north of oxford

Peace by Charles Rammelkamp

grieving-statue-capitol-dome

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Peace
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Just before they stormed the barricades,
the Proud Boys gathered near the Peace Memorial,
at the foot of Capitol Hill,
where fifty years earlier
my friends and I planted flags
protesting the Vietnam War.
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“A mishmash monument,” one scholar’s called it,
the muse of History on top,
forever reading the words,
“they died that their country might live,”
from the book she holds in her left hand,
while Grief hangs on her left shoulder,
weeping, and Victory gloats beneath them,
baby Mars and Neptune,
like cherubim in a sandbox,
playing with their sword and trident,
at Victory’s feet.
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And Peace?
Bare-breasted, she stands alone
on the other side of the monument.
The beefy men in MAGA hats,
waving “Stop the Steal” banners,
bellowed like wild beasts
at the very place, a few days later,
photographs of Brian Sicknick,
the Capitol cop killed in the mob attack,
appeared next to flowers and American flags.
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charles coffee
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore. Two full-length collections were published in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books. A poetry chapbook, Mortal Coil, was published earlier this year by Clare Songbirds Publishing.
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Reefer Madness by Robert Cooperman

reefer
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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The title of Robert Cooperman’s hilarious new collection comes from the 1936 melodrama about high school students lured by drug pushers. Reefer Madness became a cult classic in the 1970’s among the younger hip generation, for its unintentionally campy humor.  The lurid movie poster, warning ADULTS ONLY contained phrases like “The sweet pill that makes life bitter” and “drug-crazed abandon.” “Youthful marihuana victims. See what really happens.” In part one of this collection, Cooperman shows us what really happened, at least to him, and his experiences are so familiar to anybody born before 1960 and probably beyond.
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After a poem about the meaning of “420,” the code for smoking dope, Cooperman launches into “The First Time I Tried Weed: Brooklyn College,” about his initiation into the rite. Though citing the familiar “Refer Madness” warnings in the very first stanza – “In high school, it was gospel / that one ‘puff’ would turn us / into groveling heroin addicts” – curiosity wins out, and just as the response to the old adage, “curiosity killed the cat” – “satisfaction brought him back” – that first time smoking with a college friend was glorious.  The poem ends with another nod to Refer Madness:
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            Giggling at a joke only I could get,
            I fell into bed, the room a tilting merry-
            go-round in a Hitchcock mystery,
            but no desperation, thank god,
            to shoot smack.
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  Then in one entertaining poem after the next, Cooperman details the whole project of “getting high”: The rituals of rolling joints, the exclamations of “I’m really wrecked!” that came almost like a testimony at an evangelical religious service, only instead of “Praise Jesus!” it’s “I am so stoned!” We read about the psychedelic songs of the era that were a necessary component to the experience – “White Rabbit,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Jimi Hendrix.  There are poems about the various drugs on the menu of our youth – hash, angel dust, psychedelic mushrooms. “Worse” vividly describes a bad trip on mushrooms in the otherwise idyllic setting of the Catskill Mountains. “It’s in the Bag” is a poem about snorting cocaine and the energy-burst it provides – and recognizing how easily one could become addicted to it, reefers or not.
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“Smoking Dope Outside the Keats Museum: Hampstead Heath” tells the story of two friends sneaking a joint outside the building while their wives linger inside, “maybe beside the very tree / where Keats had heard / his immortal nightingale.” Their spouses bust them, making them feel like kids caught breaking a window, but at least they avoid the surveillance cameras!
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As the first section winds down, marijuana has become legal in Colorado, where Cooperman currently resides, though now in late middle-age, a little late to really take advantage. He recognizes his dope-smoking days are over, though he still enjoys the occasional “contact high” from the skunk-stink of marijuana drifting from the pothead neighbors or when walking by the school kids passing joints around. In “The Weed Tree,” he and his wife stroll up a hill after passing the kids,
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            me floating a bit, pointing out to Beth,
            the red-tailed hawk making lazy, lovely,
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            merciless circles above the lake.
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“Got Pot?” and “AAA and the AA” explore the further implications of legalized weed, in the Trump era, when we all needed a crutch to make it through.
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In “Now That It’s Legal” and “Now That Colorado,” he laments the loss of the risk-taking scoring dope used to entail, which added a frisson of “sticking it to the Man” to the alteration of one’s consciousness, an added bonus. “Now That Colorado” ends the first section and sets us up for the equally hilarious second part.
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            In my day – geezer that I am – it took
            some discernment to score primo weed,
            and always the fear that the dealer was a narc,
            or if you sweated sauntering past beat cops,
            they’d stop you faster than Killer Kowalski’s
            professional-wrestler Atomic-Drop-Kick move.
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           And now the Girl Scouts will sell cookies
           outside pot shops! I ask you, is nothing sacred?
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“There are eight million stories  in the Naked City,” the iconic line at the end of every episode of the long-running TV series from the early 1960’s went. “This has been one of them.” Just so, Cooperman gives us over three dozen angles on the scene outside of The Wild Weed Dispensary in Denver as a Girl Scout troop sets up outside to sell cookies, in the second part of this hysterical collection. “The Girl Scouts of Colorado have decided it’s now cool to peddle their baked goods outside marijuana dispensaries,” a story from The Denver Post informs – the epigraph to the section – and Cooperman is off and running!
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There’s the Larsen family, the jilted wife Wilhelmina, chaperoning her Girl Scout daughter Melissa outside the Wild Weed Dispensary, while the wayward husband Ron holes up with his sex kitten Clair. There are Leonard and Marissa Millstein, a public defender and corporate lawyer at ideological (and marital) loggerheads, and their Girl Scout daughter Emily, caught in the middle. There’s the cop, Malcolm Sanders, whose daughter Kelly is also a Girl Scout and remembers the note her mother left when she walked out on Kelly’s father, no longer able to be a policeman’s wife.  Poor Fiona Terry, shoved into the Girl Scouts by her mother, hates being there at all, always the odd-girl-out. Cindy Bartlett, another Girl Scout, is the daughter of Sonny, a Hell’s Angel-style motorcycle gang member whose ex-wife Jo-Jo is having an affair with the tattoo parlor owner Nick Breeze, all here while the Girl Scouts sell their cookies. Each uproarious poem adds a soap-opera-like tale to the afternoon sale.
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Reefer Madness is a rollercoaster high, and the melodramatic warnings about pot? Still potent in the twenty-first century, as little Melissa Larsen tells us:
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            Tiffany’s older brother tried to get us to smoke,
            but our teacher warned us we’d become maniacs
            and have to live in straitjackets, like forever.
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So do yourself a favor and read this collection about “drug-crazed abandon.”  But a warning: read just a couple of these poems and you will probably be hooked!
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You can find the book here: Reefer Madness
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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 Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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the deering hour by Karen Elizabeth Bishop

the deering hour cover

By Greg Bem

confession is built mouth
to open mouth until water

(from “honeyhive,” page 3)

In the deering hour, there is buried between an awesome and ecstatic lyric poetry is a timely poetics of isolation and survival capable of carrying a pandemic readership toward honest, patient movement. the deering hour is a book that feels as crafted by quarantine and introspective society as it feels a conduit for the ever-expansive world just beyond our walls. Throughout, Karen Elizabeth Bishop follows many veins, many threads, and finds her own natural space for foraging the wispy peripheries of a breathing world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first, of which the book’s title comes, is “the deering hour.” This sequence is a welcome beacon and blueprint in this cagey global moment, filled with discoveries and dances, flirtations and flashes that are utterly American in their experimentation, but also feel spread across space and time and culture.

as she falls we all fall hers is the history of
flight the future of lyric the winter of our ash

(from “the history of flight,” page 34)

Collective and personal, the general appeal of “the deering hour” as a section and as a book is the feeling of roots, of being bound as reader (through writer) to the primal or ancient. Ecologically, the verse often flutters through natural imagery and a spirited presence takes shape by way of the world’s many forms and their relationships. Even when poems concern movement, either forward or backward, inward or outward, there is a slow and mature consideration within the poem’s subtext; a peaceful tone of ritual, of intention lingers.

[. . .] here the surface
does not hold. where the final
hanging on comes to a close,
wea are sound receding in
waves, four hearts quiet
ascending, the light at the
border dark increasing [. . .]

(from “the deering hour,” page 13)

Poems vary in size and shape, but there is a propulsion to most of them. This rush within Bishop’s work can be thanked to the poems’ elemental foundations. Water upon stone, for example, is one of the most prevalent carriers of energy and ideas within the deering hour, and its emblematic presence demonstrates the timeliness of water’s power. It is also, in Bishop’s writing, reflective of a more sacred, finite resource. Ecology and the flight of the world that surrounds us may feel overwhelming in reality, but in the book we see transformation as humbling. This is a tempered and tempering volume that keeps reality in a perspective somewhere between balancing and revealing.

Following “the deering hour” is “Kilpisjärvi,” a shorter sequence that takes its name from a village in Northern Finland, where Bishop recently visited and stayed as a resident at the “Biological Station.” Unfortunately we do not know too much more than that, as a fuller description of this place is missing. Still, the mysterious presence and existence of this place lends itself to the writing Bishop does include.

While at first glance this second, closing sequence feels thrown at the end of the book as an addendum or “extra,” a deeper read reveals Bishop’s cunning: the prose and verse here demonstrates an example of source material, where the work and the mindset of “the deering hour” stem. Reading it reminded me of the works of Craig Childs and Terry Tempest Williams, who have sought the truth by being embedded by place and experience, by living through relationships and convictions: “We watch from the shore of the moraine as the future recedes,” Bishop writes in part IV (page 59) and: “Under cover, we speak in surprises, measure the fell in objects and action” she writes in part IX (page 72) are examples of Bishop’s relational journaling.

Near the beginning of “Kilpisjärvi,” Bishop writes, “I don’t need to get to the end to know I’m already living my future” (page 54). This is the illumination that rounds out a poetics of the pandemic so well. It is new and yet established, emerging yet defined. But the illumination can occasionally be too bright; aside from serving us with this well-rounded close, some of the book’s moments cascade into realms of twist and obscurity:

you didn’t say if you gave over, a last present
amidst our famine, or if you sought the wild
wasting of our white nights, the pleading scar,
fingers in the welt, the searing blightburn. [. . .]

(from “inflorescence,” page 15)

There is a play with abstraction that occasionally feels maddening in its confusion and disconnection, but it is ever-so-present and just barely heavy enough to be problematic. Instead, I took the abstraction to be an element of introduction and arrival, Bishop’s writing beginning its dance across a longer form of time. Overall, Bishop’s the deering hour is an enduring book of juxtaposition the succeeds in bringing two ends of experience together at once.

You can find the book here: https://www.ornithopterpress.com/store/p15/the_deering_hour.html

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

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Literature and Random Chance

By Colin Dodds

Inviting Randomness to the Party

It was about a year ago, and I had a stack of notes that wouldn’t agree to be poems or stories – oddball refractory fragments that had accumulated over the years. Or maybe it was me who was feeling oddball and refractory. Either way, it occurred to me to fashion the best of them into oddball and refractory aphorisms and collect them in a book.

As I revised, rewrote and so forth, the question of how to order the aphorisms kept bothering me. There was a temptation to structure the book into discrete groups – themes or chapters or moods or seasons or something like that. But grouping the aphorisms like that felt like an apology, an immediate watering down of the individual force of each individual aphorism. And deliberately placing similar aphorisms far from one another felt artificial.

Not long after I’d sent an early version of the collection to some friends, one of them wrote me saying that she enjoyed flipping through the collection each morning and reading the aphorism she landed on. And I thought she had exactly the right idea. At the same time, I was chatting with my friend Matt Dublin about technology-slash-art projects. Those conversations with Matt, along with her comment made the randomized-aphorism app idea click into focus.

I imagined a book, where the pages hang on a single spine, transforming to something like a dandelion in late summer, when the white floaties stick off the seed head and a strong breath blows them all away except for one, or one of those plasma balls, where the pink lightning strikes from the core to the glass surface where you press your finger.

A Short and Inadequate History of Books and Chance

The idea of random chance interacting with literature isn’t new. Bibliomancy – the practice of flipping through a book and dropping your finger down to learn the future, or the will of G-d – is as old as the codex. It was how St. Augustine decided to convert to Christianity, according to his Confessions.

In the I-Ching, the reader navigates the text by flipping coins or other random means to arrive at the correct page for them in that moment. More recently, the cut-ups of William Burroughs attempted to expose intentional language to the mysterious dynamics and agendas of so-called randomness. There’s even a Cut-Up Machine that allows you to enter text in, and receive something else out. When I was pounding away at a manifesto/marketing document for Forget This Good Thing I Just Said, I dropped that document into the machine and read back – from among the block of text, if I squinted – the spooky phrase “Like don’t messages chance to say a reader’s idea?”

As the author, I had some say in how random I wanted things to get. And the cut-up approach gave chance more license than I wanted. I liked the aphorism as the unit of meaning, because it’s just long enough to make a statement, and too short for much equivocation or obfuscation.

Why Let Random Chance Speak at All?

Bibliomancy, the I-Ching or Burroughs’ cut-ups all embody a largely unspoken faith that what you most needed to hear in a given moment is likely a bolt from the blue.

It may be mystical. But there’s a lot of common sense in mysticism. Randomness, as an idea, smells like science. But it’s an unproven assumption. It’s a placeholder for something else.

What is that something else? I’d always had an on-again-off-again fascination with Jung’s idea of Synchronicity, or serendipity, and the idea that random chance was the camouflage for some unbelievable beast you could occasionally look in the eye.

Random chance, if it’s a mystery, can also be liberating. People like to say that we can forge meaning from randomness. But what if randomness is the one thing that’s uniquely poised to deliver the meanings that can transcend our habits and our hand-to-mouth scheming?

You can check out Colin Dodds latest project concerning literature and random chance here: Forget This Good Thing I Just Said

Poets Speak Back to Hunger – An Interview with Hiram Larew

By g emil reutter

hiram one

GER: How did you get involved with the United Nations and the formation of Poetry X Hunger?

HL: My career at the US Department of Agriculture and the US Agency for International Development was all about guiding international anti-hunger programs.  And over those years, I was actively involved with poetry.  It took retirement, however, for me to realize that there was very little available poetry about hunger of the stomach.  In discussing this with staff at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, they offered to showcase such poetry if I would rouse poets to write it.  Fast forward – as a result of that partnership and in collaboration with The Capital Area Food Bank and the Maryland State Arts Council, the Poetry X Hunger website (www.PoetryXHunger.com) holds many, many poems from poets around the world.  And, those poems are being used in Houses of Worship, in K-18 classrooms, and by anti-hunger leaders and organizations to raise awareness about the scourge in the US and overseas.  

GER: Through your efforts poets have written about hunger and malnutrition as well as other areas directly impacting food supply. What impact do you believe this will have on world hunger?

 HL: I always make the point:  Poetry will never eliminate hunger.  But I immediately follow that admission with my solid conviction that poetry can surely help.  How?  Well, unlike data, trendlines, statistics and even science that are very useful tools-of-logic in the anti-hunger toolkit, poetry speaks to the heart and soul.  Poetry can move people to take action in ways that those other tools simply don’t.  In fact, poetry has been so important in advancing other social issues such as immigration (think of Lazarus’s poem, The New Colossus, at the base of the Statue of Liberty), poverty, inequality, and the like.  So, why not bring poetry to bear on hunger?

Hiram3_Poetry X-Hunger -Cropped Image - No Text 3

Poetry X Hunger  logo by Diane Wilbon Parks

GER: What was the selection process for Poets Speak Back to Hunger: An e-Collection of Poems from Around the World

HL: We chose a few of the powerful poems from the Poetry X Hunger website.  We showcased a diversity of poets from all over the world.  And, we presented their work in text form and, in many cases, as audio or video recordings.   The e-Collection has been featured by award winning hunger author, Roger Thurow, on his blog.  It was also used by the US-wide group, Hunger Free Communities, to find poets who then presented at HFC’s national summit.

The PDF can be read here: https://www.poetryxhunger.com/uploads/1/2/5/7/125799040/poetsspeakbacktohunger.pdf

GER: The Poetry X Hunger website also publishes poets writing about hunger, (https://www.poetryxhunger.com/poems-submitted-for-the-2021-world-food-day-poetry-competition ). How often will the site be updated?

HL: We constantly update and add to the website as volunteer time allows. 

moonstone hunger

GER: On October 23rd at 2pm you will be hosting a virtual reading with the Moonstone Arts Center in Philadelphia. Share with us how this came to be and who will be reading at the event?   

HL: I’ve known Larry Robin for several years.  He recently reached out to ask if Poetry X Hunger would feature a few poets, in conjunction with October 16’s World Food Day, on MAC’s series, and I jumped at the chance.  Featured poets will be Aaron R (Virginia, USA), Josephine LoRe (Alberta, Canada), Tony Treanor (County Limerick, Ireland), Ladi Di Beverly (Maryland, USA) and Taku Chikepe (Zimbabwe).  We’ll also replay a haunting poem by Patience Gumbo (Zimbabwe).

On Zoom: https://moonstoneartscenter.org/event/virtual-poetry-reading-poets-speak-back-to-hunger/

Other Links:

Poets call for empathy and action towards a hunger-free world

https://www.fao.org/north-america/news/detail/en/c/1444423/

Email: PoetryXHunger@gmail.com

Stargrass, Violets by Barbara Daniels

star vio
Stargrass, Violets
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My sister finds a blue
high-heeled shoe
and a red one, both
for a small left foot.
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Weeds overwintered
in faded rosettes. Stalks
begin to rise from them.
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Daffodils thrive,
a yellow religion.
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New buds proffer
themselves like eyes.
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We sit down in stargrass
and violets, our shadows
obscured by greater shadows.
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A ragged
cloud, small
as a hand, slips
toward the east.
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The doctor says my sister’s not
dying. Not now. Not yet.
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Blown newspapers
soar like wings.
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One pond gleams turquoise.
Another gives back the scarlet sunset.
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In the darkness a throne
of stars slides
to the far horizon
moving toward
God’s wide-open eye.
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barbara-daniels-2018-mh-full-size-color
Barbara Daniels’s Talk to the Lioness was published by Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press in 2020. Her poetry has appeared in Lake Effect, Cleaver, Faultline, Small Orange, Meridian, and elsewhere. Barbara Daniels received a 2020 fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
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Petco Parking Lot by Nancy Byrne Iannucci

petco
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Petco Parking Lot
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Petco barked when she drove in,
rolled back before she pulled on the brake.
Her hair was a cold gray day.
Her body struggled straight.
Buddy Holly’s Rave On
bounced off her bent back.
Uh oh! Is she coming
to tell me to turn it down?
She stood with a fist in my face,
pumped it in the air,
GREAT SONG! she said.
One of the best.  I said.
A jolt in her crooked step,
kicked off saddle shoes
she wasn’t wearing
to this sock hop
in a Petco parking lot.
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Nancy Byrne Iannucci - field photo
Nancy Byrne Iannucci is the author of Temptation of Wood (Nixes Mate Review 2018). Her poems have appeared in several publications, some include Allegro Poetry Magazine, The Mantle, Gargoyle, Clementine Unbound, Bending Genres, 8 Poems, Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist),Red Eft Review and Typehouse Literary Magazine. Nancy is a Long Island, NY native who now resides in Troy, NY where she teaches history at the Emma Willard School. (https://www.instagram.com/
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Three Poems by Peycho Kanev

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The Sea Inside Me
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Its salty tongue gently licks
women’s toes, heels, calves, ankles;
in the shallows under the moon – the slimy moons
of jellyfish,
in the distance dolphins teach small dolphins
how to be themselves and nothing else,
as we failed to do so.
Happy boyish shouts everywhere,
and the metallic screams of seagulls
embroider the ink-blue upholstery of the sky.
The horizon is a knife cutting in half the wet photos
of the memories.
Under the sunrise – sand, shore, a whole world;
and mine, and yours; where you were, where I was.
I died there.
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Garbage Song
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The music lifted my sheet, and the fingertips
of the sun brought me scraps of the soul
of Sibelius. The next question is: Why do you
love your loneliness so much? I just grinned
to the body lost inside the notes next to me.
Saliva and staves are meant for each other.
And while the sounds choke, we sink back
into sleep. Outside the garbage truck hums.
Inside the room is empty.
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This Life
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I put my heart into my mother’s coffin
and now it throbs under the ground.
All the letters I sent to my first love
returned unread in my mailbox
and my unborn child, which I wanted
to create on paper, committed suicide
in the first paragraph of my unwritten book.
My cat has rejected her nine lives, my dog
refuses to bark and I look how the sky
shatters slowly in the broken mirror –
I am beautiful at last.
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pk
Peycho Kanev is the author of 8 poetry collections and three chapbooks, published in the USA and Europe. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines, such as: Rattle, Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Front Porch Review, Hawaii Review, Barrow Street, Sheepshead Review, Off the Coast, The Adirondack Review, Sierra Nevada Review, The Cleveland Review and many others. His new chapbook titled Under Half-Empty Heaven was published in 2019 by Grey Book Press.
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Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom by Howie Good

shboom
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Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom
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Mother awakened me in the morning. There was now a lake of ash where there had never been one and behind it a pair of wrinkled mountains like a giant’s cracked, dusty boots. Birds on a fence idiotically chanted, “Sh-boom, sh-boom.” I picked up a stone and threw it without taking careful aim. Some people who were passing would later say the expression on my face made everything worse. I hadn’t even realized I was smiling.
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Life there felt a lot like life elsewhere – steel bars on windows and suicide nets on roofs. Hatchet-faced men in leather trench coats would grab people right off the street. The last words of a prisoner were eerily prophetic. “Ah,” he said, “the cows. . .” Work parties threw the corpses in ovens or down wells, often slaving at rifle point through the night.
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The angels were dry-mouthed and sweaty and feeling like they hadn’t slept for days. A rogue herd of cows in gas masks had stampeded. I stared out at the sign by the church when I should have been watching the road. Love Like Jesus, it said. Nice sentiment, I thought, as the sun sank in a profusion of toxic colors, a ship full of chemicals burning intently at the edge of the world.
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Howie Good is the author of more than a dozen poetry collections, including most recently Gunmetal Sky (Thirty West Publishing).

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