Paul Smith, “Nocturne for a Drawbridge”

Paul Smith is a civil engineer who has worked in the construction racket for many years. He has traveled all over the place and met lots of people. Some have enriched his life. Others made him wish he or they were all dead. He likes writing poetry and fiction. He also likes Newcastle Brown Ale. If you see him, buy him one. His poetry and fiction have been published in Convergence, Homestead Review, Clementine, Literary Orphans, and other lit mags.

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Nocturne for a Drawbridge

At nighttime
when your brothers sleep
their fixed spans pinned
so they can’t budge
the tender’s eyes droop low
and shut
while yours get bright
and then look up
and see the sky illuminated
a billion stars light up the night
to free your cantilevered frame
from the pinions
that hold it tight
and loosen it so you’re upright
then, perpendicular, you see
the realm of man
from which you’re free
not him not fate not geometry
dictate to you
how you should be
you flex your limbs
as traffic stops
where no ships pass
and horns honk loud
at the peculiarity
the rarity
of your perpendicularity
then alas
you go back down
your bascule gears backtrack until
you rest upon
the abutment sill
now traffic ebbs
and traffic flows
on your girders
your brief unrest
has passed
your servitude has not
it lasts until
the sky is full of light again
and you are free
from us and gravity

 


 

 

 

Laura Stringfellow, “Full Moon, St. Augustine”

Laura Stringfellow writes both verse and prose poetry, holds an MFA in creative writing, poetry, and hails from the very humid southern United States. Recent publications have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals, including Déraciné, Right Hand Pointing, and Nine Muses Poetry.

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Full Moon, St. Augustine

     Hundreds of lights reflect off a sea that refuses them. The water has its own house whose doors are open to few. The street lamps look docile and inviting, but this is the same bay where, four hundred years ago, a hundred French soldiers were massacred by the Spanish who agreed to spare them only if they were Catholic or if they were useful.

     I imagine them to be bones at the bottom, or long ago taken into the deep and made into excrement. Across the bay, tourists wait to drink from the Fountain of Youth in their hopes to confirm history. They admire what they find nostalgic—the strange life of the buildings, the sorrel walls of the infamous Fort Marion, still cold with the voices of the captured.

     Slowly, the tide recedes, exposing darker sand, clumps of shell and brown coral. Gulls step cautiously into the water. A porpoise jumps a half-compass. It seems that the sea circles under the tow the way birds do over landfills. The bridge rises, a jack knife that threatens those who disregard the bay. The moon hovers overhead with the illusion of stillness.

 


 

 

 

Liam Strong, “asking my father why he collects broken conch shells”

Liam Strong is a transgender nonbinary writer and the editor in chief of NMC Magazine, Northwestern Michigan College’s creative arts magazine. They work on the editorial board of Random Sample Review and currently work as an English tutor and teaching assistant. You can find their works in Impossible Archetype, Dunes Review, Monday Night, and 3288 Review.

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asking my father why he collects

broken conch shells

it’s why you only pinch morels;
you never yank them like ingrown hairs.

spiders and ants may cloister within
but isn’t that another kind of sheltering?

the apse of shells can hold spines
of families who aren’t family.

snails are persnickety. they loan homes
like tents for weddings. the domicile

of flesh harbors a marriage between
the clinging of survival to a hearth

made in our own image. we take
what we can without kintsugi.

that is a last resort. imagine the cave
of your hand to your ear. in its absence

a furrow of whispers. so why not the conch,
who sings as if from a far place, so far

the translation is broken, not lost.
you cannot break a place.

 


 

 

 

Vikram Masson, “Chandrasekhar, The Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist, at Public School #11”

Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives near Richmond, Virginia. His poetry is featured or forthcoming in the Amethyst Review, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Young Ravens Literary Review, and The American Journal of Poetry.

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Chandrasekhar, The Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist, at Public School #11

Back in the 80s when there weren’t many
Indians around, when the kids would
slur you with a racist war whoop
(wah, wah, wah) thanks to Columbus’s
error, the Hindu Cultural Society
honored Chandrasekhar at P.S. 11.

He sat at a foul line on the grammar school’s
basketball court, facing a makeshift
dais under a torn hoop, flanked by
an audience in saris and soda bottle glasses.
His moist forehead streaked with a line of
red tilak and his burnt umber skin made me think
of a yogi dripping with transcendent wisdom
(though I learned later he was an atheist).

One officer and then another babbled on
about how proud they were that an Indian
scientist, nay, a sage, had plumbed the molten
logic of the stars. The scent of idli and bubbling pots
of sambar wafted from the bleachers as an
uncle tried to explain the Chandrasekhar Limit—
the maximum mass a white dwarf can bear
before collapsing into the light-eating
desolation of a black hole.

I forget everything the great man said, except for one thing.
At the end of the ceremony, my young mother
thrust me in front of him and asked,
Doctor, what words have you for our future?
He said, As you must have heard, I worked
very hard. Will your son do the same?

Could he have sensed the impending
collapse of my own star, and how a desperate
mother would sift for answers in the cracked
glass of whiskey bottles? Scald herself fingering
embers from the houses burned to the ground in my wake?
How she would explain away the loafing
and scheming of a son who was the future?
Did he see that this mother would gradually
desiccate, all the light sucked from her,
as she refused to give up on her promising boy
who could not bear such hope?

 


 

 

 

Vikram Masson, “My Father Comes for Diwali: 1973”

Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives near Richmond, Virginia. His poetry is featured or forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Young Ravens Literary Review, and The American Journal of Poetry.

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My Father Comes for Diwali: 1973

It was Diwali, and my father had arrived
from India two days before. I asked:
Should we garland the apartment with blinking lights?
Draw the goddess’s footprints in the vestibule
and prepare prasad for the puja?

Don’t indulge in such superstitions here, he said.
Only women fuss over that sort of thing. Instead
we would drink brandy with my graduate school friends
coming to celebrate with us in the evening.

Just two days in America and he charmed people who,
over the years, barely said a word to me.
The patrons of Walter’s Barber Shop sat transfixed
as he described how he healed wounded horses
in the 8th Punjab regiment, which battled
Axis troops in Africa. Old white men
in those days loved to talk about the war, and thought
Indians brought towels and served tea to British officers.
Your father is a gem of a man, a warrior, said Walter,
as he dabbed the remaining wisps of hot cream
off my father’s neck.

At Monteleone’s, the old Sicilian with a toothpick
dangling from his mouth so adored my father’s smile and
clipped accent that he gifted him a loaf of sausage bread.
My father held it up like a communion wafer and split it open,
releasing the fragrant steam of bread and meat.
He passed it out to paint-flecked carpenters
waiting for their coffee and buttered rolls.

***
That evening he dressed in a burgundy ascot
and Harris tweed jacket, looking like a brown Englishman.
On Diwali, we welcome Lord Rama’s return
from exile. One day my son will return from exile too,
he said to my friends. He talked politics:
Nehru’s failures, the foolishness of Nixon;
and the varieties of Indian mangoes–
Alphonso, Chaunsa, Dasheri, Langra–
the subtle differences in their sweet undersongs,
which ones to cut, which ones to suck.
As always, the women loved him most.
They leaned forward with hands on bare knees,
hair skirting cheeks, listening as if he were
another maharishi come to whisper mantras.
Would he dare try anything with one of them?

He left all the serving to me. I brought nips of brandy
and cups of trembling Jell-O crowned with Cool Whip.
When I dropped a Jell-O cup, he said, still clumsy
like a boy, and the auburn-haired woman
I had been eyeing for a year tousled my hair
and petted me like a kitten.

***
I stepped onto the fire escape.
Not a single firecracker disturbed the blue-black silence–
how different from India! The stink of curbside garbage
wafted up, and I wondered: How will I live again
with a father who thwacked my door
at 4:00 a.m. on frost-hardened Delhi mornings
to whip differential equations into my head;
who brought his mistresses to our bungalow
and took them with a rhythmic tuk tuk
on the teakwood settee, in earshot of my mother,
who sat knitting in the living room?

But I would never go back. Some months later
a monkey bit him outside the Kashi temple in Benares.
His body swelled, his handsome face erupted with pox,
and delusions scissored and shredded his mind.
My dear father, who commanded all things in his world,
who shaped me like a craftsman hammering gold–
felled by a rabid animal so I could begin to live.

 


 

 

 

Raymond Luczak, Five short poems

Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of twenty-two books, including Flannelwood (Red Hen Press) and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares & Rebels). He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Five short poems

DISTANCE

Time was ticking already when we first cast
messages into the electronic ether. Talking
face-to-face, we ghosts turned back into flesh.

Then came the 1,693 air miles between us,
the next 10.8 road miles between PDX
and your house, the last mile of walking my dog

on your streets, the stripping of our clothes.
You are now 8,077 miles away.
My heart is an odometer gone awry.

 

HEART RATE

On the elliptical I pushed down
harder, faster than I ever had.
My heart rate topped 171,

one heartbeat shy of my maximum.
Sweat cloaked all over my body.
I thought of water trickling down

into the yawp of my parched soul.
Floating in the hot tub, I thought of you.
My heart rate finally felt right.

 

MAPPINGS

In your silences emitting from the Milford Track,
I dream entire conversations with you
not in the language of speech or sign

but made entirely of touch: fingers weaving
in and out, hips brushing against each other,
shoulders huddling, eyes glancing now and then,

feet trying to match time with the world.
All I’ve got left in my hands is a map of ache.
How my weary feet long for your massage.

 

SPRINGING

The hours of sun grow a bit longer each day
I think of you. This winter of cold absences
will be a bad memory discarded in a shoebox,

much like my scruffed-up Red Wing boots
drying on a flattened cardboard box
salted white and peppered with pebbles.

It will too be gone once the first giggle of spring
rushes in through my screened windows,
carrying me closer to the summer of you.

 

LUSTER

In my hand is a rust-colored stone I’d lifted
from our walk along the shore of Discovery Bay.
It was a molten red against a bed of gray pebbles

as the waves lifted its blanket across them.
Dried 1,750 miles away, it’s lost its luster.
I pour water over it in a white rice bowl.

Fluorescent lights do not illuminate its beauty,
so my memory of it will have to do, much
like how I must remember your face glowing.

 


 

 

 

Darrell Petska, “For the Record”

Darrell Petska’s writing has appeared in Muddy River Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Star 82 Review, Verse-Virtual, and widely elsewhere (see conservancies.wordpress.com). Darrell has tallied a third of a century as communications editor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, forty years as a father, six years as a grandfather, and almost a half century as a husband. He lives outside Madison, Wisconsin.

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For the Record

They weren’t on anything,
weren’t on to anything,
just a couple crazy kids
on a tear toward tomorrow.

The world tried to stop them,
threw war and heartache at them,
dangled distrust’s worm before them,
but nothing could slow their course,

neither jobs nor houses, not the dictates
of church or state, not kids who blew in
and blew out on favorable winds,
not time because already they sat astride it,

spurring it on for all it was worth, past
grandkids blowing in to play at their feet
before blowing out the door, past doctors
shaking their heads and peddling nostrums,

past A and Z, love and death, moon and stars—
just a couple crazy kids on a tear, fueled
on blood and open space, holding to each other
as they breached tomorrow’s edge and traveled on.