poetry

These Days of Simple Mooring by Florence Weinberger

these
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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In “My Very Own Opera,” one of the new poems in These Days of Simple Mooring, Florence Weinberger writes:
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            A cantor’s wail becomes a lullaby my father sang which kicks off
            Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which triggers La Boheme, shaky
            bridges over troubled waters. It’s all in the shuffle.
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This is an apt description of Weinberger’s creative process, how her poems develop, the associations that drive her verse. It’s all in the shuffle, indeed. In another new poem, “The Prescription,” she writes about her doctor suggesting she eat something salty to combat sluggishness (“Are you kidding me?” Salt, after all, has been a no-no for years – bad for kidney stones, blood pressure, tissues and organs, right?), but –
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            It licks me back home
            to my mother’s kitchen.
            I don’t compare
            the slick of fat.
            I don’t care. I’m told
            to eat salt, to taste
            total recall…
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Memory is a key ingredient to her poetry. At ninety, Florence Weinberger has a long life to draw on.   In a poem from 2010’s Sacred Graffiti called “The reason I don’t visit your grave,” she asks her dead husband, “Are you still listening? I tend to digress.” (“God, I’d love to make a date / to drink wine with your ghost,” she writes earlier in the poem.) Digression is her crabwise approach to meaning, the memories that pile on one another like hamsters in a nest of cedar shavings.
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These Days of Simple Mooring includes selections from four previous collections, The Invisible Telling Its Shape (1997) Breathing Like a Jew (1997), Sacred Graffiti and Ghost Tattoo (2018).  “Mame Loshen, The Mother Tongue,” from Breathing Like a Jew, takes her back to her childhood.
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            Yiddish, my first language,
            you were given to me whole, your wild colors
            intact, your bent humor, centuries
            of bottled-up rage and richly-imagined revenge.
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The poem’s a memory of her father. She writes that she believed in him, believed “his dazzling litany of dirty jokes,” “his poker-player’s paranoia,”
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            because out of this avalanche of language,
            punctuated by deep painful rasps of breath
            as he battled bronchitis and then emphysema,
            still smoking those pungent Turkish cigarettes,
            came the rhythm of my poems, like hard slaps
            with an open palm….
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The rhythm of Weinberger’s poems certainly whacks a reader out of his complacency. “As if all the gods have slashed their wrists at once / your inexhaustible waters pour and pour,” she begins “Iguazu Falls,” an ode to the Argentine waterfall, one of the new poems. “Where are this century’s muses, have they abandoned their vocation, / are they hefting Berettas instead of bone flutes?” she starts another new poem, “”Renew Us to the Mercy of Lyres and Flutes.” Got your attention yet?  How can you help but read on?
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The poem, “Hitchhiker,” from Sacred Graffiti, quintessentially evinces Weinberger’s style. She’s driving her car past “one of those lost unkempt souls  / you see stranded at bus benches trailing / their parcels of loose ends.” Reflexively waving her away and driving on, Weinberger has second thoughts. The girl wasn’t a gang member, after all; she just needed a lift. Weinberger feels a pang guilt.
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            No sooner had I fled the scene,
            I began to play the game of what if.
            I began to take credit
            for that spontaneous kindness.
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“I began to play with a memory already receding,” she writes, “I can no longer tell you what she was wearing.” Memory and imagination conspire to create a poem that a guilty conscience inspired.
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Weinberger’s mother and father – her whole family – are never far from her mind. They are inspirations for so many of these poems, as are Judaism and art. “Mother’s Blood,” a new poem, is a memory of her mother’s help when as a young girl she began menstruating. “My Mother’s House,” from Ghost Tattoo, is a poem about her joy at tracking down the house in Ukraine where her mother grew up, though the actual house is long gone. The joy lies in understanding her mother’s childhood,
            what it is to live in snow and planting seasons,
                        what it is to dig into the earth, milk a cow,
            fear soldiers on horses,
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            drunken neighbors with mouths full of curses,
                        that’s still here, I feel it, her fear,
            I feel her here.

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Weinberger writes in “The Power of My Mother’s Arms”:
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My mother’s death changed the alchemy of food.
Holidays run together now like ungrooved rivers.
I forget what they are for.
I buy bakery goods.
They look dead under the blue lights.
I forget what they are for.
I buy bakery goods.
They look dead under the blue lights.
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“What’s mine was my mother’s first,” Weinberger concludes the poem “Whole Grains and Hard, Harmonious Ways.” “How do I spend these final years?”
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“Smoking with My Father” from Sacred Tattoo is another affectionate memory of her father, teaching her how to smoke cigarettes. “Years later
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a man in a Max Beckmann painting
holding a cigarette European style
reminded me how my father and I
bonded, when I was sixteen….
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A mother herself, her two daughters and their offspring also figure prominently in the poems. “My Daughters Tell Their Friends,” one the new ones, and “My two daughters drop me off at the museum” are two titles, the latter poem, from Ghost Tattoo, also highlighting Weinberger’s interest in art, as the poem weaves in and out of various thoughts, with Weinberger-esque association.
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These Days of Simple Mooring includes at least a half dozen ekphrastic poems, including “A Common Grayness Silvers Everything,” with references to Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and other photographers; “Unraveling Darkness,” which, like “My two daughters drop me off at the museum,” involves Mark Rothko; “Picasso’s Four Bulls”; “Ejaculate Trajectory I, II, III,” works by the transgressive photographer Andres Serrano; “Revisiting Ozymandias,” sculptures by Albert Szukalski; “You Remind Me of Someone,” Maria Lassnig’s painting, Du Odor Ich.
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Judaism and Jewishness are important themes in the poems as well. The rituals of mourning, of eating (“Let me fashion prayer from a piece of dough,” she writes in “The Power of My Mother’s Arms”), references to the Torah, survivors of the Nazi death machine, modern-day Israel. “Where I Was When Yitzhak Rabin Was Assassinated,” an elegy for the murdered peacemaker, is a memory of being in Las Vegas at the time. “I am in the city of chance, city of sham and amnesia.”
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These Days of Simple Mooring concludes with “Announcement,” a musing about a sort of DIY obituary, like rescuing her own memory: her very own opera, indeed!  Florence Weinberger’s unique voice and verse make for an impressive read.
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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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Advertisement

The Girl Who Quit at Leviticus by Suzanne Rhodenbaugh

girl
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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The Girl Who Quit at Leviticus by Suzanne Rhodenbaugh is a slim tome published by Homestead Lighthouse Press in Grants Pass, Oregon. In fifty-seven pages of thoughtful. irreverent, and unsentimental observation, Rhodenbaugh explores universal themes of faith love, death in addition to flowers in a mixed variety of poetic forms.
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In her poem, Religious Preference on page five, Rhodenbaugh presents two stanzas and an ending couplet that explores a relationship with God but suggests an earthy connection. The poem is evocative, focused and well controlled reversing the one who is face down on the ground with the worshipped God.  Are we talking faith here or is this poem suggestive of desire and lust or both? Word choices such as trough of love and manageable tick suggest animals and bugs which are not usually associated with love.  But the poem gives attitude.  The narrator in the poem is not just a beast feeding or kneeling, but a thinking being who is demanding. I like the clarity and form of the poem.  It put a smile on my face as I visualized God in tight jeans at a Biker Bar ready for game.
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I don’t want to feed
at the trough of love.
I don’t want to wait or stand.
I don’t want to kneel
before a prostrate God,
or a manageable tick
in a blurred white sky.
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I want a sky that is hot and blue,
God in pants, and full of the devil.
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In her StoryFlowers poem beginning on page fourteen, she gives the reader a series of definitions
that tell flower stories.  The first stanza titled Iris is just two lines.
Once I was all lips and tongue.
Now I am a fist.
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She continues this story telling through fourteen different flowers for example Petunias on page seventeen.
Droopy Daliesque trumpets,
until the sun plays them
up.
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All the stanzas are short in this poem and focus on an observable suggestion of a flower’s personality in the garden.  This is both a fun and serious poem.
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The title poem, The Girl Who Quit at Leviticus, on page fifty, begins at a day camp.
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A blue spot shone on the Methodist Youth Camp
Counselors acting out
Smoking, Drinking, Cussing,
sin blue as a saloon. …
The narrator, after observing the actions of the holy counselors in the first stanza, resolves in the second to read the whole Bible in one year.  In the third stanza, the speaker says:
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The Devil, who wasn’t big on Methodists,
never took me.  There was no Big Fall.
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In seven stanzas the narrator goes from a pony tailed girl who strays into other good books like The Black Stallion and The Return of the Black Stallion to a young woman who becomes more aware of life through reading.  She reads tales of mystery and slaughter, Into love and dark achievement.  Because of these other readings separate from the Good Book, she says in the last stanza:
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whereby I missed the angels,
and the pale horses of Revelations.
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The poem is well controlled using the common space and time of an innocent girl with a big goal becoming distracted with the love of reading as she grows up. The poem represents faith interrupted but not abandoned.  Rhodenbaugh has a light touch with a serious subject, and it works.
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Rhodenbaugh has an unsentimental approach to traditionally sentimental themes.  Her attention to both detail and form works well throughout.  The poems mix levity with solemn subjects which creates a question of how loud you should laugh, how quiet should you cry. This is an interesting group of poems worth traveling through.
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The Girl Who Quit at Leviticus is available from www.homesteadlighthousepress.com
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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.
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City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) by Diane Sahms

city shadow amazon

City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) by Diane Sahms has just been released by Alien Buddha Press. You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BMSZ8NV8/ref=sr_1_2?qid=1668816380&refinements=p_27%3ADiane+Sahms&s=books&sr=1-2&text=Diane+Sahms 

What Others Say About  City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia)

In Diane Sahms’s ambitious City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) there are classical elements, the prominence of the elegiac as well as the lyrical and an oracular power that echoes back to Greece, yet remains rooted in Philadelphia.  The language soars—blooms, although with a dark undertone, illuminating the shadow and shading the light.  The meticulous pairing of the shadow and light allows the reader to explore the connective tissue between the seemingly unalike. Sahms’ syntax alone imparts a musicality and a dissonance to her work. Readers are jarred into a heightened realm of acuity.  Heroin’s inner arm of a clawing dragon/he never slew and Blue Heron’s Blue-gray architecture wades slowly, deliberately/leads slavish eyes knee-deep into still waters. They are yoked together like duets.  In her “Suite for Iris” the poet’s persona explores the world from the perspective of Iris who exists in the liminal zone of part human-part flora, a fertile intersection of the primeval and the reasoned. Iris, tall stalk before shears, /rhizome’s roots as heart’s arteries. Sahms’ often heretical visions push brilliantly into an unseen darkness.

Stephanie Dickinson, author of The Emily Fables and Big Headed Anna Imagines Herself. 

Wade into the mirror with Diane Sahms as she unveils and unravels identities—probing for meaning and finding connections. Different life forms fuse into a “universal soul” in these “heart shuttling” sojourns that sonically imagine the magic of “spirits united.” Morality and mortality yield their secrets in exhilarating lyric passages in which emptiness is purified via resolute perception and consequent insight. —Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

In City of Shadow and Light (Philadelphia), Diane Sahms looks upward to the cosmic, then comes back to the personal, in poems that are full of natural imagery and (often) mystery. The focal point is the “first city,” Philadelphia, and its inhabitants, particularly those connected to the poet. We meet ones who create and others who struggle. What brings them together is the poet’s care for each and every one. Through these poems, you will gain a new appreciation for a place and some of its ordinary (and extraordinary) people. This is an eye-opening, heart-tugging collection. —Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Tricks of Light

Diane Sahms’s City of Shadow & Light opens with the loss of two sons and continues to hearken more challenges as the book unfolds. But as she quotes from Jung in one epigraph, dark shadows only heighten the brightness of light. Thus, the book’s ending of “light” is hard-earned, and the fortitude is as inspiring as the “brave Raven, who stole light / from total darkness // for everyone.” The reader is left gladdened that this poet managed to retain her voice and that, despite everything, that “voice, still sings.”—Eileen R. Tabios

 

City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) by Diane Sahms – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BMSZ8NV8/ref=sr_1_2?qid=1668816380&refinements=p_27%3ADiane+Sahms&s=books&sr=1-2&text=Diane+Sahms 

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2:24 a.m. by Michael A. Griffith

crossing
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2:24 a.m.
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Train blurs going past
    2:24 on my radio’s green screen
night darkness except the cross-arms’
    red lights flashing
the sound  the strobe  the noise
    of   motion as I sit  still
warning bell clanging   still
    coming home from O’Keef’s
the noise thrumming   thunder over
    Hotel California — my head bobs in time
my head bobs in time my head bobs
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                                    I see a face.
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    There’s a small face  bright
bright  a flash as the long train passes   still passing
    the yellow cars maroon cars graffitied cars pass
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    Eyes meet   he sees me  he sees
as the high note of the guitar solo rings
    to meet the wailing bell
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Sees the truck now behind me   headlights
    glare in my rearview   engine loud as the train
train now done and the gate arms rise
    high-beams me and revs  engine heat like
monster’s breath    See
    the driver’s arm thrust  waving  long
shouts   horn blaring
    so I go
drive into the eyes
still there
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Griffith Photo (1)Michael A. Griffith began writing poetry while recovering from a disability-causing injury. Three chapbooks: Bloodline (Soma Publishing), Exposed (Hidden Constellation Press), and New Paths to Eden (Kelsay Books). He lives near Princeton, NJ.

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Two Poems by Jianqing Zheng

sunrise
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Looking Back
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If I
never tilled rice paddies at sunrise,
never handpicked cotton under blue skies,
never dug irrigation canals in winters,
never mucked out stables before dusk,
never smelled purple soybean flowers,
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if leeches
never sucked blood from my shanks, calluses
never formed hard and thick on my palms, the sun
never blistered my back,
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if I
never acquainted myself with local peasants,
never worked with them shoulder to shoulder,
never chatted with them in their shacks,
never witnessed the joy and pain of their life,
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if all this
never was a part of reeducation, I could
never relate grains to drops of sweat and
never imagine the oil lamp as the light of hope.
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Five decades have long gone.
My body has become a rusty plow.
Some nights I dream of tilling at sunrise or
reading in the deep night with a desire
to turn to a new page of life.
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Indebted to Land
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After dusk surges
across the sky,
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the moon appears
over the village,
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full and graceful
like a Tang Dynasty lady
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pacing in a red robe.
In a while
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It floats up
over the plowed fields,
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brightens
like limelight,
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and sways
its radiant sleeves
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as if ribbon-dancing
with throws and spirals.
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At this moment
you stand by the furrow
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and let petrichor
enter your body
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and soul—
a way to accept
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a way of life,
a way to balance
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the way of self
through hard times.
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Zheng
Jianqing Zheng’s poetry collections include A Way of Looking, Enforced Rustication in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, The Landscape of Mind, Delta Sun, and Delta Notes. He teaches at Mississippi Valley State University where he edits Valley Voices.
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Where Mr. Penasky’s check went by Morgan Boyer

gyro
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Where Mr. Penasky’s check went 
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All of your missing rent checks
migrate to live on an island of lost
office documents. The moment
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you slot them into the mailbox,
they grow plastic wings and flutter
out the dust-covered window of your
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A/C-lacking flat above Mike’s Gyros Shop
where they have the $6.99 chicken
tender basket special on Wednesdays
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So while you sit on a bar stool with deflated fluff,
like meth-addicted sheep, filling your veins with greasy
fried cholesterol since it’s all you can afford on a $10 an hour,
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your missing rent check
is fighting a giant ground sloth
on a white-sanded beach
in the Bermuda Triangle.
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bridge-Boyer
Morgan Boyer is the author of The Serotonin Cradle (Finishing Line Press, 2018) and a graduate of Carlow University. Boyer has been featured in Kallisto Gaia Press, Thirty West Publishing House, Oyez Review, Pennsylvania English, and Voices from the Attic. Boyer is a neurodivergent bisexual woman who resides in Pittsburgh, PA.

Swallowtail by Gloria Monaghan

swallow
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Swallowtail
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The blue butterfly emerges along the path in the dunes
low to the ground near Queen Anne’s lace:
polyxenes, swallowtail
whatever name you call her,
she is like the dust on your ankle in the heat of July.
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An early slipper moon, Venus
each one present in the other’s view.
Years ago men wrote about the moon,
called her Cynthia, as if it were a woman so close to their heart
held in early autumn like the forever beat
of high summer when clothes fall away from the body
in some sort of sad departure.
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An early green tiny worm made its way
into my home, and I opened the door and set it free.
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gloria
Gloria Monaghan is a Professor at Wentworth University. She has published five books of poetry. Her poems have appeared in Alexandria Quarterly, NPR, Poem-a-Day, Nixes-Mate, Mom Egg Review, among others. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and the Massachusetts Book Award. Her book False Spring was nominated for the Griffin Prize.
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I Never Cared for Skinny Angels by John Dooroh

transit
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I Never Cared for Skinny Angels 
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It’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort.
I do, I really do. But a malnourished angel
ain’t doing me any favors. They need
to be cherubic, well fed with the afterbirth
of sin. They need to glisten a bit in the sun,
forget to shave their legs, drop spaghetti
on their gowns, make a mess at Outback,
eat ribs on Beale Street & burp a bit
to let the servers know they enjoyed
the food.
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My angel squeezes sideways onto a city bus
in Geneva to tell us what stop to take to see
her favorite church, disappears when we turn
to thank her. We see her later that day eating
chocolate-and-raspberry torte at a sidewalk cafe,
wiping her mouth and chin with a white linen
napkin.
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She recites prayers of abdication, full
of regret for slipping up, for imperfection, but
it’s unnecessary.  I cry with her
in the back yard with a million fireflies
who lay an electric carpet for our feet.
She grabs the cigarette from my mouth,
inhales, holds it in like a ghost breath, exhales
her smoke into my field of vision.
I remind her that there’s strawberry cheese-
cake in the back of the fridge.
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john
John Dorroh was born with a pen in his hand. He wrote his first poem on the bathroom wall with his mother’s red lipstick. He graduated to novel-writing at the age of 12 with an adventure book called “Buck’s Way”. His poetry has appeared in about 125 journals, including Selcouth Station, Os Pressan, Feral, Burningword, and North Dakota Quarterly. He also dabbles with short fiction and the occasional rant. His first chapbook was published in the spring of 2022.
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Muddying the Holy Waters by Chocolate Waters

muddy

By Charles Rammelkamp

Without putting too much emphasis on the cleverness of the title, the words “muddying” and “holy” stand out as the labels of Chocolate Waters’ new collection. “Holy” is an apt description of her outlook, an almost spiritual, if comic and irreverent, voice that spins the narrative of her life; “muddying” certainly pinpoints the details of growing up in a dysfunctional family in the strangling conformity of a Republican small town, being the outsider everywhere, generally.

Muddying the Holy Waters is made up of two parts. “Impossible” is about an unrequited love affair with an unnamed woman. “I’d Rather Be a Toad,” subtitled “(the Curse and the Blessing of Mount Joy, PA),” is about her family, about growing up. Consisting of poems, essays and photographs (mostly in the second part, snapshots of her parents, siblings and herself), the collection is a retrospective of her life, as she enters her 70’s. Her goal in putting this collection together, she tells us in concluding essay, “The End is the Beginning – Muddying Your Own Holy Waters,” is to get to “the authentic bottom line of [my] life experiences,” to “explain how difficult it is for me to be vulnerable, to go beyond expressing my default reaction which is just to be majorly pissed off.”

“My life has been about rejection,” Waters writes in her introduction to “Impossible.” She also tells us about the origin of her name, the taunts of her classmates calling her “Choc-o-lotta Weirdo,” but also, living less than half an hour away from Hershey, named for “the religious racist chocolate magnate,” had something to do with it. (Spoiler alert: her parents named her Marianne, which I learned from reading the caption to a newspaper photograph of her as the Douglas High School spelling bee champion, in the second part.)

But rejection is at the heart of “Impossible,” in which she describes the evolution of her sexuality, from rejection by high school boys to eventually identifying as lesbian. She’s one of the first openly lesbian poets to publish in the United States, part of Second-wave feminism, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. First-wave feminism focused on voting and property rights; second-wave expanded the debate to include issues of sexuality, the workplace, and family.

As a front-line warrior, she experienced plenty of rejection. But this sequence focuses on a particular love interest that never developed the way she wanted. From poems like “Encounter #1” and “First Rush” (“longing to / ingest you / whole or / bit by bit”), in which her desire takes hold, to “Apology” and “Dirty Karma” she confesses her hopes, only to have them dashed in “Things I Won’t Have to Do (since I’ll never see you again)” and “Bang Bang” (“She shot me down / as I was talking on the phone / She shot me down as I was washing the dishes / as I was watching Netflix / as I was peeing”). The bitter reactions morph: “You Don’t Deserve Me” begins:

You know you don’t
The nights I howled over your rejection
What tossing me out the window did

Then, in the “Afterthoughts” section come the episodes of drunk dialing. The rejection still hurts.

The first section also contains a sometimes-funny, mostly sad series of poems about the dead animals in her life, from a favorite collie to her faithful cat Scruff-o (“for seven years he loved me”). We’ve all lost pets. Waters captures the heartbreak with real sensitivity.

The second section, “I’d Rather Be a Toad,” is by far the more affecting sequence, starting with the essay, “How Mount Joy Transformed Me into a Pisser Poet.” This section is all about her parents and siblings. If she is often unsentimental in her assessments of family members, she is always forgiving, affectionate. To her brother Bob she writes:

you are so terrified
of me
pagan dyke poet telling my truth in a bar
as i am
of you
good christian
telling yours in a church

Chocolate confesses her shortcomings as an older sibling, growing up in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, her impatience, but she concludes her short essay, “What Good Are Brothers?”:  “So what good are brothers? More than I thought, more than I have the ability to say.”

But it’s the poems about her mother and father that cut the deepest.  Her dad was a bigamist, a second family they only learned about later. He was also a real prick to his wife. They both essentially hated each other but stayed married.  When her father died, Chocolate was heartbroken. He was her favorite. She writes in “waiting room”:

I was in the waiting room w/uncle billy
down on my knees in public
crying unabashedly
gasping so hard
my tears strangled me
praying to a god I didn’t believe in

About her mother, she is not so teary. Though she recognizes her mother was a victim, she still can’t quite forgive. In “pauline’s daughter” she writes,

it was impossible having you for a mom
no way you could have mothered wild-child
brilliant
pissed-off
melancholic me
i ran more circles around you
than a venn diagram
but what was it like for you
left alone to parent four young children

abandoned by your husband
who preferred the company
of any woman but you

In “Mommie Dearest” she addresses Pauline who is lying in her coffin: “”What do I say to your dead body?” No breast-beating at this bedside.

The Mount Joy poems are bookended by the “Curse” poem – “I ran away / oh the freedom in escaping / the christian republican evangelists” – and the blessing:

two kinda of people live here
the ones who go to church and
the ones who go to the bar
had i stayed
i’d become a raging alcoholic
or a hallelujah

Chocolate Waters clarifies her muddied waters in this affecting collection, so we can see ourselves down there at the bottom as well.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Muddying-Holy-Waters-Chocolate/dp/0935060111

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.