Elegy For Breath

Carlos Andres Gomez

 

WINNER OF THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Elegy For Breath

by Carlos Andres Gomez

Carloslaughing_PoetryContestWinner

Picture the adolescent: mimicking

what makes him worthy. Pick his

most potent snapshot for click-

bait: fresh-faced but mean-

mugging; same mask I’d pull

clean across my jaw for any

Polaroid of me & my best friend

in eighth grade. Let’s be clear: joke

stance—now used to justify

killing          make just     the just-

snuffed, just clumsy youth branded

bold-fonted & blood thirst. Peace

sign transmogrified to gang sign—

since the expert talking head

confirmed it. The expert talks &

confirms inside a rectangular frame

that renders most of him invisible.

Talks & confirms        two bullet-

points         from the bleached-

teeth interviewer. But nowhere

is the testimony of       breath

stifled, the practiced hands that

remained watched whenever they

ascended, whether in prayer or

surrender, holding a bag of groceries,

a cell phone, or a son. Nowhere

is that last sigh  freed  from his tired

lungs as the sixth shot   struck

the base of his skull    sprinting

with back turned. The neighbor describes

that final sound I did not hear   & yet

cannot   unhear. It is suddenly the last

sound I hear from too many people

I love: my brother-in-law, my four

nephews, my high school best friend,

my infant son. (Every police officer

is out in the world       defending

himself. Every one of them describes

the nightmares in which they see

a dark object against the darkness

that turns into fire & populates a rigid

void with lead. Every police officer

is a human being. He makes mistakes

sometimes. He got nervous. He thought

about his two kids & his pregnant wife,

it was fourteen days before retirement.

He’s never missed a Sunday at church.

Believe me, it’s true. I’ve seen him pass

the donation plate. Sometimes

he takes a naked, crumpled bill in his

calloused hands, wipes the sweat

& residue on his crotch.) I saw Jesus

on Easter Sunday        still  resting

on the wall, a hooded sweatshirt

draped across his torso from the college

he was to attend  just to make it all a bit

more decent. Everything you stare into

becomes a fist, a loaded weapon aimed

at your face. I wake up in a country

based on a single document made

to protect   every human being   equally

who is a wealthy, white man. The woman

I meet after my show in Myrtle Beach,

South Carolina has no response when

I ask her why the killing of three dogs

made her protest, made her write letters,

made her boycott, while the murder

of a defenseless Black child inspired

not a single word   from her lips?

Loud music; blocking the middle of an empty

residential street; a wallet in a trembling,

outstretched palm; a back sprinting away

in fear; a woman after a car accident

knocking on a door for help; a toy

rifle in a Walmart in Ohio; a boy

in Money, Mississippi, walking, lost

in thought, a stutter from Polio, a whistle

he learned to cope with his stammer,

when the implication of    Blackness

is always absolution     from murder.

My son’s first breath was with-

held: the cord that had nourished him

for nine months now choked   three

times   around his throat, as he fought

for life. Like his sister  at birth. Like

the father  on a sidewalk in Staten

selling cigarettes to support his six kids

to survive  born fighting  stayed fighting

to breathe. When my son   gasped

finally  & then slumbered into dream,

his blooming tenderness  unguarded  as

a single orchid, I said a silent prayer

for the imagined crimes his world was busy

inventing, to condemn him  for being born

Black   & having the courage   to breathe.


Carlos Andrés Gómez is a Colombian American poet and the author of Hijito, selected by Eduardo C. Corral as the winner of the 2018 Broken River Prize. Winner of the 2018 Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize, 2018 Sequestrum Editor’s Reprint Award in Poetry, 2015 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in the North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Yale Review, BuzzFeed Reader, Rattle, CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape (Simon & Schuster, 2012), and elsewhere. For more, please visit: CarlosLive.com.

Peace Is a Dream

Martin Wiley

Peace Is a Dream

by Martin Wiley

Martin Wiley_Peace Is a Dream

 

Pete was thin,

just muscle, dark skin and anger,

stuffed inside an ancient Iron Maiden The Number of the Beast t-shirt,

 

and he lived on the far side of town, in the apartments

for people who cleaned the big houses where

people like me lived.  He led us through

shadows and into the park

—we would have followed him anywhere—

officially it was closed for the night, but that only meant

no one would notice we were there.

 

Harsh outlines from streetlamps, everything unfocused but

edges sharp—we headed for the swing-set, which had become,

for decades, the place for teenagers

out late.  It was cleaned regularly

but the weeds along the fence were

a breeding ground

 

for broken glass,

used condoms, tiny vials,

plastic baggies.  Then Pete nodded

to Danny, who pulled his flask

from his back pocket.

 

We drank while Pete rolled joints, the only sound

the creaking of those rusted swings.

 

On nights like these, when the air

teased the ability to become free and clear, when we

could spot the night sky if not

the stars, our future seemed fluid and visible, and we

could still dream

of connections

that mattered.


As a mixed-race child of the 80’s, Martin Wiley grew up both confronting and embracing a world that was as jumbled and confused as he was. His current work is an attempt to examine what it was to search for manhood in that time and place. A long-time poet and spoken word artist, for the past few years he had labeled himself a “recovering poet.”His children’s love of words has dragged him, mostly happily, off the wagon. After receiving his MFA from Rutgers-Camden, he remain in Philadelphia, working at Project HOME, being a dad and husband, and finding time, when possible, to write.

Barefoot

Leonard Kress

Barefoot

by Leonard Kress

Leonard Kress_Barefoot

When I was younger, I was always leaving my shoes

behind, always, though, with a good excuse.

One time, the March on Washington to protest

the bombing of Cambodia, Kent State, after settling down

for the night in a church loft, awakened

from sleep to romp on the Capitol lawn to play hide

 

and seek by the Doric columns, someone had hidden

my things. For the entire weekend I went shoe-

less. The grassy mall, Joan Baez—we had awakened

the planet’s consciousness, it seemed, the Pentagon had no excuse

not to implode, its walls tumbling down,

its frayed-suit denizens joining the earnest frolic in protest

 

of themselves and their deeds. An idea they’d surely protest.

It happened so often my soles resembled hides,

thick, calloused, impenetrable. So it was easy to amble down

the chunk gravel path by the Wissahicken without shoes,

side-stepping horseshit with friends, excused

from their lack of hardiness, though clearly awake

 

to the chance I might be onto something, in the wake

of others who’d gone barefoot before. They don’t protest

as we pay homage to Chief Tedyuscung’s statue, poor excuse

for heroic sculpture, the last of his tribe, nowhere to hide,

gazing west and chiseled naked, not even shoes

for protection―from smashed beer bottles flung down

 

from the summit. Once when I felt the need to calm down

ready for some sort of awakening

I found a huge zazen session, removed my shoes

and entered the campus gym, ignoring protesting

locked-out gymnasts. I tried to hide

The fire blazing in my knees, having to excuse

 

myself, barefoot again, for what seemed an excuse

of a counseling session. Winter was bearing down,

and the smug, bored psychologist could not hide

her diagnosis. When YAHWEH woke

up Moses to propose his mission, wary Moses protested,

but still approached sacred ground, removing first his shoes.


Leonard Kress published poetry and fiction in Missouri Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review. Recent collections: The Orpheus Complex, and Walk Like Bo Diddley. Living in the Candy Store and Other Poems and his translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz published in 2018.

A Turn in the Path

Kari Ann Ebert

A Turn in the Path

by Kari Ann Ebert

Kari Ebert_A Turn in the Path

I leave you standing on the curb

step over the border of river rocks—

 

so much like my mother’s inukshuk

built with care by my father.

 

Once it stood tall and strong—

arms wide calling to the sun.

 

I used to sit quiet in its shade

examine that inukshuk,

 

wonder what trail it marked for her

why she had to see it built—

 

that pile of grey stones like a harbinger

on the edge of her suburban lawn.

 

Now, years later, it leans to one side.

Its body weakened by a burden unknown

 

Heavy with its own secret weight

like the smooth warm weight of your hand

 

on the back of my neck.

I stop. Pick up three rocks,

 

memorize their size and heft

drop them into my pocket.


Winner of the 2018 Gigantic Sequins Poetry Contest, Kari Ann Ebert’s poetry appeared or is forthcoming in Mojave River Review, Gravel, The Broadkill Review, and Gargoyle among others. She is working on her first poetry collection, Alphabet of Mo(u)rning. Kari lives in Delaware and has two children who also write.

Isaiah 54:5 (A Self-Portrait)

Kari Ann Ebert

Isaiah 54:5 (A Self-Portrait)

by Kari Ann Ebert

Kari Ebert_A Turn in the Path

He packed up the years in one suitcase

at summer’s bloom    left everything undone

I stood    still & wooden    in the empty yard

exhausted by the sudden drought

 

The grass is too high now

Midsummer sun paints its lacquer

on my temples    on my lip and neck

I’ve waited until tall blades bare their teeth

snap at my kneecaps

The anyone-can-do-it-

just-start-her-up-and-go instructions he left

fester under my tongue like vinegar

I turn the key   flinch at its growl

 

The rider    all rusty & rife with demons

lurches down the lawn    chews out a row

so straight    so sure of itself

until the sputter & grind wind down to a stop

refuse to budge another inch

The heat rises      overwhelms me with its tide

Fury crawls up my spine     I take a swing at the sky

 

My Maker    My Creator

You promised to be my holy husband in his stead

yet it is I alone who pulls at the sludge    wrestles with the ancient blade

slices my finger open like his mother’s cherry cheesecake

You promised to redeem the time    to make it mine once more

yet the moth and locusts return each harvest

all that remain are weeds & serpents’ nests

all that remains is this rage

 

Hearing no response I fall to the ground

Clippings & sweat form a sheen     cover my skin like jade

I sit in the lotus position    as still as stone

listen as the breeze rustles across the short path I made


Winner of the 2018 Gigantic Sequins Poetry Contest, Kari Ann Ebert’s poetry appeared or is forthcoming in Mojave River Review, Gravel, The Broadkill Review, and Gargoyle among others. She is working on her first poetry collection, Alphabet of Mo(u)rning. Kari lives in Delaware and has two children who also write.

The Epic of Senge

John Wall Barger

The Epic of Senge

by John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger_The Epic of Senge

We moved to Philadelphia from an Indian village

& shipped our big old tomcat, Senge.

We tried to keep him inside our row house,

tempting him with toys & snacks,

but he longed for village life:

fighting cats, hunting rats, walking the roofs

of the huts. He cried his lungs out:

“Freedom!” he cried. “Liberty!”

Sleepless, defeated, we opened the door:

Senge padded out in triumph.

He walked the sidewalks of West Philly,

manifesting all the lavish beauty

& violence of the village. Every day

he got lost. Today Tiina & I comb

the misty late-summer streets, searching.

Tiina—whose love for that cat

is fugitive & powerful—is so worried

she can’t talk. As we step into Clark Park

I joke, “Maybe he caught a boat

back to India!” She emits a small,

dry laugh. We scan the park.

Dogs: fourteen. Cats: zero.

But it’s nice. We sit in the damp grass.

Someone strums a woozy guitar.

Soft, distant singing. The sky, opening.

Under a maple tree: a pile, a form,

it is a body, an opossum. Twisted, seeping,

torn like a bag of rice. I say nothing.

Everything is wet. Record rain this year.

Even the kindness hovering in the high branches

is wet, glittering, pretty. Almost unbearable.

And familiar. The peaceful men

playing chess on fold-out tables.

The children blowing bubbles of light.

Like attending a warmhearted funeral,

which just happens to be your own.


John Wall Barger’s poems appear in American Poetry Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. His fourth book, The Mean Game, is coming out with Palimpsest Press, spring 2019. He lives in West Philadelphia and is an editor for Painted Bride Quarterly.

Clawing

Holiday Campanella

Clawing by Holiday Campanella

         8/19/2017 – Greensburg, Indiana

Holiday Campanella_Clawing

I’m surrounded by you, Indiana.

You’re heavy in the trees tonight.

The black asphalt,

back roads through corn fields, unlit―

the broad shouldered men,

blond and square-headed.

 

There are two boys

hanging around the claw machine

at the “Indiana-only” Pizza King.

They could have been you, once.

I ask them how much it is―

give them a dollar.

“Here,” I tell them, “play.”

They laugh, inserting the money

into the slot.

They could have been ours.

 

My pizza is ready.

“Bye,” I tell the boys.

“Happy birthday!” one says.

“Adios,” says the other.

 

I sit in my car in the parking lot,

more me than a moment before.

Tomorrow I’ll be in St. Louis

leaving you with them

in loose metal grips,

suspended.


Holiday Noel Campanella was born and raised in South Philadelphia, where she still resides. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and PAFA, where she studied painting and creative writing. While her art has been sold and exhibited at the Smithsonian, Anthropolgie, The Clay Studio, and The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, this is her first poetry publication.

The Oldest Daughter Flies to Dublin

Ellen Stone

The Oldest Daughter Flies to Dublin

by Ellen Stone

Ellen Stone_The Oldest Daughter

Over northern Canada, she may feel most alone,

although it is the longest day of the year

 

and the sun (diffuse or beacon-like, depending)

will follow her over those low-slung mountains

 

that go on and on reminding her how big the world

is―boreal forest of larch, spruce, birch spreading

 

into bogs, fens, black marshy sponge reflecting sky―

pinprick of silver plane, no more than a sliver, really

 

like the germ of an idea.  She will look out the plane

window & think of who lives down there, what girl,

 

like her, is not sure, but goes on through her days

anyway―maybe surrounded by trees like woodland

 

caribou, shy & sturdy―who everyone will likely

one day depend upon.  But for now, the other self,

 

the one her body houses now, full of this nebulous

wonder. I hope she feels like cloud then, weightless,

 

unformed, with what she sees below―that spread

of nubby canopy―at once, both factual & dreamlike.

 

While she, full at the same time, of doubt & precision,

a shaft of thin sharp air, knifes her way through.


Ellen Stone was raised in northeastern Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in Passages North, The Collagist, The Museum of Americana, and Fifth Wednesday. She’s the author of The Solid Living World (Michigan Writers’ Cooperative Press, 2013). Ellen’s poems have been nominated for a Pushcart prize and Best of the Net.

Philadelphia

Amy Small-McKinney

Philadelphia

by Amy Small-McKinney

 Amy Small-McKinney_Philadelphia

Beauty was hard for me to find on a spare cot or in the back

of a truck, when I had no home. & then I did,

 

when beauty had bars on its windows & a Coleus sat on my sill

with its purple hearts & old Tony sold me necessities

& came to know my name & the butcher without a thumb brought a Thanksgiving turkey

to my front door & young Tony upstairs lost a finger in some war, or so he said.

I was happy to hike the flight of stairs to sit with him and talk.

He borrowed a glass vase, nothing more, &

 

at the nearby market, startled pigs & cheeses hung on racks,

women peddled chestnuts & nutmeg, their voices ancient pigeons promising no hunger.

 

A Vietnamese restaurant, the place for cheap soup with long noodles & airy leaves floating.

A boat, I could sit for hours & row away from loneliness.

 

No one knew what they meant to me then.

The green leafy soup stars or the nine-fingered butcher,

his attentiveness filled me like a luxurious meal.

 

To tell you I was hungry is beside the point, very young,

left home, no choice, love rationed like air.

 

Now I think I know beauty,

look up at stars, some have names,

are gifts for birthdays.

What I want to say: how little I know of anyone’s life.

 

We are a country, a world, a universe of division.

 

We imagine this must be beauty:

 

Doesn’t everyone love Evie’s homemade Nduja, her hair pulled back in a chignon?

Or this: A woman drinks morning coffee, mistrusts newly leveled fields,

worries for her seed beds.

Or: Summer & a man sits beside the stoop of his sweltering house playing checkers, waits

at least five minutes to move his piece.

& I have found it, at times, when the train rumbles under my window,

its constancy a parliament of beautiful owls, returning.


Amy Small-McKinney won The Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press) for her second full-length collection of poems, Walking Toward Cranes. Most recently, her poems have appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact and are forthcoming in The Indianapolis Review.  She facilitates poetry workshops and offers independent study in Philadelphia.

Oh This Route―Not 66

B.E. Kahn

Oh This Route―Not 66

by B.E. Kahn

B.E.Kahn_On This Route

A chauffeured Jaguar, white, awaits.

For now I tend my own modest rose.

Poems at the door, early, late, gather.

A dream ladder climbs. Ten wishes rise.

 

The plain open road of life

crosses this country. Green hills shelter

song-filled home, walls all red and gold.

Sky windows

 

into my prayers. Two soft chairs

tea cups, tango moon, garden path.


A Pushcart Prize nominee, recipient of a CBE, Pew funded grant & other prizes; author of three chapbooks, the latest, Nightspark: The Zoe Poems. She has led poetry groups: interfaith, women’s, various others.  Her work appears in many fine reviews. (Visit www.bekahn.com)