Koi Pond: Failed Meditation

By Robert Cording

I just wanted to sit, shut my eyes,
tilt my face to the sun, and try not to think,
but the koi, insistent, unappeasable,
crowded to my end, the water roiling
with their need, and, when I opened my eyes,
I saw them lift their bulbous heads,
making sounds with their rubbery, barbeled lips
as if they were gasping for air.
When I shut my eyes again
because I did not want to see, I saw
the little outdoor fireplace on my son’s deck,
embers still burning. The October day
had not yet come into being,
the light anomalous, something between
night and morning. Inside, on the floor
of his living room, my son was dead.
His wife had waited with his body
until my wife and I arrived.
We lay next to him, touched his hair,
his forehead, his cheeks, his lips and chin—
and then I heard myself
trying to tell him we were there, we were
with him, we loved him,
but my words were more like moans
than words, every word sounding
its helplessness. When I opened my eyes,
there were the koi, their too-small pond
swirling with color—white, yellow,
black and white, gold, red and white—
all of them entangled, straining against
each other, mouths agape, turning
and turning in their net of water.

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A Fox

By Ted Kooser

Featured art: Fox by Emi Olin

I saw a red fox stepping in and out
of the shadows of tall granite stones
in a cemetery’s oldest section, fur
flaring as she entered each patch
of sun, though her feet and the tip
of her tail were too darkened by dew
to be set alight. She was quite small
but in her presence the stones forgot
their names. Above her the canopy
was respectfully opening oak by oak
to light her way, though she offered
no sign that she expected any less.
I couldn’t move for fear she’d stop
and fix me with those eyes that had
already stopped everything there,
the headstones, the plastic flowers,
I, too, now breathless as I watched
her pass along that long, long hall,
a flame reflected in its many doors.

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Doves in Morning Fog

By Robert Cording

Featured art: Cloud Head by Byron Armacost

Six A.M. and nothing here but fog
and an impotent sun-god
trying to scissor the fog into pieces,
a little blue patch here, another there.
Then the windows completely misted,
making shadows of whatever
flies by outside. I am sitting with my sorrow
and a cup of tea behind windows
I cannot see through. I’m waiting
to see the pair of doves
I have been listening to as if they are
some type of meditative exercise
to focus myself on the present moment.
I admit, I like being unable to see,
and I like forgetting myself,
if only for a brief time,
taken up by the doves’ call and response—
insistent, relentless—in the live oak
I know is outside my window.
I still cannot see the doves, or the tree,
except for its charcoal-like outlines.
Most likely I am hearing my own sadness
over my son’s death, three years now,
in the doves’ tiresome moans.
But then two palm trees, visible
just this moment, shake out
the morning’s dampness in the first breeze,
as if their raspy rattle can clear my day.
The doves, with their clerical collars
and their who, whoo-whoo, keep up their inquiry,
not letting go of that old question: just who is
sitting here, custodian of an empty mug,
whoever he once was now someone else,
holding on to what is gone, the collared doves
flying off as the fog lifts and another
Florida day, exactly like yesterday, heats up.

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Everett Avenue Facing East

By David Gullette

I have spent years shying away from this poem
this poem in which I try to capture a single gesture of my father’s—

November 1967—a “berry aneurysm” has exploded in my brother’s skull
so I fly down to Raleigh and spend the night in the room
that became mine after our sister went off to college

Early next morning I hear the front door open and
go to the window
my father is leaving the house
I signal him to wait

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The Unnaming

By Hadara Bar-Nadav
Featured art: CV VII: Facial Nerve by Emi Olin

My father who named me will never
again call my name in this life

He eats the earth and eats,
silt filling his throat

A little door of light at the head
of his headstone

His name chiseled in and the date
his name ended

Born inside a strange language, not even
his vowels exist

Assemblage of letters one does not speak
like the true name of God

Prayer is a voice worn paper-thin, drifting
across the dirt

The bright word of him—entire
alphabet of loss

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By Ruth Baumann

I drive 45 minutes to send a man
five states away photos of a sunset
over an alligator-speckled wildlife refuge.
He is a bright possibility, & he breaks
the tired in me. We talk about how nice
it is to be so small. I stand & stare
into the high waters as they night-blacken,
think how beautiful it is to not struggle.
Occasionally there’s a vague splash, but nothing
clashes in the water. Nothing happens,
which might be a stand-in for everything
true happening, because as I start to drive home,
darkness folding like a loose tarp over the earth,
I do that thing where I think in love.

Ruth Baumann is the author of Parse (Black Lawrence Press, 2018) and Thornwork (Black Lawrence Press, 2020). She holds a PhD from Florida State University and teaches in prison.A from the University of Memphis.
Website: ruthbaumann.com


By Samantha Padgett

Feature image: Plague Brunchers by Jon Ward

You asked for my forgiveness six months ago
in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel—

just two sentences scrawled on a 3×5 notecard
you didn’t bother to memorize. Alone

in the kitchen, I drink a four-dollar bottle of rosé
for your eleventh month sober. Outside,

the aluminum bones of my mom’s
wind chimes clatter together

like the beer bottles under my seat
as you drove me to soccer practice.

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Dark Forces

By Tara Orzolek

Apparently there are dark forces that are trying to mess with the cosmos.
I learn that & I learn that a boy I slept with out of pity in college is about to become famous.
I try to not send anything bad through him via the cosmos like brain waves with spikes.
Like a shark attack or something traveling invisible through space-time directly to his well-being. I try to be good this time.
I try to manage my accounts & wipe myself clean of spam & triple xxx junk.
I try to think good thoughts & procure good karma.
It will reign over me like a rainbow & I will strip naked to soak up all the good things
I get from these good thoughts.
Lower blood pressure & a spot in the afterlife etc.
But I strain to not let some bad molecules slip out & cause chaos.
Cause chaos for what?
Nothing really because he doesn’t remember me or does probably but doesn’t think about me. The sex was mediocre & although inexperienced I knew it could be better than that.
That it could feel like a bed closing up on you.
Surrounding you from all sides & bulleting liquid pleasure into your brain.
A multicolored injection of happiness.
It was in a sleigh bed.
The ceiling was above the sleigh bed & it was peeling.
I could not see the cosmos from there.

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kind of

By Dylan Ecker

Featured art: Yawn by Ella Johnson

one of those no cardio
kind of days one of those
Crazy On You by Heart
kind of days one of those

why does the word cardioid
look fiercely snackable kind of
days one of those kind of
cadmic kind of cream puff

cloud cover kind of days one
can’t contain one of those
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again incorrect captcha please

click here to complete secure
decryption kind of days one of
those bilk the Mario Kart blue
shell but fall victim to joycon

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Before He Made Love He Made Light

By David Lerner Schwartz

The reverend kept talking about Christ, how he’d died for this and that. Seated
in the farthest pew, I only thought about the dancer. I both wanted her and
wanted to ruin things. We hadn’t boned yet. Did that make me a sinner or not?
My days were listless—I had just moved to a new city to teach history. I cried
most mornings. After the gym. Something about lifting weights, or hurting. A
release? Or a punishment. I don’t know. I guess people believe we can be saints.
I have blond hair and blue eyes, and when had that hurt anybody? I could
probably at once punch my own face gone and raise an abused kid into a happy
adult. What matters deep inside is a rolling boil.

The campus church was small but beautiful. Since it was an Episcopal high
school, the faculty and students were required to attend each morning. I woke
up early and got into a routine: the gym, a good cry, chapel, class. Toward the
end of the sermon, I studied the old stained-glass skylight behind the cascading
wooden beams. They’d put a mosaic bird in one of the panes for a kid who had
died. Apparently, at his funeral, a swift flew into the church and perched on his
casket. Jesus.

The organ, then the reverend again. He had such a shitty voice. This was a
world of too much talent, so why did he have to sing? He strained when he had
to go high, and his voice had little bass, so it got swallowed by the low notes. We
ended on “Come Down, O Love Divine.” I waited until the third verse, which
was my favorite. The first two were bullshit. My only friend here—Carter, an
English teacher—agreed, and we locked eyes across the sanctuary. “And so the
yearning strong,” I sang, “with which the soul will long, / shall far outpass the
power of human telling.”

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Prairie Box

By Peter Krumbach

Featured Art: North Hero Barns by Pamela Fogg

Sometimes we pretend we are both angels
and phone each other, sitting in the same room,
the doors and windows of our prairie box
open wide, the field crows hopping in.

We step out to the northern porch to fall
asleep on the swing. She reminds me I am no
longer an angel. I remind her of the chic
pet monkey of Frida Kahlo.

We peruse our daily dishonesties. To lie
convincingly, she says, one must hone the craft
of emotional authenticity, the conviction
we spread falsehood to protect the truth.

The day slips on. Before we know it, sweet
wine’s before us. Duck liver on freshly
singed bread. The heavens thunder.
We make marvelous errors.

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Last Request

By Theresa Burns

Featured Art: The Path by Pamela Fogg

When I’m dying and they come
for the last request, I may pass
on a sumptuous meal, ask instead
to ride the bus down Fifth Avenue
on a day like this one. June sky
a Looney Tunes blue, the skins
of sycamores peeling to fresh.
I’ll start in the nineties, where if I squint
I can be in the 16th arrondissement—
so many mansard roofs sluiced
with pigeon droppings, X-rays in trim
Chanel suits headed out for tea. Let me
ogle the Guggenheim again, imagine
the planets in Klee paintings
tracing ellipses on the hive walls.
In the row ahead: a black pirate-
hatted woman, spitting image of Marianne
Moore, a good witch to have
near the end. Let our driver worry
about four o’clock traffic. And the wait
as we kneel for the wheelchaired
passenger to embark. Me, I’m in no hurry.
Make as many stops as you like. I love
these big dirty windows, the perfect
height of my perch. Look Marianne,
no hands!
Only the one writing down
on an envelope—  
                              Be an eye at the end,
not a brain, or a heart.
Just a muscle that records what it’s seeing:
gingko, street lamp, line.

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The Lady Whispering Hush

By Pichchenda Bao

In college, I helped to paint a mural of the bedroom in Goodnight Moon for a
local daycare center. “Oooh, a classic,” everyone said. But for me, it was the
first time I had ever encountered that whimsical book. One more thing to add to
my running list of things I was missing from my childhood. One more thing that
put me slightly out-of-sync with my U.S.-born-and-bred peers.

I would like to insist that my childhood was ordinary and suburban. My
parents drove me to violin lessons. I was a youth football cheerleader for
a season. By the time I was in elementary school and learning how to read,
there was ample food on the table, a house with a backyard, and all the
attendant comforts that went with such stability. I spoke English well, and
so did my parents. But buried under the getting-on of every day, Cambodia
and all we lost there throbbed like an unhealed wound.

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When The World’s Worst Readers Met The World’s Worst Children

By Marcia LeBeau

I gave birth to two reluctant readers. Not that they won’t read or don’t like
being read to, it’s just that books are a hard sell. From the beginning, my well-
loved copy of Beatrix Potter’s Apply Dapply Nursery Rhymes was of no interest
to them. Sweet storybooks, classic and contemporary, with simple narratives
and obvious morals didn’t hold their attention either. Believe me, I tried.

I could sometimes get a Shel Silverstein poem in under the radar without
much backlash and Mo Willems was more than tolerated. Most of the time,
though, my sons would slide off my lap and run to something more exciting,
like a backhoe pushing gravel from one side of our street to the other. You
might think Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site would have done the
trick, but no. This was not the cozy, glowing realm of parent-child bonding I
had imagined.

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Worth the Wait

By Jared Harél

I don’t remember being read to as a child. My parents were good ones—doting and
thoughtful—so perhaps I was, but nothing comes to mind. In fact, I recall only three
books in my childhood home, each a disregarded fixture, like doormats or drapes.
In the living room, there was a mass-market paperback of The Firm. Its cover de-
picted some poor suit dangling over marble green, his brown attaché case just
out of reach. Upstairs, a cream-colored copy of Men Are From Mars, Women
Are From Venus
sat on my mom’s nightstand, half-buried beneath coupons
and ancient receipts. Lastly, we owned a massive, musty brick of Shakespeare’s
Collected Plays I later learned had been there the day we moved in, and which
we humored on a shelf above our treasured Nintendo. God knows how I be-
came an English major, let alone a writer. All this is to admit that my true intro-
duction to children’s books came when I finally had kids of my own.

What I found upon arrival was varied to say the least. I’d expected the fantastical:
hippos in bow ties, transportation with faces, moral platitudes packaged in bright,
garish fonts and delivered by ducklings with an aptitude for end-rhyme couplets. And
sure, there was plenty of that. But there were other things too, like the hypnotic lullaby
of Goodnight Moon, or the spare, incisive grace of Last Stop On Market Street, as
clear and nuanced as a classic blues song. In the latter, as CJ and his nana begin their
long bus ride home, I encountered the following lines: “The outside air smelled like
freedom, but it also smelled like rain.” This was writing of strangeness and beauty.
A children’s book can do that? I vividly recall thinking, till my pajama-clad kids
poked my stomach, eager to get a move on, to keep reading.

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Love for the World: The Poetry of Frog and Toad

By Sunni Brown Wilkinson

In one of his most famous poems, Richard Wilbur writes that “love calls us to the things of this world,” and no children’s literature celebrates the things of this world quite like Arnold Lobel’s charming Frog and Toad series. Beyond its beautiful illustrations and clever humor, the series revels most in a love of what keeps us alive and of language itself. In this way, the Frog and Toad series becomes, in many ways, a gateway to the world of poetry.

Stylistically, the Frog and Toad books, vignettes about two close friends sharing in life’s adventures, mirror poetry more than prose. As books for early readers, they include language that is simple but musical, and the text does not always reach the end of the page but rather breaks at certain words, like a poem. This amplifies the pleasure of reading them aloud (as they should be read), but it also means that, like poetry, each line holds its own weight and carefully wrought cadence.

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epitaph for time travel

By Amy Bagwell

when after thirty years my father
tells me not a day has gone by when
I have not thought of you I reply:  

        1. that’s a lot of nots.
        2. do you think this is a movie? do you think you’re the star?
        3. saying that is like wearing black to a funeral. it doesn’t prove anything.

& he might be speaking again
when I get in my car & back over
my phone on purpose & drive

to one of those nightmare stores
full of bright teeth & paperwork
& devices with new numbers that

fathers don’t have which is unfair
since it was me who called him
after thirty years which is the kicker

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“Because they grow up / and forget what they know”: On the Strange Wisdom of Children’s Poetry

By Eric Redfern

      A small speckled visitor  
              wearing crimson cape,
      brighter than a cherry,
              smaller than a grape.

      A polka-dotted someone
            walking on my wall,
      a black-hooded lady
            in a scarlet shawl.

At five years old, I experienced this Joan Walsh Anglund poem as both charming and creepy. The lilting trochees and cheery rhyme scheme told me that to read the poem was to play a friendly game. But the red cape and black hood? These are the sartorial choices of a villain. A villain, not the villain: there were more of them, and by the fifth line my world would blur at its edges, where tiny, spotted, unidentified “someones” almost palpably teemed. Most troubling and fascinating of all, I could not determine if this “lady” was a bug or a woman, small or tall, dangerous or safe. Anthologies have resolved this ambiguity for their readers by titling the poem “Ladybug,” much as Mabel Loomis Todd domesticated Dickinson’s poems with ordinary titles like “The Bee” or “The Humming-Bird.” But in the illustrated book I had, Anglund’s poems were untitled, and the ambiguity strikes me now as appropriate: ladybugs are “good” garden denizens; most are also carnivorous. Reading about the poem’s “speckled visitor,” my mind made something like a 3-D hologram portrait that morphs into a specter as it’s tilted first one way, then another. Haunting each other, both images stayed strange.

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Over and Over

By Sarah Green

Featured art: Sweets by Abby Pennington

“What comes next?” she asked her mother.

I asked my stepdaughter Lizzie today what she likes best about the picture book Over and Over, by Charlotte Zolotow.

“The cover repeats inside,” she said. “And the phrases.” It’s true: the words over and over in this book about seasons and holidays return themselves in the book’s closing sentences, in which the little girl wishes “for it all to happen again”; “and of course, over and over, year after year, it did.” I’ve read this book so many times, both as a child and as a parent, that if I close my eyes, I think I can get the sequence right. Let’s see—snowfall, Valentine’s Day, Easter, summer vacation, Thanksgiving, birthday, Christmas. Did I get it? Let’s check: Oops, forgot Halloween, and Christmas comes after snow, and the child’s birthday is the last scene pictured. Maybe I still need this book to teach me how it really goes.

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The Fabric

By Jeff Tigchelaar

But I, I love it when you read to me
And you, you can read me anything.
—Stephin Merritt, “The Book of Love”

“I tried to get lots of poetry ones,” said the mom. She’d been to some thrift stores and library sales. She handed her son a big bag of kids’ books. They were for his children, the mom’s grandkids.

By “poetry ones” the mother meant rhyming ones. By telling her son this, she meant, “I know you’re a poetry person.” By that she meant, “I know you’re somewhat of a snob.”

Ten years later . . .

“Dad. What are you doing? I’m in bed. I’m sleeping in here.”

“Sam. Sorry. I need to write something about kids’ books. I kind of waited a little too long, and they’re kind of starting to lay out the magazine. I just needed some material from your shelves.”

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