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.

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By Elton Glaser

Featured Art: Apartment With a View by Tyler Thenikl

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.

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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.

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By Jon Fischer

Featured Art: Above San Gimignano by Tyler Thenikl

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Albuquerque Sunrise

By Ashley Hand

Sometimes I was Melissa. Other times I was Alexis, or Estelle. One night I was Shelby because we’d just watched a Pierce Brosnan movie where he drove a 1967 Shelby GT. By the end of the night the name felt natural and you were slinging an arm around my shoulder and calling me Shelbs. You were always yourself. You were Mac. I wore wigs. I wore peel-and-stick nails. I did elaborate makeup. One night in October we went to the Albuquerque balloon festival and wandered around at dark on the fringe of the crowd, watching the torches gas up into the hollows of the parachutes like they were big paper lanterns, and I was made up in the spirit of Día de los Muertos, a pompadour of blood-red roses that we’d trimmed from the yard crowning my head, and we held hands in public and my face was stiff from paint but I felt like a queen gliding through the stalls of the outdoor fair in my black bodysuit, unrecognized. It smelled like roasted corn and the grass was wet from a rain and the night was warm and it felt like we were free. 

At first we stayed in all the time. We played gin rummy and did crossword puzzles and had sex. We grilled on the patio for dinner. In the evenings we would drink wine and the house was quiet and we would listen to Taps play out over loudspeakers across the Air Force base and watch the last vestiges of violet light disappear behind the wall of cypress trees that blocked out the power lines and concrete buildings. After the final peals of the bugle call, the clicking of the cicadas would resume. We’d slick our legs and necks with bug spray and light a citronella candle and share a cigarette. We talked politics and books. We played mancala and cribbage. I’d tell you stories from my childhood and you’d pet my hair and tell me my father was a bastard.

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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
and I allowed a man in
where I vowed no god, after you, would enter.

Your planet in retrograde,
twisting letters around:

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Ordinary Ode

By Michael Lavers

Sure, Horace, praise the ordinary—
milkweed days, a cow, the crackling
static of the swaying grain. Say yes,
the way the cut hay steams in sun is good,
the way the dahlias bloom in rain.
Say that a hundred shades of dusk
armor the trout, that a pear’s full burden
suits the bough. But when the fire
jumps, or if the fever stays,
when sorrows blacken in the brain
like mold—how could it matter
that some wet grass shone? That grapes
grow sweet? That birches shake in wind,
gilding the new graves with their gold?

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By Michael Lavers

Featured art: smokey lady by Byron Armacost

He made a poem and began it thus:
Muse, tell me nothing! Keep quiet, Muse!
Jules Renard
Muse, tell me nothing! Keep quiet, Muse!
Not that you visit much, or would entrust me
with the grand advancements of the true and beautiful.

But just in case you have some scrap for me,
some local insight or a meager rhyme,
in case you wanted to drop by and put

the coffee on, and light a cigarette, and set your
sandaled feet up on my desk, and give detached
dictation, don’t. Don’t even think about it.

It’s no use telling me the purple buntings
are back, or how the horses down the road
steam after rain, or that two men are felling

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Swamp Lunch

By John Hazard

In Florida’s parks and preserves, the trails are often popular on Sundays, so I’m not surprised to see twenty or more humans standing in a semicircle to stare at something. Soon I see it’s a large wading bird, but I don’t recognize the markings. It’s probably a juvenile with temporarily strange features—maybe a black-crowned night heron? More serious birders would know. Or it could be an immature great blue heron, probably the best-known wading bird, and the adults are elegant creatures indeed. Apparently I’ve caught this youngster in an awkward phase of his development.

Of course, the young heron doesn’t care what his human label is, especially at this moment—he’s just caught a crab and can’t decide how to eat it. He drops his catch, then casually jabs at it, more curious than hungry. Lying on the damp sand, the crab squirms in slow motion. It will do him no good to strain for escape, but he’s right to try, isn’t he? For the sake of nobility, the beauty of struggling against destiny? Although neither creature wanted the encounter, both have accepted their assigned roles. Even the gods, however, can’t make them act with enthusiasm. 

Again and again the bird pokes lazily—until his stiletto beak thrusts, then thrusts again, and suddenly he’s a boxer, jabbing and jabbing, in command, prepping for the knockout. He’s finally found his anger. Poke, poke . . . stab.

He dangles the crab at the end of his beak and stares outward like a seer projecting his vision beyond the swamp. Or is he just showing off? He raises the impaled crab skyward, then drops him again and stabs him again, this time running him through. He raises him toward the sky once more, as if to wait for a sign from above, or at least applause from the human audience. The bird acts as if he’s got all day, acts as if stunning the crab has been his manly plan all along and not a random gesture. 

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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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