distant dark

Aaron Sandberg

Ben Sloan

Brendan McEntee

Craig Sipe

Daria Rudakova

Gabe Durham

H. Edgar Hix

Ian McFarland

Judy Kronenfeld

Jeffrey Hantover

Joe Lugara

John Harn

John Levy

John McKernan

Kirby Michael Wright

Mary Wemple

Mohamed Elhassan

Robert Beveridge

Timothy Gager

art by Joe Lugara

Issue 140

The Note

 

This journal turned 16 years old sometime this year. I forgot her birthday. So, no Sweet 16 birthday party. (I also did not buy her a car.) 

I was 48 years old when I founded RHP and now I’m 64. I’ll be on Medicare next year. I’ll let you know how that works out. Because all of you enjoy hearing older people talk about that kind of thing. 

 

This issue happens to include poems by at least two writers who were born in the decade we started. We are pleased to present their work.

As I’m overly fond of pointing out, RHP was founded in 2004, the same year as Facebook. There is a lesson in that for you kids. If you’re going to start a business and want to gain massive amounts of money and power, avoid the literary game and go with a website that allows college students to rate each other’s hotness because there is a decent chance the latter might take off and evolve into something on which college students will not get caught digitally dead because grandma is there. Or maybe start a Chinese company that offers vertical-format videos of girls in bikinis dancing and lip-syncing, punctuated by excellent cooks who can show you in a one-minute video how to cook 설렁탕.*  There’s serious yen in that biz, apparently.

My wish for this last quarter of 2020 is that it will improve for you. For us. A lot. So, so much. Stay healthy and hang in there. You are needed.

 

Dale
 

*Ox bone soup, for those of you who never bothered to learn to read Korean.

H. Edgar Hix

 

Prophet

A nonbeliever would say
the sun was too bright
or I looked in the wrong place,
or looked too late,
or there were low clouds.

But I have seen
the shadow of the hawk
and looked into a naked sky.

Daria Rudakova

 

In the future, the writing stopped earning because human instincts should not be paid. 


Instead, love shifted from instinct to an acquired habit. People were hired to create new genres of touching and kissing.
 

A few carried an instinct to love and were named geniuses for such a gift of nature. One is a genius if one can love without expectations for payment.

Kirby Michael Wright

 

The Tree of Knowledge

Diabetes hunts me. Metformin twice-a-day. Finger pricks determine glucose levels when test strips absorb sticky drops. This disease is god’s punishment for gobbling fudge at Martha’s Vineyard. Sugar-laced butter shriveled my kidneys and kishkes. I cringe catching my old-man reflection in mirrors and storefront glass. 


I speak in tongues at Kennedy Airport. What I’m saying I’ll never know. Stewardesses look away. I’m positive about past lives. Perhaps I was Julius Caesar galloping a steed into his final battle before the Ides of March. 


I pray to Gabriel. I ask him to fly me to the Land of Nod and lead me to Abel’s grave. I’ll hike west for the Tree of Knowledge, where Cain carved images of Adam and Eve in the trunk. I’m guessing that tree’s still alive. After all, it bore the divine fruit that spun man mortal. I’ll pull gold apples from its branches and hurl them at the sky.

John McKernan

 

The Lion

From Africa
Eating a Christian

In the farthest corner
Of the Roman Circus
Knew nothing

 

About shadows
On a sundial
Or white sand
Dyed bright red

 

Could not hear
The whispers
Or the cheers
In the History Books
Or the word World

 


 

John Harn

 

To Be of a Place and Not Just From

A banana-seat bike outside
a market selling Cokes and Lucky Strikes.

Stars you see best with your eyes closed.

 

A hidden footpath
in a field of tall grass.

 

Generations of cats at the same feeding bowl.

 

Giant oaks
pushing into June.

Ben Sloan

 

Red Rex

A paisley rug with overly bright orange tropical flowers against a turquoise background. On a far wall a plastic tub overflowing with Legos. On another wall a bookshelf with dog-geared Norton anthologies. In the middle a desk with a beat-up laptop and smallish white marble lamp found on a street in New York City. On the wall near the door black wire-mesh workshop shelving with rubber-band-secured stacks of multicolored student folders and an overstuffed shopping bag with a wraparound red Tyrannosaurus rex. Through a window light coming in slantwise. 

John Levy

 

The smallest moth

I've ever seen
landed

on the page
of a book. It was

 

dark brown, settled
above an o, as if the moth were

 

a child with folded wings, at a tilt
upon a unicycle.

Mohamed Elhassan

 

Hackneyed Traditions

A man yells at his goats at daybreak—
Babies wail at the sounds of the bleats and the
Yelling of the man.
A little boy is sick and is thrown into a donkey-pulled cart.
The smell of blood draining into the sand reeks
Pungently as the butcher says a prayer to the sheep,
Because its entrails are splattered across the floor
For the butcher’s family.
Wishes of good health are paddled back and forth—
But my stomach churns because of the smell.
The donkey’s steps make a squelching sound
As it slogs through the marshes and under 'ashjar al maniju—
The mango trees.
It is the morning of Eid-al-adha.
I make wudu and pray;
Eid Mubarak to all.

Robert Beveridge

 

yellow leaves still the robin's nest empty

Robert Beveridge

 

eclipse

milkweed blooms, looks around,

closes again

Robert Beveridge

 

horses on the track
at New Orleans Fairgrounds:
give thanks 

Craig Sipe

 

Night Scrawler

The poem mumbles

behind my ear 

in the wee hours;

makes me scrabble up

from sleep

to the scrawl.


Such enlightenment,

   after all,

cannot be had

under the sun.


And in the morning

   —the scroll—

as most 

prophecies

are wont to do, 


reveals itself

in tongues.

Gabe Durham

 

Ongoing Revelations

The year God got into glitter, sprinkled it everywhere.

The year God discovered ironic punishment.

 

The year God got half-convinced we’re in a simulation.

 

The year God sold supplements.

 

The year God actually chose the pope as his vessel.

 

The year God mumbled.

 

The year God ran round with skaters, spat on authority 'til Braden called out his hypocrisy.

 

The year God made up a language⁠—English but each letter four ahead, so A is D. We cracked it quick.

The year God, ugh, gave tantric massage lectures to couples.

 

The year God wrote a hit song after interning under Max Martin.

 

The year of fate. The year of free will.

 

The year of children’s choirs. The year of reggaeton.

 

God discovered paper art, was an absolute master. We got him an

Etsy, and know what? He finally settled in.

Timothy Gager

 

It's a New Year

I’d been forever at home when the emergency happened.  All I heard was a voice distorting over the cheap Nokia pressed into my head; a voice shouting through the brick. She went to Boston for First Night, again, and I remember one year wrapping three scarves around my head to attend this with her. Hell, maybe it was too cold, maybe the twenty-minute trip from Nahant, too long . . . but we did other things, other years, than first night. Not last year, I don’t know why things happen, and if I did, I’d be some God. I’d been forever at home. I’m no God. 

“The icecaps are melting!” I think I hear her say as if they were disappearing from a giant blow torch. 

 

“Now?”  I say. “They are melting now? What can I do about that?”   It sounds like we are speaking on top of each other, those same voices were once a single harmonious voice, now I can’t hear one another or be heard.

 

“Hello, hello?”

 

What can I do now? My life is already a flood plain, without assurance—without insurance—without any assistance,  I have felt completely alone forever. And how high will the water be? Three feet, four feet, six feet high and rising? She’s certainly high enough, and certainly mighty enough in my mind. Is the water going to get high enough to get to the roof? If I bought into it, will my personal insurance go through the roof?  

 

“Hello. Hello? I can’t hear you either. What? Are you drunk?” I say, knowing that there are only two options for her timbre, and one of them is drunk.

“The ice-buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . Ice -ffffffff, fluuuuf. Sriptttculptures ”

“Hello? I still can’t hear you. Scriptures? Sculptures? ”

Today had been a day. December 31 is always the last day, and meteorologists say it’s been warmer than usual everywhere on the planet for the last year. Ice is melting everywhere. I worry how to make things right. Often, I never can. In my backyard, the hockey rink, I built is now a tarp and a puddle. With no boundaries, the water has spread and seeped under the rink’s plywood boards. I see it all too clearly when I walk outside by the puddle and think that all things eventually crumble like the mighty sculptures at the Parthenon. With  missing arms, heads, and totally broken legs, almost unrecognizable, 

On the phone, you are my Athena with bad reception.  Now that I’m outside I can see and hear everything.

“The fucking ice sculptures are melting. This sucks,” she yells when the reception allows me to hear what she’s actually saying. When I ask her to come over, she hangs up, as if I have completely misunderstood everything.

 

 

 

Judy Kronenfeld

 

Desperate to Mute the Hospital Chaplain

God gives us only as much
as we can bear,
he’s intoning, 
as if his leaden hands were on 
our family’s shoulders,
and he was breathing out on us
that peppermint-greased tautology
through his brilliantly bleached teeth. What can
be more? As if we’re bearing it 
because we’re here
inside the unbearable 
that has borne us
to this Zoom meeting, bears down on us
and bears no fruit
but steady tears—like useless work 
we’ve still to do. 

Judy Kronenfeld

 

The Old Story Never Loses Its Capacity to Shock

Yesterday, the huge laugh spilling
from his throat, glorious,
at someone’s joke, and everyone’s pleasure
redoubled by the raucousness. Yesterday, 
triple-cream Brie, lavishly slathered
on chunks of baguette, luxurious
on his tongue, devoured
with such appetite, chased 
by a generous swallow
of champagne.
Today, after the call,
the molecules of air
no longer effervesce. 

How still it is.

Mary Wemple

 

Sacrifice

I treat my feelings like something I have to strap in the child’s seat in the back. I’m on my way to the grocery store when I glance in the rearview mirror to check that is hasn’t lost its pacifier, but it’s a werewolf—and its teeth are reaching to bite into my neck. I veer off the road, tires screech, everything tips over. I throw open the door and run—and only look back when I hear the wailing from within the shiny black SUV—but I keep running so the explosion won’t take me too.

Brendan McEntee

 

Before We Reached the Sea

An undershirt on a reaped corn stalk;
a wet tie stained with smoke;
water puddling in road scars;
the field, a former homestead;
the smell of burnt oil and skin fuse in the air
and soil, rising even after the lavender blooms.

Jeffrey Hantover 

 

Love in the Time of COVID

He saw her on the F train on Wednesday night.  She was sitting next to a guy with a laptop.  He can’t stop thinking about her smile.  

He was in the elevator.  She got off on 8, he got off on 10.  They smiled at each other a few times, but he was with his father and couldn’t talk to her.  He loved her smile.

 

They got on the Q train at Union Square.  She was wearing a red raincoat and sipping coffee from a silver cup.  He was wearing jeans and a green corduroy jacket listening to his iPod.  She got off at 72nd and looked back at him.  She may have smiled at him, but he can’t be sure.  He dreams of seeing that smile again.

Craig’s List can’t help him now.  
No one can see her smile.  
No one can hear the beat of his hidden heart.

 

 

Jeffrey Hantover 

 

Going Home

I am sneaking up on this poem
in this silent apartment
the city flickering 
outside my window
dropping the words 
in the darkness
one by one
to lead me home.

Ian McFarland

 

Marking Pages with the Cover of a Book of Matches

That in another life might have burned whole forests down
Resolute in will toward careless misbehavior
Now, essential in tranquility, protruding shyly out,
Over the sharply dominant brim of the book, 
An attitude one might expect from a flower,
Or a four-leaf clover, long ago flattened,
Pressed between a multiplicity of pages 
Proclaiming something half-read, lying horizontal 
On a shelf, or coffee table, content to rest.

Aaron Sandberg

 

Suns

When my father came back from his
hospital shift that night

the morning the school bus
met the train, he looked

at me not like first learning the sun
is a star, but more like learning it is

a common one—
not too big,

not too small, old,
or young.

Just right. 
But still—like each spark

of light—
destined to burst,

collapse, or grow cold
on its stretcher

and dim into some
distant dark.

 
art by Joe Lugara

140

 

Robert Beveridge (he/him) makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Red Coyote Review, Deep South Magazine, and Aromatica Poetica, among others.

Gabe Durham is the author of three books, including a novel in monologues, Fun Camp (Publishing Genius, 2013). His writings have appeared in the TLR, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Puerto Del Sol, and elsewhere. He lives in Los Angeles where he runs Boss Fight Books.

Mohamed Elhassan is a 17-year-old junior at Hammond High School in Columbia, Maryland. He has recently been selected to be published at the Eunoia Review. Next year he will be a senior and he will continue to work on both his writing and his aspirations as a leader, graduating in 2021.

Timothy Gager is the author of fifteen books of fiction and poetry. His latest, Spreading Like Wild Flowers is his eight of poetry. He hosted the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts from 2001 to 2018, and was the co-founder of The Somerville News Writers Festival. He has had over 600 works of fiction and poetry published, of which fifteen have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio.

Jeffrey Hantover is a writer living in New York.

John Harn grew up in Michigan and spent his adult life in Oregon. His collection, Physics for Beginners, won the 2017 Blue Light Book Award. Another collection, Witness, was published by Kelsay Books in 2019. He is the co-author of three daughters.

H. Edgar Hix is living a bit more excitingly that he’d like in Minneapolis. He has a poetry column in the magazine Mutuality.

Judy Kronenfeld’s most recent books of poems are Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017) and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Recent poems appear in Juniper, Offcourse, Sheila-Na-Gig, New Ohio Review, Connotation Press, and other journals, fiction in Loch Raven Review, creative nonfiction in Under the Sun.

John Levy lives in Tucson. His poems have appeared in otoliths, NOON: journal of the short poem, and Shearsman Magazine. His most recent book is Silence Like Another Name (otata's bookshelf, 2019).

Joe Lugara took up painting and photography as a boy after his father discarded them as hobbies. He began creating digital paintings in the 2010s; they debuted in a 2018 solo exhibition at the Noyes Museum of Art in his home state of New Jersey. Mr. Lugara’s works have appeared in more than 40 exhibitions throughout the New York Metropolitan Area. His paintings have been exhibited at the New Jersey State Museum and Gallery Bergen at Bergen Community College, and with a number of commercial galleries in and around New York City, including 80 Washington Square East Galleries at New York University. He has recently completed his first illustrated book.

Brendan McEntee's poetry collection Servicing Nostalgia was published in 2019 by Alabaster Press. His work has appeared in Plainsongs, Loch Raven Review, and The American Poetry Journal. He lives near the Long Island Sound with his aging terrier.

Ian McFarland is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University. Currently, Ian works as a substitute teacher and a lumberjack. His first published work has appeared in the online journal Ariel Chart and Plum Tree Tavern is scheduled to appear in failbetter, and Amethyst in the coming months.

John McKernan grew up in Nebraska and taught for 42 years at Marshall University in West Virginia and now lives in Florida. He has published poems in more than 100 magazines (little to big) and his most recent book is a selected poems, Resurrection of the Dust.

 

Aaron Sandberg's work has appeared or is forthcoming in West Trade Review, Sporklet, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Abridged, The Racket, Writers Resist, Neologism, Yes Poetry, perhappened mag, One Sentence Poems, Monday Night, and elsewhere. He lives and teaches in Illinois. You might find him—though socially-distant—on Instagram @aarondsandberg.

Daria Rudakova is a 20-year-old student at Sacred Heart University. Born in Russia, she fences and has been writing since childhood.

Craig Sipe lives on Orr’s Island, Maine. His recent work has appeared in the Maine Arts Review, Goose River Anthology, Good Fat Poetry Zine, and The Café Review.

Ben Sloan teaches at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. He is formerly the editor of Mothers of Mud magazine. His writing has appeared in Tishman Review and Spank the Carp. The Road Home is a poetry collection he has out from Thirty West Publishing House (2017). He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Mary Wemple is the creator and coordinator of Words & Art, a reading series of poetry and prose inspired by art in Houston. Her poetry has been published in Austin International Poetry Fest, Houston Poetry Fest Anthology; and she was featured in the 2014 Word Around Town! poetry tour lineup.

Kirby Michael Wright received his MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. His latest book is The Quenn of Moloka'i, a creative nonfiction adventure based on the life and times of his Hawaiian grandmother.

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