Jessica Spaeth: “Ode to the Stars”

Ode to the Stars 

Burning brightly, yet the coldest of lights, 
Twinkling from far above our little world. 
Ancient and undying, yet some long-dead 
Even as their light continues to shine. 
Engulfing more space than one can fathom; 
To us small pinpricks on a black blanket. 
Though solitary within the vast void, 
They come together to form images 
That leap, dance, and crawl across the night sky.


Jessica Spaeth is a poet and college student from the Chicago suburbs. She has a passion for reading, bubble tea, and writing, and she uses poetry as a means of escaping the stress of her classes.

Frank Joussen: “That Strange and Well-known Place”

That Strange and Well-known Place

in memory of William V. and Gertrud Eva Wood

I´m going back to a place
I´ve never been
travelling the distance of time
to faces half-forgotten
and much too young
in my waking dreams.

I´ve got a photo of my aunt´s
house from the outside
but it could be any house–
except for the living room
that´s vivid in my imagination:
with the Asian paintings,
survivors of the Vietnam War I despised,
and my folks I adored so much
on the couch right in front of them.

My cousin won´t be there at all,
or will she,
and what about her old piano–
it doesn´t really matter:
I know
I won´t be able to talk to them,
or look at the pictures
without hearing her music, somewhere
in that strange and well-known place.

Frank Joussen is a German teacher and writer. His publications include five book projects, published in India, Germany, and Romania. His poems and short stories have also been published in literary magazines and anthologies in India, Australia, G.B., Eire, Germany, Romania, Malta, the U.S.A., Canada, India, China, Thailand, and Japan. 

Steven M. Smith” “The Spanking Lady”

The Spanking Lady

_____Bad boys carted off to the Spanking Lady never return:
_____a Shanty Creek Road Urban Legend.

Her brain cavity is an empty
five-gallon bucket. But she can body

slam a black bear. She looks a bit
like Alice the Goon from Popeye cartoons: 

broad shoulders, thick feet, flat black eyes,
bald head, plump nose that swings 

from her face like a swollen link
of boiled bratwurst. But she has wiry 

hairs like rusty barbs of tetanus
that protrude from the moles 

on her chin. Her false teeth were extracted
from a maggot-infested woodchuck 

she found dead in a ditch. She wears
ragged bib overalls worn through 

at the knees from creeping
up on coydogs—her meat of choice 

for soups and stews. She smokes
poison ivy leaves in a corncob pipe.

She lives someplace beyond
the old posted landfill

in a shack built out of discarded
pallets and wind-shredded

tarps near a toxic creek occupied
by two-headed muskrats—

twisted critters she whacks, whacks
with her spanking stick for practice.

A rabid bobcat is her best friend.
Delinquent boys a delicacy.

Steven M. Smith is the author of the poetry collection Strongman Contest (Kelsay Books, 2021). His poems have appeared in The American Journal of PoetryThe Worcester Review, and Rattle. He is the Writing Center director at the State University of New York at Oswego. He lives in North Syracuse, New York.

Joe Albanese: “City Lights”

City Lights

Mind the wall not coming down
But something wrong
A gentle breeze
_____Found all my seams
Climb; I climb beyond a crowd
To gain ground—the day’s already over
I see city lights
_____They don’t betray me

Home, it’s not far gone
Left and cold, a radio believes
The hunger belongs
_____It all can’t be a dream
Yesterday’s rain still fogs the scene
An edifice an empty song relays
Those scattered city lights
_____They don’t betray me

A sun doesn’t come this way
Can I love me not fall apart?
I can’t be bereaved
_____Unmanned belfry doesn’t scream
Behind the toppled mountain I draw
Hear not a single call
But those city lights
_____They don’t betray me

Joe Albanese is a writer from South Jersey. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have been published in 12 countries. Joe is the author of Benevolent KingCainaCandy Apple RedFor the Blood is the LifeSmash and Grab, and a poetry collection, Cocktails with a Dead Man.

John Grey: Two Poems

Skull and Shell

As a boy,
traipsing through the woods,
I found a bullet shell.
I rubbed it like a magic lamp,
I wore it in my shirt pocket,
close to my heart.
It was used to kill a bandit I reckoned,
That was my story
and I stuck to it
by telling no one.

A week later,
same forest,
I found a skull,
probably a bird’s
but I imagined it to be
the bad guy’s.
that evil-doer
shot in a fair fight
by a man who never took
a backward step.
I kept it in my pocket as a warning.

I was young enough to believe anything
but, when it came to instilling creeds
in my precocious but malleable mind,
my imagination always got there first.
The good guy took care of the villain
and not a mile from where I lived.
And I wore the evidence around with me.
It jangled. It clicked.
For a time, I truly pitied those
who had to take it on faith.
I had the skull. I had the shell.
And this meant, I had me.


The Big Leap

Why shouldn’t I
show how happy I am.
I leap into the air.
Not once.
Ten times maybe.
Anyone can see it.
And the winds can blow me around
if they see fit.
I don’t care.
Not even if little children point and laugh
and their mothers pull them off
in a different direction.
I will defend my self-expression
like Voltaire standing up for free speech
except I’m too busy
jumping about like a mad man
to put anything into words.
No pretense.
No reticence.
I’m strictly sky-bound
and nothing and no one can stop me.
I’ve just been kissed
by the loveliest woman I know.
If you don’t like it,
then be thankful that she didn’t kiss you. 

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, and Hollins Critic. Latest books–Leaves On Pages, Memory Outside The Head, and Guest Of Myself–are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline, and International Poetry Review.

Gray Campbell: “Valedictions”


Final Exit

Dying, I’ve learned what no one taught me in drama class. Of course we’re all actors. But then life is a colossal play directed by Chance, all our social roles are costumes, and shifts in fortune are little more than new acting jobs. Death, then, is just the act of hanging up your last outfit, relinquishing your final role, and re-emerging as a member of the anonymous crowd. —If my drama teacher had taught me this simple lesson, I might’ve been better prepared for the grand finale…


Typical. Nine months after I’m gone, my own mother comes to haunt me. “You think your parents trick you when you’re alive,” she’d smirk. “Just wait till we’re dead.” But sick jokes turn sour in crowded houses. And now out of the corner of my eye, I see her counting my old pills, rifling through papers, hear her thinking at the top of her lungs… Strange she never got the memo. If your children predecease you, you’re always searching for them—especially in death. At least my ears no longer lie when she reminds me it’s time to go.

Gray Campbell has published drama in Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism, an illustrated poem (with the artist Julian Witts) in Glint, and poetry in Screen Door Review: Queer Voices of the New South. He works as an adjunct professor of English at Baruch College (City University of New York), St. John’s University, and anywhere else he’s lucky enough to find a teaching gig. 

Cameron Morse: Two Poems

Extra Person

Curbside television I surveil
myself shuffling, dragging my left leg
through dry leaves. Omi
pocketing acorns, goes down
on her knees, tripping. When you can’t see
your steps it helps
to shuffle a little bit. I’ve got an extra person
beside me. Left side! Headstrong,
not yet two-year-old daughter
bathed in blue late morning
shadows scuffle, fount of refreshment,
cleansing—That’s a dirty mask,
dirty gauze—above I-70:
Sunrise askance. Stick to the sidewalk. 


Dad Bod 

I wipe the ash from my thighs,
shake the dust from my t-
shirt, shed my skin and redress
my bandages as redness,
the redeye ridden to some final
destination. My destiny
arrives as a matter of fact, a murder
of crows, screwballs. Swerve
with me, wise-cracker. I’m lonely.
Tired of finishing my own sentences.
I wipe the water from the droopy
corner of my mouth. Company over,
my own inescapable company. 

Cameron Morse is Senior Reviews editor at Harbor Review and the author of eight collections of poetry. His first collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press’s 2018 Best Book Award. His latest is The Thing Is (Briar Creek Press, 2021). He holds an MFA from the University of Kansas City—Missouri and lives in Independence, Missouri, with his wife Lili and (soon, three) children. For more information, check out his Facebook page or website.   

Laine Derr: “Dressed in Blue”

Dressed in Blue

We don’t fear death.
Only lips formed by weight and whisper.

We don’t fear death.
Only weeping willows dancing to a youthful breeze.

We don’t fear death.
Only our tongues, our violence.

We don’t fear death.
Only fading light taut with desire. 

We don’t fear death.
Only dream-visions washed in white.

We don’t fear death.
Only cactus blooms, yellowish pink.

We don’t fear death.
Only murals screaming from quiet streets.

We don’t fear death.
Only the calm before the calm.

We don’t fear death.
Only skin smelling of tv dinners.

We don’t fear death.
Only phrases open and empty.

We don’t fear death.
Only summer moons dressed in blue.

Laine Derr, who currently lives in a landscape – free and quiet, holds an MFA from Northern Arizona University and has published interviews with Carl Phillips, Ross Gay, Ted Kooser, and Robert Pinsky. Recent work appears or is forthcoming from Antithesis, ZYZZYVAPortland ReviewNorth Dakota QuarterlyPrairie Schooner, and elsewhere.

Robert Nisbet: “Eighteen”


Ruth was eighteen, in Cardiff now and struggling.
She’s just homesick, they all said. She’s a farm girl.
She’ll settle down.

She did things by the book. Made friends. Got out.
That evening, she’d been out with a boy,
stood waiting for a bus back to the college,
when a flashing ambulance howled through,
its aural ricochet cannoning
between the banked and brilliant shopfronts.
She clutched at the bus stop’s stanchion,
and for several seconds, gazed at the abyss.  

There’d been times like that before, Christmas,
back in the village, with another boy, watching
the Magical Mystery Tour, the psychedelic stuff.
He’d felt her sweating, for a few seconds hoped
it was desire, then realised, checked himself,
walked her home later down the quiet lane.

Drugs, said her Uncle Ivor and the minister.
I really doubt that, said her mother,
and the teacher in Ruth’s junior school.
The child has always had imagination–
sometimes some awful fears.

Howbeit. The ambulance siren
and the strawberry fields, the panics
and the demons, are history now.
She got through much of it in time,
but would never disregard, not even now,
the pit beneath our daily pavements.

Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet whose work has appeared widely in Britain where he was shortlisted for the Wordsworth Trust Prize in 2017 and in the USA where he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (twice) and a Best of the Net award.