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.

Along The Way

David Floyd

(for Abraham Smith) 

Like the way religion gets in the way
of the spiritual, and the habit
of honesty gets in the way of truth,
I have gotten in the way of myself.
I’ve slipped into solipsism when I
merely meant to speak about all of us;
I’ve risen up to the universal
when I simply meant to speak about
the Liberty Bell or a Philly cheesesteak.
I saw the cracked chime on a school trip in
’76 with my kindergarten class.
I scarfed down the sandwich at 2AM
on a bender after nights of vodka
and misgivings. Because the world seemed huge
and full of autumn, once, I almost prayed
again. I got to thinking about the self
and identity, how they’re shadowy
and rewriting themselves along the way.
How they’re their own alibi for being.
The snowy egret with its signature
pompadour and the hidden privileges
of a window with an open vista
are my seminals. Before it was
the language of blue jeans, the accoutrements
of smoke, embodying every word
I said, putting my body on the line.
Now I rarely ask for forgiveness.
Keep my sins for myself. I see no
undulations behind the sky. Trying to
get in touch with feelings, I seem to feel
indifferent most of the time. That’s why
I think I know there are gut-choices, bone-
choices, things the body know the mind has
to catch up to. If worse comes to worsen,
I don’t mind being a beautiful fake.
Oh, the solace and the suffering of
the imagination. I seem to have
this way of getting in the way of my self.David Floyd was born in Philadelphia and currently teaches at Rutgers University-Camden and Temple University. His book-length manuscript The Sudden Architecture of the Dark was recently a finalist for the 2005 TampaReview Prize for Poetry and the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize.  He lives in Lansdowne, PA, and can be found reading poems by Jack Gilbert; Plato’s Republic, and Lauren Grodstein’s collection of short stories, The Best of Animals.

Renovation

Hayden Saunier

I ripped the carpet off my stairs
so now I’m halfway up and halfway
down, extracting staples from scarred
slabs of pumpkin pine. Destruction
beats creation in a footrace every day:
heave most things out an upstairs window,
gravity will do the rest— but this work
has me on my knees and keeps me there
and what I bow before keeps changing.
Hail to staple guns and staples, hail
work of opposition and determination
of the soul who put this carpet down
that it should be eternal, hail to kneepads,
needle-nosed pliers-teeth, hail flathead
shaft that pries and lifts these staples up,
hail to the ding they sing into the pail,
to sanding and to grit, to elbow grease,
to oil, to polyurethane, to spreading it
across the treads like honey with a brush,
to watching as it sinks into the grain
four times before it lies atop the surface,
do not touch, until it’s formed
the recommended hard, bright shine.Hayden Saunier’s poems have most recently appeared in Madpoets Review and The Bucks County Writer. She was the winner of the 2005 Robert Fraser Open Poetry Competiton. She lives in Bucks County.

Christmas Shopping

Tess Thompson

I don’t know what to buy my grandmother.
At eighty-three, she surrounds herself
with trinkets she can no longer see:

shelves of bells, glass angels, spoons,
porcelain boxes, tiny vases, thimbles,
carvings, candles, embroidered flowers.

Her sight blurs. She can’t read.
She knows what’s coming: She watched
the same darkness absorb her father.

This year, I examine suncatchers and frames
and paperweights. I can’t buy anything.
I imagine each item coming back to me

a few years later. As I shop, I wonder
the question I can never ask: How does it feel
to be so close to darkness?Tess Thompson’s poetry has been published in Calyx, Tempus, Literary Mama, ByLine, and the Oxford/Cambridge May Anthology for Poetry.  She has her master’s degree in Victorian Literature from Oxford University. , and I am currently at work on a novel.  She lives in northwest Philadelphia with her husband and son.