Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Shape of Longing

artwork: ralph murre

The Shape of Longing 
by Jeanie Tomasko

it wants to be a bird with two wrong wings
it wants to be
     uneven, it yearns

to be hollow
a little place to put your wadded prayers

the shape of longing stops you
every time is something you know that you know
is gnarled and winter
                             and white as January

the shape of this is white
                              is the voice that comes
from your small right rib
from the place that makes the wind and salt
                              if there is

a place only light has been,

it is, returning to you
                              undiminished, overdue

it is not mendable, this, your almost,
your leaden, your irregular
rowboat, small skiff, bent wing

this, your perfect translation of homesickness, of swimming
your lonely, your only, your umbra

your longest scar, your certain,
your silent, your first

singular and sternal, it is
                               the shape
of all you asked for, you and your simple
                               mad, breathless heart

~ previously published in Sharp as Want (Little Eagle Press)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


artwork: ralph murre

by Ed Werstein

taps me on the shoulder
and says she wants
to take me to bed.

I tell her I'm just
going to finish
this chapter and then
I'll join her and
she'll get what she's after.

Sleep is impatient
keeps poking me
insisting I pay her
some attention.

I think she is jealous
of my books.

Sleep slips a mickey
into my herbal tea
and has her way with me.

I wake at three and realize
she's left me again.

She's thrown my book
on the floor
and hasn't even bothered
to turn out the light.

~ first published on Your Daily Poem

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It Happens in This Latitude

photo: ralph murre

It Happens in This Latitude
by Susan Elbe

Here a loose chain of hills fences in
our eccentricity, a penance
of blood deeper than ground water.
Born inside this geography,

held by stubborn faith, we plough
and plant great fields of corn,
believing the soul of the diligent
shall be made fat. But sometimes

after storm the air turns green,
pale as katydid wings,
and a legerdemain of light pulls us
shimmering from this land’s rough sleeve.

Our solitary blood rises up,
tribal at the core. We drink the light
like we drink our whiskey—neat
and burning all the way down.

We husk the silky-haired corn, dance
on good black earth, our souls
filled with the dumb luck of summer
until the light begins to close

back on itself and something in us
wants winter. One by one,
we slip over the hills to mewl
in the body's dark shelter once more.

~ first published in The Laurel Review

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ham and cheese on rye

photoart: ralph murre

Ham and cheese on rye
by Gary C. Busha

I am an old man sitting on a sagging dock,
fishing in the rain, with not a fish in miles:
it is a perfect night for fishing.

Droplets run down my glasses, blurring my vision,
but there’s nothing to see beyond the circle of light
from the dock, anyway.

I know they’re out there, lurking in the weeds,
hiding in shadows, waiting until hunger brings them out,
forcing them to react without thinking, making them
bite against their will.

Like them, I feel the gnaw of hunger working. Like them
I try to hold off, stay put, keep from being like all the rest.
But time wins out, wears down the will,
and I reach inside my coat for a ham and cheese on rye.

~ previously published in The Writer's Almanac

Saturday, May 26, 2012


photoart: sharon auberle


by Cathryn Cofell

I know dead when I see it.
Bile-colored leaves,
decomposing stalks.
I know about dredging
these small corpses
from the earth,
the heft of gathering remorse
in gloved hands.
A noticeable weight, yes,
but not so heavy considering
this loss was born
from these same neglectful hands. 
And yes, it was neglect,
those luxuriant black-sky days
when downpour seemed so certain,
those lolling humid days
when reading or sleep
were more important chores.
I know perennials,
they come back.
Like old boyfriends or lies.
Unwilling to be contained, popping
up when you least expect them.
Growing is what they do, even here
in this godforsaken place
I call a garden, a yard, a home. 
Yes, I know dead when I see it.

~ first published in the Comstock Review

Friday, May 25, 2012

Aerial Painting

artwork: ralph murre

Aerial Painting
by Jan Oskar Hansen

The painting in the hall, of an old bi-plane flying
across a blue sky, was different this morning.
It had landed by a waterfall and the pilot stood
leaning against the plane’s fuselage slowly
smoking a cigarette, eyes closed, enjoying every
moment, every inhale of scented tobacco.

I looked at the painting again; the sky was dark,
there was lightning in the air, the pilot had flown to
the front and collided with a barrage balloon.
The plane was broken as if thrown to the ground by
a spoilt boy who had wanted a fire-engine for his
birthday, and now only the blue sky prevails.

~ first published in The Writing Forum

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Everything You Ever Wanted

digital art: sharon auberle

Everything You Ever Wanted
by Christine Swanberg

One day you may wake up to find
you have everything you need.

What, then, is
 this stirring inside you?

Perhaps, like the Dalai Lama,
your soul is gathering forces
for its next incarnation,
or maybe the urge to refine
right here,
right now,
manifests on this good planet.

Could be you are part
of a windy current
flying above the jet streams to nirvana,
or another current
has simply sent you skating
past a sociological dream
into a post-consumer world.

I read once that the Danish
are the happiest people in the world.
They live in a dark climate
eclipsed by winter.
They ride bicycles
and eat lots of ice-cream,
have less sex and suicide
than the Swedes.

They have less divorce, violence,
use of guns, anti-depressants, locks,
and religion than we do.
They have higher taxes,
and socialized medicine,
They are not gobbling up the earth
or each other.

One day they woke up

to find
                        they have everything
that they ever wanted.

~ first published in SOUNDINGS

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Island Living (RE / VERSE Post # 100 !)

photo: ralph murre

Island Living
 by Alan Catlin

There are certain
real disadvantages
to living on the Island

It doesn't pay
to be ill here
or to need any
kind of constant
medical attention

I spoke to a lady
on the ferry once
                                    about how it worked
out for her

Her husband had
Alzheimer's though
she never worried
about him taking
the dog out for
his daily walk

She knew that
the dog would
always bring her
husband back

~ first published in Edgz

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Shift of Emphasis

photo: ralph murre

A Shift of Emphasis
by Mary Jo Balistreri

With dawn’s arrival, the desert landscape stretches,
its hot breath stifling as a closed attic. The cacti
in their wisdom have already licked the moisture
from the night. Wind whistles hot and hoarse,
while time hangs thirsty in the sky. A dark speck
hovers in the high washed air, watches and waits.
The desert, alive with light, sighs in silence.

The IV pole stands alone, arms lifted
as if in prayer, life-giving like the saguaro.
Light jumps and gutters, glints off hard metal
edges, brushes the sterile room in Arizona umber.
I sit here beside you, my mind lost among
the burnt sienna canyons, caught in the burrs
and brambles of fear, dizzy with the sheer drop
should I step too close to the edge.
Your strangled breath startles both of us.
You wake, washed blue eyes confused. I touch
your cheek, run my hand over your seamed
and tired face. You cross your hands over your heart.

The chrysalis jumps in the palm of my hand,
a tiny heart beating life in its brown shell.
Outside the window, a leaf lifts in the breeze.
Dreams lap behind your closed lids. I see your mouth
move, bend down close to hear you say,
How beautiful, your mother. Blue wonder smiles
across your face. You are a young man in love
and time stands still.

~ first published in Healing Muse

Sunday, May 20, 2012


artwork: ralph murre

by Ray Foreman

driving through North Dakota to Seattle,
Baker left the interstate around 7:30,
drove into a town and found a motel.
night driving burned his eyes.
this was farm and ranch country,
little traffic after dinner
except for eighteen wheelers.

a small one counter diner one rarely saw
on highways saturated with Burger King's,
McDonald's and Wendy's.

"can I still get something to eat?"

she looked at him, Eloise occasionally
had problems with late night truckers.

"anything I can make on the grill.
the beef stew's been around all day."

"choose something you think I'd like."
no one ordered like that,
she could have served leftover
10 day old ground beef, old eggs,
questionable chili.

Baker, who gave New Age workshops,
told participants that living in fear
or uncertainty, even if they were right at times,
was a shrunken way to live.
he taught that trusting people and
enjoying the surprises it offered made
living an adventure rather than a retreat.

"Eloise, Ellie," she said. "let me make you
a cheese omelet, I know the eggs are fresh."


Ellie placed the plate decorated with
a sprig of  fresh parsley, a slice of tomato,
and a fresh cup of coffee in front of Jacob.
"do you mind if I sit here with my coffee?"

"I'd like that very much."

Ellie turned out the lights and locked
the door at eight thirty.
"it's pretty much a farm and ranch hand
bar, I don't think you'd like it.
I have some Gordon's and a bottle
of orange juice I bought yesterday."

Ellie was more surprised than Jacob.
they had a few drinks and talked until two.
just talk.
Jacob knew when pressure and expectations
are minimized or removed,
people often reveal themselves.

"I'll see you in the morning for breakfast,"
Jacob said, and drove back to his motel.

 at breakfast, Ellie's facial expression was
fresh, even vibrant.
"cooked cereal if you have some," Jacob said.
"you look rested although we did stay up late."

"I haven't talked so much to anyone,
at one time, not even to myself,
not for twenty years.
heck, who's there to talk to here,
truckers, cowboys and farm hands.
you're a smart man, tell me why I stay
here and die by the day?"

"the reason anyone stays put is because
it's safe. they know what they have and
afraid of what they can't see in front of them.
you have one life, either it's an adventure
and an experience, or it's a cage
and you're looking out between the bars.
you're settling and not saying the words.
figure out what you're doing here
and why.
face it, it may be right for you which
is something only you know."

Jacob left after breakfast.
occasionally he receives a letter from Ellie
who still lives in North Dakota and
still runs the diner.

~ first published in Clark Street Review

Saturday, May 19, 2012


photoart: sharon auberle

by Linda Back Mckay

This is what life does.
It wakes you in the morning
before the morning
glories open and gives you
the sound of your mother’s voice.
Life spreads itself across
the ceiling to make you think
you are penned in, but that
is just another gift. Life takes
what you thought you couldn’t live
without and gives you a heron instead.
And a dragonfly, stitching its way
through the milkweed. Life contains all
of your tears in a vessel
shaped like hands in prayer.
Life is shape, sight, sound, bone.
It whispers and sings and holds
you and you almost never feel it.
You push your way from phase to phase.
You are a horse with blinders.
You think you are pulling, but you
are being driven.
While going about your solitary life,
one hoof in front of the other,
real life is turning the stars,
like mirrors, in your direction.

~ first published in Verse Wisconsin

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When asked

artwork: ralph murre

When asked
 by Albert De Genova

Tell us something about your saxophone…
Well, it’s been with me a long long time–
It is the back beat in my bones

swaggering through nights of smoke and moan
a brassy whore of musk and wine.
I’ll tell you somethin’ ‘bout my saxophone.

A voodoo spell of chants and stones,
it’s filled with grindin’-n-blues-in’ and rhyme.
And more,        it knows the crying in my bones

knows the unanswered echo of a telephone
has traveled the roads of lies and crimes.
Let me tell you ‘bout my saxophone.

Sometimes it has a mind of its own
its reedy voice don’t sound like mine,
yet it’s always ringing through my bones.

In my hands it feels like home
a curious marriage of wind and time.
I’ll tell you ‘bout my saxophone
it is the singing in my bones.

~ previously published in Back Beat, second edition (Fractal Edge Press)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Backyard Pond, Brocaded Carp

Backyard Pond, Brocaded Carp 

by Lisa J. Cihlar

My daily yard and garden tour.  I carry fish pellets to the pond.  My largest gold and black koi has died.  The local raccoon got others by feeling behind rocks and in crevasses with paws that look like tiny desiccated human hands.  He didn’t get this one.  I know because there are no half-eaten fish parts scattered in the grass.  This fish just died, old age, some fish disease that I can’t fathom. 

It floats on the surface now, half-sheltered by a water-lily leaf, almost mistaken for a flower-bud.  I scoop the body up in my hand, feel the roll of maggots under scales.  I recoil, send it back into the water and the dozen living carp of many colors come to feast on the larvae, a free-floating meteor shower.

Grant Park Jazz Gala
dragonflies swirl up, over

~ first published in Frogpond Journal

Monday, May 14, 2012


artwork: ralph murre

by Don Schaeffer

Just earning a living;
I look at his hair, thin
but he owns it.
When I see how he tries to part it
my heart opens.

There is a rim of something moist
and the grease has
spread to his shirt.
I decide I can forgive him for that.

I suppose he will go home
sometime where it's dark and
solitary. He will
wash and run

his hand over his scalp and
put those precious pants
over a chair, sink onto some kind of bed
and close his eyes.

~ previously published in Tryst

Sunday, May 13, 2012


photoart: ralph murre

by Bonnie T. Summers

If I were a pair of scissors, I would do whatever I wanted, even what I was not supposed to. I would not do it to be mean, only to test my strength and agility against substantive matters.  Just cut loose, for the sheer joy of it!

I would start with wires—the ones that promise instant, static-free and worldwide connection, illumination, or perfect toast—and show them who’s really in charge. 

I would carve mazes through graph paper grids, score “Fold Here” lines across Rolodex cards, and shape colored file folders into Matisse-like organic forms. I would pretend to be pinking shears, zigzagging the rows of Avery labels, then snap crayons in two with my might. 

I would give cloth napkins interesting edges. I’d see what I could do with Tupperware, baskets woven of natural material, frozen waffles, a ripe kiwi, a raw egg. I would cut into empty plastic milk bottles for practice, then open the refrigerator and jab low into a full one, watching to see white pools form and cascade over the glass shelves beneath.

Next I would find the needlepoint-covered piano bench and painstakingly separate foreground from background. I’d slide my blade along candle edges and scrape the wax shavings into a Ziploc bag. I’d cut through several pairs of pantyhose at once, thereby amputating the legs. I would snip squares from the seats of underpants and stars out of bra cups. I would fringe the shower curtain, skewer bars of soap and carve a Q-tip lengthwise. I’d form small spirals in bath towels so that fingers could point through. I would trim eyelashes very carefully.

I would cut the edges of hardbound books along the center spine because they’re beautiful, and the narrow space between the binding and glued pages fits me perfectly.  I’d make anatomically correct paper dolls from brown grocery bags, crosshatch the palms of mittens, and give scalloped haircuts to anyone who wants a new look. I’d double the number of family photographs by slicing them in two. I would shorten the chains that hang from the ceiling’s bare light bulb fixtures and snip bits of carpet to collect in a small glass bowl. I would divide the retractable metal tape measure at regular intervals. I’d make a diagonal incision in the toothpaste tube, rinse myself off and look around for something more. 

I would go outside to carve rosebuds horizontally and spiral-cut a watermelon still on the vine. I would engrave infinity signs into aluminum siding, crew cut the paintbrushes and bisect bicycle spokes. I would slit the inside roof of the car to see what’s between fabric and steel and, of course, explore the upholstery. As to the cables under the hood, I would use my discretion. I would open up the garden hose lengthwise, then go down the street.

I would encourage the cracks in sidewalks to continue on their way, help the elderly mow their lawns and de-foam cappuccino. I’d poke peek-a-boo holes in newspapers for rush hour, then carve X’s and O’s into the headstones of dead relatives. 

I’d shred the paper covers on the doctor’s examining table into confetti while waiting, and make sieves out of those little plastic specimen cups. I would slice condoms (unoccupied ones) at ¼” intervals, making handy rubber bands. I would cut quarters into quarters. 

I would gently coax the hands away from clocks, so we can see their faces better. I’d make Disney-like topiaries throughout city parks, filigree snowballs, wreak havoc with cans of paint and remove the bottoms from Nordstrom Anniversary Sale shopping bags. I would make vestments holey and legal briefs brief. I would trim the sails, making tall ships short. I would deckle the edges of tax returns, split a bottle of Merlot and emancipate violin strings. I would decide when the theatre curtain comes down. 

I would trim cumulus clouds away from blue sky to be repositioned at will, like Colorforms. I’d shred ribbons of highways along their dotted yellow lines. I would shape sedimentary rock into giant chess pieces. I would make the Arctic Circle oval, and create a trapezoid from a Greyhound bus windshield. I would turn sunsets into 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles, then perforate the night sky so stars and planets could connect dot-to-dot. 

I would cut through red tape.  I would cut class, corners, the lights and the mustard. I would cut and not paste. I would snip the thin elastic strings that hold masks in place, penetrate hard hearts, deflate egos, and eliminate class, race and gender barriers once and for all. I would cut the umbilical cord and apron strings.  I would sever ties. And then?  Well, Venetian blinds have a certain appeal—maybe next I’ll clip the cords between the slats, bottom to top, right side first . . . just to see what would happen.

~ first published in Peninsula Pulse

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Was There a Poem?

artwork: ralph murre

Was There a Poem ?
by Ralph Murre

In her dark hands that milked cows and made lace,
hands that fixed tractors and wiped tears?
A poem in the dark hands
that built houses and kept them, that worked the earth
and folded to a heaven she was sure of ?
Hands that hammered out justice and
handed out calloused caresses;
those hands that labored at the piano,
but changed flat tires with ease?

Was there a song in her dark eyes
that laughed easy, but cried hard;
eyes that saw good wherever it hid?
Eyes that struggled in darkness
to read the verses and read them again
until she saw light in the words?
A song in the dark eyes that bid me welcome,
the colorless eyes that I bid good-bye?

Was there a portrait in her dark face?

- first published in Crude Red Boat (Cross + Roads Press)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Four Seasons

artwork: william marr

 by William Marr


such commotion
it can only be
first love

I don’t recall ever seeing
so fresh a green


to say that your smile
lights up the whole garden
is of course an exaggeration

but I did indeed see
a flower bloom
at your approach


when his wife and children
comb and find a gray hair
on his head
he can detect in their exclamations
an insuppressible joy
of the gleaners


the colder the day is
the brighter the furnace burns

there is no energy crisis
in our hearts

~ first published in Autumn Window ( Arbor Hill Press)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stilt Walking the Upper Peninsula

photo: ralph murre

Stilt Walking the Upper Peninsula
by Gillian Nevers

By the time I thought to wake you, the stilt walker,
black rain pants billowing in the wind, was behind us. 
His lumbering figure receding in the rearview mirror, his
day-glow yellow knapsack disappearing into the west.

It felt like a good omen for the trip east—this lanky boy,
grappling with gravity along the shoulder of a highway.
So much so, it made magical sense that a deer would stare
at me from the side view mirror, until the interior went dark and
a blur of brown passed over the windshield.  The thud, then tear of
hoof etching furrows into the roof ringing in my ears—Oh,
please God, let it be dead.

You walked to where the deer lay and stood, as if in prayer,
a black silhouette back-lit by semis barreling through
the morning fog, before dragging it off the shoulder and rolling it
into the ditch.

Sheets of rain slashed across the road, slowed us, rattled
our nerves, all the way to Montréal.  We missed our exit. 
Took the next one. Relieved to be off the labyrinth of merging
lanes and ramps, found our way to the center, to our shabby hotel.

If our room had been in the French hotel across the street, if
the sun had shone, if you had read the street map.  If we had not
wandered for hours, arriving at the Marché Jean-Talon too early,
the Jardin Botanique, too late.  If the Mexican restaurant beneath
our room had closed at midnight.  If rain had not followed us
to Vermont, chased us through New York, swept us back …

We drove in silence, the rhythm of windshield wipers a metronome
keeping time with our thoughts.  At night, in each anonymous motel,
we talked about the deer, as if it were a child we failed to protect.  Maybe
it was only stunned.  Maybe after we drove off, it struggled to its feet,
ran into the woods.  “Maybe,” you said, “the deer was no more real
than that stilt-walking kid you say you saw.”

About an hour out from Ludington, the rain stopped.  Still,
I couldn’t shake the damp, stood on the deck watching
the ferry’s wake, wanting the sun’s heat.  You came, stood
beside me and read from the Detroit Free Press, “Stilt-walker
says trek has shown him Michiganders at their best.”  Neil Sauter,
a Blissfield resident, with mild cerebral palsy, completed
his 800-mile trek across Michigan.

Blissfield.     Maybe, we should go there some day.

~ previously published in Verse Wisconsin