My Husband Shoots Me by Jen Karetnick

My Husband Shoots Me

with Botox, 31 times
in my forehead, the shallow dish
of my temples, the nape of my neck
where as a younger man
he’d touch his tongue,
a fencer’s foil.

He does not hold
the syringe like a love letter
or wield it like an apology
although he says a quiet
“I’m sorry” every time
the needle pierces

the cartilage under skin
with an audible crunch;
fat, a loosely guarded prisoner,
has long since escaped my face,
muscles pulled tight
from migraine after migraine.

I follow his directions
to look up, down, wrinkle
my forehead like a chow
so that he can measure
where the nerves are,
avoid making my eyelids

droop more than they
already do. He assures me
the puncture marks will fade,
the medicine diffuse, block
the transfer of pain, lengthen
the staccato of light.

Three decades ago,
he practiced tapping my joints
as if they were ice
with a rubber hammer,
thumped my ribs, dug
under bone for my organs

and lymph nodes. Now I reap
expertise, fanned by
his trajectory as he wasps
around me, and I wait, still
within this vortex, to be stung,
and stung, and stung.

by Jen Karetnick, first published in jmww, from The Burning Where Breath Used to Be

Editor’s Note: The surprising title of this poem immediately grabs the reader’s attention, but it is the last two lines that grab the heart.

Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō by Martin Willitts Jr.

Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō
Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, picture # 18

Men have cast their fishing nets from the prow. All day, they pull up nets of emptiness, over and over and over. All this hard work in harsh light, and all they catch is sunburn. They will return home at the end of the day, once again, with nothing to show for their efforts. It is not easy catching the nothingness.

On the shore, workers are tiny and insignificant, raking the flats for salt. Some have already gathered the salt, and now they are carrying their bags to the kilns. Inside the kilns, water boils to keep the salt. These workers will have much to show for their efforts. It is not easy boiling down a day into a single moment.

None of them care that they are close to the Tōkaidō highway. That road could take them far from all of this salt and lack of fish and pull of oars. The road is always there, yet these people always stay performing the same tasks as their ancestors. Small details persisted. The more they struggled, the more they failed, like sunlight, like heartbeats, like salt trying to avoid crystalizing in a kiln, like birds circling uncertain where to land, if to land. It is not easy to be so near a road that can take us elsewhere, and stay doing the same meaningless task.

Mount Fuji is always in the background, always with snow on its peak, always below the setting sun. The sense of Always is the only constant we have in this world. Even that is temporary, dissolving like water in the kiln. It is not easy being temporary.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sun is in a net,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .taken to the kiln to bake,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .turns to salt in heat.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic poem (prose and haiku) tells a straightforward story, or so it seems, but the persistent energy of the images resonates with the woodblock print, creating more layers of meaning than is immediately obvious.

Image by Katsushika Hokusai

From the archives – Prayers for Everywhere by Rachel Dacus

Prayers for Everywhere

Prayers for the volcanoes
that need garlands when they erupt
and prayers for the freeways
you never drive them the same twice,
prayers for the buds
that look like babies’ faces
as they open next week and for the blossoms
opening their soft legs to bees.

Prayers for everything the soul
must reluctantly or passionately kiss:
rain-running gutters,
a pebble in the shoe,
the silt gritty on your ocean-washed lips.

Because what is a prayer
but a laugh that can’t be formed
in letters, but only heard
in that place that, praised, lights up.
So prayers for everywhere
that needs them,

Prayers for the worms washed out
of the grass onto driveways,
prayers to step over as they swim
because you can’t pick them up
without damage. So much
of the heart can only be helped
without direct touching.

Prayers for everyone
in the throngs who need well-wishes
to suck on in their sleep
like giant glowing lollipops.
Prayers going to every restless sleeper
on this earth who needs a cool hand on the brow.
Prayers for their own sake,
prayers as beautiful as dolphins
leaping and twisting, prayers
freed from gravity’s pull
to fly glistening into the air.

By Rachel Dacus

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, February 6, 2015

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

There is time to grow old by Julia Klatt Singer

There is time to grow old
For Harold

There is time to grow old. And we take it. Walk gently through the world; today made over with new falling snow. Everyone needs a partner, and you say I want to be yours. You tell me you love birds. How they sing and make a bush sing too. You tell me about Martha, your cat, who got too old and died. Let’s not get too old you say. Let’s not. You tell me you love snow, catching it on your tongue. You tell me you love winter because it lets us walk on water, lets us become angels. We hold hands. Even through our mittens, we feel the warmth of each other’s palm. We walk side by side, into the snow, into the world transforming.

by Julia Klatt Singer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julia.k.singer/

Editor’s Note: The gentle repetition in this poem soothes the reader as the idea of love and hope and a “world transforming” slowly grows possible.

Polly by Robert van Vliet

Polly

I gave her permission: if she
was ready, it was okay. And
a few hours later, she slipped out

without leaving the room. Grey
reaching for blue while turning toward
green. Like Athene. As unlike

her mother as possible. Sprung
from her father alone. Those eyes
swimming, serene at last after

a lifetime of seeming always
worried. I was the last to see
them open, unseeing. I have

my mother’s eyes. So now
I know how my unseeing eyes
will seem when I at last slip out.

by Robert van Vliet

Twitter: @_robertvanvliet

Editor’s Note: The enjambment in this poem is particularly well done because it perfectly captures the sense of a person slipping away, while also illustrating the emotional uncertainty of the speaker.

From the archives – Painting Czeslawa Kwoka by Theresa Senato Edwards

Painting Czeslawa Kwoka

I

In Brasse’s black and white photos,
you are a young girl with a round face
dropped into a flat, gray world,
26947 sewn on a striped wardrobe,
naked beneath these numbers.

What does color bring to you?
In color you move through our minds.

In color you are a movie star: Mia Farrow—
slightly protruding upper lip, swollen bottom
forms a dense shadow to your chin.

In color you are a young woman
bleeding from within: pale skin
filters red to pink. This is the
girl you are at Auschwitz, Czeslawa.

You are not a criminal.

II

Your full color portrait
forces our reaction—
your hair is the warmest
fall in a dead winter, amber
background sparks the short, matted
bristles: adolescent questions
quickly extinguished when a scarf adds
texture, diagonal patterns, another
look of a 14-year-old prisoner.

In color you transform: we can
touch your swollen mouth, feel the
voice beneath the left side of your face,
where grays mix with pinks,
a rash of illness.

The contrast holds us.

III

In a soft color profile,
above and slightly right
of 26947, we see a tear
from your right eye spilling down,
just underneath skin transparent,
thin from a bleak setting.

We follow the contour of your
smeared mouth, slightly opened,
trace from lower lip to the
bottom of your chin:
this part of pinkish-gray flesh
appears as number 7.

This is not intentional.

IV

In color we feel the
blacks of uniformity,
harsh marks of suffering
blacken the scratched
shadows below your nostrils.

The black slit above your
gray lower lip sucks us
empty—your eyes, black
oval platters reflecting
SS soldiers and worse
within deep, gray carvings.

Black is blacker in color.

V

Painted close-up: a bright
yellow backdrop brightens
the scarf’s pattern, your hair
hidden in black and white
becomes strands of sunlight,
movement on still life.

Yellows warm your cheeks,
your forehead clear of dirt,
yellows remove the dark patch
from the tip of your nose we see
in each of Brasse’s photographs.
Yellows plunge orange,
settle on the center left of your chest.

You can breathe them in.

by Theresa Senato Edwards

from Autumn Sky Poetry 15, October 10, 2009, previously published in AdmitTwo

Paintings by Lori Schreiner.

Photo by Wilhem Brasse used with permission from the archival collection of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim.

Two Turned Ways by Lauren Camp

Two Turned Ways

In the desert the wind mounts and locks behind us.
And ravens roof and rise and loop, ubiquitous
then dip down for miles to grab anything dirty.
A mixture of temptations.
We keep discussing the thieving, the stains.
Another hour of people brimming with vanity
while some of us struggle with our sovereign sad hearts.
The roosters swing their shoulders
in the shed at the slow end of the hill
and you might think there’s nothing left
undone but the country, the country, the poison extraordinary.
I trudge back to bed. Sleep is what I came here for.
I wake late to the guts of dawn,
the greedy again rotten with triumph.
This is the likely mess we’ve come to believe in.
Reductions. The world goes on breaking.
At night my love and I speak our breath to each other:
our house, our solution. No one can tell us to stop.

by Lauren Camp, first published in Rise Up Review

Lauren on Facebook
Twitter: @poetlauren
Instagram: @laurencamp

Editor’s Note: The images in this poem are ominous and worrisome, and this cascade of difficult imagery imbues the poem with a sense of both urgency and trauma.

Teaching My Granddaughter to Read by Joanne M. Clarkson

Teaching My Granddaughter to Read
An Ecology Poem

She rejects the over-used, colorless,
school room words. The single syllables.
The rude guttural stutter of short a, e
and u. Instead she memorizes
the blossoming pages of my gardening
catalog: chrysanthemum, nasturtium,
hyacinth. Phonics of stamen and petal.

I explain words are patterned on sound
and shape. Readers need to know
the hum of m and the hollow o
in order to master books. She looks at me

as if I’ve lost my mind, missed the whole
point, and enunciates perennial, herbaceous.
Not for her the cat-and-dog pages. Mother-
and-father chapters looking nothing
like her family. She continues

to delve. Never guesses. Recognizes
days later vernal and autumnal. Labors
to train phrases together: After last frost.
Thin to twelve inches apart.
And water. We both work hard
on water with its attendant good
drainage and irrigate at evening. She

wakes eager for the glossy pages
with photos of last May and all the Junes
to come. Our fingers leave smudges
where willing seeds sprout. Why wouldn’t
an author write lithospermum and hellebore?
Why shouldn’t someone six
learn how earth is meant to be read?

by Joanne M. Clarkson

Editor’s Note: This poem’s cornucopia of sound forms the backbone of a relationship between the speaker and her granddaughter—one must go slow because of the consonants, but also because the story deserves the kind of careful attention a grandmother gives to her granddaughter.

Abscission by Tara Iacobucci

Abscission

On the car ride home from New Hampshire
we split up, husbands in one car with the sons,

and wives in the other with the daughters.
A two hour drive where conversation moves,

finally, like a speedway. Our husbands are good,
but often fall silent. What this feels like, as daughters sing

and the trees line both sides of the highway
like a corridor, is a shedding. What this feels like

is oxygenating truths we’ve been smothering.
We breathe, thank the road for allowing this roaming,

this rambling. We’ve both been hiding wine bottles.
We’re okay, a promise, but we hide them anyway,

just in case our husbands don’t notice. Our lives
are good, we just can’t control the happenings,

can’t control the son who hibernates in his room,
grossing Madden points as if it will pay the rent,

can’t control the daughter who manipulates
conversations, can’t control the way our mouths

sometimes open and a foreign sound like a leaf
blower comes gasping out. Guilt is a tunnel

but the miles are merciful as orange-red leaves beckon
like the applause at the finish; we sigh, grateful, my foot

so light on the pedal, willing the breaks. It is Sunday
and when we get there—home—there will be

food shopping and meal prep and packing bags
with worry that we will ease with star-shaped

sandwiches. Home is our beginning but also gridlock,
where the exhaust burns. I think of the months

to come, how the trees will rid of their unwants,
let the dead fall, find vulnerability yet confession

as each leaf separates; grace is being caught in the wind
before hitting the ground’s grave. I want to stay here—

fifty miles from the Massachusetts border—
with my friend who listens to every falling word.

I want to see what it will feel like to fully reveal
what’s underneath: sap or roots or just the soft,

dark pith of ourselves.

by Tara Iacobucci

Editor’s Note: Alliteration, repetition, metaphor, simile—all the best poetic techniques are used so skillfully in this poem that the reader barely notices because the story is so true and necessary.

Feathers by Lorette C. Luzajic

Feathers

Woman, you who never wore a bra, you who never guzzled wine, now have dark birds and their shrouded nest in your tit, swollen stone eggs you thought were nothing until they were something. We were at the brink of gravity when we met, our blooms long spent. Still, we were radiant with that independence of women “coming into their own.” Hell’s din and swell had dimmed down to a dull roar. The struggle had found formidable and seasoned foe. Well, I watched you carry the skinny drunk chick upstairs from the building backyard, holding your favourite shawl over her wet jeans on behalf of her dignity. I watched you fight like a lion for me when I made a wrong turn, and gave all my love to the wrong man. I took up your flag when a mutual friend you thought could love you, could not love you, after all. It cut us both to pieces. You boiled water until it was hissing spit, tossed tea into the cauldron, mothered my wounds with theophylline and honey. I sheltered you when her door was locked, when things turned mean. We would stake out the city from one end to the other in the caustic cold of February, or hike to Spadina to slurp spicy pork bone soup like starved and frozen explorers. And here we are, now, face to face, after everything, taking on the inevitable. It is now, or it is later, but it is what is. This wild unwinding, this unknown known. Now we await the results of scans, configure charts, see signs in winter flight, in the shrill shudder of fate and her unmoored mutterings. I can’t imagine you sick or not there, beg you to stay. You tip your feathers to the wind, say what will be, will be.

by Lorette C. Luzajic, first appeared in Pretty Time Machine (Mixed Up Media, 2020).

Editor’s Note: This prose poem uses startling imagery to press the gravity of a desperate medical diagnosis into the reader’s mind. Like life, the end of the narrative is not quite grief nor certainty, but rather the ongoing struggle put in words.