Rival Poet | Cathy Huang

Should our world be sundered by Hell below and Heaven above,
I’d wager that the two of us would be side-by-side amongst the chaos,
writing down all that we see on our little parchments,
dipping our pens in the same inkwell.

You would write about the angels, I know you would.
Fairies and summer roses are always sparkling in your eyes.
But I’m afraid my thoughts drift to darker things.

Should I gather together the pretty words of all the poets,
from every university and every stage,
I think I’d have just enough to weigh equally
the work you do in a single night.

Should we ever speak without reservation,
I think we’d both find that golden timeless rhyme,
the end to conquest, an ambrosia of words
in the stirred air between us.
But we clip our conversations
and the phrases unspoken rot away and disappear.
Yet even amputated, I still come away from you
with all these final acts, soliloquies,
quartos, and sonnets,
tumbling out of my imagination.

Should we ever speak of the night on the empty stage,
after the actors and audience had cleared—
I don’t think we could.
You may need to invent the words for the sight of us,
laying on our backs and talking to the world,
allowing the other to eavesdrop.
I could not fathom your shoulder so close to mine, our long hair mingling together.
So you talked of strange philosophies
And I wondered on war and time
As we lay in the footprints of tragedy and comedy both.

Should I ever tell you that I hear your voice
when I read beautiful poetry
or try to write it
I would hope you say the same.

Should we ever return to that night, I would never sit up and remark on the passing time.
I would never send you away.

Should I have only a hundred words to carry with me,
through every play and conversation and lover’s lament,
to last me my whole life through:
I’d give each and every word
to you.

Writer’s Commentary

My main takeaway from studying the Elizabethian playwrights in college is that their lives are quite fun to fictionalize, glamorize, and romanticize. For all the weight that history carries, it’s just nice to do something arguably silly with it. William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe probably were not in love. They might have never even met. But I had fun writing it, and that’s it. It was fun! That’s it! Take it to the bank, boys!

Cathy Huang is a young writer based in Southern California. She loves insects and earl gray tea and exclamation marks!

Careers Week | Rodd Whelpley

An ode to the early ’70s and the Midwestern factories therein

Years before anyone noticed the belt was rusted, before us,
our big brothers, our teachers, our moms and dads owned up,
saw for themselves how, like phantoms in the dawn, jobs
could mist into atmosphere, we children (except for trouble
makers – you, Franky Tapia, and you, Clark Bennet) sat in
rows, alphabetical, crayoning fourth grade pictures of what
we’d seen the day before –

When busses banged us past the TrueTemper, (some still
called it the Fork & Hoe) took us, instead, to the Hi C bottler,
where we covered our eyes with snorkel-mask goggles, then
banded ourselves two-by-two to wander the assembly line,
like one hungry caterpillar, watching fifty moms and dads
press grapes into cans – and Tommy’s cousin, who
recognized Tommy, even in those crazy safety glasses, leapt
quick from his station, sprinted past steel tanks, past pulp
collectors running at head turning speed, so we, the teachers,
the workers, the foremen all had eyes on him when he burst
into the fishbowl breakroom, ripped from its tacks that
calendar with the picture of that woman with those naked,
creamy jugs not soon to be forgotten. Which, somehow,
signaled a jarring end to the field trip, the plant manager
loading six family-sized cans of juice on the first kids in line,
handing an opener to another, mouthing over our heads
somewhere in the vague direction of Mrs. Nichols a silent
“I’m. Sooooo. Sorry.”

And this is how Careers Week starts, with touring and
coloring, with grape-juice mustaches, and pounding each
other right on the vaccination scar, saying, “How about a nice
Hawaiian Punch?’ Eventually, dividing up, scrawling our
pertinent information between smelly mimeographed lines on
employment applications for our classroom factories building
macramé and paper crafts. And John Fitzgerald Kennedy Putt
knowing he’s topped us all – listing as his only reference:

Wednesday, the room – our town – has sparked to life, the
sounds of conversation and commerce, prosperous wafts of
British Sterling from the corner where Jeff Pasqualone (like
his father) eschewed the time clock, opened, instead, a barber
chair to compete with Ruthie Parson’s beauty shop. The
whole room abuzz, bookmarks and greeting cards step-by-
stepping through the process of interchangeable parts until
finished, spilling off the line.

Then, like adults, we let it go to ruin
in all the human ways.

First, Joey Perrico (“Never the most athletic of boys,” I
would later hear a teacher say) sat for five minutes, his
hand in a dish of Palmolive, a practice we had learned from
Madge the Manicurist on TV commercials, and Ruthie had
the gall – and Joey the nerve – to let her coat his nails a
stunning blueberry pearl, which brought catcalls – Sissy.
Girl. Nancy. – raining down upon them, which Battle-Axe
Nichols completely ignored, choosing, instead, at that very
moment, to pull Frank and Clark from the factory floor,
confront them with their pictures, their crude (but not
inaccurate) interpretations of the calendar girl. She sputtered
as if whispering, except loud for all to hear: “You two will
never be nothing. You better hope the army will find some
use for you.”

And so, Thursday, back to lessons, in our beat-up, spine-
cracked books we read: “Someday a man will land on the
moon.” And we laughed, because we’d seen it all before.
And twice last year, when we’d called in from family garages
our scruffy-faced brothers, interrupted their installation of
eight tracks and subwoofers into their Chargers, their
Corvairs and El Caminos to see on our snowy Zeniths these
men in puffy suits, weightless, jump and tumble, pull what
they said was orange soil from the Sea of Serenity that they
claimed could be volcanic. My brother nudged and pointed,
said to me, “Hey creep, some day that will be you. On Mars.”
But I could only wonder how many pages the application
For a job like that could be.

Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt – their images flickering to
earth like a dream – moon buggied, singing past Cochise
Crater in a rover they would leave parked somewhere in a
lunar valley. Abandoned – and as idle as soon would be
the worn-out presses at the Fork & Hoe, the stained-beyond-
salvage vats sitting empty in the cob-webbed shell that once
was Great Lakes Canning. Surely, another mission will make
use of it. And the moon car – only 22 miles on it – fitted with
a newer, better battery will turnover at first crank, run as true
as the day it rolled off the line, the last workman trotting
beside it, wiping smudges from its windows. Yes, the folks at
NASA know for sure they will be back. The rover will run
again, because the moon is not Akron or Canton or
Cleveland, not Pittsburgh or Youngstown, Pontiac,
Saginaw, Gary, Flint, Detroit. This reflective orb is
independent of the air, six flags claiming it solely for
America. Surely, a boy like me will go back
to the moon.

There is no oxidation
on the moon.

Rodd Whelpley manages an electric efficiency program for 32 cities across Illinois and lives near Springfield. His poems have appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Shore, 2River View, Star 82 Review, Kissing Dynamite, Barren, Shot Glass Journal, The Naugatuck River Review, The Chagrin River Review and other journals. Catch as Kitsch Can, his first chapbook, was published in 2018. Find him at www.RoddWhelpley.com.

St Swithin’s Grave | Stuart Rawlinson

Six-foot when standing—St Swithin of the Venta.
His coffin now cracked, clumsily in thirds.
A pious life’s promise, plundered through worship,
Adoration, respect and a relic’s protection;
Disinterred from the churchyard, last requests unheard.

Deep in December dark waters rise;
The quiet Bishop quickened from his forsaken rest—
Colourless and cold, the coffin takes float
Below Romanesque vaults and cold rows of pews:
His ship’s short voyage. (Strange port in a storm)

No rain god required: in rage, Swithin swore
Forty days of rain for veneration’s sin
From Saxon skies, sharp and unforgiving.
Now the English examine each and every word,
Putting ink on velum, promising peace.

In the Cathedral square, Christmas shoppers
Feel the first spots of rain.

Writer’s Commentary

A poem about the history under our feet, as people rush around with their lives, oblivious to it.

Stuart Rawlinson is a Brisbane-based writer, focused on poetry and currently writing his debut novel. Stuart’s poems have been published in various publications, such as Black Bough Poetry, Adelaide Literary Magazine and Bluepepper. He writes a literary blog at stuartrawlinson.com and is active in the poetry community on Twitter at @mrsturawlinson

The Summer Day | Tracy Gaughan

after Mary Oliver

I read somewhere that you had died, Mary. I do not know if you had planned it this way,
or whether you feel it was perhaps too soon? Maybe you had intended to stroll idly
through those lush pulsating fields; feed the grasshopper once more
or visit the black bear. What else? Maybe the swans – that wedge you saw, moving white and firm and shrill across the afternoon sky – were singing for you?
When a pain maybe, sudden as a sniper’s bullet,
brutal as a land-mine discharging in the chest, caused your heart to stop?
My friend Aiina would have understood this. She could have related.

The first time she read The Summer Day, she learned it by heart
and recited it for her father, right before never seeing him again.
He had planned to be home by sunset. She kissed him on the cheek.
It was warm, she said, like flat bread from the oven.
Days later, before leaving Aleppo, she left a note on the front-door for him,
for her father, telling him all about her plans.
They drove in convoy toward the border and violently as your pain Mary,
a white pick-up rammed straight into them. Bam! One boy died.
They were told to get out and kneel-down in the grass.
They did not know if the soldiers had a plan.
When one moved his jaws up and down and asked her what her name was,
she asked him what it was he planned to do with his one wild and precious life.
When he shot her uncle, she knew.

He fell hard she said, like an oak in Massachusetts. It was a sound she would never forget,
although she had planned to. Because her mother screamed, he shot her as well;
right between her enormous complicated eyes.
Her mother knew exactly what a prayer was
but she wasn’t paying attention, and nobody blessed her.
Aiina had planned to forget that too.

She asked me once if I thought the dead could be disappointed.
Because in those first weeks without their mother, she and her sister were so hungry,
they ate whatever they could find. That included grasshoppers. Big ones.
They snapped their wings off and chewed them like candy.
She asked her sister once, what it was she had planned to do with her one wild and precious life. Her sister told her to shut-up. Plans are the pleasures of privileged poets, not Syrian orphans rummaging in Turkish rubbish bins. They don’t even know we’re alive, she said.

Now you’re dead, you will never know that Aiina lived, nor how hard she tried
to answer your question. She knew this much: that if she ever made a plan again,
Allah would laugh all over it. Even the best made ones go wrong.
She knew this too because her sister always talked about having a plan B.
And while we make plans, John Lennon said, life happens.
So too – as you and I and he and she know – does death.

As it goes, Aiina’s one and only wild and precious life, was the blueprint for a lonely house.
The rooms were always empty. Guests made plans to come but never arrived
and the summer day, Mary, was always coming to an end.

Link to original Mary Oliver poem:

Tracy Gaughan is a writer and workshop facilitator from Galway, Ireland.  She presents the popular arts show ‘WestWords’ on local community radio and recently completed an MA in International Contemporary Literature and Media at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Fromelles – 19 July 1916 | Rob McKinnon

Horrifying noises of the battle
screams of orders
voices of other soldiers
barely penetrated his consciousness.

Head pressed against the sandbags of the parapet
he was terrified.

Haunting thoughts of his sweetheart
begging him not to enlist
pleading with him that it was not his war
but succumbing to the pressures
of other boys and townsfolk
who were seduced by calls
to fight for King and Country.

Father’s stoic handshake
backslapping encouragement to give them hell
Mother’s tearful hug
imploring him to keep safe
recruitment, training,
the boat trip and Egypt
before being deployed,
all seemed like an instant ago.

Entering no man’s land
he met massacring enemy fire.

Writer’s Commentary

As an Australian, the legends of the ANZACs have loomed large in our national ethos but if I had of been in the same situation, whether that was at ANZAC Cove, Fromelles, Villers-Bretonneux or any battle in any war, I know I would have been petrified.

Rob McKinnon lives in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. His poetry has previously been published in Re-Side Magazine, Nightingale & Sparrow Literary Magazine, Black Bough Poetry, Dissident Voice, Tuck Magazine and InDaily.

Satanic Verse | Maggie Mackay

My new husband calls
for public prayers and fasting.
Covens act in cahoots,
conspire to kill us both
by raising of storms,
casting of a cat’s severed corpse
into the North Sea.
Hunts rage through the land
for women working together
in league with demons.
Against such assaults of Satan
my husband wages a crusade,
first the North Berwick Witches
burned at the stake,
others drowned by tides.

Writer’s Commentary

This is one of a set of ‘Anna’ poems were inspired by a workshop at Riddle’s Court in Edinburgh which was run by Glasgow Women’s Library. Queen Anne was a significant figure in Scottish and British history. She was a strong character who brought the education and elegant culture of the Danish court to her new land. 

I live in Dunfermline, the ancient capital of Scotland where she resided at the Palace and where her son, Charles I was born.

Maggie Mackay loves family and social history which she winds into poems and short stories in her MA portfolio and in print and online journals. One of her poems is included in the award-winning #MeToo anthology while others have been nominated for The Forward Prize, Best Single Poem and for the Pushcart Prize. Another was commended in the Mothers’ Milk Writing Prize. Her pamphlet ‘The Heart of the Run’ is published by Picaroon Poetry and the booklet ‘Sweet Chestnut’ published by Karen Little in aid of animal welfare. She is a poetry pamphlet reviewer for www.sphinxreview.co.uk

You Can Never Go Back | Glen Sorestad

Within me still, the child that will not leave
would have me return to a little farmhouse
surrounded by thickets of aspen trees.

Who could deny there is idyllic charm,
inviting pastoral appeal in such a scene,
one to conjure memories, aching and warm,

a benchmark for other places I’ve been
to be measured against? What I do know
is that oddly tinted light by which I’ve seen

this place or that, how the wind will flow
across this hill and down, or how the sky
renews itself daily, there and there, just so.

The child in me always wonders why
return is not an option. No matter how I try,
each answer comes out sounding like a sigh.

Glen Sorestad is a Canadian poet who was been publishing his poems in many parts of the world over the past half-century. He is the author of over twenty books of poetry and his poems have appeared in over seventy anthologies and textbooks, as well as being translated into eight different languages. Sorestad lives in Saskatoon on the South Saskatchewan River.

Hole Mill Inn | Sam Barbee

− Devon

By eventide, stars crawl
the horizon at Branscomb-by-the-Sea.
Miles into a valley,
waits Hole Mill Inn, a Tudor cottage:
ivy supports stone walls,
and roses prop banisters
around a slate verandah.
A stream spins a water wheel.

Our host informs me:
We have a fox
out there. He filched the rooster.
Our children rollick with white geese
and downy chicks tumble into a pond.
The gander drags himself over dew
to protect them, hip failing him,
wingspan still wide, but
the proprietor picks him up
and pens him:
good old fellow
gets stuck in the flowers –
makes a mess of them, you know.

Downstream, eel and trout cut water.
My children brave the bog,
mud to their ankles,
and pluck glowworms and newts.
I kneel on grass beside the gander
to witness his world from a granite stoop.
He honks to summon his flock
and they return to his domain.
Lilacs and geraniums nod
as slugs emerge onto stones.
I call out as children
venture into the bramble.
Moon powders the garden.

Sam Barbee’s poems have appeared Poetry South, The NC Literary Review, Crucible, Asheville Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology VII: North Carolina, Georgia Journal, Kakalak, and Pembroke Magazine, among others; plus on-line journals Vox Poetica, Sky Island Journal, Courtland Review and The Blue Hour.

His second poetry collection, That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53), was a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016.  He was awarded an “Emerging Artist’s Grant” from the Winston-Salem Arts Council to publish his first collection Changes of Venue (Mount Olive Press); has been a featured poet on the North Carolina Public Radio Station WFDD; received the 59th Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society for his poem “The Blood Watch“; and is a Pushcart nominee.

Joan Again | Stephen Mead

It wasn’t a dark dream which crept over me,
not like my mother warned, but a real war
& what had to be done. No,
how in the heavens could I possibly escape
the prophesy which chose me, though,
when it came, that’s what I desired,
to be useful, in love with the land,
the people, swamped, not the bloodshed,
not the blood.

I saw no one as enemy really, in the beginning,
before accusations. I saw only suffering
& tried hard to listen for an angel’s voice.
Long through nights it wailed, whimpered
of potential stakes, & yet even while paying heed
to go on was my part, the part which meant lead.

My god, but I hated the violence, the triumphant waste,
as so many fell & fell thinking we are right, we are right,
convinced of that on both sides.

Were they then? Are they now?
Lives lost in cannon’s fire or hand to hand,
face to face, the combat of swords, even the one
which I carried, slaying no one, though arrow-pierced
& advancing high as a rippling, a certainly torched
& tattered flag.

It can yet be found, that riddling belief,
purely symbolic in the stones, the pellets flung
through headlines. You know the names,
the territories & how many are coming forth?

How I would like to place my ear on each wrist
to hear the priceless booming heart
& have that humble echo amplified.
The I’d return to who I was
before all the wars & the voices, I confess,
the voices deaf deaf & blind to the outcome.

(Recorded as sound-collage, not in print)

A resident of NY, Stephen Mead is an Outsider multi-media artist and writer.  Since the 1990s he’s been grateful to many editors for publishing his work in print zines and eventually online.  He is also grateful to have managed to keep various day jobs for the Health Insurance. In 2014 he began a webpage to gather various links to his published poetry in one place, http://stephenmead.weebly.com/links-to/poetry-on-the-line-stephen-mead

Obituary for the Canon | J. Sean Rafferty

Acta est Fabula, Plaudite!

It is with genuine remorse
that we acknowledge the passing of
the Literary Canon
after a long painful life—
well, painful for us at the very least.
The cause of death was as grand and
predictable as they always were.
Found Thursday evening in their estate,
deceased and rotting for quite a few decades
now. Autoerotic asphyxiation.
That is to say, their head was firmly
shoved up one of their own orifices.
Despite numerous University and critical bodies on hand
to attempt resuscitation, (that is say, they stuck
their heads up the Canon’s orifice) that
great literary body was announced dead at the scene.

We ask in this time of momentous mourning
that you think of The Canon as it were in life:
often white, primarily male, upper-middle class of course,
a proud Anglo-Saxon protestant who’d not
dare speak of religion, such a frivolous novelty,
but was forgiven their prejudice all the same
when they did. Although your grief may inspire you,
we ask you please, do not send flowers.
If one would like to celebrate this behemoth
of classics, send instead verses from their most
diligent students: Pope, Eliot, Yeats.
After all we shall need something to blow
our noses into at the funeral.
A solemn, somber ceremony shall
be conducted next Sunday, after which
The Canon shall remain lying in state
for the next decade or so in numerous
Institutions of their teaching; First
Oxford, Cambridge, of course
and then on to the Ivy Leagues.

What can one say of a classic?
Truly a product of their time, their time
ending roughly in the 1940s.
A staunch believer and protector
of the literary caste system,
only they were true literature.
They are survived by their traitorous children,
Modern, Contemporary and Alternative Literature
As well as their illegitimate grandchildren:
Free-verse, Graphic narrative, Erotica…
I could go on but I shall spare The Canon the shame.
Needless to say, these frivolous youths
shall not be in attendance.
We, the Canon’s loyal followers would not allow
Such bastardized riff raff through the doors!

The King is dead. May god have mercy on their soul.

Sean Rafferty is a redhead, a godfather and an eejit. He is an MA English Lit student at Ulster University and his work has previously been featured in Gravitas, Sage Cigarettes, the Alcala Review and Capsule Stories. When not losing games of pool he, sometimes, writes stuff.