Archives for posts with tag: nature

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How to Identify a Bird
by Laurel Benjamin

Focus on the orange beak, a crusher,
take your time, turn the nobs
oriented left to right—
see the racing stripe head, a bullet,
puff of white black white
flight action.
Zoom out from the golden
morning tree among white corollas
to bird frock a holiday suit,
dive and land.
I’ve studied the dynasty of devotion
among bird families,
a queenship of no solitary taste.
Now look from the side,
narrow as a finger, almost
disconsolate, almost tearful,
like a bride without like flesh,
without sugar breath.
From the front, view the open eyes,
too dilated, streaked neck,
hints of wing stripes, tan breast
no one can contest.
Or are there too many details
like a Victorian instruction book?
I set my eyes forward
to meet the bird’s as if
I the mother
eggs underneath, a little boudoir
with a dainty chair, house
with many breasted chicks.
Kneel down greenly
hour to hour,
employ a knowingness.
Like a fruit fully ripe, never rotting
on the vine, the feathered fabric,
not musk nor silk,
never peels back.
Tail flicks, throat opens,
verse a whistle followed by
a sharp explosive
chink.

PAINTING: A Black Bird with Snow-Covered Red Hills by Georgia O’Keeffe (1946).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Since the pandemic, I have gained a higher level of birdwatching, something that’s both intellectual and emotional, connecting with the birds, as never before.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laurel Benjamin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s PoetryCalifornia Quarterly, The Midway Review, Mac Queens Quinterly, Poetry and Places, WordFest Anthology, Global Quarantine Museum Pendemics issue, including honorable mention in the Oregon Poetry Association’s Poetry Contest 2017 and 2020, long-listed in Sunspot Literary Journal’s long list, among others. She is affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and the Port Townsend Writers. More of her work can be found at thebadgerpress.blogspot.com.

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How to Be a Malacologist
by Stephanie L. Harper

Remember when
your child’s heart led your head
like a garden snail’s head leads its footed belly.

Think back to when you were seven
& your adopted pet / school project, Kiddo,
gnawed away at a slice of banana on a glass slide
as you watched, thunderstruck, from beneath him
(find out on Wikipedia that he was using his radula
a structure akin to a tongue used by mollusks to feed).

Recall how proud you were of Kiddo when he not only lost
the school snail race, but redefined it, by turning around
at the half-way point, staying in his own lane, & crossing
the start-line before any of the other snails reached the finish.

Wonder why your teacher didn’t mention anything about Kiddo
& his compatriots being hermaphrodites, or how (if they chose)
they could all be both father & mother to their tiny-shelled progeny,
& realize how simple it would have been for her to call a snail’s powerful,
innate mechanism of retracting its tentacles into its head for protection
by its technical name: invagination.

Then, understand, finally, that if you’d been born with the ability
to operate yourself like a puppet, & pull yourself outside-in
by drawing your head down into your belly & out
through your foot, to invert your once-vibrant
body into an empty sock, how many times
you would have done exactly that.

First published in Panoply.  

Photo by Katarzyna Załużna, used by permission. Read about the photographer’s portraits of snails at mymodernmet.com

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When a friend and fellow poet asked me in a recent interview, “From where or what do your poems sprout?” I experienced this question viscerally. Poems really do sprout, don’t they? I mean, for me, whether they come up silently or explosively, and whether they arise all sallow and reedy, vivid and sweet, or tender, or sour, or even barely perceptible—at some point prior to their births, they are pollinated by my virtue of my orientation toward Life and how I apprehend, synthesize, store and/or ruminate on every experience—of my former and current human relationships; of all that being a mother means; of my interactions with animals, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, rocks and sand, the sky and its heavenly bodies, manmade physical/technological and social infrastructures, literary, visual, and performed arts . . . Each one then germinates beneath the soil until something incites it to erupt: Whether the something is a disquietingly still and protracted fallow interlude, an intense or even haunting dream, an epic bout of insomnia that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, or one of the millions of much more innocuous ways I might be moved in the course of a day, what it never is, is predictable. In the whole scheme of things, though, it’s become dependable.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie L. Harper is a recently transplanted Oregonian living in Indianapolis, Indiana. Harper is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two poetry chapbooks: This Being Done and The Death’s-Head’s Testament. Her poems appear in Slippery Elm Literary JournalPanoply, Isacoustic*, Cathexis Northwest, Riggwelter Press, Moonchild Magazine, Dust Poetry, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. Visit her online at slharperpoetry.com.

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How to Pray
by Julene Waffle

Go toward water.
Baptize your toes.
Stand amidst the trees
and tilt your chin to the canopy.
Hold your arms out
like the maples and oaks around you.
Close your eyes until
you feel as if you are floating.
Let the sun freckle your face golden.
Breathe Breathe
to the rhythm of the wind on the pond.
Then slowly flex your fists open and closed
as if flapping tiny wings, grasping air,
holding a child’s hand then letting go.
Silently open your mouth to let
the sighing of wind in leaves and the earth’s
groaning pleasure fill you
with pregnant letterless words.

IMAGE: The Face of Peace IV by Pablo Picasso (1950).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I find inspiration and stress relief in nature. The whole of the natural world inspires me and encourages me to stay positive whenever life becomes dark and cloudy. It focuses me. I try to capture the beauty of this gift of Earth and life as best as I can through language. This poem is how I feel every time I allow myself time to revel in nature’s beauty; it is my physical way of saying thank you to God or whatever higher power you might believe in.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julene Waffle is a teacher in a rural New York State public school, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother of three busy boys, and a writer. Her work has appeared in La Pressa, The English Journal, among other journals, and in the anthologies Civilization in Crisis and Seeing Things: Anthology of Poetry  and a chapbook So I Will Remember.  She finds inspiration in nature and her family, which includes her dogs. Visit her at wafflepoetry.com and on Twitter @JuleneWaffle.

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How to Be Precious Like Nothing
          Like falling in love, you’ll just know.
          “How to Become a Werewolf” by Alarie Tennille
by Sheikha A.

Armed with an axe, they look like men
of authority; yellow coats branding

them horticulturists. Their swing
a proficient balance between casual

and careless; the blade blunt
and untamed, handle weathered

under mileage. The axe is a feature
of nothing living – no chromosome,

no breathable structure, yet a thing
of considerable damage, imminent

rigidity, unrotating agility –
Rotation. Like earth in pirouette,

the swirl of a heart in limbo,
scribbles of sound waves,

like the grey slab of the axe,
like polished theatre flooring.

The heart of the tree in cause
and effect from a clumsy blow

of the wind that is not its balm,
of its body that must fall. Pivot

on the rail of delirium and delivery,
the way those men can’t bring it down

as the tree resists like a contortionist,
like a flying acrobat against gravity.

Air is invisible – matter is a thing
subsided and contained. Nothing

is an artful state of being,
free-flowing yet regulated.

You are precious like a thing
with matter of no significance.

The tree hasn’t surrendered to the men.
Its nothingness is an axe-scraped bark

and leaves that fell like dead rain.
To know you can exist like nothing,

how will you know you are precious?
“Like falling in love, you’ll just know.”

IMAGE: Tree of Life by Josignacio (XX cent.).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have been in a state of “nothing” since I believed poetry had left me, or rather my muse, for probably a more vibrant or prettier thing on greener pastures elsewhere, and I have been utterly destitute for words, desolate even, until this line “Like falling in love, you’ll just know” in Alarie Tennille’s poem “How to Become a Werewolf” happened to me. Outside my building complex is a road that has weathered and suffered innumerable breakdowns as a result of mysterious excavating plans searching for a root cause here causing trouble elsewhere. Each time they’d break it, they’d slap some fresh tar on it after digging, probing and finding absolutely nothing, in manner of renewing it like nothing ever happened to it. This time around, curiously, they’ve been restructuring it by adding beautifying features such as lamp posts and flower baskets hanging off of their rails, growing dwarf date palms circled by orange blooms, painting beautiful images on the opposite road’s complex walls, and much more. In the process of it, they’ve torn down half-dead trees and a group of horticulturists come by everyday to enrich the soil with manure for fresh seed sprouting. They work on the stubborn remnants of torn down trees that refuse to let their roots leave the ground. How easy it is to go from being a thing to nothing. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sheikha A. is from Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. Her work appears in a variety of literary venues, both print and online, including several anthologies by different presses. Recent publications have been Strange Horizons, Pedestal Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, Silver Birch Press, Abyss and Apex, and elsewhere. Her poetry has been translated into Spanish, Greek, Albanian, Italian, Arabic, Polish and Persian. She is the co-author of a digital poetry chapbook entitled Nyctophiliac Confessions available through Praxis Magazine. More about her published works can be found at sheikha82.wordpress.com.

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The Great Smoky Mountains
by Jennifer Su

I trusted that my cousin’s intuition was sharper than mine. I glanced at the path we emerged from, a mix of crushed leaves and twigs that tunneled back into a tangle of branches. Sunlight poured over the canopy, tingling the skin on my shoulders. It had been nearly three hours since we last stepped into broad daylight, and the sun had shifted from its sleepy state to a blazing, unsympathetic glow above us. The only ones that challenged its dominance in the sky were unsuspecting wisps of clouds and the smoky mist cast on mountaintops. My eyes panned away from the sweep of green, turning instead to the new terrain before me. The water lapped up against the pebbles on the shoreline. Its gentle ebb and flow either indicated a sanctuary for a quick prayer or a calm before the storm.

With a leap of faith—figuratively and literally—I jumped from the gravel to a light grey stone peeking out of the water. Once my left sneaker left the shore, my arms began making circles—forwards and backwards and forwards—like airplane wings tipping my balance just when I thought I would fall. My momentum continued thrusting my upper body forward, and desperate, I hobbled off to another slippery stone. My eyes darted from side to side, scrambling to find my next destination—the creases around my eyes wrinkled as I braced myself for the icy waves of the roaring river to submerge me—but there was only a splash. My sneakers were soaked instantly, but my knees were dry. Perhaps I overestimated my athletic feat: we were just five feet from the shore. Our laughter bounced from mountain to mountain, and I honestly didn’t mind if we could be heard from miles away.

PHOTO: The Great Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee .Photo by Dave Allen Photo, used by permission.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. A subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, they are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The park was established in 1934, and, with over 11 million visits per year, it is the most visited national park in the United States.

PHOTO: Little Pigeon River, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Photo by Darrell Young, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I remember this experience quite vividly during my trip to Tennessee in 2013. This account was inspired by a five to ten minute experience when my cousin and I ventured off to dip our hands in the nearby river. I wrote about the experience in my Smoky Mountains journal almost exactly seven years ago, and I’m glad to retell the moment again with some new life.

PHOTO: The author during her visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee (2013).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Su is a high school senior who writes short stories, prose pieces, and speeches. Both her written and artistic work has been featured in magazines and in local libraries. Jennifer enjoys creative writing as a means of documenting stories in her life. She finds inspiration everywhere, from a handwritten sign in a small shop to a summer trip across the continent. She is a member of several literary and Toastmasters groups and looks forward to refining her craft.

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Grand Canyon
by Veronica Hosking

No brick wall impedes
long trip down into canyon
I keep my distance

PHOTO: The Grand Canyon (Arizona) by Sonaal Bangera on Unsplash.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The Grand Canyon is practically in my backyard. Every time we visit, I keep my distance from the edge. It is a spectacular view, but not recommended for anyone like myself with acrophobia.

PHOTO: The author at the Grand Canyon (2019).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Hosking is a wife, mother, and poet. She lives in the desert southwest with her husband and two daughters. Her family and day job, cleaning the house, serve as inspiration for most of her poetry. She was the poetry editor for MaMaZina magazine from 2006-2011. “Spikier Spongier” appeared in Stone Crowns magazine (November 2013). “Desperate Poet” was posted on the Narrator International website and reprinted in Poetry Nook (February 2014).  Silver Birch Press has published several of her poems upon first accepting “Rain Drops” in  the Half New Year poetry collection (July 2014). She keeps a poetry blog at vhosking.wordpress.com.

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Camels at Font’s Point
by Cynthia Anderson

At dawn, the badlands hide
nothing, their ridges and washes
repeating, impenetrable—

tale upon tale of entrapment,
a labyrinth of extinction.
The present wavers, enfolds

a mirage of water and grass,
drama of ghosts. Gold light
shines on golden flanks.

They were here.
For millions of years,
they ate and drank their fill,

roamed in herds and alone,
laid down trackways
and bones.

Time holds them tightly—
time and rock, sun and dust—
and the gusts scour their footprints.

PHOTO: Camel metal sculpture by Ricardo Breceda, Borrego Springs, California. Photo by Eric Laudonien, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It was April 2000. My husband, Bill Dahl, and I were on a desert getaway to Borrego Springs—one of our favorite spots, a place we have visited countless times over the years. On this trip, we got up before dawn and bounced down a washboard dirt road to Font’s Point, barely making it to the overlook in our Honda Accord. Our goal: to catch the sunrise over the badlands. ¶ The vista spread out before us, a spellbinding maze. No sound, no movement—only stillness, stretching far back into deep time. Bill got the photo he came for, and I got something totally unexpected from a battered sign: an introduction to the ancient creatures that once lived here among streams and meadows—horses, camels, mammoths, sloths, bears. ¶ Out of this prehistoric bestiary, the camels captured my imagination. I had no idea that camels originated in North America, and that many species of camels, small to large, used to roam throughout Southern California. I started following their trail, visiting camel fossils in museums and learning about their history. Many years later, I completed a long poem about the camels which appears in my book Desert Dweller. This is the first section of that poem, commemorating where my journey began. ¶ For anyone interested in the ancient camels, two of the best places to see fossils and learn more are the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and the Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont. Also, for Borrego lovers, the book Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert (Sunbelt Publications, 2006) is an excellent resource.

PHOTO: View of Anza-Borrego Desert (California) from Font’s Point by Bill Dahl, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a California State Park located within the Colorado Desert of Southern California. The park takes its name from 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, a Spanish word for sheep. With 600,000 acres, representing one-fifth of San Diego County, it is the largest state park in California.

Cynthia Anderson in 2000 at font's point

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she has published nine poetry collections, most recently Now Voyager with illustrations by Susan Abbott. She is co-editor of the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens and guest editor of Cholla Needles 46. Visit her at cynthiaandersonpoet.com.

PHOTO: The author standing at Font’s Point with the Anza-Borrego Desert behind her.

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The Walk to St Ninian’s Isle
by Stephen Howarth

Contrary currents and conflicting waves
have marked this place out: Saint Ninian’s sands,
dividing the water from island to island:

a beach that reaches across the sea,
a boyhood playground with multitudes of
memories, to be told another time —

Today, let me walk you to the thistle-bound isle
to show you the remnants of the ancient
chapel in which a Pictish silver hoard was found:

the feasting bowls, the dragon-headed brooches
used to fix the folds of a cloak, the sword-hilts,
the chapes and thimble-shaped mounts,

all buried here for St Ninian’s protection,
twelve hundred years ago in defence against
the horror of the Viking raids – which helped create

Hjaltland, Shetland. An easy walk through
a thousand years of this almost holy island,
this almost heart of Shetland, absorbing

the light, the wind, the bleating of the sheep,
the washing of the sea, and the whispering waves.
In the ebb lie flattened pebbles, stones

shaped for skimming in moments when
the sea is smooth. The waves say
Hush, this calm afternoon, take rest in

our music, we will play as you play. In this country,
this is unique, a sea-crossing sand, and we,
we are the eternal beach-makers.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo shows St Ninian’s sands, looking from St Ninian’s Isle to Mainland and the village of Bigton. Mainland is the name of the main island of the Shetland archipelago. Bigton was pretty much my Shetland family’s home there when I was a boy, with another vital set on the island of Bressay. I still have one aunt living there in Bigton, a Scrabble fanatic, whom I hope to see and play against in September. She is 88 and will probably win. Photo by Stephen Howarth (August 2019). 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am English by birth but only 3/8 English by blood: for the rest, I’m 1/8 Scottish and half Shetland. Shetland (the most northerly part of Britain) is officially Scottish, but geographically and emotionally the archipelago is as close to Norway as it is to mainland Britain. I am positively internationalist. I call myself British, identifying as European, and have active treasured friends in many countries – not least the USA, literally from coast to coast. In pre-lockdown years I loved to travel widely and hope to do so again. Meanwhile, I invite you to a tiny taste of Shetland.

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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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Continent’s Edge
by Jeanine Stevens

Imagine a shoreline, its own salty foam.
Not by Muir Beach or Shelter Cove
but just beyond Red Hawk Casino—gold country:
scrub oaks and ghost pines.
Granite outcrops and below, ocean floor basalt,
marl‘s crumbly clay, shell fragments.
This is Wakamatsu Colony (1869), Japanese
farmers attempting to grow silk, tea trees, rice.
Where are the dwellings, bamboo groves?
Someone would know, perhaps
a grad student researching ancestry.
Near the trail, buttercups, vetch, Rat Tail radish
(a delicacy in Asia). I nibble spicy pods.
Streambeds dry, few miners’ flakes remain.
You may discover garnets in your shallow pan.
Over the foot bridge, simple joy
to walk planks: bounce, sponge, lift.
Tides, first sensory,
something of womb, suck
pull back—thrum tide.
Under a perigee moon, I wonder if bedrock
heaves, upends remains of shellfish?
Behind the electric fence, a Jersey mother has tender eyes.
Long time since I’ve been close to such
a large mammal, her heat shimmering,
dancing in amber sun.

Two identical calves recline,
slowly munching meadow grass.

PHOTO: Wakamatsu Farm in 2019, its 150th year, by Ken Mahar.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony was made up of a group of 22 samurai and one woman during the Boshin Civil War (1868–69) in Japan preceding the Meiji Restoration. This is believed to be the first permanent Japanese settlement in North America and the only settlement by samurai outside of Japan. The group purchased land from Charles Graner family in the Gold Hill region after coming to San Francisco in 1869. Though the group successfully displayed it produce during the 1869 California State Agricultural Fair in Sacramento and the 1870 Horticultural Fair in San Francisco, the farm as a Japanese colony only existed from 1869-1871. In 1969, the year of the colony’s centennial, it was proclaimed California Historical Landmark No. 815. The American River Conservancy purchased the 272-acre location, 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, in November 2010, with the National Park Service placing the site on the National Register of Historic Places.

PHOTO: Historical marker at Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony, Placerville, California.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I write in natural settings, it is usually a pattern of walk, stop, listen, and write, then begin again. This goes back to sixth grade and our bird walks every Friday afternoons. The poem “Continents Edge” was written in one afternoon, step by step, with periods of rest so I could to notice even smaller things like the ragged rattail radish and the bouncy footbridge. This pattern works well for me even in cities, say St. Mark’s Square in Venice. There is so much to take in just by sitting on a bench, watching people and pigeons, the Adriatic creeping over the stone steps.

PHOTO: The author and fellow travelers at Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeanine Stevens is the author of Limberlost and Inheritor (Future Cycle Press). Her first poetry collection, Sailing on Milkweed was published by Cherry Grove Collections. She is winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt, The Stockton Arts Commission Award, The Ekphrasis Prize, and WOMR Cape Cod Community Radio National Poetry Award. Brief Immensity, won the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Award. Jeanine recently received her sixth Pushcart Nomination. She has participated in Literary Lectures sponsored by Poets and Writers. Her work has appeared in North Dakota Review, Pearl, Stoneboat, Rosebud, Chiron Review, and Forge. Jeanine studied poetry at U.C. Davis and California State University, Sacramento.

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Windmills of Western Kansas
by Lindsey Martin-Bowen

Like roods with revolving crossbars,
they line the flat horizon, roll on and on—
Grateful Dead concerts
tumbling through riffs that morph
into different melodies before you know
your mind’s flowing there—far beyond

Kansas and its flat pastures
that seem to never end, except
through the Flint Hills—but then,
they flow back into plains,
now mauve in the western sun.
And more windmills churn on

atop a round horizon
of brown-gold bluffs interlaced
with the green Northwest brush.
Its verdant hue lets you know
Kansas isn’t far enough away
from traffic you want to escape.

Published in Thorny Locust (2020).

PHOTO: Ellis County, Kansas, Windmill Park (Dreamstime photo, used by permission).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: During the first decade of this century, we drove almost annually from the Kansas City area to Colorado to see our children. When we passed hills, primarily in Western Kansas, I was delighted to see the new windmills. By exhibiting an efficient method to create “clean” energy, those windmills give me hope for our civilization—and our planet. When we relocated to Oregon in 2018, we saw many more windmills farther west than Kansas, too. The Dutch were definitely onto something.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pushcart and Pulitzer nominee Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s fourth poetry collection, Where Water Meets the Rock (39 West Press 2017), contains a poem named an Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest’s 85th Contest. Her third, CROSSING KANSAS with Jim Morrison, won Kansas Authors Club’s 2017 “Looks Like a Million” Contest, and was a finalist in the QuillsEdge Press 2015-2016 Contest. Her Inside Virgil’s Garage (Chatter House) was a runner-up in the 2015 Nelson Poetry Book Award. McClatchy Newspapers named her Standing on the Edge of the World  (Woodley Press) one of Ten Top Poetry Books of 2008. Her poems have appeared in New LettersI-70 ReviewThorny LocustFlint Hills ReviewSilver Birch Press, Amethyst ArsenicCoal City ReviewPhantom DriftEkphrastic Review (Egyptian Challenge), The Same, Tittynope ZineBare Root Review Rockhurst Review, Black Bear Review, 12 anthologies, and other lit zines. Three of her seven novels have been published. Poetry is her way of singing. She taught writing and literature at UMKC for 18 years, MCC-Longview, and teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and other criminal justice classes for Blue Mountain Community College, Pendleton, Oregon. Visit her on Facebook.