Listen

By Pamela Gullard

Featured Art by Mallory Stowe

The day after Marta Holmen’s older sister Iggy called to say she was coming for a visit, Marta cleaned her small house overlooking the historic Santa Barbara library. She washed the kitchen and bath towels in case one of them was stale or dusty, cleaned up stacks of work files on the dining room table, scrubbed the kitchen floor twice, and bought a new lamp from Dorman’s for the guest bedroom. Marta hadn’t seen her sister in seven years. Iggy, a certified, well-tested genius, was hard to reach or predict. Maybe you said the wrong thing; you’d never know. Iggy would frown and leave the room. Marta was now thirty-four, already a respected attorney who could guide her clients through an intricate divorce. Her sister brought her back to being a kid caught up short and tongue-tied.

Marta brought her guitar out of her bedroom and propped it in the corner of the kitchen so Iggy would see it. See she was learning something new.

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What I Could Not Take

By Erin Redfern

I didn’t sneak through a side door. I didn’t leave a note.
I did it so fast that, had you been next to me in his marble kitchen,
you would have thought I was still there.

When I left the abuser—I will not call him mine
I switched a lens. I saw what he did. The last was a little thing,
his making fun of how I wanted to call my dad. A misstep. I thought it,

and clocks remembered their ticking, windows their view.
When I left, I did not take my hairbrush or work shoes
or the green girl I’d been. I did not take

the rabbit peeing down the sides of her cage
because the litter box full of shavings
was the only soft place she had to rest.

And I did not take his nine-year-old in skating skirts,
poking her cavities with a toothpick at breakfast
while no one ever called a dentist—girl so used

to being in his bed I had to lock the door against her.
What I could not take, I left. And woke, walking
between railroad tracks over an open plain,

the sleepers turning to salt as I stepped, a clean wind filling
the raised pillar of my body.
I was not good, or pure; I lived.


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There, There

By: Erin Redfern

If he had just left our books open on the rug where we’d kissed

a little, but mostly done our homework,

if he hadn’t gone and sat in the pink toddler chair

behind the closet door she flung open, mom-radar pulsing, to find him

knees-to-ears and those size-thirteen clodhoppers clutched in his lap.

If she hadn’t pressed herself silent, then

walked out and drove off, leaving us to re-break the rule

about being alone in the house. If I hadn’t met him again the next day,

and the day after that, if she hadn’t rifled my room, my diary,

made his single mom come to our house where she screamed

in front of her and him and my dad, “He just wants to get in your pants!”

If for the next fifteen years I didn’t use men to test this hypothesis. If like a bewildered         
        wave

I didn’t break myself on that rock, and do it again.

Then, our first night, I wouldn’t have signed myself over

in the old abdicating way, my body a quick illiterate “X,”

and waited to know how you’d bend me to your need,

and when you didn’t, when your unhurried hands

barely brushed the fine hairs without touching skin, over and over

until time pricked its ears, one paw suspended,

there would have been no slow wash of pain

as I reentered myself like blood does a frost-bitten limb,

and I would not have been able to go

all the way back, give the good dumb boy his shoes

and send him away, then turn at last to the waiting girl

and say there. There you are. I thought I’d lost you.


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Ode to the White Girl at the Gym

By Shavahn Dorris-Jefferson

White girl with the slender legs, I’ve been measuring myself
by those yardsticks, trying to fit into the cocoon of your skinny
jeans and make this butt a butterfly. White girl with the limpy locks—

angel hair—I’m running behind you on the track, watching your ponytail,
a pendulum, swing back and forth and back again. I bet even the hair
in between your thighs is smooth as thread, your knuckle frizz

a fine, fine filament. You fair thing! The way you stop to stretch,
raising your arms without thinking, bending back without looking
to see who’s behind you. O how I want you and hate you.

Or want to hate you. Or hate to want you. Butter-skinned
beauty, I could swallow you whole and alive.


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Eyrie Hours

By Stephanie A. Pushaw

Featured Art: Pulse by Rachel Ann Hall

The fog arrives at the ordinary hour, filming up the floor-to-ceiling window, threading its gray glow from the sea through the canyons with the slow precision of watercolor paint. The canyons aren’t unbeautiful, their velvety seams byzantine as brainfolds and as tight with kerneled mystery. From this height, which erases the ugly parts—the trafficky roads with their margins of hawk-picked roadkill, the insulting sloppiness of the graffiti on the rockfaces from which car-sized boulders plunge with some regularity—the canyons are soft, gentle. Every angle, opening, and balcony on this property has been designed for appreciating Nature, from the appropriate distance: above the smogline, beyond the reach of honks and sirens and gunshots, with a hard kombucha and a heated blanket close to hand.

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Before We Rushed Our Daughter to the Hospital

By Lina Herman

It’s 3:10 on Wednesday this past Wednesday three days ago
I’d skipped the Next Steps and Check-Out
sections of my team’s quarterly planning meeting
to get Louisa to Bayview Park early for after-school surf camp
she likes to pull her wetsuit on before they head down to Cole Point
I get home in time to whip heavy cream we are going low-fat high-carb
I mean high-fat low-carb I hear Isabel’s world history teacher on speaker
begging the kids to turn in something anything by Friday
when he lets her class out she comes to the kitchen she zips and unzips
her brown velour sweatshirt with daisies embroidered on the pockets
she asks me what I’m doing now and I tell her about my quick snack
before my 3:30 debrief call I eat the cream with blueberries and pecans
out back under our avocado tree I like the way the sun lands soft
for my few extra minutes I choose between The New York Times Daily
and my urban paranormal fantasy audiobook I can’t remember which I pick
probably the shapeshifter novel that’s what I like when work is piled on
I bring my bowl and spoon and mason jar still half-filled with sparkling water
back to the kitchen Jacob has come home early wearing his navy tie
he picks at the leftover cheese from my ranch salad I had wanted
to at least wash the whisk before my call I hate it when people in this house
leave the whisk in the sink it seems so delicate like it will get crushed
under dirty dishes though it never has but it’s also nice
to lean against the counter and chat about what was it bike riding
at the waterfront maybe or defrosting salmon for dinner
I thought you were in the bathroom he says and I wonder out loud
why heavy cream tastes so much better in its whipped form
when Isabel comes in shaking crying arms crossed
her hair in a low ponytail strands hanging loose
gripping two empty amber prescription bottles
hair falling out of her ponytail all those strands
and tells us she swallowed all the pills


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Mood Lighting

By: Lara Egger

Featured Art: Identity by Paige Greeley

Probably it wasn’t your childhood dream
to be a camel on a cruise ship.
And I’m guessing, given the choice, that mime
would have preferred not to open
for a Def Leppard cover band.
                                                        I’m not the person
I’d banked on being either.
Worse for wear, this HazMat suit
is chafing my mojo, and it’s been forever
since any stranger offered to buy me
a glass of wine.
                          Would you still love the moon if I told you
it’s dangling from a hangman’s knot?
My joie de vivre
                               is a solid six when aided
by mood lighting. It’s Luciferian, right?
To be given a body but no gift receipt.
And just as diabolical to be nearing the finish line
wishing I’d fought harder
                                                to have children.
Yesterday, in line at Starbucks,
I noticed the teenage girl ahead of me—
effortlessly taut
                                  in those really short shorts,
her skin, #nofilter flawless.
People like to ask kids what they want to be
when they grow up, but no one ever warns you
there’s an expiration date
                                                on feeling beautiful.
Probably destiny didn’t expect she’d struggle

with a sense of direction. I ignored
the smoke detector, assumed
its batteries were flawed.


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The Age of Reckoning

By Lara Egger

My mother calls
                         my relationship with my body
anti-feminist. In other words, she’s worried
I’ve binge-loved
                             my way to emptiness. And it’s true
I once equated the male gaze
                                                    with praise, felt a certain power
when my own glance
                                     detonated
                                                         like a cherry bomb
across the room.

                               I am moonlighting at the mall
of consequences—
                                  look at those Victoria’s Secret mannequins
being hauled out with the trash.
                                                         As for my appendages,
let’s say fire
                      sale or epilogue or single-use
supernova.
                    The brightness in this? I’m almost never
that woman now, the kind other women
                                                                       should fear.
O lust, its biodegradable
                                           valor. O goat-sucker,
Chupacabra
                      heart.
                                 Didn’t I once maim
a man into leaving his wife? Yes, I’m all blood sport
when I dance. Hindsight is a love-bite, desire’s
                                                                                  busted vessels.
I have a history
                             of getting what I deserve.


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Caveat Emptor

By Lara Egger

Featured Art: Untitled by Kayla Holdgreve

That I rock stilettos to boost my self-esteem—
at least I did until someone pointed out
they accentuate my cankles.

Maybe you can’t put lipstick on a pig
but no one can stop you from trying. Yep,

I’m definitely the whole package.
Roundly addicted to Takis Fuego,
to “let’s be empty together” sex.

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How Do You Name a Hurricane?

By Amy Lee Scott

First, watch the storm gathering. On the map there is a bustle of white, so much like a twirling petticoat that spins faster and faster. When it gets big enough, the astronauts post photos. News outlets flash warnings. People clear supermarket shelves, hammer up boards, track down batteries. Outside, the wind thrashes.

***

Arthur. Bertha. Cristobal. And Dolly.

Use old names, like our grandparents’. Names that stick. That is why we began to name them: the old labels—just numbers—were not enough. We needed names to contain such catastrophes.

Why would anyone even live there? someone said after looking at photos of decimated islands. They are destroyed year after year.

We weren’t noticing the hurricanes. Here, we were scrolling and scrolling past black squares. Past Black faces:

George. Breonna. Ahmaud. The list went on.

***

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To Avoid or to Embrace

By Matthew T. Birdsall

The Children’s Hospital is hyperaware of itself
—all this youthful sickness, sadness everywhere—
so it dons cartoonish decor and displays of smiling families
around every corner, in every poster, on every screen.
It feels so forced, but I get it—no one wants
to be known as the joyless Children’s Hospital.

I can’t decide if I’m reading poems
in my daughter’s room in the Neurology wing
to avoid or to embrace how I’m feeling
about a doctor-ordered-5-days-and-nights stay
with my 9-year-old without her epilepsy meds
waiting for seizures to happen during a pandemic
because we need to record baseline data over time
to make future decisions and this is where we start.

I convince myself it’s not my feelings,
it’s that they’re mixing sentimentality into the recycled air—
pumping hastily wrought emotions into my daughter’s room
because I can’t even read bad poems without tearing up—
maudlin poems about dads dying, mooshy poems
about wading into the ocean to die, high-and-mighty poems
proclaiming they know what’s good for my soul.

I set my book down to get away from the words
watching my daughter watching an animated movie—
an anthropomorphic disguising of humanity’s beautiful flaws
because just like with the children’s hospital decor
adults repackage reality in colorful, shiny cartoons
when they think children will be upset.

A character is ranting at the naive, altruistic protagonist:
Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song
and your insipid dreams magically come true!


I wonder if the hospital is listening, smirking,
as my daughter grins, snuggles closer, and disappears
blissfully into a drawn-out song-and-dance number.
For now, she is content and she asks me how I’m feeling.
I smile back and lie, telling her I’ve never been better
and there’s no place I’d rather be
.


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Sand

By Justin Rigamonti

Featured Art: Blurred House by Kayla Holdgreve

On the phone,
Liz says she visited a guy
whose death was scheduled
for the end of June—
same disease,
a little further down the path.
So he chose a day.
So we hold each other
through the phone line and
wonder what it’s like
to blink off forever.
We can’t believe it.
Like a housecat following
a sunbeam’s toasty
path across the kitchen floor,
inch by inch until
there’s nowhere left—
and then? Later that night,
in my sister’s kitchen,
my kindergarten niece insisted
she’d never lived anywhere
but the house we were in.
So I played along,
asked her where she was before.
She closed her eyes for one
slow breath, then sighed
and said in a flat tone,
The Land of Nowhere.
I asked her what it felt like
to be there, and she showed me,
prostrate on the floor,
Just lying on my face in the sand.


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Donation

By: Linda Hillringhouse

Featured Art: Undiagnosed by Rachel Ann Hall

I arrive at the moment
when the oncologist tells my brother
that his bones look like Swiss cheese

& that yes this disease will kill him
& my brother shoots up from the table
in a rictus of terror, the undiagnosed Asperger’s
in overdrive, & I jump in & say Of course
the doctor means many years from now


& mercifully the doctor switches scripts
& a year later, after the first transplant fails,
asks if he could test my DNA for a second one

& one day I walk into the hospital
& my sister-in-law, queen of the underworld,
says Great news, you’re a match!
& I want to rip her face off, having just read
about the dangers of donating stem cells

& I pretend to be happy but I’m terrified
& have to tunnel down deep to grab
the cowering little yes by the scruff

but my mother hears about a doctor
who saved her friend’s son who also
had multiple myeloma & the new doctor tells me
a second transplant won’t work
and would be a living hell & I’m relieved

& I have worn this skirt of shame every day
for fifteen years, since I threw
that phony fistful of earth into his grave.


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Intersection

By Linda Hillringhouse

It would’ve taken all the water tanks on all the roofs in New York City
filled with whiskey, all the leaves in Riverside Park telling me how
to proceed every minute of the day. I would’ve needed to punch through
the self-induced coma, a blast so loud it would’ve popped the manhole covers
on Amsterdam Ave. It would’ve taken all the trashcans on all the streets
of the Upper West Side to hold the ashes of all the days I burned.
There were words, turning toward the sun, but I left them at the bodega,
among the plums and oranges, in a booth at Four Brothers, on the bar
of the Gold Rail, where I waitressed and whirled in the coronal flames
of young men’s eyes. I left them on stoops and in doorways, all the way
up Broadway to the little shop on 123rd Street with Maggie and Tina to buy
the Nefertiti necklaces for six bucks. I left words dying on traffic islands
amid the beer bottles and candy wrappers and in the writing class where
I would sit paralyzed, petrified of finding out who I wasn’t. And in the end
I chose safety and had to bend every bone in my body to fit into that tiny chair.


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The Mentor

By Lexi Pandell

Featured Art: When Lunches Synch Up by Mallory Stowe

In a shingled house at the edge of the Berkeley Hills—near campus with its bulletin boards covered in smeary flyers for an upcoming Angela Davis lecture and another of a white woman toting a machine gun, and close enough to the Greek Amphitheater that the roar of a concert reverberated through the thin windows—Jane Gardener sat with six other women at a kitchen table. This was a dinner party. She’d forced herself to go with the intention of socializing. Yet she couldn’t stop thinking about how, though Lori said these dinners were about learning from other women in the restaurant industry, her presence felt like a charity. The stench of feet persisted despite the hand-dipped incense wafting in the corner. How could Lori purport to care about food, yet burn out her nose with cheap nag champa?

All of them were restaurateurs, except for Eartha, the German woman Jane employed as sous-chef at Dîner, whom she had invited to help her survive the affair.

“Isn’t spending time with friends supposed to be enjoyable?” Eartha had asked.
They weren’t her friends, though. Not really. Once, there had been more women in this coterie, some she’d actually liked. But, one by one, they had married and turned their attention to their home lives.

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I’ve Always Wanted to Be Truly Alone

By John Sieracki

Rob won’t stop talking.
There’s a word for that: compensatory. No.
Comp something. Rob would be someone to ask.
But I don’t want to encourage him.
My electric lawnmower, on the other hand,
is pretty quiet when I use it to vacuum
up the little pieces in the fall.
Except I can still hear Rob.

He’s got some kind of big dinner he’s doing,
hundreds of people, money floating around,
speeches about different kinds of humans,
even different species that are called human.
Or were; they’re gone now. And to what extent
they interacted, as in mated, he tells me.

Next topic: he’s going to India next week.
He says, “A couple of Indians I know
complain it’s just too crowded for them.”
“What’s the grass in India like in the fall?” I say.
We’re each trying to make ourselves a vacuum.

At one point Rob says the word “excelsior,”
which is not the first time lately.
“It’s a favorite, meaning upward,” he explains.
“Up is overrated,” I say, although
I tell myself that all kinds of humans
have found up to be better, for practical reasons.
For instance, the Dennis someones.
The Dennisors. No. That’s not them.


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O Youthfulness

By Dean Young

You are without age definitionally
Ergo not confined to a single one.
Not to quickly solving the cube
Or standing in pee-stained underwear
Eating microwave lasagna with a spoon
Or diving from a cliff so swift you can’t tell
Flight from impact
Or feeling the heart leap with such fury
You want to kill yourself but know
Why bother?
Not nailing Act III
Or sweeping the temple steps
Or thinking your shadow is a skein of spiders
Or regrettable sartorial choices
O what was I expecting
Or going a bit bonkers with an aquarium
Or running the anchor leg
Or insulting the therapist
Or crying mommy mommy all the way home
Or not really having a home.
The great path goes under ground
Then emerges at a waterfall.
Tiny fibers connect us all,
Electrical wads nervous as car alarms.
Don’t worry about the cherubim.
Just walk right up to the elephant.
That door marked Exit is also the way in.


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Before Poetry Can Save the Planet, It Needs to Shift Our Souls

By Marcia LeBeau

Featured Art: Regrowth by Grace Worley

Every Tuesday morning, I throw a portable white board and some books into my car and drive up the hill to our local nature reserve. There within the 2,000 acres, I squint through the bare tree branches to spot little dots of pink, green, blue, and yellow jumping and climbing—the kindergarteners. When they see me, they start yelling, “Poetry time!” Most are excited; one makes it a point to tell me that he still hates poetry. He’s my favorite.

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At Home in the Cosmos: On the Poetry of Don Domanski

By Tarn MacArthur

When we talk of “environmental poetry” we are talking of a poetic genre rooted in traditional ideas of nature, a genre which, historically, elevates specific ecologies to invoke the physical and temporal proximity of the living, breathing world. In doing so, environmental poems have tended to prioritize a connection to the local, forging the bonds of intimacy with what can be held in the senses long enough to become reliably known—this forest, those cliffs, that river, these animals—and eventually defining what it means to be considered presently here.

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Indivisible

By Martha Serpas

Featured Art: Rushing Water by Kayla Holdgreve

I used to joke that Simone Weil could write, “It is better to say, ‘I am suffering’ than to say ‘this landscape is ugly,’” because she wasn’t a poet. Poets create images and metaphors that readers can recognize and make meaning from. But Weil means to move us past projection toward greater self-awareness and vulnerability and away from the aesthetic and moral judgments that destroy our world. Rather than become acquainted with our inmost selves, we ascribe our pain to what we believe is other and treat it as expendable.

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How Blank an Eye? Seeing and Overlooking Nature in Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”

By Matthew VanWinkle

While contemplating an Italian sunset in 1822, Byron couldn’t resist getting in a dig at his friend Shelley’s affection for the previous generation’s poetry: “Where is the green your Laker talks such fustian about? . . . Who ever saw a green sky?”1 The Laker in question is Samuel Taylor Coleridge; the meteorological observation drawing Byron’s ire occurs in “Dejection: An Ode” (1817), Coleridge’s anguished exploration of a damaged response to the natural world and the implications of this damage for his poetic vocation. It’s tempting to attribute Byron’s objection to the zest he takes in stirring things up generally, or to his intermittently vehement distaste for the Lake School of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey specifically. Yet Byron’s snarkiness on this point is far from idiosyncratic. Romantic era poetry frequently and famously evokes Nature with a capital N, but these evocations sometimes lead a reader to wonder if the devotion to the big picture comes at the expense of acute observation. More pointedly, the big picture seems less a landscape with a life of its own and more a portrait of the artist’s own ambitions. Nature is unmistakably present, even prominent, in romantic era poems, but what, or who, is it there for?

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Reflections in Lake District Mist

By Alycia Pirmohamed

At an event I once attended titled “Landscape and Literary Culture,” Aimee Nezhukumatathil said something along the lines of, “The trees don’t ask you where you’re from.”

Lately, I’ve been asking myself why I rarely imagine my body, a brown woman’s body, moving through the natural world. It makes me wonder what I have internalized about ecology, about the borders between “natural” and “urban.” About access to green spaces and the bodies that are perceived as belonging within them.

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Poetry at a Lakeside Trailer Park

By Tina Mozelle Braziel

Featured Art: Silk Snapper Wild USA, $14.99/lb by Rachel Ann Hall

1.
Poetry is a trailer park on a lake that isn’t really a lake but a dammed river and not on the main channel but along a slough, a fraying edge of a body of water that draws some of us to buy a double-wide, rent a lot, build a pier, and dock a boat in the marina.

The dam “lets the water out” each winter, a phrase conjuring a bathtub whose pulled plug leaves a dirty trickle down the middle. This is a far cry from the face of the deep where light, sky, land, and creatures were spoken into being, yet even such a slough is mysterious, elemental, germinal.

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