AFTER LASTING A WEEK OF CROWDED STREETS AND BUSY TOLLWAYS &

A SMALL MEDITATION ON WHAT MAKES US WHOLE

Lowell Jaeger

After Lasting a Week of Crowded Streets and Busy Tollways

Such wild joy, where roads end.
Where clouds flock — like migrating swans — winging
toward far-rising horizons.

Lone meadowlark, somewhere unseen,
trilling.  Tenacious next generations 
of bluebells pitching their camp beside
a ragged outcropping of granite —
where I’ve perched to still my pulse
and breathe.  Quiet sigh 

of ocean breeze arrives,
rippling an inland sea of tall grass, while graceful 
willows bend and sway.
                  
Sculpted stone cliffs crumbling, a rumble
of scree. The great bricks of earth
colliding, inching skyward.

                Then the meadowlark
again.  And the echo of her song.

A Small Meditation on What Makes Us Whole

This morning a cramp in my left thigh
throbbed when I hobbled
upstairs and down.  The left knee
sputtered, and by noon
the left foot’s five-digit workforce
convulsed and squealed, insisted
I remove the shoe.

Then, as I massaged the hurt limb
— unhappy thigh, knee, toes —
an unexpected gratitude grabbed hold
to glimpse the wisdom of opposites,
contraries evolved to thrive
in tandem.  Thank you, I said to the right leg,
for lifting the left leg along
today, as on other occasions the left
has served to balance and move us forward. 

The notion of one hand clapping . . .
let’s applaud the effort and yet confess
two hands are cause for twice the hurray.
Same with the heart and brain,
bickering dutifully, though each in turn rallies
to govern
when the other stumbles too far astray.

Lowell Jaeger (Montana Poet Laureate 2017-2019) is a founding editor of Many Voices Press and recently edited New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from eleven western states.  Jaeger is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize, and recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council. He was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting civil civic discourse.  

 

SELF-IMPOSED SECLUSION

Nikolas Macioci

She strolls into the garden like a deserted
mistress.  Oak leaves above her head
have started to turn the color of iodine. 
As she moves away from deadheading
roses, sun warms her shadow.  She nears
the birdbath, and robins scramble from its 
edges, exploding upward in a fireworks
of feathers.  She listens to locusts lounging 
in the cedars, capturing the air
with a continuous sizzle of sound.  
Above her, starlings careen into clouds 
like black paper airplanes.  Meandering
around the yard she remembers
how ruinous love can be and settles on
the patio swing, giving it momentum 
with a push of her feet.  On either side
of the swing, white pots of begonias 
have become brittle with brown edges.
Buds stay tight, banished from full bloom
by September chill.  She folds her hands 
in her lap, the swing's back and forth arc, 
steady, measured, predictable.  

R. Nikolas Macioci earned a PhD from The Ohio State University.  OCTELA, the Ohio Council of Teachers of English, named Nik Macioci the best secondary English teacher in the state of Ohio. Nik is the author of two chapbooks as well as eight books: More than two hundred of his poems have been published here and abroad, including The Society of Classical Poets Journal, Chiron, The Comstock Review, Concho River Review, and Blue Unicorn.  

APRIL RAIN

Gary Metras

Curled leaves sluice from oaks
   down to watery streets.
Layers of rain on brown fields.
   All day the earth soaks.

Clouds harden. Thunder overhead. 
   A falling branch sinks into turf. 
Worms surface, writhe a few times,
   become knots lost on asphalt.   

Driveways clog the imaginations
   of starlings leaning from trees.
Beneath the rhododendrons, 
   juncos suppress their laughter. 

 

Gary Metras’s new books of poetry are River Voice II (Adastra Press 2020), Captive in the Here (Cervena Barva Press 2018) and White Storm (Presa Press 2018), the latter having been selected as a Must Read in the Massachusetts Books of the Year Program of the Massachusetts Center for the Book. The author of seventeen previous collections of poetry, his poems have appeared in America, The Common, Poetry, Poetry East, and Poetry Salzburg Review. He lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts, where, in April 2018, he was appointed as the city’s inaugural Poet Laureate. 

 
 

SPECTER OF REALITY

Eric Obame

A shiver on a hot summer night
Footsteps on the second floor when I’m alone
My television powering up on its own
Lights I turned off, back on
My furniture moved
The burners on high when I come home
Loud knocks in my walls
Exploding light bulbs
A voice in my ear when I’m trying to sleep
You switched on the TV in my bedroom
When I was walking down the hallway with my Mom
You raised the volume all the way up
But when I looked for you, you were gone
I hear you, and then you leave me alone
What do you want from me?
Following me
Making everyone think I’m imagining things
I have mental problems
I have mental problems?
I heard you singing in my dream, when I was sick, when I was weak
 
I’ll bring you to our side, when all your love has died
Shaped by hate, nursed by death, taught by pain 
Raised in Hell, I was made in Hell’s flames
When you’re lost, and you feel like crying
When you’re tired, and you’ve stopped trying
When you’re lonely, and you feel like dying
When you’re hungry, I’ll make you smile
Made in Hell, I was raised in Hell’s fires 
I’ll cheer for you
I’ll care for you
Through your hardest times, and make you mine
 
I will not let my conscience die
Hand me alcohol as if it were water
Feed me pain
Blind me with blood
Slap me with fire
Drown me in rain
I will not let my conscience die
Come to me when I’m asleep, burning and shivering
Sneak into my dreams and link with me
Show me death
Show me torture, tears and terrified faces
Like a movie of misery projected onto the screen of my mind
Make me turn, fall out of bed and scream when I awaken
I will not let my conscience die
You’re a shadow in my world of light
Go away, there’s nothing for you here
 
A moment of clarity?
Am I evil?
I’m all alone
The voice has gone away
In the comfort of my home
Lying on the couch
I close my eyes exhausted
I’m finally all alone
I’m so lonely
Words like teeth ripping my flesh
I was dying within its breath
I’m finally all alone
Stranded, sinking, I can’t do this
When I die, will I see God?
Will it stumble to its knees and cry?
Will it beg for my forgiveness?
Why am I doing this to myself?
In all of us a demon hides
I will not let my conscience die
I will not let my conscience die
I will not let my conscience die
God, how long will I have to fight?
 
Why fight?
 
I hear you whispering in my ear
I feel you caressing the side of my face
 
I’ll bring you to our side, when all your love has died
Shaped by hate, nursed by death, taught by pain 
Raised in Hell, I was made in Hell’s flames
When the rage inside you eats you away
And you need a way to lose the loser you portray
You see them every day, how they laugh—they play—they’re sane
Their contentment is your shame
 
I am not a game!
Dead end, you see the sign, but there’s no turning back
The road of your life stops here 

Eric M. Obame was born in Gabon Africa, but lived in France until 10, Lyon then Paris. His family came to the United States in 1983, but moved to French schools until college. He received a Bachelor and a Master of Arts at Towson University in Maryland, where he studied scriptwriting and poetry. He now writes screenplays, poems, and is working on his first novel.
 

 
 

RIBS

Sophia Brandt

I think that I am obsessed with ribs
The ones that constrict your breath
And press against your skin when you stretch
The ones that are fierce guardians for your heart and all that it holds
The ones that are strong until they fall off into your stomach
Like the drop in the ocean floor, left unprotected and unexplored
The ocean is an entirely different thing
Full of animals that hide in the dark
Some with ribs some without
Jellyfish don’t have ribs
It’s really quite peculiar
They are just masses of softness but are still alive and well
So what are ribs for anyways?
Compared to the vastness of the unknown
They are mine, that’s what
They are there to remind me that I am solid and whole and alive
And as I run my fingers across their ridges
And put pressure into my sternum I am stopped by the bones
Pinched and pressed together 
As if in prayer
An anchor to where I am now
And the sacred things within me
My hopes, my dreams, and my thoughts 

Sophia Brandt is a fifteen-year-old writer from Southern California. 

THE SWEET SCENTED LILLIES, SOUP AND MUSIC 

Tanvi Nagar

I

We strung together the sweet scented lilac lilies with perfection
and laced the low hanging air of despair with your magical melodies.
The red, blue and green lines on the screens fluctuated freely 
tirelessly racing rhythmically- as if creating their own music. 
The aroma of light-yellow luscious lamb soup escaped from the bowl
as if racing to reach the titled, square white ceiling first;

II

My glassy eyes, stayed fixed upon the skeleton before me- bones, flesh and a little you,
encased in a coffin of peachy pale skin and numerous twisted tubes;
the incisions in your skin fresh- with little red droplets of blood that oozed out
made my heart beat faster; fluttering like a kite in the sky before its string is cut.
the skin in your hands and feet hung loose and lifeless
which made it harder to imagine how blood was gushing underneath this sheet,
there was so much movement in the molecules of your being 
yet, so much stillness in the spirit of your existence.
your eyelids were shut closed, concealing the gateway to your universe within,
like the white sheet that covered the scars the sharp needles left on your body.

III

We strung together the sweet scented lilac lilies with perfection
and laced the low hanging air of despair with your magical melodies.
The red, blue and green lines on the screens fluctuated freely 
tirelessly racing rhythmically- as if creating their own music. 
The aroma of light-yellow luscious lamb soup escaped from the bowl
as if racing to reach the titled, square white ceiling first;

It was hard to imagine life of a human, so powerful yet dangerously delicate-
hanging on the monitors, meters, measures.
It was still more hard to imagine what pulling the plug from a socket 
can do to the one hanging on it like threads of loose cloth ripped at the ends.

IV

The lilac lilies danced in farewell, to some sad song it seemed
the monitors beating slower, slower and slower still 
with their constant repeating beat- beep.
the waves resounded and repeated
until the notes on the screen
refused to go up and down 
and the fumes from
the soup didn’t 
escape at 
all. 

 

Tanvi Nagar is a student at DPS Gurgaon. She has been published by national and international newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Weight Journal, Ice Lolly Review, Risen Zine, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine among others. She has authored three books published by Notion Press and Partridge, India. She believes that writing has the power to bring much light and positivity into the world. She can be reached at tanvibnagar@gmail.com, her insta id is tanvibnagar and her website is tanvinagar.com. 

 
 

NOCTURNE IN 13 PARTS

Mayah DeMartino

1. Litany [Eulogy] to the Things That I Am Shedding 

To perform alchemy, no permission is needed from the materials being converted into something precious. There is understandably little resistance to the prospect of being turned to gold. I am writing a letter to you, the conjurer. I am writing a letter to me, too. 

I’ve tried to close my eyes and see the center of you, heavy-weighted and sunken by something formless. The truth is that I do not know you; the truth is that I do not know you enough to hate you or forgive you, to apologize for what I imagine has happened to you that left your insides mangled. 

It’s rumored that the Chinese inception of gunpowder began with an attempt to formulate a draught for eternal life. An agent of contemporary death sluicing forth from efforts toward immortality. 

When I say alchemy, do I mean triage? 

To the conjurer: You brought forth so much ugliness, carefully arranged it around me in a circle, omens of what would poison me in the years to come. I used to say that it was one of my gifts to transfigure something ugly into something precious. Now I hope instead that I simply have the good sense to throw away what is waste so that I am only left with the valuables. 

My memory has become a tesseract that consumes and reveals itself in tandem. By this I mean, I find it difficult to recall … by this I mean, I am locked in a spinning, concentrated remembrance. 

I do not personify you. In your memory, I am the only thing that gets personified. You are somewhere between fiction and hatred. You are somewhere between what I did and what I didn’t do. You are real to someone, somewhere. Have I personified you?

You are real to your mother. Sometimes when I think of your mother, I am consumed with a hatred so visceral it makes me vibrate. How could she fail you so grossly? 

Ideas of successful alchemy in India have included the creation of a divine body. A body untouched by death or decay, a body unslandered. (I imagine that you pray that I will die. I pray the same for you.) A divine body cannot be prayed against because it is insurmountably alive. (Or, I hope you pray that I will die.) 

I personally find the idea of divinity unsettling. My most childlike solaces come from the promise of your eventual death, and from the certainty of my own. A promise that eventually I will not have to bear your existence in a shared world. (The worst? That you do not remember me. That you do not pray for anything at all.) 

2. The Cast; Or, How My Mother and Your Mother are Bound, Though They Have Never Met 

My mother: 

My father: 

Me: 

She: [see above] 

Your mother: 

Conjurer: [see above] 

You: [see above] 

// ibid. “When memory shifts to fantasy” 

To be clear: you are not real. The Conjurer is not real. Your mother is not real. Only me, only my mother, only my father, only me and me and me 

My friend asked me once, “How long do you think this will be a part of your life?” A snarled part of me knew that he meant, how much longer could this go on? We were throwing rocks at a brown bottle bobbing upside down in the ocean. This part of the ocean was toxic, and we weren’t supposed to swim. I wanted so badly to be the one to hit the bottle. I threw rock after rock, but I never hit it.

You pooled in the mold where desire mixed with the hovering of a hand over the flame. I can imagine you, expansive, arched over me. Behind you, stars. I have immortalized a part of myself in this moment, and she wholly inhabits it. She stands up from where she was pinned; she walks circles around you, she eyes your exposed skin and kicks pebbles aimlessly. She checks her text messages. She is not sorry for what is happening. She is bored. She is observing a statistically common crime. To this day I am turned on by my own vulnerability, a tangle in my sexuality that never fully irons itself flat. 

3. 

Here is an email that I received from your mother: 

As we are working through this, we are requesting, respectfully, that you hold of on sending us further emails. 

Everything you have sent our way or directed at us is being thoroughly looked into. Do you have a case number we could refer to? 

We take these allegations very seriously and again we are looking into them. 

Sincerely, 

Respectfully, 

How dare you,

Please, 

4. 

Who is my mother? 

Caucasian Female 

Birthdate: 11/02/72 

I will list what I know. 

Blonde, muscular, tanned. 

Straight nose, large eyes, scarred legs. She has been an outdoor guide, a pharmacy technician, a makeup saleswoman, a wetlands delineation assistant, a Bible-study leader, a park ranger. She is kind, energetic, driven, awkward, clever, likeable. She is blunt, moody, impassioned. 

I am halted by a catch of the throat when I think of everything she has been, and how I still do not fully see her as she is. I cannot unsee her at 23, freshly out of college and newly married, and at 28, nearly widowed, and at 45, staring down the barrel of me. 

There is still a great deal of her life that is obscured from me. She tells stories of her early twenties with a dark fondness. The message is: “I wouldn’t do that again.” The friends in her stories play out horrible fates, their choices looming over them as warning beacons. Her friend was an alcoholic; her friend got an abortion and cried for days. These stories fill up a void around a faint outline of my mother, the observer. I imagine her standing in the wings, discreetly taking notes. I wonder about these friends, archetypes acting out her greatest, hard-learned lessons. Its hard to imagine girl-who-cried-for-days-post-abortion as a real human person. I watch my mother carefully for any sign of unbidden secret-sharing.

5. 

The truth is that I can never tell a story full enough to hold her. For every moment of pain and sorrow dealt by her hand, there are a thousand moments of joy and tenderness, of care that I have not been able to comprehend. The sacrifice of a career for children, the scaffolding she became to hold up my father’s broken body and the lives of my brother and I at two and four years old, respectively. I do not yet know how to write about my mother because I do not understand how her lifetime is housed within her skeleton. 

6. 

The women in my family are digestive systems. They churn and metabolize sorrow, package it and slip it into their pockets . Matriarchs, strewn about with a loose hand. 

(ibid, my mother and my grandmother) 

Two lines running parallel for a lifetime, occupying the same kitchen, the same sedan, the same family, eyeing each other with everything: resentment, sadness, ache, disappointment, wild longing. My grandmother cried on the phone telling me that my mother cancelled a trip to visit her because of the pandemic. This tenderness, obscured from the source. Eyes trained steadily on each other, a thumb boring into the soft flesh of a plum, strands running meaty under the nail. Toughen up, don’t give, but want and want. 

7. 

I am real to my mother. I may be her from 20 years ago and she cannot see me without seeing herself. Children are either mirrors or failed mirrors. 

My mother’s father Art died when she was 26, very suddenly. He was crushed by an ice delivery truck. My grandmother has become curdled and bitter since then, and how could you blame her? (My mother could blame her.) 

My grandmother owns the ice delivery service, the site of my grandfather’s death. She has cultivated a livelihood surrounding the prospect of keeping things fresh.

2016: I experienced a series of sexual abuses. Like an animal frantic to escape from a trap, my mother pitched and head-shook to deny this information. She found my experiences entirely intolerable. “If that’s sexual assault,” she coughed at me once, “Then I’ve been sexually assaulted.” 

I watched her in this moment from several inversions away (body inside, body outside, body inside, body outside) 

How do I want my mother to feel when she reads this? What do I hope she sees? What do I wish was hidden from her? 

It does not escape me that most of my stories about my mother start with “I” 8. 

My father has not died yet but I think I have a memory of his death. Footfalls on the tiled mouth of the threshold, sun fractured through the triangle panes of glass.He leaves out the front door, the screen door that I slammed my thumb in years later (I still have a scar running up the center of my right thumbnail), the same screen door I would snatch open after receiving a slivered paper cut from a plastic balloon string: decorations celebrating my father’s return. 

What do I want to give my father? A list: 

(a) Hospital hallways, teetering wildly on themselves, cranberry juice in thin paper cups, nurse sneakers, shins and knees of doctors, eye level with the squawking machinery threading my father’s body 

(b) Vanilla cake with blue buttercream frosting waiting on the washing machine, streamers in the kitchen, family and friends lining our driveway 

(c) A little girl sitting in the front yard, the red flare of dusk yawning over her. She is drawing a picture, a gaping black hole that is swallowing up her father’s body.

What do I want to return to my father? 

(a) A letter that he wrote to me to be read after he died, which I found accidentally, and which began by saying, when you read this, I won’t be… and which I dropped like it was burning 

(b) A figure leaning in the bathroom doorway, prosthetic limb propped against the door jamb. “You will have to move on somehow,” which to me meant swallow, and to him meant survive 

9. 

A Thank You Letter 

To the conjurer: because of you I can see my mother and father in 4-dimensions. I see them now and I also see every person before them nested within them, climbing their throats to escape. My mother is her mother and her brother and her father and every man she has ever kissed and my father is every car he has ever driven in and every alley he has staggered in and every moment of quiet between half-waking and sleep. 

To the conjurer: I invoke you the same way one slams their hand in a screen door (again and again and again and again) 

I love a boy who loves a man who has died. We were watching TV, a hospital soap, and a character who houses a disease-ridden liver vomits black blood onto the floor of a hospital. “My dad had that,” the boy says. I can’t tell if he means the blood or the vomit or the disease. “That’s how they found him in his house alone.” 

I would tell this story to the conjurer, if I could. “Look at that,” I would spit, pointing at the boy who loved a man who died. “You have a perfectly good dad and still turned out all poisoned.” Look at that, proof that you are all useless with no good reason, proof that ruin is not hereditary, that the apple falls and falls and falls, that you are all ruined and ruined and ruined. 

To the conjurer: My mother says I am a combattant. What do I want her to call me instead?

10. 

My father doesn’t drink, but I do. He’s been taking pills every day for 17 years, which patch the weakened parts of his body and dissolve small perforations in his intestines 

Lie down on the pavement, Dad, I’ll draw a chalked outline around you 

Space ballooned around your body to house the times you have laid face-up on the couch, radiating with pain, and space to hold a twenty-year old self kneeling next to a greyhound in a photo outside his parent’s house 

Space expanded to hold an unbroken body. Is it the right or left leg that is missing? 

Now you draw a chalked outline around me 

Body intact 

Point to where it hurts, and I just lie there 

Unblinking 

If I could return the letter to you, I would finish it by asking if you can see yourself from before, by asking if what you believed to be your final moments held a flash of memory: whole body, whole heart, whole stomach, whole daughter beside you 

What do I want from my father? 

For him to have never been hurt? 

For him to have understood me when I was hurt? 

To want this demands a kind of impossible imagination. Who would I have become if my father and I had not been ourselves for our entire lives?

11. 

To the conjurer: here are vignettes that I remember you by. 

Your head bent low, forehead nearly touching that of my oldest friend. You are both laughing. There is a sunken well in my stomach. 

Your hand pressed over my throat, eyes glassy. 

Where you are in my memory is gutted clean, scraped raw and empty. I am convinced that you are less of a thing than an absence of one. 

To tell the truth: I have feared you deeply, though never as deeply as I feared my mother, and never as deeply as I have feared myself. You were afraid of me, too. I mistook it for rage and bent like a willow under you. 

To tell the truth: I wanted you to love me more than I have ever wanted anything. I wanted a world from you. 

Then again, why conflate violence with romance? 

To tell the truth, sometimes I miss it. 

12. 

The earliest female alchemist in China was named Fang. In the first century B.C., she was credited with the discovery of transforming mercury into silver. Fang was brilliant, her work elevating the potency of transformation: mercury to silver, death to life. 

Her life was stitched through with abuse by her husband, Cheng Wei. For years, he relentlessly bore down upon Fang to uncover the secret to her alchemy. 

Fang’s mind ultimately warped, rippling strangely like heat off stone, perhaps from the seething poison of years of mercury ingestion, or perhaps from a lifetime of abuse. Though it would

have been perfectly understandable if she had revealed her secret in hope of ending her torment, Fang never yielded to her husband. She died by suicide. 

Fang herself split a furrow for a lineage of women who chose transformation over love, or that which is disguised as love. Her mind and her hands were capable of profound change, but her true gifts may have lain in her clear vision. She did not relinquish her grip on herself. 

In the surging, living distortion of doubt, I fear that I have disappointed Fang. I have thrown myself upon a pyre in the name of cruelty, wanting so badly for it to be love that I was willing to make it so. I am glad you never cared to ask for my secrets, for I know I would have given them up freely. 

I willed violence to become romance because I believed that all it took to change one from the other was someone who wanted it badly enough. 

This is the worst of it. In the moments of suspended calm, when I can see clearly the ways in which guilt and abuse drive an obsession with alteration (of past, present, and self), I know that Fang would have understood. After all, she knew better than anyone the price of transformation, of alchemy. 

13. 

Though, I still have dreams of happening upon boys who look like you in abandoned places, strip malls and gas station parking lots. The boys are always crying. I console them, cradle them in my arms while they weep. I do not feel revulsion when I see them; only a maternal ache below my sternum. This is probably some kind of perversion. A friend of mine says that when she dreams about someone in her life crying, she always calls them to see how they’re doing. Maybe this dream is some kind of subliminal call, an electrical charge spanning thousands of miles. When I am conscious, I hope that you are suffering. When I am asleep, I hope that I am the balm. 

13. 

All this, for what? An epistolary to my own sadness is nearsighted, at best. 

Other Chinese interpretations of alchemy included the belief that death from ingestion of mercuric sulfide allowed access to the heavens: death as release. Change of form as freedom.

I have decided that the only thing that keeps people from recovering from tragedy is the story they tell themselves about it. I say this only to myself, and so I have become a storyteller. No one fully recovers from anything. I have not fully recovered from anything. It is not natural to do so. It is inhuman, a cross between science and mythology. 

Alchemy. 

This story is funny now because I say it is. This story is beautiful because I say it is. 

I don’t know how to let you go. This story will never be full enough. What are you when you are pared from bone in thin strips, ribboning into a curled pile at my feet? Just a boy. 

My favorite part of this story is that it embarasses me deeply. I have written hundreds of spiraling, senseless poems. This is one of them. Sometimes I am boundlessly happy. 

This story will go on ending and ending and ending,

Mayah DeMartino is an undergraduate student living in Bellingham, Washington. She cares for good food and good company. Her work has been previously published in Jeopardy Magazine and her prose was selected as a semifinalist piece in the 2020 Adroit Journal Prize for Poetry and Prose. 

 

ON THE TOPIC OF RELATIONSHIPS 

Hayley McCullough

Handwritten letters – 
Torn opened
Read slowly
Ripped into six pieces
Flushed

down the toilet.

With each passing day, Hayley McCullough becomes more convinced that she is actually a brain in a jar. She is finishing up her Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY) and really hopes she can find a job afterward because being a starving artist doesn't actually sound all that fun nor romantic. She recently published a mini-chapbook through Cholla Needles. 

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