Category: Poetry

From Issue 23: Numb-Struck

John Hicks

As the last restraint clicked on my arms, they tightened
the belts across my chest and waist. A dark figure rose
behind the surgery windows, leaned forward.
Overhead speakers, said: Begin.

Preparing numbness, an attendant sobbed,
I can’t face him. I can’t do it.
Someone flipped a sheet over my head;
pink flowers on light blue cotton against
my nose. A flash of light from the left;
doors opened; a soft thud
as they closed. Someone gripped my left arm,
Control: We’re starting now.
Softer: You’ll feel a slight sting, maybe a chill.

And I did. As they pumped the dye
into my arm, it stung; then rushed cold
up into my shoulder. On my right, a voice read out
metered progress. Muted discussion back and forth.
Control we’re trying again.

Multiple hands on my left arm. Again
the sting, the cold. Again the read-out.
Again the conference. Someone on the left said,
We have to get it this time.
To me, John, we’re going to do it again. I nodded
against the sheet; thought of the sack in Fargo.
Control, we’re doing it again. It didn’t take.

The sting, and they began squeezing my arm like a cake
decorator puckering pink sugar roses.
I must have floriated the display; they said I could relax.

Movement around me seemed to pull back,
then stopped as Doc entered, introduced himself,
Do you feel this? Or this? A rustle
of paper garments; a click of instruments;
Control commanded: Stop!

Beneath the bed of flowers, I tasted salt.

 

John Hicks is a narrative poet whose work has been published or accepted for publication by:  Valparaiso Poetry Review, I-70 Review, Ekphrastic Review, Glint Literary Journal, Midnight Circus, Panorama, Mojave River Review, and others.  He writes among the wild horse bands of northern New Mexico.  

From Issue 23: The Doll

Joan Colby

At Marshall Fields that year
When I was eight,
They took a photograph to make
A doll with my face,
My wavy auburn hair.

I unwrapped that doll
On Christmas day. She had
A wardrobe of clothes
Just like mine. A green wool coat
Trimmed with muskrat fur,
A taffeta skirt and lace collared blouse,
A skating outfit and small white skates,
Flannel pajamas and scratchy underwear,
All sewn by my mother
Late at night on the Singer.

The doll was eerie, my
Doppelganger. A better child
Than I would ever be.
She had a pimpled leather prayer book
Fit for a believer,
Unlike me.

She sat in my bedroom
On a quilted chair
Before the vanity mirror
Where we were both reflected.
Her hair brushed to shine,
Her smile impassive,
Her complexion putty-colored
Minus my freckles, her brown eyes kind
And compliant.

My mother named her Dolores, her choice
For me vetoed by my father who said
It meant sorrow.
Dolores’ legs bent
So she could kneel
With her little rosary
In her little fingers.

 

Joan Colby’s Selected Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Carnival  from FutureCycle Press, The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books and Her Heartsongs from Presa Press. Her latest book, just published is Joyriding to Nightfall from FutureCycle Press.

From Issue 23: Three Poems

Chloe Yelena Miller

Three Weeks Early

Most of me, all of you, hidden:
blue curtain along my bare clavicle.

My head turned to one side to vomit,
jaw rattled with cold, gasps.
Your father held my hand, kissed my face.

I thought of my mother,
cold enough to ask for socks in labor.
I couldn’t feel my feet to know if they were cold.

Did you hear my cries
before I heard yours?

Finally, you, brow furrowed,
saw my wet face
from the distance of your father’s arms.

I tried to push you out, sweet baby love.
I wanted to pull you to my chest,
nurse you and stroke your dark hair.

There was so much I’d planned,
before the blood & rush the night before.

I Knew

I knew I’d die in childbirth.
(I was wrong about that, too.)

Once I could walk after the C-section,
I pulled my body & IV to the bathroom.

I had felt, and now could see in the dim light,
whiskers on my chin.

No one had plucked them.
No matter.
Only my breasts and hands would be remembered in photographs.

What would baby think of me?

He had been inside. Knew me the way no one else did.

What would he think of me, now?

Reflex
four weeks old

You startle me. A human
displacing yesterday’s empty space.

Some call life a miracle.
But hilltop gods didn’t glue together dirt,
olive branches and marble with saliva
to build you or the others.

Closing apartment doors startle you.
Your arms push back behind your head;
hands thump against
me or the crib, squinting eyes dart.

That reflex to protect yourself,
to survive against storms, other humans.

My instinct to protect you,
to remove all inside doors,
lay shag carpet & hang medieval
tapestries to muffle sound.
To nail boards over the windows,
hold you too tight in my arms
as we hide under the crib.

I have so much to unlearn.

 

Chloe Yelena Miller is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She teaches writing at the University of Maryland University College and Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., as well as privately. She blogs at chloeyelenamiller.com and tweets at @ChloeYMiller.

From Issue 23: Popsicles

Yvonne Higgins Leach

POPSICLES AND A LIFETIME LATER

I.

The cabin porch stairs squeak
as they sit down on the peeling paint.

The summer sun is forgiving
in her gaze. A popsicle

in each of their hands—
the red and orange blare

in the light. The coolness
relieves their lips and tongues.

Their fifth summer. My lake friend
is how they describe each other in winter.

How last winter changed his voice,
and gave her body curves.

As is their ritual, they switch
Popsicles halfway down,

and when they do, they touch.
She cannot move her hot toes

from his calf. He feels them too—
small buds, perfectly placed.

II.

Because one of them will die,
they choose to wipe the crumbs
from the counter and not comment,
to bring in the patio cushions when
(continued)
(Leach, Popsicles and a Lifetime Later, page 2, new stanza)

the other one forgets, go to the movie
the other one picks, and at times,
push cruel words to the backs
of their throats.

In their dailiness, they hear the clock tick,
know eventually it will win,
know each sun-moon cycle
presses her heavy hands on their hearts.

Their bones might break,
their hearts might explode,
their minds mind forget
their deepest memories.

Whatever becomes the final moment
is just that—the final moment.
For now, the rose bush they planted last
spring grows more tender.

 

Yvonne Higgins Leach is the author of a  collection of poems called Another Autumn. Now a full-time poet, she splits her time between Vashon Island and Spokane, Washington. For more information, visit www.yvonnehigginsleach.com.

Issue 9: Bullfrog

Richard King Perkins II
If we finish in this way, morning slips back into night
and the night starts to shine. What begins the chanting?
What, beyond the valley, makes the others sing?
Last month, in the gullies, the deeper gouges, a single
bullfrog was tumbled into weeds of homelessness.
Most days, we’ll hear its distressed call, sometimes
doglike, sometimes almost human. Skin dusted with quiet,
needing puddle or rain. And then the slow drumbeat,
lead striking lead, in the tall grasses. It could almost be
a child; restless dreaming in the wilderness. A young son
who slipped away one morning into a small pond, into
unexpected ripples edging outward.
 
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.