A Stained Glass Window

By Ted Kooser

We can imagine this saint as if she were
seen from the side, a shimmering film

of iridescence, like that of a bubble, those
brilliant colors not actually there,

nor she with her golden pan-pipes, robe
like a waterfall, not cast in the glass itself,

but as if reflected from another window,
distant, two thousand years in the past,

yet at the speed of light across a shadowy
sanctuary, empty but for you and I,

the cold pews, rank upon rank of them,
turning their backs to us, facing all that’s

ahead, and the patron saint of music, not
yet ready to put her lips to the notes,

to play against this silence, St. Cecilia,
who sang out to God as she died.

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Dancer

By Ted Kooser

Somewhere along the Front Range of the Rockies
someone who loved you poured you into the wind—
the you I remember, your hair up in pink rollers—

and then, without thinking, turned the carton
bottom-side up and gave it a pat, the dust of you
gone with your baby-talk lisp, the flat sound

of that news taking three years to reach me, over
five hundred miles of Nebraska, word of the you
I remember, on pointe, in scuffed ballet toe shoes

in that duct-taped, cardboard-walled “studio”
I fixed up for you in the stuffy hot attic above your
apartment, sweat on the hard forehead I kissed.

Not like you, the news of your death taking so long
to arrive, you always so quick and light, flouncy,
running away from me, over and over, then gone.

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Alone

By Ted Kooser

One of my oldest friends, widowed a year,
drifts on, riding low in the water, north
into his eightieth year, his rudder
broken away, the stillness of ice fields
ahead, and little aboard but Hershey bars
and Diet Pepsi, as he floats in one of two
twin La-Z-Boys, his late wife’s dachshund
asleep on his lap, a big flat-screen TV like
a billowing sail, pulling them forward
into the years, his choice of the two
recliners now his—if he wanted to choose,
which he doesn’t—hers still with the last
of her flotsam around it, the Christmas
decorations she’d hoped to finish in time,
her hot-glue gun still at the ready,
the empty cardboard toilet paper tubes,
the red and white construction paper,
some of the red already glued in cones—
unfinished Santa hats—and cotton wads
to pinch apart for making Santa’s beard.


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Picking Up After the Dead

By Ted Kooser

This brother and sister have come
hundreds of miles to sort through
the mold and clutter left in the wake
of their maiden aunt, who as the future
closed about her assembled a proof
of the past, heaped in the rooms
she’d played in as a child, her toys,
her picture books, piles of newspapers
nibbled by mice, and over the years
all of the black-and-white issues
of Life, though life for her was there
without having to pay for it, in color:
the bone-yellow ribs of plaster lath
where the ceilings had fallen, some
of the crumbled plaster on her bed,
and in the parlor an upright piano,
dark orange-peel finish clouded
with mildew and half of its keys
stuck down as if a tremendous chord
had been hammered into the silence
to fade only a moment before.

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Winter

By Faith Shearin

The last day of my old life, the one in which I knew my own identity, was Halloween 2018. I was out walking our dog, Wookiee, a small, flat-faced shih tzu with an underbite, through the streets of our Massachusetts neighborhood, when I felt the presence of my husband, Tom, though he was away, on a business trip in Colorado. It was evening and I was flanked by children wearing masks, capes, and wings, all of them carrying paper sacks of candy. I paused beneath a maple tree decorated with cloth ghosts, near a lawn littered with fake tombstones, and the dog sniffed the air where my husband’s apparition formed. I saw Tom materialize for a moment and he was young again: slender and dark, his hair a mass of black curls; he was opening the window of his dorm room at Princeton; I felt as if he was trying to show me something; I was aware of a rush of velvet air and the full intensity of his love before he vanished again, into the blowing leaves, and pumpkins, and the sounds of children knocking on doors. I was expecting him to fly home in a few hours and thought perhaps he had fallen asleep on a plane and begun dreaming of me; he sometimes came to me in dreams. But when I checked my phone I found no text; instead, there were a series of phone calls from a number I didn’t recognize, which turned out to be a hospital in Colorado, the last from a chaplain who said: your husband has had a heart attack and is being prepared for emergency surgery. I do not know if Tom was awake or under anesthesia when his ghost found me; I don’t know if he was fully alive or if his spirit was already seeping away. All night his Australian colleagues held vigil in the hospital, sending texts while fashioning boomerangs from coffee stirrers. By the following day, Tom’s sisters and mother and I converged in a waiting room, along with his friend Bob, who had flown home to Virginia from the Denver conference, then back again, when he heard Tom was in surgery.

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Mimicry

by: Allison Funk

Last night I heard the barred owls calling 
        from the white pine that brushes

our windowpane, the muffling snow
        falling all around. Where had they been hiding?

For months, silence. Or, perhaps,
        lately distracted by my own weather,

I’d stopped listening,
        having nearly forgotten the nights

we’d wake up together
        to their plaintive cries and caterwauling,

their comic mating of cackles, hoots, 
        and caws. How much

had they been drinking?
        you mused once, imagining a party

of ornithologists in a bar
        slurring the owls’ Who looks for you?

Yoo-hoo, you’d murmur       
        before we joined the full-throated parliament

in their ecstatic racket.
        Now, into the space that echoes

between us, I’m calling,
        though you’re out of hearing.

I’m telling you who still looks for you
        in the snow that keeps falling.


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What Else the Grapefruit Said

By Sharon D. Kennedy-Nolle

At the Primrose Gardens’ group home,
the guys share smokes around the picnic table;
the house itself exhales a heavy Lysoled and linty air.
Confined to an asphalt patch,
under the 24/7 eye of Neighborhood Watch
they slouch under overrated stars.

They have time: no AA tonight.
Under the driveway spotlight,
they lean, listening for the fenced dog’s advice.
Brandon swears, “Horror movies put me here,
that and the drugs.”

Back empty-handed from a ShopRite run, Little James explains,
“The grapefruits were talking.”
Grocery voices again,
“They say, ‘Don’t buy me.’”
Never mind the ice pick in somebody’s eye
that sent him up.

Inside, the house hums clean
as the dryers tumble on cycle “fluff.”
They’re like seven Snow Whites,
worn out after another day
of scrubbing, mopping, vacuuming,
as if conscience could be cleared by a good once-over,
and a well-made bed.

Conned on all counts, I’m here to see my son,
—the witch’s apple of my eye—
but they all greet, “Hiya Mom.”
Big Eric wails, “When you gonna bake that lemon meringue?”
I lie easily,
promising, “Next time, next time.”


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Chain of Custody

By Sharon D. Kennedy-Nolle

Item Number EV-69-16 Case Number, CE-1896-16/SJS 64544:
Date, Time, Place of Recovery (12/29/16 @16:30 hours, Shaft 18 by boat launch),
Recovered By Det. Yemena Cortez. I must sign.
I must sign again after the Date, Time, Place of Receival,
From Locker 9 To Det. Carlson, Date (7/10/17).
An invoice, the detective in sunglasses called it.
It came envelope tidy,
and in that, officially sealed,
the last baggy
so hard
to scissor open; but when done,
it breathes the aftermath of you,
one month under, to the day.
(What strange moss-made creature
might you have become
if you had stayed at the bottom?)
Orange dust pimples the wallet,
faintly sprinkling my hands, my lap, like fairy spice.
Awful anointing, odd sachet,
all day I wear the smell of your death.
Must on my hands, old mold sweet,
sweet,
must on my hand, lips.


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October

By Hannah Sullivan Brown

My mother calls to tell me she can no longer tell
the difference between memory and dream. As
she talks I walk the backyard—all day

I have watched a fat bee plunder
the same plush marigold, slowly
sinking his velvet face into the pollen, 
raising it up again. My mother has been

dreaming of her dead father, has to ask 
her sister what is real. Next to the bee
the eggplant vine has been fooled
into late flowering, lavender blossoms 
swirled with white. In the warm
slow light I want to say to my mother,

who is still talking, with me it’s memory
and desire, losses that cling to branches
like glossy black clusters of chokeberries
long after the leaves have blown away.

Years ago a friend and I fell out—he insisted
on being in love with me, I couldn’t lie
that I liked his poetry—though I still 
remember the line apricot skin, flush
in the morning.

I wish I had an apricot or an evergreen,
something sweet, cleansing. I like
to walk barefoot on dewy grass to
greet the day, though I’ve never 
actually done that. I’ve done it
in my mind. Does that count?

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Not Seeing Lorca’s House

By Hannah Sullivan Brown

One hundred and five degrees and everyone wants a taxi. I wait too long at the stand in Plaza Nueva. The driver gets a call from his wife. He tells her he will just finish this ride. He turns to me, ¿Entiendes español? His family adopted a rescue dog that sleeps on a bed next to his daughter. The dog was abused and has seizures during which he shakes and froths at the mouth. When a seizure ends, he is disoriented, unable to walk straight. Slowly, the dog begins to smell again and goes from family member to family member, remembering them. This morning the seizures are worse than they’ve ever been, coming one after another. The driver’s wife has tried everything and doesn’t know what to do. The dog is stumbling around the house—delirious and frightened. I never understood, the driver says, eyes meeting mine in the rearview mirror, why people were so obsessed with their dogs, but now—I don’t know what we’re going to do. We have to let the dog go and my wife, my daughter . . . he shakes his head. Getting out of the car, I tell him how sorry I am and wish the best for his family and the dog. He speeds away.

As I enter the museum, the man at the front desk points a thick finger at an oversized wall clock—I am four minutes late for the last tour of the day and one may enter only with a guided tour. I ask if there is a group inside and if I may join late. He responds that yes, there is a group but no, I may not join. Hay un horario, y hay que respectarlo. There is a schedule, and we must respect it. We argue. I explain how I’ve tried to visit several times, but the kids, the heat, the taxi, my last day. He repeats, Hay un horario, y hay que respectarlo. When it is clear that I will not be allowed to enter, I sit on a bench in the orchard and study the parched black apple trees. The man and other workers leave the house and lock it behind them. There was no group; they wanted to leave. Inside the house where Lorca spent the last summers of his life, his large writing desk remains, his drawings, his piano—positioned as it was when he lived there. I have read that it’s very moving. I have read Toda la noche en el huerto, / Mis ojos, como dos perros. All night in the orchard, my eyes, like two dogs.

By now the taxi driver must be home. He scoops up the dog, wife and daughter leaning into each other. The driver’s wife will lay a blanket from their daughter’s bed across the backseat and he will set the dog on it, shushing him calm. The dog’s heart races, white foam around his mouth. Soon the dog will be in the orchard. He will see Lorca there and Lorca will take the dog’s heavy, healthy head in his hands and off they’ll go to sit in a plaza, near a fountain, eating oranges, trying to breathe in the jasmine so deeply that it will be impossible to forget the sweetness, the brevity.


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Callejeros

By A.J. Rodriguez

Featured Art: Interiors with View of Buildings by Richard Diebenkorn

“Blood and gore on channel four.” That’s what people said whenever QBZ-4, the station me and Paintbrush Martinez pulled the graveyard at, came up in drunk or sober conversations. It wasn’t really a joke, but we said it jokingly. It was just part of our language—like singing a nursery rhyme or dappin-up your homie at some backyard pachanga. We recited it like scripture, hummed it before sitting down on our sofa pews, before hitting that prayer-book remote, before entering the church of our living rooms or the confession booths of our sorry-ass bars.

“Blood and gore on channel four” was smeared on the streets, projected onto the heavens, and hardwired into the body of everyone in Albuquerque from the picket-fence, northeast-side gabacho, to the straight-out-the-Pueblo Indio, to la chola chingona hustling South Valley. But on the lips of those living lives flooded with fortune and security—culeros on that white-collar, whiter skin shit—it was a punchline, something to say after a sneeze. Lodged in the throats of los demás, all those scared-ass vatos and their families, it was a Hail Mary, a bulletproof vest, a way to savor your breath, remember your heartbeat.

Like them, I grew up on “blood and gore on channel four,” rehearsed the line year after year as I watched folks from the varrio become actors, turn familiar places into TV crime scenes where they played out the role of “meth user,” “gang member,” “tragic shooting victim,” or “drunk driver.” But I never understood it, the reality within the words, the physicality behind the images—not when I ditched home to study film on some diversity-ass scholarship—not while working nights at the Q with Paintbrush—not till the shit with Graci, Tío Albert’s ruca, hit the fan.

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Chiba

By Amy M. Alvarez

My father called me chiba, mi primer hijo
tomboy, my first son—knuckling the crown
of my head. He said I sat too mannish

my knees splayed, forearms on thighs, 
watching the Knicks on the couch
in his apartment. When I began my model

plane phase, he came to my mother’s house
to help me build an A-10 bomber—each piece
primordial green. We labored over landing gear,
inhaled foul rubber cement.

He mentioned boyhood dreams of building planes, 
watching the work of his hands soar instead of clunking
to life like the radiators and refrigerators he worked on.

I told him I was proud of how he fixed what was broken.
My father half-smiled before burying himself in silence
and instructions. We added decals, painted a shark- 
toothed mouth on the plane’s snubbed nose.


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In Jezero Crater

By Kate Gaskin

Whatever was there has gone
         to three and a half billion years
                        of dust. On Mars

a rover picks up a rock
         and turns it over
                  in a river delta webbed

with dried arteries cauterized
         by the sun. Daughter,
                    who lived for only an hour,

I too search for you
         in the most barren places,
                  a vein that rolls before

a needle, a dawn that breaks
         dim and drawn. I wish for you
                  an emerald canopy,

sapphire water, a world
         where belief is a fact
                  that can be held

in my palm like a stone.
         Here on Earth, you disappear
                  starash, sunsoot, moonglow

while somewhere above
         in the red star of another planet,
                  a robot measures

ancient silt into a vial
         for human hands to touch
                  with wonder. What do I do now

                  with all this love?


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Lightning Dragons

By Kate Gaskin

It’s a terrible thing to say,
         but imagining my son’s death
                  comes as naturally to me

as watching a cat trot off
         with a bird clenched in its jaws.
                  Today, there is a crushed

cedar waxwing in the street,
         its golden tail feathers splayed,
                  the red cherry of its chest

popped open like a mouth.
         I found it on my run and thought
                  how impossible it is

to be so small, so easily undone.
         This boy of mine runs
                  away from me into busy streets.

A museum’s noisy crowd
         swallows him whole. At school
                  he cannot sit still or listen.

Once, his teacher said he threatened
         another child with the sharp end
                  of a pencil. I did not

believe her, but what I believe
         will not keep him safe
                  from how others

inevitably perceive him,
         and so I imagine
                  what it would be like to lose him

as he tells me about dragons,
         how there are four types:
                  sun dragons, moon dragons,

rain dragons, and, his favorite,
         lightning dragons that hatch
                  from eggs that erupt

in shocks of electromagnetic
         radiation. See them flying now?
                  He points to the night sky,

its feathery moon and stars
         like puncture wounds, while above us
                  heat lightning unsettles

                                 the dark.


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Mukahara

By Jessica Poli

Yesterday I saw a tree the color
of the sky it stood against
and thought of Rothenberg’s painting 
of the translucent horse
barely outlined in a pink haze—the same color 
that lit the glass buildings some mornings

in Pittsburgh, where I studied photography 
for one misplaced year. There,
in a darkroom, a girl held my hips 
while I mixed chemicals that smelled 
like sweat licked off of skin,
and the shape of her hands
felt like shadows touching me. I told her

about the horse that lived
at the end of the road where I grew up,
how I fed it handfuls of grass
and dandelions from across 
the electric fence. That horse

was a kind of shadow too, forgotten 
by the neighbor who asked for it
for her birthday
and then never rode it. Rothenberg’s horse

is mid-gallop, legs folded,
body suspended
in the pink air. Where is that girl

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Our Eyes Can See Colors That Don’t Exist

By Lisa Alletson

Magenta is a trick of the brain 
my sister explains, her hair 
abandoned like a trick of God.

I take her photograph as sunlight 
muscles in on her bald head,
her daughter hugging her legs.

She glances at it, laughs. 
Mom will like this one 
because I look like an angel.

She does, backlit near Durham Cathedral 
fourteen strands of golden hair—
a halo of wisps.

I like numbers, so I walk ahead
to read the date on the Statue of Neptune
between the Kate Spade store

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The Hofstetters Go Back to the Hotel

By Will Kelly

Featured Art: Hotel Lobby by Edward Hopper

Dad was reading the encyclopedia from cover of A to back cover of Z right up until the week he died. He had been at it for two years, and was somewhere in the Es that night the tie rods failed. We’d never know exactly which article he left off on, because he could remember page numbers and had no need for bookmarks. He was amazing like that.

If five volumes in two years sounds unimpressive, I should add that this was on top of all his regular reading: all the novels, the popular nonfiction, the medical journals, and every one of those yearbook supplements that went with the encyclopedia itself. I don’t know of anyone else actually reading those things, but he did so every year as soon as they arrived in the mail.

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205 Bistro

By: Brock Guthrie

Converted historic train station—perfect place
to sit with my family at this reclaimed farmhouse table 
in view of the corrugated-metal-paneled bar
with its bowls of hardboiled eggs 
instead of pretzels or peanuts
and to observe, with the intent to eventually eat, 
this grilled watermelon salad
while waiting for my herb-crusted duck
which was free-ranged in nearby Marengo County 
as Mina redacts with purple crayon
any semblance of the comical panda 
on her coloring placemat
and Brooke says Manny kicked her kidneys 
from inside her thirty-week womb. But look:

there goes Dennis, father of three, newly divorced 
from his wife of fifteen years, and with him’s
old Pete, engaged to a woman we haven’t yet
seen proof of, each carrying a stein of golden lager into
the warm Thursday evening
of the spring-dappled beer garden
to watch, no doubt, underdog Auburn
take on top-seed UNC in the Sweet 16
on the bistro’s new 85-inch 4K Ultra HDTV.

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Future Perfect

By Susan Kress

This mail is been
writing to you
because I have come
to understand
you want
to have received
your reward for
succeeding to rescue
me, a prince of royal lineage
with seven palaces
and still a wife
of beauty and resplendence
to find.
I will have been awed
by your patience shining
in its box of gold
but for you to stop from living
solitary
in the desert
and to have enter
in a garden of soft green
leaves, all I will have needed
is your name and date
of having been born
and a check you will
have written now to me
care of the federal government of
Nirvania.
Link here to make good
my trouble in sending you
a horde of dollars.
If you will have trusted
in this translucent
arrangement of letters,
I can promise you
a future perfect and
forever joy.


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“You May Want to Marry My Husband”

By Susan Kress

We are at breakfast, he and I, enjoying Sunday
tea and buttered toast, browsing sections

of the newspaper. Here’s a thing, he says, a letter
written by a dying woman
. She’s listed

all her husband’s assets, commending him—
a handsome, smart, kind, loving, pancake-

making man—to some future spouse.
I sip my cooling tea and do not offer any future

letter of my own as I watch him lick his
forefinger to mop up toast crumbs—

see beyond him through the window heavy
heads of peonies bowed down from summer storms.

Here’s the thing:

I most surely do not want my husband
to be happy without me. If I die first, he’s got

to miss me every minute (my cold feet, chili meat
loaf, helpful interruptions when he tries

to make a point). No one else can wear my opal ring,
put on my oven mitts, warm my yellow teapot.

When he turns the pages to another section,
looks up again, he’ll see that I am gone—

my orange chair quite empty—our cross-
word puzzle on the table, one clue left to solve.

Outside, the peonies have straightened up a bit.
With stakes, they’ll last another day or two at least.


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One of Us and The Other

By Lisa K. Buchanan
Featured Art: Studies of Men and Women in Medieval Dress by Byam Shaw

One of us is eloquent at 11 P.M. on unhinged dictators and the threat of nuclear war. The other is half-lidded in pursuit of flannel sheets. Or was, anyway.

One of us is a rowdy sleeper, blankets swirling and pillows airborne. The other babbles. One repels intruders and struggles to defuse a bomb. The other dreams a question: Can the failure of bodily organs be contemplated in random order or must it be chronological? One flails, tossing a wild fist; the other yelps in pain. One laughs without waking up. The other wakes up if a neighbor down the block inserts a bare foot into a fleecy slipper.

One of us wonders whether consciousness came before matter; the other doesn’t. One grapples with matters of spirituality. The other cannot suffer the word. One burns with existential questions: Are we alone in the universe? What happens to our memories after we die? Does evil exist, like radio waves, beyond human will? The other talks to strangers on the bus.

One of us hotly refused to marry a person who didn’t believe in God. The other hotly refused to marry a person who did. Each stomped down the street in the opposite direction. Eventually, one pulled up to the curb and opened the door. The other had crafted a cutting refusal, but slid into the passenger seat instead.

One of us was expelled from Hebrew school. The other preached the gospel to sidewalk strangers. One wore hair grease and played in a rock band at thirteen; the other wore a white robe and hymned as a child of Job. One graduated high school with the titular distinction of Crush; the other, with a distinguished truancy record. One was tear-gassed at an anti-war protest in Berkeley. The other attended martini lunches in what POTUS 40 called “the place where all good Republicans go to die.”

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Nothing Will Happen

By Jeff Tigchelaar

Don’t buy that, nothing will happen
I said to Johnny Cash
played by Joaquin Phoenix
early in that movie
when he was in Germany
when he was in the service
and saw some six-strings hanging in a store
and was like huhh guitars huh
and for some reason my wife cracked up
and had to press pause and use Kleenex
on her eyes and I thought
yes
because I hadn’t made or even heard
her laugh in a while

we were separated almost or mostly
her dad was dying plus Trump and Covid
then about an hour or so later (oh it’s a long one)
Johnny sees June
Carter alone in a diner
and figures what the heck
and starts heading over
and I figure what the heck and say
Don’t talk to her, nothing’ll happen
and my wife didn’t crack up like before
but she did laugh again
a real one not just courtesy
and I was like hell yes but of course
there’d be hard times
and there would be scenes
like the one where he rips
the sink from the wall
though it wasn’t in the script he just
summoned his rage up and did it somehow
and you can hear the gushing of the water off screen
as it all hits the ground
but an hour or so later in the credits
(toward the end but we stuck around)
the real June and Johnny start singing

and sing Maybe we can work this out
Oh honey I think we can


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