Selected Poetry from Issue #47
Cover Art: by Linda Hillringhouse, Descending Figures with Bird and Dog, 2019, gouache on paper, 10 ½" x 14 ½"
How Did I Come to Be Here?
by Marge Piercy
How did I come to be here?
Age is a strangeness. No matter
how many relatives we watched
totter into their graves, even cats
and dogs whom we’d raised from
birth, we never quite believed
it could happen to us.
A quick glimpse of some stranger
reflected in a shop window –but
she’s wearing my coat. I stare
at my once smooth graceful hand
that used to inscribe sinuous
arcs as I danced till one or two.
I can’t climb that church tower
to see the famous city below.
I used to run up stairs and hills.
I walk into a party and men no
longer stop talking to watch me.
The bagger calls me ma’am.
And I wonder as no doubt will you
how did it happen? I’m still me
inside, surely no more than forty.
When did I shrink two inches?
My ambition has withered. In
the dark of the night, I no longer
plot vast novels. Instead I watch
the ceiling turn into a coffin lid
and wonder in mild curiosity how
it will come and when. Dying be-
comes a hard fact as my friends
sink slow or fast into the earth.
Knopf recently published Marge Piercy’s 19th poetry book MADE IN DETROIT and THE HUNGER MOON: New & Selected poems in paperback. She has 17 novels, most recently SEX WARS, DANCE THE EAGLE TO SLEEP and VIDA were reissued by PM Press, who brought out THE COST OF LUNCH, ETC. [short stories] and MY LIFE, MY BODY [essays,poems, interview]. She has read, given workshops or speeches in over 500 venues here and abroad. Her work has been translated into 22 languages.
What We Need to Live
by Joe Weil
I still get junk mail for my Ma
from the Mary Knoll fathers,
41 years after her death.
I always include them in the change
of address. After all no one
who gets junk mail
is ever really dead. I have
my book bag from 4th grade,
filled with wrinkled homework
and the first story I ever wrote
told by a narrator who
admits at the end that he always
lies when he's drunk (and he's drunk)..
If I am ever cremated, I want
my ashes in that book bag, and
fuck the church who says
sacred ground, which really means
give us ten thousand bucks.
The book bag is puce green
I used to belly flop on it
to the ice of the acme lot.
I fended off six older kids
who thought I might
have money by swinging
it wildly, eyes clenched.
So much has been lost in my life--
to homelessness, to my own
innate disarray. What I have managed
to keep, if only as a story told
sober, told with the full
weight and knowledge of my being
is what keeps me alive,
keeps me praying with my
daughter Clare when she
can't sleep, and Hail Mary
full of grace becomes her lullaby.
I want to show her
Her grandmother's name on
the junk mail, the smiling
Mary knolls-- fathers who
haven't gotten a dime out of me
in 41 years: Clare, Clare
Clare on the envelope, Clare in her
bed., Clare which means light
but reminds me of Clay
and means earth to me, the ground
where I take off my sandals;
Ground set apart. Arc of my life.
From Clare to Clare, from
light to earth I'll go. No one
knows what sacred ground is
until they have stumbled on it.
Grace for me has always been
a kind of stumbling.
What do I know of walking straight?
except into walls. I am still swinging
that book bag with all my might,
eyes clenched-- my body a gathering wind.
Joe Weil teaches poetry at Binghamton University. He has also taught gifted students in the Arts High program (1999-2006) in Middlesex County, and was a Geraldine-R-Dodge poet in the schools. His latest book is A Night in Duluth, published by NYQ books.
by Linda Hillringhouse
I’m going to tell you something even I don’t know
& I don’t know how I’ll find it but I’m going somewhere,
down into something, looking for that thing that I will finally
tell you & here comes a girl walking her way back to the living
room in which she will wait for her parents to come back
from their first trip. She’s wearing the dress, the heart-stopping,
paralyzingly beautiful dress that Lenore, the neighbor, has bought her ---
red plaid, big crinoline & best of all, suspended from the belt, a real plastic
pocket watch forever displaying seven o’clock. She is aglow, for when they
behold her, this girl spring-loaded to flower, they will run to her, kiss her,
lift her aloft into the galaxy of the ceiling & she will see herself in their eyes
& grow into someone alive in the miracle of the world who will take root joyously
and in sorrow. She stands, arms outstretched like a supplicant or little model & they
are walking through the door & her father picks her up but unbelievably her mother
walks past her, smiling, in the full beauty of her days, at the neighbor & past the dress
like no other & the thing that was known & not known became flesh & I’m finally
telling you that right there in Lenore’s living room time stopped & the future turned to dust.
Linda Hillringhouse holds an MFA from Columbia University. She was a first-place winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award (2014) and second-place winner of Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry (2012). Her work has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, Lips, and elsewhere.
My Miniature World
by Lisa Coll Nicolaou
When the other girls started wearing makeup and staring at boys,
I asked my parents for a dollhouse and spent my teenage years
staining tiny wooden floors and using leftover wrapping paper
for the empty walls.
Because the dollhouse didn’t have a dining room,
I used thick cardboard to create a wall so that I could have one,
much like I did with my first house,
learning early that it was better not to always get everything
I wanted too easily.
I loved that miniature dining room, the oak pedestal table
and glass curio cabinet with real leaded glass.
I used months of babysitting money to pay for the tiny dishes
to put in that cabinet, more than I spent on the dishes that I use
in my regular life.
I escaped for endless hours into my miniature world, organizing
books in the library I created by building another small wall
and furnishing it with a desk and rocking chair that match
exactly the ones I have in my bedroom now.
I cannot remember or maybe I don’t want to remember
why I craved this silent time furnishing another world,
a house with furniture so unlike the modern pieces I lived
with, but with mismatched oak pieces that called out to me.
Once, when I was eight or nine, I visited a friend’s house
and her mother made a tea party for us, putting the china
on a beautiful oak table that didn’t match the heavy carved chairs.
I gasped at the possibility of a life like this.
I never had dolls in my dollhouse.
No matter how many stores I searched,
I never found a family worthy of living in my creation.
Now, most nights, after our busy days,
I take one of my favorite teapots off the shelf and sit
at my large oak table with mismatched chairs,
talk with my daughters, laugh about our days
and our disasters.
We sip our tea and I smile,
grateful for the family that I found to live in my house.
Lisa Coll Nicolaou is a writer who lives and teaches in New Jersey. For the past two years, Lisa has enjoyed her role as visiting poet in the Paterson Schools. Her poetry and prose have been published in a variety of journals. In 2016, she shared first prize in the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest.
My Dad Loved to Dance
by Susan Lembo Balik
My dad loved to dance, taught his little sister,
his favorites—how to Fox Trot and Peabody,
and when company came by, she’d get shy,
hide under the bed, knowing
my dad would want to twirl her around,
show her off.
“Come out Katie,” he’d beg. “I’ll give you
a quarter if you dance with me.”
My dad loved to dance, music always on in the old
white house in the Riverside section of Paterson,
and after dance contests at the Armory, he’d come home,
his white tee dripping,
and his stepmom would scold, “You’re gonna get sick!”
But inside she was smiling,
utterly charmed by this skinny teenager.
Susan Lembo Balik is Manager, Cultural Affairs at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ (home to the Poetry Center). Her first book of poetry is Sinatra, the Jeeperettes & me (Garden Oak Press, 2014), and her poems have appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Lips, San Diego Poetry Annual, Tiferet, and other journals.
The Kind of Father (After Gloeggler’s “The Kind of Man”)
by Bunkong Tuon
I am the kind of father who
avoids making eye contact
with other parents
when I drop my daughter off
at nursery school,
the one who crouches
under a classroom window
to make sure she stops crying
before I go to teach.
I am the father who elbows
other parents and scrambles
for a front seat to take
a video of Chanda’s pre-
school graduation ceremony.
I am the kind who wants
to beat the crap out of
the nurse sticking a needle
in my daughter’s arm.
I am the kind who goes
to Target to buy toddler snacks
and ends up with an inflatable
kiddie pool in the shape
of a white unicorn.
After I tuck her in for the night
I Facebook pictures of us
in that pool, Chanda
holding the pink mane,
me petting giant pink
I am the father who tiptoes
into my daughter’s bedroom
to check her breathing,
whispers a prayer, then plants
butterfly kisses on her forehead.
I am the kind of father
who gets on hands and knees,
digs dirt with a trowel,
plants flower bulbs,
taps the soil to make sure
they are firmly planted.
I take Chanda out
to the garden and together
we water the flowers,
me telling her this is how
you take care of life,
how you care for love.
Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly. He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.
My Daughter-in-Law Comforts Her Son
by Penny Perry
“Don’t worry honey. You don’t look Jewish.”
I picture my grandson in swim trunks, towel
folded by his side, the car ticking down
the road to the beach. His mother used to make
latkes at Hanukkah, roast chicken and bitter herbs
at Passover for my son. Now, she’s divorcing him
and in love with a man who loves the Confederate
Flag. I picture my grandson peering in the rear-
view mirror studying his green eyes, his brown
hair, golden highlights, bleached by summer sun.
He may believe his mother is right.
It’s good to not look Jewish.
He may worry California sun will tan his skin
as dark as his father’s.
He may want to change his name.
The name he inherited from his father.
The name he inherited from his grandfather.
His grandfather who taught him to identify
birds by the shapes of their bodies, the size
of their breaks, the colors of their feathers.
Penny Perry is a six time Pushcart nominee. Her poems and stories have been widely published in the United States and the UK. Garden Oak Press published her collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal and Salvage, in 2012. Her first novel, Selling Pencils and Charlie, is forthcoming from Garden Oak Press.
Mrs. Dalloway Said She Would Buy the Flowers Herself
by Michael Rulli
I decided to buy the flowers myself this morning.
Nothing special, just a few colored roses. Yellow,
white, a red one, and some pink. None of those
tacky turquoise ones, anyone that gets those doesn’t
understand the point. I woke up early and went
out for coffee, because all we had was instant.
On most days that’s fine, but I wanted to enjoy
myself this morning. I didn’t wear anything special,
but the other morning-people still stared at me.
As if I was wearing something grand. I’ve never
understood but you know, you get used to it.
The air was cold, still the sun was bright. The
coffee really wasn’t much better than the freeze
dried shit we had, but it felt nice to tell the
barista to have a good day after they wished
me one. I walked with the flowers peeking out
of my backpack and I thought about how I wished
you were behind me. To catch me, as if I were
a shot from Italian Vogue. Slightly sepia toned.
You’d see the flowers later, next to my bedside
table, and we’d both know they’d die soon but
for the moment, they were still so alive. Still in bloom.
Mike Rulli, aka Faguette, was born and raised in the birthplace of suburbia on Long Island. He now resides in Brooklyn, where he is working on his first collection of poems, Poetic Absurdity, which he hopes to be out in spring but he makes no promises.
Why I Think Studies of Autism Are Pointless
by Emily Vogel
One would think that finding a reason
Would be the solution. One would think
That once the reason was found,
She might say, “how was school today?”
And a whole blab of stories would ensue,
And the child
Would ask for some crackers and milk,
Eat it at the table
And put the glass in the sink.
The child would pick up her dolly
And rock it, and play pretend---
She would change the diaper,
Feed it milk, and speak mommy
Language to it. The child
Would fill his toy truck with sundry things
And roll it down a toy road
And blab all about the mission.
The child would open the bathroom door
And sit down
And urinate, gently pull some toilet paper
From the roll, and snap and zip
His pants. One would think
At the very least, the reason
Would explain why this does not happen.
But what good would an explanation do?
It’s like saying “we know why it is raining today---
We have studied the weather
Quite scrupulously, but unfortunately
We don’t know
How to make it stop” There is
An endless alphabet drifting
In my children’s brains. This morning
I opened my daughter’s door
And she said “good morning.”
There was no reason for this
Except that the sun was rising.
And I don’t need a reason.
What I had was hope.
And sans reasons or explanations,
I think that’s the best we can do.
Emily Vogel's poetry, reviews, translations, and essays have been published widely, most recently in Tiferet, Omniverse, PEN, and several topical anthologies with NYQ Books. Her most recent collection is Dante's Unintended Flight (2017, NYQ Books). She has a children's book forthcoming this spring, entitled Clara's Song (Swingin' Bridge Books). She teaches writing at SUNY Oneonta and is married to the poet, Joe Weil.