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.

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.

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.

Memory Care by Greg Watson

Memory Care

In the memory care unit, everyone seems
pleased to see you — partly because
they believe you are someone else —
a wayward son not spoken to in years,
or the first boy to have uttered the word love
as though it were a fact, as solid as a tree
or the ground from which it emerged.
You walk behind the floor scrubber
as quietly as you can, your measured pace
slower than a monk’s in procession,
making certain that no water streams behind.
You have been called by many names here,
always smiling and nodding in return.
You have felt the presence of those lives
passing through for perhaps the final time.
You can’t help but think of your own mother,
how she longed for nothing more than
to forget, to forget, the ECT doing its best
to pinpoint the exact intersections of her pain;
how she forgot, too, the names of her sons
when she called from the next room
or considered them questioningly at dinner,
a stage actress fumbling for her next line.
Perhaps the Vedic masters had it right all along:
this world, however convincing, is merely
a passing show. God plays every part.
God holds a cardboard sign by the freeway,
makes your latte, calls you handsome.
We are divine against all logic and evidence.
We are divine, even as we soil ourselves,
stumbling back to the newness of childhood,
not yet able to write our own names,
knowing only the comfort of their music,
the familiar shape they carve into air.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This heartache of a poem begins compassionately, if impersonally, but soon narrows down to a very personal sorrow. Repetition hammers home the sadness of the speaker, but the closing lines show how grief is also part of life, and precious despite the pain.

A Letter I’ll Never Send by Carol R. Sunde

A Letter I’ll Never Send

Dear Susan, Dear Friend,

Over a year now you’ve been staying with your son. I miss you. You’re gone
not just to far-off Ohio but to Alzheimer’s land and you can’t come back.

Once a bubbling river of talk and laughter, now a dry stream bed with not much to say.
No return ticket available from that country of lost competencies and memories.

But I believe in bone and tissue, traces reside of what once was, shards of the good times
we shared, so I’ll do some remembering with you, for you.

Remember listening to the Pacific purr as we sat on my sunlit porch, drinking late afternoon wine.
Wendy, the neighbor’s coon cat, often plopped onto your lap for strokes and scratches.

We would plan our next trip to Mount Rainer while recalling details from previous ones:
purple-pink foxgloves climbing steep banks escaping the White River’s rush;

our tents, big canvas bugs at ease below lofty jade green pines; patchworks of blue lupine,
magenta paintbrush, daisies . . . quilting the slopes and meadows; the sacred mountain

inviting us to traipse trails at Sunrise, Paradise, Glacier Basin, the Grove of the Patriarchs . . .
Remember the invasion at Sol Duc campground. While we were dreaming

like the happy dead all tent-cozy and contented, a mouse built her house
in your car trunk but skedaddled at our dismayed discovery shouts

accompanied by a flurry of sticks and straw as we tossed her home.
The whole brouhaha replayed the next day.

Remember lollygagging through lilac-loaded Montana.
We ventured into a fantastical Flat Lake forest where

antlered aliens disguised as deer trotted by, obviously stealing treasure from secret places.
They waved friendly hooves before reverting back to brush: that’s the story we told ourselves.

Remember that Ozette Triangle night. A full moon, white wine, campfire sparks
like constellations, wind lullabies, the quiet so wild and free

your refrained from repeating your decrepit knock-knock jokes
and I kept myself from reciting my boisterous version of “Invictus.”

So many minutes, hours, days, months, years of good memories;
bad ones I filed away a folder label “forget.”

Before this letter turns into a heavy tome and tears slop over all the pages,
I’ll stop scribbling, stop spelling back those precious together times.

When I’ve phoned, you seem to recognize who I am but you mumble
you have to write down my name so you can remember who called,

and you always add, Damn it all to hell!
Every single one of my pens is hiding again.

I miss you much.
Goodbye, dear Susan.

So long, dear friend.
Farewell, dearly beloved.

by Carol R. Sunde

Editor’s Note: Sometimes grief arrives before you expect it to, as this epistolary poem reminds us. Rich imagery fills in enough of a life to understand the loss, as does the frustrated exclamation at the end.

Swim Against the Self by Jacob Butlett

Swim Against the Self

The day ends here, at this Dubuque dock,
the Mississippi River nothing more than twilight’s
footstool, a scarlet-shone lily pad casting ripples

down the drain of the day. If only fear could be dispelled
so easily. You see, I came out as gay in a college essay
earlier today. Now I whisper my life into the water,

as if it instead could keep my fear of being judged.
I want to accept myself, though I fear many will notice
not the rainbow in my eyes or my soul lost in its carapace,

but the effeminate drawl on my lips or the flamboyant
waltz of my walk whenever I enter a room packed
with those I want to befriend, but may be left disappointed.

Meanwhile, air reels in the cold, the hands of the dead
silence the sun, the black eyes of lampposts blink at nothing,
a breeze of dahlias shudders like a nightmare upon the water:

I want to say to the drowning man looking back at me,
Forgive me. Please. Forgive me. I’m still learning to love myself.
The hardest part of living is learning how to swim against the self.

by Jacob Butlett

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacob.butlett

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem immediately jumps out at the reader, pulling one into the narrative of uncertainty that feels more universal than not (as the last line insists).

From the archives — Walking Home by Neil Flatman

Walking Home

Somehow I knew this would be how it began.
So easy to say, the coral fire of sunset;
the bright hand of a god at the end of the world. You

just have to be there. Try not to picture it.
A lens can’t capture a moment the way
the eye sees. Cliché

And that this stanza would consider
how you pass a finger through a candle’s flame
without burning, or, at most, with a little pain. Trial

and error. Some know better
than to linger long, others come to love
then need, the sting.

Now I can only tell you
how it is I love
the way she often laughs so hard her body heaves

loose the strings. Convulsions in the waves
that reach her feet and beat a jig
no mermaid could dance.

It’s like trying to stand
on the horizon, the corner of a canvas
but this is soon, I can’t see

more than shade at the periphery, how
gears change in the dark, turn
down the sun.

by Neil Flatman

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, July 27, 2015

Milton with Galileo, 1638 by Cameron Clark

Milton with Galileo, 1638

You were old when we met, blind,
your guarded house a satellite,
full of clocks & books telescoping
into shadow. I was young: had come armed
with arguments & old heresy; but as you spoke silence
rose in me & I listened. You told me how each night the sky
had rearranged your sense of hierarchy:
the world, one more mothlike planet, endlessly
circling; of the book burnings, the cold-eyed guards,
your Church’s punishment. Look through the glass
you said, but clouds hung a ceiling
of stone.

& now, opening marble eyes to another
stone day’s darkness, counting the morning’s iambs
off like an abacus, I rediscover
you, taller, younger, steering
your gaze to the centre
& not finding Earth’s image there, but a tallow
of molten light you are the first to read by.

by Cameron Clark

Editor’s Note: The imagery, metaphors, and personification in this poem are expertly balanced, with each one contributing just enough surprise to the narrative to keep the reader completely engrossed.