poetry

Sojourners of the In-Between By Gregory Djanikian

soju
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By Frank Wilson
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The opening lines of “Even During the Slightest Changes,” Gregory Djanikian’s poem in memory of James Tate, could well serve as an epigraph for this latest collection of  Djanikian’s poems:
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Everything is in flux, Heraclitus said,
and I believe him with my ragged heart.
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Heraclitus also said that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  Djanikian seems to have taken this to his ragged heart as well, even wondering who that man is now. As he puts it at the end of “Loose Ends”:
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Someone, come knock on my door.
Let’s see who’s inside.
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He’s already confronted this question in “Nostalgia,” the poem that precedes “Loose Ends,” when he thinks “if I had a photograph of every second / of the life I’ve already lived / I might feel bedraggled by it. // Or maybe not, maybe I’d pore over every snapshot, nuance, every shade of gray …”
Like all of us who reach three score and ten and beyond, he is supremely aware of time passing and past, with the future growing ever foreshortened — “the past / coursing into the present, the then / and the there / into the here I am.”Again and again the words hand and touch figure decisively:  “Therefore,” the first in  suite of poems titled  “Uneven Dozen,” begins:
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The hand at the end of my arm,
how far away it feels
from what I think I am.
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But another poem in the suite, “Without Saying,” concludes thus:
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Little magical hand
I am attached to,
waving in the rain.
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Then, on the facing page, in “Reconstitutions, Dispersions,” the speaker tells us “I smell the earth in a handful of earth,/ touch the atoms I might one day be colluding with.”In “Therefore” the speaker’s hand is somehow detached from the speaker’s self, the same self that feels attached to the hand that seems magical in “Without Saying,” the self that may amount one day to a handful of dust.
This is quite a step away from “Sometimes”:
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… what is it about holding the hand
         of your best girl and feeling at 14
     nothing of the past or future
just the desire of a boy
              who’s lost all his marbles
somewhere between a touch and a kiss?
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“Body to Body,” a couple of pages after “Sometimes,” concludes with a reference to “the sufficient touch / of the touch.”
Lest you think this is all morose brooding on mortality and possible oblivion, rest assured there’s more than that to be found here. Take “Beauty,” for instance:
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Sometimes it’s almost nothing at all,
a long whistle in the distance,
a startle of new rain,
a woman’s delicate hand appearing
in a window, then disappearing
before any implication. 
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There’s also  “Poem With Clouds.” The speaker’s wife “mentioned in passing / that what they were really feeling / each time they kissed /were her electrons, his electrons, /repulsing each other without touching.”
So the speaker starts kissing everything — tree bark, cat’s fur, piano keys:
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He wanted to see why one cloud
of electrons was mystifyingly different
from another, why he could distinguish
just by kissing, a potato from a peach pit.
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“After a while, his lips grew inflamed … // One day, a tree fell and he heard it. /Then, he kicked at a rock and it hurt.” And so …
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He went back to his wife
and gave her a kiss everywhere.
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And then there is Djanikian’s mother. This wondrous lady has made appearances in Djanikian’s other collections, always stealing the show. She makes two appearances here. “My 90-Year-Old Mother Would Be an Alpinist” tells of her “climbing my high porch stairs /pulling herself up by the railing.” With each step she calls out the name of a famous mountain peak:
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“Jungfrau,” she says, without stopping
to take a rest, “Kilimanjaro.”
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He tells us “I’ve offered her my arm / but she loves saying the name / of each difficult mountain….”
She has transfigured a chore into an adventure and more:
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Here, too, where steepness is a stairway
leading only to my front door,
every breath is hard won and holy,
Every step, a kind of prayer.
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“My Mother Considers Her Death During Cocktail Hour” wastes no time making plain her viewpoint: “It will be a sleep without dreams, she thinks.” Either that, “Or someone ushering her into a plush limo. … though she’d like the limo / to carry a full bar.”
It is, in fact, cocktail time, and “she’s after a dollop of bourbon.” A toast is raised:
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… here’s to the sheer improbability
of being where we are, making
a small place in the world
where a history of our loves and losses
shapes us into who we are.
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The tone of these poems varies a good deal, sometimes humorous, at other times almost testy, unavoidable sadness redeemed by tenderness.
But let us give the canny Mrs. Djanikian the final word:
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“Here’s to forgetfulness, too,” she says,
turning on the lights, “give me an absence
that stays absent without any trouble.”

Audubon’s Sparrow by Juditha Dowd

Audubons-Sparrow-Front-Cover_Low-Res-300x450
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Subtitled A Biography-in-Poems, Juditha Dowd’s insightful collection concentrates on the famous naturalist’s wife, Lucy Bakewell, showing us the incredible hardships both she and her husband endured. While some of the poems are in John James’ voice, most are from Lucy’s perspective, in the form of diary entries and letters as well as lyrics that reveal her mind. Audobon himself lived to the age of 65, dying in 1851 after suffering a stroke several years earlier and slipping into dementia, and Lucy survived another couple of decades after him, but the arc of these poems covers the twenty-five years from their meeting, in 1804, to their departure for England in 1829, when Audubon’s success was just at its start.
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When they meet in their rural eastern Pennsylvania community near the Schuylkill River, Audubon is only nineteen years old, Lucy seventeen. Born into a wealthy English family that were friends with the distinguished Priestly and Darwin families, Lucy Bakewell had come to America only two years before. John James Audubon, whose ancestry was a bit less genteel, had a French background, via San Domingue (Haiti).  The second poem, an 1804 letter to her cousin Euphemia, concludes with a decorous allusion to their growing mutual affection.
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As to how he pronounces my name, you may not be surprised
to learn I now prefer it uttered by the French.
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Lucy affectionately refers to John James as “La Forest,” suggesting his love of the outdoors, his vigorous nature. He’s a lively young man who charms her mother and her younger siblings with his swaggering liveliness. As Lucy says in another letter to her cousin, “Mr. A. is fond of dancing. He treats us to his fiddle
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or accompanies me on pianoforte, and he’s taught us all
some charming French chansons.
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For this reason, Lucy’s father is skeptical of him, but for better or worse, they marry three years later.  Soon after, they head west, into the frontier.  Dowd likens John James to Papageno, the comic character in Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, at once playful and wise“To tell you all this truth in simple words,” Papageno famously says, “I make my living catching birds.”  
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While his primary drive is always collecting specimens and drawing them in detail, for the next ten years, Audubon makes a brave effort to support his family through various business ventures. He and Lucy have four children, though two of them, Lucy and Rose, die in infancy. In Kentucky, he goes into business with his brother-in-law running supply stores, a sawmill, but they lose everything in the Panic of 1819.  In a poem set around three years earlier, “Audubon at the Window,” Dowd shows us John James musing to himself:
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I do not dissemble when I say that I’m a happy man,
though something weak within me says I’m not.
Fall has unmistakably arrayed our woods,
and ice has skimmed the creek beyond that stand of holly.
I cannot see it, for I’m here amid the bales and boxes,
flour bins and raisins, and the woolen socks,
hoes and skillets, twine and carriage straps,
the cabinet where we keep the guns and shot.
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I’m a provisioner of farmers, of travelers and families,
while something in me sighs that I am not.
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Oy, what poet or painter hasn’t felt the same, toiling away at his or her clerical job, or serving customers in a store or restaurant?  But after the business failure, John James devotes himself to his passion, first at the Western Museum in Cincinnati, then in New Orleans and eventually Europe. These next ten years are tough ones and put a real strain on the marriage. Lucy and her husband spend years apart while he is in Scotland and England trying to get his work published.  Except for fleeting journal entries and occasional desperate letters to Lucy, we do not enter Audubon’s thoughts as much as we do Lucy’s, on whom the burden of supporting the family falls. She becomes a teacher at a plantation in Louisiana for an imperious Southern family and then later sets up teaching on her own. Correspondence between husband and wife is intermittent and overlapping.  Poems like “I Put Aside Pride” indicate the humiliations Lucy endures for her husband’s sake, just as in an earlier episode, when the family’s finances are falling apart in Kentucky, in a poem called “I Remind Myself about Gossip,” she reflects: “What wife escapes a husband’s reputation?”
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The sequence ends on a happy note with their reunion in Louisiana after years apart, but more tragedies, as well as triumph, fame and financial success, will follow over the next 40 years. Dowd includes  all of this information in a Preface, an Afterword and a Timeline, but the essential drama in Audubon’s Sparrow focuses on the sacrifices of the early years and the love that sustains them.
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Audubon’s Sparrow – the title refers to the swamp sparrow Audubon had inscribed with Lucy’s name in The Birds of America – is satisfying on so many levels, for its lyricism, the love story, the history, the sense of life in early nineteenth century America. The book also includes five illustrations from Audubon’s work, including hawks, a downy woodpecker, the mocking bird, and not least, that swamp sparrow.
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You can find the book here: https://rosemetalpress.com/books/audubons-sparrow/

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf

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The Elvis Machine by Kim Vodicka

elvis

By Greg Bem

But at some point, I stop dancing
and start poking meat.

At some point, I stop wondering
and start looking.

(from “High Tea,” page 47)

Kim Vodicka’s third book, The Elvis Machine, is the follow-up to 2018’s rambunctious Psychic Privates. It contains an explosion and a resulting silence—a collection of poems worth feeling uncomfortable by only to slowly be empowered by moments later. Featuring a myriad of ecstatic tones, collages of images and ideas that wander through and between each poem, The Elvis Machine is a collection of intensely beautiful feminist poetry that ruptures and coats. It is a book that takes up time and does not give it back: each poem features narratives with a sense of the imperative—these are Vodicka’s speakers’ moments, at once intimate and relentless.

I wrote a note near the beginning of the book that describes a cursory understanding of how the poetry is working in The Elvis Machine: “balance between delicate and chaotic—juxtaposed.” On one hand, Vodicka reaches a totality that blends between these qualities. But that’s also a superficial way of describing her work. There is much more going on from moment to moment, from poem to poem. The poems’ speakers, which tend to feel both similar and distant from one another, contribute to the collective; The Elvis Machine embodies a choral quality, and with it comes empathy and a sense of reflective endurance.

The rage of the wounded feminine lifts me.

I vow to be a famous mass murderess.

I vow to let you clean up the carnage.

I vow to grasp without ever even reaching.

I vow to wear wicked withc shoes for the rest of my days.

(from “Blue Flowers (Reprise),” page 61)

What is being endured? Systemic misogyny, for one. These poems contain a lot of love, but that love is persistent across time and space of pure, awful agony and difficulty. Plights and oppressions galore await the casual or intentional reader of Vodicka’s works. These bounds never sit still in their horror, their trauma, and any of the bravery behind the confessions. Many of these poems contain language that disturbs, sickens, and twists the guts into a rigidity or spasm. It is the type of work that could force one reader to shake their head in disbelief and another reader to throw up their lunch. Because Vodicka does not hold back.

But she isn’t only out to provide the grotesque. Much of the highlighting concerns active, dynamic sexuality that arouses. The stimulation edges the reader along, maintaining concentration, deepening satisfaction. As rhetoric, as pedagogy, Vodicka’s work is an alignment emphasized by viscera and an ultra-realism. It is this visceral work that produces lingering effects, effects of insight and inspiration. Readers of Vodicka’s previous books will know these feelings well—The Elvis Machine is further refinement of techniques perfected in earlier works.

But I will fight to the death
to retain my sensitivity.

Which means I’ll die of love.

Eaten alive by those who say right
but mean wrong.

(from “Babalon Fantasy,” page 114)

Despite the work being “ultra-real,” some readers may relate and feel the resulting elements of survival contained within. That chorus calling for new minds and voices within the readership. The stories, while holding that imperative, are much more than a series of urgent “calls to arms.” They are also uniquely positioned as vignettes that illustrate a fluidity concerning sexuality and relationships. Vodicka’s speakers blend in their own form of identity collage. This is a unique collective of humanity that, while at its core resembling a distinct feminine energy, contains many folks with many identities. That fluidity moves through gender, moves through sexuality and sexual orientation, and is wonderfully queer. The risks that are taken here, in what sometimes comes off as a freefall or dance between each poem, are immense. But Vodicka’s poetry satisfies that immensity with humor, ironic crassness, and a profound attraction toward the guttural. Some of the most complex differences between humans end up being solved with our shared ability to laugh, mate, orgasm, and produce bodily substances.

What The Elvis Machine reflects is a commitment to exploring the self of selves. Vodicka’s work is an ongoing epic meta-narrative that fits well into an era of distraction and hyper-consumption. I believe it carries a poetics that embraces technology and emerged senses of knowing with unsolved, systemic issues faced by women for millennia. I believe it also connects to the issues faced by trans, gender fluid, and gender nonconforming folks as well.

Cuz the moon is a rogue,
and the muse I on repeat,
and my gaze has been thusly affected.

Respectable receptable, man-infested.

Kingly queen with delusions of infamy.

(from “Milk PTSD,” page 41)

Vodicka’s poems are not solely concerned with solving those issues but rather, like the trickster hero(ine), concerned with pointing them out and doing so in a powerful, incessant, and beautiful way. The language is as crisp as a lake’s edge, as rigid as daggers, and it sweetens the world like a brief lick of blood. It is poetry capable of challenging and chiseling. It calls and it crumbles. And it knows what it is capable of from cover to cover, allowing risk to manifest as subtle, tense experimentation.

Whether readers have a history with feminism or have never heard the word, whether they have read feminist poetry or have never imagined they could, The Elvis Machine is a great place to start. And with as many doors as it shuts in its forceful, chaotic elegance, it opens just as many for us to depart, screaming all along, only to sit still, rest, grow, and sigh empathetically. Vodicka has once again, through effort that bridges gaps between chaos and delicacy, between formalities and madness, crafted a gift of a collection that will educate, will infatuate, and will salivate the gentle reader’s understanding of, and belonging to poetry.

You can find the book here: https://www.clashbooks.com/new-products-2/kim-vodicka-the-elvis-machine

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 gregbem.com.

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Refuse by Julian Randall

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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In Refuse published by the University of Pittsburgh Press Pitt Poetry Series, Julian Randall, as many poets do, explores the tortured vision of the self as he makes his way through an unsettled world exposing biases and rules which a person attempts to fit into.  In the eighty-five pages of introspective and sometimes raw poetry, themes of self- examination; sorrow and parental connections are presented in various lengths and forms.
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In his poem, Elegy for the Winter After Taina was Cancelled on page thirteen, he uses images of photographs, even if they aren’t real, to depict his relationship to his mother, her skin color and children at play.
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                         In the photograph     which never existed
                         I am roughly 7
                         on a block somewhere
                         near Michigan Ave.
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                                                                           It is worth noting
                                                                           that even in the photographs
                                                                          I look exactly like my mother                                                                        
                                                                         except for the skin
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Randall adjusts the form of the poem to represent what is there and not there using indentations and spacings in a suggestive way to fit his narrative and skillfully presents a time and place where things are connected and disconnected at the same.  He speaks of the white children playing Bestial with joy.  It is a complicated poem open to many interpretations but has a light touch in tone, situation and place.
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In his poem On the Night I Fear Coming Out to My Parents on page forty-one, Randall weighs the pros and cons of his parental reactions.  He not only has concern for himself but also for the ones he cares about.  It is a one-stanza prose poem concerning self- reflection.
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                        I am afraid of something I am and have never named.  My tongue
                       is a refuge for secrets. How does one fear banishment if they were
                       born in exile?
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The poem succeeds in posing outcomes of unmasking yourself and its consequences.  It also shows Randall’s skill in writing a variety of poetic forms.
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On page seventy-five, Randall presents a Tanka for the 4th of July. Again, Randall shows his skillful poetic control and raw commentary. He gives this poem time and place independent of the holiday mentioned in the title. The narrator is not explicit in meaning but the tone suggests a resiliency of the narrator on a day that celebrates freedom.
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                                         I will spend the day
                                         surviving which is the most
                                         un-American
                                         use of my body since I
                                         spat loose a bullet and laughed.
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This tome is not for everyone.  The poem’s subjects can be raw and direct.  I like the book because of the sincere clarity of the narrator’s voice that shows both vulnerability and strength in being. Randall is a talented writer with a broad range.
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The book is available from www.upress.pitt.edu

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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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Two Poems by Kim Whysall-Hammond

seasonal
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Seasonal
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Sunlight jags across bare branches
casts long shadows over ridge and furrow
gives no favour aloof in winterbright sky
rabbits  mourn the loss of grasses
russet brown of a red kite hunts above
chill wind cuts my coat
lazily going through not round
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Pale primrose lies low
bold daffodils stand to attention
and the budding begins
sticky tree buds emerging from wood
reddish, shading to luminous green
all wait, as do I
with baited breath
for the right moment
the burst of Spring
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Drowsy summer, warm and humid
brash coral flowerspikes
lean out of hedgerows
where bees amble and drone
in a bustling household I am idle
not gardening, not busy
sitting making plans to waste more time
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Autumn leaves litter roads red and orange
the long slide into the cold begins again
advent madness beckons
like a siren calling us onto the rocks
of family festivities, hidden lonelinesses, retail greed and envy
soon rooftops will grow neon reindeer
all too soon it will be Christmas
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Coward
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She has parked behind me
putting her vehicle
and her body
in the way of traffic to protect me
and I let her
coward that I am
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On the edge of a dangerous road
engine failed
lorries flash past only inches away
I shiver in February cold
dressed in office skirt and heels
look in my rear view mirror
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Young woman
half my age
earning less than half my salary
public servant and protector
risking herself for me
and I let her
coward that I am
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When the rescue truck finally arrives
the driver too scared to remove my car
she quietly tells him his legal duty
returns to her patrol car
I walk over and thank her
she smiles
tells me it’s her job
one she loves
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As we leave
she blue lights away to another shout
smiling and waving farewell
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kim
Kim Whysall-Hammond is a Londoner, now living in a small country
town somewhere in Southern England.  She has  been published by Total
Eclipse, Fourth and Sycamore, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Three Drops from a
Cauldron, Amaryllis, Star*Line and Crannóg. An expert in obsolete
telecommunications arcana, Kim believes, against all evidence, that she
is a good dancer. You can find her at https://thecheesesellerswife.wordpress.com/
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At Summer’s End by Elizabeth Gauffreau

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At Summer’s End
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We come upon a bank of beach roses
High above Portsmouth Harbor, rose hips
Unexpectedly signaling the end
Of summer. I stop to take a photograph
Crop tight the crimson ellipsis
Crop tight the leafy green symmetry.
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In my memory
The fruit is smaller, rounder
The bushes a low sprawl
Of dusty leaves where sand meets road
Above Hannaford Cove, cold sweat
Of exposed water pipe beneath my bare feet.
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From somewhere behind me
My mother says, Aunt Etta
Gathered rose hips to make jelly. Aunt Etta
Was my grandmother’s aunt.
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In her memory
My mother is pregnant
The summer Aunt Etta
Comes to stay at the cottage
High above Hannaford Cove.
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Through dormered window
She watches bemused
As the small stooped figure
Moves among the dusty bushes
Easing the rose hips off their stems.
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In her memory at cliff’s edge
Etta strips rose hips from great sprawls of bushes.
Etta must boil rose hips in blackened woodstove kettle
Boil them thick, strain them clean. Rose hip jelly
Will taste of summer’s end
When the farm is frozen over
And the wind blows unforgiving
Off the Bay of Fundy.
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liz
Elizabeth Gauffreau holds a BA in English/Writing from Old Dominion University and an MA in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire. She is currently the Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment at Champlain College Online in Burlington, Vermont. Recent poetry publications include One Sentence Poems, Smoky Quartz, Medical Literary Messenger, The Ekphrastic Review, and Pinyon. Recent fiction publications include Dash, Pinyon, Aji, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, and Evening Street Review. Her debut novel Telling Sonny was published by Adelaide Books in 2018. Learn more about her work at http://lizgauffreau.com
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Two Poems by Mary Shanley

s
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The Oldest Part of the City
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Sometimes, if you lay very still,
you can feel the web tremble.
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With the multiple corpses
we drag around inside us,
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I was wearying, and then
the air changed, and I was
in motion,
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Take me to the oldest part of the city,
where there are faded names of casinos
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and loan sharks on the windows.
Where there is one greasy spoon among
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a scarce population of people for whom
there is nothing to be done. Faces, hair
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and clothing are all from the distant past.
There are whispers and murmurs
among the remnants.
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Take me to the oldest part of the city,
to the Four Queens Casino,
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where I can dialogue with my dreams;
where I can pretend to be a card shark;
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where the ash on one of the heavily made up,
senior’s cigarette, is one inch long
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Take me to the oldest part of the city,
where there is no difference between you and me.
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But, how then, will I know who you are to me?
There are some things that nobody knows.
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It is all hidden in the oldest part of the city.
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Choke Talk
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Frankie smokes on the fly
outside the Duane Reade store,
where she works as a cashier.
Every break and lunch hour,
Frankie pulls on a Camel
non-filter; her head lowered,
as if shame accompanied
every inhale.
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I tried to figure Frankie’s age.
with her slight black figure
and defeat etched into the lines
on her face, Frankie looks older
than language.
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When I stop for a quick, “Hello,”
Frankie attempts to speak. She
barely has enough oxygen to choke
out a, “Hello.” Like a balloon losing
air, now I see Frankie, now I don’t;
as she fades in full sight.
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Mary Shanley is a poet/storyteller living with her wife in NYC.
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Driving Through San Francisco at Sunset By Lily Anna Erb

bROADWAY 2
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Driving Through San Francisco at Sunset
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We’re climbing these hills like we can’t reach heaven
fast enough. Antonio is driving his slick stick shift
with a spoiler like an angry dorsal fin, and his girl,
with western wildfire eyes, is sitting passenger and I
am clinging to my boyfriend as Antonio shifts
his feline to a new gear. He banks left and I bite my lip
but nothing hurts, my mouth fills with copper life
and I laugh because we are nearly blowing
every light on America’s Great Highway, and now
we are heading so fast into a wide circular tunnel,
aimless bullets entering the world’s biggest gun.
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Now we are the heart,
flying through North Beach, down Mission,
through Chinatown’s great oil spill,
not caring about the California gasoline in the tank
since mom and pop covered the cost. Antonio carries
us to Twin Peaks, and at the Earth’s summit we get out,
to allow the wind to lick our sweat and get a taste
of youth, but we do not stay to watch
the cherry-stained fog roll in, and we do not stay to see
the Golden Gate open with light.
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erb
Lily Erb is studying poetry at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is originally from Long Island, New York.
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What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym

What the Owl Taught Me
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By Byron Beynon
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In this, her first full collection, Annest Gwilym makes an impressive debut. She brings to life, through rich observation, her deeply felt connection with the natural world. She inhabits this world with an objective and sympathetic eye. Landscape and place are important to an understanding of what Gwilym is trying to say in these poems. The creatures that inhabit them become the primary focus, whether they are mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish and marine life, they all play a part in the delicate balance and rhythm of a world we all share and live in.
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As Ted Hughes discovered as a teenager, animals have a “vivid life of their own, outside mine” and he began to “look at them……from their own point of view.” Gwilym’s poem “Last Night I Became An Emperor Moth” begins with this view in mind:
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“I rode through the liquid night,
as a melon-slice moon crested a bank of cloud.
Part of the hush and curve of the universe;
Pleiades above me a diamond cluster ring.
Clothed in starlight, wings powdered,
furry belly glossy and plump.”
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Gwilym also casts an innocent eye in the poem “Whelk Shell” when
“As a child they looked like ice-cream cones”……and “Held to the ear I hear/the rushing blood and heartbeat/of a living being.”
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There are several focused observations in her work such as:
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“sheep like drops of candlewax/Spilled over bare green hills.” (Driving Through Sheep Country)
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“Hair-thin legs on stilts” (Daddy Longlegs in the Attic)
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“They huddle like conspirators/in slick black suits…” (Crows)
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“they crest/ like the pure notes of a clarinet.” (Dolphins At Porthdinllaen)
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and from the poem “Great Crested Newt” she takes us to a world inhabited by a “Creature of two elements,/he waves his dinosaur tail /at his chosen one, beguiles/her with cologne/in his brightest spring suit.”
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There is also that sense of fate which many creatures have little or no choice to determine:
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“Ear-tags show these beasts are marked for death;” (September Cattle) and again where trees are uprooted and houses built “foxes /stalk the shrinking woods.” (The Fox Road)
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As the Anglo-American writer Stephen Pain says we “experience a whole range of feelings towards animals, and hope and believe that they are reciprocated. They produce, to paraphrase David Hume (author of A Treatise of Human Nature), “a sensible concern” in us. The birth and death of animals (not all of course) elicit from us sympathy. The nature and extent of this sympathy has evolved over centuries into something complex and provides the foundation for our appreciation of animal verse.”
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This concern can be heard in the poet’s voice as she looks outside late at night from a bedroom window at a family of foxes “a swirl of autumn,/with a feline leap from a fence they landed,/velvet-footed, spangle-faced, a mother/and kits who rolled and played…”(City Foxes)
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Gwilym has two patterned poems, “Wasps’ Nest” and “Golden Child”, both arranged in interesting shapes on the page. In her poem “Golden Child” the endangered Undulate Ray is: “Beauty queen of rays,/she hides her cartoon face underneath where she/grins with 50 teeth. She bears children in a purse/fit for a mermaid.”
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We are closer to the poet’s home territory in “Seal At Play” where in the marina she perceives the unfamiliar in familiar surroundings;
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“A water-slick head surfaces and his eyes
watch the watchers, as sunlight glosses him.
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Later, the retreating tide will lead him away,
dragged by the moon and stars.”
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In “Encounter” an unexpected meeting with a mare unfolds “she is as polished as a chestnut just out of its thorny armour,” when the horse is offered some grass to eat a trust develops as:
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“the mare lowers her head
and eats, lipping my hand
as ears flick away flies.”
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This is a mature, accessible first collection of forty poems, written with imagination and craft.  Her keen perception allows the reader to experience an understanding of familiar creatures in a receding and threatened world from a different slant.
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You can find the book here: WHAT THE OWL TAUGHT ME

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Byron Beynon’s work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, The London Magazine, Agenda, San Pedro River Review, Planet, Poetry New Zealand, Wasafiri and the anthology Moments of Vision (Seren).  A former co-editor of Roundyhouse poetry magazine.  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)
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