Poetry

Three Poems – Spring 2019

By August West

*

Arms rise: tongues

in dark

 

voice night

rooms, song broke

 

from ground

so quick, what

 

we said of fear—

your hands, each

 

bone, soft

warm counting.

 

 

 

 

*

as he handed me a drink, he began to hum a song
and all the boys there at the bar began to sing along
—Lowell George

 

 

…I feed sparrows and

I feed hawks

 

 

in mist dark

bloom

azalea, spin

 

vine, almost

not quite

sideways, that

 

concrete

 

*

paint, tar, no soap:

clouds know—

 

drums first, click

the roof

 

of your mouth—dance

blue water

 

*

end stage :first day

of school

 

got you crying

—a drop of

 

morphine for

your tongue, swallow

 

air, see you there

 

*

…tan pants blue

jacket white shirt

 

little blue, mother

shopped for you

 

*

in advance, can’t

tell which

 

you get—scrub

the cellar late

 

night, bitter

stalk discarded

 

animal fat, red pepper

we eat.

 

 

 

 

*

Spoon don’t

know what

mouth, bee

say where

the flower at

 

ghosts: too

damn many

Don’t snuff

that wick!

want smoke

 

a crush of

marigold

tomato stalk

rain sweet

the shell

 

and bone

dog bring

big medicine

Oh, Mary

there’s a baby

 

on the stone.

 

___

Nothing, beyond folklore, is known about August West.

 

Twelve Selected Poems – Spring 2019

By Simon Perchik

*

Lost and you watch the sun worsen

already falling as the nights

too weak to warm your shadow

 

though you read only in the afternoon

crouched under this kitchen table

with nothing on it that could sag

 

and without a sound weigh too much

let you open the mail, return to life

the window left in this small room

 

–you can tell from the stamp

it’s easy to fear

–so frail is its darkness

 

only your hands can be seen

holding your forehead, pushing it back in

to remember where you live.

 

 

 

 

*

By yourself though the sun

still needs more water –all that land

dried for just one afternoon

 

sent back alone and every morning now

you let the coffee try, boil

the way this table is spreading out

 

become the dirt for what’s in store

ready made as that small mouthful

that swallows you whole

 

to look for thirst inside a cup

side by side this one kept full

as if it was at home.

 

 

 

 

*

And though this pillow is enough

you still come by at night

safe from sand and salt

 

–with both elbows on the bed

your clothes in a heap

–what you can’t say

 

is soaking in sea grass

and her clothes too

no longer moving, piled close

 

for encouragement, lift your head

–on a dark bed, stroking an empty dress

Mickie, Mickie, Mickie

 

as far as it can reach

with her hand over your mouth

one sleeve at a time.

 

 

 

 

*

You no longer dig for shadows

as if this hillside depends on you

for water –what you hear

 

is trapped between two suns

one circling the other till nothing’s left

but the afternoon and beneath

 

letting its pieces fall off –you dead

are always listening for the gesture

the lowering that sweeps in

 

those pebbles mourners leave

as words, overflowing, certain

now is the time –it’s not the time

 

this dirt is afraid to open

become a rain again, be a sky

let it speak by throwing the Earth

 

and over your shoulder, eyes closed

though there is no grass

and your arms a Weber, Miller, Marie.

 

 

 

 

*

Even as silence you dead

favor knots, brought here

the way each grave is tightened

 

counts on constant gathering

and the arm over arm

that hold the skies together

 

as if some nesting bird

would fly out from this hillside

and leave behind its wings

 

spread-eagle, letting go

those small rocks mourners bring

for your shoulders –you want rope

 

not for its name but the weight

still taking shape inside, kept empty

and all around you the lowering.

 

 

 

 

*

Wobbling on rocks and salt

scented with little goodbyes

–you’re drowning in wood

 

–don’t fool yourself, this door

can’t save you now, it’s filled

with corners still into the turn

 

already seawater and on the way down

a warm face though talk won’t come

is hiding in back your mouth

 

naked, afraid your lips will move

as the silence the dead adore

without leaving the room.

 

 

 

 

*

It was a brook, had names

though these bottom stones

are still draining, passing you by

 

before letting go the silence

that stays after each hand opens

–you dead are always reaching out

 

–end over end unfolding your arms

the way each star ends its life alone

in the darkness it needs to move closer

 

become the light in every stone

as the morning that never turns back

keeps falling without any mourners.

 

 

 

 

*

It’s grass growing on the mirror

and every Spring more smoke

blacking your teeth –the dress

 

looks like hers, tossed off

piece by favorite piece and death

not yet shoulders and hips

 

–without a fuss she is touching you

though you are moving closer

as the lips that wait inside

 

and smoldering –it’s half a mirror

hardly enough for its kisses to fall out

look at each other and the afternoons.

 

 

 

 

*

You lace one shoe with thread, the other

as if this wooden spool could be held

spin end over end and hold you

 

by the hand, let you feel her body

no longer moving as the careless tug

in all directions at once –you learn

 

to limp, to hear dirt struggle

and the step by step as if it could escape

not yet leaching in your hands.

 

 

 

 

*

You gargle the way each morning

trusts the soft rustle from a dress

becoming dirt, set out on foot

 

looking for her in shadows

that no longer move though the sink

is covered with something weak

 

making believe it’s learned where

your fingers are holding the bottle

in a place not even it will remember

 

how empty your mouth is, lost

day after day spitting into the Earth

that still opens when you whisper to it.

 

 

 

 

*

You water her grave with words

–they never dried, were written

at night, sure this stone

 

would rot inside the note

though you don’t fold your arms

–what spills has eddies, swells

 

shorelines reaching into the Earth

no longer certain –this stone

doesn’t recognize itself

 

is growing roots, sags

becomes a sea, the bottom

holds on, unable to stand

 

or come closer, cover her

without seeing your fingers

or what it’s like.

 

 

 

 

*

Hiding on this tiny rock

its light is falling arm over arm

brought down as hammer blows

 

and mountains clinging to the sun

the way mourners will gather

and aim for your forehead

 

–it’s not right for you dead

to lower your eyes once they’re empty

–they have so much darkness

 

are still looking for tears

and all around you the Earth

splitting open a single afternoon

 

up close –you are touching seawater

without anything left inside

to take the salt from your mouth.

___

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

To view one of his interviews please follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSK774rtfx8

 

Culling Keepsakes

By Mark Belair

“it is complete but never finished”
W.S. Merwin, The Same River

 

writing

 

a photograph

 

A faded

magazine photograph

 

of an old man

in a torn coat

 

wrapped in a blanket

on a sheetless

 

rooming house bed

staring out

 

with Samuel Beckett eyes

was the first thing—

 

culling keepsakes at sixty-four—

I discarded.

 

Back when I cut it out,

I saw him

 

as an end-of-life

incarnation

 

of my blank, solitary, start-of-life

self.

 

I kept

that stark photograph

 

 

for forty-six years

as an icon

 

of the cost

of not changing, of not

 

writing my way out of blankness

or of

 

writing deeper into it

with bogus-Beckett eyes.

 

I had my own eyes.

 

And had to silver a page

with words

 

that would mirror them

to me.

 

writings

 

I put down text—

personal essays, screenplays, a novel—

 

that functioned, in retrospect,

as the fired up

 

bricks of my meandering

path.

 

Each brick, each time, in time,

extracted from exposure

 

and stored; bricks

now rattling around

 

a dump truck

on their way to be pulverized.

 

My path of text

set, finally, with small stone

 

poems I noticed

and dug up

 

from the hardscrabble

ground.

 

notebooks

 

Not diaries, but notes

I kept as I came of age.

 

Not thoughts of the day, but

thoughts to metabolize.

 

I made no ceremony

of their dispossession.

 

Cut me

and I bleed them.

 

drumming

 

gear

 

Of music, a supreme art, I made

a humble trade that required tools:

 

if you want to gig as a drummer,

you need gear.

 

But with my trade course run, the gear

now ties up scarce apartment space

 

and all I need to keep are a small set,

some cymbals, and a few pair of sticks.

 

 

And even the set, in time, will go,

though not the handful of sticks

 

that somehow rim-shot-survived; sticks

dented as my grandfather’s, whose sticks—

 

handed down to me by my dad—

formed me as a boy: I could

 

hold what my long-departed grandfather

held in the way only musicians playing

 

old instruments can, the past and present

collaborating in our hands.

 

The future

of my grandfather and me

 

to be entrusted

to a bag of our blended sticks

 

that will keep

what we kept

 

alone and together:

some time.

 

drum parts

 

With their performance use past, the need to

keep my annotated drum parts is past, too.

 

The printed parts are publicly available;

the markings in a code only I can use.

 

Unlike recordings, live performances—

the bulk of my career—soon become

 

history, polish up to the fading story

of one sonic movement through time;

 

one that leaves no evidence

but for relics

 

like the parts interred and decomposing

in my storage closet.

 

The hope I cling to—as I fill

bag after bag for recycling—

 

the wishful one

that when it counted, when

 

the demands

of each musical passage

 

were presented—

above all, the demand

 

to make its spirit

unforgettable

 

even when I knew

its body

 

(the night, the place, the players)

would be forgotten—

 

I did

my part.

 

transitioning

 

calendars

 

I keep them for reference—

my old calendars and address books—

 

though I never open their storage box

but to place another one in.

 

So I keep them, I guess, for sentiment;

keep them because

 

all the gone days

of my adult life

 

have a little square

in the calendars

 

and all the gone people

have a number

 

I once used

to reach them.

 

Keep them to

free me

 

from keeping

within me

 

a vanishing

past

 

of growing

weight.

 

a log

 

It was a life log

I kept

 

of dates and facts,

notes

 

heralding

the beginning

 

of promising

things

 

whose end

dates

 

went

unrecorded

 

because

their promise

 

drifted

off,

 

while middles

of things

 

appeared

without the context

 

of a start

and finish,

 

and some

endings

 

earned

notation

 

but their starts

and middles

 

stayed

unmarked

 

because

unremarkable at the time—

 

entries

of hard dates

 

soft on truth,

a log

 

that failed

to tell my life stories

 

though telling the story

of how I lived.

 

paintings

 

It was summer, we were newlyweds, and

stoked by this plunge into adulthood (we

 

were both twenty-one) I stood painting

in the yard outside our first apartment.

 

My wife came out and stood behind me.

“What do you think?” I casually asked.

 

After a gracious pause, she chirped,

“Think of all the things you can do!”

 

I laughed, and that was that: easel, paints,

brushes—all donated or thrown away.

 

But the paintings—though inept—

I kept.

 

Not as art, but as symbols of the start of

what turned out to be a lifetime’s search

 

for the mode of rewarding work

most mine.

 

Now those paintings

are gone.

 

Because after an ever-embarking, faith-and-doubt-dancing,

curlicue quest

 

I finally

took my wife’s advice

 

and did—

as best I could—

 

what

I could.

 

cursive

 

As if having been

crunched, stretched, then twisted

 

beyond recognition—

therefore impenetrable

 

to others, and, after

twenty seconds or so,

 

to me—

my handwriting, creeping

 

into its later life,

seemed well past keeping.

 

But through trial and (mostly)

error,

 

it ended up remediable

by assuming the look

 

of later life itself: smaller,

but more legible.

 

 

attire

 

Dumped into a donation

bin: bags

 

of barely worn clothes

but for a stash of blandness—

 

t-shirts and jeans—

that makes me disappear.

 

These I keep.

 

Best not to be of note

if a poet

 

who wants to note

and make note.

 

the cardboard box

 

The cardboard box—its contents (if memory serves)

random as a memory bank—has been shut for years.

 

This box of keepsakes—from my childhood

and beyond—collected by my mother.

 

This inherited box whose flip top, since her death,

has been impossible for me to open.

 

I know it holds a red-checkered cowboy shirt and some

grammar school report cards; I don’t recall what else.

 

Mementos that, if self-chosen, I could edit with ease.

But these were my mother’s selections.

 

Yet with all my other keepsake culling done—a chore I don’t want,

some future day, to impose upon others—the time has clearly come.

 

So I take the box down from the high shelf

in the storage closet and open the top to see

 

memorabilia from my music career, artifacts closest to when she died:

concert programs, tour itineraries, posters, other random souvenirs.

 

Then come clippings from earlier years: yellowed newspaper or magazine

articles, photographs, advertisements, reviews.

 

Plus a newspaper with its banner headline reporting Richard Nixon’s

resignation, news right up there, at the time, with a man on the moon.

 

Next my youth and childhood appear: graduation diplomas, those unimpressive

report cards; then Confirmation, First Communion, and Baptismal certificates.

 

And a posting, in the local paper, announcing that I—and many others—

had been discharged from the hospital that day; I’d had my appendix out.

 

Small town life.

My mother even saved a hospital menu with my name penciled on it.

 

Then comes the list of boys, in her handwriting, who made up the two teams

that played baseball at my ninth birthday party—Yanks and Pirates—and

 

every name stops me: Dicky Sody, Freddy Machuga, Linny Carey, Bruce Echigary,

Eddie MacDonald, Joey Greco, Kevin Sullivan, David Keepin, Phil Nibeolo, James Hayes.

 

And each boy’s bright face returns; and even their taut bodies since we boxed, wrestled,

and played sports most every day.

 

Getting toward the bottom, another list appears, this of my kindergarten roster.

No name rings a bell.

 

But the first crayon drawing I brought home, so marked by my mother, is

here: a bold, colorful flower captioned in scrawling, childish letters with:

 

“FOR THE BEST MOMMY IN THE WORLD.”

Then a shock.

 

I don’t remember dropping this in when I got the box, but slipped down

to beside my red-checkered cowboy shirt—indeed it is there—appears

 

my mother’s smiling face

above her obituary.

 

And my tears burst forth, tears boxed up for years,

tears for this woman whose overwhelming presence

 

dominated my early life and kept me

bonded to her up to this difficult day.

 

Then next to that, on the cowboy shirt, sits

something I had forgotten about, something

 

she placed, perhaps, as a way to reach out

on this inevitable day of keepsake culling:

 

the toy handcuffs—dulled from use—

I’d attach—after mock-arresting her—

 

to each

our wrist.

 

a continent

 

It feels as if I’ve landed, for the first time, in Paris—the sky cloudy,

the cafes inviting, the language not strange, but not one I’m fluent in.

 

The past

an ocean away.

 

Feels as if I’ve arrived to

find myself drawn to

 

cobblestone streets, old churches, weathered bridges, mossy monuments.

The newer brilliancies I hardly see; they hardly see me.

 

Feels as if I’ve alighted as a foreign tourist in this country

of my own later years, disoriented, yet pressed to use this

 

scant time with its wealth of hours

to learn the local ways

 

and to reflect upon—

so dream-keep—

 

my homeland continent,

one that seemed

 

unspectacularly—

even subtly—

 

to break off and—

with no passage

 

back to it—

drift away.

___

Mark Belair’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alabama Literary Review, Atlanta Review, The Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry East and The South Carolina Review. His latest collection is Watching Ourselves (Unsolicited Press, 2017). Previous collections include Breathing Room (Aldrich Press, 2015); Night Watch (Finishing Line Press, 2013); While We’re Waiting (Aldrich Press, 2013); and Walk With Me (Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2012). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times. Please visit www.markbelair.com

12 Poems — Winter 2019

By Simon Perchik

 

*

You keep the limp, stoop

the way this cane

lets you pretend its wood

 

can heal, touches down

making contact with the base

though there are no planes

 

–what you hear is your leg

dragged, starting up

and still the sky weighs too much

 

is filled with twigs breaking off

somewhere between England

and the slow walk home.

 

 

*

Without a riverbed you lean

feel your way through this dirt

as if it’s her voice you’re after

 

–for a long time, eyes closed

you empty the Earth with your mouth

darkening this built-up moss

 

sent off for a stone near water

stretching out to smooth the silence

hidden the way innocent bells

 

were placed along the shore

with no light to take away

or welcome rocks around her body.

 

 

*

Though her finger can’t reach

she’s telling you be quiet

as if there’s a word for it

 

shaped by a breath from where

the light on her face was lowered

–shadows know this, let you

 

lie there, go over the details

–from the start, her breasts

wanting so much to make a sound

 

cover the dirt with your mouth

pressing against her, begin

as silence, then nothing.

 

 

*

Side by side as if the moon

carries off those buttons

close together and your coat

 

dyed black to make it heavier

–you let it fall, lay there

–yes, you were in love

 

sang to birds, to burials

though it’s the moon

coming back and the darkness

 

it needs to close the ground

that goes on alone

yes, you couldn’t move.

 

 

*

Motionless, on the way out

no longer feels at home

though this single-minded nail

 

wants the job finished now

wanted a small hole, filled

to silence the song in the picture

 

in black and white taking her away

holding on –what’s left

will lower the wooden frame

 

is already caressing the wall

that something happened to

is surrounded by winds and cries

 

that carry off birds, bent the Earth

and the exhausted nail, by itself

between your fingers and suddenness.

 

 

*

Again one hand, side by side

clawing at your throat

–there’s an egg inside

 

that can’t come out, sheltered

by the darkness boiling over

till it was time, in ruins

 

–what you swallow

is snow, a single pill

falling the way all fevers

 

are healed by moonlight

reaching into your mouth

as a stone not yet breathless

 

with room for her to sit on

close to the ground

helping and the corners.

 

 

*

You button this sleeve the way smoke

is trained –a sudden shrug

and the night moves under you

 

can’t see you’re still on your feet

and though they no longer fit

the ground is already a crater

 

where her shadow would have been

holding on from behind

as a clear, moonlit dress

 

and the last thing you saw left open

as the slow, climbing turn

that’s still not over.

 

 

*

To grip the Earth you climb

as if this paint

is still not sure it’s safe

 

and though they’re white

waves don’t last in the dark

–each  rung by now

 

in that slow rollover

they were trained for, one

to stay white, the others

 

bleeding as rain and step by step

–this ladder is losing curvature

leans against the house

 

half ramp, half shoreline

and all these stars

still clinging to sunlight

 

are used to your hand over hand

and yes, spilling a few drops

the way every sea is filled

 

overflows, lets you drink

from a sky that will light up

as if nothing happened.

 

 

*

It’s only a few minutes

but they add up as bedrock

and from behind swallow the Earth

 

whole –this watch is always late

though its slow climbing turn

has nothing to do with this sunset

 

strapped to your wrist

while the other hand waves goodbye

running into bad weather

 

as if all it can retrieve

is hillside, sure you will lean back

slower and slower without any closer.

 

 

*

And though the flames are hidden

you still drink it black –spoons

are useless, aimlessly circle down

 

the way you once added cream, sugar

clouds –you level off so your hand

takes longer to climb back

 

let the cup burn your lips

as sunlight wedged between –you yell

though no one becomes suspicious

 

sees the fire starting up again

–it’s a simple first-thing-in-the-morning

so no one is the wiser and sometimes

 

a darker darkness is lured alongside

where you tighten till this cup begins

its slow turn into madness and your arms.

 

 

*

And though they’re cold

they won’t answer to a single name

from when these flowers

 

covered the air with stone

and room for your shadow

where nothing was before

 

–what they want is more darkness

not these graves bunched the way bells

still overturn as that night sky

 

even you can’t wear for an earring

hear this dirt making the emptiness

somewhere inside your arms.

 

 

*

Agreed! The firm handshake

wipes it dry the way one reef

irons things out with another

 

circles down as your shadow

already seawater, homesick

and the exact spot it remembers

 

–that’s the deal, you

become rain while this stone

is run backwards, girlish again

 

touching everything and the dirt

comes loose, floating past

not yet sunlight and side by side.

 

 

——————–

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk, 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.comView one of his interviews here.

Self Portrait: Assemblage

By Jeanine Stevens

               Man Ray, Paris 1916

 

Only torso from the waist up: top end

an ironing board, mid-section, cello.

Metal bells for eyes, door buzzer—navel.

Touch, press. Sound the alarm?

 

You want to soothe him.

Everything says “touch me,”

yet more like a contraption than man.

No mouth, nose, or breath.

No hands to reach, trace the world

               no feet for escape.

 

Skin would be a logical addition, a hint to make sense,

but only a black shroud, white veil,

bib tucked below his chin,

childlike handprint

on chest,

               over heart.

 

So like Harlow’s iron surrogate, googly eyes,

brief cling to suckle, then return

to cradleboard and terrycloth mother.

 

We can’t see his back, don’t know extent

of scar or faulty wiring, another’s burnt ends.

 

How much we need to explain ourselves.

Even a dimple might help!

 

 

——————–

Jeanine Stevens is the author of Inheritor (Future Cycle Press), and Sailing on Milkweed (Cherry Grove Collections). Winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt (selected by Phil Levine), The Stockton Arts Commission Award, The Ekphrasis Prize and WOMR Cape Cod Community Radio National Poetry Award. Brief Immensity, recently won the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award. Poems have appeared in The Curator, Evansville Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Chiron Review, Forge, Pearl, Stoneboat, Connecticut River Review, Provincetown Magazine and Rosebud. Jeanine recently received her sixth Pushcart Nomination. She studied poetry at U.C. Davis and California State University, Sacramento.

Rocket Man

By Jeanine Stevens

 

Sitting by the window, I fluff the tapestry pillow,

yellow with red chickens on gold muslin.

 

Outside, the variegated ivy in shade,

hardy in green rain, ground spongy.

 

CNN, one more politician recused, resigned,

fired? Still draining the hoary swamp

that extended from northern Indiana to D.C.

 

A line of poetry:

“For a long time my brother wore Rocket Man

pajamas & Nothing:: The body

never lies.”

 

An ordinary barnyard: clucking, pecking,

weary craws, rough digestion.

 

 

——————–

Jeanine Stevens is the author of Inheritor (Future Cycle Press), and Sailing on Milkweed (Cherry Grove Collections). Winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt (selected by Phil Levine), The Stockton Arts Commission Award, The Ekphrasis Prize and WOMR Cape Cod Community Radio National Poetry Award. Brief Immensity, recently won the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award. Poems have appeared in The Curator, Evansville Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Chiron Review, Forge, Pearl, Stoneboat, Connecticut River Review, Provincetown Magazine and Rosebud. Jeanine recently received her sixth Pushcart Nomination. She studied poetry at U.C. Davis and California State University, Sacramento.

Between Manhattan and the Sea

By Jeanine Stevens

                A painting by a patient

                of Dr. Carl Jung, 1920’s

                                   

Out her window, towers

gleam alabaster, yet cathedral doors

open to darkness.

 

Brilliant carmine spills on Bachelard’s words:

 

“Skyscrapers have no cellars,

unthinkable for a dreamer of houses.”

 

A Chagall poster inspires.

She adds a small island, abandoned

 

shack, blue fish and day star

swaying on a hooked sun.

 

With the sound of a mermaid’s

conch, hair grows long,

bright henna.

 

Sting of coral on her calf—

she enjoys the wound.

 

Songs of extinct shore sparrows

fill the horizon.

 

Clutching velvet bouquets,

she considers the itch,

newly formed scales beneath her thighs.

 

 

——————–

Jeanine Stevens is the author of Inheritor (Future Cycle Press), and Sailing on Milkweed (Cherry Grove Collections). Winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt (selected by Phil Levine), The Stockton Arts Commission Award, The Ekphrasis Prize and WOMR Cape Cod Community Radio National Poetry Award. Brief Immensity, recently won the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award. Poems have appeared in The Curator, Evansville Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Chiron Review, Forge, Pearl, Stoneboat, Connecticut River Review, Provincetown Magazine and Rosebud. Jeanine recently received her sixth Pushcart Nomination. She studied poetry at U.C. Davis and California State University, Sacramento.

Tiny Sun, Large Flower

By Jeanine Stevens

 

So we live on a fireball, ride a molten orb,

children of citrus rind, sunflower.

 

I read the earth’s core, 11,000 degrees F.

same temperature as the sun’s surface.

 

Then in Arles, otherworldly,

even the vicious mistral

born of two competing winds

cannot interfere

with light making whites alabaster,

blues peacock, yellows mustard.

Not one depressing shade or gloomy hue.

 

There is a town that never receives sun.

How can people be normal: no solstice,

night music, night madness?

 

No wonder Vincent dipped his brush so deep,

internal fire, eternal fire.

 

Even fish glimmer celadon, escargot shine pearl,

and peonies burn ruby on hillsides.

 

 

——————–

Jeanine Stevens is the author of Inheritor (Future Cycle Press), and Sailing on Milkweed (Cherry Grove Collections). Winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt (selected by Phil Levine), The Stockton Arts Commission Award, The Ekphrasis Prize and WOMR Cape Cod Community Radio National Poetry Award. Brief Immensity, recently won the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award. Poems have appeared in The Curator, Evansville Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Chiron Review, Forge, Pearl, Stoneboat, Connecticut River Review, Provincetown Magazine and Rosebud. Jeanine recently received her sixth Pushcart Nomination. She studied poetry at U.C. Davis and California State University, Sacramento.

Faculty Off-Site: Folsom Prison

By Jeanine Stevens

 

Clearing security: rings, keys, buckles.

One needs multiple passes

to disentangle a complicated

hairdo, hairpins triggering alarms.

 

I think of the old trick: key-hole saw

hidden in a birthday cake.

 

Walking into a smudge of denim,

so many who won’t receive training,

a week’s severance pay.

 

(We later learn this was a misdirect—

no outsiders allowed in the open yard).

 

Steel cuts air.

 

In a classroom we witness

an experiment in recidivism:

short testimonials, brief coffee.

 

Officials arrive, escort us outside granite walls.

In the visitor’s dining hall lunch is steak

with serrated knife, potatoes, green beans

and sweet nubby Gherkins.

 

One of our colleagues, raised in Lebanon,

is unable to eat, or speak.

No one wants apple pie.

 

Noon sun steams black.

Tower guards resemble dark squares,

lean like cardboard cut-outs.

 

I will remember the blaze of blue.

We were told not to wear blue.

 

 

——————–

Jeanine Stevens is the author of Inheritor (Future Cycle Press), and Sailing on Milkweed (Cherry Grove Collections). Winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt (selected by Phil Levine), The Stockton Arts Commission Award, The Ekphrasis Prize and WOMR Cape Cod Community Radio National Poetry Award. Brief Immensity, recently won the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award. Poems have appeared in The Curator, Evansville Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Chiron Review, Forge, Pearl, Stoneboat, Connecticut River Review, Provincetown Magazine and Rosebud. Jeanine recently received her sixth Pushcart Nomination. She studied poetry at U.C. Davis and California State University, Sacramento.

Selected Poems—Fall 2018

By Simon Perchik

*

You are quieted the way this dirt

no longer steps forward

is slipping through as silence

 

though there’s no other side

only these few gravestones

trying to piece the Earth together

 

where the flower between your lips

is heated for the afternoon

not yet the small stones

 

falling into your mouth

as bitter phrases broken apart

to say out loud the word

 

for eating alone :a name

curled up inside and pulls you

under the lettering and your finger.

 

 

 

*

You never get used to it

left and right –moonlight

all that’s left on your grave

 

each night heavier, bitter

with no place to fall

sometimes as snow, sometimes

 

counting on pebbles from others

all night bringing stars

to strike the ground over and over

 

covering you with shadows

and still you’re cold

come here as paths and distances.

 

 

 

*

To live like that, listening

as the sudden dive to the bottom

and though your mouth longs for a sea

 

death happens wherever water goes

–you hear the rain passing by

with shells and salt flaking off

 

from a dress that is still new

covered with moss and grieving

–you slip your hand through

 

as if each sleeve over and over

is filled with moss not yet blossoming

where the branches at the top

 

dig themselves in, opening the Earth

and the small stones that are your lips

filled with falling and thirst.

 

 

 

*

And your throat circles down

the way every kiss is emptied

though not all lips have this power

 

–pressed against a hole in the Earth

you begin where each hillside gets its start

–women know this, decorate their breasts

 

with kisses that never leave

grow those feathers that water from ice

remembers as the sound smoke makes

 

and you sing along till a small bird

flies from your mouth, louder and louder

not yet grass or at your side.

 

 

 

*

What you hear is your chest –with each crackle

more rain tearing holes in the sky

still struggling to open –your heart

 

sloshes around, growing salt from grass

kept wet the way dirt takes the shape

you use for shadows when there’s no water

 

–you stretch out naked as the ocean

on and on without stopping to breathe

or dry or arm over arm become the last

 

the slow climbing turn still missing

circling to calm a nothing beach fire

going mouth to mouth to burn itself out.

 

 

 

*

Slowly the glass, half filled, half

melting down for a slipper

not yet hardened into light

 

is flickering the way a moon

still sets itself on fire

then changes into taking its time

 

and you become an old woman

with a cane, around and around

as if this rim at last remembers

 

overflows and from a single wave

you grasp for air, for a warm hand

and step by step covered with ashes.

 

 

 

*

You feel for corners the way this rug

makes the slow turn into one day more

and though your fingers wander off

 

it’s already flying out your arms

becomes the place that is not a dress

emptied by the dim light from one hand

 

clinging to the other –this worn down rug

has no glow yet, just the darkness

with never enough sky –your each caress

 

lowers the Earth toward you –arm over arm

not yet an afternoon then a night

that lasts a life time side by side as later.

 

 

 

*

You pan for rocks though every breeze

smells from wood lying on its back

and between your fingers a stream

 

ripens as fruits and berries that fall

swallow the Earth hand over hand

the way beginner stones learn to splash

 

so nothing will float free, is melted down

as the darkness you hear spreading out

to dry and further you sift for anchors

 

and all around you the cold ripples

drip into your breath, lay there, whisper

to come up together, say it’s over.

 

 

 

*

Before it could endure its undertow your skull

hardened, was silenced with its marrow

kept calm by the half once seawater

 

and the other taking longer

though everything makes a sound

gathers you in, the way rust on all sides

 

scratches –with both hands you comb your hair

as if it still smells from a gate

that’s no longer iron down the middle

 

and there you listen to it opening

–from both sides reaching out for air

that sounds like shoreline, further and further.

 

 

 

*

Word by word the page clouding over

as if rain would wash the dirt from her face

flower though nothing will change –the sky

 

still covered with fresh dew not yet the stones

that forage forever  as the scent grass gives off

when paper is folded over and over and over

 

and each crease drains, outlasts its emptiness

taking away, making room in the Earth

for this old love note, your forehead.

 

 

 

*

Though she is covered with glass

there is no wind –it’s her sleeve

waving across the way an alpine stream

 

is pulled from a cemetery stone

for the unending free fall

over where a hole should be

 

–you never see the nail

now that the water in the photograph

has darkened, begun to drain

 

make room inside the cold wood frame

for grass, give up, disappear

and under the dust her arm.

 

 

 

*

You didn’t wave back though the leaves

still circle down, spread out, finish

as the sound a train makes waiting to leave

 

–this empty lot is their home, heated

by the scent rising from dirt

getting ready to greet its dead

 

and one by one burn the sky brown

then red then with the same smoke

take away your arms with the pile

 

–it’s a rake you’re holding, the Earth

all day opening its hand

for a cloth dress, a charred house.

 

_____

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk, 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

To view one of his interviews please follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSK774rtfx8