One Poem by Alun Robert

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

The Black Cat’s Good Time Tale

safely, securely
foetal on her head
snug from the warmth
oozing up from her torso all

closeted with her wraps
in deepest Wapello county
for out in the boondocks
it’s cool for us cats but

with my right eye open
the left left ajar
can appraise the environs of
big cat with her rooster who

turns his head away
avoiding eye-to-eye contact
carrying a foreboding
that even I understand of

fear, insecurity
not foetal, just egg
laying in an alien farmyard
where I reign supreme when

the deal is done at 30 bucks
(no Iowa state taxes)
back to our Buick
’23 Roadster red for

the big cat will miss him
must be hard to part
with a long-term friend
even tho’ it’s only a bird but

back in Floris county
he will free-run our farmyard
for as long as he gives all
our hens a good time


Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse. Of late, he has achieved success in poetry competitions and featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He particularly enjoys ekphrastic challenges. In 2019, he was a Featured Writer of the Federation of Writers Scotland.

Two Poems by John Grey

Sleeping In

I woke up this morning
to the odd sense
of something being missing.
I couldn’t figure
what it was
which could only mean
one thing.
I was what was missing.

So there was
no point getting out of bed.
For who would
throw off the sheets?
Who would swing
their body around,
drop feet to the floor,
lift themselves
up and away
from the mattress?
Not me.
I wasn’t there.

Somebody shouted from below,
“It’s time to get up!”
Someone could hear them clearly.
Thank God it wasn’t me.

Canoeing in the Lake

We nudge our canoe
into the reflection
of the dangling willows,
lured by lowest leaves
brushing tears
from rippling branches.

Paddles offer no threat
to the snowy egret,
stepping slow as a minute hand,
pecking between rocks.

A floating soda can,
the only other sign of humanity
on this reach,
is whisked aboard,
flattened with silent anger.

Then we shift away
from the bank,
something else elemental
catching our eye –
the bobbing tuft of light
farthest from the shore.

We glide back
into open water,
August sky in abundance,
fallow and worry-free.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dalhousie Review and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Chronogram and failbetter.

One Poem by Andrew Howdle

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.


Methodical slats, a herringbone wall,
And a front garden
Carpeted by fine,
Horticultural quincunxes, these paint
An exact view of
The banality
Of life in Midwestern America –
Peace’s status quo.

One female pins up a well-worn jacket
With a safety pin
And clutches a bird,
Whilst the other, society’s pin up,
Holds a needlepoint
Clutch bag. A tired phrase,
Chicken today, feathers tomorrow, hugs
Her like red fox fur.

The daily transaction between classes –
The routine normal –
Holds no surprises,
Until an observing eye appraises
The strikingly queer
Angle of a Wood
Fence, so unlike the neatly constructed,
Social mise en scène.

I hear the painter, a discreet gay man
Whose love flew to fledged
Young men and who drew
Adolescence as a gawky chicken,
Chuckling to himself
As he contemplates
Two women haggling over the price of
A hot coq-au-vin.


Andrew Howdle is a retired teacher and educational consultant. He lives in Leeds, England. His poems have appeared in Ekphrastic Review, Impossible Archetype, Singapore Unbound, Nine Muses Poetry, and  Lovejets (2019), an anthology of poems for Walt Whitman.

Two Poems by Hibah Shabkhez

Elbowing Jasmines into Daylight

They lie, of whom no ill may be spoken
Under the rustling groves, past good, past vice;
For they have paid and are paying, broken
Of all their scrabbling, the ultimate price:
Feeding life’s sallies past death’s repulses

Look: each new flower makes its solemn vow
On its crass trek out of each rotting frame:
“By my beauty I will sanctify now
The basenesses that in life did maim
Ever your heart’s first unstained impulses”

Wingspans Relit

Behind my head, downcast and dutiful
Without hindrance from this body or brain
My silhouette is fiercely beautiful
Looming, dancing, leaping with each refrain;

Without crisper truths infringing to spike
The glorious peace in which one would fain
Indulge dreams wild and yet possible, like
Resisting chocolate on days of pain,

Steering your own bike through the open road,
Tossing aside sneers that would else curdle;
Growing larger with each snub, each fresh load,
Bobbing, twisting, morphing, past each hurdle.


Hibah Shabkhez is a writer of the half-yo literary tradition, an erratic language-learning enthusiast, a teacher of French as a foreign language and a happily eccentric blogger from Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has previously appeared in With Painted Words, Petrichor, Lunate, The Dawntreader and a number of other literary magazines.

Twitter: @hibahshabkhez
Instagram: @shabkhez_hibah

One Poem by Simon Daley

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

You were not at church

the accusation stings like rooster down
it seems I am ungodly, unsaved, unclean
my Sunday best she can but misinterpret
the darn finery of a pom-pom handknit
Lordy, my reputation pinned by the hat
appraised by the cloth no matter the chat
beneath my nails; earth; third day created
long before seventh set sabbath existed
no guesses which way she will lean
that’s one fence not fit for sitting on
her opinion of me could be little worse
worth no more than the lip of her purse
soon her nose will stick another business
the comfort of my ground well stood
no sermons needed to be one of the good
eschew the pew becollared spew and yell
tales of fire, of brimstone, oh what the hell
grant me absolution for forgetting to pray
give me some peace for the rest of my day.


Simon Daley is a police officer who aspires to write poetry that people are glad they read. He is studying creative writing with Open University. He may never be published but can live with that. He lives in Scotland between houses and a campervan and misses his daughter terribly.

One Poem by Raquel Morris

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

Sustainable Femininity

Her mother’s stare
disapproving as always
wearing her furs and pearls
to show her status,
even on a farm.
How disgustingly simple
of her daughter,
she thought.
She always thought,
and judged,
and talked,
without actually ever saying much.
Vapid vanity
were things she valued.

The girl was now a woman
barely recognizable
as a socialite
but easily mistaken
for a man.
Her hair lay hidden
beneath a boy’s beanie
her face was make-up free
her hands were bare.
holding a hen
like a baby
which she refused to have.

The daughter’s gaze
was one of wisdom
how to live in harmony
with the land.
She found freedom
on the farm
her hands touched dirt
she became a Goddess
of creation.
Unlike the masses,
who worshipped money
marching on the well traveled road
without question.
Forgetting that the road to hell
is always paved in gold.
She smirked at her mother’s disapproval
for it meant she made it out
of the capitalist machine.


Raquel Morris has a Master’s in Social Work (MSW), is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and writer who has a life long love of poetry. Writing is her passion, she enjoys expressing her experience as a Native American, woman of color, mother, social worker, activist, and mystic. She is an emerging writer and has been published in Nine Muses Poetry.

One Poem by Michael Maul

Aging with Poems

It was like a gift to myself from the past,
this poem recently unearthed
but new again to me.

I was twenty when I wrote it
for the me now of seventy-three.

The world can change a lot
around recovered poems
though this one’s course stayed true,
time-jumping from time passed
to perform a rescue.

Light and energetic when writ.
But by the time it found me,
I wasn’t hungry any more.

In doneness a poem becomes fact:
no longer a flowering of possibilities,
just an essence of what it is.

Published now,
we are left to stand
awkwardly next to each other
like long-lost friends

posing for a snapshot at the boarding gate,
with eyes pumped bright
for a poem I wrote
that reappeared
and now must leave again.

We love each other no less
for the passage of time
but have no final words to share.

We kiss foreheads instead,
and wish sweet dreams,
as I watch set out
a version of me
once more flying away.


Michael Maul lives in Bradenton, Florida. His poems have previously appeared in numerous literary publications and anthologies.

In 2018 he authored Dancing Naked in Front of Dogs, a full-length collection of poetry.  One of the included works, “Anniversary Poem”, became a nominee in the 2019 “Best of the Net” competition.

In 2019 he published his first chapbook, Birds Who Eat French Fries.

He is a graduate of the Ohio University creative writing program.

One Poem by Melanie Branton

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.


The boardwalk is rotten,
the edges peel away,
the veranda pillar spindled,
so thin in the middle
it cannot hold the weight
much longer. But for now
the clapboards hug each other
and keep the warmth in.

She’s had to come out
from behind the screen door,
though the day is bitter.
Shielded by her bobble hat
in team colours, a fleecy thing
the colour of tree moss,
she’s covered up the frayed edges
with homemade piping,
somehow found a safety pin
to pull everything together.

The other has a diamond pin
flaunted redundantly, a feather
in her cap, the froth of fun fur,
double chin. Blisters of pearls
bubble over her ears, her purse
scabbed with rubies, tight-lipped,
clamped shut. She does not know

the importance of everything
overlapping. Clapboard
cladding, wraparound
woollens, one hand splayed
to protect the condemned
bird, the other below
underpins, holds her up.


Melanie Branton is a spoken word artist from North Somerset. Her published collections are Can You See Where I’m Coming From? (Burning Eye, 2018) and My Cloth-Eared Heart (Oversteps, 2017).

Two Poems by Ed Ahern


I am refigured by the missing –
hard scarred by their death,
wounded by their departure,
blotched by my disregard.

Grafted relatives and friends,
often greatly loved,
grow over burns
visible through new skin.

My changing self-appearance
comes with aging realization
that I too will be numbered
among the missing.

The Sand Castle

The waves wash a little further
up my walls with every surge,
cold-peeling sun warmth
and sand in rising strips.
I watch with inert abilities
the crumbling disappearance
of imperfect towers closer than I
to rinsing water, awaiting the wave
that returns me to the beach.


Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over two hundred fifty stories and poems published so far, and five books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of six review editors.

One Poem by Judith Steele

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

Concluding the deal

The plump woman in the fur-trimmed coat
is going to eat that speckled hen
but she won’t be the one to kill it
any more than she killed the coyote
whose fur she wears.

It’s the Earth-Mother type who’ll kill
the hen she raised from a chick,
the hen whose eggs she ate,
the hen who trusts her,
quite at ease in the arms
of the woman who’ll dispatch her quickly
knowing this is the way of the world
of farming, of humans, of survival
of the fittest.

Times are hard, and getting harder.
No time for sentiment.
The hen was born to be killed,
Her speckled feathers may be used
for stuffing or for ornament.
Dead chooks and coyotes
have their uses
for the fittest.


Judith Steele is Australian. Her poetry or prose has most recently appeared in the print journal Gobshite Quarterly (Oregon USA); and web blog Plum Tree Tavern.