Three Poems by Carol Barbour

Matera, Basilicata

Stony houses,
menace with jagged stairs,
rusty iron claws that break out,
far enough to scratch the skin.

Wild dogs race about,
fighting and leaping,
missing hair, rabid,
scrounging for food.

I dig through the ruins,
desperate to find substance,
tramping in the protean mist,
ecstatic remains.

Matera, the name
is scrawled on tufa caves.
Ancient graffiti and saints
co-mingle on white-washed film.

A niche
in a troglodytic time.
At eleven the lights go out,
and darkness completes itself.

In morning
a slice of light penetrates
the room, illuminating
the stucco walls of the cave.

Clinging on the mountain,
thousands of lemon trees,
yield to the light sheet
of winter.


Neurology

A conundrum,
accursed, excluded to the end
which never comes.

Rehearsal for the bad news,
tragic portrayal of people
broken by metal.

Blood spill,
hard slap of a screen door,
a bullet flying through summer night.

Walking the residual streets
and parking lots,
without fear. Past work

which is no longer.
Made better,
in lieu of active duty.

It is enough
to build temporary shelters,
make speculative plans.

So much defense
against the enemy, fortifications
balance on fault lines.

Living, searching for meaning
in a world turned
upside down.

A time of confusion, litany,
splinter of light
between doors.

We slide under the spell,
place seeds under our tongues,
hatch a new organism.


Spoke

Three keys: a fine silver wand, a brass cube,
a large skeleton.

These are the tools to access
a room in the monastery of San Gregorio.

Atop a hill, beyond an urban wood
above Circus Maximus.

The cloistered monks provide meals,
daycare and rooms to let.

Clean, so clean, sterile, no dust,
no TV, no phone or spouse.

Mosquitoes hide until night, a plug-in repellent,
the window open, a fan, no AC –

Sweat releasing warmth, moist dreams
of peace, dim light, pencil lines.

All day long walking until faint, later
horizontal plane, atropos.

Trains on strike. A meal
of objects in packets, from vending

machines transporting to the other end
of the line where the crowds diminish.

Opening the gate of San Gregorio,
entering the cloister of ochre and bone,

reading inscriptions on tombs,
the vow of silence redacted.

 

A graduate of the University of Toronto and the Ontario College of Art, Carol Barbour’s poems are published by Canthius, Sein und Werden, The Fiddlehead, Transverse Journal, Lacewing, The Ekphrastic Review and the Toronto Quarterly. Her first full length collection of poems Infrangible is forthcoming from Guernica Editions in September 2018. She resides in Toronto, Canada.

Three Poems by William Doreski

In an Egg

If only we lived in an egg
our dimensions would solidify
in glut of protein tough enough
to absorb the dark and prosper.
No, we’d never hatch. The depth
of our moods would flatter us

without the faintest expression.
Little moons would adorn the shell
to enlighten us in sheaves
of unmoored atoms. The beard
of Allen Ginsberg would recur
like Spanish moss and drape us

in comforting swirls and curls.
This little world would last us
longer than a retirement home
in that gravel-pit development
on the nether side of the village.
But this verso of life can’t last

without the proper nourishment:
albumen and wisps of spirit
endowed by the Great Mother,
Cybele, who laid an egg
that hatched the planet we love.
Our own little egg would borrow

that motif from many traditions,
none of them current enough
to attract the drooling scholars
we once thought we wanted to be.
It would shield us from alpha
and gamma rays, keep out rain

and snow while slowly we mature
into a fresh new species—
this time determined to savor
every flavor of leaf and twig
without self-devolving in fire
and testing the secret of meat.


Elegies of Snow

New snow this morning outweighs
the feeble light. All our fathers
with all of their flimsy shovels

working all night couldn’t halt
this brimming of fossil souls.
But all those fathers have died

and left conclusions yet to conclude.
The creak of the roof suggests
how ungainly our aspirations

have become, how poorly suited
to the sticks and stones we erect
in memory of each other.

The elegies of snow are tactless,
thick as the mold on our bread,
sour as the cheapest wine.

Still, we have to accept the distance
flailing over the mountains
to embrace our little innocence.

We have to start the snow blower,
wield the shovels, rake the load
from the roof as actual people do.

We have to share a pie-colored effort
to cancel the plot against us
and open a clean dark space

where the leverage of our muscles
can prevail against the dolor
of elements we’ll never conquer.

All the fathers applaud us
with a silence thick enough to chew.
Everything we do with snow suggests

further elegies, enriching
the past we flee every day,
leaving boot-prints filled with blood.


A Prayer Shaped like a Kiss

As I drive north, the density
of my life increases. Threats
unspool from the ether. Sacred
objects rust along the roadside.

If I reach the place where rivers
knot to form a single flow
I’ll celebrate with a small lunch
and a prayer shaped like a kiss.

Stones creaking in frozen currents
mean every hard-wrought syllable,
and the railroad singing with pain
as a long freight train unravels

stresses every elongated note.
In such an exfoliate world
I’d be foolish to dogear pages
of subversive old books I love.

Why leave a track clear enough
for the FBI to follow down
to the rim of some mountain lake
where I’ve drowned myself in hope

of meeting the womanly spirit
rumored to live in the depth?
Not that I would apply myself
so bodily to famous myths,

but I wouldn’t want to mislead
agents into fatal gestures
for which no one will thank them.
A car is following me. Its grill

smiles that nasty little smile
that makes its errand official.
I could cross the border to Quebec
and leave my prayer unspoken,

unanswered, my lunch gone stale.
But I’d rather drive straight into
the ambiguous thawing landscapes
of my childhood, the embrace

of melting snowmen calming me
against the enormous velleities
that overhang like storm clouds
unable to make up their minds.

 

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA. He has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.

Three Poems by Maxine Rose Munro

Generating 

Generations of generations
came and went, each one
claimed as mine, each old
before its time. All separated
only by subjectivities: fashion,
music, possessions, rage.

Each generated its supplanter
with no regard to the future. Self-
sacrificial, though not, it seemed,
unto death, but instead to live
weak half-lives and wonder
why they still felt the same,

why, if the gap from you to
youth had proved fake, was
it still millions of miles from
them to those older than them?
Were they perhaps the last
to be new and improved,

the last to nail their dissenters to
the wall and know the world had
changed? Surely it was so,
the children had been taught well
and would see the wrong done
in offering rejection.

But the young threw out these
teachings as empty of the truths
required in modern lives. So it
always is, each generation takes
its lifetime to learn this lesson –
nothing you know is of any worth.


Contentment Is Strange

How to write a poem of content?
Poetry isn’t meant for things
so blah, so humdrum and dull.

Today we drove the road driven
so many times before: friends
through one then two rings, one
then two children. Here to there
via in-between, a feeling grew –

not humdrum, not blah nor dull.
Possessive rather than passive,
it claimed everything for itself,

kicked down doors, demanded
centre stage and all fell before
the cause, until the whole world
reflected me back at me, willing
Narcissus to my life. And again

I wondered how to write a poem
of content? Words are surely
never enough . . .


Unmarked

Roses in the graveyard, grown
wild by the north wall. No one
wanted or planted you

yet you grew, unremarked.
Fed by dirt and tears
damned long ago,

concealed out of sight
and, over time, out of mind
when no minds were left

to recollect a bundle put
cold under cold earth. Food
for worms and roses, reaching

up to a sun that warms
what’s left of you, little one.

 

Maxine Rose Munro is a Shetlander adrift on the outskirts of Glasgow. Her work has been widely published, including in Northwords Now, Glasgow Review of Books and The Eildon Tree. Find her here www.maxinerosemunro.com

Two Poems by Jen Elslip

Insomniac

I have resolved to be
An insomniac

Because if I allow sleep
To wrap her tendrils
Around my mind
And lead me by the hand
To the depths
Of my subconscious

I know that you will be there
Waiting
To show me the most beautiful
Nightmare


Silence

I have fallen in love
With a deafening
Silence

I now greet it
As an old friend
When it comes into my life
And makes itself at home
With my demons
And my nightmares

It inches close to me
And reminds me
Of how crowded
A room of one can be

And now silence
Is the only one
Who speaks to me
Anymore

 

Jen Elslip lives and works as an accountant in California, USA. Poetry takes up her free time and provides her with sanity from her 9-5.

Three Poems by Thomas Zimmerman

Accounting

A beer in front of you, the spruces dark
out back, wife gone, and something weird
playing soft: the set and props you want
are all accounted for. Now needs: go deep.
Your mind’s been listing too much to the east,
you’re braver with the demons of the west.
You haven’t seen Orion yet this year,
and yet his preys’ screams sizzle in the skillet
of your dreams. You walk the dog at night,
a red light on your chest. Most codes crack simply
if we haven’t lived them, thumbed the years
that slide along the abacus of the spine.
Your dad worked in intelligence. His myth:
he counted fingers, toes, and made damn sure
he knew your sex, the moment you were born.


Badlands

These days, you feel the need to stare an animal
in the eyes. Be eaten, even. Wear
its pelt or fill its belly. No, it’s not
the whiskey talking. Cabin fever, maybe.
“That buffalo was bigger than our Subaru,”
you say, your wife and you remembering
your North Dakota days. “They’re bison, honey.
Look it up.” You do. She’s right. But so is
your urge for juices—something—flowing. Doing
evil is banal, and virtue is
a luxury. But binaries are not
enough. The landscape, mindscape, scapegoat, great
escape . . . all stark but fossil-rich, big-skyed.
You wondered how you’d finish life? Not wise. Amazed.


The Idiot

My window low, I see no stars. Barbarians
at the gate, and also in this shabby
palace. Oh, to bore a hole in space
and time to let a pretty woman saunter
through. I’m despot of a world that spans
a postage stamp, and maybe, maimed, she’ll be
my queen. At least my girlfriend while I shake
my madness off, a black horse in a storm.
You idiot, it’s not that simple, croons
my fool. He’s simmering, about to boil
till he’s ghost or angel of my slaughtered
daughter. One hack actor nails both roles.
And me? I need no beard, magenta cloak,
or tough-love acting coach. I play myself.

 

Thomas Zimmerman teaches English, directs the Writing Center, and edits The Big Windows Review at Washtenaw Community College, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. His poems have appeared recently in Rasputin: A Poetry Thread, Little Rose Magazine, and Furtive Dalliance. Tom’s website: https://thomaszimmerman.wordpress.com/. https://thebigwindowsreview.wordpress.com

Three Poems by Robert Okaji

Saltwater

What if you close your eyes
and your throat relinquishes

the morning’s bright
fingers, freed from bruises.

Suppose that particular night
never happened, the way

a wave crashing ashore
empties itself and trickles

back in separate communities,
mingling yet aloof, a

diminishing cortege. What
is the question? Take this

spoon. Fill it with saltwater.
Upend it into the pail. Observe.


Blowing on the Bamboo Flute, My Mind Wanders

Naming a life does not change its substance.

Today’s ‘D’ follows yesterday’s, but tickles the ears
with softer lips.

Surely what you are not signifies who you are.

The flute or the player, the breath
or the opening?

If I die today, at least I have tasted good air
and poured my love a cup of fresh coffee.

Sequence also reveals truths.

From mouth to sound, the separation
clear but controlled and of one whole,

no matter its name, no matter yours.


Morning Suizen

Boundless, it sips direction in the way of all music,
tonguing each note for its salt.

We call this ecstasy. Or peace.
Follow, and they still escape, always beyond
our outstretched fingers.

Exhale slowly. What do you know?

That long tunnel, ribbed in silence.
The scent of burning cedar.
Days framed in darkness and birdsong.

 

Note: Suizen is the practice of playing the shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute, as a means of attaining self-realization.

Robert Okaji lives in Texas. The author of five chapbooks, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in The High Window, Vox Populi, The Clearing, Sleet and elsewhere.

Three Poems by Phil Wood

Passing Out

Crab apples provided the ammunition:
your sniper aim, those bruises
– darting, chasing, finding our defining joy.

After, once we washed our hands, Gran
made us sit at the table.
She treated us to Welsh cakes heaped
on a cracked plate.

Our faces flushed russet red with warfare.
The cakes tasted the best –
almost burnt. The bake stone glistened.

Keys turn beneath these leaves.
I hear a flight of wings, an emptying of nests.
You in that uniform.
Me clapping as loud as I could.


Mr Williams Goes Running

And this is where he is
before the clocking-in
measures another day:
past the castle towers
and ghosted schools, that weight
of flightless hours; beyond
chapels of faded flowers
and lightless houses; around
the old cobbled harbour
of anchored names, rippling
the ink, a slap of chains –
silhouettes waving on
the neap. He hears their sigh
over the pebbled pages.
He tastes the salt of sails.


Blueberries

Granddad made a creamy porridge.
We liked the way it bubbled, plopped –
how the flames tickled round the pan.
He picked berries from allotments.
‘An imperial splendour,’ he said. ‘See how
they sag and leak.’
He stirred in a spoonful of honey.

Mum buys frozen. Leaves the berries
overnight in Tupperware to ‘breathe.’
Our microwave heats the porridge
in two minutes. It hums like bees.
Mum potted a blueberry bush,
gathered a spoonful of fruit. It died
like all things must.

 

Phil Wood works in a statistics office. He enjoys working with numbers and words. His writing can be found in various publications, including: The Open Mouse, Autumn Sky Daily, London Grip and Ink Sweat & Tears.

Three Poems by James Bell

after the rain

no birds were sent out
to try and find dry land
so no dove returned
with a leaf or its like
held in the beak as a sign
that our travail with mud
and water-logged fields
had ended as flocking birds
like green finches are no good
for solo flights as a crowd
would confuse the task
fly in a perfect arc all day
and still expect to be fed – also
a glimpse of sun is no oracle
for it rained again last night as if
to say start to build now –
we have wood ready
something nobody else has done
in spite of contrary weather reports –
we know just where we are
the correct tools have been ordered
while neighbours call us paranoid


in search of a sign

the restaurant is busy with lunch
and a small spider
slips inside the door
invisible to diners and staff –
pauses on a large brown tile
as if it too could be another client
who waits for a sign to be seated – then
perhaps impatient it scuttles
on all eight legs further inside –
it is hot outside and the sun beams down
on the entrance of the spider
like a floodlight –
I eat fresh bread and sip some wine
hope this spider dines well on some fly in a corner


you and your smart phone

the face of your smart phone is smashed in –
still rings
and makes an electronic ping for email

I assume it has some kind of sentimental value
even when
the plastic crackles as you text

vitriol or words of compassion
in lower case –
it’s another way to reply indignantly

wonder if you winged it for target practice
or threw it across the room
as a substitution for scratching out eyes

I see it’s now kept as a memorial
for whatever raison d’être –
at times held cradled under your chin

last seen it lay dead in a fruit bowl on the table
screen grey with a diagonal crack
a crushed corner as if stood on violently

I know there has not been reconciliation
only a resurrection
of one gigabyte before the divorce is absolute

Continue reading “Three Poems by James Bell”

Three Poems by Patrick Williamson

After the Hurricane

An owl roost once,
above badgers burrowing into leaf mould
like roaming beggars;
cracking twig, scuffle, the snuffles
of creatures who take no notice of your stature,
and scurry on
until, raised in anger, the wind
struck you down, no crown
for you, helpless, staring at the skies.

Nobody to the busy busy men
bent & intent on their business
on their way home, not looking back,
not stopping to lift you up,
cloak you with charity,
repair the fabric being eaten away.


Looking Back

Years later I hear you got caught in a tsunami,
had to rush for your life up into the hills.
Life was going on without me, struggling
to get something out of these old words.
I once pulled you from your safe uni room,

I gave you garnets and emeralds. Together,
vibrant in a silence my heart only knew,
we ate our last supper in final-minute streets:
a diner set to close, a bottle waxed red and green.

I was a wild man, rising from the pool,
manhood in me bearded, pearl in my ear;
the hole long since healed. Shaven, grey,
I am no longer so impetuous, too many burdens.

I crouched in the cathedral nave, waiting
for your word, with other solitary souls; a sanctuary
that was, in cloistered gardens. I watched
a sparrow peck at crumbs in the cold: a snapshot
it is forever perched on a café windowsill.

This is in brief celebration of spirits drawn together
then parted, this is for the ghosts of our lives
then and your chestnut eyes, southern tongue searching
for my island’s cold stream, then fleeing in the night
among the blossom and the hope my fear dashed.


The Level Crossing

When the train passes, it sometimes
takes your breath away,
and behind an opaque window

the ashes are thrown on fields,
in rivers, in ponds,
every day they find a new trial.

I saw the train that seemed
to break the horizon,
make love with the wind,

but under shower room ceilings,
it’s all very banal,
they open the trap, you gasp

when the sun rises on each trip,
sooner or later,
you will have to come back.

 

Patrick Williamson is an English poet. Editor and translator of The Parley Tree, Poets from French-speaking Africa and the Arab World (Arc Publications). Recent poetry collections: Beneficato, Tiens ta langue/Hold your tongue, Gifted (Corrupt Press), Nel Santuario (Menzione speciale della Giuria in the XV Concorso Guido Gozzano, 2014).

Three Poems by Neil Leadbeater

Snapdragons

These antirrhinums are anti-everything
bar having a good time.
Nip them in the bud
and they pop up bright as paper kites
opening and closing their mouths
in fierce red or yellow –
bees love them
the way they gargle with summer
deep down in their throats.


After the Badger Raid

Putting the lawn back
is no easy task. It quizzes you
with a puzzlement. A green jigsaw
with nothing but angles and edges
torn apart, tooth and claw,
in a turf war for grubs.

You curse under your breath
slot each slab against
the other, stamp your anger
into the ground
entreat each root to set-stitch
along the crazy seam.


Leopard’s Bane

Impossible to miss you
total yellow
like corn marigold or chamomile:
a warm-up after winter.
You are the spotted wildcat
in the spring border
but there is nothing catlike about you.
All the animal in you
has gone to ground:
those subterranean runners
escaping into the wild.

 

Neil Leadbeater is an author, editor, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His latest book is Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017).