July 2022 Poetry Feature

New poems by our contributors: ZACK STRAIT, FELICE BELLE, STEPHEN HAVEN, and MITCH SISSKIND.

 

Table of Contents:

Zack Strait | Fourth Ultrasound
                    | Dreams to Dream

Felice Belle | postcard from the moon
                    | the distance between you and me

Stephen Haven | Love at 60
                           | Sugar

Mitch Sisskind | The Ignoramus
                          | Only Death Wows Me

 

Fourth Ultrasound
By ZACK STRAIT

Like two passengers
in a wrecked automobile:

our eyes are fixed
on the sonogram screen—

an upside-down window
with no wiper blade

to sweep away the rain—
as the technician

inserts a long probe
and whispers, Come on.

Come on. The storm
approaches slow, filling

the dark entrance
of the tunnel—our field

of vision—with billows
of grey. We watch

as the clouds part
like a pair of hands, just

enough for us to see
the hollow where a heart

used to be—a pulse
like the surface of a lake.

 

Dreams to Dream
By ZACK STRAIT

This is the song the little mouse sings in the animated film
about travelling west, about following the bright star
of hope through the darkness of our lives. I am listening
to this song now, again and again, after talking
with my father. He has spent his morning cruising
along the Pacific coast. He tells me how much sadness
he feels, even though the ocean is calm and the sky is blue
except for a few gray clouds. He says he remembers
his schoolboy days, living in a shack and the cold wind
which has never left him. He says this is the way
he felt visiting my younger brother, and when he saw
the remains of The City of Roses, the same city
where I was born and whose memory I will carry with me
like a dried flower, forever. And when I look out
my window, the sky is dark with clouds, to remind me
there is always the rain. Now I close my eyes
and I can see the little mouse, and how she twirls across
a filthy rug with her wash bucket, the soapy water
spilling and making the colors bright again. And I see now
how this scene is meant to teach us something
about these lives we have been given, and how we too
must choose to close our eyes and sing. Even as
the end approaches, like the eye of the cat, just before
he clutches both hands to his chest and then
reaches down so she can waltz, gracefully, with his claws.

***

 

postcard from the moon
By FELICE BELLE

everything is normal

in space
your heart shrinks

like an astronaut
writing folks back home
a skeleton in a wig
with nowhere to go

washing dishes in a volcano
humming the ever-present
elevator music of anxiety

what does the science say?

we are living history
i only want to hear from people with degrees in it
there has never been enough time
i call everyone who has ever been on my mind

the story can save or destroy
how do you want to play this?

we’re not ready for a black jeopardy host
it is a sign of progress

your suffering is unique
and you are not alone in it

we know the thing
before its named

if you spot the con
is it even a game?

the systems we serve break
because they weren’t designed
for us to survive

nothing is normal

the head and the heart were never not one

the woman who wants to travel
will find transportation

 

the distance between you and me
By FELICE BELLE

your canon is not my canon
your war is not my war
your voice is not my voice

my laziness is your discipline
your restraint is my addiction
your laugh is my downfall

my god is not your god
my memory is not your memory
your scar is not my scar

your past is my guard rail
my want is your question
your map is my misdirection

your up-all-night is my bed by ten
your fire drill is my sleep in
your nineteenth century poet is not my boyfriend

***

 

Love at 60
By STEPHEN HAVEN

All the wounded souls out there
And one of them is me.
I only asked to share a cup of joe

My exes tracking my Hyundai
From latte to latte.
The first one, a painter,

Underlay on her dark canvasses
Aerial and nautical maps,
Fathoms bubbling

Beneath her nudes…
Our second tete-a-tete
Post-op I could barely walk

But still I gave myself to yessss!
Then she confessed her love
For Atlas Shrugged. I texted

Another beauty. She dreamed
Of Kunming. She asked if I might
Marry the Red Guard again?

She was the indigenous hymn
My children still sing: Ashima,
The soundtrack! A cabbie at Logan

Once crooned it for me.
Down her dark Yunnan
My desire ran its hand.

Always more cautiously
She asked me to drop her
Far from my central sin.

Then Francesca, my first love,
Back in the West End again,
Eggplant, fresh Italian bread.

All the worn pieces of myself
Tapping Hello. Then Hell, no!
Boils up from down below.

 

Sugar
By STEPHEN HAVEN

I have heard the Japanese burst bubbles
To pollinate their flowers, but I prefer
The hummingbird sharing its nectar
With a bee or two, those light hovercrafts
Stitching the air with their slight wings
But only one of them a needle nose,
100 beats in the very minute its muscle
Drills the white stamen around which grows
The deeper purple labia minor
Of the violet hibiscus, all of which offers
All the way through October
A taste of its delicate petals. Today we sip
Our coffee, having given up our lumps
Of sugar long ago, but there is a sweetness
On the tongue not only from the cream
We still indulge as we overlook
Our neighbors’ shrub, two town criers,
Two back porch birds, the feeder
Of our table, our folding chairs,
Our caws diminished for a moment
But rising like prisms you can see
On the thin soapy film, the small round
Wands we blew our breath through,
A breeze that stings 90 degrees
Across the ocean and the Boston burbs,
Saying in the dart, the tender and the blur
This is the violet, all is well with the world.

***

 

The Ignoramus
By MITCH SISSKIND

Rav Heth Kokodiakomis came
To Widawa where martyrs fell
And so artfully celebrated pesach
That he grew prideful of it and
Reclined long after the seder ended.

Then a question came to him from
The Upper World: “Why are you prideful
When in this town there is an Ignoramus
Who on this same night has celebrated
The seder in a more accomplished way?”

Meanwhile holy men had come to hear
Rav Heth Kokodiakomis and he asked them,
“Do you know an Ignoramus?” One said,
“I know him,” and Rav Heth Kokodiakomis
Told him to ask the Ignoramus to come there.

When he came Rav Heth Kokodiakomis inquired,
“Did you celebrate the seder?” The Ignoramus
Wept and said, “I was drunk and when my wife
Woke me I saw the egg and the wine and I ate
The egg and drank the wine and went back to sleep.”

Then a great voice from the Upper World said,
“This man is an Ignoramus and his father was
An Ignoramus. His words and also his deeds are
Received in the Upper World for he knows their
Truth and, yea, an Ignoramus knows nothing else.”

 

Only Death Wows Me
By MITCH SISSKIND

Okay, a couple of things. Only death wows me.
Mansions, big private yachts, I can appreciate
That stuff but it doesn’t wow me. Not even birth,
Because at first nothing is there, then something
Is there—but once it’s there it’s like it’s always
Been there which doesn’t wow me. With death
However something is there and then it isn’t
But in a weird way it’s still there and maybe
Even more than before like when you find
The dead person’s false teeth lying around.
You know what else? Steve Jobs’ last words
Were wow oh wow because he was so wowed
By death which I can completely understand,
Because as I mentioned only death wows me.

 

 

Felice Belle consumes and creates stories to make sense of the world and her place in it. As a poet and playwright, she has performed at the Apollo Theater, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, TEDWomen, and TEDCity2.0. Her writing has been published in several journals and anthologies including Oral Tradition, Bum Rush the Page, and UnCommon Bonds: Women Reflect on Race and Friendship. Playwriting credits include Other Women, Game On!, and It Is Reasonable to Expect. She holds a BS in industrial engineering from Columbia University, an MA in individualized study from NYU Gallatin and an MFA in creative writing from Long Island University. She is a lecturer in the low-residency MFA program at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and chief storyteller for the global nonprofit Narrative 4Her poetry collection, Viscera, is forthcoming from Etruscan Press (Spring 2023).

Stephen Haven‘s The Flight from Meaning is forthcoming from London’s Eyewear Publishing in July 2022. His other poetry collections include The Last Sacred Place in North America, Dust and Bread, and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks. He is also editor, and one of four collaborative translators, of the 2021 anthology Trees Grow Lively on Snowy Fields: Poems from Contemporary China. His poems appeared in recent years in The American Journal of Poetry, Arts & Letters, Blackbird, Image, North American Review, and other journals. Haven is Core Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mitch Sisskind grew up in Chicago, attended Columbia University, and now lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of four books of stories and poems: Visitations (1984); Dog Man Stories (1993); Do Not Be a Gentleman When You Say Goodnight (2016); and Collected Poems 2005-2020. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry 2009
and The Best American Poetry 2013. 

Zack Strait lives with his wife and son in Rome, Georgia. His poems have appeared in Poetry and Copper Nickel, among other journals. 

July 2022 Poetry Feature

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