Cadge

I bet the four flush—

worth next to nothing

but looking to all like the key

to the kingdom of heaven.

 

You told me once

that poker

was half luck

and half bluff.

 

They had just

cleaned you out again

at the Friday night game

above the body shop on Sutter Avenue.

 

You and your six

unemployable friends—

passing a cheap bottle of rye

and shots at each other’s parentage,

 

in a room

full of reefer

and the sweat

of day labor.

 

You told me once

you had no luck—

having given it

all to me.

 

And I pictured a medallion

bestowed upon the younger brother—

no small burden

you’d hung around my neck—

 

as if the family’s fortune

was riding on my narrow shoulders.

“What fortune?”

anyone who knew us might think to ask.

 

“But, you’ll never be a bluffer,

you told me,

for that you need a pair—

and in our family, I got them.”

 

Cold as cobra’s breath

I bet my four spades

and watched

as the better hand folded.

 

You never were a judge of character—

a lifetime

of confusing

friends and enemies.

 

 

Steven Deutsch

 Steve Deutsch lives in State College, PA. His recent publications have or will appear in RavensPerch, MacQueen’s, 8 Poems, Louisiana Lit, Burningword Literary Journal, The Write Launch, Biscuit Root Drive, Evening Street, Better Than Starbucks, Flashes of Brilliance, SanAntonio Review, Softblow, Mojave River Review, The Broadkill Review, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Panoply, Algebra of Owls, The Blue Nib, Thimble Magazine, The Muddy River Poetry Review, Ghost City Review, Borfski Press, Streetlight Press, Gravel, Literary Heist, Nixes Mate Review, Third Wednesday, Misfit Magazine, Word Fountain, Eclectica Magazine, The Drabble, New Verse News and The Ekphrastic Review. He was nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2017 and 2018. His Chapbook, “Perhaps You Can,” was published in 2019 by Kelsay Press. His full length book, Persistence of Memory was just published by Kelsay.

Shopping for Underwear in Asheville

The Problem:

 

There are blue humpbacked mountains in the distance

and I always want to look up and over there, absorb

 

the scenery and forget that good-fitting underwear

is a basic human right, undeniable at least in the

 

good ole US of A. The 6:00 PM weather person

on Channel 4 who always scowls is wearing underwear

 

that doesn’t fit properly. Miss Irby, who tried to teach

American History in the 11th grade, never had properly-

 

fitted panties, I could always tell. And my gym coach,

Bragg  Stanton, gave up finding nice underwear and

 

shared with us that he was starting a new trend of going

commando. There are malls and department stores nestled

 

in city-sized pockets in these smoky hills, and just as you

think it’s time to settle down with a nice goat cheese,

 

whole wheat crackers, and a glass of red wine, you feel

the pull, the squeeze, the pinch of that worn-well fabric

 

vying for space up there between your legs. It is time.

 

 

The Solution:

 

Dedicate a portion of the day to dilly-dally inside stores

and shops, the big-box, the men’s boutique, the electronic

 

pages of underwear, constructed of every conceivable fabric

under the sun: boxers and briefs and low-cut straps that resemble

 

large strands of colored floss. There are thongs, and jocks

and cloth that breathes, guaranteed not to burn or rub you

 

raw.  By now you know what works best. But experimentation

is the hallmark of long-term satisfaction. Be bold if you must,

 

stepping into a store that smells like musk with salespeople

in three-piece suits who really don’t want to be there in the

 

first place. They point you in the right direction and then leave

you to your own design. I will not spend that much money

 

on underwear, ever, even if I were a millionaire. I am tired

and need some lunch, maybe a beer on some open patio

 

where I can write Mark Weldon, underwear guru, and ask

for a written guarantee. But it’s not like returning a shirt.

 

Once that material, whatever it is, has kissed the dark recesses

of your inner things, it is a done deal. Shop carefully because you

 

need to like what’s going to be down there for at least three years.

 

 

John Dorroh

Whether John Dorroh taught any secondary science is still being discussed. However, he managed to show up every morning at 6:45 for a couple of decades with at least two lesson plans and a thermos of robust Colombian. His poetry has appeared in about 75 journals, including Dime Show Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Os Pressan, Feral, Selcouth Station, and Red Dirt Forum/Press. He also writes short fiction and the occasional rant.

Annie Elizabeth

An Exploited Body

 

You claim it’s a dwelling grasp. I still fall

out of a tree—naked & thick,

 

hauling myself to beat

exposure. I fill myself in

 

in desperate clusters. Unable

to find a deep hole for my body,

 

I turn over the earth & rip the ocean

floor—give a final blow

 

to deprivation, hunt dead & run large

in the streets. I lurk

 

in hives, collect & attach you

like an eyeball—a blind silence.

 

I search for bony bundles

& drain my body—an empty constant.

 

 

The Day of My Wedding

 

I stayed inside because of the rain.

From behind the bay window

I watched a funeral & a family

grieve.

 

I watched a wild horse

run away from the field—

gaining freedom to ground

itself.

 

The grass webbed with dew

for the rest of its days.

Sewers overflowed

& cars stopped passing

through.

 

For the rest of my days

I watched a child

fall backwards at the bottom

of the staircase, just out of my

reach.

 

 

Annie Elizabeth

Annie Cigic is a second-year student in the Rhetoric and Writing Studies PhD program at Bowling Green State University. Her research interests include critical pedagogy, community-based learning, advocacy writing, and student agency in writing assessment. She received her MFA in Poetry from BGSU. Her poem “Afterlife of a Dumped Body” is nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize by Driftwood Press.

What the Muse Says

& now it’s for real! Not the science fiction

of books or movies, test tube anomalies

reported from overseas, alien

 

contagion you could only survive given

regulated ventilation, capsulating spacesuit

NASA style. Say all you want

 

about mock-scenarios: Travolta’s The Boy in the

Plastic Bubble: the hellish loneliness of isolation

& quarantine, the psalmist who forewarned

 

of a “great trouble” I’d witness after she

took my $100 and told me in parting,

in no uncertain terms, that like the animals

 

who flocked to Noah’s Ark, I’d be spared,

Anita and the boys too, all of us protected

by the agency of some mystical

 

ministration. & then, almost overnite,

the pandemic surged like a tsunami,

came crashing with a shuddering BOOM!

 

In an instant life ceased to exist as we knew it.

Suddenly no one talked about wars,

the constant threat of terrorism, batting stances,

 

box scores, fast-breaks, Kobe or the triangle offense.

International flights were ordered home

as confirmed cases & death tolls

 

started to mount. Rubber gloves and surgical masks

became the accepted norm as hysteria & fear

ratcheted up & lockdown &

 

social distancing went from memes to everyday lingo.

& then the stern & troubling projections

from the C.D.C. of souls lost,

 

the World Health Organizations holocaust-like forecast

models; how airborne viruses mutate, flourish in

more welcoming environments—

 

the least resistant the more accommodating the host.

Contagions have gripped the earth before, left

a nasty trail of death & pestilence.

 

From S.A.R.S. to Swine to Covid-19, we have

Felt its brunt. But NOTHING compares

to the scourage of the Black Plague,

 

the Great Mortality, the Pestilence, the Great Bubonic,

the Great Plague, or lastly, because the world

had never seen the likes of it before,

 

because Europe & its counterparts, Eurasia & its outliers,

satellite societies, fringe nomadic & Mongols,

only a hundred years since the last

 

sighting of Genghis Khan upon the steppe, in the saddle

of a fine Arab Charger, before massive,

uncontrollable death—

 

millions upon millions upon millions—

more than ever accounted for

in the totality of wars.

 

& now we enlist them by anacronyms,

refer to them by geographic or animal

origin; the long history of illness

 

independent of questioning how or why.

You can trace the migration of the Plague

back to the Silk Road

 

where it swept through Crimea & then upon the yaw

& creak of Genoese merchants

bound for parts of Judea & Galilee,

 

the archipelagos of Thrace, the coastline of the Aegean

& Ionian Seas, from the stiletto

boot to the Strait of Gibraltar, rats scurrying

 

off the decks & gangplanks infecting

the under-belly of Europe.

O’ sickness, how it wiped-out the land—

 

from soothsayers to merchants to prostitutes

to great barrons— O’ bodies left roadside,

no shelter remained to conceal the dying,

 

the rotting. & the gripping reality of naked histrionics:

the caterwauling, the protracted gasp and breath,

the sudden collapse of the living

 

upon the dead, crying into the stale breath

of what they said would spread.

Stepping around or over

 

the faces of the known— bluish, purplish

luminesces cauliflowering the neck,

hair greased with sweat,

 

bacteria & fungi doing their dirty work.

Tonight Time’s Square is a flashing ghostown.

The remedies for pain have

 

different denominators, and they know what

they are— depression, drugs & daily exercise;

faith in god or 4 more oxycotin

 

pilfered from my wife’s purse. I’ll toss them in a box,

shake & offer: whichever you get

must be followed to completion.

 

What does the muse say? Grin & bear it.

 

 

Tony Tracy

Tony Tracy is the author of three poetry collections: The Christening, Without Notice and his newly released book overseas, Welcome To Your Life. He is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, Burningword, Jelly Bucket, Poetry East, Tar River Poetry, Rattle, Hotel Amerika, Painted Bride Quarterly, Potomac Review, Briar Cliff Review, and various other magazines and journals.

Sonny Rollins’s Bridge*

It wasn’t his bridge, of course.

It wasn’t even his city, and it certainly wasn’t

his world. It’s your world, jazz music says,

I’m just living in it. And the world’s a workshop.

 

Sonny was different, though. Even for one

we’d call young gifted & black without being

bromidic. Sonny heard so much but mostly

only listened to himself, waiting and creating

his own kind of way, expressing everything.

 

How do we describe the kind of man already

in rarified air deciding he wasn’t high enough

(having already eschewed the artificial ecstasy

that ruins veins and soils brains, Body and Soul)?

 

This colossus, keeping his own council, split

his apartment to set up shop in the crow’s nest

of the Williamsburg Bridge, perhaps the one

place aside from the Arctic Circle where no one

could see or hear history being picked apart

like a carcass, and then reassembled in real time.

 

Three years of this. Almost a thousand days

while the world spun, the cash registers rung,

and so many pretenders to the throne ascended

for lack of better options. Sun turned to snow

and dawn turned to dark and there were still

all those sounds: a style being tweaked, a gift

being refined, an experiment being improvised.

 

The quest for vision, it’s said, will make

otherwise steady men see outlandish sights:

as they deprive themselves of human fuel

they become something at once less & more

than a vessel; the spirits speak to and through

them and once that barrier is broken, one sees

oneself changed, then begins changing the world.

 

(*In 1959, feeling pressured by his unexpected rise to fame, Rollins took a three-year hiatus to focus on perfecting his craft. A resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan with no private space to play, he took his saxophone up to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice alone.)

 

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, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He has twice 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 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and @bullmurph.

Procession

Maybe Dai Morgan followed by the blackbird,

maybe the blackbird first, and Dai, seconds later,

coming in from his walk, old-sailor-rolling.

 

Anchored in my gateway we greet the day.

Steve the postman is predictable enough,

last Saturday’s results and football talk,

 

but the blackbird now is joyously above us,

has soared in his song to the telephone wire,

giving out carol, giving out spring, old Orange Beak.

 

Then a mother and her son of two years old.

She’s pretty, smiling, it’s kind-to-all morning

and she’s registering maybe “two old boys”.

 

The little boy takes in perhaps the legs,

four legs in corduroy athwart his path.

He gazes up at Dai’s and my crow’s nest.

 

And the morning’s people now enact the rites

of a fresh May, Smartphones half-neglected

in a willingness to see some good around us.

 

Robert Nisbet

Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet who has been published widely in Britain and the USA. In 2017 he was shortlisted for the Wordsworth Trust Prize in the UK and he has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in the US.