During the First Illness
Today the cabin smells of tobacco and cedar--
Bartok colors the silence--
To the east
the mountains stoop into nearby woods--
To the west
the leftover sun plays across the sky--
I kill the pain with whiskey,
as laughter spills from my mouth,
like water dripping from a crack in the ceiling--
I sit upon a log, calling your name with a desolate voice
from my alley of desperation, calling to a forgotten muse--
I notice autumn watching me like an old man,
wearing bright clothes, sitting by an open window,
toothless and haggard--
I attempt being professional, counting my days like pieces of gold,
listening to the concert of leaves, fading in motion,
like the last circular cycle of a disconnected fan,
flapping the breeze gently.
Another toast to another day,
knowing that those my age are acting younger than I …
even my fingernails feel the pain.
Looking for Normal
How to put normal in a frame
when even words don’t fit?
It’s an old dialogue from
the last century.
It’s the screaming youth
in the dead of night
on the corner of East Biddle & St Paul Streets,
in the early morning shadows,
screaming from the last century,
hoping for someone to hear
(Timothy Resau is an American writer of fiction and poetry, originally from Maryland. His career has been in the international wine industry. He's currently resides in coastal North Carolina, and he’s just completed a novel, Three Gates East. His writings have appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic, Eskimo Pie, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Down in the Dirt.)
nurse practitioner serving
a generally docile population.
I walk in again
with old needs and new knowledge
understand the implications of the screening questionnaires
lie to avoid repetitive warnings
boring invocations to get help
when you’ve tried and can’t.
I respect her advice,
but I think I understand
the metabolism of the drugs I take
and by god do I understand their side effects
better than she does.
I love her but I need more,
treatments she can’t prescribe
referrals she can’t make.
Before I got my Step 1 score
You may have heard you can be
last in your class, still called “doctor.”
Not mentioned, the tension
that comes before, the names
they’ll call you, “lazy, inadequate,”
the warnings they’ll give of their power
to force dangerous exposures,
the stigma against you always brought up,
ascribed to someone else.
What I say is
don’t do it,
don’t go through it:
if you’re not a normie
maybe you can’t, but even if,
it’s not worth it,
stress and regulations overween.
("Wolfie" is a 4th year medical student at Stony Brook University with a severe case of Bipolar Disorder Type 1 (in remission), who is hoping to go into psychiatry.)
Rip me out.
Take me to my hiding place.
Break my body,
wake it up.
Empty me inside out.
Stuff me in a bin bag.
Wheel me, push hard.
Trundling across cement.
Bleeding on your shoes.
I am cracked.
My china skin breaks.
A raw egg.
Yoke spews from my gut.
I am sour.
Eat me alive.
Your gob around my face.
Take my eyes; burn it all.
Decontaminate me; set me free.
Open me up.
Place me in the palm of your hand.
Stroke my skin away.
The Rose Bush
Growing out of my centre were the little buds,
that he nurtured with the water of his words
and the sunlight of his smile.
The seeds were a sprinkling of his kisses and his tears.
The plant pot the roses grew from
weighed down the way I'd wished for beauty
and to be worshipped and adored.
The stalks flourished from their roots.
There were days when he trimmed the flowers
and days he pulled the earth,
but they were stubborn.
They grew in me as his love grew for me.
As a white bulb blossomed
wearing a costume of knives.
As a red bulb bloomed
into delicate folds of flesh.
I made war with his garden
that he kept too well;
that he kept better than gardens before.
When I'd sown the seeds myself.
I snapped the heads off the flowers,
tore into the roots
and slaughtered the rose bush.
His rose bush.
I cried over the hole in the compost,
touched the space in the garden.
As I remembered the thorns
and the petals of our love.
(Keziah Spaine is a 19 year old student, writer and activist from Bristol. Her experiences with the UK mental health system, relationships and love inspire her poetry and writing.)
(One year before Alzheimer’s diagnosis)
Pictures. Flashes of light
Tiny moments of meaning unconnected
but still joined in the impulses of
the slippery brain I have treasured
Spelling errors multiply as they swirl around in the drain where my brain used to survive and thrive.
Is that what I meant to say?
What were we talking about?
Can you see the confusion and barely suppressed terror in my eyes?
Words are my treasures; translations of experiences rolled in meaning and emotion.
I run after my words, begging for them to glance backward, to wait for me...
How can I lose my words without losing myself?
Am I the words? Are the words me?
How can I separate the soul from the body and still remain whole?
Don't run away from me, my beloveds.
Stay with me.
Dance with me.
Laugh with me.
Cry with me.
Lie down beside me and offer the greatest gift.
(Rebecca Carley was a teacher, artist, musician, among many things, prior to her early Azlheimer's Disease diagnosis in July 2014, just a year after this poem was written. She lived in central California with her husband and son. Rebecca passed in June 2020. This poem was submitted by author's husband Michael Carley.)
It’s a Beautiful Drive on Highway 14!
Homeward I go by
A house with a white
I’ve always dreamed of
A winding road
That has taken me
That seems shorter than
Greener than the years,
Like a cool wind
Of hay, cattle, and
And large red barn.
A sign 38 acres for
HERMAN MELVILLE DECIDES ON THE COLOR OF HIS WHALE
Herman Melville dangled his legs over the end of the pier.
His boots nearly reached the rolling waves beneath him.
He felt elated. His big book was almost done.
He’d sent his sailors out to sea and killed them all except one.
He liked the final touch, his so-called narrator saved
by the savage’s coffin. Coincidence? Yes, but why
wouldn’t the box float to the surface, whether near the drowning man or not?
Only one other question harassed Herman,
brought down his mood: the leviathan’s color.
The entire novel—everything—depended on that decision, that vision. He’d scrolled through the rainbow spectrum tens, hundreds of times. Red for the American native. Orange for fire. Yellow for sunlight. Green for seaweed. Blue for sky and ocean. Indigo and violet (close enough) for veins and arteries. They all had potential,
each had its own merits but highlight one
and diminish the rest. Moby Dick consummated
every potential, the peg-leg captain trafficking life, death, and every mollusk and cormorant in between.
Then there, floating toward him, a dead fish, borne aloft by its very immobility, its dearth of struggle,
as if to stop resisting raised it up, allowed it to lounge. Did it hold the Answer, this Atlantic cod sweeping toward him, its dorsal fin invisible? In death,
its body had turned, its underbelly baring
every wondrous, inexplicable, invisible color.
Herman leaned out, plucked it out of its sea’s casket, and kissed the slimy, smooth skin reeking worse than cadaverous gutter rats on a rainy day, then slipped it back into its grave, the novel finished, the whale white.
(Richard Holinger’s books forthcoming this fall include Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences, a collection of his newspaper columns, and North of Crivitz, a first book of poetry focusing on the North Woods and Upper Midwest. His work has received three Pushcart Prize nominations, and his Thread essay received a “Notable” mention in Best American Essays 2018. Not Everybody’s Nice won the 2012 Split Oak Flash Prose Chapbook contest, and a chapbook of innovative fiction was published by Kattywompus Press. Among other journals, his fiction has appeared in Witness, The Iowa Review; creative nonfiction and book reviews in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Northwest Review; poetry in Boulevard, Chelsea. He lives in the Fox River Valley west of Chicago. Degrees include a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Please go to https://www.richardholinger.net/ for more on the author and for ordering books.)
my bell jar
I'll give you a nice bell
me inside I didn't place
the glass around I more
humanely would have
used a porous element
so I still politely breathe
beyond the fifty years
I choke at now vacuum-
packed and freeze-dried
I didn't mind the womb
it was opaque and I was
obsessively guarded by
the only one who ever
loved me but this glass
cruel everyone sees me
mourn trip tremble bang
they point hear nothing
I'm endlessly vocalizing
I thought it was crooning
but no a life death mating
scream the worst of glass
is seeing prettier people
exhale twirl laugh beside
lovers touching tossing
unshattered children in
the autumn evening air
beneath strings of lights
orange purple I remain
guilty chaste confused
gray within this grave
I believe the rip gape twist
of god will be done soon
o believe what an empty
verb I'm a damp pouch
with a soul that traveled
nowhere we are tearing
contraptions wanting to be
more than chemical thank
you last O2 molecule thank
you last ray thank you all
(Marc Darnell is a custodian and online tutor in Omaha, Nebraska, and received his MFA from the University of Iowa. He has published poems in The Lyric, Blue Unicorn, Shot Glass Journal, The HyperTexts, Ragazine, The Literary Nest, Runcible Spoon, and elsewhere.)
Second Round of Chemo
My brother wants to remember
our life—the marshmallows
we roasted on a stick,
browning them, their soft, sweet
taste in our mouth,
the coals beneath, soft and warm.
He wants to hold
onto Yesterday as I want to hold
onto him, but I’m not with him.
I’m twelve hundred miles away
where, after the call, at dawn
I go out to pick the blueberries,
some pale green, some plush blue
that fall from clusters into my hand,
each with a round mouth puckered at the end.
I go stem by stem, the weight of berries
bend the branch. I lighten the load.
It’s the least I can do.
Then to the raspberries,
I stick my hand deep into the thorny stems,
red juice of them staining my fingertips,
whole fistfuls giving themselves up,
fall in the bowl,
like Eve with those apples, the smell of them,
wanting them all in her hand,
the ripeness, the sweetness,
this the third week in July
when the cancer came back, not good,
the insistent cells proliferate
as those of the fruit in my hand.
Tomorrow, I will pour
them over my granola, the blue red
staining the whiteness of milk
the bittersweet taste of fruit
as my brother, back in a sterile ward,
has the metallic aftertaste in his mouth,
his skin desiccated
like those marshmallows that flamed, too hot,
melted, ashes to fire.
(Bruce Spang, former Poet Laureate of Portland, is the author of two novels, The Deception of the Thrush and Those Close Beside Me. His most recent collection of poems, All You’ll Derive: A Caregiver’s Journey, was just published. He’s also published four other books of poems, including To the Promised Land Grocery and Boy at the Screen Door (Moon Pie Press) along with several anthologies and several chapbooks. He is the poetry and fiction editor of the Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine. His poems have been published in Connecticut River Review, Red Rover Magazine, Great Smokies Review, Kalopsia Literary Journal and other journals across the United States. He teaches courses in fiction and poetry at Ollie at University of North Carolina in Asheville and lives in Candler, NC with his husband Myles Rightmire and their five dogs, five fish, and thirty birds.)
Sonnet for the Long Married #3
There ain’t no cure for love, sings Cohen on
the playlist. Both dogs barking: hate the music?
want a treat? You crank the sound and drink
your meds, these cool strong beers. Linguine bubbling,
damp dishtowel your epaulet: Commander
of the Kitchen Sink. The rain, the time
tick-ticking down, hung leashes drip, unfinished
dissertation shelved, and Hamlet essays
still to grade. Your wife still at the stylist’s:
takes him eons. Darkened windows glint
like sequined mirrors. All these years refracted
and redacted, water droplets, life
support. You wipe your hands and glasses: why
so warm and wet? Love’s IV on slow drip.
Chorizo, couscous, thin-sliced gala apples
in a bowl: a bachelor’s hash a husband
married many years can love, with spiky
jazz (that’s Braxton morphing Monk), cold beer
in front of you. Your wife has turned in (headache),
so it’s you and Trey, adopted greyhound
black as dreamless sleep. Linked memories,
your private myths—first Ali-Frazier fight
(on German radio), a gradeschool English
teacher and the story of his scar,
Andromeda’s bare bottom in a painting
by Burne-Jones—rise glistening as boulders
in a river. Have you journeyed well
enough to know the boulders, be the river?
(Thomas Zimmerman teaches English, directs the Writing Center, and edits The Big Windows Review https://thebigwindowsreview.com/ at Washtenaw Community College, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Poems of his have appeared recently in Ephemeral Elegies, Grand Little Things, and Trestle Ties. Tom's website: https://thomaszimmerman.wordpress.com/ )
Balsamic Moon: Last Quarter before New
I took my aching heart for a walk above the river
seeking solace of rocks, and wind to clear me.
Balsamic moon, time of rest, of healing.
Blackbirds swooped tree to tree, to horizon.
Lilacs hanging heavy, bowed by fragrance and futility,
I took my aching heart for a walk above the river.
Balsam flower roots, the size of a hand, boil
into medicine. Leaf, flower, seed: all good
like the Balsamic moon, time of rest, of healing.
I lie down in arrow leaves, last shower of yellow
petals, cool and fragrant their little shade. The weight
of unshed tears in my aching heart, a river.
There’s a time to be lost in yourself, unknown as foreign land,
to listen for wisdom in your darkened quarters like this
Balsamic moon, last sliver of light, time of rest, of healing.
Silence holds the answer to the questions you don’t ask, like blackbirds
feeding on Balsam seeds. If you listen, you will hear them
in your aching heart’s lost river under Balsamic moon,
last quarter before new, time of rest, of healing.
Another sleepless night, pull of the moon
or some internal weather moved by time’s
changing rhythms. I walk, somnambulist,
in the new morning, west where the sun goes
each lengthening day to rest. I sit on the waking
earth. Last year’s grasses bleached platinum
on this south facing slope. River runs. Sky
unmarred by cloud thins along the sun-bright
ridge. I can see through each shadow of tree
the snow-dusted cheeks of hill and the age lines
left by deer. The dog paces in rustling steps
to check if I’m still here. I’m still, here.
(Subhaga Crystal Bacon the author of two volumes of poetry, Blue Hunger, 2020 from Methow Press, and Elegy with a Glass of Whisky, BOA Editions, 2004. A cis-gender, Queer identified woman, she lives, writes, and teaches on the east slope of the North Cascade Mountains, in Twisp, WA.)
The Beautiful Space-