stone-city-iowa-1930
HYMNS AND HEMS
by Suzanne O’Connell

I thought hymns
and hems
were the same.
I pictured God
bent underneath
the table lamp,
holding his needle
and thread,
stitching up
those beautiful chords,
the ones
that shook the walls
of the church
every Sunday.
I pictured God
stitching his perfect
overcast stitches,
to hem the trees
and rivers
and mountains
of the world,
so they wouldn’t trip.

SOURCE: Originally published in The Willow Review.

IMAGE: “Stone City, Iowa” by Grant Wood (1930).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Suzanne O’Connell lives in Los Angeles where she is a poet and a clinical social worker. Her work can be found in Forge, Atlanta Review, Blue Lake Review, G.W. Review, Reed Magazine, Permafrost, Mas Tequila Review, The Round, The Griffin, Sanskrit, Foliate Oak, Talking River, Organs of Vision and Speech Literary Magazine, Willow Review, The Tower Journal, Thin Air Magazine, Fre&d, The Manhattanville Review, poeticdiversity, The Evansville Review, Serving House Journal, Silver Birch Press, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Licking River Review. She was a recipient of Willow Review’s annual award for 2014 for the poem “Purple Summers.” She is a member of Jack Grapes’ L.A. Poets and Writers Collective.

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The First of February
by Eric Paul Shaffer

      The fire blazed in that cottage, summer, fall, spring, no matter
the wood within nor weather without, but for the first of February.
That day, she watched the fire burn low, beat out the gleaming embers,

and let the hearth cool. She spent the morning scraping soot from stone
      and swept a year of ashes across the floor, over the threshold,
from the steps into the yard. Noon was cold meat and bread, then back

      bent once more, she chipped and scraped till the place was clean,
carried in five fresh-split limbs for the iron frame, and arranged the tinder
      and kindling. The cottage was cold, and she donned a sweater,

then a cloak and stiff leather shoes for the frozen road before she set out
            beneath a silver sky. When evening drew on, she returned
from the village, where in the square, the bonfire had burned since dawn.

      On a bit of tinder, she cupped the spark she had carried home
and brought the flame to life with her breath. Kneeling on stone,
she coaxed fire forth once more. Gray smoke rose, the chill left the air,

walls warmed, and her home glowed with light from the same flame
            kindled anew that day on every village hearth.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “The First of February” is based on the Celtic myth of Brigid, goddess of hearth and fire, whose ceremony is celebrated every year on the first of February. The ceremony includes a ritual dousing of each house’s fire, a thorough cleaning of the hearth, and then from a newly-kindled central community fire, all of the local people carry a flame to their own hearths so that all village fires burn with warmth and light from the same source.

IMAGE: “Brigid of Candelmas” by Judith Shaw. Prints available at etsy.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Paul Shaffer is author of five books of poetry, including Lāhaina Noon. His poetry appears in North American Review, Slate, and The Sun Magazine; Australia’s Going Down Swinging, Island, and Quadrant; Canada’s Dalhousie Review, Event, and Fiddlehead; Éire’s Poetry Ireland Review and Southword Journal; England’s Stand and Magma; and New Zealand’s Poetry NZ and Takahe. Shaffer received the 2002 Elliot Cades Award for Literature, a 2006 Ka Palapala Po‘okela Book Award for Lāhaina Noon, and the 2009 James M. Vaughan Award for Poetry. Burn & Learn, his first novel, was published in 2009. Shaffer teaches at Honolulu Community College.

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In the Schwarzwald
by Lawrence Schimel

They take her brother to break her pride.
Gretel tears splinters from the barracks bed
to still the hunger that gnaws inside.

Through the iron gate, past the words:
Arbeit Macht Frei, she watches guards
throw loaves of bread to the birds.

Not even famine can make barbed wire
seem a candy house she could devour.
The guard tells her: Child, climb into the fire.

Gretel tells the guard: Show me how.
But the witches were not fooled so
easily in the camps at Dachau.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “In the Schwarzwald” is part of a sequence I’m writing, using that same title as the title for the series, using the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm as the lens through which to explore the Holocaust, both arising from the same Dark Forests of Germany.

IMAGE: “Hansel and Gretel” by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lawrence Schimel (New York, 1971) writes in both English and Spanish and has published over 100 books as author or anthologist, including two poetry chapbooks in English, Fairy Tales for Writers and Deleted Names (both from A Midsummer Night’s Press), and one poetry collection in Spanish, Desayuno en la cama (Egales). He has twice won the Lambda Literary Award (for First Person Queer and PoMoSexual: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality), as well as the Independent Publisher Book Award, the Spectrum Award, and other honors. His stories and poems have been widely anthologized in The Random House Treasury of Light Verse, The Random House Book of Science Fiction Stories, The Mammoth Book of Fairy Tales, Chicken Soup for the Horse-Lover’s Soul 2, The Incredible Sestinas Anthology, Weird Tales from Shakespeare, and many others. He lives in Madrid, Spain where he works as a Spanish->English translator.

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TAXI IN THE RAIN
by Ricki Mandeville

The city’s drenched, slow roll of wet wheels,
wiper-click metering the downpour.
Cabbie pulls over near the theater
to pick up a fare, careful not to splash
her legs—long dancer’s legs, likely just
a small role, though she’ll make a splash some day,
blonde as sun, big Broadway eyes, and those legs.
It’s not fair, he thinks, easing his yellow
bucket of dents to a stop, watching her
slide inside like a ballerina,
making scarcely a dent in the flat nap
of the backseat. She tells him the address.
He eyes her in the rearview. She doesn’t notice.
Poor hack. It rains harder. Fogged glass. Those legs.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Unless I count the fragments of poetry I write in my head, I don’t follow the common advice to “write every day.” But my muse, when she knocks, pounds hard, and I must answer. This poem came knocking in response to a suggestion by the poet Tobi Cogswell that I try writing a poem incorporating homonyms and homophones, per the Silver Birch submission call. This poem contains 6 pairs. I left my holiday breakfast untouched to write it. It seemed the right thing to do.

IMAGE: “Dancing in the Rain II” by Kathryn Trotter. Reproductions available at fineartmarketplace.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ricki Mandeville’s poems have appeared or will soon appear in Comstock Review, San Pedro River Review, Pea River Journal, Texas Poetry Calendar 2014 & 15, Penumbra and other journals and anthologies. She is a cofounder and consulting editor of Moon Tide Press and the author of A Thin Strand of Lights (Moon Tide Press). A speaker for various literary events, she lives near the ocean in Huntington Beach, California.

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DANCING PRINCESS
by Linda Ann Suddarth

I have waited up till very late
the quiet sings to me
ice and snow cushion my defenses
the leaves have frozen in mid-air
a diamond offering.
I will forever go to the dance
wear my shoes out in the underworld
and you are invisible still.
I dare you to bring
that diamond token back
to show my Daddy.
I waited up
with a night full
of conversation
on the tip of my tongue
whispering warmth
pillowed against the cold
once again—you never show yourself.
I put the feast away
carefully covering the pies
lock the door
peeking once more
out at white and shadow
a visitation of winter
to this sunburnt land.
I feel the mist on the window
know the frozen sight
somewhere deep inside
the stars have sent
their sparkle and chill
to my very landscape.
I think of you
on your journey to me
and of the great distance
you’ve had to travel by now.
I wish for you a magic cloak.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Ann Suddarth sees the creative life as a vital expression of the psyche. Linda has been writing poetry for 30 years, and has published in many poetry journals. She has a BFA in painting, an interdisciplinary MA in Aesthetic Studies, and a PhD in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology. Linda is on the Board of Directors for the C. G. Jung Society of North Texas, and teaches English and Art at Richland College in Dallas. For more, visit her blog: lindawordandimage.blogspot.com.

IMAGE: “Dancing Shoes” by Helene Schjerfbeck (1882).

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The Broken Promise: Orpheus and Eurydice
by Mary Kendall

If only he had kept his promise, she’d be there.
All it took was one glance, a quick turn,
a meeting of the eyes and then she vanished.

How long did he stand there staring at where she had been?
When did he realize that she was lost to him forever?

How sad the stars were that night,
tumbling through the black sky
in mournful arcs;
even the moon turned its face away.

As he lead her out toward the ledge,
did she gasp at her unsure footing?
She with her snake-born limp,
trying hard to keep pace through dark tunnels
winding up to the craggy precipice?
Was this what tempted him to look?

His glance came so naturally,
that of the husband who worried
his wife might stumble and fall.
His trust in her never wavered and yet
he looked back just that once.
That’s all it took.

That night the heavens froze for a minute,
the music of the planets and stars
coming to a halt: no sound, no movement
before they heard his cry.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem will appear in my upcoming chapbook, Erasing the Doubt, which will be published on February 28, 2015 by Finishing Line Press.

IMAGE: “Orpheus Returns from the Pursuit of Eurydice” by Henri Martin (1860-1943).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Kendall has a chapbook, Erasing the Doubt, coming out on February 28, 2015 by Finishing Line Press. This poem is one of the selections. Mary is also author of A Giving Garden (2009). She is delighted to find the many excellent poets here on wordpress, and her blog is: A Poet in Time found at: apoetintime.com. She is a retired teacher and using her retirement years to indulge in a good deal of reading and writing. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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Little Robber Maidens
by Elizabeth Kerper

“I always sleep with the knife,” said the little robber maiden. “There is no knowing what may happen.”
—Hans Christian Andersen, “The Snow Queen”

Little robber maidens sleep with knives in hand
and make friends by force. Little robber maidens
are not lonely. The little robber maiden is my sister,
walking to the El from a midnight showing
of the Rocky Horror Picture Show—my little sister,
five-inch heels dangling from her index fingers,
fallen leaves plastering the sidewalk like open palms,
two drunk guys on the corner reaching out, asking
what party she’s going to, if they can take her home after.
The little robber maiden is my sister when she answers
Invite-only, boys, laughs, thinks, I could break your nose
with the sole of this shoe and not even feel bad.
Little robber maidens are not lonely.

Little robber maidens do not know how to be lonely,
only headstrong and fierce like the Lapland winter,
like the Chicago November when my sister is born.
The little robber maiden is me, three and half years old,
waiting until the babysitting aunts and grandmothers
are distracted before I poke my scrunched bundle of a sister hard
through the bars of the hospital basinet. She cries out, once, twice,
sharp as a shard of mirror splintering from its frame.
The little robber maiden is me, laying my hand flat
on my sister’s newborn stomach until she is calm again, palm
rising and falling with her beginner’s breaths. Little robber maidens
sleep in robber castle courtyards with laths of pigeons
overhead. Little robber maidens are not lonely.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I recently reread “The Snow Queen,” and I was struck by how much agency and personality the little robber maiden has for a character who plays a fairly minor part in the overall story. She feels like a character who continues having her own adventures even after the protagonist has moved on and taken the story with her—and possibly better adventures, too.

IMAGE: “Girl with Red Shawl” by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Elizabeth Kerper lives in Chicago and recently graduated from DePaul University with a BA in English literature. Her work has appeared in Eclectica, NEAT, and N/A Literary Magazine, where she is a contributing editor. She can generally be found sitting quietly in the corner with her nose stuck in a book.

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Telemachus’s Sister Also Waits
by Emily Cruse

I used to imagine my father returning:
broad-shouldered, broad-smiled,
carrying me back a toy from his travels
like a carved horse, or other knickknack from some hotel giftshop.
But I stopped imagining reunions years ago,
ditto to playing with toys.
Now I mostly lurk in shadowed corners of the great hall,
watching mom’s suitors drink their way through our wine cellar
and try to set their farts on fire.

My brother hung out here too,
pimpled adolescent so desperate to belong
he mistook their hazing for friendship.
That was before he set off to quest for dad,
secretly hoping one of the old man’s friends will finally anoint him
man enough
that he can call off the looking.

It’s quiet in the residential hall with my brother gone.
Only me and mom left, and that crowd of ladies-in-waiting
she keeps to help her run the scam with the weaving and unweaving.
Not like mom and I ever talked much—
just her lectures about the importance of keeping my legs crossed
until she and dad had picked themselves out a son-in-law.
Even those stopped, once preserving her own chastity
became a full-time job.

Sometimes I fantasize about crashing the party downstairs:
getting hammered and singing bad karaoke at the top of my lungs,
or maybe leaping onto a table to do some standup routine.
My comedy’d be really raunchy, too—
like grabbing my crotch and snarking, “I’ve got your axehead right here
to shoot that arrow through!”

Instead, from time to time, one of the hundred-and-eight finds me in the shadows,
grabs my arm, and pulls me with him to some back staircase
or unused storage closet.
As I feel his hot and hasty fingers unthread my private tapestry,
I close my eyes and drift out across my own winedark sea.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I borrowed the idea of Odysseus and Penelope having an unknown daughter—and of wondering what her life might have been like—from Virginia Woolf’s musings about “Shakespeare’s sister” in A Room of One’s Own. In The Odyssey, Telemachus clearly struggles with his own issues around manhood and coming-of-age in his father’s absence. What issues might a young woman have faced in the same household, with not only her father unavailable but her mother also, preoccupied as Penelope was with her own pressing concerns? It seems to me that growing up surrounded by 108 young men all competing to marry your mother (and largely ignoring you because you represent less of a material prize) would be terribly difficult, even if the suitors were not disrespectful freeloaders and your mother a paragon of virtue and fidelity.

IMAGE: “Psyche Opening the Golden Box” by John William Waterhouse (1903).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Cruse is a Texas transplant to Philadelphia, whose interest in mythological retellings dates back to a chance encounter in high school with Jean Giraudoux’s 1935 play, The Trojan War Will Not Take Place. She has spent her career in education, including as a high school English teacher, adjunct writing professor, tutor in remedial math and reading, and producer of educational videos. Her current focus is on how survivors of trauma can use writing as a tool in their recovery. Emily shares her home with two aging cats—who would both much prefer if her cooking experiments involved more cheese and less lemon curd—and blogs as “Alice Isak” at coffeeandablankpage.wordpress.com.

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Apollo’s serenade for the city
by Nathan Steinman

Apollo doing his fantastic Charley Patton,
dribbling out notes on a Braque guitar strung with muslin.
Bitter wind beats a hanging sign against steel
shaped like cardboard when you peel it.
Wind’s been at this the last two days.

Dressed all awards show
and elegantly grinning
Ella starts singing
into the only blue streetlight on 36th
All through the city her voice blushes asphalt orange.

“Baby, I’m not good at buildin’ altars
but, you’re a dream more real than a city
able to foil the robberies
Nightmare’s always tryin’ to commit.

This doesn’t have to be a tissue paper moon.
I want to ask you every brown and yellow question
scurryin’ among the starlight
reflectin’ in your bright hazel eyes.

Let’s stay warm,
oh, so warm,
And confess
yes, confess.
Let’s express
oh, express

Would you like to stay up one night?
We’ll pour some tough drinks in styrofoam cups.
Put a couple of records on
and keep that gossipin’ Cold outside.

We’ll watch the world do its thing
and talk ‘til we see the sun
hang itself back on that nail
shinin’ on this story we have spun.

We’ll transform
oh, transform.
Don’t distress
or transgress.
Let’s decompress,
oh, decompress.

Ridin’ on the moon swan
we’ll float down that plastic river
somethin’ we can pray for
somethin’ that will deliver
again and again.”

Streetlights start hushing down lights
Ella paces backwards in time with the fade.
Shadows take their places.
The wind falls off beat.
A muslin string breaks.

Apollo sighs as he gets up,
dusts off some of the tune from his suit,
puts the guitar against swirling brick.
cracking his knuckles
wandering off
humming another memory
aching to be strummed.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is from a mythology I started creating around an old bluesman version of Apollo.

IMAGE: “Charley Patton” by Robert Crumb.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nathan Steinman was born in Oklahoma in the 1980s. His father joined the military after the oil bust, and the family moved around to the government whims, then back to Oklahoma, where he started writing poetry at the age of 17. Now, 13 years later, still writing, he is married and has a degree in music education. He hopes to discover truth in the music of words.

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WEEPING
by Sarah ChristianScher

I do not drown them lightly
mi hijos
I do not hold little heads beneath the river
simply to see the life bubble from their mouths
so many bubbles
so many years
more than I care to count
small hands holding mine
warm at first then cold and clammy
their limbs tangled in my hair
pale twigs in the river grass
I wait with their bodies
for the families
for the mothers
for the wailing
I want to see my own weeping face looking down at me
La Llorona
to know that in grief
esta mi familia
and when mothers curse my name
I know that I am not alone

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As a child, I remember my grandmother telling me stories about La Llorona, werewolves, and other wondrous things. Those stories are the mythology of Mexico, of a people who still believe that spirits and other strange beings walk the Earth with us and if you are very unlucky, you might just see one.

IMAGE: “La Llorona” by Sean Wells. Signed posters available at etsy.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah ChristianScher is a grad student at Cal Poly Pomona. She’s a full-time scientist and Wednesday-night poet. She lives in Southern California with her husband Ian and their pet cactus Paddy, the Irish Cactopus.

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