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How to Paddle Upstream
by Ken Gierke

Consumed with your own thoughts,
always going it alone because
that’s the silence that comforts you,
there’s no easy way to get back
if you start paddling downstream.

So pull yourself along the bank.
The lee side, of course.
Why start now with the risks?
Stroke left, then right, head-on
into the current, meeting snags,
obstructions, knowing you can
always turn back to the beginning
by drifting along the easy course
you’ve followed all along.

Or face those challenges, solve
the problems you encounter.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn
something about life along the way,
learn to set your own course
once you rejoin the flow.

PAINTING: Canoe in Rapids by Winslow Homer (1897).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have an affinity to water, so it often appears in my poetry. A slight breeze will bring to mind an image of ripples on the water. A strong wind will remind me of the waves that once washed over my kayak. The glassy surface of a lake will remind me of a moment of serenity, inducing memories that can shape the words for something totally unrelated. Feeling the roar of a thundering waterfall pounding through my chest will remind me of a love I hold and shape the words to express it in a poem. It comes down to the senses and the cues they provide. My words just seem to form around them.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Gierke started writing poetry in his forties, but found new focus when he retired. It also gave him new perspectives, which come out in his poetry, primarily in free verse and haiku. He has been published at Silver Birch Press, Vita Brevis, The Ekphrastic Review, Amethyst Review, Eunoia Review, and his poem “Unwound”  was included in Pain & Renewal: A Poetry Anthology (Vita Brevis Press). His work can be found at rivrvlogr.wordpress.com.

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How to Skip Stones
by Ed Meek

Do you remember keeping your eyes open
for flat, oval rocks to pocket
on walks to the pond?
Saving the best for last, you’d lean
to one side and flick your wrist
flinging the stones just off the water.

It isn’t easy to defy gravity
and make a stone skip like a tern
and skim weightless
soaring without wings,
touching down like a plane
while you count until it sinks
and heads to rest anonymous
on the bottom.

Maybe that’s what we’re after
as we try to stay afloat,
skimming on the surface,
defying the odds
for the fleeting feeling of flight.

Photo by Sven Bachstroem, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The idea for this poem came from my wife, who likes to skip stones at a pond that we walk to. It is one of those activities that brings you back to being young, especially when you are in the older crowd, as we both are.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ed Meek has had poems recently in What Rough Beast, The American Poetry Journal, Constellations,  and Poetry Superhighway. He has poems coming out in Iris Literary Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, and Your Daily Poem. His new book, High Tide, is available at Aubadepublishing.com an Amazon. Visit him at edmeek.net.

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Snorkeling with Jesus
Keawakapu Beach, Kihei, Maui
by Carolyn Martin

Don’t even think of it! Walking on waves
without a paddleboard is embarrassing.
Anyway, we’ve agreed it’s your undercover day.

Over here. Let’s settle in the shade of this plumeria.
After years at the Jersey Shore, I’ve learned
a careless burn isn’t worth a tan’s vanity.

If you hand me your mask, I’ll show you how
to stop it fogging up. A drop of Spit® swished
around each lens will clear the visibility.

Wait! Before you put it on, tuck your hair
behind your ears. Don’t miss any flighty strands.
You want it sealed tight so water won’t sneak in.

Now fit the snorkel in your mouth and breathe.
Yes . . . it sounds weird and, beneath the waves,
acoustics will be more intense. But focusing

on breath will help you meditate as angels, tangs,
unicorns, butterflies, and – I’m showing off –
humuhumunukunukuapuaas go swimming by.

No, no! Don’t put fins on yet. Wait until you’re floating
in the waves. See that guy who pulled his on
onshore? Another drunken crab scuttling in reverse.
A wetsuit? Are you kidding me?
Boss Frog’s is three miles away and I’ve checked:
Maui’s water is as warm as Galilee’s.

You’re right. The graying coral is disheartening.
Some fish boycott the reefs and locals blame
chemicals lushing-up miles of golf course greens.

No . . . it’s not a good idea to annihilate country clubs.
Tourism would take a hit. Besides, eco-scientists
are working to solve the problem without violence.

One more thing before we head out:
if you should see a turtle entangled
in fishing line – I cried last week

when several struggled by – clap your hands,
say a prayer, do whatever you need to do. Beneath
the waves, no one will see the miracle I allowed you.

Previously published in The Esthetic Apostle. 

PHOTO: Snorkeler (After Misrach), Maui, Hawaii by David Burdeny (2011). 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’ve been snorkeling on Maui for a number of years and have the preparation process down to a science. I thought it would be fun to share it with a famous person.

Carolyn Martin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin is a lover of gardening and snorkeling, feral cats and backyard birds, writing and photography. Her poems have appeared in more than 130 journals and anthologies throughout North America, Australia, and the UK. Her fifth collection, The Catalog of Small Contentments will be released in 2021. Currently, she is the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation. Find out more at carolynmartinpoet.com

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How to Tell Time in a Pandemic
by Barbara Crary

The day dawns in muted tones of mauve and pale yellow behind the bare branches of the maple tree. We awaken early to the calls of male and female cardinals announcing their presence to one another in the cold winter breeze. Today the dawn arrives earlier than it did yesterday as we move almost imperceptibly toward spring. We wait for our walk until the sun is high in the sky, hoping for warmth and contenting ourselves with the sparkle of sunlight on icy banks of leftover snow. We walk for an hour with no clear destination beyond our return home to an afternoon of coffee and conversation as evening falls. Dinner follows and in the gathering darkness, we drowse contentedly before it is time for bed. The moon, ever changing and ever present, rises to watch over us as we sleep and hope to dream. The day dawns anew.

sunrise to sunrise
no need to number the days
the sky is our clock

PAINTING: Sunrise by Georgia O’Keeffe (1916).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In this year of the pandemic, I have found myself increasingly attentive to the rhythms and beauty of the natural world. I’ve begun writing haibun as a way of focusing my attention more clearly, and have found this a great source of pleasure during the lockdown.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barbara Crary is a retired school psychologist who lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She started writing poetry several years ago, and often writes in short forms such as haiku. She enjoys the discipline of creating found poetry using words selected from existing texts. Barbara was a contributing poet to the collection, Whitmanthology: On Loss and Grief and has also written for Silver Birch Press.

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How to Cure a Writer’s Block
by Shahé Mankerian

for Aram Saroyan

To my students I say, “Go outside
at midnight and climb the tilted trellis

to the roof. Grip the waterspout.
Keep the finch’s nest and the sprout

of moss intact. Like Jesus, pretend
the ceramic shingles are your Sea

of Galilee. Find the chimney and rest
your back against soot of the bricks.

Crickets—crickets—crickets—
Fix your gaze on the glaze

of the black blanketed sky.
Tuck yourself in. The full moon

will ascend like a Chantilly cake.
Squint your eyes and take a bite.”

PAINTING: Across the Orange Moons by Alexander Calder (1967).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is an homage to a friend and a renowned minimalist poet, Aram Saroyan. For many years, it has been an eighth grade tradition to recite Saroyan’s minimal poems at the school I teach (and administer). During recitations, students love his compressed poems because of their rhythmic and melodically soothing qualities. Crickets—crickets—crickets— 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Poet Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School. He is on the board of International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA). His debut poetry collection, History of Forgetfulness, will be published by Fly on the Wall Press in October 2021.

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How to Wonder About the Sky
by Mohini Malhotra

You wear twilight-slate-blue, colors of a winter sky, an upside-down ice rink
Do you choose your colors each dusk?
You’re still this evening. Your grey-blue mantel is expansive, like you’re dressed for an outing that’s pensive, somber, a requiem . . . 
Or maybe you’re just settling in to write a poem. It’s that kind of a grey-blue, what I imagine to be the color of a thought
How do you see us? Blue, like we see you, or, do you think you’re looking at your reflection?
As I wonder, stars pop out from nowhere, and dangle on your velvet cloak like fairy lights on a tree

It’s the dark, I say, even more than the cold
Dark that swoops in suddenly and swallows your light
The day ends far too early, for me a nightbird, and bones don’t stop chattering
I brew hot tea and wrap a blanket around feet born cold
Light candles that flicker shadows and spirits on the wall — characters right off pages of my book
While tea quiets the bones, and the blanket lulls me to dream

I cheat Night by rising early — stretch the day the other way than my usual
And, I spy the sky-painter, tiptoed on a cloud, brushstrokes of pinks and scarlets and lavenders
A show for those who wonder — who wakes you up Sky?

PAINTING: Three Black Stars by Alexander Calder (1963).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this particular piece in a zoom writing workshop taught by Mary Hall Surface, a DC-based writer. We read a poem by Mary Oliver in the class, and one prompt was to look around us to see what gives us wonder and I saw the sky out of my large window.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mohini Malhotra is an international development economist, adjunct professor, and founder of a social enterprise (artbywomen.gallery) to promote women artists and invest in causes that better the lives of women and girls. She loves language and her fiction has appeared in Gravel, West Texas Literary Review, Silver Birch Press, Blink-Ink, Flash Frontier, 82 Star Review, A Quiet Courage, Writers’ Center, and several anthologies.

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How to Make Jam
by Stephen Howarth

Pick your fruits and words with care. Weigh them
accurately, in good proportions. Choose your tools,
knowing the function and purpose of each:
the thermometer and boiling pan, the paper and pen.

Begin with the half-intended products of
your garden: cook with what you know,
use the fruits you’ve grown, try them together,
test and taste, discover how they combine to give you

senses of futurity and seasoned summer fulness.
Rinse your words, top and tail as needed,
place them in the boiling pan, add a modicum of water
and more sugar than you consume in a month,

because life’s shocking sharpness and tartness
may be softened in this new creation. Use every sense
to create this newness. Apple and rose-hip, gooseberry
and apricot and gin, strawberry, peach and mead:

You are a magician now, imagining and making,
melding and moulding. Do not overboil.

PAINTING: Jelly Shelf by Mary Pratt (1999), All Rights Reserved. 

Jams and jellies

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: During Britain’s first lockdown, I had fun teaching myself how to make successful jams and jellies.Habitually I give some away, but am often given some in return. So I have at least a year’s supply for domestic needs, and mainly eat it during breakfast (although my stalwart preferences are marmalade — some given to me — and Marmite, a spread that you might not know). The jars are basically any old jars that have been thoroughly washed in HOT water and heated in the oven prior to potting up, so that the jam (just off the boil) doesn’t crack them. ¶ Oh, and in this case at least, size matters! I’ve been given some marmalade in such enormous jars that they’re really quite awkward — Imagine a Hellmann’s jar with a two-pound capacity . . . So I don’t do that, just ones around one-pound capacity maximum, with a number of smaller jars to use as gifts. Top tip: go easy on the ginger.

PHOTO: The author’s kitchen and an array of his jams and jellies. Left to right, rose-hip and apple jelly; raspberry and blueberry jam; gooseberry and mint; gooseberry, grape and apricot brandy; apricot, peach and mead; strawberry, peach and mead; courgette, lemon and ginger. Others made later include cotton candy grapes and mead, and rhubarb, apple, ginger and sloe gin.

Howarth

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Howarth has been an independent professional author of history all his working life. He served in the Royal Naval Reserves both on the lower deck and as an officer and wrote the official centenary history of the RNR — for which he was appointed an honorary Commander by HM the Queen. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Royal Geographical Society, and a Life Member of the US Naval Institute and The 1805 Club. He earned a Master’s degree (with Distinction) in creative writing at Nottingham Trent University.

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A Quest, for an ideal dandelion soup
by Steven Bridenbaugh

Dandelions are ubiquitous, but around here
The fuzzy leaves of cats ears more commonly abound.
But early California March
Beneath a stately larch
A robust colony I found.

I want more than just a leaf
Next to the root, is the heart.
Soaked in water and ice
Thrice washed makes it very nice
One cup chopped: the first part.

To this part, add one part parsley
And of Swiss chard, two parts.
These greens are surely not all that entices
To begin, in a dry pan roast whole spices:
Fennel, coriander, turmeric, and cumin, just to start.

Asafoedita, black pepper, and a pinch
Of cayenne, by hand well ground
With mortar and pestle is best
These spices will divest
To a vegetable broth something that will astound.

I wilt chopped leaves with ashwaganda ghee
With boiling broth complete
In ten minutes green and dark they will be
A blender perfects the sorcery
To this poet, not bitter, and to aging bones, most sweet.

IMAGE: Dandelions by Yayoi Kusama (1985).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have been reading about harvesting wild plants, and my lawn is a good source for them, since I have never used herbicides. This recipe illustrates a good way to make wild harvested plants more appetizing. True dandelions are not always easy to find in my area. Cats ears are a kind of dandelion, which is also edible. I have made a dandelion salad, following  instructions by Jacques Pepin, using cats ears, and they were delicious, but not as visually appealing as young dandelion. When you harvest dandelion leaves, try to include the white base of each stem, as it is very nutritious, and adds to the flavor. The bitterness of dandelion leaves is diminished by fat. To make a small amount of ashwaganda ghee, I heat a cup of water in a small pan, together with half a teaspoon of ashwaganda powder and a tablespoon of ghee from my bottle of clarified butter in the refrigerator. After the water is mostly evaporated, I toss the liquid into the greens, and braise them. I should add that it it is worth the effort, to grind freshly toasted spices with mortar and pestle, just as they do in India. My recipe is based on one in Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Guide to Self Care.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Bridenbaugh is a retired teacher, construction worker, and mental health worker. In the last few years, he has been occupied with writing, playing guitar, and he is a student of Ayurveda and Vegan Cooking. Why? Because it tastes so good! He lives in Eureka California, and owns an older home which he is gradually remodeling. He is sorting boxes of books, which he has acquired over the years, mostly from secondhand stores. He plans to read most of these books, or find people who can appreciate them. If by any chance, you haven’t read The Vicar of Wakefield he will gladly give you a copy, as soon as he finishes reading it. Visit him on Facebook.

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How to Lose Your Mom Over and Over
by Lylanne Musselman

After her hard falls, more messy accidents,
you give in to the reality mom is too hard to handle
at home, since dementia has deteriorated her health
in these two years you’ve been sole caregiver.

Confined to her wheelchair, it’s a mystery how
she escaped the first nursing home you thought
extremely secure. You’re thankful she didn’t become
a statewide Silver Alert in that chilly October air.

With mom settled into a new facility, you make it through
a first Christmas without her at family gatherings. Visit her
four or five times a week. Adapt to other’s well-meaning phrase:
“You’re so lucky! At least you still have your mom.”

Never expect a pandemic lockdown of nursing homes,
or that her hugs from last March will have to hold you.
Call her often, she doesn’t understand why you’re not visiting,
she cries hearing your voice, you never know how to hang up.

Summer, a reprieve of outdoor visits, with masks, six feet apart,
no hugs, no touching. Hard for her to understand the need
for distance, she accuses you of not caring whether she’s dead
or alive, then begs to drive. So much for happy visits.

In autumn, her nursing home locks down again. You’re thankful
they have no Covid-19 cases. Until they do in late October,
then the call: “Your mom has a fever spike.” Nurses assure you
she’s tested negative twice. In November, she’s isolated

in the Covid unit, afraid and alone. Her nurse calls several times:
“Your mom is yelling nonstop! We don’t know how to calm her down.”
Upsetting since no visits are allowed. That Monday, go stand outside
her window. She recognizes you, but she’s a shell of herself.

Her death glares you in the face. Hospice needs to be called.
On Friday the 13th: “Honey, your mom is going to meet Jesus.
It won’t be long.” These words are hard to hear anytime,
but when you can’t be there, it’s cruel. You’re isolated, lost.

You hope she’s in a better place. Know she hated the rest “home,”
being forced to play Bingo, being limited to that wheelchair,
never knowing why her parents weren’t visiting.

PAINTING: Mystical Conversation by Odilon Redon (1896).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I saw the call for a “How to” poem, I knew I had to write about what it was like to deal with my mom’s dementia, the nursing home, and then her death. 2020 was a hard year. I felt by writing about the experience in this way, it would not feel like such a heavy poem, and it would be one that I could write without feeling that I couldn’t deal with the pain of it all over again. Anyone who deals with a loved one with dementia knows what a hard thing it is, and then when a pandemic hits and puts so many limitations on everyone, it makes a hard situation harder. My mom didn’t survive the year, and I’m still processing all that’s happened. Being a poet helps, as most of us know it’s how we process our feelings.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTO: I had to include a photo taken last summer during the few months that I was able to visit my mom, outside with a mask, and at a distance. She was not one to keep her mask on. I miss her, and those hard visits.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lylanne Musselman is an award-winning poet, playwright, and visual artist, living in Indiana. Her work has appeared in Pank, The Tipton Poetry Journal, The New Verse News, Rose Quartz Magazine, Silver Birch Press, and The Ekphrastic Review, among others, and many anthologies. Musselman is the author of five chapbooks, including Red Mare 16 (Red Mare Press, 2018), a co-author of the volume of poetry, Company of Women New and Selected Poems (Chatter House Press, 2013), and the author of the full-length poetry collection, It’s Not Love, Unfortunately (Chatter House Press, 2018). Musselman is currently working on another volume of poetry. Visit her at lylannemusselman.wordpress.com and on Facebook

two women and dove 1956
How to love a daughter
by Rose Mary Boehm

She will never forgive you
your love. She will reject the profound knowledge
that you are bound to each other.
Oh, sometimes, very occasionally,
she’ll almost be seduced by your insistence.
Make no mistake, it’s only a truce,
never peace. There is no steadfastness
in her offering of absolution.
She loved you once with a fierce
and all-consuming emotion.
That she will never forgive.
Neither will she forgive
that you had a life of your own,
that you needed to leave for fear
of the master. She looks at you
and finds you wanting
and tells you in a roundabout way
that you failed.
And you know you are guilty.
You look into her eyes
and feel her pain. She is judging you
and you will never forgive yourself.

IMAGE: Two Women and Dove by Pablo Picasso (Lithograph, 1956).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My first marriage became a little “crowded” at one point, and quite untenable. I had to leave. I left the country for what I thought would be two or three years. My daughter, 19 and a bit at the time, was the hardest hit. And, even though I supposedly left them with their father, he soon moved in with his girlfriend. Soon her older brother left too. She stayed behind in our big, old, rambling family home. It took my daughter years to “forgive” me. I carried the guilt for a long time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rose Mary Boehm is a German-born British national living and writing in Lima, Peru. Her poetry has been published widely in mostly US poetry reviews (online and print). She was twice nominated for a Pushcart. Her fourth poetry collection, The Rain Girl, was published by Chaffinch Press in 2020. Visit her at rose-mary-boehm-poet.com and YouTube.