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NEW AGE WOLF
by Gaia Holmes

He’s sanded down his teeth,
given up meat
for me.

Whilst packs of his shaggy brethren
rip the bellies out of badgers
and turn rabbits inside out
he’s in the moon-lit garden
planting basil and brassica,
biting back his howls.

He’s become a birdcage on legs,
all ribs and hollow belly.
“One cannot live on flowers alone”
I say as he chews his way through
his second plate of daisies.

He’s a changed beast.
Flesh hasn’t reddened his tongue
since I brushed the oily fur
from his eyes
and rubbed compassion
into his scratchy pelt.

He loves me gently as a lamb.
At night he wears mittens in bed
to buffer his claws,
Gaffa tapes the bite behind his lips
and dreams of blood.

IMAGE: From Little Red Riding Hood by Felix Summerly (1843).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gaia Holmes lives in Halifax, UK. She is a freelance writer and creative writing tutor who works with schools, libraries, and other community groups throughout the West Yorkshire region. She runs Igniting The Spark, a weekly writing workshop at Dean Clough, Halifax. In her spare time, Gaia is a DJ for Phoenix FM, Calderdale’s community radio station. She plays accordion with the band Crow Hill Stompers. She has had two full length poetry collections published by Comma Press: Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed (2006) and Lifting The Piano With One Hand (2013).

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SNOW WHITE
by Laura Madeline Wiseman

To touch a curve of pale flesh—
creamy throat of the adolescent
glowing with new light—at day’s end
as the embers smolder and blacken
is to be sat down
in that thrown in that castle
where she sways still:
a young girl
walking the stone corridors,
the once-held visage of the mirror glittering
in shadows, until she cloaked
the gilded surface in cloth: is
to feel it squirm: the throat
closing, choking on the apple
a breathless gasp on loss—jealousy
We would free her from it if we could,
and then we remember the knife
he slashed into a stag, feel the heart
warm and heavy in his bag—how
bowing he offered it to her
and let the girl disappear into the forest
as if she could be contented by the switch,
the lie, and yet for a time she was.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is from my manuscript, Wake. Taking up the death narratives of those gendered female, Wake traces contemporary and ancient myths where death assumes the form of mother, sister, and girlfriend as she meets her female kin—murderers, victims, competitors to match blow by blow. Here, those who are feminine journey to and arrive in realms both dark and familiar as they seek to know what life offers after death has visited.

IMAGE: Illustration from Snow White by Franz Jüttner (1910).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012), and the collaborative book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins, as well as two letterpress books, and eight chapbooks, including Spindrift (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). She is the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Wiseman has a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has received an Academy of American Poets Award, the Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship, and her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, Feminist Studies, and in the anthologies The Places We’ve Been, Dispatches from the Classroom, Every River on Earth, and The Untidy Season. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com.

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BREAD CRUMBS
By Bunkong Tuon

We were the debris left after the dust
of war had settled on the blood-soaked site
of a genocide. We had no time to weep
when we lost our parents to the Khmer Rouge,
too busy tending water buffaloes
and chasing black crows from rice fields,
afraid that we would be tied up, whipped, or worse.
And when we left Cambodia, we did not cry,
too young to understand what it meant
to be cast out from our homeland.
We simply followed the changing wind blowing
from the West—the one that had brought bombs
to the countryside now carried us across the Pacific.
In the concrete jungle of America, some turned
to textbooks to muffle the screaming inside
as we tried to make sense of how we survived
while loved ones were left mangled on the dirt roads,
in muddy ditches of the killing fields.
Some took to the streets to numb the aching,
joined gangs to claim America.
I was lucky to discover literature in my twenties,
little crumbs in the library aisles
left by Bukowski. His words set
the dark forest blazing as I made my way
to Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, and Celine,
to Hemingway, Jeffers, and Fante,
a constellation of the psychic home
I didn’t know I needed until one evening
I sat in the darkness of the kitchen
and cried for my mother and father.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As a child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide, an orphan, and a refugee, I could relate to the condition of exile and homelessness that pervades the German folktale “Hansel and Gretel.” I dropped out of college and found myself adrift until, one day, I discovered the work of Charles Bukowski in a library in Long Beach, California. It was Bukowski who showed me how to make my way home. I’m also grateful to the public libraries in the world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bunkong Tuon earned his AA from Long Beach City College, BA from CSU at Long Beach, and his MA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He teaches literature and writing in the English Department at Union College, in Schenectady, NY. His poetry collection, Gruel, is forthcoming from NYQ Books.

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THE HOLY GRAIL
by Jeri Thompson

For two whole weeks I had it
In my hands — the Golden Chalice.

For days I gazed at all its angles and crevices.
I touched it with holy fingers
My breath paused from its rich golden tones.

Those two whole weeks
I was held in the arms of god and
I slept fitfully well.
I drank the wine of heaven and
The angels sang for me
And for you. We listened together.

But you didn’t hear the same tune.
That was the problem — we heard different tunes.

For two whole weeks I thought
I had the Golden Chalice.
I was dazzled by the glitter and spark
Of fool’s gold. Still,
I am reminded of my quest –
To be forever enfolded in strong godly
Arms & rocked
All the way to heaven
On earth.

IMAGE: “The Damsel of the Holy Grail” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeri Thompson thrives in Long Beach, California, where she spends much quality time with herself and her Trikke (Scarlett Birdie) riding along the beach bike/Trikke path. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014, she is soon to appear in Pearl magazine (fall 2014). Also find her in Silver, Green, and Summer Anthologies from Silver Birch Press. She is a CSULB grad.

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Sir Gawain Takes Out the Trash
by Fred Voss

Frank with Jane
and home from the grueling steel-bending-and-chewing machine shop
     Friday night
wants to celebrate his victory over yet another manhood-testing
week of work
and opens Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
reading it aloud to Jane
as a fair lady of the castle tells Sir Gawain,
“You are known as the noblest knight of your age,”
and Frank tells Jane how important courtesy was to Sir Gawain.
“Oh,” Jane says,
“You mean like the way you
let the door slam in my face when we’re going into a restaurant…”
Frank frowns
but continues to read aloud as Sir Gawain
puts on his armor and helmet and picks up his sword with gold-gilded
     hilt
and mounts his noble horse Gringolet.
“Ah,” says Jane,
“Just the way you put on your jeans and T-shirt and steel-toed boots
     and pick up
your lunch pail and brave freeway traffic jams
driving to work in your Toyota…”
and Frank reads on and Sir Gawain leaves the castle
to ride through the medieval English woods where wild boar and wolves
     roam
to find the Green Chapel
in the wild rocky valley and face the fearsome Green Knight
and test
his New Year’s Eve oath by letting the Green Knight strike him a blow
across his neck with a might axe.
“Oh,” Jane says
“Well, I cut up some stinky fish today.
On your way to the Green Chapel,
could you please take out the trash?”
Frank rises nobly
and closes Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
and goes into the kitchen and grabs the trash and heads out their
     apartment door
and treks down into the wild rocky medieval English valley
of the cracked asphalt Long Beach alley full of thrown-out mattresses
and faces down the terror of the black trash dumpster
the way Sir Gawain laid his neck under the Green Knight’s axe
and throws out the stinky fish
and quotes the ending to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
“Now that man who wore a crown of thorns
he brings us to his bliss! Amen,”
brushing off his hands
triumphant
in his trash can quest
as the Green Knight tells him,
“You are the most faultless man
that ever walked the earth.”

IMAGE: “Sir Gawain” by Howard Pyle (1903).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fred Voss has been a machinist working in steel mills and factories for thirty-five years. He has published three books of his poetry of the working life with the U.K.’s Bloodaxe Books, the latest of which, Hammers and Hearts of the Gods, was named a Book of the Year 2009 by the U.K.’s leading socialist newspaper, The Morning Star. His latest collection Tooth and Fang and Machine Handle won the 2013 Nerve Cowboy Chapbook competition.

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Medusa–An Unnatural History
by Robbi Nester

Poor girl, always losing
your head, sucker
for the sharp sting
of momentary passion.

The sea god saw you
walking by the shore,
and claimed you,
drawing you further
and further out to sea,
a boat without a rudder
or a sail.

You were lithe and elegant then,
beautiful as the surf,
golden curls flowing
down your back,
but bound to the goddess at birth,
promising to remain
chaste and cold
as the marble maiden
drawing her bow
on the temple portico.

All these years hence,
you have returned
to the subtle sea
carried at its will,
shimmering circle
of protoplasm,
fringed with tentacles,
riding the night-blue waves.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  This poem was part of a challenge posed by regulars at The Ugly Mug, in Orange, California, where I go frequently for evenings of poetry and friendship. We were supposed to write a Medusa poem. I am not crazy about writing mythological poems, but I am a sucker for poems about the natural world. Knowing that a “medusa” is the technical term for a sexually mature jellyfish, I thought I’d write an “unnatural history” about how it came to be called that. I read it at the Mug on Oct. 1st, an evening when a bunch of people also read their own contributions on this subject.

IMAGE: “Head of Medusa” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci (15th century).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Robbi Nester is the author of a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and a collection of poems, A Likely Story (Moon Tide Press, 2014). She has also edited an anthology of poems inspired by NPR and PBS stories, The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes Press, 2014) and writes book reviews for The New York Quarterly Journal of Books and serves as an Executive Editor for Slippage, a journal of literature and science. She has published poetry, reviews, interviews, essays, and articles in many journals and anthologies, including Lummox, Poemelion, Inlandia, Broadsided, Poetic Diversity, and many others. Her poems are forthcoming in Cimmaron Review and Poetic Diversity.

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WALKING WITH MEDUSA
by Robin Dawn Hudechek

I walk secluded beaches,
my robes flowing around my legs.
Only here do I unwind the cloth that binds
my hair. Only here do I lift my eyes.
The clouds are as lovely and fearless
in their shifting colors when I look at them
as they will be the day I am released,
the day I am gone.

I would like you to take my hand.
Close your eyes if you have to
when snakes wind around your neck.
In their slow and calming hiss
there is love in all of their heads,
for the one who will pause
to admire the beauty in my face
my lithe body, my seamless walks
through forests. Take my hand, I beg you.
Walk with me. Talk with me
about the blackberries you picked
from the field behind your home.
Offer them to me in handfuls,
tell me stories of their planting and growing,
of the sun I rarely see.
Kiss me, cup my cold breasts in your hands.
Let the blackberries flow scarlet
from your fingers to my lips.
Close your eyes if you have to.

IMAGE: Medusa mosaic (Roman, 2nd-3rd Century).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robin Dawn Hudechek received her MFA in Creative Writing, poetry at UCI, and has taught writing at the university and college level for eleven years. Her poems have been appeared in numerous publications including: Caliban, Cream City Review, Blue Arc West: An Anthology of California Poets, Cadence Collective: Year One Anthology, Gutters and Alleyways: Perspectives on Poverty and Struggle, and in Ghost Walk, a chapbook. Currently, she is compiling her first full-length collection of poems.

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MEDUSA
by Ruth Foley

It’s best he doesn’t look at me, it’s true—
For a while, I tried glasses, then a veil.
I can tame the snakes into a bun, coiled
at the back of my head, hum a tune or two
to conceal their hissing. It won’t be any
use—he always claims to want to see
the unharnessed truth of me, and that means
eyes. Easier to concede monstrosity.

But power only serves if I decide
to kiss him stone or if he braves my nape
with his fingers. Either way, he’s bitten.
Power’s useless if I can’t abide
it or choose to let it rest. It irritates,
all this explaining. They never listen.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  I can’t help but feel like Medusa gets a raw deal. She’s evil, clearly, and terrifying, but she’s also the only mortal of the three gorgon sisters, and so I began to wonder if she had anything of the human in her. Unlike some of the other monsters of Ovid’s Metamorphoses—Scylla and Charybdis come to mind—she was not transformed but instead was born into her own monstrosity. I wanted to know what would happen if she fell in love, and that led to other questions: did it happen often? Who would be brave enough to face those snakes? This poem is self-portraiture in the sense that, since I know my own flaws and terrible thoughts better than the outside world, I can believe those uglier aspects of myself more easily than someone who loves me might.

IMAGE: “Medusa and the Snake Charmer” by Sandra Silberzweig. Prints available at etsy.com.

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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.

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HERCULES UNLEASHED
by Catfish McDaris

It’s not easy having Zeus
as a father, the deity of the
universe, god of heaven
and earth, that’s pressure

Or Cronus for a grandpa,
eating his own children
regurgitating his Uncle
Hades with his mean three
headed dog, Cerberus

Or going fishing with his
Uncle Poseidon and he just
looks at the water and fish
jump in the boat like rain

Or smelling giants, animals,
and Atlas while holding up
the world, the only thing he
liked was getting the girdle
from the Amazon queen.

IMAGE: “Hercules” by John Singer Sargent (1921).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Catfish McDaris is an aging New Mexican living near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has four walls, a ceiling, heat, food, a woman, a daughter, two cats, a typing machine, and a mailbox. He writes mostly for himself, and sometimes he gets lucky and someone publishes his words.

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ARGUS SLEEPS
by Ellen Webre

Beneath the olives is a man full of holes
leaking dark looks and staining the grass.
I tried to plug them with wool:
a hundred sleeping eyes gouged out
for a bird’s fanning tail.
She was crying when she did it,
scooping the blue blindness
of her dearest friend
into a bowl of green feathers.

Boredom slacks rigor mortis
but the Queen of the Gods held
what she could of him in her lap anyhow.
Hera poured curses into the hand and
hoof prints encircling a roped
circumference leading to
where a crazed virgin girl-cow
screams in her blanket of gadflies,
kicking up dust all the way to Egypt.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was inspired by a dream I had about a boy full of holes. I’d always wondered about Hera and Argus’s friendship, and have imagined how she coped with his murder.

IMAGE: “Hera Appearing to Io and Argus” (North Italian School, c. 1700-1725).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ellen Webre is a Southern California poet whose imagination and love of folktales grew from being raised as an only child with a voracious imagination and a lot of time to read. She started writing seriously thanks to the Orange County High School of the Arts, and has continued to do so at university. She is a regular at the Ugly Mug poetry readings and has featured there and at the Coffee Cartel.

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