation about “cloverleafs,” those complex highway constructions, being so unlike the plants we find on lawns, a traffic accident occurs.
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A bewildered coyote with an injured paw
was snarling traffic. Cars honked.
The coyote kept zigzagging across lanes.
Another coyote joined the first.
They walked upright now, slapping
each other’s back before suddenly vanishing.
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Wow, you can see them becoming human before your eyes, a couple of dudes in modern America!
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Just as fables sort of “bend” reality, so do dreams, and so we circle back to regret and its opposite, wish-fulfillment. “Gone Fishing,” which confronts the reality of the death of a lover, ends:
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If I scroll to the part where we
were throbbing with passion,
would you forget all
this craziness and come back?
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“Some Things Never Change” similarly concludes:
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No matter, I can do without until the tracks of my mind
finally unwind: I’ll answer the doorbell
dressed in bridal white,
a gardenia in my ear, and you’ll be waiting to lead me
down the garden path the way you always have.
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And the poem “What Is Meant to Be,” a title that confronts “reality” head on like no other, likewise sums up:
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Heart pounding, I hesitate to approach your car
only to find you’re still a dream.
Instead, I slip my key into the front door lock.
When the wind suddenly kicks up,
I feel someone behind me, whispering
my name. I can’t move. What if…
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These fabulist themes of the potency of dreams, the malleability of death, so potent in Scott’s poetry, ultimately make me think of the famous Taoist tale of Chuang Tzu, dreaming he was a butterfly, and upon awakening, wondering if he wasn’t really a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu. Who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t? The poems in A Little Excitement are sad, clever, and thoughtful all at once, whimsically playing with the gratification of desires, the moral implications profound and moving.
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You can find the book here: A Little Excitement
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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Erotic by Alexis Rhone Fancher

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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The term “erotica” is defined as literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire in the reader or viewer, not exactly “porn,” which is a loaded term, after all, but the word does evoke associations of sensual stimulation, sexual fulfillment, lust, craving. In Erotic, Alexis Rhone Fancher’s collection of new and selected poems, this is only part of the deal. There are explicit scenes of carnality, no punches pulled, to be sure, but the sex comes with so much more at stake. Including work from her previous collections – How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen and other heart stab poems (note to reader: not that Michael Cohen) and Enter Here – Fancher’s poems explore betrayal, abuse, guilt and anger as well as pleasure and excitement. At times, desire competes with revenge. At others, desire goes beyond craving pleasurable sensation to the thrill of risk-taking. You know you’re getting in deep when you read about a man asking a wild teenage girl: ¿Tienes ganas de morir?
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In this story, “His Full Attention,” the narrator tells us, “I am newly seventeen, sick to death of my vanilla life, my womanhood a bravado with no foundation.” She picks a guy up, Eduardo. “A Man I’d never run into after tonight.”  After they have sex at the summit of a mountain, Eduardo becomes ambiguous. Is he going to kill her? He scoffs at the gringa. “You like it rough, senorita? Is this what you expect from a man like me?” Spoiler alert: nobody dies, but that doesn’t make the story any less disturbing. Similarly, in “LARCENY: A Story in Eleven Parts,” two girls pick up a hitchhiker on their way to San Francisco. Nobody has pure designs, though the ending is a bit of a surprise.
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“There’s a reckless streak in me I can’t control,” the narrator of “Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera” confesses, and in “Tonight I Will Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rules of the Road…,” the narrator again confesses, “I admit, I’ve always been driven to sin.” But she goes on to clarify: “All I can say is, I’m a die-hard romantic. Anyone I do, I do for love.”
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The underlying erotic drive that sustains the menace gets its succinct expression in “Tonight We Will Bloom for One Night Only.” Fancher writes:
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We are each bodies, hard-wired for pleasure,
destined for momentary blooming,
the extinction.
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Carpe diem!
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Indeed, so many of these poems have an element of danger that both heightens and tempers the lust and promiscuity. “Sex, Guns and the Canadians Next Door…” underscores the point. “I play with myself while he plays with his gun, just out of frame. I’m hoping he’ll get the message, that I’m horny enough to make it up to him….”  “Divorce & Mass Shootings in the Time of Trump” exposes the darkness at the base:
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            If you buy a gun you must learn to shoot it.
            You almost have to shoot it.
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Family gets in the way of so much of the action, too, so it’s always much more than sex. Now it’s about transgression; now it’s about taboo. There’s the mother, of course. “You hardly know him! My mother’s voice is loud in my ear,” the seventeen-year-old girl in “His Full Attention” observes. In “Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera,” as she’s about to take nude selfies for Wayne, the Volkswagen repair shop owner, she notes: “My mother. I could never tell her, she’d never understand about this.” In “Out of Body,” a poem about betrayal, she writes:
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Her dead mother reaches through the wall,
throws the marriage in her face.
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Mom inevitably shows up in the dozen “sister” poems, whose central drama is sexual sibling rivalry, though there’s also some sisterly support. “Red-Handed in Canoga Park: Root Causes & How It Is All My Fault” starts the sequence, the sisters five and three, shoplifting. The older sister abandons the younger to save her own ass, and it all follows from there. “This day has defined our sisterhood. I was five for Christ’s sake. Forgive me.” “When I turned fourteen, my mother’s sister took me to lunch and said:,” and “when your mother convinces you to take in your homeless younger sister” involve mom, but mainly the sisters compete for lovers. “Boy Toy / Learning to Share,” “Roman Holiday,” “Double Date: The Quarterback, The Fullback, & the High Cost of Dinner,” “Casual Cruelty” and “Playing Dirty” are several that emphasize this: “we’re linked like galaxies, / till he walks away from us both.”
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And then there are the crazy relatives from Chicago! “The First Time I Made Cousin Lisa Come,” “Cousin Elaine from Chicago and I Are Naked,”  and “When I Turned Sixteen, Mother Let Uncle Kenny from Chicago Take Me for a Ride” introduce us to the extended family. About Uncle Kenny:
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When Uncle Kenny died soon after
in flagrante delicto, no one was surprised.
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I heard it was his heart, my mother said,
But I know he didn’t have one.
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Throw in a few ex-husbands (but husbands aren’t really “family,” are they? Blood?) and a few lovers, both male and female, and you have the ingredients for a juicy Raymond Chandler noir.  Erotic includes about twenty of Fancher’s atmospheric black and white photographs, too, that accentuate the noir mood she creates.
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Which brings us back to erotica in general. In the end, are these poems in Erotic truly erotic in the sense of arousing desire? Well, duh.
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You can find the book here: Erotic: New & Selected
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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