Fragmented Childhood by George Longenecker

Fragmented Childhood

I watched Laurel and Hardy say goodbye
again and again in A Perfect Day,
waving and waving in black and white,
never able to get on the road.

Nights I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid
of huge, black birds lurking outside my window.
At school we hunched under our desks for air raid drills.
In an atomic blast, we were told,
our classroom windows would blow inward.

I couldn’t finish my spelling book;
after the drill all I saw was fire and glass.
My parents fed me, but I needed somebody
to take me—somewhere, anywhere—
I don’t know why I wanted to leave,
but walking away seemed safer.

Oh, I wanted to say goodbye.
I escaped into my stamp collection, Montenegro,
Angola with its elephants and giraffes,
San Marino with its castles and turrets.
I wandered with wolves and bears
as I read Nomads of the North.

Then I ran away—in my pockets two books,
fifty cents, my six favorite marbles.
I walked and walked until it snowed,
wet flakes on pines where I hid
under drooping boughs, so cold
that I finally gave up and walked home.

Maybe I didn’t want to say goodbye,
maybe I only wanted someone to look for me.
I returned to my stamps and Superman comics,
content to fly off to Metropolis or San Marino.
Maybe I was just looking for a little light or warmth—
one day the next spring, I lit a grassy field afire.

by George Longenecker

Editor’s Note: The last two lines of this poem highlight the narrator’s trauma. Some things can’t be fixed.

Best of the Net Nominations – 2017


I am happy to announce the following poems have been nominated for the Best of the Net 2017:

Abiding Winter by Risa Denenberg

Affidavit by Terri Muuss

The Balance Between Us by James Diaz

Bone-Chilled by Martin Willitts Jr.

Poem Only Half About Myself by J. Rod Pannek

Tuesday Morning by George Longenecker


Tuesday Morning by George Longenecker

Tuesday Morning

repeats itself
day turns from bright dawn
to paler shades of blue
your face turns grey
perhaps you hear our voices
brothers, daughter, lover, poet, nurse
all here
11:22 exactly
but in reality
it’s a slow fading of light
and breath
perhaps voices, perhaps a dream
something past
from the bridge you look out at water
Winooski River grey
ice chunks against a dam
brick mill buildings
hum of your bicycle tires on a street
Tuesday morning repeats itself
birds outside a screen porch
singing the same songs
over and over
songs fade to grey

for George Mathon 1945-2017

by George Longenecker

Editor’s Note: The aching grief in this poem is emphasized by the repetition. We will all experience this day eventually.

Yoga Class by George Longenecker

Yoga Class

Imagine earth below us, she says,
I think of a stone slab atop Mount Hunger
where I’ve napped in warm sun;
she says to look for balance in life,
I think of stone balancing for eons—
then I think of hunger, remember my dream,
a hotel I can’t get out of,
a dining room I can’t find, student papers
piling forever higher,
but I want to think of birds—
yellow throat warblers
that balance on tiny branches;
branch out, she says,
then we chant om,
I hear warblers sing;
think inside your body,
she says, as we breathe deeply,
I think of my heart as electrical resistance,
hear ohm, feel it beating,
imagine myself a warbler,
heartbeat five times faster;
we move into tree pose, I balance, feel my heart pump,
think of silly clichés—heartache, heartsick;
I’m balancing on a pine branch,
resting on warm stone,
my heart beats so slowly and perfectly,
I’m barely aware I’m here.

by George Longenecker, first published in Main Street Rag 2016

Editor’s Note: Surreal imagery and transitions allow this poem to replicate the meditative feeling that is so difficult to achieve when in the midst of yoga.

Airport Pigeon by George Longenecker

Airport Pigeon

A pigeon picks for scraps of burritos,
chips and hamburger buns on the carpet
near Gate 73—white with black feathers
on her wings and head— she ekes out a living
trapped inside Newark International Airport
hopping around the feet of weary passengers.

She thinks she came here willingly, perhaps
through an open passenger gate, but now she’s
trapped like us, eating what she can find.
She can fly miles inside the terminal,
up over Hudson Books and Vino Volo,
but she can never reach the sky.
Meanwhile we’ll escape, board
our jets and— for a few hours—
soar for miles over mountains and tiny towns,
thinking we’re free as birds.

by George Longenecker, first published in Santa Fe Literary Review

Editor’s Note: This poem is a perfect demonstration that verse can encompass the most ordinary of things with brilliant emotional insight.

Montague’s Convenience Store by George Longenecker

Montague’s Convenience Store

sells gasoline, diesel—most everything—
three lunch trucks are lined up by the river,
each morning they leave to sell coffee
doughnuts, soup and sandwiches
in factory parking lots and construction sites.
Outside the store sits a crate of free books,
on top waits Romeo and Juliet
in perfect condition.

They’d have been happier just working here,
an ordinary day—Juliet makes sandwiches
for the lunch run, Romeo makes coffee,
takes credit cards, Juliet hauls trash out
to the bins by the river. She calls out:
Ophelia stay away from the edge,
but no way is Ophelia going near the water—
she’s just watching her Honda gassing up,
Hamlet’s in the front seat tending the kids.

Juliet loads coffee, soup, sandwiches
and doughnuts. Now Gertrude’s at work,
doing an extra four hour shift
since she dumped Claudius.
From her truck Juliet blows a kiss,
See you tonight Romeo sweetie, don’t
kill yourself, Tybalt will be here soon.
Love you— see you tonight Juliet.

Juliet eases the lunch truck carefully
around barriers at a construction site,
honks twice, her horn like trumpets,
a steelworker’s first in line,
Here comes the lady. O so light a foot.
Juliet pours his coffee.

Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene VI

by George Longenecker, first published in Vermont Literary Review.

Editor’s Note: This poem brings several of Shakespeare’s plays into the present, and reimagines the characters as modern people. This reminds us that the people alive so many years ago are not all that much different from the people who are alive now.

Raw Crude by George Longenecker

Raw Crude

A harder time is coming
—Paul Celan

They hunch around a fire beneath the bridge,
hazy faces lit in its glow,
like a painting by Van Gogh,
beds of cardboard and shredded blankets.

By the off ramp a woman
with a baby holds out her hat,
good day, two fives and a ten before noon,
when she hides behind a hedge to nurse.

On Refugio Beach near Highway 1,
the pipeline from an oil platform bursts,
raw crude gushes onto sand
and into Santa Barbara Channel.

Some nights we’d lie there on a beach blanket.
After dark people with nowhere else to go
would sneak into the park to sleep;
one night we gave away our wine and cheese,

but it’s never enough to hand out scraps,
to mop up oil after the pipe has burst,
to toss a few coins in a hat,
to bathe a dying pelican in detergent.

Maybe there’s no apocalypse, just the end
of another empire fueled by raw crude,
toss another Denarius in a mother’s hat,
mop up your spills and keep on eating.

George Longenecker

by George Longenecker, first published in Isthmus.

Editor’s Note: Yet again, this poet’s work makes use of allegory to convey an emotional narrative. In this poem, the ending stanza offers the reader a conclusion, but no solution.

Purple Socks by George Longenecker

Purple Socks

Another photo from Aleppo—
a boy sits on curb crying and talking on his phone,
shattered cement all around him,
next to a body covered by a brown blanket,
not large enough to be an adult—
all we can see are the feet,
wearing purple socks,
a child who awoke and dressed
like it was an ordinary day—
but there are no more ordinary days in Aleppo—
or maybe slept in clothes because they heard planes,
after all they live in a city that has ceased to exist.
The parents,
if they’re still alive,
will bury their child,
still wearing purple socks.

by George Longenecker

Guest Editor’s Note: The first line of this poem suggests the ennui one might feel at seeing yet another photo out of the war zone. Yet the simple poignant detail of the child’s socks works to re-focus our attention on the victims and refresh our empathy.

Please welcome Guest Editor Catherine Rogers from April 3-7, 2017.

Bear Lake by George Longenecker

Bear Lake

Just three lights shine on the opposite shore.
At ten the waxing moon is only a dim sliver,
sky still too bright to see stars.

White pelicans fly low over water,
wings beating slowly,
so close I hear their feathers against air;
as I fall asleep they’re still flying.

After midnight the Milky Way brightens
the sky from Idaho south to Utah,
a plane blinks red and a single
satellite moves east to west.
All the rest is stars.

In desert sky shine stars light-years old,
eons from now somebody
may be watching our star,
by then we’ll probably be gone
(maybe we’ll have blown ourselves away)
it’s hardly important to the Milky Way

whether our star shines or not—
twilight comes by four,
across the lake a porch light comes on,
already the Milky Way is floating into dawn,
already one white pelican flies low over Bear Lake,
all the rest is stars.

by George Longenecker, first published in Sixfold.

Editor’s Note: Crisp imagery opens and closes this poem with silence and darkness.

Distorted Glass by George Longenecker

Distorted Glass

Where we lived then some of our old window
panes were rippled; we looked through blue-green water
at lilacs and cosmos; in winter we looked through ice,
everything white, gray and frozen.
We had a baby then.
Some days winter sun, low in the south,
made rainbows on wide, worn floorboards.

Our daughter crawled to catch colors.
Then there were dark days, ice upon ice;
we looked at each other from either side of distorted glass,
neither one really seeing the other.
It was dark by four, windows leaked cold air,
on windy nights thumb latches rattled
answering mice in the walls.

Some things have to be fixed
if you want to survive winter,
not hide with your child under quilts.
It took us three years,
but we replaced the windows—
clear glass with no icy drafts.

Sometimes I wish I’d kept one of the window panes.
In the morning I’d look at fragmented iris,
their purple scattered here and there, or at icy rain,
or even at you in a different light—
not that I’d really want to go back—
except maybe to see our child
crawling after rainbows on the floor.

by George Longenecker, first published in Poetry Quarterly 2016

Editor’s Note: This poem uses allegory to convey an emotional narrative of a life, and how time passes and changes one’s point of view.