north of oxford

Sisson’s by Eric D. Goodman

At Sisson’s,
the bar of dark, polished wood
invites elbows and forearms
to rest.
The large wall of mirror,
obstructed by half-emptied bottles—
Jack, Jim, Jose, Hennessey—
allows you to see behind you
as people enter and assess,
take a seat and take a drink.
The booth of youngsters being carded and
asked politely to leave,
lowering their heads in shame as they
scuffle out to look for a more easygoing
watering hole.
The table of workers from Cross Street Market
discussing plans for the weekend ahead,
glad to be through another week of slinging
shrimp cocktails and
icing wide-eyed fish and
frosting bakery cupcakes,
selling buckets of flowers and
bushels of crabs and
sandwiches stacked high with pastrami.
The tall table of ladies in tight dresses and skirts
with metallic green and purple and orange shadowed eyes that
roam the room as though in search of
something looking back at them.
To your left, a street musician and a performance artist are
exchanging theories about the redemption of
the human race, and making plans
for how we will come together to
save the world from ourselves.
To your right, a young man is talking about
the five novels he has written,
not one of them published,
as though in search of a piano man to
sing him a song.
An Indian physician consoles him,
explains that publication is not what matters,
that leaving a mark on the universe is what counts,
and the writing of a book, singing of a song, or touching of a life
is the true measure.
“But Doc,” the street musician calls over,
overhearing him in the pause of their own
save-the-world discussion,
“Does a tree make a sound if no one is around to hear it?”
“The universe hears it,” the physician replies, and
sips from his scotch on the rocks.
You look from the musician on your left to
the doctor on your right and
offer a smile,
raise your glass,
and take a drink.
The smile is contagious. Not overdone,
not a smug smirk, or dopy grin, just
an upspoken, upward-turned solidarity.
For a moment, there is a shared earnestness hovering
in the shadowy bar where
smoke once lingered, a
smile on each face—
doctor, writer, musician, artist, you.
And me?
I’m sitting at the corner of the bar,
under the video game poker screen that no one is playing,
watching you without aid of a mirror,
content to be in this small and insignificant
pocket of the cosmos that
the Universe may possibly have heard,
but more likely has forgotten long ago.
Eric D. Goodman lives and writes in Maryland, where he’s remained sheltered in place for most of the pandemic, spending a portion of his hermithood writing poetry. He’s author of The Color of Jadeite (Loyola University’s Apprentice House Press, 2020), Setting the Family Free (Apprentice House, 2019), Womb: a novel in utero (Merge Publishing, 2017) Tracks: A Novel in Stories (Atticus Books, 2011), Flightless Goose, (Writers Lair Press, 2008), and the forthcoming Wrecks and Ruins (Apprentice House, 2022). More than a hundred short stories, articles, and travel stories have been published in literary journals and magazines. Learn more at

A Hard Spring by Antoni Ooto

A Hard Spring
The trees held their place year after year;
until the ice storm, with its bitter night,
the sound of cracking that went on for hours—
And, they began giving themselves up—one by one.
Morning brought a quiet sun
shining on places where light never fell
through the window we stared,
like refugees of an undeclared war;
recalling our trust in nature—
the leafy canopy of trees.
Antoni Ooto has had poems published in Amethyst Review, The BeZine, North of Oxford, The Poet Magazine, The Front Porch Review, and many other journals and anthologies.

Fetus in Fetu by P.C. Scheponik

Fetus in Fetu
They began, two delicate orbs adrift
in an amniotic galaxy,
twin stars who silently collide,
one engorging the other,
the way Kronos swallowed his young,
the smaller brother, in the belly of the larger,
A Jonah child whose song will never be sung,
the whale’s mouth, permanently sealed.
He will grow more slowly, sinking inward,
half of him never revealed,
as if God stopped knitting.
While the larger son rises, floating toward the light,
a slice of horizon at the end of darkness.
The smaller one, tucked tight inside of him,
glowing like an unfinished dream,
legs and arms in motion that seem to move
of their own will, but no upper body.
Still this being thrives without hearing, without seeing,
strives to live his hidden half life deep inside darkness,
the pulsations of his umbilical,
 breathing the sweet, sanguine air,
 buried in his brother, become his wife, become his mother.
He lies there, the mystery of unbeing.
pcscheponikphoto (2)
P.C. Scheponik is lifelong poet who lives by the sea with his wife, Shirley, and their shizon, Bella. His writing celebrates nature, the human condition, and the metaphysical mysteries of life. He has published six collections of poems: His work has appeared in numerous literary journals.

The Ballad of Morbid and Putrid By Sawyer Lovett

IMG_5016 (2)
The Ballad of Morbid and Putrid
How many times
Did she tell me I’d be
p e r f e c t
if I were a boy,
further pulverizing my
tender lesbian heart.
& here I am
all these years later;
relocations & relationships,
addiction & recovery,
all these miles & memories later.
They say you never forget
your first
& I am certain, having outlived mine
remembering is memorial.
I will always wonder
what she would think
of the boy I became;
of the man in progress
of the person she knew
but never really met.
Would I be perfect now
in this same skin, differently shaped?
I will always miss her
will always wonder
if knowing myself earlier
could have saved us both.
Sawyer Lovett is a writer, bookseller, and professor. He is a pretty good person, but he is always trying to be better.

carry by S.M. Moore

I think I hear the music you’ve been telling me about.
I’ve been looking for it for a long while,
but it seems like every time I hear it,
it moves further into the distance.
Every time I get close,
I can hear it moving away
faster than I can move.
But every once in a while,
I hear the notes ring out from between brick buildings.
I don’t know the city well like you do.
It is easy for me to get lost in these streets,
and even easier for you to hide.
I hear your music though.
And sometimes I wonder;
do you want me to find you?
Loud are the horns,
but the streets are convoluted.
Maybe I could find you if you came towards me,
but you go the other way.
You go the other way when you hear me singing.
S.M. Moore has published a section of a novel he co-authored in a small newspaper based out of Bates College. Moore is also a regular writer for the Portland, Maine newspaper, Up Portland. His poetry is published or forthcoming in Down in the Dirt, Flora Fiction, and Literary Yard, among others.

Pandemic of Violence Anthology

Topsy Turvy

Featuring poets Howie Good, Rustin Larson, Susana H. Case, Dee Allen, Alex Carrigan, Naila Francis, MaryAnn L. Miller, Megha Sood, Steven Croft, TS Hawkins, Lauren Camp, Chad Parenteau, Henry Crawford, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Michael T. Young, M.J. Arcangelini, J.C. Todd, Antoni Ooto, Byron Beynon, Jane ‘SpokenWord’ Grenier, Linda Nemec Foster, Sean Howard, Brian Donnell James and Greg Bem 

A Way of Looking by Jianqing Zheng

By Charles Rammelkamp
Jianqing Zheng’s new book of poems, winner of the 2019 Gerald Cable Book Award, is a collection of haibun, a Japanese literary form first used by Matsuo Bashō in the 17th century that combines prose and haiku juxtaposed to provide a fresh “way of looking” at an event, a scene, a character, an anecdote, a sort of “double vision.” The form is inherently reflective, meditative, while being descriptive in brief but vivid prose and incorporates elements of autobiography, essay, flash fiction/nonfiction. The accompanying haiku may be seen as a subtle commentary or summation of the prose passage.  A Way of Looking is divided into four sections, “On the Road,” “Farewell,” “Momentary Stay” and “Forever,” which feels almost like the cycle of seasons, so that the reader has a sense of coming “full circle,” experiencing the writing, which indeed has many seasonal referents.
Just as Bashō’s haibun were originally travel accounts from his various journeys, so many of Zheng’s are the same, as is evident from the title of the first section. In many of these, Zheng, who lives in Mississippi, drives around the Deep South region in search of the places where famous bluesmen performed.  As he writes in “Weekend Drive, 1998”:

After landing a university job in the Mississippi Delta, I fell in love with photographing blues sites for my research. One Saturday I went to grab shots in Moorhead where W.C. Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues” immortalized the crossing of the Southern and Yazoo Delta railroads.


            juke joint blues
            a sluggish creek crosses
            through town
            by a lean-to shack
            blooming wisteria
He drives on to Inverness, hometown of Little Milton, another bluesman, looking for Arcola. He gets lost, asks directions from various people, one of whom suggests Zheng, who looks a little bewildered by the instructions, follow him in his truck, until he finally finds the fork to Arcola.  He rolls down his window and thanks the man. “Oh, brother, the back road wasn’t that hard to find.” In “Birds of Passage” he is driving to the airport in Memphis, just before dawn. “We cross the Yazoo River Bridge, pass Baptist Town where the bluesman Robert Johnson died of poison,” eventually passing Avalon, “where the blues marker for Mississippi John Hurt looms above the roadside high weeds.”   As day starts to break, he slows down, “to catch this gorgeous flight:


            crack of dawn
            thousands of snow geese
            honk off the fields”
His travels take him to Helena, Arkansas, New Orleans, Tokyo, Wuhan and Canton, China, where the protagonist of the haibun encounters


            a rooster’s crow
            of a Chinese railroad builder
The haibun in the “Farewell” section are more third-person sketches and anecdotes than personal reflections or reminiscences. They are all located in China. “Mediation in Changsha, China,” “Moon Festival,”  “Home,” “The Seven-Year Itch,” an amusing anecdote about a man named Seng whose snoring disturbs his wife, are some of the titles. The accompanying haiku to this latter reads: “spring equinox— / a cat’s nocturnal yowl / in the front yard.” The title is a sly reference to the popular belief that the romance in a marriage dies with sustained familiarity. You can feel the wife’s frustration!  There’s even a haibun called “Responses” that recalls an inane song in praise of Chairman Mao that he was forced to sing during the Cultural Revolution. The selection ends with the humorous haiku:


            riverside hip hop
            even the water
            starts twerking

“Fish Debate,” another haibun from this second section, has a very Taoist point-of-view. Two ancient Chinese philosophers, Zhuang Zi and Hui Si, walk by a river and see fish. Zhuang Zi (known also in literature as Chuang Tzu) thinks they look happy, but Hui Si says it’s not possible to know if fish are happy. Zhuang Zi replies, “You are not me; how do you know I don’t know the fish are happy?” This is so much like the other famous Taoist about Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly. The accompanying haiku reads:

which came first,
the hen or the egg? –
endless rain

The “Momentary Stay” section brings us back to Mississippi. “Night in the Mississippi Delta,” “Road to Vicksburg,” “The Bayou by the Home in the Woods” are some of the titles of haibun that take us to specific scenes. In “Road to Vicksburg” the narrator sees a dead armadillo in the road and, momentarily distracted, nearly collides with an oncoming eighteen-wheeler.


by the blues highway
to casino
a wreathed cross tilts in wind


In “Delta Wind,” Zheng writes with an almost Kerouac-like flair, “the wind rises like the saddest blues blown from a sax in a lean-to juke joint.” The accompanying haiku reads:


autumn night
a freight train chugging
across the Yazoo


A Way of Looking is dedicated to the memory of Don and Nell George. The final section, “Forever,” includes several tender haibun written in their memory. The Georges welcomed Zheng to Hattiesburg, Mississippi when he came to the United States from China as a young man, and he feels a great love for them, a sadness at their death, but the haibun express an enduring connection that itself reflects back on the section title.
Many of Zheng’s haibun include more than one verse passage. Many of the haiku contain seasonal references, and this is true of the three included in “Eulogy,” written in memory of Don George. The first reads:


            summer visit –
            in the town where
            I was born
            I’m asked
            where I’m from
The second follows the reflection, “He taught me to pronounce a word in English, how to mow the grass, and more importantly, how to be a man in my life.” The verse that follows reads:


            spring morning
            mom and dad chat
            over coffee
            memory an aroma
            of old times
Finally, after thanking both Don and Nell for their kindness and guidance, he concludes the haibun:


            autumn dusk
            an empty recliner
            in the den
            a lonely cat
            at the window
The section and the book end with a short haibun called “Waiting for spring” that sums up not only the section but Zheng’s overarching philosophy as well:
When life stops clicking, body – a mass of elements – can be turned to ashes, used as fertilizer for flowerbeds.
                        autumn dusk
                        a worn-out jacket
                        on a peg
Jianqing Zheng’s A Way of Looking alters the reader’s own vision, providing a view of reality that’s more peaceful, more benevolent, more thoughtful.
You can find the book here: A Way of Looking
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Caina by Joe Albanese


By Lynette G. Esposito

The tale of twin brothers who take different paths in their lives is not a new one. However, Joe Albanese has told the story of Grant and Lee from the first moments of their birth. The narrator is the younger brother by twelve minutes in his book Caina published by Mockingbird Lane Press of Maynard, Arkansas.

Albanese skillfully sets the time, place and background beginning with the first breath of the brothers who are named Grant and Lee after the Civil War generals because their dad is a Civil War buff. The symbolism of the names is carried throughout the one-hundred-sixty-four- page book divided into the twenty-five chapters. The brothers make opposite choices but no matter if they are together or not, they connect by both a misunderstanding of who the other is and a confidence of the deep connection they have to each other. They mirror each other.

Although the older brother, Grant, was born first, his brother’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. The reader is privy to this information on the first page of chapter one.  However, Albanese illustrates the brother’s relationship by opening the first chapter with:

  When my brother and I were ten-years-old, we would play this game of chicken.  Once a week, while our mother was preparing dinner, the two of us would sneak out oof our back yard and run across the field to the train tracks, kicking dandelions on the way.

The boys would try to out last each other as the train bore down on them with its loud horn. The narrator, Lee, admits his brother always won.

From Lee’s perspective, his brother was always the larger than life more successful person. Then, a twist of events leads to Grant’s death; the identical twin, Lee, steps in as his brother and discovers all the things and much darkness he did not know his brother was living.

Albanese ends the story on the train track with Lee’s dead brother sending him a message.  Lee has a vision of his brother on the other side of tracks and Lee believes he finally understands what his brother was trying to tell him in life.

The chapters are filled with double entendre after double entendre in keeping with the twin theme and the story of doble lives in the same space. An example of this is in chapter twenty.

Lee Tolen has been dead for weeks…

It wasn’t Lee who had died…it was Grant.  When they pulled the evidence from the box, it was Grant’s id in the wallet. Yet, to complicate things, the very alive Lee is standing in the room with the killers of his brother.

Even though at one point the devoted brothers had not seen each other for ten years, their parallel lives intersected at the end and closes the story on the train tracks where it had begun.

Albanese has created characters who are interesting and believable using an old universal theme of twins.  He makes it work quite well.  This is a good read on a cold winter evening.

Joe Albanese has been widely published including poetry, short fiction and nonfiction across The United States and in seven other countries.  He is the author of Smash and Grab in addition to Caina.  He lives in South Jersey.

Caina can be found here:

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.



A Feeling Called Heaven by Joey Yearous-Algozin

a feeling

By Greg Bem 

I wanted to show you something

that would give you pleasure

before the end of the world

(page 3)

Climate change. Ecological disaster on a global scale. The coming and going of empire, civilization, the human imprint. The collapse. The Anthropocene. It is all very present and very intangible and, no matter how we spin it, the end of the world (as we know it and have known it) is nigh. And so, what are we going to do about it? There are many who believe that the only two responses are complacency and response, where response is solution oriented. But there is a third, humble option: acceptance.

The embracing of finality is a core concept in Joey Yearous-Algozin’s A Feeling Called Heaven, a book surging with as much pause as activity. Within this remarkable collection, Yearous-Algozin takes the poet’s approach to disaster and hopelessness by finding a contemplative, curious, and stable position of observation. Not without difficulty, the poet’s form is as much didactic as it is conceptual: the poet is one of instruction and of a simpler positing within the calm reality that the horrific exists and it probably really is too large for us to manage.

I want you to focus your mind

on denouncing the hope

embedded in the idea

of our momentum as a species

the belief that we will somehow continue

even after we’ve gone

(page 40)

The book is composed of two poems: a first that lasts most of the book, and a second that serves as a coda to close out what is, overall, a sequence of meditations, mantras, prayers, and cathartic rest. The poems total just over 60 pages in length, and I felt them gently urging me on from the moment I opened the book. I felt the poet’s breath, the angles through which the dismal was approached, and reconciled, and I read on and on until the last line. There are natural pauses throughout the book’s first poem, “for the second to last time,” but they feel more like the space between the pulse than any full rest. It is an active book, after all, one that accounts for stillness but radically approaches stillness with full energy and availability. Even the title indicates that the fullness of acknowledgment and existent may sit within a single second, which for readers of poetry may be further elaborated as a single poem, a single book, a single read.

A Feeling Called Heaven is calm, and much of the calmness, despite the terror that surrounds us, can be connected to the simple and uncomplicated language Yearous-Algozin has filled within the pages. I attribute the plainness of the poet’s speech as a method of contrast to the failings of the human world’s complexities: what we, as a society, have created across time and space have led us to this point, this point that will soon be gone. Is it the poet’s job to continue the damned lineage, or offer relief and radical shift? The speaker here follows the latter path, though not without calling forth several examples of our burning world:

and the sun glints off pools of irradiated water

outside a freeway on-ramp

or hospital parking lot

in which a few discarded syringes

and fragments of plastic tubing

bob in the light breeze

(pages 12-13)

Like other post-apocalyptic descriptions as we’ve come to know them in recent decades, the imagery within A Feeling Called Heaven is as bleak and valueless as it is slightly exaggerated as relic and memento. It feels human while lacking the humanity, feels moving while utterly still in the confines of the poem. The poet, on the other hand, is not completely still. The speaker murmurs their way through the lines that scatter like dust across anonymous landscapes and situations that are grayed, sitting beyond the realm of truth and beauty. These moments that float through the page are as much liminal as they are in the center: the blind spot that is within each of us as we exist in an ever-fading moment.

Yearous-Algozin calls out this ever-fading moment as beyond-verbal. It may be hard to imagine a situation, a system, a reality that is outside of the confines of language, but that is yet one more radically-shifted premises of this book, and it is not just a premise but a truth that is absolute:

a non-verbal certainty

that a time will come

when the residue of the human

will have disappeared

almost entirely

(page 16)

When Yearous-Algozin writes “almost entirely,” it is the crucial piece of this recipe: we are not quite gone yet, and this is a moment we can refer to as the “feeling” of “heaven.” The last stretch before the end is one that is reconciliation, catharsis, and embrace. It is fullness. Finality. Totality. It is utter loss and the resounding silence we can feel at the end of our collective existence and knowing that it has come from us and will exist after us.

In Social Text Journal, Barrett White writes of Yearous-Algozin’s book, “Through its radical acceptance, A Feeling Called Heaven teaches an important lesson about pausing, being present, and deeply listening, both inside and outside ourselves.” While in agreement, I also believe that the book offers an additional lesson on our capacity as creators. Yearous-Algozin has written a book that offers a nullification of the creative process, an anti-inspiration to take the pause and escape the creative act; unlike any other book I have read, A Feeling Called Heaven positions itself as a rational counterpoint to tangible production and artistry. In the book’s second and final poem, “a closing meditation,” the poet writes:

my speaking to you now

produces an image like the reflection of the sun

or more accurately

a space for your thoughts to inhabit

(page 55)

Indeed, this book causes process to cease, time to fold, and the mind to warp beyond thought. For that feeling alone, I can’t recommend it more highly during this Winter, this season, this precipice we have found ourselves upon.

You can find the book here:

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