poems

Strings by Caleb Coy Guard

strings
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Strings
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I so love the look and sound of a banjo. Vibrant,
On its feet, like a flatfooter, perfect and resonant.
The guitar has the aspect of an echo.
This song has the aspect of an echo.
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The banjo is daylight, more than the absence
Of dark, different from the restlessness of night.
The strings of evening are the guitar.
The guitar is restless, like a dream.
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And between them, the gift of dawn and dusk,
The ukulele strings jump like madrigals in the
Foam between wave and shoreline. A modest
Lute, the ukulele, aspect of crying, of laughing.

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coy

Currently a freelance editor, Caleb Coy Guard has a Masters in English from Virginia Tech. His work has appeared in The Common, Streetlight, and Stonecoast Review.

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2 Poems by Elizabeth Jane Timms

trunk
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A Trunk of Old Letters
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In the attic lay the black leather trunk, like a casket
For the letters that lay forgotten.
And opening it, I heard a crowd of mingled voices,
Young and old – ladies and gentlemen, children and grandmothers
All talking at once in voices of joy, sorrow and hope.
All reading aloud their long ago written words,
Alive in a world when the ink was still wet,
When the seal was not yet dry,
When the quill was just set down upon the desk.
They belonged to that world, they leapt over the puddles of candle wax
Upon the pages – chattered on about the births of children,
The advent of the new century, the last Christmas and the new carriage.
They were owned by the world of letters.
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On Rome
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I did fly like a gray dove over the immortal roofs of Rome,
As my imagination leapt from chapels to churches,
Across streets and squares to roost upon an ancient pillar –
The Roman sunlight touched me in the red mist of morning,
And I became instantly old –
Looking at the city then, I turned to stone.
Into a statue to stand forever with my eyes fixed on this place.
I shall leap then across Rome from pillar to pillar,
From dome to dome.
Night filled the ancient sites then,
And the shadows of your centurions
Marched victorious under your arches in the moonlight,
And the Forum’s scattered pillars
Lay like the abandoned bones of its Caesars.
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timms
Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, freelance writer, research professional and poet, based in Oxford. She is a member of the Oxford Writers’ Circle and the University of Oxford Poetry Society. She writes for journals, magazines, newsletters and the web. She divides her time between Oxford and London.

The Damages of Morning by J.C. Todd

damage

By Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

J.C. Todd’s chapbook, The Damages of Morning, has been written to remind us of the horrors of the World Wars. You can’t escape it! Page after page, poem after poem, you are reminded of the terror; of the desolation; of the lost lives; of the inhumanity of war. Hell on earth.

Todd steps in (as time traveler) with her meditative, yet explosive poems about these silent horrors; perhaps her eleven poems (one of which is five parts) more like snapshots, each a poetic narrative of a frame-frozen moment captured in the history of wartime. She has gathered these poems (as photos) for you, through the lens of research and discussions with her students, and ultimately in her own silent musings of war and its fall-out.

These tragedies appearing understated on the silent page are nothing of the sort. For instance, in the poem “Pylimo Gatvė, Vilnius” (Gatvė: street in Lithuanian) we have the seemingly silent, giving fruits of nature, “the chestnuts” that “no one stoops now to gather.” So, at once you may think of starving women wanting to pick up a few chestnuts to eat later, but to do so, they would be taking a chance. But what kind of chance or risk, might they be taking?

“…In the midst of this history / imprinted in stone, along a street that bordered / Ghetto 2, the chestnuts fan their boughs / and bloom, the leaves brown and droop, the nuts / fall and no one stoops now to gather them / as women did then, slack shouldered and starved / to the pith of their bones, returning under / guard from the fields or factories, passing / through the gate into the ghetto each night, / the burning question, did Shulamith / or Menke make it through the day.  They risked / the boot, the rifle butt, the bullet, to scoop up / a few russet shells. Horse chestnuts… Eat, it’s food.

Raw horse chestnuts are toxic, that is, the fresh, unprocessed seeds contain esculin.  Therein lies the rub. These desperate and starved women risked death every day.  Chestnuts are healthy for the body, but not horse chestnuts, as they may cause death, if eaten raw. So, the question the poem presents to these women and to the reader as well, would be: Is it worth staying alive “to work one more day for the Germans” and “to want to outlive the war?” Knowing that physically outliving a war doesn’t necessarily mean that you can ever “outlive your sorrow or your death.” Here, “your death” as in a kind of living death, meaning that you live through each and every day physically starving, but worse than that you are already dead on the inside (inside your mind) living inside this captive life. Maybe, this is what Todd is saying, yet not saying at the start of her poem by cleverly using “chestnuts” and ending with the deliberate “horse chestnuts;” and the eerie lines that lead the reader to the end, “An act of will to chew and swallow, / to say to yourself, Eat, it’s food.” Food, no doubt to escape. As in the burning question: “Did Shulamith or Menke make it through the day?”

Dismal / dark.  Horrific times.  Even in “Country Living” there is:

“…the man-plowed fields of one-cow farms, /holdings that yield enough to keep the body / Alive, not more… Here, winter last for twelve months, / the rest of the year is summer.”

Another poem “Flayed,” metaphorically hints at the flaying of the speaker’s “my Oskar” and his “flapped open” vest and that of the flaying of a spring hare:

“…the night they took him into the forest. / Sternum cracked, yanked out with ribs attached, lifted into a cast iron / pot, laid on a bed of early greens and sorrel for a sour stock tomorrow.”

Subtle, the metaphor of Oskar, as the “flayed,” or not so subtle. On first read the poem leans more imagistically toward the preparation of “this one a spring hare. Not fat enough” with all of its crude culinary skinning and butchery, “the meal for today.”  Yet, on a closer second read, here, is where Todd’s craft is perfected. With no explanation, Oskar, no doubt, the hunted game for the death pot, cast iron, no less. Hunted and killed by the Germans as predators, upon the helpless prey. What really struck me was Todd’s choosing of the German name “Oskar” and how closely it resembles the word, “hare,” and also (intentionally or not) how ironically Oskar as in Schindler, the German industrialist (from the movie Schindler’s List), credited with saving the lives of over a thousand Jews. Deliberate or not? I think Todd’s choice.

There’s so much more to “Flayed,” but for the sake of space, I will return to Oskar and touch on the wonderfully crafted, double (quiet) meaning of the line (quoted above, yet worth repeating): “laid on a bed of early greens and sorrel for a sour stock tomorrow.” Yes, our Oskar and hare laid out (in death) on natural “greens and sorrel” and the sourness of it all, when death is felt more on the morrow.   And a line from the last stanza:

“…They took the chickens, eggs, the cow, the pretty girls, the men.”

Those living day to day, working for the Germans, lived in their own trenches of fear, starvation, and daily despair. Also, apparent in Todd’s succinct, poetic accounts of war’s abuse: “Daughter,” “Mother,” women, men, unborn, and children, all of the preyed upon and their predators (Doktor and “Commander”). This cast of characters caught in the ugliness of hellish war, as it tore apart basic fibers, scourged human-essence, and demeaned dignity of those whom should have been spared, yet made to endure the crippling torments of bare bone survival:  cruel, non-sacred war.

Every page a reminder of “Not our lives, but lives / of the dead, escaped / into us. Grave, / we open to them.”  J.C. Todd makes your gut wrench, brands you mind with horrific images—lest we grow too comfortable; lest we forget that freedom comes at an extremely high cost; lest we stop listening to the voices of all whom suffered cruel injustices, the brutalities of wartime. Beware: some of these same atrocities happening, even now, on “Earth.”

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You can find the book here: https://squareup.com/store/moonstone-arts-center/

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently The Handheld Mirror of the Mind (Kelsay Press, July 2018) and Images of BeingLight’s Battered Edge; and Night Sweat. She has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer Many Mountains Moving, Indiana Journal, among others, with poems forthcoming from Sequestrum Journal of Literature and Arts. She is poetry editor at North of Oxford, an online literary journal. Visit her at http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/

Masterplan by Eric Greinke and Alison Stone

master
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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The collaborative poetic voices of Eric Greinke and Alison Stone compliment each other in their co-authored 72 page tome, Masterplan published by Presa Press of Rockford, Michigan.
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The poems do not credit either Greinke or Stone but both throughout the four sections entitled Emergency, Little Novels, Q & A and Tarps. The poems successfully vary in theme, form, and subject matter.
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In the first section entitled Emergency, the eighteen poems cover emotive themes and situations that inspire unease and fear.  In the poem Bad Actor on page 22, the narrator puts the reader in a public place watching a live theater presentation. The twelve-line one-stanza poem visualizes a benign situation which characterizes the audience as innocent or totally oblivious depending on perception
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                                           The gunman surprised us
                                           when he leapt on the stage.
                                           His eye were cold as he took aim
                                           at the man in the front
                                           row loudly unwrapping
                                           caramels, instead of at the actor
                                           pretending to menace
                                           the tied-up mayor and his wife.
                                           The other actors froze
                                           And the audience thought it
                                           part of the show, even after
                                           the real blood began to flow.
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The contemporary and subtle commentary on seemingly both real and staged theater inter mix and confuse, not the reader, but an audience that was watching pretend evil  When the audience is confronted with real life evil, it has trouble recognizing and processing what is happening.  The poets have a light touch as those on the stage realize what is playing out in front of them while those who came to watch are now the ones being watched in a skillful switch.
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In the section, Little Novels, the poems are each numbered (from 1 to 31) and are presented as poetic vignettes each telling an almost full story.  Poem 29 entitled The Beaten on page 40 is a good example.
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                                          The sad marching band ran from the field, their
                                          plumed hats drooping, out-of-tune instruments
                                          held to their chests.  They’d practiced for weeks
                                         but their routine had been derailed by
                                         serial love affairs in the rhythm section.
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The story line is almost complete but suggestive enough for the reader to imagine more
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In Q & A, the third section, the first line of each poem begins with a question.  Of the six poems in this section, I favor two equally: Animals as well as Monkey Time.. IAnimals the question is: What don’t dogs tell us?  The answer is:  That we don’t deserve them.  In Monkey Time, the question is: What time is it?  The answer in the second line is:  Time for regret to give way to desire.  This technique of question and answer throughout the poems in this section is consistent and interesting with many twists on old adages sprinkled with touches of surprise irony.
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In the final section, Tarps, The End? begins with the Double Rainbow was the first sign, and ends with: Atheists learned to pray, just in case.  My favorite line in the poem is The dogs meowed.  If the world were to end, wouldn’t there be signs and interpretations?  This poem presents contemporary images and uses a question mark in the title symbolically negating the suggested signs as a maybe.
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The tome is full of both short and long poems of various forms that give clear images of modern life and relatable outcomes to how people react to and interpret situations.  I liked the seamless mixing of two voices in a clearly successful collaborative endeavor.
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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0996502688/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Playground by Joe Benevento

play
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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The themes of regret and longing are so potent in Joe Benevento’s work. From his rueful observations about his father’s life and mortality in “Stay-at-Home Dad” (“At 89, a cane reliant diabetic”) to his memory of a girl he had a crush on in school (“Marilyn Meshak”), you can feel his heart aching:
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Maybe she lives like me an anonymous life,
maybe she died young and is all the more my ghost,
either way, we are as far from our days
sharing a school building, a bus stop,
a neighborhood as it’s possible to be,
more time past only making my dreams more
redundant, pained, to wake up and uncover
how I’ll never tell her
what I felt, and, so, still feel,
how I’ll never know her, and, so
somehow making everyone unknowable,
unreachable, whether awake, alone
or, finally,
asleep together.
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The poet recognizes this penchant for grief and remorse, with some ambivalence. “Miami Night with Marjorie and Todd” concludes:
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            a suspension of my disbelief in the magical
            realness of my future possibilities, from this city
            with too much music, friendship and night
            life for me to insist any longer
            on my regret.
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Life is so fleeting; how do we not regret its losses? Indeed, this is so succinctly spelled out in his sonnet, “Loser,” which begins with an epigraph from Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: “Battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.”
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The qualities of loss often conceal
how winning is a limit and a lie,
since human nature would much rather deal
with touchdown dances than with kids who cry
their disbelief we just want them to try
their best. They know better, they know too well
winning gets parades, applause, proud eyes
that say well done, instead of damn it, hell,
how did you miss that pitch, that pass, oh, well,
            we’ll practice more, or send you to a camp,
some place where they do all they can to sell
you on the notion that there’s just one stamp,
one way to court the dark drug of winning,
to hide how life is loss from the beginning.
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And so we feel the sting of his awareness that nothing is permanent, in another poem prefaced by a line from Whitman, this time from “When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloom’d”: “In the day, in the night, to all, to each, / Sooner or later delicate death.” In this poem Benevento is walking his ancient dog on the rain-dampened streets that are crawling with earthworms; it is his father’s 91st birthday, and the poet is “derailed by the near / certainty Dad will never see ninety-two.” The dog’s imminent mortality weighs on him as well; “and a tear trickles down for my dad, my dog, / myself, even for the worms I may be running over.”
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As in his 2015 book, Expecting Songbirds, another sweetheart from his youth, Sylvia Ramos, makes an appearance and provokes his yearning. Even more than Marilyn Meshak, Sylvia’s memory fills him with longing and a sense of missed opportunities. In “After Driving to See Sylvia in Nebraska,” the poet encounters his ex-flame from his youth in Queens, a “mixture of beguiling beauty tempered by modesty,” and struggles with his feelings of what might have been but resolves “to remain // the faithful knight to her maddening Dulcinea,” a reference to Don Quixote’s ideal in Cervantes’ novel.
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Another kind of regret is humorously expressed in “After I Realized I Didn’t Have Enough Money,” a poem about college tuition for his children, in which his longing and lament come back to haunt him when his daughter wants to go away to college: “she has spent her first eighteen years listening / to my nostalgia for a larger world.”  Call it poetic justice! The poem’s ending likewise brings a smile:
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…I’m wishing I was bankrupt
enough to become an administrator,
or foolish enough to believe in the lottery,
some other magic means to protect my long
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cherished claim money doesn’t matter.
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There are eight “After” poems in this collection (“After Zoraida Martinez Saved Me from Divine Word Seminary” is an example); the very construction of such a sentiment, regarding an event in the rearview mirror, is likewise a trigger for misgivings and second guesses.
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Poems, such as “No Competition,” “‘I’m never going to dream of fairies’,” and “After Math” are ones in which Benevento’s heart aches for his children, their expectations and future, let alone their well-being. In “Unsettled” he observes, he “never underestimates / the odds of disease, accident, or, at least / the predicted contempt of their teenaged years.”
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 But in the final poem, “Physical Therapy,” the poet acknowledges his good fortune in the midst of all the inevitable loss that life entails. He’s getting help from a young therapist for “a right ‘shoulder impingement’” whose “shooting pain” is bearable, but in the long-run, compared to his siblings and mother-in-law, afflicted by various cancers, he’s been pretty lucky. He concedes:
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I can live with the pain, or better still,
avoid it almost entirely, if I remember
evermore not to reach too far above
or for anything behind.
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Keep your expectations low, and don’t go rooting around in the past for things you can never change? Is this the cautionary message? Physician, heal thyself!
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You can find the book here: http://www.unsolicitedpress.com/store/p212/playgroundJB.html

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

Howling Enigma by Rustin Larson

howling-enigma
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By Hélène Cardona
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Rustin Larson’s Howling Enigma begins with a cornucopia of fruit and flowers amid the snow filled landscape of Iowa, where “Beowulf lives.” He describes it at times welcoming, in bloom, with “herbs / the Gerber daisies, the fall violets, the dandelion greens” and “mulberry seedlings,” and at times stark, with “pale frost on the window,” “the snow’s endless and cascading curtain” and where “sitting / in the sun is just a fantasy. / It’s six above zero.”\
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A deeply moving tribute to his parents and ancestors, this is a haunted collection where Larson spends “time with those who have gone on before me.” Memories, photos and dreams bring his kin back: “I still talk to my father in dreams. / Sometimes I see my mother from a distance.” Emotions are sparse yet hit you hard: “My grandmother hugged me / the way a mountain hugs stone.”
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Like a leitmotiv, underneath it all, solitude.
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“I wind up in places
that just seem to underline
the nature of solitude.”
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And what a treat for the reader to share Larson’s solitude, which echoes Rilke:
“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”
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Larson has gifted us a book of mournful love, filled with nature and animals, a far-reaching goodness that permeates all in spite of the darkness he embraces.
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GOLDEN BUDDHA
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You are Golden Buddha. You are the light
Of the world. I say this in my head to
Everyone. A fine electrical night
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Hums with water, carbon molecules, through-
Out the Eastern Seabord. Computers fail
In the morning, a cool day, a brilliant blue,
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For miles. I don’t see you much in the pale
Light. You are my other soul. In the night,
We lie next to each other for hours: ale
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Bottles, groves of trees dripping with light,
A waterfall lit by lanterns: babies
Cry in their own language lit by the tight
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Hooks and loops of alphabet, flower dyes
Soaked to color the body, soul, and sky.
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Such an ode keeps the darkness at bay.
“At night, I sit on my lawn an stare into the darkness.”
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Larson’s poems are bridges, hovering between the living and the dead, light and dark, where the past and the future are intertwined, and a guitar plays in the background. Like Berryman’s ghost, Larson casts a spell with poems full of “imagination, love, intellect—and pain.”
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The poet’s meticulous observations of his surroundings and every day life, such as the “patterns in the wind” read like tender – at times disquieted – unfolding stories, his vast spirit and benevolence permeating everything.
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Naomi Shihab Nye wrote that Larson’s words “always ring true” to her. They do. There is never a false note in Larson’s poetry. They slow time to a more propitious pacing, acting as a balm. What a wondrous meditation, from which the reader returns soothed, and vibrant.
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You can find the book here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/howling-enigma-rustin-larson/1128895309

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Hélène Cardona is a poet, actor & translator, the author of 7 books, including the award-winning Life in Suspension and the translations Birnam Wood (José Manuel Cardona), Beyond Elsewhere (Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac), winner of a Hemingway Grant, Ce que nous portons (Dorianne Laux), and Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for WhitmanWeb. She wrote her thesis on Henry James for her masters in American Literature from the Sorbonne, taught at Hamilton College and Loyola Marymount University, and worked as an interpreter for the Canadian Embassy in Paris. Her work has been translated into 16 languages. She has contributed to The London MagazineWashington Square Review, World Literature Today, Poetry International, The Brooklyn Rail, Asymptote, The Irish Literary Times, Los Angeles Review, The Warwick Review & elsewhere. http://helenecardona.com/

2 Poems by Nanette Rayman

trampled
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Slutted, Waiting for Next Year
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Not to worry. Your life is only your life
until you know this world is a dream. Like
how you’re talking with someone intently
when suddenly you feel the air in shadow
of a repellent machete—not
real, the earth, and your mind moves through
the air with its radical rain and you snap
back to this world—where did you go? Kissing
the air, your body falling to asphalt. Now
Dreaming Doubt could be the most beautiful part
of being. Descartes, are you turning over?
The most beautiful part of sitting outside on earth
is the improbable fact that we are
among flowers, though tramped on
unaware they are slutted waiting for next year.
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Not to worry. It will be lighter soon, prettier. You know
the road where you will walk, and you walk. The life
you thought you’d have is a dream. Are you
home or not home?  Not to worry. You
had no home. The door slammed. Beautiful
dahlias battu on this earth where the breeze whispers,
barely moving the calendar. Do not bend
your body in a posture of dejection over
a pothole of urban smut. Dream there
is something you can depend on:
“Behold, a place (makom) is with me”
            (Exod. xxxiii. 26)

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renaissance bird beating itself
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I am an angry woman
I blister with mountain air
And flail
seemingly alone
against what I have energy to fight
and rail, renaissance
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bird beating itself
against a lampshade
beneath the dirty
cotton
of winter sky, beneath the boiling
summer sky laying bare
its machete, the broken
glass bursting
and I feel
the frore air—a sting, a cut,
no tonic before I fight
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and I gorge
on the fight against the gougers
of flowers, imagined
freedom, the petals
are all eaten—
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I will not go
tamely
into the brumal sky
and I feel a bite
and prick in my breasts
I caress like a cavity
unfilled, stashing
muscular vengeance
for the Never Again
that has come
beneath the névé gelid sky.
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Nanette Rayman
Nanette Rayman, author of poetry books, Shana Linda Pretty Pretty, Project: Butterflies, Foothills Publishing. Best of the Net 2007, DZANC Best of the Web 2010, winner Glass Woman Prize for prose.  She performed off off Broadway, studied at Circle in the Square and with Gene Frankel. She graduated from The New School.
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