I had just returned from the hospital to his house to care
for my mother whose mind was elsewhere
not because her husband of sixty years was in a coma
but because she was
buried beneath polar ice herself like a perfectly inanimate mammoth
in whatever room she sat
ever since her orthopedic surgeon decided to take her off
the anti-depressants before the surgery that was supposed to straighten
her knees, but wound up twisting them
like the curlicues of her mind,
when the phone rang and his nurse told me
she was sorry
my father had died.
I dialed my elder brother whom I had thirty minutes before
encouraged to tell my father
even if only in apostrophe to
let go . . .
and then rang the previously-prompted undertaker
to take care
My mother neither cried nor whimpered; she shook
her head and snowed her shoulders
with dandruff. Black
would not become her.
My brother and I had divided the list to call to the funeral
and I was in between those chores when Nurse
called again to complain my father’s bed was needed elsewhere
so why hadn’t I yet arrived?
To pay the bill?
To pay respects.
I told her the undertaker would be arriving soon to take care
I could not leave my mother right now.
I was thanked
at my carelessness and so I made a mental note
in upper-case letters I must not miss
the next time a loved one dies
to beat the undertaker
to the hospital. Oh,
there is a steep learning curve
to life and death.
The Swallowtail’s Blue-Black Struggle
*lyrics from Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) in italics
Wesley’s Theory begins When the four corners
of this cocoon collide
against the 3-year oubliette crippling the wings
dreaming funk freedom
sweating, fading black fame
For Free? (Interlude) short-lived ova mating,
gold-digger’s conception climbing each leaf
in search of welfare, section 8 housing,
Living in captivity raised my cap salary
King Kunta; black man’s blood of captivity dried,
skin cracked at the nub
phantom limbed ego
like the larva’s defoliated vine
forced to gnaw its metamorphosis short
fork-tongued poison for running, staying, being.
If I shoot at your identity and bounce to the left
Institutionalized it don’t change
until you get up
when neo-soul -isms pupate the poor premature, exposed to predators
while the golden chrysalid camouflages avarice
above, out of reach.
For Sale? (Interlude) Smoking lokin’ drinking that potion
you can see me swerving
souls on contract burning,
feasting like the swallowtail on Queen’s lace
or mud where temptation lies.
Streets don’t fail me now,
drugs dumped, gangs brand blood
spook spoken as a caterpillar delicate,
scared to molt its first skin.
Complexion (A Zulu Love)
all your earth tones been blessed
checkered white, striped shades
bloom healthy and divine
The Blacker the Berry,
another slave in my head.
Double disappearance’s weedy terrain
while birds chirp hungry, as human hands collect
conscience morphing over winter.
Mortal Man feel
death brush against my antenna,
the scent of cocoon centers ancestors;
a vision hallows my breath
for the next generation of struggle,
take my wings.
Would you know where the sermon is if I died in this next line?
Libby Swope Wiersema
Not a bottle of brut or dish of oysters
but a cantaloupe to divide and share, just ripe
the rind’s green tinge bound to fade tomorrow.
Our own warped globe, its gray webbed topography
like striae mapping the thighs, or a hard, pocked rump
quarry plucked in the thoughtful dig and hunt for this –
Perfect gift – not crème brulee, nor confections
dark clots of calories wrapped in shiny tin.
We are fat and golden already. Bring us a planet
to roll across a universe for two, a knife to slice it
wedges of soft sunshine to scrape with wobbly teeth
juices to sweeten the cliffs of our double chins.
Chasing the Ex
Today I ran into an earlier wife.
Twenty years of life had passed
since we escaped a marriage
that could not survive even one.
She began, to me, as a person of interest,
and became my first responder.
But we recognized each other barely,
standing on the outer rim
of a bookstore talk.
And, fittingly, exchanged few words
Yet the chatter went on inside my head.
I was, back in the day, fascinated by the way
she wrote messages in lipstick
on mirrors or countertops
before she left for work,
perfumed words barely
once removed from her lips,
that smeared themselves across my skin
when I tried to wipe them up.
Whether “wash my car”
or “take me away again.”
There were times back then
when she smiled at me
and the world went quiet.
Then came the end,
when we moved to motions of a lesser love.
And once bright lips became laden clouds,
high and low, that parted one day to say
“I no longer feel amazing.”
And to herself she sighed
“I have brighter days ahead.”
By which, unsympathetically,
I thought she meant to become
more intelligent somehow.
Finally, I recalled being kissed awake.
About her I also remembered that,
and not since our lips parted
have I awoken that way again.
Now my life has less surprises:
except my shoes,
that hide themselves at night
and I find again to start each day.
After I turned off the light,
I stewed in her juices
for the rest of the night
admitting, at dawn
and years too late,
the possibility of making a mistake,
old enough now to see
no lights from days up ahead
shining even half as bright
as ones she and I used to see.
My Father’s Hands
I never had my father’s hands,
palms calloused from holding tools—
a screwdriver to fix a lock,
a hammer to drive nails through loose hinges.
My hands rarely dirty with grease
from popping a hood, leaning over a car,
replacing a gasket, changing oil.
I always watched from the side, nodded
as my father pointed, explained the guts of a car.
Older, I take my car to the shop,
pay hundreds for repairs
my father could have done.
Even cancer-thin, my father’s hands
rested on his chest, heavy and strong.
In the last days, he still lifted them,
as though asking for a tool for something
he couldn’t fix, the slow breaths and steady decay
of a man I thought would never break.
Constance SHERESE Collier-Mercado
I don’t know.
in HOT pants
and RED stilettos
remembering is Difficult/a Challenge
a TOO TIGHT halter
Not Like: I was trying though/but
what if I was
free for the FIRST TIME
I don’t know.
If I knew to add more COKE than
to that first HARD drink
were my Giggly Legs a
those Other Girls
the ones who loved to cry RAPE!
after the fact
Not Like: anything happened though/but
a few Rumors of a
from the non-COCK-
-blocking GOOD friends
who arranged for These Legs
to ride home with His Hands
Mocha Yogurt w/ PR
I’m going through
a bit of a thotty-thot-thot place
which feels strangely stolen
Not that I’ve settled
on a definite defining of that
Maybe if I perform
my very best savasana
pretzel left foot behind right
ear brace back against
house table and twerk
it out as a celebration of
I’ll forget I followed that shitty advice to get a business degree.
You know. All the well-layered RP.
My students would love it their mothers
not so much.
I probably won’t I’d feel so out of touch.
Just learned there’s an unofficial youtube war to chop screw Caillou
to the vulgar drop of the bombest drum beat.
Thank you mommy daddy God baby Jesus be a strong latte Buddha Ma’at & all the blessed
Orisha above and below,
I followed your sage advice not to be a teacher.
It’s all cyclical
Tonight, outside my window
the fog has left
the spider webs like lace
over the bushes.
I wonder at the Creature
who made that veil.
Is she matronly,
sitting and pulling silk
from her body, knitting
for her loved ones
as she rocks in her chair?
Do her grandchildren gather
around her, waiting
anxiously for stories
of her youth?
Is she ignored
withdrawn in a home
to wither quietly
out of sight
as she loses the use
of her hands?
When she dies, what legacy does she leave?
I consider my own
each spinning a web
One in love,
and East Texas ideals:
tuna with apples and pickles,
please and thank you, ma’am,
up to the knuckles
in the black
dirt of the garden growing
figs and hibiscus flowers.
The other of fun and midnight trips
in old cars broken down
on the highway,
fingers smelling of bleach
while scrubbing white
tiles of others homes
for free lunch
and oldies music.
Did they know
from their bodies that I
would nest there, secure
in my sac, knowing nothing
of the world? I would not venture
out afraid to fail
until the wind picked
up and the webs
were suddenly cleared
and I was left hiding
by the roots of an unknown
bush, not knowing
which way to go.
The Secrets of the Moon
The rain smells like the back porch
of our third-floor apartment
in the city of bankrupt joy.
Remember the raccoons flensing
the garbage cans every night?
Remember the cries of neighbors
having sex with their tropical fish?
The rain whirls in the pine-tops
like Ginger Rogers in her prime.
The rain coughs through the gutters
with the discretion of diplomats
and the arrogance of old wool socks.
You hated that brown apartment.
You packed a dozen bags and left
in a huff of broken plaster
and rented a boat-shaped room
overlooking the intersection
where someone tried to assassinate
the visiting Queen of Sweden.
You wished you had witnessed
the heroism of that moment
when the man you hoped to love
flung himself before the bullet,
which in fact missed everyone
and flattened against a brick.
Though that happened before your birth
you imagined cuddling that hero
in your boat-shaped room while the press
pressed at the door for interviews.
Now the rain smells unheroic—
a murk of peeling green paint
and raccoon urine. The secrets
of the moon are safe for the moment,
and the exhilaration of pines
distracts you from the runoff—
which in sour little doses,
if you were humble enough to kneel
and drink, would purge your lust
for horizons too private and rosy
for the rest of us to enjoy.
A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his LGBTQ speculative story “Leaves,” also set in Indonesia, was a finalist for the 2017 Saint & Sinners Literary Festival Short Fiction Contest. His essay “It’s Been a Long Time Coming” was featured in The New York Times “Modern Love” column in April 2016. Penha edits TheNewVerse.News, an online journal of current-events poetry. @JamesPenha
Jenee was born and raised Rochester, NY. She has a dual degree from SUNY Brockport in Dance and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her interests include dance therapy, film, mental health concerns, and race and gender explorations.
Libby Swope Wiersema earned her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Author of the chapbook, “The Season of Terminal Cold,” (Finishing Line Press, 2014), her poems have appeared in KAKALAK, CALYX, Birmingham Arts Journal, The Other Journal, Main Street Rag, and others. She lives in Florence, South Carolina with her wife and grandson, and works as a freelance food and travel writer for various media.
Michael Maul is currently living on Florida’s Gulf Coast. His poems have appeared in literary publications in and outside the U.S., and in anthologies that include The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2015 and the Best of Boston Literary Magazine 2005-2015. He is also a past winner of the Mercantile Library Prize for Fiction.
Brian Fanelli’s latest book of poems is Waiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books), winner of the 2017 Devil’s Kitchen Poetry Prize. He is also the author of the collection All That Remains (Unbound Content) and the chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing). His poetry has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily, and his writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, The Paterson Literary Review, Main Street Rag, and elsewhere. He has an M.F.A. from Wilkes University and a Ph.D. from SUNY Binghamton University. Currently, he teaches at Lackawanna College.
Constance SHERESE Collier-Mercado is a Black Woman Writer/Artist, Founder of The CultSTATUS Arts Haven, and self-professed ‘Anthropologist of the Arts’ in search of all the culture she can get. Born and raised in Chicago, IL and the Bronx, NY, respectively; ‘Fresh, DOPE, Beauty …’ are words she uses to describe the pluralistic idea that she can be any genre of Woman/ish Activist necessary to give voice to the fullness of Black Afro-Diasporic existence. Her writing and visual art primarily focus on examining the nuanced layers found in the multilingual and equivocal – the literal and imagined intersections of sensory, mystic, and social identities – to include the cultures of abuse, empowerment, and dis/ABILITY. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA where she is at work writing a first book of poetry and two novels which depict the divinity and kinetic energy of The Kinfolk. In her free time, she can be found obsessing over the fact that she has no free time. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @WriterChicLady
Kristen Ruggles is an adjunct professor in the First Year Writing Program at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. She is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing in Eastern Kentucky University’s Bluegrass Writing Studio. She has been published in the Sagebrush Review, the Rat’s Ass Review, Spank the Carp and Zingara Poetry Review.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies. His poetry has appeared in many journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall (Splash of Red, 2018).
Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review and more than 250 other publications.