Poetry

12 Selected Poems — Summer 2018

By Simon Perchik

*

This rotted log yes and no
longs for the stillness
that is not wood though you

are already inside, seated
at a table, a lamp, clinging
the way all light arrives alone

except for the enormous jaws
once shoreline closing in
without water or suddenness

–you lay down a small thing
and the Earth is surrounded, fed
slowly forehead to forehead again.

 

 

*

You reach for lullabies, left over
and the slow crawl half whispers
half where your lips ache, float

the way this empty cup still wobbles
will break apart, overloaded
disguised as two steps closer and alone

then fill your arms with its darkness
seeping through, breathing out
not yet an embrace, not yet the mouth

where your fingers end, surrounded
by more and more dirt, a small room
here, there, there, not yet asleep.

 

 

*

Though it gets dark earlier and earlier
you were already weakened at birth
–without a shrug let go things

the way each grave is graced
used to being slowly moved along
blossom and in your mouth

a somewhat pebble half fruit
half sweetened, not yet
broken apart in your throat

–you can’t make out where in the turn
you are clinging to its path
that led you here, not yet strong enough

or longing for some riverside or rain
or the night by night, warm
still falling off your hands.

 

 

*

You drink from this hole
as if it once was water
became a sky then wider

–without a scratch make room
for driftwood breaking loose
from an old love song in ashes

carried everywhere on foot
as that ocean in your chest
overflowing close to the mouth

that’s tired from saying goodbye
–you dig the way the Earth
is lifted for hillsides and lips

grasping at the heart buried here
still flickering in throats and beacons
that no longer recede –from so far

every word you say owes something
to a song that has nothing left, drips
from your mouth as salt and more salt.

 

 

*

Before this field blossomed
it was already scented
from fingers side by side

darkening the lines in your palm
the way glowing coals
once filled it with breasts

and everything nearby
was turned loose to warm the miles
the pebbles and stones brought back

pressed against her grave
–you heat the Earth with a blouse
that’s never leaving here.

 

 

*

These crumbs are from so many places
yet after every meal they ripen
sweeten in time for your fingertip

that shudders the way your mouth
was bloodied by kisses wrestling you down
with saliva and rumbling boulders –you sit

at a table and all over again see it
backing away as oceans, mountains
and on this darkness you wet your finger

to silence it though nothing comes to an end
–piece by piece, tiny and naked, they tremble
under your tongue and still sudden lightning.

 

 

*

It had an echo –this rock
lost its hold, waits on the ground
as the need for pieces

knows all about what’s left
when the Earth is hollowed out
for the sound a gravestone makes

struck by the days, months
returning as winter :the same chorus
these dead are gathered to hear

be roused from that ancient lament
it sings as far as it can
word for word to find them.

 

 

*

Before its first grave this hillside
was already showing signs
let its slope escape as darkness

mistake every embrace for dirt
though one arm more than the other
is always heavier, still circles down

bringing you closer the way rain
knows winter will come with snow
that was here before, bring you weights

till nothing moves, not the shadows
not the sun coming here to learn
about the cold, hear the evenings.

 

 

*

Though you can’t tell them apart
your tears came back, marked the ground
the way leaves go unnamed to their death

as the need to follow one another
one breath at a time, face up
and after that the rain and warmer

̶ you weep with your collar open
make room for another grave
near a sea each night wider, further

no longer heard the way now and then
comes by to close the Earth
with buttons and sleeves and tighter.

 

 

*

You open this jar the way each raindrop
breaks apart mid-air, stops telling time
when struck by another, head to head

as streams  ̶ your hands stay wet
let you gather the hours that are not
the bottom stones mourners use

for water though this lid is still circling
where you listen for those nights
on the way back as the puddles

water makes when trying to breathe
into a place on its own and empty handed
the glass shatters all at once.

 

 

*

And though the Earth lets you dig
it’s your tears that heat the ground
already growing stars

once the darkness covers it
to lure these dead here
with stones scented with shorelines

returned not as rain but grass
just as it was, closing in from all sides
the way this shovel is warmed

by your hands kept wet, pulled
closer  ̶ you cling to this dirt
as if it once was an afternoon

knows only the slow descent
hand over hand into stone
that no longer opens to hear the bleeding.

 

 

*

Leaning against the wall
it becomes a death bed
the way a name on paper

flattens out to take hold
for which there is no word
only a room where no one noticed

you didn’t ask for help
so close to the corners
with the light still on.

 

 

——————–

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.

If you’d care to view one of my interviews posted on YouTube, please follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSK774rtfx8

Solace

By Sarah Wetzel

She carefully slides from the soiled sheets
sweaty from no air conditioning, pads
softly from the bedroom to dress in the dress
left draped over a chair
for just this purpose. On the floor
the young man’s clothes—
like the footprints of someone
who has just passed by
and who has as suddenly
disappeared into the distance
or the remains, she thinks, of some small
animal. He’ll wake
in a few hours, she knows, and leave
with no note. She opens the night,
steps into it.

 

——————–

Sarah Wetzel is the author of River Electric with Light, which won the AROHO Poetry Publication Prize and was published by Red Hen Press in 2015, and Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published in 2010. A PhD student in Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, Sarah, when she can, teaches creative writing at The American University of Rome, Italy. Not surprisingly, she spends a lot of time on planes. You can read samples of her work at www.sarahwetzel.com

Burials

By Mark Belair

The night she buried
her husband—

they were both thirty-three—
Alison

took his twin brother
to bed in a crazed, ghoulish

attempt to allay
her desolating grief.

Three years later, she lay dying
of ovarian cancer.

“Just punishment,” she said, unjustly,
“For what I did that night.”

Then she crossed and clenched,
beneath the hospital sheets,

her once
beautiful legs.

*

Just off a tour of duty in Vietnam, Billy took a job loading
information—the numbing name and address labels that

drove a local distribution company—
into its new, room-sized computer.

Not yet drafted for the War but waiting for notice,
I held the job of hauling file card drawers to Billy

then, once he’d punched them in, returning them
to the slotted cabinets that became their mausoleums.

The computer was sealed in its own plate-glass room,
those early models famously temperamental.

At lunch in the cafeteria, Billy told stories of how a
mere speck of dust, dead fly, or badly timed sneeze

had gummed-up some state-of-the-art but
fragile computer he once knew.

He never talked about Vietnam, despite my worried questions.
Just said that it was okay.

Except for the stink of jungle mud, which he said would
hang on his uniform, infiltrate his pack, cling to his hair.

Sometimes, he once confided, he could still
smell it on his skin.

Then he stood up, wiped the crumbs away, washed
his hands, brushed his teeth, splashed his face and—

Snapping latex gloves and a surgical mask on—
returned to the dry, odorless, temperature

controlled room that held
room for one.

*

Red, at nine, didn’t know
until his hands knew

then he knew
how the machinery worked,

why a job of carpentry fit,
what each tangled electrical wire did.

His hands were quick, inquisitive, appreciative
of a complexity

he could never have spoken
or written of.

Our teachers, back then, said he was dumb
and Red, folding his hands on his desk

as ordered,
believed them.

 

 

——————–

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

Fireworks

By Mark Belair

Down the dark beach, a petite
pop of fireworks
charms the cool summer night
with a low, all-white glitter
that can’t compare
to the sky-wide explosions of color
in the State Park on the Fourth of July.

But it’s not the Fourth,
the secluded display
shot for the sheer, sparkly
rush of it, its aftermath
not a large, buzzing, scattering crowd
but—as we return to its deepened quiet—
the star-gathering night.

 

——————–

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

Paul’s First Kill

By John Grey

He said it seemed like a good idea at the time.

His father hunted so why shouldn’t he.

And the old man never did lock away his shotgun.

Besides, what other purpose did the surrounding woods serve

than to provide targets for sharp eyes and steady nerves.

 

No, it wasn’t as if he was being threatened.

The creature was a raccoon sleeping high up in the fork of a tree.

His first shot missed altogether.

That furry bandit stirred but not quickly enough.

The second and third shot hit it in the head.

The corpse dropped at his feet.

 

He’d never seen anything dead before.

Blood oozed from the side of the head.

Dark eyes stared unblinking at the barrel of his gun.

Does it have a family, he wondered.

And what about a soul?

 

The dead raccoon was his guilty secret for a whole seven days.

The way his face mobilized so pale and furtive,

his mother knew something was up.

His father didn’t notice however.

He didn’t once check on his rifle to see that it had been fired.

 

His mother finally grabbed him by the shoulders,

shook his body until the lies spilling from his mouth

couldn’t help but speak the truth.

He was burning with shame

while she trembled in fear.

“You could have killed yourself,” she said angrily.

It was no doubt a reproach

but, for a moment there, it sounded like an instruction.

 

___

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

Within a Frame

By Jeanine Stevens

            Photo of Jean Cocteau by Man Ray 1922

 

Skin shines over thin knuckles.

A young Jean peers through an empty frame.

 

Smart suit of clothes expertly tailored,

collar starched polar white, so bright it must be new.

 

Hair fluffed high with pomade, I detect

expensive cologne,

yet a solemn expression

perhaps to discount his idle nickname:

“The frivolous prince.”

 

On his left wrist, a twisted string,

one of those devices to remember which day it is,

which appointment to keep, when

other Bohemians, his coterie of friends,

will meet at his favorite bar,

Le Boeuf sur le Toit.

 

In the blurred background, bust on a pedestal,

nondescript, an unknown face

a prop?

Is everything in art intentional?

 

Perhaps shadow to his persona; hidden brilliance

creating a “beast house”

where door knockers grimace and latches grin.

 

I saw La Belle et la Bête around 1979.

Is this the same young man who designed

screaming keyholes, animated portraits?

 

___

Jeanine Stevens studied poetry at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento. She has advanced degrees in Anthropology and Education. Her second poetry collection, Inheritor, was published by Future Cycle Press, 2016. Recent winner of the WOMR Cape Cod National Poetry Competition and the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award, 2017. She just received her fifth Pushcart Nomination. Poems have been published in South Dakota Review, Pearl, Evansville Review, Valparaiso Poetry Journal, Forge, Rosebud, Verse Wisconsin, Stoneboat and others. Jeanine also enjoys collage and Tai Chi. Raised in Indiana, she now divides her time between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

Winter Coat Tinged Platinum

By Jeanine Stevens

  South Lake Tahoe

 

To the city yard for sand bags to plug

the hole where the raccoon dug under the cabin.

Between flurries, a walk in the pines.

 

Ahead, 100 yards, a coyote crosses the road,

fluffy white, yellow, gray like a big blond fox.

I stop, raise my arm in salute

not sure if this is a right gesture.

 

Watching, turning

toward me, a long time.

 

(Something familiar, head and shoulders foreshortened

like the giraffe pictograph, the Fezzan,

North Africa, 100 B.C.

Same stance, hesitation,

no threat, something beyond,      curiosity?)

 

I look back to see if I’m being followed.

No.

He trots on, probably to trash bins

behind Safeway,

winter coat tinged platinum,

curved back mimics

Mount Rose in the distance.

 

Later, sitting by the woodstove snapping cedar,

what to make of contact with topaz eyes,

wild fur, the edge of things?

I think artifact

look at my Washoe basket, buck saw,

map of prehistoric game trails.

 

The cabin warms; ice chunks slide

from the tin roof.

On the Tamarack, a Red-headed woodpecker

chisels out another unwritten code.

 

___

Jeanine Stevens studied poetry at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento. She has advanced degrees in Anthropology and Education. Her second poetry collection, Inheritor, was published by Future Cycle Press, 2016. Recent winner of the WOMR Cape Cod National Poetry Competition and the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award, 2017. She just received her fifth Pushcart Nomination. Poems have been published in South Dakota Review, Pearl, Evansville Review, Valparaiso Poetry Journal, Forge, Rosebud, Verse Wisconsin, Stoneboat and others. Jeanine also enjoys collage and Tai Chi. Raised in Indiana, she now divides her time between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

Ornate Persona

By Jeanine Stevens

Bow lips burnished bronze, lids violet or sable,

Is face the body’s icon? colorized

flesh: blue, red, black,

eyes swimming in gold flecks?

 

On stalwart stems, face of the rose

rests her head above threadlike roots,

black tangles resembling witches’ hair.

 

The real body—turbulent, defiant.

In grief, feelers find their way to epidermis

—wince, sunken eye, pursed lips,

universal grimace,

universal prosopon.

 

A mystic once said, “Wear a mask too long,

find you have no face.”

 

The ornate Venetian: Salome, Scaramouche,

Capricornus— how many years will they last,

peeling, sloughing through time?

 

___

Jeanine Stevens studied poetry at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento. She has advanced degrees in Anthropology and Education. Her second poetry collection, Inheritor, was published by Future Cycle Press, 2016. Recent winner of the WOMR Cape Cod National Poetry Competition and the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award, 2017. She just received her fifth Pushcart Nomination. Poems have been published in South Dakota Review, Pearl, Evansville Review, Valparaiso Poetry Journal, Forge, Rosebud, Verse Wisconsin, Stoneboat and others. Jeanine also enjoys collage and Tai Chi. Raised in Indiana, she now divides her time between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

Firestorm in the House of Birds

By Jeanine Stevens

 Coventry Cathedral

 

Blistered pinnacles rise from the perimeter,

shattered, yet delicate as mica.

Like up-ended swallows tails they elongate, reach

toward the sun.

Inside, puddles of rain reflect

a collage of shreds, war’s fallen flock.

 

And I am back in 1940 with parishioners

on wooden pews for song, then

Sunday lunch and later,

near the radio for the weekly newscast.

Another cloudburst creates

a dazzling mirror image

in the gutted grater; glittering glassine

embellishing the earth.

Resting under a lintel, I consume

my sack lunch, grateful

for cheese, bread and hard green apple.

 

I recall recent attempts to blow up gods

and deities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Not so easily shattered—

do they patiently wait

for a new a plinth, a new cornerstone?

 

Leaving, I note a raven’s nest

high on a damaged spire—birds watchful,

birds in no hurry.

 

At the exit, souvenir pin, a cross—

twisted nails salvaged

from splintered beams.

 

___

Jeanine Stevens studied poetry at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento. She has advanced degrees in Anthropology and Education. Her second poetry collection, Inheritor, was published by Future Cycle Press, 2016. Recent winner of the WOMR Cape Cod National Poetry Competition and the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award, 2017. She just received her fifth Pushcart Nomination. Poems have been published in South Dakota Review, Pearl, Evansville Review, Valparaiso Poetry Journal, Forge, Rosebud, Verse Wisconsin, Stoneboat and others. Jeanine also enjoys collage and Tai Chi. Raised in Indiana, she now divides her time between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

Caught Summer

By Jeanine Stevens

  ~a Cento

 

 

People are forever leaving Proust

behind in summer cottages.

 

I sit in my suntan oil alone,

a jay chirks news of impending drouth.

But under my feet as I tan,

a light brown paisley made of seed wings.

 

Parallels of color

on bare canvas of time-by-the-sea.

Fishes float with new-repaired scale.

 

Linen-clean

the air… serpentine

swipe of the sea.

 

A smoky rain batters the panes

of the shore hotel and the hope-for summer

chills and fails.

 

The summer people sigh,

“Is this July?”

 

And next summer they find

someone else’s Proust

in the new place they rent

 

Caught summer

…always an imagined time.

 

 

 

From: Roy Blount Jr. “Summer and the Reading is Easy.”

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, “The Sweet Season.”

Mona Van Duyn, “The End of May.” May Swenson,

“Flag of Summer.” Richard Wilbur, “My Father Paints the Summer.”

 

___

Jeanine Stevens studied poetry at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento. She has advanced degrees in Anthropology and Education. Her second poetry collection, Inheritor, was published by Future Cycle Press, 2016. Recent winner of the WOMR Cape Cod National Poetry Competition and the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award, 2017. She just received her fifth Pushcart Nomination. Poems have been published in South Dakota Review, Pearl, Evansville Review, Valparaiso Poetry Journal, Forge, Rosebud, Verse Wisconsin, Stoneboat and others. Jeanine also enjoys collage and Tai Chi. Raised in Indiana, she now divides her time between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.