Sorting Mail, circa 1967

Autumn Konopka

Most of the time Bernice stares at the painted window,
wishing for the sun.
She rubs her palms against her slacks for sweat,
touches fingertips to tongue
for traction in the stacks
of bleached envelopes.

She daydreams—
love letters passing through her cracked hands,
a romance between a housewife and her postman.

She eyes cautiously the men
as they load their sacks
and imagines holding that weight
herself. Nothing more
than she’s carried as a roofer’s wife—
the tar stench, beer breath, calloused hands on her face.

Nothing more than a straight trade:
aching feet and paper-cut fingers
for sweat stains, dog bites,
and bottomless bags of love letters.

But she’s stuck with the junk mail.

An advertisement in her stack warns
that field mice can fit through a hole no larger than a nickel.
Staring at the dingy window,
she wonders what it takes
to pull the sun through
to make it burn inside. Autumn Konopka is a poet and teacher, nonprofit devotee and democratic socialist, amateur piemaker, burgeoning knitter, tenative Spanish speaker, and ferocious Philadelphia Eagles fan.

Snow on Annie’s Painting

Ann E. Michael

for Annie A.

Two pairs of shoes on a bare closet floor: an interior view.
I am carrying Annie’s painting along a snowy trail.

High-heeled shoes, one pair a silk chartreuse—
I carry Annie’s painting along the whitened path.

The other pair is red. Red slingbacks! Do you wear these?
I asked, before offering to carry Annie’s painting through the snow.

She’d put on her boots. There are no boots in the painting—
Annie’s—I carried through the snow.

There is an implied door, a geometry of light
(I might glimpse a bit of Annie while carrying her painting through snow;

for I’ve turned the picture toward me to protect its painted surface
from thick, wet flakes that settle on the canvas and the path).

I’m inside her closet with her shadowy, bright shoes,
carrying Annie’s painting through the snow. Ann E. Michael (www.annemichael.com) writes poems and essays from her home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her work has been published in many journals, including Poem, 9th Letter, Natural Bridge, Runes, and others. She is a past recipient of a PCA Fellowship in Poetry. Her first chapbook was published by Spire Press in 2004; her 2006 collections are The Minor Fauna and Small Things Rise & Go.

The Air Child, II

Therese Halscheid

Into the second season
of not eating

there was still Time in me, enough
stored hours to keep trekking
to school,

always taking
the path through the forest,
through frost

and white air which held
the woods and me captive….

You could see it in the way
we began suffering alike, wearing
the same look

of bare sorrow –
you could tell by the way
my legs were

thin as winter grasses,
steps so light that they left no tracks

and even in the way
the outer colors of earth drew inward
and down, the same as I

was withdrawing myself
from the world, as I was

removing myself
from my father.

This was nothing that clothes could hide –
this is what Death wanted

this leafless body, this girl
alone
and failing

against the cold trunks of trees,
the bones of them.

Therese Halscheid’s most recent poetry collection is Uncommon Geography (Carpenter Gothic, Spring 2006). She is a house-sitter to write and many poems come from unusual house-sitting environments. She won a 2003 Fellowship for Poetry from NJ State Council on the Arts. Her poetry has appeared in numerous magazines.

Mushrooms

W. Kay Washko

There’s graffiti on the mushroom shed
painted large, defiant,
in nothing like earth tones.
No brown, no beige, no muted gray,
(colors more appropriate
for the growing fungus within)
but loud raucous
vermillion, saffron, blood orange,
outlined in bold black letters
giant toadstools, undecipherable.
Hispanic men in hairnets
mill around with Management
perplexed by what has sprouted overnight,
vandalism in this place of processed food.
They gesture, waving arms
at the scope of the work,
the need for nerve and ladders
in the production of such a thing.
Who would bother to tag a mushroom shed?
This is not a city canvas,
not subway, rail car, overpass.
Why adorn gray cinderblock walls,
defying the assaulting smell,
the stench of sludge and excrement
fertilizing spores for mass consumption
of shitake, porcini, portabella,
bound for kitchens bright with copper
in desirable gated sub-divisions?
The men in hairnets
mill and tsk and shake their heads,
mouths forming who shapes.
But when Management looks away
they smile and whisper, admiring
the need for nerve and ladders,
and the splashes of color inappropriate
for the growing fungus within. W. Kay Washko is a freelance writer living in Pottstown, PA. She traces her family roots in Philadelphia back to early Swedish settlers and English Quakers, and has an avid interest in the history and culture of this area. Her poetry has appeared in the Awakenings Review (University of Chicago), and was selected by the Summit Arts Fellowship for an award in Poetry. Her short play, The Copy Machine, was produced by the Kennett Amateur Theatrical Society for their annual fundraiser, Plays in Plain Clothes.

On My Lover’s Eyes

Ryan Teitman

My lover has two glass eyes.
She plucks them out
and we shoot them like marbles
in my driveway. At parties, she floats
them in the punch bowl,
and waits for the screams
after they are scooped into a cup.

Sometimes she freezes one in an ice cube
and drops it in someone’s cocktail.
Same principle. I suggest that she drop them
behind our car during a chase, to blow out
our pursuers’ tires. They’re not caltrops, she says gently.
Sometimes she rolls them between her palms,
like little balls of clay. She is sensitive about her eyes.

She wears a blindfold always–a red silk sash
around her head. She worries I will leave her,
calls herself an eyeless wench. Never, I say.
Eyes are a distraction, a garnish.
Your mouth, I say, is what will keep me always. Ryan Teitman is a graduate of Penn State University with an honors degree in English. He currently works as a journalist in Philadelphia.

Ivy

Deborah Burnham

1.
Marigold, chrysanthemum sprawl
across the garden, smelling like some acrid
medicine when you tear the stems, but the stink
of ivy’s worse, like air inside a rotting
log. A plant so tough should cure your worst
disease. You’ve burned your hand? Try ivy
as a poultice, leaves across your blisters
tied with the stringy roots until, despairing,
the burns agree to heal.

2.
Years ago, two kids with spray paint spread
their names around West Philly – CORNBREAD
and EARL in tall black letters on blank walls.
and abandoned cars. They’re still there, peeling
under thick swathes of ivy, the best graffiti
artist, scribbling its thin green name across
the corrugated steel, the raddled stucco
writing it again, larger, dark to lime-green
at the growing end, practicing, making it
big and evergreen and tough.

Deborah Burnham teaches English and writing at Penn, gardens in Powelton Village, walks along the Schuylkill, and hopes to complete her Viet-Nam-era novel before the leaves come out.

BX Cable

Leonard Kress

Rowhouse basement a shambles. Rusted husks
of BX cable coil round everything—appliances,
copper tubing, hot water heater. Frayed wires
stick out of each like furry tongues, lapping at
boxes and curled-up slugs of insulation.
Borowski attaches porcelain russels to joists,
zigzagging the whole way from front to back.
All jobs guaranteed, he says, been working
in the neighborhood thirty years. Even took time

off a big-payer, a city job, to change a lightbulb
for an old lady, Lithuanian, not even a customer.
He misses the days when he strutted as a mummer,
marching in the Fancy Brigade, every year his wife
stitched a new costume, their extra bedroom still
a sift of dyed feathers, gold trim, satin.
Borowski misjudges his customers.
He thinks they’re part of the college-educated crowd
rehabbing the old workingman’s Victorians

built for millworkers and their burgeoning families
in the twenties. So you’re not gonna pay me,
he shouts, is that what you’re drivin at? You should’ve
given us an estimate first, they shout back.
Borowski crosses the threshold, furious and shaking
His eyeballs seem mounted on extendible shafts,
spinning like aircraft propellers. He hasn’t had
a drop in eighteen months. The homeowner’s wife
joins the deliberations. Bursting

into the final stages of pregnancy, she leans
against the doorframe, backlit, her hands
clasp on the shelf of her belly.
Maybe we can come to an agreement, she says.
Borowski, whose name means of the forest, turns
his head like a bison acknowledging a stone-age hunter.
He gazes at his battered, unmarked van
parked out front. He does this to avoid the shot
he’d like to take. He does this to keep from being pelted. Leonard Kress lived in and around Philadelphia for more than 35 years–Port Richmond, Fishtown, Harrowgate, Franford, etc. Now he lives in the Great Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio. His latest collection of poetry is ORPHICS, from Kent St. U. Press.

Why Love Doesn’t Conquer All

Bonnie McMeans

Love is aimless, wants direction, wants to feel important.
So he walks into a recruiting station, looks at pamphlets
that read: “Be All You Can Be” and “Army of One.”

Love does pushups in boot camp and shoots Arabs
pretending to be terrorists. He writes a cheerleader he kissed
after a football game. (They were both drunk at the time.)

Love is deployed and told to check his gear. He checks his helmet,
his goggles, his ammo, his mess kit and his MREs. He checks
his grenades. He checks the letter from the cheerleader.

Love calls the cheerleader. He has three minutes. “I liked
your poem,” he tells her. She says, “It was about our first kiss.”
Love’s pal says, “Get the fuck off now!” Love gets off.

Love mans a checkpoint, sees a white sedan approaching, fires
warning shots. Love’s pal shoots out the windshield. The car swerves
off the road and stops. Inside is an old couple with bloody faces.

Love’s tank prowls Tikrit for insurgents behind buildings and on
rooftops. Love’s pal tells him roaches will survive a nuclear holocaust.
Love fires and watches the roaches scatter. Some fall.

Love’s pal takes one in the abdomen. Love yells, “Medic!” and
opens up his first aid kit. He unrolls military-issue number 4572
gauze and stuffs the hole. Blood pumps out over Love’s hands.

Love neatly stacks the children in three rows. He stands guard
while he waits for body bags. On the ground are wailing women
and slivers of candy wrappers. And dead soldiers.

Love’s tour ends. He returns home, takes down all the yellow ribbons.
The cheerleader stops by, and they get high. He shows her all
the poems he saved. They buy an engagement ring at Wal-Mart.

Love is going to be a father. He picks up a six-pack on his way home
to celebrate. Love’s parents kick his unemployed ass out of the house.
He moves in with the cheerleader. They put the ultrasound on the fridge.

Love tells the cheerleader she is crowding him. He needs space,
not pressure. She pours whiskey down the drain. Love breaks the bottle
on the counter and cuts her arm. She scratches Love, screams.

Love hears sirens, so he busts through the back screen door and runs
through the yard and down the alley to the corner gas station. He sees a
recruitment poster on the dirty glass, then pretends to look at motor oil. Bonnie McMeans has fond memories of growing up in Northeast Philadelphia and attending the Philadelphia High School for Girls. In addition to being a freelance writer and an English professor for a local community college, she is married, has three children and lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania. Her most recent publication is a children’s book titled Mysterious Encounters with Vampires (Thompson Gale).

Waiting For Test Results in the Kitchen

Laura Spagnoli

But the kitchen doesn’t know
what you don’t know.
It keeps its knives in a drawer.

No signs from the veined cabbage head
left out on the counter,
pale and dumb as the moon.

No telling which bell pepper cut apart
will bear a smaller self, stuck to the core,
hopeful, embryonic, near green.

No, no knowing in the dark
which egg
holds the furtive spot of blood.

 


Laura Spagnoli teaches French at Temple University.

Pine Street

Leonard Kress

Behind the bar the ex-all-pro defensive
back draws mug after mug of Rolling Rock.
It’s late and still a crowd, three deep at the counter.
He is not badly out of shape, only a few afternoon
regulars recall his interceptions, the two-point safety
that almost led to super bowl. He is quick and agile and good-natured.

Near the darts a group of younger men and women
who could care less about his earlier career
or his failed restaurant venture, order difficult drinks,
brands not always stocked. The females are regulars—
one is a free-lance designer, one supports herself
by modeling at the Academy, the third gets by mysteriously.

A man draping his worked-out arms across their shoulders
drinks seriously. That is, until the model
begins to lick the designer’s ear. There she goes again,
cracks the third. The man smiles, lowering his jaw,
nodding his head like a carousel pony.
He is no longer happy being married.

So when the designer pinches the model’s
right breast, he leans–reaching far across
the counter (so far, in fact, that the bartender
reverses direction, buttonhooking, thinking
the man is signaling for his drink
to be refilled)–in order to pinch her left. Leonard Kress lived in and around Philadelphia for more than 35 years–Port Richmond, Fishtown, Harrowgate, Frankford, etc. Now he lives in the Great Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio. His latest collection of poetry is ORPHICS, from Kent St. U. Press.