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Stephen
In a Time of Hidden Faces
by Carol A. Stephen

This face, my mask of age, slips south
into my neck, wrinkles drawn down by time
and gravity into folds, creases, wattle.
Still, when youth shines forth in my smile, wrinkles
tighten. Years slip away. Or they did—

Now, a different mask, a swath of black cloth
covers dimples, highlights the slight droop
of lower eyelid under my glasses.

Over my shoulder, masks of the past
stare blank-eyed from the wall, and I remember
those days in Venice, that long-ago night in Rome,
the sweetness of a kiss by the Trevi fountain.

Those kissed lips hide now under my new mask, worn
for your safety. I cannot offer you a grin, but
I offer the people of my world my respect,
expressed by this black band across my face.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As we all consider social distancing, and that we are all in this fight against COVID-19, I thought also about my collection of carnival masks, displayed on my wall, as well as how our own faces present different masks to the world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol A. Stephen’s poetry appears in Poetry Is Dead, June 2017, and numerous print publications, including Wintergreen Studios chapbooks, Sound Me When I’m Done and Teasing the Tongue. Online poems appear at Silver Birch Press, Topology Magazine, The Light Ekphrastic, and With Painted Words.  She won third prize in the CAA National Capital Writing Contest, and was featured in Tree’s Hot Ottawa Voices.  She served on the board for Canadian Authors Association-NCR and co-directed Ottawa’s Tree Reading Series. She has five chapbooks, two released in 2018 — Unhook, catkin press, Carleton Place, and Lost Silence of the Small, Local Gems Press, Long Island, NY.  In 2019, Winning the Lottery, Surviving Clostridium Difficile was published by Crowe Creations.ca.

Front doorMAH copy
The prodigal son
by Mark Andrew Heathcote

Silence frustrates your prodigal sons
returning to a shut door a bosom,
left outside your chambered—bullion
their names worth remain still a misnomer?
Through a keyhole, they see chinks of light
yet-where, there’s a protruding key
that light disintegrates out of sight
out of view, that’s how it is with you.

Don’t get me wrong, we look for an entrance
we want to lodge open our syncretic eyes
collapse any walls and inherit your skies.
In-the-near-future we’ll have descendants
locked vaulted in tombs to be opened
but yet there you are, Father, a keyhole
a chick of light never eroded
radiantly gold, waiting for us to, behold.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Andrew Heathcote is from Manchester in the UK, author of In Perpetuity and Back on Earth, two books of poems published by a CTU publishing group (Creative Talents Unleashed). Mark is an adult learning difficulties support worker, who began writing poetry at an early age at school.

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Patrick T. Reardon discusses his poetry collection, Requiem for David (Silver Birch Press, February 2017) and other writing in a Chicago Sun-Times feature published on July 20, 2017. Find the insightful article here.

Listen to a related podcast at this link.

Photo by Rich Hein, Chicago Sun-Times


Receptionist: Holyoke, Mass
by Janet Bowdan

Summers in high school I worked for my father
as his receptionist, answering phones, writing
appointments into the big datebook, canceling,
rescheduling, filing, transcribing his notes,
the normal stuff.  He’d introduce me to the patients
as his daughter, and they’d smile and tell me
what a good doctor he was (true) or they’d tell him
I was pretty and looked just like him (two comments
I considered mutually contradictory).  All normal.
He’d do rounds at the hospital in his lunch hour,
technically three hours.  Occasionally the ER would call
because someone was having a psychotic episode,
and he’d walk across to take care of it.
In the waiting room they were pretty quiet; maybe
they’d read a magazine, an old Punch or a recent People.
One time he called to say he’d be late; I explained
to the patients that he was in line waiting for gas–
it was the energy crisis, hostages in Iran, long lines
at the pumps.  The patients nodded, understanding
we had this in common, and they started chatting
to each other about prices and lines and these days.
There was a lot of waiting: appointments could run
10 minutes late, half an hour, an hour.  He’d never
shove a patient out in mid-trauma, though it’s true
he’d tell me to adjust the billing for the longer time.
When we got insurance checks, it gave him
a little happy bounce, even though Medicare
would take forever to come in and only be a fraction
of what he’d billed. My mother would get angry:
we have to pay our taxes on time, but they can take
as long as they want!  She did the taxes.  One day
my father came out of the inner office with a big guy,
Vietnam vet, they talked a bit and the vet left.  Come look
at this, my dad said, and I went in to see the toy train
set up in its tracks on the table.  You put it together?
I asked.  The train had a little trick to it; part of the track
was a U and the little train made it revolve in order to
go around the station.  My father could never figure it out.
No, the patient did.  He never talks. But he was sitting
looking at the train, and finally he said, “Why’s that
in pieces?”  I said, because I’m a klutz.  And he asked,
“Can I try?” and he fixed it in 5 seconds.  And then he talked.
Sometimes people called my dad a shrink, but he said,
he’s doesn’t shrink heads.  He expands them.

IMAGE: Portrait of Sigmund Freud by Andy Warhol (1980).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My father is now retired, but at the time I worked for him, he was the only psychiatrist in Western Massachusetts.  Even now I meet doctors who recognize my name because they’ve read his notes in their patient files, and I wonder if those were notes I typed up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janet Bowdan‘s poems have appeared in APR, Crazyhorse, VerseDenver Quarterly, Pinch, Free State Review, Peacock Journal, Best American Poetry 2000Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. The editor of Common Ground Reviewshe teaches at Western New England University and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, son, and sometimes a lovely stepdaughter or two.

Sam Silvas, author of the short story collection Stanton, California, will appear along with more than 100 authors at LitFest Pasadena, which will take place in Pasadena, California, on May 20 & 21, 2017. For a complete schedule of authors and events, visit litfestpasadena.org.
2017_LitFestPoster

gum
What I Found
by Laurie Kolp

Buried in the sand, a new pack
of gum — green gum, to be exact
Extra spearmint like you used to chew.

It replaced the pack
of cigarettes you smoked each day
before your lung collapsed
like a sand castle marred with tar
from an oil spill.

The chewing gum a minty wave
attacking taste buds, opening
sinuses, unlike the first puff
that made you high
the first time you puffed
before one puff wasn’t enough.

As I walk by, I think about
the way you fell asleep, gum in mouth
and then woke up with sticky wads
of green on your white pillowcase.

Still, you wanted another piece, even
in the end when bedridden, your right arm
the only thing left to move. You said
it was all you had to do, chew gum while
lying there all day long, dying.

I brush the sand off the cellophane, pull
gold thread around the top like one
would do with a brand-new pack
of Marlboro Menthols, only
it’s Extra spearmint chewing gum.
I chew it in memory of you.
Thank God it’s sugar-free.

SOURCE: “What I Found” is featured in the author’s chapbook Hello, it’s Your Mother (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and in Mused: The BellaOnline Literary Review.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laurie Kolp, author of  Upon the Blue Couch and Hello, It’s Your Mother, has poems in Rust + Moth, Bracken, concis, Prelude, Crack the Spine, and more. She lives in Texas with her husband, three children, and two dogs. Learn more at lauriekolp.com.

PHOTO: The author during a beach trip, 2014.

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Sonnet on Being Seventeen
by Amanda Elfert

At seventeen, I didn’t know much just,
Not much of anything; painful hurts would cut.
I gazed in the mirror wishing I was what,
Guys found beautiful, not a red complexion.
But skin cleared for grad photos somewhat,
And graduation was a monumental strut;
Into the wide world of a young adult but —
Drunk for first time, on two pints of beer chugged.
But made great friends, started with tea, no fear —
When fortune teller read our palm, seer —
Said I was too quiet, had to live, learn not be,
Girl committing to first guy of her dreams.
Then off to Mexican Orphanage, saw clear,
Those in need, how vital is charity.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Myself, age 17, at the San Diego Zoo on my high school’s mission and services trip to an orphanage in Mexico.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I think seventeen is such an age of change for young people. It’s on the cusp of finally being free and able to do more of what you like in life and less of what you’re told. It’s finding out that even with newfound freedoms there is still responsibility. And later in life remembering, you are never so free as you are at the end of high school and in university. You are free in ways you cannot comprehend and will never be again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amanda Eifert is a writer and blogger in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has poetry and short fiction published online forSpillWords Magazine and SickLitMagazine. She has an English BA and has applied to an MFA program in Creative Writing. You can visit her blog at mandibelle16.wordpress.com to see where most of her work develops. She also conducts  writer/blogger interviews on her blog and does a variety of other writing.

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We are honored and pleased that Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will host a reading for the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press, October 2016). East Coast authors featured in the 212-page collection of writing & art — Kathleen Aguero, Jessica Purdy, Ellen Cohen, Kristina England, and Sarah Nichols — will read their work included in the anthology. Details below.

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WHERE: Porter Square Books, 25 White Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02140, 617-491-2220, portersquarebooks.com.

WHEN: Friday, 2/24/17, at 7 p.m.

WHO:  Kathleen Aguero, Jessica Purdy, Ellen Cohen, Kristina England, and Sarah Nichols will read selections from the Nancy Drew Anthology.

jennifer-hernandez-and-nancy-drew
We asked the 97 contributors to the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press, October 2016) to send photos featuring the book in their home environments for a series we’re calling “Nancy Drew Around the World.” Author Jennifer Hernandez sent this photo of herself and the book in front of the giant walleye at Lake Mille Lacs on a road trip home from the League of Minnesota Poets fall conference. As she tells us, it doesn’t get a whole lot more Minnesotan than this! Jennifer contributed the poem, “Nancy Drew is my kind of princess,” featured below, to the collection.

 Nancy Drew is my kind of princess

          flashlight scepter in hand
Sleuthing through secret passages,
          tunnels, attics, caves
Girl detective slays her own dragons
          needs no rescue
Sheathed in smart frocks with
          matching handbags
Strawberry blonde hair
          tucked behind one ear
Clues deduced
          mysteries solved
Blue roadster
          speeding into the sunset

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Hernandez teaches and writes in the Minneapolis area. Her work has appeared recently in Mothers Always WriteRose Red ReviewSilver Birch Press, and anthologized in Bird Float, Tree Song (Silverton Books). She has performed her poetry at a nonprofit garage, a bike shop filled with taxidermy, and in the kitchen for her children, who are probably her toughest audience.

Find the Nancy Drew Anthology at Amazon.com.

top-hat
Top Hat & Tails
by Mark Andrew Heathcote

My mother & father fought day & night
But they made a hat with cardboard & glue
They measured my head & were erudite
This accomplishment, of their love, shone through.

To me who had more than just a few doubts
I slept right through it all and then came school…
The very next day Hat on, they recounts
My hat had won the show, yes, this was, cool.

“Oddest-thing-is” I don’t recall wearing it.
I don’t recall going to school at all…
All I remember is seeing the skip-
& joy in their proud hearts, still so, enthral.

As they recapped the story, late one night
Describing how they saved their silver foil.
A “40 a day habit,” I guess they’d to light,
Buy more packs, hadn’t they heard of Tinfoil.

© 2016 Mark Heathcote

IMAGE: The authors homemade top hat.

heathcoteNOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: 
Well, I was born in Withington, Manchester, one of three children; I was the eldest and the only boy. We lived in a three-bed terrace house with no bathroom or indoor toilet. I lived there until the age of nine and was a quiet and unhappy child, but that changed when the family moved to the countryside, where I then had the freedom to explore nature at first-hand. I spent much of my free time climbing trees and swimming in lakes and rivers, making rope swings, stuff like that. I was looked on as a kind of Tarzan figure, that’s how all other kids saw me. I was never academic and was years behind all the other children at school. I struggled badly in high school and didn’t learn a great deal. I left school at age 16, taking dead-end jobs on local farms and then in factories. I left home at age 17 —  by then, there had been a messy divorce and relationships weren’t good all round and haven’t improved all that much since. So I moved back to Manchester, where I’m still residing now and have done ever since. I’m a father of five and for the past 14 years I’ve be employed as a learning disability support worker. I write a lot of poetry in my free time and enjoy music and gardening.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Andrew Heathcote’s debut book, In Perpetuity, published in 2016, is available from CTU Publishing. His work recently appeared at THE BEZine and in the Silver Birch Press “When I Moved” Poetry & Prose Series.