Autumn Drive

Cheryl Grady Mercier

I’m watching the speedometer climbing
And the curvy gray ribbon of back road
Bound for the pet-packed home and bedtime of
My most precious cargo in the back seat.
His earnest little voice chatters on about

What else? Trains. My grandson explaining
Electric-train pantographs connecting
To power lines as he connects me to
The future. I see a John Deere tractor ready to
Turn onto the road in front of us.

At the same time, his surprised voice calls out
Look, Grandma, giant marshmallows in the field!
Indeed, white-covered circlets of hay
Dot lush green pastures lit by the amber
Syrup of October sun.

I slow down. Awakened eyes join his
To share fuchsia, mauve and Prussian blue
Cloud strokes across the sky—the cows
Glowing, the trees rusting as the sun
Flames through its last glorious minutes.

Cheryl Grady Mercier writes from her New Jersey home after taking early retirement from a medical/communications working life. She is currently enrolled in Rowan University?s graduate creative writing program.

Sago

Charles O'Hay

Today
we measure time in breaths
the swing of rusty gates
and the tune of the stonecutter’s chisel.

The ground gives birth.
The ground gives death.

Boots
no longer in their place
beside the door
speak the language of coal dust.

We are iron.
We are candle smoke.

Charles O’Hay is the recipient of a 1995 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship in poetry. His poems have appeared in over 100 publications, both in print and online, including Cortland Review, New YorkQuarterly , Gargoyle, and West Branch.

Unfinished Love Poem

Alexander Long

– for James Wright

Like I’ve been saying
All along, I’m not sure
Where they’ve gone
Off to. Why can’t I think
Of that place as full
Of lovers secretly kissing
In unmodified light?
This afternoon’s rain settles
Along my jaw.
I hope my bus is late.
Three beers by noon ,
And now I go to chop
The rows of onions
For my bosses who mark
Up the booze for us all.
We keep coming back.
This is the life I’ve got.
I make salads from hearts
Of iceberg picked by migrants
Who curse and bless
This country, state, and town;
Their corner with the motel
Whose windows acquire a sheen
Over them as they drink
Five-dollar Cuervo
And spit it into their hands
To slick back their hair,
Desiring the unattainable
Strippers who pass through
Once a month. Oh Sweet
Jesus, I keep imagining
The regulars and the lawyers drunk
Again, sliding off their chairs.
What I really like
About the clearest days
Isn’t the light itself.
At the trolley stop in Sharon Hill,
Where I grew up and most can’t
Leave, I’d stand there
With the two bums,
Big Bob and Chicken Man.
For being desolate, they dressed
Nice. They stank, though,
And sniffed glue every chance
They could. Otherwise,
They no longer seemed to desire a thing,
Not even the other’s shadow
On the hottest afternoons, flirting
With oblivion, waving to it
As it floated by quiveringly
Over their ears,
White and light as milkweed.
Trying to think of them again,
In their polyester suits
And dress shirts
Buttoned all the way up
To their scruffed wattles,
Whose collars resembled a hit pigeon
I saw once by the curb —
Its wings lifting slightly
As another A. Duie Pyle rig
From Pittsburgh barreled through
Sharon Hill, where I grew up,
Without stopping until it hit
The limits of West Philly —
I can see they have
Completed that agenda the dead
Stars have laid out, and I don’t know
Where they are now. So it is
This bus stop
We all end up at,
Telephone wires swaying
Between oceans, the sun
Hovering right there, between
Our fingers, with all its busted light.
I’ve heard it called a lot
Of things, not one of them
Accurate. The pines
And maples dripping with rain,
For example, have their Latin
Names that make them
Seem larger, which I can remember
Well enough most days,
Which I love.

Alexander Long was born and raised in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania. He has worked as a musician, obituary writer, and fry cook. With Christopher Buckley, he is co-editor of A Condition of the Spirit: the Life & Work of Larry Levis (Eastern Washington University).

Death Reels

Liz Dolan

Men’s faces floated beneath grey fedoras,
cigarette smoke shadowing their heads
as they entered the lobby of my building
through the side door of Mulligan’s
Funeral Home. Candles cast puppets
on hot summer nights, as painted harlot’s lips
and tangerine cheeks popped like plums
from satin-upholstered caskets. In daylight

we, the privileged of 615, dared Julie Lundy from 621
to peer through a chink in the cellar door to see
Mr. Mulligan suck fluids from the dead
through straws, sew their eyes shut with chicken sinew
and starch their hair into
cotton candy. Death had an orange glow.

In school we lauded eleven-year-old
Beata Maria Goretti slashed dead
rather than render her apple-butter purity.
At home my father sang of Kevin Barry
who in a lonely Brixton prison
high upon a gallow’s tree
gave his young life for the cause of liberty.

Dear God, didn’t anyone want us to live?

Julie threw up by the firehouse door
her father, his arms plumped on a pillow,
looked out like Gabriel from his first floor window. Liz Dolan, a former English teacher and administrator, has published poems, memoir and short stories in Philadelphia Stories, New Delta Review, Natural Bridge, Illuminations, and numerous other journals.

The Littoral Zone

Beth Feldman Brandt

It is not the easy choice
to live between the tides.
To fast forward through
four seasons in a day –
hot, cold, drenched, dry,
breathing air and water,
anchored against
the turbulence of
shifting sand.

Live as champions
of adaptation
and you become
everything and nothing.

In this space, unadorned
on the white page, you could
choose to live
word-for-word,
without metaphor.
But really, everything
is about something else.
Always more meaning
than meaning.

Fill the space
with heat and thirst,
oceans of salt
diluted and distilled
like swallowed sorrow
and you will know
that this is not that story —
not the lives
of limpets and brittle stars
waiting on the shore
for the tide to turn. Beth Feldman Brandt works in the arts in Philadelphia where she finds plenty of Philadelphia Stories.

Azaleas

M. Frost

The invitation came—
come to the museum, walk
in the garden with me,
drink in the azaleas
in their fresh lavenders,
their tulle pinks and bridal whites.  

How I remember them:
paper-thin and blushing
against the low green.

I didn’t go.
I didn’t see them.
Poems are full of such lies.

M. Frost lives in the Germantown section of Philadelphia and enjoys walking along Wissahickon creek. Her poetry has appeared in many journals, including the Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts and Philadelphia Poets (forthcoming).

Autumn, Philadelphia

J. C. Todd

A living fossil, the delicate
ginkgo is all that remains
of an order died off. Revered
as sacred, temple tree of China,

its ornamental transplants wave
their fan-like leaves above
the avenues they stain ochre
in October, dropping fruit.

Puke fruit, the children call it.
Even nursery-schoolers, wrist-
noosed to a safety rope
their caregivers hold, know

not to crush the pulp,
know how to skirt
what dogs and drunkards squat
to drop by heaps of trash

street people pick for food
and shoes. Is it only hopscotch
when a chain of kids leaps
a chapstick or snapshot—

whatever muggers toss
aside or the careless
strew—muddied scarves,
gum silvers, glittery

needles and vials.
Skipping by the shadow-
men asleep
on manhole covers,

how lightly the children
sidestep the fallen,
not touching,
not untouched.

J. C. Todd’s poems and translations have appeared on Verse Daily, the anthology Shade 2004, and in American Poetry Review, The Paris Review and other journals. Pine Press published two chapbooks: Nightshade (1995) and Entering Pisces (1985). An associate editor for the poetry web-magazine, The Drunken Boat, she has edited a feature on contemporary poetry from Latvia on-line now at www.thedrunkenboat.com. She also was guest poetry editor for the Summer, 2005 issue of The Bucks County Review. JC’s awards include a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, two Leeway Awards, a scholarship to the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators in Sweden, and a grant from the Latvian Cultural Capital Fund. A lecturer in Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College, she has an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Jersey City

Emily O. Wittman

I

The projector’s charm is Cary Grant’s
tan. Although James says Hitchcock
was a little weird with colors.
Grant wears an antiseptic suit
in cobalt (weird) that shouts:
This is the fifties, we are mannered,
my waist is trim and strong.
Dust and smoke filter the light.
I resolve to be cleaner;
a goal of dignity as studied poise.

Not one superfluous word.
It is afternoon in Grant’s Manhattan.
Did he check his watch?
Does he know his hair is grey?
Cary Grant speaks like an actor.
James smokes a cigar.
But when he talks—

Emerging from the Path Train,
a man with no world at all (if I could be sure)–
avatar of the same god or irrelevant–
left expansive cologne, grease from his cheek
on the handset of the public phone.

 

II

On Grove St. a stranger bums a cigarette
and before I say: but I don’t smoke!
he hands me a hammer.
What I really want, he says. Is $1.75.
I’ll trade you this hammer for $1.75.

I recognize the hammer, I know
the ribbon on its handle, the ribbon
that accompanied young Werther,
now crisp with age. I read those letters:
My pockets are not to be emptied.
This pale pink ribbon which you wore at your breast
when I saw you for the first time among the children

This ribbon shall be buried with me.
You gave it to me on my birthday
.

This is my hammer, I protest.
I had it in the hat box on my dresser.
The hammer is mine, the ribbon is mine.
(The same thing happens with my story).

Emily O. Wittman lives in South Philadelphia and teaches literature and humanities at Villanova University.

Ceres’ Lament

Sandra DeRose

I have mis-carried three babies in a field of wheat,
laboring hope from my hollowed self: coleoptiles,
those budding leaves and lives in protective sheathes.
What nodes and joints should have formed my stem?
What bone should have grown from such unsettled beat?
Like awns on florets, their tiny cries should have
sighed kernels, should have flowered from the middle
of spikelets. Anthers poked out of my emptiness,
heads emerging in a swollen harvest.

I might have held these seedlings in the palms
of my hands, removed their chaff-like sacs,
then gently blown them clean. Instead, waiting
for the wind, I’ve placed their formless halves
in a basket of earth and exposed them on the banks
of my life, giving back, again, all that was mine.A New Jersey native, Sandra DeRose received her training and MFA from Lesley University .  She is an English and creative writing teacher at Hopatcong High School .  Her work has appeared in The Journal of New Jersey Poets. She lives with her husband and three children in Flanders, New Jersey.

Dipsomaniac

Tamara Oakman

I worshipped them,
my new deities;
Mr. Jack Daniels,
Uncle Smirnoff,
made an altar
with empty shot glasses,
gave money
to the church of Wine and Spirits,
and picked up Chardonnay,
cradling it like a rosary for hours.

In group therapy,
they asked my religion.
I said,
“Alcoholism,” and smiled.

They didn’t find it amusing.

I should have said Christianity
but refused to betray my gods.Tamara Oakman won the Judith Stark Prize in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and playwriting. She has been published in The Literary Garland, Limited Editions, Hyphen, and The Crucible. She won Judith Stark Prize in the categories of poetry, short creative non-fiction, short fiction, and playwriting.