Acceptance is like that finger trap--
you have to relax into it, move with its weaves,
or else you are stuck,
like a swimmer in a rip current,
resistance will wear you down.
I don’t notice until I’m polished, shiny, and worn like the beads cascading
in jubilation down Cross Street after I break
my favorite bracelet against the mural that reads
Welcome to Ypslilanti!
How’s that for irony/ how’s that for a jaded, cynical nougat at the center of the poem?
I bust my knuckles against a concrete wall because I’m one minute behind the parking meter,
Ain’t that just my luck? And the most hated woman in Ypsilanti is walking away from me.
The thing is,
I would rather hurt myself,
and so I do.
I only call her vulture in the story I will tell later.
It’s funnier that way/the way I will tell it.
Nearly in ruins, I can cover any wound in ink
and call it a joke.
I can cover my mouth while crying
and make it look like I’m in stitches.
The quiet night
comes in the form of many stars slowly blurring into focus.
I bought the bracelet because it refracted light in blues and greens--
the beads I gather from the street twinkle in my palm like fireflies.
Tomorrow I will string them together again,
as I do.
Ode to a Broken Rubber Heart, Drowned in the Rain Outside the Bar
Here’s the thing about the heart: I kicked it
down the road a ways, having time to kill
before meeting you for happy hour.
I brought the toy in and set it on the bar
where it leaked its rainy juices,
and the bartender set out two glasses for us,
kindred spirits. We shared
a pitcher on special and the heart told me
about how it used to run on AA batteries,
but now it just runs from AA meetings.
We had a good laugh.
My heart often feels like a ball of rubber bands
poised to snap,
but I did not tell the heart that,
as you were just arriving, rain soaked
and confused about my new friend.
You didn’t want to touch the heart, and I couldn’t
blame you. Couldn’t make you feel the moment
surrounding us, sanguine music and strange chatter.
Couldn’t stub out the cigarette you used easier than air.
Couldn’t make you flinch when
the heart lobbed itself onto a barstool and said
the next round of shots was on it, a $20 bill
sprouting suddenly from its left ventricle.
We both reached for the numbing agents
and I am not sorry for inoculating my skin so when
it tears I can be ready, so when scabs grow I can pick
them absentminded in the car, watching myself
from the backseat, so I can tell the rearview mirror
to do as I say, not as I do. Two lights shrinking
back into the night: me and you.
Here’s the last thing: I have already lost it, the heart.
It was a mistake to underestimate the rubber thing
to be less than a metaphor for everything missing,
and so it must be gone from me
to mean anything at all.
I have revenge fantasies involving vaseline on the handles of all your doors.
I don’t want to kill you, only scare you into doing what I want.
A warning shot.
A doe and her fawn study me as I walk by on a path,
And she could kill me, but she doesn’t.
She has more mercy than me, wishing me well,
And asking, curiously, “what are you afraid of?”
I almost say, “myself.”
(KD Williams is a nonbinary writer. They teach at local colleges and received their undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan. They earned an MFA from Stony Brook Southampton where they received the Stony Brook Short Fiction Award. Their work has been published in The Southampton Review and other publications.)
Bird Song in my Pediatric Office
COVID Pandemic, 2020
Canaries should sing
their voices surprising
from beings so small
It is what I love
unafraid and clear-eyed
they tell us
what we hadn’t thought
some more crow
I coo, dove-like,
encourage the chatter.
might trill and call,
the hawk’s view
on impending storms;
by shiny bits
they collect like
But lately instead
I hear screeching
or worse than that
Driving my son to soccer practice
Remember that park,
where we used butterfly nets
to catch dragonflies?
I envision fragile wings
by eager hands,
My heart would not have
It sounds lovely,
We did, he insists,
I dream about it:
and yellow flowers.
We had nets,
a gift meant
to tickle a child’s
entice him to chase
he never ran after
that particular magic.
He would have played with mud,
drowning shoes and pantlegs
making sun-bright spray
kicking the water,
Now he is twelve
and though we drive
to and fro
after a different dream,
his thoughts rarely escape
I want to say
but no, my son,
I only gave you tools
What you capture
is your own
(Claire Unis MD MFA, is a pediatrician and author of several published personal essays. I earned my MFA while in medical school and now teach literature and writing classes to my fellow physicians as part of a clinician wellness program aimed to counteract burnout among my medical peers. More information about me is available on my website, www.claireunis.net.)
Lost and Found
On a day in my life
as I wandered around
I discovered a window
that said Lost and Found.
“Excuse me.” I said.
“My fingers are crossed.
I hope you can help me.
My self has been lost.
I once thought I saw it.
It can’t have gone far
But it’s straggled off
and it’s truly bizarre.”
“What does it look like?”
the nice lady said.
“I just can’t remember
but I know that it’s fled.”
With a sweet helpful smile
she reached for a shelf
and picked up a limp rag.
“Could this be your self?”
With a cursory glance
a quick recognition
I knew that I found it
and accomplished my mission.
“Malnourished,” she said.
Please feed it a feast
you’d better take care
before it’s deceased.
You’ve spent a long time
as a wandering searcher
but now is the time
to coddle and nurture.”
I took my limp self
Held onto it tight
and made it a promise
no sorrow or fright
I fed it and loved it
we learned how to play.
It grew brighter and happier
with each passing day
The crisis averted
it’s just oh so grand
as me and my self
skip off hand in hand.
I prefer quiet, early mornings.
A cup of tea and a good book.
These are the little things that
Remind me of life’s simple joys.
This is the feeling I’ve worked
Hard for, a feeling that I once
Thought was unattainable for me.
There was a time when
I thought that pure
Happiness didn’t exist.
And that the only constant
Was never ending pain.
I’d like to say those days
Are behind me but they
show up in different ways.
What keeps me going
Are moments like these.
(Bio: Phrieda is a writer and blogger. She has written poetry for years before making the decision to share her work with a wider audience.When she isn't writing, she loves exercising, getting lost in a good book, and binge watching television on the weekends. She takes inspiration from her own life and credits poetry in helping her find her voice.)
Girls’ Locker Room
Ninth grade gym
second class of the morning
stories escape tiled shower room,
floating with echoes of hot water against the flesh of young girls.
Air fills with stories of fresh encounters.
A taste of cherry coke
on a boyfriend’s tongue, naïve mark on neophyte neck.
How luscious to have red apple memories.
A first kiss, warm palm
trembling across newly emerging breasts.
I listen with aching envy,
face pressed so closely to open locker,
the reek of dirty socks and
tennis shoes coat my hair.
I long to burst from the stink of cover,
balance upon the stage of narrow, grimy bench
to reveal with anguished howl
how grit from a freeway underpass
scored the skin of my back
as I strained beneath the weight
of a dark-haired boy
with a red car
murmuring in darkness
he loved me,
but never came back.
The True Cost of Things
When I walked out on my second husband
at the real end of it,
I was rash enough to stand and simply watch him
slide down the wall
coming to rest on the pale kitchen floor,
fingers trembling and splayed
as if he feared sinking
deep into the linoleum.
Heart hard and dark as our blacktop driveway,
I gazed as he went slightly mad.
And watching him. And watching him I think,
“Good china. Dinette set. Car.”
And consider meeting my new lover for lunch.
Frantically working to avoid the brush of middle age,
I am busy with endless, useless errands, until
my eldest son comes home to introduce a lovely young woman.
Hand softly cupping her slim brown neck,
his eyes fill with fresh promise.
And watching him, and watching him,
I am frantic to lunge back in time.
Beg unearned mercy. Plead a gentle word.
Search, try, claw at anything,
feathers, bones, my own blood,
anything at all to ward away
this young woman’s shining ability
to melt my son to nothing
while considering what else she might do.
My first meal without you
by two shrimp, a nestled sacrifice,
whole shells, countless insect legs.
I would drop them on your plate,
uncomfortable with grotesque little bodies,
browned in oil and seasonings.
I risk a glance as other diners
dig away, burrowing meat
from cleft, thin casing.
I poke one bug body
curled like a new moon,
hiding from my poised fork.
Unaccompanied, even dinner is awkward.
With resolve, I play the part of any
nonchalant seeker of shrimp,
lobster stalker, crab connoisseur.
Grab the hapless finger-sized nubbins,
all garlic and pepper.
Discover ridged flesh juicy.
Worth the tricky push and pull
to deliver a bit of pink essence to my tongue--
I turn to the side, ready
to tell you of my adventure,
receive my reward.
Waiter, dark haired, young,
waits to pour more wine,
smiles as if I please him.
My hand raises, covering glass,
shoulders tight beneath new blue dress.
I bring another bite to my mouth.
This is when you would lick the butter from
Main course untouched,
I scrape black wooden chair
hustle out the door, clutching purse,
expecting to be robbed.
(Sharon Thompson struggles with generational Bipolar Disorder and childhood abuse. She began writing seriously partially as therapy in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and continues to face mental health challenges through her writing. Thompson retired after twenty years of teaching High School English. She now lives with her terrier, Molly Blue, in Temecula, California, near San Diego near her two grown sons.)
Ogle Demented Killer App
Septuagenarian’s first foot
in the grave
memory now increasingly
I try three energy solutions
thyroid followed by Sudafed
none of which’d come close
to helping so
I came up with one solution:
insert a chip
into my brain that’ll Google
what is lost.
2. DEMENTIA OF THE PREOCCUPIED
i. Aging Pawn On Chess Board
Once upon a time I figured it would be the big C crab gambit
that grabbed my pancreas bad before carcinoma spread
painfully into spine then other bone, lung, liver
but so far bishopric offices seem to be proven wrong --
even though both as first-born knight to ninety-nine-year-old king
plus hundred and two-year-old queen, as well as
a rookie physician, I should long ago have noticed unanticipated
scenarios (in their cases blind-deafness or dementia
though in mine bad spine-hips, vertigo) which inconveniently
intervene to muddy up life before god knows who-what
definitive terminal endgames may bring for final solutions
to all of our sandcastles’ good night sweet prince/ss downfalls.
ii. Del Monte Rest Home
Given warden surprises, doppelgangers and noms de guerre,
not aiming for a feathered edge, vagrant impulses no longer couched,
jazzed to divo inmate teeth, Pops works the dementia unit’s chintz rows
of pitted divans overflown by bouts of pithed fruit cocktail ferment.
(Gerard Sarnat MD’s authored HOMELESS CHRONICLES, Disputes, 17s, Melting Ice King. Gerry’s published by Gargoyle, Columbia, Penn, Harvard, Brown, Stanford, Dartmouth, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, Northampton Review, New Haven Poetry Institute, Buddhist Poetry Review, American Journal Poetry, Poetry Quarterly, Brooklyn Review, LA Review, San Francisco Magazine, New York Times. Mount Analogue selected KADDISH for nationwide-distribution Inauguration Day.) gerardsarnat.com
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.)
The Beautiful Space-