Literary as hell.

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Poetry by Abigail Dembo

It

I saw it on my way to work and it looked like a number. It was thin. It had smooth skin. It had a sharp nose and chin. It was a one or a zero. Static. It came in the mist. It left rings on the table and a black and white photograph. It sang, “So long Marianne, it’s time we began . . .” and cried to the seagulls, glowing like amber. It smelled like magnolia. It was some masquerade, but it opened its mouth and a voice embossed in silver rose out, “Do you want to go dancing? Or do you want to come home?”

 

Self-Portrait as Venus with Adonis in San Francisco

Into musty hotels

up back alley fire

escapes through windows.

The Emperor. The Lyric. 

A single bulb hanging. To be with him,

 

I am drawn 

down by his habits

in plumes of gray doves. 

Fixing the puddles of gutters 

I see I am thinned.

 

“No, I am waiting for someone,”

for hours, like a dog, 

down the street from the hustlers’ bar

with whistles

and slow-rolling cars

 

for him. A vision of fatality

leaking like a cracked 

cell-phone screen.

A man being led 

down a dark alleyway

 

returning, needful, 

black tar in hand.

The fumes 

of vinegar, the concrete, 

the syringe–

 

“No, you go first. You need to get off.” 

Oh, and so what? I say,

I am pained, lover, but I give it to you. 

Confederate, I would not 

have you be other.

 

Let’s get away. Let’s sleep 

near Mission Dolores 

tonight. Gold foil cherubs 

sit still

their form ending in curls.

 

Nothing has those classical adornments, no

muses anymore. 

 

______________

Abigail Dembo lives in Berkeley, California, and is currently a poetry editor for Southland Alibi. Her poetry has appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet, Ursa Minor, SlipStream Magazine, and other places.

Poetry by David M. Harris

Rep. William J. Pascrell

 

Dear Mr. Pascrell:

 

Before you were the Honorable (D, NJ),

back when you taught history and psychology

at Paramus High, you were one of the foundrymen 

who melted down our formless minds and gave them

rough shape. Detail and polish were up to us.

You told a story, about leaving for the prom,

your father said, “Be careful.” Eventually,

I think, I got the point. Did any of us

understand? Later I decided we were not

meant to understand, not then, but to

ponder and find our own meanings. 

It was a rare peek into the personal.

one that other teachers never granted us.

And what was a social studies teacher doing

as one of the advisors to the high school

literary magazine? Something else to mull.

 

Changing the world, one student at a time,

must have seemed too slow. We needed

a good example, so you made yourself one.

But how different, really, is governing

from running a classroom? So much 

patient explanation, filing down rough edges

for the easier acceptance of complex machineries,

so much talking to people who won’t listen.

And the greatest failure is surrendering the effort.

Continue reading

Poems by Kika Dorsey

Horizon

They say the closer you come to something, the further away it can seem. As if it’s all a horizon. As if the horizon could ever be your lasso, your tightrope spanning past and future, your thread to sew closed what tore. 

I’ve been so near to my father’s death that my eyes blurred with more than tears. I’ve been so far away from my children’s birth that they disappeared like March fog when the sun buckles down and does its work of rising from a line I called my life, a line I could never trace. I’ve traveled so far that nothing has looked familiar—not the white marble statues of gods, the banyan trees, the dancing Lipizzaner, the cobblestoned streets, the cock fights in jungles, the foreign seas. 

Now I am home and what is close to me presses against my legs, wraps its arms around my waist. I’ve learned that you can never know what lies behind its mystery—a day lost in the woods, a dream of galloping horses, a fire built with twigs, a funeral, a birth—everything so near it has become their flesh, their journey toward a horizon forever receding. 

 

Petroleum

1

When he was zooplankton, buried beneath sedimentary rock in Texas and Iraq, he slept like the poor merchant under threadbare sheets next to algae, on bales of straw. He awoke and woke up the bees while he took their honey. He pulled out his own rotten teeth. 

 

2

Rock has a way of condensing poverty, of solidifying the earth so that it is harder to dig our graves. Rock can press our sight with mountains against the sun, can flatten and skip on water, can crumble when the sea catches it with salt, can sail from the bully’s slingshot, can teach us to be still. 

 

3

We have always been restless. We’ve burned whale oil, then promised the whales as they sang that we’d take from stone instead. We’ve created drills that bob their heads to a ground where we have kneeled, always begging our gods for a second chance. We’ve knocked down flasks of oil from a shelf when we dreamed of wealth and cursed the son we have yet to have. We’ve awoken to spills that coated the wings of seagulls. 

 

4

When he was living with us, he promised us planes and cars and oil for our dry faces. He fueled the ships in the seas. The whales were confused about the sound of the motor. They didn’t know how to make it a percussion of their song. You see, here is the paradox of music: to write a symphony you need silence. 

 

5

There is a little girl. She has a nightlight. It’s a purple fairy with blue wings. Without it she opens her eyes to the dark and feels scared. She needs to see that the shirt draped over the chair is not a killer. She needs to see that the dark is not dark. Outside the motors of cars rumble. She wonders where they are going, why they, too, are not sleeping. She falls asleep and dreams of squirrels. She dreams of lakes. She dreams of ladders reaching so high into the sky even the birds cannot nest there. They are too busy singing.

__________

Kika Dorsey is a poet and fiction writer in Boulder, Colorado, and lives with her two children, husband, and pets.  Her books include the chapbook Beside Herself  (Flutter Press, 2010) and three full-length collections: Rust, Coming Up for Air (Word Tech Editions, 2016, 2018), and Occupied: Vienna is a Broken Man and Daughter of Hunger (Pinyon Publishing, 2020), which won the Colorado Authors’ League Award for best poetry collection. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. Currently, she is an instructor of English at Front Range Community College and works as a writing coach and ghostwriter. In her free time she swims miles in pools and runs and hikes in the open space of Colorado’s mountains and plains.

“Dreams Come True” by P.C. Scheponik

It was an old three-story brick house

in one of America’s dying towns,

but we could afford the apartment

on the second floor.

And though it was a disaster:

the plastic Woolworth’s dish drain

melted onto one of the electric stove’s

burners, the bed’s one foot propped up

on the Bible, the fish tank with its three

inches of green water and window drapery

lying inside, drowned in algae and neglect,

and though we had to scrape and toss the

water-stained wallpaper, refresh and repaint

the entire place, to me it was the best—

with the stained-glass window that turned the

living room gold in the afternoon with its sliding

wooden doors that divided the living space into

two separate rooms.

And though the roaches finally forced us to move,

I still remember those nights, in the living room,

sitting together

on the sofa of the first living room set

we bought as young bride and groom,

so happy to be together, on our own,

living proof that dreams really do come true.

_________

P.C. Scheponik is a lifelong poet who lives by the sea with his wife, Shirley, and their shizon, Bella. His writing celebrates nature, the human condition, and the metaphysical mysteries of life. He has published six collections of poems: Psalms to Padre Pio (National Centre for Padre Pio, INC), A Storm by Any Other Name and Songs the Sea has Sung in Me (PS Books, a division of Philadelphia Stories), and And the Sun Still Dared to Shine (Mazo Publishers), Stained-Glass Faith (Alien Buddha Press) and Seeing, Believing, and Other Things (Adelaide Books). His work has also appeared in numerous literary journals. He is a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee. 

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