Archives for posts with tag: Writing

by James Penha

We were staying over in the living room
of our besties—she . . . and he whom I loved

obsessively to no physical avail but with
whom I remained colleague, editor, muse

philosopher, and madman poet partner—
anything to remain close. He held as well

as my heart the truth I steeled to share
with Mary my longtime girlfriend

as we finished off the cheese and sangria
sedative for the night on the living room

carpet. I have to tell you, I said, something
serious—You’re sick! she interrupted. No!

She’d felt my melancholia so often, she said,
she feared I was dying. And so she saw

a cloud lifting. But it was my mask needed
lifting before Mary. The phantom must

be faced tonight! I used to think, I said,
I could never love anyone until I found

him (sleeping now with his wife not me
in their bed) whom I loved more—veil

gone—than I could ever love Mary —I I I
cared for her even so! and therefore had

to be honest before we got carried away
into some some some thing apparently

normal because, I had to make crystalline
in this void of night and peculiar silence

that I was gay.
                        We had watched Monty
Python that night with our friends but
nothing flying in its circus matched
the absurdity as I turned for her reaction.

Mary? The solace secured in my survival
had cloaked her in a sound and soundless sleep.

PAINTING: “The Three Masks” by Juan Gris (1923).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his verse appeared in 2019 in Headcase: LGBTQ Writers & Artists on Mental Health and Wellness (Oxford UP), Lovejets: queer male poets on 200 years of Walt Whitman (Squares and Rebels), and What Remains: The Many Ways We Say Goodbye (Gelles-Cole). His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Follow him on Twitter @JamesPenha.

Mask Photo
by Jennifer Finstrom

            The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
                                    –Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

On March 7, you have no idea
what’s coming. It’s a Saturday and
your plans are to meet one man at
the Art Institute to see El Greco:
Ambition and Defiance on the first
weekend that it opens and then to
meet another for dinner at Miller’s
Pub. But you’re behind on grading
and you only go to the dinner part,
spend the afternoon in bed on your
laptop. This decision has nothing
to do with the men, but neither of
them seem to have liked your original
plans. You try to remember how you
explained it, know how good you are
at hitting a truth that doesn’t reveal
all but is nonetheless true. You won’t
see the exhibit now for months, if
ever, tie long scarves over your face
when you go out to walk alone, your
voice muffled by velvet, anything you
might say even more masked. And
here in poems you know you’re still
curating, only selecting what pieces
of the story you choose and no more.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Just this past summer I began a collection of ekphrastic poems about dating in my 50s. The direction the poems are taking is shifting in recent days amid the climate of uncertainty, but I’m still keeping on with the project.

Jen Finstrom pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Finstrom is both part-time faculty and staff at DePaul University. She was the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine for 13 years, and recent publications include Dime Show ReviewEunoia ReviewStirring, and Thimble Literary Magazine, with work forthcoming in Gingerbread House Literary Magazine and  Rust + Moth. Her work also appears in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks and several other Silver Birch Press anthologies.

Maintaining Distance
by Stephen Thomas Roberts

We chat,
our words muffled by our PPEs.

I found
                                                        (undistracted by the lips I cannot see)
I could not help
but apprehend
your eyes:
blue as the occasional sky
                                                        (glimpsed between the clouds
                                                        that frequent this elusive spring
                                                        in which we linger)
and brilliant, too;
a burst of hope
amidst the gloom.

They remind me that
there may yet be life
                                                        (the running count of sick and dying
                                                        make it easy to forget)

outside the daily quotient
of our fear.
One day
                                                        (after the reckoning
                                                        takes place, and the final
                                                        tally made)

we will meet
without the pretense of
a costume
and be unguarded in our greeting,
and kiss.

As we part,
I catch the scent
of flowers.

Your perfume,
                                                        (or posies)

PAINTING: “The Kiss” by Charles Blackman (1962).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wanted to write a poem about wearing a mask without using the word mask.

Roberts 2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Thomas Roberts is a Yale Law School graduate and poet. His work has appeared, or will appear, in Poetry Salzburg Review,  The Worcester Review, TRINACRIA, Third Wednesday, Blue Unicorn, The Ocean State Review, The Cape Rock, MagnaPoets, The Tishman Review, and Gargoyle. He resides in Dutchess County with his wife. These days he works from home.

Bury the Mask
by Fiona Johnston

suffocation is an old friend.

it comes back to find me whenever i feel safe

whenever i am calm

and content

whenever i feel peace envelop me in her warm embrace

tender lips that kiss my forehead and say

“here you are safe”

“here you are loved.”

suffocation finds me soon and pushes peace away and clenches my wrists together and shoves its hand over my mouth and slams my face into the ground,

and i taste the sour dirt and i can’t breathe,

i can’t see,

all i know is the mask over my mouth and

i can’t be calm.


i can’t feel peace anymore,

so long as this mask is hiding it from me.

suffocation tells me my friends will not see me.

nor will my family.

they will see the illusion of a girl too tense, a marionette puppeteered by sinister strings pulled so taut they’ll snap at any wrong move

any breath too bold and that girl is gone

crumpled to the ground in a heap of worry and what if and would’ve could’ve should’ve.

but my friends will see me.

so will my family.

the journey will be long, suffocation tells me as i claw my way up from the dirt.

you’ll have to wait for it, it says, as i crawl northbound through the woods, not stopping for the chirps of the birds.

you won’t even be you anymore, it gasps as i rip the mask from my face and strangle it into the ground and stomp it into the earth and bury it with the tears of worry, what if, would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.

i watch as the waves crash over it. i watch it shudder in pain and i smile,

knowing one day,

my mask of suffocation will never come back.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This piece was inspired by the times I’ve felt like I couldn’t be my true self around others and there were parts of myself I needed to hide. The place I feel most at peace and safest is up north, which is what inspired the location for burying the mask. My hope is that one day, the feelings of self-doubt won’t come back, and the mask can be buried forever. I wrote this before George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on Memorial Day 2020, and I’m realizing now how much the poem sadly connects to this tragedy. I hope that Mr. Floyd and his family get justice soon.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Johnston is a high school junior, soon to be senior, from Michigan. She is actively involved in her school’s performing arts program, and is a vice president of her chapter of the National Honor Society. She loves to sing, act, read, and write. Fiona hopes to study vocal music in college and make a career out of what she loves to do!

Between Heartbreak and Rage
by Patrice Boyer Claeys

Sometimes I wake up wrong
             breathing hard
                         because in sleep
                                     I dream a world
face to face with blankness that
smells like masks.

Sometimes my eyes feel like loaded guns

            which both flare up and freeze—
                         something about our helplessness
            presses down on me like an iron.


As I breathe,
            blood red
creature within creature
moves over the world.

CENTO SOURCES: Ross Gay, Owen McLeod, Cory Hutchinson-Reuss, Haro Lee, Langston Hughes, Louise Gluck, Christopher Pressfield, Rick Bursky, Will Alexander, David Ferry, Tara E. Jay, Eva Heisler, Xiaoly Li, Don Bogen, Robert Adamson

PAINTING: “The Actor’s Mask” by Paul Klee (1924).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Derived from the Latin word for “patchwork,” cento originally referred to the cloaks worn by Roman soldiers. Today it refers to poems composed of written fragments. I create centos using single lines from a multitude of other poems. I’m drawn to this form by the sparks that ignite when removed lines bump up against one another in a new context. I also find that the collage technique allows me to more courageously investigate frightening topics, such as the pandemic, while at the same time feel supported by the many voices enlisted to create the new piece.

Author Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrice Boyer Claeys is the author of two poetry collections, The Machinery of Grace and Lovely Daughter of the Shattering. Recent work has appeared in Zone 3, Glassworks, Literary Mama, Pirene’s Fountain and Aeolian Harp Anthology. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and twice for Best of the Net. Find her online at

Behind the mask
by Patrick T. Reardon


Behind the museum glass,
a polished marble scream, frozen,
with large round eye openings,
pale stone, gray as smoke,
worn in ritual by one with sharp edge,
honed for soft flesh,
or enemy
or the one offered by village
as sacrifice,


Behind the court entertainment, the work:

A fashioner draws scenery lines,
writes actor lines,
makes believe a make-believe,
stages on stage a world,
shapes events,
couplings, uncouplings,
frown up, smile down,
god of the machine,
for three hours distraction.


clock strikes,
and fashioner, home, fashions scrambled eggs and toast.


Behind the cloth, covering nose and mouth,

lungs and a heartbeat, as vulnerable as a virgin;

an actor prisoned in a madman’s script,
as random as spermatozoon
in the splash gamble race to a future;

a slowly cartwheeling anywhere-everywhere catastrophe,
like the first cancer cells,
the clot,
the rip in hidden flesh,
that I will walk away from
or won’t.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For a long time I’ve liked the Ryuichi Sakamoto song “Behind the Mask,” covered by such people as Michael Jackson and Eric Clapton (great rendition!). So, when I started doodling, that was the direction I went. Of the three parts, the bulk of the second section was written first. It was followed by what’s now the opening section. The last was always last.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick T. Reardon, a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, is the author of eight books, including the poetry collection Requiem for David and Faith Stripped to Its Essence, a literary-religious analysis of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. His poetry has appeared in Silver Birch Press, San Antonio Review, Ariel Chart, Cold Noon, Eclectica, Esthetic Apostle, Ground Fresh Thursday, Literary Orphans, Rhino, Spank the Carp, Main Street Rag, The Write Launch, Meat for Tea, Tipton Poetry Journal, UCity Review, Under a Warm Green Linden, and The Write City. Reardon, who worked as a Chicago Tribune reporter for 32 years, has published essays and book reviews widely in such publications as the Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, National Catholic Reporter and U.S. Catholic. His novella Babe was short-listed by Stewart O’Nan for the annual Faulkner-Wisdom Contest. His Pump Don’t Work blog can be found at

by Jae Green

He’s old and loaded with groceries and coverless paperbacks in a crumpled plastic bag.
A sweater draped over his shoulders just in case the weather turned fickle.
Old enough to feel no unkind cut to his maleness when I offered him my seat on the bus.
He peered over the celery stalks in his market bag like a bride sneaking peeks over her bouquet.
“Don’t look down.”
At first I think he means that I should keep flying and floating until I’ve crossed the unseen high-wire and an invisible crowd is lifting up fat squirming babies to get a closer look at what I did.
But he means my face and the frown I carried with me like a bad penny.
Too foul to spend, too valuable to throw away.
“Like this Miss.”
And he lifted his jaw in a smile and showed his neck shaven to grey and white pencil-points, a brush that would rough up the hands of any woman that straightened his tie or pulled his collar down.
“Smile? ” His volume lifting like his chin.
I didn’t want him to think I was too stupid to learn.
I show my teeth.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Acrobat” was inspired by the many ways there are look.

Green-No Mask

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jae Green is a poet, second-generation artist, mother, and cancer survivor originally from the South Side of Chicago. Her poetry can be found in anthologies such as Tia Chucha’s Open Fist, Smithsonian Magazine, and Voices from the Heartland. She has performed at The Green Mill, Randolph Street Gallery, The Chicago Cultural Center, WomanMade Gallery, Metro, Around the Coyote, and The Catherine Edelman Gallery. She recently participated in BodyPassages, a year-long collaboration between the Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and The Chicago Poetry Center.

nick-kane-VZ1Gjc5MP-Y-unsplash copy
My Lockdown Mask
by Carolyn O’Connell

I’ve not walked through the woods with you
heard the chime of bluebells, or passed
the garden where the wooden dinosaur rises
over the young trees planted last year.

I’ve not had hugs from you or sat at your table
while you prepared dinner, your girls
winding a path of chatter through the house
as you juggle being teacher, mother, and daughter.

Enclosed like a vestal in some far temple:
a hostage in a blue mask to the Pandemic God;
as the sun wakens earlier each morning
and others congregate below my window
like the blackbirds chattering in the hedge.

My mask sits unworn for everything’s delivered
and I’m seen only on the video of my computer
it’s the window of my Anchorite’s cell
where friends appear seeking my words.

While you in a handmade mask travel to teach
to children who’d rather be at home –
though they’re teens they know they’ll never get an “A”
they don’t know the meaning of social distance
but you’ll support them as you’ve always done.

I’m waiting for the day I can walk with you again
when arm in arm we’ll walk beside the river
and look back upon these days when you
came to me, when we only spoke as I stood at the door.

There I can sometimes see your daughters,
who sit quietly on the far step I cannot cross
for you have taught them how to social distance.

Photo of a walk beside the river by Nick Kane on Unsplash

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is a reflection and conversation with my daughter on how it feels living in Lockdown and not having gone further than the front step since it began.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carolyn O’Connell lived in London but now lives in Cheshire U.K. She has been published in Envoi, Reach, and other magazines, online and print, and in anthologies. Her debut collection Timelines was published by Indigo Dreams 2014. Her poems have been translated into Romanian via The University of Bucharest Translation Café/ PoetryR/O project. Visit her blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, at Goodreads, and here.

yungkans copy
Like Some Pocket History of the World, So General
     after John Ashbery
by Jonathan Yungkans

—stretching silences into footfalls from eye to hand,
dimes left to gravity beneath a black steel banister—

bandit black masked and surgeon milk-blue masked

—steps weighed with groceries, skirted and sweatered,
or business suited, tie dancing a hanged man’s jig—

clothed in antiseptic lack of words to avoid contagion

—briefcase full of day’s crimes and misdemeanors,
muted clatter reverberant in heartbeat and vibration—

past averted eyes, astringent shoot-in-self-defense eyes

—hurry and drag, the unsocialness of social distancing,
fear to keep distant, so as not to share breath and die—

as if lack of eye contact would somehow kill a virus

—in the hollow iron ring of flight after flight of stairs,
clatter of loose change, a fall without a hand to catch—

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: While I’ve experienced some welcome moments of empathy and solidarity during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has more often been an atmosphere of tenuousness, of not knowing who might literally kill you though a kind gesture or conversation. As a health-care provider, I have to go into public places as part of my job, so my clients can survive. This poem came in snatches—individual sounds and images—and centered themselves like people up and down a staircase. It is partly ekphrastic, thanks to a photograph by Kenneth Borg, and partly inspired by the story of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12), when he saw angels ascending and descending a staircase between earth and heaven. The Ashbery line used as the title reminds me that we can’t divorce ourselves from humanity, no matter how much we self-isolate. The word “pocket” also suggests face masks, stuffing our faces into pockets in a bid to survive—and the painful sequestering of our sense of community into someplace deep and hidden, in dread that we might lose our lives.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and is slated for release by Tebor Bach Publishing in 2020.

patricia-prudente--P2djqAwM8U-unsplash copy
First Birth (after Sharon Olds)
by Kelley White

They taught us little, and what they taught us
I had not learned, so I just took it as it came:
slippery, the naked body blue-grey, greased,
slipping as I turned it in my hands, blood
rushing dark and clotting at my feet, the twisted rope
unearthly white and pulsing under that too-bright
glare, little lips pinking and the small mouth
opening to a cry, arms flailing, fingers spread
chest flaring at my wet gloved touch scrotum
shrunken knees flexed the nurse reaching
to stamp the sole blue as his mother’s thumb,
I sucking and squirting with the basting bulb
my mask wet, then the dry hot lamp the wrapping
the wet gloves and blood-soaked gown pulled
from my body, my face free, hands bare
to hold that too sweet pinked-up bundle
beside the mother’s swamped face:
I signed on for the duration.

Previously published in Lips 2005 and Referential 2014

 Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

white masks 1
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is about one of the often joyful places where medical people wear masks, Labor & Delivery. (Odd, the first face a newborn sees may very well be wearing a mask.) I was named “Coronavirus Crisis Coordinator” at the small health center in inner-city Philadelphia, where I have worked for several decades. On inventory, May 1, we have 26 isolation gowns, 8 regular surgical masks, and 10 N95 masks (construction grade, not medical grade: I traded toilet paper for them with the construction workers replacing the sewer and water lines in my street when they had to stop work in mid-March as non-essential; they left a gaping crater behind). Many of our supplies (gloves, masks, thermometers) have been stolen. I am angry when I see people out and about with medical-grade masks on (though grateful they are wearing masks). I’ve made more than 100 cloth masks on a toy Hello Kitty sewing machine out of scraps left over from craft projects. I’ve run out of cloth. And thermometers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in inner city Philadelphia and rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her recent books are Toxic Environment (Boston Poet Press) and Two Birds in Flame (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.