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EQ Fall 2023

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Equinox: Into the ThicketThis literary journal is a compilation of the creative works of writers and artists included in it.Copyright © 2023 by hotpoet, Inc. and the individual writers and artistsAll rights reserved.Editor: Kelly Ann EllisConsultant Editor: Tina CardonaPage Designer: Vanessa ZimmerPowellPoetry Judge: Maha AhmedArt Judge: Yolanda MovsessianProse Judge: Sandi StrombergCover Art: James EllisInterior Cover Photo: K. Wayne McClane, Thicket 1Clipart: PixabyPublished online, September 2023Publisher:hotpoet, Inc.Houston, TX

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EditorsKelly Ann Ellis, EditorTina Cardona, Consultant EditorVol. 5 2023Page DesignVanessa ZimmerPowellJudges Maha Ahmed, PoetrySandi Stromberg, ProseYolanda Movsessian, Art a hotpoet publication

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Contents SECTION 1: MYSTERY 8Triumvirate Isabella CalisiWagner (art) 8 meet me in the thicket Kimberly Hall (poetry) 10Garden of Misfit Blooms Robb Kunz (art) 11Crawling Through Hedgerow Mark Jodon (poetry) 12Neal Teryle Traver (poetry) 13Art: Imge 8 K. Wayne McClane (art) 13What are My Chances Varsha SaraiyaShah (poetry) 14Ars Poetica (with Squirrels) Courtney O’Banion Smith 15Art: Hydrangea Robb Kunz (art) 15Why I Walk Around Naked to the World Joe Blanda (poetry) 16 the same kind of symmetry as leaves and juncos (pixelation, part 2) Ryan Scariano (prose) 17Resurrection John Slaby (art) 17Villanelle for Quentin Compson David Meischen (poetry) 18Abstraction Marie Recalde (art) 19Tree Dreams Sarah Wolbach (poetry) 20Harmony Holli May Thomas (art) 21Into the Thick of It Nina Bonita (poetry) 22Caged Denial Robin Young (art) 23Shelter John Milkereit (poetry) 24The Death of Mystery Rebecca Danelly (poetry) 25Cold Days James Ellis (art) 25 SECTION 2: MAGIC 26Duality Isabella CalisiWagner (art) 27Honey Locust Kimberly Hall (poetry) 28Garden Marghi Allen (art) 29Through the Woods K.L. Johnston (poetry) 30Sentinel Rebecca Sheller (art) 31None of Us Could Ever Millicent Borges Accardi (poetry) 32Baba Yaga Elena Lelia Radulescu (poetry) 33Solstice Cottages Margo Stutts Toombs (poetry) 34Growth Isabella CalisiWagner (art) 35Overgrown John Slaby (art) 36Trespasser Susan Beall Summers (poetry) 36Inside Outside Traci Duncan (poetry) 37Roses and Cream Gabrielle Langley (poetry) 38Even Cowgirls Get the Blues Marie Recalde (art) 39Elemental Brian Leibold (poetry) 40Untitled Vanessa ZimmerPowell (art) 41Kudzu Charlene Stegman Moskal (poetry) 41Landlocked Sarah Wolbach (prose) 42Tree with Moon at Memorial Park John Milkereit (art) 42Lord of the Thicket D. E. Zuccone (poetry) 43They Came Through the Window Alex Nash (art) 44

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Contents SECTION 1: MYSTERY 8Triumvirate Isabella CalisiWagner (art) 8 meet me in the thicket Kimberly Hall (poetry) 10Garden of Misfit Blooms Robb Kunz (art) 11Crawling Through Hedgerow Mark Jodon (poetry) 12Neal Teryle Traver (poetry) 13Art: Imge 8 K. Wayne McClane (art) 13What are My Chances Varsha SaraiyaShah (poetry) 14Ars Poetica (with Squirrels) Courtney O’Banion Smith 15Art: Hydrangea Robb Kunz (art) 15Why I Walk Around Naked to the World Joe Blanda (poetry) 16 the same kind of symmetry as leaves and juncos (pixelation, part 2) Ryan Scariano (prose) 17Resurrection John Slaby (art) 17Villanelle for Quentin Compson David Meischen (poetry) 18Abstraction Marie Recalde (art) 19Tree Dreams Sarah Wolbach (poetry) 20Harmony Holli May Thomas (art) 21Into the Thick of It Nina Bonita (poetry) 22Caged Denial Robin Young (art) 23Shelter John Milkereit (poetry) 24The Death of Mystery Rebecca Danelly (poetry) 25Cold Days James Ellis (art) 25 SECTION 2: MAGIC 26Duality Isabella CalisiWagner (art) 27Honey Locust Kimberly Hall (poetry) 28Garden Marghi Allen (art) 29Through the Woods K.L. Johnston (poetry) 30Sentinel Rebecca Sheller (art) 31None of Us Could Ever Millicent Borges Accardi (poetry) 32Baba Yaga Elena Lelia Radulescu (poetry) 33Solstice Cottages Margo Stutts Toombs (poetry) 34Growth Isabella CalisiWagner (art) 35Overgrown John Slaby (art) 36Trespasser Susan Beall Summers (poetry) 36Inside Outside Traci Duncan (poetry) 37Roses and Cream Gabrielle Langley (poetry) 38Even Cowgirls Get the Blues Marie Recalde (art) 39Elemental Brian Leibold (poetry) 40Untitled Vanessa ZimmerPowell (art) 41Kudzu Charlene Stegman Moskal (poetry) 41Landlocked Sarah Wolbach (prose) 42Tree with Moon at Memorial Park John Milkereit (art) 42Lord of the Thicket D. E. Zuccone (poetry) 43They Came Through the Window Alex Nash (art) 44ContentsSECTION 3: MAYHEM 45Reminders Lyman Grant (poetry) 46One for Sorrow James Ellis (art) 46Whisky White Children Ryan Scariano (poetry) 47Untitled Vanessa ZimmerPowell (art) 47Claxons Wail Ann Howells (poetry) 48Dear Giant Tube Worms Waving from the Ocean Floor, Sarah Wolbach (poetry) 49Carp Cynthia Yatchman (art) 49Salma Hayek's HowTo on Surviving Hollywood Eloísa PérezLozano (prose) 50West End Girls Marie Recalde (art) 51Text This Number in the US to Find Out Which Native Land You’re Living On; Or, a DivineFlow for Land Acknowledgments Jen Karetnick (poetry) 52Something Must be Done Sarah Wolbach (poetry) 53Untitled 1 Liam Wilson (art) 53Belly of the Whale Lu Lynn Streeter (prose) 54Untitled Vanessa ZimmerPowell (art) 54Home of the Brave Abena Ntoso (poetry) 55Untitled Laura Peña (poetry) 56 Untitled Vanessa ZimmerPowell (art) 56What O'Keeffe Teaches Carrie Carter 57Untitled 2 Liam Wilson (art) 57SECTION 4: MARVEL 58Aftermath Robin Young (art) 59Little Thicket Park L.A. Merril (poetry) 60Christ's Paintbrush Robb Kunz (art) 60We Must Be Careful of Crowds Carol Munn (poetry) 61Portable Alter Jen Karetncik (poetry) 62Magnolia Cynthia Yatchman (poetry) 63Busted Alex Nash (art) 64Thriving Thicket Barry Lewis (poetry) 65Grief Kathy Crawford (poetry) 66Frame Within a Frame Alex Nash (art) 67The Briar Patch Sandi Stromberg (poetry) 68"That Cloud Ain't Moved a Bit"–Nope Robin Young (art) 69anew Terry Dawson (poetry) 70In the Mangroves, the Aging Poet Appeals to the Gods Adele NeJame (poetry) 71Wild Holli May Thomas (art) 72How We Cling to One Another Jere Pfister (poetry) 73whose hands are these? i haven’t got a clue Ariana Brazier (prose) 74From the Ground Up Holli May Thomas (art) 75Albuquerque’s Bosque, Morning David Meischen (poetry) 76To A Young Poet Lyman Grant (poetry) 77 Back to Nature John Slaby (art) 77FiveSense Poem Viola Lee (poetry) 78Flower Power Marghi Allen (art) 78

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ContentsMAKERS' CORNER 79Maha Ahmed, Poetry Judge, Meditation for Lack of Emergency 80Sandi Stromberg, Prose Judge, Frogs Don't Sing Red 81Yolanda Movsessian, Art Judge, Amidst All Things Broken 82Kelly Ann Ellis, Editor, Sojourn with Stones 83Tina Cardona, Consultant Editor, Mother Bayou 84Vanessa ZimmerPowell, Page Design, Driftwood 85Makers' Bios 86Honorable MentionsPoetryKimberly Hall, meet me in the thicketJen Karetnick, Text This Number in the US to Find Out Which Native Land You’re Living On; Or, a Divine Flow for Land AcknowledgmentsCourtney O'Banion Smith, Ars Poetica (with Squirrels)Adele NeJame, In the Mangroves, the Aging Poet Appeals to the GodsProseEloísa PérezLozano, Salma Hayek's HowTo on Surviving Hollywood Ariana Brazier, whose hands are these? i haven’t got a clueArtAlex Nash, They Came Through the Window Robin Young, Caged DenialK. Wayne McClane, Thicket 1 (art is on interior cover)

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ContentsMAKERS' CORNER 79Maha Ahmed, Poetry Judge, Meditation for Lack of Emergency 80Sandi Stromberg, Prose Judge, Frogs Don't Sing Red 81Yolanda Movsessian, Art Judge, Amidst All Things Broken 82Kelly Ann Ellis, Editor, Sojourn with Stones 83Tina Cardona, Consultant Editor, Mother Bayou 84Vanessa ZimmerPowell, Page Design, Driftwood 85Makers' Bios 86Honorable MentionsPoetryKimberly Hall, meet me in the thicketJen Karetnick, Text This Number in the US to Find Out Which Native Land You’re Living On; Or, a Divine Flow for Land AcknowledgmentsCourtney O'Banion Smith, Ars Poetica (with Squirrels)Adele NeJame, In the Mangroves, the Aging Poet Appeals to the GodsProseEloísa PérezLozano, Salma Hayek's HowTo on Surviving Hollywood Ariana Brazier, whose hands are these? i haven’t got a clueArtAlex Nash, They Came Through the Window Robin Young, Caged DenialK. Wayne McClane, Thicket 1 (art is on interior cover)Contest WinnersPoetry Kimberly HallHoney Locust Prose Viola LeeFiveSense Poem Art James EllisOne for SorrowJudges' CommentsPoetry: Maha Ahmed, poetry judge, comments enthusiastically about the winning poem:This ecopoem is breathtaking in its strategic amplification of a singular object and moment toward an infinite expansion of nature and the self. Through its momentous music, the poem moves us back and forth from the specificity of the honey locust to the uncanny largess of the world around it. So much is being held and cradled. I can feel the tenderness of the poet’s hands.Prose: Regarding the winning prose piece, contest judge Sandi Stromberg writes:Reading this prose poem is like entering the jungle, the briar patch, the thicket. With each repetition of "I ask my students to write a fivesense poem," Viola Lee invites her students, and us as her readers, to explore the terrain through our senses, to delve deeper into what they tell us—until we are lifted up “all full of wonder, all full of this dark green earth.”Art: Yolanda Movsessian, art judge comments:One for Sorrow embodies a poetic quality in addition to expressing the contest theme. There isa beautiful balance between the light and the shadow so that hope is as present as themelancholy/sorrow. Leaves from the trees morph into geography of the face. The more youlook at this artwork, the more hidden things you discover. A solitary crow sits on a barrenbranch taking inventory of the thicket crowding the mind. Eyes look out onto the greenish greyworld. These are some of the aspects that make One for Sorrow stand out and best express thecontest theme for this issue.

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Art: Triumvirate Isabella CalisiWagner

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meet me in the thicket Kimberly Hallin the deep exhaleof the world, the heaving andthe loamy dark, wherewe may hold the sharpedged andbrittleboned fluttering ofour hearts safe againstthe howling wind, the piercingrain – time, a hunterso hungry it cannot besated. i know there will bedays you must releaseyour talons from my perch, butmy desire is apatient one. all i ask isthis – when you leave, return. however, and in whatever formthat returning requires. dear butcherbird,make of me a homeamongst the brambles.paint these thorns as red as themorning, and let them turnbloodblack under moonlight – proofof our vitalconnection, our place in nature’s everturning succession.make the thicket echowith the sound of your carrionsong. darling, you know the secretas well as i do – to loveis to bedevoured. Art: Garden of Misfit Blooms Robb Kunz

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Art: Garden of Misfit Blooms Robb Kunz

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Crawling Through Hedgerow Mark Jodon—for Andy GoldsworthyI once watched Andy crawling through an English hedgerow in winter. His body resembled a runner in starting blocks waiting for the starter’s gun to fire. He moved like a stick figure from one of those flipbook animations, as if some unseen hand was slowing flipping through the pages propelling him forward. I watched as his silhouette, nearly indiscerniblefrom the entanglement of branches and shrubbery,became like the remains of late afternoon light, absorbed, and quietly dissipating into the night.

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Neal Little brown body, all knees and elbows, running in summer sun, we meet midmeadow tumble in the clover, squeal the cry of ageless youth, chase, tackle and roll again. Curly black hair curious blend of wild flowers and little boy scent. Pungent memories linger still, decades past our midday romps, it is your smell I most recall. The heat of your torso in my arms. Sometimes on the wind, I catch a spray of you, a wisp of familiar and startling scent and I see the sun reflect off your shoulders bare, struggling to loose my grasp. Struggle as you may, for decades have not freed you from my heart.You were my first love, and I too innocent to know.Teryle Traver Art: Imge 8 K. Wayne McClane

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What are My Chances Varsha SaraiyaShahzipping through a cloud forestsuspended over the treetops eerily real amidsta chorus of frogs, insects, howler monkeys. They own this jungle’s echoes.Our cable’s ceaseless jangling blends with birds’ crosstalk. Water whooshes wildhundreds of feet below. Echoes,only echoes abound in a fathomless canopy. Labyrinths of foliage as big as elephant ears.Ferns, palms, plantain groves, fronds purplegold, rotting russetan understory ablaze. Upon descent, ah,rows and rows of babbling orange mouths emerge––their butterfly bodies known as hotlips! Beauty beyond words and the power of gravity. I imaginea deathly plunge into the dark understory––Will I blow away from this rooflike an unnamed leaf? How will I surrenderto whom? O Aerial gods, O Mother Mercy, would you let me blossominto a lifesized birdofparadise? Orenfold me among the kingdom of heliconia, orbury me among those fluttering hotlips?

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Ars Poetica (with Squirrels) Courtney O’Banion SmithBook of bright words,a body full of inkspilled this puddle— like the treesfelled to make thispresent to you—fecund thoughts,clever acornsburied here to birth Art: Hydrangea Robb Kunz

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Joe BlandaWhy I Walk Around Naked to the WorldA treeis revealed by the truthof its barkwhen allthe leaveshavefallen.

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the same kind of symmetry as leaves and juncos (pixelation, part 2) Ryan ScarianoOnce, before her arrival, Adam overheard the fallen leaves whisper to the juncos, do as we do. Yes, the juncos whispered back, and you do as we do. – Carroll Carol, The Calm Before the First Stormdon’t rock the boat don’t walk on frozen ponds don’t hide in old refrigerators don’t spill the milk don’t run with scissors or into the street without first looking both ways don’t step on cracks or lines don’t tread on medon’t be a stranger or a fool or a hero or a dead horse don’t bet or bank on it don’t blame me don’t bother don’t bring a knife to the gun we plan on jumping don’t bite this hand that feeds/heeds/breeds/seeds/leads/needs you don’t do the crime if you can’t do the math don’t give it another thought don’t get me started don’t get me wrongdon’t get mad don’t get even don’t ask don’t tell don’t you know who I amdon’t change horses and burn bridges don’t count on your chicken don’t defecate on it either especially if you plan to invite it to dinner don’t mention it don’t breathe a word of this don’t strain yourself don’t put yourself out don’t do anything I wouldn’t do don’t piss in a pot don’t judge books don’t let facts get in the way don’t knock it till you’ve goosestepped a mile in my flipflops don’t get your panties in a bunch don’t give me any lip don’t go there don’t have a cow don’t spew that story don’t shoot the messenger don’t leave me hanging don’t touch that dial don’t pull that trigger don’t let your gift horse write a check when you’re looking in its mouth don’t make me say it again don’t patronize me don’t press your luck don’t put words in my house don’t stash all your eggs in one casket don’t call us we’ll call you don’t pay with wooden nickels don’t put the horse before the cart those poor horses and cows and chickens don’t speak ill of the dead don’t adam don’t fallen leaves don’t junco don’t whisper don’t care don’t spend all of this in one place don’t sweat the small stuff don’t worry your pretty little head don’t tempt fate don’t you dare don’t quit your day job don’t let the bedbugs don’t let the fox or throw the baby don’t bleed to death in your veins don’t try to beat the train don’t label bad luck the best don’t believe don’t bee leave don’t talk down don’t talk shit don’t talk back don’t lie don’t look don’t cry don’t waste your time don’t listen don’t forget Art: Resurrection John Slaby

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Villanelle for Quentin Compson David Meischenwho loved not his sister’s body but some concept of Compson honor precariously supported by the minute fragile membrane of her maidenhood–William Faulkner, Appendix to The Sound and the FuryAlthough you rise and move toward the day,A heavy shadow whispers judgments stark,And honeysuckle takes your breath away.A substance thick with too much sweet, it weighsThe sultry air you breathe, indelible markAgainst you. Rise and move toward the day,Another like her hasty wedding day. A sprayOf roses, bloodred, bleeding from the heart.Like honeysuckle, they take your breath away—This aura that sickens, perfumed with decay.The fact of what she’s done has done its work,But then you rise and move toward the day.Oh, Caddy, Caddy, sister made of clayThat crumbles: flesh to ashes, waning sparks.Still, her honeysuckle takes your breath away.You cannot forgive the sins of flesh. You prayBy remembering, grapple with shame in the dark.Although you rise and move toward the day,Lush honeysuckle takes your breath away. Art: Abstraction Marie Recalde

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Tree Dreams In dreams before you died, I planted a tree upside down,exposing the roots to frost and fire. I threw lightning bolts into parched forests.I hacked a thorn tree to splinters.Night after night, like a beaver,I gnawed a cottonwood’s trunk,but the tree never fell to the ground.Last night, I unplanted a smoke tree from a whiskey barrel. Old and thick, the slats of oak were hooped with straps of iron,shackling the roots.I tipped over the barrel and shimmied out the tree, laid it on its side. Gallons of water gushed from the barrel—a well, a wound, a river.I floated on the waterto Tree Island, to a cottagesurrounded by sweet trees: cherries, apricots, pears, and yellow apples;among groves of honeysuckle and roses,forests of hollyhocks and sunflowers;grass, sweet grass—and there you were!Radiant and happy, we buried each other in soft leaves. And we slept.SarahWolbach Art: Harmony Holli May Thomas

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Art: Harmony Holli May Thomas

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Into the Thick of It I sat on the edge of the porchlet memories and briars climb my shins and claim me:another wild thing without witness.I wore thorny fibers around my shoulderslike a oncegreen and yellow coatthe sun had faded to taupe.I was content to stay there forever. Hazy faces and pieces stolen hastilythe night I fled were all I knew until I knew: I’d forgottenthe very voice that called me there. I rose from my seat in sorrowstepped forward in fearjolted with courage—And I ran with joy.The briars became morning glories.They didn’t cut my feet as I ranbut clapped and cheered me on.The forest I’d feared for so longwas now just a few yards deep To get past it, I had to become it. Again. For a few heartbeats’ time—Joy runs fast anyhow.Nina Bonita

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Art: Caged Denial Robin Young

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Shelter John MilkereitI gather kindling for light flecks, violetflames for the future. Green branches never broke,but cut ones, hinged open at the mouth, spoke.Piney woods swallow breath. Breeze of the silentgulf coast sways above redbrown dirt, turns violent.Rest the voice of disdain. We know it pokesto tame the body if it could. Rain wakes,pierces the inevitable, burnt heart, an amulet.Hands makeshift as a tent to protectyour camp. You cannot tie a canopyover a big thicket wildfire. The tossof trees snakes the hot and cold air, reflectsin the mind—that swamp cooler commonlybreaking. What is the shelter for loss?

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The Death of Mystery Rebecca DanellyA girl can leave a trail, follow a deer track deeper into the woods, and wander until she can no longer hear the whoops and laughter of the others, only the small crash of small unseen animals crushing themselves through the scrub and brush between tree trunks. Between trunks, she hopes to catch the flash of white tail, of rabbit ear, of bobcat whiskers. It’s a squirrel’s racket, leaping onto a limb overhead and chattering its displeasure that startles her. Not only an experience so ordinary, an everyday animal, not only no fawn no satyr no witch no lion no giant spider no hobbit no dwarf no elf no dragon. Certainly, no signs. But inhaling the scents of pine tree, leaf rot, oak moss, disappointment. Her body twitches at the itch of sweat on the back of her neck, creeping down her spine. Not just the self’s hope fading, but backtracking – the end of trailblazing. No one notices when the lone girl goes missing or her unremarkable return. Art: Cold Days James Ellis

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Magic Art: Duality Isabella CalisiWagner

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Art: Duality Isabella CalisiWagner

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Honey Locust Kimberly HallIt is the smell that draws me infirst, always – all sweet teaand ozone. Hard candy. The kind of smell that clingsto your teeth and stains your tonguered. And then the light, where the sunset reacheslike fingers through darkened limbs, or little eyesof fiery needlesall strung and lacedtogether.Strange, isn’t it, the places we return towhen we want to feelsafe. The places that returnto us.There is no land built for outcasts after all,not really – only ecological drift,only a transformationof what it means to be castout.At the edge of the thicket – that is, the edgeof the world, which is itself its own compass, a viewinto the natureof nature – the honey locust does not wiltbeneath the sun’s reproachful glare, nor wither from the rootwhen rainclouds turn their backs. The honey locustoffers shelter to the fox and shield to the shrike,and succor to the insects who hoverin anticipation of a feast.Everyone in the thicketknows what it means to spill blood. To be heldby thorns. To heed the honeyed breakdownof border and loam, its siren callinto the red and the greenand the dark. The fox and the shrike,the blowflies – the honey locust and me, proud shouldersset against the sky. All of us. Our gnarled rootsand palms like spines.Our outcast hearts.We grow what we need to survive. Art: Garden Marghi Allen

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Art: Garden Marghi Allen

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Through the Woods Touching tree trunks. moss covered, cool, passingthrough the thickets where wickedness sometimes rises like mushrooms, uncoils like new ferns,I overheard a conversation. “ Life always has that potential” said the wolf licking his paws, pausing to gnaw one bothersome hang nail.The owl who shuffled the shadows in flight clicked his beak, agreeing. “Who’s to say that abasket of food and flowers will do an old lady any good, prolonging theinevitable.” He landed flurried, snapping up a moth.The white stag scraped the bloody velvet from his antlers, churned up the raw earth. “Some folks always have to learn the hard way” he saidrolling his muscled neck, supporting the crown of bleeding horn.Clio, that canny old shapeshifting museleft the group smiling. Wearing calicos and a Donner party smile, she snatched up her red cloak, tucked her braids under her hoodand patted the wolf, whispering sweetly,“Don’t take no short cuts.”“Aye” said the woodsman sharpening his ax,nodding. “All roads lead through the woods.” K.L. Johnston Art: Sentinel Rebecca Sheller

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Art: Sentinel Rebecca Sheller

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None of Us Could Ever Millicent Borges Accardi—from a line in the poem, “Pockets” by Michael TorresIt was a timeand oh what a time it wasthe song goes when we felt there was nothing that could not be undone. The day after daysin June were a runaway car to holdonto, no matter what the speed or freeway foretold before us along the roar of the bright mechanical noise that our bodies were not our own that we could not stomach it when we heard words like Go Home or or You Don’t Belong.We are a body and skin, locking onlyto be locked up inside. Ourskin imprisoned in heat, yet necessary. Like priests working with bruxas, dowsing snakes in warm water, boiling wormwood and mint pennyroyal,kicking up smoke for banishment,healing those who had been bewitchedby the pink roe of a fish, curing those with a quickening inside.

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Baba Yaga Elena Lelia RadulescuIf you free yourselffrom Baba Yaga’s chains,put your ear to the ground and listen.If you hear the thump of her footsteps, run. Throw a mirror over your shoulder anda wide pond will form.Baba Yaga’s hot angerwill boil the water,turn the land barren,and she’ll chase you.If you feel her breathblowing on your back, throw a silver comb down:oak tree forests will spring up behind you, dark, dense,branches woven together, blackening the sky. Baba Yaga will try to cut through the woods, but the thorny shrubswill crawl, creep,tear her clothes, prick her skin, tangle her hair,hold her down.Forever after, you will put your ear to the groundand listen.

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Solstice Cottages Ages agoBefore Christmas became a winter holidayCottages deep in the forest housed witches adorned in moss and webs. TheyDivined spells to wrap their homes in glorious foliageEvery winter after the first snow. Female energyGuided this magic. For centuriesHumans and sorcerers lived in parallel worlds. Ivy and vines kept people away from these sacred haunts, but eventuallyJealousy ruins everything. Humans could notKeep away from the Solstice Cottages.Leaders of the church claimed winter for Christmas, splitting the season in twoMaking all manner of dwelling fodder for lights and tinsel, then – darkness.Nature’s creatures urged people to stay away: bats circled, birds screamed, slugsOozed, but the forest folk could not understand their language. TheyPushed past the flora, snapped twigs, smashed leavesQuenching their curiosity, Revamping the cottages in Christmas baubles. Simple fools.They cut down spruce and threw on garland, lights and colored tinselUntil the enchanters could stand no more and rose up Voicing curses; turning these revelers intoWeeds: dandelions, daisies, clover with their tiny human faces frozen in horrorXhisting with the other wild flowers that spring up duringYule. These sad, misguided souls remain in the forest today—Zombie weeds for the holidays.Margo Stutts Toombs Art: Growth Isabella CalisiWagner

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Trespasser Susan Beall Summers—For LauraYou know my motto—if the door’s open, in I go!Every cabinet openedevery drawer exploredsecret passages entered.Basement to rooftopparlor to pantryloose boards liftedlocks testeddusty windows cleared for a peep inside.No secret escapes meno subtext I won’t intuitmysteries are solvedriddles undoneuntil curiosity is satisfied.More dangerous than vampires who require an invitationwitches go where they please. Art: Overgrown John Slaby

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Inside Outside Traci DuncanIn a dimly lit room wepretend to be civilizedtaking glassyeyed turns gazing at the ceilingtangled in sheets atopa comfortable bed thatrests on clean floorsmoaning softly and trying to keep the springs from squeakingBut in the oak grovethe sun is our light andthe sky our ceilingthe breeze blankets uslying on a bed of grasson hard dirty groundwe rut, grunt, groanwhile the nearby spring flows into the creek

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Roses and Cream Gabrielle Langley—for Martha “Botch” Axley, age 16Most days, I remember you in old age, your lines and wrinklesthe road map for my own.But in this family photo, captured in a waterstained rectangle of sepia tones,you are still impish,a smirk with eyelashes,artfully rouged,flapper’s bob,kick pleats, gamine blackstockinged legs stepping towards me,a darkeyed wink in black velvet heels,a key hidden in a pocket.The family still says:She came out of the womb just to flirt with the doctor.And behind you, there in the photo, the spanking new Ford Model T, your father’spride and joy.In this moment,you already know you will sneak that car out,race full throttle, licketysplitdown the oystershelled river road,your petite self behind the wheel, grinning like a cat, blinded by the feathersof your own hat.You will wrap that Model T around a live oak at the cornerof Axley and Main,will leave the chaos—tangle of metal, bark, and Spanish moss—laughing full tilt with little more than a scratch on the famousroses and cream complexion.

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Art: West End Girls, Marie Recalde

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ElementalFlame by nature spreads.But first the coals must catch.Lovers crack like brittle limbs seared in reds; but no piercing psalm or rousing hymnsheds the body’s mask.Water by nature flows.But first the dam must break.Muddy floods, like fluid tanks,fling blows; but no golden falls or swollen banks sing the soul awake.Wind by nature spins.And she comes, and she goes, as she must.Spirited gusts, like inspired states, upend;but no thrashing seas or hissing straitsease the mind’s distrust.Earth by nature turns.And tunes her strings in turning. Unfailing spring, like a scale too high,returns;but no scattering herd or darkening skysatisfies the heart’s yearning.Brian Leibold

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KudzuLost, tangled kudzu in my night braintendrils reach out become vinestwist change directionentwine into each otherfrom one branch to the nextdelicate connections envelopedunable to separate from isolated nightmaresthick barriers to sleepa mist descends at dawncreeps into my refuge where at last Morpheus cuts a swath through the jungle.Charlene Stegman MoskalPhotography: Vanessa ZimmerPowell

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Landlocked Sarah WolbachEvery night, I let myself out the back door into the shadows, down the mossy steps past the frog pool, onto the street. I was 12 years old, neither a child nor a criminal, my long purple river not yet dammed, not yet watershed, not yet played out. Under moist ferns on the gullyside of the house crept snails I sometimes crushed with my bare feet. Prowling the neighborhood at night was my pastime. I ambled past the gully of fleabane and violets that sloped into a trickle of creek, past dark houses, unlocking doors and opening windows. Every night, I visited the albatross. It hovered over the street, and I drowsed under its colossal wings, shadow under shadow, while snails traced silvery trails on my pale skin. Thousands of miles from the ocean, I smelled the ancient sea, floated and billowed in its sweet salt. The bird was my companion—neither guide nor penance. When I burned the house down, it watched with me as fire engulfed the gully, taking also the frog pool by the front door and the tadpoles, their absent necks, their sightless eyes. Photography: Tree with Moon at Memorial Park John Milkereit

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Lord of the Thicket D. E. ZucconeMaster Thistlehair bowed and elegantly passedhis left hand through the air. I paused there.My Lord has found Thicket pointing a thin finger ringed in gold tarnished to emerald.Here is the Feasting Hall of our most ancient family,held handsomely in times before memory. Then the last of that line disappeared misadventure, madness, poison…perhaps a wandering spell.The Law of Treasure Trove bequeathed it thus to mea broken gift, not given, but taken as free. Keeping our old ways, we have feastednights, centuries…hands onplates and groaning board.Boon and generosity, goblet after goblet, screamingin a splendid havoc a copper door kept secretin this thorny glen where we now meet as your pleasing evening strollchances near our barrow.Again his finger extended, pointing to a grassy greenindention where shaded roots twisted beneathsunk sod, a portal aglimmer in the peat,torn hinges, scarsless a bolted doorthan a foxed page spotted and brown. Yet looking down in that unbound leaf I saw revealeda Faerie‘s banqueta torch smudged ceiling,chipped, broken platters, a wall halfrotten,corpses arranged as tapestries,a hand, torn, still cuffed in lace,lain on a dish like a dainty. Cool laughter was concealed in a handkerchief over his mouth of thistle teeth.View these treasures as our sign and tableauxAll pleasures are permitted thosewho feast in Thicket Hall beneath.

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Art: They Came Through the Window Alex Nash

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Mayhem Art: They Came Through the Window Alex Nash

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Reminders Lyman Grantnot dense naked gray woodsin far distancenot brown brittle fieldbroad and silent flatbut hard branch in cold windsharp and brow high.Art: One for Sorrow James Ellis

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Whisky White Children Ryan ScarianoThey think sticking to their guns is their own choice.– The Man Common sense tells us it doesn’t take 2000 years to heal a broken heart. I’ve heard it said, mostly by the children of pedants, that attribution is a messy hassle. My wheeze sounds like children playing far off down the street. I’m spying through the curtains on the sunny old and young alike, as they choice and choose around the neighborhood. Common knowledge, common decency, this suspect weal, red popsicles and table salt. The children buy a half gallon of whisky on their lunch break, and by 5pm the next day it’s half gone. The children water dead seeds and common weeds, unaware they bring a doomed star into focus. Now the children cloud and thunder. Their temperature drops, and they fall as dreadful beauty—just the write amount of witty, the right amount of whisky. I am the weedy child, tenaciously holding onto this earth like a teacher, cracked mirror at best, a scar, the son, the sun.Art: One for Sorrow James Ellis Photography: Vanessa ZimmerPowell

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Claxons Wail Ann Howellswe lift the baby, milkdrunk and sibilantwhistle softly for the dogsettle in a closet no outside wall, no glass nothing to rain down but felt hats and sweatersshould the oncoming clamor not be a train May through September ever vigilant we stare transfixed at KRLD’s screen crawl as transformers pop pop poptractor trailers soar and bank like gracklesOur next door neighbors new to the Texas areaare putting in a safe room stocking it with fooddrinking water and blankets preparing for the next tornado or Armageddon whichever comes first.Us? We just take our chancesaccustomed to sirens that send us scurrying as the tornado passes us byArt: Carp Cynthia Yatchman

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Dear Giant Tube Worms Waving from the Ocean Floor, Sarah WolbachConsider this my waving back. I am delighted that youand your companions flourish at hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, depending neitheron carbon nor light. You will survive my speciesand all creatures that once creptfrom the sea or dug into soil. Shrimp and crabs will nibble forever on your bright red plumes,and bacteria feeding on the everlasting spew of chemical soup from the vents will thrive inside you.Without mouth or gut or anus,you will feed on these multitudesfor infinite generations, wavingfrom the hallowed ocean floor.Art: Carp Cynthia Yatchman

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Salma Hayek's HowTo on Surviving Hollywood Eloísa PérezLozanoHope to become a famous actress. Find inspiration in one of the most renowned Mexican artists of all time. Turn it into your mission to tell her story. Start research and production. Take it to a company. Take it back and pitch it to another studio that represents "quality, sophistication and risk taking." Know little of the movie executive in charge except for the usual platitudes. Trust him to make your movie a reality. Have no idea what you're getting into.Adamantly reject his sexual advances. "Say no to massages. Say no to oral sex. Say no to showering with him. Say no to getting naked with a woman for him." Live in fear of what he can do to you and the story you're desperate to tell. Complete an impossible list of tasks to keep him from giving away your project to another actress because you won’t give in to his demands. Receive no acknowledgement or reward. After all of this, carry on and create.Refuse to modify the artist's face even though it's not appealing to him. Keep limping because it's accurate to her story. Take it as a compliment when he calls you a “ballbuster.” Cling to a glimmer of hope that he might one day see you as an artist with talent instead of a body with sex appeal. Crumble when he threatens to shut down the film. Think of the years you've invested, the talent that's joined you. Agree to do a sex scene with a woman to save it all.Vomit, convulse and "throw up tears" during a nervous breakdown before surrendering to a pointless but necessary performance. Breathe. Take a tranquilizer. Stop crying. Keep vomiting. Breathe. Feel the pressure suffocate you. Long to tell your set the truth. Watch helplessly as they wait for you. Breathe. Shoot the scene. Allow them to unknowingly document your artistic rape. Remember this is how you win. Emotionally empty, "distance yourself during postproduction." Don't face him when he watches the finished film. Appreciate your director who convinces him to testscreen it once in New York instead of sentencing it to a straighttovideo release. Find it hard to rejoice when it does better than 90% of all other movies. Let him rage against your earned success. Find the courage to ask for another release in LA. Be genuinely surprised when he gives it to you without a fight.Yearn to feel at peace once your life's mission is fulfilled. Acknowledge the part you played in the "box office success that no one could have predicted" and own its six Academy Award nominations, including best actress, even when he doesn't. Years later, glow with pride when he admits it was a great film. Never let him know "how much those words meant to [you]." Never let him know "how much he hurt [you]." Share your secret with the world and hope your heartbreak helps explain the why behind years of silence."Women are talking today because, in this new era, we finally can."Hayek, Salma. (2017, December 12). Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too. The New York Times.Retrieved from

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Art: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues Marie Recalde

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Jen KaretnickText This Number in the US to Find Out Which Native Land You’re Living On; Or, a Divine Flow for Land Acknowledgments*Lines in italics are from the article, “‘Land Acknowledgments Are Just Moral Exhibitionism,” by Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, November 28, 2021.On the Tequesta Indian burial mound, live oaks rabbit the edges with their toothy roots. Each cycle of rinseandrepeat hurricanes the soil, roiling it downhill to our backyard. Soon the mound will invert to a bowl.We are archaeologists at the site of muddled superiority, brushing debris from crisp shards of what once poured sincerity.A land acknowledgment is what you give when you have no intention of giving land.Each live oak tree is an ecosystem of its own.The dachshunds scent the mound nightly.They ransack biomes,nosing forlizardtails,tales.*Textto thisphone number,receive names of tribes.Live oaks network with history.What harm: To call our children natives of Miami.Seminole, Tequesta, Taino. The answer neglects to mention Miccosukee.Determined diggers, the dachshunds exhume sacred ground, absolve themselves by rolling in the tart shit iguanas drop from perches overhead.This single, plaqued preservation props up unceded land. Respect shown the easy way is just as cheap as it sounds. Bulldozed and brokendown, all other mounds cemetery the foundation of our sealevel, modern neighborhood.

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Sarah WolbachSomething Must Be Done During China’s Great Leap Forward, from 1958 to 1962, the 4Pest Campaign declared war on flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows. After the sparrows were exterminated, the locusts came, then the famine. Someone has to harvest the rice but too many are falling.face down in paddies, drowning in pestilence. Something must be done. Let’s slaughter a billion sparrows with slingshots and rocks. Let them tumble from splattered sky.Let’s silence the singing trees, bang skillets, pots, gongs, drums.Let’s spill carcasses into rivers, their ravenous mouths.Let’s stuff our children’s satchels with books and bonesArt: Untitled 1 Liam Wilson

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Belly of the Whale Just before sleep,I remember my life in Kino.Blue and green pongas turtled Upside down on the beach,Wait for fishermen to return.Children scream at gulls, danceIn colorless surf, fly aboveWaves on a whalebone swing.Up the beach, people shout.A woman is dead, slit her wrists.Blood strings across the sand. Women cross themselves. An American, they whisper.An unhappy woman.Her lover was killed last night.A shootout in Hermosillo.At dark, they lightBonfires on the beach,Waiting for the federalesTo come and take her away.Mothers call their children in.Men launch their boats.You and I dance in the shadows.Stars explode over Tiburon.Lu Lynn StreeterPhotography: Vanessa ZimmerPowell

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Home of the Brave Abena Ntosothereforeat a rest stop near exit 8A in New Jersey where an attendant will tap your window and pump your gas on the way there is someone to talk to and nothing to say just like on the PATH train, placeless Trenton makes, the world takes you all the way to Penn Station at 34th street it’s a miracle towns keep passing by and I still don’t know where to go except the Big Apple withmy phone in handunless home is the place you escape to for liberty as the statue attestsfree to be American wretched and alivedismembered place of complicated beginnings buildings long lean giant bookmark of my bildungsromanalthoughI have left this city ofglitz and Koronets bigass pizza,crawled elsewhere and come crawling back awestruck walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with my daughter days before the new yearexceptdescend into the infernalscent of scattered litter and rats shriek of the subway cars halting we stand clear closing doors holding theopportunity to resume speeding underground melange of fearless apparitions gather and shakeso lovely, checking their phonesamongthe lights, the lightsthe sad rush sings a swan song we know it, truss the blockwith our coats and carrying onbouncing past brownstones, bones of the city for the bravesincehere homecoming jars, familiaravenues and streets on the grid grant simplicity one place where you will always know where you standbecausecoming back once you’ve left is likestand clear of the closing doorsland of the freehome of the brave who braid it into their lives nostalgic ache crack broke back for a couple of days this is homeI yearn for it each time I thinkif I can just get to the place where magic happens

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bare branches break scatterbrown leaves over dry rootsdreams thirst for waterwonder why the rainmissed its stormy seasontrees too have desiresPhotography: Vanessa ZimmerPowellLaura Peña

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Carrie CarterWhat O’Keeffe Teaches The work is not abstract: it is literal.The Black Place is the strata.This is not a surprise.Chase the cottonwood.It gives me what he gives me too.This is not a surprise.Bones of place.Is the illusion the collectionor the collection the illusion?This is not a surprise.The silver spider crawls across my rib.Build the myth but abandon hope.Magic is lost when you try to control it.This is not a surprise.Art: Untitled 2 Liam Wilson

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MarvelArt: Aftermath Robin Young

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Art: Aftermath Robin Young

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L.A. MerrilLittle Thicket Parkgratitude like mine for little thickets in parks with kiddie playgrounds with red or yellow plastic slides between buildings, buildings & buildings won’t save us trees will win not in monocultures dotting developments planted in lines by highways not in Christmas lots with lights after our smokey forest fires our coughs & our cancers our floods year after year trees will win not over us through all our disasters and what will we do?Art: Christ's PaintbrushRobb Kunz

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Carol MunnWe Must Be Careful of CrowdsNot just the heft and pushof humanity in shopping bazaarsor the pulse of air traffic in the night sky blurring our view of starsNot just the elbowing of pious ones on Sundayrejecting those they deem unworthyor masses swinging baseball bats with furyat a country they intend to control.But also the fire ants swelling their mounds around backyard lighting until no ray escapesand the earlier spring migration of birds, forced by nature to leave winter grounds for the flight farther north this year.Finally, alone at my table in the realm of old sycamoreswhere summer tanagers pair in a hushand those other few who make my view their home save me, save me, each adorned as a steadfast keeper.

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Portable Altar Jen Karetnick—After Pat BrentanoThe angles of the room are calmthrough the perfect intervals oflight, dark, light—tiny dormer windows like the ears of a fox, glinting like bent plates. The enamel hemsare as sharp as shelltools, and the colors go from salt, to bone, to pee on snow.An eye snack, suspended, birds in a sackwith their long useless legs trailing out the mouth of it. The craft of oblivion:A model of the mortal, the shrike has hung by the throat, pulling the backbone up. Flying singing being,gone. It is too late to know what direction,contained in the air bound by the atmosphere.Dove. Common nighthawk. Chopped off cleanly—beyond them the sky—this cakewalk of the skeletons joins the other husks on the ground, old mouths of disgust,keening and grieving and scathing,a kind of wax spread over their skin.Wingtip hands, some of them jump straight sideways, saying, Save me, there is still time. The heart’s charge.For all my gildedmirror staring, I’m like someone from the pastallowed to come back. It seems no time since selfloathing gazedat sorrow. I checked whatever I had where we were supposed to have a soul,the desire to heal and be joined, to stand between them and pain,looked into their wild faces, listened to them sing, then tossed them backinto the air. Hibiscus in fast motion,life began to wake in me.

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A Sharon Olds ekocentoSource poems:“After Making Love in the Winter;” “Cambridge Elegy;” “Earliest Memory;” “The Flurry;” “His Stillness;” “I Go Back to May 1937;” “May 1968;” “My Son the Man;” “The Pull;” “Satan Says;” “Still Life;” “Wonder as Wander;” “Still Life in Landscape;” “The Quest;” “The Planned Child;” “The Month of June: 13½;” “Ideographs;” “His Terror;” “The Guild;” “The Enchantment;” “The Cast;” “Beyond Harm;” “Chamber Thicket;” “The Fear of Oneself;” “He Comes for the Jewish Family, 1942;” “How It Felt;” “In What Direction or When;” “Mother;” “Poem Which Talks Back to Itself;” “The Relics;” “Sleep Suite;” “Toth Farry;” “First Thanksgiving;” “Whenever I Saw You I Handed You a Bouquet, and;” “Burn Center;” “The Day They Tied Me Up;” “The Legless Fighter Pilot;” “My Father’s Diary” Art: Magnolia Cynthia Yatchman

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Art: Busted Alex Nash

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Thriving ThicketRoof aslant, chimney crumbles,wisteria entombs and oppresses.Its sweet fragrance, a Trojan Horseof deception. Cypress planks, like Atlas,bear heaven’s weight without complaint. —Time sides with the thicket.I do not tread where shod and unshodghosts have passed, their burdensimprint these shallow steps. Land,a testament to planted sorrows,harvested despair. —Thus, the thicketthrives here. By the road, a faded sign murmurs,For Sale, to passing cars. Bloodredletters drip like tears. The only offercomes from the wisteria thicket—eager to reclaim.Barry LewisArt: Busted Alex Nash

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GriefWe sat in rusted lawn chairs. A black squirrel stared at usfrom the edge of the woods—such tiny surrender.A breeze cooled us—leaves of amber, auburn, and crimson drifted to the ground.A residue lingered in the air from chainsmoked Marlboros—words failed. I left.Negative space is the area around and between the subject of an image—it’s the silence, the gutters, the margins, the space between columns.Grief and art are a process. If the person who died is the object of grief,the people around the object are taken off balance—now in the darkness, the quiet, the gap.He stared at me through the plate glass window; beckoned me to stare back.As I descended the stairs, we held each other's gaze.It was the twoyear anniversary of my brother’s death.The blackbird’s appearance surprised me. He brought me to a standstill, then he flew away.In a dream, I shared memories with a friend who had died the year before.She felt she disappointed me,but I was not disappointed—only her love remained in my heart.I awoke to the fiveyear anniversary of my brother’s death.On a spring day after the rain, my brother’s threeyearold grandsonrolled his tricycle through the mud over and over.His laughter emanated through the rustling leaves.The blackbird watched from the tree above.A whole scene unfolded in the negative space. Kathi Crawford

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Art: Frame within a Frame Alex Nash

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The Briar Patch Sandi StrombergThe sour odor—urine, tired sweat, street roughage—and then his rasping voice, “Hello there, Doll! “My body tenses, mind locking onto a twentyyearold terror. Cleveland, an October moon, the sticky hand around my neck. Please, I shiver, this is Houston, daylight, a house of God. Can the mind never crusha memory, flatten it like a soda canunder a car’s wheels and leave it behind?“I’m safe, Doll, no problem, no problem. Your door asked me to come in.”He stands there, his clothes hanging,a dirty shroud for his bones. As though seconds could be reentered, I backtoward the windows, fogged by decadesof downtown grime, sealed by layers of paint. Rushhour traffic flows through timed lights.The drifter surveys my office— the books, the dying peace lily—until his eyes reach the painting, its deep crimson fierceness. For breathless minutes, he falls silent, riveted to a canvas crisscrossed with the red slashes of a palette knife. His attention snags on row after row of thick, shaky lines thorned like barbed wire. In bold, dark letters The Briar Patchscrawls across the bottom.He whispers, “Is this a crucifixion?”The words sound faint, dredged from some unknown depth,“I once believed in God. But, but where’s the sense in it?” For a moment we stand gathered, a trinity,the homeless man, the painting, me.

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Art: "That Cloud Ain't Moved a Bit"–Nope Robin Young

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anew Terry Dawson—for Page Hedden Wilson (Westlake Hills, Texas, 2019)turning the pages of her daysas she walks, she often stopsto meet the steadygaze of a treeas she bends with an effortstiff and still foreign, sherises with a leaf, freshlyjettisoned and novel at its feetshe’ssaved dozens in books she’s longlost track of besides thesespecies unstem as quicklyas they’re mentionedshe’ll ask again and againand again; each meetingand arboreal lessonbecomes the firstthe wonder of it all provesher unrelenting wonderas she discovers each woodwith equal elationthe fact that it’s the samewood only rivers freshsap into each and everyrendezvous and who'sto say that these trees remainthe same? who's to say, when we’re not horizontally falling through such forests, what sounds and changes escape ournotice? what once an oak may well become an elm and, when flexing our fingers,we too may find they clack, snap and tumble in gusts to crawl the forest floor before they collapse as surrendering twigs

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In the Mangroves, the Aging Poet Appeals to the Gods Adele NeJameFrighten me into the present, the poet says to the gods, while standing naked and shivering in the winter wind. In the night of my days, I still want to feel it all—the joy, even the suffering, even ifthe lost ones mock me, laughing.I am not retreating, he says, into the lure of the burning Moorea sunlight, though it blazed across my body when I was young diving into the Sea of the Moon every day. The way it shot through the shallows! Opunohu Bay—how the sun made the colors of the coral unbearably blue and iridescent purple. In those days, I swam deeper below the glassy surface, and still deeper, though my lover called and called after me—singing me back up into the salt air, our canoe rolling with the current when the wind came up— blowing hardthrough the channel, the mountain in front of us, a sharp tooth against the huge bright sky.It all lulled me into the ether of those tropical nights, torchlights and my lover’s hands like night birds circling, then hovering,like a fish swimming around me in the watery air.What was I to do? Don’t you see— everyone there became a lotus flower,it was a world of lotus flowers and tiare— bees droning in the heat, collecting honey. A talent for indolence rises up in you, the fragrance intoxicates you so that you also become intoxicating. So that in this world of fiction all you think about, all you feel is heat, the sweetness of the honey in your mouth.No, he says, finally. I am lying.I am longing to get it all backthe abundance of those days, the fierce intensity and its counterpoint, indolence. I want to feel my feral heart again,that breathlessness every moment. I want—But growing impatient, the gods cut him off: We are tired of your whining—what about all the rubble you left behind, the lies, the squandering, the wives and the lovers, all that?What can you offer about that in your defense?Stunned, the words no longer spill from his mouth. His silence convicts him.So the gods say finally, we have considered your words and find them wanting—Then all at once a great wind rushed up around him, heavingthe mangroves back and forth, but he knew this was no night song,no prelude to a reprieve from the cold.It was the onslaught of quietude—even the squawking gulls circling above him were hushed, and he knew then that this terrible silence was the irreversible verdict of the gods— or perhaps out of that sudden andterrifying darkness would come the beginning of something redemptive, something more sacred than he had ever known.

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Art: Wild Holli May Thomas

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How We Cling to One Another Running late, on the way to get a massagemy attention drawn down toward the walkway where a Monarch butterfly’s wing kept time to the earth’s heartbeat, like a metronome clicking, clacking back and forthgoing nowhere. Stopped in my forward motion, I squatted, reached down placing my index finger where it could be latched onto by her four strong back legs and clung like a baby’s lips to its mother’s tit. The massage therapist, a giant of a man, a former Navy Seal a former killer turned Buddhist healer teacher handed me a robe to cover my nakedness before I covered myself in a soft sheet of cotton as I waited for his arrival. The butterfly still clung to my index finger and would not be put off onto one of the many altars that shared the room as bells softlyrang, as chants of far away monks filled the air. The monarchclung as I climbed under the sheet and waited for the gentle touch of fingers once used to pull triggers, set off bombs and poke out eyes. There are all kinds of acts of faith and trust. Healing is reciprocal as wethree, a broken Monarch, a broken killer, a broken woman became a trinitycapable of regeneration …. Jere Pfister

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whose hands are these? i haven’t got a clue Ariana BrazierI just finished watching Heartstopper. With each episode, an increasing amount of jealousy pulled at the edges of my existence. Many reasons are still being revealed.All I know is that I want that twogayboys type of love. Broad shoulders, tough hands, hard chests, rough play. I want to wrestle until someone is gripped up and has lost to the other—lost in the other—flattened beneath the other. They hug each other with one arm over the other’s shoulder, and one arm under the other’s armpit, chests flat against the other like closed covers of an empty book. Hugs that mark a single X across two otherwise separate bodies. Hugs seem safer this way—like we have reached our destination, and now we are locked in.I don’t know, God. I have not felt so seen by a love, and so desirous of that same love as I have witnessing these boys. So. Here I am again. Confessing to myself and this paper: I want to be one of the boys. A decidedly gay boy though. Can I even say this?—I like that my war cry has always been a bluepurple echo of girl power.I did not cry as I watched them embrace each other. But I wanted to cry. Not because their love is not mine, but maybe because it is exactly.I felt silly. Internally. I wanted to be a sad boy crying on my bedroom floor, just a slight distance from my boyfriend. I have been actually. Not my floor but theirs. I wanted to be consumed by a person, and lost in a minute, where tears did not weaken my masculinity but reflected it because another crying boy was my window. My tears over a difficult promise reluctantly made, juxtaposed with the assertive concern of my gentle lover boy.It has been heavy work being a girl. Somebody’s niece. Somebody’s girlfriend. Always somebody’s expectation. But, what are the expectations for gay boys? Bois anyway?Is this grief creeping in? Grief over heartbreak or late stage noticing? There has always been a forthcoming tension. Anticipation of my disappointing somebody. And for me—delayed gratification without the gratification. Late arrival. I hate being late.I do not know if I ever wanted to be a boy. That is, until I saw these two boys in love. I realized that it wasn’t just the love—the love itself—but the way boy meets boy. So embodied.And yet, it is not even about their bodies. Because I love my body. It’s the gentle without the dainty. There are no frills. None of that lace I have always hated. Friction works in their favor. Nothing fragile about the way they hold each other. There is no breaking point to be wary of—only a silent recognition of a multivalent strength. This is what we assume of men.No one is scared of being a little bitch because they are not bitches.They both wear what is expected of them. Private and public aesthetic alignment. No one will be reimagining or photoshopping them at their repasts.“We’re boyfriends.”

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It sounds so unbounded. Cute. Shameless. I know all boys aren’t like this, and love between two boys probably is not like this either. Not often enough at least.But me—a boi—and another boi. I cherish the memories that gave these feelings a voice and marvel at the vision of what I am already becoming.Sounds like Cupid has finally seen the queer in me, and we are still marveling at what we saw.Art: From the Ground UpHolli May Thomas

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Albuquerque’s Bosque, Morning Mercy, David says, remarking on the biting winter wind, the falling leaves, the early dark. Mercy burcups, he used to say, a poke at the rubes from whence he came. A mercy others tolerate his latest verbal tic—Mercy, me!—this prayer he scatters without thinking. Merci—from Old French by way of Latin, derivative of mercēs—wages—given hereafter for goodness in this life. Don’t we all want mercy?—gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath—whispered mercies of cottonwood leaves crinkled by cold, river’s muddied mercy wending south to El Paso, southeast to the Gulf. Another prayer murmured by the merciless border there—de misericordia de nuestro Dios—New Testament’s promise of mercy in the shadow of death. Beside the waters here, shadowed by forgiving skies, David hums along with Marvin. Where did all the blue skies go? A bow to the towering Sandias. Gratitude for the gift of breath. Mercy, David whispers, knowing the end is near. Mercy.David Meischen

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To A Young Poet Lyman GrantI don’t want to hear how your fatherwas a knot of bark, a broken trunk,a clutch of snakes, a creek slatheredin muck. So many men I’ve knownached in the loneliness of the hunt,alone, weaponless, searching for onething to kill. It’s the journey we beginwhen the steep of pretending strainsthe sinews of our slackened hope.I have cursed the same household gods,broken the bowl of affection, rippedthe shawl once draped on innocentshoulders. Instead, I beg you, praythat these will be the darkest woodsyou’ll ever know. I promise the long storm ends and the stream unclutters. Golden rod will soon ignite your morning hike. The ghost knows you won’t be looking back.Art: Back to Nature John SlabyDavid Meischen

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FiveSense Poem Viola LeeI ask my students to write a fivesense poem, to go deeper and deeper, and perhaps this means to go where it is darker. Perhaps to enter the wooded, dark thicket but make it sing and make it live, to go into the streets or into the alleyways, and deeper, into the compost and into the dirt. I ask my students to write a fivesense poem, to go deeper, way into the forest of our wanting, where our bodies would like to be, where our bodies would go to feel free, carefree, and there is joy in it, love in it, happiness in it, and isn’t this the best gift to give, freedom, for even in grief we are free, even when there is deforestation, a seedling appears. I ask my students to write a fivesense poem, full of breath, full of light, full of green and night. I ask my students to write a fivesense poem: to taste the sweet mulberries in the dark of June, with a trail to follow and a forest to house us, and late night flowers, red, full of vibrance and magic. Or to feel the pine needles inside palms of hands, to smell apple in the air, to listen in, listen in, to the laughter of my students as they uplift each other, uplifting this school, uplifting this neighborhood, uplifting this city and this skyline, uplifting, uplifting all full of wonder, all full of this dark green earth. Art: Flower Power Marghi Allen

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Makers' Corner

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Maha Ahmed, Poetry JudgeMeditation for Lack of EmergencyI still like difficulty. When asked about my work,I lie. Can you die from humiliation? (Most things I do just to prove I can.)My mother doesn’t dream of me. I’m spilled milk, the blunt of a spoon.Even my softly curled demons are ashamed to claim me, body buzzingfrom lack of dance. I found God (again) recently, desperate as a pile of sand.The Prophet (PBUH) was an ordinary man spinning ideas againstthe dough of a cave. A reminder to ask better questions. Most truthsbend loose at the nail; beauty fastens when we look away.This house is yellowing from the inside, and I have fooled myself again.I tried to listen. (I’m here, aren’t I?) I welcomed like a window:logging the unremarkable is actually good, is actually love.Published in The Poetry Project, Issue 17.Visit Maha's page at The Poetry Project:recluse/issue17/mahaahmed

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Frogs Don’t Sing RedLes grenouilles ne chantent pas rouge— Max ErnstI can’t find amphibiansin the bonelike fiberstwisted on red canvas in a redroom, but I can hear their songacross a lazy pond, a jasminescentedmemory, waiting for the breezeto play its melody through stilleaves. A quiet, punctuated by greenthrobbing throats andfireflies, the cries of children’shide and seek, while I nestle,a silkworm spinning threadsunder the mulberry treeon the nightdamp ground. “If I were a window,” Sandi Stromberg writes, “I could frame a world of possibilities.” In Frogs Don’t Sing Red, she does just that, offering us a story of a restless life in beautiful, often deeply moving poems. Here, she meditates on the disappointments of parents, the complex joys of motherhood, and the sorrows and highs of marriage. Or she considers the strangeness of home and travel, the vagaries of memory and desire, “the owl of death hovering.” United by voice, clarity, and intelligence, Stromberg’s poems do what I love most in poetry: they create a sense of a complex speaker I want to listen to, someone I want to know. —Kevin Prufer, author of nine poetry collections, including How He Loved Them. CoCurator, The Unsung Masters Series. Sandi Stromberg, Prose JudgePublished by: Kelsay BooksFrogs Don't Sing RedAvailable for Purchase:stromberg_sandi@yahoo.comAmazonA *A $15.00 purchase directly from Sandi includes postage

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Yolanda Movsessian, Art Judge Amidst All Things Broken First appears in Synkronicity, Vol. 5, no. 3, August 2023

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Kelly Ann Ellis, Editor Sojourn with StonesMy friend Laura, the witch, wants fresh dirt from a graveyardfor solstice rites. Since no fence separates me from the old familycemetery behind my house, she ventures in, Tupperware in hand,wielding a serving spoon to shovel the cold loam. I let her go alone.I have visited them already, stone sentinels shrouded soft with moss,names and years nearly obscured, path forgot. Families of headstones,clusters of four or three, circa 1920s, folks born in the 1850s, some later,who lived—but how? Churchgoers? Thieves? Did they cheat? They didn’tcheat death. How many were ready to go when they went?The woods tangle with brambles, poison ivy. Impenetrable, usually,but winter has strafed the intervening leaves and brush. Laura can followmy footprints, which froze with the recent cold. I watch her feel her way.The earth is impressionable. The day, late. But always we find our way outof the woods, until the day we don’t. I don’t often ponder the dead but I ammarginally aware that they are there. I am here. Until I’m not. I face the forestfrom my kitchen each day, indulge in my morning ritual. To hell with cholesterol,I cream my coffee with marzipan and shadow. Find it especially tasty, being alive.Take care to position my bed feet toward the garden not the graves. Good feng shui,just in case. I am, after all, a stone’s throw away.The Hungry Ghost Diner is available at Barnes & Noble Amazon Published by: Lamar University Presss

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Tina Cardona, Consultant EditorMother BayouI am overcome by the pelican’s swoop and plunge,its beak a scoop for the gar so they fit like lovers.An encore in the heron’s eye that meditateson the light in the water but impales the shadowthat arches for moon. A petit mort on the bayou.I am overcome by the bayou that winds serpentinethrough city muck. Despite the concrete overpass,Styrofoam, plastic and beer cans that pile in her grooves, thecarcasses of cars and bodies dragged onto her clay thighs,she survives.I am overcome by the hurricanes that shove salt water throughher veins, the poison cloud that rained an oily mantleso fish choked belly up in the sun. I am overcomeby the unnatural freeze that littered her banks with death –doves, squirrels, turtles, more fish—bloated and the stenchand the silence that lasted for weeks.I am still overcome by her rebirth, her fragrance—pepperweed, fleabane, buttercup, and blackeyedsusan crowdprairie grass, calabasa leaves. I shoo the midge cloud nearmy cheek and peel off the bur vines that wrap over my sneakersscratching my shins. I stink with mosquito spray and yetI am overcome. Her dance pushes the light forward.

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And Then She DancedDriftwoodSo many days pass like watertraveling through sand,like seashells disintegratinginto shore—and this driftwoodI amnew daily with sun, salt,moss, barnacles.Time bathes me into texture.People photograph my striations.I am put on a shelf,made into a chair.If you touch me,I am your history.First appears in Texas Poetry Calendar, 2015 Vanessa ZimmerPowell, Page Designer

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Makers' BiosMaha Ahmed is an English Literature & Creative Writing PhD candidate at the University of Houston. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Grist, The Adroit Journal, 580 Split, Rusted Radishes, The Recluse, and elsewhere. Her critical and creative work explores the ArabAmerican diaspora, late capitalism, and the avantgarde. She edits poetry for Rusted Radishes.Sandi Stromberg’s fulllength collection, Frogs Don't Sing Red, was published by Kelsay Books in April 2023 and includes several works nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Most recently, her poetry has appeared in Panoply, San Pedro River Review, equinox, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Sappho's Torque, MockingHeart Review, Woodlands, The Ekphrastic Review, Chaos Dive Reunion, and Unknotting the Line: The Poetry in Prose. She is an editor at The Ekphrastic Review. Her poetry, translated into Dutch, can be found at Brabant Cultureel.Yolanda Movsessian is an Armenian born in Iran who lives in Houston, Tx. She spends her free time writing, drawing, playing with her camera and plotting ways to steal her daughter’s beautiful velveteen cat, Echo. Yolanda was the 2021 art editor of table//FEAST literary magazine. Her writing, art, and photography have been featured in various publications such as Mississippi Review, Synkroniciti, Defunkt, and Equinox Magazines. Her last two video poem collaborations with filmmaker Mitchell Collins have won Judges' first prize at the ReelPoetry Festival 2022, the Audience Award at ReelPoetry Festival 2023 and acceptance into Aurora Picture Show’s Extremely Shorts Festival 2023.Kelly Ann Ellis holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Houston where she also taughtfor years. A member of the critique group Poets in the Loop, she is the cofounder of hotpoet, Inc. and themanaging editor of Equinox. Her poetry, which has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, wasfeatured in the REELpoetry festival for three consecutive years and showcased in the HoustonFringe Festival in 2019. Her fiction placed 2nd in The Short Story Show's 2020 contest and was rereleased in a “bestof” podcast in 2021. She was twice nominated for a Pushcart prize in 2020, and herpoetry collection, The Hungry Ghost Diner, was published by Lamar University Literary Press.Tina Cardona believes in the generative power of poetry to heal. As a poet, clinical social worker, and yoga teacher, she spends her days obsessing on how to combine creativity, health, movement, and expansive states of mind in order to help people achieve satisfaction and joy in living. Besides publishing her work and performing locally, Tina has also cohosted multiple events including hotpoet's’ now infamous Winter Solstice gathering. On the weekends, Tina can be found caring for her many dogs and one cat as well as hatching ideas over cocktails with hotpoet’s founder Kelly Ellis.Vanessa ZimmerPowell is a speechlanguage pathologist, photographer, filmmaker, and poet. She holds a BA in English literature and an MA in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She worked as a graphic designer in the 1990s. Her poetry has aired on the radio, has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, and she has received awards and honors for her work. Her cinepoems have been shown at ReelPoetry and Gulf Coast Film Festivals. She was a 2023 finalist for her onewoman videopoem production of Dislocation at the 2023 ReelPoetry festival. Her chapbook, Woman Looks into an Eye is published by Dancing Girl Press.

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Makers' Bios