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Hazardous Materials
Lawrence Kessenich

Adnan al-Sayegh upset the militia, and after reading was threatened
with having his tongue cut out and with death.
~ From an Iranian poet’s biography

Each time I mail a sheaf of poems
the clerk asks, “Is there anything dangerous
or hazardous in here?” I’m tempted
to joke, “Not unless you consider poetry dangerous.”
But then I think of Adnan in Basra, his poems
exploding like car bombs in the minds of his
conservative countrymen, his flight to London,
his exile in a world of poetry as pastime.

For us, it’s all play, metaphors numerous as
cereal brands in a supermarket’s fluorescent aisles.
We’re free to choose exactly what we say and when.
Imagine a world where words are serious as bullets,
where when you read your poems can determine if
you’ll ever read again. Would I put my life
on the line? Am I brave enough to bleed for poetry?
These are questions to be asked

in the privacy of your own mind. Like the time I heard
a woman scream down the hall from my apartment
and had to decide if being courageous was as important
to me as knowing I would be sitting there the next
weekend, on the sofa with my coffee and newspaper.

Lawrence Kessenich won the 2010 Strokestown International Poetry Prize. In addition to the Sewanee Review, his poetry has been published in Atlanta Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Ibbetson Street and many other magazines. His chapbook Strange News was published by Pudding House Publications in 2008. In 2012, his poem “Underground Jesus” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His first full-length book, Before Whose Glory, was published by FutureCycle Press in March 2013. Kessenich has also published essays—one of which was featured on NPR’s This I Believe in 2010 and appears in the anthology This I Believe: On Love—and he has had plays produced in New York, Boston and Durango, Colorado.

It was one of the worst happenings in my life.
The dentist started to thrust his shiny forceps
into my numbed, propped-up, and bloody mouth,
to extract the first of four teeth in just one session.
The nurse stood ready with her intimidating tube
so she could siphon out all the gushing blood.

Then it happened! How horrible! So hard to tell!
The perfect poetic phrase fluttered into my mind—
so perfectly formed, so striking, and so beautiful!
My tablet was in the waiting room—my pen beneath
the blue, now blood-speckled apron they put on me.

My lips were Novocain-numbed, so I could not yell
this perfect poetic phrase—no tape recorder anyway.
These absorbed dental professionals would not know
what to do with such literary excellence even if they
understood—or cared about—what I was trying to say.

As with all unattended beauty, my perfect poetic phrase
flittered away, as a grieving butterfly at twilight’s hiding.
And all that remained for me was this sad, sad antidote.
The dentist charged me for stealing my four endowed teeth.
I’ve filed a law suit for laxity in my loss of priceless poetry.

Merle P. Martin is author of 14 books including five of poetry. He is an Emeritus Professor in Business Computer Systems, and spent 35 years in the technology field. He has degrees from U. C. Berkeley, Stanford, and Texas A&M. Originally from San Francisco, Dr. Martin resides in Spokane, WA.

Sometimes I wonder
if the greatest novel ever written
lies in the desk
of the author’s great-granddaughter,
its pages yellowing
along with the rejection slips.

Martin McCaw has won the Global Short Story Competition and second prize in the Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction. He and his wife live in Walla Walla, Washington, where they devote their lives to pleasing a cat.

Richard Schnap

I didn’t recognize him at first
Standing before me at the check-out line
Wondering why I didn’t say hello

For he wore a new pair of glasses
Held together by a strip of tape
And looked like he’d aged a decade

He told me he was still on disability
And still lived in the same cheap room
As he fumbled with a handful of food stamps

And still longed to find a girlfriend
Who could learn to love a cripple
Maybe someone crippled herself

Richard Schnap is a poet, songwriter and collagist living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His poems have most recently appeared locally, nationally and overseas in a variety of print and online publications.

In the Ring
Jeff Burt

Punch blunted, I swung a hook
hoping to catch his cheek
like a trout fly-flopping
but his hand flared and sheared
the fist into fingers.
His haymaker followed
and from pictures it looked
like he had broken the bale,
hair zagging in all possible planes,
but while the stroke orbited
to the side of my face
the short accelerant uppercut
primed his chin and chop
went his teeth and flop
went his lips and plop
went his body and I staggered
to the girl I had won,
a knockout everyone said,
and she did take my breath,
brought numb concussion to the fore
when she walked past
to comfort the dizzied
slack-jawed loser.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, and works in manufacturing. He has work in Windfall, Nature Writing, Rhino, and The Write Room.

David Pring-Mill

I got you a flower
It's made out of world
That's 100% authentic world
Not the fake stuff.

Now accept this symbol
and watch it wilt.
I never said
these rituals weren't weird;
I just wanted to celebrate,
To be alive in life.

David Pring-Mill is a writer and filmmaker. His film "Strangers in the Snow" won Best Romantic Comedy at the 2011 Mountain Film Festival. He recently completed production on a sitcom pilot. His writings have appeared or are forthcoming in places as diverse as Poetry Quarterly, Eunoia Review, Page & Spine, Mad Scientist Journal, The Higgs Weldon, openDemocracy, Independent Voter Network, and elsewhere. Follow him online: @davesaidso, pring-mill.com.

Breast Cancer
J. K. Durick

Still a couple in all this we sit quietly
Holding hands in the waiting room,
Each time they call a name someone
Gets up and goes in, always in twos
A husband or partner or friend along,
This is not a time to be alone, even
Filling out the form is a two person
Job, medical histories become illegible
Like this, there isn’t music playing,
There’s just the hum of the hospital
Busily playing itself out around us,
This is a place set aside for silence,
A frightening silence, always listening
For the name we know they will call.

Over Here
J. K. Durick

Over here in the breakdown lane we
Know vulnerability, the weaknesses
Of man and machine, of flat tires and
Erupting radiators, dead engines and
Empty tanks, we know being passed by
Watching the passersby, speed by, feel
Their vibration and tug, over here, we
Know a loneliness reserved for the road
Become the person they identify with,
The very person they never want to be.
This must be analogous to graver things
The dark night of the soul, the pink slip
At work, the rejection slip in the mail,
The final divorce papers, that phone call
The frightening lab results, the dreaded
Diagnosis; in some ways we are all over
Here in the breakdown lane, leaning on
Our cars, phone to our ears, trying to get
Someone, someone to notice us and help.

These Cells
J. K. Durick

Sentenced as we are to these cells for
an indeterminate number of years
a lifetime, we make the best of it all
part pretending, part realizing, we get
on with our lives, made up of them
we are in the end the sum of these parts
they’re part of us, we are part of them
each one’s elaborate design, functions
plays a role as part of this organized
machine we are, dividing, multiplying
they’re part of the fragile equation
we’ve become, part of our sentence here
the bars on the windows, the closed doors
our jailers and finally our executioners
they define us, hold us, and limit us
cells divide, then divide uncontrollably
the lump, the biopsy, and then the surgery
the sum of the parts starts to come apart.

J. K. Durick is a writing teacher at the Community College of Vermont and an online writing tutor. His recent poems have appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal, Black Mirror, Third Wednesday, Shot Glass Journal, and Orange Room.

Christmas Tree Poem
David R. Cravens

trout are fish, and like all fish
they live in water
but in different parts of the U.S.

this was from an essay
my first teaching job
CMU—Expository Writing
(Harvard on the Highway)
and I was reading it
after a dinner
when a department adjunct
and told the waitress
hey, I didn’t get no fork

the essay went on…
trout eat water
and small land insects
such as crayfish and crustaceans

telling this story
to a friend in Anthropology
I was cut short by a student
who knocked
stepped in
asked my friend this-or-that
about the next exam
and was on her way out
when she stopped
looked into a case of arrowheads
and said:
what are all them
little rock Christmas trees for?

David R. Cravens received his undergraduate in philosophy at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and his master’s degree in English literature from Southeast Missouri State. He was the recipient of the 2008 Saint Petersburg Review Prize in Poetry, the 2011 Bedford Poetry Prize, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee as well as a finalist for Ohio State University’s The Journal William Allen Creative Nonfiction Contest. He’s published extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad.

A House of Cards
Michael Keshigian

He misses those evenings
with the lights turned down low,
returning home late
from a part-time job,
his mother at the kitchen table,
tight lipped, holding her breath
until he entered,
her thin fingers interlocked,
thumbs rhythmically twirling,
finally asking questions
that provoked his perspective
as she made him a sandwich.
The rest of the family slept
as he chatted, she listened,
feigning a degree of comprehension
to give him a sense of security
until the grandfather’s clock
struck midnight,
making them realize
the day’s impending fatigue
after the twelve count ended.
She understood he was not typical,
choosing music over movies,
philosophy over financial,
creativity over commerce,
commitment over coercion,
and like few others,
he will not find comfort
within the current standards.
But until she entered
the silent world of her own mind,
she had him convinced
he was never alone.

Michael Keshigian’s published poetry books include: Eagle’s Perch, Wildflowers, Jazz Face, Warm Summer Memories, Silent Poems, Seeking Solace, Dwindling Knight, Translucent View. He is a 5- time Pushcart Prize and 2-time Best Of The Net nominee. His poetry cycle, Lunar Images, set for Clarinet, Piano, Narrator, premiered at Del Mar College in Texas, also performed in Boston and Moleto, Italy. Winter Moon, a poem set for Soprano and Piano, premiered in last fall (2013) in Boston. michaelkeshigian.com

for artist Martha Wakefield’s slip series

Keith Tornheim

Once you were just a slip of a girl
in a striped play dress.
Then came time for a simple white slip
underneath a party dress.
And then you grew to fill lace,
black as well as white,
and even pink or red.

With motherhood came arguments
over slips of all kinds,
wardrobe functions and potential malfunctions,
with me, your daughter,
the slippery slope of when one was needed,
and later when one by itself,
despite current trends,
was not…really…quite…enough.

When you began to slip away
from this world,
to simplify your dressing,
your slips were thrown away,
while others were ignored.
At last you slipped from my grasp,
but not my thoughts.
Your slips reappear on my canvas,
even the red one.

Keith Tornheim, a biochemistry professor at Boston University School of Medicine, has been published in Ibbetson Street, Spare Change News, Lyrical Somerville (The Somerville News), and Poetica. His poems have been a part of High Holiday and other services of his congregation. www.shirhadash-ma.org/poetry.html.

Fourth Grade Dance
Beatriz Fernandez

At nine, I’m the second tallest girl in my class,
feet the same size as my mother’s already,
wearing my cousin’s cast-off dress
with its scratchy cheap lace collar
wilting in the stifling tropical heat.
Finally the music blares out; as usual the boys
get to choose, so I turn my shoulder
in a show of indifference and watch him
out of the corner of my eye—

“He’s little, like me” my petite friend Marty
tells me is one reason she likes him,
and I can't help but agree—he’s perfect for her
—Eric Krieger—a half head shorter than me,
a bird-boned boy with crisp chestnut hair,
warm brown eyes behind Buddy Holly glasses.

He comes sliding across the scuffed
hardwood gym floor in his penny loafers
headed right toward Marty as I knew he would,
but at the last minute, swerves,
darts toward me—and holds out his slim hands,
a half-crooked smile on his face,
a questioning sound in his throat.

I never remember what happens next—
but I like to think my Cinderella moment
ends, for once, just right—
as we twirl around and around,
past the pommel horse and piles of mats,
past the PA system horns’ cacophonous crackling,
Eric’s surprisingly strong fingers
grasping mine—and not a pumpkin in sight.

Beatriz F. Fernandez is a reference librarian at Florida International University in Miami. She was the grand prize winner of Writer’s Digest 2nd Annual Poetry Award and recently placed 2nd in Spark: A Creative Anthology’s Contest Two. She has read her poetry on South Florida’s NPR news station, WLRN, and in May she was the featured writer on the Latina Book Club blog. Her poems have appeared in Verse Wisconsin, Cyclamens and Swords, When Women Waken, Spark: A Creative Anthology, Label Me Latina/o, Northern Liberties Review, and Writer’s Digest. Contact her at www.beasbooks.blogspot.com or tweet her @nebula61.

The Big It
Ray Greenblatt

Let it get me
after a good meal

under an elm with
a favorite book

at the crescendo
of a Brahms symphony

like a beached fish who
has lost direction

on the sand in the sun
by azure water

kid with pail & shovel
back to the beginning

with a smile that can't crack
a stiff fishy lip

final flick of a gill
and goodbye.

Ray Greenblatt has written a few Quick Fictions for the BLM, but this is his first poem. He has recently been published in: Coup D'Etat, Gutter Eloquence, New Laurel Review and Schuylkill Valley Journal.

Picking Flowers
Laura Rodley

You can pick the flowers
I tell Etta, but we find
only unopened daffodils.
She picks five and we
set them in water
hoping they’ll open.
By the time she goes home
they are still closed
but she takes them anyway
and seated in her car-seat
she opens one closed daffodil
so every petal is open, unharmed.
Look, I say, pointing
to the yellow cup
that’s what fairies
use as a cup to drink
and we both peer inside
to see the nectar.

Rodley's work has won a Pushcart Prize, been nominated for a Pushcart three times, and four times for Best of the Net, published in Boston Literary Magazine, Hunger Mountain, Massachusetts Review, Best Indie Lit New England, among many others. Her chapbook, Rappelling Blue Light was nominated for Mass Book Award by publisher Finishing Line Press and won honorable mention in New England Poetry Society's Jean Pedrick Award. She is editor of As You Write It, a Franklin County Anthology, Volumes I to III, a compilation of seniors' memoirs.

A Brief Notice
Yuxing Xia

I mentioned
the weather
how good
the food was
better not notice
the coupon
was expired

Yuxing Xia is a writer from Ann Arbor, Boston, Huaihua, Philadelphia, and Zhanjiang (in no particular order of preference). His senseless scribbles can be found at yuxingxia.wordpress.com. He hopes to retire to an ostrich farm.

Jeff Flynn

Neither gravedigger knew
the name of the dead.
Withered as winter trees;
tenuous as shadows;
they make the beds with a backhoe;
and long handled shovels.
Then, they make their exits.

Waiting on a nearby hill
for the living to depart,
the dead’s last escorts
lean into the wind;
leaning, smoking, their
long hair, alive, flying
in the air.

Descending the hill to
administer their final
offices, white lettering on
black Tee-shirts declare:
Interment Technician
The last person
To let you down

Jeff Flynn is a librarian and works at the New England | Law Boston, and part-time dog walker. He lives in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Ed Severson

The blazing sun made me squint.
Fred's face and neck were starting to burn.
I could hear a radio in an apartment
telling people to stay away from crowds.

All the movies you went to
had a short reel in the middle
that showed kids' heads sticking out of Iron Lungs,
big as boilers, that breathed for them.
The faces in the mirrors above them looked scared.

Fred and I stood on the sidewalk across the street,
staring at a hearse that was parked
in front of an apartment building.
Nothing was happening.

Then two men came out of the front door,
slowly carrying a small coffin down the steps.
They opened the back door of the hearse,
slid the coffin in and drove away.

It was so hot and still
that it felt like I was being sneaked up on.

What We Heard
Ed Severson

When I was a boy, my barber had a teenage son.

We heard that they went fishing on a nearby lake.
The son stood, tripped and tipped the boat upside down.
They couldn't swim.

There was hollering and splashing.
Fishermen rowed over, pulled the father from the water.
They did not find the son for hours.

My barber was gone for awhile.
When he returned he would snip a bit,
pull off my sheet and say, "You're done."

Someone had seen him rowing on the lake
where the boat tipped over, peering into the water,
as if he'd spotted something everyone else had missed.

Ed Severson served four years in the U.S. Navy, earned a degree in English from the University of Arizona and spent twenty years as a reporter and columnist for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. In retirement, he has written many poems and published many poems and has published a few in obscure magazine.

The First Street
Elizabeth Crowell

We played hide and seek,
rules reviewed, fists offered
for counting off, one to be it, the rest
to tuck our bodies in tall gardens,
well-mowed yards, oily garages,
until the seeker stopped his count.

He pushed off from the coarse-barked lark
and began to pluck us one by one back out.
The last of us, shaped too much to some familiar place
we couldn’t see in the coming dark,
made us think of never being found.

Parents, hands on their elbows,
would come to look with us and call his name
so longingly that thirty years later
when my son dies, I recognize
the echo of that pitch, the lit porch
off of which I step into the night.

Elizabeth Crowell

Our son climbs inside the beach cooler
and slams the lid on himself.
The tomb fits him perfectly.
When we unfold him
first, like a precious cloth
then yank him by the arm back out,
we tell him that he could die
doing something like that.

He came into the world at a pound,
his heart so open they stapled it shut,
his intestine wound on his outside.
The nurse said she’d never seen a sicker child.
It could have gone either way,
like a day or the weather or a score.
We lived like that a long time.

Now we make it quite clear to him
you don’t come back when you die.
His light body slides across
the shining, gray floor,
the foot-long scar on his belly
the odd color of old putty.
He cries and cries and we,
as he was in his first few months,
are breathless and silent.

Elizabeth Crowell was born and raised in NJ. She has an MFA in poetry from Columbia University and taught high school English for a number of years. Her work has been published most recently in The Worcester Review, The Sheepshead Review, and The Healing Muse. “The Tag,” her essay, was the 2011 Bellevue Literary Review winner of the Burns Archive Prize for Non-Fiction, judged by Jerome Groopman. She lives outside Boston with her wife and two children.

Open Convertible
Mary Pacifico Curtis

can’t tell you which American beauty
it was—the top was down
and it came with my brother
in a pressed white T
I’d barely met him but instantly saw
the almond eyes with dark
bags our father called valises

after my visit with our father, his mother, his sister
in their brick house with its front and back porches
its elm trees, shaded cushion chairs and the hammock
I occupied in my white brown and blue
polka dot bikini, sipping the Tom Collins
my father poured for me as I considered
family and the smell of mothballs and Pledge

my brother in his fine fruit of the loom
burst into the house with cheerleader gusto
gathered me into that car like a kid from school
generous with smiles and good-guy swagger
he loaded me in luggage and linen suitted formal
for flight in the seventies grinned sidelong at me
as he gunned across the Brooklyn Bridge

—he asked about my favorite subjects I like English
pulling at my collar poetry and fiction. I teach
he said with a grin
kind of him to take me to the airport
no problem—he might have said
I really liked having a brother that hour that open car
a sibling sudden as the summer breeze.

Poetry and prose by Mary Pacifico Curtis has been published by The Rumpus, LOST Magazine, The Boston Literary Magazine, the Naugatuck River Review, the Pitkin Review, Calyx and The Crab Orchard Review amongst others. Her work is also included in the Las Positas Literary Anthology, The Times They Were A'Changin' and The Widows Handbook. When not writing, Mary leads a Silicon Valley life as CEO of a PR and branding firm, and as an angel to technology startups.

Students choose any seat they want.
Some sit on the floor, or positioned
on the counter, lean back against
the windows. They eat from sack
lunches, drink tea, water, lattes.
The teacher is a round man
who sits at his desk, twisting to see
who has arrived in time for roll.
He has considered jumping ship
and floating with the current to shore.
Already, his legs are dangling
over the gang rail. He is reminded
that loose ships don’t always sink
but they do take on a lot of water.

Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. He has four books of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press at Washburn University, Wren's House, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas, and Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead from Aldrich Press in Torrance, California. His fifth book, Waving Mustard in Surrender, will be released by New York Quarterly Books later in 2014. He is on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place and is an editor with The Little Balkans Review.

Senior Momentum
Doug Mathewson

So deal with my undergarments and pull up my pants.
Tuck in my shirt tails and do the button.
Fiddle with my belt and I’m done.
That’s enough, I’ve lost interest.
The zipper can be for another day.

Table for One
Doug Mathewson

A table for one is just no fun.
Traveling on business you learn.
Tired of hotel restaurant’s snappy themes
* Pumpernickel Pub
* Captain Flapjack's Galley
* Blarney Stone Buffet
Break the cycle I said to myself!
Go to the nearby “Hard Rock Cafe.”
Have pizza with Elvis and Elton,
(Little Betty Boop won’t eat a thing!)
Quickly seated, so few solo nook request
Would I have a monster bacon-burger with a Gene Simmons?
Maybe a cherry-coke with Norma Jeane,
(her skirt blowing wildly between breathless sips.)
My table was between the restrooms,
Behind the coat rack, but it had a theme!
The obituary of Maureen Starkey,
Liverpool hairdresser and first wife of Ringo Starr.
Conversationally we were well matched.

Doug Mathewson

neighbor goes by
big pickup truck
dog out window
Creedence playing loud

Doug Mathewson has rejected the advice “write what you know” since he knows nothing. Most recently his work has appeared in Right Hand Pointing, Cloud City Press, Postcards Prose & Poems, riverbabble, and Jersey Devil. He is senior editor of Blink-Ink and runs Special Ops. for Ms. Kitty Wang.

Sheila Tzerman

There’s silence in the spaces while they eat,
juicy chewings of love cooked chicken breast sprawled over risotto,
on a pink platter like naked Aphrodite in a conch shell.

Bent spines, once like two young braided ficus trees,
the trunks tightly entwined when they were pliable,
now like ocean hewn drift wood,
an indistinguishable sculpture of weathered ease.

Encrypted glances,
caramelized bits and pieces of couple language,
between clatter of table clearing and the click of the remote,
a nightly collaboration of the same two silver spoons cupped in the dishwasher.

They split a bag of buttered popcorn.
She yawns and her tired eyes kiss his brow,
good night as he snores into the arms of Aphrodite.

Dropped kernels testify their tryst.

This was what all the widowed women at the opera pined for,
when they chatted with her the evening before.

Sheila Tzerman is a freelance writer who has studied creative writing at Brooklyn College and Central Piedmont Community College. Her personal essay, "Can Multigenerational Living Benefit Health", has been published at caregivers.com. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, Marc, and genuine mutt, Amber. When she's not tickling the page she enjoys yoga, kayaking, traveling and digging in her garden.

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