• givalpress

Issue 165

Updated: Oct 2

This issue features


Scarves

© by Toldiu.



Mary Warren Foulk

My Mother’s Scarves


Like gallery paintings—

large geometric,

bold black, sequined silver—

collected through years of travel

and thrift store rummages,

each a different wish.


Paris, Rome, a New York alley—

another last-minute, duty-free.

Scents of Aqua Net, mothballs,

regret. This inheritance

I fold and unfold, tracing seams

for her stories. The one I wear,

an understated square, cream-colored

with gray flowers, to her funeral

and every funeral since.

Copyright © 2022 by Mary Warren Foulk.



Confluence


Is it winter shadow

or darkening grief?

In this month

when anniversaries meet:

of birth and death, one

cannot relieve another

but rather sharpens the wound.

Vanilla cake and wrapped presents

reveal an empty seat, a sorrow

no amount of singing

or prayer

or December days

can undo.

Confluence first appeared in Lucky Jefferson, Fall 2020, https://luckyjefferson.com/introspection/

Copyright © 2020 by Mary Warren Foulk.



Peacock

© by Mohd Khairi.



portrait of a queer as a young boy

after Danez Smith

imagine a peacock, upon seeing other peafowl, hiding its gorgeous feather train, desirous for camouflage, perhaps even adoption by another related species, like common quail that blend into their natural surroundings, heard much more than seen. imagine rainbows seeking radiance beyond a raindrop. you don’t like your young boy’s reflection, scratch your face to make it new, pierce the skin for truth. see the scars of that clawing, the shedding of skin. behold what emerges, a seductive ocellus, so magnificent that eye of desire—boy sweet boy—love this worthy you.


portrait of a queer as a young boy first appeared in River Heron Review, Issue 3.2, Aug., 2020, https://www.riverheronreview.com/mfoulk

Copyright © 2020 by Mary Warren Foulk.



About the Author Mary Warren Foulk has been published in Fjords Review, The Hollins Critic, Pine Hills Review, Palette Poetry, Silkworm, and Steam Ticket, among other publications. Her work also has appeared in Who’s Your Mama? The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers (Soft Skull Press), (M)othering Anthology (Inanna Publications), and My Loves: A Digital Anthology of Queer Love Poems (Ghost City Press). Her chapbook, If I Could Write You a Happier Ending, was selected by dancing girl press (2021) for their annual series featuring women poets. Her manuscript Erasures of My Coming Out (Letter) won first place in The Poetry Box’s 2021 chapbook contest.



Bill Paulson

Chamber Music on Friday Night at the Old Lutheran Church


In some ways music is the only thing

That makes any sense.

It takes up where words leave off

In the search for the connections of the heart.


Out of the chaos, out of the disconnects,

Out from behind the claustrophobia of frustrated desires,

The boundaries that entrap us dissolve

And the dark veil lifts.


The meaningless clutter and wrong turns of the week

Fade away, and I take welcome refuge

In this brief interlude of warmth

And sharing and light.


Copyright © 2022 by Bill Paulson.


Prague

© by Vitaly Titov.


On the Train Ride to Prague


This evening, so soft,

The thought of you envelops

All that there is of me.


The golden threads of this twilight

Weave a melody in search of the words

The heart must sing.


When I get to you

I will find them buried

Way down deep in your arms.


Copyright © 2022 by Bill Paulson.



A Hopi’s Lament

I have grown sick of the white man,

Sick of the way he skims across

The surface of his consciousness

Knowing nothing of his soul,

Sick of his taking from life without understanding

That he has to give it back.


In debt to the earth,

A terrible reprisal will follow

When there is nothing left to borrow

And his last payment falls due.


Copyright © 2022 by Bill Paulson.



In the Garden of the Poets at the Alcazar

Seville, Spain, May 2019


In the late afternoon, overlooking

The Garden of the Poets at the Alcazar

It becomes clear that only words

Born in tears are true –


The words that the people of Spain,

Or of Kashmir, or Kosovo, or Tibet, or the Ukraine,

When caught in the vortex of dark forces

Fed by lies and greed and power,

Couldn’t find the space in their pain to say –


The words that bear witness to the tears that flow

When the soul is trapped in a cold prison

Run by jailors that have never wept

And inflict on others the pain they themselves

Can’t bear to feel.


As I walk down the paths

In The Garden of the Poets at the Alcazar,

The deceit is washed away in the fountains

That fill my heart to the brim with their splashing,

Singing the sad sweet song of our long search

For a better world.

Copyright © 2022 by Bill Paulson.



About the Author

Bill Paulson grew up in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he later earned an MA in philosophy after completing a thesis comparing the writings of Nietzsche and Marx on religion. In the 1980s he began working as a journalist in the global health field and his work has been influential in the dialogue between industry, regulators, and academia on improving the quality and availability of medicines around the world. His poetry has appeared in a variety of publications and been read in various public forums—including on-air readings from his Chamber Music series by several hosts on the PBS station WETA in Washington in introducing pieces of music about which the poems were written.




David Semanki


Love Finds Anthony Perkins


the boathouse at midnight;

the silvered lake quiet.


i would stare into the florida firmament,


trying to probe

its trembling depths, name its carnal forms,

while i waited for him.


we made sure to leave chase hall,

the men’s freshman dormitory, at separate times.


spanish moss spewed from the stand of live oaks.

moonlight notched

on the terra-cotta campus roofs.


my college experience

can be winnowed down to these meetings.


when he appeared

out of the sweating darkness, his glances

were shark-like, as if drawn to a wound.


a rural minister’s son,

winter park was a metropolis to him.


for hours he imagines being

in his family’s church singing “a lamb goes

uncomplaining forth,”

singing “abide with us the day is waning.”


what happens when you discover a terrible utility

in hatred?


he pines openly for his girlfriend back home


as he fucks me in the boathouse.

the southern sky, a kind of molasses, thick

with bloodshot stars.


Copyright © 2022 by David Semanki.



Angling


you’re sleight of

hand—


my

saltwater eyes

now


moon-

filled air

gasping


gills

am barbed


by you

cold


nirvana


Copyright © 2022 by David Semanki.



Gemini


1.

when you touch him.

when he touches you.


do you feel?

when your male hand

touches his male hand.


the stubble on

chin, jawline, face.

i have told,

lived this same story since—


on the double bed,

shed like snakeskin, his

corduroy blazer,

ted hughes black—


wiff of crow, demon.

tin in the blood.


2.

impaled forest—

boundary of disease, plague.


armies melt away.

rival. lover.

walled kingdom.


bone break. bone break.

tender wake.


Copyright © 2022 by David Semanki.



About the Author

David Semanki shepherded into publication Sylvia Plath’s Ariel: The Restored Edition. His poetry has appeared in a mix of mainstream and literary publications including The New Yorker, The Yale Review, The American Poetry Review, The New York Times Book Review, and The Paris Review. He is the Literary Advisor for the Estates of poets Linda Gregg and Jack Gilbert.




Jeff Schnader


The Champion


I did not go to my mother’s funeral; my father forbade it. I was eight years old.


“Why?” I asked. “Why can’t I go?”


One day he finally answered and said, “She wanted you to remember her beautiful and happy.”


I never cried for her; her death was never real. I began to see her face on walls in the house. I thought I saw her on a street corner watching me, protecting me. There were fleeting glimpses, translucent appearances of her gazing at me, but then the images were gone. It didn’t make sense, but I was convinced, and I felt her presence.


That winter of 1962, my father and grandmother took me to an island in the Caribbean Sea for a month’s vacation, a treat to lift the spirits. It was like nothing I had ever seen, so different from the drab browns and slushy grays of New York. The beaches were blanched white sand; the skies were filled with birds, and the crystal blue waters were teeming with fish. I waded in lagoons where glinting bodies of shimmering minnows glided past my legs, brushing me with their lips, tasting and tickling my skin.


My father went out on a boat with other men, and they brought back scores of fish laid out in rows on the deck, leaving no space to walk. There were dolphins called “mahi” with pastel scales in rainbow colors. There were baby groupers and big red snappers and sea bass of many sizes. There were barracuda, a fish we couldn’t eat, silver with black stripes, some over six feet long. Thin and tubular with flattened heads, they had prognathic jaws and razor-sharp teeth.


“Stay away,” said a man. “Those teeth can bite you even in death.”


He cut up the barracuda for chum.


I looked at those fish, those deadly barracuda, lying in rows, one next to the other, inert, and motionless in death. Their mouths gaped, and their bodies hung with muscle as flies buzzed over them, touching down upon them. Their eyes were round and fixed, staring endlessly into the void, clouded where the lenses used to be clear. These had been ferocious, voracious fish, prowling the seas in deadly, darting packs. They ripped apart the fish they came upon, hapless prey without the means to escape the speed of the relentless barracuda. But now here was death, amidst the biting flies, taking it all away and leaving the lifeless bodies with nothing.


The life of the islands was wondrous. I ate flying fish for breakfast, their crispy, fried skins crunching under my teeth. There were fresh, pulpy orange juice and bananas plucked ripe from the trees. In the yard were coconut palms, and I watched the agile men shimmy the tall, swaying trunks. They shook down the fruit and then chopped the husks with machetes in order to tap the heavenly milk within. Then came the harvest of sweet chewy meat cached inside the shells. I felt there could be no better taste anywhere, and I knew the richness of being alive.


The days were spent playing on the beach with the boys who lived in the village. Donnie and Cottie were my friends, and we played with my metal toy soldiers in the sand and skipped in and out of the wavelets that broke upon the shore. When the other boys came, we climbed naked on driftwood trees, bare wooden skeletons anchored in the dunes, stripped bare of bark and leaves by the winds and bleached white from the tropical, powerhouse sun.


Donnie and I explored with sticks up and down the main street of town, a dirt road with bumps and potholes where some storefronts had glass and others were open to the rain. There were venders with pushcarts, and the stink of fish on ice was in the air. Chickens ran helter-skelter, and we chased them down alleys, never able to catch them. We did this every day, and every day a woman came out of a shanty on the street and scolded us loudly.


“Don’t be chasing my chickens!” she cried as we scattered her birds, sending them flapping and clucking.


After her chiding, we ran away, but Donnie smiled from ear to ear.


“That’s my auntie,” he would say. “She loves those chickens. They are children to her.”


One day, Donnie’s aunt waved us into her house from the street.


Donnie said, “Be watching—she might come out of the dark. Hit us with a broom.”


It was adventure tinged with danger, and it tugged irresistibly. We padded slowly through the door into darkness, feeling the broom could be anywhere, ready to strike. But instead, there was Donnie’s aunt, and we saw no need for alarm. She held a hen in her arms, and she nodded at us and clicked her tongue, beckoning us to come closer.


“This is Ruby,” she said. “She’s my red hen. My favorite. Come stroke her soft feathers.”


Donnie pulled his head back on the stalk of his neck; mistrust and fear came into his eyes.


“Go on,” she said to me softly. “You go first, then Donnie will come. I’m holding her. She won’t hurt you. You will love it, touching her.”


I was close to the hen, and I saw her breathing in and out as she lay still and contented in Donnie’s aunt’s arms. I lightly touched her back. I gently stroked her feathers, and I felt her warmth. There was a vibration in the tips of my fingers as I touched her, something like a purring or humming. It was a sharing between two creatures who had no business sharing. It was an intimacy between spirits that was calm and trusting, a moment in a lifetime as beautifully evanescent as any experience that subsequently crystallized into memory.


The next day, my father and grandmother decided to see the other side of the island. They rented a car and put me in back and drove off to visit new places. We went through rainforests on dirt roads in order to cross a spine of high hills whose peaks were hidden in clouds. My father had maps, and we stopped for directions. Some people told us, “Go left.” Others said, “go right.”


After hours in the mist with bumps and ruts and occasional spinning of tires in mud, we arrived at a clearing in the forest. In the middle sat a windowless fortress surrounded by a stockade fence. There was only one baffled entry, and this was guarded by a muscular man who took money from those who went in.


My father paid a fee, and we all moved forward. I wanted to see the inside, but I couldn’t see over the fence. It was then that my father said I couldn’t go in.


“What’s inside?” I asked.


But he never answered. All that he said was, “Wait here.”


I waited outside. After many stones were thrown and many sticks were swung or hit against trees or used to etch lines in the dirt, I became bored and sat on a log. There, at the edge of the clearing at the furthest point from the building, something caught my eye: it was a flattened, bloodless corpse of white feathers, recognizable as a bird because of an unmistakable comb atop its head. As I looked more closely, I thought I saw remnants of a beak and a fragment of wattle. Legs stuck out, skewed in different directions, and toes and talons jutted here and there. I saw a pinkish socket without the eye, its directionless gaze eternally extinguished, tiny red ants moving in and out.


I must have stared at the bird for some time, engrossed in its stillness, absorbed in the rustling of its few remaining feathers in the warmth of the breeze, when I became aware of a large presence behind me. I turned and saw the man who had stood at the door of the fortress. He too was absorbed, silently regarding the remains of the bird.


He sniffed and scratched his head. Turning his face away to hide his emotion, he said, “He was a great champion.”


“He was a champion?”


“Oh yes,” he said. “This was my bird, and he was a great one. He was champion for two whole weeks! He had great heart. He had great presence. Some said he was the greatest champion ever! No cock could beat him. I thought his reign would never end.”


“What was he champion of?” I asked.


What was he champion of?


He looked at me with disbelief. “He was a champion fighter. He was a natural. Didn’t you know? That’s where your parents went—they went to the arena to bet on the cocks and watch them fight.”


“They fight?” I asked.


“To the death.”


I wanted to go to the arena to see for myself, and I asked the man to let me in.


“You can’t go in. You are not of age. And then you would have to pay. And your father would be angry. No, you can’t go in.”


There was nothing, at that moment, that I wanted more than to see these cocks fighting to the death, and I said so.


The man said no.


I asked him how he could do this to me? How could he punish me so? If he would let me in, I would sit in the back of the arena and not say a word. I would behave and be quiet. Anything, I said, but I had to go in.


I felt that he liked me. He liked that I had asked about his white bird, his champion. He had told me his feelings, that he missed that bird. He had confided in me, and there was a bond, a trust between us.


Or so I thought.


“I am paid to keep people out who don’t pay,” he lamented. “This is my job.”


I knew I was wearing him down, so I said, “There’s nobody here. There’s nobody left to pay. Everybody’s gone in already. Who would care?”


“I can’t let you in,” he said, but there was a change in his voice. Then he said, “I go to the privy. I can’t stand here all the daylong. It isn’t my job to watch little boys.”


He stared at me ferociously, and then he suddenly winked. A moment later, he was walking away. His back was toward me as he walked to the woods, and I watched him disappear amongst the trees. This was my chance, and I slipped through the door.


At first, I saw nothing, but there were shouts from men and screams from animals. Then there was silence. I fumbled along a passageway and came into a dimly lit amphitheatre. I was at the top of nine rows of benches, all arranged in circles, with a floor of flat sand at the bottom. On the floor, a man picked up the pulpy remains of a freshly killed bird, which still appeared to be twitching. He maneuvered himself to hold the bird’s head in one hand and the base of its neck in the other. With a swift, sudden motion, he twisted the neck, causing the legs to kick and then hang. He carried it away by its neck as its body bounced with his strides.


I averted my eyes and turned to the crowd who were animatedly chatting. From my perch at the top, I saw my father and grandmother seated below, wholly unaware of my presence. I watched as they turned, distracted by the entrance of two men from doors on either end of the pit. The men strutted in, walking the floor in a circle, each with a rooster held aloft in gloved hands so that the birds could be visible to the crowd. One of the birds was black, and the other was white with red markings.


Shouts and laughter broke out, and arms went up in the crowd holding money as other men circulated, taking the bets. My grandmother’s arm went up and then my father’s, each waving money to get in the game.


While watching, I felt a large presence sit next to me, resting his arm on the back of my bench and leaning his head to speak in my ear.


It was the man from the door.


“Can you see those men on the floor of the pit?”


“Yes,” I said.


“They are the owners of the cocks. Now watch as they put the knives on their feet.”


“Knives?”


“Yes. See how they do it.”


As the owners held their birds, other men came forward and attached glinting silver blades to each ankle. The blades were very long.


“This hastens the kill. It’s more humane. It shortens the fights and makes them more decisive. Now they will excite the cocks to anger them and make them fight.”


I watched as the owners approached each other at arm's length, thrusting the birds at one another, inciting the birds to flap and kick. They placed the birds on the sand of the pit and stepped back, and the birds instinctively circled.


The black bird flew up, retracting its feet and then striking the white on the head, drawing blood. At this, the white turned and ran out the door through which it had entered.


A shout of laughter went up from the crowd. Some were angered by the bird’s reluctance, wanting their money’s worth, having bet on that bird. Others were clapping their hands with mirth and slapping their knees in hysterics. The owner of the white bird ran off stage, presumably to bring his fighter back to the ring while the black bird, who had been strutting the floor in premature triumph, was scooped up by his master.


“Whites usually lose,” said the man in my ear. “Except my bird. He fought like a black or a red. He was a true champion.”


A roar went up as the white bird came running into the pit through the door as fast as it could, its owner in pursuit. As the owner caught up, the bird doubled back and ran out the door once again. A man in the front row rose with his arm outstretched. He pointed, crying out, “If that bird is not back in the ring in ten seconds, he will be disqualified, and you will be fined!”


Within moments, the man was back with his white bird in his arms.


A roar went up again from the crowd.


“It’s hard to catch a bird with knives on, whispered my companion. “You get cut; I can tell you.” He rolled up his sleeve and showed me the heaped-up puncture scars that he had on his arms.


Now the two cocks were circling again. They jumped feet first, one at the other, in order to slash as they kicked. They flew in the air and lunged with their beaks, drawing blood from their mortal foes.


“Now the white is in the mood.”


The black cock struck the white and drew blood once again, but the white stood its ground in defiance. As the crowd roared with excitement, the white flew up and kicked, hitting the black and cutting its face with the blades. The black one reeled, dazed by the kick, walking sideways, and exposing its flank to attack. The white lit upon it, thrusting its beak until the black cock went down flat on its side, pedaling its legs uselessly in air. The white pecked and kicked until the other lay twitching, an amorphous pulp with strewn black feathers, staining the sand with its blood, an eye knocked out and hanging on a stalk of pink flesh. The crestfallen owner gathered his beaten bird, scooping it in his hands to carry it from the ring while the owner of the victorious white cock held his bird in the air, parading it round to the adulation of the crowd.


“A new champion!” bellowed my companion, getting to his feet with the rest of the crowd who were now all turning our way to see who was shouting.


I stood up with the others reflexively, and it was then that my father spotted me in the top row, catching my eye, ending my visit to the cockfights.


“So,” he said later, “you managed to get in after all.”


He was smirking in spite of feigning disapproval.


“You shouldn’t have seen that,” added my grandmother.


“I thought I told you to wait outside.”


The next day, Donnie and I went with an older boy to a steep hill behind the village next to sugar cane fields. It was hot, and we were shirtless. The older boy pushed an old bicycle to the top of the hill and then rode it down to the bottom. The road wrapped around a curve in the hill so that the hill rose up on the inner side of the curve, making it impossible, from the crest of the hill, to see any vehicle driving up from below. The paving on the road was narrow, its edges having eroded and fallen away into shallow ditches on either side, filled with sharp stones and thorns.


The older boy gave Donnie the bicycle, but Donnie was afraid.


“What if a car comes up the hill? What if I can’t see it?”


“Don’t be afraid, little boy,” the older boy said, rubbing Donnie’s short, kinky hair. “If you’re too afraid, you don’t have to. I just thought you were tough. Anyway, cars don’t ever come up this way.”


Donnie’s mouth was a flat line; his lips and cheeks were tense.


“I will do it,” he said and moved the bike into position, putting his hands on the handlebars. He took a deep breath, ran a few steps, and then hopped on the bike, plunging down the hill.


He went around the curve, and we couldn’t see him, so we both ran after to watch.


He was at the bottom, turning the bike and then running it back up the hill.


“I loved it! I loved it!”


The older boy scowled, and when Donnie reached us, he was huffing and puffing.


“Now you go—you must do it!” Donnie said.


I looked at the older boy. He said, “You do it.”


I didn’t like it. I couldn’t see down the hill because of the curve so I stopped to listen for noise. I heard nothing except a breeze through the trees and the occasional, distant fall of surf on the beach.


The bike was high for me, so I would have to mount and move forward in one motion. I grasped the bike by the handlebars, ran a few steps and threw my leg over the bar. I pedaled hard to maintain my balance, keeping close to the edge of the road on the inner side of the hill.


I accelerated. I had pushed off too fast and needed to slow the bike down. As there was no handbrake, I pressed back on the pedals in order to brake my speed. I expected to feel friction with the bike coming under control, but backpedaling had no resistance, and the bike kept barreling down.


Fright bolted through me; I feared I could not stop. I was a plunging rocket, and as I rounded the curve with the hill now out of the way, I bathed in a panorama of blue sky, glistening white beach and sparkling green sea beyond. But bearing down upon me, at a distance of merely yards, a black sedan was roaring uphill, its great presence enlarging in its approach. It confronted me in seconds, taking the entire width of the road, leaving me no room to squeeze by.


I felt a finality; I was going to die. I would join my mother whose gaze, at that instant, fell upon me. I did not cry out; I did not pray. At the very last moment, as my eyes met those of the driver of the car, he swerved, and I dove into the ditch, skidding on my belly with my arms outstretched, over the stones and scrub.


I heard a loud and hideous clank as the car crushed the driverless bike. And then came an agony, a burning, as I lay on my face on a bed of fractured stones, breathing hard. There was nothing else in my world as my brain swirled with pain, wondering if I still lived or was broken to pieces and impaled on unyielding sharps.


“Are you all right?”


I was tangled in woody scrub. Splinters and rock shards embedded my flesh; my face was skinned and numb.


“I don’t know,” I heard myself say.


I was afraid to get up. My knee throbbed with an ache, but I managed to touch it, and it felt intact.


“Get up,” said Donnie, and he helped me to my feet. My knee was sore, swollen, and blue, but I was able walk. My arms and chest still burned.


“You’re bleeding.”


I looked down and saw bright red on my chest. I reached up and felt the sticky pulp of my face and then looked at the blood on my fingertips. Blood dripped from my left arm, and I twisted it to see where the skin was scraped raw with blood and sand and dirt in the wound. I’d been injured, but I was alive.


Donnie pointed and said, “The skin is torn off. It will grow back.”


He plucked at splinters and rock in my flesh. He said, “When I saw that car, I thought you were dead.”


“Well, I’m not.”


We stood and looked at each other. Donnie examined me carefully to gauge my pain.


“I’m okay,” I said.


This made him smile, and he raised his arms in the air.


“We did it!” he said. “We are champions!”


He wrapped his right arm around my shoulders and took my left arm in his left hand to help me forward.


“Where’s your friend?” I asked.


“Him? He ran away when he saw the car.”


I looked over my shoulder at the bike, now bashed and crumpled in the ditch.


“He left his bike.”


“It is junk,” said Donnie. “Come, we shall celebrate.”


Limping and with my arm still in pain, I followed Donnie to the sugar cane fields. We cracked off the brittle stalks and lifted the sticks to our mouths, pouring sweet gel down our throats and onto our chests.


I chewed the cane as the syrup gushed out, drooling without control. Blood ran with sugar on my chest and arms, coating my skin with a crystalline crust, alternately red and white. The slurry dried fast in the heat of the sun, and, as I moved, the layer of sugar cracked and resealed, a strange but wonderful sensation. I licked my arms to taste the mix, and it allayed both injury and pain.


I was aware of the world and alive to its dangers. I lowered myself to lie on my back and look at the bright blue sky. I chewed the stalks and spit out the fiber. My tongue bathed in sugar, tasting a happiness I always remember.


Copyright © 2022 by Jeff Schnader.


About the Author

Jeff Schnader is a fiction author and retired professor living in Norfolk, Virginia. His novel, The Serpent Papers, a short-listed finalist in the Blue Moon Novel Competition, was published by The Permanent Press on March 1, 2022. His short stories, "The Oma" and "Durango," have been published by The Write Launch in 2021. His short story, “The Champion,” won first prize for new fiction in the League of Utah Writers Quills contest 2020.



Emily Schulten


Murmuration

for Dakin



If we move with the fluidity of starlings,

like a puddle of clippings in the air that shape-

shifts but never falls hard to the ground,


if we sense enough of each other to know

in which direction to fly away from being

preyed upon, but never from one another,


in swirls and with the unshakable faith

that wherever we turn we will be synchronal,

miming in a language only our bodies


comprehend the intention of our design,

the spaces we will fill up and disappear from.

We will be spirals and domes, we will make


mountains and geysers and open mouths

in the sky, an unnoticed eclipse at twilight

as our bodies thrum and flutter without


leading, only the sense of same direction,

of how moving together this way

makes us impenetrable to hawk and falcon,


how having no intention of place or time

allows us to tighten our formation, but leave

space enough not to tangle feather or wing.



This was previously published in Crab Orchard Review.

Copyright © 2018 by Emily Schulten.



Multilingual


My dear one talks in his sleep, a clearer Spanish

than he can manage when he’s awake, amor


and belleza de la mañana. I can’t understand

the words much less the sentences, and more


than once I’ve asked him if these strung together

phrases are love for another woman – someone


before me, with sharp features and the unattainable

loveliness I lost to him long ago. Someone who could


understand, even taught him, one or two of these

middle-of-the-night words, acércate, mira aquí.


I’ve tried before to look them up, for a while kept

a pocket translation guide at the bedside, under


some notes and hoping not to be discovered,

scrambling to find what I hear as no vayas.


But even he doesn’t know how it could be

that he manages the words without a stutter,


without fumbling for conjugation. He tells me

it used to be screams, a fear rooted so deep


within him that it must come from a past life,

filling the whole house with unholy noise.


The words, then, must come from another

lifetime, too, I tell him, and I ask him to please


speak of me in his next life, in any tongue

he can manage, in the middle of the night


and next to any woman he might find in his bed.

He promises to torment them all with translations


of our life, the way he torments my nights

with mysteries he’s made secrets of by morning.


This was previously published in Grist.

Copyright © 2020 by Emily Schulten.



About the Author

Emily Schulten is the author of two collections of poetry, The Way a Wound Becomes a Scar (Kelsay Books) and Rest in Black Haw (New Plains P). Her poetry and nonfiction appear widely in national journals such as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Tin House, among others. Currently, she is a professor of English and creative writing at The College of the Florida Keys in Key West.



Christopher Soden


dwell in grace the papa on television doesnt get drunk at home but still finds ways to disappoint the boy or his mother she gets between them and the ugly purple eye of love i could never tell when my dad was sloshed or saw when he met my sister with a belt after a date who was barely brave enough to kiss her long into the changing hours i listen to the naked ache of pop (she brought home on 45s every week) post fragments of resignation on social media: “...don’t let on, don’t say she’s broke my heart...” and i will stop now because none of this matters it doesnt help to wish we had smothered him or sent him tumbling down the 14 stairs dividing our bedrooms from the rest of the house i talk to the television i say thank you papa or im sorry dad or thats ok son and choke

Copyright © 2022 by Christopher Soden.


snakes and ladders in the cold dark brick and stone uncoiling smoke of elementary indoctrination with textbooks and snotrags ready to beat all the singing right out of you i found a boy skin pale and milky as the sun burning through gray clouds simon spoke with a lilt gliding like spirit of air that crossed the glistening ocean from the realm of fairies dark winged and defiant and busy with fizzy mischief we couldn’t have exchanged more than three or four sentences my heart incapable of surviving the undiluted deluge i wonder how he felt the day i found him at recess with a gift for a chipper brother hardly more than a stranger i knew it was nothing just a board game from the five and dime fifty years later i still cannot imagine what he thought when i said this is for you but it doesn’t matter because his smile was the nameless spontaneous delight of boy love Copyright © 2022 by Christopher Soden.

house of yes everything is white


the air cool


soothing french avant-garde piano music asserts itself passively its source impossible to determine there is plenty of ice and clear pure bottles of effective vodka rum gin fresh lemon and cocktail glasses that could be assimilated sculpture you notice after the host has handed you a scintillating beverage and taken you in his arms delivering a brimming kiss (glorious hair the shade of red you've always imagined) because he recognizes your ache and after all this is the house of yes where love gushes like the milky cure to all poisons and nothing is wrong every motive every wish daffy with spilling jubilation and fallibility the closest anyone comes to harm but it doesn't matter because in the house of yes clarity swallows every tear like an infinite liquid nimbus


Copyright © 2022 by Christopher Soden.



Beautiful Boys


I had trouble finding my way

to Michael's party last night.

It was rainy and I was tired,

driving in a part of the city

unfamiliar to me. The streets

were damp. The radio cookin.


Have you ever wondered

about the DJ on a Saturday night?

The calls that keep him company?

I nursed a bourbon and water

throughout the evening, genially,

told Steven age was just


a number. No one ever tells you

how risky it is, to look at the clock.

Sometimes, I think of myself

as a case of arrested development.

Late learning to tie my shoes,

to drive, to stand up for myself,

to drink like a grown up.

Late coming out of the closet.


It was an excellent, soothing party.

Friends who appreciated one another,

hanging, leaning on the other. Tapping

into underground wells and secret coves.


A skinny poet whose work I enjoyed

was there. His head was shaved,

and though he wore rings in both ears

I figured he would not be interested

in the way I could touch his nape

or shoulder blades. It was okay,


though, because he was jovial,

and sweet natured. We were there

to cooperate in each other's gladness

and comfort, trying to get by in a world

that is not always easy to navigate.

I wandered the parking lot, confused

by symmetry. A couple of young men,

Latino, teenagers (I think) asked

where the swimming pool was.


They wore shimmering shirts

and blazing jewelry. I told them

I was leaving a party and lost myself,

and wasn't even sure I could find

my car, much less the swimming pool.


They came up close, smiling

sympathetically, explaining

the strategy of the community.

Looking into my eyes, exquisite

radiance leaking and spilling,


and some kind of genuine benign

boy-lock going on between us,

however brief. It didn't matter

that we didn't know each other's

names, or what we might have


gotten under different circumstances.

I may be only forty-one but I know

what love is. We were just boys.

Guys coalescing in a conspiracy

of grins. Beautiful boys together.

Copyright © 2022 by Christopher Soden.



Dance with Bones


He offers to buy my next drink

but I have seen him many times

in the past and cordially decline,

not bothering to object

when he pulls out the empty

chair malingering next to me.

He doesn't notice when vodka

stingers pour out of his ribcage

like effluvia or smoke

from his Winston seeps out

of his jaw. By the eighth time

he's selected "Happy Together"

on the juke, I say, "Okay, I'll dance

with you, if you'll just pick

something else." He is a sloppy

drunk, and grazes my ass

with tinny fingers, resting his chin

on my shoulder and breathing

disgusting suggestions down my ear.

There is something unsettling

about the way his smile discloses

innocence. The itch that vibrates

all the way from his marrow.

I let him kiss me out of pity

and understand he'd use his tongue

if he could. He tells me he has

finally mastered the delicate art

of using teeth in fellatio and promises

depravity of the most ecstatic sort.

The last time I went home

with him it was unforgettably awful.

He was on top and I was facing

the wall, panting like a beagle.

I don't know what he was using

(in retrospect) but believe it must have

been an icicle. Shudders took over

as violently as seizures. He chuckled

and bit my shoulder blade. I'm guessing

everyone has told you the Reaper

is a great cocksman and okay, he was,

he was. But after a while copulating

on gravestones, breaking

into mortuaries, loses its punch.

After a while he's just another

mope with a boner

who never wants to go home.


Copyright © 2022 by Christopher Soden.






Sally Zakariya



Melting Glacier

© by Murat Tellioglu.



Melt


How quickly the ice in my cocktail

melts—glacier writ small.


I think of Greenland and Antarctica

quietly, inexorably, raising sea levels.


Will we see the end of ice,

the thermostat turned to tropical?


Will the land wash away under us

when the waters burst their banks?


Will the sun fry our brains

like eggs on a searing sidewalk?


The bartender put a tiny parasol

in my glass—a hint, perhaps

a warning.

Copyright © 2022 by Sally Zakariya.



After Reading Genesis


When God breathed Wisdom into the void

words rained down from heaven

took root … budded … bloomed

all the words that ever were

that ever would be

all the words that we would ever need

words without end


A multitude of words swam in the deep

strode through the forest … soared in the sky

hung garlanded in trees

woven in waves

quilted in clouds

waiting to be ordered, reordered

composed, deconstructed, parsed

over and over again by the world

waiting for our thoughts and tongues

to name it all and make our own

small universe


Copyright © 2022 by Sally Zakariya.



New Atlantis


Rising water licks the toes of Florida

rinses New York’s subway tracks

floats fish into the frying pan and boils

potatoes while it’s there


We live on mountains if we’re lucky

otherwise on boats

we all learn to swim


We redraw the maps as oceans

overlap their shores

everywhere is hot and wet

our sweat salts the sea


That’s where the old ones came

from after all—

time comes we’ll all sink back

into the womb of waves


This was previously published in Gyroscope Review, Spring 2016.

Copyright © 2016 by Sally Zakariya.



The Silence of the Bugs

“If insects were to vanish, the environment would

collapse into chaos.”—Edmond O. Wilson


Wide-bodied, heavy, his fragile wings

miraculously keep him aloft, buzzing

my head, dive-bombing the window.


We have flyswatters but I can’t bring

myself to kill this irritating interloper

from the out-of-doors.


The carpenter bee drilling into the bench

outsideshe gets a pass from me as well.

After all, it’s the least that I can do.


The paper calls it Insect Armageddon—

not just the bees, but bugs of all sorts

dying in droves, declining worldwide.


And we will miss them—not their sting

and stutter, their consumption of crops,

their splatter on the windscreen.


But who will take their place? Pollinators,

composters, sacrificial breakfast at the bottom

of the food chain, we need them all.


Copyright © 2022 by Sally Zakariya.



Chimera


Recent advances in genetic analysis have revealed

that chimerism is common. —Tim Flannery,

New York Review of Books, March 7, 2019


Phantom twin who never was

X and Y alike in DNA

blood type both A and O

chimera – two eggs merged

and married in the womb


The Greeks imagined you

lion / goat / snake mingled

a mythical amalgamation


I sense you hovering

a distant, doubled being

an almost self, unseen

and out of reach


You murmur from afar

me / not me, same yet not

complex consciousness—

after all, which one of us

is a single thing alone


This was previously published in Contrary Magazine, Summer 2019.

Copyright © 2019 by Sally Zakariya.



About the Author

Sally Zakariya’s poetry has appeared in some 90 print and online journals and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Since retiring from the publishing world, she writes at an antique desk overlooking telephone wires and maple trees. Her publications include Something Like a Life, Muslim Wife, The Unknowable Mystery of Other People, Personal Astronomy, and When You Escape. She edited and designed a poetry anthology, Joys of the Table, and blogs at www.butdoesitrhyme.com.



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