Kathleen Cain

Find the center of things—
            this may be the house
                        or the heart
                                    or a stone found on an Irish beach
                                                while staring across the sound
                                                            to the Great Blasket Island

Consider topography
            especially if
                        you have to climb
                                    to find what you are looking for—
                                                the exact point of curl in your child’s hair
                                                            the locket lost on a high trail

But topography
            is never all—
                        what’s loved
                                    may be right there at eye level—
                                                a view through a window
                                                            or the first time you gave your son
                                                                        permission to use a knife
                                                                                    to cut an apple

Follow roads you know
            and roads you don’t
                        into the interior
                                    be prepared
                                                to spend nights
                                                            without shelter
                                                                        to learn which trees nearby
                                                                                    love water

Consider how
            when you find what you are
                        looking for
                                    how you might retrieve it
                                                or whether you will only
                                                            consider it
                                                                        and leave it there
                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                               

Remember how far
            you can travel
                        in a day

                                    how to resist
                                                the urge to turn back

***

She sends green light toward the trail
From lichen on her worn and reddened curves.
She’s too old for vanity or pride.
Exposed, her igneous flow has
petrified and left her standing
in this field since the last Ice Age.

She is shameless, open as
a bowl. Open as a woman
can be. At her center, a space
that snow and rain will fill, and stir
the pine seeds blown in each autumn;
giving life to fairy shrimp and insects
too small for most of us to know by name.

She leans back beneath the ponderosa
pine. Things have broken off inside her:
a sandstone arch, a cover, a seam, where
once, at the bottom of the bowl, water held,
like cupped hands, in the spring rains.

And who would care if a boulder
fills with water or not? And empties
again? The crows, the bush-birds,
the wide-eyed mule deer, and a woman
passing by, called to her side by green light
glimpsed from the trail at mid-day.

***

First the cycads
(sego palm
and gingko) then
conifers—the pines
and their kindred
among whom
only the tamarack
prophet begins to
sheds leaves.

Needles in their
fascicle packets
begin unfolding
exactly so many
each year. You can
still count them
on any tree; arrested
development or
perfection of form
and function?

Next, the catkin
bearers: willow, birch,
poplar (cottonwood
goes here), sometimes
bearing life alone.
Sometimes one tree
male, the other
female, with wind
as matchmaker (why
this singularity is
“primitive” among
trees and a sign of
sophistication
among humans
no one explains).

At last, the fruiting
sort—maple, oak,
hickory, linden,
the extended family
of the rose: an apple,
a peach, a plum,

a cherry—O generous
etcetera! Congratulations!
We have now arrived
at one hundred
million years ago.
Let us pray.

Robert Cooperman

That bear-scarred demon thinks he can kindness
his way out of Hell by handing me coins,
laying a ratty blanket over me, trying to get me
to eat decent—to atone for his killing sprees
like he’s a snot-rag brat given to picking his nose.

Liquor’s all I need, though every once in a while
Sylvie’s biscuits and gravy go down smoother
than the ice cream Pa churned for the Fourth.

Cold don’t bother me, ‘cause I’ll be burning
in Hell soon, for the swaddled baby I left in a ditch
when I had my youth and looks, and thought
I’d found true love with Cliff Loomis,
that no-good rat, who’d told me to get rid of it.

Afterwards both that bairn and Cliff was gone,
the wee girl most likely into a bear’s belly,
but I hope not; and him, not even the dust
from his galloping away was still swirling. 
Rather than face the shame of returning
to that brothel, I slunk into this alley.

To dull the pain I drink, though the bad taste
of what I done liquor can’t varnish over;
that, and knowing Cliff still festers on this earth,
and ain’t paid, like I have in guilt, for my daughter.

If Sprockett’d find and kill him for me,
I’d gladly see Old One-Eye hauled out
of the Hell that’s waiting on us both.

***

Don’t ask me what gets into men
that they need to shoot each other
over some slight they can’t recall. 
Now, three more corpses for Boot Hill,
strangers: except to Mr. Sprockett,
who put them in the ground. 
One had a son, who claims
he’s no stomach for vengeance,
but I’ve no doubt we’ll hear more gunfire,
citizens scrambling, again, for refuge,
thinking Quarry isn’t a fit family town.

I thank the Lord I’ve no bairns
to wander between warring parties;
haven’t let a man drag me to the altar
like a sacrificial heifer:  free to stitch
dresses for ladies who crave to look,
as they say in New York City, “With it.”

Then, there’s Mr. Sprockett:
our Angel of Death, when he’s not reciting
poetry by the mile, tipping his hat
to all of us ladies, including soiled doves,
even the crazed hag who squats in an alley.

He’ll tuck a blanket around her,
hand her some coins for a meal she’ll drink,
while she mutters curses at his bear-savaged face,
her clothes worse than rags, but too proud
to let me fashion her a new sturdy dress
and overcoat, out of Christian kindness.

I rode with his Pa to bring slaughter
to Lawrence, Kansas; he never forgave me
for riding away afore we’d killed every soul
in that Abolitionist paradise.  Still, that massacre
was the worst thing I ever did,
and I did plenty Jesus’ll send me to Hell for.

I’d tell his son Micah, when his Pa
and two others came gunning for me
years later, I’d no choice but to backshoot them,
waiting to gun me, sure as Pharisees
of their righteousness.  I didn’t give them
the chance, crept in through the back
silent as a puma, and let them have it.

Now his son hangs about town,
when anyone with a lick of sense
would’ve rode off or blown out my lamp
first chance he got.  But he fell hard
as a landslide for Spanish Sally,
her hair black as an anthracite seam,
her face to melt the heart of Satan. 
Out of kindness she tried to get him to leave,
but between his wanting to kill me
and pestering her, he’s stuck here.

Only way I can get him out of town and safe
from the roaring murder that comes over me
with the power of seven prairie twisters
is to pay off Sally’s debt to her madam,
but knowing Sally, she’ll gut him like a trout
right after she’s let him do the dirty
on the night he thinks will be the first
of their long, happy life together.

Maybe kinder just to shoot him
and put him out of his misery quick.

David Anthony Martin

After the stridex pad, and the toothbrush,
the mouthwash and melatonin,
the cat watches me from his bedside basket
taking off my pants and socks 
putting on very loose, thin sweatpants
removing the days shirt, slipping into another
equally as loose fitting and thin

[…]

What must he think of this routine
night after night with no knowledge that we die
only of life—the hunt for small birds or mice,
the sunny spot on the rug—its slow passage 
beneath the window beyond the houseplants,
the proper time for wet-food dinner

[…]

What a bizarre spectacle I must be
removing a layer, donning another,
slipping under the blankets,
reading till sleep overtakes me
and the anxiety of work tomorrow,
of everything undone yet to be done,
ever undone again, and to do again,
to do tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow

***

Moving through the gloom of the dark
pillared temple of the forest at night
I can feel it in my knees, a cold stiff blade, 
smallness that sits sedimentary in my lungs 
a gift horse with teeth, a mare pulling me
through the night, stumbling briefly on a limb
I flush a fox that veers away, agile reflexes,
it springs atop a low stone wall, practically
flows from the ground smoothly to perch
the grace of its tail, a soft serpentine whisk
confident it is as far from any danger
as it needs to be for the moment, it is red
although some subtle swatch it is to me
in grayscale tones, my night vision, reads
red in my mind from the white tip of its tail
It turns to look me in the eye, before flowing
away, vanishing into the forest’s deeper tones
where I will not be following it tonight, instead
I will sit in my own den, to find the medicine 
by reading what is hidden between the lines

***

drowning out the sound
of the creek and chickadees
my thoughts
clouding this moment
of sun-sparkling frosted pines
my thoughts
walking and walking
today’s recipe calls for the feet
hurting more than my heart

Megan de Guzman

The girls feel sexy in hiking boots,
earth caked into their soles.
They climb fast to get their heart rates up
and feel the sweat drippin’ down their necks.
They love breathin’ heavy
and flushin’ their faces pink.
It reminds them of sex.
They like to sit in their stink for days
and bathe in rivers or lakes.
The girls want to get lost in the woods,
so that when they die,
they’ll decompose right into the dirt
and grow into something demanding and phallic, 
like a big, fat redwood tree.
Then they’ll grow and grow
and always take up space.

George McWhirter

We still live close by here
as settlers
on unceded Musqueam land.

When we came here, the totems
lay, losing their faces to the knives
of whittlers and to rot in the small
copse. An asbestos shed stood
for some attempt at restoration,
but seemed more an abattoir
for the icons of clan animals
than a carver’s workshop.

Saw marks in the place of faces
showed where some had been
taken off and the scavenged
masks hung on some wall.
Only the brown bear’s
giant cedar body
stayed as it was carved
for any kid to climb on,
but the place made us feel
as if we had walked back in time
to see the village of the city’s childhood
razed, the long house, the door totems
― stripped of recognition,
turned into a cemetery
of lost identities.

***

The old couple in the back of the boat,
they never spoke, they only smoked.
Were they the wise pair of the waves,
the elderly sirens of silence?

We looked at the derelict stacks
of the old tobacco factory―
conical brick, 19th century monuments
to the relics that hung from our smokers’
mouths.

Were they Don José and Carmen,
who married and lived, faithfully,
silently smoking on a memory,
till the tobacco factory died?

Our sea tour turned around an almost
bygone addiction, love, and cigarettes,
except here, west of Malaga, whose
erstwhile industry, Malagueños
say, Bizet transplanted to Seville
for better ambience and PR.

Is it true, and are these two on the backboard
ghosts — their cigarette smoke, twin plumes
of impotence that will never haunt the thief
who purloined their story, leaving them
to float speechless and forever in the stern
of a small, blue, harbour-tour boat?

***

Here, I come, cresting as slow as Rosinante and Sancho Panza’s donkey
above the dunes at Tarifa and Sta. Catalina’s tail, laid on the water
with a castle at the end, no longer poised to sting with red, white
and black cannon fire in the duel of the dual blues
that divide and define the Med from the Atlantic,
and Spain from England, later, at Gibraltar.

What must I have looked like, beside you, in my creeping,
crawling old age — not unlike Quixote of the sad face, tied
by imperious script to an inky torture of captivity with one,
who will grow, incrementally in everyone’s mind, to be my fat,
loving partner — always at my irascible beck and itchy elbow
to mind me through my flibbity-gibbet-ous digressions.

This is what reading myself into Cervantes has made me:
random in my mind as driftwood off the sea. Still, the old,
widow-weedy crone by the quay believed we were come
to arbitrate because there is a war, here, over the water
for the wind: fishermen, pestering for el poniente,
out of the west and off the sea; the wind taken out of their sails,
pirated by the prayers of windsurfers, who invoke the wicked
levante, out of the east and overland.
If I were Quixote, which wind ought I to quell, whom should I support:
the fishermen’s wives in church each morn, keening for a wind
to drive their husbands home, or the gaggle of ill-clad girls with their wind-
worshipper’s faces, dustier than the moor’s.

We climb the mane of the mountain
from their duskiness into a deeper dusk, to debate the opposing winds;
the contentious waters and two competing blues: Atlantic turquoise
and Mediterranean blue of bruised history,
too deep to dilute, pouring on to Ilium.

High on the cliff-face, my own face dropping like a spade,
I encounter the giant, steel-grey knights of the four
rotating swords building momentum for a thrust
at the billboard-bull of one, Pedro Domecq,
behind whose beastly effigy, real ones waltz,
snort and ruffle the grass as they graze
on the wildflowers of a hinterland demesne. 

I am told by my Panza that the knights are posted here
to cure Spain’s halitosis and kill the dragon, Dirty Energy,
that gargles coal and spits Repsol gas
into any car or kitchen that kindles with the turn of a key.

Tilting at the air with flexi-directional blades,
I encounter a truth as turquoise clear as the Atlantic:
the windmill has become Quixote.

Thomas Reeve

Diving south from White River
I tried to outsmart the coming storm.
Lightning cracks across
the back of the Black Hills.
Once sacred, now white.
Settled by
purveyors of trinkets and trash.
Three men sit outside a liquor store
at the edge of town
sipping Forties.
Forgotten warriors.
Booze is illegal on the Rez
but the border towns oblige.
Open early, close late.
Low clouds blow fast.
Driving through seams of ancient sandstone
On this barren blacktop ribbon.
Sandhills. Badllands.
Doublewides sit square
and squat against the relentless wind.
Two pit bulls tied to a tree.
A small trike turned over in in a driveway.
Rusted cars in a yard.
A small bird hits the windshield.
One claw wraps the radio antenna
and the small body is impaled,
wings spread,
stuck with me
flying across this empty place.
Hills rise and fall like waves.
A herd of buffalo crests the horizon
running with their tongues cut out.
A memory
of genocide by starvation.
A flock of crows fly north
each with a bloomed rose in its beak.
They drop them as they fly.
Petals fall like dead dreams.
They call this place Rosebud.

***

The last slow switchback
curling back toward home.
A quick bounce of slanted lights.
The fawn lying in her driveway.

                       Tires grab gravel.
                                    Quick stop.
                                    Dust drifts in the beams
                                    like smoke.
It looks dead.
Rusty red from the cab.
Venus burns a hole
in a shrouded sky.
                                    Door creaks and slams.
                                    A hand on fur.
                                    Still warm.
                                    Mountain lion.
More tan than red
when kneeling close.
Round nubs on the skull.
Button buck.
Would have been a beautiful boy.

Engine sounds.
Owl songs.
Hair crawls.
                                    Is the cat still there?
She grabs two legs.
Drags him to the trees.
Tiny hooves shine
black like wet stones.
The doe,
                                    a still, staring eye reflecting
green in the headlights.
                                    Just behind the Ponderosa pine.

***

Buffalo Creek

SEE THE WILD BUFFALO! I’ll follow the signs. Roll into a parched gravel lot. Two paint-peeled pumps. Three rib-thin buffalo in a pen. Hand-scrawled sign says pay before you pump. Walk towards a screen door dust devils swirling at my side. It’s okay! An old man shouts, No prepay! The pump grinds on and I go inside. He sits behind a sheet metal desk, black binoculars around his neck. I check out all the cars and decide he says. You’re good. Smiles. Tobacco yellow teeth. A Ford F-150, two dogs, and a white man must be keys to the kingdom here. We watch a silver Audi pull in. Caramel skin and a sonorous river of black hair spill from the door. Heat shimmers in blurred waves around her. Hands on hips, ass wrapped tight in white leggings. She reads the sign and looks carefully towards the door. She gotta pay first he says.

Rest Stop

In S.D. the rest stops are all marked with skeleton sticks of imagined tepees. We burned all the real ones. I have been a migratory bird for fifty years. Back and forth to Minnesota where my father, 90 now, still can’t say I love you. Never did push his grandkid on a swing. I stopped here 25 years ago when my son was five. Rolling with the Lion King. He stood in front of the car, where a Monarch butterfly was pressed dead on the grill, its orange wings still perfect. It’s the circle of life he said. Hakuna Matata baby. For the rest of your days.

Scenic

Dropping through the Badlands for decades. A desert bighorn ram stood perched on a ridge. Tan on red sandstone. Setting sun lit striations in the uplifted rocks. Only one bar/restaurant in Scenic. 20 or so motorcycles and some trucks in the lot. We sat down, single dad raising two kids. Better order simple here, burgers, cokes, fries. Yes okay grilled cheese is fine. At the bar, framed by a red Budweiser sign, she sat looking at our out-of-place little clan. Black leather vest and pants. White shirt. Tats and silver earrings. She was the most beautiful, strongest, bravest, saddest, and loneliest woman in the world.

Wounded Knee

A place too poor to even have a proper monument. Just an old yurt with pictures inside. All the chiefs. A mass grave. Ghosts of the hundreds that died. I bought a carved antler tip key ring from an old man. Thick gray braids and a turquoise bolo tie. Climbed the hill where the slaughter began. A dry creek bed snaked below. Old trucks, a tent kitchen, Indian flatbread. Sat in a circle with some strangers and passed a peace pipe around.

Driving West

For children, time is a heavy chain. Just wait just wait just wait until you are older. Now I am older. Farm towns. Withered, dying. No more winking waitresses or bustling harvest sounds. Main street stores have plywood eyes. Only the sound of rats’ feet and pigeon wings inside. Two dark bars. Men in John Deere caps drink early. Gimme Jack and Coke. Gimme Johnny Walker Black, beer back. Survivors. Nothing runs like a Deere. One gas station. I drive west. Still wondering if you love me. Time chases me into a lake full of memories. I’ll swim there till I drown.

***

The small creek below the barn
runs fast and hard in March
when mother bears rise blinking from their dark dens
and winter-born cubs squint in a new, wondrous world
of green leaves and aspen trees.
Walking to the barn,
I listen to water roll across rocks
and hear hungry horses stir in their stalls.
Inside, I drink the sweet smell of hair and hay,
then stop
in the sudden stillness
of sensed memories.
Springtime is no blessing for a horse.
They stand still and trembling in their stalls,
ears laid back like rabbits in short grass.
Nostrils flare with awakened worries
of bears walking in the moonlight.

Linda Whittenberg

Take the garage—
Backpacks carried up and down
mountains forty years, tents
where our co-mingled breath
beaded on the interior,
all kinds of gadgets
for repairing, installing, maintaining.

Chances are good,
no matter where you start,
the toolbox will get you even more
than when you cleaned out the closet
or dresser or desk. Maybe it’s because
objects there hold remains of his sweat.

The claw-hammer handle still carries
traces of where he gripped it building a ramada
toward the back of the yard, a high shelter
for the best view of moons that rise
over the mountains.

You recall how his younger friend Leon
came to help place vigas on posts
to form the frame and how alone
he spent happy days filling in the sides
with smaller logs and finally
hanging a swing in the perfect spot
for moongazing.

Start anywhere
and you’ll come to this—
how proud he felt,
although he wasn’t one to brag,
snuggling and swinging with his woman,
dogs at our feet,
horses and mules in the paddock,
even an exceptional goat.
Start anywhere and you’ll come back
to the glories of love lived here.

***

In the high desert, rain gauges measure
fractions of happiness, levels of despair.
In drought any gathering of clouds brings
a sliver of hope. People greet each other
with weather reports.

We cheer ourselves with memories
of when Monsoons, like clockwork,
brought afternoon showers.
We name years—
Sunflower Year, when gold
spilled along country roads,
Year of Asters when the valley turned
seven shades of purple.

Then, back to the present—
Year of the dreaded Bark Beetle when
hills are dressed in dead piñon.
One piñon, a centurion I have befriended,
cleaved to the side of the deep arroyo,
fought so hard I began to believe it could
make it, but, no, at last, it had to go.

Jon Kelly Yenser

The summer after fourth grade
every other Saturday his teacher
picked him up in her spanking Bel Air
most often for matinees at the Orpheum,
but now and then to her home
for canasta, a game she taught him
at her kitchen table.
    He has forgotten
how to meld or what makes a success
red or black, but he remembers
rooting for Rommel’s Panzers to run out
of gas in the desert; for Mickey Rooney
to escape a ditch near Toko-Ri;
for a diminishing platoon of Marines
to finish slogging across Guadalcanal.     
In every skirmish she took his hand.
In the end they won every war.

Lila Bear

First, you add the sugar and the eggs, and you whip until they’re fluffy.

No, first you preheat the oven to 350.

In a house where the rabbi sends you homemade hot sauce but tells you your mother converted too late for you to count,

it is not knowing the difference between Yiddish and Hebrew.

It is Googling why Adam Sandler sings about yarmulkes when you’ve always heard them called kippahs.

Second, as in most recipes, you add the wets: the oil, the lemon juice, the extract

In a house where you attended a bar mitzvah for your brother, where the Jewish mothers pulled your dress over your breasts but tell you that you ought not apply to birthright because you don’t count,

it is whether or not to add a C in Hanukkah.

It is why exactly you don’t write the O in G-d.

Third, you add in the dries, and you stir with never a metal spoon until the

dough is stiff.

In a bar one day, your more Jewish friend raises you high in a chair and gives you a bat mitzvah. You’re drunk, and you don’t know Hebrew.

Your mother is at home using a glass to cut holes in the dough. Someone told her she didn’t count once, too. Then, in a bath surrounded by friends, she counted. Now she is afraid of German people and cries at mention of the pile of shoes. You do, too, but it’s in a goyish way.

Fourth, you fill the dough with whatever fruit filling you choose and pinch it not all the way shut into either the shape of Haman’s ear or Esther’s vulva, whatever you believe.


In a house where your mother washed your dead grandmother’s stiff body – and true, you refused to help, opting to cry instead – and you are told you didn’t grow up Jewish,

it is buying dreidels because you feel compelled to but not because you’ll use them.

It is wanting your children to call you Ima before you even want children.

Fifth, you bake for 18-22 minutes.

In a house where your mother told you that for your Jewish wedding, you’d get henna on your feet, you don’t count.

So why don’t you just use cake mix?

***

When I named myself, it was out of ego.
“Leota” is a lioness of the people,
and her name was found etched in a gravestone,
and I had hoped to wrap myself in that otherwordly, feline skin,
to bare my teeth and shake my mane atop a concrete soapbox 
for diplomacy.
But I woke up, no cubs to mother, no podium from which to preach,
just panties on the floor—
groggy and human—
plain old breakable (broken) flesh,
plain old breakable (broken) hymen,
and  my claws were retracted so far inside me
I think I’d coughed them up with my voice and my “No”s,
and my fur had been brushed out in clumps by soothing hands.
“You’re Beautiful,” Declares The Hunter, one hand on my fur and the other
on his pistol.
“It Will Be Good For You,” Promises The Taxidermist,
and somewhere on a wall I am on display,
midgrowl,
while here I am on a different kind of display,
midwhimper.

***

Spinning me in a tireswing and smoking a cigar, you tell me, 
“This is great. I’m going to write a poem about this.”
I remind you every week, 
ask to see what I hope is a proclamation of awe,
and you tell me it is not yet done.
A year passes, 
and I continue to pick apart your rhyme,
but I am never in the scheme.
Playing tetherball in a sunflower field,
you tell me, 
“I’m going to write a poem about this moment, but please don’t remind me.
I have a thing about that. 
You kept reminding me about the other poem,
and so I could never write it
even though I really wanted to.”
so I am patient and silent
(things that do not come easy)
and your accidental lesson reaches me
because I wait for it to come,
but it never does.
I feign nonchalance when I read a poem that has a moment I recognize,
a phrase that captures an essence I acknowledge to be mine,
and I ask, “Oh, is that line about me?”
but it never is.

***

It breaks everyone’s fucking heart to know how many times they could have
spilled it 
but the phone just kept ringing,
and you can have swimming vision over dark beers all you want
or at least until 3 when they kick you out
and as the saying goes:
nothing good happens after 2.
So we should stop trying so hard to revel in our brokenness,
stop getting into each other’s cars and faces 
and threatening to blacken our knuckles on each other’s teeth and jawlines.
We should listen to our mothers and go to bed.
You know someone matters to you when they start infiltrating your slurred
speech
and you start waking up drenched in sweat from your latest nightmare
about them
and you don’t know how to stop shaking when confronted with the glory
of their face,
and you are willing to crush their nose bone if it means you get to make up
afterward.
Take a precious moment, spit on it, cover it in sand, then wonder why
they say you are all hammers.
Have no sympathy for their death toll, their Rorschach painting done in their
own blood, their wet eyelashes clumped together,
then scream in the parking lot of the bar that they never believed in your
compassion
anyway.

Contributors

Maria Berardi

Jimi Bernath

Jonah Bornstein

Kierstin Bridger

Kathleen Cain

Frank Coons

Robert Cooperman

Sharon Corcoran

Karen Douglass

Patricia Dubrava

Lew Forester

Jeff Foster

Beth Franklin

Alice Dugan Goble

Art Goodtimes

Erica Hoffmeister

Amy Wray Irish

Karla Johnson

Marcia Jones

Melody Jones

Daniel Klawitter

Lary Kleeman

John Knoll

Kyle Laws

Donald Levering

John Levy

John Macker

Nathan Manley

Susan Marsh

David Anthony Martin

David Mason

Ron McFarland

Sandra McGarry

Ed McManis

Brian Palmer

Beth Paulson

Janet Smith Post

Marjorie Power

C. J. Rakay

Jessy Randall

Tim Raphael

Willem M. Roggeman

Renée Ruderman

Andrew Schelling

Oliver Scofield

Jerry Smaldone

Jared Smith

K. Blasco Solér

Leath Tonino

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Christine Weeber

Kathleen Willard

Sarah Wolbach

Lisa Zimmerman