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Amy Strauss Friedman

right hand pointing #145

jewels of sanity

Amy Strauss Friedman

Brett Warren

Dane Hamann

Donna Scheer

Frederick Frankenberg

Jason Brightwell

Jeremy J. Sutton

John L. Stanizzi

John Landry

John McKernan

Kali Norris

Keith T. Fancher

Lynn Strongin

M.J. Iuppa

Wendy Taylor Carlisle

Whitney Cooper

The Note

 

Friends,
 

Are y’all, like, down?

 

A variant of down is downer and I’m about to go there. But hang in here with me.

 

I’m a clinical psychologist. Retired from seeing patients, but have had work since my retirement that allows me to continue to do a lot of work in the area of mental health. I refer people and I speak regularly to lay and professional groups about mental health.

 

I have said often in the last 5 years or so that I’m relieved that I am no longer in the business of trying to figure out if a person is clinically depressed or just living in these times with relatively low levels of denial. A good clinician would tell you that there are ways to tell the difference. There would be a zone in some kind of Venn diagram of people with detectable clinical depression. But I am thinking about a larger zone of people who are just down in a way that would make us say, yeah, why wouldn’t they be?

 

Speaking of denial, I’ve also been saying that I don’t know how a nation that has lost 675,000 of our countrymen is supposed to behave, but not like this. Not screaming at each other in Target stores. Not having inane debates about undebatable things. Not being obsessed with our individual rights and health and caring little about the common good. Not filling up football stadiums unmasked and jumping up and down and screaming.

 

I’ll spare you the litany of other things that are going wrong. You know.

 

At a time when my faith in all institutions is, at best, wounded; when my disposition toward optimism is on the ropes, I find myself relying on a short list of things in order to be…okay-ish. One is relationships with people. Not only family and friends and people close to me, but the cashier at the grocery. Deep and long relationships, and transitory encounters. Loving this person and trying to do a little thing to brighten the day of that person.

 

And very high on the short list of things that keep me from full surrender is the work of creative people. Authors, musicians, visual artists. People like you.

 

Thank you.

 

Here’s your issue 145. I love it. You'll love it.

Thanks to all the contributors to this issue and to all who submitted. As always, thanks to our editorial team:

F. J. Bergmann, F. John Sharp, Bill McCloud, Annie Stenzel, Steve Klepetar, and Ina Roy-Raderman.

 

Enjoy,

 

Dale

Brett Warren

 

The Artist at 90

In the Activities Room,
she bites into a fig bar. 

Three of her teeth come out. 
She holds them up like gems 

 

in the fluorescence, 
considers each one, 

 

lines them up on the table—
ivory, silver, gold—

 

goes back to coloring 
without saying a word. 

Brett Warren

 

After I faint on Easter

my mom hauls me 
down to the basement 

of my grandparents’ church,
presses a wet paper towel

 

to my face     mutters     
goddamn fire & brimstone     

 

having left small-town religion 
for a salvation of her own. 

 

In the pews, those who stayed     
whisper black sheep, black lamb.

 

M. J. Iuppa

 

The Cold Insult of So Much Rain

Odor of a dark storm swarms in evening’s orange light.
          We wait for rain to fall, like a thousand stars up-

on our garden’s zinnias standing huddled in small talk,
          leaning into each other—unwilling to break

 

their pose in the gravity of rain—only their bright up-
          turned faces, in bold defiance, looking in-

 

to the storm’s promise as if they alone could with-
          stand the cold insult of so much rain galloping
 
in columns—descending upon each stem, leaf, petal, with 
          the intention of annihilation—their stunned faces 

 

pressed against soil’s small stones—shaken, then still.

Wendy Taylor Carlisle

 

Modern History

you have your wound.
you worry it; it festers. 
it weeps; you weep.
see how the proud flesh 
rises up from putrefaction.
you treat it; it heals.
see how it scars
how the scars lighten,
how they make a mark 
you hardly notice
until an old wound opens.

Dane Hamann

 

Blue

after “White Night” by Edvard Munch

The least common color
of food, found naturally,
is blue.

Strange then, that I want
to taste this night

rather than escape it.
Everywhere, the snow 

blue with frozen starlight.

The warm cabin waiting
just beyond

the dark lobes 
of tree leaves ballooning
out over the pines
near the ice.

The winter swirls
deliciously.

Jason Brightwell

 

Comforter

Dad died with the imprint
of vodka labels on his palms.
When I found him, he was 
stiff and brittle, the color of drywall,
wrapped in a brown blanket.
He’d been treating his gout 
alone 
dingy mummy wraps 
held his digits on. 
I can picture him shambling 
into death drunk, my 
Dad, more scabs than skin,
asking directions
to a wedding
between dread and joy,
Unable to speak his sadness
in life, he left for me a language
of guilt in dried blood, brown 
as the blanket he leaned into 
for comfort.

Whitney Cooper

 

My Father's Scar

You grin as you recount the story:
your father playing with you,
his infant son, at the top of the stairs,

you slipping from his hands
as though a thing on fire. Today,
just before your left temple, sits
a scar, curved like a fingernail,
black on black, the moon’s shadow
hung in the night sky.

This is the only injury you speak about,
the others—koi fish in green water—flash gold 
but dart into darkness when I look closely,

that half inch between blindness and death
opening into a black gulf between us.

Frederick Frankenberg

 

The Ant Farm

Daddy always smoked cigarettes in the house and ate alone the dinner Mommy cooked, not wanting to talk to anyone. Molly had posters of bubbling test tubes and the periodic table against her wall. She knew that hydrogen came in groups of two, and carbon bonded with oxygen in the air. She wanted to be a chemist like her mother. 

Mommy always cooked her eggs in the morning, drove her to school, bought her things, and read her bedtime stories. Her father had a job in the iron mine and came home drunk at night. She wanted to work at Prescott Labs like Mommy. She wanted Daddy to stop drinking. Mommy ate chocolates and watched Netflix everyday. Daddy broke Molly’s pottery baby doll against the concrete in the basement last week when she got a B on her report card. Mommy told Molly the war changed Daddy, and she would understand everything when she got older. 

The hazy air full of cigarette smoke gave Molly a stomach ache, and a lit one lay in the ashtray on the dinner table. Molly heard a loud scream from the living room as she went to get a cup of water from the fridge. Molly could not remember or understand what her mother and father argued about. They did this a lot at this time in the morning. Her Daddy had her Mommy in a chokehold against the wall. Molly heard the thunder of a slap across Mommy’s face. Carrying on, they ignored Molly, who went through the hallway and slammed the door to her room behind her. 

Molly’s red ant farm stood against her dresser wall. The queen was big and different from the other ants. She laid eggs to make babies. The soldiers had their big jaws. A lot of tiny workers crawled in and out of the layer of soil. All of them were like one big family. Molly could see all the tunnels in the sand they dug through the clear plastic. Molly’s pets ate raw sugar cubes and ground potato chips. 

The noise outside the door softened with her mother’s muffled cries. The ants swarmed over their queen. They were hurting her. The queen struggled with every clasp of the soldiers’ jaws. Molly could not watch it.

Molly opened the window, and the frosty air outside blew on her. She took the ant farm with both hands and threw it into the dumpster from her parents’ third floor apartment. She heard a crack when it landed. Snowflakes fell from the sky.

John McKernan

 

Why Am I Reading Mad Magazine in Omaha 

in the Fifties the day before Christmas 
when it’s below freezing outside and one 

of my classmates keeps driving across 
the entire city in a new Edsel claiming 
to have some true rusty nails Romans 
       
used to crucify Jesus and a stash 
of melting Strawberry Bomb Pops
I love how Montaigne describes erasing terror  
A long chaotic furious horse ride clearing
   
the  mind of fear   Riding a young stallion
at full thunder across a gullied landscape
The sky and the church bells saying midnight 
again and I am hitchhiking in darkness
sliding to a stable in North Omaha     Freezing

John Landry

 

Grenades in the Cathedral

The syphilis test comes back negative
and the nurse enjoys the revelation
but a group of ten or fifteen orphans
evidence a concentration of distrust
in the book of the government bombers
which doesn't believe in crossfire
and has no chapter on grief.
The smoke is kept low and the schools
are hidden close to the ground or under it
warm and salvadoran in the mud where
having coughed up ten thousand hairballs
all soldiers and civilians lie holding
in dead fists the jewels of sanity and dream

John Landry

 

Selling the Family Parrot to the Town Gossip

on the counter there is an envelope
waiting to be eaten by something normal.
when you come into my house 
you are not the broken thing you were outside, 
and the things you heard,
scraped off your body onto the rug. 
there are no prisons here. 
the locks have rusted away with the hinges. 
the old bible an empty black book with no binding. 
we can forget what we need to forget. 
here you have your age 
resting as fruit in bowls, 
your deciduous boyhood chilled 
perfect in the refrigerator door.
on the counter there is an envelope
waiting to be eaten by something normal. 
all my secrets are whatever
you want them to be.

John L. Stanizzi

 

Flowers on the White Fence

There will be a house 
swollen with sunlight
swaddled in a field of white flowers
where the breeze carries away the scent of departures
and fills the rooms with salt spray

you will wake
to the sound of the house settling
to footfalls slow and heavy on the stairs
and to the wind
encouraging the night to lie

Keith T. Fancher

 

Drawing Burroughs

One eye closed, one crease
like there's nothing else.

Ms. Edwards says to draw
like an adult, "we must escape
our childhood symbols."

The almond eyes.
The nose like a kitchen knife.

You mustn't name the shapes!

But then come the furrows,
4B slashes through his forehead,

which collect over countless revisions
into the same happy flock of kindergarten M's.

Long shallow shadows
and paperwhite skin, the sky.

 


 

Keith T. Fancher

 

Ready

What would concern the mind? I mean
if it was unburdened from arranging itself

into the odd-shaped hollows
of "immediate future." I mean,

how could anyone look at the world
if not with the death-row focus of a little boy on the playground

holding his breath, terrified
at the sight of a pretty girl in a white skirt

ten yards out, just past the swings,
throwing one arm back in a wide bow—

cambré catching the light
like the hands of the old clock over the school gate—

ready to fly
into a cartwheel?

 

Kali Norris 

 

Soliloquy from the Window Seat

The palm reader asks if I want to hear how I’ll die, but I know, I know, I know. It is summer, smoldering. Bounce off the casing. I know. Nothing that’s tried has killed me yet. I draw card after card, and each one is The World. When I visit the hospital, I take lemons, effervescing to mist like moths off white clover. Firmament as furnace to my molten ore. I am immortal like a god or a flatworm. Pick terror from the wound like shark’s teeth, a saint healed under dogwood. Today, I feel like I’ve survived. I sublimate to a pillar of light, martyr myself as a saint. Take this hunger to an early grave.

 

Jeremy J. Sutton

After her husband passed

Her words

words spoke over

one another.

Lynn Strongin

 

WHY RUIN life for the dolls?

Mousy-haired

Pipe-stem legs.        horrified by police who strode

          across a limestone courtyard:

Wind, guardian of powdered ash

Blows from their eye lashes

The sashes on their dresses.

The scissors coming toward me

Locks decorating beauty parlor floor

My gown.          no acolyte, I am not a fire eater:

          I would become

          One running from, yet in for ruin.

Lynn Strongin

 

Defeat

I make my dark nest,

I lay my bright dress

To rest.

Lay out the shadow body

Laced bone

Alternate vest smoothed.

Winters pale alcohols drift in the windows

Smudge like pastels the barn.

            The sheep staring blindly do some harm

            High-collared memories keep me warm.

Donna Scheer

 

Sea Change

My breathless wish 

is to turn bird.   

These eyes unwind a skein 

of geese sailing 

through the ocean air 

pellucid, full-throated, 

autumn blue.

Contributors

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Amy Strauss Friedman dabbles in mosaic art and is the author of the poetry collection The Eggshell Skull Rule (Kelsay Books, 2018) and the chapbook Gathered Bones are Known to Wander (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). Her poetry has appeared in Pleiades, Rust + Moth, The Rumpus, PANK, and elsewhere. Amy’s work can be found at amystraussfriedman.com.

Brett Warren (she/her) is a long-time editor whose poetry has appeared most recently in Halfway Down the Stairs, Cape Cod Poetry Review, and Cape Cod & the Islands Magazine. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two charismatic and fearless blind cats.

Dane Hamann works as an editor for a textbook publisher in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He was also poetry editor of TriQuarterly for over five years. His first book, A Thistle Stuck in the Throat of the Sun (Kelsay Books), was recently published.

 

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Donna Scheer, a poet, jazz vocalist, and retired teacher, lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. She hosts the monthly FCTV show Poetic License. While teaching she developed a curriculum for sharing poetry with young children. Recently she has published in Twin Towers Twin Decades for the 20th Anniversary of 9/11.

Frederick Frankenberg is a recent graduate with a BA in Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz and an AS in Engineering. He has been published in Little Old Lady, Purple Wall Stories, Piker Press, and Short-Story.me.

Jason Brightwell lives in a tiny resort town tucked away on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay where he finds himself routinely haunted by one thing or another. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including: Gravel Magazine, Phantom Kangaroo, and The Tower Journal, among others.

Jeremy J. Sutton is a San Franciscan. He teaches American Literature to eleventh-grade students and chairs the English department at a large urban public high school in Oakland, California. His work has been published in the Eunoia Review, Front Porch Review, and Memoryhouse Magazine.

John Landry's work will appear in the coming anthology Fixed & Free in New Mexico. anthropocene debris, his upcoming book, will be published by Lithic Books.

John L. Stanizzi author Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide/Ebb Tide, Four Bits, Chants, Sundowning, POND. Poems in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, many others; nonfiction in Cortland Review, Stone Coast, others. Awarded Artist Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction, 2021 from the Connecticut Office of Arts.

John McKernan, who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, is now a retired comma herder and rhyme poacher after teaching a long time at Marshall University. He lives in Florida. His most recent book is a selected poems, Resurrection of the Dust. He has published poems in many magazines.

Kali Norris is a writer and poet from New York. Previous credits include Construction, JMWW, and Q/A.

Keith T. Fancher was born in the California redwoods and raised in the Blue Ridge foothills. He holds a BS in computer science and an MA in film studies, which are no help at all when publishing poetry. He lives in San Francisco.

Lynn Strongin’s homeland is America. Her adopted country, Canada. She has twelve books out, work in over forty anthologies, and has been nominated for a Lambda Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and the Pulitzer Prize in literature. Lynn's poems in this issue are for upcoming print chapbook from Right Hand Pointing, Slow Dark Film, due this month.

 

M. J. Iuppa’s fifth full-length poetry collection The Weight of Air is forthcoming from Kelsay Books, May, 2022. For the past 33 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of four books and five chapbooks, and is the 2020 winner of the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Award for The Mercy of Traffic. Her website is www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com.

Whitney Cooper is a second-year MFA student with the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University, where she also served as editor-in-chief of Jelly Bucket, the graduate literary journal run by the university. She has also worked as a reader for Atlanta Review. Her work appears in SHARK REEF.

Amy Strauss Friedman