The Breathing Pine
Boston Davis Bostian
Amy Leigh Davis
Mary Beth Hines
Juan Pablo Mobili
Vera Kewes Salter
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For more than 50 years, I have occasionally found myself thinking about this kid named David who was a neighbor of mine when I was growing up in semi-rural Arkansas. He was about my age. The scene that rolls through my head is when David inexplicably bullied me. The word "bullied" doesn't really capture it. Not because what he did was was particularly horrific. He didn't hurt me. Didn't hit me. But the incident was marked by the murderous demeanor of a kid who was filled with hate and needed a target. I was soft and sensitive. Easy.
I call David a neighbor. But I don't think he was. There was a handful of us kids that lived on the same couple of streets, and we all hung out at each other's houses and yards and roamed the neighborhood and the nearby woods freely. David would just show up occasionally. I don't know where he lived and I'm not sure I ever knew.
When David came, he always seemed angry. Bitter. And like someone who expects to be unliked and unloved and therefore was. I know he wasn't constantly bullying people, but when he wasn't, he seemed to just barely be there—not at all engaged in whatever we were doing. Part of him seemed to want to be with kids. But that was set against all this hostility and inability to be friendly and to have fun. We all liked to pretend. David did not pretend.
David was small and wiry and somehow looked strong and tough and unhealthy at the same time. But always angry. Always bitter. Haunted, somehow.
A bunch of us were hanging out next to the creek that ran through the neighborhood and David started pushing me around. It wasn't playful. It wasn't the kind of bullying that goes on when the bully and the bystanders laugh at the bullied kid. It wasn't designed to get a rise out of the victim. David was filled with fury and the hatred of something I seemed to represent. I was scared, overwhelmed, and confused. I couldn't figure out what I had done to warrant the attack. So, I asked. "What did I do to you?" David's response still sends a chill through me. With nothing but bile, he said "Nothing!"
Nothing. In Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs, he writes, "Clarice looked into the eyes of Hannibal Lector, and there saw endless night." I really don't mean to compare this poor kid with Hannibal Lector. But, yeah: Endless night.
In recent years, growing awareness of the potential consequences of childhood bullying has contributed to a tendency to demonize bullying and, by extension, people who bully. I get it. I despise adult bullies. But to state the obvious, David was a child. He didn't deserve the things that happened to him to contribute to the way he behaved or the way he felt about life and about other people. A problem with demonizing young people who bully is that the research is clear that bullying puts victims at risk, but kids who chronically bully are also at risk. They don't do well. Bad things to tend to happen to them.
I don't know if David is alive or dead, free or imprisoned. My fear is that he is imprisoned, either figuratively or literally. I hope something did happen, or will happen, to free him.
Thanks, as always, to all who submitted to this issue, our devoted editors, and all who read Right Hand Pointing.
whose sorrow heals as a wing
whose wound mourns the gun
when did my shadow first walk underground
One thousand miles
apart, unable to bend
the middle fingers
of our right hands,
my sister and I
wake at night.
we send each other
turmeric tea, mood
swings. We’re close
but unable to bend.
What is it triggered by?
I text, not touching
weapons, which she owns.
Days later she replies,
It’s just called that.
Sorry working today.
I Measure a Wall Where I Will Hang Art
after you took your paintings down and moved out and on
where I swear I heard chubby cherubs laughing with or at me,
beating their feathers against the opposite side of this new canvas
in celebration or mocking the idea that any blank space can be filled,
that any brightness born from the dark can be washed and brushed over,
that when a heart closes and opens it’s called a beat, that any pulsing thing
that opens can be flooded and anything that can flood can always be drowned,
so beautifully drowned—
after "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I feel so bad for the girl who was struck by lightning and transformed into a giant spider just for disobeying her parents and sneaking away to a dance. I was there, too, that night. I held her in my arms more than once and twirled around with her. I watched her disappear into the dark forest on her way home.
I feel so sad for that cute face and curly black hair on the body of a tarantula, bigger than a goat, with eight hairy legs in a cage in a carnival where people pay to view her and ask her personal questions.
That's why I make meatballs every day and toss them into her open mouth. At first, I only used salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce, but then I added oregano and thyme. Currently, I am doing turkey balls.
I don't know what she prefers, but every time I approach, she opens her mouth into a sad O for me to toss them in so I guess she likes all of the variations, or tolerates them, or just accepts that this is what she has to eat to stay alive.
I don't know what she will eat when the carnival finally leaves. Maybe it has come here to set up its tents and its rides and die here in our town. Maybe she will stay with me. Maybe she will live in the garage, stroll through the big back yard, and eat the aphids off the tomato plants.
Why do I care? Because I began life as a tarantula. When I defied my mother, a lightning bolt turned me into what I am today—a miserable creature with only two legs to walk on and a brain that can never forget what I have lost. I dream of waking up into the world of my parents as if nothing ever happened, as if my disobedience and cruel punishment were just scenes in a nightmare, and I gallop off on my eight legs in perfect synchrony.
I shake the turkey meatballs on their baking pan and watch them roll. I added rosemary to this batch.
Amy Leigh Davis
an ordinary day
little good things keep happening
today/ a man walking past
said nice smile/ the barista at Starbucks
said the drinks on me
but the clouds hang nebulous
and a gust of wind stirs
the air/ leaves glimmer
like a gazillion suns/ the fall brush
bright despite the season’s cold
transformation/ the faces
of storefront shops watch
a pair of lovers eat burritos
on a café patio/ human bodies
move along the streets
our society an apparition
a signpost reads do not feed the wildlife
I am just at sea on a spinning rock
and the sky floats.
But like the sea we’re liminal
Continents & countries
Falling & floating
Blue turns to black
Lit with bioluminescent beasts
Formed in prehistoric past
Sea foam separates us
Yet still they wait
To become them
Mary Beth Hines
We scan the sky with our big domed eyes
until it arrives, as perfectly predicted,
to soak us in shadow, wash us with light,
sear our sight when we throw off our glasses
to peer straight into the burning black moon.
City Full of Fireworks & Blues
That’s what Isa called the long sweeps
of orange & purple that she spent all morning on—
the sky a stipple & wash of tones, part pulsar,
part jungle gym. I check back in with her
later, & she’s eclipsed the whole page with black.
It’s like the painting has died. To her,
dying is like stepping into a closet. You can take
a flashlight with you & step back out
with a grin. She doesn’t know
the knob comes loose in your hands.
Heart of Hearts
Heart of Blue Ridge, heart
of train tracks, heart of humid
air so thick it hums along with
my favorite song, heart of thickets
and culverts and creeks, heart of green cats
white milk red tongue, heart of
lion foot and rabbit king. I
never said goodbye. I
never went away.
I miss days green and winds
not too warm but gentle,
swaying grasses and the threat
of possibility. There are places
up north where you can smell
gravel for miles. It’s not dirt
nor concrete but a blend. The prophesy
of blood and tears from scraped
knees and bruised palms. Cows
in the pasture beyond the hill offer
no sympathy. They know the weight
of annihilation; they know death
beckons in different ways for us all
Even with his body
next to mine, I tremble
as if alone.
wander like discarded
Vera Kewes Salter
Lines from The Remnant Jar
The black squirrel sits between the maple tree and the birdbath at dawn
At dusk the stone lions howl from their terracotta steps
Soft clouds shift from dragon to cat to nothing
The only touch she knows is her cat’s paw on her neck
The price of having is losing
Boston Davis Bostian
make my breast tissue
look like the ocean at night
bright little boat in the distance—
One Thing Constant Never
The day is restless. It knocks on my hull. Gull-scarfed smoke rises from my stack. The sea’s a rough deck. Old hands tread with care. Waves show their fangs. I put out nets. The depths are hungry. The lighthouse is visible for seventy years above the clouds.
Juan Pablo Mobili
As he leaves he will lightly brush the flowers
on the driveway with the bottom of his coat.
As she settles on her seat she will open her book
as the train’s sparks scream along the tracks.
They will think of wild horses.
right before the other shoe drops,
right before that pivot,
a glass yet unbroken,
a dog not yet hit by a car,
a teen pregnancy left unspoken—
right before the world tilts sideways,
right before that midnight phone call,
a heart still beating,
a body not yet found,
a laugh not yet extinguished—
right before color drains from your face,
right before dropping into the abyss,
a truck not yet rounding the curve,
a boy hesitating in front of a dealer,
an ambulance not en route.
Too Soon to Tell
I go for a walk. I notice that here and there, it’s always sometime—day or night. Maybe I’m just a bad apple? The trees ignore me. There’s something in the adhesive light. I feel as if I’m on a boat, swaying. I wish I had collected more free coupons, although free coupons are not mentioned in the Bible. The wind reverses, but nothing happens, not even to the leaves. I’m seeking quantity, not quality. I’m dividing, not conquering. I’m cutting, not pasting. Like death, the best things in life are free. I think I may be outnumbered. There certainly seem to be a lot of bodies. It’s too soon to tell.
To My Dead Husband
One day I wake to find that my hands are not my own. They flex strange, tanned and heavy, knuckles bulging thick with bone: your hands. I tuck them into the folds of my coat, nestle them in fabric like stolen birds. The next day my hair lightens, shortens: strands bled of color, paled anemic to the color of straw. My body keeps replacing itself, and before long I have to buy bigger shoes. Each day I watch the mirror for new changes. My whole mouth is yours now, and I keep sliding my tongue over the gap at the back, the space left by the molar you had yanked out at fourteen. My eyebrows thicken, grow solid with darkness. My eyes are still my own, green and familiar, but I’m waiting to see yours in the mirror. I hope they will be the ones I remember, and not the ones you have now—soft, worm-white, blind.
I like it best when the sky
is pinkish like this and crisscrossed
by pale seabirds, and there’s
a lingering smell of lilacs
where you and I have lain.
who remains when all that is silent is said
who arrives when death is a seed
how deep within the breathing pine
is sky and open sea
Boston Davis Bostian is a poet and librarian. Boston has been published in THEM Lit; was the feature poet on the poetography project: define:Transition; was a founding creator of The GENDER Book; and was the principle facilitator and creator of The Post-it® Note Appreciation Project. Boston lives in Houston, Texas.
Stephen Cramer’s first book, Shiva’s Drum, was selected for the National Poetry Series. Bone Music, his sixth, won the Louise Bogan Award. His most recent, The Disintegration Loops, was a finalist for the Vermont Book Award. Cramer’s work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Yale Review, and Harvard Review.
Amy Leigh Davis lives in Kansas City, Missouri and writes poetry in her free time. She authored The Alter Ego of the Universe, a chapbook published by Finishing Line Press. Poems have since appeared in i70 Review, Unlost, and Dream Pop. She recently attended the Kenyon Review Summer Writers Residency.
Amy DeBellis is a writer from New York. Her debut novel is forthcoming from CLASH Books. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications including The Shore, JMWW, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and Atticus Review.
Arvilla Fee teaches English for Clark State College and is the poetry editor for the San Antonio Review. She has published poetry in numerous presses, and her poetry book, The Human Side, is available on Amazon. For Arvilla, writing produces the greatest joy when it connects us to each other.
Chloe Frost is a dyslexic writer, poet, and artist from the UK. Chloe has published works in Bubble magazine and Apocalypse Confidential. In her spare time, she enjoys hosting fairy tea parties. @ChloeFrost1995 - Twitter
A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, Ed Gold taught for many years at the University of Maryland. He has a chapbook, Owl, and poems in the Ekphrastic Review, Petigru Review, Passager, New Verse News, Think, Kakalak, and others. In fall 2023, Finishing Line Press will publish his chapbook, Sundown. He lives in Charleston, SC, with wife Amy and dog Edie.
Howie Good's recent poetry book is Heart-Shaped Hole, available from Laughing Ronin Press.
Grant Hackett writes very short poems, sometimes of one line. Many of the poems are questions. Prior publications include Right Hand Pointing, tiny wren, The Inflectionist Review, SurVision, and Heliosparrow.
Mary Beth Hines writes from her home in Massachusetts. Her recent work appears, or will soon appear, in Bracken, Cider Press Review, Molecule, ONE ART, Valparaiso and elsewhere. Kelsay Books published her debut collection, Winter at a Summer House, in 2021. (www.marybethhines.com)
Dana Knott (she/her) has recent publications in Dust Poetry Magazine, Eunoia Review, and Musing Publications. She enjoys the company of her favorite two humans and three cats. Dana works as a library director in Ohio and is the editor of tiny wren lit, which publishes micro-poetry. Twitter: @dana_a_knott
Shae Krispinsky lives in Tampa, FL, where she fronts the band Navin Avenue. Her band's first album, A Little Warming, and her debut novel, Like Lightning, were released in 2022. In 2023, Bottlecap Press released her first poetry chapbook, New Galilee. Shae’s also a photographer, tarot reader, and janky baker.
Juan Pablo Mobili was born in Buenos Aires. His poems appeared, among in The American Journal of Poetry, Hanging Loose Press, Paterson Literary Review as well as publications in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America. He received multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and his chapbook Contraband was published in 2022.
Bill Rector’s first book, bill, was published by Proem Press. Chapbooks have appeared from Epiphany Magazine (Chapbook Prize Winner), Unsolicited Press, Finishing Line Press, Prolific Press, and White Knuckle Press. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He is a retired physician.
Brad Rose was born and raised in Los Angeles, and lives in Boston. He is the author of five collections of poetry and flash fiction: : Lucky Animals, No. Wait. I Can Explain., Pink X-Ray, de/tonations, and Momentary Turbulence. Thirteen years ago, Right Hand Pointing was one of the first publishers of his poetry, an act of kindness for which he is immensely grateful. His website is www.bradrosepoetry.com
Vera Kewes Salter lives in New Rochelle, New York where she is a care partner for her husband with dementia. Her chapbook In Lewy's Body is forthcoming.
Aaron Sandberg has appeared or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, Flash Frog, Phantom Kangaroo, Qu, Asimov’s, No Contact, Alien Magazine, The Shore, The Offing, Sporklet, Crow & Cross Keys, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. A multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, you can see him—and his writing—on Instagram @aarondsandberg.
Hilary Sideris is the author of Un Amore Veloce (Kelsay Books 2019), The Silent B (Dos Madres Press 2019), Animals in English, (Dos Madres Press 2020), and Liberty Laundry (Dos Madres Press 2022.)