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2022 Editors

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Equinox In Our Backyard This literary journal is a compilation of the creative works of writers and artists included in it Copyright 2022 by hotpoet Inc and the individual writers and artists All rights reserved ISBN 978 1 7367851 1 9 Editor Madeleine Castator Kelly Ann Ellis Journal design by Madeleine Castator Cover design by Madeleine Castator Additional artistic enhancements obtained from Canva and Pexels Published online in March 2022 Publisher hotpoet Inc 6715 Wildwood Way Houston TX 77023 4023

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Refraction Madeleine Castator

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Poetry D E Zuccone Sandi Stromberg Jennifer Ettelson Abigail Leigh Lawrence Bridges Sara Miller Hanner Cindy Huyser Elina Petrova Joe Blanda RC deWinter David Holper Carol Louise Munn Elina Petrova Hugh Findlay Terry Jude Miller Nina Bonita Ann Howells Elizabeth Kropf David Fahl Susan Summers Adele NeJame Carrie Kornacki Kathleen Cook Saba Husain Alexandra Millatmal Renee Williams Ryan Scariano Charlene Moskal R B Simon Kathleen Johnston Grace Massey Saba Husain Cristina Legarda Deborah Gorlin David Meischen Gabby Gilliam Deborah Gorlin Alex Huynh Tina Carlson Contents Backyards in the Land of Nod After a Day s Sail Questions of a Backyard Safety in Sorrow NO MOMENTS Fractured Retinology Empty Nest Bird Party in the Backyard the natural order of things Lady Lazarus Roosters Quiet Springs Husbandry potted paradise There Were No Bones in My Backyard Second Thoughts Rolling Oaks Drive Thousand Oaks Aztec Saxophone South Georgia Mud Pie Reunion Unopened Letter IMBY Q and A Texas Tag Learning to Drive Nicholas Moves In Ruby Crowned Kinglet Like Bats at Sunset Clear Cut The End of Lizard Season Woman in a Borrowed Garden Border Maze ANGEL ISLAND SAN FRANCISCO BAY White Aqualungs Cotton Harvest 1949 Citizen s Arrest For the Birds Sweet Maple Ghost Town on Iris Avenue 11 13 14 17 18 19 20 21 23 25 26 28 29 31 32 35 36 40 41 42 43 46 47 49 51 52 56 57 59 60 61 64 67 69 70 72 73 75 76

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Art Vanessa Zimmer Powell Vanessa Zimmer Powell Christa Pandey Elina Petrova Kathleen Johnston Christine Williams Holli May Thomas Christa Pandey Yolanda Movsessian Nancy Fierstien Elina Petrova Vanessa Zimmer Powell Yolanda Movsessian Christine Williams Kathleen Johnston Nancy Fierstien Prose Kumari de Silva Gail Plunkett Kumari de Silva John Milkereit Varsha Saraiya Shah Tony Burnett Almost Gone Behind the Big House Loquat Cardinal Optimism Snake Skin Indwelling Peach Blossoms Dandelion Dream Night Sky Drama Egret Buzzards on the Roof Antiquate Big Top Canna Marley Dreamland DS Art Play 9 10 15 22 24 27 33 45 48 50 55 58 62 65 68 71 Without a Dog The Seedling Train of Thoughts Grandmother s Backyard Loropetalum Burn Ban 12 16 34 39 54 66 An Extra Heart Lighthouse No One You d Ever Notice excerpt Coasting Snapshot 79 81 83 85 86 Makers Corner Justin Jannise Craig Butterworth Catherine Vance Kelly Ann Ellis Tina Cardona

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Contest Winners Judge Category Justin Jannise Craig Butterworth Catherine Vance Poetry Art Prose Winner Saba Husain Texas Tag Christine Williams Big Top Kumari de Silva Train of Thoughts Honorable Mentions Carol Louise Munn Rooster John Milkereit Grandmother s Backyard Yolanda Movsessian Antiquate

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Letter from the Editor Time flies It has been fantastic to once again read and curate so many talented works into our second volume of Equinox In Our Backyard drew so many fantastic interpretations and perspectives which we are so excited to showcase A short note Following feedback from our first volume we have formatted this volume as single pages that will be easier for readers to print As always thanks are in order Thank you to our contest judges Justin Jannise Craig Butterworth and Catherine Vance Thank you to all our authors and artists for their creativity artistry and especially for their prompt correspondence for edits and clarifications Thank you to all who submitted we appreciated reading your work and hope you will submit to us again Thanks to all the readers who have shared their enthusiasm for our second volume through donations and spreading the word This project would not be possible without your help and support Thank you for stopping by our backyard Springing forward Madeleine Castator

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Almost Gone Vanessa Zimmer Powell

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Behind the Big House Vanessa Zimmer Powell Remnants of a slave cabin still standing in Lincoln County Tennessee

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Backyards in the Land of Nod D E Zuccone I have as any American might dream one backyard which is always mine and never mine Once my grandparent s aspiration behind a Prairie Style cottage built in 1931 on Raven St Kentucky Blue Grass lined in trimmed thorny privet with a Lilac in the corner by the garage Saturday afternoons Grampa cut the grass in steady hiss and click pushing a reel lawn mower Cinder brick with climbing ivy waxed oak floors a mortgage at the end of the handmade age On summer evenings they sat on chaise lounges looked at The Vindicator listened to a baseball game on the radio and admired the lawn Verdant no worn spots crab grass or pools of chinchbugs an Eden Gramma weeded as religion as she did housework alone hunched in penance Paradise travels by generations trying to disguise what they learned blowing up the baby pool the grass won t grass back or summer afternoons they failed trying to pull out the hedge or tear the ivy off again Old Heaven s just a mortgage payment away the realtor sign s out front When their children built they laid stone paths in the grass bolted clotheslines to neighbor s trees and hung green jealousy out to flap There s no reason to believe every yard could be planted to grow affection In dreams their cut grass is edged by a charcoal fire on the patio searing meat sweet smoke drifting when the kids come back We all want lawns rooted in what s left of the Land of Nod

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Without a Dog Kumari de Silva In the house where I grew up from age six to sixteen there wasn t any backyard just what my mother called a patio which was a paved outdoor area attached to the back of the house While it was enclosed like a tiny courtyard it wasn t covered and therefore not grand enough to be a veranda From that patio I could see the behind the house of other people s apartments a parking lot and just the corner of the yard that was part of the AkibaSchechter Jewish Day School I wished I had a grass lawn A place to tumble and run A dog Our immigrant family lived urban as urban as urban could be My mother dug in with enthusiasm getting a small hibachi barbecue plus several plastic wading pools she filled with potting soil for flowers and stuff She grew radishes tomatoes and plants with heart shaped flowers which might have been Lamprocapnos spectabilis Asian bleeding heart but I can t be sure Before the flowers fully bloomed they looked just like tiny puffy pink and white droplets I could hardly resist squeezing them which of course she did not like because the thing can t come to its final fruition if some little kid like me is choking it on the vine Like I said what I really wanted was a dog This is better she assured me putting my tricycle outside knowing she could leave me there without worrying about where I was I screwed around for a while before getting consumed again with squashing the pulpy burgeoning protoflowers When I was tired of that I sprayed a puff of foamy Pledge over a large insect Days later I saw the fragile exoskeleton completely preserved after the foam had flaked off and blown away The insect was definitely dead yet entirely intact Had I done that To a tiny helpless being I shivered inside at the thought Oh my gosh no wonder my parents didn t want me to have a dog I avoided the patio for several days or maybe weeks time is tricky when you re small By the time I returned my mother s flowers were out in full force pink white and red Startlingly similar to a burst of valentines they were now hearts not drooping pendants What s a matter my mother teased Are you too big for the tricycle Not long after that the whole family took a walk to the bike shop around the corner My parents bought a large bike with a banana seat for my oldest brother and a pair of matching Schwinns for my other brother and me We were so happy riding back to the house my parents walking behind us hand in hand No dog though And we were no longer awkward We were thrilled Even without a backyard we were a real American family

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After a Day s Sail Sandi Stromberg That was the year my ring finger twisted in the shackle of my marriage Sunday afternoon s parade of sailboats single filed into the marina My husband motoring too fast I jumped onto the pier the last hope between dock and nine ton boat When the engine stilled water softly lapped the wooden planks and I tore my finger loose from between boat and stanchion My sons shocked and helpless followed their father s order Take care of your mom Sea gulls swooped above mewing while my husband closed up the boat Waves beat at the hull making it shiver as blood gushed down my hand Overhead the rigging chimed and clanked against the mast And now I ask why after a village doctor stitched the fingertip back on I went home and cooked dinner for my family When was it I lost my mooring

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Questions in a Backyard Jennifer Ettelson An upper and lower staff of lines run across the backyard A symphony of singing trees plays upon the sky Black birds interrupt asking and forgetting Why does everything have to die My white dog with blue eyes eats poop on the patio in the backyard The vet says I can prevent this find the supplement for what s missing from his diet Does freedom come in powder form Before a freeze a woman covers every beautiful thing she cannot bear to lose again her backyard like a house in mourning What am I living for My son and his friend painted graffiti on the garage about a video game they don t play anymore Changed by age two boys laughing with spray paint have moved on a kind of death like the two grapefruit trees in the backyard that gave thousands of juicy yellow fruit and died in a freeze The place they grew is empty What am I waiting for My husband strings lights buys a fire pit sits alone by the blazing fire Come out he says Sit with me in the backyard What are you waiting for A feather like a small downy envelope floats across the backyard over the fence and keeps going somewhere I can almost feel the feather held together by the line of spine each thread a question quivering

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Loquat Christa Pandey

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The Seedling Gail Plunkett Like trees we all begin as seedlings tiny creatures with very little foliage With a little luck enough of what we need comes our way so that we can make it to maturity I was lucky I had a father who knew what to give me his little seedling There were a lot of things he didn t know much about but it seemed to me like he knew just about all there is to know about taking care of plants and young girls I remember one day fifty four years ago when I was twelve just him and me in our back yard strolling among his flower beds and vegetable patches and the trees The pecan the oak the bois d arc pronounced bodark the persimmon the banana the spruce and the mimosa were all magnificently represented We were discussing mowing strategies when one of us noticed a pecan seedling standing a few inches above the grass We squatted down beside it together to admire its gumption and we decided it deserved every chance to make a go of it No mower blades for this one We pulled up the grass closest to it and gave it some shade and some water I m sure he set a fertilizing schedule for it from which he never wavered That was the kind of gardener and father he was We visited it often and let it know how much we cared It amazed me how fast it grew I was in high school by the time it was fifteen or twenty feet tall still living at home and we had to nurse it through a tent worm infestation The caterpillars of certain moths spin huge tentshaped communal webs in trees and can defoliate forest fruit and ornamental trees Encyclopedia Britannica As I said my father knew plenty about plants and the only cure he knew was to torch the webs caterpillars and all It was an ugly business but our loyalty to the tree never wavered We were as careful as we could be but leaves shriveled and floated away as paper thin embers and branches and limbs were scorched and blackened by the flames We both believed the tree understood that we had to hurt it to save it that the wounds from the fire would heal and quickly but if the moths were allowed to establish their cycle in her heavily defoliating her every summer she would likely last only three or four more years The first time I visited home after moving away for my first Big Adventure my father and I went straight to the backyard to stand in her shade and reminisce the three of us about our wonderful lives so far and to ponder what was yet to come It s been over thirty years since I ve seen her and six years since my father passed It seems like only this morning that we spotted her so spindly with only three or four leaves So apparently insignificant But I can t think of anything that did more to connect my father and me heart to heart

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Safety in Sorrow Abigail Leigh I I have was walked in the commutable dark of my back yard unaware all I am my life fenced in

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NO MOMENTS Lawrence Bridges The wonder of men from men young legs running after older ones into caves children looking out doors from a school room taking stock after losing one in a dream My iced dream being inside a room inside a literature mocks me from a backyard filled with schedules It s as if I never existed lost the battle to another sperm knocked at the glass door of today in the only language I know trying to raise the attention of an old man surrounded by unfinished manuscripts abandoned by daughters crying silently I kick and scratch at parts in the yard and build a motley marker If no one passes it s true no moments have I ever lived

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Fractured Sara Miller Hanner The Louisiana influence of clay pink salt and things in threes has shed herself of her descendants and accepted the stone in her mouth Silence obedience and allegiance pledged to her maniacal beau who governs his imaginary kingdom with fear and a gun in each room Been in his presence four times and disagreed with his racial slurs and perception of being The woman who encouraged me to play in the sky no longer welcomes her granddaughter inside Don t disrupt a lazy afternoon with opinions and information Hold your tongue and be a lady Knees buckle under with disbelief as she cozies up next to hate and fury Green eyes latch the gate Turn away with annoyance embarrassed that I chose equality over etiquette

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Retinology Cindy Huyser And then I could see as if for the first time staring at the moving light and the shutter that blazed its gaze across my eye the target blue then green then red then green again My eye moving with the light and technician s instructions the technician whose hand had remained on the back of my head frame after frame my head the suggestion of a nodding sunflower on a withering stalk or so it seemed until after several exposures I asked that the hand be removed And the hand was removed slow bitter grass smoldering on my tongue And the technician moved a little and said to support your head and I thought of how infants at two months begin to hold up the weight of their own blossoms and I saw petals no longer the white of an egg but of bone or rot a bleached color color of too much sun cataract cloudy a waterfall through which less and less is seen silt milking the depths of a pond bottomed thick with decaying leaves

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Empty Nest Elina Petrova Truth is the sum of deeds that define you a nurse a nurturer a survivalist or a bird watcher the last the least and it s me This quarantine Lent cardinals visited us I fed them seeds and apples gave them names A blushed ashy girl Ginger greeted me every morning I tended my rosebuds Then Fred appeared in brilliant red concert attire Tap danced on the wire whistled sang secret secret juggled his great recession loot Here honey something green passed from beak to beak then another twig for their nest life is gay like flying down to Rio I read The Plague and April s New Yorker a foot from the nest my birds built in a juniper but I missed the hatching Watching them teach their fledging to fly above a shed I felt happy resigned to another petite loss of permanence I stopped again and again by the empty nest until I heard secret secret above from the musical stave of telephone wires and saw two dancers in the familiar formal red

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Cardinal Elina Petrova

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Bird Party in the Backyard Joe Blanda Cats not invited unless you behave yourselves and bring seed for the feeder In our friendly little backyard we try really hard to get along with everyone in the hood Besides the weather s nice and after those noisy cat fights the past several nights all those flaps and scraps with feathers flying isn t it time we settled this for good Why not retract those claws and lick your paws So we can gather together the furred and the feathered the bright sun high overhead and party like neighbors should

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Optimism Kathleen Johnston

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the natural order of things RC deWinter the cat killed a bird today i found him gnawing it in the back yard it s been a good while since he s caught anything at least anything i m aware of he s not young and moves more slowly now and spends a lot more time snoozing in the sun than roistering about the neighborhood he used to bring me his victims always depositing them somewhere i d be sure to find them his favorite place to show off his trophies was on the rag rug next to the bed but i can t remember the last time i got up and placed a foot squarely on something dead and mangled some of you will surely tsk tsk but i was glad to see he hasn t lost his touch completely cats are born killers and i want him to be what he is meant to be for as long as possible i m an old cat myself i too move more slowly though i think that has more to do with my deliberate efforts not to be careless and clumsy than with age born not a killer but a lover perhaps i ll yet snare one more heart and have another chance to be what i am meant to be before we curl up the cat and i for the final snooze

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Lady Lazarus David Holper One Easter we spirited home five chicks for our children who watched with wonder as the buttery flufflings shivered and waddled in their tiny palms Delight wore thin as they fitted themselves into hens No longer would anyone hold them to their faces and mmmm with delight They became at best a chore a mess living in a ramshackle henhouse I built in the garden A season passed A red hen succumbed to something cancer perhaps The others wouldn t go near her as if death s calling card were somehow sticky That fall someone forgot to close the henhouse and the runt of the litter was fetched off by a stealthy raccoon in an uncertain hour No one knew what happened to the third one one day there she was pecking at the bugs in the compost pile the next her absence a question Number four had a fight with a tabby cat who sank his claws in her neck a wound which felled her three days later Like a fairytale the fifth somehow survived One evening when I shut her in I didn t bother looking My wife laughed at me in the morning She spent the night with the black and white cat from across the street No worse for wear she lived another season only to be carried off by a raccoon But how she shrieked as if to bring forth the dead and us When we rushed out the raccoon dropped her and like Lady Lazarus she strutted back to us as if death had never known her name Now she alone owns the yard the empress of all she surveys and we so certain we know how death awaits us all stand in the shadow of her long lived luck

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Snake Skin Christine Williams

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Roosters Carol Louise Munn Nothing helps a collard Not even Mama Lester s rolls covered in flour dust the green juice soaking soft edges of browned dough As the sun went down I kicked the screen door open to be with my people birds hens roosters bugs I understood the roosters we dreamed out of the same eye Roosters could get anything they wanted For five years I wanted to go home but when my father pulled into the gravel drive as the orange sun deepened to purple he held my older sister s hand to take her not me again I was too much When Mama Lester s daughter married that summer she asked me to be her flower girl The bride chose me In my organza dress flowers in my hair I believed my father would hold out his hands catch my eye pick me up in his arms and whisper come home

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Quiet Spring Elina Petrova i My cheek on your palm Between us a tuxedo cat is kneading kneading The white of her coat commingles with the duvet A neighbor s star jasmine and the bassline of a quincea era waft into our quiet blue room The twelfth spring in Texas with you ii The March freeze Last night you covered roses with 1000thread count sheets from Egypt The only branches we lost were shoots on top broken under the weight red leaves that held the buds iii Half an hour before sunset young canna leaves are lit to blinding ecstasy yet there is more when a redbird returns to peck seeds between them then ascends to the fifth octave of telephone wires and trills Curie curie curie till his mantra and scents of grass fill the pitcher of my emptiness

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iv And the sky tore a grey curtain the hole shaped into a blue heart for a moment Then plasmic heroes in graphite mantles strode across it ceremonially till the show was over rested in the dark with occasional airplane sparks as you walked with your school friend after the year of losses and vain quarantines I felt joy over what you might ve spoken of with him what you might ve drunk with him on a windy patio with the fireplace where we used to have Manhattans and over how your blue heart has been opening after this year I don t need to be there We share the firelit sky

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Husbandry Hugh Findlay For my friend Wendell Berry who does not know me Cutting down the young Elder because it grew where it did not belong I executed the task adroitly a surgical chop and done It was just a sprigly thing too young to resist or make much complaint Flouncing down like a pillow resolute on the pine straw bed of my yard How sad and lovely I thought to myself I kill and keep on breathing

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potted paradise Terry Jude Miller potted paradise no room for a garden I make do with my small apartment terrace and assortment of potted plants long legged pathos makes it green noise across the banister wants to hug everything like a lonely aunt the palm in the fat belly planter I bought in Mexico doesn t mind the cramped quarters stretches his fronds as though yawning milkweed never disappoints I cut it back and it keeps coming keeps denying efforts to halt its blooming all spring and summer raising its blood and yellow blossoms calling to the monarchs come and take me

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Indwelling Holli May Thomas

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Train of Thoughts Kumari de Silva That morning I couldn t quite wake up I d been dreaming of Union Station in downtown Chicago Myself in the train car My mom waving to me from the platform My short mother in her stylish red velvet coat circa 1978 She d bought me a cheeseburger for lunch The sensation of the warm sack lingered on my lap I was heading south to Macomb Illinois My mom s been dead for over thirty five years I don t dream of her often Sprawling in bed soft sounds of puttering echo from the other room Who is walking barefoot across a tile floor I stand up Mom I ask tentatively I m not afraid I m curious I step into the hallway I walk past the second bedroom Seated on the guest bed facing the wall is my mother My mind stumbles The distance of her death reminds me of my loss Yet here she is inexplicably sitting on the edge of my bed My mom died three months after I turned 20 And Strangely here she is sitting calmly Serene What are you doing I ask hoping she will turn around I hesitate for no known reason to fully enter that room Just sitting she replies This is the most obvious thing in the world She is wearing a bone colored top and matching pants Her wardrobe has come with her from 1985 I m reminded of all the Obon I have never danced If she is here to complain about my lack of ritual she is certainly taking her sweet time I m not the only kid in her family but I am the only girl and it s girl s day March 3rd From the kitchen I hear familiar sound A soft tap like wooden chopsticks being set down on a porcelain rice bowl The muted sound caused me to peer out of the furthest corner of my eye I d rather not look over my shoulder I don t want to look away from my mother so I don t actually turn my head Vaguely I catch a blurred image She s standing in my kitchen putting things away with a preternatural knowledge of where they belong I glimpse the side of her face I realize can t rightly remember what she looks like The scent of her perfume Chanel no 5 fills my nostrils I am suddenly struck by an onslaught of memories brilliant dazzling stunning potent Then abruptly I m alone Only the scent remains Is it possible someone walking down the street wears Chanel No 5 Not likely In the small kitchen I consider how real it feels to have the floorboards rattling beneath my feet To hear the engine whining and sense the slight breeze in my hair The brassy noises In the dream as the train had started lurching forward I d been unable to discern if I were really moving at first or if it had been the train to my left pulling away from the station

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There Are No Bones in My Backyard Nina Bonita I keep the fences free of tangles each fine and nail s width apart My walkways are always free of briars I mop the tiles to keep them white The bees and wasps are welcome No snake wanders unannounced There are no bones in my backyard By day the trees stand tall and proud At night they whisper about each other I keep my ducks fed and lined up in a row Every morning I bath in the sun and have my coffee with the roses I let no one in and no one out I keep my water fresh and lemonade sweet I rest easy and safe in my backyard I dump my bones out by the street There will never be bones in my backyard

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Second Thoughts Ann Howells Sunday afternoon on the patio ivy covered wall a home for sparrows whose cheep cheep makes us smile Babies Embodiment of spring We observe mom and dad come go do not seek the nest disturb Sudden rustle tremble among leaves draws attention Cheeping halts A large rat emerges slinks the fence We understand nature s law survival of the fittest but Monday we uproot the ivy

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Grandmother s Backyard John Milkereit ere Wi h e erere here sh w wwere he W uu re o y Wish y re sh you ou w h eWi reish you were e W erue w heerr w u o ee he yoish yish you w ere W r filthy ich r i ch filthy ric h filthy re ea W The leaves these pyros jockey for position mulch candidates ready to snuggle for a party When one sings a slight burst of flame the others huddle in suspicion waiting for the fierce burn The smell of Goodyear tires lit as if cinder where Mr Buntz the neighbor always said to love Jesus and keep your bowels open The smoky horizon is milk hued Leaves submit a bright report like firecrackers in a model airplane we d blow up on the 4th of July and every flight and every amber colored leaf how many are left I pluck my grandmother s tomatoes too early I hide in apple trees I throw Jarts until the neighbor boy s eye pokes out Playing croquet is better after cutting the grass Malleting balls through hoops is faster and cleaner She plays wearing her Hush Puppies and white socks while drinking Gin and Tonics her fingers flecked in lime Steaks on the charcoal grill sizzle on Saturday I try to swallow until Sunday W W e ar ea e re I kiss my first girl Julie with sapdripped palms We hide in bushes under a pine tree We finish Hide and Seek We run to her room when she says I ve already kissed another boy seventeen times I feel bad never see her again Summer visits worsen when boys strange as weathervanes discover my brothers and me hiding in trees say we could receive free money if we attend church The eggshell pamphlet never explains but we visit anyway and return empty handed My mother never knew that our faith is powered by Captain Crunch bottled Cokes and the housekeeper s chocolate chip walnut cookies And the music whirling and hissing on cassette in my uncle s bedroom Pink Floyd singing Wish you were here The next morning after the grownups drunken night of playing Pinochle we sneak out back and find a hammer in the tool shed We smash Black Label bottle caps metal coated undersides still beer scented We flatten enough to fit in Sucrets tins to rattle We are filthy rich W here W ere here Wisishhyyoou w e re r he

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Rolling Oaks Drive Thousand Oaks Elizabeth Kropf Cocooned in the innocence of Conejo Valley safe for white straight Christians in the 80s a kid in my apartment complex died skateboarding down Rolling Oaks Drive steep hill no helmet Then a bomb threat at Newbury Park High school I walked home with a friend more bothered by being around high schoolers smoking because then for us we knew bombs would not go off Aftershocks from the Northridge quake during school We did not hide under our desks Because then for us we knew the walls would not crumble the floor would not crack November 7 2018 Twelve are killed on Rolling Oaks Drive The street I grew up on The bar where I attempted line dancing Someone threw a bar stool through a window trying to escape I have no stool to throw no desk to hide under The earth does not stop quaking

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Aztec Saxophone David Fahl An Aztec played a saxophone He d never heard the blues but he knew time He blew a celebration for a sacrifice blew an echo on the low end long waves millennial frequency Today that note came back on a downbeat from my neighbor s mower with the carpenter across the street They make a rhythm section and that Aztec sax blows with the suburban feathered choir Birds in my backyard honking whistling blowing free as Ornette following one another s riffs They hear they really hear and they work with the trajectories of every line played Shifting time and key they hang together And the sun this morning warming my skin tastes of love s beginning

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South Georgia Mud Pie Susan Summers Black sandy soil becomes gumbo mud in a pine shaded yard with hose water a sunny beach pail a little girl Her stringy blonde hair sweated and matted toes like tiny potatoes freshly unearthed No cute frilly swimsuit but baggy underwear so blackened they ll be tossed come bath time Behind a Southern Living home with cedar shake shingles and rough cut timber gardenia bushes lining a grand circular drive she excavates ponds makes mud cakes and cookies With no glistening castle or Coppertone tan far from the sea on a country road she dreams oceans

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Reunion Adele NeJame for Lisa During this stormy Beirut Night she dashes through the hotel lobby waving at me her long black raincoat flaring around her as she calls out sister in Arabic It is all dreamlike this moment together after decades of us living in paradise our Hawaiian Islands until she left everything behind to return to her family in Baabda and Koura a valley plain of olive groves and wild lavender Her welcome is effusive her arms sweep around me in a whirlwind of energy repeating ukhti habibti This sweet friend who translated English into Arabic and brought back gold earrings and worry beads for me gifts from our ancestral home Who would say even during the civil war yallah go back you have to who knowing my story and half in disbelief said habibti you are an orphan Yes I think so much death and loss here how violence derailed thousands of us ending our summers with grandparents in the villages of knowing no more than a smattering of Arabic a turn that ushered in the irreversible Rushing through the cold glittering streets of Hamra this beautiful rainy night as we head to her flat she says When I returned to the village everyone came out most I never knew waving and calling welcome from their balconies loudly reciting my lineage Lisa daughter of Elie granddaughter of great niece of

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on and on What I have here unlike anywhere else on Earth is connection I want to grow old with the women of my village hearts full of stories sitting under an arbor of vines simply preparing an evening meal When we reach her flat we lounge on the sofa drinking wine Her Persian rug in reds and blues Phoenician figures wearing their tall gustowehs on the credenza how this all takes me back to the comfort of my childhood home She pours more wine and we toast each other our reunion our children ya Beirut nowhere else in the world like it she says I tell you when my mother died last year hundreds came every day for months to our Baabda home to pay condolences A man I didn t recognize walked toward me reaching out his hand I said sorry do I know you It turns out he was the guard at my grade school that he had opened the gate for my mother and me every morning all those years Finally he said she was a good woman Allah yarhamha None of us had seen him in forty years Wallah habibti you will see People love you here before you are born and they don t forget No matter how bad it gets in this minefield of chaos and frenetic love the heart keeps on waiting for something a glimmer a sign like the fluttering of the hoopoe through the mountain cedars That s a good omen they say as it flies overhead at sunset then disappears into the radiant darkness

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Peach Blossoms Christa Pandey

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Unopened Letter Carrie Kornacki Father There is a moon impaled in your throat a moon worn down to half by the chemo that is killing you now A cancer pitted platinum by your discretion that chose death as if it were just another drink in your glass An hour ago poured from a winged metal bus I sit here on your white bed in a room smudged with darkness that does not reveal when the door will open and hands will take you leaving only a stone to add to my collection of bereavement I watch you thin as a straw with little pumping through it Your skin no decipherable wrinkles Your head domed with the grayness of years you will never have My fingers hold your wrist emaciated I can feel your words from years ago syllables lying on their backs twisted kicking and screaming just below the waterline of silence you keep now I believe I will never leave this place Love C

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IMBY Q and A Kathleen Cook Back not so far not far from here Rice Stadium housed a Super Bowl Surely Rice University must ponder what to do now with that empty of victories vessel Not so far not far from here the Shamrock Hotel had a swimming pool big enough for a motor boat to pull a water skier Long ago that pool that time was paved over Not a great answer Back a 50 year old s lifetime the Astrodome was the eighth wonder of the world What to do with its onceness has turned into a question for the ages All answers are in your own back yard Have you seen my rotting leaning fences All goes that way The green lizards disappeared last year Not the only species gone What can I do Get busy Get down on your knees You mean pray Put in natives pull out invasives Dig up that silly useless grass Dandelions are edible

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Dandelion Dream Yolanda Movsessian

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Texas Tag Saba Husain On the road to Katy on a highway stretched like a Cajun song the generosity of the sun amplifies virgin fields where grazing cows set idyllic tones for suburban outposts of stone columned entrances and water front dreams The light always the light shifting over a green layout of an American cosmos trace and repeat master plan coveted cul de sac Fourth of July streets mother father high school team mailbox bus stop crispy treats a dinner of desiccated mash and meat a nest unraveling in an old oak tree accordion unfolding one hand on wheel flicker of speed halcyon cloud shadows on an open field and the toll

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Night Sky Drama Nancy Fierstien

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Learning to Drive Alexandra Millatmal If I strain real hard I can almost recall the sour smell of diesel and grease always on your hands The dusty limestone grime coating every inch inside your pickup truck making the stick shift coarse against my palm The crunch and crack of dead corn stalks under tires when I wavered from the dirt road that your father himself laid The crisp cruelty of the air when sweet harvest has ended and chill creeps in greying the big midwest sky

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NICHOLAS MOVES IN Renee Williams On a bloody Sunday Nicholas the Blowhard beginning as a subtle puddle then transformed himself from a half hearted drizzle into tropical storminess and crossing the vast ocean invaded our Gulf Coast beaches violently as Normandy s Preceded by brown pelicans of inordinate dimensions circling over fidgety bay waters like antecedent pterodactyls caught up in a rapturous revival comrade Aeolus shrieking let there be wind began felling trees like a lumberjack A timid armadillo oblivious to this aerial display of superpowers carried on his piggish early morning grubbing for surfside truffles shadowed by two feral felines perplexed with his oddly armored beingness his Yertle the Turtle ishness Winged things clawing at the sky sought toe holds against a vacuum intent on first sucking up then dispersing them into an alternative universe where the sea could be boiling hot and pigs might have wings Dysfunctional powerlines umbilical cords no longer tethered to the grid impersonated defunct garden hoses sprinkling the lawns We with lighted candles and LED lanterns cornered the darkness and having banished the digital monster from our lands ruled once again if only for a day

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Loropetalum Varsha Saraiya Shah When alive Satsuma tree on the south side ruled my back garden A queen that handed out oranges in autumn to whoever visited Loro homed under her canopy always shuffling to be seen sun bathing around lantanas sprawling skirts Always bending yet freely practicing what Ram Daas once said And you look at the tree and you allow it You see why it is the way it is You sort of understand that it didn t get enough light and so it turned turning people into trees She turned me into someone who hungers to see One winter the Satsuma battled with a mean Polar Vortex In a matter of weeks lustrous leaves froze Bedraggled mounds in a garden of grief Loro witnessed a stormy but slow death of the queen Little Cody a neighbor s grandson who came down to pick the satsumas each autumn was stunned Last April when the fruit were only frilly nubs of blossoms he had giggled at tiny green marbles jutting from between the leaves comparing each to his puffy belly button Loro herself stands scattered yet bent hell bent on thriving My friend a master gardener marks her limbs in late fall the way I once saw a nurse scribe X s on a chemo patient Time to prune the past Let light guide her toward skies and sprawl with ribbon blooms She will sway again with her party streamers We know this spring can t pass without her jazzy foliage crinkled and strumming on my hope s strings Lady Natchez my bilingual crepe myrtle concurs Her pink and white flowers are Billie s songs Soon they will strum on Basant Bahar my beloved spring raga

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Egret Elina Petrova

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Ruby Crowned Kinglet Ryan Scariano Letting my love s cat out into morning sunlight I see in the New Year a flitting kinglet carefully scouring the kale Anything so tiny and fragile is passing by Even as he flutters between sleepy garden bed and dormant blueberry it seems impossible to me that his turbulent flight can be enough to fly him over the frosted green sea of the yard And yet it s only as he s tumbling along his skyway only as I m expecting him to falter in the cold wind that I m struck by a glint from his hidden crown

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Like Bats at Sunset Charlene Moskal My intimacies sit patient at my fingertips listen to backyard birds for inspiration wait for that first moment anticipate the feel of hard black tiles to transform the mountains and sky whistles and full throated warbling into words My hands feel birdsong and new leaves on bare trees as jets scream their power roars over mountains that could care less Sometimes in a rush of tapping I place my fingers with an awkward thump Other times they swoop in glide soundless and surprising like bats at sunset who blindly look for sustenance in changing skies My fingers ask only for the luxury of time and threads of something real to build a word nest or a quilt of images for my bed to infuse my dreams on paper white sheets

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Buzzards on the Roof Vanessa Zimmer Powell

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Clear Cut R B Simon My living room window faces west Each day I would sit in the corner of my shredded grey sofa gazing out the center of the white panes at the lone tall oak in the park swimming in its wading pool of bright green grass floated with yellow dandelions Around the park grew shocks of dahlias hemmed in by feathery clusters of jewelweeds that I secretly hoped they would never prune but it was the oak that always drew my eye Many a biker would stop in its shade for water or rest and children pulling their little red wagons would toddle under its swaying limbs their skin freckled with shadow It took time for me to notice the new visitors the ones measuring and pondering prodding the rough trunk as the leaves turned orange red and flittered into my yard for my tired shoulders to heap into the gutter Until one day the oak s snakey branches covered in hoarfrost they came with cranes and empty trucks spewing black exhaust along the bike path Chainsaws ricocheted a murderous screech across the fields as ring by ring the oak was sliced as swiftly as ripe melon The slow motion fall thud shaking my window as I watched the hollowed carcass crash to the ground strew its branches across the snow like maiden s hair as yellow backed beetle men scurried over the mound chopping and hoisting remains into the big truck bellies and then as suddenly as they appeared they drove away leaving me standing somber at my living room window staring at the unfamiliar view empty and clear as a bell

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The End of Lizard Season Kathleen Johnston Anoles tiny green dragons bob blink in the fading heat then they are away hatchlings scurrying faster than a fat cat s paw The wyvern size red head skink looks up unafraid to question my disruption of his sunbathing It s a staring match I never win blinking first Can you stare down a dragon no matter how small For a season I ve tended this garden under their watchful gaze learning to know them better and they have told me earth beasts and blooms what they need humility mindfulness a little sweat My audience of dragons pardons me my trespasses then disappears into their winter lairs into the dreaming season All of us in the garden wait for renewal

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Woman in a Borrowed Garden Grace Massey I am the woman in the garden but this house planted with pachysandra and lilies is not my house hummingbirds buzz the feeder where a wasp flails I would free him but this garden is not my own you pass by see a woman in a chair in a garden near a birdbath a pot of impatiens her arms mottled knuckles gnarled like the crabapple tree hard small fruits have fallen at her feet you pass by thinking how content she must be in that garden you do not know that this place is borrowed you do not know how practiced she has become with elegy

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Antiquate Yolanda Movsessian

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Border Maze Saba Husain For emergency do not use for official between cold weather State law bridge may ice pay pass obey cold mph wildlife alert all stay cold warning do not text on bridge ice may form cold weather entrance slow do pay bridge emergency crossing only do not no cash exit enter ramp 40 mph yield talk text later drive do weather slow obey double cross not white line no cash permit load obey pay vehicle only road warning law signs slow do state toll 70 mph go way wrong do load enter exit not only bridge in cold may ice

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Big Top Christine Williams

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Dad watches the flames picking up intensity from his station in an aluminum framed lawn chair several strands of frayed webbing hang from the sides Plastic soda bottles exploding give rhythm to the roar Had it been nighttime the neighbors might have gathered but during a burn ban you have to get rid of trash in daylight A 200 fine slightly more expensive than a trip to the dump Dad s thrifty for a gambler After two or three pops of 22 caliber shells Dad gives Bubba the evil eye Like every other time too lazy to pick them out of the dust pan when he sweeps his room A crapshoot I m trying to figure the odds geometrically Two projectiles for each pop a good chance one goes in the ground The other well look at all this space Still I step back a few steps to favor the odds Bubba pokes at the fire with a broken hoe handle It s growling now A pop bottle let s go poof and hiss Step back Dad hollers as a vicious tongue of flame licks the sky Bubba throws down his stick and sulks away An explosion shotgun loud turns the fire black Bubba face down in the dirt rolls over and coughs When dad raises Bubba s T shirt the bruise from the aerosol can almost magenta pools on his back at the right shoulder blade Blood oozes from leaking capillaries through Bubba s sun browned skin What did I tell you by God A foot higher that would ve taken off the side of your head He tries sounding angry but a tremor haunts the edge of his voice Go get your momma to patch you up and get your ass back out here I figure the odds grab the stick and poke at the fire Dad puts a longneck to his lips and takes watch in his lawn chair

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ANGEL ISLAND SAN FRANCISCO BAY Cristina Legarda The abandoned buildings are haunted crumbling steadily their lifelessness eerie and wrong the blood red hospital now a dilapidated house empty rooms rubble cracked wood plaster falling off to reveal the broken bones of the place Even the serpentine quarry holds only the ghosts of ghosts The immigration station Guardian of the Western Gate was where reasons could be rooted out trachoma filariasis being Chinese to turn undesirables away People were sometimes stranded here for years belonging nowhere trapped in a concentration camp with many of the usual indignities separation of family members terrible food rows of bunks like storage shelves medical exams of pubic areas to prove age in Asians the forever young nauseous elixirs against hookworm hunger madness experimentation without consent No wonder the Chinese bride of legend denied entry to the mainland hanged herself in the women s bathroom and wails there still Listen closely to hear her banging on the pipes The prisoners voices are etched into the barracks wooden walls Chinese characters carved deeply in testament that even here even then sorrow bled out as poetry

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Canna Marley Kathleen Johnston

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White Aqualungs Deborah Gorlin Oh ocean big baby blues cabochon set in the bay I mouth your horizonal lozenge sniff salt for the sinuses I walk you beside me like a mythic dog on a leash your swash a bubbe with creped arms Marvel at the surfers who after work before sunset hurry to shuck their suits and ties stand nearly naked car side zipping into wetsuits clutching their boards like eucharists In fact I fear the sea inverted Alps of liquidity worry about the kids at play surfside like lint liable to the suck of its rhythmic vacuum accordioned waters fun playing with play Once I was kick assed fast a dour mammal kill joying its ebbed hilarities Never forgotten that drag into confused entanglement of limbs twisted like octopuses clothes tumbled down in the dryer brokenly wheeling insult of sand spat in teeth and hair Chastened I staggered back to land so much for oceanic oneness Still I m lucky to dwell among my reveries and fears with the power of imagination yours mine free to us all But understand it is not the same as justice since I needn t question certain givens abled to proceed with these assurances that just as nature s laws govern the change from day to night the earth s orbit round the sun this ocean s tides the circling blood the air in my lungs in this country more likely than not the police will never stop me from breathing

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Cotton Harvest 1949 David Meischen At noon high sun pickers gathered in the yard Hackberry shade the voices of migrants descended from slaves Sardines dipped in mustard Salt crackers Water cool from the can clean taste of tin on the tip of the tongue Work shirts stained with salt like rippled silt collar bones deep bruised from heavy dragging sacks finger tips stippled by prick sharp bolls Chafed knees an ache in the small of the back Throbbing Two thousand pounds plucked out of the field to make a bale five hundred pounds when the gin was done each bale fetching a hundred We ve got a bumper crop Elwood said over supper Rain and sunlight that year every row exploding with bolls every boll split open to white In the morning Valerie walked out to the field with her Brownie box camera all the green gone dark as charcoal in the pictures Elwood smiled between rows the cotton chest high Weeks later up in the hackberry branches a worn out leather knee pad No one thought to reach it down toss it in the burn barrel Years gone by the dried up leather barely visible grown into a cleft In the field beyond cotton sprayed with defoliant mechanical harvester chewing up the crop rows of stalks behind brittle skeletal hazed with dust

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Dreamland DS Artwork at Play Nancy Fierstien

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Citizen s Arrest Gabby Gilliam So this is what you do when a grown man refuses to play your righteous game the sound of indignation and spent shotgun shells on pavement the unfriendly bite of handcuffs on wrists incredulity you ve been arrested for removing a neighborhood threat of course the video contradicts your perfect lie reveals a middle aged lynch mob prejudice oozing from pores as you fire three shots into the unarmed man whose morning jog turned into a death sentence he didn t know the rules didn t know he d already lost because you forgot to say Simon says

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For the Birds Deborah Gorlin You d never know it really happened here in Capitola where the cove water sparkles like soda shouldered by the bluff and the sand is challah warm A crowd gathers on the beach Sundays to play their ukuleles No kamikaze crows as in Hitch s movie The Birds but in fact sickened sooty shearwaters flummoxed by their sudden inability to fly swerved off course their wings unworkable galoshes flapping the air in gauzy fog they hurtled into the town to cartoon careen crash slapping into buildings thudding rooftops downed by the thousands sounding like babies crying On impact not hard to visualize the oozy mess they made At dawn the aftermath avian corpses toileted the streets viscera smeared to walls streaks of fish vomit white poop poultice feathers floating in the breeze sticky with flies and the stench gagging those cleaning up the place Understood now anchovies eating algae steeped in chemical runoff

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from gardening deranged the birds poisoned them In the movie the elegant blonde star Tippi Hedren wore fitted fifty s styled pastel suits six of the same made in the likely event the birds damaged them her au courant French Twist hairdo secured by hidden bobby pins Hitch caged the whole set for that infamous attic scene and though he promised he d leash only mechanical birds to her coat substituted real gulls instead trained to attack her I marvel at her beauty any beauty how even as you wound it those serrated wings clapping like perverse applause the beak like burins carving up her perfect complexion the mussed upswept hair knocked from its pedestal sustains the assault As Tippi tells it fat impotent Hitch insistently hit on her so she finally had to quit and broke her contract after all he did for and to her and as revenge ruined her career like the earth who won t take any more of our sick but undying love

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Sweet Maple Alex Huynh Sweet maple economy And commerce of the seasons Worlds seeded in that appalling Regularity nonreferenceable blacktop The branch cut faces express this secret see Independence flash and rifle crack Across the northeast entirety to be And there between recurring gutter grating they drop Helicopters uncountable Truly shot down by spring guns Wind s ballistics blood maple

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Ghost Town on Iris Avenue Tina Carlson Those were days when roads fired up and brothers rammed their bikes into the door Everything too hot to touch and the fancy man with a red car hair greased back slick gave me a swim Trees were left to their own devices Each mountain pressed against the other Believe me when I say the full moon loosened the dressings on my mother s memory All her mouths started talking at once Comets flew through the shadow of worm moon Wars were waged against wood and fists made parents There was a sky that never fell but grew white as bandages I want to say body as if it matters The town fell to its knees Heaven turned to smoke in those ghost churches

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Maker s Corner

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Maker s Corner Judges Justin Jannise Craig Butterworth Catherine Vance Publishers Kelly Ann Ellis Tina Cardona

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An Extra Heart Justin Jannise I wish I were as fabulous as Titus removing a pair of sunglasses in one swift and open mouthed swoop only to reveal another pair beneath the first The drama the preparation that pixelated shoulder wiggle he throws in for added effect I love it as much as I love the lip sync queen who tears her wig off during Whitney s chorus only to reveal you guessed it another wig Something about the way she understands the gesture of taking our expectations and handing them back to us foiled doubled Dinner is served Madame Please find another covered dish Take the elevator to the second elevator Open the door to the door I wish I d had a plan for all the times a man caught me off guard If I d known he was suddenly going to say he needed space I might ve thought to bring an extra heart Here is what you ve broken Keep it One will do me And wouldn t I give anything to go back and tell my father that during those difficult years I felt safer when he was around And when he tries as he always did to buy my love with money I ll hand my love over to him easily as I never did And I ll keep some for myself as I never could

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POETRY Justin Jannise is the author of How to Be Better by Being Worse BOA Editions 2021 which won the A Poulin Jr Poetry Prize Recently a recipient of the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry and a former Editor inChief of Gulf Coast Justin is pursuing his Ph D in Creative Writing Poetry at the University of Houston

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Lighthouse Craig Butterworth

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Art Craig Butterworth is a local Houston artist retired teacher tennis coach wolverine wrangler peacock impersonator mentalist and vocalist in an aging boy band He uses objects found in yard sales antique stores nature garage cabinets and junk drawers to create dimensional acrylic paintings and letters He paints original abstract landscapes from his own photos of national parks and international places to which he has traveled He can also use your photos to make personalized abstract landscapes and animal portraits You can contact him on Instagram artbybutter or at artbybutter com if you have questions custom orders free ideas and itineraries for visiting our national parks and psychic readings

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No One You d Ever Notice excerpt Catherine Vance Our grandfather started this place as a one room cabin but over the years he added a front parlor two bedrooms and a kitchen with the wood stove and a sink with a hand pump Electricity had been strung about 1936 so all in all my brothers felt the place was modernized Out back was the spring house which held milk and butter the chicken coop the privy my vegetable garden a tool shed and a wood pile with a roof over it The barn was set in the pasture a little to the north We owned our mule Maisie a few cows and a horse named Jimson We had hogs for ham and bacon To the south of the house was the bulk of the land where tobacco and beans grew along with several acres of apple and peach trees Those were the cash crops In the community our abode wasn t unusual It was as they say home and had been in the family for over a century and a half My brothers knew how to live here they knew how to account for runoff on the slope when they planted and they knew the way the sun would fall on a given patch of ground in a particular season All that takes time to learn and you get the feel for your land by working it year in and year out Then came that afternoon in December of 1942 Walker strode into the kitchen and slapped a piece of paper on the table Found this posted on the tree by the front steps He looked grim The notice started UNITED STATES OF AMERICA versus 56 200 Acres of Land more or less situate in Roane and Anderson Counties NOTICE as to the Declaration of Taking At the bottom it said we were to forthwith vacate said premises immediately because they were going to build a demolition range

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Prose Catherine Vance is a writer and an interfaith chaplain at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St Louis and is a former recipient of the DobiePaisano Award from the Texas Institute of Letters Her first novel is forthcoming from Balance of Seven Press She is currently completing a memoir Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Asylum Magazine Talking Writing Wraparound South Synkroniciti Defunkt Magazine Visible Herstry the first issue of Equinox and elsewhere She has taught workshops for Writespace Houston since 2018 Join her for Writefest 2022 where she will be a panelist

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Snapshot Tina Cardona Founder The gnats are taking over the sink The counter top recycle bin shuts but it doesn t keep the gnats away My token to save the planet Days a crush of urgencies unbearable barometric pressure So many students so many teachers so many counselors to help but I cannot carry them all Where to begin how to finish David Goggins my screensaver says quit whining do what you can fuck the rest I heard of a teacher crying fetal position under her desk Maybe I ll join her I eat chocolate and muesli for dinner while my eyes close shut Soap glob squirted earlier directly onto my pupil Squirted UP and at an angle So I accidentally rubbed ear cleaner on my Llasa Apso s eye Vet next day 312 and a bag full of meds But her eye is fine I am writing vignettes and DON T JUDGE YOURSELF and my smart watch reminds me Get Up And Stretch And that I am in the bottom 20 for deep sleep I text an apology to my neighbor because when I tried to join the crowd for National Night Out in our local park earlier my three dogs lunged at his chihuahua The bills lie in a pile on the kitchen table along with my bra lunch bag more unopened chocolate I drink wine after my workout alone Dance after my workout alone Twirl in a costume robe practice lines for my part in a performance The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock alone I send him a naked pic of me and blame the wine

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Coasting Kelly Ann Ellis Founder Editor Stains on this ceiling traced create the coast of a country where I want to go but won t Inlets and islands dot this map Splatters form a boat offshore mine But I can t make my way home what with the reefs I can t see but know They re there There there It s calm today I ve got AC And this RV mauve nightmare circa 1985 mere blocks from the beach I can walk if I want But I don t What s the point No need to try tidying up That dirty pink dust ruffle always was a bad idea And watermarks take time to find what went awry how we veered off course There was rain once and beginnings Be glad we said Least we got a roof over our heads Of course Leaks spring Spring leaks Now the ones I want love hate need are far away and when they re here they re there There there Have done Nothing can be done Hurricanes happen in the gulf