charles rammelkamp

North of Oxford – Spring 2021 Pandemic Issue #7

Dreamscape.
.
Dreamscape by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/
.
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.
.
Ray Greenblatt
.
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.
.
This is the dream of a million minds
thinking now in terms of six paces
thinking that their words are muffled
          with winding cloth.
.
Covid Days of the Week
.
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
.
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
.
Tu B’Shvat During the Pandemic, March 2021
.
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.
.
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
.
  The City is Returning
                      Easter, 2021
.
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.
.
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
.
Mugsi Doesn’t Wear a Mask
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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
.
Mars
.
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.”
.
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
.
The Covid-19 Hay(na)ku
.
There are other
ways of
dying—
.
But when it
occurs, we
wonder
.
even when we
sometimes must
forbid
.
ourselves from asking
such insensitive
questions
.
The Lockdown Tanka
.
But the near-strangled
planet shook off its blanket
of smog—the canals
reveal frolicking fish—we
see scales and eyes as sapphires
.
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
.
A Virtual Constitutionalist Convention
.
A honey bee hovers around yellow flowers
Growing out of Teresa’s vertical garden.
.
In the rectangular cement planter that divides
My office and the living-room patio decks
.
Newly planted lavender stands tall
Vibrating gently in the breeze
.
Between red daylilies
And clusters of blue columbine.
.
Last night I watched a virtual convention
Where people talked disdainfully about Dictator Reginald.
.
They spoke about his autocratic, manipulative, bullying tactics,
His lies, his divisiveness, his homophobia, his racism.
.
Of course, the DR trilled epitaphs and threats at them
And is still trying to dismantle the United Colonies Postal Service.
.
The mandarin-haired DR sits in is square office watching TV
While the plague outside attacks his voters.
.
The Orchids
.
My wife is preparing French toast,
While I sip coffee in front of the sea
.
That for the last five years
Reached farther inland every high tide.
.
A sparrow lands on the patio deck,
Hops over closer and tilt his head while studying me.
.
On the coffee table behind me,
The orchids which have for four years
.
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/
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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
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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/
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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
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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
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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.
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Stephen Mead
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                     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.
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Antoni Ooto
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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)
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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.
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Ethel Gofen
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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!
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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.
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Michael A. Griffith
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Mercy
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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.
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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.
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Ken Soyow
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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.
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Bartholomew Barker
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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

scott

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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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-
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
Wow, you can see them becoming human before your eyes, a couple of dudes in modern America!
.
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:
.
If I scroll to the part where we
were throbbing with passion,
would you forget all
this craziness and come back?
.
“Some Things Never Change” similarly concludes:
.
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:
.
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…
.
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.
.
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

erotic
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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:
.
We are each bodies, hard-wired for pleasure,
destined for momentary blooming,
the extinction.
.
Carpe diem!
.
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:
.
            If you buy a gun you must learn to shoot it.
            You almost have to shoot it.
.
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:
.
Her dead mother reaches through the wall,
throws the marriage in her face.
.
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:
.
When Uncle Kenny died soon after
in flagrante delicto, no one was surprised.
.
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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Come-Hither Honeycomb by Erin Belieu

come
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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“If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time // to die,” Erin Belieu writes in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease,” one of the fifteen poems that make up her remarkable new collection, Come-Hither Honeycomb. It’s this ironic tone of dubious hope that characterizes much of the book; or, as the title of one the poems about the fragility of life puts it: “Dum Spiro Spero” (“While I breathe, I hope”).”
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As in her previous collection, Slant Six, Belieu kicks her observations of the everyday up to a higher metaphysical gear, muses about the deeper truths of existence.  The poem, “The Man Who Fills in Space,” about a clueless collector of things, is reminiscent of the Mister Jones character in Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” or John Lennon’s “Nowhere Man.” The poem begins with an epigraph from Guy de Maupassant. “…and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains?” She writes:
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But when he pokes the canker
of that great, blank whatever
he never hopes to find, he swears
.
he hears it laugh, the terrible what
of what is not. It yawns
right back at him.
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There’s a kind of existential dread at work here. What are we doing here? Why are we alive? (You know something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?) The man who fills in space contemplates the sadness of the moon. It’s his loneliness, too. This theme of ungraspable purpose recurs again and again; in the poem, “In Which a Therapist Asks for the Gargoyle Who Sits on My Chest.” With subtle humor, Belieu writes, “It’s exhausting,
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how the whole’s designed to scrub
our greasy pan of sorrows to
a gleam in which we’ve actually paid
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to see ourselves. Caveat emptor?
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Buyer beware, indeed! Later in the poem she observes:
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Maybe it’s enough to recognize
ourselves unsolvable, half trash,
half glitter bomb, dropped along
the trench by dying stars.
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The French say, who can say?
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The epigraph to Come Hither Honeycomb, a quotation from Paraic O’Donnell’s The Maker of Swans, expresses this same sense of the elusiveness of ultimate certainty. The villanelle that opens the collection, “Instructions for the Hostage,” likewise suggests this uncertainty at the base of our lives:
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You must accept the door is never shut.
You’re always free to leave at any time,
though the hostage will remain, no matter what.
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Escape is always an option, but – there really is no escape. We’re all hostage to time. Belieu makes this very personal, contemplating her age, as if calculating how much time she has left. Dedicated to her son (“Always”), she seems to gauge her own time in relation to him; as he grows up, she grows older; there’s an almost palpable awareness of the passage of time, as in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near.”  The poem, “As for the Heart,” begins:
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I am come to the age
of pondering my lastness:
buying what seems likely
my final winter coat at Macy’s,
or when a glossy magazine
(so very blithely)
asks me to renew…
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This awareness of the fleeting, finite nature of time is especially at work in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease.” There’s nothing like being under scrutiny in a doctor’s office to reduce you to your mortality, after all, just another piece of meat. The poem begins:
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Science in its tedium reveals that every spirit
we spirit ganks a solid half hour from
our life spans. So says my doctor, a watery,
Jesus-eyed man, and hard to suffer
with his well-intended scrips for yoga
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Later in “As for the Heart,” contemplating maturity, she writes,
.
Just yesterday,
while standing in the kitchen,
my son complained nonstop
about his AP psych class
while wolfing warmed up
bucatini from a crazed,
pink china bowl.
.
Shiny, kvetching creature.
Even if I could tell him
what he doesn’t want to know,
I wouldn’t.
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It’s tempting to think Belieu has her son in mind when she writes the poem, “When I Am a Teenage Boy,” with its lovely opening lines:
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I am like my parents’ house, in a state
of constant remodel we can ill afford,
the noise behind a tarp producing little more
.
than dust.
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Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken / of the soul… she quotes Longfellow to her doctor in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease.”
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What are we, ever? Always becoming. Until we aren’t. In “Loser Bait,” from which the collection’s title comes, Belieu writes
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Some of us
are chum.
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Some of us
are the come-hither
honeycomb
.
gleamy in the middle
of the trap’s busted smile.
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Maybe the best we can hope for, indeed, is “If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time // to die.”  Carpe diem, dude!
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Erin Belieu’s poetry is vivid and original. In the final poem, “She Returns to the Water,” a naked woman, now past her youth, swims naked in a pool at three a.m. Belieu describes her dive like this:
.
the arc of her
trajectory pretty
as any arrow’s
.
in Saint Sebastian’s
side.
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What a simile! Gobsmacking. Erin Belieu’s poetry is a delight to read, for its wit as well as its wisdom.
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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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Red Rover Red Rover by Bob Hicok

red rover
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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One thing you notice about Bob Hicok’s poems is that so many of them have no stanza breaks, and when they do it seems a little arbitrary anyway since every one of them is a stream of consciousness, developing its own logic, as if the poet is thinking out loud.  Indeed, in an interview several years ago with Split Lip magazine, Hicok said, “I don’t really know where my poems are going; I almost never know where they’re going.” He goes on, “I wish in a lot of ways that I could plan poems out. A lot of people talk about walking around and they’re writing as they’re walking around, or they’ll build a sense of a poem over a period of time. And for me it’s so much about just sitting down and seeing what shows up. The first thing that shows up that has energy and catches my attention—I just start following where it’s going.”
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Take a poem in his new collection called “A lament, pep talk and challenge walk into a bar.” It begins
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Banjo. Zither. Carnegie Hall. The Four Tops and Seasons.
Greek chorus, Music of the spheres and triangles
and dodecahedrons.  The Kinks. The Mozarts
and Fats Waller and Puentes.  The Butthole Surfers.
My office is bigger and more flexible than my heart
and this is a weird way to critique my heart….
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And he’s off, musing about what it means to be a good person, helping others (“and do unto others goes from words / dropped in the suggestion box to law.”), the futility of good intentions, of wanting selflessly to bring clans and tribes together. And then, “It’s no accident I began”.
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this meandering with music: no two species
could come from more distant planets
than a Steinway and a sax,
yet listen to how well they get along
when they put their mouths where their fears are,
when they lend us our better-tuned selves.
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No accident that Hicok describes his verse as “meandering,” and yet it coheres in a heartfelt message. “Don’t just have but be a soul,” the poem concludes.In that same interview with Split Lip, Hicok laments, “One of the things that I am uncomfortable with as of late is that some people are looking at me as a funny poet, and I think that can pretty much be the death of a career.” Indeed, the title of the poem just quoted takes the form of the classic joke about three different characters walking into a bar, but there’s obviously a serious moral consideration at its heart.
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Make no mistake, Hicok can make you smile with his versatility with words. He is funny! In “Pedagogy,” a 55-line poem with no stanza breaks, he and another person are passing notes, “the most private genre after the shopping list.” You have to smile at such an observation. And later in the poem, “I try to make the word / ‘theater’ out of ‘hate her’ but need another t / and one less h.” But Hicok goes beyond “funny.” “If you make a joke,” he notes in the interview, “it usually stops the conversation, and that’s not my intention at all.”
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Indeed, so many of Hicok’s poems in Red Rover Red Rover concern themselves with how we humans are wrecking the planet.  It doesn’t get much more urgent than that. Poems like “On the Rocks” and “Weather Report” and “On the Other Hand,” which takes Greta Thunberg as its subject, directly confront climate change and human responsibility.
“Having our cake and being eaten by it too” addresses the thoughtless human greed at the core of this, as does “After you, or what would Whitman, Emerson, or Merwin do?” (The title is a jokey play on “What would Jesus do?”). This poem begins, “It’s not too late / to schlep water in a bucket to your sink.” It goes on with example after example of how the human urge for convenience has wrecked the ecosphere. It concludes,
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On the count of three, never use
electricity again. One, two, two
two, two, two
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This, too is funny, right? But of course it’s serious. And heartrending. Oy. How are we going to get out of this mess? “Looking in the mirror” has the same message. It’s a poem about the Amazon burning because Brazil is clearing the forest for cattle, because cattle provide beef for hamburgers, and so many of us love our Big Macs and Whoppers. If each one of us just stopped ordering cheeseburgers,
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the closer we are to being able to breathe
tomorrow and more importantly the day after
the day after the day after
the ten thousand years after that.
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While not prescribing a solution to the world’s problems, Red Rover Red Rover includes several poems about the Tao, the Way, living in harmony with the natural world. Indeed, the book’s title, itself a kind of joke as it plays on the simple childhood playground game, comes from the ten-page poem in the center of the volume, “My Tao”: “red rover, red rover, send good or evil over.”
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But Bob Hicok is just thinking out loud, not really suggesting or commending any social policy changes, not really. These poems are entertaining, first of all – yes, often “funny” – but they are challenging and thought-provoking at the same time.
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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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All Our Fare-Thee-Wells by Robert Cooperman

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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The title of Robert Cooperman’s latest chapbook of poems refers to the fiftieth anniversary concert series the surviving members of The Grateful Dead performed in 2015 – a couple of decades after Jerry Garcia had already died. Like the concert, this chapbook is at once a sweet goodbye and an almost palpable blast of memory. Of course, it’s saturated with nostalgia. Cooperman’s previous chapbook, Saved by the Dead (Liquid Light Press) likewise revives the memory of the famous jam band and similarly addresses the fleeting nature of youth.
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The collection begins with the poem, “Ask Amy,” set in contemporary times, the narrator and his wife, Beth, who is an integral part of the whole sequence of poems, reading an advice column question over breakfast, from a woman whose feelings have been hurt by her brother, who plans to attend a rock concert rather than celebrate his sister’s 65th birthday. The advice makes Bob and Beth smile, though not without a passing sorrow over what cannot be recovered.
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“Unless,” Amy replies,
“that gig involves
Jerry Garcia returning
from the Other Side,
your brother has no excuse.”
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The next set of poems takes us back in time, first to Cooperman’s youth in New York and the Dead’s legendary performance at Fillmore East, “all of us roaring for the music never to end, // as all things must.” A suite of four poems set thirty years ago in Baltimore and D.C.’s RFK stadium follows, bringing us to Jerry Garcia’s last days and, almost as a consequence, the end of Cooperman’s youth. “Seeing the Grateful Dead, RFK Stadium, July, 1993,” ends:
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“Jesus, he’s a wreck,” I said,
frightened for a favorite uncle,
though his fingers flew
along the frets, and tunes filled the air,
two years before he went still
and silent forever.
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We’re next taken to that Fare-Thee-Well concert in 2015. At this point, Bob and Beth concede their age has become an issue. “Watching the Last Show Ever of the Grateful Dead: Pay Per View TV” starts:
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Who could afford tickets and a hotel room?
Not us.  So Beth and I settle for live TV
and not a joint or pipe: Beth frowning
on my imbibing, and nowadays, my lungs
rasp like stripped-down gears, after one toke.
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The concert’s a treat, though if we’re honest,
we admit something’s missing: Garcia,
gone twenty years, but still indispensable…
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Just as in Saved by the Dead, Cooperman encounters kids who weren’t even alive when the Grateful Dead were prominent and reacts to their innocent ignorance, reflecting on his own geezerhood. In “The Grateful Dead Dancing Terrapins Baseball Cap,” he encounters such a person in a health care facility, home away from home for the elderly. The poem starts:
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The receptionist at this urgent care center
compliments my baseball cap when I sign in.
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“Thanks,” I smile, despite the urinary infection:
my urethra barbwire every time I piss.
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“We’re everywhere!” I chime the code
to a fellow Deadhead, but she throws a look
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blank as the black boards I’d dusted
and washed, at after-school detention.
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“Jerry Garcia?” the name, in my nostalgic universe,
should be clarification enough.
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“Who?” her young brow’s furrowed, as if considering
the most confusing math problem ever devised.
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 In “A Question in the Buchtel Boulevard Post Office: Denver, Colorado,” it’s a postal clerk who makes him feel his age.
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“Winter Cold,” “The MRI Machine” and “At the University of Colorado Hospital Spine Center” are other poems involving the frailty of age. This final one is about the results of the tests, the X-rays and MRI, the next steps, the next treatment decisions. It ends:
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Still, it’s nice to dream of walking,
even slowly, around the park’s lakes,
and not teeter and tap with my cane,
while listening to the ghosts
of Jerry Garcia and Pigpen
harmonize on an old blues number,
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when my generation believed
its birthright was to stay forever young.
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Ah, youth! But there are also moments of redemption, as when, in “We’re Everywhere,” he encounters a couple of fellow Deadheads at a fundraiser at the university where Beth teaches. In “License Plate,” he notices a car’s vanity plate as he drives through Denver running errands. “GR8ful-1” it proclaims. Bob wants to salute his fellow Deadhead, but the car turns left, and he’s not so sure the driver would understand anyway.
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Better just to savor his plate, of tasting
the delights of once being young,
when we thought music could save the world,
or at least make it more bearable.
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In the final poem, Bob and Beth consider attending a concert in nearby Boulder featuring three surviving members of The Grateful Dead, but they decide against it.
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“Now if Jerry’s ghost were to show up,”
I joke to Beth, “or if the man himself
were still alive, that’d change everything,”
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like all those hopeful sightings of Elvis.
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All Our Fare-Thee-Wells is full of wit and an honest appreciation for a musical act that means so much to Cooperman, and with its insights into aging and the exuberance of youth, it’s a collection anybody can enjoy.
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You can find the book here: ALL OUR FARE-THEE-WELLS by Robert Cooperman – Finishing Line Press

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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.

What Are the Chances? By Robert Scotellaro

By Charles Rammelkamp

In the story “Plink!” in Robert Scotellaro’s new collection a man stands at a window, mesmerized, watching diamond-like hailstones falling out of the sky, pelting the asphalt, the sidewalks, the sides of cars. “Then it stops. The way magic often does.” That’s an apt description of the sixty-eight marvelous little stories, ranging from a couple of paragraphs to no more than three pages, that make up What Are the Chances? First of all, they do feel magical, with so many strange characters, often costumed, popping off the page, snaring your attention – like hailstones – and then the payoff, the flash that makes “flash fiction” flash fiction, the sudden illumination of character or scene. And then the story stops.

Stories like “Mr. Nasty,” “The Cleaning” Girl,” “Bad-Boy Wannabe and the Cephalopod Empire,” and the single-paragraph, “Death’s Late-Night Walks,” among others, feature characters in dress-up; the German word maskenfreiheit – signaling the freedom conferred by masks – come to life. In “Mr. Nasty” a man flirts with a hired birthday party performer, who is dressing up as Snow White, the entertainment at a party for his daughter, while aware of the watchful eyes of his mother-in-law and wife. Nothing comes of it, of course, but the tension is like lightning. Similarly, the Bad-Boy Wannabe watches his devil’s mask blow away from his head in a breeze, exposing him, while he tries to impress a girl in a squid mask, the two sharing a joint. But, unmasked now as he is, she is out of his league. The cleaning girl dresses up in her employer’s jewels and furs while the homeowners are away, fantasizing the luxury, only to get a bad scare when the doorbell rings, sure she’s busted.  However briefly, we feel all of these characters’ illicit feelings, the lust, the covetousness, the fear.

Although some of the stories are truly grim, ominous, like the title story in which the protagonists come home to find their home robbed and a lethal butcher knife displayed on the bed, or “The Pencil,” in which a schoolkid hides in a bathroom stall while a shooter guns down his classmates, most are funny. They feature likable schmoes to whom we can all relate, walk in their shoes – in their masks – indeed. In “Those Eyes in the Rearview,” a man gets into the Uber he’s just called. “I saw his eyes in the rearview. They were red and crazed.” The driver tells his passenger that he’s just killed a man he caught sleeping with his wife, and the passenger is his hostage. Like the passenger, we feel our blood pressure rise, our pulses race; only, two-thirds of the way through the story, the driver “pulls off his mask,” reveals he is an aspiring actor and was just having the passenger on. “That was some top-notch acting, right?” he boasts. “Come on, give me that.”

In the story, “Flatware,” we encounter a similarly bizarre situation in which a man is sure his home is being broken into and stabs a fork into the neck of the “intruder,” only to learn that the intruder is the brother of his neighbor, come to retrieve a ball his nephew has knocked over the fence into the protagonist’s yard. A comic rush to the emergency room follows, the protagonist taking full responsibility. When they return, the protagonist apologizes again (and again), shakes the man’s hand, returns to the kitchen where he’d been eating his Chinese takeout (hence, the fork conveniently in his hand when the “burglar” came in), “wondering if I should call Tina at her sister’s, where she always went after one of our big blow-outs.” In a flash, then, we see the backstory, why this guy was on edge in the first place.

In the story, “Wise Sunglasses,” the lonely unnamed female protagonist collects sunglasses – her mask. In an aside, Scotellaro writes, “The heart-shaped pair were Pete’s favorites. ‘My Lolita,’ he’d say, though she was far from it, and he’d find the real thing soon enough.” That’s about all we hear about “Pete,” but in a flash we intuit the protagonist’s loneliness, the betrayal at its base. She’s wearing her owl sunglasses when the story concludes, “not feeling the least bit wise.”

In “A Disadvantage of Momentum” we encounter Phil and Nan, post-surgery in a hospital room where Phil lies, recuperating. At their weekly session with a couples counselor, Heidi, they’d been told to “spice it up” after they’d become empty-nesters, the last kid off to college. Nan goes along with one of Phil’s adolescent fantasies, while they are driving home from dinner, her face in his lap, but a sudden fender bender at a stoplight results in a bite too deep. Nan asks Phil, “Anything left?” “Enough,” he replies. The story ends:

They heard some laughter and watched as shadows gathered behind the curtain, grew. Then a hand reached in and swung it open.    

Of course, some stories are better than others. I’m not going to rank all sixty-eight, but every one of them does pack that flash punch. Robert Scotellaro is a master of this form. It’s magic!

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/What-Are-Chances-Robert-Scotellaro/dp/1950413268

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.

Things That Go Trump in the Night by Paul Fericano

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Very soon, in the next few weeks, those Americans who have not mailed in their ballots will go to the polls and elect a new president.  For many, the last four years have been one catastrophe after another. Late-night comics have tried to ease the horror with jokes, but ultimately the only way to ease the angst will be to elect a new president, and who knows how quietly Trump and his minions will go?
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That said, Paul Fericano’s parodies are not only funny, but they are intelligent, with references ranging from Shakespeare and Mark Twain to Ethel Merman and Marlon Brando, from Humphrey Bogart and Speedy Gonzales to Ezra Pound and Sir Walter Scott.  Some allusions may be more obscure than others (Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is certainly not obscure, but I can’t say I ever really read it), but Fericano touches many a cultural landmark in these short, humorous passages, from William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” to Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady Is a Tramp.”
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The Invocation, and hence the title of the book, refer to the traditional Scottish prayer:
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From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
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In Fericano’s verse, it’s the press secretaries from which we ask to be delivered. The book was completed before the Fox News refugee, Kayleigh McEnany, took over the position of chief propagandist, defending Trump’s lies and failures, spinning his cruel policies into something compassionate – or at least Obama’s fault! –  and attempting to turn the disastrous pandemic response into something heroic and decisive, all with a straight face, despite the staggering numbers of dead, the chaotic “policies,” the mixed messages about masks and social-distancing, the breathtaking failure to come straight with the American public about the danger of the virus. Yes, Lord, please, deliver us!
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            Good Lord deliver us
            from moochies and huckabees
            and long-leggedy spicers
            and things that go trump in the night.
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The collection is divided into eight sections, all of which begin, “Trump Pardons…”: Elvis (Make America Gyrate Again), Harvey Weinstein (Make America Date Again), Obama (Make America Hate Again), Speedy Gonzales (Make America Immigrate Again), Pence (Make America Mutate Again), Reagan (Make America Hallucinate Again), Charles Manson (Make America Tate Again), His Colon (Make An Enema Wait Again).  The wit is dagger-sharp, the satire devastating.  The final section, Trump Pardons His Colon, begins with three variations on a theme: “Trump of Allegiance” (“I trump allegiance to the swag / of the Norman Bates of America”); “Dummkopf von Allegiancestein” German Translation (“Ich trumpf allegiancestein to zee trumpf / von zee Vereinigten Trumpfen von Amerika”); “Durak Iz Allegianceki Russian Translation (“Ya prevzoshel allegianceki to trumpfnoy / iz Unitenyye Trumpfi Ameriki.”). Russians, Nazis: why do these references seem so appropriate? So spot on?
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The Huckleberry Finn parody, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Trump,” is similarly on target in lampooning the opening paragraph of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with reference to Hitler:
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You don’t know about me unless you’ve read a book by the name of Mein Kampf, but that doesn’t matter. That book was written by Mr. Adolf Hitler, and he told the truth, mainly. There were some things which he lied about, but mainly he told the truth. Let me tell you something: I have never known anybody who hasn’t lied at one time or another, unless it’s Joe Goebbels – Adolf’s Joe Goebbels, that is – and Himmler, and the Angel of Death are all written about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some lies, as I said before.
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The longest poem, “The Secret Plot to Kill Trump,” the penultimate poem in the collection, is inspired by a mash-up of speeches Trump has given, at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, at a factory in Ohio, and at a CPAC convention in Maryland, in 2017 and 2018. It begins with an epigraph from a speech Robert Kennedy made about an erosion of a sense of national decency, and it ends with the last public words RFK ever spoke, just before he was assassinated in Los Angeles (“and now it’s on to Chicago / and let’s win there”).
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Subtitled Poems of Treason and Resistance, this book is guaranteed to get under the very thin skin of  a certain “orange peel / barrel” (see “William Carlos Williams Trumps Himself” for this reference). Things That Go Trump in the Night will either be an ominous warning about the next four years, or it will give a good, hearty laugh, if mixed with the bitterness of what this president has done to our country.   
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You can find the book here: Things That Go Trump in the Night | yunews

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was  published by Future Cycle Press.  Most recently Catastroika  was released by Apprentice House in 2020, Ugler Lee released in 2020 by Kelsay Books.

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My Mother’s Transvestites by Tiff Holland

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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As in her 2011 flash fiction collection, Betty Superman, winner of the Rose Metal Press’ Short Short Chapbook contest, the star of this poetry collection is the narrator’s mother. But she’s not the only star. There’s so much else going on in these poems, from reminiscences of a Midwest childhood to fluctuating gender identity to sex, death, marriage and parenthood.
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But the title poem and the prose poem that begins the book, “Hot Work,” both focus on the men who come into her mother’s beauty salon, men who “would like nothing more than to mingle under dryers, nibble donuts, discuss The Enquirer with the other ladies.”  The poem concludes:
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My mother applies the transvestites’ make-up. I feign sleep in a shampoo
chair, sneak peaks at finished products: wingless angels with five o’clock
shadow, tottering in circles between the dryers and the styling chairs,
trying in that small space to learn to fly.
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How like her mother’s female clients, whom Holland shows us in “The Beauty Shop Ladies”:
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They really want to be movie stars
Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Vivien
Leigh. They’ve seen “The Women”,
and they like to lounge on the settee-
shaped shampoo chairs while awaiting
their turn as the focus of my mother’s
attention.

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They all smoke in the way
of the rich and famous, holding
Salems and Winstons with just
the tips of their middle and fore-
fingers, close to the filters, calling
attention to their manicures,
the hue of their lips.
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The narrator’s mother skillfully juggles the fragile egos, like a magician. Other poems involving the mother include “Vanilla” (“Still in rollers, cigarette clenched between dentures, / Mom sat at the kitchen table….”), “Resemblance,” which is also about the narrator’s daughter, “Kenny,” “Orange, Brown, Yellow, Red,” “Thanksgiving,” and “The Vagina Tax,” in which she alludes to her mother’s death. This poem also concerns the narrator’s daughter.
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I admit, when the amniocentesis came back
Girl, I suggested murder-suicide: you, me
the Girl in my belly. I refused to birth into
this world another being to make only
seventy-six cents for every dollar
a boy would make.
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The mother appears in others, but this is a nice place to segue to two of Holland’s other potent themes, gender identity and sex. Early on, we get a picture of the narrator as a tomboy. In “Vanilla,” the mother dresses her son up like a girl, and of course the kids on the bus picked on him. The narrator pounded them. In “Flared,” we also read about clothing, and the narrator’s distaste for girlie clothes. “Foundations” which also deals with feminine garb, begins:
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About the time I was trying to decide
whether to have a sex change operation
but before I threw all my dresses and skirts,
my slips and nylons in the trash,
my boyfriend invited me to a fancy nightclub
for New Year’s Eve.
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This poem is neatly balanced by the final poem in the collection, “The Last Dress,” in which the narrator reflects on the last female garment she kept, but only for “wedding or funeral, over / seventy degrees, my / attendance obligatory.” As in the poems already cited and others like “Once I Wore a Red Bikini” and “”Don’t Ask,” the narrator’s ambivalence about gender roles as manifested in clothing and appearances is likewise upfront and center.  The poem – the book! – ends with positive self-affirmation:
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Really, I abandoned it because
I had no where to go in which
I had any reason to be someone
other than myself.
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Speaking of funerals, they are the subject of more than a few of these poems. “Carry On” is about the narrator’s father’s funeral. “Grandma Gone Out of Breeden West Virginia” is about burying her grandmother on the day she turned eight. “Eulogy for O’Toole” is about her mother’s second husband’s funeral. “Elegy for Uncle Bill” is a sweet tribute to a loved uncle, who in some sense still lives on. “In some theories of time, / everything is happening at once.”
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Indeed, the poems in which the narrator re-creates her childhood in Ohio are like this. “Purple Town,” “A Piece of August,” “Yanked” and “Burning Ghost Money in Akron, Ohio” bring the Midwest to life. The narrator married at seventeen to a boy going into the army, and several of the poems address this aspect of her coming of age, such as “Watch, Necklace, Luggage,” which is about the wedding, the reception in the Eagles hall where her Uncle Buddy’s band supplied the entertainment.  “Between home and homesick is the highway, / the Day’s Inn at Cave City, Kentucky,” she begins the poem, “No Need for Room Service.” It’s a poem about escaping from home. The occasion for this poem is not clear, though I like to think of it as the narrator and her husband after the wedding.  “Just past claustrophobia, we slip / from Central to Eastern Standard Time….” A vivid character named Tracy, a sort of “town slut” figure, appears in three of the Midwest poems, including the title poem.
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There is so much to admire about My Mother’s Transvestites, not the least of which is the humor that makes you smile on almost every page, the sympathetic characters, not the least of whom are the narrator and her mother, and the humanity that lies underneath it all.
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You can find the book here: My Mother’s Transvestites
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was  published by Future Cycle Press.  Most recently Catastroika  was released by Apprentice House in 2020.
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