L. Ward Abel: “Coat of Birds”

Coat of Birds

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L. Ward Abel’s work has appeared in Rattle, The Reader, The Istanbul Review, Snow Jewel, The Honest Ulsterman, Worcester Review, hundreds of others, and he is the author of three full collections and eleven chapbooks of poetry, including Jonesing For Byzantium (UK Authors Press, 2006), American Bruise (Parallel Press, 2012), Little Town gods (Folded Word Press, 2016), A Jerusalem of Ponds (erbacce-Press, 2016), The Rainflock Sings Again (Unsolicited Press, 2019), Floodlit (Beakful, 2019) and the forthcoming The Width of Here (Silver Bow, 2021). He resides in rural Georgia, and is a reformed lawyer, now teacher of literature.

Andrew Shields: “Early to Rise”

Early to Rise

Sleep can also come too easily,
and dreamlessness can wake you up at dawn
to a world where the birds have forgotten to sing.
The sun staggers up into the sky
behind bedraggled clouds that don’t know where
to put their rain. No rivers seem to want it;
the trees are ducking; the hills have nowhere to go
and nowhere to put whatever might be offered.
You should have stayed awake another hour,
until the nighttime breeze stopped being shy
and each mosquito in your room had had its fill.

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Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His collection of poems Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in 2015. His band Human Shields released the album Somebody’s Hometown in 2015 and the EP Défense de jouer in 2016. Twitter: @ShieldsAndrew   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andrewshieldspoems/

Sinead Delaney: “Needing to Knit”

Needing To Knit

I knitted another you, a tinier you, tiny for a variety of reasons. I wanted to make you big enough to hug but not so big that I couldn’t conceal you in my handbag. I couldn’t knit your feet, I hope you don’t mind. It seems strange to see you now, staring at me judgementally through your one button eye. I knitted you baby blue so you could be kind, like I imagined you were. I know you are calming because you’ve shushed me in my dreams. I’ve screamed out and tried to clutch you.

“Ssssh!” you hushed, your face scrunched up tight in disgust. You hated me then but that’s alright. I understand.

The room is scattered with many yous, all half-finished and crumpled on the floor. I wanted my first, and only you to be perfect. I know you wanted a body. I can feel your burning resentment following me from room to room. I couldn’t give you a body so I knitted you this. 

I’m regretting the colour now. It seems cold and reminds me of the sky, the vast space above me that jeers when I look up and try to look up and search for you.  I know you’re there but the sky has eaten you up. Some time, some place I will forget to look up and you will float by. You’ll think I don’t care. I care that you care whether I care, if you do. I’m just finding it tiring to search the sky.

Once you crawled on my bed and my chest filled with a sweet ache. You left as soon as I felt you, but I know you were there. If you return, I’ll still be sorry, I won’t act as if all was forgiven. You can hate me, as long as you stay.

I wanted to have you but I couldn’t. I sometimes wonder if my fear made you leave, before you were ready, and the thought makes me ashamed, that my baby couldn’t have a body.

Please accept my offering, Live in the doll. Even if you don’t move, I’ll know if you’re there. I’ll take you to the park and round the shops. I won’t just leave you in a shoebox.

You’ll be my doll. My tiny, knitted you.

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Sinéad Delaney is 30 and from rural Ireland. She enjoys languages and writing. She also enjoys stargazing when cloud cover allows. After lockdown, she hopes to go to beer gardens in the sun, and walk around the shops without fogged up glasses. “Needing to Knit” first appeared in Lockdown BabyBabble.

Russell Rowland: “Apology”

Apology 

You teased crocuses out of the soil,
beguiled goldfinches back to sing
at our window that it was finally spring—
but my heart strayed ahead to fireworks,
sparklers, and sunscreen’s frankincense.
I am sorry for my faithlessness.

You rubbed sunscreen on my shoulder-blades,
arranged for the lake to be as blue as sky,
donned a bikini unsuited to your modesty—
yet I opted to give myself to autumn:
pumpkins, sheaves of corn, swamp maples
going pyrotechnic. Forgive me please.

You cut jack-o-lanterns, raked brittle leaves,
dressed children up as heroes and royalty
for Halloween, gave me the leftover candy,
carried the harvest home. I snuck around
with a Flexible Flier, wore mittens sleeping,
text-messaged Santa. I fled your weeping.

You learned to ski, installed snow tires,
bought carrots and coal for the man of snow,
decked the halls with boughs of holly,
fa la la la la. I left you—wandered glades,
seeking tentative hints of green. I listened
for the early bird. I was that mean.

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Seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee Russell Rowland writes from New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, where he has judged high-school Poetry Out Loud competitions. His work appears in Except for Love: New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall (Encircle Publications), and Covid Spring, Vol. 2 (Hobblebush Books).His latest poetry book, Wooden Nutmegs, is available from Encircle Publications.

James Croal Jackson: “Talking Stand-Up Comedy in Pittsburgh”

Talking Stand-Up Comedy in Pittsburgh

It’s Kat’s birthday and the room laughs
at sad Neil Young songs opposite this
vibrant party. I meet Meeti who says
she has good jokes, bad presence.
She has grander aspirations. I tell her
I never planned to be in this city, either.
She needs a New York or LA. I came
from both & couldn’t hang. Birthday
spirit drifts in this room around us,
everyone having an amicable time.
We are, too, except we can only dream
of spotlights, butterflies, our names in
neon because we’d rather smoke quietly
in the dark corners of social gatherings.

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James Croal Jackson (he/him/his) is a Filipino-American poet. He has two chapbooks, Our Past Leaves (Kelsay Books, forthcoming 2021) and The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017), with recent poems in White Wall Review, Subnivean, and Thin Air. He edits The Mantle Poetry (themantlepoetry.com) from Pittsburgh, PA. (jamescroaljackson.com)

Peter Mladinic: “The Great Billy Williams”

The Great Billy Williams

When I was a little kid there was this pop
song, “I’m Gonna Write Myself a Letter.”  
I remember hearing it in a bar, on a jukebox, 

some drunk guy singing along, 
like lightly slamming the open palm of his hand 
on the bar in time to the jaunty rhythms.  

Well, it was just a song, kind of catchy, but I 
didn’t think much of it. The bar, the building 
itself was wooden, and in a low valley, 

between one steep hill and a lower hill.  
By the mid-sixties it was torn down and 
replaced by a small brick strip mall.  

But this song was a big hit, and the guy 
singing, his voice sounded kind of cranky.  
“Gonna write myself a letter,

make believe it came from you, oh yeah!”  
Just another song. When I got to my teens, 
I bought a 45 disc, “I Don’t Wear My Heart 

on My Sleeve” by the Charioteers. A ballad, 
the lead’s male alto was high-pitched and very 
smooth. Elegant. I loved it, love it still.  

Fast forward to me in my fifties. I got 
a Charioteers CD and realized this alto lead, 
singing ballads and up-tempo tunes like 

“Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” was 
the same guy who, back in the fifties, 
had this one smash hit. On “Letter” 

his voice didn’t sound high and smooth like 
on the ballads. I was astounded to learn 
they were one in the same, Billy Williams.  

I purchased the CD from a record shop by 
mail. I talked to the shop owner, now 
deceased, and he said Billy Williams 

was a pretty good singer. He sure was!  
A very good singer. He made other pop 
things but also a lot of pretty great music.  

You listen to him on “So Long,” really listen, 
and you know you’ve been someplace.  
So smooth, so sad it’s sadness 

shed to the limits of joy, pure joy.  
The sound of a singer in love with what he’s 
singing. A master. A blend of passion 

and control. He did enough of that, over 
and over, to where he went beyond good, 
to greatness. Billy Williams, a great singer, 

I read somewhere, ended up living in 
a basement, on the fringe of homeless.  
He needs some credit, though 

he’s long dead and it won’t matter to him, 
but as Frost said, “The fact 
is the sweetest dream labor knows.”  

The truth is in the sound of the smooth alto 
that is Billy Williams, alto lead 
of the Charioteers, the great Billy Williams.

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Peter Mladinic has published three books of poems: Lost in Lea, Dressed for Winter, and Falling Awake in Lovington, all with the Lea County Museum Press. He lives in Hobbs, New Mexico.

Christopher Barnes: “What the Street Remembers (3)”

What the Street Remembers (3)

Daddy why there?
Been at work
You little sod
I haven’t got change
Chack! Chack!

*

Isaiah Berlin jiggles a greenfly
Off his lapel.

*

Cteck-cteck-cteck-cteck
A party
Yi knaa what it is
Oooom la la la la

*

Bertrand Russell agrees terms
With the squall.

*

He’s denied
Peaches only a pound
Dong dong dong dong

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In 1998, Christopher Barnes won a Northern Arts writers award. In July 2000 he read at Waterstones bookshop to promote the anthology Titles Are Bitches. Christmas 2001 he debuted at Newcastle’s famous Morden Tower doing a reading of poems. Each year he read for Proudwords lesbian and gay writing festival and partook in workshops. 2005 saw the publication of his collection LOVEBITES published by Chanticleer Press, 6/1 Jamaica Mews, Edinburgh. In August 2007, he made a film called ‘A Blank Screen, 60 seconds, 1 shot’ for Queerbeats Festival at The Star & Shadow Cinema Newcastle, reviewing a poem…see www.myspace.com/queerbeatsfestival  He has also written Art Criticism for Peel and Combustus magazines.

John Grey: Two Poems

Life on the Flood Plain

The river is overflowing,
and the wake along each bank
shakes feverishly, 
is whipped away by strafing rain.

Pale faces watch from shore,
a step or two from the cresting waters,
backs to an avenue of vulnerable homes.

Eyes dull but hearts fast-beating,
each can only think 
of their house’s contents,
furniture, mirrors, carpets, beds,
unmoored and ill-equipped for floating.

Under dripping hoods,
the people draw closer,
a small town gathered, 
talking out their fears,
their frustrations,
like they’re all one family group.

Each is eager to start moving stuff,
from first floor up to second,
from basement to who knows where.
But there’s no place really safe from damage.
Experience of past floods
couldn’t be clearer.

The precious will be ruined.
Framework will need repair.
And, once the dry-out begins,
there’ll be no escaping the mud smell.

People say prayers.
They grow bitter then they pray some more.
They make vows. “Never again.”
All lead to that bitter vow,
“I’ll never sell.”

_____

That’s the Wrong Pose

Please don’t fold your hands over your chest.
I’ve been to too many wakes.
Let them drift down to your sides,
swing them if you have to,
don’t worry about hitting me,
my head is harder than the night.
Having felt this was worth getting into,
I don’t want to lose it
to a grim imitation of a corpse,
an accident yet to happen,
a heart without heart,
some magician disease that can
turn you into a door jamb.
It’s two a.m. and a man should be
occupying dreams fully,
stirring a little mental mud,
not watching all he loves
strike a pose for the end times.
Sure, I’m drowsy, I’m incoherent,
I’m fully aware of the stand-over
tactics of the imagination.
But I don’t want
the worst that can happen,
getting any ideas.
My loneliness
is holed up in the past.
Let’s leave it there.

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John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Orbis, Dalhousie Review, and the Round Table. Latest books, Leaves On Pages and Memory Outside The Head, are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Lana Turner and Hollins Critic.

Charles Rammelkamp: Two Flash Fictions

Therapy

_____“If I have to live with him like this, I think I’ll go nuts. I feel like a trapped animal, like I might have to chew my leg off to escape.”

_____That was Eileen, describing her marriage to Marvin, a misanthrope about twenty years older than she was. He’d lost interest in sex. She hadn’t.

_____We were in the same therapy group that met every month, only we called it a writers’ group, and some of us really were there for the writing. Patricia was writing a series of stories about zombies. Jenny wrote poems about her mom and about nature. I was farting around with a movie script about a woman who goes off the grid.

_____I was between jobs. Somehow I’d gotten stuck in the technical writing line of work. It started when I worked for an electrical firm, writing their codes and procedures, then a software firm that did computer games, and after that an insurance agency, methods and standards. Even when I tried to bust out of the mold – ad writing, promo work, speechwriting, anything – they always looked at my resume and told me I was a technical writer and that’s the kind of job I should be looking for.

_____“I told him, I said, ‘Mitch, I want to have sex,’ and he said, ‘Well, then go have sex, Eileen. I’m not stopping you.’”

_____“So are you going to have sex?” I asked her.

_____Eileen rolled her eyes. “That’s what my novel’s about, Karen,” she said.

_____Before the next monthly meeting I got a new job – technical writing for a company that makes microwave ovens and other appliances. Troubleshooting, assembly instructions. So I stopped coming to therapy. One day, several months later, at noon, when I was going out for lunch, who do I run into on Presidents Street? Eileen.

_____“How’s your novel coming?” I asked her. I explained about my new job, said I hadn’t been able to work on my script, so I’d stopped coming to the writers group.

_____“Me too,” she said. “I stopped writing on my book and moved out to my own apartment.”

_____I didn’t ask her if she was having sex. The question seemed too personal.

—–

Clueless

_____“You know ‘evil’ is ‘live’ spelled backwards,” the boy announced to his father from the doorway.

_____Ogden looked up from his laptop computer. He was sitting at the dining table reading the online version of the New York Times.  The boy was just starting to deal with pimples, he noticed again. Always a distressing time of life.

_____“You’re right,” Ogden replied after a moment, since Jeremy seemed to be expecting some kind of response.

_____“You just don’t get it, do you?” his son muttered, disgusted, and he turned to leave the room.

_____What was this all about? Ogden had a brief terrified thought that his son was suicidal.  “Jeremy!” he called, but his son ignored him, and Ogden heard the heavy tread of his boots on the stairs, heading for his room.  After a moment, Ogden turned back to his laptop.

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was published last year by FutureCycle Press. Two full-length collections appeared in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee, from Kelsay Books.

Madelyn Kreienheder: “Losing you was like winter in Alaska.”

Losing you was like winter in Alaska.

Warm summer days dwindled
as a chill crept over the land.

The seasons started to change,
leaves drifted to the ground,

and when you joined them,
the sun stopped climbing into the sky

leaving me in a world
without light.

Life without you has been a season of dusk.
Even though your absence is eternal

the sky keeps reminding me
darkness won’t last forever:

Gray will eventually turn blue
as tears turn to smiles when I think of you.

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Madelyn Kreienheder is a graduate student at Truman State University, where she will graduate with a Master’s in Education. She is completing her student teaching now and will begin her career teaching English following her graduation. Madelyn’s first published poetry appeared in The Big Windows Review Issue 17.