Outback by Paul Ilechko

Outback

Lean, vulture, wing-flexing.
The buttery grease of goat
stinking beneath your tendril
flight. Encirclement gathering.
The torn darkness of yurts and thorns.
The empty miles of salmon
and lavender, the murky
infinite plain. Spiders’ webs
at sunset, glittering crimson.
Lean, vulture. The barking
of coyote, the steady tramp
of civilization, the impossible
absence of water. A salt-stricken
world of houses shaped from mud.
The rendering of the gum tree.
Lean, vulture.

by Paul Ilechko

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Editor’s Note: Startling imagery belies the cliché that a picture is worth a thousands words—in this poem, the opposite is true.

Sister by Jane K. Kretschmann

Sister

After twenty-two years
she stands here
on this Carolina beach,
barefoot, and says
a second time, “I will.”

Grass widow for so long
she has forgotten how
to please a man—
not in bed, that she has
kept in practice—

but by keeping quiet
when he screws up,
compromising,
making space for his
increasing accumulations.

For an hour the cold beach
sand pumices her soles,
wearing off the tough
skin, leaving her brown
feet pink and raw.

By Jane K. Kretschmann

Editor’s Note: The closing stanza of this poem is a metaphor for the difficulty the “grass widow” faces after so many years alone. Relationships are not for the weak.

The Bird Girl by Sarah White

The Bird Girl

A bird distinct from her father
or mother before her, I thought.
Fate had drawn us together
but as she grew she flew with others
of her feather. They ran into weather,
and scattered.

Maybe she wasn’t a bird, I told her.
She might be an apple. And apple she was
for a while, seeming to bloom
in a mountain orchard. I told her
my hopes: that she
wouldn’t fall too far from the tree.

When I said that, I wished I had not.
She gave me a look and changed
on the spot from an apple into a stone, plunged
to the ground, and began to roll

further and further through moss and grass—
gathering God knows what—away from the place
I’d seen her last.

But I have the address—oh yes. I send
bad poems and sage advice.
to which I get no replies
as if our bond was broken
never to mend
or, from the beginning, imagined.

by Sarah White

Editor’s Note: This poem’s extended metaphor morphs from bird to fruit to stone, but still seamlessly portrays the narrator’s emotional dismay, right up to the uncertain last line.

From the archives – Bone-Chilled by Martin Willitts Jr.

Bone-Chilled

These mountains were not high enough to have snowcaps
but a toddler tugged on his mother’s sleeve
as a silent plea for safety. The pond was frozen over,
although spring was coming out of its cabin,
carrying a berry-picking tin pail. The boy shivered
in his parka, back-glancing at the junipers
where the all-day bird was singing, knowing weather
was purposely fickle. His mother had pushed off
the latest attempt by another no-account guy
who had stared once too intently at his eight
year old sister. Bone-chills emanated from that man,
like a kind of mean wind blasting them in the face.
He went with his mother, searching with a group
for his sister who had run off into this direction,
into the folds of the mountains. The boy called out
in his small voice, loudly for the lost,
already dreading what he knew must be true and too late.
His mother, biting at her cold sore, seemed serene
at this same awful conclusion, holding one boot
belonging to his sister, strangely smaller,
like hope, like one blue flower in the snow-melt.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 27, 2017 — by Martin Willitts Jr.

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Jeopardy by Chella Courington

Jeopardy

My father built biceps working for US Steel
smelting iron in heat that humbled men.

Now I could break his arm
over my knee, brittle as kindling.

My father used to let me walk up his body
balancing my hands on his fingertips

till I flew from his shoulders. They began to sag
after my mother passed. Rising at night, no moon out,

she collapsed in the dark and never woke
as once my father fell when a clot in his head

tossed him down. He speaks of my mother
rubbing his back with eucalyptus oil and saves hair

from her brush, strands he wraps in kleenex.
At night with his whiskey, facing Jeopardy, my father

drifts off to Kargasok.
In the Russian mountains women live to be 105.

So do their men, eating dried cod with mushroom tea,
making love last forever.

by Chella Courington

Editor’s Note: The title of this poem carries the weight of multiple meanings, but this is not apparent until the emotional punch of the last few lines.

Borrow by Mike Yunxuan Li

Borrow

Mike is not my name,
I told you.
I borrowed it from Bible
to roam the land of Uncle Sam.
It’s my tuxedo and pasta,
a man
behind which the I hid and ate,
slept, woke and educated.
Shame felt,
swallowed like an esophagus glide,
peppered and festered,
like when he cheated on the red and yellow stripes
with a pure lady of your kind,
and everything will be fine if no one tells, right?
But when the sun goes down at night,
every night,
something must’ve been left behind.
You tell me it’s alright.
Girls borrow clothes from mothers
to appear mature for one party night.
Boys borrow advice from fathers
to become good doctors for two lifetimes.
Sod borrows blankets from snow
to cover debris in their plowed skin.
Water borrows momentum from winds
to dance atop sky like an elegant Jackson Mike.
Uncle Sam borrows Earth from everybody
so more borrow titles from that book of Holy.

Your name is Mike.
You want to borrow my language
even if it’s just for a night
so that you can communicate with my heritage.

He tells you it’s alright.
Your white skin, paler than rice paper in his printer,
constitutes the most proper mandarin smoked in my homeland.

by Mike Yunxuan Li

Editor’s Note: This poem’s keen imagery steps into racial truths not always apparent to the majority’s eyes—survival asks many things of some people, even the denial of identity and the pain that arises from such borrowed necessities.

From Rain by Bruce Guernsey

From Rain

Around Easter
when the woods are still pastel
and the air is damp with April,
I need to feel the river’s pull
I haven’t felt all winter,

this longing I have for water
that leads me here where cutbanks swell
with spring from every hill,
mysterious, maternal,
and into that fullness I enter,

myself no longer
but one with the shifting gravel,
and, like these mayflies hatching in swirls,
from rain I’ve come, will spinning fall
as once and ever,

both son and father,
eternal and ephemeral
while the current around me curls
and I lift my line in this ritual
of rod and river, of Adam and lover.

by Bruce Guernsey, from FROM RAIN: Poems, 1970-2010.

Editor’s Note: The long, single sentence of this poem strings together the imagery and idea of water as a ritual that can tie us to our past, our present, and our future.