Poems by Marika Brooks

This Breathing

seething and
breathing
between these

sheeting
fleeting
weeping

these
sheeting
this breathing

between
these
sheets.

 

Innocent Heart

make me my innocent heart

be so quiet like the room is wrong

in each tiny bloom

your true touch shares kind

his world, mutual, want him

no sound across body moments

through tears between hands

gauge night terrors, receive nothing.

 

Tips

alabaster disaster
gold cobble stoned
              no where to run.

sins & smiles i recognize
crashing oversized into
              eternal thermal

acquaintance our farewell
this time and forever
              in frozen finger

              //
              tips.

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“Relative Matter” by Sara Schraufnagel

We rarely sit with ourselves,
and see the struggle within us all 

Stop letting the concrete jungle
tuck you in at night
lower one leg at a time and remember that
pain is also your connection to the living

His shirt blew behind him
a flag in the wind, his desired last stand
His hands spread inches from the rain
and the window washer’s rope
that hangs above the 24th floor
He told me love was much more 
than a chemical within us all 
with a fancy name

Poems by Chloe Castay

I Had Not Lived

Amass the firm timber and sow the foundation
for the hovel compiled to bliss.
Four plain sides
and a hearth of ashlar,
to sustain the old hare when
the wren has flown away.

Walden Pond,
sophic eye of cold cobalt blue
bean-fields bestow their breath
until they are freed by
crystalline icicles exquisite.

Winter’s bite congeals
what the equinox restores.
The hermit seeks the philosopher’s call,
but it is wild and withdrawn.

I had not lived
until I found my soul,
a soul in the woods
forged profoundly and brave.

Transcendence the gift,
from Nature, the Host.

 

the monarchy of dusk

here the cult of ignorance reigns cardinal;
dressed in self-righteous garb
while faithful sip cyanide,
from the desert breast of civilization
and sing softly to the hegemon of dread

opinion amounts to insight, while the
egghead is martyred,
now the assaulted youth
see with only scorched and barren,
glassy eyes.

they worship their bodies,
because they have infected their minds.
parched them of truth,
and converted to pudgy fog.
now they cherish torches,
that burn the diseased womb of acumen.

oh, the squall is opulent,
raining acid on your tongue;
while minerva’s owl is shot down,
from the lurid sky
in the monarchy of dusk.

Poem by Carrie Zhang

Room in a Bedroom 

Branch sling on my heart. It’s so easy for black letters

                To get lost in white snow. These

Flies come skating out, sucking

               Plums and claret stuck on the walls.

A plastic telephone

               Hangs off its cradle, a closet flings

open, revealing wintry depths. All these years

               Flutter off the calendar, silver mail

On doors unopened,

               The ancestral calico thick as sound

Unheard.

Poems by Emily Alexander

i wish i spoke moon.

(inspired by Elegy Owed by Bob Hicok)

i wish i whispered clear nights, wove them
into shirt fabrics, wore them close to my collarbone.

i wish i had three hands and knew
where to put them, regardless of the time.

i am trying to learn something about the craters
of a kiss. about folding sky into a note in my pocket
that tells me where the middle is, because
there are already plenty of stories that start
like this. all moonbeams and mouths, nothing about

right now. it is mid-afternoon.
my body is something i have to remind myself of.
it is a stranger to bleed; knows only bruise.

my neighbors have a porch swing i have never seen anyone use.

i have three pairs of jeans i wear every week.

i brush my teeth in the morning and again at night, floss words from between them,

tiny versions of hold, definitions
of embrace, nothing spelled quite right.

i think i need an instruction manual three moons thick
so i can learn where to put my knees
when i watch the news.

so i can sweep the kitchen floor, do something
about the mold on the bathroom ceiling without peeling
back my skin to see what could fit there, like my body is a new house
without a moving van in the driveway,

listen: i want to always mean what i say.

like my mouth has never known
anything but clear night moon.

Casual 

It’s like this: he offers his body to me, and I take it
without asking where it’s been. We do this
to each other, fingertips whispering
through flesh, songs of steam
on car windows, soundless
mouths, sheets. This is a simple language,
straightforward: sighs, lines, thighs. He holds me
in place for the time it takes, bed rocking
like a boat anchored in storm. I do not know
of any safe harbors around here, so this
will have to do, his breath, my neck, regret
a distant shoreline I haven’t started
sailing towards yet. Look. I know that stuck
is not synonymous with stay. I have enough alleyways
in me without the complication of wanting
his abandoned building body
to hold pieces of my shipwreck. So I wake
first in the mornings, his face still
soft, open windows. I could almost love him
then, unanchored breath drifting
out of lips that know the place my secrets have slipped
through. Regardless of my mouth, still heavy
with broken boats. Regardless of my unkissed knees, wrists,
dark halls, cobwebbed closets. Regardless of his.

moscow, id

right now, 3 states away, the last of fall harvest
is settling into the chest of tractor
troughs. i remember watching wheat fields unraveling
like knobby knees and nervous
bodies. there was a time when that was
enough. when i only had one house, when the ground
didn’t count as one, when i knew staying
like tattoos know skin, despite the rest
of the body. i want to write a poem
about my father’s heartbeat, but
i don’t quite remember it. it’s been a long time since i fit
in his lap. listen, i have unlocked cities trying
to learn how to laugh without this deadbolt mouth,
and i am still shy. and i am always missing
someone. i know that right now in idaho,
light is pressing against grain silos as my mother
presses her fingertips into the piano. if this was enough,
i would still be there. if this was enough, i wouldn’t
think of home as a poem
about longing, about question marks, the pause
between notes. my own hands
pressing against a window in california.

Poems by Mary-Grace Rusnak

Note: A bio for Mary-Grace can be found here.

Red Stripes

Red stripes of peppermint creep stealthily up a candy cane only to hang their heads in shame because they know full well they’ll rot your teeth. Red racing stripes spin out across sugar cookies baked every year for mariners who can’t make it home for Christmas. Red stripes laugh on an awning as we sip coffee and eat beignets at a sidewalk cafe in Orange Beach. It was the last time I saw you. Red stripes pretend to be cherries hiding inside foil wrappers pulled from packs of Fruit Stripe gum, chewed in secret then stuck to the bottom of my school desk. Red stripes blaze on a freshly slapped cheek that matches the shirt I wore when he thought he might take it off. Sweat on a bottle of Red Stripe Beer with a plate full of crabs caught by the seawall in Port Arthur in August, mercilessly boiled in a garbage can. My blistering sunburn had a one-night stand in the arms of an ice-cold beer. Red stripes shimmer on a swimsuit I made in tenth grade before white stripes sliced through bare red shoulders in my shimmering blue prom dress. Red pinstripes on a tiny oxford shirt the day he posed on a photographer’s pony, a week after his baby brother died. Red stripes mark the days I’ve lived since the day you left. Red stripes grace a flag folded in on itself, buried inside a tight triangle to the somber sound of tears and taps.

Last Dance 

In heels. My cheek rested on a broad shoulder
from the right side of our rusty railroad tracks.
His lyrical Southern name is older
than our small Southern town. Knowing the facts,
I still fell. Great love became gossip fodder.
He left for LSU; I was stuck back home,
languishing while he waltzed up the social ladder.
Bright lights brewed lust on the fast-track.
Society and family approved of her, not me.
Moonlight rolled its eyes over the haystacks
as she and he danced toward their date with the altar.
A month passed as they unwrapped gifts,
arranged new towels and knickknacks.
Then my phone shook off its dust.
From across town, his Southern drawl
seared my head and heart.
I married the wrong girl, he said.

My Sister-Friend

For Jan

Before man named time,

you were with me.

You are the spiral

of warm air that gently

propels my fragile wings skyward,

the rock on which I rest

when I’m too weary

to stir, the radiant soul

that never fails

to renew my faith.

In the darkest hours

of desperately dismal days,

you make me laugh until I cry.

Trusted to your gentleness,

my heart shines

like a freshly waxed

Chevy, cruising

the beach road

with the T-tops off,

the wind in our hair,

until time

no longer has a name.

 Uncle Charles Returns to Nature

He built his cabin
from pines on his land:
felled them, stripped them,
notched them, stacked them.
Now, cinnamon bears stop by
for coffee with cream.

Lost in the Pages of a Book

Ann escapes into her novel.
Kids bang on the cover,
ask what’s for dinner.
Bound and gagged
in a gothic romance,
mom’s imprisoned in Chapter 13.

Not So ‘Tweet Story

Cyber-stalker has her address,
kids’ school, dog’s name,
what she cooks for lunch.
Watchful and wired,
he hangs on her every post.

Words Make Snow

 Feathers swirl outside my window,
Light on reams of random prattle.
With a whirring crunch, words make snow.

Crisp vellum with pencil yellow
Meet in stifled churning feeling.
Feathers swirl outside my window.

Petrified past he can’t let go
Cruel speech slashes sweet memory.
With a whirring crunch, words make snow.

Icy prose a pointed arrow,
bounces off this frozen facade.
Feathers swirl outside my window.

Expectations grim and narrow
Color the future bleak and blue.
With a whirring crunch, words make snow.

Thoughts profound no longer flow.
Coffee stains these dark wee hours.
Feathers swirl outside my window.
With a whirring crunch, words make snow.

Poems by Morgan Hensley

Note from the author can be found here

Cornus florida: Flowering Dogwood

The Yearling

Beagles bayed as they trotted out from dogwood grove
into frostslated meadow, glowing with dawn.
The hunt master followed in a red flash
on a retired race mare, Flowering Judas,
and looked out onto the briared valleys
surrounding a pound sheeted with sparse ice.

The hounds began to swirl and howl
at each other, confused by something unseen.
A stillness came over the pack before Pilot
broke off towards the swaying cattails
where a dappled yearling limped on three legs.

The pack chased Pilot and leapt on the fawn,
tore at its spots, bit its weak leg, pulled it down to them.
It hissed a breath through holes in its throat
while the pack picked at its hide until a blast
from a ratshot loaded revolver clapped through the valley.
The flaying hounds returned to the wood’s brim
where they caught the scent again and cantered off away from the pond.

The following morning the frost around the remains
was redtinged like a spilled sacrament.
Later that day the first snowfall buried the yearling
in winter until thawing March when what was left
spilled downhill into the pond, everything
except hooves, ribs, and a small skull with its jaw agape
beneath indifferent cattails.

The Flue 

Ancient hands, calloused and wrinkled like an old map,
pinch and pull paper into a plume,
and with a scratch and a spark, they light the edges
that flicker orange with air and burn
inward as white becomes black dust that falls
onto a nest of green kindling and splintered
stumps, hollowed by ant tunnels,
and stacked between burnt cherub andirons,
creating a wind that echoes against itself
along the sootglazed tunnel as the draft
tears apart the paper from which it came
and raises the pieces into the flurried sky
where they swirl in a vast darkness
that carries them off towards the dogwood grove.

Cicada Summer

The mulberry tree swarmed in breezeless June
as unearthed cicadas hummed through its vines.

I placed the sprinkler by the creek where grass was not as brown and stiff,
sharp against my small feet, and stood naked with my arms
held out like a crooked scarecrow, and closed my eyes,
pretending the fans of water were raindrops.

After bathing in the shallow creek I walked through boxwoods
to the dogwood grove where I pinched brown
redeyed shells off of wiltleafed trees.
Some I crushed with my thumb,
others I put in a jar with dirt and droughted grass,
like a burial, or rather a diorama of their lives.

One night, after picking shells, I stared through the window
in my playroom and saw the mulberry tree,
dry and lifeless.
So I knelt on the wine-red tiles, wove my fingers together,
closed my eyes like I had seen others do,
and tried to pray for rain, screaming please rain in my head
until my hands slipped apart and I began to cry,
tears leaving a trail down my cheeks.

 Sherman on the Shore
Flotsam rinsed mud from his stirrups.
The general turned to see
ruined Savannah smothered
under a pall of black smoke—
uprooted traintracks were necktied
around waxleafed magnolia trunks
that fenced in burning longseed cotton fields
where negroes gasped an elegy for John Brown
like a chorus of coughing shadows
as scattered salt and ash scalded the plowed earth
beneath choking farmers
who dropped their pitchforks and kneeled—
He held his breath,
grasped his sword,
bowed his head.
Sirens and fire bells tolled within him
as he sighed a closedeyed amen.

The river flowed off towards an island
where a dogwood sapling grew and
breathed in sunlight and coalsmoke
while the white sand was torn away
from its roots by the dark current.

Butterfly in Lexington

My memories begin in Lexington, Virginia where I am told my family used to own a house. I stood at the window. A warm spring shower clouded the glass and left trails and small beads that bent the green and gray world until it fit inside them. In between panes, a blackwinged thing flew around. My fingers traced its wings, larger than my small palms, that didn’t seem to move. The old glass between us was rippled, unsettled. When it dipped down the convex pane stretched and tore its wing to pieces before it rose again, mended.

When I try to rebuild the room around me, I picture a mantle and fireplace that may not have been there. I know that the wallpaper I put up, ivory with gilded wreaths intertwined, is borrowed from somewhere else to fill in spaces. All existence was brought down to a flat plane with a window at its center. That scene became an instant, full and circular, and without my knowing I trapped the butterfly in the window forever. I have tried to build a rainless garden for it to fly off to, a cast iron bench beneath a shady dogwood for it to land on. One day the glass may break or open a hole for it, but I will be gone by then and so will it.

Poems by Julian Ignacio-Canlas

Bio of the author can be found here.

An Expression of feminism

On the cover, the movie is known for its stark social commentary
and award-winning makeup. Before it starts, I sprinkle my popcorn
with salt and butter, and turn off the lights with sullied fingers;
veiling the streetlamp-lit night, with a sullied mouth the female
protagonist blurts out:

I am not a coat hanger.

A menacing figure facing the camera, full-bodied, from head to
knees. She goes against the sunlight, but even in the dark, you
can see her frown and the mass of lines of loose skin beautifully
etched out as if her face was fashioned out to imitate an erudite’s
wisdom, her cerulean stare stark like the taste of salt.

You will love this movie, they told me during an Easter dinner,
each one at different instances: first by the one who always
arrives impeccably early to a fault, while I put the lamb into
the oven, with plastic gloves, an apron, and a tight bun revealing
veiny temples only my closest can see. Secondly by the friend
keen to learn the secrets of creating the perfect sauce, but fails
to remember the mixture of flour and fat, that the gravy should be
stirred under high heat. The last one came when I was slicing the
meat into thinner strips, her suggestion met with approving nods
from the other two–sharp as knives–seemingly supportive of my
choice, as if the movie could carve a new mind-frame, as my body
transitions from man to woman.

To them, I used to be gay, with my gutsy stare and my guttural voice.

I watch like creating a new reality; like a man, she breastfeeds her
child, as a form of liberation. All humans are born female, and I
imagine a man lactating, exposing his breasts like all men do in public;
he breastfeeds his child while sitting on a mall bench next to a lingerie
store with a scantily-clad model slender as a straw, with one sexy
stare going on forever. And I see the guard coming as a silhouette—
a man or a woman?

Not bossy, but assertive, with a focus that sends shivers down the
spine, a friend told me, or is he a colleague, or a fellow reviewer–I
forget. An expression of feminism that defies gender—gender-
defying—gravity-defying… a loose fruit that could either fall down
or stay tight—to be or not to be–to be born or not yet–yet to be.
To be a man or a woman–gender-defying.

An expression of feminism. I snap back into reality at the sound of
a scream—contextless, since I’ve lost track of the movie. A sexy frown
of award-winning makeup. Strength defined through appearance.
Compared to her, my face is smooth, no crevices and a seeming ounce
of remaining baby fat. I may be contextless–neither a man nor a woman.
I drink the pronoun to wash away the taste of salt and butter and wash
my hands, bony and male, to keep my expression of strength.
  

On the metaphysics of destiny

 Colouring the sky into a sea of red
is a metaphysical exercise that I
indulge myself into, when the die
rolls into a one, instead of a six I
can cut in half like a pear to reveal
a perfect core inside, pure as a
sunlit room veiled under a green
curtain so tacky it makes my grand-
mother’s dress look like a Picasso painting–
a piece of art like time. Across art,
I can see the reflection of the windows
and the sky through the portrait’s glass
cover. Metaphysics doesn’t indulge itself
in time, for it considers time the same way
it considers the space of an upturned
sky, where an abundance of bald
dandelions plucked by the northern
wind rains pollens to the bosomy earth.
You see the thread of fate as if it enlaces
you like the silk of a meaning, a word
with one linguistic notion lingering forever
in everyone’s tongue. To teach is to
taught but to preach is not to praught.
When I preached the importance of
destiny, I preached it in an empty church–
a metaphysical purgatory unbound by
time and space–or is it time and space
itself? I marry my footsteps before the
wind and water take them–the memories of
my past life–or a different reality. When
I have a child I will give him , or her, my
hand-me-downs as brand new artifacts–
brand-new to me, so that my thread
won’t tie with his. He
will marry his own footsteps,
not the earth on which he grew, nor
the upturned sky that commenced
the metaphysical exercise of painting.
Old to a fault, when time has failed to
pursue my favourite past-times, I will
see the moon as a dot of one in the die,
like a pearl, its surface the same as the white
core reflecting stars vanishing into time and space.

Tristan and his mum’s voyage to the great elsewhere

 Tristan and his mum’s voyage to the great elsewhere Mum and I left Dad’s house on fire
when I was nine, in a night barefoot procession of cicada hymns.
 

Tristan’s internal crisis

Your love will never be enough, unsatisfying like a poor
wife’s wedding ring. Even mosquitoes prefer to suck on
corpses at night to die like shanty kids. When you try to
undo your dead father’s sins, you will end up repeating
them. The alcohol never dries out, trickling with blood
and sweat into your skin.

Wings clink like uprooted burning homes, and you dream
to fly in different languages. Your eyeballs burn from trying
and failing, and the water inside the kettle boils past its
burning point; their perfumes tickle your ears. Words
uncoil like skin sheds, spilling out of your mouth:

C’est quoi ta raison d’être?

A bed of molluscs

Tonight, a high tide—even the thin strip of shingles
where bits of grass grew was moved by the waves.
The sea even looked more majestic than usual—
different as if seeing the ragged landscape of blue as
a new being, coated from mud and the slick breath of
the Atlantic, which knocked boats against each other
and slipped its fingers into Tristan’s shirt—welcoming its
cold touch keeping him awake, when shucking scabs did
nothing but imitate an expression of pain weaker than
the burn of drinking salt. As he walked, the waves
slithered across his bare feet and retraced his footsteps—
the moon painting a silhouette of his experience:
the coat of salt on his skin after a spray, the crashing
of water against the rocks like a chant, a form of prayer
in the ritual of transformation:
here Tristan lies on mossy rocks, hidden by the elevations—
his frame—peeled naked—welcomes the ocean, with one
arm dangling in the water, like a curved path from fins
to feet. The reflection of the moon spackles over the
indigo of his eyes with the colour of devotion, and it
fades to purple. The craggy surface prickles his back,
cracking old and new wounds open until a streak of
vermilion comes out. But his skin glistens, as if newly-
formed. To bear the bite of salt, he forms muffled cries,
revealing the white coral quality of his teeth. Tristan lets
out an airy gasp, as the water rises to his temples, his
hair like seaweed. When he ceases to cry and pant at
the sounds of the ocean, he becomes a bed of molluscs
covered in shells, until the crack of dawn.

Poems by Trevor Hart

Trevor is currently a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University.

 Always In Fall

I quietly observe myself
spending more time with the wind,
Watching it carry the leaves
who trade colors
for death, cracked and crinkled
piling along sidewalk edges.

Mornings I smell the cold
tail-wind night left dragging,
as I race cars to Broad on my bike,
reading four-ways
the way they can’t.
I could close my eyes
tunneling through traffic.

Afternoons I realize
I only notice the half-naked-tilt
of the trees,
lopsided, as I balance
the curb like a tight rope walker
in training.

And it seems,
night always shows the sky-
a hollow-cavern,
shielding nothing
for those who follow
whatever road will get them out of
the city noise,
to the last scatter of smug
where we lost count
of the stars, trying to figure
our way home.

Words

You sent me letters that were hardly letters needed
to spell out what went wrong and you’re right

to not know why I don’t know

anymore than a squirrel burying acorns in Autumn
only finding a few with the rest left to crack and root

in Spring I hardly feel alive I can’t bury the thought
of you to find you again to lose you again

I find myself seeing somewhat of nothing
but the four walls of my apartment I hardly even see

at all from my bed I lay all day thinking
thoughts build thoughts that cave

O Virginia you are for lovers
who have never been anywhere

In My Truck, On the Highway 

I drove a spider
a crawling hitchhiker
shielded
by my windshield
at 65 miles
an hour

But have still seen my life go
faster
365 days
for 21 years

I’ve held onto napkins
that melted in the rain
dripping ink that read
I finally feel sane
going insane

And who is to blame
moths for hugging porch lights
trying to reach the moonlight
a lost child
turned loose
through turnstiles

Grown Up Lying Down

I find comfort in darkness,
solitude in a vast shadow overgrowing
through the daylight,
falling in slow motion,
failing to blanket the sun.

At dusk, I’ll wait
until my eyelids fall
lashes interlaying
like the fingers of hands held.

A million feathers
kept together
by the will of a stitch
or two.

Can it be true
that we have grown more
lying down?

I can wait for you.
If you don’t mind
I follow the moles
and leave to live a life

Sweet Alto Cry

On my window pane, cilantro leaves dip
through flat shades pressing up against glass,

feeling for the heat of the sun. Sunshine crisp
rays in limbo behind thick cumulous.
I want to tell those leaves I, too, feel myself

wilting, but I’m too busy to stand.
I sit. I write. I read. Cool jazz to help
ease my mind, but my body wants to dance and bend.
Be-bop laptop speakers wail with sweet
alto cries. Bird and Brubeck. The ways of jazz
before me live in the tap of my feet
Keys collapse and I flee from Books at last.
I weave my skateboard sideways cross full lanes.
Horns horns horns. I groove my tail. Free and sane.

Poems by Kevin Sharp

A bio of Kevin can be found here.

lol at the absurdity of naming an airport after Reagan

Watching airplanes take off.
Take another picture. Awkwardly
make out with me. But
forget it ever happened.
Let the sunset swallow us whole.

Or maybe we could learn the
language of swallows. What do
birds say all the time?

Probably stuff about
how all their songs sound the same.

Leave the turn signal on. It’s fine.
I’ll always go left. I don’t really
have anywhere ever to go,
really.

Powerball Lost

This is when the supermarket announces the names of the dead.
This is before you had visions
of the lottery winners.
This is after the fifty-first state
went missing.
This isn’t your car, is it?
The one we’re driving in?

I’ve never seen the coastline.
Everything links up at some point.
The holy fruits fall at our feet.
California in the fifties, those
cars like psalms. I forgot the words.

Birds are ending it all.
They broke up with their boyfriends.
I watch them fall onto the car
that isn’t yours. This afternoon sun could make martyrs
order another round of drinks.

Weak Signals

I’m an obsessive reincarnation
of myself. I’m a reflection

in the rain outside your apartment,
I don’t recognize myself.

Who’s the patron saint of not worrying so much? What’s the url,
I’ll look it up on whois.

Dead afternoons can come back
to life if you worry your email
like rosaries.

Dead nights stay registered
to websites that never load right.

Wi-fi in America is awful.
Everything always takes always.