How to Survive on Land

By Joy Baglio

Featured Art: Playful Mermaid by Henri Héran, 1897

Let me tell you about my mother, a mermaid: For years, despite her handicaps, she embraced land life in Okanogan, Washington—the drizzly winters and sun-soaked summers—with a steadfastness both impressive and exhausting. She read us stories with the ardor of a human mother; bagged our lunches; brushed our hair. For years, she was just Mom: Mom who snuggled up to us on the couch with a book; Mom who packed Tupperware containers full of watermelon and whisked us away to the town pool on humid summer days; Mom who cooked themed meals (Tuna Tuesdays, Waffle Wednesdays); Mom with her perpetual ocean smell and unruly laughter. Of course, there were harmless omens of her first loyalties: shellfish for breakfast, kelp pods strewn like confetti around our living room, the shrill whale-speak whines that filled our house in the mornings, our Nereid names and Mom’s insistence that my sister Thetis and I explain to every curious land-dweller our sea-nymph heritage. (My name, Amphitrite, means Queen of the Ocean, after all.)

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Bobcat

By Andrew Cox

Featured Art: Summer: Cat on a Balustrade by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, 1909

–For Jerry Lee (1934-2016)

There are bobcats in the neighborhood
Said the woman in the decked-out SUV
Do you have a whistle
As I walked off my grief in Texas
Where I came to see my mother die
And when I saw the bobcat
Come from the drainage system
And stare at me with black pupils
Drilling into those yellow eyes
I knew it wanted me to sit down and listen
Love your mother the bobcat asked
Not enough I said
I could have visited more
It said man hands on misery to man
One of your kind wrote that I think
Yes I said the poem is never enough Read More

Reno Redux

By Ansie Baird

Featured Art: Man holding a horse by the bridle by Dirck Stoop

My father flew to Reno, Nevada, sixty
solemn years ago to sue for a divorce.
I had no idea where Nevada was or
why my parents were divorcing.
In the mail arrived a shiny photograph,
my father sitting tall on a horse.
I had no idea he knew how to ride.
He carried a rifle across his lap and
on his head he’d set a cowboy hat.
He was smiling like all-get-out.
I had no idea what there was to smile about.

He stayed away six weeks, at some
dude ranch where rattlesnakes curled
and lurked in the underbrush. I lived
in a cluttered city house without
rattlesnakes or a father. My mother
packed up all our winter coats and boots
and sold the house. We moved into a flat.
After that, everything was touch-and-go.

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Certain Things

By David Brendan Hopes

Featured Art: Tinker with His Tools by Camille Pissarro, 1874/76

For the sake of my father, certain things
must be done in a certain way:
tightening of bolts, of nuts around threads;
coiling of hoses; firm, instant replacement of lids;
spreading of seed from the hand held just so,
in furrows dug to the joint or the knuckle, depending;
wash it when you use it, never put it up wet;
don’t be opening and closing the screen door
as if you were a cat.
Be grateful for a job, a meal, a leg up.
All that.
In the seasons set aside for such emotions,
of course I hated him.
All things, even hatred, wear away.
In the season set aside I became him,
doing what he did in the way he did it,
hiding the injured heart the way he hid it.
Waking so many hours before full day
from the dream
that something certain’s gone astray.


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At the Threshold

By Marilyn Abildskov

Featured Art: Dilapidated House, 1811

She hesitates, then opens the unlocked door. The house is not hers. It’s nobody’s yet. That’s why she’s here. To walk on red tiles in the empty entryway. To see if there’s carpet yet in the bedrooms. To touch the smooth white marble fireplace that reaches the ceiling in the living room. To wander empty rooms before the rooms are filled.

Here in the entranceway of the new empty house she says out loud—hello hello—and listens for something, a spirit maybe, to say something back.

Nothing. Not even an echo.

From the kitchen window, she can see her home, the tip of a modernist triangle roof. In the distance, she can hear her mother playing the piano, lost in the music. Her shoes squeak against the floorboards of the hallway. No carpet. Not yet.

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My Good Brother

By Young Smith

Featured Art: Two Boys Watching Schooners by Winslow Homer, 1880

If I had a brother, he would be called Enoch or Ephraim—
a name alive with the wisdom of some long forgotten past.
Though older than me, there would be no gray yet in his beard.

There would be no lines on his face, and his full hair—
not thinning yet, like mine—would be brown as the wings
of a thrush. He would whisper Roethke in his sleep,

my brother Ephraim or Enoch, and his poetry would lift
the weight of old bruises from my eyes. He would visit
our father’s grave and feel none of my dark anger there.

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Here There Was a Stool with a Crippled Leg

By Young Smith

Featured Art: The Chair from The Raven by Édouard Manet, 1875

There are no ghosts in her rented house—
only the shadows of objects

removed by other tenants long ago.
Here there was a stool with a crippled leg,

here a bookshelf filled with fat Russian novels,
here an upright piano with wine-stained keys.

These furnishings have vanished, but their shapes continue—
like spots on the retina after looking at the sun . . .

Though she can find no path from one door
to the next where the shades of their sofas

don’t stand one within the other, of the former
tenants themselves, very little can be said . . .

The mirrors have collected the pale stories of their eyes,
but the glass is too crowded to tell them clearly—

yet even now, among the wraiths of hat trees
and recliners, where the dust of their voices

drifts like smoke along the baseboards,
she can often feel their sorrows, breathing

slowly in the corners, still alive
with a helpless longing to sleep.

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Gorilla

By Young Smith

“Sullen” only begins to describe it—
his all too lucid, all too human stare.

His mate sits nursing an infant behind him
in the mouth of an artificial cave, while,

just to busy his hands, it seems, he strips
leaves from a twig of bamboo. His gestures

are slow and deliberate, but as his fingers work,
his eyes never leave us, moving in turn

from one face, from one camera to the next.
This, of course, is what holds us at the rail—

that he watches back, like no other animal
in the zoo—and there is only one way

to understand his expression: he has little
hope for the health of our souls.


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Bluebirds Are Cavity Nesters

By W. J. Herbert

Featured Art: Bird’s Nest and Ferns by Fidelia Bridges, 1863

Cement truck crushing stones
at 3 a.m. on a Flatbush side street?
No, must be the double bass player
grinding his seven-foot case along broken sidewalks,
as if inside his sarcophagus
whose fist-sized wheels are screaming
there’s a mummy dressed in lead,
and it’s so hot again my ceiling fan’s blade
is a soldier’s lame leg that is drooping
and each time he turns,
it drums on the inverted edge of the light bowl
while someone upstairs
drops the booted foot he just cut from a corpse,
but he keeps cutting and dropping,
cutting and dropping,
so it must be a dozen corpses, or
maybe it’s a frozen hen landing again and again,
as though my landlady’s niece, still drunk,
has made up a game in which you get ten points if,
when you drop it from the top of a ladder,
the hen lands on her severed neck.
I can’t sleep. Even if Sialia sialis
relies on dead trees for nest sites,
it’s smart enough to live deep away from the world.


W. J. Herbert’s debut poetry collection, Dear Specimen, was selected by Kwame Dawes as winner of the 2020 National Poetry Series and will be published by Beacon Press in 2021. Her work was also selected by Natasha Trethewey for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2017 and appears, or is forthcoming, in Alaska Quarterly Review, Boulevard, New Ohio Review, Pleiades, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Kingston, New York and Portland, Maine.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

Anniversary Gift

By Robert Cording

Featured Art: Peacock and Dragon by William Morris, 1878

After reading that hummingbirds
are so light eight of them can be mailed
for the price of a first-class stamp,
I close my eyes and see them, fully revived,
rising out of some envelope of old memories.
I’ll name them again as we once did
so long ago—Rufous, Anna’s, and Broad-tailed—
darting to and from the feeders, sipping,
then retreating, flying jewels
the Spanish called them, and now I recall
how one of the Anna’s, its garnet head
and throat glowing in the misted air,
hung like a jewel at your ear.

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The Cave

By David Gullette

Coming back from Escamequita past the curve at the peak
there was the valley of Carrizal with its steep mountain rising above it.

What’s that up there? I asked. Looks like the entrance to a mine.
Oh, the old man said, That’s the Cueva de los Duendes.

I knew the word from Lorca’s great essay
but he meant some dark flamenco trance when strummed sheepguts
and a shout beyond reason jam in our ears the mesmerizing song of death.

Here in the back woods of Nicaragua it just means little people,
fairies, minor local deities, trolls, semi-domesticated goblins.
Or witches. Things that rustle the bushes after the moon rises
or borrowing feathers shriek in the sky above your chickens.

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Still

By Alison Jarvis

Featured Art: The Artist’s Sitting Room in Ritterstrasse by Adolph Menzel, 1851

Somewhere up in the Bronx,
in rented space I’ve never seen, seven
rooms of the old life, waiting
in storage. Shrouded wing chairs,
Persian rugs, your mother’s
engraved silver, nesting and spooning
in a mahogany box. Racks
of your oils. The body of the grand piano
had to be separated from its legs
so everything could fit—

     I miss our music.

Sunday, on the little radio
I heard Lotte Lenya sing
that song about searching, her urgency
tilted the room, I was that
off-balance

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A Creature, Stirring

Winner, New Ohio Review Nonfiction Contest
selected by Elena Passarello

By Gail Griffin

Featured Art: The Kitchen by James McNeill Whistler, 1858

It is Christmas night—or, more accurately, two in the morning of December 26th. I am on the small porch at the side of my house. My cat is in my lap. The door to the living room is closed. Every window inside the house is wide open, because the house is full of smoke—a vile, stinky smoke. The porch is winterized, but I have opened one window about six inches because of the smoke escaping from the house. And what I am saying to myself is Well, at least the temperature’s up in the twenties.

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November 1st

By Chanel Brenner

Dia De Los Muertos was Riley’s favorite holiday.

He loved smelling the sugar skulls.

Didn’t mind that he couldn’t eat them.

My husband asks what we should do with Riley’s bicycle.

Who wants a dead kid’s bike?

He puts it in the alley for someone to take.

He rummages through boxes in our garage like we are having a fire sale.

He finds my dead father’s rare coins in a sock, a card from my dead grandmother.

Many believe the dead would be insulted by sadness.

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January 12th

By Heather Bowlan

Featured Art: Woman Combing Her Hair by Edgar Degas, 1888-90

the day I told M
I loved her, we were at her new Dom’s
midcentury modern
in Hollywood, the one
with the surprisingly small bedroom.
I always pretend the best version
is what really happened, so I pretended
I didn’t need the wine, didn’t drink
myself to floating while we texted him
photos of our cheery breasts
and matching cherry-bordered
aprons for his birthday, that I wasn’t hungry
for her, that kissing for the camera, lips
open, waiting for him to come
home from work was just a great story for later—
which it is. And she said she would never
love me and I said no chance, really none, never? Read More