Grandma Henry’s Chapel by Kris Beaver

Grandma Henry’s Chapel

A narrow row of rose bushes separated
her driveway from her reclusive neighbor’s.

Along that meager pew, Grandma knelt
and needled god, broke apart hard, dark

clots of soil with garden-gloved hands,
battled black rot and powdery mildew.

Despite Grandma’s devotion to a can of Raid,
her rose bushes were sticky with aphids.

But their ruby, yellow and coral blossoms remained
unblemished souls full of fragrance.

Now and then, Grandma left a bouquet
in a tin can of water on her neighbor’s porch.

The next evening, she’d find a small, handmade card
slipped behind her screen door grille.

She displayed the cards on the kitchen sink windowsill
where they grew suds-splashed and faded.

Once, I saw about a dozen ladybugs
whiz up from Grandma’s rose bushes and land

on her freckled, thorn-scratched arms.
She didn’t brush them away. They graced

her skin just long enough, then flew off
on invisible highways to other blessings.

By Kris Beaver

Editor’s Note: Careful couplets separate the narrative of this poem, creating an ode to a woman’s quiet life and the moments of communion that can be found in the most unexpected places.

Tree Felling At Lissadell by Maeve McKenna

Tree Felling At Lissadell

A tree can have many uses, I’ve learned. Winter carves its losses,
. . . . . .layer after layer, fluttering heaven-bound on an abrupt
gust. The air is keening, again. I press mute on my phone.

I take the familiar woodland path. To the right, oyster crates settle
. . . . . .on a receding tide, the Lower Rosses a murmur, shrouded in a veil of fog.
The thinning sun surrenders behind the weight of clouds. A twig snaps underfoot.

The tree-hide looks out over Goose Field. Barnacles flock
. . . . . .here for the black months, a lone wintering finch
opens its wings across the cereal patch. I wait.

Inside, the benches are scrawled with names: Tom declares
. . . . . .his love for Amy, another attempts to shape a heart in Tippex. On
the window-ledge, gouged into the wood skin; CP was here, 21.04.2011.

At dusk, skeins glide in from Inismurray, their V ascending
. . . . . .skyward from a curtain of white mist, three thousand
souls roaming the skies. They depart in April, too.

The latch snaps shut. A photograph, crumpled and fading,
. . . . . .is buried pocket-deep; the boy on a makeshift swing,
fists tight around the length of a rope. I play the voice message.

by Maeve McKenna, first published in Boyne Berries

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Editor’s Note: Rich imagery supports and soothes the anxiety of the speaker in this poem, illustrating how our environment can act as a balm even in the midst of grievous, troublesome times.

Mo(u)rning Rituals by Heidi Slettedahl

Mo(u)rning Rituals

In my arms she is an accustomed weight and almost carelessly transferred,
my right hip jutting out, my white blouse creased
in patterns her kicking heel repeats.

It is the carelessness that gives away the dream.

She is hot against me, leaning too close, reaching.
I shake away her grasping fingers, her urge to crook a pinkie in the perfect gold hoop in my ear, tug
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .down.

Looking at someone else, I talk above her,
sensing only gradually my arm asleep beneath me,
her sticky heat a damp mattress in a hot and sunny room.

Her weight disperses as she fades.

I grope for a thin glass cylinder, shaken down, muting me.

He stirs beside me, sees the spear in my mouth, and shuts his eyes again.

I hate this ritual.
Not yet, not yet.
Not ever.

I cannot think that and I do, my thoughts helpless partners tied by the wrists, facing outwards,
facing away.
To pull against is to tighten the knots.

His hands reach for me . . . . . . . .I shake my head.
No, I say, it’s not time, I say.

I think he is relieved.

Today, I think, I will not conjure her; she will not fill the spaces in my day.
Today, I promise, I will not recall that careless weight, a conversation that goes on above her head.

It is the carelessness I crave,
the fact she is not central to my dream.

by Heidi Slettedahl

Editor’s Note: True grief is when the body remembers, without conscious thought, the feeling of love that is missing, yet what is even more difficult is the disappearance of normal.

Boogeyman by Janice D. Soderling

Boogeyman

Little girl, are you afraid
of the sharp-fingered branch shadows
reaching through the window,
stroking your moonlit face,
your long, dewy lashes,
your rosebud lips,
your soft hair flowing over the pillow like water?

This is only practice fear, dear child.
A warm-up, a drill, a dry run.
Preparation for the real deal.
There are worse things waiting.

An empty bus approaches,
wheezes to a halt.
The tall man emerges from the umbra of the fig tree,
clambers aboard behind you,
pressing.
He settles himself close by,
one immobile hand resting at his crotch.
The other rhythmically strokes his thigh
and he stares, not at you,
but at your reflection in the window.
You glance around
dry-mouthed, anxious,
look away.

The candy wrappers on the dirty floor say nothing.
The twin rows of vacant seats
—smeared, torn, sticky—
watch carefully,
waiting for the stop where you will step off,
hardly daring to breathe.

Be brave, child. Sleep now.
There are worse things waiting.

by Janice D. Soderling

Editor’s Note: The dread in this poem builds slowly and surely, until peak horror manifests with the personification of used candy wrappers. The following lines ease the reader back down, but only slightly, because fear isn’t easy to forget.

From the archives — Ramble of the Bygone Mind by James Uppstad

Ramble of the Bygone Mind

So we see more partings
than returns. So we are old. So the wrinkles do not make
a workman, but a crippling,
a reed or weed on lawn. So cattails bend, unbend, at this lean
hour. It means nothing
but the wind is strong today. I shuffle by marsh-
mires: here no reed
stand strong to take hold of and lift me, dirty but just-
dry against the wind, that
which beats me. Clouds cross like ships, fire ammo
the sound of
thunder and shape of lightning. My clothes swell
in the wind and in the rain
that shape it into breathings, shapes without shape.
I haven’t told of the dream
in which a Greek boy hunched beneath the shelter of trees,
but he dripped and shivered
like me. In the wind, by daybreak, each leaf a grape
pulled up by the stem,
as from somewhere a force had come, they rustled
and bowed like that
as the cattails bend, unbend, at this lean hour.

by James Uppstad

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 7, December 2007

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Variables by Micki Blenkush

Variables

The man who stands at the corner
holding the Homeless, Please Help sign
is different. Even if he is the same guy,
today he is lifting one foot to the other
though it really isn’t that cold.
The traffic moves, so you forget
until later at your desk when you hear
a bang so thunderous it shakes your house.
You open blinds to look out all four sides
but no one is crashing into anything anywhere.
You don’t see anyone at all, so you think
of that episode of The Twilight Zone
where the man is the only soul left on earth,
and it isn’t until the next day when you see
the lumber dumped in your neighbor’s yard
that you figure it was the unloading.
What they’ll be building remains to be seen,
because you don’t want to stand in the street
counting beams and trusses, and there is nothing
you can do anyway. The homeless guy and the lumber
and the journals you’ve been meaning to burn
are each still out there. The night you dream
of walking on a roof high above your current city,
you wake holding the word communion
in your mouth. Its flavor lingers as you slice the fruit.
You pack lunches as it dissolves, pressed
like a wafer against your tongue.

by Micki Blenkush

Editor’s Note: The speaker in this poem feels like all of us, on a random day, where you know you can’t do much, though you yearn to do more, and yet, by the end of the poem, forgiveness feels possible.

Elementaries by Jim Gustafson

Elementaries

Held at the proper angle, a lens will rip the sun’s flames from the sky.
Cast them down upon sidewalks, cremate full colonies of ants,
turn brown leaves to smoke and ash, and send mothers screaming
in shame for giving birth to a pyromaniac.

A Queen of Diamonds pulled from a fresh deck when clipped to a Schwinn
with a wooden clothespin will run its fingers the bike’s spokes
like a Hells Angel with a harp and roar like a Harley.

Casseroles are leftovers mixed in the same bowl
with Campbell’s Mushroom Soup to drown the truth.
Corn kernels covered with mashed potatoes disappear.
Peas go orbital upon a plate’s brown-gravy sky.

Mud slow dances with little boys’ soles, holds and hugs tight
the way thirteen-year-olds cuddle to the final tune at the first school dance.
The dirt has a mind of its own, prefers to disembark to the carpet, spread itself around.

Snow is hard water, pasted to hills. Cardboard boxes are the sleds of the poor.
Oak trees at the bottom of hills are acorns come of age, ready to do battle,
stand at attention, singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

The child who snuggles without prayers feels guilty,
climbs from bed to kneel, and places hands together, reciting
“Now I lay me….” then, absolved of omission, returns to sleep.
The day will come; he will fail to kneel.
The world will be much the same. No one cares; no one knows.

by Jim Gustafson

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem is slightly slant from reality, careening the reader into epiphanies that feel slightly guilty-pleasure-ish, but as the last line assures us, no one will care.

The Night You Left by Betsy Mars

The Night You Left
—for my mother

I came to watch and wait as you lay
unspeaking, mother-sitting duty.
You in your purple parachute jogging set,
propped up on pillows on your queen-sized bed.

I noticed you had squirreled away food
in the prednisone-swollen pouches of your cheeks —
not for winter, which was just then passing —
but one last attempt to please my father
as he spooned in breakfast before he left for a meeting.

I didn’t know then all the signs
I would later learn from hospice pamphlets,
but my mind burned on high alert.
I changed your Depends, heavy with urine,
made note of the darkness, figured
your kidneys must be slowing down.

We were silent all day. I bathed and clothed you.
I never said the words I love you.
I sprayed your wrists with cologne,
called my brother to come, kept you home
until you were ready to leave on your own.

by Betsy Mars

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marsbitsandpieces/

Editor’s Note: This poem feels very matter-of-fact—an easy itinerary of sorrow, until the punch at the end where every reader will wish to tell the speaker that her mother doesn’t need the words to know the love is there.

On Hold by Ed Hack

On Hold

Sometimes, as now, the light’s enough, the sun
behind a massive cloud that sweeps like sea
across the blue. The birds are still; songs sung,
they’re quiet, gone. The tree and stream agree
that silence is what’s needed now—as if,
for this brief once, the clock has stopped. On hold,
the sky, the leaves, white flash of wings—this is
the world as poem upon a page, untold.
The fan still whirrs, and that is all I hear,
like water far away. The books that burst
with languages are dumb, and each appears
exactly as it is. The world’s been purged
of Time. Is this a warning or a gift?
I think it’s both, like any granted wish.

by Ed Hack

Editor’s Note: Careful punctuation creates space in this sonnet for the reader to breathe in the imagery and worry woven into the lines.

Telekinetic Dance by Stephen Bunch

Telekinetic Dance
for Vic Contoski

The others retired with spoons
to their rooms
but you chose a fork and stayed
in the dining hall, swaying,
eyes closed,
to music more distant
than you could imagine,
your thumbs caressing the curve of its handle,
feeling its warmth, its stainless
acceptance, you
and the fork attuned,
waltzing and bending
across a ballroom,
bending to the pulse
of music unheard.

by Stephen Bunch

Editor’s Note: Skillful use of metaphor and enjambment elevates this seemingly simple poem into a heartfelt tribute.