Ode to the Fresh Start

By Susan Blackwell Ramsey

Featured Art: Untitled by Joseph Taylor

Sock drawer with its moth husks, limp mismatches,
____rank refrigerator’s stink of shame, closet
________whose back wall I don’t remember . . .

In Sanskrit abhyasa means practice, discipline,
____not giving up, but starting over
________and over and over again. Just start. Abhyasa.

So when I unroll my yoga mat
____and it promptly rolls back up, I flip it over,
________fling myself down on it, grunt “abhyasa.”

Veteran of fresh starts. I’ve trained myself
____to believe there will be dustless bookshelves,
________push-ups, French refresher courses, kale.

This time will be different. It always is.
____Maybe the trick is shorter and shorter gaps
________between the restarts until they run together,

like rolling out the lawn mower in May,
____working to get a cough, another, three, and with a roar
________it starts again. Once more that green smell rises.


Read More

Entropy

By Elton Glaser

Will this be one more summer spent
Among the ornamental mailboxes and garden gnomes,

As if I’d come down with a dose of lassitude,
Too much muck in the bloodstream?

That’s better, I guess, than a long month in Lubango,
Not far from the hovels and dead dogs,

With something strange steaming in the heat
And a bad case of the squitters,

And no worse, in its own way, than hearing someone
At the next table praise the taste of

Extra virgin truffle oil on the rutabaga fries,
Parsley butter sliding down a bison steak,

When what I crave is cruder: ecstasy of the unraveled,
Loose elations in a rumpled bed.

I’ve got nothing against sampling a farmer’s stand,
All those honeydews nestled in straw

And peaches fat and pink and above reproach,
Or an afternoon rocking on the front porch,

Sipping a tall cool glass of julep and watching
The dappled daze of sunlight on the leaves.

Read More

A Summer Wind, a Cotton Dress

By Kate Fox

A glance held long and a stolen kiss,
This is how I remember you best.
—Richard Shindell

Little fires light themselves in the hearth, like tongues
____of flame that reclaim the Holy Spirit, like pitchforks

in this clapboard house where mayflies swarm and crackle
____against the porch light. On down, a gas station, a five-and-dime,

and your house, which I can see from the kitchen, where
____clothes on the line billow and collapse, billow and collapse.

This small town holds everything I will ever know and have
____to leave behind: bidden and forbidden glances,

voices from the second-floor landing that warn, Go no further.
____Night will fall and you will fall with it. Which is what I want,

for the universe to take up where I leave off, this longing
____so deep it can hold entire planets in its bottomless pocket,

yet shrink to the size of a finger at the hollow of your neck,
____heart drawing blood from the branchwork of your breathing.


Read More

4D

By Jon Fischer

The 3D printer made a man and gave him a beard
to rub thoughtfully. It printed a book on mortality,
a pamphlet on sin, a monograph on time, and many other
fine things to keep in mind. Then it spun out two
of each animal and a boat around them. It printed rain
so long we thought it was broken, then
it printed an olive leaf. Its final act
was to print a 4D printer, which printed a memory
for the man, who said with his rubbery tongue,
I remember there were olive trees,
and he released one of the doves from its cage
below deck, where it spent the time we were given
under the gaze of two housecats and two weasels.
But the 4D printer started to print more
than the time we were given. Weeks rolled off in pairs, still
warm from the furnace of creation,
and wedges of space to move the stars apart
so the man had room to fill the weeks with many
fine things to keep in mind. That’s how we turned the world
into a dream, where time doesn’t know what to do with itself,
and you always end up falling.


Read More

Heron or Plastic Bag

By Jon Fischer

Far off in a vacant field beside an irrigation
canal alights a stately gray heron

or a plastic bag. The plastic bag flaps
and in the tricky light thick clouds leave behind

trembles in and out of translucence,
just like a heron. The heron flew here from another

land in search of a plot to fill and warmly
fulfill and mute the Sisyphean rhythm of restless

creatures’ lives, across countless miles
that would never do, just like a plastic bag.

Close up it’s clear the field holds both
a stately heron and a plastic bag, each

studying the other like figure and reflection.
Now the difference is obvious. The heron’s eyes

recognize the predicament he’s in, the infernal
froglessness of all this wiregrass, the length

of the horizon, the lean of a eucalyptus. Behind
his eyes is the continent where he first

leapt into a crystalline gust, and at beak’s end wriggles
a continent uncharted, fleshly, ready to be snapped up

like a young shad. But this time of year his wings
know everything there is to know about south

and nothing else. Whereas the bag simply is
the predicament it’s in and billows

with all the joy that has ever flown through
a thousand years of wind.


Read More

What the Drawing Explains

By Jon Fischer

It’s hard to describe a drawing of a millennium,
but you know it when you see it

on a sticky note fallen to the speckled tile
near the lockers in a high-school hallway

It’s rendered half of the social commentary
inherent in a peach-colored crayon, half

of ablative carbon fiber and iridium dust,
the artist’s signature a sketch

of the human genome. This millennium is half past,
half future, neither all that great.

The drawing smells like a philosopher’s feet.
It tells a story that rises off the paper

and reads the palms of passersby, turning life lines
jagged and love lines into spirals. It tells a story

that sinks deep inside the paper, seizing
for its fibrous heart the best and most harrowing

plot twists. Nonetheless, the drawing explains
why the Nile changed course, why tornadoes

and the sea found fancier homes,
why we made no new religions

Read More

Spring Reflection

By Stephanie Choi

Featured Art: Scarlet by Joseph Taylor

___You crave
For the wheels to ride across the puddle, muddied
With pebbles & all your past lives too

___You want to find again
That sky blue that’s been shut tight
All winter long

___You don’t know why
When you finally do
The birds mistake each strand of your hair for a branch

___You wish for the pecking to stop
And for the stillness of a bud before blossom
To return to you

___You ask for a taste
Of the warm cold wind on your wet lips
Just once more—

___You try to remember
What everything was like before
But you take a sip from the cup filled with dust
___
& ash, instead


Read More

In the Garden

By Kelly Rowe

Featured Art: Mimic by Dylan Petrea

When you were small,
we lived in a tropical state,
and you spoke fluently
a language only two could understand.

It had one word
for bean or ball or m&m or kiss,
three for water, six for dream
or any other risk.

When we talked, the dog danced on hind legs,
and the house sailed down the river,
waving its red and white flags.
The rain took you wading under the live oaks

and mispronounced your name,
but showered you with opals,
while high in the branches invisible birds
whistled back and forth in code.

Now, you live somewhere else,
I’ve gone a little deaf.
I press the phone to my ear
as your voice cuts out, fades,

and like the last speaker
of a lost language, I grope
for one of the hundred names for river,
or the single shouted syllable: Ma!

Meaning flash flood, meaning ark,
meaning the one we need
no words for, the one who flies to us
when we cry out in the dark.


Read More

How to Peel an Orange

By Stephanie Wheeler

Featured Art: Peeled II by Samantha Slone

The dryer was making a monstrous sound. The repairman stood with his hand resting flat on top.

“I feel the vibration,” he said. He was a fat man with a three-day stubble sprouting in uneven patches on his face. His uniform shirt was belted into his trousers around the front and haphazardly untucked in the back. Hazel could see his milky eyes shifting rapidly through smudged glasses. She hated him a little.

Hazel nodded. “And you can hear it, too.”

He squinted his eyes, then squeezed them tight, concentrating.

Hazel decided that she hated him a lot.

“The grinding sound,” Hazel said, straining to make her voice heard above the din. “It’s quite obvious, really.”

“Ah, yes. The grinding. I hear it.”

Hazel’s cell phone chimed then, and she looked at the screen. The name Walt appeared in white letters, glowing.

“Excuse me,” she told the repairman, “I need to take this.”

He waved her away. “Go ahead. I’ll keep at it, love,” he said.

She looked at him, glared, and considered saying something. Something clever about how he shouldn’t call her love. Who was he to call her love? They’d only just met and he was charging a $100 service fee simply to walk in the door and provide diagnostics on the dryer. The $100 was charged before and apart from the repairs. She didn’t feel any love. But her phone was insistent. Hazel left the laundry room, glanced over her shoulder, and pulled the door tight behind her. She went into the kitchen.

Read More

Exile

By Margot Kahn

On Saturday I trolled for places back home.
Home as in the place I was raised,
not that elusive ancestor thing, the soul or—

just the place where my mother set plates
of flank steak in front of me, or left me
with a cardboard box, the frozen trays.

When everything’s up in flames,
I yearn for a yard I know the edge of—
for lightning bugs trapped in a punched-lid jar;

the lip of the brick fireplace where my father sang
his Navy songs, and the kitchen where my mother baked
blackberry pie that bled out across the floor;

the days I drove myself to school and picked myself up,
hotwired the minivan, got felt-up, and learned about loneliness
from a phone attached to the wall;

the place my parents were the first to be born to,
the place I had the privilege of being bored;
the place I had the privilege of leaving.

Here, from my kitchen window, the hills are first
to disappear. Then goes the fence, the garden,
the rutted gravel drive. My lungs hurt just watching it,

reading in sans serif that friends had minutes to flee.
I see the hill behind their house awash in light, ablaze—
a transcendental image for an Instagram age.

She posts it as they’re rushing away to the country
of the displaced—a land I know the scent of,
a language I, too, can speak.


Read More

Incubus

By Emily Nason

I’ve taken communion in horse troughs
and creeks and off the back of a stamp licked
by the boy I love, and still I have nightmares.
Like this: every person I forgot to send
a thank-you note to brings it up the next time
I see them. Like this: the cicadas haven’t hatched
when they said they would. Years escape us.
Ancestral cattle herding calls, whole choirs
of Ozark harps, cotton looms starting to spin.
Splash of kerosene. Mildewed family photos,
faces burned out. Like this: I’m crouched
in the kitchen, watching my grandmother
throw a jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise against
the wall. And then she mops it up and repeats.
Same jar. I roll the stone up the hill,
and by stone I mean the rendered red roux,
and by hill, I mean the blackened pot.
My grandmother again, rehab parking lot,
threatening to kill herself, backing down
last minute by saying, I wouldn’t do that
to y’all even though you test me.
Like this:
I date a man who buys instant grits.
Like this: Lindsey Graham. Copper chicken
wire of a welt around my thigh, no clue how
it got there, and a roomful of questions.
In the back of the country store, I sit and watch
my legs dangle from thick fishing hooks, two more
fatty thighs to cure and sell. Strawberry Moon.
Sturgeon Moon. Worm Moon. A night sky
with all three. My grandmother wakes me up
to look at them. She reminds me that I’m like her:
last to leave this long party, eyes shucked open.


Read More

Doctor’s Office Behind Plank Country Store, Feet in Stirrups, I Think About My Grandmother’s Hands Deveining Shrimp

By Emily Nason

And I can see them, see her
standing over the kitchen sink,
gray shrimp pinched———————————————–
and the up-flick of her knife.

———————————————–(No stories in this poem,
———————————————–Emily. Stay in the room.)

Right. Doctor’s white gloves.
Gardenia white. This is my hand
on your thigh. Unpruned oleander.
You’re going to feel a pinch.

———————————————–(Stay just a little while longer.)

Hot examination room.
Small country clinic with one broken
air conditioner. The doctor sees
retirees and pregnant housewives,
mainly. Once, a man who took
a tree trunk straight to the sternum.

———————————————–(He survived, remember?
———————————————–It’s not your story to tell.)

I’ve forgotten to take off my gold
hoops. In the corner, nude lace bra
and underwear crumpled
in the chair. A blue jumpsuit—
It has pockets! Pockets!—I wore
that night in Ohio, when I fell
and sprained a wrist bringing
a dozen fresh eggs to a friend,
no carton, just my pockets.

———————————————–(Stop. Back to your body, now.)

Another pinch. Give me one big
cough. Formaldehyde in the veins,
moonshine in the eyes. I’m alive.
From crotch to toes: a cramp.

———————————————–(There’s been worse pain.
———————————————–Move it along.)

You’ll have no problem later on.
You’ve got a great cervix.

———————————————–(All right. Just one. Keep
———————————————–it quick. Keep it light.)

I did fall in Ohio once,
but I wasn’t wearing that jumpsuit.
I know a woman who dropped
her toddler son on his head
and swore it caused his pill problem.
I’ve buried so many people in Ohio.
Its ice fields are bad for digging.

———————————————–(Back into the room.)

Any questions?

———————————————–(Can the brain go hoarse?)

I won’t tell you what else I did
in that jumpsuit in Ohio.

———————————————–(———— ————)

My grandmother once cut the curve
of a conch shell out of my foot
in the kitchen sink. She washed me
with Dial soap. Did not kiss me,
didn’t say a kind word.

———————————————–(No scar, though.)

Quarter of an hour: mossy washcloth
on forehead. I try to leave, but collapse
instead in the empty waiting room.

———————————————–(Always taking up space.)

The doctor won’t let me leave
until I get some color back and finish
one paper cup of sugar water. I do
what I’m told. And then I drive.
Doesn’t matter where, doesn’t matter
to whom.

———————————————-

——————————–


Read More

Sertraline

By Emily Nason

I am predisposed: toothed gardenia. Just like my mother’s
mother. I ask the doctor what to do. She says, Consult the oracles,

read the tea leaves. Which means, Keep taking your meds.
Which means, Watch who you procreate with. I’m not sure

I’m happier now. I just feel things less. Not quite a numbness,
but a lack. When my dog sees a dog that looks like her, she cocks

her head, as if to say, Huh. Isn’t that something? Smart girl,
but it frightens me that she knows, retains, what she looks like.

I am frightened of a lot of things, but not of what awaits. Side effects:
a comfort or ideation with fresh dirt and ashes. Visiting the family burial

plot, the caretaker tells us, We can stack em six deep. Economical,
I think. My mother asks him to trim the nearby tree, it’s obscuring

her mother’s grave. Two rows down, a marble headstone reads,
Stand back, I’m coming up! Okay. Where are you going to go?


Read More

Widow’s Weeds

By Courtney Huse Wika

No one forages here
in the tall grasses and unkempt briars,
except the hollow-boned crows
and me, in widow’s weeds,
dirty nails and knees.

On lunar nights I plant wolfsbane as a ward,
castor beans for joints rusted as hinges,
belladonna for fever,
oleander for the dreams I had of carrying children,
and nightshade as pernicious as my blood.

On the darkest nights, I slip from bed
to pull the snakeroot
by handfuls before it can strike
my lover’s garden,
the one with tenacious vines of honeysuckle,
sun-faced lilies, and sage.

And in the mornings, I swallow pills
like hemlock,
perennial poisons,

and hope they kill
the right part of me.


Read More

San Francisco Bay View, November 2018

By D. R. Goodman

On a night when something like fog obscures the city,
and dry trees loom through heavy wisps of gray,
I’m stopped, and stare. Faint orange lights shine through
at intervals in a breathless span of blankness
where any other night, the simple darkness
would glitter as if with pearls. This streetlamp, too,
is strange in its ashen haloed light, the way
it burns my eyes, and sweeps me through with pity.

That campfire smell, as we at first mistake it,
grows acrid—treated lumber, metal rail,
scorched cars, life’s treasures, all they had to show,
now airborne from a hundred miles away.
We’re stardust. On the airwaves, just today,
some rock star physicist proclaimed it so.
It burns my lungs. Bewildered, I inhale
the dust of those who ran and didn’t make it.

Read More

Moon Facts

By Dan Pinkerton

Amid the purr of two-stroke engines
the surf belched little turtles onto the sand
each grain of which was composed

in a Taiwanese factory. The dizzying
ocean-borne scent of unleaded,
overhead the moon a porcelain fixture,

trees filament-filled, shatterable.
The man in the bar drew back the corners
of his handkerchief to reveal the egg

which when touched to your ear
produced a bomb-like ticking. Fry it, bury it,
entrust it to a museum? Humidity

curled along the coast, courtesy
of Lockheed Martin’s great turbines,
synthetic palms swaying and groaning.

In the hotel room sex was administered
intravenously, files corrupted.
We were preoccupied, that was our error code.

As teens we would wander the vacant lots
seeking out weeds where the asphalt buckled.
Flowers were a stretch. Even a dandelion would’ve

stopped our hearts. The Earth had not been
retrofitted, the bodies in orbit not yet
repurposed. Our ancient moon appeared

bedraggled, a door hanging by one hinge.
The exiled part of us kept gleaming
even though cold to the touch.

Read More

Ditch

By David Thoreen

On the side of the house I dug a ditch
than ran the length of my life. When
it rained, I chipped away with adze
and spade, then lined the whole with fabric:
the wool suit I wore for first communion,
my Batman costume from fifth grade
Halloween, the satin bowling shirts
I rescued from an uncle’s cedar chest
after he died (June, the summer I turned
thirteen), a drawer of cotton tees, and the
pale shirts the rich silk ties I purchased
for a job that swallowed my twenties
like an anxious and ravening other, the tux
in which I married, even a sweatshirt
that said Des Moines, in cursive. All this
was stretched aling the ditch. I threw in
the newspapers I’d delivered—three years’
worth—and the time I’d devoted to folding them,
each already beyond penance or prayer.

I pitched in my last confession, a couple
of car accidents, the week in the ICU
after my appendix burst. Good riddance
to the dances where I got drunk, the hangovers
that followed. It was hard to let go of the night
I stood on a golf course in Mason City, Iowa,
looking up at the Milky way, a night that was warm
and smooth in my fingers, but in the end, I dropped
it in too, along with the day my son was born,
and the light in my wife’s eyes as she held him.

I covered it all with a layer of leaves, and over that
rakes seven tons of crushed stone. Anyone
passing this edge of arborvitae would see
a simple path, leading from here to there.


David Thoreen’s poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in American Literary Review, Natural Bridge, New Letters, Presence, Slate, South Dakota Review, and other magazines. He teaches writing and literature at Assumption University, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Originally appeared in NOR 29

Prayer to Mercury

By Justin Jannise

The moon, full the night before he died.
The neighbor’s old golden retriever approached the cyclone fence,
sat and watched the nurses enter and leave,
turned silver
in moonlight, and howled
its long, sad howl.

Fourth-of-July gunshots echoed through morning.
The pact I’d made to keep myself at home glued to the phone’s abrupt news
wavered,
and I allowed a man in
where I vowed no god, after you, would enter.

Your planet in retrograde,
twisting letters around:

Read More

Me/n

By Sarah Jones

He rides a horse // by the fire station
______in Falls City // to slip his resume
into the soft hand // of a secretary—this happens
______before he says, // You carry yourself
in an idyllically classy way // I’d be proud
______ to have you // on my arm. _____ I only think
of alliteration: // of belt buckle—
______the one he wears // while singing karaoke.

_____________________________I take my fishing pole to Beaver Lake
_____________________________after work and a blackbird squawks
_____________________________a breathless death song at the roadside.
_____________________________She has no friends circling the bruised
_____________________________sky, so I sit in the gravel beside her, wait
_____________________________for night to bleed in between the stars.

On Hinge, a man miles // of mountains away
______ sends me a message: // I’ve been staring at your
clavicle for hours. // And I consider all the bones
______ of women beneath // the earth’s surface—
how this man’s bootsoles // must sound against rocks.

_____________________________I enter the chicken coop with a baseball bat
_____________________________and basket as my mother has coached.
_____________________________The bat I one-handedly swing at
_____________________________a buckish cock kicking up chicken shit
_____________________________and feathers. I don’t intend to hit him—
_____________________________just snatch the eggs and run, but I see
_____________________________the scrawny hen he plucks to patches,
_____________________________and I wonder about the sunglasses
_____________________________my mother wears indoors.

My ex says, I do // more than most men,
______or here’s a pillow // perfect for suffocation—take it,
put it on your face. // My grandfather pours the concrete
______foundation of his house, // my stepdad rebuilds
cars and cooks dinner, // my uncle drives his kids
______to school after working the night // shift. What’s
more than most men? // What’s more than most women?

_____________________________The goose’s head is still on the chopping
_____________________________block. Her headless body runs around
_____________________________the yard—blood coming from her neck
_____________________________like a slow sprinkler head. She rushes into
_____________________________the Bermuda grass at my ankles. My ankles
_____________________________itch—and, for not crying, I am tough.

Another Hinge connection. // This time by phone—
______You’d look great on my // motorcycle, he says.
I’m also smart, I say. // Yeah? Well, you’d still
______look great on my motorcycle. // This feels
like the definition of female // or cartwheel or dog chasing tail.

_____________________________In the potboil is a cow’s slick tongue—
_____________________________rigid and rolling in its fatty dross,
_____________________________each impurity clumped together
_____________________________like an inkblot or divination. O Oracle!
_____________________________O Ladle! Speak to me of the sour
_____________________________stink in this house. Help me remember
_____________________________the soft ears of a calf.




Read More

Fetus Eggs

By Annie Trinh

Featured Art “Vessel” by Byron Armacost

This is you: a thirty-year-old mother who had a miscarriage, a wife whose
husband left her, a daughter who steps into a medicine shop and looks at the
walls of herbs. You press your fingers against glass jars, hoping to find a solu-
tion for a successful birth. A bag of maca. A bundle of chasteberries. A box of
cinnamon. You take these medicines to the owner, asking if these plants will
help with fertility or make your body strong enough to handle carrying a child.
And this is your savior: a Vietnamese woman in her seventies who has wrin-
kles around her eyes and tells stories of her survival through the Indochina
and Vietnam Wars. A mother who understands the importance of obtaining
children. A sister who sees your pain as you push the herbs in her direction,
wondering how much you need. Your savior tells you that you don’t need these
herbs—they won’t help, and she goes into the back room and then comes out
with a wooden box. Your savior opens it up and snuggled within the purple
cloth are twelve large eggs. Brown and spotted with freckles. You place an
egg into your palm, cradling it as if it is ready to sleep. Soft heartbeats thump
against your fingers.

Eat these duck fetuses, your savior says, and it will help you get what you
want.

Read More