The Grave Digger’s Dirge of 2020

Anneke Zegers

The mourners come in weeping wailing waves 
And, streaming through the cemetery gate 
with ashen veils, the solemn demonstrate 
devotion for the corpses of mass graves. 
Tis the season for the body count 
to surge as young and old meet their demise. 
I cannot think a reason underlies 
the prevalence in our deadly amount 
making an escalation of this sort; 
yet I suppose there ought to be a cause 
for gaping Death to open wide his jaws 
and pay the men of youth and talent short. 
So many parting shades have flown this year; 
let no more die, the ones whom we revere. 

Resolute Bones

Anneke Zegers

Almost all things turn out fine, 
You’ll see.  

Trees’ leaves fall to the ground 
Like maidens stripping off their silken robes 
To step into the baths 
And dip their roots 
To test the soapy water. 
Trees shed their foliage 
And shiver in the winter wind 
Skeletons standing tall 
Fingers reaching motionless toward the sky.  
Birds’ nests wither and die 
Floating away in storms 
Or idle breezes 
And chipping away 
At the twigs.  
The bite of cold cracks 
And bark splits open 
Spilling frozen innards 
Of a dying plant. 
Unfeeling, unflinching 
It stands the snow piling down 
Dusting its arms 
Balding its scalp 
Breaking its resolute spine 
Which still does not give. 
The bone is hard and wet 
But not yet brittle enough  
To topple. 

And Decembers roll into Januaries 
And Februaries come after 
And a long winter it endures. 
Months of pressure and snow 
Of such a degree 
Would kill a man 
And turn us all 
To bone.  
And March ushers in the sun once more.  
The cold chill abates 
As the snow washes into rivers of tears. 
Such sympathy from its oppressor 
Breathes life back into its weary sinews. 
The great burdened being sighs 
And sprigs of green hair 
Bloom on every edifice.  
Tentatively, it reaches out its roots once more 
And finding the boundaries of weary winter months 
At last broken 
Leaps into new growth 
With a heart of  
Unabashed hope.  

And such a tree as this 
Always survives the starving season 
And keeps standing 
Under aches and pains 
And hard rains.  
Almost all things turn out fine 
You see.  

Last Days of Youth

Anneke Zegers

cotton candy clouds litter my young dreams 
with stars and suns 
dancing just above my head 

dolls’ blank and smiling faces 
worn pale 
gaze off the shelf 
wearing dust like a blanket 

tea leaves spin from my hair 
growing long and wild 
flower petals 

constellations of blood 
flowing  
mourn a vanished child 

Whose Tyranny We Say

Anneke Zegers

The children are not weeping for our souls; 
they are shaking innard quaking 
tears streaming hot 
hearts beating rapid fire pitter-patter 
like the shotguns in our mouths 
scared stiff and senseless in fear of our foulness 
fear for our fists. 

The children do not cry out in joy at the sight of us coming home; 
they are crying parched screams we ignore 
what they preach 
to restore in them a confidence we killed. 
They cry in desperate will  
in the mere chance lightning will strike twice 
in the hope we not kill them too. 

The children do not smile because they like us or are like us; 
we perpetuate facts and acts 
beyond legitimate knowledge of nature 
beyond seasons of knives and needles 
for these whose winters have yet to end 
smile warm smiles to grin and bear  
because they know what we will do 
what we will turn into if they don’t. 

The children refuse to admit us to their games not because 
they think us too high and mighty; 
angelic alabaster feathers on chintz pages  
we are the serpentine monsters and murderers 
destroy all we touch and would them too 
without rhyme or reason or correlating consequences 
beyond sands and symphonies 
because we rule the word 
we rule the world wickedly.  

Death Through the Pages of a Book

Anneke Zegers

I’ve known death through the pages of a book, and known it no other way.  
I’ve seen blood drip off knives and felt the cold shiver down  
my spine as the murderer slinks away but only through the pains the author took  
to bring me through the world she told. Tell me is it less real 
than your own? Tell me I don’t know how it feels to lose it all;  
the pages gave me paper cuts for every friend I lost  
along the way. I wear a pink sherpa and cry myself to sleep over Primrose Everdeen.  
I beat my breast for Beth March and lost the love of my life when Sydney Carton  
lost his head. I wept for days in bed for Tris Prior prior  
to discovering the next tale on my shelf. My book case is full of death’s great wealth  
of surprise demises to give me tears to cry  
in recompense for having no experience of death 
on my own. Alas, that is how I’ve learned that cold sting of loss  
I can feel and free myself from at ease. I’ve known  
sorrow through the eyes of a narrator and glimpsed in text the ache which is greater 
than it has any right to be in the annals of a story. I’ve watched  
and wept on a child’s early grave buried  
beneath a stack of books and sold off at the next garage sale  
along with a barrage of other red texts.  
I’ve witnessed warriors burn out in all their glory in falsified battles  
waging wars without context whose names and reasons I have  
no reason to remember after the end of the last word of the final chapter. I know  
what it is to cry out broken-hearted as the writer murders cruelly in the world  
she designed for my mind 
to suffer the hope of a new chapter. The bookends in existence seem awfully true  
to me, but more cruel still must be the pains and plagues  
of death in reality I have glimpsed only through the pages of a book  
I like to pretend I know.  

Regrets & Attention Deficit

Jan Wozniak 

Forgive me  
for never following instructions 
never coloring between the lines 
& for never finishing my homework on time. 
Forgive me  
for not paying attention 
not sticking to plans 
& for not being more determined.  
Forgive me  
for the lies I told 
the excuses I made 
& for the promises I didn’t keep. 
Forgive me 
for giving up too easily 
always changing my mind 
& for not wanting a more ordinary life. 
Forgive me  
for my hypersensitivity  
my impatience  
& for never thinking things through.  
Forgive me 
& know that I tried 
know that I cared 
& know, that deep down,  
I always wanted to do better.  

Sincerely, 
Your Son 

Kayaking with Dad

Naomi Winders

My dad loved kayaking. Next to soccer, it was his favorite pastime. He had lived in Alaska before he married my mom and that’s where he picked it up. Being able to cut through the smooth water and glide across its surface was calming. It provided you with the opportunity to see nature you couldn’t usually and to experience a different perspective. My dad would go every weekend if he could, and he tried to. He had a single kayak of his own, and later he got a double kayak that two people could sit in. If you walked into our garage, it was obvious that kayaking was a definite hobby. With the two yellow and orange kayaks stacked on top of each other and a pile of oars and life vests surrounding them, there was no denying it. Dad loved to kayak. 

He hated practically everything else, though. He hated messes. When he would come home from work, if there was anything on the floor, even a single Goldfish cracker, he would yell at me and my two siblings to clean it up. His favorite phrase to use was, “We’re living in a pigsty!” He hated when we would be loud too. When we would shout and play games with each other. We were always told to play outside, which we were happy to do. He hated us doing anything poorly. If wanted to do a hobby, or do well in school, or anything that took skill, we would have to be the very best. If we weren’t top of class, Dad wouldn’t be impressed. At home, you never really could gauge how he would react or how he actually felt about something, he just always seemed angry and disappointed.  

He hated mom too, or at least acted like he did. He would always tease her or just insult her, out right. One time I even remember, he pushed her into the bathroom to yell at her. That was scary. To be honest, I don’t know if he even liked us. He hated children; he had already had four before us from two previous marriages. I’ve never really felt that he actually liked me. 

Dad got the second kayak so he could bring his kids along, and we were always happy to join him. We liked getting to spend any time we could with dad. To be specific, we liked spending blissful, quiet time with him. He probably only brought us along because he knew it was a way to get us to be quiet. We spent most of our kayaking trips focusing on our paddles and watching how they would cut through the water.  

Kayaking with him would always make us feel so mature. My brother and sister, both older than me, would have their own kayaks. I would usually be in the double with dad, following his commands of which side of the boat to stick the oar into the water on. I didn’t mind not being completely trusted to be out on my own. Being in the same boat with dad was almost more exciting, because it was just the two of us, steering our own ship.  

Mom never came kayaking with us, but that was okay. We spent more time with her anyways. She was the one who would always play with us and make us lunch and help us with school. Dad would always stay in his office. It was located in the room closest to the front door. When he was home, he would still be the closest to not there as he could be. We couldn’t ever go in that room. I don’t even remember what it looked like. All I know is that his old, wooden writing desk was in there, and we were not allowed to touch it. Even when I was older, and he hadn’t used or touched it in years, I was unable to pull open its drawers. 

On one weekend kayak trip with dad, we had to navigate through a swampy part of a river, filled with branches and plants blocking our way. Dad gave me specific and strict instructions in order to help him guide us out of there. I listened to them carefully and followed his orders with precision. At the end of the day, he told me how good of a job I did. “I would kayak with you anytime.” His complimenting words still stick with me today. I felt honored and special and loved.  

Looking back, I think those words meant so much to me because it was some of the only genuine and loving words I received from my dad, from what I can remember. Most of the time, when he would complement me, it would be something about my good grades or backhanded compliment. “I would kayak with you any time.” Hearing him say this meant it came directly from him, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. I never really picked up on what he actually thought about me. I still don’t think I have. But hearing that my dad liked spending time with me and wanted to spend more? Now that feeling felt good. 

I loved kayaking with my dad. It was quiet and nice and one of the only times dad wouldn’t be upset with us or mom. He taught us how to use the paddle correctly and what to do if we were to fall in. It was an activity I looked forward to every weekend. 

When we moved to Alaska in 2007, we ended up selling the kayaks. It was Dad’s decision. He had to work a lot. I barely even remember him being around. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t remember him being there in Alaska at all. But me and my siblings were older, and we had school and extracurriculars to focus on. We went kayaking less. 

While we were in Alaska, there was one day we decided to rent kayaks and explore these three connecting lakes just a couple miles from us. Mom came along that trip, but she never really had before. I was in a double with my dad, despite being older. I insisted because he’d said he’d kayak with me anytime. At the second lake, my mom ended up falling in and she lost her glasses. We had the kayak rental company come pick her up while we finished touring the last lake. Dad was annoyed. Mom was cold. We didn’t really go kayaking after that. 

At some point, my dad completely left. It was before my parents were officially divorced in 2012. He left in waves. He began to be there so little that when he was completely gone, it was hard to notice a difference.  There was, however, a moment that I remember knowing he was fully gone. 

I had fallen asleep on the couch watching TV with all the lights on. Normally when this happened, my dad would come home, turn off the TV and lights, and I’d wake up knowing that he came home and made sure things were taken care of. This time, I woke up on the couch in the very early morning – still dark outside. The TV was playing Disney Channel reruns and all the lights were still shedding light onto the emptiness. Dad hadn’t come home.  

I clicked the TV with the remote, turned off the lights, and went back to sleep in my bed upstairs. That night I felt the weight of loneliness in my blanket and the next day I slept until two in the afternoon. 

The last time I ever went kayaking with my dad was on a trip to Whittier, Alaska. We had driven down to explore the city and see the Prince William Sound. There we rented kayaks for me, Dad, and my siblings. Mom stayed in a hotel lobby and read a book she brought. This time, I was in a kayak alone.  

It was absolutely beautiful being surrounded by mountains, still snowy at the tops. I was scared that an orca whale would appear and tip my kayak over, but none did. Since I was on my own this time, it was up to me to guide myself. Dad wasn’t there to give me directions on what to do. At some point, I had gotten tired and I wanted to turn back, to go and read with mom in the hotel lobby. I still remember the piece of wisdom that my Dad gave me. “A man was once running a marathon and he got tired at the halfway mark. He decided he couldn’t complete it and ran all the back to the start.” Kayaking the rest of the route, the memory I have is just me in a kayak alone with the mountains surrounding me. I don’t remember Dad being there for the rest, even though he was. I just don’t have any other memories of him on that trip. He went far ahead of us, and my siblings went further ahead of me. I was on my own, navigating my way back, and I was able to find my own comfort in it.  

I still have a love for kayaking, but I haven’t been since. 

I miss you

Leighann Summers 

Do you ever look back and wonder what happened? 
I do. 
I miss you. 

I miss the way you laughed. 
I miss the way you grinned. 
I miss the way you always got so excited when you winned. 
All that’s over now. 

I have to face it, you have changed. 
Not even your smile has remained the same. 
I get sad looking back at what we used to have. 
All that excitement and joy that got taken away by a careless boy. 

Do you ever try to pinpoint the day? 
I do. 
I miss you. 

I remember the crisp breeze. 
I remember the vanilla ice cream 
I remember the autumn leaves blown two and fro in the streets. 
All those fleeting moments, gone forever. 

I have to move forward, you are gone. 
Sometimes, I cannot even remember your name. 
I suffer from a fading memory, one where you and I were once the same. 

Sometimes, I look back and think about what happened. 
That dreadful accident. 
It took away my mobility, and half my brain, but 
It did not take away my pain. 

Do you ever look back and wonder what happened? 
I do. 
I miss you. 

Swollen Smile

Tayla Vannelli

I tried to eat a cookie that day 
Do you remember that? 
They were peanut butter 
Mediocre ones from the store 
It was the first solid food I had eaten 
Since my wisdom teeth had been yanked 

You had only just met me 
I said, “Hi person I don’t know” 
As you walked through the door 
You seemed startled that I’d address you 
I didn’t know that I was interrupting 
Your own ideas on how to say hello 

You found an open seat next to mine 
I pretended to be too busy to notice 
I was catching up with Marcy, you see 
To be honest, I was well aware 
But to keep my heart from fluttering 
I fixed my eyes on my friend 

Remember that cookie I tried to eat? 
Well, I broke it piece by piece 
The crumbs were falling 
My swollen cheeks forgot how to chew  
You had no idea I’d had surgery 
I guess you thought I ate like that normally 

You asked me questions about my plans 
I had to tell you I was leaving soon 
I’m always going somewhere 
I kept my heart in check 
Because the last thing I wanted was 
Another person who didn’t like my goodbyes 

I thought there was every reason for you to  
Forget me the moment you left the room 
I was leaving for Georgia and  
I couldn’t even eat a cookie 
Guess you liked my swollen smile 
Since you pursued me the next day 

Hummingbird

Tayla Vannelli

She flits and she zooms 
Her energy is sustained 
Lifting the petals of others 

What if she stops? 

Imaginations of death 
Force her tiny body onward 
Without her, the flowers 

Suffer and wilt alone 

When she slows long enough 
To sleep at last  
Hibernation overtakes 

Is it worth it? 

Her paralyzed wings 
Cause ripples across the water 
Earth would tremble 

Surely, it wouldn’t survive 

Pausing in place 
Even in stillness, her wings 
Travel faster than the eye can see 

Relaxation is exhausting 

80 flaps per second  
As she hovers at the window 
Sacrificing flowers for easy nectar 

Replenishing is selfish 

Little girl touches the glass 
Lashes fluttering like wings  
Tilting her head in curiosity 

Why does the birdie fly so fast? 

Sweet bird falls to the ground  
Humming replaced with silence 
Little girl cries in confusion 

Why wouldn’t the birdie just rest?