ray greenblatt

Lines of Defense by Stephen Dunn

By Ray Greenblatt 
         This is a very mature and yet somber book of poetry often with gleams of warmth and humor. This is Mr. Dunn’s most recent collection published in 2014. The poet employs the persona of an older man; we can never be sure what is the mask or the poet himself behind it. The man has worked through many obstacles and suffering, but over and over he manages to find life-giving resolution.
          I like his technique of juxtaposing two opposed views. He explores the age-old question, in this poem, of THE CHICKEN AND THE EGG:
          The chicken for dinner with earnest friends, the egg for breakfast
          with folks who like to play with their food before they eat it.
          The chicken fills you up so you can’t move,
          The egg cracks open, and choices begin— . .
           Yet sometimes the chicken is both necessary and sufficient 
          and sometimes your earnest friends instruct you
          about how to live with the beak and the gizzard.
          The egg allows itself to be hard-boiled or deviled.
          It doesn’t worry. To live right isn’t an issue.
Here you observe the obvious light humor but the philosophical observations are thought provoking. 
In similar fashion he compares a poet to a priest in IF THE POET to achieve even more fascinating possibilities:
          Would a good priest find the right words,
          as the good poet would, in among the many words
          passed down for centuries
          on what to think, what to believe? . . .
          That is, if the poet mistrusts words, as he should,
          makes them pass hard tests . . .
          wouldn’t he,
          although self-ordained, be more reliable?
          But what if the villagers believed
          they were saved by a prayer the priest said
          one Sunday among the ruins? And all the poet
          could do was elegize the ruins? . . .
          things got worse
          and prayers proved useless,  and poems
          merely decorated the debris where a house
          once was? Would it be time for the priest
          to admit he’d known but one book? For the poet
          to say he’d read many, and look, it hasn’t helped?
The questioner in the poem ultimately decides that in this world of unclear answers just trying might be enough.
        Another striking technique Dunn uses to further his philosophic probing is to focus on a strong woman. In BETTY FRIEDAN’S FINAL ADVICE this historical feminist gives her opinions:
          Don’t let
          a ship’s captain marry you
          unless he’s adept at changing course . . .
          Say the words you must say,
          but be sure to violate all the stupid stuff.
          After the ceremony, change into that funky
          outfit that drives only the right men crazy.
          Hope your husband will be one of them . . .
          Tell him also you have nothing
          against God, but remember only an insecure God,
          like an insecure man, insists that a woman
          must obey . . .
          Your job now
          is to define what heavenly is, and heaven itself,
          and find ways to let him in.
          In the last poem a strong woman gives her opinions about relationships. However, in FOR MY SON a father warns his son about a woman strong in the wrong direction:
          To marry Alison, Robert, will be to haul water
          from a deep well for the rest of your life.
          It will be to worry about beauty
          instead of enjoying it . . .
          You love her soul, you say,
          but Robert, a soul is unmapped territory . . .
          Well, you’ll have to learn a new language,
          hers, which she expects to be understood
          before it’s spoken . . .
          I just try to make things that last.
          I’ve  made you up; I’ve given you a chance.
          Dunn revels in ways to use the Word IN LOVE, HIS GRAMMAR GREW:
          In love, his grammar grew
          rich with intensifiers, and adverbs fell
          madly from the sky like pheasants
          for the peasantry . . .
          until roused my moonlight
          and the beautiful fraternal twins
          ‘and’ and ‘but.’ Oh that was when
          he knew he couldn’t resist
          a conjunction of any kind.
          For love
          he wanted to break all the rules,
          light a candle behind a sentence
          named Sheila, always running on
          and wishing to be stopped
          by the hard button of a period.
          We have seen the shadows and the light in Dunn’s poetics. I’ll close with a very moving ending to his poem A COLDNESS:


          That powdered stranger
          lying there, that nobody I knew?
          I was far away, parsing grief,
          turning it over in my mind.
          He was simply gone, a dead thing,
          anybody’s sack of bones.
          Only when his son spoke,
          measuring with precise, slow-
          to-arrive language the father
          he had lost, did something in me move.
          There was my brother restored,
          abstracted, made of words now.
          I knew nothing about Stephen Dunn. Perhaps years ago I read some of his poems but had completely forgotten them. I had heard that he taught in New Jersey. That was all: perhaps a good way to come at a work of art for a fresh impression. There are many poets out there. Poetry is a thriving sub-culture like antique collecting, gardening, cuisine, etc. Poetry is used in advertising and song lyrics. Our challenge is to find the best among the many. I’ll choose Stephen Dunn.
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

Dovelion: A Fairy Tale for Our Time by Eileen R. Tabios


By Ray Greenblatt

          This novel swirls with philosophies: historic, societal, militaristic, aesthetic, tribal . . . But its essence is a love story. Elena has had many difficulties in life. Meeting Ernst, an artist, allows her to find her way by support and caring. The author uses many poetic devices that we will see in the following sections: Writing, Love, Objects, and finally Abstractions.

                                                              I – On Writing

          Two major poetic devices loom early in the book. The title itself -–DoveLion—is strong symbolism. Elena learns through love to be humble as well as assertive, the yin and yang of human nature. DoveLion is also the name of her homeland where the peaceful are being besieged by the cruel.

          The author also employs repetition to emphasize certain feelings:
          “Once upon a time, I thought Poetry is a fairy tale . . .”(1)
          Elena, the main character, is a poet who did not think poetry could encompass all aspects of life, only the ideal.
          “Once upon a time, Elena approached a grey building . . .” (39)
          This is the moment she meets Ernst who forms her first real relationship.
          “Once upon a time, an emerald island laid upon a blue sapphire ocean . . .” (117)

          This is Elena’s homeland that she remembers as being very beautiful until a dictatorship took power, driving her away.

          These three essential elements in her life are repeated many times throughout the book to have us remember what drives and shapes her.

          Since the author is a poet, as is the character Elena, what is said about poetry carries extra weight. “As often occurs in poems, the words left behind the poet’s intention.” (88) The poet knows that each word holds a certain meaning; sometimes the meaning is lost if the words are not accurate.

          Sometimes the poet has to speak the words out loud to hear if that is what she really means: “Silently mouthing it as if to sense the words’ physicality against my tongue.” (222) In this case the words were sour. As a reader Elena escaped into poetry: “Living through words she read behind covers of cracked leather.” (295)

          Tabios uses delicate personification: “The empty page longs perpetually for its lover.” (2) In a way the writer lovingly adorns a sheet of paper with words.  “The pages seemed too fragile to hold their burdened past.” (209) As she rereads her journals, Elena recalls the pain she has encountered.

          “I am writing this along the infinite cave wall of my mind.”(263) Often a poet dredges up a thought out of the deep unconscious that every human has evolved through one’s life. We must even explore the tiniest of places to find ourselves: “So much wisdom exists in footnotes.” (33)

                                                  II – Elena Searching

          Elena has experienced so much sorrow as an orphan for so many years that she is often startled by an event. “My warm breast swiftly chilling against cold porcelain.” (11) Her fears “turned my scalp into a tundra.” (212) Her major release was crying:  “Crying is cathartic. It lets the devils out before they wreak all kinds of havoc.” (194)

          Sometimes everything depressed her.” The world looked as grey as her trench coat.” (86) “Greeting mornings as an exposed nerve.” (281) She expands this feeling to include all needy people through marvelous alliteration:  “We pockmark the planet.” (240) And sadly, “I forgot how one can sag into night.” (283)

          She often found herself uncertain. “Speechlessness allowed me to harness my scrambled wits.” (192) A glimmer of belief would appear then die: ”I graffitied a temple against my skin though I did not yet know where to place my faith.” (193) Then she would hide again. “I burrowed within its walls. I chose an apartment that could cocoon me.” (192)

                                              III – Elena Emerging

          Finally, these two good but hurt people meet. “It’s always interesting, they knew, when fallen angels meet each other in their human forms.” (52) They were very gentle with each other: “Their tone was the softness of cotton laundered over a thousand times.” (74) Having sex seemed to unlock their feelings: “Full lips which need only pout to unlock a bank vault.” (28) Elena had found an emotional island in which to rest: “She surrendered her fingerprints to the universe.” (81) This sentence uniquely defines her feelings of openness.

          Ernst’s main psychic wound was being deceived as a child by the lies of his father whom he adored. Now the lovers inched their way toward one another. “Each inevitable stutter of love.” (88) They mutually feel that “I forgot you were the altar that made me stay.” (157)

          Elena was being cured by love. “My cracks soldered with the Kintsukuroi gold of sun, light, lucidity.” (196) That Japanese word defines the art of mending broken pottery with gold threads. Lucidity for Elena and Ernst was the honesty between them. A sea metaphor stands for her emergence: “She was wading across a sea floor as she walked across the carpet. The algae of memories. The coral of possibilities.” (21) Even those sentence fragments reinforce her slowly cohering emotions. She has attained her goal: “My footsteps dancing away from youth into courage.”(281)

                                               IV – Things Touchable

          Tabios has the skill to bring objects to life, whether miniscule or cosmic. Let us first look at the building in which Elena and Ernst meet. “A building that looked like a grey egg. I cracked it open.” (19) This simile suggests the birth of something significant.  “The building’s multiple reflections encouraged the thought of parallel universes.” (33) Inside this structure all types of freedom of expression waited for her. Through direct address she challenges her fears: “”’I am not small and anonymous like you, Basement!’” (31)

          Her views of nature are truly poetical.  On the beach “she felt sand lick a cat’s tongue against her ankles.” (27) “Rock arches and a hundred caves presented an eyelet pattern whitened by sea salt over the years.” (255) And she remembered her Asian homeland: “The rice fields, sometimes melancholy at dusk.” (283)

          She uses strong verbs, as poets do today instead of resorting to strings of adjectives: “One road grappled north, the other south.” (271) And her descriptions can run almost to the comically absurd, as this one about a nose: “Hers tipped up unexpectedly for a bewitching endnote.”  (211) Those last two words are both uniquely vivid.

                                                    V – Things Intangible

          Some things clearly cannot be touched or at most can indirectly touch you. ”When sky turns blue, it becomes as physical as an organ.” (282) Or “when I stepped inside the sun continued to accompany me.” (18) When we see butterflies, we just want to observe their beauty, not touch them: “Silver butterflies who appeared from nowhere and lingered over her smile.” (75) Likewise, “a breakfast of rain.” (284)

          These are what we may call indirect senses. More so, flowers play a very special role in our lives and picking them is not foremost. “Inhaling their promiscuous scent, she admired the red, waxy petals.” (40) Notice that powerful adjective that suggests so much more than just smelling. “The door always opened to the scent of magnolias.” (286) Finally beauty unto itself: “The wisdom of flowers.” (168)

          Dance, also on one level, is physical for the dancer. However, the viewer has an entirely different sensibility. “The arm work in flamenco, unfolds with resistance—the arms move through air that seemingly has become physical resistance, like quicksand.” (44)

                                                     VI – Abstractions

          Let us conclude our discussion of DoveLion first with some comments about painting since Ernst is an artist. Like a poet writing words, an artist often had a wild compulsion to paint: “He kept painting the tango on a panel of the sidewalk.” (271) Almost a laughable situation, perhaps even to the artist himself. “The regret of crimson, the futility of pink, the astonishment of brown.” (280) Elena teasingly tells Ernst, “Your favorite color was water.” (280)

          Through Elena, Tabios’ philosophy is very far ranging. From the minor worth of a name: “Amy? So benign. Not sufficiently fraught with various significances.” (92) To power: “When one is powered only by power, joy becomes irrelevant.” (143) “To be poor is inherently to receive cruelty.” (216) And a clever play on poetic parentheses about misogyny: “Not perceived or articulated such that it often lapses into the parenthetical.” (221) A closing irony: “Ignoring reason is often a luxury for the privileged.” (191)

          Not much has been said about the author’s moments of comedy.
          “Capturing light through algebra.” (284)
          “Anthologies of glass.” (285)
I am not quite sure what the above mean, but I find them delightfully whimsical. Only a poet can say!

You can find the book here: https://www.acbooks.org/dovelion

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).




Kim by Rudyard Kipling


By Ray Greenblatt

          Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an author of many poems and as much prose. He lived many years in India as a journalist , so he knew the inner workings of the country, even speaking Hindi. Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he seemed to evolve into something different and grow to believe in the White Man’s Burden as he aged. However, we are not concerned with politics or economics. Our goal is to illustrate how Kipling blends his poetic skill into his unique early novel Kim (1901).

                                                                     Poetic Style

          Let us immediately analyze Kipling’s poetic approach. Afterwards, we shall observe how these poetics bring his characters and India itself to life. He the author sometimes interrupts the omniscient narrative to step forward into the scene. “There was a whirr and the voice stopped—as voices must if you ram a thrice-doubled coat on to the wax cylinder and into the works of an expensive phonograph.” (151)

           At times he makes it sound as if a report had actually been written about Kim’s spy work after he graduated from the St Xavier School. “The report in its unmistakable St Xavier’s running script, and the brown, yellow, and lake-daubed map, was on hand a few years ago (a careless clerk filed it with the rough notes of E. 23, second Seistan survey).” (170) As in poetry, inversion is used. ”Followed a sudden natural reaction.” (185)

          Kipling finds a series of phrases emphatic. “Bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp.” (275) Sometimes simple nouns: “Decked, brow, nose, ear, neck, wrist, and ankle with heavy native jewelry. When she turned it was like the clashing of copper pots.” (177) Repetition, even of clauses, plays a role:  “Because they knew and loved the Lama, because he was an old man, because he sought the Way, because he was their guest.” (195)

          That last paragraph contained a simile using “like.” Another is “gurgling, grunting hookahs, which in full blast sound like bull-frogs.” (71) His metaphors are prevalent too: “With the gait of a bogged cow.” (160) And how Indians speak like the British: “the tinny, saw-cut English of the native-bred.” (84) Often sight images like “watching the throat-muscles quiver and jerk” (180) blend with hearing imagery, “he caught the well-known purr and fizzle of grains of incense.” (179) The onomatopoeia is acutely used.

          Kipling’s poetic devices are numerous, so I will close this section with the imaginative use of verbs, such as “the Lama jibbed at the door.” (27) Gerunds: “with strivings and yearnings and retchings and agonies.” (288) Participles: “full-fleshed, heavy-haunched, bull-necked, and deep-voiced.” (225)  “Northern folk . . . swearing, shouting, arguing, and chaffering in the packed square.” (17) You can see all of these methods at work throughout the novel.


          Kim, a half-English, half-Indian boy, we see grow up from ages 13 to 16 at the height of the Raj. He is bright and loves all aspects of life. He can blend in with a crowd, dressed like them and speaking their language. Kipling describes that phase of life as “years of indiscretion.” (2) If he is offended Kim is apt to tell a person off. “Consider for a while, man with a mud head. Think you we came from the nearest pond like the frog, thy father-in-law.” (60) And yet, Kim has a good heart, calling India “the great good-tempered world” (34) and “this broad, smiling river of life.” (61)

          After many adventures the ever-healthy Kim becomes ill. Usually his sleep was deep.  Noise “did not even weave a dream through his slumbers.’”(140) But now “his soul was out of gear with its surroundings—a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery.” (282) As he heals he says, “I remember that the days and nights passed like bars of white and black, opening and shutting.” (276)

          However, the wise old Lama inspires him. “The cross-legged figure, outlined jet-black against the lemon-colored drift of light.’” (287) “The Lama was his trove, and he purposed to take possession.” (12) The Lama taught him to think deeply, beyond the common world of men. “Kim watched the stars as they rose one after another in the still, sticky dark.” (193) He practices meditation. “His mind drifted away from those heights with the rush of a wounded bird.” (185) He “threw his soul after his eye across the deep blue gulfs between range and range.” (233) The boy loves the Lama very much perhaps because Kim was an orphan. I see him following in the wise man’s footsteps not as a priest but as a teacher.

                                                            The Lama

          The Lama was old: “He turned his head like an old tortoise in the sunlight.” (6) Kipling describes “his thousand-wrinkled face.” (10) He often feels tired: “The Lama dropped wearily to the ground, much as a heavy fruit-eating bat cowers.” (66) “The Lama shrugged and shrunk into himself, a dingy, shapeless mass.” (33) But he has a quest to discover the river Buddha found to cure all ills. He is often unsure: “The boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion.” (260) Yet, the people loved him for his holiness: “The Lama was a great and venerable curiosity.” (38)

          With Kim’s constant aid and love, he can energize himself: “It pleased him to curl himself up into the sudden sleep of old age.” (193) Then refreshed his “voice boomed like a Tibetan devil-gong.” (244) We see the Lama “speaking truth to chance-met people.” (16) He is sympathetic to all castes of individuals. “’And they likewise, bound upon the Wheel, go forth from life to life—from despair to despair,’ said the Lama below his breath, ’hot, uneasy, snatching.’” (54)

          He has learned to endure: “My spirit sits above my bones, waiting.” (212) The monastery in the mountains of northern India is where he calls home. To reach there and show Kim his country along the way becomes his goal. “With steady, driving strokes from the loins he strode upwards.’”(230) “The first freshness of the day carried the Lama forward with long, easy, camel-like strides.” (51) “He set his ivory-yellow face, serene and untroubled, towards the beckoning Hills; his shadow shouldering far before him in the dust.” (229) The Lama will learn that his magic river is anywhere that he is contented.


          At many moments in the novel crowds dominate the scene. “A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust and trot past to a chorus of quick cackling.” (62) “The crowd drew a long, quavering breath.” (48) “A wall of uncertain darkness speckled with little flames and alive with half-caught forms and faces and shadows.” (71) “They scattered like frost on south eaves of a morning.” (259)

          Different characters occur then disappear. “A wild-eyed, wild-haired Sikh devotee in the blue-checked clothes of his faith, with polished-steel quoits glistening on the cone of his tall blue turban, stalked past.” (61) An evil holy man looks at the Lama: “The priest looked at him sideways, something bitterly—a dry and blighting smile.” (49)

         Kim meets a spy disguised: “Ash-smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu . . . luminous with insolence and bestial lust.” (204) On another occasion the same spy is disguised so that two Russian agents refer to him as “the nightmare of a Viennese courier.” (239) His real intelligence is shown when he says: “To discuss medicine before the ignorant is of one piece with teaching the peacock to sing.” (218)

          The Lama becomes fast friends with an old soldier– the man, not his former profession. The soldier thinks of his long life: “It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.” (57) But with the Lama’s ministrations he begins to recall: “”Last night broke up the fountains of remembrance in my so-dried heart.” (51) The two old men form a diptych as they nap: “The old officer’s strong-cut head pillowed on his arm, the Lama’s thrown back against the tree bole.” (55)

          A rich old woman who nurses both Kim and the Lama back to health springs vividly to life in the novel. She is a talker: “They could hear the old lady’s tongue clack as steadily as a rice-husker.”(75) She even screams: “She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook –house.” (278) Yet she can be happy: “She chuckled like a contented parrot above the sugar lump.” (214) Although her language can be rough: “She paid Kim compliments that would have flung European audiences into unclean dismay.” (214) But her nursing shows her skills: “Have I shifted thee and lifted thee and slapped and twisted thy ten toes.” (277) Kim kiddingly admires her old face: “a Moon of Paradise, a Disturber of Integrity.” (75)


          Kipling can describe cities, like Lucknow. “She is the center of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury.” (120) “The house-lights scattered on every level, made, as it were, a double firmament.” (148) Some stores were weird like a tobacco shop: “Those who know it call it The Bird-cage—it is so full of whisperings and whistlings and chirpings.” (177) Kipling can depict a simple decoration: “The patterns on the gold-worked curtains ran up and down, melting and reforming as the folds shook and quivered to the night wind.” (71)

          Yet some buildings can be sinister as Kim encounters sounds and smells: “ The room was full of things that smelt like all the temples of all the East. A whiff of musk, a puff of sandalwood, and a breath of sickly jessamine-oil caught his opened nostrils.” (149) This description even approaches horror: “There leaped out from the walls a collection of Tibetan devil-dance masks, hanging above the fiend-embroidered draperies of those ghastly functions—horned masks, scowling masks, and masks of idiotic terror.” (149)

          Kim and the Lama traveled into the country. ”Mid-days in the dun-gloom of kindly oak-forests.” (269) “The smoke-scented evening, copper-dun and turquoise across the fields.”  (214) “The frogs were busy in the ditches, and the moon slid to her setting.” (220) “The solemn deodars, climbing one after another with down-drooped branches.” (146) “They walk farther north: “Golden, rose, saffron, and pink, the morning mists smoked away across the flat green levels. All the rich Punjab lay out in the splendor of the keen sun.”  (31)

          They longed for the silence and restorative air of the mountains. “The long, peaceful line of the Himalayas flushed in morning-gold.” (225)  “A thousand feet below lay a long, lazy, round-shoulder bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning sun.” (254) “It was like sitting in a swallow’s nest under the eaves of the roof of the world.” (258) Those stupendous heights, “all day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and at evening put on their jewels again.” (231)

          For the Lama his religion was an integral part of the landscape and its people. “Buddhism, overlaid with a nature-worship fantastic as their own landscapes, elaborate as the terracing of their tiny fields.” (232) “The easy, uncounted Eastern minutes slid by.” (188) “The soft, smoky silence of evening in India wrapped them close.” (287) Kim and his Lama had found fulfillment.

          By today’s standards Rudyard Kipling’s poetry is old-fashioned. However, some of his fiction remains powerful; from the short stories The Phantom Rickshaw and The Man Who Would Be King to the novels The Light That Failed and Captains Courageous. But for me Kim, employing diverse poetic effects, is the pinnacle of his success.

You can find the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/93144/kim-by-rudyard-kipling/

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

North of Oxford – Spring 2021 Pandemic Issue #7

Dreamscape by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/
Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #7 from North of Oxford and Maria Keane for graciously providing her art. In order of appearance we present: Ray Greenblatt, Robbi Nester, Tim Suermondt, Charlie Brice, Wayne-Daniel Berard, Eileen R. Tabios, Stephen Page, Joan Mazza, Faith Paulsen, Marion Deutsche Cohen, Maria Keane, Wesley Scott McMasters, Megha Sood, Judy DeCroce, J. H. Johns, Charles Rammelkamp, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Linda Nemec Foster, Stephen Mead, James Walton, Antoni Ooto, Ethel Gofen, Michael A. Griffith, Ken Soyow and Bartholomew Barker.
Ray Greenblatt
2020 Summer
The boardwalk stretches away
straight and empty as if
          a landing strip waiting for the first plane.
Mr. Peanut exits his shop
squinches in his monocle
twirls his cane and peers
          around in disbelief.
And yet the tantalizers
of caramel corn
and pizza slices
          float on the air uselessly.
In the casino
the roulette wheel still spins,
          fanned cards lie on the green felt.
While on the wide deserted beach
the gulls seem to hoot and hoot
This is the dream of a million minds
thinking now in terms of six paces
thinking that their words are muffled
          with winding cloth.
Covid Days of the Week
minute a bug bite
an hour a mud ball
          in the eye,
but a day
. . . wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday . . .
we lug like a tombstone
tall    dense    mossy
gray    grainy    granite
obit etched,
until the end of the week
to add to the foundation
upon which we build
          a wall of months
so high and gray
it obscures the sky
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
Robbi Nester
Tu B’Shvat During the Pandemic, March 2021
I have been watching out this window, waiting for
everything to change, if only for a moment,
a day, a week. Now, outside my window, three slender
trees, young girls swaying on the sunny path, have
begun to bloom, buds bursting in the spring’s first warm
sunlight. The trees take on soft edges, branches raising
garlands to the sky. Soon, next month maybe,
blizzards of white petals will fall to the grass, and trees
unfurl their leaves. Let the bees enter the vaulted
chapel of each blossom, drink from each raised chalice,
bless us with the sweetness of continued life.
Robbi Nester, like so many, is just beginning to emerge from sheltering in place and finding it more challenging than she imagined. She is author of 4 books of poetry, who used much of this year to write and host readings, as well as editing an anthology, The Plague Papers.
Tim Suermondt
  The City is Returning
                      Easter, 2021
But the city is returning
only because more and more
people are—not in a torrent yet,
some streets still looking a bit
lonely, but the signs are there,
like the bridges across the river
that were shrouded in a Covid fog,
the bridges coming to life
in a flow of sun and gulls and human
traffic. I want to wave to and embrace
everyone, but I keep myself dignified
as best I can—there’s much living
to be done for those who made it,
over sorrow and resilience, to this day.
Tim Suermondt’s sixth full-length book of poems “A Doughnut And The Great Beauty Of The World” will be forthcoming from MadHat Press in 2021. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall, Poet Lore and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
Charlie Brice
Mugsi Doesn’t Wear a Mask
But I do because of the pandemic.
      Mugsi doesn’t because she’s a dog,
a black standard poodle that
      we don’t cut up to look like the freaks
owned by rich ladies in Manhattan.
On our walk we come across masked strangers
            who always appear menacing,
but who invariably wave because
            they are my neighbors and
we all like one another.
They remove their masks and I recognize them—
            a sheen of familiarity that brings relief.
It’s always good to see what’s behind a mask,
            even if the mask is an illusion of civility,
something that covers brutality and barbarism,
            even if what is unmasked is the bare bottom
of our culture, the butt end of racism,
            the guttural groan of fascism.
Mugsi wiggles her tushie while she walks,
            smells everything available,
is very intense, but always has time
            to wag her tail if we meet
a crossing guard who might
            have a treat for her.
Mugsi never holds a grudge even
            when it rains or snows too hard
for me to give her a walk.
            She always forgives me.
She loves to sit in my chair
            when I’m not in it,
and she knows exactly where she
            wants a scratch.
Charlie Brice is the winner of the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest and was awarded third place in the 2021 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. His fourth poetry collection is The Broad Grin of Eternity (WordTech 2021). His poetry has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Pangolin Review, The Sunlight Press, Sparks of Calliope, and elsewhere.
Wayne-Daniel Berard
The unhypocritical
virus says “aren’t
I lovely? Velourishly
spherical don’t you
adore my red fleurettes?
Don’t I deserve to live
just as much as you?
Person, it’s nothing
personal I can’t just
change lifestyle eat
plants eschew carbon
(not that you would)
you are my incubator
and the purpose of
viral sex is procreation
if the mother dies
you know how that is
impregnating your paradigm
because you can’t give it
up even if it kills you allow
me I learned from the best
worst case we sleep our
smallness in your big sleep
and catch the next meteor
to the next world wasn’t
that your backup plan too?
See you on Mars, mamma.”
Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, is an educator, poet, writer, shaman, and sage. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His poetry chapbook, The Man Who Remembered Heaven, received the New Eden Award in 2003. His non-fiction When Christians Were Jews (That Is, Now), subtitled Recovering the Lost Jewishness of Christianity with the Gospel of Mark, was published in 2006 by Cowley Publications. A novel The Retreatants, was published in 2012 (Smashwords). A chapbook, Christine Day, Love Poems, was published in 2016 (Kittatuck Press). His novella, Everything We Want, was published in 2018 by Bloodstone Press. A poetry collection, The Realm of Blessing, was published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. Noa(h) and the Bark, was published in 2020 by Alien Buddha Press. Wayne-Daniel lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, the Lovely Christine.
Eileen R. Tabios
The Covid-19 Hay(na)ku
There are other
ways of
But when it
occurs, we
even when we
sometimes must
ourselves from asking
such insensitive
The Lockdown Tanka
But the near-strangled
planet shook off its blanket
of smog—the canals
reveal frolicking fish—we
see scales and eyes as sapphires
Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In Spring 2021, she released her first novel, DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times (AC Books, New York). Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. More information is at Eileen R. Tabios
Stephen Page
A Virtual Constitutionalist Convention
A honey bee hovers around yellow flowers
Growing out of Teresa’s vertical garden.
In the rectangular cement planter that divides
My office and the living-room patio decks
Newly planted lavender stands tall
Vibrating gently in the breeze
Between red daylilies
And clusters of blue columbine.
Last night I watched a virtual convention
Where people talked disdainfully about Dictator Reginald.
They spoke about his autocratic, manipulative, bullying tactics,
His lies, his divisiveness, his homophobia, his racism.
Of course, the DR trilled epitaphs and threats at them
And is still trying to dismantle the United Colonies Postal Service.
The mandarin-haired DR sits in is square office watching TV
While the plague outside attacks his voters.
The Orchids
My wife is preparing French toast,
While I sip coffee in front of the sea
That for the last five years
Reached farther inland every high tide.
A sparrow lands on the patio deck,
Hops over closer and tilt his head while studying me.
On the coffee table behind me,
The orchids which have for four years
Had only been wire-supported stems
This morning blossomed with purple-streaked petals.
Last night, on the international T.V. news channel,
Non-mask wearing Nationalists sat side-by-side in droves
To gaze up at the non-mask wearing Dictator Reginald
Screaming “A phantom virus! Climate change is fictional!”
“Make our colonies great again!” he bellows,
While wild fires rage on the split screen.
Life with and Without Father
I love opening an old book
And am struck with sunlight
While standing in an attic
On a wood floor,
The air swirling with flecks of dust.
I am driving Father’s white pickup
On a state highway
No traffic
                        The open road
                                                            Trees lining the ditches.
I am at a baseball park
                        Lying on the outfield grass
                                                The afternoon sunlight bathing me.
My father died
Of a heart attack
While seated in a hospital admissions
Room, while ambulances were lined up
For blocks outside the hospital.
Today Tyrant Reginald said, “I have learned
A lot about COVID-19,
The old-school way.”
Our Own Demigod
And all this time I thought
That Tyrant Reginald was just
A dictator, but it turns out
He is a God, immune to the virus.
Yesterday, he sucked all the air around him
And raspingly declared, “You have nothing to fear,
Unless you are already dead! Go back
To work, go back to school, go
Eat inside restaurants, don’t
Wear masks!” His bleary eyes
Stabbing into the camera lens.
Then he turned around,
Grabbed a golf bag,
And bordered Sea Soldier 1.
Stephen Page is part Apache and part Shawnee. He was born in Detroit. He is the author of four books of poetry, several stories, essays, and literary criticisms. He holds degrees from Columbia University and Bennington College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, a First Place Prize in Poetry from Bravura Magazine, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. https://smpages.wordpress.com/
Joan Mazza
Ode to Variants
You who insinuate yourself into every
living thing, you who invade and commandeer
the cell’s machinery to reproduce yourself
by the billions, with only a simple nucleic acid
in an envelope of lipids and protein,
let us praise your innovations. Proficient
at disguise, you are a survivor, evader
of antibodies, antivirals, phagocytes,
and cytokine storms. Ever mutating, you
sidestep human high tech assaults like
black belts in karate. Though invisible,
your morphing army marches forward,
adjusts to human precautions of masks
and distance, ever more contagious, more
virulent, resistant. O, mighty miniscule
life form, you never surrender. Ignorant
and mindless, without intention or will,
you keep us locked up, ever on standby.
You live by the command, Adapt or die.
Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam). Her work has appeared in Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia where she writes a daily poem. www.JoanMazza.com
Faith Paulsen
Another Poem About Light
Homesteaders now, before going out,
we strap on our paper masks. Beyond our walls,
just steps away, the wind’s ashes toll like a bell:
The faraway dome is breached.
Rushing home, we slam the door
shed our shoes, their mouths open.
We are hungry—
We have nothing to eat or breathe that isn’t
tainted. We begin to think that the bad spots
are cherries. In cupped hands we hold
our losses.
One house has plenty of eggs. The other has all
the apples they need. You buy half the beans
in the market. We tell each other we can
make something out of this. Just then
a girl in a red satin headband recites a poem about light
and in spite of jinx and dread, we begin.
String teardrop bulbs from the streetlights,
dangle from windows our brave-enough flags.
Night comes,
a snow lantern, lit from inside.
Let us wake up now and eat rice with orange peel.
Let us spread our
bread with honey.
We will not live through. We will live
We will sing a capella the chorus of light
not at the end —
but in —
the tunnel.
Faith Paulsen’s work has appeared in many venues including One Art, Ghost City Press, Seaborne, and Book of Matches, as well as Thimble Literary Magazine, Evansville Review, Mantis, Psaltery and Lyre, and Terra Preta. Her work also appears in the anthologies such as 50/50: Poems & Translations by Womxn over 50 (QuillsEdge). She has been nominated for a Pushcart. Her chapbook A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press) was published in 2016. A second chapbook, Cyanometer, is expected in 2021. For more information, please check the website at https://www.faithpaulsenpoet.com/
Marion Deutsche Cohen
The Abandoned Muscles
      The Excel Physical Therapy mailing tells us that achiness is common during
I do my exercises every morning.
Make sure to do a few extra wriggles in extra directions.
I walk 4,000 steps a day, 500 at a time all throughout.
I play my piano, Beethoven’s late sonatas, arms all over the place, am even beginning to
    trill with my left hand.
I move my writing muscle, Zoom muscies, cimbing stairs muscles, dancing muscles.
   sex muscles.
But there must be muscles I’m forgetting.
Outdoor muscles, Reading Terminal Market Muscles, grocery cart muscles, thrift-
    shopping muscles.
Muscles that are protesting
giving me gentle reminders
appearing in dreams
trying to move the way they’d move in reality
and therefore moving too much.
Clenching too much.
Cramping too much.
Aching too much.
Angry muscles, muscles turned mean.
Obsolete muscles that won’t go away.
Am I only imagining that I’m finally feeling my age?
Sinus crap, jaw pain, clenched back, the possible recurrence of trigeminal neuralgia?
And now I can hear my heart beating.
It sounds like water dripping from my childhood drainpipes.
Sometimes it wakes me up.
Or maybe it’s only the nightmares.
Different nightmares from before.
That people refuse to stay six feet away.
They come at me, hands dripping with droplets.
In one dream there was an orgy of them.
Or it’s past the equinox but the days are getting shorter rather than longer.
Every late-afternoon the darkness begins sooner than the late-afternoon before.
And my husband tells me his nightmare.
The door to our house was put on backward
locked from the outside so anybody could get in
and he needed the key to get out.
The locksmith arrived right away but then took away the entire door
said he couldn’t get back ‘til next week.
All week long outside kept seeping in.
Inside was disappearing.
There was no such thing as inside.
Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 32 collections of poetry or memoir; her newest poetry collection is “Stress Positions” (Alien Buddha Press), and her latest prose collection is “Not Erma Bombeck: Diary of a Feminist 70s Mother” (Alien Buddha Press). She is also the author of a book of #MeToo poems, two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a trilogy diary of late-pregnancy loss, and “Crossing the Equal Sign”, about the experience of mathematics. She teaches a course she developed, Mathematics in Literature, at Drexel University’s Honors College. Her website is  http://www.marioncohen.net
Lantern by Night

Latern by Night  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/.

Maria Keane
A Reckoning
I beg
to hear the river rushing
an incessant rocking
down a deep corridor
where darkness—
its there
I am tied to it.
Not even wings can free me
from the black
for a reason we suppose—
is for the good.
Night blooming trees
feed a need to breathe.
Their perfume
saturates the senses
splinters a fracture
to eliminate hysteria.
Walking through a web
 I break, unraveling
the first silence
under the sole edict
of sound.
I see it now
and quench some dark history
in the presence of anxiety.
I will walk in shadow,
hold on to murmers,
listening for you to arrive,
You reduce the havoc of the trees
repair my will
to believe
all things are only in the moment.
Wesley Scott McMasters
A Haiku for a Pandemic
It is so quiet;
or have I grown tired
of the same voices?
Wesley Scott McMasters teaches and lives just within sight of the Great Smoky Mountains with his dog, Poet (who came with the name, he swears).
Megha Sood
Unclaimed Freedom
The cerulean tinge peeking through the barbed wires
a gaping hole, like an open, stretched out calloused palms
seeking empathy in hunger, in pain
color tinged rays making their way
 through the mishmash of thick wires
I squint my eyes to even the shades
 Even then I can see the mesh obstructing  my vision
there is too much restriction these days
the invisible virus boisterously ruling our lives
Holding lien to our breaths
making us beg for the next one, a novel privilege
I want to rip apart this entrapment
Pry it open the obstructed view of the open skies
Let the fraying ends come loose
Shifting wings like a soaring eagle
in the vast cerulean skies
laced with mellifluous melody,
I want to taste freedom through my squinty eyes
I know this calling,
I can feel the warmth in my bones
the sorrow draining from every iota of my existence
I take the clamps, cut the wires
one joint at a time
slowly but surely
Making way for my petite body
to pass through the thin gaps
of this corrugated mesh
and claim the freedom
which is truly mine.
Megha Sood is a Poet, Editor, and Blogger based in New Jersey, USA. She is a Poetry Editor at MookyChick(UK), Life and Legends (USA), and Literary Partner in the project “Life in Quarantine” with Stanford University, USA. Works widely featured in journals, Poetry Society of New York, Kissing Dynamite, and many more. Author of Chapbook ( “My Body is Not an Apology”, Finishing Line Press, 2021) and Full Length (“My Body Lives Like a Threat”, FlowerSongPress,2021).National Level Winner Spring Mahogany Lit Prize and Three-Time State-level winner of NJ Poetry Contest.Blogs at https://meghasworldsite.wordpress.com/ .Tweets at @meghasood16
Judy DeCroce
A Repeat of the New
“It’s happening again, because it’s new to them.”
—Antoni Ooto
A reply
natural in the hum
beginning with the concrete
and then a buzz annoying
a mystery in context
for such a transparent idea.
Strangeness is marching
through a metaphor none saw coming.
Is it danger or a riddle?
(hard to know)
The moment shakes us in
and we grab its edges.
Along the way
ideas stand and rearrange.
It’s happening again…
because it’s new to us.
Judy DeCroce, is an internationally published poet, flash fiction writer, educator, and avid reader whose recent works have been published by The BeZine, Brown Bag Online, North of Oxford, The Poet Magazine, Amethyst Review, The Wild Word, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, and many journals and anthologies.
J. H. Johns 
“There was a Time Before the Time” 
                                                           There was a time
                                                            before the time
                                                            when things changed;
                                                            then instantly-
                                                            we went
                                                            the momentary past
                                                            being an instant away
                                                            to that same past
                                                            which became
                                                            a historical memory;
                                                            so quickly;
                                                            so instantly;
                                                            what used to be
                                                            our present
                                                            in a viral concoction
                                                            that was out to kill.
                                                            There was a time before the time.
            J. H. Johns “grew up and came of age” while living in East Tennessee and Middle Georgia.  Specifically, the two places “responsible” for the writer that he has become are Knoxville, Tennessee and Milledgeville, Georgia.
Charles Rammelkamp
Coronavirus Cooties
“Daddy, Ian said I had cooties,”
Stephanie pouted to her father
about a kid in her first-grade class.
Amused and gratified to hear
the term still in use,
generations later,
her father asked,
“What are cooties?”
“They make you fat,”
Stephanie answered without hesitation,
disgusted by the fact,
body-type issues infecting
even elementary school children.
Originally World War One soldier slang
for body lice in the trenches,
cooties had mutated over the years,
just like any other virus.
In her dad’s day, girls gave boys cooties,
boys gave them back to girls,
like an unacknowledged venereal disease,
polio in the 1950’s,
AIDS in the 1980’s.
What next, in 2020?
The Bald Guy with Long Hair
I was in the Documentation Department
at Infodyne, in the late 1980’s,
working on operations manuals.
“Go talk to Woody,”
my supervisor advised when I went to him
with a question about COBOL coding.
“The guy who works with the mainframes,”
Paul clarified when I confessed
I wasn’t sure who Woody was.
“He’s always in here talking to Joyce,”
he went on, as if I knew
the people my colleagues consulted.
“The bald guy with long hair,”
Paul finally explained, a poker player
producing the ace up his sleeve.
“Oh!” I exclaimed.
Now I knew exactly who he was talking about,
the skinny guy with the shiny pate
and hair down to his shoulders,
a Fu Manchu mustache.
Why do I remember this now?
It’s been four months
since my last haircut,
wary about going into a barbershop
in this age of COVID.
That could describe me:
the bald guy with long hair
(not to mention eyebrows like caterpillars).
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.


Conversations by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

Thaddeus Rutkowski
Cold Day Outside
I see my homeless friend
sitting on a step and smoking a cigarette
on an unpleasant day.
The air is filled with water, and it bites.
“Where’s your mask, man?” I ask.
“I’ve got a mask,” he says. “But I’m outside.”
He’s right. “The virus doesn’t travel well through air,” I say.
Then I ask, “How long have you been here?”
And he doesn’t answer.
He looks like I caught him doing something he shouldn’t.
“How many hours?” I ask.
“Five,” he says.
Indeed, he should not been sitting outside,
in the cold and rain, for five hours.
It is not natural.
I give him a bill, and he says, “Bless you.”
But I’m not the one who needs blessing.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Linda Nemec Foster
Pandemic Litany: The White Chair of Absence
If death has a color
it would be white, the color
that reflects and scatters
all visible light:
this chair, this chair
becomes my mantra–
white chair of solitude
white chair of isolation
white chair of the absent father
white chair of the abusive mother
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten child
white chair of the silence that comes before
white chair of the cry that comes after
white chair of solitary confinement
white chair of the hole in the gut
white chair of the bone-white fist
white chair of the shroud
white chair of the wedding veil
white chair of the dark secret
white chair of the white lie
white chair of the what now (what now)
white chair that doesn’t leave
white chair that doesn’t arrive
white chair of the recurring dream
white chair of the yes
white chair of the no
white chair of the maybe
white chair of my birth
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my death
and the wind in the long grass
above my white bones
above my white bones
is the only voice I have
Linda Nemec Foster has published eleven collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk, Talking Diamonds, and The Lake Michigan Mermaid (2019 Michigan Notable Book). Her work appears in numerous journals: The Georgia Review, Nimrod, New American Writing, North American Review, and Verse Daily. She’s received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and awards from Arts Foundation of Michigan, National Writer’s Voice, Dyer-Ives Foundation, The Poetry Center (NJ), and Academy of American Poets. Her new book, The Blue Divide, is forthcoming from New Issues Press (2021). The first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.
Stephen Mead
                     Blue Mask Seas
                                                                                   (for my Friend, Tom Stephany, taken by                                                                                                                    Covid on World AIDS Day 2020)
They are so easy to picture:
that ridge for the nose a wave’s curve
& the surrounding white outline being froth’s tips
creased pleat upon pleat…
Even the hue is a Madonna’s robe gentleness sky-expansive
though these horizons are grayer, often opaque,
a chloroform of loss stopping things up.
Face without a body, not modeled in the round
is how one dictionary describes that eye-less paper relief
there on the parking lot paving, blowing now across the sidewalk
& into the weeds lining the pharmacy’s brick exterior,
its chained-up trash can overflowing with refuse,
all the six-pack plastic for a tortoise’s intestines.
This stray one didn’t make it to that heap anyhow, whether a careless
sort of pocket-escapee or dropped on purpose as a take that
Mother Nature. Caring is sharing.  May others be touched
as you have touched me.
Come, don’t be cynical about how so many are angry
& searching for a companionable mob to show that their great misery
is oh so inconveniently displeased about shops & salons, (the nerve of them)
wanting their employees protected when Privilege
is now a Liberty Fight to carry Uzis through marches for Peace
to keep mutating and spreading genome A to genome Z.
No one is tear-gassing that, pleading “can’t breathe”
like in the sterilized wards the size of stadiums if put together
globally – see – waving white flags to reflective face shields,
goggles & layers of gowns stretched into latex, the gloved touch
an antiseptic cry of good-bye mirrored in beeping equipment,
the hissing, decompressing & pumping ocean of lives
named or unnamed in today’s pandemic headlines
tomorrow’s may forget once vaccines return normalcy,
that other great body, blood-red, industrious, tidal & churning
or is that just the fear, blue mask asks blue mask,
that the human species has learned nothing
James Walton
(the condition of acquiring reading
materials but letting them pile up
in one’s home without reading them)
They are laid out for this Sunday
stations between lockdown dates
and if an ear is pressed to them
words singing out of lethargy
rise out of loose leaf castings
from waiting rooms across the city
a fall of sound as another bearer
signals to lounges kitchens hallways
that awakening hope of release
in the chugging unopened language
where skimmed pages delayed
hanging on by the faded light
of patience stretched amongst the piles
convey the railway alphabet
a slower mystery of words
stops to start again ticket less
written as we are by each other
for carriage into other lives
James Walton is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He is the author of four widely acclaimed collections of poetry. ‘The Leviathan’s Apprentice’, ‘Walking Through Fences’, ‘Unstill Mosaics’, and ‘Abandoned Soliloquies’. His fifth collection will be released shortly.
Antoni Ooto
We’ll Remember…
“Stop the Steal”
that day—when the weight of the mob
breached the barricades.
When anarchy broke through,
scaling the walls,
crushing, storming The Hill,
bludgeoning police,
a shot fires into a woman
as the incensed mob screams on
scouring the hallways
battering doors, disrupting the senate
through a “test by combat”
encouraged by our tyrant and his cronies
All this—
a performance of “might makes right”
as proudly grotesque figures
carry away trophies.
This was the worst and the least of our nature—
it was the winter of a nation coming apart
before a cell phone lens…
revealing no enemy but ourselves.
(January 6, 2021)
Antoni Ooto is an internationally published poet and flash fiction writer. Well-known for his abstract expressionist art.His recent poems have been published in Amethyst Review, The BeZine, Green Ink Poetry, The Poet Magazine, North of Oxford, The Wild Word, and many journals and anthologies. He lives and works in upstate New York with his wife poet/storyteller, Judy DeCroce.
Ethel Gofen
Coronavirus Haiku
Epic pandemonium,
Pandemic upset.
If you’re feeling scared,
Change those letters to sacred;
See it in each soul.
Vaccines have arrived.
Herd immunity awaits.
We shall overcome!
Ethel Gofen is a poet, author of two books in the series, Cultures of the World, for which she wrote the volumes on France and Argentina in 1990 and 1992.  She and her husband both survived Covid-19 in May 2020.
Michael A. Griffith
What kills you fastest,
the fleece in your lungs or thorns
in your throat? Choking and the loss of vision
as constriction becomes everything.
Worms and fireflies swim across darkened eyes.
Everything becomes constriction.
Your hands not your own, your spine a jellyfish.
Pinprick of a voice over you: No,
everything is not alright.
Heat—wet, oppressive, surrounds you.
Heat—no air worth breathing,
what air is to be had? Gulping
is never enough, gasping is never a help.
Python oozes heavy around your chest.
Surrounding you, the urinal smell,
as the tube is taped to your lips
in a machine’s tinnitus whine.
A sting to your upper arm—
and constriction becomes mercy.
Michael A. Griffith teaches at Raritan Valley and Mercer County Community Colleges in central NJ. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, Bloodline, Exposed, and New Paths to Eden. Mike hosts a monthly poetry workshop through the Princeton Public Library. Recent work appears in Kelsey Review, 13 Myna Birds, Impspired, Page & Spine, Haiku Journal, and North of Oxford.
Ken Soyow
Deadly Virus
She cried when I left,
each time knowing it could be the last.
She used to keep meticulous records,
said the woman who did her taxes.
It’s sad watching her grow old, said a friend,
as my mother limped past with her walker.
I was there in March, as the rope tightened —
screening, testing, restrictions,
daily notices of what they’d do
if any cases in the county,
if cases among nursing home staff
or among residents —
I cut my visit short, skipping coffee
Friday morning for fear of a lockdown.
When are you coming back? she asked,
left alone with her caregivers
planted in front of the TV.
When the pandemic is over.
When they let me in, I said.
Pick me up and take me home, she said.
You are home, I said.
The furniture looks familiar, she said,
but this isn’t home.
Are you coming to visit today?
No, I’m six hundred miles away,
and they’re not allowing visitors, I said.
Maybe your brother could pick me up.
She sat in her wheelchair, often napping.
She dreamt her dead husband was calling
from the doorway.
It was a stroke, the doctor said.
Ken Soyow is a retired physician, living in Massachusetts.
Bartholomew Barker
A River Flows Through Us All
I was talking with this fish
the other day while I rested
on the banks of the Eno River.
She’d noticed a change.
The water was clearer,
the air quieter
even the bugs tasted better.
She felt lucky—
Lucky to be alive
in this glorious time.
She had no word for virus,
so I explained that my people
were sick and dying.
She sympathized— wished
the best for me and my school
and as she swam away she remarked,
In the weeds or over rocks—
by the shore or in the darkness—
a river flows through us all.
My Hermitage
– or How I Started a Pandemic
I last touched
a germ-covered body
over a year ago
and I am finally blossoming
into my hermitage
with a beard longer
than Longfellow’s.
I was bored with bookstore readings,
stale coffeeshop open mics,
workshops in sterile libraries
and tired of everyday showering,
putting on both socks and shoes,
the horror of going outside
in fetid heat or brittle cold.
So, with candles and wine,
I cast a spell of words,curling forth the RNA—
Rhythm, Neologism, Anaphora—
to spread through journals
and blogposts, infecting
my innocent readers.
All so I could languish
in these long nights,
sit in darkened rooms alone,
listen to Gnossiennes
and write, write, write
until the antibodies
kick down my door.
Bartholomew Barker is one of the organizers of Living Poetry, a
collection of poets and poetry lovers in the Triangle region of North
Carolina. His first poetry collection, Wednesday Night Regular, written
in and about strip clubs, was published in 2013. His second, Milkshakes
and Chilidogs, a chapbook of food inspired poetry was served in 2017.
Born and raised in Ohio, studied in Chicago, he worked in Connecticut
for nearly twenty years before moving to Hillsborough where he makes
money as a computer programmer to fund his poetry habit.

Hot Sauna

Hot Sauna  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

Summer 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5


North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6


Spring 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1


North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2


North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3


North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4



Stay Safe – Vaccinate – Mask Up
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett


-A Study in Style-

By Ray Greenblatt

We are familiar with the movie version of The Maltese Falcon (1941): the durable Humphrey Bogart, the seductive Jane Greer, and the evil-doers Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, along with their punk hit man and various flatfeet. We know that a script can delete a character or add a new one; that indoor scenes can be enlarged to the outdoors; that dialogue can alter greatly, etc.

However, unless you read the book, you don’t realize that Hammett specializes in a poetic Style: his rare descriptions of Things are powerful; yet his unique expertise is description of People, especially their faces and eyes. As a matter of fact, The Maltese Falcon (1929) could make a consummate drama for the legitimate stage.


Like a poet Hammett employs strings of nouns: “The eyes—lids, balls, irises, and pupils—remained frozen, immobile.” (197); adverbs: “He cursed Dundy for five minutes without break, cursed him obscenely, blasphemously, repetitiously, in a harsh guttural voice.” (101) ; participles: “Probing, scrutinizing, testing with expert certainty.” (111) He uses fresh adjectives: “A lathy youth with salient ears ushered Spade into the District Attorney’s office.” (179) He even dares lewd words, whatever he could get away with in 1929:  “The boy spoke two words, the first a short guttural verb, the second ‘you.’”(116)

The humor of Hammett’s characters is dry:

“Cairo hesitated, said dubiously: ‘You have always, I must say, a smooth explanation ready.’

Spade scowled. ‘What do you want me to do? Learn to stutter?’” (119)

Not only dry but sardonic: “’Now I’ve got to remember to be polite to you. What did I do? Forget to genuflect when I came in?’” (143)

Hammett’s use of symbolism is subtle: “She spoke slowly, looking down at a pointed finger tracing eight on the settee between them.” (45) His psychological probing sharp: “Her air of personal indifference to the subject was flawless.” (121) “In the dissimilar eyes with which Brigid O’Shaughnessy and Joel Cairo looked at him there was, oddly, something identically reproving. The boy blushed, drew back his advanced foot, straightened his legs, lowered the pistol.” (218) “The appearance of Gutman and his companions seemed to have robbed her of that freedom of personal movement and emotion that is animal, leaving her alive, conscious, but quiescent as a plant.” (217)

Sam Spade is a man of action; Gutman seems to be the philosopher, but a hollow one. He pontificates: “’I do like a man that tells you right out he’s looking out for himself. Don’t we all? I don’t trust a man that says he’s not. And the man that’s telling the truth when he says he’s not I distrust most of all, because he’s an ass and an ass that’s going contrary to the laws of nature.’” (132) In contrast, through an anecdote Spade muses: “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.” (78) “He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.” (78)


Although Hammett does not often in his descriptions leave the human body, he forcefully at times brings objects to life. Outdoors: “Beginning day had reduced night to a thin smokiness.” (111) “A high thin moon was cold and feeble as the distant street-light.” (210) Around the house: “He tiptoed to a window and then to another. They, like the door, were uncurtained except by inner darkness.” (210) “The alarm clock perched atop the book saying two-fifty with its clumsily shaped hands.” (103) “The ashes on the desk twitched and curled in the current.” (4) Even a car is given emphasis: “An automobile popped out of the tunnel beneath him with a roaring swish, as if it had been blown out, and ran away.” (15)


Hammett’s literary revelation to me was his explicit description of a person’s features. First the entire man: “A man of thirty in clothing and hair of kindred unruliness.” (180) Gutman is obviously an extreme character: “The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown.” (129) Here the entire body comes alive: “He made angry gestures with mouth, eyebrows, hands, and shoulders.” (48)

Then the author concentrates on an arm: “Fist, wrist, forearm, crooked elbow, and upper arm seemed all one rigid piece, with only the limber shoulder giving them motion.” (56) Now a hand: “Held out a hand like a fat pink star.” (129) “’He went like that,’ Spade said, ‘like a fist when you open your hand.’” (76)

Now we start to focus on the face, Hammett’s eminent domain of expression. “The upper part of his face frowned. The lower part smiled.” (40) “His face was a watchful-eyed smiling mask held up between his thoughts and Spade.” (134) “His face was grey now, with jaw-muscles standing out like tumors under his ears.” (161) “His face while he smoked was, except for occasional slight and aimless movements of his lower lip, so still and reflective that it seemed stupid.” (58) “The indelible youngness of his face gave an indescribably vicious—and inhuman—turn to the white-hot hatred and the cold white malevolence in his face.” (228)

The mouth becomes a special area of expression: “Spade put the cigarette in his mouth, set fire to it, and laughed smoke out.” (27) Then lips and teeth come into play:  “She tortured her lower lip with glistening teeth and said nothing.” (5) But the voice with its significant words is most important: “His voice was resonant with latent power.” (180)  “His voice was too hoarse and gritty for the paternally admonishing tone it tried to achieve.” (228)  “It was a harsh voice and rasping with agony and with the strain of keeping two words from being smothered by the liquid bubbling that ran under and behind them.” (195) “His voice sank to a more impressive key and his words came out spaced and distinct.” (183) Often the mouth is linked to the eyes: “Spade stared through the girl and spoke as if using speech to arrange his thoughts.” (165)


Eyes are such a major motif I wonder if a psychological monograph has ever been written on this aspect of Hammett’s style. Sometimes the eyes are in league with the face: “His bony face—weather-coarsened, age-lined—was the color of wet sand and was wet with sweat on cheeks and chin. His eyes were dark and bloodshot and mad above lower lids that hung down to show pink inner membrane.” (196) Other times the eyes are mated with the mouth: “She laughed a clear merry laugh, dropped the mangled cigarette into a tray, and looked at him with clear merry eyes.” (69)

But on innumerable occasions the eyes alone dominate:

“His eyes were shiny in a wooden Satan’s face.” (68)

“The fat man’s eyes were dark gleams in ambush behind pink puffs of flesh.” (133)

“His eyes were dark holes in an oily pink face.” (161)

“His sleek eyes had borrowed merriment from his laughter.” (224)

“His eyes were warm green discs.” (24)

“Her eyes were cobalt-blue prayers.” (69)

“Points of yellow lights began to dance in his eyes.” (114)

“His eyes were hard and shiny as the lenses over them.” (182)

“His greenish eyes were fixed on Spade in a peculiarly rigid stare, as if their focus were a matter of mechanics, to be changed only by pulling a lever or pressing a button.” (21)

“He stood beside the fireplace and looked at her with eyes that studied, weighed, judged her without pretense that they were not studying, weighing, judging her.” (66)

Even though the script was close to the book, Hammett’s descriptions of people could only be roughly interpreted by actors’ expressions.

My wife and I loved the blue harbor and golden cliffs of Malta. Here the Knights Templars established their main stronghold in the 16th century.  What more mysterious place in which to discover an objet d’art that brought such mayhem unto murder into our world.  Dashiell Hammett hit on a beguiling concept that sold innumerable books, produced a classic film, and made him internationally known. But the mystery remains—where is the real falcon encrusted with gold and priceless jewels?

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Maltese-Falcon-Dashiell-Hammett/dp/0679722645

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).



The Education of Henry Adams


By Ray Greenblatt

Henry Adams (1838-1918) lived through a very important period in the history of the world, from the American Civil War to the outbreak of WWI. He was a man with the most impressive social credentials: two relatives were John Adams and John Quincy Adams (his great-grandfather and grandfather). Henry is fascinating to me because he was very bright, educated, but shy throughout his life. He preferred to remain on the sidelines and mostly observe, as many writers do. As primarily an historian, Adams searched his entire life for a cohesive view of events in the development of humankind. He called this mental journey his “Education.”

I – Steps to Learning

Henry Adams “would have been astounded by his own luck. Probably no child, born in the year, held better cards than he. Whether life was an honest game of chance, or whether the cards were marked and forced, he could not refuse to play his excellent hand.” (4) However, he felt that Bostonians, he no different, had an attitude. “Resistance to something was the law of New England nature; the boy looked out on the world with the instinct of resistance; for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be abolished.” (7)

Henry did not feel comfortable with religion. “Nothing quieted doubt so completely as the mental calm of the Unitarian clergy. In uniform excellence of life and character, moral and intellectual, the score of Unitarian clergymen about Boston, who controlled society and Harvard College, were never excelled. They proclaimed as their merit that they insisted on no doctrine, but taught, or tried to teach, the means of learning a virtuous, useful, unselfish life, which they held to be sufficient for salvation. For them, difficulties might be ignored; doubts were waste of thought; nothing exacted solution.” (34)

He did not like school either. “His memory was slow, and the effort painful. For him to conceive that his memory could compete for school prizes with machines of two or three times its power, was to prove himself wanting. Not only in memory, but flagrantly in mind. He thought his mind a good enough machine, if it were given time to act, but it acted wrong if hurried. Schoolmasters never gave time.” (37) We shall later see that Adams as a professor tried to correct that approach in teaching  his students.

At Harvard College he enjoyed fellow classmates. “Distrustful of themselves, but little disposed to trust any one else; with not much humor of their own, but full of readiness to enjoy the humor of others; negative to a degree that in the long run became positive and triumphant. Not harsh in manners or judgment, rather liberal and open-minded, they were still as a body most formidable critics one would care to meet.” (56)

He chose to go to graduate school in Germany but learned its limitations. “The professor mumbled his comments; the students made, or seemed to make, notes; they could have learned from books or discussion in a day more than they could learn from him in a month, but they must pay his fees, follow his course, and be his scholars, if they wanted a degree.” (75)

However, on vacation in Rome with his parents, he met a great man Garibaldi, who helped to unite Italy in 1867.  “Adams had the chance to look this sphinx in the eyes, and, for five minutes, to watch him like a wild animal, at the moment of his greatest achievement and most splendid action. One saw a quiet-featured, quiet-voiced man in a red flannel shirt; absolutely impervious; a type of which Adams knew nothing. Sympathetic it was, and one felt that it was simple; one suspected even that it might be childlike, but could form no guess of its intelligence.” (94) As the years passed, Adams met many “great” men whose influences varied greatly.

II – Being a Diplomat

Henry greatly admired his father. “Charles Francis Adams was singular for mental poise—absence of self-assertion or self-consciousness—the faculty of standing apart without seeming aware that he was alone—a balance of mind and temper that neither challenged or avoided notice, nor admitted questions of superiority or inferiority, of jealousy, of personal motives, from any source, even under great pressure.” (27)

When his father was appointed Minster to England, Henry went along as a private secretary. “The very name of Grosvenor struck a note of grandeur. The long suite of lofty, gilded rooms with their golden furniture; the portraits; the terraces; the gardens, the landscape; the sense of superiority in the England of the fifties, actually set the rich noblemen apart, above Americans and shopkeepers. Aristocracy was real. So was the England of Dickens. Oliver Twist and Little Nell lurked in every churchyard shadow, not as shadow but alive.” (72) Henry was always strongly literary in interest and ability.

Henry learned what diplomacy really was. “The Governments and society of Europe, for a year at least, regarded the Washington Government as dead, and its Ministers as nullities. Minister Adams was better received than most nullities because he made no noise. Little by little, in private, society took the habit of accepting him.” (123) The initial stumbling block in 1860 was that England unofficially backed the Southern states.

Henry also learned the social side of diplomacy at soirees. “The people one met there were never smart and seldom young; they were largely diplomatic, and diplomats are commonly dull; they were largely political, and politicians rarely decorate or beautify an evening; they were sprinkled with literary people, who are notoriously unfashionable; the women were of course ill-dressed and middle-aged; the men looked mostly bored or out of place.” (134)

Representing the American government in England during the Civil War, Adams was shocked at the secessionists and deemed them treasonous. “The Southern secessionists were certainly unbalanced in mind—fit for medical treatment, like other victims of hallucination—haunted by suspicion, by idees fixes, by violent morbid excitement; but this was not all. They were stupendously ignorant of the world. As a class, the cotton-planters were mentally one-sided, ill-balanced, and provincial to a degree rarely known. They were a close society on whom the new fountain of power had poured a stream of wealth and slaves that acted like oil on flame. They showed a young student his first object-lesson of the way in which excess of power worked when held by inadequate hands.” (100)

Some Englishmen like Monckton Milnes, who supported American policies, he found noble. “Challenging ridicule with the indifference of one who knew himself to be the first wit in London, and a maker of men—of a great many men. A word from him went far. An invitation to his breakfast-table went farther. Behind his almost Falstaffian mask and laugh of Silenus, he carried a fine, broad, and high intelligence which no one questioned.’” (124)

Adams even met literary geniuses like the poet Algernon Swinburne. “Wildly eccentric, astonishingly gifted, and convulsingly droll, the Secretary could see; but what more he was even Milnes hardly dared say. They could not believe his incredible memory and knowledge of literature, classic, medieval, and modern; his faculty of reciting a play of Sophocles or a play of Shakespeare, forward or backwards, from end to beginning.” (140) A man like this, to Adams, was more stimulating than a score of politicians.

III – Living in D.C.

Some years after the Civil War, Henry Adams returned home to live in Washington and work as a journalist. The town was still quite primitive. “The want of barriers, of pavements, of forms; the looseness, the laziness; the indolent Southern drawl; the pigs in the streets; the negro babies and their mothers with bandanas; the freedom, openness, swagger, of nature and man.” (45) And dominant in that environment were the senators. “The type of Senator in 1850 was rather charming at its best, and the Senate, when in good temper, was an agreeable body . . . Southern pomposity, when not arrogant, was genial and sympathetic, almost quaint and childlike in its simple- mindedness.” (45)

On the sidelines at many high level meetings, Adams made observations. Massachusetts politicians had their problems. “New England standards were various, scarcely reconcilable with each other, and constantly multiplying in number, until balance between them threatened to become impossible. The old ones were quite difficult enough—State Street and the banks exacted one stamp; the old Congregational clergy another; Harvard College, poor in votes, but rich in social influence, a third; the foreign element, especially the Irish, held aloof.” (419)

However, Pennsylvanian politicians were a special breed. “Practically the Pennsylvanian forgot his prejudices when he allied his interests. He then became supple in action and large in motive, whatever he thought of his colleagues. When he happened to be right—which was, of course, whenever one agreed with him—he was the strongest American in America . . .When one summed up the results of Pennsylvanian influence, one inclined to think that Pennsylvanians set up the Government in 1789; saved it in 1861; created the American system; developed its iron and coal power; and invented its great railways.” (333)

Adams observed William Seward, who was Lincoln’s Secretary of State and now U.S. Grant’s. “A slouching, slender figure; a head like a wise macaw; a beaked nose; shaggy eyebrows; unorderly hair and clothes; hoarse voice; offhand manner; free talk, and perpetual cigar; offered a new type—of Western New York—to fathom; a type in one way simple because it was only double—political and personal; but complex because the political had become nature, and no one could tell which was the mask and which the features.” (104)

Then there was the mighty President Grant. “Men whose energies were the greater, the less they wasted on thought; men who sprang from the soil to power; apt to be distrustful of themselves and of others; shy; jealous; sometimes vindictive; more or less dull in outward appearance; always needing stimulants; but for whom action was the highest stimulant—the instinct of fight.” (265) But his administration was mired in corruption. “Society is immoral and immortal; it can afford to commit any kind of folly, and indulge in any sort of vice; it cannot be killed, and the fragments that survive can always laugh at the dead; but a young man has only one chance, and brief time to seize it. Any one in power above him can extinguish the chance. He is terribly at the mercy of fools and cowards.” (273)

What was Henry Adams final learning of Americans before he left Washington. “The American thought of himself as a restless, pushing, energetic, ingenious person, always awake and trying to get ahead of his neighbors . . .That the American, by temperament, worked to excess, was true; work and whiskey were his stimulants; work was a form of vice; but he never cared much for money or power after he earned them.” (297)

IV – Professor and Historian

Henry Adams’ memoir skips twenty-one years (1871-1892). Tragedies befell him that he did not want to talk about let alone write. His beloved wife Clover, a superb photographer, committed suicide from a bipolar disorder. The most he would write was a description of her elaborate tomb. “His first step, on returning to Washington, took him out to the cemetery known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence. Naturally every detail interested him; every line; every touch of the artist; every change of light and shade; every point of relation; every possible doubt of St. Gaudens’s correctness of taste or feeling; so that as the spring approached, he was apt to stop there often to see what the figure had to tell him that was new; but, in all that it had to say, he never once thought of questioning what it meant.” (329)

His beloved sister Louisa had also died in Europe. “The sick-room itself glowed with the Italian joy of life; friends filled it; no harsh northern lights pierced the soft shadows; even the dying woman shared the sense of the Italian summer, the soft, velvet air, the humor, the courage, the sensual fullness of Nature and man. She faced death, as women mostly do, bravely and even gaily, racked slowly to unconsciousness, but yielding only to violence, as a soldier sabred in battle.” (288)

And yet for several years Adams successfully taught history at Harvard. He tossed out rote learning of places and dates. Instead he concentrated his class on one specific area; his progressive theory of education is employed today. “The students read what they pleased and compared their results. As pedagogy, nothing could be more triumphant. The boys worked like rabbits, and dug holes all over the field of archaic society; no difficulty stopped them; unknown languages yielded before their attack, and customary law became familiar as the police court.” (303) Adams’ acute mind touched on the areas of psychiatry and even atomic power, although he didn’t quite know what to call it.

He was one of the few historians to tour Russia before their revolution. ”From the car window one seemed to float past undulations of nomad life—herders deserted by their leaders and herds—wandering waves stopped in their wanderings—waiting for their winds or warriors to return and lead them westward . . . Their country acted as a sink of energy like the Caspian Sea, and its surface kept the uniformity of ice and snow. One Russian peasant kissing an icon on a saint’s day, in the Kremlin, served for a hundred million.” (409)

For him the world was going through a cataclysmic phase. “For him, alone, the old universe was thrown into the ash heap and a new one created. He and his eighteenth century, troglodytic Boston were suddenly cut apart—separated forever—in act if not in sentiment by the opening of the Boston and Albany Railroad; the appearance of the first Cunard steamers in the Bay; and the telegraphic messages which carried from Baltimore to Washington.” (5) These were the elements that first signaled to him vast changes coming.

For him the Virgin, representing women, had been the driving Force since the Middle Ages. He quotes Thomas Aquinas: “Christ and the Mother are one force—Love—simple, single, and sufficient for all human wants; but Love is a human interest which acts even on man so partially that you and I, as philosophers, need expect no share in it. Therefore we turn to Christ and the Schools who represent all other force.” (428) Adams seems to be touching on the idea of the women’s movement that wanted full equality with men in his era.

Adams continues. “Passing from one century to another without break. The centuries dropped like autumn leaves in one’s road, and one was not fined for running over them too fast. When the thirteenth lost breath, the fourteenth caught on, and the sixteenth ran close ahead. The hunt for the Virgin’s glass opened rich reserves.” (470) Adams claims that through the power of the Virgin the church created powers that stimulated: architecture, art, sculpture, poetry, printing, exploration, even war and science like astronomy.

Now this age depends on what Adams calls the Dynamo (what would soon be known as atomic energy). “This huge wheel, revolving within arm’s-length at some vertiginous speed, and barely murmuring—scarcely humming an audible warning to stand a hair’s-breadth further for respect of power—while it would not wake the baby lying close against its frame. Before the end, one began to pray to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before silent and infinite force.” (380)

Teddy Roosevelt was the human equivalent of this power. “Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts, and all Roosevelt’s friends know that his restless and combative energy was more than abnormal. Roosevelt, more than any other living within the range of notoriety, showed the singular primitive quality that belongs to ultimate matter—the quality that medieval theology assigned to God—he was pure act.” (417)

Numerous times throughout his book , Henry Adams humbly claimed that he learned nothing., because history was always so unpredictable.  His final statement was: “Every man with self-respect enough to become effective, if only as a machine, has had to account to himself somehow, and to invent a formula of his own for his universe, if the standard formula failed. There, whether finished or not, education stopped.” (472)

In my book reviews I usually attempt to find “poetics” in prose works, ranging from novels to memoirs. In The Education I noticed some other things that were just as fascinating: Henry Adams had the ability to comment trenchantly on outstanding people and events. His diffidence toward life often muted his insights; I hope I have highlighted them.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Education-Henry-Adams-dp-1438297173/dp/1438297173/ref=mt_other?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

The Tiger in the Grass by Harriet Doerr


By Ray Greenblatt


          Harriet Doerr (1910-2002) grew up and married in California. For nearly twenty years she and her husband ran a mining company in Mexico. In 1984 at the age of 74 she published her first book Stones for Ibarra, which won the National Book Award. Her third and final book, a collection of short stories, The Tiger in the Grass was published in 1995. This review will be a discussion of how effectively she developed setting and character and the essence of her philosophy after such a long and fruitful life. And she used poetic prose to accomplish that.


In the story LIKE HEAVEN the major character Elizabeth has returned to a town she had summered in for years. She wondered if her memories matched the reality of the place. “Beyond Elizabeth, the pink stucco post office was closing for the night. A border of nasturtiums erupted against its side in hot reds and lemon yellows, the intense shades that figure more often in memory than in fact. Elizabeth turned to face the ocean.” Doerr’s use of color is always vivid and varied, often using flowers to represent a particular hue.

“Life on the hill had not been flawless. Elizabeth vaguely recalled the occasional tears of children and slammings of adult doors. But the immense peace of the place drowned out these events, leaving only a shimmering calm behind. Under its protection, summer days could scarcely be told apart and ran together. So that, even while being lived, they had seemed eternal.”


Mexico plays an important role in Doerr’s life and writing. In the story THE SEASONS now in Mexico, color again plays a major role. “Yellow is the color of fall. The cottonwoods burn with it, and only flowers that are yellow go on blooming. At the edges of fields, against unmortared stone boundaries, in roadside ditches, grow all the wild daisies in the world.”

Sudden though infrequent storms punctuate the landscape. “When there is a storm, the thunder rolls up the mountain and down the cobbled street. It stifles the backfire of the passing truck and silences the church bell ringing for vespers. It mutters imprecations in the distance.”

“The lightning forks into an ash tree, into the windmill tower, and finally into the transformer, causing a power failure that may last all night. In the flash there is a second’s eternity of total exposure, the plow left in the furrow, the dented pot on the fire, the woman’s face in the cracked mirror.”

One Character

Some women in these stories are angry and depressed because they have not found who they really are, or in trying to live through their husbands the wives always come up short. Doerr can be very insightful focusing on one individual. In CARNATIONS Ann “lives with herself. They no longer speak. She can’t remember being shut away. Life, like a subway train, simply began to recede, taking the people she knew out of earshot. Either they have stopped listening or she has forgotten the words. In the case of Elliot, her husband, she is out of sight and sound. His eyes focus behind her and his voice is directed to one side. His arms do not reach through the unseen walls.”

On a car trip through Italy with her husband she sees a flower seller who becomes a symbol of what she desires. “Ann supposes that their fragrance hangs about him like incense. He is hatless and wears sandals. They are about to pass him. She hasn’t had time to say ‘Stop.’

Then, in an impact as clear and sudden as the clash of cymbals, Ann’s eyes meet the eyes of the vendor. Their smiles meet and fuse. The second is held in timeless suspension, like a raindrop on a spiderweb.

His arms, lifting the carnations like lanterns, are open in an encompassing embrace. They hold the terraced vineyards and the twisted pines, they hold the marble figures in the tapestried palace walls, the tile on hillside houses and the stone on Roman roads.” This man is so much a Christ figure; and the brilliant flowers again are so important.


Doerr is also effective at handling multiple characters.  The story THE EXTINGUISHING OF GREAT-AUNT ALICE offers us several. “Weeping. It seemed chronic rather than acute, a way of life rather than a trauma.” Alice is old and sad but still retains a vigorous imagination. She shares “the same crystal vision” with her great-niece, eleven-year-old Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth brought strange maps she had drawn of India, France, and Peru, striped with rivers, crocheted with mountains, shaded with forests, dotted with wheat, rice, and corn, red-circled with capitals, and all bounded by shores of a thousand parentheses.”

We meet a kaleidoscope of people, old and young and in between. Alice’s middle-aged son Theo has not found himself and is trying to fit in socially. “He had made a thorough search of the anniversary classes and encountered only eight alumni of his year, all so altered by time and varying levels of despair that none recognized the others.”

Among these uncertain souls stands a solid citizen. “The driver of the station wagon wore thick brown-rimmed glasses and a lime-green pantsuit. She had planted both feet on the ground when she was one and a half, and an aura of common sense hung about her like the aroma of wholesome food. Today she had realized at once that she must pilot the rudderless into safe waters, and set off with purpose and without surprise.” A few strokes by a skilled writer fully rounds a character.


Some Mexican characters are distant as in the story WAY STATIONS.  “There was something in the old woman’s blackbird eyes, something about her slippered feet set parallel on the floor, that discouraged intimacy.”

Others are more outgoing as in SUN, PURE AIR, AND A VIEW. “’Consider this, senora,’ Carlos said, and from the edge of the terrace where they stood, he embraced the landscape, drawing to him the municipality of Santa Felicia, the presidencia, the cathedral, and the zoo, as well as all the plowed and wooded world beyond.”

And in what I think is the most shocking story in the collection, ironically SAINT’S DAY, we see tragic individuals. “Remembering the annoyances that have plagued his life, along with the great injustices, he allows rage to possess him, lets it burn hot and blind and pure, until at last he strikes the back of the bench and bloodies his good hand.”

His wife has been traumatized to near immobility. When her son Paco asks her for help, “she neither looked at him nor moved from where she sat on

the edge of the bed, her elbows on her knees, her thin fingers pressed to her eyes, rocking back and forth, as if the rocking itself might serve for something. As if it, more than tears, might speak for her.”

Paco is still a fanciful little boy. Strangely he reminds me of the little boy from John Updike’s short story You’ll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You. Both boys love the thrill of the carnival. However, Updike’s character has the entire world ahead of him to look forward to. Paco is from a distressed environment without much hope for the future. His immediate goal is to ride on the carousel. “Now, for five minutes, Paco is a child without past. This interval contains his whole life. So his day ends almost as he had planned, riding a horse to music under stars.” Meanwhile, his sister is being raped by the father.


So many of these stories, and so many of these events that I believe actually happened to Harriet Doerr are involved with memories. Her five senses enable her to call up actions that occurred seventy-five years before. She remembers the walls of their house from A SLEEVE OF RAIN. “You knew them best by touching them, by moving along the half-finished wall, your hand sliding from one rough surface to the next. Dry, hard, complex, indifferent, they were the fiber of your world.”

She claims that she does not clearly know why these memories are dear to her, but I can guess that they recall when her family was close and solid.” Years later and possessing at last the long view, I cannot say whether I touched the wood to claim the house, to establish a connection, or simply for the sake of the shingles themselves, to feel their texture, to smell forest.”

It is an extreme advantage for a writer to have such vivid recall, especially of such positive moments in one’s life.  From LOW TIDE AT FOUR: “Back on the beach, our heads under the umbrella, we lie at compass points like a four-pointed star. The sun hangs hot and high. Small gusts of wind lift the children’s corn-straw hair. We taste salt. Face down, arms wide, we cling to the revolving earth.”

The child sometimes feels the center of the universe, but an author can achieve great power of creativity with this feeling. “I call up my interior reserves and gather strength from my blood and bones. Exerting the full force of my will, I command the earth to leave off circling long enough to hold up the sun, hold back the wave. Long enough for me to paint and frame low tide.”


Harriet Doerr facetiously states that in a writing class she took “all we wanted was the perfect word in the perfect sentence that, when multiplied, would fill the pages of the perfect book.” It is what all writers hope. A symbol for her was THE TIGER IN THE GRASS.  A writer must persist through all uncertainties, all fears to achieve the best writing that she can. “I think of what it is like to write stories. It is a completion. It is discovering something you didn’t know you’d lost. It is finding an answer to a question you never asked.” Through her writing Harriet Doerr found her true self. Considering her style I am surprised that she never wrote poetry.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Grass-Stories-Other-Inventions/dp/0140251480

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.



North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5

pandemic mary

The Great Falls of the Lehigh River and Stoddart Mills Ruins By Mary M. Michaels  https://marymmichaels.weebly.com/

Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #5 from North of Oxford and Mary M. Michaels for graciously providing her art .  In order of appearance we present: Howie Good, Robbie Nester, J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford, Ray Greenblatt, Dee Allen. , Dan Brady, Mike Maggio, Michael D. Amitin, Mark J. Mitchell, Rikki Santer, Benjamin Siegan, Anne Becker, Akshaya Pawaskar, Amy Barone, Judy DeCroce and Antoni Ooto, Ben Nardolilli, Jane ‘SpokenWord’ Grenier, Barbara Crooker, Tim Suermondt, Michele Riedel and Diane Wilbon Parks
Howie Good
Oh, Mercy
I board the subway at 72nd Street carrying a metal briefcase like the one that contains secret nuclear launch codes. A busker playing guitar at the far end of the car is trying to make up in enthusiasm what he lacks in formal training. He apparently adheres to Lou Reed’s dictum: anything with more than three chords is jazz. The passengers ignore his musical pleas for attention. They nap. They text. They shed virus. When the train emerges for a moment above ground, the sky looks as if it’s been digitally erased. There are colors in nature that birds can see, but humans can’t.
Howie Good is the author of THE DEATH ROW SHUFFLE, a poetry collection forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.
2 Poems by Robbie Nester
When fear takes you by the throat and
shakes you, breathe slowly. Remember
the feeling of hanging, a leaf on the end
of a branch, in headstand at the yoga studio.
Imagine the weight of an heirloom tomato
the precise shape of a geranium in your palm.
Fear cannot abide such sensations. Shove it
to the back of your closet with your oldest shoes.
Throw open the shades and listen to the rain
finding its way into the soft earth, waking
seeds that have slept in the ground
for months, so they open their mouths
and drink, tasting the air at last.
The 52 Hertz Whale
was the world’s loneliest because no other
whales would swim with him. His song
sounded awkward, maybe too shrill,
out of kilter. He was just plain odd.
Originality doesn’t count for much
among cetaceans. But we humans
are less discriminating, at least about
whale songs. We are listening,
sitting at our windows, staring out
at the empty streets, sure that we
are the whale, or that he is us.
Robbi Nester is the author of 4 books of poetry, including a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and three collections, the most recent being Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019).  She is also the editor of three anthologies. Her poems, reviews, articles, and essays have appeared widely in journals and anthologies.
J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford


My Lilac
There can be no balance,
But amid all the desolation and pain
Lilacs still lift and elate me beyond measure.
Her sweet fragrance wafts across my lawn
As though divinely assigned for such a time.
It is she who still calms, settles, stills my soul,
Slays today’s reality if only for a moment
Taking me back in reverie to childhood
Backyard games and daydreams
Where possibilities danced
Among calming lavender blossoms
Unfettered and unhindered by masks.
J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Prince George’s County, Maryland, U.S.A.  She has authored 3 collections of poems, “Lord I’m Dancin’ As Fast As I Can,” “This Garden Called Life” and “From Pain to Empowerment, The Fabric of My Being.”  For the past 15 years she has produced and hosted the nationally-recognized cable television show, Sojourn with Words, which has received two Telly Awards for “Excellence in Cultural Programming.”
2 Poems by Ray Greenblatt
Invisible War
We do not wear gas masks
but Halloween masks
bizarrely decorated,
nor carry rifles
instead washing hands
anxiously raw,
and stand at a distance
like slightly neurotic
very polite children,
while people fall dead
all around us;
at least when the V-2’s
stopped ticking we knew
we were in trouble
and could run for it,
but this invisible
silent  monster can clasp us
like any innocent clown
at any  time on any corner
or tucked in our beds
saying last prayers.
Going On
oh yes
we’ve all been away
from each other
been away
on inner trips
and oh yes
we have all changed
because now we see each other
we see each other
as we never have before
we have all aged
for questions of life and death
have been whirling all around us
so close around us
some will never return
and we wonder why
we wonder why we have survived
we wonder how we have survived
touching places to see
if we are really here
and all we can do
is blindly
go on . . .
“Ray & Sue Greenblatt were vacationing with family in Delray Beach, Florida in February. All seemed very normal, but when they returned, everything hit the fan! They will always be very thankful that they got home in time!”
3 Poems by Dee Allen.
Streets—Oakland’s 74 miles closed
To cars—Mayor Schaaf prioritises
Two-wheeled exercise and safety
For gentrifiers.
Subway stations—Social
Distancing maintained
To the extreme. Underground
Solid concrete ghost town.
Hotel rooms—They’d make better
Shelter in place for the homeless than being
Warehoused in close quarters on mats. Existing method:
Good way to get infected.
Shelves—Inside the supermarket—
The spirit of hoarding
Cleared them of supplies.
Long line of humanity outside are in for a nasty surprise.
Nothing left dwelling in the husk for some.
Nothing left but hostility—Blame for sickness
Lands on descendants of Asia.
Describes this reality, re-configured
By rapid infection—Humanity homebound—
There’s no reverting back
To normal after this.
I survived
Ten presidents, the residual terror of four
Foreign wars, power outages, outbursts of nature,
A petrol shortage, evictions and homelessness.
I will survive this, even as this contaminated air
World quickly goes
Masques Up 
There was a time
When wearing a masque
In public was equated w/ anti-system
Protests in the streets, attending the
Most extravagant, fun balloon
& paper streamer-strewn
Costume ball @ best
& crime @ worst—
It’s the Law now
To throw the masques up.
Simple, repurposed
Cloth covering our faces, concealing all
But our eyes. Looking fresh
From a steam train
Robbery Old West style
Or a Black Bloc
Putting some smash on the blue block
That redlines & forecloses
& holds money simultaneously
Chase Bank©—
To throw the masques up
Is an exercise of
Good judgement now. Invasion of our persons
Held back w/ a new school
Protection spell. Just add cloth
Firmly over nose & mouth.
Continued being assured against
Robbery of our lives
By a thief so intrusive,
Another murderer unseen,
But far more elusive.
Out Front
For Jennifer A. Minotti
I am grateful for…
The arched roof above my head
The twin rafters with
The twin lights, holding it in place
The four walls surrounding me
The two windows with
The two Venetian blinds, down & shut at all times
The red brick floor below my feet
The wooden shelves full of books & movies
The VHS by themselves & DVDs in clear totes
The Keetsa© mattress I sleep on
The melatonin that helps me sleep
The vegan food in my fridge, a meat-free zone
The fruit & vegetable juices I savour
The filtered water I drink more than tap shit
The hardcover journal notebooks and
The rollerpoint pens I use to express myself
The shower I use, even though I’m a bathtub man
The Hewlett Packard laptop computer aiding creation of
The once and future poetry volumes
The Samsung© TV & VCR/DVD player combo
The little house in East Oakland I call home
The vast collection of political slogan t-shirts
Remains a personal favourite but
Gets me the most love on the street
But most of all
I am grateful for…
The bus drivers
The firefighters
The restaurant
Deliver drivers
The subway train conductors
The launderette clerks
The grocery store workers
The farmer’s market workers
Which I happen to be one
The doctors
The nurses
The paramedics
The pharmacy workers
The protestors for the rights of all Black lives
The dead and the living
The mutual aid collectives
Giving food, water, medicine and household
Items to the people living hand to mouth
During this goddamn pandemic
And long before
All the heroes
Out front
In our service
Seeing to our immediate
Survival needs
They could use the praise
And you don’t need
Super powers
To be a hero
Just be there
Out front
For us—
Dee Allen. An African-Italian performance poet based in Oakland, California. Active on the creative writing & Spoken Word tips since the early 1990s. Author of 5 books [Boneyard, Unwritten Law, Stormwater and Skeletal Black, all from POOR Press, and his newest from Conviction 2 Change Publishing, Elohi Unitsi ].
Dan Brady
The personal and impersonal
Who denies their chains
Those long-standing claims
From the empires of our past?.
Error    driven into fear
Misapprehensions    into enmity
Thence to greed     and onto war
Smoky battleground
Corpses strewn … a medallion glints
The long – justice – of silence
The parade   crowds cheer
The grim reaper waves …
Supporting    everyone’s troops
Midway barkers loud
Angry sky, blusters sweep papers
The Dark comes for its own
One thing I know
About this world’s ending …
No one will see it coming
We saw them
Titanic muscular clouds
Lightning flashed   there were eyes
We need to make calls
End this man now, lest this be how
Civilization falls – – –
Mike Maggio
Today, a tulip trembled in the breeze:
an urgent temptation to bloom.
When I awoke,
it was to the delusion of dream.
Outside, a vicious wind.
Outside, the trees. Fearful.
One moment, seclusion.
One moment, a prickly crown of memory.
There’s nothing we can’t touch.
Nothing we can lay a finger on.
Sweet dove, waving from the wilderness,
wherefore this social distancing?
In a moment of delirium,
I journeyed to my mother’s grave.
Nothing on the horizon.
Not even a ghosting of sun.
2,000,000+ sick.  200,000+ dead.
I cannot count to infinity.
One dark night, I witness my reflection
taunting the reaper.
Michael D. Amitin
Mambo’s Blues
Sad Spanish strains
Night street
All dissent quiet
Church mice sleeping
Humans creeping
Petrified forests
Papers run you around
Papers to walk the dog
Police looting city blocks
Forgotten masquerade masks soaking in
God forsaken puddles
Gloves, skeleton mud runners
Double fried kisses, canned peaches and mist
Stare from
Weathered shelves
Embraces on hold till a
Magic clock-strike twelve
Poets creak, Paris pastors reach,
The abandoned plunging
hollow cold-ice streams
With great introspection
Masses ponder the great dissection
Easter bunnies screw in tournesol sheds
The bum rap meds, no one to touch his hand
Lab rats grin as the mother
of all vaccines warms to the
Resounding orchestral death march
We stay together Keep our love
Hide in the never heard of
Knit our threads, bake our breads
Sing our songs, read Walt all night long
Nurses, doctor helping hands
Stave off the storm with clothespins
Nature heals, as the wheels roll off the highway
Rest like tires in a wilted roadside graveyard
Shutters flailing viral winds
Mind eye flashing gold
Designs of maladroit wine boats
Rocking ship shake harbors
On my droopy curtains
Sweet Suzy muse never forgets my address
Drops off provisions
Flipping bad luck coins
Like hot cakes griddle bound
To the sunrise…
Leapfrog fantasies
Kind of blue nights
Late winter Paris
Mother earth freaking
Miracle balm on our last sundown legs
Used to trip on window pane
Now it’s tryptophane
Sleep away this nightmare, nevertheless
Ship ahoy, mates!
Jesus came down in a chariot
2nd coming time
Walls shaking, the frame was hot
big cigar chief told him
cool it with that riff of peace
we’re the visigoths..
The gothies
the meanest band in town
We’ve chucked the wafers for the great vaccine
Dissolves on your palate- a king’s tongue in his queen
wail in the water
and cream,
The great hereafter filled with brothels
n’ laughter, Louis playin’ the West End Blues,
He mused
Ay ye merry moutons
Line up, don’t ya’ cry
Take a shot, be an astronaut
A fireman to boot
Poet and musician, Michael D. Amitin travelled the roads of the American West before moving to Paris. Recently named International Beat Poet Laureate 2020-2021, Amitin’s poems have been published in California Quarterly, Poetry Pacific, Cajun Mutt Press, and others. A current collaboration with Parisian photographer Julie Peiffer has given rise to the “Riverlights” project.


Mark J. Mitchell

                                        Mass in Time of Plague
                                         (For Interior Choir)
                                    After Haydn, Mass in Time of War
1.         Kyrie
Let mercy roll like fog through every home.
Show mercy to all that can still see.
Let mercy flow to the known and unknown.
A slow silence drips from each untrimmed tree
And that gray chill touches each of your bones.
Show small mercy to all that you still see.
This morning love flows from a telephone.
Take that for now. Birdsongs and humming bees
Fly like mercy you’ve shown the known and unknown.
There’s more mercy than you’ll hope to see.
Let mercy flow into your sealed home.
Accept this gift: Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.


2.         Gloria
All your glory’s hidden by folded masks.
Pay no attention to the broken sky.
Count steps to the sidewalk. Savor the climb.
You must rise and converge. Everyone stand.
All that glory’s hidden by hand-made masks.
Soft fingers are unused to homely tasks.
Fold your sorrows now. No reason to cry.
Taste glory’s salt on your tongue. That scoundrel time
Must fall. Cover your face. Cover your hands.
Pay no attention to that broken sky.
Every word—even this—is a lie
And your glory’s hidden by fragile masks.
Those small slips, tiny errors—they are not crimes.
Cool morning sun cleans you. No, soft winds fan
Low clouds to the ocean. There’s nothing you lack.
Pay no attention to our broken sky.
Count the steps pavement asks you to climb.
So now—rise and converge. Now! Learn to stand.
3.         Qui tolis peccata mundi
(You who take away the sin of the world)
If you can replace the half-missed good-bye,
Then carry this prayer.
If you can separate the masked from the wounded
Then spill us some mercy.
If you can change boredom to devotion
You’re welcome to these prayers.
4.         Quoniam tu solo Sanctus
(For You alone are holy)
Solitude is not holy.
Absence is not holy.
Noise filled voids
Are never holy.
If you are holy,
It’s time to climb down.
Don’t make us
Beg for grace.
5.          Credo
Now—believe that dry cough’s perfect. Your last.
You’ll be sent away—now—we all believe—
To die alone. There’s nothing worse. We’ve learned
That breeze can kill. A stranger’s naked face
Means an end of time, but a cheap cloth sieve
Means hope. We believe this is what we’ve earned.
On empty streets—each and each—hides a face
That bears harm. We walk through an open sieve
Of foot traffic. We dance, slide, duck, we weave
Away from touch, sure it would be our last.
We don’t know why. But it’s time to believe
In threats we don’t see. We believe that a turn
Is coming. Even end times have an end.
We watch for sweat. That ill-omen of heat
Will find us—even believers. There’s no sieve
Fine enough for health. We believe retreat
Is carrying a battle forward. Terms
Enter our speech—spells and charms we believe
Almost true. We believe this cannot last.
We believe love, but we’ve forgotten her face.
The end, we believe, in the end, we burn.
6.       Benedictus
Bless silence, bless absence, bless our closed doors.
No exit is not a cell. We’ll learn to pray.
We’re intimate with windows, acquainted with floors,
blessed by silence, broken absence, stiff doors
with loud hinges. Now’s not a time for more
anything. Sit still, let ghost priests say,
Bells silent. Bless absence. Close doors.
This exitless cell is yours. Pace and pray.
7.   Agnus Dei
Bored lambs in a pen, we pray,
Take away sins we desire.
Softly enclosed, old lambs we ask,
Save us from desires we fear
We are, all of us, lambs of time:
Grant us peace.
Mark J. Mitchell’s novel, The Magic War appeared from Loose Leaves Publishing. He studied at Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver and George Hitchcock. His work appeared in several anthologies and hundreds of periodicals. He lives with his wife, Joan Juster making his living pointing out pretty things in San Francisco until the pandemic hit.
2 Poems by Rikki Santer
Quarantine Spring
Coldest nights on record
tucking in the impatiens
with tattered thermal blankets
& days with a bad taste that rattles
like cod loins freezer-burned.
Brylcreemed ideas from a dangerous
podium, viscid shipping & handling
my emotions to the front door
landing me in moods for reduction.
The granular seepage of time,
my mind too near to itself.
I am a tiny balloon chasing
its string, dandelions shake their
heads, toss seeds to the squalls.
The train, a wailing pronoun in the dark breath of night
when quarantine responds to quarantine and I ask myself
how do I get from here to the rest of the world
or scale a kinder incline beyond the noise
above this jittery, jumbled ground
my eyes rheumy with incessant news, lips dry
from the briny kiss of pundits.
Words gather to call upon landscape,
sleep a foreigner who keeps me up under a swollen moon
and I am weary of suggestions for further study
pregnant glossary of regrets,
and I am wedded
to my weary couch denuded in its binocular view.
The braying train again in periphery
its skein of myth and fable trails behind
spectral thresholds blinded by the winds,
a wolverine in my lap,
skulls dangle from trees
this tasseled place dead air
of press conference somewhere between scorched earth
and uncharted territory.
Train cars stuffed with under-songs of tarnished narratives,
clouds pinched across the much midnight sky.
Publications including Ms. Magazine, Poetry East, Slab, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, Grimm, Hotel Amerika and The Main Street Rag. Santer was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Santer’s eighth collection,  Drop Jaw, was published this spring by NightBallet Press.
Benjamin Siegan
American Summer, 2020
More record-breaking heat. With it comes assailing storms—sable skies peppered with bursts and cracks of bluish-white along with a torrent of rain and swells of harrowing wind. God help us when hurricane season hits. The downpour subsides as I prepare for my trek to work. More violent precipitation is predicted at day’s end, but for now, sultry air and ashen clouds prevail.
I check the traffic report. Another Black Lives Matter protest in midtown—collective calls for dignity, equality, compassion, and justice. Although traversing the assemblage will add time to my commute, I’m nothing but supportive of their efforts. I marched with them during the strife-ridden spring. But despite the need for systemic change coalescing with a looming, unmitigated plague, the job beckons—reopen in service of the plunging economy as sickness spreads.
News radio provides updates during my labor-bound drive. The President offers misinformation, contradictions, and snide, racist remarks. The Governor has nothing but empty platitudes and prepared sound bites. The Mayor conveys desperation, urging those who can to stay at home. But rent needs to be paid; money is required for food. Electricity, water, phone, car, and internet—their fees are indifferent to the virus. I also need to keep the digital distractions funded. I’m not too proud to admit that I might go mad without them.
Close to my destination, another obstacle—an angry throng making their way to City Hall. They wave Confederate flags. One banner features a crudely-drawn swastika. Some brandish pistols and assault rifles. They elevate signs with an amalgam of messages: All Lives Matter, Jesus Supports the 2nd Amendment, Open the Bars, Hilary and Obama—Partners in Treason, Quarantine=Socialism, Destroy the Deep State, I Need a Haircut, Re-elect Trump—Keep America Great, Protect White Heritage, COVID is a Democrat Hoax, Save the Aryan Race. Quite the pack of dangerous, hateful, morons, spreading ignorance and disease—a source of figurative and literal pollution. No doubt a few members of this despicable mob will venture into my place of business, requiring me to hold my tongue to continue employment and hold my breath to stave off illness.
Upon arrival at work, I put on my mask—a thick, garnet-colored cloth shield that spans the entire lower half of my face. The supervisor is required to provide a flimsy, disposal covering to those without. They fit poorly and frequently slip below the nose when speaking. I’m thankful I was able to procure my own washable, protective gear during the early phases of the pandemic. For once, being a paranoid germaphobe proved beneficial. My temperature is taken in the back room, out of public view, to confirm it is within normal parameters. I’m asked if any recognized symptoms are being experienced and affirm my healthy status. Industrial, indigo latex gloves are issued before I’m sent to the floor.
My assigned tasks have increased greatly from the Pre-Coronavirus era. In addition to my regular responsibilities, I must also enforce the company’s safety policies. Statutes are fluid, shifting from week to week. As of today, no one may enter without some form of mask, patrons must remain more than 6 feet apart from each other at all times, and the moving of tables and chairs is prohibited. Most are compliant, but there are always a handful who argue—labeling me a fascist, an oppressor, a violator of their rights and freedoms, with occasional bouts of screaming and swearing. Some acquiesce. Others make a scene before leaving and vowing never to return. My skin has grown thick. The insults and accusations fail to garner a reaction. I just repeat the stipulations in a detached, neutral tone and carry on.
The verbal abuse is much more tolerable than the cleaning mandates. After each customer has left, I must scrub down any surfaces they’ve touch with a pungent bleach solution. Bathrooms are scoured with disinfectant every hour. The chemicals sting my eyes. Sweat constantly pours from the brow. The perspiration bleeds into my pupils, making them constantly burn. I’ve taken to wearing bulky, lab goggles during sanitation duties. My peers mock me, but their ridicule pales in comparison to the harsh bite of noxious fumes.
The evening delivers its promised deluge. Drops of water spatter against the window with frenetic intensity. Physical and emotional exhaustion sets in. A final cleansing is administered, a complete sterilization from top to bottom. The tip jars are divided equally— a little, well-earned financial boost until my next paycheck is deposited.
I press through the turbulent weather that veils the moon and stars and casts night in its darkest incarnation. I opt for music on the return trip, drowning out detonations of thunder with the roar of guitars. A late, microwaveable dinner, one episode of a mindless television show, and I’m drifting into sleep—knowing I’ve done my part, made my contribution, to this horribly aberrant version of reality. I may not be saving lives, but I’m keeping people caffeinated. Such is the vital role of a barista in the summer of 2020.
Originally from Chicago, Ben Siegan had the good fortune of being influenced by the expansive literary and theater culture the city provided. While his career is that of an elementary educator, he has always dedicated his limited free time to the craft of writing. Siegan’s works have included collections of poetry, prose, material for the stage, and even a full-length rock opera. Now having settled in Virginia for the last decade, it is his hope to continue increasing efforts toward professional writing aspirations.
2 Poems by Anne Becker
Depression era glass
words cocked up
spill over the damn
in quarantine: fear our
human fellows, hope
to thread the labyrinth of
viral particulates hang
suspended, cling to
surfaces—how long—how
long—how long—left to our
own devices our fingers
strike—snake bites—our
hands full of lattice-like
molecules, traffic streams by
birds crazy at first light stake
their claims to the over story,
each house of bark, of leaves,
web of terrible green pollen
germ cell, extravagant
procreation, snore and
beep of nuthatch, happy
jeer of jay, flash of red—
of blue—gold finch cry
their desire for potato
chip, for chicory, the rust
wren for tea, little brown
jobs we strain to identify
all the egg blue shells
break before we cross
the path, deer stands at
my shoulder—awkward
tender smile—watches—
 you reborn—know I’m safe—
bounds past, in the air we
breathe, frightened and angry
there’s nothing we need do
queue of bright images—blink—
blink blink—blink—cry wolf,
cry whale, all the animals we
care for, foxes domesticate
themselves—same old traffic
sounds, sad coo of the train
clacks in the distance
eats us, breaks our
bread, its leathery crust,
slip crumbs beneath
dreadless masks, dust settles
old scores, dishes left
Social Distance
As when my son, first extruded
from the tissue that formed him,
head reluctant to quit the muscular
membrane that kept him safe,
unsure of the emptiness into which
he might fall, he and I are all about
food, and sleeping and waking—
but now no protest cry when we’re
hungry or desire sleep so much
we can taste it under our eyelids.
Now we cross town on asphalt
pathways to reach each other—
young bucks, their small rack
of antlers smothered in velvet,
step from the sheltering woods
to watch us pass—his beard
scraped away, his chin raw.
And I want so badly to swab A & D
ointment—the cure-all of childhood—
on the redden and blistered skin
of my son.  Although the chin is not
plush and inviting like the silken
round of the bottom, and I’m not
allowed to claim his body with
comforting, probing hands the way
I once did when I didn’t have to admit
our distance: my one cell, divided
and divided again and again, had
become him—not me. And, anyway,
in this time of deadly virus, we don’t
hug, we don’t kiss—although
because of his neuroatypical sense
of touch he has never liked the light
feathering of fingers on his flesh, he
doesn’t embrace often—like his
father—and his grandfather, my
father, before him—and when he
does, it’s a quick, hard press.
Anne Becker, poet and paper artist, leads a workshop, Writing the Body, for those who have experienced life-threatening or chronic illness. Her poems printed on her own handmade paper have been exhibited in the US and in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. She is a poetry editor of Burgeon, an arts journal based in Washington, DC.
Akshaya Pawaskar
Politics of nature
River by the city
is finally breathing
unmasked and sheer
free of the murky veneer.
The peacock flower
has shed its flames.
It stains the tarmac
with colors of a once
happier world.
On driving down
these concrete woods
a Sign post
reads -go slow
Wildlife crossing.
And even the pigeons
teeter on their
twiggy feet
like toddlers
learning to walk
their wings tired,
of being chased
empty roads inviting.
We sit at home
connected by wires,
cables and Ethernet
afraid of being tangible,
while the dogs continue
to lick their paws clean
and each other dry.
The buffaloes walk
in herds less than
a meter apart,
unsanitizied, carefree.
Six feet are for
humans, single files
are for the convicted.
When the tables turn
the entitled animals
become caged and
the caged ones
find an amnesty
a freedom though
of numbered days.
Akshaya Pawaskar is a doctor practicing in India and poetry is her passion. Her poems have been published in Tipton Poetry Journal, Indian Ruminations, The Blue Nib, North of Oxford, Rock and Sling, Shards and Red Fez.
Amy Barone
A Dawning
Orange-yellow flare on the horizon.
Trees still shrouded in night.
Relief at the gift of more hours.
Summoning angels to flex their might.
From towers of closed churches, bells chime.
 Amy Barone’s poetry collection, We Became Summer, from New York Quarterly Books, was released in early 2018. She wrote chapbooks Kamikaze Dance (Finishing Line Press) and Views from the Driveway (Foothills Publishing.) Barone’s poetry appears in Local Knowledge, Paterson Literary Review, Sensitive Skin, and Standpoint (UK.) She lives in NYC.
Judy DeCroce and Antoni Ooto
Open Window
invisible nemesis
coyote wind sighing
over the sill—
what is not done, wastes,
as every hour stalls scattering
in time, in place
a foreign breeze,
hitching a way in
messenger in a gale,
seemingly empty yesterday
yet rock-solid—leaning forward
A time of extremes; late and clearer,
sharp shadows of loss.
Indecision and reflection, as night
rests on other ages.
Fate holds all the cards
shuffles with slight-of-hand
and deals out lives
into unknown places.
While few small moments remain.
Internationally published writers, storyteller and educator Judy DeCroce, and poet/artist Antoni Ooto are based in Upstate New York. Married and sharing a love of poetry, they gather inspiration during their morning poetry sessions.  Over a pot of coffee, they listen, critique, and revise their work.
Ben Nardolilli
Knowing the Vine
Trying to bring the outside inside, and what better way
than to become a primitive agriculturist?
some plants on the balcony, some flowers in the kitchen,
maybe a tree will grow rootless in a bucket
in the middle of my room in the middle of Brooklyn
Forgive the changes in spaces, and alterations in spirit,
my body’s not a temple anymore and palms
won’t give me the future, whether they hold cards or not.
Time to get working on a fertility cult, right now
it’s not clear if this God is shaped like a man, or a bull
What flourishing! I can already smell the succulents,
and yes, some crops are for my consumption,
smoke and sauce, I make them both thanks to my growth,
it’s a wonderful way to recycle when the street
is too sick to walk on, and only good for running away
Ben Nardolilli currently lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, Danse Macabre, The 22 Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, The Northampton Review, Local Train Magazine, The Minetta Review, and Yes Poetry. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is trying to publish his novels.
Jane ‘SpokenWord’ Grenier
My f*cking Virus poem #1
in the city of the undead
6 ft apart
your cough I dread
your breath
where’s your mask
get the fuck away from me
I’m busy not touching groceries
locked down in my room
as the heroes’ work through doom and gloom
in the city of the undead
6ft apart
we wait instead
don’t touch
there are corpses
death by viral sources
nurses underdressed
doctors depressed
all looking for protection
orange man boasting perfection
death from oblivious discombobulation
Jane ‘SpokenWord’ Grenier’s performances range from the Whitney Museum w/Cecil Taylor, to festivals, libraries, slam lounges, galleries, clubs, busking street corners and living rooms everywhere. Publications: 2 books of poetry w/art and audio – Word Against the Machine & Tragically Hip; Good Housekeeping, Boston Magazine, Boston Globe; anthologies: Rogue Scholars Express, Bonsia Publications, Oh-Wow Publications, and the National Beat Poetry Anthology’ 2019.
3 Poems Barbara Crooker
Worry Beads
I wish I could quiet the voices
in my head, the ones with the projected
infection rate, the viral spread, the body
count.  It’s been three months
since I’ve seen my grandkids,
except on a screen.  My county
is still under lockdown, and there’s
a curfew, which really doesn’t matter,
as there’s no place to go.  This is not
like a blizzard or hurricane, some
outages, then the storm passes.
This is the season of subtraction,
as faces of friends disappear.
What items will be gone
from the grocery store this week?
Popcorn, flour, hand sanitizer, yeast?
But spring has returned,
and bare sticks break out into blossoms:
azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel.
The grass has spread a plush carpet,
and orioles gorge on sweet orange slices.
Maybe these are the good times,
with darkness to follow?  My skin sings
whenever you touch me.   Hold me,
my darling, as long as you can.
Daily News
And so this day is like every other,
beginning with coffee and ending
with wine.  But with nowhere
to go, and nothing to do, I’m
going to take my time, sit
in the morning sun and savor
the darkness, black and bitter
In the larger world, terrible
things continue to happen.
Here, the only action
is the hummingbird zipping
and sipping sugar water,
jazzed on sweetness, in love
with the sun.  In the herb
garden, lavender, rosemary,
sage, thyme release their scents
as the heat rises.  The implacable
sky is laid down with a paint roller.
Schedules and deadlines no longer
matter.  If a small chore needs
to be done, we do it; there is
no later, only now.  We miss
our friends, see our neighbors
only at a distance.  There isn’t
any news to share.  The sun
traverses the sky, the day
passes, just like the one before.
Soon, shadows will lengthen,
and the stars will print
their reports in the dark,
which echoes the consolation
of wine filling my glass.  I
remember to thank the grapes,
crushed on my behalf.
Tomorrow, we’ll do this
all over again.
NOVEMBER 18, 2019
I didn’t know it then, but this was the last good day.
I was in the glittering city, visiting an old friend.
We walked on a busy street to the 9-11 Memorial,
the gold of late November reflected in the glass
windows, the water’s mirror.  Ate dinner
in a crowded restaurant, so close to the next table,
we could have joined their conversation.  Traded
bites of pumpkin tortellini, scallops in wine,
shared a crême brulée.  Sipped a bit of wine
from each other’s glass.  Rode the subway.
Grabbed the last two seats for a sold-out show,
then strolled Times Square, bathed in the neon
glow. We didn’t realize then that these were things
we would not do again.  That life would become:
An Emergency Room, An Isolation Ward,
An Abandoned Mall, A Shuttered School.
That this was as good as it would ever get,
and that the rest was silence.
Barbara Crooker is the author of nine books of poetry; Some Glad Morning (Pitt Poetry Series) is her latest.  Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, The Poetry of Presence, and Healing the Divide: Poems of Kinship and Compassion
2 Poems by Tim Suermondt
  Counting the Beautiful Days
And there are a lot of them,
hanging on despite the discontent
and absolute horrors of the long
months we’ve had to deal with.
I walk the quieter city streets,
keeping my distance only because
I have to, but I feel the ghosts
of thousands in the very air, readying
for their moment to create
a crowd, become flesh and bone
again, surprising themselves at how
crowded, often dirty subway cars
hold a sparkle, a small beauty after all.
  Left to the Sailboats
The birds follow me until
they realize: he plumb forgot the bread.
I go left to the sailboats, just a few
bobbing around on the water, more boring
than inspiring, how I miss the great ships.
Where did they go? I ask America—
I know she’s here, somewhere.
Tim Suermondt is the author of five full-length collections of poems, the latest Josephine Baker Swimming Pool from MadHat Press, 2019. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, North of Oxford, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall, Poet Lore and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
2 Poems by Michele Riedel
Covid protest
“The caged bird wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he open his throat to sing”
Maya Angelou
Flat on my back,
feverish and faint, I dissolve
into the dark corners of tallying symptoms-
splintered lungs, lost breath.
Cell phone buzzes—
George Floyd, George Floyd!
I want to shout out in solidarity
across this broken land
but the scratch of bent birds
in their cages
press into my chest with every
clawing cough. My pillow
Is hard pavement.
I push into the tarred fear,
the sear of every swallow,
try to hold breath 8 minutes—
the pulse pounding torment
of no reply.
Basketball in hand,
a scared teen
chances to cross a street
disappears into the night
of no reply.
Someone’s mom in ICU
another alone in ER,
a nurse without PPE
all cry in the dark night
of no reply.
A man shelters
in place under park bench
in the dark night
of no reply.
I black out my screen,
take a picture of the night
starless and shadowed,
wait for morning light—
think about how a cloud
shifts and a piercing light
how wings touch in flight,
silvered and soaring
and scarred throats find
their songs.
Zoom yoga
You are eating chips in your
I lie that they can see.
You belch, knees and ankle poppig
as you land on your mat;
phone blinking like emergency flashers.
A moan as your shoulder bends
stiffly in cobra pose.
You finally ignore message alerts
as we move into bridge pose
while Abbycat brushes our legs extra
slowly with her whiskers.
The instructor reminds us to breathe deeply.
I razzle my exhale
trying to sound like Lauren Bacall.
We windmill into three legged dog.
only legs and feet viewable—
look lost in each little meet up box.
I marvel how she manages, re-images
moves us from space to connection.
Put your head on straight!
I adjust my neck.
She says it again and I laugh—
you tell me to be quiet
Soon, our minds are lost somewhere
between couch and ottoman.
Two minutes into deep relaxaton
you’re snoring.
Sunlight falls through skylight
softening shadows, muting your edges
In this moment, you are illumine,
an angel.
Michele has been published in Streetlight Magazine, MCV Literary Messenger, River City Poets Anthology, versewrights.com, thebezine.com and has a poetry blog at www.wordpalettes.wordpress.com. She loves to attend critiques, workshops and open mike events and has found a supportive community with River City Poets. She taught Reading and ESL (English as a second language) in elementary schools and loves the written word.
Diane Wilbon Parks
What If There is Light at the End of this Pandemic?
the air splinters and bleeds into a hush
that   swallows   whole –    its  prey,
that spits out a rosebud of bones  and broken wings.
we    attempt  miniature flights,
but   fall back to weightlessness
into silk strands of  what   was,
 into January’s cold white winter
 when fingers were allowed touch,
when breathing was not caged.
what if,    what was,  could   be  again,
 and  if,   hope could stay, longer?
The air’s staggard breathing
opens  up crowded rooms,
Covid’s pale white ghost
 drifts  indiscriminately,
blows into consenting lungs
that are born to breathe,   to carry,
this haunting pandemic
 crouches in waiting rooms
searches for light
to dim its flicker
 to darkened,
and sinks deep
 in the earth at dawn.
what if we could loom
 into what was
and open its silence,
wipe clean this virus,
this pandemic,
 this racial divide?
What if   prisoned by this glass,
this mask, this door, this lock,
 this isolation
deletes this dry cough
and its toxic fingerprints,
removes this virus,
enlighten our perspective
for inclusion,    our
hopes of


Diane Wilbon Parks is a visual poet and artist. Diane has written two poetry collections. Diane’s been recognized as a Prince George’s County, Poet of Excellence. She is an U. S. Air Force Veteran and resides in Maryland.



Summer Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5


North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6


Spring Pandemic Issues 

North of Oxford presents The Pandemic Issues.

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1


North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2


North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3


North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4


Diane and George April 2020

Stay Calm – Stay Safe – Stay Home and When Out and About Wear a Mask
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter


Summer Reading Recommendations Based on readership- Top fifteen books reviewed at North of Oxford January – July 2020


The War Still Within: Poems of the Korean Diaspora by Tanya Ko Hong


Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation by Cynthia Manick (editor)


ÜBERCHEF USA by Jennifer Juneau


The Dead Kid Poems by Alexis Rhone Fancher


What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym


Paper Bells by Phan Nhiên Hạo (Translated by Hai-Dang Phan


The Weight of Bodily Touches by Joseph Zaccardi


On an Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge by Robert Dash


The Elvis Machine by Kim Vodicka


Obit by Victoria Chang


Getting to Philadelphia: New and Selected Poems by Thomas Devaney


Someone’s Utopia by Joe Hall


Library Rain by Rustin Larson


Flow by Beth Kephart


In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado