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Sunrise Is Only a Question
by Sam Barbee

Rain is sleep, snow pain, wind
a kiss with furtive tongue.
Read the omens before turning
to another light, its new queries,
and dawn’s startle of sermons and sutras.
Darkness remains the perfected form.

Weary bartering with vile saints,
I have mellowed overnight, am wiser.
Resolved to convert era to epic, epoch to ode.
Pet my feral dread. No predator dare speak
because each understands I will leash them
to a hollow tree, promote their humiliation.

I jog the curvy road where the side-ditch
of weakness is adored – intersect a thin bridge.
Teeter out to marvel river’s width, maybe
swan-dive between sink and shiver.
Or walk the far road leading to a plain
of promises where ugliness bonds

with splendor. I should confess, but to whom?
Remedies emerge from discomfort,
but hope blends a dream and a prayer.
Daybreak can transform lacking into flourish.
Decipher which questions shall be addressed,
while which others will not.

PAINTING: Sunrise of Wonder by John Miller.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem reflects both the human misunderstanding of Mother Earth and how to treat her, how to acknowledge and look past our indiscretions with her, and a hint of optimism, I hope. I write every morning.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sam Barbee has a new collection, Uncommon Book of Prayer (2021, Main Street Rag).  His previous poetry collection, That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53), was a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016.  His poems have appeared recently in Poetry South, Literary Yard, Asheville Poetry Review, and Adelaide Literary Magazine, among others; plus the on-line journals American Diversity Report, Exquisite Pandemic, Verse Virtual, The Voices Project, and Medusa’s Kitchen. He is a two-time Pushcart nominee.  

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Instituto Terra
by Barbara Leonhard

“Nature is the earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.” Sebastião Salgado

All of nature, our neighbors.
Our yard, prolific with dandelions, plantain,
clover, violets. Even the unnamed white blossoms
embellishing the lawn each spring, allowed their display.
Our tall grasses trimming the yard
call in the fireflies. Butterfly gardens close by bloom
& groom Monarchs. Life forming. Transforming.
Flying free.

Our organic garden,
shared with a box turtle, birds,
deer, rabbits. A host
to our neighbor’s bees.
Our summer bounty, their honey.
The moles do their job, aerate the soil.
Possums eat the ticks. Bats & swifts, the pesky
mosquitoes. Coons, the small rodents
& wasp larvae. Balance, maintained
with reciprocity.

The ants swarming the kitchen each spring.
Tolerated. Our patio, a diner for doves,
cardinals, wrens. The fence, a highway
for squirrels & coons.
No need to fill tree hollows with Styrofoam.
The trees welcome guests. No need to trap
& release. We simply closed off the chimney.
Secured the trash barrel lid. Loving the furry
& the winged, the big & the small, our passion.

We don’t clear our land, uprooting the natives,
preening the view of our estate.
Management, a false sense of control.
Ivy sneaks through fence slats
across the stone patio floor
up the sides of the house.
A discarded pot of old dirt
sustains an oak sapling.
Gaia rebounds. Reclaims her grounds.

The cellular connection
between us and Gaia
doesn’t elude us. We don’t spray with pesticides
for the perfect lawn. Douse our garden
with toxic compounds to ward off insects,
increase yield.

We are Gaia. She, us.
What she eats, we eat.
We pollute her cells, we poison
our own. Contaminants seep deep into her soul
& our graves.

Her healing is our life.

PAINTING: Deer in the Forest by Franz Marc (1913).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The story of the Brazilian couple who regrew a forest from arid land inspires me because it shows how the depth of their love for earth healed the depleted soil and themselves. Although I have never regrown a forest, my husband and I live in peace with spiders, coons, slugs, and squirrels. We coexist with Mother Nature, feeding her birds and keeping poisons off our lawn and garden plants. We understand the balance of nature and cooperate with all living things because we realize that we are all connected. Disruption of our biological connections to all living things creates imbalance and illness, not just for Mother Earth but also for us. If the damage is reciprocal, so too is the healing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barbara Leonhard’s work is published in Spillwords, Anti-Heroin Chic, Free Verse Revolution, October Hill Magazine, Vita Brevis, Silver Birch Press, Amethyst Review, among others. This year Barbara earned both third place and honorary mention for two poems in Well Versed 2021. She is currently marketing her first poetry collection about her relationship with her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. From that memoir collection, her poem “Cooking a Life with a Wire Spine” was nominated for Publication of the Month on Spillwords in August 2021, and Barbara was voted Spillword’s Author of the Month in October. You can keep up with her journey on her blog site, extraordinarysunshineweaver.blog. Her poetry podcast, “Poetry: The Memoir of the Soul”. can be found at meelosmom.podbean.com.

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Curmudgeon
by Ed Ruzicka

I look forward to off elections
when candidates for judge and city council
post out stiff fliers. Mug shots up front.
On the back, themselves stiff and proud beside their brood.
They brag in red white and blue, a lot of blue, Prussian blue.

The paper is almost razor thin but strong
and bows well enough to sweep up shattered glass
cleaner than any dustpan from the Walmart aisles.

This is what my grandma taught.
Cling to a nickel, squeeze a dime.
Let nothing go in the trash bin
unless you’re absolutely sure
it has no other use.

Bread ties fasten folded extension cords
Worn shirts can be scissored in strips to tie tomato stalks.
Keep safety pins in an emptied throat lozenge tin.
Line the trash can with a bag from Qwik Mart.

Once folks didn’t have much. Now we do.
I cling to the old ways, save what I can:
a paper clip, plastic, whale’s baleens,
the bellies of ravens. Like grandma,
I live the way a mite does in a wall crack,
take great joy in being a curmudgeon

raised by frugal Czechs in a Midwest
where Februaries roar in like monsters
born in a Grimm’s fairy tale
and fear our future might
come back at us just that damn hard.

PHOTO: Rubber band globe by Donna O’Donoghue.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ed Ruzicka’s most recent book of poems, My Life in Cars, was released a year ago. Ed’s poems have appeared in the Atlanta Review, Rattle, Canary, the Xavier Review and the San Pedro River Review, as well as many other literary journals and anthologies. A finalist for the Dana Award and the New Millennium Award. Ed is an Occupational Therapist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he lives with wife, Renee.

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Milk
by Penelope Moffet

life itself — not human life — is the ultimate miracle upon this earth
— Farley Mowat, A Whale for the Killing

If I were
the size of
a moth
I’d live
in the leaves
of the hornless
woolly milkweed.
White fur
all around me,
the pendulous
complex
open-starred
pomegranate
breasts
of flowers
overhead
holding
nectar to be drunk,
pollen to be carried
for the birth
of seedlings.
In the season of milk,
the time
of leaves’
easily released
sticky juice,
I’d thrive.

Too small
to be seen
by men with rifles
who spill from cities
to hunt
slim deer
up canyons,
who would
gun down
a whale
caught
in a saltwater pond
linked to the sea
by channel
deep enough for passage
only
when full moon
high tide
collude
with storm.
Too small
to be one
of those men

In the hills
I love
bees
suck nectar
from the hearts
of flowers—
phacelia, poppy,
white sage,
mustard—
and make
something
sweeter.
Deep
in the throat
of bindweed’s
cream trumpet
a bee caresses
each pistil
with all
his feet,
flies
to the next cup.
What he takes
he repays

The world’s
a stomach
constantly
eating and
excreting and
there are
no gentle
creatures
but
only
we
spread
what can’t
return.

I don’t want
to be a
hawk
like Jeffers
solitary
on his
craggy coast

just
sometimes
something
mild enough
to creep
among
the deep-veined
milkweed leaves

bleeding
only
what I need.

First published, in slightly different form, in Keeping Still (Dorland Mountain Arts, 1995).

PAINTING: Butterflies by Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem in the early 1990s, on one of my writing retreats at Dorland Mountain Arts, a creative community near Temecula, CA. I had just read Farley Mowat’s brilliant, beautiful and infuriating book, A Whale for the Killing, the story of a Fin Whale that became trapped in a cove on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, where it was first marveled at and then tortured by the local humans. That book had the effect of making me want to leave my species and become something else. But we can’t leave our species. We have to try to make our relationship with the world better.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penelope Moffet is the author of It Isn’t That They Mean to Kill You (Arroyo Seco Press, 2018) and Keeping Still (Dorland Mountain Arts, 1995).  Her poems have been published in Gleam, One, Natural Bridge, Permafrost, Pearl, The Rise Up Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Verse-Virtual, The Missouri Review, and other literary journals, as well as in several anthologies, including What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest (University of Texas Press, 2007), Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles (Tia Chucha Press, 2016), Floored (Kingly Street Press, 2020) and California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology (Story Street Press, 2020).

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Broken
by Robbi Nester

I look for wisdom to the oldest trees, redwoods and sequoias,
old Druid oaks. You can trace their history in hollow trunks
and broken branches, blight and lightning scars on bark.
They’ve survived the fall of Angkor Wat and Carthage,
seen the rise of nations like Palau. If they ever ponder
the end of everything, they know even the oldest
trees will fall, the forests burn or be covered
by the sea. It wouldn’t be the first time.
I’m aware of Earth’s ongoing extinctions, oceans
paved with plastic waste, but they must feel it
in their roots. Maybe they foresee a world
that we can’t fathom, where new green
shoots will someday rise, renewed.

PAINTING: Oaks by Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have written many poems about the climate crisis and the disasters it has spawned, but few about possible solutions to this problem. However, it strikes me that since the solution to so many medical problems has come from the natural world, particularly from forests and trees, perhaps the answer to this one lies there as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robbi Nester is a retired college educator and author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. Her poetry, reviews, articles, and essays have been widely published, appearing or forthcoming most recently in California Quarterly, Tampa Review, Spillway, Sheila Na Gig, Book of Matches, Verse Virtual, Live Encounters, SWWIM, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and many others. Visit her at robbinester.net

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Sleeping With Waves
by Anita Lerek

If you have not saved your work
in the computer’s memory, all is lost.
. . . a lifetime asks the question:
“Are you saved?”

—Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Ronald S. Miller
From Age-ing to Sage-ing

In fish time, I rest
between stretches of pain.
Eyes open, stomach filled
with wastewater, wipes, plastic fibres,
failures, 3 am, undigestible.

At first, the flutters—
unmarked words, pushed down.
I lie still.
My belly is a map
of twisting biography.
Station to station, abandoned,
names pounding, just out of reach.
Where am I?

Gut splits open to flashes of heroism:
my ambition printed on skyscraper waves,
defying the gods of wind and blood.
To stay up!
I was a child of poisoned flowers
that lay in deep places.
I dove down,
returned with wounded stones
from that hole for souls
overturned by life,
screaming darkly in the wreckage.

Sorrow of the fall, sorrow of the rise.
I clutched the stones through gales,
through monster lips, exploding . . .
into frailty. No turning back.
Losing strength, I . . not I—lie labelled,
unnamed, despised, swallowed.

My sea family beats inside me,
as sickness
or something else . . .
held together by the prayer of stones.
I read the waves, try to save the evidence.
This is why I am still here. I diarize
the odors in dead air, the unflowering
of plants, my debilitation.

Beat of the hurt,
beat of the healing,
my mind travels,
harvesting the night.

PAINTING: Waves by Rashid Al Khalifa (1982).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In this poem, I look at the synchronicity between personal and environmental identity, the hurt and the healing processes within each, and the power of poetry to contain it all.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anita Lerek’s poetry is a meditation, a continually deepening journey into the mind of her work. Her poems do not end, they pause. Visual art, jazz, social and environmental justice are vehicles for her thought. Born in Poland, she retains a sense of otherness. She is a publishing late-bloomer. Her poems have appeared in  Off Course, River Heron, Verse-Virtual, Persimmon Tree,  and  other publications. She is author of a chapbook, of History and Being (2019). Anita Lerek lives with her archivist husband in Toronto, Canada. Visit her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Guardians
by Alan Walowitz

I watched old Westerns every day
when I was young,
Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Restless Gun—
but Indians—that’s what we called them then—
seemed more alive, but for the targets on their backs—
slept close to the earth;
hardly made a sound;
walked with soft intention;
found their way
by the light of the moon.
Sat in a circle to hear the elders
speak slow, their measured words far apart
as clouds in an indigo sky.

I’m always in a hurry to get nowhere,
no matter the little I have to do,
and rattle the teacups as I go
and get undone by the silence
that can travel with love.

My ear’s to the ground more frequently now
when I fall to the floor,
shattered awake from worry of this world.
No hoofbeats. Only faint heartbeats
now and then, and from deep within.
Maybe it’s enough, could save us,
if we stop and listen for them
while we can.

PAINTING: Small Catcher by T.C. Cannon (1973-1978).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It’s a fairly common trope to bless native peoples whenever we consider the mess we’ve made of the earth. There’s probably not much more to say about that in a poem. However, the Cleveland Indians will be known as the Guardians starting next season. I was dubious, at first, but now I kind of like that name. Maybe it reminds us all,  all we have to do is listen.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alan Walowitz is a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, comes from Osedax Press. The full-length The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems is available from Truth Serum Press. Most recently, from Arroyo Seco Press, is the chapbook In the Muddle of the Night, written trans-continentally with poet Betsy Mars.

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To not forget
by Sacha Hutchinson

Forget not
evening song
of stone chat in
newfound silence
it chinks like
breaking
glass.

Forget not
empty roads with
bicycle smiles
uncut verges
alive with scent
colour and insects.

Forget not
green spring rain
a drizzle that waits
as if frightened to fall.

Forget not
the moon, its ice
blue quarter
the lemon line
of dropping light.

Forget not
when we noticed
the unfastening of
leaf, wing, flower.

Forget never this
stolen time, when
shattered Earth
rested.

PHOTO: Spring meadow (Ireland) by Jonas Fehre.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This short poem looks back at lockdown and how we were restricted in our activity and movement. We were able to go for short walks near where we lived, many discovered or rediscovered the natural world. This slowing and restriction allowed wildlife to recover. We need to learn from this and reduce travel. It is important to appreciate and protect our local habitat. Protecting our planet is an enormous task but starting at a local level is always possible.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sacha Hutchinson is an eye doctor working in Galway, Ireland. She was born in Dublin. She attends both a weekly poetry workshop with Kevin Higgins  and  many Over The Edge events. Her poetry has appeared in Ropes (2018), in the  2018 and 2021 spring editions of Skylight 47, the 2019 autumn edition of The Curlew, impspired volume 3, Live Encounters (June 2020),  Pendemic (May 2021), Drawn to the Light Press (February 2021), Poetry in Lockdown Archive (UCD 2021), and Lothlorien Poetry Journal (2021). Shortlisted for Poetry for Patients in 2018 and 2019, she was longlisted for Over the Edge  New Writer of the Year in 2018 and shortlisted in 2019. A featured reader of Over the Edge November 2021, she received a bachelor of Arts in art and design in 2010. She has an interest in exploring the environmental message through paint and poetry.

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Fragments from The Last—And Only—Anthropocene:
“We must love the perishable earth…”

by Andrew Mulvania

—after Adam Zagajewski, Michael Harper, and John Coltrane

We must love the perishable earth, our perishable life,
birdsong (for the time being) in the mornings and at evening,
matutinal and crepuscular; must love words like “matutinal”
and “crepuscular”; must love language
that allows us to say, “We must love”;
love the spring green in the stand of hickory beside the municipal tennis courts
off Fairview Avenue, vibrant this morning as a bamboo forest
halfway across this perishable world and earth—
in Thailand, say, or Burma—
against the blue rubber surface of the courts;
must love my girlfriend’s son’s school, La Petite Ecole—
a French-language immersion school—toward which I’m walking,
or “strolling,” rather, after dropping my own son off at his school,
Fairview Elementary; must love sons, and foreign languages,
and immersion, and girlfriends; must love immersion in language
and girlfriends, this beautiful body one can immerse in another’s
the better to know this life, this earth; must love
the emulsion that comes from such an immersion
that brings about more life, on more worlds, more earths—no:
there is only one earth this morning, one world,
the one upon which I’m standing right now while it’s spinning
as I’m stretching my legs first on a stone bench,
and then on this stone picnic table
whose legs look like a Grecian urn described in a poem by Keats,
poor perishable Keats, the tragic poet, dead at 25 of tuberculosis—
how’s that for some perishing!—
and I’m standing and stretching and spinning
while the sun rises higher and higher behind gray clouds
in an overcast sky, rising and rising as if saying or repeating
the phrase: “must love, must love, must love.”

PHOTO: Fairview Tennis Courts, Columbia, Missouri. (Photo found at como.gov)

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When my son was still in elementary school, I walked him to school on the mornings he was with me, and then—much as the poem describes—I would proceed down the sidewalk to meet my girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) as she was dropping off her own son at his pre-school (the two schools just happened to be a short walk apart). ¶ On one of these routine morning walks—it was just after a rain, as spring was coming on, and the birds were chirping loudly in the early morning air as the sun was just beginning to peek through the clouds, and the whole landscape was gloriously adorned in its new spring raiment after a long, hard Missouri winter—I was struck (as I’m sure everyone has been at some point in their lives) by the sheer beauty of the spring morning and how fresh and new everything looked, in spite of all we have done to mar the earth (as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it in “God’s Grandeur”: “Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; / And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;…// And for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”). I didn’t have a pen and notebook with me, so I pulled out my smartphone and started writing, pausing at the tennis courts nearby to stretch and reflect. By the time I’d reached my girlfriend’s son’s school, I had a draft of the poem finished. ¶ Ever since “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” was published in the New Yorker shortly after 9/11, I have been deeply moved by the late Adam Zagajewski’s masterful poem and its charge that we must find a way to love and praise the fragmentary and ephemeral beauty of the world, despite the violence we have inflicted upon it—and one another. As a practicing Buddhist, I realize—looking back on the poem—that I was really sending Metta (loving-kindness) to the earth, and, with it, all the people I love on this earth, even while recognizing the impermanence of all of it. This comes through also in the references to largely-Buddhist countries like Burma and Thailand that have been devastated by violence of various kinds (deforestation in Thailand that has affected the way of life of monks in the Thai Forest Tradition, and the Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar/Burma).

PHOTO: The Big Tree in Springtime. Photo of a 400-year-old oak near Columbia, Missouri, by Heath Cajandig (May 31, 2016). 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Mulvania is the author of a collection of poems, Also in Arcadia, published by the Backwaters Press (an imprint of The University of Nebraska Press) in 2008. Recent poems have appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review and Smartish Pace. He has twice been a writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute and was awarded an Individual Creative Artists Fellowship in Poetry from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He teaches in the Writing Across the Curriculum program for University of Maryland Global Campus and lives in Columbia, Missouri.

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Plant the Habit of Loving
by Ranney Campbell

During all the time we continue to exist in this particular universe we will bathe in the far too cold for our eyes to see glow leftover from the Big Bang that was accidentally discovered by radio astronomers in the dark spaces between stars and galaxies in 1965 that was perhaps the black I saw and cold I felt when I floated away off that gurney in a San Bernardino emergency room in 1983 after suffering a by all evidence of medical science fatal head injury as a result of the missed hairpin turn somewhere above Crestline and all these years later when I put some plastic into my trash can I try to remember this happening even if the thought just hovers vaguely omnipresent like the microwave background remains of our primeval fireball with no point of origin occurring everywhere at once rather than project more invented stress into the universe with perturbed thoughts as I did for so long, because if I learned anything in those 77 seconds it was that the words “love” and “nonjudgement” don’t quite cover it and since not enough of my fellows ever would follow advice to recycle nor would they change opinions when I told them if you separate according to color any eight-year-old could tell you it is called “division” and that healing blooms best in conditions of unity, I eventually was forced into the compassion that the only thing I have to contribute is what is created within me and it cannot be expressed most effectively through bodily experiences but in higher energies because the force of loving without self-seeking attachment creates irrepressible exchanges and is the only chance we have to disrupt the temporal order enough to set free whatever futures are possible including one wherein maybe we can find a way to send enough carbon dioxide to Mars to create an atmosphere there and in the doing save what we can of what is left of our so delicately interdependent biodiversity here.

PAINTING: Starlight by Agnes Martin (1963).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ranney Campbell was born and reared in St. Louis, Missouri, and lives in Southern California. Her chapbook, Pimp, is published by Arroyo Seco Press and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Misfit Magazine, Shark Reef, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, Hummingbird: Magazine of the Short Poem, Eastern Iowa Review, and others.