johns_2johns5
TWENTY-FIVE
by Noh Anothai
from a scene in Thai folklore

They lay her limp body, more dead than alive,
before the old abbot, beside the altar.
He asks when her husband was summoned to war:
“A year now? No news? Well, he might still live,
but she…how old is she?
Of course, twenty-five
—adulthood’s hard entrance, though these eyes have never
beheld anyone the age has so withered.
Still, bring the black thread, and she might survive.”

The almanac crackles. He calculates
a name for each star, then from among them
dubs her the brightest: Wan-Tong, “Day of Gold.”
By the gold morning, her fever abates;
better she rises, but what change can claim
the foreboding that on her heart keeps hold?

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In Thai superstition, 25 is a perilous turning-point in one’s life, a year of either extreme good fortune or pronounced difficulty. As I neared my own twenty-fifth birthday, I thought often of Pim, protagonist of the Thai folk-epic Khun Chang Khun Phaen (“Sir Chang and Sir Phaen,” named after a rival for Pim’s hand and Pim’s husband, respectively). As she neared 25, Khun Phaen was enlisted for battle, and Pim fell so ill pining that the local abbot had to perform a name change on her. ¶ Still commonly practiced in Thailand today—both my mother and aunt bear different names from those on their birth certificates—this ceremony operates on the notion that assuming a new, astrologically auspicious name and, therefore, an identity, can free a person from difficult planetary influences or karmic duress. It also traditionally involves offering food to the spirits, dashing uncooked rice at the “patient,” and finally tying a black thread around her wrist. I wrote this poem wondering if such outward changes—or any, like haircuts and makeovers, the things people seek when making new starts—can really uproot deep-seated inner conditions. ¶ Now almost halfway through my twenty-fifth year, I can’t say I’ve experienced more than the normal growing pains—like working two part-time adjunct positions (which amounts to a full-time job without benefits) and paying off my first car loan. I am, however, losing my hair, and baldness will soon be a trait I share with Khun Chang, the crass, overweight man who attempts to win Wan-Tong in her husband’s absence. The Thais of their day found baldness repulsive, and re-reading the epic—and the slurs Wan-Tong heaps on Khun Chang’s shiny head—before writing this poem was hard on my ego. There are some nights when I think that I need a renaming to ward off my own twenty-fifth birthday blues: redefining my conceptions of masculine beauty and coming to terms with my changing body.

IMAGE: “0-9″ (detail) by Jasper Johns (1961).

Noh Anothai by Christopher Fleck

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Noh Anothai is the pen name of Anothai Kaewkaen, who was a researcher with the Thailand-United States Education Foundation (Fulbright Thailand) between 2011-12. In that time, he translated programs and hosted cultural events for Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and College of Dramatic Arts. He has also written poems for the My First Book Project, which benefits underprivileged Thai students. The winner of Lunch Ticket‘s inaugural Gabo Prize for Translation and Multi-lingual Texts in 2014, Anothai has work forthcoming in The Raintown Review and Structo. Visit him at imallthaidup.wordpress.com.

Author photo by Christopher Fleck.

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BRAIN DRAIN
by Apollo Papafrangou

In this corner
Hailing from the big-book-of-medical-conditions
more commonly known as the Bible-of-all-Things-That-Can-Go-Wrong…
weighing in at an immeasurable amount of agony and anxiety
with a record of A-whole-hell-of-a-lot-of-wins, and zero losses
Named via the Greek words “ηδρο” for water and “κεφαλος” for head
Is the mighty crusher of craniums
Hydrocephalus…

And in this corner…
Hailing from Oakland, California
via an arrival two-months premature
Weighing in at a mere three pounds
and two ounces
Kicking and screaming
through the blood of his birth
despite his current record of
zero wins
and zero loses
is baby boy
Apollo

DING-DING…

So, what do you think about this match-up, Carl?
Well, Dave,
“Water on the brain” is the condition
Baby Boy Apollo is facing here…
Most likely contracted during his bout with
Meningitis.
Hydrocephalus’ power lies in its jab

It wears you down blow-by-blow
inflicting throbbing pain to the head

The knock out punch, that one that lands you in
the hospital for another surgery,
can come at any time.

Fascinating, Carl, fascinating…
So, what are Apollo’s keys to victory tonight?
Well, Dave, they’re giving him a 50/50 survival
rate at this point
but even in the best-case scenario
the risk of brain damage is high

Given Apollo’s minimal punching power
He is just a baby, after all, despite his godly name
I’d say his best bet is to
dance around that squared circle
for as long as possible
Take full advantage of that
incubation tank
Get in a couple good shots
then get the hell out of the way

Fascinating, Carl, fascinating…
Yes, well, Dave. Whether or not
our hero can actually pull it off remains to be seen.

Dave?
Yes, Carl?
Oh, wow… Dave?
Yes, Carl?
I think…oh, wow…I think…
He…
Dave, I think this baby’s gonna pull
through
He’s putting up a hell of a fight…
he’s…he’s…

A full-fledged
adult now
though the fight lives on

Has it been 20 years
already
since the last
time I was called into the ring?
The last time I was taken
to the task
of defending my title
against mighty Hydrocephalus
Illness of goose-egg biceps and iron fists

As a child I endured a surgery every two years
average
got used to the squeal of waxed floors
beneath my tiny sneakers
The rush of wheels over tile
My hospital bed took corners like a race car
on its path to the operating room
where the medics would stand over me
Angels in white
their surgical caps
haloed by the yellow iridescent glare
of florescent lamps

I breathed the sweet bitterness of
anesthesia
in my ascent
to some place between sleep and death
Heaven would have to wait
and thank God it was patient

I was just an innocent patient
scared of not knowing what was wrong
Not knowing why not even being a good boy
the best boy I could be
could spare me from the headaches
the vomiting
The pleas to please make this stop as I clutched my
He-Man
action figure tight

Mama, please, mama
Why, mama?

But mama can’t come with you
where you need to go now
Mama’s boy
you have to fight alone

There is no cure for this

They now say my case isn’t a severe
one
Though it certainly felt like the end of the world

I’ve stopped growing
I mean I’ve stopped getting taller
so
less need to replace
the catheter

The catheter
and the bulb of which
under X-Ray
looks like an eye
an eye that sees my fate like an oracle
an eye I wish to blind like Oedipus
while I
live
knowing
it’s seen me through
the problems this affliction has caused

In school my thoughts often swam
my brain awash in fluid
I was sometimes slow
to get the answer
slow
to overstand
Slow to persevere
Though I’ve had to

I may never again have to pick up my trusty gloves
but trust I keep them close at hand.

The beast is dormant
The beast is invisible
which is to say
you can’t spot it while looking at me
but look me in the eyes
just long enough
to see what I’ve endured.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Though I have been writing fiction since I was twelve years old, poetry has been a fairly recent endeavor. Only within the last year or so has it become an art form I’ve really started to explore. To me, poems are just distilled thoughts. I’m drawn to the form because there are certain ideas I may have that don’t lend themselves to the narrative structure — concepts I want to express that wouldn’t necessarily be able to carry an entire story. The concise nature of poetry is a perfect outlet for these ideas. Greek mythology/and tradition has a tremendous influence on my work. Greece is a land of poets — from Homer and Sappho to Cavafy and Seferis. As a writer you can’t help but be inspired. My Greek heritage always finds its way into my work, whether fiction or poetry. That cultural experience is so rich, and I think Greeks naturally want to share it with other cultures. Our food, language, and customs — they all seep into the sentences and stanzas.

IMAGE: “Apollo” by Will Baumeister (1923).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Apollo Papafrangou is a writer of novels, short stories, and poems from Oakland, California. He is a 2010 graduate of the Mills College Creative Writing MFA program, and is the author of Concrete Candy, a short story collection published by Anchor Books in 1996 when he was just 15 years old. More info can be found at his website, www.apollopapafrangou.wordpress.com.

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THE SNOW QUEEN
by Lynne Rees

Tough women always get bad press.
Cold. Bossy. Bitch. They said
I took him from the arms of his family
when he tagged along after me.

Ill-matched from the start
but I couldn’t resist those young hands
on my skin. And though I’ve always been one for the cold,
a bracing walk, a bitter wind to blow a mood away,
I changed, spent days and nights sweating with him.

The week I went back to work,
I’d come home to find him buried under blankets,
the heating full on, his face as red as chestnuts,
not a scrap of housework done. Windows steamed
from his heat, his breath, his feet.
I slept in my own spare room

when I couldn’t stand his body’s furnace another night
while he spread hot and moist across my cool, white sheets.
The stench in the morning made me gag,
throw the windows open to his moans,
the condensation, the flowering of mould.
So don’t tell me the old seduce the young.
He took me all the way.

The day I found him gone, I wept for joy,
for the cool setting on the shower,
the welcoming cold of the lavatory seat,
and then for fear of being alone. The bleak
expanse of mattress when I woke, a silence
that could decorate the walls.

It’s months and I still miss the things
I grew to hate. Warm hands around my face.
At night, his heat rising against my spine.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The re-visioning of myth is something I began to explore while studying for my Master’s degree in the late 1990s. Giving voice to the women in these ancient stories seemed to help me find my own emerging voice as an apprentice writer and also discover a certain amount of self-belief as a woman.

IMAGE: “The Snow Queen” by Edmund Dulac (1911).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lynne Rees was born and grew up in South Wales, UK. Novelist, poet, life writer, editor, and psycho-geographer, her most recent book is Real Port Talbot (Seren 2013), an upbeat and offbeat historical and journalistic exploration of her hometown. She is joint editor of the long-running journal, contemporary haibun online and blogs weekly on life, food, and writing as “the hungry writer” at www.lynnerees.com.

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BEAR
by Gail Griffin

Too hot, too cold, just right.
Golden hair, golden mean.
Simple as porridge.

Too hard, too soft, just right:
a mattress-testing primer.
Always the neat trinities,

even the bears.
Middle way, perfect fit,
the eternal just right.

Listen to me: I am a girl
who sought bears. A yellow-
haired girl who wanted bear

in her life. Wanted bear life:
deep greasy grain of it,
sharp brown smell.

Bear snout and snuffle,
lumber and huff, moony
arc of claw and tooth.

I stalked those rooms
that reeked of them. Sniffed
and licked, marked the place.

Then I slipped myself like a fish
into that great mouth, closed
my girl-blue eyes, and waited.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  Something always bugged me about the Goldilocks story: first, the girl’s audaciousness, and second, the tiresome emphasis in our culture on avoiding what are defined as “extremes.” Those two seemed to be at odds with each other: Goldie is not exactly doing what is “just right.” I wanted her to speak in a way that would unearth the wild thing in the little blonde girl.

IMAGE: “White Bear” by Theodor Severin Kittelsen (1912).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gail Griffin is a poet and nonfiction writer living in southwestern Michigan. Her last book of nonfiction was a study of a student murder-suicide on the campus of Kalamazoo College, where she taught for 35 years. Her poetry, essays, and flash nonfiction have appeared widely in journals and anthologies. She is retired now, working on a memoir of widowhood and survival.

besnard
Dreaming the Shadow-Self
by Paula J. Lambert

When I dream the shadow-self
I wake with a whisper: Remember.
Houses, stairwells, basements and
sub-basements, labyrinths all divine.
Attics bright with light that isn’t there.
Neighborhoods familiar and unfamiliar.
Darkness. Doorways. Once, a lake:
I stood on the shore with a wolf,
watched a woman, lovely, nude, silver
as moonlight, walk into the water,
stopping so far away she should have
drowned. I saw the back of her head,
her hair, the full white moon. She was
the water, the moon. I am the woman,
the wolf, that silver light. I wake
with a word wrapped round my neck
like a scarf, like a whisper: remember.

IMAGE: “Woman with a Crescent Moon” by Paul Albert Besnard (1849-1934).

lambert

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paula J. Lambert is the author of The Sudden Seduction of Gravity (Full/Crescent Press, 2012) and The Guilt That Gathers (Pudding House, 2009). A residency artist for the Ohio Arts Council Arts Learning Program, she has published her work in numerous journals and anthologies. She is a past recipient of an OAC Individual Artist Fellowship and was a resident fellow at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Her MFA is from Bowling Green State University. Lambert currently resides in Dublin, Ohio, with her husband Michael Perkins, with whom she operates Full/Crescent Press, a small but growing independent publisher of poetry books and broadsides.

massey3
HERO
by Karen Massey

Bard on a quest,
Quaint uncouth dreamer,
Vices and strange fists
Of beauty and grief;
Sweet, everlasting glad
Ward of the earth,
Searching

SOURCE: “The Frogs” by Archibald Lampman,1887.

SOURCE BOOK: Lampman’s Sonnets 1884-1899 (Borealis Press, 1976), page 21.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Massey lives in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has been published online and in journals and anthologies in Canada and the US including Decalogue: Ten Ottawa Poets (Chaudiere Books) and Bukowski Erasure Poetry Anthology and May Poetry Anthology (both from Silver Birch Press). Her second chapbook, Strange Fits of Beauty & Light (above/ground press) launches in December.

field-of-mars-1955
I’ll Be Ares, You Be Aphrodite (III)
by Katie Aliferis

We are but two stars
Two orbs of heat and fire
Like drawn to like, drawing
Ourselves much too quickly to supernova

In our wake we will leave
Nothing but smoldering ash—
Particles of ourselves—that will settle
On the wind and in the lungs of all who follow

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is inspired by the Greek god Ares, who is known as the god of war, violence, and bloodshed. I have written this tribute to reflect on a softer (and completely unknown) side of his persona.

IMAGE: “Field of Mars” by Marc Chagall (1955).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katie Aliferis is a Greek-American poet and writer from San Francisco, California. Her poetry has been featured in Visual Verse, Voices, Velvet Revolution Reading Series, and other literary journals and websites. Her favorite poems are Jane Hirshfield’s “The Lost Love Poems of Sappho” and C.P. Cavafy’s “Όταν Διεγείρονται” (“When They Come Alive”). When not writing, Katie can be found reading, traveling, sipping mint tea, and enjoying time with friends and family. Find Katie online via Twitter (@KatieA_SF) and at KatieAliferis.com.

jupiter-and-semele-1895-1
SEMELE
by Ruth Foley

I swallowed my own heart for you;
there was no trickery, no pregnant
pauses while I drank. I’d say I knew
what I was getting into, but I can’t—
though if I repeat it, perhaps I’ll make
it true. Call it a choice, as much as
anyone can choose, or name it fate,
a lie, a decision cut in half.

I drank. My blood pooled gleaming in
the cup. I grew anemic, lost the will
to pulse or beat. I want to singe and cure
this current in my fingers. Lightning
won’t release desire, so spark until
I catch. When I look at you, I burn.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Semele wants to look on Zeus—of course there’s trickery involved, with jealous wives and such—but even in his most minimal form, he is too much for human eyes to bear. Some versions of the myth say that Zeus cut up the heart of Dionysus and fed it to Semele in a drink, after which Zeus gave birth to Dionysus (that’s right—he was born twice) through a hole in his thigh. Another version has Zeus swallowing the heart. I certainly know the feeling of swallowing my heart for a man, and the belief that I am up to whatever challenge he may offer. Zeus gave in to Semele’s wish, but upon looking at him she burst into flame and died. I’m pretty sure I know that feeling, too.

IMAGE: “Jupiter and Semele” (detail) by Gustave Moreau (1895).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her work appears in numerous web an print journals, including Antiphon, The Bellingham Review, The Louisville Review, and Nonbinary Review. Her chapbook Dear Turquoise is available from Dancing Girl Press. She serves as Managing Editor for Cider Press Review.

waiting1a
On November 7, 2014, Silver Birch Press issued a call for submissions for poems in our I Am Waiting Poetry Series. See original post here.

We’ve already received some amazing poems from poets who really got what we were going for — but more than a few from people who didn’t seem to catch the theme. So we will clarify: The poem has to be about you (the author) and what you are waiting for. I’m not looking for how winter waits for spring, or how elephants wait for the rain to stop. I want to know what you are waiting for. I thought it was clear in the original prompt (see below), but I guess not. I hate to sent out rejections — so I’m hoping all the remaining submissions will follow the theme. Also, please don’t title your poem “I Am Waiting” — if you insist on this title, give it a different spin (Waiting I Am, I’m Also Waiting, Larry & Me Are Waiting, etc.). The word “waiting” should appear somewhere in the poem or title. Poems should be written in the first person — remember, it’s “I” Am Waiting. Make it personal! 

Prompt: The trigger for poems in this series is “waiting.” What are you waiting for? Christmas? A new job? New home? New baby? Happiness? A trip? Godot? Whatever you’re waiting for, memorialize it in your “I Am Waiting” poem.

For details on how to submit, see this link.

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CROWN
by Sonja Johanson

Sif, how I howled
when the gold was gone.
The thing I loved you for,
the thing I held you back by –
how could you let him in?
That icy devil in my home,
red sneak-thief in my very bed.
Sif, how you shame me now,
bald and unafraid before them
all, more a goddess than a wife.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Goddesses held only minor roles in Norse mythology, and I could never understand how Thor was the one Loki had to make amends to. Maybe Sif knew exactly what she was doing – maybe she didn’t want to be her husband’s decoration, or be weighed down by all that long hair anymore.

IMAGE: “Loki Prepares to Cut Sif’s Hair” by John Charles Dollman (1909).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sonja Johanson attended College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, Maine. She has recent work appearing in The Albatross, Off the Coast, and Out of Sequence: The Sonnets Remixed, and was a participating writer in Found Poetry Review‘s 2014 Oulipost Project. Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine.

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