Writing

One

Angie O’Neal

I read somewhere we spend thirty
minutes as a single cell. Primal then
as algae. Still as ice in the shallows
of an ancient blue.

That is how we all begin, a rill of
snowmelt at inception before the
riverbed’s deepening channel.

One hair of root beneath the earth,
dark over deep in a belly of dirt,
waiting to be born.

And that is where we tend, towards
those thirty minutes of oneness before
rivers, before the predawn fire wakes us

and we run. Back to one where we spot
tadpoles in the basin water, a shard of fossil
lost silent in the mud, a veil of gossamer on

the morning. Back to paying attention as
we listen for the lonesome shrill of a night
train in the distance, its promise of going home.


A Snapshot of Poverty

David Thompson

I. It’s summertime in Manaus, Brazil. Not that there’s anything resembling fall or winter here; the heat remains constant throughout the four seasons. And the humidity. Take the first step down from the plane onto the tarmac and it slaps you in the face like a wet rag just pulled from a hot dishwater. Only one thing stands out even more than the oppressive calidity: the abject poverty. If the heat is a rag, the ever-present destitution is a suffocating blanket.

II. As we travel through Manaus from one destination to another, driving on badly paved, unmarked roads filled with potholes approaching the size of café tables, we pass several young children. Barefoot and scruffy, they walk and jog mere feet from the frenzied whirlwind of cars and motorcycles passing them by. One misstep, and they would become just another statistic under “vehicular fatalities.”

III. A house sits on the side of the road. One of the many street urchins may well call it home, but it is no home. It is a shack. Hardly two hundred feet square, the structure is made of cheap sideboard, unfinished and unstained. The tin roof keeps out the rain and sun—at least most of it—but accomplishes nothing more. A crude two-tiered door that doubles as the sole window gives me a quick glance into this family’s home life. I see a flash of bunk beds, bright drapes, and a giant flat-screen television. My eyes travel back to the outside. Sure enough, a small dish occupies one corner of the tin roof. Then, the house is gone; we pass by this brief snapshot of need, one that displays perfectly the larger picture of Manaus.


11/13/15

Elle Ryan

Liberté.
Quickly snuffed.
Trapped
Within the din of terror.
Hostages while the world watched.
Explosions
Panic.

Egalité.
Equal in death.
Shocked
By the reality of terror
From uneven hatred toward the world
Slaughter
Senseless.

Fraternité
Je suis Paris.
United
Against the face of terror.
The world, grieved, but not weak
Defiant
Resilient.


A Girl Named Joy

Leah-Joy Smith

I.

The sun burned
I could see the tractor in the field
Daddy waved, standing by the hay bailer
My pudgy hand pointed to my hair
It looked like Princess Leia pigtails
I jumped, returning the wave with excitement
To me,
We came to the hay field just to show Daddy my hair
I’m sure that wasn’t the case
I didn’t care

He saw me
And smiled

II.

My phone rang from its perch on the windowsill
My heart hiked into my throat
The cool, front porch air chilled my fingers
I recognized his number
The boy who never wrote me back
He asked how I was doing
Words flew from my mouth
Mumbled and mixed together
Felt like shrapnel coming through my throat
Creating grey confusion
I told him why I called earlier
Putting my hurt heart into words
Saying, “I forgive you,” shook me
He stopped, listened, but he had to go
I said goodbye for the last time
I know how I deserve to be loved.


The Cleansing Cut

Megan Selvig

“But I am like a flourishing olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in God’s faithful love forever and ever.”

Psalm 52:8(HCSB)

         It is daylight at last, and I am stiff as usual. I can feel the warmth of the sun bidding me to awake, and I hungrily inhale the morning air. Over the last few months, I have grown significantly, and I am proud of my quick progress. I am no longer a mere seed or sapling. Finally, I may call myself an adult after defeating the difficult adolescent years. There were times when I thought I would not make it, especially during the winters when I almost froze, but I survived and blossomed thanks to my Caretaker.
Speaking of, here He comes! I stretch as tall and as wide as I possibly can in order to please Him. He smiles as He approaches and places a gentle hand on my trunk. I feel peace surge through me accompanied with a fresh sense of power and life. One touch from Him is all it ever takes for my strength to return after enduring the night. He comes to me every day, multiple times a day, as He does for all of the other trees in our lovely garden. I am not jealous of the attention He gives to them because He never makes me feel any less special than the others. He always takes care of me. I wish I could smile back at Him, tell how much I appreciate Him, but I can neither move nor speak. After all, I am only a simple Olive Tree.
As He walks around my trunk, I stand at attention, ready to be inspected by my Gardener. I feel good, so I am shocked to see a sudden change come upon His handsome face. He frowns, and a chill travels from my highest leaves to my deepest roots. What does He see? Is He displeased? Did I do something wrong? He walks back to his truck and removes His ladder. He sets it up against me and climbs until He reaches a certain branch without any leaves. This is my favorite branch, my pride and joy, the branch that had developed the most over the past few months. However, there are no longer any leaves on it. Something must be wrong with it, and it is strange that I had not noticed until now.
The Gardener touches the brittle bark, and it crumbles easily. It stings, but I hold my ground and refuse to acknowledge the shudder that threatens to sweep over me. I trust my Gardener, and I know He would never do anything to intentionally hurt me. He is a master of His profession, but at this moment, I am uncertain. Fearful. Anxious. What will He do to fix my beloved branch? He pulls a knife out of his pocket and touches my trunk tenderly. There is a melancholy look in His deep, vibrant eyes. He draws closer and whispers these words for my ears only.
“My Dear, I must be honest with you. What I am about do to will hurt. There will be a scar, and it will take time to heal. I know this is your favorite branch, and I love it too. It produced abundant fruit and beautiful flowers in the past, but now it is sick and nearing death. In the spring, it will bear no fruit. It will only steal nutrients away from other places that can use it. It will rob you of energy. As your Caretaker, I cannot allow that to happen. I want you to flourish, so I need to do this. I am going to remove this branch so you will be able to continue to grow strong and healthy. I know this is hard. I am truly sorry, but this is for the best. However, I won’t remove it without your permission.”
I remain motionless for a while, meditating on His words, His holy and perfect words. I can’t let that branch go. What if He is wrong about the branch? What if it could be healed? What if it ends up producing fruit? What if it only needs more water and tender loving care? I trust this Man with my life; He has never betrayed me. He has cut other branches before, but I can only remember one other instance where the cut struck extremely deep and caused unbearable pain for an extended amount of time. Could I endure that agony again? As if on cue, I feel a burning sensation in the spot where the old branch had once been. I remember that the healing months were the worst part of my life thus far. I sigh, and in our own language, I finally give Him permission to remove the branch. He silently nods and begins His work.
As He works, I change my mind on multiple occasions. Stop! I try to scream, but He diligently keeps at the task at hand, completely focused. At the halfway point, He pauses and looks at me with tears in His eyes, and I realize that He is hurting as much as I am. Love for Him fills my wooden heart as reddish-brown sap flows freely from the new hole in my side. He removes the last part of the branch and lets it fall to the ground. My stomach makes the same dull thump as the branch upon impact with the cold earth. The Gardener looks at me sorrowfully and leans over to embrace my trunk sympathetically.
“Never forget that I love you, Darling. I want what is best for you. I have an amazing plan for you, and you have a bright future ahead of you. Continue to trust Me. I will always be nearby, and I will check on you regularly. Listen for My voice when you need comfort. Call Me when you need Me, and I will come. Someday, you will be fully restored, complete, and lacking nothing because you have chosen Me. I promise all of these things and more, My Child.”


From Under the Rocks

Kristin Towe

There are stones in my face, crumbling around me.
These ancient walls have fallen
And for so long they have been my safety.

Vulnerable, naked, without a hope
I stand among the ruins unclothed
From where I’ve had my greatest fall,
I wonder how to rebuild it all…

My fingers are frail, the stones too big
Like my burdens and sins
I pick them up only to fall again

Tripping on the rocks, bruised
Reaching around in vain
Walls of rock and fright
But through a crack, light

I blink away this hope
From it, I turn my face
With disregard it seeks me anyway

This is how reconstruction happens
Take the broken, mend it with light
The stones will refashion
And the soul will take flight.


Insomnia

Cody Cronan

“In wildness is the preservation of the world. “ – Henry David Thoreau

          I can’t sleep. I have tossed and turned maybe ten times, and I am still awake. I throw off my brown comforter and stand on the floor. The linoleum is cold and unbearably hard. I hear the whisper of the wind outside, and it sounds soothing.
I walk down the narrow hallway to the dining room; the dim light is easy on my tired, sleepless eyes. I open the door to the back porch, and then the screen door to the handmade back deck. The fourteen year-old structure is wet and tinted moss green, absent of the rich wooden color it once had. The light rain throughout the day has left it cool, and it quenches the soles of my feet.
I pull one of the table chairs to the fenced boarder, light a cigarette, sit down, and prop my feet up on the wood railing. I notice the black lock on the gate. The bolts are rusted; their color matches the bark of the twisting tree, like a light colored coffee, growing up the side of the deck.
Along with the smell of my burning menthol tobacco there is the musky smell of damp wood, and other unidentified aromas that the first fall breeze I’ve felt this season has whisked my way. This breeze has been overdue. For months, I’ve suffocated, on the verge of claustrophobia, without the embrace of open air. Like a ride on a tall roller coaster—it leaves me breathless. So I will take deep breaths, and exhale, letting loose the breath of smoke I’ve kept harbored for twenty-five seconds.
I hear the crickets playing in one of their nightly concerts, the dogs barking in the distance for an encore—and then the breeze speaks again, muting everything else.
Before it was hard to sleep, but now I can’t keep my eyes open. There is something about the dark shapes of the leaves overhead. The somber deep blue in the blank spaces between the trees speaks without words, and I think this was all I needed—the sounds, feelings, and visions of something real, genuine, and natural. I take the last three hits from my cigarette. Discarding the butt, I turn around before I go back inside, and look at the after-midnight splendor beyond the back deck and thank God for nature’s beautiful white noise.


Restoration

Gerry Schlitz

A summer job in people’s homes
Travel a great distance
To places unknown
Google map guiding the way
Breaking the fear at the break of day

Arriving at dark; a gate code unknown
Headlights help enter, jump out alone
Dogs that meet you unexpectedly
Who’s more hesitant, them or me?

Meeting the patient, the family, the meds
The washing, the cooking, the changing of beds
Learning the rhythm and listening much
Kindness and caring and moments that touch

Sometimes too much the caring demands
Causes a weakness of healthy hands
Forgetting the self—a strenuous heart
Ignoring a symptom has to depart

Infection!

Unexpectedly, the roles are reversed
Myself usually second, now becomes first
Hospital, doctors, unknown meds
What is the matter? My face is all red

Because I’m trained, I manage the test
Recording the facts, desperate for rest
Vulnerable to pain, totally down
Praying for God to turn me around

Hearing loss, what I feared as I worked
Quietness enveloped my being
Meds unable to resolve, but then
A friend took me under her wing

A new opening of trust and respect
Flowed in my life; those I least expect
Allowed my life to stop and be healed
Changed me forever, a miracle revealed

My ear opened after a healing prayer.


As One Heart Beats, So Does Another

Patrick Massey

Have you heard the news today?
Another shooting happened.
Twenty reported suicides were discovered.
Families in places of plenty can’t afford food.
It makes your own problems seem insignificant.

But your problems still hurt,
Even if they are so much lesser than others.
You try to contain the pain, conceal it,
But eventually the dam will burst in your heart.

It is not fair to yourself to compare your pain.
Everyone in this world is unique,
With each heart beating at its own pace
What may be nothing to one
May mean the world to another.

Should we disregard the girl struggling for her future?
Throw away the boy who has difficulty reading?
Ignore the man whose wife no longer loves him?
Tell the mother who lost her child to toughen up?
It should be our duty as human beings
To help one another no matter how big
Or how little our troubles are.
Because we all share them.


Brother, Let Me be Your Shelter

Leah-Joy Smith

“Momma, when will Daddy be home?” asked the little girl in the backwards baseball cap. Her older sister who smiled for a hobby kept looking out the kitchen window down the quarter mile driveway. Momma stirred a pot of pintos with her favorite wooden spoon while the house filled up with the smell of cornbread. “He should be home in just a little bit, okay?”

Their two sets of tiny ears perked when they heard the gravel crunch. Their eyes curved down the rock and dirt driveway till they bumped into his service truck. “Go meet him,” Momma said. With bare-feet and happy hearts, they met Daddy on the driveway after a nine-hour day in the woods. The truck slowed to a stop. It filled their noses with the familiar scent of diesel fuel and saw gas.

Both in their yellow Smith Brothers Logging Inc. t-shirts and dusty legs, Marigrace held the mail and Noel sat in front of Daddy’s lunch box asking for a sip of sweet tea from his Styrofoam cup. They were each given a piece of ice to cool off with. The gallon of milk Daddy picked up from the service station left a square of sweat on the muddy floorboard by their feet.

“You better watch it, girl,” Daddy said as Noel stole his ball cap and revealed his curly hat-hair. Marigrace had had her ball cap on all day. She wanted to be a logger too.

The truck grumbled to a stop by the shed while Momma waited with her Nikon. “Wait, wait, wait! Don’t get out yet. I want a picture.” Noel readily revealed all her baby teeth and wrapped her twig-arms around Daddy and Marigrace’s necks.

“Marigrace,” Momma said, “honey, don’t make that face. Smile.”

Daddy chuckled. “All y’all say ‘boogers’.”

Momma cocked her head, “Travis!”

“Alright. Pickles!”

Noel giggled, Marigrace crinkled her nose with her backwards ball cap on. Daddy laughed and Momma snapped the shutter.

                  “Everybody needs someone beside ‘em, shining like a light house from the sea.

I was little and thought that Noel was all grown up because she was in college. She handed me a chilled, sweating can of Dr. Pepper to sip on while my ears listened to the story she trusted me with. She poured her heart out while she sat on her quilt-covered bed. I sat on the homemade, yellow twill-cushioned chair across from her.

Seven years later, she hands me a six-pound bundle of strong-will while I sit on the hospital guest bed in her room on the labor and delivery floor. We ate pizza and sipped Coca-Cola. The sun lit the room till we found ourselves accompanied only by the moon. Drops dripped onto the blanket of the sleeping baby in my lap with every heart beat that thumped out the painful story. Noel sat crossed legged in front of me and listened to the story I trusted her with.

I know that in my weakness I am strong, but / It’s your love that brings me home.

Marigrace sat at the end of the table. I sat across from her with a warm cup of coffee between my nervous hands. With her honest hazel eyes, she told me, “No, don’t let him do that. He’s just playing. And whenever a boy plays with something, he usually breaks it. Don’t let him play with your heart. You were so brave to call and tell him you forgive him, but that’s all you need to do.”

I sat at the table while Marigrace leaned against the brown pillows in the kitchen window seat. I could tell she had been running her fingers through her bangs. Her bags packed, her backbone intact, she needed the listening ears of sisters. Her story pushed out. “What do y’all think?” she asked. She sat in front of me; steady as the beat of a monastic chant. “I think you’re right. And you are so strong. I’m sorry.”

Brother let me be your fortress / When the night winds are driving on / Be the one to light the way / Bring you home.”


Naomi’s Wedding Toast

Renee Emerson

If you were to ask me to define love
I would not trace the familiar
boundaries, allow restlessness
to wear a thin line of dirt
in the bright spring grass.
I would define it from the even-step
of routine living–washing the same
dishes again and again, rinsing
strawberry juice that blooms
pink-red across white plates.

Like most, you have learned well enough,
that love is more than a hand in a hand.
It is, rather, the two of you
in a boat rowing toward shore.

Your hand on an oar, his hand on an oar.


Naomi at the Wake

Renee Emerson

My sons’ widows are in the yard, entertaining, in a way. Shaking
hand after hand, accepting a hug, drawing in close to someone
as if drawn from the deep waters of overgrown crabgrass and clover.
The church handyman offered to come mow before the wake
but I told him no, let them see a little of our loss, or “share”
in it, as they say.  Here the girls hug and dab at the eyes; in privacy,
the girls wail. I stay in the kitchen, eternal, a ticking
clock, and arrange casseroles like bought plots of land; dip serving
spoons into the mash of cheese, potato, egg; pass out paper plates.
Nothing is expected of me here. My daughters-in-law are beautiful,
exposed in the yard, two mirror figures like displaced shadows.
One always planted her garden with summer vegetables, the other
with show flowers. I wonder sometimes what that meant for my sons,
in their marriages. I see little of myself in either woman.
To them grief is a broken pattern—the half-V  of migrating geese, the clover
with four leaves, the fair-haired child in the family. Often, as a young mother,
I had the nightmare of my sons dying, by kidnapping, car, drowning
in the strong arm of the local river. I was vigilant. And I watch now.


Death’s Beauty

Sarah Geil

We patiently wait for the flowers to die. Vibrant in their prime, lilies, roses, and carnations served their symbolic purposes with brave yellows and passionate reds. Now, their glory has slowly shifted to a cold and crisp, dull and dying sepia. They’ve soaked their water and I didn’t quench their thirst because we have a tradition. We fill the car with friends. I pile three vases into my lap as my roommate drives to our pedestrian bridge. The radio rings the perfect soundtrack to our happy lives.

He was my celebrity crush, but he was not a celebrity. A few years older than me, I wanted to be like him. He taught English at a private school. He spoke with passion for the God I loved. When I saw that he was engaged, a part of me wanted to turn on a sad chick flick and mourn lost chances. But what little I knew of him made me grin at his wedding pictures. His bride looked lovely, he looked jubilant, and I doubt he even remembered my name.

I turn my head so their once lovely, now fowl, fragrance reeks with less force. As I shift, the spindly fingers of the flowers intertwine my hair in their death grip. We leave a trail of crinkled petals. Sunflower cicadas echo in the twilight’s stillness. This is the place we’ll graduate, but now, we come to play four square and to toss flowers. The river’s unknowable depths swirl below. Stars, the daisies of the sky, are still shy, not yet appearing. We untangle the leaves that have curled together in their last days, cruelly separating them for their final descent. We toss; they float away without any of the simple ceremony they once represented.

I taught with him, once. We were charged with delivering the halftime sermon for the Super Bowl party. I was nervous in front of the room of peers. I never have understood football. He did. I was nervous in front of him, this mature teacher who was still young. The Saints won that year. A few years later, the best saint I sort of knew would go marching home. But that isn’t what we “preached” about.

We laugh, holding onto a secret hope that maybe one day, the seeds of these dead flowers will bloom anew somewhere down the river Coosa. We took a picture. We skipped home.

I scrolled through Facebook, looking at more engagements and little sources of laughter. I saw a post or two from home, from people I hadn’t talked to in a few years. One after another, their statuses were shocking. I clicked over to Google to confirm. John Michael died. He was twenty three, married for only a year. They say it was a camping fall that caused his death. I didn’t go to his funeral, didn’t post a status, didn’t even talk to anyone about it. But I cried the night I found out like I would cry if my favorite celebrity passed away.

I wonder if the flowers by his graveside have died. I wonder if this is all there is. Or will his graveside flowers, now dead, bloom again? Joy mingles with pain; death dances with life.


God and a Chainsaw

Leah-Joy Smith

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

Fear and Deceit planted weeds
In the soil of my heart.
The seeds sprouted and weaseled through.
I never put a hoe at their base,
Or dug their roots out of the dirt.
Their stumps strong, blooms
Beautiful, offering nauseating nectar.

Like a honey-bee in Spring, I paused
Over each bud, harvesting its opinion.
This nectar, I stored, held onto,
Believed the sickening feeling.

Fertilizer slipped
Through my fingers, my tears provided
The moisture required.
This weed lacked nothing. I gave it permission
To climb, bloom and loom over me
Till I believed it to be a true fruit tree
Who might bear beauties to nourish me.

Limbs reached and roots dug deeper,
Deeper; I lived with this weed
Planted by Fear, by Deceit.
But I did not see it as such. It filled
Its slithering form.
This Manchineel spread sap and seeds
My hands held no weapons against.

Roots wrapped tight to force belief.
Limbs stout like titanium triggers on guard.
Father wraps his hands around it;
The stump ran deep, cut at the base.
Root shoots pulled out, left trenches.
Poison washed away, scattered soil, hollow heart.
But grace fills trenches; love grants healing.


Legacy of Ghosts

Fabrice Poussin

So it is that we find us alone under the heavy skies
Ghosts perhaps on the meadow of great poppies
Standing many in the midst of gentle slopes
Broken trees in fruitless blossoms, black

The air filled with an aroma stranger to the swallows
Chirping in unison with the sound of loud crackers
Wrapped in the immensity of a painful cotton blanket
We dare not move for fear of altering fate entire

No longer speaking of the icy cold hail of our hearts
Warmth, heat, no more matter than all the smoke
Clouds of dark remembrance, mist of our loves
All a memory of the instant recently murdered

The morrow will come, we will continue to stand
Noble statues unnoticed, and unaffected
The visitor, the farmer, the scientist all will come
They will traverse the land, oblivious, a little cruel

From time to time one will tremble for reason unknown
If he stands beside us to see or understand nothing
This intruder of another time, another place
Who inherited our flesh, our blood, bastard son

Ions passed, he too is gone, only we stand yet again
Guardians of times rehearsed, repeated, committed to eternity
Among the agonies, the joys, the last cigarette, a game of cards
And the final dance in the fireworks of our destiny

It is now morn’ on the misty green…


In the Basement of the Old Ocklawaha Church

Zayne Allen

An old piano, on a ragged road at the edge
Of town. Those keys were home for me; its
Untuned notes rare but sweet, like a Cerulean
Warbler chirping loudly in the Florida spring,
Unaware of his dissonance.
The piano was worn; its ivory tarnished
And smudged, nearly blackened by years of passion
And feeling as it exchanged many dirty and more
Capable hands than mine. This isolated piano
Knew nothing of status, nothing of social rank;
It welcomed me as equally as anyone.
The room was dark and musty.
The walls, lined with boxes of outdated
Sunday school materials and gospel tracts,
Were illuminated only by a lone candle atop
The lid of the instrument, like a lonely spirit
Unwilling to traverse into the afterlife, blocking
The way to the piano’s many broken strings. The air,
Like breathing waves of mud, choked me as I rehearsed
Notes against the back wall of that forgotten space.
I never could play a song on that piano;
Its notes more suitable for the ears of a young drunk
Wasting away his evening in the neighborhood bar.
Nevertheless, I had hope that I too, like the
Old piano—damaged, dull, and disregarded—
Possessed worth despite my flaws; that my songs of life
Would ring as sweetly in the ears of those who heard.


June Came

Grace Harper

June came and warmed the fields. Children rushed to cool pools to give the water their warmth. Flowers frowned and hastily pushed themselves up further trying to greet the sun, though it was becoming a bit overbearing. The heat encouraged a few new plants to greet their brothers. The animals scurried about looking for shadows under which to cool off.

July came to step in for his brother. He gave the blazing white sun full reign of the sky. The trees looked desperately for the sparse rains that July allowed to visit. The leaves remained green from sheer willpower. July made the world dry and crunchy, scorching the ground. Sweat began watering the earth more than rain. The plants of the earth spread their roots deep into the soil, depleting the supply of water buried under the earth.

The beginning of August proved the trees were not strong enough. Cracks began to show in branches. Different hues of greens in fields faded to golds and browns. The flowers frowned and watched in silence as some of their own fell to the ground. August weighed heavy on the earth.

September blew him away with gentle winds and settled in. A few clouds slipped past the borders and sent kisses to the earth before hastily slipping away, wishing to remain unnoticed. September had but a few days to undo the work the sun had done on the fields. He coaxed a few clouds to sleep around the sun, but no one was strong enough yet to cover the sun during the day.

When October came in, he did his best to send off the last of the plants honorably, painting them colors of the dirt that had nurtured them. October laid the flowers deep beneath the soil for eternal sleep. He blew winds, pushing the children hopping over creeks to wear light jackets as their footsteps crushed to dust what remained of the trees’ reigns.

The earth began resting until November. He broke open the floodgates so the sky became an ocean, drenching the parched ground. The ground drank until it gurgled and then some. Water overflowed into the hiding creeks, now rising, rising, gaining strength, and becoming powerful. Splash! onto light jackets and new rain boots. The brooks extended into spindles and fingers throughout the woods and dripped, dripped, dripped into squash fields before being soaked up into the vines. Under November, the rivers fully reigned. With an iron scepter, in haste, he lined the skies with his armies who thundered continuously and drenched the greenery in fury. The icy water found homes in old, cement sidewalk cracks and under houses. It seemed there would be no end to the flood until, slowly, strands of grey sunlight snuck through the line of soldiers in the sky. Cracks began showing through the arms. Warm yellow rays, November’s fingers, obscured by the grey streaks, slipped in. Inch by inch, gold trimmed the clouds. The rain became soft, and the gracious, warm smile of November broke down the last of the soldiers he had forged. He kept the springs at bay, pacifying the rivers and clouds with the fractals of light that danced on their surfaces and the soft spines and vines that crept in to drink. A few sparse surviving plants, grown by the stormy weather slipped their fingers into the streams and sipped, playing with the waters. Gaiety flew throughout the realm with pastel golds, oak wood browns, and hues from orange to red all fallen onto the ground. Educated. Reasonable. Rational. Realistic. Kind. November mended the curtains and tapestry hanging over windows and from ceilings. He had the floor washed and the throne dusted. He stood up and smiled when an icy wind blew in dancing with the tapestries and glazing the throne with icicles. His work was finished. In stepped December. With a graceful bow, November wished luck and departed.

December took its rightful place on the throne and began painting the earth with soft white. The bare trees glistened. Students were awoken and called to hang ornaments about the branches. The sauntering black bear and thin foxes found homes and burrows. Warm and snug, they were sung to sleep by December’s lullabies. The animals quieted, but the while the forests slowed down, the cities bustled more than normal. Under December, the storefronts became aglow, the skies were made of pencil strokes, and the air was crisp, awakening everyone. School children played in the white fluff while parents relished in how much better hot chocolate tasted in snow-laden houses. No one questioned December, not her coming and not her leaving. No one questioned her benevolent leadership except the few stuck out in the cold.

When January took the throne, no one noticed the difference, even despite the showy fireworks the humans put on. December’s sister was as gentle and subtle as herself. She was the essence of mystery and peace.

It was not until February that the human inhabitants of the earth noticed a change in their surroundings. Sometimes water droplets, not from the sky, covered the snow. The sun, at times, ushered away the clouds, making the white fields shine. In certain spots, spouts of new life deep under the snow could be felt letting the eager greenery push up against the cold, snowflake ceilings.

March coaxed the sprouts out of their hiding places in the snow. He dismissed the rest of the ice and snow into the rivers, melting in with their kindred. Leaves pulled out of their hiding places in the branches of trees. The sun smiled on the new foliage of the delicate saplings.

March prepared the way for April, who gently revealed the baby saplings, while the unborn were still tucked away in seeds. Blooms flowered throughout the fields. Meadows were filled with newborn doe. Even city cars were dusted with yellow. The sun continued smiling, kept at bay by the blue sky’s clouds. The birds in flight flew so far that they ran into May who was rushing in with a briefcase, a bit late as always. He quickly greeted April, la bise and a smile. Then he began scribbling up directions. Vines that were getting too heavy had to be plucked and trimmed. New generations of trees had snuck into adulthood and were bewildered by their new roles in life. The Law. The Rule-Maker. The Counselor. May was everything, and when the chaos had all been ordered and nurtured, he shed a few tears of pride in his work, and left.

Then, June came.


The Broken Window

Stefanie Starkey

I

The big window,
The broken one in the
kitchen; I sit and wait
he never came home

I often waited
for that black
Chevy to pull back up

one day I saw
a new man with mom
on bended knee
he held up a ring

I saw through
that same window
the new bicycle
he bought for me

I saw when he
pulled up with
my new ride –
a shiny black Chevy

II

I never looked
again for that
long ago gone
man of my past

he may have given
me life and breath
that donation was
his first and last

He never came
home to fix that broken
window; that new man
was happy to fill the cracks

We spent all day
fitting together the new
panes and glass
until it was perfect

“I’ll never leave you”
he told me one day
and ever since then
I have not been afraid

III

I now stand waiting
for him to arrive
to give me away
in white dress and veil

he waves, smiles
knows that window,
our window; a hug
he holds me tightly

we walk down the isle
he raises my veil
tears of joy fall
down both our faces

I feel the love
that this man wasn’t
required to give to me
ebbing like an endless river

This man is my dad
he read me stories
pulled my first tooth
held me when I cried for another

I never had to worry,
looking through that window.
For I knew in my soul –
this man would come home.


Christmas in Barbed Wire

Fabrice Poussin

Gas of mustard seeds in a muddy grave
The fizz of copper cones steady as the rain
The fire in his fingers soon will calm the heart
As the lids will close on the shameful spectacle

Wire of thorns among the shriveled roses
A torrent of red and gray will flow near the boots
Reflected by a sad moon full of grief, of anger
So many hearts stopped in wait of a sound

The commotion returns as a pebble hits metal
With a soft thump mixed of silence and prayers
Lids open onto blue, and green, and gray, and black
Droplets venture upon the soot carving deep crevasses

On the ruined faces of lives not yet loved a moment
And the tears too cry in certain agony
As they mirror the sorrow of a thousand souls
Still holding on to a vague nothingness in moonlight

Gas of mustard seeds, a copper piece in the flesh
Dearest memories of hours never spent
Of a time frozen somewhere in irreverence
Along a river that forgot to run its course

Standing dark against the black sky, shapeless
A man, dressed in mud, fleshy matter, and a steel hat
Looks for his soul somewhere on the field
Seeks the light of a life which ran away

When he could not look, when he was not allowed
They bought it for nothing, but a pile of bones
Found in a hole where he thought they traded his
In the desolation of a world never completed

Home he dies, the shell of a war that never burst
The shell of a man who remained a boy of twenty
At fifty-six he dies of sweet gas of mustard seeds
And copper gifts from another, for a Christmas that never was.


The Fall and the Uprising

Emily Tyler

A created world lost in darkness, completely shrouded by sin
A tree that introduced death, so no more were we invited in
The hearts of men fell further with every passing day
To the once angelic serpent that only seeks to slay
He is cunning and charming, but his words are purely deceiving
A lake of eternal fire is what his followers will really be receiving
Blinded are the searching eyes of these seduced men
For fleshly scales block the Spirit that wants to live within

Time moves on with creation, and hope seems to be lost
For salvation cannot be obtained without a heavy cost
So through the line of a king, a virgin conceives a boy
He proclaims hope to all and fills the people with joy
His teachings speak of forgiveness and His ministry was astounding
The people fell in love with this man, their hearts forcefully pounding
A solution was finally arising for the world, or rather so it seemed
They exalted Him as Messiah, and wanted to make Him king

In love He accepted all people, and healed the brokenhearted
But His purpose went so much deeper and was just getting started
His fame spread far and wide but jealousy’s root was arising
Religious leaders wanted His death and were soon conniving
Time after time, they failed to arrest this man once again
For His words could not be twisted nor would they bend
They tried to contradict His teachings but He had an answer to all
And with every word He preached, more people responded to His call
So in desperation the serpent knew what he could do
He whispered to the accusers, and told them who to use
A night of feasting on bread and wine, plus prayer with some friends
Turned into a deceptive kiss as the guards took this man in

A trial was given and a verdict was soon proclaimed
Though despite His believers, none wanted Him to stay
So He was taken and beaten, just for having the truth spread
Lashes of victory cried out as the serpent watched the flowing red
The plant’s rejected thorns spiraled into His crown,
As pegs fastened Him to a tree and the sun slowly went down
Death was not far off, for His time was almost nearing
He was abandoned by all, even His Father, whose heart was breaking and tearing
A sour touch to the tongue and a few last words were cried out
Earth’s final hope had been destroyed as the serpent gave a shout

Crushed by remorse of the taken light, the sun showed its face no more
For light had gone into the place of the dead and Hell slammed the door
Confusion seized the followers, as people hid out of sight
Afraid to speak His name, hearing the guards lurking in the night
The stone was finally put into place, with a body on the other side
No one dared to utter a phrase, as heaven slowly cried
Although this man’s purpose was not as one expected
For after three days had come and gone, He was resurrected

Hidden from sight, the presence of God had once been concealed
But now the veil was finally torn and the people’s hearts could be healed
Despite the feast of celebration, Hell realized that it had lost
For an empty grave and folded garments had now paid the full cost
The serpent hissed in rage at the sound of Heaven’s door swinging open
For no more were we shut out, because its locks were permanently broken
Scales started to peel away from mankind’s darkened eyes
For Light had been introduced into the world, and taken back up into the skies
Though not all will respond to His call, the Spirit is here to stay
Until the earth erupts in fire and Christ comes back to take us away


Knots

Alden Powell

Heart strings
Are fragile things.
They stretch, break, and tear,
They snap, and fray, without care.

You played on my heart strings,
Played on them like it was a game.
You wanted to see the things
You could do to hurt and maim.

You played the strings like a fiddle,
yet you were a musician like no other.
You solved the riddle
That was me, and left me with no cover.

Fragile things
Are heart strings.
Strings that can be played on
And danced upon.

You snapped mine.
They are frayed and broken,
And it seems there is no more time,
No more words to be spoken.

The broken strings,
Are not such fragile things.
Tied up into knots
To bring back wandering thoughts.

Knots that seem to multiply.
They are tough and worn;
They are scars carried by
The strings that you have torn.

Heart strings
Are fragile things,
But the knots I made are strong,
Because I made right what you did wrong.


Stutter

Elle Ryan

I sharpen my sword, my tongue, to speak
And lunge into the bitter brawl
A vowel snickers between my cheeks
Mind races forward…mouth stalls.

The room’s eyes watch and wait for sound
Years of training all for naught
Technique and linguist tricks abound
Forgot in phonetic onslaught

Thoughts swirl, search for a similar word
A synonym with a glottal stop
Perhaps Elision—the same sounds slurred
Fortition—approximant-to-plosive swap

I strike a blow, impale the gut
Diaphragm punch and soft ‘h’ assist.
The vowel tumbles in diphthong cut
First sound—hated enemy—vanquished.

But fallen foe is quick replaced
Soft consonant parries with riposte
Tongue tries to stab word out in haste
But, assaulted, turns back on its host.

There should be rhythm to my tone
Instead I wield a sporadic sword
‘Tip of the tongue’ is my combat zone
Whole body shaking with the force

With pounding pulse and jerking head
I lunge-swing-slash with final blitz
Through fumbling sounds the foe is dead
But mute mental melee always persists

They offer cures in sincere attempt
‘Just enunciate,’ is what they say
Yet few could sense my own contempt
For the lifelong battle to say my name


A Different Note to an Unknown Soldier

Sarah Geil

Sarah got a love letter. Major Sullivan Ballou wrote to his beloved wife: “Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.” He died a week later. You, you never got a letter and we’ve forgotten your name. You’re shrouded in mystery and disguised even now. So here’s my letter to you:

Dear America,

Is it alright if I call you so? See, a mere century and a half has passed, and we’ve forgotten your name. You wanted to fight, but you were a woman. And you were the rarest of these rare.

Why did you go? Were you like Mrs. Black, accidently placed on a draft role? Were you just a teenager who read dime novels of heroes dressing up like men to fight for patriotism and beauty? Did you abhor slavery? Or were you romantic like Hattie Martin, a newlywed who’d just promised to follow your husband all the way to the grave? Somehow, I don’t see you as a romantic. Were you fleeing? Did you run from the abuse of a war at home to a different war? What drove you to don the disguise?

America, your grandkids, if you had them, are around sixty years old.

Did you cut beautiful long locks behind closed doors? Did you bury blonde tresses or chestnut curls beneath the dirt, a funeral for your feminity? How did it feel to wear pants for the first time? Did you steal the oversized uniform? Or were you rich like Loreta Valzquez who had custom “shoulders” built out of wire? Something makes me think you were poor.

America, can you believe it, the country’s one again?

Did you keep from singing when the young boys played so your soprano wouldn’t give away your secret? Did your heart beat with the drums, scared of death and aching for change? What was your first battle? Were you at Shiloh, Gettysburg, or the Battles of the Bull Run? Who did you turn to when you saw the bodies, the missing limbs, the blood soaked fields? How did you wash the blood of your friends from the hairs of your arm in a company of men? Did your secret keep you away from brotherhood?

America, you must have found someone. Or someone found you. Because you weren’t just one of the known 500 female soldiers who disguised themselves as men to fight. You were one of the six that fought while with child.

Who was the baby’s father? Was he the boy who you romantically followed to war? Was he a Confederate, and you, a Yankee? Was he cruel? Did he discover your secret and attack—was that why he didn’t encourage you to leave when he found out? Had he been killed? Was that why you wept; why you stayed?

America, today, would you have gotten an abortion?

When did you discover that while boys died, life grew inside of you? When morning sickness attacked with the force of a rebel yell, did you duck behind a bush? Did you chalk it up to the gruesome battle? Could you cry?

America, the country’s fighting still.

Most women gain twenty to thirty-five pounds. How did you hide the extra weight when soldiers were supposed to be starving? Were the men that dense, that distracted? How did you hoist a rifled musket when your stomach bulged with newness?

America, why didn’t you leave? Why wasn’t the fight over for you sooner? What kind of world were you bringing your baby into? Maybe you didn’t know where your home was anymore. Or was it that you’d grown to love the cruelty of war?

How did you feel when your story was in the paper? You, a private person of secrets, made the headlines. Adrian Root wrote home to his mother, “A corporal of a New Jersey regiment who was on duty with the pickets complained of being unwell… His officers had him carried to a nearby farmhouse. There the worthy corporal was safely delivered of a fine, fat little recruit for the… regiment!” Did you have a mother to write home to?

You were relieved of your picket duty when you were discovered. Was this your first child? Did you know what to do with a squalling babe? How long did it take for your hair to grow long again? Was honesty as unfamiliar as the dress in the winter of 1863?

America, you make me wonder what I’m missing.

Sincerely,

A daughter of the broken nation you fought to mend.


My Favorite Color

Megan Selvig

Purple was my favorite color

Until he came
Suddenly
Silently
Violently

Now purple is what I am
The bruise on my cheek
The blood on my lip
The cut on my arm

Purple is not a color; it is
Pain
Discomfort
Abuse

I greatly fear purple
That clenched fist
That cold stare
That so-called love

I am a forgotten purple raisin
With a black eye
With a broken nose
With a wrinkled body

Purple is what I do
I cry purple
I bleed purple
I am purple

Then a Purple Man arrived.
With a crown of thorns on His head
With rusty nails in His hands
With a deep wound in His side

He proved that purple can mean something else
Freedom
Hope
Salvation

I reached out to Him
Desperate
Damaged
Defeated

He took my frail hand
Cured me
Saved me
Remade me

Today I wear purple as a reminder
Of what almost killed me
Of what I escaped
Of what I help others flee from

Domestic violence is purple
It murders
It crushes
It destroys

My Savior is also purple
He is a shield
He is a refuge
He is a protector

Purple is my favorite color


Flowers Bloom

Patrick Massey

Blooming flowers across the field
Colorful clusters brought together
With no thought or purpose
They all exist in harmony

The bright red rose bush
Glitters with the morning dew
And the sunflowers reach into the sky
To be with their mother

The tulips open their petals for the bee
The goldenrod carries its perfume in the wind
The daffodil opens their lips to sing
And the bushels of berries are ready for feast

All these flowers live together,
Despite all their differences
They drink the same water
They love the sunlight
The plants do not see their differences
But take joy in what they have in common


PTSD

Alayna Welker

The war is over
It’s over
At least that’s what they said.

But the war’s not over
It’s not over
It’s still living in my head.

The gunshots
The blood
The cries of my fallen comrades

The pain
The tears
The sense of peace that I now lack

But, I fought the war
And, I won the battle
So why is this happening to me?

Restoration
And, Freedom
Wasn’t that the promised guarantee?

The war’s not over
It’s not over
It’s still living in my mind.

But the promise of peace
And the hope of tomorrow
It’ll only come with time.


When the Time Comes

Zayne Allen

The trees pulled away like a curtain as I walked the long path down behind the school. As I entered the expanse of field previously hidden behind the veil, I heard nothing but the faint flute of the passing wind accompanied by the percussion of rustling branches surrounding that space. Peace took root in me as I felt the flesh of the earth make its home between my toes, with its foundation at my heels. This place was often overlooked. Isolated and unpleasant, the field made very few friends with the people of the city. It was pure earth, dirty and downtrodden. Without any knowledge of its past, I could only assume the stretch of soil was the proof of a failed building project, long forgotten by the rest of the world around it. Rain started to fall around me, and as I looked up, the frigid natural shower began to cover my face, threatening to become ice upon contact. I wasn’t about to run. As my clothes began to soak and the home that once found its place between my toes was washed out by a flood of mud, I realized there was no despair. The place that others often overlooked was a place of promise. There were no flowers embellishing the barren land, but flowers never grow on flowers anyway. Such beauty finds its home in the dirt, in the rain. The dirty and desolate—against all odds, this was the place that carried the potential for beauty.