Oct '02 [Home]


Winning Selections from the Magazine's Spring Contest:  With Excerpts

Editors' Preface
Contestant Bio Notes

Dual Winning Selections, Poetry Chapbook:

Ryan Van Cleave
(Greenbay, WI)
The Chicago Letters

Baruch November
Dry Nectars of Plenty

Winning Selection, Individual Poem(s)

"The Comforter" and "Seven Years" by J. Morris (Alexandria, VA)

Finalist Selections, Chapbook:

Stan Friedman
The Dirty Truth About Toast

Susan H. Case
Newtonian Physical

Martin Galvin
(Chevy Chase, MD)
Shouts and Whispers

Richard Levine
To Find the World Still

Special Mentions, Chapbook:

Peter Aaron
Seattle, WA
The Dust of Mothwings

Anne Blonstein
Basel, Switzerland
In the House of Nettles

~ . ~ . ~

. . Carolyn Forché, or
Los Cien Caballos Azules del Rey de las Gitanas
Ryan Van Cleave

There's the baffling evidence against
him, el rey desordenado who snaps nudes
with his telephoto lens. Serving girls,

mostly. Sometimes perro negros como
viejos hierros.
Sometimes the poppy
fields where the toads tremble in the

sun. The alphabet of his shame lies
deep in the winter river. His conscience
drifts, deadwood, cold as twisted wires.

Grieve for me, the Gypsy Queen says
to the jester—that one-eyed fool with his
gray, broken body—but not to her

husband. Together they have
embroidered pillowcases on the floor,
the silken mattresses, the luggage rack

of the royal chariot. Boredom sparks an
appetite, her excuse. His? Puppet
strings, puppet strings, everywhere.

The Hundred Blue Horses were a gift
from traveling magi, three of them, all
puttering west on the shifting elevation

of mind that first drove them to magic,
that world of hexes, demons, love coins.
At knifepoint, El Rey de las Gitanas

demanded the wish rings from their
fingers. Instead, they gave him horses
that, when ridden, tore apart any man.

El Rey de las Gitanas, unsupecting,
invited the jester and queen to watch
him break the spirit of the largest Blue

Horse in the great colosseum. Night
silhouetted the columns, and the early
stars were unrevealing. From an unseen

cage came a whinny, a dare. Saddle in
hand, the king went in la caballeriza.
There were sparks. There were flames.

And when the queen pushed the king's
favorite serving girl into the fray, the
jester burst with laughter. The queen

tried to kiss his bloodless lips but, still
laughing, the jester pushed her down,
too. He bowed mightily to the empty

seats. Darkness haloed him como una
and he paid the three magi with
the king's own bags of ill-gotten gold.

Nothing is ever the same
           as they said it was.
                    —D. Arbus

                                        Of all
                                        the things
                                        I did and all
                                        the things I said. . . .
                                     —Constantine P. Cavafy

Failed scholars. Failed teachers.
The sasagrass and bamboo
teach a history of errors.





          Everyone must guard
          against three disasters
          in life:  fire, thieves and
          ghosts. —Chinese astrology

Soll ich dir, Flammenbildling, weichen?
(Should I, phantom of fire, fly?)


           One can't.

Follow the fugue of silence.

Follow it like it's the world's

       best cigar. Bring flame.

              {prepare for ash}

. . ~ .

Tim O'Brien
Ryan Van Cleave

I paid some kid a care package
of rubbers and booze to burn
the shithole clean with fuel oil,

but two minutes into it, he
clambered from that pit
and said My God—the smell…

then dropped the booze
and ran. I took the rake
and went in, a strip of cloth

across my nose, though it
didn't help—that stink, that
homemade American stench

was like an old man's killing
knife coming for the neck
of the chicken. I thought

of my father, how he bulldozed
slag heaps at the mill each day,
thinking his son was a hero,

but here I was, unable to breathe,
twenty miles from any real danger,
trying to burn up the heavy, dark

shit of the soldiers, me, all of us.
It finally caught, the smoke twisting
into the air like a black rope of mama-

san hair. But the smell… I, too,
stumbled, crawled, retched out
and drank down all that booze,

then put a round through my foot.
This is my story, Tim. This is the
story you said to say was mine.

This story, like a place of prayer,
is clean. See how it shines, uncurls
slow in the light? So pure, so refined.

~ . ~

Schubert's Silent Rival
Baruch November

Not after numerous lifetimes
will I see why you sleep
with Schubert
playing, while I breathe
and fumble for you
nightly without a virtuoso
to cull sobs out
of hollowed wood for you.

Strung tauter than any violin
Without you, I press
the highest octave of your missing
chords, nowhere firm
to rest my chin.

~ .

The Cistern
Baruch November

On the road, snow and fog
seem to fall anew,
though the rain descends
old as loins, sackcloth, sandals.

Old as leaves and leaving,
Old as rhyme counted beats,
and your sorrow tempered eyes.

A heritage dripped
down from your mother's
mother to her to you:

Your shared cistern of sorrow,
our rock covered wellspring.

~ . ~

The Comforter
J. Morris

His voice so calm and rational,
appreciative, brandy-smooth.
Not terribly snobbish in his
pronunciation of Le sacre du printemps,
but making a good-faith effort
to deliver a Gallic nasality
on the first syllable of spring.
I welcome this baritone spirit
into my little living room,
for the city surrounds me,
which certainly means I am afraid.
He will give me something Baroque
next, he assures me. In the kitchen
my wife runs water loudly, like static.
I want that assurance, I want comfort,
I want to keep out the jamming pulse
of my angry polytonal nation,
and I want to keep my wife.
Both desires are lately in question.
He smiles from the speakers
and, in describing a Telemann concerto,
seems to bless a community of the wavebands,
a united state of good music lovers.
The union will forever be exclusive.
At this moment I can't see
why it's so wrong to want that.
I even think that God might speak so:
rich tones, full of culture,
inviting us all to Heaven,
securing us against intruders,
conversant in European languages
but refusing a too precious purse
of the lips. The umlauted schön
he leaves a touch imperfect,
in honor of Babel, but then pours his love
and protection down through the cellos,
and fifty thousand watts, and wires.

(Prior publ.: Prairie Schooner)

~ .

Seven Years
J. Morris

Reversals of right and left,
mad mirror-images of sane American traffic,
the Welsh road cramped with parked cars,
precipitous hill, oncoming drivers hooting:
A conspiracy of happenstance that caused
her to nudge the Mondeo against a rubbish bin
and the left-hand rear-view mirror struck
protruding scrap-wood, and flew away.
She pulled over, repentant. Assuring her
it didn't matter, I got out and trudged
back up the hill, felt the steepness tug
my thighs and calves, recovered it, its shards
still glued in fractured place within the frame.
I tried to refit it; no go. Welcome to Merthyr,
her home town, her first return in seven years.
I am the new American husband.
Down we went, parked, walked.
The High Street filled with the old accents,
windows, aromas, Evans the Butcher, Lloyds the Bank.
Eyes haunted, she hurried us away, leaving
the Valleys cottoned in their misty losses.
I'd need a lifetime to unwrap them, and would I grasp
her? — her Celtic blues, whatever went wrong
and right, like any childhood? Her long exile.
Later, in Welshpool, the replacement
cost a mere eleven pounds. Our mirror-socket,
though, had been knocked awry, and the new reflections
were useless: bits of road, the car itself,
her eyes, mine. Whoever was driving.

(Prior publ.: Inkwell Magazine)

~ . ~

Man of the World
Stan Friedman

To truly believe that matter
is neither created nor destroyed
is to understand the thing
was here before I lost it —
perhaps as a mushroom cap,
a marinated hors d'œuvre
sailing from Mother's mouth
through our umbilical — and also
that it's still around. Last thing

I remember is suckling the rabbi's
thumb, a thumb laced with wine
to keep me quiet. Then the blast,
a pull-tab ripped from a shook can of beer.
What went on while my fontanel stung
must have been my father
giving the traditional gag,
"Keep the tip," the ghoulish
holy man opening a black
felt bag to collect my bit of flesh
as if he were an Israeli
gathering figs, not a Cincinnatian
stained with slobber, purple-thumbed.
Maybe it has become the cork
which surrenders itself easily
from this Beaujolais Nouveau.
She cradles it in her hand, sniffs,
naïvely flings it out the bedroom window.

After the bottle is gone, she travels
my body. She explores my minute
scar and, tilting her head as if
reading a word she doesn't know,
draws back; unsure of
where I come from, wary
of what I could possibly make.

~ .

The Fine Print
Stan Friedman

The glass ashtray is forged, and emblazoned
with a decal of a smoking dolphin, in three minutes flat.
It is made in America. It retails for $5.99.
The shell I pull from the Atlantic already
has a perfect notch, and is free. It took
countless years, still the laborers were microscopic,
alien, and had no grasp of the English language.
It is an understood and inalienable right
of the homosapien, A NAFTA with the high seas:
We take what we need.

The smoking dolphin has a sly wink
and a wry smile, as if ready to bluff
a full house to your three-of-a-kind.
But biologists know the score.
This mammal's skull has not evolved
in 15 million years. It's as savvy
as it's going to get. This is a contract
between God and His creators. We
keep Him alive, He makes us the smart ones.

Decals are nothing without water
but still we enslave:  boil then freeze,
turn it to urine, cause it to flush.
So, when the Mississippi rushes
to reclaim its land and tsunamis
take the children of New Guinea,
we are at the mercy of a walkout.
Our ecosystem of faith is washed away
leaving us exposed for what we are:
the party of the second part
lured into a sucker deal.
Stunned, like a net full of dolphin.

~ . ~

Susan H. Case

Mink hat larger than her Chihuahua
sits astride her head. She writes
drinks closes eyes
communes in order to transpose
the discards of another galaxy.
Her dog has heard from them too. Not harmful

they have mistaken him for a rodent.
Advised him to hide in the walls during the day
slink away from the light.
He thinks:  mortality
claustrophobia. She has stopped dressing.
It is a very warm room. They burn

all those titillating ultra-violet rays
that seep from alien words.
She soars over the Chihuahua
does not look alarmed by what is meant.
Feckless sonnets of love in perfect English
from those who consider yearning doomed.

~ .

Lady with Veil
Susan H. Case

Here's where I rile physical law to place myself within the frame:
boy-cut panties detailed to hide figure flaws. Not a boy —
a soldier through the heavily mined earth
raw from sexual desire.
Why else would anyone still wear garters?

Deceptive calm snaps out.
Inside mind racing click click click click.
No dearth of flame or heat.
The lace around my shoulders will wrap
you in my want my want my want my want.

I look at myself. I look at her.
The core of me is her.
One foot lunged forward against the grain
to feel a tripwire of foretaste smarting.

~ . ~

Arts & Sciences
Martin Galvin

Latin verbs were the first to change
Her coltish heart. The sweet demands
Amo amas amat, which led to other verbs
Wakened her to certain rhythms as surely
As the softball did her eyebrow when she was ten,
Turning away, as the first tightening of the thether
Of geometry did for her crazy bone.

And now, the physics teacher announces
Everything we used to count on is tentative,
The sun itself adrift in a universe
That may or may not have started out of nothing.
The clockmaker on the faculty says the pendulum
Might just as well swing up and away,
And when we are all set for the steady rush
Homeward, might throw us skyward for a lark.

He says the coming down may be too quick,
That this certain world, this globe, may jolt
To a halt, one of those carnival bumper cars
When the juice is cut. The only time he grins
Is when he dismisses the steady pull of gravity
As no more absolute than a lover's sigh
Smack in the middle of a kiss. His voice reminds her
Of an altar boy's, pretending to be growly
As a bear's but soft as underwear inside.

~ .

First Catechism
Martin Galvin

So now you're here and the world
is a wobble better than it was before
and promises a deeper travel
into space than we can guess.

Such rare turns move us
toward a distant star, a dot
as luminous in the night sky
as an island's winking beacon.

So welcome, slight child of rivers
and mountains, welcome to those
you hadn't met till a day ago
but have changed as surely and ever

as wheel and tool and word.
No going back on it now, Babe.
Hit the afterburners. Let her rip.
You may cry as if you don't know

the way but we know you do and we
intend to follow where you flow,
the way oceans turn on their heels
at the moon's command. Before

you forget:  Does the moon cry?
Can the sun run? What does the rain eat?
Will willows ever laugh? How goes gravity?
Where will you not be, now that you're here?

~ . ~

From the Flesh
Richard Levine

When we still believed in the earth,
the sea carved its initials in every face
and shingle, and its salt-sotted voice
filled shells and quickened our blood.
Fish shaped our words.

Before sun and the surrounding
altar of barnacled air, we killed
each animal in paint. Like prayers,
each brushstroke gave thanks
and freed the spirit to live beyond.

As sure as mussels in shoals
and barbed hooks buried in flesh,
we said grace, knowing food by death,
and everyone's thoughts were plain
as gulls bobbing on twilight waters.

Where tide carried sea to sky,
our cracked hands were blessed to pull
life from the depths, a sequined
dream of spirit drawn from the flesh,
and no one doubted it would feed us forever.

As it was it would be, sure
as the moon surfaced out of the sea.

~ .

What Happened Here
Richard Levine

You didn't mean what you said last night.
We both know that. But we said goodbye
with undue regard for the word. Then
I didn't sleep well. In the morning,

I saw a grackle, black head and beak,
an endangered crown on a spore of green,
surrounded by the blue mirror
pond and crisp blue air, and the sun

exploding. Grasshoppers, still too wet with
dew to leap, listened in the still grass. Wings
sinking to a spluttering death battered
the iridescent silence. I stretched with

willow branches to draw in the drowning
bird, thrashing the water with each reach.
But some thing beneath the mirror, beneath
the green and the shape of this splashing

struggle, intervened; some thing free floating
and unseen, poised among clutches of reeds,
which grow above and deep below the surface,
some thing quick, led by instinct, darted into

the shadowy reach of a blink, leaving
nothing but ripples and quiet: blue, green.
Starved for sleep, I struggled, disturbed by
the peace, bereaved by what happened
here, and unsure whose helplessness I felt.

~ . ~

L'Cha Dodi
Peter Aaron

You come shattering my peace —
the pale, fragile, porcelain bitch
curled at my feet —with your voice —
memory — stirs at my ear,
the whisper of a bird, dissolved,
a droplet on the edge of night shade.
The wax pours out of me, out
and down, over my hand. Love-
less, we become our ghosts —
unsexed, not mistaken, but malformed.
Be mindful, my too-perfect love,
coiled in sentient shadow:  your angels
cower unseen where nightly
you trample paths through wildflower.

~ .

Da Capo
Peter Aaron

Only then to know

how the grass grows still at night
unmolested by the mole

and hears the snap of silk
and hears the wailing moth
at night

beneath the matted rootbed

now the grass exhales the night
and probes the moving parts
of stones

and sniffs the purchased fragrance
and the body's own perfume
of night

and no one wills you back
and no one shall have you

~ . ~

Listen to the Fool
Anne Blonstein

listen to the fool with the closed mouth
dressed as a leafcutter queen. sand
in her hair. fingers stained with red ink.

smell the air blessed with flying bodies.
taste the earth layered with form.
persephone's nostalgia. swallowing
granite seeds her throat cut up by
history she sleeps beside mrs dalloway
hugging her twin yellow teddy bear.
and the pillow is stained with red ink
and her dreams are stained
with farmers' footsteps as she walks
through the rice fields. as she sings
pink horizons back to lady macbeth.
not between the lines. in them.
corrections in red delete
the old repetitions.

~ .

In the House of Nettles
Anne Blonstein


one as a petrified tear. another
as sound. one for within. one
for without. so she lay down
on her fears. near water. lost
to the future. her pillow
was doubt and her sheets
were purple and weightless.
she was like a thought
on the edge of movement.
a thought brought to the edge
so it could be split from never.

gray. green and smooth. ardent
weight. mark and trace. her pillow
was true and her sheets were
laughter and sunlight. not alone.
not alone with the work of time. and
with the ruins of time. eye and apple
core. snapshot and breeze. then two
and content. tonight they will drink
dark beer. come and spent.

~ . ~ . ~