Inside one Russian doll is another,
dressed in a different nationality
and inside that one is yet another.
and so on until all of them
gang up and storm the opera house
demanding to see the mayor.
Which of them crossed the border
may depend on fingerprints
and the next referendum.
As one nation collapses,
another rises up from the same dolls,
each a pawn in a clever sacrifice.
So now the earth is flat
Since nothing’s truly round
Not even a plutocrat
Rolls without a sound
On wildlife habitat
Hydraulic drilling pounds
Skinning mountains flat
Unearthing sacred mounds
The Fed’s still keeping track
Of stocks that leap and bound
Payback for any kickback
Their graphs are never round.
In jazz clubs singers scat
Because the earth is flat
Keep both feet on the ground
by Michael Karl Ritchie
Michael Karl Ritchie is a retired Professor of English from Arkansas Tech University with work published in various small press magazines, including The Mississippi Review, Margie, OR Panthology – Ocellus Reseau. He has had three small press chapbook publications and Winter Goose Press has just published his collection of poems Ampleforth’s Miscellany (2017).
When your eyes suddenly fell out,
leaving you blind as a bowl of soup,
you frantically began feeling around the floor.
On your hands and knees, crawling carefully
to make sure you didn’t crush
one of them with your four-legged steps.
Feeling nothing but grunge and grime on the that old linoleum,
you became more panicked with each passing second,
realizing, now that your eyes have fallen out,
just how filthy this world has truly become.
The spirit has slowly evaporated,
gradually turned jaded throughout the years,
quelled, wrecked by the jarring persistence of cacophony
that pours through the veins and hallways of this world.
Inspiration melted to a feeble pulp by the noisy noose
of the boisterous trucks and verbose dogs
that populate the neighborhood, filling the air,
the never-silent wind, with an incessant clamor.
The poet’s soul will soon be laid to rest among the din.
The Prevalence of Nothingness
Churning the nothingness into a somethingness
is tried. Doesn’t work.
Maybe half-works since I see
in the abandoned parking lot.
It’s like they’re living my youth
which allows me to vicariously relive it myself.
Hail pours from the sky.
Gravity still works.
That is, at least, for now.
by Heath Brougher
Heath Brougher is the poetry editor of Into the Void Magazine, winner of the 2017 and 2018 Saboteur Award for Best Magazine. He is a multiple nominee for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Award. His newest book is “To Burn in Torturous Algorithms” (Weasel Press, 2018). His work has appeared in journals such as Taj Mahal Review, Chiron Review, MiPOesias, and Main Street Rag.
A relentless South Texas wind poses impossible questions,
Flaps the smirking flags until they are upturned,
Mists the mown grass with evil’s sputum,
Ripples the lone unarmed security guard’s shirt
As he waves concentration camp employees
In and out of the unremarkable office park parking lot.
Outside the Casa El Presidente tender-age detention facility
Where children as young as one-month live in cages,
I wonder: How durable is the machinery of the state?
How many of us would it take
To brush past the guard in blue short sleeves
And blue shorts set against a darkening blue sky,
Bald, or head shaved—I can’t tell which with the sun
Dipping lower and lower into the night’s waiting grave—
And set free the children?
One? Ten? One hundred?
Does America’s strength reside in this man’s
Minimum-wage-routine, his indifferent pacing?
Do they that hired him have children, believe in love?
How does he feel standing there as darkness falls
And he becomes an inhuman shape silhouetted
Against an inhuman panorama of wind-tossed stars
And a low-slung office building where little children
Sleep the sleep of those who have lost everything?
I came here to bear witness.
I came to take a sabbatical from business-as-usual.
What I’ve found is the unimaginable turned banal,
Like a nuclear detonation mentioned in passing
Before CNN cuts for a commercial break.
The sun disappears. No one bothers to reach for a flashlight:
Nothing to see; the office curtains are drawn.
The night-shift staff arrives to relieve the day-shift
Like nameless mechanics just doing their job,
For in America we all have jobs, we do them well
And without complaint,
And we quiet our minds with the faith
That hard work can set us free.
by Andy Posner
Andy Posner is a resident of Dedham, Massachusetts. He grew up in Los Angeles and received his Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Language and Culture from California State University, Northridge. He moved to New England in 2007 to pursue an MA in Environmental Studies at Brown University. While there, he founded Capital Good Fund, a nonprofit that provides small personal loans and financial coaching to low-income families. When not working, he enjoys reading, writing, cycling, and ranting about the state of the world.
The thing about Charlie Mingus Jr.—who clattered
onto the scene like a grand piano in a punch bowl—
is that he also was young once. More than that, fate
made him endure indignities that make a street bum
look like Reagan’s strapping young buck on food stamps,
savoring a T-bone. System so sullied even mobsters did
more than music critics, but you know, that’s entertainment.
I’m black, therefore I’m not: this is what four hundred years
of errors and trials—faith wrung out from unripened rinds—
forced folks with the nerve to be born neither wealthy nor white
to know from the get-go. And for the love of a stained-glass God,
don’t speak off-script or they’ll wash the mutiny from your mouth
with a firehose; that’s why most men lie down mutely in darkness,
safe or at least sheltered, beneath the underdog of hatred & history.
Get them to kill each other, or even better, hoodwink them
into hating themselves: that’s the anti-American Dream too
many citizens sleep through, fed a fixed diet of indifference,
intolerance, and interference. So what can you do if you know
you’re a genius, and all the klan’s men can never convince you
water isn’t wet? Keep rolling that rock up the hill until it grinds
a fresh groove into the earth: improvise your own force majeure.
This is almost my time, he said, and good God wasn’t he
more than half-right. I know one thing, (you can quote him)
I’m not going to let anyone change me. Overflowing with
awareness of himself, fresh out of the furnace, molded in
the image of a bird that flew first and further—mapping out
the contours of this new language: dialogic, indomitable—
his work exploded, a defiant weed cutting through concrete.
1957: five albums in twelve months—righteous waves
quenching a coastline, reconfiguring the world the way
Nature does. And his reward—a brief stretch in Bellevue,
ain’t that a bitch? Listen: when The Duke declared music
his mistress, he was lucky enough to need nobody, aware
that the genetic razor cleaving obsession and insanity is
capricious, like all those calamities Poseidon orchestrated.
Mingus was never not human, the impossible endowment
that drove him, destroyed him and, in death, restored him.
His tenacity was the heat that both healed and hurt, a comet
cursed with consciousness—he went harder, dug deeper,
even as his best work impended, yet-unrealized revelations:
Blues and Roots the brown man’s burden, a thorny crown
worn only by dispossessed prophets willing or able to testify.
His recalcitrant wisdom: earned the way trees acquire
rings: the reality of who he was, even if he too changed
at times, like the country that claimed him, mostly after
the fact. And whether you’re committed, an exiled crusader,
or a respectable suit working to death in squared circles,
the message from that rare bird’s song still resounds today,
an epiphany blown through the slipstream: Now’s the Time.
by Sean Murphy
Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. His work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The Good Men Project, and others. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of Virginia Center for Literary Arts (www.thevcla.org). To learn more, please visit seanmurphy.net and @bullmurph.
I’m leaving you tonight,
but before I leave I’m taking your chess,
your ping-pong, your Poems of Others,
your quiet geometry, your sloppy watercolors.
I always thought your nudes were ingenuous
and your self-portraits perfidious.
I’m taking your fatal pouty mouth,
the oil in your scalp, the virile volatile day
when we went to see your mother’s face.
I’m taking every square centimeter of cloistered soap
and skin bacteria from your sink.
And your affection for sentimentality
and for marshmallows.
The yacht is already sold,
and the money is kept safe with the mafia.
I’m taking your teeth, one by one,
all of them, and some more.
You’ll never ever be as chic
as you were when you lived with me.
I’ll wear your torso on my sleeve
and your allergic reactions on my knees,
already pale and sick for a lifetime’s sentence
of Saturday’s nights without the company of crickets
and your asthmatic burly posture. I don’t know
how you went so far with that attitude.
I ‘m taking and taking a little more—
your unresolved conflicts
of sex and ego with the mirror,
the thrill you get from stains on a white shirt,
the pancreatic cancer you never experienced,
the bitter-sweet days
where you had me but desired her.
I’m taking the vision of love in your progressive astigmatism
and your accelerated breath every time you saw a beautiful girl,
a relic more than a memory, stark as a roasted pig,
still pink, on the Thanksgiving dining table.
I’m taking all that defines you as a person
because I cannot think of any other way
to be remembered.
Give Me Joy, Not Liberty
No one feels well here. Not the turkeys during Christmas,
not the mouse in the pet shop doing acrobatics with its tongue,
not the maiden, not the nun, not the bricklayer,
not the beautiful but toxic Russian for-hire assassin
who sat down to drink in a club by the beach in 1998
and hasn’t gotten up since.
The orthodontist is sad. The dog walker is sad.
The sommelier racing downstairs for a Sancerre is sad.
The traffic cop with the fat neck and the loaded gun
ready to shoot anybody is also sad.
The communist novelist looking for inspiration
in a café decorated with posters of Che
cannot believe how sad the world is after he wrote one word
on a scrap of newspaper soaked in champagne.
Ocean Drive Drag Queen Nina Blackrose is sad,
so is the trophy wife cloistered in a yacht.
The young are as sad as the elderly.
The bald and the handsome are equally affected by suffering.
The beginning actress who didn’t get the role in the audition
is sad and needs sleeping pills to make it through the night.
There are no sleeping pills in America anymore—
Marilyn Monroe took them all.
The Italian whisky-seller
sadly stays in the scene all year round,
littering cigarette butts and glasses half full of Jack Daniel’s,
shoulder to shoulder
with sad thick gold- toothed naked trapeze girls,
dropping bills as if he owned
that trashy juke joint on 11th street.
Sadness is more serious than acne. Just ask Benitez,
or the technician from the cable company.
I had an abortion on a morning as yellow as margarine.
My doctor, who was obviously depressed,
recommended that I avoid heavy lifting
and cardiovascular activity for a week.
I sit by myself on a bench in the playground
to look at the children playing.
They all have features that foretell potential for grief—
the rigidity of a jaw, the crude rhythm of a hip,
the deranged leg in the air—
as if they had inherited tragedy from their parents,
who were once naïve 7-year-olds
chasing restlessly after a ball,
but grew up to become sad sommeliers,
by Grethel Ramos
Grethel Ramos Fiad is a Cuban-American journalist, writer, poet and photographer currently living in Miami. Her poetry rejects the cheap comforts of dogmatic conventionality and welcomes the disclosure of the dissonances in human nature.
Mary had the perfect imperfection, a small space in between her two front teeth, like Madonna or Lauren Hutton. It was just what I needed, a flaw, to help me focus every fear I had of feeling happy. Happy felt like another solar system – a curious and desired destination, I suppose, and yet unwelcome. Nothing good could come of wanting something that could be taken away because it always was. My nervous system still clawed its way through every day since two men had broken into my apartment four years prior and attacked me. Most days, I thought I was really a ghost observing the life I was meant to have if only they had climbed through a different window that night.
With Mary, I smiled easily, told funny stories, and serenaded her with Billie Holiday songs lying naked in bed. My voice copied sultry well enough. I was not at ease, but hid it well. Her optimism was deep enough to hold us both.
So there sat that small space. I suppose I could see the beautiful smile that held it. Or, I could see a young girl, one of eleven children whose father died when she was a teenager and left her mother impoverished and unprepared. Dentistry was out of the question. I could see the beauty of that space and all that held it in a long life of challenge or I could just see the space. If I focused hard enough on it, I might be safe keeping company with the flaw and believed it could help me flee if I needed to.
Early on, Mary was fifteen minutes late for a date with me and I gave her a stern lecture on punctuality. Another time, she had two beers at dinner, not one but two. Since I didn’t drink and my step father drank too much, I decided she must be an alcoholic and I almost broke up with her on the spot.
She teased! She forgot people’s names! She didn’t always get me!
I loved and needed that imperfection. I needed every single thing about Mary that I could put in my pocket to help me escape from the joy/loss possibility that is a real relationship. We moved in together, bought a house, made financial decisions about each of our graduate programs and then had kids. As the years went on, and I allowed each happiness in, I took every carefully collected imperfection and held them in my hand like a snow globe, shaking it about wildly, the flaws overtaking the scene for but a moment and then settling down harmless.
When Mary was in her forties, she decided to close up the space by wearing invisible braces for a year. She said she was tired of wearing her childhood poverty on her face. By then, I didn’t worry what I would do without it. It had served us both rather well in a life we built together in spite of the odds.
Michelle Bowdler has been published in the New York Times and has two upcoming essays in a book entitled: We Rise to Resist: Voices from a New Era in Women’s Political Action (McFarland 2018). Her essay entitled Eventually, You Tell Your Kids (Left Hooks Literary Journal) was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Rumpus recently published her poem A Word With You as part of their series Enough! on sexual assault and rape culture. Michelle is a 2017 Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award for Non-Fiction, will be a Fellow at Ragdale this winter and is a Boston GrubStreet Incubator alum. (https://michelle-bowdler.com/)