Fires by Ted McCarthy

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And far back, fires. I tried to number them,
to give each one its own significance –
a huge event, a movie come to life,
each one a shot of communal adrenaline,
the emptying streets converging on a smoke
too black for chimneys, air’s breath-sucking heat,
a billowing, the spit of punched-out windows
and once, an oily blob of dragon’s phlegm,
a sun escaping from a cinema screen,
and grown-ups scattering like playground kids.
A visitation, talked about for weeks
in child-speak or the hushed tones of bereavement.

And then we were too old. We understood.
I knew that rumbling sound was rooms collapsing,
I’ve felt, not heard, it since too many times –
something internal tumbles floor by floor
and though you’re whole, you know yourself a shell.
It’s details now. The hush, the helplessness:
a woman sleepwalking along the footpath,
her neighbours linking arms to keep her back,
their faces grim with fear. Her strength; she moved
like a machine, her eyes fixed on a point
no one could see.

Today I couldn’t tell
which house it was, that row all of a piece.
Memory’s a town; expansion and neglect,
a gutting out, a scouring of the acrid,
a crowding at the heart; sometimes a stillness
waiting for decay to be complete.

 

 

Ted McCarthy is a poet and translator living in Clones, Ireland. His work has appeared in magazines in Ireland, the UK, Germany, the USA, Canada and Australia. He has had two collections published, ‘November Wedding’, and ‘Beverly Downs’.
His work can be found on http://www.tedmccarthyspoetry.weebly.com

 

Editor’s Note: As we process the images and experiences of the Camp Fire, we have noted that many among us were already living the effects of their “own personal Camp Fire,” which made them homeless, marginal, or at risk before the disaster. Thus, we include this offering from the UK on metaphorical “fires” in our lives, to recognize that disasters, collective and individual, continue and demand much of us.

#Mountains: The Mammogram Technician Asked if I Wanted to Take a Look by Andrea Potos

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Profile of a motherland–
sloping hill and veins bold
with blood ore,
rivers of light criss-
crossing and coursing
from view, I prayed
my eyes were true–
I saw no errant stone.

 

Previously published in Arrows of Light, Iris Press.

 

Andrea Potos is the author of eight poetry collections, including the forthcoming A Stone to Carry Home (Salmon Poetry), Arrows of Light (Iris Press), An Ink Like Early Twilight (Salmon Poetry), We Lit the Lamps Ourselves (Salmon Poetry) and Yaya’s Cloth (Iris Press). The latter three books received Outstanding Achievement Awards in Poetry from the Wisconsin Library Association. Her poems can be found widely in print and online. She received the William Stafford Prize in Poetry from Rosebud Magazine, and the Hearst Poetry Prize from the North American Review.

 

Original photograph by Rhonda Baer, courtesy of the National Cancer Institute. 

#Mountains: The Path by Stella Pierides

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At the top of the stairway snaking up the hill, a white-washed chapel and an olive tree. Blinding sunlight. Some way to go yet. The stony stairs are narrow, a couple of hands-width before the cliff falls steeply into the sea.

Slow down, there’s no hurry. Take a deep breath. Feel the rough warmth of the rock. The wind beating against it raises the fragrance of sage, of thyme and marjoram to the skies, erases the silence.

marble wings—
in the distance
windmill ruins

Feel the salt on your lips, the urgent wind tussling your hair.
This history book under your arm, so well-thumbed, leave it here, against that rock, someone coming after you might linger, take a look.

pillars of salt—
propping her foot
on a stone

And the pebble from Amorgos you kept in your pocket all those years, add it to the cairn over there, where the path widens. Let it go. The trail is moments like this, following the light, teetering on the edge of your desires, of your sorrows.
That bench at the top, see it now, under the olive tree? This is your goal. You can rest there. Wise, gentle Persephone will hold your hand.

embalming my tongue
I rest in the shadow
of the silver-leaved olive

 

 

Stella Pierides is a poet and writer born in Athens, Greece, now living in Neusaess, Germany and London, UK. She is the author of three poetry books: Of This World (Red Moon Press, 2017) and In the Garden of Absence (Fruit Dove Press, 2012), both of which received a Haiku Society of America merit award; Feeding the Doves (Fruit Dove Press, 2013). Her work has also appeared in numerous print and online journals and anthologies. Currently she manages the Per Diem: Daily Haiku feature for the Haiku Foundation.

 

Painting by Jenn Zed.

Who’s Keeping Track of our Dreams by Beth Gordon

Todd Klassy

You are chopping hard boiled eggs on Friday night while we discuss our certain sudden extinction, the vanishing whippoorwill and his mournful morning chant, our clocks blinking midnight because tornadoes serenaded our flooded streets. You sold gilt-edged bibles in North Carolina in 1973 when I was just a child listening to The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and Playground in My Mind, unable to separate those revolutionary messages.You prop up your broken laptop with a syrupy bottle of Southern Comfort retrieved from basement waters, still sticky with mold and spider webs, while we try to mix the ancient recipes: Comfort Colada, Comfort-On-The Rocks. Our ears popping from the journey, landing your least favorite part, we haven’t been in Kentucky for twenty-five years, but you never forgot the flies that laid their eggs on mash, how you waved them off, wings as black as Mississippi dirt, as green as Irish grass.

 

 

Beth Gordon is a poet, mother and grandmother, currently landlocked in St. Louis, MO. Her poems have been published in numerous journals including Into the Void, Noble/Gas, Five:2:One, SWWIM, Verity La, Califragile, Pretty Owl Poetry and Yes Poetry. She is the author of the chapbook, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe, published by Animal Heart Press. She is also Poetry Editor of Gone Lawn.

 

Photograph by Todd Klassy. 

Father’s Day: Mo/Fa Poems by Chella Courington

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Second Memory

An upward draft
catches Mama’s hem
at Forty-first & Twelfth
raising it in waves
around her knees
over her thighs
a pink-striped dress
dances like the awning
at Lida’s Cantina
when a man at the corner
clutching a boy’s hand
sees Mama naked
under her flying skirt
& I see he sees
wondering why
she doesn’t
hold it down
& he sees
me see him
winking
before the light
turns green.

 

Queen’s Bird

Two of each—cup, saucer, bread plate—
in lukewarm water, I wash away

thirty years of dust since Mother died.
At 42, uterine cancer like Queen Mary

bloody Mary quite contrary.
Why did you run away?

I thought I could find you by traveling
to Chicago, Barbados and Edinburgh.

Against the sun, I raise this porcelain
eyeing it for chips and cracks. Bone china

fired from bone ash like Mother’s gray powder
handed me in a bronze urn.

Or is this songbird cup glazed in blue
mere clay? My lips where once were yours.

 

Jeopardy

My father built biceps working for US Steel
smelting iron in heat that humbled men.

Now I could break his arm
over my knee, brittle as kindling.

My father used to let me walk up his body
balancing my hands on his fingertips

till I flew from his shoulders. They began to sag
after my mother passed. Rising at night, no moon out,

she collapsed in the dark and never woke
as once my father fell when a clot in his head

tossed him down. He speaks of my mother
rubbing his back with eucalyptus oil and saves hair

from her brush, strands he wraps in kleenex.
At night with his whiskey, facing Jeopardy, my father

drifts off to Kargasok.
In the Russian mountains women live to be 105.

So do their men, eating dried cod with mushroom tea,
making love last forever.

 

Blackbirds

Like a canopy of darkness
they shadow the ground for miles
on currents that lift them
back to their roosts.

Years later I ask my father
if he gathered us
to watch thousands
swoop down on trees

sit wing to wing
till morning branches cracked
under their weight.
At daybreak

did they leave the oaks
bare?

He says we never saw them abandon
the hollow, catch a new wind
to an unharvested south
but often would see their return

black streaks
on a September afternoon.

 

Job’s Daughter

I do not skulk from God.
He has no eye for me
only for my father—tall and brown
hands that raise me over his head.

Hurling insults like thunderbolts, God calls
him harelip, mooncalf. Father hides
seven days under the bellies of three sheep.
With a dulled razor, God sheers

their backs slowly before burning them.
He forces the camel to sit on the cold earth,
head down, and gives father a white flint knife.
Slice the thorax, He bellows.

Father turns away—not a butcher.
The camel lives two hours. My father crawls
inside the camel’s skin and closes it over him.
Flesh still warm.

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Chella Courington is a writer and teacher. With a Ph.D. in American and British Literature and an MFA in Poetry, she is the author of six poetry and three flash fiction chapbooks. Her poetry appears in numerous anthologies and journals including Spillway, Gargoyle, Pirene’s Fountain, and The Los Angeles Review. Originally from the Appalachian South, Courington lives in California with another writer and two cats. For more information: chellacourington.net.

 

Painting, Eugene Manet and his daughter in the Garden, by Berthe Morisot.

Ours Was a Softer Kind of Landing by Beth Gordon

Tornado_Destroyed_House_in_Parkersburg,_Iowa

We believed this landscape would not betray,
cinematic sunsets haloing white
farmhouse and cornstalks, as tall as young
men, your cats running free across the road
and back without daylight danger, always
returning home before coyote hour,
high winds that cause old branches to grumble,
the haunted oak tree breaking your bedroom
window, its veined hands reaching for your throat
only to discover that you had fled
to the basement, your nerves frayed, uneasy
at the ribbons of rain that wrapped around
every stone or brick within your line
of sight. I tell you that the wilderness
reclaimed Ukrainian suburbia
after the Chernobyl meltdown, pregnant
foxes and winter wolves roam without fear,
that genetically modified soybean
exhibits natural immunities
to radioactive dirt, that thunder
heads and tornadoes have become common
topics of conversation, that I know
how to hide arsenic poisoning from
the forensic detectives in Osage,
MO but would be indicted in New
Orleans for the same crime. Beige homes destroy
our last corner of beauty and I am
leaving for the smoky mountains, this last
sanctuary now coated with poor-grade
cement, the once gentle road a gauntlet
for domesticated mammals, wild skunks,
afternoons of relaxation removed
with top soil. I tell you I am waiting
for the next disaster as I hold my
grandson’s blooming hand, guiding him around
an abandoned porch in a sweet circle
of splintered flight, that I no longer trust
meteorologists, pretty prophets
with ugly news, I scan the horizon
searching for God’s eyes, a voice louder than
schoolyard gunfire, a promise that this
caterpillar boy will wake tomorrow.

759px-Child's_Hands_Holding_White_Rose_for_Peace_Free_Creative_Commons_(1535619818)

 

Beth Gordon is a poet, mother and grandmother, currently landlocked in St. Louis, MO. Her poems have been published in numerous journals including Into the Void, Noble/Gas, Five:2:One, SWWIM, Verity La, Califragile, Pretty Owl Poetry and Yes Poetry. She is the author of the chapbook, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe, published by Animal Heart Press. She is also Poetry Editor of Gone Lawn.

 

First photograph by Vossman. Second photograph by Pink Sherbet Photography. 

How to Remain Invisible When the Great Storm Falls by Michael H. Brownstein

Tornado_Damage,_Illinois

–Jefferson City, MO, tornado, 11:40 PM, May 22nd/23rd, 2019

Two days later you navigate the ruts in the road,
fallen trees, torn roofs, swinging wires, broken poles
to a house at the end of a broken street and a gravel path,
up the steps of a porch still strong, an electric box dangling,
no windows broken, branches and car parts a picture frame.
When the door opens, heat rushes outside. A frail woman
at the door. Yes, she says. On her kitchen table,
a melting ice-cream carton, bags of leaking vegetables,
the soiled odor of spoiled milk. Come in, she says.
No electricity, a water pipe maligned, gas turned off.
All around you, every house has a sign—you can stay or
you must vacate. There is no sign on her front door.
You’re the first people I’ve seen in three days. Is it safe?
We have food, you tell her, and water. One of us
can remain with you. We’ll see if we cannot get you help.
And then the wind of the tornado slips from her.
her body rocks, then shivers, one hand goes to her face.
Sorry, she says. I can’t help it and she cries and cries.

 

 

Michael H. Brownstein is on the roof of his old house, the roof in serious disrepair, and he walks on it as if he’s on a boardwalk – a squirrel falls through where he just stood – what is left to do but go to all fours, tread carefully until he’s on safe ground, call the roofers (he can’t fix this), and write a poem.

He’s walking across a great field, firecrackers exploding. He swats away at dozens of mosquitoes. Near where he teaches, the security guard tackles him and points out a sniper who has been shooting at him as he crossed. There is nothing else to do but conduct a poetry workshop in his algebra class.

He goes camping, and a rattlesnake crawls into his sleeping bag. Prayer and poetry – they really do go together.

On and on. Take a break. Write a poem.

 

 

Photograph by Robert Lawson.